Last Sunday’s football watching was downright stress-free for me. As I mentioned in my week 7 picks column, my mind had been buried much too deep in picks against the spread, bets, fantasy football and random Pick ‘Em Leagues & Suicide Pools. Last week I went with the strategy of scaling back my bets, expecting to do poorly in my picks and not even bothering to make a Suicide pick (my hand was forced on that one since I lost in week 6).
Basically, I expected to lose. It turns out this mindset is no different than how I approach every trip to a casino these days. I put a certain amount of money in my pocket and fully expect to lose it all by the time I’m done my gambling session. That makes it fun and relieves any pressure from the situation.
The college version of me would stress about having to win money or at least walk away with a certain percentage of the money I came with when I’d go to Foxwoods as a 21 and 22-year-old. Part of that was because I was in college and every penny counted. And part of it was because I didn’t yet understand that the casino’s rigged for you to lose.
Well in football terms, I’ve already paid my money to play fantasy football and make picks in my Pick ‘Em leagues. I’ve also got a small fortune deposited in my semi-legal online gambling account. What’s done is done and if any money comes back to me at the end of the season, that’s a bonus.
With that healthy mentality in mind, let’s talk about what I’m looking forward to this weekend from a pure football standpoint:
- Three NFC games with huge implications: Seattle at Carolina, Green Bay at New Orleans, Philadelphia at Arizona. Two of those teams—Seattle and New Orleans—may not recover from a loss this week. Out West, the Eagles and Cardinals are trying to see where they stack up among the one-loss teams. And can Green Bay keep things rolling in their first real test in several weeks?
- In the AFC, here are the big games: San Diego at Denver, Baltimore at Cincinnati, Indianapolis at Pittsburgh. I’m obligated to put Thursday’s AFC West matchup in here even though I’m concerned the Broncos are going to win by 35 (more on that in a minute). Three teams from the AFC North are involved in these marquee games, and that makes sense because it might be the only division where there could still be some shuffling at the top of the standings. Like Green Bay, can the Colts keep rolling in a tough road game?
- I’m also looking forward to some insane results this weekend. You’ll see throughout my picks that there are several games where the vultures are circling, just waiting for an underperforming team to lose once more, and yet, I think we’re all going to be surprised at how well those teams fend off playoff elimination for one more week (the NFC South dominates these kind of matchups this week). Just remember it wouldn’t be the NFL if chaos didn’t rule the day.
Let’s do the obligatory check-in with the two teams on a bye this week:
- NY Giants: It’s been a pretty straightforward season so far for the 3-4 Giants. The teams they’ve beaten have a combined record of 7-14, and the teams they’ve lost to are 21-5. If that blueprint holds, they’re likely to go 4-5 the rest of the way and finish at 7-9. That seems about right (though the Victor Cruz injury could cost them one extra game along the way). They were never going to be great this year, and when your schedule consists of two games against the Cowboys, two games against the Eagles and having to face the entire NFC West, you’re pretty much screwed regardless of your talent.
- San Francisco: Give the 4-3 49ers some credit. They’ve played reasonably well for a team that’s been missing key defensive players all year and reportedly have a disjointed relationship between the coach, players and front office. Unlike the Giants, they’ve actually won against some good teams so a playoff run isn’t out of the question. Ending the season with four out of five games facing Seattle (twice), San Diego and Arizona sounds about as fun as ebola, but they might just be good enough to win some of those.
And now, to the picks, where I’ll try to improve upon my 49-55-2 season record against the spread.
San Diego @ Denver (-9)
- The Pick: Denver
- The Score: Denver 34, San Diego 20
Ugh. As someone who wants the Broncos to lose for a number of reasons—I’m a Patriots fan who still has delusions about the #1 seed, I predicted the Chargers to win the AFC West before the season, I don’t like Peyton Manning, I definitely want the mini-trend of competitive Thursday night games to continue—it’s killing me to not only pick Denver to win, but to cover. But how can you not go in that direction when you factor in the combination of short rest for the Chargers + this article on San Diego’s health.
If you’re a Chargers fan, don’t get too down if this is a blowout loss. Most of your team’s injuries sound minor enough that you can still recover in time to make the playoffs and possibly surprise Denver in January. It’s just bad timing in so many ways for San Diego.
Detroit (-3.5) @ Atlanta (in London)
- The Pick: Atlanta
- The Score: Atlanta 23, Detroit 16
If you’re picking the Falcons in this game, what the hell are you even grabbing onto for justification? For a minute I thought Wembley Stadium was a dome, but it turns out it has a retractable roof that does NOT completely close. So you can’t even go with the “Matt Ryan and this Atlanta offense plays well indoors” theory.
After losing badly to the Ravens last week, you might want to make the case that Atlanta’s faced tougher-than-expected competition, right? Well, the combined record of the five teams that have beaten them this year (not counting those teams’ games against the Falcons) is 11-17-1. So, nope, that’s not a silver lining either.
