Heading into New York on Thursday night with a league-leading +14 turnover differential and some lucky bounces in there, the Buffalo Bills were headed for a downturn at some point, like Papa John’s pizza sales. Although the 34-21 final score looks like a contest, the Jets absolutely smashed the Bills, sacking Tyrod Taylor seven times as Taylor went Full Garbage Time late in the game.
Weird plays and backdoor covers happen, but sometimes you just know you’re on right side, like when the opponent’s tight end makes a great catch and avoids getting wrecked by defenders… but realizing he didn’t get touched, gets back up and books it for more yards when the defense stands him up and rips the ball away, and recovers the fumble. Whew. Take another look at TE Nick O’Leary’s misfortune and then let’s get on to the Sunday slate of games.
NFL Week 9 Picks, Projections, Cowboys-Chiefs Offensive Fiesta, Osweiler’s Odyssey, Seahawks Fly And More
Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) at New York Giants: Both teams are coming off a bye, although the Giants are certainly not fresh. They’re missing key parts on both sides — their two best offensive linemen, G/T Justin Pugh (back) and C Weston Richburg (concussion), plus star DE Olivier Vernon (ankle) and linebacker B.J. Goodson (ankle) have not practiced this week. That’s on top of the loss of nearly their entire starting WR corps and the indefinite suspension of top CB Janoris Jenkins for some violation of team rules. And Jenkins’ absence may be the most troubling for a disastrous 1-6 squad that seems to have lost faith in head coach Ben McAdoo, who earlier relinquished play calling duties.
Last we saw the Rams they annihilated the Cardinals 33-0 in London. They’re pretty good. The Giants will struggle to contain Todd Gurley on the ground and in space, particularly if Big Blue showcases its three-and-out offense. All of that said, I’m not eager to lay 3.5 because it’s too hard to tell which version of the Giants will show here — the undermanned but plucky version (as in Denver) or the truly horrific one that can’t give Eli Manning even 2.2 seconds in the pocket and leaves him looking like this (Score Projection: Rams 24, Giants 20):
Indianapolis Colts (+6.5) at Houston Texans: I feel terrible for Deshaun Watson (torn ACL during practice, done for the year), his teammates, and head coach Bill O’Brien, who finally got a franchise QB. And this after losing both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus in Week 5. Per oddsmakers, the downgrade from Watson to highly immobile backup QB Tom Savage is worth about 7 points, representing the line drop here from 13.5.
So what time is it? Lamar Miller Time.
The Colts defense is more susceptible in the back end but I doubt O’Brien is going to ask much of Savage. How will Houston respond to the loss of Watson? I think it’s more likely they rally than succumb to disappointment, even if only for one game. The Colts have been pretty disastrous on both sides of the ball this year, especially on defense, but if Houston does go very conservative on offense, the Colts may be able to hang around. I don’t like anything about this game but if you’re feeling the Colts, make sure you’re getting available +7’s, and vice versa with -6.5 if you think Houston punishes Indy. Because I have to make a pick: Score Projection: Texans 28, Colts 20
Denver Broncos (-7.5) at Philadelphia Eagles: Since it’s now come full circle, let’s just quickly trace Brock Osweiler’s odyssey through the NFL over the past 20 months. It started in March ’16 in Denver when Elway stood firm on his offer to Peyton Manning’s former backup, allowing the QB-desperate Texans to give him $37 million guaranteed. That proved rather quickly to be a spectacular mistake. Houston managed to pull off a creative salary dump, thanks to the Browns’ quest to acquire draft capital (a second-round pick) without any care for real dollars ($18 million). So Cleveland cut him before the start of the ‘17 season and Denver brought him back for the minimum $775K because former first-rounder Paxton Lynch, expected to be Osweiler’s replacement, injured his shoulder but is looking like a bust anyway. And now that former 7th rounder-turned-starter Trevor Siemian has been sufficiently tormented by defenses, head coach Vance Joseph has turned to Osweiler against the NFC-best Eagles (7-1). Alright!
