Essentials - Week 8
October 28, 2018
By Tony Mejia
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Philadelphia (-4/44.5) at Jacksonville in London, 9:30 a.m. ET, NFLN: It’s premature to say seasons are on the line today, though it’s definitely fair to say that the loser of this one will be stuck in a 3-5 nightmare at the season’s halfway point. Even though they’re in divisions that no other team is running away with, there will be little room for error for whatever team is traveling back to the States having packed that ‘L.’ Jags QB Blake Bortles has been impressive in London, coming in with a 3-0 record in games played overseas, but he’s turned the ball over 11 times in the last three games and was benched in favor of backup Cody Kessler in last week’s loss to Houston.
Counterpart Carson Wentz is coming off a rocky performance in last week’s loss to Carolina, which saw the Eagles blow a 17-0 lead in finishing with their lowest scoring total of the season. With defensive regulars Corey Graham and Sidney Jones missing from the secondary, Wentz will have to pick up his level of play in taking advantage of the Jaguars’ issues in the defensive backfield. They have had just one sack in the last three games.
Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey got into a war of words with Kansas City Tyreek Hill, ran more than he ever has in a football game trying to cover and stay with him in a 30-14 loss at Arrowhead and then hasn’t been the same since in losses to Dallas and Houston, physically looking less formidable. He’s been playing through an ankle injury that has been a major issue that could be magnified here since so much of the Jags’ secondary is injured. A.J. Bouye (calf), D.J. Hayden (toe) and Tyler Patmon (neck) have been ruled out and a defense that has surrendered 30 points per game during their losing streak is counting on Tre Herndon (hamstring) stepping up to help cover an Eagles receiving corps led by a now healthy Alshon Jeffery. Barry Church, Ronnie Harrison, Jarrod Wilson and the injured Hayden were detained for nine hours by British authorities over a bar tab and a fight with bouncers at 4 a.m. Showers are expected in the London area, but shouldn’t hang around long enough to play a large role at Wembley. RB Carlos Hyde will debut for the Jags alongside T.J. Yeldon in attempting to replace Leonard Fournette, who is still out with a hamstring issue.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh (-8.5/48), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Week 1 meeting was played in wet conditions and went to overtime, producing a tie after multiple missed field goals in regulation and the OT. Tyrod Taylor started that opener for Cleveland, which has since moved on in the kicking department too. All but one of the Browns’ games have been decided by more than four points and they’ve played four extra sessions, so if nothing else, the team trying to rise up from doormat status has proven to be competitive. Pittsburgh has had more time to prepare for Cleveland, who it should know well since it studied its personnel all preseason in preparation for Week 1 and have now had an extra week to examine.
The Browns lead the NFL with 20 takeaways and 31 sacks but still rank 28th in total defense since Gregg Williams relies so heavily on the blitz, which creates opportunities for big plays. The Steelers are second in the NFL in sacks with 22, which could pose problems for Baker Mayfield, who can be accused of holding the ball too long in the infancy of his pro career. This will be his first look at the Pittsburgh defense. The Browns have covered the last three meetings but will be looking to snap a 24-game road losing streak despite coming in 3-0 ATS this season, covering in three separate three-point OT losses. The week off allowed Steelers safety Morgan Burnett to get healthy so he’ll be back today, but tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) won’t play. RB Le’Veon Bell remains away. The second half of this game may be affected by weather with heavy rain and winds in the forecast.
Denver at Kansas City (-9.5/53), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Broncos QB Case Keenum missed on what would’ve been a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter of a 27-23 loss to the Chiefs at home on Oct. 1 that would’ve handed them a loss that would have made the AFC West race much closer than it currently is. The Broncos have been difficult to figure out but have been extremely competitive against the NFL’s top teams, losing one-possession games against the Chiefs and Rams. They also come off a 45-10 rout of Arizona in Week 7’s Thursday night game so they’ll be well-rested for this one and know what to expect from Kansas City, which will put its perfect record against the spread on the line but need a double-digit win to extend it to 8-0.
Chiefs LB Justin Houston, one of the NFL’s top pass-rushers, is dealing with an hamstring injury and will again be absent. Center Mitch Morse and safety Eric Berry will miss another contest but weren’t missed at all in last week’s rout of Cincinnati. The Broncos were only able to sack Mahomes once in their Oct. 1 defeat at home against the Chiefs, so it’s great news that Von Miller will be able to play through an ankle injury that had his status in question earlier in the week. Corner Adam Jones (thigh) and safety Dymonte Thomas should play, but LB Shane Ray and safety Darian Stewart are out again. With perfect weather expected outside of some mild wind gusts, we should be able to see whether Kansas City’s offense can be slowed down the second time around. The Chiefs are perfect in their last eight divisional home games, while the Broncos have won only one of their last six AFC road games (1-5 ATS).
