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Top storyline for each Week 8 NFL game

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest stories in the NFL…

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The final week of action before this season’s trade deadline offers us a whole bunch of stories to focus on around the NFL. Some teams will look to salvage their seasons with wins while others are attempting to continue their dominating on-field play.

In London, the Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars will do battle. Both teams are 3-4 on the season. This could be a game that leads to relevance for the winner and irrelevance for the squad that falls again.

Two other Sunday games are certainly worth monitoring. Can the Packers come off their bye and hand the Rams their first loss of the season? And on Sunday night, the New Orleans Saints will look to exact revenge against the Minnesota Vikings.

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

 

Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans: Continuing the hot streak

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Prior to last week’s blowout win over the Jaguars, Houston had not necessarily dominated its opponents during this four-game winning streak. In fact, those three wins came by a combined 13 points against teams that are currently under .500. That changed during a 20-7 win over what has become a bad Jaguars team in Week 7.

Houston must keep the pedal to the metal in this one. It’s taking on a Dolphins team without starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill that was blown out by the Detroit Lions last week. Even if the Texans win ugly, it won’t show them in the best of lights moving forward. But something like we saw last week against Jacksonville would be a major statement.

 

Philadelphia Eagles at Jacksonville Jaguars: A battle for mid-season relevance

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The good news heading into London? Both of these squads exist in divisions that could be considered the worst in the entire NFL. Despite boasting a 3-4 record, the defending champion Eagles are only one game behind Washington in the win column. Boasting the very same record, Jacksonville is only one game behind Houston in the AFC South.

The bad news? Things just aren’t going swimmingly here. Philadelphia has lost two of its past three games, including last week against Carolina when it blew a 17-0 fourth quarter lead. That’s led to a rift between head coach Doug Pederson and the local media. In Duval, the Jaguars are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and have been outscored 90-28 during that span. Whoever loses here faces the real possibility of being irrelevant following the first half of the season.

 

Baltimore Ravens at Carolina Panthers: Elite vs elite

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It’s quite amazing what Baltimore’s defense has been able to do thus far this season. It has yielded 14 points or fewer in five games and leads the NFL in scoring defense at 14.4 points per outing. Baltimore is also No. 1 in total defense, No. 2 against the pass and in the top seven stopping the run. If that weren’t enough, Don Martindale‘s unit is yielding a 78.2 passer rating through seven games.

For the second consecutive week, this Ravens defense will be tested against an elite-level NFC South quarterback. After struggling through three-plus quarters against the defending champion Eagles last week, Cam Newton came through big time. He tossed for 200-plus yards and led Carolina to 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win the game, 21-17. Newton has now combined for 14 touchdowns and four interceptions through six games. While a bit banged up, he should be ready to go for this one.

 

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: Just how good is this Chiefs offense?

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Let’s picture it for a second. Cincinnati was attempting to make a statement against a high-flying Chiefs offense this past Sunday. Boasting as talented of a defense as we’ll see in the AFC, this unit gave up 551 yards, 45 points and 33 first downs to the Chiefs. This came after Andy Reid and Co. decided to sit on the ball to avoid further humiliation from the Bengals’ side. Respect.

But in reality, the Chiefs’ offense is just next-level absurd. It’s an exoplanet laughing at all the peons that call themselves NFL offenses. Here’s a unit that’s averaging 37.1 points per game. Patrick Mahomes has accounted for 2,343 total yards and 24 touchdowns. Kareem Hunt has 768 total yards and nine scores. Tyreek Hill has combined for 840 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns. Have fun with this one, Broncos.

 

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: Hue Jackson coaching for his job, again 

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Reports following last week’s brutal overtime loss to the Buccaneers suggested that Jackson might not be long for his job in Cleveland. While the team might have held on to him too long, an inability to close out otherwise winnable games could be Jackson’s undoing. Cleveland has now played in four overtime games, coming away with just one victory in those four outings.

For the Browns, it’s rather clear. This team is competitive and talented. Jackson might not be the one to help this squad take the next step. His declaration that offensive coordinator Todd Haley has struggled with play-calling doesn’t help matters. Unfortunately for Jackson, his job might rest on defeating a Steelers squad that has won two consecutive games, averaging 34.5 points in the process.

 

Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions: Potentially huge game for playoff spot 

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After slow starts for both teams, it sure looks like both Seattle and Detroit will be competing with one another for a wildcard spot as the season progresses. Coming off a Week 7 bye, Seattle has won three of four since an 0-2 start to the season. It’s also averaging north of 25 points per game during that span. A renewed sense of balance with Chris Carson at running back has played a major role here.

As it relates to the Lions, they’ve now taken care of two consecutive opponents, scoring 30-plus points each game. As with the Seahawks, it’s been about balance during this span. Detroit has put up 342 rushing yards in those two games. Adding Damon Harrison in a trade with the Giants will also help this team moving forward. He’s been among the game’s top run-stuffing defensive tackles and should help Detroit improve off its current No. 30 ranking against the run.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals: Two mediocre quarterbacks lead two mediocre teams

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Both Tampa Bay and Cincinnati are on the fringe of playoff contention heading into the midway point of the season. For the Bengals, that includes a 4-3 record and a current two-game losing streak. Last week’s blowout loss to Kansas City was unnerving in that it included Andy Dalton struggling big time in said loss. Can he up his game and help Cincinnati remain in the AFC North race?

