Starting with Thursday night’s matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, Week 11 of the NFL season is chock-full of huge matchups in both conferences.
The Cincinnati Bengals travel to the Bayou to take on a Saints team that’s in need of a win following a home loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Bengals do so after winning just two games since Week 3.
Meanwhile, the top two teams in the NFC do battle as the Arizona Cardinals travel to the Motor City to face a 7-2 Lions team. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they will be doing so without the services of Carson Palmer after he tore his ACL last week against St. Louis.
Other big matchups include the Seattle Seahawks taking their act to Arrowhead to take on a hot Kansas City Chiefs team and Andrew Luck meeting up with Tom Brady in Indianapolis.
As we have done each week this season, here is a look at the top storyline for each Week 11 NFL game.
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins: Two Teams Looking to Remain in AFC Playoff Race
This Thursday Night Football Matchup has a ton of playoff implications. Both Buffalo and Miami sit at 5-4 and two games behind the New England Patriots in the AFC East. Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in games that they could have very well won at the end. Unfortunately, the loser of this one will likely find itself completely out of the playoff picture heading into Week 12.
With four AFC North teams currently possessing four losses or less, the team that ends up dropping a fifth game on Thursday night is going to be in some trouble here. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that New England appears primed to run away with the AFC East.
Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns: Are the Browns Serious Contenders for the AFC North Title?
Cleveland is in sole possession of first place this late in the season for the first time since 1989. But in reality, it’s a pretty precarious position with a half game lead over a more-talented Cincinnati Bengals team. If Cleveland is going to continue this surprising run to a division title and fend off the rest of the AFC North, it will have to defeat a stumbling Texans team that will see Ryan Mallett make his first NFL start under center. A loss here, and the skeptics will come out in droves to bash the “pretenders.”
However, the Browns can move to four games over .500 with a win. They can do so with the full understanding that Josh Gordon will be back with the team for its Week 12 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: Can the Panthers Give Cam Newton any Help?
Newton was sacked nine times against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night. It seemed that his offensive line simply couldn’t block anyone throughout the night. And now, Newton has been sacked 30 times in nine games. That’s a number that no quarterback in the NFL could overcome.
Why is this so important? After all, we are talking about a 3-6-1 team heading into Week 11. Well, the winner of this game could very well be tied for first place (at least in both the win and loss column) should the New Orleans Saints fall to Cincinnati on Sunday. Just think about that for a second. Luckily, the Panthers are going up against a Falcons team that has just 11 sacks on the season.
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears: Two Teams Heading in Different Directions
At 4-5 on the season, Minnesota has an outside shot at a playoff spot in the NFC. And while that’s an unlikely scenario, it’s cool to see Teddy Bridgewater play meaningful games in November. As for the Bears, well it’s a complete dumpster fire. You already know the story here. Chicago has yielded 50-plus points in two consecutive games and has been outscored by 58 points during that span. At 3-6, this team is pretty much done.
The Bears have yet to win a game (0-3) at home this season. It’s going to be interesting to see how both the players and the fans respond to the team being completely out of the playoff race, especially considering the last time Chicago played at home it still had aspirations to win the division. In a must-win outing for Minnesota, the backdrop of what might happen with a Bears team that’s reeling could also be intriguing.
Cincinnati Bengals at New Orleans Saints: Must Win Outing for Cincinnati
It doesn’t appear that New Orleans will be in a must-win scenario until the latter stages of the season. Even at 4-5, it currently owns sole possession of first place in the NFC South. The same cannot be said for a Bengals team that is currently three games over .500 but has won just two games since Week 3. Considering how tough the AFC North is, Cincinnati needs a signature win to get the ship righted and contend for a division title moving forward. Unfortunately, the Saints aren’t going to be messing around at home where they usually dominate visiting teams.
Denver Broncos at St. Louis Rams: It’s Shaun Hill Time
Apparently, the Rams plan on starting all over again at the quarterback position. Head coach Jeff Fisher announced on Wednesday that the team has benched Austin Davis for veteran backup Shaun Hill. It’s pretty much going to be an exercise in futility going up against Peyton Manning and Co. But I really want to see what the Rams’ plans are here. Why go to the veteran that has no real future with the team while benching a young signal caller in Davis? This makes little sense. As it is, we will be able to gauge how the Rams’ offense functions with a limited (but capable) Hill under center.
Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs: Playoff Implications Galore
Seattle may be two games out of first in the NFC West, but it has to be riding high after a dominating second-half performance against the New York Giants last week. While no one wishes for a player to go down with a season-ending injury, the loss of Carson Palmer in Arizona could very well have a positive impact on Seattle’s ability to come back and win the division. Speaking of season-ending injuries, Seattle will be without defensive lineman Brandon Mebane for the remainder of the year. That’s a huge blow for one of the league’s best run defenses, especially this week against Jamaal Charles and Co.
