NFL Week 11 Predictions: Wentz and The Crown Edition

I said this about the NFL’s 100th season two months ago today:

I’m not sure things have gotten that much better, but Week 10 was without question the best week of this season. Eleven of the 13 games had a 4QC opportunity, the first week with a double-digit number of such games this season. Three underdogs of more than 6 points won straight up — there was one in Weeks 1-3 and zero in Weeks 7-9. The single best hour of the sports week, roughly 3:15 to 4:15 P.M. EST, finally delivered late-game drama in multiple cities at the same time. Thursday night was a comical Philip Rivers/Chargers loss. Sunday night was a good MIN/DAL game. Monday night was the Game of the Week on paper, and while it was sloppily played, SEA-SF delivered a memorable one that went down to the final snap of overtime.

That’s the NFL we crave and eagerly wait seven months for each year. Now that every team has a loss, perhaps we’re in store for a great second half.

Then Thursday night happened. The Steelers laid an egg in Cleveland with Mason Rudolph turning in one of the worst QB performances of the season. Then the absurd brawl happened at the end of the game and we weren’t even talking about Cleveland’s win over its chief rival anymore. It was about the ugliness from Myles Garrett going after Rudolph with his own helmet.

I’m not interested in a hot take or in-depth analysis of that moment. You saw it. Punishments were handed out quickly and look fair to me. There’s no place for that in the NFL. Fortunately, Garrett and Maurkice Pouncey won’t be on the field when these teams meet again in a couple of weeks. Rudolph probably shouldn’t be either, but only because I think he’s worthy of being benched for playing terrible football.

If only there was another readily available QB the Steelers could bring in to try salvaging this season…

From one shitshow to another, the league took the bizarre move to host a workout for Colin Kaepernick in Atlanta on Saturday. Again, not a story I feel like recapping all the details of while I try to squeeze this out on a Saturday evening before watching a bunch of TV. But it was indeed a shitshow with the venue being moved at the last moment and Hue Jackson, who was set to run it, opting to head back to the airport. Add another loss to his career total. The workout eventually took place at a high school field, though it appears barely a handful of the 24 expected teams actually attended it.

Hopefully Sunday won’t be the type of shitshow this week has been so far for the NFL. So rather than talk about Garrett and Kaepernick, I’m going to keep my blood pressure down and talk about…Brady-Wentz I.

…Shit.

GOTW: Patriots at Eagles (+4.5)

It’s rare to see two teams meeting after a bye week and it’s not the Super Bowl. Clearly the NFL thought highly of this Super Bowl 52 rematch. One problem is the Eagles come in at just 5-4 without an overly impressive offense or defense this season. The Patriots (8-1), coming off their first loss in Baltimore, still have the top defense, but the offense is in contention for the worst in the Brady-Belichick era. Brady and Carson Wentz come in not even ranked in the top 12 in DVOA or the top 18 in YPA this season.

I’m seeing the Eagles as a 4.5-point underdog, which is exactly what they were in SB 52 when they won 41-33 behind an MVP performance by Nick Foles. Those teams were very different that night than what they are right now, and it’s not just about the QB difference. The Eagles were much stronger on both sides of the ball while the Patriots are playing better defense now (but definitely a big decline offensively). I certainly wouldn’t expect a repeat of the game with the most total yardage in NFL history.

Head coach Doug Pederson is 3-5 straight up as an underdog of more than 4 points, but that’s 3-1 with Foles and 0-4 with Wentz as his QB.

CWPH

Sunday is Wentz’s 50th NFL game. Given that he still hasn’t started a playoff game, you could say a win here would be the biggest achievement of Wentz’s NFL career.

It’s fitting that Wentz resembles Prince Harry. Both receive massive media coverage and the respect of royalty despite not really accomplishing much of anything. Harry is sixth in line to the British throne. Wentz is maybe sixth in line to the throne of the best QB in the NFL. I’ll spare you any King of Kings talk for Brady, because this one is about Wentz.

