NFL Picks Week 11: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks
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It's long been said that anything can happen in the National Football League.
In Week 10, it did.
Of the week's 14 games, 11 were won by the underdog. Outright.
From the Buffalo Bills' win over the New York Jets on Thursday night to the Houston Texans' upset of the previously undefeated Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, David didn't just slay Goliath, he wiped the floor with him.
The floor is also where many of the pundits here at Bleacher Report found themselves after a rough week picking games.
But we aren't staying there. It's right back on the horse to take a look at this week's games, beginning with the most exciting Thursday night affair in NFL history.
No, really. We took a beating last week.
Not one of our eight predictors got as many games right as they did wrong. Two writers (myself included) and the consensus pick hit double digits in losses.
Ouch and double ouch.
I'm sure that such a rotten week will no doubt inspire quite a few witty remarks in the comments section, especially given that I have a tendency to make snarky remarks about teams on the wrong end of a unanimous call.
Like, say, Washington. Or Jacksonville. Or Houston. Or Detroit.
All of whom won last week.
So let 'em rip. I deserve it.
Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 4-10 (87-59)
Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 5-9 (91-55)
Brad Gagnon: NFL Analyst 5-9 (86-60)
Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 5-9 (91-55)
Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 5-9 (75-71)
Brent Sobleski: NFL Analyst 6-8 (87-59)
Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 4-10 (83-63)
Sean Tomlinson: NFL Analyst 6-8 (85-61)
Consensus: 4-10 (90-56)
Tennessee Titans (2-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6)
The Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars (7-1)
OK, so maybe I was exaggerating just a tad when I called this the "most exciting Thursday night affair in NFL history."
What it really is is a matchup between two perennial doormats who enter the game with a combined record of 5-13.
Don't forget to set your DVR.
Still, after a wild win over the Baltimore Ravens last week, it's entirely possible that with a victory and a bit of luck, the Jaguars could find themselves a first-place football team at the end of November.
That has to be a sign of the apocalypse.
Even John Oehser of the team's website allows that mentioning the playoffs and the Jaguars in the same sentence is, well, weird:
Realistically, there’s no way should the Jaguars be talking postseason. But the way the season has played out, they have a real opportunity. They’re also playing as well as they have all season, winning two of three games and having a chance to beat the New York Jets in the other game. The Jaguars can be a real factor, but to do so, they have to close games better than they did early in the season.
If the Jaguars beat the Titans on Thursday, as our panel predicts, that will be three wins in four weeks. Throw in losses by Houston and Indy, and whammo—a three-way tie atop the AFC South.
Man, this is one bad division.
Jaguars: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Oakland Raiders (4-5) at Detroit Lions (2-7)
The Pick: Oakland Raiders (7-1)
Given that the Raiders have dropped two in a row and fallen (for the moment) out of the AFC wild-card hunt, it would be understandable if fans of the Silver and Black were a bit nervous.
It would be understandable if they thought "here we go again" after the Raiders looked flat in getting trounced at home by the Minnesota Vikings.
But Elliot Harrison of NFL.com admonished Raider Nation to keep their chin up:
Compared to the last decade or so, the 2015 season has been much more fun, due to the Raiders not stinking up the joint. The NFL is better when Oakland is relevant. But this club isn't good enough yet to show up with its C game at home and expect to win. Derek Carr was out of sorts against the Vikings. The run defense was out of position. And, for now, the Raiders are out of the AFC wild-card mix. Much football is left to be played, but letting Adrian Peterson run up and down the field -- and letting Terence Newman run routes better than your receivers -- won't get it done.
In many ways, Sunday's matchup at Detroit is a litmus test for just how much better the 2015 Raiders really are. Yes, the Lions are coming off a huge win over Green Bay, but Detroit is still a bad football team.
A team the Raiders should beat if they have any aspirations at all of making a playoff push this year.
And a team our writers expect the Raiders to defeat.
Well, except for Captain Upset, of course.
Raiders: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Indianapolis Colts (4-5) at Atlanta Falcons (6-3)
The Pick: Atlanta Falcons (6-2)
Not too long ago, the 5-0 Atlanta Falcons were the talk of the town. Now, after three losses in four games (all to teams with losing records, no less), the talk regarding the Falcons has changed.
