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Around the NFL: What we learned in Week 11

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We have a new team at the bottom. For losing by 30 to the Chiefs, the Chargers are this week's Worst Team in the NFL. Find out what else we learned in the NFL in week 11.

Former Steelers nemesis Carson Palmer did them a favor this week in beating the Bengals.
Former Steelers nemesis Carson Palmer did them a favor this week in beating the Bengals.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Tony Romo might be the NFL MVP.

Tom Brady? Sorry. In 2008, we learned a mediocre quarterback (Matt Cassel) could replace Brady for fifteen and a half games and win 11 of them. But that very same replacement quarterback won zero of his three starts in place of Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo. What we learned in Romo’s triumphant return is he is the difference between a team easily capable of 12-4 this season, and their current 3-7. How important is he? All seven losses came while Romo was out with a broken collarbone; all three wins came in games Romo started.

Question Joe Flacco’s "eliteness" -- but not his toughness.

Last week I said the Ravens had lost again, and were going to laugh all the way to a good draft pick. Well, they may need that draft pick, but no one thinks it’s funny, now. Quarterback Joe Flacco went down with a torn ACL -- and possibly a torn MCL, as well -- on the game’s winning drive. Earlier in the game, running back Justin Forsett was lost for the season with a broken arm. The pickings are mighty slim in Charm City right now, but one thing is for sure: Flacco’s grit cannot be questioned. He seemed to initially shrug off the injury as something minor, and played three more snaps. It wasn’t long after the game, though, that the true extent of the injury was revealed.

The Carolina Panthers are 10-0, and are just now hitting their stride.

After pounding out some close wins in the first two months of the season, the Panthers have absolutely exploded as of late. That’s scary for an NFC in which every other division leader has shown major flaws: the Giants are 5-5, the Packers lost three straight and the Cardinals’ vaunted defense has struggled recently, giving up 63 points in their last two games. The Panthers, meanwhile, have given up just 26 points in that time. If they can defeat Dallas next week, which isn’t nearly as easy of a task as the teams’ records might indicate, they have a legit shot at an undefeated regular season: their remaining games are at New Orleans, both games against the Falcons, at the Giants and a season finale at home against the Buccaneers.

Rise and Shine: Jaguars, Buccaneers, Texans.

After ten weeks, a few trends are becoming quite obvious. One is that some teams are consistently improving over the course of the season. The Jaguars, Bucs and Texans all find themselves at or within one win of a .500 record. That’s a darned sight better than any of them looked early in the season, and it indicates they might return to being true contenders in the next one or two seasons. Or, as Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is fond of saying, their "arrows are pointing up."

Falling from grace: Ravens, Chargers, Seahawks

You can chalk a lot of Baltimore’s rapid fall to injuries, but that’s hardly the entire problem. Flacco’s contract is like a Balloon Mortgage: it starts off looking great, but then it costs a lot a few years in. His cap hit of $14.5 million in 2015 is set to nearly double to $28.5 million next year, a gain which will most certainly outpace the salary cap increase all by itself. Add to that the the fact that other contracts will increase in cap hit as well, and suddenly the situation looks dreadful. But since it costs almost as much to cut him as to keep him, they will be paying a lot in 2016 no matter what. As for the Chargers, the talent the team has is getting old, and there hasn’t been much cohesiveness with the new talent. And if anyone can explain to me why Seattle is so much worse this season with a lot of the same people, please do. Because I’m not sure what to make of their slide this year.

College Football Bonus! The Buckeyes may be victims of the Championship Ego Inflation.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like Ohio State’s play this year has been indicative of a team that can’t get over its own success. After winning the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoffs with a quarterback most people didn’t even know was on the team, then winning the national championship as an underdog, the expectations for 2015 were high. But the team has spent most of this season playing like they don’t think they need to try as hard as everyone else. They returned a lot of talent, and had so much of it at quarterback that last year’s intended starter, Braxton Miller, switched positions. Urban Meyer is a proven coach, and the players showed what they had last season. The only thing that can explain their noticeable drop-off in play is execution. Meyer bears some of that burden -- it’s his job to coach and motivate, after all -- but in my opinion, their failure this season lies largely on the players not taking things seriously.

And finally...The Steelers are hitting their stride at just the right time.

The swagger in this team since Ben Roethlisberger came off the bench and score the first touchdown of the game against the Browns is obvious. It’s like they spent the game looking at their opponents and saying, "we’re beating you badly, and we don’t even have a plan." A week before, when Roethlisberger was injured, receiver Antonio Brown still managed one of the greatest receiving games in NFL history, getting 17 catches for 284 yards. After shaking of the Roethlisberger scare (again), this offense is beginning to roll, just as the defense is trimming off some ragged edges. With several previously daunting games looking much easier -- including matchups against Seattle, Indianapolis and Denver -- the Steelers have the inside track on the fifth seed. They will still need a lot of help to win the AFC North, though.