By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) It’s taken nine weeks to get two primetime games actually worth watching. Outside of those two match-ups, there aren’t many compelling games. Nevertheless, here’s my take on how the NFL’s Week 9 will shake out with my predictions, my juggernaut games of the week, and my “juggernot lames of the weak.”
(Home team in all CAPS)
Juggernaut Games of the Week
EAGLES 27, Bears 20 – 7:30 Monday Night
Finally, we have a Monday night game to look forward to, and it just so happens our beloved Bears are participating. This game could be the tipping point for one or both of these teams and determine their playoff fate. The Eagles were dominant last week against Dallas, opening the eyes of the NFL and striking fear in future opponents. The Eagles played smart and fast, and were a step ahead – literally and figuratively – all game. The Eagles defensive line poses a huge challenge for the Bears, and if Mike Martz doesn’t counter with some short drops for Jay Cutler, and quick hitters with Matt Forte, it’s going to be a long night for the Bears. On the other side of the ball, the Bears gap discipline will be tested by quarterback Mike Vick and running back LeSean McCoy, who have the speed to cutback and burn over-pursuing Bears. The Eagles are already more talented than the Bears, toss in home field advantage, and you have a win for the Eagles.
STEELERS 24, Ravens 20 – 7:20 PM
So much for the Pittsburgh defense being old and slow, as the Steelers dominated Tom Brady and company last weekend in an impressive 25-17 victory. Despite having two Super Bowl rings, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger never seems to be in the discussion of elite NFL quarterbacks, but he certainly belongs there. Roethlisberger further exposed a questionable Patriots secondary, distributing the ball to nine different receivers for 365 yards and two touchdowns. This week the Steelers have a critical divisional game against the rival Ravens. The Ravens are an enigma. Their unpredictable play prevents me from taking them seriously anymore in the AFC race. I like the Steelers to win this game and enter the driver’s seat in the AFC title race.
Juggernaut Lames of the Weak
Rams 20, CARDINALS 17 – 3:15 PM
Does AJ Feely versus John Skelton do it for you? That’s what paying fans and (willing) tv viewers may be subjected to this weekend when St. Louis travels to Arizona. Despite what I’ve read, and the 1 in the ‘W’ column, I’m still not convinced the Rams actually beat the Saints last week. Jokes aside, you have to give credit to the Rams. They put forth a dominant defensive effort, and perhaps Steven Jackson put on not only throwback uniforms, but throwback legs. Jackson blasted through the Saints defense for 159 yards and two touchdowns, leading the way for the Rams in their improbable win. The Cardinals had a surprising showing of their own last week, taking Baltimore to the wire, only to lose 30-27. The Cardinals secondary is in bad shape, but can the Rams take advantage of it? I like the Rams to win.
RAIDERS 23, Broncos 17 – 3:05 PM
Just three years ago, the Broncos had Jay Cutler playing quarterback at a Pro-Bowl level. But then the Broncos turned the franchise over to Patriots “wunderkind” Josh McDaniels. McDaniels has devolved the quarterback situation in Denver from Jay Cutler to Kyle Orton to Tim Tebow. It’s safe to assume McDaniels won’t be receiving many holiday cards postmarked from the 80204 zip code this year. I wonder just how much more of Tebow head coach John Fox will subject us to? Personally, I hope it lasts all year as Tebow provides endless material, but he offends my football sensibilities on numerous levels. Outside of the sheer comedy provided by Tebow’s quarterbacking, there’s nothing to see here folks. I like Carson Palmer to pick up his first victory as an Oakland Raider in uninspiring fashion.
Jets 24, BILLS 20 – Noon
While their play certainly justifies it, I still find it odd that the Bills are favored in this game. This is a crucial AFC East battle with wild card implications. It will be strength-on-strength when the Bills have the ball, so this game will come down to what the Jets do on offense. Jets coach Rex Ryan shockingly went a week without saying something regrettable, but it sounds like there’s some dissatisfaction in the locker room. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes – who is on pace to post career-low totals – is apparently unhappy with his role and with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The Jets have started to get back to their ground and pound play-style, and in the NFL all that matters is winning. Despite the fact they’re 0-3 on the road this year, I like the Jets to pull this one off.
TEXANS 31, Browns 13 – Noon
Two of the NFL’s top five defenses are on display. No, that is not a typo. Former Texas Longhorn Colt McCoy makes his first start in Texas as an NFL quarterback. McCoy leads a toothless Browns offense, who have managed a league-low 11 passing plays over 20 yards. Pouting Browns running back Peyton Hillis may make an appearance this weekend, but it won’t matter. The Texans will dominate every aspect of this game and move a step closer to their first AFC South title.
CHIEFS 24, Dolphins 17 – Noon
Hats off to the Dolphins for playing 30 minutes of real football last weekend, too bad football is a 60-minute game. What is it with this team and second-half collapses? Obviously talent is an issue, but a lack of in-game adjustments is just as much at fault. Late in the game while the score was still close, it was clear that the Dolphins offensive line was unable to block the relentless pass rush of the Giants. Instead of keeping in extra blockers, the Dolphins kept calling 7-step drops for quarterback Matt Moore who was ground to a pulp. That’s not winning football, especially in a game where you had success running the football. The Chiefs have to be recognized for turning around what appeared to be a lost season. Not many teams could withstand losing three of their top players, yet that’s exactly what they’ve done. Fresh off a huge win over the Chargers, the Chiefs are back in AFC West contention and will notch another victory this weekend.
