NFL WEEK 11: Ten weeks of this NFL season are behind us and the playoff race is as jumbled as ever, especially in the AFC, where 12 of the conference’s 16 teams are within a game of the final Wild Card spot. One of those teams, the New England Patriots, kicked off this Week 11 with a victory over Atlanta on Thursday night, as the defense shut down and shutout the punchless Falcons in a 25-0 blowout. Don’t look now, but the Pats have won five straight and are just a half-game back of Buffalo in the AFC East, and their rookie QB is looking an awfully lot like a certain No. 12 who had a little bit of success up there in Foxboro. Things are about to get very interesting in the East, and something tells me it’s going to be decided on some sub-freezing, icy day…
Speaking of things getting interesting, the parade of wacky results continued in Week 10, with Miami beating Baltimore, Carolina stomping the NFC West-leading Cardinals, winless Detroit playing Pittsburgh to an ugly 16-16 tie, and Washington pulling off an absolute stunner over Tampa Bay. We split our four bets for the second straight week, so we’ve been treading water here lately and that’s not the goal– only eight weeks left to make that money! With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking this week:
Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills (BUF -7.5, 49.5)
Recommendation: Indianapolis +7.5 at 1.89
The Bills responded to a head-scratching loss in Jacksonville the way a Super Bowl contender should respond– they crushed the hapless Jets 45-17, forcing five turnovers and potentially ending the brief Mike White era in New York (you hear the Jets are starting Flacco now?? Yikes!). A different sort of challenge awaits this week, however, as the Colts have been playing very well lately, winning 4 of their past 5 games to move into the thick of the AFC playoff race. Indy has been doing it with one of the most balanced offenses in the NFL– Jonathan Taylor leads the league in both total rushing yards and explosive run plays (runs of 10+ yds), and Carson Wentz has regained his form after a couple of lost years in Philly, throwing 17 TDs and just 3 INTs thus far. It will be tough sledding against the excellent Bills defense, but the Colts have put up 23 points or more in seven consecutive games, and that’s also how long it’s been since they lost a game by more than 6 points. Giving this Indianapolis team more than a touchdown, even on the road in Buffalo, seems awfully generous (related- the Colts have covered in three straight road games). Since Week 4 there hasn’t been much difference between these two teams, and I’m expecting a close, low-scoring game here.
San Francisco 49ers @ Jacksonville Jaguars (SF -6.5, 44.5)
Recommendation: Jacksonville +6.5 at 1.92
The Niners are coming off their best win of the season, a 31-10 rout of division rival Los Angeles, and over the past week we’ve heard those preseason expectations reignited a bit, as the return to health of some key offensive players has renewed the faith of Kyle Shanahan fanboys. But it’s only the passing game that’s getting healthier– George Kittle is back, yes, but the Niners have suffered yet another injury in the backfield, as impressive young RB Elijah Mitchell is expected to miss this game with a rib injury. With JaMycal Hasty also ruled out, that means San Francisco will be relying on third and fourth-string running backs against a Jacksonville defense that has been downright dominant lately, holding their last two opponents below 300 total yards and giving up just 22 combined points in the two games, including limiting the explosive Buffalo offense to a pair of field goals. Those who only look at the season stats do not realize what Joe Cullen has done to this Jags D– they are legit, and they are improving. Can Jimmy Garroppolo solve a defense that Josh Allen and Carson Wentz could not? I have my doubts, which is why I’m expecting an ugly, low-scoring slugfest here– the type of game where a 6.5-point home ‘dog holds some appeal. The Niners have been great fade bait lately, covering just twice in their last seven games, and the Jags are playing their best football of the season. This one has definite upset potential.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Las Vegas Raiders (CIN -1.5, 50.5)
Recommendation: Cincinnati moneyline at 1.91
I mean… I’m not someone who bailed on the Raiders early. I backed them the week after Jon Gruden was fired, stating my belief that oftentimes “off-field distractions” are overblown when it comes to professional athletes, and it’s not like I’ve rushed to bet against them in the two weeks since the Henry Ruggs debacle (regrettably). At some point, however, it’s time to accept this situation for what it is– a total dumpster fire. A lame duck coaching staff, a locker room that has to be pretty shattered after watching a teammate’s dream come to an end in the most tragic of ways, an offense that no longer has its primary deep threat… it’s getting more and more difficult to find the silver lining for this Vegas team, and that is especially true after back-to-back losses, first in Week 9 to the lowly Giants and then last week’s blowout at the hands of rival Kansas City. In last week’s game we were reminded that while the stats say this Vegas secondary may no longer be a sieve, they sure look awfully sieve-like when facing quality competition. Mahomes threw for 406 yards and 5 TDs, so it was a definite wake-up call for a defense that was coming off games against Justin Fields, Teddy Bridgewater, Jalen Hurts, and Daniel Jones. Joe Burrow is closer to Mahomes than those other four, and the Bengals have one of the NFL’s most dangerous receiving corps, so this matchup spells trouble for the Raiders.
Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks (ARI -1.5, 47.5)
Recommendation: Seattle moneyline at 2.07
It was a dream start to the season in Arizona, with the Cards racing out to a 9-1 record behind one of the NFL’s most exciting offenses. Every team faces challenges throughout the season, though, and those challenges have now arrived for the Cardinals– Kyler Murray has a bum ankle that has kept him out of action for two weeks, and star receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been unable to play due to a hamstring injury that will keep him sidelined this week as well. Murray’s status for this week is still unclear– he’s officially listed as questionable, and even if he plays there’s a possibility that the ankle could severely limit his mobility, which is obviously a major part of his game. We saw last week just how horrific the offense can be without its QB and top playmaker, as the Cards produced just 10 points and 169 total yards in a non-competitive loss at Carolina. Now they go on the road to face division rival Seattle in a game that’s an absolute must-win for the 3-6 Seahawks, who were shut out last week by Green Bay in Russell Wilson’s long-awaited return from injury. Wilson was ineffective against the Pack, but sub-freezing temperatures had a lot to do with it, and he said afterwards that his finger wasn’t an issue. This just feels like a super-dangerous spot for Arizona– taking a banged-up offense up to Seattle to face the ‘Hawks in Russell Wilson’s first home game in two months. I’ll be surprised if they can pull out the victory.