The Denver Broncos did the unthinkable: they handed the New England Patriots their first loss of the season with backup quarterback Brock Osweiler at the helm. In a 30-24 overtime victory, the Broncos have now given themselves a chance at being the best team in the AFC.
The Patriots remain the favorite to be Super Bowl champ, at least according to PredictWise, which compiles odds from Betfair and removes the cut the house gets.
Here are the rest of this week’s biggest movers:
On the rise
The Panthers are the NFL’s last unbeaten team, and with New Orleans, Atlanta (twice), Tampa Bay and the New York Giants left on the schedule, they have a good chance of staying undefeated the rest of the season behind one of the league’s best defenses.
According to expected points added, which represents the estimated point value at the start of a given play — based on down, distance, and field position — Carolina’s defense has “saved” the team 82.8 points, nearly 20 more than the next best defensive unit, the Broncos.
The Lions have won four games in a row, including a 45-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday afternoon.
Detroit has improved on both sides of the ball, particularly in the number of first downs allowed. Opposing teams haven’t moved the chains more than 14 times in a game the past two weeks after logging totals in the high 20s for a large part of the season.
Their chances of reaching the postseason remain remote, but at least they are no longer contending for the top pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Don’t look now, but the 5-6 Washington Redskins are in first place of the NFC East after beating the New York Giants 20-14.
The offense sustains the fourth longest drives in the league (averaging 2 minutes 50 seconds) while the defense had one of its best showings since Week 2 against the Rams, when they held them to 10 total points and 67 yards rushing. Washington kept the Giants to 10 points and 33 yards rushing.
Based on their strength of schedule and play to date, the Redskins have a 56.4 percent chance at winning the division.
On the decline
The Falcons started the season strong, winning six of their first seven games with a possible offensive player of the year candidate in running back Devonta Freeman. But Atlanta has now lost four straight and is in danger of missing the playoffs.
Quarterback Matt Ryan needs to shoulder some of the blame, as his play has warranted decreasing grades from the game charters at Pro Football Focus for three weeks now.
According to the Simple Rating System, which adjusts margin of victory for strength of schedule, the Falcons are two points per game below average, ninth best in the NFC and just slightly ahead of the 4-7 Detroit Lions (minus-2.3).
St. Louis Rams
The Rams defense remains solid, ranking No. 3 of Football Outsiders’ efficiency metrics, but their offense continues to cost them wins. St. Louis has failed to produce more than 13 points in three straight games and in seven of its 11 games this season.
There are just too many problems to fix quickly, as the Rams rank in the bottom three for yards (24.3) and points per drive (1.3), plus they have an offensive line that allows their running backs to get stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage 23 percent of the time (23rd in the NFL).
The Browns lost their sixth straight game in spectacular fashion: the Ravens returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown for a walk-off victory on Monday night, a nearly impossible way to lose.
According to the Simple Rating System, Cleveland is now 7.1 points per game worse than an average team and can neither run the ball (3.4 yards per carry, last in NFL) nor stop the run (4.6 yards allowed per carry, 27th in NFL). They can’t stop the pass, either (7.5 net yards per pass, second highest in league).
Before they even took the field against the Ravens they had the fifth toughest remaining strength of schedule, with the Bengals, 49ers, Seahawks, Chiefs and Steelers still on their docket. So the Brown’s losing may not end any time soon.