Before we delve into Week 9, let’s back up a minute and applaud the backups for stellar Week 8 performances. Mike White got it started for the Jets, and Trevor Siemian (New Orleans), Geno Smith (Seattle) and Cooper Rush (Dallas) followed suit as four backup quarterbacks led their teams to wins. Three of the underdogs’ teams were also underdogs in the all-important point spread.
Let last week be a lesson that the NFL is the ultimate unpredictable league. This week, there’s another huge backup angle as the Packers are forced to start Jordan Love. Can he continue the trend?
Underdogs went 8-6 against the spread (ATS) last week – with seven winning outright – and lead, 63-56-2, for the season.
My most confident picks ATS this week are San Francisco, Tennessee Green Bay and the L.A. Chargers. Stay away from Atlanta-New Orleans and Houston-Miami.
GAME OF THE WEEK
GREEN BAY (7-1) AT KANSAS CITY (4-4)
TV: Fox, 4:25 p.m.
Kansas City by 7.5; O/U: 48
This is what I wrote on Wednesday morning: Aaron Rodgers vs. Patrick Mahomes. The matchup has never materialized . . . until now. Yeahhhhhh, about that. I checked Twitter a few minutes later and saw the bombshell report that Rodgers had not only tested positive for the virus, but he was unvaccinated and ruled out for Sunday’s game. Enter Jordan Love, the Pack backup I know nothing about other than Rodgers wasn’t happy when Green Bay drafted him. This spread went from basically a pick ‘em to KC as a big favorite. Here’s the thing: The Packers can still win this game! As you saw on MNF against the Giants, KC is no longer a super team and the blueprint is out there defensively and offensively to stop Mahomes (NFL-high 10 INTs) and that once powerful machine. Green Bay (seven-game win streak, 6-0-1 run ATS) had the most impressive win of the ENTIRE season last week at unbeaten Arizona. The way its defense has played, plus its running game led by Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon means this will be closer than most think. Matt LaFleur will devise a smart game plan to give the Pack a strong chance at another surprising road win when everyone least expects it.
The pick: Green Bay
1 p.m. GAMES
LAS VEGAS (5-2) AT GIANTS (2-6)
Las Vegas by 3; O/U: 46.5
This is the ultimate trap game for the Raiders. Off a bye and hosting Kansas City in prime time next week, they get a Giant sandwich in between. The Raiders are 2-0 without Jon Gruden and rested while Big Blue just lost a tough one on MNF, so the visitors should win, right? Well, the last time a five-win team should have won at MetLife Stadium, the Bengals lost to the Jets just last week. Speaking of the Jets, the Raiders’ last two trips to New Jersey were a 34-3 loss in 2019 and last year’s miracle 31-28 win. If the Giants can get their heads set and quit making unforced errors, they can serve up an upset win. Call it Giants 24, Raiders 20.
The pick: Giants
DENVER (4-4) AT DALLAS (6-1)
Dallas by 10; O/U: 49.5
Even if Dak Prescott doesn’t play, Dallas can cover against an overmatched Denver team. The Cowboys are the only team undefeated ATS (7-0), and at this point, keep riding them until they give you a reason not to.
The pick: Dallas
MINNESOTA (3-4) AT BALTIMORE (5-2)
Baltimore by 6; O/U: 50
The Ravens are 10-3 after their bye week under coach John Harbaugh. That’s a great stat but I’m not the biggest believer in trends because there are so many variables (they lost after their bye last year). Minnesota’s four losses are by 3, 1, 7 and 4 points. The Vikings love to play close games and frustrate their fans. This feels like another three-point loss.
The pick: Minnesota
CLEVELAND (4-4) AT CINCINNATI (5-3)
Cincinnati by 2.5; O/U: 47
This battle of Ohio favors the hosts. Yes, they just lost as a double-digit favorite against the Jets, but that was last week. In fact, a humbling loss like that only makes me like Cincy more in this spot. The Browns are a mess, from Baker Mayfield’s injury and Odell Beckham Jr.’s drama, to last week’s 10-point showing at home. Joe Burrow threw for 6 TDs against the Browns last year in a pair of losses (35-30 and 37-34). He will have another big day, only this time in a win.
The pick: Cincinnati
NEW ENGLAND (4-4) AT CAROLINA (4-4)
New England by 3.5; O/U: 41
New England is getting hot at the right time and could make a playoff push. Carolina snapped a four-game skid last week but Sam Darnold (concussion protocol) may not play. He’s 0-3 against Bill Belichick with 6 INTs, though, so maybe the Panthers are better off if he sits this one out.
