This feels like a make-or-break week for a lot of people, including Vegas, who apparently took a bath last week as a bunch of big public teams covered. That doesn’t happen often! And you can see the market correction: the Chiefs and Rams are both double-digit favorites, while a bunch of different teams like the Giants and Raiders are being completely discounted because of their decision to trade everyone away.
The public is taking sides and slamming their tickets down from last week demanding a double down on trendy favorites with big spreads who looked good last week.
We are flying in the face of everything we saw last week and taking some teams that are less popular. Let’s go.
Ravens (-2) at Panthers
Do not care to take road chalk here, but I firmly believe the Ravens are a better team. They’re coming off a tough loss to the Saints at home where, if the defense does its job in the fourth quarter, Baltimore easily wins. And Carolina was down 17-0 in the fourth quarter to the Eagles — if Philly’s defense does its job, the Panthers lose. That’s not to discredit Drew Brees and Cam Newton and their outstanding late-game play, but the point is that this line is way different if two good defenses keep two good quarterbacks from pulling off two fairly unlikely — but good! — comebacks.
The line continues to move in Baltimore’s direction, so I like the value here and it reminds me a lot of the Ravens visiting the Titans a few weeks ago. At the very least it would be stunning if this is a blowout, which gives Baltimore a chance to win a close game on the road against a team that doesn’t take the top off offensively.
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Buccaneers (+4.5) at Bengals
Cincinnati is not a very good football team right now, even though there’s probably some overreaction coming based on their loss to the Chiefs on Sunday night, a humiliating 45-10 egg in Arrowhead on primetime. This is a great spot for Cincy to bounce back — at home, 1 p.m. ET kick, no one watching, a bad Tampa team coming in. Right?
Except the Bengals … aren’t good. Their defense is falling apart right now and the Buccaneers are a similar team to the Chiefs. No, seriously: they average 6.7 yards per play (fourth in the NFL, behind only the Chiefs, Rams and Chargers) and can’t really stop anyone from passing (Bucs are worst in yards per game, KC is next to last) but can secretly slow down the run (Tampa gives up four yards a carry, the Chiefs give up 5.2). Tampa isn’t as exciting or as well-coached by any means, but they’re also a big dog here. The Bengals haven’t topped 30 in any of the three games since they lost Tyler Eifert, and they only managed nine points against the Falcons in the second half after Eifert went down. Could be a shootout, but I don’t think it’s a blowout.
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Vikings (PK) vs. Saints
Again, the Saints are getting a ton of action because they’re the popular team du jour after storming back on the Ravens. They want revenge. Well, the Vikings want to win too, buddy boy. And they might be a more balanced team: Kirk Cousins is living up to his contract somehow, Adam Thielen is doing things even Jerry Rice never did, Stefon Diggs might be due for a home breakout game and Minnesota is getting Everson Griffen back. I don’t know if he’ll play in this game, but the defense should be keyed up with an important player returning.
This is an enormous game: the Saints are trying to keep pace with the Rams, but the Vikings are in maybe the toughest division in football and would have a huge tiebreaker advantage for playoff purposes if they can win this game. It’s going to be a battle, but I’ll take the team with the underrated homefield advantage not giving points in this heavyweight affair. (He said, as he continues to fade the Saints week after week for some stupid reason.)
Cardinals (+1) vs. 49ers
Right back to the well. I can’t quit the Cardinals. But the 49ers shouldn’t be favored over anyone on the road, especially with Arizona in a situation with 10 days rest having fired their offensive coordinator.
There will be a serious impetus to using David Johnson correctly (read: not running him into the middle of the line), and it should be difficult for the 49ers to prep defensively for what Byron Leftwich draws up for Josh Rosen. We’ve never seen Leftwich as a playcaller, so that’s a little unnerving, but there are zero tendencies to draw on for San Francisco as they prep for this game. Against a decent/good opponent with a decent/good defense, I wouldn’t want to be backing the terrible home underdog, but if they get any kind of a bump from their offense this week, the Cardinals should win this game.
Browns (+8) at Steelers
Cleveland has played everyone except the Chargers close this year. Baker Mayfield’s starting to find some rhythm and Nick Chubb is being featured. They need some pass catchers here to go along with Jarvis Landry, but David Njoku is profiling like a potential stud. The Steelers are coming off a bye and will score points, but the Browns have the ability to catch up as well and their defense is plenty stout enough to turn this into a mud fight. Give me Cleveland to keep it close.
BONUS UNDERDOG OF THE WEEK OF THE YEAR
Raiders (+3) vs. Colts
Love the Colts. Think the Colts are great. But this is a “ride or die” spot for the Raiders, who are burning it all to the ground right now in search of that No. 1 overall pick and tons of extra draft capital. Andrew Luck is a better quarterback than Derek Carr and the Raiders defense can’t stop anyone.
But they shouldn’t be a three-point dog here. They stink, sure. But a three-point dog at home to a two-win team? Come on. The public is reacting to the Colts putting up a ton of points on the Bills and the Raiders cratering. Give me the home team making one last stand.
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