Well, well, well things are starting to get interesting!
Week 8 brought an influx of upsets and surprising results, with a full 7 games that could reasonably be classified as upsets. As a result, both the NFC and AFC wild card spots are getting fascinating. With just 5 games to go in the season, fully 22 teams remain in striking distance (within 2 games) of a playoff spot, and with the exception of the undefeated 11-0 Bills, not a single one of the divisional races is cleanly decided It’s going to be fun from here on out!
Game of the Week: Arizona Cardinals 165, Carolina Panthers 160
With apologies to Dallas’ narrow 186-182 squeaker over a suddenly injury ravaged Philadelphia Eagles squad, this one makes the cut both because of how tight the game was, and how substantial the playoff and seeding implications could be in the competitive NFC. Both teams nearly hit the century mark on defense, didn’t break double figures on special teams, and cruised to disappointing 50something performances on offense. The difference? A Practice Squad Poach. Earlier this week, Devontae Booker was hanging out on the Vikings Practice Squad. The Cardinals snared him and flipped him into the starting lineup, where he scored 18.5 points. On a week when Shady McCoy, Richard Rodgers, and Michael Floyd all put up zeroes, Devontae was the difference. Watch the Practice Squad folks. It can make or break you! As a result, the Cardinals move into sole possession of first place for the first time all year while the Panthers fall back into a tie with the hard-charging Falcons.
Dallas Cowboys: Ok, you don’t get game of the week. But an upset like that deserves a shoutout. The Cowboys rode 20+ points from Carson Palmer, Davante Adams, and Allan Hurns to barely overcome a 50 point explosion on Carr. It’s the Cowboys first win since Washington in week 2, and provides some hope that the young core of players that the team has put together via trade this year will make a solid foundation moving forward.
Oakland Raiders: Well now. This is what happens when Oakland finally gets healthy, eh? Dez is back. Tyler Eifert is back. Jonathan Stewart is back. Aaron Rodgers seems to have recovered from whatever funk was plaguing him early on. The result is a 230-164 obliteration of Tampa Bay, which would have been worse had the Raiders even remembered to start Eifert. Oakland has very quietly won three straight to move to 6-5 and pull within 1 game of the wild card and 2 games of the division lead in the West. The Raiders could continue to make some hay with games against Denver and Indy coming, before a brutal stretch of Houston, Buffalo, and Carolina to close the season.
Houston Texans: The Texans are tied for first place. After a bipolar start to the year, the Texans have now put together four straight victories against decent competition to tie for the AFC South lead. Their latest win, a 212-184 triumph over the Lions, was no joke either. Detroit’s a division leader and had a great shot at a playoff bye before this setback. Even more encouraging, ever player on the Texan offense scored in double figures, and contributions came from a variety of players who had been huge lottery ticket question marks before the season began. If Mike Gillislee, Austin Hooper, Chris Hogan, Kerry Hyder and John Simon can keep putting up double figure scores for the rest of the season, Houston could be very hard to beat. Opportunity looms again in week 9 in the form of a showdown with fellow AFC bubbler Cincy.
Honorable Mentions: New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints.
Philadelphia Eagles: Yeeouch. One week after pulling to within a game of the Giants, the Eagles had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week 8. A four point loss in what should have been a gimme game against the Cowboys. A significant arrest for Josh Huff. Derrick Henry outshining DeMarco Murray. And the Honey Badger out for the rest of the regular season at least. All that combined with wins by the Giants, Falcons and Saints, and the Eagles are no longer thinking about the division. They are thinking about their wild card life. On tap, of course, is just what the doctor ordered. A date with the newly revitalized Giants.
