By Brian Burke
Right now, at the midpoint in the NFL season, there are the Broncos, a pack of competitive teams, a lot of mediocre teams and some basket cases. In terms of the core efficiency stats the "Machine" relies on, Denver is number one on both offense and defense, accounting for opponent strength. Peyton Manning's numbers have barely fallen off from last year's torrid pace, and their defense owns the league's second best passing efficiency and second best run success rate.
To try to explain how solid this team looks, imagine merging one of the great Steelers or Ravens defenses from last decade with … a Peyton Manning offense. By all measures, the Broncos appear to be a Category Five super team. But they'll be tested on the road Sunday afternoon when Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots will be well prepared. If the Broncos prevail, it's hard to imagine them not finishing the season as the AFC's number one seed.
Last week, I had 10 out of the 15 games picked correctly off the spread. Will Leitch got nine out of 15. Our totals so far are neck and neck: 57 for me, 54 for Will. Here are our picks for Week 9.
Note: The Machine's outcome probabilities are based on who will win the game, not the point spread. The score predictions are Burke's own estimates when factoring in the win probability, which is based on a logistic regression model of projected core team efficiency statistics. For more on Burke's model, click here.
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RAIDERS: 7 (20% win probability)
SEAHAWKS: 31 (80%)
Vegas line: SEAHAWKS (-15)
Statistically, Seattle's defense looks very average, but Oakland's offense will likely help remedy that.
The Raiders are a lovely cure for the common team discord.
BUCCANEERS: 13 (23%)
BROWNS: 34 (77%)
Vegas line: BROWNS (-7)
Cleveland is superior in every predictive category except run defense.
If the Browns somehow make the playoffs with Johnny Manziel not starting, that might be the biggest tease in NFL rookie history.
JETS: 10 (28%)
CHIEFS: 23 (72%)
Vegas line: CHIEFS (-10)
New York's passing game is abysmal. They are a distant last in the league with 4.6 net yards per attempt. (6.5 is league average.) KC's pass defense is the strength of the team, so this might not be fun to watch.
Again, Rex Ryan is going to be the BEST television commentator next year. Maybe this year.
RAMS: 17 (29%)
49ERS: 31 (71%)
Vegas line: 49ERS (-10)
These two offenses are surprisingly similar, and the difference in this one is defense. San Francisco's passing defense isn't what it was in recent years, but looks significantly better than St. Louis'.
Half the NFC West is fighting with itself, and the Rams just haven't been able to take much advantage.
JAGUARS: 14 (30%)
BENGALS: 30 (70%)
Vegas line: BENGALS (-11)
One reason Jacksonville has been able to stay competitive in some games is they have the league's lowest penalty rate. Their problem is they can't stop turning the ball over. Cincinnati's only weakness is stopping the run.
At least the world's largest cocktail party is this weekend.
CARDINALS: 20 (32%)
COWBOYS: 30 (68%)
Vegas line: COWBOYS (-4)
These two teams have essentially equal defenses, both of which are below league-average but have been able to generate timely turnovers. The difference here is Dallas' running game plus home field. Tony Romo's health will obviously factor in as well.
Things keep falling right for the Cardinals. Now they're likely going to miss Romo. It suddenly feels real precarious for the Cowboys, doesn't it?
BRONCOS: 34 (61%)
PATRIOTS: 27 (39%)
Vegas line: BRONCOS (-3)
Denver looks unstoppable. At this point last year, the Broncos averaged 8.3 net yards per pass attempt with a 1.8% interception rate. This season it's 8.0 and 1.2%, arguably even better. New England's defense is strong and they have home field, so they should be able to keep it close.
It seems likely that the QB matchup will be a rather prominent subplot in this football game.
CHARGERS: 14 (40%)
DOLPHINS: 17 (60%)
Vegas line: DOLPHINS (-2)
Miami is super-efficient on defense and has one of the league's best rushing attacks. San Diego's passing is so good and running is so bad they should probably never run the ball for the rest of the year.
The Chargers would likely win every division except for the one they are in.
EAGLES: 20 (42%)
TEXANS: 22 (58%)
Vegas line: EAGLES (-2 ½)
My system does not like Philadelphia because of their purely average efficiency numbers and league's fourth-worst turnover differential. Houston has a slightly more efficient passing game and home field.
The Eagles are winning in different, uglier ways than last year … which just might do them some good down the line.
WASHINGTON: 24 (57%)
VIKINGS: 20 (43%)
Vegas line: VIKINGS (-2 ½)
Both teams love to throw the ball away, but have had rotating QB duties due to injuries, so this is a hard one to read. These are equally effective defenses, but the difference here is Washington's better offensive numbers.
I'm glad last night's MNF is over. Figuring out which team to cheer against was seriously stressful.
COLTS: 35 (55%)
GIANTS: 30 (45%)
Vegas line: COLTS (-3 ½)
Despite Indianapolis' gouging last Sunday, they have much better defensive passing numbers than New York. The Giants have been feasting on interceptions without having solid numbers otherwise, which tells us more about who they have played than how good their defense is.
Next up on Eli Manning's march to history: Norm Van Brocklin!
SAINTS: 27 (45%)
PANTHERS: 30 (55%)
Vegas line: SAINTS (-3)
New Orleans' defensive numbers are starting to improve, but not enough to favor them on the road.
What might be the worst division in football could have its champion determined on Thursday, if that's something you think is worth determining.
RAVENS 24 (47%)
STEELERS 26 (53%)
Vegas line: EVEN
A very even matchup. Baltimore has slightly better numbers on defense, but Ben Roethlisberger's squad has protected the ball better than Joe Flacco's. Home field gives Pittsburgh a slight edge.
Has there ever been a Ravens-Steelers game that didn't feel huge? Are these teams ever bad at the same time?