Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle was a big fan of competitive balance, so much so that his nickname was “Parity Pete.” Rozelle died in 1996, but he would be thrilled with the state of the league in 2021. Thirteen of the league’s 32 teams have either four or five wins through 10 weeks, and every team has at least two losses. Week 10 alone saw the lowly Football Team beat the defending champion Buccaneers, the scuffling 49ers dominate the Rams and Odell Beckham Jr., Miami throttle AFC North-leading Baltimore, Carolina and a returning Cam Newton bury the Cardinals, and in perhaps the most surreal outcome of the week, the winless Lions remain winless…by tying the Steelers. Those results aside, the Patriots look ascendant in the AFC, the Bills and Cowboys reasserted themselves, and the Chiefs may finally have solved their offensive woes. What surprises will Week 11 hold? Let’s find out, and get to the games.
Point spreads are from DraftKings.com, and are current as of 11 a.m. ET Thursday.
BYE: Broncos, Rams
NOTE: Pick with spread is in bold.
Last week: 3-11 (Season: 66-84)
TV: NFL NETWORK Line: New England -6.5
What you need to know: Oh, you counted out Bill Belichick after his Patriots lost four of their first six games? Tsk tsk. New England has won four in a row, and its defense has been suffocating after being lit up by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys in Week 6. Mac Jones has six touchdowns and just one interception during the winning streak, the Pats’ formula looks clear; play sound defense, and ask Jones to be solid, but unspectacular. Sound familiar? The Falcons looked like they were getting hot heading into Dallas last week, and promptly got demolished, 43-3. Atlanta’s defense cratered, Matt Ryan never got going, and the Falcons never really had a chance after a competitive first quarter. That said, the Falcons are only a half-game out of a playoff spot in the jumbled NFC (get used to it, this will be a theme) so the season is far from lost.
On the spot: Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson. Stevenson notched a career-high 100 yards and 2 touchdowns on 20 carries against Cleveland last week, one week after racking up 62 yards on just 10 carries. Bill Belichick never hesitates to shuffle his running backs, but right now, it looks like the rookie from Oklahoma is the man.
Falcons RB Mike Davis: Cordarrelle Patterson’s status for this game is unknown, so Davis will likely shoulder a heavier offensive burden. He’ll have to try and give Atlanta some semblance of a ground game to keep New England honest.
The pick: Patriots 27 Falcons 23
TV: CBS Line: Buffalo -7
What you need to know: The Colts made things much more difficult on themselves than they needed to against Jacksonville, but still walked away with a 23-17 win, their fourth in five games. Indianapolis is clearly good enough to beat anyone in the league, but the game-to-game mystery is which Carson Wentz will show up. When he’s mediocre or bad, Indy is vulnerable, as they showed in this game, and in a loss to the Titans in Week 8. When he’s sharp, Frank Reich’s team looks like a Super Bowl contender. Buffalo brought a rude, abrupt end to the nascent Mike White era in New York, intercepting White four times and smashing the Jets, 45-17. Josh Allen looked like his old self, with 366 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Matt Breida’s return energized the backfield. Buffalo’s best looks better than anyone in the AFC, and maybe the NFL, but the Bills have struggled with consistency. This is a chance for them to show they’ve found some.
On the spot: Colts G Quenton Nelson. Buffalo linebacker Matt Milano leads the team with nine tackles for loss and is a big piece of the league’s top-ranked defense. If Nelson can get to the second level and neutralize Milano, the Colts should be able to run the ball.
Bills RB Matt Breida: Breida’s return to the lineup gave Buffalo a speedier dimension to an offense already brimming with talent and playmakers. It is incumbent on the Bills to continue finding ways to get him the ball in space.
The pick: Bills 31 Colts 27
TV: CBS Line: Baltimore -5
What you need to know: John Harbaugh’s team looked terrible in Week 10, which was something of a theme for the AFC North. The Ravens never adjusted to Miami’s frequent cornerback blitzes, and as a result Lamar Jackson never got going, and Baltimore looked completely out of sync. Perhaps it was inevitable; Jackson’s brilliance had already saved the Ravens from multiple losses this season, and the Ravens’ normally great defense has struggled. Baltimore is still an injury-ravaged team, and if they start slow against the Bears, Justin Fields is plenty capable of beating them. Fields and the Bears had a week to rest after a narrow defeat in Pittsburgh. Despite the result, Fields’ play created plenty of optimism among Chicago fans; he looked sharp in the second half and picked apart the Steelers’ defense with ease. What remains to be seen is whether or not that outburst was a fleeting glimpse of future potential, or an example of Fields making a significant – and permanent – leap forward within the span of one game.
