Week 11’s Top NFL Storylines: Undefeated Steelers, Winless Jets and the Rebirth of the Cowboys
The biggest stories to emerge from football this week, and whether we’re buying or selling them
After last night’s NFC showdown between the Rams and Bucs on Monday Night Football, Week 11 of the 2020 NFL season is officially in the books. While we can’t get to everything — like Green Bay receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling getting death threats after a costly fumble — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from Week 11, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: The Browns are making the playoffs
Playing without star defensive end Myles Garrett on Sunday, the Browns were still able to eke out a 22-17 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland’s second straight win and third in four games.
It wasn’t pretty — neither offense scored in the first half and Cleveland wouldn’t have won were it not for a brutal interception by Carson Wentz — but a win is a win is a win, especially for the Browns.
Now 7-3 on the season, the Browns have their best record through 10 games since 1994 and are on track to do something no Browns team has done since 2002: make the playoffs. Guess what? They will.
Currently sixth in the AFC playoff picture, the Browns still have to face the Titans, Ravens and Steelers this season and could easily lose all three of those games. But they also have the Jaguars, Jets and Giants remaining on their schedule, all opponents the Browns should be more than capable of beating.
At worst, Cleveland should end up at 10-6, which would be the team’s best finish since 2007 and almost certainly good enough to get them into the postseason, which will have seven teams from each conference this year (and possibly eight).
At best, the Browns will be able to knock off either the Titans, Ravens or Steelers and get themselves to 11-5, a record the team has not reached since 1994 — the last time Cleveland made the playoffs and actually won a game.
“When we have a singular focus and that singular mindset of just one game at a time, we can be pretty good,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said after Sunday’s win. “Not lose sight of the big picture. One game at a time. The job is not finished yet.”
He’s right. But once the job is done, and it will be, the Browns will be in the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.
Sell: The Steelers are going 16-0
Now at 10-0 on the season following a 27-3 victory over the Jaguars, the Pittsburgh Steelers are just six wins away from the NFL’s first undefeated regular season since the New England Patriots went 16-0 in 2007. All due respect to the Black and Yellow, who have never started a season at 10-0 in their distinguished history, but it ain’t going to happen.
Though every game on Pittsburgh’s remaining schedule (Ravens, Washington Football Team, at Bills, at Bengals, Colts, at Browns) is winnable, the odds of the Steelers running the table are not good.
While Pittsburgh has won every game this season, half of their wins have been by a touchdown or less, including a 28-24 victory over the Ravens in which the Steelers were outgained 457-221 and benefited from four Baltimore turnovers. The Steelers are going to see the Ravens again on Thursday night to cap off the NFL’s Thanksgiving offerings, and with Baltimore coming in desperate for a W having lost two in a row and three of their last four, it seems very possible Pittsburgh will be 10-1 by Friday morning.
Even if the Steelers, who are in the bottom half of the NFL in both rushing and passing but have scored a ton of points thanks to their defense, can survive against Baltimore, they still have to travel to Buffalo as well as host an Indianapolis team that has a defense that rivals Pittsburgh’s.
Add in a Week 17 game against the aforementioned Browns (who might also be in need of a win at that point) that Pittsburgh may use to rest players if it has already secured the top seed in the playoffs, it just seems like regular-season perfection is not going to happen for the Steelers in 2020. That could be a good thing, as the last team to go 16-0, the ’07 Patriots, cracked under the pressure of finishing a perfect season and lost in the Super Bowl to the underdog Giants.
For what it is worth, 10 of the previous 17 teams in the Super Bowl era to start a season 10-0 reached the Super Bowl, and six of ’em actually won it. If the Steelers can become the seventh, that’s the number that’ll matter — not 16-0.
Buy: The Cowboys will win the NFC East
When the Cowboys (3-7) and Washington Football Team (3-7) play in Dallas on Thursday afternoon while the nation tucks into its turkey, first place in the NFC East will be on the line. That is not a misprint.
It seems crazy, but Dallas and Washington both won on Sunday — the Cowboys over the Vikings and the WFT over the Bengals — to put themselves within a half-game of first place behind the Eagles.
Those same Eagles got beaten by the Browns on Sunday and have to play the Seahawks, Packers, Saints and Cardinals over the next four weeks before ending the season against Washington in Dallas. They could very easily finish the season without winning another game.
On the other hand, the Cowboys only have to face one team with a winning record over the rest of the season (6-4 Baltimore) and will take on Cincinnati, San Francisco, Philadelphia and the Giants, all teams that Dallas, despite being terrible for much of the season, can beat.
Even if the Cowboys only win three of those games, they will finish at 7-9 if they can also take care of Washington on Thanksgiving and avenge an earlier 25-3 defeat to the WFT during which new starting quarterback Andy Dalton was injured.
Dalton was back for the first time since being hurt during Sunday’s upset win over the Vikings and was fairly efficient, completing 22-of-33 passes for 203 yards, three touchdowns and one interception to wind up with a 104.0 passer rating.
He isn’t great, but Dalton — who completed passes to eight teammates in the win over Minnesota — is at least competent, and when Ezekiel Elliott (103 yards on 21 attempts on Sunday) is cooking, competency may very well be enough to win four more games and the putrid NFC East.
“This is clearly the most rounded performance and victory that we’ve had this year,” Dallas coach Mike McCarthy said after the win over the Vikings. “It took us a little longer to get here today, but I clearly think the journey will make us stronger. We need to do something with this win. We need to build off this win. It needs to mean something.”
It likely will — an eventual first-place finish in the worst division in the NFL.
Sell: The Jets are going to win a game this season
Following a 34-28 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers (3-7) on Sunday, the New York Jets are 0-10 and have officially been eliminated from postseason contention in the AFC, their earliest elimination since 1990.
Collectively, New York’s 10 opponents this season have outscored the Jets by 153 points — no other team in the NFL has a negative differential that is over 100.
Bad as they are and with only six games remaining on their schedule, the Jets are clearly in danger of joining the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history. Barring a miracle, they will.
The Jets, who are 7-19 in Adam Gase’s two seasons as head coach, have five games left against teams with winning records (Dolphins, Raiders, Seahawks, Ram and Browns), all of whom are still very much in the mix for a spot in the postseason.
New York’s one remaining game against a team with a losing record is the season finale versus the Patriots (4-6) in New England, a contest it is hard to see Bill Belichick — who hates the Jets like poison — losing, no matter what the circumstances are.
Ranked dead last in passing and points scored while giving up the second-most points in the NFL, the Jets are terrible on both sides of the ball, and due to injuries and the release of Le’Veon Bell, are down to a single decent playmaker: 37-year-old running back Frank Gore.
“We’ve got to get one. You don’t want to go 0-16, especially if this might be my last year,” Gore said after losing on Sunday. “I can’t go out like that, you know? So we’re just going to keep working as a team, and hopefully we can just try to get one, man. And I can’t wait ’til we get it. If it is my last year, I can’t say I’m going out 0-16.”
Whether Gore says it or not, it’s happening. The 2020 Jets are that bad.
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