Early Leans & Analysis - Week 9
Early Leans & Analysis - Week 9

Posted Friday at 2:00 pm EST - odds are subject to change.

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NFL Week: 9

What you see below is our early leans. Many of the selections below will stay the same and some will be moved into official plays with wagers on Sunday. However, there is the possibility that we see, read or get a sense that something is not right with one of our selections and change our pick. There are several different criteria we use to grade a game and make it an official play and a lot of things can happen or change between Friday and Sunday. We’ll have all write-ups (except Monday Night Football) posted on Friday but our actual wagers won’t be posted until Sunday morning between 10 AM and 12:00 PM EST.

Sunday, Nov 5

Kansas City/Miami under 50½

9:30 AM EST. NFL schedulers were probably salivating when they created this matchup for the league’s first showcase game in Germany. Both franchises are 6-2 and both teams own some of the most feared playmakers in pro-football. Fireworks could surely ensure between two explosive and hyper-talented offenses, although their defenses haven’t been bad either. Jalen Ramsey finally made his return last weekend and he nearly had a pick-six. Under Vic Fangio, the Miami defense has been a bend-don’t-break, well-disciplined group, certainly better than what we’ve seen from the Fins’ in recent seasons. Meanwhile the Chiefs are 2nd in the NFL in yards allowed per pass and they’ve held opposing offenses to just 17.8 ppg the last five weeks.

Of course this big battle doesn’t come without storylines. The Chiefs are coming off an uncharacteristic performance at Denver, scoring only 9 points and losing to a team they dominated just three weeks prior. Immediately following the loss, critics are predictably sounding off about Mahomes’ lack of depth at wide-receiver and how he needs more weapons. That’s interesting timing considering the fact that Mahomes will face his former comrade and best weapon he ever had, the incomparable Tyreek Hill, for the first time since he was traded to Miami. Hill will likely “get his” in this contest, he’s been simply unstoppable, but doubting Mahomes and the Chiefs never feels smart. That’s especially true when they’re off a loss.

Miami has unparalleled speed and their chemistry is through the roof, especially at home, and we’re not sure the last time we saw a team who was #1 in both yards per rush and yards per pass. The Dolphins’ 70-point explosion versus Denver inflated some of their stats, but there’s nothing phony or exaggerated about Tua Tagovailoa and his colleagues– they’re special. Everyone knows the Chief’s offense is special. Despite a barrage of changes at the wide-receiver position the last two seasons, Patrick Mahomes continues to rely on Travis Kelce and he figures the rest out in-between, forming new bonds with exciting rookies like Rashee Rice (361 yards, 12 yards per catch, 3 touchdowns) and leveraging the best pass-protection in the league (Mahomes is only sacked on 3.13% of dropbacks). KC’s rushing attack does enough, led by the hard-nosed style of Isaiah Pacheco. Considering all these elements, why do we like this total to fall under 50½ points, then?

The first reason is travel. Slugging you and your belongings all the way to Germany (a 11+ hour flight from KC, 9+ for Miami) isn’t ideal. Routines are gone, practice sessions can’t possibly be as efficient with all the press-demands and pomp of an overseas visit, and the optics of playing in the stadium of a soccer club can be jarring, even for the best QBs. The KC defense also allowed one of the NFL’s worst teams to score 24 points on them last weekend, aka revenge is on their minds, and the Fins are nowhere near as potent away from Miami. The Dolphins are averaging 43.5 ppg at Hard Rock Stadium and 31.75 ppg away from it this season. That’s still high, but really it should be lower– they scored 36 Week 1 at the Chargers; hardly a tough spot, and they didn’t play against a good defense, either.

International road trips tend to drastically throw off at least one offense per game, and we don’t see this being any different. Just look at how clumsy the Atlanta, Buffalo, and Tennessee offenses looked overseas. There are many reasons why three international contests have only averaged 38.3 ppg this season, but bettors would be remiss to leave out the not-so-ideal intangibles of travel. Recommendation: KC/MIA under 50½ 

Seattle +6 over Baltimore

1:00 PM EST. We don’t pay much attention to systems or trends and if anything, patterns that continue on and on only present a better argument for regression over time. In this case, a very interesting and revealing trend speaks to a buttoned-up franchise and one of the best NFL coaches of the last two decades, so we’re paying attention. In what might be considered a disadvantage for the Seattle Seahawks, traveling across the country and playing at 1:00 p.m. EST, which is 10:00 a.m. where they reside, can’t be an easy feat. Don’t tell that to Pete Carroll, though. In their last 32 games, the ‘ol ball coach has Seattle 23-9 straight up in the early window. Few teams are as consistently prepared and motivated for spots like this one, and we like that to make a big difference on Sunday.

