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NFL picks, predictions for Week 9: 49ers upset Cardinals; Rams take down Titans; Bengals edge Browns

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The matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs was supposed to be the headliner for Week 9.

That has changed. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the game; meaning that matchup with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes II will be put on hold. It’s still worth watching, however, knowing second-year quarterback Jordan Love will make his first NFL start.

It’s not the only good matchup on the schedule.

Who will win the battle of Ohio? Cincinnati and Cleveland meet in a matchup of teams trying to keep pace in the super-competitive AFC North. Baker Mayfield led the Browns to a pair of wins against Joe Burrow last season. Will the Bengals get revenge?

The Titans will find out what life without Derrick Henry looks like, and that comes against the Rams, which just added Von Miller in a blockbuster trade. Los Angeles appears to be all in for a second Super Bowl appearance under Sean McVay.

The Monday Night Football matchup between the Steelers and Bears should be fun, too. Can veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger keep the hot streak going against rookie Justin Fields?

Each week, Sporting News will pick games straight up, and we’re looking to continue the hot streak. Here is a look at our season totals:

With that in mind, below are our picks and predictions for Week 9:

NFL POWER RANKINGS:
Packers catch Cardinals at No. 1; Saints, Steelers rise; Buccaneers, Browns drop

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NFL picks, predictions Week 9

  • New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts (-11.5)

Thursday, 8:20 p.m., FOX/NFL Network

A huge line shows no faith in the Jets, even after their first win of the season behind backup quarterback Mike White. The Colts are 0-1 ATS as a favorite, but they are home on a short week. Carson Wentz won’t make the same mistakes that haunted Indianapolis in last week’s loss to the Titans.

Pick: Colts 27, Jets 17

  • Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

This could turn out to be the best game of the week. Both teams are in the AFC North hunt. The Browns are the more desperate team here after falling to 4-4. Baker Mayfield led Cleveland to a sweep of the Bengals last season, but those games were decided by a total of eight points. This one plays out in the 20s, and Ja’Marr Chase catches the game-winning TD late.

Pick: Bengals 29, Browns 28

  • Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys (-7)

Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX

Dak Prescott didn’t have to rush back because of a calf strain, and that extra rest will pay off at home against the Broncos. Denver is a .500 team, but they have lost their last two road games. The Broncos do have the second-best scoring defense in the league, but the Cowboys present too many problems on offense with the top-ranked offense.

Pick: Cowboys 24, Broncos 17

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  • Houston Texans at Miami Dolphins (-7)

Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX

This will be ugly. Two of the three worst scoring offenses in the NFL are on the same field. Both teams have lost seven straight games, and the Texans and Dolphins each have a -4 turnover ratio. Take the home team in a brutal-to-watch game.

Pick: Dolphins 19, Texans 16

  • Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (-5.5)

Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX

The Saints have quarterback intrigue with Jameis Winston likely out. Trevor Siemian played hero in the victory against the Buccaneers, and Taysom Hill (concussion) is expected to be back. New Orleans has been hard to figure out and is 1-3 ATS as a favorite, but they have won the last three meetings against the Falcons.

Pick: Saints 23, Falcons 20

  • Las Vegas Raiders (-3) at New York Giants

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Las Vegas has won two straight games since Jon Gruden resigned, and the bye week coincides with the Giants playing on a short week. The cross-country early kick is always a concern, but the Raiders have had time to prepare. Derek Carr shines again.

Pick: Raiders 27, Giants 22

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  • New England Patriots (-3) at Carolina Panthers

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Are the Patriots a playoff contender? New England has won three of its last four games. Mac Jones continues to be an efficient answer at quarterback, and the Panthers have failed to clear 200 passing yards in their last four games. The Pats grind out a road victory that won’t be easy to get above .500 for the first time this season.

Pick: Patriots 24, Panthers 20

  • Buffalo Bills (-14) at Jacksonville Jaguars

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

The Bills have a decided advantage here, even on the road. Buffalo has won five games by double digits, and that’s based on the strength of the league’s top scoring defense (15.6) and a balanced offense led by Josh Allen. The Jaguars are a double-digit underdog for the first time under Urban Meyer. Can they cover the spread, at least?

Pick: Buffalo 34, Jacksonville 17

  • Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens (-5.5)

Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX

The Vikings are in a tough spot after the Sunday Night Football loss to Dallas, but they have played well on the road this season despite inconsistencies on offense. Will that be enough to hang around with Baltimore, which is coming off a bye week after a blowout loss to Cincinnati? Probably not.

