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Duke's Picks: Week Nine

Come for the picks; stay for the analysis.

Tannehill needs a big game this weekend.
Tannehill needs a big game this weekend.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another 10-4 record.

Cleveland at Cincinnati

I think most fans would agree that Thursday night games aren't a good idea anymore. The product is poor. That's probably what you're going to get this week as well. On one hand, you have a bad Cleveland team traveling into Cincinnati to face the 7-0 Bengals. On the other hand, you know that prime time Andy Dalton will likely show up. The Bengals are a better team right now and they are playing good team football. They are at home and that is always an advantage on a short week.

Bengals 28 - Browns 17


Green Bay at Carolina

The one-loss Packers take their act on the road to the 7-0 Panthers. The Packers were shut down by what might be considered a historically great defense in Denver. They face another tall task in Carolina who has a tough defense, led by LB Luke Kuechly and CB Josh Norman. The Carolina offense faces a much tougher task than the Indianapolis defense against a Packers' defense that can get after the passer. Carolina struggled offensively on Monday night, but that's in part due to the rain and a poor receiving corps. They will keep the ball on the ground this week. The Packers offense could struggle again as their receivers who struggled to get open against Denver's secondary could struggle to get open against Carolina's secondary. I like the Panthers at home in this one.

Panthers 28 - Packers 27

St. Louis at Minnesota

This game could be a sneaky fun game to watch. Todd Gurley has re-energized the Rams offense, but now has a tough task against a stingy Vikings defense. The Rams defense will have to contain Adrian Peterson and the Vikings's newest weapon, rookie Stefon Diggs, who is quickly becoming Teddy Bridgewater's favorite target. I'm taking the home team in this one.

Vikings 24 - Rams 17

Washington at New England*

The Patriots* are clicking right now and I don't think the Redskins have what it takes to stop them.

Patriots* 35 - Redskins 17

Tennessee at New Orleans

Drew Brees just had a career game, throwing 7 TDs against the Giants lack of defense. Of course, the Saints gave up 6 passing TDs of their own. The Titans just let head coach Ken Whisenhunt go, but I'm not expecting a Dan Campbell-esque turnaround from them. This game could be close, but I think the Saints prevail in the end.

Saints 28 - Titans 21

New York Jets at Jacksonville

This game has sneaky good potential IFF Bortles' weapons can get open regularly. Receiver Allen Robinson is producing at high levels and could be one of the next great receivers. He could have a good day against the Jets regardless. I don't trust the Jags yet though, so they need to prove they can win before I pick them.

Jets 21 - Jaguars 14


Oakland at Pittsburgh

Alright Raiders, you have my attention. They kept it close against the Broncos, the same Broncos team that dominated Aaron Rodgers. They beat up on the Jets last week. Oakland has some talent and QB Derek Carr looks much improved. However, they still have several issues that could be exploited with a good QB. This week, they face one of the best QBs in the league. That's the good news for the Steelers. The bad news is that they lost Le'Veon Bell to an injury last week. He's out for the season and the Steelers will have to rely on De'Angelo Williams. That will hurt them over the long run, but Roethlisberger should be able to get them past a tough Raiders team this week.

Steelers 24 - Raiders 21

Atlanta at San Francisco

The 49ers announced this week that Blaine Gabbert will start over Colin Kaepernick against the Falcons. That's about all you need to know regarding the state of the Niners and this game.

Falcons 31 - 49ers 14

New York Giants at Tampa Bay

I had no clue how to feel about this game. I literally flipped a coin to decide. Heads: Giants, Tails: Bucs. It landed on tails. Bucs are at home too.

Buccaneers 24 - Giants 21

Denver at Indianapolis

What is that saying about bad quarterbacks get coaches fired? The Colts just let offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton go. Just sayin'. The Colts aren't a good team at all. Andrew Luck isn't playing that well. He's making poor decisions and inaccurate throws. The running game is weak as is the OL. The defense had a decent showing against the Panthers, but that could have been due to the sloppy conditions. Now this Colts team is going into a game against as mentioned a potentially historically great defense. Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense hasn't looked great, but they haven't needed to. I will be very surprised if the Colts' offense can do to Denver what the Packers' offense could not. This one could get ugly, as in 3 to 5 interception day ugly. The saddest part? The Texans will lead the division after this game... at 3-5.

Broncos 28 - Colts 14

Philadelphia at Dallas

Neither of these teams is good and Dallas may once against start Matt Cassel.

