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AP Photo/Don Montague

2021 NFL Game Picks: Week 8

Last week: 11-2

Overall: 73-34


GB (6-1) @ ARI (7-0) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon

Davante Adams (COVID-19 list) being out is a significant drain on the big-game feeling of tonight’s highly anticipated NFC clash, but Aaron Rodgers has won his last six games without his star receiver, so we’ll see if he can find a way to knock off the undefeated Cardinals. Of course, the other side has a massive loss as well—and potentially for the season—with J.J. Watt (shoulder) out, but Arizona will at least have Chandler Jones against a Green Bay offensive line that will still be without David Bakhtiari (knee). I’d expect the Packers will play through Aaron Jones as much as possible, and it will be fun a great challenge for the athletic linebacker trio of Jordan Hicks, Isaiah Simmons, and rookie Zaven Collins. On the other side, Kyler Murray should continue playing well for an offense that was already stacked and seamlessly worked Zach Ertz into the passing attack last week, and I’m worried about the Packers holding up at cornerback versus DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, and Christian Kirk. With three of their best players missing (Adams, Bakhtiari, and Jaire Alexander), it will be a tall task to win on the road, but maybe we’ll get a playoff rematch when everyone is healthy.

Winner: Arizona Cardinals


CIN (5-2) @ NYJ (1-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Cincinnati proved they are for real last week in a decisive victory over the Ravens (I’m mad for not pulling the trigger on them to win), and Sunday—in a game they should handle versus the Jets—will be another test to make sure they aren’t overconfident. Basically, the offense is loaded with weapons for Joe Burrow, and Baltimore was stung through the air by trying to limit Joe Mixon on the ground, so opponents will have to make difficult choices in terms of how they are going to try to defend the Bengals. This week, New York needs to show fight after allowing 54 points to New England, but the talent level on the roster is among the worst in the league, and some of the promising players they do have (such as Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore) aren’t full-time players. Perhaps Joe Flacco will provide a spark to the group, but this week will be Mike White under center (who I liked as a Day 2 prospect coming out of Western Kentucky), and Cincinnati is rolling both offensively and defensively.

Winner: Cincinnati Bengals


TEN (5-2) @ IND (3-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Wins over Buffalo and Kansas City in back-to-back weeks has Tennessee still creating distance in the AFC South despite the Colts going on a run of their own, and this weekend is a chance for Mike Vrabel’s squad to really position themselves well in the division—with a three-game lead and a sweep over the Colts before November. Derrick Henry (for his standards) was bottled up earlier this year by rushing for 113 scoreless yards on 28 carries, and you can see that Darius Leonard has been extremely determined to turn Indy’s season around, so they’ll be ready for another shot at the Titans. That said, the Colts will need to contend with A.J. Brown (who was injured early in Week 3), too, and Julio Jones is going to go off eventually. I know they are a slight favorite, but in order for Indianapolis to win, Jonathan Taylor has to be given at least 20-25 carries, and Quenton Nelson being back should help neutralize Jeffery Simmons up front. This is a coin flip, and Carson Wentz playing very well, but I have more trust in Tennessee’s stars being featured on offense.

Winner: Tennessee Titans


LAR (6-1) @ HOU (1-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Mark Ingram could be the first of a few veterans that are dealt by the Texans ahead of next Tuesday’s trade deadline, and the main player that everyone will have their eyes on is obviously Deshaun Watson. As previously stated, I have no idea how the NFL will apparently allow Watson to play with 22 sexual assault allegations against him, but the Texans have done just about as well as possible by holding firm on what they want in terms of compensation, and they shouldn’t budge at all if the price isn’t met. I would think other options that could be on the move include David Johnson, Brandin Cooks, Laremy Tunsil, Charles Omenihu, Zach Cunningham, and Desmond King. It’d be a major surprise if Houston put up the kind of fight that Detroit did versus the Rams last week.

Winner: Los Angeles Rams


PIT (3-3) @ CLE (4-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Steelers-Browns feels like it should be the nightcap on Halloween, as it will be an intense game between two teams that don’t like each other that much based on recent matchups. Pittsburgh will be rested following the bye and has the extra motivation of January’s playoff loss, but it’s also key to not get too emotional—though I doubt it’s a concern with Mike Tomlin in charge. The Browns will lean on the rushing attack whether it’s Baker Mayfield (shoulder) or Case Keenum under center and whether or not Nick Chubb (calf) is back, so the Steelers can’t allow Cleveland’s offensive line to punch them in the mouth early like what happened to Denver last Thursday night. For the Pittsburgh offense, Ben Roethlisberger says he feels healthier, and I’d like to see James Washington become more of a factor to challenge the defense vertically, which will open up space for Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris underneath. This should be a down-to-the-wire finish, and I’ll go with the Steelers to get revenge.

Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


PHI (2-5) @ DET (0-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

The Lions play hard every week and the Eagles seem to make it at least somewhat close every week, so hopefully this matchup is at least very competitive between two teams highly unlikely to play beyond the regular season. Philadelphia is in the midst of their worst start this millennium at 2-5, and there is less hope about the franchise now than perhaps at any point over the past 20 years—being in the top ten would help make it foolproof, but Howie Roseman sticking around to make the selections for three possible first-round picks doesn’t inspire much confidence. And based on how harsh the criticism has been of Nick Sirianni and his coaching staff (to be fair, you can’t really point to a reliable, impact player on the roster), there is a chance Roseman gets to stay for his fifth head coach… if you want a scary Halloween story, there it is.

Winner: Detroit Lions


SF (2-4) @ CHI (3-4) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

The media used kid gloves on Justin Fields earlier this year throughout the pre-draft process and have continued to do so while he’s struggled at the next level, but my scouting report pointed out the concerns with him while many supposed experts used blinders to evaluate the former Ohio State standout, so the struggles haven’t been all that surprising. Even just watching the broadcast angle, you can routinely see Fields not pulling the trigger for wide-open throws, and the Bears feel like they’re in limbo as a franchise (however, it’s way too early to give up on him, and talent is there to work with). The 49ers at least have reason for optimism about a turnaround this year with close losses to Green Bay (30-28) and Arizona (17-10) showing they can take on the top teams, and Jimmy Garoppolo not having to deal with Khalil Mack (foot) this week will help him get back on track. Kyle Shanahan needs to stick with the bread-and-butter (running game) and find a way to re-integrate Brandon Aiyuk into the offense.

Winner: San Francisco 49ers


CAR (3-4) @ ATL (3-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

The absence of Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) coinciding with the dramatic drop in Carolina’s offensive effectiveness is no coincidence (I’d love to hear the “running backs don’t matter crowd” try to make a case otherwise), and my suggestion to snap the four-game losing streak would be playing as slow as possible to lean on the defense until McCaffrey returns. All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore hitting the field for his team debut would make that easier to do, but Matt Ryan has been excellent this month for the Falcons, and the emergence of Kyle Pitts takes the pressure off the entire group. A week to prepare can help Matty Ice stay hot, and it will also have allowed the defense to find ways to confuse Sam Darnold—who is completing 56.4% of his passes for 199.3 yards per game and a 4:7 touchdown-interception ratio in four games this month. I just hope he doesn’t see ghosts on Sunday.

Winner: Atlanta Falcons


MIA (1-6) @ BUF (4-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

I can’t find the image that went around Twitter last month, but I’m sure many saw Josh Allen sitting on the bench with a blank stare on his face—because of disappointment about how he played—at the end of the first matchup versus Miami. It was memorable because the CBS scoreboard under Allen showed 35-0 in favor of Buffalo, so you would have thought the result was flipped; it just goes to show how much the quarterback puts on himself (which can be both good and bad), and I doubt he has a sub-par performance this time around against a team he’s 6-1 against.

Winner: Buffalo Bills 


NE (3-4) @ LAC (4-2) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS

I think we can chalk up the Chargers’ most recent showing (a 34-6 loss to Baltimore) as a throw-out-the-tape game, but I’d expect Justin Herbert will be much sharper than he was in that one, and having Mike Williams back to being himself—he was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice—will make Los Angeles a tough opponent to match up with. Bill Belichick has unsurprisingly played down the 45-0 win over the Chargers last season, and I’m intrigued to know the game plan Brandon Staley’s team is putting together on defense; so far this season, the unit has been soft versus the run but stingy versus the pass, but maybe they reevaluated things over the bye knowing their next opponent would be run-heavy (43-22 run-pass split for New England in last year’s meeting). Although a thinning secondary is a concern for the Pats, I’ll say Belichick has his team ready to make third- and fourth-down stops against an aggressive offense to get back to .500.

Winner: New England Patriots


JAX (1-5) @ SEA (2-5) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS

Urban Meyer, Trevor Lawrence, and the Jaguars picking up a win a couple of weeks ago in London has to be a big weight off their collective shoulders, and now we’ll see if the franchise is able to build on it to show signs of a turnaround. Heading to Seattle won’t be easy for them, but feeding James Robinson is the best way to make things easy on Lawrence, and the No. 1 overall pick should also use his legs himself based on the openings allowed to Jameis Winston last Monday night (eight carries for 40 yards). On defense, Josh Allen turning up the heat on Geno Smith off the edge would help the coverage hold up versus D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, and Jacksonville has been stout versus the run with 3.8 yards per carry allowed (fifth-best in the NFL), and that’s where the Seahawks will want to attack. I think it will be close and believe Lawrence’s legs might be the difference, but I’m admittedly pulling for Smith—with close losses in his three appearances this season—to get a win before Russell Wilson (finger) returns following the Week 9 bye.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks


WAS (2-5) @ DEN (3-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX

Washington and Denver are both headed in the wrong direction for a year with high expectations, but whichever side can mitigate the injury issues this week has the best shot of climbing back in contention. For the Broncos, they did not do a good job at all stopping the run in Week 7, and that’s why a move was made to acquire linebacker Kenny Young from the Rams; if you can’t tackle as a defense, you simply aren’t going to win many games. Washington’s injury concerns have piled up on offense with Curtis Samuel (groin), Dyami Brown (knee), and Logan Thomas (hamstring) out of action, so they need to take advantage of Denver’s current weakness up the middle by featuring Antonio Gibson—including more receiving opportunities. I’ll say reinforcements arriving for the Broncos in the form of Jerry Jeudy will give them the edge at home.

Winner: Denver Broncos


TB (6-1) @ NO (4-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX

Buccaneers-Saints is the game of the week because of how last year played out for the NFC South rivals, but can New Orleans beat Tom Brady with Jameis Winston under center? The defense will be fired up and Alvin Kamara will do his thing (though he’ll have plenty of eyes on him versus the Bucs), but whether or not Jameis is the guy is really the question that needs to be answered, and we’ll find out on Sunday. On Tampa Bay’s offense, the likely return of Rob Gronkowski comes at an ideal time with Antonio Brown (ankle) set to miss another game, and Brady will be looking to his monster tight end on Halloween to do damage in scoring territory with Mike Evans set to battle Marshon Lattimore in one of the NFL’s best individual rivalries. Overall, Chris Godwin projects to be the main target for TB12 this weekend, but don’t sleep on second-year wideout Tyler Johnson making an impact in single coverage if AB is out. I’m not sure if the New Orleans defense can make it more low-scoring or if Winston will have to open it up for a shootout, but I like the Bucs either way.

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers


DAL (5-1) @ MIN (3-3) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC

I’ve grown a bit skeptical about the status of Dak Prescott (calf) with him saying he’d be playing if it was a playoff game, as Sunday night obviously isn’t one, and it might make sense for Dallas to take it slow with their franchise quarterback to avoid any kind of prolonged issue. We’ll assume Prescott plays for the sake of this write-up, though, and the Cowboys getting Michael Gallup (calf) back from injured reserve would have them at full strength at the skill positions—making one of the NFL’s best offenses even more difficult to defend. Furthermore, Minnesota not having Patrick Peterson (hamstring) is bad news versus CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Gallup, so they’ll need Kirk Cousins to come out hot to keep up, and Dalvin Cook will be featured with the bye giving him a chance to get fully healthy. I expect a one-possession game in the fourth quarter, but Dallas is the pick assuming Dak plays.

Winner: Minnesota Vikings


NYG (2-5) @ KC (3-4) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ESPN2

New York’s defense finally played how I thought they would be playing all season in last week’s win over Carolina, and now they need to keep it going to make sure Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs don’t have a reawakening on Monday night. At this point, you almost need to believe Tampa Bay’s defensive blueprint on how to defend Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce is being replicated around the league, and Joe Judge’s unit having confidence coming off a dominant performance can help them pull off the upset. Offensively, I’m optimistic about Daniel Jones having a standout performance against Kansas City’s man-to-man defense, and getting one of Kenny Golladay (knee), Kadarius Toney (ankle), or Sterling Shepard (hamstring) in the lineup can give him the weaponry needed to push the Chiefs to the brink. Still, Mahomes is too good to not eventually take care of the football, and Andy Reid should run the ball more with Darrel Williams to keep opponents honest.

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


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