NFL Picks Week 8: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks
Week 7 brought with it even more surprises than usual in the NFL.
The 1-4 St. Louis Rams stunned the suddenly reeling Seattle Seahawks. The previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars didn't just get a victory; they rolled the Cleveland Browns.
It just goes to show that anything can happen in the NFL.
Of course, the stunners and upsets don't make it one bit easier to predict a given week's games, but that doesn't stop the esteemed National Lead and Division Lead Writers at Bleacher Report from giving it the old college try.
Even if some (this writer included) might be better off sticking with college.
With the NFL season nearing the halfway point, here's how those experts foresee Week 8 playing out.
Given the surprise wins by the Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams in Week 7, it wouldn't have been any real surprise if our writers took a bit of a step back.
For the most part, though, that was not the case. Only one scribe failed to get at least nine games correct, and NFC South Lead Writer Brent Sobleski led the charge at 12-3.
Chris Simms maintains his overall lead, increasing his edge over NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse.
In fact, of the 129 NFL writers, broadcasters and pundits tracked by NFL PickWatch, Simms' .695 "winning percentage" ranks fifth.
Not too shabby.
Matt Bowen: NFL National Lead Writer 10-5 (66-39)
Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 9-6 (65-40)
Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 10-5 (66-39)
Erik Frenz: AFC East Lead Writer 10-5 (60-45)
Brad Gagnon: NFC East Lead Writer 11-4 (69-36)
Andrea Hangst: AFC North Lead Writer 9-6 (61-44)
Christopher Hansen: AFC West Lead Writer 9-6 (57-48)
Zach Kruse: NFC North Lead Writer 9-6 (70-35)
Rivers McCown: AFC South Lead Writer 7-8 (58-47)
Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 10-5 (68-37)
Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 11-4 (59-46)
Michael Schottey: NFL National Lead Writer 10-5 (66-39)
Chris Simms: Former NFL Quarterback, Video Correspondent 11-4 (73-32)
Brent Sobleski: NFC South Lead Writer 12-3 (65-40)
Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 10-5 (64-41)
Sean Tomlinson: NFC West Lead Writer 11-4 (48-25)
Aggregate: 11-4 (67-38)
San Diego Chargers (5-2) at Denver Broncos (5-1)
The Pick: Denver Broncos (14-2)
The Denver Broncos are a frightening football team right now.
It isn't just the Denver offense, either. As usual, it's rolling right along, and the ground game has improved considerably since Ronnie Hillman replaced the injured Montee Ball.
The Broncos defense is carrying its weight as well. Linebacker Von Miller and defensive end DeMarcus Ware have already combined for 15 sacks this year. That's more sacks than 14 teams in the NFL currently have.
After playing on Sunday night, the Broncos have a quick turnaround in Week 8, but Miller told ESPN's Jeff Legwold he doesn't see that being a problem:
I like it. I like playing on Monday nights, I like playing on Thursday nights. You hear a lot about it's a short week and all this stuff, but I like it. I enjoy it; it's another prime-time game. They are doing the exact same thing that we're doing. They have a short week also. So I like it. You ... just hop in the ice tub, get stretched, get some body work and you'll be ready to go. I enjoy playing on Thursday nights and I'm looking forward to it.
Our panel doesn't see it as a problem either, with all but two voters forecasting a Denver win that would give the Broncos a stranglehold on the AFC West.
Meanwhile, I got through that whole thing without mentioning either Philip Rivers or Peyton Manning.
Striking a blow for non-quarterbacks everywhere.
Chargers: Frenz, Schalter
Broncos: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Detroit Lions (5-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-5)
The Pick: Detroit Lions (15-1)
Leave it to the NFL to take a bad situation and, with a little bit of work, make it even worse.
It isn't bad enough that for no reason—save unabashed avarice—six teams have to travel clear across the Atlantic Ocean to play in London this year.
At least the previous London games were still played at 1 p.m. Eastern Time. This time, in order to better give British people who couldn't care less a more genuine NFL experience, the game between the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions will kick off at 1:30 p.m. London time.
