Perhaps we should have seen it coming. On Saturday, three of the four remaining unbeaten Power Five teams in college football were upset as Clemson, Iowa and Michigan suffered losses, leaving just top-ranked Alabama as the lone major unbeaten college football team. To be fair, Western Michigan, of the MAC, is also unbeaten but the MAC is not a Power Five conference.
That set the stage for a very wild Sunday in the NFL when several highly entertaining games with dramatic endings shook up the standings and our perceptions of how the balance of the NFL season might unfold.
Wild finishes in Carolina, New Orleans, Pittsburgh and New England, combined with continued struggles by Green Bay and Minnesota, have put the races to the Playoffs in fuzzy focus as Thanksgiving approaches.
More football like the kind we witnessed on Sunday will do much to reverse the current decline in the NFL’s television ratings. More exciting action combined with less involvement by the officials and replay crews that halt game momentum will do much to bring back the fans who continue to grow tired of the play and pace in many of the games.
Several teams with Playoff aspirations are in deep trouble just past the midpoint of the season.
Defending NFC Champion and Super Bowl runner up Carolina blew a 17-0 home lead over Kansas City that included allowing the Chiefs to score 17 fourth quarter points in a 20-17 loss that dropped the Panthers to 3-6.
Carolina would have to win its final seven games to finish 10-6, which is usually the record needed to earn a Wild Card. For many years the Super Bowl loser has had trouble the following season and the Panthers seem to be fitting right into that mold this season.
Green Bay is also in danger of missing the Playoffs for the first time since 2008. A second lackluster effort resulted in a second straight loss, which dropped the Packers to 4-5. Sunday’s loss at Tennessee was especially surprising considering they lost at home a week earlier to 4-5 Indianapolis.
Pittsburgh is also in danger of missing the Playoffs, after making them last season, following their wild loss to Dallas.
And Arizona, at 4-4-1, is also in danger of missing the Playoffs after winning the NFC West last season with a 13-3 record.
Each year there are plenty of surprises that result in close to half of the prior season’s dozen teams not making the Playoffs the next season.
As the second half of the season unfolds more surprises are in store as Division and Wild Card races take shape.
The NFL schedule this season is quite quirky. All but six teams have had their byes. Atlanta, Denver, the New York Jets and San Diego have byes this week. Next week is Thanksgiving and all 32 teams will be in action. Then, in Week 13, Cleveland and Tennessee will have the final two byes for this season.
Here’s a preview of the 14 games that comprise the Week 11 schedule.
New Orleans (+4) at Carolina (Over/Under 51): Although both teams lost tough games last week no ground was lost in the NFC South as Division leader Atlanta also lost. Both offenses are in the top five in terms of number of plays run per game. New Orleans has the better offense but also the weaker defense. Carolina has the better balanced offense. In their earlier meeting this season the Saints upset the Panthers with a 41-38 home win in Week 6. This combination of factors suggests another high scoring contest. OVER
Tennessee (+3) at Indianapolis (52): Last month the Colts won at Tennessee, 34-26. Indianapolis is off its bye week while the Titans are off a 47-25 rout of Green Bay that they controlled from the start. The Titans have a big edge in the running game and the Colts have the better passing game. Tennessee has the better defense. The Colts are rested following their bye, which followed their upset win at Green Bay. These teams have played a combined 15 OVERs and just 4 UNDERs and their first meeting went OVER the Total by a dozen points. OVER
Jacksonville (+6.5) at Detroit (47): Jacksonville continues to disappoint and last week went from underdogs to favorites in their home loss to Tennessee. The Jags are 2-7 despite their Season Wins Total of 7.5. The Lions are tied with Minnesota atop the NFC North at 5-4 and return from their bye week.
They defeated the Vikings in overtime just before the bye and will face them again four days later at home on Thanksgiving, making this a potential flat spot. But because of the bye and the recent game with the Vikings, Detroit should be well prepared for this unfamiliar foe. Both teams have very weak running games but the Lions have the edge at QB and a huge edge in avoiding turnovers. DETROIT.
Tampa Bay (+7.5) at Kansas City (44.5): Kansas City has won five straight following a 2-2 start and have now won 17 of their last 19 regular season games dating back to last season. But after covering the first six of those wins last season, the Chiefs are just 5-7-1 ATS in the last 13 games of this impressive regular season run. Tampa is off a solid win over Chicago and at 4-5 still alive in the NFC South. It was their first home win this season.
Tampa is 3-1 on the road with wins at Atlanta and Carolina. The Chiefs are not designed to be a team that wins by huge margins. They play sound defense and avoid turnovers, waiting for their opponents to make mistakes. As such it can be dangerous laying more than a touchdown in their games. Tampa is off three straight home games but their earlier road success and a return to health of key offensive performers give support to taking a TD or more. TAMPA BAY.
Chicago at N Y Giants (NL): The Giants hosted Cincinnati Monday night and the Bears lost badly at Tampa Bay, 36-10, despite going off as a 3-point road favorite. The Giants are projected to be favored by just under a touchdown. The Giants have the better offense but it is too one dimensional with a strong passing game but the league’s weakest running attack. The defensive stats are fairly even and the Bears have been better at avoiding turnovers. Chicago’s Jay Cutler is an above average QB and the Giants just don’t win by margins. Prior to their game against the Bengals 4 of their 5 wins have been by 5 points or less and the other was by 7. CHICAGO.
Arizona (Pk) at Minnesota (41): Minnesota’s 5-0 start is a distant memory following four straight losses. Arizona returned from its bye with a dull effort against San Francisco that nearly cost them a win. Both teams have four losses, which makes this a key game as the loser will face a tough road to making the Playoffs. Both teams have Top 5 defenses that allow under 5.0 yards per play. This generally means they do not allow many big plays. Arizona has the better offense but it has been woefully inconsistent. The spot calls for Minnesota but their second worst running game makes it a tough call against a top defense. Special team or defensive touchdowns could be the spoiler but the fundamentals point to a deliberately played, low scoring game. UNDER
Buffalo at Cincinnati (NL): Cincinnati played at the Giants Monday night and are projected to be favored by about 4 points over the Bills who return from their bye following their tough loss in Seattle. That was their third straight loss that followed a four-game winning streak. Buffalo rates better statistically in many categories, including their second best rushing game that averages 155 yards per game. The Bills also have slightly better defensive stats and are better at avoiding turnovers. The extra time to prepare and facing a foe off a Monday game are bid edges for the visitors who have played better than their record suggests. BUFFALO.
Baltimore (+7.5) at Dallas (45): Dallas continues to have the look of a Super Bowl team and their dramatic win at Pittsburgh was the latest illustration of a team that has many ways to win. Baltimore is a very quiet 5-4 and atop the AFC North. They have extra rest following last Thursday’s win over Cleveland who had faced the Cowboys the previous week. The stats in Cleveland’s games against the Ravens and Cowboys were similar as the Browns after accounting for game locales. Dallas has a key game a few days later, hosting Division rival Washington on Thanksgiving. It’s one thing to avoid betting against Dallas when they are underdogs but when laying a TD or more a case can be made for taking the points in a game Dallas can win without covering in what could be a letdown spot. BALTIMORE.
Pittsburgh (-9) at Cleveland (49.5): Cleveland is 0-10 but is rested following last Thursday’s loss at Baltimore. Pittsburgh was considered one of the favorites in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl and started the season by winning 4 of its first 5 games. But they enter this game having lost four in a row. A look at those losses reveals they were all to teams with winning records who are a combined 29-11, including the teams with the best record in the AFC (New England) and the NFC (Dallas). Their early season loss was to 5-4 Philadelphia. Winless Cleveland would normally be worthy of consideration if the Steelers were not in their current position and likely laying a few points more. But this is where Pittsburgh takes out a month of frustration versus a foe that has 6 losses by more than 10 points and despite their 0-10 record, which usually provides line value, is just 2-8 ATS. PITTSBURGH.
Miami (+1) at Los Angeles (41): Miami has won four in a row with only their win at San Diego last week on the road, their second straight win in which a defensive or special teams touchdown provided the winning score. The Dolphins are staying in SoCal this week, negating poor scheduling dynamics. The Rams return home following an ugly 9-6 win at the Jets in which neither team could gain 300 yards in a game that featured just one turnover. Miami has the better running game by a fairly sizeable margin. The Rams have the better defensive stats. Both offenses average less than 60 plays per game, in the bottom third of the league. Rams games are averaging a league low 34.7 total points per game. Miami games are slightly below league average. UNDER
New England (-14) at San Francisco (51): New England was in a very favorable spot last week, returning from a bye and with a fourth quarter lead at home against Seattle. But the Seahawks came back to win after stopping the Patriots four times from the 2 yard line in the game’s final minute. At 7-2 the Pats still control the AFC’s top seed although both Oakland and Kansas City also have just two losses and both Denver and Houston have three losses. Coach Bill Belichick will have his team’s full attention this week after San Francisco competed well in a 23-20 loss at Arizona. The talent difference on both sides of the line is huge and we can expect a big effort from the Patriots who already have road wins of 20 and 16 points since Tom Brady returned from suspension. NEW ENGLAND.
Philadelphia (+6) at Seattle (46): Philadelphia is this season’s example of team with a strong home/road dichotomy. The Eagles are 4-0 at home, winning by an average of 17.5 points per game. After a Week 2 win at lowly Chicago, the Eagles have lost four straight on the road. Although the losses have been by margins of 7, 1, 6 and 5 points the Eagles have also lost ATS in each of the games. Seattle is playing well with five wins, a loss and a tie in its last seven games. This could be a flat spot for the Seahawks following their dramatic win at New England. In three home games against teams currently with winning records Seattle is 3-0 SU but 1-2 ATS with the lone cover by a half point against Buffalo. Despite Philly’s 0-4 road record they have been competitive and at +6 or higher will be in their biggest underdog role of the season thus far. PHILADELPHIA.
Green Bay (+2.5) at Washington (50): Green Bay has lost three straight and in their last two losses – at home to the Colts and at Tennessee – the Pack played listless football with little energy or sense of urgency.
There clearly appears to be tension between QB Aaron Rodgers and the coaching staff and the situation continues to be toxic. Washington returned from its bye with a nice win over Minnesota in which they led 14-0 before having to rally from a 20-14 deficit in their 26-20 win. Following an 0-2 start the Redskins are 5-1-1 SU and 6-1 ATS. Working against Washington is their game four days later at Division rival Dallas on Thanksgiving. This is also the second of three straight road games. Washington has enough edges to support laying a FG or less against a team not accustomed to playing so poorly this deep into the season with a healthy Rodgers. WASHINGTON.
Houston (+5.5) vs. Oakland (46.5) (at Mexico City): The fourth and final international game for this season takes place south of the border. Oakland has been one of the biggest surprises this season and has won all five road games this season despite being just 2-2 at home.
However both of those losses were to teams that currently have winning records. They have momentum from their impressive win over Denver prior to last week’s bye.
Houston is atop the AFC South at 6-3. The Texans still rely on their defense to make big plays and have a 1.3 yards per edge over the Raiders.
Both teams have top 5 rushing attacks with the Raiders’ Derek Carr having the edge over Houston’s Brock Osweiler at QB.
The unfamiliar surroundings and Houston’s defensive edge suggests a competitive game in which the generous points could come into play. HOUSTON.
Last week: 2-11-1