Another Thursday loss means another uphill climb come Sunday for me. Bengals-Ravens highlights Week 11, as does Part 6 of the Jay Cutler-Philip Rivers saga. The Packers’ chase for perfection collides with the reeling Bucs, while the Colts jaunt towards imperfection takes a hiatus with a much-needed bye.
Last week: 6-10
Buffalo at Miami (-1)
Analysis: Does anybody want more redemption in this game than Dan Carpenter? The normally-reliable Dolphins kicker missed a career-high four field goals in last season’s home meeting with the Bills, as the Dolphins dropped a 17-14 decision to 3-10 Buffalo. Miami is just 2-12 in its last 14 home games including that Bills loss last December, but is riding a two-game winning streak after an 0-7 start. The wheels are starting to come off for Buffalo, as they have been blasted to the tune of 71-18 the past two weeks by the Jets and Cowboys. Finally playing with a little confidence and feeling relaxed and not having to deal with any more 0-16/Andrew Luck talk, the Dolphins and Bills should continue heading in their opposite directions. The pick: Dolphins.
Carolina at Detroit (-7)
Analysis: The Lions have not been 7-3 since 1993, but what better team to face than the Panthers, losers of 11 straight on the road and blown out 30-3 by the Titans a week ago in Charlotte. The Lions also suffered a blowout loss to the Bears and need to bounce back after falling into a second-place tie in the NFC North with Chicago. Detroit has lost its past two home games, falling in close contests to San Francisco and Atlanta, and they are hampered by the lack of a consistent running game. They could pressure Cam Newton into some mistakes and should pull out the win, but with a short week and a showdown with the unbeaten Packers looming, this one might be a squeaker. These teams have met just once at Ford Field, in 2005 when Chris Weinke relieved an injured Jake Delhomme and rallied the Panthers to a touchdown in the final seconds to pull out a 21-20 victory. The pick: Panthers.
Cincinnati at Baltimore (-7)
Analysis: Good thing Cincinnati is a good team, otherwise the Ravens might lower their standards again. Baltimore once again came off an impressive win over an elite team and rolled over for a bottom-feeder, falling 22-17 to the Seahawks in an inexcusable road performance. They are back home now, where they are 23-5 under John Harbaugh, and will face a Bengals team brought back to earth by the Steelers last week. Both teams desperately need a win here, and the Ravens seem to only respond when the stakes are high. This could be a spot for them to answer their critics with authority, even if it figures to be a grind against a team that has won three of the past four meetings in this series. But with a rookie quarterback under center and a short week looming, the Ravens should rise to the occasion and end their mini-hex against the Bengals. It doesn’t figure to be easy, but the defense could actually provide the necessary scoring margin to cover the points. I’m talking about you, Ed Reed. The pick: Ravens.
Dallas (-9) at Washington
Analysis: The Cowboys and Redskins are two teams heading in opposite directions, but this series always provides nail-biters. Six of the last seven meetings have been decided by four points or less, including an 18-16 Dallas squeaker in Week 3. Washington upended their chief rivals at home in last year’s Sunday night opener, 13-7, and won’t roll over despite losing five in a row. Dallas needs to make a move in the NFC East, and this should be the spot, but as always the Skins don’t figure to make it easy. The pick: Redskins.
Jacksonville at Cleveland (pick)
Analysis: There aren’t many teams the Browns can say they’ve had some long-term success against, but the Jags are one of them. Cleveland is 4-3 in the past seven meetings between the clubs, both whom feature young quarterbacks, poor offenses, and middle-of-the-pack defenses. So something has to give in this battle of 3-6 also-rans, and it should be the Jags, who were fortunate to escape the CFL-caliber Colts last week. The Browns didn’t fare much better in kicking away their chances against the Rams, but with no other real logic to base this tepid affair on, the Browns are simply due for a solid home performance. The pick: Browns.
Oakland (-1) Minnesota
Analysis: Carson Palmer finally looked comfortable in a Raiders uniform in last Thursday’s win over San Diego, and now gets to face a reeling Vikings squad that has lost 17 of 25 games since the start of the 2010 season. Christian Ponder has shown occasional flashes, but the reeling Vikings may not have an answer for Oakland’s ground game in this one. The Raiders have had extra time to rest for this one, while the Vikings left Lambeau Field Monday night with their collective tails between their legs. This short turnaround doesn’t figure to be pretty for Minnesota. The pick: Raiders.
Tampa Bay at Green Bay (-14)
Analysis: It’s always hard to pick a team with a big number in a potential trap spot, but then again how can you pick against the Packers in any capacity this year? The Cheeseheads have won 15 straight and have not lost a game Aaron Rodgers has played from start to finish since last November. The Bucs are sliding fast, having been outscored 75-19 in their last two road games and losing 37-9 at home to Houston last week. With no running game to take the pressure off Josh Freeman, last year’s surprise team in the NFC is really up against it. With the Packers facing a short turnaround and Thanksgiving trip to Detroit, they always could be caught napping, but they are good enough to roll teams even when they aren’t at their sharpest. The pick: Packers.
