This week, we pass the midway mark of the regular season. As preseason expectations naturally fade along with memories of years gone by, that means it's time to bring what we've learned through the first eight weeks front and center.
Teaser: Chiefs -1.5 vs. Jaguars, Packers -1.5 vs. Colts
The Jaguars were a trendy preseason pick to take a significant step forward. And with Andrew Luck's return, the Colts were expected to contend again. Instead, the teams find themselves competing with each other to stay out of the cellar in football's worst division, and they'll be hard-pressed to win this week on the road against superior opposition.
In Kansas City the point spread would be approaching double digits if Alex Smith were healthy. But it's not all downhill for the Chiefs with Nick Foles under center, as shown by last week's convincing win in Indianapolis. With a merely adequate performance by Foles this Sunday, Kansas City should have little trouble emerging victorious.
In the second leg of the teaser, a lack of talent at the skill positions surrounding Aaron Rodgers prevents the Packers from being double-digit favorites. While Green Bay may be hard-pressed to build a comfortable lead with its one-man offense, the Colts' defense isn't one to exploit the Packers' limitations.
Needing little more than outright wins by two good home teams over a couple of also-rans, playing this teaser feels like doubling up on the discount double check.
Panthers/Rams Under 44.5
Considering Cam Newton is the reigning MVP, the Panthers severed ties with All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, and the Rams took a QB with the No. 1 overall pick to complement Todd Gurley in their offense, an argument could have been made in the offseason that these teams would light up the scoreboard when going head-to-head. That would be a hard case to make now.
The Rams' strength unquestionably is their defense, particularly the front seven. Aaron Donald & Co. are well equipped to make Newton and the Panthers work for everything they can get.
Meanwhile, Carolina has a stout defensive front of its own, enabling the Panthers to neutralize L.A.'s best weapon in Gurley. Carolina's secondary is a legitimate weakness, but with Case Keenum on the other side it might not look that way this week.
Given the matchups in play, both defenses should have plenty to smile about come Sunday.
Pick of the Week: Browns +7.5 vs. Cowboys
At least one thing hasn't changed through eight weeks - backing the Browns is asking for trouble. Well, here goes....
Simply put, Hue Jackson has a winless Cleveland team competing every Sunday. Twice in the last three weeks the Browns have shown the hunger to score in the waning moments, covering point spreads through a back door they might not need this week.
Big road favorites and all, the Cowboys are in a sandwich spot, coming off a primetime overtime win against the division rival Eagles and with a highly anticipated showdown in Pittsburgh on deck.
If Dallas isn't careful the Baha Men may be in for another 15 minutes of fame, with "Hue Let The Dawgs Out" a prime headline candidate should the Browns finally claw their way into the win column.
Jaguars/Chiefs: Last week in Indianapolis, Foles brought an added dimension to the Kansas City offense by throwing downfield, something Smith is reluctant to do. If Foles brings big-play potential to the table again this Sunday, the Chiefs' drop-off from starting QB to backup could be negligible.
Colts/Packers: Green Bay may be the NFL's most well-rested team, having played only one road game since Week 2. On the other side, this will be Indianapolis' fourth road trip in that span, including a game in London. It would be hard to fault any Colts already looking ahead to next week's long-awaited bye.
Panthers/Rams: Good scheduling spots have been few and far between for L.A. during the team's first season back in Southern California. Well rested and healthy off a bye, and at home for good measure, the Rams' defense is in an ideal situation to hold Carolina's offense in check, while their own offensive limitations should pose little threat to the Under.
Cowboys/Browns: Dallas ranks 29th in the league in seconds per snap, meaning fewer plays for a slow-paced offense to build a margin and mitigating a rebuilding Cleveland roster's lack of depth.
Last week: 2-1
Picks of the Week: 4-4