NFL Week 9 Predictions: Straight Up, Against the Spread and Over/Under
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Picks Record Through Week 8
Straight Up: 77-39 Against the Spread: 67-49 Over/Under: 57-59
Just when I thought I was having a weak picks’ season, I decided to check myself against the experts at CBS Sports. Much to my joy, I find that I have a better winning percentage than Prisco, Judge, Freeman, Richard and Brinson. Even better, I am leading my pool. Hurray! Onward to Week 9:
Here’s a question: is it possible to be the Comeback Player of the Year—if you’ve never been there to start with? I ask, you see, because Alex Smith is playing like an actual professional quarterback. Whatever Jim Harbaugh is telling him should be bottled. So, can he be “back?” If Tommy Maddox can be the Comeback Kid, then I guess so can Alex Smith. Wow.
I, like every other football fan in America, have a new opinion on Tim Tebow. Regular readers will remember that I keep saying No. 15 is being shopped. But, since there are not any top-level WRs left in the Mile High City, I wasn’t sure how they were going to make Timmy look good enough that anyone would want to trade for him. But now I think I know: the Broncos are going to sell Tebow as a half-back. Yes, I’m serious. They’ve thrown in the towel on him as a QB, taken away anybody good for him to pass to and now will let him run around like crazy for the next 8 weeks. That way, Elway can pitch him as a runner. It really does make sense if you think about it. Depressing, but logical.
Can we all just gather our wits for a moment and acknowledge Andy Dalton? The Red Rifle (and you know you’ve arrived when you get a nickname like that!) was drafted 35th overall last April. That means Cincy avoided giving him first round money and got a franchise QB at the same time. Not bad.
The 24-year-old managed a 63.1 percent completion rate in in October. He throws for 63.4 percent in wins and 60.3 percent in losses. I’m thinking that, if he weren’t such a good human, Tebow would kill for numbers like that. Dalton’s QB rating in October was 83.1. Not great, but a lot of veteran signal callers aren’t faring as well.
Most importantly and impressively, Andy has led his team to a 5-2 record and they could be in position to make a Wild Card bid come December. Yes, the Bengals.
Dalton and first rounder A.J. Green look set to make a ten year run as the next dynamic QB/WR duo. Of course that’s what we thought about Palmer/Johnson too. Gee, and we were all feeling so good about things in Cincy.
Finally, can someone please teach football players how to stretch? If I owned a NFLfranchise and had lost the entire off-season to a lockout, I would make yoga mandatory. I am so sick of seeing these athletes losing weeks out of their careers due to hamstring injuries that are directly proportional to a lack of training camp. It’s tragic—and avoidable.
Let’s pick some games.
Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs
Seeing a pattern?
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Straight Up: Kansas City
Against the Spread: Kansas City -5.5
Over/Under: Over 39.5
Fans of excellent quarterback play—watch something else.
Before Week 8, the Dolphins had scored seven touchdowns in six games. They managed two in the first half Sunday before falling apart again. Matt Moore is an enigma: Sometimes he’s Mr. West Coast efficiency—like during the first two quarters last week. And then he gets absolutely slammed with sacks in the second half.
The good news is that Reggie Bush earns a week free of my barbs after achieving 103 vertical yards against the Giants. The bad news is that center Mike Pouncey was knocked out of the game with a head injury. The worst news is that Miami has averaged less than 13 points per game in the past month. They’ve given up 20.7—very hard to win that way.
For the record: Sparano’s house didn’t just go up for sale. It’s been on the market for over six months.
There is a real estate slump going on, you know. And Cowher swore publicly that he is going to be behind the NFL Today desk in 2012. Marty Schottenheimer just had a lot of fun in the UFL. I’m just saying.
Kansas City is no fluke, folks! I certainly would not want Todd Haley coaching my kids, but I think he is a true Coach of the Year contender. Lose star RB, star TE, star DB, start the year 0-3 and suddenly, he has them playing like a living example of the “next man up” philosophy.
No Jamaal Charles, enter Jackie Battle. No Tony Moeaki, enter rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin and former Cardinal Steve Breaston. Two of these guys were third on the depth chart in September.
I have to admit that I had to look up that depth chart to even be able to comment on the defensive side of the ball. For example, did you know that both KC CBs are named Brandon? Me neither, though, of course, I have been following Flowers since he was drafted in the big push to turn this team around. Hero safety Kendrick Lewis has as many tackles this season as he had all of last year.
In the past three weeks, this team that we had all left for dead has averaged 26.3 points per game on offense while giving up only 14.7. That, my friends, is heart.
Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans
Welcome to Cleveland
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Straight Up: Houston
Against the Spread: Cleveland +10.5
Over/Under: Under 41.5
Montario Hardesty has a torn calf muscle. Honestly, can anything else go wrong with the Browns running game? Probably—but I can’t think of it at the moment. This leaves Chris Ogbonnaya as the starting running back.
Mr. Ogbonnaya was signed two weeks ago off the Houston practice squad. Lovely.
Meanwhile, Colt McCoy continues to struggle as he and Joshua Cribbs try to carry the offense alone. If Colt could find that fourth quarter switch of his and access it in pregame, things would go a lot more easily for the Browns.
The Browns D is excellent, but the offense has to start coming up with at least 17 points. That’s the winning Dilfer formula.
He says that is what he used to tell them in the huddle in 2000: “Come on, guys. We only have to score 17 points, and the defense will do the rest.” That worked out pretty well for everybody.
Matt Schaub ran for a touchdown last week. I had to read the crawl twice to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. I guess you do whatever you have to when Andre Johnson is on the sidelines. Houston’s offense was, for them, rather pedestrian. Fortunately, Arian Foster was Arian Foster.
What’s wonderful is the defense, which is playing really well despite a new scheme and the loss of its best player. Why would Wade Phillips ever want to do anything other than coach D? He is obviously great at it. I feel sorry for the Browns. But they haven’t been losing by more than 10 points, so I will take them with this spread.
People are crowing about the Texans leading the AFC South. Uh, you’re facing a rookie QB, Chris Johnson is apparently still on his holdout and Indy is taking the year off. Let’s keep things in perspective.
Atlanta Falcons at Indianapolis Colts
I've got this.
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Straight Up: Atlanta
Against the Spread: Indianapolis +7.5
Over/Under: Under 45.5 (the Colts have scored 34 points in their last three games combined)
It’s funny; everyone has such a hard time trashing Jim Caldwell. He’s such a nice guy. Well, purportedly so are Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, and no one hesitated to call for their heads.
I knew it wasn’t going to work out when he cost Indy the playoffs last year with an ill-advised time out. Peyton is too classy to talk about it (and he has a few other things on his mind these days). But he knew at the time, as did we all, that calling that time out created a self-inflicted loss. If Indy can find a replacement, I don’t think that Mr. Caldwell will be back next season.
Painter and the offense are getting better, but this will hinge totally on whether or not the Colts D can make a dent in the Dirty Birds offense. I’m not holding my breath. As hard as it is to say, Indy's D is giving up 38.7 points per game.
Interesting trivia: Matt Ryan’s 2011 QB rating is 79.5. Curtis Painter’s is 75.1. Hmmm.
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys
One Man Sack Machine
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Straight Up: Dallas
Against the Spread: Dallas -12.5
Over/Under: Over 45
Pete Carroll—who gives this man jobs? He’s not that cute. This man told ESPN last weekend: “I was going to see if Charlie could pull it together and get something going for us."
First of all, that’s your coaching rationale for the most important position on the field? Secondly, who says something like that to the national media?
Next, you have one of the best rushers in the NFL, and you can’t manage 100 yards per game on the ground? What the…?
The Seattle defense is certainly trying, and I hope that Jason Garrett is taking them seriously since they have been giving up only 238 yards through the air.
As for the Dallas D, I have to hand it to Rob Ryan in the accountability department: He totally owned up to being outcoached Sunday. Ya think?
The way things have been going, Dallas will probably wake up and win big. But I see no real future for this group—so much talent and so little winning.
Here’s a thought: Maybe the San Diego and Dallas front offices can get together and swap a bunch of talented pieces around. Who knows? Maybe they’ll end up with better chemistry all the way around.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints
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Straight Up: New Orleans
Against the Spread: New Orleans -7.5
Over/Under: Under 51.5
Apparently Sean Payton is a bigger part of the Saints’s success than any of us knew. I always figured it was 50/50, Payton/Brees. But ever since Sean got hurt, this team is not itself.
I think Payton has been pushing No. 9 for the record books the last two weeks. It’s going to get him hurt, so let’s rethink that plan. You have Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles versus a Bucs D allowing over 153 yards every week on the ground.
