Week 9 Picks

Posted: 11/06/2016 by levcohen in Football

Sometimes, having six teams on BYE is actually a blessing in disguise for a football fan who just wants to watch good games. Last week was one of those weeks, as we were all spared the pain of watching the Rams, Dolphins, Giants, Niners, Ravens, and Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers play. As a result, we got four or five games that had a legitimate playoff atmosphere, a pretty good output for a 13 game week. This week is not one of those weeks. Five of the six teams that are off this week are at least pretty good, and four of them are among the more watchable teams in the NFL. That leaves us, predictably, with not many great games to choose from. Ravens-Steelers is usually entertaining, and it should be especially intriguing if Ben Roethlisberger makes it back onto the field, as has been reported. And I’d bet that either Lions-Vikings or Eagles-Giants will turn into a good, close game. But the biggest game of the week is coming in primetime. For the second week in a row, the Sunday Night Football crew has lucked out. After getting Eagles-Cowboys last week, they get the Broncos and Raiders — and their matching 6-2 records — this week in a game that could go a long way to determining playoff seeding in the AFC.

BYE teams: Arizona, Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, New England, Washington
*- upset pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3, 4-3 against the spread) at Baltimore Ravens (3-4, 1-6):
Spread: Steelers favored by 3
Over/under: 47
My prediction: Well, it’s clear that Las Vegas puts a lot of weight into the possible return of Big Ben Roethlisberger. This spread opened at Ravens -2.5 with and over/under of 43. That means Ben’s return has shifted the spread 5.5 points and the over/under four points. The implied score has gone from ~23-20 Ravens to 25-22 Steelers. And you know what? I’m not going to disagree with Vegas. Landry Jones isn’t a terrible backup, but Roethlisberger has the singular ability to turn this Pittsburgh offense into the best and most explosive unit in the NFL. Even if he returns, I expect a close game. Ravens’ cornerback Jimmy Smith has been pretty good against receiver Antonio Brown throughout his career, and Baltimore has the best run defense in the NFL, likely minimizing LeVeon Bell’s impact on the ground. I like the under for sure, and I think this might come down to a late drive to win. The Ravens have the better field goal kicker, but I still have slightly more confidence in Pittsburgh’s offense and their ability to generate touchdowns. Steelers win 24-20.
Steelers cover
Under

Dallas Cowboys (6-1, 6-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-8, 3-5):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 7.5
Over/under: 49
My prediction: It’s time for everyone to stop piling on the Browns. Yes, they’re bad. I know it, you know it, they know it. They’re also going to lose this game, and probably handily. But they have some pieces, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Terrelle Pryor has been a revelation, and Corey Coleman is back from a broken hand, giving rookie quarterback Cody Kessler (who’s been pretty good when healthy) some targets to throw to. Look for the Browns to pound it on the ground with their #12 DVOA run offense against Dallas’s average defense. The Cowboys are good, but their defense isn’t good enough yet to warrant me picking them to win by double digits on the road. Cowboys win 27-23.
Browns cover
Over

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5, 3-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-2, 3-4):*
Spread: Chiefs favored by 7.5
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: The 5-2 Chiefs are rolling, with three straight wins and a 3-0 home record. But they’re still just third in the stacked AFC West, which means that they must keep the pedal to the metal in order to keep pace with the winner of the night game. Alex Smith is out this week (he may or may not have a concussion), but Nick Foles was great in relief last week and now gets a nice matchup against a Jaguars team that just got shredded by the Titans. I’d normally pick the Chiefs to romp against a poor Jags run defense, but with both Spencer Ware and Jamaal Charles out this week, Charcandrick West is going to need to carry the load, and I’m not confident that he’s going to be as effective as Ware has been. Without a dominant run game, the Chiefs’ offense gets kind of stagnant, which should allow Blake Bortles and Co. to at least keep this game close. If the Jaguars can get their run game going against a mediocre run defense, they have a shot at winning this game. Even if not, their talented defense should be motivated to bounce back from the humiliating loss to Tennessee. I’m going to regret this, but why not take a shot on the Jags? Jaguars win 23-17.
Jaguars cover
Under

New York Jets (3-5, 4-4) at Miami Dolphins (3-4, 3-4):
Spread: Dolphins favored by 4
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: I don’t think either of these teams is very good, which is why it’s kind of surprising that the winner will be on a three game winning streak. The Dolphins’ last two wins, of course, have been powered by Jay Ajayi’s consecutive 200+ yard games. Jay Ajayi is not going to have another 200 yard game against New York’s stout run defense. That will put the onus on Ryan Tannehill to shred the Jets’ pass defense. Ryan Tannehill isn’t very good, but neither is the Jets’ pass defense. The Dolphins have three receivers — Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills — who can tear up a bad secondary. Give me the Dolphins 27-20, even though they’re generally really bad at covering the spread as home favorites.
Dolphins cover
Over

Philadelphia Eagles (4-3, 4-3) at New York Giants (4-3, 3-3-1):*
Spread: Giants favored by 3
Over/under: 43
My prediction: It seems like everyone is taking the Eagles in this game, which makes me nervous. The Giants are coming off a BYE, which means they may have figured some stuff out on offense. They certainly have the weapons to have a productive offense, it’s just that everything has been a bit out of sync so far this season. That’s the type of problem that a BYE week can fix. And yet… I’m still picking the Eagles, because they’re the stronger team. Their offense hasn’t looked quite as good recently, but I think they played a really good game in Dallas last week. If they open up their passing game a little bit, this might be the week that we see Carson Wentz bounce back from a few rough games. But the real reason I’m picking Philly is because of their defense. Maybe the Giants really have fixed their offense, but I’m betting that won’t be evident until next week. Eagles win 21-17.
Eagles cover
Under

Detroit Lions (4-4, 4-3-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-2, 5-2):
Spread: Vikings favored by 6
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen the Vikings’ offense fall apart. They put up 20 combined points in losses to the Eagles and Bears, culminating in the shocking resignation of offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Both of those losses came on the road, though, and the Lions have the worst defense by DVOA. I think this spread should be a bit higher, as Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense have not been able to get off the schneid in tough road matchups. Vikings win 28-13.
Vikings cover
Under

Carolina Panthers (2-5, 2-5) at Los Angeles Rams (3-4, 3-4):- Lock
Spread: Panthers favored by 3
Over/under: 44.5
My prediction: The Rams stink! I think I’ve said this every week, and I’ll say it again after taking a break while LA was on BYE. This may be the ideal matchup for Carolina’s defense, because their weakness (the secondary) is unlikely to be exposed by Case Keenum while their strength (the pass rush) is coming off an eight sack game and faces a team with a poor offensive line and ineffective run game. The Panthers have been vulnerable to explosive passing attacks, but they should shut down Todd Gurley and throttle Case Keenum. And their offense is certainly good enough to put up points on a mediocre defense that’s been struggling recently. I’m playing with fire by locking up a 2-5 road team, but why not. I didn’t want to be boring and pick against the Browns or Niners again. Panthers win 31-14.
Panthers cover
Over

New Orleans Saints (3-4, 4-3) at San Francisco 49ers (1-6, 1-6):
Spread: Saints favored by 4.5
Over/under: 52.5
My prediction: The Saints have quietly been pretty competitive on the road this year, falling just short against the Giants and Chiefs and knocking off the Chargers. This week, they get a much easier road game against a San Francisco team I think is the worst in the NFL. They still aren’t as dynamic on the road as they are at home, but their defense has been just bad (as opposed to horrific) this year. In Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, and Willie Snead, the Saints have three explosive receivers who are threats to go off at any time. The Niners counter those three with… Jeremy Kerley, Steve Smith, and Quinton Patton. The Saints have Drew Brees at quarterback, while the Niners have… Colin Kaepernick. San Fran’s best offensive threat, Carlos Hyde, is out again. I know it’s dangerous to pick the Saints on the road, but I’ll be shocked if they don’t win this game. Saints win 30-17.
Saints cover
Under

Tennessee Titans (4-4, 3-5) at San Diego Chargers (3-5, 5-3):
Spread: Chargers favored by 4
Over/under: 47
My prediction: The Chargers could easily have beaten the Broncos last week, as they continued to look like one of the better teams in the NFL. I can’t believe they’re 3-5 and 2.5 games out of third place in the AFC West, but them’s the breaks. This is a game they should win, with Philip Rivers likely to find open receivers against a Titans defense that looked good against Blake Bortles but got killed by the Colts and Browns in the previous two weeks. I expect another productive game from Tennessee’s run game (DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry), but they won’t be able to keep up with the Chargers. Chargers win 28-21.
Chargers cover
Over

Indianapolis Colts (3-5, 3-4-1) at Green Bay Packers (4-3, 4-2-1):
Spread: Packers favored by 7.5
Over/under: 53.5
My prediction: Who would have thought that, about halfway through the season, Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers would be a combined 7-8? Luck’s actually been a lot better than Rodgers, but the team around him is a lot worse. Now that Donte Moncrief and Dwayne Allen are back, Luck has better targets to throw to, but he still doesn’t have time to find those targets thanks to an offensive line that may only have one good piece (left tackle Anthony Castonzo). Colts’ GM Ryan Grigson has done a terrible job building around Luck, with no protection on the line and a defense that ranks 31st in DVOA. The Packers got their mojo back a little bit against the Falcons, even in a game that ended up as a loss. They have the better defense, and they’re playing at home. Watch out for Luck’s patented backdoor cover, though. Packers win 34-30.
Colts cover
Over

Denver Broncos (6-2, 6-2) at Oakland Raiders (6-2, 5-3):*
Spread: Raiders favored by 1
Over/under: 43.5
My prediction: I really want to be convinced by the Raiders, but they just don’t play great football. They’re 6-2, but they also just broke the record for most accepted penalties in a game. And while Derek Carr has been great so far this year, he also hasn’t been hit by Von Miller yet. That will change tonight, and the Broncos will win a close one. Should be a good game. Broncos win 24-21.
Broncos cover
Over

Buffalo Bills (4-4, 4-4) at Seattle Seahawks (4-2-1, 3-4):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 7
Over/under: 44
My prediction: News flash: the Seahawks have a bad offense. They’re just 18th in offensive DVOA, and they’re averaging 18.7 points per game, 29th in the NFL. Without the threat of Russell Wilson’s legs (Wilson is still nursing multiple injuries), their run game has been incredibly flat (25th in DVOA), and they just haven’t scared opposing defenses. Their defense should shut down a Buffalo team that’s managed to average 26.5 points per game without many real threats outside of running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy will likely play tomorrow night, but he’s not at full strength. Give me the Seahawks in a low-scoring, ugly game. Seahawks win 19-17.
Bills cover
Under

Upset picks:
Broncos over Raiders
Eagles over Giants
Jaguars over Chiefs (just to make it interesting)

Lock:
Panthers over Rams

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