NFL Picks Week 9: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks
We've reached both the month of November and the second half of the NFL season, at least for some teams.
As Week 9 gets underway, the number of undefeated teams has been whittled to four, with the Green Bay Packers falling from the ranks of the unbeaten compliments of a Mile High mauling at the hands of the Denver Broncos.
We've also seen a second head coach get his walking papers. On Tuesday morning, the Tennessee Titans bid adieu to Ken Whisenhunt after less than two years at the helm in Nashville.
What, 3-20 isn't good enough for them?
All four of the league's remaining perfect teams will be in action this week, including a second straight tilt against a team with no losses for the Packers.
However, it's another unbeaten team where we'll begin this look at how Week 9 will play out, according to the National Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report.
It was all a ruse!
Through the first eight weeks of the 2015 season, only one of the prognosticators here at Bleacher Report sported a sub-.500 record. That would be Captain Upset himself, known to most by his secret identity of NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter.
However, Schalter was apparently just showing everyone some light before he slammed the door, as he was one of three scribes who hit on double-digit games in Week 8.
NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman didn't get quite that many correct, but with a 9-5 mark in Week 8, Freeman has recaptured the overall lead for the year.
Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 8-6 (73-46)
Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 9-5 (79-40)
Brad Gagnon: NFL Analyst 10-4 (75-44)
Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 8-6 (78-41)
Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 10-4 (62-57)
Brent Sobleski: NFL Analyst 10-4 (76-43)
Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 7-7 (71-48)
Sean Tomlinson: NFL Analyst 8-6 (73-46)
Consensus: 9-5 (79-40)
Cleveland Browns (2-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-0)
The Pick: Cincinnati Bengals (All Sane People-0)
The Cincinnati Bengals didn't earn any style points with their Week 8 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fact, it was the epitome of an ugly win.
However, it was a win—a win that gives the Bengals a stranglehold on the AFC North. And successful teams need to be able to pull out the victory even in games where they aren't at their best.
Of course, about this time last year, the Bengals were in about the same boat. Sitting at 5-2-1, the Bengals played host to a bad Browns team on Thursday night.
And as ESPN.com's Coley Harvey wrote, Dalton, well, didn't have such a good night:
The game was perhaps the worst of the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback's career. From a passer rating standpoint, it was historically bad. Focusing on that one statistic specifically, it was the most disappointing single-game outing by an NFL signal-caller in 31 years, and one of the five ugliest performances from the position within the past half-century.
So it wasn't very surprising that Dalton tried to smile around the topic Monday.
"Well, it obviously wasn't my best game," Dalton said, laughing as he owned up to the 2.0 passer rating he had that night. "It was a one-time thing. You can't let anything like that creep into your head because we are in a much better place now than we were last year. You have to do whatever it takes to play the best game that we can play."
In case you were wondering (you know you were), Dalton's numbers that night...10-of-33 (seriously), 86 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and a passer rating of 2.0.
However, even Andy "Oh no it's a night game!" Dalton can't be that bad against the same opponent two years in a row.
Especially when that opponent is the Clowns.
Yeah, I said it. And I've been a Browns fan since the days of Brian Sipe and the Kardiac Kids.
Browns: Hey, they led the Cardinals 20-10 at halftime last week. Sadly, NFL games have two halves.
Bengals: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Green Bay Packers (6-1) at Carolina Panthers (7-0)
The Pick: Green Bay Packers (6-2)
The Green Bay Packers weren't just knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten last Sunday night. They were punched right in the mouth by the Denver Broncos.
As NBC’s Cris Collinsworth shrewdly pointed out late in the game, Aaron Rodgers did not throw once to the primary read in his progression. His second and third reads were often covered as well. As the game unfolded, the Broncos’ noisy pass rush started getting home, turning the hits it’d been laying on Rodgers into sacks. If not for a handful of Broncos penalties, this would have been a drubbing. It probably was anyway; Green Bay’s passing game netted a mere 50 yards. And it didn’t even look that efficient.
The reflexive reaction is: Hey, the Packers’ offense wasn’t itself Sunday night. The problem: Yes, it was. The Packers’ passing attack has been incongruous throughout this season. That’s why I hoped to talk to the receivers a few weeks ago. Since then, the offense has only been wobblier, culminating in Sunday night’s face-plant.
Things don't get any easier for the Packers in Week 9, as they are once again on the road against a team that has yet to taste defeat this season.
However, Bleacher Report NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon predicts a Panthers team that outlasted the Indianapolis Colts in overtime last week is about to join the one-loss club:
It's been more than five years since Aaron Rodgers last lost back-to-back games, and I think he and the Packers will be ready to make a statement against a young Carolina team on short rest after a draining Monday night victory over Indy.
The overwhelming majority of our panel agrees.
Packers: Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Panthers: Davenport, Schalter
Washington Redskins (3-4) at New England Patriots (7-0)
The Pick: New England Patriots (8-0)
Do the Patriots ever play on the road, or has Bill Belichick's mastery of the dark arts allowed him to warp reality to the point that all games involving the Patriots are played atop Mount Hoodie?
Sunday's matchup with Washington marks the third straight game at Gillette Stadium for the Patriots, a building in which the team sports the highest home winning percentage of any team in the NFL.
Of course, it hasn't mattered which building the Patriots have played in this year. New England is 7-0 on the season, which has spurred rumblings as to whether the Pats can duplicate their unbeaten regular season of 2007.
In fact, as Peter King of the MMQB pointed out, the commonalities between this season's Patriots and that 16-0 team include a home tilt against Washington:
One of the reasons the story is a bit symmetrical is the schedule. NFL teams play each of the four divisions in the opposite conference once every four years. In 2007 the Patriots played the NFC East, just as they’re doing this year. And because the divisions alternate home-and-road every four years, and it’s been eight years since the Patriots ran the table in the regular season, New England’s schedule against the NFC East is the same as it was in 2007—at Dallas and New York, home to Washington and Philadelphia. It’s particularly timely to write about the parallels this week because the home game against Washington was the Patriots’ eighth game of the 2007 season, and it’s their eighth game this season.
Back in 2007, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots annihilated the Redskins 52-7 in Week 8.
The score may not be quite that lopsided this time around, but our pundits are unanimous in picking the Patriots to post a perfect first half of the 2015 campaign.
Redskins: Um, no.
Patriots: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Tennessee Titans (1-6) at New Orleans Saints (4-4)
The Pick: New Orleans Saints (8-0)
The demise of Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints may have been somewhat exaggerated.
A few weeks ago, the Saints were 1-4 and left for dead. Brees was washed up. Head coach Sean Payton was on his way out the door.
Fast forward three weeks, just as many wins and seven Brees touchdown passes last week against the New York Giants, and as ESPN.com's Mike Triplett reports, the narrative is just a bit different:
For three straight weeks now, we have seen an aggressive, attacking and confident Saints offense that took those traits to an extreme in Sunday's 52-49 victory over the New York Giants.
"I visualized it," said Brees, who tied an NFL record for touchdown passes in a game and finished with a career-high 511 passing yards. "It wasn't quite this big; I tried to make it realistic. But I guess this is our reality."
The Saints are still only 4-4 after their first three-game win streak since 2013. And they have an awful lot of work left to do to crack the playoffs.
But it took some serious self-confidence for the Saints to pull themselves out of that 1-4 hole, and that confidence has only grown since.
Granted, the Saints are still a mess on defense (Eli Manning threw six touchdown passes last week), but that may not be as big a worry in Week 9.
Let's put it this way. The Tennessee Titans thought naming Mike Mularkey interim head coach was an improvement.
In other words, the Titans are terrible.
Titans: Did I mention that the Titans are terrible?
Saints: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Miami Dolphins (3-4) at Buffalo Bills (3-4)
The Pick: Miami Dolphins (5-3)
The Miami Dolphins got the proverbial bucket of cold water in Week 8.
Actually, given the 36-7 thrashing they received at the hands of the New England Patriots, it may have been more like a bucket of cement.
In the opinion of Andy Cohen of the team's website, it isn't hard to figure out the difference between the Dolphins team that's won three games and the one that's lost four:
As the running game goes, so goes the Miami Dolphins. If anything has become clear over the first seven games of the season, it is that. A one-dimensional attack won’t suffice. This team needs balance. This team needs a large dose of Lamar Miller to succeed.
