The SemiColumn: 8 Thoughts For Week 8 of the NFL Season

By | October 27, 2017
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As of today, there are only four days left in October, which means…

  1. We’re only days away from the sun setting at 1:30pm.
  2. Stores are having trouble deciding whether to make a pumpkin spiced version of everything they sell (“buy this pumpkin-spiced reclining sofa iron and receive a free pumpkin-spiced tire iron with your purchase!“), or to put out their Christmas decorations, even though we’re not even through Halloween yet.
  3. We’re already through 47% of the 2017 NFL regular season.

As depressed as all three of those just made me, here’s my brain dump of a bunch of football related things, plus a few other random thoughts…

The Under-The-Radar Redskins-Killer

Without looking it up online, do you know who leads the Dallas Cowboys in receptions this season? It’s not Dez Bryant. It’s not Cole Beasley. It’s actually the ageless Jason Witten (who we think of as an “older” player, despite the fact that he’s a full year younger than I am; getting old sucks).

So far this year, Witten currently ranks 4th in the NFL in receptions among tight ends (31), is tied for third in touchdown receptions among tight ends (three), and ranked sixth in targets among tight ends. He’s someone that could get overlooked among all the “big names” on the Cowboys offense, but he has the potential to give headaches to a Redskins defense that’s already stinks at getting opposing offenses off the field on third down.

Washington’s defense is going to bite hard on every play action, as they’ll sell the farm to stop Ezekiel Elliott; that’s only going to open up the middle of the field for Witten. The Redskins have already gotten gashed by opposing tight ends like Zach Ertz (twice), Travis Kelce, and even rookie Gerald Everett.

I obviously hope that Witten goes completely target-less and catch-less on Sunday, but if you’re someone who isn’t 100% averse to putting any member of the Dallas Cowboys in your fantasy or daily fantasy line — as I am — then Witten might be a really good option for you this week.

Are We Sure The New Orleans Saints Are Good?

The latest “interesting team du jour” in the NFL is the New Orleans Saints, who are sitting atop the NFC South division with a 4-2 record, after their terrible 0-2 start, which included a idiot blogger prematurely writing them off entirely before we rounded the the third week of September.

Since that slow start, New Orleans is beating teams with style; their average margin of victory in their four-game winning streak has been 16 points. But here’s where it gets really interesting for them: they’ve got two more highly winnable games left in the first half of the season, both of which will be played in the Superdome: against Chicago (who’s averaging a hilariously bad 1116 passing yards per game over the last three weeks) and Tampa Bay (who is ranked dead last in the NFL in overall defensive DVOA and pass defense DVOA). So it’s very possible that they could have a 6-2 record halfway through November.

But six of their next eight games over the second half of the season come against teams that are .500 or better. The only two teams with losing records in that part of their schedule are the New York Jets (who haven’t nearly as bad as many people — like me — thought they’d be), and Tampa Bay (who — at least theoretically — should have that mess somewhat cleaned up by then). In other words: there’s a universe in which this team could start the year 6-2, and just as easily finish the year without a winning record (yet again) as they could with double-digit wins.

The Indianapolis Colts Are The Most Pathetic Team In Football

The 2-5 record of the Indianapolis Colts betrays just how pathetic this football team really is. Case in point? Football Outsiders basically ranked the Colts as the worst team in football, even behind the 0-7 Cleveland Browns.

The 27-0 loss by the Indianapolis Colts to the Jacksonville Jaguars, at home no less, is beyond embarrassing. The fact that the Colts are missing Andrew Luck, or that they’re starting backups in four of the five spots along their offensive line, isn’t an excuse. Without their best player on offense (Leonard Fournette), Jacksonville ran it right down the collective throats of Indianapolis’ defense (running back TJ Yeldon — who’s a game day healthy scratch all year long — ran for a career-high 122 yards against them), and had Blake Bortles — maybe the worst current starting quarterback in the NFL — pass for his highest yardage total in almost two years.

The Colts are now 28th in the NFL in passing offense, 21st in rushing offense, 31st in passing defense, 26th in rushing defense, and dead last in the NFL in most points allowed per game; they’re the only team in the NFL allowing opposing teams to score an average of more than 31 points every week.

If it weren’t for the horrific situation that the Cleveland Browns find themselves in right now, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano would be the leader in the clubhouse for the first head coach to be fired this season. The 2018 offseason can’t come soon enough for this miserable franchise.

The MVP Candidate Nobody Is Talking About

Between the fact(s) that 1) the Pittsburgh Steelers have a 5-2 record that’s tied for the best mark in the AFC; 2) Antonio Brown has a (staggering) 220 more receiving yards than any wide receiver in the NFL; and 3) Pittsburgh’s defense might be the best part of their team (they’re currently ranked second in overall defensive DVOA this year), we’ve somehow managed to overlook how good Le’Veon Bell has played for them this year.

The common denominator in four of Pittsburgh’s five wins this year is the fact that they’ve handed the football to Bell at least 27 carries in each of those games. Last week, Bell carried the ball 35 times for 134 yards. The week before that, in Pittsburgh’s upset win over Kansas City, Bell had 32 carries for 179 yards and a touchdown. Compare that to the fact that Bell had 52 carries for 180 yards total over the first three weeks of the season.

He’s currently second in the NFL with 684 rushing yards, and tied for third with four touchdowns. If Bell keeps this pace up, he’d hit over 1,560 yards rushing, and another 480-plus yards receiving. In a year where the New England Patriots aren’t quite the dominant we’re used to seeing, and guys like Aaron Rodgers are out for the season, the race for the NFL’s MVP award is wide open enough to where Bell’s name could — or should — be in consideration.

