By Dan Durkin
(CBS) And then there were two. With the Patriots putting the first blemish on the Saints record, only the Broncos and Chiefs remain undefeated. Through six weeks, 65 games (70%) played have been within seven points in the fourth quarter, the highest number in NFL history.
Here’s my take on how Week 7 plays out.
Game of the Week: Broncos 38, COLTS 23 – 7:30 PM
Peyton Manning returns to the house he built in Indianapolis. In a league that thrives on storylines, this is the gold-medalist. Circumstances – injury, salary cap – led to Manning’s departure, but the transition to Andrew Luck has been seamless. Through six games, the Broncos are rewriting the record books on offense, and get their best defensive player – Von Miller – back from suspension. You know Manning has had this one circled since the schedules came out, and he’s anxious to put one on his former team.
Patriots 31, JETS 17 – Noon
It doesn’t get any better than last week’s performance by Tom Brady and the Patriots. Just when everyone had written them off for dead against the Saints, Brady marched 70 yards down the field in 68 seconds with no timeouts to stun the Saints. What Brady is doing with such a ragtag supporting cast is MVP-worthy, and what Belichick is doing with a decimated defense is remarkable. Brady’s favorite target – tight end Rob Gronkowski – has been cleared to play, which would be a huge boost. Gronk or not, Pats win.
Chargers 27, JAGUARS 17 – Noon
Two rookie head coaches face off in Jacksonville. Certainly Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley knew about the situation he was getting himself into, but I’m not quite sure he expected it to be this dire. The Jaguars have a -128 point differential, have lost 11 straight games, and have only won two of their last 20. Get ready for Teddy, Jags fans! The Chargers are coming off an impressive win against the Colts, in which they dominated time of possession. Despite the long trip, the Chargers will exploit the Jags secondary and pick up their second-straight win.
LIONS 31, Bengals 27 – Noon
This game could serve as a launching point for the winner. Both of these teams are talented, but they’ve been their own worst enemies with untimely penalties and undisciplined play. The Lions were able to gut out a win with Calvin Johnson as a decoy, which speaks volumes about their progress. The Bengals also won a hard-fought game with Andy Dalton spreading the ball around to his talented targets. Great battle between the Lions defensive line and Bengals offensive line. Home field is the difference for the Lions.
DOLPHINS 24, Bills 20 – Noon
The Dolphins 3-0 start is a distant memory. Losers of two straight, they’ve had a bye week to regroup. With Thad Lewis again under center for the Bills, they’ll lean on their running game, which averages an AFC-high 148 yards per game. Look for the Dolphins to load-up against the run and put the game in Lewis’ hands. The Dolphins have struggled to run the ball, but can they get on track against a soft Bills run defense? Unlikely. Look for the Dolphins to move the ball through the air and pick up a division win.
Bears 24, REDSKINS 20 – Noon
Even though both of these defenses are struggling, this game feels like a low-scoring affair, in which both teams will try to impose their will with the running game. The Bears have had 10 days to rest their battered bodies and prepare. The Redskins secondary is vulnerable, so there will be opportunities for the Bears passing attack. Look for the Bears special teams return units to make a splash play this weekend and contribute to a win.
Cowboys 31, EAGLES 24 – Noon
First place in the NFC East is on the line in Philadelphia. Both of these offenses are producing. The Cowboys are the highest-scoring team in the NFC and Tony Romo is the conference’s top-rated passer. The Eagles’ LeSean McCoy leads the league in rushing, averaging 105 yards a game and 5.1 yards per carry. This game will come down to ball security, special teams, and defense, which gives the Cowboys and edge.
PANTHERS 27, Rams 20 – Noon
It’s a battle of two former top-overall picks, as Cam Newton’s Panthers play host to Sam Bradford’s Rams. Neither of these two have lived up to their draft status, and Bradford should thank his lucky stars he came out before the new CBA, as he’s bagged $50M guaranteed for some remarkably mediocre quarterbacking. The Panthers defense is legit, so is their running game, and they’ll lean on both for the win.
FALCONS 23, Bucs 17 – Noon
The Falcons have hit rock bottom. They’ve had two weeks to stew over their Monday Night loss to the Jets, and lost their top weapon – wide receiver Julio Jones – for the year. I’m convinced Matt Bryant has a hefty escalator clause in his contract based on field goal attempts, as there was simply no good reason for Mike Smith to pass up free points on a replayed down at the end of the half. It’s not the first time Smith’s been burned by a decision like that. The Bucs are in disarray and move one week closer to Greg Schiano’s departure.
49ers 27 , TITANS 17 – 3:05 PM
The 49ers have gone back to the basics, running the ball behind their dominant offensive line to set up play-action shots down the field. Colin Kaepernick’s in a bit of a sophomore slump, but he’s limited his turnovers during the team’s three-game winning streak. For the Titans, they’re really missing Jake Locker. With Locker under center, they didn’t turn the ball over and played great defense, going 3-1 in the process. With Ryan Fitzpatrick, they’ve turned the ball over five times in two losses. Not a good formula against a ferocious 49ers defense.
PACKERS 30, Browns 16 – 3:25 PM
The Packers depth is being challenged as they’ll be without key starters – Clay Matthews, Randall Cobb – on both sides of the ball. Even without Matthews last week, the Packers defensive front was still able to put heat on Joe Flacco. With the emergence of Eddie Lacy, the Packers will lean on their creative – zone, man, gap – running scheme this weekend against a Browns team that’s surrendered a league-high eight rushing touchdowns. It’s a simple equation for the Browns, starting Brandon Weeden equals a loss.
Ravens 23, STEELERS 20 – 3:25 PM
It’s still early, but both of these teams are struggling to find an offensive identity. Neither have had success running the football, which is uncharacteristic from their recent past. The Ravens can get after the quarterback, and the Steelers struggle to protect Roethlisberger. This is a classic rivalry game, typically decided by a field goal. The Ravens have won 13 of their last 15 against their AFC North foes, and will be 14 of 16 after this weekend.
CHIEFS 23, Texans 16 – 3:25 PM
So, Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is turning to undrafted free agent rookie quarterback Case Keenum to “spark” his team on the road in the NFL’s loudest stadium against the best inside-outside pass rush? Got it. There isn’t a hotter seat in the league, and Kubiak may not make it through the season. The Chiefs will dominate time of possession and force Keenum into some bad throws.
GIANTS 24, Vikings 20 – 7:40 PM Monday Night
The dreadful lineup of Monday night matchups continues as the Giants host the Vikings. Which combined win has been your favorite this season? Trick question, as you only have one to pick from. As I predicted, this would be the season the Vikings finally turned the page on Christian Ponder. They’ve handed it over to another first-round disappointment, Josh Freeman. Look for a simplified game plan of Freeman handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson, but it won’t be enough. The Giants will pick apart the putrid Vikings secondary and get off the schnide.
Season Record: 62-31
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