Week 11 in the NFL is loaded with tremendous matchups; the first article in The Professor’s NFL Games of the Week series broke down the Cowboys at the Chiefs, the Cardinals at the Seahawks, the Packers at the Vikings, and the Saints at the Eagles, while this article previews the Colts at the Bills, the Steelers at the Chargers, the Bengals at the Raiders, and the Football Team at the Panthers. All spreads and totals are provided by DraftKings.
Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills (BUF -7, Total 50.5)
The Colts got the win last week but it’s difficult to feel good about this team’s long-term prospects when quarterback Carson Wentz continues to attempt the low-benefit, high-risk plays that seem to be embedded in his system.
Granted, Bills quarterback Josh Allen attempted a shovel pass while scrambling to his left that wasn’t too far off of one of Wentz’s inexplicable decisions, but Allen plays at a much higher level that gives him a bit more room to attempt such plays. It’s similar to when Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes completes a left-handed pass when under pressure; it’s one thing for an MVP-caliber player to go a bit over the top but a different discussion entirely when the quarterback is supposed to be the caretaker for an offense built on the NFL’s co-leading rusher, Jonathan Taylor, which is the situation Wentz is in.
The media firestorm would have been epic if either of Wentz’s passes had been returned for a touchdown, which might have allowed the Jaguars to pull the upset, but the balls fell incomplete and the Colts remain in the thick of the playoff race as they head to play a Buffalo team that has a strong case as the NFL’s best team when they are clicking, though they have fallen flat in several games.
Buffalo would be in a difficult spot if they lost this one and the Patriots continued their recent momentum with a win on Thursday Night but the loss to the Jaguars two weeks ago appeared to be a wake-up call. The Bills should be sharp in this one and pick up the win at home.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Los Angeles Chargers (LAC -5.5, Total 47)
The Steelers hope to have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back for this week’s game, but last week was a debacle regardless of the quarterback. The dominant Pittsburgh defense that consistently won games in the 2019 and 2020 campaigns is a distant memory, as this unit’s recent issues stopping the run boiled over last week as running backs D’Andre Swift, Jermar Jefferson, and Godwin Igwebuike all posted huge performances in Detroit’s tie on Sunday.
Pittsburgh would benefit if running back Najee Harris can have a big day against a Chargers run defense that has issues of its own, but this game will come down to what version of quarterback Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense shows up on Sunday. This group has some strong parallels to the Cardinals in quarterback Kyler Murray’s second season; when Arizona was clicking, they were electric, and the high-end talent was obvious, but the top-end performances weren’t there on a week-to-week basis. Herbert possesses rare traits and should gain consistency with experience, but for now, he’s a quarterback who can lead the NFL in passing yards in a nearly flawless performance one week and turn in a mediocre game the next week.
The Chargers will be without star edge rusher Joey Bosa, who is on the COVID list, a big hit to a defense that has relied heavily on Bosa’s disruption. Fellow pass-rushers Uchenna Nwosu and Jerry Tillery must step up their game in his absence and the Chargers could also look to send more blitzes with one of their speedy linebackers or safety Derwin James. The Los Angeles corners will be looking for redemption after Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson put on a clinic against them in last week’s game; if Pittsburgh’s passing game looked anything like it did last week, this matchup could be the perfect cure.
Cincinnati Bengals at Las Vegas Raiders (CIN -1, Total 49.5)
Cincinnati and Las Vegas have followed similar patterns in their past two games; both teams lost on a trip to New York (the Bengals to the Jets, the Raiders to the Giants), then got blown out by a division opponent.
It’s in the eye of the beholder for two teams that remain in the thick of the AFC playoff race despite their recent skids; from The Professor’s perspective, the Bengals are closer to getting things right. Both teams have been bad on defense, particularly in the back end, but Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase have been excruciatingly close to putting up monster numbers in both of their recent losses. Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense were enduring some similar struggles before last week’s game against the Raiders, which proved to be an ideal opportunity for Mahomes to get back on track.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr also has an opportunity to bounce back as he faces off with a Bengals defense that has fallen apart over the past two games. Carr had an uncharacteristic performance against the Chiefs, forcing several balls into tight coverage down the field that most fans wouldn’t expect from Carr, even in a game where the Raiders trailed. Las Vegas has also been unable to get the tight end, Darren Waller, as involved as he was in past years; it is difficult to know exactly what is driving that, but the offense is out of sync, and it is hard not to wonder whether the residual effects of head coach Jon Gruden’s departure are setting in. There’s another place to discuss Gruden in other aspects of life, but despite some strange choices such as not using running back Josh Jacobs as a receiver, Gruden generally put together effective offensive plans during his time with the Raiders. The offense was very much “his” unit and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Raider offense tails off as they get further away from Gruden’s vision for how the unit should grow week to week.
It isn’t a must-win from a mathematical standpoint, but Cincinnati needs to draw a line in the sand in this game. Much like the Chargers, the Bengals have been inconsistent with a second-year quarterback at the helm, and while all indications are that Joe Burrow has the talent to be elite in the NFL, he needs to raise his consistency for that to happen. The NFL’s elite quarterbacks do not allow their teams to go on extended skids; the Raiders will be making major organizational changes regardless, but this game could prove critical in determining whether head coach Zac Taylor and his staff will get to oversee Burrow’s development for the full length of his rookie contract.
Washington Football Team at Carolina Panthers (CAR -3, Total 43)
Washington pulled out an unlikely win over Tampa Bay (although The Oracle picked the Washington money line for BeerLife subscribers, a reminder of why you should subscribe to his text updates through BeerLife’s premium service), but the victory was not without cost, as defensive end, Chase Young went down for the season with a torn ACL.
It is a crushing blow to a defense that lost its other standout defensive end, Montez Sweat, to a broken jaw recently. This team should continue to play hard under head coach Ron Rivera, but an organization that appeared to be on track as recently as this offseason is once again adrift. The Football Team is 3-6 with a -61 point differential that is in the bottom quarter of the NFL and while quarterback Taylor Heinicke has put together some inspiring performances, even his best games tend to feature several turnover-worthy plays that the opposing defense fails to convert. The key difference between Heinicke’s games like the one against Tampa Bay and some of his disappointing performances tends to be whether the defense is opportunistic rather than whether Heinicke elevates his play. That’s not to say Heinicke doesn’t do some things well; he’s set himself up for a decade or more of employment as a backup quarterback in the NFL, but he shouldn’t be Washington’s plan moving forward. Perhaps the name change will help, but it seems more likely that NFL fans will simply make fun of them and continue to call Washington The Football Team as they bumble their way to more losing seasons under owner Daniel Snyder.
Carolina isn’t in much better shape for the long-term given how quarterback Sam Darnold’s season fell apart, but their fans may get a short-term reprieve in the form of Cam Newton. Newton looked similar to the quarterback he was in New England last season in limited action against the Cardinals last week; he still moves well and has a significant impact in the option run game but his accuracy as a passer is scattershot. The Panthers can mitigate this to some degree by asking Newton to hit running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver D.J. Moore in the short passing game, but ultimately, the ceiling on this experiment will be based on whether Newton can hit enough downfield passes to keep opposing defenses honest.
Newton’s presence makes this game interesting; the Panthers are 5-5, a record that puts them in the thick of the NFC Wild Card hunt as well as the NFC South race. Their on-field performance in getting to that record would lead most to fade them moving forward but Newton has a chance to change that narrative; it will be interesting to see how he performs on Sunday.
This article previewed four prominent NFL matchups for the coming week and talked about how to bet them. For more content from The Professor, including the rest of his game previews and his fantasy content, check out The Professor on BeerLife Sports!