NFL WEEK EIGHT
What I've learned through seven weeks of NFL play this season:
- Buffalo will win a few games before the season's over
- Oakland will become a contender over the next three years
- Teams have figured out how to beat New Orleans
- Dallas has leadership issues and needs veteran help
- It's no fun for anyone when games are blacked out
- Tennessee is good enough to reach the Super Bowl
- Any team can beat any other team on any given week
There are no particularly potent slices of brain food on that list, I know. But you have to admit, it's been a wild season thus far in several regards. Last week's 7-7 record brings me to 56-48 overall, but I know I'll ruin things with the number of upsets I've predicted for Week 8. When the games pan out, I'll either look like a fool, or I'll look like a lucky fool. Let's find out:
Green Bay (4-3) @ N.Y. Jets (5-1)
The New Meadowlands will be awash in a Sea of Green this Sunday as the Packers and Jets compare notes on how lucky they both are to have “moved on” from the Brett Favre days. New York has only allowed 12 QB hits this season, compared to 20+ for every other NFL team, so the Pack pass rush won’t have much effect. Both teams sport capable pass defenses, but Gotham can run the ball, and plans to do so early and often to control the line of scrimmage. If Aaron Rodgers can toss a few aerial bombs to keep the 747s at bay, he just might be able to shut down the airport. Too bad George Kennedy is a Jets fan.
Woody’s Winner: New York
FACT: The Packers have never beaten the Jets on the road.
Please click "more" to see my picks for the dozen other games scheduled for Week 8!
Denver (2-5) @ San Francisco (1-6)
The last thing both the Broncos and 49ers needed at this point in the season was a distraction. Denver gave up 59 points last week – at home – while San Francisco’s QB went down in a loss to punchless (and previously winless) Carolina. So let’s send these two teams across the Atlantic to London to play at Wembley Stadium in front of a bunch of fans yelling things like “Sissies wear pads!” and “Wot’s up with the funny-shaped ball?” The Golden Gate guys are just trying to stay afloat, while the Mile High men could still salvage their season. That glimmer of hope, and the anger of last week’s embarrassing show, will make all the difference for Denver.
Woody’s Winner: Denver
FACT: In 1989, the 49ers shellacked the Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XXIV.
Jacksonville (3-4) @ Dallas (1-5)
The Cowboys’ offense has racked up plenty of yardage this season, but mistakes regularly keep them out of the end zone. The solution is to crank out a few long plays, and QB Jon Kitna will have that opportunity against a Jaguars defense that has allowed more 20+ yard pass plays (28 of them) than any other team in the NFL. While Cowboys Stadium is gorgeous, the home team is 0-3 there this season, and it’s sure deafening when 100,000 fans boo in unison. As long as the Silver can contain RB Maurice Jones-Drew, they have no reason to lose this game. But that hasn’t mattered so far this season, has it? Still…
Woody’s Winner: Dallas
FACT: Jacksonville’s QBs have thrown more interceptions (11) than anyone else in the AFC.
Miami (3-3) @ Cincinnati (2-4)
The notion that this Flipper-vs.-Fluffy matchup involves two middle-of-the-road teams all but guarantees an exciting game. Both squads hope to recover from Week 7 games that they could have (and should have) won. With a tough second-half schedule looming, the Bengals are happy to be playing in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium. But Miami is 3-0 on the road in 2010, and they’d just as soon keep that streak alive. In a surprise, the salt-water Dolphins will thrive in the muddy Ohio River this Sunday.
Woody’s Winner (in a mild upset): Miami
FACT: Since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970, the Bengals are 3-12 against the Dolphins. Cincinnati has, however, won the teams’ two most recent matchups (in 2004 and 2007).
Carolina (1-5) @ St. Louis (3-4)
Some questioned how much St. Louis had improved following Week 5’s debacle in Detroit, but the team’s other three losses have come by a combined 7 points. Carolina comes to town with the league’s lowest-scoring offense, and it looked like they went all-out to garner a 3-point win vs. the hapless 49ers last week. Despite having surgery on a broken ring finger earlier this week, Rams RB Steven Jackson vows to play in this game. He won’t put a Super Bowl ring on that finger this year, but with that sort of determination, it may not take long.
Woody’s Winner: St. Louis
FACT: The Panthers have won their last four games against the St. Louis Rams (including a 2003 playoff matchup).
Washington (4-3) @ Detroit (1-5)
Last season, the Lions squeaked by the 'Skins 19-14 at Ford Field, but that was against QB Jason Campbell. His replacement, Donovan McNabb, has torched the Detroit secondary in his career, completing 50 of 68 passes (73.5%) for 6 TDs without an interception. His skill set should allow D.C. to outlast Motown, provided they don’t fall behind too far. QB Matthew Stafford makes his heralded return for the Cats after a Week 1 injury, and had a bye week to prepare, but is he up to speed? I picked the Lions to win once this season, and they did. They’re slightly favored here, but I’m no fool.
Woody’s Winner (in a mild upset): Washington
FACT: The Redskins are the only NFC team that hasn’t attempted to “go for it” on fourth-down this season; not surprising, since they’re worst in the NFC on third down (converting only 25 percent).
