Hard to believe already, but this week marks the halfway point of the 2015 regular season as every team will have played at least eight games by Monday night. There was one pretty big upset in Week 8 as Tampa Bay went to Atlanta and beat the Falcons 23-20 in overtime. It was one of two games decided in OT last week; there have been 11 this season, the fifth-most through Week 8 in NFL history. The record is 14 in 1995.
I had considered the Falcons my top choice last week but then realized how they had struggled the previous three games, needing overtime to win at home against Washington, losing in New Orleans and barely winning in Tennessee. So I stayed away -- it might be the second time the Bucs have shaken up some Survivor Pools as they were the biggest underdogs of that wild Week 2 and won in New Orleans.
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Tampa over Atlanta was really the only major upset last week. Seattle nearly lost in Dallas but escaped 13-12. My top choice was St. Louis, and the Rams had no trouble in thumping the visiting 49ers 27-6. My "Upset Of Week" pick was Cleveland over visiting Arizona, but the Browns lost 34-20 at home despite leading by 10 at the half. That's what I get for having any faith in that lousy franchise.
Week 9 has two double-digit favorites that stand above the rest, but the Bengals and Patriots no doubt have been used already by everyone. On the bye this week are Detroit, Kansas City, Arizona, Seattle, Baltimore and Houston. As usual, all teams listed first are the pick.
Top Choice Of Week
New Orleans vs. Tennessee: The Saints are rolling with three straight wins, and Drew Brees doesn't look old any longer as he tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in last week's shootout win over the Giants. Might this be a letdown game for New Orleans? It's possible. The Titans probably get back starting QB Marcus Mariota this week, but that franchise is a mess. Coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired on Tuesday and replaced on an interim basis by Mike Mularkey. So maybe the Titans play harder, but they are the worst team in the NFL.
Cincinnati vs. Cleveland (Thursday): If you haven't used the Bengals yet, I'm sure you will be tempted to here. And I get that. Especially with Johnny Manziel starting at quarterback for Cleveland. But these Thursday games really are too unpredictable. This is also a rivalry game and the Bengals lost at home to the Browns in 2014. So don't be surprised if this is close is all I'm saying.
New England vs. Washington: Remember how former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz used to famously build up even the weakest opponents his Irish would play? New England's Bill Belichick is doing the same jedi mind trick to his players this week in touting Redskins QB Kirk Cousins. The only way this one is close is if the Pats are looking ahead to next week and some Super Bowl payback at the NY Giants.
NY Jets vs. Jacksonville: Let's be clear on this one. I only am confident in the Jets if either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Geno Smith starts at quarterback. Fitzpatrick suffered a ligament injury to his left (non-throwing) thumb last week in the loss to Oakland and will need surgery but perhaps can wait until after the season. Smith hurt his non-throwing shoulder vs. the Raiders. It's not clear yet if either plays. If not, it's rookie Bryce Petty, and he's not ready for the NFL. Move this down at least one category if Petty goes.
Could Go Either Way
Buffalo vs. Miami: So much for being back on the Dolphins bandwagon as they were smoked last week in New England, although it was short week. No team needed a bye more than Buffalo, which was without several starters in Week 7's loss in London to Jacksonville. It looks like most of those guys will be back, led by QB Tyrod Taylor.
Green Bay at Carolina: Unbeaten Panthers getting no respect as underdogs at home. But it's a short week for the Cats, and the Packers aren't going to play that bad offensively a second straight week. I expect Aaron Rodgers to have 77 yards passing in the first quarter of this one; he managed only that many yards the entire Week 8 loss in Denver.
Minnesota vs. St. Louis: I simply like the home team here as the clubs are near mirror images with caretaking quarterbacks, stellar running backs and very good defenses.
Pittsburgh vs. Oakland: I'd probably take the rising Raiders in an upset here if the game wasn't at 10 a.m. Pacific time. The Steelers simply aren't the same offensive powerhouse without running back Le'Veon Bell, who is lost for the season.
NY Giants at Tampa Bay: This could be a bit of a trap game for New York off that close loss in New Orleans last week, in which Eli Manning threw six TD passes, and ahead of next week's home game with New England. If it's really hot and humid in Tampa on Sunday, I might change my mind on this one as it would obviously benefit the Bucs.
Atlanta at San Francisco: I actually think the Niners have a chance at the upset here. The Falcons clearly were a bit overrated is one reason. The other is that I think the San Francisco players hated QB Colin Kaepernick so much that they will play better with Blaine Gabbert starting even though he is one of the worst QBs this decade.
Philadelphia at Dallas: Philly laid a home egg in losing to Dallas 20-10 in Week 2, but the Cowboys still had Tony Romo then. They still don't have him back from that broken collarbone. Plus the Eagles are off their bye week, so maybe Chip Kelly finally gets the offense in gear.
Upset Of Week
Indianapolis vs. Denver: Was offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was the problem? I doubt it, but the Colts fired him Tuesday and replaced him with former Browns coach Rob Chudzinski, who might get the University of Miami head coaching job. He's a former Cane. I do think the Colts can build off their big comeback Monday night vs. Carolina even though it came up short in overtime. Mostly I think this is a letdown game for Denver off last week's blowout of the Packers. No doubt Peyton Manning's final career game in Indianapolis.
San Diego vs. Chicago (Monday): This likely will be the lowest-rated Monday night game this season between two-win teams who are both down key players. The Bolts lost top receiver Keenan Allen for the season in Week 8, and the Bears aren't going to have running back Matt Forte for a few weeks due to a knee injury that apparently isn't season-ending.
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