Jamaal Charles leads the AFC in rushing and his Kansas City Chiefs lead the NFL in victories.
It seems like we just got started when it came to this latest NFL season.
And now we’re already trying to figure out the best candy to give out on Halloween night.
That’s a discussion for next Thursday evening. Instead, we’ll be focusing here on Week 8 of what has once again become a very interesting start in professional football in 2013.
So what will it take for each team to win on Sunday and Monday night? The answers await everyone once again.
As usual, there’s a look back to Thursday night and how the Carolina Panthers upended the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
We will also take a look back at the seasons for a half-dozen teams not playing this week, half of which reside in the AFC South.
P.S.: You can never go wrong with Snickers.
It’s becoming business as usual for both the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And for the latter, that is extremely bad news.
For the Panthers, it’s a revelation. A team that has opened each of the last two seasons with a 2-8 mark won its third straight game on Thursday night and raised its record to 4-3 in 2013.
For the third straight week, Carolina scored at least 30 points. In the team’s four wins this season, Rivera’s club has outscored the opposition a combined 134-38.
Carolina owned a 14-6 halftime lead, which was hardly news. Ron Rivera’s team has dominated the first half of games this season. In seven contests, the Panthers have outscored the opposition by a combined 82-23 score and have yet to allow a first-half touchdown this season.
Quarterback Cam Newton finished the night with 221 yards passing and a pair of scores and ran for an additional 50 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers totaled 48 yards rushing on the evening.
Speaking of the 0-7 Bucs, it has already been a long season for the team and head coach Greg Schiano. How long of a season it will truly be is obviously a topic of discussion, per this halftime report by NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and Michael Silver on Thursday.
Baltimore Ravens (3-4)
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens have looked anything but the part so far in 2013.
Thanks to three losses in their last four games, John Harbaugh’s team suddenly finds itself two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.
We are certainly not used to seeing the Harbaugh Ravens at 3-4. Remember, this is a team that has reached the playoffs each of the last five seasons, currently longest streak in the league.
Then again, we also weren’t used to seeing this club finish a season 1-4, as was the case in 2012.
If Baltimore is to get its footing again, they will have to do better than 28th in the league when it comes to running the football. And a team that committed only 16 turnovers during the regular season a year ago has already given up the ball 11 times in seven games in 2013.
Chicago Bears (4-3)
Losers of three of their last four games following a 3-0 start, the Chicago Bears have lost a lot more as they enter their off week.
Sidelined for a bit will be quarterback Jay Cutler and outside linebacker Lance Briggs, obviously two key cogs in Marc Trestman’s machine.
Of equal concern is the play of the Chicago defense. A team that allowed just 277 points last season has already surrendered 206 points in seven games in 2013. And a defensive unit that allowed only 25 offensive touchdowns a year ago has already given up 19 offensive touchdowns this season.
As usual, the Bears are amongst the league leaders in takeaways (18). But Mel Tucker’s defense is 26th in the NFL in total yards allowed per game and has produced only nine sacks in seven contests.
Safe to say, that’s fairly unbearable.
Houston Texans (2-5)
It has gone incredibly wrong for a team that many felt was ready to take the next step on the way to a Super Bowl appearance.
Instead, the Houston Texans’ 2-0 start has been followed by a five-game free fall, with no real relief in sight.
After two weeks of play, Gary Kubiak’s team owned at least a one-game lead over the other three teams in the AFC South. Heading into their off week, the Texans are three games behind the first-place Indianapolis Colts and one game behind the Tennessee Titans.
Upon their return in Week 9, when they host those Colts on a Sunday night, will struggling quarterback Matt Schaub be healthy? What about running back Arian Foster, who was injured in the team’s 17-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs?
Simply put, there may not be enough answers for one of the league’s most disappointing teams of 2013.
Indianapolis Colts (5-2)
If this was the BCS, the Indianapolis Colts would have quite a resume to show off.
A 20-point win over the 49ers in San Francisco is surpassed by victories over the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, both 6-1 this season.
How is Chuck Pagano’s team doing it? It has happened in various ways, to say the least.
Quarterback Andrew Luck has done a better job of protecting the football and the Colts have done a better job of giving it back to him. Chuck Pagano’s team has already forced 13 turnovers, just two less than all of last season.
Outside linebacker Robert Mathis leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks, already tying a career high. The Indianapolis offense is more balanced than a year ago. The Colts rank eighth in the NFL in rushing, totaling 129.3 yards per game on the ground. And Luck has played a big role in this regard as well, running for 183 yards and totaling a team-high three rushing touchdowns.
Now let’s see if Pagano’s team can roll to a division title and host a playoff game this season.
San Diego Chargers (4-3)
Led by first-time NFL head coach Mike McCoy, the San Diego Chargers have been a bit up and down so far in 2013.
And fortunately for McCoy, there have been more ups than downs, especially as of late.
The Bolts have won two straight games, and while quarterback Philip Rivers has been solid in those victories, it’s also worth noting that all facets of the team have played well since that 27-17 Sunday night loss to the Oakland Raiders.
In wins over the Indianapolis Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars, running back Ryan Mathews ran for at least 100 yards in each contest and the San Diego defense did not allow a touchdown in either game.
Although the Kansas City Chiefs (7-0) and Denver Broncos (6-1) own pretty impressive records, neither has faced the Chargers this season. And with five games left versus AFC West rivals, anything is possible when it comes to this intriguing team.
Tennessee Titans (3-4)
A promising 3-1 start has suddenly gone the wrong way for the Tennessee Titans. But this is still an intriguing team that should benefit from the time off.
In September, Mike Munchak’s club posted wins over the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers and New York Jets.
But Tennessee has now dropped three games in a row, albeit to a pretty formidable trio in the Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. Those three clubs have combined for an imposing 18-3 record to date in 2013.
And those first two setbacks came without quarterback Jake Locker, injured in that aforementioned win over the Jets. Enter backup Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had his usual issues hanging onto the football. That was bad news for a Titans team that did not commit a turnover in its first four games.
Locker returned last week and threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns (one interception) in the loss to the Niners.
Another week of healing certainly won’t hurt the Titans and their emerging quarterback.
A year after finishing next-to-last in the league when it came to rushing yardage, things aren’t too much better for the Dallas Cowboys in 2013.
Jason Garrett’s club ranks 24th in the NFL in rushing this season and has failed to reach the century mark on the ground in six of their first seven outings. It’s also worth noting that the Cowboys have failed to total at least 20 rushing plays in four of those games, including all three losses.
Running back DeMarco Murray is expected to return this week and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan would be wise to test the Detroit Lions' defensive unit. The Men from Motown rank 31st in the league in total defense, including 23rd versus the run.
And an efficient workhorse effort from Murray can only help a Dallas defensive unit, which did not allow a touchdown in last week’s 17-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, that remains shorthanded up front.
Sean Lee. We see you.
The Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker has enjoyed a solid season and is certainly in the running for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award.
But it’s been hard not to notice how some teams have exploited the productive defender with their tight ends. Just go back and look at his futile attempts to cover Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas in losses to the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos, respectively.
The Detroit Lions have a pretty good tight end tandem these days, and it might surprise some to know that it no longer includes Tony Scheffler, released by the team this week.
While wideout Calvin Johnson remains quarterback Matthew Stafford’s top target, tight end Brandon Pettigrew is tied for third on the club with 23 receptions. And the big surprise has been rookie free-agent find Joseph Fauria, who has caught only eight passes but five have gone for scores.
It’s safe to say that Lee will be tested early and often by Stafford, just enough to set up a few long throws to Johnson.
San Francisco 49ers
The direct approach is usually best. So after a 1-2 start, the San Francisco 49ers decided to once again be “Frank.”
