Week 9 is here. It's officially the midseason point of the year. By the end of this week, all 32 teams in the NFL will have played at least eight of their 16 regular season games.
I also want to personally thank the NFL for giving my beloved St. Louis Rams their bye week on Sunday because that's my birthday. Why thank them for giving them the week off? Because after the beatings the Rams suffered at the hands of the Packers and Patriots the last two weeks they deserve it.
Season Record Straight Up
76-42, .644 (Last Week 12-2)
Like I've said before, if you can be .600 or above straight up you're doing well. I'm sitting in 4th in a group of 100 people at my local bar with some good prizes up for grabs, so it's been a good year in that regard. I hope I can keep it going.
Byes: St. Louis, New England, NY Jets, San Francisco
All game times are Eastern.
Denver (4-3) at Cincinnati (3-4) at 1:00 PM
This could be an entertaining game. Neither defense impresses me that much while obviously Peyton Manning is playing as well as any QB in the league right now. I like Cincinnati's offense, especially at home and coming off a bye week.
The issue with the Bengals is their running game is pretty bad (23rd in the NFL at 96.6 yards per game), so they have to rely on Andy Dalton throwing the ball hopefully (for their sake) to A.J. Green. The Broncos are eighth against the pass and with a defensive-minded head coach like John Fox you know they're going to make Green a priority. What I'm saying is I can see more of the Bengals' drives stalling because of that reason. If they had better second and third options they'd probably be a playoff team. They are not a playoff team this year.
I think the Broncos are going to finish the second half of the year very strong. The offense is moving the ball down the field and they're good at finishing drives with touchdowns. Look for Manning to connect with Thomas and Decker for a few scores in this game.
Baltimore (5-2) at Cleveland (2-6) at 1:00 PM
The Browns have this ability to bring teams down to their level of mediocrity, especially when they are at home. They even did it to the Ravens in Baltimore on a Thursday night in Week 4 when they lost by just seven points, so I think they will keep it close. The Browns lack talent in a lot of areas, but they play hard. That means they're a pesky bad team.
The Ravens defense that was once elite was able to get some rest during their bye week, although I think they're still very average on that side of the ball. The key to this game will be the Browns' running game. If they can give Trent Richardson 25 carries and he goes for 125 yards then I believe they might win the game.
The Ravens are 1-2 on the road this year with point totals of 23, 6 and 13. For whatever reason, Joe Flacco is a poor quarterback away from home. I think that trend will continue. However, I still like the Ravens to win an ugly game by just one point.
Arizona (4-4) at Green Bay (5-3) at 1:00 PM
The decline of the Cardinals continues for a team that was once 4-0. They have one of the worst offenses in football. They're coming off a home loss on Monday night against the 49ers where they were beaten in every aspect of the game. Even their defense, which is supposed to be above average, looked like they were out of their league. Offensively they have issues with no running game and an offensive line that has given up 39 sacks on the year, which is 11 more than anybody else.
I'm mad at the Packers for not covering at home against the Jaguars last week. They were losing for the majority of the game too. I think their offense is definitely suffering without Greg Jennings and last week without Jordy Nelson, who might be out this week too. It's nice that they have depth with Randall Cobb and James Jones, but clearly Aaron Rodgers puts up better numbers when all four guys are healthy.
I could see the Cardinals keeping it close because of their defense, but I don't think that will happen. I think last week's loss to the 49ers really hurt them and they will continue their downward spiral. I like the Packers here in a big way.
Chicago (6-1) at Tennessee (3-5) at 1:00 PM
That Bears defense is impressive, aren't they? They're second in the NFL in points allowed (14.3 PPG), they have the most interceptions with 14 and they have scored six touchdowns as well. That excellent defensive play makes up for the erratic passing behavior of QB Jay Cutler, who continues to frustrate Bears fans week after week. Then you look at their record, realize they are 6-1 and think "okay maybe we have something super here." Key word is super.
I think the Bears will have offensive success because of how poor the Titans defense is. What Chicago has to do is open up the deep passing game or at least try to because if you show a willingness to throw a deep ball then it opens up everything else. When I watch the Bears their offense is too conservative. Cutler has a big arm. Let him use it.
I like the Bears to control the clock, run the ball with Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall when they need him and of course rely on that defense to get you excellent field position as they roll to another victory against a team they are better than.
Miami (4-3) at Indianapolis (4-3) at 1:00 PM
It's a game where both teams are achieving considering one of them will be 5-3 after this game. I doubt many people had the Colts or Dolphins in line for a possible playoff push this year. Miami's built on defense and running the football while showing efficiency from the QB position whether it's Ryan Tannehill or Matt Moore. Considering they have a lackluster passing game, they should be commended for throwing only six INTs on the year so far.
The Colts victories have come from margins of three, three, four and last week's six-point win in overtime. They've definitely had luck on their side this year, pun intended. I think they're playing inspired football considering their head coach Chuck Pagano is at home recovering from leukemia. You can't deny the power of the human spirit in times like that. What worries me about them is they are -10 in turnover differential. They've had far too many fumbles and interceptions while not forcing the other team into mistakes.
