Spot situations should still arise, but we should be getting down to the moment when teams are not able to overlook opponents if they have a genuine ambition to be playing Football in January. Upsets are never that far away in the NFL, but teams suffering those are going to suffer the consequences when the six places in the two Conferences are handed out.
Only the New England Patriots can really feel secure with how they are playing, the schedule and their position within their own Division and I do think they are well on the way to earning a Bye into the Divisional Round of the PlayOffs at the least. However most Divisions and the Wild Card Race look highly competitive as we get set for the final couple of weeks of Byes, the conclusion of which really brings the PlayOffs into sharp focus around the League.
Below are a few thoughts out of the NFL as we get set to begin Week 11.
Colin Kaepernick Returning to the NFL? Where else can I start but with the news that the NFL are holding a 'League wide workout' for Colin Kaepernick.
I've always said I've felt he has been good enough to be deserving of a spot on someone's roster but it had been clear for a while the NFL were not keen to have Kaepernick's brand of social justice on show. A large amount of NFL fans probably never even understood what his problem is, but Kaepernick was right to follow what he believed in and now his story could come around in a full arc if he is given the chance to join a NFL team.
I am still not sure what I am expecting- however I do know the NFL have had a number of starters go down this season and if you are seeing the likes of Brian Hoyer trot out in relief then there is room for Kaepernick to rejoin the League.
The Colts might been a good fit if Jacoby Brissett is out for any extended length of time, although I am not that is the case. It might even be a situation where Kaepernick is worked out and any team looking to bring him in waits until the 2020 season.
If I was guessing at a real potential landing spot, I wouldn't look much further than the Chicago Bears. Matt Nagy looks like he is finished with Mitchell Trubisky and I think Colin Kaepernick would be an upgrade for them, but at 4-5 are the Bears really believing they can still make the PlayOffs?
No matter what happens this weekend I think the NFL have finally done the right thing by making sure every team in the League knows Colin Kaepernick is not blacklisted from the game. Again I feel like there would have been a lot bigger chance of him landing somewhere if this had taken place in Week 7 rather than Week 11, but I'll be backing the former 49ers wherever he lands (barring the AFC East outside of the Dolphins).
Exciting End to the Season in Prospect: The New England Patriots look to be a team who will move clear in the AFC East in the weeks ahead, but every other Division is being tightly contested and even the Wild Card race looks like it could go down to the wire.
Only three of the eight Divisions have a team leading by two games at the top and even then the New Orleans Saints were beaten last week to keep the door open for the Carolina Panthers.
Five of the eight Divisions have the top two teams within a game of each other and the NFL decision to schedule Divisional games down the stretch looks to be one that will pay off massively in 2019. That is the same for the Wild Card positions with so much on the line in the games ahead and I can't wait to see how it all pans out.
Russell Wilson or Lamar Jackson for MVP: I'll hold my hands up and admit I did not see Lamar Jackson playing to the level he has this season, although I was not as dismissive of his chances of playing Quarter Back as some when he was Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.
For me he has to be the leading contender in the AFC to win the MVP regular season award and I would have Jackson winning it if the Ravens are able to win the AFC North and also secure a Bye into the Divisional Round. After losing so many key Defensive players and Jackson now being the full time starter from Week 1, the Ravens had been dismissed in the AFC North where the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns also competed.
Instead Jackson continues to make highlight reels on a weekly basis and looks to be Michel Vick 2.0, which is not any kind of disrespect to the Baltimore Quarter Back. Lamar Jackson can run the ball just as well as Vick, if not better, but he has looked a much better passer than the former Atlanta Falcon Quarter Back and I love what Jackson is producing.
His main rival has to be Russell Wilson who led the Seattle Seahawks to the upset of the previously unbeaten San Francisco 49ers in Week 10. It wasn't his best performance of the season, but Wilson showed the belief he has in his own game to recover from an Overtime Interception and lead the Seahawks down the field for the game winning Field Goal.
Wilson has been another player who has had serious weapons on both sides of the field depart, but he is raising the levels of all those left around him. I was massively high on Wilson when he came out of College to the point I wanted the Dolphins to Draft him outside of the First Round, but people read too much into the height.
His arm strength and ability to scramble to make plays is about as good as any Quarter Back in the NFL and the winning mentality has already produced one Super Bowl ring (he should have had two in all honesty). There is no doubt the Seahawks are overachieving because of this one player and I think it will give the next generation of Quarter Backs a huge boost to see real dual-threat Quarter Backs challenging for MVP awards.
