As the NFL rolls into Week 11, the playoff picture in many divisions is as muddled as ever. While the Patriots may be coasting to yet another AFC East title, the AFC’s other three divisions are completely up for grabs. Playoff contenders — namely the division-leading Cowboys, Seahawks and Falcons — have emerged in the NFC. But the Lions sit tenuously atop the crowded NFC North.
Five of the eight division leaders play on CBS this weekend. And Steve Beuerlein, CBS Sports analyst and former NFL quarterback, has certainly seen his share of playoff races. He looks at the Jaguars-Lions, Titans-Colts and Patriots-49ers matchups, all with possible playoff implications.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Detroit Lions – Nov. 20, 1:00 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: All of a sudden, the Lions are on top of the NFC North and have been a surprise team in the conference. As the Vikings and Packers flounder, do you feel they are the best team in the division right now?
Steve Beuerlein: Yes, they are right now. The Bears are not a factor. Look at what has happened to the Vikings and Packers… both are really struggling right now. The Lions have been playing with a lot of confidence and getting some late-game wins. Matthew Stafford is playing at a high level.
Without a doubt, Detroit is the only team in this division that is excited about anything. They are the best team right now, and I don’t see that changing in the near future.
CBS Local Sports: Turnovers, special teams and the play of the offense have plagued the Jaguars this season. Do you think it’s time to bench Blake Bortles?
Beuerlein: No, I don’t think it is. Head coach Gus Bradley and his staff’s jobs are on the line. If you make the move to Chad Henne, you are stating that Bortles is not going to be the guy, and I’m not convinced yet that’s the case. It’s a frustrating thing, as the Jaguars are a very young team and they have been through a lot in his short career.
I’ve seen a lot out of Bortles and know he can play. He can get it done. They need to build a core around him, and he needs to grow more. Once he learns and understands what is acceptable and not acceptable as far as taking chances with the football, things will change.
Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts – Nov. 20, 1:00 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: The Titans looked like an entirely different team against the Packers this week. Is that who they really are, or are they more the team that struggled against the winless Browns?
Beuerlein: This is a really dangerous football team. The reason is the games they have lost have been, in general, very close. The evolution of Marcus Mariota and the way they are running the football are bad news for whoever will be playing against them. Now, they are starting to believe they are a good football team.
Mike Mularkey, I questioned him as head coach, but now, I believe in what he has done with the Titans. It is working. They really believe in the fact that they are a good football team. That is the first step, and it will start getting you results.
CBS Local Sports: Andrew Luck is having an MVP-type season, but who needs to step up to help him get the 4-5 Colts into the playoffs?
Beuerlein: Priority-wise, the offensive line. Andrew Luck is just getting hit way too much, and that is not good for the long-term health of the Colts’ organization. He’s a really tough guy, and he can take some of them. But he can’t keep taking the amount of punishment that he’s received this season.
Secondly, the Colts need to get a ground game around Luck. Frank Gore has shown flashes at times, but they need more consistency in the running game to take some of the pressure off of the quarterback.
As much as I see the offensive line needing to work, the defense needs to do the same. Right now, they have to continue to do it with smoke and mirrors, as they have no dominant defensive players. They need to find a way to patch up some holes and get a consistent pass rush, play the run well, and that will win games. Luck can’t keep having the offense score 40 points a week to win games.
New England Patriots vs. San Francisco 49ers – Nov. 20, 4:25 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: What kind of attitude do you see the Patriots coming out with this week after the loss to the Seahawks?
Beuerlein: There is nobody better in football than the Patriots following a loss. You do not want to be the team playing them after a loss. It simply isn’t a good formula for the 49ers, but that’s just the way it is. The 49ers are going to feel the wrath of Tom Brady and the Patriots, and New England will make a statement this week with a big win.
CBS Local Sports: Is Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert the 49ers’ answer at quarterback?
Beuerlein: No, I don’t think either is the answer, and many football people don’t believe that they are. Gabbert is exactly what he is. As long as he’s allowed to play, he’s going to be a very serviceable back-up quarterback. He’s just more of a temporary stop-gap kind of guy. There’s no doubt that Gabbert has gotten better, but he’s still a back-up.
Colin Kaepernick… I don’t know if he will ever get back to the form of his early years with the Super Bowl appearance and being one play away from winning it. He’s playing well at times, but he isn’t making games competitive on a regular basis, and he’s not playing consistently enough.
Danny Cox has been covering the NFL for the past decade and has been watching it for two more. From injury reports to playoff races, he follows every single team and longs for the months of July to February.