In The First Read, Jeffri Chadiha provides a snapshot of the hottest stories and trends heading into Week 8 of the 2023 NFL season, including:
But first, a look at the 10 most trustworthy teams right now ...
We're reaching a familiar point in the NFL season, a time when it should be easier to predict what's about to happen. The problem is that it doesn't feel like such a simple process right now. The Ravens just routed the Lions, the Broncos have strung together two consecutive strong efforts on defense and the Patriots proved that Mac Jones still has a little life left in his beleaguered career. That's a lot to make sense of in what was another crazy week. That's also a good reason to spend The First Read talking about trust.
We can all come to some consensus on which teams we can't trust at this point, a list that includes the Cardinals, Giants, Bears and Panthers. Betting big on a team to actually be productive and viable in December and January is another matter. That is an exercise that requires a lot more guts and gumption. And that is what we do here, by the way. We try to work a little bit ahead of the curve, both because it's more fun and it feels better when you're proven right.
So here's one writer's ranking of the top 10 teams worth trusting as we wrap up Week 7. This isn't a list of the teams who are playing the best, either (which would make it a power ranking); it's simply the ones we should be worrying about the least at this point …
The Chiefs are handling their business as they usually do at this time of year. They’re 6-1. They’ve already set themselves up nicely for an eighth straight AFC West title. Just as scary: They’re boasting the best defense of the Patrick Mahomes era, a unit that is creating quite the reputation for shutting down opponents at crucial junctures of games. That was very much the case in Sunday’s win over the Chargers, when Los Angeles couldn’t find anything resembling success in the second half of that contest. If that defense keeps improving -- and it should after Sunday's return of suspended defensive end Charles Omenihu -- the Chiefs will be hard to beat in the race for that first-round bye in the AFC. As much as we’ve scrutinized Kansas City's flaws at wide receiver, this team still has Mahomes, head coach Andy Reid and a belief that it should be playing in the Super Bowl every year.
For all the red flags waving around the Eagles this past week following an upset loss to the Jets, they sure looked pretty good in Sunday night's win over the Dolphins. This is the lesson worth taking away after a statement victory: Any great team can have a tough day at the office. The real contenders don’t let failure linger too long. Quarterback Jalen Hurts might not be as impressive as he was in 2022, but he’s still plenty capable of getting the job done. That offensive line has taken some hits, but it’s still arguably the best in the business. What was encouraging about the win over Miami was the way Philadelphia played defensively, despite being plagued by injuries and inconsistency in its secondary. The Eagles contained the Dolphins’ vaunted passing attack, allowing Philly to log its sixth win in seven tries. That says something important about the way this team is built. The Eagles simply are not going to let their flaws morph into bigger problems.
UPDATE: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Monday that Philadelphia is acquiring two-time Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard from Tennessee, with the Eagles giving up safety Terrell Edmunds and 2024 fifth- and sixth-round draft picks in the trade.
It’s not wise to make too much of one loss in this league. Two is a bit of a different story. Yes, the 49ers took their first defeat of the season two Sundays ago in Cleveland. Their defeat in Minnesota on Monday Night Football turned them into the second-best team in the NFC at the moment. Two straight losses aren't easy for any Super Bowl contender to stomach, but there's still plenty to like about this team's future. Injuries played a huge factor in that Browns defeat, as San Francisco had three key offensive players banged up in that contest (wide receiver Deebo Samuel, running back Christian McCaffrey and left tackle Trent Williams) and still came within a missed 41-yard field goal of winning. That should tell you this team is going to be fine as long as it stays healthy. There's also ample reason to believe the mishaps that plagued one of the league's top defenses in that Vikings loss -- Minnesota gained 452 yards -- won't be a weekly occurrence. The 49ers won their first five games because they have everything necessary to capture a championship. That remains the case as we move closer to the midpoint of this season.
We know, we know -- the Lions definitely took their lumps during Sunday's 38-6 rout at Baltimore. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic about where Detroit is heading this season. Any team can take a butt-kicking if the circumstances are right, and that’s what you saw on Sunday. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens were at their best. The Lions played their worst game of the season. The reality is Detroit had been rolling for most of the previous six weeks, with only an overtime home loss to Seattle marring its success. This team is built to do damage in the playoffs, with a dominant offensive line, an improved defense and an experienced leader in quarterback Jared Goff. The Lions also have a fairly easy schedule over the next five games, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them sitting at 10-2 as we head into the home stretch of the regular season.
