Aaron Rodgers as a double-digit underdog? A Patriots-Jets showdown? The start of the Sam Ehlinger era in Indy? It’s Week 8 in the NFL!
Lines are from FanDuel. Stats are from TruMedia/Pro Football Focus unless otherwise noted. On to the picks!
Week 7 record: 9-5
Season record: 60-46-2
Baltimore Ravens at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.5)
When zeroing in on the Bucs’ offensive issues, so much of it has to do with pass protection. Tom Brady is still throwing the ball well, and receivers are still getting open (there were no defenders in view when Mike Evans dropped a deep pass from Brady last week). But there are just too many examples of either protection breaking down or Brady not trusting the blocking in front of him. Is that fixable? It might take the addition of at least one more player before the trade deadline.
As for the Ravens, they beat the Browns last week thanks to defense and special teams. The offense did not look crisp, and quarterback Lamar Jackson completed just nine passes. He could have better luck in this game as the Bucs will be without three members of their secondary: Carlton Davis, Sean Murphy-Bunting, and Antoine Winfield Jr.
I trust Todd Bowles to come up with a good game plan against Jackson, and I still think the Bucs are capable of producing explosive plays in their passing game. Give me Tampa Bay.
The pick: Bucs (-1.5)
Denver Broncos vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5)
Let’s check in on how things are going with the Broncos as they prepare for their game in London:
Russell Wilson worked out and stretched for four of the eight hours on the flight from Denver to London. Said he was doing high knees in the aisle when the rest of the guys were asleep.— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) October 26, 2022
Before the season, if you would’ve told me that the Broncos defense would be ranked first in EPA per drive (where they stand currently) after seven weeks, I’d have guessed we’d be looking at a legit Super Bowl contender. But the offense ranks 29th, and they’re 2-5.
The Jaguars have five losses on the season, too, but all five of them have been one-possession games. Their offense moves the ball most weeks. Trevor Lawrence could have some trouble against Denver, but I trust the Jaguars to do enough to win by a field goal in London.
The pick: Jaguars (-2.5)
Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys (-9.5)
The Bears unleashed a version of their offense last week that everyone’s been begging for. They used Justin Fields in the designed run game, and it worked out beautifully. Chicago scored on seven of its first nine possessions en route to a 33-14 win over the Patriots.
But keeping that momentum going against Dallas will be a challenge. The Cowboys have an athletic defense, and the Bears will no longer benefit from the element of surprise.
I see a competitive game, but the Cowboys force a turnover late and get the cover.
The pick: Cowboys (-9.5)
Las Vegas Raiders at New Orleans Saints (+1.5)
Stat that would probably surprise a lot of people: The Raiders offense currently ranks second in expected points added (EPA) per drive. They’ve figured some things out, and running back Josh Jacobs has been a big part of the solution. He’s third in the NFL with 633 rushing yards and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The Raiders are 2-4, but all four losses have been by six points or fewer.
As for the Saints, they’re sticking with Andy Dalton over Jameis Winston at quarterback. Remember, losing games gets the Saints nowhere in terms of draft positioning. They traded their first-round pick to the Eagles, and that could prove to be really painful. If the season ended today, that’d be the no. 6 pick.
I don’t think the Saints are very good, and I like the Raiders to be able to move the ball in this one.
Pick: Raiders (-1.5)
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (-4.5)
The Falcons got lit up for 537 yards in a loss to the Bengals last week, and their secondary has been decimated by injuries. A.J. Terrell did not practice Wednesday because of a hamstring injury. That means it’ll likely be two backup starters at corner for Atlanta in this game.
Last week’s Panthers win over the Bucs was one of the most surprising results of the season. Carolina is headed nowhere, but its young players, including defensive end Brian Burns and defensive tackle Derrick Brown, continue to make plays. With P.J. Walker at quarterback, the Panthers delivered their best offensive performance of the season in terms of EPA per drive.
Given the Falcons’ cornerback situation and how often they run the ball, I’m taking the points here.
