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Winners and Losers: NFL’s worst team is obvious

Houston has become a laughingstock as the most inept team in the NFL. That’s bad news for Bryce Young, the likely No. 1 pick in the draft.

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Bryce Young seems like a good sort. He’s certainly a fantastic quarterback for Alabama. He comes off well in those Dr. Pepper commercials.

He deserves better than the Houston Texans. Any young quarterback does.

The Texans are leaving little doubt they’re going to get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL draft. They had an embarrassing performance in a 30-15 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday to fall to 1-9-1. The Texans trailed 30-0 at halftime and it was probably worse than the score indicated.

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They had 32 yards on 25 plays in the first half. Houston gave up 287 by halftime. Tua Tagovailoa had 278 passing yards at halftime and could have taken a run at Norm Van Brocklin’s record of 554 if head coach Mike McDaniel had reason to run up the score. Instead Tagovailoa was pulled … in the third quarter. The Texans benched quarterback Davis Mills to start Kyle Allen for some reason (maybe it was to get closer to that first pick?) and Allen had 49 yards and a 40.9 passer rating at halftime.

That performance came a week after the Texans had 5 yards at halftime at home against the Washington Commanders. They’re not quiet quitting. There’s nothing quiet about it.

And somewhere, Young, his family and advisers have to be wondering what they’re getting themselves into. Young is the presumed No. 1 overall pick of the draft. If the top pick ends up being someone like C.J. Stroud of Ohio State or Will Levis of Kentucky, just change the name in the headline above. Any quarterback who’s going to Houston first overall shouldn’t feel good about it.

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The Texans have become the worst team in the NFL. They couldn’t even trade Brandin Cooks correctly because of his $18 million guaranteed salary for next season and Houston’s demands for draft picks. They passed on Sauce Gardner in the draft last April to take Derek Stingley Jr. third overall, and Gardner has become the runaway favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Dameon Pierce is a bright spot on a depleted roster but on the priority lists for a full rebuild, a good running back is low on the list. There is no abundance of promising young talent. There’s very little to be excited about.

Lovie Smith, who was an odd hire who got the job over Brian Flores following Flores’ lawsuit against the NFL (after an even odder dalliance with Josh McCown), might be another one-and-done coach. But who would want the job? Sean Payton will be at the top of every list, but a team would have to trade with the New Orleans Saints for him and it’s unclear why Payton would want a part of the Texans’ mess. He could have any opening he wanted. The chance to start with Young or Stroud is a selling point for any candidate, but that might not be enough to take on a massive project like the Texans.

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Houston is a laughingstock. The Texans have won four games in back-to-back seasons and probably isn’t going to sniff four wins this season. There’s not a lot on the roster to build around after the Bill O’Brien regime traded many picks and whiffed on others. The Texans moved off of controversial former executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby in a sudden firing earlier this season, and that probably isn’t a bad thing. But anyone watching the Texans the past couple weeks knows this team is a mess, it looks like it is ready to be done with the season and there’s not a lot of hope for it all turning around anytime soon.

Good luck, Bryce. You’re going to need it.

Miami Dolphins linebacker Melvin Ingram (6) sacks Houston Texans quarterback Kyle Allen (3). (AP Photo/Michael Laughlin)

Miami linebacker Melvin Ingram sacks Houston’s Kyle Allen in a miserable outing for the Texans. (AP Photo/Michael Laughlin)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 12 of the NFL season:

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WINNERS

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley: At some point, Staley hitting all the time at the blackjack table had to result in a 21.

Staley likes to gamble, and many times he has been wrong. We shouldn’t judge results over process, but the misses were piling up. On Sunday, Staley pushed the right button.

When the Chargers scored with 12 seconds left against the Arizona Cardinals, they went for the two-point conversion and the win instead of the extra point and the tie. At nearly the same time, Josh McDaniels and the Las Vegas Raiders took the extra point and the tie in Seattle. There’s no obvious decision there.

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Staley was right. Gerald Everett scored on a pass from Justin Herbert to give the Chargers the lead and they held on to the 25-24 win. The Chargers needed it. They trailed most of the game and stole a win. And Staley doesn’t have to answer for his decision.

The San Francisco 49ers’ “other” stars: The Niners’ defense might get overlooked at times. That’s what happens when you have so many stars on offense.

But the beauty of the 49ers this season is they can win in different ways. San Francisco’s offense wasn’t great Sunday, and it didn’t matter because the defense was. The 49ers shut out the New Orleans Saints 13-0.

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The defense preserved the shutout late when Nick Bosa sacked Andy Dalton on a fourth-and-goal. San Francisco has shown some defensive excellence at times this season. That’s enough to carry the 49ers a long way, before you even start to factor in the upside of their offense.

Trevor Lawrence: He had a moment.

There have been many games in which Lawrence, touted as a generational prospect, has looked average or worse. When the Jacksonville Jaguars needed him to beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, he came through.

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The Jaguars trailed 27-20 late when Lawrence led a 75-yard drive that included digging the team out of a third-and-21 situation with two completions, a touchdown to Marvin Jones Jr. and a two-point conversion to Zay Jones on a gutsy call by head coach Doug Pederson. Justin Tucker tried a 67-yard field goal on the final play but it was short. The Jaguars won 28-27.

It’s a bad loss for the Ravens in a suddenly tight AFC North.

For the Jaguars, it’s a validation that their young QB can still be the player everyone thought he’d be coming out of Clemson.

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The playoff contending Washington Commanders: The Commanders are the new New York Giants. They’re the NFC East team that doesn’t look very good but they just keep winning.

Washington didn’t play too well at home against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday but won 19-13. They’re 7-5 this season.

The Commanders were barely hanging on in the final minute when the Falcons got to the 4-yard line, but Marcus Mariota‘s pass was tipped at the line by defensive lineman Daron Payne and picked off by Kendall Fuller.

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The Commanders escaped. If they keep pulling out these type of wins, they’ll find themselves in the playoffs.

The Cleveland Browns and Jacoby Brissett: The Browns aren’t dead at 4-7, with Deshaun Watson ready to come back this coming week from his suspension.

Brissett gave the Browns a highlight before he returns to a backup role. He threw a touchdown to David Njoku in the final minute of regulation to tie the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then hit Amari Cooper for a 45-yard gain late in overtime to set up a Nick Chubb touchdown and a 23-17 victory. It was a tough, hard-fought win.

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The Buccaneers had a shot to win late in regulation but couldn’t stop Njoku on a fantastic catch in the end zone on fourth down to tie the game. Then in overtime, tackle Tristan Wirfs suffered what looked like a serious leg injury when linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah jumped and was blocked into Wirfs’ leg. That’s really bad for the Bucs.

The Browns have had their share of adversity this season too. They’re not in great shape at 4-7. But at least the win Sunday keeps them relevant. Now we’ll see what Watson can do.

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay look on during the second half of their NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022 in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Sean McVay and the Rams are 3-8 and will most likely not be in the postseason to defend their Super Bowl title. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

LOSERS

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay: McVay accidentally getting slammed in the head by the helmet of a Rams player on his way into the game was a fitting image.

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McVay has to be miserable this season coaching a 3-8 team that has almost no hope of a real rebound this season. The Rams were bad on Sunday and that was expected. They were huge underdogs against the Kansas City Chiefs and lost 26-10.

In February, McVay was on top of the coaching world. On Sunday he was coaching Bryce Perkins at quarterback, who was subbing for injured Matthew Stafford, with Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson sidelined too. The offense was hard to watch. Perkins had 100 passing yards. The Rams had 198 as a team. This whole Rams season has been hard to watch.

McVay talked about maybe retiring after the Super Bowl. He’d probably be having more fun in the broadcast booth this season.

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Seattle Seahawks‘ defense: Most of the season, the Seahawks’ defense hasn’t been bad. It was bad on Sunday.

Seattle allowed Josh Jacobs to run 86 yards up the middle for a walk-off touchdown in overtime for the Las Vegas Raiders, who won 40-34. That’s a damaging loss for the Seahawks, who have to be worried about the 49ers’ surge in the NFC West.

This one is on the defense. Jacobs rushed for 229 yards. Derek Carr threw for 295. It’s not a Raiders offense that has been great all season, yet it put up 576 yards and 40 points Sunday. That’s a big concern for the Seahawks, and if they miss the playoffs they can look back on the defensive breakdowns in a bad loss to the Raiders as a reason.

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Russell Wilson, Nathaniel Hackett … week after week: A stunning stat made the rounds on Twitter last week. If the Broncos scored 18 points in every game this season, they’d have been 7-3. It’s 7-4 after Sunday’s 23-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers, but the point still stands. The Broncos are unwatchable.

Denver’s offense was miserable again on Sunday. The Broncos have the lowest scoring offense in the NFL. Wilson looks like a shell of the player he was with the Seattle Seahawks. He didn’t crack 100 yards passing until about halfway through the fourth quarter. It’s obvious Hackett won’t make it to a second season, and the question most Broncos fans have is why he was still coaching them in Week 12.

It’s not just that the Broncos are bad. They’re bad and also perhaps the least entertaining team in the NFL. That’s a bad combination.

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Chicago Bears: When you face a superstar quarterback like Mike White, there’s not much you can do. Still, the Bears now know their season is beyond repair.

Justin Fields sat on Sunday, smartly, with a shoulder injury. It was still ugly in a 31-10 defeat against the New York Jets. White, starting for Zach Wilson, rejuvenated the offense. He had 315 yards passing. That says a lot about the Bears’ defense, which traded away Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn before the deadline. The Bears’ offense was led by Trevor Siemian, and while it started OK, Chicago didn’t score after the first minute of the second quarter.

The Bears are 3-9 and there is no reason to rush back Fields. At least there’s next season to look forward to.

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The Tennessee Titans’ offense: The Titans are a very good team at 7-4 and a huge favorite to win the AFC South, but games like Sunday are a reminder that they need to hit a lot of green lights in the playoffs to make a Super Bowl run.

The Titans struggle on offense. Their only touchdown Sunday was a wild fumble recovery in the end zone by receiver Treylon Burks. Other than that, they didn’t reach the end zone in a 20-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Titans don’t usually beat themselves, but they had a bad penalty late in the loss. Kevin Strong hit the long snapper on a Bengals field-goal attempt and was given an unnecessary roughness penalty. Instead of getting the ball back trailing 23-16, the Bengals could just kneel on it.

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Tennessee probably wouldn’t have scored the game-tying touchdown anyway. It had just two field goals after halftime. The Titans are good, but they’ll have a tough time in the playoffs stringing together multiple ugly wins.

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