PIT (5-4) @ CLE (3-6) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Prime
Even when they were 1-4, I was adamant that Pittsburgh shouldn’t be counted out of the AFC playoff race, and Mike Tomlin’s squad has rattled off four wins in a row to position themselves for the second wild card spot entering Week 11. Defense is the big reason why the Steelers have been able to turn things around, so everyone critical of the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade is looking pretty foolish right now, as the former first-round pick looks like a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate with multiple game-changing plays for his new team. Tonight, the Browns will present a challenge because of all the playmakers they have on offense—especially with Kareem Hunt (nine targets on 54% of the snaps played) sharing the field with Nick Chubb, which is something I admittedly didn’t think Freddie Kitchens would be able to accomplish. The play-calling was horrendous in short-yardage situations, though, and Cleveland still might lack the physicality needed in the trenches to match Pittsburgh. Also, while I expect Odell Beckham Jr. to have a productive night, it’ll be interesting to see how an aggressive, hard-hitting defense affects him on in-breaking routes if he doesn’t fully trust Baker Mayfield. Picking up a road win against a confident team will be difficult, but this could be a game where the offensive stars for the Steelers (James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster) lead the way.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
ATL (2-7) @ CAR (5-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Falcons came out of the bye looking like the Super Bowl contender we thought they would be in 2019, and even if the playoffs are too much of a longshot at this point, there is reason to be encouraged about their chances of successfully playing spoiler down the stretch. This week, not having Devonta Freeman (foot) or Austin Hooper (knee) is significant, but Matt Ryan obviously has high-end firepower at receiver with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley—both of whom have given Carolina problems in the past. Plus, Brian Hill is a capable back that should be able to run on a Panthers defense that is surrendering the most yards per carry (5.2) in the league, and on defense, the pass rush for Atlanta came alive in Week 10 by sacking Drew Brees six times (they had seven sacks all season entering the game). It ultimately came in a losing effort, but Carolina also impressed last week by nearly upsetting the Packers in Green Bay, and Kyle Allen’s toughness should have everyone in the locker room believing in him as the starter if they didn’t already. This weekend, I expect both quarterbacks will play well, but the Falcons should come out on top if Christian McCaffrey doesn’t go completely wild as a runner and receiver.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
DAL (5-4) @ DET (3-5-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Sunday cannot be classified “must-win” for the division-leading Cowboys, but based on their upcoming schedule (@ NE, v BUF, @ CHI, v LAR, @ PHI), Jason Garrett better have his guys ready to play against the Lions. On the surface, losing to a 7-3 Vikings team isn’t exactly something to be overly disappointed about, but the way Dallas lost—not calling a play for Amari Cooper or one of the other receivers with the game on the line when they dominated all night—seemed to be demoralizing for Jerry Jones, who made it a point to praise Mike Zimmer multiple times after the game. As stated before the Sunday Night Football victory over the Eagles last month, the Cowboys have come through when the pressure is on Garrett in the past, and the team surely knows what a loss would mean because of their upcoming schedule compared to Philadelphia’s. I’m not sure taking the ball out of Dak Prescott’s hands too much will give Dallas their best chance to win long term, but this weekend sets up for Ezekiel Elliott to impose his will on the road, and the Detroit has been spiraling with or without Matthew Stafford (back) in the lineup. Dallas simply needs to take care of business this week.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
JAX (4-5) @ IND (5-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
If the Jaguars end up making the playoffs this year, Gardner Minshew deserves a ton of credit for keeping the team afloat after Nick Foles went down in the opener, but it’s now time for the former Super Bowl MVP—and one of the great leaders in the NFL—to attempt to orchestrate another late-season run. I’m interested to see if offensive coordinator John DeFilippo wants to open up the passing game after nine games of featuring Leonard Fournette (he’s on a 370-touch pace), but even if the pass attempts are relatively low, I expect Foles to be aggressive with his young, athletic receiving corps. In two career games against the Colts, Fournette has been limited to 44 carries for 110 yards (2.5 YPC), but Blake Bortles had success in both of those meetings (including 320 yards and two touchdowns last season), so Indy could get burnt if they try loading the box against a more capable passer in Foles. On the other side of the ball, the Jags defensive line has proven they can go toe-to-toe with the Colts up front, and that will once again be a crucial matchup in this AFC South clash. Right now, I trust Foles and his weapons more than Jacoby Brissett and his with T.Y. Hilton (calf) likely to miss another game.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
