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NFL Week 8 underdogs: Can injury-stricken Jets best Pats? Will Taylor Heinicke's Commanders win again?

Itching to watch an underdog try to overcome the odds or triumph against adversity? Simply looking to pass the time reading another article while stuck in your cube? Nick Shook offers a bead on four us-against-the-world scenarios to track entering Week 8 of the 2022 NFL season. The order below is determined by confidence rankings, from No. 1 (most confident) to No. 4 (least confident).

Oh look, it's another week with both New York teams -- despite their sustained success -- not being favored in their respective matchups.

Like last week, I'm not letting the oddsmakers dissuade me. I believe in the Giants and Jets.

The latter team has run into some unfortunate adversity, losing rookie standout Breece Hall to a season-ending knee injury and second-year offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker to a torn triceps. But this team seems to have permanently shifted from a squad that hopes to contend to one that truly believes it can play with anyone each week.

A young, hungry team filled with confidence can be a dangerous one. That's true of both New York clubs (and don't even get me started on the Bills, who have combined with the Jets and Giants to post the best win percentage for New York-area teams in the Super Bowl era). The city that never sleeps is stocked with two teams that should continue to feast.

Here are the four underdogs in which I have the most confidence to pull off the upset in Week 8.

The lines below provided by DraftKings are current as of 1:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 26 unless otherwise noted below.

New York Giants
ML: +135 · 6-1
Seattle Seahawks
ML: -155 · 4-3

Week 7 brought us another one-score victory for the Giants. At this point, they're experts when it comes to winning close games, becoming just the third team in NFL history to be 6-1 or better despite trailing in each of their games. The last team to do so was the 2000 Oakland Raiders. It's been a while.

It has also been some time since the Giants were contenders, yet here they are. On paper, Seattle seems like a team New York should defeat, but if we've learned anything about the 2022 season, it's that it's wildly unpredictable. After all, who predicted the Seahawks would lead the NFC West after seven weeks?

I'll tell you the answer: No one. The Seahawks are used to being counted out at this point. So are the Giants, though, as evidenced by their repeat appearance in this underdogs column.

Credit is due to new coach Brian Daboll, who has the Giants playing above expectation, starting with Daniel Jones. The quarterback owns a career-high passer rating of 90.8 through seven games and has thrown just two interceptions this season. Daboll has the Giants operating near maximum efficiency, and his team's defense is playing well enough to give Jones and Co. a chance to erase early deficits.

Seattle, meanwhile, is enjoying a productive start to rookie Kenneth Walker III's career. He and New York's Saquon Barkley are two of only four running backs to average over 100 rushing yards per game as a starter, though Walker has only started two games following Rashaad Penny's season-ending injury.

The difference in this one might come down to Seattle's run defense, which ranks in the bottom three in rushing yards allowed over expected in either neutral or stacked boxes, per Next Gen Stats. Barkley has to be licking his chops ahead of this matchup.

So maybe it's not on Jones to lead the Giants to victory. Perhaps it's up to Barkley and New York's defense to find a way to win. These G-Men have consistently made winning plays at winning time, and that's enough for me to ride with them again in Week 8.

New England Patriots
ML: -125 · 3-4
New York Jets
ML: +105 · 5-2

I'm worried there might be a bit of undeserved comeuppance awaiting the Jets after the Bears rolled to a win over the Patriots on Monday night.

Bill Belichick has dominated the Jets in his legendary career with the Patriots, owning a 34-10 record against New York since the coach took over in 2000. Sunday will mark only the second time Belichick's Patriots will face the Jets in Week 8 or later with a worse record than New York. The last time that happened was back in 2001, and the Patriots won 17-16, their second victory in a nine-game win streak New England rode all the way to the franchise's first Super Bowl triumph.

This matchup features more uncertainty, though. Belichick played both Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe at quarterback on Monday night, and despite an early scoring explosion with Zappe on the field, neither gained an advantage in their unexpected competition.

New England is statistically better with Zappe, scoring on 40 percent of its possessions with the rookie as opposed to just 26.5 percent with Jones. But that difference isn't significant enough to decide this battle.

New York will have to prepare for both. It will also have to get newly acquired running back James Robinson acclimated quickly enough to give him a chance to make a difference in a backfield that also includes second-year runner Michael Carter.

There is reason for hope: The last time the Jets faced the Patriots on a four-plus-game winning streak, they defeated New England in overtime for their fifth-straight victory. Sure, that game happened seven years ago, but that was also the last time the Jets had a competitive squad -- until now.

All of this background is good for context, but what matters most is the current state of these two teams, and if I'm relying on recency, I'm siding with the Jets. They have scored consecutive wins over favored teams (Miami, Green Bay) and held the Broncos to single digits last week in a 16-9 win in Denver. The Jets are rolling, and even with their two significant losses (Hall, Vera-Tucker) considered, I still have more confidence in them than the up-and-down Patriots.

UPDATE: On Wednesday after publishing, NFL Network Insider Mike Garafolo reported that Mac Jones is set to start against the Jets on Sunday.

Washington Commanders
ML: +120 · 3-4
Indianapolis Colts
ML: -140 · 3-3-1

Seven days ago, there was no chance I'd choose the Commanders for this weekly piece.

Washington, losers of four straight prior to its ugly 12-7 win over Chicago in Week 6, was merely existing, a franchise floating in the NFL abyss. The Commanders lacked an offensive identity and didn't have a defense strong enough to give anyone much hope they'd win in a given week. 

But Week 7 was different for these Commanders, starting under center, where Taylor Heinicke replaced an injured Carson Wentz and injected life into Washington's season. The Commanders played with a renewed fire in their 23-21 win over the Packers, and while it wasn't the most impressive showing, it stood as a potential turning point in the season. For the first time, the Commanders had a reason to believe in themselves, and they played like it.

Maybe it was Heinicke. Perhaps it was Terry McLaurin's ability to make key catches in the most important moments. Or maybe, just maybe, the Commanders got close enough before half to think they might have a shot at the upset.

Regardless, this was the first time I saw legitimate life from the Commanders since Week 1 (no, I'm not counting the Thursday night win that was nearly a loss). And that makes me think they just might make it three straight against a Colts team that reached its own crossroads this week following a 19-10 loss to Tennessee.

Sam Ehlinger is replacing Matt Ryan under center for the rest of the season, per coach Frank Reich, putting the Colts in the unenviable position of entering Week 8 with an unproven quarterback and hoping they learn something about him. Perhaps they win the game, too, but riding with a quarterback who has yet to throw a regular-season pass in his career won't inspire much confidence.

I'll go with the quarterback who has actually played in -- and won! -- a regular-season game. He did it just last week; let's see if he makes it two in a row.

Carolina Panthers
ML: +180 · 2-5
Atlanta Falcons
ML: -210 · 3-4

This all comes down to Carolina's defense.

The Panthers held the Buccaneers to a grand total of three points last weekend in one of the most stunning upsets of the season. That, and that alone, has convinced me the Panthers can find a way to beat the Falcons.

P.J. Walker threw a nice touchdown pass to D.J. Moore in the first half, and his scoring toss to Tommy Tremble effectively iced the Week 7 showdown, but I'm not suddenly raising my expectations for the former XFL standout. Instead, I'm riding with the group that has consistently played quality football. 

Carolina's statistical rankings don't truly tell the entire story. The Panthers stand 18th in total defense and 17th in scoring, but they're playing better than the numbers suggest. If we dig deeper into the stats, we'll find the Panthers are a top-10 defense in yards per play. The biggest issue for them has been the amount of time the defense has been forced to be on the field due to an anemic Panthers offense that isn't coming close to carrying its share of the responsibility.

I don't expect that to change significantly. But what I saw in Week 7 makes me believe the Panthers can limit a Falcons offense that has essentially abandoned the pass in multiple games. Last week, Marcus Mariota attempted just 13 passes in a 35-17 loss, a remarkable total considering the Falcons found themselves trailing 21-0 early in the second quarter. If the Falcons take a similar approach against the Panthers, I expect them to find the going to be rather difficult.

Atlanta will be without Casey Hayward (placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury), Jaylinn Hawkins (concussion) and A.J. Terrell (hamstring) in the secondary, and is coming off a game in which the defense gave up 481 passing yards to Cincinnati's Joe Burrow. The opportunity is there for Walker to build some positive momentum with his arm. If the Panthers continue to perform defensively as they have for the majority of the 2022 season, they'll have a good chance of securing their second straight victory.

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