A battle of A.F.C. royalty, the first start for a highly rated rookie quarterback and two previously unbeaten teams hoping to make up for last week’s losses highlight what looks like a promising week of action.
Here’s a look at N.F.L. Week 8 with all picks made against the spread.
Last week’s record: 6-7-1
Overall record: 53-50-2
A look ahead at Week 8:
Sunday’s Best Games
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Ravens -3.5 | Total: 47
The Steelers (6-0) were forced to sweat a little at the end of last week’s win over Tennessee, but they survived to become the N.F.L.’s last remaining unbeaten team. That status should be tested, heavily, by the Ravens (5-1), who are coming out of a bye week and are likely relishing the chance to flex their collective muscle against a fellow heavyweight.
This game is a case of strength against strength: Pittsburgh has the N.F.L.’s most effective run defense, and Baltimore, despite results this year that are a bit below its typical standards, has the most fearsome collection of runners this side of the 1948 San Francisco 49ers.
The Steelers minimized the mighty Titans running back Derrick Henry last week, proving how tough they can be, but it’s worth noting that the last player to top 100 yards rushing against Pittsburgh was Gus Edwards, who is effectively the third or fourth option for Baltimore on any running play but may have an increased role this week if Mark Ingram is forced out with an ankle injury.
The teams excel at defending both the run and the pass. They both pass the ball and run the ball fairly well. And they both are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. That this game is wasted in a 1 p.m. time slot, while a putrid N.F.C. East matchup between Philadelphia and Dallas is in prime time, is unforgivable. But it should at least give Sunday an exciting start. Pick: Ravens -3.5
Los Angeles Rams at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Rams -4 | Total: 45.5
It’s Tua Time. Ryan Fitzpatrick may have expressed disappointment that Tua Tagovailoa had been named starting quarterback for the Dolphins (3-3), but the move makes perfect sense. Miami is playing about as well as can be expected considering the state of the team’s rebuild, but even that good fortune does not have the Dolphins in line for a playoff spot despite the expanded format. Acknowledging that the team’s long-term future hinges on its 22-year-old rookie, rather than a nearly-38-year-old with a 58-86-1 career record is not exactly a controversial stance.
The extreme view would be declaring that Tagovailoa will make the team better now, especially when he’s about to face the Rams’ fairly good secondary, led by cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and the looming presence of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who would undoubtedly like to welcome a rookie quarterback to the league by hugging him tightly several times. Pick: Rams -4
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Seahawks -3 | Total: 54
After daring teams to beat them in its first five games, Seattle finally found a jam it couldn’t wriggle its way out of in an overtime loss to Arizona. In that game, the Seahawks (5-1) allowed 519 yards, stacking up a whopping 2,875 for the season, which is an N.F.L. record through six games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
That stat isn’t everything, but Seattle is also 23rd in points allowed per game, 24th in net yards allowed per passing attempt, 31st in passing yards allowed and 30th in first downs allowed. This is not a blip: The team is bad defensively.
The question is if 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can exploit that awful Seahawks pass defense to the extent that he is keeping up with a highly motivated Russell Wilson. Pick: Seahawks -3
Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans -6 | Total: 55
Las Vegas oddsmakers expect this to be the highest scoring game of the week, and that should not surprise anyone. The Titans (5-1) have an electric offense led by Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry and the Bengals (1-5-1) have been loving life with quarterback Joe Burrow, regardless of their poor record so far.
This game could easily have the look of a Pro Bowl, with defenders lazily jogging in the background of offensive highlight videos. But while Burrow is likely to win games like this at some point, it’s hard to believe he can overcome Tannehill and Henry at this stage of his career. Pick: Titans -6
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers, 8:20 p.m., Fox, NFL Network and Prime Video
Line: Panthers -2.5 | Total: 49
Todd Gurley is not the reason the Falcons are 1-6. But the image of him laying face down at the goal line, having accidentally scored a touchdown that gave Detroit the time it needed to pull off an amazing comeback last week, might as well be the symbol of Atlanta’s season. The Falcons don’t just lose games; they lose them in spectacular fashion.