The pick: New England
ATLANTA (3-4) AT NEW ORLEANS (5-2)
New Orleans by 6.5; O/U: 42
The Saints have won six of the last seven meetings and should prevail again no matter who starts at quarterback. It’s a division battle, though, and those are usually tricky. Atlanta, a team I’ve backed just once all season, keeps this close.
The pick: Atlanta
BUFFALO (5-2) AT JACKSONVILLE (1-6)
Buffalo by 14.5; O/U: 48.5
The Bills would’ve covered this number in all five of their wins: 35-0, 43-21, 40-0, 38-20 an 26-11. Make it six.
The pick: Buffalo
HOUSTON (1-7) AT MIAMI (1-7)
Miami by 5.5; O/U: 46.5
Neither team has won since Week 1. Even the off-the-field trade rumors between the two turned out to be a lose-lose. In a lost season, this could be Tua Tagovailoa’s lone shot at a big win.
The pick: Miami
4 p.m. GAMES
LOCK OF THE WEEK
ARIZONA (7-1) AT SAN FRANCISCO (3-4)
San Francisco by 1; O/U: 45
This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the week. Arizona showed it was far from perfect in losing to the undermanned Packers on TNF last week. Kyler Murray is banged up, and this is a tough spot against a 49ers team that needs the game more. San Francisco dropped the first meeting, 17-10, but it was a 10-7 game midway through the fourth quarter. Rookie Trey Lance started that game and moved the ball well early but got no points. With Jimmy Garoppolo back, and the 49ers at home knowing this is probably their season, expect an all-out effort and win.
The pick: San Francisco
L.A. CHARGERS (4-3) AT PHILADELPHIA (3-5)
L.A. Chargers by 1.5; O/U: 50
Don’t be fooled by the Eagles’ 44-6 win at winless Detroit. They’re 0-3 at home and the Chargers are 2-1 on the road. This is a "get-right" game for L.A. as it snaps a two-game skid. When it’s this small a spread, always go with the better QB-coach combo, and this one is lopsided in favor of Justin Herbert and Brandon Staley.
The pick: L.A. Chargers
TENNESSEE (6-2) AT L.A. RAMS (7-1)
TV: NBC, 8:20 p.m.
L.A. Rams by 7.5; O/U: 53.5
The Titans lost Derrick Henry. The Rams added Von Miller. L.A. in a runaway, right? Not so fast. The lookahead line was Rams -4, and now it’s nearly double that?! When there’s an inflated line, it’s time to pounce. Teams have a tendency of rallying around losing a star player, and Mike Vrabel is the perfect guy to feed off the whole underdog angle. The Rams are my Super Bowl pick, but let’s not forget they were in a dogfight with the winless Lions a couple weeks ago. This will be a close game – not Kevin Dyson-tackled-at-the-1 close in the teams’ Super Bowl XXXIV meeting – but one-score-difference-in-the-fourth-quarter close.
The pick: Tenneseee
CHICAGO (3-5) AT PITTSBURGH (4-3)
TV: ESPN, 8:15 p.m.
Pittsburgh by 6.5; O/U: 40
The Steelers have won three in a row but they average just under 19 points, so I’m not thrilled laying a touchdown-plus. Still, this is a tough assignment for rookie Justin Fields: on the road, prime time, against an aggressive defense. Throw the (terrible) towel!
The pick: Pittsburgh
STAFF STANDINGS AND PICKS
(best bets in bold)
61-59-2 overall, 5-3 best bets
Last week: 6-9
Jets Giants Dallas Minnesota Cincinnati
New England Atlanta Buffalo Miami Green Bay
San Francisco L.A. Chargers Tennessee Pittsburgh
Last week: 6-9
Jets Giants Dallas Baltimore Cincinnati
New England New Orleans Buffalo Miami Green Bay
Arizona L.A. Chargers L.A. Rams Pittsburgh
Last week: 8-7
Jets Las Vegas Dallas Baltimore Cleveland
New England Atlanta Buffalo Houston Green Bay
Arizona L.A. Chargers L.A. Rams Chicago
Last week: 9-6
Jets Las Vegas Dallas Minnesota Cincinnati
New England New Orleans Buffalo Miami Kansas City
Arizona L.A. Chargers L.A. Rams Pittsburgh