Week 11 in the NFL has the potential to make or break several teams with playoff aspirations. Unlike in previous years, there are no dominant teams like the Indianapolis Colts or the New England Patriots who are threatening the 1972 Miami Dolphins with an undefeated season.
Rather, this season has produced an enormous amount of equality amongst teams. In the AFC alone, there are five 5-4 teams. Three of the four divisions have teams that are tied for the division lead. Realistically, 12 out of 16 teams are still in the hunt for playoff contention.
The NFC is a similar story. All four divisions either have ties for division leads or have multiple teams within one game. Currently, a 6-3 team would be on the outside looking into the playoff picture.
Consequently, Week 11 has become an essential week for any team with postseason hopes. While no team will be eliminated from contention with a loss, the climb will be far steeper to capture a division title or wild card spot.
With so many important games on the Week 11 schedule, here are my picks for the spreads for each Week 11 game.
Coming out of their bye week, the Chicago Bears have won two straight against the Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings. Wins are wins, but these games were not very impressive for the Bears.
The Bears managed just a three-point win against the then-winless Bills and were trailing midway through the fourth quarter. Against the Vikings, it was more a struggle of which team wanted to lose more. Brett Favre and Jay Cutler combined for five interceptions, and neither team's running backs managed to average more than 3.3 yards per carry.
The Dolphins have been one of the more inconsistent teams in the NFL. Over the last five games, Miami has alternated wins and losses each game. With their first three home games coming against the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami was finally able to win at home against the Tennessee Titans last week. However, the Dolphins lost quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Chad Henne.
The Bears have the second ranked run defense, so Miami will likely have to move the ball through the air. Tyler Thigpen did not look terrible during his short time on the field. Additionally, Chad Henne was not particularly impressive this season. Thigpen does not have to live up to lofty expectations.
The Dolphins have had one of the best secondaries in the league this year and will look to pressure Jay Cutler and force turnovers. Even with Tyler Thigpen starting, the Dolphins have a definite advantage in this one.
Spread: Miami (-3)
The Buffalo Bills finally got their first win at home last week against the Detroit Lions. It was not easy though, and the Bills remain one of the worst teams in the NFL. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Steve Johnson have been pleasant surprises for the Bills, but Buffalo is still ranked 28th in the passing game.
Worse yet is the defense. Buffalo ranks dead last in rushing defense and have allowed 34 points or more in five games this season.
While Buffalo was expected to struggle this season, the Cincinnati Bengals have been far more disappointing. At 2-7, the Bengals are essentially out of playoff contention, but still they remain the far more talented team.
After three consecutive tough losses to Miami, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, look for the Bengals to jump out early at home.
Spread: Cincinnati (-7)
The Washington Redskins are coming off one of their worst defensive performances in team history. Michael Vick embarrassed the Redskins defense at home, and the Eagles put up 45 points in the first half. The game is essentially a must-win for Washington if they want to remain in the playoff picture.
The Titans are also in a state of flux after a loss at Miami in Week 10. Sitting at 5-4 with Indianapolis remaining twice on the schedule, every game is essentially a must-win for Tennessee. The quarterback situation is unsettled as injuries and ineffectiveness are plaguing both Kerry Collins and Vince Young.
The critical factor in this game will be Chris Johnson versus the Redskins 25th-ranked rushing defense. If they thought Michael Vick was tough to tackle, they haven't seen anything yet.
Spread: Tennessee (-4)
Arizona has simply been a mess this season. The Cardinals are actually lucky to be sitting at 3-6. Offensively, Arizona is 30th in the passing game and 29th on the ground. Beanie Wells has been ineffective, and Derek Anderson is clearly a one-hit wonder and fluke pro-bowler. The defense has not been any better and is 27th and 28th in defending the run and the pass, respectively. In a relatively weak NFC West, the Cardinals may not actually be out of the playoff picture.
Kansas City has been a different story altogether. While not expecting much out of the Chiefs, most were surprised by their 5-2 start. Yet, the Chiefs have been defeated the last two weeks on the road by divisional opponents. Kansas City will be excited to return back home. The number one ranked rushing offense will surely run over the porous Cardinal defense.
Spread: Kansas City (-9)
Many expected this to be a terrific divisional matchup at the beginning of the season. Minnesota's complete self-implosion changed that.
Minnesota is in complete disarray. Brett Favre has had not just the worst season of his career, but an awful season by anyone's standards. A tough schedule that has featured New Orleans, New York Jets, Green Bay and New England can partially explain their poor record, but eventually the buck has to stop with Brett Favre. Besides him the defense has been effective, and Adrian Peterson continues to be one of the top running backs in the NFL.
Green Bay comes off of its bye week refreshed and ready for Minnesota. Against Dallas two weeks ago the Packers absolutely decimated the Cowboys defense and completely halted any kind of offense. Look for Aaron Rodgers to hook up with Greg Jennings for at least one score.
Spread: Green Bay (-4)
After winning four out of their first six games, the Houston Texans have hit somewhat of a rough patch losing three consecutive games against Indianapolis, San Diego and Jacksonville. The problem has not been the offense. Arian Foster is the top breakout player in the NFL this season, and with 80 yards against the Jets, he will surpass the 1000 rushing yard benchmark this week. Matt Schaub has not performed up to his own standards set last season, but he demonstrated much improvement last week with Kevin Walter's return. The biggest problem will be plugging the holes in a pass defense that ranks dead last in the league.
The New York Jets have won two consecutive games in overtime, yet they were against the lowly Browns and Lions. Surprisingly, the key for the Jets is not defense. In their two losses this season, New York has managed just nine points. On the other hand, through seven wins the Jets have not scored fewer than 23 points in a single game. Mark Sanchez will have to use his weapons Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller early and often rather than waiting until overtime.
The Texans will be looking for revenge after a heartbreaking hail mary pass was deflected into a Jacksonville receiver for a Jaguars win last week, but that probably won't be enough to take the Jets on the road.
Spread: Jets (-3)
It seems that Oakland has finally left the curse of the JaMarcus Russell era behind them. Sitting at 5-4, the Raiders have won three straight. They have been on an offensive tear, scoring 115 points over those three games. Darren McFadden is quietly having a breakout season of his own, and the Raiders have the second ranked rushing attack in the NFL. Defensively, the second-ranked Oakland pass defense may be in trouble if Nnamdi Asomugha sits out this week with an injury.
Pittsburgh will be looking forward to Oakland as an easier opponent. The Steelers have lost two of their last three to New Orleans and New England. It will be interesting to see how the top-ranked rushing defense matches up against Oakland's second-ranked ground game. Pittsburgh will have to avoid the slow start that plagued them against the Patriots last week and will also have to protect Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked five times last week, much better.
Spread: Pittsburgh (-7)
The Ravens have had plenty of time to rest up, prepare and think about their loss to the Atlanta Falcons last Thursday. For the most part, Baltimore has been their traditional self this season, keeping the ball on the ground and playing stingy defense. However, Anquan Boldin has infused the passing game with some life this season.
None of this will really matter against the lowly Carolina Panthers. While the Panthers have actually won a game, that game was a three-point home win against the visiting San Francisco 49ers. Don't expect the same result against the Ravens who already have road victories against the Jets and Steelers this season. The Panthers are simply anemic on offense. Neither Jonathan Stewart nor DeAngelo Williams played last week, and Jimmy Clausen suffered a concussion against Tampa Bay.
This game shouldn't even be close.
Spread: Baltimore (-13)
The Cleveland Browns almost pulled off their second consecutive upset against an AFC opponent last week, but lost a heartbreaker against the New York Jets in overtime when Santonio Holmes slipped a defender to find the end zone with 16 seconds left. The story of the Browns this season has been Peyton Hillis, whom the Broncos gave up for third-stringer Brady Quinn. Hillis is on pace for almost 1300 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground this season. Considering the last three opponents the Browns have faced have been New Orleans, New England and the Jets, Cleveland's 2-1 record in the last three games is actually impressive.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are an enigma as a team. At 5-4, they are certainly still in the playoff race. However, with the exception of running the ball, the Jaguars don't do anything particularly well. Jacksonville is bad against the run and absolutely horrible in pass defense. After a poor start to the season, David Garrard has been impressive over the last two games, but then again, these games were against Dallas and Houston, two teams with abysmal secondaries.
One important thing to note is that when the Jaguars lose, they lose by enormous margins. In their four losses, Jacksonville has a point differential of -99 or an average of almost 25 points per game. Look out for the Browns to upset the Jaguars with the way they have been playing.
Spread: Cleveland (-1)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must be considered the biggest surprise team of the 2010-2011 NFL season. At 6-3, the Bucs have been far more successful in their second year under Raheem Morris than ever imagined after a 3-13 record last year. Most of the success has to be attributed to second year quarterback Josh Freeman who has a 90.1 quarterback rating, 30 points higher than that of his rookie season. LeGarrette Blount has emerged as the Buccaneers' featured running back and has 256 yards and three touchdowns over the last three games.
Before we crown the Buccaneers as the year's most improved team, we must note their weak schedule. Tampa Bay is 6-0 against teams under .500, but 0-3 against teams that have more wins than losses. Additionally, four of their wins have come with a margin of three points or less.
The San Francisco 49ers are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Picked as a dark-horse superbowl contender by many in the preseason, the 49ers struggled mightily out of the gate losing their first five games. However, Mike Singletary has begun a modest turn around. San Francisco has won three of its last four games and is only two games back in a weak NFC West division. Troy Smith has played two very good games for the 49ers in wins over the Rams and Broncos. Frank Gore seems to be back on track with 456 rushing yards over the last four games.
The Buccaneers may have the better record, but San Francisco still may be the better team. The upset, especially considering the home field, is very possible.
