By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Here’s my take on how the NFL’s Week 11 will shake out with my predictions, my juggernaut games of the week, and my “juggernot lames of the weak.”
(Home team in all CAPS)
Juggernaut Games of the Week
RAVENS 27, Bengals 20 – Noon
I owe an apology to Cincinnati’s rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, whom I mocked at the beginning of the season. Sorry, Mr. Ginger man. While fellow rookie quarterback Cam Newton has garnered the lion’s share of media attention for his eye-popping athleticism, Dalton’s accomplishments should not go unnoticed. Dalton’s ability to make throws in crucial situations and minimize turnovers has been instrumental in Cincinnati’s six wins this season. The Cincinnati front office gets a big thumbs up for their draft plan, as fellow rookie wide receiver AJ Green is a legitimate stud, so the future looks very bright in the Queen City. More immediately, the Bengals take their show on the road to Baltimore for a match-up against the most unpredictable team in the NFL. I called the Ravens an enigma a few weeks back and last week’s loss to Seattle proves that point. The Ravens play to the level of its competition, which will get you beat in the playoffs. This will be a very entertaining game, and has serious playoff implications. I expect the Ravens to put the clamps on running back Cedric Benson, and eke out a win at home.
BEARS 24, Chargers 20 – 3:15 PM
Two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions square off at Solider Field this Sunday, as the skidding Chargers take on the surging Bears. Jay Cutler eluded questions about bad-blood between him and Philip Rivers like an opposing blitzer, but it’s clear that Cutler doesn’t care for Rivers and their rivalry rekindles this Sunday at 3:15. The Bears will need another dominant defensive performance this weekend against a high-octane Chargers offense. Injuries to skill position players have really played a part in the Chargers recent stumble, now they’re dealing with a slew of injuries on the offensive line. It was announced earlier this week that Pro-Bowl offensive guard Kris Dielman was placed on IR. Dielman was concussed three weeks ago, but an already serious situation became downright scary when he suffered a grand mal seizure on the flight home. Seeing how disruptive the Bears defensive line has been over the past four games, Dielman’s absence is a gut punch to the Chargers. I like the Bears to stack their fifth win in a row and first win in their journey across the AFC West.
Juggernot Lames of the Weak
Jaguars 16, BROWNS 13 – Noon
If consuming bad football is your thing, then this game is like chocolate crack cake. Until last weekend, the Jaguars had not won a road football game in a year. Bear in mind, this win did come against the hapless Colts. Maurice Jones-Drew is the lone bright spot for the Jaguars offense, and this weekend he will run all over a sinking Browns run defense. Defensively, the Jaguars lost their best player cornerback Rashean Mathis for the season to a torn ACL, but the Browns won’t be able to take advantage of it. I like the Jaguars to win this field goal battle.
Seahawks 17, RAMS 16 – 3:15 PM
If the chocolate crack cake left you jonesing for more, tune in to this clash of the Titans (Seahawks-Rams, actually) for the daily double-dip. Outside of two really impressive running backs, there’s nothing to see here. The past two games, Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch has flattened two top-ten run defenses, and now faces St. Louis’s 31st ranked run defense. St. Louis running back Steven Jackson has 417 yards over his last three games, so expect more of the same from the Rams. Since death isn’t an option here, I’m giving a slight edge to the Seahawks and their surprisingly stout run defense.
Raiders 23, VIKINGS 20 – Noon
If Carson Palmer is able to play like he did last Thursday against the Chargers, the Raiders are the team to beat in the AFC West. Palmer played with confidence and definitely had more zip on his passes, threading the needle on a few deep-in cuts. The Raiders have plenty of fire-power on offense with two legitimate starting running backs (although Darren McFadden remains sidelined with an injury), and speed to burn at the receiver position. If they’re able to completely heal by the time the playoffs come around, this will be a sleeper team. This weekend, they face the Vikings in the Dome. Save for a muffed punt by the Packers Randall Cobb, the Vikings could’ve easily been shut out on Monday night. It’s hard to win in the NFL when you only have two players that need to be schemed for (Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson), so I like the Raiders on the road.
FALCONS 27, Titans 16 – Noon
What was Atlanta head coach Mike Smith thinking last week against the Saints? In overtime, Smith chose to go for it on 4th-and-1 inside the Falcons 30-yard line, and got stuffed. Four plays later, the Saints kicked the game-winning field goal. In a game that will most likely decide the NFC South Champion, you can’t justify a call like that. You play it safe, punt the ball, and play field position. Seeing how tight the race is in the NFC North, that play may come back to decide the playoff fate of the Falcons. This week, the Falcons welcome the Titans to the Georgia Dome. If Cam Newton didn’t hit the proverbial rookie wall, he certainly hit a wall in the Titans defense. I like the Falcons to get the bad taste out of their mouths, and shut down a toothless Titans attack.
