NFL week 11 Preview: Cowboys, Lions and Dolphins Look to Avoid Letdowns
What can Week 11 possibly do for an encore to the madness and drama of Weeks 9 and 10 of the NFL schedule?
Trap games, junior. Trap games.
Whether it be the Texans and rookie sensation C.J. Stroud relaxing after their magnificent road win over Cincinnati, or the 49ers falling back into the fatty laziness of their pre bye losing streak, this weekend has more traps than a bakery floor during a stretch of warm weather.
Will the Dolphins, perhaps exposed two weeks ago by Kansas City, drop a much-needed game to a visiting Raiders team catching a whiff of a wild card?
Will the Lions and Cowboys get a contact drowsiness from the tryptophan of their Thanksgiving Day matchups and somehow allow the Bears and Panthers, respectively, a shot improbable wins?
Something tells us that the Sunday before Thanksgiving is usually rife with upsets. We are waiting for our research team to confirm that hunch.
Injury update: In the Thursday night game, the Ravens topped Cincinnati. Bigger than losing the score for the Bengals was the loss of Joe Burrow. The team announced Friday that the star quarterback is scheduled to undergo season-ending surgery on his right wrist.
Here is a preview of a pivotal Week 11 in the NFL.
—Week 11 NFL PREVIEW—
TNF Recap: Baltimore 34, Cincinnati 13
On a night where physical mishaps — and rogue drones — seem to threaten at every turn, the Ravens survived multiple injuries to key players, capitalized on a key injury to the Bengals and turned a close game into a convincing win.
For Cincinnati, that one injury likely derailed the rest of its 2023 season.
Quarterback Joe Burrow, menaced by a calf issue during the first half of the season, exited midway through the second quarter with a wrist injury, just after putting his team ahead with a touchdown pass.
Burrow’s injury apparently happened in the days leading up to the game, as TV cameras caught a brace around his right wrist as he stepped off the team bus on Wednesday. Burrow grabbed at his wrist on his short TD pass to RB Joe Mixon, then was unable to throw at all on the sideline a few minutes later. At halftime, he was ruled out for the rest of the game.
Burrow’s departure completely took the wind out of Cincinnati’s sails on offense. Backup QB Jake Browning led the Bengals on a third-quarter field goal drive but could muster no more points against a swarming Ravens defense.
The Bengals also lost starting corner Cam Taylor-Britt injured his quad and also had to leave the game. He is listed as day-to-day.
The Ravens, meanwhile, battled their own injuries. Mark Andrews suffered by a severe ankle injury early in the game after being tackled by Cincinnati’s Logan Wilson. Later in the first half the Bengals linebacker landed on Lamar Jackson’s ankle along the sideline. The Baltimore QB limped around the rest of night. Ravens fans can be forgiven for thinking Wilson a purple-and-black-seeking drone: Midway through the fourth quarter, WR Odell Beckham Jr., injured his shoulder on a hit by — who else? — Logan Wilson. (In his postgame press conference, Ravens head John Harbaugh did complain about the tackling technique, known as the "hip drop," that Wilson used when bringing both Andrews and Jackson to the turf.)
The latest on Andrews is that an MRI is pending, but concerns are the star tight end suffered a severe ankle injury and is done for the season. No word yet on Beckham, who came into the game with a dinged shoulder, but still recorded team highs with four receptions for 116 yards. His injury occurred at the end of a 51-yard catch and run.
Despite being physically compromised, Jackson threw for 264 yards and two first-half TDs. His first came when a streaking Nelson Agholor plucked a deflected pass out of the air and went 37 yards to paydirt. Just before halftime, Jackson hit Rashod Bateman for a 10-yard score to make it 21-10. The Ravens, as expected, leaned on its league-leading running game, rushing for 157 yards against a Bengals front missing starting DE Sam Hubbard.
Good news for Cincinnati is that injured Pro Bowl end Trey Hendrickson did suit up and played well Thursday, recording a sack to give him 9 1/2 on the year.
