This is the week I push forward. A 6-7 prediction record is absolutely horrible and I can’t stand for it. The NFL’s week 7 will serve up some juicy matchups for hungry football lovers and trust I’ll be there to watch it all. The matchups get better and better as the season goes on as we weed out pretenders from contenders. The middle weeks of the NFL season usually allow us to sort out what teams will be in the playoffs and what teams will be sitting at home. If your favorite team is on a bye this week, don’t worry, just turn the channel to one of these games:
Minnesota Vikings (6-0) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-0)
On paper, this is the game of the weekend. The living legend, Brett Favre, against the building legend, Ben Roethlisberger. The league’s best back against the league’s second best run defense. The Vikings against the Steelers should certainly highlight the weekend and the Steelers, winners of three straight, need this win to validate them before they go into their bye week. Pittsburgh is 0-2 against opponents with a winning record and toppling the NFC’s best team would certainly give them a boost.
But it won’t be easy. Minnesota comes in after a near loss to the Baltimore Ravens last weekend and will arrive in Pittsburgh calm and confident. Favre has been flawless as a Viking with 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing yards and receiver Sidney Rice and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe are growing into legitimate vertical threats, making the Viking offense a very scary unit. Toss in a solid offensive line and a quality backup running back in Chester Taylor and it’s easy to see why Minnesota is second in the league in scoring at 31.5 points a weekend.
The Vikings defense hasn’t been all that stingy and will probably go into the game without their top corner with Antione Winfield walking around Vikings practice all week in a boot. Pass rusher Jared Allen has definitely played up to par but the last three games against the St. Louis Rams, Ravens and Green Bay Packers have showed that if you can block Minnesota’s front four, you can move the ball against them.
Moving the ball is something the Steelers have been getting better at in the last few weeks. Rashard Mendenhall has finally taken over for the ineffective Willie Parker and Roethlisberger is letting it fly. “Big Ben” leads the league in passing yards and he’s in the top five in passer rating and completion percentage. The Steelers all the sudden have weapons everywhere on offense. Hines Ward is tied for the league-lead in receptions and leads the NFL in receiving yards. Tight end Heath Miller is starting to get recognized as a top tight end and is tied for second in the league in TD catches. Santonio Holmes was the Super Bowl MVP last year and Mendenhall has scored four touchdowns in his last three games.
The Steelers defense is ranked third overall and with all-everything safety Troy Polamalu back in the fold, Pittsburgh will go into a home game with the Vikings very confident. Peterson will find running against the Steelers tough but he possesses the ability to cut it back for a big gain on any given play. Favre’s experience will definitely help against the Steelers compound pressure schemes but don’t be surprised if Big Ben outplays him. Pittsburgh’s defense may not be able to shut down Minnesota but they can definitely contain them. The Vikings defense on the other hand, has allowed a few 380-yard passers and as long as Pittsburgh’s offensive line keeps Ben upright, the Steelers will have success. Pittsburgh needs this game for validation and they will be ready to capitalize. Steelers 27-20
San Francisco 49ers (3-2) vs. Houston Texans (3-3)
The Texans have been tip toeing the edge of average for years but they’re starting to gather some steam as a scary team this season. Signal caller Matt Schaub leads the NFL in passing yards and has been shredding teams as of late. Receiver Andre Johnson has a valid argument if he ever wanted to tell you he’s the best in the league and tight end Owen Daniels is tied for second in receiving touchdowns.
When we last saw the 49ers, they were getting slapped around to the score of 45-10 in their own backyard. You can trust hard-as-nails head coach Mike Singletary had the Niners running some extra sprints during practice the last couple of weeks. Rookie holdout Michael Crabtree will make his debut in the state he built a legendary career in and the team should get do-it-all running back Frank Gore back in the lineup.
The Texans have a chance to go over .500 for the first time all season and last week’s big win over the hot Cincinnati Bengals is a definite confidence boost. It’s hard to trust the Niners after that beating they took against the Falcons. Atlanta really exposed the Niners secondary and Houston’s passing game is in high gear right now. Johnson and Daniels could make for a long day and diminutive running back Steve Slaton is deadly in the screen game and out the backfield.
Niners incumbent QB Shaun Hill struggles to even reach 200 yards so if San Francisco wants to beat Houston, their defense will have to step up and corral the Texans high octane unit. After allowing 45 points in their own backyard, I just can’t see how they’ll do that against the Texans, even with two weeks to prepare. Texans 28-17
Chicago Bears (3-2) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)
The Bengals had won four straight before a disappointing loss to the Texans last Sunday. The loss was a double stinger for Bengals, who also lost leading sack man Antwan Odom for the season. Cincinnati’s pass rush left when Odom was helped off the field and their defense gave up 28 points after playing pretty solid to start the season. The Bears don’t have the same kind of weapons that the Texans have but Chicago QB Jay Cutler isn’t afraid to hang the ball downfield regardless of who his intended receiver is.
Chicago is coming off a game in which it should’ve won when they let one get away on the road in Atlanta last week. The Bears turned it over three times in the red zone and that was critical in a 21-14 loss. Cutler has been shouldering a lot of weight due to the ineffectiveness of his defense. The Bear defense has actually become a liability and the loss of Brian Urlacher hasn’t helped at all. Chicago ranks 13th in the league in defense but it’s a far cry from the stingy unit of a couple of seasons ago.
Cincinnati knows that it can’t afford to drop another home game with the Steelers gaining steam and Ravens set to bounce back after their bye week. A loss on Sunday would ruin a 4-1 start and place the Bengals back into the middle of the pack. Chicago also knows it can’t afford to drop further behind Green Bay and Minnesota although they both will go on the road this weekend.
The Bengals got away from their running game last week when Houston jumped out to a lead, the Bears don’t have the type of offense to push them out to a big lead so the Bengals should be able to stick to the gameplan this week. Bengals 24-20
Atlanta Falcons (4-1) vs. Dallas Cowboys (3-2)
Dallas has had a week off to prepare for their big game against the Falcons. The week off came at great timing for injured stars Marion Barber and Roy Williams. Dallas will go into the game with their starting receivers set at Williams and rising wideout Miles Austin. Austin is coming off a major game against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cowboys wideouts will have a huge impact on this game.
Although the Falcons are 4-1, they haven’t seen a set of receivers that can successfully challenge their suspect secondary all season. The lone game when Atlanta saw a competent set of receivers, they lost to the Patriots 26-10. Austin, Williams and tight end Jason Witten could be set to have a big day against Atlanta’s defense. Explosive running back Felix Jones could make his return this week from a knee injury and he’s lethal in the Cowboys’ screen game. As long as Cowboys QB Tony Romo can avoid mistakes, the Dallas offense should put up points.
But Atlanta’s offense will put up their own points if Dallas isn’t careful. Falcons QB Matt Ryan has replaced Romo as everyone’s favorite young signal caller in the NFC. Ryan is leading a Falcon attack that has scored 66 points in the last two weeks. Receivers Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are headaches for any secondary and bruising running back Michael Turner churns out tough yards. Between Ryan and Romo, Sunday’s game in Dallas could be a shootout.
The Cowboys are coming off of two weeks to prepare which makes them risky to pick against. Austin’s emergence could have a huge impact on the Dallas offense, which was struggling with the loss of Terrell Owens and two hobbled stars in Barber and Jones. Everyone should be healthy for the Cowboys or at least closer to 100% and expect Romo to take advantage of a questionable Falcon secondary. Dallas has the defensive talent to run with Atlanta’s offense and should be able to slow down the Falcons’ attack. Cowboys 27-21