It would be fair to call Week Eight the first unofficial lull of the 2013 season. Six teams are off, including the defending Super Bowl champions. The other Super Bowl team has been exiled to London, for a friendly against the Jaguars.
Of the 13 games on the slate, some of the worst teams will play in prime time. Tonight, it’s the winless Bucs. Sunday night, the hapless Vikings. Monday night, the listless Rams.
Throw in recent Monday night game between Minnesota and the Giants and technically the evening kickoff in London and it’s as bad a five-game cluster of football under the lights that the NFL ever has seen.
But we’ll still watch, because it’s the NFL. And it’s on TV. And in three-and-a-half months it’ll be gone until next September.
I’ll be paying particular attention to two of the games, since MDS and I disagree on the outcomes. Our full slate of Week Eight picks appears below.
Last week, I swept the two games on which we differed, finishing 10-5 to his 8-7. For the year, he’s now 71-36, and I’m 67-40.
Panthers at Buccaneers
MDS’s take: Looking at the Buccaneers’ remaining schedule, this actually appears to be one of their more winnable games, at home on a short week against a .500 team. But the Panthers have been playing good football, and they’re not going to get tripped up in Tampa.
MDS’s pick: Panthers 21, Buccaneers 6.
Florio’s take: The Panthers have been taking care of business against bad teams. They get another chance to do it on Thursday night, against one of the worst teams. The next challenge for Carolina will be to beat a good team.
Florio’s pick: Panthers 24, Buccaneers 17.
Cowboys at Lions
MDS’s take: This is a tough one. The Lions are favored and I rarely pick against a team with a winning record at home. But the Lions’ secondary was leaving receivers wide open all day against the Bengals, and Tony Romo and Dez Bryant should be able to put up big numbers in Detroit. Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense looked outstanding last week against Philadelphia. I see the Cowboys winning a close game.
MDS’s pick: Cowboys 28, Lions 27.
Florio’s take: A shootout could be coming at Ford Field, and the Lions know their margin for error is shrinking. The Cowboys, at 4-3 and in the NFC East, won’t have a margin for error until late December.
Florio’s pick: Lions 38, Cowboys 35.
49ers at Jaguars
MDS’s take: This is an easy one. The 49ers are playing tough, physical football on both sides of the ball, while the Jaguars are making mistakes all over the place. The fans in London are going to see the Jaguars and be horrified at the idea that this is the quality of football the NFL plans to send across the pond on a regular basis. (Next year the Jaguars “host” the Cowboys at Wembley Stadium, and we can already pencil in the Cowboys as 14-point favorites in that game.)
MDS’s pick: 49ers 34, Jaguars 10.
Florio’s take: The good news? Folks in Jacksonville don’t have to witness this “home” game in person. The bad news? It’ll be on TV.
Florio’s pick: 49ers 40, Jaguars 13.
Browns at Chiefs
MDS’s take: I keep thinking the Chiefs are ripe for an upset, and then I keep looking at their schedule and thinking they’re a lot better than every team they’re going to play, at least until the Broncos come to town on November 17. Jason Campbell might be a better option than Brandon Weeden, but the Browns just aren’t good enough on offense to move the ball effectively against that tough Chiefs defense.
MDS’s pick: Chiefs 20, Browns 10.
Florio’s take: The Chiefs continue their tour of backup quarterbacks. A loss feels inevitable before the home-and-home showdowns with the Broncos, but it’s not likely to happen this week.
Florio’s pick: Chiefs 27, Browns 13.
Dolphins at Patriots
MDS’s take: With all their injuries, I don’t think the Patriots are any better than the Dolphins on either offense or defense. But I do think the Patriots are a lot better than the Dolphins on special teams, and I look for a big play in the kicking game to be the difference.
MDS’s pick: Patriots 17, Dolphins 13.
Florio’s take: The two teams that most (like us) assumed would be battling for supremacy in the division are now struggling to stay competitive. The Dolphins don’t have the running game to take advantage of the Pats’ porous post-Wilfork run defense, or the offensive line to keep Patriots defenders off of Ryan Tannehill.
Florio’s pick: Patriots 24, Dolphins 20.
Bills at Saints
MDS’s take: Buffalo has a better defense than most people realize, and the Bills’ pass rush is going to give Drew Brees a tough time. But the Bills’ offense will struggle in front of a hostile New Orleans crowd, and the Saints will win in a closer game than most people are expecting.
MDS’s pick: Saints 23, Bills 20.
