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Top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 8 NFL action

Vincent Frank
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Which team made yet another major statement?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

NFL’s Week 8 action lacked the drama that we had seen throughout the first half of the season. The early slate of games were not too competitive, starting with the Jacksonville Jaguars dropping their fourth consecutive game.

As the attention turned from London to stateside, both the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers staked their claim to being the top contenders in the AFC North. Meanwhile, Cam Newton continued his stellar play in a blowout win over the Baltimore Ravens.

And during the late-afternoon action, the Los Angeles Rams made yet another major statement over the Green Bay Packers in what was the most highly anticipated game this week.

Here’s the top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 8 NFL action.

 

The Saints are just scary

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In a game that saw Drew Brees throw for exactly 120 yards, New Orleans defeated the Minnesota Vikings on the road by the score of 30-20. Just think about that for a second. These Saints were so reliant on Brees and his offense early in the season that the idea of the defense stepping up was just foreign. After all, this unit had allowed a 112.2 passer rating on the season heading into Sunday Night Football. That changed, and good, against the Kirk Cousins-led Vikings.

Taking advantage of a mistake-riddled Vikings offense, New Orleans forced two huge turnovers. That included this pick-six from P.J. Williams. Now winners of six consecutive, the Saints have staked their claim as one of the best teams in the NFL. If their defense continues to perform at this level, there’s no telling how far Mr. Brees and Co. can go.

 

Andrew Luck is once again a top-five quarterback

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It didn’t take Luck too long to announce his presence as an alpha dog after missing all of last season due to a shoulder injury. The former Pro Bowler had put up 15 touchdowns over his previous four games entering Sunday’s action against the Raiders in Northern California. He did, however, also have five interceptions during that span. Fortunately for Luck and the Colts, he played flawless football in a 42-28 win over the hapless Raiders.

In leading the Colts to their most points since Week 12 of the 2014 season, Luck completed 22-of-31 passes with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Marlon Mack added another 132 yards on the ground for a Colts offense that’s now in the top seven of the league in scoring. Despite still being just 3-5 on the season, one has to think that Indy might have something to say about things in the pedestrian AFC South moving forward. Luck is the primary reason for this.

 

Jaguars fall flat in London

Blake Bortles Jaguars

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A season that started with realistic Super Bowl expectations has now morphed into complete irrelevance in Duval. Jacksonville was hoping to get it right against the defending champion Eagles in London on Sunday. Having won his past three starts across the pond, Blake Bortles struggled to do anything of substance until it was too late. His stats weren’t bad (281 yards, zero interceptions). But that doesn’t tell us the entire story.

The Jags scored six points in the first half and were playing from behind throughout. That’s evidenced by the fact that they called 31 consecutive pass plays to conclude the game. Meanwhile, a once-dominant defense allowed nearly 400 total yards en route to Jacksonville dropping its fourth consecutive game by the score of 24-18. Now at 3-5, these Jags are pretty much done.

 

Probably time for the Broncos to fire Vance Joseph

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Teams tend to give coaches at least two full seasons before drawing a conclusion about what to do moving forward. But for the Broncos, the time might be now to move on from Vance Joseph after just 24 games as the team’s head coach. Sunday’s loss to Kansas City is just the latest example of a head coach that’s in over his head.

Denver opened the game up with an 81-yard touchdown scoring drive earlier in the first quarter. From that point on, it was all Patrick Mahomes and Co. until a late push from Denver. In the end, Joseph’s squad fell by the score of 30-23 in a game that was not really close until the very end. Now four games behind Kansas City in the AFC West and pretty much out of the playoff race, it will be interesting to see if Joseph is fired. Though, we’d expect defensive coordinator Joe Woods to be the first one to go.

 

Rams make yet another statement

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Playing in front of a home crowd that seemed to be more than 50 percent Packers fans, the Rams took care of business in what might have been the best game of the weekend. It was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Green Bay actually opened up a 10-0 lead with Los Angeles’ offense faltering early on. But when all was said and done, the likes of Jared Goff and Todd Gurley came up big time in the 29-27 win.

Goff threw for nearly 300 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Two of those scores went to a youngster in Josh Reynolds who was only seeing action due to Cooper Kupp’s injury. Meanwhile, Gurley went for 195 total yards and a score. A special teams forced fumble late in the game sealed the win. Now at 8-0 on the season, it’s rather clear these Rams are the class of the NFL.

