NFL WEEK 8: As we creep up on the season’s midway point, playoff races are beginning to take shape, contenders are hoping to solidify their rosters prior to next Tuesday’s trade deadline, and some of the league’s worst teams are already looking ahead to the 2019 draft and beyond. These teams include the Giants and Raiders, who have both made headlines over the past several days, and not for anything positive that’s happened on the field, as the two teams have a combined record of 2-11 and a combined point differential of minus-114.
No, the Giants and Raiders were in the news because they traded veteran contributors in exchange for draft picks, further depleting rosters that were bad enough already. In Oakland’s case, head coach Jon Gruden just signed a 10-year contract in the offseason and is obviously trying to re-shape the roster, having now traded away the team’s most talented players on both sides of the ball. I believe the situation in New York is a bit different, as detailed below, but there’s no denying that the Giants are nearing the end of an era– the Eli Manning era, to be precise– and the team is sure to look drastically different in a couple of years.
Week 8 Sunday is bookended by two fascinating matchups: the day kicks off with Eagles/Jaguars from London, a game featuring two teams who were viewed as Super Bowl favorites just a few weeks ago but now find themselves struggling to stay afloat. The nightcap is even better, as the Saints travel to Minnesota for a rematch of last season’s classic Divisional Round playoff game, when Case Keenum hooked up with Stefon Diggs for a play now known as the Minneapolis Miracle. Keenum is in Denver now, but Kirk Cousins has the Minnesota offense rolling and the Vikes are back in first place in the NFC North after a rocky start to the season. They’ll try to knock off a Saints team that has reeled off five straight victories and ranks second in the NFL in scoring at 34.0 ppg.
There are several other intriguing games this week, a few of which are covered below. We escaped Week 7 without a blemish, going a perfect 4-for-4 on the bets, and after the past two weeks the struggles of weeks 4 and 5 are but a distant memory. Let’s hope we can keep the good times rolling with the following plays:
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (LONDON) (Phi -3, 43)
Recommendation: Philadelphia -3 at 1.83
Despite lofty preseason expectations, the Eagles and Jags now both sit at 3-4, and the loser of Sunday’s meeting in London will have an uphill climb just to make it back to the playoffs. If you’ve been paying attention, though, you know that there’s a difference in the type of “struggles” that these teams have encountered: Philly’s last three losses have all come by 4 points or fewer, and they’ve all come against teams that made the playoffs last season. In Jacksonville, on the other hand, the wheels have totally come off, as the Jags have lost their last three games by 62 combined points and were forced to bench franchise quarterback Blake Bortles last week due to ineffectiveness (and that’s putting it mildly).
Bortles is back in the saddle this week, but he’ll be on a “short leash” according to reports, and he won’t be able to hide in this game— the Philly defense ranks 2nd in the NFL against the run, surrendering just 85.7 rushing yards per game, so Bortles will be likely be forced to air it out. Considering what we’ve seen lately— Bortles running for his life behind a patchwork o-line, which has led to careless play and comically bad turnovers— this seems like an especially bad matchup for the Jacksonville offense. And though the Jags defense is terrific, the unit has begun to show cracks, and frustrations have reportedly boiled over in the locker room. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has been razor sharp over the past three games, throwing for a combined 899 yards and 7 TDs without an interception, so the Jags D should have its toughest test since Week 5 in Kansas City. A bounce-back performance may be coming for Jacksonville, but I don’t think it’s coming this week.
Seattle Seahawks @ Detroit Lions (Det -3, 49)
Recommendation: Seattle +3 at 1.93
After largely being left for dead following back-to-back losses to open the season, the Seahawks have quietly come together and begun to play good football, winning 3 of their past 4 games— with the only loss in that stretch a 33-31 defeat at the hands of the undefeated L.A. Rams. They’ve done it by bucking the trends of the pass-happy modern NFL, returning to a run-heavy style focused on time of possession, limiting mistakes, and playing great defense. Quarterback Russell Wilson has attempted 26 passes or fewer in each of the team’s three wins, and the Hawks have rushed for 113 yards or more in each of their past four games after failing to top 75 yards in the first two games of the season. The change has been quite intentional, as Pete Carroll has explained in recent days, and it should continue to pay dividends this week, as the Detroit defense is allowing an NFL-worst 5.3 yards per rush.
The Lions traded for run-stuffer Damon Harrison on Wednesday to help plug the holes, but he’s not likely to see much action on Sunday after just joining the team, and the defense’s best player— middle linebacker Jarrad Davis— missed practice this week due to a calf injury and is officially listed as questionable. The Seattle defense, meanwhile, will celebrate the return of Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright, who has been out all season after arthroscopic surgery in August. The Hawks are coming off a bye, so they’re as healthy as they’ve been in weeks, and though the Legion of Boom is no more, the Seattle secondary has been exceptionally good once again, ranking 3rd in the NFL in pass yards allowed and limiting opposing QBs to a 79.9 passer rating, which ranks 2nd in the league. That makes this a difficult matchup for Matt Stafford, who has a history of turning the ball over when the going gets tough. The Seahawks might be my favorite bet on the board as a 3-point ‘dog this week.
Washington Redskins @ New York Giants (pk, 43.5)
Recommendation: New York moneyline at 1.96
The “firesale” in New York was big news this week, as the Giants shipped off cornerback Eli Apple and defensive tackle Damon Harrison in exchange for a few late-round draft picks. But the reactions have been a bit overwrought— Apple has been a bust who was publicly called a “locker room cancer” by teammates last season, and Harrison has been playing out of position in new coordinator James Bettcher’s 3-4 scheme, which requires tackles to hit one gap hard and get up the field, as opposed to playing the two gap run-stuffing role, which is where Harrison excels. So I don’t think much will change on the New York defense, and the unit is coming off one of its best performances of the season, limiting an explosive Atlanta offense to just two touchdowns and 23 total points last week.
Considering the Redskins have scored 23 points or fewer in three straight games and have only topped the 24-point mark once this season, I don’t think we’re gong to see them going up and down the field on this Giants defense. And though I know it’s not a popular position to take right now, I actually think the Giants are close to turning a corner on offense— the return of Evan Engram has given Eli Manning another elite weapon, and with Engram, Odell Beckham, and spectacular rookie Saquon Barkley, you don’t have to squint too hard to see the makings of something interesting. The Skins are allowing opposing QBs to complete nearly 67% of their passes and Manning threw for 399 yards last week, so it’s not like a big game from the New York offense would be totally out of the blue. Despite all the “tanking” talk, I think the Giants are more dangerous than people realize right now and a good bet to pick up a home win over Washington on Sunday.
Indianapolis Colts @ Oakland Raiders (Ind -3, 50.5)
Recommendation: Indianapolis -3 at 2.06
As I indicated above, I’m rather bullish on the New York Giants this week despite the recent roster moves, but I feel a little differently about the current situation in Oakland. Jon Gruden is clearly re-shaping the team, acting with the assurance of a man with a 10-year contract, which he indeed possesses, and he’s now dealt the team’s most talented players on both sides of the ball. If media reports are to be believed, the atmosphere in the Oakland locker room is bordering on toxic, with one anonymous player saying this week that “no one knows if they’re going to be here next week, much less next year”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Raiders have been playing lifeless, listless football lately, losing their last two games by a combined score of 53-13.
But off-field drama won’t be the deciding factor on Sunday— it will likely be an Oakland defense that is surrendering 29.3 points per game, ranking 29th out of the league’s 32 teams. The offense hasn’t been much better, producing just 13 combined points in the team’s past two games and ranking 27th in points scored on the season (18.3 ppg). The Colts are a long way from elite, but the Andrew Luck-led offense has come alive lately, reeling off point totals of 37, 34, 24 and 34 in the team’s past four games. Luck seems to be getting more and more comfortable each week and the numbers back that up, as he’s averaged 321.5 passing yards over the last four games after averaging just 220.6 ypg over the first three games of the season. He should have a big day against a Raiders defense that is allowing a league-worst 9.0 yards per pass attempt. These teams may have similar records, but they’re moving in opposite directions, and I think we’ll see evidence of that come Sunday.