The NFL in 2012 is a funny, funny beast. It’s a season where “sure-thing” picks go to die. Week 7 looks to be no different as there are several close-call matchups that are difficult to peg on the surface.
But this week, despite those challenges, some clarity is finally beginning to emerge around the league. There’s a bigger sample size to go off of and a bit more data and evaluation to justify some of these picks.
There’s also the added bonus of urgency setting in for some teams. Teams who have championship aspirations that just quite aren’t cutting the cheddar to this point in the season will have extra motivation in Week 7.
Take a look at some teams who are going to win in Week 7.
All it takes is a spark for a team to change its fortunes. In Week 5, the Indianapolis Colts (2-3) won an emotional game for their head coach, who was diagnosed with cancer before the game.
In Week 6, the Cleveland Browns (1-5) finally got over the hump and eliminated their 11-game losing streak. Losing is contagious, and it was a bug the Cleveland team just couldn’t shake.
Winning is the best remedy for that type of ailment.
The young Browns put together a full four quarters of football en route to defeating a pretty good Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) team. They did it with a defense that was infused with fire by the return of shutdown cornerback Joe Haden from suspension.
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has shown he has the ability to stretch a defense, and he will certainly test the Indianapolis Colts’ secondary. Indy has only given up 200 yards per game, good enough for third in NFL through six weeks.
Most of that has been due to their inability to stop anyone’s rushing attack. Opponents have dominated the line of scrimmage against these Colts and imposed the will of their running game.
If Trent Richardson is healthy, or not, the Cleveland Browns have a decent stable of running backs in Brandon Jackson, Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonna to carry the load in his stead.
Hardesty carried for 57 yards on 17 carries in the second half in relief for Richardson against the Bengals.
New England Patriots (3-3) quarterback Tom Brady was embarrassed by some postgame antics by Seattle Seahawks (4-2) cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman’s original tweet has been taken down. It asked Brady, “U mad bro?”
Allegedly, Brady had asked Sherman to come see him after the Patriots beat his Seahawks on Sunday. Sherman said he was just doing just that when he approached him after the game.
A lone picture still up on Sherman’s Twitter feed still says everything it needs to.
Brady sure looks like a man who turned the 12thMan against us twitter.com/RSherman_25/st…— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) October 15, 2012
The Patriots weren’t blown out. They weren’t dominated in any sense of the word. A fourth-quarter collapse occurred. The usually clutch Patriots were beaten at their own game by a stifling Seahawks defense.
This week against the New York Jets (3-3), Brady and his Pats will not be up against the same type of adversary on defense.
You better believe Bill Belichick will have this Patriots team fired up for a critical, must-win divisional game at Foxborough. That’s something you can count on.
They’ll also have the luxury of going up against a suspect Jets rush defense that’s been uncharacteristically gouged at times this season. For the Pats, opportunity and timing are perfect for them to kick-start their effective running game after being relatively shut down by the Seahawks.
For the Jets, they will need for Mark Sanchez to be able to exploit the soft Patriots secondary in order to win this game. I don’t like Sanchez in this game. He’ll have too much pressure on him on the road, with the game resting on his shoulders.
If New England can contain Shonn Greene, who finally had a breakout game against the Colts in Week 6, it will be a long afternoon for Rex Ryan’s Jets in Massachusetts.
Why is it that the Dallas Cowboys (2-3) always find new ways to lose games? Sunday’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens came after a pretty good performance and an even better last-minute comeback that fell inches short.
Or wide left.
Dallas has the team in place to make some noise in the NFC East division. The Cowboys started things out with a huge opening season win over the New York Giants at the Meadowlands. Since then, they’ve been 1-3 and haven’t looked like a complete team since.
Luckily, there is a quarterback who is struggling more in close-game situations than Tony Romo right now. Cam Newton has been the opposite of clutch, and he’s quickly earning himself a bad rap for his postgame comments and sulky demeanor on the sidelines.
With or without DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys should be able to run the football—if they choose—at ease against a poor Panthers rush defense. Felix Jones has big-play capability.
The key for this game won’t be Dallas’ offense, though. The defense will need to play better against the run, specifically in containing Newton in the option-run game. The secondary has proven to be top notch but it will also need to “stay home” and avoid being sucked in by Newton’s play-action and option passes.
Overall, this is a huge game for the Cowboys as they are beginning to slide in the NFC East. Carolina is also in danger of sliding and will come out competitively after its bye week. It might not be pretty, but big-time players step up in big games and that’s what I expect Romo to do at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
The Houston Texans (5-1) were flawless coming into their Week 6 matchup against a then 2-3 Green Bay Packers team. Obviously, that undefeated 5-0 start may have been inflated by a manageable schedule that included wins over the Miami Dolphins (3-3), New York Jets (3-3), Tennessee Titans (2-4) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4).
There’s no doubt that the Texans are a talented team, though. They have arguably the best running back and wide receiver combo in the NFL in Arian Foster and Andre Johnson.
They’ve also, with the exception of Aaron Rodgers’ six-touchdown suckerpunch on Monday Night Football, been able to play some very good defense.
This week, the Texans will have a tough task in rebounding against the AFC’s only other 5-1 ball club—the Baltimore Ravens.
Baltimore is reeling from the season ending losses of linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6. Formidable defensive tackle Haloti Ngata also sprained his MCL in that game and will be available, but not at 100 percent for this big matchup (via ESPN).
There were already too many question marks about the Ravens defense this season before these devastating blows. They couldn’t have come at a worse time as the Texans will not show mercy as they attempt to avenge, in front of their hometown crowd, the bad taste left in their mouth by the Packers on Monday night.
Houston’s offense is likely salivating at the opportunity to face this weakened and digressing Ravens unit.
Confidence couldn’t be higher for the Seattle Seahawks (4-2) after pulling the upset over the New England Patriots (3-3) in Week 6. At the time same time, the San Francisco 49ers (4-2) are on their heels after being completely outclassed by the New York Giants (4-2) at Candlestick Park on Sunday.
Neither team will have too long to think about Week 6 as they will meet in an exciting defensive clash on Thursday Night Football. They say, “defense wins championships,” but they don’t say what a defensive-minded team can do against another prominent defense.
That will, again, be the case for the San Francisco 49ers.
Both of the team’s losses have come against physical defenses that can control the line of scrimmage. Seattle can do that, and more.
Unlike the Vikings and Giants, the Seahawks have some excellent and opportunistic defensive backs that can shut down opposing receivers in addition to stepping up in the run game and disrupting routes before they can develop.
Alex Smith had his hands full with the Giants and was pressured into three interceptions. He’ll likely be put into more pass situations this week as the Seahawks defense was built to beat teams that pound the football. Their rush defense is remarkably second-ranked in the NFL, only allowing 70 yards per game on the ground.
On offense, Russell Wilson answered some questions about his ability to lead his football team with a big performance against the Patriots. He won’t have as easy of a day against the Niners but will be give some chances due to the focus on running back Marshawn Lynch. He’ll also likely have to make some plays with his feet to extend plays and keep the Seahawks’ drives going.
This game is a big one for both teams. Both teams need a big NFC West divisional win, but only one is playing good enough football to make it happen. Seattle will walk out of Candlestick with the division lead after a surprisingly convincing win over the 49ers.
Mike Hoag Jr. is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the NFL and the Cleveland Browns for the site.