As in Niners running back Frank Gore, who has been extremely productive during the team’s current four-game winning streak. The workhorse performer has totaled 86 carries for 405 yards and four scores over that span as Jim Harbaugh’s club has averaged a whopping 174.5 yards per game during the streak.
And who awaits Gore and company in London, England this week but no other than the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not only is Gus Bradley’s team currently winless (0-7), but no club in the league is giving up more rushing yards per game (153.3).
And considering Bradley’s previous coaching stop was as the Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator, he is more than familiar with what both the 49ers and Gore are capable of.
It’s hard to find many positives for the Jacksonville Jaguars, not only off to the worst start in the franchise’s brief history but a team outscored a combined 222-76 in seven games.
Gus Bradley’s team has lost every contest this season by double digits. And the Jacksonville offense has scored only six touchdowns in seven outings. Quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne have combined to throw just three touchdown passes and a dozen interceptions.
Meanwhile, the defense has to take its share of the blame as well. Jacksonville has allowed at least 24 points in every game but one in 2013 and their defensive unit alone has already given up 24 touchdowns.
So what can we expect from the Jaguars in this overseas tilt with the Niners? Running back Maurice Jones-Drew remains the team’s best option. While he has run for only 316 yards and two scores this season, the San Francisco defense is a mediocre 18th in the league against the run in 2013.
If you are Jacksonville, you have to start somewhere.
It doesn’t take long for things to change in the National Football League, both for the best and the worst.
In this instance, we are referring to the latter. And the Miami Dolphins are suddenly stumbling following the team’s best start in over a decade.
Last week’s 23-21 setback to the Buffalo Bills was the team’s third loss in a row after opening 3-0. And the main issue, at least on offense, continues to be the blocking up front.
Joe Philbin’s team ranks 25th in the NFL in rushing offense and has already allowed 26 sacks in six games. Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been a recipient of all of those sacks. Despite completing 60.7 percent of his passes and throwing for nine scores, he’s been picked off seven times.
To make matters worse, Tannehill has already fumbled seven times and lost four of those miscues.
And if the Dolphins are to end a six-game losing streak to the New England Patriots on Sunday, someone had better be planning on blocking defensive end Chandler Jones. The second-year pro has 6.5 of the Pats’ 18 sacks this season.
New England Patriots
Numbers aren’t everything when it comes to the game of football.
But here are a few numbers that may concern you if you are a fan of the New England Patriots.
Quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked a combined 13 times in his last three games. That compares to being sacked only seven times during his team’s 3-1 start.
Brady has also failed to throw a touchdown pass in two of his last three games. That’s quite a turnaround for a player that threw at least one scoring pass in 52 straight regular-season games prior to that.
And yet Brady and the Patriots go on. In case you’ve forgotten, they lead the AFC East with a 5-2 record. That’s because the savvy quarterback, at least for now, is the team’s best hope behind center and has been the catalyst for come-from-behind wins over the Buffalo Bills and New Orleans Saints.
And that hope figures to increase now that tight end Rob Gronkowski is back in the lineup. Last Sunday in the overtime loss to the New York Jets, he was targeted a team-high 17 times and caught eight passes for 114 yards.
This week versus the Dolphins, look for those targets to decrease and those receptions to increase.
It was a simple fact.
With second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden in the starting lineup the Cleveland Browns were 0-4 this season and failed to score more than 17 points in any of those games.
With Brian Hoyer as the starter, Rob Chudzinski’s team was 3-0 and averaging 28.3 points per contest.
Unfortunately for the Browns, Hoyer is no longer available following a season-ending injury.
So enter veteran quarterback Jason Campbell this week as the team faces the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
And look for Campbell to look for second-year wideout Josh Gordon when possible. His ability to stretch the field gives the Browns some quick-strike capabilities against the team that has allowed only eight touchdowns in seven games.
