With only seven weeks left, each game is becoming a must win for teams vying for playoff position. Here are the games that will impact playoff seeding the most as the season reaches double digits.
Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers: Thursday Night Football
This is a rare Thursday night matchup that actually includes two teams at the top of their divisions with playoff aspirations.
The Steelers have had an up and down season centered around the drama of LeVeon Bell. With the deadline for Bell to return this season only a week away, the football world will have their answer on the Steeler running back situation soon enough.
But Pittsburgh seems to already have their answer. James Connor has carried for over 100 yards and two touchdowns in three of the Steelers last four games, all being wins. Even if Bell wanted to return to Pittsburgh for the latter half of the season, it doesn’t look like they would welcome him back.
The Steelers are atop the AFC North, only a half game ahead of the Bengals who have already lost to Pittsburgh once this season. They now are 3-1-1 in their division contests, with momentum on their side heading into Thursday’s game.
The Panthers are off to a surprising 6-2 start this season, even after finishing 11-5 in 2017. With the Saints running away with the NFC, no one has paid attention to the Panthers so far. But the Carolina offense has found its groove as of late, scoring over 30 points in each of their last two wins.
These two teams rank eighth and ninth in the league defensively, leaving it up to inconsistent offenses to do damage this week.
The Steelers offense has flowed with the run game this season. When James Connor can contribute, the Steelers have an easy win. But if the offense is all on Big Ben, the outcome isn’t so pretty for Pittsburgh.
The Panthers offense took a few weeks to get rolling, but they are surely on track now. Carolina put up 36 points against a top notch Baltimore defense two weeks ago, and put up over 40 last week. Carolina seems to have more momentum coming into Thursdays matchup, possibly giving them the edge they need.
Prediction: Panthers 34 – Steelers 33
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts:
This AFC south matchup pits two teams at the bottom of their division fighting to become relevant again.
The Colts didn’t carry any high expectations into this season, and have played accordingly. The Colts started the season as rough as anyone else, stumbling to a 1-5 record. But the Indy offense has bounced back behind the explosion of running back Marlon Mack, scoring 37 and 42 in their last two wins.
However, those two wins were against the two worst teams in the league.
The Jaguars, along with the Raiders, have done the exact opposite of their preseason expectations. Following a four game losing streak, the Jags have fallen to 3-5 and sit last in the AFC South.
Jacksonville has had their fair share of injuries, but that’s no excuse nfor giving up 40 points to an embarrassing Dallas offense and 24 to an equally injured Eagles last week.
The Jaguars have no faith in Blake Bortles, but they also have no other option. Bortles has lost his confidence and is captaining a sinking ship before a likely trade at the end of the season.
This game means more to the Jaguars than the Colts, given before the season this was an easy win for Jacksonville. If the Colts win, they get bragging rights over a divisional rival and their record looks less embarrassing.
If the Jags lose this game, they officially fall to the bottom of the league. That could put head coach Doug Marrone in the hot seat in only his second season with Jacksonville.
Prediction: Jaguars 25 – Colts 17
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: Sunday Night Football
This is just a bad matchup to put on primetime TV. However, these teams are even enough on both sides of the ball — and still have enough to play for — to make this an interesting game to watch.
The Cowboys were handed a tough loss to the Titans last week, even if Amari Cooper was able to breakout as a top performer for Dallas. At 3-5, the only reason they still have postseason hopes is because of how poor the NFC East is performing.
Quarterback Dak Prescott will be throwing against a defense that has only allowed 19 points per game to opponents this season, but have given up more yards to passers than other top defenses. The only hope for Dallas is that Cooper can connect with Prescott for over 100 receiving yards and at least two scores.
The Eagles have steered their team in the right direction enough to stay one game behind the Washington Redskins for the division. But after failing to make any big moves at the trade deadline, the Eagles aren’t scaring anyone they play against.
Dallas has the number two defense in the NFL in terms of yardage, and are much tougher against the passing game than most teams. With the Eagles run game suffering, Carson Wentz will need a career day to take a win over Dallas this week.
These two teams will flex their defensive muscles in this contest. The edge goes to Dallas on paper, but the Eagles have found a way to win in their close games so far this season. Dallas has less hope, and less experience in must win games, giving the “will power” edge to Philly.
Prediction: Eagles 20 – Cowboys 14
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