NFL Week 8: Key matchups and storylines for all 15 games | NFL News, Rankings and Statistics | PFF

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NFL Week 8: Key matchups and storylines for all 15 games

Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) congratulates wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) who is celebrating a touchdown reception from quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) against the Cleveland Browns in the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Week 8 of the 2021 NFL season initially looked like it would kick off with the game of the week on Thursday Night Football. The Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers are both top-four teams in PFF's latest power rankings, but this week won't be a clash of titans at full strength. Green Bay will be without Davante Adams, David Bakhtiari, Jaire Alexander, Za'Darius Smith and Allen Lazard, among others.

Can the Packers overcome those absences and deliver a competitive game? That's just one of the storylines and matchups to monitor as we near the midway point of this season.

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Rankings & Projections | WR/CB Matchup Chart | NFL & NCAA Betting Dashboards | NFL Player Props tool | NFL & NCAA Power Rankings


GB @ ARZ | PIT @ CLE | CAR @ ATL | MIA @ BUF | SF @ CHITEN @ IND | CIN @ NYJ | PHI @ DET | LAR @ HOU | JAX @ SEANE @ LAC | TB @ NO |
WFT @ DEN | DAL @ MIN
NYG @ KC


Green Bay PackersArizona Cardinals (-6.5)

Matchup to watch: LT Elgton Jenkins vs. ED Chandler Jones

Jones' five-sack start to the season signaled that he was all the way back from the biceps injury that prematurely ended his 2020 campaign. Jones missed each of the past two weeks while on the COVID-19 list, but he was activated earlier this week and should return to action in this contest.

Jones will be looking to build on his 90.1 PFF pass-rushing grade (fourth among edge defenders) against Jenkins. The do-it-all, third-year man out of Mississippi State is coming off an impressive performance last week against Washington. Jenkins allowed just one pressure on 40 pass-blocking snaps, primarily facing off with Montez Sweat.

Biggest storyline: Can Green Bay overcome Davante Adams‘ absence?

Adams has a larger impact on his offense than any other NFL wide receiver on theirs. That's evident by the point spread jumping nearly three points toward Arizona when news of him landing on the COVID-19 list broke. Adams is one of two wide receivers who has been targeted on over 30% of his routes this season (alongside Cooper Kupp), and his 92.2 PFF receiving grade leads all players.

If Marquez Valdes-Scantling isn't able to return from injured reserve by Thursday, the Packers will be without their top three wide receivers. That isn't ideal for a team that wasn't exactly deep at the position to begin with.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 50.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns (-3.5)

Matchup to watch: Browns' offensive line vs. Steelers' defensive line

Neither of these teams can be happy with how the first seven weeks have gone, but both still enter this game at .500 or better. And both still can hang their hat on a truly elite unit.

For Cleveland, it's an offensive line that has allowed pressure at a bottom-10 rate (23%) and paved the way for the league's most efficient rushing offense by expected points added (EPA) per play despite injuries at the tackle position. That unit matches up with a Pittsburgh defensive front led by Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt. Those two join Aaron Donald as the three highest-graded interior and edge defenders in the NFL since 2019.

Biggest storyline: Both teams looking to keep pace in a competitive AFC North

The Browns and Steelers are looking up at Cincinnati and Baltimore in the AFC North despite 4-3 and 3-3 records coming into this week, respectively.

Team % to make playoffs % to win division
Cincinnati Bengals 77% 41%
Baltimore Ravens 80% 35%
Cleveland Browns 52% 19%
Pittsburgh Steelers 26% 5%

PFF's simulations give Cleveland approximately a 50% chance and Pittsburgh a 25% chance of making the postseason, making this a big early-season game for both teams.

The short-handed Browns were able to scrape past Denver last week behind a big game from D'Ernest Johnson and his 90.6 PFF grade, but can they do it again against a Steelers team looking to put last season's playoff loss behind it?

