By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) This is my favorite week in the NFL season, as it’s the only time I can assure you the Bears won’t lose. Even though the Bears are on a bye, there are thirteen games to be played. Here’s my take on how the NFL’s Week 8 will shake out with my predictions, my juggernaut games of the week, and my “juggernot lames of the weak”:
(Home team in all CAPS)
Juggernaut Games of the Week
Patriots 34, STEELERS 30 – 3:15 PM
If last year’s match-up between these two teams is any indication, expect a lot of flying pigskins in Pittsburgh this Sunday. The two teams combined for 699 passing yards and six passing touchdowns in the 39-26 Patriots victory. So far this year, these teams have become even more reliant on their passing attack to win games. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski went for a triple-dip last year against the Steelers (and maybe this past bye-week as well), so I expect a lot of two tight end formations from the Patriots in an effort to spread out the Steelers defense, and force them to sub their linebackers for nickel backs. The Steelers defense has regressed significantly, and rank dead last in generating turnovers. This game is a potential AFC Championship preview, and I like the Patriots to prevail.
Cowboys 27, EAGLES 26 – 7:20 PM
Two talented yet underachieving teams led by unpredictable quarterbacks square off in an NFC East rivalry game. Which Tony Romo and Mike Vick will show up? When these two are on their game, they’re as good as anyone in the league, but when they’re not, they’re capable of Rex Grossman-like performances. Teams are 3-9 coming off the bye-week, and the Eagles have yet to find their groove, so this game will be a huge indicator of their focus and resolve to change the direction of their season. Dallas, on the other hand, got a nice confidence builder by bum-stomping the St. Louis rams, unleashing rookie running back DeMarco Murray onto the scene. Everyone has had success running the ball against the Eagles this year, so I like the Cowboys to eke out a nail biter in Philly.
Juggernaut Lames of the Weak
TITANS 24, Colts 17 – Noon
The Saints just scored on the Colts, again. Wow, what was that last weekend? I understand it is difficult to recover from the loss of an all-time great like Peyton Manning, but should it really be this bad? Bad recent drafts and non-existent game-planning from head coach Jim Caldwell has rendered the Colts as the worst team in the NFL. Not only is Manning the offense, but the defensive philosophy is also tied to Manning. The plan has been to build a lead with the offense to put the opponent in a must-pass situation, and then sick Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis on opposing quarterbacks. Well, when you can’t build a lead, your undersized and talent-less defense will be exposed, just as it’s been this season. The Colts are allowing opposing quarterbacks to average a quarterback rating of 113, which if it stands, would be the worst in NFL history. Think about that for a moment, that’s like your team playing Aaron Rodgers every week. The Titans will rebound from the beating they took from Houston last week, and stay alive in the AFC South race.
Bengals 20, SEAHAWKS 17 – 3:15 PM
I was right last week when I said tainted cantaloupe would be a better option than starting Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback for the Seahawks. Whitehurst ended up with 12 completions on 30 attempts for 97 yards and an interception. How Jonathan Quinn-ian of him. The Bengals will be without the services of running back Cedric Benson, who is serving a one game suspension for his off-season arrest stemming from assault charges. Seattle is surprisingly stingy against the run this season, so the loss of Benson will be a big blow to the Bengals. However, the Seahawks just don’t do enough on offense, so I like the Bengals to win a sloppy, low-scoring sleeper in Seattle.
PANTHERS 27, Vikings 20 – Noon
The Vikings played their most inspired game of the season last weekend against Green Bay, led by rookie quarterback Christian Ponder in his first NFL start. What does that say about Donovan McNabb? Until this past weekend, the Vikings looked disinterested, embodying their quarterback’s slow and sluggish play-style. While I still have doubts that Ponder can make all the throws necessary to be an effective NFL quarterback – specifically the deep out and vertical routes – he certainly makes the Vikings a better team. But the real rookie quarterback to focus on in this game is on the other team. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton rebounded brilliantly last weekend, not throwing an incomplete pass in the second half against Washington. Everybody has success throwing the ball against the Vikings, so I like the Panthers to earn their first two game winning streak of the season.
SAINTS 38, Rams 10 – Noon
There’s a very good chance the Saints score 62 points again this weekend. While I thought Sean Payton unnecessarily ran up the score last week against the Colts, the NFL is a no mercy league and the coaches and players on the other team get paid to stop you. I said it a few weeks ago that the Saints were the only team with a legitimate shot to beat the Packers in the playoffs, and each passing week convinces me more. Drew Brees is playing at an MVP-level, and once the Saints get a lead, blitz-happy defensive coordinator Gregg Williams dials up exotic pressure packages to scramble opponent’s protection schemes. The Rams do nothing well, unless you count losing, which they’ll do again this weekend.
GIANTS 27, Dolphins 13 – Noon
Which is hotter: Megan Fox, or Dolphins’ head coach Tony Sporano’s seat? I’ll go with Megan Fox by a few degrees. If anyone out there has $1.5 M earmarked for a real estate venture, Sporano has put his home in Davie, Florida, on the market. I still can’t figure out how the Dolphins lost last week to the Broncos and quarterback (in name only) Tim Tebow. Tebow set the forward pass back to the days of Amos Alonzo Stagg, yet the Dolphins bailed him out with an inexplicable late game collapse. If the Dolphins hadn’t already quit prior to last week’s game, they have now. This team is a train wreck, with the lone bright spot being the tantalizing possibility of being rewarded for their suckage in the form of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Fresh off a bye-week I like the Giants to mow down Miami in the Meadowlands.
