NFL WEEK NINE
Apologies for this column being a day late, but I've been focused on doing my part to crank out the next issue of mental_floss magazine. Week 10 brings Thursday Night Football, so we'll be a day early next week (and for the rest of the season). See? It all works out in the end.
Woody chose several upsets last week, and paid for that by posting a pedestrian 5-8 record. Teams I expected to wake up (Dallas, Denver) failed to do so, and those I thought would lie down (Green Bay, San Diego) suddenly came to life. Then, on Monday Night Football, Peyton Manning proved that he can get the ball to any receiver who can catch it. Are you ready for Week 9?
Tampa Bay (5-2) @ Atlanta (5-2)
The NFC South boasts three five-win teams, and the top two face each other this week for sole possession of the division’s “big kahuna” designation. The Bucs are 3-0 on the road this season, while the Falcons are 3-0 at the Georgia Dome. Save for Atlanta’s victory in New Orleans, neither team has beaten a quality foe this season (owing to an easy first-half schedule). RB LeGarrette Blount has rejuvenated Tampa’s rushing game, but I expect the Blackbird defense to shut him down and pressure QB Josh Freeman, which will let their defenders do what they do best – pick off passes. Dirty, dirty birds.
Woody’s Winner: Atlanta
FACT: Every NFC South team – except the Falcons – appeared in a Super Bowl during the 2000s.
Please click "more" to see my picks for Week 9's other NFL matchups!
New Orleans (5-3) @ Carolina (1-6)
The Saints have struggled against inferior competition, losing to Arizona in Week 5 and to Cleveland in Week 7. With their bye looming, New Orleans might overlook the Panthers, which would be a mistake. The teams are statistically very similar on defense and with their rushing offense. The difference-maker is QB Drew Brees, who has has completed more passes (234) this season than Carolina has even attempted (228). A win against les Panthères would boost the French to numéro deux in the NFC South. Gagner!
Woody’s Winner: New Orleans
FACT: Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, the Saints have lost 170 games – more than any other team.
Chicago (4-3) @ Buffalo (0-7)
Six of the their final eight games this season are against 2009 playoff teams, so Chicago is well aware of the importance of Bearing down to earn a victory in Week 9. This “home” game for Billy Buffalo is being played 100 miles away in Toronto, where the franchise is 0-2. New head coach Chan Gailey hopes to remedy the fact that the Bisons are the NFL’s only 0-for-2010 team. Grizzly QB Jay Cutler has lost his last three starts, with 1 TD, 5 interception, 19 sacks, and 5 fumbles. If he’s still hibernating, he’ll be in no shape to stop the stampede that may result when Buffalo hoofs it (or is that hooves it?) across his sleepy face.
Woody’s Winner (in a close one): Chicago
FACT: These teams have met each other 10 times in NFL history, and the home team has won 9 of those.
N.Y. Jets (5-2) @ Detroit (2-5)
The Lions have won two of their last three games. Did I just say that? Wow. Detroit showed some fire – almost confidence – with Matthew Stafford at the helm during last week’s comeback win. Both teams’ strengths seem to feed their opponents’ weaknesses, so special teams may play an important role. Back-to-back wins would change things dramatically for the Honolulu Blue, but the Jets are bound to be angry after being shut out at home last week. A Big Cat in the cargo hold of a 747 could create an exciting scenario, if the kitty can get out of the cage. Luckily for New York, security is tight.
Woody’s Winner: New York.
FACT: Of the Lions’ four wins over the last two seasons (all at home), three of them were blacked out on metro Detroit television, including last week’s victory vs. Washington.
Miami (4-3) @ Baltimore (5-2)
The combination of a strong defense and a capable running game has allowed these East Coast teams to win more close games than they’ve lost. High scores aren’t predicted here as both offenses rely on two-headed running attacks – Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams of Miami and Ray Rice and Willis McGahee of Baltimore. Expect the Dolphins to arrive in Maryland with one porpoise in mind: whaling on the Ravens. Will they eat crow, or will they eat Crow?
Woody’s Winner: Baltimore
FACT: The Dolphins have won each of their four games on the road.
New England (6-1) @ Cleveland (2-5)
This matchup places one of the NFL’s most consistent teams over the past decade against one of the most erratic, but Cleveland has shown improvement of late. Their losses have come against strong teams (the Bucs, Chiefs, Ravens, Falcons, and Steelers) and last week’s win at New Orleans put the Browns in a new light. So maybe now they’re the Beiges. The Patriots have underachieved their way to the NFL’s best record, managing to convert an average offensive effort (ranked 19th in yardage) into a league-best 29.3 points per game. New England’s defense needs help, however, and sooner or later, their struggles will cost the Founding Fathers a win. Let’s say sooner.
Woody’s Winner (in a big upset): Cleveland
FACT: The Patriots are 5-1 against the Browns since Cleveland’s return to the NFL in 1999.
