NE (6-4) @ ATL (4-5) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
Much has changed for New England and Atlanta since Super Bowl LI, as each team has almost all new starters on both sides of the ball—with Matt Ryan being the only skill-position player on offense that remains for either franchise. The new-look Patriots are certainly moving in the right direction, though, as rookies Mac Jones and Rhamondre Stevenson just led a 45-7 beatdown of the Browns, and they’re being supported by a defense that has forced eight interceptions during the current four-game winning streak. Tonight, I’d expect a heavy dose of Stevenson and Damien Harris at running back, and it feels like Nelson Agholor could have a big game in the spread-the-wealth passing attack. Matty Ice and the Falcons should be focused coming off a 40-point loss in Dallas, but not having Calvin Ridley (personal) and potentially Cordarrelle Patterson (ankle) makes it difficult to imagine them having enough explosiveness to beat New England’s defense.
Winner: New England Patriots
NO (5-4) @ PHI (4-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The first start of Jalen Hurts’ career came in a 24-21 victory over the Saints, and his production as a runner in that game (18 carries for 106 yards) will be something Dennis Allen’s defense should be more prepared to stop. That said, Hurts is more confident and polished as a passer in Year 2, and passes have been on the money over the past two games in particular—I think a key reason for that is the run-heavy offense being a better fit for his skillset rather than telling him to go out and throw 35-40 times per game. Also, the team finally using Jordan Howard gives them a between-the-tackles presence that wasn’t there before, so even if Miles Sanders (ankle) is back, Philadelphia would be wise to keep giving carries to the veteran. While this is a massive spot for New Orleans to get a win ahead of Thursday night games against the Bills (on Thanksgiving) and Cowboys, I’m leaning towards the Eagles avoiding an 0-5 start at home.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
MIA (3-7) @ NYJ (2-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The crowded playoff picture in the AFC still has Miami alive if they can turn their two-game winning streak into more than that—which might happen with a very winnable stretch before Christmas (@ NYJ, v CAR, v NYG, v NYJ). The versatility of Brandon Jones, rookie Jevon Holland, and Eric Rowe at safety between Xavien Howard and Byron Jones has the defense playing at the level most thought we would see all year, and it was great to hear defensive lineman Christian Wilkins get some national attention by FOX’s Troy Aikman last Thursday night. There is concern about Joe Flacco going off despite facing a stingy secondary, but I like how Tua Tagovailoa has played for the Dolphins, and the defense of New York is arguably more of an issue than the offense. Eventually, I hope we get an offensive package with both Wilkins and Robert Hunt as eligible receivers; they’d be an unstoppable duo on a modern version of NFL Street.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
WAS (3-6) @ CAR (5-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Cam Newton being back with Carolina and scoring two touchdowns for his first appearance of 2021—as if he never even left—was kind of surreal, and I’m sure it will be strange for both him and Ron Rivera to face one another two years after they left the franchise in the same offseason (especially since they had originally joined the Panthers together in 2011). As stated last week, Newton’s presence is a boost not only at quarterback, but also throughout the entire locker room, as I’m sure the young players are pumped up to play with the former NFL MVP. Washington also has to be fired up after Taylor Heinicke played great to knock off the Buccaneers in Week 10, and the team is notably has a better record now than they did last season (at 2-7) before sneaking into the playoffs at 7-9. However, Carolina’s defense will be a bigger challenge than Tampa Bay’s was, and the fans at Bank of America Stadium are going to be crazy in Newton’s return.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
IND (5-5) @ BUF (6-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Colts-Bills is a playoff rematch from last season, and Sunday will be a great measuring stick for Carson Wentz against the NFL’s best defense—as Philip Rivers was able to chip away for 309 passing yards, two touchdowns, and zero turnovers against Buffalo in the down-to-the-wire postseason loss. You know Sean McDermott won’t want to let Jonathan Taylor go wild, but that doesn’t mean Wentz needs to get carried away by trying to force the issue if there isn’t early success on offense. Of course, Josh Allen playing like he did last week—with a career-high 13.1 yards per attempt—would make it tough to be patient, so Indianapolis will hopefully at least get Taylor touches in space if it’s rough sledding on the ground. Overall, my advice to Wentz would be to “play like Philip Rivers, and take the checkdowns when they’re available.” I’m not sure he will be able to, and even if he does, the Bills are almost in Brady-on-the-Patriots territory in terms of not picking against them.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
DET (0-8-1) @ CLE (5-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
