Here are my Week 8 NFL picks:
Panthers (-7) at Buccaneers (+7) — When you think of the Buccaneers, think of Tom Petty’s “Free Falling.” This situation is a disaster. And yet, Tampa Bay is surprisingly competitive. They own the 13th ranked overall defense (340.8 yards allowed per game, 22.0 points allowed per game) and up until last week they were getting good rushing production from Doug Martin (456 yards, 1 TD). But Martin is now out with a shoulder injury, crippling the bedrock of the team’s offense. The Panthers have seen an offensive splurge in the past two weeks, averaging 32.5 points per game while going 2-0 as opposed to their first four games of the season when they went 1-3 and averaged 18.5 points.
My pick: Panthers
Cowboys (+3) at Lions (-3) — It’s not about which receiver is better, Dez Bryant or Calvin Johnson, but about which team is better. The Lions (4-3) and Cowboys (4-3) certainly appear to be equals, but there’s an added umph to this Dallas defense. They’ve allowed a total of 19 points in the past two weeks to Washington and Philadelphia. Certainly the third-best offense (28.6 points per game) can rise above its peer.
My pick: Cowboys
49ers (-17) at Jaguars (+17) — It’s a 17-point spread, which is kind of ridiculous until you consider that it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are averaging 10.8 points per game. It’s nice to see the 49ers let Colin Kaepernick run wild again. He had 11 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown. That extra dynamic makes San Francisco, which averages 25.1 points per game, tough for anybody.
My pick: 49ers
Browns (+9) at Chiefs (-9) — So this week the Browns are going to trot out Jason Campbell at quarterback because Brandon Weedon just wasn’t getting the job done. It’s always tough to try a new quarterback against one of the best defenses in the NFL. Justin Houston (10.0 sacks) and Tamba Hali (9.0) have led a defense that is a force to be reckoned with. The Chiefs are holding opponents to a league-best 11.6 points per game. Campbell doesn’t stand a chance.
My pick: Chiefs
Dolphins (+7) at Patriots (-7) — The Dolphins are coming off a thee-game losing streak, falling to the Buffalo Bills (23-21), Baltimore Ravens (26-23) and Atlanta Falcons (27-23). They’ve been able to keep games close, all the way down to the wire really. But they’ve faltered for one reason or another. Keep that in mind as they come to face the Patriots, which sport a 28-9 record after a loss with Tom Brady as the starting quarterback. I fully expect the Patriots to win. I also expect the Dolphins to keep it close.
My pick: Dolphins
Bills (+12) at Saints (-12) — Coming off the bye week and facing the Buffalo Bills, the Saints can get back to their high-flying ways against an opponent that is having a tough time stopping the pass (256.9 yards allowed per game) and rush (123.6 yards allowed per game).
My pick: Saints
Giants (+6) at Eagles (-6) — It’s kind of nice that the Eagles can lose quarterback Nick Foles and have Michael Vick to turn to right away.
My pick: Eagles
Jets (+7) at Bengals (-7) — Jets quarterback Geno Smith is getting better. He showed that against the Patriots in a 30-27 overtime. This is a tough Bengals team, though. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict leads the NFL in tackles (74) and Andy Dalton is quietly having one of the best seasons in the NFL, throwing for 14 touchdowns and 1,958 yards through seven games. This will be close.
My pick: Jets
Steelers (-3) at Raiders (+3) — Don’t sleep on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite starting 0-4, they’re on a two-game winning streak that more closely aligns with a team that has one of the better passing attacks in the league and a secondary that is pretty good (197.5 passing yards allowed per game). The Raiders (2-4) are struggling for consistency against average teams, losing one week to Washington and then surprising against the San Diego Chargers. They’re catching a Pittsburgh team that has caught some steam.
My pick: Steelers
Falcons (+2.5) at Cardinals (-2.5) –The Falcons don’t get nearly enough love after limping through the last four weeks. Last week’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was a Godsend, getting Atlanta back on track. But this Arizona Cardinals (3-4) will be a tough opponent. They have a good rush defense (97.0 yards allowed per game) led by linebacker Karlos Dansby (60 tackles). In a lot of senses, this could very well be a tossup. But I have decent respect for Matt Ryan and his team and expect them to be much better going forward.
My pick: Falcons
Washington (+14) at Broncos (-14) — So the red hot Denver Broncos (6-1) are cooling off after losing to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night. But there should be no expectation that they’ll lose to Washington (2-4). While the 14-point spread may seem concerning, the Broncos average 42.6 points per game and are going up against a defense that is giving up 30.7 and an offense that is averaging 25.3.
My pick: Broncos
Packers (-10) at Vikings (+10) — When you have Josh Freeman as your starting quarterback, you’re going to have problems. And by problems, I mean losses.
My pick: Packers
Seahawks (-11) at Rams (+11) — The St. Louis Rams (3-4) were already struggling to make a dent in the tough NFC West. Now they have to do so without Sam Bradford. Their season is going to go downhill fast.
My pick: Seahawks
Last week: 9-6
Zuri Berry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.