As we near the midpoint of the 2010 NFL season, some teams have distinguished themselves from the pack as contenders heading into Week 7. Others are fighting to become realistic players in the postseason race, while the rest are struggling to stay alive. Still, in a league as talent-laden as the NFL, no game is decided prior to kickoff, and upsets abound week-to-week.
Though concussions, ramifications of helmet-to-helmet hits and the ongoing Brett Favre saga are the NFL's top stories today, all will take a backseat to game competition this Sunday as teams take one step either direction in realizing playoff and Super Bowl goals.
Following are five Week 7 upsets the experts aren't picking.
In a matchup between two teams with playoff aspirations, the Philadelphia Eagles head to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans.
Coming off consecutive wins with formerly embattled QB Kevin Kolb behind center, Philly will look to take their record to 5-2. Kolb has been brilliant in his last two games, throwing for four TDs against only one interception, and posting consecutive quarterback ratings well above 100.
Despite star WR Desean Jackson being sidelined after a devastating hit last week, Kolb, WR Jeremy Maclin and the rest have an opportunity to thrive against the Titans' young secondary, which ranks 23rd in the league against the pass.
Defensively, stopping Tennessee almost always comes down to limiting the big plays of star RB Chris Johnson. While Philly—like the rest of the leaguemay struggle in that regard, they'll make up for it by putting incessant pressure on the Titans QB, whether inconsistent starter Vince Young or veteran backup Kerry Collins is behind center.
In what has the potential to be a shoot-out, the Eagles should be in the game until the end. If they can find a successful combination of the pass and run on offense while limiting Johnson, Philly has a chance to steal a win on the road.
Coming off a stunning 23-20 overtime victory last week on the road against the Packers, the Miami Dolphins welcome the 4-1 Pittsburgh Steelers to South Beach in Week 7.
Key for Miami this week in pulling off the upset at home will be their distribution between running and throwing the football on offense. Pittsburgh, obviously, has one of the stingiest and most dangerous defenses in the NFL.
Dolphins QB Chad Henne has been allowed to air it out recently despite only middling success, throwing 44, 38 and 39 times in his last three games. Such isn't a likely recipe for success against the Steelers and S Troy Polamalu, despite Pittsburgh's top rank in the league against the run.
A healthy diet of Miami RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams will soften the Steelers secondary, making play-action opportunities between Henne and star WR Brandon Marshall available. If they connect a few times, the Dolphins have a chance to put up some points.
On the other side of the ball, Miami must focus on pressuring Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who will be making just his second start of the 2010 season in Week 7. LB Cameron Wake is one of the NFL's biggest surprises this season, having already totaled six sacks.
If he and fellow LB Koa Misi can consistently push the pocket and make Roethlisberger nervous, CB Vontae Davis and the Miami secondary will have an opportunity to make plays on the ball.
Though Pittsburgh may be the league's best team, that by no means ensures a win every week. With a victory, Miami has a chance to stake their claim as a player in the AFC postseason race.
In a crucial AFC West battle, the Oakland Raiders go on the road to face the Denver Broncos in Week 7.
After an absolutely dismal Week 6 performance in a loss to previously winless San Francisco, the Raiders need a win to keep pace in the division on Sunday. With uncertainty on who will start at QB (Jason Campbell or Kyle Boller), Oakland will rely even more on the two-headed running attack of RBs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush.
Against a Denver defense that ranks 25th against the rush, the Raiders have a chance to put up big yardage on the ground. McFadden, in particular, could thrive against the Broncos, using his exceptional blend of size and speed to make explosive plays for the Oakland offense.
Denver has one of the NFL's most potent passing attacks, with QB Kyle Orton and WR Brandon Lloyd forming a devastating—if unlikely—combination. The Raiders, though, are stingy against the pass (ranking eighth in the league), and possess one of the league's elite defensive backs in CB Nnamdi Asomugha.
If he can neutralize Lloyd and the Oakland front seven can pressure Orton, the offense should be able to do enough to get a road win.
This is a game vital to each team's chances of keeping pace in the AFC West. Though Denver will have a raucous Invesco Field crowd behind them, the Raiders may be able to ride the ground game of McFadden and Bush—keeping Orton and company off the field in the process—to an unlikely victory.
The underachieving San Diego Chargers are playing for their season on Sunday at home against the New England Patriots.
Despite their 2-4 record, the Chargers are favored in this matchup, due in large part to their exceptional play at home this season. However, New England is riding high after last week's win over Baltimore and the re-acquisition of WR Deion Branch.
Picking against QB Tom Brady this week isn't a smart bet, as he'll be out to prove that his team is for real against what was supposedly a Super Bowl contender in the Chargers. Though San Diego possesses gaudy defensive statistics, they've been accumulated against poor offensive foes.
In Brady and company, head coach Norv Turner will be facing his stiffest offensive opponent of the year. The star New England QB is in a zone right now, and is poised to have a big game against San Diego.
New England has been substantially better on defense the last two games than they were in the season's first few weeks. The Chargers are one of the league's most explosive offenses, and are especially potent in front of their home crowd.
However, QB Phillip Rivers has been turnover prone this season, and he may be playing without favorite targets TE Antonio Gates and WR Malcolm Floyd. Look for NE S Patrick Chung and an opportunistic defense to steal a couple extra possessions for the Patriots offense.
This game had the pre-season look of an AFC Championship preview. After a dismal start to the year, San Diego needs a win this week. However, New England is completely in sync on offense, and Rivers may struggle without Gates and Floyd. The Patriots should pull off a road win in a high-scoring game.
In another of the preseason's most highly anticipated matchups, QB Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers.
Mired in controversy over recent allegations of sexual misconduct with an NFL employee, Favre will be facing even more pressure Sunday as he takes the field against his former team. However, he's risen to the occasion in tough times in the past, and this week should be no different against a banged up Green Bay team.
Additionally, RB Adrian Peterson is arguably the league's best ball-carrier, and should put up big numbers against a Packers defense that ranks 21st stopping the run. Star Green Bay defenders CB Charles Woodson and OLB Clay Matthews are hobbled this week, and their effectiveness may be short of what it normally is.
Expect Favre, Peterson, WR Percy Harvin and the rest to take advantage.
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers was a popular MVP pick prior to the season. After two rough outings against Washington and Miami, many are calling this a bounce-back game for Rodgers. However, without favorite target TE Jermichael Finley (lost for the year with a knee injury) and any semblance of a reliable running game, Rodgers and the Packers offense could struggle more than anticipated this week.
In what has the potential to be a high-scoring game, the Vikings will re-establish themselves as an NFC favorite with a road win in Green Bay over the Packers.