NFL Picks Week 7: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Last week, nearly every member of our panel expected a reeling Seattle Seahawks team to right the ship against the Carolina Panthers. After all, the game was in Seattle, and the Seahawks were the two-time defending NFC champions.
Well, hats off to NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter, who correctly forecast that the Panthers would send the Seahawks from scramble mode to panic time.
The man knows his football.
Schalter and the rest of the NFL National Lead Writers and NFL Analysts here at Bleacher Report have gathered yet again to make their picks for a Week 7 slate that includes a battle for first place in the AFC East and a do-or-die Thursday night affair for the aforementioned Seahawks.
Here's how that esteemed group of scribes expects the week to play out.
OK, so Week 6 wasn't especially kind to our prognosticating panel of pundits. Not one writer hit double digits in correct picks.
With that said, it wasn't awful either. Only one writer (the aforementioned Ty Schalter) came in under .500 for the week. That's no knock on Schalter, who is as keen a football mind as you'll find. He's just a man who loves him some upsets. Sometimes they pay off...
Sometimes they don't.
National Lead Writers Matt Miller and Mike Tanier tied for the week's high score, allowing Miller to extend his overall lead for the season to two games over National Lead Writer Mike Freeman.
Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 8-6 (55-36)
Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 8-6 (60-31)
Brad Gagnon: NFL Analyst 8-6 (55-36)
Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 9-5 (62-29)
Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 6-8 (47-44)
Brent Sobleski: NFL Analyst 7-7 (56-35)
Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 9-5 (56-35)
Sean Tomlinson: NFL Analyst 8-6 (55-36)
Consensus: 7-7 (60-31)
Seattle Seahawks (2-4) at San Francisco 49ers (2-4)
The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (7-1)
This may well be it for the Seattle Seahawks.
After blowing a fourth-quarter lead for the second week in a row against an undefeated opponent, the mighty Seattle Seahawks suddenly seem—not so mighty.
In two consecutive games, the vaunted Legion of Boom secondary has been gashed by tight ends over the middle. The Seattle offensive line is a hot mess. The Seahawks look very little like the team that represented the NFC in the past two Super Bowls.
And in the opinion of Adam Schein of NFL.com, this week's Thursday night affair with the San Francisco 49ers may offer the 'Hawks a final chance to right the ship before things spiral completely out of control:
We are all stubborn, all creatures of habit. I'm as guilty of this as anyone else. But through the first six weeks of the season -- a pretty decent sample size -- the 2-4 Seahawks have been a bad football team with a knack for finding ways to lose games.
The 'Hawks, who have held second-half leads in every game this season, have been outscored 61-27 in the fourth quarter and overtime. That's cause for concern. That's bad football.
I won't write their epitaph. That would be foolish. After all, the 'Hawks are 21-4 in November/December games going back to the 2012 season.
But if you focus on 2015 alone -- if you put aside the past two Super Bowl runs for a moment -- you can't find many nice things to say about these Seahawks. And you can find many reasons to doubt them.
I was one of the seven panelists who picked the Seahawks to win this game. But I'll confess—brimming with confidence I ain't.
Seahawks: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Buffalo Bills (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) [London]
The Pick: Buffalo Bills (7-1)
Before I proceed, a note on the London games.
I hate them. Almost as much as Thursday night games. It isn't about exposing British fans to the world's best sport. It's about one thing and one thing only: money. The possibility of expansion overseas. Charging Yahoo a fortune to stream the game online.
Players and teams be damned, it's about greed.
Because as we all know, the NFL is barely scraping by.
This week the Bills travel across the pond to face a Jaguars team that has more familiarity with this trip than any other in the NFL, and NFL Analyst Brad Gagnon thinks that familiarity and a litany of Bills injuries equals upset special.
"I get the feeling Jacksonville will feel at home in London," Gagnon said, "and I expect them to edge a depleted Bills team as a result."
The problem with that thinking is that even without defensive tackle Kyle Williams (who didn't make the trip), the Bills have a loaded defensive line.
The Jaguars, on the other hand, have allowed the sixth-most sacks in the AFC in 2015.
At least Blake Bortles can say he's been pounded into paste on two continents. That's something, right?
