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Thirty-nine things we learned from Week 13

*As we head down the season's final stretch, the AFC's stalwarts are upping their game. *

*Without their most valuable offensive weapon, the Patriots looked unfazed in their assured win over the listless Rams. New England's 26-10 victory put Tom Brady into rarified air as the quarterback passed Peyton Manning for most career wins, including playoffs. *

*In Atlanta, Eric Berry had an emotional homecoming, recording a pick-six and a game-winning pick-two to keep Kansas City afloat in the wild-card race and a half-game back in the AFC West. *

Joe Flacco and his veteran Ravens squad proved their worth to the overachieving Dolphins, while the Broncos survived without their starting quarterback in Duval. Oakland came back from 15 points down to drounce the Bills, and the Steelers held off Odell Beckham and the Giants.

Who will keep up? Who will fall off? This AFC playoff race is just getting started. Here's what we learned from Week 13:

  1. When Eric Berry gets his hands on the ball, he's likely to score points. The Georgia native's emotional pick six just before halftime and "pick two" of Matt Ryan's two-point conversion attempt with 4:32 left was the difference in the game. It was a fitting way for this Chiefs team, which has reached 9-3 almost exclusively on their turnover margin, to win an incredibly entertaining game.
  1. In a considerable upset, the Chiefs had the better big-play offense. They had six plays over 20 yards, in large part because Travis Kelce (150 yards) and Tyreek Hill are beasts after the catch. Kelce put on a show, often destroying Falcons first round safety Keanu Neal. With Jeremy Maclin injured, Andy Reid has done a great job featuring Kelce more of late.
  1. This was a highly discouraging game for Atlanta's title hopes. Left tackle Jake Matthews exited with a knee injury, which made an immediate impact on the team's pass protection. Julio Jones, who gained another 113 yards, missed most of Atlanta's final drive after being shaken up with an undisclosed injury. Mohamed Sanu also left late with a groin injury. Now 7-5, Atlanta's chances of a playoff bye took a big hit. The NFC South race is getting tighter too.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. The Steelers have been trending toward a slightly more conservative, screen-heavy offense with Le'Veon Bell as the centerpiece. The transformation has paid off with a reduction in sacks and turnovers while Bell has averaged an astonishing 175 yards from scrimmage over the past three weeks -- all Pittsburgh victories. Hall of Famer Jim Brown averaged an NFL-record 125.5 yards from scrimmage in his unparalleled nine-year career. Bell is right on his heels, averaging 124.6 in 44 career games.
  1. Led by Eli Apple's two takeaways and Olivier Vernon's sixth and seventh sacks in the past five games, the Giants' flourishing defense held its own on the road. After picking on cupcake opponents during a six-game winning streak, though, the offense's woes came home to roost. Prior to Sterling Shepard's garbage-time touchdown in the game's final minute, New York's lone score was a 13-yard screen pass to Rashad Jennings, capitalizing on a Bell fumble inside Pittsburgh's 17-yard line. After scoring 30 or more points five times last season, the Giants are one of just five teams (Texans, 49ers, Bears, Browns) not to reach that mark this year. They entered the week tied for 30th in big plays and are on pace for their worst rushing attack since 1945. To top it all off, Eli Manning's arm seems to be growing weaker each game as he consistently underthrows receivers on passes over 20 yards.
  1. For three months, the Steelers' have been auditioning stand-ins for suspended star Martavis Bryant as the second fiddle opposite Brown. They might have finally found their answer in Ladarius Green, who is steadily earning Ben Roethlisberger's trust after missing the first half of the season due to injury. The former Chargers tight end was a big-play machine Sunday, riddling New York's defense for gains of 37, 33 and a 20-yard touchdown. If early-season deep threat Sammie Coates recovers from two broken fingers to add another downfield weapon, this offense will rival Oakland's as the class of the AFC.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. In the Dolphins' coverage-deficient linebackers, the Ravens found the perfect antidote for their pass-happy, refuse-to-run offensive attack. Snapping the NFL's third-longest streak of games with a passer rating under 100, Flacco carved up the soft underbelly of Miami's zone coverage, putting the ball on his receivers' hands with impeccable ball placement all afternoon. This was easily the offense's best performance of the season, but can it be repeated against stingy pass defenses intent on testing play-caller Marty Mornhinweg's willingness to establish a viable ground attack?
