Through the first 13 weeks of the 2020 NFL season, I felt like I had a pretty good sense of the league landscape. But Week 14 provided true clarity on a number of fronts.
Here are nine confirmed truths -- previously held beliefs crystallized by the 14th Sunday of this unprecedented football campaign.
1) Buffalo is the biggest AFC threat to Kansas City
Buffalo beat Pittsburgh because Buffalo is better than Pittsburgh. I know what the records said entering this Sunday Night Football matchup, which pitted the 11-1 Steelers against the 9-3 Bills, but if you'd been paying attention to recent results, Buffalo's 26-15 win was hardly a surprise.
The Bills' defense was excellent, limiting the Steelers to 224 total yards and a 1-for-10 conversion rate on third down. Taron Johnson's pick-six right before halftime changed the game. On offense, Josh Allen continued to show off his rare skill set, leaning on bountiful trade acquisition Stefon Diggs (10 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown) much of the evening. Sean McDermott's team is buttoned up. Brandon Beane put together a fantastic club that can beat anyone. Buffalo has earned this 10-3 record.
Meanwhile, Mike Tomlin's team cannot run the ball at all. They can't catch the ball. Ben Roethlisberger looks fatigued, short-arming passes. The defense misses Bud Dupree and Devin Bush. Pittsburgh's record is impressive, but the team just isn't. It'll be tough to believe in these Steelers come playoff time. In fact, I expect Pittsburgh to have its hands full with Indianapolis and Cleveland down the stretch. The Colts and Browns can absolutely win those games in the regular season's final fortnight.
2) ... but the Chiefs are still winning the Super Bowl
Welcome back to the No. 1 seed, Kansas City.
Near the end of CBS' broadcast of K.C.'s 33-27 win over frisky Miami, Jim Nantz and Tony Romo were talking about how this year's Chiefs are better than last year's Super Bowl champion Chiefs. I couldn't agree more. On a day when Patrick Mahomes threw three interceptions and the Dolphins did a lot of really good things, the Chiefs still found a way to win. Mahomes did throw for 393 yards and two touchdowns, by the way, making a number of highlight-reel plays in the process. And Travis Kelce (eight catches for 136 yards and a touchdown) continued to assault the record books, recording his fourth game of this season with eight-plus catches and 125-plus yards -- the most such efforts by a tight end in one season since at least 1950, per NFL Research. Kelce, who currently leads the entire NFL with 1,250 receiving yards, needs just 128 more to break George Kittle's single-season TE record (1,377 in 2018). Tyreek Hill (four touches for 111 yards and two scores) was a beast, per usual, while the Chiefs' other ludicrous-speed wideout, Mecole Hardman, had a 67-yard punt-return touchdown.
Winning a game like this -- on the road, against a great defense and a well-coached Miami team, after spotting the Dolphins a 10-0 lead -- further proves Kansas City's might. The defending champions remain in the throne, and I don't see Mahomes and Co. ceding it any time soon.
3) Doug Pederson should've turned to Jalen Hurts much earlier
On my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," I begged Pederson to pull the plug on Carson Wentz following the Giants debacle in Week 10. After Wentz failed to take advantage of a porous Seahawks secondary in Week 12 -- throwing a ghastly red-zone pick to essentially put the game away -- I said Wentz leads the league in "oy vey!" moments. I'm not exactly sure what's going on with the former No. 2 overall pick, but he's clearly broken. Can he be put back together? Maybe. But that's for the years to come. In the here and now, Wentz isn't a starting quarterback. Pederson finally acknowledged that last week by giving Hurts the reins, and whaddya know -- the rookie second-rounder led Philly to one of the biggest upsets of the season, snapping New Orleans' nine-game win streak with a 24-21 triumph. Stunning stuff, right? Well, not exactly. This is Jalen Hurts. This is what he did at both Alabama and Oklahoma.
Coming into Sunday, the Saints hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 50 games. Hurts accomplished the feat with 106 yards on 18 carries -- and he wasn't alone! Miles Sanders appeared to be unlocked with Hurts as the trigger man, rushing for 115 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. Hurts also had a pretty sweet touchdown pass on fourth-and-2, too, hanging tough to deliver a back-shoulder dime to Alshon Jeffery.
Philadelphia (4-8-1) cannot run it back with Wentz and Pederson in 2021. Pederson's in-game coaching has been shaky all season; chances are he will be the one to take the fall. But at least he finally made the necessary QB switch. Hurts' first NFL start was inspiring, even if it came a few weeks too late. And now Pederson's unsurprisingly keeping the rook in place as the starter for Sunday's game in Arizona.
