Just when you think you know what is going to happen in the NFL, the league throws you a massive curveball. Three backup quarterbacks led their teams to victories, as Mike White shocked the Bengals, Trevor Siemian beat the Bucs and Cooper Rush humbled the Vikings. We also had a massive NFC showdown to kick off the week on Thursday night as the 1972 Dolphins were finally allowed to pop their champagne.
With no undefeated teams left, the rankings see a sizable shakeup. As if that wasn’t enough, trades and injuries changed the outlook of several teams moving forward. Let’s see how the league stacks up through eight weeks.
1. Los Angeles Rams: 7-1 (Last Week: 2)
Won 38-22 at Houston
In addition to a big win over the Texans, the Rams added Von Miller to bolster its pass rush. Sitting at 7-1 with an offense capable of putting up tons of points, Los Angeles went all in for this season. As for the game on Sunday, L.A. led 38-0 heading into the fourth quarter before clearly taking its foot off the gas. Houston scored three touchdowns to make it seem a bit closer. It will be interesting to see if the Rams have any other areas they want to bolster before the deadline passes. They are running out of draft picks to make it happen though.
2. Dallas Cowboys: 6-1 (Last Week: 4)
Won 20-16 at Minnesota
No Dak, no problem. Kind of. Cooper Rush did just enough to win the game, but it was the defense that really won the day. Dallas held Minnesota under 300 yards of offense and limited Kirk Cousins to a single touchdown drive. That is really impressive, especially when you consider that the Cowboys lost the turnover battle 2-0. Finding different ways to win when you are not at full strength is the sign of a good team. Thankfully, Dak Prescott should be back for Week 9 against the Broncos.
3. Green Bay Packers: 7-1 (Last Week: 7)
Won 24-21 at Arizona
Aaron Rodgers loves proving everyone wrong. Without his top three wide receivers, the reigning MVP tossed two touchdowns to knock off the previously undefeated Cardinals. It was far from his most efficient performance, but it was good enough to get the job done, with a little help from Rasul Douglas. Green Bay keeps pace with the Rams and Cardinals atop the NFC and seems to be ready for another deep postseason run. The Packers will only get better when its full complement of receivers return and David Bahktiari gets back on the field.
4. Arizona Cardinals: 7-1 (Last Week: 1)
Lost 24-21 vs. Green Bay
This was a really tough loss for the Cardinals, especially considering how it ended. A.J. Green apparently ran the wrong route on Arizona’s final offensive play, which led to a pass whizzing right past an oblivious Green and into the waiting arms of Rasul Douglas. An incompletion could have set up a game-tying field to force overtime or another chance to win the game in regulation. While it was a disappointing finish, it is also clear that the Cardinals are capable of competing with some of the top teams in the league. A rematch with the 49ers is up next.
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-2 (Last Week: 3)
Lost 36-27 at New Orleans
I turned to my wife while watching this game and said, “I would love it for the Buccaneers to get into a position to win and for Tom Brady to throw a pick-six to end it.” Low and behold, that actually happened, so I will be buying some lottery tickets this week. Tampa continues to struggle with New Orleans in the regular season. Even without Jameis Winston, the Bucs defense could not shut down the run game. Penalties also continue to crush Tampa, especially on defense. Sean Payton got creative to take advantage of their aggression up front. For Brady, this was one of the worst fourth quarters we’ve seen him play in some time. He was staring down throws and forcing the ball into double coverage, leading to two crippling interceptions. Tampa Bay still leads the division, but this changes the outlook for how the NFC South will be decided.
6. Buffalo Bills: 5-2 (Last Week: 6)
Won 26-11 vs. Miami
Buffalo picked up the win, but some of the same issues that have plagued this offense in recent years reared their head again. Josh Allen accounted for more than half the team’s rushing yards and the passing game did not produce any big plays. Cole Beasley had Buffalo’s longest reception, which went just 20 yards. Thankfully, the defense bullied an overmatched Dolphins offense. Miami managed just 68 yards on the ground and Tua Tagovailoa threw a late interception to set up the Bills’ final touchdown. There is definitely no reason to panic, but this was far from the cleanest game we’ve seen from Sean McDermott’s side.
7. New Orleans Saints: 5-2 (Last Week: 13)
Won 36-27 vs. Tampa Bay
Just as we all expected, the Trevor Siemian-led Saints hold off Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to pick up a critical division win. Sean Payton put on a master class in creative play calling to take the pressure off Siemian and find some big plays to spark the offense. The defense finished the job with a pick-six to put the game out of reach. Unfortunately, Jameis Winston is likely out for the rest of the year and Taysom Hill is still questionable to play in Week 9. It could be another defensive battle featuring a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram if Siemian remains the starter against the Falcons.