On the other hand, Kansas City finds itself right in the thick of the AFC West race just one game behind the Denver Broncos. Playing at Arrowhead against a team that tends to struggle on the road, this could very well be a statement game for Andy Reid’s squad. Seattle’s defense will go all out against the run, so Alex Smith will have to beat the Legion of Boom over the top. That’s a major key to this game.
San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants: Win Streak for Jim Harbaugh’s Squad?
There is no real reason why the 49ers shouldn’t be able to go into New Jersey and dominate a reeling Giants team. But as we have seen throughout the course of the regular season, San Francisco simply hasn’t proven that it can dominate opposing teams. In order for the 49ers to remain viable in the NFC West race moving forward, they need a statement win against a lesser team. And no, I am not talking about a 20-16 last-second victory. The talent is here for San Francisco to show the NFL that it is one of the top teams in the conference after struggling through the first half of the year. It’s now all about remaining consistent and doing what they do best…run the ball. If this happens, Harbaugh’s team could very well find itself in the midst of a nice winning streak heading into Thanksgiving night matchup against Seattle. If not, this could very well become a lost season for San Francisco.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Redskins: Is Robert Griffin III the Answer?
This seems to be a story that won’t end. Unfortunately for fans in Washington, that’s because RGIII simply hasn’t performed at a high level when he’s been on the field since what was an amazing rookie season back in 2012. He’s 4-12 as a starting quarterback over the past two seasons and has thrown a total of three touchdowns in his last six starts (152 pass attempts). It doesn’t take a math major to realize that’s not going to get it done.
Now with seven games remaining on the season and seemingly healthier than at any point since midway through his rookie campaign, RGIII has an opportunity to prove skeptics wrong. At 3-6, Washington is playing out the stretch. But what happens over the last month and a half of the season could define the future of this fledgling franchise.
Oakland Raiders at San Diego Chargers: Must-Win for the Home Team
Every game is a must win for the Oakland Raiders, but that’s a story for another time. San Diego comes into this matchup fresh off a bye and losers of three consecutive games. And now at 5-4 on the year, Philip Rivers and Co. are pretty much in must-win mode against a Raiders team that hasn’t been on the positive side of a final score since last November.
Look at it this way. San Diego isn’t only behind two teams in the AFC West as it relates to a playoff spot, it’s behind every team in the AFC North and tied with two teams in the AFC East. Needless to say, it’s imperative that the Chargers get a victory against the bottom-feeding Raiders. A loss here, and the concern will be pretty high in Southern California.
Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions: Battle of NFC’s Best
In terms of overall records, these are the top teams in the NFC heading into Week 11. But both have a whole lot to prove in order to show that they belong with the big boys in the conference. Detroit’s strength of schedule is the lowest of any contending team in the NFC and it has won its last three games by a combined six points. With a tough stretch of games to close out the season, the Lions need to show that they can play a full four quarters against a good team.
As it relates to the Cardinals, the situation is more clear cut. Carson Palmer tore his ACL against the St. Louis Rams last week and is lost for the season. And despite being two games up in the NFC West, Bruce Arians’ squad also has a difficult schedule moving forward. This game represents the first in a stretch of five games against teams with winning records in the Cardinals final seven outings, including three against San Francisco and Seattle. Can Drew Stanton finish the job and help Arizona earn a division title? That’s the huge question heading into Week 11.
Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay Packers: More Playoff Implications
Philadelphia can grab a full game lead on the idle Dallas Cowboys with a win on the road against Green Bay. On the other hand, the Packers may have an opportunity to move into a first-place tie with the Lions pending the outcome of their game against the Cardinals. Yeah, this is one of those big games that come down the pike towards the latter part of the season.
Even better, both teams are coming off blowout victories and appear to be playing their best football of the season. Philadelphia manhandled the Carolina Panthers to the tune of 45-21 on Monday night, while Aaron Rodgers threw a record six first-half touchdowns in Green Bay’s 55-14 humiliation of the Bears on Sunday night. Needless to say, whoever wins this one will put itself in position to be major players atop the NFC standings when all is said and done.
New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts: Statement Game for Andrew Luck and Co.
Indianapolis is 6-3 on the season, but it really doesn’t have that signature win yet. Its six victories have come against teams with a combined .386 winning percentage. Hosting an extremely hot Patriots team, riding the wave that we call Tom Brady, this game could very well act as a huge win for the Colts moving forward.
The other thing to check out here is Brady vs Andrew Luck. The two have combined for 41 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions since Week 3. It’s the new breed against a dying breed that simply won’t exit stage left. That’s the backdrop of an important GPS game between two first-place clubs.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans: Will the Real Steelers Please Show up?
I can just hear Eminem’s voice right now. Honestly, there is no way to know which Steelers team will show up here. Will it be the squad that put up 94 points in the two games prior to last week or will it be the team that was embarrassed by the New York Jets last Sunday? As I have mentioned numerous times before, the Steelers simply need to start showing more consistency. If not, a team that’s technically in last place right now will finish closer to that spot than first when the season draws to a conclusion.