The 2009 NFL Picks
Week nine


Here’s why these games are so amazingly strange to predict.

Last week I told you Miami was going to beat New York. I was giddy about it. I figured the Jets were so destined for a loss in that one that my explanation in the column said I couldn’t discuss it rationally. That was meant as a joke. But the real story was a bit boring.

I expected the Miami running game to go wild with Kris Jenkins out. A weakened defensive line against what may not only be the top rushing attack in the league, but facing the wildcat scheme that gives that running attack an extra blocker on the line and a different look? Yahoo… where do I get those running backs for my fantasy team?

I also felt that if any organization could take the New Orleans collapse and learn from it, it would be Miami. So I expected them to come into this game feeling ok, ready to play, and not suffering a hangover.

And, after schooling the Oakland Raiders… sarcasm alert... Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow’s junior varsity club would have been a better opponent for the Jets last week… I thought New York might be riding a bit too much of ill-placed emotion coming in to this game.

Now… other than the Jenkins idea and a few other tidbits of research to toss in… most of my prediction was guess work. I liked Miami. Didn’t like New York. Done.

I was right. Miami won. But… umm… yeah…

They won because they scored 21 points in the third quarter… without their offense ever getting on the field. (Kick return, defensive turnover, kick return.) I was watching the game while Ricky Williams… who actually is one of the running backs on my fantasy team, so ha-ha on me… sat on the sideline.

They didn’t win because their offense took advantage of the New York defense.

They didn’t win because of a good running game or a ball control offense.

They didn’t win because they were coming in feeling good.

They didn’t win because the Jets were feeling bad or arrogant.

They won for one reason and one reason only.

They scored more points.

There’s a lesson in here.

It’s a lesson shown by special teams performing great for Miami. It’s a lesson to be learned from Chris Johnson rushing for 228-yards and 2 touchdowns to get Tennessee into the win column. It’s a lesson found in games where San Diego can’t ran away from Oakland at home and Carolina goes on the road to level Arizona.

In considering anything… any solution to a problem… any answer to a question… eliminate the impossible. And whatever is left, however improbable, is actually possible.

New York can destroy Oakland… Oakland can beat Philadelphia… and then Philadelphia can destroy New York. All over a span of about 4 weeks. Improbable. Not impossible.

Worth noting.

When making the week 8 predictions, I also mentioned Green Bay going to 3-loss-hell. Remember? Well… joining them there is New York (Giants). Starting to see a clear picture of what I meant for the Packers and facing hell? Yeah… I know… two losses to the Vikings, which means the division concerns as much as anything else. But these are conference losses, tie-breaking losses, and… if nothing else… elements in the uphill struggle to not only create separation from the other 3-loss teams, but to catch and pass the 2-loss teams.

Hey… I know… most of the playoff teams will have 5 or more losses in the end. Normally only 4 to 6 teams total… combining both conferences… reach 12, 13, or more wins. (If that many.) Green Bay will get its chances to climb back into the playoff race and decide their own fate. But as we get through this week, where every team will have played half of its schedule, the fact remains that we have likely seen them lose the division (they have 8 games to gain 3 on Minnesota because of the season sweep). And… at 2 losses or less… is Minnesota and also New Orleans, Philly, and Dallas. That’s four teams… and the NFC West gets to send a team to the playoffs. That makes five. So, joining the Packers with 3 losses, in the race for the final playoff spot… Arizona (currently that NFC West spot), Atlanta, Chicago, and New York. (And I think San Francisco… a game back with 4 losses and more likely to catch and pass Arizona than knock off on of the others with a better record in front of them… should be included.)

Maybe they grow from it. Maybe Green Bay… with only 1 loss that doesn’t involve Minnesota, an out of the conference decision against Cincinnati… can stand up and claim a spot. They’ll certainly get their shot. Dallas, Arizona and San Francisco are all future opponents for the year. Tampa Bay and Detroit should be wins. It will be up to them. And yet… Baltimore, Pittsburgh… ugh, nothing will be easy.

We have a great movie for you this week… an all-timer… the original Operation Petticoat.

(Mike’s picks weren’t here in time for the posting. Once I get them, I’ll update accordingly.)