On the spot: Ravens OC Greg Roman. It was jarring to watch the Ravens never adjust to Miami’s secondary blitzes, a failing that falls squarely on Roman’s shoulders. Baltimore’s offense hasn’t been able to get rolling week after week, and it’s up to Roman to figure out why.
Bears QB Justin Fields: Fields torched the Steelers for 228 yards on 12-of-18 passing in the second half of their Week 9 thriller. If he made permanent strides in that game, the Bears are absolutely capable of springing an upset.
The pick: Ravens 23 Bears 20
TV: FOX Line: Cleveland -11
What you need to know: Give Detroit this much; despite the fact that Jared Goff could barely throw the ball, they still managed to roll up 229 rushing yards against the Steelers, and somehow forged a tie in Pittsburgh. Having said that, the only reason that Detroit hung in the game was the absence of Ben Roethlisberger. As poorly as the Steelers played, and as poorly as they were coached, if Roethlisberger was able to go, the game would likely have been a comfortable Steelers win. The Browns are 5-5 and have plenty of questions after getting blasted by the Patriots last week. Baker Mayfield got even more banged up against New England, and Bill Belichick toyed with Cleveland’s offense. Four of the Browns’ final seven games are against AFC North opponents, including two with Baltimore. This is, on paper, the easiest of the non-division games. Cleveland still has time to right themselves, but the Browns have to find some lasting answers on offense, starting with this game.
On the spot: Lions HC Dan Campbell. Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin said that Campbell taking over as Detroit’s offensive play-caller threw off the Steelers’ defense; whatever Campbell did to accomplish that, he needs to figure out how to replicate it this week for Detroit to have a chance.
Browns QB Baker Mayfield: By his own admission, Mayfield is more beat up than he’s ever been. Naturally, he’s going to play, even though he looked like a mess against the Patriots. Every time he puts himself out there at less than 100 percent, he opens himself and head coach Kevin Stefanski to criticism.
The pick: Browns 31 Lions 13
TV: CBS Line: Tennessee -10
What you need to know: The Texans had a bye week after participating in one of the most poorly-played games of the NFL season, a 17-9 loss to the Dolphins in which the teams combined for nine turnovers. A reasonable assumption is that Tyrod Taylor is considerably better in this game, in part because he couldn’t possibly be worse than he was against Miami. What else is there to say about the Texans, though? Jonathan Greenard, a 2020 third-rounder, is having a nice year, with seven sacks so far. There. That’s something. Tennessee looked like a team heading in the wrong direction after a loss to the Jets in Week 4, but the Titans have ripped off six straight wins since then, including the last two without Derrick Henry, who might not come back at all this year. The Titans have been resilient but they haven’t been dominant; Tennessee’s last two opponents have outgained them by 153 and 109 yards, respectively. Ryan Tannehill played a solid, mistake-free game against the Saints, but unless the Titans’ defense continues its recent rise, Tannehill will have to become a bigger factor.
On the spot: Texans HC David Culley. Are the Texans still mentally engaged despite the week-to-week grind of what is already a truly ugly season? It’s up to Culley to see that they are, and I have to say, I don’t envy him.
Titans WR A.J. Brown: In the two games since Derrick Henry was injured, Brown has just 6 catches for 58 yards on 15 targets. In Henry’s final two starts, those numbers were 18 catches, 288 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Brown has to find a way to make plays, even with all the added defensive attention.
The pick: Titans 27 Texans 19
TV: FOX Line: Green Bay -1
What you need to know: The Packers’ defense did a number on a returning Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, shutting out Seattle to reclaim the top seed in the NFC. Green Bay picked off Wilson twice and sacked him three times, and never let Seattle get any sort of running game going, either. It was the second-straight strong performance by the Packers’ defense, and even though they fell short in Week 9 against Kansas City, it’s clear that Green Bay is on the shortlist of truly well-rounded Super Bowl contenders. Minnesota got a much-needed win on the road against the Chargers, delivering a stifling defensive effort of their own while reaping the benefits of a strong game from Kirk Cousins. In the NFC playoff picture, Minnesota is currently the first team on the outside looking in, and with several winnable games remaining, could really kick-start a postseason push by holding serve at home against the division-leading Packers.
