Happy Thanksgiving everyone! One of the treats of the holiday is extra football. We’ll naturally start with that trio of Thursday football games, but that was just the beginning. For the first time ever, we got to enjoy Black Friday football, even if the game wasn’t hotly contested. In fact, none of the primetime games were particularly eventful unless your team won. No teams were on bye, but relatively little happened this week…except in Carolina. We still have things to discuss though! To find out what we learned, enjoy my week 12 takeaways for the 2023 NFL season!
Turkey Day Football: Recaps of the 3 Thanksgiving Games
Packers 29, Lions 22: 4th Down Slays the Lions–Detroit made the same mistake as they did last week: dig themselves an early hole. Unlike Chicago, Green Bay wasn’t willing to part with their lead. Lions QB Jared Goff threw 3 INTs last week, but this time he lost 3 fumbles. The first one was returned for a TD by S Jonathan Owens (AKA Simone Biles’ husband), giving GB a 20-6 lead. On the other side, Packers QB Jordan Love had his finest outing to date, completing 22/32 passes for 268 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 turnovers. He got WR Christian Watson involved on the very first play, hitting him for a 53-yard bomb to set the game’s tone.
Somehow, Detroit still had opportunities in this game, but they couldn’t cash in. Most critically, a team that normally owns 4th down went 0/4 before finally converting one on the final drive. One was a brainless fake punt at their own 23. However, the main culprit was the surprising pass rush coming from GB. Rashan Gary tallied 3 sacks and a forced fumble, dominating one of the league’s best offensive lines. The final score seems close, but the Packers controlled this game. The Lions comfortably lead the NFC North, but the #1 seed is unlikely. Green Bay kept their surprising playoff push alive, but we’ll see if that continues when they host KC next game.
Cowboys 45, Commanders 10: Cowboys Dominate at Home Again–This really wasn’t a fair fight. We had one team with a 2-8 record in their last 10 games, and we had another that was unbeaten at home. Dallas is REALLY good at home in fact, perhaps better than any other team. Much to Stephen A Smith’s chagrin, Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is playing better than just about anyone at the position. He routinely carves up Washington, and he did so here, throwing for 331 yards and 4 TDs on 22/32 passing. RB Tony Pollard (13/79/1) scored his first TD of the year, and WR CeeDee Lamb (4/53/1) of course got his.
Defensively, Dallas made life miserable for Sam Howell, but then again, who hasn’t? The Cowboys notched 4 sacks, with Micah Parsons naturally accounting for 1.5 of those. Meanwhile, CB DaRon Bland made NFL history, becoming the first player with 5 pick-sixes in a season…and it’s only his 11th game of the year! He added 10 tackles in an all-around great day. Other than WR Curtis Samuel (9/100), there isn’t much to talk about for Washington. While Dallas has designs on a Super Bowl run, the Commanders just want the season to end before they give ownership any more reasons to clean house.
49ers 31, Seahawks 13: Niners are NFC Juggernauts–I’m sorry, but aside from a few scattered moments, none of the Thanksgiving games were particularly competitive. San Francisco burst out to a 24-3 halftime lead, seemingly putting the game to bed early. RB Christian McCaffrey (19/114/2) already had 2 TDs by that point. Suddenly, Seattle got a bit of life when 49ers QB Brock Purdy threw a bad pick-six from his own end zone on an overthrow. Seattle added a field goal to make the score 24-13, but SF didn’t flinch. The Niners scored another TD and shut out Seattle the rest of the game.
I don’t know if Geno Smith (18/27, 180 yards, INT) had a healthy elbow, but this was a poor offensive showing regardless. The fact that the swarming Niners defense sacked him 6 times didn’t help. San Francisco DE Nick Bosa, whose stats have been down this year, earned 2 of the sacks. CB Charvarius Ward had a terrific day in coverage, breaking up 3 passes. Seattle missed injured RB Kenneth Walker, but even with him, I don’t think they’re at the same level as the NFC’s elites. Conversely, SF is squarely in the Super Bowl conversation. Next week’s game against the Eagles will be monumental for seeding.
Black Friday Football: Tim Boyle Makes Jets Even Worse
I promised we’d discuss what’s going on with Jets QB Zach Wilson if he didn’t start this week. Lo and behold, he wasn’t even the backup, with Trevor Siemian getting that role. In Wilson’s place, we got Tim Boyle against Miami, an Aaron Rodgers pal who had a sub-1 TD:INT ratio at Eastern Kentucky. Every time he has appeared in a game, things have gone poorly. I don’t know why coach Robert Saleh expected this time to be different. Maybe he was just sending a message to his team that he would try whatever it took to get the offense going. The only message he sent though was “this offense is doomed”.
New York’s offense was completely shut out in the first half; their only 6 points came off the defense, which earned a pick-six from CB Brandin Echols. To make matters worse, Boyle threw a Hail Mary at the end of the half that was picked off by Dolphins S Jevon Holland, who returned it 99 yards for a back-breaking score. Miami ran away with a 34-13 victory from there. Boyle put up some empty production in the second half, but even when accounting for garbage time, he only went 27/38 for 179 yards, a TD, and 2 INTs. He fumbled twice, but teammates recovered them, and he took an astonishing 7 sacks.
Somehow, Boyle is STILL slated to start week 13? This had better be an elaborate plan to protect Rodgers from himself by falling out of contention before he can return. Otherwise, I don’t see the plan here. Boyle is not a functional NFL QB, and Zach Wilson actually looks better. Are you telling me there’s NOBODY available to sign? I can’t fathom why the Jets wouldn’t have signed someone like Carson Wentz or Joe Flacco other than sheer stubbornness. This refusal to change will cost the Jets a postseason spot, and if the ineptitude continues at this pace, it might cost Saleh his job.
