Inexorably, our overall record is climbing from profoundly abysmal to merely embarrassing. Next stop: Mediocrity. And after that: Good, perhaps? We’re getting there. But against the spread is a different story. Haven’t solved the bet lines yet, and the record shows it. In 21 years on The Friday Page, our worst season mark against the betting number has been .449 (in 2006), so that is the ignominy to avoid. Hey, everybody needs a goal! [Thursday pick: Vikings (-6 1/2) over Buccaneers, 23-20].
DOLPHINS (3-3) at JETS (3-4)
Miami, off its bye week, has a big shot at a small upset in this high-amp rivalry because the Dolphins are fundamentally better on both lines, the fulcrum from which many a result turns. This is one of six Week 8 games that are virtual toss-ups, with betting spreads under three points. I see this as a tough task for Miami, though, a difficult place for Ryan Tannehill to taste his first division road game. Miami has lost eight of its past 11 on the road, and in the Jersey swamp the rookie QB will face temps in the 50s, a chance of rain and a (truly) hostile crowd. Rex Ryan will throw the kitchen sink at Tannehill — maybe literally, knowing Rex — and trust his pass defense, which is better than average even missing Darrelle Revis. The key will be Miami’s stout run D vs. a Planes ground game that has lifted off with 359 rushing yards the past two games. Jets won in Miami, 23-20 (OT) in September, and the rematch looks just as tight, but, when in doubt, stay home.
SAINTS (2-4) at BRONCOS (3-3)
Sharp acrimony and contention flew through the Game of the Week committee debate as proponents of Giants-Cowboys and Falcons-Eagles raised strident objections, but Saints-Broncos emerged. Why? Pure entertainment value in the prospect of Drew Brees and Peyton Manning passing for around 850 yards and 75 points. The prime-time cameras are here for just that, for star-power in two first-ballot future Hall of Famers. As for the result, I’m liking Brees getting almost a touchdown but I’m loving Manning straight up, at home and coming off a bye. Particularly when N’Awlins defense has given up 2,793 yards — the most allowed in the first six games by any team since 1950.
FALCONS (6-0) at EAGLES (3-3)
“AAAWWWK!” bellows the Upset Bird. “Falcons win Bird Bowl. Bird Baawwk!” I know what you’re thinking. Why is this even an upset? Atlanta is the NFL’s only unbeaten team! Yeah, fine, but it IS an upset based on the betting line. So there. I can see why Phils are favored. Both teams coming off byes, but Eagles are a surreal 13-0 after byes under Andy Reid. But I like Falcs because Matt Ryan has proved to be a very good road QB, and mostly because ATL’s defense creates havoc. “Indeed, the likelihood of turnover differential would weigh lopsidedly,” concurs U-Bird. “Likelihood of turnover differaaawwwk!”
RAIDERS (2-4) AT CHIEFS (1-5)
Here was an easy pick as worst game of the week for the Dog panel. Raiders winless on the road and Chiefs winless at home — a real match made in hell. Liking Oaks in a small upset. Chiefs are egregiously turnover prone, and Brady Quinn at QB won’t help. Neither is Arrowhead the vaunted home venue it once was; in fact Raiders have won five in a row there. Give me Carson Palmer against a weak Chiefs secondary over Jamaal Charles against a fairly decent Raiders run defense.
Carolina has lost four in a row, with an offense really struggling under the besieged hand of Cam Newton. Chicago has won four in a row, with a scary-good defense that has forced 21 turnovers. Panthers just fired their GM. Jay Cutler has won seven in a row at home. Disparity everywhere. Even in the anything-can-happen NFL, I cannot muster sufficient imagination to see an upset here.
Let the record state I trust the mistake-making, lead-blowing, choking Chargers less than I trust just about any team in the NFL. Thirteen turnovers the past four games have only underlined my disdain. I give the Earthtones (losers of 11 in a row on the road) an upset shot in the Pound based mostly on Bolts’ knack of finding ways to lose, but must nevertheless cast an anxious vote for San Diego.
An upset wouldn’t surprise even a little bit, but make it a venue call for the Motor City. Seahawks are 1-3 with nine turnovers on the road this year, and rookie QB Russell Wilson’s TD/pick ratio is 2-7 away vs. 6-0 at home. And Matthew Stafford has rolled three consecutive 300s at home, although it says here he’ll miss Injured No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson a lot as defenses blanket Calvin Johnson even further.
Blimey! Cheerio! OK that’s it. I’m out of cartoon stereotypes of Brits. This marks NFL’s sixth consecutive year playing a regular-season game at Wembley Stadium, and I might suggest Tom Brady and Pats are a tad more accustomed than Rams to a big-stage game. NE is 0-2 vs. NFC West; that ends. Can’t see Sam Bradford outpointing Brady.
Steelers are battling injury issues as usual but remain a very tough team to beat at the Ketchup Bottle. I’d say that is especially true when Ben Roethlisberger is facing a pass defense giving up 328.4 yards per game. I’d hunch the Skins manage to keep it inside the bet numeral, though. Only four teams are outscoring a Washers offense led rather astoundingly by Robert Griffin III.
This matchup feels like one of those Saturday games where Alabama is home against Southwest Aardvark Tech and it isn’t who wins but by how much. That’s rare here on Sunday but there is just no way Jax wins this, and that was even before Maurice Jones-Drew got injured. Game stayed off bet boards because of iffy status of Jags QB Blaine Gabbert that had Chad Henne on deck. Bulletin: It doesn’t matter.
No defense has seen its end zone breached more than Tennessee’s. But countering that Chris Johnson (fresh off a 195-yard game) is facing a way-below-average Indy run D, suggesting another payday for his fantasy owners (like me) who kept the faith. These squads as pretty even, but Matt Hasselbeck has given Tenners a little spark, and Nags have lost 10 in a row away from home.
’Boys have yet to beat Biggies in Jerry Jones’ new palace (0-3) and I don’t see that changing here in a near-pick-’em game writing next chapter in this NFC East grudge. Dallas opened season with 24-17 win at NYG behind Tony Romo’s three TD throws — Romo usually is very good vs. Big Blue — but Giants will have their revenge. Key is health of RB Ahmad Bradshaw, who has 359 rush yards in past three vs. Dallas.
Fans of defense, gather ’round the cathode-ray tube or transistor radio and behold! First team to 20 wins. Niners RB Frank Gore is questionable, but I suspect 11 days off will have him ready for this division game on the big stage. Cacti QB John Skelton is 6-0 as home starter, but that ends. Arizona’s 1-8 run on Monday night is a trend likelier to continue.
OFF THIS WEEK