Bills: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) at Washington Redskins (2-4)
The Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4) ***COIN FLIP***
This game should be sponsored by Butterball, because it's a turkey.
It's the battle of the un-quarterbacks. Jameis Winston vs. Kirk Cousins. The Iman of Interceptions vs. the Prince of Picks.
After Winston was drafted first overall by the Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Times compiled a database of every quarterback taken in the first round since 1980 as a manner of comparing Winston's progress versus a similar group of young signal-callers:
Through Week 6, Winston's rating (77.58) ranks 10th, just behind Byron Leftwich (78.0) and a spot ahead of Rick Mirer (76.9).
Marcus Mariota (93.62) ranks fourth on the list, topped by Todd Blackledge.
Leftwich was a serviceable pro. Mirer was, um, well...he sucked.
Frankly, the best bet each of these teams has at winning is if the run game places as little pressure on their respective quarterbacks as possible.
The panel was split right down the middle on the outcome, and it's appropriate that the pick was settled by the Quarter of Knowledge.
After all, when it comes to this game, who really gives a flip?
Buccaneers: Miller, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson
Redskins: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Sobleski
Atlanta Falcons (5-1) at Tennessee Titans (1-4)
The Pick: Atlanta Falcons (8-0)
A bit of the shine came off the Atlanta Falcons last Thursday night. A resounding defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints was a splash of cold water amid the hype of the team's 5-0 start.
Yes, the Falcons are a vastly improved team relative to last year, but the talk of Dan Quinn's Falcons as a Super Bowl contender may have been just a tad premature. The Falcons' hot start had as much to do with a pillow-soft schedule as a dominant football team.
Still, as D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports, Quinn hopes that the setback in the Big Easy can be used as a learning tool by his young team.
"Every game that we are in, we are hoping to learn," Quinn said. "Our team is going to keep continuing to get better. It happened after the wins we had. That’ll continue to be the case here. Everything that we are doing, we are striving to get better."
Of course, it also doesn't hurt that their pillow-soft schedule doesn't exactly firm up in Week 7, when the Falcons travel to face a Tennessee Titans squad that just got pasted by the Miami Dolphins.
Make no mistake, it wouldn't be one bit surprising to see this Falcons team win 12 or 13 games and earn a first-round bye.
It also wouldn't be surprising to then see that same Falcons team get waxed at home in the divisional round by a 10-win wild-card team.
Don't get me wrong; the Falcons are getting better.
They just aren't as good as their record.
Falcons: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Titans: The Titans, on the other hand, are as bad as their record indicates.
New Orleans Saints (2-4) at Indianapolis Colts (3-3)
The Pick: Indianapolis Colts (7-1)
Breaking news: The Colts just aren't that good.
The fans may not want to believe it. They may not want to believe that a team many labeled a Super Bowl contender entering the season will only make the playoffs because the rest of their division is a dumpster fire.
But the Colts just aren't that good.
Even the Colts themselves don't think they are. If they did, then why in the name of God and all that's holy would the team try the worst gimmick play in the history of gimmick plays in last week's loss to the New England Patriots?
Punter Pat McAfee tried to justify the idiotic fake-punt fiasco during a radio interview with The Bob and Tom Show (via ESPN.com's Mike Wells) this week:
The point of the play is a deception play. So you're trying to manipulate the [Patriots] into thinking they have to sub their defense back on. We are sprinting to the sideline in hopes to make the other team think we are subbing our offense back on the field.
Oh yeah, because the Patriots are so well-known for falling for nonsense.
That play said a lot of things about the 2015 Colts. And one of the things it said was that even in a one-score game the Colts didn't believe they could beat the Patriots straight up.
They will probably beat the Saints. They will probably make the playoffs.
But the Colts just aren't that good.
Colts: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier
Minnesota Vikings (3-2) at Detroit Lions (1-5)
The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (7-1)
The Minnesota Vikings are not winning many style points right now. But they are winning football games.
In a way, that makes the team a perfect extension of head coach Mike Zimmer. No nonsense. No sizzle.
Wallace, obviously, has never worked in corporate America.
Zimmer insisted that there is a method to his meetings madness:
Getting them to understand these situations, where we’re trying to get to. I asked a guy yesterday, we’ve got one play that we only run on one certain down, right? I asked him, and he gave me the wrong down. I asked him again today in the meeting, just to make sure that he knows that they all need to be paying attention and we all have to be on the same page and we all have to be accountable. We want our fans to be proud of how intelligent we play and how hard we play. I want my football team to share my personality and learn about the game of football.
It doesn't make for an especially exciting brand of football.
But Sunday in Detroit, all but one of our voters expect that the Minnesota Meetings will move to 4-2 with a victory over a Lions team that needed overtime to get their first win of the season in Week 6.
Vikings: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Lions: Schalter (Told you he likes upsets.)
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-5)
The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)
When Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was carted from the field in St. Louis back in Week 3, the initial belief was that the Steelers' goose was cooked. Without their star quarterback, Pittsburgh's hopes of a deep playoff run were toast.
Instead, fears that Roethlisberger tore his ACL turned out to be unfounded, and with a combination of first Mike Vick and then Landry Jones under center, the Steelers reeled off two wins in three games to stay in the hunt in the AFC North.
Now, as Roethlisberger told 93.7 FM in Pittsburgh (via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com), there's a possibility he could return to action in Kansas City Sunday: "It's going to have to be a feel thing, a comfort level. Can I make moves in the pocket? Does it hurt when I drop back from under center? Does it hurt when I roll out to the left, to the right? Sliding up in the pocket after a deep set off a play-action fake?"
Granted, it's far more likely it will be Jones, who came in for an injured Vick during last week's win over the Arizona Cardinals, under center against the Chiefs. Head coach Mike Tomlin said as much.
"We'll build a comprehensive plan around Landry," Tomlin told reporters. "Who is the backup quarterback? I don't know. I'm more concerned about getting Landry ready."
Our panel doesn't seem to think it will matter, unanimously selecting the Steelers to down a Chiefs team mired in a five-game skid.
Steelers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Chiefs: No Jamaal Charles. No offensive line. No chance.
Cleveland Browns (2-4) at St. Louis Rams (2-3)
The Pick: St. Louis Rams (7-1)
There may not be a harder team in the NFL to figure out than the St. Louis Rams.
They've beaten the Seattle Seahawks, the Arizona Cardinals (on the road, no less) and given the Green Bay Packers all they could handle at Lambeau Field.
Of course, they've also lost to the Washington Redskins.
Now, however, as Douglas Morrison of SB Nation wrote, the Rams come out of their bye and enter a five-game stretch of matchups that appear winnable—a chance for the Rams to finally take the mythical "next step" that has eluded the team for so long:
The next five games for the Rams will be a first for the team since the arrival of Jeff Fisher in St. Louis. Every draft pick, move, and coaching decision has led the Rams to this point in time. At the start of the 2015 NFL season, it didn't appear St. Louis had a significant block of winnable games on their schedules. Twists and turns - which seem to happen every year - have somehow landed the Rams at this critical point. Five games... Five games against opponents who - on paper - appear to provide St. Louis with an opportunity to showcase just who they really are, while also providing the first true point where Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead can be fairly judged. Go back and look at the schedules the Rams have played since 2015, and you'll start to see what I mean. The youngest team in the NFL over the last few years also had the toughest overall combined schedule during the 2012 to 2015 period. They never really had the opportunity to weave more than two weeks together to learn how to integrate what they've been taught since coming out of college. A great team always appeared on their schedule to slap them backwards.
It's different now, and if Jeff Fisher is smart, he takes his players to task with this five game block as a singular challenge. Put before them as their final exam as NFL players, it's time to graduate, or fail...
With one exception, our panelists expect the Rams to kick off that stretch with a win against the Cleveland Browns.
Which means they'll probably lose, because Rams gotta Ram.
Rams: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Houston Texans (2-4) at Miami Dolphins (2-3)
The Pick: Miami Dolphins (6-2)
So maybe it was Joe Philbin's fault.
The Miami Dolphins entered the season with high expectations after an active offseason only to stink up the joint over their first four games. A listless loss to the New York Jets got Philbin the boot, replaced on an interim basis by former tight ends coach Dan Campbell.
