Compared to the past few weeks, Week 9 in the NFL has plenty to talk about when it comes to this Sunday’s games. There are big division battles between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North) and the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills (AFC East); the New York Giants and New England Patriots play at 4:15 ET in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII; and the undefeated Green Bay Packers face the San Diego Chargers in what is expected to be a big matchup between the Packers’ high-flying offense and the Chargers’ decent pass defense.
This week, though, Naptime Huddle wants to focus on a couple of other division matchups that most of the media is glazing over (not that I really blame them), but that are interesting nonetheless.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3) @ New Orleans Saints (5-3) (1:00 PM ET, FOX)
This game is interesting for its implications in the NFC South. That division is currently a three-way race between 2010’s Super Bowl champion Saints, the Bucs and the Atlanta Falcons, who are experiencing a mid-season surge, winning three of its last four games, including its last two. The Falcons play the rudderless Colts this week, so the division race should be even closer after this weekend. The Saints suffered a shocking defeat last week against the then-winless St. Louis Rams, so they should be playing angry on Sunday. The Rams’ surprising win was due in part on the ability its running back, Steven Jackson, to run through the Saints defense, which ranks 24th in defending the run. Tampa Bay might emulate the Rams’ strategy this week, especially since QB Josh Freeman is coming off a terrible game against the Chicago Bears in Week 7, when he was intercepted four times. Despite that performance, though, Freeman and the Bucs are 12th in the league in passing. Will the Buccaneers play it safe and run the ball, or will they show some faith in their third-year QB and put the ball in the air?
St. Louis Rams (1-6) @ Arizona Cardinals (1-6) (4:15 PM ET, FOX)
This is a battle in the league’s basement division, the NFC West. Believe it or not, either one of these teams, with just one win each, can take second place in the division with a win. Embattled Arizona QB Kevin Kolb is listed as “questionable” this week with a nagging turf toe injury. With some Cardinals’ fans screaming for Kolb to ride the bench, if backup QB John Skelton starts, will he make a case for a permanent move to starter? On the Rams side, will they need Alka Seltzer in their Gatorade for a hangover from their improbable victory against the Saints, or will the emotional high of last week carry over to this week? One interesting game strategy point: the Rams are dead last—yep, 32nd in the league—in run defense; the Cardinals are 30th in passing defense. Therefore, you would expect the Cardinals to run and the Rams to throw. However, the Rams got their first win running the ball (Steven Jackson had the second best stats among running backs in Week 8) and the Cardinals’ only win, in Week 1, came through the air—Kevin Kolb had a more-than-respectable outing, throwing for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Will the victor in this battle win the way it’s “supposed to,” or will it just win by any means necessary?
For all you fantasy owners, the following teams are on a break this week (it’s not you, it’s them): Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Minnesota Vikings.