Things calmed down a bit in Week 13 after COVID-19 scares across the league in Week 12. In fact, the only notable changes to the NFL’s Week 13 schedule came as a result of developments leading up to Week 12. Monday afternoon and Tuesday night games were scheduled to give the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens extended rest after COVID-19 outbreaks within the two organizations delayed their game to Wednesday afternoon last week. On Monday night, the Buffalo Bills returned to Glendale, Ariz. for the second time this season to take on the San Francisco 49ers, who are in exile from their home stadium and practice facilities in Santa Clara County for at least the next few weeks after health officials there banned contact sports due to COVID-19 concerns.
In Week 13, all AFC wild card contenders won their games, and the New York Giants and Washington Football Team rode their recent waves of momentum to secure massive upsets in what is turning out to be an exhilarating race for the NFC East title. Let’s take a look at some of these key matchups.
Cleveland Browns vs. Tennessee Titans
The Cleveland Browns traveled to Nashville on Sunday for a matchup with one of the other emerging teams in the AFC this season, the Tennessee Titans. Despite the Browns’ strong start to the season, quarterback and 2018 first overall draft pick Baker Mayfield had drawn criticism leading up to this game for lackluster performances this season relative to the rest of his team. Mayfield quickly silenced his doubters, however, with four passing touchdowns in the first half as the Browns jumped out to a 38–7 lead. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Titans offense turned their struggles around in the second half, but their next four touchdowns were not enough to overcome the deficit, as the Browns won, 41–35. At 9–3, the Browns have clinched their first winning season since 2007 and are poised to make their first playoff appearance since 2002 as they tighten their grip on the AFC’s top wild card spot. The Titans dropped to 8–4, and after the Colts win on Sunday, they still hold the AFC South tiebreaker on the grounds of their better record within the division. As things stand, we’ll be treated to a rematch between these two teams next month in the wild card round.
New York Giants vs. Seattle Seahawks
The New York Giants started the season 0–5 but traveled to Seattle with the NFC East lead on Sunday for their first of a series of crucial matchups against tough opponents. Backup quarterback Colt McCoy and the Giants offense were held scoreless in the first half, but the Giants defense stymied Seahawks star quarterback Russell Wilson and kept it a one-score game at halftime. Two touchdowns in the third quarter by Alfred Morris, who signed with the Giants in the middle of the season as a result of injuries to the team’s running backs, were all the Giants offense would need as their defense stepped up again, forcing an interception and later a turnover on downs to end the game with a win, 17–12. The Giants’ momentum continued as they improved to 5–7, but the stunning upset by a resurgent Washington Football Team over the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers means that the Giants still only hold the NFC East lead through a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Washington Football Team vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
The Washington Football Team traveled to Pittsburgh on Monday afternoon, needing to upset the 11–0 Pittsburgh Steelers in order to keep pace with the New York Giants. After a scoreless first quarter, touchdown passes from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to wide receivers Diontae Johnson and James Washington gave Pittsburgh’s league-best defense a commanding 14–0 lead against one of the league’s weakest offenses in the Washington Football Team. Washington quarterback Alex Smith, who was named the starter in Week 10 after missing all of the 2019 season with a life-threatening leg injury, led the Washington offense on an 82-yard touchdown drive to begin the second half. Washington tied the game in the fourth quarter with a touchdown pass from Alex Smith to tight end Logan Thomas, then took the lead through a Dustin Hopkins 45-yard field goal. The Pittsburgh offense was then given the ball with two minutes remaining, only needing a field goal to tie the game, when Washington defensive end Montez Sweat batted up into the air a pass from Ben Roethlisberger, which was intercepted by linebacker Jon Bostic. Another 45-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins extended Washington’s lead to six points with 17 seconds remaining. This simply was not enough time for the Pittsburgh offense to score a touchdown to tie or win the game, which ended 23–17. With the win, Washington keeps pace with the Giants and remains in second place in the NFC East. The Steelers drop to 11–1, hold a two-game lead over the Browns for the AFC North lead, and hold the tiebreaker over the Kansas City Chiefs for the top seed in the AFC through the conference record tiebreaker.