The NFL kicks off Week 11 with the Cleveland Browns hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday Night Football. The Steelers are 5-4 and just on the edge of the playoff picture, while the Browns are 3-6 and in must-win mode if they want any chance at a playoff berth.
The playoff race is heating up across the NFL and quite a few teams are fast approaching must-win mode if they want any kind of shot at a Lombardi Trophy. There will be a host of players looking to get their teams over the hump this weekend. We’ve got a look at the ten most important or notable players heading into Week 11 of the NFL season.
QB Lamar Jackson, QB DeShaun Watson, Baltimore Ravens vs. Houston Texans
Other games could end up more entertaining, but coming into Week 11, Lamar vs. DeShaun is the game of the week. They are two of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league. Jackson is even with Russell Wilson in the MVP odds at DraftKings Sportsbook. Watson is fourth, tied with Aaron Rodgers. Both offenses are firing on all cylinders, and this should be an incredibly fun matchup. How it’s not in prime time over Bears-Rams is baffling.
UPDATE: This ended up entirely one-sided as the Ravens won 41-7. Jackson improved his MVP odds with a four-touchdown performance while Watson was slowed by a sprained ankle and had one of the worst performances of his career.
RB Brian Hill, Atlanta Falcons
Devonta Freeman sprained his foot in the Falcons huge upset of the New Orleans Saints. Hill replaced him and got a heavy workload thanks to a positive game script. Freeman is expected to miss approximately two weeks with the injury, which provides a big opportunity for Hill. The Falcons are not going to the playoffs this year, but they have a chance to hurt the Carolina Panthers opportunity in Week 11. Hill will be key against a Panthers defense that got run over by Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.
QB Nick Foles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Guess who’s back?! Foles broke his collarbone in Week 1 and saw rookie Gardner Minshew get off to a hot start in his place. Minshew came back to earth and head coach Doug Marrone announced before the bye that a healthy Foles would replace Minshew after the bye. The Jaguars are 4-5 and in the basement of the AFC South. They face a Colts squad that might once again be without Jacoby Brissett, which turns this into a must-win.
UPDATE: Foles got off to a decent start, but things went south for the Jaguars in a 33-13 loss. Foles finished the game 33 of 47 for 296 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
QB Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
Brissett sprained his knee in Week 9, and ended up sitting out Week 10. Brian Hoyer replaced him and was awful in his absence. He threw three interceptions in an embarrassing loss to the one-win Dolphins. Brissett is week-to-week, but if he misses another game, the Colts are in danger of dropping further out of the playoff picture.
UPDATE: Brissett had a fairly quiet game but guided his Colts to the victory. He threw for 148 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and rushed for 12 yards and a touchdown.
RB Derrius Guice, Washington
The team’s back of the future has struggled to stay healthy, tearing his ACL last year in the preseason and injuring his meniscus this year in Week 1. He was the clear starter in Week 1 — with Adrian Peterson a healthy scratch — and is reportedly on track to play in Week 11. Washington hosts the New York Jets in a game with huge draft order implications. The Jets are a more talented team, but Guice could offer a big boost to the ground game against a Jets squad that ranks second in run defense efficiency.
UPDATE: AP got the start, but Guice got a solid split of work. Guice finished the game with 24 yards on seven carries and also had a 45-yard touchdown reception. AP had 25 rushing yards and two catches for five yards.
QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Stafford sat out Week 10 with fractures in his back, missing his first game since 2010. He might miss a Week 11 home game against the Dallas Cowboys that Detroit absolutely has to have to stick around a tough NFC playoff race. If he misses another game, backup Jeff Driskel once again enters the spotlight. He was not awful in Week 10, but he’s a significant downgrade from Stafford.
UPDATE: Stafford could miss as much as six weeks with his back injury.
TE George Kittle/WR Emmanuel Sanders/RB Matt Breida, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers were without Kittle in Week 10 due to a knee injury, lost Sanders to a rib injury in the second quarter and Breida to an ankle injury in the second half of their loss to Seattle. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has described Kittle and Sanders as game-time decisions for Week 11, while Breida is getting a second opinion on his ankle. The 49ers offense struggled mightily in their collective absences. They face an inconsistent but dangerous Arizona Cardinals squad and will need their skill position players healthy down the home stretch.
UPDATE: Sanders was the only one active, gutting it out in spite of his rib injury. He had three receptions on five targets and had 33 yards.
QB Colin Kaepernick, Free Agent
The NFL “worked” with Kaepernick’s agent to set up a workout this Saturday in Atlanta. The whole thing sounds a little fishy, with the league refusing to consider other days and saying it had to be on a Saturday, which is a travel day or a day when teams are finalizing preparations for their next opponent. It is likely a PR ploy, but maybe something comes of this given how many teams badly need an upgrade at quarterback or for their backup quarterback.
UPDATE: There was some chaos on Saturday as Kaepernick moved his workout to a high school after the NFL refused to make some transparency concessions. He showed off his arm strength and scouts thought he looked similar to what he was when he last played.