Pick: Ravens 30, Vikings 26

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  • Los Angeles Chargers (-3) at Philadelphia Eagles

Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS

The Eagles are 0-3 at home under first-year coach Nick Sirianni, and the Chargers are looking to bounce back after a tough loss to New England. Los Angeles is 2-1 on the road under first-year coach Brandon Staley, too. Justin Herbert bounces back and gets the Chargers off a two-game losing streak, but it will be tight.

Pick: Chargers 31, Eagles 27

  • Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (-2.5)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., FOX

Without Rodgers, the Packers will have to rely on their defense. Green Bay has found a way through injuries to put together a top-10 unit that will press Mahomes into a few bad decisions. Love, meanwhile, will at least have the first-string receivers back.. If the Packers stick with the run, then they will have a chance. We’re changing the pick, however, knowing Rodgers is out.

Pick: Chiefs 31, Packers 22

  • Arizona Cardinals (-2.5) at San Francisco 49ers

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., FOX

The Cardinals and Niners played a 17-10 game earlier this season, and this time San Francisco is at home. The 49ers can control the clock with Eli Mitchell, who is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games. Kyler Murray will make plays too, but this will be the next test of adversity for Arizona.

Pick: 49ers 28, Cardinals 26

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  • Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Rams (-7.5)

Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC

This is the only matchup on this week’s schedule between two teams with winning records. Unfortunately, Tennessee will have to proceed without Derrick Henry (foot), and that’s going to press Ryan Tannehill to do more.. The Titans and Rams have almost identical numbers on defense, but Los Angeles has the edge at home.

Pick: Rams 31, Titans 21

  • Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers (-6.5)

Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

The Steelers were left for dead after a shaky start, but three straight victories have vaulted them back into AFC North contention. Rookie Justin Fields has shown promise for the Bears, but he’s up against a furious pass rush led by T.J. Watt (8.5 sacks). It’s another black-and-blue loss for Chicago

Pick: Steelers 25, Bears 17

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Lakers superstar LeBron James doesn’t feel suspension was warranted for altercation with Isaiah Stewart

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Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James doesn’t believe a suspension was warranted for his involvement in the altercation with Detroit big man Isaiah Stewart.

James made a dominant return to the lineup against Indiana, pouring in 39 points to go along with five rebounds and six assists in the 124-116 OT win.

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Postgame, he gave his account of what happened in the incident that incensed Stewart.

“It was a box out in the free-throw line. His elbow got kinda high, if you watch the film it got me off-balance a little bit,” James explained.

“I tried to swimdown on his arm and when I swung down on his arm he got off-balance and the left side of my hand grazed his face. I knew right away, I knew right away I had caught some part of his head so I went over to apologize to him and obviously you guys seen what happened after that. Definitely accidental.”

Stewart made repeated attempts to get at James, requiring multiple staff members to hold him back as blood streamed down his face. Stewart received a two-game ban for the reaction, while James was sidelined for one game.

The Lakers would lose that one game without James, 106-100 at Madison Square Garden to the New York Knicks. LeBrondoesn’t believe he should have missed the contest.

MORE: LeBron James gets couple ejected in Indiana

“I’m definitely not that type of player. I hate to see that, what escalated after that.

“I didn’t think itwarranted…I thought it warranted an ejection because of what happened after that. Having me in the game, the excitement from the fans, what could possibly happen after that, but a suspension I didn’t think was warranted but the league made that call.”

Los Angeles climbed back to .500 at 10-10 on the season with the win against the Pacers, as they try to shake off a slow start to the season. Fellow star, Anthony Davis missed the game against Indiana with a fever.

Davis will have one night to recover before the Lakers host Sacramento at STAPLES Center – tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson cleared for full team activities; still no return timeline

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New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in full team activities, the team announced on Friday evening.

Williamson, who is recovering from a fractured right foot, had his latest set of scans on Wednesday. They were evaluated by Pelicans team orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Montgomery and by Dr. Richard Ferkel, a surgeon who has worked on NBA players in the past.

“It’s been a long road to get him to this point,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “Anyone that’s ever dealt with any type of injury like that, it’s hard to come back from. It’s hard mentally. He’s done a great job pushing through. Z has an opportunity now to be a full go in practices, and we’ll have a practice soon. Hopefully that’ll add some juice to our team. He’s a huge part of what we do there.”

The Pelicans said Williamson went through 4-on-4, full-court work on Friday while the team is in Utah for a back-to-back. New Orleans plays Utah on Friday and Saturday before heading to Los Angeles to play the Clippers on Monday. The team will travel back to New Orleans on Tuesday and then play the Dallas Mavericks the following day.

