NFL Picks and Predictions: Week 8
Is this the week the Patriots fall again?
Been receiving tweets — and catching flak from colleagues — about every team at the top of the Power Rankings losing the following week.
Yet, if that’s true, Tom Brady and company would have to falter against a Bills group potentially devoid of its best player. Last year, I predicted Rex Ryan’s defense would give New England fits in
Buffalo. Yeah, and Touchdown Tommy went off. Given that the Bills have
a chance to sweep the Pats for the first time in forever, this matchup
is one of the best in Week 8. Eagles at Cowboys is no bargain brand,
either. Neither is Chargers at Broncos, for that matter.
Koy Detmer would come out of retirement. Then the Eagles would
beat themselves by tying the game in regulation and missing a
chip-shot field goal at the end of overtime. (Like that ever happens
See what I mean? It’s real. Now, let’s get to it!
(Elliot Harrison went 10-4-1 on his predictions for Week 7, giving him
a record of 67-39-1)
Jacksonville (2-4) at Tennessee (3-4)
Thursday, 7:30 PM CBS
Line: Titans -3.5 / 43.5
You might remember a Thursday night clash between these two
teams from last year, when each wore their color rush jerseys — it
looked Captain Kirk’s shirt blitzing Mr. Spock, and it wasn’t pretty.
Marcus Mariota’s legs kept Tennessee in the game on that November day,
but ultimately Blake Bortles won it with his arm. That latter part
just isn’t happening this year. Bortles’ elongated delivery has
produced mixed results — more bad than good. His passer rating is a
paltry 76.4. Meanwhile, Mariota’s arrow is pointing upward, as the
former second overall pick has thrown eight touchdowns to one pick
over the last three games. Overall, this Thursday night game is
huge for both clubs. The Titans must win these kinds of games at home
if they want to win the AFC South. For the Jags, the season — and
perhaps Gus Bradley’s stewardship in Jacksonville — is riding on this
contest. The fourth-year head coach is 14-40.
Pick: Titans 26 Jaguars 21
Washington (4-3) vs Cincinnatti (3-4)
Sunday, 9:30a.m FOX
Line: Bengals -3 / 47
Now’s the time for Matt Jones. Playing on the road, in a
charged-up environment, Jones must eliminate his fumbling woes and
produce another 100-yard game. Give Kirk Cousins, who has been playing
well, the time to throw by providing a balanced attack. Also, Chris
Thompson is even more effective as the change-of-pace back when Jones
takes the reins. The Bengals finally got off the schneid (schnide?
John Schneider?) with their own ground game last week, putting up 271
yards in the rushing column. Both of these defenses have had
difficulty winning the line of scrimmage with the front seven this
year, as Cincy is 24th in run defense and Washington’s 26th. Going
with Andy Dalton and crew in this game — the QB’s passer rating at
home is 103.5 (after being 105.2 last year).
Pick: Bengals 28 Redskins 24
Kansas City (4-2) at Indianapolis (3-4)
Sunday, Noon CBS
Line: Chiefs -2.5 / 50
Who could forget that crazy playoff game in Indy a few years
back? The Colts’ 45-44 victory over the Chiefs on Wild Card Weekend
was our No. 1 game of 2013, and one of the wildest rides of any
postseason contest in NFL history. The same two quarterbacks will be
facing off again this time — Alex Smith and Andrew Luck — although
methinks the K.C. defense will be the difference. Meanwhile, Indy’s
front seven has been destroyed this year. The Colts are allowing a
whopping 4.7 yards per carry — and it’s not because they are a
pass-rush-first, play-the-run-second kind of group. Indy has recorded
all of 11 sacks in seven games. Erik Walden owns five of those, so
that means everybody else has six. Easy math, cruddy football figures.
Think Spencer Ware and the Chiefs run for a buck fifty — at least.
Pick: Chiefs 27 Colts 23
Arizona (3-3-1) at Carolina (1-5)
Sunday, Noon FOX
Line: Panthers -2.5 / 47.5
We all circled this game on the calendar back when the schedule
was released in April. Now? Who knows what to expect from Cardinals at
Panthers? Carson Palmer and the Arizona offense couldn’t buy a
touchdown last Sunday night. And if you’ve seen the Panthers’
secondary this season, you might wonder if touchdowns only cost 50
cents in Carolina. What a ridiculous sport we watch. These were the
two combatants in the NFC Championship Game nine months ago — the
best teams in the conference — and now they sport a combined record
of 4-8-1. Say what? Despite the poor records, the David Johnson-Luke
Kuechly matchup will be top-shelf. The thinking here is that Larry
Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd will show up this week. The Panthers are
allowing opposing passers a 100.8 rating, and they’re producing zero
pressure off the edge.
