by Alan Zlotorzynski
The NFL has entered the second half of the season and the excitement is building as playoff races tighten. Week 11 kicked off on Thursday night, as the Indianapolis Colts rallied yet again, this time beating the Tennessee Titans 30-27. Indy spotted the Titans a 17-3 lead, but rallied to beat them in Nashville by just 3 points. RB Donald Brown rushed for 80 yards and two touchdowns and Andrew Luck ran for a score while passing for 232 yards.
According to Elias Sports, Indianapolis, in its previous game away from home — in Week Nine at Reliant Stadium — overcame an 18-point deficit to defeat the Texans. Only one other NFL team within the last five years won two straight games in a season’s road schedule, despite falling behind by at least 14 points in each of them. The Lions did that in 2011, with come-from-behind victories at Minnesota and Dallas. And that’s the beauty of the NFL. You never know what to expect.
As the NFL enters Week 11, seven of the eight divisions have at least one team either in or tied for first place that did not win its division in 2012. Close Competition and parity remain a constant in the league again this year.
Through the first 10 weeks, there are 23 teams either in or within one-and-a-half games of a playoff spot. Since the current playoff format was instituted in 1990, 18 clubs with a losing record after nine games have made the playoffs. Most recently in 2012, the Washington Redskins (3-6) and Cincinnati Bengals (4-5) both had losing records through nine games before advancing to the postseason.
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The Jets have tied an NFL record by alternating wins and losses through their first nine games. It is no secret why that is. In Odd weeks this season, Jets rookie QB Geno Smith has 7 TD’s and just 4 int’s—On even weeks, he’s horrible, as he’s tossed 1 TD to 9 int’s. You cannot say the Jets schedule has been easier during the weeks they are winning. NY’s last two victories have come over the Saints and Patriots. Luckily, for NY, they missed week 10 with a bye, so welcome to week 11 and a Jets win. The J-E-T-S JETS, JETS, JETS by four on the road.
Baltimore Ravens @ Chicago Bears
In in victory, the Ravens appear to be a bad team this season. Despite AJ Greens last second Hail Mary reception, Baltimore managed an ugly 20-17 overtime victory against the Bengals, who posted a 364-189 edge in yardage. Baltimore was the first team in the last three seasons to win a game in which it committed at least three turnovers and gained less than 200 yards, and it was the first such win in team history. The Ravens are historically bad running the football this season but face a Bears team that ranks 31st giving up 129.4 rushing yards per game, and has allowed a 100-yard rusher in two straight and three of the last four games. Chicago will also be without QB Jay Cutler. Backup Josh McCown has thrown four TDs and no INTs while posting a 103.2 passer rating in three games, including a start against the Packers. Baltimore has not recorded a touchdown while being outscored 34-9 in two losses at Soldier Field; make it three without a TD, but 5 Justin Tucker Field goals will save the day. Ravens 15 Bears 10
Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnatti Bengals (Upset Alert)
After a 17-6 loss in Cleveland on Sept. 29, their second consecutive defeat in the series after winning 13 of 16, the Bengals (6-4) won four straight to build a healthy divisional lead over the erratic Browns and Ravens. However, becoming the 16th team in league history to drop consecutive games in overtime has seen that edge fall to 1 1/2 games. Sweeping the Bengals for the first time since 2002 would be a big accomplishment in itself for a franchise that has lost 10-plus games in nine of the last 10 seasons. The play at QB has been better during the last two games, as Jason Campbell has gone 45 of 71 for 555 yards, five TDs and no interceptions in a tight loss to the Chiefs and a win over Baltimore. Cincy is 4-0 at home this season and have a favorable schedule the rest of the way. They will play four of their last six in the Queen City, and only one remaining opponent has a winning record. But I like the Browns in an upset. Get out your brooms Browns fans– Take Cleveland at the wire for the sweep.
Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles
A week after throwing seven touchdown passes, Nick Foles threw three more all for at least 30 yards in the Eagles’ 27-13 win at Green Bay. Only one other visiting player has thrown three TD passes of 30 yards or longer in a game at Lambeau Field: Randall Cunningham in a 37-24 Vikings win in 1998. Foles is not the only Eagles offensive player stepping up. LeSean McCoy rushed for 155 yards in the Eagles’ win. It was McCoy’s third game of the season with at least 150 rushing yards, a team record. Philly is 5-1 on the road this season but 0-4 at home and have amazingly lost a franchise record 10 straight home games. The last team Philly beat a team at home was the NY Giants in week 4 last season. The Redskins are not the same 3-6 team that won seven straight to win the NFC Least last season, look for the Eagles to snap the home drought and win a high scoring exciting affair. Eagles by six but take a serious look at the over in this one.