N.Y. Jets at Chicago (-9.5/42), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Jets are hoping to get back to .500 in their first and only road game of October. Although they opened the season with a 48-17 rout in Detroit, New York has lost it last two trips outside East Rutherford, averaging 15.5 points in falling at Cleveland and Jacksonville. They’ll have to try and get production out of a receiving corps that will be missing Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa, both of whom are out with ankle injuries. Terrelle Pryor was released after suffering a groin injury, so it’s an entirely new group surrounding QB Sam Darnold. The rookie has thrown six touchdown passes over the last three games but has been intercepted five times in that same span and will be working with some new faces.
WR Allen Robinson (groin), has been ruled out for Chicago, so Mitch Trubisky won’t have his favorite target. Rain and wind is expected to be in the mix, which won’t affect the Bears too much since they prefer to run the ball and rely on short passes and Trubisky’s speed and elusiveness. Khalil Mack (ankle) failed to record a sack last week against New England and lacked the burst that helped him dominate the first month-plus of the NFL season and has been ruled out. The Bears are 4-0-1 against the number in their last five against the Jets and 11-4-1 ATS in their last 16 home games.
Washington (-1/43.5) at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Eli Manning and the Giants offense have averaged 15.3 points in their three home losses and has played from behind throughout most of them, falling against the Jaguars, Saints and Eagles. Not only are they working on a short week after getting beat in Atlanta on Monday night, they’re also moving on after dealing Damon “Snacks” Harrison, the top run stuffer in the league according to Pro Football Focus, in addition to Eli Apple, a former first-round pick who was deal to New Orleans. This isn’t likely to have a positive effect for an already struggling defense that hasn’t allowed fewer than 20 points in any game this season.
The ‘Skins rank second in the NFL with seven fumble recoveries and have done a nice job applying pressure, doing the heavy lifting in surrendering 17 or fewer points in all four of the team’s wins, including each of the last two in home conquests of the Panthers and Cowboys. Opponents have scored 33 or more points against New York in three of the last four, so this could be a spot for Alex Smith and an offense that has leaned heavily on Adrian Peterson, who backed up his “best running back in the league” boast by running for 196 yards over two wins. A victory would put more pressure on the rest of the NFC East since Washington has already risen to the top of the division with everyone else struggling, but they will have to overcome some history since they’ve lost 17 of 24 against the Giants, who will be without LB Alec Ogletree, further hampering a short-handed defense. Washington got good news in getting Chris Thompson back and may have Paul Richardson in the mix too, but Jamison Crowder remains out.
Seattle at Detroit (-3/48.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: This could be a game we look back on in December as vital since these teams figure to be in the mix for an NFC Wild Card spot and will have this matchup play tiebreaker between the two. Seattle is coming off its bye week and will be as healthy as it has been all season if Doug Baldwin is able to play through an elbow injury. Linebacker K.J. Wright will make his season debut, which will fill some of the leadership void left when Earl Thomas was lost for the season. Despite the Legion of Boom era being over and done with, the tradition of Seattle fielding a stingy pass defense continues since it has held quarterbacks to 200 or fewer passing yards in four of the last five. The Seahawks have won four of the last five meetings against the Lions.
Harrison should be put to the test immediately despite being acquired on Wednesday and could give Detroit an impressive new-look line next to pass rusher Ziggy Ansah, who practiced all week and should play. Unfortunately, he’s had an injury-filled season that has limited his impact but he’s proven he can be a force with some practice time under him. The Seahawks are selective about letting Russell Wilson drop back to pass but may have no recourse if Matthew Stafford finds a rhythm since he’s led the Lions to an average of 28 points per game over their last five games, which coincides with 5-0 run against the number.
Tampa Bay at Cincinnati (-3.5/54.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Bucs allow an NFL-worst 32.7 points per game and have intercepted only one pass this season, so even though rain is expected and wind gusts as high as 40 miles per hour could wreak havoc with Andy Dalton and Jameis Winston, this game boasts Sunday’s second-highest total. Rain could lend a hand in slowing down the Bengals since the Bucs’ defense arrives in the “Queen City” completely depleted. Gerald McCoy (calf) and Vinny Curry (ankle), the guys who make it happen for Tampa Bay up front, have both been ruled out. Linebacker Kwon Alexander (ACL) is done for the season and the secondary is working with multiple backups.
The Bengals also have issues on that side of the ball, though they did get good news with CB Dre Kirkpatrick (achilles) cleared. Fellow CB Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) is out, as are LBs Vontaze Burfict (hip) and Nick Vigil (knee), so we could see both offenses have a big day if the weather ends up being milder than expected or if Dalton and Winston successfully manage despite the wind. Cincinnati has covered in six of its last seven home games.