You know what my reasoning is for taking them? The NFL is fucking nuts. The Lions needed a miraculous comeback at home against one of Atlanta’s pathetic NFC South compadres, the Saints, and now they have to fly all the way to London and play a game that starts at 9:30am according to their bodies’ natural clocks. Crazy shit happens in the NFL all the time. Why can’t the Falcons win a game in which neither team is firing on all cylinders? It’s a total wildcard prediction so please keep your expectations low.
Side Note: One of the most fun aspects of the weekly football blogs is trying to find pictures on google images to go along with each blog. I always find such random stuff when I google things like “Andrew Luck vs the Steelers.” This week I was hoping to go with a “Lions vs Falcons” theme and looked for a picture of those two animals fighting or something. I didn’t find any of that, but I did find this lovely image that perfectly captures what I was looking for:
And here’s the synopsis of that award-winning (I’m guessing) book: “Given the choice between dealing with a psycho killer, a meddling mother and an all too sexy falcon, this poor doctor does what any sane lion would do—he takes a nice, long nap.”
Minnesota @ Tampa Bay (-3)
- The Pick: Tampa Bay
- The Score: Tampa Bay 28, Minnesota 10
You gotta love a 1-5 team giving three points. Your initial thought is probably that the Bucs are horrible and the Vikings did almost pull out the W in Buffalo last week. You’re also probably drawn to Minnesota because you want to root for Teddy Bridgewater.
But I’m going the other way on this one. Tampa Bay is coming off a bye. They also have significantly more talent on both sides of the ball, even if they’ve played like they’ve played like they want their coach fired (again). While the out-of-nowhere Vincent Jackson trade rumors could be viewed as a distraction, there doesn’t seem to be any truth that the Bucs are actually shopping him.
If this line moves to 3.5, I’ll have to think twice, but for now, I’m going with Tampa.
By the way, I read this article about Vincent Jackson throwing a baby shower for 40 expecting mothers over the bye weekend and immediately felt bad for him. Classy move, but no man wants to go to a baby shower when it’s just one expecting mother and her friends, let alone 40 of these baby-crazy ladies. He deserves a big day and a win.
Buffalo @ NY Jets (-3)
- The Pick: NY Jets
- The Score: NY Jets 30, Buffalo 7
Wow. Another one-win team giving three points. This time it’s the 1-6 Jets actually favored over the 4-3 Bills. Seems wrong, doesn’t it?
Here’s why the Jets are definitely going to cover: They have a better coach. They have a better running attack (now that the Bills are down to their third & fourth RBs). Their quarterback situation isn’t really worse than the Bills’. They’re at home. And that 1-6 record is deceiving. Rex Ryan isn’t talking crazy when he says they’ve been snakebitten this year. Five of their six losses have been competitive to the very end, with four of those games being decided by a touchdown or less. The combined record of those six teams that have beaten them (again, not including those teams’ games against New York): 22-13.
Chicago @ New England (-7)
- The Pick: Chicago
- The Score: New England 37, Chicago 35
No, no, no! This is not happening again! First it was Jerod Mayo, now it’s Chandler Jones. He’s expected to miss a month with a hip injury? Come the fuck on. I’m not exaggerating when I say he’s been the Patriots’ most important player this year. Yes, more important than Tom Brady. I tweeted weeks ago that Jones should have no shame in finishing as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year (J.J. Watt, of course, will be the winner), and that comment was only slightly tongue-in-cheek.
This week’s game kicks off New England’s stretch of facing Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay and San Diego all in a row. You think having the team’s best defender is crucial for that stretch? Me too.
Anyway, I can’t pick the Patriots to cover. And hey, the Bears are 3-1 on the road. Another reason to worry.
Seattle (-6) @ Carolina
- The Pick: Carolina
- The Score: Seattle 26, Carolina 23
It’s easy to fixate on the Panthers’ no-shows against Green Bay in week 7 and Baltimore in week 4. Those were pathetic efforts. But they were road games. The Panthers beat the Lions and Bears earlier this year, and they also played the Bengals to a tie. They should absolutely be underdogs to the Seahawks, but it’s not like Carolina’s on the same level as the Raiders or Titans.
I love getting this many points with a 3-3-1 team that’s playing at home. I still think Seattle works out its issues, but it might take some time.
Miami (-6) @ Jacksonville
- The Pick: Miami
- The Score: Miami 24, Jacksonville 10
I like Miami a lot in this game. This isn’t really much of a road game for them, and besides, they might be one of those teams that inexplicably plays better on the road than at home. The Jaguars are bad, they lost a couple key players in last week’s win against Cleveland, and they’re facing the 3rd best defense in football. I can’t picture a lot of points for the Jags in this one.
Baltimore @ Cincinnati (-1)
- The Pick: Cincinnati
- The Score: Cincinnati 27, Baltimore 21
Continuing with the theme of Vegas daring us to pick teams that have looked terrible, I’m jumping on the Bengals giving less than three points at home. Imagine before the season started if you could have grabbed Cincy in any game this year where they’re at home, giving less than a field goal and not playing Denver or Seattle. You would have done backflips while placing a huge bet on them. I don’t think the Ravens are complete frauds, but their last three wins have come against the NFC South.
Baltimore’s good, probably a playoff team, but this is another one of those games where everyone wants to bury the home team (kind of like the games featuring Carolina and Tampa this week) a bit too soon.
