NFL Week 8 Preview: RESILIENCY RUNS COMMON THREAD THROUGH LEAGUE STANDINGS AS NFL ENTERS WEEK 8

Resiliency is a core value of the National Football League.

One of the quintessential examples of that resiliency is the league standings. For a third consecutive season, an NFL team that did not make the prior year’s playoffs has started a season 7-0. This season, the ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-0) are the league’s last undefeated team, off to their best start since 1974. One of the league’s oldest franchises, the Cardinals with a win on Thursday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, FOX/NFLN/Amazon) can achieve their first 8-0 start ever.

Last season, the PITTSBURGH STEELERS won their first 11 games, the best start in franchise history. And the year prior, 2019, the SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS won their first eight contests en route to a berth in Super Bowl LIV.

Four teams that did not make the 2020 playoffs are currently leading their divisions: Arizona (7-0), the CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-2), DALLAS COWBOYS (5-1) and LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (5-2). What’s more, with 11 weeks remaining on the NFL schedule, four more clubs that did not make the postseason – the DENVER BRONCOS (3-4), INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (3-4), LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (4-2) and NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (3-4) – are no more than two games out of first in their divisions.

  • At least two teams have won their divisions the season after missing the playoffs in 17 of the past 18 years.
  • Since 1990 – a streak of 31 consecutive seasons – at least four teams every season have qualified for the playoffs after failing to make the postseason the year before.
  • Cincinnati, off to its best start since opening 7-0 in 2015, finished last in the AFC North in 2020. In 16 of the past 18 seasons, at least one team finished in first place in its division the season after finishing in last or tied for last place. Of the 49 teams in league history to go from “worst-to-first,” 26 of them have done so in the past 18 years (2003-20).

SPEAKING OF THOSE BENGALS: This week, the Bengals return to the East Coast to meet the NEW YORK JETS (1-5). Last week, Cincinnati quarterback JOE BURROW, making his 17th career start, passed for a career-high 416 yards with three touchdown passes, while rookie wide receiver JA’MARR CHASE recorded 201 receiving yards with one touchdown in the Bengals’ win at Baltimore.

  • Burrow, who registered 406 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in Week 7 of the 2020 season, became the fourth player with two games of at least 400 passing yards and three touchdown passes within his first 20 career games, joining NICK FOLESPATRICK MAHOMES and BILLY VOLEK.
  • Chase, who was 21 years and 237 days old on Sunday, became the second-youngest player in NFL history to record at least 200 receiving yards in a single game, trailing only MIKE EVANS (21 years, 87 days old).
  • Chase, the No. 5 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, now has 754 receiving yards this season and surpassed HARLON HILL (685 in 1954) for the most receiving yards by a player in his first seven career games all-time. Chase, who also recorded 159 receiving yards with a touchdown catch in Week 5, is the fifth rookie since 1970 with multiple games of at least 150 receiving yards and a touchdown reception, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS (three games in 1998), KEN BURROW (two games in 1971), JUSTIN JEFFERSON (two games in 2020) and TORREY SMITH (two games in 2011). 

CLASH OF WINNING STREAKS: The Week 8 opener features the GREEN BAY PACKERS (6-1) at the ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-0) on Thursday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, FOX/NFLN/Amazon). The Packers have won six straight while the Cardinals are riding a seven-game season-opening winning streak. It’s the first NFL game in which each club enters with a winning streak of six games or longer since Nov. 4, 2018, when the Saints defeated the Rams. The Rams then advanced to the Super Bowl that season.

SPOTLIGHT ON NFC SOUTH, REMATCH OF BUCS-SAINTS: Five divisional matchups highlight the Week 8 schedule, with two in the NFC South, a division that has represented the NFC in three of the past six Super Bowls. The defending world champion TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-1) are bidding to become the first team since the 2003-04 Patriots to win consecutive titles. Those 16 years (2005-20) represent the longest stretch in league history without a repeat Super Bowl champion.

  • This week, Tampa Bay faces a divisional test on the road against the NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (4-2) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX), the Buccaneers’ first trip to the Crescent City since advancing in the Divisional round of the 2020 playoffs. Including the postseason, Tampa Bay has won 14 of its last 15 games, dating back to Week 14 of last season.  
  • New Orleans had won five consecutive games in the series prior to the Buccaneers’ playoff win last season.
  • Last week, Saints running back ALVIN KAMARA had 179 scrimmage yards (128 receiving, 51 rushing), including 10 receptions and a touchdown catch, in New Orleans’ win on Monday Night Football.
  • Kamara (3,065 career receiving yards) became the third running back to reach 3,000 receiving yards in his first five seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer LENNY MOORE (3,509) and ROGER CRAIG (3,234).
  • On Sunday against Tampa Bay, Kamara (351 career receptions) needs eight catches to surpass Craig (358) for the most ever by a running back in his first five seasons.
  • Last week, quarterback TOM BRADY threw four touchdown passes in the Buccaneers’ win. Brady, the league’s all-time leader in both passing yards (81,479) and touchdown passes (602), now has 37 career games with at least four touchdown passes and 97 games with at least three touchdown passes, both tied with DREW BREES for the most such games in NFL history.
  • Brady, who has 203 completions and 21 touchdown passes this season, became the third player with at least 200 completions and 20 touchdown passes in his team’s first seven games of a season in NFL history, joining ANDREW LUCK (2018) and Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (2013).

