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Week 9 NFL Picks

The Saints were left for dead three weeks ago. Now they’re thinking playoffs. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

Week 7: 12 – 2 – 0
Last Week: 9 – 5 – 0
Season: 80 – 39 – 0

Thursday Recap

Browns 10 at Bengals 31
At the very least, Johnny Manziel proved he’s a competent NFL quarterback. He’s not careless with the football, he can extend plays and then make throws on the move, and in the limited times he’s run with the football, he avoids getting his clock cleaned. All are important attributes of a mobile quarterback. On the other hand, Manziel’s precision is still lacking. The Cleveland offense is better with Josh McCown under center. At 2-7, Cleveland’s season is over. There is no postseason. Do they let Manziel develop over the next 7 games and hope he earns the starting job for 2016, or do they put McCown back in and try to win meaningless football games? McCown has absolutely earned his starting role, but at the same time, it’s unlikely the Browns see the 36 year old as their future. While it’d be the 2nd time in 3 years McCown would be benched by no fault of his own, it makes sense for Cleveland to find out once and for all if Manziel is worth grooming into a franchise QB.

Early Games (1:00PM ET)

Packers at Panthers
There’s been a lot of talk about Cam Newton’s QBR being lower than Colin Kaepernick’s. Kaepernick has fewer interceptions, more yards and a higher completion percentage than Newton. Newton is an MVP candidate. Kaepernick has been benched for Blaine Gabbert. What gives? Here’s the best way I can explain it. Cam Newton, while being a lousy quarterback for most of the 2015 season, has been an exceptional football player. He’s held Carolina’s offense together despite the absence of its top receiver. When the Panthers need a score, Newton gets it. He’s not consistent. His mechanics are a mess at times. His interceptions have been really bad of late. But he wins. Winning cures all in sports. When/if the Panthers start losing, Newton’s warts will be more evident and the criticisms will poor in. Until then, he gets MVP love while Kaepernick takes a seat. Life isn’t fair sometimes. PACKERS If I were Charles Barkley; Packers -2.5

Redskins at Patriots
The Patriots have committed three turnovers this season. Three. That’s insane. Tom Brady really is going to play until he’s 45, isn’t he? PATRIOTS If I were Charles Barkley; Patriots -14

Titans at Saints
I’ll be the first to admit I gave up on the Saints after their 1-4 start. Drew Brees looked washed up and the defense was once again, horrendous. Well, the defense may still be horrendous, but goodness gracious does Brees look like a new man. He’s completing passes downfield again, something he struggled to do all of last season. He’s protecting the football better, again, something he struggled with all of last season. The red zone offense has also improved despite the departure of Jimmy Graham. In 2014, the Saints scored touchdowns on only 48% of their red zone visits at home. In 2015, that number is up to 71%. Given the recent fall of the Falcons, and the creampuff schedule ahead for New Orleans, the playoffs are a real possibility for the once left-for-dead Saints. If Rob Ryan’s defense could be a little less horrible that would certainly help, too. SAINTS If I were Charles Barkley; Saints -8

Dolphins at Bills
With Ben Roethlisberger back it’s hard to imagine the AFC East nabbing three playoff spots. Thus, this is a big game as both teams want to remain within striking distance of the 2nd place Jets. With Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins returning from injury, the Bills will have more offensive firepower than they’ve had in nearly a month. However, Buffalo’s issues have stemmed from their defense. That unit was supposed to be a top five unit. It’s been anything but an elite defense. A lot of the blame can be directed at the pass rush. In 2014, the Bills sacked opposing quarterbacks 54 times. Pressure often leads to turnovers. The Bills were 3rd in the NFL with 30 turnovers. In 2015, the Bills have only sacked the quarterback 11 times while forcing 11 turnovers. Rex Ryan was supposed to elevate an already great defense to legendary status. Instead they’ve gotten worse. Way worse. BILLS If I were Charles Barkley; Bills -3

Rams at Vikings
I love both these teams. They’re both smack dab in the middle of what promises to be an awesome Wildcard race in the NFC. The Vikings could even grab the NFC North crown. Don’t count them out. This week, though, I like the Rams. RAMS If I were Charles Barkley; Rams +1.5

Jaguars at Jets
Only in the AFC South can the 2-5 Jaguars be a game out of 1st place. The Jets shouldn’t get too cocky, though. The lowly Jaguars are 2-1 against the AFC East. And with the Colts hosting the Broncos this week and Houston on a bye, the door is open for Jacksonville to slide into a tie for 1st place in the AFC South. Hey, it could happen. JETS If I were Charles Barkley; Jaguars +7.5

Raiders at Steelers
The loss of LeVeon Bell, while painful, shouldn’t devastate Pittsburgh’s offense. DeAngelo Williams was one of the NFL’s top backs in Bell’s absence earlier in the season. With Ben Roethlisberger returning, Antonio Brown should return to his normal 8-10 receptions a game. In general, the entire offense should open up as Roethlisberger settles in. In the lousy AFC, the Steelers are a near lock for a Wildcard spot. STEELERS If I were Charles Barkley; Steelers -4

Afternoon Games (4:05PM ET)

Giants at Buccaneers
The Giants should be running away with the NFC East. Instead, they’re giving up 52 points to the Saints, luckily beating the injury plagued Cowboys, getting walloped by the horrific Eagles and barely sneaking past the now 2-6 49ers. I’ve given up trying to figure out the Eli Manning-led Giants. GIANTS If I were Charles Barkley; Giants -2.5

Falcons at 49ers
Before the Falcons Week 8 loss to the Buccaneers, Matt Ryan said he was healthy and just needed to play better. Um, yeah. Look at it this way, in seven quarters against the Titans and Buccaneers, the Falcons mustered only 13 points. This is supposed to be one of the NFL’s premiere offenses. To score only 13 points against the 14th (Titans) and 28th (Bucs) ranked scoring defenses is embarrassing. Julio Jones is the NFL’s most dangerous offensive threat outside of Rob Gronkowski. Devonta Freeman is a yard-churning machine. Matt Ryan is the only thing holding this offense back. Ryan is thisclose to careening down the Matthew Stafford/Jay Cutler career path. Atlanta finally busted out of their offensive slump in the 4th quarter against Tampa Bay. I’m not convinced it’ll carry over unless Ryan gets right. FALCONS If I were Charles Barkley; Falcons -7

Broncos at Colts
If Denver’s running game is truly back, if last week’s dominating performance by Ronnie Hillman and CJ Anderson wasn’t a fluke, then whooooo watch out for the Broncos. With how good that defense is the Broncos don’t need much from their offense. They’ve proven as much through half the season. If Denver can move the football and eat clock while scoring points, the Bronco defense becomes even scarier. Opposing offenses will get more desperate with fewer opportunities. The defense will be more rested. I’m not ready to declare the 2015 Broncos defense better than the 2013 Seahawks, but they’re trending that way. BRONCOS If I were Charles Barkley; Broncos -5

Sunday Night (8:30PM ET)

Eagles at Cowboys
If the NFL distributed wins and losses based on performance and not score, the Cowboys would be 4-3 and riding a two game win streak. Despite injuries, the Cowboys outplayed both the Giants and Seahawks in consecutive weeks. Special team errors and backup QB turnover problems scuttled solid team performances. There’s no doubt in my mind the Cowboys will win the NFC East IF they can somehow win two of their next three. Doing so would put Dallas at 4-6 with Tony Romo returning. A 5-1 or 4-2 finish, while difficult, isn’t impossible. 9-7 should win the NFC East. 8-8 puts you in the conversation. With the Eagles, Bucs and Dolphins ahead, and the latter two on the road, getting two wins with a backup QB isn’t a given, but it’s doable. I’m taking the Eagles because they lead the NFL in takeaways and Matt Cassel is way too generous with the football. EAGLES If I were Charles Barkley; Eagles -3

Monday Night (8:30PM ET)

Bears at Chargers
After a solid run, Week 9 finally handed the Monday Night Football franchise its first meaningless game of the season. In fairness to the Bears, they’re a bounce or two away from 4-3. Two weeks ago they fell to the Lions in overtime after surrendering 10 points in the final 3 minutes of regulation. Last week, they did the same thing against the Vikings. Except this time, they allowed the 10 points in less than 2 minutes. Impressive. CHARGERS If I were Charles Barkley; Chargers -4

*****

If I were Charles Barkley;
Week 7: 11 – 3 – 0
Last Week: 8 – 6 – 0
Season: 60 – 55 – 4

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