If the New Orleans Saints want to get some redemption for the ‘Minneapolis Miracle’, they’ll have to do what they couldn’t at the very end of their nightmare playoff loss.
Stopping the Minnesota Vikings’ passing attack – specifically wide receiver duo Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs – will be of utmost importance for the Saints in a battle featuring two of the NFC’s heavyweights.
Diggs is the man who stuck the dagger into New Orleans’ heart in the Divisional Round contest, but it will be Thielen who commands the most attention on Sunday night.
The 28-year-old has been the best receiver in the league this season, leading all players in receptions (67) and receiving yards (822) while eclipsing the century mark in yards in all seven games.
The Saints secondary has been much better over the past three weeks after a disastrous start to the season, but they’ve still been susceptible, allowing the second-best passer rating in the league at 112.2.
That’s why New Orleans went out this past week and traded for cornerback Eli Apple from the New York Giants in an effort to shore up their pass defence. Apple has yet to allow a touchdown this season, but it’s unclear how much he’ll be on the field after just joining the team.
The Vikings, meanwhile, are expected to have Everson Griffen back after the defensive end was away from the team the past five weeks, which will strengthen a Minnesota defence that is starting to look like itself.
Regardless of the result on Sunday, it may not be the last time these two teams get together this season.
Here are more talking points in Week 8.
RESTED AND READY
If there’s any player in the league capable of putting the first blemish on the Los Angeles Rams’ undefeated record, it’s Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers and the Packers offence haven’t been at their best this season, but coming off a bye week, Green Bay are a dangerous underdog for the Rams. Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy are 9-2 together coming off the bye, and the week off will have given the star quarterback more time to heal the knee injury suffered in Week 1.
The key against a lethal Rams pass rush will be keeping Rodgers upright, which Green Bay have managed to do for the most part this season. The Packers offensive line ranks first in pass-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus at 91.2, while allowing just 59 pressures on 296 pass-blocking snaps.
They’ll need to be on top of their game against Aaron Donald, who is coming off his best performance of the year in which he notched four sacks and two stuffs in an absolute domination of the San Francisco 49ers.
BECKHAM v NORMAN, ROUND FOUR
As far as individual match-ups go, it doesn’t get more contentious than the one featuring Odell Beckham Jr and Josh Norman.
The NFL was robbed of two encounters between the New York Giants wide receiver and the Washington cornerback last season when Beckham was injured, but Sunday will mark the third time the two line-up against one another since they fought on the field in 2015.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them involved in more heated exchanges this week, especially with Norman using his trash talk to get in Beckham’s head.
A familiar face will line up across from the Houston Texans on Thursday night.
The partnership between Houston and Osweiler went south fast. After signing a substantial four-year, $72 million deal, which included $37m guaranteed in the first two years of the contract, Osweiler was a major bust with the Texans. In his lone season with the franchise, he tossed more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (15) for a lowly passer rating of 72.2.
Osweiler’s relationship with head coach Bill O’Brien didn’t go well either, and Houston were so eager to rid of the quarterback that they gave the Cleveland Browns a second and sixth-round pick to take him off their hands.
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney didn’t mince words when asked about Osweiler’s tenure in Houston in the lead-up to Thursday.
“He ain’t here no more, so I don’t really care for him,” Clowney said. “We didn’t win a lot with him.”
Osweiler’s time with the Texans turned him into a bit of a punchline in the league, but so far this season, he’s done well in relief of Tannehill.
Through three appearances, the 27-year-old has thrown for 654 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 107.0, which is a better mark than the ones Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers hold this season.
For both Osweiler and Houston, Thursday represents an opportunity at revenge.
The Texans come into the match-up winners of four straight, their first such streak since 2015, as they appear to have put their early-season struggles behind them.
Houston’s defence in particular is starting to click and has allowed an average of just 12.0 points over the last three games.
In Clowney and J.J. Watt, the Texans have two elite pass-rushers who can make Osweiler’s life difficult in his return to NRG Stadium.
Now seven weeks into the season, the good teams are starting to separate themselves from the middle of the pack.
Even Washington are beginning to make their case as one of the contenders in the NFC after another win.
See where all the teams rank in our latest power rankings heading into Week 8.
1. Los Angeles Rams
Record: 7-0 | Previously: 1
Aaron Donald joined the party this week by destroying the 49ers as the Rams kept chugging along to remain unbeaten.
2. New Orleans Saints
Record: 5-1 | Previously: 4
Winning outdoors against the top-ranked defence was no small feat and proved just how tough the Saints can be.
3. New England Patriots
Record: 5-2 | Previously: 5
Injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel are concerning, but the Patriots offence has really found its rhythm.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Record: 6-1 | Previously: 2
Their defence bounced back after giving up 43 points to New England by smothering the Bengals to show improvement.
