This week, I am going to be trying to do something a little different. Nothing crazy, but after the picks today there won’t be an extended editorial part of this piece. The past week or so has brought a lot of college work, and that takes priority over writing, no matter how much more I enjoy writing. So unfortunately the fun part of this column, at least in my opinion, will be absent but at least you still get picks. On the plus side, I should be able to do extended Week 9 reviews, and Thursday night previews this week as the workload is getting lighter this week. With that said, onto my week 9 NFL picks.
This week’s slate of games is not great, but there are a lot of games that intrigue me or have some significance despite us only being at the halfway point of the season. I’m off to a great start with the Bengals beating the Browns on Thursday(fun fact I am 6-2 with my Thursday night picks this year). I have a pretty good feeling about this week, which probably means that I am headed for another 7-6 since that’s how it seems to work. As always, all stats are from ESPN or football outsiders unless otherwise noted.
I think the Bills might finally look something resembling healthy this weekend. Sammy Watkins is questionable, and Tyrod Taylor is probable. The last time these two teams met, the Bills destroyed the Dolphins 41-14. This time around the Dolphins are a different team, but I think the result will be similar this time around. Losing Cameron Wake is a huge blow for the Dolphins defense that was just starting to get pressure on the quarterback. I am picking the Bills because they have proven to be the better team, plus the Dolphins success came against the Titans and the Texans. Those are two teams that we are pretty sure are not good this year. Give me the Bills
I have gone back and forth on this pick multiple times. The Packers, Aaron Rodgers specifically, have struggled against good defenses this year. The Panthers have a good defense. On the other hand, picking the Panthers is risking Aaron Rodgers having a really good game and just roasting Carolina. I am picking the Panthers. This is not the same Packers team. They really miss Jordy Nelson, as no one other receiver has stepped up and filled that void he left behind. The Packers have also played an easy schedule so far this year(ranked 23rd thanks to football outsiders), and have been wildly inconsistent in those games(ranked 29th in variance at football outsiders). While they have not been really challenged yet, the Packers have yet to show that consistency that made them an elite team in the NFC. The Panthers have been much more consistent, and I am taking the Panthers(again with little confidence).
Drew Brees is back everyone! He threw 7 tds last week against the Giants, which tied an NFL record! Oh wait what’s that? Turns out the Giants have one of the worst passing defenses in the league, 26th according to football outsiders, although throwing for seven TDs is impressive no matter what. Anyway, the Titans this week have one of the worst run defenses in the league, so look for Mark Ingram to have a great game. Marcus Mariota is playing, but no one really knows what the Titans will look like under their new coach. It can’t be that much worse right? That would be pretty hard. The Saints are the better team, not by much, but still the better team. They also rank in the top 10 for offensive DVOA, while the Titans rank dead last. Give me the Saints.
This is a key game, as each of these teams is still very much in the thick of a wildcard race, neither really has any hope of getting a division title. Both of these teams are in the top ten in the league when it comes to offensive DVOA, although the Steelers just lost arguably the league’s best RB in Le’Veon Bell. I think that loss really hurts them. Yes DeAngelo Williams looked like a good rusher in filling in for Bell, but he did not impress catching passes out of the backfield. That is where Pittsburgh is going to miss Bell. They are missing that dual-threat, every down RB. This game also feels like a statement game for the Raiders. They can show to the NFL that they are no longer to be a joke, that this team is for real and is a serious threat to make the playoffs. I want to see what the Steelers offense looks like without Bell before I pick them, give me the Raiders!
The Todd Gurley show continues this week against the Vikings. This is a problem for the Vikings for a bunch of reasons. First, they have the 26th rushing defense according to DVOA. That looks promising for Gurley. Second, Gurley might be the best running back in the league right now after only a few games in the league. It doesn’t matter to him who he faces, he is going to destroy them. Third, and this one is similar to the last one. But Gurley feels like this year’s version of the rookie who just destroys the league. Last year Odell Beckham went on a 12 week run of excellence, Gurley might be in the midst of a similar run. Each year, one rookie just looks like he is a six year veteran right away. Gurley is that guy. Another plus for the Rams is their excellent defense. They get Teddy Bridgewater this week, and he has not made that leap that many expected him to make this year. The Rams could be a sneaky pick for best NFC team, and are a legitimate playoff team.
Not wasting many words here. The Patriots are the team that I, and many other people, consider to be the best team in the entire league. It’s not that Washington is one of the worst teams, the Pats are just that good. I won’t be picking against them this year(except for maybe the Denver game… TBD) so they are my pick for this Sunday. Don’t overcomplicate it. Brady is having a great year, and gets a Washington secondary that is not great. Who is going to cover Gronk? Although I agree with Bill Simmons when he says that if they get up a couple scores that Gronk should be removed and sent to the stands. He is that important. Not as vital as Brady, but close. Another reason to pick the Pats is the fact that if you didn’t you would be choosing Kirk Cousins over Brady. Don’t overthink it, take the Pats.
Another case of not overthinking it. The Jets should win this game, they are better than you think this year. They may be 4-3, but says their estimated win total is 6.8. 6.8! That is the 2nd most estimated wins in the league behind only the Patriots. The Jets have faced the 9th hardest schedule, but it is getting easier from here on out. The Jets have a suffocating defense that should not have too much of an issue shutting down Blake Bortles. The X factor is at QB for NYJ. Fitzmagic is playing, but if he leaves that means relying on Geno Smith. I doubt even he could screw this game up, but you never know… it is Geno Smith. This defense should be able to win the game for the Jets even if the QBs screw it up a bit. Give me the Jets
Please give me a reason to pick the 49ers!! The Falcons might not be that good? They are going up against Blaine Gabbert. The 49ers have played the toughest schedule in the league up to this point. True but Blaine Gabbert is their starting QB. Using that estimated wins stat I referenced earlier, the Falcons should only have 3.9 wins instead of 6. Alright, but they are playing against Blaine Gabbert on Sunday. That’s like having 12 men out there on defense. Are you sensing a common theme here. I don’t care what the reason is to pick the 49ers, the trump card is that Blaine Gabbert is starting at QB. The Falcons also really need a statement win here, and have been given a great chance to do so. Give me the Falcons.
That was some Giants/Saints game, with 13 passing tds in the entire game. I’ll take the under for that in this game. Neither of these teams has a good defense, but the Giants get Jason Pierre Paul back this week. He could be a positive, granted we aren’t really sure what to expect from him. I will say he contributes something simply because they probably would not put him out there unless they felt confident that he could do something positive in the game. Eli Manning is looking to continue what is going to easily the best game of the season(unless the G-men make the playoffs and he does something incredible there), but he does get to go up against another one of the league’s worst five passing defenses this week. Him and Odell should make sweet music this week, leading the Giants to a victory.
Is anyone picking the Indy, Colts fans excluded, after seeing what the Broncos did last week against Rodgers and the Packers. This may be one of the best defenses in the last 20 years, good luck Andrew Luck. Oh yeah, let’s not forget about the reports from last week that said he is potentially playing through fractured ribs. Peyton Manning might not have to throw a TD in this game for the Broncos to win. Luck leads the league in interceptions with 12. Peyton just happens to be second on that list with 11. The difference is that the Colts defense has not been scary good this year. Even if Peyton has a bad game, I think the Broncos D is good enough to lift them to victory.
In one corner we have Sam Bradford and the Eagles. In the other corner we have Brandon Weeden/Matt Cassel and the Cowboys. I really hope that their is a third option. Oh there isn’t? Fine, I feel less bad about picking Sam Bradford so, the Eagles it is. DVOA really likes the Eagles defense this year, ranking them third overall. That’s ahead of the Rams, Jets, Cardinals, and Seahawks defenses. Dez Bryant will pose a threat that needs to be contained, but other than that no one really scares you on the Cowboys(unless Greg Hardy runs onto the field to play on offense. the week 9 review should have some of my thoughts on that deadspin report). This is also a revenge game for DeMarco Murray, and the Cowboys have a below average run defense. This is a must win game for the two teams that entered the year as the favorites to win the NFC East, but I think Philly comes away with the win.
Alright I have to be perfectly honest: Even as a Bears fan, I think that this is an awful Monday Night game. Even when the schedule was being made, no one should have been saying “wow I bet midway through the year people will want to see the Bears and Chargers play”. Unless you love the Cutler/Rivers rivalry, there is not much intrigue for this game other than the fact that it is the only football game on that day. When you look at some stats, this game does take an interesting turn. The Bears have the 31st ranked pass defense in the league, and Philip Rivers has been one of the best QBs in the league this year. He is on pace so far to break Peyton’s single season passing yards mark. The Chargers meanwhile have the league’s worst run defense according to DVOA. Matt Forte may be out, but Jeremy Langford should be able to show why he is being labeled as the Bears RB of the future. I picked the Bears because I trust Jay Cutler against the Chargers secondary, more than I trust the Chargers O-line to be able to open up any holes to run through. The Bears should win this game, but that has not meant much so far this year.
Best eliminator picks: Bengals(nailed it), Saints, Jets, Patriots, and Falcons. Deeper pick: Rams or Bills or Bears.
Enjoy Week 9!
Ted Van Green(@TVG_5)
Spark Sports NFL Analyst