The Bengals are the riskiest team included in this exercise because of their 3-3 record. They aren’t that big a gamble when considering their pedigree. This team didn’t win two straight AFC North titles and reach the Super Bowl in 2021 solely because it has a top quarterback and some talented weapons around him. The Bengals also have mental toughness and confidence and a sense that they’ll figure things out regardless of how ugly it might look early in the season. Cincinnati’s championship dreams certainly rest on the hope that Joe Burrow’s calf won’t be a continual problem as we move into winter. Those hopes also have plenty to do with the maturation of key young players on defense, especially in the secondary. But let’s not lose perspective here. The Bengals beat the odds two years ago by winning an AFC Championship Game in Kansas City and did it again by rebounding from an 0-2 start last year. They know a thing or two about perseverance.
The Ravens took a huge step forward this past weekend with that blowout win over Detroit. It wasn’t merely that they beat up on a good team; they also scored plenty of style points in improving to 5-2. Lamar Jackson came into that contest with just five touchdown passes and not one game with more than 237 passing yards this year. Against the Lions, he wound up with 357 passing yards and four total touchdowns (three passing). That’s a huge boost to a team that has known its defense would show up each week but has fought through a number of challenges on offense. Seriously, is there anybody on the Ravens' offense who hasn’t been hurt this year? It’s a facetious question, but one that speaks to how impressive it is for Baltimore to be leading its division despite so much adversity. There’s been a lot of talk about where this offense is heading this season with a new coordinator and more weapons around Jackson. It turned a major corner in that evolution on Sunday.
The Dolphins took their second loss of the season to Philadelphia on Sunday night, but they shouldn’t be knocked too much for that defeat. Miami came into the contest without accomplished cornerback Xavien Howard and breakout star running back De’Von Achane, and then speedy wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was dealing with a back injury during the game. The Dolphins will be just fine when they start getting healthier, a process which will include the return of cornerback Jalen Ramsey (who’s ahead of schedule in his rehab from knee surgery). There is legitimate concern over how the Fins' explosive offense has looked when facing better defenses (they lost to Buffalo, as well), but this team has shown enough to excite people about what it can be at full strength. And yes, we know: Everything revolves around quarterback Tua Tagovailoa remaining healthy.
The Bills make this list because it’s too hard to bet against them, even with their recent offensive frustrations. Does anybody really think this team is going to go through an entire season playing inconsistently on that side of the football? It’s simply not going to happen as long as quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs are part of the equation. The bigger concern is how Buffalo will fare without key defensive players like linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Tre’Davious White. Before their injuries, the Bills' defense had the feel of an elite unit capable of overwhelming any opponent. Since that point, that same bunch has become far more vulnerable, as the Patriots proved in beating the Bills on Sunday, 29-25. Letting Mac Jones orchestrate a game-winning drive against you this season is something any defense should lament. But the Bills have shown the ability to overcome problems before. They’ll find a way to do so again.
Have you seen this defense play? The Browns have had to lean on backup quarterbacks in three games this season, and yet, they’re sitting at 4-2 because that defense has delivered time and again. Admittedly, Cleveland's D didn’t produce its best effort of the season in Sunday’s 39-38 win over Indianapolis, but Kevin Stefanski's team found a way to win. The question now is whether the Browns can get some steady play from quarterback Deshaun Watson and find a way to keep him healthy. He missed the previous two games before Sunday with a shoulder injury and was knocked out of this victory. If he can just be solid, this team will make a serious run at the division title.
The Cowboys have given us a little a bit of everything so far this year, which has been their modus operandi for some time. They looked like the best team in the league through the first two weeks and then suffered that humiliating loss in San Francisco a couple weeks back. But know this much: This remains one of the most talented teams in the NFL. Linebacker Micah Parsons is still capable of destroying offensive game plans, while Dallas' offense still has enough firepower to generate points when necessary. The Cowboys' success just comes down to how efficient quarterback Dak Prescott can be, how effectively head coach Mike McCarthy can manage the play-calling and if they can avoid being distracted by the constant scrutiny that comes with being a part of this franchise. It says here that the 'Boys will find a way to do all these things and return to the playoffs for a third straight season.
Mahomes had been on pace for the worst statistical season of his career, largely because he wasn’t getting much help from his wide receivers. He’s starting to look more like himself, as the Chargers unfortunately learned in Kansas City’s 31-17 win. The big play finally returned to the Chiefs' offense this weekend, with Mahomes completing 32 of 42 passes for 424 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. This is now his second straight game with more than 300 passing yards (and his third of the year). It feels like he’s starting to warm up.
Jackson has kept Baltimore winning despite a variety of injuries to key offensive players. He was at his best in Sunday’s win over Detroit, a performance that put him very much in the conversation for his second league MVP. Jackson completed 21 of 27 passes for 357 yards and three touchdown and also ran for another score. This was the kind of effort we’ve been waiting to see since the Ravens turned their offense over to new coordinator Todd Monken. It came at a terrific time, as the Lions had been playing great football before running into Jackson.
The Browns defensive end is the centerpiece of the league’s top defense and he proved why once again on Sunday. Garrett had two sacks, two forced fumbles (one that resulted in a defensive touchdown) and a blocked field goal in that 39-38 win over Indianapolis. On a day when the Browns' defense surrendered a season-high in points, Garrett still provided spectacular returns as an individual, allowing Cleveland to prevail in a surprisingly tough road game against a backup quarterback. The Defensive Player of the Year award is no longer just about Micah Parsons. Garrett is building his own legit claim.
There isn’t a head coach in the league sitting on a hotter seat right now than Brandon Staley. The Chargers just fell to 2-4 after Sunday’s loss to Kansas City and it’s fair to wonder if this team can rally to make the playoffs. This isn’t simply about a crowded AFC; it’s about a Chargers team that has become too unreliable defensively and simply can’t make the critical plays that win games. That was the case once again this weekend, as the Chiefs raced up and down the field against the Bolts in the first half.
It’s officially time to worry about what’s happening in Green Bay. The Packers just faced the league’s worst defense and produced all of 17 points. They only had three points in that 19-17 loss at Denver until about two minutes were left in the third quarter. We all know this is a team trying to break in a first-year starting quarterback with an assortment of inexperienced weapons around him. That still doesn’t fully explain what’s been happening with Jordan Love and this offense lately. He’s thrown six interceptions in Green Bay’s current three-game losing streak while the Packers have scored all of 50 points during that stretch.
The Bills' offense has been plagued by slow starts in each of its past three weeks -- they’ve scored just 10 total points in the first halves of those games -- and it’s time to question how Ken Dorsey is going to remedy this. It’s one thing when you’re facing playoff-caliber teams; it’s another when you’re dealing with a New England squad that has been torched by opposing offenses lately. That 29-25 loss in Foxborough can be pinned on Buffalo’s defense allowing Mac Jones to lead a game-winning drive, but the contest never should have been that close in the first place. Simply put, Dorsey must find a way to get more production and consistency out of this offense.
SUNDAY'S BIGGEST SURPRISE
Baltimore blows out Detroit. This was supposed to be a heavyweight matchup. It turned into a rout early, and Detroit never found a way to recover. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson launched himself into MVP consideration with this game, while the Lions were left reeling from their worst effort of the year.
- Browns at Colts: PJ Walker leads the Browns to a second straight win after replacing Deshaun Watson at quarterback.
- Bills at Patriots: New England rallies with a game-winning touchdown drive in the final minute to upset Buffalo.
- Chargers at Chiefs: A shootout in the first half and a Kansas City defensive masterpiece in the second.
MOST INTRIGUING GAME OF WEEK 8
This felt like a potential Super Bowl preview before the season began. Now it’s going to be a referendum on where Cincinnati is heading and how San Francisco fares when facing another AFC North opponent. The Browns gave the 49ers all sorts of problems in Week 6, and the Vikings extended San Francisco's losing streak to two. We’ll see if the Bengals can keep the 49ers off-balance coming out of the bye.
A simple ranking of the top five candidates, which will be updated weekly, depending on performance. Here is how it stands heading into Week 8 (with Caesars Sportsbook odds as of 8:30 a.m. ET on Oct. 23):
- Caesars odds: +240
- Weeks in top five: 7
- Next game: at Broncos | Sunday, Oct. 29
- Caesars odds: +430
- Weeks in top five: 7
- Next game: vs. Patriots | Sunday, Oct. 29
- Caesars odds: +750
- Weeks in top five: 1
- Next game: at Cardinals | Sunday, Oct. 29
- Caesars odds: +30000
- Weeks in top five: 1
- Next game: at Seahawks | Sunday, Oct. 29
- Caesars odds: +3500
- Weeks in top five: 2
- Next game: vs. Raiders | Monday, Oct. 30
My slowly evolving Super Bowl LVIII pick, which also will be updated each week, depending on performances: 49ers over Dolphins.
Previous picks ...
- Week 6: 49ers over Dolphins
- Week 5: 49ers over Dolphins
- Week 4: 49ers over Bills
- Week 3: 49ers over Dolphins
- Week 2: 49ers over Bills
- Week 1: 49ers over Dolphins