It would come at a good time, too. Seattle has won its last two games,but they haven’t looked very impressed doing so. In Week 7 they snuck by the Cardinals even though they allowed Arizona to stick around for far too long. Three bad turnovers made life more difficult for the Hawks. Last week it took a game-winning drive at home to fend off PJ Walker and the visiting Browns. Again giveaways were the problem. Geno Smith is capable of throwing some truly elite passes. The dude is a legitimate franchise QB and it’s made quite the story, but he can also get too bold for his own good. Two of his last three interceptions have come on his opponent’s 27 yard line or better, eliminating two easy scoring opportunities the last two weeks. Against an opportunistic Ravens’ defense that’s ranked 11th in INTs through eight games, we expect that Geno and the offense are emphasizing these hiccups in practice this week. With a coach as effective as Pete Carroll, we trust the same flops won’t happen.

Less than two weeks ago, the Ravens destroyed another upper-echelon NFC opponent, the Detroit Lions, in a very similar spot at home. The market is likely taking that into consideration, but we have our doubts about a spread this big. The Seattle-defense is still flying under the radar but they’ve played like an elite unit, allowing just 4.8 yards per play, a top-five mark in the league. Lamar Jackson often shoulders the load for his offense, and lately the whole world can see that Baltimore still doesn’t have enough weapons at the wide-receiver position. Other than Mark Andrews, no catcher has been consistent. Despite the hype, even rookie Zay Flowers only has four games with over 60 receiving yards. 

A capable Seattle offense and a better-than-advertised Seattle defense should not only keep this game close; the Hawks can win straight up. We’ve seen them do it before– like Week 2 at Detroit– and we can’t blindly expect that Baltimore will continue to annihilate other teams simply because they’re at home. While the Ravens have an impressive number of top-ten marks on offense and defense, the only elite team they’ve faced this season was the Lions in Week 7 (we don’t count the Bengals in Week 2, not with Burrow on one leg).

Oddsmakers have inflated their perception on the Ravens, and that’s not something we can agree with. We don’t need any more reasons to play on Seattle, but it helps that two big divisional games, the Browns and Bengals at home in Weeks 10 and 11, are on the horizon. Don't be shocked if Pete Carroll’s squad shocks Charm City. Recommendation: Seattle +6 

Arizona/Cleveland under 37½

1:00 PM EST. It's incredible how public perception works. The Browns haven't had a formidable QB for the majority of this season, we could argue that's the case even when DeShaun Watson is starting, and yet they're getting diva-treatment from oddsmakers. We realize that the 1-7 Arizona Cardinals are throwing out rookie fifth round QB Clayton Tune, that doesn't sound very promising, but if you're betting on Cleveland you're also betting on a team that has one of the worst passing games in football. Hell it might be the worst. 

Cleveland is 32nd in pass completion percentage, 29th in yards per pass, 30th in pass yards per game, 31st in interceptions thrown, and 25th in sack rate. Yikes. The Cardinals' defense is young and overly aggressive at times, indicative of a first-year coach who's known for his defensive prowess, but this is the easiest challenge they'll face all year. Arizona's previous six opponents were Dallas, San Francisco, Cincinnati, L.A. Rams, Seattle, and Baltimore - a who's who of exceptional offenses. They haven't fared well, allowing 27 ppg to those squads, but there's next-to-nothing that's explosive about the Browns. It might be a better matchup than oddsmakers are considering, too. Arizona really struggles preventing third-down-conversions (they allow a 45.26% conversion rate), but Cleveland only clears the marker on 31% of third downs, second-worst in the NFL.

DeShaun Watson might play this Sunday, but he admitted he jumped the gun when he returned against the Colts. Needless to say, it wasn't a good look. Even if he suits up, a shoulder injury feels like one of the more limiting ailments. It's unlikely we see him at his best, and another run of PJ Walker shouldn't instill confidence in any Browns' backer. Either way, we've discussed how big this spread is and how we lean the Cardinals' side, but there's a more obvious wager to play on here. How in hell are either of these teams going to score points? We don't know either. 

