The intro to my weekly picks column usually leans towards talking about either quarterbacks or head coaches. I guess that means I’m just like everyone else in loving the soap opera-y / professional wrestling storylines of the NFL’s two most high-profile positions. So here’s the latest.
There’s as high as a 25% chance that all four coaches from the AFC South will be fired by the end of the year. That might not seem like a high probability, but based on any info I have in my head or could find online, this has never happened. You gotta figure Chuck Pagano is a no-brainer in Indy and Bill O’Brien is as good as gone in Houston. That leaves Ken Whisenhunt in Tennessee and Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. In this case the odds that both are fired is 1-in-4. Both coaches are in year three at the helm of his respective team and progress doesn’t seem to be happening quick enough. And while Bradley is a first-time head coach, Whisenhunt has an 8-year head coaching sample size to tell us he’s terrible. The guy’s 48-70 as a head coach! He hasn’t coached a winning team since 2009! So I think there’s a definite three gone, but probably all four teams will clean house with its coaching staff.
The rest of the league is 15-4 already against the AFC South in 2015. It’s only going to get worse. And if you look at the quarterbacks in that league—Luck in Indy, Mariota in Tennessee, Bortles in Jacksonville—only in Houston can the head coach point to the QB position as the main excuse for why things are so bad.
There are upwards of five other coaches across the league who are also on some spectrum of the hot seat, but our focus for the rest of 2015 will be squarely on the hopelessness that litters the AFC South’s coaching positions. Together we can make history.
Here are the week 8 picks.
Miami at New England (-9)
The Pick: Miami
The Score: New England 31, Miami 27
Since this is the Thursday night game, it’s probably getting talked about a little more than if it was slotted for Sunday at 10am. So you probably know the dilemma with making a pick: On the one hand, the Dolphins’ “resurgence” has come at the hands of the Titans and Texans, and my intro already made it crystal clear how those two teams are doing this season. On the other hand, the Patriots’ had a moderate struggle against the Jets last week, and we know New England’s offensive line is still beat up while the Suh/Wake combo in Miami has recently come to life.
By the way, I don’t know that we should be waiting on a huge scoring outburst from New England that ends in them destroying four or five teams in a row and looking like the ‘07 team. I decided if 2007 was the perfection of Tom Brady, his physical abilities and the Randy Moss hyper-charged offense, then 2015 is the perfection of Bill Belichick, his intelligence, the crazy player depth and the “whatever it takes” mentality. It might not be pretty, but they’re going to get the job done nine times out of 10.
And thus the reason for my pick.
Detroit vs Kansas City (-5) (Game in London)
The Pick: Detroit
The Score: Detroit 11, Kansas City 2
Are the Kansas City fans still going to travel well this week considering: 1) The game’s all the way in London, 2) Their team is 2-5 and without its best player for the rest of the year, and 3) Their city’s baseball team, the Royals, will be playing in the World Series over the weekend, concluding with game 5 on Sunday? I doubt it. And, hey, after Detroit played such a thrilling game in London last year against the Falcons, maybe they have a growing, raucous fan base across the pond. So because I care so very little about these two pathetic teams, I’m taking the Lions on the off chance they have some fans at the game.
(This is where I need to urge you, once again, to read Grantland’s Bill Barnwell on the new low the NFL reached in terms of coaching competency during that Falcons/Lions game in 2014.)
Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-7.5)
The Pick: Atlanta
The Score: Atlanta 30, Tampa Bay 17
The Falcons have exclusively beaten NFC East teams (four) and AFC South teams (two) so far this year. It’s not their fault that all but one of these early games ended up being against the two worst divisions in football. But because of that, it’s very hard to be impressed with any of those wins.
I’d really, REALLY love to see this line go to -7 before I bet it, but I’m banking on Jameis Winston’s wild inconsistency to give Tampa the nudge back that they need after almost winning two in a row.
Arizona (-4.5) at Cleveland
The Pick: Cleveland
The Score: Arizona 24, Cleveland 21
Are there still people out there dumb enough to want Johnny Manziel starting over Josh McCown? Why? For the excitement? Newsflash: He wouldn’t be replacing Alex Smith, who was voted for the 11th straight year “Quarterback Most Likely to Induce Sleep Across America.”
