Week 9 is the first of two weeks this season in which six teams are on a bye. Despite that, there are some big games on the slate for this weekend. There’s an important AFC North battle as the Steelers face the Ravens in Baltimore, and a potential NFC Championship preview in New Orleans with the Saints hoping to hand the Rams their first loss of the season. And the Sunday nighter is an interconference game pitting two of this generation’s best quarterbacks against each other. Aaron Rodgers leads the Packers into Foxborough to take on Tom Brady and the Patriots. I went 9-5 last week, giving me an overall record of 59-72 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red
Byes: Bengals, Cardinals, Colts, Eagles, Giants, Jaguars
Thursday Night Football
Raiders at 49ers (-2.5) – The first game of the week features the two Bay Area teams in a contest that likely won’t have much interest — outside of for gambling purposes — for people not in Northern California because the teams have one win apiece. Neither team is good, so I’m going to go with the team getting the points, the Raiders.
Sunday 1PM games
Falcons at Redskins (-1.5) – This spread is kind of surprising. The Falcons are on the road, but they’re coming off the bye and they have the better offense in my opinion. The Falcons have the best quarterback and pass-catcher in Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, respectively. The Falcons’ defense isn’t great, but I don’t think Redskins QB Alex Smith will be able to take full advantage of it. I think the Falcons will win the game outright, so I’m taking the points.
Bears at Bills (+8.5) – The Bills stayed surprisingly close to the Patriots for three quarters on Monday night before New England pulled away for a 25-6 victory. But with QB Derek Anderson suffering a concussion in the game, QB Nathan Peterman is back as Buffalo’s starter this week. Facing a tough Bears defense, that will likely result in at least a couple of interceptions. I think Bears QB Mitch Trubisky will be able to put up enough points that the Bears could win by double digits. I’ll give the points.
Chiefs at Browns (+8.5) – The Browns fired both head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Monday, then named defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as the interim head coach. Having such a tumultuous week won’t help the team perform well against a 7-1 Chiefs team that has one of the top offenses in the league behind QB Patrick Mahomes, RB Kareem Hunt, WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce. Browns QB Baker Mayfield won’t be able to come close to keeping up with all the scoring the Chiefs are likely to do in the game. Chiefs win big on the road.
Lions at Vikings (-4.5) – The Lions are coming off a loss to the Seahawks in which they scored just 14 points, then on Tuesday they traded WR Golden Tate to the Eagles. Despite that trade, they still have two good receivers with Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, but that duo is likely inferior to the Vikings’ top two receivers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. And the Vikings have a better defense and running game — especially if RB Dalvin Cook is healthy enough to return to action this week — so I think the Vikings win the game and cover the 4.5 points.
Jets at Dolphins (-3.5) – The Dolphins have lost two in a row and four of their last five games after starting the season 3-0, now they face a 3-5 Jets team at home. The Dolphins have announced that QB Ryan Tannehill will not return from his shoulder injury this week, meaning QB Brock Osweiler will get the start for a fourth straight game. For the Jets, it’ll be rookie QB Sam Darnold under center. Both of these teams have middling offenses, so I think it’ll be a close game with neither team pulling away from the other. Dolphins win the game, but I’ll take the points with the Jets.
Steelers at Ravens (-2.5) – It’s almost always a close game when these division rivals meet. These teams are going in opposite directions heading into this game; the Steelers are on a three-game winning streak, while the Ravens have dropped their last two. At 4-4, the Ravens are looking to get the win to stay in the playoff race, but I don’t think they’ll do it. They have a good defense, but I think the Steelers will be able to put points on the scoreboard with the offense led by QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown and RB James Conner, who has performed well filling in for RB Le’Veon Bell through the first half of the season. Steelers win the game on the road.
