Several division leaders have a chance to separate themselves even further from their competition in Week 9, but the Cincinnati Bengals have the biggest test ahead.
A short week and a road trip to Miami to take on the Dolphins on Thursday night won't be easy, especially after such a resounding 49-9 victory over the New York Jets this past Sunday. Miami will be a team desperate to get back into the AFC East race after a four-game losing streak, while Cincinnati has the benefit of a 2.5-game cushion in the North.
However, for the Bengals to be considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they must continue mounting momentum ahead of the postseason and emerge victorious from tough games like these.
Below is a closer look at the Bengals-Dolphins prime-time showdown and what Cincinnati will do to win it, along with two other rapidly rising teams that will take care of business on Sunday.
Cincinnati Bengals over Miami Dolphins
Two young signal-callers do battle in this game, but Bengals third-year quarterback Andy Dalton has been the superior player as of late.
In his past three games, the Red Rifle has been on an absolute tear in throwing 11 touchdown passes and throwing for well over 300 yards in each outing.
Dalton has nowhere near the arm talent or athletic ability as his Thursday night counterpart, Ryan Tannehill, but offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's West Coast scheme is putting Dalton in positions to succeed and allowing him to make quick, smart decisions.
The Dolphins' offensive line is in disarray, and Tannehill holds the ball too long at times. That has contributed to him being sacked a league-high 32 times this season.
Between Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson and James Harrison among others, Cincinnati has too many viable pass-rushers for Miami to contain.
Also hurting the cause is that Brandon Gibson is out for the season, diminishing Tannehill's options to throw to.
Unless the Dolphins' 23rd-ranked rushing attack can keep the ball away from the Bengals, it's going to be a long night in South Beach.
Prediction: Bengals 34, Dolphins 17
Carolina Panthers over Atlanta Falcons
Another intriguing QB battle within the NFC South will be decided not as much by what the eventual winner will do.
Instead of pressing the issue as he has in the past, 2011 No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton has managed the game far better in recent weeks, and it's led to a three-game winning streak for the Panthers.
Carolina is playing elite-level defense, surrendering an average of only 13.7 points and 301.4 yards per contest, which rank second and third in the NFL, respectively.
Newton and Co. will rely on a No. 8 rushing attack to take a physical toll on the Falcons defense. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan doesn't have a running game to complement him, and may not have Roddy White in Week 9.
This game will confirm a seismic shift in the division, extinguish any remaining playoff hopes for Atlanta and serve as a Panthers statement game at home.
Prediction: Panthers 24, Falcons 10
Oakland Raiders over Philadelphia Eagles
For the majority of Week 8's clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland was in commanding control, but the game threatened to get away at the end when the visitors mounted a furious rally.
The Raiders of recent may have caved. This team did not, which is a testament to the coaching job Dennis Allen is doing with a rather mediocre roster in relation to the rest of the NFL.
This bunch thrives in the underdog role, and even though they're last in the AFC West with a 3-4 record, they don't face another team with a current winning record until Week 15.
It leaves plenty of time for the young nucleus to establish itself, led by quarterback Terrelle Pryor, whose electric 93-yard touchdown run last week was the longest by a QB in NFL history.
Pryor has all the makings of a franchise quarterback, and against a reeling Philadelphia Eagles team with a subpar defense, he will prove it with an efficient game through the air and on the ground.
Prediction: Raiders 31, Eagles 13
|Complete Week 9 NFL Picks|
|Away Team||Home Team||Winner|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Miami Dolphins||Bengals|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Buffalo Bills||Bills|
|Minnesota Vikings||Dallas Cowboys||Vikings|
|Tennessee Titans||St. Louis Rams||Titans|
|New Orleans Saints||New York Jets||Saints|
|San Diego Chargers||Washington Redskins||Redskins|
|Atlanta Falcons||Carolina Panthers||Panthers|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Oakland Raiders||Raiders|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Seattle Seahawks||Seahawks|
|Baltimore Ravens||Cleveland Browns||Browns|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||New England Patriots||Patriots|
|Indianapolis Colts||Houston Texans||Texans|
|Chicago Bears||Green Bay Packers||Packers|
|Source: Picks are strictly opinion|