Week 8 of the NFL season offers several players, coaches and some entire teams an opportunity to reveal their true identities; to confirm or dispel the bizarre outcomes and unexpected performances of Week 7.
Last week’s games muddled NFL fans’ expectations and clouded the landscape of the league at a time when it is supposed to become clearer. At a time when football fanatics are grasping for answers, they are left with difficult and changing questions:
Is Tim Tebow ready for the NFL?
Can Joe Flacco lead the Baltimore Ravens to the playoffs?
Will DeMarco Murray repeat his Week 7 dominance?
Week 8 will tell volumes about the rest of the season. Either teams are who they thought we were or they have been fooling us all along.
Here are the players, teams and coaches with the most to prove in Week 8 of the NFL season.
After a slow start and some sloppy play, the Steelers have quietly risen to the top of the AFC North with a 5-2 record, but few have seemed to notice.
If they defeat the New England Patriots on Sunday, the national media and NFL fans will stand at attention.
In the NFL, each win counts the same. There is no selection committee NFL teams have to impress, no complicated formula to determine playoff position, but the Steelers could use a victory over a playoff contender to reestablish their credibility.
Of the Steelers' five wins, only one, a 21-point drubbing of the Tennessee Titans, was against a team with a .500-plus record.
Beating the Patriots will prove to be a tall order as Tom Brady and New England appear to be clicking on all cylinders this season, but the Steelers will bring a top 10 offense and a top five defense to the game.
A win against the Pats will put Pittsburgh back on the radar for likely Super Bowl contenders.
Backup quarterback Vince Young proclaimed the 2011 Eagles a “dream team,” but Philly has been sleepwalking through this season.
Through the first six weeks of the 2011 season, the Buffalo Bills have been the NFL’s sweethearts.
Undersized quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been engineering a high-scoring offense full of young talent including wide receiver Stevie Johnson and running back Fred Jackson.
Comeback victories over perennial AFC East champion New England Patriots, and the Oakland Raiders, gave NFL fans warm, fuzzy feelings.
However, the Bills have lost two of their last three games and many expect them to take a step back in the remainder of the season. If Buffalo is to prove the doubters wrong, they need to come out swinging against the Washington Redskins.
A victory on Sunday will give them some cushion in the AFC East before a critical Week 9 showdown with the New York Jets.
Rivers has more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (seven) and appears to be forcing the football to receivers—and missing.
Rivers has been knocked around some in 2011, but not enough to account for his substandard play. The Chargers offensive line is in the middle of the NFL in sacks allowed, and the big guys in the trenches have rendered the third-fewest quarterback hits.
Rivers needs to find his game by the kickoff of San Diego’s Monday night game against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are nipping at the Chargers’ heels in the division.
A Kansas City victory would push both teams to 4-3 and the AFC West race would start anew. A Chargers win would put some distance between them and the rest of the division, and the demoralizing effect of the loss may take the Chiefs out of race for the AFC West crown.
Since he joined the Bengals in 2009, Scott has spelled Benson to provide a change of pace for the Bengals offense and Cincinnati fans have wondered if he can succeed in the starting role.
Scott has only 30 carries for 85 yards in 2011, but his performance Sunday may determine the future of the Bengals ground game. If Scott plays well against an above-average Seattle defense, the Bengals may feel compelled to let Benson go at the end of the season and christen Scott as their No. 1 back or use either Scott or Benson as trade bait.
Perhaps, if Scott proves worthy, the Bengals may decide to keep both running backs to give opposing defensive coordinators something else to worry and scheme against.
Even if Scott proves unable to tote the rock for the entire game, at least the Bengals coaching staff will know if they have a career backup or a star in the making.
This 2011 season was supposed to be the Lions' year. Detroit strengthened a fierce defensive front by drafting Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, quarterback Matthew Stafford is finally 100 percent and wide receiver Calvin Johnson is impossible to cover.
Through the first five games of the 2011 NFL campaign, the Lions lived up to the hype. Whether they were dominating the Chiefs or coming back against the Cowboys, Detroit was breaking 20 years of losing tradition, with the playoffs in their sights.
