Week 11 Picks

Posted: 11/20/2016 by levcohen in Football

Sometime before the Thanksgiving games, I’m going to rank each NFL team by how watchable they are. I mention this now because two teams that will rank very highly in those rankings happen to be on BYE this week. I’m talking, of course, about the San Diego Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons, two of the four teams to sit this week out. 7-3 Denver is also off, as are the 3-7 Jets. This week is also notable because it’s the last of four straight weeks with at least four teams on BYE. We’re treated to our first full slate of games since Week 3 next week (and there are a couple of doozies on the schedule) before two more teams get a break in Week 13. There are three games between winning teams this week, although one of them includes the Houston Texans, who are a joke of a winning team. But there are a bunch of other games between desperate teams, including Indy-Tennessee, Cincy-Buffalo, Arizona-Minnesota, Miami-LA, and Green Bay-Washington. When two desperate teams play each other, wonky things can happen. I expect wonky things to happen in Week 11.

BYE teams: San Diego, Atlanta, Denver, New York Jets
*= upset pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-5, 4-5 against the spread) at Cleveland Browns (0-10, 3-7):- Lock
Spread: Steelers favored by 8
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I thought last week would be Pittsburgh’s get-right game, with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger playing at home against a mediocre Dallas defense. But the Cowboys are really good, and the Steelers let Ezekiel Elliott run all over them. They won’t have that problem against the Browns. This is a game they absolutely must win, and it’s a game they will win. The Browns have lost five of their past seven by double digits. They’ll lose this one by at least eight. I’m locking it up, even though I know Big Ben is a lot better at home than he is on the road. The over/under is so low (it opened at 50) because the game is supposed to be played in inclement weather. Steelers win 27-13.
Steelers cover

Baltimore Ravens (5-4, 3-6) at Dallas Cowboys (8-1, 8-1):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 7
Over/under: 45
My prediction: Strength against strength here. Dallas’s dominant offensive line meets Baltimore’s #1-by-far run defense. The Ravens have given up 642 rushing yards this season on 3.3 yards per carry, good for a DVOA of -46.1%, which means their run defense has been 46.1% better than average. To put that in perspective, last year’s #1 run defense, the Jets, had a -33.3% DVOA, which was the best run defense since the 2000 Ravens (-36.6%). But can what might be the best run defense of all-time shut down Ezekiel Elliott and Co.? I think they can. The problem is that Baltimore won’t be able to move the ball. The Ravens will make this a low-scoring game, but they won’t come up with enough offense to pull off a big upset. Cowboys win 21-17.
Ravens cover

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-7, 4-5) at Detroit Lions (5-4, 5-3-1):
Spread: Lions favored by 6.5
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: I’ve liked the Lions all year, but I didn’t really expect them to hold a share of the NFC North lead in mid November. This game makes me nervous for their sake, because I think they might take the 2-7 Jags too lightly. Yes, the Jags are bad. But they aren’t Cleveland. They just lost to Kansas City (7-2) and Houston (6-3) by a combined eight points. Meanwhile, every game Detroit’s played this year has been a one-score game. I don’t trust them to pull away from the Jags, but I do trust them to win close games. Lions win 30-27.
Jaguars cover

Tennessee Titans (5-5, 4-6) at Indianapolis Colts (4-5, 4-4-1):*
Spread: Colts favored by 2.5
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: Because the Colts were on BYE last week, both of these teams last played (and beat) the Packers. I think that says more about Green Bay than it does about either of these AFC South squads, but the two upset wins over the Pack have certainly kept each of these squads in the playoff race. I understand why the Colts are favored in this one. They’re the home team, they’re rested, and they have Andrew Luck with healthy weapons at his disposal. They’ve also won 10 straight against the Titans and 15 of 16. That’s an incredible streak, but it should end today, because the Titans are quite simply the better team. They’ve played three straight good games, with a tough loss in San Diego sandwiched by complete performances in wins over Jacksonville and Green Bay. Their offense is on fire, with 26+ points in six consecutive games. It shouldn’t slow down against the poor Indy defense. Titans win 31-26.
Titans cover