Going on the road to face the Panthers (3-4) probably won’t help with that. Carolina has been surprisingly competitive this season despite some defensive limitations, came shockingly close to an upset of New Orleans last week, and is expected to get running back Christian McCaffrey back for this game. Pick: Panthers -2.5
Sunday’s Other Games
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Bills -3.5 | Total: 43
After the first few weeks of the season, these teams looked like two of the N.F.L.’s best. Since then, the Bills’ (5-2) offensive struggles joined their defensive issues among the team’s concerns. The Patriots (2-4) have outdone that by simply being awful, since starting 2-1. A case could be made that one of these teams will leave Sunday’s game with some momentum, but Buffalo managed to attract even more doubters when it “only” beat the Jets, 18-10, last week, without scoring a single touchdown.
TV commentator Jeff Garcia took aim at Cam Newton’s postgame outfit rather than any legitimate reason for New England’s struggles like, say, team’s defense, which has been flailing equally against the run and the pass despite the presence of cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Pick: Bills -3
Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m., CBS
Line: Chargers -3 | Total: 44.5
Justin Herbert of the Chargers (2-4) had been knocking at the door of his first victory for weeks, coming fairly close to beating Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Drew Brees in the process. He finally kicked that door down in an easy win over Jacksonville last week. The stakes were obviously low in that game, and aren’t much higher against the Broncos (2-4), but winnable games against lesser teams are good practice for a rookie quarterback who wants to justify being handed the starting job over Tyrod Taylor.
This game comes with the added complication of being in Denver’s thin air, but with Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram expected to return on defense, and wide receiver Keenan Allen looking fully healthy on offense, Herbert should get his first winning streak. Pick: Chargers -3
Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Packers -6.5 | Total: 54
The Vikings (1-5) aren’t rebuilding. This off-season they jettisoned most of the recognizable names on their defense, and traded away one of their best offensive players for draft picks, but this is not a rebuilding effort. They have been very clear about this. If you think they are rebuilding, you are wrong.
When last seen, Minnesota’s not-rebuilding defense, which features multiple rookies in its secondary, was humiliated by previously-winless Atlanta. Now that same group of players gets to try its hand at stopping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (5-1) in Green Bay. Expect a Packers victory, probably by as many points as Green Bay wants, but the likelihood that Kirk Cousins picks up a few garbage time touchdowns makes the spread too aggressive. Pick: Vikings +6.5
Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Colts -3 | Total: 50
Through his first five games in Indianapolis, the knock on Philip Rivers was that he struggled mightily when the Colts (4-2) fell behind, to some a serious sign of his decline. Then in Week 6, he fell behind by 21 points before catching fire and throwing for three touchdowns, putting up 371 yards, 31 points and tying for the largest regular season comeback in franchise history — against Cincinnati’s truly atrocious defense.
The Lions (3-3) present a fairly interesting challenge. Having won three of its last four games, Detroit has mostly benefited from a soft part of the schedule, but has, at the very least, been executing far better than at any point under Coach Matt Patricia. And the Lions’ win over Arizona in Week 3 is proof that their success can’t be entirely dismissed.
The Colts are likely to get linebacker Darius Leonard back from a groin injury this week, which dramatically improves the team’s defense, but they should be favored even if he needs another week. Pick: Colts -3
Jets at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Chiefs -19.5 | Total: 48.5
In the only other instance of the Jets starting 0-7, in 1996, quarterback Neil O’Donnell lost the team’s first six games before injuring his shoulder and handing off to Frank Reich, who lost his first two games. Reich and company finally eked out a win over Arizona to end the losing streak at eight. Then the Jets lost their final seven games as well.
