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NFL Week 11 Preview: Lamar-Deshaun Could Decide MVP—and a Lot More

The Ravens and Texans meet on Sunday for a game with huge implications. Plus, the injuries, lines, and everything else you need to know about every game.

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

Rarely does the biggest NFL news during the season happen on a Saturday, but that may be the case in Week 11. Executives at the league office hastily scheduled a workout for Colin Kaepernick in Atlanta on Saturday. The move was a surprise to Kaepernick. The Ringer’s Tyler Tynes reported that the former 49ers quarterback was contacted by league officials on Tuesday and told he needed to confirm whether he could attend the Saturday session “in two hours.”

This will be the first time Kaepernick works out for a team since he became a free agent in March 2017.

”At this point, it feels like a PR stunt,” said Eric Reid, the first player to kneel alongside Kaepernick during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. Reid, now with the Carolina Panthers, was asked on Wednesday whether Kaepernick getting a workout represents progress.

“I’ll quote Malcolm X,” Reid said. “‘If you stick a knife 9 inches in my back and pull it out 6, that’s not progress. There’s still a knife in my back.’ So we’ll see what happens.”

Plan Your Weekend Around This Game

Houston Texans (6-3) @ Baltimore Ravens (7-2)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Baltimore -5
Over/under: 49
Key Texans injuries and absences: Receiver Will Fuller V (hamstring), left tackle Laremy Tunsil (shoulder), right tackle Tytus Howard (knee),
Key Ravens injuries and absences: Receiver Marquise Brown (ankle), defensive tackle Michael Pierce (ankle)
What to watch: Two MVP candidates chucking it deep

Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson last played each other in college when Watson’s Clemson Tigers won a 42-36 epic over Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals. The Tigers went on to win the national championship, though Jackson beat out Watson for the Heisman Trophy. Three years later, they meet for the first of what could be many times in the NFL.

The Ravens opened as five-point favorites, but Houston has had their bye week to scout Baltimore’s defense. The Ravens don’t have good pass rushers, so they blitz more than any other team (roughly half of their plays). Watson loves trying deep passes, and blitzes that don’t reach the quarterback leave defenses vulnerable to big plays. The question is whether Houston can pick up those blitzes, and that may come down to health. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil missed Week 9 with a shoulder injury before Houston’s bye. Right tackle Tytus Howard is dealing with a knee injury. Blocking those blitzes will be easier if both are healthy, and landing a big play will be easier if Will Fuller, Houston’s top deep threat returns on Sunday after missing three weeks.

The outcome could have large ramifications on the playoffs. Currently the Ravens are the no. 2 seed in the AFC and in line for a first-round bye. The Texans are the no. 3 seed. If Houston wins, the two teams will flip places. A first-round bye is a crucial factor for both who makes the Super Bowl and who wins MVP. Perhaps a championship and the biggest award in the game could once again be waiting for these quarterbacks at the end of this season.

Rematches

New England Patriots (8-1) @ Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New England -3
Over/under: 46
Key Patriots injuries and absences: N/A
Key Eagles injuries and absences: Receiver Alshon Jeffery (ankle), running back Jordan Howard (shoulder), left tackle Jason Peters (knee), linebacker Nigel Bradham (ankle)
What to watch: Carson Wentz on third down

The last time these teams played was Super Bowl LII, when Carson Wentz watched Nick Foles lead the Eagles to a 41-33 win from the sideline. Philadelphia didn’t win the Super Bowl last season, but Foles once again took over for an injured Wentz midseason and led them on a run to the playoffs. This year, the Eagles need Wentz to be their hero, and there is no better opportunity than a rematch of what would have been the biggest game of his career.

The Eagles’ success on third-down conversions was key to their Super Bowl run in 2017, and it will be huge in this game. Philadelphia has the most third-down conversions (6.7 per game) and third-highest conversion percentage (48.4 percent). Meanwhile, the Patriots defense has allowed the fewest third-down conversions (2.2 per game) and the lowest conversion percentage (18.9 percent). The Patriots win because their defense gets opponents off of the field. That changed two weeks ago when Baltimore converted five of 10 third downs plus a fourth-and-4 and beat New England 37-20. Whether Philly converts one of every two third downs or one of every five could be the difference in this game. That is mostly on Carson Wentz.

Gisele Bündchen once said her husband couldn’t throw the ball and catch it as a diss to diss Wes Welker. (Brady proved her right six years later against the Eagles.) Like Brady, Wentz can’t do everything. Eagles receivers have dropped 15 passes this season, tied for the second most of any unit. The Patriots defense won’t offer many opportunities, so when Wentz finds open receivers, especially on third down, they have to catch the ball.

