NFL WEEK 9: We’ve officially reached the midway point of the NFL’s regular season, and the wide-open, unpredictable nature of the past eight weeks was underscored on Tuesday when several high-profile players changed teams in what was the busiest Trade Deadline in recent memory.
First, it was Buffalo shipping high-priced defensive tackle Marcel Dareus to Jacksonville for a draft pick, and Seattle getting much-needed offensive line help in the form of 3-time Pro Bowler Duane Brown, who the Seahawks acquired from Houston in exchange for a couple of picks. Then, the real surprises came— Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who many thought was being groomed as Tom Brady’s successor, was unexpectedly sent to the winless 49ers for a second-rounder in next year’s draft. In an even more stunning move, the Dolphins sent Jay Ajayi, the team’s offensive focal point and a guy who ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing last season, to the Eagles for a mid-round pick. And then came the biggest head-scratcher of the day— the Carolina Panthers sending top wideout Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo in exchange for— you guessed it— draft picks. Why would the Panthers ship off one of Cam Newton’s few reliable pass-catching options, especially with tight end Greg Olsen still on injured reserve? Your guess is as good as mine.
And of course the Browns got into the act in the most Browns-like manner imaginable: according to media reports, they had agreed in principle on a trade with Cincinnati that would’ve netted them quarterback A.J. McCarron, a top-flight backup who many believe is better than any QB currently on Cleveland’s roster. Apparently the Bengals did their part in calling the trade into the league office just before the 4pm deadline, but for some unknown, inexplicable reason the Browns were late with that call. The team supposedly then appealed to the league in an attempt to have the trade go through, but the league denied them. So, in other words, Tuesday was just another day in the life of a Browns fan.
The Week 9 schedule is a little light, as six teams are on bye, but there are still several intriguing matchups. Here are three games that I’m going to play:
DENVER BRONCOS @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (Phi -7.5, 43.5)
Recommendation: Under 43.5 at 1.98
The Eagles have been terrific this season, winning six straight games to improve their record to an NFL-best 7-1 and taking firm control of the NFC East in the process. They’ve been led by quarterback Carson Wentz, who at this point is probably the MVP frontrunner, and a solid defense that has yet to allow more than 24 points in any game. Denver, meanwhile, has lost three straight and 4 of 5, and in what some see as a desperation move they’ve now installed the recently (re)acquired Brock Osweiler as their starting quarterback. The Broncos have scored fewer than 20 points in each of their last five games, so I guess in that sense the desperation is understandable.
But as bad as the offense has been in Denver, it hasn’t affected the play of the defense, which remains one of the NFL’s very best. They lead the league in total defense and they really don’t have a weakness, as they rank 2nd against the run and 3rd against the pass. In other words, it’s going to be a grind for Wentz and the Philly offense this week, just as it is for every opponent who faces these Broncos. Complicating things further is the fact that the Eagles will be without their best offensive lineman, Jason Peters, after he tore his ACL two weeks ago. Fortunately, Wentz and Co. probably won’t have to light up the scoreboard to pick up a win here, considering the opposition. Everything about this game screams “UNDER” to me.
ATLANTA FALCONS @ CAROLINA PANTHERS (Atl -1, 42)
Recommendation: Atlanta moneyline at 1.82
Both of these teams have been inconsistent this season, but it’s not too late for either squad to get things turned around and make a run. The Falcons sit at 4-3 after snapping a 3-game losing streak with a win over the Jets last week, while the Panthers responded to a demoralizing Week 7 loss to Chicago by smothering the Bucs last Sunday to improve to 5-3. Offense has been an issue, especially in Carolina, as the Panthers have scored 17 points or fewer four times this season and have produced only 20 combined points in their last two games.
That’s what made it especially puzzling when the Panthers traded their best receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, to Buffalo for draft picks on Tuesday. Already without Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen, the Carolina passing attack is now further hampered by the loss of one of its only proven weapons. Assuredly, the Panthers receiving corps is now among the worst in the NFL, by any measure. If they’re going to be winning games going forward, it will have to be with the running game and defense. Problem is, the rushing attack hasn’t been quite as effective as in years past, and the defense, while solid, will be facing its kryptonite this week in the form of Matt Ryan.
Ryan knows these Panthers well and he absolutely shredded them last year, completing 78.6% of his passes for 780 yards, 6 touchdowns, and only 1 interception in two meetings. And the Atlanta defense usually has a good plan to slow down Cam Newton and Co., as Newton has barely completed half his passes and has gone 1-3 against the Falcons since Dan Quinn took over as head coach (Quinn was previously the defensive coordinator in Seattle, where he was 3-0 against Carolina). I just don’t see much of a Panthers angle here– their offense should continue to struggle, and their defense simply won’t be able to hold down Matt Ryan for 4 quarters. Plus, the fact that this game is in Carolina shouldn’t make much of a difference, considering the Panthers are just 1-2 (and 0-3 ATS) at home this season and Atlanta is 3-1 on the road. Gimme the Falcons.
DETROIT LIONS @ GREEN BAY PACKERS (Det -2, 43.5)
Recommendation: Green Bay moneyline at 2.08
There’s been a fatalistic atmosphere around Green Bay these past couple of weeks, and you can certainly understand why: Aaron Rodgers was the heart and soul of the team, and the Packers Super Bowl hopes effectively vanished when he went down with that broken collarbone. His replacement, Brett Hundley, has thrown one touchdown and five interceptions in his brief career and managed just 87 passing yards in the team’s last game, a loss to New Orleans.
But Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been outspoken about his faith in Hundley, and the team is coming off a bye, so there was some time to work out the kinks. This week Hundley will be facing a soft Detroit defense that ranks 25th against the pass and has surrendered 99 combined points in the team’s past three game, so there are reasons for optimism. And the defense isn’t the only problem in Detroit— the offense has been depressingly one-dimensional, as usual, and Matt Stafford no longer has the type of downfield weapons that scare opposing defenses. The Packers secondary has been the strength of their defense this season, so they should be able to hold up fairly well against the Stafford-led passing attack, and the Lions simply don’t have a good enough running game to be able to take advantage of a mediocre Green Bay front seven. Despite Hundley starting in place of Rodgers, I just don’t believe that a Detroit team that has lost three straight and 4 of 5 should be favored at Lambeau Field on a Monday night.