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Week 8 NFL Picks: Land of Hope and Dreams

Parity defines this week’s games as no team is favored by more than six points.

Each week Zac Hirschbeck will look at the betting odds for each NFL game and then share his pick for each matchup. While hopefully it goes without saying, please don’t hold him accountable if you gamble away your retirement savings or child’s college fund based on his picks.

After going 9-6 in his Week 7 Picks, and after correctly picking Tennessee (-3.5) over Jacksonville on Thursday night, Zac’s season-long record stands at 55-49-4 heading into Week 8.

Here are his thoughts on the rest of the Week 8 games:

Washington Redskins (+3) at Cincinnati Bengals

In the third and final London game of 2016, I like the default home team to get back to .500 with a victory. The Bengals are likely to be at full strength heading into this matchup, while Washington has two key star players (Josh Norman and Jordan Reed) that may miss out due to concussions. Although Washington head coach Jay Gruden’s familiarity with Andy Dalton from his time as the Bengals offensive coordinator may be concerning to Cincinnati fans, the Bengals offense has moved the ball well this season. Despite struggles along the offensive line, Dalton has the Bengals ranked fifth in total yards (392.6) through seven weeks. While that unfortunately hasn’t translated to a lot of points (the Bengals rank 23rd in points per game), tight end Tyler Eifert should give the red zone offense a boost as he continues to work his way back from injury.

Pick: Cincinnati (-3)

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons (-3)

While Green Bay’s 26-10 Week 7 win over the divisional rival Bears seemed to momentarily quiet the building scrutiny surrounding the Packers offense, doubts still exist about Aaron Rodgers noticeable regression throughout this season and a good portion of 2015. While Rodgers did set a team record with 39 completions against Chicago, it took him 56 attempts to do so. That averages out to a paltry 5.82 yards per attempt. For comparison’s sake, Blaine Gabbert (5.93) and Brock Osweiler (5.72) currently rank 31st and 32nd in the league in yards per attempt. If Green Bay’s plan is to feature a dink-and-dunk passing attack for the foreseeable future, they should find success against a Falcons pass defense that ranks second last in passing yards allowed. However, it’s difficult to believe the Packers offense will score more than the Falcons offense. Behind a rejuvenated Matt Ryan, the Falcons are No. 1 in scoring (32.7 points per game), No. 1 in total offense (433.6 yards per game) and No. 2 in passing offense (319 yards per game) through seven weeks. With the Packers likely to be without their top three cornerbacks, Ryan and Julio Jones are primed for big performances through the air.

Pick: Atlanta (-3)

Detroit Lions (+2.5) at Houston Texans

Despite leading the AFC South at 4-3, things are beginning to look grim in Houston. Brock Osweiler continues to be a free-agency flop after the Texans signed him to a $72 million contract in the offseason. The 25-year-old quarterback had an embarrassing performance against his former team on Monday night, and his 71.9 quarterback rating ranks 30th in the league. Despite a talented collection of skill players around Osweiler, Houston’s offense ranks 29th overall and 31st in scoring. Although the Texans defense has played well despite losing their best player to a season-ending back injury, Houston goes up against a Lions offense that has played a huge part in Detroit’s three-game winning streak. Matthew Stafford has drummed up some MVP buzz with his play of late, and while I think that’s a bit premature, there is no doubting that the Lions quarterback is playing some of the most efficient football of his career. I think that continues against the Texans.

Pick: Detroit (+2.5)

Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints (+2.5)

Despite taking part in a display of offensive ineptitude against the Cardinals in prime time, I like the Seahawks to bounce back against the Saints. Sean Payton and Drew Brees continue to craft elite offenses year after year, and this season is no different. Through six games, the Saints are No. 1 in the NFL in passing yards per game (339.3) and No. 2 in points per game (29.3). However, the Saints face a Seattle defense that ranks sixth in yards surrendered per game (310.2) and is tied for first in points allowed per game (14.0). On the other side of the ball, despite the injury woes of Russell Wilson and an incredibly shaky offensive line, the Seahawks should move the ball against a New Orleans defense that will almost certainly finish the 2016 season among the league’s worst in nearly every defensive category.

Pick: Seattle (-2.5)

New England Patriots (-6) at Buffalo Bills

Though the fan in me truly wants to believe that the Bills could pull this game out and breathe life back into its playoff aspirations, I won’t encourage betting against Tom Brady. Since his return from suspension in Week 5, Brady has completed over 75% of his passes and averaged almost 10 yards per attempt (9.94). He’s also thrown eight touchdown passes and has yet to turn the ball over. To make matters worse for Buffalo, even when Brady’s receivers struggled to gain separation downfield against the Steelers, New England just relied upon its running game instead. After a 127-yard, two-touchdown effort against Pittsburgh, LeGarrette Blount will look for another big day against a Bills run defense that surrendered 214 rushing yards to Jay Ajayi in Week 7. As a Bills fan I’d feel far better about the team’s chances if LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins were both available. However, without his top two weapons on offense, quarterback Tyrod Taylor will struggle to keep up with Brady despite playing against an incredibly mediocre Patriots defense.