PITTS EXPLODING ON SCENE IN ATLANTA: Meanwhile, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the ATLANTA FALCONS (3-3) host the CAROLINA PANTHERS (3-4) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).

  • Last week, Atlanta rookie tight end KYLE PITTS, the No. 4 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft, registered seven receptions for 163 yards in the Falcons’ win. Pitts’ 163 receiving yards were the fourth-most by a rookie tight end in a single game all-time, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famers JACKIE SMITH (212 on Oct. 13, 1963) and MIKE DITKA (190 on Nov. 12, 1961), as well as MARK BAVARO (176 on Oct. 13, 1985).
  • Pitts, who had 119 receiving yards in Week 5 prior to the Falcons’ Week 6 bye, is the second rookie tight end in NFL history with at least 100 receiving yards in consecutive games, joining RAYMOND CHESTER (Weeks 5-6, 1970). Plus, Pitts has 471 receiving yards this season and last week surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer MIKE DITKA (444 receiving yards) for the most receiving yards by a tight end in his first six career games in NFL history.

COWBOYS, VIKINGS RENEW RIVALRY IN PRIMETIME: Two proud franchises that have combined for 12 Super Bowl appearances and 35 Pro Football Hall of Famers clash on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC) when the DALLAS COWBOYS (5-1) visit the MINNESOTA VIKINGS (3-3).

  • Each team is coming off its bye weekend, after each team captured overtime victories on the road, both by a touchdown. It’s the first time two teams are meeting following road overtime victories since Nov. 2, 2014, when Minnesota met Washington in similar circumstances.
  • MIKE MCCARTHY-coached teams are 10-4 (.714) in games after bye weekends, including the head coach’s time at the reins of the Packers (2006-18) and Cowboys (2020-present).
  • In the Cowboys’ last game, Week 6 at New England, Dallas quarterback DAK PRESCOTT made his 75th career start and passed for 445 yards with three touchdowns and one interception for a 108.7 rating. Also in that contest, cornerback TREVON DIGGS registered a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown.
  • Prescott now has 39 games with a passer rating of 100-or-higher and has surpassed PHILIP RIVERS (38) for the third-most such games by a player in his first 75 career starts in NFL history. Only AARON RODGERS (43) and TONY ROMO (41) had more.
  • Diggs leads the league with seven interceptions. He has joined Pro Football Hall of Famer ROD WOODSON (1993) as the only players since 1970 with seven interceptions in their team’s first six games of a season.
  • Diggs also is the second player in the Super Bowl era to record at least one interception in each of his team’s first six games of a season, joining BRIAN RUSSELL (first six games in 2003).
  • With an interception at Minnesota, Diggs would break the league record for longest stretch of season-opening games (by a player, not team) with an interception. The record is shared by Pro Football Hall of Famer TOM LANDRY (first six games, 1951), BARRY WILBURN (Weeks 1-2 and 7-10 during strike season of 1987) and BRIAN RUSSELL (first six games, 2003). The NFL record for consecutive overall player games with an interception is held by TOMMY MORROW (eight straight games from 1962-63). The NFL record for single-season consecutive player games with an interception is seven, shared by Pro Football Hall of Famers PAUL KRAUSE (1964) and LARRY WILSON (1966), as well as BEN DAVIS (1968).
  • Dallas wide receiver AMARI COOPER needs one receiving touchdown to become just the eighth player in NFL history with five in each of his first seven seasons.
  • Minnesota quarterback KIRK COUSINS passed for 373 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 112.6 rating in the Vikings’ 34-28 overtime win at Carolina.
  • Cousins has 20 career games with at least 300 passing yards, three touchdown passes and a passer rating of 110-or-higher, surpassing AARON RODGERS (19 games) for the most such games by quarterback in his first 10 seasons in NFL history.
  • Cousins, who in Week 6 played his 115th NFL game, now has 30,141 career passing yards and 203 touchdown passes. He joined Pro Football Hall of Famers PEYTON MANNING and DAN MARINO as the only players to reach 30,000 passing yards and 200 touchdown passes over their first 115 games in NFL history.

MCDERMOTT, ALLEN FACE WADDLE, DOLPHINS: The BUFFALO BILLS (4-2) host the MIAMI DOLPHINS (1-6) in the teams’ second 2021 game on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The Bills enter the contest having held a halftime lead in 15 consecutive games, an NFL record.

  • Bills quarterback JOSH ALLEN is the first player in NFL history to reach 80 touchdown passes and 25 rushing touchdowns in his first 50 games. He enters this week with 82 career touchdown passes and 27 career rushing touchdowns.
  • In games following bye weeks, Buffalo head coach SEAN MCDERMOTT (4-0, 1.000) has the league’s best career record among active coaches, with a minimum of three games coached.
  • Miami rookie wide receiver JAYLEN WADDLE, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, had seven receptions for 83 yards last week. Waddle has 44 receptions this season and has surpassed ANQUAN BOLDIN (42 receptions in 2003) and MICHAEL THOMAS (42 in 2016) for the second-most catches by a wide receiver in his first seven career games in NFL history. Only EDDIE ROYAL (46 in 2008) had more.

SECOND TITANS-COLTS MEETING IS SIGNIFICANT: Two teams coming off wins face one another at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the TENNESSEE TITANS (5-2) visit the INDIANPOLIS COLTS (3-4) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS) in an AFC South showdown. Tennessee registered a 25-16 win over Indianapolis in Week 3 this season. In each of the past four seasons (2017-20), the winner of the second meeting between the teams has advanced to the playoffs.

  • The Colts have 16 takeaways, tied with the Bills for most in the NFL.
  • Colts running back JONATHAN TAYLOR, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry (18 attempts, 107 yards) with one touchdown in last week’s win, has 1,748 career rushing yards since entering the league as a second-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. Since the beginning of 2020, only DERRICK HENRY (2,896) and DALVIN COOK (1,923) have more.
  • Indianapolis quarterback CARSON WENTZ has thrown just one interception in 219 attempts. His 0.5 interception percentage is the lowest in the league among qualified passers.
  • Titans running back DERRICK HENRY leads the NFL with 869 rushing yards. He needs 131 on Sunday to reach 1,000 and become the 11th in league history to achieve the milestone in eight games or fewer, but the first since DEMARCO MURRAY in 2014.

SACKS LEADERS ON MARQUEE IN CLEVELANDTwo of the league’s top three leaders in sacks will be on the same field on Sunday when the PITTSBURGH STEELERS (3-3) make the short trek to play the CLEVELAND BROWNS (4-3). The Browns’ MYLES GARRETT leads the NFL with 9.5 sacks while the Steelers’ T.J. WATT ranks third with seven.

  • Garrett has 52 sacks through his first 58 NFL games. Since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, only Pro Football Hall of Famers REGGIE WHITE (70) and DERRICK THOMAS (55) had more over their first 58 contests.
  • Last week, Browns running back D’ERNEST JOHNSON ran for 146 yards on 22 carries with one touchdown in his first NFL start. Johnson, who was signed as a college free agent by the Browns in 2019, registered the most rushing yards by a non-drafted player in his first NFL start since Pittsburgh’s WILLIE PARKER in Week 1 of 2005.
  • Watt, meanwhile, leads the NFL with 22 sacks since the beginning of last season. Garrett (21.5) is second over that span.

THEIR KUPP RUNNETH OVER: The LOS ANGELES RAMS (6-1) own the NFL’s best record for a team not leading its division. This week, they make their first trip to Houston in eight years to meet the HOUSTON TEXANS (1-6) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).

  • Rams wide receiver COOPER KUPP registered 10 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s win last week. Kupp – who also had two touchdown receptions in Week 2, Week 3 and Week 6 – is the fourth player in the Super Bowl era with at least two touchdown receptions in four of his team’s first seven games of a season, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers CALVIN JOHNSON (2011) and RANDY MOSS (2007), as well as STEVE WATSON (1981).
  • Kupp, who has 809 receiving yards and nine touchdown receptions this season, also is the first player in the Super Bowl era with at least 800 receiving yards and nine touchdown receptions in his team’s first seven games of a season.
  • And, after Kupp recorded nine receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns in Week 6, he became the fifth wide receiver to post at least nine catches, 125 receiving yards and two touchdowns in consecutive games, joining DREW BENNETT (2004), ANTONIO BROWN (2017), Pro Football Hall of Famer CRIS CARTER (1995 and 1999) and ANDRE RISON (1990).

THE MAC PACK: The NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (3-4) head west to meet the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (4-2) on Sunday (4:05 PM ET, CBS).

  • Last week, Patriots rookie quarterback MAC JONES passed for 307 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 111.7 rating in the team’s win. Jones now has 174 completions and has joined JOE BURROW (195 completions in 2020) and JUSTIN HERBERT (181 in 2020) as the only rookie quarterbacks with at least 170 completions in their first seven starts in NFL history.
  • Jones also is the fourth rookie all-time with at least 225 passing yards and a touchdown pass in five consecutive games, joining DAK PRESCOTT (eight consecutive games in 2016), JUSTIN HERBERT (seven in 2020) and DESHAUN WATSON (five in 2017).
  • Jones leads all rookies this season in passing yards (1,779), passing touchdowns (nine) and passer rating (92.8).
  • Meanwhile, Chargers cornerback ASANTE SAMUEL is tied for the NFL lead among rookies with two interceptions.

The Patriots face the Chargers after the Chargers’ bye week. Over the prior 10 seasons (2011-20), no NFL team has been better in such situations than New England.

COURTESY NFLmedia.com

Posted in NFL
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