We finally saw our first big upset last week, and it definitely came as a major surprise. The Cincinnati Bengals lost to Mike White and the New York Jets as the first favorites of more than seven points to go down this season. That initial shake-up serves as a reminder to everybody still alive that it can happen and big favorites can slip up.
You can never take anything for granted in the NFL. The Buffalo Bills, my pick last week, also had an unnecessary sweat for about three quarters before figuring it out and even covering the number late. My survivor entry is still alive in this weekly report, having used the Rams, Packers, Broncos, Bengals, Ravens, Cowboys, Patriots and Bills through eight weeks. The “Games to Consider” went just 2-2 last week and is now 22-5 straight up for the season.
Week 9 marks the midway point with the 17th game added to the regular-season this year. Let’s see what this week’s options are.
GAMES TO CONSIDER
Los Angeles Rams (-7.5) over Tennessee Titans
This is the first week in a while that survivor candidates are few and far between. By this point, most entrants have taken the Rams. There have been several chances to take this team and this is another one against a Titans bunch missing Derrick Henry for the first time.
The Rams were -4 on the lookahead line, got bumped to -6 when the number reopened and then got bumped again to -7.5 in the aftermath of the Henry announcement. There is not a whole lot of faith in the Tennessee defense in the investment community, and you can’t really blame anybody for that. With Henry out, the Titans’ prospects of outscoring the Rams to win go down significantly.
Last week’s Rams game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score made it look, as Houston even got inside the spread late. The Rams led 38-0 and actually became the first team ever to lead by 35 points and not cover the number. This is a much tougher game for the Rams, who lead the NFL in yards per play and have turned the ball over only seven times in eight games.
The Titans are fifth in points but 19th in yards per play, a nod to how much they rely on the running game and Henry. Now the game is in Ryan Tannehill’s hands against a solid Rams defense that just added another potential playmaker in Von Miller, and that seems like a big problem this week.
The obvious concern here is that the Rams have played a cast of nobodies the last three weeks, but this game took on a much different feel with Henry’s injury, and the Rams have no business losing it.
Dallas Cowboys (-10) over Denver Broncos
Like the Rams, the Cowboys have already been a pick for me, and my plan is to play this out as if it’s for real until I lose a game — and then I’ll just take what looks like the best pick of the week. I won’t say the Cowboys stole one with Cooper Rush against the Vikings, but it was a huge lift for a team that had the luxury of letting Dak Prescott get a little bit healthier.
Prescott should return here, but the Cowboys already have a 3.5-game lead in the NFC East. Home-field advantage could be there for the taking by season’s end, but three teams already are 7-1. You wonder if maybe, just maybe, the Cowboys decide later in the week to give Prescott more time. Even if they do, the Cowboys should still win, but the line is mostly priced as if Prescott will go.
Dallas is up to second in the NFL in yards per play. The Broncos are 21st. Denver’s defensive numbers still look good, but those are propped up by facing the Giants, Jaguars and Jets to start the season. The Ravens, Steelers, Raiders and Browns had much more success moving the ball.
The Cowboys appear to be a good option if they are still available and if your survivor pool doesn’t treat Thanksgiving as its own week. Otherwise, you may want to save them.
Buffalo Bills (-14.5) over Jacksonville Jaguars
If you haven’t taken Buffalo yet, this is one of the spots I had circled to take them. Like I wrote last week, I strongly considered saving the Bills for this week but decided I should take them against the Dolphins off the bye at home and use somebody else this week.
Teams off the bye have actually not played well to this point. The Cowboys and Vikings were both off byes last week, but in the other games, the team off the bye is 2-6 ATS to this point. The Bills looked out of sync and had one of their worst offensive performances of the season, but they rallied and figured it out. They also held the Dolphins’ offense in check to improve on the league’s best mark with 4.6 yards per play allowed.
Not only do I expect the Bills to win and play better, I also expect them to cover. They have an enormous coaching advantage, not to mention all the other advantages by simply being the better team. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was a finalist for the Jaguars gig, but they hired Urban Meyer instead. Daboll might put one on ’em just for the fun of it.
Indianapolis Colts (-10.5) over New York Jets
Going against the team that just pulled off the first survivor stunner does carry some risk, but the Colts are still the second-biggest favorite on the board. The Jets have been a great story this week and deserved that win, but the Bengals were in a pretty bad spot and had a lot of things go wrong at inopportune times, which is often how these big upsets happen.
Everybody has been talking about the ridiculously awful call on Mike Hilton for unnecessary roughness that turned a fourth-and-10 at the Jets’ 20 into an automatic first down to seal the game. Cincinnati led by 11 with 7:29 left and simply stopped playing, which was a huge concern coming into the game given the divisional sandwich spot off the huge Ravens win and with the Browns on deck.
The Colts can’t afford to let their guard down, not only after seeing what the Jets did but also because the door is slightly ajar in the AFC South now with Henry’s injury. So it is time to make up ground, even after basically giving away last week’s game with turnovers. Indianapolis also draws a first-time starter in White on a short week.
Even with last week’s offensive showcase for the Jets and disappointing performance from the Colts, Indy still has 5.6 yards per play to 5.0 for the Jets. The defenses are similar in yards per play, but one huge difference is that the Colts have 18 takeaways to tie for the lead in the NFL, and the Jets have only five.
I felt a lot more confident in the Colts before last week’s outcomes, but this is the situation you can get into if you don’t have better teams available. If I had a crystal ball, I’d have saved the Bills for this week and taken a different team, like the Chiefs. Instead, I have to thread the needle with a team that is still a double-digit favorite.
The Colts should still hold serve and keep the dream alive as this week’s pick.
Pick: Indianapolis Colts