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Football Fantasy! Jermaine Kearse doubles down against the Falcons in week 8, JuJu versus Martavis and Dolphins-Ravens sliding doors

The Viking invasion of the Browns in England, why the Patriots will have to concentrate their run game against the Chargers, Andy Reid in a beauty contest and other midseason NFL storylines

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Note: If you came looking for fantasy football recommendations, I don’t have anything for you. This season, Football Fantasy! here at Field Gulls will offer a recurring daydream considering the weekly football schedule from a perspective of entertaining narratives and wished-for results across the non-Seattle Seahawks landscape. Here, we welcome storylines and silliness to topple other interests from week to week as we deliver the lowdown on the rest of the league from the land of make believe. For more detailed explanation of the picks, look here.

With the professional football playoff picture coming into fuzzy focus, the time is becoming dire to thrust the magic of our hearts not into the narrowing holes of postseason opportunity that choke the pennant portion of the year but behind the teams and league characters that most charm our spirits. That’s always the vibe in these parts but I remind you now how joyful it can be to look beyond the standings tables to lifelong consequences of human nature as well as explosive plays.

This is in a sense the “crunch time” of this story-filled season: what depth and injuries emerge in the characterizations of the players and units we discover. I admit I enter the season with convictions a mess of lifelong tendencies and arbitrary hopes, but now we get to the good stuff, and can start crafting our cares around factors we encounter along the way that may only exist in 2017’s edition of the NFL.

Take the Jacksonville Jaguars, since they’re on their bye week and I won’t discuss them below. Their #Sacksonville defense has an adorable configuration of veterans on their last tours, like Calais Campbell, Paul Posluszny and Barry Church, and big young stars like Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue and A.J. Bouye that overcomes any distaste from watching the Jags’ Bortelian offense. The front line’s crazy feat of collectively recording 10 sacks in two separate games makes them a must watch even if they still haven’t figured out how to contain the run game (to the tune of 5.2 yards allowed per carry). It’s finding wizardly wrinkles like these that brighten the football experience outside the confines of the television when Seattle is playing or checking your weekly fantasy scores. And it’s not just the breadth of our interest that enriches the product, but the willingness to adjust our tempers to new make room for new interests and new hopes.

Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens

As two of the teams most flagrantly foolish for not signing Colin Kaepernick, and with both clubs only relevant at all right now in the AFC thanks to their defenses, I’m inclined to leave the quarterback dramas on both sides unsaid and highlight the Ravens’ pass defense sparked by Brandon Carr and Eric Weddle and a filthy rush or how Miami has blasted opponent running backs in the backfield using Cam Wake and Davon “Gotcha” Godchaux like mandibles around Ndamukong Suh’s block eating power.

However, this matchup represents a crossroads opportunity to free these franchises from their ambitions in 2017 and reset them into rebuilding stages they both badly need and it starts with the misallocation of resources at quarterback. Last week I combatted Kevin Clark’s thesis that the NFL suffers a vicious parity dependency, but Clark was right on when he said too many teams strap themselves to bum quarterbacks out of a fear of scarcity of great ones. As John Schneider and Pete Carroll proved, the answer to that dilemma is rather to cycle through passers until you find a gem rather than get hooked on the roughage. For years critics suggested Matt Moore might be better for the Dolphins than Ryan Tannehill, and it seems probable that this season he’s a superior match for the team’s offensive talent than Jay Cutler was a fit for the scheme. I don’t think Moore is the answer either, but by breaking their design he might show Chris Grier and Adam Gase a path to look beyond their QB conservatism. 2018 is the right time to part ways with Tannehill, with only four and a half million or so dollars in dead money left on his contract that otherwise schedules $60 million to Tannehill’s account until 2020.

As for Baltimore, there’s no real way to save on Joe Flacco’s unbelievable extension signed at exactly the moment when Ozzie Newsome should have been embracing a roster renovation after the Ravens’ 5-11 2015. But if John Harbaugh can hold on, which as a fan of his whole family I’d love to see, the best path for him at the helm of that squad into the next decade is to ride the Flac-consequences into a bunch of high draft picks from now till the deal runs out. More likely, a whole organizational shuffle will bring the fourth coach in franchise history.

My choice: Dolphins

Sharp pick: Miami (+3)

Minnesota Vikings vs Cleveland Browns (in London)

After last week’s field goal bonanza the Browns are badly in need of this vacation. Cleveland has more in common with London than you might think: Both were founded in remote Northwest territories of problematically democratic-imperialist powers. Both were centers in the 19th century of the industrial revolution that made each city’s river historically polluted a hundred years later. (Both the Thames and the Cuyahoga are doing much better lately, thank you very much.) Both have strangely-appropriated rock and roll legacies—London’s record industry extracted talent from Liverpool and the surrounding industrial north of England; around the same time Cleveland used AM radio stations as a platform to become a hub for promotion of southern American black artists. London and Cleveland have each been home to world famous monarchs named James whose influence spread beyond their specialized courts thanks to new media.

For all those reasons, London is a fitting place for Cleveland to be raided by Vikings.

My choice: Browns

Sharp pick: Cleveland (+9.5)

Oakland Raiders at Buffalo Bills

Had Oakland lost last Thursday, all but ending its season at 2-5, I might have abandoned my Marshawn-crush on the Raiders to side with the beloved Bills this week—especially with Lynch removed from the action due to his sterling-and-black display of loyalty for his Oakland “kin” Marcus Peters. But even without Marshawn getting to face his former team directly, the chance of keeping Lynch’s playoff hopes alive remains imperative here. With matchups against the Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots and a visit to the Kansas City Chiefs still to come, the four-loss Raiders are going to need every win they can find.

