It’s already Week Eight in the NFL, and we are starting to see the cream rise to the top, with teams such as Denver, Indianapolis, New England, Baltimore, Green Bay, and Dallas looking like the NFL elite.
But as we know, a couple of weeks can change that.
Some big Week Eight questions: Can the Cincinnati Bengals get their act together? Can Brian Hoyer keep his job? Is the arrow pointing down on Seattle? Can the Saints win their 11th home game in a row with Green Bay visiting?
Let’s take a close look at Sunday’s action . . .
Baltimore Ravens (5-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-2-1)
The Ravens should get back the left side of their offensive line, LT Eugene Monroe and LG Kelechi Osemele, after missing a few games.
Joe Flacco is rolling with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak doing a great job dialing up the plays, and this should continue against the NFL’s 31st-ranked defense.
The Bengals did beat the Ravens in Week One, thanks to a long touchdown reception by A.J. Green. Unfortunately for the Bengals, he’s not going to play this week due to a toe injury.
This is a statement game for the Bengals, who have lost three games in a row. Another loss, and this season could start spiraling out of control.
This game could go either way.
St. Louis Rams (2-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)
This “Missouri Bowl” matchup certainly favors the Chiefs.
First of all, the Chiefs are one of the NFL’s best running teams, with the two-headed monster of Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, and they are facing one of the league’s lowest-ranked run defenses.
Plus the Rams are going to have issues protecting quarterback Austin Davis against the Kansas City’s talented pass rush led by Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, where it’s hard to hear the snap count.
Expect Kansas City to prevail.
Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)
Andrew Luck is on fire with 19 touchdown passes this season. In his six of seven games, he’s gone over 300 yards passing.
And he must be licking his chops facing the Steelers, who have issues at cornerback, where one starter is injured (Ike Taylor) and another was benched (Cortez Allen).
But the struggling Steelers corners will benefit from the absence of Colts standout WR Reggie Wayne, sidelined with an elbow injury.
When you have Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, you always have a puncher’s chance. And his favorite target, Antonio Brown, is having a Pro Bowl level season.
This game could go either way.
Miami Dolphins (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)
Don’t expect this to be much of a home game for the Jags, with a lot of fans of the cross-state Dolphins grabbing seats.
Ryan Tannehill comes off perhaps his best game as a pro, going 25-32 for 277 yards and two touchdowns in an upset win over Chicago.
Also, both of Jacksonville’s starting corners are hurt–Alan Ball is definitely out with a biceps injury, and Dwayne Gratz is questionable with a hip issue.
Miami should be able to win this game.
Minnesota Vikings (2-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5)
It’s unclear who will start for quarterback for Tampa Bay–Josh McNown or Mike Glennon–but does it really matter? Both have contributed to the Bucs having the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense.
They are even worse on defense where they rank 32nd.
But perhaps the lousy Bucs defense can regain traction against Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has thrown five picks in the last two games. He’s clearly not ready to start.
Tampa Bay should prevail at home.
Oakland Raiders (0-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-3)
The Raiders are off to their worst start in 52 years.
Aside from essentially writing off the season to develop a rookie quarterback (Derek Carr), their third-down defense plays horribly. They can’t get off the field. And not helping matters is their top two pass rushers are hurt–LaMarr Woodley is out with a biceps injury, and Justin Tuck is questionable with a knee problem.
Brian Hoyer seeks to rebound from a bad game in a loss to Jacksonville, and the Johnny Manziel chatter grows louder.
Expect Hoyer to step up with a big performance to perhaps save his starting job, and lead the Browns to a victory.
Seattle Seahawks (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-3-1)
You never want to face Seattle’s pass rush with offensive line issues.
Carolina has line issues. Both starting offensive guards–Amini Silatalo and Trai Turner–will not play.
Don’t expect Cam Newton to have a lot of time to throw.
On offense, without having to appease WR Percy Harvin with touches (he was traded to the Jets), look for the Seahawks to go back to pounding the ball with featured back Marshawn Lynch. They should be able to have success on the ground against the Panthers 26th-ranked rush defense.
Expect the visiting Seahawks to come out on top.
Green Bay Packers (5-2) at New Orleans Saints (2-4)
It’s always fun when two “Mount Rushmore” quarterbacks face off, so the fans in the Superdome are in for a treat in this tete-a-tete between Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans’s Drew Brees.
Even though the Saints are 2-4, their division, the NFC South, is lousy, so they remain in the thick of things.
And the Saints have won their last ten homes games.
While the Saints like to win through the air, it might behoove them to try to run the ball a lot against the Packers 31st-ranked rush defense, playing without starting defensive end Datone Jones.
This game is a toss-up.
Buffalo Bills (4-3) at New York Jets (1-6)
The Jets added Percy Harvin in a trade, but they are going to have to limit his reps this week because he’s not well-schooled on their offense. Expect him to return kicks, and have a limited package on offense, including some screens.
The Jets have lost six games in a row, and Buffalo offers them a good chance to break their losing streak.
The strength of the Jets is their defensive line, and the Bills offensive line is really struggling. Expect the Jets front to make Bills QB Kyle Orton very uncomfortable in the pocket.
The Jets should be able to figure out a way to finally get a “W.”
Philadelphia Eagles (5-1) at Arizona Cardinals (5-1)
The Eagles are very healthy coming off a bye-week.
Most importantly their offensive line is now healthy after some early season issues. Expect the return of Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce this week. He had been sidelined with a hernia.
A homecoming of sorts for University of Arizona graduate Nick Foles, and the Eagles quarterback should be able to get a lot done against the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense. The top Cardinals cornerback, Patrick Peterson, isn’t living up to the five-year, $70 million contract extension he recently signed.
Master-strategist Chip Kelly should have the mother-of-all gameplans coming off a bye-week and don’t be surprised if the road team wins this game.
Detriot Lions (5-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-5)
On paper, this looks like a terrible matchup for the Falcons. Their offensive line is ravaged by injuries, and the Lions might have the best defensive line in football. The Lions have 21 sacks in seven games.
But what could help the Falcons hang around in this game is the Lions’ injury report. Their top three tight ends are all likely out–Brandon Pettigrew (foot), Joe Fauria (ankle) and Eric Ebron (hamstring). They might also be without starting tailback Reggie Bush and star receiver Calvin Johnson, both due to ankle injuries.
With all these offensive injuries, it’s quite possible the Falcons can pull the upset in this game taking place in London.
Chicago Bears (3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2)
Chicago’s 24th-ranked offense needs to shift their focus to running the football more, which should help mercurial quarterback Jay Cutler.
And this is a week they should be able to run. New England’s front seven is one of the worst in football. The struggling Jets ran all over them last week. Losing their best run-stuffing linebacker Jerod Mayo for the season to a knee injury was devastating to New England. And now the team’s best defensive end Chandler Jones is out with a hip injury. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork is a shell of his old self coming off an Achilles injury and carrying too much weight.
All three Bears wins are on the road, and if they can run the ball effectively in Foxboro, don’t be surprised if they make it four.
Houston Texans (3-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-5)
This could be the last chance for Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to keep his starting job. If the Texans lose this game, they probably make the switch to Ryan Mallett.
But Fitzpatrick should be able to keep his job because the Titans are going with quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a rookie making his first start. He’s a marginal prospect who tends to telegraph his passes.