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NFL Team Rankings, Week 9

By Christopher Reina

Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards. 

Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage. 

The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.

The New England Patriots looked like the best team in football on Sunday afternoon with their very convincing victory over the Denver Broncos, but they only had a +1.5 in the Trench Counter. Bill Belichick's gameplan setup the Broncos for a ton of third and longs they couldn't quite convert, while Peyton Mannning also had a lot of garbage time yards without producing touchdowns. The eye test looks good for the Patriots right now, but they have a difficult remaining schedule and expectations should be tempered.

The Patriots could very well end up as the Wild Card with how the Miami Dolphins are playing. The Dolphins had a +31.8 in their win over the San Diego Chargers and are now ranked No. 1.

There has been a bit of a carousel with the top spot this season with the Vikings (after Week 1), Bengals (Week 2, 3, 4), Seahawks (Week 5), Ravens (Week 6, 7) and Broncos (Week 8) also holding it down. The Seahawks pretty much ran the table in the Trench Counter last season.

Week 9 Rankings

1. Miami Dolphins: 9.0
2. New Orleans Saints: 6.0
3. Denver Broncos: 5.0
4. Baltimore Ravens: 4.1
5. Seattle Seahawks: 4.1
6. San Francisco 49ers: 3.5
7. Indianapolis Colts: 3.3
8. Arizona Cardinals: 3.3
9. Dallas Cowboys: 2.8
10. Kansas City Chiefs: 2.3
11. Green Bay Packers: 2.3
12. Detroit Lions: 1.8
13. Cincinnati Bengals: 1.5
14. New England Patriots: 1.4
15. Chicago Bears: 1.1
16. Philadelphia Eagles: 0.9
17. Buffalo Bills: 0.8
18. Houston Texans: 0.5
19. Washington: 0.4
20. Cleveland Browns: 0.3
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: -0.2
22. Minnesota Vikings: -0.9
23. San Diego Chargers: -1.4
24. New York Giants: -2.3
25. Atlanta Falcons: -3.0
26. Carolina Panthers: -4.1
27. Jacksonville Jaguars: -4.2
28. Tennessee Titans: -5.3
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -6.2
30. New York Jets: -7.6
31. St. Louis Rams: -9.2
32. Oakland Raiders: -9.3


$.10 After NFL Week 9

By Jeff Risdon

$.01--The marquee game had a familiar ring to it. Brady vs. Manning in a battle for AFC supremacy. And once again, Brady’s team prevailed, this time by a wide 43-21 margin. It wasn’t really close after New England’s Julian Edelman returned a punt 80 yards to put the home team up 20-7.

One big reason for New England’s early surge was the defensive stoutness on first down. Manning continually faced tough conversions, and the Patriots were game for the challenge. As Alen Dumonjić pointed out on Twitter, the Broncos' distances on third down in the first half were 12, 11, 10, 20, 10 and six yards.

The Patriots' offense played intelligent football. They consistently ran routes past the Denver defensive backs and then broke back towards Brady. Either the defense got called for a hold or the receiver found ample space to make the reception. Brady was sharp in the windy conditions, and his receivers consistently made the tough catches.

Manning didn’t get those advantages. Two bobbled balls resulted in interceptions, and several other catchable balls hit the turf. Two failed fourth down plays, including a sack on a 3-man rush where Akeem Ayers swooped in unblocked, helped seal the fate. Denver’s special teams were no help, with a missed field goal and the Edelman punt return, plus a penalty on a booming Ryan Allen boot pushed them way back to start their death-gasp drive.

There was much consternation on social media about Manning choking once again, but consider this one a case of the Patriots being the better team on this day. They didn’t like being disrespected by being underdogs at home, and they took out their frustrations on the Broncos. It still builds the narrative of Manning not being able to beat Brady in big games, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of this game. 

