Halfway there, almost nothing is clear. That’s the unpredictability of the NFL. “The opponent’s record does not matter,” says Indianapolis Colts head coach CHUCK PAGANO, whose club will meet the Houston Texans in a key divisional matchup on Sunday Night Football in Week 9. “Our record doesn’t matter. You’ve got to go play 60 minutes each and every week.”
In Kansas City, the unbeaten Chiefs played a hard-fought 60 minutes of football on Sunday in a 23-17 win over Cleveland, improving to 8-0.
“So many games in the National Football League are won by seven points or fewer,” says Kansas City head coach ANDY REID, including the Chiefs’ past two. “You work hard during training camp, so you’re mentally strong to be able to handle things like this and that’s what we did. We’ll continue to work hard, and I’m sure there will be other games just like this where you have to grind them out.”
Through Week 8, 54 of 120 (45%) games played this season have been decided by seven points or fewer.
The Chiefs held Cleveland to 17 points and became the fourth team since 1970 to allow 17 points or fewer in each of its first eight games of a season.
“We pride ourselves on playing defense,” says Kansas City linebacker DERRICK JOHNSON. “Once again we held them to 17 and under and that seems to be the number for us right now.”
Highlighting the unpredictability of the NFL this season have been many fantastic finishes. There have been 26 games in which the winning points were scored in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or in overtime this season.
Last week, the Detroit Lions executed an 80-yard game-winning drive with 62 seconds to play to defeat the Dallas Cowboys 31-30, culminated by a one-yard touchdown run by quarterback MATTHEW STAFFORD with 12 seconds remaining. The Lions (5-3) joined the Chiefs as the only two clubs to have already surpassed last year’s win total.
“This was a big win for us,” says Detroit head coach JIM SCHWARTZ. “Going into the bye week at 5-3 instead of 4-4, I don’t care how you look at it, 5-3 is a successful first half of the season.”
So as the season’s midpoint approaches, it’s all still to be decided, with plenty of football still to play.
Since 2000, 32 teams have reached the halfway point of their season with a .500 or below winning percentage and proceeded to the playoffs, including at least one in each season.
Of those 32 clubs, five have advanced to the Conference Championship Game, including the 2001 New England Patriots, who won Super Bowl XXXVI.
Some of the key games this week:
CINCINNATI BENGALS (6-2) at MIAMI DOLPHINS (3-4) (Thursday, NFLN, 8:25 PM ET)
Week 9 action gets underway on Halloween when the Miami Dolphins host the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals, who sit atop of the AFC North, have won four consecutive games, including last week’s 49-9 win over the New York Jets.
Bengals quarterback ANDY DALTON registered a career-best five touchdown passes. Since Week 6, Dalton leads the NFL with 11 touchdown passes. Four of Dalton’s five touchdown passes were to second-year wide receiver MARVIN JONES.
Jones’ four touchdown catches are the most in a single-game in Bengals history and the most in an NFL game since November 18, 2007 (RANDY MOSS and TERRELL OWENS, four each).
Meanwhile, the Dolphins are focused on a quick turnaround after a 27-17 loss last week to the Patriots.
“Whatever happened that previous Sunday, win or loss, you’ve just got to take it for what it is and move forward,” says Dolphins cornerback DIMITRI PATTERSON, who leads the club with three interceptions. “Cincinnati’s another tough matchup and they have a talented offense. They’re doing extremely well as a team in all phases and we’re going to have to go out and play our best ball.”
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6-1) at NEW YORK JETS (4-4) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
New Orleans looks for its second consecutive win over an AFC East foe. Saints quarterback DREW BREES passed for 332 yards and five touchdowns in a 35-17 win over Buffalo last week. Brees registered his eighth career game with at least five touchdown passes, the most in NFL history.
“It’s great having a future Hall of Famer at quarterback in Drew Brees,” says Saints rookie wide receiver KENNY STILLS, who hauled in three catches for a career-best 129 receiving yards and two touchdowns.”
With a win on Sunday, the Saints would match last year’s win total of seven victories.
The New York Jets, who have a 3-1 record at MetLife Stadium this season, are focused on rebounding from a loss in Week 8 to Cincinnati.
“Win one, lose one, I hope it continues this week and then we’ll figure it out,” says Jets head coach REX RYAN, whose club has won three consecutive games following losses this season. “I think we will bounce back and obviously we’re going against an opponent that’s 6-1. So, it’s not going to be easy.”
The Jets are 2-0 this season against the NFC South (defeated Tampa Bay and Atlanta) with both wins coming on game-winning field goals by NICK FOLK.
CHICAGO BEARS (4-3) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (5-2) (Monday, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)
This Monday night at Lambeau Field, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will meet for the 185th time in the regular season, the most games ever between two NFL franchises.
With a bye in Week 8, the Bears are back in action on Monday, attempting to get on track after a 45-41 loss to Washington in Week 7. Veteran quarterback JOSH MC COWN will make his first start this season for an injured JAY CUTLER. McCown completed 14 of 20 passes (70 percent) for 204 yards with one touchdown and a 119.6 passer rating in relief duty against the Redskins.
“Josh has been in the league for a long time,” says Bears tackle JERMON BUSHROD. “He’s played a lot of games. He has a lot of experience. So we’re excited about the opportunity.”
Green Bay has won four consecutive games and sits atop the NFC North in first place. In the Packers’ win on Sunday night at Minnesota, quarterback AARON RODGERS completed 24 of 29 passes (82.8 percent) for 285 yards and connected with Packers wide receiver JORDY NELSON for two touchdowns (11 and 76 yards).
“Aaron and I were able to connect and make some big plays,” says Nelson. “We’re two guys that communicate a lot to one another. We’re students of the game, we try to be detailed at what we do and make sure we’re on the same page.”
NFL FACTOID: In Week 8, four players – Cincinnati’s CHRIS CROCKER (32 yards), Washington’s DE ANGELO HALL (26), Cincinnati’s ADAM JONES (60) and Denver’s DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE (75) – had interception-return touchdowns, contributing to a league-wide total of 34 this season, the most interception-return touchdowns through eight weeks since 1970 (31 in 2003 and 2012).