You may as well give the Number 1 Draft Pick to Cincinnati: The Bungles, I mean Bengals, might have frustrated the entire rest of the League with their stubbornness in refusing to trade away big name players ahead of the trade deadline, but Week 10 could not have worked out much better for them.
No one wants to suffer a home blowout, but the Bengals were able to have a look at Quarter Back Ryan Finley and will be giving him the start the rest of the way.
It is important for them to do their due diligence on Finley because Week 10 saw the Atlanta Falcons, Miami Dolphins and New York Jets all win games. Why is that important? It means the Cincinnati Bengals are now clear favourites to earn the Number 1 Pick in the upcoming NFL Draft with only the Washington Redskins offering up any kind of threat.
I honestly don't think the Bengals will win a game this season as they struggle badly on both sides of the ball, and now they can start planning for which Quarter Back they want to take in the Draft while moving on from Andy Dalton. Joe Burrow has to be the favourite after his performance in beating Alabama with the LSU Tigers, but things can change between now and April.
One thing is almost certain- Cincinnati are on the clock.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns Pick: The NFL looks to be highly competitive outside of the five or six really poor teams involved and that should mean a very close run battle for the Wild Card spots in both Conferences.
This game is being played on Thursday Night Football between two teams from the AFC North as the Cleveland Browns host the Pittsburgh Steelers in what is the first of two games between these rivals that is played in the next three weeks. Both teams are trying to chase down the Baltimore Ravens who are a couple of games clear in the Division, although the Browns might privately already be accepting that their only chance to match expectations is going to be getting into the the Wild Card positions.
At the start of the season Cleveland were seen as a popular choice to win the AFC North, but a 3-6 record has put them in a difficult position. The way things are shaping up it is entirely possible at least one 9-7 team is going to be playing Football in January, but the pressure is on the Browns who have to go 6-1 in their final seven games to achieve that record.
They can't afford to slip up in this Divisional game, but neither can the in-form Pittsburgh Steelers who have won four in a row to move to 5-4 for the season. That leaves them two games behind the Ravens, but importantly Pittsburgh hold one of the Wild Card spots if the season was to end now and they are doing that all without Ben Roethlisberger.
Give credit where it is due though and it is the Steelers Defensive unit that have really come out to play and only Baltimore and Indianapolis have managed to score more than 17 points against Pittsburgh in the last six games they have played. The Ravens needed Overtime to see off the Steelers, but they did beat the Colts and so this team needs to be given a lot of respect for the way they are performing on that side of the ball.
Make no mistake about it, the Steelers will be heading to Cleveland to make a point by dominating against Baker Mayfield and the much hyped pre-season Offense. If Freddie Kitchens was anything like a better Head Coach than he is I might have faith that the Browns can put together a game plan that could be effective, but he might end up falling into one in this Week 11 encounter.
With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt available, you have to expect the Browns are going to use runs and screens to get things moving Offensively and I do think they can have some success doing that. The Cleveland Offensive Line has been happy when it comes to run blocking and as well as the Steelers have been playing, it has been possible to get the run going against them. The two Running Backs being used by Cleveland are special talents and I do think they can at least give Mayfield a chance at Quarter Back.
Running the ball is vital for Cleveland as they have struggled to protect Mayfield when he has dropped back to throw and they now face a Pittsburgh team whose pass rush has been causing havoc for opponents. There is no doubt that the likes of Bud Dupree and TJ Watt are going to be living in the backfield whenever Cleveland are in third and long situations and that has seen Sacks galore being produced as well as poor throws leading to Interceptions.
Baker Mayfield will have to be careful and the play-calling has to be better than what we have seen from a predictable Cleveland team. Odell Beckham Jr is a threat for them, but they can't force it into the Wide Receiver and have to be better all around if they are going to beat the Steelers this week, but getting Chubb and Hunt going will be all important for the home team.
The Pittsburgh Defensive unit have been mightily impressive, but it does have to be said that the last few weeks have been fun as they are playing at home for the most part. Going out on the road and producing is a much different challenge, but Mason Rudolph and the entire Offensive unit have to hope their team-mates show up.
If the game is going to be put on Rudolph and the Offense it is much harder to believe in Pittsburgh in Week 11. I have seen little to believe Rudolph is going to be the long-term successor to Ben Roethlisberger as he is largely being asked to manage games behind a strong rushing attack.
James Connor should be back for the Steelers in Week 11, but the Cleveland Browns have improved on this side of the ball as injuries have cleared up for them. The Pittsburgh Offensive Line have also just had one or two problems opening holes in recent games, although the addition of Connor will be a big help, and Cleveland have shown signs of stiffening on the Defensive Line.
For all the plaudits I think Pittsburgh deserve, it can't be lost on anyone that they have lost the yardage battle in four of their last five games. 73 of the last 94 points have also been added by that Defensive unit and I do think they could have troubles generating a lot of Offensive output in this game too. Failing to run the ball effectively and efficiently will mean the pressure is on Rudolph to make the plays with his arm and the improving Browns Secondary which is healthier than it has been for much of the season are going to be tough to beat out.
An improving pass rush should also be able to get to Rudolph if he is struggling to find the spaces down the field and it can set Cleveland up for an important win on Thursday Night Football.
It is going to be a close game and you can't ignore the erratic form and play-calling Cleveland have been employing all season. The Steelers have momentum and the kind of Defensive unit that will be looking to dominate as they have been and they can make plays to turn the game in their favour. I would not be surprised to see turnovers being the key for the Steelers again, but Cleveland should have the Running Back duo to keep them honest and move the chains without putting undue pressure on Baker Mayfield.
This is a rare spot in seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers as the underdog against the Cleveland Browns and it seems like the public are not buying that position with the money being on the road underdog. Mike Tomlin is a much better Head Coach than Freddie Kitchens and the Steelers are 7-1 against the spread in their last eight as the road underdog, but I think they need a few more things to break their way if they are going to win this game.
Turnovers are one thing, but the Defensive unit has been scoring points at a rate which is unsustainable and I think the Browns are otherwise a team that is fairly evenly matched with the 5-4 Steelers. Being at home should be key for Cleveland and I will back them to win and cover in this one.
Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens Pick: Two teams who are currently leading their respective Divisions in the AFC meet in Week 11 and it could be a game which determines eventual PlayOff Seeding. The Baltimore Ravens crushed the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10 to move to 7-2 for the season which would currently earn them the Number 2 Seed in the AFC, although they are only a game behind the New England Patriots having the tie-breaker over the Super Bowl Champions.
The Ravens are hosting the Houston Texans who at 6-3 are leading the AFC South and will move above Baltimore if they are able to win this game. The Texans have battled injuries, but they continue to lean on the brilliance of Deshaun Watson at Quarter Back.
Having Watson should mean the Houston Texans have a good idea on how to try and slow down Lamar Jackson who might be leading the way in terms of the MVP award for the regular season. An idea in theory is not the same as in practice and this is going to be a challenging day for the Houston Texans who have suffered through some big injuries on the Defensive unit.
In Week 11 the Bye Week will have given Houston a chance to at least bring back some key players in the Secondary, but the real battle for the Texans will be on the Defensive Line as they look to clamp down on Jackson and Mark Ingram when Baltimore look to run the ball. This is still a team that will look to run the ball first and then open things up for the passing game, and to completely stop Baltimore running the ball is next to impossible, but the Houston Texans might have a team that can at least limit what they are able to do.
Keeping tabs on Jackson when he gets outside the pocket is not going to be easy, but Houston should have one or two ideas how to prevent him from scrambling for some major gains throughout the game. However Lamar Jackson has surprised many by showing he is not a run first Quarter Back with some big time throws made to keep the chains moving and he will be confident in moving the ball for the Ravens.
There have been some big holes in the Houston Secondary which have been exploited by teams, but Jonathan Joseph could be back and Bradley Roby is closer to a return too which will give them a real boost. Picking up Vernon Hargreaves looks a solid move too, although he might not be in for a lot of plays on Sunday as he works on the new game plan that needs to be learned.
I do think Baltimore will have their successes, but Houston have to believe they can give their Offense every chance of getting into a position to win this game.
There are some similarities with the way Houston will approach things Offensively with what the Ravens are trying to do here. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson have been important for Houston and the Offensive Line has done a fine job in establishing the run, while Deshaun Watson can scramble for First Downs when the pocket collapses and I think the Texans will have success pounding the rock in this one.
Like Lamar Jackson, Baltimore's Defensive unit can't sell out in stopping the run because Watson has shown he is more than capable of making big plays with his arm. Having Will Fuller potentially back is a boost for a Houston team who will use him to stretch the field and the Watson connection with DeAndre Hopkins has proven to be a predictably strong one, but one that is very difficult to stop.
With the changes in the Defense made in the last couple of years, Baltimore are not a team who are generating heavy pressure with the pass rush and I think Watson will have time to make his plays down the field when he looks to do that. The Baltimore Secondary have allowed some decent passing numbers too and I think Deshaun Watson is going to have a strong showing and I am looking forward to what could be a shoot out between two players who will be in the MVP discussion at the end of the regular season.
I really like Houston having more than a Field Goal worth of points on the handicap in Week 11. They are 4-1 against the spread in the last five games coming out of a Bye Week and I think the Houston team matches up well with a Baltimore team who tend to be a touch overrated at home if their 1-3 record against the spread in front of their fans in 2019 will suggest.
Houston have also been a fantastic road underdog since Deshaun Watson has taken over at Quarter Back. They are 8-2 against the spread in that situation with Watson starting, while also won as the underdog 'road' team in London two weeks ago against the Jaguars.
This is a game that could easily go down to the wire and I am anticipating a close one, while I could not rule out Houston winning this one outright either. With that in mind I do like the road underdog here with the points.
Dallas Cowboys @ Detroit Lions Pick: The head to head and the Divisional record is giving the Dallas Cowboys the edge over the Philadelphia Eagles for the lead in the NFC East, but being dropped to 5-4 after losing on Sunday Night Football in Week 10 against the Minnesota Vikings was a blow. It feels more and more that the NFC East Division Champion will be playing in the post-season, but the Wild Card could be beyond these teams and so every game has taken on a new importance for teams.
After losing to the Vikings I don't think the Cowboys are good enough to be overlooking any opponent even with the big game against the New England Patriots on deck. That might not be easy for this team even though they are on the road in Week 11 and that is mainly down to the expected level of competition the Cowboys are facing.
A few weeks ago it looked like the Detroit Lions were going to be a potential contender in the loaded NFC, but they have lost five of their last six games which means slipping to the bottom of the NFC North. The PlayOffs look to be a pipe dream now and the Lions will feel they missed an opportunity last week at the Chicago Bears in a narrow defeat to their Divisional rival.
They were not helped with Matthew Stafford being on the sidelines and Jeff Driskel taking over at Quarter Back, but it looks to be more of the same for Detroit in Week 11. The backup has experience from his time with the Cincinnati Bengals, but to say it is a drop off from Stafford to Driskel is a massive understatement and it should be a situation that Dallas are able to take advantage of.
Kerryon Johnson's continued absence is not going to be good news for Detroit with a backup Quarter Back as they have struggled to find the consistency in running the ball. We did see Dallas struggle to stop the run against Minnesota and Dalvin Cook last week, but this Lions Offensive Line is not as strong and the pressure is going to be on Driskel to make plays with his arm.
He can't complain with the Receiving talent he has to work with, but Driskel is going to have to deal with a productive pass rush the Cowboys can generate. The Dallas Secondary might have had one or two question marks at the start of the season, but they have been elevated when coupled with the pressure produced up front and I think we will see a much better effort in Week 11 after the criticisms the Cowboys labelled at themselves on this side of the ball in Week 10.
The Defensive unit were rightly upset with their level last week, but the Offensive Line will also have something to prove after Ezekiel Elliot was bottled up by the Vikings. I do expect the Cowboys to have a stronger day running the ball this time around though and Elliot can get back to the kind of level we have become accustomed to see from him.
It is all important for Dallas to set up the run and open things up for Dak Prescott, although the Quarter Back was very good last week and almost led the team to the come from behind victory. Running the ball just cleans up the pocket for when Prescott is looking to throw as teams focus on Elliot, and I think he has a solid outing in this one against a Detroit Secondary which has had issues for much of the season.
This is all good practice for Dallas to deal with a Defensive unit which is run very much like the one that New England will operate next week. The Lions are just not as strong as the Patriots and I think Dallas can move the chains with some consistency and get into a position to win on the road as the favourite.
Dak Prescott has a solid 9-6 record against the spread as a starting Quarter Back favoured on the road and the Lions have been struggling at home. I will look for those trends to continue as Dallas cover a big line to regain some momentum which has been lost in recent weeks.
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers Pick: The 1972 Miami Dolphins could crack open the champagne at the end of Week 10 as the last unbeaten record in the 2019 NFL season was ended on Monday Night Football. The San Francisco 49ers will be looking to quickly bounce back from falling back to 8-1 as they are being chased by the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West who are just half a game behind as they go into their Bye Week.
The 49ers play the second of three consecutive home games and they have to be a touch worried that their fast start has not given them more breathing room at the top of their Division especially with the later schedule looking a lot tougher than what they had earlier. In the weeks ahead San Francisco will have to play Green Bay, Baltimore, New Orleans and both the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks and all of those teams could easily be PlayOff bound at the end of the season.
In Week 11 the competition is not at that level as the 49ers prepare to host the Arizona Cardinals, a team who have lost three in a row. Only one of those losses have been uncompetitive though and the Cardinals already gave San Francisco plenty to think about when they met two weeks ago on Thursday Night Football.
David Johnson is still banged up, but Arizona have shown they can compete even when he has been on the sidelines. Bringing in Kenyan Drake has given the Cardinals another option at Running Back who can be effective in the NFL, and they should be able to get that side of their game established against the 49ers who have had issues stopping the run.
Kyler Murray gives Arizona the kind of mobile Quarter Back who can be successful in helping to implement some run-option plays to just loosen up a strong 49ers Defensive unit that have not been playing at the same high standards from earlier tin the season. This is all key for Arizona as they look to slow down the much vaunted pass rush that the 49ers are going to bring to the table and it will be important for Murray and the Offensive unit to be in third and manageable spots which they should have chances to convert.
Even throwing the ball will be successful for Arizona from those situations, but they can look to control the clock and at least give themselves a chance of remaining competitive by running the ball with success as I expect them to do.
That will at least force San Francisco to have to dig deep for the win as they needed to do when narrowly beating Arizona earlier this season. On that day Jimmy Garoppolo had his best game of the season with four Touchdown passes thrown, but he could be without George Kittle for a second week in a row, while the Offensive Line took a couple of injuries and Emmanuel Sanders was banged up after Monday Night Football.
Even with those banged up players Garoppolo should be able to bounce back from a sub-par performance in the defeat to the Seattle Seahawks. He can expect to be given a bit better support from the run game, despite Matt Breida likely missing this game, and that is the foundation from which the 49ers can have success.
There have been signs of improvement on the Arizona Defensive Line when it comes to stopping the run, but that has affected the play of the Secondary and so it is hard to see if the Cardinals making a lot of stops. Where they can be effective is with the pass rush that can at least stall some drives especially with the San Francisco Offensive Line likely to be banged up at best and that can force some Field Goals rather than allowing Touchdowns which will be key to getting within this number.
The underdog has improved to 5-1 against the spread in the last six in this series while Arizona are 5-1 against the spread in their last six on the road. As well as the 49ers have played, this is not a team really built to blow others out and they are just 1-4 against the spread in their last five when hosting a team with a losing record on the road.
San Francisco are 0-4 against the spread when playing on the Sunday after a Monday Night Football appearance, while they are 0-5 against the spread in their next game after Monday Night Football overall. They should take the Cardinals seriously after the scare in Week 9, but the 49ers are hosting the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football next week which could provide a distraction which allows the Cardinals to keep this one competitive.
MY PICKS: Cleveland Browns - 2.5 Points @ 1.83 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Houston Texans + 4.5 Points @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Dallas Cowboys - 7 Points @ 2.00 William Hill (2 Units)
Arizona Cardinals + 10 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Minnesota Vikings - 9.5 Points @ 1.83 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Buffalo Bills - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)
New Orleans Saints - 5.5 Points @ 2.00 Bet365 (2 Units)
Philadelphia Eagles + 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Week 10: 4-3, + 1.10 Units (14 Units Staked, + 7.86% Yield)
Week 9: 4-4, - 0.64 Units (16 Units Staked, - 4% Yield)
Week 8: 2-4, - 4.20 Units (12 Units Staked, - 35% Yield)
Week 7: 2-4, - 4.10 Units (12 Units Staked, - 34.17% Yield)
Week 6: 6-3, + 4.84 Units (18 Units Staked, + 26.89% Yield)
Week 5: 4-5, - 2.72 Units (18 Units Staked, - 15.11% Yield)
Week 4: 3-6, - 6.54 Units (18 Units Staked, - 36.33% Yield)
Week 3: 5-2, + 3.28 Units (12 Units Staked, + 27.33% Yield)
Week 2: 3-4, - 2.70 Units (14 Units Staked, - 19.29% Yield)
Week 1: 4-4, + 0.16 Units (15 Units Staked, + 1.07% Yield)
Season 2019: 37-39, - 11.52 Units (149 Units Staked, - 7.73% Yield)