NFL Week 11 Picks

Week 11 is the last of the season where we have a diminished slate due to teams on bye, meaning that, starting on Thanksgiving Day, we get the full 16 games per weekend for the remainder of the season. It also brings 2017’s final game of the the NFL International Series as the Pats and Raiders make the last passport-required trip of the season to play in Mexico City. The overall schedule isn’t great this week, but there are three key games featuring a pair of NFC contenders that will go a long way toward deciding playoff seeding. But even bad games have compelling moments, so let the SportsIntel editors get you ready for Sunday!

Picks by Brad

When you get to mid-November you have to start taking the weather into account for a lot of the league, but I find myself picking three games in cities where the temperature should be around 80 over the weekend. Vacation football!!

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) @ Miami Dolphins (4-5); Line: Fins by 3

This contest was originally slated for Week 1 way back in early September, but Mother Nature moved it back by a couple months forcing the two teams to play 16 straight games with no bye week—something that has never happened in the NFL. Here in Week 11, the matchup doesn’t have nearly the same shine as it once might have. Both teams have been bad even though Miami inexplicably started the season 4-2. In that same timeframe Tampa has gone from Hard Knocks darling with dark-horse potential to a floundering team clamoring for the title of Most Disappointing Team. We’ll just call this the Wasted Talent Bowl.

Despite the unrealized potential that will be on display Sunday afternoon, this game ought to be pretty competitive (even if that competitiveness is born of shared ineptitude). Remember the three-point home line means the handicappers consider these teams dead even, were the game to be played on a neutral field. Tampa is winless on the road this season and finally snapped a 5-game losing streak last week against the Jets behind the type of fierce defensive effort we thought we’d see more regularly from the 2017 Bucs. NY managed just 56 rushing yards on 19 attempts and even those paltry numbers are inflated by a 21 yard run from Bilal Powell. The Dolphins lost for the third straight week (all games played in prime time) and have been giving up points at an alarming rate (37.3 per game in the last three).

I’m leaning towards the upset here as Tampa seems to be rallying behind Mr. Ryan Fitzpatrick, but their 0-4 road record is giving me some pause. However I don’t think I can bet on the team that is DEAD LAST in DVOA even if they are a home favorite against a bad road team. Let’s do this. Bucs 17, Dolphins 16 in a minor upset.

Arizona Cardinals (4-5) @ Houston Texans (3-6); Line: EVEN

Here we have another game between teams that are pretty evenly matched and playing without their first-choice QBs. In fact Arizona has announced that it won’t name a starter until Friday leaving us to wonder if we’ll see Drew Stanton or Blaine Gabbert (yikes!). In absorbing my usual deluge of NFL stats, analysis, and opinions this week I have been struck by how much everyone hates Tom Savage and is convinced that he just doesn’t have what it takes. Bill O’Brien is supposed to be a sort of quarterback whisperer, so you must be telling me that he just completely whiffed on this kid. All I am reading is things like “lack of anticipation,” “too slow through reads,” “bad pocket presence,” and BOB had no idea? There must be something else at play here because BOB did have the sense to bench Savage after one week (and someone in the organization had the foresight to draft Watson). Leave me a comment if you know what is up with that.

The Texans come in having lost three straight while giving up an average of 31 points per game over that span. Aside from the issues on defense, Houston has scored just 3 times since Deshaun Watson was ruled out for the season and that’s obviously a big concern. Arizona actually has similar issues to Houston, but has gotten better play from its backup, Drew Stanton. The Cards are better rested coming off the mini-bye after losing at home to Seattle on TNF last week and have alternated wins and losses every week of the season so far. I think we see a reversal of trends for both teams on Sunday as Arizona finally drops two straight and Houston snaps its losing streak—especially if Gabbert plays. Texans 17, Cardinals 10

New England Patriots (7-2) versus Oakland Raiders (4-5) at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City; Line: Pats by 7

Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca (Aztec Stadium) is one of the most notorious venues in all of soccer. With an elevation of well over a mile and a capacity larger than any professional football stadium in the US, playing at Azteca will be a unique experience for those involved. [Editor’s note: The Rams currently play at the LA Memorial Colosseum which seats more fans than Azteca, but it’s still considered a college football stadium since the Rams are only playing there while they wait for their own stadium to be built].

I don’t find the on field matchup nearly as compelling as the venue itself, but these international games have a way of unfolding in ways that few predict so it might be worth tuning in. The Raiders are coming out of their bye week and are actually very much alive for a playoff spot despite what I told you back in Week 6 about their season being over. I didn’t expect an 8-8 team to make the playoffs in the AFC, but I expect it now. Danny pointed out that there are only six teams in the conference with a winning record and, believe it or not, one of those teams just benched it’s starting quarterback so the door appears to be at least cracked!

The problem for Oakland this week, however, is a resurgent Patriots team. Don’t look now, but it kinda looks like they fixed the defense. During its 5-game winning streak, New England has allowed just 13.4 points per game (14, 17, 7, 13, 16) which is pretty impressive even if they did play some bad teams along the way. The Raiders have played in this stadium before, but the Patriots just played at Mile High last week so I don’t see any significant “home” field advantage. Patriots 31, Raiders 21. 

Picks by Chris

Detroit Lions (5-4) @ Chicago Bears (3-6); Line: Lions by 2.5

On the heels of a rare victory in Lambeau, the Lions picked up an expected win against the Browns in week 10, while the Bears lost to Brett Hundley and the Packers on the road. The offensive struggles from the Chicago Bears don’t bode well for their home game against the Lions, as Matt Stafford and this receiving corps have looked fantastic over the last two weeks. If there’s a bright spot for the Bears, it’s that their defense has played well for the most part, and the Lions still have trouble running the football. Through five games, Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky has mostly been a non-factor with their only two wins during that stretch seeing Trubisky throw 16 passes or less. But Trubisky’s best performance of the season, in my opinion, came at home against the Green Bay Packers last week when he posted a QBR of 97.0 and threw more than he has in previous outings. He’ll need to repeat that level of play this week to give his team any chance at winning against the Lions.

I just don’t see it happening. I’m going with Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate, and this explosive Lions offense, 35-17.

Los Angeles Rams (7-2) @ Minnesota Vikings (7-2); Line: Vikings by 1

As has been pointed out to me several times by Brad, this is likely to be the match up of the week. That’s surprising considering we’re still talking about a Vikings team led by journeyman quarterback Case Keenum, but his play has been fantastic so far this season, and he’s earned every opportunity given him this season. Conversely, nobody thought the 4 and 12 Los Angles Rams were going to be in this position at the start of the season, or that second-year quarterback Jared Goff would make such a drastic leap in 2017. The Vikings are hoping their vaunted defense will be able to slow down the Ram’s high-flying offense, and the Rams are hoping their defense will continue to out perform expectations and make life difficult for Keenum. Los Angeles Rams WR Robert Woods had back to back success in week 9 and week 10, including a monster performance against the Texans, but will have to face a veteran secondary molded by Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer. In previous seasons, Woods has been stigmatized as a possession receiver, but this is his opportunity to prove his play-making ability against some of the best.

In the end, I think this game comes down to Todd Gurley’s ability to have an impact on the field. He needs to run the ball well against a team that excels against the run, and he needs to convert on third downs through the air or on the ground. He’s been the key to their success all season, and for that reason, I picked him as my mid-season MVP candidate. I think Gurley has it in him this year, which prompted me to push in my chips on the Rams as a Super Bowl contender, so I’m calling this game 31-28 in favor of the Los Angeles Rams. 

Atlanta Falcons (5-4) @ Seattle Seahawks (6-3); Line: ‘Hawks by 2.5

The Atlanta Falcons brought pressure and destroyed the Dallas Cowboys last week, but they’re going to have a difficult time running down Russell Wilson at home. He’s more elusive than Dak Prescott and he’s spent several seasons figuring out how to survive without pass protection. I don’t see the Falcons disrupting his ability to throw the ball, and I don’t see this Falcons defense limiting the Seahawks ability to score. For the Seattle Seahawks, CB Richard Sherman is a no scratch after going down with an injury last week, but the Falcons were always going to get their yards in this match up, the question is, can they make the most of their yardage and put points on the board against a strong defense? I think Devonta Freeman’s absence is more detrimental to the Falcons success on Monday than Sherman’s absence is for the Seahawks, and for that reason, I believe Seattle escapes the weekend 7 and 3.

Besides, the Falcons are dead to me, Seahawks win 28-24 at home.  

Picks by Danny

Baltimore Ravens (4-5) @ Green Bay Packers (5-4); Line: Ravens by 1

If you looked at the schedule three months ago you probably wouldn’t have anticipated this game being a match up between Brett Hundley and Alex Collins. The Baltimore Ravens come into this game a slight favorite against a Packers team without Aaron Rogers. I think the mystique of Lambeau field in November and December is enough to the Packers over the hump in this game. Since losing Aaron Rogers, the Packers have played a pretty strong schedule with games against the Saints, Vikings, and Lions who all sit above .500. The Ravens aren’t a great road team and I don’t think they have quite enough to knock off a Packers team that is learning how to cope without Aaron Rogers. Packers squeak by at home. Packers 20, Ravens 17

Buffalo Bills (5-4) @ Los Angeles Chargers (3-6); Line: Bolts by 4.5

Let the Nathan Peterman experiment begin. The struggling Bills are trying to ignite their offense and their playoff hopes by starting the rookie QB. The Chargers, who exist in a strange universe where every game is a road game, are much better than their record indicates. The Bolts have a knack for losing in heart-breaking fashion, but this game won’t be one of those experiences. If the Chargers put together a few wins they could suddenly become part of an AFC playoff picture. I know it sounds strange, but it is true. This could be the year and AFC team makes it into the playoffs with a 7-9 record. I don’t think that will happen, but the Chargers will win a couple more starting this weekend. Chargers 24, Bills 18

Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) @ Dallas Cowboys (5-4); Line: Iggles by 3

I spent a great deal of the season questioning how good the Eagles are. I’m not on the Super Bowl bandwagon yet, but the Eagles are for real and the Cowboys without Ezekiel Elliott are not. I admittedly have no sympathy for Jerry Jones and Elliott. The Cowboys RB seems to have problems respecting women and I think he could use some time to think about how problematic his behavior his. That being said, without Ezekiel Elliott the Cowboys are not too scary. Dak Prescott has shown himself to be a smart QB with plenty of talent and upside, but without a strong rushing attack he can struggle. Things won’t be any easier this week playing against the most complete team  in the NFC coming off of a bye. Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott make this a more compelling matchup than the score will reveal. Eagles 28, Cowboys 17