NFL Week 11 Predictions: Shootout of the Year Edition

I really like the Week 11 schedule. The Steelers should always be on an upset alert against Jacksonville. They’ve only beaten the Jaguars by more than five points one time in the last 11 meetings. CIN-BAL could be interesting with Joe Flacco likely out. Houston at Washington means a team most people don’t view as good is going to be 7-3, barring a tie. Tennessee at Indianapolis is arguably the biggest Colts game since the 2014 AFC Championship Game. In a first-place division battle, I picked the Vikings to upset the Bears on the road Sunday night in this week’s Upset Watch, which I filled in for at ESPN Insider.

I also want to focus on two other games I’ll be watching closely, including Monday night’s shootout in LA.

Eagles at Saints (-9)

The Eagles are underdogs — biggest since 2009 for a defending champion in fact — for the first time since the playoffs, a role that suited them quite well. In continuing this week’s analysis in Clutch Encounters on the Eagles, this team looks like the team you would have expected to come in between 2016’s inexperience and 2017’s championship triumph. The Eagles have struggled to turn fancier stats into points this year with drives stalling out at the worst times as Carson Wentz’s play in the red zone and on third down has slipped to mediocrity after being No. 1 last year. Wentz also has five of the Eagles’ nine lost fumbles. The 2017 Eagles were a great front-running team last season, but they haven’t been dominant enough this year to ever jump out to big leads early.

Check this split for the 2016 and 2018 Eagles: 11-0 when allowing fewer than 20 points, 0-14 when allowing 21+ points.

For his career, Wentz is 1-11 when the Eagles allow 25+ points. The only win came in Los Angeles last year (43-35) in a game that Nick Foles had to finish in the fourth quarter after Wentz tore his ACL. Foles also won starts for the Eagles last year with final scores of 34-29 (Giants) and 41-33 (Super Bowl LII). Teams are averaging 24.1 PPG this season, yet the Eagles have surpassed 24 points just one time. Even Buffalo has done it twice.

This is bad news when you have to go to New Orleans, a red-hot team that’s won eight in a row and has scored 40+ in three home games this season. They also scored a season-low 21 points against Cleveland at home, so there’s some hope to slowing them down. It just makes it harder when you have such an injured secondary like Philadelphia right now. The good news is that the Saints aren’t deep at WR, but Michael Thomas just catches (90% of) everything. If they can focus on Thomas and limit Alvin Kamara’s YAC, then maybe the Eagles can keep this offense under 35 points, but it’s going to take quite the effort.

It also means the offense has to be on point, using long drives to minimize Brees’ chances and make him play perfect to keep up. If Doug Pederson wants credit for leading the fourth down revolution, maybe this is the game he takes a lot of chances there to pull off an upset. Settling for field goals just won’t work here.

I also wanted to post a chart here I wanted to include in Tuesday’s article. I talked about the hollow stat lines Wentz has had in his four losses this year:

“While the stat lines for Wentz in his four losses this year look good, they have only led to 17 to 23 points in those games, which usually isn’t enough to win in the NFL. In each 2018 loss, Wentz has passed for over 300 yards with multiple touchdowns, no more than one interception, and completed at least 65 percent of his passes. Let’s call that stat line a 2018 Wentz. When you express it that way, it sounds really good and that he has been unlucky, but that’s the problem with using the bare minimums he’s usually close to. Quarterbacks who have posted a 2018 Wentz have averaged 32.8 points in the 403 games that qualify since 2010. Only 56 of the games (13.9 percent) saw that quarterback’s team score fewer than 24 points, including all four of Wentz’s games.”

Here is a graph of all 403 games considered a 2018 Wentz since 2010. I plotted the points the quarterback’s team scored against his QBR that day. You can see Wentz’s four 2018 losses are clustered together in low-scoring territory.

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As you can see, when a quarterback hits those minimum qualifiers, he usually leads his team to more points and a better QBR than what Wentz has done this year. He’ll probably need to have his best game of the season to get this win, which I’m not going to go as far as to give them. I will however pick them to cover the spread since I think they can pressure Drew Brees enough and score enough points to do that. But this is absolutely an underdog situation and I’m curious to see if they embrace that again or fall to 4-6.

Final: Saints 34, Eagles 28

Chiefs at Rams (-3.5)

I’m going through this quickly since Windows Update sucks and my PC is back to running out of memory all the time when using Chrome.