Pick: Cardinals 28 Panthers 26
Oakland (5-2) at Tampa Bay (3-3)
Sunday, Noon CBS
Line: Bucs -1.5 / 49.5
So, how many bad pirate jokes can we include in this blurb?? Why
did the pirate say he liked the Raiders more than the Bucs? Because of
Derek CAAAAAARGH. How about the 13,789th best pirate joke: Who was the
pirate’s favorite player? Charlie GARRRRRGHHHHner. (Because he played
for both teams, of course.) I can go all day, babe.
My colleague, @MattMoneySmith, called Bucs-Niners on the radio
last weekend, and implored me to take notice of a healthier, more
active defense. Sounds like an endorsement for probiotics, but …
Money is especially high on rookie CB Vernon Hargreaves. Also
perennial Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy looks like his disruptive self. That
said, three of the last four quarterbacks Tampa Bay has faced are Case
Keenum, Derek Anderson and Colin Kaepernick. That lineup sure doesn’t
hurt when it comes to making your pass defense look better.
Fun with numbers: The Bucs are 3-13 since 2015 when they don’t
win the turnover battle. Oakland is plus-eight in that category this
year — tied for second in the league. The craziest number as it
pertains to this matchup, though? Zero. As in, zero playoff wins for
either franchise since they faced off in Super Bowl XXXVII.
Pick: Raiders 28 Bucs 25
Seattle (4-1-1) at New Orleans (2-4)
Sunday, Noon FOX
Line: Seahawks -2.5 / 48
This is a game the Seahawks’ defense wins almost on its own.
First, the unit will have to produce favorable field position for a
dysfunctional offense that needs all the midfield starts it can get.
Secondly, look for a big takeaway somewhere in the middle of this
contest. I realize Seattle didn’t produce one in Arizona last Sunday
night, but anyone who watched that game had to come away impressed with the
Seahawks’ intensity on that side of the ball. Will New Orleans rookie
Michael Thomas be ready for this kind of challenge? The Saints have
leaned on him, as Willie Snead has been so-so of late. If not a
massive disappointment, Mark Ingram and the ground game should
certainly be deemed subpar. The Brandin Cooks-Richard Sherman matchup
fascinates. Drew Brees and the offense will have to earn this win,
should they get it, due to the fact the Seahawks have allowed the
fewest 10-yard rushing plays — and big pass plays — in the league.
Pick: Seahawks 23 Saints 17
Detroit (4-3) at Houston (4-3)
Sunday, Noon FOX
Line: Texans -2.5 / 45
Even thinking the Lions might win four games in a row gives me
the heebie jeebies. So, why am I picking Detroit? Many of you probably
assume it’s because of Brock Osweiler’s play. But you know what they
say about assuming … Sometimes you’re exactly right! It’s because of
Brock Osweiler’s play. This past Monday night, I found myself
daydreaming about T.J. Yates leading this team to a win on “Monday
Night Football” last year. That sounded weird. You get the point.
Houston must get DeAndre Hopkins involved early, even though
Osweiler’s numbers when targeting Hopkins are terrible: 36 for 69, 3
TD, 6 INT. Oy. Matt Stafford is the antithesis of his counterpart,
enjoying his best season to date. (Yes, even over 2011, when threw 41
touchdown passes.) His 68 percent completion rate and 105.7 passer
rating are career highs.
Pick: Lions 28 Texans 22
New England (6-1) at Buffalo (4-3)
Sunday, Noon CBS
Line: Patriots -6.5 / 47.5
How many of you are uber curious to see how this game goes? How
many Bills fans Uber to games? Buffalo doesn’t seem like an Uber kind
of joint. You take the family truckster down to the parking lot. Of
course, you wear a Joe Ferguson road white jersey from 1980, yo. The
George Foreman grill is in the back somewhere. That’s how Sunday at
Ralph Wilson Stadium should go. But can the Bills Mafia see its team
win with a hobbled LeSean McCoy (if he’s even active)? It’s going to
come down to third down. Tom Brady has been the best in the bidness
this year on pro football’s most important down, converting 53.6
percent into first downs. Moreover, the guy owns a ridiculous 149.3
passer rating on third down. Moreover, moreover is not a word we
should use when chatting up the workmanlike Bills. Bad^*$ is a little
better, because that’s what the defense is on third down in the red
zone. Offenses have converted one of 12 third downs inside the Bills’
20. That’s no empty stat. That’s a four-point play, right? The
Gronk/Bennett combo will be key.
Pick: Patriots 22 Bills 19
NY Jets (2-5) at Cleveland (0-7)
Sunday, Noon CBS
Line: Jets -3 / 44
Could this be the Browns’ first win? No, unfortunately not. Who
is playing quarterback? Potentially Josh McCown? Kevin Hogan? The
latter performed admirably last Sunday, particularly with his legs
(see: seven carries for 104 and a score), against a defense
ill-prepared to confront his abilities. Those legs wouldn’t catch the
Jets by surprise. And New York’s weakness is the secondary, anyway.