Detroit Lions @ Pittsburgh Steelers
With rumors swirling that QB Ben Roethlisberger wants a trade (although he denies it), it is a clear-cut indication there is smoke circulating in the Steelers locker room. LW, Pittsburgh defeated the Bills, 23-10, allowing Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel only three completions of 10 or more yards. Over the last 10 seasons, Pittsburgh has an 18-2 record against rookie QBs, including 11 in a row at home. The only visiting rookie ever to post a victory at Heinz Field was David Carr of Houston in 2002. Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson aren’t rookies and with the Big Ben falling 37 times this season via the sack, Detroit’s front four could have a field day. On the flip side, Stafford has been sacked a league low 10 times, as the Steelers front 7 just isn’t getting the job done this season. Their rushing defense ranks an amazingly poor 29th in the league, which means Reggie Busch could also have himself an afternoon. You could hear quite a few boos at the Big Ketchup Bottle on Sunday. Take the Lions by 6.
Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
QB Mike Glennon led Tampa Bay to its first win of the season on Monday against Miami, after starting the season 0-8, and it was the first win for Glennon as a starting QB after five losses. No other quarterback has had his first win as a starter come on Monday Night Football after at least five straight losses to start his career. The Buccaneers held Miami to two rushing yards, the lowest total in any game in Dolphins history. Their previous low was seven yards, in a win over the Vikings in 2006.Darrelle Revis had an interception to seal the win for the Bucs and he helped limit Mike Wallace to 15 yards on four catches (3.8 average). That’s Wallace’s lowest yards-per-catch average in any NFL game. Whether it has been injuries or lack of depth or just plain poor play, the Falcons stink and appear headed for a top 5 pick in the pick. LW at home, the Falcons lost to the Seahawks by 23-points, one week after Tampa took them to overtime in Seattle. If Tampa did not get their first win vs. Miami, they would have gotten it here. Instead, its two wins in a row at home. Bucs by 5.
Arizona Cardinals @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville (1-8) took advantage of four Titans’ turnovers to win for the first time this season 29-27 last Sunday in Nashville. In their highest-scoring game of the season, the Jaguars prevailed after losing their first eight games by an average margin of 22.3 points. They return to play at home where the Jaguars have yet to score a TD in three games this season in Jacksonville and have been outscored 89-11. The Cardinals recently posted consecutive victories over Atlanta and Houston at home to put itself in the wild-card hunt. Defensively, the Cardinals are on to something. They returned a fumble for a TD last weekend, and have recorded at least three sacks in three straight games and four of the last five. In his 14th season and first with Arizona, John Abraham has recorded all of his team-leading five sacks in the last three games. Make it four games without a TD at home as Arizona wins easily in Jacksonville, holding the Jags to two field goals with a 10 plus point victory.
Oakland Raiders @ Houston Texans
Two weeks after suffering a mini-stroke, Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak expects to return to the sidelines. The Texans are a statistical anomaly in the wrong direction. They own a Top 10 offense and the No.1 defense in the NFL but are just 2-7 in the standings. LW, Case Keenum had three TDs in his third start since replacing Matt Schaub but completed a season-low 51.2 percent of his passes for 201 yards. The one reason he’s still playing despite the losses is he has not thrown an interception in 102 attempts. He has 7 TD’s, Five to Andrea Johnson. The Raiders are hoping to rebound after losing 2 straight to the NFC East. The last time the Raiders faced the Texans, a 25-20 win on Oct. 9, 2011, Raiders QB Terrell Pryor was serving the final contest of a five-game suspension as a rookie for violations he committed at Ohio State. Oakland picked off Schaub twice for only its second victory in seven all-time meetings. Schaub is on the bench, take the Texans at home, as Keenum gets his first career win. Houston by 10
San Diego Chargers @ Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are looking to end their struggles and move past the distractions caused by the Richie Incognito saga. Miami is coming off a devastating loss to the winless Buccaneers on Monday night and looked bad in defeat. They have allowed an NFL worst 37 sacks of Ryan Tannehill this season and had 2 rushing yards vs. Tampa, a franchise worst. The offensive line was bad with Incognito and Jonathan Martin but now it is even worse and that has to be a scary thought for the Dolphins second year signal caller. With all of that said, Miami only trails the New York Jets by just one game for the AFC’s sixth and final postseason spot. LW, the Chargers lost to the Denver Broncos, as Philip Rivers threw for 218 yards on 19 of 29 passing with one score. So far this season, Rivers and the Chargers are 3-0 in the Eastern Time zone playing one o’clock games. Rivers is averaging 328 passing yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions in five road games. The Chargers D has made many QB’s look like Pro Bowlers this season but the Dolphins have too many issues on and off the field. In addition, Rivers gets a 4:00 e.s.t. start— Take the Chargers in a close one. S.D. by 3.
