32 things we learned in NFL Week 11: Unique playoff field brewing?


The 32 things we learned from Week 11 of the 2023 NFL season:

1. Tip of the cap to the NFL’s research department here, but what a singular playoff field we might have coalescing here in 2023. Only four teams in the league have never reached the Super Bowl: The Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. If the season ended today – it doesn’t – the entire quartet would qualify for the postseason.

2. The Lions, who have never won the NFC North division crown nor ever hosted a playoff game at Ford Field, are 8-2 to start a season for the first time since 1962. This is the first time since 1969 that both Detroit and Cleveland are at least 7-3 or better to launch a season – and the futility is much more acute in those proud cities given their franchises each won four league championships prior to the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, all of those titles also obviously predating the Super Bowl era, which began in 1966.

3. The Texans and Jags have existed for a combined 51 seasons, though Houston’s pain extends to the days when it was home to the Oilers, who won the AFL’s first two crowns in 1960 and ’61. The Texans have never reached the AFC title game, a round that’s seen Jacksonville vanquished three times since its inaugural season in 1995.

4. Unsurprisingly, improved quarterback play is a key component for all of these turnarounds – though the Browns’ fortunes are now pinned to rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson following Deshaun Watson’s season-ending shoulder injury. Still, credit DTR for recording his first NFL victory Sunday – a massive win against the division rival Pittsburgh Steelers.

5. In Detroit, QB Jared Goff overcame three interceptions in the first three quarters and engineered a 17-point final period as the Lions salvaged a 31-26 win against the Chicago Bears, putting his team alongside the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens as the league’s only eight-win clubs.

6. In Houston, breakout rookie QB C.J. Stroud threw for 336 more yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Texans improved to 6-4 with a 21-16 defeat of the Arizona Cardinals.

6a. Stroud matched Joe Burrow’s rookie NFL mark with three consecutive games with at least 300 passing yards.

6b. However Stroud, who entered the game with two interceptions, served up three Sunday. He had been on pace to smash Dak Prescott’s rookie mark for touchdown-to-interception ratio (23-to-4).

6c. But Stroud looked good Sunday … given those “Battle Red” Texans helmets present much better when paired with the team’s “Steel Blue” Color Rush jerseys.

7. Meanwhile, in Jacksonville, the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence became the first player in team history with multiple passing and rushing TDs in the same game as the AFC South leaders rebounded from an embarrassing Week 10 loss to lash the Tennessee Titans 34-14.

8. Been a lot of great quarterbacks in the history of the San Francisco 49ers: Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Brodie, Jeff Garcia, Alex Smith, Jimmy Garoppolo and Colin Kaepernick among them. Sunday, Brock Purdy became the first one to post a perfect 158.3 passer rating in a game that required at least 20 throws.

8a. Purdy torched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by completing 21 of 25 balls for 333 yards and three TDs in a 27-14 victory.

8b. (Montana did post a 158.3, too, in 1989 but only attempted 19 passes in a 45-3 rout of the Atlanta Falcons.)

9. Haven’t been a lot of great quarterbacks in the history of the New York Jets, who lost 32-6 on Sunday to the retooled Buffalo Bills. Zach Wilson was benched in favor of QB3 Tim Boyle on a day when the NYJ went 0-for-11 on third downs.

10. Jets head coach Robert Saleh wasn’t prepared to announce who would be behind center when his team hosts the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins on Black Friday.

11. (Might we suggest veteran Thomas Morstead, who completed an 18-yard throw for a first down on a fake punt for the Jets?)

12. But things looked much better for Bills Mafia, interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady overseeing an attack that posted 32 points, Buffalo’s most since Week 4, and 393 yards.

13. Defensive Player of the Year dark horse? The Dallas Cowboys already have a former one (Stephon Gilmore) at the cornerback position, where injured All-Pro Trevon Diggs also seemed to be emerging as a potential candidate in future seasons. But who foresaw this campaign from sophomore corner DaRon Bland, who tied the NFL record Sunday with his fourth pick-six of the season?

