USA Today Sports

Everything you need to know about Week 11 in the NFL

November 19, 2018 - 4:59 am


The following was written between the hours of midnight and 4:30 AM following a weekend in which I found myself at the crossroads of caffeine and technology-induced frustration in an attempt to get the new WEEI studio up and running. And by that I mean the engineers have been working around the clock to get everything working and I simply produced a couple shows. Shout out to the WEEI engineers for all their hard work during the move.

Here’s everything you need to know about Week 11 in the NFL:

BYE WEEK: Bills, Dolphins, Patriots, Jets, 49ers, Browns (although Cleveland turned in the top performance of the week after what Adam Schefter reported Sunday morning).

TNF: Seahawks 27, Packers 24

As each week passes it’s becoming more and more clear that Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to save Mike McCarthy’s job. It’s not that Rodgers is intentionally losing games, as much as the 4th-and-2, fourth quarter pass Rodgers sent straight into the dirt looked extremely calculated. Everyone caught up in the futile Brady vs. Rodgers great debate of 2018 and uses one’s performance this season to prop up the other fails to point out that the lack of chemistry between Brady and his receivers is exactly the situation with Rodgers. Multiple Rodgers passes in this game floated to seemingly nothing or seemed way too off target, as receivers aren’t in the places Rodgers expects them to be. As Brady doesn’t have Danny Amendola Rodgers doesn’t have Jordy Nelson and is stuck with a platoon of rookie receivers who, while talented, very clearly aren’t on the same page as their quarterback. A common criticism of Mike McCarthy is that he leaves his receivers on islands: no sort of motion, bunches, mesh or pick plays to help them out. Throwing his duo of rookie 5th-round picks to the wolves is one way to lose games. Another way is for an inexplicable OL breakdown which lead to five sacks but can also be attributed to Rodgers waiting too long for receivers to come open. A third way is to not go a for a 4th-and-2 when Seattle’s RB platoon of Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny had dominated the Packers’ defense the entire night. Even with four minutes left in the game, that punt may have essentially punted away the Packers’ season. 4-5-1 isn’t out of it now that the Panthers have lost two in a row, but it’s a crowded room in the NFC for those two Wild Card spots and it’s hard to make a case for the Packers based on what they’ve showcased this season.

Steelers 20, Jaguars 16

The Steelers always mount some sort of a comeback. They just always do. Even when they were down 16-0 in this game it was inevitable. There’s actually a debate among the JV football cognoscente whether Ben Roethlisberger has the proverbial QB “short-term memory” that QBs like Kirk Cousins and Case Keenum are often touted as possessing or if Ben literally doesn’t remember what happened on the previous drive. By the time the fourth quarter came around James Conner finally knew what it feels like to be shut down and Big Ben had no recollection of his three interceptions. Like clockwork, the Steelers came right back. The Jaguars attempted to give the offense back to Leonard Fournette which worked for most of the game but down the stretch simply wasn’t enough. Bortles couldn’t make simple throws to complement Fournette and Carlos Hyde’s ground attack and once that realization hit Pittsburgh’s sideline the comeback was about as inevitable as the Browns trying to hire a former of Secretary of State with no football experience as head coach.

Lions 20, Panthers 19

The analytics community continues to eat L’s this season as once again a team scored a touchdown and was an extra point away from tying the game, but instead went for two and did not convert. I’d love to see the file on whatever Stanford Prison psychological experiment led the Stats Nerds to come up with this one. 95% of the file is probably blacked out like a Cold War-era CIA document and the only information left is that one of them felt an adrenaline rush when they walked up to girl at a bar an initiated a conversation for the first time ever. Being bold made them feel good, so they applied the logic to all other parts of their life. Applying this selfish tendency has resulted in losses for the Titans and now the Panthers. The missed conversion overshadows the comeback mounted by the Panthers and led by rookie WR DJ Moore in his breakout performance. Moore’s big day offered some relief when Christian McCaffrey, who had a fine day by normal person standards but not by McCaffrey mutant standards, was unable to carry the offense as he has in previous games this season. The Lions still seem out of it for sure but my proclamation a few weeks ago to write the Panthers into an NFC Wild Card spot hasn’t aged well since. Two more matchups with the Saints before season’s end, barring a week 17 resting of the starters, almost guarantees at least six losses for the Panthers. 10-6 may not be good enough to make the playoffs in the NFC (except in the NFC East, in which 10-6 is like going 17-0).

Texans 23, Redskins 21

There’s so much to be said about this game, but the most notable occurrence happened to Alex Smith. Smith, on the 33rd anniversary of Joe Theismann’s career-ending broken leg, suffered a gruesome leg injury that was reported to be a broken fibula and tibia. Let’s start there before we discuss the football aspects of the play: Alex Smith is by all accounts a great person and rather selflessly mentored both Colin Kaepernick and Patrick Mahomes fully knowing he was training them to take his job. It’s a shame for something like this to happen to anyone, but definitely to Smith.

