2017 NFL Picks Week 8: Going Back to the Data and Thoughts on Carson Wentz
I’m sorry, I’m still in some pain from last week’s “performance.” Jay Cutler’s and Jameis Winston’s injuries somehow opened the door for comebacks, the Bears’ defense scored more points than both teams’ offenses combined, and Atlanta apparently fed their playbook to Bill Belichick before their game in New England. Seriously, look at how positive Kyle Van Noy is jumping this jet sweep.
Ugh. Needless to say, I’m disappointed in 2017’s results so far, but I’m trying to focus more on analytics in an effort to turn things around this week. No more picking the 49ers as underdogs because they’ve kept games close; their team sucks, and they deserve to be underdogs even if they occasionally make games close. No more counting on terrible quarterbacks like Josh McCown to preserve leads late in games; the Jets make can make any disappointment possible. We’re going to take a sound, logical approach, consider the statistics, and make our decisions from there.
Miami Dolphins +3.5 at Baltimore Ravens
Except for this game. I made this pick early, on the belief that Miami would be far better without Jay Cutler at quarterback. They weren’t. Instead of dwelling on that, I want to draw attention to the insane click-baity headlines from various outlets asking if this is the best Ravens defense of all time. They gave up 26 points to Case Keenum just last week and managed a shutout against Miami. Let’s settle down.
Los Angeles Chargers +7.5 at New England Patriots
The big question following New England’s dominant win over Atlanta last week seems to be whether or not the Patriots have solved their early-season defensive woes. They limited Matt Ryan and co. to just 7 garbage-time points one week after holding Tampa Bay to 14 points in their Week 6 victory. Sure, Atlanta’s offense is still ranked 7th in the league in DVOA, but they’re a far cry from last year’s record-setting squad, and it isn’t as though Atlanta couldn’t move the ball; they racked up 353 yards of offense but fell apart in the red zone on 3 different trips. I don’t think New England has figured out their defensive problems just yet, so they’ll still need Tom Brady and the offense to carry them to victory. The Chargers present them with the biggest defensive challenge they’ve faced since the Chiefs with Eric Berry back in Week 1, and bring two of the game’s best edge rushers into the game in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. I don’t know if Los Angeles can pull off the upset, but they can definitely keep it within a touchdown unless Philip Rivers self-destructs.
Oakland Raiders +2.5 at Buffalo Bills
Oakland, like New England, appeared to regain some of the playoff-contender form we expected coming into the season in their dramatic win over Kansas City. It took them a few tries to score the game-winning touchdown, but the penalties called were legitimate. More importantly, Amari Cooper emerged from the cave he’d been hiding in to haul in 11 catches for 210 yards, reminding us of what the Raiders’ offense is capable of when all of Derek Carr’s weapons are playing. Buffalo managed a narrow victory over Tampa Bay last week despite knocking Jameis Winston out of the game early. It took a late interception from Ryan Fitzpatrick to set the Bills up in field goal range with less than a minute left. Sure, I’m bitter about them turning what seemed like a sure cover into a push, but it’s important to move on. The Raiders are a better team as long as their offense is operating like they did last season, and I expect them to win this game outright.
Carolina Panthers +2.5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I didn’t check to see if Generous Jameis Winston would be back on the field this game, and I don’t much care. The Panthers looked abominable in their loss to the Bears last week, but they still would have escaped with a win if not for two extremely fluky defensive touchdowns, both of which started in Bears’ territory. The Bears defense isn’t as good as they look, but they rank a solid 13th in defensive DVOA and 7th in Adjusted Sack Rate. The Buccaneers defense ranks 32nd in both metrics. While their defense struggles to pressure Cam Newton, their offense will have to contend with heavy pressure from the Panthers’ defensive front, and I don’t think Winston or Fitzpatrick are equipped to keep up. Carolina’s the better team, and they’re getting the points. Let’s keep it simple.
Atlanta Falcons -4.5 at New York Jets
I know the Falcons looked terrible last week. I know they didn’t look much better the week after that, blowing a 17-point halftime lead at home against Buffalo. I don’t care, because the Jets are worse than everyone but the Colts, the Browns, and Blake Bortles. I refuse to believe Atlanta has fallen far enough to let us down against Josh McCown and the Jets.
New Orleans Saints -7.5 vs. Chicago Bears
The Bears are somehow 3-4 after seven weeks with wins against the Steelers, Ravens, and Panthers. It doesn’t mean they’re a good team. Somehow they won last week’s matchup despite rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky attempting 7 passes all game. That’s absurd! Drew Brees and the Saints’ 3rd-ranked offense will put far more pressure on the Chicago offense, and the Bears’ 30th ranked offense won’t be able to respond, especially in New Orleans. Picture the Saints’ win against the Lions in Week 6, only without the Matthew Stafford-led comeback that made the game close at the end.
Pittsburgh Steelers -3 at Detroit Lions
Speaking of Matthew Stafford, he’ll be facing a big test in Pittsburgh’s 2nd-ranked defense. Detroit’s defense has been surprisingly strong as well, ranking 7th in DVOA, but they’ll have to deal with a Steelers offense ranked 5th. The Steelers will put pressure on Detroit on both sides of the ball, and unless Jim Caldwell can leverage his team’s massive special teams advantage (1st in the NFL vs. 21st) to make up for their deficiencies elsewhere, the Lions will be falling to 3-4.
Washington Redskins +2 vs. Dallas Cowboys
Washington let me down last week by blowing their lead against the Eagles (yes, I should have known better) and amateur magician Carson Wentz. I’m not ready to give up on them just yet, especially when they’re ranked 9th in total DVOA compared to Dallas’ 14th. The Cowboys destroyed another of my picks last week, blowing out the 49ers in San Francisco, but I have to admit I can’t remember why I thought C.J. Beathard could accomplish anything against an NFL defense. I was probably playing our Sunday Night Football drinking game when I made the pick. Dallas might be ranked 26th in defensive DVOA, but you could see the blowout coming the moment Dallas took the lead. Now the Cowboys are giving two points on the road against a competent team, and they haven’t impressed in that situation this year, getting blown out by the Broncos and squeaking out a win in Arizona. Washington will be desperate in this game, at home, and with a better all-around team. I’ll take the points.
Philadelphia Eagles -10 vs. San Francisco 49ers
Last night’s Monday Night Football matchup was my first opportunity to watch a full game of Carson Wentz since early last year. I was skeptical of the Eagles’ hot start last year, and of Wentz as a good NFL quarterback, but a year of experience has definitely changed things. I still don’t think he’s as good as the occasionally rabid Philadelphia fan base makes him out to be, but he’s definitely legit. The Eagles have an advantage in every statistical category, the 49ers are traveling east for a morning kickoff, and C.J. Beathard is still the quarterback for San Francisco. The only thing working against me here is my Philly jinx. Obviously, the Niners will win by two touchdowns.
That's all for this week! Kick back, relax, and feel free to blame me if you put money on these picks and come out behind. I won't compensate you, but maybe your significant others will send their wrath in my direction instead of yours.