Separation Day in NFC North + Week 8 Preview (2019)

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers play in one of the biggest games to determine the NFL Playoff Picture

Aaron Rodgers turned in a game for the ages on Sunday (Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire)

Entering Sunday, all four teams in the NFC North were at .500 or better, and only two games separated first and last place. The division arrived at an inflection point this week. The Green Bay Packers appeared vulnerable at home against the Raiders with so many injuries on offense. The Detroit Lions played the Minnesota Vikings at home, with a chance to jump up in the standings. And the Chicago Bears, well, they got to host New Orleans playing without Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara, and were also coming off a bye week with quarterback Mitch Trubisky returning from his one-game absence to a shoulder injury.

While the division looked capable of tightening further in Week 7, it turned out that it was a separation day in the NFC North. Entering Week 8, the division that looked like the most competitive in football a week ago is likely a two-team race.

Aaron Rodgers Still Has It

Green Bay entered the game against Oakland at 5-1, but that record had been built largely on the defense and winning some close games. Aaron Rodgers’ numbers through the first six games were solid, but not spectacular. He was averaging about 260 passing yards a game and had thrown eight touchdown passes. The only time he had thrown for 300 yards this year was in the loss to Philadelphia, and he had yet to throw for more than two touchdowns in any contest.

Add in that star wide receiver Davante Adams was out again, and that wide receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison were also limited by injuries, and what happened on Sunday has to go down as one of Aaron Rodgers’ best games ever, in what has been a Hall of Fame career.

Rodgers finished with 429 passing yards, threw five touchdown passes and ran for another. It was his first-ever perfect passer rating (158.3) in a game where he threw at least 20 passes. It was the highest adjusted passing yards per attempt in his career (17.06), ahead of his six touchdown game against Chicago in 2014. The Raiders’ pass defense still has issues, but Rodgers’ performance was sublime regardless of opponent. And now, Green Bay sits at 6-1, with a quarterback and offense that are hitting their stride with new head coach Matt LaFleur.

Vikings Establish Dome Dominance Over Lions

The Detroit Lions had their chance on Sunday to make 2019 a different year for the franchise. At 2-2-1, a win over Minnesota would have pushed them into real contention. They had just played Green Bay tough on the road (and had some questionable calls go against them). With the Giants and Raiders up in the two weeks that follow, Detroit was in a spot where a win over Minnesota could carry them to a successful first half.

Instead, it was the Vikings rolling to a 42-30 victory in Detroit. Ever since the Week 4 loss in Chicago where Minnesota managed only 6 points, and quarterback Kirk Cousins came under heavy criticism, the offense has been outstanding. Minnesota has scored 108 points over the last three games, winning two on the road. The team did lose wide receiver Adam Thielen early to an injury that occurred on a touchdown, and his status for Thursday is in doubt.

Bears’ Offense in Shambles Against Saints

Chicago fans were booing at the end of failed drives at the end of the first half against the New Orleans Saints, and at that point, it was only a two-point game. Chicago’s only first-half touchdown had come on a Cordarrelle Patterson kickoff return. The Bears had only 85 yards of total offense through the first three quarters of the game, and failed to pick up a single first down on nine of the 11 possessions before the fourth quarter.

Chicago picked up some late yards and a couple of scores after the Saints had gone up 36-10 with under 5 minutes left, so the overall numbers do not truly capture how poor the offense played. Trubisky threw 54 passes for only 251 yards for the day. That gives him his first “Joe Flacco” game (50+ attempts, less than 5 yards per attempt). His yards per attempt for the 2019 season is now at 5.2. That puts him at 39th out of 40 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 40 passes this year (ahead of only Josh Rosen of Miami).

Those offensive struggles have Chicago looking like they will not even have to worry about missing a kick in the playoffs, because they are going to have a hard time getting there. So far, the 2019 Bears look a lot like the 2018 Jaguars, another team that had a talented defense dragged down by poor play from a former top draft pick at quarterback.

NFC North Outlook

Our projections have Green Bay (78.3%) and Minnesota (72.0%) both more likely than not to make the playoffs in the NFC. Minnesota has a better predictive rating, but Green Bay has the higher division-winning odds (54.4% to 37.4%) thanks to the one-game lead in the standings and the win over Minnesota at home earlier this year.

Chicago, at 3-3 in a tough NFC, is now projected with only a 15.9% chance of making the playoffs. They are a game and a half behind both Minnesota and Seattle for a wildcard spot, and also have two other teams ahead of them (Carolina and the Los Angeles Rams). Detroit’s playoff chances fell to 9.5% with the home loss to Minnesota.

Other Key News Heading Into NFL Week 8

  • Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan suffered an ankle injury late in the blowout loss to the Rams. He was in a walking boot and his status for next week is uncertain. If he cannot go, Matt Schaub will start. The 38-year-old Schaub hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2013, and last started any NFL game in 2015 (with Baltimore).
  • The NFC East showdown between the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles turned into a blowout, as Dallas dominated 37-10. While it doesn’t just come down to injuries, Dallas did get star left tackle Tyron Smith back, along with wide receiver Amari Cooper, and the offense surged after some poor weeks without Smith in the linuep. The Eagles played without left tackle Jason Peters and are still without wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and their offense struggled to keep up.
  • The Indianapolis Colts continue to surprise, and moved into first place in the AFC South with a home win over the Houston Texans. Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw for a career high in both yards (326) and touchdowns (4) in the win.
  • The injury to Patrick Mahomes on Thursday night was potentially crushing for Kansas City, but everything that happened after that worked out for the Chiefs. They immediately recovered a fumble for the touchdown to jump to a big lead on Denver on the way to victory. Then, Oakland and the Chargers also lost on Sunday. Combine that with the weekend news that Mahomes could be back after missing only three weeks, and Kansas City is still in great playoff shape. They have a 1.5-game lead over Oakland and 3-game lead over the Chargers and Broncos and will likely still be in first place even if they lose a couple of games.
  • Winning teams so far in Week 7 had four turnovers, total, in 13 games. Nine of the 13 winners scored at least 30 points.
  • Houston head coach Bill O’Brien took an intentional safety against Indianapolis with 2:44 left in the game, down by 5 (to make it a 7-point deficit). While there may be some cases when an intentional safety makes sense to improve field position, setting up a scenario where you only go to overtime with a touchdown (or go for a two-point conversion) seems like a bad tradeoff for a little better field position.

Early Look-Ahead to Week 8 Key Matchups

Philadelphia Eagles at Buffalo Bills

Buffalo’s schedule has been less than daunting, with the five teams they have beaten going 6-26 so far on the season. Philadelphia looks like the second-toughest test for the Bills (after playing New England at home) so far, but the Eagles come limping into the game off a terrible performance against Dallas. Is it too early to call this a must-win for the Eagles? A loss puts them at 3-5 in a tough NFC, and they need to stay within range of Dallas until they meet again in Week 16.

Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers won an ugly, muddy, rain-soaked game in Washington 9-0. It’s the first time a team has shutout an opponent but failed to cover the spread since the Pittsburgh-Miami rain game in 2007 on Monday Night Football. San Francisco’s defense has now allowed only 64 points all year.

The Panthers and quarterback Kyle Allen get their toughest test of the season going to San Francisco. Carolina is coming off the bye week at 4-2, which has them just one-half game out of wildcard position entering Week 8.

Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs 

This one could have been one of the marquee matchups of the year, featuring Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes. Alas, we now get Matt Moore at quarterback for Kansas City, but the game still has big playoff implications and will be the Sunday night showcase. The early line has Green Bay as a 4-point favorite on the road, but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has had plenty of success with backup quarterbacks in the past.

Aaron Rodgers is coming off one of the best games of his career, and now gets the Chiefs’ defense. It was a unit that had struggled in recent weeks, until showing up in a big way last Thursday after Mahomes’ injury.

Until Next Week…

Enjoy NFL Week 8, and if you’re in an NFL pool or planning on betting some of the Week 8 games, please check out our NFL Survivor PicksFootball Pick’em Picks, and NFL Betting Picks.