The NFL world is being turned upside-down by the likes of Marcus Mariota, Derek Carr, and perhaps most surprisingly, by Dak Prescott. We’ve been blessed with the gift of surprise teams, up-and-coming quarterbacks, and divisional battles, just in time for the holiday season. Can Dak Prescott keep his historic rookie season going? Are we in for a Carr-Brady playoff showdown? Is Marcus Mariota really the next Steve Young? While the youngsters are rising up to relevance, wily old vets like Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, and Big Ben are fighting to prove that they can still carry their teams to playoff prowess. There’s so much to prove in Week 11.
By Matthew Jarecki
New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
Line: Carolina – 2.5
Final Score: New Orleans 20 – Carolina 23
2 Cents: It’s set in stone: these Thursday Night Football games are not the same product that the NFL puts out on Sundays and Mondays. Because of a lack of recovery and preparation time, the more physically imposing roster is coming out with a victory more often than not, and upsets are few and far between. Last night was a prime example. Carolina’s offense was the definition of a mess, coming away with only 51 rushing yards and 192 passing yards, but the Panthers out-physical’d a Saints team that presented a much more efficient offense. I had two key takeaways from this match up. First, Carolina wants to be the power team they were last year, with the bouldering triad of Jonathan Stewart, Cam Newton, and Mike Tolbert in the backfield, but that offensive line just isn’t getting enough push to bring them there. They’ll need to address that if they want to make the playoff push I keep telling you guys they’ll make. Secondly, the Saints are well on their way to another 8-8 season, and you have to wonder who will be held accountable after another mediocre year. It sure won’t be Drew Brees, who continues to play like a future HOFer at the age of 37. Will it be GM Mickey Loomis, who’s failed to put together a formidable defense for the last 3 seasons? Or could the Saints shock the world and let go of Sean Payton, with the hopes of exuding new energy throughout New Orleans?
Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals
Line: Cincinnati -3
Predicted Final Score: Buffalo 24 – Cincinnati 21
2 Cents: What I see in this match up is a team with a strong running identity, versus a team with practically no identity at all. The Bills are not the most talented team, and Rex Ryan certainly isn’t one of the smartest coaches in the league, but he gives his team something to hang their hat on, and that’s invaluable in the NFL. Buffalo plays ball control offense, ranking 1st in the league by gaining 5.3 yards per rush. That formula has led them to 4th in the league in turnover differential (+7), and it’s about to lead them to a win over a Bengals squad that’s mediocre across the board defensively this season. To be exact, the Bengals give up a 26th ranked 4.4 yards per rush, and a 17th ranked 259 passing yards per game. That’s not good enough. Offensively the Bengals sit just outside the top 10 in passing and rushing, so they should be able to move the ball at home against a slightly overrated Buffalo defense, but here’s the key stat: even with a highly ranked offense in terms of yards gained, Cincinnati only scores an average of 20 points per game compared to Buffalo’s 26. That tells me that Cincinnati settles for field goals often (a staple of Andy Dalton), while Buffalo punches it into the end-zone.
The Catch: The Bengals played well for 3 quarters against the Giants on MNF in week 10, stifling the Giants’ run game until the 4th quarter. Stopping the run for a full 60 minutes is the Bengals’ chance at success in this match up.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
Line: Pittsburgh -9
Predicted Final Score: Pittsburgh 31 – Browns 21
2 Cents: The NFL is known for its amazing parody, and with only 5 teams out of playoff contention thus far, it’s on full display this season. Unfortunately for the Browns, that parody will not be on display come 1 PM eastern on Sunday in their match up against one of the most (offensively) talented teams in the league, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh returned to it’s true self again last week — the league’s most explosive team — albeit with a bad secondary, and some questionable coaching. It’ll prove to be too much for Pittsburgh’s little brother, the Cleveland Browns, to handle. As is the case every week, Cleveland will hand their opponent their free victory for the season, of which every other AFC North team gets two per year. As the Browns GM recently stated, “It’s no longer about wins and losses for the Browns this season, it’s about evaluating the talent they have.” Because of that, expect to see Cody Kessler for as long as he can stay healthy this game, and expect the Steelers to put on an offensive show against the league’s youngest team.