Buffalo Bills (4-5, 5-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-5-1, 2-7):*
Spread: Bengals favored by 2.5
Over/under: 47
My prediction: If you watched the Monday Night Football game between the Bengals and Giants, you might have thought that New York has a ferocious pass rush. Indeed, they sacked Andy Dalton three times and pressured him numerous others. But the Giants entered that matchup ranked last in the NFL with 11 sacks this season. Cincy’s surprisingly shaky offensive line made them look a lot better than they are. You know who ranks first in the NFL in sacks? You guessed it: Buffalo, with 30. The team worst at protecting its QB goes against the team best at harassing opposing signal callers. Meanwhile, Cincy’s defense has gotten gashed early and often this season, especially against mobile quarterbacks like Tyrod Taylor. I think the Bills are the better team, and this is also a great matchup for them. A.J. Green will be open for some big plays, but can Dalton buy the time to throw the deep ball? He couldn’t against the Giants, and I’m not sure he’ll be able to against the Bills, either. Bills win 24-20.
Bills cover

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5, 4-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-2, 4-5):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 7
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: Dating back to 1993, the Buccaneers have won four straight games in this storied rivalry (kidding). I’m sick of doubting the Chiefs. They’re a good football team. The Buccaneers aren’t a bad football teams, but they’re a “meh” football team. “Meh” football teams generally lose to good football teams. Especially to good football teams that play especially well at home. Chiefs win 24-13.
Chiefs cover

Chicago Bears (2-7, 2-7) at New York Giants (6-3, 5-3-1):
Spread: Giants favored by 7
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: The fact that this spread is so low says everything you need to know about the New York Giants. The Bears were bad at the start of the season, and they’re even worse now. Their best offensive player, Alshon Jeffery, just got suspended for four games. Right guard Kyle Long is out for the year. Right tackle Bobby Massie will likely be out with a concussion. The Giants’ defensive line is starting to wake up, which is bad news for the banged-up Bears. Luckily for Chicago, the Giants haven’t won by more than five points in a game all season. Unluckily for Chicago, that will change this week. The Bears are decent defensively and should limit the Giants’ success, but Jay Cutler is sure to gift New York some good field position and is unlikely to lead many successful drives himself. The Bears are firmly in top-three pick contention. Giants win 23-10.
Giants cover

Arizona Cardinals (4-4-1, 3-6) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4, 5-4):
Spread: Vikings favored by 2
Over/under: 40
My prediction: It’s been a rough season for these two teams, each of whom could really use a win this week to halt their diminishing playoff chances. The Vikings remain tied for first by virtue of their weak division, but they’ve now lost four straight games as their defense has declined from world class to just good, which is nowhere near good enough to lug the offense to victories. Meanwhile, the Cardinals were seen as legitimate Super Bowl contenders heading into this season after making the NFC Championship Game last season. And yet… they’re a 4-4-1 team with a brutal end to the season coming schedule-wise. Carson Palmer has really regressed after his career year last season, while David Johnson has struggled in the last few games as defenses realize that he’s their primary weapon. Larry Fitzgerald is still incredible, but the Cardinals need more than Fitz if they want to succeed against a talented Vikings defense. This may also be the week that Minnesota’s missing pass rush returns, as Arizona’s offensive line has looked shaky of late. It’s a tossup game, but the Vikings have been a lot better at home than on the road and the Cardinals are just 1-2 on the road (yup, five of their final seven are on the road). I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first of a bunch of losses down the stretch for the Cards. Vikings win 24-17.
Vikings cover