On the spot: Packers HC Matt LaFleur. Here’s a bit of an inconvenient truth about the Packers; they haven’t been very good offensively, even when Aaron Rodgers has been in the lineup. Green Bay ranks 19 th in points per game and 20th in total offense. LaFleur is an offensive mind, and his team has to do more on that side.
Vikings RB Dalvin Cook: Green Bay has the third-ranked defense in the league, but the Packers are just 26th in yards per carry allowed, at 4.6. If Cook can be productive early, the Vikings have a very good chance to get back to .500.
The pick: Vikings 30 Packers 24
TV: CBS Line: Miami -3.5
What you need to know: Brian Flores’ decision to bench Jacoby Brissett after Brissett suffered a knee injury against Baltimore, even though he appeared healthy enough to return, ended up paying dividends. Tua Tagovailoa gave Miami some semblance of a spark, and that, coupled with a supreme defensive performance, was enough to get the Dolphins a surprising 22-10 win. As to whether or not this victory has any lasting positive impact for Miami, that remains to be seen. Mike White, we hardly knew ye. After four interceptions against the Bills, White’s honeymoon in New York is officially over. Robert Saleh has not yet named a starting quarterback for this game, but it’s clear that the Jets’ focus has shifted back to Zach Wilson after a brief flirtation with the idea that they might have a diamond in the rough in White. In a related story, the Jets have reassumed their status as one of the NFL’s most boring teams.
On the spot: Dolphins TE Mike Gesicki. Gesicki had 7 targets against the Ravens, and precisely zero catches to show for it. Am I mentioning this because he’s an integral part of the Dolphins’ offense, or because I have him on my fantasy team and would really like to avoid a repeat of that performance? You be the judge.
Jets QB Joe Flacco: New York is planning to start Flacco because they feel his veteran savvy will be a better matchup against Miami’s aggressive defense. Okay guys, whatever you say.
The pick: Dolphins 24 Jets 16
TV: FOX Line: Philadelphia -2
What you need to know: The Saints should be helped by Alvin Kamara’s return; all signs point to the do-it-all running back playing after he missed New Orleans’ loss to Tennessee last week. Kamara coming back makes the Saints’ offense considerably better, but it doesn’t fix their biggest problem – a complete absence of playmakers at wide receiver. Having some real threats on the outside would be a big help against an Eagles defense that is allowing opponents to complete 74 percent of their passes, which would be the worst mark in NFL history if it holds. On the plus side for Philadelphia, its offense delivered the goods against a Broncos defense fresh off a dominant outing against the Cowboys. Jalen Hurts’ passing numbers were far from eye-popping, but he helped pace a rushing attack that piled up over 200 yards rushing for the second time in three games. Topping that mark again will be tough against a Saints defense allowing just 3.1 yards per carry, best in the NFL.
On the spot: Saints RB Alvin Kamara. The Eagles are terrible against the pass, as noted above, which means Kamara might have a heavy workload in the passing game. He’ll likely have to make Eagles defenders miss in order for the Saints to sustain drives with regularity.
Eagles HC Nick Sirianni: Philadelphia seems to have found something in the run game, despite Miles Sanders having missed three straight games. Will Sirianni stick with what’s been working, and more importantly with the players – Boston Scott and Jordan Howard – who’ve been making it work?
The pick: Saints 23 Eagles 20
TV: FOX Line: Carolina -3
What you need to know: As is often the case in the NFL, when a team is left for dead by just about everyone, they rise up and deliver the goods. The Football Team did exactly that against the defending champion Buccaneers, sealing their 29-19 win with a 19-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that took 10:26 of the final 10:55 off the clock. It was a massive physical statement, but can Washington build off the win, particularly with Chase Young lost for the year to a torn ACL? Cam Newton delivered a jolt to the Panthers’ offense in their 34-10 rout of the Cardinals. His reward will be the start in this game, after P.J. Walker was passable, nothing more, against Arizona. Newton’s biggest asset heading into the start is a seemingly healthy Christian McCaffrey, who rolled up 161 yards from scrimmage on 23 touches against the Cards. Newton back, McCaffrey healthy, and a defense that has been very good for the majority of the season? Suddenly, the Panthers went from an uninspiring fringe playoff team to a potentially dangerous group.
On the spot: Washington Football Team DE Montez Sweat. Young hadn’t been having a great sack season – just 1.5 before his injury – but his absence means lots more attention for Sweat, who will have to raise his level of play even more if Washington is going to rally into playoff contention.
