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So after a convincing win for the Packers on Thursday our focus moves to the Sunday slate of games and the injury/Covid-19 lists with several recognizable names getting activated, be it Dez Bryant getting elevated to the active roster for the Ravens, Christian McCaffery making the Panthers’ fifty-three man roster from IR or Matthew Stafford coming off the reserve/Covid-19 list having been in contact with someone who tested positive but has continued to test negative. It’s hard to keep track of everything, but this can and will have an effect on our picks so let’s take a look and do our best to sort through things as they stand.

Early Games:

For me there are two games that really jump out of the early slate are the Seattle Seahawks visiting the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens at the Indianapolis Colts.

The Bills maintained a two game lead on the Dolphins with a close fought win over the Patriots last week, but whilst they are still the favourites to win the AFC East, the Bills have not looked as they did in their opening four games. The defence that was top ten last year has slipped to twenty-third by DVOA whilst opposing defences look to have found coverages that have cooled Josh Allen’s hot start. The Seahawks defence is only ranked a couple of places higher by DVOA, but Russell Wilson is playing elite level quarterback and has led the Seahawks’ offence to third in the league by DVOA with the shackles finally off as Wilson throws them to big wins instead of relying on the run. The Bills are still a good team, but I don’t see them quite in the same league as the Seahawks and while I think this will be a good watch, I think the Seahawks are likely to prevail.

The Ravens are coming off a tough loss to the Steelers in a game they could have won if it were not for the pair of interceptions that Lamar Jackson threw, but as this was the Ravens second loss against a tope tier 2020 team there are plenty of questions now being asked about how good the Ravens are against the best franchises. In large part this is because the offense has not looked right this season, and whilst Jackson is still playing well, it feels like the Ravens offense has not been able to adjust to how teams are playing them this year and that there needs to be a more consistent third aspect to the passing game beyond Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. They travel to face a Colts team who have quietly got to a 5-2 record with a firth overall ranking by DVOA. Their loss to the Jaguars in week one does not look great, but apart from their loss to the Browns, the Colts have been competitive in every game and are coming off a convincing win against the Lions in Detroit last week. This is probably their toughest test of the season so far and if their top five defence and special teams can keep them in the game then I will be interested to see if Phillip Rivers can do enough with an offence that hasn’t quite found its feet to run out winners.

The other game that catches my eye out of the early schedule is the Chicago Bears taking on the Tennessee Titans. The Bears have scrapped their way to 5-3 on the back of the sixth ranked defence by DVOA and just enough production from a limited offence. The Titans have dropped two games in a. row to the AFC North with the loss to the Bengals last week being a serious upset. The line for this game sees the Titans bigger favourites than I think they should be, and I think this has the potential to be a close game given the Bears’ defence could be able to restrict the Titans offense whilst the Titans’ defence is struggling. I’m not sure it will be the most spectacular game but it will be a tense game with a lot at stake for both teams as they try to stay in the race for their respective divisions.

Other things of interest from the early games:

  • The Falcons have gone 2-1 since Raheem Morris has taken over as acting head coach and a healthy Julio Jones is also a big help, but I’m not sure what to make of them and they welcome a Broncos team fresh off a comeback win against the Chargers. The Broncos are 3-1 in their last four games, with the only loss to the frightening Chiefs but this game could reveal a lot about how these teams are going to look over the second half of the season
  • The Minnesota Vikings got a monster game from running back Dalvin Cook last week as he returned from injury and helped the Vikings get the upset win against the Packers. The Detriot Lions have failed to convince all season and I wonder how competitive they can make this game although getting Matthew Stafford back from the Covid-19 list should help.
  • The Carolina Panthers have dropped back to 3-5 having lost three then won three to start their season, but star running back Christian McCaffery is making his way back from injury and the Panthers are still ahead of where many thought they could be coming into the season. However, the loss to the Falcons last week will be disappointing and I wonder how competitive they can truly be against the Kansas City Chiefs who clearly wanted to make a statement against the Jets last week and look poised to be one of the teams to beat this season.
  • Just as I said that the Giants seemed to be coming together under first year head coach Joe Judge and were building something, there was the news about veteran receiver Golden Tate’s benching and he won’t be travelling with the team this week. The Washington Football Team have not convinced, even if they did beat the Cowboys last week and having already lost close to the Giants this season so I think this could well be another close game.
  • The Houston Texans are a team in flux and did not move JJ Watt or Will Fuller before the trade deadline, but they are still in purgatory and it hard to see that changing soon. They should have enough to beat a Jaguars team who flattered to deceive at the start of the season, but are as bad as many suspected coming into the season and who are turning to a different sixth round quarterback in rookie Jake Luton to evaluate what they have their whilst Gardner Minshew gets the chance to heal the strained ligament and multiple fractures in his right thumb.