This is another tough one to handicap. The Eagles’ front seven is pretty ferocious. Philly leads the league in QB hits (62) and the right side of the Broncos offensive line is whatever comes right after mediocre, at best. Osweiler is not mobile or accurate and has a penchant for turning the ball over, at least last we saw him start in Houston. All of that said, Denver’s defense is still top-notch and may be able to keep ’em in this game if they can run the ball effectively. Maybe if Eagles star TE Zach Ertz is out (added to injury report on Thursday, hamstring, monitor this) the under (currently 42.5) might make sense (perhaps as a teaser leg), but I have no appetite for either side here and just credit Elway for rostering Osweiler for a tiny fraction of what Houston paid. Score Projection: Eagles 23, Broncos 13
Washington Redskins (+7) at Seattle Seahawks: In a league in which every team is banged up at this point in the season, the Redskins might be the most injured. “If we’d go out to practice tomorrow, I don’t know who my left tackle would be,” head coach Jay Gruden said on Monday. “I really don’t have one right now.” The injuries cut deepest into the offensive line and at this point the team may want to make some sacrifice to the injury gods, perhaps a hog. Kirk Cousins certainly isn’t going to have much time to throw, although the Texans’ success passing in Seattle last week and the probable absence of star safety Earl Thomas (hamstring, doubtful) offers some promise.
Meanwhile, Seattle just made a huge pickup on offense with the acquisition of left tackle Duane Brown from Houston. Brown may help Seattle produce something resembling a running game. The Seahawks’ rushing leader (excluding Russell Wilson) is currently Chris Carson with 208 yards. He went down for the year with an ankle injury in Week 4. After Carson there’s Eddie Lacy with 108 yards on only 7 fewer carries. Last year Christine Michael led the team in rushing and he finished the season as a Green Bay Packer! But as long as Wilson is dancing around the field and spraying the ball for 350 yards passing, they’re going to win football games. Score Projection: Seahawks 31, Redskins 20
Arizona Cardinals (-2.5) at San Francisco 49ers: The winless Niners competed at Philadelphia last week, alas there’s no participation ribbons in the NFL or dollars for near-covers. The Cardinals had higher aspirations this year but it’s effectively a lost season now that they’re without both QB Carson Palmer and RB David Johnson (since Week 2). Importantly, the Cardinals are also underperforming against the spread — a league-worst 1-6 and they’re not coming close with the highest average margin of difference ATS also: -10.4 points. Does anyone yet know what to make of this Cardinals team with Drew Stanton at the helm?
Maybe the Niners are feeling heartened by the big trade for QB Jimmy Garoppolo but for this outing it’s rookie C.J. Beathard again, and he won’t have blindside protector Joe Staley (orbital fracture) or WR Pierre Garcon (neck), along with a list of other key players. I had been hoping that this would be a nice spot to bet the 49ers but… no, no more buts!! The 49ers are gonna a win football game and this is it!! Or at least they’re going to cover for us. Score Projection: 49ers 21, Cardinals 20
Atlanta Falcons (-1) at Carolina Panthers: This is going to be a divisional slugfest as both squads fight to keep pace with the New Orleans Saints (6-2). Atlanta’s offense is again near the top of the league in yards per play on offense (6.2) but isn’t getting the same amount of explosive plays (20+ yards) and isn’t converting in the red zone: 48% TD rate (ranked 21) and just 36% over the last three games. Their defense wasn’t great last year but has really been struggling to get after opposing QBs this season (at least Vic Beasley is off the injury report this week). And how about the Panthers’ trade that sent supposed No. 1 WR Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo? Addition by subtraction or is Cam Newton going to miss the big target? And what about all these game totals?! It’s just 42.5 here. Remember when the rent was too damn high? Well these totals are too damn low. One special teams or defensive score or even a pair of turnovers inside the 20 can screw you. Let’s take this full-fledged brain dump home: Turns out the Panthers’ red zone defense isn’t very good. They’re allowing a 60% touchdown rate. I think we see the Falcons take a step forward here and get the offense across the goal line. Score Projection: Falcons 27, Panthers 23
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7) at New Orleans Saints: The Saints coulda-woulda-shoulda covered last week at home against the Bears if not for Mark Ingram’s severe case of fumble-itis, but shit happens and look what happens when the Saints have a running game:
— Dan Hanzus (@DanHanzus) November 1, 2017
The combination of Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara has been working out very well as the defense has climbed the ranks too. Over the past four weeks the Saints D has tallied 14 QB sacks and forced 10 turnovers while DB Marshon Lattimore (2 INT) has played lights out in pass coverage. Meanwhile the Bucs defense, which is already reeling, is still without top DB Brent Grimes. And Jameis Winston’s throwing shoulder (AC joint sprain) is still hampering him. The Bucs certainly won’t lay down but I think the Saints will be too much and can/will run away with it. Score Projection: Saints 31, Bucs 20
Baltimore Ravens (+3.5) at Tennessee Titans: Is anyone excited to watch this game? Be honest. It’s a pair of mild disappointments and overrated quarterbacks (well, Joe Flacco is no longer highly or middle-y rated but he is highly paid). The Ravens’ defense is closer to full strength with DT Brandon Williams back in the middle and that should stifle the Titans’ smashmouthing plans. And having found some recent success with RB Alex Collins on the ground, the Ravens can keep this close and may win outright. Score Projection: Ravens 23, Titans 20
Cincinnati Bengals (+4.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars: I was wrong, wrong, very wrong about the Bengals last week, expecting them to blow out the Colts. Phew. Okay. Their offensive line is a wreck and now they’re facing one of the best defensive lines in the league at Jacksonville. How good is the Jaguars defense right now? Well it’s ranked #1 per Football Outsiders, but more importantly the team was confident to roll out a poster like this:
"I've seen this raw strength only once before. It didn't scare me enough then.
It does now." pic.twitter.com/LUpuAWgVZd
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) October 11, 2017
That’s 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell at center and he is near impossible to block or move. And how about the state of the Bengals? Poor A.J. McCarron, one of the best backups in the league from what we’ve seen, seems genuinely heartbroken that the Browns bungled (or sabotaged) their trade for him, leaving him stuck behind Andy Dalton:
— Elise Jesse (@Elise_JesseWLWT) November 1, 2017
Jags RB Leonard Fournette had time to rest up (ankle) and should be ready to truck, while Jags stud DB Jalen Ramsey has the ability to stop or contain Bengals top offensive weapon, WR A.J. Green. The Bengals have a -10 turnover differential this year, compared with the Jags +8, and I think we’re going to see the numbers grow in the same directions. When the Jaguars win, they win BIGLY. Score Projection: Jaguars 26, Bengals 10
Kansas City Chiefs (+2) at Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott’s never-ending legal battle against the NFL, producing a perpetual state of is-he-or-isn’t-he playing, took another turn on Friday.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 3, 2017
These legal shitstorms only happen in the NFL and Jerry Jones may blow a gasket before it’s over, or successfully squash Roger Goodell’s contract extension, or both. Now that it’s game back on, Zeke is going to feast against KC’s lowly rushing defense- probably 150+ yards rushing, a couple touchdowns plus a Papa John’s pie. The entire Dallas offense really has a great shot here to explode, and Kansas City will certainly have opportunities against a porous Cowboys D. The only thing that may slow down these offenses is themselves (both play at a relatively slow pace offensively); the total has shot up from 48.5 to now 52.5. In any case, I think Dak, Zeke and the gang roll here. Score Projection: Cowboys 31, Chiefs 27
Also can GEICO please stop trolling us with this weird, nonsensical Jason Witten advertisement!? Have you noticed how far apart the 8 and the 2 are on the fake jersey? I won’t be able to get over this oddity until the ad makers explain exactly what they were trying to accomplish here, other that getting guys like me to embed them and poke fun at it.
Oakland Raiders (-3) at Miami Dolphins (Sunday Night): Last we saw the Dolphins, Miami fans were immediately regretting their wish to have Matt Moore starting at QB. Well, Jay Cutler is back (ribs), Jay Ajayi is off to Philly, and now Cutler will have a couple more pass-catching adept RBs in Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake. It literally cannot get worse for Miami’s offense after their Week 8, 40-0 embarrassment at Baltimore. So, that’s great. Oakland’s defense remains pretty horrific (32nd ranked passing defense) and the starters are all banged up now too. The Dolphins certainly aren’t a great team to exploit that weakness but they will have DeVante Parker back in the fold and Adam Gase is probably going to add some new offensive wrinkles with the mini-bye that also gave Fins players a chance to rest. Score Projection: Dolphins 21, Raiders 20
[Hey there, have you hit “like” on our Facebook page? The page is real, and it’s spectacular.]
Detroit Lions (-2.5) Green Bay Packers (Monday Night): Let me begin by saying that I’ve been misreading the Lions most of the season. It’s one team I cannot figure out. (I am usually right on the Giants, by the way.) Initially the oddsmakers made Packers QB Brett Hundley about a 10-point downgrade from Aaron Rodgers (based on the spread in Week 7 against the Saints). After seeing Hundley’s play in that game, yeah, that’s about right. He’ll get the extra preparation time for Detroit out of the bye and we’ll probably see a big dose of rookie RB Aaron Jones. Matthew Stafford and the Lions can exploit the Packers’ soft secondary and, as ever, come back late. Remember the Lions did snap their epic 24-game road losing streak at Lambeau Field in 2015 when Rodgers did play. Also remember I’m probably wrong on this one: Score Projection: Lions 27, Packers 23
Happy Week 9 to you all. Hit me up on Twitter with any thoughts, comments, concerns, questions, compliments or dad jokes.