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The 10 storylines to watch for in Week 7

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Top 10 storylines for Week 7

The NFL schedule is now in Week 7, and we still have two undefeated teams and two teams without a win.

Last year, the Bears and Colts hit the 7-0 mark at this point but we had no teams after Week 7 with a goose egg in the win column (the Raiders were 0-6 before a Week 7 win over the Cardinals). Will the Dolphins and or Rams finally get a win this weekend? The Fish play the Patriots and the Rams travel to Seattle, so it looks tough for both teams.

Here are the 10 storylines I will be keeping a close eye on this weekend:

1. QB decisions in Atlanta and Buffalo

The Falcons have dropped Joey Harrington from the starting lineup for Byron Leftwich. Atlanta claims it is permanent but the Falcon pass protection is questionable with 21 sacks given up already. Last year, the Saints recorded 8 sacks against the Falcons. Leftwich may struggle even more than Harrington. In Buffalo, rookie Trent Edwards gets the start. In 79 pass attempts, Edwards has one touchdown, three interceptions, and he's been sacked six times. He's shown some ability, but ignoring a now-healthy J.P. Losman at this point is an interesting move.

Al Messerschmidt / Getty Images
Jeff Garcia has yet to throw a pick, but he faces an opportunistic Lions secondary this week.

2. Garcia and Garrard remain pick-free

Garcia and Garrard have both delivered four wins for their respective clubs and have combined for 280 passes without an interception. Garcia faces a Lion team on the road that already has nine interceptions and Garrard has a Monday night game against the Colts in which he may have to play catch-up. It will be tough to keep the streaks going.

3. Are the Eagles foolish enough to kick to Hester?

It never ceases to amaze me how many coaches continue to kick to Devin Hester. I asked 12 NFL players this week if they would be insulted if their coach stood up at a team meeting and said, "I don't think we are good enough to kick to Hester." Not one thought that was a bad idea. Andy Reid is the next coach to face Hester and I hope he gives up on giving the guy a chance. Pitch around the great ones -- it's one of the only times football gets to do what baseball would always do.

4. Monsters of the Midway no longer?

Defense was the foundation of the Chicago Bears and the main reason they got to the Super Bowl last season. Well, the defense was exposed in that game and things haven't been real good since. They have given up the third-most points in the NFC (90 more points than last year at this time), they're ranked 27th in the league and teams run on them. The Vikings had 311 yards on them last week. If the Eagles put up 200 this week, then the collapse is official.

5. Do the Jags have formula to beat the Colts?

Peyton Manning has thrown one touchdown in his last 81 attempts against the Jaguars. Neither Marvin Harrison nor Reggie Wayne found the end zone in two games last year. The inside push from defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud disrupts the mid-line, where Manning loves to throw from. Getting Peyton to move his feet and work away from the pocket is what every defensive coach wants to do to him but few can. The Jags may be perfectly built to play the Colts.

Andy Lyons / Getty Images
If the Bengals are going to right their ship, Chad Johnson needs to get his swagger back.

6. Does Chad Johnson get back on track?

It seems like very talented receivers are the first to struggle when a team is going bad. Randy Moss in Oakland, Terrell Owens in San Francisco and now maybe Chad Johnson in Cincinnati. The Bengals need the best Johnson has to offer but his sideline demeanor doesn't indicate he has the focus he has had in the past. I'm looking for him to dig down and get his old swagger back this week.

7. What about teams coming off a bye?

So far, teams coming off a bye have gone 5-3 when they return to action. Buffalo, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and San Francisco got to rest last week; I can't see more than two of these teams getting a win. If this group goes 4-2 then I know the bye is a critical factor.

8. Will Kurt Warner and Vince Young play?

Lots of speculation about both quarterbacks returning to the field this week. I see Warner putting a brace on the non-throwing elbow and running his no-huddle offense as a part-time starter. Young heads back home to Houston and plays the team that passed on him. I think he wakes up Sunday a1nd wants to play enough that he convinces head coach Jeff Fisher to let him. Time will tell. Without these two QBs, their teams have little chance to win this week.