Panthers QB Cam Newton: Newton’s return to the Panthers was a wildly successful cameo; how will he fare when he’s trying to carry the whole production? If he’s as healthy as he looked last week, it’s a safe bet he does better than, say, Sam Darnold.
The pick: Panthers 19 Washington Football Team 17
TV: FOX Line: San Francisco -6.5
What you need to know: San Francisco’s up-and-down season continued Monday night, as they followed a lackluster loss to an undermanned Cardinals team with a convincing win over the Rams. Jimmy Garoppolo looked very crisp, San Francisco ran the ball effectively, Deebo Samuel was a playmaking machine, and the Niners’ defense sacked Matthew Stafford twice and picked him off twice as well, including a Jimmie Ward pick-six. What’s clear about the 49ers is that while they’re 4-5 and have flaws, their best is still very good, and very scary. Jacksonville isn’t looking for moral victories, but the Jaguars did hang tough against the Colts in a game that looked like it might get ugly early on. What the Jaguars really need to do is find a way to unlock Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence’s play has been backsliding since he played a solid game in a Week 6 win over Miami, and while the team’s overall tough performance was encouraging, his development, which is much more important in the long run, is stalling.
On the spot: 49ers CB Jimmie Ward. Lawrence hasn’t thrown an interception in two straight games, but he’s still very much prone to a misread here or a sailed throw there, and that could mean a big day for Ward, who pick-sixed Matthew Stafford last week.
Jaguars OC Darrell Bevell: If I cheered for the Jaguars, I would rather see Lawrence having wildly variable games – think multiple touchdowns and multiple interceptions – than the tepid performances he’s turned in over the last two weeks. Bevell needs to find a game plan that lets the top overall pick grow, even if it’s a painful process.
The pick: 49ers 24 Jaguars 20
TV: CBS Line: Cincinnati -1
What you need to know: About a month ago, the Bengals were the talk of the NFL, fresh off a beat down of the Ravens in Baltimore, and the top seed in the AFC. They failed to handle success, however, losing two in a row, one to the lowly Jets, before limping into a bye week. Zac Taylor’s team has a chance to get itself right and fix the problems that cropped up seemingly everywhere in the two-game skid. Las Vegas’ season is spiraling as well. Like the Bengals, the Raiders were 5-2 after a Week 7 win over the Eagles, only to come out of a bye week and lose two straight games, the most recent one in blowout fashion to the Chiefs. Vegas’ problems are straightforward; the team can’t run the ball, can’t stop the run, and gives up too many touchdowns through the air. In other words, they’re a flawed group, and with no real breathers remaining on the schedule, a season defined by early promise might slip into disarray if Derek Carr and company can’t right the ship against Cincinnati.
On the spot: Bengals HC Zac Taylor. A young, promising team starts fast, and then loses two in a row, at least one of which is a game they should have won. Seems like an opportune time for a good head coach to assert himself and stop the bleeding, no?
Raiders LB Denzel Perryman: The Raiders can’t defend the run – what a shock – and Cincinnati would love nothing more than to hit them with a healthy dose of Joe Mixon. If Perryman isn’t making sure tackles at the second level, it will be a long afternoon for Las Vegas.
The pick: Bengals 27 Raiders 24
TV: FOX Line: Kansas City -2.5
What you need to know: Dallas got right in a big way, pummeling the Falcons thanks to a 29-point second quarter. Dak Prescott’s struggles against the Broncos seemed like a distant memory, as he shredded Atlanta with an efficient, command performance. This might make the majority of the country sad, but it’s true; the Denver game looks like an aberration, and with Prescott running the show, the Cowboys look like the best offense in the league, and a short-list Super Bowl contender. Speaking of getting right, the Chiefs finally looked like themselves in their demolition of the Raiders. Patrick Mahomes was fortunate on a 38-yard touchdown to Darrel Williams, no question, but Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce turned in vintage performances. If Mahomes continues to take what defenses give him – he didn’t throw an interception for the second-straight game – and is willing to be patient in marching Kansas City down the field, it’s reasonable to assume that the Chiefs will again be nearly impossible to stop.
On the spot: Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs. Mahomes might have gotten his groove back against the Raiders, and Diggs is a risk-taker who has so far reaped big rewards. If he wins out over Mahomes and Hill, the Cowboys will likely win the game.
