Some weeks need no fancy introduction. The promise of what’s to come is so good that a writer simply has to go through the games and then get out of the way. No need for a lengthy monologue about the state of quarterbacks or which conference is more dominant.
If week 9 was the equivalent of striking out at a bar, and week 10 was nothing more than foreplay, then week 11 has a strong possibility of being an incredible love-making session, complete with moves you never even knew existed.
Some are even calling week 11 the NFCpocalypse.
We have six very meaningful games:
- Buffalo (5-4) at Miami (5-4) – Thursday Night 8:25pm ET
- Seattle (6-3) at Kansas City (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
- Cincinnati (5-3-1) at New Orleans (4-5) – Sunday 1pm ET
- Philadelphia (7-2) at Green Bay (6-3) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
- Detroit (7-2) at Arizona (8-1) – Sunday 4:25pm ET
- New England (7-2) at Indianapolis (6-3) – Sunday Night 8:30pm ET
And two sort of meaningful games:
- Houston (4-5) at Cleveland (6-3) – Sunday 1pm ET
- Atlanta (3-6) at Carolina (3-6-1) – Sunday 1pm ET
It’s nice of the NFL to have all those games spread out pretty evenly in every timeslot throughout week 11. You might say I’m reaching with the two games I tagged as sort of meaningful, but at this point every game’s important for Cleveland while the Texans could still technically be a playoff contender with a win, and in the NFC South, the winner of Atlanta/Carolina would be tied with the Saints for 1st place if the Saints can’t handle Cincinnati.
Other than the fact that no outcome in week 10 was too important to the playoff picture, the other thing that kept it from being a truly entertaining week was that the favorites went 10-3 against the spread. That flies in the face of everything we’ve seen so far this year. Up until week 10, the favorites and underdogs had basically played to a draw. Since that 10-3 outcome seems to be the exception, not the rule, I’d look for the underdogs to cover six or seven of the 14 games this weekend.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
First, an update on the bye teams. After week 12 we’ll be done with byes for the year. Hooray for getting rid of this part of my column and for an easier time comparing teams’ records!
- Baltimore (6-4): Other than their week 1 loss at home to Cincinnati, which can partly be attributed to the Ray Rice noise, the Ravens have followed a path that was pretty much expected of them. They’ve won all their home games since the opener. They’ve beaten up on bad teams when given the chance (Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Tennessee all suffered double-digit losses to the Ravens). But they’ve struggled on the road against above average teams (losses at Indy, Cincy, and Pittsburgh). The good news is they only have two more tough road games this year. The bad news is they play in a division where 10-6 might not be good enough.
- Dallas (7-3): Those of us who love to hate the Cowboys may not get our 8-8 dream scenario, but 9-7 is definitely in play. And that would be just as disastrous after a 6-1 start. The Cowboys only play two of their final six at home, but interestingly enough, they’re only 3-3 at home this year. They’re actually undefeated on the road. You know what’s especially nauseating about Dallas? Their next four games are all nationally-televised. They have a Sunday nighter at the Giants, then home for Philly on Thanksgiving, then at Chicago the following Thursday and finally at Philly the Sunday night after that. This doesn’t seem fair that I’m forced to watch the Cowboys four weeks in a row.
- Jacksonville (1-9): It’s not even worth going through their remaining games to see how many more wins they can get. At best they’re a 4-12 team. More interesting is whether or not Blake Bortles can hold off Jay Cutler in the chase for leading the league in turnovers. It would be an extra special accomplishment for Bortles considering he wasn’t playing early in the year.
- NY Jets (2-8): The Jets bookended eight straight losses from week 2 through week 9 with home wins. Holding the mighty Steelers offense to 13 points was probably their Super Bowl. The rest of their schedule would be pretty easy for a halfway decent team, but they’re looking at 5-11 when it’s all said and done. The only thing they can look forward to is a December 21st game in Foxboro where they could possibly play spoiler to the Patriots’ hopes of a #1 or #2 seed.
And now for the week 11 picks.
Buffalo @ Miami (-4.5)
- The Pick: Buffalo
- The Score: Buffalo 26, Miami 23
Wouldn’t it be a nice surprise if these two teams gave us the most exciting Thursday night game of the year? Both the Bills and the Dolphins have been surprising us all season with perfectly competent play. The wildcards in the AFC may still boil down to the North and West runners-up, but at least two teams from the East added some intrigue up to this point.
This is also the most important Thursday night game we’ve seen so far this year, as the loser will likely be a full two games out of a wildcard spot. Wow. Bills and Dolphins in week 11 and it actually has meaning!
I’m all in on a three-point game in this one, possibly an overtime nailbiter to get what should be one of the best weekends on the NFL calendar kicked off.
UPDATE: On Wednesday night, the line was six. When I looked Thursday morning, it was down to 4.5. I can’t find any breaking injury news or extenuating circumstances that would account for this change. All I can think is a TON of money must be coming into the sportsbooks on the Bills. You’ve been warned.