$.02--In a game where my prediction couldn’t have been more wrong, the Miami Dolphins blew out the visiting San Diego Chargers. This was one of those games where it was so one-sided the CBS affiliates opted to switch to other games in the early part of the third quarter.

I was incredibly impressed with Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense. Tannehill was the maestro of a finely tuned orchestra of points and yards, playing every note right against a toneless San Diego defense. He completed passes to nine different receivers, all of whom had lots of space around them thanks to a clever game plan from offensive coordinator Bill Lazor. Everything the Chargers tried to do defensively, the Dolphins had an emphatic answer for it. From designed rollouts and bootlegs to nifty scrambles where Tannehill kept his eyes down the field, Miami struck every chord just right.

This marked San Diego’s 3rd loss in a row, but the magnitude of the beatdown has to be even more demoralizing. Philip Rivers looked like the 2012 version that had many calling for him to be replaced and nothing like the MVP candidate he was over the first six weeks of this season. Miami’s pass rush and rolling coverages flummoxed him, coaxing several terrible throws. They limp into their well-timed bye in desperate need of a regrouping. Fortunately for the Chargers, they draw the Raiders and Rams after the bye--both in San Diego. It’s not time to panic yet, but a loss in either of those games and that flaming start is turned to ashen ruins of what might have been.

The only real negative for Miami was that nobody in Miami apparently cared enough to show up. Crowd shots of the stadium showed far more empty seats than occupied ones, including many premium lower bowl vacancies. Keep that in mind as the team is desperately searching for teams to relocate to both London and Los Angeles. The locals missed out on what might have been the best game this franchise has played since 1972.

$.03--While Miami is an impressive 5-3, the other two Florida teams appear as if they will struggle to combine to match the current Dolphins win total. Sunday was a close-but-no-cigar day for both Jacksonville and Tampa Bay, both of whom sit with just one win.

The Jaguars scared the Bengals, though it took Cincinnati playing a flat, sloppy game to keep them in it. Andy Dalton threw a terrible INT to set up a Jaguars TD, closing the gap to just 26-23 halfway through the fourth quarter. Alas the Jaguars defense quickly threw away any hope on the very next play, as rookie RB Jeremy Hill bounded for a 60-yard TD. Blake Bortles threw a late INT of his own, his league-leading 13th, and Margus Hunt then sacked the rookie QB to end the game on the next drive. He could have thrown at least three others. Bortles continues to go through the growing pains, interspersing flashes of real brilliance with ponderous blunders. This was expected for Jaguars fans, who have shown some patience in knowing better days are on the way.

That cannot be said for Tampa Bay, where the regime change was supposed to provide an instant winner. Instead, the Bucs are a disaster. Tampa Bay fans are finding out what Chicagoans could have told them about Lovie Smith--he’s one of the worst coaches in the league and has been for some time. His bland, predictable defense doesn’t have the talent to be so passive, and Brian Hoyer made them pay. Lovie’s own QB situation is weak, as Mike Glennon continues to look like a backup while Josh McCown remains sidelined. Cleveland’s special teams also played a role, chinking that normally strong Smith armor.

Three of their last four losses have been one possession outcomes, but there is little reason to see those losses turning into victories anytime soon. Other than a strong performance from rookie WR Mike Evans--often abusing fellow rookie Justin Gilbert, taken one pick after him in the first round--the Bucs have very little to hang their hats upon. They traded away 2012 1st rounder Mark Barron, a safety who cannot cover, and tried to sell off several other assets as well. Yet the rebuild was supposed to be already underway, not at the beginning stages of another radical overhaul. They rank in the bottom 5 on both offense and defense. If they can’t get another win in the next three weeks against Atlanta, Washington or Chicago, Smith might not be part of this next plan. 

$.04--The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted their bitter rival in the Baltimore Ravens in the Sunday night tilt. Ben Roethlisberger threw six touchdowns despite taking a barrage of hits, and the Steelers became the first AFC North team to hit six wins by pounding their nemesis 43-23.