I’ve been sitting on that comparison for months and it just so happens to work perfectly on a weekend where Wentz is playing a big game and The Crown Season 3 is on Netflix. It’s absolutely true though. Wentz was hailed as a god just three games into his career in 2016. Remember the “pre-snap Peyton, post-snap Rodgers” takes? It’s not just Philly media either. This season I’ve seen national voices (Colin Cowherd and Dan Orlovsky) praise Wentz after managerial wins over the Packers and Bills. When the numbers don’t back it up, just stick with the eye test and you can’t lose that argument. You just know you’re seeing something special even if there isn’t tangible proof of it.

Fortunately, people don’t wait too long on quarterbacks before moving on to shiny, new things. I mentioned Wentz being sixth in line to the throne. Well, this season has had a clear top five in QB performances:

The top 5 in QBR all happen to be African-American quarterbacks doing outstanding things in 2019. Russell Wilson has been a known commodity and is having the most MVP caliber season of his career. Patrick Mahomes hit superstar status last year with his MVP season and has still been great this year in spite of the rest of his team. Lamar Jackson just handed the Patriots a loss in prime time and could have a very historic season with what he’s doing as a true dual-threat with his passing and rushing. Deshaun Watson is reminding people that he was going to have the best rookie QB season ever until he tore his ACL in 2017. Dak Prescott still doesn’t get as much respect as he deserves, but people are coming around to just how good he is in Dallas. I’ve repeatedly said his 2016 was the best rookie QB season ever.

We’re getting close to that point where the old guard is going to enter retirement. That’s Brady, Brees, Roethlisberger, Eli, Rivers. We’ve already lost Andrew Luck at a surprisingly young age. Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers are getting up there, but could still play well into the next decade.

There’s going to be that transition period where the young quarterbacks become the best in the game. Perhaps we’re already there in the NFL’s 100th season. Wentz was expected to be right in that group, but I don’t think he’s as good as that group of five. I’m not even convinced he’s better than Kirk Cousins.

Since the Eagles and Patriots only meet once every four years, this could very well be the first and only meeting between Wentz and Brady/Belichick. If you know me well enough, you know I won’t just accept an Eagles win as a great Wentz accomplishment or an Eagles loss as a Wentz failure. I’m going to watch this game closely to see if he plays well against a top-tier defense/secondary. While I think the Eagles have a shaky secondary, I don’t think they’ll be embarrassed this week and the game should be within reach late.

I want to see Wentz play really well. I want to see him accomplish something with this performance. It’s also a pretty big game since Philadelphia is in such a tight race for the NFC East with Dallas. If the Eagles can win this one at home, that gives them an advantage over Dallas, which has to go to NE (Week 12) and we know how tough it is to win there. This could propel a run for the Eagles with Wentz instead of Foles this time.

Even if it’s just for one day, I want to see what others think they see with Wentz. While no crowns or rings get handed out in Week 11, I think it’d be a big one for him.

NFL Week 11 Predictions

I had the Steelers on TNF, and yeah, that didn’t go so well. Got the under at least.

2019Wk11

My big upset pick this week is Arizona against the 49ers. I just think a 5-quarter, emotional game on MNF and the injury report for the 49ers looks favorable for an Arizona team that played them well a couple weeks ago. Might regret the SU pick, but that would be my big upset for Week 11.

2019Wk1-10

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.

2018wentz

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 in  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)

NFL Week 11 Predictions: Well, It’s Football Edition

How great was Week 10 in the NFL? I’m not just playing it up either because of the shit week that preceded it. The best games (DAL-PIT, SEA-NE) were the best games — only games with seven lead changes this season — and we had a season-high 10 games decided with a fourth-quarter score. I doubt the next seven weeks will be able to top that one.

I feel very certain that the Week 11 slate is going to pale in comparison. In fact, this might be the weakest week yet this season, with not much standing out other than the DVOA Title Match between the Eagles and Seahawks. Of course, I expect Seattle to prevail at home in that one by forcing Carson Wentz into mistakes, but that could be a tight, low-scoring affair for sure.

I think the turnaround of Tennessee’s offense has been very unexpected, and good for the league, but I also think the Colts will play better off their bye week and find a way to win yet another one against the Titans. Andrew Luck has yet to lose to that team.

