The best NFL games each week aren't always the ones that look like the most fun on paper.
Sure, a battle of division rivals with playoff implications is nice, but sometimes the keys to the game and eventual outcome are really cut and dry.
To find the intriguing matchups on a schedule is a wonderful thing. Not only does it allow us to dig deeper into a few contests from an outside perspective, but it gives us a chance to look at some games that casual fans might not be paying attention to.
That being said, take a look at my three most intriguing matchups of the weekend below. From inconsistent play to top defenses and all the way down to two franchises making preseason expectations irrelevant, we'll dissect the intrigue here.
Ethan Grant's Complete Week 7 Picks
|Final||Seattle Seahawks 34, Arizona Cardinals 22|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Miami Dolphins 20, Buffalo Bills 16|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Carolina Panthers 31, St. Louis Rams 19|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Chicago Bears 21, Washington Redskins 17|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Detroit Lions 28, Cincinnati Bengals 24|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Dallas Cowboys 38, Philadelphia Eagles 31|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||San Diego Chargers 22, Jacksonville Jaguars 18|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||New England Patriots 21, New York Jets 12|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Atlanta Falcons 35, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||San Francisco 49ers 23, Tennessee Titans 20|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Baltimore Ravens 14, Pittsburgh Steelers 9|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Green Bay Packers 28, Cleveland Browns 13|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Kansas City Chiefs 27, Houston Texans 17|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Denver Broncos 27, Indianapolis Colts 20|
|Monday, Oct. 21||New York Giants 31, Minnesota Vikings 27|
Breakdown of Most Intriguing Games
St. Louis Rams (3-3) vs. Carolina Panthers (2-3)
Strangely enough, the Panthers and Rams are in similar positions in the NFC.
Heck, even the Panthers' Twitter account took a peek at that assertion on Wednesday:
But perhaps their biggest similarity is that their inconsistencies have been astounding to watch. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah was content avoiding giving a prediction for this game earlier in the week:
Good luck trying to predict the Panthers-Rams game. Impossible to figure out either squad. Up, Down, Up, Down, Up, Down— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) October 16, 2013
Carolina's 2-3 record is deceiving. A five-point loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 had to feel like a moral victory. A one-point loss to the Buffalo Bills the next week stung, but any head coach will tell you that a chance to win on the road late in the fourth quarter is all you can ask for.
Then came a blowout win over the New York Giants, followed by a hapless performance in a loss to Arizona. In Week 6, the Panthers looked like the class of the NFC on both sides of the ball in a demolition over the Minnesota Vikings.
By the same token, St. Louis has been on a roller-coaster ride of its own. A come-from-behind win highlighted Week 1, but since then, three straight losses to Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco dampened any lingering celebrations.
A bounce-back of sorts has occurred the past two weeks in wins over Jacksonville and Houston, but the conundrum for both teams is simple: Can either club play consistent football and win against good teams?
This is a statement game for both teams. The NFC West is still (relatively) wide open, and Carolina won't complain if its fate is resigned to a wild-card bid in the conference later this year.
The key in this one is defense, where Carolina has been one of the NFL's best teams and St. Louis has failed to stop virtually everyone when the game plan calls for a heavy dose of ground-based, power football.
Cam Newton can be mistake-prone, but in front of their home crowd, I like the Panthers to push their record to .500. Then again, the way these two teams have played this year, it's hard to know what to expect.
Prediction: Carolina 31, St. Louis 19
San Francisco 49ers (4-2) vs. Tennessee Titans (3-3)
It's been nearly four years since the 49ers and Titans played each other; in 2009 Tennessee won a 34-27 shootout behind two touchdowns and 134 rushing yards from running back Chris Johnson. Alex Smith and Vince Young were the starting QBs for the two teams.
My my, how things have changed.
San Francisco is an NFL power house, and Tennessee is trying to work its way up in the AFC South just a season removed from being a basement dweller in the league.
If you believe this tweet from ESPN's Trey Wingo, this isn't the week to pull for the home team:
Safest bet in week 7? Titans will lose. So far every team that's played Seattle, has lost the following week. #LegionofBoomeffect— trey wingo (@wingoz) October 15, 2013
The strength of these two teams is on defense. Both franchises boast top-10 units through six weeks of action, and you could argue that the Titans' three losses (in overtime to Houston, Seattle and Kansas City) were all scenarios where the outcome could have gone differently.
But a 3-3 record isn't a bad start at all for the Titans, who have managed to stay competitive without Jake Locker under center and Johnson averaging a paltry 3.1 yards per carry despite currently sitting in sixth in the league in carries.
San Francisco was an early implode candidate after a 1-2 start, but three straight wins have the 49ers in striking distance again in the NFC West, and the offense is slowly starting to turn things around after a disastrous stretch to start the year.
The key here could be QB play. Colin Kaepernick has all the potential in the world, but he has done very little since a 400-yard performance in Week 1. Through Week 6, the 49ers were 31st in the NFL in passing.
Tennessee hasn't been much better through the air, and Ryan Fitzpatrick must avoid needless turnovers if the Titans have any hope in pulling off the upset against the Niners.
As it is, I expect another close game with the Titans as one of the teams. Unfortunately, Tennessee just doesn't have the "winning" mentality that San Francisco has shown the past two years. It's a 5-2 start for Jim Harbaugh after this one.
Prediction: San Francisco 23, Tennessee 20
Houston Texans (2-4) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (6-0)
The Kansas City Chiefs could be 7-0 on Monday morning. Let that sink in, and then comment below if you still feel this battle of AFC rivals isn't one of the most intriguing games on the schedule in Week 7.
Maybe more intriguing is the idea that former University of Houston standout and the NCAA's all-time leading passer is getting the start for the Texans.
That's right: It's Case Keenum time. ESPN's Numbers Never Lie posted this tweet to help get Houston fans excited about the change:
Including bowl games...Case Keenum threw 155 TD passes in college. Not a typo. He'll start this Sunday for the @HoustonTexans.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) October 17, 2013
Unfortunately, Keenum is stepping into a rough spot. At 2-4, the Texans are on the brink of drowning in their own despair. It was supposed to be Super Bowl or bust this year in Houston, but now, just making the playoffs would qualify as a miracle.
How will that desperation play out against Kansas City?
Based on what we've seen from the Chiefs this year, probably not in a way that will lead to an upset.
Behind one of the best defenses in football, Kansas City has experienced a resurgence unlike anything we've ever seen in the NFL. Through Week 6, the Chiefs have already tripled their win total from 2012.
As noted by ESPN's Stats & Info, both the offense and defense are doing what it takes to win games:
Jamaal Charles on pace for 300+ rushes and 80+ receptions, would be 5th player in NFL history to reach those totals in a season— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 15, 2013
Why are the Chiefs undefeated? Their defense leads the NFL in Total QBR, completion percentage and sacks.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 14, 2013
Houston should not be taken lightly, as its team numbers suggest. With a potent rushing attack and the league's top defense in terms of yards allowed per game, the Texans have their backs against the wall and will be ready for Arrowhead.
However, the QB shuffle and trend of poor play on defense don't appear poised to stop anytime soon. Houston scares Kansas City in the first half, but the Chiefs adjust in the second half, and Gary Kubiak officially feels his seat get warm.
Prediction: Kansas City 27, Houston 17
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant on Twitter.