Bills 24, DOLPHINS 17 – Noon
It’s the “other teams in the AFC East” bowl in Miami. It seems like years ago when the Bills were undefeated and the talk of the NFL. Their formula for success early on was to spread teams out, soften them up with some quick passes, and then gash them for big gainers with running back Fred Jackson. Well, Fred Jackson is still gashing teams, but the Bills have been exposed as a soft team. Press their receivers and they’ll go away, blitz their offensive line and they’ll break down. This week they face Miami, a team with very physical cornerbacks, who will pose a huge challenge to the Bills receivers. Despite Miami’s recent surge, I like the Bills by a touchdown.
Cowboys 30, REDSKINS 17 – Noon
Remember when this “rivalry” actually met something? Chances are you were thinner then and had more hair on your head. Don’t dismiss the correlation between Dan Snyder taking over and the sinking ship in Washington. In Snyder’s twelve-year stewardship in Washington, the Redskins have a mere three winning seasons, not good enough. From playing fantasy football in free agency, to disposing draft picks like used tissues, to failed head coaches, the Redskins are a mess. The obsessive owner on the other sidelines has some Super Bowl hardware in his trophy cases, and a very talented team this season. Don’t discount a second-half run from the Cowboys, who have yet to play the NFC East-leading Giants. The Cowboys have found something special in rookie running back DeMarco Murray, and are loaded with weapons in the passing game. I like the Cowboys to send the Redskins packing at FedEx Field.
LIONS 27, Panthers 23 – Noon
Lions and Panthers and Bears, oh my! Well, after last week’s shellacking, the Lions are happy there aren’t any Bears involved. The paper champion Lions got a dose of what they’ve been dishing out all season long, and they didn’t like it one bit. From Nick Fairley unnecessarily dumping Jay Cutler on his throwing shoulder, to Ndamukong Suh ripping Cutler’s helmet off, it can no longer be argued that the Lions are encouraged to play dirty. Will (overrated) Matthew Stafford wear his interception glove this weekend? Lost in the mix of last week’s extracurricular activities was the fact that the Lions defense dominated the line of scrimmage and stymied the Bears offense. After last week’s poor showing against the Titans at home, Cam Newton may be hitting the rookie wall. Newton was completely ineffective, and I don’t like his chances against a dominant Lions defensive line on the road.
PACKERS 38, Buccaneers 10 – Noon
What plausible argument can be made for the Buccaneers to win this game? You can’t, so I won’t try. The Bucs are clearly not as good as their 2010 record suggested, and the Packers are better. Overestimating the Bucs aside, Josh Freeman has regressed as a quarterback. Granted, the Bucs receivers lead the NFL in drops, but Freeman throws more interceptions than touchdowns, and has no touch on vertical routes. You can’t win in the NFL if you can’t push the ball down the field, hence the Bucs 4-5 record and -77 point differential. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Packers are the league’s best vertical passing attack and have a league-leading +134 point differential. Aaron Rodgers has put up a 110+ quarterback rating every game this season, and he won’t break that streak on Sunday. I like the Packers in a laugher.
49ERS 24, Cardinals 13 – 3:15 PM
The 49ers may lock up the NFC West with a win this weekend against the lowly Cardinals. As much as I respect what the 49ers have done in head coach Jim Harbaugh’s first season, I don’t believe the hype about this team being able to take down the Packers in the playoffs. That’s pure boo-yah bluster. At some point this season, a team is going to make Alex Smith beat them, and he won’t. Fortunately for the 49ers, that team isn’t on the schedule this weekend. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve chided the Cardinals for their trade for Kevin Kolb. I understand that you can’t win in the NFL without a quarterback, but the Cardinals gave up too much to acquire him and then subsequently grossly overpaid him. Why am I mentioning Kolb, who isn’t playing this weekend? Because the quarterback who is playing, John Skelton, has been able to effectively utilize the one weapon the Cardinals have, Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald alone won’t be enough for the Cardinals this weekend in San Fran.
GIANTS 27, Eagles 20 – 7:20 PM
The dream team has been Freddy Kruegered. Certainly, Andy Reid and anyone associated with the Eagles cringed when they heard back-up quarterback Vince Young utter those two words in a pre-season press conference. The fantasy football-like off-season moves already put a crosshair on the Eagles, but Young’s comments added a laser-sight to the gun. You’ve officially hit rock bottom when you lose to the Arizona Cardinals at home. Quarterback Mike Vick was tenderized in the process, breaking two ribs, which should sideline him this weekend. It’s a bad weekend to have issues on your offensive line and at quarterback as the Giants have a fierce pass rush, primed to make life miserable for Young or Mike Kafka. With two games against the Cowboys looming, this is a must-win for the Giants and they’ll be up to the test.
PATRIOTS 31, Chiefs 13 – Monday Night 7:30 PM
Are you ready for some, Tyler Palko? No, not that guy who sang ‘Rock Me Amadeus’, the Chiefs new starting quarterback. Even with Matt Cassel I didn’t like the Chiefs in this match-up, so I like them even less now. Just when I started to let my doubts about the Patriots cloud my judgment, they go out and dominate the Jets. Well, this week I won’t be making the same mistake. Palko isn’t good enough to take advantage of the soft Patriots secondary, and the Chiefs secondary is soft enough to be taken advantage of by Tom Brady.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.