5. Los Angeles Chargers
Record: 5-2 | Previously: 15
They didn’t play well in London, but did enough to get a win on a day they were without top playmaker Melvin Gordon.
6. Minnesota Vikings
Record: 4-2-1 | Previously: 13
Winners of three straight, the Vikings’ defence is looking like itself again while Adam Thielen continues to carve it up on the other side of the ball.
7. Carolina Panthers
Record: 4-2 | Previously: 6
They’re going a bit under the radar and even though Philadelphia are struggling, a 17-point comeback on the road is impressive.
8. Baltimore Ravens
Record: 4-3 | Previously: 11
It’s hard to be too critical of the Ravens after a rare extra point miss from Justin Tucker cost them a shot at the Saints in overtime.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
Record: 3-2-1 | Previously: 14
They enjoyed a bye this week in more ways than one as every other team in the division suffered a defeat.
Record: 4-2 | Previously: 16
They’ve been winning ugly, but they’re wins nonetheless and in the lacklustre NFC East, that’s all they need.
11. Green Bay Packers
Record: 3-2-1 | Previously: 10
After getting a bye to rest up, their credentials will be put to the test against the Rams and Patriots in consecutive weeks.
12. Cincinnati Bengals
Record: 4-3 | Previously: 8
Everyone gives up points to the Chiefs, but Cincinnati’s defence looked particularly horrid in a dispiriting blowout.
13. Philadelphia Eagles
Record: 3-4 | Previously: 12
The defending champions’ rope is getting shorter and shorter as they continue to dig themselves a deeper hole.
14. Chicago Bears
Record: 3-3 | Previously: 9
It’s a problem that the Bears defence can’t hold up unless a healthy Khalil Mack is wreaking havoc against opposing quarterbacks.
15. Seattle Seahawks
Record: 3-3 | Previously: 21
They almost surely won’t catch the Rams in the division race, but this is still a team that can grab a wild card spot.
16. Houston Texans
Record: 4-3 | Previously: 24
Houston are starting to click after reeling off four straight wins, with their latest against Jacksonville their best one yet.
17. Miami Dolphins
Record: 4-3 | Previously: 17
Brock Osweiler has actually been decent in relief of Ryan Tannehill, but the Dolphins defence is doing him no favours.
18. Atlanta Falcons
Record: 3-4 | Previously: 19
Their defence took a step forward this week and if they can maintain that level of play, Atlanta’s offence can get them to the playoffs.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars
Record: 3-4 | Previously: 3
After a promising start to the season, they’ve hit a rough patch as they’ve dropped three in a row? Can they regain their footing?
20. Detroit Lions
Record: 3-3 | Previously: 25
Don’t look now but the running game is picking up speed with Kerryon Johnson as they’ve won three of their past four.
21. Dallas Cowboys
Record: 3-4 | Previously: 22
The trade for Amari Cooper better give them a jolt because they paid a premium and have few other avenues to improve offensively.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Record: 3-3 | Previously: 20
They had to eek out a win over Cleveland in part because Jameis Winston is a turnover machine.
23. Tennessee Titans
Record: 3-4 | Previously: 7
Mike Vrabel should be applauded, not criticised, for having the gall to go for the win on the two-point conversion.
24. Denver Broncos
Record: 3-4 | Previously: 18
Their smack-down was laid on what may be the worst team in the league, so they still have more to prove.
25. Cleveland Browns
Record: 2-4-1 | Previously: 23
They just can’t finish off contests as they keep falling in close game after close game.
26. New York Jets
Record: 3-4 | Previously: 30
They’re wildly inconsistent on a week to week basis, so it’s hard to know what team you’re getting.
27. Indianapolis Colts
Record: 2-5 | Previously: 27
The success of the running game this week was incredibly encouraging for a team that has often struggled to threaten on the ground.
28. New York Giants
Record: 1-6 | Previously: 26
They’re too talented, at least on the offensive side of the ball, to have one win through seven weeks.
29. Buffalo Bills
Record: 2-5 | Previously: 31
Somehow, Derek Anderson wasn’t really an upgrade over Nathan Peterman, which is not a good sign.
30. San Francisco 49ers
Record: 1-6 | Previously: 30
They ran into a buzz saw with a back-up quarterback, so the results were hardly surprising.
31. Oakland Raiders
Record: 1-5 | Previously: 28
Amari Cooper wasn’t exactly thriving, but the Raiders are still worse today after trading their number one wideout.
32. Arizona Cardinals
Record: 1-6 | Previously: 32
Maybe a change at offensive coordinator can give them a bit of life because whatever they were doing before wasn’t working.