Week nine of the 2017 season is in the books and what a week it was: The Washington Redskins stunned the Seattle Seahawks with a dramatic come-from-behind victory; the Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans all held off furious challenges to eke out close wins; the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles flexed their muscles on offense as both teams topped 50 points; the Dallas Cowboys had their most complete victory of the season handling the Kansas City Chiefs offense while steamrolling over them with Ezekiel Elliott; and the Detroit Lions inserted themselves into the playoff mix with a decisive victory on Monday Night Football over the Green Bay Packers.
It was a week that moved forward into separating the pretenders from the contenders. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers bottomed out at 2-6 and now have to look forward to playing the spoiler with quarterback Jameis Winston injured. The Bengals again failed to produce on offense and fell to 3-5 and seem to have as much a chance of reaching the playoffs as the 0-8 Cleveland Browns right now. The Baltimore Ravens and their anemic offense dropped another game. Finally, the defending NFC Champions the Atlanta Falcons watched a winnable game slip through their fingers like Matt Ryan’s pass to a wide-open Julio Jones as they fell back to .500.
Week 10 of the NFL schedule has a number of intriguing and interesting match-ups on tap that should continue to separate the wheat from the chaff. Let’s dive into those match-ups and see who is going to come out on top and why.
Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars
It’s the “Gus Bradley Bowl” as the former Jacksonville head coach returns to Northern Florida as defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers.
The feisty Jaguars (See Jalen Ramsey brawling with A.J. Green last week) are now led by head coach Doug Marrone who benched star rookie running back Leonard Fournette and still rolled to victory behind their strong defense. The defense has allowed the fewest points in the league through midseason and with defensive end Calais Campbell adding a ferocious interior pass rush and locker room leadership the unit seems ready to continue to dominate.
The Chargers boast a dynamic duo of Joey Bosa (8.5 sacks) and Melvin Ingram (8.5 sacks) rushing the quarterback and solid cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Trevor Williams. Unfortunately, they lack impact players at safety, linebacker, and on the interior defensive line. On offense, running back Melvin Gordon has bounced back but rookie Mike Williams has hardly set foot on the field so far. Beyond wide receiver Keenan Allen, quarterback Philip Rivers struggles to find receivers able to get open.
Prediction: “Sacksonville” just has too much speed and big-play ability on that number one ranked defense. With upcoming games in Cleveland and Arizona and at home versus the Colts the Jags could be 9-3 when hosting the Seahawks in week 14.
Jacksonville 20 – Los Angeles 13
New Orleans Saints at Buffalo Bills
Two teams left for dead after week two with the Saints 0-2 and the Bills mustering just 176 yards of offense in losing to the Panthers are now in the thick of the playoff race.
Buffalo is undefeated at home and they have leaned heavily on running back LeSean McCoy through the first half of 2017. When Buffalo rushes for 100 or more yards, they are 4-0; less than 100 yards rushing and they are 1-3. The return of tight end Charles Clay should give the offense a boost but quarterback Tyrod Taylor still lacks reliable targets at wide receiver with Jordan Matthews leading the group in receptions with 21 catches in seven games for Buffalo.
In New Orleans, rookie cornerback Marcus Lattimore has been one of those rare rookies who steps in as the best player on day one and has established himself as arguably the top cornerback–rookie or not–in the entire league. With defensive end Cameron Jordan continuing to carry the pass rush on his broad shoulders the defense has become a top-ten unit currently ninth in the league in points allowed.
Prediction: The fact that the offense with quarterback Drew Brees and the two-headed rushing attack of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara combining for almost 1,400 yards from scrimmage through midseason is mentioned after the defense shows how potent this team has become on both sides of the ball.
New Orleans 20 – Buffalo 10
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
What looked like an intriguing rematch with the Bears defense improving has lost its luster with Aaron Rodgers sidelined in Green Bay.
The Bears are 13th in the NFL in points allowed but they are young and dangerous. Akiem Hicks has blossomed into a star and leads the team with seven sacks. Kyle Fuller has taken a big step forward in year three while Adrian Amos has been one of the best safeties in the entire league. On offense, running backs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen have been forced to carry the load with rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky still learning on the job and a lack of playmakers at wide receiver.
The Packers were popped by the Lions on Monday Night Football despite quarterback Brett Hundley having his best game of the season. Hundley finished 26 of 38 for 245 yards but only completed just two of his eight passing attempts while under pressure while being sacked three times (per ProFootballFocus). The surprising release of tight end Martellus Bennett was the final sign of the white flag being raised at Lambeau Field.
Prediction: Chicago may still struggle to score but in a game that only lovers of defense will enjoy, the Bears should continue to inch towards .500 with their “winning ugly” ways.
Chicago 18 – Green Bay 13
Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions
Detroit is coming off a big win over NFC divisional rival Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football and Cleveland is coming off a week in which they did not lose for the first time this season (of course, it was their bye week).
Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson is leading a 0-8 team for the second straight season. The Browns were 0-14 last season before getting their first victory. Jackson’s teams have at least competed with four losses this season by three points.
Detroit is in position to make a run with this game versus Cleveland, two games against the Bears, and games against the Buccaneers and Ravens in their next six match-ups. They should be favorites against all these teams (with only a tough match-up with the Vikings in the near future). Cornerback Darius Slay had a great game Monday night and if he can consistently play at that level he can be one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL.
Prediction: The Browns are not as bad on defense as they seem, but are worse on offense than even their terrible numbers show.
Detroit 27 – Cleveland 16
Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans
Cincinnati saw their frustrations boil over last week against Jacksonville as they fell to 3-5. The Titans got quarterback Marcus Mariota back for the past two games and he has vaulted Tennessee into a tie for first place in the AFC South.
Tennessee struggled to run the ball last week against the Ravens with just 71 yards on the ground but Mariota’s strong play in the first half gave them a 16-6 lead. The offense sputtered in the second half as Mariota allowed the Ravens back in the game with a poor interception. However, he redeemed himself with a big drive to answer and put the game away.
The Bengals are still struggling to get their offense on track. Running back Joe Mixon flunked his audition as the lead running back gaining just 31 yards on 13 carries with Jeremy Hill out. It was par for the course as the running game has averaged just 3.1 yards per rush this season. With 15 turnovers in eight games, the Bengals have made their own messes and put undue pressure on their strong defense.
Prediction: It is hard to predict that without an influx of talent on the offensive line that Cincinnati will improve on offense. Expect a strong defensive performance by Cincinnati wasted again as Mariota makes the most of the opportunities his defense gives him.
Tennessee 20 – Cincinnati 17
Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins
A strong defense at the top of their division against a beat-up squad coming off an unlikely and gritty win over the Seahawks.
The Redskins are down to playing injured players or testing the extreme limits of their depth on the offensive line. Despite that, Kirk Cousins led his offense on a season-saving drive to break a two-game losing streak and silence the 12th man in Seattle and pull out a 17-14 win. The team’s 21st ranked rushing offense is hurting the offense as since the bye week in week 5 Washington has not topped 100 yards rushing.
In Minnesota, the Vikings are coming off their bye week and are riding a four-game win streak. The return of Stefon Diggs is a boost to the offense but a quarterback controversy looms as Teddy Bridgewater is back from the PUP list and looking over Case Keenum’s shoulder. Keenam has beat the Buccaneers, Bears, the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, the Ravens, and the Browns. This team has not beat a good team since the Saints in week one (losing to the Steelers and Lions).
Prediction: Let the quarterback controversy begin in Minnesota!
Washington 23 – Minnesota 17
Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts
The Steelers’ have ridden their defense to a 6-2 start and first place in the AFC North. The Colts are sitting in last place in the AFC South.
Pittsburgh is second in the NFL in defensive points allowed and fifth in defensive yards allowed. With depth, speed and pass rush ability in their front seven and an improved secondary the Steelers have only allowed two opponents to score more than 20 points this season–both losses to Chicago and Jacksonville. The offense has not been terrible (10th in total yards) but turnovers and the lack of a consistent second wide receiver have been the story of the struggles.
The Colts are going nowhere despite the best efforts of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. The defense has been terrible–as usual in Indianapolis–and the loss of cornerback Vontae Davis does not help. At some point, the Colts have to give running back Marlon Mack a shot at running back instead of trotting out 34-year old Frank Gore week after week in a lost season.
Prediction: It’s an easy win for the Steelers who should be trying to incorporate Juju Smith-Schuster into a bigger role in the offense with Martavis Bryant still trying to derail his career.
Pittsburgh 28 – Indianapolis 17
Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams
The Texans’ offense would look a lot better with Colin Kaepernick behind center…just saying. The Rams’ offense will be a huge test for the Texans’ defense which has allowed 208 points in eight games.
Houston is still reeling from the loss of quarterback Deshaun Watson on offense and looks broken with Tom Savage at quarterback. On defense, down J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus (and Brian Cushing due to his suspension), the Texans are dealing with a dinged-up Jadeveon Clowney and cornerback Johnathan Joseph. The defense was supposed to be the team’s strength this season and other than shutting down the Bengals (29th in points scored) and Browns (31st in points scored).
The Rams are first in total points scored with quarterback Jared Goff making a huge step forward and on pace for over 4,000 yards passing. Todd Gurley has bounced back at running back and give the offense the hammer they need. He is on pace for 1,300 yards right now. The scariest thing for the rest of the NFL is that this offense can improve with wide receiver Sammy Watkins fulfilling his potential and contributing to the offense.
Prediction: This is the biggest blowout of the week here as the unstoppable offense runs up against a defense who cannot stop anyone right now.
Los Angeles 37 – Houston 17
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers
“The Toilet Bowl” is here at last. The battle for the number two overall pick is on as the 49ers host the Giants.
Giants head coach Ben McAdoo’s squad has certainly had their share of injuries in 2017 but his potentially losing the locker room could spell his doom–which seemed unbelievable after this team was in the playoffs in McAdoo’s initial season. However, the offense has been anemic while the defense has been porous.
For the 49ers, they have new toy Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback but have appeared hesitant to expose him to their horrible offensive line (32 sacks allowed in nine games) without tackle Joe Staley. Staley should return but with a bye next week it may not be until after Thanksgiving that 49ers fans get to see their new quarterback.
Prediction: Wow, someone has to win, right? (Well, I guess it could be a tie!)
San Francisco 16 – New York 13
Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons
What was supposed to be a marquee matchup and potential NFC Championship Game preview when the schedule came out is now two teams fighting to stay in the Wild Card race.
Dallas was 2-3 heading into their bye week with two tough losses to the Rams and Packers. Since then, they have gone on the road and beat the 49ers and Redskins and came home to beat-up the Chiefs. This weekend, without Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott needs to step-up. One way is to re-incorporate Cole Beasley (only 22 receptions for 165 yards in the first eight games) back into the offense.
The Falcons are a complete mess losing four of their last five games. In fact, they should be 1-7 save for fortuitous endings to their games against the Bears in week one and the Lions in week three. The offense has received the most criticism, but it is the defense which last season created 22 turnovers (14 of them in the second half of the season) and another six in the playoffs has only six in the first eight games of 2017.
Prediction: Even without Elliott, the Cowboys have a quarterback in Dak Prescott who is not going to make stupid mistakes. That should be enough.
Dallas 30 – Atlanta 27
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
The top quarterback in the NFL takes on the “No Fly Zone” in a Sunday Night game in which a loss by Denver could put their playoff hopes in jeopardy.
A big reason the Patriots brought in wide receiver Brandin Cooks in exchange for a first-round draft pick was his ability to stretch the field, make big chunk plays, and beat man-coverage. On pace for 66 receptions and 1,126 yards at mid-season, he has been everything advertised. However, he gets his biggest test against Denver and their 4th ranked passing defense. Look for New England to use running backs Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James White and tight end Rob Gronkowski to attack the strong Broncos’ defense.
For Denver, coming off four straight losses they need to get their offensive line in order, if possible. When the Broncos rush for 140 yards or more they are 3-1 this season; When they rush for 111 or fewer yards they are 0-4. Quarterback Brock Osweiler needs to find big plays to his wide receivers to stay with the Patriots.
Prediction: Many analysts discount that the Broncos have a number of prideful veterans on both sides of the ball who have been in big games and have the jewelry to prove it. The game will closer than many expect, but New England and quarterback Tom Brady should pull off the road win.
New England 24 – Denver 16
Monday: Miami Dolphins at Carolina Panthers
Miami is in a must-win game to not drop below .500 in the competitive AFC East. The Panthers are trying to keep pace with the New Orleans Saints.
Miami has a -63 point differential so far in 2017. What that means was this squad has been lucky in the first half of the season and really should 2-6 based on their Expected W-L. Quarterback Jay Cutler had his best game of the season against Oakland’s weak secondary but still lost. The Dolphins invested $32 million in free agency to keep wide receiver Kenny Stills but the deep threat has a career-low 12.2 yards per reception.
The Panthers are riding their strong defense which is fourth in points allowed and first in fewest yards allowed so far in 2017. The offense is dependent on quarterback Cam Newton making plays with just Christian McCaffrey as a legitimate threat on offense. Trading Kelvin Benjamin puts a lot of pressure on rookie wide receiver Curtis Samuel to step-up in the passing game.
Carolina’s defense is just going to be too much for the weak Miami offense. The Dolphins will make it look closer in garbage time, but this game will likely be over by halftime.
Carolina 24 – Miami 17