TSN Football Expert Chris Schultz returns with his weekly NFL picks every Thursday
Locks of the Week
New York Jets (+3) vs. Buffalo
The Bills have 13 takeaways in their last four games. If they continue to win the turnover battle by a significant margin they’re destined to be a playoff contender. Management in Buffalo made a statement with the trade for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin on deadline day. While it might take him some time to reach his full potential, there’s no doubt he will add another element to the Bills offence. However, home field is always a significant advantage on Thursday Night Football and New York has enough talent to at least keep this game close. The Jets have struggled when it matters the most in the fourth quarter, blowing back-to-back leads while being outscored 26-3 in the final frame. If they can perform better in the fourth quarter they will keep this game close and cover as a three-point home underdog.
Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) @ New York Giants
Both teams are coming off their bye weeks, but the Rams and Giants are heading in opposite directions heading in to the second half of the season. The suspension of cornerback Janoris Jenkins is yet another blow to a New York roster that has already been hit hard by injuries this season. Without Jenkins, Rams second-year quarterback Jared Goff should be much more comfortable targeting wide receiver Sammy Watkins in the passing game. Meanwhile, Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein is as reliable as they come and has made 21-of-22 field goal attempts this season. If the offence stalls, this team knows they have a reliable option to consistently bail them out in the kicking game. First-year head coach Sean McVay has done an excellent job in Los Angeles and should have his team ready on the road this week. I’ll take the Rams to win and cover in New York.
Jacksonville (-4.5) vs. Cincinnati
Two weeks ago, the Jaguars beat the Indianapolis Colts 37-0. Last week, Cincinnati barely scraped by that same Indianapolis team by a single point in a 24-23 win. Jacksonville has alternated wins and losses every week so far this season, but if performances against their most recent common opponent are any indication they should have no problem ending that trend this week. The Jaguars are coming off a bye week, which came at the perfect time for star rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who was dealing with an ankle injury. Fournette was listed as a full participant in practice on Wednesday and he could be in for a big performance against Cincinnati. Meanwhile, the Jacksonville defence has been exceptional this season with 33 sacks and 16 takeaways. That defence is primed to make things very difficult for Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on Sunday. The Jaguars win and cover at home.
Detroit (-3) @ Green Bay
The Lions were snake bitten in last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football when they produced 482 total yards on offence and didn’t score a single touchdown. History isn’t on their side this week either as Green Bay has won 25 of the last 26 meetings between these teams at Lambeau Field. However, the Packers look like a completely different team with Brett Hundley at quarterback instead of Aaron Rodgers and I just can’t see him outshining Matthew Stafford in this contest. Detroit’s defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, will do everything he can to keep Hundley in the pocket and force him to make difficult throws downfield. At 3-4, the Lions absolutely need to win this game to stay in the playoff hunt at midseason. I’ll take Detroit to win and cover at Green Bay.
Indianapolis (+7) @ Houston
The Texans looked like a legitimate playoff contender before losing their star rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson to a serious knee injury. Now they’ll have to turn back to veteran Tom Savage, who was benched in favour of Watson after just one half of football in Week 1. The oddsmakers have adjusted Houston from an 11-point favourite to a seven-point favourite at home this week, but it’s hard to overestimate just how big of a loss this is. The Colts have only two wins this season but Jacoby Brissett and company are more than capable of keeping this game close on the road. I’ll take Indianapolis to cover on Sunday.
Tampa Bay (+6.5) @ New Orleans
The Saints are marching, with five straight wins to improve to 5-2 on the season. Balance has been the key to the early season success in New Orleans with an improved defence and an intriguing tandem at running back in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. These teams appear to be headed in opposite directions heading in to Week 9, but I’m not ready to give up on Tampa Bay just yet. The Buccaneers are in what amounts to a must-win situation this week and will throw everything they have at the Saints. New Orleans might win at home, but I’ll take Tampa Bay to keep it close and cover as road underdogs.
Seattle (-7) vs. Washington
Washington has been absolutely ripped apart by injuries, including most importantly on the offensive line, losing three of five starters. The lack of talent on the line really showed in last week’s 33-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys as the Redskins just couldn’t protect quarterback Kirk Cousins in the pocket. Washington will face an even tougher test this week on the road against a talented Seattle defence. Russell Wilson was brilliant for the Seahawks in last week’s 41-38 win over Houston. Seattle desperately needs to develop some semblance of an efficient rushing attack. Perhaps the addition of tackle Duane Brown helps them do that while also protecting Wilson in the pocket. The Seahawks are trending in the right direction with four straight wins and I expect that win streak to continue at home on Sunday. Seattle wins and covers at home.