Because of the team’s schedule, it’s likely the Pelicans won’t have a full practice for Williamson to participate in until Thursday.

In a news release, New Orleans said it has yet to determine when Williamson will return to game action.

“It’s more about how he responds to practices,” Green said. “How he responds to the physicality of playing against his teammates. How he responds to getting up and down. Just giving a timeline is tough on that. We want him back as soon as possible. But it’s all predicated on how he feels after workouts, and the medical team will work diligently with him and we’ll go from there.”

Williamson has yet to play in a game this season because of the fractured foot. In his absence, the Pelicans have gotten off to a 4-16 start.

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‘Not going to lie, I just wanted to spank you’ — How Brooks Koepka routed Bryson DeChambeau

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After months of feuding, trading jabs during interviews and on social media, then seemingly making up at the Ryder Cup — there was even a bro hug! — until that unraveled earlier this week, Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka finally had a chance to settle this on the golf course.

This installment of “The Match” wasn’t much of a match. It was a rout.

The drama might not have been there, but the storytelling and trash talk didn’t disappoint — from Koepka and/or from commentators Charles Barkley and Phil Mickelson.

Here’s how it happened:

Scoreboard: Koepka wins 4&3

No. 1: Par 4

And we’re off at the Wynn Golf Club, with DeChambeau passing out cupcakes for Friendsgiving on the first tee, which drew a slight grin from Koepka.

DeChambeau found trouble from the start, with his opening tee shot landing behind a small bush in the pine bark. Fortunately for him, he got a free drop because the sprinkler system was in his line of play. He knocked his second shot into the greenside bunker. Koepka’s drive also went way right in the rough, but he was able to hit the green.

Koepka two-putted, and DeChambeau got up and down to tie the hole.

Result: Tie with pars.


No. 2: Par 4

DeChambeau might want to dial it back a bit. His second tee shot was even farther right than his first. Then he once again landed in a greenside bunker. Koepka hit the fairway again and took advantage with a 15-foot birdie putt to take a 1-up lead.

Mickelson correctly had the putt falling right because of the grain, and Koepka responded, “Oh, Phil, good call,” while grabbing his ball out of the cup.

While walking off the green, Koepka looked back.

“Bryson, that’s good,” he said.

It’s about to get chippy.

Result: Koepka wins with birdie


No. 3: Par 3

On the closest-to-the-pin hole for charity, Koepka’s ball ended up in the deep rough to the right, while DeChambeau’s was just about perfect, landing pin high and about 8 feet from the hole.

Koepka hit a nice chip to about 2 feet.

Before DeChambeau attempted to make his birdie putt, Mickelson asked him what was going through his head. His answer was about what you would expect — a thorough, 40-second explanation.

“It’s pretty simple: It’s 11 feet [with the uphill], 2% straight putt over here and to be honest, 10 or 11 feet straight putt,” DeChambeau said, in part.

Of course, he left the putt low and let a good opportunity go to waste.

Result: Hole tied with pars.


No. 4: Par 4

Koepka’s tee shot went way right. Mickelson said what many weekend hacks would have said.

“Aren’t paralleling fairways the best, though?” Mickelson said. “I’m a big fan of those.”

DeChambeau hit a fairway off the tee for the first time. After Mickelson bragged about DeChambeau’s wedge play, he missed his number and hit his ball over the green. Koepka’s second shot landed on the green, but he left another putt short on his birdie try.

“I would make snarky comments on that, but I’ve still got to make a par putt,” DeChambeau said.

He did.

Result: Tied with pars.


No. 5: Par 5

On the lone par 5 of the match, both players carried the fairway bunker. DeChambeau’s shot, though, went a lot farther. Mickelson was impressed.

“I mean, that is so attractive,” Mickelson said. “I don’t even know what to say about that.”

“Phil, you like that?” DeChambeau asked.

“I love that,” Mickelson said.

“I hit that good, man, just for you,” DeChambeau said. “Hey, I’ve still got to finish out the hole, though. It’s never guaranteed, just like the last hole. We talked about this length all of the time. It’s great, but I’ve still got to get it in the hole.”

The conversation proved to be prophetic. Koepka, who complained of missing his second shot, found the green and had an eagle look. DeChambeau’s second shot clipped a tree and came up short.

DeChambeau chipped up to about 6 feet. Koepka two-putted from about 40 feet for birdie. Then DeChambeau, inexplicably, missed his birdie putt to fall 2 holes down.

As the broadcast went to commercial, Brian Anderson, doing play-by-play on TNT, reminded viewers it was a 12-hole match.

Koepka, because has an earpiece in and can hear Anderson, Mickelson and Barkley, grinned.

