The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 11 Predictions

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The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 11 Predictions

Just as you make the comment how quarterbacks have been fairly healthy this season, Week 10 takes down three starters with concussions, and Ben Roethlisberger suffered the most serious injury to his shoulder and rib on Monday night.

That shook up Week 10, which was a bizarre week in that it did not feature a single fourth-quarter comeback win or a game-winning drive. That has not happened since Week 13 of the 1973 season.

Oh, we had a rare tie, a game-winning punt return touchdown and a non-offensive game-winning field goal in overtime, but no offense finished in the clutch.

What to expect in Week 11?

Some closer games, even if the schedule does not suggest a lot of great choices for that. But with some big rivalry games taking place, we might be in store for real drama.

Just no more ties, please.

 

Colts at Patriots: Brady vs. Man…man, Andrew Luck is a great rookie

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Often around this time of the season, the league used to showcase that epic encounter between Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts and Tom Brady’s New England Patriots.

A lot has changed from those old matchups, especially for the Colts, as they now have Andrew Luck at quarterback and a much different roster compared to even one year ago.

The Patriots have had their own share of change, such as the dynamic shift towards a team that somewhat resembles the years-ago Colts teams they'd beat in the playoffs on their way to Super Bowl wins.

No matter what changes, we still usually get an entertaining game from these two, even if it looks bleak. Consider the last three meetings:

  • 2009: New England led 31-14 in the fourth quarter, but Manning led three touchdown drives, including the game-winner after Bill Belichick’s 4th-and-2 decision backfired. Colts won 35-34.
  • 2010: Again, New England led 31-14 in the fourth quarter, but another Manning rally made it 31-28. Driving for the win or at least a tie, Manning was hit as he threw, and James Sanders made the game-clinching interception in the last time Manning and Brady ever met with their original teams.
  • 2011: New England had a comfortable 31-3 lead in the fourth quarter. But even with the Colts at 0-11 and Dan Orlovsky at quarterback, the Colts drove 86, 93 and 90 yards for three touchdowns to make it a 31-24 final.

For whatever reason, the Patriots routinely jump out to big leads on the Colts, who still fight back to make a game of it in the end.

Is Luck capable of leading a team back from a three-score deficit on the road? He already did it at home against Green Bay this year. More importantly, even Orlovsky was able to go 30-of-37 for 353 yards against the New England defense last year.

Luck should set the NFL rookie record with his fifth 300-yard passing game of the season, breaking Manning’s record.

The Patriots give up big passing numbers and live on takeaways. Their offense has a reputation for sputtering with the lead, failing to take much time off the clock, which allows for these big comebacks.

So even if the Colts fall behind big, which will likely happen because their defense has little to match up with New England’s offense, they cannot lose their confidence. Luck must take what the defense gives him and not feel the need to force things like he did a bit in his performance in Jacksonville.

No one expected either team to be 6-3 heading into this one, especially the Colts, but that is the situation. The step up in competition may not be as tough on the Colts as you think, either.

Since 2011, the Colts are 4-9 (.308) against teams with a winning record. They have beaten Green Bay (6-3) and Minnesota (6-4) this season. That ranks 13th in the league in win percentage, and New England is right behind them at 2-5 (.286).

The Patriots' only win against a winning team last season was when they barely beat Baltimore in the AFC Championship. Their only win this season is Denver (6-3).

A win would give the Colts major credibility, even if this is not your usual New England team, already having lost at home to Arizona and to a rookie (Russell Wilson) in Seattle.

Expect the Patriots to win this game, but also expect the Colts to make them earn it in a 60-minute battle. If Luck has the ball in his hands late like Ryan Fitzpatrick last week, he has already shown he is very dangerous with the game on the line.

Colts at Patriots is still must-see TV.

 

Packers at Lions: Classic finish?

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Detroit (4-5) may have watched its playoff dreams vanish with a season sweep at the hands of Minnesota last week. Now the Lions must face a Green Bay (6-3) team coming off its bye week with a four-game winning streak.

But are the Packers really back to either 2010 or 2011 form?

The win in Houston was as good as any win a team has pulled off this season, but since then, they have only beaten the Rams (3-5-1), Jaguars (1-8) and Cardinals (4-5), while not always looking as impressive in the process.

Injuries have been mounting, and there’s a good chance players like Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Greg Jennings will all be out this week (and beyond).

Those players sat out the Week 17 meeting last season, which Green Bay won 45-41. Matthew Stafford passed for 520 yards and five touchdowns that day. Jordy Nelson had 162 yards and three touchdowns for the Packers, but he is just returning from an injury as well.

