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Neil Reynolds' Wraps Week 8

Sunday night's headline game between the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers served as a reminder of how quickly and dramatically things can change in the NFL.

Our calendars are just about to flip into November and the picture has changed for those two teams over the course of this past month. At the start of October, the Bengals were 1-3 and quarterback Joe Burrow was a sitting duck behind a poor offensive line; unable to move and protect himself due to the lingering effects of a summer calf injury. He looked a shadow of his former self.

The 49ers were a red-hot 5-0 with the statement-delivering 42-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys suggesting they were about to be the dominant force of this NFL season. Brock Purdy was on fire at quarterback and had no idea what it felt like to lose a regular season game.

Week 8 saw the Bengals record a 31-17 victory over the 49ers. And oh, how things have changed. Cincinnati have now won three in a row, while the 49ers have been hit by some key injuries and have now dropped three consecutive losses.

Sunday was the first time Joe Burrow looked like the star quarterback who lit up the league in the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Heading to San Francisco, the Bengals had the NFL's worst offense in terms of yards gained (256.3 per game) and Burrow had a quarterback rating of 79.8, placing him 27th among the NFL's passers.

But Burrow and the Bengals made a mockery of those numbers as he hit on 28 of 32 throws for 283 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a rating of 134.8. The dazzling quarterback also suggested he is either back to full health or very close to it as he picked up 43 yards on six key scrambles.

The Bengals had multiple contributors during their big road win. Tyler Boyd and Ja'Marr Chase caught touchdowns, Joe Mixon found the end zone and the defense stood up at key times, intercepting Purdy twice and holding the Niners to just 17 points.

In short, the Bengals looked very much like the team that has played in the last two AFC Championship Games. They have to make up some ground on the conference-leading quartet of Kansas City, Miami, Jacksonville and Baltimore but – on this form – the Bengals can definitely get themselves back into the mix and compete for the Super Bowl when the AFC playoffs begin in January.

As for the Niners, injuries to offensive lineman Trent Williams and wide receiver Deebo Samuel have hurt them, but every team is dealing with banged-up rosters. Their slide has been disappointing and while I am a big fan of his, Purdy needs to up his game and play the cleaner style of football that we are used to seeing from him.

San Francisco averaged 33 points per game in opening the year 5-0. They have averaged 17 points per outing in their three-game losing streak. Their bye week has come at the perfect time and they can look to get healthier before getting back on their horse in Week 10.

Who's Hot…

Tyreek Hill… Miami's explosive wide receiver is proving to be unstoppable. Of all the teams in the NFL, the New England Patriots tend to have the most success in slowing the Dolphins' main man. But in Miami's 31-17 win on Sunday, Hill caught eight passes for 112 yards and one touchdown. His 42-yard score saw him simply blow the top off New England's defense with his elite speed. Hill has already produced what would be a very good season for most in just eight games, racking up a league record 1,014 yards and an NFL-leading eight touchdowns. He is on pace for the first-ever 2,000-yard season from a wide receiver and is a major reason the Dolphins are more watchable than they have been in decades.

Dak and CeeDee… The Dallas Cowboys' offense got an early jump on Fireworks Night as they recorded a 43-20 thrashing of the Los Angeles Rams. Dak Prescott headed into that game with just six touchdown passes in the season's first six outings for the Cowboys. But he was on fire early and stayed with the hot hand for the whole game, throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns. CeeDee Lamb was his primary target as the number one receiver reeled in 12 passes for a career-high 158 yards and two touchdowns. Dak and the Cowboys will ultimately be judged in January when we assess how deep their NFC playoff run will be. But this was a very encouraging performance from two men who always operate in a fierce spotlight.

