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Bucs win opens NFC South play; Saints, Falcons, Panthers hit the road

In a week that sees all four sides hit the road, the NFC South got off to an early start in Week 8 with Tampa Bay’s visit to Minnesota. The Bucs were looking to avoid another close game, while the Vikings were favorites to make short work of their Florida opponent.

Elsewhere in the division this week, Carolina head to Chicago, Atlanta to Philadelphia, and New Orleans to Denver, with each side needing a win for very different reasons.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 36, Minnesota Vikings 17

Rookie Doug Martin stacked up 214 total yards and a pair of TDs on his way to helping the Buccaneers thrash the Vikings.

Despite a losing record this season, Tampa Bay is far from wretched. Last night’s Thursday Night Football performance was clear indication of exactly that.

An underdog by seven points at kickoff, the Buccaneers took to the field in Minneapolis and exerted an authority over the Minnesota Vikings that few expected.

On the back of a breakout performance by rookie running back Doug Martin, Tampa Bay bullied the Vikings to a 36-17 victory. Martin ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and added another 79 yards receiving on the day.

Quarterback Josh Freeman completed 19 of 36 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, the four-year triggerman threw zero interceptions, ensuring the Buccaneers stayed in front. A strong performance from Adrian Peterson, who ran for 123 yards on just 15 carries, was not enough to propel the Vikings to victory.

Tampa Bay (3-4) now moves ahead of New Orleans, at least for the time being. Meanwhile, the bubble may have burst for Minnesota (5-3).

For the sixth time in eight editions of Thursday Night Football (if you consider the Wednesday night Dallas-New York opener a Thursday game), the underdog beat the spread. For the fourth time the underdog won straight up. And all of this when most were considering being on the road on a Thursday night a huge disadvantage.

Tampa Bay will now look to build on the momentum of Thursday’s victory with a trip Oakland. The Raiders (2-4) will face a tough divisional matchup against Kansas City (1-5) this weekend, before welcoming the Bucs.

Carolina Panthers (1-5) at Chicago Bears (5-1)

Sunday 1 PM ET

In the midst of a four-game losing streak, the last thing Carolina (1-5, 0-2 road) needed was a big distraction. Sadly, that’s exactly what the team found itself facing this week with all the talk of a melancholic, underachieving Cam Newton and the front office changes that have ensued.

Now the Panthers head to Soldier Field to face a Chicago (5-1, 3-0 home) side that could potentially be one of the league’s best sides. It’s going to be a long, tough Sunday afternoon for Carolina.

Chicago edges out Carolina 4-3 in the all-time series, and has won the last two meetings between the sides. Most recently (October 2011), the Bears pulled out a 34-29 victory.

The NFC North-leading side is riding a four-game win streak that has seen it outscore the opposition 111-34, but a tight game against Detroit on Monday Night Football this past week suggests that the Bears can be got at.

The Bears opened as 7½-point favorites, but as that number has risen to nine as the week has progressed. Chicago is 4-2 ATS this season, while Carolina is 2-4 ATS.

The over/under opened at 44 points but has dropped to 43. Chicago has split the over/under this season while the total has gone under in four of Carolina’s six games this season.

Atlanta Falcons (6-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)

Sunday 1 PM ET

Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons will need to prove they're better than their soft schedule.

Following last week’s bye, Atlanta (6-0, 3-0 road) puts its undefeated streak on the line this weekend with a visit to Philadelphia (3-3, 2-1 home).

The Falcons may not have been picked to be the league’s only unbeaten side entering Week 8, but that’s exactly the case. Oddsmakers have yet to be bowled over, with the Falcons still trailing Houston, San Francisco, New England, and the Giants in the Super Bowl rankings, despite each of those sides losing this season.

The question that’s on everybody’s lips is: is Atlanta only unbeaten because of a weak early season schedule? Philadelphia has the potential to shed some light on the answer, only we the Eagles haven’t exactly been an impressive side themselves this year.

The Eagles began the season finding ways to win. Now Andy Reid’s side is finding ways to lose. Only one Philadelphia game this season has finished with a margin greater than three; a 27-6 loss to Arizona.

Subsequently, Philadelphia opened as 2½-point favorites, a number that has increased to three. However, the Eagles are 1-4-1 ATS this season, making the team anything but a lock. Atlanta meanwhile has fared well against the spread, recording a 4-2 record.

The over/under has dropped from 47 to 45. The total has gone under in six of the last eight Philadelphia games (including four this season). The total has also gone under in four of the last five Atlanta games, as well as six of nine Falcons’ road games. The smart money will be on taking the under in this one.

New Orleans Saints (2-4) at Denver Broncos (3-3)

Sunday 8:20 PM ET

This week’s edition of Sunday Night Football sees New Orleans (2-4, 1-2 road) travel to Denver (3-3, 2-1 home) in a game that trumps even Monday Night Football’s matchup (San Francisco at Arizona).

New Orleans welcomes Joe Vitt to the sidelines – following his ‘Bountygate’ suspension – and heads to Denver with a two-game winning streak. The throw-first offense of the Saints is the most potent in the league, but the New Orleans running game is at the other end of the scale. Defensively, the Saints have been a mess, something that will need to be addressed if the side is to get out of the Mile High City with a win.

Denver meanwhile will be well-rested following last week’s bye. Ahead of the week off, the Broncos had begun to find form, with Peyton Manning throwing for more than 300 yards in the last three. This one has the potential to turn into the Manning-Brees shootout most fans are dreaming about.

New Orleans opened as 4½-point underdogs, a number that has risen to six this week. Bettors looking for an edge won’t get any help from the sides themselves, who are both 3-3 ATS this season.

The over/under has gone from 54½ to 56, and smart bettors will be taking the over. The total has gone over in 10 of the last 11 New Orleans games – including four of six this season – and the last five Saints road games. That’s what happens when you have the number one ranked passing offense and one of the worst defenses in the league. Meanwhile, the total has also gone over in six of the last eight Denver games.

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