But a few downfield completions to Gordon may result in a score or two, and one way to slow up a Kansas City pass rush that leads the league with 35 sacks is to limit its opportunities.
Kansas City Chiefs
In recent weeks, the Kansas City Chiefs have been far from perfect on the field.
More importantly, however, is the fact that their win-loss record remains pristine.
Andy Reid’s team has actually turned the football over eight times in its last four games, including two or more miscues in three of those contests. Yet the Chiefs continue to win due in part to its defense. Kansas City has held all seven of its opponents to 17 points or less.
The challenge this week comes in the form of the Cleveland Browns, and more specifically, their defense. Chudzinski’s club is a top-10 unit in the NFL in rushing, passing and overall yards per game allowed in 2013. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton continues to open eyes.
But the Browns must deal with running back Jamaal Charles, who leads the Chiefs in rushing yards and receptions. The former Pro Bowler ranks second in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage and has scored eight total touchdowns.
However, getting by this Cleveland defense will be easier said than done.
Back in Week 2 versus the Carolina Panthers, the Buffalo Bills totaled six sacks of quarterback Cam Newton, 4.5 of those by defensive end Mario Williams.
The bad news was that Williams failed to total a sack the week before versus the New England Patriots and a week later against the New York Jets.
But the former Pro Bowler is beginning to hit his stride. Over the last four weeks, Williams has been involved in at least part of a sack and has totaled 5.5 sacks over that span.
This week versus the New Orleans Saints, the potent pass-rusher will line up against left tackle Charles Brown. And a few hits on quarterback Drew Brees could have a profound effect on this intriguing game.
New Orleans Saints
There is no use mulling over one loss, especially when your team is coming off a 7-9 season.
And there’s little doubt that Saints head coach Sean Payton will have his team ready for a very tricky Bills team that is capable of giving them some concerns.
But that goes both ways. The 30-27 loss to the New England Patriots has proved to be the exception rather than the rule so far this season, and not just because it’s the only blemish on the Saints’ win-loss record to date.
After holding each of its first five opponents to 18 points or less, the Pats broke through with 30. And that was despite the fact that the Saints sacked Tom Brady five times.
Rob Ryan’s defense has totaled 20 sacks in six games this season. And given the Bills' shaky pass rush, look for Buffalo quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to be on the run at the Superdome.
New York Giants
It took seven games, but the New York Giants finally got win No. 1 of the 2013 season on Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings.
It was far from a thing of beauty, but these days, Tom Coughlin will be very content with ugly.
Last week, for the first time all season, quarterback Eli Manning did not throw an interception. But we are not here to talk about the struggles of the Giants quarterback.
Rather, what has happened to the Giants when it comes to making the opposing quarterback struggle? The team has totaled a mere six sacks in seven games. It wasn’t that long ago that Coughlin’s team was sacking Bears quarterback Jay Cutler nine times in one half.
Considering that the Philadelphia Eagles offensive front has been less than stellar when it comes to protecting their own quarterbacks, now would be a good time for a breakout game for defensive end Justin Tuck and company.
Those suggesting that the Eagles' best chance of defeating the Giants would be to have the game moved out of Philadelphia would more than likely be joking.
It’s hard to believe that the last time the Birds left Lincoln Financial Field happy was in Week 4 of 2012, a 19-17 Sunday night win over the Giants. Since then, the Eagles have dropped nine straight home games.
This week, quarterback Michael Vick returns after missing a pair of starts. And fortunately for him and unfortunately for New York, he will have wide receiver DeSean Jackson at his disposal.
In the teams’ first meeting this year, the speedster totaled seven catches for 132 yards and a score in Philadelphia’s 36-21 victory. One of those receptions totaled 56 yards, a common theme when it comes to Jackson in this series. Over the years, the former Pro Bowler has racked up scoring receptions of 54 and 60 yards and punt returns for touchdowns covering 72 and 65 yards.