The hot start was a fraud, born of a soft schedule. Water is finding its level with the 2015 Falcons. The team just isn't that good.
However, coming out of the team's bye, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn insisted to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that all is well with the Falcons, who are set to make a second-half push:
We had a number of guys that had to get healthy and get well. It also gave us the time to look at the things that we wanted to improve upon. Although, tempting as it was, I stayed with the process.”
We have a lot of really good players, for us to play at our best, we need everybody to come through. The bye came at a good time for us to heal up. Now, we have a healthy team coming back into practice. As we are moving forward, we can’t wait to get rolling again.
It was a much different bye week for the Indianapolis Colts, who saw the thunder of a big win over the Denver Broncos stolen by news that quarterback Andrew Luck would be out indefinitely with a lacerated kidney.
“Obviously you don’t ever want to be down your star quarterback, but we are,” Pagano said. “But thank God we’ve got Matt.”
Our writers aren't as confident, with three-quarters picking the Falcons to prevail at home.
Colts: Davenport, Gagnon
Falcons: Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
New York Jets (5-4) at Houston Texans (4-5)
The Pick: New York Jets (7-1)
In the opinion of Bleacher Report's own Erik Frenz, there's trouble brewing in the Big Apple.
And unfortunately for the New York Jets, that trouble just so happens to be calling the shots:
The New York Jets were doing fine and dandy when they were blowing their opponents out of the water in the first five games of the season on their way to a 4-1 record. They were even just fine when they fell behind a little early and had to mount a comeback, as was the case on three different occasions in those games.
But when they've been faced with a close game in the fourth quarter, it's been an entirely different story.
That's when the coaching of Todd Bowles has been put under a microscope, revealing some dangerous microorganisms under the slide. Last Thursday night in particular, the Jets had plenty of chances to pick up a win over the Buffalo Bills, but in the last 20 minutes, those chances all slipped directly through the Jets' fingertips.
Frenz has a point. There was more than one instance in last week's game when Bowles faced a decision and made (in hindsight) the wrong one, such as two failed fourth-down attempts, including a curious play call on 4th-and-goal late in the game.
For his part, Bowles defended his actions: "They're mistakes if they don't work and you're a genius if they do work. The ones that don't, I don't look at them as mistakes. I look at them as learning experiences. They don't work out all the time. Sometimes it's not in the cards."
Now 4-1 has become 5-4, and the Jets are suddenly scrambling to keep their fading playoff hopes afloat.
However, while the Houston Texans are technically tied for first place in the AFC South, they are already down running back Arian Foster. Now quarterback Brian Hoyer is expected to miss Week 11 with a concussion.
The Texans may have pulled the upset Monday night in Cincinnati, but with the exception of NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon, our voters expect the team to turn back into a pumpkin this Sunday.
Jets: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)
The Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) ***COIN FLIP***
Good luck figuring out the 2015 Philadelphia Eagles.
One week, the Eagles appear to be easily the best team in a bad NFC East. The next, they look like just another bad team in a bad NFC East.
And now, on top of the NFL's biggest Jekyll and Hyde act, the Eagles are down one quarterback.
Because, shock and amazement, Sam Bradford is hurt.
Dan Hanzus of NFL.com had the details on the latest malady to befall the oft-injured Bradford:
It's Sanchize time in Philadelphia.
NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Eagles starter Sam Bradford will likely miss next Sunday's game against the Buccaneers as well as the team's Thanksgiving matchup against the Lions after suffering a separated shoulder and a concussion during Sunday's loss to the Dolphins.
Mark Sanchez, who replaced Bradford on Sunday and threw a crushing red-zone interception, is expected to start both games. The Eagles are 4-5, a half-game behind the Giants in the sleepy NFC East.
Oh yeah, Sanchez on Thanksgiving. No way that ends badly.
However, this week isn't Turkey Day yet, and half of our writers (and the Quarter of Wisdom) think Sanchez can get the Eagles past an equally up-and-down Tampa team and back on top of the NFC Least.