I would write off last week as a letdown game except that it was running up the score unnecessarily the week before that led to the letdown—kind of a self-inflicted trap game.
The Saints had better get it together because the Buccaneers will come back from the bye and that London loss determined to win in their division. And they might get LeGarrette Blount back to pound the rock.
OK, Vilma and the Saints D, time to come back from sloppy-land and play like a championship unit. Drew has been carrying you on his arm all year—enough. If you can’t prevail against an offense that has managed only 16 points a week for a month then I give up on you.
I’m sorry for the young Bucs (well, except for Ronde of course). They’ll get there, but this is a season in which all of the pundits who said they would be hurt by the lockout are proving to be absolutely right.
New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
It's not fair. But it's time.
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Straight Up: New York Jets
Against the Spread: New York Jets -2.5
Over/Under: Over 45 (yet another stadium with sunny and mild weather—no wonder everyone is scoring a ton of points)
The winner of this game will still be in the playoff hunt. The loser not so much. That’s simply the math.
I like both of these teams a lot. I like their coaches a lot. They couldn’t be more opposite men at first glance. But the bottom line for both is treating their players with respect and making the players believe that their coach believes in them.
See how that works?
Well, it works if you have character players. I think Sanchez, Tomlinson, Jackson, Fitzpatrick and a bunch of defenders on both teams certainly qualify.
Statistically, these teams are even, except in one area. The Bills run D is highly suspect. Tomlinson will be thrilled. So would Shonn Greene if he had any idea how to run in the NFL.
Come on, Jets O-line. Let’s do some run blocking. You used to know how to do this. This Sunday would be a good time to remember.
This would also be a good week for No. 6 of Gang Green to have a good showing. I’m pulling for you, Mark. Pretend it’s January or something.
San Francisco 49ers at Washington Redskins
Toughness wins out? Maybe.
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Straight Up: San Francisco
Against the Spread: Washington +3.5
Over/Under: Over 37.5 (only because Shanahan had his first shutout last week and he will be aggressive)
San Francisco at my poor Redskins—I may not be able to watch.
However, if the 49ers have a trap game this year—this is it. I’m not saying that they won’t probably win, but they’d better come in focused and not jet-lagged. I’m going with the ‘Skins strictly on the home underdog theory. Apparently others agree since this spread started at 4.5.
Now, the Redskins have averaged 11 points in the past month. Last time I checked that was not going to cut it in the NFL. Particularly when your D has allowed over 25 points per game. I’m not a numbers whiz, but this does not seem like a positive ratio to me.
Meanwhile, Harbaugh is using what I call the Roethlisberger rookie formula for Alex Smith: 100 and something yards in the air, a tough as nails D and a rushing attack worthy of Richter scale readings.
And it’s working. I think Jim understands Alex’s struggles because his own career was defined by mental and physical toughness, resiliency and perseverance. Some of us are old enough to remember Mike Ditka constantly screaming at the young Harbaugh on the sidelines. And Jim handled it and went on to become the first decent Colts QB of the modern era.
Smith has had several thousand offensive coordinators and a fanbase and media determined to make him a failure if he didn’t turn out to be Joe Montana. Add in two significant shoulder injuries and I, too, was shocked when Harbaugh kept No. 11 in the Bay Area.
Maybe they have their own, blue-collar/tough guy version of the Brees/Payton mind meld. I hope so. It would be nice to see success for both the team and a former No. 1 pick who seems like a decent human.
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans
Catching our eye.
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Straight Up: Cincinnati
Against the Spread: Cincinnati +2.5
Over/Under: Under 42—another perfect fall day for football (60s and sunny). Fans are lucking out all over America this year.
Cincy will be without Jermaine Gresham again on offense and Maualuga on defense. But they get back Cedric Benson to tote the rock.
Meanwhile, both running backs and all of the remaining WRs and the O-line are all available for Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans offense.
That would be a good thing if RB Chris Johnson showed any signs at all of wanting to run the football in 2011. Every week we say, “OK, he’ll be back this week—he’s had enough snaps now to make up for the holdout.”
And every week he is stuffed again. Maybe he needs an eye exam. Rumblings are getting louder that he should be benched in favor of smaller but more productive backup Ringer. I’m with the rumblers.
Defensively, the Bengals are killing it. On paper, this should be no matchup at all. Tennessee is giving up darn near 30 points every week. The Bengals: 16.3. Wow.
