Week 9 NFL picks straight up: Rams dodge Saints; Lions beat Vikings

Brief disclaimer: Week 9 begins just two days after the NFL trade deadline passes, so the results of many of these games could be drastically altered based on the deals made (in some cases, the deals not made). Take these picks with even more of a grain of salt than usual.

Disclaimer to the disclaimer: None of that will diminish the meaning, drama and sheer watchability of the best matchup of the weekend, the undefeated Rams going to the Superdome to face the one-loss Saints.

Week 9 picks against the spread

The Rams have found themselves in some unexpected dogfights during their run, none more than last week’s game against the Packers, which felt like more of a road game, and which turned on a gaffe on a kickoff that robbed Aaron Rodgers of a chance to march the Packers to a streak-busting win.

Those were the Packers. These are the Saints, and Drew Brees, and Alvin Kamara, and Sean Payton, and the Dome. Which means the Rams will … nah, not yet, just keep reading, thanks.

Week 9 NFL picks, predictions

(All times ET)

Oakland Raiders (1-6) at San Francisco 49ers (1-7)

Thursday, 8:20 p.m., Fox, NFL Network, Amazon Prime

If Rams-Saints is the steak and lobster of this week’s meal, this game is the beets and brussel sprouts. (No disrespect to beet- and brussel sprouts-lovers.) The records are bad enough. Their most recent losses are equally discouraging, to the Colts and Cardinals, respectively, as “meh” as it gets. The everything-must-go Raiders might look different from what they did last week. The 49ers pretty much are what they are, riding it out until next year when they get Jimmy Garoppolo back. This is already too much to write about this game.

Prediction: 49ers, 14-8

Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) at Cleveland Browns (2-5-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Welcome back to the NFL head-coaching ranks, Gregg Williams, Bountygate outcast and guy with a 17-31 record in his last head-coaching gig 15 years ago. In his defense, the defense he has coached (with several players acquired by the management team tossed out the door before the end of last season) has led the league in takeaways all season. The Chiefs have given it away slightly more often in their last four games than in their first four, but not to any real detriment. As long as the Chiefs don’t look past this game, it should not be close.

Prediction: Chiefs, 42-17

Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (4-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

This is an unusually early end to the archrivals’ season series, which in this case is bad for the Ravens, who could find themselves in a deep hole by losing. The Steelers, conversely, can make it essentially a two-team race in the AFC North by earning this split. This predicament looks far too familiar to Baltimore: Going into this game, they’re 44-44 in the 5 1/2 years since winning Super Bowl 47. And yet … the Ravens dominated the Steelers and their explosive offense in Pittsburgh back in Week 4.

Prediction: Steelers, 25-23

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4) at Carolina Panthers (5-2)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

The Fitzmagic era re-begins (if that’s a word). It will re-begin poorly, because the Panthers are perilously close to bringing a five-game winning streak into this game. The only loss in that span happened when their game-winning drive was stopped in the final seconds deep in Washington territory. They committed three turnovers that day, and in the two games since, they haven’t turned it over once. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the receiving corps will test them and will succeed a few times, but that won’t be enough.

Prediction: Panthers, 27-20

Atlanta Falcons (3-4) at Washington Redskins (5-2)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

First-place Washington … it’s still one of the most unforeseen developments this season. The defense that has produced that record — third-fewest yards, fifth-fewest points — will face a stiff test from Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Tevin Coleman and Co. The Falcons’ defense likely won’t do much testing at all; if they can’t slow down or take the ball away from Washington’s offense, Ryan won’t get many chances at all.

Prediction: Washington, 26-24

Chicago Bears (4-3) at Buffalo Bills (2-6)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

The Bills have now gone two straight games without scoring a touchdown. The last time they scored more than one touchdown was in the Week 3 stunner in Minnesota. If Khalil Mack returns for the Bears this week, the odds of the Bills scoring a touchdown, regardless of who the quarterback is, decreases significantly. It would be helpful for Mitchell Trubisky to play well and establish consistency, but if all he does is take care of the ball, the Bears will be fine.

