Okay guys, I’m not going to try to bamboozle anyone here. There aren’t a ton of marquee matchups this week, which is a natural function of some bye weeks, and also the disparate nature of the NFL, with a steep drop off after the top third of the league, and the bottom third in despair. There are two can’t miss games and then a handful of contests that are certainly intriguing, and then, well, some games that threaten to be fairly ugly.
As always, we’ll start at the top. Here’s a preview of Week 7:
Vikings at Steelers: The Brett Favre show finally has to go on the road to a climate where weather could perhaps play a role. I see the magic running out in Heinz Field. Pittsburgh has its swagger back, Minnesota’s defense has been giving up big plays, and I could see Troy Polamalu picking off a pass or two. Another undefeated team could bite the dust.
Cardinals at Giants: All of the injuries on defense were eventually going to take a toll for the Giants, and it caught up to them in the Superdome. Arizona has been keeping Kurt Warner on his feet lately, but this could be a game where New York’s pass rush becomes a major factor. The NFC’s last two representatives in the Super Bowl should provide for great theater. The Cards don’t usually travel well, but the late start might help their biorhythms and all of that good stuff.
Falcons at Cowboys: Atlanta is in good form, while Dallas is reeling but coming off a bye. The Cowboys need a healthy Felix Jones, and must start getting more out of guys like Martellus Bennett and Roy Williams. I look for Tony Gonzalez to have a big game, and Michael Turner to be featured in the passing game as well.
49ers at Texans: This is a complete contrast. San Francisco can’t score and lacks explosive plays, but is stout defensively. Houston can’t stop anyone, but the offense can be unstoppable. Texans QB Matt Schaub is piling up 300-yard games, while the 49ers, coming off a bye, unveil rookie wideout Michael Crabtree after his lengthy contract impasse. They are expecting him to play a significant role. We’ll see how his conditioning and knowledge of the system hold up.
Saints at Dolphins: Maybe the Wildcat will be the only thing to slow down the Saints? New Orleans’ defense has savaged young quarterbacks so far this season, but Chad Henne has yet to look anything like a novice passer. Still, Miami might end up leaning on a ball-control game, while I figure Drew Brees will test Miami’s young corners as well.
Bears at Bengals: The Cincy mojo took a hit last week, and losing Antwan Odom for the season could alter the entire scope of that defense. Chicago has already lost two games in which it was the better team, and need to get Matt Forte focused and productive again. Cedric Benson gets to face the team that drafted — and then cut — him. Gaines Adams is set to debut for the Bears, and don’t worry about a blackout this week for the Bengals. Droves of Bears fans purchased seats a while back, and there will be a heavy Chicago flavor in the stands.
Jets at Raiders: New York has a history of trouble playing in this venue. The Jets enter the game after their worst outing of the season, while the Raiders come in after pulling off the biggest upset of the year thus far. Rex Ryan should be able to concoct a scheme to rattle JaMarcus Russell, but the loss of Kris Jenkins will sting the Jets. Mark Sanchez has looked like a rookie after a strong first three games, and suddenly the Jets really need a win, so the pressure will be on.
Patriots at Buccaneers: Technically, this is a home game for the Bucs, but as it is being played in jolly old London, well, it’s quite the road trip for both clubs. Hard to see the Bucs slowing down that circa 2007 Pats offensive attack we saw in the snow last week against Tennessee. If Tampa Bay loses again, there is a good chance that first-round pick Josh Freeman will get a look at quarterback coming out of the bye, which follows this game.
Eagles at Redskins: Andy Reid‘s play calling and clock management are again a big topic of conversations in Philly after the loss at Oakland. Michael Vick has yet to play any sort of meaningful part in games, but the team has plenty of offensive options. Washington is in disarray, and with Sherm Lewis calling plays now for a team he barely knows after five years out of the league, there could be quite a transition period for what was an already faltering offense.
Colts at Rams: Will Peyton Manning throw for 500 yards against this struggling team coming out of his bye week? Would anyone be shocked if he did?
Chargers at Chiefs: A trip to Arrowhead can be perilous, and this is a rivalry game, too. Kansas City pulls this off and it does a huge favor for the Broncos, who would pretty much have the AFC West wrapped up, barring a total collapse. San Diego’s not going to be able to pull out of a deep first-half hole two years in a row, and the heat on Norv Turner will intensify with each loss.
Bills at Panthers: Both teams seem to have stabilized a bit after going through a swoon. Carolina’s predilection for turnovers is out of control, and it may just force Jake Delhomme to hand off about 55 times a game. The Bills may be without Trent Edwards after his concussion, but should be able to run the ball on the Panthers.
Packers at Browns: Green Bay’s pass protection issues have not gone away. Cleveland’s quarterback futility hasn’t, either.