Well, 8-6 probably wasn't enough to win your office pool last week, and for that I apologize. But before you jump ship and write me off as a hack, please keep in mind that these picks have still been better than 99.2% of the world and are seven games better than Vegas, who only went 7-7 in Week 8. You may be saying to yourself that Vegas is having an off year and, considering that there have been a record number of underdog wins this season, you'd be partially right; but the sharps in LV are still ahead of 85.2% of the globe, despite the unprecedented number of upsets.
So, with all of that in mind, I bring you my Week 9 Winners:
This is not the showdown between AFC West contenders that the NFL was hoping for when they highlighted this matchup for Thursday Night Football. After wins over bad teams in each of their first three games, the Chargers have spent the past month doing their best Icarus impression, losing their last four games in hilariously inept fashions (7-6 vs Cleveland last week, blowing 24-0 halftime lead the week before). The fact that Norv Turner is still the Chargers head coach pleases his ancient underworld tortoise king and cements my long-held theory that the incipient turtle minions from which Norv has ascended will launch their attack on the human race from somewhere off the shore of San Diego.
The Chiefs, for their part, are the poop in the NFL's ice cream. Want to know how many plays Kansas City has run with the lead this season? Zero. Not one single time has Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn lined up under center with the Chiefs ahead. Compounding the litany of problems in KC is the atrocious coaching of Romeo Crennel. Jamaal Charles, who has the highest career yards per carry average in the history of the NFL got only five carries last week vs Oakland. Jamaal Charles, who had a 288-yards-from-scrimmage game earlier this season got 22.5% of the Chiefs' carries against the Raiders. Jamaal Charles has no reportable injuries, guys.
I don't know what Vegas is listing the over/under as, but I'm pretty damn comfortable taking the under.
THE PICK: CHARGERS
Peyton Manning has played just seven games since getting major neck surgery. He's only played seven games since switching teams for the first time ever and having to learn an entirely new system than the one he'd been running for 13 years. Want to guess how many games it took Manning to become the highest-rated QB (by DVOA) in the NFL*? Bingo. Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the history of football.
*Peyton also ranks in the NFL's Top 4 in yards/game, yards/attempt (1st), completion percentage, touchdowns, TD/INT ratio, QBR (1st), passer efficiency (1st), and DYAR
THE PICK: BRONCOS
Call me crazy, but I'd say there's mounting evidence that the Ravens offense isn't really above average at all. They're ranked 12th in Offensive DVOA, but that's a score buoyed by the beginning of the season, when their then-healthy defense was spotting them great field position and protecting all of their leads. Now, with Baltimore's Defensive DVOA dropping all the way to 24th, I'd say we're looking at a team that may be lucky to make the playoffs, despite a 5-1 start. Fortunately for them, they play Cleveland this week.
The Browns actually have reason to hop, as their nine-game home losing streak has turned into a two-game winning streak, and Brandon Weeden is playing much better than he's been given credit for. In fact, I'm willing to say that if it wasn't for Weeden having to deal with the league's worst Drop % from his receivers, we'd be hearing a lot more about him. Trent Richardson is still the closest thing to Adrian peterson we've seen coming out of college, but he won't be enough in this one
THE PICK: RAVENS
These are two teams that started off in opposite directions (not the ones you'd think) and then abruptly pulled U-turns and passed each other on the way back towards our expectations of them. After starting 4-0, the Cardinals have played some of the most uninspired football in the NFL, flailing to 4-4 and dealing with the very real possibility that there just is no bottom to the abyss at which they stare. Larry Fitzgerald will wilt like a beautiful orchid under the bleak desert sun of John Skelton.
Green Bay, though, has been every bit as awesome over the last few weeks as they were last season when they went 15-1. Don't expect that to change here.
THE PICK: PACKERS
Let's see, the 29th-ranked offense vs one of the highest-ranked defenses in NFL history? Hmmm...
Hope all you Chris Johnson owners traded him after last week, because he's about to disappear again.
THE PICK: BEARS
You know what's crazy? The Dolphins and the Colts are each 4-3. Want to know what's even crazier? They rank 10th and 29th in total DVOA. That is a massive, massive gap this far into a season and the fact that they have identical records is incredible. Normally, if a game is between two bad teams, I default to the home squad; but I think there's only one bad team in this game, so I'm taking the Dolphins and their 7th ranked defense over the Colts and their 31st ranked D.
