NFL 2018 Season - Week 16
 

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Week 11 Takeaways
by Dennis Ranahan

This week, the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams complete the season of byes with their open dates. They might need the rest after putting up a record number of points last night in the Rams 54-51 win.

On Thursday, the Chicago Bears open the Thanksgiving triple-header against traditional host Detroit. The Lions upset the Carolina Panthers last Sunday and now look to knock off the division leaders in the NFC North. The Bears currently hold a one-and-one-half game lead over the second place Minnesota Vikings and a three game bulge over last place Detroit.

The Bears are enjoying a breakthrough season under first-year head coach Matt Nagy. A month ago, when they hosted the New England Patriots, it was Chicago’s first test to see if they could compete with the NFL elite teams. They failed that initial test, losing to the talented Patriots on their home field as an underdog.

The Bears second big test to see if they are ready to crack the top echelon of the league was when they hosted last week’s Sunday night game against Minnesota. If they were to win in this spot, they would increase their advantage in the division standings … and they succeeded in that role with a 25-20 triumph over the more experienced at winning Vikings squad.

They bounce from that conquered spot to another tough role this week when they meet the Lions on a short work week with Detroit needing the game for survival and the Bears looking to enhance their standings in the division. This will be a very difficult road cover challenge, the Bears are currently listed as a four point favorite, but their recent play indicate they could be up to the task.

The Houston Texans won their seventh consecutive game last Sunday in Washington, edging the NFC East Division leading Redskins, 23-21. On Monday night, they host the Tennessee Titans, losers last Sunday in Indianapolis, and currently a team two back of Houston in their division race.

One of the toughest things for a young team to do is win a game against a division opponent with comparable talent that they lead in the standings, particularly if they hold a lead of more than one game. There has been no spread yet posted on this game while the Titans hope to have Marcus Mariota available after he was forced out of the loss in Indianapolis with what is now being reported as a stinger.

When he first went down, the thought was that he aggravated the elbow injury sustained in the Titans season opening loss to the Miami Dolphins. But, more recent evaluations have indicated that the injury was not with the elbow, and his availability for this key AFC South Division game is yet to be determined.

While Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel may wish to keep his availability in question right to game time, we will be able to read the point spread to know if Mariota is going to see action Monday night. When the spread is released on this game, if the number comes out at more than six points, he is out, and if it is posted at six points or less, he will play no matter what the coach is saying at the time.

While the Titans hope to have Mariota available for their stretch drive, the NFC East leading Washington Redskins lost quarterback Alex Smith for the year with a broken leg. Smith was a key factor in Washington rising to the top of the standings in their division race, while without him the door is wide open for the Dallas Cowboys to move up.

Dallas comes into their Thanksgiving game against the Redskins one back. Washington may get a motivational boost to serve new starter Colt McCoy, but the need for a Dallas win to catch the Redskins in the standings remains the more significant edge and favors the home standing Cowboys.