The NFL is a wonderful world of uncertainty, parity, and urgency. You probably looked at the Sunday night tie between Arizona and Seattle as just another mediocre prime time game, right? Me? I saw two of the NFC’s premier teams refusing to have their wills broken for a full 5 quarters. That game was representative of what’s to come. Week 8 offers some of the most interesting story-lines of the season thus far: Does Carolina have what it takes to get the W and save their season (for one more week at least)? Will the criticism of Aaron Rodgers spark a resurgence versus a very beatable Atlanta squad? Is the out-of-nowhere prodigy Dak Prescott really better than No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz? I love football, and I’m guessing I ain’t the only one.
By Matthew Jarecki
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
Line: Tennessee -3
Final Score: Jacksonville 22 – Tennessee 36
2 Cents: This game was over midway through the second quarter. I kept watching. I wanted to examine what was so wrong with Jacksonville. What did I come away with? This game juxtaposed two historically bad organizations: one going in the right direction, and one that’s a year away from starting from scratch… again. What did the Jags do with their next two picks after drafting Blake Bortles? They drafted two consecutive wide receivers. You might be thinking, “well yeah, he needs targets to throw to!” But smart teams know wide receivers can be found all over the draft. If you look at what’s been happening in the NFL over the last five years, you’ll notice that smart teams draft line first, and skill position later. There’s a few reasons: 1. Line play dictates how the rest of your team can perform. Without time to throw, even the best quarterbacks can’t make plays (as was seen with Andrew Luck last year). 2. Wide receiver and running back have been the deepest positions in the draft recently (Antonio Brown, Jordy Nelson, T.Y. Hilton, Doug Baldwin all taken after 1st round), so there’s simply no demand to draft wide receiver high. Here’s the point of my rant; the Titans have built the best offensive line in the league, and it’s resulting in good quarterback play and dominating time of possession. Look out for Jacksonville to reboot again next year, and the Titans to compete for the AFC South title this year.
Washington Redskins at Cincinnati Bengals (In London)
Line: Cincinnati -3
Predicted Score: Washington 21 – Cincinnati 24
2 Cents: These London games tend to be ugly, but I think the NFL is giving the Brits the best product of the year with this game. Think about it. Two (slightly) above average quarterbacks, explosive wide receivers all over the field, and feisty star defensive players in Vontaze Burfict and Josh Norman. Who will win you ask? These teams are very similar offensively: if their quarterback is hot, he can be very good, if their running game is on, it’s on, but neither team wants to rely on their quarterback to carry them to wins. To me Cincinnati wins this game for two reasons; defense and coaching. Cincinnati has taken a step back defensively since last year, but they’re still performing much better than a Washington squad that is 30th against the run, and 17th against the pass. I like Jay Gruden, but I think Marvin Lewis, with his years of experience, will have the better ability to corral his team into staying focused during this London trip.
The Catch: Kirk Cousins has a way of bouncing back in must win situations for the Redskins. With the Vikings, Packers, Cardinals, and Cowboys coming up, this is a must win for Washington.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Line: New England -7
Predicted Score: New England 27 – Buffalo 17
2 Cents: This is a tough match up for the Bills. As I’ve said all year, Buffalo is a slightly above average team that’ll beat up on bad teams, and get beat up by good teams. Well, last week, without their star rusher in full form, we saw that Buffalo can get beat up by bad teams too. New England, on the other hand, just doesn’t lose twice to the same team in a season, and they’re scary when they have something to prove. Buffalo talks big, and you can bet Belichick has created a game plan to shut them up. Since returning from suspension, Tom Brady has 1,000 yards in the air, 8 TD’s to 0 INT’s, and he has the Patriots scoring 31 points per game. Yikes. This 11th ranked pass defense will be the toughest test for Tom Brady and his Patriots, but I’m going with pathos rather than logos in this one. I think New England blows Buffalo out not based not numbers, but based on motivation.
The Catch: Buffalo will need to take care of the ball on offense, and create turnovers on defense to win this game: something they’ve excelled at this year. Rex Ryan has a way of making Brady very uncomfortable.
Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
Line: Carolina -3
Predicted Score: Arizona 17 – Carolina 24
2 Cents: I’m betting against both teams that played the Sunday Night Football game in week 7, simply because they’re both on the road after playing a full quarter more than any other team in the league: they’ll be tired. There are other factors involved, though. Carolina is extra rested, coming off of a bye, and they are desperate. One of my rules is that I never bet against a desperate team coming off a bye. Here’s the key stat to clue in on this game; Carolina is only giving up 3.3 yards per rush. We know Carolina’s secondary has been atrocious this year, but Arizona is now a run-first team, and Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis will have something to say about that. I just don’t see this tired Arizona squad beating a desperate, talented Carolina team led by former MVP Cam Newton.
The Catch: Can’t you just picture Bruce Arians getting in front of his team and saying “Remember how they embarrassed us in the playoffs last year? Let’s go end their season.” This will be a true test of wills, and Arizona’s might just be stronger.
New York Jets at Cleveland Browns
Line: New York -3
Predicted Score: New York 31 – Cleveland 27
2 Cents: What if I told you the shootout of the year would be between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh McCown? Well, if you look at how bad the Jets’ and Browns’ secondaries are, you might just agree with me. New York is 27th against the pass, while Cleveland sits at 29th. I don’t want to bore you, so I won’t spend too much time talking about this game, but here’s why the Jets will win. This former 10-6 roster was hit hard by the Fitz-tragic plague to start the year, but there are play makers all over both sides of the ball, from Brandon Marshall, to Leonard Williams, to Calvin Pryor. Cleveland, the youngest roster in the league, doesn’t have the same luxuries, with the only notable players on their roster being Danny Shelton, Terrelle Pryor Jr., and Joe Haden. As has been the case all year for these Browns, this game will be a mismatch of talent.
The Catch: Hugh Jackson’s team will move the ball on this Jets secondary. If the Browns can force Ryan Fitzpatrick to cough it up a couple times, they could end up with their first win of the season.
Detroit Lions at Houston Texans
Line: Houston -2
Predicted Score: Detroit 27 – Houston 21
2 Cents: The Lions are sneaky good, and Matthew Stafford is having a career year. The Texans are sneaky bad, with one of the 10-worst quarterbacks in the league; and a defense that’s giving up 25 points a game since J.J. Watt’s injury. I have no qualms about taking Detroit by a touchdown in this game. Did you guys see Trevor Siemian and those Broncos running backs do whatever they pleased against this depleted defense? Houston’s defense won’t fare much better this week against a Detroit team scoring 24 points per game. The Lion’s are not the better roster in this match up. But with an overrated defense, and a flat out bad Brock Osweiler, Houston as a whole isn’t good enough to beat Matthew Stafford during a career year.
The Catch: In order for Houston to beat Detroit, they’ll need to control the clock and take the ball out of Matthew Stafford’s hands. As will be the case going forward this season, Lamar Miller’s wheels will determine the outcome of this game for Houston.
Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts
Line: Kansas City -3
Predicted Score: Kansas City 24 – Indianapolis 27
2 Cents: I’m going against the grain with this game. For the last two weeks, we’ve seen Kansas City control the clock and run down the throat of two high-octane offenses. That ain’t gonna happen this week, folks. The Colts, for all their woes, have started to figure things out offensively over the last 4 weeks, averaging 28 points per game. They’ll crack the case that New Orleans was on the verge of cracking last week, but with an added advantage; they’re playing at home. Get this; Alex Smith has a 2:1 TD to INT ratio on the road this year, compared to 5:1 at home. Dink and dunk offenses like the Chiefs (and Eagles) are historically better at home, and that’s been the case so far, with Kansas City losing 2 of 3 away games. I’ll take Andrew Luck, who should be in the MVP conversation right now, to put his team on his back and simply outscore this run-dependent Kansas City team.
The Catch: Kansas City is the better overall team in this match up. If the Colts turn the ball over, there’s hardly a shot to win this game against a suffocating ball control offense like the Chiefs.
Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints
Line: Seattle -3
Predicted Score: Seattle 21 – New Orleans 24
2 Cents: As I stated earlier, I’m betting against both teams that played in week 7’s Sunday Night Football match-up. I just think going on the road against that Saints offense after playing a full extra quarter is too much to ask of Seattle. Listen, I know that Seattle is better in every defensive category than the Saints, but New Orleans has some real advantages in this game. First of all, the Saints are playing at home where they’ve averaged 35 points per game this season.. that’s absurd. Seattle, meanwhile, has averaged just 14 points per game on the road. To top it all off, Russell Wilson now has a pectoral injury to go with ankle problems that have been plaguing him all season. This guy is on the verge of being knocked out of a game. For this week, New Orleans’ advantage on offense will outweigh Seattle’s advantage on defense.
The Catch: If there’s anybody that Seattle can score against on the road, it’s a New Orleans defense that’s giving up 32 points per game.
Oakland Raiders at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: Oakland -1
Predicted Score: Oakland 28 – Tampa Bay 24
2 Cents: You can bet this game’s in my Vegas 3 week 8 edition. There are 3 main reasons I love the Raiders to beat the Bucs at home. 1: Oakland is, in essence, the home team in this game. Tampa Bay had to travel all the way back from California this week, while Oakland actually stayed in Florida this week after playing Jacksonville in week 7. Oakland will be the better rested team. 2: Oakland is 4-0 on the road this year, while Tampa Bay is 0-2 in home games. Derek Carr has a 7-1 TD to INT ratio in road games this year, while Jameis Winston has a 3-3 TD to INT ratio at home this year… uh oh. 3: As bad as Oakland has been on defense, they have 7 interceptions already this year, and that spells trouble for a Tampa Bay team that’s given up 12 turnovers already this year — 8th most in the league. Oakland stays atop the AFC West for another week.
The Catch: Tampa Bay will need to outscore the Raiders in this one, and while Jameis Winston does have the ability to put his team on his back, the Bucs’ 13th ranked pass defense could be what helps them the most.
San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos
Line: Denver -4
Predicted Score: San Diego 17 – Denver 24
2 Cents: San Diego’s week 6 victory vs Denver was impressive, but this week Denver plays at home, and will surely rewrite the script. The average fan doesn’t think much about coaching, but to me, head coaches in the NFL have a bigger impact than people know. Broncos head coach, Gary Kubiak, wasn’t present for the week leading up to their previous match up with the Chargers. The impact of Kubiak’s absence was felt on the sideline, and in a struggling offense that failed to run the ball against a usually-leaky Chargers defense. Trevor Siemian’s lowest QB rating since his first career start didn’t help either. I simply can’t see such a depleted Chargers roster beating the Super Bowl champs twice this season.
The Catch: Phillip Rivers has been playing out of his mind this year: he’s the Chargers’ only shot to win.
Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons
Line: Atlanta -3
Predicted Score: Green Bay 27 – Atlanta 24
2 Cents: This is my upset of the week, folks, and regardless of who wins, it’s sure to be a great game. Let me start off by giving you a theory: I think the criticism that Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers have received from the local media is the healthiest thing that could’ve happened to the head coach/quarterback duo. In a small market like Green Bay, the media has a tendency to coddle and worship teams, and that’d been the case in Green Bay up until this year. Now, with tough questions about under-performance directed at the McCarthy and Rodgers, I think a fire’s been lit under their ass, and I think it showed on TNF against the Bears. I know, I know, it was the Bears; but the Packers found a way to score 26 points without a true running back. I was impressed, and I think they’re on to something with Ty Montgomery. I think the Packers will put up points on a bad Atlanta defense, and I think their run defense will force Atlanta to be one dimensional. Yes, the Falcons are a great passing team, but make no mistake – their 3 losses this year came when Devonta Freeman had his 3 worst games of the year. Packers edge the Falcons this week, and both the NFC North and the NFC South get very interesting.
The Catch: Atlanta is no slouch. I expect this to be a shootout, and right now Matt Ryan is the better quarterback than Aaron Rodgers. Anything could happen.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Line: Dallas -4 1/2
Predicted Score: Philadelphia 21 – Dallas 27
2 Cents: The answer is yes. Dak Prescott really is better than Carson Wentz… for now at least. To me, the Eagles have no shot at winning this game, and here’s why: 1. They aren’t the same team on the road. Philadelphia gives up 21 points per game on the road, compared to just 7 points per game at home. That’s too large of a discrepancy to ignore. 2. They don’t stop the run, and they’re turnover dependent on defense. The Eagles’ have allowed 4.5 yards per rush this season, which spells trouble, because that’s Dallas’s bread-and-butter. In a match up between two teams that need to control the time of possession to win, Dallas has the edge. In addition, Philadelphia has relied on it’s 12 turnovers to give them the T.O.P. advantage, but Dallas simply doesn’t give the ball up – they’re 2nd in the league with only 5 turnovers. 3. Carson Wentz has officially hit his rookie wall. Since that game-ending INT against Detroit in week 5, Wentz has looked cautious, and his stats support that notion. He’s thrown for under 200 yards with 1 TD to 2 INT’s since that game. Dallas builds on their NFC East lead with a week 8 victory
The Catch: Philadelphia must force turnovers to win this game. They have the track record, but they must prove that it wasn’t a fluke.
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Line: Minnesota -6
Predicted Score: Minnesota 24 – Chicago 6
2 Cents: I expect a blowout here. Anything less, and it’s time to start questioning whether this Minnesota team is a real Super Bowl contender. The Bears’ QB situation has come full circle back to Jay Cutler, and reports are that head coach John Fox is done with him, so I’m not expecting much. The facts are this; both teams have depleted offensive lines, but the Vikings are significantly more talented on defense; so they’ll win the turnover battle. The Bears players know their season is over, and they’re playing for pride and a paycheck at this point. The Vikings, on the other hand, know they have a shot to be great, and they’re looking to bounce back from an embarrassing loss. All of that considered, I don’t see a glimmer of hope for the Bears in this game.
The Catch: Jay Cutler will be auditioning for a new job. He could prove what he’s worth by keeping this game competitive.