Denver vs San Diego
The Chargers tend to do well when they control the ball and melt time off the clock, but Peyton Manning doesn’t need the ball very long to put up monster numbers. While I have no issue betting on Manning and this offense, it is a projected lack of running success that has me feeling good about the Broncos is a short week. Through seven weeks, the much improved Denver front seven have graded out as the third-best unit against the run, a major mismatch as they oppose an offensive line that ranks as the worst in creating holes (3.0 yards per carry this season) for Branden Oliver, Donald Brown, and potentially Ryan Mathews. San Diego has a chance to win if they can establish the run, but the numbers suggest that the Chargers will be one dimensional, a style that isn’t going to beat Denver.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Broncos 31 – Chargers 17
Atlanta vs Detroit
Let me get this right: the Falcons (two wins) ended last season with injured star receivers, who are now healthy, while the Lions (five wins) ended last season with a healthy star receiver who is now hurt? Sure, that makes plenty of sense. Look for Atlanta to try to make this a shootout, and if they can, an upset is a very real possibility with Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and Eric Ebron all battling lingering injuries. The Falcons have been looking for ways to get their explosive play-makers on the field a bit more and we saw the vintage Roddy White last week (nine catches on 15 targets for 100 yards and a touchdown), so if Julio Jones can recover from a minor ankle injury, this offense still has the explosive potential we thought they’d have (even if we haven’t seen it of late). Since the beginning of last season, Atlanta is averaging over 26 points per game at home, and that should be enough against a Detroit offense that hasn’t scored more than 24 points since Week 1.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Falcons 27 – Lions 24
Kansas City vs St. Louis
The Rams finally looked good for an entire game last week and it resulted in a stunning victory over the defending champion Seahawks. That’s nice and all, but this team still lacks the talent to continually compete at that level for four quarters, and I expect that to show this week in Kansas City. Even the best teams will struggle physically after playing San Francisco and Seattle in back-to-back weeks, so sending an under-manned roster to Arrowhead with the Chiefs coming off a bye is just not fair. Kansas City should look to ride the healthiest version of Jamaal Charles we’ve seen this year against a Rams defense that has allowed the most 20-plus yard rushes this season. Alex Smith should be right at home in this one, as his low-risk skill set should thrive against the fifth-worst pass defense in the league when it comes to opponent completion percentage. St. Louis might hang tough in the early going, but don’t expect this to be exciting in the final moments.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Chiefs 24 – Rams 13
Houston @ Tennessee
The Titans are a better offense than most people think, but it’s difficult to win with constant change at the quarterback position. Jake Locker (thumb) is expected to start this game, but what can we really expect from him playing behind an offensive line that ranks in the bottom quarter of the league when it comes to protecting their signal caller. On the flip side, the Titans have been unable to consistently stuff the run, a major concern against a run-centric offense. Tennessee, however, can’t load the box in an effort to limit Arian Foster, as only three defenses have allowed more passing yards per game and aerial touchdowns this season.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Texans 23 – Titans 13
Minnesota @ Tampa Bay
Good thing this is a 1pm kickoff, as there will be plenty of better games to watch. However, someone has to win this game, and I like the way Minnesota’s limited offense matches up with this porous Tampa Bay defense. Teddy Bridgewater’s strength is not attacking down the field, but rather taking limited risks and letting his teammates make plays in space. That hasn’t worked of late, but the Bucs inability to knock down passes (allowing opponents to complete a league-high 71.6 percent of passes) and stop the run (one of four defenses to give up at least 123 rush yards and more than one rush touchdown per game this season) should allow the rookie to find a rhythm early and often. Jerick McKinnon (5.2 yards per carry this season) is very much the real deal and should find the running a bit easier after facing a pair of elite run defenses in his first two career starts. When the Bucs have the ball, the health of their receivers and Mike Glennon’s inaccuracy are a serious concern. If Doug Martin can’t move the ball on the ground with consistency, this offense is going to continue to struggle to string together long drives (currently the fourth lowest average time of possession). Minnesota should have the ball for 35 minutes in this one and could dominate a game that is not reflected in a blowout on the scoreboard.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Vikings 20 – Buccaneers 16
Seattle @ Carolina
