NFL Week 11 is the first week that NBC can “flex” its muscle, so to speak, and reschedule the previously planned Sunday Night Game. The network has taken full advantage and shifted the big Kansas City-Denver battle in the AFC West into prime-time and dropping the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers and their game against the Giants into the mass of local regional games. Chiefs-Broncos will be where we start in The SportsNotebook’s preview of Week 11.
As we’ve done all year, the moneylines–the odds for an outright win expressed in betting increments of $100–are listed next to each team. And as we’ve done all year, TheSportsNotebook will make some futile picks. Last week, losing with San Francisco and Tennessee at big prices couldn’t overcome nailing St. Louis and their upset of Indianapolis. I still ended up (-495) for the week, dropping me to (-2520) for the year. The task now is to make up an average of (+360) per week the rest of the regular season and get back to even.
Kansas City (+300) Denver (-370) (8:30 PM ET, NBC) I’m not as concerned about Peyton Manning’s high ankle sprain as the media is. Manning is going to play and when it comes to mobility, we’re not talking about RG3 or Colin Kaepernick, so it’s not as though Peyton is losing anything. He can still deliver the ball quickly and that’s exactly what he’ll have to do against an aggressive high-pressure defense led by Tamba Hali and Justin Houston coming off the edges.
Kansas City can run the ball as well as anyone with Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith can play mistake-free as well as anyone. Nor is the Denver defense anything spectacular. But to win a game of this magnitude on the road, Smith is going to have to make some big plays in the passing game. That’s not him, nor does he have the receivers to make it happen even if it were.
I give the Chiefs a credible chance of outlasting the Broncos in this division race–KC leads by a game and still has a return trip from Denver coming up. I give Andy Reid’s team a reasonable shot at the Super Bowl. But on the road, against Peyton and in prime-time, I would be absolutely floored if the Broncos don’t win, and that’s why the high moneyline price is worth it.
San Francisco (+145)New Orleans (-170) (4:25 PM ET, Fox): A year ago, Kaepernick came into the Superdome and played extremely well in a 49er win, a seminal moment in his progression from backup to taking Smith’s job in San Francisco and ultimately leading his team to the Super Bowl. The 49er quarterback needs another seminal moment here, because he’s struggling this season in spite of Frank Gore having a big year running the ball and the defense playing well.
San Francisco failed to get into the end zone against Carolina, and the New Orleans defense has played well all year under Rob Ryan. I expect the Saints to contain Gore and force Kaepernick to have to beat them. If the Niner defense can’t play well, there’s no way they’ll win a scoring race against Drew Brees in his own building.
Brees is just playing too well right now, especially at home, and we’re seeing how good New Orleans can be when they play defense. Last year, Kaepernick moved the ball against a Saints D that was a mess all year long. This year, he’ll face a unit playing as well as any the New Orleans fans have seen their 2009 Super Bowl run.
The Saints get the win here in a game Fox is sending its top broadcast team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to show most of the country.
Two games in the 1 PM ET window that will go to large chunks of the country…
Baltimore (+135) Chicago(-160): Two units that have been big disappointments collide when the Ravens offensive line blocks the Bears’ defensive line. Baltimore has been unable to generate a running game or consistently protect Joe Flacco. Chicago has gotten a bad year from Julius Pepper and now Shea McClellin is banged up.
The Bears are back to starting Josh McCown at quarterback after Jay Cutler suffered a re-aggravation of his groin injury, and I don’t think this is a bad thing. McCown has played well in both of his games this year (most of the Washington game, the entire Green Bay game). The Ravens got a season-saving win over Cincinnati last week, but looked far from impressive in doing so. I’ll pick Chicago to win at home.
Washington(+190) Philadelphia (-225): Nick Foles is looking settled in as the Philadelphia quarterback, playing mistake-free football, hitting big throws and letting LeSean McCoy still be the focal point of the Eagle attack on the ground. The Redskins’ offense is playing well themselves, with RG3 having strung together a couple good games in a row and Alfred Morris running the way he did in 2012.
