Week 13 of the 2021 NFL season began with the Cowboys getting back on track Thursday night against the Saints.

And it kept rolling on Sunday with big wins for NFC powerhouses Tampa Bay and Arizona. The Bucs’ offense excelled behind four Tom Brady touchdown passes, and the Cardinals enjoyed getting quarterback Kyler Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins back. Arizona got to double-digit wins and maintained the top spot in the conference.

But the biggest news of the early window was the Lions’ first win of the season, which came on a TD pass from Jared Goff to Amon-Ra St. Brown on the final play of the game.

Elsewhere, the Colts’ defense was impressive, shutting out the Texans and making a move in the AFC South. The Chargers piled on points against the Bengals and forced Joe Burrow into a pair of interceptions. The Eagles looked good in a 15-point win over the Jets without Jalen Hurts, and the Dolphins took care of business against the Giants to get their fifth straight win.

In the late window, the Rams crushed the Jaguars, who appear to be inching closer to the No. 1 pick in the draft. Washington narrowly defeated the Raiders, the Steelers upset the Ravens and the Seahawks beat the 49ers. The Chiefs concluded the night by shutting down the Broncos. On Monday night the Patriots won their seventh straight by pushing the Bills around on a windy night in Buffalo.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about a team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.

Jump to a matchup:
TB-ATL | LAC-CIN | ARI-CHI
NYG-MIA | IND-HOU | MIN-DET
PHI-NYJ | DAL-NO | SF-SEA
BAL-PIT | WSH-LV | JAX-LAR
DEN-KC | NE-BUF

Patriots

What to know: The Patriots won a game while attempting a franchise-low three passes. Coach Bill Belichick said: “We played kind of the way we felt like we needed to play to win.” Wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour factored into the decision-making process, but so did the Patriots’ success running the ball against a Bills’ defense that had previously shown vulnerability in that area. They finished with 222 rushing yards and center David Andrews called it one of his most memorable wins because of how unique it was. “I don’t know if I’ve ever played in a game where we’ve thrown the football three times and I’ve been playing football since I was 6 years old. Six years old, [we] threw the football more than that,” he said. — Mike Reiss

How serious is Adrian Phillips‘ knee injury? The veteran safety left the game late in the fourth quarter after registering five tackles and a team-high two passes defended. Phillips has been one of the team’s best and most consistent defenders, with Belichick previously comparing him to Patrick Chung in the sense that he always seems to do the right thing. Phillips tweeted after the game “Thank you God!” but it was unclear if that was related to his injury situation. — Reiss

Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 7, up from 6.6. Moving on up, slowly but surely, in Belichick fashion. With each week comes an added level of confidence, as the Patriots keep finding different ways to win — which is what good teams do.

Next game: at Colts (Saturday, Dec. 18, 8:20 p.m. ET)


Bills

What to know: The Bills continue to lose games at the line of scrimmage, and it cost them in a key AFC East matchup against the first-place Patriots. Despite the Patriots attempting an historic three passes, the Bills struggled to limit New England’s offense and allowed them to run when they needed to. They were able to put enough points on the board and run out the clock, finishing with a 32:01-27:59 advantage in time of possession. On the offensive side, the Bills remain unable to run the ball effectively, which falls on both the running backs — averaging 3.2 yards per carry — and the blockers. “We’re gonna try our darndest to fix it,” coach Sean McDermott said. “It’s tough. I’m not gonna sit up here and lie to you guys. To fix (the rushing offense) this time of year is tough. That’s why we try like heck to do it in training camp. That’s where you develop the toughness of the football team.” — Alaina Getzenberg

Can the Bills still win the AFC East? Yes, but something needs to change. A terrible trend has begun to emerge for the Bills. For the past six games, they have won one game and then immediately lost the next. That pattern has happened three straight times. The loss to the Patriots was a close game. Buffalo had so many chances to put points on the board and take control. That didn’t happen. The next three weeks include the upcoming game against the Buccaneers and another game against the Patriots. The Bills are running out of time and there is little room for error, but it’s still possible to win the division. — Getzenberg

Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.5, down from 7.9. The Bills keep falling short of the challenge to win a big game, which holds back their score yet again, but they also lost a close battle to a good football team that is now on a seven-game winning streak.

