Look between the lines: Handicapping NFL’s Week 8 slate
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.James Hernandez, Contributor to FOXSports.com During the NFL season, I will attempt to guide you to the winner’s circle more often than not. I consider a combination of statistical trends, my own personal player ranking system, and meticulous attention to various wagering techniques that allow me to analyze and formulate a plan of attack each week. Each week I will post my five favorite plays in order of preference, best on top and so on. All right, let’s get into itCarolina Panthers (-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers After getting off to a shaky 1-3 start, the Panthers have come together to right the ship. Led by upstarts such as Luke Kuechly and Greg Hardy, this defensive unit has emerged in the conference, allowing a minuscule 13.8 ppg, which is second in the NFL. On the other hand, the Tampa Bay Bucs continue their quest for mediocrity and find themselves in the company of only the lowly Jags as the state of Florida has the dubious distinction of featuring the league’s only two winless teams. After a tumultuous month and a half to start the season, which has included six straight losses as well as the outright release of Josh Freeman, it seems like only a matter of time before much-maligned head coach Greg Schiano is sent packing, too. Without the services of Doug Martin, who is out indefinitely with a torn labrum, it seems as if this offense will be hard pressed to keep the score close, let alone have a legit chance at winning. Cam Newton should find enough time in the pocket to make plays with his arm and legs. With the help of a stingy Ron Rivera defense, look for the Panthers to run their season-high winning streak to three and get over the .500 mark for the first time this season as they feast on a mediocre Bucs team that will struggle to put up points all evening as Carolina cruises to a third straight win and cover. Final score: Panthers 31, Bucs 13Dallas Cowboys/ Detroit Lions under 51
Over the last two weeks it seems as if the Dallas defense has finally turned the corner. For Rod Marinelli and Monte Kiffin, the old adage, “it”s better late than never” has never been more appropriate. After allowing just 19 points the previous two weeks, it seems as if Dallas is finally serious about getting to the top of the most disappointing division in football. With all the mediocrity going on in the NFC East as long as Dallas can finish .500 they will have a great shot at hosting a playoff game and hanging a division championship banner later this year. If this matchup wasn't must-see television before, Dez Bryant and his comments regarding himself and not Calvin Johnson as the game’s best receiver have upped the ante and gotten the attention of players on both sides. Both Jason Garrett and Jim Schwartz would just assume go about the week without the bulletin-board material, however this feud is pure gold for the media and NFL fans. Last week it was Johnson, who wanted to remind us that he is still the ultimate game changer. While nursing a hamstring injury that had him playing at no better than 80 percent, he was able to put the entire Bengals secondary on his 2013 highlight reel by scoring two touchdowns in spectacular fashion. What Ndamukong Suh has done to opposing quarterbacks this season is illegal in several countries and with the help of ball hawking linebacker DeAndre Levy (tied for the league lead with 4 INT’s) roaming in coverage, Tony Romo better be on his "A" game all day long. Dallas prepares for life without Demarco Murray for a second straight week and look for the Cowboys offense to be one-dimensional and struggle to sustain the kind of drives that will be needed to seize control of a game. Schwartz's offense will have its own issues moving the ball against a relentless defensive front that is proving the less-is-more theory after losing key contributors like Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware. However the next-man-up mantra has allowed unsung heroes George Selvie, Ernie Sims, Bruce Carter, new defensive leader Sean Lee and a vastly improved secondary to lead the way moving forward. Look for a field goal to decide this battle of potential playoff teams as both defenses shine keeping the contest way below the posted total of 51. Hey Dez, so what if no one believes your claim to be the best receiver in the game at the end of the day just remember that no matter what, "Johnson loves his fans." New England Patriots (-6.5) over Miami Dolphins
Just when I was ready to anoint the Golden Boy with the title of G.O.A.T. he allowed the Jets defense to put him and his offense in check during the second half of last week’s meeting as they held the Pats to 6 second-half points. If that wasn't bad enough, some will say he was even outplayed by (gulp), Geno Smith! After watching something happen that is as rare as a solar eclipse, I can't get help to back Brady at home as a favorite of less than a touchdown this weekend. This game has the potential to be a moving line and by that I mean 90 percent of the money is sure to back the Patriots, so look for the number to inflate to 7 or even 7.5 by kickoff. Brady is 16-6 career vs. the Fins, but even more impressive is his 10-1 home mark. If you think Brady's individual numbers are impressive, consider the fact the New England is 61-16 (.792) since 2001 within the division which gives them the best intra division mark in the entire NFL during that span of time. The month of October provides the Pats with way more treats than tricks as they are far and away the best team during the 10th month of the year, going 36-9 since 2003. They’ve also accumulated a mind-blowing 21-1 record at home during October with the team’s only loss coming to the Chargers back in 2005. With all that being said, New England is the obvious side to back here so expect Brady to continue his personal torment of Miami and the AFC East as the Patriots rebound from last week’s loss with an emphatic home win. Washington Redskins/ Denver Broncos over 58.5
With all the ups and downs of sports handicapping, it is rare to see a play win so consistently. Since Week 2 my articles have been featuring the over in the Denver games and it hasn't let me down yet. During this improbable stretch the Broncos have been able to easily score enough points to push every game total over the posted number. Don't look for too much to change as this matchup features two top-10 offenses. With Denver still putting up 40 plus a game and the Redskins putting up over 25 themselves, it is reasonable to expect another shootout in the Mile High City. RG3 continues to show flashes of his former dual-threat brilliance as he learns to trust his surgically repaired knee. Now with the emergence of Roy Helu and Jordan Reed, teaming with the always dependable Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon, Griffin can now spread the ball around and utilize a nice complement of playmakers. On the other hand, you have to believe that Peyton and company will come out seeing red after they were embarrassed and a bit exposed by Manning's former employer. Don't be shocked if Manning surgically dismantles Washington's mediocre secondary on his way to a 4 or 5 touchdown day. The Broncos continue their assault on the NFL record books and roll an overmatched Washington team, easily cashing another over in the process. Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5) over Oakland Raiders
Looking to put together the team’s first three-game winning streak since last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves experiencing a resurgence that just might put them back in the playoff mix. Don't look now, but with Le'Veon Bell infusing life in the running game and a patched up offensive line finding its way, the Steelers are competing on the level necessary to be a factor down the stretch. The defense has been its usual dominant self, ranking second in the league against the pass. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau continues his legendary reputation as an innovator of the 3-4 defense, while adding new wrinkles along the way to keep up with today’s continually evolving NFL offense. Look for Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark to turn the Oakland Coliseum into a no-fly zone and although Darren McFadden is back, expect Dennis Allen to ease him back into the offense and split his workload with Rashad Jennings. This veteran Pittsburgh secondary will be the best young Terrelle Pryor has faced in his short stint as a starting quarterback. You can be sure Tomlin and LeBeau will dial up some exotic blitzes and bring pressure from anywhere and everywhere in order to confuse the novice signal caller and force him into a turnover or two. As long as Big Ben continues to protect the rock and get time in the pocket he should be able to utilize Antonio Brown, Heath Miller and Emmanuel Sanders along with Bell to orchestrate a well-balanced, efficient offense en route to a third straight victory and cover as short road favorites. Questions? Comments? Send them to email@example.com and we might respond in our weekly mailbag!