It's Week 9 in the NFL, and the continuation of a great sports week.
While looking forward to this weekend's games, especially with a few of the games offering unique matchups, how about a tip of the cap -- the helmet -- to Major League Baseball? From what this writer was able to see, that was a helluva World Series. As a former locked-in Rangers fan back in the '80s and '90s, it was awesome seeing the Astros take home the title. Although the unis they wore in the 1986 NLCS (another incredible series) will always be the best. As for the Dodgers, what a relaxed team with tremendous heart. Fun stuff.
The hometown Rams won't have to immediately follow up the Dodgers' act in Los Angeles, as they will be in New Jersey to face the Giants. Meanwhile, the Texanswill be taking the field at NRG Stadium in front of a bunch of Houstonians who will surely be less gleeful than they otherwise would have been, in light of the torn ACL Deshaun Watsonsuffered in practice Thursday. He has been certifiable must-watch TV -- even as much as the 'Stros. So has Carson Wentz, who is the MVP to this point -- though he faces a litmus test in the Broncos' defense on Sunday. Interesting game. And how about Chiefs at Cowboys? Kansas City is already getting underrated again. And how good are the 'Boys? The intertwined legacy of these two franchises is ... off the charts:
As for the rest of the Week 9 slate, take a gander below. Your take's always welcome: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
Now, let's get to it!
Elliot Harrison went 10-3 on his predictions for Week 8, giving him a record of 71-48 thus far this season. How will he fare in Week 9? His picks are below:
Houston Texans 25, Indianapolis Colts 21
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
What was a woeful matchup for the Colts now looks to be much more competitive, in light of the news of Deshaun Watson's torn ACL Thursday. Coming off close losses on the road in Nashvilleand Cincinnati, Indy was going to have to face the hottest quarterback in the league at his place. Now it will be up to Tom Savage to keep the Texans' offense productive. Perhaps watching Watson will have influenced Savage to open it up more and stretch his sea legs (proverbially, not literally). Watson was on pace to throw 43 touchdown passes, which would've shattered the rookie record by 17. (Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson own the current record at 26.) The Colts should be able to move the football on Houston, whose pass rush couldn't get Russell Wilson on the ground when it mattered most last Sunday. Jacoby Brissett's mobility might not be up to Wilson's level, but it will be a key factor in determining whether Indy stays in this game. Savage's career line: 1-2 as a starter, plus a 60 percent completion rate, 6.2 yards per attempt and a 73.9 passer rating. Not, ahem, savage numbers. Think he'll show us something this weekend.
Jacksonville Jaguars 27, Cincinnati Bengals 13
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Jags are coming off a bye, with two "new" additions. One is a legit fresh face: Marcell Dareus came over in a trade with the Bills, adding to an already-talented Jacksonville front seven. Then there's rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who should come back healthy after missing the Week 7 game in Indy with an ankle injury. The Bengals' strength offensively this season has been A.J. Green. Problem is, he'll be going up against the teeth of the Jags' defense. Thus, it might be up to Cincy's underrated defensive unit to get points. Figure Blake Bortles for less than 30 passing attempts and a whole heckuva lot of handoffs. As for Andy Dalton ... Wish him well managing, er, minding, er, panicking about the Jacksonville pass rush. The Jags are on pace for 75 sacks, which would break the mark of 72 set by the 1984 Bears. That was the year before they started breakdancing.
New Orleans Saints 30, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Can't blame me for picking against the Bucs. I put faith in them against both the Cardinals and Panthers, and they lostboth games. The defense has been maligned for weeks, but the offense couldn't run, couldn't pass and couldn't score against Carolina last week. It was like the triple crown of sucking on offense. Can't imagine the amount of head-scratching that is going on in Tampa's offices, but a road game in New Orleans is not the RX to cure what ails this team. Speaking of head-scratching, think about this: The Saints lead the league in rushing touchdowns since Week 6 -- the week that immediately followed Adrian Petersonbeing traded away.
