Week 9 NFL Preview: What will be the Deciding Factor in this week's games?

Week 9 of the NFL season started on Thursday Night Football as the Green Bay Packers exacted revenge on a weakened San Francisco 49ers team. Today brings another fascinating slate of game, many of which will have a direct impact on the playoffs in 2020. Let’s take a look at what elements will be deciding factors in our preview of the NFL Week 9 games.

New York Giants @ Washington Football Team

Although these teams have both struggled to get out of the cellar this season, Washington have at least looked competent in multiple areas. The DL of Washington pose a formidable threat, and with the Giants’ OL struggling regularly, QB Daniel Jones will need to be on the move a lot. New York’s run game was slightly better in Week 8 with RB Alfred Morris in the backfield, but Washington’s weakness on defense is against the pass. If Jones can evade the pass rush, WR Golden Tate and TE Evan Engram should be free over the middle often, but the throws still need to be accurate enough. 

For Washington, their strength on offense is their RBs, yet this is the Giants’ largest strength of any component. While RBs JD McKissic and Antonio Gibson will get chances as receivers instead, the Giants could hang around in this if they continue to limit rushing yards. Washington should be able to get WR Terry McLaurin going though against a poor secondary, with contributions from the other WRs as well. Unless the Giants can craft an improved blitz and get pressure constantly, Washington should be able to stay in front at the end of the game.

NFL Week 9 Preview
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) walks off the field after a 25-23 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium on Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in East Rutherford. (USA Today)

Chicago Bears @ Tennessee Titans

While Chicago’s defense continues to keep the Bears in games, until their offense improves and becomes consistent, they’ll lose more games than they win. Against Tennessee, the Bears could have more success, as the Titans’ defense has been average in all areas. Tennessee’s struggling pass rush should have more success against the Bears’ interior OL, but needs to strike quickly as their secondary will struggle to consistently cover the combination of Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, Jimmy Graham and David Montgomery, even with Safety Kevin Byard over the top. Montgomery will be less of a threat as a runner, but the Bears can’t abandon the run too early, and will work in Cordarelle Patterson and Mooney as ball carriers at times too. 

The Titans can control the game early on if they not only get stops on defense, but get a lead and force the Bears to try and keep up. The Titans will continue to lean on RB Derrick Henry, although he could have a tough time running against the Bears’ DL Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols, or to the outside against the LBs. The Titans will work in play action gradually to get shots downfield, but TE Jonnu Smith and WRs Corey Davis and AJ Brown should see plenty of work on out routes and along the sidelines. As effective as the Bears’ defense is, it can only hold on for so long if its offense struggles again.

Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings

Although Detroit turned their season around in recent weeks, it was in large part to the return of WR Kenny Golladay from injury. Now, with Golladay possibly heading to IR, the Lions will struggle to compete in tough games again. Their receiving depth is now significantly weaker, with the burden falling to WR Marvin Jones and TE TJ Hockenson. Minnesota’s CBs have improved since Week 1, and can now afford to double either one of these players with Safety Anthony Harris. To make matters worse for Detroit, QB Matthew Stafford is in doubt for this week’s game, as he was placed on the Covid list earlier in the week. 

With the Vikings also improving against the run, the Lions will need to get creative with their RBs, and could increasingly use 2RB formations, allowing them to split D’Andre Swift and/or Kerryon Johnson out as receivers. 

For Detroit on defense, this game figures to be a pick-your-poison sort of scenario, as they can target the run or pass, leaving themselves exposed to the other. In Week 8, RB Dalvin Cook put up over 150 rushing yards and four TDs. Detroit will need to have their LBs ready to cover outside the tackles to limit Cook’s impact. Even if they manage to do this, Detroit will still be largely in single coverage against either WR Adam Thielen or Justin Jefferson, leaving the other free to run over the middle or down the sideline, respectively, while the other WRs or TEs get easier coverage as well. Minnesota holds all the cards in this one, especially with Cook demanding attention and the WRs outmatching the CBs.