Buffalo (0-6) @ Kansas City (4-2)
These long-time rivals faced off in the 1966 AFL Championship, in which KC earned a spot in the very first Super Bowl (where they were unceremoniously disposed of by Vince Lombardi’s Packers). The Chiefs hope to tan some Buffalo hide when the Bills rumble into Arrowhead Stadium in Week 8. Kansas City feasts on the NFL’s dregs, with all 4 of their wins coming against teams with a combined 8-20 record. The Buffs have hung tough against some of the AFC’s best (notably New England and Baltimore) and if their defense ever shows up, they’ll win a game this season. But not this week.
Woody’s Winner: Kansas City
FACT: The Chiefs’ stellar running game averages a league-leading 176.5 yards per game.
Tennessee (5-2) @ San Diego (2-5)
Fifty years ago, these two franchises (then in Houston and Los Angeles) met in the AFL’s first title game. The Oilers won, proving that petroleum had an advantage over electricity back in 1960. It’s 2010 now, however, and the buzzword is “hybrid.” In the NFL, this means that, in order to win, you have to play defense AND run the ball. (Just ask Dallas, Detroit, and Denver.) RB Chris Johnson and the Titan offense has picked up steam to become the second-highest-scoring team in the NFL, and that’s advantage enough for them to leave the Chargers looking for a place to plug themselves in.
Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Tennessee
FACT: The Chargers last lost to the Titans franchise in 1992 (when they were still the Houston Oilers).
Minnesota (2-4) @ New England (5-1)
I’ve heard a few fans grumble that Brett Favre rises slowly from hits – and feigns aches after games – just to make his return the following week appear all the more amazing. A twice-broken heel can’t feel good for anybody, and while the league’s oldest starting QB is still a tough competitor, some time off might be best for Minnesota. The Vikes do need to stir up some excitement (whether it’s orchestrated or not), but they’ve got to win games along the way. Will this be the week that Favre’s record of 315 consecutive games comes screeching to a halt? It matters not to the powerful Patriots, where business as usual will result in a victory at Foxboro.
Woody’s Winner: New England
FACT: The Patriots’ defense is last in the league in opponent pass completion percentage (70) and opponent third-down conversion percentage (49).
Seattle (4-2) @ Oakland (3-4)
Oakland is 1-2 against the NFC West this season, and finishes off the division when the Seahawks fly south this Sunday. After scoring only 9 points in Week 6, the Raiders shocked everyone last week by hanging 59 points on the Broncos. They won’t have that kind of success against Seattle’s solid run defense, but may have to worry about their own. The one-two punch of Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch will take the pressure off QB Matt Hasselbeck. Black-clad fans will sit with mouths agape by the time the ‘Hawks fly off over the horizon with eye patches in their beaks, swatches of silver in their talons, and a “W” where it counts.
Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Seattle
FACT: The home team has won the 9 previous games in this matchup.
Tampa Bay (4-2) @ Arizona (3-3)
So far this season, the Cardinals have won one week and lost the next. They were defeated at Seattle last week, so it’s “win” week, right? Not so fast. The return of Arizona WR Steve Breaston should help rookie QB Max Hall, but pass defense is one thing (perhaps the one thing) at which the Buccaneers excel. The Redbirds haven’t been performing well on either side of the ball, and their inconsistency is bound to catch up with them. I’m predicting that this will happen in Week 8.
Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Tampa Bay
FACT: The Cardinals have fallen to last in the league in passing yards (172.5) and total yards (237.8) per game.
Pittsburgh (5-1) @ New Orleans (4-3)
With 3 interceptions and 2 fumbles returned for TDs, opponents have feasted on Saints mistakes this season. The Steelers arrive in town in this contest between the two most recent Super Bowl winners, and they want to add to those numbers in the worst way. Pittsburgh’s powerhouse defense can stop a team’s rushing game in its sleep – which is how Nawlins runs – so they’ll turn their attention to the passing game. Sadly, for the home fans, QB Drew Brees won’t make much of a ruffle in the Steel Curtain.
Woody’s Winner: Pittsburgh
FACT: The Steelers have completed only 86 passes this season (fewest in the NFL) but have averaged 8.7 yards per completion (second-best in the league).
Houston (4-2) @ Indianapolis (4-2)
In Week 1, the Texans surprised the Colts in Houston, but it will be a tough order to repeat that success this Monday night in Indianapolis. While Peyton Manning’s iron-man streak continues, Indy’s offense has lost several playmakers. The team’s leading RB (Joseph Addai), WR (Austin Collie) and TE (Dallas Clark) are all out. This trio has accounted for 12 of the offense’s 18 TDs this season. The Colts are 8-1 on MNF since 2003, but the luck in their horseshoes might have finally fizzled. If the Texans can control the ball, they’ll prove that their season-opening victory wasn’t just a cow patty.
Woody’s Winner (in an upset): Houston
FACT: The Colts have not played in a regular-season overtime game since 2004 (87 consecutive games).
BYE: Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, N.Y. Giants, Philadelphia.
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, but please be cordial to others; this is all in good fun. Thanks!