The Over/Under for this game is currently 42.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons (-3)

Matchup to watch: TE Kyle Pitts vs. S Jeremy Chinn

It appears as if Pitts has found his footing in the NFL. After limited usage early in the season, he has turned 19 targets into 282 receiving yards across the Falcons' past two games. His ability to win as a receiver from any alignment was put on display late in last week's win over Miami, beating Xavien Howard down the sideline for a big gain.

Chinn's combination of size and athleticism makes this an intriguing matchup between two up-and-coming young players in the NFC South. The second-year safety has allowed five catches on 10 tight end targets into his coverage for 53 yards this season, also adding two forced incompletions to that stat line.

Biggest storyline: Matt Ryan has turned things around against three bad defenses in recent weeks

Since Week 4, Ryan is the NFL's highest-graded quarterback. That stretch came against three of the eight worst defenses in the league through seven weeks (based on EPA per play against), but it's still a promising development for Atlanta's chances of securing one of the last wild card spots in the NFC.

Ryan's recent success has stemmed from a fundamental shift in Atlanta's passing attack. His 4.9-yard average depth of target through the Falcons' first three games ranked 31st among 32 qualifiers. Since then, his 9.6-yard average is the seventh-highest mark in the league.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 46. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills (-13.5)

Matchup to watch: WR Stefon Diggs vs. CB Xavien Howard

It doesn't get much better than one of the NFL's best receivers versus single coverage against one of the league's top man coverage cornerbacks. Howard followed Diggs back in Week 2, lining up across from him on 27 of Diggs' 34 routes. And Howard undercut a slant on one of them for an interception while allowing three receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown.

The rematch between those two is one reason to tune into a game in which Buffalo is favored by nearly two touchdowns.

Biggest storyline: Tua Tagovailoa has been better than the public perception since returning from injury

Tagovailoa's performance, amid trade rumors as the 2021 NFL trade deadline nears, is another reason to monitor this game. He has recorded PFF grades of 83.9 and 84.5 since returning from injury in Week 6, delivering an accurate pass on 67% of his attempts (sixth out of 32 qualifying quarterbacks). It's difficult to frame the 1-6 start to this season as anything but disappointing for Miami, but it's too early to call it disappointing for Tagovailoa.

Even against two of the worst defenses in the NFL, those numbers are encouraging given the situation Tagovailoa has been put in.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 49.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.

San Francisco 49ers @ Chicago Bears (+3.5)

Matchup to watch: ED Nick Bosa vs. LT Jason Peters

Peters, who turns 40 years old in January, has graded out as Chicago's best offensive lineman by a comfortable margin. His 77.7 PFF grade through seven weeks represents the only grade above 67.0 on the unit, and it ranks tied for fourth among qualifying left tackles this season.

It wouldn't be prudent for the Bears to leave Peters on too many islands against Bosa, though. The edge defender's 102 pressures across the 2019 and 2021 seasons, removing the 2020 season that he missed with injury, rank fifth among at the position.

Biggest storyline: The Justin Fields-Matt Nagy partnership couldn't have gotten off to a much worse start

The only two teams in the NFL to generate fewer expected points added (EPA) per play than the Bears this season are the Jets and the Texans. That's not the start to the season Chicago had in mind for Fields, who has started each of the past five games.

The offense's ineffectiveness is a combination of a scheme that isn't tailored to Fields' strengths, a lacking supporting cast and Fields' own play. He is PFF's lowest-graded quarterback (49.3) entering this matchup with San Francisco, and there aren't many signs pointing to things getting better this season.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 39.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts (-1)

Matchup to watch: RB Derrick Henry vs. LB Darius Leonard

This isn't as individual a matchup as a wide receiver-cornerback battle or a trench battle, but Leonard will play a large role in slowing the league's top running back. His 81.8 run-defense grade through seven weeks ranks third among qualifying linebackers. And he heads a Colts run defense that has allowed the lowest EPA per run play mark in the league, even after facing Henry and Tennessee once already.

