The Pittsburgh Steelers overcame the loss of kicker Chris Boswell for the whole second half as they beat the Cleveland Browns 15-10 on Sunday.

D'Ernest Johnson rushed 10 yards for the game's first touchdown in the third quarter to put Cleveland seemingly in control at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Steelers' chances were already damaged by the loss of Boswell to a concussion following a huge hit from Browns tackle Jordan Elliot, but Najee Harris' touchdown closed the gap to a point.

Ben Roethlisberger threw two yards on fourth down for Pat Freiermuth to earn the decisive score with a little over 11 minutes on the clock.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett came in costume as the Grim Reaper to mark October 31, his cape inscribed with the names of his sacked quarterbacks, but it was the Steelers' trick play that proved far from a treat in the first half: Boswell took a direct snap from 28 yards and, after rolling right and throwing for the end zone, he took a powerful hit from Elliot.

After rookie Harris had dragged Pittsburgh back into contention following Johnson's score, Roethlisberger, who is now 24-3-1 in career starts against the Browns, made his mark.

The 38-year-old, who finished 22 of 34 for 266 yards, almost saw his two-yard pass fumbled by Freiermuth but the tight end recovered to land both feet in the end zone.

By contrast, Jarvis Landry's handling let him down as he was stripped by Joe Schobert with a little over six minutes left.

The 4-4 Browns will hope for better next time out against the 5-3 Bengals, who were stunned by a New York Jets 34-31 comeback win in which Mike White threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns on his first NFL start.

Rams rout Texans, Lions looking toothless

The Philadelphia Eagles ran in four touchdowns as they snapped a two-game losing streak to crush the Detroit Lions.

As coach of the NFL's only winless team after eight straight defeats, Dan Campbell will head into a bye week to try to arrest a terrible run of results that culminated in Sunday's 44-6 loss, in which the Lions only got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.

The Houston Texans (1-7) are faring little better, their 38-22 loss to the Los Angeles Rams (7-1) looking only a little more respectable after they ran in 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, Davis Mills throwing for 310 yards and two touchdowns.

49ers down Bears through sensational Samuel

The San Francisco 49ers improved to 3-4 after a 33-22 defeat of the Chicago Bears in which Deebo Samuel set pulses racing with a spectacular 83-yard catch-and-run.

After being denied an apparent touchdown for being ruled out of bounds, Samuel's run still allowed Jimmy Garoppolo to score from two yards out just a handful of plays later to cut the Bears' advantage.

Not only did Samuel produce the Niners' longest play of the season, he passed Jerry Rice for the most receiving yards for the franchise across the first seven games of an NFL season.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley is taking a break from his NFL career to give attention to his "mental wellbeing", the 26-year-old announced on Sunday.

Ridley missed the 19-13 defeat to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, with his team declaring Ridley inactive earlier in the day.

In a message posted on Twitter, Ridley said: "These past few weeks have been very challenging and as much as I'd like to be on the field competing with my teammates, I need to step away from football at this time and focus on my mental wellbeing.

"This will help me be the best version of myself now and in the future. I want to thank my teammates, the entire Atlanta Falcons organisation, our great fans, my friends, and my family for all of their support during this time."

Ridley missed the recent trip to London to face the New York Jets at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with a personal matter also being cited by the team on that occasion.

The circumstances behind his off-field struggles have not been disclosed.

Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was asked after the Panthers game about Ridley's situation and said: "I'll let Calvin speak for himself. It's a personal issue.

"Calvin's dealing with something personal and it's going to remain personal my end."

Ridley was the 26th pick in the 2018 draft and has had 31 receptions for 281 yards and two touchdowns so far in the 2021 season, playing five games to date.

Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy will miss Sunday's game with the San Francisco 49ers as he remains in coronavirus quarantine.

Nagy tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, leaving special teams coordinator Chris Tabor to take charge of practice this week.

And it is Tabor who will take the reins on Sunday as the Bears look to improve to 4-4 in a meeting with the 2-4 Niners.

Tabor is in his 14th season as an NFL assistant and must use that experience to lead the Bears to victory in a game between two teams fighting to stay alive in the NFC playoff picture.

The Bears follow the Arizona Cardinals in being without their head coach for a game because of COVID issues.

Arizona defeated the Cleveland Browns in Week 6 in a game coach Kliff Kingsbury missed after testing positive.

The Bears won their most recent meeting with the 49ers in 2018 but have lost two of their previous three home games against San Francisco.

SoFi Stadium will play host to Super Bowl LVI in February and, as the NFL season enters its eighth week, both teams that call it home have a chance of competing on the grandest stage in North American sport for the chance to lift the Lombardi Trophy.

However, it would be fair to still have doubts around the Chargers after they slumped to a 34-6 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6.

The Chargers have had a bye week to stew and try to wash off the stink of a performance they will be all too eager to forget; however, getting back on track may not be straightforward.

Indeed, the Chargers on Sunday host a 3-4 New England Patriots team who have lost three of their games by one score.

The Patriots rank 11th in Stats Perform's efficiency versus expected (EVE) metric, which looks at down, distance, yards from goal, quarter, time remaining, and score difference and uses those six factors to train a model to predict yardage output for any game situation. From there, the projected yards are compared to the actual yards gained or prevented in those situations.

That is eight spots higher than the Chargers, indicating that the Patriots have performed at a more efficient level than Los Angeles this season and should provide a stern test of their Super Bowl credentials.

It is easy to pin this game as a battle between last year's Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert and arguably the best first-year quarterback from this year's crop, Mac Jones.

But to do so ignores the several other factors that may decide this intriguing AFC clash.

Harris to make hay on the ground

In part reflective of the Patriots having played an extra game and having claimed two blowout wins over the New York Jets, who entered the week 31st in EVE, the difference between the Chargers and New England in offensive yards per play is negligible.

The Chargers are 16th in yards per play with 5.71 while the Patriots are 18th with 5.70.

Success for the Patriots on offense has often come as a result of the play of running back Damien Harris.

Harris is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games, rushing for three touchdowns across their overtime defeat to the Dallas Cowboys and a second win over the Jets.

Among running backs with at least 25 carries, Harris is 10th with an average of 2.26 yards after contact per attempt, running behind an offensive line that, per Stats Perform data, is 27th in run block win percentage. 

In other words, he is overcoming disappointing blocking and performing very efficiently, and this week he gets to face defense that is 29th in the NFL in run disruption rank. 

The Chargers are giving up 5.45 yards per rush, the most in the NFL, and if the Patriots are to keep up with an explosive Los Angeles offense, Harris will likely play a key role.

The Patriots' secondary struggles

Having conceded to being undone by the Ravens' defense and their use of disguise two weeks ago, Herbert faces another vaunted defensive schemer in Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

New England's defense entered Week 8 ranked eighth in yards allowed under expectation; however, their depleted secondary is vulnerable.

The Patriots are 15th in pass yards allowed under expectation and have given up 77 passes of 10 yards or more, the seventh most in the league.

Herbert's passer rating on throws of 21 or more air yards of 114.8 is eighth among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts of such distance.

And, with Mike Williams having already racked up eight receptions of 20 yards or more, the Chargers have a receiver who can consistently deliver the explosive plays that can tilt the contest firmly in the Chargers' favour.

Should he do so against the Patriots, Jones may find it difficult to put up the points stay in the game versus a Chargers defense featuring a name with which Belichick is extremely familiar.

Can Jones make right reads?

"It makes me feel old," Belichick replied when asked about Asante Samuel Jr, the son of the cornerback by the same name who played five seasons with the Patriots, winning the Super Bowl in 2003 and 2004 in a career that saw him twice lead the league in interceptions.

Belichick and the Patriots will surely be wary of Samuel, who has inherited his father's ball-hawking tendencies and already has two interceptions to his name since being taken in the second round of this year's draft by the Chargers.

Samuel is giving up a big play on only 21.1 per cent of his targets, comfortably the right side of the league average of 26 and has allowed a receiver to get open on just 13 of his 56 coverage matchups so far.

His efforts are a big part of why a Chargers defense that has struggled against the run came into the week sixth in pass yards allowed under expectation.

However, Belichick also had great praise for Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and his defensive system, which relies heavily on defenders matching the routes of their receivers but from a zone coverage look.

"Coach Staley does a really good job of keeping you off balance, and, again, we're going to have to make some good post-snap decisions on a lot of things, whether it's movement, rotations, how the coverage plays out," said Belichick. 

"They do a good job of matching routes. What looks like zone or what looks like some space closes very quickly in the passing game, and, again, they're very well-coached. They do a good job of, as the pattern develops, they just pounce on it. It really plays like man-to-man, but it's not man-to-man, but it turns out to be man-to-man. Those are challenging for the receivers and the quarterback because the match zones are tough."

That means Jones, who has done an excellent job of reading the field and getting the ball out quickly and is delivering a well-thrown ball on 82.8 per cent of his passes – tied second among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts entering Week 8 – will have a lot to decipher on Sunday.

It may be billed as Herbert versus Jones, but in reality, this clash is Harris against a struggling Chargers run defense, Herbert vs. Belichick and Jones and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels vs. Staley. Those subplots should make for a fascinating matchup that will be critical in the AFC playoff race.

Even in the wake of their Super Bowl LV loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Kansas City Chiefs entered the 2021 NFL season viewed by many as favourites to get back to the grandest stage and regain the Lombardi Trophy.

A banged-up offensive line that was dramatically overmatched against the Buccaneers' defensive front in their chastening February defeat in Tampa had been seemingly fixed by what looked an astute investment in both youth and experience in the trenches. Kansas City appeared poised to reassert themselves as a dominant power.

Yet the issue with using your resources primarily on one area is that other concerns can be swept under the rug, only to rear their head when attention turns back to competitive action.

That has proven the case for the Chiefs, who at 3-4 look anything but Super Bowl contenders, with a disappointing pass rush and the consistently poor play of an extremely vulnerable secondary resulting in a defensive performance that has seen them give up a league-high 6.57 yards per play.

Their defensive struggles have come combined with turnover problems for Patrick Mahomes and Co, meaning the Chiefs are some way short of the team that reached three successive AFC Championship Games.

Indeed, Kansas City entered Week 8 ranked 27th in Stats Perform's efficiency versus expected (EVE) model, which looks at down, distance, yards from goal, quarter, time remaining, and score difference and uses those six factors to train a model to predict yardage output for any game situation. From there, the projected yards are compared to the actual yards gained or prevented in those situations.

With the Chiefs performing at the level of a bottom-half team and arguably facing a make-or-break game against the New York Giants on Monday to even stay in the mix, who are the lead contenders for the Super Bowl? Stats Perform looked at the EVE rankings to identify the two AFC and NFC favourites.

AFC

1. Buffalo Bills

The Bills entered Week 8 ranked second by overall EVE, their drop from the top spot a result of them having a bye in Week 7.

At 4-2, the Bills have work to do to secure the top seed in the conference, but they have a compelling case for being the most complete team in the AFC.

Eighth in yards over expected on offensive plays, their average of 0.593 yards over the projected was bettered by only three AFC teams ahead of Week 8.

Meanwhile, on defense, the Bills are allowing 0.788 yards under expected, which put them second in the league behind the New Orleans Saints prior to Thursday Night Football.

Their ranking and their performances have served as a reflection of quarterback Josh Allen's ability to prove his gargantuan year-three leap was no fluke and the significant strides made by the defense through six games.

Six of the Bills' final 11 games are against teams ranked in the bottom half of the league via EVE, giving them a clear opportunity to recover from early slip-ups against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans and establish themselves as the cream of the AFC crop.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

However, the gold standard of the AFC and - according to EVE - of the league as a whole are the Cincinnati Bengals.

That is not a sentence many will have expected to read after Cincinnati's first seven games but, in a tightly packed conference, they are worthy of consideration as genuine contenders to go all the way.

Their position atop the league by EVE is built on an offense that is fifth overall with a yards-over-expected average of 0.699, the best in the AFC, and a defense ascending earlier than anticipated.

The Bengals are third in the NFL in yards allowed under expected, though they figure to be sternly tested on both sides of the ball down the stretch.

Indeed, the Bengals have two games against a Browns team ranked third overall as well as meetings with another top-10 team in the Las Vegas Raiders and a 2-4 San Francisco 49ers team whose ranking of 13th is not reflected by their record.

A rematch with the Baltimore Ravens and an offense that entered the week seventh in yards over expected looms in Week 16 and that slightly more difficult road compared to the Bills makes it tough to install the Bengals as AFC favourites.

There can ill-afford to be any let-up from Joe Burrow - fifth among quarterbacks with 100 pass attempts with a well-thrown ball percentage of 82.4 - and dominant rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase if the Bengals are to emerge as a legitimate threat to win it all, but their Week 7 win thrashing of the Ravens suggests they will be undaunted by the challenge.

NFC

1. Los Angeles Rams

The Rams' bet that Matthew Stafford's arrival would take them to the next level is proving a successful one to this point, with Los Angeles 6-1 and looking every bit a team ready to make a concerted push to play in a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

Sean McVay's team went into Week 8 fourth in EVE and as the class of the NFC, despite their heavy home defeat to the Arizona Cardinals back in Week 4.

After the malaise of Jared Goff's final year as quarterback, Stafford has elevated the offense to one that trailed only the Dallas Cowboys in yards over expected with an average of 0.965 pre Week 8.

That lift has been crucial in a year where the defense has, perhaps unsurprisingly, taken something of a downturn following offseason losses in the secondary and the departure of coordinator Brandon Staley.

Yet the Rams remain a top-half team on that side of the ball (11th in yards allowed under expected) and face a schedule that sees them take on just two top-10 teams by EVE the rest of the way.

They do have two games with a 49ers team the Rams have not beaten since 2018 but, analysing what they have produced so far and the tests to come for the Rams, it is difficult to envision an NFC Championship Game in which they do not feature.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Cardinals are the second-highest ranked NFC team after the Rams by EVE, occupying fifth spot overall prior to their defeat to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday.

Despite their 7-1 record, it is tough to make a case for the Cardinals over the defending champion Buccaneers, who approached Week 8 only just behind Arizona in sixth and have the benefit of an easier run-in.

In addition to facing those strange but potentially dangerous – if they ever put it together – 49ers in Week 9, the Cardinals must face the Rams again and have a meeting with a Cowboys team whose league-leading offensive effort had them ninth in EVE following the last slate of games.

While the Buccaneers have the significant challenge of facing the Bills in Week 14, a New Orleans Saints team 24th in offensive yards over expected are the only other remaining opponent on Tampa Bay's schedule in the EVE top 10.

The Bucs are 20 places higher than New Orleans on that side of the ball, with Tom Brady in the MVP conversation having thrown a league-leading 21 touchdowns through seven games.

Trust in the 44-year-old Brady and this Bucs offense continues to grow. By contrast, there are likely to be plenty of questions about the Cardinals after they fell short against a Packers team missing their three top wide receivers on Thursday.

The Rams and the Bucs are the best the NFC has to offer at this stage and, come the end of Week 8, the EVE rankings will likely reflect that.

Baker Mayfield will return from a shoulder injury for the Cleveland Browns in Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski confirmed the news on Friday after the quarterback missed their 17-14 win over the Denver Broncos in Week 7 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Mayfield's absence broke his streak of 51 consecutive starts for the Browns, but he will return after a one-week layoff.

"Medically, he’s ready to go," Stefanski told reporters on Friday, confirming Mayfield will start. "Our doctors, our trainers, the second opinions felt very comfortable about that.

"Baker's feels that he's ready. He feels he's ready to help this team win."

The 2018 NFL Draft top pick has been able to participate in three days of practice this week.

Case Keenum started in Mayfield's absence against the Broncos, completing 21 of 33 attempts for 199 yards and one touchdown.

Mayfield, who is in the fourth year of his five-year rookie deal, has thrown at 67.1 per cent this season for 1,474 yards, including six touchdowns and three interceptions.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers head into Week 8 with a 6-1 record, though their form will be tested against the New Orleans Saints.

Tom Brady threw for four touchdowns and 211 yards in the Bucs' 38-3 thrashing of the Chicago Bears last week, though Tampa Bay's recent record against the Saints is poor.

The Los Angeles Rams are also 6-1, and are looking to extend their strong start when they take on the Houston Texans, who are out to avoid a franchise first.

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase, meanwhile, have been linking up to superb effect for the Cincinnati Bengals, who are at the New York Jets on Sunday. 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-1) @ New Orleans Saints (4-2)

Tampa Bay may have picked up from where they left off last season, but their recent run against New Orleans has not been at all profitable.

New Orleans have won five straight games against NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, which is the longest active losing streak for the Buccaneers against any single opponent.

However, the Bucs did set franchise records for points in a first quarter with 21, and points in a first half with 35, in their 38-3 win over the Bears. The 21 first-quarter and 35 first-half points are also the most scored by any NFL team this season.

Mike Evans caught three touchdowns against the Bears with all of them coming in the first half. He joined Marvin Harrison, Marvin Jones Jr, Jerry Rice, and Sterling Sharpe as the only players since the merger to have multiple games with three first-half touchdown catches.

The Saints beat the Seattle Seahawks in their last outing, and had 35 passing attempts in that win. Both teams have combined to win 76.9 per cent of their games this season, the highest combined winning percentage that the teams have ever had when facing each other.

Los Angeles Rams (6-1) @ Houston Texans (1-6)

This will be only the fifth all-time meeting between the Texans and the Rams, and just the second game since the latter moved back to Los Angeles.

The Rams have outscored the Texans by an aggregate of 71-20 over the last two meetings, and, at 6-1, Los Angeles are enjoying their equal second-best start to a season this century, behind the 7-0 run in 2018.

They are also looking to win each of their first four road games of a season for the fourth time since 2000, having also done this in 2001, 2017 and 2018.

Matthew Stafford has thrown for 2,172 yards this season, the most by any Rams player in the team's first seven games of the season since Kurt Warner threw for 2,445 yards in the first seven games of 2000.

Houston, meanwhile, have lost six straight, with each of the last two losses coming by over 25 points. The Texans have not lost three straight games by at least 25 points in franchise history – the only team to do so in a single season in the last 25 years were the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) @ New York Jets (1-5)

The Bengals have won each of the last three meetings between these teams, matching their longest-ever win streak over the Jets (1973-81). Cincinnati's 23-22 win in New York in 2016 snapped a nine-game losing streak when visiting the Jets.

Cincinnati only managed four wins in 2020, but they surpassed that figure with a brilliant 41-17 victory in Baltimore last week, with quarterback Burrow and wide receiver Chase turning in stellar performances.

Burrow passed for a career-high 416 yards and tied a previous career high with three touchdown passes. It was his seventh consecutive game with multiple TD passes, tying a franchise record set twice before by Carson Palmer (2004-05 and 2010).

Chase, meanwhile, had 201 receiving yards, the most all-time by a Bengals rookie and the most by any rookie since Mike Evans had 209 in 2014. Chase's 754 receiving yards in 2021 ranks are the most by any player through seven career games in NFL history.

The Jets' 54-13 loss to the Patriots last week was their largest defeat since a 45-3 loss in Week 13 of the 2010 season, which also happened in New England. The 54 points are the fourth-most that New York have allowed in a single game and the most since 1980.

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions are still winless, going 0-7 so far, but could snap the losing streak against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions have won three straight against Philadelphia, with each of the last two games being decided by three points or fewer. 

Strugglers the Miami Dolphins travel to Buffalo. With two receiving yards on Sunday, Stefon Diggs will reach 2,000 as a Bill in just his 23rd game with the team. That would be tied for the second fewest games needed by any player with any single team in the Super Bowl era (Odell Beckham Jr. – 21 with the Giants, Vincent Jackson – 23 with Tampa Bay, Brandon Marshall – 23 with Chicago).

Fresh from their win over the Jets, the Patriots will aim to maintain the momentum against the Los Angeles Chargers, against whom they have five straight wins and are 16-3 in the last 19 meetings.

An AFC North clash sees the Browns (4-3) host the 3-3 Steelers. Pittsburgh have not won in Cleveland since 2017, as the teams tied in 2018 before the Browns won in 2019 and 2020.

The Arizona Cardinals acknowledged the impact of DeAndre Hopkins' injury-affected outing against the Green Bay Packers in their first defeat of the year, but Kyler Murray said his team should still have played better.

The Cardinals came into Thursday night's huge game against the Packers looking to stretch their unbeaten start to 8-0 – a new franchise record.

Instead, Arizona went down 24-21 to Green Bay, who also improved to 7-1.

A last-gasp Murray interception – his second of the night – decided the game, but the earlier absence of wide receiver Hopkins had restricted the Cards to that point.

Having been dealing with a hamstring injury heading into the Packers game, Hopkins went out for more than two quarters due to the same issue.

Hopkins caught both of his targets for two first downs and 66 yards, but he had averaged 6.7 targets and 4.7 receptions per game throughout the Cardinals' winning run.

The former Houston Texans wideout failed to add to his seven season touchdowns, with Arizona's three scores all coming across the ground.

Unable to look to Hopkins as often as he would like, quarterback Murray threw multiple picks and no TDs in a game for the first time in his career.

But the Packers were also without their elite WR Davante Adams, along with number two option Allen Lazard, and Aaron Rodgers was still able to lead Green Bay to victory.

Murray was reluctant to make excuses, saying: "Obviously, if you take the best receiver in the game out [Hopkins], it makes it a little tough, but I have confidence in everybody out there.

"I don’t want to make it about that. It wasn’t about that. We just didn't play up to our standards."

Coach Kliff Kingsbury was willing to highlight Hopkins' absence, however.

"He's pretty good," he said. "I mean, that's a big part of our offense having that guy."

Crucially, the Cardinals were also missing players on defense. Corey Peters is out with COVID-19 and Rashard Lawrence has a calf injury, while Zaven Collins went out with a shoulder injury late in the first half.

J.J. Watt was surely the team's biggest miss, though, after his own shoulder injury that is set to end his season.

"We've got to get Rashard and Corey Peters back," Kingsbury said. "Obviously, having those two guys out was not ideal with J.J. going out as well. But you can't replace a presence like that."

Aaron Rodgers declared his love for the Green Bay Packers squad after Rasul Douglas proved the unlikely hero in a stunning win over the Arizona Cardinals.

The short-handed Packers ended the Cardinals' perfect start to the season while extending their winning streak to seven games following a 24-21 victory in the NFL on Thursday.

With 12 seconds remaining, Douglas was on hand to thwart the home team as he snatched the ball in the corner of the end zone from Kyler Murray's pass.

Douglas, who was previously with the Cardinals' practice squad, was only in action in the absence of Jaire Alexander and Kevin King.

"This is why I love this squad," Rodgers told Fox.

"The guy who made the pick was with them for four weeks. He was on the street, we brought him in, he's starting for us.

"He's a great dude and he's really meshed well with our team, and to come up with a play like that with 15 seconds left is incredible."

Rodgers, without wide receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard, was 22-of-37 passing for 184 yards as Matt LaFleur's men got the job done in gritty fashion in Arizona.

"This is a scrappy team," Rodgers said. "This is a tough, physical, gritty team.

"I'm so proud of our guys. I'm so proud of our line. I'm having so much fun with these guys.

"We ran the ball well, we knew we could. It was tough in the passing game at times, but [Randall] Cobb came up with a couple big touchdown catches."

The red-hot Green Bay Packers ended the Arizona Cardinals' perfect start to the season while extending their winning streak to seven games following a 24-21 victory in the NFL on Thursday.

Kyler Murray's Cardinals had won seven consecutive games to open the season, but Arizona finally came unstuck against Aaron Rodgers and the high-flying Packers.

Rodgers (22-of-37 passing for 184 yards without an interception) threw two touchdown passes to Randall Cobb as the Packers held on to beat the Cardinals – playing for the first time without star defensive end JJ Watt – after Murray's stunning last-gasp interception.

Chase Edmonds' 11-yard run gave the Cardinals a first-quarter lead – the Arizona star had entered Week 8 with 397 rushing yards this season, the most by any player in the NFL without a rushing TD.

Rodgers and the Packers took control from that point as Jones' second-quarter TD run and Green Bay's superstar quarterback Rodgers' pass to Cobb in the third quarter put the visitors ahead 17-7.

James Conner did strike before the end of the third to close the gap to three points, though the Rodgers-Cobb combination struck again early in the fourth to make it 24-14 in the Packers' favour.

Conner's second rushing touchdown set up a thrilling finish but as the Cardinals attempted to rally to their eighth straight victory, Murray (22-of-33 passing for 274 yards, no TDs and two interceptions) threw an interception on second-and-goal with 12 seconds remaining – Rasul Douglas on hand to snatch the ball in the corner of the end zone.

Dallas Cowboys star Dak Prescott wants to suit up to play the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL this week but conceded whether he does is not "fully my decision".

Prescott is battling to overcome a calf strain in time for the Cowboys' clash with the Vikings in Minnesota on Sunday.

The Cowboys quarterback and two-time Pro Bowler has been limited to two days of practice.

"Knowing this is a long journey and a long season, I don't necessarily know if this is fully my decision, but I'm just going to keep controlling the things I can to get better," Prescott told reporters on Thursday.

"I've gotten better each and every day, and that's what is most important. I'm just focused on doing that again tomorrow."

On the thresholds he will have to pass in practice in order to play according to head coach Mike McCarthy, Prescott added: "They didn't tell me which ones I've got to pass.

"Obviously I trust myself, trust my body, trust what I'm thinking, but also I trust the coaches and Britt, Jim [Maurer] and the whole training staff. We've put a lot into this. I've put a lot into my body and taking care of myself.

"But they know. They know how these things work. First time dealing with something like this, obviously on the same leg as my ankle, I want to be smart about it and cautious. But as I've said, I've gotten better each and every day. I'm doing things today I didn't do as well the day before. I think that's huge."

Prescott has thrown at least three touchdown passes in each of his last four games. According to Stats Perform, it is the longest such streak in Cowboys history – Patrick Mahomes is the only other NFL player with a streak of four consecutive games throwing at least three TD passes this season.

Dallas QB Prescott boasts a 73.1 completion percentage, which is only second to Arizona Cardinals star Kyler Murray (73.5), while his passer rating (115.0) is fourth in the league.

Overall, Prescott has completed 158 passes for 1,813 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions for the 5-1 Cowboys in 2021.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Jameis Winston is trying to keep his emotions in check by not dwelling on the past ahead of his first start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he made it clear "I want to beat 'em bad".

Winston joined the Saints in April last year after five mixed seasons with the Buccaneers to begin his NFL career, while Tampa Bay turned to superstar Tom Brady, leading to Super Bowl glory.

The first overall pick in the 2015 draft, Winston made 72 appearances for the Buccaneers, starting 70, completing 61.3 per cent of his passes and throwing 121 touchdowns and 88 interceptions.

This season, Winston has led the Saints to a 4-2 record behind 89 completions for 1,114 yards, 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions, with a career-high 102.4 rating.

Winston's passing touchdown percentage (8.6), meanwhile, leads the NFL.

Previewing Sunday's NFC South showdown with Brady and former team the Buccaneers (6-1), 2015 Pro Bowler Winston told reporters: "This week is big. But I mean every week is big for me. Being out a year, you get a chance to see how much you miss being away from this game.

"Yeah, I'm playing against the old squad. But I love this game, and I'm trying to go out there and beat everybody we play, no matter who it is.

"I've always been an emotional football player. I think that's something that I'm trying to work on -- being present instead of being stuck in my feelings.

"As a quarterback, we have to be present all the time and aware of everything that's going on. Sometimes too much emotion can lead us places that we don't want to go.

"Obviously I want to beat 'em, I want to beat 'em bad. And in my heart, I'm ready to rock. But at the end of the day they're another opponent -- another opponent that we gotta beat that's in this division. And they've got a good team, they're coming in here hot. So we've gotta stand our ground and represent at our house."

New Orleans have won five straight games against Tampa Bay, which is the longest active losing streak for the Buccaneers against any single opponent, per Stats Perform.

The Saints have ran on 53 percent of their offensive plays this season and are the only team in the NFL to have more running plays than passing plays in 2021 – New Orleans had 35 passing attempts in their win over the Seattle Seahawks, their most in a game this season.

Patrick Mahomes frankly told his Kansas City Chiefs team-mates he has "got to be better" after enduring a nightmare outing in a defeat to the Tennessee Titans last Sunday.

Mahomes left a 27-3 Week 7 defeat midway through the fourth quarter after taking an inadvertent shot to the head from Tennessee's Jeffery Simmons while being dragged down by Denico Autry. 

The star quarterback cleared the NFL's concussion protocol, but he did not return to the field as the Chiefs slumped to 3-4 in the AFC West.

Mahomes had a career-low 62.3 passer rating before his exit, while he also lost a fumble and threw his ninth interception of the season, tying him for the league lead.

He threw just 11 interceptions across 29 games over the past two regular seasons combined.

The 2018 MVP has made four fumbles, as well as being sacked nine times in the past three weeks and he knows he must raise his game ahead of a showdown with the New York Giants at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday.

"You can just watch the tape and know that I need to play better in order to have success,"' Mahomes said on Thursday.

"There were plays [against the Titans] where guys were open. There were plays where we had matchups down the field that I didn't hit, that I usually would give those guys opportunities to make plays.

"I've said something to them that I've got to be better. At the same time, they have that mindset that they're going to try to build me up.

"It's a thing where you're not going to play your best game every single game, and that's when you have to rely on your other guys to kind of step up and make plays for you."

Since Mahomes became the full-time starting QB in 2018, Kansas City have not had more than 18 giveaways in a full season, but they are only one shy of that tally already.

Mahomes knows what he must do in order to get back to the peak of his powers.

"It's just stuff that I've always got to work on and I kind of lose sometimes during the season and have to get better with," the 26-year-old said.

"It's hanging in the pocket, working on my footwork, staying on time, all that stuff like that.

"You see it kind of get me in certain games every single year, and it's something I have to go back to and learn from and be better at. There were times where I maybe could have stepped and found a soft spot in the pocket where [instead] I kind of got out of there and tried to make something happen.

"Whenever we don't get going as an offense, it's usually because I'm doing little things like that."

Seven weeks of hard evidence suggest that the Green Bay Packers' Thursday Night Football clash with the Arizona Cardinals should be one of the games of the year.

The 6-1 Packers travel to face the 7-0 Cardinals for a meeting of two teams to have emerged as clear frontrunners for the top seed in the NFC playoffs and who boast a combined winning percentage of 92.9.

That is the best combined winning percentage for a game in Week 8 or later played on a Thursday since the 11-0 Chicago Bears played at the 10-1 Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day, 1934. 

Yet recent history and misfortune on the side of the Packers may see what many hoped would be a fascinating spectacle fail to live up to its billing.

Including the playoffs, the Cardinals have won each of their last three games against Green Bay, and the contrast in the talent the two offenses will have available means the most likely outcome is that streak continuing in the desert.

 

Packers lacking firepower

The Packers are set to be without their top offensive weapon on Thursday after Davante Adams was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Adams needed to provide two negative tests, 24 hours apart, and be asymptomatic for 48 hours to be permitted to play against Arizona. He has reportedly not travelled with Green Bay and is not expected to play, leaving the Packers minus arguably the most complete receiver in the NFL, one who is maintaining the remarkable All-Pro standard he produced last season.

Adams is third in the NFL in receiving yards with 744. He has registered a burn, which is when a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 65.8 per cent of his targets. That is not too far above the average of 60.9 per cent, however, Adams leads receivers with at least 25 targets in burn yards per route with 5.1.

In other words, when Adams does win his matchup, he makes the most of it and creates significant separation, reflecting his reputation as one of the NFL's elite route-runners.

His absence will leave a massive void, one that will be more apparent because of the loss of the lead candidate to fill it.

Allen Lazard was placed on the COVID-19 list on Wednesday as a close contact of a person to have tested positive.

Unvaccinated, Lazard is out for five days, robbing the Packers of a receiver with a 71.4 burn percentage who has produced a big play on 44.3 per cent of his targets.

Without Adams and Lazard, the Packers are light on receiving threats to legitimately scare a Cardinals defense ranked second in yards per pass play allowed.

Running back Aaron Jones is Green Bay's second most prolific pass-catcher behind Davante Adams with 26 receptions. He may need to take on more of the receiving workload this week, though the Packers are hoping Marquez Valdes-Scantling can return from a hamstring injury and provide a spark with his downfield speed.

However, Valdes-Scantling's burn percentage of 43.8 from 16 targets so far this season indicates he may find it tough to lift a depleted group. Yet, regardless of whether it comes from Valdes-Scantling, Jones or tight ends Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis, Green Bay will likely require a significant contribution from an unlikely source to keep pace with a passing attack that is loaded by comparison.

Deck stacked for MVP contender Murray

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is firmly in the MVP race and, while that is in large part down to his own remarkable accuracy – 83.3 per cent of his attempts have been well thrown, the best ratio among quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts – and playmaking ability, a lot of credit has to be attributed to the stellar performances of several receivers.

Three-time first-team All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins has unsurprisingly hit the ground running in 2021, posting a burn percentage of 80, the highest ratio among receivers with a minimum of 25 targets, and producing a big play on 45.7 per cent of his targets.

Christian Kirk, with a burn percentage of 75 and a big play rate of 38.8 per cent, is not far behind while veteran A.J. Green (35.6 per cent big play rate) has been unexpectedly rejuvenated after trading Cincinnati for Arizona.

The X-factor, however, is rookie Rondale Moore, whose speed out of the backfield has added another dimension to Kliff Kingsbury's offense.

Moore's average depth of target is just 2.3 yards, the lowest in the NFL (min. 10 targets), yet Moore is averaging 3.3 burn yards per route, above the average of 2.5, illustrating his effectiveness in the quick game with his ability to beat defenders with both speed and elusiveness.

His presence has allowed Kingsbury to get more creative in the deployment of his offensive personnel, using the threat of Murray and Moore as runners to his significant advantage.

That particular string is not one the Packers have in their bow and, despite an impressive performance against the Washington Football Team in Week 7, their defense appears ill-equipped to deal with an offense that also saw tight end Zach Ertz score on his debut last week.

No case for Green Bay’s defense

The numbers for the Packers on the defensive side of the ball are impressive in terms of limiting the efficiency of their opponents.

Indeed, Green Bay's defense is 10th in the NFL in opponent yards per play allowed (5.38), while the Packers have given up only 19 plays of 20 yards or more, the third-fewest in the league.

But the Packers' defensive absences are such that it will be a tough ask for them to slow down a potent Cardinals attack.

Jaire Alexander remains out with a shoulder injury, leaving the Packers bereft of his versatility to play as a starting outside corner and at the 'star' position on the inside.

Rookie Eric Stokes has not been a liability in coverage, however, he is allowing 2.04 burn yards per snap (the league average for corners is 2.01) and, minus Alexander's services, the Packers do not have a cornerback capable of consistently locking down his opposing receiver.

Only six interior defensive linemen have defeated a blocker on a pressure more often than Kenny Clark (22), but the Packers' defensive tackle is lacking support off the edge, with Za'Darius Smith a long-term absentee following back surgery and Preston Smith questionable for Thursday due to an oblique issue.

Of quarterbacks with 25 attempts under pressure, Murray's well-thrown percentage in those scenarios of 81 is second only to Mac Jones (81.2).

The Packers do not have the resources up front to make his performance under duress drastically worse nor do they have the resources in the defensive backfield to keep all the Cardinals' weapons under wraps.

With their own offensive arsenal severely reduced, it may take a vintage Rodgers performance of the highest order for the Packers to avoid enduring another frightful experience in Arizona.

Tua Tagovailoa says he is not worried about trade speculation linking the Miami Dolphins quarterback with a swap for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The 23-year-old quarterback, who is playing in his second season, has been the subject of trade speculation but said he felt reassured after conversations with Dolphins head coach Brian Flores.

The NFL's Tuesday trade deadline is approaching, although Tagovailoa said he was not thinking about it.

"I don't not feel wanted. That's what I could say," Tagovailoa told reporters.

"I really don't think about it. The only time I'm really hearing about it, like I've said before, is if [the communications staff] is kind of telling me what's going on within the rumours or if my agent calls me.

"That's really when I hear it. Other than that, I don't really hear it."

Watson requested a trade from the Texans in January and is facing 22 civil lawsuits that remain unresolved as the NFL conducts its own investigation into sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him.

Tagovailoa, who was pick five in the 2020 NFL Draft, has enjoyed the best two-game stretch of his career to date over the past fortnight, completing 75 per cent of passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns.

The Dolphins are 1-6 this season with Tagovailoa completing 82 of 118 attempts for 835 yards, with seven touchdowns, four interceptions and five sacks across his four starts, having missed time due to a rib injury.

Tagovailoa has shown improvements this season but the Dolphins have been let down in defense, giving up 207 points for the season, the second-highest total in the NFL through Week 7.

The Hawaii-born QB would not be drawn on what was discussed in his conversations with Flores but insisted it reassured him.

"Honestly, I don't base my emotions off of who says anything about me or who is saying what," he said.

"All I can do is my job and do it to the best of my capabilities. Everything else, I mean it's out of my control. But I have the utmost confidence and trust that I am the quarterback of this team, just off of conversations that I've had with Flo and whatnot.

"That obviously stays between us. I feel very confident that I'm the person."

Tagovailoa started nine games in his rookie season, winning six of them as he threw 11 touchdowns to five picks with some steady but unspectacular performances.

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