If the Eagles pull this win out, they will have a lot of daylight ahead of them. Four of their final six games are against the Giants, Miami, and Washington. Perhaps Wentz can lead them on a Folesian run to another NFC East title.

New Orleans Saints (7-2) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New Orleans -5
Over/under: 51
Key Saints injuries and absences: Cornerback Marshon Lattimore (hamstring), guard Andrus Peat (forearm), cornerback Patrick Robinson (hamstring), linebacker Demario Davis (hamstring)
Key Buccaneers injuries and absences: N/A
What to watch: The Saints rebound

New Orleans’s loss to the Falcons last week was a shock. They were favored by 13, the largest point spread on record in the Falcons-Saints rivalry.

“Collectively we’ve got to do a better job. That starts with me,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said in his postgame press conference. “This league is too good week to week that you can go in and not be focused and ready.”

A possible translation: Sean Payton planned his elaborate proposal to his longtime girlfriend on the weekend of a game he thought the Saints would easily win. According to Nell Nolan of Nola.com (what a perfect name for that website), Payton’s proposal last Friday night involved having Saints owner Gayle Benson send a fake invitation, diverting “a select number of guests” from a charity gala at the Superdome to a tavern in the New Orleans French Quarter, and then proposing in front of the crowd. That is an elaborate plan, and Sean Payton has never been big on delegating responsibilities. Perhaps he picked what looked like the easiest week on their calendar and took a bad beat. Don’t be surprised if the Saints return to form against Tampa Bay this week, though cornerback Marshon Lattimore’s status is a major factor. In their first matchup, receiver Mike Evans had zero catches on three targets. In the four games since, he has 36 catches for 556 yards.

Arizona Cardinals (3-6-1) @ San Francisco 49ers (8-1)

Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (sideline reporter)
Opening line: San Francisco -14
Over/under: 44
Key Cardinals injuries and absences: Running back Chase Edmonds (hamstring), cornerback Patrick Peterson (calf), cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring)
Key 49ers injuries and absences: Running back Matt Breida (ankle), tight end George Kittle (knee/ankle), defensive tackle D.J. Jones (groin), Emmanuel Sanders (ribs), kicker Robbie Gould (quad)
What to watch: Kliff Kingsbury vs. Robert Saleh

The 49ers lost one of the best, weirdest games of the season to the Seahawks on Monday Night Football in Week 10. It’s tempting to dismiss the game as a fluke, but it also exposed some of San Francisco’s biggest weaknesses. Head coach Kyle Shanahan’s clock management was questionable considering Seattle had three possessions in a 10-minute overtime period. Jimmy Garoppolo looked skittish playing from behind in the fourth quarter, as did every 49ers pass catcher other than Deebo Samuel after receiver Emmanuel Sanders left the game. Sanders is a question mark for this week, and tight end George Kittle is likely out for the second week in a row. How the 49ers respond against Arizona will be telling. The 49ers narrowly beat the Cardinals 28-25 two weeks ago. San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, a serious risk to drag his get-back guy onto the field will be the first coach to get a second crack at rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense. The same is true vice versa. If the Cardinals find a hole in the 49ers defense and grab an early lead, they’ll bring up all of the same issues San Fran dealt with last week.

Chicago Bears (4-5) @ Los Angeles Rams (5-4)

Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Rams -7.5
Over/under: 42
Key Bears injuries and absences: Running back David Montgomery (ankle), tight end Trey Burton (calf), tight end Adam Shaheen (foot), linebacker Danny Trevathan (elbow), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (elbow)
Key Rams injuries and absences: Receiver Brandin Cooks (concussion), tight end Gerald Everett (wrist), tight end Tyler Higbee (knee), right tackle Rob Havenstein (knee), defensive back Darious Williams (ankle)
What to watch: Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack race to beat up each other’s quarterbacks

Just three weeks after the Rams’ epic 54-51 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football last year came the first sign that something was off with Los Angeles’s offense. In a Week 14 game in which the over/under was 51 points, the Bears won 15-6. The Rams—the Rams!—did not score a touchdown. What seemed like a one-week blip against an elite defense in the cold was, in retrospect, the beginning of a pattern. Fittingly, the Rams enter this week’s game fresh off of failing to score an offensive touchdown against Pittsburgh. This week’s matchup might be a redux of last year. Here is where each of the Rams’ starting offensive linemen rank in Pro Football Focus grading this season (minimum 200 snaps).

Left Tackle: Andrew Whitworth (no. 22 of 72 tackles)
Left Guard: Austin Blythe (no. 72 of 77 guards)
Center: Brian Allen (no. 27 of 34 centers)
Right Guard: Joseph Noteboom (no. 73 of 77 guards)
Right Tackle: Rob Havenstein (no. 65 of 72 tackles)

That is the most obvious reason the Rams have fallen off. It might get worse. Noteboom and Brian Allen have gone on injured reserve. That has required fifth-round Wisconsin rookie David Edwards to step in at right guard (where he has been just as bad as Noteboom), Blythe to move over to center, and Austin Corbett, whom the Browns gave up on a year after drafting him no. 33, to step in at left guard. This is the group that will be tasked with stopping Khalil Mack and Co.

It’s unlikely this game ends well for Jared Goff. But it could also go poorly for Mitchell Trubisky. The Rams defense is the fourth-most efficient in football per Football Outsiders, and adding Jalen Ramsey has made them even better. If running back David Montgomery can’t play, Chicago will have to lean on Trubisky’s passing more than usual, and that has gone poorly as recently as two weeks ago, when he lost 11 yards on his first 12 dropbacks. Aaron Donald has six sacks this season, but don’t be surprised if he is at nine by the end of this game. Also don’t be surprised if this is the week that prompts Matt Nagy to bench Trubisky for Chase Daniel.

Games With Sneakily Important Playoff Implications

Dallas Cowboys (5-4) @ Detroit Lions (3-5-1)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Dallas -2.5
Over/under: 51.5
Key Cowboys injuries and absences: Receiver Amari Cooper (knee/ankle), guard Connor Williams (knee), guard Zack Martin (back/ankle/elbow), right tackle La’el Collins (knee/back), tackle Cameron Fleming (calf), defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (neck)
Key Lions injuries and absences: Quarterback Matt Stafford (back/hip), running back Kerryon Johnson (knee), running back Ty Johnson (concussion), right tackle Rick Wagner (concussion), defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand (ankle), defensive end Romeo Okwara (groin)
What to watch: A lot of silver and blue

Matt Stafford missed last week against the Bears with broken bones in his back. It was the first time he missed a game since 2010. Stafford’s replacement, Jeff Driskel, did not do well in a tough spot start against the Bears. Stafford did not practice on Wednesday and his status for Sunday is still unknown. Without Detroit’s top two running backs and starting right tackle, it will be a tough matchup regardless of whether they have a hobbled Stafford or a healthy Driskel. If Dallas manages to blow this, though, it leaves them at 5-5 and the door wide open for the Eagles to take the NFC East.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5) @ Indianapolis Colts (5-4)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton, Michael Grady (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Indianapolis -3.5
Over/under: 44
Key Jaguars injuries and absences: Offensive lineman Cam Robinson (knee), offensive lineman Brandon Linder (shoulder), defensive lineman Calais Campbell (back), safety Ronnie Harrison (eye)
Key Colts injuries and absences: Receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf), receiver Parris Campbell (hand), tight end Jack Doyle (shoulder), safety Malik Hooker (knee), cornerback Pierre Desir (hamstring)
What to watch: Nick. Foles.

Both of these teams are getting their starting quarterback back. The Colts had a one-week Brian Hoyer experiment go awry when they blew a winnable game against Miami. (The 5-4 Colts could easily be 7-2 with better kicking from Adam Vinatieri, who is having the worst season of his career.) While the Colts are trending down on a two-game losing streak, the Jaguars could soon be soaring. For the third year in a row, Nick Foles will take over a starting quarterback job after everyone forgot about him. St. Nick steering Jacksonville to a playoff run would be one of the most fun subplots of the season.

Grizzled Defensive Head Coaching Matchups

Denver Broncos (3-6) @ Minnesota Vikings (7-3)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Jay Feely (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Minnesota -10.5
Over/under: 38.5
Key Broncos injuries and absences: Tight end Jeff Heuerman (knee), tackle Ja’Wuan James (knee), cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot)
Key Vikings injuries and absences: Receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring), guard Josh Kline (concussion), defensive tackle Linval Joseph (knee), safety Anthony Harris (groin)
What to watch: Dalvin Cook and Courtland Sutton

The Vikings have given Dalvin Cook more receiving work since Adam Thielen’s hamstring injury. Cook has 204 receiving yards in the last three games that Thielen has been out or hobbled. Denver has gotten much better defensively after an awful start, but Minnesota’s brand of ball control will be a tall task for the Broncos. On defense, the Vikings need to look out for receiver Courtland Sutton. They’ve struggled to defend opposing no. 1 receivers with their limited cornerback depth, and Sutton is tied for 11th in receiving yards per game and has the biggest share of his team’s air yards of any player, according to Next Gen Stats.

Atlanta Falcons (2-7) @ Carolina Panthers (5-4)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Carolina -7
Over/under: 54
Key Falcons injuries and absences: Quarterback Matt Ryan (ankle), running back Devonta Freeman (foot), tight end Austin Hooper (knee), guard Wes Schweitzer (concussion), safety Kemal Ishmael (concussion)
Key Panthers injuries and absences: Cornerback Ross Cockrell (quad), cornerback Donte Jackson (hip)
What to watch: Can Kyle Allen do better than Drew Brees?

