Carolina Panthers (6-2) and Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2-1)
Our first game of the week features two teams in the playoff hunt squaring off on Thursday night football in the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Sitting atop the AFC North, the Steelers will look to stay ahead of the Cincinnati Bengals, who are just half a game behind the Steelers at 5-3. With the Bengals facing off against the red-hot New Orleans Saints, a win for Pittsburgh and a loss for Cincinnati would give the Steelers some added cushion heading into the final third of the season.
The Panthers are currently only one game behind the Saints in the NFC South and are primed for a Wildcard birth at the very least. Through 8 games, Cam Newton has completed over 67% of his passes, surpassing his previous career best of 61.7% in 2013. Christian McCaffrey is quietly on pace for nearly 2000 scrimmage yards, and the Carolina defense is surrendering just 344 yards per game—11th best in the NFL.
Against this stout Carolina defense, Pittsburgh will look to get their passing game going against corners Captain Munnerlyn and James Bradberry, both of whom have struggled in recent weeks to lock down opposing receivers. The combination of JuJu Smith-Shuster and Antonio Brown will be a handful for the Panthers, especially considering James Connor has been effective running the football, with 706 rushing yards on the year.
The Panthers’ Norv Turner-led offense will find ways to get Christian McCaffrey involved early and often, and would be wise to target Greg Olsen as well—as the Steelers defense has given up 53 catches for close to 600 yards and 4 touchdowns to opposing tight ends on the season.
In a rare Thursday night matchup between two good teams, the Steelers offense might be too much for the Panthers to handle.
Seattle Seahawks (4-4) at Los Angeles Rams (8-1)
At 4-4, the Seattle Seahawks are traveling to Los Angeles to take on their division-rival in the Rams for the second time this season. In their week 5 matchup in Seattle, the Rams escaped with a 33-31 victory. The Seahawks have won three of their last four, and will look to keep their Wildcard hopes alive against a Rams team that is coming off their first loss of the season—a 45-35 thrashing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints.
Sean McVay’s offense has been rolling all season long, led by running back Todd Gurley—who has 868 rushing yards, 362 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns on the year. Jared Goff is on pace for a 5,000 yard season, and the Rams defense features arguably the best player in the league in Aaron Donald.
The Rams are not unbeatable, however, and the Seahawks will look to get back above .500 to keep pace with teams such as the Panthers, Falcons, Eagles and Redskins as the playoffs quickly approach us. Russel Wilson will be counted on to keep the Seahawks in this divisional contest, and if he can’t—this game could get ugly. A win for the Seahawks would let us know this team is for real, and a loss for the Rams could tell us if this team is built for February.
Dallas Cowboys (3-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)
The NFC East is wide-open through 9 weeks, with the Redskins atop the standings at 5-3. After a terrible home loss to the Falcons, however, my confidence in the Redskins has dwindled. At 4-4, the Eagles have an opportunity to gain some momentum before December. Carson Wentz has looked very good despite the Eagles record, and the addition of Golden Tate should help the passing game. Darren Sproles is set to return soon from a hamstring injury as well.
After an embarrassing loss to the Tennessee Titans on Monday night, the Cowboys may come out more energized against the Eagles. Amari Cooper scored a touchdown in his Cowboys debut, but the offense couldn’t get going consistently and failed to score points when it matter most.
This is a battle of two teams trending in opposite directions—but if the Cowboys can prove me wrong and win this NFC East battle—my faith in them down the stretch will still remain (barely.) Dallas has a chance, but Philadelphia should get it done.
New England Patriots (7-2) at Tennessee Titans (4-4)
This game certainly means more to the Titans than it does to the Patriots, who face no competition in the AFC East. A win for Tennessee puts them just one game behind the Texans for the AFC South lead. New England, on the other hand, is 2 games ahead of the Dolphins in the standings with Miami facing an uphill battle against the Packers this weekend.
The Titans need to use Dion Lewis more than they have been. Against the Cowboys, Lewis had 120 total yards and a touchdown compared to Derek Henry’s 27 yards and one score. Henry has averaged above 5 yards-per-carry just once this season, and doesn’t offer what Lewis does in the passing game. Although he was a second round pick, Lewis should be getting the majority of work going forward.
The Patriots are rolling yet again, scoring 30 points-per-game and winning 6 straight. Running back James White is their leading receiver, but Josh Gordon has proven he can be an impactful player as well—going off for 130 yards and one touchdown against the Packers last week. He’ll face a Titans’ secondary that features the overpaid and underperforming duo of Logan Ryan and Malcom Butler—both former Patriots. This game has big ramifications for the Titans and AFC South, but look for Bill Belichick to put away his former player-now coach Mike Vrabel away.