4) Taysom Hill is not the answer at QB in New Orleans
Never has been. Never will be. Taysom Hill is a fantastic athlete with a deep toolbox, but he's just not a QB1. His ball placement was off all day in the three-point loss to Philly, and his two turnovers (a too-hot-to-handle pass that bounced off Alvin Kamara's hands and a strip-sack where Hill held the ball forever) were disheartening.
Jameis Winston should've been the choice when Drew Brees hit injured reserve. Sean Payton should've really seen what he had in the talented-but-flawed former No. 1 overall pick. Now Brees is on his way back, but the 41-year-old's battling Father Time with a heavily compromised body. Consequently, it's tough to completely bank on these Saints.
I continue to think that the Rams are the team to beat in the NFC. And if the Packers keep the No. 1 spot in the NFC playoffs, forcing the conference to run through Lambeau, Aaron Rodgers will clearly be an ultra-difficult out.
5) Derrick Henry is the best running back in the NFL
Sorry, Nick Chubb. And apologies to you, too, Dalvin Cook. But it's still King Henry's world, and all other backs are just living in it.
Henry bounced back from a rare dud against the Browns to steal the Jaguars' collective soul. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound freight train pounded Jacksonville for a season-high 215 yards and two touchdowns in Tennessee's 31-10 win. This was Henry's fourth career game with at least 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns -- the most in NFL history (Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson each enjoyed three such efforts).
Henry will be getting my AP vote for first-team All-Pro at running back. He's the heartbeat of the dangerous 9-4 Titans.
6) Chase Young is a star
This cat is special. Wreck-the-game special. Change-the-culture special. Washington just took sole possession of first place with a 23-15 win over the reigning NFC champion 49ers in which the Football Team's defense outscored their offense, 14-9. That's right: Washington's defense keeps making plays -- and winning games -- with the No. 2 overall pick as the straw that stirs the drink.
Young filled up the stat sheet with six tackles, two passes defensed, two QB hits, a sack, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovering returned 47 yards for a touchdown. Wow. The Ohio State product is a 6-5, 264-pound nightmare.
7) Brian Flores is the man
And he is top three for Coach of the Year. Yes, I know I'm saying this after his team just lost, 33-27, but given where we all thought the Dolphins would be when Flores took over last year, a six-point loss to the hyper-explosive defending champions is really a win.
Now, Miami just gave up its most points of the season on Sunday. But yeah, you have to consider the opponent. Not to mention, the Fins forced four turnovers and sacked Patrick Mahomes three times. This was an inspired effort, scoreboard be damned. And the Miami defense takes its cue from Flores -- no wonder it's a special unit. Now, the Dolphins' D clearly has some high-end talent. Cornerback Xavien Howard just extended his streak of games with an interception to five, giving him an NFL-high nine on the season. (And what a pick it was!) He's well on his way to first-team All-Pro honors. But a lot of this defense is manned by overlooked players. And don't overlook the fact that the Dolphins forged a fine defensive effort against K.C. without starting linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts. That's pure coaching. On offense, Tua Tagovailoa continues to take strides. Clearly, tight end Mike Gesicki has become his Linus blanket.
Even after the loss, Miami is still 8-5, currently holding the AFC's last wild card slot. The remaining schedule is tough -- vs. New England, at Las Vegas, at Buffalo -- but the future is bright. The Dolphins will hit the coming offseason with two picks in the first and second round, plus a healthy chunk of cap room.
8) Nobody wants to face the Colts in January
I've been saying this for a while. Frank Reich's team is so well-coached. Matt Eberflus' defense is so tough. And now, Jonathan Taylor (20 rushes for 150 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's 44-27 win over the Raiders) is playing at the Rookie of the Year level I anticipated in the preseason. Oh, and T.Y. Hilton (five catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns) is back from the witness protection program.
Indy is peaking in every phase at the right time.
9) The Chargers need to make a coaching change
Los Angeles beat Atlanta on a last-second field goal in a game where the Falcons and Chargers appropriately went pick for pick for pick at the end. A clash of the titans, this was not.
Goofy clock management costing Los Angeles is a weekly stable of the Anthony Lynn Chargers. What we saw at the end of the first half on Sunday -- when the Chargers were confused and ran out of time to put points on the board -- was completely inexplicable. Yet par for the course.
With a true franchise quarterback in Justin Herbert and a truly talented roster put together by Tom Telesco, this would be a coveted coaching job in Southern California. Make it available, Bolts.