Kansas City @ Oakland
You could argue (and I would) that the Chiefs have been the best team in the NFL since their Week 6 bye. Heck, given how things have shaken out, you could argue that they’ve been the best team since a Week 2 loss to the Broncos. What has made them so good? Well, their style of play translates to consistent efforts and doesn’t have much downside. They’ve yet to allow a single rushing touchdown on 257 carries (the top notch Lions’ defense has given up four rushing touchdowns on 227 carries this year) and they have allowed the fewest yards through the air while ranking third in sacks totaled. In a league that has placed the focus on the video game quarterback, the Chiefs pound the rock, as they rank seventh in rushing attempts, fourth in rushing yards, third in yards per carry, and first in touchdowns. Alex Smith is throwing an interception with similar regularity to Tom Brady, allowing this Chiefs’ offense to rank in the Top 10 in average time of possession despite not having much Fantasy Football talent aside from Jamaal Charles. The Raiders? They do none of those things well. In fact, at 0-10, there is little that they do at even a league average level. They do battle and I still think they pick up a win at some point this season, but not this week. The short work week and the Chiefs’ style of play should keep this game closer than the talent levels would suggest, but this isn’t a Thursday night game that is begging to be watched in the fourth quarter.
Soppe Score: Chiefs 26 – Raiders 13
Green Bay @ Minnesota
A snooze-fest on Thursday may not be an ideal start to Week 12, but the Packers have been the most viewer-friendly team on the planet lately. Tune in for a half, watch Aaron Rodgers light up the scoreboard, and get on with your life. That’s how the last two weeks have worked at least, and the Vikings were victim of an early season onslaught from Rodgers (42-10 in Week 5), so expecting this offense to cool down is a bit of a stretch. That being said, the Packers 108 points over the last two weeks have been racked up against teams that focus on offense and want to maximize the number of possessions. This just in … not a good game plan against the Cheeseheads. Minnesota has an above average run-blocking offensive line and a game-managing quarterback, not a sexy offense, but one that counteracts what Green Bay is trying to do. Two offenses in all of football are averaging more yards per carry and have scored more rushing touchdowns than Minnesota (Seattle and Kansas City), a style of play that could keep them competitive with the high-flying Packers if they can keep Rodgers on the sideline. After all, in Green Bay’s three losses this season, they allowed the opponents top running back to average 6.1 yards per carry and score four rushing touchdowns. The Packers win this game and continue their march to an NFC North title, but don’t be surprised if this is still a game heading into the fourth quarter.
Soppe Score: Packers 27 – Vikings 16
Cleveland @ Atlanta
Josh Gordon is back and it couldn’t come at a better time. The burner gets an indoor game against a Falcons’ defense that is allowing a league-high 8.2 yards per pass attempt this season. Worried about the limited capabilities of Brian Hoyer? Don’t be: 22.1 percent of Cleveland’s completions this season have gone for at least 20 yards (for reference, the high-flying Colts currently sit at 20 percent) this season. Not a bad trend for an offense that is welcoming back a receiver in Josh Gordon who had 20 percent more 20-plus yard receptions than any other WR last year, despite missing the first two games of the season. The Browns also have a trio of running backs (Crowell, West, and Tate) that can hurt defenses in a variety of ways, a trend worth reading into, as the Dirty Birds have given up a league-high 13 rushing touchdowns. Don’t count out the Falcons at home (Matt Ryan is averaging 23.4 percent more yards per attempt at home than on the road and is averaging 4.40 touchdowns per interception at the Georgia Dome, a far cry from the 1.05 rate he owns on the road this season), as they are capable of making this a shootout. Cleveland has allowed the second-most rushing yards this season, and while Steven Jackson has had a great career, can he still carry a team to victory? We could see more points scored in this game than you may assume but give me the Brownies, as they appear to be in a better spot to exploit weaknesses than the Falcons.
