Fourteen games on the docket for Week 9, but this NFL slate will have trouble matching the late heroics (and surprises) from last Sunday ...
... some of which put my Week 8 picks in flux. The Dallas Cowboys' comeback-turned-crushing-defeat, the Cleveland Browns' ability to hold on till the bitter end and Matt Stafford's late flurry equaled three L's for this prognosticator. Still carried a winning record for the week, but it was no 12-1.
What's the one game I'm certain to get wrong in Week 9 (seeing as a 14-0 showing is surely a pipe dream)? Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins. Hit that game right, and it's a pickapalooza. Otherwise ... Who knows? What you should know is that Carolina has competed in every game and isn't losing by much. Ron Rivera's team can't compensate for the big mistakes. Take a gander below to see my forecast for that game and every other one on your football plate this week.
Elliot Harrison went 8-6 on his predictions for Week 8, giving him a 48-22 record since taking over this space in Week 4. How will he fare in Week 9? His picks are below, with home teams listed second:
Give the Denver Broncos an inch right now and they'll take a mile. Peyton Manning engineered a 98-yard drive last Sunday night versus the Saints. Hey, at least it took them 11 plays (which is still nine yards per play). Whatever Manning sees, he exploits -- whether with the original play call or after a check at the line. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are playing better than any wideout duo in pro football, which means Leon Hall and the rest of the Cincinnati Bengals' secondary must produce their best game of the season. Cincy could support its defense by reviving the league's 23rd-ranked running game to eat some clock. Also, quarterback Andy Dalton must avoid being Captain Checkdown. That's Trent Edwards' shtick. #DENvsCIN
Joe Flacco has not played well on the road. Expect Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh to not put the game on his shoulders, and instead place it on No. 27. Ray Rice has run his arse off in Cleveland, as evidenced by his career average of 134.8 rushing yards per game there. In fact, the Baltimore Ravens have never lost there in Rice's career. On the other sideline, the Cleveland Browns' offense must accomplish more than it did in a one-point win over the Bolts. For the season, Cleveland is the worst team at converting third downs in the red zone and is 31st in yards per play inside the 20. Kicker Phil Dawson is a Hall of Very Gooder, but he can't carry this outfit. #BALvsCLE
The Green Bay Packers experienced their fair share of troubles against those pesky Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, and who can blame them? Playing without both starting receivers and the No. 1 tailback -- while playing with a tight end in Jermichael Finley who, as of late, looks like he never started in high school -- the Packers' offense really struggled. For awhile this season, Aaron Rodgers resembled Clark Griswold in the "Vacation" movies, where you could just flank him with any pair of Russ and Audrey and all would be good. Not so. The Packers might be slightly off kilter, but not enough to lose to the Arizona Cardinals. The Cards can't buy John Skelton ample protection right now. At least the defense made up for it by making Alex Smith look like Roger Staubach. #AZvsGB
Mario Williams returns to Houston. Get excited. In related news, the Buffalo Bills' defense sucks. They can't stop anyone ... well, except for the Cardinals, but that's not saying much. The Bills return from their bye, and are coming off a loss in which they gave 35 points to the Tennessee Titans. The Houston Texans are significantly better on both sides of the ball. Expect Buffalo to load up on stopping Arian Foster and the Texans' vaunted stretch plays, daring Matt Schaub to beat them. He will. Count on the vet to go 23-for-32 with 265 passing yards and at least two touchdowns. #enoughtobeatBuffalo #BUFvsHOU
Andrew Luck = lights-out at home. Reggie Wayne has been equally effective, while leading the NFL in targets with an astronomical 92. The problem is the Miami Dolphins are stout against the pass. They've intercepted as many passes as they've given up touchdowns through the air (eight), while allowing opposing quarterbacks just a 75.4 passer rating (second in the AFC). It appears Ryan Tannehill will be healthy enough to start for the Dolphins, who showed they could do just fine without him in New York. #MIAvsIND
OK, so maybe Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars doesn't exactly whet your football appetite. This game could be ugly if Matt Stafford reverts to pre-Week 8 form, and Blaine Gabbert reverts to Blaine Gabbert form. We had Jags running back Rashad Jennings on "NFL Fantasy Live" Thursday, and Maurice Jones-Drew's replacement said no one wants to get better more than Gabbert. It's actually showing on the field. Gabbertmania threw for more yards than the quarterback on the other sideline last Sunday, Aaron Rodgers. The Lions, however, are still a more talented football team with the defense playing better of late (besides the Marshawn Lynch home run in the Seahawks game). Offensively, look for some kids -- running back Mikel Leshoure and wide receiver Titus Young Sr. -- to be heavily involved. #DETvsJAC
The Tennessee Titans must find a way to get something out of Chris Johnson against the Chicago Bears' front seven, which has held just about every lead running back in check. Otherwise, Matt Hasselbeck will have a heckuva time waiting for pass plays to develop downfield (as in no time). The Bears yield just 77.9 rush yards per game, best in the NFL. Still, many people feel this game could present trouble for Chicago, a club that tends to rely on big turnovers. Tim Jennings can't get a pick-six every week. #CHIvsTEN
I really want to pick the Carolina Panthers here, but Cam Newton is still making mistakes in the passing game, while Jonathan Stewart provided nada on the ground in Chicago. Sure, it was a tough matchup, but 42 yards on 17 carries stinks. (Of course, some of that is on the offensive line.) The Panthers have a shot to win -- IF they can avoid the big giveaway. With the Washington Redskins' depleted front seven, it might not be the worst idea to give Stewart the rock 25 times and see what he does with it. Don't make Newton win it by himself. Meanwhile, Redskins receivers better hang on to the damn ball. If they can, and Robert Griffin III can escape the Carolina pressure (that Jay Cutler could not), then home-field advantage should be enough. #CARvsWAS
This pirate porn will be tight until the fourth. Well, until Doug Martin exploits a so-so Oakland Raiders run defense. Give the rookie out of Boise State over 120 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, with Josh Freeman once again making timely throws against the Raiders' suspect secondary. With all the attention paid to Vincent Jackson lately, Mike Williams could easily surpass 100 yards. Even Dallas Clark should get plenty of looks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer cannot afford to go three-and-out often or make poor decisions -- a la Christian Ponder last Thursday night -- or else Oakland easily falls to 3-5. #TBvsOAK
The Seattle Seahawks block an extra point, intercept a pass and get a strip-sack in pro football's Find52waystowin kind of game. Expect the Seahawks to re-insert themselves into the thick of the playoff race by winning individual matchups defensively. Guaranteed they saw what Tampa did versus the Minnesota Vikings last Thursday. While Pete Carroll doesn't have the Bucs' wideouts, Russell Wilson will be smart with the football and Seattle should get a push in the ground game with Marshawn Lynch as the lynchpin. (Oh, the wordplay ...) #MINvsSEA
Both of these clubs will run the football often in this week's sexiest interconference contest. I trust Ben Roethlisberger to play smart, letting the game come to him as opposed to giving the New York Giants short fields a la Tony Romo. Eli Manning had his struggles versus the Cowboys, and his main man Hakeem Nicks doesn't look completely healthy. Ahmad Bradshaw might be the key in this contest. If Jonathan Dwyer gets more production than his counterpart and the Giants are forced to be more one-dimensional, then the Pittsburgh Steelers win. Roethlisberger, not Manning -- for a change -- makes the key plays on third down this week. #PITvsNYG
I know, I know, Atlanta Falcons fans -- I'm gonna get ripped for this pick. But for those of you who aren't emotionally tied to this game, think about the Sunday nighter from this angle: How do the Falcons match up against the Dallas Cowboys? Atlanta's strength is its quarterback and wide receivers. Dallas' strength has been shutting down opposing wide receivers. The Falcons don't have the ground attack they once did, and Dallas has a healthy (and quite active) Pro Bowl nose tackle in Jay Ratliff. DeMarco Murray should also be back in the lineup, which doesn't bode well for a porous run defense in Atlanta that yields more than five yards per crack. The Falcons' best prognosis is for Tony Romo to throw three picks. That can't happen every week -- just like Mike Smith's team can't go 16-0. Feel free to yell at me @Harrison_NFL. Be nice. #DALvsATL
This should be a fun bout to watch. Can't imagine how many times Jon Gruden will say,
"In this league* ... you can't arm tackle LeSean McCoy!" Honestly, I hope he says it a lot. Please,
Andy Reid, run the rock.
Jamaal Charles put up two bills on the
New Orleans Saints.
Willis McGahee gashed this team, too. Ditto
Doug Martin. Should be easy pickings for
Michael Vick, but he'll have more time to throw if you run the ball, Andy! Vick has already been sacked 20 times. For New Orleans, this game is probably the season. At 2-5 and already way behind in the wild-card melee, a home game in prime time is a prime opportunity to make a statement about resilience.
*Yes, this is clearly the man's favorite clause.
A show of faith -- a very shaky show of faith -- in the San Diego Chargers. Here's the deal: Matt Cassel hasn't been playing any better than Philip Rivers, and while Chargers fans are in an uproar regarding the team's inability to close out games (see: losses to the Saints, Broncos and Browns), the bottom line is that the Kansas City Chiefs are the worst team in football. When your best players on offense aren't getting the football, as is the case in Kansas City, it's difficult to win football games. Case in point: Jamaal Charles receiving five carries last week. San Diego wins because the defense is playing more effectively than Romeo Crennel's guys, and the game is at Qualcomm. #KCvsSD