The nationally televised games for Sunday of NFL Week 9 are games that looked at the start of the year like possible AFC divisional playoff round games. That is, until Pittsburgh and Houston fell apart and took some of the shine off these games. Even so, Steelers-Patriots and Colts-Texans make for good late Sunday afternoon/prime-time viewing, and that leads into Monday Night’s NFC North tussle in Lambeau Field, as the Green Bay Packers host the Chicago Bears.
Week 9 began with Cincinnati’s Thursday night visit to Miami, a game that has already been previewed by TheSportsNotebook as a part of a broader look at the Thursday/Friday sports action now that the World Series is over. Here we’ll take a look at the remaining twelve Week 9 games.
As usual, the moneyline odds for an outright win are posted next to each team. As usual, TheSportsNotebook will make a pick. Something that did not go as usual, is that last week’s picks actually ended up in the black. I finished (+255) on the Week 8 games, and my fourth winning week. But–back to as usual–the wins are never as strong as the losses, and my season-long bottom line is still (-1640).
The national TV games…
Pittsburgh (+210) New England (-250) (4:25 PM ET, CBS): Pittsburgh’s defense no longer has what it takes to pressure Tom Brady and get him rattled off his game. There was a time when the attacking Steeler 3-4 might have done that, but those days are long gone. Lamarr Woodley is the only real pass-rush threat, and with just one to key on, the Patriot protection schemes should be able to keep Brady clean in the pocket.
New England still hasn’t been able to get a cohesive rhythm going offensively though, and the word that Rob Gronkowski has now tweaked a hamstring might further slow their efforts to get all the receivers/tight ends playing in harmony with the veteran quarterback.
What the Patriots are doing is running the ball, and the defense ranks in the top five against the pass. If the Steelers are going to have a chance, they need to run the ball. We’ve seen flashes from the running game and Le’Veon Bell, but nothing consistent. Even though the Pats are a solid favorite, (-250) at home is still a fair price to buy them at, as the great week of Boston sports continues.
Indianapolis (-130) Houston (+110) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): What am I missing here that the Colts are a such a cheap favorite? I know Indianapolis is without Reggie Wayne and over the long haul, that’s going to be a big deal. But this is still a team that’s beaten Denver and San Francisco, is coming off a bye, has a steady running game, a havoc-wreaking pass-rusher in Robert Mathis and an improving young quarterback in Andrew Luck.
Did I leave anything out? Only that Houston is still going with Case Keenum at quarterback, has nagging injuries slowing both Arian Foster and Ben Tate and still seems to be a team in dysfunction. I know you have to respect the value of homefield, but if Indianapolis is going to show they have the consistency necessary to be a Super Bowl team, this divisional game is a good place to start.
Chicago (+390) Green Bay (-500) (8:30 PM ET, ESPN): Green Bay might be slowed by injuries to most of their receiving corps, but the Packers are steadily doing most everything well. Aaron Rodgers makes enough plays in the passing game to cover for a lot of ills, they’re running the ball and they’re doing an excellent job defending the run.
That leaves pass defense as a possible vulnerability, especially with pass rusher Clay Matthews out with a broken thumb. But the Bears are playing with backup quarterback Josh McNown. I know he looked very good when he came in for the injured Jay Cutler two weeks ago in Washington and has had a bye week to get caught up to speed. The flip side is that an opposing defense also gets prep time for him, and whatever the flaws of the Green Bay defense, they aren’t the Redskin D.
All of which is to say that I look for the Packers to put the Bears in a two-game hole in the NFC North. And judging from that size of that moneyline, I’m not the only one.
Two games in the early 1 PM ET window that will be seen by large portions of the country…
Kansas City (-155) Buffalo (+140): The Chiefs aren’t getting a lot of respect from the betting markets, as this (-155) price is very cheap for an undefeated team playing a non-contender, even on the road. But such as the consequence of Kansas City’s close games against weaker teams, and Buffalo’s ability to spring upsets on Baltimore and Miami.
No one wants to take the Bills lightly, but they still don’t defend the run well, and the Chiefs should be able to get into their offensive rhythm behind Jamaal Charles. The price is reasonable enough to pick KC to get to 9-0.
Minnesota (+355) Dallas (-450): Dallas is still beat up with injuries on defense, namely Demarcus Ware, and they’re beat up coming off a loss at Detroit that they should have won. Minnesota is not the team to take advantage of this though. Adrian Peterson has only rushed for 571 yards in seven games, and he’ll probably need to go for 150-plus if the Vikes are to have a chance. The Cowboys big weakness is inconsistency, but coming off a loss maybe that makes it a good time to grab them.
Seven more games will be seen by mostly local audiences…
New Orleans (-250) NY Jets (+210): I wish Fox would have chosen this game over Vikings-Cowboys to show to a broader audience. The Jets aren’t as bad as they looked last week and are still 4-4. I’ve still got the Saints on the top line of NFC contenders, a status shared only by the Seahawks. This game should be good, as Rex Ryan’s defense bounces back, but not enough to beat New Orleans.
San Diego (-115) Washington (-105): This a tale of two teams. The Redskins are at least as talented, if not more so, and they’re playing at home. The Chargers are more disciplined, more consistent and playing with more cohesion. Philip Rivers seems to have his health back, while RG3 is coming off the worst game of his NFL career.
I’m not making a pick here, because as a Washington fan I won’t go against my own team, and I genuinely believe this is a pick-’em either way. But whatever happens on Sunday in FedEx, San Diego has played football in a way that deserves respect, while Washington has not.
Tennessee (-145) St. Louis (+125): I’m not sure that I’m sold on Jake Locker, but the Titans were looking good early with him at quarterback, and they had their running game and defense clicking. Locker is healthy again, and if Tennessee can win a road game like this, they can get back in the AFC South race. I’ll pick them to do it.
Baltimore (-130) Cleveland (+110): We’ll see if Baltimore’s bye week helped them fix their offensive line problems. At the very least, I’m sure they solved enough of their issues to beat the Browns.
Atlanta (+290) Carolina (-350): Carolina’s playing some good football right now, and after Atlanta’s poor showing in Arizona last week, I’m no longer holding my breath on a Falcons’ turnaround. However, that was Stephen Jackson’s first game back and if he’s got his sea legs back, it will give Matt Ryan some help. I also can’t believe Ryan will play as poorly as he did last week.
I’m picking Atlanta simply because I don’t believe the gap between these teams is as wide as the moneyline suggests. That’s way too much exposure to risk going with the favorite.
Philadelphia (+115) Oakland (-135): The Raiders are doing a good job defending the run, and if they can limit LeSean McCoy, Oakland will be in good position to win and get to 4-4, something very few would have expected. In this rematch of the 1980 Super Bowl, I’ll take the Raiders.
Tampa Bay (+810) Seattle (-1300): All that’s in play here is whether Seattle can get its running game back up and going after a sluggish Monday Night showing in St. Louis last week, and thereby control the game enough to cover a two-touchdown spread. If they lose at this price it wipes out whatever hope of a moneyline comeback I have this season. But realistically, it’s a free (+100) with a win, and the Seahawks are the only realistic play on their homefield against a winless team.