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Week 11 in the NFL is just about over with, so with most of the action already in the rear-view mirror, we take a few minutes to digest what we just saw.
Potentially season-altering injuries, surprising offensive performances, and perhaps a division race in which the winning team will be under .500 headline the Week 11 observations. Here’s a look at the five takeaways from Week 11 in the NFL.
Key offensive injuries lead to Broncos getting upset by Rams
Without the likes of Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Montee Ball, all of whom were forced from Sunday’s game due to injury, the Broncos offense stalled as the Rams posted a second-half shutout en route to a 22-7 win.
The 4-6 Rams have now upset both defending conference champions. St. Louis edged Seattle back in Week 7 at the Edwards Jones Dome, then did the same against visiting Denver on Sunday. This time, though, it was Shaun Hill under center. Making his first start since Week 1, Hill went 20-of-29 for 220 yards and a touchdown to Kenny Britt, and helped St. Louis win the time of possession battle. Meanwhile, his defense forced the Broncos into a pair of turnovers and kept them off the scoreboard in the second half.
The loss opens the door for Kansas City in the AFC West. The Broncos and Chiefs are both tied with 7-3 records atop the division standings. Denver hosts Miami next week before traveling to Arrowhead to take on those Chiefs on Nov. 30, which could be a de-facto winner-takes-all game.
Dalton bounces back to lift Cincy over New Orleans; AFC North update
After posting a career-worst passer rating 10 days earlier against the Browns, Andy Dalton rebounded to post the best passer rating of his career as Cincinnati rolled through New Orleans to hand the Saints a second straight home loss.
The Bengals’ 27-10 win over the Saints puts them back in first place in the AFC North, pending the outcome of Monday night’s Pittsburgh-Tennessee outcome. Baltimore was idle while Cleveland fell to Houston this weekend.
Could a sub-.500 team win the NFC South?
That aforementioned Saints loss means the 4-6 Falcons have taken over first place in the NFC South after knocking off division foe Carolina, the Panthers’ fifth loss in as many games. Atlanta, which has reeled off back-to-back wins for the first time this season, owns the head-to-head matchup with New Orleans after defeating the Saints in overtime in the team’s season-opener. They meet again Week 16 in New Orleans.
The fact that a 4-6 club is now leading the division begs the question of whether the Saints or Falcons can win the NFC South with a sub-.500 record. Only once since conference realignment back in 2002 has a team made the playoffs with a losing record. That team, of course, was the 2010 Seahawks which took the NFC West at 7-9.
If such is the case, we could see either Atlanta or New Orleans host a first-round playoff game after finishing with 6 or 7 wins. That will be avoidable should Atlanta or New Orleans win four of their final six games to reach 8 wins on the year.
Stanton lifts Cards over Lions, Brady rolls over Colts: No. 1 seeds update
In a battle of NFC heavyweights, Drew Stanton making his first start since Week 5 lifted the NFC West-leading Cardinals over Detroit in a 14-6 victory. The game obviously held postseason ramifications, as Arizona is now the favorite to earn the No. 1 seed in the conference and a first-round bye.
The loss is Detroit’s first since Oct. 5, and at 7-3, they are tied atop the NFC North with Green Bay. The Lions defeated the Packers in their previous meeting in Week 3, and square off against them in the regular-season finale on Dec. 28.
Over in the AFC, the Patriots won their sixth consecutive game by knocking off Indianapolis on the road, 42-20. The Patriots have knocked off Denver and Indy in their past two games and appear to be a lock to wrap up the top seed in the conference. Wasn’t it just two months ago we pronounced Tom Brady and Co. dead in the water and a long-shot to perhaps make the playoffs?
Injury roundup: Broncos, Bradshaw, Megatron
The Broncos lost a trio of valuable offensive weapons, and their status for Week 12 still remains up the air. Sanders’ big hit in the third quarter resulted in a concussion. He’ll have to pass the NFL’s concussion protocol in order to suit up for Week 12, which is always a question mark.
Thomas suffered a sprained ankle and never returned to the game. ESPN reported it was not a “high sprain,” which means it won’t keep him out long, if it all. An MRI is set for Monday. Ball, who was just returning to action after a groin injury, aggravated it early. With both he and Ronnie Hillman out, C.J. Anderson should be the top back on the depth chart.
The Colts lost their lynchpin in Ahmad Bradshaw, who suffered an ankle injury on a goal-line attempt against New England then limped off the field and into the locker room late. Reports suggest Bradshaw may have broken the ankle, which even without surgery could cost the veteran back upwards of six weeks.
Calvin Johnson needed treatment for his elbow after the Lions’ loss to Arizona. It’s another blow to Johnson, who just got over a lingering ankle injury. Johnson didn’t show much concern about his elbow, but it’s another ailment to keep an eye on.
Philip Rivers never left the game against Oakland, but is certainly playing through pain. Antonio Gates told the San Diego U-T his quarterback is dealing with a severe rib injury over the past three to four weeks. Rivers dismissed the notion of it being severe.
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