With the short turnaround from Monday to Thursday night, it’s already time to look ahead to Week 11 in this exciting NFL season. It’s no secret that picking victors every week in this wacky and wild league can feel like a crap shoot at times.
After all, not many pundits predicted that the defending Super Bowl champs (the Giants) would get pummeled by a team that had lost four straight (the Bengals) in Week 10. And nobody predicted we’d see the NFL’s first tie in four seasons when the 49ers and Rams ended up kissing their respective sisters out in San Francisco.
Still, bragging rights and money is on the line out there. That’s why it’s important for NFL fans to soldier on and try to predict which teams will emerge victorious in all 14 NFL games on the slate for Week 11.
Here’s the picks from this fan’s perspective.
Both the Dolphins and Bills have opportunities to atone for their Week 10 defeats immediately when they face off on Thursday night to kick off the Week 11 action.
Miami has won the last two matchups in this AFC East rivalry, but don’t be fooled by that. Both those wins came in the final days of the Tony Sparano era and when the Bills where in their epic collapse during the second half of last season.
Last week, Miami surrendered 177 rushing yards to the Titans (123 of those to Chris Johnson) in a lifeless 37-3 loss. It won’t get any easier for Miami, as it has to face the Bills’ one-two punch of CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson.
Buffalo’s running back duo had over 200 yards from scrimmage combined in the Bills’ Week 10 loss to New England. Expect Spiller and Jackson to lead the Bills to a big home victory over the struggling Dolphins on Thursday night.
Bills win, 31-23
The Green Bay Packers are 5-1 in games following their bye week under head coach Mike McCarthy. Guess what? Green Bay’s coming off a bye for its Week 11 matchup against Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.
Of course, that’s not the sole reason Green Bay will overcome Detroit. Even through a slew of injuries, the Packers have been trending upwards recently.
They’ve won four straight and as usual, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been behind much of the success. During the win streak, Rodgers has thrown for nearly 1,100 yards, 15 touchdowns and just one interception.
It doesn’t matter that Green Bay has seen injuries to key players like Charles Woodson, Clay Mathews and Jordy Nelson. As long as Rodgers is healthy, the Packers will be favored to win most of their games down the stretch.
And if the time off during the bye week doesn’t do anything to slow down Rodgers, don’t expect the sporadic Lions defense to.
Packers win, 35-24
In a matchup of angry birds coming off losses, look for the Falcons to be the team to get back in the win column against Arizona.
Despite coming off a bye week, this is a bad matchup for the struggling Cardinals. The Falcons will likely be an angry team coming off its first loss of the season in Week 10 to the rival Saints.
The game is at the Georgia Dome, a venue where the Falcons have won nearly 90 percent of its games in the Matt Ryan and Mike Smith era. And the Cardinals offense is one-dimensional (because of crushing injuries to the running backs) with a turnstile-like offensive line.
Aggressive Falcons defenders like John Abraham, Sean Weatherspoon and Asante Samuel will be licking their chops for this particular game.
Falcons win, 31-14
This is a showdown between two of the league’s younger and more exciting quarterbacks who are heading in opposite directions. Tampa Bay gunslinger Josh Freeman has been tough to defend the past few weeks.
In the last three games (all Bucs victories) Freeman has thrown for over 700 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Meanwhile, the Panthers have lost six of seven, and Newton right now is a shell of the man who tore up the NFL as a rookie last season.
The wild card in this NFC South battle could be Doug Martin. The electrifying Tampa rookie running back will be eager to atone for a meager Week 10 performance (at least in comparison with what he’s done recently) against the Chargers. That could spell bad news for the reeling Panthers.
Bucs win, 30-21
While you never can be certain with a team as volatile as Dallas, it appears the Cowboys have righted the ship after a big win over the mediocre Eagles.
Jason Garrett’s crew gets to face off against another mediocre team when the Browns come to Big D in Week 11. Expect former Cleveland and current Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to dial up the exotic looks and pressure against Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Ryan’s defense has played very well the last three weeks against the Giants, Falcons and Eagles, respectively. The crowning moment came in Philly, as the Cowboys defense returned two turnovers for touchdowns.
That kind of productivity likely won’t duplicate itself against the Browns. However, the stout Dallas defense will play a big role in propelling America’s Team to a second straight win.
Cowboys win, 34-17
This is a toss-up, simply because both the Eagles and Redskins have been flat-out awful in the past few weeks.
But while the Eagles have lost five straight for the first time under Andy Reid, don’t expect the joy (or misery) of six to pop up in the nation’s capital for Reid. The bottom line is that Philadelphia—no matter how much it's struggling—still has more overall talent than the Redskins.
Whether it’s Michael Vick or Nick Foles under center, Philly can rely on offensive weapons like LeSean McCoy and Desean Jackson, among others.
And the Eagles are the healthier team right now. Redskins players done for the year include Fred Davis, Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker.
Without much help around them, it’s going to be tough sledding for the Redskins rookie duo of Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris against the Eagles.
Eagles win, 24-17
The Cincinnati Bengals took advantage of the fact they were facing a struggling team when they dismantled the Giants in Week 10.
They get another struggling team in Week 11: the Kansas City Chiefs. Matt Cassel has played uninspiring football for most of the season for the cellar-dwelling Chiefs.
His counterpart, Andy Dalton, is coming off the best game of his career, statistically. Dalton tossed four touchdowns against the Giants.
