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Week 9 predictions: Colts survive Texans; Browns top Ravens

Nothing could be harder than picking some of the games Week 9 has to offer. Well, except for picking a midseason All-Pro team. But we already did that.

Speaking of, Colts fans were stomping mad Robert Mathis didn't make that squad. Leaving him off was the toughest choice; here's hoping he proves me wrong. The Colts need Mathis and that pass rush to create havoc, because with a middling Trent Richardson and without a No. 1 receiver, Indy's offense might sputter. Sunday night's AFC South showdown in Houston is one of this week's cooler matchups.

Elsewhere in the state of Texas, two more teams in need of a win will face off. The Vikings have only one victory, and the Cowboys could use anything to rise again from another dreadful collapse.

Yes, Jason lives. While in the process of writing up the Vikings-Cowboys game, I watched Jason Voorhees remove his mask to ward off some punks on the streets of New York. Yes, Jason took Manhattan in "Friday the 13th Part VIII." Jason -- or Jason Garrett -- should hand defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin the crusty hockey mask after all the verbal darts lobbed his direction this week. And if the Cowboys continue to allow 500 yards every time out, Manhattan -- as in, the New York Giants -- just might have a chance to take Dallas in the NFC East. Wouldn't that be something.

As for the rest of the docket, there are some pretty intriguing matchups, starting with Atlanta at Carolina. Are the Falcons done? Feel free to share your thoughts on this and all the other games ... @Harrison_NFL is the place. And we read 'em all.

Now, let's get to it.

Elliot Harrison went 9-4 on his predictions for Week 8, giving him a record of 76-44 so far this season. How will he fare in Week 9? His picks are below, with home teams listed second.

Can Kansas City survive another close call? The Chiefs took all they could handle in successive weeks against the Texans and Browns. Now Andy Reid's 8-0 club must play the Bills in Buffalo, where the Patriots and Bengals nearly fell -- and the Panthers actually did. While we're at it, so did the Ravens, thanks to five Joe Flacco picks. Of course, Alex Smith hasn't thrown more than five picks in a season since 2010. Expect the Chiefs to try to negate the Bills' pass rush -- which has the second-highest sack total (27) in the NFL -- with a healthy dose of Jamaal Charles, who has, somewhat quietly, run for 635 yards. Meanwhile, the Bills' hopes once again will rest on Thad Lewis' shoulders. Lewis has performed admirably in three starts, though Doug Marrone has not really leaned much on the former practice-squad signal-caller. Lewis has not attempted more than 39 passes -- nor has he thrown for more than 234 yards -- in any one game this season. Against the Chiefs' edge rushers, Buffalo will be smart to stick to that protocol. Problem is, giving the ball to Fred Jackson 25 times isn't going to beat Kansas City. Hey, don't the Bills have another running back who used to be good? C.J. Wilson? C.J. Anderson? R. Jay Soward? Nah. #KCvsBUF

Carolina wins again on the strength of the league's second-ranked defense -- that is, in the category that matters: points allowed. The Panthers haven't given up more than 20 offensive points to an opponent since Week 2, and now they're facing a Falcons team devoid of healthy playmakers. The biggest problem for Matt Ryan and Co. is the complete absence of a running game. Last Sunday, Falcons backs were about as effective as Gary Busey in "Predator 2" -- and if Steven Jackson doesn't come back fully healthy, Atlanta's 2013 season will go down as an even bigger flop than that 1990 flick. Someone has to help Ryan, so that he doesn't feel compelled to try to win it by himself ... and cough up four picks again. We think Ryan will recover this week, but it won't be enough. #ATLvsCAR

The sky might not be falling in Dallas, but the Cowboys' fan base certainly is sick of seeing colossal failures in the late moments. A matchup against a struggling Vikings team might seem like it will be a great elixir, but at the end of the day, a Cowboys win will have proved nothing; Dallas needs to show it can close the door on a solid club. Still, in matchups like these -- particularly at home -- the Cowboys generally play well enough to get everyone talking again. Christian Ponder or Josh Freeman will get the call at quarterback for Minnesota, but whoever starts, the offense has to make good on vertical throws. The Vikings have completed just five passes that have traveled more than 20 yards in the air. And Greg Jennings has been a nonfactor, catching all of, well, one ball last Sunday. #MINvsDAL

At 6-1, the Saints very well could be the best team in the NFL, although New Orleans is not often mentioned in that conversation. The Saints have been playing fantastic team defense, as evidenced by the fact that they're allowing 17.1 points per game and getting off the field on third downs. Though the Jets are at home, we don't see them staying with Drew Brees' offense in a track meet -- New York's secondary just isn't playing well enough. Thus, expect at least 30 rushing attempts -- if not 40 -- this weekend. Protect the ball, Geno. #NOvsNYJ

Putting a little faith in the Titans on the road this weekend. While both Tennessee and St. Louis have holes, this game will depend on whose receiving corps fares better. Of course, the Titans and Rams both have had problems in this area. One potential advantage for St. Louis would be hard-running rookie Zac Stacy, who carried the football 26 times for 134 yards Monday night, though his health is up in the air. If Stacy can't go, the game will fall to Kellen Clemens. We like Clemens -- he's a complete team player -- but at that point, Jake Locker's mobility could be the deciding factor. Against that stout Rams pass rush, Locker should be able to take off and run. #TENvsSTL

Robert Griffin III will fall short trying to get a touchdown and a two-point conversion late. Let's just hope he doesn't fall down; otherwise, we'll have to hear from Dr. James Andrews for the 6,054th time. Dr. Andrews has been around so long, he once operated on Sammy Baugh -- or so it seems. Either way, while Griffin might have been looking healthier lately, the Redskins' passing game has been sick -- and not the good kind of sick. As Washington receiver Pierre Garcon so eloquently pointed out to reporters after Sunday's loss to the Broncos, "If you suck at passing, you suck at passing ... We've just got to figure it out." Yep, and while the Redskins are at it, maybe they can also figure out how to slow down Philip Rivers, who evidently doesn't suck this year. The Chargers quarterback leads the NFL in completion percentage at 73.9. The single-season record? Drew Brees' mark of 71.2 in 2011. #SDvsWAS

Nick Foles will take the reins for the Eagles, who have scored all of 10 points the past two weeks. Now, that doesn't mean the Raiders will win 30-7, either. Yes, Philadelphia surrendered 27 points to the Redskins and 33 to the Chargers, but that was back when the Eagles' offense was faring much better. NFL defenses generally step up when they know their team is starting a backup, and Philly coordinator Bill Davis' unit likely will circle the wagons, as it's been doing recently. Expect the Raiders to pound the run while trying to get Terrelle Pryor out in space. Meanwhile, it's time to give Oakland's defense some love. The Raiders have been stout against the run. They're not giving up chunk plays at all, literally: No one has a run of 20 yards or more against them this season. #PHIvsOAK

This is a "trap" game for the Seahawks ... you know, where the awful Bucs get trapped in the loudest stadium in the league behind a rookie quarterback and a tailback no one has ever heard of. Truthfully, while the Seahawks have fared well lately, they haven't played well, going into survival mode versus the Rams last Monday and against the Titans two weeks prior. The thinking here is the defense will impose its will in the form of two takeaways turned into points. Turnovers aside, Tampa Bay's offense isn't getting any movement. Averaging a league-worst 4.47 yards per play, the Bucs consistently find themselves in terrible down-and-distance situations -- and that's not the best mix when going up against the 12th Man. Tampa Bay averages 8.59 yards to go on second downs; how can anyone win like that? #TBvsSEA

Taking (gulp) Cleveland at home this week. The Browns last beat the Ravens in Cleveland in 2007, back when Derek Anderson hadn't yet realized he was Derek Anderson. That season, the future Panthers bench-warmer threw 29 touchdown passes for Cleveland -- or 10 more than he's managed in the ensuing six years combined. The quarterback position has been a black hole for this franchise ever since. Still, we'll show some confidence in Jason Campbell, despite the fact the Ravens' defense has performed better since the Denver offense treated it like it wasn't there in the season opener. We're also showing some faith in the Browns' secondary, which should be fine against a Baltimore offense devoid of weapons. This game truly could come down to Joe Flacco, who has historically played better in Cleveland than he has overall. #BALvsCLE

This could be an ugly football game. Both of these offenses have looked out of sync for much of the season, although the bar has been set so high in New England that perhaps the team's shortcomings have been overstated. The Patriots are averaging 22.4 points per game -- that's a far cry from the 34.8 average that led the entire NFL in 2012. They've been running the ball more; last week marked the fifth time this season that New England has had at least 30 rushing attempts in a game. Sticking with that strategy would be a good idea against Pittsburgh, especially on early downs, as the Steelers are allowing 5.53 yards on first down. That means a lot of "second-and-manageables" for Tom Brady, and perhaps some play-action opportunities down the seam to Rob Gronkowski. #PITvsNE

Last year in Houston, the Colts' offensive line was taken apart by the Texans' front seven. Coordinator Wade Phillips' guys need to repeat that performance, because the Houston offense has developed some serious issues since then (Side note: Notice I didn't say, "Houston, we have a problem," -- thank God.) Arian Foster is looking like a game-time decision. Good thing the team has Ben Tate ... oh yeah, he has cracked ribs. OK, so the Texans signed some guys off the street. Maybe you can find a decent running back at Olive Garden, but considering the trouble the Texans have had passing the ball, things are looking bleak. This could turn out to be a Trent Richardson game; he could get 25 carries in an effort to make Houston hesitate before rushing Andrew Luck every down. #INDvsHOU

Calling it now: The Bears are scoring a safety in this game. You heard it here first. It will be on a
" Julius Peppers-and-somebody" sack. Peppers-and-McClellin, Peppers-and-Wooton, Peppers-and-Paea -- you know, a legendary combo like that. It won't be enough. The Bears miss Henry Melton ... and Nate Collins ... and Lance Briggs ... and D.J. Williams. All of which means there's no reason for Green Bay not to run the football 30 times (with 20 of those carries going to Eddie Lacy). With Josh McCown starting for Chicago, the Bears' best chance to pull off an upset is to pressure Aaron Rodgers and hope to survive off takeaways. Fat chance: Lifetime against the Bears in Lambeau, Rodgers has thrown 10 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. #CHIvsGB

ALREADY COMPLETED:

Andy Dalton has been absolutely ripping it up as of late, particularly in the vertical game; his passer rating is 121.5 on throws that travel more than 20 yards in the air. The same can be said for Ryan Tannehill ... except not at all. Cincinnati brings a healthy four-game winning streak into South Florida to face a Miami team that has dropped four in a row. Of course, everything points to the Bengals falling here, as that is the nature of the NFL these days. However, without Brandon Gibson, Miami will have to rely on its ground game -- which has accounted for 276 yards over the past two weeks -- even more. Cincinnati has been tough to run on, and given the way the Bengals' offense is playing, we're predicting a fifth win in a row. #CINvsMIA



Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.

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