Miami Dolphins (5-4, 5-4) at Los Angeles Rams (4-5, 4-4-1):*
Spread: Dolphins favored by 2
Over/under: 39.5
My prediction: I’m really not sold on the Dolphins just yet, even after four consecutive wins. They looked good in San Diego, although they were lucky to come away with a win. But this is their first road game against a tough defensive front since the Bengals dismantled them 22-7. Even after their win in San Diego, they’re just 1-3 on the road this season. Their offensive line is banged up, and LA has Aaron Donald, whose 95.3 PFF rating is the best in football at any position. This is going to be an ugly game, and the Rams, winners of two games in which they haven’t scored a touchdown, are used to playing ugly games. Jared Goff won’t look great, but he has a good chance to get a win in his NFL debut. Rams win 13-10.
Rams cover

New England Patriots (7-2, 7-2) at San Francisco 49ers (1-8, 2-7):
Spread: Patriots favored by 12.5
Over/under: 51.5
My prediction: The Patriots will obviously win this game pretty handily. It’s less about them being angry after a home loss to Seattle and more about them have a lot more talent than the woeful 49ers. I think this spread is inflated, so I’m hesitant about picking the Pats to cover, but I’m going to do it anyway because the Niners have lost five of their nine games by more than 12.5 and because the Patriots have won three of Tom Brady’s five starts by at least two touchdowns. Patriots win 35-21.
Patriots cover

Philadelphia Eagles (5-4, 5-4) at Seattle Seahawks (6-2-1, 4-5):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 6.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: The Seahawks may well be the best team in football right now. They just went into Foxborough and beat the rested Patriots, and Russell Wilson is getting healthier and healthier. This is also a pretty bad matchup for their shaky offensive line. Last week, they were able to boss the line of scrimmage against a weak New England front. In Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Bennie Logan, Connor Barwin, and Vinny Curry, the Eagles have a lot of defensive linemen who get great penetration and pressure quarterbacks. They, along with two safeties (Rodney McLeod, Malcolm Jenkins) and two linebackers (Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham) who boss the middle of the field, are the reason that the Eagles have the #1 defensive DVOA in the NFL despite having perhaps the worst cornerbacks. If there’s any elite team that might be unable to expose Philly’s defensive weakness, it may be the Seahawks, because they don’t have the big, Julio Jones-style possession receivers who have dominated the Eagles all season. If there’s one area that the Eagles should be worried about, it’s the passing game to running backs. C.J. Prosise was terrific for the Seahawks last week, catching seven passes on seven targets for 87 yards, and the Eagles have not been great against the passing game to running backs. But I don’t expect the Seahawks to blast the Eagles’ defense like they did New England’s. The problem is that the Eagles won’t be doing anything on the other side of the ball. They just don’t have enough weapons in the passing game, and there’s only so much that Darren Sproles and Jordan Matthews can do, especially against Seattle’s defense in Seattle. It could be a close game, but the Seahawks will pull it out. Seahawks win 19-16.
Eagles cover

Green Bay Packers (4-5, 4-4-1) at Washington Redskins (5-3-1, 6-3):
Spread: Redskins favored by 3
Over/under: 49.5
My prediction: The Packers just aren’t good. I think it’s that simple. And the Redskins are pretty good, at 5-3-1 and #8 in DVOA. They’re at home and the better team and still only giving the standard three points. They have a lot of weapons, with DeSean Jackson returning and rejoining Jamison Crowder, Vernon Davis, Jordan Reed, and Pierre Garcon. Aaron Rodgers has some weapons, too, but he hasn’t been clicking with them and I don’t see why that would change this week. Redskins win 34-20.
Redskins cover

Houston Texans (6-3, 5-3-1) vs. Oakland Raiders (7-2, 6-3):- In Mexico City
Spread: Raiders favored by 6
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: I keep talking about how the Texans are a bad football team. I have to back that up here by picking the Raiders to cover a six point spread coming off their BYE in Mexico. I’m nervous about it, because the Raiders could well look past the Texans and focus on their tough final six games, but hopefully they look at the Texans as a 6-3 team and not as the bad football team they are. If Oakland plays like they did against Denver in Week 9, they’ll win this game by 30 points. Raiders win 26-17.
Raiders cover

Upset picks:
Rams over Dolphins
Bills over Bengals
Titans over Colts

Lock of the week:
Steelers over Browns


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