Odell Beckham Jr. has signed for the Los Angeles Rams following his release by the Cleveland Browns.

The veteran wide receiver officially left Cleveland on Monday and no other NFL team put in a claim on him before Tuesday's deadline, making him a free agent.

Beckham had initially asked to be traded before last week's NFL deadline but no deal materialised and he opted to miss practice for the rest of the week.

He cleared waivers on Tuesday and was subsequently able to pick his next team, with ESPN reporting earlier in the week that he planned to sign with a playoff contender.

The 7-2 Rams are second in the NFC West, with the Arizona Cardinals (8-1) the only team in the NFL with a better record.

The three-time Pro Bowler was sidelined with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in 2020 and has made 17 catches for 232 yards and zero touchdowns in six games this season. 

Beckham was traded to the Browns by the New York Giants in 2019, where he topped 1,000 yards in four of his five seasons. The year he failed to hit that mark he spent most of the campaign out with an ankle injury. 

Julio Jones (103.8) and Antonio Brown (100.6) were the only wide receivers to average more yards per game than Beckham (92.8) between 2014 and 2018.

Odell Beckham Jr. has signed for the Los Angeles Rams following his release by the Cleveland Browns.

The veteran wide receiver officially left Cleveland on Monday and no other NFL team put in a claim on him before Tuesday's deadline, making him a free agent.

Beckham had initially asked to be traded before last week's NFL deadline but no deal materialised and he opted to miss practice for the rest of the week.

He cleared waivers on Tuesday and was subsequently able to pick his next team, with ESPN reporting earlier in the week that he planned to sign with a playoff contender.

The 7-2 Rams are second in NFC West, with the Arizona Cardinals (8-1) the only team in the NFL with a better record.

The three-time Pro Bowler was sidelined with a torn ACL in 2020 and has made 17 catches for 232 yards and zero touchdowns in six games this season. 

Beckham was traded to the Browns by the New York Giants in 2019, where he topped 1,000 yards in four of his five seasons. The year he failed to hit that mark he spent most of the campaign out with an ankle injury. 

Julio Jones (103.8) and Antonio Brown (100.6) were the only wide receivers to average more yards per game than Beckham (92.8) between 2014 and 2018.

Matthew Stafford's performance through his first eight games in a Los Angeles Rams uniform put him in the NFL MVP conversation, but Sunday felt more like the bad old days in Detroit for the veteran quarterback. 

Hounded throughout the game by the Tennessee Titans' defence, Stafford threw two critical interceptions as the Rams fell 28-16 at home.

The turning point of the game occurred early in the second quarter, when Stafford tried to throw the ball away while being pulled down by Jeffrey Simmons in the end zone. 

His blind heave landed in the arms of Titans linebacker David Long, who returned it to the two-yard line and set up a Tennessee touchdown on the next play. 

The Rams (7-2) got the ball back after the kick-off and Stafford took to the air again, trying to hit Robert Woods, but Titans defensive back Kevin Byard jumped it and went 24 yards for the Titans' second TD in 11 seconds. 

It was the 24th time Stafford had an interception returned for a touchdown, the most of any active NFL quarterback. 

"I mean, I basically spotted them 14 points," Stafford told reporters. "Can't do that in the NFL, especially against a good team like that that wants to get out in front, run the football, mix coverages, do all that kind of stuff. Just wasn't good enough early in the game.

"Turnovers really killed us and those are on me, so if I clean those up and I know I will, I've got a lot of confidence in this team to go out there and play some really good football."

Though Stafford could have made better decisions on both of those plays, Tennessee's defenders were flying around the field all game. 

The Rams had surrendered an NFL-low eight sacks through the first eight games, but the Titans (7-2) brought down Stafford five times on Sunday.

"Those guys played fantastic," Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said of his defence. "It was fun to watch them play. 

"We really think that group is playing with a lot of confidence right now. They would be able to come in here and play the way they did and hold them to field goals, and we played great in red zone."

Tennessee twice forced the Rams to settle for field goals in the red zone and did not surrender a touchdown until Stafford threw a three-yard pass to Sony Michel with 24 seconds to play in the game. 

It all added up to a winning formula for the Titans even as they managed just 194 yards of total offence while playing without their injured star Derrick Henry. 

"Those guys played some great ball defensively. It made up for our lack of offence," said veteran running back Adrian Peterson, who signed with Tennessee this week and scored his 125th career touchdown.

"You hear all this talk about the Rams' defence. What about the Titans' defence? Those guys came out and played outstanding."