Baltimore at Dallas is interesting only in the sense that how will Dak and Zeke perform against a pretty solid defense? Otherwise, it just seems like the Ravens won’t be able to score enough on the road to really make that a great game.

Buffalo at Cincinnati almost feels like a no-brainer game I’ll have to cover in Clutch Encounters on Tuesday, as a game between two evenly-matched teams this year. Might be a sneaky good fantasy game as well with the way Buffalo has been defending big plays/No. 1 WRs right now.

Vikings-Cardinals was one of my absolute favorite games to watch and write about in 2015. This year, the teams are just not as good, and I expect some pretty subpar QB play in that one.

The Rams are finally going to start Jared Goff, which should have been the case since Week 1. Not sure how two months of sitting will have made a difference, but Goff will make his debut in the 10th game of his career. I don’t expect much at all from him this week, but at least it’s something fresh to watch, even if it does reek of that Jeff Fisher 7-9 bullshit.

Packers-Redskins: I’m frankly just tired of watching Green Bay this season. Think I’ve seen them play live seven times this year, and it’s just not the same well-oiled machine we used to see on offense, and the defense has been poor with too many corners and Clay Matthews out. I think the Redskins have been getting quietly better on defense and balancing the offense with the run game, and should be able to get this one at home. Of course, for as long as I’ve been watching the NFL (post-Joe Gibbs 1.0), trusting Washington to come through in a fairly big moment (home SNF game) is asking for trouble.

And I’m definitely not all that interested to see Brock Osweiler try to play QB again on Monday night. The Texans sure have gotten a tough draw on the road schedule (NE, MIN, DEN), but at least this one is more like a neutral field in Mexico City.

I left out the Steelers-Browns until now, because you figured I would talk about that one in more detail. Yes, I absolutely think the 0-10 Browns can win this game. It would be a defining moment for the “Mike Tomlin’s team plays down to the competition” story. After all, this team struggled like hell with a 2011 Colts team that started the season 0-13. They went down 10-0 and had to win in OT against a 2012 Chiefs team that was 1-7 at the time. Tomlin has another loss to a 2-14 team in the 2014 Buccaneers at home. This would not be that shocking at all, especially if the weather gets nasty. The Steelers were not able to run the ball at all in two games against Cleveland last year. Hue Jackson knows this team very well from his experience in the division. Cody Kessler has not been great, but at least he has protected the ball, and should respond to his weird benching in the previous game. Isaiah Crowell has gone MIA in recent weeks after a good start, but that was more about game script and the opponents faced. Pittsburgh is a bad defense, and it just lost arguably its best player (Cam Heyward) for the season, which should make the run D even worse. While everyone has been able to beat the Browns, they were at least competitive in five games with 5 failed 4QC attempts. Pittsburgh isn’t anywhere near good enough to walk into this game lightly and expect a win. Ben Roethlisberger will have to play very well, and he usually does in Cleveland, but like I said, you have the potential for a one-dimensional offense here. Matchup wise, he should have a field day with Antonio Brown (Steelers are thin at WR otherwise), but if the passing game is hampered at all, then Cleveland will have a good shot in this one at home.

Pittsburgh’s season really hangs in the balance this week. A loss at Cleveland would be devastating, but there’s also a game in Indy on Thursday night. For a team that was largely considered the non-NE favorite to reach the Super Bowl, this has to be the week to get on track, or it’s over.

2016 Week 11 Predictions

I went with the Panthers on TNF, and they barely hung on in 2015 style for the win. Still a very disappointing season from that team.

Winners in bold:

  • Titans at Colts
  • Bears at Giants
  • Buccaneers at Chiefs
  • Ravens at Cowboys
  • Jaguars at Lions
  • Bills at Bengals
  • Cardinals at Vikings
  • Steelers at Browns
  • Dolphins at Rams
  • Patriots at 49ers
  • Eagles at Seahawks
  • Packers at Redskins
  • Texans at Raiders

Bloody hell, I was even going to pick the Rams, but figured this was already too many home teams for the week. Upsets to the rescue I guess.

