NFL Week 9 picks: Tennessee Titans were 5-0, then lost two straight. What happened?

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All NFL teams lose, unless you’re the 1972 Miami Dolphins. The trick for good teams is to not go on a losing streak, or lose to a clearly inferior opponent.

The Tennessee Titans did both in Week 8.

A loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers two weeks ago wasn’t ideal but understandable. But losing to the Cincinnati Bengals last week was just bad, especially since the Titans never led. They faced a pair of 17-point deficits to a team that was 1-5-1 coming in.

The problem has mostly been the defense. Even when the Titans were 5-0, they won three games in which they allowed 30 points. It’s hard to ask an offense to continue to win games like that. Against the Bengals, whose bad offensive line was even worse last week due to injuries, the Titans got no pressure. It was troubling.

Tennessee’s biggest problem, by far, has been on third downs. The Titans are allowing teams to convert a league-high 61.9 percent of third downs. No other team is allowing a rate higher than 54.2 percent and only two other teams are even over 50 percent. Not only are the Titans the worst third-down defense in the league, they’re lapping the field. You can’t win games if the defense can’t get off the field.

The Titans traded with the Los Angeles Chargers for cornerback Desmond King, which could help. They cut pass rusher Vic Beasley’s whose half-season with the Titans was a disaster. They need to figure out something.

The offense has been good but on a day like Sunday, when a key player like A.J. Brown was taken out of the game by the Bengals, the Titans can get exposed as a team with an offense that’s very good but not exactly the Kansas City Chiefs, and a defense that hasn’t performed up to expectations. Suddenly the Titans, who were 5-0 a couple weeks ago, are tied for first place in the AFC South with the Indianapolis Colts.

The good news for the Titans is this week they face a Chicago Bears offense that can’t take advantage of their defensive issues. The Bears are 5-3, which is a misleading record because they have one of the NFL’s worst offenses. The Titans are 5.5-point favorites, which seems a little high given the Bears’ record and the Titans’ two-game losing streak, but I’ll still take Tennessee. (Tennesseans can as well, with mobile betting coming online in the state on Nov. 1.) The Titans defense isn’t great but I don’t think Chicago is the team to exploit it.

But if the Titans do drop a third in a row, that 5-0 start will be all but wasted and there will be plenty of panic. Justifiably so.

Tennessee Titans' Corey Davis (84) is defended by Cincinnati Bengals' William Jackson (22) in last week's loss. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
The Tennessee Titans' Corey Davis (84) is defended by the Cincinnati Bengals' William Jackson (22) in last week's loss. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Here are the picks for Week 9 in the NFL, with spreads from BetMGM:

Packers (-5.5) over 49ers

We have seen Nick Mullens go into turnover-machine mode, but the injury I’m most worried about isn’t Jimmy Garoppolo, it’s George Kittle. He adds so much value to the offense. The 49ers might be in trouble without him.

Seahawks (-3) over Bills

Look Bills fans, your team isn’t playing great. The last time Buffalo truly looked like one of the NFL’s top teams was probably the first half of the game against the Rams, and that was Week 3. A 6-2 record is fantastic and nobody is trying to take that away. But Buffalo needs to start playing better soon if it wants to maintain anywhere near that pace.

Broncos (+4) over Falcons

I’m not sure why I don’t yet trust this Falcons resurgence. I’m going to assume Calvin Ridley doesn’t play, which obviously is a factor too. I don’t trust the Broncos either, but I’ll take points against a two-win Falcons team.

Lions (+4) over Vikings

The Vikings aren’t suddenly good. Dalvin Cook had a big day against the Packers, but the rest of the team did little. There are still cornerback problems. The Lions aren’t good either, and the loss of Kenny Golladay is bad for an offense that has struggled without him, but I’m not sure why this spread is more than a field goal.

Ravens (-2.5) over Colts

In most times this would be one of the juiciest lines of the year, an overreaction to a Ravens loss in which they tripled up the Steelers’ yardage. But the COVID-19 issues with the Ravens make this one hard to call. I’ll still take the Ravens for now but we’ll see how the week goes.

Chiefs (-10.5) over Panthers

I hate taking double-digit favorites in the NFL, but here’s what I hate even more: Betting against Patrick Mahomes and that offense.

Texans (-7) over Jaguars

If you’ve been reading the picks every week, maybe you’ve noticed that we basically start the picks with fading the Jaguars and then move on to the rest of the games. That’s the one automatic play, and I’m not changing it this week with Jake Luton (who?) taking over at quarterback for an injured Gardner Minshew II.

Washington (-3) over Giants

I have come to believe Washington is the best team in the NFC East (their odds to win the division are still +400 at BetMGM). Here’s the first test of that theory.

Raiders (+1) over Chargers

This is a pretty disrespectful line. The Raiders have gone 4-3 against a very hard schedule. The Chargers are fun with Justin Herbert tearing it up, but this is still the Chargers. They can find a way to lose any game. I get it. The Raiders’ advanced stats aren’t all that pretty and the defense is not good. But I believe in the Raiders.

Cardinals (-5) over Dolphins

If you had the Dolphins last week, you know you got away with one. Tua Tagovailoa did almost nothing in his first start. Teams can’t depend on defensive and special teams touchdowns to win games. Until Tagovailoa plays better, I’ll be looking to go against Miami. He’s capable of it of course, I just need to see it first.

Saints (+5.5) over Buccaneers

The Michael Thomas absence is ... curious, let’s say. I figure he’ll be back and that does change things for the Saints, who have been very underwhelming despite a 5-2 record. I like the Buccaneers to win but am just a little leery of laying that many points.

Steelers (off) over Cowboys

This line is off the board at BetMGM due to uncertainty with the Cowboys quarterback situation. I’ll make it easy: Oddsmakers can’t set a line high enough for me to take Dallas.

Patriots (-7) over Jets

The biggest indictment of the 2020 Patriots might be that they’re only laying a touchdown against one of the worst teams in modern NFL history.

Last week: 7-7
Season to date: 60-55-3

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