Midseason is pretty much here. We're getting a clearer picture of who's for real and who's not, right?
Which, in theory, should make picking games a smidge more manageable. Maybe. But there are some tough games to call this weekend. Who wants to tell me who will win when the Miami Dolphins visit the New York Jets? Hit me up at @Harrison_NFL if you have a strong feeling there. They were pretty much right next to each other in this week's Power Rankings. How about the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead? That's also splitting hairs.
Now, it should be noted that some writer went 12-for-13 last week. Cool, but that guy had to make up for hovering around (or below) .500 in Week 6. I'm feeling pretty good about the football thoughts below, and darn confident about the Chicago Bears getting to 6-1. After all, they were my Super Bowl pick. Ok, so without further ado ...
Elliot Harrison went 12-1 on his predictions for Week 7, giving him a 40-16 record since taking over this space in Week 4. How will he fare in Week 8? His picks are below, with home teams listed second:
The Minnesota Vikings get to 5-0 at home. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been in a lot of games this season, but just can't seem to close them out. Losses to the Giants, Redskins and Saints (last week) immediately spring to mind. The key for Tampa Bay will be running the football and protecting Josh Freeman. Good luck. Minnesota has recorded 22 sacks this season (tied for third in the NFL), while the run defense is allowing just 3.88 yards per carry. If LeGarrette Blount thought it was tough getting a touchdown in short yardage last week, wait until Thursday night.
Cam Newton put up massive numbers in Soldier Field last season. Awesome. That was also 2011. The Chicago Bears' defense is absolutely on fire this year. Peanut Tillman will bottle up Steve Smith for the most part, while the rest of the secondary will make Brandon LaFell look pedestrian -- although I'm predicting a LaFell touchdown on a Cam improvisation. Someone has to score for the Carolina Panthers. Maybe it will be a guy from that $89 million backfield. Or not. Hey, it's the Greg Olsen homecoming! Get excited! He catches two passes. He'll also be watching a Bears defense that allows 13.0 points per game, lowest in the NFL.
Phil Dawson hits a couple of clutch kicks to keep the Cleveland Browns close, but the San Diego Chargers are ready to rebound. That starts with Ryan Mathews, who really needs to step it up. Not that he's been bad, but the Brownies' run defense is giving up 133.7 rush yards per game at 4.52 yards per pop (25th in the NFL). With multiple Cleveland linebackers on IR, Mathews should make hay catching balls out of the backfield, too. Antonio Gates will keep up his recent good play. On the other side, Brandon Weeden has posted back-to-back games with a 90-plus passer rating. #WeedenToCommissionerGordon
This game just screams ugly. The Seattle Seahawks' back four will harass Calvin Johnson and Co., while limiting Matt Stafford to just 227 yards passing. Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions' lack of a running game means the defense will be on the field a bit too much. Marshawn Lynch -- who's proving to be matchup proof -- should take over in the fourth quarter. He'll go for 95 yards and two touches, while Seattle's less-heralded front four not only holds the fort, but hurries Stafford aplenty.
The Jacksonville Jaguars will do their best to hold on, but this week's fantasy waiver-wire darling (Rashad Jennings) will only gain 69 yards against an improving Green Bay Packers defense. Pencil in Aaron Rodgers for 69 yards before the first quarter winds down, with Jordy Nelson getting a touchdown for the third straight game. Randall Cobb will go nuts on the Jags' secondary out of the slot. Jacksonville's defense is not in the same ballpark as the St. Louis unit Green Bay faced last Sunday. That will show on Rodgers' first (maybe second) throw.
Shoot, 24-17 sounds a little high. But this game has that odd feel that a blocked punt or trick play is going to lead to points. Over the last three games, Ryan Tannehill has been pretty effective, posting a 95.8 passer rating and averaging nearly nine yards every time the ball leaves his hand. Opposing quarterback Mark Sanchez played well in New England last week, but was victimized by some poor pass protection and a very big drop by Stephen Hill. The key when these two teams face off for the second time might be Shonn Greene, who gained only 40 yards in the first meeting (a Jets OT win) but has gotten 54 touches the last two weeks.
