Ten weeks into the season, all six playoff spots in the NFC have essentially been settled (barring catastrophic injury), with Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay, and Atlanta all praying for said catastrophe. Assuming Seattle, Carolina, New Orleans, Minnesota, or the Rams suffers a key injury, the four aforementioned teams will have to finish 5-2 to take advantage.
As crappy as Dallas looked last week, their chances are as good as anybody’s for that sixth spot. They play their next three games at home, then will get Ezekiel Elliott back for the final two games of the season, against Seattle and at Philadelphia. I don’t think they can pull 5-2 off, especially if Tyron Smith remains on the sidelines, but it wouldn’t completely surprise me if they went 3-2 over their next five games, beat Seattle with a fresh Ezekiel Elliott, then beat Philadelphia in a game that might not mean anything to the Eagles.
The Lions only have two teams remaining on their schedule who currently have a winning record, and they’ve already beaten both of them this year (Packers, Vikings). Between now and December 31, 5-2 is totally possible.
The Packers ended a post-collarbone three game losing streak last week by beating the Bears, 23-16. However, even if Brett Hundley develops chemistry with his receiving corps down the home stretch, the Packers schedule is not favorable. They have road games in Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Detroit, and a home game against the Vikings. They’re pretty much toast.
The defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons were impressive last week versus a Dallas team missing their starting left tackle and starting RB (both among the very best in the league at their respective positions), but 5 of their remaining 7 games are against NFC teams who are prohibitive post-season favorites already. I just can’t see them pulling it off.
Who might stumble? The Achilles injury to Seahawks CB Richard Sherman makes them a most likely suspect, especially combined with the fact that they are a team that relies on a strong defense, but lack the sturdy running game to compliment it. The Seahawks remaining schedule is no cakewalk, but a 4-3 finish will land them at 10-6, which will probably be all they need, though I can see the table being set for a do-or-die game against Dallas on Christmas Eve.
The AFC is a lot simpler. The Patriots, Steelers, and Chiefs have pretty much wrapped up their respective divisions, and the Titans and Jaguars are currently tied atop the AFC South. But the Jaguars look like a significantly better team, and they have a much easier remaining schedule. Assuming Jacksonville prevails, the Titans will join the Bills and Ravens as potential fodder for someone on wild card weekend. And there’s also a dark horse in this race.
The Bills have a challenging three weeks ahead of them, with games at San Diego and Kansas City before they host the Patriots, and they aren’t making things any easier on themselves by benching Tyrod Taylor in favor of rookie QB Nathan Peterman. But if they can even win one of those games, their schedule heavily favors them winning 3 of their final 4 games of the season, which would land them at 9-7 and perhaps end their almost 20 year playoff drought. A lot depends on how they perform against the Patriots, whom they still play twice, but honestly, the move they made at QB this week makes it seem like they don’t even want to break their playoff drought.
The Ravens are only 4-5, and appear to be a long shot, but they only face two quality opponents the rest of the year, and have a very good defense. If they lose this Sunday in Green Bay, you can cross them off the list. If they win this Sunday, they still have the Lions and Steelers on their schedule, but everyone else is pretty crappy. So 9-7 is not out of the question, unless they lose this week.
“What about the Raiders,” you ask, “they’re 4-5, too.” The Raiders have an exceedingly difficult schedule the rest of the way, they will be lucky to finish 8-8.
The Chargers are 3-6. How can they contend for the wild card? They’ll host a Bills team that inexplicably replaced Tyrod Taylor at QB with Nathan Peterman, and if they win that, they’ll go to Dallas to play a Cowboys team that will be coming off a Sunday NIGHT game against the Eagles, which they will probably lose if Tyron Smith doesn’t play. A few years ago Dallas played a Sunday night before a Thanksgiving game, they played extremely poorly on turkey day, and afterward there were complaints about the scheduling. If the Chargers can win their next two games, then they play the Browns, which would leave them at 6-6 with their remaining four games being: Washington, at Kansas City, at Jets, Oakland. Could they finish 9-7 and gain a wild card? Totally possible.
The upshot of all this for the AFC is there will be a pair of really poor wild card teams who will pose zero threat to their opponents on wild card weekend.
The Saints racked up nearly 300 yards on the ground in Buffalo against a tough defense, with Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara both gaining over 100 yards. Ingram racked up 131 yards on 21 carries, and scored 3 times to wrap up this award. This was a signature win for the most complete team in the league, and it was powered by Ingram’s punishing running style.