Minnesota @ Chicago (-3.5)
- The Pick: Minnesota
- The Score: Minnesota 27, Chicago 20
In what scenario, short of being held at gunpoint, could someone place money on the Bears right now? Marc Trestman probably made a lot more peoples’ Coach of the Year predictions in the preseason than Coaches to be Fired predictions, but if this disaster continues, someone’s gotta take the fall.
I love getting more than a field goal on the team that’s playing relatively well on no expectations with a bunch of young players learning to win. I’d rather that than backing the team that was overly hyped in the preseason and is currently playing for nothing at this point. That team probably can’t help but wonder who’s losing his job over the next two months. Give me the Vikings to win outright in this one.
Houston @ Cleveland (-3)
- The Pick: Cleveland
- The Score: Cleveland 23, Houston 14
The “Brady Backup” Bowl!!
What’s nice for Ryan Malett (and every other shaky quarterback) is that Andy Dalton just lowered the bar significantly for the entire position one week ago. No matter how bad Mallett is in his debut, he can’t possibly be worse than the soon-to-be “maligned” Cincinnati QB.
Tempting as it is to be that guy who predicts a huge Cleveland let down, I’m not taking the bait. This line seems exactly right, the Browns should win by a field goal or slightly more.
Atlanta @ Carolina (PICK)
- The Pick: Carolina
- The Score: Carolina 30, Atlanta 26
So it turns out Atlanta could be tied for 1st place in the NFC South after this weekend. Words cannot describe how insane that is. I don’t believe either of these teams in this game deserves much of our attention so instead I’d like to discuss, once again, the historic atrociousness that is this division.
- The NFC South’s cumulative record is 11-25 (.306 win percentage).
- Take away games they’ve played against one another, and the cumulative record drops to 5-19 (.208 win percentage).
- Since week 4, this entire division has won five games. Three of those wins have been in games where NFC South teams were facing each other. So in the past six weeks, these teams have combined to win two games against non-division opponents.
- According to FooballOutsiders.com, the four teams in this division are all in the bottom seven of overall defensive efficiency in the league.
Anyway, this line is wrong considering these teams might be equal to one another. The Panthers should at least get the respect of being a three-point favorite considering they’re at home.
Cincinnati @ New Orleans (-7.5)
- The Pick: Cincinnati
- The Score: New Orleans 31, Cincinnati 27
Whoaaaaaaa! Is this the biggest overreaction line of all time? Or is Cincinnati truly awful and I’m just the last to know it?
My initial instinct was that Vegas set this line knowing Dalton’s infamous showing last Thursday night will be fresh on everyone’s minds going into week 11.
Fair enough. That strategy just may get a lot of people to take the Saints with an unnecessarily high point spread.
Not me though. When the Bengals are off, it’s hard to find a team that looks worse than them. But I still think they have too many good players on both sides of the ball to turn into a weekly punching bag. And yes, Dalton’s performance was historic last Thursday, but he’s not in that Mark Sanchez/Geno Smith territory where every game is a train wreck. If that were the case, even the Bengals wouldn’t have ponied up with the large contract for him over the offseason.
Let’s all just calm down a little and watch the Bengals implode in December or January.
Tampa Bay @ Washington (-7)
- The Pick: Washington
- The Score: Washington 34, Tampa Bay 11
If you’re keeping score at home, this is the second consecutive game where a sub-.500 team is giving a touchdown. This one makes a lot more sense than that Bengals/Saints game because at least the team Washington’s facing is in the running for the 1st overall pick in 2015.
I’m not even bothering with much research on this matchup. The PotatoSkins should win by at least 10. Yes, I know they just lost on the road to the Vikings and barely won a home game against Tennessee last month. It doesn’t matter because the Bucs are just that bad. Maybe the worst team in football.
Denver (-10) @ St. Louis
- The Pick: St. Louis
- The Score: Denver 32, St. Louis 24
For the most part I’ve been staying away from these huge point spreads. But last week when the favorites were busy going 10-3 against the spread, it would have been a good time to take some of those teams favored by 10 or more.
Denver hasn’t won a game by less than 14 points since week 2. When they’re winning, they’re winning BIG.
And it turns out the Rams are going with Shaun Hill at quarterback this week, a 34-year-old who has thrown 13 passes this season and last played on September 7th.
But we’ve reached that time in the NFL season where no matter how hard I try, I can’t be fully objective to Denver. They’re battling my Patriots for a top seed in the AFC, and every loss counts. Most likely the Patriots need at least one more Denver loss to secure the #1 seed. I will try to be objective, but I can’t promise.
So I’m going with the Rams to make it a game.
San Francisco (-4.5) @ NY Giants
- The Pick: NY Giants
- The Score: NY Giants 30, San Francisco 23
Too high. This line feels like what an Arizona, Seattle or Detroit would be giving if they were traveling to the Meadowlands. The 49ers are not of that same ilk. I’m weary of the back-to-back flights to the Eastern Time Zone (they were in New Orleans last week).
The Giants are bad, no doubt about it, but they can absolutely stay with San Francisco at home. I know the 38-17 loss at Seattle last week looks bad, but there was a time in the 4th quarter when it was 17-17. It was a deceivingly decent game out of the Giants in tough road conditions.
Eyeing this as my favorite pick of the week.
Seattle @ Kansas City (-1.5)
- The Pick: Kansas City
- The Score: Kansas City 20, Seattle 16
There’s a real chance the Chiefs demolish the Seahawks on Sunday. I can’t make it my favorite pick or say that I’m going to bet everything I’ve got on it because Seattle has earned the right for me to always be weary of picking against them. But they’ve been real bad on the road this year, like really bad. And the Chiefs appear to have one of the true home field advantages in football, backed by a great crowd that’s loving this 6-3 team.
I fully expect the Chiefs to win and fans around the country to continue ignoring what’s going on in Kansas City.
Oakland @ San Diego (-10.5)
- The Pick: San Diego
- The Score: San Diego 40, Oakland 13
The last time the Chargers won a game was more than a month ago. It just so happens Oakland was the last team they beat before all the injuries piled up and they lost three in a row before last week’s bye.
They’re not all the way back to good health yet, but they’re getting there. And the Raiders are still bad. Not much has changed with them in the past month so I expect this game will get the Chargers back to winning and putting up lots of points.
Detroit @ Arizona (-1)
- The Pick: Arizona
- The Score: Arizona 23, Detroit 16
Here’s the key question for every parent out there: If your wife had a baby on a Monday night, would you be mentally & physically prepared to perform your job at an extremely high level just six days later?
If your answer is no, you might want to pick against Arizona this week because Drew Stanton’s wife gave birth on Monday night.
So Stanton gets thrust into the starting QB role as of Monday morning, has one week to prepare for the best defense in the NFL, and has a new baby daughter during that same week.
The first version I wrote of this pick had me taking Detroit and saying this is a coin flip game where the craziness surrounding Stanton this week is having me lean in Detroit’s direction, but then I realized one matchup that is absolutely not a coin flip: COACHING.
No matter what’s going on with the Cardinals, we know we’re getting a prepared team that’ll do all the little things and take appropriate chances to win the game when it gets them. With Detroit, well, they have this:
This game may very well give us another proof point that coaching does indeed make a big difference in the NFL.
Philadelphia @ Green Bay (-6)
- The Pick: Green Bay
- The Score: Green Bay 33, Philadelphia 23
A little more thought needs to go into this game than simply penciling in the Packers because they’ve been unstoppable at home. It’s true that their last three home games have seen them win by 32, 21 and 41. But it’s also true that their three opponents in those games were Minnesota, Carolina and Chicago.
It’s very tough to draw conclusions on how Green Bay will perform at home against a fellow playoff contender because they haven’t played any of those kinds of games this year.
As for the Eagles, they’ve won two road games (Indianapolis and Houston) and lost two road games (San Francisco and Arizona).
I guess my pick boils down to the fact that I’m not going against Aaron Rodgers when he’s favored by less than a touchdown at home until further notice.
New England @ Indianapolis (-3)
- The Pick: New England
- The Score: Indianapolis 31, New England 29
What a way to end our Sunday! A key battle between two of the AFC’s best, and unlike the Broncos in their week 9 game in New England, the Colts will probably show up for this one.
This feels like an even matchup if the Patriots are merely “one of the better AFC teams.” But if they’ve morphed into that 2003/2004 Patriots mode, they just may dominate the Colts on Sunday night.
I’d like to think that’s what we’re witnessing, but I’m not going to put money on it. One thing that’s easy to forget because of the blowout over Denver two weeks ago is that Chandler Jones is still missing and he was a HUGE part of New England’s success early in the year. I wonder if this is the game when we remember how valuable he is.
I’m thinking the Patriots fall just short as Andrew Luck gets the ball last and Adam Vinatieri hits yet another key field goal over his old team to win the game.
Pittsburgh (-6) @ Tennessee
- The Pick: Pittsburgh
- The Score: Pittsburgh 36, Tennessee 13
Normally I wouldn’t hesitate to grab the favorite in a game like this. After all, the Steelers are 6-4 while the Titans are 2-7. The Steelers have an offense that put up 94 points in two weeks against much better teams than Tennessee. This shouldn’t be a problem.
But there’s also Pittsburgh’s 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay in week 4, their 31-10 loss at Cleveland in week 6, and the Steelers’ 20-13 no-show at the Jets just last week. Playing down to their competition seems to be a Pittsburgh staple.
But you know what? I can pick this game without even considering how either of these teams might perform on the field. If you’re like me and you think Thursday’s game is going to be close and entertaining, and you think the same about Sunday night’s game, that means you gotta pick a blowout on Monday night because there’s no way the football gods are giving us three awesome games in the three primetime slots in week 11. Just won’t happen. Steelers roll.
If you needed any more motivation to spend all of your Sunday and part of your Thursday & Monday watching football this weekend, just know that in week 12, we’re looking at only three games at most that warrant our attention. The intrigue of week 11 doesn’t come around that often. Don’t mess this up.
Enjoy the games.