RAVENS 31, Cardinals 13 – Noon
Joe Flacco’s performance on Monday night took me back to the early 2000’s, a time when the Baltimore Ravens played hellacious defense and incompetent offense. I’ve always countered any Joe Flacco praise with the sentiment that he’s good enough to break your heart, and 137 passing yards on 38 passing attempts against a toothless Jacksonville team proves that point. Just when I thought the Ravens might be the only team capable of giving the Patriots a run for the AFC title, they wet the bed in Jacksonville. Luckily, this weekend they play at home against an awful Arizona team that does nothing well. I expect the Ravens to get the bad taste out of their mouths, and crush the Cardinals.
TEXANS 28, Jaguars 10 – Noon
Last week’s win over Tennessee was a statement game for the Texans. I would go as far as saying it was the most complete victory in head coach Gary Kubiak’s tenure. The Texans mounted an early lead and unlike games in the past, they finished the job in mercenary fashion. Aggressive play-calling, mauling line play, and a few new wrinkles in the passing game. The Texans devised a few passing plays that used the Titans over-aggressiveness on defense against them, getting them to flow to one side of the field, and then dumping the ball back to an uncovered Arian Foster on the opposite side of the field. Hats off to the Jaguars for their courageous effort Monday night against the Ravens, giving Blain Gabbert his first NFL win. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, the good feeling won’t last long and they’ll get back to what they’re best at, losing football games.
BILLS 27, Redskins 20 – 3:05 PM
We’ve reached the point where we strip the “offensive genius” label off of Mike Shanahan. If Shanahan thought a competition between Rex Grossman and John Beck gave the Redskins franchise their best chance to win in 2011, he failed. If his son, Kyle, was being honest when he said he had never seen a college quarterback play better than John Beck did at BYU, I suggest Kyle should stop watching imaginary television. The Redskins couldn’t have made a call to Denver about the availability of Kyle Orton? It’s unfortunate for Redskin fans, as they actually have a solid defense and an effective running game. It will be all for naught as you simply can’t sustain success in the NFL with pedestrian play from your quarterback. I like the Bills to rebound from their pre-bye week loss to the Giants with a balanced offensive attack and opportunistic defense.
Lions 24, BRONCOS 17 – 3:05 PM
So billboard-buying Bronco fans, how do you feel now? Your wish was granted and Tim Tebow has taken over at quarterback. For 54 minutes of game time, Tebow completed a mere 4 passes for 40 yards. Then the Dolphins let Tebow lead touchdown drives of 80 and 56 yards, and recover an onside kick in-between. Simply unbelievable. I’ve heard Tebow’s passes described as looking like blocked punts and his motion compared to someone throwing a helium balloon. Like I cautioned all season long: be careful what you wish for, because sometimes you get it. Now the Broncos have a tight end playing quarterback for the foreseeable future, and six win seasons will be considered progress. On the other sideline, the paper champions have come crashing back to earth, looking like the team they were all season long. A team with a questionable defense (especially against the run), no running game, and a quarterback who has earned a reputation more on hype than performance. I like the Lions to rebound in Mile High, and hope I see a Lions player “Tebowing” in the end zone. Look it up if you’re curious and want a 15 second giggle.
49ERS 27, Browns 10 – 3:15 PM
It’s sad that I’m more intrigued by the post-game handshake than I am about the actual game. I suggest 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh changes into a tuxedo, puts on his best top hat and monocle, and proceeds to invite Browns head coach Pat Shurmur to his home for tea and crumpets. Jim Harbaugh has every right to be enthused about his team as they’re certainly in position to dominate the NFC West for years. They have a legitimate defense, an inspired Frank Gore, and Alex Smith is playing very smart football. Put a few real wide receivers on this team and you’ll have a team ready to emerge as one of the NFL’s elite. Nothing is going right for the Browns on or off the field, so this will be a laugher for the 49ers.
Chargers 24, CHIEFS 17 – 7:30 PM Monday Night
What a collapse by the Chargers last weekend. They seemingly had the game in hand with an 11-point halftime lead, but Phillip Rivers suffered a complete meltdown in the second half. Late in the game, Jets running back Shonn Greene inexplicably ran out of bounds, stopping the clock and the Chargers defense held the Jets to a field goal. Trailing 27-21 with 1:36 to go in the game Rivers started the Chargers on a potential game-winning drive with an 18 yard completion. The following four downs were as amateur as it gets, as Rivers didn’t know what plays were to be run, constantly checking with the sidelines burning valuable time, then threw the ball out of bounds on 4th and 3. It’s truly unacceptable for the Chargers and a seasoned veteran like Rivers to run such a dysfunctional drive. This week, the Chargers take a trip to Arrowhead to face their resurgent rival Kansas City. Despite the recent wins from the Chiefs, I’m not buying it, and expect the more talented Chargers to notch a critical AFC West win.
Last Week: 7-6 / Overall: 70-33 (68%)
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.