This game was epitomized in a quick series of events in the second quarter. Baltimore sacked Big Ben on three consecutive plays. Baltimore subsequently fumbled the ball back, with Joe Flacco making a nice tackle to prevent a touchdown. A couple of plays later, this all happened on one snap:

There were roughing penalties, interceptions thrown directly to linebackers, blown blocking assignments, several near fracases and a whole lot of yawning from this viewer. Every time I looked up I either saw a Steelers wideout making a nice catch on a great throw, a distressed Flacco running for his life, or a penalty flag after a broken play. The Pittsburgh touchdown passes stand like a bright sunflower in a field of pestilence.

Amazingly the Ravens sit in last place at 5-4. They still have a big say in the AFC playoff picture, however. They play San Diego, Miami and Cleveland--all teams they are chasing for Wild Card spots, as well as a 4-5 Houston team that has a favorable schedule to make a run. 

$.05--The Dallas Cowboys fell at home to Arizona 28-17 in a game most notable for Tony Romo sitting it out with a broken back. His broken back is the straw that broke Dallas’ offense, and the visitors from the shadows of Camelback Mountain seized the opportunity.

All of the blame will fall on Romo’s replacement, Brandon Weeden, and he certainly deserves some of it. But it wasn’t Weeden’s decision to run Demarco Murray just ten times in the first half, when the score was still quite close. In fact, Dallas actually led 10-0 after a pick-six by rookie Tyler Patmon and a Dan Bailey field goal after a quick defensive stand.

It wasn’t Weeden’s fault the pass defense couldn’t get stops late in the game when needed, allowing the Cardinals to ice the victory with a pair of late touchdowns. After the second drive, Palmer had enough time to order Jimmy John’s in the pocket on most of his throws.

It also isn’t Weeden’s fault that Arizona is a damn good football team. I’m not sure Romo would have made much of a difference, not with the way the Cardinals dominated the line of scrimmage. One key reason for Dallas dropping two in a row is the regression of its mighty offensive line. They’re just not getting the movement up front or playing with the cohesion in pass protection that they were over the first six weeks. Arizona’s defense dictated the action with its blitzing and movement and aggression, and Dallas couldn’t match it.

Did the Cowboys overachieve early? Are they destined to crash back to reality, from a 6-1 start to missing the playoffs? It’s too early to tell, but they sure look an awful lot like last year’s 6-3 turned 7-9 Detroit Lions. It’s worth noting that their offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan, was Detroit’s OC last year and it was an utter collapse by Detroit’s previously dynamic offense cost them dearly. The ridiculous overuse of Murray early looked great in September but could very well leave his tank empty by the middle of November. With Romo’s aching back and a defense that keeps suffering injuries, it’s not that surprising if the Cowboys continue to slide. 

$.06--The NFC South picture got a little clearer Thursday night, as the New Orleans Saints marched into Charlotte and took care of the host Panthers 28-10. The fact New Orleans did so with a combination of a resurgent defense and a strong running game is a very good sign going forward.

Everyone knows Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham, but the reason this Saints team is finally turning it around is because of the return of Mark Ingram. He’s never been better, not even in his Heisman days in Alabama. In the last two weeks, both Saints wins, he has 272 yards and two touchdowns while running with a litheness and burst that he hadn’t shown before.

The New Orleans' defense, so bad in the 2-4 start, has also responded. In the last six quarters they have allowed just three scoring drives while creating 5 turnovers. The pass rush is finally showing signs of being effective, and better safety play has helped shore up the back end. A week after hindering Aaron Rodgers trying to go deep, they completely bottled up Cam Newton’s downfield attack. Newton was just 10-for-28, though some of those were dropped by Kelvin Benjamin and others.

