For those without the Sunday Ticket, this may be a good week to head out to your local sports bar to catch the early games. NFL week nine has some interesting matchups on tap, starting with 4-3 Oakland at 4-4 Pittsburgh as the primary game on CBS. The Patriots host Washington at the same time, so the Raiders-Steelers will not be televised in the Boston area. The Pats game will receive virtually no broadcast distribution outside of the DC/Virginia area and New England area; in fact, it won’t even be available in Connecticut. The best early game is also unavailable in New England: 6-1 Green Bay at 7-0 Carolina, also broadcast on Fox. Denver at Indy (Peyton vs his old team!) is not generating the buzz that CBS wanted when this game was originally scheduled thanks to the Colts underwhelming performance this year, but that game will be broadcast in all but two television markets in the late afternoon slot.
Happy Birthday to Ray Renfro, who was born on this day in 1929. Drafted by Paul Brown in the fourth round of the 1952 draft, Renfro played for the Browns for twelve seasons; Renfro played in five NFL championship games, with Cleveland winning the NFL championship twice. After returning punts in his rookie season, Renfro became Cleveland’s starting halfback the next year, and was named to the first of his three Pro Bowls. Renfro later switched to flanker, and finished his career with 19.6 yards per reception; a mark that ranks ninth best in NFL history. Renfro was only the eighth player in NFL history to amass 50 career receiving touchdowns, which doesn’t sound like much today; by comparison, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker have an equal amount of touchdown catches. But back then that was quite an accomplishment; this was before Bill Polian and the competition committee tinkered with rules, and NFL regular seasons consisted of only twelve games.
4-3 Oakland Raiders at 4-4 Pittsburgh Steelers, early game on CBS; Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Broadcast in all of the pacific, rocky mountain and central time zones with the exception of Houston, Minneapolis, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee; also broadcast in Alaska, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and DC.
Steelers -4½ (opened at -6) . . . . over/under 48 . . . . Raiders +185, Steelers -215
The Raiders are looking for their third straight win and have not allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards in five straight games; that is the longest current streak in the NFL. On offense Oakland has nice balance with WR Amari Cooper (38 receptions, 565 yards, 14.9 yards per catch, 318 yards after catch) as the deep threat, WR Michael Crabtree (40 receptions, 483 yards, 25 first downs) more of a possession receiver, FB Marcel Reece (20 catches on 24 targets, 203 yards) out of the backfield, and RB Latavius Murray (534 yards, 4.6 yards per carry) bouncing back nicely (198 yards rushing, 5.7 ypc versus Chargers and Jets) after being pulled late in losses to the Bears and Broncos. Those four players (plus WR Andre Holmes) have three touchdowns apiece; QB Derek Carr has done a good job of spreading the ball around and keeping defenses from being able to key on one player.
Pittsburgh has lost two in a row and is now without star RB Le’Veon Bell for the remainder of the season. The Steelers do get some good news with the returns of DE Stephon Tuitt (knee) and S Will Allen (ankle), and the pickup of Jacoby Jones should improve their return game. I took Oakland in this game when they were getting six points, but even though the line has dropped I still like the Raiders to at least cover, if not win straight up.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Raiders 23
Pick: Raiders +4½ . . . . under 48 . . . . Raiders +185
2-5 Jacksonville Jaguars at 4-3 New York Jets, early game on CBS; Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
Broadcast in Connecticut, central and northern Florida (Gainesville, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tallahassee), western Massachusetts, eastern New York (Albany and New York City), Savannah GA and Vermont.
Jets -8 (opened at -8) . . . . over/under 42½ . . . . Jaguars +300, Jets -360
The line in this game has been all over the place. Prior to last Sunday’s game the Jets were favored by 8, but it dropped to 2½ after the week 8 games when both Jet quarterbacks were hurt. Once news that Ryan Fitzpatrick was a go for this game was released, the line shot back up – to as high as nine points in some venues. I expected the Jets to lose last week: back-to-back road games, a letdown after getting up to play the Patriots and then losing late, and having to travel coast-to-coast – but they should be back to form with their defense leading the way in this game.
Prediction: Jets 24, Jaguars 17
Pick: Jaguars +8 . . . . under 42½ . . . . Jets -360
4-3 St. Louis Rams at 5-2 Minnesota Vikings, early game on FOX; Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis
Broadcast in Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Vikings -1 (opened at -3) . . . . over/under 40 . . . . Rams +100, Vikings -120
Todd Gurley has given the Rams some offense, and St. Louis has won two straight and three of their last four. Since being inserted into the lineup in week four Gurley has rushed for at least 128 yards in each of those four games, averaging 144 yards rushing per game and 6.4 yards per carry. Minnesota’s record is a bit of a mirage, bolstered by two games against the Lions and only one against a team that does not have a losing record.
Prediction: Rams 19, Vikings 17
Pick: Rams +1 . . . . under 40 . . . . Rams +100
3-4 Miami Dolphins at 3-4 Buffalo Bills, early game on CBS; Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
Broadcast in Florida, Maine, western New York and Rhode Island.
Bills -3 (opened at -2½) . . . . over/under 44½ . . . . Dolphins +130, Bills -150
Miami is coming off a 29-point loss to the Patriots, and will be without DE Cameron Wake (torn Achilles). Buffalo on the other hand is coming off a bye – and a bad loss to Jacksonville in London. The Bills are healthier now, with QB Tyrod Taylor (MCL) returning for the first time in four weeks, and RB Karlos Williams (concussion) available as a back up and 3rd down option behind LeSean McCoy. Miami RB Lamar Miller has had success against Rex Ryan: in two games last year he averaged 7.3 yards per carry, rushing for 234 yards and two touchdowns.
Prediction: Dolphins 24, Bills 20
Pick: Dolphins +3 . . . . under 44½ . . . . Dolphins +130
1-6 Tennessee Titans at 4-4 New Orleans Saints, early game on CBS; Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Broadcast in most of the southeast: Alabama, Georgia (except Savannah), Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina (except Raleigh), South Carolina and Tennessee.
Saints -8 (opened at -9½) . . . . over/under 48 . . . . Titans +330, Saints -400
After an 0-3 start, New Orleans has resurrected their season by winning three straight and four of their last five. Despite their issues on defense (49 points allowed last week; 30th-ranked 29.3 points per game), the Saints should have no problems with a Tennessee offense that has scored a meager 36 points total in their last four games. The Titans have allowed 28 sacks (4.0 per game, 32nd in the NFL), so perhaps the New Orleans D can show some improvement over last week’s debacle. Normally a change in head coach gives a team a boost, but Tennessee is so bereft of talent I don’t envision that happening here.
Prediction: Saints 27, Titans 20
Pick: Titans +8 . . . . under 48 . . . . Saints -400
3-4 Washington Redskins at 7-0 New England Patriots, early game on FOX; Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch
Broadcast in New England (except CT), DC, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
Patriots -14 (opened at -12½) . . . . over/under 52 . . . . Skins +900, Patriots -1600
Washington’s pass defense ranks 28th in opponent completions (66.5%), 31st in yards per pass attempt (8.2), 32nd in touchdowns (35), 32nd in TD:INT ratio (35:7) and 32nd in passer rating (108.3) – and now they get to face Tom Brady and the Patriots in Foxboro, with their best pass rusher (Ryan Kerrigan) playing with a fractured hand. Washington QB Kirk Cousins has nine turnovers in seven starts, but he is bolstered by the return of WR DeSean Jackson and underrated TE Jordan Reed (35 receptions, 350 yards, 3 TD in 4½ games this season). Bottom line: if Jameis Winston and Ryan Fitzpatrick look like All Pros against the Washington secondary, what will Brady, Gronk, Edelman, Amendola and Lewis do to this defense?
Prediction: Patriots 38, Skins 20
Pick: Patriots -14 . . . . over 52 . . . . Patriots -1600
6-1 Green Bay Packers at 7-0 Carolina Panthers, early game on FOX; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Broadcast in Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, southern California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Las Vegas NV, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Packers -2½ (opened at -2) . . . . over/under 46 . . . . Packers -140, Panthers +120
A year ago the Packers were averaging scoring 30.4 points (best in the NFL) and 384 yards (6th) per game; this season those numbers are down to 24.9 (10th) and 332 (28th). With Josh Norman and Charles Tillman at corner for Carolina, Aaron Rodgers would be wise to look for Randall Cobb out of the slot and TE Richard Rodgers. Carolina is not that strong against the run (4.5 yards per carry, 27th), so a heavy dosage of Eddie Lacy and James Starks may be in order also. The Packers are very susceptible to the run also, and that plays right into Carolina’s strength. Last week Green Bay allowed Denver, who had done nothing at all on the ground all year, to run for 160 yards; two games before that the Rams rushed for 191 yards. I would be all in with Carolina in this game if not for the Panthers coming off a short week, and Green Bay being more motivated after a bad loss to the Broncos, and the ensuing public overreaction.
Prediction: Panthers 28, Packers 21
Pick: Panthers +2½ . . . . over 46 . . . . Panthers +120
6-2 Atlanta Falcons at 2-6 San Francisco 49ers, late game on FOX; Chris Myers, Ronde Barber
Broadcast in Alabama, northern California, Georgia, Louisiana and Reno NV.
Falcons -7 (opened at -2½) . . . . over/under 44 . . . . Falcons -300, Niners +250
Early in the season I didn’t believe in Atlanta, but they kept winning close games late. Then I started to come around, and they stumble: a loss to the 1-4 Saints, scoring just ten points to barely beat the Titans, and then a home loss to Tampa Bay. Even though this is a long road trip, I would expect a wake-up call after last week’s bad loss. After all, this a very bad SF team with draft bust Blaine Gabbert at QB, no Vernon Davis at TE(traded), a gimpy Carlos Hyde (foot) at RB and a banged up Anquan Boldin (hamstring) at WR.
Prediction: Falcons 20, Niners 10
Pick: Falcons -7 . . . . under 44 (three units) . . . . Falcons -300
4-4 New York Giants at 3-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, late game on FOX; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston
Broadcast in Connecticut, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
Giants -2½ (opened at -1) . . . . over/under 50 . . . . Giants -140, Bucs +120
The Giants have been nothing if not inconsistent this season. The club began the year by creatively losing two games they should have won, then won three in a row. Since then they looked awful in a Monday night loss to Philly, barely beat the depleted Cowboys, and managed to lose to New Orleans last week despite scoring 49 points. Despite all that the G-Men should be able to take advantage of the Bucs soft Tampa-2 defense and their propensity for mental mistakes (Tampa Bay ranks 31st with 82.3 penalty yards per game).
Prediction: Giants 34, Buccaneers 31
Pick: Giants -2½ . . . . over 50 . . . . Giants -140
7-0 Denver Broncos at 3-5 Indianapolis Colts, late game on CBS; Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Broadcast in all markets except SF/Oakland and Tampa/St. Petersburg.
Broncos -5½ (opened at -3) . . . . over/under 45 . . . . Broncos -240, Colts +200
While he’ll never admit it, you know that Peyton Manning wants to let Jim Irsay know that he should have never let him walk away to another team for nothing. The ad pitchman will be inside a dome, where wind and cold weather will not affect his throws. More importantly Denver has the type of aggressive defense that will force Andrew Luck into poor decisions, forced throws and turnovers.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Colts 17
Pick: Broncos -5½ (one unit) . . . . under 45 . . . . Broncos -240
3-4 Philadelphia Eagles at 2-5 Dallas Cowboys
Sunday night game on NBC; Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth
Eagles -3 (opened at -1) . . . . over/under 43½ . . . . Eagles -150, Cowboys +130
Jerry Jones’ comments backing up Greg Hardy as a ‘leader’ after a sideline outburst a week ago are looking foolish now, after this week’s release of photos of the damage Hardy inflicted during the assault of his ex-girlfriend. The Cowboys are not the type of team that is capable of ignoring the outside noise and focusing strictly on the upcoming game – and that’s without even considering the fiasco they are enduring at quarterback with Tony Romo still out.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Cowboys 17
Pick: Eagles -3 (one unit) . . . . under 43½ . . . . Eagles -150
2-5 Chicago Bears at 2-6 San Diego Chargers
Monday night game on ESPN; Mike Tirico, Al Michaels
Chargers -4½ (opened at -3½) . . . . over/under 49 . . . . Bears +170, Chargers -200
Look beyond Philip Rivers’ gaudy passing stats and you will find a team defense that does not create turnovers (0.9 per game, 30th), with an offense without an effective running game (3.4 yards per carry, 31st). End result is a team that is very inefficient on both offense (17.7 yards per point, 29th) as well as on defense (12.8 yards per point, 28th). Chicago’s defense isn’t that great either, but they are playing much better since the return of QB Jay Cutler and WR Alshon Jeffery.
Prediction: Bears 24, Chargers 21
Pick: Bears +4½ (one unit) . . . . under 49 . . . . Bears +170
6-2 Arizona Cardinals
2-6 Baltimore Ravens
1-7 Detroit Lions
3-5 Houston Texans
3-5 Kansas City Chiefs
4-4 Seattle Seahawks