Houston (-2) @ Tennessee
- The Pick: Tennessee
- The Score: Tennessee 24, Houston 20
OK, I’ll take the bait with the Titans here. Home underdog in a division game against an opponent that might be a lot worse than their record shows? I’m in.
Besides, this was easy. I swore off the Texans for all gambling purposes after they scammed their owner out of hundreds of thousands of dollars when they didn’t bother showing up to play football in Pittsburgh on Monday night but still collected their paychecks.
I realize Zach Mettenberger is making his NFL debut at quarterback for Tennessee, but that won’t deter me. The Texans remain dead to me.
St. Louis @ Kansas City (-7)
- The Pick: St. Louis
- The Score: Kansas City 28, St. Louis 24
I’m picking the Rams distinctly for the backdoor cover. I think the Chiefs are a much better team, and the only game they haven’t come close to winning this year was their opener against Tennessee (and that one’s really inexplicable). On top of their three wins—at Miami, vs New England, at San Diego—they’ve almost knocked off the Broncos in Denver and the 49ers in San Francisco.
But they’re not an offensive juggernaut so it wouldn’t surprise me if the Rams are able to stay close-ish and only lose by four or six.
Philadelphia @ Arizona (-3)
- The Pick: Philadelphia
- The Score: Philadelphia 31, Arizona 27
One of these teams is going to be 6-1 after this game! No one could have seen that coming.
Maybe I’m a sucker for taking the Eagles in this game, but I feel like their hot start is realer than the Cardinals’ hot start. Arizona’s only had to deal with two offenses this season that have been competent. One was Denver, who they gave up 41 points to. The other was San Diego. They beat the Chargers but it was a one-point game in Arizona.
I like the Eagles because they’re coming off a bye week, and more importantly, they might be as healthy as they’ve been all season.
Indianapolis (-3) @ Pittsburgh
- The Pick: Indianapolis
- The Score: Indianapolis 38, Pittsburgh 24
This line has slowly gone up all week. No one is taking the Steelers seriously, nor should they be. If you didn’t watch the Steelers play the Texans on Monday night, I can tell you that Houston would have won by at least a touchdown had they just held onto the ball. Pittsburgh’s other wins have been at Jacksonville (a game in which they struggled to put away the Jaguars), at Carolina (looking less impressive by the week) and home against Cleveland (ditto).
But here’s the intriguing thing: The Steelers only do one thing well: Run the ball. The Colts only struggle in one area: Run defense. On the flip side, the Steelers’ main issues are around pass defense. As you might guess, the Colts have one of the best passing offenses in the league.
The Colts offense has reached that “Manning & Brady in their prime” state: Even if the Colts’ run defense is horrible, it doesn’t really matter because their opponent is going to feel pressured into matching Andrew Luck point for point so they abandon the run early and everything falls apart from there.
Bonus bet: Pick the over in this game. It’s currently 49 points. The Colts’ offense is awesome, and the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell. That’s enough talent to put up points if needed.
Oakland @ Cleveland (-7)
- The Pick: Oakland
- The Score: Cleveland 26, Oakland 20
I’m not in the business of backing mediocre teams that are giving a touchdown. For what it’s worth, the Raiders have made two trips to the East Coast this year. They lost one of those games by five points and the other by seven. And they’ve been downright competitive against some of the better teams in the league since they swapped out coaches and came back from London. So there ya go. Two reasons to pick the Raiders.
Green Bay @ New Orleans (-1)
- The Pick: New Orleans
- The Score: New Orleans 30, Green Bay 24
The Saints have done nothing to change my mind that they’ll probably go 8-0 at home. If they are going to lose in Louisiana this year, this would be the game, facing an on-fire Packers team. So do yourself a favor and make this a low confidence pick.
Green Bay still doesn’t seem like a fantastic road team. They won via sorcery at Miami a couple weeks ago, and their two losses on the year have been away from Lambeau.
New Orleans will still bring a pumped up crowd because by the time this game kicks off, the Saints might only be a half game out of first place in the NFC South.
Washington @ Dallas (-9.5)
- The Pick: Dallas
- The Score: Dallas 42, Washington 6
That line is simply not high enough for me. Look what the Cowboys have done to teams that are significantly better than Washington: 10-point win over the Giants, 7-point win at Seattle, 21 points over the Saints.
And Colt McCoy is starting for the PotatoSkins for Chrissakes!
Just like the rest of you, I want to predict the Cowboys’ demise to begin on national TV against the least talented of their division rivals. But it’s just foolish. DeMarco Murray is a beast. Yes, the ‘Skins’ run defense has been solid this year, but that was before they lost Brian Orakpo for the season. And with the Saints/Packers game likely to be close, we need this to be a blowout to fulfill the NFL’s mandated quota of at least two nationally-televised games per week being unwatchable.
I don’t say this often, but I’m pretty sure I nailed my picks this week. I’m thinking 11-4. For those of you who are invited to my wedding next summer, I’m giving you permission to bet that $500 you would have given me for a wedding gift on this weekend’s games. If you don’t make a profit, you don’t owe me a gift.
Enjoy week 8!