There are a whole bunch of phrases in football that we probably shouldn't overuse as much as we do. "Generational" is one, for sure. So, too, is "sneaky athletic". But in November, the phrase "Do or die" is certainly on the list -- there's nearly half of the season left to play, surely there's no such thing as a do or die game in Week 11, right? It may feel like pivotal breaking points are on us, but so much of the schedule left to play (often with common opponents in tow) provides teams with wiggle room to bail themselves out later in the schedule.
But not this week, damn it! There are several pivotal matchups that should be considered "do or die" proposals for NFL teams across the league's landscape. Is your team playing in one of them? Do they need to win it? Let's discuss.
Pittsburgh (5-4) @ Cleveland (3-6)
Those in need of doing or dying? The Cleveland Browns. At 3-6, the Browns pulled out a critical win last week against the Buffalo Bills -- keeping their postseason hopes on life support for another week after brutally blowing a game against the lowly Denver Broncos to fall to 2-6 the week before. Cleveland is gearing up for a possible run back to .500, but that starts with a win against the Steelers at home on a short week.
If Cleveland is ever going to beat the Steelers, this needs to be the one. The Steelers have owned Cleveland since the team's return from relocation purgatory, the Browns own 5-33-1 head to head record against Pittsburgh since 2000. The Steelers have postseason aspirations of their own and actually own the 6th-seed in the AFC playoff picture as we kick off Week 11. The Browns get the Steelers twice, the Dolphins and the Bengals in their next four games -- going 3-1 in this stretch puts them at 6-7 and on the fringe of the AFC playoff picture.
But with such a bad record against Pittsburgh, the Browns MUST have tomorrow's home game against the Steelers on a short week. Period.
Chicago (4-5) @ Los Angeles (5-4)
This one could generally be seen as a "do or die" proposition for either team -- but the Rams are in a boatload of trouble after going all-in on their roster. The Rams have forfeited a bunch of assets, which will limit their ability to overhaul a roster that has quite quickly descended into a troubled, flawed group. The Rams' offensive line is pretty offensive and LT Andrew Whitworth will be 38 before the end of the season. The Rams have put themselves into a position where their winning window is the here and now -- and they're starting the proposition of missing the playoffs right in the face.
The Rams, at 5-4, still need to play Baltimore, Seattle, Dallas and San Francisco this season. And they're already 1.5 games behind the NFC's 6th seed, the Minnesota Vikings (7-3). If the Rams are going to live up to their aggressive mentality and fulfill their "win now" mentality by making the playoffs, they can't afford to be dropping games to teams like Chicago, who are enduring a season of regression -- both as a team and with several key individuals.
Your move, Los Angeles.
Houston (6-3) @ Baltimore (7-2)
Huh? These teams are in the driver's seat for playoff seeding -- how in the world is this a 'do or die' game for either team? Pretty simple: if the Texans want a 1st-round bye in the 2019/2020 playoffs, they're going to have to win this game. Houston's biggest hurdles the rest of the way are this week against Baltimore and Week 13 hosting the Patriots. Four of the team's final six games are at home in Houston.
Baltimore losing at home to Houston keeps the race for the 2 seed super tight between both of these teams and the Kansas City Chiefs (6-4 entering Week 11), but Baltimore taking this game and moving to 8-2 gives them head to head wins over Houston and New England while continuing to extend their lead over the Chiefs (who Baltimore lost to 33-28 this season).
The Ravens' final 6 games include dates with the Rams, 49ers, Bills, Jets, Browns and Steelers, so Houston won't get very many opportunities to close 3 games in the standings, should they lose this game.