Previewing NFL Week 11

The weekend got off to a rocky start with the melee at the end of the Browns-Steelers game.

It was bad optics for the NFL and shows the Browns are a team out of control.

It also takes the focus off some great matchups this weekend, including a Super Bowl rematch from two years ago and a matchup of two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

Game of the Week

New England goes to Philadelphia for a Super Bowl rematch of two years ago. The Eagles have more at stake since they are fighting Dallas for the NFC East title. At 8-1, the Patriots are virtually already in the playoffs, but they don’t want to lose two in a row. They had a soft schedule going 8-0 before getting drilled by Baltimore. Losing two in a row to winning teams would raise questions about whether they are as good as their record. Carson Wentz will make his first start against the Patriots. Nick Foles, now in Jacksonville, quarterbacked the Eagles to the Super Bowl win when Wentz was hurt. The only surprising thing is that the game isn’t in prime time, but CBS probably protected it. The only other late game CBS is showing is the Bengals-Raiders so it will be virtually a national TV game.

Game of the Weak

New York Jets at Washington. These two teams have combined for three wins, two by the Jets. That means they have a combined 3-15 record. The Redskins are starting rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins against second year quarterback Sam Darnold, who is struggling.

What to watch for

—If we didn’t have a Super Bowl matchup on the schedule, the Houston visit to Baltimore would be the headline game because it will be the first Deshaun Watson-Lamar Jackson duel since 2016 when Watson and Clemson won an epic 42-36 shootout. It is surprising the NFL didn’t schedule this game in prime time or at least in the 4:25 p.m. slot. At 1 pm, CBS will also be showing three other games.

—While Nick Foles former team, the Eagles, will be playing a Super Bowl rematch, Foles will be returning from his broken clavicle to face the Colts. At 4-5, the Jaguars need to get on a run if they’re to be a playoff contender. Meanwhile, Jacoby Brissett returns for the Colts after they lost to Miami last week with Brian Hoyer at quarterback.

—The Saints failed to score a touchdown in the Superdome for the first time with Drew Brees at quarterback in a loss to the Falcons. Now they Saints go to Tampa Bay attempting to show they can bounce back.–The Bears at the Rams will be the Sunday night prime time game, but the matchup of Mitch Tribusky and Jared Goff is not likely can be compelling. The Bears won 15-6 when they played late last year and the two quarterbacks combined for seven interceptions, four by Goff.

—The Chiefs and Chargers go to Mexico City for a quarterback matchup between young Patrick Mahomes and veteran Philip Rivers. Mahomes figures to outscore Rivers since the Chargers have scored 30 points only twice this year. But the Chiefs defense is so porous that Rivers might have a big day in which could be a shootout.

Foles’ return will tell a lot — about the Jaguars

Nick Foles belongs to two of the most exclusive quarterback clubs in the world.

He is one of two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era to come off the bench late in the season because the starter was injured and lead his team to the Super Bowl title. Jeff Hostetler with the Giants in 1990 is the other after he replaced injured Phil Simms.

He is also one of two quarterbacks to beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in a Super Bowl. Eli Manning, who did it twice, is the other.

And now he will attempt to join another exclusive club. He will try to become the first quarterback to win a Super Bowl for the Jaguars and only the fourth to take them to the playoffs. Mark Brunell, David Garrard and Blake Bortles are the other three.

Foles’ return Sunday in Indianapolis from the broken clavicle that sidelined him for the opener couldn’t be timelier.

The Jaguars are 4-5 and their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread.

Despite all the Minshew Mania, he was still a rookie quarterback and didn’t beat a winning team in his eight starts.

The Jaguars have been the definition of average and predictable this year. They have played five games against winning teams and lost them all. They played four games against losing teams and won them all.

What we don’t know is whether the Jaguars are simply an average team destined to be 8-8 (they have three games against winning teams left on their schedule) or whether they just need better quarterback play to make a run to the playoffs.

Foles will provide the answer. This is his time of the year. He’s not an elite quarterback and has tended to be injury prone, but he is one of those quarterbacks who is best at crunch time.

And CBS Sports noted he has played more games in November and December (31) than in September and October (23).

The last two years, he came off the bench in Philadelphia when Carson Wentz was injured and the moment wasn’t too big for him.

He led the Eagles to the Super Bowl title two years ago and probably came within a dropped pass of leading them back to the NFC title game last year.

Some quarterbacks struggle in crunch time. Foles elevates his game. He is 9-2 the last two years come off the bench for the Eagles and only 1-1 when he started the first two games last year.

Tossing in a victory Foles had against the Jaguars in 2016 when he was with Kansas City, he is 10-2 since 2016 in November and beyond. That .833 winning percentage late in the year is the best for any quarterback with 10 or more starts, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Tom Brady is second at .794.

Granted, Brady has played a lot more games late in the year and is 27-7.

Still, Foles has shown what he can do with a good team around him like he had in Philadelphia.

Which brings us to why his return will be a good barometer of how good a team the Jaguars are.

They have three games left against winning teams – two with the Colts and one at Oakland. If they lose all three and beat the four losing teams remaining on their schedule to finish 8-8, it will be a sign they have to upgrade the team around Foles to get to the playoffs.

