NFL Week 8 preview

SEVEN straight wins, and the Rams are not getting the love …

Sean McVay’s football team has taken on all comers, and disposed of most of them quite easily. Not only does L.A. deserve as much coverage as Patrick Mahomes or the Le’Veon Bell saga, but they are darn interesting … especially this week.

They face the Packers and Aaron Rodgers in what will be the first meeting between Cal quarterbacks since Vince Ferragamo’s Rams beat Steve Bartkowski’s Falcons in 1983.

The Rams are also trying to go 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. They started 7-0 in 1978 and 1985, but lost the next game in both seasons.

The Packers and Rams will probably throw it a ton on Sunday. With TV replays we won’t need tracking arrows like when they threw it at the LA Coliseum in 1957.

They were also shut-out in the NFC Championship Game in both seasons. This week Green Bay will try to shut the door on their undefeated season.

The Packers first played the Los Angeles Rams at the Coliseum in 1946, and the teams have played a few important contests over the years. For instance, the 1967 Divisional playoff, which Green Bay won, advancing to the 1967 NFL title Game — the “Ice Bowl.” Or there was the 2001 Divisional affair in St. Louis, when Brett Favre chucked six interceptions.

This week’s Game Picks are below. Your take on any one of them is welcome: is the place.

Elliot Harrison went 10-4 on his predictions for Week 7, bringing his record for the season to 70-35-2. How will he fare in Week 8? His picks are below.

Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP


Houston Texans 26, Miami Dolphins 17

11:20am (AEDT) (ESPN1) | NRG Stadium (Houston)

Let’s hope this game is slightly more competitive than last week’s Broncos-Cardinals blowout. Picking the Texans to win at home after their gritty victory in Jacksonville. Deshaun Watson should have recovered from his injury at least a wee bit more, although the fact that he has to play on a short week is concerning. Enter the debate over the viability of Thursday night games when it comes to franchise health. Watson’s wubby: a defence that is currently eighth in average points allowed (20.6). Miami must thwart former porpoise Lamar Miller, who crawled (flippered) out from his underwater cave to run for 100 yards last week. Looks as though Brock Osweiler will have the opportunity to show the Texans what they’ve been missing. Uhh, I will let you run with that.

Tight end Zach Ertz #86 of the Philadelphia Eagles catches a first-down pass as he tackled by strong safety Eric Reid #25 of the Carolina Panthers. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP


Philadelphia Eagles 23, Jacksonville Jaguars 13

12:30am AEDT (ESPN1) | Wembley Stadium (London, England)

How disappointing would a 7-9 follow-up act to an exhilarating Super Bowl win be? That’s where the Eagles are headed if they don’t turn the offence around quick. You can’t play the lowly Giants every week. Philadelphia’s main struggles on that side of the ball start with turnovers, where they’re tied for the league lead with eight fumbles lost. They can’t stay on the field, either, going three-and-out 24.1 per cent of the time, fifth-worst in the league. Thus, the opposing offence gets the ball back quickly while the Eagles’ vaunted front four tires out. … Witness what happened against the Panthers last week. Luckily, they face a Jaguars outfit playing musical chairs at quarterback (although they’re sticking with Blake Bortles as the starter) in an offence in far more disarray than Doug Pederson’s. Philadelphia evens its record this week.

Eric Fisher #72 of the Kansas City Chiefs pretends to provide CPR to teammate Tyreek Hill #10 as a touchdown celebration. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP

Kansas City Chiefs 30, Denver Broncos 14

4:00am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1) | Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, Mo.)

Are the Broncos back in contention? Perhaps, but they will lose this week. They’ve had since last Friday to prepare for Patrick Mahomes and the most dynamic offence in the league. Denver will also find out, oh, about seven seconds into Kansas City’s first possession that it’s a different deal playing Andy Reid’s team at Arrowhead. The Broncos’ defence managed to hold Mahomes in check for three quarters when these division rivals met in Denver earlier this month, yet struggled with Kareem Hunt. Hunt has looked downright explosive the last couple of weeks, especially on that deep catch-and-run against the Patriots. Vance Joseph’s group could do itself a massive favour by establishing Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman early, but I don’t see that being enough to win in Kansas City.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) catches a pass against Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Darqueze Dennard (21). Picture: AP PhotoSource:AP

Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Cleveland Browns 22

4:00am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1)| Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)

The Browns almost pulled off the home upset in their season-opening tie against the Steelers, until they were done in by their scary kicking game. Appropriate, given that Halloween is approaching, and appropriate to mention given how kickers have struggled at Heinz Field over the years. Cleveland must avoid settling for field goals in this contest as Pittsburgh has woken from its slumber. Even without Le’Veon Bell, their offensive attack is still top-shelf. The Steelers pace the league in scoring from inside the 30 and yards after the catch — two significant categories — while ranking fifth in points per game at a robust 28.5. Quietly, JuJu Smith-Schuster is tearing up the league while Bell dominates headlines and Antonio Brown commands constant attention.