Cleveland will be windy and cold, both teams will unleash very vulnerable QBs, and both teams rely on their defenses. This feels a lot like Jets-Giants last week. Recommendation: AZ/CLE under 37½ 

Minnesota +4½ over Atlanta

1:00 PM EST. The story here, of course, is the injury to Vikings starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, who tore his Achilles in Minnesota's 24-10 win over the Packers on Sunday in Green Bay. With the loss of Cousins, the eulogies on the Vikes season have come in hard and fast, with the overwhelming sentiment being, "Oh, that's too bad, the Vikes were just turning it around."

With Cousins out, the 4-4 Vikings made a trade with Arizona for Joshua Dobbs, but Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said that Dobbs will not start this week and that he expects rookie Jaren Hall to get the nod, as Nick Mullens, who the Vikings also really like, is on IR for at least another week. Minny took Hall in the fifth round out of BYU, where he started for two seasons after taking over for former #2 overall pick Zach Wilson. In his two seasons as the Cougars' #1 pivot, Hall threw 51 touchdowns to 11 interceptions while adding six more touchdowns on the ground. Hall is not afraid to run, averaging 4.7 yards per carry on 148 scrambles.

We're not going to try and make a case that the Vikings are better with a mid-round rookie QB making his first start on the road, but we are going to hammer home the fact that not only do the oddsmakers know this, but so does everyone else who follows and wagers on the NFL. Market perception is that the Vikings are dead in the water, but if they were a contender with Cousins, then the sum of those remaining parts are still quality pieces of the puzzle. It's not like the Vikes have to line up with a dude who has never thrown a football before. They are going to have a QB, and he is going to be surrounded by some fine football players.

The Falcons are 4-4, having split back-to-back road games with a win at Tampa Bay two weeks ago and a loss at Tennessee last Sunday. There is little reason to spend much time on the Dirty Birds here, as all the attention is on the loss of Cousins and the overreaction to his injury. Yes, we acknowledge that Atlanta will go with Taylor Heinke after benching Desmond Ridder this week, but that decision suits us fine, as Heinke is an average QB at best. If he were any good, he’d have made it as a starter (it’s not like he hasn’t had ample chances). 

One only has to look at the line movement to see that overreaction, as the Falcons opened as a -4-point favorite, but that line has been bet up to the number you see posted now. What would this line have been if Cousins were healthy? A pick’em perhaps? Of course the Dirty Birds can blow the doors off a team starting a rookie quarterback on the road, but the price one has to pay for that luxury is grossly inflated.  Recommendation: Minnesota +4½

Washington/New England under 40½ 

1:00 PM EST. Wait a second, the Patriots are favored by 3-points? Yes, that's correct, and we don't have any quarrels with it. It's a stale line. Two stinky teams, both at the bottom of their respective divisions and both have lost four of their last five games, meet in Foxboro Massachusetts for what feels like a very sleepy contest.  They're from different conferences and the affair doesn't mean much since both the AFC and NFC East are both top-heavy and all-but-secured by elite teams. Aka, this is a difficult game to perceive from a motivational perspective, and it's not terribly obvious who's better. What a conundrum.

Given the circumstances we'll fade playing the spread. Fortunately, there's a lot to like about the scoreboard eclipsing the oddsmakers' low total of 40½  points. 

Washington has started their sale. Gone are arguably the two most important pieces on their defense, in Montez Sweat and Chase Young. It's turned out to be a very disappointing year for Jack Del Rio's unit. The Washington front-seven in particular was lauded by many analysts as one of the most talented groups in football. It just never came to be. The Commanders' defense ranks in the bottom five of nearly every data point, including yards allowed, points allowed, yards per pass, and opponent pass yards per game. 

That's good news for Mac Jones, who struggled in his first six games but looks to have turned a corner since the Patriots' win in Week 7 against the Bills. The last two weeks, Jones is 44-59 (75%) for 433 yards, 4 touchdowns and just 1 interception. He'll face a very exposable Washington secondary this Sunday, as the stats above indicate, and the New England run-game should greatly benefit from the Commanders' losses before the trade deadline.

