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NFL Week 9 picks: Rams cover vs. Giants, Cowboys beat Chiefs, Packers lock of week

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, left,

Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay, left, talks with quarterback Jared Goff during the second half against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Los Angeles. Credit: AP / Jae C. Hong

The first half of this season has had more twists than the Southern State Parkway. Here’s hoping the second half is easier to navigate. It’s been an unpredictable, underdog-driven season, but favorites were in the driver’s seat for a second straight week. They went 8-4-1 against the spread (ATS), and 12-1 straight up (SU) in Week 8. Underdogs still have a 63-50-4 ATS lead for the season.

The theme for this week is desperation, as a number of teams need a win in the worst way. They may not get that “W,” but they could get the “C,” as in cover.

My most confident picks ATS this week: Packers, Rams, Jaguars and Broncos. A couple tricky games to avoid: Falcons-Panthers and Ravens-Titans.

RAMS (5-2) AT GIANTS (1-6), 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 5; Radio: WFAN (660, 101.9)

Rams by 3.5; O/U: 42

When Eli Manning and Ben McAdoo watch the Rams from the sideline, they’ll see what they thought the Giants would be this season: A fine-tuned, explosive offense. That’s where first-year head cocah Sean McVay has the surprising Rams, who are 5-2 thanks to the second-highest scoring offense (30.3 ppg) in the NFL. They also lead the league in third-down conversions at 49 percent, so expect sustained drives that will leave the Giants’ defense gassed in the fourth quarter. Both teams are coming off a bye, so the extra rest is a wash. L.A. has scored 46, 41, 35, 27 and 33 in its wins, and while Big Blue should be able to keep the Rams in the mid-to-high 20s, the Giants’ offense just doesn’t have enough firepower to keep up. Wade Phillips’ front four will get after Manning, and the much-improved Jared Goff and Todd Gurley will lead the Rams to a comfortable win.

The pick: Rams

LOCK OF THE WEEK

MONDAY NIGHT

LIONS (3-4) AT PACKERS (4-3)

Lions by 2.5; O/U: 43.5

Green Bay getting nearly a field goal at home? On Monday night? Off a bye? (Rubs hands together): This might be the steal of the year. Yes, we’re aware Brett Hundley and not Aaron Rodgers is starting, but the backup quarterback has had an extra week to sit with coach Mike McCarthy and game-plan for this matchup. Rodgers was also back with the team, passing along all his knowledge to Hundley as he preps for the prime-time spotlight. Bet on McCarthy having the perfect run-heavy, play-action attack (how’d Jordy Nelson get that wide open?) with a mix of Hundley runs as well. Aaron Jones has provided a boost to the Packers’ run game, with a pair of 100-plus yarders and three TDs. The Lions last week somehow lost a game in which Matthew Stafford threw for 423 yards as the Steelers kept turning them away inside the red zone. After a 3-0 start, the Lions appear to be the same old Lions, finding new ways to lose. Speaking of losing, Detroit is 1-25 its last 26 trips to Lambeau. Hundley and the Pack start strong and hold on for the win. Call it 24-20 Packers.

The pick: Packers

1 P.M. GAMES

FALCONS (4-3) AT PANTHERS (5-3)

Falcons by 1; O/U: 43.5

This NFC South matchup is a big one. Atlanta loses, and it falls further behind Carolina and New Orleans. The Falcons snapped a three-game skid last week, but their offense still can’t be trusted. They’ll have trouble moving the ball against the Panthers’ second-ranked defense (264 yards per game). Carolina snaps a three-game losing streak against Atlanta in a close one.

The pick: Panthers

BUCS (2-5) AT SAINTS (5-2)

Saints by 6.5; O/U: 51

Tampa Bay has lost four in a row and New Orleans has won five straight. The Bucs are 0-3 on the road but the desperation level will be through the roof for this one. The teams have split the last four meetings, with the average margin of victory at 6.5 points. Take the points: The Bucs have too much offensive talent to go down quietly.

The pick: Bucs

BRONCOS (3-4) AT EAGLES (7-1)

Eagles by 7.5; O/U: 43

Let’s call this matchup: The Eagles vs. Team Desperado. Philly, on a six-game win streak, is the NFL’s hottest team, whereas desperate Denver, losers of three straight, is one of the coldest. The easy pick is to just circle the Eagles, but this is a lot of points, so here’s the case for the Broncos to cover: Defense always travels and the Broncos still have a good one. Carson Wentz will be grounded a bit (for once) as Von Miller gets the best of a banged-up Eagles offensive line to help Denver stay inside the big number.