The Los Angeles Rams Are For Real

We’re coming up on halfway through the 2017 NFL season, and the Los Angeles Rams are sitting atop the NFC West with a 5-2 record. Before the season started, if you had told any NFL fan that this is how the first six games of the season would go down in that division, they would have thought you had never watched football before. How many people realize the Rams have the highest scoring offense in the NFL, and are the only team in the NFL averaging more than 30 points per game? Did you know that the Rams have the highest point differential (+74) of any team in the NFL? Over the last two weeks, they’ve beaten their last two opponents — the Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars — by a 60-17 margin.

Now here’s what’s really scary: the Rams defense (run by Wade Phillips) might actually be better than their offense (run by Sean McVay). Los Angeles’ defense is currently ranked #3 defensive DVOA — ahead of the Denver Broncos, Houston Texans, and Seattle Seahawks.

Los Angeles still has a really tough slate of games left, which includes home games against the Saints and Eagles, and trips to Seattle and Tennessee, all over their final five games of the season. But they could legitimately be a contender for at least one of the Wild Card spots in the NFC this year, if not the NFC West crown.

Expect A Lot More Chatter About Jimmy Garoppolo This Offseason

Given the putrid level of quarterback play we’ve seen from some guys during this 2017 season, it only reaffirms the need that a LOT of teams still have at that position. In fact, i’d venture to say at least seven or eight NFL teams — starting with the Browns, 49ers, Cardinals, Dolphins, Jets, and probably the Ravens, Jaguars, and even the Giants — could (or should) be looking for a new quarterback after this year is over.

If the rumors are true about University of Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold potentially staying in Southern California and not declaring for the 2018 NFL Draft, that’s going to make many teams look in other directions for an answer at quarterback. And that’s when you’re really going to hear Jimmy Garoppolo’s name come up in trade discussions.

With all the needs this team has all over its defense, New England just isn’t in a position where they can afford to pay Garoppolo — who will be a free agent after this year — the money a starting quarterback would make, and keep him as a backup until Tom Brady decides to call it quits. Some team will pony up the trade assets New England is looking for (reportedly a first and third round pick) to acquire Garoppolo.

My Preseason 2017-2018 NBA MVP Prediction

I didn’t get a chance to officially post this before the season started, so I thought i’d include this here. My prediction for the 2017-2018 MVP Award is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.

A funny thing happened on the way to Golden State defending their NBA Championship. As NBA fans, we know it means something when a player is introduced last to the fans. That’s the franchise telling the fans that this guy is the biggest star on the team, and they’re saving the best for last. So who was the player that the Warriors introduced last, and the player who received the biggest ovation when the Warriors received their championship rings on opening night? That was Curry. With Kevin Durant winning Finals MVP last season, expect opposing teams to start treating Durant as the “alpha dog” of the Warriors. In which case, that’s just going to open up things for Curry, who usually would’ve received that “best player on the team” focus.

Let’s not forget that while Durant was an MVP candidate in his own right last season, Curry was very much one of the five or six players also most deserving of the award last year. It just feels like the Warriors are transitioning this team back into Curry’s hands, with Durant as the most lethal “sidekick” in the NBA.

Also, for the record: I decided on this prediction before Bill Simmons of TheRinger.com made the same pick.

Mia Khalifa Has Two Good Things Going For Her, And Neither Of Them Are “Sports Talk”

I’ll admit that my curiosity was piqued by the admittedly-brilliant marketing scheme by former “adult film” (read: porn) star Mia Khalifa, to draw awareness to the new sports show called “Out Of Bounds” on Complex’s YouTube channel.

So I watched an episode of the show.

And it was awful.

In terms of being a sports talk show, it’s got all five tools of being terrible: it’s disjointed, vapid, uninteresting, unengaging, and completely uninsightful. And a lot of that comes from the fact that Complex placed a lot of chips on Khalifa, who — borrowing a line from the Principal at Knibb High School — makes everyone dumber after listening to her.

Look, we all know that there are two (BIG) reasons that people give a shit about her. As one commenter on YouTube so eloquently stated: “Real niggas come to see if Mia has them titties on display then dip.

But sweater-melons aside, Complex was likely trying to capitalize on Khalifa’s self-anointed tile of “the DC Sports Girl” — even though she she roots for the Florida State University in football, Duke University in basketball (an unforgivable sin if you’re from Montgomery County — which she proudly claims  to be), and was repping Chicago Cubs gear in this past National League Division Series — in addition to her adult film infamy.

The problem is, i’m pretty certain Khalifa has the same level of sports knowledge as my wife — the latter of whom is someone that, as University of Alabama alumna, claims to be a “diehard fan” of the school’s football team, but couldn’t name a single person on the team or the coaching staff not named Nick Saban.

There are a lot of qualified, astute, and knowledgeable sports journalists — and fans — that are women. Khalifa is none of those three. She has two (and only two) great assets… and they have nothing to do with sports.

Week 8 NFL Picks

Minnesota (-9.5) vs. Cleveland — in London
Chicago at New Orleans (-9)
Atlanta (-5) at NY Jets
Carolina at Tampa Bay (-2)
San Francisco at Philadelphia (-13)
Oakland at Buffalo (-2.5)
Indianapolis at Cincinnati (-10)
LA Chargers at New England (-7)
Houston at Seattle (-5.5)
Dallas (-2) at Washington
Pittsburgh (-3) at Detroit
Denver at Kansas City (-7)

Last Week: 4-8-2
Season To Date: 35-51-2

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