Get ready to witness one heck of an NFC battle…
The unofficial start of the NFL season’s second half couldn’t have provided us with more storylines.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will look to pretty much put an end to the Baltimore Ravens’ division championship aspirations during the early slate. Once the clock turns to the later afternoon action, we’re going to witness one heck of an NFC battle between the undefeated Rams and one-loss Saints.
Meanwhile, Tom Brady and the Patriots will attempt to further Green Bay’s slide when Aaron Rodgers and Co. travel to Gillette Stadium for a Sunday Night Football Clash.
These are among the top storylines for each Week 9 NFL game.
Oakland Raiders at San Francisco 49ers: Sad ending to a bitter rivalry
For the final time as Northern California rivals, these two teams will do battle under the lights at Levi’s Stadium on Thursday night. With the Raiders set to move to Las Vegas in 2020 and after the NFL ended this preseason rivalry, it’s the final time we’re going to see them do battle in their current form.
Unfortunately, both Oakland and San Francisco come into Week 9 with 1-7 records and as two of the worst teams in the NFL. That’s really not the way either team wanted to end a rivalry that’s existed for the past quarter century. And the only thing really on the line here is draft positioning. You might actually be better off watching the college football action or seeing if Klay Thomson can drop 80.
Atlanta Falcons at Washington Redskins: Adrian Peterson’s re-emergence
This future Hall of Fame running back had flown under the radar since landing in D.C. That changed big time in last week’s win over the New York Giants. Peterson put up 149 rushing yards and scored both of Washington’s touchdowns. He’s now on pace for north of 1,700 total yards for a Skins team that heads into Week 9 in first place in the NFC East. Imagine that.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Peterson performs and whether his success can be considered consistent moving forward. With Alex Smith and the Redskins’ passing attack struggling, they’ll need him to keep up this performance. On Sunday, he’ll have to do so against a Falcons defense that yielded less than 70 rushing yards to the Giants in their most-recent game.
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings: Getting back on track
These two NFC North rivals are coming off bad Week 8 losses against fellow conference opponents. For the Lions, that included a blowout home loss to the Seattle Seahawks in which their defense gave up 413 total yards to Russell Wilson and Co. That’s just not going to cut it for a defensive-minded first-year coach in Matt Patricia. It also has Detroit in last place in an average division heading into Week 9.
Speaking of average, that’s exactly what the Vikings have been thus far this season. They boast a 4-3-1 record through the first half of the campaign and are coming off a bad home loss to New Orleans. Simply put, it’s time for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings to turn things around before this gets ugly. A game against Detroit could very well act as the tonic Minnesota needs.
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers: Battling for relevance
At 4-4 on the season and with losses in three of their past four games, the Ravens simply can’t afford to fall further behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North. The good news here? Baltimore defeated Pittsburgh at home back in Week 4. A season sweep of the division rivals would go a long way in making these Ravens relevant in the division race moving forward on the season.
The bad news? Pittsburgh has gotten it worked out after a sluggish start to the season. It has won three consecutive games and is averaging 34 points per outing during that span. In a game between two teams going in opposite directions, Baltimore needs to stem the tide in a big way.
Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns: Gregg Williams coaching debut
In relatively shocking fashion this week, the Browns fired both head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The Jackson firing wasn’t surprising given his lack of success as the team’s head coach. Though, moving on from Haley and naming defensive coordinator Gregg Williams the interim coach baffled a ton of onlookers.
At 2-5-1 on the season, Cleveland isn’t battling for a playoff spot. This doesn’t mean the team hasn’t been more competitive than we’ve seen in the past. There’s a logical argument we can make that the Browns should be 6-2 at the halfway point of the season. Alas, that’s not the case. Now set to take on a 7-1 Chiefs squad, how this team performs in Williams’ debut will be intriguing.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins: Adam Gase fighting for his job
The Dolphins have now lost four out of five since a 3-0 start to the season. At 4-4, the team remains barely alive in the AFC Playoff race. But let’s be real for a second. This doesn’t have the look of a playoff team. Brock Osweiler continues to struggle while replacing the injured Ryan Tannehill under center and the Dolphins’ defense is just giving up too many big plays.
The question now is whether Adam Gase will soon follow Hue Jackson in the unemployment line. After leading Miami to a surprise playoff appearance in his first season with the team back in 2016, Gase boasts a 10-14 record as head coach. That’s just not going to cut it for the powers to be in South Beach. And a home loss to New York could bring an end to Gase’s tenure with the team.
Chicago Bears at Buffalo Bills: Your first-place Chicago Bears
It’s somewhat humorous to realize that Chicago headed into Week 8 in last place in the NFC North, only to come out of the week’s slate in first place. Such is a nature of the beast in a division that sees every team around .500 heading into the second half of the season. To say that Matt Nagy’s squad has been a surprise this year would be an understatement. Mitch Trubisky has taken that next step under center and the Bears’ defense is one of the best in the NFL.
We’re not expecting Chicago to be tested too much Sunday against a Bills team that will trot out Nathan Peterman under center. Yeah, that’s still a thing. Following their loss to New England last week, the Bills are 2-6 and averaging less than 11 points per game. This should be a fun one from Chicago’s perspective.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers: Rolling with Ryan Fitzpatrick
This move was needed. After tossing four interceptions in last week’s loss to Cincinnati, former No. 1 pick Jameis Winston was benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick. The veteran will now start Week 9 after almost leading Tampa Bay to a comeback in said game against the Bengals. For his part, Fitzpatrick has been darn good this season. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns compared to five interceptions and leads the NFL in both yards per completion and yards per attempt.
As it relates to Winston, we’re going to be intrigued to see how this situation plays out. His salary of $20-plus million for next season is guaranteed for injury only. If the Bucs have in fact decided to move on from him, they would be smart to keep him inactive and have third-stringer Ryan Griffin active on game days.
Los Angeles Chargers at Seattle Seahawks: Huge statement game
For both teams. That’s the narrative we’re going to throw out there for this game between two former AFC West rivals. Coming out of its bye, Los Angeles boasts a 5-2 record. Its only two losses on the season have come against the Chiefs and Rams. Not too shabby, especially considering Philip Rivers and Co. are outscoring their opponents by nearly 11 points per game during their four-game winning streak.
Shockingly, Seattle also heads into Week 9 on a high note. It has won four out of five since an 0-2 start to the season. That span has seen Russell Wilson’s squad average 26 points per game with Chris Carson stepping up at running back. In one of the best games of the week, we’re expecting a tightly-contested affair in the Pacific Northwest.
Houston Texans at Denver Broncos: Demaryius Thomas against former team
We don’t see this every day around the NFL. Mere days after being traded from the Broncos to Houston, Thomas will suit up against his former team in Denver on Sunday. It was one of the odd twists in what was a very active trade deadline around the league. It’s also going to be highly entertaining to see Thomas go up against former teammates, Von Miller and Chris Harris.
From an on-field perspective, the acquisition of Thomas is absolutely huge for a Texans team that’s riding a five-game winning streak. It lost Will Fuller to a torn ACL last week and needed help behind DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver. A four-time Pro Bowler, Thomas should definitely be that. Whether it happens against his former team in his Texans debut remains to be seen.
Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints: NFC’s two-best teams do battle
This is probably the best game we’ve seen thus far during the 2018 season. Los Angeles’ excellence is already known. It remains the NFL’s only undefeated team at 8-0 and is winning by an average of nearly two touchdowns per outing. Todd Gurley is a legit MVP candidate. Meanwhile, one of the NFL’s top defenses got even more talented at the trade deadline.
In a game that could be for home-field advantage in the NFC, New Orleans will be looking to make a major statement. The team has won six consecutive after a season-opening loss, outscoring its opponents by nearly 10 points per game during that span. Can Drew Brees and Co. hold serve at home while making a major statement here? Only time will tell.
Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots: Must win for the road team
Green Bay’s loss to the Rams last week was big in that it really had an opportunity to win in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, recently traded running back Ty Montgomery did not give MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers that opportunity. It now has the Packers at 3-3-1 on the season and as close to last place in the NFC North as first place. That’s not where Rodgers and Co. expected to be heading into the official midway point of the season.
The larger-scale issue here is that Green Bay will now have to take to Gillette Stadium against the red-hot Patriots under the lights. That has not been a good recipe for opposing teams during the Tom Brady era. And a loss here would send the Packers into a tailspin they might not be able to recover from. Yeah, it’s a must-win game.
Tennessee Titans at Dallas Cowboys: Amari Cooper’s Cowboys debut
There’s no rest for the weary. Dallas traded a first-round pick to Oakland for Cooper as a way to help its fledgling offense this season. Cooper isn’t going to be gradually thrown into the mix. He’ll be asked to do a whole lot for a Cowboys squad that heads into Week 9 in must-win territory. Whether that happens remains to be seen.
The good news here is that Cooper will be going up against one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL in the form of Malcolm Butler. From a team-wide perspective, Tennessee’s pass defense ranks ninth in the league. That will make it tough sledding for Dak Prescott when he’s not targeting Cooper.