The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 7 Predictions

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The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 7 Predictions
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Arian Foster: Thinking man.

While I may have badly missed on the Giants/49ers last week, I do not think anyone expected a 26-3 rout by Eli “Mr. October” Manning (25-5 in that month) and the Giants.

But let me direct your attention to my prophetic words on the Monday night game between Denver and San Diego:

San Diego has not been winning big games since 2010, and Rivers has fallen off a cliff in clutch situations in that time. Rivers is just 2-12 in his last 14 comeback/game-winning drive opportunities with a 64.8 passer rating and four lost fumbles.

The Broncos are never out of a game, and the Chargers are known to let games slip away under Norv Turner. Sounds like a recipe for a classic finish in prime time, and I expect the Broncos to take charge of the AFC West with a much-needed win as they head into the bye week.

You are doing a good job in this business as long as you get more right than wrong. It is especially true with a season crazier than most we have ever seen.  

This week we will look at how the 49ers can rebound, the AFC showdown in Houston, Eli Manning’s good-looking prospects versus Washington and a very important game for Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in prime time. 

 

Seahawks at 49ers: Thursday night home-field healing

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Not the president of the Matt Millen fan club.

While the Seahawks (4-2) are riding high after their big comeback win over New England, the 49ers (4-2) are coming off their worst performance in the Jim Harbaugh era.

Unlike the loss in Minnesota, which was on the road and at an early start time, this game was at home, showing the 49ers are far from invincible at Candlestick. However, Harbaugh is 10-3 at home with two of the losses to the Giants.

The 49ers have a quick turnaround to get the bad taste out of their mouth on Thursday Night Football.

Home-field advantage is huge in these games, with the home team now boasting a 29-13 (.690) record since 2006. Even if it is a short trip for the Seahawks, the expedited week still looms large.

The young, cocky Seahawks may actually boast a better defense than the 49ers this season. Only New England (23) was able to score more than 20 points on them, and their defensive passer rating (74.1) edges out the 49ers’ rating (77.8).

Seattle has also faced and defeated offenses led by Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Tom Brady.

Seattle’s two losses have come in the division, losing on the road at Arizona (20-16) and St. Louis (19-13). Rookie Russell Wilson was not impressive in those games, but has been the rest of the time.

Alex Smith is 2-25 as a starter when the 49ers allow at least 24 points, but it is hard to see the Seahawks scoring that much. Smith threw three interceptions against the Giants and must rebound from the worst game he has had since, well, perhaps the season-opening 31-6 loss in Seattle in 2010.

The 49ers live on winning battles with turnovers and field position. They uncharacteristically failed in a big way in those areas against the Giants, hence the 26-3 final.

However, we have seen San Francisco be a more dominant team thanks to that 79-3 combined rout of the Jets and Bills. With the NFC West rivals allowing 93 and 94 points (ranking No. 2 and No. 3 in the league), expect a low-scoring game.

When the teams met last season, San Francisco pulled away, 33-17, thanks to Ted Ginn Jr. return touchdowns.

In Seattle, the 49ers fell behind late after a blocked punt set up Marshawn Lynch for a touchdown run. But Smith’s 41-yard pass to Michael Crabtree led to the 49ers’ game-winning field goal for a 19-17 win and season sweep.

It should be noted San Francisco won a lot of close games last season (Seattle did not), but this year the tables have been turned.

San Francisco is one of three offenses this year (Chicago, Houston) yet to have a fourth-quarter comeback opportunity. Seattle has already had four, going 2-2 in those games.

While Seattle obviously has a good chance here, think low scoring and a tight one, and roll with the 49ers to take back the lead in the NFC West.

 

Ravens at Texans: This time, it’s different

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[Insert Joe Flacco on Sunday]

Remember when last Sunday provided the most thrilling moment in NFL RedZone history (triple box with Robert Griffin’s touchdown run, Jay Feely’s missed field goal and the Sidney Rice touchdown happening concurrently)?

Well, it will be the complete opposite this week.  With six teams on a bye week, the 4:15 p.m. schedule consists of just two games: New York Jets at New England and Jacksonville at Oakland. Blah. 

The real showdown in the AFC this week that most of the country deserves to see is Baltimore at Houston, as they are the only two teams with a winning record in the AFC.

Including their 2011 AFC Divisional loss, the Texans are 0-6 against the Ravens in their franchise’s history. John Harbaugh is 4-0 against Gary Kubiak.

However, there will be many things different about this meeting.

For starters, Matt Schaub will be the starting quarterback instead of Sage Rosenfels (four interceptions in a 41-13 loss in 2008) or rookie T.J. Yates (three interceptions in the 20-13 playoff loss).

Schaub gives Houston a much better chance to win, even if he is 0-2 against the Ravens. In 2010, Schaub led touchdown drives of 99 and 95 yards in the fourth quarter to force overtime, but threw a bad interception to Josh Wilson for a game-ending pick six.

Last season, Schaub struggled in a 29-14 loss, but has gone 9-1 in his 10 starts since that game. Though, only one of those wins came over a team with a winning record.

Houston’s two losses to the Ravens last year were both in Baltimore, which is one of the best home-field advantages in the league.

Joe Flacco is a much different quarterback on the road, especially since 2009.

Also missing for the Ravens will be Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb after season-ending injuries. Terrell Suggs is not back yet, and Haloti Ngata is battling his own ailments.

Baltimore’s defense was already struggling this season with those players, especially on the ground. In the last two games, Baltimore’s rush defense has allowed 227 yards (most in franchise history) and 214 yards (tied for third most).

They still won both gamesby the skin of their teethbut this cannot continue. Now they face one of the best running games in the league with Arian Foster coming off a down game against Green Bay.

The last team to win two games in a season when allowing over 200 rushing yards was the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, who still won the Super Bowl (this is me being “fair and balanced”).

Regardless of what happened Sunday night, Houston is a very good team, and the kind of team that rebounds from a really bad performance like that. It is hard to imagine it will lose two in a row at home.

J.J. Watt rushing at the sometimes oblivious Flacco is a great matchup for the Texans. They should have a lot of success offensively as well.

You will not find many big-game wins on Kubiak’s resume, but this is one he will add. The Ravens can certainly step up in the face of adversity after the critical injuries suffered, but they simply do not have enough talent ready to take the field Sunday to replace those losses.

Maybe in a playoff rematch the Ravens will be better prepared to handle their losses (and Suggs should be back), but in Week 7, the Texans will make a strong push for any potential rematch taking place in Houston.

 

Redskins at Giants: Eli Manning’s payback for last year

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One of the great NFL trivia questions in the future will be this: which team with a losing record swept the 2011 Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the regular season?

Answer: Washington Redskins (5-11).

Not only did Washington beat them, but they handed the Giants their second- and third-worst losses of the season (28-14 in Washington; 23-10 in New York). So strange.

But it’s a new season and the Giants will have a chance for some revenge against their NFC East rival. Even though the Giants seem to only get up for big road games, this should be a very entertaining game with lots of points scored.

While Robert Griffin III is having an impressive season and offers a big upgrade over Rex Grossman, this Washington defense has been just as impressive, but in a bad way.

Washington’s pass defense is allowing 341 gross passing yards per game. That is “gross” as in "not net”, but it is gross too.

People thought the Packers (4,988 yards) and Patriots (4,977 yards) were bad last year, but the Redskins are on pace for quarterbacks to throw for 5,456 yards this season, or 20 yards fewer than the record Drew Brees set last year.

Subtracting sack yards, the Redskins’ 1,970 passing yards allowed through six games are the second most in NFL history. Only the 2005 San Francisco 49ers allowed more, and it was by one yard (1,971).

Those record-setting (again, in the bad way) defenses for New England and Green Bay were on a similar pace at this point last season. The Patriots allowed 1,933 yards (No. 3) and Green Bay allowed 1,805 yards (No. 9) through six games.

Even the 2010 Redskins (1,789 yards) round out the top 10, so this has not come out of nowhere. Losing Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker hurt, but this team has more problems than that defensively.  

The only quarterback not to throw for at least 310 yards and multiple touchdowns against Washington this year was Josh Freeman. He had 299 yards and one touchdown pass.

Washington has also allowed three game-winning drives this season, so should it come to that, we know the Giants are pretty comfortable in that department.

Eli Manning may have lost his streak of 24 consecutive games with at least 200 yards passing (second-longest streak in NFL history) last week in San Francisco, but expect him to start another one with a 300-yard performance at the very least.

Oh, and the Giants get the win too, extending his record to 26-5 in games played in October.

 

Steelers at Bengals: Who wants it more? Who wants it at all?

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After making the playoffs last season, the Steelers and Bengals both enter Sunday night’s game on the heels of a disappointing loss.

The Bengals have dropped two straight winnable games, while the Steelers do not look capable of beating Alabama on the road right now. They have lost to two of the worst teams in the league (Oakland and Tennessee) over their last three games.

The game will unfold in front of a national audience, which used to be a big advantage for the Steelers under Mike Tomlin when they were 12-1 in his first 13 prime time games. But ever since then, the Steelers are 6-8 and losers of three straight.

Tomlin is 7-6 on NBC’s Sunday Night Football (3-5 in the last eight).

Notice the better competition being played (“SOS” is strength of schedule) in the last 14 games, and the regression in points scored by the offense and allowed by the defense. The only quality win against a good opponent in those last 14 games was when they gutted out a hard-fought win in Baltimore in 2010 (13-10 final).

It also appears the NFL loves putting Pittsburgh on the road in such games. It will be the 12th time in their last 16 prime time games that the Steelers play on the road.

More than just the losses are the mediocre performances in the last 14 games, which include ugly wins over bad teams like the 2010 Bengals (4-12), 2011 Colts without Peyton Manning (2-14), 2011 Chiefs with Tyler Palko at quarterback (7-9) and a tough 14-3 win over Cleveland (4-12) last year.

If you go back to Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers are 3-6 the last nine times they have played a national game with all eyes on them.

As for Cincinnati, in the first Thinking Man’s Guide back in Week 1, we looked at how the Bengals were 0-8 against playoff teams last season. The only playoff-caliber team they have played this year has been Baltimore, and that was a 44-13 rout by the Ravens.

So it would appear the Bengals are another paper tiger, or even worse off than they were last season when they would find ways to win games they should have won like these losses to Miami and Cleveland the last two weeks.

The question is: Do the Steelers still qualify as a good team? They have had back-to-back 12-4 seasons, but things never felt right last year, and that was confirmed by how they failed in every critical quarter-junction of the season (both Baltimore games, at Houston, at San Francisco with the No. 1 seed on the line, and in the playoffs at Denver).

Both teams are led by their offenses this year, and this has the potential to be a high-scoring game, though the Steelers usually struggle to stack points on the road.

Each defense only has two interceptions, and A.J. Green being covered by Ike Taylor could be a nightmare matchup given the season each player is having.

This is usually the type of game Pittsburgh wins and Cincinnati loses (see Week 10 last year), but these two teams may be a lot closer to each other than originally thought.

Leaning toward Pittsburgh, but it will not be pretty. Again.

 

Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.

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