If Foles takes them to the playoffs, it will be a sign that the Jags have a good team to complement him.

In effect, Foles’ return will tell us more about the Jaguars than about Foles. We know what Foles can do with a good team around him late in the year.

What we don’t know if how good the Jaguars are. We will get the answer in the answer in the next seven weeks.

Ngakoue headed for riches, and Jags need to decide if it’s going to be in Jacksonville

Yannick Ngakoue decided to be on himself this year and he appears to be winning that bet.

Ngakoue turned down what he thought was a low-ball offer from the Jaguars in the offseason and decided to play out the final year of his rookie contract at $2.025 million.

He knew a big year in 2019 would set him up for a monster contract in 2020 when he becomes a free agent.

The Jaguars can franchise him but if he doesn’t sign the tender, he is not considered under contract and the Jaguars can’t fine him if he is a no show until he gets paid or traded.

Well, it looks like Nagkoue is having the type of season that will earn him a big deal next year.

Just listen to coach Doug Marrone talk about him this week.

“When you see the production by him you have to remember that teams are doing a lot to stop him, especially in the pass rush phase,” Marrone said. “He’s had a bunch of quality rushes, but he’s also had a bunch of double teams that he is fighting through or chips.

“I think he has improved greatly in the run game. I think he’s done a really good job there, and I think he has improved as a pass rusher and has done an excellent job. The numbers may not show that, but when you watch the film and you see how many people, they are putting on him, I think at times that can be very discouraging, and he has done a great job in a lot of ways.

“He has been great in the locker room, he’s been great in practice, he is doing everything he possibly can to help this team win and you couldn’t ask for more from a player.”

The numbers Marrone was talking about don’t make it look like he is having a great year. He has just four sacks, eight quarterback hits, one forced fumble and 18 tackles in nine games.

But he not only played hurt at the start of the year, Marrone makes it sound like he is having a stellar year despite the numbers. And pass rushers are at a premium.

Now the ball is in the Jaguars court. They didn’t offer him enough to get him to signed after his sacks dropped from 12 in 2017 to 9.5 last year and didn’t make the Pro Bowl again although his quarterback hits jumped from 23 and 33.

Unfortunately for Ngakoue, Marrone isn’t involved in contract talks. Tom Coughlin has the final decision and Dave Caldwell does most of the negotiating.

It remains him to be seen if they will pay him what he thinks he is worth since Josh Allen seems to be a star in the making.

Having Allen and Ngakoue as the pass rushers would the next few years would seem to be a plus for the Jaguars but it remains to be seen if the Jaguars front office sees it that way.

But assuming the rest of the league looks at his film and sees it the same way Marrone does, one thing is obvious — Ngakoue is going to get a big contract next year.

If not from the Jaguars, he will get it from a team that needs a pass rusher who has improved against the run this year.

Looking back at NFL Week 10

The 1972 Dolphins can break open the champagne.

Now that San Francisco became the last unbeaten team to lose Monday night, it is official that the Dolphins are the only team ever to record a perfect season in the league’s first 100 years.

In the league’s early days, four teams didn’t lose a game but all had ties. That doesn’t mean the Dolphins were the best team in the first 100 years. They probably weren’t in the top five, but they took advantage of window between the Green Bay dynasty of the 1960s and the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s to get their perfect season.

The Packers won five titles and Steelers won four and the 49ers, the team of the 80s, won five although the final one was in 1994. The Dolphins only won two.

The San Francisco loss means the NFC race is wide open. The 49ers now lead the Seahawks by just a game in the loss column and still play five winning teams, including the Packers, Ravens and New Orleans.

The Packers and Saints are also just a game behind the 49ers in the loss column. It also was one of those Any Given Sunday weekends as three 1-7 teams all won, notably the Falcons upending the Saints and the Dolphins, who are supposed to be tanking, winning at Indianapolis.

The third was the Jets beating the Giants although that wasn’t much of an upset.

Positives

—The Dolphins dumped Ryan Tannehill as part of their tanking program. The Titans signed him and he’s 3-1 since replacing Marcus Mariota, including the win over the Chiefs Sunday, and has them in the playoff hunt at 5-5. Tannehill even scored on a two-point conversion.

—Another team that took advantage of the Dolphins’ tanking program was the Steelers. They gave up a first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, and he has four interceptions and two returns for touchdowns in the last three games, including one Sunday against the Rams. They’ve won four in a row after a 1-4 start without Ben Roethlisberger and are in the wild card hunt at 5-4.

—Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson has now beaten previously unbeaten New England and winless Cincinnati in the last two weeks. He does his thing regardless of the competition. The skeptics say he can’t keep playing this way long term without getting injured but the Ravens are living in the moment.

—The Seahawks are living on the edge, winning an overtime game for the second week in a row. They beat the 49ers on Jason Myers 42-yarder against San Francisco at the end of overtime.

—Kirk Cousins led the Vikings to a big prime time come from behind road win in Dallas with two touchdown passes. He was 6-13 with the Vikings and Redskins in prime-time road games. Dalvin Cook was the key to the victory for the Vikings, who are now 7-3. He ran for 97 yards including the go-ahead touchdown on fourth down and had 86 receiving yards.