The New York Giants’ season is pretty much already over. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP

Washington Redskins 20, New York Giants 17

4:00am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)

Division road games are never easy affairs. These two franchises have been going at it since 1932, back when Cliff Battles was chugging away for the Boston Braves (then Boston Redskins, then Washington Redskins), leading the league in rushing. The series has seen so many eras/stars: Sammy Baugh, Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford and the 1956 NFL champs, Sonny Jurgensen’s ropes in the 60s, the dead-ball era of the Giants in the 70s, Gibbs vs. Parcells in the 80s. Unfortunately, Big Blue’s season is pretty much over. You realise they are allowing teams to score on 46.8 per cent of their drives? That’s a huge percentage. Yet, if they deal the Redskins a loss here, it could pull the division awful tight with the Eagles playing a winnable game, and the Cowboys improved(?) with Amari Cooper. Still think the Giants lose.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s running game has dried up so far this season. Picture: AP PhotoSource:AP

Detroit Lions 28, Seattle Seahawks 24

4:00am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1) | Ford Field (Detroit)

Good game. No seriously, this matchup is legit. The Seahawks are coming off the bye week, rested after their trip across the pond, where they ousted the Raiders in front of a bunch of Phil Collins fans. The Seattle faithful are more into Candlebox, anyway. Maybe not. The Seahawks may win this important game in the Wildcard race if they can keep the passing game going like it did in the last two games, vs. the Rams and Oakland. Meanwhile, the Lions are hoping Ziggy Ansah returns from injury to bolster what has been a surprisingly feisty pass rush. With Kerryon Johnson emerging again last week in Miami with nearly 200 yards from scrimmage, the Detroit defence should have fresher legs — important vs. the always pesky Russell Wilson. Surprisingly, he’s not running as much this year (17 attempts this year versus 32 through six games in 2017).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. Picture: AP PhotoSource:AP

Cincinnati Bengals 29, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21

4:00am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1)| Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati)

Bucs fans are not gonna like this, but this uni matchup is even worse than last week’s Bucs-Browns pairing. When two teams with wild looks, and similar hues on part of their apparel, clash … well, it clashes. On to football — Jameis Winston’s decision making was suspect late against the Browns. He also missed a few throws, including a curveball to Cameron Brate on an important third down in overtime. Chandler Catanzaro bailed the Tampa offence (and himself) out with the cannon shot from 59 yards out, but the Bucs will need far more than that against a Bengals team that was embarrassed by the Chiefs last week on national television (worst part was that they were flexed into the prime-time game — NBC execs didn’t have to pick that game!). The Cincy passing game will be the difference this week, as Tampa has struggled on the back end all season.

Jordan Howard #24 of the Chicago Bears is still waiting on his breakout game for 2018. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP

Chicago Bears 27, New York Jets 16

4:00am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1)| Soldier Field (Chicago)

An interesting matchup between two teams that come from different conferences but have much in common. Both organisations would like to build around emerging quarterbacks with complementary running games, and (in theory) stout defences. The Bears pulled ahead in the latter category with the addition of Khalil Mack. Like the Jets, however, their secondary flashes sometimes, gets torched others. Each team’s ground attack is capable, yet New York has been plagued by wild peaks and valleys from Isaiah Crowell, while Chicago is waiting on that breakout performance from Jordan Howard that hearkens back to 2016. I like the Bears at home in this game, mostly because they can force mistakes from Sam Darnold. Wouldn’t say Mitch Trubisky is too far ahead of the Jets’ rookie in terms of development, though.

Quarterback Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers offence are stringing together long drives. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Carolina Panthers 24, Baltimore Ravens 20

4:00am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1) | Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.)

