Picking games for Week 9 of the NFL season involves pushing many teams to the edge of relevancy for the 2012 season.
Clubs like the San Diego Chargers (3-4), Cincinnati Bengals (3-4), Tennessee Titans (3-5), Washington Redskins (3-5), Dallas Cowboys (3-4), Philadelphia Eagles (2-4) and New Orleans Saints (2-5) are still alive, but either struggling to breath or close to flat-lining. A loss in Week 9 may be the knockout punch, even if there are still eight weeks to play following Week 9's action.
Rome wasn't built in a day, but one week can certainly send an NFL season up in flames.
In the following slides, we'll predict every game on the Week 9 schedule, including those whose seasons are on the line.
Could there be less trust in two teams than the Chargers and Chiefs this season? There's talent on both rosters—a lot of talent, to be honest—but there's too much wrong with both clubs to fit into this space.
The last six quarters (outscored 42-6) have been forgettable for San Diego, and maybe returning home isn't the best-case scenario with how hostile that crowd could be against head coach Norv Turner.
But the Chargers (somehow) have the quarterback you can bank on in this matchup, and the Chiefs have allowed an average of 32 points the last two games. Philip Rivers finds a way, even if it's ugly.
Prediction: Chargers 24, Chiefs 16
This appropriately-colored matchup (Halloween) features two teams heading in opposite directions.
The Bengals lost three in a row heading into the bye week after a 3-1 start, while Peyton Manning and the Broncos have quickly evolved into a Super Bowl candidate in back-to-back wins.
And is Manning your early season MVP, even over Matt Ryan in Atlanta? Manning's last four games: 75.3 completion percentage, 1,289 yards, 12 touchdowns and one interception. Riding the hot hand is the easy choice here.
Prediction: Broncos 31, Bengals 21
Is it crazy to think Cleveland, winners of two of three games, can make it three of four against the reeling Ravens? Not in the slightest, especially if Trent Richardson can get going early and the Browns play suffocating pass defense again (Philip Rivers 154 passing yards in Week 8).
That said, calling the upset for Cleveland on the road is a big jump. This will be a competitive game, as this series almost always is (four of last five decided by 10 points or less). But the Ravens could tailspin if they drop a home game to the still-lowly Browns.
Prediction: Ravens 21, Browns 17
The Packers, winners of three straight, have finally started to stack successes, but Sunday's win at home over Jacksonville was an ugly one.
This game should be a little scary for Packers fans for one simple reason: The Cardinals can get after the passer, and they aren't afraid to send pressure from anywhere to do it. Green Bay continues to ride the wave of inconsistent pass protection.
However, the Cardinals just don't have the assets offensively to score enough points on the road to win. Without a bevy of mistakes from the Packers, Arizona drops its fifth straight game.
Prediction: Packers 28, Cardinals 13
Titans running back Chris Johnson can finally prove he's all the way back Sunday against the Bears' top-ranked run defense (77.9 yards/game).
Good luck, CJ2K.
The Bears haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher yet this season, and I don't expect Johnson to be the first. Without the balance Johnson has provided, the Titans' offense remains stuck in neutral and sputters Sunday.
Bears roll thanks to another smothering defensive effort.
Prediction: Bears 23, Titans 13
There's something about this Colts team over the last month. Since losing head coach Chuck Pagano before the Green Bay game in Week 5, the Colts are 3-1, including 2-0 in Indianapolis.
The Dolphins are the better team from top to bottom, but Chuckstrong continues fueling this 53-man roster. That emotional edge may be the difference Sunday, as Colts quarterback Andrew Luck adds his second-rookie quarterback pelt to the wall.
Prediction: Colts 23, Dolphins 21
Sometimes, Superman needs a tug on his cape. Or in this case, completely removed and worn by a new, more exciting quarterback.
Cam Newton, once the NFL's Superman, has been stripped clean of that title by Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. RG3 is the new craze in 2012. Heck, even his socks have capes.
If there was ever a week where there was a little extra on the plate for Newton, it's this one. The Panthers need a win to keep the heat off everyone's job, and you know Newton wants his cape back.
Prediction: Panthers 34, Redskins 27
Blaine Gabbert and the Jags could make the argument that they were the better team Sunday at Lambeau Field, but that doesn't void the fact that Jacksonville could only take another moral victory out of the contest.
Moral victories might look good after Week 9.
While the Jaguars won the trade for Mike Thomas with the Lions (a 2014 mid-round pick, really?), Detroit wins the football game Sunday. Convincingly. Matthew Stafford and the passing game are starting to click, and Megatron is more than due for something big.
Prediction: Lions 30, Jaguars 13
Welcome home, Mario Williams. Or not.
The Texans, fresh off both a thrashing of the Baltimore Ravens and much-needed bye week, won't be kind hosts to the former Texan Sunday.
The Bills, whose defense can't stop anyone right now, should have their hands full against the most balanced offense in football. Expect the Texans to be efficient in both running and throwing Sunday, at the expense of the $100 million man Williams.
Prediction: Texans 31, Bills 14
These teams are constructed and run very similarly, with defenses and run games that lead the way. If we consider those areas a wash, the difference will likely come at the quarterback position.
Believe it or not, it's much, much easier to trust Russell Wilson at this point in the 2012 season than Christian Ponder.
Wilson continues working out the rookie wrinkles, while Ponder is slipping down regression mountain at a breakneck pace after a strong start. If that continues, Seahawks get back above .500 rather easily at home.
Prediction: Seahawks 26, Vikings 13
This will likely come back to bite me with a long trip to the West Coast in store, but I'm turning into a believer in the Buccaneers offense.
While losing guard Carl Nicks for the season is a massive, maybe unrecoverable blow, the Bucs are still averaging 34 points over their last three games. Josh Freeman (nine touchdown passes since Week 6), Doug Martin (214 total yards in Week 8), Vincent Jackson (626 receiving yards in 2012) and Mike Williams (four touchdowns, 17.4-yard average) make up a strong four-man offense.
Bucs break 30 points for the third time in four games, while getting to .500 in the process.
Prediction: Buccaneers 31, Raiders 23
This season, I have picked against the Giants in games against the Panthers, 49ers, Redskins and Cowboys. No longer. New York has proven to be much greater than any trendy upset pick in 2012.
Giants get to an impressive 7-2 after nine games with a double-digit win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Prediction: Giants 28, Steelers 18
Like the Giants, Atlanta commands respect this season. No more being road underdogs or a trendy upset pick.
Matt Ryan is neck and neck with Peyton Manning for midseason MVP, and the Falcons defense is a much better unit than anyone wants to give them credit for.
Maybe I could pick the Cowboys had they pulled off the magic win Sunday, but like Dez Bryant's finger in the end zone, the Cowboys finish just an inch away in Atlanta.
Prediction: Falcons 27, Cowboys 24
Reid has given Vick one last chance for redemption in Week 9, and if he can't score and win against a defense that may be the worst we've seen in some time, changes need to come across the board.
Reid certainly knows the stats for the opposing defense. Through seven games, the Saints rank dead last in the NFL in yards allowed (474.4) and 30th in points (30.9).
Reid and Vick, if only momentarily, take a little heat off their respective jobs with a winning performance Monday night in New Orleans.
Prediction: Eagles 34, Saints 30