Kansas City at Jacksonville (6½)“Sir, Sea Tiger was built to fight. She deserves a better epitaph than ‘Commissioned 1940, sunk 1941, engagements none, shots fired none.’ Now, you can’t let it go that way. That’s like a beautiful woman dying an old maid, if you know what I mean by old maid.” “Did you ever sell used cars?” “No, Sir.” “I’ve got a hunch you missed your calling.” Yuck… kicking off the week that has some solid contests with a crappy game. Now… for the Jaguars… they aren’t thinking that way. At 3-4, they’ll tell you that a win here gets them to even, and that with clubs like Buffalo and Cleveland still on their schedule, they could be in position to claim a playoff spot. They’ll tell you that as long as you’ll listen. It’s a lie. They have no shot at the playoffs… look no further than splitting with Tennessee, including getting pasted by them last week, 30-13. That should convince you. Or, if you wish to look further… check out how in addition to Tennessee, another of their impressive 3 wins involves St. Louis… or how they are being outscored on average by roughly 6-points per game. We can stop there… because in that 6-point per game figure rests my thoughts for this week. See… Seattle blew their doors off 41-0, basically accounting for all of the difference in scoring right there in one game. The other six contests are essentially a wash… 133-points for Jacksonville, 136-points against. And 4 of their games so far have been decided by 1 score or less. You can see what that means. It’s tempting to take Kansas City… figuring they’ll win the game outright, or at least keep it close. The trouble is, the Chiefs have other concerns. Larry Johnson is just the public face of a franchise in transition. And I say transition because unlike clubs such as Buffalo, Tampa, Cleveland and Oakland… where I just don’t know what the heck is going on, and neither do they… I believe Kansas City is heading in a direction under Scott Pioli. I just don’t believe that many of the players on the roster today will be on the roster in 2 or 3 seasons when they start to get in the vicinity of completing their journey. So… here’s the thing… Maurice Jones-Drew will likely be the best player on the field. And against Tennessee, Jacksonville got smacked head-on by a Chris Johnson explosion. (Jones-Drew ran for 177-yards… Johnson ran for 228.) That won’t happen here.
Bob: Jacksonville
Terry: Kansas City
Dad: Jacksonville
Molly: Kansas City

Baltimore (3) at Cincinnati“A woman just shouldn’t mess around with a man’s machinery.” For both of these teams, this game is amazingly important. Cincy won the first game between these two, so right off the bat you have that 2-game-that’s-actually-a-3-game-swing situation. If the Ravens lose, not only will they have 4-losses on the year where the Bengals have 2, but even if they make those games up they lose the tie-breaker because of head-to-head losses. And… get this… both of these teams have played decently all year. The Ravens lost to New England… Minnesota… and Cincinnati. The Bengals tripped against Denver and Houston (a club that has been playing fairly well overall). The only real difference is the quality of the victories. While Baltimore did take out Denver last week, other wins involve Kansas City, a shaky San Diego, and Cleveland. Cincinnati has defeated Chicago, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. With Oakland, Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City still on the schedule, getting up to 9 or 10 wins isn’t going to be a problem for the Bengals. Getting to 10 or 11, and a clear playoff shot without tie-breakers and crossed-fingers will depend on games like this one. They still have to travel to Pittsburgh and Minnesota for games. They also have trips to San Diego and New York (Jets) in the final three weeks, which could be games against teams in desperate need of victories. That’s an ugly set of road games. Baltimore fares almost as bad, with two remaining against Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Chicago at home, and a trip to Green Bay on the slate. I guess what I’m seeing is this… Cincinnati could wrap up the division here with a win, because they have win over Pittsburgh already, would have swept Baltimore on the year, and the Ravens and Steelers have two contests left against each other. Toss in those easy games and a division crown seems likely. But a loss for the Bengals doesn’t harm them. They still have a fairly easy remaining slate, will have split with Baltimore and can do no worse than a split with Pittsburgh. It’s not desperation time for them. On Baltimore’s side… a win keeps them in the running, but a loss could cripple them in their hopes to make it to the postseason. (Get all that? Good. Phew… moving on…) These teams look very similar… good running games, decent defensive play. The Ravens have had a better time scoring points, averaging 27 a game to Cincy’s 23. I’m expecting both teams so stay below their season averages… and for a close game… 21-17 or 24-21 seems like a good guess. And I’m going to take the home team.
Bob: Cincinnati
Terry: Baltimore
Dad: Baltimore
Gus: Cincinnati

