NFL Media researcher Brandon Mendoza identifies several of the biggest overreactions from each week's set of games. The storylines below are bound to play out because, after all, numbers never lie. Right?
NOTE: All stats and rankings are current through Sunday of Week 12.
The NFL's five BEST teams are ... all in the AFC!
Seven teams have at least eight wins heading into Week 12's Monday Night Football matchup: the Steelers (10-0), the Chiefs (10-1), the Saints (9-2), the Titans (8-3), the Bills (8-3), the Browns (8-3) and the Packers (8-3).
If we wanted to identify the five best teams in the NFL by focusing on that group, how would the ranking shake out? (The 7-3 Seahawks can get to eight wins Monday, but with the worst total defense in the NFL, they'd easily fall out of the top five.) Well, it's tough to argue that the undefeated Steelers and 10-win Chiefs are not among the five best teams, so that leaves the Saints, Packers, Titans, Bills and Browns to fill the final three spots.
The Saints are not an elite team without injured QB Drew Brees -- Taysom Hill still has not thrown a TD pass in 57 career attempts, and his passer rating in Week 12 (43.2) was the second-lowest among any starting quarterback (Cam Newton was at the bottom with 23.6). The Packers looked good on Sunday, albeit against yet another mediocre team. Green Bay has faced just two teams who entered their matchup with a winning record (Buccaneers and Colts), and the Packers lost both games. Their defense is also allowing 25.7 points per game, which would be their fourth-most in a season in the Super Bowl era.
So the top two NFC teams have glaring flaws. The remaining AFC teams on our big board, meanwhile, have considerable attributes. The Browns are the best running team in football (161.4 rushing yards per game). The Titans have the fewest giveaways in the NFL (five). Bills quarterback Josh Allen is a TD machine (he's the only QB this season with 20-plus passing TDs and five-plus rushing TDs).
And because winning close games is the difference between good and great, let's look at one more factor: record in games decided by one possession. The top four teams this season? The Steelers (5-0), Browns (5-0), Titans (6-1) and Bills (5-1).
Father Time has finally caught up with Tom Brady
Tom Brady has lost three times in a four-game span for the first time since Weeks 10-13 of the 2009 season. What's the problem? Easy: He's throwing too much!
In his first season with Bruce Arians' Buccaneers, the 43-year-old is averaging an absurd 39.5 pass attempts per game. That rate would mark the second-highest of his 21-year career for a full season, trailing only 2012 (39.8) by a minuscule 0.3 attempts.
The uptick in pass attempts has not paid off, as Brady's 11 interceptions are the most through his first 12 games of a season since 2006, when he completed 12 passes to the other team. (That year, he didn't throw another pick the rest of the season.)
Against the Chiefs on Sunday, Brady recorded his fourth game of 2020 with multiple interceptions, which is already tied for his most in a single season. By the way, Brady's record in those four games? 0-4.
A major contributing factor to Brady's passing struggles is his inability to hit the deep ball (passes of 20-plus air yards). He was 4-of-7 on deep passes Sunday, which seems respectable -- until you realize that since Week 5, Brady ranks dead last among 31 quarterbacks in passer rating on deep-pass throws, per Next Gen Stats (27.7).
It's hard to believe, but Brady's five losses in Tampa are just two shy of his career-worst 9-7 record with the Patriots in 2002, when he also had a career-high 14 interceptions. Coincidence?
Derrick Henry is running his way into Canton
Seemingly every week, Titans running back Derrick Henry accomplishes something that puts him on another list full of Hall of Famers, calling to mind this adage: When people show you who they are, believe them.
On Sunday, Henry logged 178 rushing yards and three rushing TDs against a Colts team that ranked third in rushing yards per game allowed entering Week 12. It was Henry's seventh career game with at least 150 rushing yards and two rushing TDs. The only other players with more such games since 1950 are all immortalized in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Jim Brown (13), LaDainian Tomlinson (12), Barry Sanders (10), Eric Dickerson (nine) and Emmitt Smith (nine).
Henry is the fourth player in NFL history with three games of at least 175 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in their first five seasons, joining Hall of Famers Jim Brown (five) and LaDainian Tomlinson (three), plus future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson (three).
