Happy Friday everyone and welcome to our Week 9 preview! This week's preview will be slightly abbreviated compared to past editions, but it will still have all the same information and format. As far as the games go, I'm looking forward to the Miami v New England game. These teams have two of the more interesting offenses in the NFL and it should be a close, exciting game.
Sunday and Monday night both feature interesting match ups as well, with Dallas going to Philadelphia on Sunday and Pittsburgh visiting Denver on Monday night. The Cowboys and Eagles almost always play good games, and we will get to see how the Broncos respond to their first loss of the season. So as you can see there is plenty to look forward to this weekend, now on with the preview.
Sunday 1 PM EST
The 2-5 Washington Redskins travel to Atlanta to face a Falcon's team still reeling from a tough loss to New Orleans last week. Atlanta has to be disappointed after losing two consecutive games for the first time under Mike Smith, but the entire season has been a disappointment for Washington. Struggles on their offensive line have mired their entire offense in ineptitude. An inability to protect the quarterback has limited them to a mere 296 yards per game. The Redskins are tied for 5th in the league having allowed 23 sacks this year.
The Falcons' offense has not been playing well either as of late. In his last three games, quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown 7 interceptions. Fortunately for Ryan, he may be able to rely on running back Michael Turner to carry the team. Turner is coming off his best game of the season after rushing for 151 yards and a touchdown last week against the Saints. If he can have success against the Redskins' 22nd ranked run defense, the Falcons should be able to win this one at home.
Score: Washington 10 Atlanta 24
The Cardinals are coming off a disappointing home loss to the Panthers. Arizona has been inconsistent all season, but they have played better on the road than at home. They have already matched last season's number of road victories with three. If the visiting Cardinals are going to get another win on the road, they will need improved play from their quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner matched his career high with 5 interceptions against Carolina in Week 8, and he also lost a fumble. So far this season his yards per attempt (y/a) is down by almost 1 y/a, from 7.7 y/a last season to 6.8 y/a now. Warner may also be without one of his top playmakers if wide receiver Anquan Boldin is forced to sit out with his ankle injury.
Warner's counterpart, Jay Cutler, has made poor decisions at times. He has thrown eleven touchdowns but also has eleven interceptions. Chicago needs running back Matt Forte to rebound from his slow start and take some of the pressure off of Cutler. Forte had a strong game last week against Cleveland, running for 90 yards and two touchdowns. He will look to continue that success in Week 9 against a Cardinal run defense that gave up 270 rushing yards last week to Carolina. If Chicago is able to win the turnover battle I think they can win this game at home.
Prediction: Arizona 24 Chicago 28
Houston comes into this game in second place in the AFC South, trailing Indianapolis by three games in the loss column, and this game could go a long way in deciding who wins that division. This match up features two of the league's top passing attacks. Peyton Manning and the colts lead the league with 316.3 passing yards per game, while Matt Schaub and the Texans rank 3rd with 282 passing yards per game. On a side note, has anybody else noticed how bored Schaub looks when he plays?
The difference in this game could be the Colts' pass rushing duo, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The two have a combined total of 14 sacks this season and are the main reason Indianapolis has the league's 7th ranked pass defense. Quarterback Peyton Manning was held without a touchdown pass in last week's game against San Francisco, so I expect he will throw a couple extra to make up for it. Houston is a good team, but everything they can do the Colts do better.
Prediction: Houston 21 Indianapolis 31
Baltimore comes into this game at 4-3, 1 game back of Cincinnati in the AFC North. The Bengals won the first game this season with a late touchdown to go ahead 17-14. Despite the fact that Cincinnati won the head to head matchup and has a better overall record, The Ravens actually have a much higher total DVOA. Baltimore ranks 5th with a DVOA of 35.2%, that's 10 spots ahead of the Bengals. Because of this I think the Ravens are fully capable of going into Paul Brown Stadium and getting a win. The key for Baltimore will be maintaining balance on offense. If they can do that, I think they will have success against Cincinnati's defense.
In past years the Bengals have been known on offense for their passing game, but this year it's all about the running game for Cincinnati. They currently average 127.7 rushing yards per game, which makes them 9th in the league. However, the Bengals may look to pass more often against a Baltimore defense ranked 4th against the rush. Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco could be the difference in this game. The eccentric wide out already has 573 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. I don't think Cincinnati will be able to stop the Ravens on defense, so they will need to win this one in a shoot out if they want to sweep the season series.
