Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
As we approach the midway point of the season we still have five teams that have yet to lose a game, which is the most since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The Broncos, Packers, Panthers and Bengals all sit at 6-0 while the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots are 7-0 after easily dispatching the Dolphins on Thursday night. All five of them are currently sitting on the peak of Mount NFL looking down at the cluttered mass of defeated teams beneath them.
However, things are about to change this week. At least one of these teams is guaranteed to lose as the Broncos square off with the Packers on Sunday Night Football. Short of the guaranteed blemish coming to one of those two teams’ perfect record, each of the other three teams have some serious opponents to get through to reach 7-0 heading into Week 9. And on top of those games, there are a few others that will be great to watch as well. So as usual, let’s take a look at the five games you don’t want to miss in Week 8.
1. Green Bay Packers @ Denver Broncos – Sunday – 8:30 p.m. ET
You might be surprised to learn that Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers have only met once in their careers and it came in 2008 during Rodgers’ first year starting for the Packers. The Packers beat the Colts in that one 34-14, but needless to say, we’ll be seeing two vastly different teams and two entirely different quarterbacks than the guys who suited up back in 2008. Rodgers has ascended to NFL quarterbacking royalty and is considered by many to be the best in the business, while Manning has struggled mightily this season and has been buoyed by his defense en route to their undefeated 6-0 start to the year.
The story in this one is actually less Manning vs. Rodgers than it is Rodgers vs. the Broncos defense, who have been stifling all season long. This will be a fascinating matchup to watch unfold and to see if Rodgers and the Packers can solve Wade Phillips’ diabolical defense. It still needs to be noted that the Packers defense isn’t going to let Manning and Co. walk all over them this week. They have allowed the fewest points of any team in the NFL and have only three sacks less than the Broncos with 23 this season. This one feels like it’ll be close all the way through and it’ll come down to a final drive where one of these two revered quarterbacks has the game and their team’s undefeated record on their shoulders.
2. Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Sunday – 1:00 p.m. ET
Big Ben is back, and just in time to take on Andy Dalton and the big bad Cincinnati Bengals. Roethlisberger was absolutely lights out before he went down with a knee injury in Week 3 in a game against the St. Louis Rams. The Steelers managed to go 2-2 in Big Ben’s absences, which is probably the best Steelers fans could have hoped for. Now the 4-3 Steelers can reassert themselves as NFC North contenders with a win over the high-flying Bengals.
The Bengals had a much deserved week off last week and look to pick up where they left off on both sides of the ball. We’re officially running out of superlatives for Andy Dalton’s play, who has thrown 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions and has looked stellar while doing it.
Both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati’s defenses are susceptible to bad games and they rank 23nd and 21st in average yards allowed per game, respectively, so there could be some fireworks offensively in this one. How close this game is will depend in large part on how healthy Big Ben actually is, but it’ll be great to see him back on the field and fun to see these two AFC North contenders square off.
3. New York Jets @ Oakland Raiders – Sunday – 4:05 p.m. ET
The Jets and the Raiders are playing meaningful games in November? Who would have thought? Believe it or not, this is a game that could have widespread and long-lasting implications in the AFC by the time it’s all said and done. The Jets sit at 4-2 and even though they lost to the Patriots and the chances of them winning their division are beyond slim, they still have a very real chance at a wild card berth. The same is true of the Oakland Raiders, who have been a blast to watch offensively as rookie Amari Cooper and sophomore quarterback Derek Carr continue to gel and make defenses rue playing the Oakland Raiders.
Both of these teams have new coaches, both have been colossal disappointments in years past, and both have a real chance to shed their historic failings and do something special. But first, they need to win this Sunday.
4. Indianapolis Colts @ Carolina Panthers – Monday – 8:30 p.m. ET
The Panthers have dispatched some quality opponents over the last few weeks in the Eagles and the Seahawks and have proved to the doubters that they are a force to be reckoned with in the NFC this year. This week they’re on Monday Night Football and get to show America what they’ve got on football’s biggest stage. At first glance this seems like it could be a trap game for Carolina, but a quick look at the stats says otherwise.
The Panthers have been one of the most dominant secondaries in football this year, limiting passers to a league low 67.0 passer rating against them and a league low five touchdowns allowed passing thus far. That could spell trouble for Andrew Luck and the Colts offense, who have struggled mightily this year to do much of anything on the ground or through the air with any consistency.
Still, it somehow feels like Luck is going to break out of his slump at some point, and as we already discussed, there’s no better time to do it than on Monday Night Football. Doing it against a great defense like the Panthers’ would be a statement as well that the 3-4 Colts aren’t quite dead yet.
5. Seattle Seahawks @ Dallas Cowboys – Sunday – 4:25 p.m. ET
It’s Week 8 and neither the Seahawks nor the Cowboys are where they had hoped to be at this point of the season. The story of the Cowboys’ season has been injuries to Dez Bryant and Tony Romo, the former of which looks like he’ll be suiting up against the Seahawks, albeit in a limited capacity. Meanwhile the story of the Seahawks’ season has been inconsistent play, a bad offensive line, and an ineffective and often ignored Jimmy Graham, all of which are contributing to the defending NFC champs’ 3-4 record. Sure, they looked good against the 49ers, but everybody looks good against the 49ers.
Both teams absolutely must avoid a dreaded fifth loss if they’re going to keep their postseason hopes alive. If you’re looking for a high scoring affair this probably wont be the game for you. Seattle’s offensive line can’t block anything right now, which means that the Cowboys’ newest acquisition Greg Hardy could be in for a big game.
Seattle’s offensive woes still don’t compare to the issues the Cowboys have had since Tony Romo exited the lineup. Matt Cassel was pretty bad after replacing Brandon Weeden last week and will likely struggle mightily against the Seahawks’ smothering defense.
The reason this game cracks the top five this week is because what it will lack in points, it makes up for in importance for each team. Expect a low-scoring, but thrilling game, from two teams whose seasons are essentially on the line in this one.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for either of his other three teams.