Week 9 NFL score predictions: A guide to best games, more

We’re previewing the Week 9 NFL slate with score predictions for each game from our Nation reporters, what to watch for in fantasy, Football Power Index projections from ESPN Stats & Information and much more.

Thursday Night Football result: SF 34, OAK 3
Teams with byes in Week 9: CIN, IND, NYG, PHI, ARI, JAX


Steelers (4-2-1) at Ravens (4-4): 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Point spread: BAL -3 | Matchup quality: 78.5 (of 100)

Jeremy Fowler’s pick: The Steelers have lost four of their five games in Baltimore since 2011, averaging 16.1 points per game. Pittsburgh is good enough to manufacture yards on the road, but Baltimore knows how to control the tempo in this matchup. And the Ravens are desperate to stop a two-game slide. Ravens 21, Steelers 17

Jamison Hensley’s pick: The Ravens are banged up, but they’re desperate because a loss would put a significant dent in their playoff hopes. This is the time of the season when Baltimore gets hot under coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens have the NFL’s best record in November (30-12) since the start of the 2008 season. Ravens 24, Steelers 23

FPI win projection: BAL, 58.3 percent. This game has the most impact on divisional races of any game in Week 9. The winner will become the favorite to win the AFC North, according to FPI. The Steelers would have a 72 percent chance to win the division with a victory (37 percent with a loss), while the Ravens would have a 42 percent chance with a win (10 percent with a loss).

What to watch for in fantasy: John Brown had a monster game against the Steelers in Week 4, and there’s no reason to believe they can control him now. Read more.

In case you missed it: Conner’s numbers hard to ignore, with or without Le’Veon … Suggs in PG mode, even for Steelers … Harbaugh begins his most critical stretch

Chiefs (7-1) at Browns (2-5-1): 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Point spread: KC -8.5 | Matchup quality: 48.7 (of 100)

Adam Teicher’s pick: The Browns have allowed 30 points per game over their past five games and that won’t cut it against the Chiefs, who lead the NFL in scoring at more than 36 per game. So it’s on the Cleveland offense to keep up with the Chiefs, and that’s not likely. Cleveland has scored more than 23 points just once this season, and even if it does it again against a wobbly Kansas City defense, it won’t be enough. Chiefs 37, Browns 24

Pat McManamon’s pick: Optimism exploded this week when the Browns fired their coach (Hue Jackson) and offensive coordinator (Todd Haley). Now a team that gave up 33 to Pittsburgh is staring down the barrel of the best offense in the league and a quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) who has three consecutive games with four touchdown passes. This one has ugly written all over it. Chiefs 44, Browns 17

FPI win projection: KC, 78.1 percent. Mahomes has been on an incredible run and leads the NFL in Total QBR (83.8) this season, but will the Browns be the ones to slow him down? Cleveland has allowed a league-low 31.3 Total QBR at home this season, holding opposing QBs to three touchdowns and seven interceptions at FirstEnergy Stadium in 2018.

What to watch for in fantasy: There is clearly a good bit of risk in deploying a rookie signal-caller with fewer than 400 total passing yards the past two weeks, but there is a fun fantasy ceiling for Baker Mayfield in Week 9. Read more.

In case you missed it: The legend of Mayfield and Mahomes’ 2016 epic … Mahomes, Mayfield, Brees and more: Texas QBs having their moment … Browns upheaval: Who calls plays, what’s next … Best WR in NFL or not, Hill is plenty good enough for Chiefs … Why Jackson had to go, and 13 options to coach Baker next

Lions (3-4) at Vikings (4-3-1): 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Point spread: MIN -4.5 | Matchup quality: 48.3 (of 100)

Michael Rothstein’s pick: The Lions have one of the more balanced offenses in the NFL, but they shook up the unit Tuesday by trading Golden Tate to Philadelphia. The team’s leading receiver, he leaves a hole in a certain part of Detroit’s passing game. Adjusting could take time, and against Minnesota’s defense you don’t have that luxury. It’s a close game, but the Vikings’ strong defense combined with another 100-yard game from Adam Thielen gives Minnesota the victory and pushes the Lions further down in the divisional race. Vikings 27, Lions 21

