Around the NFL  


Week 9 viewer's guide


Around The NFL's Kevin Patra fills you in on the key storylines for each matchup. Here's your guide as you settle into your couch for all the NFL action.

With the Bucs' offense floundering behind Mike Glennon, Tampa should go to the ground against a Browns run defense that has allowed eight runs of 20-plus yards this season -- tied for second most in the NFL -- and given up 4-plus yards on 48.6 percent of all runs (28th in NFL). If Doug Martin continues to nurse an ankle injury, expect Bobby Rainey to get the load. Rookie Charles Sims, returning from injury, could be a wild card in the backfield; the team liked him a lot this offseason.

Brian Hoyer is completing just 57.3 percent of his passes. On the plus side, he's thrown just two picks. With a struggling run game, Hoyer should look to get right against a Bucs defense allowing 31.9 points per game -- which would be the third most allowed since the adoption of the 16-game season (1978) -- and 286 passing yards per game.

Pregame reading material
Mike Pettine can sense Manziel's frustration
Pettine won't call on Josh Cribbs to save return woes
Bucs sign return specialist Trindon Holiday
Former Buc safety Mark Barron: Lovie's defense was too passive

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Browns.

Carson Palmer has thrown eight touchdown passes to just one interception this season. In Bruce Arians' calculated striking offense Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and rookie speedster John Brown will put pressure on Cowboys corners Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr this week. Expect Palmer to take plenty of shots Sunday against a defense lacking front-seven playmakers.

This will be a huge measuring-stick game for both the Cowboys' offensive line and a stingy Cardinals defense. Arizona has the third-best rushing defense in the NFL (77.9 YPG) and has not allowed 85-plus yards rushing to any single player this season. As we know, Dallas has the NFL's best rushing offense (160.5 YPG), and DeMarco Murray has rushed for 100-plus yards in all eight games this season. The Cowboys' pass protection must be better versus the blitz this week, however. Tony Romo was sacked five times when facing a blitz last week. The Cardinals' defense has blitzed 137 timed this season (most in the NFL).

Pregame reading material
Larry Fitzgerald likens the Cards to the San Antonio Spurs of the NFL
Jason Garrett is optimistic Romo (back) can play Sunday
DeMarco Murray wins Player of the Month
Murray hears from Emmitt Smith after fumble

Who will win? Three of five Around The NFL writers pick the Cardinals.

The Eagles have the third-most giveaways in the NFL this season (17) and 19.1 percent of Philadelphia's drives have ended with a turnover, the highest in the NFL. Nick Foles has thrown a pick in four consecutive games. With an offensive line still trying to get healthy the Eagles have the unfortunate task take on the Greek god (probably) known as J.J. Watt and a Texans defense that has at least one takeaway in every game this season (17 total, second in the NFL).

While Watt has been a beast, it's fair to consider Arian Foster the team's MVP thus far (Houston doesn't get much done on offense if he's not gliding through the secondary with ease). The running back has carried the load this season, with 100-plus rushing yards in six of seven games this season. He'll be the key to a Houston upset and should eat a lot versus an Eagles ranked 21st against the run and is giving up 116.7 yards per game on the ground.

Pregame reading material
J.J. Watt tells Zach Mettenberger that this isn't high school
Chip Kelly insists Eagles aren't trading for safety help
Kelly defends decision to kick late field goal
Cardinals among midseason winners

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Eagles.

The Jets' run defense is allowing a meager 85.4 yards per game, but will be tasked with slowing down the Jamaal Charles-Knile Davis juggernaut duo. If the Jets' defense can corral the running game and make the Chiefs one-dimensional they have a chance to get off the schneid. With Alex Smith averaging just 5.6 air yards per pass (lowest in the NFL) I want to see if Andy Reid allows his quarterback to air it out against a flimsy Jets secondary.

Justin Houston has gone unheralded long enough this season. His 10 sacks lead the NFL and he's been a menace for quarterbacks all year long. The upfront pressure from a group that lost key pieces early on is a huge reason the Chiefs are allowing a league-low 195.7 passing yards per game. Watching Houston chase after Mike Vick will be a joy to see at Arrowhead on Sunday.

Pregame reading material
Michael Vick named Jets' No. 1 QB
Jets GM won't commit to Rex beyond this season
Alex Smith hampered by strained shoulder
Sheldon Richardson: Alex Smith is a game manager

Who will win? Four of five Around The NFL writers pick the Chiefs.