Henry, meanwhile, continues to get fed the ball at an astonishing rate. His 191 carries are already 68 more than any other player in the NFL, and his 662 rushing yards after contact are 240 more than any other rusher.

Biggest storyline: Can the Colts climb back into the picture in the AFC South?

Indianapolis has won three of its past four games, with the only loss coming in overtime against Baltimore, following an 0-3 start to the season. That has given the Colts life in a wide-open AFC, but they're still heavy underdogs to win their own division.

PFF currently gives the Titans an 88% chance to win the AFC South, compared to 11% for Indianapolis. This is bordering on a must-win for the Colts if they have aspirations of winning the division, especially given that they've already lost once to Tennessee.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 50.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


Cincinnati Bengals @ New York Jets (+10.5)

Matchup to watch: LT George Fant vs. ED Trey Hendrickson

Fant's performance at left tackle has softened the blow of losing Mekhi Becton early in the season. His 2.9% pressure rate allowed ranks fifth among qualifying left tackles through seven weeks.

In this contest, he should primarily go up against Hendrickson, who has recorded at least four quarterback pressures in every game this season. His 36 pressures overall rank fourth among all defenders, putting doubts to rest about whether his 2020 production was repeatable.

Biggest storyline: Cincinnati's free-agent acquisitions on defense are paying off

Don't look now, but the Bengals' defense is allowing points on just 30% of drives. That ranks third through seven weeks, behind only Arizona and Buffalo. Part of that is an opening schedule that included Detroit, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Chicago, but the players they've added to the unit the past two years have impressed.

Hendrickson is proving that 2020 wasn't an anomaly. Chidobe Awuzie has allowed a career-low 54% of the passes into his coverage to be completed, and D.J. Reader boasts one of the highest run-defense grades in the NFL (89.8). It's all starting to come together at the right time.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 42.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.

PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline and over/under.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Detroit Lions (+3.5)

Matchup to watch: LG Jonah Jackson vs. DI Javon Hargrave

Hargrave has been one of the most disruptive interior pass-rushers in the NFL this season. His 90.1 PFF pass-rushing grade through seven games trails only Aaron Donald and Jonathan Allen, and it is just the next step in a history of improvement for Hargrave when rushing quarterbacks.

Season Hargrave's PFF pass-rushing grade
2016 60.5
2017 67.9
2018 71.5
2019 76.9
2020 83.9
2021 90.1

Hargrave lines up primarily over the left guard, and he projects to have an edge over Detroit's left guard (Jackson) in this one. Jalen Mayfield is the only player at the position who has allowed more pressures at the position than Jackson (26) in 2021. It's a mismatch that Philadelphia needs Hargrave to capitalize on.

Biggest storyline: Both teams already have one eye toward the 2022 NFL Draft

Philadelphia and Detroit enter this game a combined 2-12. PFF's simulations give the Eagles a 12% chance to make the playoffs, due in part to having the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL. But realistically, neither team has postseason aspirations at this point.

Unlike some other squads in similar situations, the draft does serve as a light at the end of the tunnel for both the Eagles and the Lions. That is especially true for Philadelphia, which owns Miami's and Indianapolis' first-round picks in addition to their own in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 48. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


Los Angeles Rams @ Houston Texans (+14.5)

Matchup to watch: WR Brandin Cooks vs. CB Jalen Ramsey

After starting the season primarily in the slot, Ramsey has played more snaps outside in each of the Rams' past two games. He has been excellent regardless of where he's been aligned this season. His 81.5 PFF grade entering this week is tied for the second-best mark of any qualifying cornerback.

There's a good chance that the trend of Ramsey playing more outside continues given Houston's wide receiver room. Just 85 of Cooks' 381 offensive snaps have come in the slot, and he's the only receiver that Los Angeles truly needs to worry about. His 63 targets through seven weeks are 48 more than any other Texans wide receiver.