Buccaneers at Panthers (-6.5) – The Buccaneers benched QB Jameis Winston during Sunday’s loss to the Bengals after he threw four interceptions, and he will start this week’s game on the bench after the team announced that QB Ryan Fitzpatrick — who threw two touchdowns in relief of Winston last week — will get the start. It won’t be easy for Fitzpatrick, though, because he’ll have to try to keep up with a Panthers offense that is rolling of late. QB Cam Newton has TE Greg Olsen back from his foot injury, and he also has RB Christian McCaffrey — one of the best pass-catching backs in the NFL — and rookie WR D.J. Moore, who had 90 receiving yards in his first career start last week. Carolina has too much firepower on offense, so I’ll give the points.
Sunday 4PM games
Texans at Broncos (-2.5) – The Texans and Broncos made a trade on Tuesday, with Denver sending WR Demaryius Thomas to Houston for a fourth-round draft pick, and he’ll get a chance to face his old team in his first game with his new squad. Thomas fills a hole in the Texans’ receiving game after WR Will Fuller suffered a season-ending ACL tear late in Thursday night’s win against the Dolphins. He’ll form a strong one-two punch in the receiving game with WR DeAndre Hopkins for QB Deshaun Hopkins to throw the ball to. And the Texans have gotten their running game going in the last couple of games with RB Lamar Miller gaining at least 100 yards in the last two games. For the Broncos, the Thomas trade leaves WR Emmanuel Sanders as the No. 1 pass catcher for QB Case Keenum, but it’ll also open up an opportunity for rookie WR Courtland Sutton to get more involved in the action coming off a career-best 78 receiving yards last week. As for this game, the Texans are the better team on both sides of the ball and should win the game — which would be six in a row — so I’m taking the points.
Chargers at Seahawks (-1.5) – The Seahawks have gotten better of late, going 4-1 since their 0-2 start, but the Chargers are on a four-game win streak and coming off their bye as they head to Seattle for this interconference affair. Chargers RB Melvin Gordon missed the team’s last game in Week 7 with a hamstring injury, and his status for Sunday is still up in the air. If he can’t go, that’ll hurt the Chargers’ chances of pulling off the victory on the road. Even without him, I think the Chargers may be the better team than the Seahawks. I expect a close game and I’m going to take the points.
Rams at Saints (-1.5) – The Rams needed a late fumble from former Packers RB Ty Montgomery — who they traded to the Ravens on Tuesday — to keep their undefeated season intact last week. Now QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and the rest of the Rams face another tough test against QB Drew Brees and the Saints in a potential playoff preview. The Rams added to their defense this week by trading for LB Dante Fowler from the Jaguars. The Rams still don’t know if they will have WR Cooper Kupp, who missed last week’s game, when they head to the Superdome this week in what should be a shootout between two of the league’s best offenses. Brees should have his full complement of offensive weapons, including RBs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, as well as WR Michael Thomas. This should be a high-scoring game, but I’m going to give it to the Saints at home to end Los Angeles’ hopes of going 16-0.
Sunday Night Football
Packers at Patriots (-5.5) – This is another game that should feature a lot of scoring as Rodgers and Brady start against each other for just the second time in their illustrious careers. The Packers are coming off a close loss to the Rams, while the Patriots beat a bad Bills team on Monday night. The Patriots are unsure about the status of RB Sony Michel, but he has been practicing this week after missing Monday night’s game. The Packers have a good offense, but I think the Patriots have the advantage, with Brady having WR Julian Edelman and TE Rob Gronkowski catching passes from him. Neither defense is great, but the Packers’ defense got worse this week when they traded S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to the Redskins. This should be a close game, so I’ll take the points with the Packers but I think the Patriots win the game.
Monday Night Football
Titans at Cowboys (-6.5) – Both teams enter the Monday night contest after their byes, which means the Cowboys will be playing their first game with WR Amari Cooper, who they acquired for a first-round pick in a trade with the Raiders during their Week 8 bye. The Cowboys hope Cooper fills a hole in the passing game that the Cowboys have had all season long without a true No. 1 receiver for QB Dak Prescott. The Titans are having a disappointing year at 3-4 under first-year head coach MIke Vrabel. At home, I think the Cowboys can win by a touchdown, so I’m going to give the points.