Atlanta Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn simply abused Tyron Smith’s replacement at left tackle, Chaz Green, and recorded 6 sacks and 8 QB hits in the Falcons 27-7 destruction of the Cowboys. Clayborn fell one sack short of the NFL record, set by Chiefs LB Derrick Thomas back in 1990.
It would be easy to give this award to Chaz Green, as he certainly had the single worst performance of anyone in the NFL last Sunday, but Chargers CB Tre Boston nailed this down via his selfish actions late in the Chargers 20-17 OT loss in Jacksonville. Trailing 17-14 with less than two minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, Jaguars WR Marqise Lee was called for a taunting penalty against Boston. On the next play, Boston picked off Blake Bortles while covering Lee, and instead of advancing the ball up field, he chose to waive the ball at Lee for a little payback, or as the Germans call it, schadenfreude. As a result, he stepped out of bounds on his own 10 yard line, the Jaguars used all 3 of their time outs to force a punt, and got possession near midfield with about a minute left on the clock. The Jaguars marched deep into Chargers territory, and kicked a game-tying field goal with 00:03 on the clock. The Jaguars then went on to win the game in OT. The Chargers are now 3-6, when they could’ve wrapped this up if Boston had his head screwed on straight and they’d be 4-5. If we can’t take pleasure in the misfortune of Tre Boston last Sunday, whose misfortune can we take pleasure in?
With Marshawn Lynch enjoying the bye week, we are left to reflect on the performance of both Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore. Peterson had one of the toughest days of his career in a loss to Seattle, gaining only 29 yards on 21 carries. Colts RB Frank Gore followed his week 9 stat line of 17-51-0 with a much improved 17-54-0 performance. In other words, these two geezers combined for 75 yards on 46 carries. You do the math.
Week 11 Picks
Tennesee (6-3) +7 at PITTSBURGH (7-2)
When I saw this game on the schedule, I thought, “I need more than 7 to take the Titans,” but I suppose 7 is enough. I don’t think they’ll win, but it should be competitive.
Detroit (5-4) -3 at CHICAGO (3-6)
If the spread was half a point more, I’d be taking the Bears. And as uneasy as I am about the Laws Of Parity implications, I think Detroit wins and begins to make their push for the post-season.
Kansas City (6-3) -10.5 at NEW YORK GIANTS (1-8)
At some point, a team is going to look past the Giants on the same week the Giants find enough personal pride to put forth a manly effort, but this isn’t that week. The Giants have a hard time keeping tight ends out of the end zone, and Travis Kelce’s nose for the end zone is as good as anybody’s. Plus the Chiefs have lost 3 of their last 4, they are due for a big win to make people believe they are as good as everyone thought they were a month ago. Look for them to run on all cylinders on offense, with Kareem Hunt having a big game.
Tampa Bay (3-6) +1 at MIAMI (4-5)
This is a prototype Laws Of Parity game; neither team is any good, but one of them has a record that doesn’t really indicate how bad they are. Plus the road team with the inferior record doesn’t need to travel far for the game. Both of these teams will be 4-6 by the end of the day Sunday.
Baltimore (4-5) -2 at GREEN BAY (5-4)
This is a tough one. Originally, I figured I’d just take the points no matter who got them, but the Ravens defense is one of the best in the league, and I like them facing a rookie QB, even on the road.
Los Angeles Rams (7-2) +2.5 at MINNESOTA (7-2)
Best game of the week, I’m just taking the points.
HOUSTON (3-6) -1 vs Arizona (4-5)
I haven’t picked a single home team yet. Is it any wonder I’m 20 games under .500?
Jacksonville (6-3) -7.5 at CLEVELAND (0-9)
I’d need 14 points to take the Browns.
Washington (4-5) +7.5 at NEW ORLEANS (7-2)
I’m all about that last half point.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (3-6) -4 vs Buffalo (5-4)
Nathan Peterson? Really?
Cincinnati (3-6) +2.5 at DENVER (3-6)
There should be a lot of really poor QB play in this game. Why am I taking he road team? I think the Broncos have given up.
OAKLAND (Mexico) (4-5) +7 vs New England (7-2)
I don’t think the Raiders can win this, but I do think they can make it close.
Philadelphia (8-1) -4 at DALLAS (5-4)
It doesn’t look like Tyron Smith is playing this weekend, so it doesn’t look like the Cowboys are winning. And the fact that this game is on Sunday night is awful scheduling for the Cowboys, who will play again less than 90 hour after this game ends.
SEATTLE (6-3) -3 vs Atlanta (5-4)
One of these teams is going to the playoffs, the other one isn’t.
Last week: 6-7-1