Courtney Cronin’s pick: The Vikings have lost three of their past four meetings with the Lions and need to get the best out of Kirk Cousins, who has struggled at times playing in U.S. Bank Stadium. If Stefon Diggs (ribs) is not able to play Sunday, the Vikings will have to get creative in the passing game since the Lions will likely keep two defenders on Thielen. With uncertainly still surrounding Dalvin Cook’s hamstring and whether he’ll play, this game feels like one where Latavius Murray should excel against a run defense allowing an average of 5.1 yards per rush. Minnesota’s top-10 defense has the edge at home in a bounce-back win. Vikings 24, Lions 19

FPI win projection: MIN, 73.2 percent. Matthew Stafford has been much better on the road than at home this season, posting a 7-0 touchdown-interception ratio and 75.9 Total QBR away from Detroit compared with a 7-6 ratio and 42.1 QBR at home. He has not faced a defense of this caliber on the road yet this season, though — Minnesota ranks second in defensive efficiency according to FPI and sixth in opponent Total QBR in home games this season.

What to watch for in fantasy: Darius Slay shadowed Diggs during both meetings last season. Diggs totaled 10 catches for 164 yards and no touchdowns on 59 routes in the two games, and the Lions are allowing the seventh-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season. Read more.

In case you missed it: How the Vikings discovered Thielen … Trading Tate signals Lions aren’t serious about 2018 … How Vikings caught a break with Lions … Who replaces Tate?

Buccaneers (3-4) at Panthers (5-2): 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Point spread: CAR -7 | Matchup quality: 46.7 (of 100)

Jenna Laine’s pick: The Bucs are hoping Ryan Fitzpatrick can infuse some “FitzMagic” on the road in a must-win game against the Panthers, but their short-handed defense will continue to hold them back. Stopping the run was a strength of the Bucs until Week 8 against the Bengals. They have to get that corrected considering the Panthers lead the NFL with 28 explosive rushing plays (12 or more yards) this season. Panthers 32, Buccaneers 21

David Newton’s pick: Cam Newton is envious of Fitzpatrick’s beard because he has trouble growing one. Everything else around this game favors Newton and the Panthers. There’s just no way the Bucs, 32nd in scoring defense and 29th in total defense, can stop Newton and a hot Carolina offense. Whatever magic Fitzpatrick has will be stymied by the league’s 13th-ranked defense. Panthers 34, Buccaneers 17

FPI win projection: CAR, 80.3 percent. Fitzpatrick brings superior numbers to those of Jameis Winston in completion percentage, yards per attempt, TD-INT ratio and Total QBR (78.6 to 56.1). Fitzpatrick ranks fourth in the league in Total QBR this season while Winston ranks 20th.

What to watch for in fantasy: Christian McCaffrey has averaged 19.4 touches per game this season, and Tampa Bay is allowing 9.8 yards per completion to running backs, fifth most in the league. Read more.

In case you missed it: Newton should be among front-runners at QB in MVP race … Bucs on the hot seat: How fates of Koetter, Winston are tied … Panthers need more of Moore to reach potential on offense … Brate’s targets take real hit with Bucs shuffling QBs

Falcons (3-4) at Redskins (5-2): 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Point spread: WSH -1.5 | Matchup quality: 46.5 (of 100)

Vaughn McClure’s pick: The Redskins have thrived pounding the ball with an ageless Adrian Peterson and a powerful offensive line while quarterback Alex Smith, with just three turnovers, makes wise decisions. The Falcons need to attack with Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, regardless of what type of tempo the Redskins try to establish. The big issue for the Falcons might be Matt Ryan’s offensive line, which has surrendered 10 sacks and 27 quarterback hits in two road games prior to Washington. Redskins 21, Falcons 17

John Keim’s pick: The Redskins have lived on the edge for three consecutive games, with one or two plays possibly turning any of those games. Two games came down to the final minute, and the third — at the Giants — shouldn’t have been close. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the running game with Peterson has helped Washington, and Atlanta can’t stop the run. The Falcons allow 4.81 yards per carry and rank 20th in rushing yards allowed per game. The Redskins rank third in time of possession, so their run strategy can keep Ryan & Co. off the field. Redskins 23, Falcons 21

FPI win projection: ATL, 49.8 percent. This game is projected by FPI to be so close that neither team has a 50 percent chance to win, with Atlanta the slightest of favorites. In fact, in our data set (since the start of the 2006 season), this is the closest pregame projection by FPI.

What to watch for in fantasy: It’s possible Josh Norman will follow Jones this week, but Norman is in zone enough that Jones can escape for several big plays. Read more.

In case you missed it: Falcons looking to become road warriors for rest of season … Redskins respond to NFC East WR trades by doubling down on D … Peterson still a ‘beast’ in Falcons’ eyes … Norman wants action, not ‘picking daisies’ on one side of field

Bears (4-3) at Bills (2-6): 1 p.m. ET, Fox

Point spread: CHI -10 | Matchup quality: 19.0 (of 100)

Jeff Dickerson’s pick: The Bears enter Week 9 tied for first in the NFL with 11 interceptions. Chicago is also the only team in the league to not allow a rushing touchdown this season. And the Bills will start Nathan Peterman at quarterback Sunday. What else needs to be said? Bears 27, Bills 6

Mike Rodak’s pick: The Bills lead the NFL in throwing interceptions on 5.4 percent of pass attempts, which would be the fourth-highest rate by any team in an entire season since 2001. The Bears lead the NFL in intercepting opposing quarterbacks on 4.5 percent of pass attempts. Peterman’s 11.1 percent interception rate is the highest among any active quarterbacks. Bears 21, Bills 9

FPI win projection: CHI, 79.6 percent. Peterman has a 9.2 Total QBR in his career, the second lowest of any QB to throw at least 75 passes in the QBR era (since the start of the 2006 season).

What to watch for in fantasy: Trey Burton has a tough matchup. The Bills have allowed an average of 1.44 points per target to opposing tight ends, fourth best in the league. Read more.

In case you missed it: Bills’ QB chaos, stale offense slow momentum of rebuild … Resting Mack benefits Bears in long term

Jets (3-5) at Dolphins (4-4): 1 p.m. ET, CBS

Point spread: MIA -3 | Matchup quality: 17.1 (of 100)

Rich Cimini’s pick: Coach Todd Bowles said this will be “an AFC East bloodbath.” He’s right. It won’t be pretty. Both teams are struggling, but the Jets have a rookie quarterback (Sam Darnold) on the road. They’re not a good road team, having dropped 10 of their past 12. In fact, they haven’t won in Miami since 2014. Dolphins 19, Jets 17

Cameron Wolfe’s pick: Miami can secure the second series sweep of its northern rival this decade in what appears to be a fairly even battle between middling AFC East teams. In the 20-12 September victory at New York, the Dolphins’ defense was the difference as it notched three turnovers and three sacks. Miami has struggled to stop the run recently, but it spent 10 days working on adjustments to fix things. Expect a close, back-and-forth matchup, but the Dolphins’ opportunistic defense and use of Kenyan Drake as a receiver on offense should lead them to a much-needed win. Dolphins 23, Jets 20

FPI win projection: MIA, 61.1 percent. The Dolphins are only team currently ranked in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this season, according to FPI. The Jets rank sixth in defensive efficiency overall, but just 18th on the road, so the Dolphins are favored at home.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Jets have the fifth-highest blitz rate in the league, sending added pressure on 31.6 percent of opposing dropbacks. Brock Osweiler has the eighth-highest interception rate per attempt when blitzed and the fourth-fewest yards per attempt (6.19) under such duress. Read more.

In case you missed it: How the Jets can help Darnold long term … How much longer can Dolphins afford to wait on Tannehill? … Jets quiet at deadline, refuse to sacrifice future for present

Chargers (5-2) at Seahawks (4-3): 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS

Point spread: SEA -1.5 | Matchup quality: 78.4 (of 100)

Eric D. Williams’ pick: The Seahawks have looked like playoff contenders in winning four of their past five games and nearly upsetting the unbeaten Rams. That stretch seems more legitimate considering only one of the victories has come at home. They’re back at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, they’re as healthy as they’ve been all season and they’re running the ball as well as they have since 2015. The formula that has propelled Seattle since its 0-2 start will be enough against the Chargers. Seahawks 27, Chargers 24

Brady Henderson’s pick: In his past two games against a Pete Carroll-led defense, Philip Rivers has completed 71 percent of his passes for 739 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, so this matchup against an improved but young Seahawks defense could be a good one for the veteran. Working against former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s defense every day in practice should sharpen Rivers’ preparation. A healthy Melvin Gordon should also provide balance on offense in a tough environment at Seattle. Chargers 28, Seahawks 24

FPI win projection: SEA, 51.9 percent. Rivers has a 92.2 Total QBR on the road this season, which would be the highest in a season since QBR began being tracked in the 2006 season. He might have trouble maintaining that in Seattle, as the Seahawks have held opponents to a 53 Total QBR this season, sixth best in the league.

What to watch for in fantasy: The Chargers have allowed only 104.8 points to opposing slot receivers, sixth fewest in the NFL. In addition, Casey Hayward is holding opposing No. 1 receivers to an average of just 4.5 points per game. Any time either Doug Baldwin or Tyler Lockett lines up on the outside, they’ll have trouble finding many openings. Read more.

In case you missed it: Rivers to become fourth QB to make at least 200 straight starts … What’s next for Mychal Kendricks and Seahawks … How the Chargers got comfortable closing out games

Texans (5-3) at Broncos (3-5): 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS

Point spread: DEN -1 | Matchup quality: 52.3 (of 100)

Sarah Barshop’s pick: The Broncos felt strongly enough about their receiving corps of Emmanuel Sanders (averaging 82.5 yards per game) and rookie Courtland Sutton that they were comfortable trading receiver Demaryius Thomas to the Texans earlier this week. If the Texans can contain Denver’s passing game with their banged-up secondary, Houston’s front seven, led by Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt, should be able to contain the run for a victory. Texans 20, Broncos 17

Jeff Legwold’s pick: The Broncos traded their longest-tenured player — Thomas — to the Texans this week, so a game Denver desperately needs to win to right itself in the season’s second half has taken on a “weird” vibe, as linebacker Von Miller put it. To have any chance against Watt & Co., the Broncos have to protect quarterback Case Keenum better. Twenty of the 22 sacks Denver has allowed have come with Keenum in the shotgun, so how willing the Broncos are to pound away in the running game before they open up the passing game might determine the outcome. Texans 24, Broncos 21

FPI win projection: DEN, 50.7 percent. The Texans rank second in defensive efficiency this season and actually lead the league during their current five-game win streak (77.7 on a 0-to-100 scale). Houston also leads the league in defensive efficiency on the road this season (66.9).

What to watch for in fantasy: Now that Thomas is gone, we should see a significant increase in Sutton’s looks. Read more.

In case you missed it: Texans’ formula: Win turnover battle, protect Watson … Why it’s Sutton’s time in Denver … Texans’ train will keep rolling with Thomas … Broncos only need a mirror to discover their biggest problem

Rams (8-0) at Saints (6-1): 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox

Point spread: NO -2 | Matchup quality: 91.3 (of 100)

Lindsey Thiry’s pick: The Rams have won eight consecutive games, but the Saints in the Superdome are undoubtedly their biggest test yet, especially on offense. Defense could be the difference in this one. The Rams have the edge in that department after adding edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. at the trade deadline and with Aaron Donald’s league-leading 10 sacks. But it might not be enough against Drew Brees, who gets the ball out fast. Saints 28, Rams 24

Mike Triplett’s pick: This is the latest in the season that two teams averaging 33 points or more have faced each other, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Rams have the edge on defense led by Donald, and while they added firepower this week by trading for Fowler, the Saints lost firepower when rookie DE Marcus Davenport suffered a toe injury. However, the home-field advantage helps the Saints, and there might not be a more battle-tested team in the NFL right now after they had to grind out come-from-behind victories at Baltimore and Minnesota in their past two outings. Saints 29, Rams 27

FPI win projection: NO, 49.8 percent. With a pregame matchup quality of 91.3, this is the second-best matchup of the season according to FPI, trailing only the Chiefs-Rams matchup in Week 11. This game is also projected to be incredibly close, as only the Falcons-Redskins game noted earlier has a smaller spread in our data set, according to FPI.

What to watch for in fantasy: Among quarterbacks who have made five-plus starts this season, Jared Goff leads the way with an average of 9.58 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, the Saints are allowing 8.70 yards per pass attempt, third most in the league. Read more.

In case you missed it: Always a bridesmaid, Brees could make best MVP case yet vs. Rams … Gurley trendsetting again, this time as an MVP candidate … Battle-tested Saints are ‘here for all smoke’

Packers (3-3-1) at Patriots (6-2): 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

Point spread: NE -6 | Matchup quality: 70.9 (of 100)

Rob Demovsky’s pick: The Packers nearly upset the Rams in Week 8, but do they have anything left mentally? Could their best performance be a galvanizing moment that turns their season around? Aaron Rodgers won the only previous meeting in 2014 at Lambeau Field, but Tom Brady gets the nod this time in what could be their final head-to-head showdown. Patriots 27, Packers 24

Mike Reiss’ pick: Anyone up for another overtime game? All week, Patriots players have said this will be a 60-minute game likely to come down to the wire. That would be fitting in a matchup pitting Brady vs. Rodgers, and with the Packers 0-3 on the road, the edge goes to the home team. Patriots 33, Packers 30 (OT)

FPI win projection: NE, 68.2 percent. The Patriots rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, according to FPI, but actually rank higher in defensive (fourth) than offensive (eighth). In our data set (since the start of 2008 season), the Patriots have never finished a season ranked higher in defensive efficiency than offensive efficiency.

What to watch for in fantasy: New England has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points in the slot, so Randall Cobb is a potential upgrade, though he’ll need to run more than the 16 routes he was limited to in Week 8. Read more.

In case you missed it: Brady vs. Rodgers: NFL defenders define their GOATness … A Rodgers-Belichick combo? Imagining ultimate ‘what if’ … Rodgers and Brady: Contemporaries, not rivals … Trades help future without much damage to Packers’ present


Titans (3-4) at Cowboys (3-4): 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN

Point spread: DAL -6.5 | Matchup quality: 48.7 (of 100)

Turron Davenport’s pick: Both defenses are near the top of the NFL in points allowed this season, so this game isn’t likely to have a lot of fireworks. The X factor for the Titans will be running back Dion Lewis. Getting him involved in the passing game, especially on choice routes and in the screen game, is the best way to move the ball against Dallas. Defensively, Tennessee has to keep Ezekiel Elliott from getting into a groove, which sets up the play-action pass. Take Elliott away and the Cowboys’ offense suffers. Titans 17, Cowboys 14

Todd Archer’s pick: The Cowboys have won their first three games this season at AT&T Stadium, the first time that has happened since it opened in 2009. During the bye week, the Cowboys added receiver Amari Cooper and a new offensive line coach. Tennessee gave up touchdown catches of 55 and 75 yards in its last game, a good sign for the Cowboys, who want to get Cooper’s speed into the passing game. In three home games, Dak Prescott has seven pass plays of 20 yards or more. He and Cooper will have at least one deep completion against the Titans. Cowboys 24, Titans 13

FPI win projection: DAL, 75.1 percent. Prescott (54.4) and Marcus Mariota (54.3) have nearly the same Total QBR this season, but it’s Dallas that has the more efficient offense, according to FPI. Combine that with an edge in defensive efficiency and home-field advantage, and the Cowboys are the heavy favorite Monday night.

What to watch for in fantasy: Tennessee’s offense has been a debacle, but Corey Davis’ 29 percent target share should be leading to more fantasy production. If Davis’ current usage keeps up, he should at least triple his current touchdown total in the second half. Read more.

In case you missed it: How Cooper’s presence can help Cowboys from Dak to Zeke … Sharpe developing into reliable receiver for Titans … Cowboys fire O-line coach

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