Neither team’s defense is anything special, although Washington’s is so fundamentally unsound that Foles can just drop dump passes over the middle and rely on yards after the catch. If the generally solid Packer defense couldn’t tackle Eagle receivers last week, why should the hapless Redskin defenders?
Nonetheless, I have a good feeling about this game as a Redskins’ fan. I don’t think Philly is consistent enough to win three in a row, and as long as Washington keeps its play-calling balanced, and turns its blitz packages loose on defense, I think they can sneak out of Philadelphia with a win.
The rest of the Sunday card, shown to mostly local audiences…
Cleveland (+200) Cincinnati (-240): If the Browns steal a road win, they pull even in the loss column with the Bengals in the race for the AFC North. Cleveland is playing some very good defense this season, and Jason Campbell has looked competent at quarterback since being picked up. The Bengals have the better team, but I’m not confident in them and I think the Browns are worth a shot at (+200) to complete an improbable sweep of the season series.
San Diego (-125) Miami (+105): Thirty-two years ago, these two teams played one of the great playoff games in NFL history, won by the Chargers 41-38 in overtime. This game won’t remind anyone of that epic battle, even if San Diego is playing competent ball. The Bolts are a playoff longshot given their schedule and they can’t afford to lose this one to an organization in disarray.
NY Jets (-105) Buffalo (-115): TheSportsNotebook featured the Jets earlier this week, and I like what they’re doing defensively and in the running game with Chris Ivory. Buffalo has been a handful at home, knocking off Baltimore and nearly upsetting Kansas City, but I’m going to lean the Jets to pull it out.
Oakland (+225) Houston (-310): The Raiders and Texans are a combined 5-13, but neither is really as bad as their record looks. Oakland does a good job running the ball and stopping the same. Houston is playing decent defense themselves and Case Keenum has given this franchise a jolt at quarterback. Even so, this is way too stiff of a moneyline to take a team that’s only won twice all year. I have to play it safe and pick the Raiders.
Detroit (-135) Pittsburgh (+115): I hate picking the Lions to win on the road two weeks in a row, especially a potential letdown spot after the big win in Chicago last Sunday. But Pittsburgh inspires no reason for confidence and there’s not much moneyline value associated with them.
From a matchup standpoint, Detroit defends the run well and the ability to get Le’Veon Bell going on the ground has usually been a litmus test of Steeler success. The fact Pittsburgh is 3-6 tells you that hasn’t happened very often and I don’t see it taking place on Sunday.
Green Bay(+185) NY Giants (-220): It’s games like this that make you feel like the Giants’ season is really coming together. They take advantage of a soft schedule to win three straight and get themselves off life support and back to 3-6, good enough to contend in the woeful NFC East. Now they get a crack at Green Bay without Rodgers. New York has to be the pick here.
Minnesota (+430) Seattle (-565): Seattle is at home where they have arguably the best home-crowd advantage in the NFL. Minnesota shows one of the league’s sharpest distinctions between home and road performance, especially when going outdoors. It’s not hard to figure why Seattle is Week 11’s biggest moneyline favorite, and even though losing on these prices has killed me this season, this number is actually cheap given Minnesota’s low odds of winning.
Atlanta(-115) Tampa Bay (-100): The Buccaneer may have gotten on the board last Monday Night with their first win in a game against Miami. But the fact Tampa had to struggle to beat a team in turmoil speaks poorly to their ability to do much more. Atlanta is still just a 2-7 team, but I’ll take them in this battle of NFC South has-beens.
Arizona (-340) Jacksonville (+280): Arizona is quietly lurking in the NFC playoff race at 5-4, though they’d have to catch either the San Francisco/Seattle runner-up or the New Orleans/Carolina runner-up, so the odds are the Cards get squeezed out by the need to include a bad NFC East team in the postseason bracket. What Arizona does do exceptionally well is stop the run and that bodes well as they travel across the country to face Maurice-Jones Drew.
New England-Carolina is the Monday Night Game, and we’ll take a look at on game day in a separate post.