As for football: Pro Football Focus noted that Smith’s QBR in this game would’ve even higher if he spiked the ball every play. They said it, not me. No respect on their end. However, it raises the question of how much Smith’s play really impacted the outcome of this game, or even Washington’s current record. The Redskins were in this game because of DeShaun Watson’s poor decision making and Josh Norman’s disposition to interfere with DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans’ relentless pass rush reigned supreme on Washington’s ramshackle OL whether Alex Smith or Colt McCoy was in the game; had Watson been on his game this could’ve been a blowout. Regardless, the Texans have won seven games in a row after starting 0-3, control the AFC South and are in play for a first-round bye. However, the Colts and Titans are nipping at their heels. For the Redskins, they still have a one-game lead in the NFC East on the Cowboys but even with Smith under center it wasn’t a sure bet they didn’t lose that lead anyway. Based on what Smith showed this year, which was glorified mediocrity, Colt McCoy may be just about the same. Either way, it’ll be Adrian Peterson who gets this team to the playoffs, if they make it there.

Colts 38, Titans 10

Here come the Colts. I’ll echo what I said last week: Frank Reich had a plan and the Colts lost some close games early on. But now they’re winning using the same plan and have made it out of that 2-4 hole to 5-5. All the buzz phrases about the Colts from last season are as out of style as Marcus Mariota’s moustache: they have a top-ten offensive line that once against allowed zero sacks and their front seven dominated a Tennessee offensive line that PFF graded as a top-ten unit through last week. Getting the ball out of Luck’s hands quickly and within the 0-10 yard range was criticized at the beginning of the season but Reich stuck with it and there’s no doubt it’s working. Both teams are 5-5 and while the Colts appear to be trending up and the Titans down it wouldn’t be fair say the Titans are out of it. The entirety of the AFC South will play each other once more for the rest of the season and either the Colts or Titans could potentially overtake the Texans or clinch a Wild Card spot, but in all seriousness, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Colts won out. Harder on the Titans is that Mariota went out with an injury and didn’t play the second half, but Mike Vrabel said postgame that Mariota’s fine.

Ravens 24, Bengals 21

It wasn’t Alex Collins, not even Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, or the newly-acquired Ty Montgomery. It was none other than rookie, undrafted free agent Gus Edwards who fell two yards short of matching Lamar Jackson’s 117 rushing yards the QB’s first NFL start. Edwards and Jackson combined for 232 of Baltimore’s 250 yards on the ground, complemented by Jackson’s relatively efficient passing performance of 13-for-19 for 150 yards and a lone INT. While that would be considered more of a middling performance for most QBs it’s more of a safe step in the right direction for Jackson when considering his preseason passing struggles. Baltimore’s defense took the pressure off Jackson as, with the exception of a contested catch by John Ross in the end zone, they shut down all aspects of the Cincinnati offense. Joe Mixon had 52 total yards, the pass rush had pressure on Andy Dalton all day, and Baltimore’s DBs won most of the other contested balls on the afternoon. Both teams move to 5-5 as they bid for AFC Wild Card spots, but for the Ravens the lack of timetable for Joe Flacco and a positive performance from Lamar Jackson could spell the end of the Flacco era, regardless of a playoff run.

Cowboys 22, Falcons 19

There’s actually a very apparent negative to be taken from this game for the Cowboys: while the Dallas defense played amazing situational defense, especially in their own territory, the fact that Dak Prescott still couldn’t muster much of a big game against an injury-riddled Atlanta defense that’s been very charitable to opposing offenses this season is not a good sign moving forward. The way the Cowboys won this game may be the only way the Cowboys can win a game: lean on Zeke and hope the defense makes some big stops. That’s something that can’t be relied on against upcoming opponents in the Saints and Colts who have been phenomenal on third down thus far in the season, or against run defenses like those of the Redskins or top-ranked Saints. However, it’s a great sign that Byron Jones saw success against Julio Jones, as most of Jones’ production came when Atlanta was able to get Julio matched up with Chidobe Awuzie. The Cowboys are very much in it at 5-5 considering what happened to Alex Smith today as they get set to play the Redskins on Thanksgiving day. Meanwhile, the Falcons’ playoffs hopes are down to a shimmer as they fall to 4-6 ahead of their Thanksgiving night matchup with the Saints.

Giants 38, Buccaneers 35

The NFC East is about to get real weird. Two weeks ago I’d have been called a heretic; tarred, feathered. and Game of Thrones shame marched through the Entercom Boston offices for saying the Giants are in it. But after two wins, the Alex Smith injury, and the tightness of the NFC East it isn’t crazy to say 8-8 wins this division. The Giants have some tough matchups against the Colts, Titans, Bears and a game apiece with each team in their division... but they also have Odell Beckham and Saquon Barkley. It isn’t likely, but it isn’t out of the picture, either. As for the Buccaneers, it looks like the FitzWinston show will be a season-long affair. Winston’s stats paint a picture he outplayed Fitzpatrick but had it not been for some interception luck this game wouldn’t have been as close as the final score. There shouldn’t be much to say about the Bucs the rest of the way this season, but take solace in the fact that America’s Financial Advisor, Carl Nassib, actually has turned in consistently good performances for the Bucs this season.

