Teams on a bye week: CHI, CLE, LAC, MIN, NE, PIT
BUF (5-2) @ NYJ (3-5) | THU 8:25 PM ET | NFL Network
November football is here, and it begins with a primetime AFC East matchup. Both the Bills and Jets are blowing away expectations this season, as Buffalo was written off when they traded their top receiver and cornerback in August, while New York wasn’t even supposed to win three games all year. Good things happen when the coach is allowed to mold the team how he sees fit, though, as Sean McDermott has his guys at 5-2 and playing great football, and Todd Bowles started off 3-2 and just took three playoff teams from 2016—including the Super Bowl LI participants—to the wire in October. This should be an exciting TNF game with emerging defensive superstars on each side, but I like Buffalo’s opportunistic unit to make more plays.
Winner: Buffalo Bills
IND (2-6) @ HOU (3-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
In my 2017 NFL prospect rankings, I had Deshaun Watson as my 2nd overall player behind Myles Garrett, and I have to admit that I feel like an idiot for not having him first. However, seeing the rest of the industry rankings makes me feel a lot better about being too low on the Texans quarterback; Gil Brandt (9th), Pro Football Focus (17th), Mike Mayock (20th), Matt Miller (22nd), Daniel Jeremiah (28th), and Jeff Legword (28th) were the notable ones, and it was probably easier to locate the JFK files before they were released than it was to get Mel Kiper, Jr. and Todd McShay’s final big boards for 2017, but they both had Watson outside the top-ten overall. Fast forward to today, and Watson leads the NFL with 19 touchdown passes—despite not starting the season opener and already having his bye week. Careers aren’t made in half a season, but I think it’s pretty clear that everyone was wrong about Watson. He’ll continue to prove as much this Sunday against the Colts. [Update: Watson unfortunately tore his ACL in practice on Thursday and is expected to miss the remainder of the season, but I am still picking Houston]
Winner: Houston Texans
CIN (3-4) @ JAC (4-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Jaguars have been up-and-down more than anyone this season, as they’ve held opponents under double-digits four times (all wins), but have allowed at least 23 points in each of their other three games (all losses). Before a Week 8 bye, Jacksonville had their first shutout of the season against Indianapolis, and they should only get better with All-Pro defensive tackle Marcell Dareus being acquired in a trade to bolster an already-dominant front. The Jags lead the league with 33 sacks, which is by far the most, but they haven’t been great against the run. Cincinnati needs to attack with Joe Mixon, but I don’t think it’s enough to stop “Sacksonville” from getting to Andy Dalton.
Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars
TB (2-5) @ NO (5-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Tampa Bay and New Orleans have split the season series in both years since Jameis Winston was drafted first overall by the Bucs, and each game has been decided by one possession. However, the Saints defense has really improved in 2017, while Jameis Winston is dealing with an injured throwing shoulder. I’m not sure what people saw in Tampa Bay prior to the season, but they’re on the verge of their fifth-straight loss, and their only wins this season came against the Bears and Giants. New Orleans is going in the opposite direction with five-straight wins already under their belt, and they have the clear advantage in at every position against their divisional foe on Sunday. I’m picking Drew Brees and Sean Payton at home.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
LAR (5-2) @ NYG (1-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Los Angeles might be the quietest 5-2 team in the league, but they look like a legitimate threat in the NFC in large part due to the job Sean McVay has done. The 31-year-old head coach should have a good game plan against a struggling New York defense that he knows well from facing them twice a year with the Redskins, and it will help that they aren’t going to have top cornerback Janoris Jenkins after he was suspended for not showing up to practice. The Giants will also be without defensive end Olivier Vernon again, so as long as the Rams don’t come out flat, I think they should pickup their sixth win of the season and hopefully get some fan support from a disappointed city in a potential revenge game against the Houston Texans (because the Astros just beat the Dodgers in the World Series) next week.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
ATL (4-3) @ CAR (5-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The best early game of the week, Falcons-Panthers is a pivotal NFC South matchup between two teams that probably feel like their record doesn’t indicate how good they should be. Carolina is hoping that the trade of Kelvin Benjamin will open the offense up, and I think that will be the case, as Devin Funchess and Benjamin were basically similar players, so second-round pick Curtis Samuel will be able to get on the field and provide some more explosiveness. I also think this is the week Christian McCaffrey finally has a breakout game, as Atlanta doesn’t defend pass-catchers out of the backfield very well. Offensively, if the Falcons are going to regain the magic from 2016, this might be the spot, as Julio Jones had 300 yards in their first matchup last season. As a football fan, I want Matt Ryan, Julio, and the offense to take off, but I’m picking Carolina at home.