Soppe Score: Browns 34 – Falcons 27
Tennessee @ Philadelphia
You can hold the Packers loss against the Eagles, I’m not. Sometimes you run into a buzz saw and the score snowballs in a hurry. This up-tempo offense simply has too many weapons and the defense/special teams are too opportunistic for the punchless Titans to hang around. This game should be a simplistic one that comes down to two basic mismatches. Tennessee struggles to stop the run and protect their quarterback, while the Eagles offense is predicated on a consistent run game and their big play potential on the defensive side is derived from their ability to pressure the quarterback. Put two and two together and it isn’t hard to understand why I think we see the version of the Eagles than can compete for an NFC crown as opposed to the doormat we saw in Week 11. The fact that the Titans have had one fewer day of preparation doesn’t help and could result in fatigue late in this game should they keep it close early.
Soppe Score: Eagles 36 – Titans 17
Detroit @ New England
The Patriots are rolling and the Lions looked a bit vulnerable against the Cardinals last week. New England rode Jonas Gray (199 rushing yards and four touchdowns) to a blowout victory over the Colts, success that simply isn’t going to come against the elite front seven of Detroit. Know what that means? They will force Tom Brady to beat them, one week after Drew Stanton beat them (the running game totaled 46 yards on 26 carries). Yikes. Now, the Patriots’ defense is nowhere near as good as the Cardinals’, but the unit is the reason I like the home team this week. Belichick was able to shade coverage T.Y. Hilton’s way enough to limit him to three catches and 24 yards while putting Reggie Wayne on Revis Island (five catches for 91 yards, 46 of which came on a miscommunication), and if he can work a similar game plan to limit the effectiveness of the Calvin Johnson/Golden Tate duo, the Lions will struggle to keep pace. The Lions rank in the top third of the league in most defensive metrics while the Patriots rank in the top third of the league in most offensive metrics. If this game comes down to the Lions’ offense, they have a shot, but if this is a battle of strengths, the Pats’ offense gets the benefit of the doubt. Give me the latter.
Soppe Score: Patriots 27 – Lions 17
Jacksonville @ Indianapolis
Don’t get cute here. We all saw the Colts get decimated on national TV. We all didn’t see the Jaguars play (bye week), the best thing that could possibly happen for their public perception. Andrew Luck is still an elite quarterback and this Jacksonville defense is still as bad as it gets. Indianapolis’ defense isn’t good, but without Allen Robinson (foot), can the Jags really exploit it enough to keep pace? Not. A. Chance. Jacksonville is throwing one interception every 23.7 pass attempts this season, so even if they battle for a half (or a quarter), the big mistake could result in a deficit that gets out of hand in a hurry. There are reasonable upsets to pick, especially after a Week 11 that featured plenty of ‘dogs finding a way to win: this isn’t one of them.
Soppe Score: Colts 35 – Jaguars 17
Cincinnati @ Houston
The Bengals “good” is as good as any team in the league, but man, their “bad” is awful. On defense, Cincinnati struggles to get after the quarterback, something that has been painfully obvious against the elite signal callers (Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, and Cam Newton) in their losses. Fortunately for them, Ryan Mallet’s NFL resume is slightly less impressive and the Texans struggle to block the opposing pass rushers. The Bengals have found success on the ground behind Jeremy Hill (361 rushing yards over the last three weeks) and could welcome back a homerun hitter in Giovani Bernard this weekend, a strength that focus on the weakness of Houston’s defense (fourth lowest grade in run defense). J.J. Watt and the Texans’ pass rush can be disruptive, but the Bengals’ offensive line has been better than you think at keeping Andy Dalton protected, a trend that should result him being reasonably effective in this matchup. Both quarterbacks have the potential to blow this game, but the pieces around Dalton suggest that Cincinnati holds the advantage as long as he’s not make multiple crippling errors.
Soppe Score: Bengals 23 – Texans 18
New York (Jets) @ Buffalo
I watch football and I realize that the Bills smoked the Jets 43-23 in a Week 8 game that wasn’t nearly that close, but that isn’t going to happen again. I still like the Bills to win this game, but if Geno Smith doesn’t complete more passes to defenders than teammates in the first 10.5 minutes, that game may shake out a bit differently. These are divisional rivals that both stop the run, struggle to pass, and make us reconsider football as a form as of entertainment when watching. Assuming that both front sevens are once again playing up to their potential, this game is going to come down to Mike Vick vs Kyle Orton. Sheesh. Remember the 2013 draft, when we were told that E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith were drafted in order to compete with Tom Brady in the AFC East? Sammy Watkins is the most talented player in this game and that should be enough for a Bills team that is still mathematically alive for the postseason, but make your pick and check when the game is over, there isn’t anything to be gained from watching this. Hey, on the bright side, both teams have extended rest heading into this game, so we should theoretically see the best they have to offer: I’m just not sold that that is very good.
Soppe Score: Bills 17 – Jets 15
Tampa Bay @ Chicago
Both of these teams are coming off of victories behind impressive performances in the passing game. Josh McCown (26 completions to wide receivers over the last two weeks, 25 to Mike Evans or Vincent Jackson) and Jay Cutler (Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall saw 27 targets last week) are both taking full advantage of the weaponry around them, a trend that should continue to be successful this week against defenses that rank among the bottom six in yards per pass attempt and completion percentage against. I’m looking for solid Fantasy Football numbers from both of these quarterbacks (and all four of the mentioned receivers), but this game should be decided on the ground. The Bears hold a decided edge on both sides of the ball when it comes to the running game, something that should allow them to sustain an important drive or two down the stretch. In stark contrast to the Jets/Bills game, this game will be entertaining, even if the quality of football isn’t the greatest.
Soppe Score: Bears 33 – Buccaneers 26
Arizona @ Seattle
If you’ve read my material, you’ll know that I’m stubborn. I prefer veterans to rookies, players that I can trust over players that have the higher ceiling. That brings me to this: the Seahawks are still a very good football team. Nothing against the Cardinals, their defense is as legitimate as it gets and some of their potential on the offensive side of the ball is there, but the Seahawks have showed us how good they can be. We’ve seen Russell Wilson convert third downs, we’ve seen Marshawn Lynch generate an earthquake, and we’ve seen their defense end games… we think Drew Stanton is good enough, we like the upside of Andre Ellington, and we love the thought of this defense carrying a team. See the distinction? The Seahawks still excel in coverage and possess a superior run game, giving them the edge in what figures to be a grind-it-out affair. Could Arizona be the 2014 version of 2013 Seattle? Sure, but I’ll side with the home team with a healthy quarterback.
Soppe Score: Seahawks 24 – Cardinals 17
St. Louis @ San Diego
Are the Chargers a good enough team to get the full effort of the Rams? It seems that St. Louis brings its best to the table when they are double-digit point underdogs and I worry that San Diego simply isn’t good enough to inspire them. All jokes aside, this Rams team is going to be a team that nobody wants to see as the importance of games increase. Their offense isn’t spectacular, but they’ve done enough recently to support a stingy defense despite being ravaged by injuries. My concern this week is their ability to sustain balance. Tre Mason is proving that he is an NFL talent, but I’m not sure he can carry an offense, and with the Chargers ranking as the second best defense in terms of percentage of first downs resulting via completion, I fear that the Rams cannot recover should they fall behind early. With Philip Rivers being one of the more accurate/efficient quarterbacks over the last two years, San Diego should find success through the short-to-intermediate passing game given that the Rams are allowing opponents to complete a league-high 68.6 percent of their passes. The Chargers don’t give up a ton of big plays and they don’t turn the ball over (third fewest giveaways), the two primary reasons that the Rams were able to upset the Broncos last week. Betting trend worth watching: the Chargers have scored at least 30 points in four of their six wins while the Rams have allowed at least 30 points in all six of their losses this season.
