NFL Picks: Week 8

Marquee Games: Packers (+9.5) @ Rams and Saints (+1) @ Vikings

Contenders and pretenders making deals as trade deadline approaches  

After unloading former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack in the preseason, Jon Gruden and the Raiders continued to purge top-end talent: Amari Cooper was dealt to the Cowboys in exchange for a first round pick. With three first-round picks and more than $75 million in cap space upcoming, the Raiders are certainly planning for their future as they prepare to move to Las Vegas.

The New York Giants fell to 1-6 after losing in Atlanta, then promptly traded cornerback Eli Apple to the Saints the following morning and Damon Harrison the day after. The Saints are contending for a Super Bowl title and desperately needed to replace struggling CB Ken Crawley to shore up the pass defense. Meanwhile, the Giants have a 4-19 record over the past two seasons and are rebuilding about seven months too late. With ill-timed hefty contracts on the books and an uncertain future at quarterback, it’s hard to see this team in the playoffs in the near future.

Midseason MVP Mania!

Everybody knows it: The 2017 MVP race sucked. It was no fun. Carson Wentz looked like he had the edge until he tore his ACL in December. From that point on, Tom Brady became the clear favorite and eventually walked into his third MVP award with no competition. This year is shaping up to be a much more exciting contest with several contenders. Barring injuries, the trio of Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees will continue to set the standard for elite quarterback play, and will likely be in the thick of this race all season. Patrick Mahomes is at the top of the NFL in the majority of passing statistics at the ripe young age of 23. Jared Goff and Todd Gurley score on almost every possession as the Rams remain undefeated. Dark horse candidate Adam Thielen continues to have a record-breaking season in which he is on pace to set NFL records for receptions and 100-yard games. And if the Falcons improbably turn the season around and sneak into the playoffs, Matt Ryan could win his second MVP in three years.

Green Bay Packers (+9.5) @ Los Angeles Rams

With a nine-point spread, Aaron Rodgers heads to Los Angeles as the largest underdog in his 11 years starting for the Packers. Yet while LA remains undefeated and holds home-field advantage, this is certainly one of the few losable games on the Rams’ schedule. Rodgers poses a much greater threat than the likes of CJ Beathard and Josh Rosen, and he is hoping to ditch the knee brace he required in previous weeks. The Rams will keep building offense around Todd Gurley, but don’t discount the efforts of Jared Goff. He has been masterful at orchestrating the Rams offense, keeping all his receivers involved in the passing game while continuing to feed Gurley. The third-year quarterback seldom makes mistakes and is balancing an excess of talent like a veteran. I expect more of the same this Sunday, and NFL sacks leader Aaron Donald will cause problems for an inconsistent Packers offensive line. Rodgers keeps it close, but the Rams stay perfect.

The pick: Packers 35, Rams 38

New Orleans Saints (+1) @ Minnesota Vikings

Following the Packers-Rams late afternoon game, the Vikings host the Saints on Sunday Night Football in the first rematch since January’s thrilling playoff game. It’s a great Sunday for anyone who likes watching seven consecutive hours of football like I do. The Saints have turned the tables after a week one debacle that exposed the team’s vulnerability to big plays. New Orleans has won five straight games and acquired cornerback Apple to aid an already improving defense. Meanwhile, the Vikings’ supposedly deep roster has lacked a consistent running game, and the defense has fallen to average after an elite 2017 season. The Saints, certainly still heartbroken from last year’s defeat in this stadium, will attempt to slow down the unstoppable Kirk Cousins-Thielen connection. This duo has compensated for Minnesota’s flaws to such a high degree that the Vikings sit in first place in the extremely competitive NFC North. This is such an even matchup, so I’ll take the home team to end the Saints win streak.

The pick: Saints 24, Vikings 31

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