Tennessee Titans: Adversity. It’s where the stars shine. It’s where you find out what men are made of. It’s where heroes are born and goats are immortalized. It’s where the Tennessee Titans suddenly and unhappily find themselves. Coming off a vigorous week 6 shelling of the Cleveland Browns, the Titans had a 7-2 record, a 2 game lead in what appeared to be a mediocre division, and with two very winnable games against Indianapolis and Jacksonville coming up. A two-seed and playoff bye appeared to be clearly in sight. Ouch. Two painfully mediocre defeats later, the Titans are now 7-4, tied for first, have not broken 200 points (other than 201 against Cleveland) since week 2, and are only 7th in the AFC in points scored. The good news for the Titans is that the next three games are against San Diego, Green Bay, and Indianapolis, all below .500 teams, so there’s time to recover. The bad news is that so were their last two. We’ll see.
Los Angeles Rams: What’s the best way to follow up a stunning victory over the New York Giants where the whole team shows up and plays well? A lackluster, uninspired 98 point performance in a total beatdown. A goose egg from six players who did play and a number of others on bye. Not a single player hitting 20 and only 5 hitting double digits. Yeeouch. Sometimes big wins are catapults. Sometimes they are flukes. This one looks like a fluke.
Dishonorable Mentions: Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions.
Oh, and a special dishonorable shout-out to Denver and Green Bye. Come on guys. Can you at least try to start a legal lineup on occasion?
Games of the Week:
Arizona Cardinals vs. Chicago Bears: It’s bye week Mayhem for the Bears and Cards! Arizona is on a hot streak after beating the Panthers, and look to keep it going against the Bears. After pulling off a trade for Landry Jones, the Bears remain in spitting distance of both the Lions and the NFC Wild Card – but really need a win in week 9 to pull it off. The bye looks a little more damaging for Zona than for the fighting Butkuses, but injuries may play on even larger role in the outcome.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Despite seemingly losing every single week, the Bucs have scored the 7th most points in the NFC, and could ostensibly mount a run. If so, it has to be now. The Falcons are looking very good, riding a winning streak and a 245 point performance. This is their chance to both deep six Tampa Bay’s season and move into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: This rivalry game has lost a little luster as the Steelers have struggled to maintain a legal lineup at times this year, and have had major bad luck with suspensions and injuries at others. Still, this is a team that is much better than 5-6, and can play anyone tight. Heck, they can dominate anyone on any given week. Baltimore is no slouch either, having knocked off the Giants and quietly kept pace with Cleveland and Cincy in the better than expected AFC Norris. Both teams should be near full strength, which should be a treat for us.
Buffalo Bills vs. Seattle Seahawks: What an utterly bizarre situation this is. The Buffalo Bills are 11-0, have the AFC East locked up, are cruising towards the #1 overall seed, and have barely even been challenged. The Seahawks, after a schedule-boosted 6-1 start, have lost four straight to fall to 6-5, and plummet. Easy, right? Well, except that the Bills get killed on the bye week. DeSean Jackson, AJ Green, Rob Gronkowski, Alshon Jeffery, Mason Foster, Deion Buccannon, Tracy Porter, and George Iloka among others are ALL on bye. The Bills players on bye are better than most TEAMS. The Seahawks do lose a few players themselves, but nowhere near THAT. The result being a Fantrax projected Seahawks victory. How bizarre would that be?
Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Another great matchup that will be heavily influenced by the bye week, the 7-4 and tied for first place Texans square off against the 8-3 and also tied for first place Bengals. Hard to say who the bye week hurts more, as Cincy loses their QB and some huge defensive pieces, while the Texans keep their QB, but lose David Johnson, Jordan Howard, and some solid defensive pieces in their own right
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles: It’s a week to week league, right? The Eagles need to hope so. This is NOT what the doctor ordered for an injured team. A week ago, Philly might have welcomed this as a chance to knock off the suddenly vulnerable Giants. Not now. Now Philly just wants a win to keep pace with the wild card – and will have to do it with no Honey Badger and facing the Giants full lineup. It’s possible. But my money is on the Giants.
Good luck this week everybody! Enjoy game 7!