Levis and D-Hop… Will Levis made his first start as an NFL quarterback on Sunday and in guiding Tennessee to a 28-23 win over the Atlanta Falcons, he may have permanently wrestled the starting job away from the injured Ryan Tannehill. Levis knew where his bread was buttered in Week 8, targeting DeAndre Hopkins on several key plays. And the 11-year veteran still has gas in the tank at the age of 31. The five-time Pro Bowler caught four passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns. Levis throws a very nice deep ball and he instantly makes the Titans a more watchable offense, at least based on the evidence put forward in Week 8. They should ride this rookie the rest of the way and see where it leaves them heading into 2024.

Who's Not…

The first half Green Bay Packers… The Packers scored just three points in the first half of Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. And such poor displays out of the gate have become the norm and a real cause for concern. Green Bay have averaged 4.1 points and 95.1 yards per first half this season. Obviously, both are NFL lows. What is most concerning is that 15 or 20 of those plays will have been scripted, planned at great length and practised all week. If those plays are not working, why not and what chance do the others that are called have? Quarterback Jordan Love has certainly been a part of the problem and has thrown at least one interception in five straight games. His eight picks are the most thrown by any NFL quarterback this season and suggest that the "work in progress" highlighted by head coach Matt LaFleur in the preseason is going to be a longer project than first imagined.

The Jets and Giants… That was some bad football played in a rainy New York on Sunday as the Jets and Giants produced more punts (24) than points (23). Even Greg Zeurlein's game-winning 33-yard field goal in overtime that gave the Jets a 13-10 win was one of the uglier kicks of the season. Robert Saleh would have found it beautiful and his embattled team has now won three in a row to move to 4-3 on the year. That is a mark that keeps the Jets very much alive as they ponder the possibility of a same-season return from his achilles injury from Aaron Rodgers. The Giants are a hot mess, starting with normally-reliable kicker Graham Gano, who missed a 35-yard effort that would have given New York a 13-7 lead with 25 seconds remaining. Their offensive line was also bad once again. That unit had sidelined Daniel Jones for three games and Tyrod Taylor followed him to the bench with a rib injury. That left Tommy DeVito at the helm and he was not up to the task. The Giants registered -9 net passing yards – the lowest amount for a team playing a game that went into overtime in NFL history. Ouch!

Patrick Mahomes… The two-time Super Bowl MVP, NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion doesn't occupy this territory very often. And he would not have expected this to be the week as Mahomes had reeled off 12 straight wins against the Denver Broncos. But waking with the flu and playing wintry conditions did Mahomes no favours on Sunday. He threw for just 241 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a rating of 59.2 in a stunning 24-9 loss that snapped a 16-game winning streak for the Chiefs over the Broncos. Mahomes had little help. He was not well protected, the Chiefs rushed for just 62 yards and no receiver had more than Travis Kelce's 58 yards. A week after it looked like the Kansas City offense had finally woken from its slumber, the unit went for another long nap.

The Fast Five…

  1. A.J. Brown could very easily have found himself in today's 'Who's Hot' section after he caught eight passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns – including a sensational one-handed effort - in Philadelphia's thrilling 38-31 win over the Washington Commanders. The Eagles receiver has now topped 125 receiving yards in an NFL record six straight games and it's noticeable how Jalen Hurts (319 passing yards and four touchdowns) goes to Brown time and again when his back is to the wall. Philadelphia are sitting pretty with the NFL's best record at 7-1 and Brown is a major reason why.
  2. I'm absolutely gutted to hear that Kirk Cousins is gone for the season for the Minnesota Vikings. The Pro Bowl quarterback who was forming a very exciting partnership with rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison tore his achilles in the victory over Green Bay – Minnesota's third win in a row. Rookie Jaren Hall is now left in charge of the offense. I sense a pre-trade deadline move at the quarterback position. As for Kirk, here's hoping he makes a full recovery for 2024, but where will he be playing by then?
  3. The New Orleans Saints snapped a two-game losing streak with a 38-27 win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night, moving into a tie with the Atlanta Falcons at the top of the NFC South at 4-4. The offense looked good in Week 8 and what has been encouraging in recent weeks has been the growing form of Alvin Kamara. Since returning from his NFL suspension in Week 4, Kamara has recorded at least 80 scrimmage yards per outing. Sunday was his best showing of the year as he gained 110 scrimmage yards and scored two touchdowns.
  4. When I spoke to Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson in the summer, he said that his team learned how to win in the second half of 2022. The Jags stumbled out of the gate in 2023 but that has proven to be the case in recent weeks. Sunday's 20-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was not a classic by any means, but it was Jacksonville's fifth win in a row to move them to an AFC-leading 6-2. This team has found many different ways to win and that is encouraging moving forward.
  5. Jacksonville were very good on defense in Week 8, recording two interceptions, three sacks and holding Pittsburgh's leading rusher to just 19 yards on the ground. While that was impressive from the Jags, there should be some alarm bells for the Steelers. I know they lost Kenny Pickett to a shoulder injury in this contest, but their struggles on offense have been going on for some time now. They have been stuck in second gear for most of the season and it's a miracle the Steelers even have a winning record at 4-3. That's a credit to head coach Mike Tomlin.

