Week 11 in the NFL did not disappoint, with a morning slate highlighted by an NFC North shootout between the Packers and Vikings and a thrilling Sunday Night Game between the Chargers and Steelers to cap a day of upheaval across the NFL. Minnesota’s win over Green Bay was one of several results that opened up division races that appeared destined for an early close, with the most notable result coming in the Texans-Titans game.
The Colts win over the Bills has a strong case as the stunner of the week, but Tennessee’s lackluster performance against Houston took the cake. The Titans’ problems began in earnest when wide receiver Marcus Johnson pulled up with a bad hamstring on an endzone target; it might have been a different game if Johnson made that play, but instead, quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a brutal interception to linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill on the ensuing snap that was returned to set the Texans offense up in the red zone. The issues only started there; Tannehill’s three fourth-quarter interceptions were bad, but the height of the day’s follies came when punt returner Chester Rogers turned his back to the ball to screen off a Houston gunner inside the five-yard line and got hit with the ball, allowing Houston to recover the punt inside the five.
Rogers’ gaffe stood out as the day’s worst play, but the weight of this falls on Tannehill’s shoulders; the Tennessee quarterback needs to elevate his game to justify the massive contract extension he signed two offseasons ago. Fortunately for Tannehill, there is time to make improvements, because the AFC playoff race is almost as wide open as it was in Week One. There are several developments worth examining; division and playoff odds are provided by DraftKings.
No QB, No Problem
Baltimore and Arizona maintained some optimism that their respective signal-callers would take the field until Sunday, but with Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray sidelined, backups Tyler Huntley and Colt McCoy stepped up to lead their teams to victory.
The victories were crucial for both teams; Baltimore needed the win to hold the AFC North lead with Cleveland and Cincinnati picking up wins, while the Cardinals expanded the gap between them and the Rams and essentially eliminated a potentially dangerous Seattle team. Arizona’s win was the more surprising of the two given their competition; many NFL fans expected quarterback Russell Wilson to come out on fire at home with his team’s back against the wall, but he was unable to generate some of his past magic in this one. Seattle’s core pieces in the passing game are talented, so this team could elevate their play quickly, but at 3-7, it will be tough for Seattle to make a playoff run even with some weaker opponents on the remaining schedule.
Arizona is headed into their bye and should get Murray back after the break; he will have had over a month to recover at that point. If Green Bay can beat the Rams next week, Arizona will have gone 2-1 during Murray’s absence while the Rams went 0-3, an outcome few would have predicted had they known Murray would be out for such an extended period. The 49ers have also gotten back on track in the NFC West and the competition remains tight in the AFC North, leaving plenty of work for both teams, but the backup quarterbacks allowed the Cardinals (-500) and Ravens (-130) to remain the clubhouse leaders in their divisions for another week.
Chiefs and Patriots: AFC Title Rematch?
A month or so ago, New England and Kansas City appeared to be trending in the wrong direction, but the 2019 AFC Title game participants have righted the ship and are in prime position to compete for the AFC’s top seed. New England has won their last five games by a combined score of 175-50 while the Chiefs followed up a blowout win over the Raiders with a decisive home win over the Cowboys.
Tennessee currently holds the AFC’s top spot but New England can change that narrative this week with a win over the Titans in Foxboro. The Patriots were a -3 favorite on the look-ahead lines but jumped to -6 before settling at -5.5 after the weekend’s action. Tennessee continued to pile up injuries, as receiver A.J. Brown left Sunday’s contest after attempting to battle through an upper-body injury. Based on the amount of pain Brown was in before his exit, it’s unlikely he will be close to full strength for this week’s game, which further diminishes Tennessee’s chances of making it through Week 12 as the AFC’s top seed. Bill Belichick and the New England defensive staff are known for taking away an opposing offense’s best weapon; with Derrick Henry and Julio Jones on IR and Brown hobbled, Belichick and his staff will likely zero in on Tannehill’s tendencies, which could cause significant problems in a game where Tennessee’s offense will be hard-pressed to dictate the terms.
Baltimore would be in the top spot if the Ravens beat the Browns and the Patriots beat the Titans, but it would be a wide-open race. Kansas City is on their bye and will remain at 7-4, a record that the Chargers, Bengals, and Bills could all match with a Week 12 win. It’s also possible those teams drop games while the Titans pull away from the pack with an upset victory over New England; it’s the type of twist that would fit this NFL season perfectly.
DraftKings has the Bills (+350), Chiefs (+350), Ravens (+600), and Patriots (+600) as the top contenders to win the AFC Title but the Titans, Chargers, Bengals, Colts, and Browns all have odds shorter than +2000 and the Steelers could get back in the mix with a win over the Bengals this week. As we enter the Thanksgiving Slate, everything remains up for grabs in the AFC.
Door Open in AFC South, NFC North, NFC East?
The Titans, Packers, and Cowboys appeared set to run away from the field in their respective divisions, but Week 11 losses combined with recent surges from the Colts, Vikings, and Eagles have shifted those narratives.
Tampa Bay has followed a similar storyline, though losses by the other three NFC South teams ahead of Tampa’s Week 11 game against the Giants on Monday Night Football created some breathing room for the Bucs. All four teams remain strong favorites to win their divisions; DraftKings has Tennessee at -2000, Green Bay at -1200, Dallas at -900, and Tampa Bay at -1000, but it is not far-fetched to think that at least one of these divisions will have a dramatic finish down the stretch, especially as Indianapolis, Minnesota, and Philadelphia all appear to be teams who could make noise if they get into the NFL playoffs. Tennessee is the least likely candidate to give up their lead based on DraftKings’ numbers, but even though they have a two-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indianapolis, The Professor would take the Colts (+900) as the best bet to make a late-season run. The Titans were fortunate to win their first two games after running back Derrick Henry’s injury and have now lost games to the Jets and Texans; Tennessee’s remaining matchups with Jacksonville, Houston, and Miami should be easy wins for the AFC leader, but if Tennessee’s play this season is any indication, it might not play out that way.
This article recapped developments from around the NFL this weekend. For more of The Professor’s content check him out on BeerLife Sports!
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.
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