No team is ever “due” for a victory, but three straight losses for the ‘Hawks seems unlikely to begin with. Russell Wilson is playing at the highest level of his career and producing at an historic rate over the last two weeks, but it hasn’t translated into victories. It may not be a popular opinion, but I think this has actually been a good long-term exercise for Seattle. I expect Marshawn Lynch to be the primary focus this week and it couldn’t come at a better time, as they face a Panthers defense that is allowing a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry. Heck, the Packers typically have no interest in running the ball (and why would they?) and had nearly a perfect day in the air, yet they still managed to run the ball 30 times. The Legion of Boom has not been nearly as effective as a season ago, but when you consider that Cam Newton is completing just 57.2 percent of his passes thrown past the line of scrimmage, they should be able to rediscover their aggressive approach.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Seahawks 27 – Panthers 17
Baltimore @ Cincinnati
A.J. Green (toe) has been progressing nicely and is optimistic about his availability for this divisional showdown, but unless his rehab included defensive training it may not matter. The Bengals own the worst pass rush in the NFL, while the Ravens have earned the top grade in pressuring quarterbacks this season, and that is where this game should be decided. Gio Bernard has been explosive at times but he has been very reliant on the big play, something that the top ranked scoring defense should be able to mitigate. Justin Forsett leads a balanced Ravens offense that ranks seventh in rushing attempts, an offensive philosophy that I’ll take to the bank against the fourth-worst run defense in terms of yards per carry.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Ravens 20 – Bengals 14
Miami @ Jacksonville
The Jags got into the win column with a dominating performance against a Browns team that was playing some good football, but two-in-a-row is a bit optimistic for an offense with rookies across the board and a college quarterback starting at running back, who is being asked to win with a defense that can’t stop the pass. I don’t think I need to convince you that Jacksonville isn’t very good, but Miami is better than you think. Their defense is playing at a high level, allowing 3.8 yards per carry and a league-best 6.0 yards per pass attempt. On offense, Lamar Miller has given the Dolphins balance, allowing Ryan Tannehill to continue his progression (three straight games with at least 240 passing yards and multiple touchdown tosses). He is on pace for the best TD:INT ratio of his career, a very positive trend against a Jags defense that has allowed 12 touchdown passes while intercepting just two passes.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Dolphins 24 – Jaguars 12
Chicago @ New England
This could be the game of the week and I like the visitors to pull off the upset. Tom Brady is obviously an elite talent and continues to do as much as ever with limited resources around him, but I worry about the offensive line in front of him. The Patriots rank 31st in pass blocking and 24th in run blocking, a set of grades that could be the difference against a Bears defense that ranks above league average in both categories. Brady and Jay Cutler will get the attention heading into this game, but Matt Forte will be the reason the Bears are able to sustain drives and win this game. Chicago owns the top run blocking unit up to this point, and the versatility of Forte (league-high 52 receptions) is near impossible to match. This game will be a true marker of how valuable the quarterback position is … the Patriots have good pass-catchers, the Bears have better ones … the Patriots have a two-way running back, the Bears have a better one … the Patriots are good at forcing opposing quarterbacks into interceptions, the Bears have more interceptions this season. On paper, Brady is New England’s primary advantage: can he overcome a lack of help?
Week 8 Soppe Score: Bears 27 – Patriots 20
Buffalo @ New York
In another game that might be less than pleasurable to watch, the Bills might have a chance to pull even with the Patriots atop the AFC East. They will be without C.J. Spiller (broken collarbone: out for the season) and Fred Jackson (groin: out 2-4 weeks), but this isn’t the run-based Buffalo attack that we thought we’d see this season. Since the benching of E.J. Manuel three weeks ago, no quarterback in the league has completed more passes than Kyle Orton. You read that right. I’d look for that to continue as the Jets are among the best at stopping the run and, as weird as it may sound, Orton might be the most trusted skill position player in this game when it comes to making a play down the stretch. Sammy Watkins is quickly becoming a true number one receiver, a role that puts him in a spot to succeed this weekend (during the Jets six game losing streak, opposing top pass-catchers are accounting for 32.5 percent of the targets). On offense, Geno Smith has been a turnover machine throughout his career and is in big trouble if Chris Ivory/Chris Johnson can’t establish a dominating ground game against a defense that is allowing just 3.2 yards per carry and has yet to allow a rushing score. Turn this game on for the final quarter and see who makes the last critical mistake.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Bills 19 – Jets 16
Arizona vs Philadelphia
The Eagles are coming off a bye, but this Cardinals offense is beginning to find its’ rhythm, and I’m buying it. Carson Palmer has looked healthy since returning from nerve damage in his shoulder. With the threat of the explosive Andre Ellington getting plenty of touches, this offense is capable of piling up the points while the physical defense limits the opposition. No defense is allowing fewer yards per carry, and with the third most interceptions in all of football, there is no blueprint for beating this defense. Philadelphia is not the elite rushing offense that they were a season ago (3.6 yards per carry for LeSean McCoy) and Nick Foles has thrown an interception in five of six games this season after tossing a pick in just two of his 12 starts a season ago. At the skill positions, you could argue that these teams are very similar (especially with Darren Sproles out), and I’ll take my chances on this Cardinals defense to be the difference-maker.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Cardinals 24 – Eagles 18
