Thursday night is date night, kids. Jacksonville hosting Tennessee is for die-hards only, even though the surging Jags have won one in a row and are only one game behind Indianapolis for first place in the AFC South.
It’s too bad the Jags lost that OT game in Indy that Matt Hasselbeck started back in Week 4. He’s back under center this week against slumping Atlanta in place of an injured Andrew Luck, which means none of the games involving the NFL’s worst division rank among Week 11’s best. Here’s the 10 that make the cut:
Pro Football – Sunday
Washington Redskins at Carolina Panthers: Kirk Cousins has thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception over his last three contests. The ‘Skins have not won consecutive games all season and are 0-4 on the road, where Cousins has thrown for four scores and seven interceptions. He will face a Panthers defense tied for the NFL lead in picks and limiting quarterbacks to a league low 69.1 QBR.
Rookie Marcus Mariota became their latest victim in a 27-10 home loss, continuing a run that has seen Carolina generate a turnover against the last four quarterbacks they’ve faced (Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Mariota) and running their tally to eight of nine games picking off a pass this season.
Oakland Raiders at Detroit Lions: Although the AFC Wild Card race remains wide open, Oakland must take advantage of playing the Lions and Titans on the road before a grueling stretch that features a pair of matchups with surging Kansas City, a visit to Denver and home dates with the Packers and Chargers. If they’re going to seriously challenge for a playoff berth, the Raiders are going to need to handle business trips these next few weeks.
Latavius Murray got through concussion protocol in time to play against the Vikings but ran for just 48 yards, his lowest total since Oct. 11. He’ll look to give Oakland more balance on offense against a Detroit defense that held the Packers to 16 points – 3 through three quarters – and made their run game a non-factor.
Dallas Cowboys at Miami Dolphins: The Cowboys failed to win a game in seven tries without Tony Romo, so he’ll step back into must-win situations the rest of the way. The Dolphins are up first, opening a stretch that sees them finish out their schedule with five home dates in seven weeks.
Ndamakong Suh had a big game in an upset of Philadelphia, fueling hopes that he’ll be able to deliver a big second half of the season and live up to his massive contract. Miami RB Lamar Miller has been a force catching the ball out of the backfield over the last two games, making 13 receptions for 147 yards and a score.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles: Jameis Winston hasn’t seen .500 since Week 2 and still hasn’t delivered consecutive victories, but he can rectify both those matters with a victory over the struggling Eagles. He may get back TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins from a shoulder injury, which should lighten the load on top wideout Mike Evans, He has been targeted 53 times over the past four games, catching 27 passes.
Although the Eagles’ defense has gotten healthier, the offense has question marks regarding absent left tackle Jason Peters and ailing QB Sam Bradford, who is dealing with a shoulder injury and concussion symptoms. Mark Sanchez, who threw a costly INT on the Eagles penultimate possession, may get his first start of the season.
Denver Broncos at Chicago Bears: All signs point to Brock Osweiler making his first career NFL start in place of an injured and ineffective Peyton Manning. He’d be going up against the coach who drafted him, veteran John Fox. A fourth-year pro with limited experience outside of the preseason, Osweiler threw his second career TD pass against Kansas City last week and should have the services of top WR Emmanuel Sanders, who has been limited by an ankle injury.
The Bears have won consecutive road games at San Diego and St. Louis, shining despite the absence of an injured Matt Forte (knee). Rookie Jeremy Langford has done a tremendous job filling in.
Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers: The Chiefs are now 4-5 after trouncing Denver and have officially recovered from losing star RB Jamaal Charles by rattling off three straight wins behind an improved defense and young back Charcandrick West. Getting to .500 would put Kansas City right in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race and it will see these injury-plagued Chargers twice in the next four weeks.
San Diego has dropped five consecutive games but comes off a much-needed bye that should afford Philip Rivers’ offensive line some time to heal. Key defensive players like Eric Weddle, Corey Liuget and Manti Te’o also went into the break banged up, so monitor their availability for this one.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings: The Packers are in turmoil, losing three consecutive games for the first time since ’13. They’ve only lost four straight once in the Mike McCarthy era (’08) but must fix major offensive line issues to pull out a difficult road trip against a Vikings squad that has passed them and taken over the NFC Central lead.
Adrian Peterson ran for 203 yards to take over the NFL rushing lead in a 30-14 win at Oakland, securing Minnesota’s fifth win in a row and eight consecutive cover.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks hadn’t lost consecutive home games since 2011 before coming out of their bye week with a crippling Sunday night loss to Arizona. Back under .500 at 4-5, Seattle is now three full games behind the Cardinals for the NFC West lead and two behind Green Bay and Atlanta for the Wild cards.
The 49ers come out of their bye week with Blaine Gabbert as the starting quarterback, giving them a different look than the Colin Kaepernick-led version that fell to Seattle 20-3 at home on Oct. 22.
Cincinnati Bengals at Arizona Cardinals: By far the best matchup of the week, this has been flexed to Sunday night so a national audience can see a potential Super Bowl preview. The Bengals have been dominant behind Andy Dalton’s finest season, while the guy who had thejob prior to him, Carson Palmer, has lifted the Cardinals with 23 touchdown passes, including three on this very stage last week against the mighty Seahawks secondary.
Pro Football – Monday
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: Speaking of Brady, he dodged a bullet last week against the Giants, but probably would’ve been able to lead the Patriots into the end zone if replay hadn’t negated Odell Beckham Jr.’s touchdown catch. New England only needed three points and got them from Stephen Gostkowski to remain unbeaten.
The Patriots have major issues to face due to a hobbled offensive line and a foot injury that will remove Julian Edelman from the equation for the next few weeks. Replacing his production is going to be essential if the Pats are to secure a series sweep.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Email: [email protected].