Carolina Panthers @ Kansas City Chiefs

Carolina are hopeful they will have RB Christian McCaffrey back this week, even if he just frees up some other players. Backup RB Mike Davis should still see plenty of time on the field, and using both at the same time will give Carolina plenty of creativity to deceive the Chiefs’ defense. While Kansas City will bring Safeties Juan Thornhill and Tyrann Mathieu up to the line to attack the RBs, they will be risking WRs DJ Moore, Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel getting open more often as they run crossing routes. Although Carolina can move the ball well at times, if this game becomes a shootout they are likely to come off second best. 

Kansas City will look to build a lead early, and against Carolina’s sub-par run defense, may not rely on QB Patrick Mahomes as much as Week 8. With RBs Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Le’Veon Bell giving the Chiefs short yardage situations, Carolina will find it hard to keep up in coverage with Tyreek Hill, while they lack a bigger body capable of covering TE Travis Kelce. With the Chiefs not being limited much in this game, the Panthers are relying on their pass rush getting the job done – which they’ve been average at this season. Kansas City should gradually pull away as the game continues.

Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars

With both teams stuck in limbo of not likely to get the first overall pick, or pushing for the playoffs, this game should see plenty of points. Neither team’s defense has been particularly impressive, and it could come down to whoever gets the ball last. 

The Jaguars at least have been able to run the ball, although the Texans have had some games where they have looked stout against the run. Instead, the Jaguars’ 3WR sets should cause more trouble, as Keelan Cole and Chris Conley attack the seam, Colin Johnson goes deep, and DJ Chark takes the outside and slant routes. With Houston having a few good CBs, but not the depth across the secondary as a whole, they could give up completion after completion if their pass rush doesn’t get home, even with QB Jake Luton starting instead of Gardner Minshew. 

Similarly, the Texans will also focus on the pass more, as they have had few games where their rushing attack has worked. The Jaguars’ secondary is also the more vulnerable part of their defense, and if they continue to play a zone system, the likes of Kenny Stills and Will Fuller will use their speed on vertical routes and deep crosses, with Brandon Cooks as a shorter, outside threat. 

Baltimore Ravens @ Indianapolis Colts

With the Ravens’ defense possibly weakened due to Covid tests this week, they need their front seven to be dominant, especially in taking away RB Jonathan Taylor. If Taylor continues to be a factor, even on fake handoffs, it could create enough space for QB Philip Rivers to find his TEs, who should be the main targets. Indianapolis will use few sets with more than 2 WRs, giving them extra blockers as well. 

Baltimore should be able to field a team that can stop the pass often enough, but maybe less effectively than they normally would. Likewise, the Ravens have been less effective on offense this season too. As much as they like to run the ball, that could play into the Colts’ hands, as their LBs have good speed and are sure tacklers. 

The Ravens should be looking to get their passing attack going against the Colts instead, with WR Devin Duvernay (if healthy) especially able to stretch the field, leaving Marquise Brown free to attack the middle of the field instead, and TE Mark Andrews on levels concepts underneath Brown. Yet further complicating matters for the Ravens is their OL, which sustained multiple injuries in Week 8, and figures to be vulnerable to DL Solomon Thomas up the middle. A few weeks ago, the Ravens would have been favourites, but things aren’t lining up for them to get a win in Week 9, and it could get ugly for them too. While they are a good team, there is lot working against them right now.

Seattle Seahawks @ Buffalo Bills

Seattle have been good at attacking downfield this year, but could be forced to be more patient against Buffalo. The Bills have struggled against the run, and the Seahawks should look to exploit this early on with Travis Homer and Deejay Dallas. From here, the Seahawks can take more shots downfield to WR DK Metcalf, or to Tyler Lockett who will be used all over the field. If Seattle moves the ball on the ground well, they should be able to establish a comfortable lead by the fourth quarter. 

On the other hand, Buffalo’s own running game will work the other way, Once the Bills get the ball moving through the air, with WR Stefon Diggs the focal point, then RBs Zach Moss and Devin Singletary will get room to run. With Diggs drawing attention over the middle, Gabriel Davis will have space on the outside, and Cole Beasley and the RBs on shorter routes. While Seattle could have Safety Jamal Adams back to bolster their pass rush, they need to get after QB Josh Allen early, so that he can’t get into a rhythm, and is forced to start making riskier throws. 

With Buffalo struggling over the past month compared to their opening few weeks, Seattle should be able to game plan well enough to get stops and avoid having to play from behind, which is where they have struggled a bit.

Denver Broncos @ Atlanta Falcons

Denver are continuing to notch wins as the season continues, and with their defense and offense both playing well, they are more well-rounded than Atlanta. The Broncos should be able to restrict the Falcons’ run game constantly, but will be tested in the air. With WRs Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley as one of the league’s best tandems, QB Matt Ryan will be free to target whoever is given more space. Ridley’s 7-routes have been devastating all season, while Jones has been both a vertical threat and a danger on crossing routes, forcing Denver to back off coverage from Ridley (if healthy) slightly, and using a Safety as extra insurance against Jones. 

If Denver can get some stops, it will set their offense up to get after a less-than-average Atlanta defense. WR Tim Patrick should see targets frequently as Denver attacks the outside, with WR Jerry Jeudy and TE Noah Fant attack over the middle. This will in turn free up the shorter options of WR KJ Hamler and TE Albert Okwuegbunam, as well as the RBs out of the backfield. RBs Melvin Gordon and Philip Lindsay will need to attack the middle to slow down the Falcons’ blitzing, but Denver’s points will mostly come through the air. This game could go either way, and really comes down to how well Denver handle the Falcons’ receivers.

Las Vegas Raiders @ Los Angeles Chargers

Las Vegas’ have found different ways to win this season, and may need to do so again against the Chargers. As much as they will feed RB Josh Jacobs, the Chargers defensive front can slow him down well enough, even if the Raiders are using extra blockers. Instead, the Raiders will need to use more 3WR sets and attack the LBs through the air, as this is where Los Angeles have had difficulty this season. Once their passing game gets going, then Jacobs will be more effective. 

The Chargers, meanwhile, will be hard-pressed to withstand the Raiders’ pass rush constantly. Their rushing attack hasn’t been the same without RB Austin Ekeler, and they could continue to see limited rushing yards against the Raiders. Instead, Los Angeles’ best chance of success is attacking the CBs, with Keenan Allen creating separation with his route running, Mike Williams with his size, and a combination of Jalen Guyton, Joe Reed and KJ Hill over the middle. Despite QB Justin Herbert keeping the Chargers in games each week, it hasn’t culminated in wins, and barring a let down performance by the Raiders, that isn’t about to change.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Dallas Cowboys

With the Steelers’ defense firing on all cylinders for the majority of this season, it’s hard to see how the Cowboys will reach the end zone enough times to pull out a win. Dallas’ OL struggled to hold out the Eagles’ four-man pass rush, and is unlikely to have better success against the likes of Casey Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and TJ Watt. With Pittsburgh not having to blitz in this one, they can use the extra defender to cover the 3WR sets used by the Cowboys. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick likely covers Ceedee Lamb at times, with the outside CBs taking Gallup and Cooper. 

Although the Steelers gave up over 200 rushing yards against Baltimore, giving Dallas hope behind RB Ezekiel Elliott, he won’t have the same blocking or rushing lanes that the Ravens can create. 

Dallas’ defense will similarly be outmatched, with the Steelers’ own 3WR sets going to seriously challenge the mediocre secondary of the Cowboys. Dallas will play Cover 2 and shade WR Juju Smith-Schuster often, but this will leave space on the outside for WRs Chase Claypool and Deiontae Johnson to run vertical routes. With their passing attack, and defensive front, Pittsburgh should be able to get a lead by half time, and close it out after that.

Miami Dolphins @ Arizona Cardinals

Coming off a bye, Arizona will have watched Miami’s Week 8 win off the back of special teams a defensive play, and should be confident they can go toe-to-toe with a team that has already beaten two of their three divisional rivals. 

Miami’s defense disguises their coverage and pass rush by bringing their LBs up to the line of scrimmage, before dropping three defenders out of their LBs and DL. Arizona will be forced to rush to the outside more, which could benefit QB Kyler Murray when he takes off. Miami’s secondary can handle the spacing concepts used by the Cardinals, but don’t necessarily have the CB to close down WR DeAndre Hopkins in single coverage. The Cardinals should be looking to go deep more often with WRs Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella so that Hopkins and Larry Fitzgerald can see more space on shorter and intermediate routes. 

Miami’s offense will use RBs as receivers to the outside and slants by WR DeVante Parker to draw defenders in, allowing Preston Williams, Mike Gesicki, and Jakeem Grant to run deeper crossing, out and corner routes. Miami’s passing attack needs to find the holes over the middle if they are to move the ball effectively, but should get chances. 

The Cardinals can win if their own passing game can improve from the first several weeks of the season, and with Murray at QB, always have an extra weapon that can keep them in it. The teams are relatively evenly matched, but if overall talent wins out, the Cardinals could just sneak the win here.

New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers struggled against the Giants in Week 8, but should be more optimistic that they can fix things in their second meeting with the Saints. 

While Tampa Bay are still waiting for their entire offense to be healthy at once, they are more familiar with each other than they were in Week 1. WR Mike Evans is still not seeing the targets downfield, but he is at least drawing enough attention for Tom Brady to attack down seam and over the middle constantly. WRs Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson should see plenty of action if Chris Godwin is still out. But with Antonio Brown ready to make his debut for the team, the Saints are going to find it hard to slow down the aerial attack if they can’t generate a pass rush, and will be reliant on their LBs taking away spaces over the middle. 

The Buccaneers will run the ball often, especially if they have success on the ground early. The Saints, meanwhile, will run the ball more frequently, and can capitalise on a weakened Buccaneers DL that lacks Vita Vea. RB Alvin Kamara should find some space through the middle, but the outsides could be closed down regularly by the LBs. New Orleans’ WRs will have it hard getting past Tampa Bay’s secondary, but with screens and overloading one side of the field, could get short gains constantly. While Tampa Bay have the main advantages due to their depth on offense and overall defense, if the Saints can force Brady to be out of rhythm, and take their chances when they are there, they could have a chance to win it late.

New England Patriots @ New York Jets

Although the Patriots haven’t been at their best over the past month, the Jets are still winless in 2020. With New England leaning heavily into running plays, it at least gives New York fewer surprises to deal with. However, with the Jets above average on defending runs inside the tackles, it does leave them heavily exposed to QB reads and toss/pitch plays to RBs down the outside. The Patriots will still have some pass plays, but they will be simple reads short and over the middle mostly, instead of riskier throws to the sidelines. 

The Jets’ offense is improving with rookie WR Denzel Mims back from IR, and have multiple options outside of Jamison Crowder now. Between Mims, Crowder and TE Chris Herndon, the Jets can now attack in different ways, with RB La’Mical Perine as a receiver underneath and to the flat. Crowder and Herndon will mostly run crossing routes to stay inside of the CBs. 

While the Patriots could use Cover 3 zones to force QB Sam Darnold to be precise in his timing, they are more likely to keep their LBs in coverage over the middle while spying Darnold. With Darnold making plays with his legs, the Patriots will keep him in the pocket with delayed blitzes at times, trusting their secondary to create coverage sacks. 

While the Jets are looking better on offense, their struggling defense will give up too many points in this one to earn a win.

OWen Ravenna