Buccaneers: Freeman, Gagnon, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Eagles: Davenport, Miller, Schalter, Tanier
Denver Broncos (7-2) at Chicago Bears (4-5)
The Pick: Denver Broncos (6-2)
A couple of weeks ago, the Denver Broncos were on top of the world. They had just crushed the previously undefeated Green Bay Packers. All was right and wonderful.
Now? Not so much.
After watching Peyton Manning fall to pieces in a blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs last week, the Broncos will roll out Brock Osweiler at quarterback against the Bears.
And as Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated reported, that moves the Broncos into very uncertain territory:
The truth is that we won’t really know what Denver has here until 24-year-old Osweiler takes the field. He hasn’t started a regular-season game since he was at Arizona State in 2011, and he’s thrown just 54 career passes, most in mop-up duty. Sunday’s relief appearance mostly qualifies under that category. Osweiler finished 14 of 24 for 146 yards, one TD and one INT against the Chiefs, but the Broncos already trailed 22–0 when he entered en route to a 29–13 loss.
Those 24 passes gave him a single-season career high, so that tells you all you need to know about his experience. His backup, rookie Trevor Siemian, has never thrown an NFL pass.
This is the second straight week that I have been sorely tempted to take the Bears. After all, John Fox gets an opportunity for a measure of revenge against his former team Sunday.
A team rolling out a quarterback for his first professional start.
And yet I took Denver, as did the majority of my peers. And I did so for the same reason the Broncos have seven wins in nine games in 2015.
They have arguably the NFL's best defense.
Broncos: Davenport, Freeman, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Bears: Gagnon, Miller
St. Louis Rams (4-5) at Baltimore Ravens (2-7)
The Pick: Baltimore Ravens (5-3)
The Baltimore Ravens are really and truly having the season from hell.
And last week that season hit a new low.
It wasn't bad enough that the Ravens lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars after Elvis Dumervil was penalized for a facemask on quarterback Blake Bortles, affording the Jaguars an untimed down and game-winning field goal.
Oh no, it gets worse.
As Sarah Ellison of the team's website reports, it turns out the play in question never should have happened:
This time, there’s no debate. If the refs correctly called a false start on the Jaguars’ final play from scrimmage, the Ravens win. Plain and simple.
"The correct call in this case would have been to penalize the offense for a false start because all 11 players were not set, and whistle to stop the play," league spokesman Michael Signora told both The Baltimore Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec and ESPN’s Adam Schefter. "The ensuing 10-second runoff should have ended the game."
That’s kind of a big deal.
The Ravens should have won, 20-19, because there would have been no time (or play) for an Elvis Dumervil facemask penalty and the Jaguars’ ensuing 53-yard game-winning field goal.
While they're at it, any chance the NFL could reverse Baltimore's season? Because it's been a never-ending litany of luck just like that.
That luck has to turn around sometime, right?
Rams: Davenport, Miller, Sobleski
Ravens: Freeman, Gagnon, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson
Dallas Cowboys (2-7) at Miami Dolphins (4-5)
The Pick: Dallas Cowboys (6-2)
It may, at first glance, seem odd that three-quarters of our writers selected a Dallas team that hasn't won since Week 2 in this game.
That is, until you consider the Cowboys will have something they haven't had since Week 2: Antonio Ramiro Romo.
As ESPN reported, Tony Romo is expected to start Sunday against the Dolphins after missing two months with a broken collarbone.
Dallas head coach Jason Garrett cautioned that Romo's return isn't certain, nor does it fix all that ails the Cowboys:
If we feel like, 'Just because Tony is back everything is good' -- that's the wrong approach. We have to get better in all three areas. We have to coach better. We have to play better.
We're going to let him practice. And if he practices well, he's going to play in the game. And we anticipate him practicing well, so we're excited about that opportunity.
No, Romo's return isn't a panacea. And even if it was, after seven losses in a row, Dallas' playoff chances in 2015 are slim to none.
But the fact is over the past two months, we've learned something quite clearly about America's Team.