  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Week 6: 12-3
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 7-6
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 7-7
  • Season: 84-63

NFL Week 11 Predictions

Week 11 has three games between teams with winning records, and it just so happens they are the three national games. GB-MIN gets a 4:25 start on FOX, Bengals-Cardinals on SNF and Bills-Patriots on MNF. That should make up for an inauspicious start to the week with guys like T.J. Yates, Matt Hasselbeck, Brock Osweiler, Mark Sanchez, Case Keenum and Blaine Gabbert starting games. And none of those are against each other, so that’s six games compromised a bit. Is it the final week of preseason? No, sadly not. This season needs a push of the reset button, but we’re charging towards Thanksgiving with the mediocrity flag waving defiantly.

Packers at Vikings

Very interesting game here in a battle for first place in the NFC North. The schedule makers probably had no idea this would be such a challenging quarter for Green Bay, but three road games (DEN/CAR/MIN) out of four against some of the season’s stingiest defenses is a hell of a task for an offense that just isn’t that talented this year. I feel like I’ve mentioned the lack of talent about 10 times this season, so are the Vikings good enough defensively to keep the Packers down again? I think they can hold them to 21 or less. Minnesota actually has only allowed more than 20 points once this season: 23 to Denver. Mike Zimmer has had some success against Rodgers in the past. When these teams played last in Minnesota last year, the Packers won 24-21. The gap has definitely closed, even if Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t really made big strides this year. Adrian Peterson is leading the league in rushing, though keep in mind his hamstring injury this week. He needs to have a huge game, because you just don’t expect much from the passing game. Kyle Rudolph has really fallen off since he got that big contract. Mike Wallace has reverted to JAG status. Stefon Diggs had that great start and is really the best receiver this team has, but he needs his targets. As always when you play the Packers, a fast start is key, but I don’t think Minnesota is efficient enough on offense to pull away in this one.

Bengals at Cardinals

The idea that Andy Dalton excels against uncommon opponents is definitely interesting, but I think the Cardinals are a bad matchup for the Bengals. They have the secondary to prevent A.J. Green from having a huge night, and I still don’t think that highly of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Tyler Eifert has to make up for Monday night’s poor outing with all the drops, and I think he will, but he’s not enough by himself. The running game isn’t reliable either with Jeremy Hill having a hugely disappointing season. Giovani Bernard is a better two-way threat, but he just doesn’t get the snaps in this offense. I like Arizona’s offense at home, though I would feel better if there weren’t lingering hamstring issues for John Brown and Michael Floyd. But if Adam Jones is out, still an advantage to Arizona and Carson Palmer, who is having a MVP-caliber season. The closest I’ve watched the Bengals this year were against the Steelers and Texans, and I just wasn’t impressed with either outing, especially from Dalton. They’ll score more points this week, but I don’t think it will be enough to beat the Cardinals.

Bills at Patriots

It’s hard to get excited about one of these games since the Patriots almost always beat Buffalo. A Brady pick parade is the only way Buffalo wins when the Patriots aren’t resting starters in Week 17. I like that Buffalo has its weapons healthy right now, but the New England defense is pretty sound this year. You won’t just beat them by hiding the quarterback or throwing bombs all day to Sammy Watkins. For the Patriots, I think they handle the losses of Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman by switching up Week 2’s pass-heavy gameplan. LeGarrette Blount will be the featured player on Monday night as the Patriots attack the 29th-ranked run defense.

2015 Week 11 Predictions

Last week was brutal with underdogs and road teams going 11-3. I knew as soon as I picked my boring group of winners it was going to be a messy week. Off to a good start with the Jacksonville pick on TNF, though that one could have easily gone either way too. Damn those long punt returns when you least expect them.

