Penalties drive N.F.L. coaches and fans crazy.
Some infractions, like offside and the false start, are fairly clear-cut to spot and have some correlation to a team’s skill and ability. They are generally the mark of a young roster — or one with inexperienced starters being asked to replace injured starters. The Broncos, Saints, Seahawks and Dolphins are the league’s most penalized teams, while Seattle and Miami join the Jets, Commanders and Ravens as teams at deficits when it comes to net penalty yards against opponents, according to nflpenalties.com.
The more subjective flags — where referees are asked to exercise independent judgment in deciding penalties like pass interference, roughing the passer, and unsportsmanlike conduct — are the ones that send fan bases and bettors into chaos.
Take Atlanta’s win over Carolina last week for example. P.J. Walker’s 62-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Moore with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter tied the game, 34-34. The Panthers needed only to convert the extra-point attempt. But game officials decided that Moore’s removal of his helmet after the play amounted to unsportsmanlike conduct and tacked 15 yards onto the kick, which Eddy Piñeiro missed. The Falcons won, 37-34, on an overtime field goal.
All to say that, like Piñeiro, we had a down Week 8, and we’re looking to exercise our right as American football fans to blame the refs. It’s the halfway point, and our record sits at exactly .500.
Last week’s record: 7-8
All times Eastern.
Thursday Night’s Game
Philadelphia Eagles (7-0) at Houston Texans (1-5-1), 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime
Line: Texans +14 | Total: 45
Last week, Philadelphia easily covered 11 points against the Steelers in a 35-13 rout. Bookmakers have moved the goal posts back on Philadelphia a bit and set the line at 14 against a Texans team that couldn’t stop the Titans from running the ball on every play in Week 8.
The Eagles aren’t nearly so unbalanced: The team ranks sixth in rushing yards per game (149.6), but is capable of leaning hard on the air game, as in last week’s win in which A.J. Brown caught three touchdown passes from Jalen Hurts. Philadelphia continues to build leads in the first half and nurse them in the second, and if that trend continues it will help Houston find a way to cover in garbage time. Pick: Texans +14
Sunday’s Best Games
Los Angeles Chargers (4-3) at Atlanta Falcons (4-4), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Falcons +3.5 | 49.5
The Falcons now sit atop the N.F.C. South with a .500 record, having outperformed preseason expectations, but their win over the Panthers last week was Atlanta’s first game as the favorite, and its first failure to cover the spread. This week, the Falcons are market underdogs again, getting a field goal at home against the Chargers, a team that’s likely to put Justin Herbert’s arm to use against a struggling secondary.
But the Chargers’ defense, which allows opponents an average of 5.7 yards per rush, will need to contend with the Falcons’ punishing ground attack, which should have more than enough juice to dominate. Pick: Falcons +3.5
Miami Dolphins (5-3) at Chicago Bears (3-5), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Bears +5 | Total: 45
Tua Tagovailoa continues to put up big numbers throwing to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Before Tuesday’s trade deadline, Miami added the Pro Bowl linebacker Bradley Chubb to a pass defense that ranks 29th in the league and has given up at least 300 passing yards in four games.
The help will come in handy, but it may not be enough against Chicago, which is playing its best football of the season and added receiver Chase Claypool in a trade with Pittsburgh. His new quarterback, Justin Fields, is not yet known for his arm, but he went 17 of 23 with two touchdowns and earned a career-best passer rating in a loss to Dallas last week. Pick: Bears +5
Buffalo Bills (6-1) at Jets (5-3), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Jets +13 | Total: 47
The air leaked out of the Jets’ sails last week, when the Patriots snapped the team’s four-game winning streak and Zach Wilson threw three interceptions, dropping his quarterback rating to the second-worst in the league. James Robinson, acquired from Jacksonville to replace the injured running back Breece Hall, carried the ball for only 17 total yards. The market didn’t like what it saw, and is giving the Jets two touchdowns against a Bills team that looks Super Bowl-bound.
The Bills had no problem covering the 14-point spread against the Steelers in Week 5 at home, but last week against the Packers they failed to cover the 10.5-point spread by a half point. Double-digit spreads are risky business in the N.F.L., especially with the favorite on the road. Pick: Jets +13
Minnesota Vikings (6-1) at Washington Commanders (4-4), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Commanders +3.5 | Total: 43.5
The Vikings are first in the N.F.C. North at 6-1, but they have won each of their past five games by one possession. Last season, Minnesota went 6-8 in close games, so its record signals that the team has figured out how to claw victory from the jaws of defeat. The Vikings may be able to create more cushion after trading for the former Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson this week.