This will be a close game. I'm leaning to the home team because Indy finds ways to make plays in the late stages of games. I think in this instance you'll see QB Andrew Luck targeting WR Reggie Wayne, who is having a great year once again. The Dolphins run game is the best in the league right now, so the Colts will throw and I think Luck will be able to move the chains with Wayne all game long. Give me the home team in another close finish for the Cardiac Colts. A new nickname? You're welcome.
Carolina (1-6) at Washington (3-5) at 1:00 PM
When I mentioned the Colts I talked about how many close wins they've had this year. These are the point differential totals for the Panthers six losses this year: six, 29, two, four, five and one. Aside from that blowout loss to the Giants in week three, they are keeping games close. The problem with them is they don't run the ball well enough and their passing game lacks weapons that would obviously help them on game winning drives.
The major hype going into this game is about the QBs because Panthers second- year QB Cam Newton and Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III are electrifying talents that we assume are going to be having playoff games against each other over the course of the next decade.
I think this has shootout potential. I know the Panthers is doing well by giving up 18.3 PPG, but I think they will have problems with Griffin as most teams do. I also think the Panthers will have their best offensive game of the year against a Redskins team that is as bad as the Saints, who were the only team the Panthers have beaten this year. Both teams will reach the 30s. I like the Redskins to win it late thanks to the late-game heroics of RG3.
Detroit (3-4) at Jacksonville (1-6) at 1:00 PM
I can't pick the Jaguars. I learned my lesson last week when I picked the Chiefs. Maybe if Maurice Jones-Drew was playing I'd pick them, but without their best offensive weapon this team has struggled mightily. Home field doesn't matter when the crowd knows it's a defeated team.
The Lions offense came alive last week with an impressive 28-point performance against a good Seahawks defense. I think they'll have similar success this week even without the superhuman performances by star WR Calvin Johnson.
Buffalo (3-4) at Houston (6-1) at 1:00 PM
I think this will be a blowout. The Texans are a very tough team to beat at home. Aside from the blowout loss to the Packers (hard to stop Aaron Rodgers when he plays like that), their average margin of victory at home is 24.7 points. That means they are beating teams by more than three touchdowns per game at home save that one exception.
On the other side of the ball, the Bills are prone to turnovers. The best way for the Bills to win games is if their running game gets going early and then it makes the passing game easier for them. I don't think they will run the ball that well in this game. That will lead to QB Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing a few costly interceptions that will then open up a big lead for the Texans.
I'll leave you with these two stats. The Bills are last in the NFL in points against by giving up 32.4 points per game. The Texans are second in scoring with 30.9 points per game. The Texans are rested and healthy coming off the bye. They're going to run star RB Arian Foster down the Bills throats (Bills are giving up 176 yards rushing per game) and cruise to a blowout victory.
Minnesota (5-3) at Seattle (4-4) at 4:05 PM
I think the Bucs' win over the Vikings last week was the blueprint of how you beat the Vikings. Simply put, they were the more physical team. The Bucs ran Doug Martin all over the Vikings and they dominated that game in every facet. The Seahawks game plan is going to be very similar to that with Marshawn Lynch getting a lot of touches while they build up a big lead.
The Vikings do have offensive weapons in RB Adrian Peterson and WR Percy Harvin, but their play calling is too conservative. They don't throw the ball downfield very much partly because their second year QB Christian Ponder can be shaky at times, but also because I think they have a tough time getting open.
I tend to pick Seattle at home as long as the opponent isn't somebody that I consider to be an elite team. It's the best home field advantage in football. Most players would agree with that too. It will be a tough environment for the Vikings to play in and I think because of that the Seahawks should cruise to a comfortable victory thanks to the solid running game that they are known for.
Tampa Bay (3-4) at Oakland (3-4) at 4:05 PM
I really like what I'm seeing from the Tampa offense. They have a good young QB in Josh Freeman, a dynamic RB in Doug Martin who is having a Pro Bowl season as a rookie and two WRs in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. The key for them is the offensive line. It seems like more than half of the OLs in the league are below average, but their group opens up running lanes and protects Freeman well, considering they've given up only 11 sacks on the year (fifth lowest in the NFL).
I'm not sure what to think about the Raiders. They should be able to run the ball better than they do and the passing game is pretty average, yet they find ways to stay in games. I guess it helps when you're coming off a two-game winning streak, because the last two teams you played are the Chiefs and Jaguars, who are probably the worst two teams in the league.
I like the Buccaneers here. I think their offense has figured things out and they're going to scare a lot of people to end this season. They'll probably finish with eight or nine wins and be one of those teams that everybody looks at next year as a potential playoff team. Their slow start will probably keep them out of the playoffs this year, but they are a team headed in the right directions.
