NFL Week 9 game picks: Bucs top Saints; Ravens best Colts

Gregg Rosenthal went 9-5 on his predictions for Week 8 of the 2020 NFL season, bringing his total record to 75-43-1. How will he fare in Week 9? His picks are below.


Washington Football Team 21, New York Giants 19

While Daniel Jones was decomposing in prime time, the Team was chilling on a bye week. It's always tricky when teams play twice in such a short span, but the first meeting between the Giants and Washington, which came in Week 6, was instructive. Big Blue struggled to move the ball, relying on two Kyle Allen turnovers that set up 14 points. That could happen again, but the talent disparity here is real. The Giants are playing just hard enough to keep games close, but Washington has far more players (Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson, Chase Young, Montez Sweat and an underrated secondary) who can make plays without the help of some major schematic advantage.

Tennessee Titans 24, Chicago Bears 23

This is a sneaky-great game. When the Titans have the ball, a dominant red-zone and third-down offense faces the league's preeminent red-zone and third-down defense. When the Bears have the ball, a Nick Foles-led group ranked near the bottom in red-zone and third-down offense faces a Titans defense that is historically terrible in getting off the field. Foles made more tough throws last week than he was given credit for and has faced a brutal stretch of the schedule that ends this week, which makes this more of a coin-flip game than Titans fans want to admit.

UPDATE: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that Bears center Cody Whitehair tested positive for COVID-19.

Minnesota Vikings 27, Detroit Lions 24

The Vikings and Lions are similar this season, as two teams stuck in the NFL's middle that could easily have better records. I give the Vikings the edge on Sunday largely because of who's available. Dalvin Cook is a tackle-breaking testament to a few running backs mattering, with coordinator Gary Kubiak's zone-blocking concepts taking off when he's in the lineup. Kenny Golladay, meanwhile, is Detroit's offensive Jenga piece. The Lions' erratic attack isn't explosive enough without Golladay on the field, and he's expected to miss this game with a hip injury, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. Matthew Stafford was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday after having a high-risk close contact with a non-team person earlier this week, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. He could be eligible to play on Sunday if his tests come back negative in the days ahead and he remains asymptomatic. I was picking the Vikings to win either way, but the score projection could change, depending on Stafford's status.

Kansas City Chiefs 35, Carolina Panthers 21

Pressure Patrick Mahomes or perish. The Panthers, who haven't had their bye, have forced only one punt in their last two games. They make other teams work for their points, but Brian Burns' breakout season doesn't provide enough juice up front to make up for the losses of Kawann Short and Yetur Gross-Matos from an already-thin defensive group. Mahomes has the look of a man ready to feast on a stretch of vulnerable opponents, making Christian McCaffrey's likely return from injury for this game of little concern for the defending champs.

Houston Texans 30, Jacksonville Jaguars 21

I was convinced, based on Rapoport's reporting and Jaguars coach Doug Marrone's words, that rookie quarterback Jake Luton was going to start coming out of Jacksonville's bye week, even before the team knew of Gardner Minshew's injury. The Jaguars talked up Luton in training camp much like they talked up Minshew the year before. Facing the Texans' defense represents an ideal first matchup, but it's hard to imagine Luton keeping up in a shootout with Deshaun Watson. With the league's 32nd-ranked defense, shootouts and blowouts are the only types of Jaguars games.

Baltimore Ravens 24, Indianapolis Colts 20

This game is a stress test that will tell us how different these Ravens truly are. Baltimore's defense is better than it was a year ago, but the sluggish passing game is impossible to ignore after another rough day for Lamar Jackson. Philip Rivers, on the other hand, is quietly carrying a Colts offense that ranks fifth in yards per pass attempt, yet dead last in yards per carry. I love Darius Leonard. I love Julian Blackmon. I love DeForest Buckner. But the Ravens' running game is coming off its best game of the year, and Baltimore still has more ways to win, with more firepower than the Colts, on both sides of the ball.

Seattle Seahawks 30, Buffalo Bills 24

Jamal Adams, who's missed the last four games due to injury, and trade acquisition Carlos Dunlap could join a Seahawks defense coming off its best performance. This matchup sets up well for the upswing to continue. Like the other defenses that have slowed down the Bills lately, the Seahawks are happy to play coverage, keep the ball in front of them and wait for Josh Allen to make a mistake. Allen, who has turned the ball over as often as he's notched a TD in the last four weeks, has mixed in too many quick drives with his brilliant playmaking. All Russell Wilson needs at the moment is a few stops, and he can do the rest. Unless you're watching 2019 tape, the Bills' defense doesn't look like the group to stop him.

Denver Broncos 27, Atlanta Falcons 24

Both of these teams have won two out of three games since resetting their season. Drew Lock looked absolutely lost for seven consecutive quarters before piloting a potential season-altering comeback over the Chargers. The Falcons have won decisively twice (and lost comically once) since Raheem Morris was named interim head coach, with Morris' ascension coinciding with Julio Jones' return to the field. This game means more for the Broncos. Their defense is well-coached and their offense has a ton of playmakers that can go the distance on any play. That's a recipe for a win, if Lock can avoid being his own worst enemy.

Las Vegas Raiders 30, Los Angeles Chargers 28

The Chargers have the highest variance in football, which means they are the least consistent team from week to week. Their erratic play exists within games, as they often look like world-beaters before turning into a self-defeating mess. The Raiders are steady like their quarterback, pleasantly boring as they rack up long field-goal drives behind their mammoth offensive line. Derek Carr might lack the flash of Justin Herbert, and the Raiders don't quite measure up to their division rivals in overall talent, but there are mysterious, cosmic forces at play when the Chargers play fourth quarters. Don't mess with the cosmos.

Pittsburgh Steelers 28, Dallas Cowboys 10

It doesn't matter whether it's Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush starting at quarterback for the Cowboys. Dallas was the worst team in the league with Andy Dalton at quarterback because its offensive line can't protect against four-man rushes and really can't protect against the blitz. The signs of life from Dallas' defense last week were heartening, but it's worth wondering if that effort will sustain when the Steelers' defense is scoring points and taking the ball away in bunches on Sunday afternoon. Free Tony Romo and Jim Nantz; no more Cowboys games!

Arizona Cardinals 27, Miami Dolphins 24

The best way to prevent Dolphins coach Brian Flores from overwhelming your pass-protection schemes is to avoid obvious passing situations. One week after the Rams badly failed in this endeavor, the Cardinals will try to learn from Jared Goff's mistakes. Blitzing Kyler Murray is dangerous because he's so elusive, but the Dolphins' 32nd-ranked run defense is vulnerable if they don't go for broke. These are two fascinating teams that are dramatically improved from 2019 -- and the Dolphins have some magic to them. My heart says Miami, but my head has a hard time riding with Tua Tagovailoa until he proves he can move the offense.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27, New Orleans Saints 24

This score continues my theme of Week 9 underdogs falling short but keeping the game closer than expected. The analytics love the Bucs. I love the Bucs. There isn't an obvious weakness for Tampa Bay, although the team's big-name pass rush is quietly underwhelming. That could be a problem against a strong Saints offensive line, which protects Drew Brees well and blocks even better for Alvin Kamara in the run game and on screens. It's also hard to overstate how much better the Saints' offense should be with Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Marquez Callaway all trending toward a return to the field.

Still, the best way to beat the Tampa defense is over the top. That does not favor Brees. And while Marcus Davenport has given the Saints' pass rush new life, the Bucs' offensive line figures to keep Tom Brady clean. This is not only the biggest game of Week 9, but one of the biggest in the NFC all season. Both teams are Super Bowl contenders, and the winner will have a significant edge in the battle for the NFC South.


New England Patriots 20, New York Jets 11

This might be the Jets' best opportunity for a win all season, and their best chance to beat the Patriots since Ryan Fitzpatrick and Todd Bowles roamed the Meadowlands. The Patriots' rush defense can't stop anyone, but can Frank Gore or La'Mical Perine take advantage? The Jets' pass defense, meanwhile, gambles way too much with way too little talent, but can Cam Newton and his merry band of undrafted receivers make the Jets pay deep? Both teams are dreadful in the first quarter and invite low-scoring games with their style of play, which makes this matchup the honorary NFC East prime-time game of the week, at least in spirit.


Green Bay Packers 30, San Francisco 49ers 17

In a world where Jimmy Garoppolo, George Kittle and Deebo Samuel didn't all suffer injuries over the last two weeks, I would have picked the 49ers to win this game. And not just because of the mismatch between Kyle Shanahan's rushing attack and the Packers' soft run defense, but because of the advantage any decent running team has against this Green Bay D. But Nick Mullens re-enters the lineup without the help of a single 49ers offensive player who touched the ball in last season's NFC Championship Game, now that receiver Kendrick Bourne has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list (first-year Niners Trent Williams and Brandon Aiyuk were added to the list late on Wednesday, too). The Packers might be without their top three running backs in this game, but the 49ers are similarly devastated at most of their position groups due to injury and COVID-19 protocols. (UPDATE:Packers running back Aaron Jones is officially active for tonight's game vs. San Francisco.)

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @GreggRosenthal.

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