On the other hand, Jameis Winston has proven to be annoyingly inconsistent in his fourth season with the Buccaneers. The embattled quarterback leads a 3-3 team into this week’s game. He does so after having thrown five touchdowns compared to six interceptions on the season. If the Bucs want to have any real chance in the highly-competitive NFC South, Winston must step his game up. That starts on the road against Cincinnati on Sunday.

 

New York Jets at Chicago Bears: Overcoming Mitch Trubisky 

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Statistically, Trubisky has been pretty good thus far during his sophomore campaign. He’s thrown 13 touchdowns compared to six interceptions and is completing 66 percent of his passes through six games. In terms of what we see on tape, Trubisky is still struggling big time. He’s not seeing the field, is having issues connecting with wide receivers and has thrown way too much any 50-50 passes.

All said, only 50 percent of his completions this season have gone to wide receivers. That must change moving forward. The goal here has to be ball-control offense and an ability to put an elite-level defense in the best situation to succeed. Trubisky will have his hands full Sunday against one of the league’s best defenses in the form of the New York Jets. That’s for sure.

 

Washington Redskins at New York Giants: Needing to see more from Alex Smith and Co. 

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Washington heads into Week 8 with an opportunity to move to 5-2 for the first time in a decade and just the second times this millennium. That’s the good news following last week’s narrow win over the division-rival Cowboys to take sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

The bad news? Alex Smith and the Skins’ offense leaves a lot to be desired. They rank 25th in points scored, 24th in total offense and boasts a passing game that’s 26th in the NFL. Despite possessing an elite-level defense, this has to be a major concern for Jay Gruden and Co. Set to take on a one-win Giants team that’s already traded two defensive starters, the hope here is that Smith and Co. can turn the corner heading into the midway point of the season.

 

Indianapolis Colts at Oakland Raiders: Blowing it up in Northern California 

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The trades of Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper over the past couple months have led to a split between first-year head coach Jon Gruden and the remainder of his roster. Now, set to play their final game before next week’s trade deadline, the expectation is that Oakland is not done blowing this thing up. The likes of Derek Carr, Kelechi Osemele, Gabe Jackson, Gareon Conley and Karl Joseph could all be moved prior to said deadline.

The long-term vision is clear. Oakland boasts three first-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft and is pretty much willing to be an expansion-level team until it moves to Las Vegas in 2020. That’s going to lead to an absolutely horrible on-field product. Look for the Colts to take full advantage of this Sunday in Oakland.

 

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals: Battle for draft positioning 

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Does either team actually want to win this game? It’s certainly a legitimate question given that both the 49ers and Cardinals are 1-6 on the season. How much would one win in late October impact each team moving forward? For the Cardinals, a win here is almost a guarantee that San Francisco will pick ahead of them in the 2019 NFL Draft. After all, their only win this season has come against the 49ers.

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San Francisco is in a bit different of a situation. Sunday’s game represents the first of three consecutive against fellow one-win squads. How these three games play out will weigh heavily on where the 49ers are selecting in the first round of net year’s draft. Yeah, it’s a sad state of affairs for both teams. But this doesn’t mean draft position isn’t the top storyline here.

 

Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Rams: A must win for the Packers 

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Coming out of their bye, this week’s game for the Packers is more about optics than anything else. They’re in the midst of a four-way battle in the NFC North, one game behind Minnesota in the win column and tied with Chicago and Detroit. That’s fine. It’s important for the Packers to flex their muscle and show that they can be a legitimate division title contender moving forward.

Though, it’s more about showing themselves to be right up there with the best teams in the conference. At 7-0, the Rams have proven themselves to be the top dogs in the NFL. They have two legit MVP candidates in Jared Goff and Todd Gurley. They rank third in the NFL at 33.6 points per game and are yielding the fourth-fewest points in the league. If Green Bay can overcome this on the road in Los Angeles, it will tell us a lot about the team moving forward. If not, it will be in big trouble.

 

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings: The revenge game 

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A rematch of last year’s NFC Divisional Playoff Game, New Orleans is certainly looking to make a major statement after seeing Stefon Diggs break their collective hearts this past January. Winners of five consecutive games and with one of the top offenses in the NFL, said statement could include an announcement that they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

On Sunday night, it will come against a Vikings team that’s now won three consecutive after a 1-2-1 start to the season. It also comes against one of the most-talented defenses in the NFL after New Orleans defeated the league’s top defense, Baltimore, last week. This is a true revenge game for the Saints on the road in Minneapolis.

 

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: Just how bad are the Bills?

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Following the injury to rookie Josh Allen, Buffalo decided to turn to recently-signed veteran Derek Anderson instead of the struggling Nathan Peterman under center. Anderson responded by tossing three interceptions in a 36-5 blowout loss to the Colts. At 2-5 on the season, Buffalo is much worst than its record indicates. And we promise to see this team lose a lot more games as the season progresses.

Consider this: Buffalo quarterbacks have now combined for three touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions on the season. Now, set to take on a red-hot Patriots team at home Monday night, the hope here is that this squad doesn’t embarrass itself. Good luck with that.