Campbell ramped up the intensity coming out of the team's bye week, and the Dolphins responded by stomping a 38-10 mudhole in the Tennessee Titans.
Several Dolphins players credited Campbell's enthusiasm for lighting a fire under the team, but Lorenzo Reyes of USA Today isn't ready to take the "interim" off Campbell's job title just yet:
Competition, passion and change were just a few buzz words heard at Dolphins HQ this week after interim coach Dan Campbell took over for the fired Joe Philbin. And after Miami pounded the Tennessee Titans 38-10 on the road, there’s a new sense of optimism surrounding the franchise.
“I think Dan energized us,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said after the game.
That’s all well and good, but it’s just one game. And Miami should be in no rush to name their permanent head coach. Mid-season firings sometimes give teams a short-term spark that brings a peak in production. But according to STATS, 25 owners have NFL have fired their head coaches during the season since 2000.
None of those made the playoffs the season they fired the coach.
Reyes is right, of course. But against Tennessee, the Dolphins looked like the team we thought they were going to be entering 2015, and not the bunch of bums who sleepwalked through September.
If that same Miami team shows up Sunday, they should be able to handle a Texans team comprised of J.J. Watt, DeAndre Hopkins, Arian Foster and 50 JAGs.
Texans: Gagnon, Tanier
Dolphins: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson
New York Jets (4-1) at New England Patriots (5-0)
The Pick: New England Patriots (7-1)
It's time to find out just how good the 2015 New York Jets really are.
Through five games, the Jets have ridden a strong ground game and stout defense to a 4-1 record. Win Sunday, and Gang Green will be all alone in first place in the division for the first time since 1987.
Settle down, Jets fans. I'm kidding. It's been a little while since the Jets were a good football team, though. And they are a good football team.
The problem is the obstacle standing between the Jets and first place: the dreaded Patriots. The unbeaten Patriots. In Foxborough.
With that said, the Jets are good enough that New England's most fervent fanboy, Bill Simmons, is actually fretting a bit, according to Dom Cosentino of NJ.com:
"The Jets might be good," he acknowledged on "The Bill Simmons Podcast" this week.
"No, I'm a little worried. I'm a little worried. Oh, yeah. You know me; I'm always honest with the Pats. We're down to our fourth-string right tackle, and our second-string right tackle is now the left tackle. Why shouldn't I be worried?"
NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter thinks the Jets can pull it off:
I know, #PatsNation, I’m a biased loser hater. But the fact is this Patriots team isn’t going 16-0, and these Jets are a very tough matchup for an offense relying entirely on the short passing game. The floundering Colts gave the Pats almost all they could handle, while the Jets are as hot as they’ve been in ages—plus, of course, it’s the Jets, and the only more compelling storyline than Deflategate Payback is Benedict Revis.
I will freely admit that I picked the Patriots to win, if only because of the gap at quarterback between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Brady.
With that said, though, I would not be even a little bit surprised if the Jets win.
As Simmons himself said, "I think the Jets are back."
Patriots: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Oakland Raiders (2-3) at San Diego Chargers (2-4)
The Pick: San Diego Chargers (6-2)
It's put up or shut up time for the San Diego Chargers.
After suffering two straight heartbreaking losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers, the Chargers are about to start a five-game stretch against teams with losing records. The mission is clear.
Reel off a winning streak, and the Bolts can get back into it in the AFC. Lose many more, and it's yet another disappointing campaign in sunny San Diego.
Quarterback Philip Rivers told Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune that he's well-aware of the stakes:
Our resiliency is definitely going to be tested.
We have a bunch of young guys that I’m not sure completely get it – (that) this thing is hard. I think they want to. I think they’re willing. They need to know how important every little thing is.
I think we have the capabilities. But it’s learning how is the way you carry yourself when you want to be just a baller.
Our voters expect the Chargers to pass the first test Sunday, but against an improved Raiders team that's had an extra week to prepare, the Chargers had better "want to just be ballers."
Or they're going to be watching the playoffs on TV again this year.
Raiders: Gagnon, Sobleski
Chargers: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson
Dallas Cowboys (2-3) at New York Giants (3-3)
The Pick: New York Giants (6-2)
The New York Giants just can't do anything the easy way.