They’ll take on the best of the last-place teams, with Taylor Heinicke playing reasonably well in place of Carson Wentz, who is sidelined with a finger injury. Pick: Commanders +3.5
Seattle Seahawks (5-3) at Arizona Cardinals (3-5), 4:05 p.m., Fox
Line: Cardinals -2 | Total: 50
These division rivals met in Week 6, when Seattle won, 19-9, as 3-point underdogs at home. This time, they’ll be playing in Arizona, and the line still opened with the Cardinals at -3. The market must not have liked that because early money moved the line to 2 and money continues to come in on Seattle, which has won its last three games. Geno Smith is now No. 1 in completion percentage in the N.F.L., despite being one of the most pressured quarterbacks. The odds of him winning the Most Valuable Player Award have gone from 300-1 at the start of the season to 28-1. Smith is valuable, and so are these two points. Pick: Seahawks +2
Los Angeles Rams (3-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5), 4:25 p.m., CBS
Line: Buccaneers -3 | Total: 42.5
Both of these recent Super Bowl contenders have struggled this season, and the market seems to be reacting to their slides. Tampa Bay has been favored in each of its games this season, but it is only 2-6 against the spread. The oddsmakers haven’t yet given up on the Buccaneers, who were a 1-point favorite against the Rams before losing to Baltimore last week: The line had Tampa Bay -3 as of Wednesday.
That may reflect bookmakers’ lack of confidence in the Rams’ trajectory more than the Buccaneers’ capabilities. Los Angeles benched running back Cam Akers for two games as the team explored, but did not find, trades. He is questionable to return this week, as is the backup running back Kyren Williams, who has been sidelined by a high ankle sprain. With the run game in flux, the Rams would love to count on receiver Cooper Kupp to play but he was listed as questionable (ankle). Pick: Buccaneers -3
Tennessee Titans (5-2) at Kansas City (5-2), 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: Kansas City -12.5 | Total: 46.5
Derrick Henry has averaged 130 yards per game during the Titans’ five-game win streak, and he made things easy for the rookie quarterback Malik Willis as he started his first game in place of the injured Ryan Tannehill last week: Of the Titans’ 26 plays in the second half, Willis passed the ball only once.
Tannehill was limited in practices and was questionable for Sunday. If he is unable to play, Tennessee will need a new game plan to beat a well rested Kansas City team. Coach Andy Reid is 20-3 over his career in games following bye weeks. This line opened at 11 and jumped to 12.5 within minutes. At that number, we’re happy to take the points and hope Henry can keep it close against a middling run defense. Pick: Titans +12.5
Sunday’s Other Games
Carolina Panthers (2-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-4), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Bengals -8 | Total: 43
The Bengals played one of their worst games of the season on Monday night against the Browns, and they were completely dismantled in a 32-13 loss on the road. The top receiver Ja’Marr Chase, is out indefinitely with a torn labrum and a fractured hip, and cornerback Chidobe Awuzie is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Panthers are playing teams closely and 8 points might be one too many, even with the Bengals at home. Pick: Panthers +8
Green Bay Packers (3-5) at Detroit Lions (1-6), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Lions +3.5 | Total: 50
The Packers got a sneaky half-point backdoor cover against the Bills last week thanks to a Jaire Alexander pick of Josh Allen in the fourth quarter. Green Bay will need to win outright as favorites on the road against Detroit, which has lost five games in a row.
The Lions looked great while building a 27-17 first-half lead against the Dolphins last week, but they didn’t score in the second half. This is a good spot for the Packers to try to snap their four-game losing streak, but the Lions won’t just roll over for them at home. They’ll look to fix their second-half woes. Pick: Lions +3.5
Indianapolis Colts (3-4-1) at New England Patriots (4-4), 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Patriots -5.5 | Total: 39.5
The Colts are tied for the most turnovers in the league with seven fumbles and nine interceptions. In his debut as the starter last week against Washington, a 17-16 loss, Sam Ehlinger lost only one fumble and didn’t throw any interceptions. He also didn’t throw any touchdowns. That’s an improvement, but it won’t cut it against a New England team that just goaded the Jets’ Zach Wilson into three picks last week. Pick: Patriots -5.5
Las Vegas Raiders (2-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6), 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Jaguars +1.5 | Total: 47.5
The Raiders haven’t won on the road this season and they didn’t come close last week, getting shut out by New Orleans as road favorites. Davante Adams, who was rumored to be sick, caught just one pass for 37 yards and Las Vegas didn’t cross midfield on a drive until the game’s final minutes.
Jacksonville has been inconsistent this season, outscoring opponents in the first and third quarters and getting beaten in the second and fourth. The second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence has taken heat for costly interceptions, including one on the first play of what could have been a game-winning drive against Denver last week. Returning home could be just the boost that’s needed. Pick: Jaguars +1.5
Monday Night’s Game
Baltimore Ravens (5-3) at New Orleans Saints (3-5), 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Saints +3 | Total: 48.5
The Saints’ defense shut the Raiders out last week, and Andy Dalton threw for 229 yards, two touchdowns and, most important, zero interceptions. That’s a significant development as the Saints face the league’s top tackler, linebacker Roquan Smith, whom the Ravens traded for this week.
But Baltimore is dealing with injuries to tight end Mark Andrews (shoulder, ankle; questionable), Rashod Bateman (foot; out) and Gus Edwards (hamstring) and New Orleans is trying to make up ground in a wide-open N.F.C. South. Pick: Saints +3