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NFL Playbook: Cowboys look to exploit Chiefs' generous 'D'

The last thing the National Football League needed in this season of ratings dives and anthem protests was for its most exciting new face, Deshaun Watson, to go down with injury.

Taking the Houston Texans rookie quarterback out of the picture takes away a lot of intrigue for the remaining nine weeks of the regular season.

Five division matchups and a clash between two first-place teams, Kansas City and Dallas in Arlington, Texas, head a Week Nine schedule to get the second half of the season going.

Three first-place teams, New England, Pittsburgh and Minnesota, have the week off but a few important rivalry games make it somewhat of an attractive lineup.

Atlanta at Carolina and Tampa Bay at New Orleans in the NFC South are the best of the divisional matchups. Less attractive are the Indianapolis and Houston in the AFC South, Arizona at San Francisco in the NFC West and the Monday night game between old NFC North rivals, Detroit and Green Bay, at Lambeau Field.

Trade-deadline deals that sent quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from New England to San Francisco and running back Jay Ajayi from the turmoil in Miami to NFC front-runner Philadelphia will be watched with interest.

A capsule look at the Week Nine games:

Game of the week

Chiefs (6-2) at Cowboys (4-3)
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Pick'em.
The scoop: Franchises once fought for dominance in the Dallas Metroplex when American Football League was founded. Cowboys won that fight and Lamar Hunt took his Dallas Texans to KC. ... Teams have met only 10 times with Cowboys leading, 6-4. ... Dallas will have to get by without RB Ezekiel Elliott, which leaves ball-carrying to veterans Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. Plus-10 turnover ratio helps disappointing Chiefs defense, which is giving up 392.3 ypg. Chiefs Alex Smith leads league with 115.4 passer rating.
Outlook: Tyreek Hill and rookie RB Kareem Hunt make Chiefs one of most fun teams to watch, but Dallas wins, 35-28.

Top attractions

Falcons (4-3) at Panthers (5-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Panthers (-1).
The scoop: First division game for Falcons, who must be happy they're not in AFC East. Defending NFC champions lost to Bills, Pats, Fish and barely beat Jets last week. ... Although New Orleans leads NFC South the division may be decided by outcome of Atlanta-Carolina series. Return game in Atlanta will be Dec. 31. Atlanta has won last three in rivalry including sweep last season when Falcons rang up 76 points in two meetings.
Outlook: Won't be easy for Matt Ryan and Falcons to get rolling. Panthers are second in league in total defense, giving up 95 yards less a game than last year. Falcons have more weapons. Atlanta 24-17.

Bengals (3-4) at Jaguars (4-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Jaguars (-5).
The scoop: Jacksonville leads NFL in sacks, but 20 of their 33 came against Houston's Tom Savage and Watson and Colts' Jacoby Brissett. Cincy's Andy Dalton won't be as easy a target. ... Real development with Jaguars is perfomane of offense (361.6 ypg) in spite of Blake Bortles (9TDs, 5 INTs, 85.4 rating). Bye week after missing Colts game two weeks ago should have Jags' rookie RB Leonard Fournette ready for a big game.
Outlook: It took great defensive play by Carlos Dunlap to save Bengals from home loss versus Colts last week. Jaguars, 28-20.

Broncos (3-4) at Eagles (7-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Eagles (-8).
The scoop: QB Trevor Siemian took the fall for Broncos' three-game losing streak despite a defense that leads the league (261.0). Broncos are so frustrated that they have turned to Brock Osweiler to bail them out. ... Eagles add former Dolphins RB Jay Ajayi, who has rushed for 1,737 yards the last season and a half, to a potent attack. ... Eagles QB Carson Wentz shares league lead with 19 TD passes.
Outlook: Eagles are 4-0 at home. They haven't had a perfect home record since 1949 when they played home games at old Shibe Park. They keep on rolling, 20-10.

Ravens (4-4) at Titans (4-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: No line as of Friday
The scoop: If Joe Flacco hasn't recovered from controversial hit by Kiko Alonso, Ryan Mallett starts at QB for Baltimore. Ravens coming off 40-0 rout of Miami that has led to upheaval in South Florida. ... Titans coming off bye after just sneaking past Browns in Cleveland. ... Grand Islander Brett Kern of Titans leads league in punting average (51.5) and net average (46.5). Titans have needed that, too.
Outlook: Titans have won last two and are 2-1 at home. Tennessee wins defensive struggle, 20-17.