And a struggling Giants defense has shown no signs this season that Jackson isn’t capable of frustrating them once again.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have won two straight games following their 0-4 start. And they’ve gotten the job done by scoring just 19 points in each of those wins over the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens.
That’s because the Pittsburgh defense has allowed just one touchdown over the last few weeks.
Seven-time Pro Bowl strong safety Troy Polamalu has been looking like his old self all season and may be on his way to another All-Star contest.
This week, the rangy safety will have to deal with the Oakland Raiders running game and in particular, quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The third-year signal-caller leads the team with 285 yards rushing.
And as well all know, Polamalu will go to leaps and bounds to contain the elusive Pryor.
Could running back Darren McFadden be primed for another big outing?
When the Steelers visited Oakland last season (Week 3), the former first-round pick totaled 113 yards rushing on 18 carries and ripped off a season-high 64-yard run in the team’s 34-31 victory.
Although Pittsburgh’s defense has played better as of late, it still ranks a mediocre 19th in the league against the run. And McFadden should be well rested after the team’s off week.
Better yet, he could be ready for a big afternoon in terms of playing keep away from Ben Roethlisberger and company. In five games this season, McFadden has yet to total at least 20 carries in a game.
But there’s always a first time for everything in 2013.
New York Jets
You have to like what you’ve see from Rex Ryan’s upstart New York Jets so far this season.
It’s been a back-to-the-basics approach for a young team with a lot of terrific young players on defense and some resourceful veterans, sans rookie quarterback Geno Smith, on the offensive side of the ball.
Ryan’s team is averaging 124.3 yards per game rushing and has gotten solid contributions from running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell with an assist from rookie fullback Tommy Bohanon.
Smith and Ryan hope the emerging backfield can get the job done against a Cincinnati Bengals defense that is allowing just 97.9 yards per game on the ground this season.
It won’t be a lack of trying on the Jets' part. The team has totaled at least 20 rushing attempts in each of its seven games this season.
Winners of three straight games, the Cincinnati Bengals have suddenly taken control of the always-rugged AFC North.
Now it’s just a matter of how long Marvin Lewis’ team can maintain that control.
When you play defense like the Bengals do, it’s easy to feel confident. And if quarterback Andy Dalton looks like he did in last week’s 27-24 win over the Detroit Lions, Cincinnati will not be an easy out should they reach the postseason.
But first things first, and that’s getting by the New York Jets. And the key will be the team’s talented and deep defensive front, which has totaled 15.5 of the club’s 18 sacks this season. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap are tied for the team lead with four sacks apiece.
And Dunlap could prove to be more than a match for Jets’ right tackle Austin Howard.
It certainly looked that way for the Atlanta Falcons, who outlasted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, 31-23, behind a big game from quarterback Matt Ryan.
But the productive signal-caller was far from a one-man show. And Ryan can thank speedy wideout Harry Douglas for his help. Ryan targeted the underrated performer seven times and he came though each time, totaling 149 yards and a score in the win.
This week could be a different story as the Falcons battle the Arizona Cardinals, who know how to play a little defense. And Douglas will have to deal with the likes of cornerback Patrick Peterson, one of the premier players at his position.
Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer has brought a little stability when it comes to the Cardinals and the position.
Unfortunately, he has also been remarkably consistent. The former first overall pick 10 years ago has thrown at least one interception in all seven games this season, two or more in each of his last five outings. Palmer has been picked off 13 times in 2013, topped only by the New York Giants Eli Manning (15).
The good news is that he faces a Falcons team not exactly known for being ball hawks. Atlanta has already allowed 14 touchdown passes this season and totaled only three interceptions.
At 3-4, the Cardinals are hanging around the playoff race. And wouldn’t it be interesting to see what they were capable of if the team played turnover-free football for the first time all season?
There were higher hopes for the Washington Redskins defense this season.
But so far it has been not so good for Jim Haslett’s unit.
The Redskins rank 25th in the NFL in total yards allowed per game and only three teams in the league are giving up more rushing yards per contest.
There have been some bright spots, in particular outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. The former first-round pick leads the team with five sacks. And he and Brian Orakpo will get some opportunities this week against the Denver Broncos offensive tackles.
Peyton Manning has been sacked just nine times in seven games this season, but four of those came in last week’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Was that a sign of things to come?
There certainly hasn't been anything special about the Redskins special teams so far this season.
Especially when it comes to covering punts.
Shanahan’s club ranks dead last in the NFL in that department, allowing a whopping 21.6 yards per punt return this season. It is by far the worst mark in the league and in each of their last two games, versus the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears, Washington has allowed a punt return for a score.
Enter Broncos kick returner Trindon Holliday, who ranks in the NFL’s top 10 in both punt and kickoff return average. However, the diminutive performer had a rough Sunday night at Indianapolis last week, fumbling twice and losing one of those balls in the team’s 39-33 loss to the Colts.
Look for Holliday to make amends on Sunday when the opportunity presents itself.
Green Bay Packers
Back in 2008, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers made his first NFL start and would defeat the Minnesota Vikings.
It’s a feat that he has gotten good at over the years despite being persistently chased by one of the league’s best defensive players.
Including last year’s playoff matchup, Rodgers owns a 7-4 record over the Purple Gang. The prolific passer has thrown for 2,097 yards in those contests and totaled an astounding 25 touchdown passes compared to only four interceptions.
It has come with a price. Rodgers has been sacked 38 times in those 11 meetings and almost half of those have come courtesy of Jared Allen, who has corralled the Packers quarterback 16.5 times, two of those for safeties.
Hence, enjoy Sunday night’s duel between two of the best players at their respective positions.
A year ago, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson ran for 2,097 yards during the regular season. It was the second-most rushing yards by a player in one season in NFL history.
And the star performer can thank the Green Bay Packers for a big assist in that performance.
In two games versus Dom Capers’ defense in 2012, Peterson totaled a combined 409 yards rushing, which would approach nearly 20 percent of his yards last season.
Of course, that was a different Green Bay defense. This year’s unit ranks third in the NFL and has actually allowed only 474 rushing yards in six outings. That’s a mere 79.0 yards per game.
Yo, Adrian. Let’s see if that Packers defense is truly back to championship form.
Off to the best start in the history of the franchise, Pete Carroll’s team has had plenty of time to prepare for a second straight divisional game on the road.
The Seattle Seahawks last played last Thursday night, when they came away with a 34-22 road win over the Arizona Cardinals.
In that victory, eight players had a hand in the seven sacks of Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer. Arizona also managed just 30 yards rushing on 18 carries.
Could Carroll’s club put up similar numbers against the St. Louis Rams on Monday night? Kellen Clemens gets the start at quarterback in place of Sam Bradford, lost for the season in last week’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. It’s worth noting that the Rams are averaging a mere 70.6 yards per game on the ground and have yet to score a rushing touchdown in 2013.
It’s safe to say the Seahawks are licking their…beaks?
St. Louis Rams
Over their last six games, the St. Louis Rams have either scored at least 30 points or allowed at least 30 points.
Unfortunately for head coach Jeff Fisher, the latter has been the case four of those times, all of them resulting in defeat.
Now the Rams welcome the high-flying Seattle Seahawks to the Gateway City. A year ago, the teams split their two meetings with the home club prevailing in each instance. But it’s worth remembering that in the Rams’ loss at Seattle in Week 17, the St. Louis defense sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson a season-high six times.
This season, Wilson has already been sacked 20 times in seven games. More importantly, the second-year quarterback has already fumbled eight times and lost five of those drops.
With defensive end Robert Quinn leading the Rams with 7.0 sacks this season, don’t be surprised if he gets to Wilson on more than one occasion. And a few turnovers by the Seattle signal-caller could be what the doctor ordered if Fisher’s team is to pull off a little surprise.