I like the Chiefs straight up in this one. I think this game is another like Super Bowl LII or KC-NE (43-40) or LAR-NO (45-35) this year where both offenses go crazy and you want to have the ball last or get the last defensive stop. I don’t think either defense will have a good night and the game should hit the record over of 64. I don’t think playing it in LA as opposed to Mexico City is that big of a home-field advantage for the Rams yet. Maybe in a few years, but not in 2018. I also think injuries favor the Chiefs with slot machine Cooper Kupp out for the year. The Chiefs have more flexibility at attacking with different weapons than the Rams, who will need a huge night from Todd Gurley I think to shrink possessions for Patrick Mahomes, who you just hope forces a pick or two. In the end, I just like Mahomes more than Jared Goff, and I think Andy Reid has a lot of big-game experience while Sean McVay is learning quickly.

My only big concern with the Chiefs is the way they gave up 5 sacks last week to Arizona, but that seemed to be mostly edge pressure whereas the Rams are dominant up the middle with Aaron Donald. Again, I’m not concerned about the road. The Chiefs have already scored 38 in LA (Chargers), 42 in Pittsburgh and 40 in Kansas City. The defense will just have to make a couple of timely stops on the night, but the same can be said for the Rams, who have already allowed 27+ in close calls to teams with Russell Wilson (twice), Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers at QB. Mahomes is playing better than all of them, so give me the Chiefs here.

A neutral field would have been nice for this one, since it is like a midseason Super Bowl between two great teams from different conferences going at it on a national stage. The NFL had the right idea here, but should have been keeping a better eye on the field conditions. At least we won’t see an injury on a horrible field come out of this matchup, but I am looking forward to watching the scoring here.

Final: Chiefs 38, Rams 34

NFL Week 11 Predictions

A push on Thursday night, but I liked Seattle all the way to beat Green Bay. I’m hoping to rebound from a brutal 3-10-1 ATS week, but with this lineup and my love for underdogs this week, it could be another bloodbath.

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Again, I would be very cautious of trusting the Steelers this week if you’re doing a parlay. I think an underdog-heavy teaser makes a lot of sense this week. With Detroit (+4.5), consider that this is the first time Matthew Stafford has ever lost three games in a row by double digits. Would you bet on a fourth from a Carolina team that got killed in Pittsburgh and had to beat the lowly Giants 31-30 with a 63-yard FG? I’m not saying to pick Detroit straight up, but I’d be surprised if they aren’t closer this week.

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NFL Week 11 Predictions: “Tire Me” Edition

This easily could be an epic rant about the MVP race, or the Patriots/Eagles in general, because I like to do that from time to time on here. 140 280 characters on Twitter just doesn’t do it sometimes, especially when people take one part out of context and jump into something they don’t understand.

However, you can even try to have a conversation about these things and still get stuck in the mud. Yes, I went on WEEI in Boston on Thursday, and instead of getting a debate about where things stand in 2017, I felt like I never left 2003 when Patriots fans started using W-L record to justify Tom Brady’s greatness. It’s been 14 years of lousy “count the rings/wins, ignore the individual performance” arguments ever since, and it does get tiring at times to keep reading them. I also had a busy week with an ALEX update and another FiveThirtyEight article.

Just like how I don’t really read my articles after I write them, I don’t listen to my radio appearances. All I know is after it was over, I didn’t understand why I was accused of jumping all over the place when my point was the same beginning to end. Brady has not given the Patriots an edge at quarterback since 2001 that would be any greater than if a handful of his peers were in his position and provided the same advantages and breaks he’s had. The key to NE’s success is that the gap between Bill Belichick and the other coaches remains the largest in the NFL, and it only seems to have increased in recent years. It’s a plug-and-play system in NE. You provide a Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, or Drew Brees with the best coaching, the best clutch kicking, the hardest team to score 30 points on, the hardest defense to crack in the fourth quarter, a sad division that can’t find a worthy rival at QB/HC, and you damn well should expect similar, if not greater success.

But I’m going to stop right there, because it’s not like these stories are going away any time soon this season. This could be 2004 all over again with the Patriots, Eagles, and Steelers as the top three teams.

To be continued.

There are actually a few games I’m interested in looking at this week.

Jaguars at Browns

Really, this one? I’ve designed a career (recap close games, preview big games) where I can avoid covering games like this one that are crap on paper, but I can’t help but smell an upset here. While I gave the Browns this win before Week 1 when I picked the whole schedule, it is clear that Cleveland has been worse than imaginable and the Jaguars are better.

However, I like the matchup. Cleveland’s offense doesn’t really match up with any defense in the league, let alone one we’ve been calling the best in the NFL this year. But look at the contrast of styles here. The Jaguars shut down the pass, prefer not to pass with Blake Bortles, and are 30th in DVOA against the run. The Browns’ best trait is stopping the run, would like to run the ball on offense, and you can always get some takeaway opportunities from Bortles, who really cheated the football gods last week when he threw two picks after the two-minute warning and still got the win in overtime. Sure, the Jaguars have kicked some ass at times this year, but they’ve had their asses kicked too. Hell, Jacksonville already lost on the road to the Jets this year, albeit an overtime game. Cleveland lost by just 3 to the Steelers in Week 1 and played better than the final score suggests in Detroit last week.

The Browns are at home, and do you really want to pick an 0-16 season when there’s only been one in NFL history? A shaky, turnover-prone QB on the road with an injured crew of weapons sounds tempting to me. The fact that Jaguars are saying they’ll win in a shutout can’t sit well with the Browns. Hue Jackson needs a win in the worst way to save face.

Sure, the Jags may win 30-6 when it’s all said and done, but I like my gut enough on this one to go with Cleveland.

Rams at Vikings

This is the “Jeff Fisher Can’t Coach Bowl.” Case Keenum and Jared Goff had a terrible time in the Los Angeles offense a season ago, but give them real coaching and teams that understand how to use their talent, and both are in the top 5 in DVOA right now. This is a cool battle of 7-2 teams that probably no one expected to be 7-2 at this point.

I wrestled a lot with a winner in this game. In the end, I’m going with the Rams for arguably their most impressive win yet this season. I think Keenum is heavily dependent on Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, while the Rams can use a larger variety of weapons. Both defenses are really good, and haven’t been playing the best of offenses, so it’s a step up in competition for both. Admittedly, the two games I focused most on with Keenum this year the two losses (Steelers and Lions), so I’m probably looking at him in more of a negative light than someone who would have focused more on his two huge games against the Bucs and Redskins. But even last week he had a couple of picks in the second half, and I guess I’m rooting for some chaos where putting Teddy Bridgewater back at QB1 is a reality.

I will say that this is a game where Goff needs to show us something good. He’s getting MVP consideration after shredding the Giants and Texans the last two weeks, but he’s really been given an “EASY” button this year. He has the best starting field position, the highest play-action rate, doesn’t have to throw into tight windows, and gets the most YAC of any QB. If he can play some great games down the stretch I’ll change my mind, but he has probably the most misleading stats of any QB this season. I’m just glad he’s shown he can play competent football after last year, but I wouldn’t go all in on him being MVP caliber right now. He struggled with Seattle and special teams did much of the damage in Jacksonville. Let’s see how Goff does with this good road test this weekend.

Patriots vs. Raiders

I guess for six months I assumed this was a Monday night game, because that’s when Oakland played Houston in Mexico City last year. But it’s a 4:25 start, and it’s not nearly as interesting as we thought it would be for Oakland. Sure, the Raiders can prove something with a win, but I give the No. 32 pass defense that still doesn’t have an interception little chance here. The Patriots are starting to roll again offensively, and the defense hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in any of the last five games. You’d like to think Derek Carr can move the ball in this one to keep it close and exciting, but his red-zone performance has been brutal this season. You can’t win by settling for field goals against the Patriots. Brady tears up Jack Del Rio defenses regularly, but this is one of the weaker units yet that he’ll see. With losses already to Buffalo and Baltimore, Oakland slipping to 4-6 is just another step closer to an irrelevant rest of season.

Eagles at Cowboys

This should be a much bigger game, but things have gone really sour recently for Dallas. Never mind the Jerry Jones saga that is amping up. Actually, that could be uncomfortable this week with Dallas in high-profile games (SNF and Thanksgiving). But let’s not worry about that. On the field, Dallas could be without three of its very best players in Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, and Sean Lee. Hell, kicker Dan Bailey being out is a problem too.

This is why it’s annoying to hear the “Dak can’t score without Zeke” narrative when clearly there is far more missing than Elliott. Last week, Adrian Clayborn had six sacks with Smith out. He even admitted to having “one move” after the game, and Dallas failed to adjust for that. Regardless of who is on the field, a quarterback needs better protection than that, and the Dallas defense really struggled with Atlanta. It was a 10-7 game at halftime, but while Dallas missed a field goal in the third quarter, the Falcons added two long touchdown drives to take a 24-7 lead and blow that one open.

Philadelphia comes inĀ  hot, fresh off a bye, and with one of the better defenses in the league at getting to quarterbacks. It’s a really tough matchup for Dallas, and I don’t expect the Cowboys to win this one. It would have been tough even with those players available.

2017 Week 11 Predictions

So I started picking against the spread last week. I went 6-8 compared to 12-2 straight up. This is a weekly thing now from me, and hopefully better weeks to come. Off to a good start with the Steelers impressing on Thursday night.

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  • Week 1: 8-7
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 9-7
  • Week 4: 8-8
  • Week 5: 6-8
  • Week 6: 6-8
  • Week 7: 11-4
  • Week 8: 12-1
  • Week 9: 6-7
  • Week 10: 12-2 (Spread: 6-8)
  • Season: 89-57 (Spread: 6-8)