Here are my NFL Week 9 Picks
(11-3 last week, 77-42 for the season)
Bye teams: Cardinals, Ravens, Lions, Texans, Chiefs, Seahawks
Cle @ Cin – The Browns will start QB Johnny Manziel this week in Cincinnati, throwing the young player at one of the best teams in the league in a road game at a hostile stadium on a short week. That might be the dumbest thing thing Cleveland has done in the last ten years, and that includes drafting Manziel in the first place. Look, I’m all for starting your young guy, McCown isn’t taking you anywhere, and you need to see once & for all what you have so you can make decisions in the offseason. But this is the worst possible week to do it, and the Browns keep showing every single season why America doesn’t take them seriously. I even root for Cleveland, I want them to be competitive, I want my fellow Ohioans to have a team they can be proud of. But while the Bengals keep improving, the Browns keep sliding backward, making idiotic choice after idiotic choice. Perhaps Manziel comes out firing, wins the game, and proves me wrong. But though I’d immediately own up for getting it wrong, I’m not too worried. Cinci is having one of those special seasons, they’re focused, and they won’t lose in Week 9.
Mia @ Buf – The magical possibilities of the AFC East seem to be fading away. Tom Brady and the Patriots are running away with the division, while everyone else battles for mediocrity and the slim hope of a Wild Card slot. Right now, the Jets have the best claim, though even they aren’t doing wonderfully, losing their last two games. That leaves the Dolphins and the Bills to keep off the bottom as best they can. Miami seemed to be turning things around after a dismal start, firing their head coach and stringing together a couple wins. Well, they’re still only 3-4, and things aren’t looking so grand. Same goes for the Bills, after some surprising wins behind Tyrod Taylor. Recently the shine has worn off and Buffalo finds themselves below .500, desperate for a win to get them back on track. Of the two teams, Buffalo seems to have the best shot of coming away with a victory this week. They’re at home, have a better offense than Miami, and are actually 1-1 against the AFC East, while the Dolphins have gone 0-3. Advantage Rex and his boys, though don’t look for them to be around come January.
GB @ Car – Color me shocked that the Packers played so poorly in Denver last Sunday Night and that the Broncos played so well. As a Denver fan, I was calling for a change; bench Peyton, take the ball out of his hands, change the offense, something, anything, because the way the defense was winning every game was not sustainable. Well, Gary Kubiak used the bye week to its fullest. I’ll get into that later, but for now, let’s note that Mike McCarthy did not. Green Bay looked flat, that offense that should be so great sputtered, and the defense that had allowed the least points in the NFL (less that even the Broncos’ stellar unit) let Denver run all over. The Packers need another bye to figure out what just happened, but unfortunately they have to go to Carolina instead. The Panthers escaped a matchup with Indy with a win, though barely. It was a weird, wet game, and I understand how the defense could let its foot off the pedal. But don’t do that again, especially against a team like Green Bay who could turn it on at any time. The Pack should pick it up, this could be a great game, but edge goes to the unbeaten home team.
STL @ Min – With Todd Gurley running the ball like a madman, the sky’s the limit for the surging Rams. Establish the running game, play solid defense, don’t ask too much from Foles; that’s a recipe for success. And with a 4-3 record (only 1 & 1/2 games out of the first place in the NFC West), the postseason is a possibility. Scoring points is a bit of a problem, as St. Louis has only scored 10 more points than they’ve allowed on the season. BUT, they’ve allowed the second least in the NFC, so this defense can win games, as long as Gurley keeps munching clock. Who’s the team that allows the least points in the NFC you ask, if the Rams are #2? That would be Minnesota. The Vikings are a very similar team actually, relying heavily on defense and the run game, trying not to ask too much of their young quarterback. Peterson running, defense playing lights out; Minnesota is only one game out of 1st place in the NFC North, since the Packers lost last week, and should be relevant come playoff time. So this is a big game for both teams, and the deciding factor could be home field; STL is 1-2 on the road, Min is 3-0 at home.
