NFL Week 9 Picks

As we alluded to last week, the mid-point of the NFL season is upon us. The biggest story in the NFL this week was the trade deadline scramble that saw numerous big names change teams. Some teams are doubling down while others are focusing on development, lending additional clarity to the league pecking order. Next Thursday the SportsIntel editors will handout their mid-season awards so be sure to swing by then, but for now let’s get smart on this week’s games!

Picks by Danny

Denver Broncos (3-4) @ Philadelphia Eagles (7-1); Line: Iggles by 7.5

This match up looks rather one-sided on paper and for all intents and purposes should be a snoozer. The Eagles have the NFL’s best record playing at home against a Broncos team that is trotting out a new quarterback after a string of recent losses putting them on the verge of losing the season. Despite those reasons I think that this is a compelling match up. The Eagles have been good all season, but they have yet to face a truly elite defense. I will be closely watching how the Eagles O-line holds up against an elite front seven. The last couple of weeks I feel like the Eagles have played down to their competition for portions of the game. I don’t think the Broncos are going to win, but wouldn’t be shocked if they did. I do think the Eagles offense will be grounded to a degree but could really benefit from the Broncos offense turning the ball over. I’m picking the Eagles by 5. Eagles 21, Broncos 16

Atlanta Falcons (4-3) @ Carolina Panthers (5-3); Line: EVEN

I’m really torn on who to pick in this game and apparently so are the odds makers. The Panthers, you could argue, have met expectations thus far this season. The Falcons have not. Offensively there is probably no better roster in football, but they sure haven’t played like it and the defense has regressed to the mean. Both teams have losing records at home, where they have only managed to win one game a piece this year. Inconsistency has plagued both teams and it makes me wonder which teams will show up this Sunday. I don’t have a whole lot of trust in Cam Newton, but I do believe in that defense. It is not a perfect unit, but it will be the strongest unit on the field Sunday. I’m giving a slight nod to the Panthers at home. Panthers 20, Falcons 18.

Kansas City Chiefs (6-2) @ Dallas Cowboys (4-3); Line: EVEN

Once again Ezekiel Elliot  made it on to the active roster for the Cowboys. For the first half of the season, many have been expecting the hammer to drop on Elliot. I believe he will eventually have to serve his six-game suspension, but he has been able to help this team stay in the mix. With how well the Eagles are playing, the Cowboys are close to falling out of the division race, but with two games against Philly yet to be played they have a chance. The Chiefs on the other hand control their own destiny. If they can continue to win they hold the tie-breaker over the Patriots due their week 1 upset in Foxboro. I’m a fan of Alex Smith; he rarely dazzles but he is consistent and reliable. This should be an offensive show case. Two strong offenses with two bad defenses sets itself up for track meet. The Chiefs are the better team in this match-up, but playing on the road will not be helpful. They will pull out a close one late. Chiefs 34, Cowboys 32

Picks by Brad

Los Angeles Rams (5-2) @ New York Giants (1-6); Line: Rams by 3

Something about this game makes me nervous. Both teams are coming out of the bye week so that’s a wash. West Coast team playing in the the early slot in the Eastern timezone is generally an advantage for the home team, but the Rams played in London last time out so maybe that doesn’t matter either. The Rams are the #2 team in the whole NFL in DVOA (behind only the Eagles) while the Giants are 25th so there’s no room for doubt there. I guess my nervousness is coming from two things that happened last year: 1- the Giants went 11-5 and made the playoffs, 2- Jared Goff wasn’t very good. So let’s dive into that.

Item 1: Let’s say the Giants improve remarkably and win half of their remaining games. That adds up to a 6-10 record at best. So which season is a more accurate representation of who the Giants are? I think I’d have to say it’s this year. Eli’s skills are eroding because that’s what happens on the downhill side of one’s 30s (shut up, Tom Brady). Crazy, fairytale stuff happened for “decent” Giants teams in 2007 and 2011 so when we see Big Blue with Eli under center, our football brains tell us that anything can happen, but that’s a remnant of a different time altogether. The Giants aren’t a good football team and bad football teams absolutely lose games like this.

