2016 NFL Picks: Week 8
Last Week: 4-4
- Dallas Cowboys -4.5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Atlanta Falcons -3 vs. Green Bay Packers
- Oakland Raiders +1 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Kansas City Chiefs -3 at Indianapolis Colts
A small, idealistic part of me is annoyed with the NFL for scheduling a matchup as dismal and disheartening as Titans-Jaguars in a primetime slot, but most of me is relieved to skip it with absolutely zero fear of missing out. No, I won't abbreviate that phrase, and you can't make me!
I tried to mix learning back into the mystery methodology last week, but the result was mediocrity. Going 4-4 feels better than usual on the heels of an 0-7-1 showing, but it isn't far ahead of tonight's game on the excitement scale. It's actually similar to the Cardinals-Seahawks 6-6 tie from Sunday night or any recent DC Comics movie: long, drawn-out, and ultimately pointless. It's clear I need to improve, but the amount of contradictory information week-to-week makes it difficult. If you haven't been paying as much attention as I, congratulations on your productive life. Also, take a look at these bizarre events through seven weeks:
- The Miami Dolphins fell to 1-4 after losing to the Tennessee Titans at home, but rebounded to beat the 4-1 Steelers and the 4-2 Bills.
- The Philadelphia Eagles pummeled Pittsburgh, lost to the Lions and Redskins, and vanquished the previously undefeated Vikings.
- The Cleveland Browns have lost three of their seven games by less than seven points!
If that isn't enough to convince you this season is bonkers, I don't know what could be. Much of the confusion can be attributed to the glaring weaknesses of even the best teams: the Vikings and Seahawks have offensive lines ranging from "injured" to "Notre Dame against Alabama in the 2013 BCS Championship"; the Patriots have the league's 25th-ranked pass defense; Pittsburgh occasionally decides not to play (see: Miami and Philadelphia above) and is stuck starting Landry Jones for the next few weeks; Green Bay's offense is somehow holding them back.
So, what does this mean for picking games? It means overall team performance might not be as useful as evaluating specific examples of one team's strengths lining up nicely with another's weaknesses. This would have come in handy last week when I picked the Vikings to cover against the Eagles; knowing Philadelphia's defense is stellar against the pass and weak against the run is important when their opponent boasts the NFL's worst rushing attack. Let's use that as a jumping-off point for our Week 8 Picks:
Dallas Cowboys -4.5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Cowboys might be the Vikings' polar opposite. They've used arguably the NFL's best offensive line to produce a league-leading rushing attack and plenty of time for their rookie quarterback to avoid mistakes that could otherwise expose their middling defense. A lot of things went right for the Eagles last week, including a kickoff return touchdown, five Minnesota fumbles, and a pressure-induced red zone interception by Sam Bradford. Philadelphia won't be able to dominate the line of scrimmage when their defense is on the field, which places more pressure on Carson Wentz to extend drives and avoid turnovers. Despite the well-deserved credit King Wentzeslas has received, the Philly offense is 24th in DVOA, making them unlikely to force the ball into Dak Prescott's hands. I expect to see another week of old-school, ground-based dominance from the Dallas offensive line wear down their opponent until the game gets out of reach.
Atlanta Falcons -3 vs. Green Bay Packers
I've been slow to embrace the Falcons this season, but I won't dock them too many points for losing to Phil Rivers and the Chargers last week. Rivers is clearly a wizard on a mission to prove you don't need healthy offensive weapons if your quarterback places every ball perfectly and dominates the sideline reaction game. It even makes some sense when you consider the Falcons are ranked 24th against the pass this year. Normally that would suggest a dominant performance from Aaron Rodgers, but the Packers just haven't been themselves on offense, ranking 13th in pass DVOA and 20th in rush DVOA. I still don't want to see my Bears line up across from Mr. Discount Doublecheck twice a year, but it no longer haunts my Saturday night dreams. The Packers have been kept afloat by their defense for a change, but a strong rush defense is the primary driver of their 7th-place DVOA ranking. Atlanta has been stellar running (6th) and passing (3rd) en route to the second-best offensive DVOA through Week 7; I don't think the Green Bay defense will slow the Falcons' aerial attack enough to keep up in the Georgia Dome.
Oakland Raiders +1 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One of my four wins last week resulted from the Raiders somehow going into Jacksonville as a one-point underdog. This week, they're getting the same treatment against a better Florida team. I don't think Tampa is as good as their record indicates, though; their three came against the Falcons in Week 1 (fair enough), the Derek Anderson-led Carolina Panthers, and the San Francisco 49ers, who now sport the NFL's second-worst point differential. The Raiders point differential isn't stellar, either; at +6, they're far behind any other team with five wins, but well ahead of Tampa's -31. Oakland's 5th-ranked offense should be able to score on Tampa's 15th-ranked defense, and if they do, Jameis Winston might start taking risks to catch up. That hasn't worked well, as he's tied for third in the league with nine interceptions. The Raiders' defense is sixth in the NFL with seven picks, so I'm hoping it plays out like Tampa's games against Arizona or Denver. I'm also hoping the Raiders stayed in Florida this week to mitigate the adverse effects of coast-to-coast travel.
Kansas City Chiefs -3 at Indianapolis Colts
Let's get this out of the way early: I love Andrew Luck. His late-game magic, his willingness to stay in the pocket long after it has crumbled and filled with the flailing forms of what passes for his offensive line, and his rapport with T.Y. Hilton are all extremely entertaining. Unfortunately for Mr. Luck, his General Manager is handicapped by his star quarterback's contract and can't assemble a good defense. Wait, what? He's blaming the (brand-new) contract of one of his three good players for his atrocious drafts, trades, and free agent signings? I really need to get a job in the NFL so I can start redirecting blame so easily. Anyway, Kansas City has the league's 13th-ranked defense and 18th-ranked offense. Andrew Luck has MacGyvered the league's 14th-ranked offense, but the Colts defense is ranked 31st despite playing in the AFC South! Total DVOA places the Chiefs 12th and the Colts 27th, so I think they'll cover three points on the road.
Have a happy Halloweekend, cap it off with an easy drinking game Sunday night, and we'll see you next week!