Winner: Carolina Panthers
DEN (3-4) @ PHI (7-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Philadelphia made a power move on Tuesday morning when they acquired Jay Ajayi for a fourth-round pick, and if the Super Bowl is the goal this season, it was obviously an easy decision. It didn’t come without risk, though, as Jay Ajayi was traded partly because of long-term health concerns, but mainly because he didn’t buy in to Adam Gase’s culture. I expect there will be no issues because Ajayi should be on his best behavior on a 7-1 team, but we’ll see what happens. For Week 9, Philadelphia is catching Denver at a perfect time, as they are in the midst of a switch a quarterback, but Brock Osweiler probably won’t have much more of a chance behind a bad offensive line. Unless the defense or special teams make a couple huge plays, I don’t see the Broncos picking up a road win to turn things around.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
BAL (4-4) @ TEN (4-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Ravens were fading with a 1-4 stretch after a 2-0 start, but a 40-point blowout victory in primetime can turn things around quickly, and now they are right in the playoff race with a favorable schedule in the second half. Thankfully, quarterback Joe Flacco has been cleared to play just one week after he left the game with a scary blow to the head, and Baltimore needs him if they’re going to get a road win this Sunday. That’s especially true because the Titans are rested and prepared after the bye week, as DeMarco Murray and Marcus Mariota should both have their hamstrings healed up and be ready for some exotic smashmouth in what’s expected to be a physical game. I like Tennessee to pickup a big win.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
ARI (3-4) @ SF (0-8) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
The luck Arizona has had this season is actually frustrating, as just when it looked like things would turn around with Adrian Peterson turning back the clock, Carson Palmer broke him arm the following week. I would go after Tim Tebow or Robert Griffin III (both of whom are better options than Colin Kaepernick) if I were the Cardinals, but they seem content with Drew Stanton and Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. San Francisco is happy with their quarterback situation after trading for Jimmy Garoppolo earlier in the week, but third-round pick C.J. Beathard is going to be under center for Week 9 and apparently could start for the rest of the season due to the complexity of Kyle Shanahan’s system. It would have been nice to see Chip Kelly get a chance with a good signal-caller in the Bay Area, but the 49ers might be scary in 2018 nonetheless, especially if they are able to get Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to pair with Jimmy G.
Winner: Arizona Cardinals
WAS (3-4) @ SEA (5-2) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
As I’ve been saying since the offseason, the Redskins made a mistake in basically switching Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson for Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson at receiver, as the free-agent signing and second-year player have both been unreliable and don’t have the same chemistry with Kirk Cousins that Garcon and Jackson did. Despite improvements on defense, the offensive personnel could doom their season with a difficult stretch of Seattle, Minneosta, and New Orleans that Washington would probably be lucky to come out of with a 4-6 record. If there’s any good news for the Redskins, it’s that they might be able to keep Cousins around at their desired price tag, as the 49ers got their guy with Garoppolo, and other quarterback-needy teams might decide a stacked draft class is a better target than shelling out a nine-figure contract to a player turning 30 next August. The Seahawks have no such concerns with Russell Wilson under contract for two more season, and he might be playing the best football of his career right now. Washington is going to have to play sensational defense to improve to 4-4.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
KC (6-2) @ DAL (4-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
I’m not going to criticize someone for fighting a suspension they feel was undeserved for as long as they can, but as many people suggested, Dallas probably would have been better off having Ezekiel Elliott miss games in September and October rather than November and December. Had they finished 6-1 with Zeke in the lineup, we might be looking at it differently, but now they will be without their offensive centerpiece against the Chiefs, Falcons, and a key Sunday night game with the Eagles. This Sunday will be a huge test with Kansas City coming to town, and a win with Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden, and Rod Smith picking up the slack would give them some momentum as they try to keep up with Philadelphia in the NFC East. Perhaps Dak Prescott having success through the air over the next six weeks would just make the Cowboys more well-rounded for a potential postseason run, but I think they will fall to 4-4 against Alex Smith and the Chiefs in a shootout. [UPDATE: With Ezekiel Elliott unsuspended, the pick is now Dallas.]
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
OAK (3-5) @ MIA (4-3) | SUN 8:30 PM ET | NBC
Trading arguably the team’s best player isn’t easy, but Dolphins head coach Adam Gase deserves credit for taking a stand to establish a winning culture. If, as reported, Jay Ajayi really was upset after wins and complained to teammates and other coaches about Gase behind his back, why wouldn’t he get rid of him? As they say in The Wire, “chain of command”; it was not followed by Ajayi in Miami, so hopefully Gase gets enough time to build a perennial contender with players that will buy in. This Sunday night, DeVante Parker should be the focus of a new-look offense after missing three weeks with an ankle injury, and he has the ability to be an elite weapon for Jay Cutler down the stretch. The Raiders need to do a better job of getting their own elite weapon in Amari Cooper the ball with different formations, and they should air it out against an inexperienced cornerback group. I expect a close game, but Oakland has the offensive line to neutralize Ndamukong Suh and Miami’s front.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
DET (3-4) @ GB (4-3) | MON 8:30 PM ET | ESPN
The Packers and Lions have given fans a good game in each of their past four matchups, as they have all been decided by seven points or less. And while Green Bay has the 3-1 advantage in those games, that was with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. On Monday Night Football for Week 9, Brett Hundley will make his second career start in Rodgers’ place and look to be better than he was against New Orleans a couple weeks ago. I think he will be, and the Packers need him to be if they want to keep pace with the Vikings. Detroit is looking to do the same, as they’re in danger of losing their fourth-straight game, but they were at least able to beat Minnesota already this season. As I’ve said in the past about the Lions, they need to have a balanced offensive approach and give Ameer Abdullah the ball in space, but we’ll see what they do on Monday night. I think Hundley will play well, but I think Detroit will realize balance helps them win games.
Winner: Detroit Lions