It's an old gambling maxim: beware the road favorite. The week nine NFL schedule is therefore littered with Hurt Locker-style bombs, with six teams expected to win away from their home stadium (by comparison, the last three weeks have only seen a total of seven).
Tread lightly, my friends.
Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-8 1/2). Further evidence of this season's unpredictability: the Falcons-Bucs matchup can make a strong argument for "game of the week," which would have been unthinkable a month ago. As for the line, yeah, it looks high. My buddy and I were guessing it would land between four and six, but the larger number actually makes me more confident. Vegas is clearly trying to talk you into a Bucs selection here, and that's good news for Falcons fans. Plus, just look at the situation: Atlanta is great at home, the team is rested after a bye week, and - record be damned - these are still the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. PICK: Atlanta
New Orleans (-6 1/2) @ Carolina. The line makes no sense, which should raise warning flags into the clouds. There's a hundred reasons New Orleans should beat Carolina by double digits, much less a single touchdown. However, this might be one of those times Las Vegas proves it has the world's only functioning time machine. As in, the clock ticks down to zero just as Steve Smith hauls in a garbage Hail Mary, the Saints come out on top 23-17, and a nation of gamblers looks for a razor blade. I know I should pick Carolina here, and I wish I was strong enough to do it. PICK: New Orleans
Chicago (-3) @ Buffalo. Last Sunday, I finally got a chance to see the 0-7 Bills play at length, and they're really not that bad. Buffalo's schedule has been brutal - its first six opponents are a combined 34-17, not a single one of them below .500. The winless wagon will be empty Monday morning. PICK: Buffalo
NY Jets (-4 1/2) @ Detroit. "I know this, Mr. Trebek. What are 'two fanbases I wouldn't want to accompany into a dark alley?'" Unlike last week, the Jets will find a way to put points on the board - but the Week of the Upset claims a second victim here. PICK: Detroit
San Diego (-3) @ Houston. I can't really argue with any of the road favorite tags, except this one. The Texans are certainly an up-and-down squad, but their ups are pretty high - beating Indianapolis and Kansas City at home, Washington and Oakland on the road. The Chargers, on the other hand, are 1-3 in their last four, and I think last week's Tennessee victory is being overvalued. PICK: Houston
Arizona @ Minnesota (-8). The thought of watching this game causes me physical pain. Oh, and was I the only one surprised that Randy Moss played four games for Minnesota this season? I would have sworn it was two, max. The season is flyin'. PICK: Arizona
Miami @ Baltimore (-5). The Dolphins have yet to win at home, and have yet to lose on the road - but that weirdness will end on Sunday. However, since the Ravens visit the Georgia Dome just five days later, let's hope for a bruising, bloody game that knocks half the Ravens out for a week. Because I'm not one of those dudes who says, "I want to play a team at their best!" No, I want to play a Ravens team with Anquan Boldin, Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, Derrick Mason, Ed Reed, Ray Rice and Terrell Suggs in street clothes. PICK: Baltimore
New England (-4) @ Cleveland. To quote The Black-Eyed Peas, "I gotta feeling." And to quote a band that doesn't completely suck, "I can't sing but I've got soul." Well, I do have a feeling, and I do have soul, and they're both telling me Cleveland is going to win outright. But hey, I'll take the four points if you insist. PICK: Cleveland
NY Giants (-6 1/2) @ Seattle. Color me confused. Two weeks ago, most of the internet's power rankings had Atlanta sitting atop the NFC. Well, one bye week later, and suddenly the Giants are the class of all things National Football Conference. Was a six-point NY win over a dreadful Dallas all that convincing? Or was it the victories against the motley crew of Detroit, Carolina and Chicago? Any Eli Manning-led team needs to prove a lot more before it makes me a believer. PICK: Seattle
Indianapolis @ Philadelphia (-3). Homerism aside, this is probably the sexiest game of the weekend. Vick is back at starter, but what's truly exciting is the battle of the head coaches: Andy Reid vs. Peyton Manning. Seriously, last week Manning signaled they were going for it on fourth down, not waiting for even a cursory thumbs-up from Jim Caldwell. The Colts need to make it official next year and dust off the player/manager label. PICK: Indianapolis
Kansas City @ Oakland (-2). Oh Darren McFadden, how I love you. Drafted you on my fantasy team, which left me feeling blue. But then you started playing like you were a stud anew. And almost single-handedly kept my team from being poo. (It's the rare player who can make me rhyme. So well.) PICK: Oakland
Dallas @ Green Bay (-7 1/2). So some people think NBC wishes they could "flex" this game; ie. cherry-pick a more desirable matchup from Sunday's action to replace this snoozer. Except it just doesn't feel like that to me - say what you will, but Cowboys-Packers will be an interesting game no matter what the records are. And hell, it's just fun to watch a grimacing Jerry Jones as Rodgers throws yet another TD on a semi-retired secondary. The ratings will prove a simple fact: NFL royalty is always NFL royalty. PICK: Green Bay
Pittsburgh (-5) @ Cincinnati. Not sure how much my Week 1 visit to Pennsylvania swayed me, but I can't get over the feeling that Pittsburgh is the "good guy" in the AFC race - which is admittedly bewildering considering the Roethlisberger saga (not to mention James Harrison's hits). It's just a Belichick-coached team can never be a beacon of light, the Ravens sort of speak for themselves, and ugh, I know, the Colts - but they take cyborg qualities and somehow make them boring. Which, as a fan of cyborgs, I can't forgive. PICK: Pittsburgh
Last week: 9-4-0