BUF (6-3) @ MIA (2-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Bills played too conservatively down the stretch in last week’s loss to Cleveland, but if there’s a silver lining in the defeat, it’s that the coaching staff told the team to play “fearless” this week—which could mean we see the rookie version of Josh Allen (when he averaged 7.1 yards per carry on the season and rushed for 115.0 yards per game against Miami). Allen isn’t perfect, but his unique play style and ability as a runner makes him a nightmare for opponents, and it was funny to hear what Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said about Buffalo’s quarterback and the challenge of defending him. We’ll see what happens on Sunday, but playing fearless for Allen could also mean more downfield throws, and I’d like to see Robert Foster (six targets all season) be used as a full-time player across from John Brown to give Buffalo a high-upside bomb squad on offense to pair with the stingy defense. Miami won’t be overlooked after two wins in a row, but the Bills need to be ready for a fight similar to what Ryan Fitzpatrick put up in Week 7.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
HOU (6-3) @ BAL (7-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
A potential playoff preview, Texans-Ravens is easily the game of the week, and the quarterback battle should live up to the hype based on how phenomenal Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson have been this season. I wish there was an easy way to compile all the prospect rankings by the media from previous years to see how the quarterbacks were truly viewed coming out of college (because now everyone claims they loved both guys), but I don’t think any site/personality was as high on the MVP candidates as we were (I had Watson as my No. 2 overall player in 2017 and Jackson as my No. 9 overall player in 2018; and we had an entire article dedicated to why Watson was worthy of the top pick). Nonetheless, everyone can enjoy both players this weekend, and I have a feeling the game will be decided by whichever quarterback is able to make a highlight play in the fourth quarter. The bye week should do the Texans good as they attempt to find a way to contain Jackson and the dynamic ground game, but winning in Baltimore won’t be easy, and Marquise Brown will be a tough cover for a defense that’s struggled to cover on the backend. I think the Ravens have a better overall team.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
DEN (3-6) @ MIN (7-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I didn’t have faith in the Vikings to beat the Cowboys in primetime last week, but they came out with a game plan to stop Ezekiel Elliott and feed Dalvin Cook, so the players deserve credit for executing it to improve to 7-3. A letdown is certainly possible this week against a Denver team that is a) coming off the bye, and b) has played stout defense in recent weeks, but being at home should keep Minnesota from sleepwalking before their own bye, and this is a spot where the secondary can hopefully come together by forcing Brandon Allen into mistakes after a surprisingly effective NFL debut. Fortunately for Minnesota, Trae Waynes (ankle) is expected to suit up at left cornerback, but just like last week, the priority needs to be stopping the run. Right now, the Broncos might not have the pieces on the offensive line to become an elite unit, but offensive line coach Mike Munchak should have the starters playing better with extra time to prepare, and before Week 10, the Vikings had allowed 80+ rushing yards in four consecutive games. As long as they don’t turn the ball over, Minnesota should come out on top.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
NYJ (2-7) @ WAS (1-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
No one seems to agree, but the Jets are making the right move by keeping Adam Gase for 2020, as he’s coaching a roster that’s absolutely devoid of talent, and it’s important to get Sam Darnold some continuity early in his career. Plus, announcing that Gase would be back this early should lead to a strong finish in 2019 if only because the players should be focused knowing the effort they show on the field and in the meeting room will be remembered next season. As for this year’s roster, the biggest hole is clearly at cornerback, but Sunday’s rookie opponent (Dwayne Haskins) probably isn’t as capable at this stage of his development compared to last week’s rookie opponent (Daniel Jones), so Gregg Williams’ unit may be able to create sacks, fumbles, and interceptions to jump out to an early lead on the road. Of course, the Redskins want to run the ball to avoid mistakes, so Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice—in his first action since the opener—will hope to take the air out of the ball as a thunder-thunder duo. We should also see Guice get the ball in space via screens and short passes to see if that’s something he can handle in the future. New York would be 3-1 against the NFC East this season if they win in Week 11.
