2017 NFL Picks Week 11: Bortles or the Browns? Chargersfail or Peterman? Goff or Keenum?
I'll be honest: I have no real justification for picking the 2017 New York Jets as road favorites. It seemed to make sense last week, but sometimes you have to step back and really contemplate what you're doing. I did not, and as soon as the Buccaneers took a lead it became evident that Josh McCown wasn't leading any comebacks. Don't worry, it won't happen again.
We're taking a lot of road teams again this week, but the road favorites we picked are quarterbacked by current MVP front-runner Carson Wentz, Tom Brady, and Matthew Stafford. The road favorites we're picking against are quarterbacked by Joe Flacco and Blake Bortles. Choosing NFL games obviously isn't as simple as picking against bad quarterbacks on the road, but it's a good place to start.
You may have noticed my Bears choosing to challenge a play last week with a downside of 1st and Goal from the 2-yard line and coming away without the ball; I haven't been watching the Bears this year because they do stupid things like trade valuable draft picks to snag an unproven quarterback, so please continue laughing as much as you'd like. I never had much hope for the John Fox era anyway.
This week's picks, though? Yeah, I think we'll be over .500 again. Let's go!
Green Bay Packers +2 vs. Baltimore Ravens
Yes, the Packers are still without Aaron Rodgers. And yes, his absence was the core of my argument for picking the Saints in Lambeau way back in Week 7. But Joe Flacco isn't Drew Brees and the 2017 Ravens are considerably worse than the 2017 Saints. Baltimore's offense is ranked 27th in DVOA, well behind Green Bay's 9th despite the considerable influence of Brett Hundley. The Ravens' defense is definitely good, ranking 3rd overall, but they're not nearly as good against the run (19th) as the pass (3rd). Hopefully Mike McCarthy has learned his team's best chance is leaning on their 2nd ranked rushing offense to minimize Hundley's impact on the game; last week's play selection (37 run/25 pass) would suggest he has. If they take the same approach in this game and make Joe Flacco beat them through the air, they should be able to hold on for a win at home.
Cleveland Browns +7.5 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
I should probably be staying away from this game altogether, both because I enjoy seeing Blake Bortles struggle and picking the Browns is always a recipe for disaster. The Browns have kept four games within 8 points this season, against the Steelers, Colts, Jets, and Titans. The three non-Steelers teams there are all ranked 19th or worse in DVOA, and Pittsburgh blends underwhelming with tantalizing like no team I can remember. The Jaguars (6th) are a lot closer to the Steelers (4th) than any of the bad teams Cleveland has stayed tight with this season. Still, 7.5 points is a lot for a home team to be getting against an offense incapable of throwing the ball. Jacksonville ranks 18th in passing DVOA behind a philosophy of "please don't let Blake Bortles throw the ball more than 5 yards downfield." They've leaned heavily on their 8th-ranked run game, but Cleveland somehow has the NFL's 2nd-ranked rush defense. Flip the same stats around, and the Browns have a big advantage running the ball, with the 6th-ranked rush offense going against Jacksonville's 30th-ranked rush defense. Look, I'm not saying the Browns are going to get their first win of 2017 here. But if they stick to the run and take advantage of the numerous mistakes Bortles makes in a given game, they can lose by less than a touchdown...right?
Philadelphia Eagles -5 at Dallas Cowboys
Last week, Jason Garrett confirmed my skepticism of Ivy League educations by doing nothing to change an offensive game plan that allowed Adrian Clayborn to amass six sacks working exclusively one-on-one against backup left tackle Chaz Green. For context, Clayborn's previous career-high for a season was 7.5. I'm nowhere near capable of coordinating an NFL offense, but I am confident that letting your quarterback get sacked by the same person on 16% of his dropbacks without using a running back or tight end to help qualifies as malpractice. This week won't be any easier, with starting left tackle Tyron Smith still injured and Philadelphia's 8th-ranked defense coming to town. Injuries favor the Eagles on offense as well, with Sean Lee set to miss his second consecutive game. The Cowboys have given up 14 more points per game when Lee has been a partial- or non-participant, and the Eagles come into Week 11 ranked 5th in offensive DVOA. With both teams at full health, this would be one of the most exciting games of the year. With three of the Cowboys' four biggest stars sidelined, it could get ugly fast.