The pick: Broncos

BENGALS (3-4) AT JAGUARS (4-3)

Jaguars by 6; O/U: 39

If the Jaguars’ strong start to the season had to be summed up in a headline, it would read: Sad sacks to #Sacksonville! The Jags’ social media team changed the team’s Twitter handle to that after a 10-sack performance in Week 1. Jacksonville, er, Sacksonville, did it again at Indy in Week 7, making it just the third team to record two 10-sack games in one season. The Jags are coming off a bye and will be motivated to record back-to-back wins for the first time all year. They also haven’t treated the home crowd to a win yet — their only “home” victory this season was in London. Andy Dalton will be under pressure as the Jags add to their NFL-best 33 sacks. The Jags, led by a defense allowing the fewest points per game (15.7), look like a team on the rise, while the Bengals are still the Bungles. This should be a close, low-scoring game, with the Jags prevailing for the win and cover.

The pick: Jaguars

COLTS (2-6) AT TEXANS (3-4)

Texans by 7; O/U: 46

Houston was nearly a two-TD favorite in this game before the unfortunate season-ending injury to Deshaun Watson. Now, the spread’s around a touchdown with Tom Savage back at QB. What likely would’ve been a rout will now be a lot closer, but the Texans still have enough playmakers to cover this number against a a Colts defense that allows the NFL’s most points (30.8) and second-most yards (406.8).

The pick: Texans

RAVENS (4-4) AT TITANS (4-3)

Titans by 3; O/U: 43

Joe Flacco is expected to play, and the Ravens’ defense should keep this close and low scoring. Tennessee was on its bye last week, but Baltimore had extra rest, too, after its TNF rout. The Titans needed OT to beat the Browns and a big fourth quarter to put away the Colts, two of the NFL’s worst teams. Laying a field goal with a shaky Titans team is risky.

The pick: Ravens

4 P.M. GAMES

CHIEFS (6-2) AT COWBOYS (4-3)

Cowboys by 1; O/U: 51.5

The thought process on this pick was a lot how the game likely will play out: Back and forth. When Ezekiel Elliott was in, the Cowboys got the slight edge. Without him, though, it’s a lot closer call. Dallas is home, and a loss would drop them to 4-4. Plus, everyone doubting them could be a reason to back them here. The Chiefs got back on track Monday night but their defense can’t fully be trusted (see: Oakland game on TNF). Alfred Morris, Elliott’s backup, called the doubts about the Dallas running game “insulting because we’re pros,” via the team’s website. This has the potential to be a “whoever has the ball last, wins,” kind of game. Dak Prescott will find a way late, and Morris and that big Dallas O-line will have success against a Chiefs defense that allows the fifth-most rushing yards per game at 131.1.

The pick: Cowboys

REDSKINS (3-4) AT SEAHAWKS (5-2)

Seahawks by 7?; O/U: 45

What did the Redskins do to the schedule makers? After back-to-back losses to the Eagles and Cowboys, a banged-up Washington team now has to travel to Seattle. The offensive line is especially hurting, and that’s not a good sign against the Seahawks’ defense. Seattle — and the under — are the smart plays.

The pick: Seahawks

CARDINALS (3-4) AT 49ERS (0-8)

Cardinals by 2.5; O/U: 39.5

San Francisco got its first win this week . . . when it traded for Jimmy Garoppolo. He won’t be playing in this one, so that actual first win likely will have to wait. The 49ers lost, 18-15, to the Cards in Week 4, a game in which Arizona needed nearly all of OT to pull it off. If the 49ers won, it wouldn’t be a shock. Still, play the Cards off a bye after they were decked in London. Drew Stanton won at San Fran last season filling in for Carson Palmer, and he will do it again thanks to a monster game from Larry Fitzgerald.

The pick: Cardinals

SUNDAY NIGHT

RAIDERS (3-5) AT DOLPHINS (4-3)

Raiders by 3; O/U: 44

Me after taking the Dolphins last Thursday night: Never. Picking. Them. Again. After that 40-0 debacle, Miami then went and traded its top running back. So what in the world changed my mind? Well, the lopsided loss on national TV can test a team’s pride, and the game being in prime time works in their favor, too. Oh, and they’re home and getting points against a 3-5 Oakland team that has allowed 30 or more points in three of its last four games. Let’s face it: This team was clearly over-Raided.

The pick: Dolphins

Staff Standings and Picks (Best bets in bold)

JOE MANNIELLO

50-65-4 overall, 2-6 best bets

Last week: 5-7-1

Rams Panthers Bucs Broncos

Jaguars Texans Ravens Cowboys

Seahawks Cardinals Dolphins Packers

BOB GLAUBER

48-67-4 overall, 4-4 best bets

Last week: 6-6-1

Rams Panthers Saints Eagles

Jaguars Texans Titans Cowboys

Seahawks 49ers Dolphins Packers

TOM ROCK

53-62-4 overall, 2-6 best bets

Last week: 9-3-1

Rams Falcons Saints Eagles

Jaguars Texans Ravens Chiefs

Redskins Cardinals Raiders Lions

CALVIN WATKINS

48-53-3 overall, 4-3 best bets

Last week: 8-4-1

Rams Falcons Bucs Eagles

Jaguars Texans Titans Chiefs

Seahawks 49ers Raiders Lions

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