Arizona at San Francisco (-9.5)
Analysis: There are few guarantees this early in a football season, but here are two: The 49ers will win the NFC West by a landslide, and Jim Harbaugh will be named NFL Coach of the Year. But the Cardinals aren’t about to throw the 49ers a celebratory parade just yet. They have won two straight behind John Skelton and would love nothing more than to get a little redemption for two blowout losses a year ago to San Francisco. Could the Niners be caught looking ahead to the Harbaugh Bowl on a short week? Arizona might be in position to make more of a game of this than people expect, even if they can’t pull out the win. The pick: Cardinals.
Seattle at St. Louis (-1)
Analysis: A battle of red-hot NFC West teams here. Both the Hawks and Rams have won one in a row (St. Louis has won two of three!), and now they clash for a shot to avoid last place in the division. Sam Bradford and the Rams offense have been anemic, scoring more than 16 points just once this year. But St. Louis should take this one personally, as it was the Seahawks who ousted them in Week 17 and denied them a shot at the playoffs in January. Steven Jackson and Marshawn Lynch are really the only reason to care about this one, but the Rams may have a little more of an edge after Seattle could be riding a little too high after their Ravens upset a week ago. The pick: Rams.
San Diego at Chicago (-3.5)
Analysis: Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers aren’t exactly the best of friends, but Cutler is just 1-4 in five career starts against Rivers’ Bolts. San Diego is on its first four-game losing streak since beginning the 2003 season 0-5, which is also the last time these teams met at Soldier Field. Doug Flutie replaced an ineffective Drew Brees (almost doesn’t sound believable) in a 20-7 Chicago win. The Bears are on a roll and are getting the slumping Chargers at just the right time. Chicago has won four straight, but could the San Diego hex get to Cutler again? Sometimes a mediocre team playing in desperation mode is dangerous, and the Chargers could fit that bill. They are by no means a championship-caliber team, yet they are the type of team that seems to thrive when people count them out. The Bears still figure to have a slight edge in this one, but San Diego won’t make it easy. The pick: Chargers.
Tennessee at Atlanta (-6)
Analysis: It was the stop heard round the world. Mike Smith’s awful decision to go for it on 4th-and-inches from his own 29 in overtime may have cost his team a shot at winning the NFC South last week against the Saints, and now needs to recover in a hurry against a Tennessee team that coasted last week as Chris Johnson finally looked like his old self. Atlanta, like the Chargers, always seems to find a way to fail in big games, and the Titans need to pounce on this opportunity to gain a half-game on the idle Texans in the AFC South. The Titans have won all three meetings between these teams since relocating to Nashville. The pick: Titans.
Philadelphia at New York Giants (-4.5)
Analysis: DeSean Jackson broke the Giants’ hearts and playoff chances with his game-winning punt return at the gun last year in New Jersey, but with Vince Young likely getting the call, the Eagles could be the ones getting a nail in their coffin this time around. Big Blue ended a 6-game losing streak to Philly in Week 3, 29-16, and needs a bounce-back game to keep their one-game lead in the NFC East. I expect the Eagles to fight hard in what’s been an overly disappointing year, but the Giants are getting the wounded Birds at just the right time and should have enough to avoid a letdown. They certainly know that is possible against Young, who is 2-0 lifetime against them, including a 21-point comeback in 2006. The pick: Giants.
Kansas City at New England (-14.5)
Analysis: Talk about a lock. The Pats have not had a trademark dominant win at home this year, but they are coming off a 21-point win over the Jets last Sunday night and are now in commanding lead of the tepid AFC East once again. Tyler Palko will make his first NFL start, starting a chain reaction as the Patriots will face nothing but mediocre-to-poor signal-callers the rest of the way. The Chiefs allowed just two completions to Tim Tebow and the Broncos last week and yet lost at home, 17-10, and frankly they will be lucky to be in the game after the first quarter in this one. The pick: Patriots.
Upset of the Week: TITANS over FALCONS. Atlanta should not be a 6-point favorite, as they have yet to live up to expectations following a 13-3 season. I have been hard on Tennessee this year but if Chris Johnson is back to his old ways, they have a real shot to be a playoff team in the AFC. Michael Turner just never seems to get untracked the way he needs to for the Falcons.
New York Jets (-6) at Denver
a brutal time for the Jets to have to go play a Thursday night game on the
road. An ugly home loss to the hated-rival Patriots and subsequent quick
turnaround means less time to devise a scheme to slow the Broncos’
bizarre-but-effective new offense. Tim Tebow led the Broncos to a 17-10 win at
Kansas City last Sunday despite completing just two passes, and now gets to
face a Jets defense reeling a bit after their Sunday night meltdown against New
England. Still, the Broncos don’t pose enough of a big-play threat to strike
fear into Rex Ryan’s defense, and Denver is facing some injury concerns at
running back with Knowshon Moreno (torn ACL, out for the season) and Willis
McGahee (hamstring, questionable), meaning Lance Ball could make his first
career start. Gang Green escaped with a 24-20 win Denver last October and needs
to get off to a fast start in this one after their division-title hopes took a
major hit against the Pats. A common trend this season has been teams’ ability
to shake off tough losses, and the Broncos may be hard-pressed to keep this
mini-roll going. They have not won three straight since they began 6-0 in 2009. The