14. Bland joined Hall of Famer Ken Houston (1971), Jim Kearney (1972) and Eric Allen (1993).

15. It obviously helped Bland’s cause to be lining up opposite Panthers rookie QB Bryce Young, the No. 1 pick of the 2023 draft serving up this third interception taken the other way for a score this season. Young also fumbled and was sacked seven times in Carolina’s 33-10 loss.

16. New York Giants undrafted rookie QB Tommy DeVito was sacked nine times Sunday … yet also threw a career-best three TDs against the Washington Commanders, notching his first NFL win.

17. Washington committed six turnovers, its most in a game since 2014 … also against the Giants. New York had no giveaways Sunday.

18. A stinker of an effort by the Commanders was exacerbated by the fact there was no hot water for showers afterward at FedEx Field.

19. Cowboys rookie K Brandon Aubrey has now converted all 21 of his field-goal tries, a record to start a career in the NFL. Ironically, he missed his second extra point of 2023 on Sunday.

20. Monday night’s Super Bowl 57 rematch – Super Bowl 58 preview? – between the Eagles (8-1) and Kansas City Chiefs (7-2) is the ninth-ever regular-season Super Sunday redux from the previous season and, this year, features each conference’s projected No. 1 playoff seed.

21. However that will change for Kansas City if Philadelphia wins, the Ravens perched to assume the AFC’s top spot if that transpires.

22. Good news for Chiefs fans: The reigning Super Bowl champions have won the past four such rematches and are 6-2 overall.

23. Bad news for Chiefs fans: Taylor Swift won’t be at Arrowhead Stadium.

24. What a damaging week for the AFC North, which was recently on track to become the first division to send all four of its members to the same postseason. But season ending injuries to Watson, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Burrow, and Ravens TE Mark Andrews suggest it’s far more likely two of those teams ultimately advance.

25. Not only have the Steelers still failed to outgain any of their opponents this season, nearly 30% of their 249-yard output Sunday occurred on RB Jaylen Warren’s 74-yard TD run.

26. Warren’s backfield mate, RB Najee Harris, had 36 yards from scrimmage and has clearly reached a breaking point with the offense. “I’m just at a point, where I’m just tired of this (expletive),” he said. Harris later added, “Is it fixable? Yeah. Are we going to fix it? (Expletive.)”

27. Pittsburgh’s 77 net passing yards were its fewest in nearly four years, matching the total of a 2019 contest started by former QB Devlin Hodges.

28. But good Sunday for Browns DE Myles Garrett, arguably the DPOY frontrunner, as he added two sacks to push his league-leading total to 13.

29. Total yards in Sunday’s Rams-Seahawks game? Seattle had 291, Los Angeles had 267 and the penalty flags had 222. There were more combined infractions (21) than points scored by either team in a 17-16 LA victory.

30. The Dolphins outlasted the Las Vegas Raiders 20-13, preventing the Silver and Black’s Antonio Pierce from becoming the first interim HC to go 3-0 since 2000.

31. Memo to Los Angeles Chargers coach Brandon Staley: When your league-worst pass defense breathes life into a stagnant Green Bay Packers offense in what could ultimately be a crippling loss for the 4-6 Bolts, it’s fair to question your role as the play-caller.

32. Who’s got the best name in the NFL, Dolphins WR River Cracraft or Stone Smartt? We’re going with the latter – this week – after the Chargers tight end rumbled 51 yards for his first career TD on Sunday.

33. Apologies to our fine friends north of the border, but Canadian football doesn’t rate in “32 things.” Nevertheless, let’s acknowledge Sunday’s thrilling Grey Cup, the Montreal Alouettes upsetting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers with a go-ahead touchdown in the final seconds of a 28-24 victory – Montreal securing the Cup for the first time since 2010. A win would have conferred a third Cup to the Bombers in the past four seasons.


Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on X, formerly Twitter @ByNateDavis.

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