Look Between the Lines: Handicapping Week 9 in the NFL

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 or follow him on Twitter @jhern81.

Carolina Panthers (+2.5) over New Orleans Saints

First place in the NFC South will be on the line in a primetime clash between two playoff hopefuls. The home/road split for the New Orleans Saints is as lopsided as any in the NFL. New Orleans has lost all four road games this season (1-3 against the spread) and are now 2-10 ATS on the road in the regular season since 2013.

On the flip side, Carolina has been doing some work at home, going 3-1 ATS this season and 11-2-1 over the last 14 home games. The Saints have lost their last two trips to Carolina and the lines to continue to see one-sided action towards the Saints. Take the home underdog and fade the public in a tightly contested divisional showdown.

Arizona Cardinals (+4.5) over Dallas Cowboys

At the start of the 2014 season no one would have predicted that this Week 9 matchup would feature the NFC’s top two records. It’s time to start considering the Cards as a legitimate threat to win the NFC.

The Red Birds are on an 11-3-1 run against the spread, which includes a 6-1 record in their last seven road games. Since getting Palmer back under center, the Arizona offense has stepped up considerably, averaging 26.0 points per game with the Cards winning all three contests.

Monday’s loss to the Redskins reminded everyone that Dallas still has some serious concerns. It is unknown how severe Romo’s back injury is, but the bigger concerns should be Murray’s fumbling issues and the overall lack of a pass rush. This line can change drastically depending on Romo’s availability come game-time, so bet this game soon to ensure yourself the best possible line.

Pittsburgh Steelers (pick) over Baltimore Ravens

The Steelers come into this game on a tear offensively, scoring 81 points (40.5 PPG) over their last two games at home. They will look to win their sixth consecutive AFC North home game as they welcome an old friend to town.

Baltimore has been an abysmal 1-5 ATS in its last six divisional road games, including a complete meltdown last weekend which allowed the Bengals to come from behind and sweep the season series. Heinz Field has been a house of horrors for the Ravens as they have managed just four wins in their last 15 trips to the Steel City.

Pittsburgh is currently on a 7-3 run ATS over their last 10 home games. It appears as if Ben and the passing game are firing on all cylinders and the addition of rookie receiver Martavis Bryant has provided the deep threat this offense has been missing since the departure of Mike Wallace. Ride the hot hand as Steelers continue their home dominance and win a crucial AFC North matchup.

Miami Dolphins (-1.5) over San Diego Chargers

Generally, it’s not wise to look to the past to try and predict the future, however when it comes to the history of this matchup, some trends are too strong to ignore.

The Chargers have not claimed a straight-up victory in Miami since a 41-38 OT classic in 1981. The Bolts appear to be heading in the wrong direction as they have failed to cover their last three games, losing two of them outright. On the other hand, the Dolphins have managed to win three of their last four contests while going 3-0-1 ATS. San Diego has major injury concerns on the defensive side of the ball, especially in the secondary. Even if Flowers, Verrett and Te’o play their snaps and overall effectiveness are sure to be limited.

Take the team not traveling across the country for the early morning (PT) start as the Fins win again and continue their push towards a wild-card berth.

New England Patriots (+3.5) over Denver Broncos

You won’t find many teams Peyton Manning struggles to defeat, but the New England Patriots have always been a thorn on the side of No. 18. He is only 3-8 all-time versus Brady and Belichick in the regular season, but is 2-2 in playoff meetings including 2-1 in AFC Championship Games.

This is easily the greatest quarterback rivalry the last 20 years in the NFL. With a combined four Lombardi trophies and an unprecedented eight combined appearances in the the NFL’s showcase event, it’s no wonder Brady and Manning are on everyone’s short list of greatest quarterbacks in the history of the league.

This game should go a long way in determining the final standings in the AFC playoff race, and for these two teams it’s also a measuring stick game that may determine which team gets to host the AFC title game. After scoring 158 points over their last four games (39.5 PPG) expect the Hoodie and the Golden Boy to continue to torment Manning in Foxboro as they win this Sunday’s game outright as home underdogs.