What was shaping up to be another AFC North battle, Pittsburgh vs. Cincinnati takes a hit with Burrow sidelined for the season. Baltimore has 10 days for Jackson to rest his ankle before taking on the Chargers in Los Angeles on Sunday Night Football.
Pittsburgh (6-3) at Cleveland (6-3), 1:00 p.m. ET
The second big AFC North matchup of the weekend is overshadowed by the news that Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a shoulder injury in Week 9 and is to have season-ending shoulder surgery. This gut punch means the Browns go back to P.J. Walker — he of the one touchdown pass and five interceptions in three starts. Those stats will not inspire confidence within the Cleveland fanbase, but the Browns nonetheless are 2-1 in those three Walker starts.
For both teams, establishing a functional running game may be needed to help otherwise questionable or inconsistent passing attacks.
The Browns running the ball successfully played a huge role in their comeback win over the Ravens in Week 10. Without Watson, it will be even more important for RB Jerome Ford and running game to help Walker by limiting the number of third and longs he has to deal with — meaning the number of occasions he has to worry about T.J. Watt teeing off on him.
Pittsburgh is 6-3 but with the 28th-ranked defense and a very inconsistent offense, the record feels almost like a magic track. One reason for optimism is that the offense in the last two weeks started off the games better, scoring TDs on the two opening drives and avoiding the dismal stretches of first-quarter ineffectiveness seen repeatedly earlier in the season.
Still, Kenny Pickett continues to be the consummate work-in-progress and going up against the Cleveland defense is not ideal for an unfinished product. The Browns still field the No. 1 overall defense and league’s top pass defense, fronted by Myles Garrett and his NFL-leading 11 sacks. The Steelers, for one of the few times all season, ran the ball very effectively in their Week 10 win over Green Bay. For Pittsburgh to get a win on the road, running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren again need to produce.
Despite Walker’s limitations, the Browns are at home and their defense — understanding that the pressure shifts to them with Watson out of the picture — will respond with a big-time effort against a shaky Pittsburgh offense. Cleveland 17, Pittsburgh 9
Chicago (3-7) at Detroit (7-2), 1:00 p.m. ET
The Bears “welcome” back Justin Fields from injury in Week 11. The third-year QB was playing his best football at the time of his injury, but that was a low bar to clear given the raggedness of his performances during the Bears’ 1-5 start. Tyson Bagent goes to the bench, but if Fields starts turning the ball over, the backup’s number may again be called. As Bagent did during his stint as a starter, look for Fields to work the middle of the field with TE Cole Kmet, who caught two early TDs in their loss to the Saints.
Detroit managed a hard-fought road win against the Chargers on a day when their defense was not as stout as in weeks prior. David Montgomery, the punishing back who returned with an impressive performance last week after a three-week absence, should be featured again this week as Detroit will look to be physical against Chicago right from the start. The Bears secondary, still inconsistent and hammered with injuries, will be especially vulnerable to play action if Detroit’s running game asserts itself. And Jared Goff is right now as good as any quarterback in the NFL at executing play-action passes.
We like the Lions in this game — and, come next Thursday, we will be thankful that a Thanksgiving game in Detroit features a home team gearing up for deep postseason run. Detroit 31, Chicago 10.
Los Angeles Chargers (4-5) at Green Bay (3-6), 1:00 p.m. ET
Despite a batch of frustrating losses, the Chargers have a great opportunity to even their record against a disappointing Green Bay squad. Chargers’ QB Justin Herbert is inconstant at times but comes of a borderline brilliant effort in keeping LA close last week to visiting powerhouse Detroit. Per usual, he will look for his favorite target, WR Keenan Allen, who puts up one stat-flush game after another. Packers corner Jaire Alexander is expected to return after missing last week’s game against Pittsburgh with a shoulder injury. Allen against a the corner and the rest of the tough Green Bay pass defense will be a matchup to monitor.
Another will be Green Bay’s offensive line against the talented Los Angeles pass rush. The Pack will again have to make due this week — and now the season — without former Pro Bowl tackle David Bahktiari, who will miss the rest of 2023 with a knee injury. For Jordan Love to play well will pretty much depend on Packer tackles containing the dynamic pass-rushing duo of Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa.