Houston at Indianapolis (9)“It’s like watching a strip tease. Don’t ask how it’s done, just enjoy what’s coming off.” Houston is 5-3 for the season, and in a very interesting position after this game. Let’s say they lose. Next week they have their bye week, and then come back to face Tennessee and Indy at home, travel to Jacksonville, back home for Seattle, then off to St. Louis. If they can go 3-2 in those games… basically 3-3 including this one, and with those opponents it’s actually very much within their reach… they’ll be at 8 wins with two to go. Uh-oh… those 2 are a visit to Miami and then New England. Seriously… to make the playoffs… and heck, to even get to 9 wins… I think it’s an absolute must for the Texans to take one of the games against the Colts. And such a thing isn’t so farfetched. In the past two seasons (2007 and 2008), they’ve lost all 4 games against Indianapolis, but only one… the 15th game of the year in 2007, on the road… wasn’t close. Last year the Colts won by 4-points and 6-points. Historically these teams play tight games. The Texans have also figured out a very consistent offense… hitting at least 21 against everyone since the opening week. I think most people are looking at next week’s game to test Indy… when New England arrives. And I wonder if Indy is too, which might explain a bit about San Francisco and raise a red flag here. Most of the season they’ve been plastering teams, with their defense holding down the opposition as well. Only one club has scored more than 17 against them all year, and to do that Miami had to have possession of the ball for 3½ days. Here’s the thing for me… I don’t think you can look at Houston and expect their defense to hold Manning and company to under 20 points. Last week a 64-yard run was one of San Francisco’s 2 touchdowns. Nothing methodical about it… no threats every time the 49ers had the ball. In other words… yeah… I do believe the Colts can hold the Texans to under 20.
Bob: Indianapolis
Terry: Houston
Dad: Indianapolis
Molly: Houston

Washington at Atlanta (1)“We sunk a truck! Let’s get the hell out of here!” I was wrong. They haven’t figured out the Redskins. Only a 1-point favorite over Washington? Wow… this is just a hideous line. There can’t be anyone betting on the Redskins. If you could remove the final 5-minutes of the second quarter, the Falcons really outplayed the Saints in a game I found fairly entertaining. Heck, with Jason Elam hitting everything in the stadium except the space between the uprights… this game was actually worthy of being decided by about 2-points. The big problem for Atlanta is they only have two sets of hands… Gonzalez and White. After that, it looks like no one knows how to catch the damn ball. Except for a back-to-back run of Philly and New Orleans (both at home), and maybe the trip to visit the Giants, Atlanta has very winnable games from this point on. A win here would put them solidly on track for a playoff run.
Bob: Atlanta
Terry: Atlanta
Dad: Atlanta
Gus: Washington

Green Bay (9½) at Tampa Bay“Mr. Sherman, I want my wall back!” “I’m not sure that we have it, Sir!” “You must have it! You’ve got everything else!” Throwback day in Tampa! And those uniforms should be the most exciting part of a lopsided loss for the Bucs. I’ll admit that I’m skeptical about the Packers and don’t really trust them to go deep into the playoffs. And, I’ll admit that their third loss of the year has me contemplating words like “hell” in describing what remains of this season for them. But… let’s make our argument in their favor. Their three losses come to two teams… Cincy and then 2 to Minnesota. Both of those clubs lead their division and have a combined record of 12-3. My skeptical side comes from the fact that their wins are over clubs like Detroit and St. Louis and Cleveland. (They also escaped at home against Chicago, but divisional games… plus the up and down Bears this year… make that a tough one to judge.) The Rams came the closet to knocking off the Packers… losing by 19. So they may not be the best in the NFC North. They may not make the playoffs. But against crappy teams, and the Bucs fit the description, they take care of business.
Bob: Green Bay
Terry: Tampa Bay
Dad: Green Bay
Molly: Green Bay

Arizona at Chicago (3)“Wow! That's what I call scavenging!” “Mr. Stovall, Lt. Holden’s influence upon you is starting to worry me. I suggest you ‘wow’ less and ‘tsk tsk tsk’ a little more!” Both clubs are coming off of lousy losses. (Oh come on… yeah, the Bears beat Cleveland last week. Check out that Cincy game again and tell me that the Browns game answered all of your questions.) The reality is… this game is the true test for both of these clubs. Arizona has won some good games, such as knocking off the Giants. But New York looks out of sorts lately. Arizona is scoring 22 points per game… and giving up 20. I don’t see them as some dominant threat. I see them as exactly what they look like… a 4-3 club headed for a 9-7 season that will make the playoffs if San Francisco can’t figure out how to get back on track. (If I was the Cardinals, I’d be worried that Gore is back. And I don’t think that’s just me.) I have no clue what the Bears are. After looking hideous against the Bengals… Forte rushes for 90-yards and 2 touchdowns… Cutler throws for an efficient 225-yards and his lone interception showed amazing ball control compared to the handful of turnovers he had versus Cincy. The reality of the Bears is beginning to become clear… turnovers. They didn’t take care of business against Atlanta… tough loss. They were beyond embarrassing against Cincinnati… blown out in a loss. They played Cleveland, Forte ran well, Cutler has one pick… they win. Which team shows up here? I’ll give you a clue… zero losses at home, which is impressive when Pittsburgh is on the list of defeated clubs. Funny thing… both of these teams are scoring just about exactly the same amount… and both of these clubs are letting opponents score about the same as well. (Would you believe both of them average 23 a game and give up 21 per?) Arizona plays better on the road… Chicago better at home. Honestly… the answer is simple… Forte and Cutler. If they can run the ball and don’t turn it over, the Bears win. And at home, that’s what they do.
Bob: Chicago
Terry: Chicago
Dad: Chicago
Gus: Arizona