San Diego (3-5) @ Houston (4-3)
The Texans’ hopes of victory in Week 9 hinge squarely on the health of the Chargers’ receiving corps. TE Antonio Gates and WR Malcom Floyd both missed practice this week; otherwise, the meeting between San Diego’s league-best pass offense and Houston’s league-worst pass defense would be a no-brainer prediction. Even if the Electric Ones have trouble sending signals through the air, the one-two RB punch of Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert – along with their solid D – should keep the Texans holed up in the barn.
Woody’s Winner (in an upset): San Diego
FACT: The Chargers are 0-4 on the road this season.
Arizona (3-4) @ Minnesota (2-5)
The Vikings are struggling, and solutions are being tossed around like salad: Fire coach Brad Childress. Give QB Tavaris Jackson a chance. Let Adrian Peterson run the ball 50 times a game. The truth is that Minnesota’s five losses have been close games against strong teams (the Saints, Dolphins, Jets, Packers, and Patriots). Randy Moss’ departure has fueled more discussion, but the Purple are not a bad team, and they’ll prove it this week against Arizona. The Vikes’ ace-in-the-hole is still QB Brett Favre. Despite dealing with a broken foot and stitches in his chin, he’ll find a way to shuffle the Cards.
Woody’s Winner: Minnesota
FACT: Arizona and Minnesota were the two teams that fell victim to New Orleans in last season’s NFC playoffs.
N.Y. Giants (5-2) @ Seattle (4-3)
The Giants are all about ball control and yardage – they’ve gained more yards and held their opponents to fewer yards than any team in the NFC. On the other coast, the Seahawks’ offensive struggles aren’t going to improve with replacement QB Charlie Whitehurst, who’s never thrown a pass in a regular-season game. The G-Men will have their way with the ‘Hawks, particularly near game’s end when Plan A (Ahmad Bradshaw) and Plan B (Brandon Jacobs) go into effect. The Tall Guys will prove masterful in the Battle of Seattle.
Woody’s Winner: New York
FACT: The home team has won the last 9 games in this matchup, dating back to 1986.
Kansas City (5-2) @ Oakland (4-4)
As members of the AFC West, these foes face off twice a season, and the last six games between them have all been won by the road team. So much for a home-field advantage for O-Town. The Chiefs and Raiders are ranked #1 and #2 in rushing yards in the NFL, so don’t expect the pigskin to see very much atmosphere. It’ll travel up and down the field, however, particularly when the defenses begin to tire. Expect lots of scoring in the second half during this ground-based battle as the Silver-and-Black fend off the Red-and-Gold.
Woody’s Winner: Oakland
FACT: In Week 8, Raiders QB Jason Campbell threw passes of 69, 55, and 51 yards (to three different receivers).
Indianapolis (5-2) @ Philadelphia (4-3)
If the Eagles had knocked off the Titans last week, Kevin Kolb might be back at QB this week. But they didn’t, and he’s not. Michael Vick is expected to get the start when the Colts rumble into the City of Brotherly Love on Sunday. It’s got to be tough for a team to perform well under two so radically different helmsmen, as Philly will find out sooner or later. The Colts know which side their bread is buttered on, of course, and Peyton Manning is slicker than wet jelly. Toot, toot, peanut butter.
Woody’s Winner: Indianapolis
FACT: The Colts have beaten the Eagles by 3 TD or more in each of their last four meetings.
Dallas (1-6) @ Green Bay (5-3)
Jon Kitna at QB, Roy Williams at WR, silver-and-blue uniforms, and a WHOLE bunch of losses. The Lions? No, these are the Dallas Cowboys, and Woody won’t make the mistake of picking them to win again this season. Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the mess that the ‘Pokes find themselves in. Two weeks ago, Williams predicted an 11-0 run to end the season, and now he’s saying 9 in a row is possible. But he’s never won more than 3 consecutive games as a pro. Next week, maybe he’ll keep quiet. Uh-huh.
Woody’s Winner: Green Bay
FACT: The Packers (-10 yards) and Cowboys (-1 yard) combined for negative-11 yards passing in their matchup on 10/24/65, an NFL record for futility that still stands.
Pittsburgh (5-2) @ Cincinnati (2-5)
The Steelers seem to have gotten a grip on the mistakes that cost them a playoff spot in 2009. They faded last week at New Orleans, and face a third consecutive road game on Monday Night Football against the Bengals. After a 2-1 start, the stripes are beginning to fade for Cincinnati, who has dropped four games in a row (including two at home). Pressure from Pittsburgh’s defense will prevent Carson Palmer from throwing long balls to the Tigers’ 30-something WRs, and Rashard Mendenhall will do the rest. Can you say “Cats on a Hot Steel Roof?”
Woody’s Winner: Pittsburgh
FACT: QBs Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch, and Ben Roethlisberger have each started and won games this season for the Steelers.
BYE: Denver, Jacksonville, San Francisco, St. Louis, Tennessee, Washington
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, but please be cordial to others; this is all in good fun. Thanks!