Winner: New York Jets
NO (7-2) @ TB (3-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Marshon Lattimore (hamstring) is a huge loss for New Orleans heading into a matchup against Mike Evans and the Buccaneers, so the offense needs to quickly figure things out to avoid another divisional upset. It’s notable that Tampa Bay has split the season series versus the Saints in each of the past four years, and Drew Brees’ struggles on the road are particularly concerning (1-2 record with a 2:3 touchdown-interception at Raymond James Stadium since 2016) for a team that could fall behind all three of San Francisco, Green Bay, and Seattle in the race for a first-round bye with another slipup. All that said, Jameis Winston has tossed nine interceptions in four games since the last meeting with New Orleans, and Lattimore not being out might actually lead to him making poor decisions by forcing the ball to Evans in double coverage (which I expect he’ll see) instead of targeting Chris Godwin and/or O.J. Howard. Assuming the offensive line holds up in pass protection, the Saints should be able to avoid their second loss in a row.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
ARI (3-6-1) @ SF (8-1) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
The Cardinals nearly upset the 49ers on Halloween just two weeks ago, but there are a few factors that could make the rematch slant in San Francisco’s favor. First of all, Robert Salah’s defense will have had a normal week of preparation to stop Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, which wasn’t the case for a Thursday Night Football game. Also, much of what Arizona was able to do offensively was centered around Kenyan Drake, and I’m sure the Niners took the success he had personally. Finally, this weekend’s game will be played at Candlestick Park behind a fanbase that was surprisingly rowdy on Monday night. Perhaps the injuries to George Kittle (knee, ankle), Emmanuel Sanders (ribs), Matt Breida (ankle), and others will allow the Cardinals to do what they couldn’t in Week 9, but I think Sunday is going to be about the San Francisco defense. To win, Arizona needs to find more ways to get Christian Kirk (eight yards in the first meeting) the ball, and Patrick Peterson will need to play a lot better than he did previously.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
CIN (0-9) @ OAK (5-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
I highly doubt the Raiders lose to the winless Bengals at the Black Hole:
The @Raiders fans love Chucky and he loves them!
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 8, 2019
Winner: Oakland Raiders
NE (8-1) @ PHI (5-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
Patriots-Eagles has become somewhat of an interconference rivalry with two Super Bowl matchups in the past 15 years and a couple of regular season thrillers mixed in, but Philadelphia could have a difficult time pulling out a win this weekend in large part due to injuries. DeSean Jackson (abdomen) obviously won’t play, and the offense may also be without Alshon Jeffery (ankle) and Darren Sproles (quad)—leaving the weapons dangerously thin for Carson Wentz in a game that he may be pressing to win. Ideally, Jeffery will suit up to at least occupy Stephon Gilmore as a decoy, but either way, Nelson Agholor needs to be a featured target for Doug Pederson’s offense like he was in Super Bowl LII when he caught nine passes for 84 yards and converted six first downs (including three plays in a row on the game-winning drive). Besides Agholor and the usual suspects—Zach Ertz and to a lesser extent Jordan Howard—Philly should try to create mismatches with Miles Sanders and Dallas Goedert against a defense that will try to take away Wentz’s preferred target(s). If the Eagles can’t dominate up front, it could be a long day with Tom Brady staying clean and comfortably distributing the ball to his playmakers.
Winner: New England Patriots
CHI (4-5) @ LAR (5-4) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
The scoring in last season’s matchup between the Bears and Rams featured four field goals, a safety, and an offensive lineman catching a touchdown—and we could have another slugfest based on how the offenses have performed in 2019. The biggest problem for the Rams right now is that they are struggling to protect Jared Goff, and not having Brandin Cooks (concussion) to stretch the field is making things really difficult on Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods in the short/intermediate passing game. Also, while I’m a big fan of Sean McVay, you could argue that he hasn’t been at his best this year due to the inability to adjust his scheme to a flawed roster, and if Todd Gurley is truly healthy, there is no excuse for him handling 13.0 rushing attempts and 3.5 targets per game; last week, the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year rushed for 6.1 yards per carry, but saw just 12 attempts and zero touches in the fourth quarter of a close loss. Chicago’s issues—even coming off a win—are more concerning to me, though, but maybe they will be able to build on last week’s showing by letting Mitchell Trubisky throw downfield more. If Allen Robinson draws shadow coverage from Jalen Ramsey and David Montgomery (ankle) is less than 100% or doesn’t play, look for Trubisky to play through Tarik Cohen, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller. As currently constructed, the Bears have a more capable team, but I trust McVay and Goff in what could be a de facto elimination game in a top-heavy NFC.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
KC (6-4) @ LAC (4-6) | MON 8:15 PM ET (in Mexico City) | ESPN
Most football fans likely remember the primetime thriller between the Chiefs and Chargers last December, and we should see another great game on Monday night in Mexico City. If you forgot, Mike Williams went off with three touchdowns and the game-winning two-point conversion in a 29-28 victory for Los Angeles, and they didn’t even have Melvin Gordon or Keenan Allen—the latter of whom left early before catching a pass—so it will be fun to watch the rematch with everyone at full strength. For the Chiefs, their standout offensive performer was Damien Williams (16 touches for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the loss), and if you were in hibernation for 11 months since then to awaken just in time for this week’s action, you’d assume nothing changed with Andy Reid going back to what worked down the stretch in 2018 (i.e. featuring Williams). For what it’s worth, the Chargers have really contained Travis Kelce over the years, as he’s yet to find the end zone in ten career matchups, so we’ll see if things change on an offense that is more loaded than ever thanks to speedster Mecole Hardman’s presence behind Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. I think Melvin Gordon will have a big night against a shaky run defense, but the end result of a shootout may be in Kansas City’s favor this time.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs