For the most part, the NFL is now starting to skew back toward what we mostly expected – i.e. chalk. While there were earth-shattering upsets in the first few weeks, those are becoming harder to find. The Arizona Cardinals were a big early surprise and pulled arguably the upset of the year by winning in New England. But the Cardinals are now “who we thought they were” to quote a famous diatribe from ex-Cards coach Dennis Green. Arizona started 4-0 and is now 4-3.
The New Orleans Saints were the victims of a few big early upsets, especially in Week 1 to RG3, but the Saints have righted the ship by winning two straight. Would it be that hard to imagine Drew Brees and Co. sneaking into the playoffs as a wild-card?
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One thing has continued in the NFL: close games. According to an NFL release, last week 11 of 13 games (84.6 percent) were decided by eight points or fewer. That’s the highest percentage since the single-week record was set in 2001 (Week 5: 12 of 14; 85.7 percent). So far, 62 games have been decided by eight points or fewer, the most through the first seven weeks of a season in NFL history.
Last week, my top overall choice was the Chicago Bears, and they beat the vastly disappointing Detroit Lions on Monday night. I also liked New England over the Jets and the Niners over the Seahawks, and both came true (although all three of the above games were decided by seven points or fewer). There wasn’t any big upset in Week 7 that I had warned staying away from.
For Week 8, the teams on a bye are Buffalo, Cincinnati, Houston and Baltimore (presumed favorites listed first below).
Green Bay vs. Jacksonville: I shouldn’t even include any other game under this category. The Packers are rolling, Aaron Rodgers has been unstoppable the past few games, and the Jags won’t have Maurice Jones-Drew and perhaps not Blaine Gabbert, either -- (the latter might be a good thing for Jacksonville). The only negative taking this game is EVERYONE will if they haven’t chosen the Packers yet. I have not.
Chicago vs. Carolina: I will admit this one worries me a bit. It’s a short week for the Bears and Jay Cutler’s ribs are going to be very tender after his body slam -- albeit a legal one -- at the hands of Ndamukong Suh on Monday night. The Panthers might play with urgency as some players and coaches know their jobs hang in the balance in the wake of the team firing GM Marty Hurney this week. But the Bears have shut down better QBs than Cam Newton already this season.
New England at St. Louis (London): The Rams got to London on Monday, while the Pats are waiting until Thursday. Not sure if that makes any difference. Here’s an interesting stat from ESPNBoston.com: The Patriots are scheduled to travel roughly 6,500 miles during their round-trip journey to London. That mileage total surpasses the cumulative distance the Packers will travel during the entire 2012 regular season. If this were in St. Louis, I would stay away. But New England already has done this London thing, spanking the Bucs in 2009. That’s probably an advantage.
Detroit vs. Seattle: I don’t like the Lions much here at all. It’s a short week, they can’t run the ball, Matthew Stafford looks off, and WR Nate Burleson was lost for the season. Seattle’s defense is terrific. The only positive in Detroit’s favor is the Seahawks doing the whole cross-country thing and playing at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
Minnesota vs. Tampa Bay (Thursday): Well, take the under for sure. Home teams are 5-1 in these quick turnarounds this season. This will be the only scheduled prime-time appearance for these former NFC Central rivals (every team gets at least one prime-time game). My worry with Minnesota is that Christian Ponder is struggling big-time these days (58 passing yards in Week 7) and the Bucs are good against the run and could shut down Adrian Peterson. Can Ponder make the No. 31 pass defense pay? I’m not overly confident.
NY Jets vs. Miami: Would you really put your Survivor fate on Mark Sanchez? He’s not even as good as Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill. Miami looked like it might be 0-16 this season after watching “Hard Knocks,” but first-year coach Joe Philbin has done a terrific job. Plus, the Fins are entering off a bye. Miami should have beaten the Jets in Week 3 (23-20 NJY OT win).
Philadelphia vs. Atlanta: Obviously in this category only because it’s too close to call. I fully expect an Eagles win. Both come off a bye so it should be a tremendous game. It’s the debut of new Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Pittsburgh vs. Washington: Not betting against RG3. Not ever. Steelers again without Troy Polamalu, and I rarely like them when he sits.
NY Giants at Dallas: The Cowboys kicked off the 2012 season with a surprising win at the Giants to end the reigning Super Bowl Champions’ winning streak in the Thursday night season opener (it was Wednesday this year). No result would surprise me here, but Dallas just isn’t very good at home.
Denver vs. New Orleans: Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees, what more could you want? There are just four quarterbacks in NFL history with at least 60 career 300-yard passing games. Manning is first with 67, including his past four games. Fourth with 61 is Brees, who has had at least 370 in his past three games. So, naturally, the running game probably determines this one! Way too close to call, but must-see TV.
San Francisco at Arizona (Monday): Definitely take the under here as well. I expect the Cards to go into a total freefall now. Their top two running backs are out and their offensive line is terrible. John Skelton was sacked seven times by the Vikings last week, and none came on a blitz. That’s hard to believe.
Tennessee vs. Indianapolis: The Colts might have joined the Lions as the only 0-16 teams in NFL history a year ago if they hadn’t beaten the Titans in Week 15 (Indy would win again the following week). Indy is a surprising 3-3, but that’s because it is 3-1 at home. The Colts have lost their two road games by 20 and 26 points.
San Diego at Cleveland: I am disgusted with the Chargers after that record-setting choke job last time out in the Monday nighter vs. Denver. Half surprised Norv Turner wasn’t fired during the ensuing bye week. He might be if the Bolts lose here, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. It’s time to clean house in San Diego.
Kansas City vs. Oakland: Brady Quinn gets the start over Matt Cassel, and that’s really all I have for you in this game. Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley will look good in Chiefs red next season.
It’s a no-brainer this week: Packers.
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