NFL Predictions Week 11: Chris Simms' Weekly Projections
Call it the Ezekiel Elliott Effect. Or call it a correction in the ball-carrying market.
Either label will suit the running back gold rush that's about to befall the NFL this upcoming offseason. It took general managers long enough to see the light. No position is better suited to make an instant impact more than the one Elliott plays.
And I would know. I played with two great rookie runners in Cadillac Williams (2005) and Chris Johnson (2008). I've quarterbacked teams like the one that is steamrolling defenses in Dallas these days.
Williams made his mark right before I did in Tampa Bay. I remember standing on the sidelines watching my predecessor, Brian Griese, struggle against the Packers that year. It didn't matter; Jon Gruden gave Cadillac more than 30 carries, and we rode that guy to a win. I took over eventually, but the recipe didn't change.
When I arrived in Tennessee, Johnson wasn't CJ2K quite yet. But a few of my former Longhorns teammates wouldn't stop texting me about the kid out of East Carolina. It took me about 20 minutes into my first Titans practice to verify their reports. Johnson didn't just possess world-class speed; he had enough strength to spot a linebacker 50 pounds and still bowl him over.
Both guys were Elliott-like in their impact. Both guys fell forward for bonus yards, a trait Zeke showcases on every carry. And both guys took me to the postseason, something that Dallas will accomplish behind its rookie runner and that 31 other teams will try to replicate soon enough.
Take that prediction to the bank.
Prediction: Tennessee Titans
Hop on the Marcus Mariota bandwagon, everyone.
It’s like the football-watching nation just realized how good Tennessee’s passing game is. I’ve said it before: Mariota would be in the MVP race if not for some big, game-changing turnovers.
He’s playing mistake-free football now. And that puts his team over the top of one quarterbacked by Andrew Luck, who raises his Colts from the dead every week.
This Titans team doesn't need any miracles. Mariota is dropping dimes. So is DeMarco Murray when he’s not running by defenders. And the Dick LeBeau-coordinated defense is playing some of its best football yet. We’ll be talking about Tennessee in the AFC South/wild-card picture this week and beyond.
Prediction: Green Bay Packers
It’s over, Green Bay.
Your one-dimensional offense is finally unraveling, and with it go the hopes of your season. It turns out defenses can plan on Aaron Rodgers' dropping back 35-plus times per week. Who would have guessed a lack of balance was a bad thing?
Washington didn’t have enough edge speed to hurry Rodgers when it met him in last year’s Wild Card Game. Now? It has Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy and Preston Smith all playing their best football.
Those three make the Redskins the better team—and that better team will make Green Bay a 4-6 afterthought.
Next Man Up
Prediction: Akeem Hunt
A Patriots-style offense isn't a Patriots-style offense without a good Kevin Faulk clone.
So Texans head coach Bill O'Brien should familiarize himself with the skill set of Akeem Hunt. The second-year running back can save Brock Osweiler's season by playing one helluva third-down back.
Hunt popped as a ball-carrier in Week 10, particularly on a 3rd-and-16 draw play he magically converted. O'Brien should harness his shiftiness in the mold of a Faulk/Shane Vereen/Dion Lewis. Osweiler can't throw downfield, but he might be able to hit No. 33 on a flare route every now and then.
Houston has a special talent waiting to be unleashed this week. We should see Hunt outracing Raiders linebackers right off the bat.
Prediction: Tyrod Taylor
Cincinnati's defense geared up like hell to face Eli Manning last week.
It failed to make its mark. And now it will need to completely change gears against a different—and more explosive—quarterback. Oh yeah, it's a short week, too.
All that bodes well for Tyrod Taylor. When last we saw Buffalo's quarterback, he was frustrating the hell out of a dominant Seahawks team. Cincinnati (24th) is far worse than Seattle against the run (ninth) and needs to take away LeSean McCoy.
We're not giving Taylor the national attention his play has merited. That will change with a field day-like performance against the Bengals this weekend.
Defense I'd Least Like to See This Week
Prediction: Kansas City Chiefs
Put yourself in Jameis Winston's cleats for a second.
Your left tackle, Donovan Smith, is a turnstile. The running game behind you has sputtered all season. And the defense on the other side of the line of scrimmage smells blood in the water.