San Francisco 49ers @ New Orleans Saints
Experts thought the Niners would prove the Carolina Panthers to be frauds last week at home. Instead, Carolina held the 49ers to 46 net passing yards, sacked Colin Kaepernick six sacks. That was the Niners’ lowest total in any game since 2005, when they netted only 28 passing yards in a loss at Chicago. The last time the 49ers took the field at the Superdome, they made a gutsy second-half comeback before falling short in the Super Bowl. A week after suffering their second loss in three games, 26-20 to the New York Jets, the Saints (7-2) recorded an NFL-record 40 first downs and regular season team-record 625 yards against the Cowboys. Drew Brees was 34 of 41 for 392 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions and the running game that came in averaging 79.8 yards gained 242 — the franchise’s highest total since 1990. This does not bode well for a Niners team that is 1-4 vs. teams with winning records this season.The 49ers are fourth in the league allowing 17.2 points per contest and have yielded an average of 11.8 in six games since giving up 28.0 per contest over the first three. The Saints are right behind the 49ers allowing an average of 18.1 points. The 49ers averaged 34.8 points and 357.6 yards during a five-game winning streak facing some tough defenses despite the team’s overall records. I just cannot envision a scenario that has the Niners winning in New Orleans vs. Drew Brees—This should be a good game to start but the Saints will pull away at the end to win by 10.
Minnesota Vikings @ Seattle Seahawks
Seattle has established itself as one of the NFL’s most complete teams, ranking third in total defense with 289.0 yards allowed per game and scoring 26.5 per contest to rank sixth. They will only get better as WR Percy Harvin is likely to return to face his former team. While QB Christian Ponder seems to be playing better, the Vikings will not beat the Seahawks at home, especially after the Bucs scared them badly two weeks ago, taking them to overtime. Keep your eyes on Adrian Peterson. With one rushing TD, Peterson would join Pro Football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith(eight) and La Dainian Tomlinson(nine) as the only players in NFL history to rush for 10 touchdowns in at least seven different seasons. The Vikes have their franchise RB but this will not be close, as the Vikings move one-step closer to drafting their next franchise QB Seahawks by 12
Sunday Night Football
KC Chiefs@ Denver Broncos
This game is being sold as a matchup of the AFC’s two best teams—-but are they really? The Chiefs strength of victory this season has been .357 with the Broncos having it just as easy with .378 S.O.V mark. LW, Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes in the Broncos’ 28-20 win at San Diego. That was Manning’s 74th regular-season road win, breaking a tie with Brett Favre for the all-time NFL record. However, there is one important detail that can’t be omitted when discussing Manning’s record victory: he has a 74-42 record in road games, compared to Favre’s 73-76 mark. The Chiefs are the NFL’s only remaining unbeaten and are coming off a bye week. Chiefs’ wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was arrested this past weekend but is going to start. The Pro Bowl wide receiver was pulled over for speeding in Riverside, Mo., and charged with possession of marijuana. RB Jamal Charles, the league’s fifth-leading rusher at 725 yards, has enjoyed recent success against the Broncos with a combined 576 yards in the last five meetings. He had 160 in last season’s two games but could not prevent Denver’s first season sweep since 2007. I have to believe the Broncos are a more battled tested team and while this wont be easy, it will be a Broncos win and eventually by a wide margin. Take Peyton in a big game in the cold at home. Broncos 38 Chiefs 20
Side Note to the Chiefs-Broncos contest: The combined win percentage (.944/ 17-1) between Denver and Kansas City represents the highest for a game this late in the season since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger (minimum nine games each). The last time a game featured a better combined record between opponents this late in the season was on December 7, 1969, when the Minnesota Vikings (10-1) defeated the L.A. Rams (11-0) by a score of 20-13.
Monday Night Football
New England Patriots @ Carolina Panthers
Who would have thought that this would be must see Monday Night TV when the schedule was released? But it most certainly is, as the Panthers and Patriots get together for what should be a good football game. The last time Tom Brady took the field, he helped his team put up the highest point total in the NFL this year, as the Pats routed Pittsburgh 55-31. It has not been an easy season for Brady, who owns the lowest passer rating of his career at 82.7 and has been frustrated often by an inexperienced group of targets that has dropped 12.2 percent of catchable balls for the league’s worst mark. Carolina (6-3) has outscored their opponents 140-57 during its longest win streak since a six-game run Oct. 3-Nov. 13, 2005. Linebacker Luke Kuechly earned conference defensive player of the week honors for an 11-tackle performance as part of a defense that sacked Colin Kaepernick six times. While the Panthers defense is awesome, ranking second in the NFL in total yards, second vs. the run and fourth vs. the pass, the stat that may matter the most is this one. Carolina has rushed for an average of 120.4 yards during its win streak while the Patriots allow 128.2 yards per game on the ground for the league’s third-worst mark. Keeping Brady off the field may be the best defense Carolina plays on Monday. LW in San Fran, Graham Gano’s 53-yard field goal with 10:05 to play was the game-winner in the Panthers’ 10-9 victory, look for another Gano FG to win this one in a slightly higher scoring game and look for it to come much later in the fourth quarter. The Cats D will be stout at home and their rushing attack will limit Brady’s possessions. Carolina will prevail in this one with a last minute FG to win the game. Carolina 23 New England 20