Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan works on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens (4) celebrates with Brandon Aiyuk during the second half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) The script has flipped in the nearly three years since the previous meeting between the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.
The Niners left Philadelphia that day after a lopsided loss as a winless team in coach Kyle Shanahan's first season with a thin roster so battered by injuries they nearly had to play a tight end at tackle.
''That was a game I've tried to forget,'' Shanahan said this week. ''That was a very miserable game.''
The 49ers returned home with an 0-8 record, acquired quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a trade the next day and have transformed into a power that went to the Super Bowl a year ago.
The Eagles (0-2-1) went on to win the Super Bowl that season but enter the rematch on Sunday against San Francisco (2-1) searching for answers to reverse their worst start to a season in more that two decades.
Quarterback Carson Wentz has the lowest passer rating in the NFL at 63.9 and has committed the most turnovers with seven on a team that has done little right since taking a 17-0 lead in the opener against Washington. They lost that game 27-17, were beaten handily by the Rams the next week and tied Cincinnati in Week 3 for the team's worst start since going 0-4 in 1999.
''Right now we're not a very good football team,'' coach Doug Pederson said. ''We're not very smart. We're shooting ourselves in the foot. We're leaving touchdowns on the field offensively, and we're just not executing.''
That was the 49ers situation after losing 33-10 to the Eagles on Oct. 29, 2017, to fall to 0-8 that season. They lost a half-dozen players to injuries that game, which almost forced tight end Garrett Celek to play tackle.
The Niners have dealt with a similar spate of injuries this season with Garoppolo, All-Pro tight end George Kittle, star cornerback Richard Sherman, 2019 Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa, running Raheem Mostert and No. 1 receiver Deebo Samuel among the key players to miss time this season.
Kittle and Samuel will be back this week, while Garoppolo will miss a second straight game. But the 49ers have shown they have the depth to handle it following back-to-back lopsided wins over the Jets and Giants with short-handed rosters.
''I think we're much deeper at every position,'' Kittle said. ''We're also way more mature. We had a lot of rookies and second-year guys playing then.''
DON'T BE FOOLED
Shanahan isn't focused on Wentz's early season struggles that have included poor decisions and bad accuracy that have led to far more mistakes than usual for a player who was in MVP contention three years ago. Shanahan figures it's only a matter of time until that player returns.
''We're coaching like we're playing against Carson Wentz, who is one of the better quarterbacks in this league,'' he said. ''He was the best player in the league the year they won the Super Bowl. I think he's done a lot of good things since. I know his numbers aren't great this year and I know a lot of people are saying things about him, but when I watched the film, I see Carson Wentz.''
GIVE MILES THE ROCK
Philadelphia's Miles Sanders has 190 yards rushing in two games, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. But he only ran the ball three times out of 15 offensive plays in overtime against Cincinnati. Pederson is prone to abandoning the run quickly, but he said Sanders was fatigued late in the game for the second straight week.
Sanders missed training camp with a hamstring injury. With Philadelphia's passing game struggling, leaning on Sanders is even more important. But the Eagles can't do that if he's tired in the second half. Boston Scott (3.7 yards per carry) and Corey Clement (3.0) haven't done much when they ran the ball.
''Coaches have a game plan and we put all our trust in the coaches,'' Sanders said. ''So whatever play is called in the huddle, I'm going to run it.''
With Garoppolo sidelined again because of an ankle injury, the Niners are in more than capable hands with Nick Mullens at quarterback. He threw for 343 yards and a touchdown last week and has 2,620 yards in his nine starts. Only Patrick Mahomes (2,810) and Andrew Luck (2,631) had more after nine starts.
''Nick's as good of a pro as we have in this building,'' tackle Mike McGlinchey said. ''He's always on his preparation. The way that his mind works and the way that he's able to think through the demands of our offense is as good as anybody.''
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has faced Shanahan's offense several times over the years so he's preparing his team against the scheme more than the players, especially with San Francisco dealing with several injuries.
''We really don't concern ourselves too much with their injuries. Everybody's dealing with that in the NFL,'' Schwartz said. ''I think the biggest thing there is their scheme has a long track record. ... Whether they have a running back that's started the season or a guy that's coming off the practice squad, it really doesn't change what they're trying to accomplish in the game.''
The Niners will have a new long snapper for the game after the team's second-longest tenured player, Kyle Nelson, was released. Nelson had several bad snaps last week, leading to the change. Taybor Pepper will take over the role this week.
Five Hot Plays: Week 8
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron has been productive over the last month of the season, catching at least five passes in three of his last four games. He could struggle to keep it going in Week 8 as he will face off against a tough Baltimore Ravens team. Baltimore's pass defense ranks seventh in DVOA and is allowing the 16th-most fantasy points per game to the tight end position. Ebron settles in as an uninspiring TE2 for Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster finally showed some signs of life in Week 7, setting season highs with nine catches and 85 yards in a win over the Tennessee Titans. While his big performance helped to ease concerns about his slow start to the season, Smith-Schuster could struggle to produce against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8. Baltimore's defense is tough against the pass, ranking seventh in DVOA and allowing the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position. Fantasy managers can still start Smith-Schuster, but treat him as a WR3 for Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool disappointed in Week 7, finishing with just one catch on his lone target. The slow outing by Claypool coincided with the return to action by No. 1 wideout Diontae Johnson, who caught two touchdowns in the game. Claypool appears to have a tough matchup on tap for Week 8 as he will go up against the Baltimore Ravens, a pass defense that is ranked seventh in DVOA this year. That being said, Claypool does draw the most favorable matchup of the top three Pittsburgh wideouts, as he will primarily run his routes against Marcus Peters. Peters has struggled in coverage this season, so Claypool could see more targets come his way if the Ravens can successfully shut down JuJu Smith-Schuster and Johnson. Treat Claypool as a WR3 for Week 8.
Minnesota Vikings rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson has 28 catches for 537 receiving yards so far this year, and 36.3 percent of those yards have come after the catch. Jefferson has proved to be extremely difficult to cover and tackle for opponents, and his contributions have helped overcome the departure of Stefon Diggs. At the rate he's currently on, Jefferson will finish his first year in the NFL with well over 1,000 yards receiving, with nearly half of those yards coming after he's caught the football. The 21-year-old is the real deal. He's averaging 3.20 yards per route run and had nine catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns before the team's Week 7 bye. The LSU product has become a must-start WR2.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (toe) is coming off a two-touchdown outing in Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans. Johnson's big day was evidence that he is still the No. 1 wide receiver in Pittsburgh, despite the emergence of rookie Chase Claypool. Johnson is a bit banged up, however, as he missed practice on Wednesday with a toe injury. This is a situation worth monitoring ahead of his Week 8 game against the Baltimore Ravens. If Johnson does play, he faces a tough matchup against the Baltimore secondary. Treat Johnson as a high-end WR3 for Week 8.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown had 2.9 receiving yards per route run in his rookie year in 2019, which trailed only Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Thomas and Antonio Brown since 2016. Brown has played in only four games this year due to injury, but he's still been a yards-after-the-catch monster despite only accounting for 20.5 percent of the team's total receiving output. He had 96 yards after the catch in the Week 7 loss to the Steelers, and that one game accounted for almost two-thirds of his total yards after the catch for the season. Since returning from injury, Brown has 293 receiving yards and four touchdowns in three games. We'd say he's back. Keep him in your lineups as a high-end WR1 against Cincinnati this weekend.
X-rays this week showed that Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (thumb) has multiple fractures and a strained ligament in his right thumb, according to sources. Minshew has been dealing with pain in his thumb since Oct. 11 against the Texans, but the team didn't know about his injury until this week. The Jags are on bye this week, but it's unclear if he'll be able to play in Week 9 against the Texans. We'd be surprised if the 24-year-old is ready to go coming off the bye with this injury, so plan ahead if you've been using him in superflex leagues as a QB2. Mike Glennon is the team's backup and would get the starting nod against Houston if Minshew cannot go.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) took part in the quarterback meeting on Thursday, showing that he's making some progress in the league's concussion protocol. However, he will not practice again on Thursday, according to head coach Mike McCarthy. Rookie Ben DiNucci will continue to see first-team repetitions in practice and looks increasingly likely to see his first career NFL start in Week 8 against the division-rival Eagles. DiNucci will be an unappetizing low-end QB2 in superflex leagues if Dalton cannot get cleared, while the Eagles Defense will be a strong play this weekend. Dallas receivers should be downgraded with the rookie likely to start.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (calf), who did not practice on Wednesday, is itching to get back onto the field after sitting out in Week 7. Jones thinks he can play in Week 8 against the Vikings and wants to play, but the Packers medical staff continues to be very conservative, especially with Green Bay having a short turnaround in Week 9 against the 49ers on Thursday night. As of right now, it seems like the Packers will err on the side of caution and keep Jones out for the second straight week. Jamaal Williams stepped in last Sunday for a season-high 19 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown against the Texans, and he also caught four passes for 37 yards. If Jones is inactive again, Williams will be a plug-and-play RB2 against Minnesota.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (ankle) will not be taken off Injured Reserve and activated for Thursday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. McCaffrey returned to practice this week, but the short week probably prevented him from getting back up to speed and ready for game action. Mike Davis can be started by fantasy owners with confidence and should flourish in a great matchup against the Falcons. McCaffrey, meanwhile, should be considered likely to make his return in Week 9 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In Week 8, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be looking to bounce back from his worst performance of the season. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions and two touchdowns in Week 7, although the Steelers still wound up winning. He draws a tough matchup against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8. Baltimore's defense is allowing the 13th-most fantasy points per game to the quarterback position but their pass defense does rank seventh in DVOA. Fantasy gamers should treat Roethlisberger as a mid-range QB2 for Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner has been a productive fantasy option for much of the season, having found the end zone four times in six games. He may struggle to reach his normal production levels in Week 8, however, against a tough Baltimore Ravens run defense. Baltimore is allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to the running back position and has a run defense that is ranked third in DVOA. Conner should see enough work to finish as an RB2, just don't expect a big game out of him this weekend.
The Cleveland Browns Defense has been a solid play in fantasy for much of the 2020 season. While they are allowing opposing offenses to score frequently, Cleveland's defense has been opportunistic, leading the league with 14 takeaways through seven games. Cleveland is installed as three-point home favorites for their Week 8 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders. While the Las Vegas offense has been good this season, Cleveland can still be treated as a top-12 fantasy option for Week 8.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry is averaging just 5.57 targets per game through the first seven weeks of the season. He should, however, see an uptick in targets with Odell Beckham Jr. out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. Now Cleveland's No. 1 WR, Landry draws an excellent Week 8 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders. Las Vegas' pass defense ranks just 29th in the league in DVOA and is allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to the position. While he has been borderline unstartable most weeks this season, fantasy gamers can trust Landry as a low-end WR2 for Week 8.
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Rashard Higgins set season-highs in Week 7 with six catches for 110 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals. Slated to see a larger role thanks to Odell Beckham's season-ending knee injury, Higgins is all of a sudden very fantasy viable in Week 8 against a weak Las Vegas Raiders defense. Las Vegas is allowing the 10th-most fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position and ranks just 29th in pass-defense DVOA. Fantasy gamers in a pinch can fire up Higgins as a solid flex option this Sunday.
Cleveland Browns tight end Harrison Bryant had a huge game in Week 7, finishing with four catches for 56 yards and two touchdowns. The rookie tight end took on a larger role in the game with Austin Hooper unavailable after needing an emergency appendectomy. Hooper didn't practice on Wednesday and is looking unlikely to play in Week 8 against the Las Vegas Raiders. Provided Hooper doesn't play, fantasy gamers can use Bryant as a mid-range TE2 against a Raiders pass defense that ranks just 29th in the league in DVOA.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is coming off an excellent five-touchdown game in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7. Mayfield will look to repeat that success in Week 8 when he faces the Las Vegas Raiders at home. Las Vegas' pass defense has been shaky this season, allowing the fourth-most fantasy points per game to the quarterback position. While it is unlikely that Mayfield tosses five touchdowns in a game again anytime soon, he does set up as a high-end QB2 for fantasy contests this weekend in a game that could turn into a shootout. Fantasy gamers who have a quarterback on bye or facing a tough matchup can pivot to Mayfield with confidence this weekend.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt has managed to find the end zone seven times through seven games thus far in the 2020 season. He draws an excellent Week 8 matchup against a leaky Las Vegas Raiders run defense that ranks just 29th in DVOA and is allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to the position this year. Hunt will continue to see the vast majority of the backfield work for the Browns with Nick Chubb sidelined, making him a no-brainer RB1 for Week 8. Fire him up as a sure-fire starter in all formats this Sunday.
Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey (ankle) is unlikely to be activated from Injured Reserve to play Thursday, Oct. 29.
Fantasy Spin: No surprise here, but he appears to be on track for next week with another 10 days to recover and prepare. Mike Davis is an RB2 against the Atlanta Falcons.
The 49ers Defense has been fantastic lately, allowing a total of 22 points over the past two weeks. Unfortunately, in Week 8, they will face a Seattle Seahawks offense that has been the class of the NFL so far this year. The Seahawks lead the league in both yards per game (425.2) and points per game (33.8). Expect a high-scoring affair in the matchup between division rivals, which means that the 49ers Defense shouldn't be started in any fantasy formats.