Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK
Welcome to Week 11, gang. Are you excited? No? Okay, I get it. We really don’t have an incredible slate of games this week, and a lot of that is because how this season has evolved.
Ask me two months ago and I’m incredibly hyped for Cardinals vs. Seahawks, or Ravens vs. Bears — but some consistently lackluster performances have given us some weak games down the back stretch of the schedule. That said, we do have a few really important things to watch that could have huge ramifications for the playoffs.
Will Cam Newton take control of the Panthers?
The romanticism of Newton’s return to Carolina is one of the stories to watch in the back half of the season. His return against the Cardinals was the stuff of legend, scoring two touchdowns on two day’s notice, and making the Panthers look like an entirely different team overnight.
There’s no doubt Newton’s return is a feel good story, regardless of what happens the rest of the season — but is this going to become a tale the entire league is talking about? That all depends on what happens against Washington.
This is far from an easy out. WFT showed last week they could beat the Buccaneers, the Panthers beat the Cardinals. Two middling teams bested NFC juggernauts, and then you sprinkle in the drama of Cam Newton facing Ron Rivera in a reunion game, and goodness that’s a lot of intrigue.
As it stands the Panthers are in the playoff picture. That evaporates without some wins. My eyes will be firmly on Carolina vs. Washington this weekend.
Can the Browns get their s*** together?
I’m not going to try and sugar coat this. Cleveland has been a damn mess. Two weeks ago we were supposed to buy into this revitalized squad shedding Odell Beckham Jr. and playing “angry.” It worked, they destroyed the Bengals. It appeared the Browns were ready to make a run.
That confidence was fleeting, and last week Cleveland was embarrassed by New England in spectacular fashion. Now, I don’t know what the hell this team even is. The Browns have playoff potential, they’re absolutely not a bad team, but they’re playing really, really bad football at incredible bad times.
There are absolutely no excuses against the Lions in Week 11. None at all. I don’t want to hear a single one. If Cleveland can’t obliterate Detroit then we can count them out for the rest of the year. I’m not talking about just getting a win, it has to be a beatdown — otherwise we can just wait for 2022 when it comes to the Browns.
Is Dallas ready to prove their dominance?
One of the big (and unfair, as I’m concerned) criticisms of the Cowboys is that they haven’t had a really touch schedule. Some of that is fair, especially considering how weak the NFC East is — but I’ve been very bullish on Dallas so far.
Week 11 is an interesting test. The Chiefs have started to find their footing again following a disastrous start to the season, and are fighting for a playoff spot. Meanwhile for Dallas, this is a case of needing to assert their dominance and solidify themselves as one of the best teams in the NFC, capable of taking home field advantage through the playoffs.
I really want to see how this all shakes out. It’s a fascinating game and I’d like to see if Dallas can do it.
Are the Chargers ready to get back on track?
It really wasn’t long ago that the Chargers were one of my favorite teams in the entire NFL, but that’s more or less evaporated now. In the last four weeks the team is 1-3, with their only win being a wholly unconvincing victory over the Eagles.
I have a soft spot for this team, I always have. It’s not really deserved, because I watched the organization waste YEARS of Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson without any real results. Still, I had so many hopes this would be their year to get it all on track, but that’s gone now.
It’s difficult to find a path to the postseason for the Chargers now, because of how poorly they’ve been playing. Winning against the Steelers is absolutely critical. With their backs against the wall, I want to see how this young team fairs. It’s enough to get me to watch for sure.