New Orleans now controls the NFL’s weakest division at 4-4 after dropping the Panthers to 3-5-1. More importantly, it was the Saints’ first road win of the season. The divisional road win is huge for Sean Payton’s squad, a real confidence boost for a team that has been awful away from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

$.07--The San Francisco 49ers fell to 4-4 and way back in the NFC playoff picture when Colin Kaepernick fumbled at the goal line while trying to score the game-winning touchdown with seconds left on the clock. St. Louis Rams LB James Laurinaitis recovered, and the Niners suffer the ignominy of losing at home to a bad St. Louis team. Now a team many expected to win the Super Bowl are behind several teams in the NFC Wild Card chase and three full games behind the division-leading Cardinals.

At this rate it wouldn’t be shocking if Jim Harbaugh, who absolutely will not be back in San Francisco next year, doesn’t finish the season as 49ers coach. Injuries are a legitimate excuse for some of the decline; center Adam Kilgore was sorely missed as rookie replacement Marcus Martin had snap and blocking issues all day. Kaepernick was sacked 8 times and the Niners found very little running room.

The 49ers defense played reasonably well considering all the players it’s missing. Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Chris Cook, Glenn Dorsey, the list goes on and on. Yet Austin Davis and the Rams have no sympathy, not with over 25% of their 2014 salary cap on injured reserve in St. Louis. The Rams played like they wanted to win, while the Niners played like a team that expected to win easy. That falls squarely on Harbaugh.

It will be interesting to see how his legacy in San Francisco is perceived. He sparked them to great heights after the Mike Singletary debacle, making it to at least the final four three years in a row. Yet in all three years they lost to teams they should have beaten. A division rival won a Super Bowl in the same time, and so did Harbaugh’s brother John in Baltimore with a team that was 5-point underdogs, a big margin for a Super Bowl. For all the attention and acclaim Harbaugh accrued--and actively sought out--his tenure probably should have at least one Super Bowl win. On paper, Harbaugh had the best team for most of a three-year period, yet never won the big one.

$.08--NFL Quickies

--We’ll start with a tweet near and dear to my heart:

 

This one came in response to Minnesota getting jobbed on a bad call that led directly to a Washington field goal. It could have come from several other games this season.

--It was cool seeing Mean Joe Greene get his No. 75 retired in Pittsburgh. I’m old enough to remember him play, though I mostly recall his great Coke commercial more than his on-field prowess. He’s one of the rare legends that even the opponents whose asses he regularly kicked loved him.  

--Kudos to Mark Sanchez for providing winning relief of an injured Nick Foles in Philly’s 31-21 win in Houston. After J.J. Watt broke Foles’ left collarbone (tests are still pending but it sure look broken), The Sanchize came in and delivered a key road win. He was pretty impressive, completing 15-of-22 with two TDs but two INTs, doing enough to outduel the bad Ryan Fitzpatrick, who couldn’t handle the Philly pressure or the midgame loss of Arian Foster to a groin injury.

--RGIII returned to the field, but Minnesota rode three Matt Asiata touchdowns to beat Griffin’s Skins 29-26. Griffin looked healthy and was pretty effective, but Teddy Bridgewater was a little better. Still, it’s encouraging to see the oft-injured star-in-waiting take some licks and keep on ticking.

--Oakland has now lost 14 in a row. They were highly competitive in Seattle but couldn’t quite rally back. The Raiders only have one game left against a team that doesn’t already have at least four wins, a road date in St. Louis. They’re not the worst team in the league but they do have the worst record. Then again they did lose to the worst team in the league, the Jets…

$.09--College/Draft Quickies

--The Ole Miss/Auburn game was a great contest ended in a most unfortunate way. Auburn prevailed when Rebels star WR Laquon Treadwell fumbled just before scoring the go-ahead TD on a play where he suffered a gruesome lower leg injury. It’s a shame such a spirited affair ended on such a down note, because both teams played a wonderfully entertaining, emotional game. Another close shave win against a very good opponent, the other being Kansas State, has the Tigers poised for a return to the national championship game.

