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Bird’s Eye View: How Atlanta’s remaining opponents played in Week 8

The Falcons have the easiest remaining schedule - on paper - but this league reminds us each week that anything can happen

Welcome back to Bird’s Eye View!

Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans reaffirmed that in the NFL, anything can happen. So, bear that in mind as we look ahead to a schedule that is, on paper, the easiest in the league.

Atlanta’s next two opponents are in the midst of quarterback changes, which creates an excellent opportunity for the team to ride a two-game win streak into the bye week. However, the Falcons are making a change at quarterback of their own, and Taylor Heinicke’s play will be a critical factor in the coming weeks.

A brief refresher for those who may be reading this piece for the first time: This exercise is meant to provide a quick synopsis of how each team did the previous week. I’ll highlight a standout player from each side of the ball, and for the two teams next on Atlanta’s schedule, I’ll include a potential X-factor player for the upcoming matchup.

Here’s how the Falcons’ remaining opponents looked in Week 8.

Week 9 – vs Minnesota Vikings (4-4)

Last three games:

- Week 6: Win at Chicago (19-13)

- Week 7: Win vs San Francisco (22-17)

- Week 8: Win at Green Bay (24-10)

Tweet-length summary of Vikings in Week 8:

The Vikings have climbed back into NFC relevance with three consecutive wins, but they must now move forward without starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, who tore his Achilles in the victory against Green Bay. The weapons are there with Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson playing well, but can they hold things together?

Best offensive player in Week 8: QB Kirk Cousins

Cousins has been playing really well in recent weeks, and that continued on Sunday before his injury. He was the Vikings’ top-graded offensive player against Green Bay, according to PFF, and he completed 23 of his 31 pass attempts for 274 yards with two touchdowns. It’s a shame he’s done for the year.

Best defensive player in Week 8: DT Harrison Phillips

Phillips had one of his best games of the season on Sunday, controlling the line of scrimmage and hounding Jordan Love throughout the afternoon. He finished the game tied for the team lead with eight tackles and also registered a half-sack.

X-factor for Vikings in Week 9: TE T.J. Hockenson

Jordan Addison, the team’s electric rookie receiver, is an obvious choice here, but tight ends can be a quarterback’s best friend and I think Jaren Hall, who is expected to start in Cousin’s absence, will look Hockenson’s way a bunch. This year, the tight end is the team leader with 53 receptions and he’s gained 478 yards while scoring three touchdowns.

Team stat to know: The Vikings have won their last three games and four of their last five.

Week 10 – at Arizona Cardinals (1-6)

Last three games:

- Week 6: Loss at Los Angeles Rams (26-9)

- Week 7: Loss at Seattle (20-10)

- Week 8: Loss vs Baltimore (31-24)

Tweet-length summary of Cardinals in Week 8:

Best offensive player in Week 8: TE Trey McBride

Arizona’s second-year tight end has quietly been ascending in recent weeks, but he had a breakout performance against Baltimore. He had a great connection with Josh Dobbs, catching a team-high 10 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Best defensive player in Week 8: DE Dante Stills

Stills, the team’s sixth-round draft pick in April, made his third career start and finished the game with 1.5 sacks. It was the second and third times he’s taken an opposing quarterback down as an NFL defender, and a sign that he continues to develop ahead of schedule.

X-factor for Cardinals in Week 10: RB James Conner

Although still technically on IR, Conner could return to practice in Week 10 ahead of the matchup against Atlanta. The Falcons’ run defense has been really good after a slow start, but Conner will provide a stress test if he’s back. Conner forced 18 missed tackles on just 68 carries before missing time.

Team stat to know: The Cardinals have 24 sacks this season, which ranks eighth among NFL defenses.

Weeks 12 & 18 – New Orleans Saints (4-4)

Last three games:

- Week 6: Loss at Houston (20-13)

- Week 7: Loss vs Jacksonville (31-24)

- Week 8: Win at Indianapolis (38-27)

Tweet-length summary of Saints in Week 8:

New Orleans’ offense looked explosive, gaining over 500 yards and averaging 7.7 yards per play. The Saints’ unique weapons were on display against the Colts, and they sure were dangerous.

Best offensive player in Week 8: RT Ryan Ramczyk

To get the number of explosive plays the Saints did on Sunday, the blocking usually needs to be on-point. Ramczyk is rarely bad, and he certainly wasn’t in this one. He played every snap for the Saints and did not allow a single pressure while helping the team gain over 160 yards on the ground.

Best defensive player in Week 8: CB Paulsen Adebo

Adebo is in his third season and playing his best ball. He was excellent in coverage in Week 8, allowing just three receptions on the eight passes thrown his way. Adebo also secured his second interception of the season.

Team stat to know: The Saints allow a third-down conversion rate of 32.43 percent, which ranks second in the NFL.

Week 13 – at New York Jets (3-3)

Last three games:

- Week 6: Win vs Philadelphia (20-14)

- Week 7: Bye

- Week 8: Win at New York Giants (13-10)

Tweet-length summary of Jets in Week 8:

It’s not an uncommon NFL joke to say that a team’s offense is so bad they can only win a low-scoring game when the defense plays lights out. The 2023 New York Jets are actually doing that. The Jets had just a 1.1 percent chance of winning this game until Graham Gano missed a potential game-winner.

Best offensive player in Week 8: WR Garrett Wilson

Wilson continues to make the best of a tough situation. He and Breece Hall are easily the most threatening weapons on the Jets’ offense and yet they still find ways to produce under the gaze of extra defensive attention. Wilson caught seven passes for 100 yards on Sunday, including a 29-yarder to jumpstart the Jets’ comeback drive.

Best defensive player in Week 8: LB Quincy Williams

Williams and fellow linebacker C.J. Mosley have a big part of New York’s defensive success this season. They are tied for the team lead with 71 tackles, and Williams added 11 tackles to his resume on Sunday against the Giants. Williams also allowed just 5 receiving yards in his coverage.

Team stat to know: New York’s offense ranks last in both third-down conversion rate and red-zone conversion rate.

Week 14 – vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-4)

Last three games:

- Week 6: Loss vs Detroit (20-6)

- Week 7: Loss vs Atlanta (16-13)

- Week 8: Loss at Buffalo (18-24)

Tweet-length summary of Buccaneers in Week 8:

The Bucs still can’t run the ball consistently, and it’s hard to win games in the NFL throwing the ball 42 times, which Baker Mayfield did on Thursday night. The end result looked like this:

Best offensive player in Week 8: RB Rachaad White

White is an interesting choice here after I just called out the Bucs’ run game, but he was the most consistent weapon for Mayfield. He caught all seven passes thrown his way for 70 yards and carried the ball nine times for 39 yards.

Best defensive player in Week 8: LB Lavonte David

David again led the team with 14 tackles, and four of those tackles were run stops, which are defined as a failure by the offense to complete their objective. All of that is to say that David remains one of the league’s best at disrupting offensive plans.

Team stat to know: Tampa Bay’s offense has allowed only 11 sacks this season, which is the second-fewest in the league.

Week 15 – at Carolina Panthers (0-6)

Last three games:

- Week 6: Loss at Miami (42-21)

- Week 7: Bye

- Week 8: Win vs Houston (13-15)

Tweet-length summary of Panthers in Week 8:

Best offensive player in Week 8: QB Bryce Young

In a game against fellow rookie C.J. Stroud, Young had arguably the best game of his career. He completed 22 of his 31 pass attempts for 235 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Young had a big hand in securing his first NFL win.

Best defensive player in Week 8: DT Frankie Luvu

With trade deadline rumors again swirling around the defense, Luvu stayed locked in and had a beautiful performance. He not only led the team with 12 tackles against Houston but he also sacked Stroud, giving him 3.5 on the season.

Team stat to know: Carolina’s defense ranks dead last in passing yards per play allowed (5.0).

Week 16 – vs Indianapolis Colts (3-5)

Last three games:

- Week 6: Loss at Jacksonville (37-20)

- Week 7: Loss vs Cleveland (39-38)

- Week 8: Loss vs New Orleans (38-27)

Tweet-length summary of Colts in Week 8:

The Colts are a good bad team.

Best offensive player in Week 8: RB Jonathan Taylor

After missing the first four games of the season, Taylor has been getting better with each passing week. On Sunday, he had his best game and carried the ball 12 times for 95 yards. Taylor’s usage has been interesting this year, but he’s making a strong case to get back to workhorse status.

Best defensive player in Week 8: DT DeForest Buckner

It wasn’t a stat-sheet-filling game for Buckner, although he did add another sack to his total, but this game was a reminder of the play-in-play-out force that he is on the defensive interior.

Team stat to know: Indianapolis allows 28.6 points per game, which is the highest average in the league.

Week 17 – at Chicago Bears (2-6)

Last three games:

- Week 6: Loss vs Minnesota (19-13)

- Week 7: Win vs Las Vegas (30-12)

- Week 8: Loss at Los Angeles Chargers (30-13)

Tweet-length summary of Bears in Week 8:

Best offensive player in Week 8: TE Cole Kmet

This season has been a slog for Chicago’s offense, but Kmet is on pace to put together the best statistical output of his career. Kmet caught all 10 passes thrown his way on Sunday night for 79 yards. For that to be the standout offensive performance tells you all you need to know about the Bears.

Best defensive player in Week 8: LB T.J. Edwards

Edwards had a few missed tackles in this game, but he’s got an excellent nose for the football and is extremely fun to watch.

Team stat to know: The Bears have the league’s best per-play run defense, allowing just 3.26 yards per carry.