NFL Winners and Losers: Vikings' Kevin O'Connell might be a coaching superstar

Analytics are a valuable asset, but stats can't account for everything. Like how an elite coach can affect everything.

The Minnesota Vikings were the biggest regression candidate we've ever seen. They were 13-4 last season but had the underlying stats of a team that should have been below .500. Basically, they won every close game, which isn't sustainable.

But it also wasn't complete dumb luck. We might be quickly finding out that Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell is worth a few points in each game.

When the Vikings lost Justin Jefferson, everyone thought they should trade Kirk Cousins. When the Vikings lost Cousins, they looked done. Instead, a team that has severe roster deficiencies is right in the NFC playoff race, with a quarterback who two weeks ago was traded by the Arizona Cardinals, one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Coach of the Year is a weird award sometimes, but why wouldn't it be O'Connell?

Joshua Dobbs had a big game against the New Orleans Saints in a 27-19 win. In the first half Dobbs was 18-of-22 for 220 yards. That was without Jefferson, who should return soon from a hamstring injury, and K.J. Osborn, who was held out after suffering a concussion last week.

New Orleans rallied in the second half and made it interesting after Jameis Winston replaced an injured Derek Carr, but the Vikings did what they had to do to hold on.

The Saints have more star players on the roster. That's almost indisputable. But the Vikings had the far better coach.

The Vikings are 6-4 and in good shape to get the final wild-card spot in the NFC. That's astonishing given that the Vikings started 1-4 and lost their two most important players to injury.

Last week Dobbs had to go in the game only a few days after the Vikings shrewdly traded for him. O'Connell was explaining plays to Dobbs in his headset after he called them in the huddle. The Vikings pulled off a road win against the Atlanta Falcons. That's a credit to Dobbs to process it all, but that's also exactly what good coaching looks like. Having Dobbs run a full offense Sunday, less than two weeks after the Vikings traded for him, was impressive too.

O'Connell led the Vikings to 13 wins as a rookie head coach and it was mostly dismissed because everyone talked about how lucky they were. NFL Coach of the Year went to Brian Daboll and his nine wins with the New York Giants, and that decision is not aging well at all.

That might be OK. O'Connell could leave no doubt about that award this season.

Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell of the Minnesota Vikings congratulates Joshua Dobbs during Sunday's game against the Saints. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell congratulates Joshua Dobbs during Sunday's game against the Saints. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 10 of the NFL season:


Anyone on the Dallas Cowboys: Games like the one the Cowboys had Sunday have to be fun. Everyone with a star on their helmet seemed to make a big play.

It's easy against the New York Giants, who will look like a junior varsity team the final two months of the season. The Cowboys annihilated the Giants 49-17. Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito had less than 50 yards passing before a meaningless final drive, New York allowed Dak Prescott to account for five touchdowns and the team had a heated argument on the sideline involving receiver Darius Slayton, so it was pretty much a 2023 Giants hat trick. The Cowboys ended up with 640 yards, and allowed just 172.

It's not like Dallas needed to break a sweat Sunday, and everyone could go back to the locker room feeling happy. The rest of the Giants' opponents this season will have similar feelings.

Geno Smith and DK Metcalf: The Seattle Seahawks' 29-26 win over the Washington Commanders wasn't pretty, but it was a win. Mostly thanks to Smith and Metcalf at the end.

Smith hit Metcalf on two huge pass plays after the Commanders tied it in the final minute. He found Metcalf for 17, then again for 27 to set up Jason Myers' field goal as time expired. Smith had 369 yards, and 98 went to Metcalf.

The Seahawks are 6-3. They barely won, but they're not going to be too picky. They're still tied for first place in the NFC West, though they'll need to play better if they want a shot to beat the 49ers for the division.

C.J. Stroud's MVP hopes: Seriously, why not Stroud for MVP?

Rookies don't win NFL MVP, but Stroud is the best story in the league this season and he added another chapter to what's becoming a historic rookie year. The Houston Texans rookie took a team with multiple players out due to injury, including running back Dameon Pierce and receiver Nico Collins, and upset the Cincinnati Bengals 30-27 on the road.

Stroud threw a bad interception in the fourth quarter that helped the Bengals erase a 10-point deficit and tie the game, but in the final 1:33 Stroud led a drive that ended with a field goal on the final play for the win. It was impressive to see him bounce back from a rare mistake.

It was one of the few big mistakes he has made all season, throwing an interception in the final four minutes that set up the Bengals at the four-yard line. Cincinnati scored off that to cut Houston's lead to 27-24. The Bengals had a shot to take the lead after that but Tyler Boyd dropped a pass in the end zone and the Bengals had to settle for a game-tying field goal. That opened the door for Stroud to put together a game-winning drive.

Stroud is having a special rookie season. He threw for 356 yards Sunday and led an upset over a hot Bengals team. So, again, why not Stroud for MVP?

Brock Purdy: It was understandable that there were concerns about Purdy after the San Francisco 49ers' three-game losing streak. He made some horrible decisions in those losses.

The bye week came at the right time, and everyone can calm down about Purdy for a bit.

The 49ers had an impressive 34-3 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. Purdy was very good, with touchdown passes to Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle. The pass to Kittle, thrown under pressure from the pocket for a 66-yard score, turned the game into a rout. Purdy added another touchdown pass in the second half, and finished with 296 yards.

The 49ers again looked like one of the best teams in football. They, and their quarterback, are back on track.

Mike Evans: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could have traded Evans before the deadline. But it would be cool if he spent an entire Hall of Fame career with the Bucs.

Evans has been one of the best receivers of this generation, and he's having another fine season even after Tom Brady's retirement. Evans was the key player in the Buccaneers' 20-6 win over the Tennessee Titans. The Buccaneers are 4-5 and far from out of the race in a putrid NFC South. Evans had six catches for 143 yards and a touchdown in a vintage performance. He was the best player on the field.

Evans is on his way to another 1,000-yard season, which would be his 10th in 10 NFL seasons. Many wondered if he could do that again at age 30 with Baker Mayfield throwing him the ball this season. On Sunday he looked as dominant as ever.


Arthur Smith and the Atlanta Falcons: Given the Falcons' soft schedule, it's going to look really bad for Smith when Atlanta posts a sub-.500 record.

The Falcons need wins and they couldn't beat an Arizona Cardinals team that was 1-8 coming into Sunday's game. Kyler Murray was back for the Cardinals and injected some much-needed life into the franchise, but the Falcons still can't lose that game if they want to be a playoff team. Murray led a late drive and Matt Prater hit a game-winning field goal as time expired for a 25-23 win.

The Falcons fell to 4-6. They'll have another week of quarterback controversy after Taylor Heinicke was knocked out of the game with an injury and Desmond Ridder made some plays to help Atlanta grab a late lead.

The Falcons' season is quickly slipping away, and it's not like anyone should trust Smith to fix it.

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley reacts from the sideline during the first half an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley is searching for answers, particularly on defense, this season. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

Los Angeles Chargers defense: In his previous job, Brandon Staley was the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams. He built a reputation for being a good defensive mind, a reason why he was hired to be the Chargers' head coach.

Staley's defenses have been awful, and the Chargers' defense let down badly on Sunday. The Chargers scored 38 points and lost. The Detroit Lions put together a late drive, highlighted by a fourth-down conversion, and the Lions kicked a field goal as time expired for a 41-38 win.

Staley's time has to be running out as Chargers coach. The Chargers look like they're wasting another season of Justin Herbert, who can't be blamed for Sunday's loss. The Lions put up 533 yards in the win. That's a bad look for their defensive-minded head coach.

Baltimore Ravens hype train: Can anyone in the NFL be great for more than a couple of weeks at a time?

The Ravens got plenty of buzz as the best team in football after blowing out the Seattle Seahawks last week. They looked really good taking a 17-3 first-quarter lead on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Then the Ravens fell apart.

That sums up the NFL in 2023. Nobody is good very long, not even within a game.

The Browns clawed back in the game and then got a pick-six in the fourth quarter, though they missed the extra point and trailed 31-30. No big deal. The Browns forced a punt and Cleveland's offense got them in position to kick a game-winning field goal as time expired. The Browns are 6-3 after the 33-31 win and right in the mix for an AFC North title.

The Ravens have three losses and all of them came very late in the game. That doesn't matter. Great teams find a way to win those games. And no team in the NFL this season is that great.

Packers' losing streak in Pittsburgh: Amazingly enough, the Packers haven't won in Pittsburgh since 1970. That streak will continue a few more years.

The Packers had a shot, and Jordan Love got them in position to win a couple times, but he threw two fourth-quarter interceptions including one on the final play, and the Pittsburgh Steelers escaped with a 23-19 win.

Love was solid, with 289 yards. His first fourth-quarter interception was a bad one into coverage. The last one came on a desperation toss to the end zone. Either way, he didn't do enough to get the Packers a win. He's one of many Green Bay quarterbacks to fall short in Pittsburgh.

Mac Jones: You have to wonder if Jones' time as the New England Patriots quarterback is up.

When the Patriots benched Jones at the end of Sunday's 10-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Germany, it was telling. There were less than two minutes left and the Patriots trailed by just four points. Putting in Bailey Zappe was a desperate move that was very unlikely to work out, and it didn't. Zappe threw a horrible pick after a dud of a fake spike play to end the game.

That was the expected result, but the Patriots couldn't watch Jones anymore.

"I just thought it was time for a change," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said after the game.

Belichick didn't say who his quarterback would be in their next game as they enter a bye week. New England's next game is Nov. 26 at the New York Giants.

Jones threw a miserable interception to end his day. He had Mike Gesicki open in the end zone but his (short) pass was oddly short and easily picked off by Julian Blackmon. That was it for Jones; he was yanked after that even with the game still on the line.

The Patriots have stuck with Jones as their starter this season but after Jones was benched when he was Sunday, it seems likely they're willing to try anything else going forward.