With the World Series coming to a close and the NBA season just getting started, Week 9 in the NFL finds itself amid the seasonal flux in American professional sports.
We enter Week 9 with the undefeated Falcons continuing to reign supreme. With five teams sporting two or fewer losses, however, the gap between them and their challengers is only slight.
We are now past the midway point in the regular season and I have begun to regain some of the consistency shown in years past. With totals over 64 percent for Weeks 7 and 8 combined, I continued to raise my levels from their early season depths. They are now sitting at:
Straight: 73-44 (62 percent)
Spread: 56-61 (48 percent)
Over/Under: 59-58 (50 percent)
It will still take a very strong performance through the end of the season to repeat as champion of my league for the third straight year, but I’m just taking things one exciting week at a time. With that, let’s get into some picks.
Kansas City Chiefs (+8) at San Diego Chargers (O/U = 42.5)
Thursday night will feature an AFC West showdown between the 3-4 Chargers and the 1-6 Chiefs. A pitiful 7-6 loss to the Browns in Week 7 should have snapped San Diego back to reality and I expect QB Philip Rivers to come out angry and firing early.
The Chiefs come off a loss as well having fallen to division rival Oakland last week. After making a quarterback switch heading into that game replacement Brady Quinn left the contest with a head injury thrusting Matt Cassel back into the fire. Neither QB got much going against the Raiders D as KC sputtered at home coming off the bye.
All signs point to a big output from the Chargers in this one and I expect San Diego to pull down an easy win at home.
Straight: San Diego
Spread: San Diego
Arizona Cardinals (+11) at Green Bay Packers (O/U = 44)
The Cardinals’ fall from grace has been monumental after beginning the season 4-0. Following their fourth straight loss, they head into Green Bay to face a Packers team which will surely show no sympathy. With John Skelton remaining at QB in this one, it will be nearly impossible to go toe-to-toe against one of the league’s top passers.
In a game that many anticipated would be a blowout, the Pack let Jacksonville hang around for a while en route to an eventual home victory. After lighting it up offensively in the weeks prior, it is hard to explain this failure to dominate over the inferior Jags. This could have been a case of taking the foot off the throttle a bit in a game they knew they could win without maximum effort.
I don’t expect the Packer offense to look quite as sleepy after a bit of a wake-up call last week, and predict the Cardinals' slide will continue on the road.
Straight: Green Bay
Spread: Green Bay
Detroit Lions (-3.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (O/U = 44)
Yet again, the Detroit Lions staged a comeback victory in Week 8, this time against a stingy Seahawks defense. It has become somewhat standard for the Lions to underperform in early quarters only to put on the heat late. While it has worked to this point, that is surely not the recipe for continued success.
As mentioned previously, the Jags were (somehow) able to keep it close against GB last week despite their star RB being sidelined with crutches. They have not won in four weeks and without the presence of MJD in the backfield at 100% it is hard to picture them knocking off any sort of formidable opponent.
Slow start or not, I expect the Lions will have just too much firepower for Jacksonville by the time it’s all said and done, and win this one on the road to make it two in a row.
Chicago Bears (-3.5) at Tennessee Titans (O/U = 43.5)
The Bears extended their month-long tear in Week 8 notching their fifth straight victory to maintain a game and a half lead in the ultra-competitive NFC North. While this one wasn’t as pretty as some of the others, they were able to capitalize on the mistakes of Carolina just in time to steal the road victory, and often times, wins like this prove a lot more about a team’s heart than blowouts.
Tennessee pushed the Colts to overtime last week, but couldn’t mount a defensive stand as they fell on the Colts’ first offensive possession in extra time. The Titans are now 3-5 and should feel their playoff chances slowly slipping away if they are unable to mount a stand at home against Chicago.
I, for one, do not see this Tennessee team as a legitimate contender, and I look for the Bears to flex some muscle on this weak defense after failing to do so against the Panthers.
Denver Broncos (-3.5) at Cincinnati Bengals (O/U = 47)
Peyton Manning continued his unfathomable hot streak last week with a fifth straight 300 yard performance in the Broncos’ convincing win against the Saints. Although the NO secondary has been awful this year, it is never easy to roll into the Superdome and come up with a blowout victory. Peyton has been unshakable as of late and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.
The Bengals started strong, but have dropped three in a row to fall to third in the AFC East following their bye. A.J. Green has been arguably the league’s top receiver to this point and Andy Dalton has found repeated success when going to his fellow second-year starter. He will have to continue to do so this week to keep up with the well-oiled offensive machine of the Broncos.
The Cinci defense hasn’t been too formidable this season, allowing the fourth highest completion percentage in the league. I don’t believe they will have what it takes to slow down Peyton even in front of the home crowd.
Carolina Panthers (+3) at Washington Redskins (O/U = 46.5)
Again the Panthers found themselves in contention for a win in Week 8, and again they were unable to make plays at the end of the game in another disappointing loss. After a 1-1 start, they have fallen to 1-6, and a disgruntled Cam Newton continues to search for answers. It looks like the Panthers will be drafting high yet again after this season, a huge disappointment after the hope last season sparked.
While Rookie QB Robert Griffin III has unarguably taken the league by storm from a fans perspective, he has fallen short of making the same impact in the NFC East standings. The talented youngster has been able to keep the ‘Skins in nearly every game, but has yet to hone the killer instinct needed to put away teams at this level.
After a couple tough matchups in a row, RGIII will breathe a sigh of relief at home against the Panthers' spotty defense. The Redskins turn things around here at home to edge closer to .500.
Baltimore Ravens (-3.5) at Cleveland Browns (O/U = 42.5)
The Browns were able to squeak out their second win of the season in Week 8, needing just a single TD romp from Trent Richardson to do so. A one point victory at home in the rain can hardly be called a building block, but when you’re as low as Cleveland has been this year you will take what you can get for motivation.
Baltimore took last week off with a bye and had some extra time to study the tape on their inexperienced opponent. Despite being a few key players short due to injury, I still expect this perennially stout defense to be able to exploit the youthful weaknesses of the Browns with that extra time to review.
Don’t expect a close one here as the Ravens win to retain the top spot in the AFC North.
Miami Dolphins (-2.5) at Indianapolis Colts (O/U = 43)
The Dolphins convincingly bested the Jets on the road last week, taking down their AFC East rivals 30-9. This one made it three straight for Miami, and they remain just a half game back of the Patriots in the division. Had it not been for a few unfortunate breaks early on this this team could have one of the top records in the AFC at this point.
Indianapolis snuck away with an OT victory last week on a spectacular play by fill-in RB Vick Ballard and return home with a 4-3 record. Andrew Luck has proven that his first overall selection in last year’s draft was warranted, and has left Indy fans surprisingly content despite the continued excellence of Peyton across the country.
This is a tough one to call as both teams are having a turnaround season, and I expect an exciting, hard-fought battle in Indy. I’m taking the home team here, but could easily see it going either way.
Buffalo Bills (+10) at Houston Texans (O/U = 47.5)
Both the Bills and Texans are coming off of bye weeks and each team finds itself at very different positions thus far into the season. The Texans have just one loss and hold a two game lead in the weak AFC South. Another win here teamed with losses for their division opponents could begin to really sew up the playoff race.
The Bills are just a game and a half back of NE in the AFC East, but have yet to prove that they are able to compete against a solid opponent. With the East as wide open as it has been in years, this team cannot yet be counted out, but unless they start to show a bit more consistency they will find the same result as seasons past.
I like the Texans at home, so much that I think J.J. Watt and their stellar defense even covers the double digit spread.
Minnesota Vikings (+5) at Seattle Seahawks (O/U = 39.5)
After losing to the Lions in Week 8, the Seahawks find another NFC North foe as the surprise Vikings head to the great Northwest. Seattle has shown signs of improvement on both sides of the ball, but it is really their defense that has resulted in the team’s current second place standing in the division. With the 49ers looking as though they have the NFC West in check it will be up to that defense to help this team find a playoff berth.
