In The First Read, Jeffri Chadiha provides a snapshot of the hottest stories and trends heading into Week 9 of the 2023 NFL season, including:
But first, a look at five season-altering wins from Week 8 ...
We knew Week 8 of this NFL season was going to give us plenty to ponder. There were too many intriguing matchups, too many teams that had teased us with their potential and even more that had put themselves in difficult positions. This was bound to be a week where we learned a lot about where this season was heading for certain franchises. It also was going to be an opportunity to see which teams really needed to stop fooling themselves and start thinking about next year.
Yes, fortunes can change on any given week in this league. That belief only means so much if teams can't find consistency and a way to string together some wins. The franchises worth believing in have a way of creating that stability as they move deeper into the season. The others just start fading away as their flaws become too burdensome to ultimately overcome.
So, as we dissect what just happened this past Sunday, this week's version of The First Read will put the spotlight on five wins that could end up being season-altering as we move into winter. Each one is impactful for its own reasons, but they all said a lot about those that were victorious. Here's the list ...
It’s time to start buying into the idea that something magical is happening around the Jets. They just pulled out a 13-10 overtime win over their crosstown rivals in a game they easily would’ve lost in the past. That’s how you know there’s some good juju circulating around this franchise, which has now gone seven weeks without injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers in uniform. Sunday’s win improved the Jets’ record to 4-3 and gave them real hope of making a run at a playoff spot. That’s because they will face the Chargers and Raiders in the next two weeks, both of which are winnable games. If they can get the kind of breaks they received on Sunday -- like when Graham Gano missed a 35-yarder late in the fourth quarter that could’ve sealed a Giants win -- they have a decent shot of sitting at 6-3 with plenty of football left to be played. That seemed like a pipe dream a month ago. Now it feels like the Jets are onto something -- that if they can play good enough defense and run the football effectively and find a handful of productive plays from quarterback Zach Wilson, they can manufacture a win somehow. We’re long past the point of caring how it looks for this team. They’re going to have to win ugly to win at all and they’ve clearly learned how to embrace that approach.
The guy who writes this column each week is the same one who said the Bengals were worth trusting when they went into their bye at 3-3. Look at them now. Cincinnati just went into San Francisco and secured a 31-17 win over a San Francisco squad that is going through some major adversity. A lot of people will talk about how the 49ers have dropped three straight games after jumping out to an impressive 5-0 start. The better story is what the Bengals are becoming after losing their first two games of the year. This was their most complete effort of the season, with quarterback Joe Burrow completing 88 percent of his passes, Joe Mixon leading a rejuvenated running game and the defense forcing three turnovers. Cincinnati is in the midst of a crucial stretch, one that includes games against the Bills, Ravens, Steelers and Jaguars over the next five weeks. If the Bengals want to make a serious run at another divisional title and possibly a first-round bye, this is the gauntlet they’ll have to overcome. Sunday’s win in San Francisco was evidence that they’re up to the challenge.
This 43-20 win was more about optics. This was about Dallas finally putting on an offensive explosion that told us this team can dominate on that side of the football. It helped that the Rams lost starting quarterback Matthew Stafford to a thumb injury in the third quarter, but his presence wasn’t going to help the Los Angeles defense. The Cowboys had it going in a big way on Sunday and they’re going to need more of that firepower moving forward. Quarterback Dak Prescott easily had his best game of the year (304 yards and four touchdown passes), while wide receiver CeeDee Lamb enjoyed a career day with 12 receptions for 158 yards and two touchdowns. The defense did its part once again -- cornerback DaRon Bland continues to be a revelation with his third pick-six of the year -- but we all know that side of the football has juice. The difference between the Cowboys being scary and being overrated is what happens on offense. They took a huge step forward with what they showed against Los Angeles.
Jacksonville is the best team nobody is talking about in this league. The Jaguars have won five straight games -- including that 20-10 victory over Pittsburgh -- and they’re already a safe bet to have the AFC South crown wrapped up before Christmas. They don’t get as much love as the other contenders, but there’s also a reason for that: They haven’t really produced a win that provides a full sense of what they can be. Jacksonville has been playing through injuries to quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the offensive line and some key defensive starters. It’s a credit to the Jags and head coach Doug Pederson that they’ve been able to keep thriving without putting together a complete game to date. The good news is that they’re going to get healthier and their defense is the most opportunistic in football (leading the league with 18 takeaways). The Jaguars proved last season that they could play their best in December and January. They might be starting that process much earlier this time around.
Seattle needed this 24-20 win for a variety of reasons. The most obvious is that it pushed the Seahawks past the 49ers and into first place in the NFC West with a 5-2 record. Another factor was the play of quarterback Geno Smith, who had been struggling with turnovers lately but still managed to lead the game-winning touchdown drive in the final minute on Sunday. Just as importantly, the Seahawks are nearing a stretch that will very much define what they’re going to be by season’s end. Over the next seven weeks, they’ll see the Ravens, 49ers (twice), Cowboys and Eagles. That’s a road that is much easier to go down when you’ve shown you can win in different ways. On Sunday, Seattle blew an early 14-point lead and needed a huge defensive play by safety Jamal Adams -- who tipped a PJ Walker pass with his helmet that led to the interception that set up that game-winning drive -- to ultimately thrive. Like some of the other teams on this list, Seattle provided an effort that wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done. The Seahawks really only had one impressive win going into Sunday’s game (a Week 2 victory at Detroit). Now they can say they have two.
Tyreek Hill is enjoying a transcendent season, but Brown isn’t too far behind. The Eagles' star receiver has been unstoppable ever since his well-documented sideline tantrum in Week 2, when he obviously wasn’t happy about his opportunities. Brown now has produced six consecutive games with at least 125 receiving yards, which breaks the league record previously held by Calvin Johnson. He racked up 130 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions in Philadelphia’s win over Washington.
You’re definitely going to make this list when you throw four touchdown passes in your first NFL game. Levis did just that, as he supplied everything the Titans' offense had been lacking prior to his debut. A team that had been searching for big plays in the passing game suddenly found them in abundance. DeAndre Hopkins enjoyed his best performance of the season, with 128 yards and three touchdowns on four receptions. The Titans may be on the verge of a roster house-cleaning, but Levis gave this franchise a reason to be optimistic about the near future.
The initial prognosis, after Ramsey underwent knee surgery in training camp in late July, was that the Dolphins wouldn’t see the star cover man back on the field until December. The severity of his torn meniscus turned out to be not as bad as anticipated, which allowed him to return to play in Sunday’s win over New England. It was a big lift to Miami’s defense to see Ramsey intercept a pass in his first game back. Even more critical is the timing of his return. The Dolphins face the Chiefs in a huge conference matchup in Germany this coming Sunday. Ramsey’s presence should be a major factor in how that game plays out.
Every NFL quarterback faces tough times at some point, and Purdy is mired in his worst stretch of football as a professional. He didn’t have an interception through his first five games of this season. He’s now thrown five in the last three games, all losses. He tossed two picks in Sunday’s defeat to Cincinnati while also losing a fumble. There are a lot of issues festering around the 49ers latey, but what’s also becoming clearer is that Purdy isn’t the kind of quarterback who can overcome those problems.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith replaced Ridder with Taylor Heinicke in the second half of Sunday's 28-23 loss to the Titans. Ridder cleared concussion testing and Smith said in the postgame that he still has "a lot of confidence" in the second-year QB, but the coach clearly had seen enough on Sunday. Ridder was sacked five times in the first half and threw for just 71 yards. He’s committed seven turnovers over the last three games. Heinicke also is an experienced veteran who was signed to be insurance in case Ridder struggled. The in-game change could become a permanent one if Ridder doesn't clean up his play real quick.
All-Pro wide receiver Justin Jefferson already is on injured reserve and now quarterback Kirk Cousins is done for the season with a torn Achilles suffered in Minnesota's 24-10 win at Green Bay. The Vikings were moving in the right direction over the previous two weeks, with a Monday night win over San Francisco building some optimism about turning around a frustrating season. Now, despite winning by two touchdowns over the Packers on Sunday, it’s hard to see them rebounding from the loss of Cousins, who was playing sensational football. Barring something unforeseen, the free agent-to-be has officially played his last game for that franchise.
UPDATE: The Arizona Cardinals are trading quarterback Joshua Dobbs to the Minnesota Vikings, NFL Network Insiders Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero reported on Tuesday. The Vikings also receive a 2024 seventh-round pick in exchange for a 2024 sixth-rounder.
SUNDAY'S BIGGEST SURPRISE
Denver Broncos' defense. The Broncos finally broke that 16-game losing streak to Kansas City and they did it with another strong defensive effort. Denver forced five turnovers (with one coming on a muffed punt), sacked Patrick Mahomes three times and limited the Chiefs to only nine points. This is now the third straight game in which a defense that had been historically awful through its first five contests -- and gave up 70 points to Miami -- has shown vast improvement. The Broncos have allowed just 45 points over the past three weeks, including 28 to Kansas City in two meetings. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph deserves serious respect for turning this unit around.
- New York Jets at New York Giants: The Jets were on the verge of losing late before finding a way to win in overtime.
- Houston Texans at Carolina Panthers: A last-second field goal gives first overall pick Bryce Young his first victory in the NFL.
- Cleveland Browns at Seattle Seahawks: Geno Smith rallies Seattle to victory against Cleveland's vaunted defense in the final minute.
MOST INTRIGUING GAME OF WEEK 9
There is a lot to love about this Week 9 game in Frankfurt, Germany, starting with the fact that it will play a serious role in who lands the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Both teams are 6-2 coming in and there should be plenty of offense. The Dolphins boast the most explosive unit in football, while the Chiefs have the best player in the game in quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Of course, there’s also the Tyreek Hill factor. This will be the first time the Dolphins wide receiver will face his former team since he was traded away after the 2021 season.
One question answered by an unnamed team source.
How is Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill able to get so wide open every week?
AFC scout: He's obviously an amazing talent, but it's like all these wide receivers today: They use the rules against the defensive backs. You have fewer "lockdown" cornerbacks today because they can't put their hands on receivers like they used to. It's hard to play physical and re-route a guy because hand checks now draw flags. Receivers are out there playing 7-on-7 and running free through zones. Nobody practices tackling anymore, so he's catching the ball in open space and at full speed. You see it every week in this league. You've got All-Pro cornerbacks getting beaten by undrafted free agents who've got no business even getting off the line against them. And you've got quarterbacks who have more time to create those explosive plays because of the reduced threat of getting hit or defenders pulling up on them. Tyreek is great, but it's also a different game today.
A simple ranking of the top five candidates, which will be updated weekly, depending on performance. Here is how it stands heading into Week 9 (with Caesars Sportsbook odds as of 8:30 a.m. ET on Oct. 30):
- Caesars odds: +330
- Weeks in top five: 8
- Next game: vs. Chiefs (in Germany) | Sunday, Nov. 5
- Caesars odds: +500
- Weeks in top five: 2
- Next game: vs. Seahawks | Sunday, Nov. 5
- Caesars odds: +15000
- Weeks in top five: 1
- Next game: vs. Cowboys | Sunday, Nov. 5
- Caesars odds: +330
- Weeks in top five: 8
- Next game: vs. Dolphins (in Germany) | Sunday, Nov. 5
- Caesars odds: +5000
- Weeks in top five: 4
- Next game: vs. Chiefs (in Germany) | Sunday, Nov. 5
My slowly evolving Super Bowl LVIII pick, which also will be updated each week, depending on performances: Eagles over Bengals.
Previous picks ...
- Week 7: 49ers over Dolphins
- Week 6: 49ers over Dolphins
- Week 5: 49ers over Dolphins
- Week 4: 49ers over Bills
- Week 3: 49ers over Dolphins
- Week 2: 49ers over Bills
- Week 1: 49ers over Dolphins