Week 13 in the NFL had a bit of a Spoiler Sunday feel, with three teams who are likely out of the playoffs turning in upsets against teams very much alive in the hunt for the postseason in the early slate of games Sunday.
By the afternoon, order was restored, with traditional powers securing momentum-establishing victories. Here are winners and losers from the weekend’s action.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
The Steelers had never lost a home game in which they led by 14 or more points. The Chargers trailed by 16 at halftime. But they scored 23 unanswered points in the second half and eventually made history on a last-second game-winning field goal, 33-30.
They were assisted by a touchdown that should’ve been called back by a missed false start, but that the Chargers came from behind without star running back Melvin Gordon (MCL injury) was a positive sign.
Los Angeles is now 9-3 and just one game back of the AFC-leading Chiefs. As long as both squads stay on the same track, a Week 15 showdown in Kansas City on Thursday night looms and could determine home-field advantage in the conference.
The remainder of the year is a referendum on Winston — who had been benched on and off — and whether he has a future in Tampa. After his efficient day in a 24-17 victory against the Panthers, he’s stacking performances that might convince the Bucs to ultimately give him another shot.
That Winston is taking care of the ball and avoiding the fatal error is most promising for Tampa.
In fact, since reclaiming the job, Winston has completed 72.6 percent of his throws for 760 yards and six touchdowns and has turned the ball over just one time in that span. The Buccaneers hold Winston’s fifth-year option next season, but it's guaranteed only for injury. The team can move on at the end of this year. If he keeps playing like this, don’t expect that to happen.
They now hold the NFL’s longest winning streak at nine games after beating the Browns, 29-13.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson is on fire. Running back Lamar Miller is churning up huge chunks of yards. And the defense can get after the quarterback, clamps down in the red zone, and is one of the most aggressive units in the NFL with 22 takeaways.
The schedule isn't that imposing, so Houston — tied with the Patriots at 9-3 (but trailing the 10-2 Chiefs) — has a realistic shot to have a 13-game winning streak headed into the playoffs and be in the chase for home-field advantage in the AFC.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
With a 30-16 victory against the Lions, the Rams became the first team to clinch a division title. The Rams have the best record in the NFL at 11-1, and with the Saints' loss Thursday against the Cowboys, they control the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
L.A.’s remaining opponents are a combined 18-29, so the Rams have a favorable path to lock up home-field advantage throughout the postseason. And running back Todd Gurley (23 rushes for 132 yards and two fourth-quarter, game-sealing touchdowns) is a legit MVP candidate.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Their bid for the postseason looks all but over. And a midseason coaching change is a surprise. Green Bay (4-7-1) fell 20-17, at home, as two-touchdown favorites, against a Cardinals team that entered the day 2-9. Coach Mike McCarthy was fired just hours after the loss.
Packers fans, this is pretty close to the bottom. The offense was broken. Aaron Rodgers is still a special player, but it’s clear there was a disconnect between him and McCarthy.
Running back Aaron Jones looks like a breakout player, but he had only 11 carries. The roster has serious holes—especially at receiver and edge rusher. McCarthy’s firing won’t be the last change in Green Bay.
As far as losses go, this one was bad. The Colts came in having won five in a row and quarterback Andrew Luck had a streak of eight games with at least three passing touchdowns. Well, against the Jaguars — who had lost seven in a row up until Sunday — Indy got shut out in an inept, 6-0 defeat.
The most concerning part was that one of the Colts' strengths — red zone — was its undoing. Indianapolis came into the game ranked fifth in the league (converting 68.9 percent of trips into touchdowns) and didn’t convert either of its two trips against the Jags. Both of the Colts turnovers also came in Jacksonville territory.
They lost to the Patriots 24-10 and the Seahawks won, so the Vikings (5-6-1) dropped out of the playoff bracket — for the time being. There’s still plenty of season left, but now Minnesota has an uphill battle to get back into one of two wild-card slots.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins continued an inconsistent season, as the Viking with the most receiving yards was the hobbled Stefon Diggs with 49.
Cousins and the Vikings need to do better and will have their chance next week in a huge game against the Seahawks.
The problem for Minnesota? The game is in Seattle, a notoriously difficult environment that should have a playoff atmosphere.
A month ago, the Panthers looked like a challenger in the NFC. Now, after dropping four straight — the latest against an inconsistent Buccaneers team — Carolina is unraveling. The Panthers look undisciplined, have lapses of focus, and can stumble with questionable game management situations.
Rivera's job might be on the line over the final four games. After the game, the head coach bristled at reporters when asked about it. The Panthers (6-6) are still in the race for a wild-card spot, but this was a game they had to have.
With two against the Saints (10-2) left, the Panthers have basically no room for setbacks the rest of the way. And if the skid continues and the Panthers look lifeless in the process, Rivera’s time in Charlotte could be winding down.