Is there any way Week 7 can be as unpredictable as Week 6?
After hearing my groans in trying to piece together what went down last week -- Tennessee Titans over Pittsburgh Steelers? The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants embarrassing viable title contenders on the road? The Buffalo Bills winning in Arizona? The Cleveland Browns winning ... a game?! -- NFL Network colleague Akbar Gbajabiamila asked, "How did you do in your picks? I think I missed all of them."
I think a lot of us felt that way, Akbar.
But after dipping below .500 for a week, it's time to get back in the saddle and regain some pride. So, I provide this week's picks, which can't possibly be worse than last week's. (Right?) Get ready for some number crunching. Lord, Washington Redskins fans must love these articles about as much as the Bobs.
Elliot Harrison went 6-8 on his predictions for Week 6, giving him a 28-15 record since taking over this space in Week 4. How will he fare in Week 7? His picks are below, with home teams listed second:
The Bills' defense got its act together last week in the road win at Arizona -- holding the Cardinals to 16 points -- but I'm still not buying Buffalo as The Steel Curtain Part Deux. In a related note, the Titans' defense held its own against the Steelers, finally keeping an opponent under 30 points for the first time this season. But Pittsburgh was ransacked by injuries on offense, whereas the Bills are healthy for the most part. In two home games, Buffalo has scored 35 and 28 points, and the thinking here is the Matt Hasselbeck-led Titans won't be able to keep up.
The Dallas Cowboys control this contest from the second quarter on by running the football with fantasy waiver-wire darling Felix Jones and little-known Phillip Tanner, a second-year back from Middle Tennessee State who gained 31 yards on the ground spelling Jones and the injured DeMarco Murray late last week. Cam Newton must play a smart game versus Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne (if healthy), who have both played pretty well this season -- outside of the blowout loss to the Chicago Bears.
While considering a lean towards the road Ravens, my thoughts drifted to their complete inability to stop the run. This is the Ravens' first game without Ray Lewis. But even if Lewis were manning the middle of the defense, Baltimore would have a terrible time stopping Arian Foster and Ben Tate, who should get 40 touches between them Sunday. Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees surely studied last week's tape to figure out how Green Bay smothered Houston's ground attack, but the prediction here is that motivation will outdo preparation, i.e., the ticked-off Texans will rebound in front of the home folks.
The Cleveland Browns took it to the Cincinnati Bengals last week, while the Indianapolis Colts looked hapless against the New York Jets. So, Cleveland makes it two in a row, right? Wrong. Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has been quite productive at home, averaging 300 yards and two touchdowns per game. With running back Trent Richardson banged up, Cleveland will need its rookie quarterback, Brandon Weeden, to play as effectively on the road as he did at home in Week 6. Believe it or not, he's been better on the road, where his passer rating has been 33 points higher. But the Browns' penchant for shooting themselves in the foot -- 13 giveaways, terrible first-down offense and a league-leading 17 drops -- will lose the game in Indy.
Who can figure out the Arizona Cardinals right now? With Kevin Kolb on the shelf, John Skelton tees it up against the Minnesota Vikings. While the Cards might rally around Skelton like they did down the stretch last season, it won't happen this week in the Metrodome -- a house of horrors for the Cardinals in last year's 34-10 loss. Christian Ponder has blossomed in 2012, posting a handsome 92.4 passer rating. But he can't throw two interceptions for the third week in a row, especially with a dangerous return threat like Patrick Peterson lurking in the Arizona secondary. Speaking of Peterson, Adrian Peterson has only logged 17 carries in each of the past two weeks. He gets 25 totes and a touchdown, and the Vikes do enough to win at home.
Robert Griffin III can run the football (138 yards last week). He's a much better passer than many people realize, too. It sure would rock the nation if he could also play defensive back ... The Washington Redskins are getting absolutely destroyed in the back four. Jim Haslett's defense has given up more yards after the catch than Dallas has allowed net passing yards, period. If you project the Redskins' defensive numbers over a full year, opposing quarterbacks would throw for 5,456 yards and 40 touchdowns. Goodnight.
