Week 8 of the NFL season served as a good reminder that the weather should be taken into account when picking NFL games. Statistically, the defenses of the Browns and Raiders got credit for good performances last week, but it was the wind blowing off Lake Erie that kept the Las Vegas and Cleveland offenses at bay. Nevertheless, you live and learn, and now we’re ready to try again in Week 9, as we reach the midway point in the season.
This is a rather unusual week with just a few intra-division games. But in a way, fewer rivalry games should make it easier to make picks. With that in mind, here are our best bets for Week 9 of the NFL season.
Denver Broncos +3.5 at Atlanta Falcons
Winning two games in the last three weeks still doesn’t make the Falcons a smart bet, especially as a favorite. Keep in mind that Atlanta is winless at home this year and has had a propensity for blowing leads. Meanwhile, the Broncos are riding high off an incredible fourth-quarter comeback that featured quarterback Drew Lock dancing. It’s also hard to trust the Atlanta defense, which allowed fewer than 23 points in a game for the first time last week. That won’t necessarily become a trend.
As for the Broncos, they’ve won three of their last four games, losing only to the Chiefs during that span. Granted, they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record, but Denver has won on the road and on the East Coast. Lock has improved in each game since returning from a shoulder injury. He really started to come alive in the second half of last week’s big win over the Chargers. The Broncos are also running the ball more effectively while their young wide receivers are improving.
The Denver offense should give the Atlanta defense enough trouble to keep the game close and put the Falcons in a position to self-destruct late in the game.
Chicago Bears +6 at Tennessee Titans
Both of these teams have lost two in a row and are facing pivotal matchups, which makes us think that it’s safer to side with the underdog. It’s also worth noting that the Bears are 4-2 against the spread as an underdog. If the spread were a field goal or less, that might change things, but six points is a big spread for the Titans to cover against a quality Chicago defense. The Bears are giving up 20.8 points per game and have allowed no more than 26 points in a single game. If that trend continues, the Titans will have to be stout defensively to cover.
Frankly, we don’t have much confidence in the Tennessee defense after they gave up 31 points against the Bengals last week. The Titans have such a lackluster pass rush that they couldn’t collect any sacks against an offensive line giving up an average of four sacks per game. That makes us think that the Titans won’t be able to take advantage of a weak Chicago offensive line either. If the Bears can hold their own at the line of scrimmage a little better than they have in previous weeks, they should be able to score enough points to keep this game close or even beat a reeling Titans team.
New York Giants +3 at Washington Football Team
The Giants eked out a close 20-19 win against Washington a few weeks ago, so it’s a little puzzling to see they are three-point underdogs this week. Washington’s 25-3 win over Dallas two weeks ago looked convincing, but given how the Cowboys have played recently, that win needs to be taken with a big grain of salt. Washington’s running attack was key to the victory, but a productive ground game has been a rarity this season. They managed less than 100 yards rushing against the Giants in the first meeting and the New York defense has been solid against the run all year.
Of course, Daniel Jones remains a wild card. He’s thrown four interceptions in his last three games and isn’t getting much help from New York’s running game. There’s a lot on his shoulders and his mistakes can easily swing the game against the G-Men. That makes taking the Giants, even as an underdog, a little risky. However, New York’s propensity for playing close games can’t be ignored. Over the last four weeks, the Giants have one win and three losses by three points or less. It seems unlikely that the Giants will lose by a big margin to a team they beat last month, making New York the best pick as a three-point underdog.
Pittsburgh Steelers -13.5 at Dallas Cowboys
It’s not always wise to lay down two touchdowns in an NFL game, but the Cowboys have made it clear in recent weeks that this is a safe pick. Dallas has scored 22 total points in the three games since losing Dak Prescott. They’ve also gone back-to-back contests without a touchdown. It’s worth noting that their four field goals have all come from at least 45 yards, so they aren’t even getting into the red zone. The Cowboys won’t even have Andy Dalton this week, forcing them to start either Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush, who has three career pass attempts, all of which came in 2017.
The caveat is that the 7-0 Steelers have just two wins by double figures. One could also worry about a letdown after a massive win over Baltimore last week. However, the Steelers are averaging 30 points per game and they’ll be facing a team that’s conceding more than 33 points per game, which is the most in the NFL. If the Cowboys manage 10 points against the Pittsburgh defense, it might constitute a minor miracle. Even then, the Steelers would only need 24 points to cover. It’s more than reasonable to think that Pittsburgh can get there, which is why we feel comfortable swallowing the points in this game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -5.5 vs New Orleans Saints
We’re going to step out on a limb here and drink the Kool-Aid on the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has come a long way since losing 34-23 to the Saints in Week 1, and this game is a chance to prove that. The Bucs are undefeated at home with each win coming by at least a touchdown. That includes the 38-10 shellacking they gave the Packers a few weeks ago. Not only is Tom Brady getting more comfortable with his receivers, but Tampa is also getting more from multiple running backs, so it’s not all on Brady’s shoulders.
It could be the Tampa Bay defense that makes the biggest difference in this game. The pass rush has been strong and gave Aaron Rodgers huge problems a few weeks ago. The Bucs are also opportunistic when it comes to creating turnovers. This won’t be the same Tampa Bay defense the Saints faced in Week 1. The Bucs have improved in some areas and will have learned a few things from the previous meeting, allowing them to earn another comfortable win at home.
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