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Top matchup for each Week 8 NFL game

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Week 8 of the NFL season will act as a turning point for many teams around the league. Some remain hopeful that the second half of the campaign will bring renewed performances.

Meanwhile, those squads who have run roughshod through their competition over the first seven weeks will look to continue playing well.

It’s in this that some individual matchups will dictate the outcome of games. Can Jalen Ramsey hold his own against Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery in an attempt to help Jacksonville overcome its recent rut? In Los Angeles, Rams quarterback Jared Goff will be looking to make a statement against fellow MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

These are among the top individual matchups for each Week 8 NFL game.

Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans: Laremy Tunsil vs J.J. Watt

Watt might have been held without a sack last week against the Jaguars, but he played a role in Houston’s defense dominating Jacksonville’s offense en route to seeing Blake Bortles benched in a 20-7 win. It represented the Texans’ fourth consecutive victory following an 0-3 start to the season.

Having put up seven sacks and 12 quarterback hits in seven games this season, Watt is back at his Defensive Player of the Year level. He also has a plus matchup against a left tackle in Laremy Tunsil who anchors an offensive line that allowed four sacks of Brock Osweiler in a double-digit loss last week.

Philadelphia Eagles at Jacksonville Jaguars: Alshon Jeffery vs Jalen Ramsey

It goes without saying that Ramsey is frustrated with Jacksonville’s recent struggles. He sounded off following last week’s blowout loss to the Texans and just isn’t in the confident mood we’ve seen in the past. This catch by DeAndre Hopkins over Ramsey in said loss also tells us a story of a cornerback that has regressed thus far this season.

In order for Jacksonville to overcome its latest rut, the team will need Ramsey to return to his All-Pro level moving forward. In terms of physicality, it doesn’t get much easier for the cornerback on Sunday. Jeffery caught 7-of-10 passes for 88 yards and a score in Philadelphia’s Week 7 loss to Carolina. He’s now caught 16 passes over the past two games.

Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton vs Ravens defense

Baltimore’s league-best defense held its own in an narrow loss to a really good Saints team last week. If it weren’t for a last-second missed extra point from Justin Tucker, it might have led to a statement win. Now, through seven weeks, this unit ranks No. 1 overall in total defense and points allowed. Talk about stepping up your game. And in reality, it’s going to be needed moving forward with a tough schedule coming up.

That continues Sunday against a quarterback in Cam Newton who led his Panthers back from a 17-0 fourth quarter deficit to defeat the defending champion Eagles last week. All said, Newton put up 200-plus yards en route to leading Carolina to three fourth quarter touchdown-scoring drives. He’ll be ready to go for yet another tough matchup here.

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill vs Chris Harris

A major component for what could be a record-setting Chiefs offense this season, Hill has followed up a pedestrian (by his standards) three-game stretch to absolutely dominate over the past two games. That span of action has seen the most-dynamic playmaker in the NFL record 14 receptions for 210 yards and four touchdowns. It’s not a coincidence that the Chiefs are averaging 42.5 points in those two games.

Fresh off their third win of the season, a blowout over the Arizona Cardinals last Thursday, Denver needs a statement win in Kansas City to remain alive in the AFC Playoff race. As unrealistic as that sounds, Harris could play a major role here. He dominated Arizona last week, allowing just two catches and returning an interception for a touchdown. The Harris-led Broncos secondary also limited Hill to 54 yards on 13 targets in a narrow Week 4 loss.

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown vs Denzel Ward

After struggling through the first four weeks of the season, Brown came up big in Pittsburgh’s final two games prior to its Week 7 bye. That span saw the game’s most-productive receiver catch 11 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns en route to helping the Steelers average 34.5 points per game.

It certainly won’t be easy this coming week against a rookie corner in Denzel Ward who picked off two Ben Roethlisberger passes intended for Brown in his NFL regular season debut back in Week 1. Overall, Ward is yielding a ridiculously low sub 45 passer rating when targeted this season. Whew.

Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions: Chris Carson vs Lions run defense

Outshining rookie first-round pick Rashaad Penny in a big way, Carson has performed extremely well over the past three games. In helping Seattle salvage its season following a 0-2 start, the second-year back has tallied 277 rushing yards and is averaging 4.3 yards per tote during that span. It’s led a renewed sense of balance for Russell Wilson and Co. on offense.

The better news? Seattle is taking on a Lions defense on Sunday that ranks No. 30 against the run on the season. Sure Detroit did better in this aspect last week against Miami, but it has to be a major concern for Matt Patricia and Co. In a game pitting two wildcard hopefuls against one another, this matchup will loom large.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton vs Buccaneers pass defense

Now in the midst of a two-game losing streak following a surprising 4-1 start to the season, it’s time for Andy Dalton to step up in a big way here. He was absolutely atrocious in last week’s blowout loss to Kansas City on Sunday Night Football, completing 15-of-29 passes for a mere 148 yards. In fact, Dalton tossed for 31 yards when not targeting A.J. Green. Ouch.

The good news for Cincinnati is that its going up against a Buccaneers defense that is yielding the most passing yards in the NFL and an absolutely mind-blowing 125.8 quarterback rating. This should be a get-right game for Dalton. If not, Cincinnati’s early-season excellence could morph into irrelevance moving forward.

New York Jets at Chicago Bears: Sam Darnold vs Mitchell Trubisky

Both young quarterbacks had regrettable performances in losses last week. For Darnold, it included a three interception performance in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. It’s really the first time all season that Darnold has struggled with accuracy. In fact, he completed just 17-of-42 passes in the loss. Needless to say, the rookie must step his game up if the Jets want to conclude the first half of the season at .500.

Trubisky’s Bears actually did everything possible to upset the Patriots at home last week. Sans a couple special teams breakdowns, this team showed itself pretty well. Unfortunately, that did not include Trubisky. Sure he had a nice touchdown run, but the second-year quarterback also threw two interceptions in the loss. He also needs to step it up if the Bears want to jump to above .500 again this season.

Washington Redskins at New York Giants: Saquon Barkley vs Redskins run defense

Now at 4-2 on the season, Washington has seized control of the pedestrian NFC East. In a battle for first place last week against Dallas, the Skins’ run defense stepped up in a big way, holding Ezekiel Elliott to the second-lowest yardage total of his career (33 yards on 15 attempts). Washington’s run defense now ranks second in the NFL behind New Orleans.

For the Giants, Barkley’s excellence is the only thing worth monitoring during what has been yet another lost season in New Jersey. Including a 94 total yard performance in a loss to the Falcons in Week 7, Barkley has now tallied 905 total yards in seven games. He could very well be looking at a record-breaking rookie season. If the Giants are to have any hope here, he has to remain in domination mode. Period.

Indianapolis Colts at Oakland Raiders: Andrew Luck vs Raiders secondary

Luck really came on strong last week in helping his Colts to a second win of the season. He may have only attempted 23 passes in the 32-point blowout over Buffalo, but four of those went for touchdowns. Luck has now put up 20 scores and nearly 2,000 passing yards in seven games this season. He’s also leading a top-10 scoring offense.

Indy’s offense should have another relatively easy go at it this week against a Raiders defense that’s yielding the fourth-most points in the NFL during a 1-5 start to the season. Quarterbacks have been especially good against this unit, throwing 13 touchdowns compared to four interceptions with a 106.4 passer rating.

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: Marquise Goodwin vs Patrick Peterson

Two of the worst teams in the NFL taking on one another for the second time in three weeks. Outside of the desert and Northern California, there’s not going to be any real interest in this game. It’s a battle for the No. 1 pick, nothing more.

In terms of a specifics matchup, we have to point in the direction of a cornerback in Patrick Peterson who is yielding a sub 45 passer rating when targeted. He’ll be taking on a struggling and injury-plagued Marquise Goodwin Sunday. One week after burning the Packers for 126 yards and two scores, Goodwin caught just two passes for 24 yards in a 29-point blowout loss to the Rams this past Sunday.

Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Rodgers vs Jared Goff

This might not be an individual matchup in the truest sense of the word, but it could have wide-ranging ramifications in the NFC Playoff race moving froward. The elder-statesman of the two, Mr. Rodgers has led his Packers to multiple fourth quarter comebacks this season. It has the team at 3-2-1 despite a roster that doesn’t seem to be playoff-caliber. How will he perform against a swarming Rams defense, led by Aaron Donald?

On the other side of the field, a logical argument could be made that Jared Goff is in the process of joining the NFC’s elite. He’s been simply remarkable during Los Angeles’ 7-0 start to the season, having completed 70 percent of his passes for 2,130 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions. If Goff were to outperform Rodgers Week 8, it would enable him to announce his presence on a league-wide stage. In the process, the Packers themselves would drop to .500 heading into Week 8.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings: Drew Brees vs Vikings defense

We made the argument following Sunday’s win over Baltimore that Drew Brees might very well be playing the best football of his career. That’s not a narrative. The stats back it up in a big way. This future Hall of Famer is completing what would be an NFL record 77.3 percent of his passes through six games. He’s also thrown 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions on 220 pass attempts. That’s next level crazy.

Though, Brees will now face a difficult road matchup for the second consecutive week. After struggling a tad earlier in the season, Minnesota’s defense has picked it up in a big way recently. It picked off Jets rookie Sam Darnold three times last week. Though, this unit still ranks in the middle of the pack against the pass. In a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game, this one matchup could determine who enters the second half of the season on a high note.

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: Josh Gordon vs Tre’Davious White

Gordon has now built some ridiculous chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady. That came out in drove during Sunday’s narrow win over Chicago, the Patriots fourth consecutive victory. Gordon caught 4-of-7 targets for 100 yards, including this huge reception on fourth down. He might very well find himself as Brady’s favorite target in the passing game moving forward, especially with Rob Gronkowski injured again.

On the other side, Buffalo’s only real hope of winning this game rests on the shoulders of one of the most underrated secondaries in the NFL, led by a second-year corner in Tre’Davious White who has yielded a sub 50 passer rating when targeted throughout his career. He’ll have to step up big time to avoid another Bills blowout loss.