Week 12 of the NFL season reinforced some beliefs I've held for most of the year.
Justin Fields, despite the need to improve as a passer, is the only thing standing between the Bears and being stuffed in a locker each week no matter the opponent. With Fields, the Bears took the Dolphins to the wire and traded blows with the Cowboys. Without him, they were housed by Mike White and the Jets.
We also received promising evidence that rumors of Mac Jones' demise may have been exaggerated, the 49ers' defense is the best unit in the NFL, and the Packers' season is O-V-E-R after getting 40 pieced by Jalen Hurts and the Eagles.
Here's where each team stands after Sunday's Week 12 action:
32. Houston Texans (1-9-1): Dead team walking.
31. Denver Broncos (3-8): Russell Wilson’s schtick has already worn thin in Denver as the losses pile up. Only five years and $242.5 million left.
30. Chicago Bears (3-9): Justin Fields makes a bad Bears roster competitive with just about anyone save the super elites. Without him, the Bears have no chance.
29. Carolina Panthers (4-8): Sam Darnold beat the Broncos on Sunday, and Nebraska took Matt Rhule off owner David Tepper’s payroll sheet. Big weekend in Carolina.
28. Los Angeles Rams (3-8): The NFL built their Christmas Day triple-header around a Rams-Broncos matchup. Someone has regrets at the Shield headquarters.
27. Detroit Lions (4-7): I get why people like Dan Campbell, but his game-management skills are putrid.
26. New Orleans Saints (4-8): Entering Sunday, the Saints had gone 332 games without being shut out. That ended with a 13-0 loss to the 49ers. The opponent the last time the Saints were goose egged? The Niners in a 38-0 win.
25. Indianapolis Colts (4-7-1): Jeff Saturday’s vibes can only do so much to fix the Colts. I
24. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-7): Chase Claypool has seven catches for 83 yards in four games with the Bears. The Steelers got what is going to be a top-36 pick for him. Not a great deal for Ryan Poles.
23. Cleveland Browns (4-8): Jacoby Brissett went out with a win over the Bucs, and now Deshaun Watson returns. Can the Browns make a late run at the No. 7 seed in a weak AFC?
22. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7): There’s a reason I didn’t sell my Trevor Lawrence stock. He can still be that dude.
21. Arizona Cardinals (4-8): Time might be running out for Kliff Kingsbury.
20. Las Vegas Raiders (4-7): The Raiders declined the fifth-year option on running back Josh Jacobs before the season. That would have given them one more year of Jacobs at $8.3 million. Now, if they want to bring him back for one more season, they’ll have to franchise tag him for $10.1 million. Mistakes were made.
19. Atlanta Falcons (5-7): Man, 5-7 and still just a half-game out of first place. The NFC South is bruuuuuutal.
18. Green Bay Packers (4-8): With a broken thumb and an oblique injury, this season might be over for Aaron Rodgers. But there’s no chance he finishes his NFL career with this dud. Is there?
17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6): Not only did the Bucs let one slip away in Cleveland, but they might have lost All-Pro offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs in the process. Tough times in Tampa.
16. New York Jets (7-4): The Jets are still fraudulent. Just less so with Mike White behind center.
15. New England Patriots (6-5): What do you know, Mac Jones looked like a competent, above-average NFL quarterback when given a clean pocket and a passing script that suits his game. He has emerged from the QB abyss.
14. New York Giants (7-4): After another loss, the Giants are suddenly sinking and their playoff hopes are looking dire. Don’t think Odell Beckham Jr. is going to be the cure-all the Giants’ rickety passing game needs.
13. Washington Commanders (7-5): If the playoffs started today, the Commanders would be the No. 7 seed and on their way to face the Vikings in the Wild Card Round. What a difference not having Carson Wentz behind center has made.
12. Seattle Seahawks (6-5): The book is out on the Seahawks: You can run right at them and all over them.
11. Los Angeles Chargers (6-5): Noted “social media quarterback” Justin Herbert put the Chargers on his back to beat the Cardinals. Down six with 1:48 remaining, Herbert went 7-for-8 with a touchdown and a two-point conversion to keep the Bolts in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
10. Tennessee Titans (7-4): Mike Vrabel is great a maximizing talent, but that can only take you so far. The Titans just don’t have enough horses to be a true title contender.
9. Minnesota Vikings (9-2): Congrats to the Vikings for getting back into the green with a plus-5 point differential on the season. Early playoff exit coming.
8. Baltimore Ravens (7-4): The Ravens have now lost four games in which they led by at least nine points in the second quarter or later. Astounding inability to finish from John Harbaugh’s team.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4): With five wins in six games, the Bengals are finally playing like defending AFC champions. Don’t look now, but they’re about to get Ja’Marr Chase back.
6. San Francisco 49ers (7-5): The 49ers’ season looked like it was over when Jimmy Garoppolo took a hard hit to his lower leg on Sunday vs. the Saints. But the veteran quarterback escaped without significant injury, and the Quest for Six marches on.
5. Miami Dolphins (8-3): Miami rolled over the hapless Texans on Sunday, but not without a significant injury to star offensive tackle Terron Armstead. With Nick Bosa on deck, that’s bad news for the high-flying ‘Fins.
4. Dallas Cowboys (8-3): Since Dak Prescott returned, the Cowboys are 4-1 and averaging a league-leading 33.8 points per game. They are a wagon right now.
3. Buffalo Bills (8-3): The Bills seem to have avoided disaster with Von Miller’s knee injury. Still, missing the star pass rusher for at least two games could wind up being the difference between an AFC East crown and a wild-card spot.
2. Philadelphia Eagles 10-1: The 49ers might have a higher ceiling, but the Eagles are the best team in the NFC right now. People can stop searching.
1. Kansas City (9-2): The Chiefs have some kinks to work out, but they are the Super Bowl favorite as we reach December. Same as it ever was.