While one wouldn't seriously suggest making one's Week 8 NFL picks using a dartboard, football predictions for the 2013 season have proven best made using the SAT method: make your choice and don't second-guess yourself by referring to facts. Okay, maybe that last part isn't recommended when filling in the circles that will determine one's collegiate future. However, this is the NFL season when sticking with the generally acknowledged better team has held true -- the recent Jets win notwithstanding. So, stop stressing and concentrate on getting the most enjoyment out of your Sunday (and Thursday and Monday) viewing experience.
Those of us who love football need to pause and remember with gratitude Titans owner Bud Adams, one of the founders of the AFL, and longtime Oilers coach Bum Phillips. Both gentlemen passed away in their 90's last week. Mr. Adams made arrangements in his will for the team to remain in the family and Mr. Phillips' contributions continue through his son Wade, defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans. We hope that they knew how much enjoyment their passionate and enduring work brought to so many.
Quote of the Week:
"You fail all the time, but you aren't a failure until you start blaming someone else."
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This game is worth watching purely for the chance to see Cam Newton break one or two plays that leave one slack-jawed and rethinking objections to the Superman celebration. WR Brandon LaFell has arrived -- finally. The fourth-year man has three touchdowns and 11 first downs this year. DeAngelo Williams has quietly become the 11th-leading rusher in the NFL.
The other quarterback in this contest is rookie Mike Glennon who, once one gets past the stretched out alien-reminiscent physique, is coming along. Unfortunately, he's without "Muscle Hampster" RB Doug Martin and will be relying on amazing WR Vincent Jackson and backup RB Michael James. Not exactly a stacked offensive arsenal for a rookie. On the defensive side, I don't care how old he was -- this secondary is missing Ronde Barber.
While Bucs ownership is historically Sphinx-like in both its silence and inscrutability, it's hard to imagine that the Greg Schiano era will last much longer.
Straight Up: Carolina
Against the Spread: Carolina -6
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots. Last Sunday, ESPN's NFL Countdown showed footage of the 1999 Michigan team. Tom Brady looked almost identical to the version we see today. How is it that scouts missed this? Same pocket movements, same "running" style, same throwing motion. Can people get a grip on the "Brady's in a slump" talk? I'm not a fan of the guy in general, but exactly how many more chains do you want to put on a quarterback and still expect him to play at a Pro Bowl level? His receivers are 12 years old or hurt, his TE just returned and is of course rusty, he played last week with a third-string rusher -- and the defense is missing the best player at all three levels. Come on.
The Dolphins started out surprisingly strongly and have since slid back into mediocrity. Ryan Tannehill needs his WR's to stop dropping the ball and their PK to nail his kicks. Add in the fact that the Patriots virtually never lose two in a row and, well, you know.
Straight Up: New England
Against the Spread: New England -6.5
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs. Unless you are such a casual football fan that you really need to be silent on game day, you know that the Chiefs have boomeranged from a two-win 2012 to become the last undefeated team in 2013. How can RB Jamaal Charles hold up to this kind of workload? He's 5'11" and 199 pounds -- plus the bottoms of his feet are covered with blisters. Gee, Andy, maybe he should sit out of practice for a while. Alex Smith had three sacks in the first quarter alone last week -- a situation not helped by the injury to Brandon Albert (listed as probable, fortunately). Meanwhile, this Chiefs' D is a force of football nature.
The clock just ran out on the Brandon Weeden's starting tenure in Cleveland: his decision-making process simply did not improve enough. Jason Campbell will start this week. If Campbell had been able to stay in the same offensive system for more than 10 minutes in his career, he could have been a franchise QB. As it is, he is the better option while the Browns wait for either Brian Hoyer to heal or next year's draft. WR Travis Benjamin, however, is trying to provide enough of a spark for the entire team with his dynamic return skills. The defense is talented on every level, though their bottom line production has suffered in recent weeks. This would be a good test of the Alex Smith-led offense that is still looking for the deep ball. Paging Dwayne Bowe.
