• The Star Staff

NFL Week 11 predictions: Our picks against the spread


By Benjamin Hoffman


Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers take on one of the NFL’s most stifling secondaries. Tennessee and Baltimore face off in a battle of struggling contenders. Kansas City looks for revenge against Las Vegas, and Pittsburgh tries to get to 10-0 for the first time in franchise history. There is a lot to like about this week’s schedule.


Here is a look at NFL Week 11, with all picks made against the spread. All times are Eastern.


Last week’s record: 8-5-1


Overall record: 72-71-4


SUNDAY’S BEST GAMES


Green Bay Packers at Indianapolis Colts, 4:25 p.m., Fox


No team has allowed fewer yards per game than the Colts (6-3), who have also allowed the fourth fewest points per game among the NFL’s 32 teams. Indianapolis has limited opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 78.9 — the best mark in the league — and has pulled down 11 interceptions.


Only two teams have averaged more points a game than the Packers, who are enjoying a magical season from their quarterback. Aaron Rodgers has thrown for 26 touchdowns against just three interceptions, leading to an NFL-leading passer rating of 116.4.


Strength against strength is always an intriguing matchup, and this game certainly qualifies.

The path to victory for Green Bay is fairly straightforward: Give Rodgers some time in the pocket and let him find wide receivers Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a few home run throws. For Indianapolis, the key to keeping those wide receivers quiet is putting Rodgers on his back early and often.


It would be inaccurate to say the Colts’ offense and Packers’ defense are irrelevant in this game, and a few breaks for either of those units could go a long way to deciding the game. But the headliners in this game are clear, and you won’t want to miss any of Green Bay’s passing downs, no matter how things go.


Line: Colts -2. Total: 51.5. Pick: Colts -2.


Tennessee Titans at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS


In the closing scene of “Fight Club,” as a series of buildings tumble to the ground, the narrator looks at Marla and rather optimistically says, “You met me at a very strange time in my life.” That’s the general feeling as the Titans (6-3) visit the Ravens (6-3), with both teams hoping to brush off some recent failure and get back to being top contenders. Baltimore has lost two of its three games since its bye week and the team’s juggernaut of an offense has been held to 24 or fewer points in each game. Tennessee has lost three of four, with quarterback Ryan Tannehill having seen the most pronounced downturn of his tenure with the Titans.


What does that mean going forward? Potentially nothing. Baltimore still has a ton of talent on both sides of the ball, and there is little reason to believe that Tennessee’s offense can’t return to a level of productivity that makes its mediocre defense largely irrelevant. But this week’s game will come down to which team can best emerge from its funk. That could easily go either way, but with the Ravens playing at home, they are the safer bet.


Line: Ravens -6.5. Total: 49. Pick: Ravens -6.5.


Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:20 p.m., NBC


The last time these teams met, the Raiders (6-3) shocked the Chiefs (8-1) by beating them, 40-32, in Kansas City. It was a classic case of a top-rated team looking past a scrappy challenger, and Las Vegas made its division rival pay dearly for that indifference. The odds that Patrick Mahomes and his fellow defending Super Bowl champions make the same mistake again are slim.


“Any time you lose to anyone, the next time you play them, you want to win the football game,” Mahomes told reporters this week. “We’ll be ready to go, I promise you that.”


The Raiders are coming off the most complete win of their season last week against the Broncos and in an ideal circumstance might have been a real challenger for Kansas City in this one. But with the bulk of Las Vegas’ defense being forced to sit out the week of practice because of COVID-19 close contact protocols, slowing down the Chiefs seems like an impossible task.


Line: Chiefs -7. Total: 56.5. Pick: Chiefs -7.


Pittsburgh Steelers at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS


Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin described this as a “trap game” and said he has a “ridiculous level of respect” for Jacksonville. So should anyone expect this to be a good game? No. The Steelers (9-0) are dominating on both sides of the ball, while the Jaguars (1-8) have an inept defense and a rookie quarterback in Jake Luton who was not even expected to play this season. So why make this one of the best games of the week? Because Pittsburgh stands a good chance of becoming the NFL’s first 10-0 team since 2015. Only 26 teams have begun a season with 10 straight wins. Six went undefeated for the regular season. Five finished with just one loss, nine with two losses and five with three losses. The worst a 10-0 team has ever finished was the 2015 Patriots, who went 12-4.


Line: Steelers -10. Total: 47.5. Pick: Steelers -10


SUNDAY’S OTHER GAMES


Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m., CBS


Five straight wins for the Dolphins (6-3) has Miami in line for a playoff spot, and the team seems to get more impressive on a weekly basis. Last week’s win over the Los Angeles Chargers was unexpectedly powered by rookie running back Salvon Ahmed, and Miami could be even stronger this week if Matt Breida is able to return from a hamstring injury. The Broncos (3-6), after a brief flirtation with relevance, have dropped three of their past four games while allowing an average of 36 points a game in that stretch. Visiting Denver is never easy, but Miami’s surge should continue.


Line: Dolphins -3. Total: 45. Pick: Dolphins -3


New England Patriots at Houston Texans, 1 p.m., CBS


This is one of the hardest games of the week to peg. The Patriots (4-5) are coming off a shockingly convincing win over Baltimore that has upended the general view that the team is a disaster. Was that a one-off? Is that game, combined with a fairly close win over the New York Jets the week before, enough to say New England is hot? Even a blowout win in this game wouldn’t truly answer that question as the Texans (2-7) have beat only lowly Jacksonville.


Deshaun Watson is so good that it’s impossible to rule out a dominant performance in which he drags his teammates kicking and screaming to victory. But that is slightly less likely than Cam Newton and the Patriots grinding out a fairly close win on the road.


Line: Patriots -2. Total: 48. Pick: Patriots -2.


Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings, 4:25 p.m., Fox


Andy Dalton has cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol and been taken off the COVID-19 reserve list, and his punishment for that good fortune will be having to start for the Cowboys (2-7). There remains a lingering belief that Dalton, who was at one point a borderline star for Cincinnati, could take advantage of his team’s riches at wide receiver and lead Dallas back to something near mediocrity. And there are few defenses more willing to make a quarterback look good than the unit for the Vikings (4-5).


Minnesota is the better team here, is playing at home and could actually get better by emphasizing wide receivers Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson even more. If this game were in Dallas you might expect it to be close, but in Minnesota the Vikings should romp.


Line: Vikings -7. Total: 48. Pick: Vikings -7.


Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m., Fox


Jameis Winston is many things, but the veteran quarterback is no bystander. He wins games and he loses games, and he does it in a way that is fascinating to watch regardless of the result. Winston’s 33-touchdown, 30-interception season last year in Tampa Bay was a thing of legend, and while it’s highly unlikely that the Saints (7-2) will allow him to be anywhere near as reckless with their offense, his presence in place of the injured Drew Brees at least adds an element of uncertainty to a game against the Falcons (3-6) that would otherwise look like an obvious blowout in favor of New Orleans. A conservative approach that focuses on running back Alvin Kamara is the safe way to handle things. But when has Winston ever been safe?


Line: Saints -4.5. Total: 51. Pick: Saints -4.5.


Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m., Fox


Carson Wentz has never been the same since a knee injury ended his 2017 season early. He wasn’t bad over the past two seasons, but any mention of his name and the MVP award became a distant memory. This year he has taken a very long step in the wrong direction and by virtually every measure has been objectively bad. It wouldn’t be fair to blame everything on Wentz, as injuries and ineptitude have been a total team effort. But Philadelphia’s grip on the NFL’s worst division is loosening, and if the Eagles are caught by the New York Giants, that would be fairly embarrassing.


The Browns (6-3) would do well to just run the ball all day with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and let their defense take advantage of a few mistakes. Keep the score low and tack on another victory, just as Cleveland did last week against Houston.


Line: Browns -3.5. Total: 45.5. Pick: Browns -3.5.


Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m., Fox


Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater injured a ligament in his knee during last week’s loss to Tampa Bay, but currently it appears as if he will be able to start for the Panthers (3-7). That’s welcome news for a team that had been building some momentum heading into last week and looked great until the game went sideways in the second half. Matthew Stafford is also expected to start for the Lions (4-5) despite having injured the thumb on his throwing hand.


The uncertainty with both quarterbacks makes this a tossup, with the advantage going to whichever team can keep their guy on the field longest.


Line: Panthers -1.5. Total: 49. Pick: Panthers -1.5.


Cincinnati Bengals at Washington Football Team, 1 p.m., CBS


A pair of No. 1 overall picks, separated by more than a decade of experience, will face off when Joe Burrow and the Bengals (2-6-1) visit Alex Smith and the Footballers (2-7). Burrow clearly has a bright future, and Smith has had a terrific career, but this game may be decided by the health of Bengals running back Joe Mixon. If Cincinnati gets its top runner back, the team’s offense could overwhelm Washington and pick up a win on the road. If the Bengals once again have to rely on Mixon’s backups, things get far more complicated.


Line: Footballers -1.5. Total: 46.5. Pick: Bengals +1.5.


New York Jets at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m., CBS


The Chargers (2-7) have struggled to close out games this season, regardless of how good the offense has occasionally looked, and it would be hard to say the team hasn’t underperformed a bit compared to its preseason expectations. There are plenty of areas for concern, and with it still unclear if Joey Bosa will be cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol, the team’s defense could be considerably less intimidating than it normally is. All of those would be concerns in another week, when Los Angeles isn’t playing the Jets (0-9). A win for the Chargers is overwhelmingly probable, but the team’s noted late-game troubles make a large point spread risky.


Line: Chargers -8.5, Total: 47. Pick: Jets +8.5.


MONDAY’S MATCHUP


Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:15 p.m., ESPN


Anyone who claims to know what is coming from the Buccaneers (7-3) each week is lying. Tampa Bay followed up a 3-point performance against New Orleans by scoring 46 against Carolina. In those games, Ronald Jones II went from three carries for 9 yards to 23 for 192.

This year was supposed to be about suffocating defense and offensive consistency, but instead it has been defined by several weeks where the Buccaneers looked unbeatable and two where they looked truly awful.


The Rams (6-3) don’t have as high a gear as Tampa Bay, but they are considerably more consistent. You can reasonably expect Los Angeles to get a fair amount of yards, both through the air and on the ground, and for the team’s defensive attack — led by Aaron Donald — to put significant pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback. Would that be enough to beat Tampa Bay? Sometimes.


Line: Buccaneers -3. Total: 47.5. Pick: Rams +3.

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