By Dan Durkin-

(CBS) Hard to believe that we’re already at the halfway point of the season. Things are starting to get sorted out in both conferences, as contenders separate themselves from pretenders. Here’s my take on how the NFL’s Week 9 action is going to shake out.

(Home team in all CAPS)

Broncos 27, BENGALS 20 – Noon

Peyton Manning has proven his critics – myself included – wrong. Yes, he doesn’t have the fastball he once had, but does have the Broncos offense operating like the Colts did in their heyday. At the midway point of the season, Manning is not only the Comeback Player of the Year, he’s also in the MVP discussion. Through the first six games of the season the Broncos played the NFL’s toughest schedule, well, that’s about to change. The Broncos’ remaining schedule is loaded with a lot of cream puffs, so Denver’s about to get fat.

Ravens 23, BROWNS 17 – Noon

The Ravens had a bye-week to rest up and prepare for a Browns team which took them to the wire in Week 4. While I still consider the Ravens to be a playoff team, given the injuries on defense, they’ll be making an early exit. They give up 400 yards per game, 143 on the ground, which is the third worst mark in the NFL. To put that in perspective, it’s been ten years since they’ve ranked outside the top ten in rush defense. The Browns’ Trent Richardson is the real deal and should put up good numbers, but I still like the Ravens on the road.

PACKERS 28, Cardinals 13 – Noon

I joked last week saying the Packers could have sat their starting offense and defense against the Jaguars and still won in a cakewalk. Yes, they won, but that game was 14-12 heading into the fourth-quarter. The Packers have grown even more reliant on Aaron Rodgers’ arm to move the ball, so injuries to Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings are starting to catch up with them. Remember when Jermichael Finley was good at football? Fortunately, the oft-sacked Cardinals are headed to Lambeau, so the Pack will notch their seventh, I mean, sixth win of the season.

Bears 27, TITANS 17 – Noon

If the Bears’ offense doesn’t score three or more offensive touchdowns this weekend against the Titans, it should be panic time in Chicago. The Titans have given up 257 points this season (most in the NFL), and their opponents have scored 30+ points in six of eight games. Bear fans thought this would finally be the season where the offense caught up with the defense, but through seven games, that hasn’t materialized. First-year offensive coordinator Mike Tice has yet to put together a complete game plan — perhaps this is the weekend? That’s the hope.

Dolphins 23, COLTS 20 – Noon

Who could’ve predicted that this game would have legitimate playoff implications? Think about it, there are seven teams in the AFC with winning records, two of which are playing in this game, led by rookie quarterbacks nonetheless. It’s unlikely that either of these teams will win their division, but it’s entirely possible that one of them ends up a wild card team. Joe Philbin has the Dolphins playing pretty solid football, especially on defense, and the Colts are a tough team to beat at home. I think the Dolphins are a better team overall, so I’m giving them the edge on the road.

REDSKINS 27, Panthers 24 – Noon

Two young quarterbacks who are defying unwritten NFL “rules” square off in Landover. Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III put so much pressure on defenses to play contain, as if you let either of them step up or out of the pocket, they can easily rip off a touchdown run. Last week’s game in Chicago was a perfect microcosm of the Panthers season. They’ve outplayed so many teams for three quarters, only to fall apart late in the game. The Redskins are in a must win situation if they want to keep their very slim playoff hopes alive. Even with the horrendous Redskins secondary, I don’t think Newton will be accurate enough to take advantage.

Lions 23, JAGUARS 16 – Noon

It’s unusual for teams who are playing each other to complete a trade the same week, but that’s exactly what the Lions and Jaguars did. Granted, it was a rather insignificant trade – the Lions sent an undisclosed draft pick to the Jaguars for wide receiver Mike Thomas – that probably won’t involve any game plan secrets being revealed. Honestly, who needs insight to the Jaguars game plan to beat them? The Jaguars are awful. The Lions pulled out a huge home win last week against a tough Seahawks team, and I like them on the road.

TEXANS 31, Bills 20 – Noon

Are the Texans the best team in the AFC? By record, yes they are. The Texans are a complete team with a ferocious pass rush and an opportunistic secondary. Their opponent – Buffalo – can be very careless with the ball, especially quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Bills like to spread teams out and run somewhat of a college offense with quick-hitting pass plays. Defensively, the Bills give up an NFL-worst 177 rushing yards per game – a truly staggering number – which won’t bode well this weekend. It’s going to be a reverse stampede in Houston.

SEAHAWKS 23, Vikings 20 – 3:05 PM

I never bought into the Vikings hot start, primarily because of their offense. Yes, Adrian Peterson is a cyborg, and Percy Harvin is a phenomenal talent who can stress a defense in a variety of ways, but other than that, they have nothing. Seattle is an up-and-down team, also due to an inconsistent offense with limited playmakers. Seattle’s home field advantage isn’t a myth, it is the most difficult venue in the league. I like the Seahawks’ defense to lock down the Vikings and their offense will do just enough to win.

Bucs 27, RAIDERS 24 – 3:05 PM

The Bucs have been in every game this season, in fact, all of their losses have been by a touchdown or less. They’re certainly a better team than their record indicates and have responded to Greg Schiano. An injury to All-Pro guard Carl Nicks (toe) will force some shuffling across the Bucs’ line, which may impact their stud rookie runner Doug Martin. Tampa Bay’s pass defense is awful and they just traded away Aqib Talib to the Patriots. This should be a high-scoring game. Despite the coast-to-coast flight, I like the Bucs.

GIANTS 24, Steelers 20 – 3:25 PM

Two storied franchises square off in New York (really New Jersey), as the surging Steelers battle the Giants. Given the situation brewing in Baltimore, the Steelers are right back in the AFC North title mix. Their offense is starting to click, thanks in large part (literally) to some solid running from Jonathan Dwyer, and some flexibility from offensive coordinator Todd Haley. I’ve maintained for weeks that the Giants are the most complete team in the NFL. This will be a very physical game on both sides of the ball, but in the end, the Giants ability to collapse the pocket will be the difference.

FALCONS 27, Cowboys 23 – 7:20 PM

I went with the Eagles upset last week against the Falcons for a variety of reasons, none of which were right. I’m not discounting the Falcons one bit, as it’s very difficult to win games in the NFL, so 7-0 is an impressive feat. I have an odd feeling this might be the week the Falcons go down, as it would be so Cowboy-like to beat an undefeated team, then retreat back into irrelevance. Alas, I’m sticking with the Falcons at home.

Eagles 28, SAINTS 24 – Monday Night 7:30 PM

Two teams with their backs to the wall meet in New Orleans. Both teams need a win in the worst way, as virtually nothing has gone right for either of them so far. There was rampant speculation about Mike Vick losing his starting job, but you can’t start a rookie (Nick Foles) on the road under the bright lights of Monday night. However, this is Vick’s last stand. If he doesn’t perform, he’s out as the starter. The Saints defense – particularly their secondary – is just atrocious. I like the Eagles on the road to effectively end the Saints season which has been on life support for weeks.

durkinsmall Durkin: Week 9 NFL Picks

Dan Durkin

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.

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