Eagles 21 - Cowboys 14

Chicago at San Diego

I said last week that the loser of the San Diego -Baltimore game was done for the season. That was San Diego and their season is pretty much over. Not just because of their record, but also because they lost top wideout Keenan Allen for the season. Meanwhile, the Bears look tougher than expected. They lost Matt Forte to injury for at least this week, but Alshon Jeffrey looks like he's back to form. The Bears defense is tougher than expected too. I like them this week in a close one.

Bears 24 - Chargers 21

Miami at Buffalo

I think many fans have reached a consensus on the idea that the Pats* game was not a "true" litmus test. This week's game IS the true litmus test. It was a tough thought that the Dolphins with an interim head coach could go into that contest and win. And the good news is that as badly as they played overall, the game was relatively close until late. The worst part for me was that Miami scored in the 3rd quarter, and then had the ball ready to move again. On a third and one, Dallas Thomas gets beaten badly by a DT and that defenders tackled the RB in the backfield. End of drive; end of game.

This week, the Dolphins have another division opponent. To be fair, this is a different situation though. The first two division games had a listless Philbin running things. The third was the Pats* game. The question is will this game be different? Buffalo is struggling as well. Both teams are teetering on the brink of a lost season. A win for either team puts them at 4-4. A loss puts them at 3-5. This is a critical game.

The Dolphins decided to go away from their running game once again and they need to get back to their more balanced attack. Can they do that against Buffalo? It will be tougher without Ja'Wuan James in the lineup. The idea has been floated around out there that Dallas Thomas could move back to RT. That's a terrible idea. Jason Fox will have to do, I suppose, but Miami had a worse OL last season and Miller was still able to run over them. Miller averaged 4.2 and 5.4 YPC against Buffalo last season and averaged 5.4 YPC against them this year. Miller and hopefully Jay Ajayi should be featured heavily against the Bills. Ajayi is a rookie and expectations should be low. But he can't be worse than Gray right? Miami really needs that running back tandem to be effective. Miller is good but the dropoff from him to the next guy is significant.

On defense, this is the game where Chris McCain needs to announce his presence. His performance in week one of last season was more of a "peak your head around the corner and say hello" type of deal. With Cam Wake out for the year, McCain needs to show that he can be an edge rushing presence the Dolphins need. He won't start over Derrick Shelby, nor should he. But both Shelby and Olivier Vernon are free agents after this season. The Dolphins may not keep either (they should keep Shelby). McCain now has an opportunity to prove he can fill that spot on a more permanent basis. He has the size, speed, and explosiveness to be an edge rusher. He looks like he has the ability to get low and bend to get the edge. He still needs some work with his hands and technique. But that should come with experience. I fully expect him to be active this week and I fully expect him to get about 20 or so snaps in obvious passing situations. Positive performances from McCain over the next 9 games will help ease the concern over the pass rushing needs in 2016 and beyond.

Another critical move for the defense is Michael Thomas starting over Walt Aikens. I like Aikens and I think he can be a good player. But he isn't ready right now. I mentioned a few weeks ago that Thomas is similar to Chris Clemons in that he's not a highlight reel, playmaker type of guy, but he is smart and solid. He's not likely to give you the big plays, but he's not likely to give up big plays either. I like Thomas both now and into the future for the safety position. He's developing into a dependable starter in a secondary that needs one. A safety tandem of Jones and Thomas is good enough. PFF tweeted out their top 32 safeties after week 8. Thomas is rated as the 29th best safety based on their grading system. Per their new grading system, Thomas is rated as a starter caliber player at 75.9 (a grade from 70.0 to 84.0 is considered starter level). For perspective, the Giants, Packers, Bengals, Jacksonville, Houston, Indianapolis, and San Diego didn't have a safety listed on that list. Buffalo's highest rated safety is Aaron Williams at 31 (75.5 grade). Kam Chancellor is rated 77.0. To cap it off, PFF's grading system rates anything 90 or higher as elite. Reshad Jones is graded 4th at 90.0. There are only 4 players graded 90 or better. Not that everyone trusts PFF, and I'm kinda falling onto that side of things, but it does show that someone sees that Thomas is a good player.

For everything involved, this will be the biggest test for Dan Campbell. Can he rally the team after a big loss? Yes, they were "running through walls" for him after big wins. Are they still buying in now? They loss confidence that Philbin was developing a good enough game plan to win each week. Are they still confident in Campbell? We will see. The Dolphins aren't good on the toad within the division. They need this game more than the Bills. They want to prove to everyone that they are a playoff caliber team. Can they do it?

Dolphins 24 - Bills 21

Duke's Record: 70-49-0