Straight Up: Kansas City
Against the Spread: Kansas City -7
Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions. This may be the week that an NFL defensive coordinator simply decides to put all four defensive backs on Calvin Johnson and let the linebackers worry about everyone else. Dallas has its own budding superstar in Dez Bryant -- who should probably keep his mouth shut, but can certainly stretch out for some amazing catches. And can we give Tony Romo and Jerry Jones some credit here? I know it's not en vogue to appreciate either man -- but both not only stuck by the oft-troubled WR, they have also put in considerable time, attention and dedication towards the young man's emerging success. And can we take a moment to appreciate WR Cole Bealey? Beasley is a second-year man from SMU who's averaging 9.3 yards per catch. How very Wes Welker of him. While that's lovely and heart-warming, the Cowboys really can't win without a running game. DeMarco Murray participated in limited practice Wednesday and is still questionable for this game. Meanwhile Tashard Choice (traded away from Dallas) is proving extremely valuable in Buffalo. Just worth a mention. Defensively, DeMarcus Ware's absence is a blow to a far better defense that continues to prove that old defensive coordinators have a lot to offer.
Few are talking about the Lions as Super Bowl contenders, but the addition of Reggie Bush has finally (finally!) given Detroit a ground game. With Matthew Stafford slinging the ball to Johnson and Bush tearing it up in the running and short passing game, this offense is a dangerous proposition. If the defense could achieve the same intimidation through disciplined play that it often achieves through fear of injury, the Lions would challenge for the division.
Straight Up: Dallas
Against the Spread: Dallas +3
San Francisco 49ers at Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars have gotten a bit better in recent weeks. Sadly, that means that they have increased their offensive production to 15 points per week. Ironically, they have gained almost 20 more yards per game than the 49ers this past month -- but have scored less than half the points. Chad Henne is averaging 277 yards passing while star Colin Kaepernick is managing only 180. Think there might be a slight "big play" disparity here?
The 49ers have a bit of a pigskin personality problem: early this year they were trying to turn Kaepernick into a pocket-passing QB. It hasn't worked out quite the way that TE Vernon Davis and the WR's would like. San Fran's recent winning streak has been fueled by a rushing attack averaging almost 160 yards on the ground every Sunday. Which means they keep the ball, which means the Jags will have less time to score, which means that whole "big play" problem is huge.
Unless Gore's ankle keeps him out of the game, he will chew up the yards, Henne will sling it all over the field, Jacksonville's star rusher Maurice Jones-Drew will sit on the sidelines and the Niners will win. I hope the Jaguars enjoy their trip to Jolly Old England before they have to play this game.
Straight Up: San Francisco
Against the Spread: Jacksonville +17
Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints. The Bills are averaging more than 140 yards per game on the ground with the best three rushers in football while Drew Brees is leading the Saints to well more than 300 aerial yards each Sunday. Buffalo's secondary is playing better with Jairus Byrd back on the field, but they're still surrendering over 28 points per game. Offensively, Buffalo may have found their new backup QB as Thaddeus Lewis played very well against a good Cincy D last weekend. In fact, Lewis played so well, rookie first round QB E.J. Manuel may need to hurry up and get well.
The Saints are coming off a bye week after their running game almost won them the game against the Pats, surprisingly courtesy of stalwart RB Pierre Thomas and newcomers Travaris Cadet and Khiry Robinson. Rob Ryan's D was getting a lot of praise in 2013. Right up until they let Tom Brady drive down for a game-winner with five seconds on the clock. Nevertheless, they are much more fierce this year and rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro is a budding star. Don't say you weren't warned, Thaddeus Lewis.
Straight Up: New Orleans
Against the Spread: New Orleans -11.5
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Vick will probably be back on the field for the 'Iggles this week. Aw -- and just when the Giants' secondary was feeling so good about themselves after humiliating poor Josh Freeman last Monday. The key stat is this contest is that the Giants (on their sixth running back of the year) have averaged only 80 rushing yards per game over the last month, while the under-rated Philly D is giving up less than 75 on the ground over the same time period. That would be the death knell for Big Blue if the team hadn't just signed power rusher Peyton Hillis away from his soybean ranch. Against the Vikings, the bruising back resembled his Pro Bowl self of a few seasons ago. Channeling his inner Jeremy Shockey, the former Brown pounded through tacklers like heavy machinery, assisted by the other new addition, FB John Connor. Tom Coughlin wasn't grudging with his praise (as quoted in cbslocal.com):
It's a huge positive to have someone come in and contribute like that. It gives us something we didn't have. Those two young men have inspired the others and I hope that will continue.
