After several upsets last week, the N.F.L. was left with a few top-tier contenders (Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Seattle) and a wide middle zone of teams that can surprise you on any given week. And, of course, the Giants and the Jets are bringing up the rear.
Here’s a look at N.F.L. Week 9, with all picks made against the spread.
Last week’s record: 5-8-1
Overall record: 58-58-3
Sunday’s Best Games
Baltimore Ravens at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Ravens -2.5 | Total: 45.5
Before you get too far down the path of the Ravens (5-2) having been exposed in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, consider that Baltimore had a chance to win on the game’s final possession even though Mark Ingram, the team’s best running back, was out with an injury. The game emboldened Pittsburgh, and took some bragging rights from the Ravens, but teams would be wise not to underestimate Baltimore just the same.
The Colts (5-2) should be an excellent test of the Ravens’ resolve. Indianapolis has been nearly as effective as Baltimore on offense and has a defense that is equally adept at defending the pass and the run. For all intents and purposes, this game is something of a tossup, which is less of an indictment of Baltimore than it is an endorsement of Indianapolis. The Ravens could easily bounce back, but this matchup is close enough to lean toward the home underdog. Pick: Colts +2.5
Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Seahawks -3 | Total: 55
Russell Wilson reminded everyone why he is the front-runner for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award in last week’s win over San Francisco, but the defensive shortcomings of the Seahawks (6-1) were apparent even in that 10-point victory.
It is with that imbalance between its offense and defense that Seattle travels to Orchard Park, N.Y., to face the Bills (6-2). Such a game this deep into the season would normally create a hostile environment for a visiting team. But with no fans in attendance, and an expected game time temperature of 71 degrees, it is about as neutral a setting as the Seahawks could hope for.
That being said, Buffalo is not nearly as bad offensively as it looked in the last few weeks, and Seattle is very likely to have its hands full. Pick: Bills +3
Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Cardinals -4.5 | Total: 48
There are so many reasons to seek out this game. The Cardinals (5-2) have been a delight in Year 2 of the Kliff Kingsbury/Kyler Murray era. When last seen, they were upsetting Seattle in overtime. The Dolphins (4-3) are the surprise of the season, not only by beating the 49ers and the Rams in recent weeks but by romping them.
The open question for Miami’s offense is if it can get more out of the rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. (The journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick was undoubtedly antsy watching his replacement pass for only 93 yards last week.) Arizona will have to figure out its running game if Kenyan Drake is out or limited by an ankle injury.
Tagovailoa was a Heisman finalist in 2018, when Murray won the award, and if either of them remembers that then maybe there’s some motivation for revenge. More realistic: Arizona is further along in its development and playing at home. Pick: Cardinals -4.5
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Buccaneers -5.5 | Total: 52
Antonio Brown is expected to play for the Buccaneers (6-2) after serving an eight-game suspension from the N.F.L. for his role in a January dispute and for texting threats to a woman who accused him of sexual misconduct. He has played in one game in the past 23 months, so how much he is involved in Tampa Bay’s offense may come down to the health of Chris Godwin, who is hoping to return from a broken finger. With Mike Evans, Rob Gronkowski and Godwin on the field, there wouldn’t be many targets left for Brown, but if Godwin sits, quarterback Tom Brady may try to lean on the receiver whom he campaigned for his team to sign.
Tampa Bay has an ungenerous defense, and plenty of offensive upside, but it is worth wondering if the team should be favored by so much against the Saints (5-2) when it managed only a 2-point win against the Giants on Monday. Pick: Saints +5.5
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers, 8:20 p.m., Fox, NFL Network and Prime Video
Line: Packers -5.5 | Total: 50.5
The 49ers (4-4) have mostly kept their collective head above water as injuries mounted, but last week may have been the final straw. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle may both be out for the season, running back Tevin Coleman is injured again, as is wide receiver Deebo Samuel, and the team is still missing several key players on defense. Linebacker Kwon Alexander, one of the team’s emotional leaders last season, was traded to New Orleans. To top it off, the team had to cancel in-person activities Wednesday morning when wide receiver Kendrick Bourne tested positive for the coronavirus.
Hosting the Packers (5-2) a week after Green Bay had a major letdown at home does not seem as if it would add much comfort. The Packers will be short-handed in the backfield: Jamaal Williams is on the league’s reserve/Covid-19 list because of close contact with A.J. Dillon, and Aaron Jones is unlikely to play because of a calf injury. But any game in which Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams are active is one in which Green Bay can be expected to score plenty of points.
San Francisco is deep enough that the team should move the ball well against the Packers’ suspect defense, but this feels like another chip-on-the-shoulder game for Rodgers. Pick: Packers -5.5
Sunday’s Other Games
Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Steelers -13.5 | Total: 42
In quarterback Ben DiNucci’s first career start, the Cowboys (2-6) managed 9 points against Philadelphia. This week, Dallas faces a far more formidable Steelers (7-0) defense, making it reasonable to wonder just how much uglier things can get with either Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush starting in place of DiNucci.
It was a given that this game would have an enormous point spread since the Steelers have matched the longest unbeaten streak to start a season in franchise history. But if there is any reason to be skeptical of a rout, it is that Pittsburgh has won only one game by more than 10 points this season. A moral victory for the Cowboys would be losing by “only” 9 or 10, but if the team’s fourth and fifth options at quarterback don’t have a different gear from what DiNucci showed last week, even that seems far-fetched. Pick: Steelers -13.5
Carolina Panthers at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Chiefs -10.5 | Total: 52.5
The Chiefs (7-1) learned a lesson from their monumental letdown against Las Vegas in Week 5. They followed that loss with a convincing road win against the Bills and have won consecutive blowouts, beating the Broncos and the Jets by a combined score of 78-25. That dominance has forced Patrick Mahomes into the M.V.P. debate with Seattle’s Russell Wilson and made it clear that Kansas City is a legitimate threat to successfully defend last year’s Super Bowl win.
The Panthers (3-5) are not so much a pushover as they are overmatched, even if running back Christian McCaffrey is making his much anticipated return from injury. The only thing that could slow Kansas City is the team’s disinterest, but piling on against the Jets last week seemed to indicate that the Chiefs aren’t taking games off anymore. Pick: Chiefs -10.5
Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Chargers -1.5 | Total: 53
The Raiders (4-3) escaped with a win on a chilly Sunday in Cleveland, grinding out the game on the ground with their first 200-yard rushing game of the season. A trip to Los Angeles to face the Chargers (2-5) should let Las Vegas return to its aerial attack. This could easily be a shootout, with Derek Carr and Justin Herbert putting up big numbers. Los Angeles has the ability to run up a huge lead, but the team’s propensity for squandering such leads has officially become troubling, which is why the point spread is so narrow. Pick: Chargers -1.5
Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Titans -5.5 | Total: 46.5
If you were to make a team out of Tennessee’s offense and Chicago’s defense, you’d have a Super Bowl contender. Instead you have a pair of flawed teams with records that may not reflect their quality.
It is all relative, though. The defensive woes of the Titans (5-2) limit the team’s ability to compete against top teams, but the offense of Chicago (5-3) is so bad that people are speculating about Coach Matt Nagy’s job security. Pick: Titans -5.5
Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Falcons -4 | Total: 50
Is it time to be excited about the Broncos (3-4)? The defense has given up a fair amount of points this season, but the underlying statistics suggest the team is solid on that side of the ball. Meanwhile, the offense suddenly woke up in the fourth quarter of last week’s come-from-behind win over the Chargers, giving a glimpse of what quarterback Drew Lock can do in ideal circumstances.
It may also be considered ideal to go up against the secondary of the Falcons (2-6). Atlanta has allowed 311.4 yards a game through the air, and Football Outsiders ranks the team as the fourth-worst pass defense in the N.F.L. There is a lingering feeling that the Falcons are dangerous at home, but the team is 0-4 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season, and will most likely be without wide receiver Calvin Ridley until Week 11, giving them a decent chance of staying winless at home. Pick: Broncos +4
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Texans -7 | Total: 51
With quarterback Gardner Minshew sitting out with a thumb injury, the Jaguars (1-6) will turn to Jake Luton, a sixth-rounder out of Oregon State, who will be the fifth rookie quarterback to start a game this season. Luton is enormous (6-foot-6, 224 pounds), was incredibly efficient on deep throws for the Beavers last season, and despite a penchant for airing it out, he threw just three interceptions. If anything, the knock on Luton was that he was boring, which will be quite a change from Minshew, who was everything but that.
The Texans (1-6) beat Jacksonville easily in Week 5, and should be expected to win again. But Luton is enough of a wild card that it’s worth being mildly skeptical of the large point spread. Pick: Jaguars +7
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Vikings -4 | Total: 53.5
It has been a season of almost constant disappointment for the Vikings (2-5), but Dalvin Cook having one of the best individual games in franchise history in an upset of the Packers in Green Bay makes up for a lot. Now, Minnesota will look to capitalize on that momentum at home against the Lions (3-4), who aren’t quite a pushover but probably aren’t that much of a threat.
Minnesota is nowhere near a wild-card spot, but it clearly has no intention of packing it in. And while people may not love quarterback Kirk Cousins, there is no question that opposing teams need to respect the Vikings’ offense. Pick: Vikings -4
Giants at Washington Football Team, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Footballers -3 | Total: 41.5
These once-proud franchises are a combined 0-9 when facing teams outside the N.F.C. East this season. Neither team is averaging even 20 points a game and both are giving up more than 23 a game. They might at least be entertaining against each other, but that wasn’t the case a few weeks ago when the Giants (1-7) eked out their lone win of the season against the Footballers (2-5).
Daniel Jones of the Giants is by far the most exciting player on either team, and he’s fairly likely to have a highlight run or throw that will make you wonder if he has what it takes to be a star. Unfortunately for the Giants, he’s also likely to commit one or more turnovers and play a large part in his team’s failure. Pick: Footballers -3
New England Patriots at Jets, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Patriots -7 | Total: 42.5
The Jets (0-8) have matched the longest winless start in franchise history, and the Patriots (2-5) have matched their worst seven-game start since 2000. Something has to give, and while both teams have been disappointing, the Jets have truly earned their spot at the bottom of the N.F.L. The team is 32nd in points scored and 28th in points allowed.
This game presents what appears to be one of the Jets’ best chances for a win this season. They are playing at home against an injury-ravaged team that has lost four straight. But it is hard to imagine the Jets scoring enough to beat anyone. Quarterback Sam Darnold aggravated his shoulder injury last week and, as Rotoworld eloquently said of Frank Gore, “We have reached the ‘why? … just why’ phase of Gore’s status as the Jets’ lead back.”
New England has been bad enough that a spread of 7 points seems outlandish, but opponents thus far have seemed to enjoy beating up on the Jets. If Cam Newton wants to prove a point about his health, it is hard to see Gang Green stopping him. Pick: Patriots -7
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Cardinals -4.5, for example, means that Arizona must beat Miami by at least 5 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
Bye weeks: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Los Angeles (Rams), Philadelphia
All times are Eastern.