THE PICK: MIAMI
It took the Panthers organization three years too long to make Jonathan Stewart their lead back. Since joining the league, Stewart has been one of the most difficult runners in the league to tackle (consistently ranking near the top in missed-tackles-forced-per-touch) as well as one of the best pass-catching RBs. Now he gets the mantle of starter, when his team is 1-6 after four close losses. That's like waxing your car after it's been hit by a train. The single best, most exciting hope that Panthers fans can have is that the team hires Chip Kelly as it's next head coach and then watch the league officially burn all its entire book of offensive records.
Anyhow, I do expect the Stewart-led Panthers to torch the Redskins' pitiful D, in the matchup between this year's Cam Newton and this year's version of last year's version of Cam Newton.
THE PICK: PANTHERS
I think the Lions have righted their ship. The Jaguars are still trying to figure out which slip theirs is docked at.
THE PICK: LIONS
THE PICK: TEXANS
Vegas is marking Seattle as a five-point favorite this week. That may seem like a lot for a 4-4 team hosting a 5-3 unit, but a recent Harvard study (which I referred to HERE) estimates that Seattle's home field advantage is worth just a hair under ten points per game since they moved into SeaQwesturyLink Fieldium ([All Time Home PPG Scored - All Time Home PPG Allowed] - [All Time Away PPG Scored - All Time Away PPG Scored] in a single stadium's history) -- the highest such number in the entire league. I don't know if Vegas gives Seattle credit for all ten points in assigning this line (HFA is usually worth 6-7 in vegas' eyes), but there's no denying how much better the Seahawks have been in Seattle over the last nine years than they've been on the road.
This is, in terms of leverage, one of the most important games Seattle will play all season. A win would give them tie-break advantages over potential playoff suitors Green Bay, Dallas, and Minnesota -- all of which are three of the four teams I consider most likely to snag a Wild Card spot (not counting Seattle). A loss would put them two games behind the Vikings and would mean they'd lose that particular tie-break, so it'd really be more like 2.5 games back.
Currently, Football outsiders lists the Seahawks' chances of making the playoffs at 60.2%. PlayoffRace.com estimates that by winning this game, Seattle's playoff odds would improve by 12.16%, while losing would lower them by 11.99%. Now, if only the Seahawks could figure out an answer to Percy Harvin...
I expect Minnesota to cover this spread, but anticipate Seattle walking out with the victory on the strength of home field advantage and (hopefully) a re-commitment to running the football.
THE PICK: SEAHAWKS
I cannot figure out the Bucs. I mean, I know the Raiders are bad, but are the Buccaneers bad, too? Lose at home to the Saints one week, burn the Vikings on the road the next. The hell, guys? Either way, let's just all be glad Jon Gruden isn't announcing this one (like any of us will be watching it anyway).
THE PICK: RAIDERS
How come "Steelers" doesn't get a red-squiggly-this-isn't-a-real-word line underneath it in word processing programs but "Seahawks" does? A Steeler isn't a real thing any more than a Seahawk is. Was this wagered on in SBXL? Or, perhaps, Week 2 of the 2011 season? Either way, it's bullshit. Oh, and the Giants are better at just about everything than Pittsburgh is. And the game is in New York.
THE PICK: GIANTS
The Falcons are not the best team in the NFL, despite what their record says. They are, however, very very good and considering this game is being played in their nest and that the Cowboys are arguably the least consistent team in the league, I'd imagine the Falcons walk in this one. The one potential fly in the proverbial ointment is that the strength of the Falcons' success lies in their remarkable virile passing attack, while the Cowboys boast what may be the best pass defense in the game. The addition of rookie Morris Claiborne and the relentless attacking of DeMarcus Ware may be enough to throw Matt Ryan off his game, but there's no overlooking just how much the Cowboys will miss tackling machine Sean Lee.
THE PICK: FALCONS
Nothing is better for an embattled quarterback than facing the worst defense in the NFL by nearly all means of measurement. The Saints are about as capable of playing defense as a wildebeest is of playing piano. The smart move here is to stick with the incumbent starter instead of giving the rookie backup a t-ball first start that would send the masses in Philadelphia into hysteria. Expect all Eagle offensive players to eat good in this one. While your at it, expect the Saints offensive players to eat good, too. Just not as well, as the Michael Vick redemption begins (again) Monday night.
THE PICK: EAGLES
Best of luck, guys, and be sure to find me on Twitter about where to send my 5% cut of your winnings to.