NFL Week 11 underdogs: Will Cowboys conquer Chiefs? Bears to surprise Ravens?

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 11 of the 2021 NFL season. The order below is determined by confidence rankings, from No. 1 (most confident) to No. 5 (least confident).

The lines below provided by Fan Duel are current as of 11 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Nov. 17 unless otherwise noted below.


Kansas City's prime-time thumping of the Raiders is an event I refuse to overreact to. Bash around the Cowboys in similar fashion and my undivided attention is yours. Dallas might be the most dangerous team in pro football, with a ceiling-free offense and a defense that, on Sunday, embarrassed a sometimes-juicy Falcons attack. Perhaps Assistant Coach of the Year candidate Dan Quinn grew tired of all the pregame white noise over Matt Ryan's intimate familiarity with his ex-coach's scheme. By tilt's end, Ryan was pummeled into the lowest passer rating (21.4) of his 14-year career. The Chiefs arrive as a far meatier challenge and, yes, the reignited connections between Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill suggest a superpower rising from slumber. Kansas City's defense has puffed up, too, allowing 17 points or fewer in four of its past five tilts. For the sake of context, that came against Washington, the Giants, a Jordan Love-led Packers roster and a back-to-the-wall Raiders outfit. K.C.'s acid test draws near as Dallas unfurls a blinding air flurry led by MVP candidate Dak Prescott and a cadre of skill-position heavies in the form of CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott for starters. The absence of Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence is no help on defense, but rookie sensation Micah Parsons is ready to rumble while young Dorance Armstrong doubled as a fever dream in Week 10. The super-driven Prescott preached about the team's resilience in bouncing back after an ugly loss to Denver. At long last, this is a Cowboys team boasting style AND substance. I'd call this a possible Super Bowl preview, but I'm not convinced the Chiefs are out of the woods just yet. 


UPDATE: Amari Cooper was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Friday and will not play in Sunday's game vs. Kansas City.

Con.
2


Boasting a 5-2 mark since Week 4, Indy's two losses have come in the form of one-score, overtime nail-biters against the Ravens and Titans. The offense is averaging 30-plus points per game during that span with a ground attack that's crossed 100 yards in six of seven outings. Belief begins with Jonathan Taylor, whose 937 rushing yards tie him with Derrick Henry as our league leaders on terra firma. Buffalo will be ready. The Bills' defense is a nasty creation, not allowing 400 yards all year while giving up the NFL's fewest points per game (15.0). I'm arguing for a tight tussle between an AFC heavy and a well-built Colts outfit that ranks 10th in Football Outsiders' team DVOA. Indy was good enough to craft a 22-3 lead in Baltimore and 14-0 advantage over the Titans. They're flawed enough to blow both of those contests, too. The arrow keeps gingerly tilting upward, though, as Michael Pittman settles in as a bona fide No. 1 wideout and the defense continues to create its share of havoc. Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo are rising as young pass rushers who can draw inspiration from how Jacksonville made life a dark dream for Josh Allen two weeks ago. The Colts are custom-made for a flawed AFC, but there's an inner resolve that keeps them in games even when it doesn't appear as a thing of beauty. 


Washington's stunner over the Bucs signaled signs of growth. Especially for an oft-critiqued secondary that hassled Tom Brady into interceptions on consecutive possessions early in the affair (the first bobbled off the hands of Tampa wideout Jaelon Darden; the second was just an ugly toss). The Football Team held the defending champion Bucs to a season-low in yards (273) and points (19) despite losing pass rusher Chase Young after entering without Montez Sweat and a flock of corners. It was Washington's most balanced outing yet, with Taylor Heinicke chalking up a season-best performance that glowed by game's end as the offense sealed the door with a 19-play, 10-minute touchdown drive that left us asking if Brady perhaps swerved off his pristine eating calendar to imbibe 12 dense loaves of rye bread during the bye. Into frame rides Cam Newton, who tangibly kick-started the Panthers in Week 10, with Haason Reddick saying the club played with "crazy" energy due to the presence of Ace Boogie. Newton's in line to start come Sunday, pitting him against a coach in Ron Rivera who knows him as well as anyone league-wide. Carolina's social media handle can't get enough of this jazz, but I dig the ignored squad in these lower-wattage matchups. Washington isn't the pushover it was a month ago. 


Con.
4


The Bears should feel slighted sitting as six-point 'dogs at home. I'm not sure I trust Chicago to do much with the insult. That said, Bears fans are filled with waves of fresh hope after watching Justin Fields come into full bloom during a tight loss to the Steelers. Using his legs to scamper for yardage; seeing his receivers; making sound decisions; and, at long last, turning Allen Robinson into something relevant. It's unclear if Matt Nagy is helping this evolution, but Chicago's embattled coach would create a keep-my-job-argument for himself by building on the destabilizing lashing Baltimore received from a downtrodden Miami team. The Ravens aren't without weakness. They struggle to run the ball beyond Lamar Jackson's wizardry. The star quarterback has been slammed to the turf 28 times and hampered by the blitz, something the Dolphins spotlighted with their Cover 0-heavy, storm-the-gates approach. While everyone assumes Baltimore's defense is a gift -- because that's what it's been for eons -- it's actually 25th in DVOA, tied for 20th in sacks, marred by missed tackles and allowing too many big plays. The Bears are no treat, but the Ravens -- despite their promise -- are flawed. 


The spread is inviting for those who observed an injury-wrecked Giants team allow 13 points per game over their past three outings. A romp over the Panthers, a white-knuckle downing of the Raiders and a three-point loss to Kansas City tell the story of a roster not giving up on coach Joe Judge. Defensive coordinator Patrick Graham has simplified his scheme and players have responded. Saquon Barkley could return to New York's backfield against a Bucs defense that might be without behemoth pocket-destroyer Vita Vea. Enticing rookie wideout Kadarius Toney is due for a breakout, a possibility helped by Tampa missing Richard Sherman and a flock of secondary help. This action might be too risky for those wedded to the idea of Brady and the boys ending a two-game losing streak with a titanic eruption on offense after coach Bruce Arians told the world on Sunday: "We've got a lot of soul searching to do." During that same fireside chat, Arians called out Brady for his off-kilter second pick against Washington, saying: "That had nothing to do with receivers. It was him." These breadcrumbs will invariably lead to a furiously fired-up TB12, but I'm edging toward a frisky Giants club keeping it closer than the desert expects. 

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