Winners in bold:

  • Jets at Texans
  • Colts at Falcons
  • Cowboys at Dolphins
  • Raiders at Lions
  • Buccaneers at Eagles
  • Redskins at Panthers
  • Broncos at Bears
  • Rams at Ravens
  • Chiefs at Chargers
  • Packers at Vikings
  • 49ers at Seahawks
  • Bengals at Cardinals
  • Bills at Patriots

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 4-10
  • Season: 90-56 (.616)

NFL Week 11 Predictions: 4th-and-2, Take Two

Five years ago today Bill Belichick gambled on a fourth-and-2 in Indianapolis and the rest is history.

vlcsnap-2010-11-21-05h53m40s199

It’s only fitting that tomorrow night the Patriots return to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time since that classic finish in what is a crucial game for the AFC. While much has changed in five years, the Patriots still come in with a dangerous team that has opened up leads of 17, 28, 35 and 21 points on the Colts in the last four meetings in Foxboro.

That’s why I think home-field advantage is very important here and I wrote about that specifically in our preview at Football Outsiders.

For the Colts to win they must control the game with their offense: ball security, third-down conversions and touchdowns in the red zone. Andrew Luck has done a great job of spreading the ball in a high-volume, high efficiency attack that’s helped the Colts lead the league in scoring. The Colts lead the league with six wire-to-wire wins (never trailed), so they are very pass happy this year. Yet I still think this will follow the script of so many previous Pats-Colts games in that the Patriots will jump out to a big lead while capitalizing on Indy mistakes and Luck will have to lead a second-half comeback, which he of course is very capable of doing. The Colts have had 18-point comeback wins in both games following their bye week under Luck and both teams are coming off the bye for this one, which is a scheduling quirk that needs to die right away.

Luck has to bring his A-game, because if his accuracy is off the Patriots will tip balls and create turnovers. The cornerbacks will be physical with the receivers. I think T.Y. Hilton’s speed could work against Darrelle Revis, but I think Brandon Browner may lock down the older, slower Reggie Wayne. At least one of the tight ends and Ahmad Bradshaw need to have really good games for the Colts, who I think need a minimum of 35 points to win in what should be a high-scoring game, even if it’s not a traditional shootout. Luck will have to throw for 350+ again. If the Week 2 Luck (vs. Philadelphia) shows up, the Colts are toast.

The Patriots have too many advantages on the offensive side of the ball to not have a big scoring night. When Rob Gronkowksi is on like he’s been, there’s really no stopping him. The Colts’ best defender is Vontae Davis, but if he’s locked up with Brandon LaFell, the Patriots won’t have any problem with LaFell getting three catches for 30 yards, because they’ll just feed Gronkowski and Julian Edelman over the middle of the field against the linebackers and safeties. The Colts are 29th in DVOA against tight ends and 32nd against running backs, so watch out for Shane Vereen as a receiver too. I don’t think Davis can cover Gronk. I’m not even sure he can shut down Edelman based on the 2013 AFC Divisional matchup I took a quick look at here.

To beat Tom Brady is to pressure him. The Robert Mathis-less Colts couldn’t get pressure on Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger and they were shredded in those games. The Colts have to blitz to get pressure. Brady will succeed against the blitz more often than not, but the Colts still have to try because he’ll have all day to carve them up with three and four-man rushes. If you concede the Patriots are going to score a lot and you expect to score a lot too, then maybe a blitz-happy approach isn’t the dumbest plan to have for Chuck Pagano. All it takes is a few well-timed pressures to turn a drive into a punt or field goal instead of a touchdown. The Colts will need a few of those stops, particularly on third down and in the red zone.

It’s a fun matchup. We may see it again in January. Maybe I’m just dreaming, but I can see this being a game where everyone wants to crown the Patriots at halftime, but by the end of the night it’s another Luck-led comeback. Maybe this time Belichick punts on fourth-and-2 and Luck just goes the 75 yards anyway. He’s about due for a GWD. But I know better than to pick against the Patriots when they’re on a run like this and I think Gronkowski will be the difference.

Final prediction: Patriots 35, Colts 31

The Other Big Ones

We do have three other games this week between teams with at least a 6-3 record, making this a historic week in terms of the schedule.