Sounds like a chance for Detroit to make one last stand at home, but unfortunately this game is a mismatch in terms of playing styles.

The Packers love to come out and quickly take a lead (14-0 many times the last few years) and hang on for the rest of the game. Detroit is a team that likely will oblige that, as the Lions have been very slow starters this season. Their only comfortable win was against Jacksonville.

Detroit has scored just 95 points through the first three quarters of games this season. That ranks 30th in the NFL, only ahead of those drudges known as the Jaguars (80 points) and Chiefs (77 points).

But in the fourth quarter and overtime, Detroit has exploded for 121 points. That is not only the most in the league, but it is one point short of the highest total in NFL history through nine games.

Of course, the Lions do not have a winning record, and you can see their lack of production in scoring in the first three quarters relative to these other teams.

For reference, the 2011 Packers scored 254 points in the first to third quarters through nine games, which is the fourth-highest total since 1940.

But that was last year, and the Packers have not been as dominant. Still, they are a better team than the Lions, even with the injuries, and should get the win this week. Detroit’s defense only has 10 takeaways and has struggled against the pass. That’s a bad recipe to take on Green Bay.

Last season, I thought Detroit could also come back against the explosive Packers on Thanksgiving, but it ended up being a 24-0 start by Green Bay. Detroit blew multiple opportunities early that day and cannot afford another slow start.

But if there’s a team you want to stage a fourth-quarter rally against, Green Bay’s still not a bad choice. There’s almost no other way you can beat them. The Packers do not let games get out of hand.

Green Bay has led, been tied or at least had the ball within one score of their opponent in the fourth quarter in 59 straight games, including playoffs.

 

Chargers at Broncos: Closing time in the AFC West?

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It is safe to say the Chargers will forever rue the day they blew a 24-0 lead at home to the Denver Broncos in Week 6, because it has ruined their season.

With a chance to put the Broncos down to 2-4, San Diego was outscored 35-0 in the second half in a stunning defeat. The Chargers have not been right since then, and they enter the game at just 4-5 while Denver (6-3) continues to roll.

It's more likely we see Denver go up 24-0 (and hold) this time based on the way these teams are playing right now. How many points would San Diego need to hold the lead and not get burned by another Denver comeback?

Scoring has not been much of a problem for the Broncos, and they are getting it from their defense and special teams lately as well.

Denver is the only team in the league to score at least 21 points in every game this season, and the 24th team since 1940 to do so in the first nine games of a season. For the previous 23 teams, 15 of them extended the streak to a 10th game.

Some of the greatest offenses in NFL history make that list, and at this rate, the 2012 Broncos could go down as a memorable one.

It starts with Peyton Manning’s recent run of incredible play. After being criticized for completing 50.0 percent of his passes in a loss to Houston, Manning has been on a record streak.

Manning has completed at least 70.0 percent of his passes in six straight games, which is a NFL record (min. 20 attempts). Joe Montana had eight straight games completing at least 70.0 percent of his passes in 1989, but he only had 19 attempts in his sixth game.

Manning has attempted at least 30 passes in every game and thrown for at least 291 yards each time as well. Only Drew Brees (2011) has had more such games in a season, doing it eight times last year, but never more than three consecutive games.

With a win, Manning will tie John Elway (148) for the second-most wins by a starting quarterback in regular-season history. With a touchdown pass, Manning will move past Dan Marino (420) into sole possession of second place in that category.

It should be another history-making day for Manning and the Broncos as they look to move closer to an AFC West title.

 

Ravens at Steelers: Lord Byron’s lament

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Thinking of skipping the big AFC North clash on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, you impartial NFL fan?

Man, this game is going to be uglier than the Chiefs on that field on Monday night. No Ben Roethlisberger. No Troy Polamalu. No Antonio Brown. No Rashard Mendenhall. No Rocky Bleier. Baltimore just scored 55 points on a terrible Oakland team who beat the Steelers when they were healthier. I might as well watch Dexter and Homeland instead of this s***.

Not so fast. This is still Ravens vs. Steelers, and it usually is close no matter which quarterback starts.

Having already touched on this game this week, let’s review some of the numbers.

Pittsburgh is 9-6 since 2004 when Ben Roethlisberger does not start, but 0-5 against Baltimore. The last four games have all been close, including two in overtime, but Baltimore has won them all.

The Steelers without Roethlisberger are 3-4 against teams with a winning record, but the backup quarterback has just 12 touchdowns and a 70.5 passer rating overall. They have relied on strong defense (15.5 PPG) to carry the way and managed six return touchdowns in the 15 games.