Atlanta goes to 7-0 on a late Matt Bryant field goal. Scratch that. Andy Reid gives LeSean McCoy the rock 25 times and exploits one of the league's worst run defenses. Atlanta is giving up 143.8 rush yards per game and 5.23 yards per carry -- not good. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan will play a solid game, getting the Atlanta Falcons in position for the win versus the new-look, Todd Bowles rendition of the Philadelphia Eagles' defense. But ultimately, Bryant misses at the buzzer ... or the gun ... the rooster? ... whatever NFL games end with.
Yes, another close game in the 20s. Alfred Morris -- not Robert Griffin III -- is the focal point of the Washington Redskins' offense against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the rookie back gains 96 yards on 28 carries. It's almost enough in a contest where Dick LeBeau does everything he can to confuse RG3. Ben Roethlisberger won't be confused -- just elusive in keeping the Steelers ahead at home while making ridonkulous plays out of the pocket. The Steelers' offensive line and the Redskins' front seven both have dealt with a large share of injuries, but give Pittsburgh the advantage at Heinz.
Most people seem to think this game will be low-scoring affair. It might be, but history suggests that there are no strong takeaways from the games in London, i.e., they can produce a lot of points ... or barely any. Either way, St. Louis Rams corners struggled against Green Bay. Facing Tom Brady this weekend, the secondary as a whole could have muchos problemas. (Oops, wrong international game ...) The New England Patriots' no-huddle offense will also halt the Rams' pass rush, one of the strengths of Jeff Fisher's team. Interesting that even though Brandon Lloyd was on the Rams last year, he didn't practice against the St. Louis corners; both Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins are newbies in Missouri this season. Random thought. #NEvsSTL
The Tennessee Titans' win streak ends at two. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has been far more effective for the Indianapolis Colts at home, but considering he's facing a nondescript Titans defense devoid of many playmakers, he's due for a decent day (especially considering Tennessee is allowing opposing quarterbacks a 108.2 passer rating). Chris Johnson runs for 84 yards and makes a couple of big plays in the passing game, but Jamie Harper gets two short-yardage touchdowns to upset the fantasy applecart. That said, Luck drives the Colts for the go-ahead score in the fourth. Colts win, Colts win.
The Kansas City Chiefs look good early at home, but then Run DMC revs up. Give Darren McFadden a 77-yard touchdown run in this game, with the Oakland Raiders getting a nice outing from Carson Palmer, too. McFadden's performance only will be outdone by the Raiders' defense, which actually decides to play football this week. Of course, with Brady Quinn starting at quarterback for K.C., the task at hand is much easier. Dwayne Bowe will get his signature garbage touchdown, but it certainly won't be enough to overcome turnovers. The Chiefs lead the NFL with 21 giveaways.
Eli Manning won't go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs like he did in that Week 14 barnburner at Cowboys Stadium last year. The Dallas Cowboys' secondary is much better than last year's unit. This game will be a defensive battle until the second half, when both offenses come alive. Dez Bryant has a nice day, mostly because he sucked last week. The New York Giants' secondary is a weak spot, so Miles Austin and Jason Witten should enjoy productive afternoons. Special teams play will weigh heavily in such a hotly contested affair with two teams who don't like each other. Here's guessing that a missed Lawrence Tynes field goal is the difference.
Another Peyton Manning comeback gets the Denver Broncos over .500 (4-3), keeping them in first place for another week. But look for the New Orleans Saints to jump out to an early 17-3 lead on the strength of Drew Brees-to-Marques Colston. I would anticipate the ailing Jimmy Graham to be somewhat of a non-factor (again). The key to this game will be if the Saints corners can play with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
The San Francisco 49ers handle this Monday Night affair much like Chicago did in Week 7, controlling the game throughout, with the final score making it appear closer than it really was. John Skelton and the Arizona Cardinals will have -- and take -- their shots, but Larry Fitzgerald fails to log 100 yards (again), while LaRod Stephens-Howling will be lucky to gain 46 yards on the ground. He could be a threat, though, in the short passing game. It won't be enough, as defense and special teams overcome a mediocre Alex Smith. Will this be a laugher? No, Derek Anderson backs up a dude with expensive sweaters in Carolina.