Monday Night Countdown may be less than 24 hours away. But already Week 8 has installed yet another round of surprises for each NFL fan.
In comparison to past weeks, this weekend may have come off as a little flat. Green Bay versus New York failed to see a single touchdown. And with many other low scoring affairs and typical storylines unfolding, the midway point in the season certainly wasn't the most memorable.
However, fans still have some things to talk about over the course of this week, such as Brett Favre's chin laceration and Donovan McNabb's costly benching by head coach Mike Shanahan. Those happenings provided another round of question-and-answer sessions between players and the media—even though Randy Moss won't oblige.
Simply put, Week 8 has been far from the most exciting week in football. But nonetheless, here's a look at the ten biggest surprises from the weekend action.
It's not every day that a team features two quarterbacks with the same last name. But when Troy Smith flew to London last week ahead of the 49ers clash with the Denver Broncos, Smith knew very early that he would be starting in place of Alex Smith in Week 8.
For a game that was meant to impress overseas fans, sending two of the league's weaker performing teams drew a barrage of criticism all week. With the 49ers sitting at a disappointing 1-6 heading in, the Denver Broncos 2-6 record certainly didn't help the situation.
But in typical English spirit, Wembley Stadium still turned out in force on Sunday, to witness a game that looked lackluster from the very beginning.
Similar to the Green Bay versus New York game, San Francisco and Denver struggled to post points. It was almost as if a spell had been cast over the league. But when San Francisco took a measly 3-0 lead heading into the second half, most had wondered why they bothered to purchase tickets at all.
Luckily for those customers, the game then began to heat up. Denver managed a touchdown in the third quarter before the 49ers recorded 21 unanswered points in the fourth to stretch the lead to 24-16 and fly home with a win in hand.
So how did back up replacement Troy Smith fare?
Quite well. Smith threw for 196 yards and one touchdown, and although the 49ers helped carry the fourth-year player immensely, Troy Smith at least looked solid at times.
With San Francisco now at 2-6 on the year, it is anyone's guess as to who will be the starter next week. Right now Alex Smith still appears to be unhealthy, so the likely option is Troy Smith. He may be no Steve Young just yet, but Troy Smith can pack a punch when he gets rolling.
I'm trying my best not to float my own boat here. But from the beginning of the season I stated that David Garrard had the potential to go places. And here we are eight weeks into the year, staring at one of the leagues most underrated passers to date.
To hold back the triumphant applause for Garrard, a select group of fans feel that his 260-yard, four-touchdown effort was made all that more easy due to the Cowboys' lack of defensive pressure.
While this is partially true, David Garrard's perfect half of football in Dallas on the weekend extinguishes any thoughts of Garrard's demise. And it only further states how persistent the Jaguars can be when rallied by a true team leader.
With a game in hand this Monday night between Houston and Indianapolis, the AFC South has taken yet another wild turn. The Tennessee Titans fell to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, and now that the Jaguars have reached the .500 mark with a 4-4 record, predicting this division may be a job for Ed Sullivan or some kind of fortune teller.
Tonight, one AFC South team will feel the pinch of a loss, and we will still see this division lassoed-up tightly once again.
As for Jacksonville and David Garrard, seeing a quarterback play so well is one thing. But seeing a quarterback bounce back from a week off due to injury is another. Criticize him all you like. David Garrard's routing of Dallas paints the entire story in Jacksonville.
If you thought Pavel Datsyuk was the most loved man in Detroit, think again. Because here comes the Stafford show to steal the spotlight.
By rewinding back to Week 1 of the regular season, the Detroit Lions looked to be in some serious doubt. Matt Stafford had fallen injured, and with Shaun Hill becoming the predicted starter, no one knew for sure where Jim Schwartz's team would wind up further down the track.
But here we are down that very track, and the Detroit Lions are looking fine. Okay, so their record may say a little differently. However, with Matt Stafford throwing for 212 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday against Washington, who knows where this team may be in weeks to come.
Better than that, Matt Stafford also managed to maintain consistency all game long. In typical Redskins' fashion, Washington did hang tight with Detroit for much of the game. And if it wasn't for Rex Grossman's well-timed turnover to grant Ndamukong Suh a game-winning touchdown, who knows what we'd be discussing right now.
But away from what the former Nebraska standout accomplished, Stafford more-or-less won the game for Detroit. A big-time fourth-down conversion was enough to gift the Lions nine points in the fourth quarter, and it became clear that plays like this were the immediate future of such a promising young team.
Week 9 now awaits Detroit, and with it comes the New York Jets back home at Ford Field. Division-rival Green Bay toppled New York on Sunday, so maybe (just maybe) Detroit can sort out the right gameplan to overcome New York.
I wouldn't hold your breath, but we'll wait and see.
I know most fans aren't exactly accustomed to feeling sorry for others. But the Bills do deserve a minor sympathy vote, right? Exactly.
Poor old Buffalo, once again they let it all slip in a game that was as much theirs as it was the Kansas City Chiefs'. From last week against Baltimore to a tough road game in Kansas City, the Bills saw the familiar sight of an overtime loss at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday—even though Buffalo continued to show the signs of a true competitor.
Continuing the positive vibe in Buffalo, the Bills finally appear to have found themselves a quarterback.
Yes, we have all jumped the gun in this exact situation before. Yet something is different about Ryan Fitzpatrick, as he gives off a certain edge of explosiveness and competitiveness that has been missed in Buffalo since the days of O.J. Simpson.
And why can we make that statement about a fifth-year player who has little-to-no experience prior to this season?
Simple. Ryan Fitzpatrick has successfully rallied against three of the AFC's top contenders this season—in New England, Baltimore and just now, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Unfortunately for Ryan Fitzpatrick, all of his hard work hasn't paid off. What's important though is that people are noticing how good Fitzpatrick is, even though it is hard to miss his 223-yard and one-touchdown effort on Sunday in Kansas City.
Right now many teams are looking to be on the rise for the 2011 season. Detroit, St. Louis, and now Buffalo appear to be the thick of things for next year.
If Fitzpatrick can stay healthy and productive, don't be surprised to see a win as the Bills host the Bears this upcoming Sunday. The closer the Bills get, the more confidence they seem to gain. So it is just a matter of time for Ryan Fitzpatrick and his potent offense.
If you thought Week 7 was a fluke, the Oakland Raiders once again put a top-tier side to the sword, when Tom Cable's crew cut the wire against the Seattle Seahawks.
Somehow the black-and-silver have managed to glide along nicely, dominating offensively while a quarterback controversy plays out. Jason Campbell began the season as the starter. Then it was Bruce Gradkowski. And now Jason Campbell is again the quarterback. Up until now, the man under center out west has been as unclear as one of Brett Favre's retirement sagas.
On Sunday against the Seahawks, Darren McFadden was the man to watch. Even though the breakout rusher failed to post any points, McFadden's 111 yards contributed to Oakland's dominance over Seattle, although Jason Campbell did have the final word.
Maybe it was fate, or just a coincidence, but while Donovan McNabb was struggling in Washington, Jason Campbell was, for once, striving in Oakland. He totaled 310 yards and two touchdowns and to many it still does seem that Campbell will be the go-to guy in the very near future.
Heading into Week 8, the Packers' visit to New Meadowlands Stadium was set to be a blockbuster game. However, when the fourth quarter struck and the Packers were only up 3-0, even Troy Aikman had to sit back and call it a dull day.
From the games first snap, this matchup appeared to be a defensive battle. The Packers saw a three-and-out drive while New York also became instantly familiar with Green Bay's standout defenders, a group that would later punish Rex Ryan's struggling offense.
On the mention of offense, both teams were as sloppy as a schoolyard hamburger. Mark Sanchez finished the game with 256 yards. But New York's two first-half turnovers cost the Jets, especially when Sanchez was picked off by Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson.
For Green Bay faithfuls, this new-found intensity on defense has been a long-time coming. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn't exactly been the star he was last season, so Dom Capers' motivation injection couldn't have come at a better time.
At the end of the day, many people will say that the Packers' three field goals were dismal. This is a fair statement. But Green Bay's manipulation on the other side of the ball was nothing short of classy, and LaDainian Tomlinson only gaining 54 yards on the day proves that point exactly.
Green Bay now heads home to take on the Dallas Cowboys, a team that may be in for the shock of its life next week at Lambeau Field.
New York, on the other hand, will travel to Detroit in a game that could surprise the Jets if Rex Ryan chooses to make wacky play calls like he did this past Sunday.
All in all, the Packers' No. 2-ranked defense last year is now showing signs of life. And for fans of the NFL, this is a very welcome sight.
A big surprise? Not really. But in Cincinnati's case, a 2-5 record was the last prediction people would have made toward the end of the offseason.
In Week 8 of the 2010 season, the Dolphins were one of several teams to make good use of the field-goal game. Luckily for Miami, Tunatown has the ultimate benefit of Dan Carpenter, who totaled another five field goals against Cincinnati.
As for the Bengals, they did have their moments. Most people witnessed Terrell Owens' bounce, catch, touchdown pass from Carson Palmer. But toward the end of the day, Cincinnati let a possible win slip—once again.
I guess the one minuscule positive to come from all of this is that Carson Palmer is starting to overcome his issues. He totaled 156 yards and two touchdowns for the Bengals, favorable statistics during the match. But like everything the Bengals touch, it all fell apart in the long run.
On the opposite side, Chad Henne threw for 217 yards. More importantly, the entire Dolphins' team picked up the slack and combined for minor efforts individually.
Just like Minnesota and Dallas, tough times have struck the Bengals' franchise. Strangely enough, this saga hasn't been as well-documented recently, but until Chad Ochocinco plays like the true receiver he is, the orange-and-black are destined for failure.
Miami now moves to 4-3 on the year, and with New York losing, once again Miami sees the second spot in its sights.
Remember three years ago when Rex Grossman heard a chorus of boos in Chicago? I bet you didn't expect to see Grossman back in the starting role anytime soon, did you?
Yes, Rex Grossman is back, but only briefly. As if a controversial press conference wasn't enough, old-school head coach Mike Shanahan decided to pull Donovan McNabb out of the game late in the fourth quarter. He replaced him with a questionably-talented quarterback who cost the Redskins the game.
Barring the credit that is due for Ndamukong Suh's brilliance that caused the late turnover, placing Rex Grossman in a turnover-prone position is always risky.
But what seems to be more concerning in Washington right now is the fact that Mike Shanahan isn't willing to throw Donovan McNabb under the bus due to his inconsistent play—even though this situation is far from favorable in Washington.
During the post-game press conference, Mike Shanahan more-or-less stated that he believed Rex Grossman gave the team the best chance to win. Whether or not you agree, McNabb's turnover-on-downs during the previous possession looked far from pretty on offense and obviously was enough to convince Mike Shanahan otherwise.
Thinking back to three weeks ago, Donovan McNabb is in a world of trouble. From a praised quarterback in Washington, to a player that is now in a major slump, seeing Rex Grossman in the starting role has made Redskins fans snap back to reality briefly, and realize where their team is headed.
There is a 100-percent chance that Donovan McNabb will start in Week 10. But let the questions begin to flow throughout the team's scheduled bye week. Mike Shanahan himself has stated that McNabb is the firm starter, but like we all know, second guessing will come over the next two weeks.
The Halloween costumes were rocking in New Orleans, and as per usual, the Superdome switched into party mode when the 5-1 Pittsburgh Steelers came into town.
If you were smart like most of us thought we were, you more than likely tipped the Pittsburgh Steelers in a victory. The Cleveland Browns rattled the Saints just last week, and considering that Pittsburgh's offense has been so hot lately, nobody expected Mike Tomlin's point-scoring machine to stall on Sunday night.
I can't say I jinxed it, but that's just what happened.
Similar to the New York versus Green Bay game, the Steelers struggled from the get go to muster any forward progress. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was beginning to grow weary in front of a hostile crowd, and although Big Ben wound up with 195 yards on the day, these stats were far from what was expected.
More so than the quarterback spot though, the Steelers' prolific run game let them down. Rashard Mendenhall was ready to wreak havoc on the Saints defense, only to record the Steelers' single touchdown on the night in New Orleans.
To put it this way, the AFC North is tough. So, when you slip up to teams that you should beat, the Steelers are only making life harder for themselves.
Given that New Orleans is still a very strong-minded football team, the Steelers realistically had the star power to take home the victory on Sunday Night Football. Still, that didn't happen and now the Steelers find themselves underneath the Ravens up North for the first time this season.
Talk about catching a break.
Brett Favre was on the field and looking strong, Randy Moss was back in his former stadium, and Adrian Peterson was rushing the ball in his usual fashion from the very first Minnesota drive.
Yet, here we are again, with another week gone by, and the Vikings have suffered another loss.
Better yet, Brett Favre has also endured another injury, as he was pulled from the game due to chin lacerations and replaced by Tavaris Jackson, who led the Vikings to an all-time low 2-5 record.
Up north, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears are, of course, loving this turn of events. More importantly, Minnesota is now tied with the Detroit Lions in the division and in danger of slipping to the bottom spot.
Give Tom Brady and his offense credit, they really got the job done. Brett Favre himself commented on Brady's excellent play. And to say that the Patriots are the best team in football right now may be an understatement.
Still, for the Vikings this is all irrelevant. Wide receiver Randy Moss had zero catches in the first half and wound up with only one when the clock struck zero.
How does a wide receiver of his talent manage such poor contributions?
Don't blame Brett Favre, because he did all he could.
Minnesota will head home now to take on the hot-and-cold Arizona Cardinals. It's a game the Vikings could potentially win. But there's no doubting that this week is going to be ugly from all angles in Minnesota.
A sore ankle, a sore elbow and now face lacerations? The old guy is really hurting.
Other than that, so are the Vikings. And until the entire team is on the same page offensively, this season is as good as gone.