I am going to ask whomever may be reading this to indulge me for a minute here, and let me go off on a non-football tangent for a minute(if the next sentence means nothing to you, then just skip to the picks. Or keep reading, I’m not your boss). One of my favorite sports sites, Grantland, was shut down Friday afternoon. This decision came after the latest Bill Simmons podcast had been released, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s a coincidence or a strategic move by ESPN. Anyway, I don’t want this to be about the Simmons/ESPN feud because that’s not what Grantland was about. The fact that this is what you see when you pull up the main Grantland page is actually a little sad:
Grantland was a special site, something that we will probably never see the likes of again unless the unannounced prject headed by Mr. Simmons is basically Grantland 2.0(something that probably can’t be ruled out). There were a few things that made it stand out to someone who reads a lot of sports related content on the internet in his spare time. First of all, everyone there seemed to like each other. That always seemed unique to me. No other huge sports site seemed to have the kind of camaraderie that Grantland seemed to have. Sure its harder for ESPN as a whole to have that sense of friendship amongst it’s personalities, but even the good friends at ESPN do not seem to get along as well as guys like Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays did, or Jalen and David Jacoby. To an outsider, Grantland looked like a family
They also had a different voice than nearly any other sports website. Hate him or not, Simmons has an eye for spotting very talented writers. From Zach Lowe(who came from SI but still), Barnwell, Mays on the sports end, to guys like Andy Greenwald on TV and movies, to guys like Chuck Klosterman who could do a little bit of everything. They all had unique voices, and were all very thoughtful writers. To say that the people at Grantland helped to inspire me and grow as a writer is an understatement.
The staff at Grantland had the ability to write about whatever they wanted, and this is often what produces fantastic content. Something that the Washington Post wrote yesterday really stuck with me as to why Grantland mattered and was different:”Grantland focused zero time on the what of journalism… Instead, Simmons focused Grantland on the “so what” and the “now what” of sports.” This is significant because I think it speaks a lot to the landscape of sports media today. There are thousands of places to get scores and instant recaps on the internet(and spark sports is a great place to do so!), but there are not as many places for the so what part of sports. To me, that is the most fascinating part of sports. Reading a game recap is great, but figuring out what exactly it means is an entirely different game. The long-form part of Grantland is another thing that I really like. Each of my NFL pieces could probably be 500 words shorter, but that’s not me.
One final thought on Grantland: It saddened me that most of the coverage of Grantland being shut down focused on Mr. Simmons. Look I get the idea that if it bleeds it leads, and that Grantland was Simmons’ brainchild, but I think that Grantland was about so much more than Bill Simmons and he would probably agree with me.
Grantland was about writers writing about what they had a passion for, and having the creative freedom to do it however they wanted. That is what made it appealing to me as a high school and college student. It was a refreshing source of sports journalism that I enjoyed reading each and every time. Wherever their writers end up going I will follow them. But thanks to Bill Simmons and all of the writers who worked there for all of the articles, podcasts, etc they produced over the last four years, and for all the enjoyment that you gave a lot of people. So let’s pour one out for Grantland
So I felt great about my Pats pick last night, then remembered that I did not do a Thursday Night preview(I had two midterms Thursday, so I had no time to write a preview. Fair warning, my week 8 review might be lumped into the TNF preview since I have two midterms Tuesday). As much as I respect what the Dolphins had been doing under their new head coach, this was a Thursday Night game and wonky things always happen on Thursday Night. But I just thought that this would be a game in which the Patriots, specifically Gronk and Brady just dominated. Granted Edelman had a great day, I was still right(I enjoy patting myself on the back if you hadn’t noticed). Anyway, this slate of NFL games actually excites me this week, after the snooze-fest that was last week. Onto the picks!
As always, stats/ come from ESPN and football outsiders. I also think I am starting to understand the spreads, which come from ESPN, more this week… hopefully
There are some games this week between two not great teams, this is one of them. It’s also a London game meaning it will be on at 9:30 in the morning on the east coast and 6:30 in the morning on the west coast. I would say that this game won’t be heavily watched, but plenty of people tuned in to watch the Bills/Jags game so what the hell do I know. Anyway, my heart tells me to pick the Lions, but my head tells me to pick the Chiefs. I am going with my head on this one. The Lions defense has not been very good against opposing teams #1 WRs and TEs. The Chiefs have a solid top receiver and tight end in Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce. They are also dead last in the league when it comes to defending opposing #2 receivers. Alex Smith is a game manager, but look for him to have a decent game here and for the Chiefs to win, but not cover the spread.
The Falcons need to win this game, as their last few have not been that impressive. Matchup to the game: Julio Jones vs. whoever dares cover him. The Bucs are the worst team in the league when it comes to guarding the other team’s top receivers. So watch Julio expose the Buccaneers on Sunday. Overall, the Buccaneers also have the 29th ranked passing defense according to football outsiders, setting up Matt Ryan for a nice game here. The Buccaneers offense has also been underwhelming this year and the Falcons defense has been average. This is a game where the Falcons need to make a statement and just absolutely destroy the Bucs. Give me the Falcons, who will also cover the spread.
Think about this: The Bears are either one or two poor officiating mistakes, or a couple coaching mistakes away from being 3-3 and right in the thick of the NFC playoff hunt. Granted they are still 2-4, but it would have been nice to get that win two weeks ago. Anyway, with Alshon Jeffery finally healthy the Bears offense really clicked last week. Combine that with the fact that the Vikings have had one of the worst 10 defenses in the league so far this year despite playing what football outsiders deemed the easiest schedule so far, and the Bears could be in line for a key divisional win on Sunday. The key for the Bears, besides stopping AP, will be finding a way to shut down the Vikings passing game, even though the Bears so far this year have had one of the worst pass defenses in the league. I think that they can find a way to do so, win the game, and cover the spread.