Miami at New England (10½)“The unfortunate thing about command, though, Mr. Holden, is that the responsibilities outweigh the privileges. Now if it was just myself I was concerned with, I’d tell you what to do with that list. But my responsibility is this boat, and to get her out of here I'd even make a pact with the devil.” This game scares me. And the reason it scares me is because Miami is the easy choice with such a large spread… they have a solid running game, match up well with the Patriots considering what this coaching staff and offensive style have accomplished, and could sustain long drives that limit the number of opportunities the Patriots have to score points. And the reason that scares me… is because I’m not picking them. I’m troubled that last week they scored 21 points without ever having their offense on the field. (Mentioned already… 2 kick returns and a defensive score on a turnover.) The points count. Miami gets the win. You could argue that the Jets played better. Before that, the Dolphins lost to the Saints in a game where they were running away from New Orleans. And on top of that, the only team their defense has stopped is Buffalo. I like the way the Patriots are playing. I believe they are going to be significantly stronger as the year progresses, and have a chance at being unstoppable by January. So coming off of a bye week, and without the need of much coaching to let them know Miami is a dangerous club, I really think this game will be over by halftime.
Bob: New England
Terry: New England
Dad: New England
Molly: Miami

Carolina at New Orleans (2)“Am I… going down right?” “Is she going down right?” “She sure is.” Another spread that makes no sense. Carolina is going to get destroyed.
Bob: New Orleans
Terry: Carolina
Dad: New Orleans
Gus: Carolina

Detroit at Seattle (10)“Subject, Toilet paper. One: on 6 June 1941, this vessel submitted a requisition for 150 rolls of toilet paper. On 16 December 1941 the requisition was returned with stamped notation, ‘Cannot identify material required.’ Two: the commanding officer of the USS Sea Tiger cannot help but wonder what is being used at the Caviti Supply Depot as a substitute for this unidentifiable material once so well known to this command.” After losing to St. Louis last week, predicting a large spread for a road game to Seattle would have been an easy call. At home this year, against weak teams, the Seahawks roll. Detroit has put in a few decent efforts, but it’s just tough to see this one as anything but a loss… and a big one at that.
Bob: Seattle
Terry: Detroit
Dad: Seattle
Molly: Detroit

Tennessee at San Francisco (4)“Where is Lt. Holden?” “When the air raid started they took off. All he said was ‘in confusion there’s profit.’” Apparently I’m making it a habit this week to pick favorites… and the train is going to keep rolling here. Gore is back… Crabtree seems to be getting more involved every week… and this is the turning point game of the year for the 49ers. A loss here would pretty much knock them out. Don’t get me wrong… I know it won’t knock them out officially. Week 9 is still early for predicting that. And with a victory in hand over the Cardinals, this division is going to be up for grabs into December. But the club is 3-4 right now. They’ve lost 4 of 5, and the victory was over St. Louis. There comes a Parcells-moment when, despite any argument to the contrary, the reality is that the record is an accurate reflection of your club. And this week is the time for the squad to either put on their big-boy pants and defeat an inferior team, or roll over and cry. I expect a huge game from Frank Gore and the first touchdown of Crabtree’s career.
Bob: San Francisco
Terry: Tennessee
Dad: San Francisco
Gus: Tennessee

