Does anybody know how to reverse NFL gambling mojo?
I'm serious. Last week's two losses by a total of 1.5 points and another loss where the Kansas City Chiefs recovered a fumble two yards away from a cover-saving touchdown combined to create a perfect microcosm of my season.
The breaks haven't fallen my way this year. Ever. If I could have been on the winning side of the borderline calls just once a week, my record would actually border on respectable.
This mojo problem needs to be addressed quickly. It isn't only affecting my record, it's overflowing into other facets of my life.
How often does a second-string running back (Ben Tate), whom you've started way too many times out of necessity, get hurt as soon as the starter goes down?
Or how often does a sports town endure the weekend that Detroit was recently handed? The Tigers squandered historic pitching on their way out of the ALCS, beloved manager Jim Leyland retired, the Lions lost on a last-second field goal and the Red Wings lost to the Phoenix Coyotes after charging to a two-goal lead.
I'm not sure whether to be upset and quit, take heart and plow on, or just marvel at the accuracy of the oddsmakers. However, the best option is to trust that the mojo will return with the proper sacrifice to the gambling gods (Barry Sanders rookie card?).
So while wearing a tinfoil hat and a garlic necklace and holding a burning football card from 1989, which is being contained by my tears, I humbly offer my Week 8 picks against the spread.
Last Week's Record: 5-10
Season Record: 41-63-3
All lines provided by FootballLocks.com. All rankings and advanced metrics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.
Last week, the tide was starting to turn for the Carolina Panthers as we pondered their decency. Their taking-care-of-business 30-15 win over the St. Louis Rams put that debate to bed.
Are they good? I'm not going that far yet, but they have a flying-under-the-radar feel. That may be the perfect place for them, especially with quarterback Cam Newton's spotlight struggles (see any press conference from last year).
But here's the great part: The Panthers don't have to be good this week, just decent, because they're playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That's right! So long as the spread doesn't rise to a touchdown or greater, feel free to lay those points against the Bucs.
This really isn't a tough call. Each team gets three days of prep, and one is starting a rookie quarterback, hasn't won a game and lost the only offensive threat it had besides Vincent Jackson.
Final Score: Carolina 31, Tampa Bay 13. The Panthers covered the spread.
Pick: San Francisco
We knew the San Francisco 49ers were more than decent coming into the season. Head coach Jim Harbaugh had built a monster entering its maturity, so it was difficult to understand how the Niners could get manhandled two games in a row.
But now we know that Indy and Seattle are two of the top three teams in the league. And the 49ers have that nasty killer streak embodied by Harbaugh, meaning they love to crush a team's soul.
We also know that the Jacksonville Jaguars will often do anything to help a team cover the spread. With the exception of the Broncos, who had that huge 27.5-point spread, every team has covered against the Jags.
And don't forget the 49ers' renewed emphasis to the running game has been a huge part of their revival, which should come in handy against the Jags' horrendously ineffective rushing defense.
Nail, meet hammer.
For the second week in a row, the Detroit Lions face off against a similarly built team. An above-average quarterback, a top-notch receiver and a solid offensive line are the ties that bind the Lions to the Dallas Cowboys.
But the Lions have a healthy, destructive defensive line that can swallow up a running game and harass Tony Romo. That's a quality difference-maker.
Meanwhile, the Lions didn't allow a single sack to the pressure-oriented Bengals, and the Cowboys' awful pass defense could be without stud defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
Does this one feel like a lock? Absolutely not. But the home crowd is just enough to push the explosive Lions over the top.
Updated pick: Philadelphia
In an unprecedented move, I'm changing my pick the day after submission. I petitioned the proper departments, passed inspection by a certified authority (me) and determined that Michael Vick's starting nod granted a rarely seen day-after exemption.
His addition creates an important additional concern for the New York defense. He totaled 79 yards on seven rushes in their last meeting before getting injured. If he can gut his way through this matchup, Philly will remind everyone that mediocrity is a pipe dream for these Giants.
Generally, turning in your picks against the spread on Monday is a difficult task. Injuries create uncertain situations, and having more time to mull things over is usually an advantage.
But this game might be a saving grace.
The Philadelphia Eagles don't know if Nick Foles or Matt Barkley will be their quarterback next Sunday. The line above assumedly reflects the line with a healthy Foles, but 6.5 points feel like a stretch even so.
The one thing the Giants can do is put up yards and points through the air. That's something the Eagles are not built to stop.
Plus, playing away from home frees up the Giants from the negativity of their own poor play. That same logic also weighs against the Eagles, who are playing in front of a crowd hungry for a winner, not another average team.
Would I take the Giants straight up? Absolutely not. But I wouldn't feel good about picking the Eagles either, which means 6.5 is approximately 3.5 too many.
No, I'm not bitter about the Kansas City Chiefs' failure to cover last week. Not even when a Houston Texans fumble at their own two-yard line doesn't result in six beautiful, spread-covering points.
Not bitter at all. I'm not even going to mention it.
Or pick the Chiefs.
In all seriousness, I haven't lost faith in a Browns defense that has given up 30-plus points in two straight games. And anything more than a touchdown is a lot to buy against a good defense facing Alex Smith.
Told you I wasn't bitter.
Pick: New Orleans
There's just too much going against the Buffalo Bills, even when they're getting 12 points.
First off, it isn't the 13.5 points they were getting just a day ago. This is probably the best value you'll get for the New Orleans Saints, as this line is unlikely to keep shrinking.
Second, the Bills are coming off a road victory over a division rival. They might be feeling good about themselves.
Third, the Saints have had two weeks to prepare after letting Tom Brady take a game that was rightfully theirs. Rest assured that head coach Sean Payton has used that loss to erase any feelings of comfort the Saints' 5-1 record afforded.
Finally, the magic number here was 13. The Saints are that much better than the Bills in almost every facet of the game. Once the line sunk below this not-totally-arbitrary mark, I was in.
No, I'm not overreacting to three straight losses against the spread for the Denver Broncos. But there is a sense that Denver's defense is prone to giving up chunks of yardage and points.
I'm also not putting tons of stock in the Washington Redskins' win over the Chicago Bears. However, Robert Griffin III still looked capable of shredding poor defenses.
That means 13 points will always be within striking distance, regardless of how many touchdowns Peyton Manning puts up. A nice, ship-righting 10-point win for the Broncos seems more than reasonable here.
Pick: New York
Let's keep this simple.
The Cincinnati Bengals don't blow teams out. They like to win behind a conservative offense and an aggressive defense.
The New York Jets generally play close games, relying on a rookie-led offense and an aggressive defense.
The Bengals are coming off two last-second wins—one on the road against a possible playoff team—and are itching for a letdown.
The Jets are in a similar position after beating the Patriots, but a good defense means a bad showing from the team can still keep this game close.
The Bengals—I'm sick of this gimmick. These are two defensive-minded teams set up perfectly for a field-goal-kicking contest. Give me the points.
Both teams are 2-4. You can't tell me you're excited about either team with this spread.
So just like an NFL tiebreaker, you have to move down the checklist of advantages to make your pick.
What's at the top of the list?
And this home dog had two weeks to prepare for a team that just had an emotional and physical battle with their heated rival last week.
It doesn't hurt that the last time we saw the Raiders, they were hanging tough with the undefeated Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium until a few late miscues skewed the score.
Wow. I don't usually stand in awe of myself. However, the way I spun picking the Raiders into a good thing was downright senatorial.
How many injuries can one team suffer and stay dominant?
Actually, are the New England Patriots dominant? The only two teams they've beaten by more than a field goal are the Atlanta Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Miami Dolphins are at least a level above them, right?
The three-game slide is concerning, but maybe a road game where no one gives them a chance is just what Miami needs. Maybe the Dolphins can get away from home, regroup and keep things close against a defense missing its heart.
Maybe I'm reaching, but that mojo isn't going to reverse itself.
There's no way you can make a pick in this game and feel good about it.
The Arizona Cardinals have Carson "What the Heck?" Palmer—as in he will make you exclaim "what the heck?" at least three times a game.
Actually, it's a much worse word, but I'm trying to keep it family friendly here.
There have been plenty of four-letter bombs dropped on the Atlanta Falcons this year. For every positive play they've enjoyed, a groan-inducing injury or defensive lapse has occurred.
Speaking of that defense, it let rookie quarterback Mike Glennon post a 90.7 quarterback rating last week. Surely, there's hope for a quarterback who's made Pro Bowls and has wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald against this middling secondary.
Finally, how are the Falcons going to score? Arizona's defense has playmakers at each level, and one of them is Patrick Peterson, who should have no problem shutting down Harry Douglas.
Still, I'm backing Palmer. I hate myself right now.
Pick: Green Bay
The Green Bay Packers rank fourth and sixth in passing and rushing yards, respectively. That's pretty good, but you already knew the Packers were solid offensively. They have Aaron Rodgers.
However, did you know that neither of the above constitutes the highest Packers ranking in a significant statistical category?
The best unit is the rushing defense, which is giving up a puny 79 yards on the ground. And in case you think that's a fluke because teams are throwing to keep pace with Rodgers, Green Bay is giving up just 3.4 yards per carry, for third best in the league.
What do the Minnesota Vikings do well? Nothing. Even Adrian Peterson has looked human, and we've already discussed what he'll be facing.
To take the Packers here, it'll cost you less than a touchdown against a team that was recently beaten 35-10 at home. I can get down with that.
Let's contrast the advantages of these two teams quickly.
The Seattle Seahawks are one of the NFL's elite teams with a 6-1 record.
The St. Louis Rams are at home, where few people will notice because they'll be engrossed in the World Series.
The Seahawks have a devastating defensive front. They don't let you run the ball (sixth) or pass (second).
The Rams are getting 10.5 points.
Seattle has quarterback Russell Wilson.
St. Louis is starting Kellen Clemens.
Maybe I shouldn't have given up on this gimmick so quickly. It's handy.