McCown has been legitimately exciting with some great plays to Gary Barnidge and Travis Benjamin throughout the season. His Browns also played in three straight games decided by three points earlier this month. And the bonus McCown gives you is epically clumsy plays like these:
I stand with McCown.
Anyway, I’m ready to start fading the Cardinals. I don’t know that they’ll lose to Cleveland, but a 3-point win seems about right. The Cardinals were at home on Monday night, coming off a loss and needing a win badly to stay ahead of Seattle, and they were facing 1-6 Baltimore (a team that’s not as bad as their record, but still pretty bad this year). And this team’s supposed to have all these offensive weapons, an intimidating defense and a genius head coach. And I saw none of that on a consistent basis throughout their narrow win. Then you look at the schedule that got them off to this 5-2 start and you really start to wonder. So yeah, I think this line is 1.5 points too high.
San Francisco at St. Louis (-9)
The Pick: St. Louis
The Score: St. Louis 20, San Francisco 0
First of all, the over/under (aka game total) for this matchup is 39.5, by far the lowest in week 8. And it should be. Don’t go thinking you’ll make an easy couple of bucks by betting the over. Both teams should struggle to crack 20 points. That’s where the big hesitation is for me in picking St. Louis. Their offense is pretty atrocious, even after accounting for Todd Gurley immediately being the best running back in football. That, and the unrelenting desire of Jeff Fisher to always be at a .500 record throughout each season (or as close as humanly possible).
I’m still picking them because the 49ers are right around rock bottom and we need to take advantage. They won’t always be this low, but for now, the Rams should do very bad things to them. I don’t think I’ve ever predicted a team to score 0 points in this column before. The real question is whether or not the Niners will ever enter St. Louis territory.
NY Giants at New Orleans (-3)
The Pick: NY Giants
The Score: NY Giants 31, New Orleans 31
More picks column history is made: I predict a tie! The Saints and Giants deserve to tie because they are the same enigmatic, roller coaster ride, never ever ever ever trust us, team. There’s nothing to be too impressed about with either team, nothing to be too depressed about with them either. Either QB is capable of a five interception game or a three touchdown, 400 passing yards, 75% completion game.
If you want to argue for the Saints because they need it more, I’ll give you that. The Giants are still in the thick of the NFC East “race” with a loss, whereas the Saints are already in trouble in the division and are more likely chasing teams like the 4-2 Vikings and 3-3 Rams for a wildcard spot.
Minnesota at Chicago (PICK)
The Pick: Chicago
The Score: Chicago 23, Minnesota 16
You know, I thought the Vikings should be favored by a field goal, but now I’m coming around on the Bears. They almost won three in a row before last week’s bye, losing the third game at Detroit in overtime. Four weeks ago they got Jay Cutler back, last week they got Alshon Jeffrey. It’s not surprising that they’re at least competitive when the majority of their starters are playing.
I also can’t wrap my head around the Vikings being 5-2. It doesn’t seem like they should be that good. So I’m going to hold them back a little while longer. I’m sure this is probably idiotic.
San Diego at Baltimore (-3)
The Pick: Baltimore
The Score: Baltimore 54, San Diego 49
Gross. This is the most unappetizing game I’ve seen in a long time. Our best hope is that Rivers and Flacco agree ahead of time to exclusively throw bombs to their receivers all day. Then we can have some fun with this game. No running or short passes, get rid of the kickers too.
But if they play with normal rules, I’m taking the Ravens to soundly beat the Chargers. Don’t ask why because I don’t know. I flip a coin to determine over half my picks in any given week.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (-1)
The Pick: Cincinnati
The Score: Cincinnati 30, Pittsburgh 24
Um, yes, I will take the undefeated team, the one who is GETTING a point against a 4-3 team that hasn’t even played a single game at full strength this season. If you’re just dying to pick against the Bengals, and especially if you still think Andy Dalton’s a fraud, just wait until week 9. That is the first of their back-to-back Primetime games. Wouldn’t back-to-back losses to Cleveland and Houston be just what the doctor ordered for anyone dying for some Cincy meltdown?
Tennessee at Houston (-4)
The Pick: Tennessee
The Score: Tennessee 20, Houston 9
It’s amazing that Tennessee is 3-19 since the start of the 2014 season and that franchise has more hope right now than the Texans, who went 9-7 last year and have generally been competitive over the past five seasons. That’s what the mystery of Marcus Mariota does for an organization. Until he plays enough for us to decide whether he’s worthy or not, there’s always the hope that he is.
It’s also amazing that any team in the AFC South is favored by more than a field goal against another AFC South team. It shouldn’t be like that. Home team gets the 3-point respect and that’s it. Doesn’t matter who’s starting at QB for the other team. It certainly doesn’t matter who’s coaching. I won’t waste another word on this division.
NY Jets (-3) at Oakland
The Pick: Oakland
The Score: NY Oakland 23, NY Jets 20
I knew the Raiders were doing well and that Derek Carr was playing decent, but I didn’t know just how decent…
- Carr is 6th in the league in passer rating, 9th in touchdown passes, 10th in completion percentage
- Carr also does well in the advanced metrics on footballoutsiders.com, ranking 5th and 6th in their two main QB stats
We’ve left that world where we could just assume a loss out of Oakland 90% of the time.
My biggest concern with the Jets is that we haven’t seen a “Fitzy Three-Picks” performance out of Ryan Fitzpatrick yet, and there has to be one coming soon. Maybe Charles Woodson could be the catalyst for that type of game?
A win would give Oakland at least a temporary lead in the AFC Wildcard race. When’s the last time that was the case through eight weeks?
Seattle (-6) at Dallas
The Pick: Seattle
The Score: Seattle 30, Dallas 10
You could construct a nice little story around picking the Cowboys. Even though they’re 0-4 without Tony Romo, three of the four games (all except the one against New England) have been very close until the end. You could even say Dallas blew a couple of those games. And it’s not like Seattle has been a great team this year. Their offensive line, especially, could get worked by Greg Hardy and company on Sunday. See? It wasn’t that hard to make you think about grabbing the six points.
But for me it comes down to the fact that at some point in this game, Matt Cassel will have to make several plays. Dallas won’t be able to run all over Seattle so what will they do if the Seahawks take a 10-0 lead? Cassel throwing into Seattle’s D excites me as a gambler.
Green Bay (-3.5) at Denver
The Pick: Denver
The Score: Denver 20, Green Bay 12
How many times in six games this year would you guess Aaron Rodgers has gone over 250 passing yards? If you said anything other than “twice,” you’re wrong. While the Packers are undefeated and have won every game by at least a touchdown, it still doesn’t feel like they’re cruising on offense. Now they get to play a defense unlike anything they’ve seen this year. The Broncos have a secondary on par with the Seahawks and a pass rush that rivals the Rams’. (It sounds like DeMarcus Ware has a good chance to play, which helps Denver big time.)
I really do expect the Packers to struggle again on offense, so betting the Broncos comes down to whether or not you can stomach the idea that your money is tied to Peyton Manning leading his team to a decent offensive day. I can (barely) stomach that.
Indianapolis at Carolina (-7)
The Pick: Indianapolis
The Score: Carolina 26, Indianapolis 23
Bonus prediction: Chuck Pagano will cry, tell his team the scoreboard doesn’t matter, and then talk to the media about how the 26 points they gave up is unacceptable but he’s damn proud of the 23 points they scored. And all will be well in his tiny little brain.
I think Carolina is going to run the ball down Indy’s throat all night and ultimately win, but that type of gameplan doesn’t usually lend itself to blowing the opponent out. Even if Andrew Luck marches the Colts down the field a couple times in the final minutes when the game’s already decided, I think this one will look close.
The weekly tally looks like this:
- 4 Favorites, 9 Underdogs, 1 Pick
- 5 Road Dogs, 3 Home Dogs, 1 Neutral Dog
- 7 Home Teams, 6 Road Teams, 1 Neutral Team
- Season Record: 53-48-4 (6-8 in Week 7)