San Diego at New York (Giants) (4½)“Excuse me, sir, is this normal, or should I be nervous again?” I’d feel much more comfortable taking the Giants if this game was played the week after the bye instead of the week before it. And after winning two games that were nothing but must-haves, here come the Chargers… led by the most inept coach in football… cross country to face the staggering Giants. End the season today, and thanks to tie-breakers the Chargers finish 8th in the AFC. The Giants are in the playoffs. (Ok… sure… in the playoffs, barely ahead of some other squads that have only played 7 games while they’ve played 8.) I expect the Giants to get better. Injury or no… that offense in New York hasn’t been the same since the Kansas City game. But I think they need a week off before it happens. And San Diego is arriving at just the right time.
Bob: San Diego
Terry: New York
Dad: San Diego
Molly: San Diego

Dallas at Philadelphia (3)“When I was a kid, I was the victim of the most vicious propaganda. People told me that money wasn’t everything and I believed it. Then I found out that the people that were telling me that money wasn’t everything were the people who had a lot of money.” Two incredibly well matched clubs are playing here. They both enter at 5-2… they may both be playing their best football of the year (although Philly’s loss to Oakland 3 games ago still rings loudly in considering them)… and both teams have not only scored about the same number of points (203 for Philly and 197 for Dallas), they have given up roughly the same number (133 to 136). Heck, both of them have even lost once at home and once on the road. And I’ll go a step further… both have running backs, Barber and Westbrook, that I’m concerned about. Since losing to the Raiders, bad as that was, the Eagles haven’t trailed. They jumped out in front of Washington, and then outscored the Giants to lead 13-0 at the end of the first quarter and 30-7 by halftime. About the only thing to concern me is that they didn’t score at all in the second half against the Redskins. Looking at history… the teams split last year (each winning at home, though Philly won huge and Dallas won in a shootout that looked close at the end)… and in 2007 Philly won big in Dallas, while Dallas won a close contest in Philly. In the end here’s what I think I know… Philly wins big or Dallas wins close. I’ll go with Philly.
Bob: Philadelphia
Terry: Philadelphia
Dad: Dallas
Gus: Dallas

Pittsburgh (3) at Denver“When a girl is under 21, she’s protected by law. When she’s over 65, she’s protected by nature. Anywhere in between, she’s fair game. Look out.” The Steelers enter the game having won 4 in a row, and despite trailing Indy and Denver in the overall standings, just like New England they still have a very real shot at one of the top two seeds for the conference in the playoffs. And that makes this game pretty special for them, since head-to-head results could break a tie in the end. (Because of the fluke finishes in 2008… with both New England and Indianapolis not winning their divisions… a strange scenario is beginning to come into focus. Bear in mind, I fully realize I am discounting Cincy right now. Pittsburgh only plays Denver out of the trio of other division leaders. Denver plays all three. And, later, New England and Indianapolis face each other. It makes this game a very strange one should the time come that we have four teams around the 12 to 13 win mark.) Since Minnesota and San Diego figure into the current winning streak, it has to be viewed as a bit more than a scheduling quirk of easy opponents. (Detroit and Cleveland are in there as well.) That said… I want to be a bit cautious here. The Bengals and Bears defeated the Steelers… and neither of those clubs has established itself as reliable just yet. Tennessee took them to overtime before Pittsburgh won by 3-points. And, frankly, the Steelers have not been a crush-all, dominating club on the road. (Gee… look at that… this is a road game.) Denver is coming off their first loss of the year. And, they struggled against the Ravens… mightily, and in ways they hadn’t all season. The Ravens put up points against them. (Baltimore scored 30. In the past 3 games the Broncos have had 17 scored against them by New England, 23 by San Diego, and then the Ravens with 30. These represent the 3 highest scores of the year against them, and an increase each week… even though you could probably make the case that Baltimore was the weakest offense of the three while New England the strongest.) In other words… 6-1 is a great record and they still control their division. But there might be some evidence coming to light that the Broncos are a bit shaky right now. Amazingly… Denver comes into this game with the better defensive efforts of the year, and Pittsburgh with the better offense. The consistency from Denver in not turning the ball over and playing solid defense has, until last week, been a steady, reliable factor in their victories. Honestly… the thing I keep watching is two-fold. Pittsburgh hasn’t been good on the road. And that can be found first in that they 1-2 in road games to date. Second, they are 0-3 against the spread when on the road this year. (Would you believe the Steelers are just 2-5 against the spread this season? Only against Minnesota and San Diego have they covered. And how about that… both games at home.)
Bob: Denver
Terry: Denver
Dad: Pittsburgh
Molly: Pittsburgh

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Dad – Last week 7-6, season 62-52-2
Bob – Last week 7-6, season 61-53-2
Mike – Last week 6-7, season 59-55-2
The Dogs – Last week 5-8, season 53-61-2
Terry – Last week 6-7, season 47-67-2


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