Biggest storyline: Cooper Kupp is likely to continue his historic start to the season

Pick a receiving stat. There's a good chance Kupp's name tops the list through seven weeks. He ranks first in receptions (56), receiving yards (809), receiving touchdowns (nine) and target rate (32%) entering Week 8. His ability to create separation in tight quarters has shined in the red zone, where a league-high eight of his nine touchdowns have come.

Next on the schedule is a Texans defense that has allowed 7.2 yards per pass play (27th in the NFL). All signs point to Kupp's hot streak continuing for at least one more week.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 47.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


Jacksonville Jaguars @ Seattle Seahawks (-3)

Matchup to watch: ED Josh Allen vs. LT Duane Brown

Allen came to life in the Jaguars' past two games, earning his two highest PFF pass-rushing grades of the season. His 85.4 overall grade on the year now ranks eighth among qualifying edge defenders, sandwiched between Von Miller and Arik Armstead.

Brown represents a clear step up in level of competition from Allen's last matchup (Liam Eichenberg), even if Brown hasn't been quite as reliable this season as he typically is. He put together 10 consecutive seasons with a PFF pass-blocking grade above 75.0 from 2011 to 2020, dropping below 80.0 only once.

Biggest storyline: The Jaguars' run game has been one of few highlights in 2021

There has been a stark difference in Jacksonville's success through the air and on the ground this season. The Jaguars enter this game in Seattle with the fourth-worst EPA per pass mark in the league and a second-place rank in EPA per run play. The unfortunate part for Jacksonville is that second place still equates to negative expected points added per run play.

James Robinson has been excellent in his second season as an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State, building on a strong rookie showing. His 4.1 rushing yards after contact per attempt this season trail only Nick Chubb among running backs with 50-plus carries.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 43.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.

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New England Patriots @ Los Angeles Chargers (-6)

Matchup to watch: RB Damien Harris vs. Chargers' run defense

A lot has gone right for Los Angeles through six games. Run defense doesn't fall under that category. The Chargers are the only team in the NFL allowing over five yards per run play, and they're all the way down at 5.3 yards. A defensive line that has collectively earned a league-worst 36.7 PFF run-defense grade has much too easily been moved off the ball.

That's a matchup the Patriots can look to attack with the way Harris has been running the football of late. He is averaging 6.5 yards per carry, with 38% of his runs going for a first down or touchdown since Week 6.

Biggest storyline: Chargers have a favorable road ahead after tough start to the year

The Chargers have managed a 4-2 record despite having the third-most difficult strength of schedule through seven weeks, per PFF's ratings. It's a big reason why Brandon Staley is the betting favorite to win Coach of the Year. He has his young team ahead of schedule and rising to the level of their competition.

The road is a little clearer moving forward, with Los Angeles having the fifth-easiest strength of schedule remaining — beginning with this game against the Patriots. PFF's simulations give the Chargers a 36% chance to win the AFC West, just shy of the Raiders (40%).

The Over/Under for this game is currently 49. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints (+5.5)

Matchup to watch: WR Mike Evans vs. CB Marshon Lattimore

This matchup isn't short on animosity. Evans was suspended for a hit on Lattimore back in 2017, and the two have lined up across from each other on 230 pass snaps in their eight career meetings since 2017. The only duo with more snaps over that time frame is Evans and former Panthers cornerback James Bradberry (231).

Lattimore has largely dominated those meetings of late. Since 2019, he has lined up across from Evans on 110 pass snaps, allowing just one three-yard touchdown reception on seven targets in that time while forcing three incompletions.

Biggest storyline: Jameis Winston looks for a win in first start versus his former team

Winston's 2021 season has largely been what you would expect. He's earned two single-game grades above 85.0, two grades between 60.0 and 70.0 and two grades below 55.0. That rollercoaster is typical of Winston's NFL career. And Tampa Bay doesn't miss it. Tom Brady has followed up a 93.3 overall grade last season with a league-best 92.2 PFF grade in 2021.

