It takes all of about five seconds to look at the Week 8 schedule and realize that, if there's any week to take a break from football and spend your afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese "for the good of the family," this is it.
The slate of games laid before NFL fans this week, well, it's pretty bad. There are six teams—Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, San Diego and Tennessee—getting their seasonal Sunday reprieve. By my count, that's five real, entertaining football teams and the ever-devolving train wreck known as the Texans.
As one might expect, losing five playoff contenders doesn't exactly do wonders for the schedule. In fact, it plays out as a bizarro Week 5—when Washington, Pittsburgh, Minnesota and Tampa Bay were off, giving us one of the best 1 p.m. slates in recent memory.
This...this will not be as fun. Just three of Week 8's slate of contests will have two teams with .500 or better records. The prime-time games this week will give fans a glimpse at the triumphant returns of Christian Ponder and Kellen Clemens into the national consciousness. They will be playing teams that feature Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, respectively.
This will not go well.
But for those of us consigned to Sundays without spouses and children for the time being, this football stuff is all we've got. So, even in the face of a less-than-stellar slate of games, we'll go through our weekend routine. We'll stop at the supermarket down the street, grab a six-pack or 12-pack of adult beverages—mostly depending on how poorly our team is doing—and then return to our humble abodes, flick on the TV and wait for the pizza man to deliver.
And then we'll bet on games. Oh, how we'll bet on games. Trust me, having a financial stake in any sporting event can make it watchable. So with that in mind, let's check out my against-the-spread picks for Week 8.
Complete Week 8 ATS Predictions
|Away Team||Home Team||Line||Prediction (ATS)|
|Carolina Panthers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||CAR -6||Panthers|
|San Francisco 49ers||Jacksonville Jaguars||SF -16.5||49ers|
|Dallas Cowboys||Detroit Lions||DET -3||See Below|
|New York Giants||Philadelphia Eagles||PHI -5.5||Giants|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Cleveland Browns||KC -7.5||Browns|
|Buffalo Bills||New Orleans Saints||NO -11.5||Saints|
|Miami Dolphins||New England Patriots||NE -6.5||See Below|
|New York Jets||Cincinnati Bengals||CIN -6.5||Bengals|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Oakland Raiders||PIT -2.5||Steelers|
|Washington Redskins||Denver Broncos||DEN -12.5||See Below|
|Atlanta Falcons||Arizona Cardinals||ARI -2.5||Falcons|
|Green Bay Packers||Minnesota Vikings||GB -9||Packers|
|Seattle Seahawks||St. Louis Rams||SEA -10.5||Seahawks|
Games of Note
Dallas Cowboys at Detroit Lions (-3)
When: Sunday, Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Ford Field in Detroit
Watch: Fox (NFL Sunday Ticket)
I would say this is a litmus test for both sides, but Dallas gets the distinct honor of playing in the NFC East, a four-way train wreck of a division that provides the most frustrating Sunday entertainment this side of Homeland. The Cowboys could probably lay eggs in every game they have remaining against a half-decent team and still walk away at 8-8—a record more than good enough to host a playoff game.
No, this game is far more integral to the Lions' playoff hopes. At 4-3, Jim Schwartz's squad has already equaled its 2012 win total and sits only a half-game out of first place in the NFC North. Reggie Bush has sparked a semi-improvement on the ground along with Joique Bell, and Matthew Stafford is on pace to throw 14 touchdowns more than last season while cutting his interception total nearly in half. Throw in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley wreaking havoc on the defensive line, and there are definitely the makings of a playoff team here.
Only the Lions don't have the comfort of a cushy division. Jay Cutler's absence in Chicago helps as does Minnesota's general awfulness, but the NFC North is one of the most difficult divisions in football. With Atlanta faltering and the NFC East being the NFC East, Detroit or Chicago look like good bets to win the non-NFC West wild-card spot.
But it's winnable games like this that will define whether the Lions have a real shot.
The Cowboys head into Sunday's contest with the third-worst pass defense in football yardage-wise, though the opponent-adjusted metrics are more kind. They're dealing with injuries to DeMarcus Ware and running back DeMarco Murray. Ware's injury in particular leaves the Dallas pass rush nearly fangless, leaving the struggling Morris Claiborne out on islands and allowing the young cornerback to get picked apart. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Claiborne has only graded out positively in two games this season.
While it will likely be Brandon Carr who lines up against Calvin Johnson for much of the game, don't be surprised if the Lions look to exploit the matchup by moving Megatron across formations.
I have as little faith in the Detroit secondary as I do Dallas, but Suh and Fairley should be able to get pressure on Tony Romo—something he's actually seen less of this season than in recent years. Look for the Lions to creep by and cover in a high-scoring affair.
