NFL picks for Week 11 from Matt Youmans

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Until recently, Kansas City’s identity was all about Patrick Mahomes and his high-scoring offense. Mahomes has the ability to outscore any opponent, and he has often needed to do just that to cover for the Chiefs’ defensive deficiencies.

The storyline has changed. The team’s identity shift this season has been dramatic. Mahomes still can do his thing, but now the defense has his back. Kansas City is tied for first in the NFL in scoring defense (15.9 ppg) through 10 weeks. At this point, it’s not a fluke or a small sample size — the evidence shows the Chiefs are winning mostly due to their defense.

The Eagles are headed to Kansas City for Monday Night Football and a Super Bowl rematch, so it’s worth reflecting on their meeting in February. When Mahomes hobbled off the field trailing by 10 points at halftime, the outlook was bleak. The Chiefs had one offensive and one defensive touchdown, and Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts was controlling the game, aside from one costly turnover. Mahomes rallied and passed for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter before leading a drive for a last-minute field goal and a 38-35 win.

The Kansas City defense is better now than it was then, and the Philadelphia offense is not quite as electric. Hurts, who rushed for 70 yards and three touchdowns in the Super Bowl, has averaged only 21 rushing yards in the past three games while bothered by a sore knee. Hurts also has thrown eight interceptions in nine games after throwing only six picks all of last season.

The Eagles, 5-1 in games decided by seven points or fewer this season, were outgained 406-292 in their 28-23 victory over the Cowboys two weeks ago. In other words, Philadelphia is surviving while playing with fire.

The Chiefs have scored 31 points or more only twice in nine games, but Mahomes can shift into a higher gear when needed, and he can count on the defense to help close the deal.

The Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift angle is a fun topic for some. Chiefs coach Andy Reid’s record off a bye (21-3 straight up, 15-9 ATS) is comforting. But the bottom line is I want to bet on the combination of Mahomes and the league’s No. 1 scoring defense.

Pick: Chiefs -2.5

My five sides went 3-2 last week, putting the season record in this column at 23-24-3. Four more plays for Week 11 (home team in CAPS):

BROWNS (-1) over Steelers

A shoulder injury has ended quarterback Deshaun Watson’s season, forcing Cleveland to turn to rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Thompson-Robinson was terrible in his first start against Baltimore, but he will be better this time. The Browns’ biggest advantage is their defense (18.9 ppg) and ability to pressure the quarterback. Pittsburgh has been outgained in all nine games, and its 6-3 record easily could be reversed. The Steelers’ formula for winning — or their luck factor — is unsustainable.

Cardinals (+6) over TEXANS

It should be the right time to fade an overhyped Houston team. When the media starts pumping up a rookie quarterback (C.J. Stroud) as an MVP candidate, expect a reality check. Better yet, the Cardinals are suddenly resembling dangerous ‘dogs with the return of quarterback Kyler Murray. Arizona’s defense allowed only 70 passing yards and 3.9 yards per play in a 25-23 victory over Atlanta a week ago.

PANTHERS (+10.5) over Cowboys

If this game is low-scoring and ugly, that will be a good sign for Carolina. The Panthers have been pathetic offensively, and rookie quarterback Bryce Young looks more like an undrafted free agent than the No. 1 overall pick, but coach Frank Reich is taking back play-calling duties to try to turn things around. It’s also a bad spot for Dallas, which toyed with the Giants and has another NFC East game on deck for Thanksgiving. The Cowboys could be flat and lose their focus on the road against a lightweight opponent. According to ESPN.com, road favorites of seven points or more are 0-8-1 ATS this season.

RAMS (+1) over Seahawks

Losers of three in a row and four of five, the Rams (3-6) are in a must-win spot, so quarterback Matthew Stafford is returning from a thumb injury just in time. Stafford will move the ball with the help of receivers Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua. The Seattle defense is struggling, ranking 25th in the league by allowing 354 yards per game. Sharp money is surfacing on the Rams, who are small favorites at some books yet still small ‘dogs at DraftKings.