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Hank GargiuloSeth Walder 26d

Identifying the best, most important games of NFL Week 8

NFL, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins

What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN's matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN's Football Power Index to rank games on a 1-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games of Week 8.


1. Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX)

Matchup quality: 72 out of 100
FPI win projection: Cowboys, 51 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Cowboys 25 percent, Redskins 17 percent

Though breakout campaigns from Philadelphia's Carson Wentz and Houston's Deshaun Watson are stealing the show, an interesting but equally important quarterback story is emerging in Dallas: Dak Prescott has been just as good as he was last year.

At the moment Prescott has a 78.1 Total QBR -- exactly the same number he had through six games last season. The only difference: There has been a 30-play increase in the number of action plays for the Cowboys quarterback. Currently, Prescott trails only Watson in Total QBR. Despite being 3-3, the Cowboys ought to reach the postseason if Prescott can keep up this level of play.


2. Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 67 out of 100
FPI win projection: Seahawks, 71 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Texans 19 percent, Seahawks 8 percent

Watson has been incredible this season, and deserves the heaps of praise he has received. But if there is one reason to be skeptical of the Texans quarterback, it's this: 24.7 percent of his passes have been off target. The only other qualified quarterback with a higher percentage of his passes off target is Cleveland's DeShone Kizer, and he is not exactly someone any quarterback wants to keep company with right now.

Granted, there are other quarterbacks who have been successful lately with relatively high off-target rates (the Rams' Jared Goff and Bills' Tyrod Taylor have the third- and fifth-highest rates, respectively), but it is at least a little bit of a red flag. The good news for Houston is that Watson provides value with his legs, which could help mitigate his accuracy issues.

This will be a particularly difficult matchup, as the Seahawks have the fourth-lowest opponent Total QBR this season.


3. Pittsburgh Steelers at Detroit Lions (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Matchup quality: 66 out of 100
FPI win projection: Steelers, 51 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Lions 15 percent, Steelers 3 percent

The Steelers' defense is absolutely legit, earning a unit efficiency rating of 77.1. To put that into context: Only three teams since 2006 have bested that rate.

A key part of that defense is disruption of the passing attack. The Steelers are pressuring opposing quarterbacks on 30.2 percent of dropbacks, the seventh-highest rate in the league, despite blitzing just 20.6 percent of the time, the fifth-lowest rate in the league.

Despite that, it's possible they might bring the heat against Matthew Stafford more often in this one because the Lions quarterback has the worst raw QBR in the league against the blitz.

On the other side of the ball, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell might not have his best game in this one, as the Lions' run defense has produced the fourth-most expected points per game this season.


4. Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots (Thursday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 62 out of 100
FPI win projection: Patriots, 76 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Chargers 22 percent, Patriots 9 percent

And just like that, the Patriots are once again FPI's top rated team. It still has some legitimate concerns about the Patriots' defense (fourth-least efficient defense this season), but the Patriots' offense is second to none. They have posted an offensive efficiency better than 50 (league average) in each of their seven games this season, the only team to do so.

The Chargers, meanwhile, are still trying to rebound from an 0-4 start. They have reeled off three consecutive wins and have crawled to the verge of the playoff picture with a 17 percent chance to make the playoffs after Week 7. An unexpected win would be a boon to their playoff probability, upping them to 33 percent.


5. Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Matchup quality: 60 out of 100
FPI win projection: Chiefs, 77 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Broncos 23 percent, Chiefs 10 percent

The Chiefs can't lose three in a row, can they? FPI doesn't think so, giving the Chiefs a 77 percent chance to win, but that also means a 23 percent chance to lose, or roughly 1-in-4.

The Chiefs' defense has been its Achilles' heel for most of the season and has given up a league-worst minus-32 expected points added (that's bad) over the past two weeks, by far the worst in the league (San Francisco and Indianapolis are both at -25). Kansas City will face a similarly struggling unit in the Broncos' offense, which has accrued minus-31 expected points added as a unit over its past two games.

On the other side of the ball, we should get a classic strength versus strength matchup between the Broncos' defense (fourth-most efficient defense) and the Chiefs' offense (second-most efficient offense).


Leverage game of the Week. Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens (Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 34 out of 100
FPI win projection: Ravens, 67 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Ravens 22 percent, Dolphins 21 percent

It might not be the most aesthetically pleasing game to watch (both teams rank in the bottom six in offensive efficiency), but the playoff implications are second to none for Week 8. FPI sees this as a pivotal game for both teams, with a playoff leverage north of 20 percent for each squad. Even with a win, neither side will have much of a chance at their respective divisions (Dolphins 6 percent, Ravens 5 percent), but a wild card -- and a potentially large head-to-head tiebreaker -- are the prize.

Baltimore's chances of making the postseason would be 33 percent with a victory and 11 percent with a loss, while Miami sports a strikingly similar 34 percent chance with a win and 13 percent with a loss.

For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index. 

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