All they had to do was beat an up-and-down Philadelphia Eagles team last Monday night, and they'd have a stranglehold on the NFC Least. Instead, Big Blue got blasted 27-7, and the division is officially a free-for-all.
At least they didn't wait until the fourth quarter to blow this one.
It was a performance that did not exactly draw praise from Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
The Giants had a chance to prove on Monday night that they had become the team to beat in the NFC East. Instead they played like a team that didn’t belong in the race at all.
That’s the shame of the opportunity they threw away in their hideous, 27-7 loss to the Eagles. And “threw away” is exactly the right way to describe it. They took control of the game at the start, and had ample opportunity keep it. But they handed the Eagles the game by playing one of their dumbest, most mistake-filled games of the year.
So after that debacle, that faceplant, that horrific performance, how could three-quarters of our voters pick the Giants to avenge a Week 1 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Sunday afternoon?
Two words. Matt "The Dream Killer" Cassel.
OK, that's five words. But Cassel is starting at quarterback for the Cowboys this week.
Cowboys: Gagnon, Schalter
Giants: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (5-0)
The Pick: Carolina Panthers (7-1)
Not many pundits gave the Panthers much of a chance against the Seahawks in Seattle last Sunday.
But after downing the Seahawks 27-23 in thrilling fashion, the ranks of the believers have swollen. So much so, in fact, that ESPN.com's David Newton thinks the Panthers are capable of a trip to Santa Clara in February:
In a locker room with leaders such as [Luke] Kuechly, [Cam] Newton, Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen, the Panthers have developed a culture and attitude that they can survive tough times. Teams that win Super Bowls typically have to endure rough spots. Carolina had one last season when defensive end Greg Hardy was placed on the commissioner's exempt list. The team got past that and a seven-game winless streak to capture the NFC South for the second straight year. The Panthers have reeled off nine consecutive regular-season wins dating back to last season. That's the longest streak in the NFL. Some of those wins have been like the game on Sunday, when Carolina faced adversity with a 13-point second-half deficit in the loudest venue in the NFL. That the Panthers are undefeated without star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (knee) and other key pieces for multiple games speaks volumes about their resiliency.
Over the next three weeks, that resiliency will be tested, with three straight games at home against teams that won double-digit games a season ago—including a Week 9 tilt with the Green Bay Packers.
That game may well determine home-field advantage in the NFC, although to get there, the Panthers will first need to down a rising Eagles team that's finally playing to preseason expectations.
Most of our voters believe the Panthers will do just that.
Panthers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson
Baltimore Ravens (1-5) at Arizona Cardinals (4-2)
The Pick: Arizona Cardinals (8-0)
Last year, the Baltimore Ravens won a playoff game.
To this point in 2015, that's also how many games the Ravens have won total.
Much of the blame for the Ravens' miserable start this season has been laid at the feet of quarterback Joe Flacco. And he deserves some of the blame. But as ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley wrote, Flacco's issues are bigger than just the man himself:
Like many of the Ravens, Flacco has struggled this season. He ranks 27th in passer rating (80.1) -- three spots ahead of rookie Jameis Winston -- 25th in completion rate (62.3 percent), 30th in yards per attempt (6.5) and 25th in interceptions (seven). His two interceptions in the 25-20 loss to the 49ers were among the worst throws of his career.
In 2013, the Ravens traded away Anquan Boldin and never replaced him. Flacco threw a career-high 22 interceptions.
This year, Baltimore didn't have the cap room to re-sign Torrey Smith and replaced him with first-round pick Breshad Perriman, who has yet to play a snap because of a sprained knee. Flacco also lost offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak as well as an experienced tight end in Owen Daniels. Through six games, he is tied for fourth with the most interceptions in the NFL.
Flacco may be one of the best postseason quarterbacks of the past 20 years, but with little to no supporting cast around him outside the ageless Steve Smith, the Ravens aren't getting anywhere near the playoffs in 2015.
And the writers here at Bleacher Report don't see him or the Ravens having much of a shot against the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Monday night.
Ravens: From playoffs to putrid in record time.
Cardinals: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson