NFL WEEK 8: We’re on to Week 8 now and the cream is beginning to rise— the Philadelphia Eagles have a league-best 6-1 record and a 2.5-game lead in their division; the Vikings, Rams, and Saints have emerged as legitimate contenders in the NFC; the Chiefs and Steelers have established firm control over their respective divisions, and the Evil Empire up in New England has reclaimed the top spot in the AFC East after three straight victories.
Everything can change in an instant, of course. Two weeks ago the Packers would’ve been atop any list of contending teams, but their season looks to be doomed now that Aaron Rodgers is sidelined indefinitely. A similar fate could befall a team like Philadelphia or New Orleans, two squads that would be lost without their respective quarterbacks, so midseason “power rankings” and that sort of thing should be taken with a grain of salt. That being said, we as bettors must understand the landscape at any given time, and things certainly seem to have cleared up a bit over the past couple of weeks.
Week 8 kicks off on Thursday night in Baltimore, as the suddenly-surging Miami Dolphins look to extend their winning streak to four games against a Ravens team that has lost four of five. It should be an ugly, low-scoring game— the total is a mere 37.5 and I’d still have trouble backing the Over.
Fortunately, the rest of the Week 8 slate features matchups that are a bit more enticing (…plus Browns/Vikings). Here are my thoughts on a few games:
CLEVELAND BROWNS vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (LONDON) (Min -9, 37.5)
Recommendation: Minnesota -9 at 1.89
Well the NFL is sure going to great lengths to test the viability of their product in London… if the fans will come out to see these games, they’ll come out for anything! You like regular visits from the Jags? Well I see you and raise you the Browns! And why not put ‘em up against a Minnesota team with a great defense and plodding offense, just to maximize the unwatchability…
On a serious note, this game will not be pretty. The Vikings rank 4th in the NFL in points allowed, surrendering just 17 per game, and they’ll be facing a Cleveland team that is DFL in scoring (that’s Dead F. Last for the uninitiated), producing just 14.7 points per game. The Browns are 0-7, they’re turning back to overmatched rookie DeShone Kizer at quarterback, and their best offensive player— left tackle Joe Thomas, the NFL’s iron man— tore his triceps last week and will miss the remainder of the season. The Vikings are 5-2, and even though their offense is somewhat pedestrian behind journeyman QB Case Keenum, they should be able to find some rhythm against a Cleveland defense that is allowing opposing QBs to complete 70% of their passes, the second-worst mark in the league. This will be an ugly, one-sided beat-down.
CHICAGO BEARS @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (NO -9, 47.5)
Recommendation: New Orleans -9 at 1.91
The Bears have turned some heads by stringing together back-to-back wins, and their 17-3 dismantling of Carolina last week was especially impressive. They still have a bad offense, however, one that ranks 30th in total yards per game and is led by a rookie quarterback in Mitch Trubisky. And I’m not sure the defense is quite as good as some are making it out to be– the Bears have faced Minnesota, Baltimore, and a banged-up Carolina team in their last three games, not exactly a murderer’s row of offenses.
That all changes on Sunday when they travel to the Superdome to face a Saints team that is riding a 4-game winning streak. Drew Brees has been as brilliant as ever this season, and he’s getting plenty of help from a running game that features two very effective backs in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara. The Saints rank third in the league in points scored (28.5 ppg) and fourth in total offense, so the Chicago D will certainly have its hands full on Sunday. But it’s not just the offense that has been exciting the fans in New Orleans, the defense– the same unit that has been among the NFL’s worst over the past few years– has suddenly come alive under coordinator Dennis Allen, holding three of their past four opponents to 17 points or fewer. They should be able to pad the stats against the struggling Bears offense while Brees and Co. pour on the points. This one will not be close.
OAKLAND RAIDERS @ BUFFALO BILLS (Buf -2.5, 46.5)
Recommendation: Oakland moneyline at 2.2
The Raiders may have saved their season with last week’s thrilling 31-30 win over Kansas City, as they had lost four straight games and were quickly sinking to the bottom of the AFC standings. Suddenly, though, there’s hope— Derek Carr came back to life with a magnificent performance, and Amari Cooper put his early-season struggles behind him and reminded people why he’s one of the NFL’s premier offensive weapons. Many people thought this Oakland team was a Super Bowl contender heading into the season, and with the AFC as wide-open as ever, everything is still on the table for Jack Del Rio’s crew.
But it won’t be easy this week. The Bills are a hard-nosed team that runs the ball and plays good defense, and they’re a perfect 3-0 at home this season. They are vulnerable in the secondary, however, as only five teams leaguewide are currently surrendering more pass yards per game. That could be bad news against the rejuvenated Carr, who is coming off a 417-yard, 3-touchdown performance against the veteran Kansas City defense. And Buffalo is frighteningly one-dimensional on offense, averaging just 181 pass yards per game (31st out of 32 teams). They’ve been able to get by thanks to a strong running game that is augmented by the scrambling ability of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, but the Oakland defense has been sturdy again the run this season, allowing a very respectable 3.9 yards per carry. I just don’t think the Bills have quite enough offense to keep pace here, especially with their top two pass-catchers— Jordan Matthews and Charles Clay— dealing with injuries that have left their status in doubt (Matthews will probably play, Clay probably won’t). I expect Oakland to pull off the minor upset here.
DALLAS COWBOYS @ WASHINGTON REDSKINS (Dal -2, 50)
Recommendation: Washington moneyline at 2.16
Dallas seemed to be sinking after losing three of four, but a dominating win over San Francisco last week has some thinking that the Cowboys could be a team to watch over the second half of the season. I still don’t trust their defense, however. Statistically it’s a middle-of-the-pack unit, but those stats have been padded in two games— last week against the 0-7 Niners, and Week 1 against a Giants team that now sits at 1-6. In the other games they’ve been atrocious, surrendering 42, 35, and 35 points in the team’s three losses. Whenever they face a competent offense it all falls apart.
Well, the Redskins are certainly competent on the offensive side of the ball— they rank 8th in total offense and 6th in pass yards per game, as quarterback Kirk Cousins is having another great season in Jay Gruden’s system. They’re a versatile unit that can hurt you in a lot of different ways, and Cousins is really spreading the ball around this year, as six players are currently on pace to finish the season with 35 receptions or more. They’re going to be tough for Dallas to deal with, that’s for sure, and the Cowboys aren’t well-suited to attack the Skins where they’re currently weakest— the banged-up secondary. I lost betting on Washington last week, but I’m back on the horse because the wrong team is favored here.