The Dalton to AJ Green connection is really starting to do some major damage in the NFL. Expect that connection to hook up again at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 11.
Bengals win, 27-10
This matchup could be called the Brian Schottenheimer Bowl. Offensive coordinator Schottenheimer’s current Rams team will go up against his former team, the Jets, in St. Louis.
However, that angle is likely to be a mere footnote in this Week 11 contest. The attention is front and center on Mark Sanchez at the moment. Although his job is still safe according to Rex Ryan, Sanchez is struggling, as is the Jets, who have lost three straight.
Meanwhile, Jeff Fisher’s Rams came off their bye week with an inspired performance in a 24-24 tie against the 49ers. And if it wasn’t for a few devastating penalties in overtime, the Rams would’ve outright beaten San Fran.
This game won’t end in a tie, nor get to overtime. With Sanchez still completing roughly half of his passes, the Jets' passing attack remains grounded.
It will continue to struggle against the likes of Chris Long and Cortland Finnegan. And the exciting connection of Sam Bradford to Danny Amendola will help pace the Rams and the NFC West to another victory over the AFC East and the Jets.
Rams win, 28-17
The only hope the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars have against the mighty Houston Texans is that the Texans have a hangover and letdown from their big win against the Bears in Week 10.
If that doesn’t happen, Jacksonville has no chance here. With Maurice Jones-Drew expected to be inactive once again, the Jaguars simply have no punch offensively.
Even if they did, it’s still tough sledding for Blaine Gabbert and company having to lineup against JJ Watt and a Texans defense that is once again hitting its stride under coordinator Wade Phillips.
The Texans defense leads the NFL in third-down conversion rate, at a gaudy 25 percent. And at this point in his uneventful pro career, Gabbert isn’t exactly the kind of quarterback that’s going to be able to keep the chains moving for the Jaguars against Watt’s unit.
Barring that aforementioned letdown, this is as much of a slam dunk as there is in Week 11. Heck, even if there is a Houston hangover, this is still a slam dunk.
Texans win, 38-10
The New Orleans Saints defense has struggled to contain almost every opponent this so far this season. Who cares?
The Saints have rebounded nicely since interim coach Joe Vitt was reinstated, having won three of four after a disastrous start to the 2012 season. Expect the recent success to continue against the Raiders.
If Oakland surrendered nearly 400 yards passing to Joe Flacco, how many are they going to give up against the red hot Drew Brees? While Carson Palmer and his Raiders backs and receivers will be able to do damage themselves, it will be very difficult for Oakland to keep up with Brees and the Saints in the black hole.
Saints win, 41-31
Things are in meltdown mode for the San Diego Chargers.
Quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown seven interceptions in the past four games. Head coach Norv Turner is lashing out at journalists after games. And the Chargers have lost four of their past five contests.
Don’t expect the rejuvenated Peyton Manning and the hot Broncos to help their AFC West rivals dig themselves out of the hole they’re in. While San Diego will be looking for revenge after choking away a 24-point lead to Denver back in Week 6, it won’t happen.
Manning and the Broncos have played sound football the past four games, which explains why Denver has won all four of said games and is starting to control their division. Unless Rivers cuts down on the inexplicable turnovers, the Broncos will roll.
And until Rivers proves he can, it makes little sense to invest any stock in San Diego at the moment.
Broncos win, 35-24
This will be a good old-fashioned shootout between the upstart rookie and the ever-dominant veteran quarterback. A battle between the Colts’ Andrew Luck and the Patriots’ Tom Brady will make for a very compelling Week 11 matchup between Indianapolis and New England.
Given how neither defense is particularly dominant (to be kind), look for both Luck and Brady to have big days statistically. The game will come down to the running backs.
Stevan Ridley will have a day against a Colts run defense that has been shredded at times this season, like against Shonn Greene and the Jets. And new Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib will provide some stability to a New England secondary that desperately needs it.
Those two Patriots will be the difference in a close New England home win over Luck and company.
Pats win, 38-34
Ravens and Steelers. Enough said.
Round one in 2012 between these two fierce AFC North rivals will take place on Sunday night at Heinz Field and will culminate in a Steelers win.
Yes, John Harbaugh and his Ravens have kept winning. However, they’re going to get their first real test without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb against the Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers will take advantage. Under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Pittsburgh’s offense has become very balanced.
Roethlisberger is getting sacked less and has a quartet of weapons in Heath Miller, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders at his disposal. And the Steelers running game is getting back on track behind backs like Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.
Pittsburgh’s balance and Big Ben’s big arm will prove too much for the Ravens’ shorthanded defense to overcome.
Steelers win, 21-18
The Monday night matchup between the Bears and 49ers is a very even one.
Both teams have quarterbacks coming off concussions in Jay Cutler and Alex Smith. Both teams have stout defenses and both teams are coming off of underwhelming Week 10 efforts.
With Jason Campbell at the helm in the second half, the Bears offense was unable to figure out Wade Phillip’s defense and Chicago fell to the Texans. Colin Kaepernick took over for the concussed Smith and played reasonably well, as San Francisco tied NFC West foe St. Louis.
This one could come down to which defense plays better and forces more turnovers. The team doing that right now is Chicago.
The Bears defense has forced seven turnovers in the past two games. Meanwhile, the 49ers defense at times struggled to contain Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola, who had over 100 receiving yards.
It could be more of the same with Brandon Marshall coming to town on Monday night.
Bears win, 24-20