NFL Picks Week 8: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks
The NFL is all about the haves and the have-nots in 2015.
Through seven weeks, five teams sit at a perfect 6-0. Never in NFL history have there been this many undefeated teams this late in the season.
There are also 18 teams currently sporting losing records, although if you're the glass-half-full type, you'll notice that every team in the league has at least one win.
One of those undefeated teams will be starting off Week 8 with a division tilt, and it's there we'll begin our look at Week 8's picks from the esteemed national lead writers and NFL analysts here at Bleacher Report.
Well, and me.
It was a good week for most of the pigskin prognosticators here at Bleacher Report in Week 7.
In fact, over half of our panelists tied for the week's high mark, getting 10 of a possible 14 games correct.
For Captain Upset, however, things didn't go so well. It isn't that NFL national lead writer Ty Schalter didn't pick more upsets than any other member of the panel, as he usually does.
He just didn't hit on many.
Some weeks you're the windshield. Others you're the bug.
NFL national lead writer Mike Freeman was one of those 10-game winners, moving him back into a two-way tie with fellow national lead writer Matt "Go Royals" Miller for the season lead.
Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 10-4 (65-40)
Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 10-4 (70-35)
Brad Gagnon: NFL Analyst 10-4 (65-40)
Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 8-6 (70-35)
Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 5-9 (52-53)
Brent Sobleski: NFL Analyst 10-4 (66-39)
Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 8-6 (64-41)
Sean Tomlinson: NFL Analyst 10-4 (65-40)
Consensus: 10-4 (70-35)
Miami Dolphins (3-3) at New England Patriots (6-0)
The Pick: New England Patriots (7-1)
A few weeks ago, this pick would have been unanimous. And a no-brainer.
The Miami Dolphins were headed into their bye a 1-3 dumpster fire. Head coach Joe Philbin had been fired after an embarrassing loss to the New York Jets in London. With the relatively unknown Dan Campbell elevated to interim head coach, the 2015 campaign looked like a wash for the Dolphins.
Someone forgot to tell Campbell and the team.
Since he took over, Miami has outscored two opponents 82-36 in a pair of blowout wins. The Dolphins are playing like their hair is on fire for their new head coach.
And as Jim McBride of the Boston Globe reported, the new-and-improved Dolphins haven't escaped the attention of Darth Hoodie.
That's Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, in case there was any doubt:
I’d say they’ve simplified it. The number of things they’re running, like the number of calls that they have, it appears to be definitely a lot less than what it was before, and so they’re trying to, I’d say it looks like they’re doing fewer things than they’ve done, they’re doing them better, they’re playing faster, they’re more aggressive, and so it looks like they’ve cut back the scheme a little bit defensively for higher execution.
The new-look Dolphins also haven't escaped Freeman's attention, as he tabbed Miami to pull an upset that would shake up the AFC East quite a bit.
Still, there's a reason the Patriots are favored in this game, besides the fact the game's in Beantown. As Belichick showed a week ago in abandoning the run altogether against the New York Jets, the Patriots just about always have an opponent-specific game plan in mind.
So Belichick's comments were likely more than just observational. He's already looking for a way to exploit them.
And usually, he finds them.
Patriots: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Detroit Lions (1-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (2-5)
The Pick: Detroit Lions (5-3)
After making the playoffs in 2014, the Detroit Lions expected to hit the season's halfway point in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Instead, they're in the thick of the hunt for the first pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
Now, as the team prepares for a trip across the Atlantic to face the equally disappointing Kansas City Chiefs in London, big changes are underway.
Head coach Jim Caldwell fired his offensive coordinator and line coach, and while Jarrett Bell of USA Today won't argue that Joe Lombardi deserved the ax, he's not on board with Caldwell's Plan B:
Caldwell should have installed the person on his staff with the most accomplished track record in calling plays—himself—to take over that chore with the Lions.
Instead, ... Caldwell fired Joe Lombardi and turned over the play-calling duties to Jim Bob Cooter, promoted from quarterbacks coach to coordinator.
Cooter has zero NFL experience in calling plays.
Caldwell, in his second season at the helm, called the shots as Baltimore Ravens coordinator on the road to a Super Bowl victory.
I don't see how anyone could possibly not be on board for picking the Lions in a game played in England where the plays are called by a man whose God-given name is Jim Bob Cooter.
Who is the new O-line coach? Bo Duke? Luke maybe?
Just not Coy or Vance. They're morons.
Kidding aside, part of the reason Cooter (giggle) was elevated to OC was his relationship with quarterback Natthew Stafford.
And this week against a weak Chiefs secondary would be a fine time for the Lions to re-discover their vertical passing game.
Lions: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Tanier, Tomlinson
Chiefs: Freeman, Schalter, Sobleski
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) at Atlanta Falcons (6-1)
The Pick: Atlanta Falcons (8-0)
They didn't win any style points doing it, but after suffering their first loss two weeks ago, the Atlanta Falcons got back on the winning track against the Tennessee Titans last week.
We're in a funk right now on offense, and we've got to play our way out. We've been struggling, so we have to find a way. We've got to keep grinding.
People might not care about this game (a 10-7 win over Tennessee) in a couple of weeks, but we care because we know we can be better. ... I felt like we had maybe two drives that were good out of . We had two the whole game. And the rest were penalties or little setbacks that got us down and distances that we couldn't recover from. We just have to find a way to get out of this funk before we get to a team like Carolina that is really good, that when you get behind the sticks, you're going to get blown out.
Well, Roddy, if a Tampa defense that couldn't hold a 24-point lead against Kirk "I love interceptions" Cousins and the Washington Redskins doesn't fix what ails the Falcons, then maybe nothing will.
Buccaneers: No, really. They were up 24-0 on Washington and lost 31-30. That actually happened. Last week. In related news, the Buccaneers stink.
Falcons: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Arizona Cardinals (5-2) at Cleveland Browns (2-5)
The Pick: Arizona Cardinals (All the votes ever-0)
Hey, speaking of teams that stink...
Look, it's the Browns!
Last week's dismal outing against the St. Louis Rams (a game that contained 37 fumbles, 116 false starts and at least one instance where the Browns tried to defend Todd Gurley with 10 men because, well, Browns) was just the latest in the never-ending series of new lows that is football in Cleveland.
And yet, Craig Lyndall of Waiting for Next Year is still hopeful that the 2015 incarnation of the Browns can show, well, something over the next two weeks:
There are many shades of gray when you’re talking about an NFL team that’s clearly not going to compete in the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. We know that the Browns are not that. What we don’t know yet is if this is a team that’s getting better and learning or if it’s a team that is impossibly broken with no future that needs to be turned over in drastic fashion. You won’t find that answer in the tape of an awful game in the St. Louis dome. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait to see what the Browns do in the next week as they play two games in five days against the 5-2 Arizona Cardinals and the 6-0 Cincinnati Bengals. ...
While some fans are currently looking for an entirely new cleanup crew, I’m still holding out hope that Mike Pettine, Ray Farmer, and this roster of players show a willingness to grab the mop themselves.
Sadly, I've been a Browns fan far too long to believe in fairy tales.
Like the playoffs. Or being competitive.
Grab the mop? No.
Trip over it and break both legs? Always a possibility.
Cardinals: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Browns: Ah. Life as a Browns fan. Feel the excrement! Excitement. Whatever.
San Francisco 49ers (2-5) at St. Louis Rams (3-3)
The Pick: St. Louis Rams (8-0)
Colin Kaepernick needs a hug.
A few years ago, Kaepernick looked like a rising young star at the quarterback position after leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Given how he's played this year, I'm beginning to think that last sentence may have come from eating Taco Bell before I went to sleep.
Now, after getting PTSD from being repeatedly blasted by the Seattle Seahawks in a Thursday night loss during which the 49ers managed just 142 yards of total offense, reports are swirling that Kaepernick has lost not only his own confidence, but that of his teammates as well.
Head coach Jim Tomsula denied those reports, according to Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News:
“First of all, with ‘Kaepernick on an island,’ I don’t know where that’s coming from. That’s definitely not reality,” Tomsula said Tuesday morning on the 49ers flagship radio station, KNBR 680-AM. ...
