Itching to watch an underdog try to overcome the odds or triumph against adversity? Simply looking to pass the time reading another NFL.com article while stuck in your cube? Marc Sessler offers a bead on five us-against-the-world scenarios to track entering Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season. The order below is determined by confidence rankings, from No. 1 (most confident) to No. 5 (least confident).
NOTE: The FanDuel lines provided below were current as of 9 a.m. ET on Friday, Nov. 12 unless otherwise noted.
- WHERE: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | CBS
- UNDERDOG: Browns +2.5
Entering Week 10, the Browns quietly ranked sixth overall in Football Outsiders' team DVOA. Their romp over Cincinnati showcased a finally healthy secondary that picked off Joe Burrow twice and held freaky rookie pass-catcher Ja'Marr Chase to just 49 yards through the air. Firmly under the microscope after the exodus of Odell Beckham Jr., Baker Mayfield played his finest football of the year and showed that Cleveland still has juice deep with a 60-yard scoring shot to Donovan Peoples-Jones. The game also saw Nick Chubb ice the Bengals with 137 yards on the ground, but the rumbling wonder's status is up in the air for this weekend due to a trip to the reserve/COVID-19 list. If Chubb isn't cleared by Sunday, backup D'Ernest Johnson will get the chance to play hero again after ripping Denver for 146 yards at 6.6 yards per pop in Week 7. New England rides into Sunday on a three-game win streak, the product of football's fifth-best defensive DVOA and sound play from blossoming rookie quarterback Mac Jones. Bill Belichick wants to limit Cleveland on the ground and force Mayfield to win the game with his arm. Were Chubb a green light, I'd flat out predict a Browns win. Either way, Cleveland has the better roster, one that plays its best football under coach Kevin Stefanski when the chips are down.
- WHERE: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | CBS
- UNDERDOG: Saints +2.5
The Titans have doubled as a revelation over the past month, ripping off five straight wins to make their case as the AFC's mightiest offering. With centerpiece Derrick Henry shelved post-foot surgery, Tennessee was widely considered dead meat against the sizzling Rams in Week 9. Instead, Jeffery Simmons and the defense made life hell for Matthew Stafford. It was a reminder the Titans are more than a front-door-sized running back. Still, the victory disguised an offense that mustered just 194 yards of offense and floundered on the ground behind a 36-year-old, pulled-off-the-street Adrian Peterson. The Saints are banged up, too, with Trevor Siemian stepping in for the lost Jameis Winston (knee) under center with a smattering of Taysom Hill on the side. The ceiling for New Orleans has lowered, but Sean Payton is Coach of the Year material for the weekly resourcefulness he's shown no matter who suits up. The Saints' defense (third overall in DVOA) has grown healthier and peaked two weeks ago with a rousing, interception-fueled win over Tom Brady and the Bucs. With power along both lines, I like the Saints to fling an arrow into the heart of Tennessee.
UPDATE: The Saints have ruled out Alvin Kamara (knee) for Sunday's game against the Titans.
- WHERE: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, Calif.)
- WHEN: 4:05 p.m. ET | FOX
- UNDERDOG: Vikings +3
Say hello to the Vikings, a football team determined to dip its loyal fan base into a weekly cauldron of panic and heartbreak. All but one of their tilts have been one-score mind-benders, and three of those showdowns delved into overtime. The offense is a hot-and-cold stew with a runner in Dalvin Cook suddenly facing off-the-field issues. Kirk Cousins is on pace to throw 32 touchdowns to just four picks, yet he directs an attack that tumbles into sleep for marches at a time. No team has allowed fewer sacks per game on offense or generated more on defense, further fueling the million-dollar query: How are the Vikings just 3-5? Last week's loss to Baltimore was a solid case study as Minnesota held a pair of 14-point leads and saw Cook and superstar wideout Justin Jefferson get off to hot starts, only to fall quiet down the stretch as the Vikings were yanked into an overtime turned evil thanks to Justin Tucker's magical leg. Coach Mike Zimmer -- the subject of incessant hot-seat chatter -- seems more annoyed with each passing week. Despite the negativity of my report, evidence suggests Minnesota can pound the ball against the league's worst run defense and -- as always -- find a way to take the affair down to the wire.
- WHERE: Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wis.)
- WHEN: 4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
- UNDERDOG: Seahawks +3.5
The return of Russell Wilson comes just in time for a three-win Seahawks squad fighting for oxygen in the NFC playoff derby. It's brilliant news for Tyler Lockett, who posted back-to-back 100-yard explosions with Mr. Unlimited at the wheel during the first two games of the campaign. While Geno Smith played valiantly in a Week 8 blowout of Jacksonville, it's fair to hit the ejector seat on Seattle's offensive game tape minus Wilson. DK Metcalf and everyone else receive a boost with their star signal-caller back under center and still ranking third in the league in air yards per pass attempt (9.1). The return of Chris Carson, who is practicing this week, would be immense. Pete Carroll's heavily panned defense, meanwhile, allowed a combined 20 points to the Jaguars and Saints in its last two outings and quietly boasts the NFL's sixth-best results on third down. Green Bay remains in wait-and-see mode on Aaron Rodgers, who told The Pat McAfee Show there is "a small possibility" he won't suit up on Sunday after missing Week 9 with his PR-nightmare COVID-19 designation. For the sake of this blurb, I'm assuming Aa-Rod will square off against Russ in a confrontation set to mine down to the final minutes.
UPDATE: Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said Friday that Chris Carson (neck) will not play Sunday against the Packers.
- WHERE: Empower Field at Mile High (Denver)
- WHEN: 4:25 p.m. ET | CBS
- UNDERDOG: Eagles +2.5
Denver's defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points in a bout since Week 6, peaking last Sunday in a 30-16 smothering of Dallas predicted by exactly zero humans. Tip of the cap to coach Vic Fangio, who looks to complete a sweep of the NFC East when Philly rolls into town. The Eagles are an imperfect creation, but the past two weeks -- a 38-point smashing of the Lions and a down-to-the-wire, three-point loss to the Bolts -- have seen Nick Sirianni's offense average 200-plus yards on the ground. That won't come easy against a surging Denver front, but arrow up on the connection between Jalen Hurts and rookie pass-catcher DeVonta Smith, who ripped the Chargers for 116 yards and a touchdown last Sunday. With each new week, Hurts shows flashes of glory and stretches of solid play -- a smattering of errors, too -- while the offense as a unit has piled up late-game yards and points as Garbage Time All-Stars. I want to believe the past two weeks are the beginning of a new identity for Philly's attack. If it's rendered lifeless come Sunday, let's forget you ever read this.