We know Sam Howell can keep the Commanders fighting, too. Despite getting sacked more than any other QB, Howell continues to trudge through in his inaugural year as a starter. The Patriots' defense is legit, borderline elite although the stats won't tell you that (living in the AFC East tends to have that effect), but they haven't been as consistent against the pass. J.C. Jackson rejoined his former team and he still doesn't look very good, and Christian Gonzalez, the upstart rookie CB who looked like he might already be a top-5 player in his position, continues to sit on the IR. Their secondary is good-not-great, and this is a Washington offense that still has a lot to prove under new coordinator Eric Bieniemy. 

The Commanders also have nothing to lose at this point. Facing Washington probably won't elicit a wave of inspiration from the Patriots' defense, and the visiting offense has a lot of talent looking to prove their merit since new Washington owner Josh Harris is obviously looking to make changes before next season. Max Jones and the Patriot's offense should have little issue moving the ball up and down the field, too. Both squads can get into the 20s, and that means this total isn't right. Recommendation: WAS/NE under 40½ 

New Orleans -8½ over Chicago

1:00 PM EST. The Saints are not our focus here, but they will serve as fine fodder, as they get an opportunity to build off last week's outburst of 511 total yards of offense against a team that is not likely to be prepared to go stride for stride with so much firepower. We know that it is important to never overvalue just one game, so we’ll point out that the Saints had been struggling mightily before their win over Indianapolis last week, having dropped four of their previous five games. A big reason for the Saints struggles is the fact they had not been able to find the end zone despite moving the ball pretty well, ranking just 28th in Red Zone efficiency. Perhaps the tide has turned, as there was some positive progression last week in which the Saints scored three touchdowns and a field goal in their four trips inside the Red Zone in Week 8.

The Bears are just 2-6, and they have failed to climb out of the basement after finishing in last place last season. Because of that, the heads are rolling once again over at Soldier Field. Head coach Matt Eberflus, who oversaw the Bears' 3-13 run in 2022, is on the hot seat, as the fan base is calling for his head. However, instead of Eberflus, running backs coach David Walker was fired. That should fix everything, coach. Walker was well-liked by the way, and his firing has been called a “disruption.”

Officially, Walker was fired for cause because of a behavioral issue in which he was warned, but the Bears players were not aware of his transgressions. Starting running back Khalil Herbert refused to speak with reporters, while backup D’Onta Foreman said he was “surprised.” “It’s definitely going to be an adjustment having another person in there and trying to get a feel for the way he goes about and does things, but we’re all pros.” Walker’s firing is the second unceremonious departure of an assistant coach this season after defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned in September citing family and health issues. However, further digging by Adam Schefter found that Williams left due to inappropriate behavior.

General manager Ryan Poles stood up and defended his head coach this week, despite the poor results and the perceived problems with the culture in the Bears organization. “What I see every day, where I see him address the team and I see his approach through adversity, it is stable. I know in the outside world it doesn’t look like that, and I know it looks like we’re far away, but this dude comes in every day and just keeps chipping away. He has high integrity.” If Eberflus has such a high bar for integrity, why are his coaches dropping like flies because of “bad” behavior?

This is a unique spot in which we find the Bears, who are struggling at a potentially difficult part of their schedule. They are coming off a prime-time game on Sunday Night Football against the Chargers. That, in itself, is not all that interesting or unusual, but what is interesting and unusual is that Chicago plays another prime-time game next week at home against the Panthers on Thursday Night Football. This game is sandwiched between two prime time games and if Chicago is looking for any respect, it’ll be on Thursday in prime time at home and likely not in New Orleans. It’s with that in mind that we hope to catch the dysfunctional Bears, not only in disarray but looking ahead to the bright lights next week. Recommendation: New Orleans -8½

L.A. Rams +3½ -110 over Green Bay


1:00 PM EST. Both the Rams and Packers are coming off Week 8 losses, but the Rams had their doors blown off in Dallas, losing a 43-22 decision as a 7-point pooch on the road. That was the Rams' second loss in a row after they blew a 4th-quarter lead against the Steelers in Week 7. On the season, L.A. is just 3-7, with its three wins coming against the Cardinals, Colts, and Seahawks. The Rams' losses have come to the Cowboys, Steelers, Eagles, Bengals, and 49ers, so when looking at the whole picture, the Rams have played the fifth most difficult schedule in the NFL, and they did so with significant injuries early in the season.


