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Duke's Picks: Week Eight

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There are some big games on the slate for this weekend. How many will I pick correctly?

My coaching style comes with a particular set of skills...
My coaching style comes with a particular set of skills...
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Oh yeah... 10-4 last week. The turnaround is happening. Maybe it's just me, but picks are more fun when the Dolphins are winning. And they aren't just winning, they are winning big.

Detroit at Kansas City

I have no thoughts on this game. The Chiefs got me an "Upset of the Week" victory last week, but I'm not sold on them. However, the Lions aren't good either. I'll take the home team.

Chiefs 20 - Lions 17

Tampa Bay at Atlanta

Atlanta struggled to get past a Titans team that started it's backup QB. This game could be closer than expected. The Falcons are 2nd in the league in run defense and that gives them an advantage over a Bucs team that should run to take pressure off of their rookie QB. Atlanta's pass rush is weak and rank last in team sacks. Still, the Falcons are the more talented overall team and they are at home, so they have the edge.

Falcons 28 - Buccaneers 20

Arizona at Cleveland

The Cards survived a late rally by the Ravens on Monday night, thanks in part to some mental mistakes on the part of RB Ellington (ran OOB and stopped the clock) and QB Palmer (intentional grounding penalty). Arizona has been kind of Jekyll and Hyde this year. In some games, they look like a Super Bowl contender. In others, they struggle. Cleveland has had some feel good moments this year, and could have another if Johnny Manziel starts this week over McCown who was injured last week. Despite being a West Coast-East Coast trip for the Cards, I like their chances over a Manziel led Browns team, especially with how well the Cards secondary is playing.

Cardinals 28 - Browns 17

San Francisco at St. Louis

When it comes to the NFC West, the Rams are the destroyer of worlds. They are always tough within that division. They are 3-3 on the season and 2-0 in the division. The Niners once vaunted OL is struggling this season and the Rams aren't exactly a good cure for that. This should be an interesting matchup, but I think the Rams, at home, will be too tough for San Fran to tame this week.

Rams 24 - 49ers 20

UPSET OF THE WEEK

New York Giants at New Orleans

This is another "upset" pick simply due to records. The Giants are sitting on top of the NFC East right now, but they aren't exactly a dominant team. The Saints are 3-4 and on a 2 game win streak. They beat the Falcons at home two games ago and dominated the struggling Colts. Drew Brees is playing well and the defense has started finding a pass rush. This game could be close, but I think the Saints are playing better right now.

Saints 31 - Giants 27

Minnesota at Chicago

The Vikings are playing good football right now, especially on defense. Adrian Peterson is running well and Bridgewater is playing good too. Rookie WR Stefon Diggs has become a dangerous deep threat and a favorite target for Bridgewater and leads the Vikings in yards and yards per catch (I could start with the commentary on you-know-who, but I'll refrain...). Chicago is playing better than expected this season, but the Vikings are better at this point. I like them in a close one.

Vikings 24 - Bears 21

San Diego at Baltimore

When the schedule came out, this game looked like a matchup of possible Super Bowl contenders. Now, it's a battle of teams with a combined 3 wins. The Ravens suffered their largest margin of defeat on Monday night... 8 points. They are 1-6, but have been in every game right up until the end. Philip Rivers is putting up Madden type numbers, but they just can't get the wins. Both teams seem to be better than their records, but it's hard to tell. The Chargers play the undefeated Packers close, and then get thrashed by the Raiders. The Ravens, though staying in close games, are a couple of Mike Tomlin/Todd Haley brain farts away from being winless. This is the biggest game of the season for these teams. Whoever wins can still possibly salvage their season. Whoever loses is done. As far as matchups go, I like Rivers versus the Ravens secondary. I like the Chargers secondary versus Joe Flacco. But the Ravens have played in 5 road games already and that's tough on any team. They are at home and the Chargers are flying east to a 1 pm game. This is a tossup game and I'm going with the home team.

Ravens 24 - Chargers 21

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh hopes to have Roethlisberger back for this matchup. If he plays, it will be an interesting matchup. If not, then Landry Jones will struggle against a tough Bengals defense. Meanwhile, the Bengals offense is good and should have several advantages in this game. Cincinnati is the more complete team right now and I think they take this one.