Seahawks (6-3) at Chiefs (6-3) – Does Seattle struggle in early starts on the road? We saw them down 21-3 in St. Louis earlier this year. The Chiefs were fantastic on MNF against the Patriots in Arrowhead and have some favorable matchups here with Brandon Mebane (IR) and Bobby Wagner out. Expect a ton of rushing from both teams and even from both quarterbacks. Russell Wilson and Alex Smith are also throwing short a lot this year, which is nothing new for Smith, but has been a change for Wilson. So this game could be low on possessions unless both defenses play really tough. Travis Kelce needs to be fed Andy. I’m feeling the Chiefs at home, which would hardly be the most surprising outcome of the season for either team so far.

Eagles (7-2) at Packers (6-3) – Another very important game with Green Bay currently not slotted for a postseason spot. Losing another head-to-head game to a team likely to be contending with them would be tough, but I think home-field again wins out with Aaron Rodgers playing great and Mark Sanchez likely to make some mistakes in trying to keep up. I’d trust the Eagles more if the running game was like last year, but even with the offensive line in better shape they’re more reliant on the passing game. Sanchez was 2-19 with the Jets when NY allowed more than 24 points. I expect that to be 2-20 this time tomorrow.

Lions (7-2) at Cardinals (8-1) – Yeah, like you saw these teams battling for first place in the NFC in Week 11. I think the Lions should win the game, but their history is really making me want to pick Bruce Arians at home. In theory, Detroit’s defense should contain the running game and force Drew Stanton to carry the offense. Stanton will want to throw deep, which takes time to set up, which means Ndamukong Suh and company should get a good pass rush on him and create mistakes. Arizona will also shut down the run, but Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are capable of making plays against Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. Matthew Stafford should outplay Stanton, but again, when do we see the Lions excel in these moments?

Remember this table? Stafford is 0-14 on the road against teams who finish the year with a winning record.

Staff9

I think it will be low scoring and close. The Lions have pulled off three straight 4QC/GWD in the final minutes. The Cardinals are 8-0 at upholding one-score leads in the fourth quarter. Something has to break here.

I’m definitely keeping an eye on the home teams in these big games. Discarding the now 5-5 Bills, there have been 38 games played in 2014 between teams who currently have a winning record. The home team is a staggering 28-10 (.737). As the mention of Buffalo shows, what constitutes a winning team in the early stages of Week 11 is not set in stone. If we look at regular-season games between teams finishing with winning records in recent years, we find the following home winning percentages: 24-15 (.615) in 2013, 33-13 (.717) in 2012, 19-16 (.543) in 2011, 25-17 (.595) in 2010 and 29-19 (.604) in 2009. So this season with its unusually high number of teams above .500 (17 entering the weekend) could end up well above average for home dominance.

NFL Week 11 Predictions

I hesitated on TNF, but I did have Miami solving the Buffalo puzzle, which reads “NO PLAYOFFS AGAIN” when you complete it.

Winners in bold:

  • Buccaneers at Redskins
  • Bengals at Saints
  • Falcons at Panthers
  • 49ers at Giants
  • Seahawks at Chiefs
  • Texans at Browns
  • Vikings at Bears
  • Broncos at Rams
  • Raiders at Chargers
  • Eagles at Packers
  • Lions at Cardinals
  • Patriots at Colts
  • Steelers at Titans

Looking for the Bears and Panthers to show some pride at home against flawed division rivals after last week’s prime-time embarrassments. I think the Rams might sack Peyton Manning a few times, but he could torch them for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Though we’ll see if Shaun Hill does anything different for the offense. Before his first start, I’m on the record as thinking Ryan Mallett sucks, so I don’t expect much from him tomorrow (or ever).

I was going to write something about the Steelers this week, but too much aggravation after last week’s loss to the Jets. There’s really nothing new to say. This is what the Steelers do on the road against inferior competition, and look what’s on the schedule this week. However, I’m sure this is the game where the lousy rookie QB (Zach Mettenberger) will make just enough mistakes to allow for an unimpressive Pittsburgh win.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Total: 97-49-1

NFL Week 11 Predictions & Chiefs-Broncos Preview

We have three key games to focus on this week (49ers at Saints, Chiefs at Broncos and Patriots at Panthers), but one stands above the rest.

Chiefs at Broncos

I’ve already had a lot to say and tweet about this game, so I’m not going to repeat much of that here.

