NFL News: The Starting 11 — Return of the Run as Season Hits Midway Point entering Week 9

As the calendar turns to November, close games and turnaround teams have highlighted the first two months of the 2022 season. The final average score margin this year (9.52) is the lowest through the first eight weeks of a season since 1970 and 55 games have been decided by a touchdown (six points or fewer), the most such games through Week 8 in NFL history.

Entering Week 9, each conference has four teams currently in a playoff spot that missed the postseason a year ago: BALTIMORE (5-3), the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (4-3), MIAMI (5-3) and the NEW YORK JETS (5-3) in the AFC and ATLANTA (4-4), MINNESOTA (6-1), the NEW YORK GIANTS (6-2) and SEATTLE (5-3) in the NFC.

Seventeen teams have a .500-or-better record and 26 teams have at least three victories this season, tied with the 2018 season for the fourth-most such teams with at least three wins through the first eight weeks of a season all-time. Only 2017 (27 teams), 2016 (27) and 2012 (27) had more.

The starting 11 heading into Week 9… 

1. RUSHING SUCCESS: The 2022 season has the highest average rushing yards per attempt (4.54) through Week 8 since 1970 and there have been an average of 240.7 rushing yards per game, the most through the first eight weeks of a season since 1987 (243.7). Since 1970, there have been 17 occurrences of a player averaging over six yards per rush attempt (minimum 75 attempts) through the first eight weeks of a season, four of which are in 2022: Baltimore’s LAMAR JACKSON (7.37 yards per rush attempt), Dallas’ TONY POLLARD (6.25), Jacksonville’s TRAVIS ETIENNE (6.21) and Chicago’s KHALIL HERBERT (6.19). Of players with at least 75 rushing attempts, Jackson’s 7.37 yards per rush attempt is the highest mark through Week 8 since the merger.

The CHICAGO BEARS lead the league with 188.4 rushing yards per game this season, the third-highest rushing average by a team in their first eight games of a season since 1990, trailing only the 2006 ATLANTA FALCONS (205.1 rushing yards per game) and the 2019 BALTIMORE RAVENS (204.9).

The Bears can join the 1976 PITTSBURGH STEELERS (Weeks 7-10) as the only teams in the Super Bowl era with at least 225 rushing yards in four consecutive games and the first team since the 1978 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (Weeks 12-15) with at least 200 rushing yards in four straight contests.                                                                     

2. NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 136: The Monday Night Football matchup between BALTIMORE (5-3) and NEW ORLEANS (3-5) will be the 136th game played this season, officially marking the halfway point of the 2022 NFL schedule. 

3. NOTE THAT MATTERS: Tampa Bay quarterback TOM BRADY has 99,836 career passing yards, including the postseason, and needs 164 passing yards to become the first player in NFL history with 100,000 career passing yards. Brady has the most regular season passing yards (86,787) and postseason passing yards (13,049) all-time and has led the NFL in passing yards four times (2005, 2007, 2017 and 2021) during his 23-year career.

The meeting between the LOS ANGELES RAMS (Super Bowl LVI Champions) and TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (Super Bowl LV Champions) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS) marks the 27th occurrence in the Super Bowl era and the eighth time in the past 20 seasons that the two most recent Super Bowl winners will meet in the regular season. The team who won the Super Bowl more recently has won six of the previous seven such matchups.

4. SPOTLIGHT – POSITION GROUP: The MIAMI DOLPHINS (5-3), winners of two consecutive games, are led by wide receivers TYREEK HILL and JAYLEN WADDLE, who have set a historic pace through the first eight weeks. Hill, who leads the league in both receptions (69) and receiving yards (961), and Waddle, who ranks fourth in receiving yards (727) this season, have combined for the most receiving yards (1,688) by a pair of teammates through their first eight games of a season in the Super Bowl era.

Hill and Waddle each have four games with at least 100 receiving yards this season, including three games in which they both surpassed the 100-yard mark. On Sunday in Chicago (1:00 PM ET, CBS), the duo can surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer ISAAC BRUCE and TORRY HOLT of the 2000 St. Louis Rams (1,878 receiving yards) for the most combined receiving yards by teammates through their team’s first nine games of a season in the Super Bowl era.

Hill, who has at least 150 receiving yards in four games this season, can surpass Bruce (1,073 receiving yards in 1995) for the most receiving yards by a player in his team’s first nine games of a season in the Super Bowl era. Hill and Waddle can also become the sixth pair of teammates each with at least 800 receiving yards through their team’s first nine games all-time. 

5. SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: The TENNESSEE TITANS (5-2) visit the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (5-2) on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC) in a meeting between teams atop their respective divisions.

The Titans enter Week 9 on a five-game winning streak, the longest active winning streak in the AFC, after beginning the season 0-2. Last week, running back DERRICK HENRY recorded his sixth career game with at least 200 rushing yards, tied with ADRIAN PETERSON (six) and Pro Football Hall of Famer O.J. SIMPSON (six) for the most such games in NFL history. Including the postseason, he has 557 rushing yards (111.4 per game) and six rushing touchdowns in five career games against Kansas City.

The Chiefs are coming off a Week 8 bye having won three of their past four games with all four coming against 2021 playoff teams. Head coach ANDY REID has a 20-3 career record following his team’s bye week and Kansas City has won nine consecutive games in November dating back to Week 11 of the 2019 season. Quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES leads the NFL with 20 touchdown passes this season and ranks second in passing yards per game (308.4) and passer rating (109.5). 

6. STREAK SPEAK: Philadelphia quarterback JALEN HURTS, who turned 24 years old in August, has won each of his past 10 games as a starting quarterback, including his final three starts of the 2021 season and is the seventh-youngest quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win 10 consecutive starts.

With a win on Thursday Night Football (8:15 PM ET, Prime Video) at Houston, he can tie Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (11 consecutive wins in 1999) and DAK PRESCOTT (11 in 2016) for the third-longest winning streak by a starting quarterback under the age of 25 since 1990, trailing only BEN ROETHLISBERGER (15 consecutive wins from 2004-05) and LAMAR JACKSON (13 consecutive wins from 2019-20).

Hurts can also become the third quarterback under the age of 25 to start and win each of his team’s first eight games of a season since 1950, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (1984 with Miami) and JARED GOFF (2018 with the Los Angeles Rams). 

7. DID YOU KNOW?: Through seven games this season, Buffalo quarterback JOSH ALLEN has totaled 2,198 passing yards and 306 rushing yards and leads all players with 357.7 combined passing and rushing yards per game. His 2,504 combined passing and rushing yards in 2022 trail only Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (2,542 combined yards in 2013) and DREW BREES (2,512 in 2011) for the most such combined yards by a quarterback in his first seven games of a season. The BUFFALO BILLS (6-1) travel to MetLife Stadium on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS) to meet the NEW YORK JETS (5-3).

8. UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: There are three head coaches in their first season with a team – Miami’s MIKE MCDANIEL, Minnesota’s KEVIN O’CONNELL and the New York Giants’ BRIAN DABOLL – and four second-year head coaches – Atlanta’s ARTHUR SMITH, the Los Angeles Chargers’ BRANDON STALEY, the New York Jets’ ROBERT SALEH and Philadelphia’s NICK SIRIANNI – that currently have their club in playoff position.

There have only been two seasons in which three first-year head coaches qualified for the postseason in the same year – 2008 (JOHN HARBAUGHMIKE SMITH and TONY SPARANO) and 1992 (Pro Football Hall of Famer BILL COWHERDENNY GREEN and BOBBY ROSS) – while the most first- and second-year head coaches to make the playoffs in the same season is five, set in 2008 (MIKE TOMLIN and KEN WHISENHUNT in their second seasons).

O’Connell, whose Vikings visit the Washington Commanders on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX), can become the fifth head coach since 2000 to win seven of his first eight games, joining JIM CALDWELL (2009), JIM HARBAUGH (2011), MATT LAFLEUR (2019) and MIKE MARTZ (2000). 

9. TREND TIME: There have been 55 games this season with a lead change in the third quarter or later, including at least four games in each of the first eight weeks. There have been 37 games in which a team came back to win or tie after trailing in the fourth quarter in 2022, tied with 2021 (37) and 1989 (37) for the third-most such games through Week 8 in NFL history, trailing only 2016 (38) and 2012 (38). 

10. THIS WEEK IN NFL HISTORY: The INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (3-4-1) visit the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (4-4) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The two clubs met in Week 9 in four consecutive seasons from 2005-08, with the Colts earning three primetime victories and the Patriots lone win coming during their undefeated 2007 regular-season. In Week 9 of the 2005 season on Monday Night Football, the Pro Football Hall of Fame trio of PEYTON MANNING (321 yards and three touchdown passes), EDGERRIN JAMES (104 rushing yards and a touchdown) and MARVIN HARRISON (nine receptions for 128 yards and two touchdowns) as well as REGGIE WAYNE (nine receptions for 124 yards and one touchdown) each delivered standout performances. 

11. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: The BALTIMORE RAVENS have had a lead of at least 10 points in each of their first eight games of the season. On Monday Night Football in New Orleans (8:15 PM ET, ESPN), they can become the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to hold a 10-point lead in each of their first nine games of the season, joining the 2011 GREEN BAY PACKERS, 2009 NEW ORLEANS SAINTS, 1989 NEW YORK GIANTS and 1984 MIAMI DOLPHINS


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