Each team has only beaten one good opponent all year, but Cincy seems to be rolling while Tennessee seems to be flailing around in the deep end.
The Titans should be by far the better team, but I have to go with Cincinnati on numbers and momentum.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Hey, what's your name? Pick up that guy, will ya?
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Straight Up: Oakland
Against the Spread: Oakland -7.5
Over/Under: The line is 42.5. Oh, for heaven’s sake, who knows? It could be 36 points or 52!
Hopefully, Carson Palmer has made good use of the bye week. I know that he talked his new team into hiring old buddy T.J. Houshmanzadeh. I think this is a great move. Deion Branch is not an elite WR, but when he plays with Tom Brady he scores. T.J. is on the wrong side of the age curve, but I’ll bet he and Carson make the most of their second chance.
Unfortunately, with McFadden hurt this week, Carson will probably rely too heavily on T.J.
But you know that Denver is bad when I’m picking the Raiders by more than a touchdown, and they are missing five of their best players on both sides of the ball. Geez.
We talk about players for whom we feel sorry. Tim Tebow is climbing rapidly to the top of my list. It’s starting to look now as if they are just hanging him out to dry.
John Fox has always ignored his quarterbacks, but you’d think Elway would have somebody down there in the kid’s ear. I really don’t want to see his spirit broken.
Remember what happened to Patrick Ramsey? And he had more NFL potential than Tebow does! It’s getting truly painful to watch.
I don’t even know what to suggest except to give the ball to Willis McGahee and hope that Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins have a few more INTs left in them.
New York Giants at New England Patriots
Stop. Right. There.
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Straight Up: New York Giants
Against the Spread: New York Giants +9.5 (this line has rolled around from 9.5 to 10, so I’m going down the middle)
Over/Under: Over 51
Yes, I’m going to do it. I’m going to trot out that old stat about how the Patriots never lose two games in a row. Well, they don’t.
Tom Brady continues to put up points with two TEs and a tiny slot receiver. Brady is approaching legendary execution at the quarterback position. He is completing over 67 percent of his passes—with no deep threat.
What a shame that Randy Moss couldn’t hold it together in the personality department. They would be the greatest combo since Young and Rice.
And now Mr. Third Down Conversion, Kevin Faulk, is back in the offense. Do not underestimate this guy’s value to the team. If he could play DB, he’d be the second coming of Troy Brown in the value department.
On the other hand, the New York Football Giants have a quarterback who is quietly putting together quite a season. I swear, if Eli would breathe through his nose people would think he was a better quarterback.
Manning the Younger has 13 TDs to 5 INTs, a QB rating of 102.1 and is completing almost 65 percent of his passes. Even more importantly, after the game teammate Chris Snee said (via ESPN), “We thought we were still going to win the game, and that's just the confidence we have, and that stems from Eli." See what I mean? I still hear him being called average.
The Giants need to thank the owners for a lockout that prevented Brandon Jacobs from leaving for greener pastures, particularly now that Bradshaw is hurt.
And can we please stop calling WR Victor Cruz a surprise? Anyone who saw preseason last year knew he was a star. He just got hurt. Yet another reason to watch in August, folks.
I just think that the Pats's streak has to end sometime.
But New York does have quite a few injuries to extremely key players. Center Baas is out, Ahmad Bradshaw is out, Hakeem Nicks is out and tackle Stacy Andrew is out. This pick does not apply if Jason Pierre-Paul does not play for New York.
Green Bay Packers at San Diego Chargers
How did it all go so wrong?
Peter Aiken/Getty Images
Straight Up: San Diego
Against the Spread: San Diego –5.5
Over/Under: Under 52
With all of the focus on the bad luck in San Diego, the bad coaching in San Diego, the sputtering offense in San Diego—how about we look at the excellent pass defense in San Diego? That of course is the key to this game.
Can highly paid but almost anonymous safety Eric Weddle and his cohorts stop Aaron Rodgers's seemingly endless supply of top-notch WRs? I don’t know, but I’m going to watch them try. Anchored by Weddle, the squad features senior Quentin Jammer and rookie starting corner Marcus Gilchrist. Gee, which side do you think Aaron is going to target?
Once again Ryan Matthews will be useless to the Bolts, and this time we’re not sure that backup RB Tolbert can play. I hope so; he’s tough as nails and a big asset. Plus both star WRs Jackson and Floyd are hurt.