Fire GM Bill Belichick; Retain HC Bill Belichick
I’m not keen on calling for people’s jobs very often (unless it’s Chargers HC Brandon Staley). Alas, the New England Patriots are spiraling into the football abyss, and something must be done. Many are calling for the Pats to move on from their Hall of Fame coach, Bill Belichick, but a new contract quietly signed earlier this year makes that unlikely. I think I have an appropriate compromise here: fire Bill Belichick the GM while keeping Bill Belichick the coach on the staff. Sure, things might be awkward if owner Robert Kraft strips him of some of his duties, but what else can he really do? Losing 10-7 games to NYG won’t cut it.
Different from all 31 other teams, New England has the same man in charge of their coaching staff and the front office. A few other teams have owners that are also GMs, but no one else has a coach filling those duties. The question then becomes whether the roster is poor, the team is being badly coached, or both. I believe Belichick is still doing just fine as a coach. In particular, his defensive acumen remains intact, and he continues to extract good defenses that are better than the sums of their parts. I can’t say the same about his drafting or roster construction.
New England’s roster is in the worst shape it’s been in since Belichick took over. It has become increasingly apparent that Tom Brady covered even more holes than we gave him credit for. Since he retired, Belichick has a losing record, and it’s largely because of his draft whiffs. Most of his first-round picks have been reaches or outright busts, and he has especially struggled to hit on CBs and WRs, not to mention QBs. Finding quality UDFAs is nice, but you need building blocks in the early rounds. His worst miss appears to be QB Mac Jones, whose constant benching portends an exit from Foxborough.
If Belichick can do well with average talent, imagine what he could do if someone brought him better players. That is what I am suggesting here. Kraft can keep his franchise icon around and allow him to save face by telling him to “step back” from the GM role. He doesn’t have the eye for prospects at various positions anymore, but he can certainly coach them up once they reach the NFL. The AFC East is no longer the doormat it was during NE’s dynasty days. The Patriots themselves are the doormat. For that trend to reverse, the Patriots will need to change who builds the roster for the first time in decades.
Who Are These Buffalo Bills?
I realize I’m covering the entire AFC East this week, but what can I say? They’re interesting teams. None is more enigmatic than Buffalo. Although I didn’t pick Buffalo to be the best team in the division unlike many analysts, I wouldn’t have guessed that they’d be a mere .500 club 12 weeks into the season. We’re talking about a team with a +101 point differential, which is second-best in the conference. When they win, they win big. But when they lose, it’s usually in excruciating fashion. Buffalo’s only one-score game wins have come against the Giants (who they barely beat) and Buccaneers.
They are one of only two teams to lose to New England, yet they obliterated Miami. This Jeykll-and-Hyde act cannot continue if Buffalo hopes to make the playoffs. The Bills had a chance to make a statement this weekend on the road against a 9-1 Eagles team. Philly is overrated, but a win would’ve been viewed as a feather in Buffalo’s cap. Ignoring the fact that the Eagles AGAIN received major help from the officials, Buffalo let the game slip away. They led 24-14 in the 3rd quarter and had Jalen Hurts at 2/9 passing for 19 yards and an INT. HC Sean McDermott was basically drawing the blueprint for shutting down Philadelphia.
As usual though, QB Josh Allen made a critical blunder, throwing an INT inside of his own 30. That let the Eagles take the lead on a pass that got by two Bills defenders. Philadelphia forced OT with a 59-yard FG in the rain by K Jake Elliott, but Buffalo won the coin toss and drove down the field. However, a miscommunication with WR Gabriel Davis prevented a TD. The Eagles took the ball and scored for a 37-34 victory, plowing over a tired Buffalo defense. These little mistakes add up, and they’ve done so 6 times already this season for Buffalo. Is this a 6-6 quality team, or are they better than their record?
Based on their inconsistency, the Bills have to be viewed as an average team right now. They can seemingly beat anybody or lose to anybody on any given week. Allen is a turnover machine akin to his rookie self, and changing offensive coordinators isn’t fixing the problem. McDermott’s defense is doing its best, but injuries are keeping it from excelling.
MNF: Dobbs Magic Runs Out as Vikings Implode
When Joshua Dobbs became Arizona’s starting QB just before week 1, he impressed by keeping the team competitive for several weeks. A few games later, the wheels fell off, and he was eventually benched before being traded to the Vikings. The same script appears to be playing out in Minnesota. Dobbs won the hearts of Vikings fans by making some magical plays and earning unlikely wins, moving the team to 6-4. The offensive declined in the second half of their win against the Saints, and it really fell apart a week later against Denver, when Dobbs had 3 turnovers. This week’s MNF game against Chicago was his worst hour.
Facing a terrible Bears team at home should’ve been the elixir the Vikings needed. Instead, Dobbs threw 4 INTs, 3 of which were his fault. Two were downright ghastly and came on decisions he never should’ve made. In spite of all that, Chicago was offensively inept as well, only managing 4 field goals and just 3 points off the turnovers. Justin Fields fumbled on successive drives, which we’ve come to expect from him. Dobbs then hit TE TJ Hockenson for the game’s only TD, and Minnesota suddenly had a 10-9 lead. All the defense had to do was hold Chicago one more time. They couldn’t.
Inexplicably, blitz-happy DC Brian Flores dialed back the pressure against Fields, giving him plenty of time to take underneath completions and move the ball downfield. An easy 30-yard FG gave the Bears a 12-10 win, and Minnesota fell to 6-6. While you can argue that the defense needed to get that one last stop, it’s foolish to expect a victory when you turn the ball over 4 times and score a measly 10 points. If football gods exist, they punished Minnesota dearly for their transgressions. Their sudden decline creates an opening for the NFC’s #7 seed. Might I suggest the resurgent, Matthew Stafford-equipped Rams?