Suffering the worst loss in Week 8 has resonated, as there has been much chatter about just what went wrong in Dallas for the Rams, who were supposed to be better with Cooper Kupp back in the lineup. Well, as is often the case, the final score does not tell the whole story. We're not going to sugarcoat the result, but we will point out that the Rams were their own worst enemy, giving the Cowboys 16 points off of turnovers.


Meanwhile, the Packers are not taking much heat for their poor performance versus the Vikings, as the injury to Kirk Cousins has been the dominant story. That said, we are not going to let the Pack slide, as they are a total disaster right now. You saw how Las Vegas cleared house with the GM and head coach getting the boot, well, the Packers should do the same with GM Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur. Gutekunst has gutted the offense and sent a Hall of Fame QB packing in favor of his own draft pick, and the Packers are suffering because of it. As for LaFleur, just watch him coach one game and tell us that he knows more than a 13-year-old with a copy of Madden 24 on their Playstation.


Furthering the Packers woes, was the unexpected trade of cornerback Rasul Douglas to Buffalo. Douglas was a loyal Packer and it was reported he hung up on Gutekunst when he found out about the trade. The rest of the Packers didn’t respond much better, as it was said emotions were high in the locker room after the trade was announced. While the Douglas trade wasn’t the biggest of the day, it might be one of the most impactful, as he was a big part of the Packers and played an important role in the community. Douglas loved Green Bay, embraced Green Bay and made it his home and Green Bay. Dude bled Green and Gold and he didn’t want to get traded, not even to a contender like Buffalo. You don’t treat people like that, not even in the cutthroat NFL. The GM just ripped the heart out of his defense. How do you think they’ll respond?


The Packers have played a weak schedule that ranks just 27th in the league, and we'd like to point out that they lost to the freakin' Raiders, for f**k's sake, just three games ago. That loss to Vegas was the second in Green Bay's four-game losing skid, and that that streak could be nearing five games had the Pack not completed a fourth-quarter comeback against the Saints in Week 4 when David Carr got injured and Green Bay was down 17 going to the fourth quarter.

The overreactions here run deep. First, Matthew Stafford will be wearing a heavy jacket on the sidelines, which means he’ll sit and Brett Rypien starts at QB for the Rams. Second, the Rams defense is coming off a season-worst performance against the Cowboys. Third, Ernest Jones, the Rams’ leading tackler and quarterback of the defense, will be sidelined with a knee injury. The Rams were a +6 point underdog at Dallas last week and now they’re just a FG less v Green Bay? Comparing Green Bay to Dallas is like comparing Taylor Swift to Rosie O’ Donnell. 


Jordan Love is a bad driver behind the wheel of a jalopy. Thanks to over $57 million in dead cap space, the Packers finally got to live out their lifelong dream of signing no free agents at all. The highest profile signing was backup S Tarvarius Moore. Their second highest profile signing was a long snapper. The Packers are not better than the Rams and that would apply even if Tim Tebow was today’s starter for L.A. With two key players out, one on offense and another on D, expect the Rams to play their hearts out and beat this meek opponent. The voyageurs referred to Green Bay as La Baie des Puants, the bay of stinking waters. Nothing is more appropriate. Recoomendation: L.A. Rams +3½ -110

Tampa Bay/Houston over 40

1:00 PM EST. Two not-so-good teams are coming off humbling losses, although one likely stings more than the other. It was a valiant effort but the Bucs, who no one expected to win, at least kept the game close in Buffalo last Thursday night. Baker Mayfield continues to play through a left knee contusion, but he’ll battle through it. We’ve enjoyed Baker’s moxie and mentality this year, and he’s the single-biggest-reason why the Bucs are competitive in the NFC South. It’s just hard to love a less-than-able QB going on the road with no run-game. 

The Texans had a terrible Week 8, in comparison. CJ Stroud battled fellow rookie QB and #1 draft pick, Bryce Young, and he came out the loser. Two weeks ago Houston had one of its most impressive wins of the year, a dismantling of the Saints at home, but that version was nowhere in sight last weekend. A top-ten air attack (7 yards per pass) dwindled into an offense that looked more like the Giants or Jets. Stroud only accumulated 140 yards on 5.8 yards per pass. To make up for it, five different running backs and some bend-don’t-break defense kept the Texans in the lead until a last-second field goal secured the Panthers’ first win of the season. CJ Stroud’s illustrious run and the Texans’ unexpected winning streak came to an end.

