It’s not just you, it’s true. The 2021 NFL season has been highly unusual. Week 11 was the latest example, with the best teams in each conference losing to opponents that entered the week with a record below .500. That’s the second time in three weeks that several of the better teams suffered defeats on the same day. In Week 9 four division leaders suffered defeat, including the Buffalo Bills, who lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 9-6.
Per The Ringer’s Kaelen Jones, 11 teams with a record of .500 or below have defeated division leaders in Weeks 9 through 11, which is the most that has happened in those weeks since 1970. That’s a very specific stat that includes an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, but as the NFL schedule heads towards the home stretch it explains how the playoff picture, specifically the AFC playoff picture, has completely changed in the last three weeks.
Going into Week 9, the New England Patriots and Chiefs were .500 teams. After victories on Sunday they are both 7-4 and sit atop their respective divisions. The AFC West division leader in Week 9, the Las Vegas Raiders, currently have a .500 record, 11th best in the conference and outside of the playoffs. The Bills were the AFC East leader and, early in the season, they were the best team in the NFL. They now are holding on to the final AFC Wild Card spot at 6-4. The Bills’ most recent loss was yesterday to the Colts, who were 3-5 headed into Week 9 and are now 6-5 with the playoffs very much in sight.
Another interesting stat from Jones is through Week 11, not counting the yet-to-be-played Tampa Bay Buccaneers-New York Giants matchup on Monday Night Football, there have been 23 games decided on the final play, the most since 1970. If you’re an employee or fan of the Vikings, that won’t make you feel any better about this season.
Minnesota’s record improved to .500 after finally pulling out one of those final play victories. Of their five losses this season, three were decided by a game-winning field goal attempt. The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens both made kicks for walk-off wins, and the Vikings’ Greg Joseph missed a 37-yard field goal as time expired that would’ve defeated the Arizona Cardinals, who currently have the best record in the NFL at 9-2.
That’s the type of year that it has been in the NFL. A season so random that not only do Kliff Kingbury’s Cardinals own the best record in the sport, but per DVOA, they had the second-best defense in the NFL going into Week 11. The words “defense” and “best” were an oxymoron during Kingsbury’s time as coach at Texas Tech. The Cardinals’ division, the NFC West, was supposed to belong to the high-powered Los Angeles Rams. Going into Week 9 they had only one loss, which was to the Cardinals. The Rams lost their next two games, while the Cardinals have gone 2-1 with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins out of the lineup.
So how is this NFL season going to end? Will the Bills get it together and storm through the rest of the regular season, or are the Patriots now the team to beat now they’re on a five-game winning streak? Will luck break the Vikings the rest of the season after one of those game-winning kicks finally went their way against a division rival, or are will the Packers move on from that loss the same way they did their embarrassing season opener against the New Orleans Saints and keep playing steady football all the way to SoFi Stadium and the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2010 season?
Judging from the way this season has played out, the only safe bet as it concerns the NFL is to not make one.