Bengals 24 - Steelers 21

Tennessee at Houston

This is the "Teams That Miami Just Thrashed Bowl" or the "Hey, Somebody's Got To Win Bowl". You pick whichever title you like best. With the Titans, I understand the loss to Miami. The Dolphins had Dan Campbell firing up the team and they wanted to play tough for him. It was a tough situation for Mariota. The Texans? Well, I don't know much about their situation, but that first half had a Joe Philbin feel to it. They were slow and disconnected. Even J.J. Watt, who played well, seemed to be playing at a slower speed. Perhaps the Dolphins are playing to the level that was expected and they are just that good. Or perhaps the Texans are in quit mode like Miami was a few weeks ago. I don't know. What I do know is that the Titans took a good Falcons team to the wire and the Texans won't have Arian Foster. Here's the way I see it: if Miami had been the victim of a 41-0 drubbing in the first half, how would they respond the next week? Remember the Buffalo game and how the Dolphins responded the following week? I like the Titans in this one.

Titans 21 - Texans 17

New York Jets at Oakland

We all hate the Jets. That's a prerequisite for being a Dolphins fan. But Todd Bowles makes the Jets not-as-hateable. Actually reverse that. He makes them MORE hateable. Not because he's a loud mouth buffoon like Rex Ryan. But because he seems to know what he's doing and has the Jets playing well. The Patriots* have been rolling over everyone and the Jets held a lead over them late in the game. It pains me to say it, but this Jets team is good. Oakland is better than expected too and seem to be on the upswing. But I don't think they're good enough to overcome this Jets defense.

Jets 21 - Raiders 14

Seattle at Dallas

Seattle's defense has fallen victim to late game heroics by Andy Dalton and Cam Newton. Now they have to fend off either Matt Cassel or Brandon Weeden. Yeah. The game plan for the Cowboys should be to lean on that O-line and run the ball. Then run it some more. But I just don't see it for them right now.

Seahawks 20 - Cowboys 10

GAME OF THE WEEK

Green Bay at Denver

This game comes with the following features: Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, two fierce defenses, and undefeated records at stake. The Broncos lead the league in sacks with 26. The Packers are second with 23. The Packers are 11th in yards per game (just below Miami at 10th), while the Broncos are 29th. Manning isn't "The Sheriff" anymore. He's thrown 7 TDs to 10 INTs. He's completing 61.6% of his passes, but his YPA is 6.43. His passer rating is 72.5, good for 31st in the league. While stuff like that doesn't always indicate how the QB is playing, it kinda does in this case. Manning's arm just doesn't have it anymore. He can still beat you with his mind though, but that works against lesser teams. He's facing a good Packers defense. His counterpart on the other sideline is pretty good too. I like the Packers in this one.

Packers 24 - Broncos 21

Indianapolis at Carolina

If it hasn't been clearer before, it certainly is now: the Colts are the beneficiaries of playing in the worst division in football. Seriously, if you put Miami in the AFC South, they'd make the playoffs every year too. Andrew Luck has been deemed the next best thing, yet as former scout and current ESPN analyst Louis Riddick mentioned after the Monday night game this week, Luck is STILL making mistakes that he made as a rookie. Here are his stats: 118-210 (56.2%), 1398 yards (6.6 YPA), 11 TDs, 9 INTs, passer rating of 76.2 and QBR of 38.3. You would be lying if you think Miami fans wouldn't be blasting their QB if his stat line read like that. Granted, it's not all Luck's fault. His OL is bad and they only run 44% of their plays. But some things are his fault, like inaccurate throws and poor decisions. Meanwhile, Tannehill and the Dolphins will have to claw and scratch to make the playoffs in their division while the Colts can coast into the playoff with 6 wins and then get dismantled by a real team. Gimme a break. On the other side of this game, you have Cam Newton. Newton, like Luck was a 1st overall draft pick. He doesn't have the "golden boy" image Luck has though. Newton's stats are similar to Luck's (101-188, 55.8%, 1275 yards, 7.04 YPA, 9 TDs, 7 INTs, 78.4 rating, 49.6 QBR). One major difference is while Luck is throwing to T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, and Coby Fleener, Newton is throwing to Greg Olsen, Ted Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown. The Panthers also have a questionable OL, at least at the OT position and they take pressure off of Newton by maintaining a balanced offense (basically a 50/50 pass/run split). They also have a good defense, unlike the Colts. The saddest part of this game is that the Colts don't even really need to win it. They can (and will) lose, be 3-5 halfway through the season, and still be set to host a playoff game.

Panthers 27 - Colts 21

Miami at New England*

What a half of football that was! My favorite take comes from Eliot Harrison's Power Rankings on NFL.com:

"At one point in the second quarter Sunday, Miami had 35 points while Houston had zero yards of offense. Read that line again. That might be the most amazing stat I've ever seen. No, that is the most amazing stat I've ever seen."

Dan Campbell started his head coaching era with a rousing press conference that tickled the ears of fans. But we all knew that was fluff - coachspeak to fans that needed ANY glimmer of hope. We all saw through it. Then the Dolphins go out and beat up on the Titans. Wait a minute... maybe this is for real. But it's just one game against a lowly opponent. Of course the team would come out fired up for the new coach. It will all go back to normal after that. Then that 1st half happened. First it was the perfectly thrown slant to Rishard Matthews who slipped an arm tackle and raced to the end zone for a TD. Then Landry caught a 12 yard out - a standard first down weapon in Tannehill's arsenal. Except Landry wasn't done. He raced a grand total of 110 yards every which way across the field for a 50 yard TD. Dolphins' fans have seen that stuff before. But it was usually against us, not FROM us. After just over 16 minutes of football, the Dolphins had 35 points while the Texans had 0 yards... YARDS! My favorite reaction was from Tannehill on the Matthews slant TD. He throws the ball, then suddenly realizes, "Wait... this is HAPPENING!" He walks, then trots, then races down the field to congratulate Matthews. I think that's how we all felt that half: "Wait... this is HAPPENING!"

Now comes the true test. The Patriots* are firing on all cylinders. Brady is playing like an MVP candidate and Gronk is an unstoppable machine. They don't have much vulnerability. But there are SOME areas that could be exploited. The Pats* are 19th in run defense in yards per game. They are 31st in run offense in yards per game. The Dolphins are 14th in rushing offense in yards per game at 117.4 YPG. That's amazing given how the first four games went. Under Campbell, the Dolphins have averaged 214 rushing yards per game and allowed an average of 67 rushing yards per game.

Belichick* is a great head coach and he tries to take away a team's best option. What will he attack against Miami however? You can figure Jarvis Landry will be in his gameplan. So will Lamar Miller. The question for the Patriots will be how well they can take away one area without sacrificing another? This Dolphins team has the weapons to give the Patriots* problems.

On defense, the Dolphins have the players to generate a rush on Brady without having to blitz very much. Wake and Suh "should" be able to create problems. If Mitchell and Vernon can get in on the act, Brady could be in for a long evening. You can go ahead and assume the Pats* will attack Miami's secondary and linebackers. Jelani Jenkins should probably stay glued to Gronk as he's the best cover LB Miami has. In the secondary, Brady will target Taylor and the McCains. I think it would be smart to let Brent Grimes shadow Edelman. Make Brady beat you with the likes of Amendola and Lafell.

I'm conflicted on this game. I don't think the Dolphins and Dan Campbell are quite ready to take on the Patriots*. The Pats* are 8-0 on Thursday night games since 2002. It's a short week and they are at home. On the flipside, this Dolphins team looks like it has the tools to be able to beat them. They now have the rushing attack to eat clock and get tough yards. They have enough receiving weapons to spread the defense thin. Under Philbin, this would be easy. But under Campbell, it's tougher. Like he said in the locker room victory speech, this team is starving and they can't eat enough right now. And you know they want a win over the Pats* even more than they wanted these previous two wins. And you also know that Campbell has tapped that vein in this team that makes them dig a little deeper and drive a little harder. I don't think a loss for the Dolphins means the season is over. But a win could be the catalyst to something more, something bigger. We know it. They know it. The Pats* know it.

Patriots* 28 - Dolphins 24

Duke's Record: 60-45-0