DOLPHINS (4-3) at COLTS (4-3), 1 p.m.
Outlook: It is Week 9 in the NFL and the Dolphins are playing an important game with bearing on the AFC playoff race. I call that progress. Heck, it might be closer to miraculous considering the team was winless a year ago today. The thing is, Indianapolis is much better, too, driven by rookie Andrew Luck. What odds you could have gotten in July if you’d bet that both of these teams would be over .500. In fact if Ryan Tannehill plays Sunday — he’s questionable — he and Luck will be the first rookie QBs since 1970 to meet in the regular season with at least three wins each. Impressive. Now the good news/bad news. The bad news: I hunch the Colts will win in a slight upset. The good news for Dolphins fans: I’m only 3-4 picking Miami games this year. The betting line doesn’t so much flatter Miami as disrespect Indy.
Prediction: Colts, 21-20
LIONS (3-4) at JAGUARS (1-6), 1 p.m.
Outlook: When presented a weak crop of lousy matchups, a Jacksonville home game is a safe default pick as the Dog Game of the Week. The Jags played Green Bay surprisingly tough last week but haven’t stopped being a moribund 1-6 squad without their best player in injured Maurice Jones-Drew. Detroit isn’t much of a road team, and so the upset factor here is medium-high, but error-prone Jacksonville finds ways to lose. (Bonus fact: Matthew Stafford will surpass 10,000 career passing yards in his 37th game. Only Kurt Warner, in 36 games, has done it faster.)
Prediction: Lions, 28-17
BRONCOS (4-3) at BENGALS (3-4), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Denver has won 14 of the past 17 in this series, and that was before Peyton Manning started pitching for the Broncos. Manning has at least 300 yards, three touchdown passes and 70 percent completions in four consecutive games. You would think the Bengals, as home underdogs coming off a bye, might be tempting, but Manning and slumping Andy Dalton are a stark contrast entering this one.
Prediction: Broncos, 31-20
RAVENS (5-2) at BROWNS (2-6), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Baltimore has won nine games in a row over Cleveland in the Modell Bowl Series, and is 4-0 after byes under John Harbaugh. Don’t see it easy, though. Browns have won two in a row at home, their defense can be tough, and Ravens only won by 23-16 in first meeting five week ago. After getting spanked by Houston, Ravens must earn back the trust.
Prediction: Ravens, 21-17
CARDINALS (4-4) at PACKERS (5-3), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Cardinals have lost four in a row and limp in off a short week after playing Monday. Packers have injury issues with Greg Jennings out and Jordy Nelson iffy. But I figure if Alex Smith can decimate the Arizona pass-D with accuracy, so can Aaron Rodgers, even missing some pieces.
Prediction: Packers, 30-16
BEARS (6-1) at TITANS (3-5), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Chicago’s defense has scored 41 of its 185 points. Who cares if Jay Cutler and the offense struggle; the Bears are at their best when Cutler is sitting. Tennessee happens to have won 10 of its past 12 home games vs. NFC teams, but I’m not leaving this Chicago D when it’s this hot. Can’t see Chris Johnson or Matt Hasselbeck getting much done.
Prediction: Bears, 24-13
PANTHERS (1-6) at REDSKINS (3-5), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Past two Heisman Trophy winners duel in Robert Griffin III vs. the man he replaced as NFL Wunderkind, Cam Newton. And I like Cam’s Panthers in an upset. Carolina is due some luck, with five of its losses coming by a combined 18 points. And nothing about either team is worse than Washington’s pass defense, which is on pace to be the first ever to allow 5,000 season yards.
Prediction: Panthers, 28-27
BILLS (3-4) at TEXANS (6-1), 1 p.m.
Outlook: Both teams are coming off byes; Bills may wish they had another one. Arian Foster isn’t having a huge (for him) season so far, but that could change fast here against a Buffalo run-D allowing an absurd 177 yards per game. Mario Williams faces his old team, but his old team will leave smiling. Texans are best team in AFC — maybe in NFL — until they indicate otherwise.
Prediction: Texans, 31-16
VIKINGS (5-3) at SEAHAWKS (4-4), 4:05 p.m.
Outlook: NFL’s top two rushers show some leg in Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch, each hoping to carry his team over a tough loss last week. I like Lynch a little bit more against a Minnesota run D that has allowed a 100-yard rusher each of past three games. Seattle and Russell Wilson also are appreciably better at home. Bet-number still feels a trifle fat, though.
Prediction: Seahawks, 20-17
BUCCANEERS (3-4) at RAIDERS (3-4), 4:05 p.m.
Outlook: Here is the closest Week 9 has to a pick-‘em game. Tampa has won three in a row and scored at least 28 in each, but Bucs will really miss injured left tackle Carl Nicks, and Oakland is 5-0 at home in this occasional series. More than a venue pick, though, I think Carson Palmer could put up big numbers against a weak, depleted Bucs secondary.
Prediction: Raiders, 27-24
STEELERS (4-3) at GIANTS (6-2), 4:25 p.m.
Outlook: It’s a 2-for-1 special, a rare Game of the Week/Upset of the Week combo. Part of the intrigue is Ben Roethlisberger vs. Eli Manning from the draft class of 2004. This marks the first time that multiple Super Bowl-winning QBs from different conferences have met in a regular-season game since Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett in 1985. Pittsburgh’s 1-3 road mark concerns me, but I still like Big Ben vs. Giants secondary more than I like Eli against Steelers pass defense.
Prediction: Steelers, 27-24
COWBOYS (3-4) at FALCONS (7-0), 8:20 p.m.
Outlook: Prime-time gets a good one, and an outright upset of the unbeaten Falcons would not surprise. Might have picked it, in fact, except that it looks like RB DeMarco Murray wouldn’t play for Dallas, and with backup Felix Jones also hurting, that’s a big chunk of offense missing. I take the Falcons with hesitation, and like Cowboys to keep it close.
Prediction: Falcons, 27-24
EAGLES (3-4) at SAINTS (2-5), 8:30 p.m.
Outlook: Two disappointing, desperate teams, each coming off a loss, but count on the audience being entertained by a pointfest. New Orleans should be good for what ails Mike Vick; Saints defense is first since 1950 to allow 400-plus yards each of its first seven games. And you know Drew Brees will get his stats, no matter the calamity around him. Nothing but a low-scoring game would surprise me.
Prediction: Saints, 37-31
– Greg Cote, The Miami Herald; last week — 10-4; overall — 71-47