|Colin Kaepernick will have his handful against the revamped Broncos defense on Sunday night|
Week seven of the NFL season is upon us, and as the play-off races begin to take shape the games have become more and more critical for the teams involved. A key divisional loss at this stage of the year can be terminal for a teams post-season aspirations, while a win can make all the difference as each of the 32 franchises jockey for position in their respective conferences. Here’s what Fred Stanley Sport thinks will happen as the season nears its midpoint a we attempt to build on our 58-37-1 record when predicting games in this most unpredictable of campaigns.
Atlanta @ Baltimore
Matt Ryan and the Falcons have stuttered significantly after a fast start, while Baltimore continues to play good football and racked up an incredible 35 points after just 17 minutes of their game versus Tampa Bay in week six. A few weeks ago this might have looked like a shootout; now it looks like a comfortable win for the Ravens behind the arm of Joe Flacco and the legs of break-out running back Justin Forsett. Falcons 21, Ravens 31
Minnesota @ Buffalo
The Bills hung around against New England a week ago, but ultimately when Kyle Orton takes on Tom Brady there can only be one winner. Orton will feel a lot more confident of coming out on top against Teddy Bridgewater, who struggled for the first time in his young NFL career last week against the formidable Lions defense. Buffalo’s D isn’t as strong as Detroit’s, but their offense is probably better (with the Lions sans Calvin Johnson), so the result should be the same. Home win.
Vikings 17, Bills 24
Miami @ Chicago
The Dolphins came this close to beating Green Bay in south Florida last week but they couldn’t quite hold on against an inspired Aaron Rodgers, while Chicago earned a resounding road win over the Falcons. The Bears are probably a more rounded team than the Packers with their superior defense and running game, which spells bad news for Miami and coach Joe Philbin, who edges nearer and nearer the exit with each loss. Dolphins 18, Bears 27
New Orleans @ Detroit
Calvin Johnson is likely out once more for Detroit, leaving Matthew Stafford without his favourite toy and almost entirely compromising the Lions offensive attack. Reggie Bush is also a doubt, so Stafford and company will be thankful that the Saints posses one of the worst defenses in football. Drew Brees hasn’t looked like himself in 2014 and New Orleans nearly fell to Tampa Bay at home two weeks ago. Saints coach Sean Payton will hope that the offense has ironed out some of its kinks during the bye week, and I’m inclined to bet that they’ve done enough to ensure that they’ll topple the Megatron-less Lions in Detroit. Saints 24, Lions 21
Carolina @ Green Bay
After drawing with Cincinnati last week the Panthers are sitting pretty atop the NFC South with a 3-2-1 record, but the most exciting thing for Carolina fans has to be the return to form of QB Cam Newton. Newton scored on the ground for the first time in 2014 last week and with the Green Bay defense looking far from stout the former Auburn man could be in for a big week against Mike McCarthy’s 4-2 Packers. Aaron Rodgers will attempt to answer in kind but it’s the Panthers run defense which has been terrible this year, something the Packers are unlikely to be able to take advantage of judging by their efforts on the ground so far this season.
Panthers 27, Packers 23
Cincinnati @ Indianapolis
A.J Green will miss out again for the Bengals, leaving Andy Dalton feeling much like Matthew Stafford as he attempts to muddle on without his favourite target. Mohamed Sanu has been excellent in Green’s absence, it should be noted, but Andrew Luck will fancy his chances of carving up the Bengals secondary in much the same way Tom Brady did a couple of weeks ago. Both sides could put up points but it figures to be difficult for Dalton to keep pace with the formidable Indianapolis passing attack on the Lucas Oil Field turf. Bengals 21, Colts 28
Cleveland @ Jacksonville
Before you skip reading this paragraph, remember that Cleveland are actually relevant this year and this game isn’t a battle between two basement dwellers for a change. Brian Hoyer has developed into a capable quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes and makes enough plays with his arm to give the Browns a chance to win most weeks, while the Cleveland defense was at its stifling best versus Pittsburgh in week six. I think the Jags have a performance in them at some point this year, but the Browns should be too strong and have too much to play for to mess this one up.