Item 2: An old gambling adage says that you never bet on a bad QB playing on the road. I’m not saying Goff is bad, but we only have 14 career games to look at so is it safe to say that he’s good? That seems presumptuous. Looking elsewhere, you have elite talents like Aaron Donald and Todd Gurley that immediately catch the eye, but beyond those names the Rams are inarguably buoyed by surprising roster depth. The bottom line is that bad teams don’t get to 5-2.

Ok, I’ve made up my mind. The Rams are for real, guys. And real teams absolutely win games like this. Rams 31, Giants 13

Washington Redskins (3-4) @ Seattle Seahawks (5-2); Line: Hawks by 8

There are lots of reasons this looks like a complete mismatch, but recent form is probably the most glaring. Seattle comes in having gone undefeated in October including last week’s Game-of-the-Year, shootout win over Houston. Their new left tackle was a major upgrade and suddenly Jimmy Graham can catch the ball. Washington, on the other hand, won just once in October and that was a 2-point squeaker at home over the winless 49ers. Besides the grueling trip and the raucous home crowd, the Redskins will also be contending with health (or rather the lack thereof). Beyond the issues with the offensive line, the ‘Skins are getting almost no production from their big name WRs. Pryor and Doctson combined for 1 receiving yard on 4 targets and 1 catch in last week’s home loss to Dallas so, even if they’re able to catch the Seahawks a little flat this week, the Redskins lack the playmakers to come out of Seattle with a win. Seahawks 31, Redskins 20

Oakland Raiders (3-5) @ Miami Dolphins (4-3); Line: Raiders by 3

As I wrote earlier this week, the NFL probably wishes it could have invoked “flex scheduling” to remove this game from professional football’s most valuable recurring time slot. You can see why the schedulers picked this one though. There are a handful of teams that tend to have a more national fanbase and you could make a case that the Dolphins and Raiders are in that class. Obviously neither has enjoyed any sustained success in recent years, but they really do have sterling legacies in the history of football. Both these fan bases have to loathe Tom Brady, by the way; it’s Tuck Rule hate vs That-Guy-Beats-Us-Twice-Per-Year-Every-Year-Since-2001 hate.

Oakland fought hard at Buffalo last week but was doomed by its own mistakes. Maybe the Bills are really good though. If that’s the case, losing in Orchard Park isn’t that shocking for a West Coast team and the Raiders are entitled to a bit of a break. Hmm . . .

Miami got absolutely embarrassed on national TV last Thursday in Charm City, but will look a little different personnel wise on Sunday. Jay Cutler has allegedly recovered from his rib injury and the team traded Jay Ajayi to Philly. Seems like every year there is a game where it’s sneaky hot and sneaky humid in Miami and the visiting team just wilts. If that is going to happen this week, you have to believe that the Dolphins are going to reach the half way point at 5-3. Not sure I can live with that. Definitely can’t live with myself betting on Smokin’ Jay Cutler and the Miami Dolphins 11 days after watching a 40-0 beatdown by the lifeless Ravens. Raiders 24, ‘Phins 21

Picks by Chris

Chris’s story for week nine is quarterback play. I grabbed these three games because they all have something to prove at the QB position.

Andy Dalton, or the Red Rifle as Brad is so fond of calling him, has failed to replicate the success he found in 2016, and Blake Bortles has been a hindrance for a quality Jaguars team.

San Francisco says newly acquired Jimmy Garoppolo is the number 2 on Sunday, but we’ll see how long that lasts if rookie QB C.J. Beathard struggles in a close game against Drew Stanton? Yes, Drew Stanton is quarterbacking for the Cardinals, and for those laughing about that, just know the Cardinals are a surprising 6-3 with the former Michigan State standout starting the game.

Finally, Matthew Stafford comes to Lambeau field for a battle of the ages, but Aaron Rodgers is on the sidelines. Packer nation (including myself) is waiting to see if Brett Hundley is going to lead this offense to the promise land, and if he can’t, will Joe Callahan, the Wesley product, get the nod in a real NFL game?

Let’s get started.

Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (4-3); Line: Jags by 5.5

Where the Jaguars have improved on the 2016 season, the Bengals have definitely disappointed so far in 2017. Andy Dalton seemed to have found his stride in 2015, and while 2016 saw him improve on some of his overall numbers, it was really the beginning of a long descent into league mediocrity. With one of the best receivers in the league in A.J. Green, Dalton’s stats haven’t necessarily translated into wins and that’s troubling. The Bengals finished last season with a record of 6-9-1 and they’re on par to end in about the same place this year. The Bengals seem to always be the squad with very high hopes in week one, and those hopes always seem to disappear come week nine.

