Time to sort some out the standings a bit …
Division games are interwoven with a few interconference matchups of note this week, which should bring a clearer picture of what to expect down the stretch.
Three of the six divisional games carry serious weight: Lions at Bears, Jaguars at Colts and Cowboys at Eagles. OK, the first one is not as important as the next two, yet Chicago needs a division win, given that the Bears dropped their only NFC North game thus far (the season opener in Green Bay, when Chicago blew a 20-0 lead). We will also find out if Detroit is completely out of the picture sans Golden Tate. Meanwhile, the Jaguars need a win right now as bad as any team in the league, in the hopes of closing the gap on the Texans. The Colts have trotted back in the race, but need to take home games like Sunday’s in order to really compete for the AFC South crown. Lastly, the sagging Cowboys can ill afford another loss, or the calls for Jason Garrett will only get louder, and a postseason bid will fall further out of shouting distance. One big problem for Dallas: The rested Eagles are looking to catch the wounded Redskins in the NFC East.
Now, before we get into all the Game Picks, lemme address some reader thoughts on this week’s Power Rankings …
How do pats always somehow sneak their way to number 1 or 2
By sneakily winning all the time.
@HarrisonNFL the Aints lose to Tampa and almost get beat by Cleveland. What are two things the best team in the NFL would never do? #LARams still the best.
Dude, that was Weeks 1 and 2. The Rams got beat by the Falcons in January — maybe Atlanta should be at the top!
OK, let’s get back to this week’s forecast … Can the Saints extend the NFL’s longest active win streak? Will the Rams start a new one? And can the Raiders maybe, uh, win a quarter? Check out all of the Week 10 prognostications below. Your points are always cool: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Elliot Harrison went 10-3 on his predictions for Week 9, bringing his record for the season to 93-39-2. How will he fare in Week 10? His picks are below.
THURSDAY, NOV. 8
Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Carolina Panthers 24
8:20 p.m. ET (FOX/NFL Network/Prime Video) | Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)
I don’t like the Panthers on a short week. Carolina darn near gave up a 35-7 lead last week at home to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ben Roethlisberger threw effectively in Baltimore, despite the absence of massive numbers. Also worth noting: Pittsburgh posted 395 yards of offense against the top-ranked defense in the league. Unfortunately, Ron Rivera’s defense has given up a lot of scores through the air (tied for the eighth-most passing touchdowns allowed), but the unit has managed to compensate for that by forcing its fair share of takeaways (15). If they can pull a few interceptions out of the bag against Roethlisberger, the Panthers should be OK. That’s because Carolina has been strong against the run all year — that is to say, James Conner is not likely to go off this week. Then again, Conner is on pace for over 2,000 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns.
SUNDAY, NOV. 11
New Orleans Saints 34, Cincinnati Bengals 27
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)
One of a few potential trap games on the Week 10 schedule (see below), I am predicting the Saints don’t get trapped. Cincy features the 26th-ranked run defense, which the Bengals make up for by owning the 32nd-ranked pass defense. Bad news: There are only 32 teams in the league. That means it will be pick-your-poison time when it comes to stopping Drew Brees. If the Bengals play numbers on the back end, Brees can audible to the run. If Cincy plays it straight but doubles Michael Thomas, Brees can go to his RBs through the air, with Mark Ingram or Alvin Kamara matched up on LBs. It’s imperative that Joe Mixon produces to limit the total number of Saints possessions. Remember, no A.J. Green this week. Ruh-roh.
Atlanta Falcons 28, Cleveland Browns 20
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
I know I talked a lot about traps in the Saints-Bengals blurb … but this one really feels like a classic trap game, doesn’t it? The Falcons have been seemingly scoring at will, while the Browns have gone down the toilet since that emotional overtime win against the Ravens in Week 5. Atlanta is bound to misfire offensively at some point, and if elements come into play off of Lake Erie, this might be the week. Julio Jones finally scored a touchdown last week, but frankly, Atlanta hasn’t needed him in the red zone. The Falcons are the most effective offense in the league inside the opponent’s 20 since Week 2, and they lead in third-down conversions (53 percent). Cleveland is 29th on third down (32 percent), a huge determining factor in their losses (think of the missed kicks early on). Put another way: Nothing points to a Browns win, which is precisely what worries me.
Chicago Bears 27, Detroit Lions 17
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Soldier Field (Chicago)
Detroit fans want to check the temperature of team brass after the Lions traded for "Snacks" Harrison, then traded away Golden Tate — and proceeded to listlessly lay an egg in Minnesota. The Bears’ defense has been playing at a high level, even without Khalil Mack, and should be able to handle the Detroit offense at their home park. At issue for the Lions and OC Jim Bob Cooter is the inability to develop any kind of sustainable ground attack, departing from their one-dimensional, pass-happy offense only once, in that road win at Miami. As long as Mitch Trubisky protects the football, Chicago wins.
Kansas City Chiefs 35, Arizona Cardinals 10
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Mo.)
How to write about this game, man? The Cardinals could use David Johnson, giving him 30 carries and employing some clock-eating 10-play drives to slow Patrick Mahomes down … but they won’t do it (they rank dead last in average plays per drive, with 4.74). Arizona could let Josh Rosen air it out, damn the torpedoes … but they won’t do it (they’re 32nd in big plays). The Cardinals could blitz Patrick Mahomes incessantly … but they won’t — well, not sure that would work no matter what Arizona did or didn’t do (Mahomes has a passer rating of 117.2 vs. the blitz). The good news here is that Arizona has gotten to the quarterback 24 times, notching 72 hurries according to Pro Football Focus. And the Cards have only missed 52 tackles, far less than outstanding defenses like the Cowboys or Ravens. Cool. They’ll still lose.
New England Patriots 26, Tennessee Titans 17
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
Could this be where the Patriots’ winning streak ends? New England has garnered six straight victories, putting up gobs of points when needed (SEE: Chiefs, Packers), held the fort when needed (SEE: Dolphins, Bills, Packers) and made waves on special teams when needed (SEE: Bears). What will be necessary versus the suddenly unstuck Titans? Solid blocking up front, for starters, and solid special teams play. This Tennessee defense is no joke. The Titans are first in the entire NFL in offensive points allowed (141). They are also hell on wheels in the red zone, where they allow 1.6 yards per play, a 51.2 passer rating and touchdowns only 31.8 percent of the time. The Pats must create rushing lanes and let Tom Brady pat the ball when the field is squeezed near the Titans’ goal line. And Stephen Gostkowski must be money. He is so money he doesn’t even know he is money.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26, Washington Redskins 20
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
This score is based solely on the state of the Redskins’ offensive line. Washington is down two starters for the season, while tackle Trent Williams is playing banged up. Tampa’s defense has been a turnstile all year — that’s no secret. But with Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao out, it could be huntin’ time for Jason Pierre-Paul and the rest of that Bucs pass rush, which has been hit-or-miss most of the year. I couldn’t believe it when I looked at Tampa’s team stats and saw that Pierre-Paul had already registered eight sacks. A huge issue defensively for the Bucs, especially without Kwon Alexander, is stopping running backs in the red zone. They’ve allowed a ton of rushing TDs. But because they are facing such an injury-hampered Washington front, I’m banking on the Tampa defense.
New York Jets 13, Buffalo Bills 10
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
Whew doggie, this game is a beaut … like them green walls. That’s what Cousin Eddie might say about this game. At least Clark Griswold’s family truckster with the sweet wood-grain siding could move. Not sure either of these offenses can advance worth a lick. With rookie Jets QB Sam Darnold sidelined by a foot injury, it will be Josh McCown’s car to drive. Plane to fly. You know what I mean. Nate Peterman, meanwhile, sports a career TD-to-INT ratio of 3:12, or 1:4. (To put that in perspective, Aaron Rodgers’ is 328:79, or roughly 4:1. Go Bills.) Unfortunately, this matchup comes down to the lesser of two, well, cruddy offenses. In that regard, New York clearly holds the advantage. Gang Green looks to acquire more than its lowly 5.1 yards per play average. Despite that awful number, the Jets still are over a yard ahead of the Bills, who manage 4.0 per play. No team has averaged less since the 2004 Bears, led by Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn and Rex Grossman. #SexyRexy
Jacksonville Jaguars 23, Indianapolis Colts 20 (OT)
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
Both teams absolutely must win this game. The Texans are beginning to pull away with the AFC South — but they’re on a bye week. Which presents a sterling opportunity for the Jags and Colts to gain traction. How effective will Leonard Fournette be for Jacksonville following a two-month layoff due to a bum hamstring? Playing on the road presents another hurdle, considering the Jaguars haven’t won outside of Florida since Week 1. (And that was against the Giants, so does it even count?) The Colts played very well offensively the last two weeks, employing the run early and often versus the Bills (whose run defense has been mostly formidable), then hitting plenty of big pass plays to receivers you never heard of against the Raiders. Buffalo … Oakland … the 31st and 32nd teams in the Power Rankings. Thinking this Jaguars defense will let Andrew Luck know early on that it is a different animal.
Los Angeles Chargers 34, Oakland Raiders 21
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) | Oakland Coliseum (Oakland, Calif.)
Wouldn’t it be so in tune with this old AFC West (AFL, really) rivalry if the Raiders delivered at home against a contender? Sure would. Though any upset would be predicated on Derek Carr playing above even his pay grade. It’s been a tough season for the franchise quarterback, who posted a 99.5 passer rating last week despite Oakland putting only three points on the board. That’s partially because Carr took seven sacks, instead of tossing incompletions/interceptions. And because he dinked and dunked enough to make Tom Brady blush. (Except Brady’s dink-and-dunkage produces wins.) Nearly 200 of Carr’s 282 pass attempts have been thrown either behind the line of scrimmage or in the 0-to-10-yard range. Ugh. Philip Rivers, meanwhile, has made hay on play action, which is where I feel the Chargers will dominate. According to Pro Football Focus, Rivers’ completion percentage off play action is 13.8 percent higher than on regular attempts. His play-action passer rating? A perfect 158.3. The Raiders already have no pass rush. What if they get fooled on run fakes?
Los Angeles Rams 31, Seattle Seahawks 25
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles)
This has the potential to be a fun game, given how tough the Seahawks played the Rams in Seattle last month, as well as the fact they beat Sean McVay’s group in Los Angeles last season. While the defensive personnel isn’t as stout for the visiting Seahawks this time around, that unit has played tougher than most analysts anticipated. One matchup to watch will be Russell Wilson and his receivers against what has been a wobbly Rams secondary in recent weeks. On the other side, can Seattle can halt Todd Gurley from ripping off chunk runs? I mentioned in last week’s Game Picks that the Seahawks were allowing too much real estate per rush. The Chargers exploited that with Melvin Gordon running wild. Well, Gurley leads the league in scrimmage yards (1,230) and touchdowns (16) — two categories he owned last season. The only players to go back-to-back in those two stats: Jim Brown (1958 and ’59) and Don Hutson (1941 and ’42). Instagram went nuts over Hutson.
Green Bay Packers 33, Miami Dolphins 17
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wis.)
Feel free to swipe left on Brock Osweiler at Lambeau. I mean, when you’re staring at Aaron Rodgers’ profile, it’s hard to linger too long on Osweiler’s bio. Sorry, dating apps are seeping into your friendly writer’s musings. The Dolphins own a winning record at 5-4, yet have been outscored by 38 points. They have really struggled on the road the last three times out. Granted, that competition has been pretty stout: Texans (currently 6-3), Bengals (5-3) and Patriots (7-2). But they lost those three games by a combined score of 107-47 — a robust average deficit of 20 points per game. Miami’s defense could allow the Fins to hang around, given the Packers’ poor play calling as of late. Key will be how Osweiler performs on third down, where the Dolphins convert only 39.4 to first downs this season. Field goals won’t win the day in Green Bay, where the Packers have yet to lose this season.
Philadelphia Eagles 24, Dallas Cowboys 22
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)
This game is the Cowboys’ season. Lose in Philadelphia, and they can forget about the playoffs. They will be 3-6, trending massively downward. There are no more excuses. With Amari Cooper in his second week in the offense, a solid slot receiver in Cole Beasley and, of course, Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, Dallas should be able to move the ball on an Eagles defense that is currently ranked 17th in Total D. In theory. Dak Prescott will have to make accurate, on-time throws. And here’s the joy of it: He will see windows, as this Philadelphia secondary has floundered often this season. Can he set up and read the field, anticipating his receivers coming open before they do? If not, the Cowboys will struggle to score. The Eagles’ D might bend plenty, but the unit still ranks fifth in points allowed. They stop the leaking when they must. A big part of that is their pass rush, which is notorious for making game-changing plays when quarterbacks hold the ball too long …
MONDAY, NOV. 12
San Francisco 49ers 28, New York Giants 14
8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
It’s classic football, Giants at 49ers! Two teams looking to save the season. It’s also the Eli Manning face vs. the future face of the NFL! OK, maybe all of that was a little strong. But Nick Mullens got everyone jazzed last Thursday night. "Sure, but that was against the Raiders," you say. Right, and these are the Giants, I say. New York’s defense has at least been mildly effective, at least compared to Oakland’s defense (as well as the Giants’ own offense). Big Blue is pulling off the somewhat-difficult trick of being eighth in the league in pass attempts per game, but 28th in passing touchdowns. You’d think that this could be the week where Saquon Barkley goes off. Not so fast. San Francisco allows 4.0 yards per rush (league average: 4.33), and is near the top of the NFL in first-down rush defense.
Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.
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