Blake Bortles has stttrrrruuugggled. His 12 interceptions lead the NFL and he's on pace to match the rookie pick record (Peyton Manning, 28). He'll need to have better accuracy Sunday, but he faces an advantageous defense. The Bengals' D has allowed opponents 21 drives of 10-plus plays -- most in the NFL -- and is only forcing three-and-outs on 13.6 percent of drives, 3rd worst in the NFL. If Bortles can omit the drive-killing plays, he could find success.

A.J. Green returned to the practice field this week and could provide a big boost to Andy Dalton. The signal-caller has a passer rating of 98.5 with Green on the field and 79.8 without the star wideout this season. Look for Dalton to hit his playmakers deep Sunday against a Jacksonville defense that has allowed 24 completions of 20-plus air yards this season (most in the NFL).

Pregame reading material
Vontaze Burfict undergoes knee surgery
A.J. Green (toe) says he'll play vs. Jaguars
Denard Robinson pulling away in RB competition
Hue Jackson among hot assistants for head coaching jobs

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Bengals.

The Chargers' offensive line has been beaten up the past few weeks and will face another fierce front in Cameron Wake and Co. Philip Rivers has thrown four of his five interceptions in losses this season. The veteran signal-caller has been one of the best quarterbacks under pressure this year, but facing a bullish and sticky Miami secondary he will need more to find open receivers Sunday on the road -- I expect Branden Oliver to be heavily involved in the passing game against Miami's linebackers.

Ryan Tannehill can't get the deep ball going and I don't expect that to magically begin Sunday against the Chargers. Bill Lazor will dial up a quick passing attack and try to take advantage of a Chargers secondary sans rookie stud Jason Verrett. Expect another big game for Lamar Miller in the ground attack as he faces a Chargers defense allowing 110.9 yards per game rushing and was cut up by a similarly shifty running back last week.

Pregame reading material
Ricky Williams: I left the NFL due to Dolphins' bad QBs
Dolphins among seven teams that could slide because of schedule
Jason Verrett out 2-3 weeks with torn labrum
Philip Rivers a top-shelf signal-caller in QB index

Who will win? Four of five Around The NFL writers pick the Chargers.

Robert Griffin III's return from an ankle dislocation will give this bout a bounty of intrigue. How will Jay Gruden deploy RGIII? Will his accuracy issues during the preseason be an issue? Can he get out and run? Griffin will face a stiff Vikings front led by Everson Griffen, who has been a terror lately and dynamic rookie Anthony Barr. The Vikings' D has compiled 15 sacks in the last three games, so there could be a lot of cringe-worthy moment for RGIII fans. Another key to watch is how the Redskins utilize Alfred Morris, who historically performs much better with RGIII in the lineup.

Teddy Bridgewater and a struggling offensive line will have its hands full against a Redskins D that proved to a national audience Monday how good it can be when the offense doesn't put it in bad spots. Bridgewater has shown some good pocket awareness and uses his feet to get out of trouble, but he will have to read blitzes better and find hot reads out of the backfield if the Redskins dial up the pressure again Sunday. Expect Jerick McKinnon to play a big role in screens and checkdowns to slow the Redskins rush and aid a crumbling Vikings blocking crew.

Pregame reading material
Anthony Barr's beastly performance lifts Vikes over Bucs
Gruden on RGIII: All systems look like they're a go
Redskins' relevancy in November not totally out of reach
Redskins among four teams with soft second-half schedules

Who will win? Three of five Around The NFL writers pick the Redskins.

The Austin Davis sizzle has died off in recent weeks. Davis made some early plays against the 49ers' defense in Week 6, but since then it's been a struggle for the signal-caller. With a shuffled offensive line expect the Rams to attempt to lean on Tre Mason and the ground game (rookie Greg Robinson, making his first start at left tackle, is a better run blocker than pass protector at this stage). Of course that is easier said than done against a stout Niners run D (fourth in the NFL).

In their last meeting, Colin Kaepernick picked apart the Rams secondary for 343 yards and three touchdown scores. It will be interesting to see if, coming off a bye, the Niners elect to go that route again, or allow Frank Gore to get loose against a Rams run defense allowing 144.3 yards per game. Gore has just 29.0 yards rushing per game in the 49ers' last two contests.

Pregame reading material
Entire NFC West could suffer due to schedule
Mark Barron traded for draft picks
Barron: Lovie's defense was too passive
Case Keenum waived by St. Louis Rams

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the 49ers.

