NFL Picks Week 8: 6 Surefire Locks of the Week
As we approach the halfway point in the season, the pecking order in the NFL is beginning to establish itself, making the business of picks and predictions less of a lottery and more of a science.
Guaranteeing victory, however, still carries an element of risk. Experts turn to fools quickly in this game; how many of you saw a Seattle Seahawks victory over the New York Giants in Week 5?
Thankfully, the league's worst teams are beginning to find some form. They are almost destined to lose each week, and with the prize of Stanford's Andrew Luck dangled in front of the Colts, Dolphins, Rams and Vikings, we may see more inequality in the league than ever before.
The Green Bay Packers are on a bye this week, but even without the best team in football, there are plenty of clear locks to choose from in Week 8. Let's take a look in more detail.
New York Giants
Let's keep this one short and sweet. The 4-2 New York Giants are coming off their bye week, refreshed and rested. Their Week 8 opponents? The winless Miami Dolphins, at MetLife Stadium.
Just about the only positive spin I can put on this for the Dolphins is that they went 6-2 away from Sun Life Stadium last season, but the 2011 edition are no road warriors.
With no quarterback play to speak of, and an inconsistent Brandon Marshall—who was dreadful against the New York Jets in Week 6—hopes of creating an aerial offense that can win games in tough spots are fairly slim.
Even if Ahmad Bradshaw cannot repeat the success of his three-touchdown performance against the Buffalo Bills, Eli Manning is in a good place this season and will outscore any combination of Matt Moore and Sage Rosenfels the Dolphins decide to throw at the G-Men.
New York has already suffered an upset loss this season, at home to Seattle, so you can be sure that complacency won't be a factor. Look for them to target this game as a chance to assert themselves in a wide-open NFC East battle.
The Tennessee Titans host an 0-7 Indianapolis Colts team down on their luck (for now at least, for they have a serious chance of drafting Stanford's Andrew in April next year), and despite the divisional rivalry, this is one of the more one-sided games in Week 8.
Against any other opponent, it would be difficult for the Titans to shrug off the sting of a 41-7 home defeat to the Houston Texans, but as the Colts showed in the Superdome last Sunday night, their season is finished.
Matt Hasselbeck has exceeded expectations in Tennessee, likewise Nate Washington, who is on pace for the first 1,000-yard season of his career.
With Chris Johnson a non-factor in almost every start this year (the one exception being his Week 4 performance in Cleveland), and Kenny Britt on IR, the spark has been provided by some unlikely sources, such as tight end Jared Cook and cornerback Jason McCourty.
It's hard to see where the Colts are going to find their first win; the visit of the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 10 might be the target. Competitive as they may have been in their defeats since the opening week blowout loss to the Houston Texans, they rank in the bottom half of almost every offensive and defensive statistical category.
Give credit to head coach Jim Caldwell, who continues to motivate this team in the absence of Peyton Manning, but without the experience of their future Hall of Fame quarterback, the Colts are unable to enter shootouts, or grind out close games. Mark their trip to Music City as no different.
The lock of all locks.
The Baltimore Ravens are the cream of the AFC, and disappointment at Tennessee aside, they have manhandled teams into submission this season, no more spectacularly than their opening week stomping of the Pittsburgh Steelers, 34-7.
Up next in Baltimore are the Arizona Cardinals, and Kevin Kolb is no match for the best defense in football.
The Ravens have limited opponents despite posting meagre sack and interception totals; looking beyond the stats, the front seven are as mean as ever, disrupting—if not dropping—the passer and stuffing the run with Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Terrence Cody.
Of course, Cardinals' wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald can keep his team in the chase almost single-handedly, but such is the re-emergence of Ray Rice as one of the most explosive runners in the NFL that I see Baltimore jumping out to an early lead and staying there.
San Francisco 49ers
Look out, Pat Shurmur: Jim Harbaugh is coming to shake your hand. The chances are his Cleveland Browns will succumb to Harbaugh's 49ers at Candlestick Park, but don't expect any post-game fireworks this time around.
The 49ers are beginning to find their identity as a well-coached, defensive-minded team, who are more consistent than at any point since their last winning season in 2002.
Despite his lofty draft status raising expectations, rookie Aldon Smith has been a revelation, leading the team with five-and-a-half sacks. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman are stuffing the run, and the front seven are generating plenty of turnovers as a unit (plus-eight differential for the season).
Meanwhile, over in Cleveland, the legend of the Madden Curse continues to grow.
The fight over a contract extension for star running back Peyton Hillis took a bizarre turn last month, with his agent advising him to sit out of the Week 3 game against the Miami Dolphins with strep throat; hardly the way to impress your front office when expecting a commitment in return.
Without Hillis, the offense has gone through second-year quarterback Colt McCoy, who has been effective if inconsistent.
The 49ers should make the Browns' offense one-dimensional in this match-up, and I don't see McCoy carrying his team to a road victory against a well-drilled outfit coming off a bye week.
As the Houston Texans approach the midpoint of their season, they are beginning to establish themselves as a team capable of putting poor opposition to the sword, whilst struggling against the NFL's elite.
You can lock in a victory for Gary Kubiak's men this Sunday then, with the visit of the 1-5 (soon to be 1-6) Jacksonville Jaguars.
Poor Jacksonville has had a rough schedule already this year, with defeats to the Jets, Saints and Steelers on their resume. With a lack of supporting cast, it was always going to be a rough transition to the Blaine Gabbert era, and although Maurice Jones-Drew has been steady, like his team, he's been unspectacular.
Texans' quarterback Matt Schaub has been troubled by a host of minor injuries, and with his top target Andre Johnson on the sidelines, you'd be forgiven for thinking this was an opportune time for the Jaguars to target a statement victory.
Unfortunately, even with the loss of Mario Williams for the season with a torn pectoral, Jacksonville doesn't have enough firepower to take advantage. Houston keeps their AFC South campaign on track with a blowout victory here.
New England Patriots
Bear with me here. Yes, I am calling a home Steelers defeat a lock of the week, but these are extraordinary circumstances.
Were this any other opponent for Pittsburgh, it would be tempting to pick them as the home lock, but since 2005, Tom Brady has had their number.
In those three regular season encounters, Brady has dissected one of the most fearsome and aggressive defenses in recent times, putting up 350 yards each time.
The Patriots are one of the best-prepared, best-coached teams in the league, a point illustrated by their record after the bye week. In the Bill Belichick era, New England is 9-2 in games following the bye, with their last defeat coming in 2002.
You can be sure that Dick LeBeau will be concocting an exotic game plan for his Steelers defense, mixing up pre-snap looks and disguising coverage schemes. But unless he tears a few pages out of the Ryan family playbook, I see this game going the way of the 39-26 beat-down the Patriots handed out last season.