Simply put, I don’t believe in the Chiefs’ 9-0 record or that their defense is one of the all-time best. I think it’s a reflection of who they have played, which shouldn’t impress anyone. The Denver offense is historically impressive and has dominated to a higher level than the Chiefs’ defense. There’s also stronger correlation and consistency in maintaining offensive performance than there is defense. You can throw a touchdown to Wes Welker many times in the red zone, but once in a blue moon will you get Jeff Tuel’s gracious peace offering for a 100-yard pick-six.

The only reason I don’t think the Broncos easily win by 17+ points is because Kansas City’s catching them at the best possible time. The Chiefs had a bye week to rest and prepare. Jack Del Rio is in at interim head coach following John Fox’s surgery. Peyton Manning aggravated his high ankle sprain at the end of last week’s game and we don’t know how he’ll handle the outside pressure since his tackles are struggling. It’s also going to be pretty cold and while the “Manning in bad weather” thing is BS, no old quarterback with neck and ankle issues is going to benefit from that.

What I do know is you have to score a lot of points to beat a Peyton Manning team and I don’t think Alex Smith is capable of doing it on Sunday night. This so-called “winner” is 2-23 when his team allows more than 24 points. He’s 11-24 against teams with a winning record and has 35 TD to 40 INT in those games (just one 300-yard passing game). He’s 5-16 on the road against good teams and averages 164 passing yards in those contests.

Maybe Smith can get it done in Arrowhead in a 23-20 game (against Brock Osweiler given his luck lately), but the Denver defense plays better at home and Von Miller is going to have his say too.

To beat Manning you have to put up a lot of points or shrink the game and limit his possessions, forcing him to be basically perfect (maximum efficiency). The Chiefs have done neither this season. The offense has never scored more than 24 points and their games almost always include double-digit possessions.

Excluding those pesky playoff rest games, here’s every Manning loss since 2007 and what his defense did (kneel-down drives excluded):

PMDEF

For context, anything above 3.0 Pts/Dr is incredibly elite while 2.48 Pts/Dr means you have to be a top-2 offense. 1.80 would be just above average in recent seasons.

You have to go back to the 6-INT night in San Diego to find a game where Manning lost despite the opposing offense being below average in scoring. Darren Sproles had two return touchdowns and even then Manning was a missed 29-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri in erasing a 23-0 deficit for a win. Even if the Chiefs get a lead of 17-24 points, we know from every Denver loss since 2012 that those aren’t safe.

Meanwhile here’s the Chiefs’ 2013 offense and their per-drive production:

KCOFF

So let’s see… The Chiefs average 1.58 Pts/Dr this year and this is despite having the best average starting field position in football. I noticed a lot of their scoring drives started deep in opponent territory, so their scoring is even less impressive than it already sounds. They feast on mistakes, which the Broncos are certainly guilty of since 2012, so ball security is a must this week.

In Manning’s last 19 losses, no one had less than 1.89 Pts/Dr. That would be the 3rd-best game of the season for the Chiefs.

Given you seemingly need to hit at least 2.0 Pts/Dr to beat Manning, who’s expecting the Chiefs’ offense to deliver on their end? There’s Jamaal Charles, but there’s not much else to worry about.

Simply put, Manning hasn’t lost to an offense this bad since David Carr and the 2006 Houston Texans (ranked 23rd with 1.50 Pts/Dr). How did that one work out? Houston rushed for 191 yards, limited Manning to six possessions, got one fumble from Dominic Rhodes and still needed a 48-yard game-winning field goal with no time left in a 27-24 game.

The KC defense should not give up 40+, but nothing short of their offense having their best game of the season will win this one. I also don’t think the Chiefs can win without being at least +2 in turnover differential.

According to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs have the No. 2 pass defense (DVOA). Here’s a table of Manning’s last 29 games against a top 5 pass defense (DVOA) since 2003. Playoff rest games are colored as are the five games I would consider “bad performances” from Manning. That’s an unscientific way of saying games where he was more of the problem than the solution for his team.

