With seven weeks of football in the books, the NFL standings are starting to take shape as the league's top teams continue their playoff push.
Even though Super Bowl contenders like Kansas City, Denver, New Orleans and Seattle will all be in action this weekend, with six teams on a bye, the schedule is lighter than usual. But that doesn't mean the games will be any less meaningful.
Below, I'll predict all 13 Week 8 matchups, highlighting a trio of teams set to earn pivotal wins this weekend.
*Spread information according to Covers.com.
|Carolina Panthers (-5.5)||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||40.5|
|Detroit Lions (-3)||Dallas Cowboys||51|
|Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5)||Cleveland Browns||38.5|
|New England Patriots (-6.5)||Miami Dolphins||45.5|
|New Orleans Saints (-12.5)||Buffalo Bills||49|
|Philadelphia Eagles (-5.5)||New York Giants||52|
|San Francisco 49ers (-17)||Jacksonville Jaguars||40.5|
|Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5)||New York Jets||41|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (-1)||Oakland Raiders||40.5|
|Denver Broncos (-13)||Washington Redskins||57.5|
|Atlanta Falcons (+2.5)||Arizona Cardinals||44.5|
|Green Bay Packers (-10)||Minnesota Vikings||46.5|
|Seattle Seahawks (10.5)||St. Louis Rams||42|
Spread info according to Covers.com
Following back-to-back victories, the Carolina Panthers will finally get above .500 in Week 8 when they take to the road against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay's offense was already struggling to start the season, but Doug Martin's shoulder injury will put the Bucs at an even greater disadvantage on Thursday night. On top of Tampa's offensive woes, Carolina ranks inside the top five in the NFL in rush and pass defense, allowing just 302 total yards per game in 2013.
Add in the fact that Cam Newton and the Panthers offense has scored at least 30 points in each of Carolina's past two games, and the stage is set for a third consecutive Panthers win.
Carolina is unlikely to catch the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South, but its stout defense makes it a legitimate NFC Wild Card threat at this point.
Desperate for their first home win of 2013, the Philadelphia Eagles will pick up a key victory over the division rival New York Giants at the Link in Week 8.
Not only will a win finally give the home fans something to cheer for, but it will also keep the Eagles right behind the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East division race.
While the Giants are no longer winless, they are 0-4 on the road this season—losing by 18.3 points on average in those games—and turning the ball over more than any other team in the league. New York has 24 turnovers through seven games, and at minus-14 it sports the worst turnover differential in the NFL.
Plus, Michael Vick is expected to return for the Eagles under center in Week 8, which could mean an added level of explosion for Chip Kelly's offense.
Another Pennsylvania-based franchise in dire need of a win in Week 8 is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are one of five teams that Bleacher Report's Josh Zerkle has on upset alert this weekend. But given how improved the AFC North hopefuls have looked over the past two weeks and how up-and-down Oakland has been in 2013, the Steelers look poised to win their third straight on Sunday afternoon.
Which of these teams is the biggest lock to earn a win in Week 8?
Following a shocking 0-4 start to the year, Pittsburgh has rallied since its bye week to win two straight, including a huge victory over rival Baltimore in Week 7.
Depending on how the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals fare against the New York Jets in Week 8, a win over the Raiders could pull the Steelers within 1.5 games of the division lead.
Defense is what will power Mike Tomlin's squad this weekend on the West Coast. Pittsburgh's D is allowing just 11 points per game since the bye week, and the offense is doing its part by avoiding unnecessary turnovers. The Steelers have turned the ball over just once since the bye, and that bodes extremely well for their chances against the Raiders in Week 8.
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