The NFL season is almost at the halfway point, making every divisional matchup twice as important as playoff seeding is beginning to become a factor.
Philadelphia Eagles Vs. Jacksonville Jaguars:
Two teams who began the season as favorites to win their divisions now find themselves trailing to surprising foes. This contest in Jacksonville is a must win for both teams.
The Eagles haven’t beaten any team with a winning record so far this season, and have lost to every team they’ve played who is above .500. Battling injuries, Philadelphia has been gasping for air since week one, and have struggled to catch up to the Washington Redskins.
With the trade deadline approaching, and the Eagles seeming to have no interest in making a trade for Pittsburgh holdout LeVeon Bell, it looks like the run game isn’t going to get any better in Philadelphia.
However, Carson Wentz is back on his feet after a 300 yard performance with two touchdowns last week against the Carolina Panthers. He’ll look to put up the same numbers against a top ranked Jags defense who has given up 300 passing yards only once this season.
Jacksonville comes in desperate for a win after watching the Texans win their 5th game in a row Thursday night. The Jags are 0-2 in their division and are currently on a three game losing streak against various levels of competition.
Quarterback Blake Bortles was benched before halftime last week for backup Cody Kessler, who didn’t have much success. The former first rounder will retake his starting position at quarterback this week, with no promises that he will last all four quarters.
Jacksonville will seek production from Carlos Hyde, who did not compete in the loss against Houston last week. Hyde ranks in the middle of the pack in rushing yards this season while he was with Cleveland. He does have five scores however, more than all Jaguar backs combined.
Prediction: Eagles 24 – Jaguars 14
Baltimore Ravens Vs. Carolina Panthers:
The Ravens and Panthers both have quietly positioned themselves to hold second place in their divisions by using their defenses. But in order to keep up with the leaders, losing this week is not an option.
The Panthers are lucky to be 4-2. They have only beaten one team who is above .500 this season, and their two losses have come to shaky competition.
Cam Newton has disappointed, ranking in the bottom third of the NFL in passing yards behind young QBs like Sam Darnold and Case Keenum. But his added value as a runner can’t be overlooked, as he’s racked up 250 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
The defense is what has kept them in the running for the division as they rank seventh in the NFL. They’ll be able to prove their worth against a Baltimore defense ranked third.
Baltimore has surprised everyone by managing to go 4-3, with a real shot at the AFC North. The game plan for the Ravens has been to throw the ball as many times as possible and hope something connects downfield with confidence that the defense keeps the opposing offense to a minimum.
With both defenses equally daunting, it will come down to offenses who have been equally inconsistent this season.
The Ravens offense ranks sixth in the NFL, but have the outlier of a 47 point performance in week one that they have been unable to repeat. Carolina ranks 27th in the league, and without a few fourth quarter comebacks could very easily find themselves under .500.
Prediction: Ravens 31 – Panthers 21
New Orleans Saints Vs. Minnesota Vikings: Sunday Night Football
Two NFC division leaders with top seed aspirations go head to head on primetime in Minnesota this week.
The Vikings have rebounded from a rough 1-1-1 start to the season, winning their last three games and leading their division. Their offense has improved each week behind the incredible talent of Adam Thielen, who has caught passes totaling over 100 yards in every game so far this season.
The Viking defense has stiffened since giving up 38 points to the Rams a month ago, helping their offense secure at least a 10 point differential in their last two wins.
But the defensive effort for Minnesota will be tested against a Saints offense who has scored 40 points in half their games, and put up 24 before their bye week — against the number one defense in the NFL.
Well rested, and with two weeks of game planing, the Saints have the edge in this one. With their only loss an early mistake to the Buccaneers, a possible Rams vs Saints NFC championship game is already an exciting possibility.
But New Orleans can’t look too far ahead, with the Vikings licking their chops to show they are still a force to be reckoned with in the NFC.
The Saints hold the edge offensively in this one, but only marginally with Thielen and Stephon Diggs tearing up the NFL in receiving yardage for the Vikings. The Saints defense however hasn’t lived up to the offense’s potential, but they have played better in the last three matches against weak offensive opposition.
Prediction: Saints 40 – Vikings 38
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