Really interesting week in terms of the NFL slate coming up. There are a ton of home underdogs, but there are also a lot of short favorites this week. I'm mostly going to focus on the latter, banking on a couple of teams I trust in situations that are not exactly easy.
I need a big week too -- after going 2-3 against the spread in the SuperContest, I'm just floundering in the bottom middle of the pack. Going under .500 in this thing isn't acceptable. After flipping to the Raiders late on Thursday afternoon (THANKS NICK MULLENS), I'm one game behind Pete Prisco in the season-long experts picks. I will not accept losing to Pete. It's not acceptable. It cannot happen.
Let's go get some winners.
The numbers on this game bother me a little bit in terms of the action -- most of the tickets are on the Seahawks, while most of the money is on the Chargers, according to the Action Network -- and I'm a little bit concerned with the Chargers coming off a bye and getting extra time to prep for this matchup. The Chargers are really good and they're feeling themselves right now. This is when Philip Rivers and Co. get rolling. They're third in overall DVOA, but might not have a fully healthy or even active Melvin Gordon. As R.J. White wrote and then pointed out on the Pick Six Podcast Friday, Russell Wilson is dominant against AFC opponents at home, going a remarkable 12-0 since being drafted. The Seahawks are not properly valued right now: their offensive line is starting to play really well since Tom Cable left, which might not be a coincidence. The defense might not have the name value of the Legion of Boom, but it's the No. 2 team in defensive DVOA through eight weeks of the season. The Chargers are just 18th in defensive DVOA and just 21st against the run. Seattle should be able to move the ball on the ground and it will set up Wilson, who has just 17 interceptions and nine touchdowns in his last three games, for play-action strikes.
What NFL picks can you make with confidence in Week 9? And what Super Bowl contender goes down hard? Visit SportsLine to see which NFL teams are winning more than 50 percent of simulations, all from the model that has beaten 98 percent of experts over the past two years.
Houston's on a huge winning streak right now, having won the last five games. They deserve credit for annihilating the Dolphins on Thursday night last week but I'm not sure it's the greatest five-game streak on the planet. Denver is quietly seventh in overall DVOA this year and its performances this year might not be as bad as we think. They've played the Rams once and Chiefs twice -- those are three of their four losses and they came by a total of 14 points. Houston is dangerous against the run, so this is going to require Case Keenum to show up in a big way, but I think he can do it with Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton, the latter of whom will be highly invested to produce at a high level on a day when the Broncos are honoring Demaryius Thomas, who was traded to the Texans before the deadline. Thomas shouldn't provide too much help for Deshaun Watson, who will be seeing a lot of Von Miller on Sunday.
Rams (+1.5) at Saints
Fading the Saints for the third week in a row, like a total moron. Don't care -- given the SuperContest lines, we're getting almost three points of value here AND we get to take an undefeated team that is somehow an underdog. The Saints could easily win this game. They're really good! Marcus Davenport going down for a month should be a major concern, though, because he made one huge, game-changing play a week for much of this season. Cameron Jordan is playing lights out as well, but the Rams are good about keeping Jared Goff upright and giving him time to find wide receivers running open. A return for Cooper Kupp is a huge plus; he might be the secret trigger man for this offense in terms of really making it take off at full speed. No disrespect to Todd Gurley. There are going to be points scored in this game and there's no huge coaching mismatch. Sean Payton will be looking to put some respect on his name. I just like the Rams getting points. An 8-0 team shouldn't be an underdog.
Detroit is a really interesting team because of the changes it's made this year -- over the last few weeks, the Lions have become a run-heavy team that doesn't lean heavily on Matthew Stafford to throw the ball 200 times a game. That's a good thing, but I'm not sure it's ideal against the Vikings, who are beginning to come around on defense the last few weeks and now rank as a top-10 team against the run. Everson Griffin should be back at full speed as well for this game. My biggest thing is value: I think the Vikings are a seven-point favorite if Adam Thielen doesn't fumble late in the first half and they beat the Saints at home (projecting there, but it's not unreasonable) or even lose in a tight one. They weren't lit up by the Saints offense and the Lions are not as good as the Saints.
Dallas fired its offensive line coach and traded for Amari Cooper, which I guess is the explanation for why they're nearly a touchdown favorite? I don't know, man. This should be a low-scoring game between two questionable offenses that like to grind out games. I don't think the Cowboys are good enough on defense to completely snuff out Marcus Mariota and Derrick Henry/Dion Lewis. If you're going to give me almost a full touchdown with a team coming off a bye against a team I think is extremely fadeable and not entirely great at home, I'm going to take those points and run.
BONUS UNDERDOG OF THE WEEK OF THE YEAR
Buccaneers (+6) at Panthers
Total turmoil with Tampa Bay, and Carolina is rolling over people, having just smashed the Ravens at home. This Carolina team is good and the offense is clicking at the moment. Tampa Bay is not going to stop them. But everyone is all over Carolina here and Ryan Fitzpatrick knows how to sneak in the back door. I wouldn't be shocked if Tampa won this game outright, honestly -- I know the Panthers look excellent, but there has been a lot written about them this week and how good the offense is, and they're still a team capable of losing games they shouldn't lose. This feels like one of them. Everything here points Panthers. It's a feel play.