“The other one, with a ‘players-only meeting,’ they must be referring to the meeting I had after the Packers game. I had a very pointed meeting,” Tomsula said on KNBR. “I’m obviously not going to use the language I used in the meeting. And I’m obviously not going to get into the particulars of the meeting. ...
“As I finished what I had to say and the conversations we were having, I walked out and said, ‘Now you guys, get talking.’ I think that was a heck of a meeting.”
The facts and the reality are this: We knew that the Niners could be headed for a rough year after a litany of player and coach turnover. But we underestimated just how bad things could get.
And they aren't likely to get any better for Kaepernick this week against a St. Louis front four that may be the NFL's best.
So if you see him on the street, give Kaepernick a hug.
Just not too hard. He's probably sore.
49ers: From the NFL's penthouse to the outhouse at breakneck speed
Rams: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
New York Giants (4-3) at New Orleans Saints (3-4)
The Pick: New Orleans Saints (5-3)
Entering Week 7, 31 of 32 teams had peeled off at least one 20-yard gain on the ground this year. The lone holdout? The New Orleans Saints.
Mark Ingram rectified that in a big way in a win over the Indianapolis Colts. Ingram added another en route to gaining 143 yards on only 14 carries.
Over 10 yards a pop is generally considered, um, good.
While speaking with ESPN.com's Mike Triplett, Ingram credited the Saints' newfound ground game as a reason for the recent success the team has enjoyed:
I think we came in with a very diverse run game, and I think it helped everybody. The offensive line did a tremendous job. I can’t have a game like that without them. They did a great job getting a hat on hat, having seams for me to run through, and I just had to make a guy miss in the open field. We just gotta keep building on this.
A few weeks ago, the Saints had been left for dead. The Sean Payton-Drew Brees era was done in the Big Easy.
Get a win at home over the Giants Sunday (as our panel predicts), and suddenly the Saints are a .500 team and very much back in the wild-card hunt.
Giants: Davenport, Miller, Tanier
Saints: Freeman, Gagnon, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Minnesota Vikings (4-2) at Chicago Bears (2-4)
The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (8-0)
For a time last week, it looked like the Minnesota Vikings weren't quite ready to take the step from fringe contender to legitimate playoff threat.
However, after roaring back to down the Detroit Lions on the road, Max DeMara of 247Sports wrote that, in his opinion, the Vikings are the real deal:
Sunday, Minnesota did a great job of staying the course despite some early adversity on the road. Defensively, the Vikings are tough, rushing the quarterback with abandon and offensively, they've got a bruising runner and some speedy young wideouts. Sounds like a recipe for long-term contention this season.
The Vikings have taken on the personality of head coach Mike Zimmer. There isn't a lot of sizzle. There is, however, ample steak.
A punishing defense that sacked Matthew Stafford seven times with young talent from front to back. Tailback Adrian Peterson, who is, you know, Adrian Peterson. And a young quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater who earned the praise of his head coach after last week's win, according to Ben Goessling of ESPN.com.
"He got rocked a couple times," Zimmer said. "I wasn't sure he was going to be able to finish. He got up and made some great throws."
That's about as close to praise as you're going to get from Zimmer.
Vikings: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Bears: Look at the bright side. The Bears aren't quite as bad as we thought.
San Diego Chargers (2-5) at Baltimore Ravens (1-6)
The Pick: Baltimore Ravens (5-3)
Did someone break a mirror?
Was there some sort of crossing of paths by an ebony feline?
Did Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco break the seal on an ancient tomb, invoking some sort of terrible curse?
Because to say that everything has gone wrong for the Ravens in 2015 would be one lulu of an understatement.
No NFL team wants to hear they are better than their record, but as Nate Scott of USA Today pointed out, it really is true with the 2015 Ravens:
The Baltimore Ravens are the best 1-6 team in football.
I know that sentence will come across as facetious, but I swear I’m not trying to be. The Ravens are so, so much better than their 1-6 record indicates.
The funny thing is, the eight points they lost by (in Week 7) was their worst loss of the season. Every single game they’ve played this season has been decided by a touchdown or less.
The San Diego Chargers, on the other hand, looked like a 2-5 team in losing at home last week to the Oakland Raiders.
So in the eyes of our panel, this is the week the Ravens finally get a break.
Chargers: Freeman, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Ravens: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Tanier
Cincinnati Bengals (6-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
The Pick: Cincinnati Bengals (6-2)
This is it for the Pittsburgh Steelers, at least where the AFC North is concerned. Lose at home Sunday to the Bengals, and for all intents and purposes, Cincinnati can start printing those "2015 AFC North Champions" T-shirts.
After playing .500 football the past month with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the shelf, head coach Mike Tomlin indicated to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com that the Steelers' star signal-caller will be back in action in Week 8.
"We don't have any reservations or limitations about his ability," Tomlin told reporters Tuesday. "As I sit here today, we're comfortable where he is in his overall ability. We're going to need him, obviously."
However, as the Sports XChange reported, the problems that sank the Steelers in Week 7 go beyond a banged-up quarterback:
The Steelers are allowing opponents to convert third downs at a better than a 41 percent clip. That ranks 25th in the NFL. The Chiefs entered the game converting only 27 percent of their third downs, but they converted 56 percent on Sunday.
The Steelers had better fix that because the Bengals come to town converting 46.7 percent of their third downs, second only to New England.
The Steelers also will be looking improve their tackling. The Chiefs had several small gains that turned into big ones because of missed tackles.
Against an undefeated Bengals team that may be the most complete in the National Football League, those failings could seal the division on Sunday.
Bengals: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Steelers: Gagnon, Tanier
Tennessee Titans (1-5) at Houston Texans (2-5)
The Pick: Tennessee Titans (5-3)
The AFC South is bad in 2015. How bad? Well, the Indianapolis Colts are in first place in the division...at 3-4.
Those three wins are against the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.
In other words, the Colts stink. But they are least stinky of the teams in the division, which will probably be enough to get them into the playoffs.
The only thing harder to watch than an AFC South battle featuring those Colts is an AFC South battle that doesn't, such as Sunday's game between the Texans and Titans, two teams with a combined record of 3-10.
But wait, it gets better!
The Texans' best offensive player, Arian Foster, tore his Achilles in garbage time of a blowout loss last week and is done for the season.
The Titans' franchise quarterback of the future, Marcus Mariota, is iffy at best with a sprained knee.
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt shouldn't be subjected to having to play in this steamer. And fans shouldn't be subjected to having to watch it.
Titans: Davenport, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Texans: Freeman, Gagnon, Schalter
New York Jets (4-2) at Oakland Raiders (3-3)
The Pick: New York Jets (6-2)
It's been a while since the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders were both relevant as October turned to November.
And yet here we are. Both teams sport at least a .500 record. Both are in second place in their respective divisions, albeit behind undefeated teams in the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos.
Adam Schein of NFL.com was plenty impressed by what he saw from the Raiders against the San Diego Chargers a week ago:
Oakland has a real football team. And it is pretty fantastic for Raider Nation and the NFL. ... Oakland crushed the Chargers, simply humiliated and humbled them. The 37-29 final score doesn't do it justice. It was 30-6 Oakland at the half.
...While I don't think this team is quite ready to make the playoffs, I see Oakland being in the mix all season. Jack Del Rio has changed the culture. The Raiders ooze young talent. It's fun to watch.
And as Steve Serby of the New York Post wrote, after falling in New England last week, this week's West Coast showdown suddenly bears added importance for the Jets:
It is too early to concede Tom Brady and Bill Belichick their seventh consecutive division title. Too many things can happen, the NFL is a marathon not a sprint, blah blah blah.
So by no means should Todd Bowles and the Jets abandon their designs on a coup d’etat.
But because Brady is playing at such a dominant level, imposing his will and imposing Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman on exasperated defenses, Sunday in Oakland is a must-win conference game in case the wild card soon becomes a more realistic goal for Gang Green and their long-suffering fans.
Three-fourths of our writers expect the Jets to get that win, but it wasn't an especially simple call.
Don't look now, but the Raiders aren't an easy out anymore.
Jets: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson
Raiders: Gagnon, Sobleski
Seattle Seahawks (3-4) at Dallas Cowboys (2-4)
The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (7-1)
At the beginning of the season, this game looked like a potential playoff preview. Two division champions from a year ago duking it out in the house that Jerruh built.
