By Dan Durkin
(CBS) And then there was one. With the Broncos falling to the Colts, only the Chiefs remain unbeaten. Teams are scoring points at a historic rate. Eleven teams are averaging more than 25 points per game, which if it holds, would be the most in NFL history.
Here’s my take on how Week 8 plays out.
(Home team in all CAPS)
49ers 34, JAGUARS 13 – Noon
Four weeks after being subjected to a riveting Steelers-Vikings matchup, the fans in London get to watch the Jaguars. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but isn’t the point of playing games in Europe to pique international interest in the sport? Fail. The 49ers have won four straight games going back to what made them NFC Champions last season, heavy personnel, zone read, bootlegs, and stingy defense. More of the same this weekend across the pond.
Cowboys 27, LIONS 24 – Noon
For a defensive front that’s been decimated by injury, the Cowboys have persevered, winning four conference games to lead the NFC East. Backup quarterbacks or not, holding an NFL team – other than the Jaguars – to three points in a game is quite an achievement. The Cowboys will play Cover-2 with hopes of containing Calvin Johnson over the top, which opens up space underneath forReggie Bush. Close game between two evenly matched teams, but the other mega-star receiver – Dez Bryant – will be the difference for Dallas against the dangerous-yet-enigmatic Lions.
EAGLES 30, Giants 24 – Noon
Even though they picked up no style points in the process, the Giants got their first win of the season. This weekend, they travel to Philadelphia to play an Eagles team with Michael Vick back at quarterback. Vick’s hamstring may prevent him from breaking explosive runs in the open field, but more important than making plays with is legs, Vick needs to have better ball protection to give the Eagles a chance. The Giants front four isn’t generating pressure as it has in the past, which will force them to send blitzers, and create opportunities for DeSean Jackson down the field.
CHIEFS 24, Browns 13 – Noon
In the Super Bowl era, 31 teams have started a season 7-0, all of which went on to make the playoffs, 15 advanced to the Super Bowl, and nine won it all. Good news for the undefeated Chiefs. The Chiefs have also become the first team in NFL history to go 7-0 after finishing with the league’s worst record the year before. This week, they get the Browns who are already on their third quarterback – Jason Campbell – of the season. Sorry, Jason.
SAINTS 34, Bills 20 – Noon
The Saints have had a bye week to gnash their teeth over their heartbreaking loss to the Patriots, which means bad things for the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have given up a league-high 15 passing touchdowns and now head to New Orleans, where the Saints are virtually unbeatable. The status of tight end Jimmy Graham remains uncertain, but it won’t matter. The Saints have more than enough weapons in the passing game to move the ball and pile up points, and will harass Thad Lewis with endless blitzes.
PATRIOTS 31, Dolphins 20 – Noon
Still stinging from a controversial loss to the Jets, the Patriots are anxious to kick this game off at home, where they’ve won 13 straight against divisional opponents. The Dolphins on the other hand, have dropped three straight, most recently against a Bills team they were unable to close out. Protection issues and a sputtering run game have plagued the Phins all season. Rob Gronkowski’s season debut was strong, and he’ll be a matchup issue up the vertical seam of a suspect Dolphins secondary.
BENGALS 23, Jets 20 – 3:05 PM
Both of these teams are flying high, coming off huge, last-second wins. Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith has been clutch down the stretch, leading his team to fourth-quarter game-winning drives in all four of their wins. Defensively, the Jets are a brick wall against the run and stingy on third down. Led by All-Pro AJ Green, the Bengals have a two game lead in their division. Look for the Bengals to spread the ball around to all of their weapons, as they improve to 6-2.
Steelers 23, RAIDERS 17 – 3:05 PM
Winners of two straight, the Steelers have done it with their tried-and-true formula of running the ball and playing strong defense. Rookie Le’Veon Bell has come on strong, and will open up play-action opportunities down the field for Ben Roethlisberger. The Raiders get center Stephen Wisnewski back, which will boost a struggling unit. Even though the sack numbers aren’t there, the Steelers defense will scramble the Raiders protection schemes and confuse the talented-yet-green Terrelle Pryor.
BRONCOS 41, Redskins 27 – 3:25 PM
Mike Shanahan makes his return to Denver, where he won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. Despite winning two of their last three games and RGIII looking more like himself, the Redskins are flawed, particularly on defense. If Josh McCown can go a half without punting, what will Peyton Manning do? The Broncos were bounced by a Colts team who played very physical on the perimeter. Other than DeAngelo Hall, the Redskins don’t have the personnel to replicate this plan and the Broncos will have their way offensively.
Falcons 24, CARDINALS 20 – 3:25 PM
Will the extra time to prepare for the underachieving Falcons benefit the Cardinals? Probably not. Seven games into the Bruce Arians’ era, the Cardinals offense is still trying to find its way. Miscommunications, missed opportunities and assignments, and yet another year of pedestrian numbers from All-Pro Larry Fitzgerald have been their undoing. The Falcons have disappointed, due to injuries to key players, a stalled running game, and a porous offensive line. It won’t be pretty, but the Falcons will replicate the Seahawks plan, leaning on Tony Gonzalez for the win.
Packers 34, VIKINGS 20 – 7:30 PM
Still scratching my head at the Vikings game plan against the Giants. Starting a (bad) quarterback – Josh Freeman – who is unfamiliar with your offense against a winless team, you ask Freeman to throw the ball 53 times and give Adrian Peterson 13 carries? Got it. Now Freeman is concussed, so the Vikings are turning back to the quarterback they already gave up on – Christian Ponder – against the Packers. Start updating your resume, Les Frazier.
Seahawks 27, RAMS 13 – Monday Night 7:40 PM
So, the Rams were so desperate to find a replacement for quarterback Sam Bradford that they sent out a feeler to Brett Favre? Seriously, when can I look forward to a season where Favre’s name isn’t conjured up? Bradford or not, the Rams had no chance against the Seahawks. Percy Harvin may make his first appearance of the season, but there’s really no rush. The Seahawks will batter the Rams front with their run game, and set up play-action shots for Russell Wilson against a shaky Rams secondary.
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