NFL Picks Week 8: 5 Upsets and Why They Are Sure to Happen
In the NFL, especially in the NFC, parity reigns.
The defending Super Bowl champs were humbled at home by the perennial cellar dweller Cleveland Browns last week. The Raiders, generally incapable of scoring points, dropped 59 on the Broncos.
The Steelers eked out a win against an up and down Miami team thanks to a fortuitous (if technically correct) call. The Bills (my upset pick last week) nearly stunned the Baltimore Ravens.
Survivor pools are more difficult than ever this year because nothing is a lock. That said, let's take a look at likely upsets in Week 8 of the NFL season.
Buffalo Bills Vs. Kansas City Chiefs
The Bills are still looking for their first win of the season after a heartbreaking loss in overtime to the Baltimore Ravens.
Already out of the playoff hunt, the Bills are showing some resilience. They have twice gone on the road against superior foes and performed well. They challenged both the Patriots and the Ravens.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the Harvard graduate, has emerged as the starter and found a couple of reliable targets in Lee Evans and Steve Johnson. He's thrown for seven touchdowns and only two interceptions in his last two starts.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have to be considered one of the bigger surprises this season. With a 4-2 record (they would be 5-1 except for a total collapse against the Texans), the Chiefs look to be the class of the AFC West.
While Matt Cassel hasn't necessarily been a star, the running game has paved the way for victories. Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones spearhead the league's leading rushing attack.
Why the Buffalo Bills Will Win
The Bills are off to their worst start in a quarter century, but they played well last week and will replicate that performance against the Chiefs.
Arrowhead Stadium is notoriously difficult for opposing teams, but look for Fitzpatrick to continue his hot streak. Johnson and Evans, who have combined for 24 catches, 396 yards and seven touchdowns over the past two games, have developed nice chemistry with their quarterback.
Kansas City is susceptible to a good passing attack. They currently rank 25th in passing defense, and those woes will continue this week. The Bills won't be able to gain much traction in the ground game, but they won't have to. They'll lean heavily on the passing attack.
Defensively, the Bills will struggle to contain Charles and Jones, but an inefficient Cassel will doom the Chiefs in this game. Expect a relatively high-scoring affair.
The Bills finally notch a win this week in Kansas City.
Jacksonville Jaguars Vs. Dallas Cowboys
Jack Del Rio's team has been pummeled in its last two games. They have lost their last two games by a combined 49 points. This team is certainly desperate.
Offensively they are still able to lean on Maurice Jones-Drew for production, but they have struggled with the quarterback position. They've dealt with injuries to starter David Garrard and backup Trent Edwards. Garrard has passed his concussion test, however, and is slated to return to the lineup this week.
Defensively they have given up large chunks of yardage in both the passing and rushing games, ranking 27th and 25th in either category. But this week they get to play the hapless Dallas Cowboys.
Once thought of as Super Bowl contenders, the Cowboys' season is all but finished. At 1-5 with starting quarterback Tony Romo out for the next six to eight weeks, all hope is gone.
Their offense will likely struggle with Jon Kitna at the helm. The 38-year-old Kitna hasn't started since the 2008 season and is unlikely to resurrect this team.
Defensively, the Cowboys collapsed against the Giants. They yielded 41 points and looked incapable of stopping either the rushing or passing attack.
Why the Jacksonville Jaguars Will Win
In the purest sense, this isn't an upset. The Jaguars have a better record than the Cowboys at 3-4.
However, the Cowboys were expected to be a dominant team and still have some of the best talent in the league. A 1-6 start may lead to the early dismissal of head coach Wade Phillips.
The Jaguars will win this game because they will play a demoralized Cowboys team. Even if the defense plays well, don't expect Kitna to lead a Cowboy resurgence. The veteran backup was able to put up points late against the Giants, but points in garbage time don't mean much.
With the return of Garrard, the Jaguars will be able to eke out a close win against an imploding Cowboys team.
Tennessee Titans Vs. San Diego Chargers
San Diego Chargers
Nothing seems to be going the Chargers' way this season. Despite a prolific passing offense and a decent ground attack, the Chargers can't manage to win games.
They've now dropped three straight games after the tying field goal against the New England Patriots clanged off the uprights.
Though they are plagued by injuries in their receiving corps, Philip Rivers managed to put up over 300 yards passing against the Patriots. On the defensive side of the ball, the Chargers are ranked first against the pass and fourth against the run.
However, they've been mistake prone. Against the Raiders they yielded points on special teams and had a fumble returned for a touchdown. Last week, they lost three fumbles to the Patriots.
Mistakes have killed this team, but look for Norv Turner's team to right the ship this week.
While the Chargers have killed themselves with mistakes, the Titans have been opportunistic. In the last three weeks, all Titans victories, the team has forced 11 turnovers. Timely performances by Kenny Britt and stable leadership from backup Kerry Collins have kept this team's winning streak intact after trailing for much of the game against Philadelphia.