Instead, it's a game between two deeply flawed teams desperately attempting to keep their lagging playoff hopes alive.
Seattle's offensive line has been awful. The Cowboys have been worse under center since Tony Romo got hurt, with Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel alternating looking terrible.
Head coach Jason Garrett insisted to Todd Archer of ESPN.com that the Cowboys aren't concerned about Cassel's ability to lead the team, despite throwing three interceptions last week:
Matt’s played enough to understand that you can’t do those things and typically turnovers and takeaways are a collective thing, but ultimately when you are a quarterback you have the responsibility. And Matt knows that better than anybody else. Stand up, be accountable for it, and keep moving forward.
It's an interesting notion.
After all, Cassel's been playing 11 years and still hasn't seemingly gotten the memo that turnovers are, you know, bad.
The narrative after this game will be that the 4-4 Seahawks are "back on track."
It should be "hey, maybe Romo didn't deserve all the vitriol that's been directed at him over the years. Because without him, the Cowboys are a mess."
Seahawks: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Green Bay Packers (6-0) at Denver Broncos (6-0)
The Pick: Green Bay Packers (7-1)
Now this is more like it!
If you've watched much of the Broncos in 2015, you know that this isn't the record-setting Manning of two years ago. Or the Manning from early last year. This is the Manning from late in the season. The Manning that generated so many offseason questions about his future.
How bad is it? Well, I'll let Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk break the news:
So far this year, Manning has thrown 237 passes, with 146 completions for 1,524 yards. That’s an average of 6.4 yards per attempt. He also has thrown seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions.
Consider these stats: 271 passes, 126 completions, 1,729 yards. 6.4 yards per attempt. Twelve touchdown passes. Six interceptions.
Those stats look a little better, right? Like Manning’s, they were generated by a Broncos quarterback. In 2011. His name was Tim Tebow.
Tebow’s passer rating in 2011? 72.9. Manning’s in 2015 is 72.5.
Throw in the fact that Manning has minus-four yards rushing this year and Tebow had 660 and six more touchdowns four years ago, and it’s easy to conclude that Tebow in 2011 was better than Manning in 2015.
Through the first six games, Denver has ridden a defense that may be the NFL's best to an undefeated record.
Now, however, they must face an equally stout defense and Aaron Rodgers.
Manning isn't getting it done against Green Bay.
Packers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Indianapolis Colts (3-4) at Carolina Panthers (6-0)
The Pick: Carolina Panthers (7-1)
If you had said before the season that Monday night's matchup between the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts would feature an undefeated team playing one that was a game under .500, you might not have gotten much argument.
Of course, everyone would have assumed the undefeated team you were referring to was the Colts.
The hype surrounding the Colts over the summer was just that. As Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated wrote, the Colts are a team that is springing leaks in multiple places:
The problems this season are reflective of the smoke and mirrors by which this team amassed its 2014 success. The Colts relied mostly on the efforts of three players—quarterback Andrew Luck, receiver T.Y. Hilton and cornerback Vontae Davis—and the supporting cast did just enough. Now, with the superstars underperforming, and veterans like running back Frank Gore, receiver Andre Johnson and pass-rusher Trent Cole not living up to preseason hopes, things are falling apart. Luck is the primary scapegoat, and his decision-making has been questionable at best this season. But the offensive line put together by general manager Ryan Grigson has been a relative failure, and consistent defense is a rarely seen ideal.
These Colts are reminiscent of the 49ers a year ago. The parallels are everywhere. The big expectations entering the season. The sniping between head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson. Luck's struggles.
And just like the 2014 49ers, the Colts are coming apart at the seams.
Here's another parallel to a team from last year. This week's opponent, in fact.
Just like the Panthers a year ago, the Colts will probably make the playoffs in 2015 despite the fact they have no business doing so, and quite possibly with a losing record.
The Colts can only hope they get things back on the right track as quickly as the Panthers, who look like the legitimate Super Bowl contender Indy was supposed to be this season.
That turnaround isn't starting in Week 8, though.
Colts: Tanier (angling for Schalter's Captain Upset cape?)
Panthers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson