It's already Week 8. No more messing around for various clubs across the NFL. Time to shift into Save The Season Mode! ... Or at least Get It Together Mode. This is especially true in the NFC.
Take, for instance, the Falcons, who have lost three in a row and could lose their confidence for the balance of the season if they fall to the Jets. Or the Bucs, whose defense hasn't been able to stop anybody. They play the Panthers, whose offense completely disappeared last Sunday. That's merely the NFC South. The Lions were supposed to compete in the NFC North, but a loss to the Steelers would make it four losses in their last five games. If the Cardinals lose any more players -- much less, games -- they're done. (Hopefully Bruce Arians isn't.) So don't let the fact that it's not a double-digit week -- or that there are no undefeated squads running away with the division -- obscure how important Week 8 is.
Now, over to the other conference ...
Without looking, I know Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin pulled it off in 1995. After looking, found out they also did it four years earlier. Barry Sanders and Herman Moore reached that plateau in 1995, as well. Edge James and Marvin Harrison did in 1999.
Guessing you watched those during triceps extensions ... But yeah, loved those "Fantastic Finishes." Here's 30 minutes' worth.
With Donovin Darius as Santa ...
Now, let's get to it!
Elliot Harrison went 12-3 on his predictions for Week 7, giving him a record of 61-45 thus far this season. How will he fare in Week 8? His picks are below:
Minnesota Vikings 23, Cleveland Browns 10
Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET, NFL Network
On paper, this is a really bad matchup for the Browns' offense. Minnesota has allowed 20-plus points once all season, and that came against the Steelers in Case Keenum's first start. All of the Vikes' prior opponents field better offenses than Hue Jackson's. First of all, who is the quarterback? Of the three -- DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler -- the middle guy has been the best. Kind of like "The Two Towers," which, as any smart person knows, is the premier offering from Peter Jackson. If Latavius Murray gets going again, Cleveland might be another Helm's Deep this week. The Browns are 0-7 for the second straight season. The last team to pull that off was the 1993-94 Bengals, coached by David Shula. Ah, the days of David Klingler and Erik Wilhelm ...
Atlanta Falcons 23, New York Jets 21
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Who wants to pick the Falcons right now? Doing it out of respect to Matt Ryan, but won't be the least bit surprised if Atlanta drops its fourth straight. That'd stick the Falcons with a Golden Sombrero vs. the AFC East. In order to win, the Jets must avoid the giveaways. Much of their surprising start to this season relied on Josh McCown's accuracy, with the 38-year-old journeyman making the right plays at precisely the right time. The ... well ... precise opposite occurred last week in a tie game at Miami, when McCown's ill-fated pass to Jermaine Kearse was picked off, giving the Dolphins the football with 39 seconds to go, deep in New York territory. On the season, McCown has a 69.2 completion percentage, with 10 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a 91.5 passer rating. Ryan? 66.5/7/6/89.3. McCown > Ryan? Say it ain't so. Ryan's numbers are obviously WAY down from the first six games of his 2016 MVP campaign. His pass-yards-per-game figure has slipped from 345.8 to 265.0. That's 80 yards! His passer rating's down 28.6 points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28, Carolina Panthers 26
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
The Panthers are up, down, up, down, right, select. The Buccaneers are bad. Wait, I think I just typed a "Twisted Metal: Black" cheat code in Carolina's sentence up there. OK, the Bucs have started putting some points on the board, scoring 60 over the past two games. They've also produced more than 400 yards of offense in four straight. Unfortunately, when drives bog down, they settle for field goal misses. Not last week, though, as newcomer Patrick Murray hit both his FGs -- including one from 50 yards out. Much praise was sung for Cam Newton following the win at New England. Since then, he's faltered badly. Over the last two games, he's thrown one touchdown against five interceptions, while posting a 51.0 passer rating.
Philadelphia Eagles 33, San Francisco 49ers 13
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
I wanted to write 38-28, 49ers. Which, you may or may not recall, was the score of that famous game at the Vet where the Joe Montana-led Niners came back from a 28-17 fourth-quarter deficit. Montana got pummeled that day. On that really cruddy Vet turf, which felt like concrete with your Aunt's rug from 1953 draped over it. (You know, when the rug has had so many Hot Wheels run over it that the material is paper thin in spots. Yea, the Vet was worse, with spots that looked like dried-up, green Silly Putty.) At least C.J. Beathard will get faceplanted in the well-kept surface they sport at the Linc. The Eagles' offense will fly (again). Those guys are sporting a 50.5 percent conversion rate on third down, best in the league. And their time of possession is 33:43, second in the league. When Carson Wentz and company get into the red zone, they come out successful 65.2 percent of the time, good for third in the league.
New Orleans Saints 34, Chicago Bears 21
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
Bad matchup for the upstart Bears. Mitch Trubisky won't be able to go all Bob Griese in this game, throwing like five passes all day. The Saints have proven over the Drew Brees era that, more often than not, they will put points up in bunches in the Superdome. With No. 9 under center, they've scored 30-plus points at home 45 times. So, unless Chicago slows the game down by giving Jordan Howard 50 touches, this contest will mark a major learning session for Trubisky. New Orleans' defense will give the kid a tough time. Over the last four games the Saints have allowed a scant 17 points per, while giving up an average of just 161 passing yards each time out. They've also forced 10 turnovers in that span -- and the three defensive touchdowns versus the Lions didn't hurt.
New England Patriots 30, Los Angeles Chargers 24
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
What a cool matchup this game is. The Chargers haven't won in New England since 2005, when Drew Brees outdueled Tom Brady in a game that seems like forever ago. Tim Dwight had a 30-yard touchdown reception. Remember him? He played for both franchises, and was mentioned prominently in the book "Patriot Reign" as someone Bill Belichick noticed from afar. Wonder what Belichick thinks of Philip Rivers, who plays such a different style of game than his own quarterback. While we're at it, how about that time Rivers played at Foxborough with a torn knee in the AFC Championship Game? Meanwhile, is anyone talking about Tom Brady as an MVP candidate? Talk about being taken for granted ... Brady is averaging 315.4 yards per game, tops in the NFL. He is also sporting a 15:2 TD-to-INT ratio and a robust 108.4 passer rating.
Oakland Raiders 26, Buffalo Bills 20
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Maybe the toughest game of the week to call. The Raiders came to life last Thursday night and will be playing on 10 days' rest. The Bills, who have survived a couple of recent close affairs, are surprisingly tied with the Patriots atop the AFC East in the loss column. This game is huge for both Oakland and Buffalo. A win for the Raiders vaults them right back into the thick of the AFC West race, especially with the Chargersplaying the Patriots and the Broncos and Chiefsgoing at it. If the Bills win, they'll be 5-2 for the first time since 2011, when Ryan Fitzpatrick got hurt and then the team tanked. Buffalo hasn't been 6-2 (or better) since 1993. That was their last Super Bowl season. The Bills' 17-season playoff drought is now the longest in all the major American sports. The Seattle Mariners are at 16, having not made the postseason since Ichiro's rookie season of 2001. How good was that guy in his prime?
Cincinnati Bengals 30, Indianapolis Colts 22
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Colts will rely on Adam Vinatieri. The Bengals will lean on A.J. Green. Advantage: Cincy. The Bengals didn't show their true colors defensively in Pittsburgh. That group has been solid all season. Taking a deep dive, Cincinnati's defense remains sixth in points allowed per game, fifth in yards allowed per game and third in passing yards allowed per game. Prior to the loss at Heinz, Paul Guenther's unit had only given up over 300 yards of offense in one game: an overtime loss to Aaron Rodgersin Week 3. If the Colts are to win, they must run the football more effectively. The 3.6 yards-per-carry mark isn't exactly spreading fear around the league. The offense as a whole is really struggling, while the defense is not strong enough to mitigate those shortcomings. The offense is tied for 27th in points per game, ranks 28th in yards per game and last in sacks allowed. Yeesh.
Seattle Seahawks 28, Houston Texans 25
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS
Originally had this game as a top-flight matchup of 2017. That's because I thought Tony Romo might sign with the Texans, with both defenses looking fantastic. Little did I know that not only would J.J. Wattnot be playing in this game, but that Deshaun Watson would "Tecmo Super Bowl" the crap out of the NFL as Houston's rookie QB. Oh, and now Tony Romo is the best listen among all color guys in the business. Yet, here we are, with what is, perhaps, still Week 8's most fun game taking place between two teams that rarely play one another. The uni matchup will be ugly. The scoring won't be as low as people expect. Seattle's offense is so due, while Watson is a thrilling watch. What's interesting about his game is how much better he's performed inside the pocket, in spite of his readily apparent athleticism. His completion percentage is 10 points higher inside the pocket (64.4) than outside (54.1), while his TD-to-INT ratio is really out of whack: Watson has tossed 14 touchdowns against three interceptions in the cup, with one touchdown and two picks outside. Cool stuff. #OROY
Dallas Cowboys 24, Washington Redskins 20
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX
This is always a fun matchup. The Cowboys swept this series last year. In the first game, Kirk Cousins' failures in the red zone became a talking point on sports radio, while Dak Prescott used his legs and moxie to deliver a win. Meeting No. 2 came on Thanksgiving, when the Redskins racked up over 500 yards of offense but once again couldn't pay off drives. How Cousins fares versus the young Dallas secondary could determine the outcome, but methinks the Cowboys will lean on Ezekiel Elliott for at least 25 carries Sunday. Since Week 4, the Dallas offense has sprung to life, scoring 14 touchdowns while averaging 449.7 yards per game and 6.5 yards per play. All those figures are tops in the league in that span.
Pittsburgh Steelers 23, Detroit Lions 20
Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
You never know with this Pittsburgh team. The Lions are the NFC version of the Steelers, even if they don't carry an equal talent level. Detroit has proven once again that it is an unknown commodity, capable of beating "good" teams before laying an egg when you least expect it (SEE: at Saints, at least in the first half). Pittsburgh should run Le'Veon Bell right at the Haloti Ngata-less Detroit front, making A'Shawn Robinson a key figure in this matchup. The Lions and Steelers have played a handful of wild ones in Detroit, most notably the Jerome Bettis toss-gate game from 1998. I have the 1983 Thanksgiving game between these two, a faceoff of true legends at quarterback: Eric Hipple and Cliff Stoudt. If you look at Kenny's room in "Mr. Mom" (still Michael Keaton's best movie, if you ask me), you'll see a Hipple poster on the wall. You're welcome. Also for your (relevant) information: Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown rank in the top five in yards from scrimmage this season. That's Barry Sanders and Herman Moore stuff right there. Kind of.
Kansas City Chiefs 17, Denver Broncos 13
Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Chiefs retake command of the AFC West, not allowing the Broncos (or Chargers or Raiders, for that matter) to close the gap. Alex Smith has won his last three starts versus the "No Fly Zone," with efficient (if not spectacular) performances. The MVP candidate has thrown for over 200 yards and a touchdown in each game, with 244 in Week 16 last season being the high-water mark. Smith's handiwork out of the pocket in those matchups was palpable, with 81 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Meanwhile, Denver's offense has forgotten its craft the last couple of weeks, scoring a grand total of 10 points versus the Giantsand Chargers. Can Trevor Siemian turn it around? Will Smith stay with Carson Wentz and Tom Brady in the MVP race? Only three quarterbacks have led the NFL in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating after Week 7 over the last 40 seasons: Kurt Warner (who did it in 1999 and 2001), Joe Montana (1989) and Alex Smith (this season). Warner and Montana won the MVP award and took their teams to the Super Bowl in each of those years.
THURSDAY NIGHT'S GAME
Miami Dolphins 23, Baltimore Ravens 16
Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS/NFL Network/Amazon
The battle of anemic passing attacks. We might see a 10-yard throw sometime midway through the second quarter. Actually, the Dolphins showed vital signs in that department last week. Although, when I tried to compare Matt Moore's numbers to Jay Cutler's on the interwebs, an offer for a free Amazon gift card popped up. I had to do a survey about laundry detergent or something. Apparently, even the internet doesn't want you to know the Cutler truth. You might remember this matchup last year, when the Ravens picked Ryan Tannehill three times while dusting Miami. Back to Moore: As a starter over the course of his NFL career, he's 15-13 with a 40:22 TD-to-INT ratio and an 88.2 passer rating. Not bad.