*Man vs. Machine is a weekly installment during the NFL season that pits a flawed human brain against the coding and algorithms of Madden 18.
Even after eight weeks, this season is still murky as ever. The AFC West has one of the most exciting playoff races in the league. The Seahawks are locked in a two-team battle with the surprise Los Angeles Rams. Minnesota sits at 6-2 with their third quarterback and a pair of backup running backs. Philadelphia already has six more wins than the New York Giants. Although it’s a familiar sight to see Pittsburgh and New England atop the AFC, both teams have weaknesses that could lead to a premature loss in the playoffs. Week Nine will lay the groundwork for the storylines in the NFL’s second half.
Bold Prediction: The 49ers secure their first win of the season against a sinking Arizona team.
Kownack Record: 75-49
Madden Record: 71-53
Week 9 Picks
Big Game Spotlight
- Kownack: Falcons 17, Panthers 23 / Madden: Falcons 41, Panthers 22
My Take – The Falcons and Panthers meet for the first time this season in order to provide clarity to the logjam atop the NFC South. Atlanta started their three-game road trip with a convincing defeat at the hands of New England and followed that up with a sloppy win over New York. Matt Ryan is not the quarterback from 2016, which means the offense isn’t either. They’ll enter the game tired against a stout Carolina defense. Although the Panthers have been just as inconsistent (currently 1-2 at home), they matchup well against Atlanta. Perhaps Cam Newton can give Matt Ryan advice for coping with a Super Bowl hangover during postgame handshakes.
Madden’s Take – Atlanta will close out their road trip in style as far as Madden is concerned. Cam Newton struggled after losing Kelvin Benjamin in a deadline day trade. The two arguably have the most chemistry of any healthy Carolina players on offense, and it showed. Ricardo Allen picked off Newton twice and Deion Jones added another. Jonathan Stewart fumbled two times and lost one. Although Matt Ryan also tossed two picks, he threw a pair of touchdowns compared to Newton’s zero. The game was over after Atlanta put up 21 points in the second quarter, bringing the first half score to 28-9.
- Kownack: Ravens 14, Titans 21 / Madden: Ravens 25, Titans 32
My Take – Joe Flacco has stated that he is ready to roll Sunday after taking a big hit from Kiko Alonso. The pendulum swings definitively in Tennessee’s favor if he sits. For now, it should be a close game that ultimately favors the home team. Marcus Mariota is several weeks removed from a hamstring injury and should utilize his scrambling ability to deconstruct Baltimore’s stellar defense. This game is crucial to both teams in terms of division standings, but it could also have major implications in the wildcard race.
Madden’s Take –Madden has Flacco pegged as a quarterback who will continue to struggle. His 16-for-25, 170-yard effort was a big reason Baltimore lost. Marcus Mariota threw for just over 200 yards but had two touchdowns through the air and scored another with his legs. The end result looks closer than it truly was. Alex Collins scored his second rushing touchdown of the day with 40 seconds remaining to make it a one-possession game. It’s worth noting the Corey Davis was included in the simulation. Madden decided his return to action would be a dud: one catch for eight yards.
- Kownack: Redskins 20, Seahawks 24 / Madden: Redskins 31, Seahawks 37 (OT)
My Take – Washington does not have a favorable schedule moving forward. Their next three games are against division leaders. It also doesn’t help that the Redskins will be facing off against a team whose offense woke up with a bang last Sunday. The Seahawks won an unexpected shootout and should hold serve in a second consecutive home game. Washington’s defense has vastly improved since last season, but the smart money is on Russell Wilson to deliver in the clutch versus Kirk Cousins. Cousins still deserves better contract security, but he hasn’t been winning games. That’s not helping his case. Expect the trend to continue this week.
Madden’s Take – Washington looked like they were on their way to a statement victory in a must-win game to save their season. They entered the 4th quarter up 24-13 before trading a touchdown for a Seattle field goal. Russell Wilson turned it up a notch for two scores in the last six minutes of the game. The Seahawks received the ball first in overtime and did not give Washington a chance to counter. Wilson threw his third touchdown of the game to Jimmy Graham, sending the Redskins on a long flight home.
- Kownack: Chiefs 30, Cowboys 20 / Madden: Chiefs 24, Cowboys 27
My Take – The Chiefs returned to form against Denver on Monday night. Dallas’ offense has done the same, but they now have to endure six weeks without Ezekiel Elliott. You could make a case that the Cowboys would have been better off if Elliott missed the first six games and returned to the lineup with fresh legs for the playoff stretch. It remains to be seen how Dallas copes without him, but going through their first trial run against the 6-2 Chiefs is an unenviable task. Kansas City will start the temporary McFadden/Morris era off with disappointment.
Madden’s Take – No Zeke, no problem. Dallas squeezed out a tough win that many won’t expect in the team’s first game sans star running back. The football world has often argued about whether the presence of Ezekiel Elliott and a stellar offensive line make Dak Prescott look better than he actually is. Video game Prescott responded with a resounding no. He excelled without a safety net, throwing for 289 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Alfred Morris led the way with 70 yards rushing. Anthony Brown also gave Alex Smith his first interception all season. The Dallas defense held together to avoid a collapse despite being outscored 14-3 in the 4th quarter.
- Kownack: Packers 21, Lions 35 / Madden: Packers 14, Lions 35
My Take – The Green Bay Packers were in a comfortable, committed relationship. They got complacent. Gained a few extra pounds. Stopped fielding a competitive defense. Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone fracture served as a breakup wake up call. Did the Packers whip themselves back into shape over the bye week, or spiral into a deeper depression fueled by ice cream and movie marathons? Monday night will be the answer. Both teams are desperate for a win to put pressure on Minnesota. The well-established history of Detroit’s pain and suffering makes the case for Green Bay to send the Lions to 3-5, stay close enough to Minnesota to activate Rodgers in week 16, and somehow steal the NFC North. Unfortunately for Cheeseheads, the pieces don’t add up. Green Bay allowed 485 total yards against New Orleans. Detroit gained 482 total yards against a far better Pittsburgh defense. The chances they gain a similar amount in Green Bay? High. The chances they gain that much and only score field goals again? Non-existent.
Madden’s Take – Green Bay held tight for as long as they could. They entered half time with a 14-13 lead before giving up 22 fourth quarter points. Detroit’s offense finally exploded after being frustrated for a game and a half. Golden Tate tore the Packers’ struggling secondary apart for a team-high 10 catches and 131 yards. Brett Hundley finally looked like an NFL quarterback. He threw for more yards (258) and a better completion percentage (68%) than Stafford, but gave up two costly interceptions to Quandre Diggs and Glover Quin that cancelled out his touchdowns.
Pick a Lock
* Madden’s selection based on biggest margin of victory. Result is worth two wins/losses.
Kownack: Texans (vs. IND) – The Texans suffered a heartbreaking loss in Seattle after putting up 38 points. Deshaun Watson is a revelation. Houston has put up 30+ points in five straight contests. Indianapolis has put up 30+ points only once this season – against the Browns. The Colts don’t have the firepower to make it a game.
Madden: Lions (@ GB) – Madden sees one of the spotlight games as the most obvious win. Detroit had too many weapons for the Packers to stop, and Green Bay’s normally potent offense could not keep up using a different quarterback at the helm.
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