Soppe Score: Chargers 31 – Rams 20
Miami @ Denver
Venture a guess how many times the Broncos have lost a home game in which they had normal rest in the Peyton Manning era? Zip. Zero. Nada. I don’t expect that trend to be reversed this weekend, even though I do believe that the Dolphins are a legitimate playoff contender. Miami can get after the quarterback, a skill that I expect to be very much mitigated by Manning’s ability to get rid of the ball in a hurry. We know what we are going to get from Manning and this pass game, so let’s focus on how this game figures to play out when Miami has the ball. Their offensive line, while improved, is overmatched by the physical pass rush of the Broncos, something that figures to make sustaining drives very difficult. Look for Denver to be very aggressive in the early going in an effort to make the Miami offense one-dimensional. If that is in fact the case, you can stick a fork in the ‘Fins, as they rank in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of pass blocking and Ryan Tannehill has been very ineffective when under pressure in his career. The injuries at the skill positions don’t scare me, as Manning has the ability to elevate the play of those around him.
Soppe Score: Broncos 34 – Dolphins 24
Washington @ San Francisco
Don’t look now, but the Niners are slowly rounding into form. They imposed their will on the Giants last week via the ground game, a trademark of their best teams, and made life on Eli Manning a difficult one (five interceptions, seven QB hits, and 12 pass deflections). Part of this was the ineptitude of the G-men, but I’m buying what San Francisco was able to do. Frank Gore is looking good and with Anquan Boldin/Michael Crabtree, this pass game can hurt opponents in a variety of ways. That versatility should be on full display against a Redskins defense that has the second-lowest grade both against the run and in pass coverage. On offense, Washington is a team that lacks an identity, as Robert Griffin found wide receivers with only seven passes against a very forgiving Buccaneers defense last weekend. In fact, despite having an elite deep option in DeSean Jackson and a defense that ranks in the Bottom 5 in terms of yards allowed per pass attempt, Griffin recorded the lowest aDOT of the season by a quarterback who attempted at least 30 passes (3.8). Washington has some talent, but San Francisco has more and they are trending in a much more positive direction.
Soppe Score: 49ers 27 – Redskins 13
Dallas @ New York (Giants)
I’ve discussed teams in Kansas City and San Francisco that are headed in the right direction, something the Giants represent the polar opposite of. They haven’t won since Week 5, and while the losses have come at the hands of some talented teams, New York has been unable to establish any sort of rhythm or consistency. This isn’t a team that is capable of playing from behind, a bad label to have when facing a well rested divisional opponent. The Cowboys elite run game (DeMarco Murray is averaging 6.4 yards per rush for his career when playing the Giants) has allowed them to rank fourth in average time of possession, a style of play that should overwhelm the last ranked run defense (in terms of total rushing yards) in the NFL. I do think the Giants put forth a good effort in this game, as a healthy Rashad Jennings is a big plus and the tandem of Rueben Randle/Odell Beckham Jr. is as promising as it gets at the wide receiver position, but the Cowboys ability to control the clock should be enough to pull away in the second half.
Soppe Score: Cowboys 30 – Giants 20
Baltimore @ New Orleans
I said the Saints couldn’t possibly lose back-to-back home games heading into Week 11. Remember when I said I was stubborn? Well, they can’t possibly lose a third straight home game! The Ravens’ three losses have come at the hands of strong quarterback play on the road, and with the Saints being able to establish balance (third-highest graded offensive line in terms of run-blocking), I’d bet on Brees having a solid day. Mark Ingram continues to produce at a high level (averaging 29 touches for 131 yards over the last month) and while the loss of Brandin Cooks (thumb) is less than ideal, it may result in more down the field shots to Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills off of the play-action. Speaking of big plays, the Ravens are allowing opposing tight ends to average 13.1 yards per reception, a dangerous statistic that could well be the difference in this one, as Graham is averaging nine targets per game (minimum 50 percent of snaps played) and hauling in nearly 80 percent of the balls aimed in his direction. Worried about the Ravens coming off a bye? It wasn’t a major issue last year, as Baltimore traveled to Cleveland after a week off and promptly allowed Jason Campbell to carve them up for 282 yards, three scores, and zero turnovers. The inability for any NFC South team to assume control of this division while New Orleans has struggled, is a concern for every playoff bound NFC team, as no one is going to want to deal with the Saints this postseason.
Soppe Score: Saints 31 – Ravens 23