Half a minute made all the difference as the Tennessee Titans' defence made two huge plays in quick succession to stun the Los Angeles Rams 28-16 in the NFL on Sunday.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions in a 26-second span early in the second quarter, leading to a pair of rapid-fire Titans touchdowns. 

The first was an ill-advised attempt to throw the ball away while being dragged down in the end zone that David Long intercepted at the Rams' eight-yard line.

After Geoff Swaim scored on a two-yard TD pass from Titans QB Ryan Tannehill on the ensuing play, Stafford's next pass was picked off and returned 24 yards for a TD by Kevin Byard. 

Tannehill would run the ball in for another score prior to half-time as the Titans built a 21-3 lead before handing the game over to their ferocious defence, which sacked Stafford five times after LA entered the game with only eight sacks allowed all season. 

Titans recruit Adrian Peterson scored his 125th career TD, joining 11 other players to score 125-plus career touchdowns.

The Rams (7-2) would not find the end zone until Stafford hit Sony Michel for a short TD with 24 seconds remaining in the game as they fell behind the victorious Arizona Cardinals (8-1) in the division race. 

Tennessee (7-2) now hold the best record in the AFC despite being out-gained 347-194 as star running back Derrick Henry remains sidelined with a foot injury.

Tannehill completed 19 of 27 passes for just 143 yards with a TD and an interception but his 79.7 passer rating was still better than Stafford's 71.0 after the Rams QB finished 31-of-48 passing for 294 yards. 

The Green Bay Packers head into Week 9 with a 7-1 record, though coach Matt LaFleur will have to figure out a way past the Kansas City Chiefs without his star quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers – who has thrown for 1,894 yards and made 17 touchdown passes this season – will miss his first Packers game since 2017 after testing positive for COVID-19.

The Arizona Cardinals are also now at 7-1 after losing their unbeaten record with a defeat to the Packers last week, and will be looking to get back to winning ways against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Los Angeles Rams are the only other team in the NFL that sits at 7-1 going into Week 9, and are set for a fascinating contest with the 6-2 Tennessee Titans.

 

Green Bay Packers (7-1) @ Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)

Overcoming Rodgers' absence will be no easy feat for Green Bay. Since the 37-year-old took over as the starter in 2008, the Packers are 133-64-1 with him, and 6-11-1 without.

The Packers knocked off the last unbeaten team in Week 8 with a 24-21 win at Arizona and are now on a seven-game winning streak, their longest within a single season since going 13-0 in 2011 on their way to a 15-1 record. Their only loss that season came in Kansas City.

The Chiefs hold a 7-4-1 record over Green Bay, but the Packers have won three of the last four meetings. They most recently played in Week 8 in 2019, with the Packers triumphing 31-24 at Arrowhead. Kansas City went 10-1 following that game on their way to winning the Super Bowl.

Patrick Mahomes led the Chiefs to that championship and since he took over as the starting quarterback in 2018, Kansas City have had just six games with 20 or fewer points, including the postseason. Three of those games have come this season (Weeks 5, 7 and 8).

Wide receiver Tyreek Hill had 12 receptions in the Chiefs' 20-17 win against the Giants on Monday, one shy of tying a career high (set in Week 12, 2020 at Tampa Bay). The Chiefs are 15-2 (regular and postseason) when Hill has at least eight receptions.

Arizona Cardinals (7-1) @ San Francisco 49ers (3-4)

This will be the second meeting in the NFC West for these two teams this season, with Arizona already enjoying a 17-10 home win over San Francisco in Week 5. It is, though, the only game in which the Cardinals have not scored at least 21 points this year. The Cardinals have won five of their last six road games against the Niners, with three of those wins coming by at least 10 points.

The 24 points scored against the Cardinals by the Packers in Week 8 in their first loss of the campaign was the second most allowed by Arizona this season (33 against Minnesota in Week 2). Their average of 17.3 points allowed per game ranks third in the NFL.

San Francisco beat the Chicago Bears 33-22 last week, breaking a four-game losing streak and scoring their most points since a 41-33 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 1. Since the start of last season, the Niners are 1-10 at home and 8-4 on the road.

Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 322 yards and ran for two touchdowns in Chicago. The only 49ers player with more passing yards in a game while also rushing for multiple scores is Steve Young, who had games with 355 yards (1994), 348 (1991) and 331 (1998).

Tennessee Titans (6-2) @ Los Angeles Rams (7-1)

Including their win in Super Bowl XXXIV, the Rams have an all-time record of 8-5 against the Titans/Oilers franchise. The Titans' last game at the Rams in southern California came in Week 9, 1990, which saw a 17-13 Rams win over the then-Oilers in Anaheim.

Tennessee beat the Indianapolis Colts 34-31 in overtime last Sunday. It was their third overtime game this year, tying the franchise record for most overtime games in a single season (1983).

The Rams, meanwhile, defeated the Houston Texans 38-22 after leading 38-0 heading into the fourth quarter. They are one of two teams (along with the Dallas Cowboys) to score at least 20 points in every game this season.

Cooper Kupp had 115 receiving yards and a touchdown in that win in Houston, his third straight 100-yard game. Kupp has 10 touchdown catches from the first eight games of the season, second in Rams history only to Elroy Hirsch (12 TDs in 1951).

Elsewhere...

The New England Patriots travel to Carolina to face the Panthers on Sunday, where Mac Jones is set to make history. The rookie quarterback has 1,997 passing yards in his eight games in the NFL so far. Drew Bledsoe currently holds the record for fewest games needed to reach 2,000 passing yards with the Patriots (11). Butch Songin and Tom Brady managed it in 12 games.

The Minnesota Vikings will be hoping to end Lamar Jackson's impressive record against NFC teams. The Baltimore Ravens quarterback is 11-0 all-time as a starter in those meets, throwing for 1,901 yards and 17 touchdowns while running for 995 yards with six scores. 

Despite differing seasons, it could be a close contest in Jacksonville. Including the playoffs, the Bills (5-2) and Jaguars (1-6) have split eight all-time encounters when the Jags are the home team, with both teams scoring exactly 161 points. 

A clash in the AFC North sees the Cincinnati Bengals (5-3) host the Cleveland Browns (4-4), where Joe Burrow will be trying to become the first quarterback in Bengals history to throw three or more touchdown passes in four straight games. Andy Dalton also had three straight games of three or more TD passes in October 2013.

Von Miller may have to wait to make his Los Angeles Rams debut, with head coach Sean McVay wanting to "ease him back in" after an ankle injury.

Miller, 32, joined the Rams from the Denver Broncos in a blockbuster trade on Monday, which significantly boosts McVay's 7-1 side and their NFL Super Bowl prospects.

A Super Bowl winner and MVP, Miller arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday and underwent a physical and onboarding but sat out practice on Wednesday, ahead of Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.

Miller missed the Broncos' Week 8 game due to an ankle injury suffered against the Cleveland Browns in Week 7, putting his availability to face the Titans in doubt.

"He'll do some limited work off to the side, just getting a feel for where his ankle is at. He hasn't been with us," McVay told reporters about Miller on Wednesday.

"Want to be smart, want to be able to ease him back in. We'll see what that looks like a day at a time."

McVay said the eight-time Pro Bowler was eager to play for his new team.

"Oh yeah, he's going to do everything in his power to try to play," McVay said. "But I think there's an element of let's take it a day at a time and let's be smart, let's get a feel for how he's doing, but this guy is an elite competitor and he definitely wants to be able to do that."

Miller has a pressure rate of 24.8 per cent, which was well above the pre-Week 8 average of 17.2 per cent for edge rushers.

McVay also revealed quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Robert Woods should both face the Titans, despite not practicing on Wednesday.

"We're fairly banged up so we're going to take a little bit more modified approach to practice this week," McVay said, adding later, "it's more about just being smart, being safe."

The Rams beat the Houston Texans 38-22 on the road last week after leading 38-0 heading into the fourth quarter. They are one of two teams (also the Dallas Cowboys) to score at least 20 points in every game this season, according to Stats Perform.

Meanwhile, the Rams have scored points in every half dating back to Week 13 in 2019 – their streak of 58 consecutive halves is the second-longest active streak (Baltimore, 135), per Stats Perform.

The Titans (6-2) will be without running back Derrick Henry, who underwent foot surgery on Tuesday.

Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead rejected suggestions they are all-in on this season with the acquisition of All-Pro outside linebacker Von Miller, insisting he has been added with an immediate and long-term view.

The 7-1 Rams bolstered their defence by striking a blockbuster trade for Miller from the Denver Broncos on Monday, although the 32-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season under the deal.

The Rams gave up second and third-round picks in 2022 to the Broncos for the Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl 50 MVP, and will pay $9million of the $9.7m Miller is owed on his contract for the remainder of the season.

Miller's arrival is anticipated to substantially propel the Rams towards winning their first Super Bowl since 1999 but Snead insisted it was not an all-in approach to win an elusive title.