“It won’t go 12,” he said.

Result: Koepka wins with birdie.


No. 6: Par 3

Koepka’s putts are starting to fall, and the four-time majors champion is threatening to run away from DeChambeau with a 3-up lead after six holes.

On the second par 3 of the match, Koepka hit a safe shot, with his ball landing about 11 feet from the hole. DeChambeau’s ball landed right, but spun back below the hole to about 14 feet. DeChambeau missed his putt; Koepka drained his.

“Any questions?” Koepka said.

“Man, I haven’t seen a beatdown like this since me and Phil put it on [Peyton Manning] and Steph [Curry],” Barkley said.

“A focused Koepka is a tough Koepka,” Mickelson said.

Result: Koepka wins with birdie.


No. 7: Par 4

With the match getting away from DeChambeau, Mickelson, a U.S. Ryder Cup co-captain at Whistling Straits, tried to encourage him before DeChambeau’s tee shot on No. 7.

“Bryson, same thing we talked about at Ryder Cup off No. 9,” Mickelson told him. “Get your brain in theta.”

“Yep, right in that sweet spot between parasympathetic and sympathetic,” DeChambeau said.

“Chuck, you get that?” Koepka asked Barkley.

“Hell, no,” Barkley said.

DeChambeau’s drive went way left, hit a tree, bounced off the cart path and landed in an adjoining fairway. After DeChambeau explained the difference between alpha, beta, delta and theta brainwaves, Barkley told Mickelson, “Man, I’m telling you, I’ve got to keep you two guys apart. You two together are dangerous.”

“How about a cross-country drive with us?” Mickelson said.

DeChambeau’s brain apparently remained in beta mode; he missed a good look at birdie to get one back.

Result: Tied with pars.


No. 8: Par 4

While Koepka waited to put the finishing touches on this one, he shared a tremendous story about bringing the U.S. Open trophy to Las Vegas after winning his first major at Erin Hills in 2017.

His caddie, Ricky Elliott, wanted to take the trophy out on the town. A restaurant wouldn’t let them bring the trophy inside — only the big ones like the Stanley Cup were allowed — so Koepka left the trophy in a drawer in the host stand.

When Elliott went back to his room that night, he left the trophy outside the room. They didn’t discover it was missing until the next day.

“We were in a panic because we didn’t know where it was,” Koepka said.

DeChambeau missed his birdie putt on No. 8, Koepka made his to go 4 up with four holes to play.

He’s probably going to have another trophy to lose.

Result: Koepka wins with birdie.


No. 9: Par 3

And that will do it. DeChambeau conceded the match after missing a birdie putt on the ninth hole, giving Koepka a 5&3 victory in a 12-hole match.

You could sense DeChambeau’s frustration on the tee box.

“Where is this on the PGA Tour, man?” DeChambeau asked Koepka. “You play so good right now.”

“It’s kind of like my major right now, right?” Koepka said.

“I guess it is,” DeChambeau said.

“I don’t play again until April,” Koepka said. “Not going to lie, I just wanted to spank you.”

“Does this want to make you play with [Bryson] more?” Koepka was asked. “Nah, I’m good.”

Result: Koepka wins with birdie.


Before the match

Let’s compare what the two have done:

And what they’ve done when in the same group:

Let the trash talk begin

PGA Tour officials don’t want fans taunting DeChambeau with shouts of “Brooksy” at its events, but that rule apparently doesn’t apply to Koepka. His ride for Friday’s match includes many of his favorite verbal jabs toward DeChambeau:

  • “2 short of a 6 pack”

  • “Let’s go Brooksy”

  • “There’s an ant”

  • “Sorry bro.”

Let the insults begin.

Just say ‘Brooksy’

In an otherwise mundane prematch news conference — actually, it was fans sending in questions during a livestream event — about an hour before they teed off, Koepka and DeChambeau were asked what they would whisper to their opponent if the other had a putt to win on the 12th hole.

‘”Brooksy’ seems to get to him quite a bit,” Koepka said. “He had to go to the Tour to get them to stop.”

“It’s simple: I’d just be walking on the cart path in spikes,” DeChambeau replied.

Of course, the sound of DeChambeau’s spikes were what sent Koepka’s eyes rolling during a post-round interview at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in May. Even Koepka admitted on Friday that the incident sent their beef to another level.

“The spikes drowned out the sound of his mouth,” Koepka said. “I enjoyed hearing the spikes.”

Tom Brady has thoughts

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who played with Phil Mickelson against Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning in the event a year ago, has already chimed in about his former partner, who is offering TV commentary with Charles Barkley.

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