NFL

5 NFL Players To Watch This Sunday

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by Chris Boyle

It’s still too early to guarantee a trip to the playoffs, but as Week 11 kicks into gear on Sunday, there are several teams who could bury themselves in too deep of a hole.

Carolina salvaged its season, for the time being, with a 23-20 win over NFC South rival New Orleans on Thursday. On Sunday, several matchups involving teams floating around .500, such as Titans-Colts, Bills-Bengals, Vikings-Cardinals, Dolphins-Rams and Packers-Redskins, could ultimately determine who’s in and who’s out seven weeks from now.

Here are five players to watch in Week 11.

Vontaze Burfict, LB, Bengals

So often the conversation surrounding Burfict focuses on his character, and rightly so in the case of his antics during last year’s AFC Wild Card loss to Pittsburgh. But it’s easy to forget how good of a player he can be, too.

Burfict played a nearly flawless game in Monday night’s loss against the Giants, earning a 99.1 grade from Pro Football Focus. He made 11 tackles and added a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

In a game the Bengals absolutely need to win, at home against fellow AFC wild-card hopeful Buffalo, Burfict and the defense must contain Tyrod Taylor and slow down the Bills’ dominant ground game.

Stefon Diggs, WR, Vikings

It’s not like the Vikings are suddenly going to be able to run the ball, or so we think. Minnesota is averaging a paltry 2.7 yards per rush with only two carries over 20 yards or more all season.

All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson will likely shadow Diggs throughout Sunday’s game. After all, Diggs has been targeted 35 more times than any other Minnesota wide receiver. In his last two games, the 22-year-old out of Maryland caught 26 of 29 targets for 244 yards.

The Vikings absolutely need to hit the brakes on their four-game losing skid. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two other teams have lost four in a row after starting the season 5-0 (the 2009 Giants and the 1989 Rams).

Jared Goff, QB, Rams

It’s about time.

Even with the Rams’ victory in the Meadowlands last week against the Jets, it remained evident Case Keenum could not lead an efficient NFL offense. He simply does not stretch the field, attempting only three passes of 20 or more yards downfield against a secondary susceptible to big plays.

L.A. invested heavily in Goff, sending six picks to Tennessee including first- and third-rounders next year to move from No. 15 to No. 1. Now we can see what sort of progress he’s made in learning the offense since a fairly disastrous preseason. Largely against reserve defenses, Goff completed just 44.9 percent of his passes for 232 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions and three fumbles.

He’ll face the Miami Dolphins, winners of four in a row, in a suddenly intriguing late Sunday afternoon kickoff.

Pernell McPhee, DE, Bears

McPhee put a target squarely on his back this weekend, likely ensuring the surging New York Giants won’t sleep on the lowly Bears.

“We gonna tear their ass up,” McPhee told reporters of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. “I don’t care what everybody else did. We gonna sack him. He can throw the ball as many times as he wants – we gonna sack him. I’m gonna make sure of that.”

Since returning from a six-game absence on the Physically Unable to Perform list, McPhee has sacks in each of his last two games. As a team, Chicago has sacked opposing quarterbacks 24 times.

Manning’s gone down only 12 times in 350 pass attempts. The Bears will need to take advantage of the mistake-prone Giants offense, which has turned the ball over at least once in every game this season.

Thomas Rawls, RB, Seahawks

Here’s the primary reason the Seahawks surprisingly waived Christine Michael earlier this week.

Rawls is finally healthy after missing seven games with a hairline fracture in his fibula. He participated fully in practiceWednesday and should have a role against the Eagles on Sunday.

How much of a role remains to be seen. Ideally, he gives the Seahawks some power (albeit nowhere near Marshawn Lynch levels) to balance with C.J. Prosise’s versatility as a receiver. After averaging 5.6 yards per carry as a rookie, Rawls ran 19 times for 25 yards in two games before getting hurt.


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