Prediction: Baltimore 28 Cincinnati 17
It seems I jumped on the Kansas City bandwagon too early. After a Week 6 victory at Washington, I picked them to win at home against the Chargers. The result was a 37-7 victory for San Diego. This week I've learned my lesson and will not be picking them to win on the road. They are just not especially good at anything except for special teams, and that's not enough to win consistently.
Jacksonville is by no means a power house, but they do have better playmakers on offense. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew and receivers Torry Holt and Mike Sims-Walker are all better than their counterparts on the Chiefs. The Jaguars are a physical team and they like to emphasize the running game. I expect they will rely on Maurice Jones-Drew, and he should have success against a Kansas City defense giving up 131 rushing yards per game. They won't win pretty, but Jacksonville should do enough to win this game at home and close the gap between themselves and the Houston Texans.
Prediction: Kansas City 9 Jacksonville 14
The league did Green Bay a favor when they scheduled this game. After a disappointing home loss to Minnesota and all the drama that surrounded Brett Favre's return to Lambeau, the Packers could use a gimme and this is about as close as you will get in the NFL. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing at an extremely high level this season. He is completing 65% of his passes and has thrown for 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Green Bay is ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense DVOA, but they have struggled on special teams at times. Last week a couple of missed field goals contributed to the loss. Despite these inconsistencies, the Packer should be able to control this game.
Buccaneer's rookie Josh Freeman will get his first career start at quarterback, and Tampa Bay will still lose.
Prediction: Green Bay 32 Tampa Bay 12
Miami comes into this game at 3-4 but they are still very much alive in the AFC East. Last week they picked up a win against a tough division opponent, and this week things do not get any easier for the Dolphins. It will be interesting to see how often they run the Wildcat in New England, where they first unveiled the formation. Despite having continued success with it, they have shied away from the Wildcat in the last couple of weeks. Whatever they decide to do on offense, they will need continued production form Ted Ginn on special teams. I think they will need at least two touchdowns from special teams and turnovers to win against a much stronger New England team.
The Patriots had a bye last week, so you know that Bellicheck is going to have this match up game planned masterfully. New England's offense has been spectacular, ranking 3rd in total yardage with 409 yards per game. Defensively, they are giving up 109.4 rushing yards per game so I would not be surprised if Miami is able to move the ball and put up points against the Patriots defense. But in the end I think Tom Brady and company will be able to outs score the Dolphins.
Prediction: Miami 28 New England 35
Sunday 4:05-4:15 PM EST
A surprising win on the road has the Panthers coming into New Orleans on a high note. Carolina needs to win this game if they want to get back into the NFC South playoff picture. If they are going to have success they will need to be able to run the ball and get pressure on the quarterback. When running back DeAngelo Hall runs for over 110 yards, the Panthers are an impressive 10-0. If they can't rely on their running game, they will not be able to win on the strength of Jake Delhomme's arm alone. Defensively, Julius Peppers has been dominant in the last four games. He recorded six sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception returned for a touchdown during that span.
The hometown Saints continue to prove they are a complete team, ranking 2nd in offense in 4th in defense DVOA. They lead the league with 16 interceptions, so you can mark them down for at least one of those against the oft intercepted Jake Delhomme. The improvement in their running game has made them almost unstoppable. They are averaging 39 points per game, and should have no problem scoring enough to go to 8-0.
Prediction: Carolina 17 New Orleans 35
Detroit makes a rare journey out to the west coast to visit Qwest Field, in a matchup of NFC bottom feeders. Rookie quarterback Matt Stafford struggled in his first start after missing two weeks with an injury, and he will look to bounce back with a strong showing in Seattle to silence his critics. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson was limited in practice this week due to a knee injury. Obviously it would be a big loss if Johnson could not play in this difficult road game. While the Lions do have a lot of question marks coming into this game, if they play up to their potential they can win this game.
Once again the Seahawks have been hit by a rash of injuries this year. If they want to get back in the race in the NFC West this is a game they need to win. Matt Hassellbeck was 22 of 39 for 249 yards with two touchdowns against the Cowboys. Look for him to have a big game against the Lions 25th ranked pass defense. Tight end Steve Carlson has caught five touchdown passes in his last seven home games and I expect him to add to that total against Detroit. The Lions have a punchers chance, especially if Calvin Johnson is able to play, but I think the Seahawks will do enough in the passing game to get this win at home.
Prediction: Detroit 13 Seattle 17
Obviously this game is covered in excruciating detail on this site and there is not much that I can really add to the discussion. But, I will go ahead and predict that the 49ers will stop their three game losing streak and get their season back on track.
Prediction: Tennessee 10 San Francisco 24
This week San Diego has the tough task of traveling all the way across the country to play the Giants. If this game were played in San Diego I might pick the Chargers, but I don't know if the Bolts will be able to do enough to overcome the disadvantage of playing on the eastern seaboard. Quarterback Phillip Rivers will look to stretch the field against a New York defense that has shown a propensity to give up the big play. Rivers has already thrown for over 2000 yards this season, and he will need to have a strong game if San Diego is going to win. Wide out Vincent Jackson should get plenty of targets as he had over 100 receiving yards in each of his last two games. The big question for the Chargers is whether or not Shawn Merriman will show up in this game. Merriman had been largely invisible until last week when he recorded his first two sacks of the year. If he can have a big game pressuring Eli Manning it could swing the game in San Diego's favor.
After starting 5-0, the Giants have lost their last three games and are now in 3rd place in the NFC East. Part of the problem has been Eli Manning's tendency to turn the ball over. Manning has thrown six interceptions in the last three weeks and he will need to hold on to the football if he wants to give the Giants a chance to stop their slide. While their quarterback has been struggling, New York has gotten improved play from running back Brandon Jacobs. After coming under heavy criticism this season, Jacobs has averaged over four yards per carry in his last three games. An improved ground game and greater ball security should allow the Giants to get back to their winning ways.
Prediction: San Diego 17 New York 20
Sunday 8:20 PM EST
Dallas and Philadelphia is one of the NFL's great rivalries, and this particular match up has all the makings of a classic. The winner of this game will be in sole possession of first place in the NFC East and will have a 1 game advantage in the season series. Both squads are coming off impressive victories so this game should be a good test for these teams. Tony Romo has righted the ship after getting off to a shaky start. The Dallas quarterback has thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his last three games. Second year wide out Miles Austin has emerged as a big play threat recently and the Cowboys will rely on Austin as well as their stable of running backs to try and steal a win in Philadelphia.
The Eagles have very quietly compiled a 5-2 record, and this will be a statement game for them. Philadelphia is ranked 2nd in total DVOA according to Football Outsiders, and they have the added advantage of playing this game at home. Offensively the Eagles have been dynamic, averaging 29 points a game. Much of their success has come from explosive plays. An example would be wide receiver DeSean Jackson who has six touchdowns this season, all of them over 50 yards. Jackson also give Philadelphia a strong return game. On defense the Eagles are as good as anybody in the league. They are ranked number 1 in DVOA and will be a tough test for the Cowboys' offense. In a close game like this I tend to favor the home team so I'm picking the Eagles.
Prediction Dallas 20 Philadelphia 21
Monday 8:30 PM EST
Pittsburgh's road back to the Super Bowl may go through an unexpected destination, Denver. The Broncos are 6-1 and have everybody's attention after their hot start. But their offense may have been exposed by the aggressive Ravens defense in their last game, and they will have to prove they can protect Kyle Orton against a similar Steelers defense. Pittsburgh has found success throwing the ball this season ranking 4th in pass offense DVOA, but they will need to protect quarterback Ben Rothlisberger if that is going to continue. The Broncos' Elvis Dumervil is leading the league with 10 sacks and could pose a match up problem for the Steelers. Ben Rothlisberger's ability to keep plays alive could be the x-factor in this game. While he is often criticized for holding on to the ball too long his knack for making something out of nothing can lead to big plays.
After only scoring 7 points in their last game, Josh McDaniel's no doubt made some adjustments to his offensive game plan over the bye week. For the most part Kyle Orton has done a very nice job spreading the ball around in the passing game, but Denver has not had as much success developing a consistent running game. Things will not get any easier against a Pittsburgh defense only giving up 3.8 yards per carry. For this reason I expect the Broncos to play to their strengths and emphasize the spread offense and moving the ball through the air. If Orton gets the protection he needs he should be able to move the ball efficiently against Pittsburgh. The Steelers still have big names like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu on defense, but as a unit they have not performed as well as in past years. Still, I think Pittsburgh will make enough plays to pull this game out in the end.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 17 Denver 14