Baltimore (-2.5/44.5) at Carolina, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Panthers QB Cam Newton has been dealing with an injured shoulder but was never going to sit this one out, relishing the challenge of squaring off against such a respected, effective defense. Baltimore hadn’t surrendered a second-half touchdown before being caught from behind last weekend by Drew Brees and the Saints. The Ravens have surrendered just 8.0 points per game in victories and are first in the NFL in points allowed (14.4), which could be an issue for Newton since he's struggled for so much of the last two games, losing to the 'Skins in Landover before leading a fourth-quarter comeback last week. WR Torrey Smith, who made an immense catch against one of his former teams last week, won't face the one that drafted him since he's been ruled out here with a knee issue.
Joe Flacco will look to become the fourth passer in five games to throw for over 300 yards against the Panthers defense, which has clamped down against the run but has been middle-of-the road against aerial attacks, giving up 260.3 passing yards (17th) and 11 TD passes (15th). It's going to be a perfect weather day for football in Charlotte, where the Panthers haven't lost in over a year, winning eight straight (6-2 ATS). Baltimore has won and covered in each of its last six games coming off a loss, which is why it's favored to bounce back after last Sunday's one-point loss to the Saints.
Indianapolis (-3/51) at Oakland, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: The Raiders traded Amari Cooper to Dallas and will likely deal a few more pieces before the trade deadline as the pre-Vegas fire sale continues. Jon Gruden audibled to a complete rebuild pretty quickly after the franchise’s financial woes contributed to moving on from Khalil Mack. That can’t be lost on the team’s veterans. While we should see plenty of guys engaged and ready to play coming off a bye week following an embarrassing loss in London, there will be some who will remain stuck in ‘off’ mode.
Marshawn Lynch was placed on IR with a groin injury, so he won’t be a factor going forward. Doug Martin and Jalen Richard will handle backfield duties while Jordy Nelson and Martavis Bryant will be Derek Carr’s top receiving targets alongside tight end Jared Cook. There are enough playmakers to do damage with if Carr gets time and finds a rhythm, so even the trading of a former No. 4 pick and reports of a “fractured” locker room can’t be considered deal breakers for a 1-5 football team if the offensive line holds up. Centers Rodney Hudson and Jon Feliciano, guards Gabe Jackson and Denver Kirkland, and tackle Kolton Miller were all limited in practice this week, which is bad news considering the team will be back in action on Thursday night for a Bay area battle with the 49ers. Indianapolis has gotten healthier with RB Marlon Mack and TE Jack Doyle upgrading the offensive talent with their return, but there are issues in the secondary with Malik Hooker (hip) and Clayton Geathers (concussion) questionable. If neither plays, Indy will be quite vulnerable. The Colts are 1-3 in outdoor road games this season.
San Francisco (-2.5/40.5) at Arizona, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: - Byron Leftwich steps in to call the plays for the Cardinals after Mike McCoy was fired the morning after Arizona was blown out in a 45-10 home loss to Denver. Only two teams allow more than the 29.1 points the 49ers allow, so this will be a good opportunity for Leftwich to make a strong first impression. San Francisco has picked off only one pass all season, so Josh Rosen will look to pull off a sweep of a division rival if he’s able to secure his first home win.
The Cardinals won’t have to face WR Pierre Garcon, who was ruled out on Saturday, but will see top RB Matt Breida and speedy WR Dante Pettis, who will be making his first appearance in weeks. The San Francisco defense will be closer to full strength than they’ve been in weeks with CB Richard Sherman, LBs Reuben Foster, DE Solomon Thomas and safety Jimmie Ward in the mix, so Rosen will have to b sharp to avoid turnovers.
Green Bay at L.A. Rams (-9/56.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: The week’s most attractive matchup features Jared Goff squaring off against his idol, who just happens to be coming off a bye week. Not that Aaron Rodgers needs the lift, but he couldn’t have been too impressed with oddsmakers making L.A. nearly a double-digit favorite in this matchup. If you think the Rams can win outright, it now pays nearly 3-to-1 to ride the money line after people hammered that option enough to knock it down to +275 after opening around +330. Green Bay has won seven of its last 10 games following a bye.
With tackle Bryan Bulaga cleared, the Packers will have their offensive line intact in front of Rodgers and will also have WRs Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison available next to Devante Adams. Corner Jaire Alexander was really emerging before he was hurt, so his return bolsters the secondary in time to face Goff and an elite passing attack. Cooper Kupp won’t be in the mix, however, unable to make it back from a knee injury that knocked him out of last week’s game too.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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