The numbers clearly tell the story. In the three victories, Miller has averaged over six yards a carry. In the four defeats he has averaged just below three yards a carry. Think that makes a difference? You bet it does.
You can break it down anyway you want. You can talk about the fast starts being crucial, about the pass rush needing to dominate, about the turnovers and the takeaways. But when you get right down to it, there is no more simple formula for victory than those three important words: RUN THE BALL.
Getting Miller going this week in Buffalo may be easier said than done, as the Bills enter Week 9 ranked sixth in the league in run defense at 91.9 yards per game. They also pounded the Dolphins 41-14 back in Week 3. In Miami, no less.
However, this is is also a Bills team that was last seen getting rolled by the Jacksonville Jaguars in London.
And it can be hard to have too much faith in any team once the words "rolled by the Jacksonville Jaguars" enter the conversation.
Dolphins: Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Bills: Davenport, Gagnon, Tanier
St. Louis Rams (4-3) at Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (8-0)
Fans of the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings haven't exactly had an abundance of things to cheer about in recent seasons.
However, at the midway point of the 2015 season, the two teams are a combined 9-5. Both are in the thick of the playoff race in the NFC.
Given the Packers' loss at Denver last week, the Vikings are only a game out of first place in a division very few people gave them a shot at winning entering the season. And ESPN.com's Ben Goessling believes the next challenge the Vikings face is one of acclimation.
Acclimation to the fact they're good:
The Minnesota Vikings are on their first three-game win streak since 2012 -- the last time they went to the playoffs -- and they've posted back-to-back road wins in the division for the first time since 2009. They're just a game back of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, and they've earned enough respect that their Nov. 22 game against the Packers has been moved into a late-afternoon national TV slot.
In other words, they're somewhere between Stages 2 and 3 of Mike Zimmer's Four Levels of NFL Learning. ...
Zimmer said Monday he's talked to the Vikings for a while about how there are four things a team has to learn in the NFL. "First you learn how to compete, then you learn how to win, then you learn how to handle winning, and then you learn how to be a champion.
"So we’re somewhere in that stage of learning how to win and learning how to handle winning. But we’re still young. These are things that we have to understand."
If the Vikings are going to continue through the syllabus, they have to pass tests like this week's matchup with the Rams.
Our voters expect them to do just that.
Rams: No indictment of the Rams. No jokes. Were the game in St. Louis, this vote would likely look considerably different.
Vikings: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) at New York Jets (4-3)
The Pick: New York Jets (7-1)
The New York Jets just can't have anything nice.
After starting the 2015 season 4-1, a bit of the air was let out of the Jets' big green balloon in a Week 7 loss to the New England Patriots.
Then came last week's thumping at the hands of the Oakland Raiders. Suddenly the Jets are 4-3 and fighting to keep pace in the AFC wild-card race.
Adding injury to insult, the Jets also lost starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to an injured thumb in the game. An MRI revealed torn ligaments.
But wait, there's more!
Backup Geno Smith also injured his shoulder in the game, and according to ESPN.com's Rich Cimini, he isn't a sure bet to be ready for the Jacksonville Jaguars if needed:
An MRI on Monday confirmed a torn ligament in Fitzpatrick's non-throwing thumb. He will require surgery at some point, said coach Todd Bowles, who nevertheless didn't rule him out as the starter this week.
Bowles said Fitzpatrick's availability will be based, in large part, on pain tolerance.
Smith, too, underwent tests on his non-throwing shoulder, and they revealed a "big bruise," said Bowles, adding there was no structural damage.
Asked his confidence level in Smith or Fitzpatrick being able to play Sunday, Bowles said: "Right now, not very high. It's Monday, the day after. The guys are pretty sore. I'll have a better feel on Wednesday."
It would appear that the team dodged a bullet, however. As ESPN's Adam Schefter relayed Wednesday, "Todd Bowles announced Ryan Fitzpatrick will start Sunday, bad thumb and all."
And just about everyone on the panel thinks that will be enough to get the Jets past the Jags.
Bad thumb and all.
Jets: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Oakland Raiders (4-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4)
The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) ***COIN FLIP***
By just about any objective measure, Week 8 was a disaster for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions in his return from a knee injury. The Steelers fell at home to the Cincinnati Bengals, all but ceding the AFC North title in the process.
Oh, and star running back Le'Veon Bell was lost to a knee injury of his own. For the season.
Like I said...disaster.
So why did half our panel (and the Quarter of Knowledge) pick the shorthanded Steelers to knock off an Oakland Raiders team coming off one of their biggest wins in years?
Tomlin's Steelers beat (Western) teams at Heinz Field 77.78 percent of the time. They're 7-2 at home against the West.
That's high, even for the Steelers' amplified home field advantage of the past 25 years. Since 1990, according to SportingCharts.com, Pittsburgh wins 77.16 percent of its games in Pittsburgh, which is second-best in the league in that time span.
Under Tomlin though, the Steelers are even better at Heinz Field. They already beat the San Francisco 49ers there in Week 2 and came back against the Arizona Cardinals with Landry Jones at quarterback down the stretch.
Or it could be that while the Raiders are improving, the Steelers are a battle-tested perennial contender with their backs against the wall.
Or maybe it's because they won't be dressed like convicts or bumblebees this week.
Raiders: Gagnon, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Steelers: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter
New York Giants (4-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)
The Pick: New York Giants (6-2)
The New York Giants pass defense is really bad.
How bad is it!?!
Sorry. Obligatory pop-culture reference that people under a certain age won't even get.
Anyway, the Giants pass defense really is bad. Like 505 yards and seven touchdowns allowed in a loss to the New Orleans Saints last week bad. Like an NFL-worst 315.4 yards per game allowed through the air bad.
As Ed Valentine of SB Nation wrote, that puts defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo on a collision course with the sort of history no one wants to make:
During the 2012 season, Steve Spagnuolo had the misfortune of coaching a New Orleans Saints defense that ranks as the worst statistical defense in NFL history, surrendering a league-record 7,042 yards. At its current pace, the Spagnuolo-coached 2015 New York Giants defense is ranked last in the league and would end up the second-worst defense of all time, on pace to surrender 6,851 yards.
Does that make Spagnuolo the worst defensive coordinator of all time? Of course not. This is the same guy who built an aggressive, quarterback-crunching defense that helped the Giants win the 2007 Super Bowl. It means that Spagnuolo, as he indicated way back when he first met the media in the spring, is not a miracle worker.
"This isn't a on and off switch where, boom, all of a sudden we're back to 2007 and we pick up where we left off. It doesn't work that way," Spagnuolo said during his first meeting with the media back in May. "I'm not a magician. No coaches are magicians."
So why pick the Giants against an improving Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad?
Easy. They're the Giants. They lose when they should win, win when they should lose and do any and everything in their power to cause their fans indigestion.
They've become quite adept at it.
Giants: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson
Buccaneers: Gagnon, Sobleski
Atlanta Falcons (6-2) at San Francisco 49ers (2-6)
The Pick: Atlanta Falcons (8-0)
After two losses in three games (sandwiched around an unimpressive 10-7 win over the woeful Titans) followed a 5-0 start, the bloom has come off the rose a bit for the Atlanta Falcons.
And as the Sports XChange reported (via the Albany Herald), it isn't hard to pinpoint the reason for Atlanta's recent struggles.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is still testing out the offensive system installed by new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Ryan is clearly not comfortable with some of the fancy ball-handling requirements and the turnovers are starting to mount.
Ryan’s performance in the 23-20 overtime loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday was a bit uneven and must be smoothed out before the Falcons face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.
Ryan was able to move the ball at will against Tampa Bay. The Falcons didn’t have to punt. But all of that good work was put on the back burner because of four turnovers, three of which Ryan had a personal hand in.
It doesn't matter how good you are, or how bad your opponent is. If you continually turn the ball over, you aren't going to win many games in the National Football League.
Luckily for the Falcons, their Week 9 matchup with the 49ers should provide a cure for all that ails any NFL team.
That cure? Blaine freaking Gabbert, who will replace the floundering Colin Kaepernick at quarterback for San Francisco.
Yes, that's right. Kaepernick has been so bad that he's being benched.
Falcons: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
49ers: Click on that link. Watch the video. You can thank me later.