As goes Romo, so go the Cowboys.
It would appear Romo is back. And hope returns with him.
Cowboys: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Tanier, Tomlinson
Dolphins: Schalter, Sobleski
Washington Redskins (4-5) at Carolina Panthers (9-0)
The Pick: Carolina Panthers (8-0)
After a week when unanimous picks blew up in our faces left and right, it's not exactly a surprise that it took this long to have one in Week 11.
It's also not surprising that pick is the Carolina Panthers, who haven't lost a regular-season game since falling in Minnesota last November 30.
However, with the Panthers about to enter a gauntlet of sorts, head coach Ron Rivera told Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer there's no room for relaxing in Panther-land:
Panthers coach Ron Rivera has long held to his one-game-at-a-time mantra. But with three games in the span of 12 days, it’s tough not to peek ahead at least a little.
“It’s not going to affect the players in terms of their mental process,” Rivera said Monday following Carolina’s 27-10 win against Tennessee. “To the players it’s more about what they need to do and focus on. But for the coaches, it’s going to be a little bit of planning for the next two weeks, knowing that we’re prepping for Washington. But at the same time you’ve got to create a little bit of time as a coach – especially a position coach – for next week.”
The Washington game is also one of only two home games for the Panthers between now and the end of the calendar year. The other? A matchup with the second-place Falcons.
It's a daunting stretch, but just as they have all season, our experts believe the Panthers will take care of business Sunday.
Redskins: Kirk Cousins will not like that
Panthers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Kansas City Chiefs (4-5) at San Diego Chargers (2-7)
The Pick: Kansas City Chiefs (6-2)
A month ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were sunk. The team had just dropped their fifth straight game and sat alone in the AFC West basement.
It's a different story now. The Chiefs have peeled off three wins in a row, highlighted by last week's dismantling of Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
That win moved the Chiefs to 4-5, in the thick of the wild-card race in the AFC. It was also enough to move the team into the top 10 of Peter King's power rankings over at the MMQB: "Put me on record as saying the Chiefs, even settling for field goals, would have beaten a classic Peyton Manning on Sunday. That defense is playing the way it should have all season right now."
Maybe it's that swarming defense that caused the panel to pick the Chiefs against the Chargers. Or Kansas City's winning streak. Or the injuries that have savaged San Diego on both sides of the ball.
Or it could be the fact that the Chargers have dropped five in a row and seven of eight.
Yeah. That last one sounds like a good reason.
Chiefs: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Chargers: Freeman, Tanier
Green Bay Packers (6-3) at Minnesota Vikings (7-2)
The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
A few weeks ago, the NFC North was a much different place. Sure, the Vikings were a nice story, but it was the Green Bay Packers' world. The Vikings just lived in it.
Fast forward a bit, and as Andy Benoit of the MMQB wrote, things have changed ever so slightly:
America, meet the Minnesota Vikings, the best team in the NFC North—both in record and in actuality. During the summer, many predicted the Vikings would take that Next Step under second-year coach Mike Zimmer. But no one forecast that a Week 10 victory at Oakland would be their seventh of the year. This morning, they lead the North for three reasons:
1. Their offense has a distinct identity, centered around Adrian Peterson and the power running game.
2. Their defense is young, fast in all the right places and very well-schemed.
3. The rival Packers currently have a poorly coached, mediocre offense that happens to be led by a phenomenal quarterback. (And that quarterback has been inconsistent lately.)
This is it. A chance for the Vikings to take "the next step" and then some. To open up a two-game lead over the Packers. Send Green Bay to a fourth straight loss.
An opportunity for a true coming-out party for Zimmer's boys.
And in the opinion of the scribes here at Bleacher Report, the Vikings are going to avail themselves of that opportunity.
Packers: Freeman, Tanier
Vikings: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson
San Francisco 49ers (3-6) at Seattle Seahawks (4-5)
The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (8-0)
At the beginning of the season, more than a few pundits predicted the the San Francisco 49ers would finish last in the NFC West this year given all of the turmoil the team experienced in the offseason.
No one expected the team just ahead of them in the standings would be the Seattle Seahawks.
