If you like mediocre NFC football, you’re going to love the major TV games for NFL Week 8. Of the eight teams in the four key national spots (Thursday, late Sunday afternoon, Sunday night and Monday), five of them are NFC teams that are .500 are lower. It’s time for Washington, St. Louis, Carolina, Minnesota and Tampa Bay to bask in the national spotlight.
The networks can at least breathe a sigh of relief in having Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and possibly the best team in the NFL with Seattle to fill out the card. But it’s an ugly week as TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis breaks down the TV schedule of Week 8.
And the entertainment value of this column comes from the picks made against that line. I’m in the midst of a carnage that makes me feel like a Vikings quarterback right around now. I’ve lost four of seven weeks, including each of the last two. In terms of the bottom line, last week’s (-655) bloodletting, leaves me in a (-1865) hole for the year.
Carolina (-280) Tampa Bay (+230) (Thur, 8:25 PM ET, NFL): This Thursday night matchup won’t exactly deter those of us who are critical of the NFL for insisting on forcing a game every week into this spot. Cam Newton’s played two straight good games and Tampa Bay deals every day with rumors of Greg Schiano’s firing.
But the Panthers are nothing if not inconsistent, the Buccaneers do have some talent on the defensive side. I’d like to take a shot with the home underdog here, but without Doug Martin in the lineup, I don’t see how Tampa gets any offense going. It’s likely a Carolina win, and another ugly Thursday affair.
Washington (+435) Denver (-570) (4:25 PM ET, Fox): Denver’s defensive flaws were put on display last Sunday night in Indianapolis, while Washington’s have been on display all year. The Redskins do appear to have RG3 back in rhythm, and he’s found a new target in Jordan Reed. The Washington quarterback has a sense for the big moment and the national stage against Peyton Manning qualifies. I expect the Redskins to put up a lot of points.
The issue will be whether Peyton just outguns the Redskins, and given how bad the Washington defense is at tackling, it’s easy to see Manning just picking this defense apart with precision passing and letting receivers like Julius Thomas do their damage after the catch. Washington has to turn Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo loose on blitz packages from the outset and just keep coming.
I think Washington is worth the underdog price, and not just because I’m a fan. I didn’t feel the ‘Skins were worth it in Green Bay in Week 2, but with a healthy RG3 and maybe a little extra intangible edge from Mike Shanahan returning to Denver an upset is at least possible enough to merit a shot at (+435).
Green Bay (-400) Minnesota (+320) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): There was a time when Minnesota on their homefield was a bad matchup for Green Bay–like Week 17 of last season when the Vikings played their way into the playoffs. But the Minnesota defensive front isn’t what it was in 2012, and Green Bay now has a running game with Eddie Lacy that can slow the pass rush against Aaron Rodgers.
Those two reasons alone make the Packers worth the hefty price tag, and then add in all of the Viking chaos right now. Christian Ponder has clearly lost the confidence of the organization, but has to start with Josh Freeman having a concussion. Adrian Peterson isn’t playing well and is coming off a personal tragedy. Some strange things have happened to the Packers in the Metrodome, but Sunday night shouldn’t be one of them.
Seattle (-580) St. Louis (+440) (Mon, 8:30 PM ET, ESPN): Seattle comes into this game with a lot of prep time, having played last Thursday night in Arizona. The combination of the Seahawks’ running game and Russell Wilson’s mobility will serve to neutralize the Rams’ biggest strong, which is their ability to get consistent pressure off the edges in the 4-3 defense.
Against this, St. Louis throws Kellen Clemens to the wolves in his first start of the year, with Sam Bradford now sidelined the rest of the season. This game screams mismatch, and I’ll take the Seahawks. Game 5 of the World Series is scheduled for Monday in St. Louis–how many locals will actually choose the Rams over the baseball Cardinals?
Two games in the early 1 PM ET window will be seen by large chunks of the country…
Miami (+215) New England (-260) (1 PM ET, CBS): Cameron Wake has to have his best game of the year for the Miami Dolphins. If the defensive end can generate some heat, the Fish can keep Tom Brady off balance and continue the rough season the Patriot quarterback is going through. If not, it’s going to be dependent on Ryan Tannehill to keep pace with the New England offense and that’s not a place where you want to be.
I picked New England to lose in key games to New Orleans and Atlanta that they won. I took them to win over the Jets and Bengals in road games they lost. Inspired by that track record, I’m confidently picking the Patriots to win and sending all of New England into despair.
Dallas (+140) Detroit (-165) (1 PM ET, Fox): As impressive as the Dallas defense was in the shutdown win at Philadelphia last week, the Cowboy offense still has problems and it’s asking a lot for this team to win two straight road games against comparable opponents. Detroit’s loss at home to Cincinnati last week was disappointing, but it’s also tough to see the Lions losing two straight in Ford Field to comparable opponents. That’s why I pick Detroit.
And the rest of the card will be seen by mostly local audiences…
NY Jets (+215) Cincinnati (-260): It’s too bad CBS doesn’t have the doubleheader this week, because this game, along with Miami-New England, deserve some wider exposure. The Jets are up to 4-3 and the Bengals are leading the AFC North at 5-2. It’s tough to see New York winning two big games in a row though, especially with this one on the road.
Buffalo (+415) New Orleans (-540): The Saints have had two weeks to stew over blowing that game in Foxboro in the closing seconds of Week 6 and are coming off a bye, playing at home. The Bills are due for a letdown after a nice win over the Dolphins. New Orleans is worth the stiff price tag.
Atlanta (+120) Arizona (-140): Roddy White is still up in the air as to whether he’ll play, and Arizona is playing at home with some extra prep time after playing last Thursday night. I get why they’re favored, but I’m picking the Falcons. If White is in the lineup, I think Atlanta is still significantly better. Without White, I think Matt Ryan can get the ball to Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez enough times to win a tight battle.
Cleveland (+295) Kansas City (-360): Jason Campbell gets the call in Cleveland, as the Browns are committed to moving past the Brandon Weeden era as fast as possible. It’s hard to believe Kansas City as an 8-0 team, but another easy home game gets them there.
Pittsburgh (-125) Oakland (+105): I loved what I saw from Le’Veon Bell in the running game for Pittsburgh last week, and I’m ready to believe they can keep it going. That’s enough for them to win in Oakland and the price is cheap.
NY Giants (+185)Philadelphia (-220): We’ll see if Eli Manning’s ability to make it through the Monday night win over Minnesota without throwing an interception carries over against a better team on the road. I’m a little skittish about the high price on the Eagles, but Michael Vick will be back and the offensive atrocity they put on against the Cowboys last week was likely an aberration.
San Francisco (-1400) Jacksonville (+850) (London): There have been two games in London. First, it’s the Steelers-Vikings when both teams were 0-4. Now it’s the Jaguars. If I were the Brits, I’d be asking the U.S. if we’re still bitter about that whole Stamp Tax thing. The Niners are nicked up almost everywhere, and the combination of this huge price tag and the variable of the overseas trip is enough to give one brief pause. After that pause one says “get real, this is the Jaguars”, and dutifully picks San Fran.
Six teams have byes this week, accounting for the lighter schedule. Chicago is off in the NFC, three AFC South teams (Indy, Houston, Tennessee) are catching their breath and San Diego has also hit its schedule break.