The Bengals are 6-0, and for there appears to be a sense of optimism around the Cincinnati area. Bengals fans tell me that no one here in Ohio ever gets optimistic about the Bengals because they always let them down. I don’t know about you but that feels more like what the Browns do but that’s just me. Anyway, if Big Ben is fully healthy, the Steelers have one of the best offenses in the league, especially with Martavis Bryant picking up where he left off last year. This could give the Steelers the extra playmaker they need to be one of the best offenses in the league. The Steelers, with the 7th best run defense, will force Andy Dalton to beat them. I think that he falters Sunday, giving the Steelers the win.
I really wish I could just write that the Cardinals will beat the Browns because they are the Browns… but that feels like cheating. So I’ll make it quick. The Browns, who do a good job of covering the other team’s top two receivers, struggle against other receivers. I think that John Brown will get loose for at least one long touchdown this Sunday. Oh they also have the worst run defense in the NFL. CJ2K come on down! We might get to see vintage Chris Johnson on Sunday, which if you forgot how electrifying he could be when he had daylight ahead of him, go youtube his highlights. The Cardinals should stomp the Browns Sunday. They also need to dominate this game, after not looking as strong recently as they did in the beginning of the stadium.
This game is probably going to be ugly. This is a matchup of two of the lesser teams in the league. Marcus Mariota is not going to be playing, and the Titans might be one of the worst teams in the league with him anyway. Seriously who is excited to watch Brian Hoyer vs. Zach Mettenberger? Oh one person… that’s what I thought. My point exactly. Neither of these teams ranks above 25th in either offensive or defensive DVOA except the Titans who football outsiders ranks as the 9th best defense according to DVOA. They probably should not have much trouble shutting down the Texans offense as long as they can contain DeAndre Hopkins. The good news for the Titans is that they are one of the best teams in the leagues at containing opponents #1 WRs. The Titans are 3.5 point underdogs according to pigskin pickem, which I think they cover since they will win the game.
This feels like the kind of game that the Rams just absolutely obliterate the 49ers. Partially because they 49ers are one of the worst defenses in the league, which could lead to another huge game from Todd Gurley. The 49ers also have the worst passing defenses in the league, which is a good thing for the Rams since their passing attack is not great. The 49ers also have one of the worst offenses in the league. I do not want to waste words here: The 49ers are one of the worst teams in the league, if not the worst. The Rams have a great defense, and Gurley has energized their running game. This should be enough for them to beat Kap and the 49ers.
The Giants, your current NFC East leader, need to win this game with the Cowboys starting to get healthy again(people forget how good the Cowboys can be when they are healthy). The Saints have one of worst defenses in the league, and I think that Odell Beckham will have a great game. Alright, that may not be the boldest of predictions so how about this: Larry Donnell will have one of the best performances by a TE this week. The Saints are the worst team in the league when it comes to covering the TE. The Giants have also quietly had a good defense this year, and should be able to limit what the Saints can do offensively. Give me the Giants, who are underdogs, in a game they kind of need to win.
Hmm, we have the passing yards leader in Philip Rivers, going against a Ravens secondary that is one of the worst in the league. They have had problems covering running backs in the passing game, so I am looking for Danny Woodhead to have a good game. The Ravens, while they may be desperate for a win after getting kind of unlucky on their way to 1-6, just have not played like a team that has much life in them. The Chargers, despite being 2-5, are not completely out of the playoff race. But this is the game that they have to win if they want to stay on the fringes of the playoff race. Give me the Chargers, who should win despite being underdogs in this game.
This Jets team is in an interesting position headed into week 8 in a decent position to make the playoffs. They have one of the best defenses in the league, and shockingly a better than average offense. Chris Ivory has helped make that happen, as he has helped to spark their rushing attack. The Raiders so far have not been a strong team running the ball so far this year, meaning they are going to need to lean on their passing attack. Problem is the Jets have one of the best secondaries in the league. Good luck David Carr. I can feel a multi-interception game coming from him. The Jets should win a game and cover their spread
This is an easy one for me. The Cowboys are starting Matt Cassel against the Seattle D who knows that they have to win every game that they can to get to the playoffs. Oh and sure Dez Bryant is back, but his first game back is against the L.O.B. with a poor QB. Basically this game for me comes down to the fact that Cassel is not a good qb, and the Seahawks have one of the best 10 defenses in the league this year. Not much analysis, but the Seahawks should be a safe bet to win and cover the spread.
So this is the game of the week without a doubt. The 6-0 Packers traveling to Denver to play the 6-0 Broncos. It should be a good one. Here is my thing in this game, it is going to come down to Peyton Manning. Both of these teams have good defenses, although you can attack Green Bay on the ground. The difference is that the Packers are in the top 10 in rushing and passing offense while the Broncos are dead last/next to last in both of those offensive categories. The Packers also have Aaron Rodgers who is the best quarterback in the league. I am taking the Packers because the Broncos have been awful offensively, and the Packers have just looked like the better team this year.
Could this game be between two teams headed in opposite directions? Absolutely! The Panthers are 6-0, in first place in their division. The Colts are also somehow in first place in their division but could be slowly imploding. They will probably still win their division, just because the other teams are not good at all. The Panthers also have one of the best passing defenses in the league, sorry Andrew Luck(is he completely healthy? I’ll go no). Also the Colts do not have a great defense, and Cam Newton should be able to keep this Panthers offense going. Give me the Panthers, who will also cover the spread.
Best eliminator picks: Patriots(nailed it), Falcons, Rams, Cardinals, and Jets(my pick). Deeper pick: Steelers. Or Chargers if the Steelers isn’t out there enough.
Enjoy Week 8!
Ted Van Green(@TVG_5)
Spark Sports NFL Analyst