Was @ NE – Kirk Cousins wants to know if we liked that, and, for me, the answer is no. You played well, guy, but your team is 3-4, allows more points than it scores, and has yet to win a road game. Critics are critical for a reason, they watch game footage, and both the tape & the stats say that you’re a bad quarterback on a bad team. The Redskins have the opportunity to improve; they have a young QB and a young head coach. But the RG3 disaster has put them in a hole that their talent isn’t strong enough to pull them out of quite yet. Congrats, you beat the Buccaneers by a point at home. Can you do the same in Foxboro? THAT we might actually like. For the Patriots, I don’t think any criticism exists. What is there to critique? New England is undefeated, has scored the most points in the AFC, and show no sign of slowing down. Tom Brady will most likely be the league MVP, and deservedly so, especially after the rocky offseason he put himself through. The Pats are playing with that legendary Chip O’ the Shoulder, and shouldn’t be counted on to lose any time soon.
Ten @ NO – And the Titans have fired their head coach, after two of the worst seasons we’ve seen in a long time. What was it, 3 wins total in two years? Not great, and not enough for a team to pay you millions of dollars. I could coach a bad team into irrelevance, I’d only charge 100k, save you some money. The only problem I have with this is the fact that Tennessee wasn’t amazing when Whis got there, they drafted a good kid, were in the process of possibly improving; was he really given a legitimate shot to succeed? Oh well, goodbye, and now the Titans are left to flounder. Their defense is pretty good, but they can’t score points, which is the reason why they’re 1-6 right now without much hope of changing that. The Saints are working on changing things up, winning their last 3 games after starting 1-3. Drew Brees threw 7 TDs last week to outduel Eli, and the Saints now have a realistic chance of making the playoffs. They’ll need to keep winning, and you shouldn’t expect Brees to give a repeat performance, but you can count on a win here, at home, vs a team that’s going through a bit of a rough time.
Jax @ NYJ – It seems like decades since the Jaguars were a good team, since Mark Brunell was leading them to the playoffs and defying the odds. But as recently as 2007, Jacksonville went 11-5, made it into the postseason, beat the Steelers, all behind David Garrard, Fred Taylor, and a solid defense. That seems like ages ago, like a culture of losing has existed since the city got a team, like they have the 1st pick in the Draft every season. How quickly we forget about past success, and how quickly bad culture can be established. I don’t know why I bring that up, since it has no baring here, and the Jaguars are just as awful as they have been in recent memory. They shouldn’t pose much of a threat to a Jets team in New York, even if the latter isn’t playing great ball at the moment. The Jets were 4-1, but are now 4-3, losing their last two games and the sense that they’re right behind the Patriots. New York still has a solid defense, is still 2-1 at home, and should still win this game. But the time to dethrone New England might be over, now you just need to set your sights on a Wild Card spot, and don’t overlook the Jaguars.
Oak @ Pit – The Raiders have become adept at the surprise win, taking out teams that never saw them coming. But that time may be fading, as more & more people around the NFL understand that the Raiders might actually be for real. I always said that Oakland wouldn’t be any good until Al Davis died; look what’s happened since. Now, this isn’t a Super Bowl-caliber team, they don’t have a very good defense, and they still seem a little undisciplined. But the Raiders are here to win, so you better take them seriously. The Steelers would be well-advised to be very careful here, as one more big loss could knock them right out of playoff contention. Big Ben is finally back, but now Le’Veon Bell is out, so one step forward, one step back. But Pittsburgh did play Cincinnati to a close game last week, almost beating them even without their star running back and with Ben feeling a little bit rusty. He’s had a couple of weeks to loosen up, is playing at home, and gets an easier team than the Bengals, so look for the Steelers to win here. It should be a very close game, possibly high-scoring, so don’t miss it.
Atl @ SF – I warned ’em, I talked about how Atlanta better be careful, how they were looking very shaky and better fix their issues before their issues caught up with them. Well, they lost to the Buccaneers in Atlanta, which is pretty embarrassing, so hopefully the team now understands that they’re very far from perfect. The defense needs to step up, the offense needs to find some consistency, and everyone needs to calm down, because this is still a good Falcons team that can play in January, they just need to stop telling themselves how good they are and start solving problems. This is the week to do it, even though it’s a road game, because the Niners are a trainwreck. Not only is San Francisco 2-6 and has scored the least total points in the league, but they just got rid of Vernon Davis for practically nothing and they benched Colin Kaepernick. We get to see Blaine Gabbert, what a treat, and that viewing should include some of the worse quarterback play you have ever seen. This year’s Niners are an embarrassment to the franchise, and I’m sure they can’t wait to get this season over with. This is the only road win I’ve picked so far, and that’s saying something.