Browns 26, Jaguars 14
Seattle @ St. Louis
The defending champs take on the Rams in a must win game for both teams if they are to challenge the two teams who currently sit above them in the NFC West. With Percy Harvin now out of town the Seahawks should ride Marshawn Lynch harder than ever, while the likes of Doug Baldwin will take on a more prominent role in the passing game. Fortunately for Seattle the Rams have looked toothless on both offense and defense this year, which should result in a return to winning ways for Pete Carroll’s men. Seahawks 23, Rams 17
Tennessee @ Washington
Now this is a game that has no play-off implications whatsoever in week seven. Washington are playing out the string until RG III returns, while Tennessee are playing out the string until, well, erm… you get the picture. They’re not very good. The Redskins do at least have play-makers on offense in the form of Alfred Morris and DeSean Jackson, so they should walk away from FedEx Field with their second win of the season and their record sitting pretty at 2-5.
Titans 14, Redskins 27
Kansas City @ San Diego
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has a phenomenal record after the bye week, and I fully expect that to continue against a Chargers team that has dropped off the pace in each of the past two weeks. Luckily for them they haven’t faced top opposition, and while Phillip Rivers was able to lead them to victory over Oakland seven days ago he’ll find things much tougher against a Kansas City outfit who have looked dangerous on offense ever since the return of Jamaal Charles from injury. Tight End Travis Kelce is also worth keeping an eye on, as he leads the Chiefs in receptions and has three touchdowns to show for the young season. Chiefs 26, Chargers 20
New York Giants @ Dallas
After being shut out by Philadelphia in week six the Giants travel to Texas for a big showdown with division rivals Dallas, who are sitting pretty at 5-1 behind the legs of DeMarco Murray. Murray has been a workhorse so far this year and with Dez Bryant helping keep the passing game afloat the Cowboys offense has variety to go with skill. To make matters worse for New York Victor Cruz is done for the year with a knee injury, while cornerback Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie is also a doubt to play this evening. The NFC East race could become a two horse contest if this one stays true to the form guide. Giants 17, Cowboys 27
Arizona @ Oakland
Cardinals QB Carson Palmer returns to one of his former teams, and it should be a happy return for the former USC signal caller as Arizona seeks to re-affirm its position as one of the top teams in the NFC. The Raiders played hard for interim coach Tony Sparano against San Diego last week but while that’s admirable it shouldn’t be enough to earn the win against a talented Arizona team that boasts play-maker’s on both sides of the ball, not least in the form of cornerback Patrick Peterson and wide-out Michael Floyd. Cardinals 28, Raiders 19
San Francisco @ Denver
After a shaky start to the season the 49ers have improved in recent weeks, but while they have played well on defense they haven’t faced an attack as potent as Denver’s well oiled machine this year. Colin Kaepernick will be under the microscope and the revamped Broncos defense featuring Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware will be a big test for the young QB. If Kaepernick is at his best he’ll keep it close; if he’s not it could be lopsided as Denver proves once more that they’re the class of the AFC.
49ers 24, Broncos 34
Houston @ Pittsburgh
After being walloped by Cleveland last week the Steelers should come out fired up on Monday Night Football, however they might run right into the returning Jadaveon Clowney and the unavoidable J.J Watt. The Texans haven’t been outstanding in recent weeks but they have enough pieces in place to make things difficult for a dysfunctional Pittsburgh team that has several holes and several veteran players who are on the decline, not least Troy Polomalu and, perhaps, Ben Roethlisberger. With both teams 3-3 this could be the tipping point in both of their seasons; expect Houston to be the ones above .500 come Tuesday morning. Texans 21, Steelers 17
What do you think will happen in week 7? Have your say in the comments or tweet @fredjstanley