Byron Leftwich has not won a start since Oct. 8, 2006, against the New York Jets. How many quarterbacks ever go over six years in between wins?

This is not a conclusive list, but I'm pretty sure Todd Collins and Doug Flutie have the longest gaps between wins in NFL history. Leftwich would have to go a few more years to catch up.

Even Don Strock only went four years, 10 months between wins in 1983 and 1988. In terms of regular-season wins, Frank Reich took a while, but if you count his playoff starts and wins in the 1992 postseason, then it’s not as big. Same goes for Doug Williams, the Super Bowl hero for the 1987 Redskins.

Still, this is rare territory for Leftwich, who is known as a veteran with 49 starts (24-25), but we have not seen much out of him in recent years.

It would be wise for the Steelers to use a run-heavy game plan against a suspect run defense, but the Steelers running game is suspect as well. They will have to commit to it to protect Leftwich from taking too many hits, as he has had multiple injuries himself in limited action with Pittsburgh (preseason games).

The run can shorten the game and limit the scoring. Baltimore did just put up 55 points, becoming the 40th team since the 1970 merger to score at least 55 points in a game (playoffs included).

But how does a team perform the following week after such a scoring outburst? Should they be feared over that performance?

Here are the stats on the previous 37 in their next game. Why 37 and not 39? The 1989 San Francisco 49ers were excluded since they scored 55 in the Super Bowl win over Denver. The 1972 Cincinnati Bengals were excluded since they beat Houston 61-17 in their season finale.

Looks like little to fear here. The teams came back the next game and barely finished over .500 (19-18), while dropping an average of 35.7 points scored to a fairly average number of 21.8 points per game.

Only 11 of the 37 teams scored more than 27 points the following week. Only four went into the 40s again. The 1986 Giants backed it up with the highest next game of 49 points.

The overall change in scoring margin was a staggering minus-39.8 points.

No one fell further than the 1973 Atlanta Falcons, who after beating the Saints 62-7 in Week 1, lost 31-0 against the Rams. That is a drop of 86 points in scoring margin comparing one week to the next.

The only team to ever increase their margin of victory was the 1986 Giants, who beat Green Bay 55-24 (plus-31), then eliminated San Francisco 49-3 (plus-46) in the playoffs.

If we combine our two tables, Pittsburgh fans, then there was past precedent set last season when the New Orleans Saints took care of Indianapolis 62-7 and the following week lost to the Rams (31-21) at the hands of A.J. Feeleyhis first win in nearly seven full years.

There is no reason to fear the “scoring juggernaut” out of Baltimore. That’s still Joe Flacco at quarterback, and he often struggles on the road, as we have looked at in the past.

Gut tells me Ravens win 20-17, but if the Steelers are going to make any noise in the absence of Roethlisberger, this is the game to show up and pull off the upset. It is not going to happen in Baltimore in Week 13.

 

Hurry-up predictions

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

For the record, my season picks stand at 94-51-1 (.647).

Dolphins over Bills – A real toss-up, and while it is not wise to go against the home team on a short week, the Dolphins have a better defense and have won six of the past eight against Buffalo. Maybe Reggie Bush shows up in prime time against that horrid Buffalo defense after he was benched this past weekend.

Bengals over Chiefs – Little upset alert here, but the Bengals should follow up their big win over the Giants with another win over the lowly Chiefs.

Cowboys over Browns – Cleveland’s not a pushover, but Dallas is a superior team. Should be a big game for Tony Romo.

Buccaneers over Panthers – Tampa Bay shut down Carolina in Week 1. This time, the Bucs will just outscore their NFC South opponent. The offense is hot right now with Josh Freeman, Doug Martin and Vincent Jackson. Cam Newton will not keep up, and even if he does, we know what will happen in crunch time.

Falcons over Cardinals – Atlanta will bounce back after its first loss. You can’t bet against Matt Ryan in the Georgia Dome (30-5) against a team on a five-game losing skid.

Eagles over Redskins – Nick Foles should do well in his first start against a bad defense, leading to the end of the Eagles' five-game losing streak.

Texans over Jaguars – This is the lock of the week.

Rams over Jets – Like how the Rams played in San Francisco, and for most of this season. There's not much at all to like with the Jets right now.

Saints over Raiders – Brees should have one of those days with 350 yards, four touchdowns and 75.0 percent complete. Carson Palmer will have big numbers but come up empty again.

49ers over Bears – Could end up changing this pick before Monday night, but I like the 49ers at home. Jason Campbell will not produce against that defense if he’s the starter.

Anything but a tie will do, San Francisco.

 

Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback. 

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