15 key questions for NFL’s Week 11

15 key questions for NFL’s Week 11

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Welcome to Week 11 of the NFL season. There are no unbeaten left, though there is a winless team still lurking. Playoff races are heating up, but the harsh reality is that some teams are beginning to fade from view as we get toward the business end of the season.

So what are the key questions that we’re looking to get answered this week? Here are 15 of them.

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1. Will the return of Nick Foles spark the Jacksonville offense?

Foles was injured in Week 1 and the Jaguars barely got to see their new quarterback before that happened. Finally, roughly two months later, he’ll get his shot once again, taking over as the team’s starter against Indianapolis as the Jaguars come out of a bye. The Jaguars scored three points against the Texans in their most recent game, so they need a lift. The Colts aren’t the ideal defense for Foles to return against, but at the very least, his return should make them a more formidable foe.

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2. Will Ezekiel Elliott rebound against the Lions?

Elliott was completely stuffed by the Minnesota Vikings’ formidable run defense a week ago, a contributing factor to the team’s surprising home loss. Zeke should find easier sledding against the Detroit Lions, who have been hit for over 100 yards rushing by opponents in seven of their nine games this season. It’s not as if Elliott’s quality is in doubt — prior to last week, he’d had three consecutive 100-yard games — but he’ll want to get back to business as soon as possible, and this is certainly the matchup for it.

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3. Have the Dolphins actually figured something out?

Out of nowhere, the Dolphins have won two in a row. The first, against the New York Jets, is understandable given the state of that organization. The second, on the road against the Colts, is much more surprising. Admittedly, the Colts were starting backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, but a win is a win. The Dolphins led into the fourth quarter of their first meeting with the Bills and kept it close much of the way. Can they win the home game? Stranger things have happened at this point.

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4. Can Denver keep Brandon Allen on his feet?

One of Denver’s big concerns against Minnesota on Sunday has to be defending against the Vikings’ formidable pass rush. The likes of Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen will be a big problem for a Denver offensive line that has really struggled to protect its quarterbacks this season. Brandon Allen is making only his second start, and this is not a friendly defense to be making that start against. Denver is really going to have to step up its protection because Minnesota’s secondary could actually be vulnerable if Allen can just find time to test it.

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5. Are the Buccaneers about to be victimized by an angry Saints offense?

Last week’s Saints loss is one of the more bizarre outcomes of the season, as the Atlanta Falcons and their vulnerable defense actually managed to shut down New Orleans at home. That may prove to be very bad news for the Buccaneers, who could be facing a refocused and determined team this week. The Bucs aren’t great defensively anyway, especially against the pass, and that could lead to a serious bounceback for the Saints on offense.

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6. Might the Jets’ weakened defense be just what Dwayne Haskins needs?

Haskins has not looked good as an NFL starter at any point in his rookie season, but this promises to be his most favorable matchup yet. The Jets have a lot of injury issues on the defensive side of the ball, and they’ve given up more than 25 points in six of their last seven games. That could be beneficial to Haskins, whose first start came against a tough opponent in Buffalo. The Jets could be more his speed and might allow him to gain a little confidence.

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7. How much of a fluke was Atlanta’s win over New Orleans?

The Falcons have something to prove now. Was last week’s performance against the Saints a one-off, or did something actually click for them? The Carolina Panthers provide an interesting test to find out. The Panthers boast Christian McCaffrey but lack a top-tier quarterback in Kyle Allen. They’re an easier matchup than the Saints, in other words. Does it mean anything? We’ll wait and see, but Dan Quinn’s job might still be on the line.

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8. Will there be any leftover college rivalry in the Deshaun Watson-Lamar Jackson matchup?

The top two Heisman finishers in 2016 might have some unfinished business in the pros. Deshaun Watson, for one, thought that he deserved to beat Lamar Jackson back then, but won the ultimate prize of a national title. Now the pair renew hostilities as leading NFL quarterbacks, and whoever plays better may win the game. Jackson is more dynamic than Watson, but Watson is elite, elusive, and still likely ranks as a better pure passer. It makes for an interesting battle here.

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9. Will San Francisco be shaken after its first loss?

For the first time in 2019, the 49ers will be put in the situation of rebounding after a loss. The short week may help them here, as it means they didn’t have an extra day to dwell on it. They’re also aided by facing the Cardinals, the worst team in their division. Still, it will be interesting to see if there’s any sort of mental hangover here as the Niners move past their loss to the Seahawks. Kyle Shanahan made clear during the week that mediocrity will not be tolerated, so some players may actually be expected to step it up.

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10. Might a shaky Oakland defense be what Ryan Finley needs?

Finley’s first NFL start didn’t go smoothly last week, as the Bengals were beaten up by the Ravens. Baltimore boasts one of the league’s tougher defenses, however, which is certainly not true of the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are vulnerable to the pass, so this could be a chance for Finley to demonstrate his credentials in a friendlier environment than he got last week. The Bengals want to see what he can do. If he struggles, it would be worrisome.

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11. Are the Eagles good enough offensively to leave the Patriots shaken again?

The Patriots have had a bye week to get themselves together after their loss to the Baltimore Ravens. That loss really raised some questions about the Patriots against elite offenses, as they’ve had a rather forgiving schedule this season. Now the question is whether Philadelphia is elite enough to really test New England. They’ve shown flashes of it, and putting up 31 points against Buffalo was certainly impressive. This will be a good test for them — and potentially for the Patriots as well.

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12. Can the Rams’ defense deliver some payback to the Bears for last year?

The Chicago Bears wrote the blueprint on slowing down the Rams last season, and even en route to the Super Bowl, that team never looked the same after Vic Fangio formulated a way to beat them. This year, the Bears are still good defensively, but the Rams are weaker offensively coming in. On the other hand, the Bears have major offensive issues, and the Rams have the defense to stuff them. This could be something of a revenge game, with the Rams’ defense this time getting the chance to show its superiority.

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13. Will the Chargers ride their run game against Kansas City?

The Vikings and Titans have had their share of recent success running the ball against the Chiefs, and the Chargers appear well-positioned to employ a run-centric gameplan here. Boasting two strong backs in Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, there’s a lot of reason to believe that leaning on those two could really cause problems for a Chiefs defense that has not proven adept at stopping the run. The Chiefs are coming off a loss, and this will be a tough game for them, especially if they can’t contain the L.A. backfield.

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14. Can the Colts’ offense shake off its injury issues — and kicking problems?

The Colts will get Jacoby Brissett back this week, which is great news. They will not have T.Y. Hilton, so they’ll have to keep digging deep into the depth chart to find wide receivers. Brissett’s return should bolster the offense, but even if that happens, how much can Adam Vinatieri be trusted? The Colts are sticking with him, but he’s looked vulnerable all season, even on extra points. It’s not outside of the realm of possibility that he costs them another game.

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15. Can Kenyan Drake put another scare into the 49ers?

We are just two weeks removed from Drake’s debut performance for the Arizona Cardinals, in which he shocked the 49ers by going for 110 yards on just 15 carries. After David Johnson’s labored performance last week, Drake appears to have supplanted him on the depth chart. The 49ers will have to find a way to stop Drake from running all over them again, as it played a big role in the Cardinals coming much too close for comfort in that Week 9 game. Drake, meanwhile, is trying to fend off competition from Johnson and, eventually, Chase Edmonds to keep getting carries. He’ll be motivated to try to repeat that performance.

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a group of football players on the field: We are in the final days of the lead-up to the NFL's 100th season. Some of the greatest players in the league's history are still going strong; others are establishing legacies and rising up the ranks. Entering Year 100, here is every NFL team's greatest player of all time. Focus on Sport/Getty Images

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