COWBOYS 27, Seahawks 16 – Noon
After being dismantled in Philadelphia last weekend, you can stick a fork in the 2011 Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys were outcoached and outplayed in every facet of the game, and I wonder: Where do they go from here? This team has the talent to compete, yet every year they stumble their way to a record just above .500. Plastic-faced Jerry Jones should make some tough decisions at the end of the season, but chances are he will chalk it up as season one of a new regime, and 2012 will be the make-or-break year for Jason Garrett. This weekend, the Seahawks and their surprisingly stingy defense comes to town. The unfortunate part about the match-up for the Seahawks is that the one area on defense they’re deficient at – cornerback – will be matched up against the Cowboys’ talented wide receivers. I like the Cowboys to rebound in Big D.
49ers 27, REDSKINS 10 – Noon
The Bills just sacked the Redskins again. Literally. Upon further review of the game film, the NFL granted Buffalo another sack, raising the grand total to 10. I wonder how many fantasy football games out there were affected by this mid-week statistical adjustment? Prior to last week’s game, I said it was time to strip the “offensive genius” label clean off of Washington head coach Mike Shanahan, and his team went out and proved it. For the first time in his head coaching career Shanahan was shut out, and there’s a strong possibility it happens again this week against San Francisco. Someone needs to be held accountable in Washington for hitching their 2011 wagon to Rex Grossman and John Beck, but does Mike Shanahan have the guts to fire his own son, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan? I think nepotism wins out in the end and nothing changes. This weekend, the 49ers will roll the Redskins and help strengthen the case for Shanahan squared’s ouster in DC.
SAINTS 31, Buccaneers 20 – Noon
The Saints and Bucs square off at the Super Dome in a crucial NFC South match-up. Just three weeks ago, the Bucs beat the Saints, so this is a must-win for the Saints. As much as I appreciate the overall talent of the Saints, losses like the one they suffered to the Bucs and most recently the Rams, makes me wonder just how good this team really is? Granted, anytime you line up with Drew Brees under center you have a chance to win, but as for the rest of the team? It’s a mixed bag. Nonetheless, I expect Brees to be extra motivated and on his A-game, which means bad things for the Bucs.
Falcons 30, COLTS 13 – Noon
What more can be said about the Colts at this point other than they’re the worst team in the NFL by a substantial margin? It is shocking to see just how abrupt their fall from grace has been. As I previously explained, Peyton Manning is not only tied to the success of the offense, but the defense as well, as he was able to build a lead and put opponents in must-pass mode, but now that’s all gone. Defensively the Colts are a mess. Their star defensive ends haven’t sacked a quarterback in three games, the defense has a whole hasn’t forced a turnover since Week 3. Obviously, it’s hard to build a case for this team any week this season, let alone this week against a Falcons team fresh off a bye-week. The Falcons will start the second half of their season in high-flying style in Indy.
Bengals 20, TITANS 17 – 3:05 PM
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has more wins this season than Jay Cutler, Mike Vick, Tony Romo, Phillip Rivers, Matt Ryan, and Mark Sanchez, not to mention several other quarterbacks. It goes without saying that football is a team game, and the Bengals haven’t exactly played a tough schedule, their formula has been to play smothering defense and have Dalton make enough positive plays for his team to win. Dalton and rookie wide receiver AJ Green (who should win offensive rookie of the year) have some nice chemistry going. Even though they’re on the road this weekend, I like them to beat a Titans team that just hasn’t found its way.
PATRIOTS 31, Giants 24 – 3:15 PM
Have we reached the point where Bill Belichick’s ego is affecting the product on the field? I think so, as Bill Belichick the general manager is hurting Bill Belichick the head coach. The Patriots don’t have the talent – especially on defense – to compete with the elite teams in the NFL, as proven by the passing clinic Ben Roethlisbgerger put on last weekend. On the other side of the ball, the Steelers clamped down on Wes Welker with Ike Taylor, and had safeties talented enough to limit tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Steelers put out the blue-print for other teams to use against the Patriots, but having the talent to execute it is a different story. The Giants can flat out get after the quarterback and will be in Tom Brady’s face all game. Even so, the Patriots rarely lose back-to-back games, so I’ll give them the edge here due to home field advantage.
Packers 38, CHARGERS 31 – 3:15 PM
Get all your fantasy players playing in this game active, as it’s going to be a shootout in San Diego. The Packers defense isn’t as fierce as it was last season, as all season they’ve been vulnerable to the pass, and as of late the running game also. The Chargers’ receivers resemble the front court of a Division I basketball team, and will challenge the Packers’ secondary. Limiting the number of Packer possessions is the only way to have a chance against them, that said, it’s a tough week for San Diego to be without the services of top running back Ryan Mathews. Despite their poor showing against Kansas City on Monday night, San Diego will keep this game competitive, but come up short in the end. The Packers have had an extra week to heal and prepare, and will throw another bag of ice on the 1972 Dolphins’ champagne.
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.