NFL WEEK 11: A storm is brewing in Green Bay, as it’s become abundantly clear that the great Aaron Rodgers is no longer one of the best at his position– the offense is stagnant and depressing despite the presence of two excellent RBs, and after Thursday night’s home loss to Tennessee the Packers are 4-7 and quickly fading from the playoff picture. Dark times– dark years– may be ahead for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises…

There are certainly brighter storylines in this Week 11, like the one in Tennessee, where Mike Vrabel appears to have a contender once again. The Titans have won 7 of 8 games after starting the season 0-2, and Derrick Henry is doing his typical stronger-as-the-season-progresses thing. With the AFC South all but wrapped up before Thanksgiving, the Titans can now set their sights on the AFC’s top seed and the accompanying first-round postseason bye. They now get to enjoy the “mini bye” after playing on Thursday before facing a dangerous Cincinnati team in Week 12.

This week’s slate is headlined by several divisional battles and some potentially tricky games for a few of the league’s better teams (Eagles, Vikings, Chiefs, etc.). I have a feeling we might see some surprises. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:

Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints (NO -2.5, 39)

Recommendation: New Orleans -2.5 at 1.91

The whole world seems to be on LA in this spot, and I understand it– the Saints have dropped back-to-back games since their shutout victory over the Raiders in Week 8, and they have injury issues on the offensive line, which is never a good thing with Aaron Donald next on the schedule. But have you seen the Rams play lately? The offense has been downright hard to watch, and that’s with Cooper Kupp out there putting up big numbers and drawing double coverage. It’s been as close to a one-man offense as we have in the NFL, and now that Kupp is on IR, what, exactly, is the plan? Sprinkle fairy dust on Allen Robinson and turn him into a viable go-to receiver? Become a run-first offense behind Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson?

Matt Stafford is out of concussion protocol and will be back in the lineup this week, but the Rams offense has been dysfunctional all season and I have zero confidence in that group, minus their best player in Kupp, having any success on the road against a tough Saints defense. We’ve at least seen the Saints offense look dangerous in spots, and they can do some different things with Taysom Hill and All-Pro RB Alvin Kamara. Plus, Jarvis Landry is healthy again, so the passing game should have a bit more juice. This feels like a “get right” spot for a Saints team that’s better than it’s showed the past two weeks.

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings (DAL -1.5, 48)

Recommendation: Dallas -1.5 at 1.91

Here we have an 8-1 team that is coming off an upset win over the best team in the AFC listed as a home underdog against a team that just lost to Green Bay and ranks 25th in the NFL in total yards allowed. On the surface it doesn’t make sense, but it’s all about the vibe of this Minnesota team… many observers can sense it, the oddsmakers can sense it, and I can sense it too. Last week was the culmination of a special run, but their time is up. Each of their last 7 wins have come by 8 points or fewer, and of the eight teams they’ve beaten this season only two– Buffalo and Miami– have winning records. This is a paper tiger, fraudulent if “elite contender” is the standard, and they’re about to get exposed by a Dallas team that has really started to get the offense rolling, scoring 101 combined points in their last three games. The Vikings defense struggles mightily against the pass, ranking 29th in pass yards allowed and 31st in yards per attempt, setting the stage for Dak Prescott to outshine his counterpart Kirk Cousins in a “statement win” for the Cowboys.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Los Angeles Chargers (KC -5, 52)

Recommendation: Los Angeles +5 at 1.99; Los Angeles moneyline (to win) at 3.2

The Mahomes-to-Kelce connection keeps the boat floating in Kansas City, and it’s as powerful an offensive force as there is in today’s NFL. Even if you have Kelce bracketed in coverage, Mahomes invariably finds a way to slip out of the pocket, make eye contact with his favorite target, and come up with a schoolyard solution to these intricate NFL defenses. That said, the cupboard is as bare as it’s ever been for this Chiefs offense, as both Mecole Hardman and Juju Smith-Schuster are injured and out, leaving Mahomes perilously short of proven targets. The LA defense can’t stop the run but the Chiefs have been unable to run the ball all season, so the KC offense will likely play right into the hands of a Chargers defense that has playmakers in the secondary and a fearsome pass rush. On the other side of the ball, Justin Herbert is set to get his top two receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, back after long injury-related absences, and when the LA offense is fully stocked, it’s one of the most dangerous units in the league. The tide may be slowly turning in the AFC West… I like the Chargers to win this one outright.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals *Mexico City (SF -8, 43.5)

Recommendation: San Francisco -8 at 1.91

The NFL’s first regular season game in Mexico City features two of the league’s best receivers in DeAndre Hopkins and Deebo Samuel and an elite, All-Pro RB in Christian McCaffrey, but I fear the fans won’t get much in the way of a competitive game. These are two teams moving in opposite directions– the Cardinals are a deeply flawed team with a “franchise” quarterback who looks more and more like a bust whose struggles will likely cost head coach Kliff Kingsbury his job in a couple of months, while the Niners have the look of a Super Bowl contender after a shrewd midseason trade that has completely changed the complexion of their offense.

Since acquiring Christian McCaffrey, the 49ers have scored on 50% of their offensive possessions, the third-highest mark in the NFL. Before McCaffrey’s arrival they were scoring on 29% of their drives (h/t ESPN stats & info) and lacked much of an identity beyond Kyle Shanahan’s zone running scheme and the dink-and-dunk passing of Jimmy Garoppolo. McCaffrey should find plenty of daylight this week against an Arizona defense that allows 4.5 yards per carry to opposing backs, while the Cardinals offense will be in for a long, long day against a San Francisco defense that leads the NFL in total yards allowed, regardless of whether Kyler Murray or 36-year-old journeyman Colt McCoy starts at quarterback. I’m fully expecting this one to turn into an old-fashioned blowout.

NFL Week 13 Best Bets
DAQMAN Sat: Aintree NAP
EFL FOOTBALL Sat: Championship, League One, League Two
SHAMROCK Sat: Fairyhouse Preview
PAT HEALY blog: Awesome Constitution Hill
MARK HALSEY blog: England’s discipline a credit to Southgate
GREYHOUND PREVIEW: Friday and Saturday
WEEK AHEAD: World Cup It’s A Knockout
THE ULTRA: World Cup Group Stage Preview
LIFTING THE LID: Clayton Blackmore’s World Cup predictions 
THE ULTRA: World Cup Knockout Stage Preview
PURPLE PUNDIT: Five Reasons Not To Back Brazil
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