NYG @ TB – Eli throws 6 TDs and his team can’t win? That’s just sad. The Giants’ defense let Drew Brees throw 7, which is just ridiculous, especially when your team is completely in the game. New York is frustrating as a whole, since the NFC East is wide open to them and they can’t completely claim it, due in large part to very bad road play. And yet they still lead the division, which tells you how bad the division is. If the Giants could just tighten up a bit, run the ball away from home, they could easily clinch the division within a few weeks and take a breather. And while this week features a winnable game, it’s not a gimme. The Bucs won their first home game and then a tough road game in Atlanta. They’re very far from becoming a good team, but Jameis is winning every once in a while, and can’t be entirely ruled out as an opponent. If the Giants don’t focus here, they will lose this game to a team that ultimately has no playoff aspirations. But I think Coughlin will have made their lives miserable after that 49-52 loss last week, and I have a feeling that the G-Men will play well because of it.
Den @ Ind – It’s hard to explain how sad the Broncos were making me, which seems silly since they were undefeated. But I knew that winning wasn’t sustainable in that fashion, that if we didn’t fix something we’d make the playoffs only to find a quit exit. Well, Kubiak drilled offensive line production into the minds of his players during the bye week, and the result was perfection. The line blocked, the run game flourished, Peyton had less pressure, he was able to step into his throws, and we actually scored points. The defense secured the No Fly Zone as usual, and the Broncos beat the mighty Packers. And now Vernon Davis is on board, morale is up, and this could be a magical team. Yes, a game in Indy isn’t easy, and I’d even give the Colts a solid chance at home, were they playing at all like the team we thought they’d be coming into the season. But man are they bad, shockingly so, 1-3 at home, 3-5 overall, and following Luck into disastrous loss after disastrous loss. Denver should dominate this one, as long as last week was a gameplan and not a fluke.
Phi @ Dal – The Eagles aren’t doing …awful …though their 3-4 record is far worse than they had hoped for coming into the season. Their offense is OK, their defense is OK, and Chip Kelly has stymied some of the talk about losing his job, though I’m sure that’s still a fluid situation. Philly is actually only a half game out of first place in the division, and could overtake the Giants if New York fails to shut the door. Coming off a bye week, we could see the offense play a little more in rhythm, and it helps that they get to face a reeling Dallas team. The Cowboys turned to Matt Cassell after losing Tony Romo and benching Brandon Weeden. Well, how’d that go? Dez may be back, McFadden might be running well, but without a quarterback to complete a pass and a defense to rely on, there’s only so much you can do. I could see this game going either way, depending on who has a better day, Bradford or Cassell, and this matchup should tell us a lot about how much genius Chip Kelly has left in the tank. For the Cowboys, just hold on until Romo gets back; the division might not be decided by then.
Chi @ SD – This used to be a good rivalry, Cutler vs Rivers, Denver vs San Diego, with a shouting match or two thrown in for good measure. But I don’t know how much of that lives on. Cutler is the forgotten quarterback, with no one even talking about his mood swings, let along his bad team. The Bears are awful and should only get worse, with Matt Forte sidelined with an injury and some wholesale changes coming in the offseason. I don’t look for them to get any late-season bursts of power, and I doubt we see many players back with the team next year. The same goes for the Chargers, as their pathetic play should land them in an awkward situation come this offseason. Rivers might be the only one to stay, and he’s played fairly well, but he has no leadership and no ability to put this team on his back when they’re playing this terribly. However, we’ve seen East teams fly West to lose in the nice weather before; it’s the West teams that San Diego can’t beat at home. So let’s say the Bears fly out, play badly and lose, but that’s not giving much credit to the Chargers, and this shouldn’t be a very watchable game.