Los Angeles Rams 24, New York Giants 20
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Interesting game for the Rams, but a desperate moment for the Giants. Los Angeles will find out if the defense can be dominant. Or, to put it another way: If Wade Phillips' unit is to be a top-10 outfit, then shutting the Giants down a la NFC West-leading Seattle in Week 7 would be an appropriate start. The Rams throttled the Cardinals' offense in London, although Arizona lost Carson Palmer in that game. New York must push the running game. Get the offensive line a chance to attack, and it might fund the pass-pro effort for Eli Manning. Big Blue's defense will hold up, provided it's not on the field for 35 minutes. The L.A. defense is rocking the Troubadour and opponents, with an average of 11 points allowed over the last three games.
Atlanta Falcons 20, Carolina Panthers 17
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Falcons at Panthers will be a down-and-dirty NFC South showdown. Don't expect this affair to be pretty. (Most affairs aren't pretty. Never mind.) Atlanta's offense has suffered through mediocrity all season, with last week's performance in New York being no different. If you think Matt Ryan and Co. have struggled in Atlanta, take a look at Cam Newton and friends. They're 21st in yards per game and 23rd in points scored. The home field hasn't made any difference -- the Panthers have been worse in Charlotte (1-2) than on the road (4-1). This game could go either way. This Ryan vs. Newton matchup represents the first meeting in a looong time of successive MVP's that didn't involve Peyton Manning: The last one came in the 1996 playoffs, when Steve Young faced off against Brett Favre in the Divisional Round.
Philadelphia Eagles 27, Denver Broncos 13
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Philadelphia moves to 8-1, but not without a struggle. Don't misread the final up there, as the Eagles will tack on a score late when the Broncos start pressing. At some point, Brock Osweiler will have to force throws, even if team brass wants him to keep everything tucked in offensively. Speaking of the passing game, or stopping it, I'm surprised Philly opted for Jay Ajayi instead of going after a defensive back. Just a thought. Meanwhile, the Broncos' secondary has been outstanding all season, yet there is only so much the defense can do. At some point, Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy must employ creative ways to deploy the running backs, like he did with Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead when he was head coach of the Chargers in 2013. Take pressure off Osweil-ian, slow down the pass rush, extend drives. Carson Wentz faces his biggest challenge of the season, which will require him to be special on third down. So far, he boasts the top conversion rate on third and fourth down (51.6 percent) since Drew Brees in 2011.
Tennessee Titans 26, Baltimore Ravens 17
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Picking the Titans no matter what, but the way to attack Tennessee is to challenge the secondary. Joe Flaccowill be back. The issue, of course, is the anemic Baltimore passing attack. The Ravens are last in the NFL in passing. They haven't surpassed the Mendoza line in net passing yards since Week 5. Their single-game high-water mark is 222 yards, which would have been a wonderful figure in 1957. The intriguing part of this matchup is seeing a healthier Marcus Mariota against a strong Baltimore defense. One of the real challenges for Mariota and the offense is getting touchdowns instead of field goals. Last year, Tennessee put it in the paint 72 percent of the time when in the red zone. That led the league. This year, they're 31st. Slight difference.
San Francisco 49ers 23, Arizona Cardinals 22
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX
Would the 49ers be gutsy enough to start Jimmy G this week? Don't think so. But why not? Recall that these two teams met up last month, with the Cardinals needing OT and a ridiculous Larry Fitzgerald grab to win the day. That throw came from Carson Palmer. Drew Stanton is in the driver's seat now, and to his credit, he won a game for Bruce Arians -- last year. No David Johnson this time. Bet Adrian Peterson gets 20 carries into that NaVorro Bowman-less San Francisco middle. By the way, Arizona boasts the worst run game in the league, by far.
Seattle Seahawks 26, Washington Redskins 21
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX
The Redskins couldn't ask for a worse matchup. Down at least three starters on the offensive line, flying out to Seattle to face that front seven isn't ideal. If the Cowboys' rush presented problems (Dallas forced a Kirk Cousins fumble and a batted ball that decided the game last Sunday), can you imagine what the Seahawks will do with a bunch of nutso Sounders fans screaming their collective heads off? That said, this game will be close, as the Redskins' pass rush can make life equally tough for Russell Wilson, even with Duane Brown now protecting the QB's blind side. It would serve both teams to run the football, which neither has done consistently. Intriguing matchup: Chris Thompson vs. Seattle linebackers.