Henry has also feasted on the road. His 1,121 rushing yards in his last eight road games are the third-most since 1970 by any player in an eight-road-game span. The only two players with more rushing yards? The theme continues: Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson (1,188) and Earl Campbell (1,127).
Kevin Stefanski is the best thing to happen to Cleveland since LeBron
LeBron James brought Cleveland its first ever NBA title in 2016, snapping a citywide championship drought of 52 years. What Kevin Stefanski has brought to Cleveland in his first season as Browns head coach might be even more rare: winning football.
By beating the Jaguars on Sunday, the Browns climbed to 8-3, marking their best 11-game start since 1994, when Bill Belichick was the head coach. In securing their eighth win, the Browns ended a streak of 12 straight seasons with a losing record. Only the Buccaneers had a longer drought (of 14 seasons, from 1983 to 1996) in NFL history.
Stefanski has transformed quarterback Baker Mayfield from a gunner (34.4 pass attempts per game in 2018-19) to what some might unflatteringly call a "game-manager" (26.7 pass attempts per game in 2020), but the results have paid dividends. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick has the highest TD-to-INT ratio of his NFL tenure (17:7) and is riding a career-long streak of four straight games without an interception. Keep in mind, Mayfield had the second-most interceptions (21) in the NFL, second to Jameis Winston (30), last season.
Behind Stefanski's scheme, the Browns are the top rushing team in the NFL at 161.4 rush yards per game -- and that number goes way up to 199.0 when Nick Chubb is active. Chubb, who missed four games with an MCL sprain, is averaging 102.7 rushing yards per game and 6.3 rushing yards per carry. Only four players in NFL history (among those with a minimum of five games) have ever hit those marks in a season, and three won MVP (2012 Adrian Peterson, 1997 Barry Sanders, 1973 O.J. Simpson); the other was Jim Brown with the Browns in 1963.
With five games remaining, the Browns are entrenched in the playoff picture as the current No. 5 seed in the AFC. A trip to the playoffs would snap a 17-season gap, which is currently tied for the second-longest stretch in the Super Bowl era, behind only the 1967-1986 Saints (20 seasons). The Browns' last postseason appearance was in the 2002 playoffs, coincidentally about six months before LeBron James entered the NBA.
Chiefs' offense is the scariest since '13 Broncos
The 2013 Broncos were an offensive juggernaut who averaged the second-most points per game in NFL history (37.9), behind only the 1950 Rams (38.8). They also boasted the NFL MVP, Peyton Manning, who set NFL records for most passing yards (5,477) and passing TDs (55) in a single season. No team since has matched Denver's feat of averaging at least 30 points per game and 310-plus passing yards per game -- that is, until the 2020 Chiefs, who are matching that production and giving that Broncos squad a run for their offensive money.
Patrick Mahomes leads all quarterbacks this season with 317.9 passing yards per game (among those who have made a minimum of six starts) to go along with a ridiculous TD-to-INT ratio of 30:2; Mahomes is on pace to break the single-season TD-to-INT ratio record held by Tom Brady (28:2 in 2016). While beating Brady's Bucs on Sunday, Mahomes became the first player in NFL history with at least 30 completions and 300 passing yards in four consecutive games.
The Chiefs have the top two ranked players in receiving yards this season: Tyreek Hill (1,021) and Travis Kelce (978). A team has not owned the top two spots in that category in a season since the 1980 Chargers, who placed John Jefferson (1,340) and Kellen Winslow (1,290) at No. 1 and No. 2. Hill had 13 receptions for 269 yards and three TDs on Sunday, becoming just the fifth player since 1950 to have more than 10 receptions, more than 250 receiving yards and three-plus receiving TDs in a game, joining Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Steve Largent, as well as ex-Jaguar Jimmy Smith and the great Cloyce Box, who played for the Lions in the 1950s.
Like Hill, who has 100 or more receiving yards in three straight games, the Chiefs are heating up offensively. Since their Week 5 loss to the Raiders, the Chiefs are averaging 33.2 points per game, 441.3 total yards per game, 6.7 yards per play and 336.8 pass yards per game ... all the most in the NFL in that span. Scary to think that the Chiefs are just now hitting their stride.