Winston should be terrified. If Dontari Poe and Chris Jones don't hit him in the first wave of oncoming traffic, Dee Ford will. Plus, he'll have to read and react to Kansas City's corners. Marcus Peters and Co. are capable of blanketing Mike Evans for 60 minutes.
Is It Hot in Here, or Is It Just This Coach’s Seat?
Prediction: Jeff Fisher
Think about what happens if Jared Goff succeeds.
Should the Cal wunderkind take a blowtorch to Miami's secondary and evade Ndamukong Suh and Co., we'll hear nothing but hindsight hot takes about how Los Angeles head coach Jeff Fisher sabotaged his own offense by sitting his best quarterback for half of the season.
Now think about what happens if Goff fails. Fisher doesn't get his told-you-so moment; he caved this week and benched Case Keenum. Instead, we'll wonder if Fisher, who hasn't had a winning season since 2008, is the right coach to take his No. 1 pick to the next level.
Either scenario isn't ideal for Fisher. In doing what's probably best for the team, he likely sacrificed whatever is left of his job.
Best Game No One's Talking About
Prediction: Chicago Bears at New York Giants
Maybe it's because my dad battled some stacked Bears teams in his playing days.
Maybe it's because the Bears I saw on film didn't sync up with the 36 points scored on them in Week 10.
Something tells me this game will be close. John Fox's defense is ferocious and features four above-average to great pass-rushers. Eli Manning's vanilla offense won't have an easy time moving the football whatsoever.
The same goes for Jay Cutler and Co. Big Blue's defensive line came alive against the Bengals last Monday night. The D-line is up against a weary Chicago front five, so expect those sack stats to be padded. Expect another big Landon Collins pick, too.
I'm all for defensive struggles every now and then. This one promises to be that and then some.
More Pass Attempts: Blake Bortles or Matt Stafford?
Prediction: Matt Stafford
Detroit doesn't have a running back who could pick up a yard if the Red Sea parted in front of him.
Like usual, Matt Stafford will have to win this one himself. He'll find guys like Golden Tate and Marvin Jones open in a Jaguars secondary that takes some plays off. He'll also have the luxury of a healthy Eric Ebron coming off the bye week.
Blake Bortles won't be too far behind in attempts—especially if Detroit pulls ahead. But the Lions haven't blown out a single team this season, so Chris Ivory's power running should still be a factor.
More Sacks: Philadelphia Eagles or Seattle Seahawks?
Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles
Seattle has been getting by with a former basketball player (George Fant) at tackle the past few weeks.
That might fly against New England, which lacks a speed rusher. It won't work against Philadelphia, which throws Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox at you on any given play. Both guys should interrupt Russell Wilson's hot streak.
What about Seattle? There's plenty of pass-rushing talent there in Cliff Avril and Frank Clark. But the Seahawks are missing a fully functional Michael Bennett in their front four. His loss swings this battle in Philly's favor.
Over/Under: Ezekiel Elliott Rushing Yards
Ezekiel Elliott might go for 70-80 rushing yards this week.
Anyone who isn't impressed by that number hasn't seen this Ravens team play. Baltimore is anchored by two of the most immovable defensive forces this game has to offer. Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce form a 680-pound wall in the heart of the Ravens front that's perfectly capable of slowing Zeke down.
But say, hypothetically, that Elliott does break through. The second level is still his ceiling with guys like C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr patrolling at linebacker. That means far fewer chunk runs for the Rookie of the Year favorite.
Over/Under: Jared Goff Passing Yards
Every NFL team establishes some kind of offensive chemistry by Week 11.
Now Los Angeles is tinkering with the beakers and test tubes. Is Jared Goff truly expected to enter his first game and click with guys who have been playing together for months?
I don't think so. Remember: Goff was engineering an Air Raid offense at Cal this time last year, not a pro-style one. He'll have plenty on his mind before the football is snapped, let alone when Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake come running after him. I don't like his chances of a breakout debut.
Over/Under: Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree Touchdowns
Houston's secondary is awesome. It's three deep and skilled at nearly every kind of coverage. It would win a few battles if this game was a flag football one.
It's not, and the Texans won't. Oakland will enter this contest like it exited the one against the Broncos—by pounding the ball between the tackles against the 26th-ranked run defense. Come the second and third quarters, you'll see Houston's safeties move up to help Jadeveon Clowney and Co.
That's when Derek Carr will pull a few balls back. Those safeties down in the box won't be able to help Houston's corners against Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. They'll combine for two scores by game's end.