Spread: San Francisco (-4)
Seattle is yet another team that may not be quite as good as their record suggests. The Seahawks lead the NFC West with a 5-4 record, but Seattle has only beaten one team with a record above .500. Additionally, Seattle is ranked just 23rd in the passing game and 28th on the ground. The biggest play-maker on offense, Mike Williams, is extremely inconsistent, and the majority of his receiving yards have come in just three of the Seahawks nine games. The pass defense ranks near the bottom of the league as well, and Seattle has lost its four games by an average of 24.5 points.
After some questionable losses in the early going, New Orleans seems to be back on track this season with two consecutive wins against Pittsburgh and Carolina. Drew Brees continues to demonstrate why he is a top three quarterback in the NFL, and the New Orleans defense has surprised many by being the best pass defense in the league this year. The running game leaves much to be desired, but that may be solved with the imminent return of Pierre Thomas.
This game is likely to be the biggest blowout of the week.
Spread: New Orleans (-13)
At 7-2, the Atlanta Falcons lead the most competitive division in football in the NFC South. Atlanta's victory over the Ravens last Thursday was not only an impressive win, but it also gave them an extra four games to prepare for the St. Louis Rams. Matt Ryan has been fantastic this season and is on pace for 4000 yards and 28 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. Michael Turner has also bounced back from a weak season and is on pace for over 1300 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Roddy White is also on pace for a ridiculous season of over 1600 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. The defense hasn't been too shabby either.
The Rams have demonstrated some steady improvement over last season. Sam Bradford is having a very good rookie season, and he is the unequivocal answer at quarterback for the Rams in the long term. Stephen Jackson is a long way from the 2500 total yards he predicted he would reach a couple seasons ago, but he has been his usual terrific self. The Rams are much improved on defense as well; however, they simply do not have the talent to match up against the Falcons.
Spread: Falcons (-7)
This game is undoubtedly the best that Week 11 has to offer. In what is becoming an annual meeting, Peyton Manning will take the Colts into Foxboro to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Indianapolis hasn't been their usual dominant self this season, but at 6-3 they are still in position to go for a first round bye in the AFC. Peyton Manning, at 34, has shown absolutely no signs of declining. Austin Collie, who should return from injury on Sunday, and Reggie Wayne have been solid as usual. Jacob Tamme has done his best to replace top tight end Dallas Clark. The Colts will have to rely on their 10th-ranked passing defense to stop the air-oriented New England offense.
New England comes off a solid road victory against Pittsburgh last week. Tom Brady was not afraid to show emotion on and off the field, a boost that the Patriots have needed without Randy Moss. Aaron Hernandez has emerged as Brady's second best receiving option aside from Wes Welker. The biggest weakness the Patriots face is their pass defense which is ranked 30th. When Ben Roethlisberger had time last week in the fourth quarter, he was able to spread the ball around the field against the inexperienced New England secondary.
Probably the toughest game to call of the week.
Spread: New England (-1)
Sunday night's game offers a matchup that could compete with the New England-Indianapolis game. The New York Giants, fresh off of their embarrassment in Dallas, travel to Philadelphia to take on Michael Vick, who comes off one of the best performances of his career against Washington on Monday night.
The Giants, who had won five straight before their loss in Dallas, have been one of the best teams statistically across the board. Eli Manning has established a terrific rapport with second year receiver Hakeem Nicks. Nicks is on pace for over 1300 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns for the season. Ahmad Bradshaw has become the clear featured back in the Giants offense, leading them to the fifth-best rushing attack in the league. The defense has been stout and is ranked third against the run and fourth against the pass in the NFL.
The Eagles, also at 6-3, will look to take the sole lead in the NFC East which has emerged as a two-team race. Philadelphia is no stranger to playing great teams and already has victories over the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta Falcons this year. Michael Vick has appeared unstoppable at times and has been rocketed into the MVP race by his performance against Washington. LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin have improved on their rookie seasons enormously, and DeSean Jackson stretches the field vertically like few other receivers. The average Philadelphia defense will have to be prepared for the strong New York offense.
Spread: Giants (-3)
Denver broke its four-game losing streak with a dominant offensive performance against Kansas City last week. Despite Denver's struggles as a team, Kyle Orton has quietly been one of the best quarterbacks in league even without superstar wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Orton is on pace to almost reach the elusive 5000 passing yards benchmark. The success must be attributed to Brandon Lloyd who will likely break 1000 yards receiving this week in just his 10th game of the season. Besides the passing game, the Broncos have been just awful. They are dead last running the football (maybe they shouldn't have traded Peyton Hillis so that Brady Quinn could ride the bench). Defensively, teams are running all over the Broncos who are giving up 143.1 rushing yards per game.
After a horrific start, the San Diego Chargers are making a late push for the playoffs. At 4-5, the AFC West title is not unobtainable. Philip Rivers hasn't needed Vincent Jackson to make the Chargers the best passing offense in the NFL this year, but he will get the 1000 yard receiver back this week after an extended hold out. The defense is statistically one of the best in the league. The Chargers are third against the run and fourth against the pass.
The Chargers seem to have really turned the corner after two consecutive victories against the Titans and Texans. A bye week should help as well.
Spread: Chargers (-4)