For all the Jared Goff haters, Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning—who earlier this season on the ManningCast said “[Goff] has what it takes to be a championship quarterback. There’s no doubt about it.”—went out of his way before discussing Matthew Stafford on the Rams to say “I like [Goff]. I’m a fan of his.” Manning then explained that Stafford’s arm talent allows Sean McVay to open up the offense because of his ability to put the ball anywhere on the field, but if he were to have expounded on the situation, I bet Manning would have explained that arm strength isn’t at the top of the list for quarterback, which he knows from experience. Goff is now dealing with an oblique injury that leaves him questionable for Sunday, but I hope Detroit (or someone else) gives him a fair shot to prove himself after this season with an upgraded supporting cast.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
SF (4-5) @ JAX (2-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
San Francisco did what they needed to do (and more) on Monday night to get back on track, but Jacksonville—allowing the fifth-fewest yards per carry in the league (3.9)—could provide more of a challenge in terms of running the ball than the Rams did. While Urban Meyer has deserved much of the criticism levied towards him to begin his NFL tenure, there is no denying that the Jaguars are playing with a lot of heart recently, and that’s something I thought he might be able to get out of them when hired. This week will be a fun battle between Kyle Shanahan’s rushing attack and the athleticism Jacksonville has on defense, and rookie Elijah Mitchell potentially playing at less than 100% coming off finger surgery could lead to concerns about ball security and even being too one-dimensional if he’s unable to catch passes. Still, the way Jimmy Garoppolo played in Week 10 should allow the Niners to move the ball with Deebo Samuel and George Kittle if the ground game is held in check, and the Jags have continued to struggle on offense.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
HOU (1-8) @ TEN (8-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
It’s safe to say the Titans still want to run the ball without Derrick Henry:
Let's run it, baby! 🗣️ @TaylorLewan77
— Inside the NFL (@insidetheNFL) November 16, 2021
Winner: Tennessee Titans
GB (8-2) @ MIN (4-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Minnesota was able split the season series against the Packers last year despite Aaron Rodgers going off in both matchups (327.5 passing yards per game and a 7:0 touchdown-interception ratio), but improvements made by each defense compared to 2020 will lead to them having something to say about a shootout. For the Vikings, Patrick Peterson (hamstring) returned to practice to begin the week, and he’ll be tasked with trying to stop Davante Adams—who caught a whopping five touchdowns in the NFC North rivalry last season and will undoubtedly have a monster game with soon with less than 90 yards in each of the past four weeks (and just one score over that span) since his 206-yard explosion in Week 5. In the backfield, Green Bay will lean on AJ Dillon with Aaron Jones (knee) set to miss at least one or two games, and Minnesota needs to be prepared to tackle if they want to prevent him from going off. Perhaps the star power of the Vikings will allow Kirk Cousins to solve Joe Barry’s defense, but I’m not picking against the Packers based on their play on that side of the ball combined with Rodgers at quarterback.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
BAL (6-3) @ CHI (3-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Ravens have been extremely hot-and-cold this season (even mid-game), but maybe the stunning loss to Miami in Week 10 will turn out to be some sort of wake-up call for the entire team. Lamar Jackson not being sharp throwing against pressure is a definite concern right now, and I think Baltimore should get back to more of a run-heavy offense—which might be the case with Latavius Murray (ankle) looking set to return; then if the passing attack needs to be opened up when they fall behind (as has been the case in January), Jackson should have confidence banked based on the comebacks we’ve already seen this season. Justin Fields should also have confidence built up from his play prior to the bye, and this next week will make or break Chicago’s season, as they may need a sweep versus the Ravens and Lions (on Thanksgiving) to stay in playoff contention ahead of matchups against the Cardinals and Packers to begin December.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
CIN (5-4) @ LV (5-4) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
It likely wouldn’t have mattered because Las Vegas simply didn’t cover well at all to stop the Chiefs, but DeSean Jackson’s costly fumble on what should have been a touchdown to cut the lead to 24-21 early in the second half last week might have been the final blow to the Raiders’ season; like the aforementioned Bears, the five-day stretch into Thanksgiving—for a trip to Dallas—is huge for them in making sure that won’t be the case. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how good of a matchup the rested Bengals will be for them, as Darren Waller hasn’t been able to dominate since Jon Gruden resigned as the team’s head coach, and Cincinnati has a very athletic group of linebackers to match the superstar tight end. To win, I think the Raiders have to feed Josh Jacobs and hope the pass rush is able to get to Joe Burrow, but I have more faith in the Bengals featuring Joe Mixon and playing solid defense.
