Josh here with the preview for Week 7 in the NFL. This week in an effort to encourage discussion in the comments section, I have included a pick for each of the games. Now I'm not a professional analyst, but I do a lot of research for these articles and I'm expecting about 50-60% of my picks should be right. That being said I wouldn't bet the farm on any of these.
This week is highlighted by the third NFL game in as many years to be played in London. The Patriots will take on the Buccaneers in what has become a highly debated annual event. Besides the international offering, there are a couple of very nice match ups to look forward to. The early games will include Minnesota vs. Pittsburgh, which could be a possible Super Bowl preview. The later games feature an interesting match-up between the Cardinals and the Giants, which should tell us a lot about a division rival. Now on with the preview!
Sunday 1PM EST
Green Bay Packers vs. Cleveland Browns - Cleveland Browns Stadium
The Packers come into this game tied for second place in the NFC North, but they will need to improve their pass protection if they hope to catch division leading Minnesota. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been sacked a league leading 25 times. Despite poor offensive line play, Green Bay has been remained successful because their defense has improved. The Packers' transition to a 3-4 defense is starting to produce results. They are currently 4th in Defensive DVOA, although they do rank 30th in Variance, which indicates that they are still struggling to be consistent. But, they should not have a problem shutting down a Cleveland offense that is ranked 31st in Offense DVOA. This week Green Bay decided to bring back a familiar face and signed Ahman Green after running back DeShawn Wynn was placed on injured reserve. Green only needs 46 more yards to become the franchise's leading rusher.
Joshua Cribbs was one of the lone bright spots for Cleveland in Week 6. Cribbs returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the 6th time in his career; he leads all active players. The Browns began featuring Cribbs in the Wildcat formation last week, and it will be interesting to see whether or not the formation becomes a permanent part of their offense. Their offensive production certainly cannot get any worse than it has been. Cleveland ranks 31st in Pass DVOA and 19th in Rush DVOA. The Browns' best chance of putting points on the board may come on special teams. They have one of the top return units in the game, and rank 1st in Special Teams DVOA. 12 Browns' players have been suffering from flu like symptoms during this weeks' preparation, including Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. Fortunately for Cleveland, Rogers was able to return to practice later in the week and should be available to start Sunday's game. The Browns' will need to score a lot of points to keep pace with Green Bay's offense, and they just haven't shown the ability to do so this year.
Pick: Green Bay Packers
San Diego Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs - Arrowhead Stadium
After last week's loss to Denver, San Diego is now trailing the division leading Broncos by 3.5 games in the AFC West standings. The Chargers have started the last two years 2-3, only to bounce back and win their sixth game of the year. San Diego needs a win now more than ever to keep pace with the surprising Broncos, and they will have their hands full when they visit Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. Many analysts believe San Diego is one of the most disappointing teams this season, because of all the talent on their roster. Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman is a microcosm for the failures of the Chargers of the whole. In his first three seasons as in the NFL, Merriman recorded 39.5 sacks on his way to becoming one of the most feared defenders in the league. But he has been held without a sack so far this season. A big game from Merriman against an offensive line that has given up an AFC leading 22 sacks could be enough to resurrect San Diego's season.
The Kansas City Chiefs won for only the third time in their last 31 games. But, they have shown improvement each of the last three weeks. One key to the Chiefs' turnaround has been their ability to hold on to football. Quarterback Matt Cassel has set the example by throwing 123 consecutive passes without an interception, and the whole team has followed. As a team, Kansas City only has four turnovers this year, that's tied with New England and Minnesota for the fewest in the league. The Chiefs' biggest weakness this season has been their lack of a running game, they rank 29th in Rush DVOA. However, running back Larry Johnson is coming off his best game of the year after running for 83 yards against Washington. San Diego's defense has not played well against the run, so Johnson should be able to run effectively. I like the Chiefs at home against a Charger team still reeling from Monday's loss.
Pick: Kansas City Chiefs
Indianapolis Colts vs. St. Louis Rams - Edwards Jones Dome
Rookie head coach Jim Caldwell has led the Colts to a 5-0 start this season. With a Colts win on Sunday against St. Louis, Caldwell can tie the record for the best start by a rookie head coach since 1970. So much has been written about the Colts' and their prolific offenses during the Peyton Manning era. They are one of the league's top offenses again in 2009, ranking 2nd in Offense DVOA. But it's not just about the offense, this year the Colts are a complete team. Their defense is 9th in Defense DVOA and they are only giving up a league leading 4.4 yards per play. Indianapolis has played more aggressively than in the past, and it has started up front with their defensive ends. Dwight Freeney has had a sack in seven straight games. Fellow defensive end Robert Mathis, has recorded 4.5 in the last four. The Colts defense will only improve if Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders can make his season debut this week after having a knee surgery in the off-season.
On paper the Rams have no chance in this game. The Colts are in the midst of a league leading 14 game winning streak and they are undefeated at home this year. Meanwhile the Rams are, well they're the Rams and we all know what that means. But when the Raiders beat Philadelphia last week, we were reminded that any given team can win any given Sunday. If St. Louis is going to have a chance against Indianapolis they are going to need a big game from Steven Jackson. Jackson is fourth in the league with 501 rushing yards, but he has not had a 100 yard rushing game since week three. Not everything is going wrong for the Rams though, wide out Donnie Avery has scored two touchdowns in the last two weeks, and is looking more and more like the number one receiver they need him to be. Still, it's hard to imagine St. Louis beating the Colts on the road. I'm going with the home team.
Pick: Indianapolis Colts
New England Patriots vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Wembley Stadium
In Week 6 against the Titans, New England's Tom Brady tied an NFL record for most touchdowns in a quarter with 5. That performance will be hard to match, but Brady is facing one of the league's worst pass defenses this week. Tampa Bay has given up the third most passing touchdowns (13) and they are allowing opposing quarterbacks a 101 passer rating this season. New England's pass offense is ranked 3rd in DVOA, and their rush offense is ranked 6th. Needless to say, the Patriots should not have any problem putting up points against the hapless Buccaneer defense. However, defense has been an issue at times. They jumped up four spots in Defensive DVOA this week, from 19th to 15th, but they are still giving up 5.2 yards per play. Last week's shutout against Tennessee was an improvement for this club, and they should be able to build on that momentum against Tampa Bay.
The Buccaneers have not had much success this season, but quarterback Josh Johnson has given their offense a lift with his running ability. In his four games this year, Johnson has already piled up 141 rushing yards on 21 carries. If you're keeping score at home, that's a 6.7 yard average. Unfortunately, Tampa Bay's young quarterback has not had the same success throwing the ball. The 23 year old Johnson has only completed 54.5% of his passes this season, and he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. New England's defense has forced a turnover in 14 straight games, and if the Buccaneers give the ball to the more talented Patriots they will have a tough time pulling off the upset. Defensively, Tampa Bay will need to improve on last week's performance when they gave up 267 rushing yards and three touchdowns to the Carolina Panthers, but nothing they have done this season has suggested that they are capable of improving much. The Buccaneers may be the NFL's absolute worst defense as they rank 31st in Pass Defense DVOA and 32nd in Rush Defense DVOA. New England simply has better coaches as well as better players, and therefore a better chance at winning this weekend.
Pick: New England Patriots
Minnesota Vikings vs. Pittsburgh Steelers - Heinz Field
The Vikings go into week 7 with a 2.5 game lead in the NFC North. Last week, the Vikings barely pulled out a victory when Baltimore's Steven Hauschka missed the potential winning field goal. Minnesota's secondary struggled against Joe Flacco after using cornerback Antoine Winfield to injury during last week's game. Backup Karl Paymah was continually taken advantage of, and we could see more of the same if Winfield is not able to play against the Steelers. On the other side of the ball, quarterback Brett Favre has exceeded all expectations. He currently ranks 7th with 577 DYAR. Wide receiver Sidney Rice emerged as a big play threat against the Ravens. Rice had his best game of the season, racking up six catches and 176 yards. Minnesota's running game has not missed a beat all year. Adrian Peterson is currently 2nd among running backs who have 50 attempts with 126 DYAR.
Despite having the reputation have being a run first team, Pittsburgh has relied on the past more than ever this year, throwing an average of 34.7 a game. Quarterback Ben Rothlisberger has responded with the best start of his career. Last week against Cleveland, Rothlisberger set a franchise record with his 31st game with a quarterback rating of over 100. The record had been held by Terry Bradshaw. When the Steelers do run the ball they are averaging 3.9 yards per carry, enough to keep defenses honest but not enough to be the focal point of the offense. While the passing game has been carrying the team, Pittsburgh's defense has been uncharacteristically vulnerable this year. They rank 21st in Defense DVOA, mainly due to their inability to stop opponents throwing the ball. The return of Troy Polamalu should bolster their secondary, but they will need to play their best game yet if they want to slow down Favre and the Vikings. Both teams have their flaws, but I think the Steelers will win this one in a shootout.
Pick: Pittsburg Steelers
Sunday 4:05 - 4:15 EST
Buffalo Bills vs. Carolina Panthers - Bank of America Stadium
Quarterback Trent Edwards may miss the game after suffering a concussion last week. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick would start in place of Edwards. Fitzpatrick completed 10 of 25 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown in a win against the Jets. Buffalo has not been able to get much going on offense, especially in the passing game. They are only averaging 5.14 yards per pass attempt this year, that's only good for 23rd in the league. Perhaps they will find more success against a Carolina defense that is allowing opponents a 92.81 passer rating. Second year linebacker Paul Posluzny gave the Bills a boost on defense against the Jets in his first game back after suffering a broken arm. Buffalo will need Posluzny to play well if they hope to improve their rush defense which ranks 28th in DVOA. The Bills are coming off a big win against a division opponent but they could have a tough time slowing down the Panther's stable of running backs.
Carolina also beat a division opponent in Week 6, and they did it on the strength of their ground game. The Panthers lauded rushing attack piled up 267 rushing yards and three touchdowns, which allowed them to win in spite of Jake Delhomme's poor performance. On the year Carolina is averaging 131.2 rushing yards per game, that's 8th best in the league. Poor play at the quarterback position has led to a dramatic decrease in wide receiver Steve Smith's production. Smith only has 21 catches for 259 yards, and he has not scored a touchdown all year. The Panthers will need to get him going to bring balance to their offence. The most important thing for Carolina in this matchup is to hold on to the ball. They have a -10 turnover ratio on the year, and it is simply impossible to consistently win in the NFL when you are turning the ball over that much. Both these teams are averaging less than 20 points per game, so I expect this to be a low scoring affair. Look for the Panthers to stick to the run and grind out a win at home.
Pick: Carolina Panthers
New York Jets vs. Oakland Raiders - Oakland Coliseum
Mark Sanchez has thrown 8 interceptions in his last three games, all of which were Jets losses. Sanchez was almost benched against Buffalo after throwing four interceptions in the game. Mark Sanchez averaged -3.66 yards per attempt. The Jets rushed for 318 yards as a team in last weeks' loss to the Bills. Since 1978, teams with at least 300 rushing yards had gone 39-0. New York has tried to protect the Sanchez by throwing the ball an average of only 27.3 times per game, the second lowest average in the league, but the rookie is struggling mightily in his limited opportunities. Even more worrisome than Sanchez's struggles is the loss of nose tackle Kris Jenkins for the year. Jenkins is one of the keystones for New York defensively, and it will be hard to replace his presence in the middle of the line. This is gut check time for the Jets. They are on the road, but this is a game they should win if they want to be competitive within their division.
In Week 6, Oakland improved defensively by playing more zone coverage and calling blitzes more often. By doing a better job of disguising their defense they were able to get pressure on Donovan McNabb and kept the Eagles' offense off-balance. Their success was due in large part to the play of defensive end Richard Seymour who had two sacks and a forced fumble against Philadelphia. Seymour followed up his performance by predicting a playoff berth for the 2-4 Oakland Raiders, now the pressure is on the whole team to turn his dream into a reality. The Raiders did a good job against the run last week but overall they have done very poorly in that area, ranking 26th in Rush Defense DVOA. Assuming the Jets don't turn the ball over five times again, they should be able to run the ball effectively enough to get a win on the road.
Pick: New York Jets
Chicago Bears vs. Cincinnati Bengals - Paul Brown Stadium
Last week Chicago was hurt by two costly turnovers in the red zone in a loss to the Falcons. Despite the loss, quarterback Jay Cutler signed a 2-year contract extension this week that will keep him in Chicago until 2013. Rookie wide receiver Johnny Knox has scored a touchdown in four consecutive games. With a touchdown on Sunday against the Bengals, Knox can become only the fifth rookie wide receiver since 1970 to score a touchdown in five consecutive games. While Chicago has enjoyed some success throwing the football, they have not been able to run consistently. Running back Matt Forte has struggled in his second year in the league and is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry. If Forte does not break out of his funk soon, the Bears could be kicking themselves for releasing Cedric Benson in the offseason. There is a good chance this game could come down right to the very end and much like last week, it will be up to Cutler to steal a win for Chicago.
Cincinnati saw its four game winning streak snapped by the visiting Texans in Week 6. Despite the loss, Ochocinco had 103 receiving yards against Houston. It was his first 100 yard receiving game since Dec 30, 2007 at Miami. Chicago has had trouble shutting down number one receiver at times, so look for Ochocinco to have another big day. DE Antwan Odom, who was tied for the lead league in sacks, is out for the year with a torn Achilles tendon. The Bengals will need players like Robert Geathers and Johnathan Fanene to step up in Odom's absence. Their defense has performed fairly well against the run, but they rank 20th in Pass Defense DVOA. Odom's loss will hurt their ability to get pressure on the quarterback, and could lead to a big passing day for Cutler and the Bears. Cincinnati has made a habit out of winning ugly games, and this one should be no different. Look for the Bengals to rely on Cedric Benson, third in the league with 531 rushing yards, and scrappy defense to get the win at home.
Pick: Cincinnati Bengals
Atlanta Falcons vs. Dallas Cowboys - Cowboys Stadium
Miles Austen is replacing Patrick Crayton in the starting lineup. That is not the only change to the offense, as backup running back Tashard Choice is expected to see an increase in carries. Choice began the season as the Cowboy's third down back, but has moved up the depth chart due to injuries to Marion Barber and Felix Jones. So far he has performed well when given opportunities, having piled up 225 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries. Look for tight end Jason Witten to see some more balls thrown his way in the red zone. Witten has only scored one touchdown after six weeks. On defense, linebacker Keith Brooking will be facing his former team for the first time after spending 11 years in Atlanta. Brooking and his teammates on defense will need to play their best if they hope to slow down the Falcons' offense which is ranked 9th in Offense DVOA.
Atlanta's Roddy White got off to a slow start this season, but he has come on with a vengeance in the last two weeks. White has amassed 266 receiving yards and three touchdowns during that time, and he could be in line for another big day in Dallas. The Cowboy's have the 25th best pass defense according to DVOA, and they could have a tough time stopping one of the league's premier quarterback-receiver combos. As a team, the Falcons rank 7th with 7.25 yards per pass attempt. However, Atlanta has not had much success running the football. They are only averaging 3.4 yards per carry, but Matt Ryan has been playing so well it hasn't mattered much yet. Ryan is ranked 8th among all quarterbacks with 565 DYAR. Dallas has one of the league's best running attacks, but they have been inconsistent and have not beaten anyone of note. I expect Matt Ryan and the Falcons to continue to excel in the passing game and to do just enough to win on defense.
Pick: Atlanta Falcons
New Orleans Saints vs. Miami Dolphins - Landshark Stadium
The Saints have yet to trail this season and have won every game by at least 14 points. They lead the league in a myriad of offensive statistics, most notably Offensive DVOA. Their defense is no slouch either, and is ranked 2nd in Defensive DVOA making them the league's best team according to Football Outsiders. Quarterback Drew Brees leads all quarterbacks with 855 DYAR, while his favorite target Marques Colston is the league's leading receiver with 213 DYAR. As an offense, New Orleans is second to only Indianapolis in yards per pass attempt, averaging 8.24 YPA. They lead the league with 38.4 points per game. It is easy to get caught up in the Saints' passing game, but it's actually their running game that has been the biggest factor in their success on offense. New Orleans' three headed backfield of Bell, Thomas, and Bush is averaging 157.8 yards per game. The Saints will need to make sure they take advantage of their opportunities in order to avoid the upset, because it is very likely that they will not have many possessions. The Dolphins lead the league in time of possession averaging 35 minutes a game.
Miami has run 48 Wildcat plays in five games and averaged 6.6 yards per play. They averaged 4.7 yards a play out of their base offense. That's 40 percent more yards per play out of the Wildcat. This week the Dolphins could employ a strategy similar to the one they used against Peyton Manning in the Colts, where they pounded the ball from the Wildcat formation and ate up the clock en route to a near upset victory. On defense Miami starts two rookies at cornerback, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith. Although they have performed relatively well, the Dolphins are ranked 24th in Pass Defense DVOA. This week will be Miami's toughest task yet and while I expect them to play well, in the end they will not be able to keep up with the juggernaut that is New Orleans.
Pick: New Orleans Saints
Sunday 8:20 EST
Arizona Cardinals vs. New York Giants - Giants Stadium
This game features the last two NFC champions in a pivotal NFC matchup. After stomping the Seahawks 27-3 in Seattle, Arizona will get to see how well they match up with what many believe to be one of the better teams in the league. Last week, the Cardinals' Kurt Warner tied Dan Marino for the fastest to throw to 30,000 yards. Both quarterbacks achieved the feat in 114 games. Warner has continued to play at a high level this year, completing 68.7% of his passes. Number two wide reciever Anquan Boldin is uncertain for Sunday's game after missing practice with a sprained ankle. Steve Breaston would take his spot on the depth chart. The good news is that whether or not Boldin plays, wide-out Larry Fitzgerald appears to be back to his old self. After a slow start Fitzgerald has 18 catches for 179 yards and three touchdowns in the last two weeks, but the Giants have the 5th best pass defense according to DVOA so Fitzgerald will have to earn everything he gets. Arizona has struggled against teams in the Eastern Timezone, and this will be a tough match up for them to win.
Against the Saints, New York was not able to get any pressure on quarterback Drew Brees. The end result was a thorough dissection of the Giants' secondary. They could be in for more of the same if they are not able to get to Kurt Warner. Offensively, the Giants are still waiting for running back Brandon Jacobs to hit his stride. Jacobs only ran for 33 yards against New Orleans and is averaging less than 4 yards per carry this year. New York will need Jacobs to wear down Arizona's run defense, which is ranked first in Rush Defense DVOA, by running between the tackles. That will allow backup Ahmad Bradshaw to have success on the outside runs. Eli Manning will also be looking to bounce back from a poor showing in his home state of Louisiana. The Cardinals are not nearly as effective at stopping the pass as they are at stopping the run, so it will be up to Eli and his young receiving corps to take some of the pressure off the running game by stretching the defense down the field. The Giants were humbled last week, but they are still one of the better teams in the NFC in my opinion so they should take this one at home
Pick: New York Giants
Monday 8:30 EST
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins - Fed Ex Field
Philadelphia will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Oakland a week ago. The Eagles will need to be more balanced in their play selection against Washington if they want to get back in the win column. In Week 6 coach Andy Reid called 46 pass plays and only 14 rushing attempts. The Eagles have had success running the ball this season, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, and if they make a point to stick to it they should be able to move the ball against Washington. In the passing game, wide receiver Desean Jackson gets a lot of the spotlight because of his big play ability. But tight end Brent Celek has been the teams' most productive receiver. Celek has caugh 30 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns. In an attempt to get more depth at the linebacker position, Philadelphia acquired ILB Will Witherspoon from the St. Louis Rams. The Eagles gave up a 5th round pick and WR Brandon Gibson in the trade. Witherspoon has recorded over 100 tackles three times in his career and is highly touted for both his speed and football I.Q. He should help shore up an already stout defense.
The Washington Redskins are 2-4 despite being the first team in NFL history to open a season with six straight games against winless opponents. Head coach Jim Zorn is no longer calling the plays on offense, instead Sherm Lewis will take over the playcalling duties at the behest of owner Dan Snyder. Thomas George of Fanhouse reported this week that Mike Shanahan was recently offered the head coaching job, but refused the offer saying there was little he could do for them in the middle of the season. All signs lead to chaos in Washington, but a win against the Eagles would most likely go a long way to silencing the critics. The Redskins will need to take a page out of the Raiders play book and get pressure on McNabb early to upset his rhythm. Rookie defensive end Brian Orakpo leads all rookies with 3.5 sacks and he needs to have a big game to help slow down Philadelphia's offense. It is unlikely Washington will be able to get much going offensively against an Eagles defense ranked 1st in DVOA, so they will need to score on defense and/or special teams if they are going to upset Philadelphia. This looks like it should be an easy win for the Eagles...
Pick: Philadelphia Eagles