8. Tennessee Titans: 6-2 (Last Week: 8)
Won 34-31 at Indianapolis
Tennessee won the battle, but may have very well lost the war. Derrick Henry will potentially miss the rest of the season after fracturing a bone in his foot. While Henry was not as effective in recent weeks, he is still crucial to everything the team does offensively. The Titans rank fourth in run percentage and eighth in play action percentage. Unless Adrian Peterson turns back the clocks big time, this offense is going to change dramatically. Thankfully, the Titans held on to beat the Colts in overtime and build a three-game lead atop the weakest division in the league. That should buy them a bit of wiggle room to reinvent themselves.
9. Cincinnati Bengals: 5-3 (Last Week: 5)
Lost 34-31 at New York
Time to cool the hype. Cincinnati blew an 11-point lead in the final five minutes against Mike White and the Jets of all teams. White, making his first NFL start, lit up the Bengals secondary for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Part of the issue is Cincinnati’s inability to run the ball and Joe Burrow’s struggles with ball security in the fourth quarter. Joe Mixon managed just 33 yards on 14 carries for a whopping 2.4 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, Burrow threw his fifth fourth-quarter interception of the season, tied with Taylor Heinicke for the most in the league. The Bengals are much closer to being contenders than in years past, but still have a few areas for improvement.
10. Las Vegas Raiders: 5-2 (Last Week: 12)
Las Vegas’ position in the AFC suddenly looks much better than it did a week ago, and the Raiders didn’t even play! The Chargers and Bengals took unexpected losses, while the Titans lost Derrick Henry indefinitely. The Raiders are tied for the fewest losses of any AFC team. Still, there is a long way to go and a lot of work to do. That starts at MetLife Stadium against the Giants in Week 9.
11. Baltimore Ravens: 5-2 (Last Week: 9)
Somehow, the loss to the Bengals looks even worse now after they turned around and lost to the Jets. Hopefully, Baltimore spent the week off getting healthier and gelling a bit with some of the talent returning to the starting lineup. The Ravens have had to paper over so many injuries this year with backups and free agent signings, so it is fair to wonder what an additional week of prep will allow to finally get on the same page. The Vikings are up next.
12. New England Patriots: 4-4 (Last Week: 19)
Won 27-24 at Los Angeles
Statement made. New England finally picked up a quality win. Bill Belichick seems to have Justin Herbert’s number. In two games against the Patriots, the former Oregon star is 0-2 with two touchdowns, four interceptions and a completion percentage of 50. With wins over the Texans and Jets up to this point, it was fair to wonder if the Patriots were really capable of knocking off an above average team. Now, the Pats are back to .500 and very much in the wildcard conversation. There is still room for improvement after giving up 163 yards on the ground, but this was a really good sign for New England.
13. Los Angeles Chargers: 4-3 (Last Week: 10)
Lost 27-24 vs. New England
So much for revenge. The Chargers’ hot start has fizzled a bit with losses to the Ravens and Patriots bringing them back down to Earth. Justin Herbert is not taking care of the football, highlighted by a pick-six and the defense is not generating much pressure. There is still a silver lining in the form of the ground game. Josh Jackson’s 75-yard run inflates some of the numbers, but Los Angeles still had 88 yards on 19 additional carries. Had Los Angeles not been playing from behind, it would have been good to see them lean on that run game more to take some pressure off Herbert and the defense. L.A. looks to bounce back in Philly this week.
14. Pittsburgh Steelers: 4-3 (Last Week: 17)
Won 15-10 at Cleveland
Stories of the Steelers’ demise have been slightly exaggerated. The offense is as dysfunctional as expected, but Pittsburgh’s defense continues to step up. Cleveland narrowly eclipsed 300 yards of offense and went 3-for-12 on third- and fourth-down conversions. T.J. Watt also recovered a Jarvis Landry fumble in the fourth quarter to end a Browns drive. Offensively, it continues to be ugly, but Ben Roethlisberger and Najee Harris are getting the job done. Prepare for another defensive struggle as Pittsburgh hosts Chicago on Monday Night Football.
15. Cleveland Browns 4-4 (Last Week: 11)
Lost 15-10 vs. Pittsburgh
While there is no doubt this season has been a disappointment for the Browns so far, it is amazing to see how much the expectations for this team have changed in recent years. It wasn’t that long ago that Tyrod Taylor was starting for a Cleveland team fresh off a winless season. Credit to the front office for building a much more competitive roster, but now it is time for the results to follow. Getting healthy should certainly help, but the front office might want to consider trading for a receiver at the deadline.
16. Kansas City Chiefs: 4-4 (Last Week: 14)
Won 20-17 vs. New York
Kansas City managed the always impressive feat of winning a game while also making you feel way worse about the outlook of the team. Patrick Mahomes struggles yet again, completing 60 percent of his passes with a touchdown and an interception. He should have had more turnovers, but was bailed out when the Giants jumped offsides on a late pick. I suppose the bright side is that the defense played better. New York was nowhere near full strength, missing Kenny Golladay, Saquon Barkley and losing Sterling Shepard in the contest. Beating that team by just three at home does not inspire much confidence though. The schedule gets much tougher for the Chiefs with the Packers, Raiders and Cowboys on the docket.
17. Indianapolis Colts: 3-5 (Last Week: 16)
Lost 34-31 vs. Tennessee
Indianapolis feels better than its record, but it is time for the Colts to start winning some of these close games. Indy has lost one-games against the Rams, Ravens and now Titans. Frank Reich’s crew has led in the fourth quarter of each of those games as well. This latest loss will most definitely be pinned on Carson Wentz. The veteran quarterback threw two very costly interceptions, leading to a pick-six and the game-winning field goal. Reich might want to consider running the ball a bit more. There is no reason Wentz should be throwing it 51 times in a game, even in overtime.
18. San Francisco 49ers: 3-4 (Last Week: 18)
Won 33-22 at Chicago
It took a little while to get going for the 49ers offense. The Bears led 13-9 at halftime, holding Jimmy Garoppolo and company to three field goals. San Francisco scored 24 points over the final 21 minutes of game time to pull off the win, with Garoppolo rushing in two scores. Elijah Mitchell continues to look like a gem as he racked up 138 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, the 49ers did just about everything well, except stopping Justin Fields scrambling. The rookie quarterback went over the century mark on just 10 carries, including a highlight-reel scamper to pull Chicago within one after a missed extra point. Things get much tougher as the Cardinals are up next.
19. Minnesota Vikings: 3-4 (Last Week: 15)
Lost 20-16 vs. Dallas
This was nothing short of laughable. Facing the Cowboys without Dak Prescott at home, the Vikings were set up to perfectly control the game and pick up a much-needed win to get over .500. Did I mention they were coming off a bye? Instead, the offense fell flat, managing just one touchdown. Kirk Cousins was nothing short of mediocre, totaling 184 yards passing. The defense gave up a last-minute touchdown and the offense could not respond with under a minute remaining. This is an embarrassing loss for Mike Zimmer.
20. Carolina Panthers: 4-4 (Last Week: 21)
Won 19-13 at Atlanta
Carolina went from having questions at quarterback to having a problem at quarterback very quickly. Sam Darnold had a pedestrian day before exiting with a concussion in the fourth quarter. In fact, following an impressive start, Darnold has failed to top 207 yards passing in his past four outings. P.J. Walker has not looked much better in his limited snaps this year. Thankfully, the Falcons’ offense is even more inept and the Panthers’ defense made a few big plays when it mattered. Stephon Gilmore picked off Matt Ryan in his team debut while the front seven recorded three sacks and nine quarterback hits. Unfortunately, Carolina still feels much worse than a .500 team.
21. Chicago Bears: 3-5 (Last Week: 20)
Lost 33-22 vs. San Francisco
Chicago was much more competitive, but still managed to pick up another double-digit loss. Justin Fields flashed his incredible wheels, specifically on his ridiculous 22-yard touchdown scramble that should have tied the game, but Cairo Santos missed the extra point. Khalil Herbert saw a heavy workload again, but was not as effective as he had been in previous weeks. Unfortunately, after a really strong first half, the defense fell apart down the stretch. The season is far from over, but the Bears need to turn things around quickly.
22. Philadelphia Eagles: 3-5 (Last Week: 23)
Won 44-6 at Detroit
This felt like a huge trap game for the Eagles on the road against a Lions team desperate for a win and fresh off a close game with the Rams. It turns out Philadelphia was totally prepared for this matchup. Jalen Hurts, Jordan Howard and Boston Scott each topped 50 yards rushing as the Eagles racked up 236 as a team. Hurts was impressive on his 14 pass attempts and the defense teed off on Jared Goff. Josh Sweat led the way as Philly sacked Goff six times. Darius Slay capped it all off with a scoop-and-score against his former team. Now, Nick Sirianni needs to figure out how to build on this momentum heading into a showdown with the Chargers.
23. Denver Broncos: 4-4 (Last Week: 22)
Won 17-10 vs. Washington
Winning but moving down? Well, that’s what happens when you trade away one of the best defensive players in franchise history and the offense looks lackluster in the effort. I actually think the Broncos were smart to move on from Von Miller given his contract situation and the return they netted. However, there is no doubt they were better when he was on the roster. It is also clear the offense needs a jolt. The defense did a great job pressuring Taylor Heinicke, racking up five sacks, and Justin Simmons picked him off twice. Still, Denver is averaging 16.2 points per game over the past five games. It is hard to win with that type of scoring output.
24. Seattle Seahawks: 3-5 (Last Week: 26)
Won 31-7 vs. Jacksonville
This was exactly the get-right game Seattle needed following two tough primetime losses. Geno Smith played turnover-free football and completed a sterling 20-of-24 passes. He threw for two touchdowns and added another on the ground. Travis Homer capped it off with an onsides kick return for a touchdown, something I haven’t seen since Hines Ward in the Pro Bowl back in 2005. There is definitely still room for improvement offensively, as the Jaguars actually outgained the Seahawks by 80 yards. A much-need bye week awaits.
25. Atlanta Falcons: 3-4 (Last Week: 24)
Lost 19-13 vs. Carolina
Things are looking bleak in Atlanta. Calvin Ridley stepped away early Sunday to focus on his mental health. It was evident right away how much the Falcons missed him. Matt Ryan finished with a meager 146 yards passing and a pair of interceptions as the offense stalled over and over again. The defense didn’t do them too many favors either, allowing Carolina to convert on 10-of-17 third-down plays. The Panthers also dominated time of possession. The Falcons ran 22 fewer plays on Sunday. Arthur Smith needs to get creative without a bellcow running back or a true No. 1 receiver.
26. New York Giants: 2-6 (Last Week: 25)
Lost 20-17 at Kansas City
How much longer can we continue to allow the injuries facing the Giants be the excuse for why they don’t win? I understand it is uncontrollable, but Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard all carry significant injury histories. Them missing a few games felt inevitable this season. Clearly though, this offense is not built to handle missing all of them at the same time, which is understandable. At least the defense played well to keep things close. Dave Gettleman’s tenure seems close to ending as the Giants offensive line continues to flounder.
27. Washington: 2-6 (Last Week: 27)
Lost 17-10 at Denver
In a battle of two of the worst offenses in the NFL, Washington managed to come up second best. It was the fourth game this season where Washington failed to top 16 points. Taylor Heinicke looks overmatched, Antonio Gibson has clearly regressed and this receiving corps is underwhelming. On the bright side, Washington’s defense is finally starting to show signs of its 2020 form. Four sacks on Sunday tied a season high and gives the team seven in the past two games. Thankfully, a bye week is next.
28. New York Jets: 2-5 (Last Week: 32)
Won 34-31 vs. Cincinnati
I am beyond perplexed by the Jets. Following a 41-point thumping against the Patriots in which Zach Wilson suffered a knee injury, Mike White steps in for his first NFL start and leads them past the previously 5-2 Bengals. Make it make sense. New York now owns two very impressive wins this season over Tennessee and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, the Jets have been nothing shy of lifeless in their five losses. Robert Saleh needs to find a way to carry over this performance and build some momentum into a Thursday night matchup with the Colts.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars: 1-6 (Last Week: 28)
Lost 31-7 at Seattle
The wait to win in the United States drags on. Seattle stomped the Jaguars in a game defined by missed opportunities. Jacksonville went 1-for-4 on fourth down and outgained Seattle, but struggled to get points on the board. In fact, the Jaguars’ list of drives is just pathetic. They went punt, punt, interception, downs, downs, punt, downs, punt, touchdown, end of game. Trevor Lawrence managed just 4.4 yards per attempt on 54 throws. This team is just incredibly dysfunctional at this point.
30. Miami Dolphins: 1-7 (Last Week: 30)
Lost 26-11 at Buffalo
Well, I guess this is an improvement over the last time Miami faced Buffalo. The Dolphins were shut out 40-0 in that one, so it was hard to do much worse. Unfortunately, the offense sputtered behind a hapless offensive line and the defense had no answer for Josh Allen. For a team that expected to build on a 10-6 season, it is a bit shocking to see them with more losses already in 2021 at the midway point. I wish I could say Miami could just tank for a draft pick, but they don’t even own their own first-round selection. This is not a fun situation to be in.
31. Houston Texans: 1-6 (Last Week: 31)
Lost 38-22 vs. Los Angeles
The final score looks better than this game actually was. Houston trailed 38-0 heading into the fourth quarter. Los Angeles is a talented team and should have won comfortably, but that is embarrassing. The Texans could have at least been competitive. With Deshaun Watson unlikely to move before the trade deadline, it is hard to find too much to be optimistic about at this point. Houston should definitely be major sellers on Tuesday.
32. Detroit Lions: 0-8 (Last Week: 29)
Lost 44-6 vs. Philadelphia
Oh Detroit. Just when it seemed like the Lions were making strides, they reminded everyone that they are the worst team in the league. A drubbing against the Eagles of all teams is not what was expected following a solid showing against the Rams. Jared Goff has been terrible and the infrastructure around him has to be one of the worst in the league. Detroit’s receiving corps is full of players that would not see the field on most other teams. The running game has been incredibly disappointing as well. The Lions knew they were headed for a long rebuild, that’s why they traded away Matt Stafford, but there are a ton of holes to fill on this roster.