NFL WEEK 9: This Week 9 began with a matchup between the league’s worst and the league’s best, as Philly cruised to a 29-17 win in Houston on Thursday night to remain the NFL’s lone unbeaten team. The Texans have sunk to irrelevance since the Deshaun Watson situation blew up and now sit at 1-6-1 on the season, with no star players or any tangible hope for the immediate future. They are the current leaders in the Bryce Young/C.J. Stroud sweepstakes, though there’s nothing more depressing to a fanbase than talking about the draft before Thanksgiving. Dark times in Houston…

Elsewhere around the league, the AFC-leading Bills will travel to MetLife Stadium for a rivalry game against the surprising Jets; Tom Brady will seek to get his Bucs a much-needed win against defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles; and Baltimore travels to New Orleans on Monday night for a tough matchup with a Saints team that has been better than people realize since Andy Dalton assumed control of the offense. There’s plenty of other action on tap in this Week 9, of course, and a few games that I feel very strongly about. Here are my favorites:

Miami Dolphins @ Chicago Bears (MIA -4.5, 45.5)

Recommendation: Chicago +4.5 at 1.91

Miami is 5-3 and just traded for Denver pass-rusher Bradley Chubb, leading many to declare the Dolphins a legit Super Bowl contender. But is the hype justified? Yes, they’ve won two straight games, but those wins came over Pittsburgh and Detroit, two of the league’s worst teams, and both were tight, one-score contests. Prior to that they had lost three straight by 43 combined points, and the defensive secondary has been an issue all season, as Miami is one of only four teams leaguewide to allow opposing QBs to post a combined quarterback rating of 100 or better. And despite his own gaudy quarterback rating that has been padded by playing with the NFL’s best WR tandem, Tua Tagovailoa’s uneven play makes the Miami offense less than the sum of its parts. This week Tua will be facing a tough Chicago defense that ranks 5th in the league against the pass, and the Bears seem to have finally found a successful formula on offense, one that showcases the legs of QB Justin Fields and has put Chicago at the top of the NFL’s rushing leaders. This is a tricky spot for a Miami team that might be a bit overrated at this point… gimme the home ‘dog.

Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals (ARI -2, 49)

Recommendation: Seattle moneyline (to win) at 2.15

The return of DeAndre Hopkins has been huge for the Arizona offense, as Kyler Murray has looked like a different player with Hopkins out there and the team has scored 68 points in two games after averaging only 19 ppg through the first six weeks of the season. That said, the Cards still lost in Minnesota last week after falling into a 14-3 hole that they could not escape, and the defense has been atrocious, surrendering more points this season than all but two teams leaguewide.

Seattle, meanwhile, might be the biggest surprise in the NFL, as most preseason prognosticators picked the Seahawks to finish last in their division after losing longtime QB Russell Wilson and replacing him with his backup, journeyman Geno Smith. But Smith has outplayed Wilson this season, and with rookie RB Kenneth Walker III running hard and the receiving corps continuing to present matchup problems for opposing defenses, the Seattle offense has really found a formula for success, putting up 32.6 ppg over the team’s last five contests and going 4-1 in that span. These teams met just three weeks ago and it was a ho-hum 10-point win for Seattle, and though Hopkins gives the Arizona offense some juice, I still don’t think the Cards will have enough to defeat a Seahawks team that may be among the NFC’s best. Fade the ‘Hawks with extreme caution… Pete Carroll’s bunch is better than people realize.

Los Angeles Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TB -3, 43)

Recommendation: Tampa Bay -3 at 2.01

The first half of the season hasn’t gone the way either of these teams envisioned, as the Rams have lost 3 of 4 and are struggling to get anything going on offense, while Tampa has been even worse, dropping 3 straight and 5 of 6 amidst a wave of injuries and off-field distractions (is it Gisele Ono, or Yoko Bundchen?). That said, the Bucs will be getting some key guys back this week, including CB Carlton Davis and DL Akiem Hicks, perhaps the team’s two best defensive players, and the offense showed definite signs of life last week with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Julio Jones all back on the field for the first time since Week 4, as Tom Brady threw for 325 yards and led three scoring drives in the 4th quarter, all 60 yards or longer. Look for Brady to find a rhythm against an LA defense that allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to go 21/25 last week en route to a 31-14 Niners win, and for the Bucs defense to smother a Rams offense that has become the Cooper Kupp show, to its detriment (has there been a more disappointing free agent acquisition than Allen Robinson?). I expect Tampa to get back on track here with a comfortable win.

Baltimore Ravens @ New Orleans Saints (BAL -2.5, 47)

Recommendation: New Orleans +2.5 at 1.96; New Orleans moneyline (to win) at 2.18

Many left the Saints for dead early in the season after injuries to their starting QB and top offensive playmakers reduced the team to a shell of its former self, but the offense found a new identity behind veteran QB Andy Dalton and a heavy dose of all-purpose weapon Taysom Hill, and it turns out the “new identity” is more effective than the old one, as coach Dennis Allen has named Dalton the permanent starter and the team has shifted to an approach that emphasizes the running game and a short, controlled passing attack.

Alvin Kamara has returned as the centerpiece of this new offense, and lately it’s been hard to argue with the results, as the Saints have scored 24 points or more in five consecutive games and are fresh off their best all-around performance of the season, a 24-0 demolition of the Vegas Raiders. The Baltimore defense has been surprisingly bad this season, ranking 24th in yards allowed and 28th against the pass, and backing the Ravens as a favorite is generally a bad idea, as they’re just 5-12 ATS (against the spread) when favored since the beginning of last year and haven’t covered as a fave since September. I have a hunch that streak will continue and that New Orleans will find a way to win this one outright.

DAQMAN Weds: Kempton NAP
DAQSTATS Weds: Kempton NAP
THE STRIKER Weds: Sunderland v Fulham (FA Cup)
THE EDGE Thurs: India v Australia 1st Test
PAT HEALY blog: The Perfect Festival!
THE WEEK AHEAD: Super Bowl week !!
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