My choice: Raiders

Sharp pick: Buffalo (-2.5)

Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals

I got into a feud with a Colts fan online last week, but it started with me agreeing with his defense of Louisville Lamar Jackson as an NFL prospect:

When it dawned on him that my support for his busting the NFL quarterback archetype included its total congruence with Andrew Luck, poor Shaun got defensive.

Poor Indianapolis, really. But speaking of “luck”, the disaster that will be 2017’s Colts season might just land them, once again, perfect timing for position to select their next transformative quarterback. Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard gets my trust and respect for his time on Schneider’s staff in Seattle, but does he have the guts and wisdom to pick Jackson with a top five choice?

My choice: Bengals

Sharp pick: Indianapolis (+10.5)

Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots

The Chargers have just the right mix of strengths to match up well against New England. Both winners of three in a row, the game is hugely more important to Los Angeles as it could place them squarely back into the playoff picture (especially if the Denver Broncos can also upset the AFC West-leading Chiefs) while the Patriots’ status is more secure for the moment. I see Joey Bosa putting Marcus Cannon off balance in the passing game, possibly affecting Cannon’s blocking performance on runs—where Josh McDaniels most often directs his rush calls. That will pressure McDaniels to call more plays for Mike Gillislee and Dion Lewis in the interior where New England has had some success on fewer attempts. The bad news for the Chargers is they’re missing Corey Liuget in that three technique spot next to Brandon Mebane for now.

My choice: Chargers

Sharp pick: Los Angeles (+7)

Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints

I’m growing more and more fascinated by this Saints group that is looking more and more like the old Seahawks as their defensive backs group develops and the rush game thrives with Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. Those units significantly displace the weaknesses that have snared Drew Brees’s and Sean Payton’s squads for years, meaning the entire NFC should be on red alert.

New Orleans has outscored its opponents by 64 points in four games since getting thrashed by the Patriots in week 2, and that stretch includes three on the road. Now the Saints get to return to the Superdome for six of their remaining 10 games. Yikes!

My choice: Bears

Sharp pick: New Orleans (-9)

Atlanta Falcons at New York Jets

Sleeper agent Jermaine Kearse may have been deployed by Pete Carroll to disrupt Seattle’s foes, but this time Kearse and his merry Krew encounter a projected NFC rival of the Seahawks who have done a fine enough job disrupting themselves through regressed offensive efficiency and a rather uncompetitive defense ranked 25th in pass DVOA and 30th against the run. Let our hero, who is not just New York’s team leader in touchdowns but a full-on team leader, match his career totals against Atlanta (seven catches for 118 yards and a touchdown) all in this one contest.

(Click that link for a hilariously dirty string of quotes by Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Kearse’s teammate on the 2011 Washington Huskies now reunited on the Jets.)

My choice: Jets

Sharp pick: Atlanta (-5)

San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles

Carson Wentz and the Eagles went(z) from my peevish nemesis in this space to the scourge of all the NFC at 6-1. I still don’t fully believe in Wentz or Philadelphia’s offense (and to be honest I’m glad it’s not the Dallas Cowboys or Washington Redskins) but I do agree they must be stopped.

The Eagles have now strung five wins together for the first time since 2013, when another second-year quarterback put up an MVP-grade touchdown to interception ratio. Then Philly went one and done when it got shut down by the Saints defense in the playoffs. Hmmm.

My choice: 49ers

Sharp pick: San Francisco (+13)

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jameis Winston surprised me last week with a career performance in a big comeback against Buffalo. But, given his injury, that kind of day reeks of toradol and can’t be good for Winston’s separated shoulder.

My choice: Panthers

Sharp pick: Carolina (+2.5)

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins

Zekie Elliott’s usage rate is somehow even higher than it was as a rookie, even though the Cowboys’ game scripts have been far more balanced than they were in Dallas’s 5-1 start to 2016. Maybe it’s because Elliott’s looming suspension renders Jason Garrett less concerned about burning his star to the ground with a 350-carry season, but it’s still almost as stupid as this point spread, which assumes the Cowboys defense could cover five points on a neutral field against a Washington offense that’s superior even with a bunch of wounded knees and ankles up front.

My choice: Cowboys

Sharp pick: Washington (+2)

Pittsburgh Steelers at Detroit Lions

The mojo scales couldn’t any more out of balance between Pittsburgh receivers Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Shuster. JuJu’s social media circle located the bicycle he rides to practice that went missing, then the future textbook magnate earned an early advance by publicly resisting a Lucy van Pelt-style proverbial football offered by Mia Khalifa on Twitter. Bryant’s image took an opposite public relations tumble when the formerly suspended wideout jabbed Smith-Shuster on Instagram, requested a trade, missed a team meeting and ended up deactivated for the Detroit game and serving on the Steelers scout team all week. Mike Tomlin called the matter “not high on my damn agenda” which really puts the proper perspective on an issue that truly fits in Pittsburgh’s topsy-turvy year so far.

My choice: Lions

Sharp pick: Pittsburgh (-3)

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City better be careful because its extraordinary run of five primetime appearances in eight games expires after Monday. Though they made the most of this swimsuit-competition showcase early on as the 5-0 darlings of the league, a third straight loss might guarantee less visibility during the talent portions of the NFL pageant. K.C. has another national broadcast scheduled for a Saturday during college bowl season, but a loss Sunday could turn that match against the Chargers into an elimination game rather than a division-clinching opportunity.

My choice: Chiefs

Sharp pick: Denver (-7)

On the year:

My choices (straight up): 40-60 (8-6 last week)

Sharp picks (against the spread): 45-46-1 (3-8-1 last week)