"We're actually looking at this from a standpoint of how soon can he help us, can he help us if we're fortunate enough to continue going and make the 2021 tournament, how can he help us there," Snead told reporters on Tuesday. "And then there's a long-term vision for Von as well."

On the draft picks exchanged, Snead added: "I even got a mug that my kids have given me about what I think about draft picks. I get the shallow narrative, it's fun and narrative but we like to think we use our picks innovatively and creatively… We're going to get four more compensatory picks based on players that signed elsewhere last year so we should have around eight total picks."

Miller joins a top-heavy defence that but boasts fearsome stars in the form of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, regarded by many as the best player in the NFL, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Rams defence leads the NFL with 25 sacks this season.

Since being drafted by the Broncos with the second overall pick in 2011, Miller has recorded 110.5 sacks – the most in the NFL, winning the Super Bowl 50 MVP award as he played a key role in delivering the Lombardi Trophy to Denver at the end of the 2015 season.

"Outside linebacker, very important in our defence especially someone who is or has a pedigree of affecting the passer like he has," Snead said. "We did feel like that adding Von to that front seven mix would be a player that would stress the protection, stress the opponent, the one-on-one matchup."

Miller is set to make his Rams debut on Sunday in a primetime clash with the Tennessee Titans, who will be without running back Derrick Henry, who may miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.

The Los Angeles Rams waived wide receiver DeSean Jackson after exploring trade opportunities prior to NFL's deadline.

Jackson was allowed to seek trade options for himself, but the deadline passed without a deal being made, though the Rams waiving the three-time Pro Bowler still allows him to explore opportunities elsewhere.

The 34-year-old, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason, caught eight of 15 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown in seven games for the 7-1 Rams.

"I'm not going to give it a grade. One came to mind, but that would probably be the headlines, right? Obviously it was an experiment that we attempted," said Rams general manager Les Snead on Tuesday.

"It didn't work out as well as we wanted it to, as DeSean wanted it to, as even [head coach] Sean [McVay] wanted it to, especially those two because they have a relationship that probably goes ... deeper than football.

"Didn't work out for us and that is why we somewhat wanted to move in this direction and come up with a win-win in this situation."

Jackson added: "I am very grateful for the time that I spent playing for the LA Rams. Although this isn't the outcome that we wanted, I am extremely appreciative for the opportunity and support given to me by the Rams coaches and all of the fans.

"I understand that everything happens for a reason and I look forward to beginning the next chapter of my NFL career."

Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers cut linebacker Jaylon Smith just weeks after signing him.

Smith – acquired by the Packers after leaving the Dallas Cowboys – only made two appearances for high-flying Green Bay, playing a total of 27 snaps.

The Los Angeles Rams have substantially bolstered their defense by striking a blockbuster trade for Denver Broncos edge rusher Von Miller.

According to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter, Miller is saying his goodbyes to the Broncos after Denver agreed to deal him to the Rams for a pair of day-two draft choices.

The Broncos, according to Schefter, are paying $9million of Miller's remaining $9.7m salary as part of the trade.

Miller is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, but the Rams will hope his addition to the defense can propel them to a Super Bowl title that has eluded them since the 1999 season.

He joins a top-heavy defense that has taken a step back in 2021 but boasts fearsome stars in the form of defensive tackle Aaron Donald, regarded by many as the best player in the NFL, and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

And the Rams can afford to be confident they are getting a player still capable of delivering the pass-rush production that has defined his stellar career.

Since being drafted by the Broncos in 2011 with the second overall pick, Miller has recorded 110.5 sacks, the most in the NFL, winning the Super Bowl 50 MVP award as he played a key role in delivering the Lombardi Trophy to Denver at the end of the 2015 season.

Miller was inactive for the Broncos' Week 8 win over the Washington Football Team but has done an excellent job of creating pressure this campaign.

He has a pressure rate of 24.8 per cent, which was well above the pre-Week 8 average of 17.2 per cent for edge rushers.

Miller is set to make his Rams debut on Sunday in a primetime clash with a Tennessee Titans team that will be without running back Derrick Henry, who may miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.

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.

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.

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.

Matthew Stafford is happy to have put the storylines to bed after defeating his former team the Detroit Lions as the Los Angeles Rams improved to 6-1.

Stafford was traded from the Lions to the Rams in a deal agreed in January, with Jared Goff and two first-round picks going the other way in a blockbuster move that is working out brilliantly for Los Angeles.

The Rams were heavy favourites to see off the winless Lions, meaning the focus was primarily on the reunions for Stafford and Goff with the franchises they used to call home.

Despite a spirited effort from the Lions, for whom Stafford owns the franchise record in passing yards after throwing 45,109 over 12 seasons, the Rams emerged with a 28-19 victory.

Stafford was imperious, throwing for 334 yards and three touchdowns, and afterward, he expressed his satisfaction at being able to focus purely on games rather than the narrative surrounding this matchup.

"Am I happy it's over with? Yeah," Stafford said. "I've got a lot of great friends, got a lot of people that I care about that are on that team or from that city and I'm just glad to have this one over with and put the storylines away and just go out and play football the rest of the year."

Stafford, however, was touched to see some Lions fans who made the journey to Los Angeles still sporting his jersey.

"I thought to myself that was pretty cool," he added. "I really appreciate it. I've said it a bunch of times, and I truly mean it, I loved my time there. I loved all the people there that treated me, my family, my wife with a ton of respect and a ton of grace for a long time.

"It was cool to see that. Once the ball was snapped, it was football time, and I was ready to go play."

Tom Brady made history once again as Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rolled past the Chicago Bears 38-3 in NFL action Sunday. 

With a nine-yard strike to Mike Evans in the closing seconds of the first quarter, Brady became the first NFL quarterback to throw 600 touchdown passes.

The 44-year-old – 20-of-36 passing for 211 yards – would finish the game with 602 for his career, all four of his TD tosses going for fewer than 10 yards and three of them landing in Evans' hands. 

Blaine Gabbert took over at quarterback for Brady midway through the fourth quarter with the game well in hand as the Buccaneers improved to 6-1. 

Brady's opposite number, Bears rookie QB Justin Fields, had a brutal day as he was sacked four times and threw three interceptions as Chicago failed to find the end zone. 

Stafford, Rams survive Lions scare

The matchup between Super Bowl contenders the Los Angeles Rams and the winless Detroit Lions finished with the expected result, but the Rams' 28-19 win was much closer than anticipated. 

The Rams (6-1) trailed 19-17 entering the fourth quarter and needed a five-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp early in the period to take the lead and a 47-yard Matt Gay field goal with just over a minute to play to seal the win. 

Stafford completed 28 of 41 passes for 334 yards and three TDs against the team he played for in the first 12 years of his career, while former Rams QB Jared Goff threw a pair of costly interceptions for the Lions (0-7).

Kupp became the first player in the Super Bowl era to have 800-plus receiving yards and nine-plus receiving touchdowns in his team's first seven games of a season.

While the Lions remained the only winless team in the league after Week 7, the Arizona Cardinals (7-0) maintained their status as the lone team with a perfect record, routing the Houston Texans 31-5 behind three TD passes by Kyler Murray. 

Kyle Shanahan needs to get the San Francisco 49ers winning again if their playoff potential is to be fulfilled, and this Sunday looks like a major opportunity.

To snap a three-game losing streak, the Niners (2-3) must get the better of an Indianapolis Colts side who, much like San Francisco themselves, have made an inconsistent start to the season.

By contrast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are riding a three-game run of wins and have started 5-1 for just the fifth time in the history of the franchise, heading into a tussle with the Chicago Bears (3-3). Tom Brady has been a driving force so far as the Super Bowl winners carry on where they left off last season.

Patrick Mahomes has been hit and miss for the slow-starting Kansas City Chiefs, who will hope the NFL's highest-paid player can cut out throwing interceptions as they face the Tennessee Titans.


Indianapolis Colts @ San Francisco 49ers

If coach Shanahan's 49ers are to turn around their season, then facing a Colts side who have begun 2-4 seems like a pretty good place to start. Yet the Colts have dominated this series of late, winning on their last four meetings, albeit most recently in 2017 when they snatched a 26-23 overtime success. It would not be stepping out of line to predict this could be tight, given the 49ers have played nine consecutive games that have been decided by eight or fewer points, going back to last season.

That is the longest active streak of such close games in the NFL and the longest streak in team history, and the Niners do not have the best recent return when games go close, posting a 3-6 record in this sequence.

San Francisco fell 17-10 to the Cardinals in their most recent game, two weeks ago, while the Colts hot-footed their way to a 31-3 trouncing of Houston last Sunday. That came despite Indianapolis earning just 15 first downs for the entire game. It was the first time the Colts had won by 28 or more points while only having 15 or fewer first downs since 1972 against New England.

In his 21st career game, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns, meaning he surpassed 1,500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and chalked up his 15th rushing touchdown in the NFL. Only four running backs in NFL history have hit all three of those milestones in fewer games than Taylor, with two of those doing so with the Colts – Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk.

San Francisco will hope to be recharged after a bye week. Deebo Samuel scored the fourth rushing touchdown of his career against the Cardinals, with Jerry Rice (10) the only wide receiver with more rushing touchdowns in 49ers history.

Chicago Bears @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After a dispiriting loss to the Green Bay Packers last time out, the Chicago Bears encounter a Tampa Bay team in sparkling recent form. Tampa Bay have started the season 5-1, doing so for the fifth time in franchise history, and on each of the previous occasions (2005, 2002, 1997 and 1979) they backed it up by reaching the playoffs. History could be made on Sunday, given the Buccaneers have never started a season with six wins through their first seven games.

Yet this is a game in which the Bears have traditionally, and recently, had the upper hand. Chicago have stacked up 40 wins in 60 all-time meetings against Tampa Bay, which is the most wins by any team against the Bucs. The Bears have also won the last two in the series, scoring victories in 2018 and 2020.

Tampa Bay can seemingly do no wrong when Brady is pulling the strings so masterfully. Brady leads the NFL with 2,064 passing yards, the second-highest total he has ever had through six games of a season – beaten only by his 2,163 passing yards at this stage in 2011. Prior to this year, no Tampa Bay quarterback had ever thrown for more than 1,800 yards through six games.

What have the Bears got to offer? Chicago are averaging 246.2 net yards per game, which is more than 20 yards per game less than any other team. The 1,477 yards is the fewest Chicago has had through six games since the 1993 season. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields needs to make something happen, but others must step up too. In his first career start, Khalil Herbert ran for 97 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay last time out.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Tennessee Titans

"He's trying to make things happen," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, explaining away the two interceptions thrown by Patrick Mahomes in Week 6 against Washington. For Mahomes, that was a second straight game with at least two interceptions. He is tied with Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence in second position on the list of the most interceptions thrown this season, with his tally of eight so far only topped by Zach Wilson of the Jets.

This is only the second run that Mahomes has endured of throwing two or more interceptions in consecutive games, the previous dating back to Week 5 and 6 of the 2018 season, and Reid will hope his radar is better set for the clash with the Titans. Mahomes is still doing an awful lot right in 2021, but the fact remains he threw just six interceptions last season.

The Chiefs' unsteady 3-3 opening is their worst of the Mahomes era, and it was 2015 when they got off to a slower start. On that occasion they followed a 1-5 opening with 10 consecutive wins, a single-season record for Kansas City that was matched last season.

Tennessee's bright start has featured some notable performances. The Titans ran for 146 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns in the 34-31 win over Buffalo on Monday night, taking them to 985 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns for the season. It is the first time in franchise history that the Bills have 10 or more rushing touchdowns and at least 975 rushing yards through six games.

Running back Derrick Henry has 10 rushing touchdowns so far, beating his career best of seven through six weeks in 2020. It puts him tied for the fourth most rushing touchdowns of all time through six weeks (Jim Brown 14, Shaun Alexander 12, Emmitt Smith 11).

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions face a tall order on the road against the Los Angeles Rams (5-1). Detroit are 0-6 for the first time since their 0-16 season in 2008 and have not scored more than 17 points in any of their last five games. Former Rams quarterback Jared Goff, now with Detroit, has thrown zero touchdown passes and an interception in each of his last two games.

The 5-1 Baltimore Ravens have recent history on their side ahead of a clash with the Cincinnati Bengals, having won five successive games in their head-to-head series, including the last three by a brutal average of 31.7 points.

Heading into a home game against the Houston Texans (1-5), the Arizona Cardinals are on a 6-0 roll. This has only happened twice before in franchise history, but never before in Arizona. The St Louis Cardinals in 1974 and Chicago Cardinals in 1922 are the teams who both started their seasons 6-0 as well.

Philadelphia QB Jalen Hurts could match an NFL record as the Eagles (2-4) tackle the Las Vegas Raiders. Hurts has rushed for two touchdowns in each of his last two games. Billy Kilmer, for San Francisco in 1961, is the only quarterback to achieve the feat in three straight games.

The Green Bay Packers last lost at home to Washington in 1988, winning five in a row since with home-field advantage, and they put a 5-1 season record to the test when the teams meet again. Washington (2-4) are yielding an NFL-worst 31.0 points per game in 2021, matching the team's worst mark through six games of a season in the Super Bowl era (1998).

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