Nearly nothing has gone according to plan so far this year. Replacement refs made a travesty of the early weeks, teams that were predicted to be powerhouses stumbled out of the gates, teams that were predicted to serve as doormats for those powerhouses surged to the top of their divisions, and even a team like San Francisco—which was expected to play well, and has—finds itself in a three-way tie with Arizona and Seattle atop the NFC West.
Suddenly, we find ourselves in Week 7. Enough screwing around—teams that have had up-and-down weeks and now find themselves in the midst of tight divisional standings need to string together some wins if they want to make it to the playoffs.
Here is a look at five individual players whose Week 7 performances will be paramount to their respective team's success—players who need to carry their teams to victory this week, and for the rest of the season.
Rodgers exploded against Houston on Sunday night, tossing six TDs.
When Aaron Rodgers plays like a good quarterback—instead of the normally elite passer that we know him to be—the Packers struggle and start the season with a record of 2-3.
It's as simple as that.
The Packers have a fantastic receiving corps, with or without Greg Jennings, but it's up to Rodgers to get them the ball.
The running game is essentially nonexistent right now, with Cedric Benson sidelined for the foreseeable future. An inexperienced Alex Green managed just 65 yards on 22 carries against the Texans, and James Starks remains either inactive or ineffective due to a nagging turf toe injury.
Rodgers has to be the man to carry Green Bay not only against St. Louis in Week 7 but for the rest of the season as well, and the Packers have no time to waste. The Bears (4-1) sit atop a supremely competitive NFC North, and they show no signs of slowing down.
Foster's struggles against Green Bay were unprecedented in 2012.
Speaking of the team Green Bay just clobbered—the correlation between Foster's success with that of the Texans is fairly obvious. Houston's star running back had his first off-game of 2012 on Sunday, and the Texans were handed their first loss of the season.
Although Foster punched in a pair of one-yard touchdowns to save his fantasy owners, his night was abysmal overall.
After averaging just shy of four yards per carry through the Texans' first five games, Foster managed just 29 yards on 17 carries for a 1.7-yard average on Sunday night. His struggle defined the game for Houston as the team was blown out.
Things don't get any easier for the Texans in Week 7, as the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens come to town. If Houston wants to be taken seriously as an AFC powerhouse, it needs to beat a quality opponent—so far this season, the Texans' five wins have come against teams whose combined record is 12-17.
For Houston to beat Baltimore, Foster absolutely must return to form and carry his squad as he has done all season.
With Ray Lewis done for the year, Reed must be the primary leader of the Ravens' defense.
The injury bug has bitten Baltimore, and it has bitten hard.
Already playing without outstanding linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is expected to rejoin practice this week but is still a long way from getting back onto the playing field, the Ravens lost both linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb to season-ending injuries on Sunday.
Without those three guys, the normally terrifying Baltimore defense appears significantly weaker. It's up to veteran cornerback Ed Reed to convince his team that it's not.
Though he didn't start well by making pessimistic comments to the media after Sunday's game, Reed needs to step up and be the Ravens' emotional leader on the field. Lewis will no doubt still be in the middle of pregame huddles and roaring away on the sideline, but the fact is that he's no longer on the field.
While it's not easy for a defensive player to "carry" a team, Reed absolutely must use his experience to maintain the defensive swagger that Baltimore has exhibited for years.
What a statement it would be if, one week after losing two more defensive mainstays, Baltimore could knock off Houston on the road.
Though Johnson has remained among the NFL's elite receivers this season, he has struggled to find the end zone.
At 2-3, the Lions are by no means out of what is sure to be a thrilling NFC North race. Thanks to Minnesota's surprising 4-2 start, the division is a solid candidate for toughest in the NFL at this point.
Detroit's record, albeit a losing one, is less depressing when the fact that it is yet to be involved in a game decided by more than one score is taken into account.
But if the Lions want to make the playoffs, they need to start adding numbers to that wins column. After a big overtime win against Philadelphia in Week 6, another road victory against the division-leading Bears in Week 7 would be a fantastic way to go about it.
So what could make it happen for the Lions? Perhaps some scoring from one of the best receivers in the league, a certain Calvin Johnson.
Megatron has been very good this year, ranking fourth among receivers in terms of yards (558) and hanging among the top 10 in receptions (35). But with only one touchdown to show for it, Detroit could wish for more from its star wideout.
For the Lions to come roaring out of the basement in the NFC West, it is imperative that Johnson start finding the end zone and put points on the board for his team.
Like it or not, Sanchez's success is critical to that of the Jets.
The Jets have been decimated by injuries and are not considered anywhere near a top team in the NFL this season, and yet—like every other team in the AFC East—New York is in a four-way tie for first (and last) place in the division.
Week 7 is a huge chance for Gang Green, as they travel to New England to take on a confusing, struggling Patriots squad that has underachieved so far in 2012. A win would be an amazing jump start to the Jets' season, and the most important player to carry them to it is Mark Sanchez.
Now, nobody wants to hear that Mark Sanchez is the most important player on their team, but it's true for New York. With all due apologies to the Tim Tebow zealots out there, Sanchez is the only quarterback the Jets have that can win them a football game.
The statistics speak for themselves: In the three games the Jets have won, Sanchez's quarterback rating is a very respectable 96.9. In the three games New York has lost, his rating is a miserable 53.7.
If there's a secondary in the league that Sanchez can succeed against, it's probably New England's, which was dissected by rookie Russell Wilson in Week 6. If Sanchez can follow suit, New York has an opportunity to make an enormous statement by passing New England in the standings.