 

Jameis Winston should be benched for good

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It’s rather simple. This fourth-year quarterback has not progressed at the level most would have expected from a former No. 1 pick. In fact, one could say that Winston is in the midst of a full-blown meltdown. Having entered Sunday’s action with six interceptions and four fumbles in three games (two starts), he’s proved to be a turnover machine since returning from suspension. That didn’t change in Sunday’s loss to the Bengals in Week 8.

On the Bucs’ very first possession, Winston threw a horrible red zone interception on a pass intended for Mike Evans. Later in the first half, he one-upped himself with another horrible pick. All said, Winston threw four interceptions before being benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick. Shockingly, Fitzpatrick led the Bucs back from a two-score deficit to tie it before a game-winning Bengals field goal. Now at 3-4 on the season, it’s high time Tampa go back to Ryan Fitzpatrick for good. This team must also prepare for a future without Winston. He’s not the answer.

 

No, Adrian Peterson is not washed up 

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Even with Alex Smith and the Redskins’ passing game continuing to struggle, Washington finds itself at 5-2 heading into Week 9. It’s most recent win over the New York Giants tells us a story of a team that’s relying a great deal on its defense as well as ageless wonder, running back Adrian Peterson.

Peterson scored both of the Skins’ touchdowns in the 20-13 win, catching a pass from Alex Smith in the first quarter and putting the game away with a 64-yard touchdown run late in the final stanza. All said, the future Hall of Famer went for 156 total yards on 27 touches. Peterson is now on pace for 1,700 total yards in what has been a shocking season for the 33-year-old back. He’s doing so for a first-place team that now has a stranglehold on the NFC East. Whew.

 

Amari Cooper might have been an addition by subtraction

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The Oakland Raiders made headlines this past week by trading former top-10 pick Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round pick. The trade itself seemed to be lopsided in Oakland’s favor given Cooper’s struggles since the start of last season. This doesn’t mean that the 2018 version of the Raiders were any better because of the trade, right? Now we’re not too sure.

Derek Carr played the best game of his career in a losing effort to Indianapolis, completing passes to seven different receivers. All said, he completed 75 percent of his attempts with three scores and zero interceptions. Sure the Raiders’ defense let this team down en route to a seventh loss in eight games. But their offense looked so much better than what we saw with Cooper in the mix. Do with that what you will.

 

Steelers should just trade Le’Veon Bell

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In a game that saw Ben Roethlisberger struggle out of the gate, Pittsburgh relied a lot on second-year running back James Conner to do his thing. While Big Ben turned it around in a blowout win over Cleveland, it was Conner who did a bulk of the work. Replacing holdout Le’Veon Bell, Conner put up 212 total yards and two touchdowns on 29 touches. He’s now on pace for 2,107 total yards and 21 touchdowns on the season. Those are, in fact, Le’Veon Bell numbers right there.

It also leads us to believe Pittsburgh should simply just trade Bell before Tuesday’s deadline. We’ve seen drama unfold behind the scenes in the Steel City. It led to a questionable start to the season for the team. Now, having won four of their past five, and with Conner playing at an All-Pro level, the Steelers should move on from Bell altogether. Period.

 

Carson Wentz throws hat into MVP conversation

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It’s becoming readily apparent that the Eagles are going to be relying a whole heck of a lot on Wentz if they want to turn this season around. Despite heading into Sunday’s action at 3-4, Wentz had thrown 10 touchdowns compared to one interception thus far this season. After starting slow, he continued that domination against the Jaguars in London.

The third-year quarterback would go on to complete 21-of-30 passes for 286 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also led the Eagles on two long touchdown-scoring drives in the second half, putting this game away. Those two drives saw Philly put up 170 total yards with Wentz completing 8-of-9 passes for 119 yards and two scores. Yeah, he’s back.

 

Seahawks continue to make noise

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Prior to Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, we looked at the possibility that this outing might have wide-ranging playoff ramifications in the NFC. Sure the Los Angeles Rams have control over their division. But this doesn’t mean Russell Wilson and Co. can’t be major players in the wild card race moving forward. Sunday’s 28-14 win over the Lions in Detroit adds to this belief.

