What to Watch For in NFL Week 8
As usual, this slideshow is intended for the purposes of sharing the football-watching experience through the lens of not just a diehard fan, but also a former NFL player and analyst.
Week 8 in the NFL is filled with questions we must have answered, as a hierarchy among divisions is beginning to take a more definitive shape.
What is the "Seattle effect," and is it real? Can Aaron Rodgers succeed with half of his passing offense in street clothes? Are the Steelers back?
There's some unique storylines all set to unfold this Sunday as I guide you through some of the best of what to watch for in Week 8 of the NFL.
An Air Affair in Detroit
In a league dominated by the passing game, this matchup is primed to set the skies ablaze.
Tony Romo’s career record as a starter is 59-41 with 27,485 yards passing—that’s the most passing yards in a player's first 100 starts since the modern era of football. He’ll be slinging it downfield all game long, as the Cowboys will undoubtedly try to keep pace with the other high-octane gunslinger on the opposite sideline.
If Matthew Stafford can do anything, it's racking up yards through the air. In his last two seasons, he has amassed over 7,000 yards through the air. That’s pretty impressive when you consider only four other quarterbacks since 1920 have thrown for more than 4,700 yards in a season more than once during their careers. Stafford has done it in consecutive years.
Both quarterbacks are fortunate enough to be equipped with some of the best receivers in the NFL at their disposal. Expect Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson to be targeted often this Sunday as they look to show the world who’s really the best of the best.
When Dez was asked to compare himself to Calvin Johnson earlier in the week, as reported by Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com through 103.3 FM ESPN, Bryant eventually found his way to this stance “I believe I can do whatever he (Calvin) can do…” Apparently, he’s not going to concede to any wide receiver being better than him at anything.
In that same report, outspoken owner Jerry Jones was on KRLD-FM and asked to give his own spin on which of the two receivers is better. Jones took a more objective approach:
"I think that Johnson at Detroit has got to be the best receiver or best end target, if you want to put it like that, the best guy to go to right now in the league. Dez can aspire to be that and has a chance to be that."
Perhaps the lack of public support for his star receiver in this case was a motivational tactic to bring out a fiery performance this Sunday—regardless of how true the opinion may be.
Bryant and Johnson have both been targeted an average of 10 times per game while averaging about 83 yards receiving. The statistical similarities are intriguing.
The quarterback who comes out on top will be the one who makes the fewest mistakes. Error-free football has been a weakness of both of these quarterbacks despite their success as fantasy football superstars. With that said, both guys have been uncharacteristically efficient in avoiding turnovers.
Perhaps the game will not be decided by the fewest turnovers, but by who makes the most untimely turnover of the day. In this context, Romo becomes the clear-cut underdog.
Stats were derived from the play index via ProFootballReference.com.
Is There Anyone Left in Aaron Rodgers’ Neighborhood?
If big yardage through the air is expected over in Detroit this weekend, then a big mystery looms for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers with regard to who can step up and give No. 12 a reliable target.
With Greg Jennings off to what he thought would be greener pastures in Minnesota, the Packers where left to rely on a receiving corps believed to be a major strength of this offense. But with Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley now out with serious injuries, and James Jones doubtful for Sunday night, Rodgers isn't left with very many intriguing options to throw the ball to. Suddenly, their team strength becomes an area of significant concern.
Those three receivers, who are all likely to miss at least this weekend and beyond, have accounted for 51.7 percent of Aaron Rodgers’ completions this season. That means more than half the Packers’ passing attack will have to be redistributed among other players.
On a positive note, they still have Jordy Nelson available to make those tip-toe sideline catches that often frequent SportsCenter highlight reels on ESPN. But after him, the pickings get extremely slim.
Jarrett Boykin had a good game last week with over 100 yards receiving, but he’s still young and nowhere near the weapon Randall Cobb is.
Finley will be replaced by Andrew Quarless, who has 28 yards of passing on four catches. His production thus far is not what one would call promising for the Packers faithful.
The good news is, Green Bay gets to limp into this game to play against the Minnesota Vikings—a team that could end up being one of the worst of the NFL this season.
Can Pittsburgh Make It 3 in a Row?
This Sunday, the Steelers will face the Oakland Raiders in an exciting showdown between two teams that are both better than their 2-4 records would suggest.
The Steelers have been much improved ever since rookie running back Le’Veon Bell returned to charge up their signature running game. In their first three games, they rushed for 155 yards on the ground without Bell. By comparison, in just their last two games, they’ve rushed for 214 yards.
These are the Steelers we’re used to seeing.
It’s also helpful to have a functional running game in order to slow that pass rush down and keep your quarterback from getting killed. Only two quarterbacks have been sacked more times than Ben Roethlisberger this season. This is the product of a struggling offensive line and poor play-calling.
If this is truly swinging the team's momentum, Pittsburgh will certainly need to continue to play defense like it has recently. During the two game before the Steelers' bye week, the defense allowed a combined total of 74 points by opponents. In the last two weeks, it's reduced that number to only 22 total points.
The Raiders will be coming off a bye week well-prepared and looking for atonement after the Chiefs turned Terrelle Pryor into homemade meatloaf.
Oakland could use an obvious confidence boost here, as both teams will be looking to stay relevant heading into the month of November. Expect a highly competitive game.
Can Washington Make It 2 in a Row for Mike Shanahan’s Return to Denver?
As Robert Griffin III returns closer to his rookie form (which is a positive thing) with each passing week, Washington seems to be benefiting from it by virtue of some much-needed victories. The Redskins have now won two of their last three games after starting the season 0-3.
This happens to be the perfect time to start winning games considering head coach Mike Shanahan returns to the place where he coached for 18 years and helped the Broncos to two Super Bowls along the way. Eventually, Shanahan was fired after three mediocre seasons in Denver.
With this element as the backdrop to Sunday’s competition, Shanahan is definitely going to be putting in some extra time and energy into his preparation. While at the helm in Denver, his teams always played notoriously hard against the Raiders because of bad blood there over being fired. This makes it almost certain that Shanahan will have something special up his sleeve.
The Broncos are currently ranked 27th in the NFL on defense so far, allowing 28.1 points per game this season. This could be the game when Griffin’s legendary heroics once again mesmerize a large captivated audience.
It’s unlikely that Peyton Manning and the Broncos will lose back-to-back games after falling to the Colts last week. Indianapolis won last week with impressive play from second-year quarterback Andrew Luck. It would be extremely odd to see Manning drop a game to yet another youngster in consecutive weeks.
However, something’s got to give.
In a game with two subpar defenses, it seems like the wise choice to go with the best offense. For now, that clearly favors the Denver Broncos. According to Pro Football Reference, October is when Manning actually has the highest completion percentage and the best passer rating compared to any other month over the course of his career. This does not bode well for a Washington defense giving up a lot of yards per game.
Can the Cardinals Beat the 'Seahawk Effect'?
According to NFL.com:
Seahawks opponents are 0-6 the week after facing Seattle this season. The Seahawks' first six opponents – Panthers, 49ers, Jaguars, Texans, Colts and Titans -- were outscored 172-62 in their next games after playing Seattle.
First of all, what does this say about the Seattle Seahawks? It says that teams pour every last drop of their energy into trying to beat them, but only end up getting bruised, battered and physically dominated by the time that final whistle blows.
Apparently, playing Seattle is bad for a team’s health.
So do the Arizona Cardinals stand a chance when the Atlanta Falcons come into town?
Considering the Falcons will be without their top two starting receivers for this contest, it seems the Seahawk effect will be overridden by an absence of talent at receiver.
But then again, if I were the Cardinals, I’d be more worried about the “Carson Palmer effect” than the “Seahawk effect.”
Palmer has thrown multiple interceptions in all but two of his games this year. On the flip side, he has only thrown for multiple touchdowns on two occasions in 2013.
In other words, the Cardinals might not need the Seahawk effect to blow this game—even with a greatly depleted Falcons offense.
Can Chris Ivory Help Make the Jets Contenders?
The only two teams to beat the Patriots all year are the Cincinnati Bengals and the New York Jets. Come Sunday, these two overachieving organizations will come face-to-face to find out which one is ready to take that next step heading into the second half of the season.
Last week, the Jets leaned on running back Chris Ivory heavily in their overtime victory against the New England Patriots. He posted a career-high 34 carries for 104 yards, which was by far his best day as a member of the Jets. Bilal Powell, who had been the primary ball-carrier, managed just three touches.
Perhaps this disappointing offseason acquisition could end up working out after all. In order for the Jets to contend for a playoff spot this year, they must be able to generate positive yards on the ground.
Despite his big effort from a week ago, Ivory is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry on the season. He was acquired from the Saints for a fourth-round draft pick in last April’s draft.
If the Bengals can fight off a competitive Jets squad and get to 6-2, they could actually be one of the best teams in the NFL this year. However, Andy Dalton will need to be much more consistent for that to be any kind of reasonable reality.
Can Alex Smith Lead the Chiefs to the Promised Land?
Although the Chiefs are the last undefeated team in the NFL, many doubt whether or not they can truly compete for a Super Bowl. Sure, they have a defense capable of going all the way, but the offense seems to be an area of growing concern.
At the center of these concerns lies none other than the very man that Andy Reid traded multiple draft picks for, including a second-round selection last April.
The time has come for Alex Smith to prove he can take a game over with his arm and make plays through the air rather than being a safe checkdown artist who is so afraid to make a mistake that he would rather not take dish the ball to his receivers at all unless it’s within a five-yard range.
Smith has not thrown a touchdown pass in the last two games. This alarming trend must change Sunday against the Cleveland Browns at home.
Even though Dwayne Bowe’s status is doubtful this weekend, Smith is going to have to make a concerted effort to put the ball into the hands of his wide receivers downfield. Smith is the only quarterback in the NFL this season to have thrown more than 30 times in each game yet has failed to reach 300 yards passing in a single contest.
Eventually, this will catch up to the Chiefs when they start playing against some of the better passing attacks in the NFL.
If the game becomes a shootout, will Smith be able to answer the call?
He needs to test his abilities out now in a winnable game against Cleveland so he can build confidence for the times when it’s really going to matter.
Ryan Riddle is former NFL player and current Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.