We’ve officially crossed the halfway mark of the 2016 NFL season. Things are taking off now. With the World Series all wrapped up, the Presidential election soon to be over, and some juicy second-half story-lines brewing, expect America to turn it’s attention back to football. This week Dak Prescott needs to show out to prove he’s the guy in Dallas going forward, the Rams will try to rattle Cam Newton after his latest complaints, and the Raiders and Broncos will battle it out for 1st place in the NFC West. Week 9’s bound to be a great one, folks.
By Matthew Jarecki
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: Atlanta -4
Final Score: Atlanta 43 – Tampa Bay 28
2 Cents: This game showed us the epitome of what both of these teams are. The Falcons have weapons across the board, and Matt Ryan knows how to find them, but their defense will struggle to stop opponents all year. The Bucs are a young team, led by a budding quarterback, and they have major holes in their defense: they aren’t ready to win these types of games yet. The NFC South is full of teams that play Canadian Football (all offense, no defense). I find myself wondering if the Panthers, with all that front 7 talent, can’t make a late push for that division, or at least a wildcard spot. I also find myself wondering how far this Atlanta team can go with Dan Quinn as head coach. Quinn, a former defensive coordinator in Seattle, was brought in to fix the defense on a team that was otherwise ready for a deep playoff run. Up to this point, that defense is giving up an average of 28 points per game. That ain’t good enough.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Line: Baltimore -2.5
Predicted Score: Pittsburgh 28 – Baltimore 27
2 Cents: The AFC North is wide open right now, and this game will be representative of the standings: It’ll be a dog fight. The Ravens have lost their last 4, but they’ve all been close, and mostly due to offensive issues. Pittsburgh is on a 2 game losing streak during which they’ve given up an average of 28.5 points. The key factor in those games? Big Ben was out. Pittsburgh puts up 27 points per game with Big Ben, and just 16 points per game without him. I expect Baltimore to get back on track offensively in this one, but I also expect the Steelers to put up at least 28 on Baltimore’s slightly over-rated defense. In a game that could go either way, I’ll take the Steelers to win with the better quarterback, and a defense that had an extra week to prepare.
The Catch: Baltimore edged out Pittsburgh in both games last year, and they are officially desperate after losing their last 4. Desperate teams with good quarterbacks scare me.
Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns
Line: Dallas -7 1/2
Predicted Score: Dallas 28 – Cleveland 21
2 Cents: How about that win for Dallas last week? Jerry Jones must be feeling like the luckiest owner in the NFL: he has to decide between budding star Dak Prescott, and established star Tony Romo. For now, though, Dak gets one more chance to prove he’s the guy, and the Browns are the perfect opponent to make his case. Cleveland ranks at the bottom of the league in pass and rushing defense, so I expect Dallas to do what they please offensively. Don’t underestimate the Browns offense, though, which is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on the ground: that’s 3rd in the league. The Browns have been able to score points all season, and that won’t change in this game, but their youth is bound to shine through in the form of turnovers, as it has all season, and that’s why Dallas wins this game by a touchdown.
The Catch: When Cody Kessler’s been able to stay up-right, he’s actually been sneaky good, throwing for an average of 267 yards, with a 3 to 1 TD to INT ratio in 3 complete games this season. He’ll start for the Browns on Sunday.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs
Line: Kansas City -7 1/2
Predicted Score: Jacksonville 17 – Kansas City 24
2 Cents: Andy Reid is so damn good. The guy just knows how to win in the NFL. I know, I know, he doesn’t do particularly well in the post-season, but for now we’ll pawn that off on inconsistent quarterback play. Then.. there’s Gus Bradley. He seems like a great guy, always making room for a positive halftime interview with his team down by 17, but that ain’t winning games, folks. Bradley is another former Seahawks defensive coordinator who’s current defense is allowing 28 points per game. He’s 12-38 as a head coach. Yikes. But let’s not pin everything on Bradley’s coaching: the Jags organization is a mess from owner Shad Khan down, and Blake Bortles flat out bad right now. As far as this game goes, it could get ugly. Kansas City has that offense rolling – it seems like they pick up a first down whenever they want – and I don’t think Alex Smith being out will change a thing. Nick Foles is Alex Smith, albeit with less experience, and a bigger arm. Kansas City wins this game because they have the better coach, they have a league-high 16 takeaways, and because it’s hard for any team to win at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Catch: Gus Bradley is coaching for his job, and with Alex Smith, and Spencer Ware out, this could be his best shot at beating a team with a winning record this season.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins
Line: Miami -3 1/2
Predicted Score: New York 24 – Miami 21
2 Cents: I’m surprised to see Miami as a field goal favorite in this game. This match up features two mediocre teams trying to dig their way out of horrible starts to the season by returning to a ground and pound approach. Matt Forte (Jets), and Jay Ajayi (Dolphins) have carried the ball 25+ times in each of the last two games, and it’s helping their struggling quarterbacks get back on track. I don’t expect much to change in this match up, and that’s one of three reasons I have the Jets winning: 1. The Jets have a bunch of monsters on that D-line, and they’re allowing only 3.3 yards per rush (tied for 1st): Jay Ajayi will come down to earth. 2. Ryan Fitzpatrick, despite his horrible start to the season, is ultimately the better quarterback than Ryan Tannehill. 3. I trust Todd Bowles to have his team ready for this game more than I trust the youngest coach in the league, Adam Gase.
The Catch: Miami is 3-1 at home this year, and they have the talent on defense to make Ryan Fitzpatrick very uncomfortable.
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Line: Minnesota -6
Predicted Score: Detroit 24 – Minnesota 20
2 Cents: This is my upset of the week, folks. I’ve been high on the Vikings all season, and I still believe that Bradford can lead this team to the top of the NFC North, but that offensive line is a mess. Until they get that thing figured out, it’s going to be tough sledding for Minnesota no matter how good that defense is. In addition, the Vikings just lost offensive coordinator Norv Turner, which leaves even more room for disarray. A match up with a Detroit team that has 19 sacks on the year (7th), and is led by Matthew Stafford (16 TD’s to 4 INT’s) doesn’t bode well for this reeling Vikings squad.
The Catch: The Vikings haven’t allowed more than 14 points at home this year. That’s absurd. That’s what I call home field advantage.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
Line: New York -3
Predicted Score: Philadelphia 17 – New York 24
2 Cents: To me these are two very evenly matched teams, both with a chance to pick up an NFC Wildcard spot. On the face of it, Philadelphia looks like the better team in this match up, and in some areas they are, but when you look deeper it becomes clear that the Giants have the edge. Let’s go through offense, defense, head coach, and field advantage. Offense: Over the last 3 games, both teams are averaging 20 points. So, on paper, these offenses cancel each other out. But in today’s NFL you have to consider quarterback play with the utmost importance, and right now Eli Manning is the superior quarterback to Carson Wentz. Edge goes to the Giants on offense. Defense: Philadelphia does have the better defense thus far. They’ve allowed just 16 points per game compared to the Giants’ 20, with 6 more takeaways on the season, and 30 less yards allowed per game on average. The Giants aren’t far behind in total defense, though, and they’ll be rested coming off a bye. Head coach: Although Doug Pederson has done a great job with his rookie quarterback, it’s simply too early to call him a better coach than Ben Mcadoo. Seeing the two go head to head will show us something. We’ll call it a draw. Field advantage: this is where the game is decided to me. The Giants have only given up 18 points per game at home this year, and Carson Wentz has thrown all of his interceptions on the road. All things considered, Giants win this game by a touchdown.
The Catch: Philadelphia has taken the ball away 13 times this season, tied for 6th most in the league. Eli Manning’s been known to throw a pick (or four) from time to time.
Carolina Panthers at LA Rams
Line: Carolina -3
Predicted Score: Carolina 28 – LA 17
2 Cents: Mark my words, Carolina is returning to form. Their game last week against Arizona was over in the first quarter, so don’t be fooled by Carson Palmer’s fantasy numbers: He spent that whole game playing catch-up. The Rams, on the other hand, are a team with no identity, basically biding their time until they can fire Jeff Fisher at the end of the season, and bring in an offensive-minded coach to help Jared Goff. For now though, the Rams will start Case Keenum, who’s thrown 10 interceptions on the season. That doesn’t bode well against a Carolina secondary with 7 INT’s on the season (T-7th). Jeff Fisher’s Rams rely on stout defense and ball control to win games, but Carolina has the league’s best run defense, and too many play-makers on offense to be contained. Cam Newton will silence the critics, and get back to having fun this week.
The Catch: The Rams will do anything they can to capitalize on Cam Newton “not feeling safe” on the field. It’s a dog eat dog league, and when you make comments like that, defensive players start salivating.
New Orleans Saints at San Francisco 49ers
Line: New Orleans -3 1/2
Predicted Score: New Orleans 27 – San Francisco 21
2 Cents: Drew Brees is on pace to throw for 5,000 yards, and 36 TD’s this year. Can you imagine what the Saints could do if they knew how to build a good defense? Well, unfortunately their defense allows a 31st ranked 30 points per game, and are bottom of the league in almost every other defensive category. Luckily for them, they get to face the league’s 32nd ranked scoring defense this week. There’s a number of reasons this 49ers team is 1-6, from a lack of talent on defense, to horrible QB play, it just keeps getting worse for Chip Kelly. Give it time, folks. For this week though, Drew Brees will continue to put up explosive numbers, and the 49ers will move to 1-7.
The Catch: If Kaepernick has a chance to return to form against any team, it’ll be the Saints. #PrayforKaepernick
Indianapolis Colts at Green Bay Packers
Line: Green Bay -7 1/2
Predicted Score: Indianapolis 24 – Green Bay 31
2 Cents: Green Bay’s run defense is fantastic and that’s the best news Colts fans will hear all week. Why, you ask? Because Andrew Luck provides the Colts with their only chance at victory every single week. It really does make me sad to watch one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league continue to be surrounded by a sea of mediocre players. Their should be a referendum to get Luck on a better-run franchise, for the NFL’s sake: Better QB’s = better ratings. Anyways, about this game… The Packers are finding their groove again, after a little kick-in-the-butt from their local media, and they look like they could be dangerous down the stretch if Ty Montgomery can stay healthy. Their defense, meanwhile, hasn’t been a problem this year: they’re top 10 in yards allowed per game. Green Bay will catch a break at home this week against a Colts team that has talent deficiencies across the board, and allows 28 points per game.
The Catch: The Colts are averaging 25 points per game over the last 4 games due to Andrew Luck’s greatness, and Green Bay’s pass defense can be taken advantage of. This game could turn into a shootout, and Luck is capable of beating Aaron Rodgers.
Tennessee Titans at San Diego Chargers
Line: San Diego -4
Predicted Score: Tennessee 27 – San Diego 24
2 Cents: This is a sneaky good game, and you can be assured that I’ll be covered in grease, zombied out, and in hot water with my girlfriend in the process of focusing in on this AFC match up. The Titans have a real shot at winning the AFC South, and this will be a defining game for them. The Chargers, on the other hand, are a playoff-caliber team that will most likely miss the playoffs because they play in the loaded AFC West. Marcus Mariota is coming into his own, while Philip Rivers is having one of the best seasons of his decorated career. When you look at the numbers, these are two very evenly matched teams, with San Diego having the slight edge on offense, and Tennessee having the slight edge on defense. Marcus Mariota is on a ridiculous 4 game stretch of 10 TD’s to 1 INT. Rivers, on the other hand, has come down to earth in the last 4 games, with an 8 to 6 TD to INT ratio. To me, the Titans have the edge in this game for 3 reasons: They’re the healthier team, their offensive line will stifle San Diego’s good young pass rushers, and they rank 1st in time of possession when playing on the road.
The Catch: Phillip Rivers has a way of making something out of nothing. You can never count this guy out of a game.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders
Line: Oakland -1
Predicted Score: Denver 24 – Oakland 23
2 Cents: This is my game of the week. This Oakland team, as I’ve been saying, will run the AFC West for the next 10 years with Derek Carr. But I think that’ll have to wait till next year. Listen, I know Oakland scores 26 points per game, and Derek Carr is a flat out baller, but this Oakland team hasn’t faced a defense like Denver’s. In fact, the best defense Oakland has faced thus far is the Kansas City Chiefs, and they lost that game by 16 points. It’s not that Oakland’s offense won’t move the ball, because I’m sure they will. Simply put, Oakland’s defense (31st in the league) won’t be able to stop the Bronco’s as many times as the Bronco’s will stop Oakland’s offense. Sure Trevor Siemian is limited, but since week 3, the guy’s thrown 7 TD’s to 1 INT: he’s doing exactly what he should be doing with that historic defense behind him. Denver wins because they have the better defense.
The Catch: Derek Carr is turning into one of those guys that you just shouldn’t bet against. He could give Denver’s defense problems, much like Philip Rivers did a couple of weeks ago.
Buffalo Bills at Seattle Seahawks
Line: Seattle -6 1/2
Predicted Score: Buffalo 17 – Seattle 27
2 Cents: After facing the Patriots without Brady, the Rams with Case Keenum, and the 49ers with Colin Kaepernick, the Bills became one of the most over-rated defenses in the league. Then, the Dolphins dominated the line of scrimmage on offense and defense in a week 7 loss, and the Patriots put up 41 points on them in a week 8 loss. This week, the Bills travel to one of the toughest road venue’s in the NFL, vs a Seattle team that’s top 5 in every defensive category. Buffalo is over-matched defensively, at quarterback, and at head coach. I don’t see a chance for Buffalo.
The Catch: Crazy things have been happening on MNF, such as the Bears winning. If LeSean Mccoy is healthy enough to carry the load, the Bills could keep this one close.