Then Detroit lost two consecutive games. Perhaps the Lions have been underestimating the competition or believing their own hype and maybe they aren’t as good as their record.
The Lions need to right the ship by playing hungry on Sunday against the struggling Denver Broncos. Sometimes, young teams have trouble in playing down to their competition.
A dominant win over Denver will be a step forward in the maturation of the Lions and a signal to the rest of the league that they are not going away without a fight.
When the Indianapolis Colts announced that Peyton Manning’s neck injury would prevent him from playing this season, no one who follows the NFL expected the team to perform at a playoff-caliber level. But no one expected the team to be this bad.
Indianapolis is abysmal on both sides of the ball. Their second-worst offense scores just 15.9 points per game, and backup Curtis Painter is throwing for just under 186 yards per game, fifth-lowest in the NFL.
The defense has not done coach Jim Caldwell any favors. The D gives up the most points in the NFL (32.1 per game) and the second-most yards per game (416).
Of the Colts' six losses this season, none was uglier than their Week 7 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense trounced Indy 62-7. As lopsided as the score was, more disturbing was the Colts’ apparent lack of interest as they practically conceded touchdowns.
Caldwell needs to inspire his players this Sunday against the Tennessee Titans—not to win, but merely to show up and compete.
DeMarco Murray ran into the Dallas record books last Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, setting the Cowboys' single-game rushing record with 253 yards.
The rookie out of Oklahoma is filling in for the injured Felix Jones, and likely played his way to more carries in the future.
Murray is going to come back to earth. He has nowhere to go but down. What cannot be lost in any praise for Murray is the fact that he ran all over the NFL’s worst defense against the run.
Still, he can do a lot for his young career and the Dallas Cowboys with a solid performance on Sunday against the Eagles.
If he rushes for 85 yards or more against Philly’s D, the Cowboys will be firmly in the playoff hunt and Murray will establish himself as a player to watch.
In the stunner of the season, the Baltimore Ravens fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars 12-7 in Week 7's Monday night contest. As shocking as the Ravens loss was how the Ravens lost.
The Ravens strayed from their proven formula—the bruising offense that wears down opposing defenses as the game wears on. Instead of pounding the Jags into submission with running back Ray Rice, Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron put the game in the hands of quarterback Joe Flacco. One cannot imagine this was the game plan before kickoff.
Pro Bowler Ray Rice had just eight carries for 28 yards. His lack of production would likely have evened out if he was given the opportunity, but Cameron did not commit to the run. It seemed that the longer Jacksonville stayed in the game, the more desperate the play-calling became.
The Ravens must return to their violent offensive attack to put the pressure on the Arizona Cardinals and reenergize the team.
With the Steelers returning to form and two games against a stout Bengals defense, a strong running game will be at a premium for Baltimore as they make a run for the playoffs.
In Week 7, the Miami Dolphins made Tim Tebow look like a college quarterback. For 55 minutes on Sunday, Tebow botched handoffs and couldn’t complete a pass if the Broncos offense had 20 players on the field.
Tebow looked like he didn’t have a grasp of head coach John Fox’s offense and looked as uncomfortable under center as he would at an LSU pep rally.
Once the Dolphins built a lead and dropped into a prevent defense, Fox adjusted by putting Tebow in the shotgun and running a college-style offense. He then began finding open receivers, including a 42-yard pass to Matthew Willis.
After the Broncos recovered an onside kick, Tebow led the offense on a 10-play, 56-yard scoring drive. Needing a two-point conversion to send the game into overtime, Tebow settled in the shotgun and tied the game himself with a rush.
The former Heisman Trophy winner will face a much tougher test this Sunday when the Broncos take on the Detroit Lions. The Lions defense will be playing angry after two consecutive losses and will be looking to abuse Tim Tebow.
Tebow will be baptized by fire, and if his performance is anything like the majority of the Dolphins game, Denver fans will be chanting for Kyle Orton.