Winston can compete with Brady at the high end of his range of outcomes. The Saints will just have to hope this is one of those games.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 50. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


Washington Football Team @ Denver Broncos (-3)

Matchup to watch: WR Terry McLaurin vs. CB Patrick Surtain II

Washington's passing offense revolves around McLaurin, who has seen over 40 more targets (68) than any other receiver on the team. The third-year man out of Ohio State has been fantastic in contested catch situations. McLaurin's 19 contested catches on the year are eight more than any other receiver in the NFL.

That means the rookie Surtain will have to finish plays in their matchups, even if he's in position with his coverage. Much like at Alabama, he has given up nothing down the field. Surtain has yet to allow a 20-plus yard reception on seven such targets.

Biggest storyline: Does Jerry Jeudy‘s return provide a spark on offense for Denver?

Jeudy looked excellent in limited action against the Giants during the Broncos' season opener before going down with an ankle injury that cost him the next six games. Jeudy brought in six passes for 72 yards on just 24 routes run in that contest.

Denver will be hoping his return sparks a passing offense that has floundered since the team's 3-0 start to the season. The Broncos rank 24th in expected points added (EPA) per pass play since Week 4.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 43.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.

PFF's Player Props Tool leverages PFF's Fantasy Football Projections to reveal betting opportunities within player prop markets.

Dallas Cowboys @ Minnesota Vikings (+1.5)

Matchup to watch: WR Justin Jefferson vs. CB Trevon Diggs

Sunday Night Football provides us with a matchup between two of the most exciting young players at their respective positions. Jefferson avoided Diggs in the slot when LSU played Alabama in 2019, but the two should see a fair bit of each other in this contest.

One of the interesting battles within the matchup will be what happens at the line of scrimmage when Diggs is in press coverage. His 136 defensive snaps in press coverage through the season's first six weeks was a top-20 mark in the league, and no wide receiver has produced more receiving yards versus press coverage than Jefferson since 2020 (943).

Biggest storyline: the Cowboys field the most complete offense in the NFL

Few numbers highlight Dak Prescott‘s impact on the Cowboys better than how many yards per play the team has averaged with and without him in the lineup since 2019.

Weeks Cowboys yards per play Rank
2019 to 2020 W5 6.5 1st
2020 W6 to 2020 W17 4.7 32nd
2021 6.5 1st

Dallas has a quarterback who is orchestrating a passing attack as well as any player in the league, arguably the league's best offensive line, a top-flight receiving corps and two running backs capable of contributing at a high level. It's extremely difficult to take all of that away.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 55. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


New York GiantsKansas City Chiefs (-10)

Matchup to watch: DI Leonard Williams vs. LG Joe Thuney

Williams has not delivered the kind of pass-rushing performance this season that one would expect from an interior defensive lineman making $21 million per year. He is generating pressure on less than 10% of his pass-rushing snaps but is coming off his best game of the season last week against the Panthers (six pressures and two sacks). And he is still performing at a high level against the run, boasting an 84.0 run-defense grade through seven weeks.

It won't be easy for Williams to carry over that momentum as a pass-rusher in this matchup against Thuney. Kansas City's top free-agent acquisition ranks in the 86th percentile of qualifying guards in PFF pass-blocking grade since he was drafted in 2016.

Biggest storyline: Turnovers aren't the biggest cause for concern with Patrick Mahomes

The first number that everyone is drawn to when discussing Mahomes' play and Kansas City's recent skid is the quarterback's nine interceptions. That ties him for the most in the league with Zach Wilson. However, a league-high three of those interceptions have come on dropped passes.

The bigger concern for the Chiefs is that the offense isn't producing big plays at nearly the same rate it has in years past. Kansas City has produced just 27 gains of 20 or more yards this season (t-21st). The team's 254 such gains from 2018 to 2020 were fewer than only Tampa Bay.

The Over/Under for this game is currently 52.5. PFF Greenline uses exclusive game and player data to make projections on NFL game spreads, moneyline, and over/under.


 

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