You'll get beaten over the head with Tom Brady-Peyton Manning talk this weekend, so let's look at some other keys to watch aside from the future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

Ronnie Hillman has emphatically stamped his claim on the Broncos' running back job. For the season he has compiled 75 carries, 349 yards and two touchdowns. He'll face a Patriots run defense giving up 129.6 yards per game on the ground and 199 in their two losses. That was before injuries struck. Here's assuming that -- like last season -- Bill Belichick will tempt Manning to run the ball with six-man boxes and hope his guys can make the tackle. Hillman needs to make the Pats pay when they go that route.

Rob Gronkowski has keyed the Patriots' offensive resurgence over the past month and has been as unstoppable as any offensive player in the NFL. How the Broncos bracket and defend Gronk with linebackers and safeties will be something to keep an eye on. Linebacker Brandon Marshall has been good in coverage on the weak side. Safeties T.J. Ward and Rahim Moore will also be key in slowing Gronk. It will be interesting to see if Broncos deploy Aqib Talib at all on Gronk. The corner hasn't held those duties this season so there is no precedent, but anything could happen if Gronk is killing the Broncos.

Pregame reading material
All-time greats ready for epic showdown
Belichick: Peyton is the best I've coached against
Peyton, Brady jockey for position in midseason QB Index
Champ Bailey retires after 15 NFL seasons

Who will win? Three of five Around The NFL writers pick the Broncos.

Derek Carr has been the best of the young quarterbacks this year, but he's averaging 9.98 yards per completion, so far the fewest by any Raiders QB in a season in franchise history. He needs to be on target down the field against a beaten-up Seahawks defense giving up 54.6 more yards passing per game than last season. Don't expect the Raiders' futile running game help this week, which means Carr will need to make big throws and manage the game in the most hostile environment in the NFL.

Marshawn Lynch has six consecutive games under 100 rushing yards. Lynch ended last regular season on a six-game drought, which means he has rushed for 100-plus yards in 1 of his past 13 games. The offensive line hasn't created holes this season and Lynch isn't getting the carries. Expect him to tote it more at home Sunday against a Raiders run D that hasn't been grand (allowing 130.1 yards per game). It will be fun to see Khalil Mack smash into Lynch at some point; the Raiders' prized rook has come on strong the last few weeks.

Pregame reading material
Carroll: Nothing to Marshawn Lynch trade rumors
Russell Wilson: Seahawks more together than ever
Jon Gruden wanted Raiders to draft Johnny Manziel
Seahawks on the list for season's biggest midseason disappointment

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Seahawks.

The Ravens are seeking to put on a repeat performance of their Week 2 pummeling of the Steelers. Elvis Dumervil was a beast in the last matchup and the Ravens pass rush will be key once again. That group will need to get pressure on Big Ben again to put the quarterback on tilt after his epic game last week. Pressure will be especially import without Jimmy Smith in the secondary to help slow down Antonio Brown.

The Steelers' D didn't sack Joe Flacco once in Week 2 as the Ravens ran over Pittsburgh for a combined 184 yards on the ground. Justin Forsett has since become the workhouse and could be in for another big day. Steve Smith should see a lot of targets again this week against Steelers defensive backs that have been tackle-deficient this season.

Pregame reading material
Mike Tomlin thinks Antonio Brown is similar to J.J. Watt
Big Ben's play among NFL's best in Week 8
Terrell Suggs thought flag on Steve Smith was ballsy
Where do Roethlisberger, Flacco fit in the latest QB Index?

Who will win? Four of five Around The NFL writers pick the Steelers.

Andrew Luck and Co. could be in for another big day against a Giants defense that is allowing 6.1 yards per play this season (last in the NFL) and 262.4 passing yards per game (25th). Hakeem Nicks will be motivated to face his former squad, but I want to see if Donte Moncrief can duplicate his seven-catch, 113-yard, one-touchdown performance last week. If Reggie Wayne stays out, Moncrief should be Luck's No. 2 target.

The Giants want Eli Manning to let it rip after seven weeks in Ben McAdoo's offense. Larry Donnell could be in for a big game over the middle against a Colts D that lost Heath Miller several times last week. But as great a concern for the Giants' offense has to be their running game. Of Andre Williams' 89 carries, 61 (68.5 percent) this season have been for less than four yards. Rashad Jennings -- who is out -- wasn't much better, with 47 of 91 (51.6 percent) rush attempts going for less than four yards. Big Blue’s backs have combined to total of 3.7 yards per attempt, which sits at 27th in NFL. Ouch.

Pregame reading material
Giants GM wants Eli Manning to let it rip
Hakeem Nicks definitely has extra in store for Giants
Colts' Butler on loss: We got our (expletive) kicked
Eli, Luck in different tiers of the midseason QB Index

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Colts.

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