Pittsburgh (4-3) at NY Giants (6-2) at 4:25 PM
I think a big reason for the success of the Giants is their offensive line. They're first in the NFL in giving up just seven sacks on the year, which is less than one sack per game. I think a big reason for Eli Manning's great play is that he has time in the pocket to find his receivers. Since the Steelers pass rush is no longer elite (only 12 sacks this year), I think they'll have a tough time slowing down the Giants' attack.
I know the stats say that the Steelers have the number one ranked pass defense, but that doesn't account for the penalties that Steelers CB Ike Taylor seems to commit every week. It seem like he does those back-breaking pass interference penalties more than anybody else in the league. Considering how much the Giants like to throw it deep they will use that to their advantage.
What I like about the Giants is how smart they are. They call a good game, they don't commit a lot of penalties, they limit mistakes as best they can and they have depth all over the place. They're the superior team to me. People tend to overrate the Steelers because of what they've been in the past and I get that. They've earned that right. Their passing game is very good and has carried them to a few of their wins. I just think the Giants are superior in a lot of ways. It may be difficult for the Steelers to slow them down.
Dallas (3-4) at Atlanta (7-0) at 8:20 PM
Atlanta's the only undefeated team left in the NFL this season, yet I'm not sure if they would be considered the favorites to make the Super Bowl. We still have two months before that journey begins, but if you're a fan of the team I would say who cares what other people think. Focus on the positives. They're scoring 28.7 points per game (good for fifth in the NFL) and to the surprise of a lot of people they're seventh in points against, as they give up just 18.6 points per game. The numbers don't lie. That's an average of a ten-point victory right there.
What worries me about Atlanta is they tend to play down to their opponent. They barely escaped with home victories against bad teams like the Panthers and Raiders. That scares me because those are the games where you should dominate from start to finish if you're an elite team. Maybe they've learned from those games, though. We'll see about that going forward.
I picked the Cowboys to win the NFC East. It's not going to happen. Too many mistakes. Injuries have hurt them too, especially in their run game that has become nonexistent when they need it. Their poor play late in games cost them the win against the Ravens and Giants that would have put them at 5-2 right now if they were able to execute better. The blame should go on head coach Jason Garrett for his poor play calling and also Tony Romo, who continues to make bad decisions at the worst times.
I like the Falcons here. I think they will play very well on the Sunday night stage with everybody watching them. Matt Ryan should be able to connect with his excellent group of targets Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. It's a hard offense to stop, especially when that no-huddle is working. I don't think it will be a blowout necessarily, but I'll go with the home team to win simply due to their ability to be consistent in all facets of the game.
Philadelphia (3-4) at New Orleans (2-5) at 8:30 PM (MON)
These may be the two most disappointing teams in the league this year. I actually had the Saints missing the playoffs before the year, which surprised some people, but I think their defense has absolutely killed them. They didn't do much from a personnel standpoint to get better on that side of the ball. That's why they're giving up 30.9 points per game, which is 30th in the NFL.
The Eagles are a mess. I don't think Andy Reid will be their head coach next year and it's possible that Michael Vick will lose his starting QB job next year too. This game will be good for them, though, because the Saints defense can make anybody look good. If Reid is smart he'll hand the ball off to LeSean McCoy 30 times in this game because the Saints run defense is 31st in the NFL, giving up 170.1 yards per game. Reid isn't always smart, though. He can be hardheaded and he probably wants to throw the ball a lot too. Once again the numbers are there. Run the damn ball.
If I believed the Eagles will run the ball 30 times then I would pick them. I don't see them doing that, though. By not running as much as they should, they will leave a lot of opportunities for Drew Brees and the Saints offense to put up points on the board. What's funny about the Eagles is that people think they have this great pass defense yet they rank 14th against the pass and have been susceptible to the deep pass.
I like the Saints to win here. The Eagles should win and could win if they ran the ball more than they do, but again I blame Andy Reid's stubbornness for not doing the right thing once again. Use McCoy! He's your best player. Instead, they'll call too many pass plays, Vick will make mistakes like usual and the explosive Saints offense will turn those mistakes into points.
The Degenerates Dungeon
This is where we give you some picks for our best bets of the week. Note that lines moves from the time we write this (Friday AM) to the time the games kickoff. We keep track of the odds and we'll use that to write down our records too.
Record so far:
17-23 (Last Week 2-3)
I need to do better. This is the week!
Buffalo @ Houston -10—Home teams that are double digit favorites haven't done well. This one will…I hope.
Dallas @ Atlanta OVER 47.5 —Feels like a shootout to me.
Minnesota @ Seattle -4—I have confidence in the Seahawks at home.
Tampa Bay +1 @ Oakland—The Bucs are 5-2 against the spread this season. I wish I bet on them more this year.
Detroit @ Jacksonville UNDER 44—With Calvin Johnson banged up I think the Lions will have trouble putting up points. Good for the under.
That's all for this week.
John Canton is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can read more of his work at his website TJRWrestling.com along with his talented staff of writers. He also writes a lot about the NFL at TJRSports.com, so check him out there as well! You can follow John on Twitter @johnreport too.