Broncos @ Falcons (-3.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Broncos
Dan’s Pick:     Broncos

Seahawks @ Bills (+2.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Seahawks
Dan’s Pick:     Seahawks

Bears @ Titans (-5.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Bears
Dan’s Pick:     Titans

Lions @ Vikings (-3.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Vikings
Dan’s Pick:     Vikings

Ravens @ Colts (+2.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Ravens
Dan’s Pick:     Ravens

Panthers @ Chiefs (-10.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Panthers
Dan’s Pick:     Panthers

Giants @ Washington (-3.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Giants
Dan’s Pick:     Washington

Texans @ Jaguars (+6.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Texans
Dan’s Pick:     Jaguars

Late Games:

The most interesting game of the late starts for me is the Miami Dolphins fresh off their win against the Rams taking on the Arizona Cardinals. The Dolphins won last week thanks to great defence and special teams so Tua Tagovailoa’s modest NFL debut was not a huge contributing factor. The  Cardinals should prove to be a tougher test and I will be interested to see how Tagovailoa does in his second game and how things shake out for the Cardinals who are ranked two places lower by overall DVOA but are solid in all three phases of the game.

Thoughts on the other games:

  • The Raiders have amassed yet more fines related to Covid-19 protocol failures and have not entirely convinced despite having wins against the Saints, Chiefs, and Browns this season. They might have enough to beat the Chargers, but I am curious if their defensive frailties could get exploited by Chargers’ rookie quarterback sensation Justin Herbert
  • The Cowboys have a new starting quarterback but have problems on both sides of the ball and are unlikely to do much against the only remaining unbeaten team in the NFL unless the Steelers have a let-down game after their always tough matchup against the Ravens last week.

Raiders @ Chargers (-1.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Raiders
Dan’s Pick:     Raiders

Steelers @ Cowboys (+10.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Steelers
Dan’s Pick:     Steelers

Dolphins @ Cardinals (-4.5)

Gee’s Pick:     Dolphins
Dan’s Pick:     Dolphins

Sunday Night Football:

Saints @ Buccaneers (-4.5)

The Sunday night game is the matchup of the week as it sees a divisional matchup between the 6-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 5-2 New Orleans Saints. All the talk coming into the season for the Buccaneers was the signing of Tom Brady, but it is the defence that has truly impressed given it is the best in the league by DVOA and has led the Bucs to the top of the DVOA standings by 9.1%. This defence will taking on a Saints team who are ranked seventh overall by DVOA despite missing their leading receiver Michael Thomas for nearly the who season through one injury or another. There is so much debate surrounding Drew Brees’ arm, but his accuracy in the short to intermediate area of the field is still supreme and Alvin Kamara has been leading the way from the backfield in keeping the Saints offence in the top ten. The Saints might not be as complete a team as we thought coming in to the season, but they are still winning at an impressive rate and I think this rematch has a chance to be more impressive than their season opener. This is not a game to miss.

Gee’s Pick:     Saints
Dan’s Pick:     Saints

Monday Night Football

Patriots @ Jets (+7.5)

The week nine slate of games closes with a bit of a whimper as the New England Patriots take on the New York Jets in a contest that can only muster two wins between both teams. The Jets are having a putrid season, made more difficult by Sam Darnold re-aggravating the AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder so we see a return to the starting line-up for Joe Flacco that is likely to scupper my bold prediction of the Jets’ offence scoring more points than the Cowboy, but doesn’t completely rule it out. The Patriots meanwhile should win this game, but they really need to find something to hang their hat on for the rest of the season. We still don’t know if Cam Newton is hurt or feeling the effects of recovering from Covid-19, but he has not looked good since he returned and the Patriots look as bad as they have done since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000. They should win this game, but the Pats are not as competitive as I was expecting even given their tough circumstances so what interest there is in this game will be how they look against a divisional rival who have simply been woeful this season.

Gee’s Pick:     Patriots
Dan’s Pick:     Patriotså

DVOA is Football Outsiders statistic for measure a team’s success on every play versus the league average and you can read more about it and other football topics at https://footballoutsiders.com