The pick: Panthers (+4.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles (-10.5)
The Eagles are coming off a bye and remain the NFL’s only undefeated team. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have the second-easiest remaining schedule in the NFL. The next four quarterbacks they’re slated to face are: Kenny Pickett, Davis Mills, Taylor Heinicke, and Sam Ehlinger.
The Steelers battled last week in a 16-10 loss to the Dolphins. If they could have held on to one of a handful of interception opportunities, they might have had a chance to steal the game. One fun subplot for this game: How will the Steelers’ coaching staff attack Jalen Hurts? Head coach Mike Tomlin, senior defensive assistant Brian Flores, and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have seen a lot of football. They might not have the roster talent to slow Hurts down, but it’s at least possible that they’ll come up with a game plan that other teams take notice of in future weeks.
The Eagles are the much better team right now, and a blowout would not be surprising, but this is a big number, and I generally lean toward Tomlin when he’s an underdog.
The pick: Steelers (+10.5)
Miami Dolphins at Detroit Lions (+3.5)
The Lions have been outscored 53-6 in their past two losses, to the Patriots and Cowboys. Part of the issue has been injuries, and it sounds like there’s at least a chance that running back D’Andre Swift and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown could play in this game.
The Dolphins squeaked by the Steelers on Sunday night. Pro Football Focus charts what it calls turnover-worthy plays. The idea is that you should treat a dropped interception the same as an actual interception when assessing the quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa has the second-highest percentage of turnover-worthy plays among starters this season.
Given their speed on offense, the Dolphins are capable of blowing teams out on any given week. But I like the Lions to recapture some of the offensive magic we saw early in the season and keep it close here.
The pick: Lions (+3.5)
Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings (-3.5)
For what feels like the 100th time this season, Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury went at it on the sideline last week after the Cardinals had to waste a timeout because the play clock was winding down. On a positive note for the Cardinals, their win over the Saints was their best offensive performance of the season in terms of EPA per play. DeAndre Hopkins returned, and his presence on the field has been a game-changer for them the past couple of seasons.
The Vikings are 5-1, and they are tied with the Cowboys for the second-best Super Bowl odds in the NFC behind the Eagles. I cohost and/or listen to roughly 400 hours of NFL podcasts each week and have not found a single person who really believes in the Vikings. The best thing about Vikings fans is that they won’t be offended by that assessment. There’s no chance they believe in this team yet, either.
I never like taking the Cardinals, given how disorganized they are on a weekly basis, but I do like the matchup of their offense against the Vikings defense.
The pick: Cardinals (+3.5)
New England Patriots at New York Jets (+2.5)
Bill Belichick got outcoached by Matt Eberflus last week. I did not expect to type that sentence this season! Belichick’s quarterback platoon plan backfired, and the Patriots were not prepared for Justin Fields to be unleashed as a runner. They got outplayed on special teams too.
Mac Jones is expected to get the start this week for New England. The Jets are reeling a bit after they lost running back Breece Hall and guard Alijah Vera-Tucker to season-ending injuries.
I like both defenses. It’ll likely be a low-scoring game, but I trust Mac Jones to make more plays than Zach Wilson.
The pick: Patriots (-2.5)
Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (+2.5)
Look who’s in first place in the AFC South yet again. Yup, it’s the Titans. They have failed to score more than 24 points in a game this season, yet they’ve won four games in a row and are 4-2. The Titans don’t do anything great. They are 25th in EPA per drive on offense and 13th on defense. But they’re well-coached and don’t give games away. Slogan for winning the AFC South in 2022: Don’t screw it up.
As for the Texans, Football Outsiders gives them a 17 percent chance to land the top pick in the 2023 draft. They’ve generally been a competitive team. Even last week, Houston was up 20-17 going into the fourth quarter before the Raiders scored 21 straight.
If this line got above a field goal, I’d be tempted to take the Texans. Ryan Tannehill is dealing with an ankle injury, but I still like the Titans to grind out an ugly win.
The pick: Titans (-2.5)
New York Giants at Seattle Seahawks (-3)
Both Brian Daboll and Pete Carroll are on the short list of Coach of the Year candidates. The Giants are somehow seventh in offensive DVOA. As coaches around the league make excuses for why their teams aren’t performing, Daboll has shown he can do more with less.
As for the Seahawks, I thought they’d be doomed this year. Instead, they’re in first place in the NFC West. Fox analyst Mark Sanchez had an apt observation during their win over the Chargers last week: He said the Seahawks’ sideline looked like a party, while the Chargers’ sideline looked like a morgue. Carroll’s teams always play with joy, and he deserves credit for that.
As for this game, I see two pretty evenly matched teams. I’ll take the points.
The pick: Giants (+3)
Washington Commanders at Indianapolis Colts (-3)
It sure sounds like the decision to go from Matt Ryan to Sam Ehlinger at quarterback was driven by owner Jim Irsay.
Frank Reich says he and Chris Ballard had a long conversation with Jim Irsay last night. Stopped short of saying it was Irsay's decision, but Irsay has been increasingly involved behind the scenes of late.— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) October 24, 2022
So Irsay wanted Carson Wentz traded, then signed off on the Ryan trade, and now prefers Ehlinger? I’m not sure that the Colts have a sound process in place here. It’s possible that Ehlinger gives them a boost of energy. We see that often with new quarterbacks. But the truth is the Colts just don’t have a lot of talent on offense.
Taylor Heinicke didn’t exactly light it up last week, but Washington’s defensive front can still create problems. In what feels like a coin-flip game, I’ll take the points.
The pick: Commanders (+3)
San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (+1.5)
According to The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami, one reason the 49ers traded for Christian McCaffrey was that they were still bitter about losing out to the Rams in the Matthew Stafford deal. It sounds like the 49ers admire the Rams’ “eff them picks” approach, but there are differences between what they did for McCaffrey and what the Rams have done.
One, the Rams have generally traded picks for players at premium positions. Stafford at quarterback. Jalen Ramsey at cornerback. Von Miller at edge rusher. And two, one reason the Rams’ approach has worked out is because they’ve stayed relatively healthy, at least until this season. We’ve seen their depth get tested this year, and it hasn’t been pretty.
The 49ers traded for a running back who played in 10 games in 2020 and 2021 combined. They now don’t have a pick until the end of the third round in the 2023 draft. Plus, they’ll have to pay McCaffrey $12 million next season. That’s $12 million they can’t spend elsewhere on the roster. I think the trade is both fun and reckless. The fun part will be watching Kyle Shanahan scheme up an offense for McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk. It’s possible this group will stay healthy and get to the Super Bowl. But the most likely scenario is that this will end up being a poor use of resources.
As for this game, I think I’m the last person on the planet who isn’t giving up on the Rams just yet. Let’s see what this offense looks like now that Sean McVay has had a chance to make some tweaks during the bye.
The pick: Rams (+1.5)
Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills (-10.5)
According to TruMedia’s database, this is the first time in Aaron Rodgers’s career that the Packers have been an underdog of 10 points or more. Offensively, I see a quarterback who doesn’t trust his pass catchers. Defensively, I see a group that is not playing up to its talent.
Then we have the Bills. Their plus-95 point differential is not only tops in the NFL, but it’s 39 points better than any other team.
Would it surprise me if Rodgers looked like the two-time reigning MVP, the Packers thrived in the “nobody believes in us” role, and they made this a competitive game? No. But I’m in “prove it” mode with Green Bay. The Bills are talented and well-coached, and they never take their foot off the gas. I’m not fading them here.
The pick: Bills (-10.5)
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns (+3.5)
I didn’t see the Bengals’ 35-17 win over the Falcons last week as proof that they’ve figured out their offensive scheme. To me, it was just a reminder of how special the best version of Joe Burrow is. He went 34-for-42 for 481 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, spreading the ball around and making a number of high-level throws. In a year when so many quarterbacks are struggling, Burrow ranks fourth in EPA per pass play.
The Browns, meanwhile, are reeling. They’ve lost four in a row, and per The Athletic’s Zac Jackson, someone in the locker room yelled “no f---ing leadership” after last week’s loss to the Ravens. Not great!
Two things the Browns will lean on here: their run game and their pass rush. I think the Bengals do enough to win, but this feels like a field goal game. I’ll take the home dogs.
The pick: Browns (+3.5)