This team's no-name pass rush harasses quarterbacks into mistakes and disrupts the rhythm of opposing offenses. They are currently tied for the league lead with 25 sacks.
Why the San Diego Chargers Will Win
The Chargers will make fewer mistakes this week and finally capitalize on all of their offensive production. Though Malcolm Floyd and Legedu Naanee will still be out, Rivers will spread the ball around and put up big numbers.
Touchdown machine Antonio Gates will have another big day. The pass rush will be neutralized by the screen game. Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews, both elusive runners, will have success.
On defense, the Chargers have been relatively stout. Unfortunately, miscues by their offense have given opposing teams short fields. If the offense cuts down on its mistakes, the defense will be able to contain Vince Young/Kerry Collins and Chris Johnson. Young is still questionable for the game on Sunday.
Johnson hasn't been nearly as productive as last season (much to the chagrin of everyone who drafted him first in fantasy). Look for the Chargers to bottle up Chris Johnson en route to a victory at home.
Minnesota Vikings Vs. New England Patriots
This game has two dominant story lines: Randy Moss's return to New England just weeks after being traded away and the fact that Brett Favre's start streak is in serious jeopardy.
Favre's fractured foot will severely inhibit his movement and is just the excuse Brad Childress needs to sit his Hall of Fame quarterback. In all likelihood Tarvaris Jackson will get his first start since the 2008 season. They will lean heavily on Adrian Peterson for production with Favre out.
Defensively, the Vikings' vaunted pass rush of a season ago has disappeared, but they still aren't giving up a lot of points. Look for the Vikings to pin their ears back this week and get after Tom Brady to cover up their spotty secondary.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have eked out two close wins in the last two weeks. Without an explosive deep threat, the Pats look more and more like the New England Super Bowl teams that ground out games and won with defense and mistake-free offense.
The chemistry between Brady and Deion Branch has been immediately evident. Brady has spread the ball around, and rookie Aaron Hernandez has been a nice offseason pickup. At 5-1, the Patriots look like they will either win the division or take a wild card spot for the playoffs.
Why the Minnesota Vikings Will Win
With Brett Favre out, the Vikings get to deal with one less distraction. Tarvaris Jackson has waited two seasons for a chance to start.
Let's take a closer look at Tarvaris. In 2008, Jackson led a severely inferior Vikings team to the playoffs. He did not, at that time, have weapons like Percy Harvin or Randy Moss. On defense the Vikings did not have Jared Allen.
In both 2009 and 2010, Tarvaris took all of the starting repetitions at quarterback in training camp. He has worked with the first team a great deal and likely has some chemistry with the receivers (excluding Moss).
He's also gotten an opportunity to learn from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Two years learning and watching Favre can't have hurt his development. He also has a cannon for an arm, so getting the ball deep to Moss shouldn't be an issue.
Sure, lack of game experience and a complicated Patriot defensive scheme will hurt him, but the loss of Favre isn't a total disaster for the Vikings.
They will also lean on their best player, Adrian Peterson, more heavily. Peterson gets better with more touches. A steady dose of Peterson will go a long way to a Vikings win.
The Moss revenge factor is also key. Moss has routinely torched the Cowboys, who spurned him in the draft. Moss has publicly stated that the Patriots didn't want him; expect him to be hungry to torch the franchise that pitched him overboard midseason.
Look for Tarvaris to be steadier than expected, Moss to catch a couple of deep balls and Peterson to run wild this Sunday.
Miami Dolphins Vs. Cincinnati Bengals
After rallying back from a 24-3 halftime deficit, the Bengals gave up the game to the Atlanta Falcons. There were, however, several positive takeaways.
Carson Palmer finally played mistake-free football. He threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns. All of the receivers were able to get in on the action. Jordan Shipley had the best game of his rookie career with six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco both had big games as well.
Their defensive woes, however, continued. They yielded 39 points, and Roddy White torched the Bengals' secondary. At home this week, look for the defense to have a better performance.
The Dolphins are coming off an emotional loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The lack of clear recovery of Ben Roethlisberger's goal-line fumble doomed the Dolphins.
They were, however, able to move the ball relatively effectively against a typically dominant defense. Chad Henne was efficient and mistake-free. The rushing attack faltered, but you can't expect anything else against Pittsburgh.
The Dolphins are likely better than their 3-3 record suggests. Their three losses came at the hands of the three AFC leaders—the Jets, Patriots and Steelers.
Why the Cincinnati Bengals Will Win
Last week the offense finally got hot. Palmer spread the ball around and didn't hurt the team with costly interceptions.
Look for Palmer to replicate that performance at home against a secondary that will give up big plays. Last week the Dolphins yielded two passing touchdowns of greater than 20 yards. With big play potential in T.O. and Ochocinco, look for Palmer to try to push the ball down the field.
Playing at home should help this defense. They struggled last week with big receiver Roddy White and will have to be better this week against Brandon Marshall.
If the defense is even slightly more effective than last week, the Bengals should come up with a victory.