Cleveland vs Oakland
The Browns weren’t nearly as good as they showed in the first 1.5 months of the season, but they also aren’t nearly as bad as what we saw last weekend in Jacksonville. The Pittsburgh game being the exception, Cleveland’s style of play lowers the number of possessions and makes every game a tight one. That worries me against a bad team, but given the Raiders struggles against the run (145.3 yards allowed per game), Ben Tate and the run game should control this game from start to finish. Don’t get me wrong, the Browns can’t stop the run either (a league-worst 155.5 yards per game), but the Raiders aren’t nearly as effective running the rock behind Darren McFadden. Derek Carr is going to be a better quarterback than Brian Hoyer down the road, but Hoyer’s current role is better suited for him to succeed in 2014. The difference here lies within the turnover battle: Cleveland has a plus-4 differential this season while Oakland sits at minus-3.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Browns 21 – Raiders 17
Indianapolis @ Pittsburgh
Neither one of these defenses is great, but the Colts unit is currently playing better and should get enough stops to put Andrew Luck in a favorable position. We all know that the pride of Stanford is playing at as high a level as any signal caller in football, and that should continue against a Steelers defense in the bottom quarter of the league in sacks-plus-interceptions. As good as Luck has been, it is possible that he not only sustains this level of excellence but gets even better, as he has tossed just four touchdown passes to WR’s this season. The versatility in the receiving game is something that the Steelers have struggled to find, as no player aside from Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell has offered consistent production. The Colts pass coverage is the strongest asset of their defense, something that was on full display last week, as Andy Dalton completed just 18 of 38 passes. The Colts lead the league in average time of possession, and with the Steelers (prior to last week) really struggling to turn over their opponents, look for Indianapolis to control this game.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Colts 31 – Steelers 20
Green Bay @ New Orleans
This is going to be billed as Aaron Rodgers against Drew Brees and that’s great for TV ratings, but the Packers defense and running game is why I like them to prevail in this one. Sure, Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 1 and is on pace for a video game-ish 42:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but the Saints are allowing one rushing touchdown every 26.2 carries, the worst rate of any defense that has allowed at least six rushing scores this season. Eddie Lacy and James Starks both found the end zone last weekend in another contest against a big name quarterback, who plays for a team with a less than stellar run defense. On the defensive side, the Packers own one of the more opportunistic secondary’s in the league and should be even better as Sam Shields and Tramon Williams continue to get healthier. Even with a handful of injuries on the back end of their defense, Green Bay ranks among the Top 6 in both completion percentage against and yards per pass attempt, making a shootout less likely, as the Saints will have a limited Jimmy Graham and will be without the versatile Pierre Thomas. New Orleans had intercepted just one pass prior to last week’s contest against the Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush-less Lions, so counting on them to end Rodgers’ streak of clean football is not wise. At peak performance, these are two very similar teams, but the Packers are much closer to that point than the Saints and should be able to outlast them in what I expect to be an entertaining game.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Packers 34 – Saints 26
Dallas vs Washington
Am I sure that the Cowboys are as good as their record indicates? No, but I am sure that the way they are playing right now is at as high a level as any team in the league. DeMarco Murray is the MVP of the league right now and leads the offense with the third fewest passing attempts for against a defense that has been passed on the fourth-fewest times. That clash of styles gives the home team a major advantage in this one, and the only reason it wouldn’t be worth buying into is if you thought it was simply too easy to do so. On offense, the Redskins have decided to bench Kirk Cousins in favor of Colt McCoy, another change in leadership that I expect to have inconsistent results. Alfred Morris is more than capable of putting this team on his back, and with the Cowboys owning a well-below average run defense he should have a big day. But he will need to dominate this game from start to finish if Washington is going to pull off the upset. If the ‘Skins fall behind early this could get ugly, as this offense is not built to score in bunches. These divisional games tend to be closer than they should be … but a tight contest isn’t a bad thing for a confident Cowboys bunch that has the most accurate kicker in NFL history.
Week 8 Soppe Score: Cowboys 27 – Redskins 24