The 2013 regular season has re-established the unpredictability of the NFL. Only two teams are undefeated, the AFC West has become the best division in football, four postseason teams from 2012 are below .500 and the 6-0 Denver Broncos are currently the No. 5 seed.
The question is, which struggling squads will offer a reminder of what the NFL community thought it knew by salvaging their postseason dreams in Week 7?
|Date||Road Team||Prediction||Home Team|
|Thursday, Oct. 17||Seattle Seahawks (34)||24-16||Arizona Cardinals (22)|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Cincinnati Bengals||34-31||Detroit Lions|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||17-27||Atlanta Falcons|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Buffalo Bills||16-24||Miami Dolphins|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||New England Patriots||28-19||New York Jets|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Dallas Cowboys||35-31||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Chicago Bears||33-30||Washington Redskins|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||St. Louis Rams||20-23||Carolina Panthers|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||San Diego Chargers||27-16||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||San Francisco 49ers||28-13||Tennessee Titans|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Cleveland Browns||20-31||Green Bay Packers|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Houston Texans||17-20||Kansas City Chiefs|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Baltimore Ravens||24-28||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Sunday, Oct. 20||Denver Broncos||34-27||Indianapolis Colts|
|Monday, Oct. 21||Minnesota Vikings||23-34||New York Giants|
Week 6: 13-2, Season: 60-33
Week 7: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Prediction: 27-17, Falcons
The only word to adequately define the Atlanta Falcons in 2013 is "disappointing." At 1-4, the Falcons have gone from the reigning NFC regular season champions to a top pick contender in the 2014 NFL draft.
Which team will win?
To make matters worse, Julio Jones is out for the season, Roddy White is banged up and Steven Jackson is still absent, per D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In the words of Chris Trager, that is literally the worst-case scenario coming to fruition.
Fresh off of a bye week, the Falcons will face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an attempt to right the ship. They'll succeed.
All four of the Falcons' losses in 2013 have come by seven points or less. Even with a hobbled receiving corps, Matt Ryan has 10 touchdowns to three interceptions on a completion percentage of 69.3.
Ryan has topped 300 yards in all but one game, and has two passing touchdowns in every appearance thus far. The Bucs, meanwhile, are butchering the presence of Darrelle Revis by working predominantly out of a zone defense.
Look for Ryan to pick Tampa Bay apart and lead the Falcons to a critical win.
Week 7: vs. St. Louis Rams
Prediction: 23-20, Panthers
Prior to the 2013 NFL regular season, I made the prediction that the Carolina Panthers would make the playoffs. With an elite-when-healthy defense, a true franchise quarterback and a running game that was destined to bounce back, Carolina has the perfect storm.
By winning two of their past three games in lopsided fashion, the Panthers have begun to flash their potential. Unfortunately, they're still 2-3 with two one-possession losses.
Which team will win?
During Week 7, look for the Panthers to right past wrongs with a huge victory over the St. Louis Rams.
Since Cam Newton was drafted in 2011, the Panthers are 9-3 after and including Week 12 of the regular season. Unfortunately, Carolina is also 6-19 before Week 12, including its 2-3 mark in 2013.
Carolina's progression will come down to whether or not it can close out games, as it's 2-9 in its past 11 outings that have been decided by one possession.
The Rams will give the Panthers trouble, but with a ferocious front seven, Carolina will be able to shut down the run and get after the quarterback. From there, it'll be on Newton to expose a Rams defense that can be strong, but tends to take unnecessary gambles.
As long as Carolina takes care of the football, it'll reach .500.
Week 7: vs. Baltimore Ravens
Prediction: 28-24, Steelers
Prior to the 2013 regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were commonly referred to as a dark horse Super Bowl contender. With two titles since 2005, it's clear why fans and analysts would believe in the Steelers turning things around after missing the playoffs in 2012.
Entering Week 7, the Steelers are 1-4.
Which team will win?
Ben Roethlisberger has been strong, but the absence of a reliable running game has crippled the Steelers' offense. Despite ranking seventh in passing, Pittsburgh is 31st in rushing yards per game and 27th in points scored per contest.
Rookie Le'Veon Bell will turn things around during Week 7, as Pittsburgh salvages its season against rival Baltimore Ravens.
Since Heath Miller has returned, Antonio Brown has been able to find openings in opposing secondaries and Roethlisberger has displayed an elevated level of poise in the pocket. Baltimore will put pressure on the quarterback, but Miller will force both Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to drop into coverage.
Pittsburgh has been dominant on defense, but has struggled to come up with sacks and turnovers. During Week 6, however, the Steelers had two interceptions and three sacks against the New York Jets, showing why they're still a feared unit.
Believe it or not, a Week 7 win over the Ravens would put Pittsburgh directly into the hunt for the postseason.