The greatest NFL Week 11 winners in the AFC are several as tournament time comes, and yes, the New York Jets are included.
With Week 11 in the books, let’s take a look at which AFC teams got the most out of Week 11.
New York Jets (Bye week)
I know, I know! An interesting start to this article, right? Kicking off with a team that didn’t even play?
The New York Jets still took a very positive step forward this week without even playing. Here’s why.
The Giants defeated the Buccaneers to improve to 3-7, while the Raiders defeated the Cardinals to improve to 2-8. The Jets started the day placed 5th in the draft order and moved up to fourth thanks to the Giants’ victory. The Raiders’ win over Arizona moved the Jets within one game of a three-team tie for the top spot in the draft order, between Oakland, Arizona, and San Francisco, all at 2-8.
The Jets’ season strength of schedule remains the easiest among top draft contenders at .491, giving them tiebreaker advantages over all of their competitors, for the time being. With one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league, the Jets are in prime position to earn their best draft slotting in a while.
Pittsburgh Steelers (defeated Jaguars 20-16)
The Steelers mounted an improbable comeback over the Jacksonville Jaguars to grab a 20-16 road victory and move to 7-2-1 on the year, their sixth straight win.
Wins like this define serious playoff contenders. Ben Roethlisberger put up his second-worst passer rating of the season. Yet, he was able to lead the Steelers to 20 unanswered second-half points to pull out the victory. The Steelers defense smashed a lethargic Bortles-led Jaguars offense. They only allowed 64 yards of passing offense – the third-lowest allowed by the team on the road this century.
The Steelers are only barely on the outside looking into the untouchable tier occupied by the Rams, Saints, and Chiefs. Pittsburgh’s 8.6 simple rating system (SRS – net points adjusted for schedule) trails only those three teams as the fourth-best in the league. This is a resilient group that is thriving on both sides of the ball. They’re a force to be reckoned with. Holding on to a half-game lead over the Texans for the AFC’s second seed and a first-round bye, they’re poised for a deep playoff run.
Baltimore Ravens (defeated Bengals 24-21)
While they were led by Lamar Jackson in his first career start, this was still a game the Ravens absolutely needed to have. They had lost three straight games, with their last win coming over a month prior. John Harbaugh was surrounded by rumors concerning his job security.
With a loss, Baltimore would drop to 4-6, which would put them two games behind the Bengals for the AFC’s final wild-card spot. It would also mean the Ravens would concede a sweep to the Bengals, dropping Baltimore essentially three games out of the playoff race, and thus all but eliminating them.
They didn’t let that happen. Lamar Jackson ran wild, picking up 117 yards on 27 carries while gaining 7.9 yards per attempt through the air, with 150 passing yards on 19 attempts. Jackson’s 117 rushing yards were the most ever by a rookie quarterback in his starting debut, and the 11th-most ever by a quarterback in any game. In fact, his 27 rushing attempts set an all-time single-game record for a quarterback, besting Tim Tebow’s previous record of 22.
Jackson’s athletic ability is special, as everybody knew about the former Heisman Trophy winner when he was coming out of Louisville. The Ravens exuded confidence in that facet of his game, dialing up option plays and designed runs galore and giving him the freedom to scramble when he deemed it necessary.
It’s going to be fun to watch Jackson develop throughout his career. In his very first start, he led a fledgling team right back into the playoff mix, as the Ravens now sit as a part of a five-team tie for the AFC’s final playoff spot.
Indianapolis Colts (defeated Titans 38-10)
The Colts’ 34-42 loss to the Jets back in Week 6 feels like years ago. The Colts have gotten healthier at the skill positions and are thriving. They’ve gone 4-0 since, averaging 36.5 points in those games and winning three of them by multiple scores. In Week 11, they hung 38 points on a team that remains the league’s second-ranked scoring defense.
Frank Reich is looking like a genius. He’s got the Colts ranked 5th in the league in scoring per game and scoring per drive. Andrew Luck has thrown 29 touchdown passes already, only two behind Patrick Mahomes for the NFL lead. Luck’s 101.8 passer rating is a career high.
While Reich and Luck will draw most of the credit, as they both very well deserve, two guys who also deserve a ton of praise for their roles in the Colts’ offensive success are Ryan Kelly and Quenton Nelson. The Colts’ duo of first rounders on the interior is arguably the league’s best. Kelly is ranked as PFF’s 8th-best center, and Nelson is PFF’s 12th-best guard. They’ve helped make Luck the least-sacked quarterback in the NFL, as he’s been brought down on only 2.4 percent of dropbacks. Luck has only been hit three times in the past three games.
Credit to those two and the entire Colts offensive line led by Dave DeGuglielmo. The Colts have battled injuries up front, as left tackle Anthony Castonzo missed the first few games of the season and right guard Matt Slauson was lost for the year after five starts, but the unit is settling in as one of the NFL’s best.
Castonzo is healthy again on the left side while right tackle Braden Smith and right guard Mark Glowinski have both done decently enough filling in. This group has quietly been one of the league’s most improved units in the NFL, and a huge reason the Colts have been elite offensively.
Houston Texans (defeated Redskins 23-21)
While the Texans offense has struggled to get going, their defense continues to hold them atop the AFC South. Justin Reid notched a 101-yard pick six, the defense collected five sacks as a whole, and they held Washington to only 154 yards of passing offense. On the year, the Texans are 6th in total scoring defense, 4th in scoring defense per drive, and top-five in both fewest yards allowed per passing dropback and fewest yards allowed per rush attempt.
This was a crucial victory. Andrew Luck’s Colts are red-hot, and with a loss to the Redskins, the Texans’ division lead would’ve fallen to only one game above both Luck and the also 5-5 Titans.
Instead, the Texans again proved they are one of the few teams in this modern offense-oriented NFL that can win with defense. They erased a fourth-quarter deficit on a 54-yard Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal and moved to 7-3 with a seventh straight win. Five of the wins during this streak have been by one score.
Now with a two-game division lead and one home game left against each the Titans and Colts (who the Texans have already beaten once), Houston is in prime position to lock up the AFC South.
Next week’s matchup with Tennessee is a chance for the Texans to all but seal the South. Tennessee already beat Houston once back in Week 2. If the Titans win this game, they would move within one game of Houston while owning the tiebreaker. If the Texans can win, they’ll hold at least a three-game lead over each of their two closest division rivals with only five games to go.
The biggest question for Houston going forward is their offense, specifically, the offensive line. Struggles up front have limited the Texans. They are 26th in yards per rush and are allowing the 5th-highest sack rate in the league to Deshaun Watson. They’re only 21st in scoring per drive because of these issues up front.
Regardless, the Texans remain a half game back of the Steelers for a first-round bye in the AFC. This team is hot and seething with talent on the side of the ball they are struggling most. If they can generate some consistency up front, Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, Lamar Miller, and perhaps even Demaryius Thomas (only 3 catches for 61 yards in two games as a Texan) can begin to shine their brightest.