Negatives

—The Giants are finding out Eli Manning wasn’t their only problem. They have lost six in a row with rookie Daniel Jones at quarterback, including an embarrassing loss Sunday to the Jets and coach Pat Schurmur is 7-19 in his past two seasons. Will he get a third season? We’ll see.

—The Rams are having a major Super Bowl hangover after losing in Pittsburgh. They’re 5-4, haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in their last 19 possessions and Jared Goff looks lost.

—Adam Vinatieri has now missed six extra points this year, including a critical one in the loss to the Dolphins. It looks like he stayed one year two long at age 47.

—Jimmy Garoppolo is now 16-3 as a starter for the 49ers after the home loss to Seattle. But he had three turnovers in the loss. He has to play better down the stretch. He plays Kyler Murray Sunday and then has a three-game stretch against the Packers, Ravens and Saints. The 49ers can’t afford any more losses like the one to Seattle after Chase McLaughlin of the 49ers missed a potential game winner from 47 yards out earlier in overtime that was shanked so badly it went into the tunnel. He made a 47-yarder with one second left in regulation to send the game in overtime. He was kicking because Robbie Gould was sidelined with an injury. San Francisco opened the door for Seattle to win when they got the ball back with less than two minutes left and threw three consecutive incomplete passes, taking only 25 seconds off the clock and giving the Seahawks time to drive for the game winning field goal.

—Count Carolina’s Ron Rivera as the latest coach to not understand when is the right time to go for two. He did it early in the fourth quarterback with the Panthers down 24-16. That meant they needed both a touchdown and two-point conversion to send the game in Green Bay into overtime in their final drive. They didn’t score anyway, but it was a head scratching decision by Rivera.

Previewing NFL Week 10

This is the time of year when the leaves turn, there is a chill in the air and the NFL games have a lot at stake as teams jockey for position in the playoff race.

The week started with the Raiders beating the Chargers Thursday night to keep themselves in the hunt at 5-4. The Chargers, meanwhile, fell to 4-6, dealing the playoff hopes a possible crippling blow.

It now appears the 8-1 Patriots and 6-2 Ravens are in position to win division titles while the 6-3 Texans, the 5-3 Colts and even the 4-5 Jaguars and 4-5 Titans are vying for the AFC South title.

The 6-3 Chiefs and 5-4 Raiders are battling for the AFC West title. That means eight teams are battling for six playoff spots. The other six teams have at least six losses.

In the NFC the 5-3 Cowboys and 5-4 Eagles are vying for the NFC East title while the 7-2 Packers and 6-3 Vikings are going for the NFC Central title and the 7-1 Saints have a two-game lead over the 5-3 Panther in the South.

San Francisco, the league’s only unbeaten team at 8-0, has the edge in the West over the 7-2 Seahawks and 5-3 Rams.

Game of the Week

The unbeaten 49ers will be going for 9-0 when they host the 7-2 Seahawks on Monday night. This may be a better game on paper than it is on the field. Despite the Seahawks record, they haven’t been that impressive this year although Russell Wilson is having an MVP type year so they always have a chance.

Game of the Weak

The two New York teams meet only once every four years in the regular season and this won’t be a memorable one with the Giants 2-7 and the Jets 1-7. The loser remains in contention for the top pick. Both coaches, Adam Gase of the Jets and Pat Schurmur of the Giants, are desperate for a victory. Gase is already on the hot seat and Schurmur is 6-18 in his second year.

What to watch for

—This is the year of the backup quarterback and Brian Hoyer is the latest one to get a shot with Jacoby Brissett sidelined with an injury. If Brissett has to miss a game, this is the one to miss. The Colts are playing Miami and should get a win to tie Houston, which has a bye, for first place in the AFC South.

—Patrick Mahomes, who was sidelined with a knee injury, returns to the lineup just in time because the Chiefs only have a one game lead over the resurgent Raiders in the AFC West. They need a win at Tennessee and hope Mahomes is at full strength and is at the top of his game after the layoff.

—The Pittsburgh Steelers have clawed back to .500 after a 1-4 start and now play a critical game Sunday when the host the Rams. A victory keeps them in the wild card race and they have a favorable schedule with two games with Cleveland sandwiched around a game with Cincinnati and then games with Arizona, Buffalo and the Jets before they close the season at Baltimore. The Steelers could get on a roll if they beat last year’s Super Bowl losers.

—Baltimore is the first team since the 1976 Steelers to rush for 150 or more yards in eight of the first nine games. They should be able to do it again Sunday when the face the winless Bengals as Lamar Jackson figures to have another big game.

—NBC gets another good game Sunday night when the Vikings go to Dallas with a lot riding on it for both teams. The Vikings are a game behind Green Bay while the Cowboys are a game ahead of Philadelphia in the loss column in their respective divisions. The game may turn on which Kirk Cousins shows up for the Vikings because he tends to be inconsistent. The key for Dallas is to get the lead in the fourth quarter because Cousins isn’t noted for bringing his team from behind at the end.