  1. As generous as the matchup was for Flacco, Ryan Tannehill was bedeviled by a top-five defense which shuts down the run and feasts on opposing quarterbacks in Baltimore. The Ravens took away Tannehill's first read, forced three interceptions and allowed DeVante Parker's toe-dragging touchdown only after Dennis Pitta's fumble placed the Dolphins' offense eight yards from the end zone. Tannehill's progress over the previous three weeks was undone by 11 possessions that resulted in six punts, three turnovers, a missed field goal and the one score on a lay-up.
  1. In a season of increased scrutiny for kickers, it's easy to see why Baltimore's booming metronome has inspired MVP examination. With the clock ticking down from 15 seconds late in the second quarter, Flacco took his sweet time, secure in the knowledge that he didn't need to run another play from the 38-yard line. The Ravens approach 55-yard field goals with more nonchalance than other teams treat point-after-touchdown attempts.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Battling a hamstring injury and Mother Nature, Aaron Rodgers shook off a slow start to throw for 209 yards and two scores -- giving him an outrageous 19 touchdowns since Week 7. The Packers wasted a chance at potential points on their opening drive when a botched snap between Rodgers and his center turned into a lost fumble at Houston's 5-yard line. A talented Texans secondary shut down passing lanes for nearly three quarters until Rodgers authored a pretty 98-yard drive capped by his 32-yard scoring strike to Jordy Nelson (8/118/1). The march -- Aa-Rod's longest since 2009 -- gave the Packers a 14-7 lead they wouldn't lose. On the following drive, Nelson would show incredible focus and hand strength on a 28-yard grab that set up fullback Aaron Ripkowski's game-sealing touchdown to put Green Bay up 21-7.
  1. Texans fans can blame the snow. That's their final excuse for a dangerously limited offense that continues to look like one of the worst attacks in the NFL. When Rodgers hit Nelson for the go-ahead score, there was zero sense that Houston's offense would climb back in. Entering Sunday as the NFL's least effective deep thrower, Brock Osweiler missed a handful of deep balls for a scheme painfully centered around tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Ryan Griffin. The Texans quarterback suffered two sacks and five hits from a Packers defense we left for dead two weeks ago. The most encouraging throw all day for Osweiler came on a last-ditch bomb to DeAndre Hopkins, whose 44-yard score marked his first touchdown catch since Week 5.
  1. With two monstrous games over the past three weeks, Davante Adams came into Sunday as an obvious focal point of Green Bay's passing attack. The productive wideout was shut out over the first 45 minutes before Rodgers finally found him on the first play of the fourth quarter, a 17-yard grab that set the table for his team's second touchdown.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. The Lions went to New Orleans without their top tackler, Tahir Whitehead, and found a defense. Teryl Austin's unit held Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints offense to 13 points -- a week after they put up 49 points in the same building -- and intercepted the quarterback three times. The Lions' secondary earns the game ball, generating four passes defensed to go with the three takeaways (the D-line added three batted balls for seven total passes defensed). Safety Glover Quin made two spectacular plays early in the second half, including an acrobatic sideline interception. Austin schemed to slow the Saints big-play receivers Sunday, forcing Brees to check the ball down.
  1. Matthew Stafford's ball-control offense wore down a Saints defense that had been improving in recent weeks. Stafford completed 30 of 42 passes for two scores, picking apart the secondary on a bevy of short slants early. The Lions scored on seven of their nine drives (5 field goals, 2 touchdowns) and earned 422 total yards. Five of the first six drives lasted at least nine plays, keeping the Saints defense on the field for 36:52 -- and Brees on the sideline. It's the type of game-plan we've seen deployed all year by the Dallas Cowboys this season, except Detroit moves the ball through the air instead of a pounding running game.
  1. After complaining he wasn't targeted enough last week, Saints receiver Brandin Cooks caught seven passes for 73 yards on nine targets. He keyed two of the Saints' three scoring drives. Cooks used his speed to win down the field, but it's fair to wonder if Brees locked on the speedy wideout. At one point Brees eschewed a wide open Michael Thomas for a first down to take a deep shot to Cooks that Quin broke up. Four plays later Brees threw a pick on a target to Cooks.

-- Kevin Patra

  1. The Raiders are pure magic. Playing heavily out of the shotgun to offset Buffalo's pass rush, Derek Carr fought through an ugly start to lead Oakland to 29 unanswered points and another rollicking victory. The Bills did an admirable job in the red zone in the first half, but that melted away quick as Carr and the boys caught fire after the break. The Raiders quarterback earned his 10th fourth-quarter comeback over the past two seasons by hitting one key throw after the next to finish with 260 yards passing at 7.4 per attempt. It was impressive to see Oakland will itself back into the game and completely throttle the Bills over the final 20-plus minutes. If you're scanning the AFC for a bona fide challenger to the mighty Patriots, look no further than the Silver and Black.
  1. Before the Raiders roared to life, Rex Ryan spent much of Sunday flipping the bird to his fleet of doubters. Laughed about in September as a candidate to lose his job, the Bills coach unleashed his top-ranked ground game against a Raiders defense allowing an NFL-worst 6.2 yards per play. Buffalo peaked just after the break when LeSean McCoy ripped off a 54-yard burst to set up a Tyrod Taylor scoring scramble that put Buffalo up 17-9. With 212 yards on the day at a strong 7.1 yards per pop, Buffalo used the combination of McCoy (17/130) and Mike Gillislee (8/49/2) to initially confound the Raiders, who couldn't counter Shady's patience and zigzagging magic or Gillislee's straight-ahead hammer drops. Oakland tightened up down the stretch, though, to force three straight punts before Defensive Player of the Year candidate Khalil Mack nipped Taylor's arm on a fourth-quarter lob that landed in the arms of safety Nate Allen. The Raiders scored four plays later to put this tilt on ice.
  1. Michael Crabtree has been a revelation for the Raiders, but the wideout hurt the team in the second quarter by dropping a would-be touchdown pass two plays before he was flagged for taunting, a gaffe that forced Oakland to settle for a field goal. Still, Crabtree (7/74/1) made up for it with a pretty third-quarter grab in the back of the end zone to galvanize Buffalo's demise.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Tom Brady is now the winningest quarterback of all time, passing rival Peyton Manning with an efficient performance against the Rams. The Patriots converted to power mode without Rob Gronkowski, which kept an injured Brady (knee) out of harm's way in the face of an oft-blitzing Rams defense. It's afternoons like these where we honestly believe the half-joking quarterback when he talks about playing until age 50. There is such a mechanical comfort -- even in absence of health -- that allows him to pick and pop a good defense to death.
  1. This was not the kind of game the Rams had hoped for, especially after news broke that coach Jeff Fisher agreed to a two-year extension during the offseason. While the stability of a franchise quarterback and team in a new location are important, it's hard to imagine that this is the way to solve their problems. Their star players on offense, like Todd Gurley and Kenny Britt, are trapped in a predictable, punchless system. Their star players on defense, like Aaron Donald, can only do so much to prop up a team that seems fundamentally broken with no clear solution. On the bright side, at least they let rookie Jared Goff go deep a few times against the Patriots. He has a wonderful arm at times that, some day, could be showcased properly.
  1. LeGarrette Blount gained 88 yards on 18 carries Sunday -- yet another reminder that he is an excellent November/December/January back. The Patriots are wonderfully equipped to survive despite a rash of injuries thanks to this pair. Martellus Bennett is one of the best run-blocking tight ends in football and the offense will reinvent itself over the next few weeks as they are prone to do under Belichick.

