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Phinsider Week 8 Game Previews and Predictions

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Welcome to another edition of Justin Hier’s weekly game previews and predictions!

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we saw a number of teams solidify their positions as the top units in the league. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz furthered his case for league MVP, while Los Angeles Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips continued to prove that he’s the best in the business at building up imposing defenses. The Patriots took steps to diffuse their own issues on defense with an impressive showing against the Falcons, who just can’t seem to beat any teams in the AFC East. We’ll see if that trend continues this week as Atlanta travels to the Meadowlands to take on the Jets.

Each week of the NFL season, I’ll be giving you a sneak peak of the action ahead, as well as my own forecast for the outcome of each contest. Feel free to leave your own predictions and opinions in the comments below!

Week 7 prediction record: 10-5

2017 season prediction record: 64-42

Thursday

Miami Dolphins (4-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-4) - 8:25 PM ET on CBS/NFLN

The Dolphins pulled off yet another improbable comeback last week, albeit this time with the help of backup quarterback Matt Moore. Dolphins fans from all over were clamoring for Moore to take over the starting role ever since Jay Cutler began his slew of lackluster performances, and now, with Cutler sidelined due to a rib injury, those fans will finally get to see their wishes come true. Moore’s first true test will come against a stingy Baltimore defense, meaning he’ll need help from the rest of Miami’s offensive playmakers to put up points.

The Ravens’ offense however, is not nearly as scary as its defense. Joe Flacco and Co. have struggled to put together any significant showings this season, so Miami’s much improved defense will get a chance to collect a few more sacks and three-and-outs against John Harbaugh’s squad.

Score prediction: Miami 24 - Baltimore 16

Sunday

Minnesota Vikings (5-2) at Cleveland Browns (0-7) - 9:30 AM ET on NFLN

The Vikings and Browns are traveling to England this week to play the NFL’s third ever contest in Twickenham Stadium. Unfortunately for our friendly “football” fans across the pond, this matchup is looking quite one sided. The Vikings are touting one of the league’s best defenses and are playing an offense that lacks any identity. Head coach Hue Jackson has been playing a game of musical chairs at the quarterback position, preventing any of his inexperienced passers to gain a sense of continuity.

To make matters worse for Cleveland, Joe Thomas, a generational talent at the offensive tackle position, is going to miss the first start of his storied NFL career due to suffering torn triceps last week. It’s truly sad that Thomas won’t be taking the field for the first time since 2007, and while we all wish him the best moving forward, my immediate concerns are directed towards how any quarterback will be able to succeed in the Browns’ offense without Thomas protecting their blindside.

Score prediction: Minnesota 27 - Cleveland 10

Atlanta Falcons (3-3) at New York Jets (3-4) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

The AFC East seems to be the Falcons’ kryptonite. After going 3-0 to start the season, Atlanta lost three straight to the Bills, Dolphins, and Patriots. This week, Matt Ryan will travel up north to take on the Jets, who are coming off a tough loss in Miami. Will the AFC East sweep the birds? In order to do so, New York’s defense will need to shut down the Falcons’ dynamic offensive playmakers. Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman can do damage all over the field. Whether or not Atlanta’s offense can finally get going will likely be the deciding factor in this contest.

Score prediction: Atlanta 21 - New York 17

Carolina Panthers (4-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

These two teams have playoff aspirations and the talent to get there, but are being held back up underachieving units on opposite ends of the ball. Carolina’s offense has been anemic up to this point, hampered by an unproductive running game and sporadic play from Cam Newton, while Tampa Bay’s defense that has failed to hold up on their end. If either team wants to be playing meaningful football in January, they need to come up with fixes, and fast, especially given the fact that their division rivals in New Orleans are finally putting it all together.

Score prediction: Tampa Bay 20 - Carolina 14

San Francisco 49ers (0-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-1) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

The 49ers can’t catch a break. Following their supremely unlucky early stretch of the season, during which the team lost close game after close game, San Francisco got smacked by the Dallas Cowboys. Now, Kyle Shanahan’s team must travel to Philadelphia to face the hottest offense in the league. Carson Wentz appears unstoppable and is making magical plays all over the gridiron. The 49ers porous defense has no chance in this one.

Score prediction: Philadelphia 34 - San Francisco 20

Chicago Bears (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (4-2) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

The Bears are making this season interesting. The organization realized that signing Mike Glennon for $15 million per year was a mistake, and they owned it, handing rookie Mitch Trubisky the reigns early enough to turn the season around. Despite the young signal caller throwing for just seven passes last week, the team’s defense served up a win, keeping the Bears within reach of the rest of the competition.

Unfortunately, the Saints have been playing great football and will not be an easy opponent to take down. Drew Brees is still impeccable, and even an overachieving Chicago defense will have difficulty slowing him down, especially given the fact that jettisoning Adrian Peterson has revitalized the Saints’ running game.