Playing on the road against the Chiefs (6-1) seemingly guarantees that these Jets will match that 0-8 start. Does Kansas City care enough about this game to win by 20 points? Can the Jets lose by 20 without any effort from the other team? Reasonable questions. But expect the Jets to lose, regardless. Pick: Jets +19.5
Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Browns -2.5 | Total: 53.5
If you like to see quarterbacks chuck the ball down the field with impunity, this should be the game for you. According to Football Outsiders, the Raiders (3-3) and Browns (5-2) have two of the 10 least efficient pass defenses in the N.F.L., a stat that has beared out on the scoreboard as both teams allow opponents more than 30 points a game.
Cleveland, however, defends the run far better than Las Vegas does, and also runs the ball better. The over/under of 53.5 seems fairly low, but Cleveland being a narrow favorite in what is likely to be a shootout seems right. Pick: Browns -2.5
New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Saints -4 | Total: 44
It’s hard to imagine a team with a record as good as the Bears (5-2) dealing with so much drama, but it was a fairly big bombshell that got dropped during Monday night’s broadcast when Brian Griese, an analyst for ESPN, said that quarterback Nick Foles had expressed serious concerns about Coach Matt Nagy’s understanding of the team’s capabilities.
According to Griese, Foles said, “You know, sometimes play calls come in and I know that I don’t have time to execute that play call. You know, I’m the one out here getting hit. Sometimes the guy calling the plays, Matt Nagy, he doesn’t know how much time there is back here.”
Nagy said afterward that he didn’t know what Griese was talking about. And when asked about the possibility of giving up play-calling duties, Nagy said that he wasn’t the problem.
“I’m really honestly not opposed to, there’s no opposition from me if we feel like that that’s what the issue is,” he said. “And so we look at that. Right now, where we’re at, that’s not where we think it’s at.” Pick: Saints -4
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Eagles -7.5 | Total: 43.5
How much would it change the game plan for the Cowboys (2-5) if quarterback Andy Dalton is unable to clear the league’s concussion protocol this week? Consider that there have been only six games this season in which a quarterback attempted 50 or more passes, and Dallas is responsible for three of them — including the 54 that Dalton attempted against Arizona in Week 6. This is a team that needs to throw the ball to have a shot at mitigating its very bad defense.
Backup quarterback Ben DiNucci may be a lovely person, but the 2020 seventh-round pick out of James Madison hasn’t attempted even 40 passes in a game since an October 2018 loss at home to Elon University. The Eagles (2-4-1), despite their flaws, have a considerably more intimidating pass-rush and secondary than Elon did, so Dallas would likely turn to running back Ezekiel Elliott rather than leave everything in a rookie quarterback’s hands. Based on what we’ve seen from Elliott so far this season, that won’t work. Pick: Eagles -7.5
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Giants, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Buccaneers -10.5 | Total: 46
Laugh all you want about Daniel Jones’s wild run — and ridiculous stumble — against Philadelphia last week, but facts are facts and after that 80-yard run the Giants (1-6) finished off the drive with a touchdown. They still lost, mind you, but it could be argued that it was the greatest moment of the team’s inglorious season, outside of a sloppy win over Washington. The guy hit 21.23 miles-per-hour! Stop laughing!
Silver linings like that should be few and far between against the Buccaneers (5-2), a team that seems to have realized its potential over the last few weeks and then primed itself to add receiver Antonio Brown in Week 9.
It’s worth remembering that Coach Bruce Arians had this to say about Brown in March: “There’s no room. It’s just not gonna happen. It’s just not a fit here.” Some injuries to the Buccaneers’ receivers — including a broken index finger that will keep Chris Godwin out this week — resulted in Brown being declared to have “matured” by Arians.
Though Brown isn’t available this week, there’s no reason to believe Tampa Bay will lose this game. But the Giants have played their last four opponents fairly tight and the Buccaneers are down a key player on offense, so this one could be a lot closer than oddsmakers have predicted. Pick: Giants +10.5
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Ravens -3.5, for example, means that Baltimore must beat Pittsburgh by at least 4 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
Bye weeks: Arizona, Washington, Jacksonville, Houston
All times are Eastern