Last week Christian McCaffrey had the chance to score a touchdown that would set the Panthers up for a chance to force overtime, but he came up inches (1 inch?) short. That play overshadowed a phenomenal 88-yard drive orchestrated by Carolina’s Kyle Allen in the snow at Lambeau. If the Panthers had scored and tied the game, Allen’s heroics (coming the same week that Carolina placed Cam Newton on injured reserve) would have gotten more shine. Instead, Allen has the chance to knock the shine off of the Falcons, who are fresh off their shocking upset over New Orleans. Whether that win was a rejuvenation of Atlanta’s moribund season or just one of those meaningless things that happens during a season could be answered this week.

The Doldrums

Buffalo Bills (6-3) @ Miami Dolphins (2-7)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta (analyst)
Opening line: Buffalo -7.5
Over/under: 39
Key Bills injuries and absences: Tight end Dawson Knox (knee), defensive end Jerry Hughes (groin)
Key Dolphins injuries and absences: Linebacker Raekwon McMillan (knee), defensive end Taco Charlton (elbow), cornerback Ken Webster (ankle)
What to watch: The Dolphins go on a three-game winning streak?

Buffalo is 6-3 and leading a crowded pack for the top AFC wild-card spot, but there are six teams with either five or four wins behind them. With the Cowboys, Ravens, Steelers, and Patriots still to go on their schedule, a loss this week against Miami could be devastating to their playoff hopes. That sounds right up Buffalo’s alley.

Cincinnati Bengals (0-9) @ Oakland Raiders (5-4)

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Melanie Collins (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Oakland -8
Over/under: 48
Key Bengals injuries and absences: Andy Dalton (benched), receiver A.J. Green (ankle), receiver Alex Erickson (back), receiver John Ross (shoulder), tackle Bobby Hart (shoulder), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee)
Key Raiders injuries and absences: Running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder), tackle Trent Brown (knee), center Rodney Hudson (ankle), defensive back Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring)
What to watch: How much the Raiders win by

The Raiders are 4-2 in their last six games and in a three-way logjam for the final wild-card spot at 5-4. Oakland and Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Jacobs must lock this game up to stay in the playoff hunt.

New York Jets (2-7) @ Washington (1-8)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Sara Walsh (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Washington -1.5
Over/under: 37.5
Key Jets injuries and absences: Running back Le’Veon Bell (ribs/knee/illness), receiver Robby Anderson (back/shoulder), tackle Kelvin Beachum (ankle), guard Brian Winters (shoulder), linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin)
Key Washington injuries and absences: Running back Adrian Peterson (toe), running back Chris Thompson (toe), tight end Vernon Davis (concussion), receiver Paul Richardson (hamstring)
What to watch: Other games

This is the beginning of the Dwayne Haskins era. Again. After he got his first start in place of Case Keenum in Week 9, interim head coach Bill Callahan announced that Haskins will start for Washington the rest of the season. He may not get a better shot at his first win until 2020.

Monday Night Football

Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) @ Los Angeles Chargers (4-6)

Kickoff time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Kansas City -3
Over/under: 49
Key Chiefs injuries and absences: Left tackle Eric Fisher (groin), right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (knee), tackle Cam Erving (ankle), offensive lineman Martinas Rankin (knee), guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (ankle), defensive end Frank Clark (neck), defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin), defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (pectoral), defensive end Alex Okafor (ankle)
Key Chargers injuries and absences: Tackle Russell Okung (groin), tackle Sam Tevi (knee), center Mike Pouncey (neck), guard Forrest Lamp (broken leg), safety Derwin James (foot), safety Adrian Phillips (broken arm)
What to watch: PROTECT PATRICK MAHOMES!

The amount of injuries the Chiefs have suffered this year is, well, Chargers-like. After already losing their left tackle, left guard, and right guard for significant amounts of time, last Sunday Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz left the game with a knee injury. It was the first time Schwartz missed a snap in his eight-year career. On the next play, right guard Martinas Rankin, who slid to right tackle to replace Schwartz, injured his knee and was carted off. He is now on injured reserve. Defensive end Frank Clark is playing through a pinched nerve, telling The Athletic that it “got to the point where [it] was so serious it was sending burning sensations down my arm. My two fingers were going numb.”

Patrick Mahomes, who dislocated his kneecap less than a month ago, will be playing behind a battered offensive line and needs to put up points to make up for the Chiefs’ battered defensive line. This will be happening at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, the same location where the Rams-Chiefs game was cancelled last year for poor field conditions.

Bye: Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks