Last week was tough! But it’s time to move on to Week 9. Does anyone want to win the NFC South? Is the season over for the Bucs-Rams loser? Is this the week that the Jets fan base gives up on Zach Wilson?
Lines are from FanDuel. Stats are from TruMedia/Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted. On to the picks!
Week 9 record: 6-9
Season record: 66-55-2
Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans (+14)
The Eagles are +14 on turnovers this season. That’s more than double any other team. On the one hand, Jalen Hurts deserves a ton of credit for this. He has played 467 offensive snaps and has turned it over twice (and one of those was a fluky interception that bounced off a teammate’s hands). On the other hand, it’s fair to wonder whether the Eagles defense will look as good against better opponents when it’s not producing takeaways.
We are unlikely to get an answer to that question this week. In their loss to the Titans last week, the Texans had 64 total yards through three quarters. That was the lowest total through three quarters for any NFL offense in a game this season.
I generally hate taking favorites to cover lines this big because so many random, unlucky things can happen in a football game. But this is just such a mismatch on paper, and the Eagles have not been susceptible to letdown games so far this season.
The pick: Eagles (-14)
Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots (-5.5)
After Week 1, the Colts released their kicker. After Week 7, they benched quarterback Matt Ryan. After Week 8, they fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady. Why does this feel like an organization that has no answers and is grasping at straws?
The Patriots got a road win against the Jets last week, but their offense still looks sloppy and disjointed. Mac Jones averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt in that game. He threw one interception and easily could’ve had a couple more. On the season, the Patriots offense ranks 23rd in expected points added (EPA) per drive.
There’s a scenario in which the Colts defense produces a couple of takeaways and keeps this game close, but Sam Ehlinger is making his second career start against Bill Belichick. I’ll take my chances with the Patriots.
The pick: Patriots (-5.5)
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (+12.5)
Improvement in the NFL is not always linear, but it’s hard to find specific areas where Zach Wilson is actually getting better. He makes critical mistakes. He often looks panicked. He overrates his ability to create plays out of structure. Even Wilson’s biggest supporters have to be concerned. He currently ranks 30th out of 35 quarterbacks in EPA per pass play, and even that ranking got boosted by some garbage time production in last week’s loss to the Patriots.
The Bills owe everybody (OK, maybe just me) an apology for not covering the 10.5-point spread last week against the Packers despite being up 24-7 at halftime and generally dominating the game. That one really hurt my feelings.
On the season, the Bills have outscored opponents by a league-best 105 points. They have been favored by 10 points or more 10 times in the past two seasons. They’re 6-2-2 against the spread in those games. The matchup between the Bills offensive line and the Jets defensive line gives me some pause, but I like Buffalo.
The pick: Bills (-12.5)
Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears (+5)
Mike McDaniel’s offensive scheming has been impressive. The Dolphins are eighth in EPA per drive, and Tua Tagovailoa ranks third in EPA per pass play. With the game on the line last week against the Lions, McDaniel stayed aggressive and put the ball in Tagovailoa’s hands. That was telling. I need to see more before fully trusting this Miami team, but the offense has been working well.
One thing that confuses me about the Bears: What took them so long to make all these moves? Couldn’t they have gotten more for Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith if they’d traded them before the season? Wouldn’t it have made sense to add a wide receiver like Chase Claypool earlier if they really wanted to get a good evaluation of Justin Fields?
Maybe it’s a “better late than never” deal. I’ll give Matt Eberflus credit. The team plays hard, and the recent tweaks to the offense have been smart. I think they can be competitive here.
The pick: Bears (+5)
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (+3.5)
Is it wrong that I was weirdly a little encouraged by the Packers’ performance in last week’s loss to the Bills? They ran for 208 yards, and wide receivers Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure made a few plays. The defense was far from perfect, but it competed. Maybe it’ll lead to nothing, but that didn’t feel like a disastrous loss.
How alarming has the Lions’ defensive performance this season been? TruMedia’s database goes back to 2000, so we’re looking at a span of 23 league seasons and 734 single-season team performances. Among that sample, this year’s Lions defense ranks 734th in EPA per drive! Dead last! By the way, the 2008 Lions defense ranks 733rd, and the 2020 Lions rank 732nd. I’m so sorry, Lions fans, This has not been easy for you.
Detroit can move the ball, but I trust pretty much every team in the NFL to light up that defense right now. This could be a “get right” game for the Packers.
The pick: Packers (-3.5)
Minnesota Vikings at Washington Commanders (+3.5)
I liked the Vikings’ trade for tight end T.J. Hockenson. One, Hockenson is a good player. Over the past three seasons, he ranks seventh among tight ends in receiving yards. Two, he’s under contract for $9.3 million next year. Tight end salaries have ballooned, and Hockenson would get significantly more than that on the open market. And three, it’s basically a pick swap. The Vikings traded a 2023 second-round pick and a 2024 third-round pick for a pair of fourths. I don’t think the Vikings are a great team, but it’s a wide open NFC, and they’re 6-1. Adding Hockenson makes them harder to defend.
The Commanders have quietly won three in a row. The offense is still mostly a mess, but the defense has been competitive. I think they’ll be able to get to Kirk Cousins in this game. I’ll take the points.
The pick: Commanders (+3.5)
Carolina Panthers at Cincinnati Bengals (-7.5)
We’ve seen throughout the league this year that certain pass catchers are just problem-solvers. A.J. Brown with the Eagles. Tyreek Hill with the Dolphins. And Ja’Marr Chase with the Bengals. Need a big play on third down, in the red zone, or late in the fourth quarter? Don’t overthink it. Just get those guys the ball. Unfortunately, the Bengals are without Chase, and the offense struggled in a loss Monday night against the Browns. The team also lost its best corner, Chidobe Awuzie, to a torn ACL. I still believe in Joe Burrow and think he’ll keep them in the mix for a playoff spot, but things could stay rocky until Chase returns.
P.J. Walker and running back D’Onta Foreman have given the Panthers some juice. Defensively, they have talent with guys like defensive tackle Derrick Brown and edge rusher Brian Burns. This number feels too high to me. I think the Panthers can be competitive.
The pick: Panthers (+7.5)
Los Angeles Chargers at Atlanta Falcons (+3)
Let’s start with the glass-half-full take on the Chargers. They are 4-3 and would be a playoff team if the regular season ended today. They also have the sixth-easiest remaining schedule, according to Football Outsiders. The glass-half-empty take? When we last saw the Chargers, they lost by two touchdowns in Seattle and looked like one of the most joyless teams in the NFL. The defense has been a disappointment. We don’t know when or if Justin Herbert will be fully healthy. And they have a -25 point differential, which ranks 22nd.
As for the Falcons, they easily could’ve lost last week to the Panthers, but the offense moves the ball pretty much every game. Atlanta’s offense ranks sixth in EPA per drive. There’s a scenario here where Herbert lights up the Falcons defense, but given the Chargers’ conservative offensive approach, it seems more likely that this game is close.
The pick: Falcons (+3)
Las Vegas Raiders at Jacksonville Jaguars (+1.5)
Is it OK that the Trevor Lawrence experience has me wanting more? He threw a critical red zone interception last week against Denver, took an intentional grounding in field goal range, and missed throws that are considered routine by NFL standards. I’m not saying he’s a bad quarterback. He’s been fine, competent. But given his tools, I was expecting more examples of him being the reason that the Jaguars won games, not lost games. Jacksonville is tied for the league-worst record against the spread at 2-6.
The Raiders got shut out last week by the Saints. Their offensive line got manhandled, Derek Carr played poorly, and Davante Adams had one catch for 3 yards.
If I could choose one game that I didn’t have to pick, it’d be this one. I have no feel at all for what’s going to happen. But that’s not how this thing works. So I’ll go ahead and let the Jaguars crush my soul once again.
The pick: Jaguars (+1.5)
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals (-2)
There’s so much to like about this Seahawks team. Geno Smith has a great grasp of the offense, is pushing the ball downfield, and delivering dimes on a weekly basis. The defense is improving, and you can see the growth from the many young players on which the Seahawks are relying. The team plays with joy, and you can tell that Pete Carroll is loving every minute of it.
As for how things are going with the Cardinals, well, let’s let Kliff Kingsbury explain:
Kliff Kingsbury said today that the Cardinals have trailed in 91 percent of the season through 8 weeks, which computes to leading for an average of 6 minutes per game, according to the Cardinals' analytics department.— Josh Weinfuss (@joshweinfuss) November 2, 2022
DeAndre Hopkins gives them more answers on offense, but the Cardinals are banged up on the offensive line. The Vikings gave them several opportunities to steal that game last week, and Arizona couldn’t take advantage.
This game could go either way, but I never feel good taking Arizona. I trust the Seahawks more.
The pick: Seahawks (+2)
Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)
For two and a half or three quarters last week against the 49ers, it felt like the Rams might have figured some things out. They leaned into some tweaks to help their offensive line (screens, play-action, etc.). They were up 14-10 at halftime and trailed just 17-14 in the fourth quarter before falling apart.
I’ve been waiting for the Bucs to get it together, but they might just not have it this year. Losing edge rusher Shaquil Barrett to a season-ending Achilles injury is going to hurt. And offensively, why are there so many instances when it feels like Tom Brady and Mike Evans just met five minutes before kickoff and aren’t on the same page?
This feels like a coin-flip game, and Aaron Donald could dominate the interior of the Bucs offensive line. I’m taking the points.
The pick: Rams (+3)
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5)
Statistically, the Chiefs have the best offense in the NFL (EPA per drive) through eight weeks. The difference between them and no. 2 (the Bills) is roughly the same as the difference between no. 2 and no. 17 (the Chargers).
The Titans rode their defense and run game to a victory over the Texans last week. Tennessee ranks seventh in EPA per drive on defense. Derrick Henry, meanwhile, has looked terrific over the past month or so.
As of this writing, it’s unclear whether Ryan Tannehill will return from his ankle injury. As we saw last week, the offense is going to be limited if it’s Malik Willis at quarterback. But I generally like to ride with Mike Vrabel as an underdog. He knows how to adjust for his personnel. Give me the points.
The pick: Titans (+12.5)
Baltimore Ravens at New Orleans Saints (+2.5)
Can’t decide if I like the Ravens’ move to acquire linebacker Roquan Smith or not. On one hand, any time you can get an All-Pro player who’s 25, you should strongly consider it. I could easily see Smith being the face of their defense for the next 6-8 years. On the other, the Ravens didn’t sign Smith to an extension as part of the deal. Now Smith will have significant leverage in that negotiation, and the cost is going to be north of $19 million per year. The Ravens are going to have to pay up to keep Lamar Jackson long term and need to be smart about how they use resources on the rest of their roster. I admire the aggressiveness, but I’m not sure I would’ve been so bold.
The Saints flat-out dominated the Raiders last week. Alvin Kamara had 27 touches for 158 yards. The Ravens don’t have one thing they can hang their hat on, and I could see a low-scoring game. But Baltimore can win in different ways and has a big edge on special teams. I like them to take care of business here.
The pick: Ravens (-2.5)