The Catch: The Steelers are becoming famous for playing down to lesser opponents and rising to the occasion versus good teams. It’ll be hard to stoop to Cleveland’s level, but in the NFL, anything’s possible.
Baltimore Ravens at Dallas Cowboys
Line: Dallas -7
Predicted Final Score: Baltimore 24 – Dallas 23
2 Cents: That’s right, folks, this is my upset of the week. After hugely important victories over the Eagles and Steelers, Dallas will take a step back against the best rushing defense they’ll see all year, and certainly the best overall defense they’ve faced thus far. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, along with that dominant offensive line, are on their way to winning the NFC East and causing problems for teams in the playoffs; but the Ravens have the perfect team to slow down and outscore Dallas by just a hair. Boasting a front 7 allowing just a 3.3 yards per attempt, and a secondary giving up a 5th ranked 228 yards per game, this Ravens defense is for real. You can count on one hand the amount of teams that have a Super Bowl winning quarterback and a top ten defense; watch out for Baltimore down the stretch. Ezekiel will have his worst game since week 1, and Joe Flacco will simply face the softer defense en route to outplaying rookie sensation Dak Prescott. Watch out for this game on my Vegas 3.
The Catch: It’s obvious to most that Dallas’s offensive line is a huge key to making their star rookies successful, and if they dominate the trenches, the Ravens will have a hard time keeping up.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Detroit Lions
Line: Detroit -7
Predicted Final Score: Jacksonville 21 – Detroit 27
2 Cents: Blake Bortles is officially mediocre. After an off-season of hype surrounding what was supposed to be his breakout year, Bortles has 16 TDs to 11 INTs. This is what he is. With a top ten defense, a 14th ranked offensive line, and a better than average receiving core, there’s no more excuses left for this guy. To make matters worse, Gus Bradley is his head coach, making this coach/quarterback combination the worst in the league. Yep, it’s worse than the Browns. And then, there’s Matthew Stafford and the Lions, who are probably not the most talented team in their division, but currently sit at first place due to being — get ready for this — the most consistent team in the NFC North. I blew your mind there, didn’t I? With the Vikings dumpster fire of an offensive line, and Green Bay literally playing without a running back for going on 4 weeks, Detroit has emerged as the team with the most consistent coach/quarterback combination in the league. Sure, Jim Caldwell will punt the ball on 4 and half and inch, but maybe his ultra conservative approach is just what the Lions need after years of wasting Matthew Stafford’s talent. In this game, Detroit will start off hot, as they always do, and Blake Bortles will spend the game playing catch-up and cleaning up his box score numbers, as he always does.
The Catch: The Jags have a shot to win this game if they can slow down the pace, and get things going on the ground; something they’ve failed at thus far.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
Line: Indianapolis -3
Predicted Final Score: Tennessee 34 – Indianapolis 31
2 Cents: This is the game of the week! I’ll be locked in to watch Marcus Mariota and Andrew Luck truly begin a rivalry that should go on for the better part of the next decade. Mariota, in his 2nd year, is finally coming into his own after showing flashes of brilliance in his rookie year. Andrew Luck has been brilliant since year one, but the ownership and front office in Indianapolis have failed him miserably. It’s a shame to watch Luck take the full responsibility for his team’s woes after every loss, while anybody with a pair of eyes can see that the team around him is flat out old, and under-skilled. Shame on you, Ryan Grigson; and shame on you, Jim Irsay. This game will not only underscore the failures of Andrew Luck’s organization, it will also highlight the job the Titans have done to build around their emerging star, Marcus Mariota. The Titans have a top 5 offensive line, a top 5 running game, and in his last 6 games, Mariota’s thrown for 17 TDs to 3 INTs. For all of those reasons, and despite Andrew Luck’s greatness, Tennessee will win this thriller.
The Catch: It just doesn’t feel right to bet against Andrew Luck, and that’s probably why Vegas has Tennessee as the underdog in this match up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Kansas City Chiefs
Line: Kansas City -7.5
Predicted Final Score: Tampa Bay 17 – Kansas City 24
2 Cents: Andy Reid doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does preparing his team for these regular season wins. The guy’s taken Alex Smith and a bunch of nobodys on offense to the playoffs 2 of the last 3 years. With a defense that bends but doesn’t break, Kansas City has allowed only 15 points per game during their current 5 game winning streak. They have their pass rush back, and they’re playing like the Chiefs again after a bumpy start to the season. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, sits right behind the Steelers as the most inconsistent team in the league — explosive when things are right, and tumultuous when things are wrong. This game has upset potential; but I don’t dare bet against the Chiefs at home. Kansas City wins this game with turnovers, a suffocating rushing offense, and the steady hand of Alex Smith.
The Catch: Jameis Winston has proven that when the circumstances are right, he can fire off 400 yards and 3 TDs. The Bucs have scored 29 points per game over their last three — but can that O-line give Winston the time to throw?
Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings
Line: Minnesota -1.5
Predicted Final Score: Arizona 17 – Minnesota 14
2 Cents: If this were week 4, I’d have picked the Vikings all day over an Arizona team that historically doesn’t travel well. The thing is, you just can’t beat this Arizona team — with the likes of Calais Campbell, Chandler Jones, and Markus Golden — with that joke of an offensive line in Minnesota. Sam Bradford suddenly looks like a scared little boy again, the Vikings can’t rush the ball, and head coach Mike Zimmer is on the verge of a heart attack every game. The one constant for the Vikings has been a very good, but not great defense, and as has been the case over the last few weeks, it won’t be able to stifle Arizona’s offense long enough to bring a victory back to U.S. Bank Stadium. The key factor in this game? Arizona is now a power team with David Johnson, and Minnesota is allowing a pedestrian 4.1 yards per carry on the ground.
The Catch: After losing 4 straight games, the Vikings are officially desperate. You know how I feel about desperate teams playing at home. This game will be a 60 minute grind for both teams.
Chicago Bears at New York Giants
Line: New York – 7.5
Predicted Final Score: Chicago 10 – New York 21
2 Cents: Well, after a nice little one- game stretch of impressive play, Jay Cutler is back to his turnover-prone self. No, Kristen Cavallari, we won’t shut up now. The Bears are one of the 5 teams that are officially out of playoff contention, and their quarterback play has everything to do with it. The Giants, on the other hand, are 6-3 and their quarterback play has very little to do with it. In fact, I’m not sure how they’ve managed to attain the second best record in the NFC East, but it’s about to move to 8-3 after they face the Bears this week, and cash in their free victory versus the Browns next week. Eli Manning has 15 TDs to 10 INTs this year. No, I didn’t get his stats mixed up with Blake Bortles’; they’re just alarmingly comparable this year. The bright spot on the league’s most average 6-3 team? That defense is starting to gel, and the Giants managed to put up 100 yards on the ground last week, albeit against the Bengals. The football Giants will pick smokin’ Jay Cutler off a couple times, and make up for Eli Manning’s bone-headed, but somehow pretty good, play in the Meadowlands this week.
The Catch: Chicago is strangely good on defense, and the Giants tend to put up stinkers as home favorites. If Chicago wins it will be based on Jay Cutler’s supreme arm talent and a whole lot of luck.
Miami Dolphins at LA Rams
Line: Miami -1.5
Predicted Final Score: Miami 20 – LA 17
2 Cents: The line that Vegas put on this game affirms everything I’ve been saying about this Miami team, who’s on a 4 game winning streak: they aren’t that good. That’s right; even though the Rams are starting rookie Jared Goff in his first-ever pro game, the Dolphins are only favored to win by a point and a half. Listen, Ryan Tannehill didn’t suddenly turn into a great quarterback, and the Dolphins didn’t suddenly become a playoff contender because they went on a 4 game winning streak. The jig will be up in a few weeks, just wait. As for this week, though, Miami does have the better quarterback, offensive line, and running game. The key factor in this one, though? Jared Goff will be playing in his first NFL game, and Miami’s defensive line is licking their chops.
