MIA (4-3) @ HOU (4-3) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon
Winners of four games in a row following an 0-3 start, the Texans suddenly find themselves atop the AFC South with a couple very winnable games (v MIA, @ DEN) before the bye week. Last year, Houston and Miami had very different experiences on Thursday Night Football, as while the Texans were able to defeat the Bengals, 13-9, in Deshaun Watson’s first start (a game where he ran for a 49-yard touchdown), the Dolphins were absolutely destroyed by the Ravens, 40-0, with backup quarterback Matt Moore under center. Adam Gase’s squad will be starting the understudy again this year for a primetime matchup, but Brock Osweiler—who has played well this season in three appearances—should be determined against his former team. As usual, Houston has the edge in terms of star power on both sides of the ball, so it will be crucial for Cameron Wake (knee) to make an impact in his first action of the month against an offensive line that has allowed seven sacks in two of their past four games. It would also be great to see Robert Quinn (one sack this season) come alive for Miami, but the key is finding a way to put up points on the road, as J.J. Watt and company have improved with 12.0 points per game allowed over the past three weeks. Look for DeVante Parker to be showcased for not only a potential trade, but also because it’s simply a good spot due to injuries and a lack of size in Romeo Crennel’s secondary. Still, I think Watson will have a big game with the lights on at home.
Winner: Houston Texans
PHI (3-4) @ JAX (3-4) | SUN 9:30 AM ET | NFL Network
The final London game of the year should be a physical, bad-blooded contest between two prideful teams that believe they are better than their records suggest, but Jacksonville has some clear advantages. First of all, the Jaguars are used to the entire experience of playing across the pond (this is the sixth-straight year doing so), and they’ve hit their stride at Wembley Stadium with a victory in each of the past three seasons. Also, Jalen Ramsey can equalize Alshon Jeffery on the outside, and the defense has also shown the ability to take away a star tight end, which we saw against Rob Gronkowski in Week 2. Finally, safety Malcolm Jenkins saying that Colin Kaepernick should have a job based on the tape he’s watched of Jacksonville’s quarterbacks could put a chip on the shoulder of Blake Bortles (8:1 touchdown-interception ratio in previous three London games), and I’ve long been a fan of former third-round pick Cody Kessler if he’s forced into action again. However, in a make-or-break game, I have more confidence in Doug Pederson, Carson Wentz, and the defending Super Bowl champions, especially because a step back seemed like a real possibility for the Jags before the season even started. The winner of this game is right back in it, but the loser will have some major question marks heading into their bye.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
DEN (3-4) @ KC (6-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The Broncos gave Kansas City a real battle back in Week 4, but Patrick Mahomes led two touchdown drives down 23-13 with less than seven minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and a late defensive stop was enough to get a win in Denver, 27-23. The Chiefs have arguably been even more impressive since then after easily defeating the Jags, nearly knocking off the Pats at Foxborough, and dismantling the Bengals last week, so it’s a tall task to ask Case Keenum to come into Arrowhead and outduel Mahomes. Plus, I think part of the reason that Vance Joseph had some success against Andy Reid on Monday Night Football was due to Sammy Watkins leaving the game with a hamstring injury, as Chris Conley (4/13) and Demarcus Robinson (2/31) obviously don’t bring the same dynamic receiving ability to an offense that the Clemson product does, and the Broncos made sure Tyreek Hill (nine receptions for just 54 scoreless yards) didn’t beat them. So this week, it might be Watkins’ turn to put up numbers in some one-on-one matchups, and the home crowd for Kansas City could take away any momentum the Broncos had from their TNF victory over the one-win Cardinals. We still have a long way to go in 2018, and Joseph’s squad could surprise me, but it’ll be interesting to see what direction John Elway takes the franchise if they seek a new coach to pair with a long-term franchise quarterback following 24-year-old Chad Kelly’s arrest and subsequent release for events surrounding Von Miller’s Halloween party.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
CLE (2-4-1) @ PIT (3-2-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
On and off the field, teammates don’t get much better than JuJu Smith-Schuster; the 21-year-old did his best to win the Mega Millions so Le’Veon Bell could get paid, but $120 wasn’t enough to claim the winning ticket, meaning James Conner will lead the backfield once again in Week 8. The Pitt product handled an NFL season-high 36 touches for 192 yards and two touchdowns back in the opener against Cleveland, and he should be featured again this weekend as the Steelers look to knock the playoff-hopeful Browns to 2-5-1 and almost certainly out of the AFC North race. Of course, this will be Pittsburgh’s first shot at Baker Mayfield, and I expect the defense that’s second in the league with 22 sacks (despite having their bye) will want to get after the rookie, who has absorbed five sacks in each of the past three games. Unfortunately, the hits on Mayfield have seemed to cause some indecision on his part, as there were a couple plays in last week’s overtime loss that he didn’t pull the trigger on when a receiver was open. Growing pains are expected from a first-year quarterback transitioning from the Big 12, but the coaching staff needs to make sure he doesn’t lose confidence or pickup any bad habits. Riding the Nick Chubb and the running game to keep Big Ben on the sidelines sounds like the right formula for an upset, but I doubt Pittsburgh falls at home.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
WAS (4-2) @ NYG (1-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
This feels like a letdown spot for the Redskins following a couple hard-fought home victories, but there’s no telling where New York’s mindset is after trading two starting defenders, especially due to Odell Beckham Jr. and his fragile psyche already creating a negative culture for the organization. It’s amazing how people try to compare Beckham and his selfish antics with Tom Brady and his fiery demeanor, and they’re quick to forget that OBJ was completely invisible in his lone playoff game with four receptions for 28 yards and three drops, including a would-be touchdown. New York is 4-20 since that infamous boat trip prior to the postseason debut for Beckham, and while Eli Manning is certainly part of the problem, so-called Giants fans should be embarrassed if they agree with nonsense sites like Bleacher Report making fun of a guy that’s brought the city two Super Bowls; and it’s foolish to think “poor Odell” for a player that chose to sign for close to $100 million and knew the situation when he signed the dotted line. Also, change comes from the stars, and I don’t see Beckham changing anytime soon. On the other side of the field, Washington is being guided by veteran leaders Alex Smith and Adrian Peterson, and it could be a throwback performance for AD this weekend without Damon Harrison plugging up lanes in the running game. Win or lose, I’m taking calls on everyone besides Saquon Barkley and the rookie class by Monday morning if I’m the Giants.
Winner: Washington Redskins
SEA (3-3) @ DET (3-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The disbanding of the Legion of Boom hasn’t impacted Pete Carroll’s defense so far, as the unit is among the league leaders in passing yards per game allowed (206), touchdown-interception ratio allowed (8:9), opposing quarterback rating (79.9), and takeaways (13). Seattle has different players, but the scheme remains the same with a new crop of young talent making a name for themselves, and it’s worth noting that Matthew Stafford has struggled against the Seahawks in three-of-four matchups; three years ago, Stafford was limited to 203 passing yards and zero touchdowns in a 13-10 loss, and a playoff game in January of 2017 saw the Lions get shutdown, 26-6. This time, though, Detroit finally has a balanced offense thanks to Kerryon Johnson (19 carries for 158 yards in Week 7), but will it last? The Lions decided to reward Johnson’s previous 100-yard game with just nine carries the following week (a loss), and Matt Patricia simply hasn’t been eager to make the Auburn product his feature back despite a 3-0 record when he receives 12+ attempts. Being at home will help, but the Seahawks should be confident after a big win over the Raiders in London, and they’ve won four of their past five off the bye.
Winner: Seattle Seahawks
TB (3-3) @ CIN (4-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
A 4-1 start for the Bengals was washed away with a heartbreaking loss to the Steelers followed by a primetime collapse against the Chiefs, and both have become commonplace for Marvin Lewis’ squad for whatever reason. Andy Dalton appeared to have potentially turned a corner regarding his bright-light struggles when he tossed four touchdown passes in a Week 2 win over the Ravens, but he fell apart in Kansas City by locking onto A.J. Green due to some early success and not breaking out of it in an eventual 35-point loss. That said, Sunday should be a get-right matchup against the worst pass defense in the league—Tampa Bay is allowing 328 passing yards per game and an 18:1 touchdown-interception ratio—but Cincinnati would be wise to feed Joe Mixon in a variety of ways to take the pressure off Dalton. In the same category as Dalton (flashes of strong play combined with unpredictable errors), Jameis Winston shouldn’t be consistently costing his team behind an above-average offensive line with an elite group of skill-position players to throw to, but he is who he is at this point. The Bengals have been much better defensive at home than on the road, so we’ll see if that continues in a potential shootout. Overall, I have considerably more faith in Dalton than Winston to play mistake-free football for 60 minutes, but I have a feeling someone is going to throw a mind-numbing interception that changes the game in the fourth quarter.
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals
NYJ (3-4) @ CHI (3-3) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
The time for the Jets to make their move in the AFC is now, as they have three winnable games (@ CHI, @ MIA, v BUF) before the bye week and will then face New England twice over the final six games. No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold is on pace for 23 interceptions as a rookie, but it’s important to remember that he’s the youngest quarterback in the league, and turnovers were something that plagued him at USC. Basically, he wasn’t expected to suddenly cut down on the picks at the next level, and even coming off the worst start of his young career, Darnold has shown enough flashes to get excited. Facing the Bears at Soldier Field could be an intimidating atmosphere, but New York is likely going to have to attack through the air against the only defense in the league that hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown so far this season, especially with all-or-nothing runner Isaiah Crowell now leading the backfield. Perhaps a letdown is coming for Chicago after a down-to-the-wire loss to the Patriots, but I think this is going to be a complete game on both sides of the ball with the big names—Jordan Howard, Allen Robinson (though he hasn’t practiced as of Thursday), Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, etc.—all making an impact to support dual-threat playmaker Mitchell Trubisky.
Winner: Chicago Bears
BAL (4-3) @ CAR (4-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Ravens-Panthers should be one of the best games of Week 8, and while Baltimore is coming off an agonizing defeat that could come back to haunt them in a wide-open conference, Carolina proved that people shouldn’t forget about them in a top-heavy NFC by scoring 21 unanswered points on the road to beat the Eagles, 21-17. Cam Newton wasn’t perfect down the stretch in Philly, but he deserves credit for making the biggest plays when it mattered most, and a lot of teams wouldn’t have shown the same kind of fight facing a three-score deficit. This week, the entire offense needs to bring their A-game against what I believe to be the best defense in the league—it doesn’t seem realistic that it took until the fourth quarter of the team’s seventh game to allow a second-half touchdown—and the attack should run through Christian McCaffrey as a receiver to a) get him the ball in space, and b) avoid the stingy cornerback group that runs four deep. As for the Baltimore offense, Joe Flacco is playing arguably the best football of his career outside of the white-hot Super Bowl run, and at worst, Lamar Jackson is a wrinkle that opponents need to spend time during the week preparing for. On paper, Carolina would seem to have the corners to defend John Brown and Michael Crabtree with Donte Jackson and James Bradberry, respectively, but I like “Smokey” in particular to win his matchup more often than not, and Flacco should keep playing well in what I expect to be a close victory.
Winner: Baltimore Ravens
IND (2-5) @ OAK (1-5) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | CBS
People love to talk about the negative nowadays, but when it comes to Jon Gruden and the Raiders, it’s really just jealousy clouding judgment. The Super Bowl-winning head coach has a decade-long contract providing maximum job security, so why shouldn’t he build the team how he sees fit? Following the trade of Amari Cooper, the franchise has five first-round picks over the next two years—and they basically own Day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft—but no one wants to bring that up; or if they do, it’s to give a backhanded compliment about Dallas making a mistake by trading for the former Alabama star. Also, maybe the season is over if the roster doesn’t buy in, but there’s no chance Gruden himself folds, and I expect him to have a brilliant game plan in place for Week 8 with extra time to prepare for the Colts. My biggest concern is how well Derek Carr will be protected behind an offensive line that showed a lack of resolve when things didn’t go their way in 2017, so we’ll see how they hold up against an Indy team that’s fifth in the league in sacks (21). And for those who aren’t sold on Gruden but are still looking for a silver lining in the Silver and Black, keep an eye on rookie receiver Marcell Ateman over the final ten games of the year after he was promoted from the practice squad this week. I’ll probably be burned again, but I’m taking Oakland in the face of adversity.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
SF (1-6) @ ARI (1-6) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
It doesn’t get much lower for a franchise than getting completely blown out at home against a team that sounded like they would possibly fire their head coach with a loss, but that’s exactly what happened in Arizona last week. And to make matters worse, Patrick Peterson wanted to be traded until the Saints—his preferred destination according to his cousin and former NFL defensive back Bryant McFadden—were off the table because of their acquisition of Eli Apple. I don’t blame Peterson for wanting out, either, as the roster has far too much talent to be this bad, and his prime is being wasted under a coaching staff that’s utilizing him in a zone-heavy scheme after dominating as a man-to-man corner for seven years and seven Pro Bowl appearances. Plus, I would be extremely discouraged as a Cardinals fan if the 28-year-old’s desire to be elsewhere partly stems from not believing Josh Rosen is the answer at quarterback, because seeing the rookie in practice every day should give Peterson a pretty good idea about his future outlook. On the bright side, new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich might be able to jumpstart David Johnson by calling more outside runs and featuring 2016 First-Team All-Pro on more complex routes, but I’m picking the squad with the better coach and quarterback this week.
Winner: San Francisco 49ers
GB (3-2-1) @ LAR (7-0) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | FOX
Their respective records and the fact that Los Angeles is nearly a double-digit favorite makes this seem like it could be a lopsided affair, but I’m expecting Sunday’s matchup between the Packers and Rams to be a classic. Not only does Green Bay always have a chance with under Aaron Rodgers under center, but he’s also coming off back-to-back 400-yard games and should be rejuvenated with a week to rest his knee. Furthermore, Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison should both be back in the lineup, and Wade Phillips’ defense has been susceptible to opposing passing attacks since Aqib Talib (ankle) went down. And for what it’s worth, excluding last year when Rodgers was out of the lineup, Mike McCarthy is 9-2 coming out of the bye week. The two losses? Both against undefeated teams. I think the Packers certainly have a chance because shootouts can come down to a strange bounce or a great player—which we have on both sides—simply making a play, but it doesn’t seem like teams are going to be able to get in a shootout with Sean McVay’s offense and live to tell about it this year. The centerpiece is Todd Gurley and the running game, but McVay is going to love dialing up play-action passes for Jared Goff against a young secondary this week to put the league on notice if they weren’t already ahead of the nightcap.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
NO (5-1) @ MIN (4-2-1) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
I’m not sure an official nickname has been given to Stefon Diggs’ game-winning touchdown from January’s playoff thriller, but I do know that Saints fans should probably mute the televisions to avoid hearing NBC constantly bring it up. There’s no reason to expect the rematch to be anything less than awesome on Sunday night, as both teams remain loaded, and it should come down to the fourth quarter once again. Besides the obvious quarterback change in Minnesota, the difference this year might be New Orleans’ run defense, which is allowing just 3.1 yards per carry and 72.3 yards per game (both best in the league), but Latavius Murray is running as well as anyone and should be featured in the face of potential early struggles. Still, the Vikings are going to win or lose based on the arm of Kirk Cousins, and as was the case against the Packers (tie), Rams (loss), and Eagles (win), this is the kind of game that he was signed for. Defensively, Mike Zimmer’s squad has started to return to form, but with Xavier Rhodes battling an ankle injury, it’ll be interesting to see if/how he matches up against Michael Thomas. In general, Drew Brees, who has yet to throw an interception this year, might be able to carve up any weakness we’ve seen from the Vikings, so I think New Orleans gets their revenge and improves to 6-1 heading into a matchup with the Rams for first place in the NFC next week.
Winner: New Orleans Saints
NE (5-2) @ BUF (2-5) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
I know everyone thinks Josh Allen (elbow) isn’t good at football based on his completion percentage in college (how silly does that sound?), but just look at the results for Buffalo so far this season. In two games Allen didn’t start, they lost by a combined score of 84-8, and in the rookie’s five starts, they went 2-3 with an average point differential of -3.6 points per game. The rocket-armed 22-year-old is out again for Week 8, so even at home, it’s probably going to take a heroic effort from all 46 guys to somehow beat New England on Monday Night Football. If they pull it off, Tre’Davious White will have blanketed Josh Gordon on the perimeter, the pass rush would make Tom Brady see ghosts, and every trick play in the book would be pulled out with the fired-up crowd being a factor on a chilly night.
Winner: New England Patriots
Last week: 8-6 /// Overall: 48-59
Recommended picks last week: 4-1 /// Overall: 22-13
Dolphins (+7.5) @ Texans
Eagles (-3) @ Jaguars
Broncos @ Chiefs (-10)
Browns @ Steelers (-8.5)
Redskins (+1) @ Giants
Seahawks (+3) @ Lions
Buccaneers @ Bengals (-4.5)
Jets @ Bears (-7)
Ravens (-1.5) @ Panthers
Colts @ Raiders (+3)
49ers (+1) @ Cardinals
Packers (+9) @ Rams
Saints (+1) @ Vikings
Patriots (-14) @ Bills
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