One key factor might be which one of these two anemic running games, if either, surfaces on Sunday. If the Chargers’ OL springs loose the elusive Austin Ekeler, then LA will be in the driver’s seat since its passing attack is so much more productive than the Packers’. Green Bay running back Aaron Jones continues to struggle with injuries — he is questionable for Sunday — and the Pack’s running game keeps laboring right along with him.
We like the Chargers to be one of the two LA teams to venture into Lambeau and come away with a win. The Rams failed miserably three weeks ago; the Chargers will not. Los Angeles Chargers 34, Green Bay 19.
Arizona (2-8) at Houston (5-4), 1:00 p.m. ET
This game is a measuring stick of sorts for the Texans to see whether they are a legit playoff team. If they are, they beat a talent-deficient Cardinals handily, no matter how often a scrambling Kyler Murray frustrates defenders and makes them look silly.
For Arizona to pull off its second straight upset, it will need more Murray magic and another strong day from RB James Conner, whose return from injury last week was every bit as meaningful as Murray’s in the Cardinals’ win over Atlanta. Conner ran for 73 yards. Expect Murray to look for tight end Trey McBride against Houston. McBride overpowered the Falcons’ secondary with eight catches and 131 yards receiving.
C.J. Stroud’s prodigious rookie campaign shows little sign of wavering — he arguably played his best two-week stretch of football in wins over Tampa Bay and Cincinnati. And reinforcements are on the way. Injured star receiver Nico Collins is expected to play after missing the last two games, though it is hard to say the Texans missed Collins’ productivity. Rookie wideout Tank Dell emerged in his stead, and then there were the bust-out performances of WR Noah Brown, who reeled in 325 yards receiving in the last two wins.
With Stroud afforded a full arsenal of weapons, and with Devin Singletary carrying the running game, the Texans’ offense is looking like one of the league’s elite units — the Texans last week became the first team since 1998 to boast a 350+-yard passer, a 150+-yard runner and 150+-yard receiver in a win.
Host Houston should take this one, but we suspect Murray and Co. will make it dangerously close. Houston 26, Arizona 23.
Tennessee (3-6) at Jacksonville (6-3), 1:00 p.m. ET
Perhaps a preview of showdowns between two young AFC South franchise quarterbacks. Looking to bounce back from a whuppin’ they took at home last week by San Francisco, QB Jacob Lawrence and his Jaguars catch a break in catching a Titans team ebbing from the terrific debut in Week 8 by rookie Will Levis.
Tennessee’s No. 1 pick threw 39 passes in last week’s loss to Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see whether Titans head coach Mike Vrabel makes a concerted effort to work Derrick Henry back into the offense. The big RB recorded only 11 carries against the Bucs.
If Jacksonville manages to force Tennessee to rely on Levis and the passing game, then the Jags’ opportunistic defense, led by end Josh Allen (nine sacks), will likely force the rookie into turnovers. At the top of the league in takeaways, the Jags failed to force a single turnover against San Francisco. Lawrence’s talent and the all-purpose threat of Travis Etienne Jr. notwithstanding, Jacksonville just does not have enough weapons on offense to win without the opposition helping out a bit.
Tennessee is less talented than Jacksonville, so the Jags should win the game even if Tennessee were to play error-free football. But we do not see the Titans doing that. Jacksonville 24, Tennessee 9.
Las Vegas (5-5) at Miami (6-3), 1:00 p.m. ET
Everything on paper screams Dolphins rout, but the Antonio Pierce effect still pulses around a Raiders team that, with an upset win, vaults into contention for a wild-card berth. Meanwhile, Miami’s offense returned to the ranks of mortal NFL offense with their 14-point effort in losing to the Chiefs in Frankfurt.
We suspect the bye could very well be the tonic the Dolphins were looking for. The speed Miami used to singe opposing defenses earlier in the season was neutralized by Kansas City’s smothering defense. Following a rather pedestrian effort against his former team, a refreshed Tyreek Hill will seek to unload on the Raiders secondary.
The Dolphins still, however, must block Vegas’ Maxx Crosby. Easier said than done. The star end has impacted games in 2023 like no other NFL defender this side of Myles Garrett. If Miami successfully nullifies Crosby, it might be a long day for a Raiders defense that allowed a combined 18 points in its last two games. The Dolphins’ offense is a far cry from that of the Giants and the Jets.
The ideal scenario for a Raiders upset is this: Crosby and the rest of the Raiders’ defense, taking a page from the Chiefs, contain the Miami running game, disrupt Tua Tagovailoa’s timing and force a couple of turnovers. The Raiders do boast a top-10 pass defense. Then Vegas RB Josh Jacobs takes over — as he did against the Jets — and the offense controls the clock. Also easier mentioned than accomplished.
It seems from this preview we might be leaning towards a Raiders upset. That leap of faith is too big to take. But the Raiders keeping this game close is not far-fetched. It is, however, hard to see quarterback Aidan O’Connell making enough plays for Vegas to leave South Florida above .500. Miami 31, Las Vegas 19.
New York Giants (2-8) at Washington Commanders (4-6), 1:00 p.m. ET
New York beat Washington in the first meeting between these two teams in Week 7. But four weeks can be a long time in the NFL, and the Giants — coming off absolutely miserable road performances in Vegas and Dallas — may now be playing out the string on as nightmarish a season as Giants faithful could imagine. Their hope for a win in the nation’s capitol rests on the Commanders dwelling on last week’s last-second loss, and then committing penalties and turnovers to keep the score close.
Washington missed out on a chance in Seattle to even its record, but it showed a lot of fortitude in sticking with the Seahawks in a tough road environment. Sam Howell is on a bit of a roll, and the will of the Giants’ defense may at its lowest ebb after getting strafed in Dallas. After watching what CeeDee Lamb did to the Giants’ secondary, Washington WR Terry McLaurin emerged from the film room this week dabbing saliva from the corners of his mouth.
With Tyrod Taylor still out with the rib injury, reserve Tommy DeVito will again start at quarterback for the Giants. To say DeVito was ineffective in Dallas is kind, though playing behind Big Blew — the Giants offensive line blows so many blocks, get it? — against that hellacious Dallas front all but guaranteed a disheartening performance. DeVito stands a better chance of producing this week against a Commanders defense that ranks 29th overall and against the pass.
Another Giant who might have a more impactful game this week than he did in Dallas is Saquon Barkley. The running back carried the ball just 13 times in Big D as the lopsided score dictated that New York abandon the running game. This game should be closer, and Barkley should be more of a factor.
This game is a recovery game for Washington — hope for a playoff run will still spring if they enter Thanksgiving at 5-6. The Giants are done for 2023 and winning only interferes with their chances to get Caleb Williams. Washington 27, New York 6.
Tampa Bay (4-5) at San Francisco (6-3), 4:05 ET
In a “they are who we thought they are” performance, the 49ers stomped Jacksonville last week to emphatically end a three-game losing streak.
Now, San Francisco returns home, where their last game was a troubling loss to the Bengals. Will the 49ers again start feeling good about themselves and take the Bucs lightly? Indications of that might be noticeable early on when the Bucs have the ball. If Tampa Bay quarterback Baker Mayfield consistently finds time to throw, it will more likely be because a lack of energy from the 49ers than Bucs line play. Poor tackling was another hallmark of the 49ers’ skid, so look for that early, as well.
Mayfield experienced an up-and-down first half of the season, but posted 100+ quarterback rating in his last two games. He throws to a talented tandem in receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and a Tampa Bay upset Sunday will likely feature big games from at least one of them.
As it did so well in Jacksonville, the 49ers’ offense will try to impose its physicality on the Tampa defense. Quarterback Brock Purdy is at his most efficient and dynamic when a strong running game sets up play-action, especially to the middle of the field where George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk have been thriving of late. Deebo Samuels scored on a reverse against the Jags but did not do much as a receiver in his return from injury. Expect Kyle Shanahan’s game plan against the Bucs to focus on getting the ball more into Samuels’ hands. San Francisco 33, Tampa Bay 14.