Dallas Cowboys 30, Kansas City Chiefs 27
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS
Originally had the Chiefs pulling this one out in Dallas. But with Ezekiel Elliott now reinstated for the game, I'm going with the Cowboys. Kansas City's had real difficulty stopping the run this season. Derrick Johnson has been a wonderful player for years, but he still seems a bit compromised after his second major Achilles injury last December. The Chiefs could present problems for the Cowboys through the air; running back Kareem Hunt can make hay on Dallas LBs in coverage, a la Week 1 versus the Patriots. K.C.'s defense could use the help: The unit ranks 30th in yards per game and yards per play allowed. With Elliott playing, Chiefs DC Bob Sutton will now have to dedicate another defender to the box, which won't help a secondary that's given up a ton of yardage.
Love this matchup, by the way. Many fans might not know this, but there is amazing history between these two franchises. That legacy is the subject of my NFL history short this week. The Chiefs and Cowboys have participated in a few fantastic games in the past, like the 2005 thriller at Texas Stadium, with guys like Dan Campbell and Scott Fujita playing prominent roles. I have the 1983 matchup on DVD (converted from VHS, babe). That was the year Bill Kenney threw for more than 4,000 yards -- when that was still a huge deal. (Does anyone remember Bill Kenney? ... @HarrisonNFL.)
Oakland Raiders 28, Miami Dolphins 25
Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Can Derek Carr and Amari Cooper put a productive game together like they did versus the Chiefs in Week 7? Oakland will have Marshawn Lynchback for this contest, but at some point, it would be nice to see even a glimpse of last year's success through the air. The Dolphins enjoyed zero successes through the air last Thursday, at least not for their own team. The Ravens sure partied (in the end zone) on Matt Moore's interceptions. Perhaps the additional three days off will help Adam Gase's team, but we saw what the extra rest did for the Raiders in Buffalo. ... It gave them three more days to wait before getting blown out. Not surprisingly, the Dolphins have the worst point differential (-60) of any team with a winning record after seven games in NFL history. That's a gem from researcher @RealJackAndrade. He often takes a deep dive into Darwinism at the office.
Detroit Lions 26, Green Bay Packers 23
Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Lions haven't won at Lambeau much over the years. In fact, they've only pulled out the W once in Green Bay since 1991. Considering that the franchise went to the playoffs in 1993, '94, '95, '97 and '99, it's hard to believe not one of those squads could best Brett Favre even once. Aaron Rodgers has dominated Detroit, going 7-1 against them at home. Matt Flynn threw for a billion yards on the Lions in 2011. So can Brett Hundley keep up this one-sided run? No. Jim Bob Cooter finally discovers the section on his playsheet labeled "runs," with quarterback Matthew Stafford being the beneficiary. The Lions' offensive coordinator should play more Strat-O-Matic football. It might help in the red zone, where Detroit has scored a touchdown just 45 percent of the time this season (tied for 25th).
THURSDAY NIGHT'S GAME
Buffalo Bills 23, New York Jets 17
Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network
As mentioned in the Power Rankings earlier this week, the Bills have really laid a few eggs against the Jets in the past. This Buffalo team seems different, starting with the leadership -- Sean McDermott looks like as strong a Coach of the Year candidate as any head man in the league. Who else would you take? While New York should provide Josh McCown with enough time to throw, Buffalo's secondary has played much better than anyone anticipated in the preseason. They give up tons of yards (ranking 29th in the NFL in passing yards allowed) but hardly any touchdowns (tied for second in passing TDs allowed) and they pick the ball off (second in interceptions). McCown has thrown two or more touchdowns in four straight games. The last time a Jets quarterback pulled that off: 1999. Ray Lucas was the man then, because this happened ...