That's 9:30 a.m. ET, and 6:30 in the freaking morning on the West Coast.
NFL players are creatures of habit, and for a Detroit team that's looking at a dogfight with the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, this sort of disruption of that routine isn't welcome even a little.
There is a bit of a silver (so to speak) lining, however. Overcome jet lag and win the game, and the Lions will head to their bye week at 6-2 and in first place.
Of course, the Lions were in first place at this point last season too, but one problem at a time.
Cheery-O! Or something.
Lions: Bowen, Davenport, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
St. Louis Rams (2-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)
The Pick: Kansas City Chiefs (15-1)
The St. Louis Rams were the talk of the NFL this week after shocking the Seattle Seahawks, but the Kansas City Chiefs quietly pulled an upset of their own.
With their chances in the AFC West teetering on the brink, the Chiefs traveled to San Diego and downed a red-hot Chargers team 23-20.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith told The Associated Press (via ESPN) that the game demonstrated the resiliency of his teammates:
I think this team is in a good place mentally. We took this challenge on, and we had two weeks to get ready with the bye week. We took it on as a challenge with no one giving us a chance. We felt like coming into this game, we were a couple plays away from being 4-1. This was an opportunity for us to kind of show what we're made of, show the country. I feel like we're in a good place and we'll keep going.
Our experts apparently also view that huge division win as a springboard of sorts. As NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter wrote, "The temptation to take the St. Louis Rams after that stunning upset of the Seattle Seahawks is strong, but the Kansas City Chiefs are stronger—and playing at home."
Chiefs: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Houston Texans (3-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-5)
The Pick: Houston Texans (13-3)
The Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans showed their fans different variations on the same theme last week: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
For the Titans, it was losing on a last-second field goal to the Colt McCoy-led Washington Redskins.
Yes, that Colt McCoy.
The Texans couldn't wait until the fourth quarter of Monday night's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. After racing to a 13-0 lead, the Texans gave up 24 second-quarter points to Pittsburgh in the time it takes to grab a cold one from the fridge and hit the head.
The loss had a clearly emotional Bill O'Brien fuming after the game, according to Dan Hanzus of NFL.com:
It was 30-23, you know. It wasn't 50-0. The thing is, you can't do that. You can't turn the ball over. You can't field a kick, bobble the kick. Can't give up shot plays. You can't have 12 men on the field on third down to give them a first down. We just can't do those things, and with all that being said, we're one onside kick away and these questions are like we lost 50-0. We lost by a touchdown. With all of that stuff that we did, we have to improve it. We gotta coach it better and we gotta play better.
Frankly, I have zero faith in the Texans right now.
However, I have even less in Tennessee.
Texans: Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Titans: Bowen, Kruse, Tanier
Minnesota Vikings (2-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5)
The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (10-6)
Not for nothing, but on paper at least, there are some ugly games in Week 8.
One takes place in Tampa, where the Minnesota Vikings will battle the Buccaneers in a duel of young quarterbacks and scuffling teams.
The Buccaneers enter the game fresh off their bye, and Pat Yasinskas of ESPN believes the team's first priority needs to be establishing a floundering ground game.
A major reason Tampa Bay's offense ranks 30th in the NFL has been the lack of production from the running game.
Just look at what Doug Martin, who rushed for more than 1,400 yards as a rookie in 2012, is doing. Martin, who missed two games with a knee injury, is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry. He's gained only 139 yards on the ground, and his longest run of the season went for 19 yards.
A rebuilt offensive line that still is trying to get the proper chemistry undoubtedly is largely responsible for Martin's slow start. Watch the film and you don't see a lot of holes for Martin.
The Vikings' 19th-ranked run defense would appear to be just what the doctor ordered, but our panelists aren't seeing it. Just under two-thirds picked the Vikings to get the win on the road.
Vikings: Bowen, Freeman, Gagnon, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Tomlinson
Buccaneers: Davenport, Frenz, Hangst, McCown, Sobleski, Tanier
Seattle Seahawks (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-3-1)
The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (14-2)
The sky is falling in Seattle.