Greg Zuerlein will have a busy leg in this Week 7 tilt, as the St. Louis Rams will be fully capable of gaining yards on the Packers, but won't hit pay dirt. The Rams rank 29th in red-zone scoring, i.e., the percentage of red-zone drives that result in touchdowns. (Green Bay, mind you, is first.) Poor execution inside the 20 will hurt Jeff Fisher's team in a game that will see the Packers struggle. James Jones and Jordy Nelson will each score a touchdown, but don't expect either to put up big numbers, as Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins already comprise a top cornerback tandem.
Everyone expects a shootout, but I think this is the game when the New Orleans Saints' defense finally gets its act together. Call it a football hunch, or my "upset" of the week. Upset in that all of my colleagues on "NFL Fantasy Live" are predicting a bongo day from Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Freeman. While the fourth-year man has played much smarter this season than in 2011, he still has five interceptions (in five games) and is completing just 55.2 percent of his passes. With a couple of timely takeaways on their side of the field, the Saints will halt Tampa drives and get the club's first road win of the season.
Do you think Tom Brady is a wee bit hacked off? First, his New England Patriots blow a big lead in Seattle. Then some defensive back who has virtually no skins on the wall calls him out very publicly. With Aaron Hernandez back in the mix at TE2 -- he caught a touchdown pass last week -- Brady has a full cadre of weapons to attack a secondary that doesn't have all its shields, Antonio Cromartie notwithstanding. Shonn Greene's sequel to last week's 161 spot will be more "Hot Shots! Part Deux" than "The Godfather Part II." I see the big tailback having just a so-so performance (75 yards or less), putting the New York Jets' hopes squarely on the right arm of Mark Sanchez.
Carson Palmer is in line for an efficient day. Darren McFadden will go off -- like in 2010 and early 2011 -- to the tune of 150 yards from scrimmage. Maurice Jones-Drew will score at least once and click on Run DMC's heels this Sunday, which is why I am starting both in NFL.com's Perfect Challenge. The Jacksonville Jaguars' defense hasn't played as well as some league observers anticipated, allowing 424 yards (29th) and 27.6 points (25th) per game. Of course, when the offense leads the NFL in highest percentage of three-and-out drives, that D gets tired.
Neither of these defenses is playing up to snuff. The Pittsburgh Steelers routinely gave Matt Hasselbeck about eight seconds to throw in Week 6, while Cincinnati Bengals have had trouble stopping anyone. Both clubs are coming off losses against "lesser" opponents, but, despite what Bengals fans might say, this game is more important to the Steelers. A loss here and Pittsburgh will be sitting at 2-4 -- matching its loss total for the entire 2011 campaign. Desperation breeds urgency, and that's where Ben Roethlisberger strives. I still foresee Andy Dalton having a nice day for Cincy.
Robbie Gould kicks four field goals, while Brandon Marshall and Michael Bush add touchdowns in a Chicago Bears home win. The last time Matt Stafford wandered into Soldier Field, he put the ball in the air 63 times and threw four interceptions. The Detroit Lions absolutely can't afford to be that one-dimensional, or else Stafford might have another multi-pick game. Despite already having their bye, the Bears are tied for the league-lead in takeaways with 17. In case you're wondering, Stafford has thrown five picks this season. If I were Jim Schwartz, I'd put the ball in Mikel Leshoure's belly 18 to 20 times. Oh ... the odd 25-point prediction for the Bears? Gould experiences a rare blocked PAT.
This game has already been played.
This is a huge game in both the NFC West and the NFC as a whole. I don't need to tell you that. What I do need to tell you is that the team that turns the ball over the least wins Thursday night. Simple stuff, right? Well, somebody tell Alex Smith, who tossed three interceptions in last week's blowout loss. Last season, the Niners were plus-28 in turnover differential. This season? Plus-2, having lost the turnover battle in both of their defeats (Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants). That said, my sense is they will pick Russell Wilson twice and win that battle.