Weekly Pick ‘em: Staff gets out crystal ball for NFL Week 8


Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal/TNS

Cleveland Browns’ Jarvis Landry makes a first quarter catch behind Pittsburgh Steelers’ Joe Haden on Sept. 9 in Cleveland. The game ended in a 21-21 tie. Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal/TNS

By Trent Leonard, Sports Editor

The NFL presents a mouthwatering slate of storylines in the upcoming week. The Browns come to Pittsburgh, looking to beat Ben Roethlisberger on his home turf for the first time ever. The Saints will look to avenge last year’s heartbreaking loss to the Vikings, while Aaron Rodgers and the Packers try to put an end to the Rams’ hot start. Our TPN staff is here to give our patented predictions, guaranteed to be correct 100 percent of the time.

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers

Trent: Steelers 33, Browns 18

Stephen: Browns 23, Steelers 16

Andrew: Steelers 20, Browns 16

Jack: Steelers 24, Browns 24

Griffin: Steelers 30, Browns 17

Dom: Steelers 31, Browns 14

Nitti: Steelers 32, Browns 20

Sami: Steelers 28, Browns 10

Since coming into the league in 2004, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s record against the division “rival” Cleveland Browns is 22-2-1. At Heinz Field against the Browns, he is a perfect 10-0 as starter.

Knowing that, it would be tough for anyone in their right mind to justify betting against Pittsburgh at home against Cleveland. Seven of our eight writers let logic and reason dictate their prediction, while one brave soul — Stephen Thompson — took a leap of faith, selecting the Browns to take down Big Ben at Heinz for the first time ever.

It’s not impossible — Cleveland looked impressive defensively and almost beat Pittsburgh in their first meeting this season, only to settle for a tie. But if large-scale and recent history are any indicator, we can be sure of two things — first, Big Ben & Co. will continue their unbeaten streak, and second, the Browns will keep the game close. Four of their games have gone into overtime this season, and only one game has been decided by more than four points.

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, at London’s Wembley Stadium

Trent: Jaguars 23, Eagles 20

Stephen: Eagles 28, Jaguars 23

Andrew: Eagles 20, Jaguars 17

Jack: Eagles 17, Jaguars 3

Griffin: Eagles 42, Jaguars 21

Dom: Jaguars 27, Eagles 23

Nitti: Eagles 19, Jaguars 13

Sami: Eagles 20, Jaguars 13

Here we have a matchup between two teams that have failed to live up to expectations so far in 2018. These were supposed to be two of the better squads in the NFL — they both made their conference championship games last season, the Eagles won the Super Bowl, and the Jaguars were one blown fourth-quarter lead away from facing them there.

But so far, both teams find themselves sitting at 3-4 with an uphill battle to the playoffs. Now, common logic might favor the Eagles in this one, considering the Jaguars have been the uglier of these two teams, scoring just 28 points over their past three games and even benching starting quarterback Blake Bortles last week. Philadelphia has the far better quarterback with 2017 Pro-Bowler Carson Wentz.

However, there is something to keep in mind about this game — it’s being played in London. And in the NFL, London logic trumps common logic every time.

When NFL teams play in London, weird things happen. For starters, almost every game ends in a blowout — before last week’s 20-19 final between the Chargers and Titans, five of the previous matches played at Wembley Stadium were decided by at least 17 points. This will be the Eagles’ first trip across the pond, and that typically doesn’t bode well for teams.

For the Jaguars, London has become their home away from home in recent years. No team has played in or won more games than Jacksonville, and Bortles especially has played like the best version of himself his past three London games, going a perfect 3-0 with eight touchdowns and just one interception. Last season, the Jaguars embodied London’s NFL weirdness by pulverizing a decent Ravens’ team 44-7.

The moral of the story? Blake Bortles may stink most of the time, but he’s a different animal when he crosses the Atlantic, so don’t bet against him. This is a lesson six of our eight writers will find out the hard way.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

Trent: Saints 34, Vikings 27

Stephen: Saints 42, Vikings 27

Andrew: Vikings 30, Saints 24

Jack: Saints 38, Vikings 34

Griffin: Saints 35, Vikings 31

Dom: Saints 44, Vikings 30

Nitti: Vikings 27, Saints 24

Sami: Vikings 24, Saints 17

Last time the Saints and Vikings played, a trip to the NFC Championship was on the line when this happened:

Yep — the Saints were just a competent play away from playing for a trip to the Super Bowl, and they blew it because one of their defenders tackled a guy from the wrong team.

