Sometimes the NFL schedule-makers manage to strike gold, and that’s certainly the case in Week 11 with several division leaders and playoff hopefuls squaring off.
The best matchup on the docket involves a pair of upstarts looking to shake up the league’s usual hierarchy, as the Minnesota Vikings (7-2) host the Los Angeles Rams (7-2). Leading the NFC North and NFC West, respectively, the Vikings and Rams are each enjoying the benefits of surprisingly competent quarterback play.
In his second year under center for the Rams, Jared Goff is living up to his potential as the top overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. A sterling stat line of 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions has garnered Goff consideration in the MVP race, and his 8.5 yards per passing attempt rate is currently the best in all of football.
Under new head coach Sean McVay, the Rams are dismantling their competition in every phase of the game. After last week’s 33-7 dismissal of the Houston Texans (3-6), the Rams have outscored opponents 144-41 during their four-game winning streak.
That could change in a hurry heading to Minnesota, where quarterback Case Keenum has gone from the Vikings third option to the leader of a first-class offensive attack. Keenum tossed four touchdowns in last Sunday’s 38-30 shootout over the Washington Redskins (4-5), while leading the Vikings into the end zone on five of their first six possessions.
It was the fifth straight win for Minnesota, and despite the high score, the Vikings defense dominated for most of the game – as they have all season.
Something’s going to give in this one, and according to the linemakers at online sportsbook Bovada, the Vikings get a slim 2-point edge as home favorites.
Sunday Night Football is set for an NFC East showdown, but the Dallas Cowboys (5-4) will be limping into their first meeting when they host the Philadelphia Eagles (8-1).
Dallas lost star running back Ezekiel Elliott to suspension ahead of last Sunday’s dispiriting 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons (5-4), but his absence wasn’t the most meaningful. Instead, the sudden loss of beastly left tackle Tyron Smith – a six-foot, five-inch monster tasked with protecting quarterback Dak Prescott’s blind side – did Dallas in.
Smith’s overmatched backups allowed six sacks to Falcons pass-rusher Adrian Clayborn alone, and eight sacks overall. Meanwhile, the Cowboys also lost their defensive captain in linebacker Sean Lee to a bum hamstring, which bodes well for the Eagles’ high-powered offense.
Lee sat out two other games earlier in the year, and in both cases Dallas allowed 35 points to lose a shootout.
With Philly on an absolute roll – winning seven straight while scoring 33.3 points per game over that span – it could be a long day for Dallas defenders.
The oddsmakers appear to agree, as the Cowboys have been made 3.5-point home underdogs – the first time they won’t be favored at home all year.
In a rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional Round, the Seattle Seahawks (6-3) take on the aforementioned Falcons, but this time the ‘Hawks will enjoy home field advantage.
And what an advantage it is. Playing in the loudest NFL venue, with the “12th Man” on hand to rattle opposing offenses, the Seahawks have compiled a brilliant 46-14 record at CenturyLink Field – including a 3-1 mark in 2017.
It’s been an up and down year for Seattle, as evidenced by last week’s results, when the Seahawks scored a badly needed divisional win – but lost shutdown corner Richard Sherman for the season.
Inconsistency has also plagued Atlanta, which seemed to be suffering from the dreaded “Super Bowl hangover” for much of the year after blowing the big game in heartbreaking fashion. A slate of four straight against the AFC East saw Atlanta go 1-3, including lackluster losses to the middling Miami Dolphins (4-5) and Buffalo Bills (5-4).
But the Falcons may have turned a corner while taking apart the Cowboys, so the line for this one is rather snug with Seattle favored by only 3 points at home.