Separation anxiety: NFL begins to weed out winners and losers

10/26/14 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The NFL season reaches the halfway point today, and the league begins to sort out to contenders versus the pretenders. Halfway through the schedule, a handful of teams have emerged as legitimate Super Bowl hopefuls, while the parity that is the NFL leaves us with lots of average squads that ultimately will head in either direction as this, and subsequent weeks, follows.

Seattle at Carolina
Two of the best defensive teams from last season come into this Week 8 matchup surprisingly struggling. Seattle has lost 2 games in a row while Carolina, who lead the NFC South, have been less than impressive so far this season. The Panthers are the only team in the NFC South with a .500 record. The Seahawks had the best scoring defense in the NFL last season, while Carolina was second best. This year, Seattle ranks 19th in scoring defense, while the Panthers are 29th. Russell Wilson comes in off of a big game despite the loss to St. Louis last week. Wilson passed for 313 yards and 2 TD's while rushing for 106 yards. Doug Baldwin stepped up as the Seahawks go to receiver after Percy Harvin was traded, catching 7 passes for 123 yards and a TD. In Carolina's 3 losses and 1 tie this season, they've given up 37 or more points, and are 1 3 1 after winning their first two games of the season. Seattle has won the past 3 games between these teams and 5 of the last 6 as well.

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Baltimore at Cincinnati
It's Round Two for these two AFC North rivals. The Bengals defeated the Ravens 23-16 at Baltimore in the season opener. Cincinnati would go on to win their first three games of the season, but are 0 2 1 since. In the first meeting, Andy Dalton passed for 301 yards with 131 of those going to A.J. Green. Green however, has missed the past two games for the Bengals, and is listed as doubtful for this contest as well. Baltimore won 3 in a row after losing in Week 1, and have won 5 of their past 6 games as well. The Ravens only two losses this season have come by a touchdown each time. The Bengals are 2 0 1 at home though, and have won 4 of the past 5 games played in Cincinnati versus the Ravens.
Chicago at New England
After being blown out by Kansas City on Monday Night Football in Week 4, New England has won their past 3 games, averaging 35.6 points per game in those victories. Chicago has lost 3 of their past 4 games, giving up an average of 32 points against in those losses. The Patriots have the NFL's top passing defense, allowing 208 yards per game. Chicago has the 10th best passing offense in the NFL, as Jay Cutler has passed for 1,866 yards so far this season. The Bears Matt Forte has 884 yards in total offense and has scored 5 TD's. After a slow start to the season, Tom Brady has looked like the Tom Brady of old, passing for 1,705 yards and 13 TD's against just 2 interceptions. The Bears are 3 and 1 on the road this season, while the Patriots are a perfect 3 and 0 at home and have won 12 consecutive home games. New England has won the past three meetings between these teams.
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh
Starting the season 5 and 2, the Colts offense has gotten a lot of accolades and rightfully so. The Colts have the top offense in the NFL led by QB Andrew Luck, who is the league leader in passing yards and tied for the most TD passes. But the Colts defense was the story in last weeks 27 to 0 win over Cincinnati, holding the Bengals to just 32 yards rushing and 135 total yards. The Steelers fed off of a great defensive effort as well, forcing 3 turnovers in last weeks Monday Night win over Houston. Two of those turnovers fueled the Steelers 24 point outburst in the 2nd quarter, after the Texans jumped out to a 13 to 0 lead. On offense, the Steelers bring in the AFC's second leading rusher in Le'Veon Bell and the conferences second leading receiver in Antonio Brown. The Colts T.Y. Hilton is right behind Brown's 719 receiving yards with 711 of his own, and he will be counted on more this week as the Colts will be without Reggie Wayne. Pittsburgh won the last meeting between these teams in 2011, while the Colts won the last game played in Pittsburgh back in 2008.
Philadelphia at Arizona
This weeks marquee matchup features two 5 and 1 teams. The Cardinals lead the NFC West, while the Eagles are half game behind Dallas in the NFC East. Arizona has the top rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 72.5 yards per game. They'll face the Eagles LeSean McCoy, who had his best game of the season two weeks ago after a slow start to the season. Both teams come in on 2 game winning streaks, with the Eagles coming in off of a bye week. The Eagles have scored over 30 points in 4 of their 5 wins this season, while Arizona has held their opponents to 20 points or less in their 5 victories. The Cardinals are a perfect 3 and 0 at home in 2014. Philadelphia won last years matchup 24 to 21, but Arizona has won 3 of the past 4 meetings between these teams and 3 in a row at home.

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