At least, that's what some would have you believe after the Seahawks dropped their second straight game, losing in stunning fashion to the Rams in St. Louis.
According to Kevin Clark of The Wall Street Journal, the Seahawks' biggest problem lies up front:
Of all the keys to the Seahawks’ title run, the most crucial, league insiders say, was Seattle’s quiet assembly of a deep bench of pass rushers who could combat the modern, uptempo, pass-happy NFL offense. The Seahawks’ seemingly endless defensive-line rotation allowed the freshest four players to harass the quarterback.
That line depth took a huge hit this year, and it's showed. After ranking eighth in the NFL with 44 sacks last year, the Seahawks have free-fallen to 27th in the league in 2014 with only seven in six games.
Schalter expects those woes to continue, and for things to go from bad to worse for the defending champs:
The Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers are both stronger than their last two or three games would indicate, but right now it’s hard to say which one is more primed for a bounce-back when they’re facing each other. I split hairs, flipped coins and went with home-field advantage.
Schalter's in the minority, however, with most of our pundits predicting Seattle will stop the bleeding at the expense of the similarly staggering Panthers.
Seahawks: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Panthers: Frenz, Schalter
Baltimore Ravens (5-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-2-1)
The Pick: Baltimore Ravens (12-4)
These teams met back in Week 1, with the Bengals winning a close one in Baltimore. However, since starting the season 3-0 the Bengals have sputtered, going 0-2-1 over the past three games.
Those struggles have partly been the result of the absence of star wide receiver A.J. Green, who is battling a toe injury.
According to Schalter, Green hopes to play this week, and in his eyes that swings the game in the favor of the home team:
Joe Danneman of Fox19 Cincinnati tweeted A.J. Green told a teammate he’s playing against the Baltimore Ravens. If so, having Green on the field (even as a decoy) should be enough to get the Cincinnati Bengals offense back on track. They’re hosting a red-hot Ravens team, but the Bengals already beat the Ravens in Baltimore this year. These two teams are more closely matched than recent form suggests.
Meanwhile, in the opinion of John Eisenberg of the Ravens' website, Baltimore is the best team in the league no one is talking about:
They’re off to a nice start with a 5-2 record, good for first place in the AFC North heading into Sunday’s important game against the Bengals in Cincinnati. Yet for a team with that winning record, ranked No. 1 in the league in scoring defense and No. 8 in total offense, the Ravens aren’t getting much love in the big-name power rankings. Last week, they were in mid-major territory—No. 10 at Pro Football Talk, No. 11 in Peter King’s “Fine 15” and No. 12 in ESPN’s rankings. That’s what you call a faint buzz.
The buzz may be faint, but it's enough for our experts to give the Ravens the nod.
Ravens: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Hangst, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Bengals: Frenz, Gagnon, Hansen, Schalter
Miami Dolphins (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)
The Pick: Miami Dolphins (16-0)
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn't just win their first game last week. They flattened the Cleveland Browns 24-6.
Granted, the Browns helped as much as they humanly could, but a win's a win, and head coach Gus Bradley was thrilled for his team while speaking with Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated:
I'm just so excited for our guys. I know I could have led better. I could have done better with the game management, with the challenge flags. ... I challenged the team and I pointed out the things that I could get better at, too.
Good vibes aside, there's still plenty to worry about in Jacksonville. Blake Bortles threw three more interceptions Sunday, bringing his league-leading total to 10. The Jaguars have allowed a staggering 29 sacks in seven games.
That last stat is especially troubling for the Jaguars heading into Week 8; in Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, the Dolphins may have the NFL's best one-two punch at defensive end.
Dolphins: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Jaguars: If only they could play the Browns every week.
Chicago Bears (3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2)
The Pick: New England Patriots (14-2)
The Chicago Bears are now where the New England Patriots were a few weeks ago.
Back in Week 4, after the Chiefs flattened the Patriots, some wrote off New England. The dynasty was done. Turn out the lights, the party's over.
