Week 11 in the NFL answered some of the league's questions, while raising several more. The New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos asserted themselves as elite teams, with San Francisco and Detroit needing to do some soul searching following unfortunate losses.
Buffalo Bills 37, New York Jets 14
- The 2013 season has become about offensive evaluation for Buffalo, and the organization has to be pleased with what they saw from E.J. Manuel on Sunday. The cards were stacked against the rookie quarterback without his two top receivers and against one of the league's best defenses, but Manuel remained poised in the pocket and picked his spots to make plays. He completed over 70 percent of his passes and led the offense effectively.
- It's an inverse situation in New York. Rookie quarterbacks make mistakes, that's part of starting young players -- but Geno Smith's inconsistency will ensure the Jets miss the playoffs in 2013. Smith has had moments this season where he looks like an elite quarterback, but also far too many occasions where he misreads coverage and throws interceptions. A defensive team cannot win reliably with a quarterback who throws 16 interceptions in 11 games.
Chicago Bears 23, Baltimore Ravens 20
- Each week Josh McCown has succeeded there have been justifications why there's not a quarterback controversy in Chicago, but perhaps there should be. The Bears defense isn't as opportunistic as it's been in past years, making offensive consistency far more important. McCown is completing 60 percent of his passes, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt and thrown four touchdowns with no interceptions. He might be the right person to lead the team down the stretch.
- Joe Flacco attempted to be a playmaker on a day the Baltimore Ravens needed a game manager. Forcing passes in the swirling Chicago wind wasn't the right move, and ultimately the margins were too thin on Sunday to succeed after throwing two interceptions. Flacco is getting too much grief after his contract extension, but he needs to become a more reliable short passer when that's what the game demands.
- It's easy to look at the score and assume Andy Dalton had a good game, but he was mostly terrible in the Battle of Ohio. Part of his struggles can be attributed to strong winds, but Dalton finished with 93 yards passing as well as two interceptions. The third-year quarterback did throw three touchdowns, but his other 24 attempts were mediocre. This inconsistency will get the Bengals past teams like Cleveland, but they could be in big trouble when facing the league's elite in the playoffs.
- Quarterback issues remain a common problem in Cleveland, but the Browns failed on Sunday largely because they couldn't win the turnover battle. The depth of the team needs to be overhauled, and it's something that will happen slowly over time. Blocked punts for touchdowns and fumbles are products of a team that needs more experience, as it's often easy to overlook how young this team is.
Oakland Raiders 28, Houston Texans 23
- Matt McGloin. His name wasn't known by many fans outside of Oakland, but he made a statement on a day the Houston Texans were imploding and succumbing to infighting. The rookie quarterback was filling in for Terrelle Pryor and asserted his will by throwing three touchdowns and completing 57 percent of his passes. McGloin made plays, but it turned a light on the lack of receivers in Oakland as the Raiders quarterback couldn't throw for 200 yards due to the team's lack of weapons.
- What a strange day for Houston. Head coach Gary Kubiak benched Case Keenum for very little reason and Matt Schaub was equally terrible. It was a floundering, desperate move from a coach who's self-aware his job is flying out the window. The smart decision this season is to fully evaluate Keenum and see if he can be the long-term answer at quarterback, and part of that is letting him dig back out from a bad game. He learns nothing by switching quarterbacks early.
- The Arizona Cardinals are quietly one of the NFC's most dangerous teams. This is an organization that easily dispatched Carolina, and played most of their games close. Consistency is an issue for the Cardinals and they don't have the run game to control the clock, but if Carson Palmer can take care of the football this is a defense dangerous enough to surprise teams.
- Jacksonville has pieces to build on in all three phases, but the biggest issue is the lack of reliability at quarterback and running back. Chad Henne is nothing but a short-term option, while Maurice Jones-Drew is a shadow of his former self. Part of these issues stem from poor blocking, but a lack of talent at skill positions is a major problem.
- Nick Foles gets a lot of credit, and rightfully so -- but LeSean McCoy has been unbelievable this season and largely overlooked with the depth of talent at quarterback in 2013. After 11 games he has run for 1,009 yards, added another 399 receiving yards and a total of six touchdowns. It's possible he'll finish with over 2,000 all-purpose yards, and should be considered among the best offensive players in the NFL.
- The Washington Redskins need to better support Robert Griffin III. Much has been made of the second-year quarterback's struggles, but there isn't a player available who can pick up the slack when he's not on point. It's a similar situation the Detroit Lions found themselves in with Calvin Johnson, where the receiver needed to be perfect or the offense stalled. In three quarters the Redskins offense was unable to do anything, only to succeed when RGIII pulled them back.
