Over the last two weeks, the N.F.L.’s two remaining unbeaten teams each took a loss; the Chiefs were defeated with Patrick Mahomes under center; and the Saints were crushed at home. While not exactly resetting expectations, these losses certainly added some spice to a season that was turning stale.
This week those top teams will try to get back on track, and two of the best young quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson of the Ravens and Deshaun Watson of the Texans, will face off in a game that will probably outshine the rest of the slate, especially the underwhelming matchups scheduled for prime time.
Here is a look at N.F.L. Week 11, with all picks made against the point spread.
Sunday’s Best Games
Texans at Ravens,
The Ravens (7-2) proved their mettle in a win over New England, then got a chance to stretch their legs last week in an easy blowout of Cincinnati. Now they are being thrown right back into the fire — against the Texans (6-3), a team that mirrors Baltimore in some ways, yet looks far different in others.
Each team has a defense that generates turnovers, and each has a running game that absolutely wears out the opposition. More important, they each have a terrific young quarterback among the up-and-coming signal callers likely to take the reins of the game from Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson has drawn heaps of praise for his play this season — and rightly so — but Houston’s Deshaun Watson is a far more polished passer who can be just as exciting on any given play. Watson uses his speed and elusiveness to move around in the pocket and to allow plays to develop, almost like a right-handed Steve Young, and the upward trajectory of his three-season career just continues to chug along. He is currently on pace for career bests in completion percentage (70.2), passer rating (107.1), interception percentage (1.7), yards per game (270.2) and sack percentage (7.6).
If there is a notable weakness for these teams, it is pass defense; both have done far better against the run. Considering Watson’s distinct advantage as a passer, that could be the deciding factor in this game, or at the very least keep things incredibly close. Pick: Texans +4
Patriots at Eagles,
Going into Week 9, the Patriots (8-1) were being discussed as one of the best defensive teams in N.F.L. history. That may still be true, but Lamar Jackson did not seem impressed. Figuring out how to slow Baltimore’s unusual attack is something New England is likely to have on its mind as it prepares for the playoffs. But even if the Patriots’ sense of invincibility has been challenged, they are still a better team than the Eagles (5-4), who look like strong contenders some weeks and fall apart in others. The X-factor in this game, however, is motivation. New England is coasting, with a division title wrapped up and an undefeated season off the table, while Philadelphia is in a fierce fight for the N.F.C. East and can’t afford to make any mistakes, especially at home. That could lead to a surprising result. Pick: Eagles +3.5
Cardinals at 49ers,
It would be hard for the 49ers (8-1) to match the excitement of Monday night’s game, but after that one ended in a loss to Seattle, San Francisco might be perfectly O.K. with a quiet week. The loss called into question Jimmy Garoppolo’s readiness in high-pressure situations, but then again, maybe not: The Niners finished the game without their starting center, two best receivers and starting kicker (which proved relevant when Robbie Gould’s rookie fill-in, Chase McLaughlin, missed a potential game-winner from 47 yards in overtime).
The Cardinals (3-6-1) showed some moxie in a defeat against San Francisco two weeks ago, and Kyler Murray did not seem bothered by the 49ers’ top-notch pass rush or secondary. That’s not to say Arizona should expect an upset, but with George Kittle likely out for the 49ers, this game could be a lot closer than Las Vegas is predicting. Pick: Cardinals +10.5
Saints at Buccaneers,
Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas were all on the field at home against Atlanta, a team known for its poor defense, yet the Saints (7-2) were somehow held to 9 points. That their defense faltered as well is not surprising, or even relevant, as New Orleans is expected to occasionally struggle on that end. But watching the offense turn so inept was shocking. The Buccaneers (3-6) could be the cure for what ailed the Saints. Tampa Bay has allowed 31 points a game this season and has been particularly soft against the pass, allowing an N.F.L.-worst 298.9 yards a game. Pick: Saints -5.5
How Important Are This Week’s Games?
Sunday’s Other Games
Jaguars at Colts,
The return of Nick Foles, who has been out since Week 1 with a broken clavicle, has to create some mixed feelings for fans of the Jaguars (4-5). Yes, they are getting back a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who received a four-year contract with $50 million guaranteed in the off-season. Yes, the team has a losing record and its offense was designed with Foles in mind. Yes, the team’s receivers, and even its running backs, are likely to be excited about working with someone who has often played his best deep into the season.
But saying goodbye to Gardner Minshew is going to be a lot. A mustachioed superhero in jorts and aviators off the field, Minshew was, to be fair, something less than that on the field. He had highs and lows, and while he is coming off his worst performance, a sixth-round pick asked to start as a rookie should be commended for producing a .500 record in eight starts.
The Colts (5-4) have no such qualms about welcoming back a quarterback who was out with an injury. Jacoby Brissett has been terrific as an unexpected starter in Indianapolis, while Brian Hoyer, who filled in for him last week, was comically bad.
It’s impossible to say how the Jaguars will look with Foles back under center, but the smart money is on the home team. Pick: Colts
Cowboys at Lions,
The great unknown is whether Matthew Stafford will be able to play. He did not practice on Wednesday, though Coach Matt Patricia did not mention him as one of the team’s injured players in a media session. Stafford seems to be in a situation similar to last week’s; the team waited until the last second to decide. The stakes of the decision are high when you consider the fighting chance the Lions (3-5-1) would have with Stafford on the field versus the blowout that could commence if Jeff Driskel played in his place. The Cowboys (5-4) will simply worry about getting a win after letting one slip through their fingers on Sunday night. Pick: Cowboys
Bears at Rams,
If this were a video game, the Bears (4-5) and Rams (5-4) might simulate the rest of the season to get past their overwhelming disappointment. These were two of the best teams in the N.F.C. in 2018, with Los Angeles going to the Super Bowl and Chicago missing a chance to advance in the playoffs only because of a hilariously unlucky field-goal attempt. Now they are almost irrelevant: If the Rams win, The Upshot says, their chance of making the playoffs will be 28 percent, while the Bears can get up to only 10 percent by winning. A loss will essentially seal either team’s fate as an also-ran. The stakes might lead to a Rams win, but favoring them by nearly a touchdown is overestimating their recent value. Pick: Bears +6.5
Bills at Dolphins,
Calling the Dolphins (2-7) the hottest team in the A.F.C. East would be misleading, but they are the only team in that division on a two-game winning streak, so until Miami loses, New England will just have to play second fiddle. Are the Dolphins good, by any stretch of the imagination? No. Are the Bills (6-3) as good as their record suggests? Also no. When these teams played in Buffalo, the Bills won by 10, and another win this week is likely, but Miami’s home field advantage and its recent improvement shouldn’t be ignored. Pick: Dolphins +6
Falcons at Panthers,
The Falcons (2-7) deserve credit for making it clear that anything can happen in the N.F.L. An underwhelming (and sometimes horrible) team on both sides of the ball for most of the season, Atlanta marched into New Orleans and obliterated the Saints in the biggest upset of the season. The Panthers (5-4) are nowhere near as good as the Saints, and expecting consistency out of Atlanta is risky. But Brian Hill — a fill-in at running back for the injured Devonta Freeman — should find plenty of room to run against Carolina’s sieve of a defensive front, and quarterback Matt Ryan just might be able to make enough plays to keep this game close or engineer a second straight upset. Pick: Falcons +5.5
Bengals at Raiders,
The Raiders (5-4) are coming off an emotional win in prime time against a division rival and have to be happy with their offensive play. Running back Josh Jacobs has established himself as a terrific find, and Derek Carr is leading a unit that has scored at least 24 points in six consecutive games. That streak should hit seven against the lowly Bengals (0-9), and Oakland should win at home, but there should be some heavy skepticism about a double-digit point spread. Pick: Bengals +10.5
Jets at Redskins,
The Jets (2-7) are playing in a game with no stakes on either side for a second consecutive week, and beyond the job security of Coach Adam Gase and the development of Washington’s rookie quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, there is little reason to watch. While neither team is going anywhere, the Redskins (1-8) have consistently been worse, and a rookie quarterback’s having to deal with Jamal Adams is not fair. Pick: Jets +2.5
Chiefs at Chargers,
It should be easy enough for the Chiefs (6-4) to write off last week’s loss as a fluke, especially given how well Patrick Mahomes played in his return from a knee injury. The concern is that Kansas City has now lost winnable games at home to Tennessee and Indianapolis, with no key injuries to blame for either letdown.
The Chargers (4-6) are coming off a truly ugly loss to Oakland, and they have to be shaken by their passing game. The good news for Los Angeles is that it is playing at home against Kansas City, which allows 148.1 yards on the ground (31st in the league). So this is an ideal game to put the ball in the hands of Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, hoping they will chew up the clock (while keeping Mahomes off the field.)
This should be a close game, and Kansas City is fairly likely to win, but the Chargers just might pull off an upset. Pick: Chargers +3.5
With the expectation that Pittsburgh’s defense would generate some turnovers against Cleveland, we picked Steelers +3. Instead it was Mason Rudolph of the Steelers who faltered, throwing four interceptions in a 21-7 loss. It was a big win for the Browns, but things turned remarkably ugly toward the end when a fight on the field resulted in Cleveland’s Myles Garrett using Rudolph’s helmet as a weapon, slamming it into the quarterback’s head. Cleveland’s quarterback, Baker Mayfield, called the incident “inexcusable.”
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Saints -5.5, for example, means that New Orleans must beat the Buccaneers by at least six points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
The post N.F.L. Week 11 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread appeared first on New York Times.