That’s an area McCown would be able to exploit, in theory. If he
doesn’t start or gets knocked out of the contest again — as has been
the narrative for Browns QBs this season — it’s unclear what kind of
passer Hogan could be with such little preparation as an NFL starter.
But hey, Ryan Fitzpatrick has had a dozen years to prep and he’s been
somewhere south of terrible for the bulk of this season. So there’s
Pick: Jets 17 Browns 16
San Diego (3-4) at Denver (5-2)
Sunday, 3:05 CBS
Line: Broncos -5.5 / 43.5
The Chargers’ chances to win come down to how well Philip Rivers plays.
I could type that line every week. The only team I can think of that
is as dependent on its quarterback as San Diego is Indianapolis with
That said, Melvin Gordon could be the key to a San Diego upset this
week. The Broncos have struggled with pass catchers out of the
backfield in the past (see: Week 5 vs. Atlanta). Gordon was heavily
involved in the passing game last week, catching six balls for 53
yards and a touchdown. Getting a lead early won’t mean much for the
Chargers, as Denver hasn’t led a football game at the conclusion of
the first quarter since Super Bowl 50. The Broncos also haven’t been
swept by San Diego since 2010. Tebowmania started one of those games,
and not well.
Pick: Broncos 20 Chargers 17
Green Bay (4-2) at Atlanta (4-3)
Sunday, 3:25 FOX
Line: Falcons -3 / 53
This trip to Atlanta marks the first leg of a stretch that sees
the Pack playing away from Lambeau in four out of the next five games.
Sunday’s outcome, at least in my eyes, is contingent on two factors:
A) How effective Matt Ryan is on intermediate throws against the
B) Mike McCarthy’s play calling: vanilla … or aggressive in fully
exploiting the versatility of Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb?
The latter point is in response to the grumblings I’ve heard that
McCarthy is not helping his quarterback with the old play charts. Ever
since the then-undefeated Packers were stunned in Denver last
November, it seems the offense hasn’t lived up to our expectations.
Over the past 16 regular-season games — starting with that ill-fated
outing against the Broncos — the Packers have averaged 21.5 points
per contest. In 2014, they averaged 30.4 (a league-high). Quite a
difference. Matt Ryan, on the other hand, endured his worst game of
the season last week, and it appears he won’t have Tevin Coleman at
his disposal this week. If Devonta Freeman can’t shake free of Green
Bay’s stout run defense, this deal will be all on Ryan.
Pick: Packers 27 Falcons 24
Philadelphia (4-2) at Dallas (5-1)
Sunday, 7:30 NBC
Line: Dallas -4.5 / 43.5
Think the Eagles’ defense is going to have its hands full this
Sunday night. As fantastic as Jim Schwartz’s unit has performed, think
about the running backs these guys have faced: Isaiah Crowell, Jeremy
Langford, DeAngelo Williams, Theo Riddick, Matt Jones and Jerick
McKinnon. Sure, some of those dudes are decent players. Crowell
averaged over 5 yards per carry against the Eagles. Matt Jones laid
well over a hundy on them. So, what do you think Zeke is gonna do?
This Eagles front seven — which has earned my respect — hasn’t seen
an offensive line even close to this Dallas group. On the other side,
I expect Carson Wentz to be effective, especially given the Cowboys’
troubles with the pass rush. (They should go get one.) The issue is
that Rod Marinelli’s defense is getting much-needed rest when the
offense goes on another long march. The Great Wall of Dallas 2.0 vs.
Schwartz’s stingy defense = great freaking football.
Pick: Cowboys 27 Eagles 20
Minnesota (5-1) at Chicago (1-6)
Monday, 7:30 ESPN
Line: Vikings -6 / 40.5
The Vikings should win this game, based on the fact they have
been knocked out of the top spot of the Power Rankings. Holding the
No. 1 place has downed every team I’ve put there. Little-known fact:
Teams batting in the two-hole of the Power Rankings have won six weeks
in a row. So trends show that Minnesota should prevail this Monday
night in Chicago. The Jay Cutler axiom says the same thing. Boy oh
boy, coming back from an injury to face a pissed-off Vikings defense
can’t be fun. At least the game is in Soldier Field. Opposing
quarterbacks over the last nine games against Mike Zimmer’s defense:
2-7, 56.6 completion percentage, 9:14 TD-to-INT ratio and a 66.7
passer rating. Those numbers are horrific enough for this game to be
played on Halloween. Those numbers are as bad as “Jason X,” the Friday
the 13th with Mr. Voorhees in space.
Pick: Vikings 20 Bears 16