NFL WEEK 11: This Week 11 had a wild beginning, as a fight towards the end of Thursday night’s Steelers/Browns game resulted in Cleveland’s Myles Garrett ripping the helmet off of Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph, and then violently swinging the helmet at Rudolph’s head, grazing him. It was reckless, dangerous, and foolish, and the NFL announced on Friday that Garrett has been suspended indefinitely, with the minimum term being the remainder of this season.
The melee marred what had been an otherwise brilliant night for Garrett and the Browns defense, one in which they smothered the Pittsburgh offense to the tune of 7 points and 236 total yards allowed in a much-needed victory. But Garrett is a huge loss, and the Browns have no margin for error at 4-6, so the fight could turn out to be the final deathblow in what has been a tremendously disappointing season in Cleveland.
Sunday’s slate of games is highlighted by Houston’s visit to Baltimore, where two of the game’s most electric QBs will take center stage. We’ve got an opinion on that one, and three others:
Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens (BAL -4.5, 51)
Recommendation: Houston +4.5 at 1.97
Though Russell Wilson might have something to say about it, it could be argued that Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson are the two frontrunners for league MVP, and you can rest assured that there will be some electric moments when they face off on Sunday. Both have elite speed and escapability, and while Watson is generally regarded as having the better arm, Jackson has been an astonishingly efficient passer this season while directing a Baltimore offense that leads the NFL in points scored (33.3 ppg) and ranks second in yards per game.
The Ravens are riding a 5-game winning streak, which includes an impressive victory over New England two weeks ago, but I believe they’re a good “sell high” candidate here, as people seem to be forgetting or overlooking the defensive issues we’ve seen come to light whenever Baltimore has faced a decent offense. Thing is, there haven’t been too many decent offenses on the schedule this season, and the Patriots victory has somewhat masked the fact that the Ravens have mostly beaten up on the dregs of the league. Of their seven wins, you have Cincinnati (twice), Miami, Arizona, and Pittsburgh. They gave up 40 points in a loss to Cleveland and 33 in a loss to Kansas City, and though they beat two good teams in Seattle and New England, the defense surrendered more than 340 yards in both of those games. The Texans rank 4th in the NFL in total offense and have scored 23 points or more in five straight games, so we can expect them to have considerable success in this matchup. And the Houston defense has allowed the third-fewest rushing yards in the league, so they should match up well with the run-first Baltimore offense. This is closer to a “coin flip” game than most realize– I’ll gladly take the points.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts (IND -2.5, 43)
Recommendation: Indianapolis -2.5 at 1.91
The Colts are at a low point after back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Miami, and they need a win here to stay above .500 and keep within shouting distance of Houston atop the AFC South. Fortunately, they’ll be getting their starting QB back, as Jacoby Brissett is set to return from a knee injury that forced him to miss last week’s game. His replacement, Brian Hoyer, was highly ineffective, so Brissett’s return is certainly welcome news, but he’ll be dealing with a banged-up receiving corps, as both T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell are injured and out. Look for Indianapolis to play it close to the vest in this one, especially when you consider the opponent: the Jacksonville offense has yet to score 30 points in any game this season, and they’re coming off an abysmal performance in London, where they produced just 3 points in a blowout loss to Houston.
Of course, this will be a new Jacksonville offense, as Nick Foles will be under center for the first time since fracturing his clavicle in the first quarter of the first game. And while Foles is a veteran who has played in many big games, this is a really tough ask of him– to lead the team on the road, against a quality division opponent, after essentially not having played any football all season. Plus, it’s not like Foles is Drew Brees– let’s not forget that before his six-game stretch with Philadelphia in 2017 that culminated in a Super Bowl victory, Foles had been a mediocre journeyman, getting cut by three different teams before finding work as a backup. In his last five seasons, which include 28 starts, he’s accounted for 45 turnovers while throwing 35 touchdown passes. That’s… not good. I don’t have much confidence in him, cold and unpracticed as he is, against a top-10 Colts defense that is particularly good in the secondary. The Jacksonville defense, meanwhile, has been soft against the run, surrendering 4.9 yards per rush (only 3 teams in the NFL worse in this category), so they’ll have their hands full with Marlon Mack and Indianapolis’s top-10 rushing offense. I expect the Colts to take care of business here.