Florio’s take: With or without tight end (receiver) Jimmy Graham, the Saints are too tough to beat in their own building, even though the Bills are looking better than anyone thought they would. As long as Drew Brees can avoid getting flattened by Mario Williams, the Saints should continue to strengthen their grip on the NFC South.
Florio’s pick: Saints 35, Bills 20.
Giants at Eagles
MDS’s take: The NFC East is so bad that the Giants could get themselves into the division race with a win in Philadelphia. I don’t see it happening, though. Monday night’s win was about as ugly a win as an NFL team can earn, and the Giants still look like a lousy team.
MDS’s pick: Eagles 24, Giants 13.
Florio’s take: The Eagles haven’t been much more this year than the best of some bad teams. They’ll get another chance to do it on Sunday, and in the process snap a nine-game home losing streak.
Florio’s pick: Eagles 27, Giants 17.
Steelers at Raiders
MDS’s take: The Steelers have a history of dropping games on the road against bad Raiders teams, but I don’t think it will happen this time. Pittsburgh looks like it’s turning things around and should roll against a Raiders team that isn’t playing particularly well in any phase of the game.
MDS’s pick: Steelers 24, Raiders 10.
Florio’s take: Another week, another once great rivalry that has lost its luster. Pittsburgh is starting to get on a roll; the Raiders aren’t as bad as we thought they’d be but still not good enough.
Florio’s pick: Steelers 20, Raiders 13.
Jets at Bengals
MDS’s take: This doesn’t exactly have the feel of a huge game, but it’s one of only two this week matching up two teams with winning records. Give the Jets a lot of credit for getting to 4-3, but I’m still not convinced that they’re actually a good team. The Bengals should take this one and solidify their status as one of the top teams in the AFC.
MDS’s pick: Bengals 27, Jets 17.
Florio’s take: The Jets have beaten the Bengals four straight times, and nine out of 10 dating back to 1992. The trend gets reversed on Sunday, thanks to the fact that Cincinnati has the superior team on both sides of the ball. Hopefully the locals will realize that, and buy up the remaining tickets.
Florio’s pick: Bengals 24, Jets 13.
Falcons at Cardinals
MDS’s take: I think the Falcons are better than their 2-4 record suggests. And I don’t think the Cardinals are any better than their 3-4 record suggests. So I’m tempted to take Atlanta in a slight upset. But the Falcons’ injuries on offense, combined with the impressive way the Cardinals’ defense is playing, makes me believe Arizona will win a close, low-scoring game.
MDS’s pick: Cardinals 14, Falcons 13.
Florio’s take: At 1-4, the Falcons knew they weren’t dead yet. At 3-4 after Sunday, they’ll be in position to chase a wild-card berth in the NFC.
Florio’s pick: Falcons 27, Cardinals 17.
Redskins at Broncos
MDS’s take: If Peyton Manning wants to shake off last week’s disappointing loss in Indianapolis, he could hardly have picked a better defense to do it against than Washington’s, which has struggled all season and will now be without suspended starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather. This won’t be close.
MDS’s pick: Broncos 31, Redskins 17.
Florio’s take: Mike Shanahan returns to Denver, the Mile High location of his mile-long house. At least he’ll still have that after the game.
Florio’s pick: Broncos 48, Redskins 21.
Packers at Vikings
MDS’s take: Everyone is focusing so much on the Vikings’ problems at quarterback that hardly anyone has noticed how bad the Vikings’ defense is. Aaron Rodgers should have a field day, and the Vikings’ offense will continue to struggle no matter who’s playing quarterback.
MDS’s pick: Packers 31, Vikings 13.
Florio’s take: Since 1992, the Packers have had three starting quarterbacks: Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Flynn (twice). In that same time, the Vikings have had Rich Gannon, Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon, Warren Moon, Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper, Todd Bouman, Spergon Wynn, Gus Frerotte, Brad Johnson (again), Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger, Gus Frerotte (again), Tarvaris Jackson, Brett Favre, Joe Webb, Donovan McNabb, Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, and Christian Ponder (again). That pretty much sums up the state of this rivalry for the past 21 years.
Florio’s pick: Packers 34, Vikings 10.
Seahawks at Rams
MDS’s take: Pity Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens having to take on that nasty Seahawks defense in his first start in two years. It’s going to get ugly in St. Louis.
MDS’s pick: Seahawks 34, Rams 6.
Florio’s take: After the Rams have moved and people in St. Louis are tempted to lament the fact that their NFL franchise is gone, they’ll be able to look back on this game, and it will make them feel a little bit better.
Florio’s pick: Seahawks 38, Rams 13.