Look Between the Lines: Handicapping Week 8 in the NFL
James Hernandez has more than 15 years in the sports handicapping industry and will contribute weekly for FOXSports.com as our betting expert. Have comments or questions? Make sure to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jhern81.
San Diego Chargers (+8) vs. Denver Broncos
Sole possession of first place in the AFC West will be on the line Thursday night when the Chargers and Broncos meet in the Mile High City. Rivers and Manning have only met seven times, including the postseason, with Rivers holding a 4-3 edge. All three meetings last season were decided by eight points or fewer with the road team covering in all three contests. Rivers has always fared well against Denver, going 10-7 vs. his division nemesis while tossing 29 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions in 17 career matchups (postseason included). Take the points as two old rivals renew acquaintances in a game that is sure to go down to the wire.
Detroit Lions (-3.5) vs. Atlanta Falcons
This matchup is a clear example of two teams going in opposite directions. As these teams prepare for their 9:30 a.m. ET kickoff at historic Wembley Stadium, the Lions look for a fifth win in their last six contests while the Falcons look to avoid a fifth straight defeat. The Atlanta defense is atrocious. They rank dead last in the NFL in total defense, allowing 412.1 yards per game and 28.4 points per game, sacking the quarterback only seven times all season. Detroit's defense has been the glue that has kept this team together, ranking fifth in the NFL in total defense, allowing an NFC-best 15 points per game and sacking the quarterback 24 times. Take the team on the rise in this matchup featuring two teams headed to entirely different places.
Green Bay Packers (+1.5) vs. New Orleans Saints
It seems as if Aaron Rodgers was onto something when he told the Cheeseheads to just R-E-L-A-X. After starting the season 1-2, the Pack have reeled off four straight wins while blistering opposing defenses to the tune of 36.25 points per game in that span. After not being able to hold onto a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter last week against the Lions, the Saints appear to be on the verge of a complete collapse. The Saints are used to being the favorite at home — they've been underdogs just twice in the Superdome since the start of the 2009 season. As hard as it is to face the Saints at home, Rodgers is playing out of his mind right now (18 TDs, 1 INT). He should have no trouble carving up an average secondary as Green Bay runs its winning streak to five Sunday night in the Big Easy.
Baltimore Ravens (+2) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals are a wounded animal right now, and the Ravens are the last team in the league that you want smelling blood in the water. After reloading the defensive side of the ball the last three drafts, Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh are starting to see it pay dividends on the field. Courtney Upshaw, Matt Elam and C.J. Mosley have all played vital roles in helping the 2014 Ravens defense become the stingiest unit in the league, allowing a league-best 14.9 points per game. With A.J. Green questionable, you can expect the Ravens defense to commit to shutting down Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill and company as they force Andy Dalton to beat them with a depleted receiving corps. Baltimore can improve its division record to 3-1 and take control of the AFC North while improving their all-time record against Cincy to 21-17. Take the points in what promises to be another AFC North war.
Indianapolis Colts (moneyline -150) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
After easily dispatching the Bengals for their fifth consecutive win, the Colts may be the hottest team in the NFL. Indianapolis leads the NFL in total points scored (219) through seven weeks and is averaging an impressive 30.9 points per game. The Colts defense is coming off its most complete performance of the season — a shutout at home last week — and is now ranked eighth in the league. Pittsburgh struggled to generate a consistent pass rush last Monday night vs. the Texans, and if the Steelers' secondary struggled to contain Ryan Fitzpatrick, they must be losing sleep over Indy's offensive playmakers. With games that have the potential to be tight, sometimes it's best to err on the side of caution and take a favorite to win on the moneyline instead of laying a point spread. Take the Colts to win, so a 3-point margin of victory gets you to the winners circle instead of just your money back.