PMT5DEF

We’ll revisit this matchup in two weeks and perhaps again in January, but I just see the Broncos as a superior team even if they are vulnerable right now.

Final prediction: Chiefs 16, Broncos 27.

2013 NFL Week 11 Predictions

The Colts rarely make it look easy, but I had them on TNF.

Winners in bold:

  • Redskins at Eagles
  • Raiders at Texans
  • Falcons at Buccaneers
  • Browns at Bengals
  • Ravens at Bears
  • Lions at Steelers
  • Jets at Bills
  • Cardinals at Jaguars
  • Chargers at Dolphins
  • 49ers at Saints
  • Packers at Giants
  • Vikings at Seahawks
  • Chiefs at Broncos
  • Patriots at Panthers

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 9-6
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 11-4
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-3
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 8-6
  • Season: 96-51

NFL Week 11 Predictions, Backup Quarterbacks, 4th Down Failure and Writing Recap

Thought about sending in the backup to write this one, but I’m okay to start Week 11, which will hopefully feature more clutch wins and fourth-down attempts. After all, it is Colts/Patriots week.

This Week’s Articles

Captain Comeback Week 10: “Epic Comeback Failure” Limited Edition – Cold, Hard Football Facts

Find out how a game-winning punt return touchdown, rare overtime tie, and non-offensive game-winning field goal capped a bizarre week without a single fourth-quarter comeback win or game-winning drive. That has not happened since Week 13 of the 1973 season. But don’t worry, this one-shot edition covers the rarity in great detail.

Evaluating the Backup QB Plans – NBC Sports

With four injured starters, it was a good time to take a team-by-team look at the primary backup quarterback. Let’s just say the crop is not very strong when Matt Hasselbeck, Kyle Orton and Matt Moore might be your top three options. Hasselbeck has more starts than 22 backups combined.

Pittsburgh Steelers Cannot Win AFC North without Ben Roethlisberger – Bleacher Report

Without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers can forget about winning their division, which should require at least a split with the Ravens. Find out how they can still make the playoffs with Byron Leftwich (hint: Ohio).

Following a Legend: Andrew Luck Week 10 at Jacksonville Jaguars – Colts Authority

In a game that felt like ages ago, Andrew Luck made his prime time debut and played a decent game. But despite all the praise from people likely seeing him play a full, live game in the NFL for the first time, find out why it was no better than his fifth best performance of the season.

The Thinking Man’s Guide: NFL Week 11 Predictions – Bleacher Report

Colts vs. Patriots is always interesting. Detroit might find themselves a fourth-quarter comeback against Green Bay. It should be another record-setting day for Peyton Manning against San Diego. Byron Leftwich has not won a NFL start since October 8, 2006. Find out some quarterbacks who went longer between NFL wins as starters, as well as picks for every game.

NFL Coaches Are More Gutless Than Ever on Fourth Down – Cold, Hard Football Facts

Did you know teams are converting on fourth down 55.0 percent in 2012 (highest since 1991)? Now did you know they are going for it on fourth down the lowest percentage of time since 1991 as well? A breakdown of the recent increase in risk-adverse, gutless coaching, including a distribution of when teams go for it on fourth down, and the most common decision (4th and 1), which makes up 89.4 percent of all fourth-down attempts since 2000.

2012 NFL Week 11 Predictions

A week near and dear to my heart, as we have Colts/Patriots and Ravens/Steelers. But it won’t be the same without Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger involved, which also impacts the pick.

Winners in bold:

  • Cardinals at Falcons
  • Buccaneers at Panthers
  • Browns at Cowboys
  • Packers at Lions
  • Jaguars at Texans
  • Bengals at Chiefs
  • Jets at Rams
  • Eagles at Redskins
  • Saints at Raiders
  • Chargers at Broncos
  • Colts at Patriots
  • Ravens at Steelers
  • Bears at 49ers

Season results:

  • Week 1: 12-4
  • Week 2: 11-5
  • Week 3: 4-12
  • Week 4: 10-5
  • Week 5: 10-4
  • Week 6: 5-9
  • Week 7: 12-1
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 11-3
  • Week 10: 9-4-1
  • Season: 94-51-1