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins (BUF -6.5, 40)
Recommendation: Miami +6.5 at 1.98
Don’t look now, but the Dolphins are improving. You’ve got to hand it to coach Brian Flores– after all the “tanking” talk and a start to the season that made many wonder if this year’s Miami team was going to be one of the worst teams the NFL has seen in years, Flores still has his guys playing hard, and the Dolphins have been ultra competitive over the past month. And “competitive” may be selling it short, as they actually have a winning streak on their hands after victories over the Jets and Colts in the last two weeks. The Ryan Fitzpatrick to DeVante Parker connection has given the offense a pulse, but it’s the defense that has really shown signs of improvement, as a unit that surrendered 162 combined points over their first four games has allowed just 21.0 ppg over the last five. It’s been a remarkable turnaround.
Miami faced these Bills a month ago– in Game 2 of their turnaround– and put up quite a fight as a 17-point underdog, carrying a lead into the 4th quarter before a couple of costly turnovers allowed Buffalo to slide by with a 31-21 victory. But the Dolphins outgained the Bills 381-305 in that game, and Ryan Fitzpatrick looked awfully comfortable against his old team, completing 23 of 35 passes for 273 yards. Buffalo’s Josh Allen, meanwhile, threw for just 188 yards, and an anemic passing attack has been slowly sinking the Bills offense this season– they average just 212 pass yards per game, and in their losses they’ve been exposed in that area. Given the way the Miami defense has looked over the past few weeks, I expect them to hold the Bills offense in check here and keep this one close, giving Fitzpatrick a chance to be the hero against the team he led for several years. This one has all the makings of an upset– Miami has been improving and gaining confidence, while Buffalo has lost two of three thanks largely to an offense that isn’t good enough to put a game out of reach. The 6.5 points makes this an easy decision for me.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers (*Mexico City) (KC -4, 51.5)
Recommendation: Los Angeles +4 at 1.91
Though still largely viewed as one of the NFL’s better teams, the Chiefs are just 2-4 in their last six games, as their famously explosive offense has had difficulty overcoming a leaky defense, even with Patrick Mahomes under center. Last week, for instance, Mahomes was on fire, throwing for 446 yards and 3 touchdowns, and yet Kansas City lost 35-32 to a Tennessee team that has been fighting to keep its head above water. The inability to stop the run has been the primary culprit in Kansas City’s defensive failings– Tennessee’s Derrick Henry rushed for 188 yards last week, and the Chiefs now rank 31st in the NFL against the run, surrendering 148 rushing yards per game and a staggering 5.1 yards per attempt.
A month ago you might’ve thought that the Chargers would be unable to take advantage of the exploitable Kansas City front seven, as they struggled mightily to run the ball over the first few weeks of the season. Over the last two games, however, the L.A. offense has turned over a new leaf, with tailback Melvin Gordon seeming to finally find his stride after a lengthy early-season holdout affected his rhythm. With Gordon now rolling (188 combined yards in his last two games) and Austin Ekeler continuing to serve as perhaps the NFL’s best change-of-pace back, this L.A. offense feels more complete than it has all season, and Philip Rivers may have the tools to go toe-to-toe with Mahomes, even if this one turns into a shootout. And while I don’t expect the Chargers defense to shut down the explosive KC offense, it should be noted that L.A. has some elite talent on that side of the ball, and the unit is just two weeks removed from an absolutely dominant performance against Green Bay in which they held an excellent Packers offense to a mere 184 total yards. If you’re looking at this game as “elite team vs. mediocre team”, you’re viewing it the wrong way. In reality, these are two teams who have both lost 4 of their last 6 games, fighting to stay relevant in the AFC playoff picture. I think the Chargers are a good value here as a 4-point ‘dog.