Best of the rest

Buccaneers (2-5) at Saints (5-2)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Saints (-7).
The scoop: Bucs are major disappointment. Saints are a major surprise. Saints have won their last five. Tampa Bay has lost last four. With Drew Brees still in form (11 TDs, 4 INTs, 101.7), Saints are second in league in total offense (390.4) and much improved on defense, giving up 30 fewer yards per game than last season.
Outlook: Tampa Bay offense stuck in low. Saints, 31-17.

Redskins (3-4) at Seahawks (5-2)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Seahawks (-7 1/2).
The scoop: Seattle needed last score for 41-38 win at home over Houston last week. Surprisingly, vaunted Seattle defense has allowed 33 points or more five times in last 13 games including 2016 playoffs. ... QB Russell Wilson not only has 15 TD passes, 2,008 passing yards and 100.4 rating, he also leads Seahawks in rushing with 194 yards. ... QB Kirk Cousins of Redskins is carrying on like a trooper behind an injury-decimated offensive line.
Outlook: Getting mugged at home by rival Cowboys, 33-19, not good for Redskins' morale. Seattle, 31-20.

Raiders (3-5) at Dolphins (4-3)
TV: NBC, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Raiders (-3).
The scoop: Raiders didn't look that interested in Orchard Park last week. Maybe they thoughy it was going to be easy, especially after driving for opening TD. Wrong. ... Question is: Can Jack DelRio wake them up in time to reach expectations for this season. ... How could Miami lose, 40-0, to what is not a vintage Baltimore Ravens team? ... Damien Williams, a former Oklahoma Sooner, becomes the lead RB after Jay Ajayi was sent packing.
Outlook: Two teams on the ropes. Raiders seemed better equipped to bounce back. Oakland 33-21.

Lions (3-4) at Packers (4-3)
TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Lions (- 2 1/2).
The scoop: Old rivalry that goes back to the Great Depression has been surpringly one-sided. Packers have 98-68-7 advantage and have won last three. Both wins last season were by only seven points. ... Green Bay a home underdog because backup Brett Hundley will start at QB. Best news for Packers has been performance of rookie RB Aaron Jones, who averages 5.6 per carry. He was a fifth-rounder out of UTEP.
Outlook: Best chance for Lions to win at Lambeau. Last two wins there were 1991 and 2015 (18-16). Detroit, 20-14.

Colts (2-6) at Texans (3-4)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Texans (- 13)
The scoop: After the NFL realignment in 2002, the Colts dominated the AFC South thanks to Peyton Manning. Not any more. Indy is headed for the division cellar without Andrew Luck. ... Tom Savage must start in place of Watson and Houston had to sign former Penn Stater Matt McGloin as backup.
Outlook: Indy will have trouble protecting QB Jacoby Brissett, who has taken a beating. Houston, 27-10.

Rams (5-2) at Giants (1-6)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Rams (-3 1/2).
The scoop: New York has won last seven games against Rams in a streak that began in 2002. Despite that, Cleve/L.A./St. Louis/L.A. Rams franchise holds all-time advantage over Big Blue (25-16). ... New York ranks 15th in NFC in offense and 14th in defense. Rams second in league in scoring (30.3).
Outlook: Visit to Meadowlands will be a true test of Rams' second-year QB Jared Goff. He barely passes. Rams 23-13.

Dog of the day

Cardinals (3-4) at 49ers (0-8)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Cardinals (-2).
The scoop: Getting start after being with team less than a week seems unlikely, but San Francisco fans  eagerly look forward to debut of QB Jimmy Garoppolo rather than seeing shaky rookie C.J. Beathard. ... Drew Stanton will start at QB for Arizona in absence of injured Carson Palmer. He had bye week to get ready.
Outlook: Best chance for 49ers to end losing streak now at nine games since Christmas Eve win over Rams last season. San Francisco 27-24.

Last week's results: 9-3 outright, 7-4-1 versus spread.

Season's record: 66-45 outright, 53-53-5 versus spread.


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