This season, the two teams are looking like the best of the NFC once again, each sitting atop their respective divisions, the Saints with a 5-2 record and the Vikings with a 4-2-1 record. It should be a great Sunday-night showdown between two of the best quarterbacks in the league, Drew Brees and Kirk Cousins. In the end, revenge proved to be the biggest deciding factor among our staff, with five predicting the Saints to exorcise last year’s playoff demons.

Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Rams

Trent: Rams 38, Packers 30

Stephen: Rams 35, Packers 20

Andrew: Rams 37, Packers 23

Jack: Rams 34, Packers 26

Griffin: Rams 45, Packers 28

Dom: Rams 34, Packers 21

Nitti: Rams 49, Packers 28

Sami: Rams 34, Packers 31

The Rams are undeniably the best team in the NFL so far. They are the only remaining undefeated team. They have the league’s most explosive offense, averaging the second-most yards per game with 446.4. And their defense is stout as well, allowing a seventh-best 327.4 yards per game to opponents.

The Packers, on the other hand, have … Aaron Rodgers. And not even a complete Rodgers — more like 75 percent of Rodgers, considering he’s hobbled his way through a knee injury all season.

With that being said, this is one of the greatest and most efficient quarterbacks of all time we’re talking about, and if there’s any player in the NFL who can single-handedly will his team to victory despite playing on one good leg, it’s Rodgers. But none of our writers were bold enough to acknowledge that possibility, and we selected the Rams across the board to win their eighth straight game.

Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers

Trent: Ravens 20, Panthers 17

Stephen: Ravens 24, Panthers 16

Andrew: Ravens 17, Panthers 14

Jack: Ravens 24, Panthers 21

Griffin: Ravens 17, Panthers 13

Dom: Panthers 21, Ravens 17

Nitti: Panthers 26, Ravens 20

Sami: Ravens 17, Panthers 14

Sunday’s matchup between the Ravens and Panthers is perfect for those old-fashioned football fans who are fed up with the league’s fancy new offenses and prefer to see two teams grind it out in a gritty battle of defense, kicking and field position.

Both these teams pride themselves on the defensive side of the ball, where Baltimore allows a league-low 280.6 yards per game, and Carolina is ranked a formidable 13th in the same category. The game will also feature two of the league’s top kickers — Baltimore’s Justin Tucker has been the NFL’s best for years now and only missed the first extra point of his career last week, while Carolina’s Graham Gano is a perfect eight-for-eight on field goals this season, including an incredible 63-yard game-winner in Week 4.

In what should be a low-scoring game featuring strategic punts and impressive field goals, our writers like the 4-3 Ravens to edge out the 4-2 Panthers.

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals  

Trent: 49ers 28, Cardinals 17

Stephen: 49ers 20, Cardinals 10

Andrew: 49ers 23, Cardinals 7

Jack: Cardinals 20, 49ers 13

Griffin: 49ers 21, Cardinals 14

Dom: 49ers 17, Cardinals 10

Nitti: 49ers 56, Cardinals 53

Sami: 14-14 Tie

While all the above games feature some sort of meaningful matchup or win stake on the line, this contest features none of that. Instead, Sunday’s game is unique because it pits the NFL’s two worst teams against each other in a battle to see which team is the best at losing.

There are only four one-win teams left in the NFL, and half of them are represented in this game. The Cardinals rank in the bottom-tier of nearly every league statistic, except one — pick sixes thrown. They lead the league in that category with two, thanks to quarterback Josh Rosen throwing two interceptions for touchdowns in a 45-10 loss to the Broncos last week.

Despite their identical records, the 49ers haven’t really been as bad as the Cardinals. Rather, they’ve been unlucky — franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending torn ACL in Week 3, forcing the team to roll with CJ Beathard as its new leader. He’s performed competently compared to Rosen (three touchdowns, five interceptions), throwing for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. But they’ve lost every game since he took over, including a 39-10 embarrassment to the Rams last week.

Considering the 49ers are the less pitiful team on paper, our staff favors them 6-1-1, with that second “1” coming courtesy of an audacious tie prediction from Sami Abu-Obaid. It should be a back and forth effort between both teams to somehow blow the game, but one of them will have to win in the end. Unless, of course, Sami’s prediction comes true.