-- Conor Orr

  1. Seattle's offense is coming into its own as the Seahawks begin their march toward a first-round bye. After the unit's worst outing of the season against Tampa Bay, Seattle rolled through a Luke Kuechly-less Carolina defense for 534 yards, thanks to breakout nights from Thomas Rawls and Tyler Lockett. Rawls cut sharply through the Panthers' front and bounced off tackles on strong runs en route to a 106-yard, two-touchdown evening, his best performance since returning from injury in Week 11. Lockett was a force out of the backfield, playing the role of the C.J. Prosise and displaying his extraordinary speed on a 75-yard sweep to open the second half.
  1. The shame of this season is the inability of the Seahawks' defense to stay healthy. There has been nary a game during which Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas have all been on the field at the same time for the whole 60 minutes. The return of Bennett on Sunday night was supposed to launch the Legion of Boom into playoff form, but those hopes were dashed when Thomas left the game in the second quarter with what appears to be a season-ending leg injury. Carolina immediately exposed backup safety Steven Terrell on an ensuing 55-yard touchdown pass.
  1. The reigning MVP had an, um, interesting night. In a perplexing move, Cam Newton was benched to start the game in favor of Derek Anderson, who threw an interception on the very first play, only to return to the huddle on the next drive. Reports later surfaced that coach Ron Rivera had briefly sidelined Newton due to a "dress code violation," an odd offense given the QB's propensity for flamboyant postgame podium get-ups. Aside from one fantastic TD toss to Ted Ginn, Newton was pedestrian when he returned under center, completing less than 45 percent of his passes and throwing off his back foot with little accuracy. There's more to unpack here, but it will likely be done with more ferocity on hawt-take talk shows on Monday.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. Denver scored the perfect week to be forced to start Paxton Lynch. Jacksonville has a defense that, on paper, should be stingy against any offense, even if their record doesn't show it. Denver wisely remedied early struggles by turning to a ground game that found a little daylight in the second quarter with the combination of Kapri Bibbs and Devontae Booker. But make no mistake -- a Denver offense that already had its issues was only worse with Lynch in the lineup.
  1. The Jaguars were in it late, but having witnessed three quarters of complete unpredictability on offense, it never felt like they were really in it. Jacksonville turned the ball over twice entering the latter stages of the fourth, including a Bradley Roby pick-six, and as we watched Bortles escape and fire rockets to anyone, anywhere, at any time, it seemed only a matter of time before turnover No. 3 happened. It eventually did, though only when the pocket collapsed on Bortles, forcing him to fumble and bringing a ho-hum finish to a ho-hum day that didn't appear as such on the scoreboard.
  1. In a role reversal early in the contest, it was the Jags getting to the quarterback more often than the Broncos. Jacksonville pressured Lynch plenty, which undoubtedly played a part in his skittishness for much of the game. Denver turned the tables later in the action, forcing Bortles to let it fly or run for his life. That added pressure was encouraging after the Broncos' front seven didn't look like itself early, and accounted for multiple Jaguars drives that stalled before they could become game-tying possessions.

-- Nick Shook

  1. Tampa Bay looked like a team at least a year away from contending after seven weeks this season, but the continued maturation of Jameis Winston has the Bucs' arrow pointing upward and the team in a battle for the NFC South crown. Tampa Bay has won four straight, including three close victories over contending teams. They face a four-game slate that includes three contests against division opponents, with the lone non-division game being a matchup at Dallas. The going won't be easy, but thanks to Winston's growing command of the Tampa Bay offense, and timely play by the Buccaneers' defensive front seven, they're set up to fight to the end of the regular season.
  1. There's a reason these two franchises are so similar in record: They're essentially the same team. Each possesses budding stars and seasoned veterans, each has holes, each does things well and each makes just as many errors. Case A in point: Philip Rivers dropped deep in San Diego territory and threw a pick-six, then followed that with a 40-yard touchdown pass less than three minutes later. Case B in point: Tampa Bay moved down to San Diego's 2-yard line, was whistled for illegal touching after Russell Shepard caught a pass in the end zone after stepping out of bounds on third-and-goal, was flagged for a false start on the ensuing field goal attempt and ended up going from two yards away from six points to a 27-yard field goal attempt, which Roberto Aguayo converted. Good comes with the bad with both of these clubs.
  1. When I watch Philip Rivers play in 2016, I see a man who is woefully aware that his time in the NFL is running out. Every mistake, every miscommunication angers him even more than usual. He lets the deep ball fly with near reckless abandon. And with the game on the line Sunday, he has too often made the risky throw that doesn't go his way. It's as if his anxiety and frustration boiled over when his lob to Dontrelle Inman was intercepted by Keith Tandy, and the shot back to Rivers showed the quarterback having already removed his helmet and grimacing in disgust and anger. San Diego is now 5-7. Rumors continue to fly about their geographical future. It seems no one is feeling that pressure more than Rivers.

-- Nick Shook

  1. If it were physically possible for Bruce Arians to feed the ball to David Johnson 100 times a game, it appears he'd give it a try. Johnson lined up all over the field in the Cardinals' win over the Redskins, and Arians gave him the ball all over the field. At one point in the second half, Johnson split out wide, and despite having a cornerback on him, Carson Palmer threw him a 23-yard bomb that he nearly came down with for the score. Later in the game, Johnson took a bubble screen from the wide receiver position for a 25-yard score. The big running back finished the day with 175 total yards (84 rushing, 91 receiving) on 27 total touches (18 carries, nine receptions). He had 12 targets in the passing game, which was one more than Larry Fitzgerald had.
  1. Speaking of Fitzgerald, the future Hall of Famer continues to be ageless. The Cardinals wideout, who moved the sticks constantly Sunday, moved into third place on the all-time NFL receptions list, passing both Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison. Fitzgerald finished the game with 10 grabs for 78 yards.
  1. The Redskins' offense just can't help itself when it comes to dropping Kirk Cousins back. Despite a relatively successful running game (Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson averaged 5.44 yards per carry), Sean McVay insisted on making the Redskins an air show. Cousins threw the ball 37 times for a solid 271 yards, but was put in harm's way many times which cost the 'Skins. In addition to losing time of possession 33:46 to 26:14, Cousins' fumble in the third quarter led to a Cardinals touchdown, and the quarterback's fourth-quarter pick sealed the loss for Washington. The Redskins finished with 37 passes to just 18 rushes.

-- Edward Lewis

  1. Even without A.J. Green, Andy Dalton completely shredded the Eagles' defense. He completed 23 of his 31 throws for 332 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals scored on their first six possessions of the contest, racing out to a 29-0 lead in the third quarter. Dalton was sacked 32 times this season coming into this game, tied for the second-highest total in the league. Give credit to Cincy's offensive line though: Dalton was rarely pressured, and he wasn't sacked a single time by a pass rush featuring Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham. Philly dropped to 0-7 this season when allowing more than 15 points.
  1. This contest was one of Carson Wentz's worst performances in an up-and-down rookie campaign. He was picked off three times (a career-high) and was fortunate that the Cincinnati defense didn't have more. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict had two of the picks, his first career multi-interception game. Quite a few of Wentz's throws were too high for his wideouts, and his deep throws have sailed, a troubling trend of late for the rookie. Wentz has three touchdown passes versus eight interceptions over his past five games.
  1. One week after he was a healthy scratch, Nelson Agholor bounced back as he tied a season-high with four receptions. Two of those catches were fourth-down conversions, and he didn't have a single drop. Unfortunately for Agholor, undrafted rookie wideout Paul Turner emerged Sunday as a favorite target of Wentz's. He finished with six catches and 80 yards, or more catches and yards than Agholor has had in any game in his career.

-- Max Meyer

  1. Sunday's snowy tilt between the 49ers and Bears served as another highlight game for Chicago rookie running back Jordan Howard. Howard recorded his first career TD hat trick and amassed 117 rushing yards. Because of the Sunday's conditions and last week's lack of chemistry between the receiving corps and quarterback Matt Barkley, Howard was projected to shoulder the bulk of Bears' carries, and ultimately came through, taking advantage of a wavering Niners defense.
  1. Trailing by 22 points at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the 49ers opted to bench Colin Kaepernick, whose day ended 1-of-5 passing for four yards, and roll with Blaine Gabbert under center for the remainder of the game. The quarterback swap didn't bode well for the 49ers' struggling offense, though. San Francisco was held scoreless in the fourth quarter and gave up a safety with minutes remaining in the matchup. Kaepernick was fresh off an impressive 296-yard performance in Week 12. Now at 1-11 overall, it will be interesting to see if the 49ers give Kaepernick the starting nod next week against the Jets.
  1. Barkley secured his first career win in his second outing as the Bears starting quarterback. In a game that didn't see its first completion until Kap's connected with Vance McDonald with seven minutes to go in the second quarter, Barkley record three back-to-back completions on the Bears' first touchdown drive.

-- Andie Hagemann

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