Score Prediction: Lions 31, Cowboys 27
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots (-6.5)
When: Sunday, Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
Watch: CBS (NFL Sunday Ticket)
At what point are we allowed to start criticizing Tom Brady rather than hoisting all the blame on his inexperienced receivers? I've been trumpeting this argument for a couple of weeks now, and it's gotten blowback from every angle. How could anyone possibly blame Brady for having to play with Aaron Dobson?
Well, because he hasn't been very good. At all. Regardless of his receivers.
Pro Football Focus, which takes into account the oft-discussed dropped passes by those Dobsonites, lists Brady as the 21st-ranked quarterback thus far. The guy who sits right ahead of him? Matt Schaub. The Texans quarterback is behind Brady in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric, but you know who isn't? Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford and EJ Manuel.
We only have a one-game sample with Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup, but Brady didn't look much better there either. He sailed passes, looked uncomfortable in the pocket and understandably lacks trust with his wideouts. Among quarterbacks who have taken 50 percent or more of their team's dropbacks this season, Brady ranks behind only three players.
It's not like we haven't seen Brady excel with a snooze-worthy cast of supporting characters. Or is Reche Caldwell the only one who remembers Reche Caldwell was once the Patriots' leading receiver? There's no available stat for "missed routes," but with every available metric we have, Brady has underperformed.
That's not to say it's entirely Brady's fault, because obviously it's not. The fault begins with his legendary head coach, who seemingly decided to make his aging quarterback's life a living hell by giving him a dumpster-worthy cast of skill position players.
But it's what Brady is left with as he heads into a matchup against Miami. The Dolphins started out the season with three straight wins but have fizzled each of the past three weeks—right as their defense started showing cracks. Although the Dolphins mostly did a nice job of containing the Bills last week, they were facing a version that heavily featured Thaddeus Lewis and Tashard Choice—and allowed them to score a game-winning field goal.
With Ryan Tannehill struggling and Lamar Miller causing weekly remote throws from fantasy owners, Miami's status as early season darling is all but over.
The line has jumped 2.5 points in New England's favor since opening. And for good reason. If the statement game doesn't happen this week for Brady and Co., perhaps it's time to slowly roll them out of the Super Bowl contender conversation.
Score Prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 14
Washington Redskins at Denver Broncos (-12.5)
When: Sunday, Oct. 27 at 4:25 p.m.
Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Watch: CBS (NFL Sunday Ticket)
The intrigue in this game obviously dissipates if Peyton Manning's ankle injury is more serious than Denver is letting on. Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today reported that Manning was held out of practice Wednesday after his bothersome ankle—to which we have no clue which one—was in more pain than initially expected. He's expected to practice Thursday and he'll be in the lineup Sunday, barring some setback.
Assuming that doesn't happen, commence the floodgate opening. Even a Peyton Manning at 75 percent should have no trouble telling this Redskins defense what the five fingers said to the face. Although it's improved from a historically atrocious start to the season, Washington is still one of the league's worst defenses by any measure.
Only Jacksonville and the Giants have given up more points per game. Washington ranks 28th according to Football Outsiders' measurements and 30th by Pro Football Focus' standards. Even though Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo have markedly improved Jim Haslett's pass rush, DeAngelo Hall is still a human sieve on the outside and Josh Wilson isn't that much better.
With the Broncos still scoring at a historic pace, Manning will essentially be able to quote Tupac all the way to the end zone on Sunday.
But here's what we've learned over the past few weeks: Denver's defense isn't much better. In fact, it may not even be better at all. The Broncos have gotten nothing from the injured Champ Bailey all season, Von Miller's contributions last week in Indianapolis were nil and much of the remainder of the defense feels Manning prime-era Coltsy. Their run defense leads the league in yards allowed per game and is fifth in DVOA, but I'm still not quite sure whether Denver is actually good or that excellence is a byproduct of teams flinging the ball across the field Nerf-style.
We'll find out Sunday. The Shanahan family finally unshackled Robert Griffin III in the read-option last week, and the results were marvelous. Griffin still isn't driving all that well through his throws, but he carved the Bears up to the tune of 84 rushing yards. That comes a week after dropping 77 on the Cowboys in a game where Griffin's inconsistent arm did in his team.
Washington, questionable Griffin throws or not, will be able to pass. But will the dual threat of Griffin be enough to outscore a Manning-led team at home, coming off one of the most emotional losses of his career?
I'm not quite ready to go that far. Scores will skyrocket, but Griffin hasn't been consistent enough to show he can catch up.
Score Prediction: Broncos 45, Redskins 28
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