And yet here they are. A 4-5 football team. Three games back of the division-leading Cardinals after last week's loss to Arizona. In real danger of missing the playoffs altogether after two straight Super Bowl trips.
Still, head coach Pete Carroll insisted to John Boyle of the team's website that all is far from lost:
We’re going to keep working really hard and keep focusing on the stuff we can improve and make the adjustments we need to make and move on. This season is this week. It’s this week. We’re good at doing that and we’re going to do that really well. We’re going to get back in and get to work and crank up a week’s preparation that gets us a win and get this thing moving again and see if we can make some noise here a couple of months from now.
If the season is this week, then it's a good thing it's at home against the 49ers.
Because, you know, Blaine Gabbert.
49ers: I know he beat the Falcons two weeks ago. And yet, he's still Blaine Gabbert.
Seahawks: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Cincinnati Bengals (8-1) at Arizona Cardinals (7-2)
The Pick: Arizona Cardinals (7-1)
Sunday night's showcase game features a pair of teams whose prime-time tilts went very differently in Week 10.
For the Cincinnati Bengals, last Monday night brought with it the ghosts of prime times past in a 10-6 loss to the Houston Texans.
And as Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter wrote, all it did was reinforce the notion that quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals are what they are...
In the grand scheme of the season, this individual loss doesn't mean much of anything. At 8-1, the Bengals are still two wins ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. Going into a crucial Week 11 prime-time matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, though, this stumble revived the old demons at the worst possible time.
Worst of all, it's made all the cynics and snarks right again...doubters and naysayers right again. Even if Dalton couldn't truly silence all of them until he won a playoff game, now he and the Bengals will have countless critical voices in their ear—and, as they did Monday night, 65,535 booing fans who expect better.
Meanwhile, as Bob McManaman of AZCentral.com reported, the Cardinals established a much different sort of momentum the night before in Seattle:
After watching that victory over the Seahawks in Seattle, I was incredibly tempted the move the Cardinals ahead of unbeaten Carolina because if those two teams played today at a neutral site, I’m confident the Cardinals would win. Their offense is far more dynamic and they have that “it” factor. That being said, I just can’t do it. The Cardinals will get their chance to earn more respect this Sunday night when the host the Bengals. Beat them and I’ll probably move the Cardinals up to No.2.
According to our writers, the teams will continue heading in those respective directions Sunday night.
Cardinals: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Buffalo Bills (5-4) at New England Patriots (9-0)
The Pick: New England Patriots (8-0)
Usually when talking about these picks, I focus on the team that's expected to win by our writers.
Here there's a bit of an exception. I'll focus on the Patriots by focusing on the head coach of their opponent.
Because Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan is always focused on the Pats.
As ESPN.com's Mike Rodak reported, Ryan is focused on Bill Belichick, whom he used as a comparison while talking about his brother, Rob, who was recently fired as defensive coordinator in New Orleans: "He'll be fine. But it's the business. It's the business that we chose, and all that. It's gonna happen. It happens to every coach. It happened to [Bill] Belichick, the greatest coach of all time. It happened to him. It happens to everybody."
Ryan is also focused on New England quarterback Tom Brady:
I’ll say this: I haven’t seen (a decline). I’ve seen a gray hair in his head, so that’s it. You’re gonna go gray, pal. One of these days. But the thing about him is, where I don’t know what’s driving him -- he’s got all the rings, he’s got all this stuff -- but there’s something internal that drives that guy and he’s in phenomenal shape.
This might be as good as shape as he’s been. And maybe knowing that when you’re getting up there in age, you’ve got to be in great shape. But he’s that way. He’s moving well. And his accuracy is like crazy.
Make no mistake. The Patriots are Ryan's white whale. They always have been. Always will be. And the notion of ruining their perfect season is the sort of thing that probably makes him lightheaded with glee.
Never mind that the Bills are in a playoff race all their own, trying to end the longest postseason drought in the NFL.
Too bad our panel is unanimous in its belief that Ahab is out of luck.
Bills: Not in Foxborough. Not under the lights. Not happening.
Patriots: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson