Half the season in the books already. Time flies in the NFL - stay up to date as 613 breaks down key match-ups from this weeks action. Find out who will win, who to watch, who will surprise and more here in our Week 9 Preview. Check here every Sunday morning before making your picks, or choosing your starters. (Chiefs @ Bills, Falcons @ Panthers, Colts @ Texans)
CHIEFS @ BILLS
- Another match-up and another QB making his first NFL start for the Bills. This time its rookie Jeff Tuel out of Washington State who lead his Cougars to a 4 - 22 record as a starter. Not so cool Jeff Tuel will be up for a big test as the undefeated Chiefs role into Buffalo. One guy Tuel may want to keep an eye on is Kansas City DE/OLB Justin Houston who is tied for second in the NFL with 11 sacks. Reports suggest CJ Spiller is as healthy as he has been in over a month and he needs to provide a spark for the offense. Defensively this is a nice matchup for Buffalo as the Chiefs have had pass protection issues, surrendering 24 sacks on the season, they are 9th worst in the league at protecting their QB. Watch for Scott Chandler in this game as he usually plays well at home and also has a good history of performances vs. Kansas City.
- Alex Smith is the only undefeated QB in the league. Once again he is leading his team to the playoffs thanks to a solid defense, good running game, and excellent game planning by the coaching staff -but can someone give the guy a little bit of credit. They also lead the league in sacks with 36 on the season and are 1st in the league in points allowed only giving up about 12 points a game to opponents. Smith is playing better than former Superbowl MVP's Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, and Tom Brady, this season not to mention that Colin guy that was handed HIS job last season. The test for the Chiefs will be controlling the Bills ground game and protecting their own QB while on offense. The elusiveness of Dexter McCluster, Donnie Avery, and Jamaal Charles will test Buffalo's ability to tackle in the open field. And oh ya wheres Dwayne Bowe at?
- Although this probably doesn't look like a great match up on paper - the Bills have a history of success against the Kansas City franchise in recent years. Chiefs offense isn't as dangerous as the Saints offense Buffalo faced last week and being back at home in the Ralph will help the young signal caller Jeff Tuel. The key is protecting Tuel and limiting his mistakes. Chiefs capitalize off other teams turnovers better than anyone else in the league this season so Buffalo will need to squeeze the ball on every play and value every possession in order to allow their defense to put them in position to win this one. Come on Kiko, Mario, and company!
- Players to watch: CJ Spiller, Mario Williams, Justin Houston
FALCONS @ PANTHERS
- Don't look now but the Panthers are 4-3 and get to host a struggling Atlanta team that's far from 100% healthy. This is a great opportunity for Cam Newton, Ron Rivera, and the Carolina Panthers to show they are legitimate contenders in the NFC. A win today would go a long way in determining their playoff hopes. Getting a divison win and moving to 5-3 would be huge for Carolina - which is why this game scares me. The Panthers are looking good on both sides of the ball - with major improvements this season on the defense this season - but can they keep it up? The Panthers need to stick to their formula of good defense and ball control and not dig themselves a hole early. As long as the Falcons don't jump out to a quick start Cam and company should be in good shape for this contest.
- So much for a Super Bowl run in Atlanta. So much for Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Matt Ryan lighting up defenses all season. And so much for Stephen Jackson, or Michael Turner, or whoever that was last week. The poor Falcons have dug a very large hole for themselves and they are going to have their work cut out for them moving forward. It all starts this week in Carolina for the Falcons chance at salvation. If they lose another game, in their own division nonetheless, their season is essentially over - and perhaps Tony Gonzales' career as well. On the other hand, a win today and the Falcons may turn into the Saints of last season (a team much better than their record shows that no one would want to play against late in the season). So what's it going to be Matty Ice? A mid season turn around - or a better luck next time around? Mike Smith's job may be on the line and ultimately may depend on the outcome of today's game as this may start the beginning of the end for him in Atlanta.
- The Falcons just don't scare us. Gone are Julio Jones, and Roddy White (at least for now), and left behind are Jacquizz Rodgers, Tony Gonzales, and slot WR Harry Douglas for Matt Ryan to play with. Let's be honest the defensive side of the ball was never the Falcons strong suit - so what do they have going for them in this game? Matt Ryan and the sense of desperation that's what. Carolina needs to show some killer instinct today and take advantage of the opportunity to essentially end a divisional foe's season today at home. CAAAAAAAAAM!!!
- Players to watch: Cam Newton, Star Lotulelei, Harry Douglas
COLTS @ TEXANS
Thanks for reading. Happy Sunday!
- Divisional games are always tricky; emotions are high, the fans are louder, and the pressure picks up. Andrew Luck may not show it as much as most average NFL QB's but he feels it too - however usually it brings out the best in him. Prime time match up with Peyton? Lucks got it. Now its off to Houston to face a different kind of Texans team. Hopefully Indy used the bye week to figure out ways of compensating for the now injured Reggie Wayne - perhaps a heavier diet of Trent Richardson would suffice? Chuck Pagano admitted during the bye week he needs to get the newly acquired RB more involved in the offense - perhaps Houston is a great place to start. While Luck, T.Rich and the offense may get all the headlines - the defense deserves a ton of credit. The no name cornerback duo of Darius Butler & Greg Toler is playing as well as any tandem in the league (just look at opponents 3rd down completion percentage vs. the Colts this season). The revamped and improved Colts defense is playing well enough to lead them to the AFC championship.
- Case Keenum. Sure sounds like a quarterback name to me. Better yet he played his college ball for the hometown Houston Cougars in the C-USA. Similar to Drew Brees in Purdue - Case threw, threw, and then threw some more during his time in the college ranks before entering the NFL this season. He also is very familiar with Kliff Kingsbury's offense - and the fans already seem to be behind him. Could Case be the spark the Texans need to turn their season around? Crazier things have happened - and this guy might be the latest QB we add to the "overlooked on draft day" list. Before we get too carried away with this happy Houston-ian lets remember it's likely going to depend more on the performance of the Texans once feared defense and rushing attack, than Keenum's numbers, in determining the overall outcome. Look for Andre Johnson to have a lot of targets in this game.
- The Texans need this win very badly in order to stay in the playoff hunt and to get some respect back around the league. Perhaps "Redemption" should be the theme in the NFL this week as many teams try to salvage their season - today! With Indy coming off their bye week the Texans will need to utilize their home field advantage to match the Colts energy level - but it still likely won't be enough.
- Players to watch: Darius Butler, Case Keenum, Andre Johnson
Thanks for reading. Happy Sunday!