Our NFL Insiders predict Week 11‘s biggest upsets, fantasy flops and sleepers. Plus: Who can challenge the Patriots in the AFC? Which offseason free-agent signing has been the best so far? And when will the Browns get their first win?
What’s your top upset pick for Week 11?
Matt Bowen, NFL writer: Rams over Vikings. I love the matchup here with Sean McVay’s offense versus the Vikings’ defense under Mike Zimmer. High-level coaching. But I’ll go with McVay in this one to to dial up some early scoring opportunities for quarterback Jared Goff before Aaron Donald wrecks this thing up front to close out a road win for the Rams.
Mike Clay, NFL writer: Texans over the Cardinals. Arizona is the early favorite in a game that will feature Tom Savage against either Drew Stanton or Blaine Gabbert. Yes, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and Deshaun Watson are out, but Houston still has enough defensive talent to give them the edge at NRG Stadium. I’ll take the Texans by a field goal in this barnburner.
Domonique Foxworth, The Undefeated senior writer: Titans over Steelers. There is no question that the Steelers have the more talented team than Tennessee, and they play better at home than on the road. But it seems that on occasion the Steelers play down to the level of their opponents. In Week 1 they beat the lowly Browns by just three points, then lost to the Bears by six in Week 3. And just last week they eked out a three-point win over the injury-ravaged 3-7 Colts. So, I think it’s fair to suggest that it’ll be a tight game at the end.
Mike Sando, senior NFL writer: Falcons over Seahawks. Seattle is diminished on defense and without a reliable running game, which could make the Seahawks vulnerable to an opponent that knows them well. Devonta Freeman’s absence and Earl Thomas‘ return does create hesitation here.
Field Yates, NFL Insider: Buccaneers over Dolphins. Fitz Magic, baby! This wouldn’t qualify as a massive upset, but I think the Buccaneers can make the short trip to Miami to upend the Dolphins. I’ll keep it simple: The Bucs’ defense gained confidence in Week 10 and can contain the out-of-sorts Miami offense. How do the Fins slow Mike Evans?
Which team is the Patriots’ biggest challenger in the AFC?
Bowen: Steelers. The Chiefs are in the mix because of the offensive system under Andy Reid, but I think Pittsburgh is the pick here. With the Steelers’ ability to win in the route tree, control tempo with Le’Veon Bell and play strong, fundamental defense, Mike Tomlin’s team has enough to challenge Brady, Belichick and the Patriots’ winning culture in the postseason tournament.
Clay: Jaguars. As tempting as it is to go with the Steelers, Jacksonville has scored 39 more points and allowed 14 fewer points than Pittsburgh. In fact, the Jaguars’ plus-92 scoring differential is fourth best in the NFL and tops in the AFC. The defense has simply been dominant — and the offense just competent enough — that Jacksonville can beat any team in the league.
Foxworth: Jaguars. Jacksonville is a legitimate challenger to the Patriots because of its defense. The Jaguars can get pressure on Tom Brady without blitzing. And they have corners and linebackers who can cover and tackle in space, when Brady resorts to short passing game. Scoring enough points while playing conservatively on offense will be the biggest hurdle for the Jags. They’ll need their defense and special teams to give them a short field with turnovers and and good returns. And Blake Bortles is going to have to hit on a couple of play-action deep shots.
Sando: Steelers. Pittsburgh has a top-five defense paired with an offense that is plenty capable despite its inconsistencies during the season.
Yates: Steelers. The Chiefs have a compelling case as well, notably because of their Week 1 win in New England. This could come down to a matter of playoff seeding, so I’ll note that the Steelers, who have as many wins as any team in the conference with seven, have an inside track to a top-two seed with a win over Kansas City and a Week 15 matchup against the Patriots in Pittsburgh.
Who’s your pick to be the biggest fantasy flop this weekend?
Bowen: Kirk Cousins, QB, Redskins. Look at the matchup for Cousins against a blitz-happy, aggressive Saints defense that has swallowed up opposing quarterbacks over the current seven-game winning streak. In that span, the New Orleans defense has allowed only 148.0 passing yards per game with an opponent Total QBR of just 25.9, both tops in the NFL. This defense is nasty, and the young cornerbacks are for real. Tough spot for Cousins on the road in New Orleans.
Clay: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans. In two full games with Tom Savage starting in place of Deshaun Watson, Hopkins has posted 13 catches for 197 yards and one touchdown on 30 targets. That’s big-time production, but Savage will need to think twice before targeting Hopkins this week, as he’s sure to be shadowed by superstar cover corner Patrick Peterson. Hopkins is too good to bench in most season-long leagues, but he’s a name to avoid in DFS.
Foxworth: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans. Hopkins has been productive, even in the two games since Watson went down for the season. But he wasn’t matched up with cornerbacks as talented as Peterson, whom he’ll face this weekend. The combination of Savage at QB and Peterson at corner will be too much for Hopkins to overcome.
Sando: Jared Goff, QB, Rams. Goff had 7.7 fantasy points against Seattle in standard scoring leagues, 9.9 against Jacksonville and 10.9 against Washington. He has lit up some lesser defenses this season, but Week 11 opponent Minnesota fits into the Seattle/Jacksonville mold.
Yates: Tevin Coleman, RB, Falcons. With Devonta Freeman likely to sit out Week 11 because of a concussion that forced him out of last week’s win over the Cowboys, Coleman is set to handle starting duties. The matchup is absurdly difficult for him, however, as he faces a Seahawks defense that has allowed an average of just 53 rushing yards — 2.61 yards per attempt on 122 tries — in its past six games. And while the Seahawks have allowed five rushing touchdowns over that stretch, those runs have amassed a total of 7 yards. Big plays in the running game virtually don’t exist against Seattle lately.
