With this being the first week with a full docket of teams on a bye and only 13 games to play, I was worried about a smaller ratio of spectacular showdowns to showcase. I’m glad to report my fears unfounded as a number of pairings during this week will reverberate with tremors upon the playoff landscape according to the measurement standard known as The Student of the Game’s NFL Week 8 Match-Up Mania.
Phins v. Pats
The only divisional contest considered in this edition, Miami QB Ryan Tannehill boasts an improved WR corps while New England QB Tom Brady has quite the opposite. He’s sporting top level TE Rob Gronkowski along with a bunch of ball-dropping rookies and youth as passing targets. On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins feature a solid squad as expected while enjoying the recent return of DE Cameron Wake. However, the Patriots are out both DT Vince Wilfork, LB Jerod Mayo and possibly CB Aqib Talib.
Despite roster woes, the Pats defense has managed to maintain menacing efforts that have gone so far as to subdue QB Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints to give their offense a chance to recover from drops. Sadly for them, going 1-12 against the Jets on 3rd down conversion attempts is something that won’t be solved by any amount of defense. The Patriots must move the ball better if they wish to escape a 2 game losing streak.
Conversely, Miami’s improved receiver personnel has been held back by a diminished RB squad and O-line. Between the defense making due in Foxboro and South Beach’s sapped protection, this game’s chance of upset has decreased mightily. Phin fans are hoping that all changes with the acquisition of OT Bryant McKinnie from the Ravens.
For me, the deciding factor is the Patriots’ ability to cover Miami’s top WR Mike Wallace. New England Head Coach Bill Bellichek has an ability to shut down an opponent’s best option. Whether his top CB, Talib, is out or not, Bellichek will have Wallace in his sites. He has schemed to stop stars before and I find it hard to believe that Wallace won’t be successfully added to the list in order to take the Pats to 7-1 .
Cowboys v. Lions
With the inconsistent play of both squads’ defenses and unpredictable performance of both crews on offense, it is a wonder they the Lions and Cowboys are both solid contenders in their respective NFC divisions. Holding on to games they are expected to win is what’s keeping these teams relevant and it’s likely this game’s impact will have us pointing back to it 2 months from now.
The reason for the vacillating nature of these offenses is varied. The Lions struggle with injury via their star WR Calvin Johnson while the Cowboys can go from credible to crippled based on what version of their Pro Bowl QB Tony Romo takes the field.
Detroit represents the first balanced offensive threat not hindered by QB injury woes since Romo’s 500+ yard 5 TD shootout versus QB Peyton Manning and the single loss Broncos. With as close as the NFC East is, Dallas can use all the conference wins it can muster to assure landing in the playoffs whether they win the division or not. If they can keep Tony Romo protected, they may be able to assure they add this one to the “W” column.
That being said, if I’m asked to trust in Romo and WR Dez Bryant supported by RB Demarco Murray as opposed to QB Matt Stafford and Johnson supplemented by RB Reggie Bush, I’m going with Stafford, Bush, and the kid called “Megatron” every time. If both teams go mistake free, the only certainty I can offer in this game’s outcome is a team with a silver helmet will win — but if asked to go with my gut to pick a winner, it’s the Lions devouring Dallas.
Jets v. Bengals
At first glance, this match up doesn’t look all that special, but this is one of those conference contests that could break a tie in the Wild Card standings. More importantly, the Bengals need to continue to win games to close out the AFC North and pursue a higher seed. In addition, the Jets, after beating New England, are trying to catch the Patriots atop the AFC East while hoping to sneak into the playoffs as a lower seed should they fail to do so.
While the impact of this game’s result has many implications to examine, what will decide the game is simple — can Jets’ rookie QB Geno Smith keep sharp to avoid turnovers. Mistakes against the Bengal defense will only make it easier for Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton to lead the Stripe Hype to victory.
Falcons v Cards
With both these teams trying to make a late playoff push, this edition of an NFL “Bird Bowl” represents both teams acting as hurdles for their opponents’ hopes for a “Hail Mary” post season play. With the pressure pouring on as the Falcons remain all but wing-clipped, QB Matt Ryan, known as “Matty Ice”, has struggled to live up to his moniker throughout 2013. The Cardinals as arguably the most under-rated defense in the league notwithstanding, the lack of a ground strike from Atlanta is only the first of the problems facing the Falcons when scoring points. Pro Bowl WR Julio Jones is out for the season while WR Roddy White is hindered by injury as well. With the top receiving threats compromised, Future Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez and WR Harry Douglas must offer enough firepower to move the ball.
As threatening as a possible Arizona upset seems to be, they too will need to protect QB Carson Palmer from making mistakes on offense to keep the Falcons in the game. WR Michael Floyd will need to do his part producing yards when the “Dirty Bird” defense is circling around WR Larry Fitzgerald. Unless the Falcon defense plays their best football of the year, don’t be surprised if the Cardinals cage the Falcons.
Kyle Nash — @TheSoTG on Twitter
Founder and host of The Student of the Game show
VP of Operations and Editor for The National Gridiron Network
NFL Contributor for The Sports Chronicles
Special Contributor for Pro Player Insiders
Banner and Feature Images by Ed Runyon
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