The Catch: The Rams need to get Todd Gurley going if Jared Goff is going to have a chance to be successful in this game. There’s hardly a chance, but this is the NFL — anything can happen.
Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks
Line: Seattle -7
Predicted Final Score: Philadelphia 17 – Seattle 21
2 Cents: I’m excited to watch this game. Seattle is clearly the better team, with the better coach, and better quarterback, but Philly is almost there. Carson Wentz isn’t having the flashy rookie year that Dak Prescott is, but he’s certainly shown flashes of brilliance, even if the TD to INT ratio doesn’t say so. This, though, should be a tough game for Carson, traveling across the country to possibly the toughest venue in all of the NFL, to face one of the 5 best teams in the league. It’ll be a true test of Wentz’s character, and I have a feeling that, even with a loss, he’ll show us some guts. As for who will win the game, Seattle clearly has the better coach/quarterback duo, the better defense, and the home field advantage. It’s a no-brainer. It will be interesting to see if Seattle, though, can establish a run game against Philadelphia’s strong defensive front.
The Catch: Philly does have some good things going for them. They rank 1st in the league in time of possession, and they have a better turnover differential (+6) than Seattle (+4). If Wentz can pull it off in Seattle, can you imagine what people will be saying?
New England Patriots at San Francisco 49ers
Line: New England -13
Predicted Final Score: New England 31 – San Francisco 17
2 Cents: I do not foresee the league’s 2nd worst scoring defense being able to stop the league’s 6th best scoring offense very much on Sunday afternoon. New England is just too well coached, too well quarterbacked, and too angry (after losing at home to Seattle), to have any shot at giving this game away. Giving the game away is exactly what the Patriots would have to do for Chip Kelly’s 49ers to have any shot in this game. Right around Thanksgiving is when New England’s team usually starts taking their true playoff form, and you can bet that Belichick has been open and honest with the locker room about how poorly that defense is playing. I expect somewhat of a shutdown performance from a New England squad looking for revenge.
The Catch: Chip Kelly has quietly turned Colin Kaepernick into a slightly-above-average quarterback as of late. They’ll need Kaepernick to play out of his mind to win this game.
Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
Line: Washington -3
Predicted Final Score: Green Bay 31 – Washington 27
2 Cents: Who’d have ever thought that come week 11, Washington would be favored in a match up against the Green Bay Packers; led by Aaron Rodgers? Certainly not me. But with all the controversy surrounding Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy, it kind of makes sense. I get it; but I don’t agree with it. Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are still a better coach/quarterback duo than Jay Gruden and Kirk Cousins, and the Packers are simply the more desperate team here. I expect Washington to score points, but I also expect Aaron Rodgers to play the same lights-out football that he’s played the last 4 games (12 TDs to 2 INTs). Rodgers, at his best, is simply better than Cousins at his best, and that’s what will determine the outcome of this game.
The Catch: With the recent comments surrounding Aaron Rodgers, I find myself wondering if this Green Bay team still has his back. If they don’t believe in their quarterback anymore, this could be a rough game for the Packers
Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders (In Mexico City)
Line: Oakland -6
Predicted Final Score: Houston 21 – Oakland 28
2 Cents: Derek Carr has shocked the world with his coming-of-age year, and it’s wonderful. Meanwhile, Brock Osweiler has shocked the world with just how mediocre he is, after signing a monster contract with Houston. This week the greatness of Carr will be the perfect reference point for Houston to realize what they’ve done to themselves by signing Osweiler for that much coin. I think it’s a pretty obvious victory for Oakland, and I think the AFC South will start to fall into the Titans’ hands after this week. What I’m really interested in finding out during this game is if Oakland’s defense, which is loaded with talent, is really starting to gel like it did in week 9 against Denver. If that’s the case, it looks more and more like we’ll witness a Carr-Brady showdown in the AFC championship game. I love football.
The Catch: The Texans defense isn’t too shabby, and if they can turn Carr over, and get Lamar Miller going on the ground, they can keep this game close.