There are the teams you’re born rooting for, for better or worse, and then there are the bandwagon clubs – the franchises and star players that pique your interest, draw you in and drop you off. Each week of the 2022 season, we’re recapping some of the most encouraging and discouraging developments from around the NFL and deciding whose bandwagon to hop on or off – even if only for a week.
After Week 11 brought some statement wins and surprising losses, we now move on to one of the best features on the NFL schedule: U.S. Thanksgiving Day games. As we look ahead to Week 12 and the kickoff of the stretch run, here’s who we’re keeping an eye on.
Hopping on: Chiefs while in a league of their own
You can stock up in the off-season. You can watch them deal away their top receiver. You can apply every bit of pressure. You can limit them to mere seconds at the end of a game after taking the lead.
But ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what you do — the Chiefs are still going to out-skill you, they are still going to win, and they are still going to make sure they’re the ones wearing the divisional crown by Thanksgiving.
Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce reminded us all Sunday night against the Chargers that when it comes to dynamic duos, there is simply no stopping this one. Kelce caught three touchdown passes, including the game-winner with less than a minute to go, to propel the Chiefs to their fourth straight win, their AFC-topping eighth victory of the season, and their 25th consecutive W in games taking place in November and December. All that puts them in line for another AFC West title in a year in which expectations for this division have perhaps never been higher (and predictions never more wrong).
The Chiefs are still kings, and we never should’ve doubted it. (ES)
Hopping off: Chargers when playing their top division rival
It happened again. The Chargers let another fourth-quarter lead over the Chiefs slip away. That makes it twice this season and three straight overall dating back to last year’s overtime loss in December. The 5-5 Chargers have, on paper, a relatively easy schedule remaining but they have to leapfrog at least two other AFC teams to qualify for the postseason. If they don’t manage to do it, there’s no need to look beyond these dramatic losses to KC. (MJ)
Hopping on: Patriots and that top-tier defensive unit
There were plenty of concerns about New England after a 1-3 start, however, the Patriots have won five of six and boast one of the top defensive units in the NFL. Yes, the offensive production leaves much to be desired as every time the defence allows 20 or more points, they lose. New England travels to Minnesota to play the Vikings in Thursday’s late game this week. (MJ)
Hopping off: Zach Wilson as the Jets’ starting QB
On Sunday against the Patriots, Jets quarterback Zach Wilson completed a measly nine of 22 passes for 77 yards and zero touchdowns, his performance so bad the Jets were forced to punt 10 times. But his worst play of the day came after the game, a 10-3 loss that saw the match’s only touchdown scored on a game-ending punt return by the Patriots (that could’ve totally been avoided had the Jets simply punted out of bounds).
Asked afterward whether he thought he’d let his defence down, Wilson was quick to respond with a dismissive, “No.”
He did, of course, let the defence down — a defence that limited New England’s passing attack to just a single field goal in what was perhaps the most important game of the season. The Jets went into this one with a shot at the division lead (or at least co-ownership of it) but instead fall to the bottom with the loss.
This all just makes his lack of awareness all the more perplexing. Being accountable after you let teammates down is something Wilson will need to learn if he’s to remain the starter on a Jets squad that’s made huge strides this season. Then again, perhaps his starting days are in fact done. (ES)
Hopping on: Bills playing in their home away from home
It’s a quick turnaround for Buffalo and Detroit this week with both teams featured in the earliest Thursday game after their respective Week 11 wins on Sunday. The Lions are returning return home after back-to-back road games, riding a three-game winning streak. The Bills, meanwhile, are set to play their second game at Ford Field within a four-day span. A massive snowstorm resulted in the NFL moving the Bills’ home game versus Cleveland to Detroit this past weekend and the Bills looked solid in snapping a two-game losing streak despite the unusual circumstances. The Lions are 2-3 at home this season. The Bills could also have two wins in Detroit’s stadium this year, depending on Thursday’s result. (MJ)
Hopping off: Giants down the stretch
The success of the New York Giants was one of the best stories of the first half of the season. But after losing two of their last three, including a lacklustre performance against the visiting Lions on Sunday that saw the return of Daniel Jones’ interception habit, it’s worth questioning whether there’s more to this story down the stretch.
Their long list of injuries, a short week, and a tough schedule ahead isn’t exactly conducive to a rebound win — they take on the red-hot Cowboys, fresh off a dominant victory over Minnesota, in Thursday’s Thanksgiving matinee. That’s the first of four straight divisional matchups for the Giants. (ES)
Hopping on: Cordarrelle Patterson, superstar
Kickoff returns are, largely, a thing of the past — except if your name is Cordarrelle Patterson. The Atlanta Falcons return man and all-around offensive star registered his ninth career kickoff return Sunday against the Chicago Bears, and with it wrote his name into the NFL’s history books.
He now holds the record for most kickoff return touchdowns in a career — a record that may never be broken. Patterson’s versatility on offence, the very thing that makes him such a special athlete, is also what keeps him so consistently in the “under-rated” category of should-be superstars. This year, he’s really seen a resurgence — especially as a runner. In six games, the 31-year-old has five rushing touchdowns (one shy of last year’s personal-best) and 454 rushing yards. His success this season is all the more exciting considering the Falcons, currently second in the NFC South and sitting two wins outside the playoff picture, can potentially make things interesting down the stretch. (ES)
Hopping off: Vikings as top NFC contenders
Sure, Minnesota is 8-2 and, unless the wheels completely and dramatically fall off, they’ll be in the playoffs this winter. Yet, after a 40-3 blowout loss to the Cowboys, it doesn’t feel like these Vikings have a deep playoff run in them. The team’s two losses this season have been to the Eagles and Cowboys, and Minnesota didn’t look like it could keep up in either game. For an 8-2 team to have a negative-2 point differential, it means something is off. Washington is the only other team above .500 with a negative point differential. Add to that the surging 49ers coming off a huge Monday win, and the Vikings have fallen out of the top three in terms of NFC power rankings. How they look in a short turnaround against a staunch Patriots defence in prime time will speak volumes about the resilience of these Vikings. (MJ)