Having already won three of four heading into Week 8, Seattle absolutely dominated what had been a hot Lions squad. Wilson completed 14-of-17 passes for 248 yards with three touchdowns and zero picks. Coming on strong, second-year back Chris Carson continued to create balance by putting up 105 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Seattle’s young defense held the Lions to 14 points and 331 total yards. Now 4-3 on the season, the Seahawks have to be considered legit playoff contenders.

 

Cam Newton continues to shine against NFL’s best

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It’s quite possible that Newton is playing his best football since the star quarterback earned the NFL MVP back in 2015. Taking on the league’s best defense in the form of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Super Cam continued his dazzling on-field brilliance. Baltimore’s defense entered Week 8 ranked No. 1 in total defense, No. 2 against the pass and No. 1 in points allowed.

Newton responded by playing a near-flawless game. He completed 21-of-29 passes for 271 total yards with three total touchdowns and zero interceptions in the 36-21 blowout win. Newton has now compiled 17 total touchdowns compared to four interceptions en route to leading Carolina to a 5-2 record thus far this season. That’s just great stuff.

 

Drama in Cleveland. Imagine that

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Embattled head coach Hue Jackson was on the hot seat even prior to Cleveland’s blowout loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday. And in the lead up to that game, rumors suggested that Jackson might look to fire offensive coordinator Todd Haley. It’s not even known at this point if the brass in Cleveland would allow Jackson to do just that. None of this was resolved in what would become a 33-18 loss to the red-hot Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cleveland put up just 237 total yards of offense and couldn’t get anything going until garbage time. Rookie Baker Mayfield was battered throughout the afternoon, suffering a shoulder injury in the process. All of this led to yet another loss and a 2-5-1 on the season. With the disconnect between Jackson and Haley, we have no idea just how much more drama will unfold in Cleveland. Whether that leads to a firing or something else remains to be seen.

 

49ers just can’t close games out

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan

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Sunday’s outing between two one-win teams in the desert represented a comedy of terrors for both the 49ers and Cardinals. But it looked like San Francisco would come away with its second win after having opened up a 15-3 fourth quarter lead. As we’ve seen throughout the young Kyle Shanahan era, it just wasn’t to be. Taking on a rookie quarterback and an offensive coordinator calling his first ever game, San Francisco allowed Josh Rosen to orchestrate two fourth quarter touchdown drives. They totaled 148 yards, leading an 18-15 Cardinals win.

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Again, this is just a manifestation of what we’ve seen from the 49ers. They’ve now lost four games by one score this season and nine by that margin since the start of last season. San Francisco held a fourth quarter lead in seven of those games. It’s readily apparent that defensive coordinator Robert Salah and Co. struggle under these conditions. Sunday was the most-glaring example, and it has San Francisco at 1-7.

 

What exactly is the Giants’ plan?

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We have to give the Giants’ defense some credit for its performance Sunday against the first-place Washington Redskins. Prior to Adrian Peterson icing the game with a 64-yard touchdown late in the fourth, New York’s defense had yielded 13 total points. Given the team just recently traded defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Eli Apple, that’s some good news.

That’s pretty much the extent of the good news outside of one elite young performer. The team put up six points prior to a garbage-time touchdown late in the fourth. Eli Manning threw two more interceptions in yet another horrible overall performance from the washed-up quarterback. Now at 1-7, we’re left wondering if Pat Shurmur’s squad will blow this roster up even more prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline. The good news? Barkley has tallied 1,016 total yards halfway through the season.

 

The NFC North is going to be a battle

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By virtue the Vikings and Packers losing difficult matchups and the Chicago Bears coming away with a win, Matt Nagy’s squad will head into Week 9 in first place in the old black and blue division. Detroit’s loss to Seattle has Matt Patricia’s squad in last place. But that’s not even the kicker here. Only one game separates the Bears and the Lions. Want more? Chicago headed into Week 8 in last place in the division.

There’s good and bad news here. We’re pretty sure only one team will come out of the division and earn a playoff spot. That’s the bad news. On the other side of the ledger, we’re going to be privy to some huge divisional matchups throughout the final half of the regular season. It’s going to be pretty darn fun.