Next game: at Buccaneers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Chiefs

What to know: The defense will need to continue to drag an underachieving offense to victory. In beating the Broncos, the Chiefs topped 20 points for just the second time in their five-game winning streak but needed an interception return for a touchdown by Daniel Sorensen to get there. This is no longer a slump for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense. Between turnovers, penalties and a lack of big plays, the Chiefs have issues they apparently aren’t making progress in solving. — Adam Teicher

Can the Chiefs continue to win with a low-scoring offense? They’ve won five straight games, two against opponents leading their respective divisions, so it has worked to this point. But the margin for error is slim. One substandard day for the defense could bring the whole thing crashing down. — Teicher

Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, down from 9. A victory over the Broncos, an opponent the Chiefs have beaten 12 straight times, isn’t enough to raise the confidence level.

Next game: vs. Raiders (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


Broncos

What to know: The Broncos didn’t get the play they needed and didn’t create the pivotal moment necessary to beat Kansas City. They needed a hero on offense Sunday night, and they are still left wanting, as the losing streak to the Chiefs is now 12 in a row. The Denver defense did more than enough to win, but the Broncos didn’t get a favorable early ruling on what would have been a scoop-and-score touchdown if the play had not been blown dead as an incompletion. (The Broncos lost the review.) They didn’t score on a 20-play drive, and they didn’t make anything out of a Pat Surtain II interception. Whenever they did make the K.C. defense nervous, the Broncos would get penalized. If they continue to waste good defensive efforts, the Broncos won’t stay in the playoff hunt for much longer. — Jeff Legwold

How can the Broncos get the ball to their wide receivers? Whatever they’re doing right now ain’t working. Midway through the fourth quarter, Courtland Sutton had two catches, while Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy had one each. The Broncos don’t protect quarterback Teddy Bridgewater well enough when they open up the formation to sling it around and don’t use play-action nearly enough when they get behind. Their best work pushing the ball down the field in the passing game has come out of play-action, yet in all six of their losses, the Broncos haven’t consistently committed to it and haven’t offered a real explanation as to why. — Legwold

Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, down from 5.5. The defense is good enough for a postseason chase, but the Broncos continue to be let down by their consistently leaky special teams and low-impact offense.

Next game: vs. Lions (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Seahawks

What to know: Quarterback Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense snapped out of their funk, providing some hope the final five games — even if meaningless — will at least be entertaining. On a wild Sunday, the Seahawks fumbled four times, losing two, and gave the ball away when Gerald Everett bobbled a would-be touchdown. They also mismanaged the clock and nearly allowed the 49ers to drive the 98 yards needed for the tying score, before holding at the 3. But this was a much better version of Wilson and of the offense that scored only 26 points during the three-game losing streak that began with his return from finger surgery. Even with at least one notable misfire, Wilson was much more accurate than he had been of late while completing 30 of 37 passes for 231 yards and two TDs with the unlucky INT. — Brady Henderson

How badly is Jamal Adams hurt? The Pro Bowl strong safety left late in the second quarter because of a shoulder injury and didn’t return. When he walked back onto the sideline in the third quarter in street clothes, he shared an extended embrace with his position coach, Andre Curtis. Adams dealt with injuries to both shoulders last season, with one requiring surgery. He had been playing better of late after early-season struggles, with two interceptions in three games and other impact plays. He had shown flashes of the $17.5 million-per-year player the Seahawks are paying him to be. The real disappointment is that the Seahawks won’t reap the biggest reward of this awful season — an early first-round pick — because the Jets own it. Depending on its severity, Adams’ shoulder injury could add to that disappointment. — Henderson

Henderson’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, up from 2. This win was almost certainly too late to keep any realistic playoff hopes alive — the Seahawks were down to a 1% chance entering the day, per ESPN’s Football Power Index — but they showed they’re still going to compete.

Next game: at Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


49ers

What to know: Despite how their recent three-game win streak…



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