Pick: New England (-6)

New York Jets at Cleveland Browns (+3)

In a matchup of cellar dwellers, I’ll side with the team that has more talent. While it remains to be seen if the Browns will fully embrace the tank by discarding the few talented veterans they still have before Tuesday’s trade deadline, the Jets are simply the better team. Though some struggles should’ve been expected considering their brutal schedule and Fitzpatrick’s likely regression from his career year in 2015, it’s still hard to believe that the Jets are this bad. While New York’s talented defensive line has failed to regularly impact games as much as many would’ve expected them to, I think they will provide Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown with a rude welcome in his return from injury. Another loss will move the Browns one step closer to the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Pick: New York (-3)

Oakland Raiders (Pick) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Although the Raiders have managed to justify the offseason hype and sit tied for first atop the AFC West with a 5-2 record to date, Oakland still has legitimate concerns. For one, despite significant investment through money and draft picks, the Raiders’ defense currently ranks dead last in yards allowed per game (430.4). Plus, while you certainly have to credit Oakland for taking advantage of a soft schedule, the Raiders have beaten a collection (New Orleans, Tennessee, Baltimore, San Diego and Jacksonville) of poor teams, while they’ve lost both of their games against clubs that seem like legitimate playoff contenders (Atlanta and Kansas City). With all that said, the Raiders have yet another advantageous matchup in Week 8. While Oakland’s opponents have continued to move the ball with relative ease each week, the Raiders have been able to force turnovers with consistency. That bodes well against Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston who has turned the ball over 11 times (nine interceptions and two fumbles lost) through six games. While Tampa’s defense is competent, Oakland’s balanced attack on offense should help lead them to a road victory at Raymond James Stadium.

Pick: Oakland (PK)

Kansas City Chiefs at Indianapolis Colts (+2.5)

Despite being sacked a league-leading 25 times through seven games, Andrew Luck remains on pace to match or exceed personal bests in nearly every passing category. Unfortunately for the former No. 1 overall pick, Luck’s uninspiring supporting cast (besides wide receiver T.Y. Hilton) continues to hinder the franchise from resembling a legitimate playoff contender. However, considering Indianapolis’ competition within the AFC South, it’s not entirely unlikely that Luck could carry the Colts into the playoffs on his back. With that said, the Chiefs should win this matchup. Even though Kansas City has played most of the season without any contributions from their two best players (Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston), the Chiefs remain in contention within a tough AFC West division. Although Kansas City has managed to bring down opposing quarterbacks just eight times (tied for worst in the league) so far in 2016, that number has a great chance to rise this Sunday against the Colts.

Pick: Kansas City (-2.5)

San Diego Chargers (+4.5) at Denver Broncos

After losing to the Chargers in San Diego just two weeks ago, the Broncos have a quick chance at redemption against their AFC West counterparts in Week 8. Denver’s defense remains one of the NFL’s best, and a second crack at Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense should yield positive results. While Denver will be without running back C.J. Anderson for anywhere between two to eight weeks due to a knee injury, rookie fourth-round pick Devontae Booker looked plenty capable of handling a heavier workload against the Texans. On the other side, Rivers continues to give San Diego a chance to win every time out. The 34-year-old veteran has remained one of the league’s best quarterbacks despite season-ending injuries to his top two targets from a season ago (Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead) and a greatly reduced role for tight end Antonio Gates. While you have to give San Diego a lot of credit for bouncing back from four gut-wrenching defeats during the season’s first five weeks, I like Denver to avenge their Week 6 disappointment with a victory in Week 8.

Pick: Denver (-4.5)

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers (-3)

In the most interesting line of the week, the 1-5 Panthers are favored at home against an Arizona team that hasn’t lost in three weeks. While both teams have struggled to find the form that saw them match-up in last year’s NFC Conference Championship game, the Cardinals have seemingly managed to get their season back on track. The Panthers, due to injuries and significant regression in the secondary, have not. Though Carolina will always be dangerous due to Cam Newton’s ability to single-handedly win football games, Arizona is a better team at this point in the season. The Cardinals defense has allowed just 30 points over its three-game unbeaten streak, and their athleticism should pose problems for Carolina’s passing and rushing attacks. While Carson Palmer has failed to come close to hitting the heights of his career-year in 2015, the Arizona quarterback has a great opportunity to play well against a Panthers pass defense that has been very kind to opposing quarterbacks this season.

Pick: Arizona (+3)

Philadelphia Eagles (+4.5) at Dallas Cowboys

In a battle of rookie quarterback-led NFC East Rivals, I like the home team in this one. Although Carson Wentz was the recipient of a significant amount of praise through the season’s first three weeks, the No. 2 overall pick has taken a step back since then. Meanwhile, No. 135 overall pick Dak Prescott has combined with fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott to give Dallas a ruthlessly efficient offense, and a 5-1 record. Jim Schwartz’s fifth-ranked defense could give the Cowboys trouble, but Dallas’ offensive line should continue providing Elliott with holes to run through, while also giving Prescott time to make sound decisions through the air. With the return of wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys offense should be all the more difficult to defend on Sunday night and in the weeks to come.

Pick: Dallas (-4.5)

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (+4.5)

Although the Vikings stumbled to their first loss of the season in Week 7, this line feels too generous to the 1-6 hosts. Minnesota’s defense ranks in the top five in nearly every defensive category, and the Bears will turn back to Jay Cutler after Brian Hoyer suffered a broken left arm against the Packers last week. Cutler has his work cut out for him in what seems likely to be his last season in Chicago. Though Bears head coach John Fox and Chicago’s defense will certainly take note of the way Philadelphia attacked Sam Bradford and the Vikings offense last week, the Bears don’t have nearly the same talent on that side of the ball to have a similar level of success. Just give Mike Zimmer the Coach of the Year award now.

Pick: Minnesota (-4.5)