Oh dear. Fortunately, Gates is not on the injury list, which should be of great comfort to Chargers fans.
Ultimately, the Packers are the better team all the way around. But I hope that San Diego will not allow itself to lose three in a row.
St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals
Welcome to the Gateway City. Now, go deep.
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Straight Up: St. Louis
Against the Spread: St. Louis +3.5 (in some places this line has dropped to 1.5 due to Kolb’s toe)
Over/Under: I would go with the over 41 if Bradford plays, but if not—I don’t know. I don’t really see how the Cards can score with Skelton under center.
I’m sorry; you cannot make me care about this game. If Sam Bradford is back, I am mildly curious to see if he can connect with new WR Brandon Lloyd, and I never pass up a chance to watch Steven Jackson run. It's like watching a really big thoroughbred. But I cannot get excited.
Now Kevin Kolb is doubtful. Maybe Larry Fitzgerald can figure out a way to pass the ball to himself. It would have to be better than what he’s put up with since Warner turned to TB. You never know: John Skelton could be the next hidden gem at QB.
Uh-huh. Even their good running back is still battling injuries.
I would talk about the defensive battle, but I haven’t seen any defense on either team in 2011.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
Hi, your $%#&^ is mine. Everyone's $%$^$ is mine.
Jeff Curry/Getty Images
Sunday Night Football
Straight Up: Baltimore
Against the Spread: Baltimore +3.5
Over/Under: Sunny and pleasant. Wow. Lucky fans. Over 42. Barely.
Warning: You may need Bengay after merely watching this game. Can you even imagine how much the Steelers want to annihilate the Ravens on national television? It frightens me just thinking about it.
But I’m picking the Ravens due to Pittsburgh’s lack of starting linebackers. If Harrison does end up playing, you might reconsider.
Everyone is ragging on Flacco, and he certainly has struggled since playing so well in Week 1. But I love rookie Torrey Smith, and Boldin can be devastating over the middle and on short routes.
And Ray Rice is nothing short of tremendous. How he and Jones-Drew can carry their teams at their size is beyond me.
But they do it.
Mike Tomlin singled Rice out as the guy to stop. Right he is.
Flacco is passing for over 300 yards in the past three weeks, so let’s not call for the rookie backup just yet. But he’ll need a little more than 22 points Sunday when facing a Steelers offense that has suddenly become Air Coryell East. OK, not quite, but you know what I mean.
Ben Roethlisberger is killing my newlywed theory by playing this well in 2011. Maybe Mrs. Big Ben truly has him a changed man. I actually hope so for his sake.
Whatever the reason, No. 7 is finally playing the way a Super Bowl-winning QB should be playing. Without, I might add, any help from his O-line—still.
Side Note: Please throw a TD pass to Antonio Brown. I think I like the weird little Chaplin dance, but I’m just not sure.
The other injury that will affect this pick: If Ngata goes from questionable to out—switch to the Steelers.
Terrell Suggs on the NFL Network (via NFL.com): “The world will stop for this game.” Perhaps not, but my household sure will.
Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles
Shady on the loose.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Monday Night Football
Straight Up: Philadelphia
Against the Spread: Philadelphia -6.5
Over/Under: 40ish and partly cloudy—perfect autumn football weather. But neither team is allowing over 17 points per game. Under 47.5
The stats favor Philadelphia by 0.7 points. So, I would not recommend going over a TD on the spread.
The Chicago O-line has pass protected a bit better in the last couple of weeks due to the emergence of the running game, but I’m still sure that Jay Cutler is not thrilled that he has to play Philly after its defense has figured out how to function as a unit.
In the last three weeks, the ‘Iggles have given up only 205 passing yards per game. Matt Forte might not have a walk in the park either against the newfound Philly linebacking corps that has allowed less than 100 running yards recently.
The Chicago D had better be happy that the “old, slow and over” Pittsburgh unit has been taking the heat this season. Otherwise someone might notice that they have their senior moments as well. But this week it’ll have to try to keep up with Shady McCoy. Even though the D has been practicing against awesome Forte, this is going to be difficult—particularly since you need to keep an eye on No. 7 on any given snap. (McCoy had the flu this week but is reportedly much better.)
Chicago can win if and only if Cutler stays upright and has a really, really accurate day. I expect him to try to get a lot of balls to his college buddy, Earl Bennett. Good news for Jay and Bears fans: Gabe Carimi is probable again at tackle.
Let the second half of the season begin!