Every so often, the NFL schedule’s stars align perfectly to produce playoff-caliber matchups in the middle of the regular season. That’s certainly the case for Week 9 anyway, with Sunday’s slate serving up a pair of contests involving contenders for a first-round bye in the postseason. Sports bettors should love NFL Week 9’s match-ups.
Potential Super Bowl Preview Hinges on Mahomes’ Status
Before the regular season kicked off, online sportsbook Bovada had both the Kansas City Chiefs (5-3) and Minnesota Vikings (6-2) ranked among the site’s most likely contenders to win Super Bowl 54. And while an injured knee has hobbled electric quarterback Pat Mahomes to put a dent in the Chiefs’ record thus far, the team is still just a half-game away from first-round bye status.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Minnesota, on the other hand, has won despite typically inconsistent play from signal-caller Kirk Cousins, who has alternated between bust and world-beater in the second year of his record-breaking contract. Head coach Mike Zimmer’s relentless commitment to “establishing the run” has led to running back Dalvin Cook enjoying a breakout season and even MVP consideration – all while lessening the load shouldered by a turnover-prone Cousins in the passing game.
To wit, Mahomes has completed more passes at 157 than Cousins (155), despite missing most of one game and all of another due to injury.
When the Vikings hit the road and head to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Chiefs this Sunday, the status of Mahomes will make all the difference. As of Tuesday, the 2018 MVP is listed as doubtful, with veteran NFL reporter Ian Rapoport revealing that Mahomes has an “outside chance” to play in this pivotal chance to jockey for improved playoff positioning.
Kansas City acquitted itself nicely without Mahomes on last week’s edition of Sunday Night Football, thanks to the level-headed play of veteran backup QB Matt Moore combined with head coach Andy Reid’s absurdly creative play-calling. Nonetheless, the Chiefs watched Aaron Rodgers lead the Green Bay Packers (7-1) to a 31-24 victory, and their grip on a first-round bye slip away in the process.
Mahomes has practiced lightly last week, telling Reid he felt capable of playing in fact, so he very well may get his wish on the heels of a close loss. Bovada didn’t have a line posted as of Tuesday, but most sportsbooks in Las Vegas and online early in the week had the Vikings as (-2.5) road favorites assuming Moore gets the nod once again.
AFC Championship Game Redux Could Decide Seeding for Round III
The New England Patriots (8-0) are defending their latest Lombardi Trophy in style, summarily dispatching the league’s easiest schedule thus far to the tune of a (+189) point differential.
Only one other team has topped the (+100) plateau, but at (+130), the San Francisco 49ers (7-0) could repeat last week’s 51-13 blowout and still wouldn’t come within three touchdowns of New England’s utterly dominant start. The Patriots dynasty and its six Super Bowl titles have largely been keyed by QB Tom Brady’s steady hand and pinpoint passing, but this year’s squad is all about the defense.
Powered by a league-leading 17 turnovers (no other team has more than 10) and 31 sacks, New England’s defense has suffocated opposing offenses while allowing only 7.6 points per game.
New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens
But after eight straight cupcakes and several backup QBs to whet their appetite, New England’s potentially all-time great defensive front faces its first true test on Sunday Night Football when they visit the Baltimore Ravens (5-2).
Baltimore is scoring 30.6 points per game on the season, second only to New England (31.3) in terms of offensive potency. The Patriots scoring has been fueled by pick-sixes, punt block returns, and a slew of short fields gifted by that overwhelming defense. The Ravens, meanwhile, are getting most of their point production from one source, second-year starter and scrambler extraordinaire Lamar Jackson.
With his 576 yards on the ground, Jackson ranks seventh in the NFL’s rushing ranks, and he’s also seventh in the league when it comes to ESPN’s Total QBR stat.
It’s safe to say New England’s defense hasn’t faced a dual threat like Jackson so far, which makes Sunday’s matchup as (-4) road favorites much more intriguing than meets the eye. The Pats and Ravens split a pair of AFC Championship Games in 2011 and 2012, and the winner of this one just might earn the right to host a third clash come January.