Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has announced that running back Jonathan Stewart will get a chance to get the “hot hand” against Chicago’s defense, which is a bit like the leader of a tiny village telling his primary warrior that he’s going to get a lot of reps against the Roman Army about 2,000 years ago. That said, it’s nice to see that Rivera finally understands the nature of the business — through Week 7, per out buddy Greg Cosell, the Panthers have just 20 running plays in which Cam Newton is under center. “I want to see one guy pound and get a rhythm, then see the other guy pound and get a rhythm,” Rivera told the Charlotte Observer . “To me it’s hard for a back to get a rhythm when you’re coming out every other play. So just looking back at some of those things philosophically and saying, look, this is what we have to do.” What Steve Smith has to do is to find a way to get and stay open against Chicago’s Charles Tillman, who joist might be the best defensive player in the NFL right now. This one has “mismatch” written all over it, unless Carolina’s iffy defense somehow throws Jay Cutler off his game. We think Cutler wins this battle of emo quarterbacks pretty decisively. Pick: Bears 27, Panthers 10 San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns The Browns had to put linebacker Scott Fujita on injured reserve this week, but they also got defensive tackle Phil Taylor back from a torn pectoral muscle that had robbed him of his second season. Taylor might now play much (or at all), but if he does, that’s a big boost to an ailing run defense. The Chargers, meanwhile, are still reeling from their howlingly bad game against the Denver Broncos two Mondays ago, when they fell down after putting up a 24-point lead and gave up 35 unanswered points. During the subsequent bye week, Chargers GM A.J. Smith blamed himself for the team’s travails, which has us thinking that the Mayans were on to something. Bad news for the Chargers: Philip Rivers isn’t too far ahead of Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden in terms of efficiency . If Rivers and his team don’t pull this one out, 2013 could start awfully early in San Diego. Pick: Chargers 20, Browns 17 Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions This week, ultra-talented and ultra-mouthy Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman renamed himself “Optimus Prime” on Twitter , all the better to steel himself for the upcoming battle with Calvin “Megatron” Johnson. Sherman doesn’t really need such conceits, as he and the rest of the Seattle secondary have played wonderfully this season. On the other side of the ball, Matthew Stafford has not played well at all this year, and Detroit’s “What? Run the ball?” offense is in a lot of trouble as a result. . Seattle’s defensive line is looking to recover from the pounding given to it by Frank Gore and the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive line two Thursdays ago, and Detroit’s secondary should provide an easy path even for Seattle’s receivers, who were dropping passes in that 49ers game as if Koren Robinson and Jerramy Stevens were still on the roster. Pick: Seahawks 23, Lions 13 New England Patriots at St. Louis Rams This game will be played in London, which doesn’t really do much for the NFL in a general sense, besides denying the Rams a home game on their schedule. The Patriots will be without tight end Aaron Hernandez, but Tom Brady still has enough weapons to take on most defenses. Here’s the problem for Brady — the Rams aren’t putting “most defenses” on the field this season. Jeff Fisher has engineered another one of his amazing team turnarounds, and St. Louis actually ranks ninth overall in Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency metrics. New England’s offensive line will be tasked with stopping the furious charge of defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long, and the Patriots’ receivers should expect to go heavy on the Advil after a day with the Rams’ aggressive secondary. Brady’s offense has gained at least 350 yards in 16 consecutive games, and if that happens again Sunday, the pats will break the NFL record set by the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense in 1999-2000. If the current Rams had a few more weapons, we’d call this an upset. As it is, expect a much closer game than some might think. Pick: Patriots 24, Rams 20 Miami Dolphins at New York Jets The Jets released receiver Jason Hill this week in order to place former Australian rugby player Hayden Smith on their roster. Smith signed with the Jets in April, and he apparently projects as a tight end. Ah, Tony Sparano and his unconventional gambits. The weather could make this game look very rugby-ish if Frankenstorm (one of the few things on the East Coast getting more media attention than Tim Tebow right now) has its way. Meanwhile, the Dolphins bring a very portable game to New Jersey, with an outstanding defense, effective running game, and surprising rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Jets fans will look on longingly if Tannehill outperforms Mark Sanchez, Tebow, Smith, and whatever other roster oddities the Jets decide to throw out there. Pick: Dolphins 17, Jets 16 Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles The Eagles are a mess, and the Falcons are playing near-perfect football. So, guess which of these teams is ignored, and which one gets far more press than it deserves? Yep. As a public service, we’ll give you an update on the 6-0 Falcons.
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Week 8 Sunday picks: Key matchups define the season’s halfway mark (Shutdown Corner)