NFL Picks Week 9: Picking Winners for Sunday's Marquee Matchups

Brian Mazique@@UniqueMaziqueCorrespondent IIINovember 4, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 28: Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins looks on from the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 28, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 27-12. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

It looks like both the Carolina Panthers (1-6) and Washington Redskins (3-5) could miss the playoffs (that's a definite in the Panthers' case) but the QB matchup makes this a high profile game.

The 2011 NFL Rookie of the Year goes head to head with the man that looks destined to win the honor this season. Robert Griffin III has to be watching the struggles Cam Newton is enduring in his second season and wondering what his second year will hold.

Before he gets that far, there is still much work to be done in his rookie campaign.

The Redskins are coming off a loss at Pittsburgh in Week 8. The Steelers did a good job containing RG3 as a runner. He rushed for only eight yards on six attempts against the Steelers.

This was his second lowest rushing total of the season. He was held to seven yards against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5, which was the game he suffered a concussion, per ESPN.

The Panthers showed an ability to get after the quarterback in their heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 8. Despite outplaying the Bears much of the game—which included sacking Jay Cutler six times—they lost 22-21 on a last-second field goal by Robbie Gould.

In this game, the Panthers figure to have a shot at grabbing their second win of the season. Washington's secondary has been shameful all seasons.

When they aren't getting beat for inexcusable deep passes from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz in Week 7, they are imploding emotionally like DeAngelo Hall did against the Steelers in Week 9 (perspective and story per Greg Bradshaw of Rant Sports).

These two examples are a microcosm of a season that has the Skins' pass defense ranked last in the NFL. Cam Newton and Steve Smith should have a field day against this team.

The Panthers' challenge in this game obviously starts with containing RG3, but they must also be wary of Alfred Morris.

While RG3 has deservedly grabbed much of the headlines, Morris has been as consistent as almost any back in the NFL. the 23-year-old rookie out of Florida Atlantic has rushed for 717 yards, seven touchdowns and he's averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

Stopping the Skins overall rushing attack is paramount.

RG3's receivers must do a better job of holding on to passes. They dropped a number of balls against the Steelers, and that certainly didn't help the team's cause.

Even though the Skins are at home, I'm taking the Panthers to win this game. Carolina has been within one score of every team they've lost to this season, except for the Monday night blowout loss to the New York Giants in Week 3.

They'll finally grab a close victory in this one. My prediction is: Panthers 32, Redskins 28.

Here are two other major games on Sunday's NFL schedule.


Steelers Will Clip The Giants

After Week 9, you won't hear Ben Roethlisberger or Mike Wallace complain about Todd Haley's offense anymore, (referenced by CBS Sports). The dink and dunk strategy is the perfect approach to moving the ball against the New York Giants.

The Giants have relied heavily on turnovers over the last four games—all wins. Many of them have come on moderate to deep passes. The team has forced or been the beneficiary of 16 takeaways/giveaways in that span.

That's four turnovers per game; you better be on a four-game win streak with that stat in your favor.

Safety Stevie Brown has been especially opportunistic. He's picked off four passes in that time frame. 

These turnovers have been huge for the Giants, but they aren't likely to get these opportunities against the Steelers. Pittsburgh's ball control offense has been boring, but effective.

They have a league-low six turnovers on the season. Hell, the Dallas Cowboys turned the ball over six times against the Giants on Sunday alone.

Their defense has been stout this season as well. They are No. 1 against the pass and No. 9 against the run—this only helps them control the tempo and momentum of the game.

They will take the air out of the ball and grind their way to a road win over the Giants.

My prediction: Steelers 23, Giants 14


Cowboys Will Hand The Falcons Their First Loss

The Cowboys are too talented to keep coming up just short in close games. Despite the aforementioned six turnovers against the Giants, they still had a shot to win the game at the end.

This team is ranked third in the NFL against the pass and offensive passing yardage. Their biggest problem has been turnovers. Only the Kansas City Chiefs have more giveaways than the Dallas Cowboys.

Were it not for turnover issues, the Cowboys could easily have two or three more wins.

Atlanta has played a series of close games that could have gone either way before they handily beat the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 8. The Falcons have been really good this year, but they have also been lucky.

They have transitioned to an offense that throws the ball 60 percent of the time, but that run/pass ratio works in the Cowboys' favor. The Cowboys haven't generated a ton of sacks, but they have succeeded in holding teams to less than 200 yards per game through the air.

They haven't been trailing in every game, so this stat isn't a product of teams going into run-only mode. The secondary has played well in most every game. Their secondary play gives the Cowboys a bit of an edge in a game that could be a pass-happy battle.

The Falcons haven't faced an offense with passing weapons like the Cowboys all season. In a few of the close games they've won (Redskins in Week 5, Oakland in Week 6) a primary passing target like Dez Bryant or Miles Austin could have been the difference.

Look for Dallas to clean up their sloppy play, create more balance with the run game and for them to limit the intermediate throws from the Falcons. This Falcons' team is not a strong candidate to run the table.

If you play in enough tight games—especially against talented teams—you're bound to come up short at some point. The first loss is coming this week; Dallas is due.

My prediction: Cowboys 35, Falcons 24


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