The fun thing about the NFL is how often the unthinkable happens.
Three weeks ago, the 49ers looked like a potentially historically great team. They'd won each of their first five games while scoring 30 or more points in each, with an average point differential of 19.8 points per game. Their offense was firing on all cylinders, their defense was dominant in all facets of the game, and even Brock Purdy's rare mistakes were falling harmlessly to the turf.
Now? You look up, it's about to be Week 9, the 49ers have lost three straight, and Purdy seems to be making three of the silliest decisions you've ever seen an NFL quarterback make every week – and most importantly, he's actually paying for those mistakes now. And that ferocious 49ers defense? Well, Joe Burrow just carved them up for 283 yards with four incompletions and three touchdowns – and he did that after entering the game averaging 5.3 yards per pass attempt, the lowest mark in the NFL.
And you know what? The Bengals' 31-17 win over the 49ers wasn't even the most shocking result of the week! That honor goes to the Broncos' stunning 24-9 win over the Chiefs, which saw what had been a historically poor Broncos defense hold Patrick Mahomes to three field goals and under 300 yards of total offense.
Unthinkable, and yet, it happened. It's a reminder that, while we have to react to what we've seen in the recent past, we need to remember not to overreact, too. Whether due to injuries (or, as in Mahomes' case, a sudden illness), game plan changes, or just plain variance, teams don't play to the same level every week. And, in the Bengals' case, Week 8 was an important reminder that, hey, history didn't start in Week 1 of the 2023 season. As bad as Burrow has been this season, this has been one of the best offense in the NFL for a long time – a lot longer than the previous six games – and they were always capable of this kind of breakout. The fact that we saw them turn around from a similar (though not quite as bad nor as lengthy) start last season should have been in the front of our minds, too.
Of course, it works the other way around, too: Just because the Broncos and Bengals won unexpectedly Sunday doesn't mean everything they did before this week doesn't count. That's the hard thing about analyzing the NFL: It's small-sample sizes all the way down. Figuring out what is real and what isn't is incredibly tough even when there aren't huge week-to-week swings.
But that's the job. Week 8 threw us for loops in a lot of ways, but the biggest impact from Sunday's action is likely to come from the injury reports, as we lost several big-name players, most notably quarterbacks, to what might be landscape-altering injuries. So, today's newsletter will focus on injuries more than the early Week 9 waiver wire. There are important names to know, but figuring out the fallout from the injuries is going to be paramount.
Don't worry:, and we'll have a more in-depth breakdown of the top options in tomorrow's newsletter. But for now, here are all the injuries you need to know about from Sunday before we gets to the biggest Winners and Losers from Week 8:
Quarterback injuries are the worst kind because they don't just impact one player plus the guys on the depth chart around them: They have the potential to fundamentally alter the way an entire offense looks. And, unfortunately, Sunday gave us a lot of quarterback injuries to deal with. We'll talk about those before getting to the other injuries you need to know about:
Week 8 QB Injuries
Kirk Cousins, Vikings (Achilles) -- This was the biggest injury of the weekend, as Cousins is feared to have suffered a ruptured Achilles. That'll end his season and throw a cloud of uncertainty over the entire Vikings offense. Just a few days before Tuesday's trade deadline, they sit at 4-4 in an NFC that might have at least one nine-win playoff team. The Vikings probably can't hit even that low bar if Jaren Hall is their quarterback. But would they really go out and try to add a veteran, especially one like, say, Jameis Winston, who might conceivably be able to serve as a bridge to whichever young QB they try to acquire next offseason -- because, oh yeah, Cousins is now heading into free agency coming off a ruptured Achilles. That's brutal, and it changes so much about what this team's goals might be the rest of the way -- including whether Justin Jefferson tries to rush back from his hamstring injury. , but suffice it to say, it's an across-the-board downgrade.
Matthew Stafford, Rams (thumb) -- Stafford tried to play through this injury, but after the game Sean McVay told reporters, "It doesn't seem like it's good." Maybe we shouldn't be throwing Philly Special two-point conversions to our injured quarterbacks, eh, Sean? This is another one whether any kind of extended absence would be devastating for the offense as a whole. Stafford hasn't been great for Fantasy, but he's been playing at a high level nonetheless, and there's no reason to expect Brett Rypien to replicate that. Hopefully, it's just a short-term issue for Stafford, but I'm applying an across-the-board downgrade to this offense as a whole.
Kenny Pickett, Steelers (ribs) -- The good news here is, that I don't think the downgrade to backup Mitch Trubisky is a huge one. The bad news is ... well, it's still Mitch Trubisky. We know that the best you can hope for is that he won't be an active detriment to the offense as a whole, and unfortunately with Matt Canada's unimaginative offensive gameplan and playcalling, there isn't a ton to be optimistic about here. George Pickens and Diontae Johnson are both in the WR3 range if Pickett has to miss time, though thankfully they do get a soft landing with a matchup against the Titans in Week 9. With the Steelers playing Thursday this week, Ian Rapoport reports there "is not a lot of optimism" about Pickett playing.
Tyrod Taylor, Giants (ribs) -- Taylor went to a hospital for evaluation, which is a little scary, so hopefully he's okay, first of all. That forced the Giants to lean on their No. 3 QB for most of Sunday's game, and they clearly did not believe Tommy DeVito was ready for the moment. He completed just two of seven passes for -1 yard in his first taste of NFL action, and they only even had a chance to compete in this one because the Jets offense is its own type of disaster. The good news here is that Daniel Jones has been cleared for contact by doctors, likely the final hurdle for his return from a neck injury that kept him out the past three games. It's not like Jones was playing so much better than Taylor that he's going to save the offense, or anything, but he should clear the low bar we saw from DeVito Sunday fairly easily. And, with a great matchup on the way against the Raiders, you can start Saquon Barkley with confidence, at least.
Desmond Ridder, Falcons (concussion protocol) -- This is a tough one to figure out because Ridder cleared the concussion protocol but was still held out of the game, with Arthur Smith saying, "We didn't take him out for performance issues." I can't fault them for exercising an overabundance of caution, but I also can't help but wonder if Ridder's turnover issues in recent weeks, along with the offense finding some rhythm with Taylor Heinicke didn't play a role. I don't really think Heinicke would be an upgrade for the Falcons, but we'll keep an eye on Ridder's status over the coming days heading into Week 9 against the Vikings.
Unfortunately, the QBs weren't the only players dealing with injuries Sunday. Let's quickly run through the other injuries you need to know about from Sunday's action:
Drake London, Falcons (groin) -- London's injury came on his biggest play of the game, a 21-yard, leaping grab that saw him get up slowly. He was unable to return to the game.
Darren Waller, Giants (hamstring) -- Waller entered the game on the injury report with a hamstring injury, so this is an ominous sign. Given his age and history, hopefully, they're just exercising and overabundance of caution, but I'm not hopeful. If Waller plays in Week 9, I'm starting him, but I'm absolutely looking for Trey McBride on waivers this week, because we may not know one way or the other until later in the week whether Waller can play.
Kendrick Bourne, Patriots (knee) -- Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that the Patriots "hope" Bourne suffered an MCL injury, but it turns out the Patriots got the worst-case scenario news Monday, as Bourne has been diagnosed with a torn ACL. That'll end his season and leaves a surprisingly large hole in the Patriots passing game, with no really good options to fill it in, given how little JuJu Smith-Schuster has done this season. Smith-Schuster did score a touchdown Sunday, but it was on his only catch, and he ran routes on just 11 of 32 pass plays. He just hasn't looked like himself due to a knee issue, and I'm not sure he's likely to get any better. In deeper leagues, I'd take a look at rookie Demario Douglas, who is second on the team in receptions and yards among wide receivers.
Additionally, DeVante Parker (head) and Curtis Samuel (toe) were forced out and couldn't return, while Travis Etienne (ankle), Josh Palmer (knee), Courtland Sutton (shoulder), and Diontae Johnson (unspecified) left their games briefly with injuries. We'll keep an eye on those as well.
Biggest Winners and Losers
Here's who has the arrow pointing up or down coming out of Sunday's action:
Will Levis, QB, Titans
The biggest things you're looking for from any rookie quarterback in their debut is that they don't look overmatched and that their team trusts them. Levis passed both tests Sunday. I'm not sure how much of what he did was replicable from a Fantasy perspective – he had some of the easiest deep balls you'll ever see in this one – but the fact that the Titans didn't come out and try to hide him says so much. Just compare Levis' day Sunday to Malik Willis' first start last season, when he attempted 10 passes for 73 total air yards; Levis attempted four different passes of 40-plus air yards. You can't count on a young guy hitting on this many big plays every week, and this Titans offense figures to be pretty run-heavy, still. But, as far as NFL debuts go, it's hard to have a more exciting one than Levis, who very much looked the part of the gunslinger who could elevate this whole offense.
The Sam Howell Experience has been the most entertaining ride this side of Cedar Point, especially as an unaffiliated observer; I imagine if I was a Commanders fan, it might be slightly more nerve-wracking. But man, when he's good, Howell can be really good, and he was tremendous Sunday. He dropped back to pass 55 times Sunday and was sacked exactly once, which is a frankly remarkable number for a guy who had been sacked a league-high 40 times entering Sunday's game. And Howell wasn't just throwing everything short, either; his passes traveled an average of 7.5 yards past the line of scrimmage, down slightly from his season average of 7.9 yards, but still a very healthy number. When Howell is playing like this, there's room for multiple Fantasy-relevant receivers in Washington. The question is whether he can avoid the low points moving forward. That's been the thing holding him back.
You know all that stuff from the intro, about how NFL season storylines can shift on a dime unexpectedly? Yeah, that's also true for players. Entering Week 8, there was a lot of, "Is Austin Ekeler a bust?" talk, and boy, that sure looks premature, huh? He still isn't running the ball well (29 yards on 15 carries Sunday), but they made a point of getting him involved in the passing game early, and he threw together a vintage Ekeler performance, catching seven of eight passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. Yes, the Chargers have a new offense that pushes the ball down the field more often, but they were never going to just abandon one of the most dynamic pass-catching running backs we've ever seen. Hope you bought low when you had the chance, and I really hope you didn't sell low.
Javonte Williams, RB, Broncos
It's easy to advocate for patience in the preseason, when you don't actually have to fill out a lineup every week and deal with a player who isn't giving you anything every week. It's a lot harder to actually have patience at the moment, but we're seeing the case for drafting Williams start to come true right before our eyes. Williams established a new season-high in snap share for the second week in a row Sunday, playing 66% of the snaps, and looking like he's fully taking ownership of this backfield. Williams got 27 of the Broncos 32 RB carries and three of eight targets, putting together 98 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, his second week in a row over 90 yards Jaleel McLaughlin remains a nice stash, but this sure doesn't seem like a committee after the past two weeks. Williams might be an RB1 after the bye.
I like to joke a lot about how Gabe Davis' Fantasy value is basically like a coin flipped at random, but the truth of the matter is, wide receivers are more like random number generators than most of us like to admit. Very few wide receivers are ever consistent, because their production is dependent not just on game script and play-calling, but also tons of other factors, like their quarterback's performance, defensive coverage, and even stuff like wind and rain. Running backs can just brute force their way to consistent production in ways wide receivers rarely can, which leads to wider spreads in wide receiver production on a weekly basis, on the whole. This is all to say that there are always going to be stretches where very-good-but-not-quite-elite wide receivers like Smith just struggle in ways that don't necessarily change how you should view them for Fantasy. Sure, there might not be room for all three of Smith, A.J. Brown, and Dallas Goedert to thrive every week in this offense, but that doesn't mean Smith is going to be the one who gets left behind every week. It was Goedert Sunday, but, I promise you, there will even be weeks where Brown isn't Death, Destroyer of Worlds. In the case of Smith, we've seen multiple seasons of high-level production from him, with no real reason to think he couldn't perform like that again. If you benched him this week, you overreacted to a few bad games and you missed out on the upside he's always still had.
Note: Apply everything I just said about Smith to your concerns about Chris Olave, who I definitely will be writing about as a buy-low candidate on Wednesday.
I'll be honest: I thought about writing about Hill as a loser. I couldn't justify quite that level of contrarianism, but I do think there are legitimate red flags in his performance Sunday. Yes, he had 22.5 PPR points Sunday in the win over the Colts, but the way he went about it was very different than his successful performances in the previous two games, as Hill was back in his "Joker" role, running a route on just 12 of 31 dropbacks for the Saints. He did nearly all of his damage as a quarterback/runner, catching just one pass for 14 yards. We saw a stretch last season where he was useful for Fantasy in this role, but it's a much more volatile role for Fantasy; he as very little value in this role if the Saints aren't creating consistent short-yardage scoring opportunities, and even then, he's no guarantee to get those opportunities and score. So, if you started Hill this week, congratulations; go out and try to add Trey McBride this week, because it probably won't last.
It's pretty frustrating to see the Cowboys go up by 30 in the first half and for Pollard to only end up with 6.5 PPR points. I'm sure if I had him on more than one team, I'd be a whole lot more than frustrated. The Cowboys came out committed to throwing the ball, and then built such a huge lead that they didn't even need Pollard to run out the clock. That's a brutal outcome, in what has been a very frustrating season for those of you with Pollard on your teams so far. I will say, that I'm very excited about putting together some buy-low Pollard offers in many leagues this week because I do still value him as a top-12 RB moving forward. After all, we're still talking about a guy who is top 12 in rush attempts and targets among running backs, with 18 touches from inside the Green Zone (10 yards and in), the second most in the league. However, while Christian McCaffrey has eight touchdowns on his 20 Green Zone touches and Kenneth Walker has six on 18, Pollard has just two on 18. Maybe he'll just keep struggling to punch those opportunities in – like Joe Mixon last season – but I'm going to bet on that turning around before long. This is the low point for Pollard.
Now, Pierce is one struggling player I'm really not particularly interested in buying at just about any price. He's stuck in a legitimate three-way committee, with Devin Singletary now alternating drives with him while Mike Boone is handling some of the passing situations. As good as C.J. Stroud has been, this is a Texans offense that can still struggle to put points on the board, and that makes it just about impossible to trust Pierce. He's just an RB3 for Fantasy most weeks, and if I'm starting him, I'm just hoping for a touchdown – he had one overturned on replay Sunday and then watched fullback Andrew Beck punch it in. Brutal.
Miles Sanders, RB, Panthers
If Sanders is in a committee, he's no even longer the biggest part of that committee. Chuba Hubbard played 40 of 61 snaps for the Panthers Sunday, while Sanders logged just 12 snaps, three more than third-stringer Raheem Blackshear. Coming off the bye, Sanders was a full participant in practice all week, so it sure doesn't seem like this is an injury thing; he's just been benched for being ineffective. If you want to find a silver lining here, it's that Hubbard didn't look any better as the lead back than Sanders has, which means the door might be open to Sanders carving out a big role again. But right now, it looks like the best-case scenario here is that Sanders is in a committee in a bad offense, one that hasn't been able to run the ball well at all this season. I'd probably keep him stashed if I can, but there's no real reason to hang on to Sanders if you need the roster space.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams
Stafford's injury is the primary concern here, obviously, but we can't ignore that this is now two subpar showings from Kupp in a row after he came back from his injury like a bat out of hell with 15 catches, 266 yards, and a touchdown in his first two. If Stafford were a sure thing for Week 9 and beyond, it'd be easier to write Kupp's poor showing Sunday off as the low-end of that variance I was talking about earlier with Smith; but if Stafford has to miss time, Kupp looks a lot more like a WR2 than the superstar we were hoping for.
George Pickens, WR, Steelers
Once again, I want to make sure I'm not overreacting to what might just be the low end of the variance curve. But it's hard not to be concerned about Pickens' one-catch game, since this looked a lot like Pittsburgh's offense last season, with Diontae Johnson dominating targets and Pickens left to fight for the scraps with the other tertiary pieces in the offense. Pickens still showed what makes him such a matchup problem, breaking a tackle from two converging defenders before getting into the end zone on his only catch, but he had highlights with no consistent production last season, too. I'm not saying Pickens is back to being last year's low-volume, TD-dependent guy, but there are some worrying signs, most notably this: Per TruMedia, 48% of his routes Sunday were Go routes; that was 38% last year and down to 33% this year as he was being used on a more varied route tree. That's a definite red flag, given how hard it is to earn volume on downfield routes.
We're 18 games into Watson's career, and it's so hard to know what kind of player he is. We saw six games to start his career last season where Watson was a total non-factor, then an eight-game stretch where he was a big-play machine, overcoming a lack of volume with outlier efficiency all over the field. And now, we've got four games this season where he doesn't have more than three catches in any game and only one with more than 33 yards. The one constant in Watson's career? He hasn't consistently earned much volume, with just three games of more than seven targets (including Sunday's). I still think he has plenty of upside, but he's playing in an offense that hasn't been able to tap into it, and at this point, I think you have to view him as just a bye-week or injury replacement.