The No-Fun League Almost Ruined Week 8
maya (Maya Sweedler, editor): We got spoiled by the first few weeks of the NFL season, which saw so many comebacks, upsets and generally bonkers outcomes that Week 8 — at least in terms of results — felt staid by comparison. Sure, the Atlanta Falcons beat the Carolina Panthers in overtime after the Panthers tied the game late on a fantastic Hail Mary (though the resulting taunting penalty that cost Carolina the extra point was more of a bummer than anything else), and the Denver Broncos were more in control throughout their London win over the Jacksonville Jaguars than I at least expected, given their past few performances.
But I was most surprised by some individual showings. Let’s start with the most outlier performances from Week 8. Which player stood out to you the most?
neil (Neil Paine, acting sports editor): I know we are all mixed on the impact of running backs ‘round these here parts, but I loved to see Christian McCaffrey’s ongoing impact with the San Francisco 49ers. He had 149 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns as a rusher/receiver … plus added another 34-yard TD as a PASSER. With 40.26 fantasy points (PPR edition), that was the fourth-best game of his entire career to date.
And what’s really more exciting for the Niners is that it seems to be translating to offensive efficiency overall. With McCaffrey on the field this season, San Francisco is averaging 6.86 yards per play. Overall, their average is 5.94, so he is adding the extra dimension they were hoping for when they snagged him in that trade.
Salfino (Michael Salfino, FiveThirtyEight contributor): He had 26 touches and a TD pass on 43 Niners offensive snaps. Crazy market share. And made some history in the process:
joshua.hermsmeyer (Josh Hermsmeyer, NFL analyst): Running back love and an on-off split. Did I stumble into the wrong chat?
neil: I come from the basketball and hockey side, where there is a long tradition of on-off splitting. Plus-minus for life!
gfoster (Geoff Foster, FiveThirtyEight contributor): I was going to pick Alvin Kamara, but should I choose another position just to save face (for us)?
joshua.hermsmeyer: (All-RB day, LFG.)
maya: You love to see any comparison to when LaDainian Tomlinson was the then-San Diego Chargers’ Swiss army knife.
neil: These guys truly do it all.
joshua.hermsmeyer: It was an incredible performance. I think Shanny wanted to really rub it in McVay’s face that the Niners were able to land CMC (the Rams made an offer to Carolina as well) while his buddy Sean continues to sit Cam Akers.
gfoster: The Rams’ running game might be the most disgusting thing in football right now.
And that includes Zach Wilson’s decision-making.
neil: You know it’s bad when they are giving the Bucs a run for the worst yards per carry in the league.
gfoster: Todd Bowles said after the Thursday game that the Bucs need to run more. That’s the solution.
neil: BTW, if nobody is going to stop me, here’s another on-off split …
Jimmy G. Raw QBR w/ CMC on-field: 77.7
Jimmy G. Raw QBR w/o CMC: 40.4
joshua.hermsmeyer: I’m going to pretend that this never happened and move on.
Despite my faux RB hate, my player of the week is easy: Titans RB Derrick Henry. The Big Dog ran the ball 32 times for 219 yards (6.8 YPA) and added two touchdowns. On one of the touchdowns where he looked like an out-of-control freight train, he ran through two defenders at the goal line while doing a flip.
As ESPN Stats & Info noted, he’s rushed for 200 or more yards in six games, which ties O.J. Simpson and Adrian Peterson for the most career 200-yard rushing performances.
I also liked this quote from him after the game, where he thanked his offensive line, even on a day where he legit did most of the work himself. “I give all the credit to them, they were the ones that made it happen. Without them, I wouldn’t have half the success that I’ve had.”
gfoster: How many of his 200-yard games came against the Texans?
Salfino: Henry has done the 200-yards, two-TDs thing FOUR TIMES just against the Texans! That would be a record all by itself.
gfoster: I didn’t watch much of this game, like everyone else in America, but why couldn’t they just put everyone in the box and force Malik Willis to throw? Or they were doing that and Henry was still bulldozing them?
Salfino: Malik wasn’t throwing, Geoff. After the game, he basically said, “Why should I, when they couldn’t stop the run?” I think that was a cover for, “I couldn’t.”
Henry was down to 4.0 per carry entering Week 8 but obviously looked vintage Sunday, though it was against a very bad run defense. It seems unlikely that he can produce against better defenses with no threat of a passing game no matter who the QB is. But Tennessee just continues to overachieve and win games. Imagine if the Giants didn’t come back against them. They’d be 6-1 somehow. And their defense seems for real.
joshua.hermsmeyer: The Texans can’t get out of their own way most of the time, so either explanation (inept strategy or inept execution) doesn’t really surprise me.
maya: Henry ran for 118 yards after contact, which led all RBs in Week 8. As fun as it was to see, yeah, I agree with Mike — I doubt he could keep that up against a stronger run defense that could, like, actually tackle.
gfoster: My player of the week is going to be Titans’ passing game-adjacent. A.J. Brown went off for the Eagles with three touchdowns (all before halftime), and he almost had a fourth later in the game if not for a shoestring tackle. With 659 yards, he has more receiving yards than all the Titans’s wide receivers combined. Sometimes big wide receiver deals don’t work out for the receiver (cough, Davante Adams), but that one seems to be similar to the Stefon Diggs deal in that it has taken an ascending offense to the next level.
joshua.hermsmeyer: What an absolute monster Brown is. On one TD he high pointed the ball over two defenders, who spilled to the ground while he stood over them, shooting them with finger-guns. Legend.
neil: Yes, I loved that celebration! It shouldn’t be considered taunting if you clearly have backed it up.
maya: Those touchdowns were just ridiculous. Per ESPN Stats & Info, all three touchdowns were thrown into a tight window (1 or fewer yards of separation), marking the first time a QB has thrown three TDs of 20-plus air yards and tight separation since Next Gen began tracking the stat in 2016. And all of them had a completion probability of 31.3 percent or worse. They were the three most improbable passing touchdowns of the season thus far for Jalen Hurts!
Salfino: Tyreek Hill, too. He has four 150-yard games already and is on pace for 2,042 receiving yards, helping Tua Tagovailoa lead the NFL in QBR. These receivers like A.J. Brown make bad decisions into good ones. Jalen Hurts threw into double coverage and it didn’t matter. Touchdown.
gfoster: Just don’t take your helmet off, and you can do whatever you want! (Sorry, D.J. Moore.)
joshua.hermsmeyer: Seriously though, it was appalling that a stupid No-Fun League rule might have decided a game.
Salfino: I was thinking about that penalty. Could they have said they were going for two and have the ball spotted at the 17-yard line, then committed a false start, go back to the 22 and sent in the kicking team?
maya: Whoa, that would be some serious 3-D chess.
Salfino: Seems like something Mike Vrabel would do.
neil: Seriously though, why hasn’t some team tried that yet??
gfoster: If they are going for two, the 15 yards isn’t applied?
Salfino: It is, but from the 2-yard line (not the 15).
gfoster: Oh I see. That’s brilliant.
maya: Steve Wilks, take note!
neil: Next time! LOL.
Salfino: But better to leave your helmet on.
It’s so weird that the NFL is so strident against taking your helmet off.
joshua.hermsmeyer: And gang signs. Don’t forget gang signs.
gfoster: I wonder if DJ was thinking about Stefon Diggs’s walk-off TD in the playoffs against the Saints, where he ripped off his helmet and chucked it.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Yeah, did he think it was game over?
gfoster: That’s what I wonder … but the Vikings didn’t need the PAT in that obviously.
Or he just didn’t think, period. It was an amazing catch and great redemption for dropping a fourth-down catch earlier.
Salfino: Speaking of Diggs, do you think a team is going to mimic what’s been working and trade for an alpha WR? D.J. Moore? DeAndre Hopkins? Dare I ask — Davante Adams and Cooper Kupp? (The trade deadline is Tuesday.)
gfoster: Maybe the Packers can trade for Adams.
Salfino: Ha ha ha. Are the Packers even a plausible contender?
gfoster: They look done to me.
neil: We give them a 17 percent playoff probability in the model.
Salfino: What’s the Rams’ playoff probability, Neil?
gfoster: Talk about done.
neil: Twenty-three percent! They’re both long shots.
Salfino: Woah! I am shocked it’s that high.
maya: Benefits of a weak conference, I guess.
Speaking of, I’m going to wrap up with Geno Smith, who continues to lead the league in completion percentage — despite facing the sixth-most QB pressures this season. Yesterday, he was pressured on a league-leading 19 dropbacks. On these dropbacks, Smith went 7-for-15 for 104 yards (including a 33-yard beaut to Tyler Lockett) and two touchdowns. Sure, he took three sacks and was contacted on 10 of these dropbacks. But compare that to the next-most-pressured quarterbacks; Zach Wilson, who faced the second-most pressures with 16, was 1-for-14 with three picks under pressure; Taylor Heinicke was 3-for-8 on his 15 dropbacks under pressure, with one interception; on his 15, Marcus Mariota had a score and a pick and was sacked twice.
gfoster: GENO FOR MVP.
neil: Geno continues to rank highly in QBR.
gfoster: You know who Geno might be? Rich Gannon. A quarterback who rose from the ashes late in his career for a run of glory.
neil: That’s an awesome pull, Geoff.
Salfino: Yes, that’s a great comp. Gannon went from backup journeyman to MVP at 37.
maya: At this point, who’s the second-best team in the NFC, behind Philly? Could it be Seattle?
joshua.hermsmeyer: It might be someone from the NFC West, Maya!
neil: I think it’s probably the Cowboys or Vikings, Maya, but just the fact that we’re talking about the Hawks in this convo is incredible.
Salfino: I think the second-best team in the NFC is San Francisco.
maya: Dallas can’t figure out whether its best running back should start, so forgive me for being a bit skeptical of that one!
Salfino: No, Dallas knows who its best RB is. Zeke!
neil: And yet, the Cowboys are easily second in the NFC in Sports-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System.
(For the record, I think all of this is a commentary on the NFC … many of the teams that were supposed to be good aren’t, which left a weird vacuum.)
Salfino: I can’t take a team that just gave up 240 rushing yards that seriously. How do they beat the Eagles with that run defense?
Or the Niners?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I agree with Neil — most of these NFC teams are all crowded around league average, so it’s hard to say much of anything about them except “do better.”
maya: Or “enjoy losing to the Bills in the Super Bowl.”
Salfino: Do you think a healthy Niners team is league average, Josh?
joshua.hermsmeyer: They’re probably better than average when Shanny is on script!
gfoster: Can we talk about Philly’s upcoming schedule? Houston, Washington, Indy, Green Bay, Tennessee. This team is going to be 12-0 when they face the Giants in Week 14.
Salfino: No one, including me, respects Tennessee.
neil: Eagles have played the 25th-hardest schedule so far, per Elo. Looking forward, they will play … the 28th-hardest schedule, LOL.
maya: They’re not slated to face a team with a winning record until December.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Fly, Eagles, fly.
neil: This is some 1972 Dolphins-type stuff. (And I am here for it.)
Salfino: The weird thing about the Eagles is they might head into the postseason without having been tested by a top team. So they are going to be hard to forecast. A top club can come at them, and especially their offense, with something they have not faced.
gfoster: It might be like the 2009 Saints, who were 13-0 when they lost to Dallas in mid-December. Things worked out for them in the end.
Salfino: They didn’t really do anything against the Cowboys defense, which isn’t even good against the run.
joshua.hermsmeyer: I think we still need to consider that Hurts is improving as a passer, though. I’m pretty sold on a Super Bowl ticket for Philly.
Salfino: Hurts’s weapons are so elite that it’s hard not to be good as a passer.
gfoster: I agree. I think a healthy San Francisco defense with CMC on the other side is the only real obstacle.
Salfino: I mean, Dallas did almost beat them with Cooper Rush.
(But I do hate the Dallas run defense in this matchup.)
maya: San Francisco has been at half-strength on the defensive side since like Week 3, though.
Salfino: Exactly, Maya.
joshua.hermsmeyer: The Niners have Fred Warner, though. They should be fine.
Salfino: If that defense is healthy, it’s very nasty. And there are so many weapons. Plus Jimmy Garoppolo is third all-time in yards per attempt (min. 1,500 attempts).
maya: Have we gotten to the “defend Jimmy G” portion of the chat?
He was being ripped on Twitter yesterday, and look at the stats. What do you want?
Hurts’s Jimmy’s weapons are so elite that it’s hard not to be good as a passer.
Salfino: I agree with this, Geoff.
neil: Agreed! As I said above, he is already much better with CMC on the field than off.
joshua.hermsmeyer: My head is spinning …
Salfino: And no Deebo yesterday, even.
So no one is with me that the Rams should trade Kupp? Young coach. Hopeless team. No picks. Why not start a reset? They won their prior trades. Flags fly forever,
Salfino: Kupp to the Niners.
neil: Ram fans would die.
Salfino: At least DeAndre Hopkins should be traded, right?
joshua.hermsmeyer: I don’t think I would make that trade. These smoke and mirrors flashes of the old Nuk are just an elaborate ruse. Beware!
maya: Jimmy is already solid on slants and in the middle of the field — while Kupp would be fun, I would love to see more of a deep threat on the Niners. Brandon Aiyuk is something, but he seemed to have more chemistry with Trey Lance in the preseason than he does with Garoppolo.
Salfino: Yeah, you could argue the Niners can’t stretch the field. There really isn’t another receiver like that plausibly on the market.
gfoster: Nuk to the Giants?? That would make sense.
neil: The great thing about this season is that so many theoretically talented teams stink that you actually do have some legit trade targets to pick over.
joshua.hermsmeyer: Are the Raiders theoretically talented? Josh McDaniels had yet another meeting with the owner after another embarrassing loss. I wonder how long that will continue.
neil: Certainly, they were not supposed to be this bad.
Salfino: Yes, there are many teams that were supposed to be good but haven’t delivered: Raiders, Broncos, Cardinals, Rams, Browns, Chargers, Packers, Bucs, Saints. I’m sure I’m forgetting some.
neil: (Fun fact: The Raiders’ offense is still 1.4 PPG above league average, even after that shutout loss Sunday.)
maya: Oh, I’m not quite ready to put the Chargers in that group!
Their quarterback doesn’t have ribs at the moment.
Salfino: Chargers are full-on Chargering, Maya.
They might be the slowest offense in football. At least VERY slow.
gfoster: Remember when people were speculating in the preseason that the Chiefs might be the worst team in that division?
maya: And now the AFC West might send only Kansas City to the playoffs …
joshua.hermsmeyer: Wait, who were these people?
I want to find them and study their habits.
gfoster: Maybe it was just me.
Salfino: Yeah, I think I’m guilty of that.
gfoster: I was a believer in the Carr-Adams Fresno State magic. Turns out you need an offensive line.
Salfino: The QBs were supposed to be all great and challengers to Mahomes but, nah.
neil: And I was a believer in Russell Wilson. 😬
joshua.hermsmeyer: Saaame. The Broncos were a team of destiny. Now they’re barely a team.
neil: This sure aged like milk. 😞
Salfino: High knees!
neil: LOL Mike. Truly when you think he can’t get any more unintentionally hilarious.
Made me think of Kramer jumping around on the plane.
Salfino: Thanks all. We managed not to trash Zach Wilson, which I was looking forward to. Throwing a pick on a throwaway attempt is legendary LOLJets.
gfoster: I had a lot of Zach Wilson material left on the shelf. I’ll just text it to Salfino.
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