NFL Week 11 features pivotal games for playoff hopeful teams.
Two teams who have disappointed relative to expectations, the Chicago Bears (4-5) and Los Angeles Rams (5-4), play on Sunday Night Football in what has the feel of an elimination game. The Bears and Rams won their respective divisions last year, but neither team has a realistic shot to repeat as division champions. The most feasible path towards the postseason for both squads will come through a wild-card berth. If the season ended today, both clubs would miss the postseason.
The Carolina Panthers (5-4) are also on the outside looking in for the NFC wild-card chase. Trailing the Minnesota Vikings by 1.5 games for a wild-card spot, the Panthers have a must-win game at home versus the 2-7 Atlanta Falcons.
Elsewhere, the Houston Texans (6-3) and Baltimore Ravens (7-2) battle in a duel of two first-place AFC teams. Baltimore enters the contest with an NFL-best five-game winning streak, while Houston has won four of its last five since starting the year 2-2.
Here are three bold predictions for Sunday, with each of the aforementioned games discussed.
1. Rams hold the Bears to under 10 points
In today’s offensive-catered NFL, it’s an arduous task to hold opponents to single digits. But that’s exactly what the Rams will do under the bright lights versus the Bears.
The Rams have yielded merely 32 points across their last three contests (10.6 points/game). Of those 32 points, seven were actually surrendered from the offense. During last week’s 17-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Rams QB Jared Goff threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Minkah Fitzpatrick.
For all intents and purposes, the Rams’ defense has only given up 25 points in the last three contests. Furthermore, they have actually produced nine points of their own in this stretch. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald sacked Steelers QB Mason Rudolph in the end zone for a safety.
— DLineVids (@dlinevids1) November 11, 2019
In the week prior, cornerback Darious Williams recovered a fumble in the end zone for a TD during their 37-10 beatdown of the Falcons.
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) October 21, 2019
Playing their best defensive football of the year, the Rams now get to face an ineffective Bears’ offense led by struggling quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Yes, Trubisky is fresh off a 3-TD performance against the Detroit Lions. But even in that victory against the 30th-ranked pass defense, Trubisky threw for only 173 yards. He also missed open receivers on a few plays and took five sacks.
Trubisky has tossed just eight touchdowns all year. A deeper dive into his lack of touchdown production reveals some startling statistics. The third-year QB has failed to throw a touchdown in five of his eight starts this season. In fact, six of his eight TDs came across two contests against the woeful defenses of Washington and Detroit.
Trubisky ranks 24th in passing yards and 27th in passer rating. He averages a measly 172.5 passing yards and has yet to top the 300-yard mark in any game this season. His season-high in yards is 251. It’s no surprise the Bears are 29th in total offense and 30th in passing offense.
The Rams have major issues of their own at quarterback with turnover-prone Goff. A Pro Bowler in 2018, Goff has committed a whopping 14 turnovers—nine interceptions and five fumbles lost. He has just 13 total TDs (11 passing, two rushing) in nine games this season and sits below Trubisky in passer rating, currently at the No. 28 spot in the league. Chicago’s best opportunity to score truly might be on defense against Goff.
As long as Goff can take a little better care of the football and not give the Bears good field position, the Rams should cruise to a victory. It’s hard to foresee Trubisky succeeding against the Rams on the road. Look for Los Angeles to allow under 10 points and win by two touchdowns.
2. Curtis Samuel logs first career 100-yard game
Panthers third-year receiver Curtis Samuel has a favorable matchup against the division rival Falcons. While the Falcons held the New Orleans Saints to nine points last week, it’s hard to believe they have suddenly fixed all the woes which have them ranked at the bottom of the league in so many defensive metrics.
The Falcons’ flawed secondary is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 69.9% of their pass attempts. Panthers QB Kyle Allen and Samuel should take advantage of Atlanta’s 25th-ranked pass defense.
Samuel has heated up in recent weeks, catching three TDs in his past four games.
Kyle Allen ➡️ Curtis Samuel for 6️⃣ pic.twitter.com/Mj3EQyWNFw
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) November 10, 2019
Despite ranking 40th in receiving yards, Samuel is No. 5 in total air yards among receivers with 1,044. He receives plenty of looks in the passing attack, seeing six or more targets in eight straight games. Simply put, Samuel is on the verge of breaking out for a monster performance.
Pro Football Focus does not grade any Atlanta cornerback in the top-70 of their positional rankings. Quite frankly, this is a blowout spot for Samuel. His career-high for receiving yards is 91, which he registered in a Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay. Samuel will find a way to surpass the 100-yard receiving plateau, catch another TD and help Carolina beat Atlanta.
3. Texans upset the Ravens
The Texans are 4.5-point underdogs on the road against the Ravens. With the over/under set at 50 points, this AFC showdown featuring MVP candidates Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson is expected to be a shootout.
Fresh off a bye week, the Texans will find a way to end the Ravens’ win streak. Houston’s much-improved offensive line should be fully healthy on Sunday. The unit is the key to success for the surging Texans. Due to injuries, the starting offensive linemen—consisting of left tackle Laremy Tunsil, left guard Max Scharping, center Nick Martin, right guard Zach Fulton and right tackle Tytus Howard—have played only 176 snaps together. The o-line has thrived when all five are available, surrendering just two sacks.
Jackson likely continues to cause mayhem for the opposing defense, so the Texans need a prolific performance from their offense. Receiver Will Fuller (hamstring) hasn’t played since Week 7, but he may return for Houston on Sunday, potentially providing another potent weapon for Watson. Look for Watson, though, to rely primarily on All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins.
Longest active streaks with at least 10 targets:
5: Michael Thomas
4: Julian Edelman, DeAndre Hopkins
3: Davante Adams, Jarvis Landry 👀
2: D.J. Moore
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 13, 2019
Hopkins has collected eight receptions (with 11+ targets) in four consecutive games. He caught a TD in Houston’s most recent contest—a blowout win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in London—but was held to 48 yards receiving. The Texans will need a better outing from Hopkins, especially since the Ravens boast a stingy rush defense, allowing roughly 91 yards per game on the ground.
Watson will lead the Texans to victory in enemy territory in a contest that could prove critical for a potential tiebreaker at season’s end.