Kansas City (-1) @ Dallas
The Ezekiel Elliott suspension hangs over the Cowboys heading in to Week 9 after a couple of dominant performances in back-to-back wins over San Francisco and Washington. Elliott accounted for 373 total yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in those last two wins. He will be sorely missed by a Dallas offence that will turn to Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden at the running back position this week. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys offence fares in their first test without Elliott. Meanwhile, Kansas City will have its star rookie running back in the lineup. Kareem Hunt leads the NFL with 1,070 total yards from scrimmage this season and could be in for a big day against the Cowboys. I expect Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters to keep Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant in check and force Dak Prescott to try to win the game with his other options. Kansas City is one of the most complete teams in the NFL. I’ll take the Chiefs to roll on Sunday.
Atlanta (+1) @ Carolina
This might be the toughest game of Week 9 to pick, with the Falcons on the road to play Carolina in an NFC South showdown. This will be the third straight road game for Atlanta, which is still in contention for a division crown at 4-3. Meanwhile, the Panthers return home following two in a row on the road and looked impressive in last week’s 17-3 win over the Buccaneers. It will be interesting to see how the Carolina offence fares without wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who led the team in receiving yards before he was traded to Buffalo earlier this week. The Falcons defence understands what it will take to keep Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the pocket and force him to beat them with his arm rather than being able to use his legs to burn them on the ground. Atlanta is coming off a big win over the Jets in which they rallied back in the fourth quarter for the victory and I think they will carry over the momentum from that game. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has plenty of weapons, with wide receivers Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu as well as tight end Austin Hooper. It’s only a matter of time before the Atlanta offence clicks, so maybe this is the week they get it done. The Falcons have won three in a row against the Panthers heading in to this matchup. I’ll take Atlanta to keep that streak going in a close win this Sunday.
Philadelphia (-8.5) vs. Denver
The Eagles are rolling right now at 7-1 and quarterback Carson Wentz is a legitimate MVP candidate. The addition of running back Jay Ajayi will provide another weapon for an offence that already ranks fourth in the NFL with an average of 29.0 points per game this season. Meanwhile, the Broncos are trending in the opposite direction thanks to some major issues at the quarterback position. Trevor Siemian is coming off one of the worst games of his career in last week’s 29-19 loss to Kansas City and the pressure is mounting for Denver to make a change. Head coach Vance Joseph said that he won’t turn to 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch if the Broncos make a change at quarterback as Lynch is still recovering from a shoulder strain. That means Brock Osweiler will likely be the starting quarterback on Sunday. With all of the uncertainty surrounding the quarterback situation in Denver, the Eagles should have no problem winning and covering at home this weekend.
Risky at Best
Baltimore (+4) @ Tennessee
Baltimore is expected to have quarterback Joe Flacco back under centre despite the fact that it seemed obvious he would miss some time due to a concussion following a brutal hit from Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. The Ravens are coming off an impressive 40-0 win over Miami, so perhaps that confidence carries over to this week with Flacco in the lineup. Regardless of Flacco’s status, Baltimore should continue to lean heavily on running back Alex Collins, who averaged 6.3 yards per carry while rushing for 113 yards against the Dolphins. Tennessee will attempt to get back to the basics following its bye week with a heavy dose of running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Marcus Mariota has dealt with nagging injuries early on this year, so it will be important to establish a run game early on Sunday. The Titans might win at home coming off a bye, but I’ll take Baltimore to cover the spread in what should be a close matchup.
Arizona (-2) @ San Francisco
The 49ers took a shot on Jimmy Garoppolo when they traded a second-round pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for the fourth-year passer earlier this week. San Francisco has suffered five losses this season by three points or less and might have won one of those games with better quarterback play. While this could be a very good fit in the long term, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound quarterback will need a crash course in terminology in Kyle Shanahan’s offence as he attempts to catch up on the fly this week. Meanwhile, Arizona will turn to Drew Stanton following an injury to Carson Palmer. It will be interesting to see if he can keep the Cardinals in the playoff mix. A big game from running back Adrian Peterson would go a long way towards Arizona improving to .500 with a win over San Francisco. I’ll take the Cardinals to win and cover as small favourites.
Oakland (-3) @ Miami
The Dolphins are 4-3 but coming off a blowout loss to Baltimore and they just traded their star running back to Philadelphia. Miami will be in tough to bounce back this week against a Raiders team that is desperate for a win following a disappointing loss to the Buffalo Bills last week. At 3-5, this is essentially a must-win game for Oakland on the road. A year ago, the Raiders made the playoffs with a plus-16 turnover differential. So far this season they have a minus six turnover differential with 11 turnovers compared to just five takeaways. If Derek Carr and company can do a better job protecting the football, Oakland might still have enough time left to turn its season around.