Denver Broncos (7-0) at Indianapolis Colts (3-5)
The Pick: Denver Broncos (7-1)
Over the past several weeks, there have been any number of narratives surrounding Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. And despite the fact that the Broncos kept winning, most of those narratives weren't flattering.
Manning didn't have the arm to beat teams deep anymore. He was throwing so many interceptions because Father Time had caught up to him. The forehead was finished. Nationwide was most certainly not on his side. His chicken parm, in reality, tasted like an old shoe.
However, as Troy Renck of the Denver Post reported, there was just one problem with these narratives. A problem that became evident after the Broncos slapped the Packers around last Sunday night.
Someone forgot to tell Manning:
To understand why Peyton Manning's performance Sunday night dripped significance, don't watch the game. Watch when Manning was watching.
He conversed with teammates. He smiled. He discussed options with boss Gary Kubiak, rather disappearing to the bench for long stretches to talk over plays with quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp.
Manning was engaged. And revived. After seven months of tinkering, talking and adjusting, Kubiak and Manning found common ground in the hybrid offense.
The 39-year-old completed 21-of-29 passes for 340 yards, showing vintage accuracy and timing. Manning returns to Indianapolis, his former home, needing 284 yards to eclipse Brett Favre's career passing mark. Manning sits one win shy of breaking Favre's all-time record. Both have 186 victories.
In other words, Manning has a chance to earn just about the only two career records he doesn't already have Sunday afternoon. In the town where he made his bones. Against the team that cast him aside.
The Colts are toast.
Broncos: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) at Dallas Cowboys (2-5)
The Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (8-0)
The 2015 season has not proceeded according to plan for the Philadelphia Eagles.
An offense that was supposed to be a juggernaut has pitched and lurched all over the place. An improved secondary looks a lot like last year's lousy one, just more expensive.
And yet head coach Chip Kelly insisted to reporters,including James Parks of 247Sports, that the Eagles are fine coming out of the bye, including embattled quarterback Sam "Oopsie" Bradford:
Faith in quarterback Sam Bradford was again confirmed today. The NFL’s second most frequently intercepted passer got another vote of confidence from his coach, albeit brief. Kelly said that Bradford was doing a good job. When asked to elaborate, he said Bradford was doing “a nice job.” Then followed an awkward moment of silence. He said the only thing keeping the offense out of sorts now is dropped passes. The Eagles dropped eight in their last game, their most since 2006. Those are chief among what Kelly diagnosed as their biggest problem: missed opportunities.
OK, so "fine" may be a stretch. Still, it could be worse.
When it comes to things not going according to plan this year, the injury-ravaged, five-losses-in-a-row-and-counting, growing dumpster fire that is the Dallas Cowboys comes to mind.
Compared to that, things are just peachy in Philly.
Eagles: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Cowboys: Miss Tony Romo yet, Dallas fans? Somebody deserves an apology.
Chicago Bears (2-5) at San Diego Chargers (2-6)
The Pick: San Diego Chargers (5-3)
Remember when Monday Night Football was the highlight of the sports week?
Yeah, me neither.
It's not bad enough that this week's Monday nighter features two teams with a combined record of 4-11. Oh no. Now the game will also be played without the top offensive playmaker on each team.
Both Chicago's Matt Forte (knee) and San Diego's Keenan Allen (kidney) will miss the game.
In fact, as Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, in the midst of a career year, Allen's injury earned him trips to both the hospital and injured reserve:
He joined the team on its flight back to San Diego from Baltimore but was hospitalized that evening when his symptoms worsened. Allen underwent what was described as a minor, non-surgical procedure Monday to stop the bleeding, and he remained hospitalized as of Tuesday morning. He'll be placed on injured reserve in the afternoon.
Allen, 23, caught 67 passes the first eight games.
That is tied for the third-most in NFL history. He also totaled a team-high 725 yards and four touchdowns, the latter shared with tight end Ladarius Green for the team lead.
The injuries strip an already lackluster matchup of much of its watchability, so going with the home team seems as wise a course as any.
As ESPN's Jon Gruden will no doubt say 38 times during the slopfest to come...
Bears: Davenport, Miller, Tanier
Chargers: Freeman, Gagnon, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson