It seems the surprises in the NFL will not stop this year, no matter how many weeks teams have to suss each other out.
No-one saw the Rams taking the Colts apart, while not many expected the Jags to register their first win of the season against the Titans. Jay Cutler came back in week 10, and was swiftly out again, the Packers are back to Matt Flynn, and there are no teams now with a no-win record.
There is only one thing about week 11 that is for sure: it’s going to be unpredictable.
BYE WEEK: Cowboys, Rams
Indianapolis Colts 20-16 Tennessee Titans
An apt way to start week 11, with the two teams that were on the end of the biggest shocks of week 10. The Colts’ performance was just too bad to be true on both sides of the ball, and I doubt that Andrew Luck will play quite as poorly for the rest of his career. It’s a big learning curve for an up-and-coming team without its experienced receiver and leader, and I can definitely see Chuck Pagano and his coaching staff making the right changes. The Titans will be very concerned about last Sunday, as their previously stout defense looked average, while the season-ending injury to Jake Locker disrupts the rhythm they had going in week 9. I can see this being tight and nervy with mistakes being the key, so give me Andrew Luck over Ryan Fitzpatrick.
New York Jets 23-13 Buffalo Bills
I’m oddly coming round to the Jets as a possible wildcard team from the AFC East, and if Rex Ryan’s men are to get there, this trip to Buffalo is one that they will want to win comfortably. The way they bounced back to beat the Saints after the Cincy disaster was an indicator of the roster’s character, and a glimpse of their defensive power. EJ Manuel is back for Buffalo now, but when one hand giveth, the other taketh: Robert Woods, Manuel’s favourite rookie receiver, is injured, adding to Stevie Johnson’s frustration with the Buffalo offense. I’ll take the Jets here as they’ve got more to play for.
Atlanta Falcons 27-20 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Two teams in this division who look like having nothing left to play for, and saying that about the Falcons is shocking to me, as I always thought they had enough on their roster to really challenge this year. Matt Ryan losing his two best receivers was huge, but now Roddy White is back in the lineup, and Ryan should feel that bit more comfortable, even if he is covered by Darrelle Revis. The Bucs finally got their first win on the board in Miami on MNF and they will look to build on that good work. The loss of running back Mike James for the season is big though for Tampa, and a lack of running game will heap pressure on Mike Glennon.
Detriot Lions 30-17 Pittsburgh Steelers
Detroit are fast becoming my dark-horses this year. I love the offense, weapons all over the place, and I like what they’ve done with their improved defense, and a trip to Pittsburgh is a good test in their evolution as a team. The Steelers are better than what they have been, but they’re still not great, and Big Ben’s trade rumours tell you a lot about the state of the locker room and the team in general. This is a game Matt Stafford and the Lions need to win to make sure they consolidate their advantage in the NFC North.
Washington Redskins 27-34 Philadelphia Eagles
Now if this doesn’t hit 50+ points, I will be amazed. Two big time offensive units, and two pretty weak defenses should equal points, big plays and general madness. RGIII and Nick Foles, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, LeSean McCoy and Alfred Morris. This one could be fun. I’ll go with the momentum of the home side and a slightly improved defense over Griffin and the Skins.
Arizona Cardinals 29-10 Jacksonville Jaguars
Hooray for the Jags, finally beating the Titans for their first win of the year… they now welcome the stingy Cardinals to town after a good close fought win over the Texans last week and I expect normal service to resume. At 5-4, Arizona’s playoff hopes are not done with just yet, and it is still conceivable that the NFC wildcard spots are both filled from the NFC West, so they should have enough focus to dispatch the 32nd ranked offense and 28th ranked defense in the NFL and keep their hopes alive for another week.
Oakland Raiders 16-27 Houston Texans
Case Keenum has been a revelation for Houston, and his play has saved the team from curling up completely. Arian Foster is on IR, so Ben Tate could try to take his opportunity towards the end of the season to cement his place on the team. The Raiders promised much, but haven’t delivered anything recently. Losing Darren McFadden is big for Oakland, but he gets injured so much, surely it’s time to look elsewhere. Houston may be out of things now at 2-7. But they will want to give something back to their fans this week, the performance at Arizona last Sunday was promising.
Baltimore Ravens 20-31 Chicago Bears
Cutler returns… Cutler departs. It must be frustrating for Bears fans, seeing their mercurial signal caller keep getting injured, but luckily, in Josh McCown, they have a backup who understands the system well and is a solid stand-in. Don’t expect the Bears’ offense to be too badly affected, but it is the defense for once that is the worry. If they cannot return to their ball-hawking ways, the yardage they constantly give up will be the death of their playoff hopes, something Joe Flacco will hope to take advantage of. However, the matchup is a bad one for a team who cannot run the ball, even with Ray Rice on the team, as going one dimensional against Peanut Tillman spells danger.
Cleveland Browns 16-27 Cincinnati Bengals
After their loss in overtime against the Ravens last week, the Bengals’ season has reached a crossroads: if they really want to be a big-time AFC representative in the playoffs, they have to win divisional games like this at home. Their 4th ranked defense and 8th ranked offense need to work together better in games, taking pressure off each other. Andy Dalton still throws too many bad balls, but he also throws very good ones; more consistency, less mistakes has always been a winning formula. The Browns will have to keep playing the very solid football they have been to win here, but they absolutely have to get their running game going, whether its Chris Ogbonnaya or Willis McGahee, something that could be difficult against Cincinnati.
San Diego Chargers 23-16 Miami Dolphins
Miami are in absolute turmoil, and the pretty awful effort by most of their starters on MNF was frightening for many Dolphins fans; they could throw away a promising wild-card position in the AFC East just as quickly as they earned it. The Chargers were very respectable in defeat against the Broncos, and minus a couple of big plays, it could have been even closer, so if the Dolphins come out in the same frame of mind as Monday night, Philip Rivers could have a decent day.
Green Bay Packers 20-23 New York Giants
Losing Aaron Rodgers had as bigger impact as we expected, and the re-signing of Matt Flynn is very important for Green Bay, even if he won’t start in front of Scott Tolzien this week. Eddie Lacy can pound the rock 35 times, but that’s just not the Packers, and they won’t win like that. The safety play is a huge worry, and with Victor Cruz running routes over the top and across the middle, it will have to improve sharpish. The Giants’ win over Oakland was their 3rd in a row, and their confidence will be high welcoming a Green Bay side with theirs on the floor. If Andre Brown can keep his great rushing efforts up, the Giants are a totally different team, and they could have enough to top the Pack this weekend at home.
Minnesota Vikings 13-34 Seattle Seahawks
I’m careful now when I say things are going to be a foregone conclusion, but this one seems like it’s almost impossible to get wrong. The Hawks will stack the box at home, and make the Vikings throw at their top corners, while the Vikings can’t stop anyone at the moment, even though they got past the Redskins last Thursday night. Seattle also have the small matter of a big-play threat called Percy Harvin back, who will give them a whole new dimension on offense, even if he is a bit rusty.
San Francisco 49’ers 20-27 New Orleans Saints
This is one of the best games of the weekend, as it will test two of the contenders to the limit. The Saints’ destruction of the Cowboys last week was hugely impressive after their Jets disappointment, while the Niners will have to bounce back from a defeat where the Panthers proved as good as them at their own game. The Saints in the Superdome are a very difficult team to beat when you’re on top of your game, but San Francisco have something missing, especially on offense, when they cannot run the ball effectively. Their defense is also not what it was, while remaining a very solid unit, it doesn’t have that X-factor that it used to have.
Kansas City Chiefs 20-24 Denver Broncos
The last game on Sunday could go a long way to deciding the AFC West, where the 8-1 Broncos host the 9-0 Chiefs at Mile High. Peyton is hurting by his own admission, and if his offensive line doesn’t get MUCH better at protecting him, the Chiefs could play a part in ending the Broncos season, because if Manning goes down, so does the Denver ship. This is the acid test for any defense that calls itself the best in the league: going up against the best offense on the road. The key is Knowshon Moreno: if Denver can get the running game going, then they will keep the pressure off Peyton and win the game. This could be the week that the last undefeated team in the NFL loses its record.
New England Patriots 20-23 Carolina Panthers
What a win for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers last week. Beating the Niners means that people are going to take them very seriously from now on, starting with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. The Patriots will need to be right on top of their game to walk into Charlotte and go home with a win: the second ranked defense in the NFL kept Colin Kaepernick to under 100 yards through the air. Cam will most likely find his work a little easier against a New England defense missing its leaders down the centre, and unless Tom Brady can produce some serious magic, the upper hand seems to be with the home team. However, the Patriots game plan better than most other teams and will no doubt keep this very close. A matchup to watch is the Gronkowski/Kuechly face off, if Gronk gets the better of the league’s best inside linebacker, the Pats have a shot, but against a defense that is ranked top 5 in pretty much all categories, it’s going to be tough.