--I tried to not make a big deal out of Tuesday’s initial 4-team playoff rankings announcement. As the panel itself was quick to note, things are going to change dramatically between now and the end of the year. But one thing did stand out: Oregon stood above fellow 1-loss teams Alabama, TCU, Kansas State and Notre Dame even though their loss (to Arizona) did not come to a team above them like everyone else’s did. That’s a lot of respect for the Ducks…and they proved they earned it by annihilating Stanford on Saturday.

--Big win for Temple in shocking #23 East Carolina. The Owls only gained 135 yards but still won 20-10, forcing five turnovers and watching the Pirates walk off their own plank. Temple is quietly 5-3, a nice bounce for a program that has been largely terrible since the Reagan Administration.

--So Arkansas hasn’t won a conference game in almost two calendar years, yet when the #1 team in the country barely squeaks past them it’s considered a great quality win?!? I know Arkansas isn’t that bad, but when Michigan State “only” beats Purdue by three touchdowns or Baylor “only” puts up 60 against Kansas they get knocked? Come one, man, the SEC is just as top-heavy as the Big 12 or Pac 12. No team in the SEC East, not even Georgia (more on them in a second) would finish higher than 5th in any other major conference.

--Florida finally got a marquee win for embattled coach Will Muschamp, stunning Georgia in their annual tilt in Jacksonville. The Gators punched the Bulldogs in the mouth early and often, running for over 400 yards. Treon Harris only completed three passes for Florida and they still won 38-20. It was Muschamp’s first win over Georgia in 5 tries and could elevate his Gators into a bowl. They now sit 4-3 with Vanderbilt and South Carolina--both with losing records--still on the schedule.

--Florida State rallied big-time for a 42-31 win in Louisville after trailing 21-0 on Thursday night. As Jameis Winston said after the game, the Seminoles really do seem to play better when their backs are against the wall. The precise manner in which Winston and the FSU offense simply flipped the switch against a pretty talented Cardinals defense was very impressive.

--Look for a Top 103 prospects later this week. I’m already through the first 82, still have some games to watch on several guys before I’m comfortable ranking some more. You will not see many TEs or safeties. 

$.10--Michigan football dominated the sports news cycle this week here in the Mitten State. Things came to a head on Friday, when Athletic Director David Brandon “resigned”.

Brandon’s resignation preempted a more dubious and plainly obvious fate. After sending out some condescending, unprofessional emails the writing was on the wall. It’s far from Brandon’s only misstep, however.

There was the mishandling of quarterback Shane Morris and a concussion, which resulted in a strange cover-up and basic admission that nobody on the sidelines knows what the hell is going on between the lines during a game. There was the dubious decision to jack up student ticket rates, which resulted in completely empty swaths of Big House territory in every home game except the Penn State contest. His mercenary tactics worked well for Domino’s Pizza, where he came from, but alienated generous alumni who felt shunned aside and taken for granted.

Go back a year and Brandon’s quiet sweeping under the rug of protecting a rapist kicker and a thug left tackle stand out at a university that actively promotes itself as a righteous bastion of integrity. Michigan is supposed to be better than that.

They’re supposed to be better on the football field, too, and that’s why Brandon’s rope kept tightening. The Wolverines have been a middle-of-the-pack B1G team for a decade. They’re routinely pummeled by their top three rivals, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State and have struggled to put away lowly MAC teams. The pipeline to the NFL has all but dried up; for the second year in a row the Wolverines will have just one 1st round pick (Devin Funchess) and perhaps two third-day draftees. In short, the once-mighty football program, one of the flagship squads in the nation, has eroded into a sad also-ran.

Never was this more evidenced than when Michigan played Alabama in Arlington in 2012, a game I attended with my son. At our hotel, the Alabama fans were cordial but obviously dismissive of Michigan. As one woman said to me when seeing my son decked out in Michigan gear, “that’s so cute, he thinks they can actually win” with that trademark Southern down-talking condescension. Michigan was to Alabama what Michigan fans perceive Central Michigan to be to the Wolverines.

I got a lot of that living in Texas. The national perception of Michigan football is dramatically divergent from the maize and blue faithful around here. Elite athletes from SEC or Big 12 country don’t even contemplate Michigan anymore. More than once I heard Michigan referred to as a basketball school while I lived in Houston.

In fact, Brandon built Michigan into a national powerhouse in multiple sports. The men’s basketball, hockey, swimming, cross country, softball and volleyball teams are all elite or near-elite national programs. Wolverine sports have never been better across the board.

Yet football is truly the only sport that matters. It’s the revenue driver and the face of the university, and right now it’s a relative embarrassment. Instead of competing for championships in front of packed crowds, they’re scrapping for third-tier bowl games in front of laughable “sell-out” crowds. If you ever need an example that football could and should be a separate entity from the NCAA and the rest of the intercollegiate sports, Michigan is it.

Head coach Brady Hoke will be the next neck on the chopping block, but that will wait until the end of the season. A new AD will get to tie his name to the next Wolverine football coach. It could be Jim (or John) Harbaugh. It could be Jon Gruden or Les Miles. It could also be another RichRod or Hoke, an outsider settled upon after the top choices all shun the school because they know what a terrible situation it is.

Michigan has to get the next AD and head coach combo right, or else they make the ongoing messes at Texas and Florida seem tame. Brandon did a lot of very good things in Ann Arbor, but he botched the only one that really matters. The leash will be even shorter for his successor. 


Football Meteorology For NFL Week 9

By Jeff Risdon

This is the busiest bye week of the season, strangely coming after the World Series is over and on the opening weekend of NBA festivities. For as much as the NFL micromanages its public persona and tries to maximize revenue, they sure do a terrible job manipulating the schedule.

Cold weather begins to be more of a factor this week. Pay attention to field conditions for teams that like to run the ball outside the tackles, as that is the primary negative impact of colder and slicker conditions.

Last Week: 9-6, which isn’t bad considering the demoralizing upset picks of Chicago and Jacksonville went horribly wrong. The season forecast is now 78-41-1.

Gambling Update: Wagered a total of $2000 and two of the three bets were losers. My only hit was Carolina getting 4.5 at home to Seattle. The net loss of $1500 reduces the kitty to $12K after starting at $10K. 

Thursday Night

- New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers (+2.5): As with real estate, the key here is location. The Saints are a multimillion dollar beachfront mansion at home, but when they’re on the road the mansion sits in a dingy mud flat next to a contaminated river. They haven’t won on the road this year, yet are undefeated at home. Normally that would make me easily default to picking the host Panthers, but they’re not an easy team to trust.

The Carolina offense has scored 26 points in the last two weeks. The Panthers defense has allowed 24 or more points in five of the last six, ranking in the bottom 10 in just about every defensive stat metric over the last month. The Saints offense appears to have found its stride over the last two weeks, and I see that trend continuing. Mark Ingram’s impressive running last week against Green Bay should give the Panthers fits. I agree with the book makers here, the visiting Saints should win by about a field goal. Those road property values are going to trend up for New Orleans.

Saints 30, Panthers 27 

Sunday Games

- Denver Broncos at New England Patriots (+3.5): The Patriots are home underdogs for just the second time since 2005. Both those games have pertinence here.

Last year the Broncos were 2-point favorites in New England. The Patriots won 34-31. The undefeated Bengals in Week 5 is the other instance, and the Patriots won that game 43-17. In fact, since Tom Brady took over as New England’s QB the Patriots are an astonishing 9-1 when a home underdog. Denver might be the better team, but the Patriots do not take the disrespect lightly. Denver has lost three of the four meetings since Peyton Manning became a Bronco, though he didn’t play in one. Moreover, the Patriots have a recent history of lighting up the Broncos. They’ve scored at least 31 in five of the last seven meetings, topping 40 in three of those. The last four times Denver has travelled to Foxboro they’ve allowed 45, 41, 31, and 34 points and this Patriots offense is significantly better than three of those teams putting up the big numbers. Gimmie $500 on New England with points at home.

Patriots 36, Broncos 34

- Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys (-4.5): Monday night’s loss to Washington brought the Cowboy haters out of the woodwork. It’s like they’ve been storing up all this anger and resentment towards Dallas’ strong start for far too long. Everyone who doubted the validity of their 6-1 start immediately felt justified in their skepticism.

This week figures to continue those salad days for the haters, though this time it’s more about the opponent than the Cowboys themselves. Washington exposed flaws in the offense that the Cardinals are nicely equipped to replicate. Arizona is opportunistic and relentlessly aggressive, a bad combo for a Dallas offense playing on a short week with a clearly wounded Tony Romo. I also really like the Cardinals speed on offense and depth of receiving talent to expose a Dallas defense that has been overachieving for a little too long.

Cardinals 33, Cowboys 24

- Philadelphia Eagles at Houston Texans (+2.5): Total hunch pick here. I sat down to evaluate this one and I was overcome with the strong notion that the Texans somehow win. I’m not sure how, but I’m riding with the gut.

Texans 22, Eagles 20

- San Diego Chargers at Miami Dolphins (-1.5): Big test for the Chargers, coming off their worst game of the season in losing at Denver. It’s an early game on the East coast, never an easy task for the West coast teams. Yet they get an unexpected boon in the end of Daylight Savings Time, which means the early start is physiologically one hour later. Coupled with the extra rest--their Week 8 game was a Thursday nighter--and I think San Diego will overcome the negatives here. They’re the better football team, and as long as they protect Philip Rivers the Chargers handle their business.

Chargers 24, Dolphins 16

- Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cleveland Browns (-6.5): The Browns draw a team in the bottom four of pretty much every power ranking for the third week in a row. No team is playing worse than the woeful Buccaneers, who tried to trade away anyone for pennies on the dollar this week. They dumped 2012 first-rounder Mark Barron, a major liability in coverage at safety but the only player in the secondary who could reliably tackle. Guess what Cleveland likes to do? Run the ball right at the defense with powerful depth at RB. The Browns run for over 200 yards in this one and the Dawg Pound woofs approvingly.

Browns 27, Buccaneers 17

- Washington at Minnesota Vikings (-2.5): This game will apparently mark the return of RG3 to the helm in Washington, just a few quick days after Colt McCoy impressively guided them to a huge win in Dallas.

I’m not sure I like the timing here. Washington has a bye after this week, and McCoy seemed to have a great command of Jay Gruden’s offense. Moreover, it’s a short week and a road game. The pressure on RG3 will be intense, and the last time he rushed back from an injury the results were not positive. The Vikings don’t do many things well, but one area they excel is getting to the opposing quarterback; only the Chiefs have a higher sack percentage. Griffin figures to have limited mobility and acceleration to escape the likes of Everson Griffen (8 sacks), Tom Johnson (5) and Anthony Barr (3). This figures to be a low-scoring affair decided by a turnover or special teams play, and the home team has the advantage in both areas.

Vikings 19, Ethnic Slurs 16

- Jacksonville Jaguars at Cincinnati Bengals (-11.5): The Bengals look like they righted the listing ship in the win over Baltimore, and the jungle is no safe place for Jaguars rookie QB Blake Bortles. Okay, technically the jaguar is a jungle animal. Which reminds me of the underrated movie Apocalypto, the last hour of which is one of the most intense chase scenes ever filmed. Alas, I don’t see Bortles pulling off the sort of savvy cunning Jaguar Paw does to survive in the movie. Do yourself a favor and see that film, but be warned it’s grisly. So is Jacksonville’s chance to win here.