Which offseason free-agent signing has been the best so far?
Bowen: A.J. Bouye, Jaguars. Pairing Bouye with young superstar Jalen Ramsey has given the Jags the best cornerback tandem in the league. Two physical, lockdown guys who allow Jacksonville to sit in single-high coverage and challenge routes. It doesn’t get better than that for a secondary coach.
Clay: Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye and Barry Church, Jaguars. Consider it a three-way tie for the trio of deals that put the finishing touches on Jacksonville’s defensive overhaul. The results have been outstanding. Campbell remains an elite interior defender, Bouye has picked up right where he left off during his breakout 2016 season in Houston and Church has been terrific at safety. All three play a key role on the league’s best defense.
Foxworth: LeGarrette Blount, Eagles. Last year Blount rushed for 1,161 yards and scored an eye-popping 18 touchdowns. Yet, he languished in free agency until the Eagles picked him up for $1.25 million. And Blount has delivered, leading the league with 2.84 average yards after contact. The Eagles thanked him for his production by trading for Jay Ajayi to replace him as the featured back.
Sando: Andrew Whitworth, Rams. Campbell is the better player with the bigger individual impact, but the addition of Whitworth to the Rams’ offensive line was arguably more important. The Jaguars were going to be good on defense regardless. The Rams’ offensive revival has outpaced expectations. Whitworth has brought leadership, seasoning and stability to an offensive line that has helped Goff and Todd Gurley bounce back.
Yates: Calais Campbell, Jaguars. This feels like the home run pick, as a dominant defensive force on arguably the league’s best defense should be squarely in the middle of this conversation. Campbell has a career-high 11.0 sacks through Week 10 and has been an incredible influence on a youthful Jacksonville roster. Some not-to-be-overlooked additions include Rams wide receiver Robert Woods and the entire Saints draft class.
Pick a fringe fantasy player who should be started in Week 11.
Bowen: Austin Ekeler, RB, Chargers. Ekeler has some flex value given his ability as a receiving threat and the quicks to hit the hole in the running game. The rookie logged 15 touches against the Jags in Week 10, posting 77 yards receiving and two scores while adding another 42 yards rushing. With a matchup in Week 11 against a Bills defense that was gashed this past Sunday, giving up almost 300 yards rushing in the loss to the Saints, Ekeler could be a solid play in deeper leagues.
Clay: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers. Pittsburgh is averaging fewer than two offensive touchdowns per game for the first time in more than a decade. But keep in mind that six of the Steelers’ first nine games were on the road, where Roethlisberger’s struggles are well-documented over the past three-plus seasons, and their three home games were against Minnesota, Jacksonville and Cincinnati — all three of which rank among the top 10 in fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense are an intriguing bet for a breakout game at Heinz Field against a Titans defense that has allowed two or more passing touchdowns in five games this season.
Foxworth: Mike Wallace, WR, Ravens. The Ravens are playing Green Bay, which is among the worst fantasy defenses against receivers. And whenever Wallace is healthy, the Ravens have a few deep shots to him in the game plan. So he has a chance to have a big game against the Packers this weekend. The question is whether you believe Joe Flacco can hit his receivers. If he does, Wallace could have 150 yards and two touchdowns. If he doesn’t, Wallace could end up with just 38 yards and no touchdowns. Are you feeling lucky?
Sando: Marqise Lee, WR, Jaguars. Blake Bortles targeted Lee 11 times against the Chargers last week, producing six receptions for 55 yards and a score. It’s tough banking on Bortles, but there could be opportunities for Lee against the Browns.
Yates: Corey Davis, WR, Titans. The fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft had a near touchdown in Week 10 (the play was overturned to a fumble for a touchback), but his talent remains apparent and his 10 targets were encouraging. The Steelers have a terrific pass defense, but Joe Haden suffered a broken fibula in Week 10 and is out indefinitely, while starting safety Mike Mitchell is now dealing with an ankle issue. Davis has upside.
Fill in the blank: The Browns will get their first win against the ____ and finish with ___ wins on the season.
Bowen: Bears in Week 16; one win. Give me the Browns over the Bears on Christmas Eve in Chicago. This is a classic, late-season throwaway game with two teams heading into an uncertain offseason. I’ll take the Browns in this one against rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and a limited Bears offense that has yet to show any signs of progression.
Clay: Packers in Week 14; two wins. The Browns could be winless this season, but they have some very good defensive players and are only weeks away from having both Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman in the lineup. They’ll have their hands full against Jacksonville this week and follow with a pair of road games against the Bengals and Chargers. But from there, Cleveland has a good shot to grab its first win at home against the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers in Week 14, and it’s not hard to see them beating Baltimore at home in Week 15 or winning at Chicago in Week 16.
Foxworth: The Browns’ first win will come in the NFL draft. Before the season started, I thought they’d be at least a mediocre football team. They have several really good players on defense. On paper, they had one of the best offensive lines in the league, and a few playmakers. But it hasn’t worked out. So, I’m done believing in the Browns. They won’t win a regular season football game until next year.
Sando: Bengals in Week 12; one win. The Chargers are another team with the ability to lose against any team at any time, including the Browns in Week 13.
Yates: Bengals in Week 12; one win. I admit to little confidence in this pick, as I could certainly see a winless season for Cleveland. But the most winnable game on the schedule seems to be a Week 12 tilt in Cincinnati. The Bengals have been uneven on offense due in large part to a shaky offensive line. The Browns will take home their lone win of the season in a second matchup with the Bengals. The No. 1 pick will likely await the Browns in the 2018 NFL draft.