Week 11 in the NFL will be pivotal.
The week starts off with some lackluster matchups, but things get really good as we hit the marquee time slots, with three late games featuring six teams that are very likely to make the playoffs.
Let's take a closer look at those scintillating matchups as well as picks for the rest of the slate.
|Road Team||Home Team||Date||Time (ET)||Pick|
|Indianapolis||Tennessee||Thur, Nov. 14||8:25 p.m.||Titans|
|Cleveland||Cincinnati||Sun, Nov. 17||1 p.m.||Bengals|
|Oakland||Houston||Sun, Nov. 17||1 p.m.||Texans|
|Baltimore||Chicago||Sun, Nov. 17||1 p.m.||Bears|
|Arizona||Jacksonville||Sun, Nov. 17||1 p.m.||Cardinals|
|N.Y. Jets||Buffalo||Sun, Nov. 17||1 p.m.||Jets|
|Atlanta||Tampa Bay||Sun, Nov. 17||1 p.m.||Buccaneers|
|Washington||Philadelphia||Sun, Nov. 17||1 p.m.||Eagles|
|Detroit||Pittsburgh||Sun, Nov. 17||1 p.m.||Lions|
|San Diego||Miami||Sun, Nov. 17||4:05 p.m.||Chargers|
|Green Bay||N.Y. Giants||Sun, Nov. 17||4:25 p.m||Giants|
|Minnesota||Seattle||Sun, Nov. 17||4:25 p.m||Seahawks|
|San Francisco||New Orleans||Sun, Nov. 17||4:25 p.m||Saints|
|Kansas City||Denver||Sun, Nov. 17||8:30 p.m.||Broncos|
|New England||Carolina||Mon, Nov. 18||8:40 p.m||Panthers|
San Francisco 49ers at New Orleans Saints
With the exception of the Seattle Seahawks, no team has a better home-field advantage than the New Orleans Saints.
On the road, Sean Payton's squad has been the epitome of average, going 2-2 with a plus-one point differential. At the Superdome, however, the Saints have been downright unstoppable, going 5-0 with a plus-101 point differential.
That is an absurd contrast.
Unfortunately for the Niners, they've already gotten a nasty taste of Seattle's home-field advantage and now have to experience the hostile environment in the Bayou State as well.
Last week in New Orleans, the Saints' offense clicked on all cylinders en route to 49 points, 625 yards and an NFL-record 40 first downs against the Dallas Cowboys. Piling up that kind of production against San Francisco's stingy defense is highly unlikely, but the Saints certainly have the weapons to outpace the Niners' inconsistent offense.
Colin Kaepernick has been a roller-coaster ride this season, and if Vernon Davis' concussion keeps him out, it's going to spell major trouble. Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle notes the tight end's value:
One more ... #49ers 18 full drives without Vernon Davis in 2013: 11 punts, 3 INTs, 2 fumbles, downs, TD.— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) November 12, 2013
Even if Davis returns, the Saints' aggressive defense under Rob Ryan can make enough plays to let Drew Brees and Co. do the rest.
Prediction: Saints 27, 49ers 17
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
This one obviously comes down to the health of Peyton Manning, who is on pace to have the best statistical season of all time. According to the Denver Post, he will be under center on Sunday:
ALERT: "Peyton Manning will absolutely play Sunday against the Chiefs," source says http://t.co/NhgcNBaffE— Denver Post Sports (@DenverSportNews) November 11, 2013
That being said, he has to stay upright. The Broncos have allowed eight sacks in the last three games and the Chiefs lead the NFL with 36 sacks on the season.
People like to call Kansas City "the worst 9-0 team ever," but that's ludicrous. The Chiefs have one of the most intimidating defenses in the NFL and a low-risk offense tailored to keep Manning off the field.
This is going to be closer than Vegas Insider's current eight-point spread in favor of Denver suggests.
Nevertheless, betting against Peyton and the vast array of offensive skill players around him is a fool's game at this point—especially at home, where the Broncos are undefeated and have averaged a silly 43.6 points per game.
Prediction: Broncos 28, Chiefs 24
New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have quietly won five in a row. While the first four of those were against a who's who of mediocrity—Minnesota, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Atlanta—Carolina proved to be far from a fluke last week with a huge road win against the 49ers.
Which home team is likeliest to lose its key Week 11 matchup?
Carolina prides itself on defense, as Luke Kuechly has put together a Defensive Player of the Year-type campaign in the middle of the field. He has helped the Panthers to rankings of eighth in the NFL in yards per pass allowed and ninth in yards per rush allowed.
The Patriots clearly have the weapons to beat that defense, but they have been shaky away from home this season, losing their last two and only boasting wins against the Buffalo Bills and Atlanta Falcons.
A healthy New England squad would probably be the better bet in this one, and if Aqib Talib makes his return, I'd have to think strongly about changing my tune.
For now, though, I'll take the red-hot Panthers, who play the type of style to frustrate New England in what should be a close, gritty contest.
Prediction: Panthers 20, Patriots 17