Of course, since then, the Patriots have reeled off three wins in a row, and they're right back in their usual spot atop the AFC East.
The Bears, on the other hand, are the ones freaking out now, with the team's third home loss of the year causing wide receiver Brandon Marshall to lash out after the game, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPN:
Same mistakes, same mistakes, same mistakes. We've got to protect the football. We've got to protect the football. We've got to execute the game plan. We've got to adjust when things don't go as we saw on the film. We've got Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte. We've got a stud offensive line. We've got a great, great group of guys, and this is unacceptable. What did we put up, 14 points? Was it 14 points? That's unacceptable.
NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter thinks Marshall's outburst will rally the troops, and that the Bears will get a potentially season-salvaging win Sunday in Beantown:
The Chicago Bears have the talent to beat anybody, but when quarterback Jay Cutler plays like he did against Miami, they aren’t beating anybody. Star receiver Brandon Marshall called Cutler out in the media; Gillette Stadium is the perfect place to make a season-determining last stand.
Unfortunately for the Bears, the vast majority of our panel disagrees.
Bears: McCown, Schalter
Patriots: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Buffalo Bills (4-3) at New York Jets (1-6)
The Pick: New York Jets (11-5)
The Buffalo Bills may have won the battle but lost the war last week.
The Bills were able to come back and down the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7, but the win came at a staggering cost. The Bills lost their top two running backs, with both starter Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller suffering significant injuries.
Head coach Doug Marrone indicated to Matthew Fairburn of Syracuse.com that the team is still working on a plan to fix the gaping hole in the backfield:
I think, first we’ve got to get the plan together. We really haven’t started because we just officially got done with the past game. We’ll just see what gives us the best opportunity and then we’ll just watch them in practice. I think we have a good feel for what Boobie (Dixon) can do in games. Bryce (Brown), we have a good feel for what he can do in practice and a little bit of a feel of what he’s been able to accomplish in games, because we’ve watched a bunch of that. We’ll just see, game plan-wise, what we need and how the week goes and then we’ll [see] how to attack them. Once the game goes, if something’s working better then we’ll stick with that.
It would appear that our panel sees those losses as too much to overcome, as over two-thirds of our experts predicted a win by the Jets despite their six-game losing streak.
Bills: Bowen, Davenport, Frenz, McCown, Sobleski
Jets: Freeman, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Tanier, Tomlinson
Philadelphia Eagles (5-1) at Arizona Cardinals (5-1)
The Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (9-7)
The biggest game of Week 8 may also be the biggest surprise, in that no one expected it to be the biggest game of the week.
Despite numerous personnel losses and injuries, the Arizona Cardinals keep right on winning. The Redbirds are 12-3 over their last 15 games dating back to last year, and the Cardinals are 5-1 for the first time in nearly four decades.
And yet all that success adds up to a fat pile of nothing, according to what inside linebacker Larry Foote told The Associated Press (via The Seattle Times):
Right now, it means nothing. Because you can lose five in a row so easily in this league. Then you guys will be talking bad about us. So we’ve just got to stay the course. We’re about to get into the meat of our schedule, I know that.
The meat of that schedule contains back-to-back games against one-loss teams, beginning Sunday afternoon when the Cardinals host the Philadelphia Eagles.
It's a close call, but in the opinion of our panel, that skid Foote's worried about may just be starting this Sunday.
Eagles: Bowen, Freeman, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier
Cardinals: Davenport, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Schalter, Schottey, Tomlinson
Oakland Raiders (0-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-3)
The Pick: Cleveland Browns (16-0)
On one hand, this would seem to be an easy pick. The Cleveland Browns aren't an NFL power by any stretch, but they've at least won as many games as they've lost this season. The Oakland Raiders, on the other hand, are the NFL's last remaining winless team.
Of course, the only reason the Raiders are the league's last winless team is that the Browns were smoked by the lowly Jaguars in Week 7.
The game included a positively horrific showing by quarterback Brian Hoyer, and Rotoworld's Evan Silva didn't mince words when describing the performance.