Pittsburgh Steelers 37, Detroit Lions 27
- Reports have been swirling that Ben Roethlisberger wants a trade, but if that's true he has a funny way of showing it. There's something to be said for a struggling Steelers team that's still able to beat the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens. Roethlisberger is smart enough to see this team only needs a few more pieces to compete once again, and the team's young players will be successful with a year of experience.
- Detroit was cruising in the first half on the back of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, but the issue as the game went on was a lack of snaps for Reggie Bush. This season has shown that the Lions thrive when Bush gets touches, but against the Steelers he was limited to 14 total opportunities. It was a case of bad coaching forcing too many deep throws, rather than simply getting it to Bush in space.
- Mike Glennon was perfect, maybe not statistically -- but practically. Against the Falcons he completed 87 percent of his passes, finding seven different receivers and leading the team's win. Two straight wins might not be enough to save Greg Schiano his job, but the Buccaneers offense has a lot of build on with Glennon under center and Bobby Rainey, who broke out with three touchdowns on Sunday.
- Atlanta is a disaster, it's that simple. Years of neglecting the team's defense is coming back to haunt them, paired with injury struggles. There are simply too many holes to be patched and not enough talent to do it. It's unclear whether these issues can be solved in one year, and it might be time for a full rebuild on defense.
Miami Dolphins 20, San Diego Chargers 16
- Miami can't move forward without offensive line help, and it's an issue that extends beyond Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. The entire Dolphins' offense breaks down when they can't throw deep and it turns Mike Wallace into an overpaid deep-speed receiver without any big play potential. This was an unremarkable game against a similarly matched opponent, which is good from a coaching standpoint, but speaks to the larger issues that need to be addressed moving forward.
- It's safe to say the Chargers season is over at this point. Stuck in the AFC West is bad enough, but Sunday's loss makes it very difficult to project them clawing back into the wild card race. One positive is the play of Ryan Mathews, who has responded to first-year head coach Mike McCoy.
New Orleans Saints 23, San Francisco 49ers 20
- The Saints might not be the most complete team in the NFL, but they're the best equipped to manage the tempo of the game. There have been overwhelming offenses in the past, but New Orleans has such varied weapons and Drew Brees is so talented that the team can throw deep and force teams to try and match them offensively. This is what happened on Sunday and why the 49ers lost.
- We've seen teams lose by trying to stay in step with the Saints, but San Francisco self-sabotaged on Sunday when they quit on the run. Frank Gore had success moving the chains, but the 49ers inexplicably moved away from this strength and forced Colin Kaepernick to win with his arm. This was a bad move and only served to further hit the young quarterback's confidence.
New York Giants 27, Green Bay Packers 13
- The Giants are finding their stride and doing what it takes to win, but don't confuse that with a dominant victory on Sunday. This was a far more a case of a floundering Packers team losing than the Giants asserting their will, resulting in three interceptions that made life easy for New York.
- Without Aaron Rodgers this Green Bay Packers team is done. The offense needed rookie running back Eddie Lacy to fill the void, but he struggled to run the ball against the Giants defensive front and Scott Tolzien showed he wasn't capable of being a competent game manager. Chicago is able to keep winning with Josh McCown, but neglecting the quarterback position has hurt the Packers and the key reason they'll miss the playoffs this year.
- This is the time teams need to try and get wins over Seattle, but they still can't. Russell Wilson is leading his team to victory despite having a sub-par group of receivers and poor offensive line play. Everything is poised to get better with Russell Okung returning to action and Percy Harvin becoming more comfortable in the offense. The window for other teams in the NFC has closed, and they're ready to push deep in the playoffs.
- Minnesota can keep shuffling players at quarterback, but they have three poor players who can't move the football through the air. Consistency is often more important than playmakers on bad teams, but the Vikings keep switching in and out quarterbacks at will, hurting the offense as a whole. The defense generated pressure on Sunday, but simply wasn't talented enough to hang with the Seahawks.
Denver Broncos 27, Kansas City Chiefs 17
Much has been made of Peyton Manning's stellar season and Julius Thomas' breakout year -- but Demaryius Thomas has become a cliff note in the Denver Broncos season. It's easy to quantify just how good he has been in 2013: 914 yards, on pace for over 1,300 while adding nine total touchdowns. His combination of size and speed pairs perfectly with Manning's deep passing sensibilities, which is a large reason why Denver can still gain over 400 yard against one of the NFL's top defenses.
- The Kansas City Chiefs have to be disappointed with their performance on Sunday night. Losses are disappointing, that's a given, but Manning was given free reign to operate inside the pocket while the vaunted Chiefs pass rush wasn't able to make a real impact. There's more to generating pressure than finishing sacks, but against a veteran quarterback it was important for the defense to hit him early and often -- ultimately Manning was hit twice on Sunday night, and was not sacked once. Not completing this task is the biggest reason the team lost.