The Vikings hit a bit of a speed bump last week in a lopsided loss to Tampa Bay on Thursday night. Minnesota had been rolling up until that point, but the Bucs were able to pull out a win on the road that surprised many. It will be a tough game to recover in on the road at one in the most notorious settings in the NFL and I would be surprised to see the Vikings come out as polished as they have appeared at points this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1.5) at Oakland Raiders (O/U = 45.5)
After coming frustratingly close to taking down the Saints in Week 7, the Bucs rallied on Thursday night in their win over Minnesota. Josh Freeman has thrown for over 600 yards combined over the past two weeks and seems as though he may finally be reaching the potential that so many have talked about over the beginning of his career.
The Raiders have won two straight, but don’t be fooled as they came against Jacksonville and Kansas City. While this team has looked decent enough in both of those wins, it is hard to see them getting away with some of the mistakes and missed opportunities that they were afforded by those second tier opponents.
While TB is by no means one of the league's juggernauts, they are undeniably better than either of the Raiders prior two opponents, and I think the dream ends here for the silver and black.
Straight: Tampa Bay
Spread: Tampa Bay
Pittsburgh Steelers (+3) at New York Giants (O/U = 47.5)
The Steelers have won two straight following last week’s win and are just a game back of Baltimore for the division lead. With each week this new offense looks improved, and fill-in running back Jonathan Dwyer has surprised everyone with his stellar performances replacing Pittsburgh’s top two injured RBs. He will be hard pressed to find the same sort of room, however, against this Giants defense.
New York has rallied late in back-to-back weeks to push their win streak to six, and it’s not hard to tell how this team won last year’s Super Bowl. With the help of his talented cast, Eli has proven again and again that he is the league’s best late-game quarterback. With a stronghold on the NFC East already, I don’t expect this team to lose that position between now and the end of the year.
This might be our game of the week, and I can only hope will provide as much excitement as the Giants’ last two contests have.
Straight: New York
Spread: New York
Dallas Cowboys (+4.5) at Atlanta Falcons (O/U = 47.5)
Sunday night will feature an exciting game in its own right as Dallas travels to Atlanta to try and give the Falcons their first loss of the year. Having fallen just short, or should I say just long, the Cowboys missed out on a huge win against the Giants last week as an apparent TD catch by Dez Bryant was foiled when his finger landed out of bounds. It was just one of those plays where it didn’t feel quite right that it couldn’t count, but it’s one the Cowboys will have to live with.
The Falcons showed no signs of slowing down against Philly last week, and look to have the NFC South wrapped up already as the only plus-.500 team. Matt Ryan continues to impress and the group of talent around him is second to none. Julio Jones and Roddy White have emerged as arguably the best WR tandem in the league and I don’t think you would find many defensive backs who disagree. Add Tony Gonzales in the mix, and it’s not hard to see why this team is where they are.
Dallas almost summoned some magic last week, but even if you replaced Tony Romo with David Blaine, they still wouldn’t get this win in Atlanta in primetime.
Philadelphia Eagles (+3.5) at New Orleans Saints (O/U = 52.5)
For the second straight year, the Eagles have become a team in turmoil, and things have almost reached a breaking point. With Michael Vick essentially benching himself publicly and Andy Reid not denying the insinuation, it is almost impossible to see through the smokescreen. I’m afraid that even if we could peek through we wouldn’t like what we see. Somehow this team full of talent has not been able to produce, and if things continue down this path heads will roll.
The Saints fell to the Broncos last week after being sliced and diced by Peyton Manning and the best medicine might be a home game in primetime. Drew Brees rarely fails to show up for the Saints’ biggest games. And with the help of one of the league’s most dysfunctional offenses on the other side, he will likely be seeing a few extra possessions due to turnovers.
Until the Eagles show that they can play solid for an entire game, it will be hard to pick in their favor, but even at 100% I’d still be going with NO here.
Straight: New Orleans
Spread: New Orleans