"Brian Hoyer turned back into a pumpkin vs JAX," Silva tweeted. "Errant throw after errant throw. Skittish, missed wide open Jordan Cameron for TD. Was awful."
If Hoyer plays that badly again and the Browns drop consecutive games to winless teams, then the clamors for Johnny Manziel to start under center are going to hit jet-engine noise levels PDQ.
And it may well happen, because God hates Cleveland.
Raiders: No jokes this week, Raiders fans. As a Browns fan, I'm not inclined to push my luck.
Browns: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
The Pick: Indianapolis Colts (15-1)
Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos may be hogging the headlines, but Manning's old team hasn't exactly come off the rails.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Since dropping their first two games, the Colts have ripped off five straight wins. The last was the most impressive of the bunch, a dominant 27-0 demolition of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Why (Andrew) Luck over the other young guns? Russell Wilson is impressive, but he's still headed for a third straight 26-TD season, and 78 is well off Luck's pace. So far, nobody in the past 10 draft classes comes close to Luck's elite statistical potential.
The Colts figure to keep adding to their supporting cast and trusting Luck to pass it more, much like they have done this season. What hurts Luck's quest for a passing record is calling on his own running ability. His rushing TDs are up to 11, but they don't count for this purpose. In contrast Manning has had just 18 in his entire career.
It will be a long time before we're talking about Luck the way we've talked Manning for a while now. But after Manning passed the torch to Luck, Luck's also the guy to watch passing him one day.
One step at a time though. Before Luck worries about career records, he needs to guide the Colts past the Pittsburgh Steelers this week.
With the exception of our most prescient prognosticator to this point (Chris Simms), our voters feel Luck will at least accomplish that more immediate goal.
Colts: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Green Bay Packers (5-2) at New Orleans Saints (2-4)
The Pick: Green Bay Packers (12-4)
Sunday night's showdown between the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints features two superstar quarterbacks leading teams headed in opposite directions.
In fact, after his fourth-quarter interception in last week's loss to the Detroit Lions, Brees laid the blame for the Saints' struggles squarely at his own feet.
However, while speaking with Terrance Harris of The New Orleans Times-Picayune, head coach Sean Payton made it clear that he's not hearing that:
I just finished talking with him, obviously he would want to have the one interception back. But I felt like his decision making, rhythm—I felt like his week of preparation and how he played all during practice week was outstanding. He is going to be just fine. He is the least of our worries.
Payton's right. The Saints' problems go well beyond Brees, including a significant backslide defensively by the team this year.
Three-quarters of our voters expect those issues to get bigger Sunday night, courtesy of a loss to the Pack.
Packers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Hangst, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Saints: Gagnon, Hansen, Schalter, Schottey
Washington Redskins (2-5) at Dallas Cowboys (6-1)
The Pick: Dallas Cowboys (16-0)
The final game of Week 8 features something for everyone.
There's arguably the NFL's best team in the Dallas Cowboys, which features inarguably the league's best running back in DeMarco Murray, who has topped 100 yards on the ground in all seven games this year (an NFL record).
As if that wasn't enough, the game also features Colt McCoy.
I'll wait while you compose yourself.
That's right. As Liz Clarke of The Washington Post reports, after leading Washington to a last-second win over the Titans in Week 7, McCoy, and not Kirk Cousins, will start when the Redskins travel to Dallas.
Head coach Jay Gruden thinks McCoy has the intangibles to be a successful starter in the NFL:
I liked the fact that he came in as a No. 3 and did what he was asked to do, compete the way he is supposed to compete—be supportive to Robert [Griffin III] and Kirk [Cousins] like he is supposed to and then when his opportunity comes, take advantage of it and that is what he has done. He has got the intangibles to be a good quarterback. He will have a great opportunity Monday night, that’s for sure.
Given McCoy's professional resume to this point, apparently the only thing stopping him from being that successful starter in the NFL is his arm.
And his legs.
And his brain.
Intangibles though? Got those.
Redskins: Can't wait to see who the quarterback is in Week 9. Sonny Jurgensen maybe?
Cowboys: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson