NFL Week 8 Preview

By David McDonnell 

After this weekend, we will be approaching the half-way point of the season and from now on every match-day the fixtures take on more importance as the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders.

So let’s get right into it. 

49ers @ Rams

Perhaps the best match-up in Week 8 concerns one of the best rivalries between two teams that have grown to hate each other.  They say familiarity breeds contempt and this will be the fourth time the neighboring California sides will meet in 2022. 

The form guide is on the side of the 49ers who are going for their eighth regular season win on the trot against their rival Rams, who upturned the form book to win that mattered most in the NFC Championship game in late January on route to their Superbowl win.

This season both sides have performed way below expectations but a divisional win here could give either the momentum to get their season back on track in pursuit of post-season success.  

The 49ers need to win this game. 

With a record of 3-4, a loss on Sunday would put them at least two games behind the Rams, who have played a game less in the NFC West and potentially three games behind the Seahawks, who compete against the Giants in Week 8. More on that game to follow. 

San Francisco has turned in Jekyll and Hyde performances so far.  Some weeks they have looked like genuine Superbowl contenders and when fit they possess in my book the best defence in the NFL with play-makers on all three levels. I would also state that they have a Top 5 offensive line in terms of talent and have great attacking options in both the run and pass game with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. 

Where they have struggled is getting their best players on the field healthy at the same time.  Last week saw the return of Nick Bosa, Trent Williams and Jimmie Ward but they are without Arik Armstead and Dre Greenlaw, while Javon Kinlaw, Maurice Hurst and Azeez Al-Shaair all remain on injured reserve. This week on offence they are down Deebo, full-back Kyle Juszczyk and Jauan Jennings.

But even with their injuries San Francisco has a better starting team than most in the NFL.

Where the 49ers also struggle in my opinion is at quarterback with Jimmy Garoppolo. All consistent readers of my column will know, I probably throw more shade at him than most any quarterback in the league and it’s because 

I’ve seen enough of him to believe that when the pressure comes on, he is not good enough to put the team on his back and win because of him. 

e will be under pressure on Sunday against the Rams and so will his head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch since the addition of Christian McCaffrey in that blockbuster trade. Undoubtedly they overpaid for McCaffery, especially when you think James Robinson was traded for what could at most end up as a fifth round pick.

I wrote last week that I thought that McCaffery will be a super signing if he can stay fit, as he will suit the zone running scheme that Shanahan runs very successfully, as well as giving quarterback Garoppolo an outstanding passing option out of the backfield.

He has had about 10 days to digest the playbook and especially with Deebo out, he is likely to be on the field for a lot of snaps and be heavily involved in both the passing and running attack. 

As is said, he should prove a good signing if he can keep healthy but that is a big if for a player who has missed most of the last two years and as he is small bodied as running-backs go, his body hasn’t been able to take the punishment like bigger backs.  

He is also likely to see quite a lot of the ball as the owners that are in San Francisco will want to prove their decision to acquire him. I wouldn’t be overly surprised if it results in him being banged up. 

Interestingly, one of the teams that tried to sign McCaffrey from Carolina were the LA Rams. 

They still have much the same cast that won the Superbowl but they have not got near that level yet this season, which see them with a record of 3-3. They are missing the pass rushing talent of Von Miller and they have not been their physically dominant selves on defence. 

The Rams certainly have the capacity to improve and coming off their bye week, they should be fresh and focused to play their biggest rivals in SoFi Stadium. They are coming into this game under the radar which will suit them. 

On offence Matt Stafford has struggled to link up with most of his receiving corps not named Cooper Kupp. Although last time out he did start to build chemistry with Allen Robinson, who had five catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. Van Jefferson also returns this week so their offence is starting to look like it could slowly be coming together. They are also in the process of shopping Cam Akers and will likely bring in another running-back before the trade window closes at 4 pm EST next Tuesday. 

So who is going to win on Sunday? 

Last weekend the 49ers gave up 44 points to the Chiefs but entering the fourth quarter there were only five points separating the sides. With a full team I would fancy San Francisco to win as they are very physical on both sides of the ball. 

I expect Shanahan to attempt to run the ball down the Rams’ throat but at some stage, Jimmy G will have to make the throws to win the game. And in a tight game, I don’t trust him to excel when it matters most. For that reason I am going with a home win for the Rams. 

A loss will ramp up the pressure on everyone in San Fran. Luckily, they have their bye week coming up next week which couldn’t come sooner.  I think we’ll see a healthier and stronger team emerge for the second half of their season. Lose on Sunday and they will have a lot of ground to make up. 

Giants @ Seahawks

This is a very difficult game to call between two sides who have surprised everyone this season with their competitiveness and consistency. Another thing the Giants and Seahawks have in common is that they want to run the ball as their primary mode of attack.

In New York Sequon Barkley has been sensational. 

He has carried the team and has made the difference in every game so far. We are not even halfway through the season and he has over 900 yards from scrimmage. What has been concerning of late is that he left the field with injuries only to return in the fourth quarter. 

Another aspect of the Giants attack has been Brian Daboll tailoring the game-plan so that Daniel Jones does not have to beat you from the pocket with his arm. He is consistently using his legs to extend drives and pick up first downs. They are also using play action to great effect.  How about this for a start! Jones uses play action on 35% of his drop-backs, the highest in the NFL. 

The plan for every team facing the Giants is to stop their run game and make them find another way to beat you. With Seattle defence ranking 29th out of 32 teams when defending  against the run, it is unlikely to happen this weekend. 

The Giants will be missing right-tackle Evan Neal, as well as rookie tight-end Daniel Bellinger but the Giants will go as Sequon goes.  

Interestingly, the Giants defence is 28th against the run this season so the teams are well matched and it is rookie running-back Kenneth Williams who has been the shining-star for the Seahawks and he has been rewarded with our Rookie of the Week for the last two weeks consecutively.

Where I think Seattle has the edge for this encounter is at the most pivotal position: quarterback. 

Geno Smith is playing at a level that few if anyone outside of the Seahawks building believed he was capable of before this season. But he has comfortably been one of the top 10 performers in the QB role across the league this season. Every week he has played with authority and put the ball on the money for his receivers to make big plays. 

I think I have tipped against the Giants almost every week when I have previewed one of their weekend match-ups. Yet they keep surprising me. I still think their roster is lacking in a number of areas. This is a tough call but I think I will go with Geno and the hometown Seahawks. I gotta call it correct sometime, right?

Patriots @ New York Jets

The Jets have an awful record against the Patriots and the last time they beat the Pats was in 2015, which is pretty embarrassing when it’s against a divisional rival that you play twice a year.

This time they have as good a chance as any.  

At the moment they have five wins, which have come from a high performing defence led by Quinnen Williams up front but they have play-makers with Kwon Alexander and C.J. Mosley at linebacker and the rookie Sauce Gardner living up to his billing after being the fourth player off the board at this year’s draft.

Their run game has been consistent and rookie Breece Hall was lighting up the NFL until his season was cut short by injury last weekend against Denver, where they also lost their best offensive lineman in Alijah Vera-Tucker. Losing either is a blow but losing both could be season defining. 

That the Jets went out and brought in a veteran James Robinson who was playing very well in Jacksonville early in the season is a great move. This could have an impact against a Patriots defence, which struggled majoring against the rushing attack in Chicago on Monday Night Football. That blueprint on how to beat New England is there for the jets to follow and I expect this will be Plan A and Plan B on how they will approach the game on Sunday. 

Although the Jets have won their last four since Zach Wilson’s return from injury, I am still waiting for him to light it up against a defence in the NFL. With Garret Wilson an extra week fitter after a recent injury, I hope to see this young duo build up a connection on Sunday.

As for the Patriots, I have no idea which way Bill Belichick will decide to go at quarterback against the Jets.

Mac Jones threw a terrible interception on Monday in the second quarter against the Bears and he spent the rest of the night on the sideline. Bailey Zappe came and initially lit up Foxboro but struggled to get any momentum in the second half where he was involved in three turnovers.

As exciting as Zappe could potentially be, for this game if I was Belichick I would go with Mac Jones. Jones has been out for a number of weeks with injury but he impressed me in his rookie season and I believe he has the poise and temperament to start in the NFL over the next number of years. 

He is certainly under pressure as Zappe has got many of the New England faithful already hoping he is the second coming of Tom Brady. He does look exciting but I think too early to be putting the pressure of the most successful quarterback ever to play the game on the shoulders of a rookie. Let him keep learning his trade as a professional and wait for his next chance to impress. I think it would be a sensible approach. 

Should Belichick go with Zappe for this game, it all but sends a loud signal to every team that Mac Jones might be on the trading block before it closes on Tuesday. However, with four or five highly regarded candidates coming out next year, it is hard to see which team would be the most likely trading partner. If I was to hazard a guess, I could see New Orleans trading a second and maybe Detroit being interested.

The Patriots have had success recently running the ball and using play action to good effect. I expect them to keep handing the rock to Rhamondre Stevenson, in the hope of wearing this Jets defence down. With Damien Harris getting healthier after his recent injury, he could provide the change of pace to do damage on extended drives. 

So let me get off the fence and make a call. 

Last week the Jets really struggled on offence against the Broncos and scored the winning touchdown thanks to a sublime bit of magic by Breece Hall. I can’t see them winning too many games in the NFL with a similar attacking performance. 

I expect this will be a relatively low scoring affair with the side that breaks 20 points likely to win. I believe the team more likely to do this are the Patriots.

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