Meanwhile, Blake Bortles is doing all he can to limit his turnovers with each outing, in the hopes Leonard Fournette can come back healthy and continue to shoulder the offensive load. The running back debate during the NFL draft must have really gotten under his skin, because this guy has been productive on the ground, through the air, and in the red zone. If you threw him on defense he’d probably grab you a sack or two for kicks. He’s a hard-nosed kind of guy, but he’s shown surprising finesse for a man of his size. The Jaguars defense is also much improved from previous years, and they seem to be embracing the idea that franchise quarterbacks are a rarity in this league, and so far it’s worked out.

I think Leonard Fournette comes back feeling good, and I think Dalton struggles against this secondary, Jacksonville tops the Bengals, 28-14.

Arizona Cardinals (3-4) @ San Francisco 49ers (0-8); Line: Cards by 1

The big story heading into week nine is the closing of the trade deadline and San Francisco’s acquisition of Jimmy Garappolo. No one really thought the Patriots would let go of their number 2 QB with Tom Brady competing at 40 years of age this season. But Brady also seems unaffected by age as he continues to put up career numbers in 2017 with a severely depleted receiving corps. Sound familiar?

Now, the chance of seeing Garappolo on the field this Sunday is slim. The 49ers are 0-8, their season is over and Jimmy simply doesn’t have a grasp of the offense yet. He’ll have a single week of practice under his belt before game nine and it really wouldn’t make sense to risk him with so little time. With that said, rookie C.J. Beathard is the only other QB on the roster, which means anything is possible. If the stars align, Jimmy could theoretically be on the field this Sunday under helm but it’s certainly a longshot.

On the flip side, the Cards are starting Drew Stanton this week with the loss of Grandpa Palmer. A collective groan seems to have developed whenever the Cards situation is mentioned this week, but a surprising stat that’s come to my attention is his 6-3 record when starting for this team. I couldn’t point to a Stanton performance that left me feeling warm and fuzzy, but he’s apparently got the support of the locker room and with the way Palmer had been playing before going down, Arizona isn’t really that much worse off. Adrian Peterson impressed in his first outing, and then struggled in his second game, he’ll be looking to back up his ‘4-5 more productive years’ prediction this week in San Francisco.

The Cardinals have enough weapons and apparently a successful track record with Drew Stanton, I’m taking Arizona over San Francisco, 21-14.

Detroit Lions (3-4) @ Green Bay Packers (4-3); Line: Lions by 1

Say it isn’t so! The Lions head to Lambeau and they’re favored? It sounds ridiculous to me, but I can understand the forecast. Brett Hundley has looked awful. So much is said about being ready for your moment when it comes in this league, being able to step up and fill someone’s shoes in the worst case scenario. Such is the life of a young quarterback. Brett Hundley has enormous shoes to fill with Rodgers out mid-season, but I don’t think anyone was looking for him to come in and pick up right where Aaron left off. We did expect better than 244 yards, 1 touchdown, and 4 interceptions through two games. He’s been in Green Bay since 2015, and he’s had the benefit of consistent exposure to the system, he needs to make that consistency translate to on the field productivity and he doesn’t have much time to do it.

Fan favorite Joe Callahan, the Weapon from Wesley, is waiting in the wings for his shot at prime time and while I think Mike McCarthy is going to have a long leash for Hundley, another four pick performance might hint at a change of direction. I don’t believe we see Callahan on the field this week, but it’s possible he makes an entrance this season, as improbable as that sounds.

The Lions are really in a tough situation this week, despite the favorable game conditions in Green Bay. They’ll have no better chance to come into Lambeau and steal a win with a beat up Packers team without their franchise QB, but Lambeau is never an easy place to play, let alone grab a win. If they do lose this game, Matthew Stafford and the Lions will have a lot of explaining to do moving forward, as they’ve not exactly met expectations in the first half of the season. They’re a 3-4 team heading into Monday Night Football, and if they come out 3-5, questions are sure to follow.

This is a bit biased, I’ll admit, but I’m going to say Hundley rises to the occasion at home. He figures it out, because if he wants a chance at longevity in this league, he needs to win now. Packers win, 28-27.