By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Only one game on the Week 9 docket features two teams with winning records, the Monday night matchup between the Bears and Packers. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other games of intrigue, as 45% of all games played this season have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Here’s my take on how Week 9 plays out.
(Home team in all CAPS)
Game of the Week: PACKERS 38, Bears 23 – Monday Night 7:40 PM
The Bears and Packers square off for the 187th time this Monday in Green Bay. Lambeau has been a house of horror for the Bears, who haven’t won there since 2007. Now they’ll try and exorcise their demons with Josh McCown under center and two rookie linebackers. The Packers have endured a laundry list of injuries as well, yet their offense still seemingly scores at will, and their defense still pressures the quarterback. The Bears lack of a pass rush will force them to blitz, which plays right into Rodgers’ hands, who will earn his seventh straight win over the Bears.
PANTHERS 24, Falcons 20 – Noon
Two NFC South teams headed in opposite directions clash in Charlotte. Just nine months ago, the Falcons were playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Nine weeks into the 2013 season, they’ve hit rock-bottom. Injuries have derailed their passing game, but their offensive line is the real culprit. They get no push in the run game and are sieve-like in pass pro. Winners of three straight, the Panthers are peaking, and will punish the Falcons on both sides of the ball.
COWBOYS 31, Vikings 23 – Noon
This game is being played in Allas, Texas, as there will be no ‘D’ played by either team. As they did against the Broncos, the Cowboys high-octane offense was able to go blow-for-blow with the Lions, but their defense was torched for 623 yards. That’s not a typo. In fact, I think Calvin Johnson just caught another pass. Luckily for the Cowboys, they’re playing a team who also views defense as being optional, and has no threat at the quarterback position.
Saints 30, JETS 20 – Noon
The Ryan twins rekindle their sibling rivalry for the third time since Rex took over as head coach of the Jets. Rex holds a 2-0 record, defeating Rob when he was the defensive coordinator of the Browns in 2010, and Cowboys in 2011. However, if Andy Dalton can shred the Jets secondary for five touchdowns, what will Drew Brees do? Very bad things. Rex rushed four against Dalton, content to play coverage, but the rush didn’t get home. Look for him to turn up the heat this weekend, but that won’t work out well against Brees and company.
Titans 23, RAMS 16 – Noon
Jeff Fisher faces his former team for the first time since taking over as the Rams head coach. Fisher will see many familiar faces on the opposing sidelines, both players and coaches, including Titans head coach Mike Munchak. After taking the Seahawks to the wire on Monday night, the Rams have a short week to prepare and get quarterback Kellen Clemens ready to play. Clemens was timid and inaccurate, further handcuffing an already conservative offense. The Rams defensive front will get after Jake Locker, but Clemens simply isn’t a starting-caliber quarterback.
Chiefs 24, BILLS 17 – Noon
The Chiefs have become only the fourth team in NFL history to allow 17 or fewer points in each of their first eight games. This week, they look to get to 9-0 on the road against a team they’ve beaten only once in their last six meetings. The Bills are banged-up on both sides of the ball, and the status of quarterback Thad Lewis (ribs, illness) is 50/50 for Sunday. Lewis or not, this game will be won in the trenches. The Chiefs have the best inside-outside pass rush combination in the league and the Bills struggle to protect the quarterback.
Chargers 31, REDSKINS 27 – Noon
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is enjoying a rebound season, while Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is still trying to find his way. Rivers is producing at an elite-level, completing 74% of his passes, and posting a 111 passer-efficiency rating. Defensively, the Chargers haven’t given up an offensive touchdown in 11 quarters. I’m always hesitant to pick a West Coast team making a coast-to-coast trip for a Noon kickoff, but the Chargers should have no problem moving the ball against a Redskins defense that’s giving up points and yards – primarily through the air – in bunches.
Eagles 24, RAIDERS 23- 3:05 PM
Considering they’ve dropped 10 straight games at home, the Eagles are happy to fly to Oakland this weekend. Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense was supposed to revolutionize the NFL, yet they’ve gone two games without scoring an offensive touchdown. It’s been a quarterback carousel in Philadelphia. This week, it’s Nick Foles’ turn, who has been the most efficient option. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Raiders, but their defense has arrived ahead of schedule and Terrelle Pryor continues to make plays. Even so, I like the Eagles to lean on LeSean McCoy and eke out a win.
SEAHAWKS 31, Bucs 17 – 3:05 PM
After getting an early Halloween scare in St. Louis, the Seahawks are happy to return to the comfortable confines of CenturyLink field, where they haven’t lost since the 2011 season. Most troubling from their Monday night performance was the performance of the offensive line, which allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to be sacked a career-high seven times. The Seahawks also lost wide receiver Sidney Rice and are still waiting for Percy Harvin to return. Look for them to lean on their running game against a Bucs team that’s completely come undone on and off the field.
Ravens 20, BROWNS 16 – 3:25 PM
The Ravens are hoping to end one streak, while keeping another alive. They’re in the midst of a two-game losing streak, but have won 11 straight over the Browns. Through seven games, the Ravens still have yet to find an identity on offense. They’re buoyed by a defense that has given up only five touchdowns over their last six games. For the Browns, it’s been a matter of inconsistency at the quarterback position. They’ve learned this season that Brandon Weeden is not the guy, and will now play out the season with Jason Campbell. Tight game, but I like the Ravens defense to once again lead the charge.
PATRIOTS 27, Steelers 20 – 3:25 PM
It’s been a strange season for Tom Brady and the Patriots. Brady is well below his career passing averages, and has already been sacked 23 times. For context, he was sacked 28 times total last season, including the playoffs, and the Patriots have lost right tackle Sebastian Vollmer for the year (broken leg). Despite all that, the Patriots are still 6-2. Ben Roethlisberger and his Steelers are dealing with struggles of their own. After winning two straight, they dropped one to the Raiders last week, and Roethlisberger was the primary culprit. Look for the Patriots to pound away at a soft Steelers run defense for the win.
Colts 23, TEXANS 17 – 7:30 PM
Prior to the season, you would’ve expected the records of these two teams to be flipped. But that’s why they play the games. At this point in the season, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Colts will win the AFC South, and a win on Sunday night could seal the deal. For the Texans, the reigns have been handed over to undrafted rookie Case Keenum. Keenum performed admirably last week in his NFL debut, on the road in Arrowhead, giving the Texans a shot to pull off the upset. The Colts run defense is vulnerable, but with their running backs beat up, the Texans won’t be able to capitalize.
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