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
ARI (8-2) @ SEA (3-6) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Russell Wilson being shutout for the first time ever was a disappointing result following a triumphant return to the field, but there is still hope for a turnaround in Seattle—and it probably has to start on Sunday. Although I’m assuming Wilson will be much better as a passer this week, still not being quite himself might lead to taking matters into his own hands as a runner (he notably had 16 carries for 126 yards against Arizona in 2020), and even with Chris Carson (neck) still out indefinitely, Pete Carroll should also get back to the traditional ground game against an Arizona defense allowing a league-high 4.8 yards per carry. Having more balance would ideally take the pressure of D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett—both of whom are due for a huge game (Lockett went 15/200/3 in the first meeting last year), and cornerback arguably remains the weak spot for the Cardinals. Whether or not Kyler Murray (ankle) or DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring) is able to return, I’m going with the Seahawks at home as the more desperate team.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
DAL (7-2) @ KC (6-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Week 11 appears to be stacked with good games, but Cowboys-Chiefs is the headliner. Dallas—who I believe is finally for real after years of never buying into them as a serious contender—will get an opportunity to prove it again, while Kansas City wants to show they are undeniably “back” with another offensive explosion (which I’m personally not sold on). Big-time complementary weapons in Tony Pollard and Michael Gallup will stop the Chiefs from taking away any single player from Dak Prescott, and Amari Cooper could be in line for a breakout against a former rival he roasted for 11/210/2 line when they last faced in 2017 (excluding the rematch when he got injured). Basically, I have little doubts about Dallas putting up points, so the effectiveness of Kansas City’s offense—and whether or not Patrick Mahomes takes care of the ball—may be what decides the game. All it might take is one mistake from Mahomes to have Trevon Diggs take advantage and get the Cowboys one of their biggest wins in recent memory.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
PIT (5-3-1) @ LAC (5-4) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
I was sold on the Chargers when they funneled targets to Mike Williams at the beginning of the season, and his 31 receptions, 471 yards, and six touchdowns in the first five games helped fuel the 4-1 start for Los Angeles. However, the big-bodied wideout has seen his targets per game drop from 10.2 to 5.3 in four outings since then, and it’s no coincidence that LA went cold when they stopped featuring arguably their best offensive player (in general, I don’t know why this seems to be an issue with so many teams). The Steelers possibly being without Joe Haden (foot)—not to mention T.J. Watt (hip/knee) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (COVID-19)—would really limit their proven options at cornerback, so Sunday night is a spot where Williams needs double-digit opportunities, including the shorter targets we saw early in the season. On the Pittsburgh offense, Mason Rudolph again proved capable in place of Ben Roethlisberger (COVID-19), and it was funny to hear Mike Tomlin say the game plan doesn’t change with the backup under center because “it’s not like Mason runs a 4.4.” I expect a very close game and hope most of the stars in question can play for both sides, but I’ll lean towards Justin Herbert and the Chargers.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
NYG (3-6) @ TB (6-3) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ESPN2
The Buccaneers are clearly a different offense when Antonio Brown (ankle) and Rob Gronkowski (back) aren’t playing, and the defensive struggles compound those absences to make the defending Super Bowl champions vulnerable. That said, Tom Brady has still thrown for six touchdowns during the team’s two-game losing streak despite not playing close to his best football, and I’m sure he’ll be laser-focused for what might be his final opportunity to face the franchise that has beaten him twice in the Super Bowl. If New York’s emerging defense is unable to generate pressure to make TB12 uncomfortable, the offense will need to step up, and getting reinforcements with Saquon Barkley (ankle) and Andrew Thomas (ankle) would be a significant help for Daniel Jones. But in order to pull off the upset, I think the passing attack will have to be aggressive by testing Tampa Bay’s cornerbacks with Kenny Golladay and Darius Slayton downfield—opening up room for Kadarius Toney and Evan Engram to work underneath. Another close finish like last season (25-23 victory for the Bucs) wouldn’t be a surprise, but I’m not picking Brady to lose three in a row.
Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers