Week 8 in the NFL signals the halfway point of the season, and there are some fierce battles going on around the league for playoff position.
Reggie Bush and the Miami Dolphins are in perfect position to make a playoff push in the AFC in 2012, and a victory over the New York Jets in Week 8 would go a long way toward helping this young team achieve that goal.
The Atlanta Falcons will attempt to maintain their perfect record on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles—a desperate team in need of positive momentum.
Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins will try and bounce back from a heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants in Week 7 by taking down the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in a game that both teams need to keep their playoff hopes alive.
These are but three of the 14 thrilling games on the schedule in Week 8. Follow along as I make my predictions for every single game on the slate this week.
Prediction: Vikings win at home, 21-20.
This is really a tricky game to predict.
Christian Ponder has really been struggling the past three games, throwing five touchdowns and six interceptions while Josh Freeman has been surging the past three games, throwing seven touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Adrian Peterson has been churning out productive yardage all year long, and he finally busted out with a monster game last week against the Arizona Cardinals, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers run defense is as stout as you're going to find in the league (No. 3 in the NFL in yards per game).
In the end, I'm taking the home team to win this game for two reasons:
1. The home team has won every Thursday Night Football game this season but one.
2. The Minnesota Vikings (5-2) have been finding ways to win games this season while the Buccaneers (2-4) have found ways to lose games.
Prediction: Bears win big at home, 31-13.
Cam Newton hasn't taken the necessary steps to become a better quarterback and leader for the Carolina Panthers in 2012. If anything, he's taking steps in the wrong direction.
Suggestion box, anyone?
Furthermore, the Chicago Bears feature a defensive line that can bring plenty of pressure up the middle and from the outside. Combined with the team's ball-hawking secondary (13 interceptions in five games), Newton and the Panthers offense are doomed.
Prediction: Chargers win on the road, 27-20.
The Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers feature two of the worst head coaches in the NFL, Pat Shurmur and Norv Turner—both of whom set the bar high when it comes to general incompetency and horrendous play-calling.
This game could easily go either way, but I'm counting on the superior talent on the Chargers roster to overcome Turner's lack of a killer instinct to win on the road against the Browns.
The front seven of the Chargers will do enough to minimize the Browns' running game, and Brandon Weeden will face a ton of pressure. I'm looking for Eric Weddle to show up big in this game with at least one interception.
Prediction: Seahawks win a close one on the road, 23-20.
The Detroit Lions feature a defense that is tough against the run, but the Seattle Seahawks feature a running game, led by Marshawn "Beast Mode" Lynch, that can make some of the best defenses in the NFL look soft.
Matthew Stafford and the Lions passing attack have struggled to generate points this season, and their task won't get any easier against Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner and the vaunted Seahawks secondary—the No. 7 passing defense in the NFL.
Russell Wilson will do just enough in the passing game to keep the Lions defense off balance, and the Seahawks will walk out of Ford Field with a much-needed victory—keeping the pressure on the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West.
Prediction: Packers win big at home, 38-13.
Jaguars aren't made for cold-weather conditions. They prefer warmer climates, but even then I'm pretty sure the red-hot Aaron Rodgers (nine touchdowns and zero interceptions in the past two games) could slay one if he had to.
Metaphors aside, the Green Bay Packers are going to wipe the floor with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
On a different note, who would have thought that losing Blaine Gabbert to injury could be such a heavy blow to the Jaguars? Once he left the game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 7, his team fell flat on offense and lost the game after building a 17-3 lead in the second quarter.
Gabbert is expected to return to practice on Wednesday and has a good chance to play in this game (h/t Jaguars.com's John Oehser), but Maurice Jones-Drew is expected to miss at least one week with his foot injury (h/t JaguarsInsider).
Regardless of which quarterback the Jags have behind center, they don't have a chance to beat the Packers in Week 8 at Lambeau Field.
Prediction: Patriots win on the road, 27-17.
The biggest weakness for the New England Patriots is the team's pass defense, which ranks No. 29 in the NFL and has been giving up 290 yards per game.
I'm tempted to give the St. Louis Rams this game, but Sam Bradford doesn't have enough weapons on offense to exploit this weakness and keep up with Tom Brady and his multi-dimensional offensive attack.
The Patriots are running the ball well right now with multiple running backs. Given the fact that Aaron Hernandez is getting healthier every week, I expect things to come together for this offense during the next couple of weeks in the passing game.
The thing to watch for in this game is whether or not the Patriots offensive line can keep Chris Long, Robert Quinn and the Rams pass-rushers in check. If the line doesn't play well, the Rams could pull off a big upset.
Wild card: This game is being played in London, which means anything can happen as both teams are out of their element.
Prediction: Dolphins win on the road, 23-20.
Reggie Bush was hopping mad after the New York Jets took him out of the game in the first meeting between these two teams, and Calvin Pace told the New York Daily News, "I guess he was doing his thing for a quarter or two. We had to put him on out. We didn’t see him again.”
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Bush and the Miami Dolphins will defeat their interdivisional rivals at MetLife Field in Week 8 using their formula of ridiculously tough defense and a strong running game, led by a gutsy rookie quarterback who doesn't get overwhelmed by anything.
Prediction: Falcons win a brutal game on the road, 24-23.
The Atlanta Falcons have yet to lose a game this season, and until this team loses, I'm not betting against it. And, though the Philadelphia Eagles are coming off a bye week and desperately need to win this game, the Falcons also had an extra week to prepare for this game.
Besides their clutch play—especially from quarterback Matt Ryan—I'm betting on the Falcons to win because I don't trust Michael Vick and Andy Reid as far as I can throw them (which isn't far at all, considering Reid's considerable girth).
That said, this game has the potential to be absolutely grueling to watch.
Both teams have opportunistic pass defenses, and both teams have the ability to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Given the way both teams struggle to protect their quarterback, this game could well turn into a defensive struggle.
Prediction: Redskins win on the road, 31-24.
Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals left a lot of plays on the field on Sunday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I don't expect Robert Griffin III to do the same this week against an old, overrated Steelers defense.
While Dalton looked rattled under pressure and lost sight of the field, RG3 will make difference-making plays with his arm and with his feet—not to mention Alfred Morris will bust some big runs.
Furthermore, one of the biggest reasons the Steelers won in Week 7 was due to Jonathan Dwyer's big game on the ground—something that won't happen against the Redskins' No. 7-ranked run defense.
Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers will make some big plays against the porous Redskins secondary, but in the end, RG3 and his offense will outplay their opponents in this game.
Prediction: Titans win at home, 27-23.
Chris Johnson has rushed for 286 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries (average of 7.33 yards per carry) the past two games.
Next up for Johnson and the Tennessee Titans are the Indianapolis Colts—a team with the No. 26-ranked run defense in the NFL, giving up over 140 rushing yards per game.
Given the Colts' struggles against the run and their struggles to protect quarterback Andrew Luck, I'm going against the rookie phenom in this contest.
Yes, the Titans feature the No. 27-ranked pass defense in the league, but Luck has struggled on the road this season—passing for one touchdown and five interceptions in two games.
Prediction: Chiefs win at home, 24-17.
Jamaal Charles is raring to go after getting banged around by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two weeks ago, and he'll be the focal point of the Kansas City Chiefs offense with Brady Quinn behind center.
On the other side, Darren McFadden was held to just 53 yards in 19 carries at home by the Jacksonville Jaguars—the No. 25-ranked run defense in the NFL.
Charles will bust out with a big game at home, and McFadden will continue to struggle against another mediocre run defense.
The Chiefs have started getting after opposing quarterbacks with more frequency the past few games (seven sacks in the past three games), and their No. 12-ranked pass defense will make life difficult for Carson Palmer and the up-and-down Raiders passing game.
Prediction: Giants win on the road, 31-21.
The Dallas Cowboys almost got beaten by the Carolina Panthers last week, and I have absolutely no faith in this team to beat the New York Giants right now.
Tony Romo has thrown eight touchdowns and nine interceptions in six games this season, and Jason Garrett continues to baffle me with his atrocious play-calling and overall decision-making.
On the other side, Eli Manning is quickly becoming the most clutch quarterback in NFL history, and he's now getting help from his running game. The Cowboys' No. 3-ranked pass defense can shut many teams down, but Manning and his receiving corps will not be stopped.
Prediction: Broncos win at home, 31-28.
It's not exactly wise to bet against either one of the starting quarterback in this game. Both of them are on fire right now, so I'm going with the home team and the better defense.
The New Orleans Saints let Josh Freeman throw for 420 yards and three touchdowns. Peyton Manning and his receiving corps won't have much trouble with this defense, and I expect Manning to shred the Saints secondary.
The Denver Broncos, on the other hand, have the league's No. 9-ranked pass defense, which is predicated off of their talented pass-rushers getting to the quarterback. Brees hasn't been sacked often this season, but Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and the rest of the front seven will be hounding him all night long in Denver.
Prediction: 49ers bury the Cardinals on the road, 31-13.
Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks have been sacked a whopping 35 times in seven games—an average of five sacks per game. John Skelton is going to struggle in this one, just like he did last week.
LaRod Stephens-Howling busted out with a big game against the Minnesota Vikings, rushing for 104 yards and a touchdown, but he's going to have a difficult time matching those numbers against the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers feature the NFL's top-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed and the league's No. 2-ranked scoring defense, allowing just 14.3 points per game. This team has gone up against a couple of the NFL's top offenses already this year, too, making this achievement all the more impressive.
Furthermore, the 49ers feature the league's No. 9-ranked offense and No. 2-ranked rushing offense, and the Cardinals have struggled to hold their opponents' rushing attacks down and are ranked No. 20 in that category.
Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and the 49ers running backs are in for another big game, and the 49ers will easily win this one on the road.