Atlanta Falcons +3 at Seattle Seahawks
I don't know what to make of Atlanta this year. One week they're laying an egg against 32nd-ranked Miami, another they're stomping 13th-ranked Dallas. The Seahawks are 11th in DVOA right now, but their injury list just keeps growing, with Richard Sherman tearing his achilles last week. The Falcons enter this game with some revenge on their minds after a controversial no-call cost them a road victory last year. Their offense isn't nearly as good as last year's record-setting unit was, but they still rank 10th in DVOA. Seattle's once-formidable home field advantage doesn't seem to be as strong this year, with the Seahawks logging just one home victory by more than three points, a Week 4 blowout of the lowly Colts. Throw in the predictably shoddy play of Seattle's offensive line, and I like the Falcons to pull off an upset.
New England Patriots -7 "at" Oakland Raiders
The quotation marks are there because this game is being played in Mexico City, where the Raiders are no more at home than the Patriots. I'd like to think Oakland could take advantage of New England's 30th-ranked defense, but despite the 4th-ranked offense by DVOA, the Raiders are 17th in offensive points per game. The Patriots are the inverse, ranking 14th in points per game allowed. Tom Brady and the Patriots are 4th in points per game and going against the 32nd-ranked defense by DVOA and 11th-most generous defense by points allowed. The coaching advantage is just too big in this one to expect the Raiders to keep pace.
Washington Redskins +7.5 at New Orleans Saints
I'm going against the stats a bit in this one. Washington is worse than New Orleans in every facet of the game, but there's something about them and Kirk Cousins that seems to make every game interesting. Their only two road losses this year came against Philadelphia and Kansas City, two strong teams. The Saints are undeniably in the same class, sitting 2nd in DVOA, but I expect their surprising defense to run into some problems this week. If the competent-if-unremarkable Washington defense can hold up, we might be in line for a dramatic finish.
Detroit Lions -3 at Chicago Bears
The Bears and Mitchell Trubisky are still bad. There's a world in which Chicago's 2nd-ranked pass rush exploits Detroit's 23rd-ranked offensive line to wreak havoc, create turnovers, and produce easy points for the offense. Unfortunately, that world is much harder to reach than the one in which their 30th-ranked offense and 28th-ranked special teams choke the game away early and watch the Lions run up a big lead. Detroit can never make things easy on their fans, but they should still cover a field goal comfortably.
Kansas City Chiefs -10 at New York Giants
Just a few weeks ago, Kansas City's status as the best team in the league felt pretty secure. Three losses in four games to the Steelers, Raiders, and Cowboys have dropped them from that perch, but they were all close games against competent teams. The Giants are not a competent team, with a 1-8 record properly reflecting their 29th-place ranking in DVOA. The Chiefs should also benefit from the bye-week wizardry of Andy Reid. I think Kansas City gets everything back on track this week in a rout of one of the league's worst teams.
Los Angeles Rams +2.5 at Minnesota Vikings
Somehow Jared Goff vs. Case Keenum is the highlight of Week 11. What can I say? 2017 has been a really weird year. The least surprising part of this matchup is the Rams' 1st-ranked defense. I have a huge coach-crush on Wade Phillips as a defensive coordinator, and the Rams haven't given up more than 17 points since Week 4 in Dallas. Somehow, they also have the NFL's 2nd-ranked pass offense, which could cause real problems for Minnesota. The Vikings' defense ranks just 12th against the pass, and their defensive line has slipped to 11th in adjusted sack rate. Finally, the Rams have the league's best special teams while the Vikings rank 14th. I'm all about the Rams this year, and they'll get a quality road win here to justify my belief.
Los Angeles Chargers -5.5 vs. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills really don't like Tyrod Taylor for some reason. It's hard to figure out why looking at his stats since he won the starting job in 2015. Among quarterbacks over that timeframe, he ranks 20th in passing TDs, 3rd in rushing TDs, and 5th in INT rate. One year after benching him before Week 17 to avoid the possibility of guaranteeing his contract due to injury, the Bills are starting rookie fifth-rounder Nathan Peterman at quarterback against the NFL's 3rd-ranked pass rush. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are going to feast on Buffalo's 30th-ranked pass protection at home, and unless Phil Rivers fully implodes and gives the ball back to Buffalo five times, this will be a blowout.
That's all for this week! Kick back, grab a drink, and feel free to blame me if you put money on these picks and come out behind. I won't compensate you, but maybe your significant others will send their wrath in my direction instead of yours.