Broncos 23, Chargers 22

Say anything you want about Case Keenum and him lacking certain abilities: you’re probably right. But it seems in clutch moments he too possesses the Big Ben goldfish memory. The first 58 minutes of the game weren’t pretty for Keenum, but regardless of what happens the first 97% of the game Keenum’s been a fairly reliable QB in the clutch; he took the Broncos 86 yards in under two minutes with ease to upset a Chargers team that had won seven games in a row, in their house (which, to be fair, is more of an Air BnB than a home). But as for those first 58 minutes… marón! Rookies Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman made the most of their chances, which due to circumstances out of their control ended up keeping the Broncos in the game. But otherwise, it was the Chargers who beat themselves via penalties and via Philip Rivers getting antsy after seemingly all members of Denver’s front seven recorded some sort of hit, sack or pressure on Rivers. This culminated in Rivers throwing a pick directly to Von Miller on a screen pass that lead to Denver’s “back in it” touchdown. The Broncos are still a far cry from a playoff spot but they’re a prime candidate to play spoiler down the line.

Raiders 23, Cardinals 21

Evaluating Josh Rosen has been difficult but I still err on the side of him being good based on the eye test and not by the numbers. Even though Oakland didn’t get much pressure on Rosen he definitely is so acclimated to getting killed every game that he tries to get the ball out quick, possibly too quick, way too often. Even with that, Arizona’s receivers continue to contribute to the stat-based hot takes regarding Rosen’s play due to dropped passes. Rosen’s intelligence was on display when he audibled to the screen pass Christian Kirk took over 50 yards for a TD, which Rosen said postgame was a simple application of the MF rule: “If there are a lot of MFers over there, go that [other] way.” Mistakes from both teams evened out and kept the game close but it was the Cardinals who made the final mistake. Steve Wilks brought the house on 3rd-and-10 on the Raiders’ final drive, but Gruden called a screen and the Raiders converted, essentially sealing the win pending the game-winning field goal.

Saints 48, Eagles 7

The Eagles would’ve pulled the fire alarm here if Sean Payton hadn’t destroyed it. It’s only fair that Payton enacts his vendetta against fire alarms after Carson Wentz and his dog Scout once again massacred the duck population of North America. At least Payton’s vendetta won’t impact the global food web and potentially cause an apocalypse. There’s a free movie idea, Hollywood.

Speaking of apocalypse, the 2018 Eagles. There’s no way to be nice about this: the Eagles were annihilated in every matchup and every aspect of this game. Carson Wentz threw three brutal interceptions, the Eagles’ OL suddenly can’t handle a pass rush that stinks against good offensive lines but succeeds against bad offensive lines, and the defense was just helpless against the Saints’ offense. Even though Philly kept tabs on Michael Thomas and limited him to four catches, there was still the issue of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. But those two are issues against every team no matter what; the real phantom menace was rookie WR Tre’Quan Smith who’s turned in performances this season but yesterday hauled in 10 catches for 157 yards and touchdown. There’s just too much going on on the Saints’ offense to cover everything. Drew Brees went over 350 yards again and threw another four TDs to add to his MVP season. The one-seed in the NFC is there’s if they don’t mess it up. The Eagles certainly aren’t out of it at 4-6 in the NFC East but have a couple scheduled losses in the Rams and with the way they’re playing, probably Texans.

SNF: Bears 25, Vikings 20

Possibly the most under-acknowledged offseason move the Bears made was the hiring of former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich as offensive coordinator. The college aspect in Chicago’s offense is apparent when they’ve got Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard and Taylor Gabriel all scattering in different directions like a school of fish as opposing linebackers just stand reactionless for a solid second at the snap. It’s the NFL version of the Charlie Day newspaper clippings conspiracy meme that stopped being funny in 2015. Trubisky, as much as I harp on him not being a great passer, has the timing of these misdirection plays down to a tee. His athleticism, as much as it may one day result in a bad injury, meshes well with having a great defense. In all likelihood, like Jim Harbaugh used to do with Colin Kaepernick, Matt Nagy is coaching Trubisky to take off after his second read instead of pushing Trubisky to do something Nagy knows he can’t. The Andy Reid offense doesn’t come in 100% in year one, so Nagy’s approach to Trubisky is the best approach for the Bears. On defense, Akiem Hicks and Khalil Mack did as they’ve done all year to prevent Kirk Cousins from moving the ball, until garbage time when the Bears defense backed off a bit.

MNF: Chiefs @ Rams 8:15pm (ESPN & Westwood One)

Prediction: Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs roll over the Rams. Final score: KC: A lot +7, LA: A lot.

Written in duress by John Andersen, award-winning NFL journalist who has written books on Desmond Clark and Justin Gage...maybe. You can follow John on Twitter @_JohnAndersen.