10 things to know about NFL Week 13

Cam Newton earned the best QB grade of the season, with Ben Roethlisberger not far behind. Here's everything you need to know about Week 13.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

(AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

10 things to know about NFL Week 13

Didn’t catch every moment of NFL Week 13? PFF has you covered with the top 10 things you need to know based on our grades and data.

1. Cam Newton earned the highest game grade of any QB this season.

In a divisional win over the Saints, Cam Newton may have sealed his place in NFL MVP award talks, earning the best PFF game grade of any NFL quarterback this season.

Leading the Panthers to 12-0, Newton notched five touchdown passes through the air (tied with Blake Bortles for the most in Week 13), 331 yards, and one pick. He also added 49 yards on the ground over the course of 10 rush attempts.

For the season, Newton is tied with Drew Brees for the seventh-best QB grade (84.3). His accuracy percentage ranks 24th in the league overall, although he is among the 10 best QBs when under pressure this season.

2. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t far behind him.

In an absolute rout of the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football, Ben Roethlisberger reminded us why he has been one of the best at the position for some time.

Roethlisberger threw for 364 yards (behind only Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 13), four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Something Pittsburgh fans should be quite happy about with concern for the oft-injured QB: Big Ben wasn’t sacked once by the Colts in the contest.

Antonio Brown was Roethlisberger’s top target, thrown at 10 times and hauling in a pair of receiving touchdowns. Big Ben owns the league’s best deep passing accuracy percentage, throwing a catchable ball on 52.6 percent of passes traveling 20+ yards in the air.

3. Darren Sproles may have earned significantly more playing time.

In the Eagles’ win over the Patriots, DeMarco Murray wasn’t the main force out of the Philadelphia backfield—that role belonged to Darren Sproles.

Sproles carried the rock 15 times in the game, while Murray only recorded eight rushing attempts. In fact, Kenjon Barner had more attempts than Murray against New England, with nine rushes for 39 yards.

With Ryan Mathews missing his third straight game (concussion), and Murray currently sitting as our 62nd-ranked running back this season, Sproles very well may have earned himself similar usage going forward (on-field for 35 snaps). In addition to his rushing attack, he also hauled in four-of-six targets for 34 receiving yards, bringing his total game yardage to an even 100.

It is worth noting, however, that Sproles did not force a single missed tackle, rushing or receiving, tying him for the lowest elusive rating among RBs in Week 13.

4. James White earned the highest RB grade in Week 13.

The highest-graded halfback in Week 13 came from the Eagles-Patriots game as well; however, from New England’s depth chart, not Philadelphia’s.

In his sixth game this season with significant playing time, Patriots running back James White made his opportunities count—mainly in the passing game. White hauled in all 10 targets from Brady, notching 115 yards and a touchdown.

LeGarrette Blount handled most of the ground attack from the backfield, gaining 54 yards on 13 rush attempts.

The successful receiving day for White is good news for Tom Brady moving forward, who has seen his top targets fall one-by-one to injuries this season.

5. The Dolphins’ duo of edge rushers shined.

Much to the dismay of Matt Schaub and the Baltimore Ravens, two Miami edge rushers earned top-five grades this week—the only other team to have two in the top 10 was Seattle, with the duo of Michael Bennett and Frank Clark.

Defensive end Olivier Vernon—who has been on a tear over the course of the Dolphins’ last six games—and Derrick Shelby provided pressure from both sides. Together, they combined for four sacks, five hits, and nine QB hurries. The performance was enough to land one Baltimore tackle, James Hurst, on Bryson Vesnaver’s Worst Team of the Week roster.

6. Young receivers made their presence known.

The 2014 and 2015 draft classes have produced some quality talent at wide receiver, with some of those names climbing to the top of our grades in Week 13.

In fact, five of the seven highest-graded receivers this week were drafted in 2014 or 2015.

The top two receivers in Week 13, Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson and Buffalo’s Sammy Watkins, respectively, along with Odell Beckham Jr. (sixth-best grade), were all drafted in 2014.

The owners of the fourth and seventh-highest grades—Seattle’s Tyler Lockett and Miami’s DeVante Parker, respectively—were selected in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Beckham Jr., Robinson, and Watkins are representing their class well this season, ranked sixth, seventh, and 17th, respectively, among all NFL wide receivers.

7. The Bucs’ defense—and postseason hope—is surging behind Lavonte David.

Sitting at 6-6 after a win over the Falcons in Week 13, Tampa Bay is the first team out of the NFC playoff picture, as things currently sit. However, with a favorable three-game stretch ahead of them—versus the Saints, Rams, and Bears—the Buccaneers have a very real shot at earning a Wild Card position.

As colleague Sam Monson explained in great detail on Monday, the Bucs can attribute much of their defensive success, especially as of late, to a remerging name: 4-3 OLB Lavonte David.

Two years ago, David posted one of the best defensive seasons of any player. Earlier in the 2015 season, however, David’s play seemed to have regressed—and in a dramatic fashion, at that.

Through the last three games, however, it seems David is back on track, earning the second-highest overall grade among 4-3 OLBs in that span (behind only Jacksonville’s Telvin Smith). In Week 13, he earned the third-highest overall grade at the position, his highest mark of the season.

8. Aaron Donald was dominant—again.

While many Rams’ offensive players posted a day to forget, St. Louis’ defense again had a bright spot—one that has reoccurred all season.

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald posted his second-highest grade of the season, the best of any interior defender in Week 13. In fact, Donald hasn’t posted a negative overall grade this entire season. He came fairly close to doing so in Week 7 against the Browns, struggling in the run game, but his pass rush assured he remained in the positive.

Against the Cardinals on Sunday, Donald’s pass rush was again strong, as he notched one sack and four hits on Carson Palmer. He was also a factor in stopping Arizona’s run game, with four run stops to his name.

Through Week 13, Donald is the highest-graded interior defender in PFF’s system, at 97.3. J.J. Watt is close behind, at 97.2.

9. Denver’s defense reinforced their position as the highest-graded unit this year.

Entering Week 13, we published a video that ran down the list of PFF’s five highest-graded defenses this season, with the Broncos sitting comfortably at No. 1.

Denver reinforced that ranking against the Chargers on Sunday, holding Philip Rivers and company to three points.

To give you an idea of how good this performance was from the Broncos, only two players that recorded a defensive snap posted a “red” overall grade (below -1.0). In fact, eight players earned “green” grades (above +1.0), with Malik Jackson and Von Miller playing up to their extremely high season-levels.

Following the Broncos, PFF’s top five defenses entering Week 14 are: the Rams, Panthers, Chiefs, and Patriots, respectively.

10. The Cowboys earned their first win without Tony Romo this season.

The excitement of the final few minutes of Monday Night Football centered largely around Washington Redskins WR DeSean Jackson, but an important accomplishment must not be overlooked—for the first time in 2015, Dallas earned the “W” without Tony Romo under center—something that has been attempted seven other times this season.

And, as is the crazy NFC East race, Dallas is now one game back of the Redskins, Eagles, and Giants—all tied at 5-7. By no means do the Cowboys have an easy road ahead, with games against the Packers, Jets, and Bills, but the final game of the season against the Redskins on Jan. 3 could have postseason implications if Matt Cassel and company can continue to win.

| General Editor

Chase is a General Editor at PFF, focusing on the site’s NFL content strategy. His work has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider, and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

  • crosseyedlemon

    You just know Lovie Smith would like nothing better than to clinch a wild card spot against his former team the Bears. I’m really looking forward to that game.

  • JudoPrince

    The difference this season between Cam and Big Ben? Ben has WR’s Brown, Bryant and Wheaton to spread the ball around to. Cam has Ginn and Cotchery.

    • anon76returns

      Ben has better receiving weapons, and probably better running weapons. Who has a better OL and defense? I think the Panthers have the stronger team overall, with no obvious weaknesses on defense vs. Pittsburgh’s very suspect secondary.

    • Bobbybulivia

      The difference…..Ben has two Super Bowl Rings. No doubt Cam is playing smart and is fun to watch, but Ben has been doing it consistently for a long time. Each guy fits their system, just sit back and enjoy the show, because their are some really bad QB’s out there.

      • JudoPrince

        If you noticed my comment, I put ‘this season'; so naturally that would discount what Big Ben has done in the past. By the way Ben doesn’t own a Super Bowl ring if not for the tremendous teams he’s been on. Did you watch the first Super Bowl he was in? His performance was pretty dreadful actually. In his 2nd Super Bowl he performed much better, but the ultimate difference maker was the incredible TD grab by Santonio Holmes.

  • Brit

    The entire NFL has a negative grade this season. The teams stink. The games are about who’s going to make the least bad plays, not who’s going to make the most good plays. Teams lose games this year. They don’t win them.

    • Jake

      I feel the same way. Lot’s of middling teams with missing parts. Injuries make great teams average and average teams terrible.

  • Thinkaboutit

    Darren Sproles reminds me of Kurt Warner, he’s constantly good yet teams start someone else in front of him.

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    • Jonathan Seidman

      agreed, except Sproles has never been an every down back, and there’s a very good reason for that….he should get more time on the field though.