So on Tuesday, your friendly writer agonised over which of these teams was superior for my weekly power rankings. (Spoiler alert) I ultimately went with the Panthers. We’ll find out if I was right on Sunday, although I should note Carolina will own the inherent advantage of playing at home. Both the Ravens and Panthers are coming off draining contests, with the latter completing a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback on the road against the Eagles, while Baltimore fell in a gutting loss to the Saints. If Joe Flacco starts out flat, the Ravens could be in trouble. While not a powerhouse, this Panthers offence has proven it can string together long drives … they pulled it off three times late in Philadelphia, and are sixth in the NFL in plays per scoring drive at 8.1. Flacco might not receive enough possessions to warm up in time to win late.

Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Indianapolis Colts has been keeping his side in games – if not winning too many of them. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP

Indianapolis Colts 30, Oakland Raiders 23

7:05am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1) | Oakland Coliseum (Oakland, Calif.)

What might have appeared as a tough road assignment for the Colts in August looks like a bye week now. Well, unless Seth Roberts emerges as a WR1 and Jared Cook goes back to putting up 150-yard receiving days. Remember, the Raiders’ offence has no Marshawn Lynch to fall back on in the running game, with Doug Martin and Jalen Richard left to play heroes now. Indy rushed for over two hundy last week against the Bills, and while achieving that two games in a row might be a lofty goal, forcing Andrew Luck to chuck 50 passes per game can’t be the strategy every time out. Give Frank Reich a ton of credit. Despite his record (2-5), the Colts have been in every game.

Arizona have to find a way to use running back David Johnson better. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP

Arizona Cardinals 23, San Francisco 49ers 20

7:25am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1) | State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)

Ugh. These are two ships heading in the same direction, and it ain’t forward. At least the 49ers can move the football, even if their offensive line got trampled by the Rams. This Arizona front isn’t close in quality to the Rams group, even with Chandler Jones playing lights out this season. Unfortunately, the lights are dimming, if not going out, for both squads, so evaluation is key. Josh Rosen taking a small step forward with new offensive co-ordinator Byron Leftwich would be nice to see. Leftwich must find a way to get David Johnson more touches in more advantageous situations. Stat of the Day: The Cardinals average 161.4 yards per game less than their opponents. Ouch.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff should air the ball out often in a high scoring affair against the Packers. Picture: AP PhotoSource:AP

Los Angeles Rams 34, Green Bay Packers 30

7:05am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN1) | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Los Angeles)

My completely unbiased colleague James Jones swears up and down that the Packers are going to win this game in L.A. Jones told me that with Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison getting healthy, and Aaron Rodgers getting healthier, Green Bay will outscore the Rams’ high-octane offence. Not seeing it, and not because of Rodgers. Green Bay doesn’t have the means to pressure Jared Goff often enough, nor have they faced an RB like Todd Gurley in a long time. Another matchup problem: the Packers’ offensive line versus Aaron Donald and Co. Sean McVay’s group improves to 8-0.

Quarterback Drew Brees will battle the crowd noise in Baltimore. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP

New Orleans Saints 28, Minnesota Vikings 27

11:20am AEDT ( and NFL Redzone ESPN2)| U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)

The Saints are coming off an important road win at Baltimore, and will face another such test against a talented defence, with crowd noise an obvious factor. Talented, but not stronger than the Ravens’ unit. The Vikings’ key to winning is generating pressure in Brees’ face (something Baltimore couldn’t do enough) and Kirk Cousins challenging the Saints downfield. The Saints’ secondary hasn’t been stressed vertically much in the team’s past two games, with Alex Smith and Joe Flacco going a combined 2-of-8 on deep passes (20-plus air yards) against New Orleans during that span.

Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots hands the football to James White #28. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:AFP


New England Patriots 31, Buffalo Bills 13

11:15am AEDT (ESPN1) | New Era Field (Orchard Park, N.Y.)

Bills win by 30 … I was wondering if any of you actually read these blurbs or simply glance at the score. If Buffalo is to have a chance Monday night, and not lose by 30, three things must happen:

1) The front seven shows up like it did vs. the Vikings, Titans and Texans, producing knockdowns, if not sacks.

2) From that pressure, must come turnovers. Move Tom Brady off his all-too-comfortable perch early. He’s enjoyed the creature comforts of home in Buffalo over the lengthy course of his career.

3) If LeSean McCoy can’t go (concussion), pound Chris Ivory in the first quarter, with another heavy dose late. Exactly nobody loves tackling that guy. I don’t even like writing about tackling that guy.

So … James White scores thrice and the Pats win by 18.

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Originally published as NFL Week 8 preview

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