Look between the lines: Handicapping NFL’s Week 9 slate

James Hernandez has more than 15 years in the sports handicapping industry and will contribute weekly for FOXSports.com as our betting expert. Have comments or questions? Make sure to email him at jameshernandez1981@gmail.com.

James Hernandez, Contributor to FOXSports.com

During the NFL season, I will attempt to guide you to the winner’s circle more often than not. I consider a combination of statistical trends, my own personal player ranking system, and meticulous attention to various wagering techniques that allow me to analyze and formulate a plan of attack each week.

Each week I will post my five favorite plays in order of preference, best on top and so on. All right, let’s get into it:

Carolina Panthers (-7) over Atlanta Falcons

After cruising to three straight up and against the spread wins, the Panthers suddenly find themselves in the thick of the NFC playoff race.

After disposing of Tampa last week, the Carolina D continues to establish itself as one of the premier units in the NFL by only allowing 13 points per game. But it’s the offense, led by Super Cam, that has Carolina fans buzzing.

Over the last three games, the Panthers’ offense has scored 96 points and averaged more than 130 yards on the ground. The offense has dictated the time of possession and allowed the defense to remain fresh enough to be effective throughout.

Poor Atlanta, this was supposed to be the year that it finally got to an elusive Super Bowl. So much for wishful thinking. Coach Mike Smith has had one of the most difficult, injury-riddled seasons in the history of the franchise with the losses of Julio Jones, Roddy White and countless defensive starters.

Sitting at 2-5, the playoffs seem to be out of reach and playing for pride is something that doesn’t sit well with any team, especially when you had Super Bowl expectations. I understand that a wounded animal is always a dangerous one, but look for the Panthers to come out swinging for the fences.

Look for the Panthers to continue to feast on teams under .500 and run their season record to 5-3 with a convincing, double-digit victory over a hated division rival.

Oakland Raiders (pick) over Philadelphia Eagles

It must be the week of Halloween if I am willing to do something as horrifying as back the Oakland Raiders.

Wasn’t it just a month or so ago that Chip Kelly and his basketball-on-turf offense was supposed to revolutionize the entire sport of football? Leaving defenses in its wake like Rick Grimes disposing of zombies on ‘The Walking Dead?’  So much for that pipe dream. The fact of the matter is that just like every other revolutionary offense brought from college to the NFL the past 15 years, opposing defensive coordinators have gathered tape and figured out a way to neutralize its effectiveness.

The offense scoring three points over the last two weeks is alarming enough, but the fact it was against two of the worst defenses in the league tells me that the blueprint to contain this offense is readily available. With the revolving door at quarterback Philly has no idea who is going to pilot the offense moving forward.

While Nick Foles will get the start, the only conclusion we can draw from their crop of QBs is the signal caller to effectively lead this offense is not currently on the roster.

On the other hand, the Raiders have thrived in the role of home underdog beating the Chargers and Steelers outright and defeating the Jaguars by 10 as a small home favorite with their only home loss coming by 10 to Washington in a game they were winning 14-0. That game can be excused when you consider it was started by Matt Flynn and not Terrelle Pryor.

With the addition of a healthy Darren McFadden, Pryor is finally starting to settle into his role as team leader. It also seems as if Dennis Allen is doing his best to buck the trend of mediocrity that has haunted the Oakland sideline since Al Davis thought it would be wise to deal Jon Gruden to Tampa for a few meaningless draft picks.

The Raiders have not finished with a winning record since 2002 and, since I am not totally insane, you will not get that prediction here. However, with the state of the Eagles, I do expect Oakland to reach the .500 mark this weekend for the first time all year by taking advantage of a Philly team that is still searching for an identity on both sides of the ball.

Houston Texans (+2.5) over Indianapolis Colts

In the NFL bye weeks can either come in the form of a blessing or a curse depending on how it affects each team.

In the case of the Colts, it came at the worst possible time, halting the momentum they had built with a win over Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

On the flip side, the bye came at the perfect time for a Houston team that despite its 2-5 record seems to have finally figured out its quarterback situation. With the way the Texans  battled against the undefeated Chiefs, it is clear that this team is still leaving it all out on the field for maligned coach Gary Kubiak.

With the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL you can expect JJ Watt and crew to continue to wreak havoc and hold the Indy passing game in check as the Texans scratch and claw to keep this contest within reach. On the offensive side of the ball it is crucial that Ben Tate and Arian Foster (if healthy enough to go) sustain drives on the ground and give some validity to the play action pass as Case Keenum continues to find his comfort level within this offense.

Divisional games tend to favor the home team and with the newfound love affair between the betting public and the Colts, this play is just as much a fade on the betting public as it is on Indianapolis. This line should receive mostly one-sided action so wait as long as you can on betting this game. You may be fortunate enough to get +3 or even 3.5 and that can be the difference between a loss or push as opposed to an outright win.

San Diego Chargers/ Washington Redskins over 51

Two top-10 offenses matching up in the nation’s capital should provide plenty of action on the way to a free-for-all that may just make us forget the dismal season being put together by the home team.

A year removed from a division title that earned RG3 the key to the city, the second-year quarterback has found living up to expectations way more difficult than merely exceeding them.

For all the flaws being scrutinized by his critics, Griffin has been able to guide the Washington offense to more than 27 points per game which is good enough to rank eighth in the NFL. The real issue in D.C. is a defense that is allowing an NFC worst 32.7 ppg and letting opposing offenses visit the end zone like it is the Lincoln Memorial. After the bye week, the Chargers come into this contest relatively healthy and with the extra week of film study, expect Philip Rivers to have his way with a secondary that has struggled to contain the big play.

The emergence of Ryan Mathews has brought the Chargers offense a balance and stability that has been missing since the great LaDainian Tomlinson was taking handoffs. With Antonio Gates and rookie sensation Keenan Allen providing the vertical passing threats, the Bolts should have no issue putting points on the board. This game will be played at a furious pace that will be sure to provide plenty of scoring opportunities for each side.

Don’t be surprised if both teams score 30-plus and easily push this total over 51.