NFL Week 8 Predictions: Roller Coaster Edition

Warning: the following contains more personal feelings than any sports talk. Read at your own risk, but remember I’ll always write anything I want here.

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. That’s what I did on Friday, and it turned out to be a great decision. I went to bed late last night with an overwhelming sense of peace. But life also can be a roller coaster you have no control over. The problem with feeling so high is that things can come crashing down quickly. I think my own roller coaster has a lot of up-and-down dips (pretty normal, right?). But in the last few years there have been some unbelievable high points that were met almost immediately with a huge drop. As if the universe didn’t want me to enjoy my position in life for even a day or two before something terrible came up.

On Saturday, I wasn’t expecting to wake up to the news that the latest mass shooting was only a few miles away. Anyone that’s been a student at a Pittsburgh campus has likely been to Squirrel Hill before. It’s one of the most diverse areas around. My favorite restaurant as a youth (Gullifty’s) was located there before it was shut down in the last decade. I wasn’t there to witness it because of school, but Gullifty’s was the place that served my grandma a hamburger without a beef patty after she had cataract surgery, and she didn’t even notice until several bites in. “Mmm, this burger is good,” she allegedly said. Silly little stories like that are the things you remember about local areas. It sickens me to know that Squirrel Hill will now forever be synonymous with mass shootings.

When despicable acts like this happen, just getting out of bed is hard. Talking about football feels pointless. I’m interested in several of the games this weekend, but I currently lack the motivation to write about them.

I’m sure Sunday will be a better day than Saturday as we start the ascending process all over again. I just know the next time things feel really great, I’m going to dread the inevitable descent back to reality.

The great thing about actual roller coasters is we have a choice not to ride them. I’ve never liked them. Unfortunately, we’re strapped in for life’s roller coaster, and people who have some control over where things head do not have our best interests in mind. I screwed up by not voting in 2016. I won’t do that again next week. Other than that, I’m not sure what else I can do right now but try to enjoy the ride whenever possible.

And how the fvck is it already Week 8?

NFL Week 8 Predictions

I had Houston winning on TNF, but Miami (+7.5) covering. That was silly, because Adam Gase’s Dolphins tend to only win close games or lose big. Duh, Scott.

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We have a major Disappointment Bowl to start Sunday in London with the Eagles vs. Jaguars. Both teams are 3-4. Since 1990, the only 3-4 teams to still reach the Super Bowl were the 1995 Steelers and 2001 Patriots, so it’s not looking too hot for these teams. The Jaguars apparently had a few players arrested in London already. I think Blake Bortles will play better to keep the leash longer on his job, but I have the Eagles pulling this one out 24-20 after getting enough mistakes from Bortles.

My favorite bet this week is Cincinnati -4. It’s a 1 p.m. home game, coming off a big loss, against a bad defense with a turnover-prone QB. This is Marvin Lewis in his element: a game called by Chris Myers and Daryl Johnson that no one is watching. I also like a teaser on the side of this week’s big favorites (PIT, KC, NE, LAR). Finally, I think the Giants steal one at home against the Redskins, though it’s not like Washington is an easy team to figure out this year.

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NFL Week 7 Predictions: With or Without Gronk Edition

Not feeling great this Saturday, so just time for a look at the game of the week.

Patriots at Bears

The Patriots are playing an Andy Reid-style offense for the second week in a row after allowing 40 points to the Chiefs (again) last week. The Bears are not nearly as talented at the skill positions, and Trubisky is a big downgrade from Patrick Mahomes, but I think the Bears can score 27+ on that defense. Plus it’s not like we haven’t seen so-so quarterbacks with a little mobility pick apart the Patriots before. See Blake Bortles this year or Jay Cutler last December. Home-field advantage should also help, though the Bears fans need to get up for this one against an unfamiliar opponent.

What would concern me is that the Patriots can usually neutralize one great pass-rusher on a defense (see games vs. J.J. Watt). The Bears don’t have a great running mate to help Khalil Mack out, and they weren’t even able to sack Brock Osweiler last week as he hit a career-high in passing yardage. Akiem Hicks isn’t a bad player, but if Mack can’t get pressure in this one, then it could get ugly. At least the Bears have been getting takeaways again, and in fact have had multiple takeaways in each game. They’ll need that against the Patriots, who aren’t protecting the ball as well this year (10 TO in six games) as in the past.

Perhaps the great equalizer is Rob Gronkowski missing the game, which sounds like it could be the case after he didn’t travel with the team. Gronk has missed 30 games in his career that Tom Brady started since 2010, and the splits with him in and out of the game are very interesting.

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Gronk being in the game raises Brady’s YPA by almost a full yard. Without Gronk, his numbers slip below the league average in completion percentage and YPA. The passer rating (87.7) is barely above league average in those 30 games. The QBR also shoots up 12 whole points with Gronk. He’s the league’s greatest cheat code among receiving weapons. The Bears can only be so lucky for him to miss this game.

I just can’t bring myself to trust Trubisky yet (in his first NE game) to sustain long drives, convert third downs, and finish in the red zone to take down a Belichick team that’s picking up steam. Beyond losing Gronk, don’t ignore that the running game has been very effective behind Sony Michel as of late, and they still have Josh Gordon, James White, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, etc. Maybe none of those players can replicate the insane YAC skills Albert Wilson showed off last week to bolster that Osweiler stat line, but that game gives me pause about trusting Chicago as a legit contender so quickly. Not to mention we have not seen good game management from Matt Nagy in holding these 11+ point leads against Green Bay and Miami (both lost).

Final: Patriots 27, Bears 23

NFL Week 7 Predictions

I had Denver winning on TNF, but did not expect Arizona to put up one of the worst performances by any team this season. Someone had to get fired from that one, and someone (Mike McCoy, again) did.

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I’m feeling a teaser this week with Titans (rebound from 11-sack disaster), Dolphins, Panthers, Colts, Jets to not lose by more than 10, and I really like Dallas in Washington. I also think Drew Brees can notch a win over the Ravens for the first time in his career. I know I should go with the home team that plays defense there, but I think the Saints are a complete offense and can get it done in any way possible with the running back duo and Brees with his receivers. As long as the D isn’t getting killed deep by the likes of John Brown, I like the Saints there.

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NFL Week 6 Predictions: AFC Game of the Year 2.0 Edition

Just have time for a quick look at some of the big AFC matchups in Week 6.

Chiefs at Patriots (-3)

The Chiefs were already involved in the Game of the Year last week, and used a Blake Bortles pick parade to march towards an easy win. Here they are again in a more legitimate Game of the Year, because it’s Sunday night in New England. With any luck, the Chiefs will have three more Game of the Year events, including a November matchup with the Rams, a potential rematch (JAX/NE) in the AFC Championship Game, and a potential rematch (Rams) in Super Bowl 53.

But before we talk about any Super Bowl with this team, beating New England at least once is crucial to that. Winning on Sunday night would go a long way in making sure a rematch happens at Arrowhead. The Chiefs could then finish 12-4 and the Patriots would have to win out (10-0) to guarantee a playoff seed above KC. That doesn’t look plausible with this roster in a season where few teams are standing out, but you can get a good fight almost any week.

If the game was in Arrowhead — past playoff disasters aside — I think the Chiefs would be an easy pick to win this week. But it’s at Gillette Stadium where you virtually can’t lose the turnover battle, can’t fall behind by 7+ points, and can’t allow 27+ points if you expect to win. Then again, the Chiefs did ALL of those things on opening night in 2017 and still won 42-27 behind big nights for Alex Smith and Kareem Hunt. Now the offense looks even more loaded with Patrick Mahomes taking over and the addition of Sammy Watkins to the wide receivers.

But I’m not sure Andy Reid can win with an offense-first mentality two years in a row in NE. That’s generally not the way to beat Tom Brady at home, and unless Mahomes pulls off some 2012 Colin Kaepernick magic in this one (that crazy 2012 SF game), I think this is a game where KC’s defense gets exposed and he has to play from behind too much, leading to mistakes against Bill Belichick’s defense. This is a game where the Chiefs really miss someone like Eric Berry to cover Rob Gronkowski. Not to mention the Patriots have a full arsenal now with a white security blanket for Brady (Julian Edelman), a receiving back (James White), and a freak athlete (Josh Gordon). That’s a tough matchup for any defense, let alone one that has struggled as much as the 28th-ranked Chiefs. Justin Houston or Dee Ford will have to have a lights out game off the edge in pressuring Brady, but I just don’t see it this time around.

It also should help that the Patriots had a few extra days to prepare for this one after playing last Thursday.

Final: Patriots 34, Chiefs 24

Steelers at Bengals (-1)

Games rarely get much bigger in Cincinnati than this one as it’s a chance for the Bengals to move to 5-1 and give themselves some nice distance over the rest of the AFC North. However, Marvin Lewis is 2-13 at home against Pittsburgh. It’s one of the crazier stats in NFL history, but it’s legit, and a lot of it can be seen in Ben Roethlisberger’s splits in those games. He’s thrown multiple interceptions six times against the Bengals in 30 games, but all six of those games happened at Heinz Field, including some of the worst passing performances of his career (2006, 2012, 2015).

Roethlisberger is 23-2 when his passer rating is at least 75.0 against the Bengals, so it usually takes a poor day from him for the Bengals to win. Cincinnati usually does well against Antonio Brown, but JuJu Smith-Schuster actually has 77 more yards on 13 fewer targets than Brown this season. While Roethlisberger threw two touchdowns to Brown last week, I think he’d be best advised to not force the ball there this week.

Pittsburgh’s defense had been struggling this year, but last week against a very good Atlanta offense it showed some promise. They held the Falcons to 17 points, didn’t let Julio Jones catch a pass until the 3rd quarter, and also got a fumble return TD. The pass rush has been generally good this year, and that will be key to get after Andy Dalton. When the pass rush doesn’t get there, this secondary can look as bad as any in the league. The Bengals also are getting a big third-year boost from Tyler Boyd, who has as many targets as A.J. Green and only trails him by 16 receiving yards. They did lose Tyler Eifert at tight end again, but Boyd is looking like a legit No. 2 option. They need it with receiving back Giovani Bernard out until November.

These teams definitely hate each other, so I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of several 15-yard flags. That could be bad news for an undisciplined Pittsburgh team that has racked up penalties this season. I understand why the Bengals are a slight 1-point favorite, but I basically don’t know of an NFL universe where Cincinnati wins games like this, so I still lean towards the Steelers pulling off the win. The Bengals have been living on the edge all year and have three fourth-quarter comebacks already to get to 4-1.

Final: Steelers 26, Bengals 23

NFL Week 6 Predictions

I had the Eagles beating the Giants on TNF, and I also thought it’d be a better game than that.

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I think the spreads are too high for the Vikings and Texans here. Arizona has been more competitive since benching Sam Bradford, and neither the Vikings nor Texans (two OT wins by 3 points) have beat anyone by double-digits this season. Of course I can be wrong here (see below), but this has been a bad season for double-digit favorites covering and I think that continues here. I don’t however think we see a straight-up loss by any of the four teams favored by a touchdown or more.

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NFL Week 5 Predictions: Matchup of the Year Edition

Before we get to my misery of picking a Falcons-Steelers Super Bowl, let’s look at the best matchup of the season in Arrowhead.

Jaguars at Chiefs (-3): I really like what the Rams are doing offensively, and the Bears have been stellar defensively with Khalil Mack. But for my money, there’s no better matchup right now than Kansas City’s offense against Jacksonville’s defense. I’m glad we get to see it early this season when both units are relatively healthy. Patrick Mahomes has been passing every test so far in keeping this offense ahead of the porous defense in KC. The Jaguars have been really sharp offensively in two of the last three games, but you’re starting to see some injuries pile up there at RB (Leonard Fournette) and LT (Cam Robinson on IR). I still think a mobile QB with some playmaking WRs can cause real problems for Bob Sutton’s defense, so it could be another game where Mahomes has to score 27+ to win.

That’s really hard against Jacksonville, but I think it can be done if Andy Reid continues to move Tyreek Hill around. Don’t fall into the pissing match with Jalen Ramsey, and just move him around the field to get matched up with other receivers. They also have a lot of flexibility with Travis Kelce, and Kareem Hunt finally got it going on the ground last week in Denver. There’s going to be a day where Mahomes is off and this team loses, but I think they can get to 5-0 for the second year in a row. This should be a good one.

Falcons at Steelers (-3): I feel like I’m paying for picking these teams to make the Super Bowl in Atlanta this year. Did you see this stat?

THESE TWO TEAMS ACCOUNT FOR 3 OF THE 4 LOSSES SINCE 1940. That’s the kind of nutty offensive shit that is the 2018 season, but I still can’t believe this keeps happening here. Maybe if the field is in poor shape after a rainy Pitt game on Saturday, then the under (58) might actually hit. Maybe these teams will actually decide to play defense. At least in Pittsburgh’s case, it’s not injuries like it is for Atlanta, which will also be without Grady Jarrett. For the Steelers to lose two home games already, it’s not so bad when you consider one was a Mahomes masterpiece, and Baltimore has given Pittsburgh problems at home in a way only New England surpasses this century. The Falcons are an unfamiliar opponent, but I think Dan Quinn’s defense can be picked apart by Ben Roethlisberger. They may even get the running game more involved this week after knowing they’ve gone away from it lately, and with all of Atlanta’s injuries right down the middle of the field (DT/LB/S), James Conner needs to get more involved. Just can’t afford to get behind 14-0 or 21-0 again.

Then again, maybe it’s another shootout. It was in 2002 and 2006 between these teams; games that went to OT (so did 2010’s low-scoring game with Roethlisberger suspended). Or maybe it’s more like the last meeting in 2014 (27-20) where the offenses were very efficient in a limited-drive game, but the Steelers had a big pick-6 and did just enough on defense.

Just enough is enough D for these teams. But the fact that one is likely to go into Week 6 with one win is depressing for my vision of 2018.

NFL Week 5 Predictions

I nailed the TNF game, because let’s face it, Colts-Patriots hasn’t changed in two decades. The Indianapolis QB has the weight of the world on his shoulders with the weaker team and coach, and things just come so easier for the other guy. At least the Manning-era games were more dramatic.

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I’m digging the Steelers to win at home, and I like a teaser this week with three of the 6-point favorites (TEN, CIN, NO) and also SEA (+13.5). I also like the Cardinals to win their first game.

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