Fact of the Week

Cincinnati's three-game winning streak has coincided with Joe Burrow's improved form. In Weeks 1-4, Burrow completed 57.6 percent of his passes with two touchdowns, two interceptions and a rating of 69.1. In the last three games, Burrow has completed 77.9 percent of his throws with eight touchdowns, two interceptions and a rating of 111.8.

Finish That Sentence

Each week in this spot I ask readers - via X - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we so often did on our NFL Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go.

From Andy (@AndySGallagher) If the Atlanta Falcons are to be successful they must… sit down Desmond Ridder, feature a heavy dose of Bijan Robinson every week and overcome the loss of defensive tackle Grady Jarrett to a torn ACL. Ridder is just not getting the job done and I think Heinicke will provide a little more punch in the passing game, even though he is flawed himself. The passing game only needs to be good enough to take some attention away from Robinson, who should be the focal point of the attack. Ridder has committed too many costly turnovers in recent weeks and a fresh approach at quarterback might be just the answer in what is still a winnable division.

From Jase (@ROTJase) The team who should trade for Derrick Henry is… the Miami Dolphins, just for the fun of it! You can never have too many running backs in the NFL and adding Henry to a stable that already includes Raheem Mostert and De'Von Achane would be quite something and could give Miami a push all the way to the Super Bowl. Henry would add some much-needed power to the group but he can also flat out fly. A lot of people think of Henry as purely a power back but he would be yet another player in Miami who could run away from defenders and score from anywhere on the field. If not Miami, Baltimore would be a great destination for Henry, as would Buffalo or Detroit.

From Callum Jacques (@CallumJJacques) The toughest division in the NFL this season is… either the AFC North or the NFC East. If you need an example of how tough the AFC North is so far this year, look no further than the red-hot Cincinnati Bengals still being in last place with a 4-3 record. The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers are both 4-3 teams who can be dangerous on their day. And the Baltimore Ravens are the front-runners for now at 6-2, but could be taken down by any of the teams jockeying for positions below them. Philadelphia and Dallas are on a collision course in the NFC East but the Washington Commanders are still a very tricky week-to-week proposition, as evidenced by Sunday's close loss to the Eagles.

Final Thought…

I'm off to Germany on Thursday and I cannot wait to be there in person for one of the games of the year as the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Miami Dolphins on November 5. I'll be alongside Jason Bell and Dante Hall for that thrilling contest and then Phoebe Schecter joins myself and J-Bell for the New England Patriots-Indianapolis Colts showdown. It will be a nostalgic trip for me, personally. The very first road trip I did covering professional American football was in the old Waldstadion in Frankfurt in Week 10 of the 1992 World League of American Football season. The London Monarchs took on the hometown Galaxy and I was blown away by the atmosphere in Germany. I won't be surprised come Sunday. It's going to be an electric atmosphere and hopefully we get a great game to match.