9. Attacking the "Tampa 2"

Last year, we watched Tony Dungy face off with Lovie Smith in the Super Bowl and Dungy showed us how he would attack his own defense. This weekend, Monte Kiffin and his Tampa defense match wits with Rod Marinelli in Detroit. Both coaches are devout followers of the scheme and they may show us more clues on how to attack the package. You can bet coaches around the league will be watching this game tape.

10. Will Pittsburgh emerge as the new No. 2?

Pittsburgh is living in the shadows of the Patriots, Colts and Cowboys. They go to Denver with the no. 2 rushing offense, and a defense that gives up less than 10 points a game and hasn't allowed a 100-yard runner since 2005. They are getting healthy in a hurry and a big win this week will put them in the elite discussion. If any or all of the top three struggle, the Steeler nation will rise up this week and pound its chest.

 
Playbook
The Steelers have always been known for possessing a stout defense, and Dick LeBeau's 3-4 defense continues to present opposing offenses with great challenges. Does that mean a long night for Denver? Playbook exclusive


More from Playbook:

Raiders vs. Chiefs
The Raiders offensive line has improved, but can they stop Chiefs DE Jared Allen?

Bills vs. Ravens
The Bills and Ravens are both struggling on offense. What is going wrong?

Texans vs. Titans
the Texans turned a 2-0 start into a 3-3 record. Find out where the team is struggling.
Matchups to watch
Here are some interesting matchups to watch in Week 7:

Colts S Bob Sanders vs. Jaguars rushing offense: These teams play different styles of offense, and while Jacksonville QB David Garrard has thrown 136 passes this season without an interception, it's no secret the Jaguars want to run the ball first with their tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.

Cowboys defense vs. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson: Coming off his best game as a pro, rookie Adrian Peterson makes a timely return to his home state -- and you know he'll be psyched for this contest.

Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Dolphins defense: What a difference a year makes, as they say. New England might be the biggest road favorite ever in this game, and it's a fantasy owner's dream if you have Patriots players on your roster.

Chiefs RB Larry Johnson vs. Raiders defense: Last week it was LaDainian Tomlinson who continued his traditional dominance over Oakland. Johnson has similar numbers against the Raiders.
More matchups to watch
Start 'Em & Sit 'Em
Start of the week: Willie Parker -- Fast Willie is on pace to rush for over 1,600 yards (that would be a career best) based on his current level of production, but he has found the end zone just once since Najeh Davenport has become the latest touchdown vulture in the Steel City.

QB to start: Tony Romo -- Romo came out on the short end of the stick in last week's loss to New England, but he still threw two touchdown passes and is on pace to finish with 45 total scores.

QB to sit: Jay Cutler -- Cutler was touted as a solid sleeper candidate in the preseason, but the former Vanderbilt standout has been a bit of a disappointment after six weeks of action.
More Start 'Em & Sit 'Em
Injury Report
Plaxico Burress, WR, Giants: Ankle, did not practice
Todd Heap, TE, Ravens: Thigh, did not practice
Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: Knee, did not practice
Chad Johnson, WR, Bengals: Ankle, did not practice
Sammy Morris, RB, Patriots: Chest, did not practice
Vince Young, QB, Titans: Quadriceps, did not practice
Kurt Warner, QB, Cardinals: Left elbow, limited in practice
More Injuries
Week 7 games
Sunday
Baltimore at Buffalo, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Atlanta at New Orleans, 1 p.m. (FOX)
San Francisco at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m. (FOX)
New England at Miami, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Tennesssee at Houston, 1 p.m. (CBS)
Tampa Bay at Detroit, 1 p.m. (FOX)
Arizona at Washington, 1 p.m. (FOX)
N.Y. Jets at Cincinnati, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
Kansas City at Oakland, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
Minnesota at Dallas, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)
St. Louis at Seattle, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)
Chicago at Philadelphia, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)
Pittsburgh at Denver, 8:15 p.m. (NBC) Monday
Indianapolis at Jacksonville, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Bye week: Carolina, Cleveland, Green Bay, San Diego.

» Complete schedule

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