The Giants defensive line seems to have emerged from their 2013 cloud just in time to chase Michael Vick around. Or, more importantly, LeSean McCoy. McCoy has carried this offense: he has 141 carries for almost 700 yards, averaging almost five yards per carry and 12.7 yards per reception. Coach Chip Kelly needs to find another way to move the football or McCoy will be running on stumps by December.
I don't know what to tell you about this one: the Giants are 1-8 ATS in their last eight road games, while Philly is a frankly pitiful 6-22-1 ATS in their last 29 home games. Twenty. Nine. Yeah.
Straight Up: New York
Against the Spread: New York Giants +7
Pittsburgh Steelers at Oakland Raiders. The Steelers pulled it together to beat the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens last weekend. Granted, they aren't playing very "super" football right now -- but they're still better than the Raiders. Neither team can protect the quarterback, so viewers will spend three-odd hours watching Ben Roethlisberger with three Raiders hanging off of him while he extends plays to the breaking point and Terrelle Pryor dashing across the gridiron with athletic abandon. The level of play won't be stellar -- but it will still be worth watching.
The Raiders' offensive line resembles rotating Swiss cheese due to injuries: in the last game they were playing with their third-string center. Dennis Allen is using all three rushers (Darren McFadden, Rashard Jennings and Marcel Reese). That's a trio designed to help out a young QB. However, none of them could get the ground game going in Kansas City. The best rusher on the field was Pryor. I'm sure Cam Newton can relate. Teams have to stop thinking that freakishly athletic quarterbacks can be the entire offense. (Right, Carolina and Philly?) Apparently Terrelle Pryor was paying attention last year on the bench and could actually be turning into a franchise signal-caller before our eyes.
Defensively, the Silver and Black play a lot of man-to-man coverage, partly because of the presence of veteran safety Charles Woodson and linebacker Nick Roach, who was signed away from Chicago. They also know how to blitz, not that this should surprise Big Ben overly much after practicing against Dick LeBeau's unit weekly.
Straight Up: Pittsburgh
Against the Spread: Pittsburgh -1.5
New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are 5-2, but it feels as if they are barely hanging on. Due in part to injuries, Cincy hasn't dominated in the manner that many of us expected going into the year. In spite of having one of the best WR's in the game in A.J. Green and rising young stars in TE Tyler Eifert and receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Andy Dalton is only averaging 262.3 passing yards per game -- which isn't going to cut it in the championship race, despite his success in the red zone. This week they face one of the AFC's best defenses when Gang Green comes to town. If rookie rusher Giovani Bernard and the reliable pounding "law firm" of BenJarvus Green-Ellis can establish a dependable ground game, Dalton has a chance to prove he's still the "Red Rifle" in the Rust Belt.
New York's young signal-caller, Geno Smith, has truly been a pleasant surprise for Jets fans who expected an unmitigated disaster this year. Frankly, I think the Jets could make it to the AFC title game and Rex Ryan would still lose his job -- but Smith's success and Ryan's charging D are going to make that a more awkward housecleaning than owner Woody Johnson probably expected. Geno's deep ball is often a thing of beauty, but he could work on his short and medium efforts. He and TE Jeff Cumberland are starting to develop that kind of Romo/Witten, Roethlisberger/Miller chemistry that will give defenders sleepless night. Kudos to rushers Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell for providing the solid foundation of the offense.
The Bengals should win this game, but the Jets are riding their wave of confidence.
Straight Up: New York
Against the Spread: New York Jets +7
Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals. The Falcons managed a "walking wounded" win against Tampa Bay last weekend, but the Arizona defense is going to make that a difficult feat to replicate. QB Matt Ryan needs to prove that he has more steel inside that icy exterior as he plays without Roddy White or Julio Jones. Harry Douglas had a stellar performance last week, but I'm guessing the Cards might not be taken by surprise there. The team needs to do some more power running and perhaps focus a bit of attention on rookie TE Levine Toilolo, who scored twice last week. The defense also has some toughness issues, which could mean Carson Palmer may finally have a good day.
Super receiving stud Larry Fitzgerald was clearly slowed by his hamstring injury last weekend, but he's still Larry Fitzgerald -- which means his 60% is still enough to terrify opposing DB's. The offensive line is slowing improving, but the offense remains scoring challenged in the red zone. Bruce Arians should be in the hunt for Coach of the Year again with the number of no-name contributors he has found this season: rusher Andre Ellington, Golden, new LT Bradley Sowell, TE Jim Dray.
Straight Up: Arizona
Against the Spread: Arizona -1.5
Washington at Denver Broncos. RGIII may need to lean on his running game if his WR's can't get any more separation than they have this year. Matching up against some young Denver DB's may help -- particularly if Champ Bailey is still hurt. The brightest spot in the Washington QB's universe is rookie TE Jordan Reed, who burst into the national consciousness last Sunday by catching all nine passes thrown his way for over 130 yards and a score. The former college QB has caught 16 of 30 passes this season. Wow.
Von Miller is back in the Denver fold to stop that Washington rush, so it may all be up to Griffin -- again. If his defense can't stop Peyton Manning (and good luck with that), No. 10 will need to wear a red cape going into Denver.
Manning should bounce back from the emotional overload of last week without too much difficulty as long as he doesn't throw the ball towards Washington's venerable but crafty corner, DeAngelo Hall. Knowshon Moreno has a strangle hold on the starting RB role after practically being cut from the team two years ago. Good for him. Young backs Ronnie Hillman (fumble issues) and Montee Ball (catching the ball issues) seem to be falling farther behind. The offensive line is going to need to protect better than they did last Sunday night if Denver expects to go all the way. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan will be hunting for quarterback and batted balls.
Straight Up: Denver
Against the Spread: Washington +14
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings. Josh Freeman is having a really rough year. In a game that barely resembled professional football on Monday, the former Buc reportedly sustained a concussion in the third quarter that has him on the bench this weekend. Your head hurts, Josh. No it doesn't. Yes, Josh, it hurts really bad -- sit down. Uh-huh.
Christian Ponder, you have one last shot at redeeming yourself. The good news is that the Packers' defense isn't that good. If offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave recovers his senses and hands the ball to reigning MVP Adrian Peterson more than 13 times, Ponder should be able to test the Green Bay DB's one-on-one.
There are some good players on the Vikings defense not named Jared Allen. I know there are; I just haven't seen them lately. Aaron Rodgers is going to have an astronomical game against a Vikes' secondary that must be wondering why on earth management refused to pay senior citizen Antoine Winfield to stay and be the anchor of their unit -- because they are clearly rudderless (to torture the nautical metaphor). Rodgers is now definitely without Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley on offense. WR James Jones is still questionable. Jordy Nelson will see more balls than he has in his entire Packer career. Otherwise, this will be an opportunity for backups Myles White, Jarrett Boykin and Andrew Quarless. Not exactly household football names, but perhaps a star will be born. On a real life note: Jermichael Finley has regained the use of all limbs and should be out of the hospital by the time this is published. Where he goes from here is a question that will undoubtedly take time to answer.
Straight Up: Green Bay
Against the Spread: Green Bay -9
Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams. Did you ever want to play quarterback for the Rams? This week could be your chance as the team is apparently signing all comers for a shot at the job. The best option is probably Brady Quinn -- who at least is a high-quality human. Kellen Clemons (who is also probably a fine person) will start this game and get a chance to prove he should remain No. 1 on the depth chart against a 'Hawks' D surrendering under 190 passing yards on Sundays. Yikes.
The Rams' defense has only allowed 21 points on average over the past three weeks, which is two less points per game than the highly praised 'Hawks defenders. So Russell Wilson and his current WR's (Percy Harvin is probably not quite ready to go yet) need to start firing. They have averaged 27.3 points over the last few weeks and that is not going to be enough to get to the Super Bowl.
Straight Up: Seattle
Against the Spread: Seattle -10.5
Enjoy the games more than your office pool!