Prediction: Bears, 27-12

New York Jets (3-5) at Miami Dolphins (4-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

All the oxygen has been sucked out of the Dolphins’ season, which started 3-0 but apparently will continue another week without Ryan Tannehill. They’ll also go the rest of the season without wide receiver Albert Wilson. All of which means that if the Jets can’t get their acts together here and now, they might never do it. They’re riding out the growing pains of Sam Darnold, who has the third-worst passer rating in the NFL going into this week (ahead of only fellow rookies Josh Rosen and Josh Allen).

Prediction: Jets, 20-10

Detroit Lions (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (4-3-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

Sunday night’s loss to the Saints at home was a microcosm of the Vikings’ season: exciting, statistically proficient, good to very good at times, but nothing close to as great as expected going into the season. Beating the so-so Lions would reinforce that; so would losing to them. Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, entering the league and getting their massive contracts at different times, are looking more like two peas in a pod every week.

Prediction: Lions, 33-30

Houston Texans (5-3) at Denver Broncos (3-5)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS

The Texans need to win a game like this: on the road, an underachieving-but-dangerous opponent (three of their losses are by a touchdown or less), against a hot-and-cold quarterback (Case Keenum, tied for the most interceptions in the NFL at 10) and a even-hotter-and-colder defense. More than anything, the Texans have to protect Deshaun Watson, because when they do, he’s close unstoppable in every way (one sack, no turnovers in the last two games, both wins).

Prediction: Texans, 30-24

Los Angeles Chargers (5-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-3)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS

The Chargers are still flying under the radar with their only losses coming to the Rams and Chiefs. The Seahawks are a little bit the same: not in the same league as the Rams, but holding their own under the circumstances and bouncing back well after an 0-2 start. The country laughed hysterically at Russell Wilson’s pick-six against the Bears in Week 2; since then, his touchdown-to-interception ratio is 11-1. Philip Rivers is one of the quarterbacks least likely to be rattled by the atmosphere in Seattle.

Prediction: Chargers, 27-17

Los Angeles Rams (8-0) at New Orleans Saints (6-1)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Despite what Michael Jordan has been telling you (as convincing as that is), this is the game of the week, with the potential to be the game of the year. Predictions on who would make the Super Bowl out of the NFC were divided almost equally between these two and the Eagles, and these two have a leg up on the defending champs halfway through the season. The only team with a longer win streak than the Saints’ six-game run is, of course, the Rams. Last year’s game in the Coliseum lived up to the hype. The collection of offensive talent is a virtual Pro Bowl; Kamara and Todd Gurley alone is worth the price. The window is there for the perfect season to be ended. But … it won’t. The Rams have survived threats enough to know how to handle ones like this.

Prediction: Rams, 34-30

Green Bay Packers (3-3-1) at New England Patriots (6-2)

Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC

So, about the Michael Jordan factor … yes, Tom Brady against Aaron Rodgers is what prime-time professional football is all about. It’s a borderline tragedy for the sport that these two not only have never met in a Super Bowl; it’s a fantasy to think they ever will by now. Brady’s perch has been threatened from expected sources (Patrick Mahomes) and unexpected (Trubisky). Logic dictates he’ll win this, too. Rodgers, though, defies logic.

Prediction: Packers, 29-27

Tennessee Titans (3-4) at Dallas Cowboys (3-4)

Sunday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

Kind of an anticlimactic finish to a solid weekend, but better than the way it started. An underrated aspect of the Jameis Winston saga in Tampa Bay is that, by grabbing Marcus Mariota second overall in 2015, the Titans might not have been the winners, either. He might not be fully healthy yet, but the results (three straight losses after a seemingly transformative win over the Eagles) don’t lie. Meanwhile, Amari Cooper debuts for the Cowboys in the role once played, seemingly a decade ago, by Dez Bryant.

Prediction: Cowboys, 23-16

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