Bengals 30, Jaguars 17

- New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5): I’ll let the picture of my Survivor Fantasy picks say all my words here…

   

Chiefs 30, Jets 9

St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers (-9.5): The Niners are coming off a bye, while the Rams are coming off a blowout loss at Kansas City. The last two times the Rams have hit the road, they’ve given up 34 points. With an astonishing 21% of their salary cap investment now on IR after Jake Long’s second blown out knee in less than a year, there’s little reason to see anything different for the hopeless Rams against a fresh, motivated Niners team looking to edge back into the NFC playoffs and make up some ground on Arizona. I’ll put $1000 on the Niners to cover.

49ers 34, Rams 12

Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks (-14.5): I’ll channel the great Gil Brandt here. Listeners to Sirius NFL Radio will know exactly what I’m saying…

Let me just say this about Seattle. The Seahawks here, they’re a real good football team and I think they know they need to play better. Pete Carroll is a good football coach, see, and he’s not going to let them look past the Raiders. You know, Al Davis was a great owner and a competitor and I like that these young Raiders compete. But right now they’re too young and the long and the short of it is they’re not quite ready to win a game like this yet.

Seahawks 24, Raiders 10

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-1): These two fierce rivals seem to always play close games. Both contests last year were decided by a field goal. It’s odd that it comes down to such a close margin for two teams that throw the ball so much. These are not your older brother’s Steelers or Ravens; these two teams combine to average 73 passes per game (not counting sacks). In 2010 they combined to average just 58 per game. There’s all the evidence you need that the game is spiraling away from being run-oriented.

The Steelers offer a little more balanced production, and I’ll take Antonio Brown as the playmaking receiver over Steve Smith in a close game. Yet if it comes down to kickers, I’m not betting against Baltimore’s Justin Tucker. Sorry to my Steelers friends, of which I have a surprising amount being a native Clevelander who has lived in Michigan, Texas and Virginia, but I see Tucker kicking a walk-off field goal to give the Ravens the win.

Baltimore 34, Pittsburgh 33

Monday Night

Indianapolis Colts at New York Giants (+4.5): Several reasons why I really like the visiting Colts here:

- Andrew Luck in prime time >>> Eli Manning in prime time

- The Colts were embarrassed last week and are eager to prove the 51 points Pittsburgh hung on them was a fluke

- New York’s ground game will miss Rashad Jennings once again

- Luck found a talented new toy in Donte Moncrief, mitigating the questionable status of Reggie Wayne

- The Giants are 1-6 in their last seven games as a home underdog, including 0-3 last year

Colts 32, Giants 24



NFL Team Rankings, Week 8

Von Miller and the Broncos now have the top spot in our rankings ahead of the Ravens, Dolphins, Saints, Cowboys, Colts and Cardinals.


$.10 After NFL Week 8

On the Cardinals beating Philadelphia, another loss for the Jets, all AFC North teams with a winning record, all NFC South teams with a losing record, a power ranking and more.


2015 NFL Mock Draft, Version 2.0

We project Leonard Williams, Marcus Mariota, Shawn Oakman, Brandon Scherff, Landon Collins, Connor Cook and Dante Fowler as the top-7 picks.


Football Meteorology For NFL Week 8

The NFL kicks off Week 8 with its best game of the weekend on Thursday in Broncos/Chargers, while the Saints look to salvage their season against the Packers, and the rest of the week's games.


NFL Team Rankings, Week 7

The Dolphins recorded an impressive win at Chicago and now rank No. 2 in the Trench Counter, behind the Ravens and ahead of the Packers, Chargers, Broncos, Cowboys, Colts and Cardinals.


$.10 After NFL Week 7

The Cowboys avoid a let down, Seattle loses again, Jaguars get their first win, Denver dominates San Francisco, an interesting day for the NFC North and the Percy Harvin trade.