NFL WEEK 9: As we reach the midpoint of the regular season desperation has set in for some teams who had planned on contending but now find themselves at the bottom of their division with playoff hopes rapidly diminishing. One of those teams is the Tennesse Titans, who are now 3-5 and tied for last in the AFC South after dropping a heartbreaker on Thursday night to a terrible Pittsburgh team. And yes, I realize the Steelers are now somehow 5-3, which is a credit to the wizardry of Mike Tomlin, but the offense is unwatchable and the defense can’t stop the run. If Tomlin get these guys to the playoffs he should win coach of the year. It’s not going to happen, though– it’s more likely they finish last in the division, as all four teams in the AFC North currently have a winning record. Selling all my Pittsburgh shares and I advise you to do the same.
There are several compelling matchups this week and our German friends might get the best game of them all, as the Chiefs and Dolphins will bring the AFC’s best two offenses to Frankfurt Stadium in the NFL’s latest International Series showcase. It’s an early kick– breakfast time in the U.S.– meaning we get Chiefs/Dolphins in a standalone slot to start our Sunday, followed by a 12-game slate that includes gems like Cowboys/Eagles and Bills/Bengals. These are the days we dream about in the offseason…
On to the picks, including a stab at the showdown in Germany:
Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs (KC -2, 50) *FRANKFURT, GERMANY*
Recommendation: Miami moneyline (to win) at 2.13
It’s the new kid on the block who hasn’t yet proven himself vs. the established neighborhood bully who might not be as tough as he once was but hasn’t yet been knocked off his perch. Anyone who’s watched the NFL over the past few seasons is familiar with the Chiefs and what they’re capable of behind Patrick Mahomes, but it’s worth considering that this year’s Kansas City team might not be quite as dangerous, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Travis Kelce has been the only true threat in the passing game and as a result the offense has stagnated at times, particularly in last week’s stunning loss to Denver, when three Harrison Butker field goals were the only points they could muster. While we shouldn’t expect that level of futility again, there’s no doubt the offense is struggling to find its rhythm, and they had better find it quick if they want to hang with Miami. This Dolphins offense has weapons galore, including the best WR tandem in the NFL in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, and they rank first in the NFL in nearly every key offensive metric, including the most important one, points scored (33.9 ppg). The Dolphins failed their last big test, losing to NFC favorite Philadelphia two weeks ago, but something tells me they’ll be up to the task against a Chiefs team that isn’t playing its best football.
Minnesota Vikings @ Atlanta Falcons (ATL -3.5, 38)
Recommendation: Atlanta -3.5 at 2.0
It’s a battle of the backup quarterbacks in Atlanta, with Jaren Hall filling in for an injured Kirk Cousins in Minnesota and Taylor Heinicke replacing an ineffective Desmond Ridder for the Falcons. And that’s where I believe analysis of this game should start: losing Cousins, who is second in the NFL in passing yards, is a huge blow for the Vikings, who now have to turn to a rookie, Hall, and the newly acquired Josh Dobbs, neither of whom has a prayer of filling in adequately for Cousins. The Vikes will be forced to change everything about their offense, starting this week. The Falcons, meanwhile, should be getting an upgrade here– Ridder was playing because of where the team had drafted him two years ago, and the team needing to see what they had in him. Now that they’ve seen enough– let’s face it, we’ve all seen enough– they can go with Heinicke, who was more than serviceable in Washington over the past couple of years. While he doesn’t have great arm strength, Heinicke can read defenses and get the ball where it needs to be, and his mobility is a tremendous asset. He’ll be able to manage the game properly and avoid the costly mistakes that killed the offense under Ridder. But look for the Falcons defense, who rank 6th in the league in yards allowed and 8th against the pass, to smother the new-look Minnesota offense and seal the win here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Houston Texans (HOU -2.5, 39.5)
Recommendation: Tampa Bay +2.5 at 2.05
The shine is beginning to wear off in Houston after last week’s loss to the previously winless Panthers, and an offense that was clicking in early-season wins over Jacksonville and Pittsburgh has now produced 20 points or fewer in three consecutive games. It won’t get any easier against a Tampa defense that is tough up front, surrendering fewer than 100 rushing yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry, and has some ballhawks in the secondary. But where I think the Bucs really have an advantage here is on the other side of the ball, specifically their receiving corps going up against a leaky Houston secondary that hasn’t faced a capable passing attack in a month. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin should both be targeted heavily in this one and I expect more production out of the Tampa offense than we’ve seen in their last three games, all losses in which they failed to reach 20 points. The Bucs season is teetering on the brink and a matchup against a team with a punchless offense led by a rookie quarterback is just what the doctor ordered. For one week, anyway, they’ll stop the bleeding.
Los Angeles Chargers @ New York Jets (LA -3.5, 40)
Recommendation: Los Angeles -3.5 at 1.97
The Jets have the better record here but the Chargers are the better team, so it’s no surprise that they’re the favorites despite this game being in New York. The loss of Aaron Rodgers continues to weigh heavily on Robert Saleh’s team, as every time you see them play you can’t help but feel like you’re watching an excellent defense being wasted. And the pieces are there on offense, too– Breece Hall is a difference-maker at running back and Garrett Wilson might be the best receiver in the league if he had someone who could get him the ball. But he doesn’t, he has Zach Wilson, whose poor decisions and errant throws have kept the offense stuck in the mud all season. Only two teams, the Raiders and Giants, average fewer yards per game than the Jets, and even in their recent winning streak it’s been ugly– in last week’s 13-10 win over the Giants, for instance, they gained just 251 total yards, with Wilson averaging an anemic 4.8 yards per pass attempt. Fortunately they were playing a team with an offense just as bad as their own, but that will not be the case this week, as the Chargers can hurt you in many different ways and Justin Herbert has been shredding opposing defenses this season, averaging 270 yard per game through the air with a 13/4 TD to INT ratio. The LA offense will simply be too much for the Jets here… the smoke and mirrors New York winning streak will come to an end.