Chiefs RB Darrel Williams: Williams’ 38-yard touchdown catch was the biggest play of a day that saw him rack up 101 receiving yards and 144 yards from scrimmage overall. If he functions as a dynamic safety valve for Mahomes, watch out.
The pick: Cowboys 34 Chiefs 31
TV: FOX Line: Arizona -2
What you need to know: Arizona’s quarterback situation is what matters, and it is unsettled at the moment. Colt McCoy was limited in the Cardinals’ Wednesday practice, and while Kyler Murray says he’s close to returning this week, it isn’t set in stone that he will. If both Murray and McCoy can’t play, the Cardinals are in big trouble, but Murray’s words seem to indicate that while he will be a game-time decision, he’ll ultimately play. If the Cardinals win, they can open up a functional two-game lead over the Rams in the NFC West, and put Seattle on the brink. Pete Carroll was frustrated by the officiating in the Seahawks’ 17-0 loss to Green Bay, but the truth of the matter is that Wilson looked rusty, and his protection too often broke down. It’s reasonable to expect a considerable uptick in his play in this game; the Seahawks are at home, and he should have his timing back. Will it be enough against one of the league’s best teams?
On the spot: Cardinals QB Kyler Murray. Assuming Murray can go, the degree to which he can be himself and do what he normally does – in a hostile environment, no less – will be the determining factor in whether or not the Cardinals make it to 9-2.
Seahawks QB Russell Wilson: Wilson’s “interesting” pre-game preparation during his injury recovery probably didn’t involve visualizing a scoreless first game back. Expect a few deep shots very early in this one.
The pick: Cardinals 30 Seahawks 26
TV: NBC Line: Los Angeles -5.5
What you need to know: Mike Tomlin’s team delivered one of the big stinkers of the NFL season, tying the Lions at home in a game that featured a comedy of errors in overtime. Mason Rudolph playing on short notice isn’t really an excuse, either, particularly because he led a touchdown drive to open the game. Detroit gashed the Steelers for 229 yards on the ground, a number made all the more inexcusable by the fact that the Lions were unable to pass for virtually the entire game. Justin Herbert’s uneven play this season continued last week against Minnesota. Herbert never got into a groove and was decisively outplayed by Kirk Cousins. The Chargers aren’t a hard team to figure; when Herbert is good, they win. He has 14 touchdowns, just 1 interception, and a 112.7 passer rating in Los Angeles’ five wins this year. In their four losses? Five touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and a passer rating of 74. Herbert’s job could be much easier this week because Pittsburgh might be without T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and potentially even Joe Haden.
On the spot: Steelers QB Mason Rudolph. Unless Ben Roethlisberger clears the COVID protocol, Rudolph will start for the Steelers, and according to Tomlin, the game plan will be catered to his strengths. I assume that means 45 carries for Najee Harris.
Chargers DE Joey Bosa: Bosa is in the COVID protocol as a close contact because he is unvaccinated. However, he might still play, but he won’t be able to practice all week. That shouldn’t preclude him from wrecking Pittsburgh’s offensive plans.
The pick: Chargers 26 Steelers 21
TV: ESPN Line: Tampa Bay -11
What you need to know: The Giants had a chance to rest up after a win over the Raiders and their reward coming off that break is a very angry Buccaneers team. Daniel Jones didn’t have to do much against the Raiders, but he did play efficient, mistake-free football. New York’s defense was the real star of the show against Las Vegas, forcing three turnovers and consistently frustrating one of the league’s better offenses. Repeating the feat this week will be a tall task because while Tom Brady occasionally plays a bad game, he rarely plays two in a row. The Bucs may well have overcome a putrid first three quarters to beat Washington last week, but the Football Team knocked out the champs with a whopper of a drive – 19 plays, 80 yards, 10:26 off the clock, to be exact – to close the show. That Tampa Bay’s vaunted run defense was unable to get the ball back was a shock, but much like Brady’s subpar outing, it would be folly to expect a repeat performance this week.
On the spot: Giants RB Saquon Barkley. Barkley makes his return this week, and his reward is a stout Buccaneers defense, one doubtless smarting after the way Washington closed out last week’s game. Barkley will have his work cut out for him.
Buccaneers HC Bruce Arians: Arians has said that the offense is not his purview, that Byron Leftwich and Brady run that show. If that’s true, he’s more CEO and motivator than anything. Did calling his squad a “very dumb football team” get his message across? We’re about to find out.
The pick: Buccaneers 34 Giants 14
Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.