10 things to know from NFL Week 8
J.J. Watt was dominant, the Bengals and Panthers are on a franchise-best pace, and more from NFL Week 8.
10 things to know from NFL Week 8
Didn’t catch every moment of NFL Week 8? PFF has you covered with the top 10 things you need to know based on our grades and data.
1. Big-name injuries left many teams with questions.
Sunday brought some very sad news for a few NFL franchises, especially in the AFC North. Most notably, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell went down with a serious knee injury, and is expected to miss the remainder of the season. Bell is currently PFF’s top-ranked running back, ahead of Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin.
Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith also suffered a season-ending injury, tearing his Achilles tendon shortly after securing his place among the NFL’s top 10 in all-time yardage for wide receivers. Smith is currently PFF’s fourth-ranked WR.
Other big names suffering injuries in Week 8: Bears RB Matt Forte, Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (more on that later), 49ers RB Reggie Bush, Lions WR Calvin Johnson, and Jets WR Brandon Marshall. Dolphins DE Cameron Wake also suffered a season-ending injury on Thursday night.
2. Patriots’ players filled six roster spots on our Team of the Week.
While New England’s dominant performance against Miami on Thursday night may get lost in the Sunday shuffle, it should in no way be overlooked.
Six Patriots earned a spot on Khaled Elsayed’s Team of the Week, which features the best players at every position in Week 8. Those players included: Tom Brady (QB), Rob Gronkowski (TE), Julian Edelman (WR), Dont’a Hightower (LB), Patrick Chung (S), and Duron Harmon (S).
In fact, running back Dion Lewis tied for the best overall RB grade in Week 8, failing to make the Team of the Week roster only because his positive grade came mainly from his receiving performance, as opposed to Latavius Murray’s dominant game on the ground.
Brady overtook Carson Palmer for PFF’s No. 1 QB spot this season, with his highest-graded game since Week 3 of 2012.
3. The Broncos’ defense is on pace to be one of the best-ever.
We’ve been talking about Denver’s defense a lot this season, and for good reason. The unit is turning in dominant performance after dominant performance, largely carrying the offense along the way to 7-0.
While Peyton Manning and company did chip in on Sunday (Manning, in fact, earned the fifth-best Week 8 grade among QBs), the defense again turned in another incredible outing, shutting down one of the NFL’s most potent offenses in Green Bay.
Chew on this stat from Sunday night’s contest, per Sam Monson’s post on Monday: Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib, and Bradley Roby—the Broncos top three cornerbacks—surrendered just 33 yards all game on nine targets.
If one game isn’t enough to convince you that we’re seeing something special, Monson made a fantastic comparison between Denver’s 2015 defense and Seattle’s 2013 Super Bowl unit, considered one of the greatest NFL defenses of all-time.
In 2013, Seattle allowed an average of 4.4 yards per play, and 273.6 yards per game. Through seven games this season, Denver has allowed just 4.1 yards per play, and 261.1 yards per play.
Could we be witnessing history in the making?
4. The Bengals and Panthers are 7-0 for the first time in franchise history.
Speaking of making history, fans in Cincinnati and Charlotte have to be thrilled with what they’ve seen so far this year.
While Andy Dalton posted his worst performance of the season (by far) in Week 8, it was enough to push Cincinnati over the edge for the victory in Pittsburgh, putting some divisional distance between themselves and the second-place Steelers.
The true heroes for the Bengals on Sunday were in the secondary, as CB Leon Hall, CB Adam Jones, and FS Reggie Nelson earned three of the team’s top five grades in the contest. In fact, four of Cincinnati’s five secondary players graded positively in coverage, while SS Shawn Williams made the most of his nine snaps, nabbing an interception.
Wide receiver A.J. Green also had a huge game, catching 11-of-15 targets for 118 yards and a touchdown, which proved to be the game-winner. Green is currently PFF’s eighth-ranked receiver, behind Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson.
For the Panthers, a sloppy game on Monday night translated into an overtime win at home. Luke Kuechly continued his return to form with his third big game in a row upon return from injury, and Cam Newton earned the third-best grade among QBs in Week 8.
5. Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders’ offense are for real.
Attention Raider Nation: it’s time for the rest of the NFL to take this Oakland offense seriously.
With a 34-20 win over the Jets, the Raiders dismantled what many around the country believed to be a top-level defense, earning a spot atop the AFC Wild Card standings.
Much of the credit this season can go to quarterback Derek Carr, currently PFF’s seventh-ranked quarterback. Sam Monson went into greater detail about Carr’s development this season on Monday.
Other key components to Oakland’s offensive success this season are the new additions at wideout, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Crabtree is PFF’s 14th-ranked WR, and owns one of the league’s best drop rates, dropping only two passes on 42 catchable targets this season, tied for eighth-best in he NFL.
Latavius Murray has been another exciting option for the Oakland offense, earning the RB spot on the Team of the Week for his performance against the Jets. Murray owns the fifth-best pass blocking efficiency rating among NFL running backs.
6. Geno Smith’s poor decision-making confirmed that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the better option at QB.
On the other side of the ball in the Jets-Raiders game, Geno Smith took the field for the first time this season after Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered an injury to his non-throwing hand.
After breaking down Smith’s performance, Sam Monson explained why some poor decisions on the part of the former West Virginia star makes it difficult to believe the Jets can ever rely on Smith as the starter. Twice he surrendered sacks that should have been throwaway passes for incompletions, simply misreading situations. While he did post two touchdowns, he also under-threw a pass for a pick.
It will certainly be worth monitoring Fitzpatrick’s condition this week, as the Jets are set to host the Jaguars on Sunday. While the former Harvard QB isn’t exactly lighting up the league this season, either, he understands what he can and can’t do, and has shown he can manage the game enough to help the Jets win.
7. Richard Sherman was PFF’s top-graded cornerback in Week 8.
As Sam Monson detailed on Monday, Sherman hadn’t played like his usual self entering Week 8, allowing 66.7 percent of balls thrown his way to be caught, and surrendering 15.4 yards per reception. He also had no interceptions and just two passes defensed.
On Sunday, however, Sherman was tasked with covering Dez Bryant. He locked down the freshly-returned Cowboys’ WR, earning the top grade of any cornerback this week.
In the contest, Cowboys QB Matt Cassel threw into Sherman’s coverage five times, completing one pass for 15 yards. The Seahawks’ CB broke up the other four.
This is about as lockdown as it gets for Sherman, who showed a glimpse of the corner we’ve come to expect from the past few seasons.
8. Drew Brees and Eli Manning had an absolute shootout.
In what has to be one of the most impressive statistical games of the week, Eli Manning threw six touchdowns against the Saints.
In many games, that would be more than enough to coast your team to victory. In this one, however, Drew Brees topped Manning’s performance with seven passing touchdowns of his own.
If you’re a fantasy owner of Brees or Manning, you likely had quite the Sunday. Brees notched 505 yards, but did throw two interceptions. Manning’s scores were complemented by 350 passing yards and zero interceptions. He did fumble once, but the Giants recovered.
9. J.J. Watt earned his third-highest game grade ever—and that’s saying something.
While the news around Houston this week largely surrounded the release of Ryan Mallett, J.J. Watt took it upon himself to refocus the attention back to the field.
On Sunday, Watt earned a +13.9 overall game grade against the Titans. (Keep in mind that 0.0 is average; the second-highest 3-4 defensive end grade in Week 8 was +5.2, posted by Tennessee’s Jurrell Casey in the same game.).
Watt recorded three sacks, four hits, and three more hurries in his dominant effort. As we already knew, he’s an absolute machine when it comes to rushing the passer.
When did Watt outperform this incredible showing, you ask? Twice last season, the Texans defensive end topped +14.0 (Week 4 against Buffalo and Week 16 against Baltimore).
10. Andrew Luck is our lowest-graded quarterback this season.
The NFL is never short of unexpected twists and turns. Entering this season, who would have believed the Colts’ quarterback would be sitting at the basement of our QB rankings following Week 8.
Despite a valiant fourth-quarter effort (which was still marred with turnover-worthy plays), Luck looked dreadful on Monday Night Football against the Panthers. He earned his second-lowest game grade of the season (his worst came in Week 2 against the Jets), with two touchdowns, three interceptions, 231 passing yards, and 50.9 NFL QB rating.
Luck has earned a negative grade in each game he’s played this season, with the exception of Week 1 against Buffalo. That’s five negative overall grades, total, through six games played—he had four in all of 2013.
What’s more, Luck has the worst accuracy percentage of any QB this season (63.6), behind Blake Bortles and the recently-benched Colin Kaepernick. He also has the most interceptions (12), ahead of Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford (each with 11).
Incredibly, the Colts still sit atop the AFC South standings at 3-5.
Chase Howell | General Editor
Chase is a General Editor at PFF, focusing on the site’s NFL content strategy. His work has been featured in ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider, and The Cincinnati Enquirer.