The trend of upsets continued during Week 11, showing how many open the race for the Super Bowl truly is. With many teams ravaged by injuries, the 2021 NFL season, more so than other years, has become a war of attrition.
On Sunday, the top seed in each conference lost to a team with a losing record. The Green Bay Packers fell 34-31 to the Minnesota Vikings in a shootout while the Tennessee Titans’ six-game winning streak was snapped by the 1-8 Houston Texans.
As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches, here are my top 10 teams heading into Week 12.
10. Los Angeles Chargers (6-4)
Previous Ranking: N/A
While the Los Angeles Chargers lack a Super Bowl championship, one aspect of their franchise that has been consistent is the abundance of franchise quarterbacks. This was on full display during Sunday Night Football as Justin Herbert prevented another typical Chargers’ collapse with another strong performance. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Herbert threw for 382 yards and ran for 90 more to give the Chargers a crucial 41-37 win. After losing to the Vikings a week ago, the Chargers picked up a much-needed win in a packed AFC wild card race. Another key game is approaching for the Chargers as they head to Denver on Sunday and face the 5-5 Broncos.
9. Baltimore Ravens (7-3)
Previous Ranking: 9
All season long, the Baltimore Ravens have found many different ways to win games that looked to be lost. On Sunday at Chicago, the Ravens trailed the Bears 13-9 late in the game. Tyler Huntley had to win the game for Baltimore as Lamar Jackson missed the game with an illness. On 3rd-and-12 from the Bears’ 32-yard line, Huntley completed a 29-yard pass to Sammy Watkins off his backfoot in traffic to set up DeVonta Freeman’s game-winning touchdown. Their 16-13 win was anything but pretty, but the victory keeps the Ravens atop the AFC North. They look to stay that way as they will host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday Night Football.
8. Los Angeles Rams (7-3)
Previous Ranking: 8
Sean McVay and the Los Angeles Rams needed a bye week to lick their wounds after two consecutive ugly losses to the Titans and San Francisco 49ers. Adjustments will be needed offensively after two multi-interception games from Matthew Stafford. Their first test after the bye week will not be easy as they head to Lambeau Field for a Sunday evening battle with the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay was the site of the Rams’ 32-18 loss in last season’s divisional playoff round.
7. Tennessee Titans (8-3)
Previous Ranking: 3
It was only a matter of time before the Titans started struggling due to the loss of their franchise player, Derrick Henry. Ryan Tannehill had one of his worst games as a Titans against the Texans on Sunday with four interceptions. Without a true running game, Tannehill had to keep throwing the ball in vain as the Texans’ defense came up with key stops in the fourth quarter. The Titans are still the top seed in the AFC, but they have the NFL’s hottest team in the New England Patriots on the horizon. On Sunday, the Titans travel to Foxborough for a showdown with the Patriots, who are currently on a five-game winning streak. The last time the Titans went to Foxborough was when Henry and Tennessee eliminated the Patriots in the wild card round in what was Tom Brady’s final game with the Patriots.
6. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)
Previous Ranking: 4
Sunday’s trip to Arrowhead Stadium was a tumultuous one as the Dallas Cowboys were without left tackle Tyron Smith, wide receiver Amari Cooper and their top-two pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Dak Prescott and the offense failed to find a rhythm as the offensive line allowed five sacks, and constant dropped passes stalled out promising drives. Despite a valiant effort from the defense, the Cowboys lost 19-9. A reprieve with these injuries will have to wait as Dallas will host the Las Vegas Raiders on Thanksgiving afternoon.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
Previous Ranking: 10
Well, look who is riding plenty of momentum. The two-time defending AFC champions are riding high on a four-game winning streak. Their much-maligned defense had their best game of the season on Sunday against the Cowboys, holding their offense to nine points. Chris Jones showed his superstardom with 3.5 sacks in the game, terrorizing Prescott all game long. The Chiefs head into their bye week hoping to rest up and have a strong December.
4. Green Bay Packers (8-3)
Previous Ranking: 1
A banged-up Packers’ defense forced Aaron Rodgers into a shootout with the healthy and loaded Minnesota Vikings offense. Rodgers and Kirk Cousins traded blows all afternoon in one of the most entertaining games of the season. The two quarterbacks combined for seven touchdowns, zero interceptions and 726 yards. In the end, the Vikings had the ball last and Greg Joseph kicked the game-winning 29-yard field goal to give Minnesota the 34-31 win. With the loss, they dropped out of the NFC’s top seed. The Packers face the Rams on Sunday in their last game before their bye week.
3. New England Patriots (7-4)
Previous Ranking: 6
No team in the NFL is hotter than the New England Patriots. A few days after drubbing the Cleveland Browns 45-7, the Patriots faced the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday Night Football. The defense pitched a shutout with four interceptions in their 25-0 win, allowing the offense to only contribute minimally for the victory. It was a nostalgia trip for Patriots fans as not only did the Patriots go on a 25-0 run in regulation against the Falcons, but that night, a lunar eclipse lasted three hours and 28 minutes, all reminiscent of Super Bowl 51. The Patriots have a chance to grab the AFC’s top seed on Sunday as they face the Titans in a crucial AFC battle.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3)
Previous Ranking: 7
With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers getting healthier and many teams around them suffering crucial injuries, they are winning the war of attrition. On top of this, they are flexing their muscles as Tampa Bay continued their unbeaten streak at home on Monday Night Football. Against the New York Giants, Tom Brady threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns while the defense committed three takeaways in the 30-10 win. The victory propels Tampa Bay to a 5-0 home record. For their next two games, the Bucs hit the road as they attempt to earn the NFC’s top seed. First up is a collision with an unstoppable force: Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor.
1. Arizona Cardinals (9-2)
Previous Ranking: 2
Once again, the Arizona Cardinals went on the road against a division rival without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins, and came away with a hard-fought win. At Seattle on Sunday, the Cardinals bounced back from getting humiliated by the Carolina Panthers with a 23-13 win against the Seahawks. Colt McCoy threw for 328 yards and two scores in an efficient performance. Two sacks from Chandler Jones anchored a stout defensive effort. The Cardinals head into their bye week with a chance to get Murray and Hopkins healthy for the final stretch run of the regular season.