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NFL WEEK 9: Aaron Rodgers kicked off this Week 9 by chucking four touchdown passes in Green Bay’s dominating Thursday night victory over the injury-ravaged 49ers, ensuring that the Packers will cling to their lead over Chicago in the NFC North. And with the Bears facing a tough road test at Tennessee– a game in which the Titans are 6-point favorites– this might turn out to be the point in the season when Green Bay seizes control of the division and never looks back.

It’s that time of year, all around the league– time for the quality teams to separate themselves from the unlucky, underwhelming, and undeserving. In the NFC the Seahawks currently hold the 1-seed, but a leaky defense could spell trouble in the highly-competitive West, and looking around the conference the Packers, Saints, and Bucs all probably have more well-rounded teams than Seattle. Speaking of the Saints and Bucs, they meet this week in the Sunday-nighter, as Brady will look to even the score with Brees after New Orleans cruised to an easy Week 1 victory in the Superdome. Tampa seems to have figured some things out in recent weeks, so it’s no surprise that the banged-up Saints head into Sunday’s game as underdogs– but Brees is expected to get Michael Thomas back, so look out.

In the AFC, Pittsburgh remains the league’s only undefeated team at 7-0, and nobody expects that to change with a trip to Dallas on the horizon to face the 2-6 Cowboys and their sacrificial QB-of-the-Week. The 7-1 Chiefs are still the favorites to represent the conference in the Super Bowl, but the South features two good teams– the Titans and Colts– who could very easily overturn some tables in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the changing of the guard in the AFC East is all but official: after an incredible run of 11 consecutive division titles, the Patriots look to be dead for real this time, as last week’s loss to Buffalo dropped them to 3 games back of the Bills in the loss column (and 2 games back of the Dolphins). With an offense that ranks 30th in passing yards and 29th in points scored, there just doesn’t seem to be a path back to the postseason for the Pats. Expect the offseason firesale to be fast and furious.

Here are a few suggestions for Sunday:

Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings (MIN -3.5, 52.5)

Recommendation: Detroit +3.5 at 1.91

Last week’s feel-good win over Green Bay may have boosted Minnesota’s value in the betting marketplace and given people fresh appreciation for stud running back Dalvin Cook, but it doesn’t change the fact that this Vikings team has problems, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Youth, inexperience, and injuries have just been too much for Mike Zimmer’s defense to overcome this season, and the team now ranks 29th in yards allowed, 30th against the pass, and is giving up a staggering 30.6 points per game. Making matters worse, the already-struggling secondary is down three cornerbacks this week due to injury, and a fourth, Harrison Hand, is officially listed as questionable. Lions QB Matt Stafford– assuming he gets activated from the COVID list, which seems like a pretty safe assumption considering his wife confirmed via Instagram on Thursday that all tests thus far have been negative– is going to absolutely feast on this no-name Vikings secondary, and you can be sure that after watching Cook run all over the Packers last week, Matt Patricia will be doing all he can to crowd the line of scrimmage and force Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins to make plays with his arm, something Cousins has struggled to do with consistency. I actually think the Lions win this one outright, but given all the close games they’ve lost in the Patricia era, taking the points is probably a good idea.

Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars (HOU -7, 50.5)

Recommendation: Houston -7 at 2.0

The Texans have been the most toxic team in the league for bettors this season, covering just once in seven games. But they’ve been a bit better since the firing of Bill O’Brien, particularly on offense, as Deshaun Watson has thrown for 9 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards in his last three outings. They’re also coming off a bye, so you get the sense that these next couple of weeks represent their last real chance to turn the season around before they resort to shutting guys down and positioning for the draft. Lucky for them, they have the sad-sack Jaguars this week, a team that has lost 6 games in a row, with the last 5 coming by 8 points or more. Jacksonville will be starting unheralded rookie QB Jake Luton in this one, which meshes perfectly with the Tank for Trevor theme, so this is an excellent opportunity for the now-healthy Houston defense to get on the right track. My biggest concern about this one is it feels too easy… but honestly, betting against the Jags always feels obvious/easy, and it usually works out pretty well. And by the way– you know how Houston has only covered once in 7 games this season? Well, that cover came against these Jags, a 30-14 win back in Week 5. Don’t overthink this one– back the better team.

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts (pk, 47.5)

Recommendation: Indianapolis moneyline at 1.94

Baltimore’s battle with Pittsburgh last week was another classic chapter in the rivalry, with the Ravens coming up just short despite rushing for 265 yards. Lamar Jackson had an uneven game, completing just 13 of 28 passes for 208 yds, 2 TDs and 2 INTs, and while you certainly don’t want to overreact to the struggles of a player who has been absolutely electric since entering the league, it’s impossible to deny the pattern that has emerged since Tennessee upset Baltimore in last year’s playoffs, holding Jackson & Co. to 12 points: in 7 games this season, Jackson has thrown for 208 yards or fewer 6 times, and the Ravens now rank 31st in the NFL in passing offense, ahead of only the Jets. Now, I’m not saying the league has cracked the code on this Baltimore offense– the Ravens are averaging 29 points per game, after all– but it may look that way this week, as Indianapolis just might have the NFL’s best defense. The Colts rank 2nd in the league in total yards allowed, 3rd in points allowed, 5th against the pass, and they’re absolutely dominant against the run, surrendering just 79.9 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. The Indy offense, meanwhile, has put up 72 combined points in the team’s past two games, with Philip Rivers throwing for over 600 yards and 6 TDs. Rivers is clearly growing more comfortable with each passing week, while Jackson has been erratic with his arm and now faces his toughest test of the season. I like the Colts in this one.

Arizona Cardinals @ Miami Dolphins (ARI -4, 49)

Recommendation: Arizona -4 at 1.89

Sometimes you have to know when to get back on the horse after it bucks you, and I guess I haven’t yet learned my lesson with these Tua-led Dolphins after they proved me wrong last week by easily handling the Rams. But it was such an odd game– a game decided by LA’s mistakes on offense and special teams– that it didn’t change my fundamental observation, which is that Miami is not putting its best team on the field and is prioritizing Tua’s long-term development over short-term team success. Last week Tua looked exactly how you’d expect a rookie making his first career start to look– he was confused, tentative, and threw for a mere 93 yards on 22 attempts. Now he’ll be without the services of starting tailback Myles Gaskin, who was placed on IR this week, and will be facing a talented Arizona secondary that features one of the league’s top corners in Patrick Peterson. I don’t like his chances, and I’m not expecting much from the Miami offense, meaning it will be up to the Dolphins’ middling defense to contain an explosive Cardinals offense that leads the NFL in yards per game. I know Miami has been rolling lately, but I think the glass slipper falls off this week in a big way. Gimme the Cards here.