The Texans may not qualify as a team we should “expect to regress” after a loss. Most analysts predicted very few wins this season, understandably so with a rookie QB and coach. Fortunately the Texans match up well against the Bucs, so regression might just come either way. Houston only allows 3.6 yards per rush (5th overall) and will likely force a hobbled Baker Mayfield to hold up his team once again. We don’t like that formula for the Bucs, who have virtually no ground attack to speak of (3.2 yards per rush, 31st). 

The good news for Baker is that he and his teammates get a full 10 days to rest after Week 8 TNF. Maygfield has also shown real chemistry with Mike Evans (507 yards), who’s on his way to another 1000+ yard season. The two best players on the field are the QBs of both outfits, and that’s never a bad thing if we like more points. Bettors who like this going over 40 will like the fact that this game is in a dome and at the end of the day, metrics tell us that these are two average defenses. They’re not average against the pass, though– they’re well-below average. They each allow over a 68% completion percentage to opposing throwers, and they both rank in the bottom five of pass yards allowed per game (TB: 28th, HOU: 23rd). This presents as a great opportunity, in the comfort of a dome, for both passers to get off the ground early after a mediocre output last week. Recommendation: TB/HOU over 40

Indianapolis -2½ over Carolina

4:05 PM EST. We've probably already said it 100 times since we started writing here at SportsWagers just a few short months ago but it's worth repeating: the NFL is a week-to-week league. Not only is that true of its teams, it's true for oddsmakers. The sportsbooks know things can flip every 6-8 days, with teams who look putrid often turning around and looking very formidable, while world-beaters one weekend can and often do completely shit-the-bed the next. It's the rare team, the New England dynasty that lasted for nearly two decades was the quintessential example, that can produce exceptional results on a consistent basis.

It's fair to say neither of these teams are exceptional, but they did have totally different experiences in Week 8. 

Gardner Minshew and the Colts' defense let their team down last Sunday. The Saints' offense was a clumsy mess that couldn't get the job done in the red-zone for weeks on end, but not against Indianapolis. The Colts allowed the Saints to convert on 3/4 red-zone attempts, stacking up five touchdowns, 511 yards, and 38 points at Lucas Oil Stadium. Even still, the Colts had a chance to tie it up late in the third quarter, but Minshew threw an interception on New Orleans' 33 yard-line, stifling another promising drive. Since becoming Indy's starter, Minshew has thrown 5 INTs in four games.

The Panthers finally got a W last Sunday. Not to be outshined by fellow rookie QB CJ Stroud, Bryce Young played a clean game and the Carolina-defense stepped up in big fashion, limiting Stroud and his big-arm to just 140 yards on 5.8 yards per pass. It was a good win, off a bye, and somewhat predictable considering the circumstances. It doesn’t mean we can expect that every week from Carolina, though.

Thing is, the Panthers still aren't very good. At 1-7, the emotional come-down must be significant as they readjust to just another week of pro-football, with nothing but pride and future contracts to play for. The Colts already lost twice to Jacksonville and they're a good three-game behind the Jags in the AFC South, so hopes certainly aren't high in Indy, but at least they still have a puncher's chance at a playoff spot. 

We don't love either team in this situation, to be honest. The Colts play in Germany next week, and we've seen quite a few teams struggle in the game before their international travels (Jacksonville, Baltimore, Kansas City). Either way, the Colts are the better overall team, albeit barely, and we're still getting less than a field goal against a rookie QB. We probably won't bet this game, but if we did we could only look in one direction. Recommendation: Indianapolis -2

Las Vegas -1 over N.Y. Giants

4:25 PM EST. Raiders owner Mark Davis cleaned house this week. Coach Josh McDaniels, general manager, offensive coordinator - all are gone. Even Jimmy Garoppolo, the transfer QB who had his glory days backing up Tom Brady and followed it by solid years as the Niners' thrower, is officially benched. Former Super Bowl winning New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce has taken the reins as Vegas' interim HC and already the players are responding. Superstar WR and locker room leader Devante Adams told the media, "I'm already ready to run through a wall for that man." Others responded similarly to the change.

This is not an intangible we take lightly. The Raiders have talent. Defensive end Maxx Crosby leads the NFL in QB pressures. Devante Adams and Josh Jacobs were league-leaders in past seasons. Las Vegas' offensive line has some formidable parts, particularly LT Kolton Miller. Along with Crosby, their defense has veterans like Marcus Peters, and their young talent has fought hard and kept the Raiders in games despite their offense averaging a measly 16 ppg. 

Josh McDaniels just wasn't the guy, and it's pretty clear he should never lead a football team again. Underqualified dorks like McDaniels and Brandon Staley get head-coaching gigs because they gain prowess in a specific area, but that doesn't make them leaders of men. Mike McDaniels and Bill Belichik are rare examples that can be both. In the hard-hitting, unabashedly brutal sport of pro-football, with super athletes and legitimate physical monsters, most teams need a fiery coach to motivate the boys for war, akin to a military commander. Antonio Pierce already seems to be that guy. And even if it shows for just one game, that's all this bettor cares about.

The Raiders were dominated by the Lions on Monday Night football. In Week 9 they head back home with a renewed sense of energy, and they've been given a convenient opponent. The Giants are coming off another game they should have won, par for the course for New York fans, but things could go from bad to worse. Tyrod Taylor played well for Big Blue in three starts. The Giants really should have won all three games with him under center - they outplayed the Bills and Jets in Weeks 6 and 8 - but instead they're 2-6 and any hope of another playoff run in year two of Brian Daboll's tenure is already looking bleak. Even worse, Daniel Jones is returning.

Jones has been abysmal since "earning" a new contract with the G-men this offseason. Giants' management probably likes Jones because he has an Eli Manning-like disposition. He's quiet, hard-working, focused, and he's not afraid of the big-moment. Unfortunately he's not nearly as accurate or capable in any moment. Jones has thrown 2 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and only 177 passing yards per game. When he's the starter, he often looks confused, unwilling to pull the trigger on coverage that requires expertly precise throws, and he rarely takes shots downfield.

Needless to say, the pressure is on DJ. A cadre of talented QBs are entering the 2024 draft and although New York gave Jones a new contract, that could all change if things continue to go awry. When DJ was the starter, his clumsy pocket movement and inability to change protection before the snap are a big reason why the Giants were one of the most sacked teams in the league. Coached by a former NYG linebacker, I imagine Maxx Crosby and the Raiders' defense won't let Jones breathe in this contest.

The Giants' defense has played better, but they're still not a seasoned group we trust. The fact that they traded away DT Leonard Williams might be a sign of the Giants' first experimental modality. That's not a team we like to wager our money on.

The Raiders will be fired up for this game. I don't care if it's Aidan O'Connell or my grandmother throwing the football for the home-team, the spot doesn't get much better and the black and silver are clearly hungry for a W. Against a hyper-flawed team like the Giants, who might be giving up on their season, we'll support the new-look Raiders. Recommendation: Las Vegas -1

Philadelphia -3 over Dallas

4:25 PM EST. In one of the most anticipated matchups of the year, the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles, two of the NFC’s elite and the top-two teams in the NFC East, finally face off. And this time they’ll be at full strength. Last season they split the series 1-1 but it wasn’t a true test for either team. In Week 6, Philadelphia beat the Cowboys at home when Cooper Rush started in place of an injured Dak Prescott. Later in Week 16, the Cowboys bested the Eagles at home when Gardner Minshew started in place of an injured Jalen Hurts. Nice wins for each squad, but not exactly a true depiction of which operation is better. They never met in the playoffs either, since Dallas lost to San Francisco while Philly cruised past the Giants in last year’s divisional round. Needless to say, all eyes and ears will be on this clash of the titans.

Both teams are at the height of their powers, too. Philadelphia had a comeback win in Week 8 against Washington. The Commanders did a good job stifling the Philly running attack, a unit that’s only gaining 4.1 yards per rush (18th) this season, but Jalen Hurts was happy to once again shoulder the load for his team. Hurts threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns, leading one scoring-drive after another when his Birds fell behind early. The Eagles’ defense had one of its worst outings, allowing 472 yards to Sam Howell and his supporting cast, but that happens when a big game is on the horizon. We expect the Birds’ resistance to be aggressive and at their best Sunday. When they’re motivated, few units are better. 

Their embarrassing loss against the 49ers now a distant memory, the Cowboys shellacked the visiting Rams 43-20 in Week 8. Dak Prescott has looked sensational since the Week 5 debacle, throwing 46-61 (75%) for 576 yards, 5 touchdowns and just one interception in his last two games. Dallas’ defense has been eating, too, keeping a pair of above-average offenses to less than 300 total yards in its last two contests. Once again, media narratives and public perception of the Boys is high, and once again we can only approach Dallas with trepidation when that’s the case.

Games like this come down to the intangibles. Clearly both teams are incredibly talented, but the Eagles have a clear edge in things that can’t be calculated on paper. The Cowboys are the school-yard bully. They’re bigger, badder, and more flashy than most teams in the NFL. But when they’re punched in the mouth, they buckle. Not the Eagles. Philly has been to bigger stages. Hurts played incredibly well in last year’s Super Bowl, their roster has exceptional leadership on and off the field, and they have the convenience of Lincoln Financial Field and its raucous fans. Maybe the Boys get their W versus the Birds at home in Week 14 or maybe it’s later in the playoffs, but for now there’s only one king of the East. At this short of a number, we only have eyes for the home team. Recommendation: Philadelphia -3

Cincinnati -2 over Buffalo

8:20 PM EST. Less than a year ago the sports world came to a halt. Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin incurred a serious injury, so serious that he was resuscitated in front of a national audience. Understandably, the Bengals/Bills Week 16 game was canceled. Flash forward 11 months and we're happy to see that not only is Damar Hamlin okay, he's back as an active player. Although he's only stepped on the field in limited fashion, we imagine Hamlin's recovery will be a source of motivation for Buffalo on SNF.

The Bills have plenty of motivation, actually. Three weeks after their regular season game was canceled, the Bengals whooped the Bills, in Buffalo, to proceed to the AFC Championship game. Joe Burrow was masterful in the harsh cold of Orchard Park, while Josh Allen and his offense sputtered against a fired up Bengals' defense. Cincinnati dominated the BIlls in the trenches and the Buffalo-defense had no answer for Joe Mixon and a balanced, methodical Cincinnati gameplan.  

Despite all the inspirational reasons why Allen and his teammates should give it their all this Sunday, we're not sure they'll avoid the same results. You see, the Bengals were just as motivated after last season's Week 16 showdown was canceled. Why? Because the NFL unfairly decided to take away Cincinnati's chances at earning a bye and home field advantage in the 2023 playoffs. Burrow and his supporting cast answered accordingly, but clearly that same fire is burning. After a massive win at San Francisco in Week 8 - we posted our support of the Bengals last Sunday right here on this site and now you can see why - they're starting to look like the same feisty team that made it to two straight AFC Championship games. They have our support again this Sunday.

The Bills eked by (and didn't cover against the spread) the Bucs last Thursday. Cool. That proved a lot of nothing. Over the last month, the Bills haven't looked anything like the world-beater we watched in Weeks 2-4. The Jaguars punked them in London, the Giants should have beat them but bad mistakes by a backup QB and a late-game screw-job by the refs on the game's final play ruined their chances, and the Patriots bullied the Bills at Foxboro. Buffalo's defense continues to work through injuries, their run-game is rarely potent (113 yards per game, but it'd be far lower without Allen's scrambling ability), and Allen is still capable of suddenly regressing to his mistake-prone younger years and flipping a game with bad passes or bad decision making, or both.

The Bengals outing at San Francisco wasn't just a win, it was a statement. Against one of the best defenses in the league, Burrow was flawless. He threw 28-32 (88%) for 3 touchdowns and no picks, and he showed an elusivity that we haven't seen since the playoffs last season. Their defense made big plays when they had to, including a big interception of the previously untouchable Brock Purdy in the red-zone. When it mattered most, Burrow led two consecutive touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, answering every comeback attempt from San Francisco. The Niner-faithful and many NFL fans were left stunned. We were not.

Cincinnati is rounding into Super Bowl form once again, at the right time, and their dynamic with the Bills feels a lot like their dynamic with the Chiefs. No one can beat Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, right? Wrong. The Bengals did it three consecutive times before KC finally bested them in last year's AFC Championship game, and the Chiefs were fortunate to do so (a questionable roughing-the-passer penalty put KC in field goal position to win). In the jungle behind a crowd that knows its team is gaining steam, we love the Bengals again this Sunday. Burrow over Allen, all day. Recommendation: Cincinnati -2

Our Pick

Early Leans & Analysis - Week 9 (Risking 0 units - To Win: 0.00)

New England +218 over Pittsburgh