Score prediction: New Orleans 28 - Chicago 19

Los Angeles Chargers (3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

Just when we thought it was all over for the 0-4 Chargers, they broke off three straight wins to keep their season alive. Head coach Anthony Lynn is proving that he was the right man for the job when Chargers owner Dean Spanos hired him during the offseason, as he’s kept this team together and has been the lead man rallying them to victory. Keeping this streak going will be difficult this week though. Winning in Foxborough is historically tough, especially as the season progresses. I’m expecting a high scoring affair, but one in which Tom Brady comes out on top.

Score prediction: New England 31 - Los Angeles 26

Oakland Raiders (3-4) at Buffalo Bills (4-2) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

Last week, while I predicted the Raiders to fall to the Chiefs, I wrote that it was only a matter of time before Derek Carr’s offense put the pieces together and became the high scoring unit they were last year. Well, that happened sooner than I expected, and Carr is running at full steam. He finally rekindled his connection with the uber-talented Amari Cooper, and is even sprinkling in a new weapon by the name of Jared Cook. With all the weapons at their disposal, I expect the Raiders offense to continue to produce, even against a strong Bills defense.

Score prediction: Oakland 26 - Buffalo 20

Indianapolis Colts (2-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-5) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

It’s been tough sledding for both of these clubs. The Colts have been a beacon of false hope for months when it comes to the status of their ailing franchise quarterback, while the Bengals aren’t giving their own franchise cornerstone any chance to succeed with an offensive line that refuses to block. It doesn’t help matters that dynamic rookie runner Joe Mixon isn’t getting the ball enough. The Bengals have the talent on defense to win games and their offense needs to start carrying some weight. Playing a swiss-cheese secondary against the Colts might be just the remedy that Andy Dalton needs.

Score prediction: Cincinnati 21 - Indianapolis 13

Houston Texans (3-3) at Seattle Seahawks (4-2) - 4:05 PM ET on CBS

Rookie sensation Deshaun Watson has been everything the Houston faithful could have hoped for when the team took him at twelfth overall in this year’s NFL Draft. The young gunslinger has a knack for making splash plays in crucial moments and has posted a superb 15-5 touchdown to interception ratio over his first six games. Coming off a bye, the first year passer will get to test his skills on a whole new level against one of the league’s stiffest secondaries.

The Seahawks are coming off a lopsided win against the sputtering Giants and are trying to claw their way to the top of an NFC West. If they win this weak, they’ll knock off the Rams for the top spot.

Score prediction: Seattle 23 - Houston 20

Dallas Cowboys (3-3) at Washington Redskins (3-3) - 4:25 PM ET on FOX

This game represents a crossroads for the Cowboys and Redskins. Both squads have plenty of talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball, yet they sit even at three wins and three losses apiece. With the high-flying Eagles perched atop the NFC East by a wide margin, falling under .500 would make it difficult for either team to make a move on anything more than a wildcard spot in this year’s playoffs.

One storyline to keep an eye on: the availability of Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. With Odell Beckham Jr. on the sideline for the rest of the season, we’re already being deprived of one of the best cornerback-wide receiver matchups of the year. It’d be a shame if we lost out on one of our Dez Bryant-Josh Norman duels too.

Score prediction: Washington 27 - Dallas 23

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Detroit Lions (3-3) - 8:30 PM ET on NBC

The Steelers started the year off slow, but they’ve morphed into a force now that the second half of the season is approaching. Pittsburgh’s defense is currently ranked second in the league, with their offense coming in just outside the top ten in yards per game. Detroit, on the other hand, is in the bottom half of the league in both categories.

While rankings aren’t everything, they do encapsulate just how potent the Steel Curtain has become on defense after years of sub-par play on that side of the ball. If Ben Roethlisberger can squeeze out one half of a season of top tier quarterback play, something he’s yet to do so far in 2017, then it will be tough for any team to stop the Steelers from obtaining the AFC crown.

Score prediction: Pittsburgh 30 - Detroit 21

Monday

Denver Broncos (3-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) - 8:30 PM ET on ESPN

This rivalry matchup would have looked far more appealing two weeks ago. That was back when the Chiefs were still undefeated and the Broncos were among the more formidable opponents in the AFC. Now, Kansas City has lost two straight (albeit two close and entertaining games), while the Broncos offense has come to screeching halt. A primetime divisional bout might be just what both units need to light a spark once again. With this contest being held at Arrowhead Stadium, I find it difficult to not take the Chiefs, who are the better all around team.

Side note: The Broncos have had difficult defending tight ends this year. Watch out for Travis Kelce.

Score prediction: Kansas City 27 - Denver 21