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Week 7 predictions: Broncos edge Colts; Giants finally get a win

What an exciting list of games on the Week 7 docket. Let's see ... we have the Cowboys and Eagles fighting for the NFC East lead, the best rivalry in the AFC East teeing it up in New Jersey, and the best rivalry in the NFL over the past 10 years adding another chapter at Heinz Field this weekend.

And then there's the seemingly unstoppable Broncos traveling to Indianapolis.

Call this the surprising vote, but Luck is facing a ton of pressure, if for no other reason than the fact that his Colts are coming off a loss in which his supporting cast performed poorly. If Indy gets off to a slow start, Luck will have to keep his composure and stay upbeat -- though that's something he already does so well. Keep it up.

Oh, and by the way -- I'm not sure if many of you know this, but Peyton Manning used to play for the Colts. That gives this Sunday night matchup a minor subplot. After the events of this week, he'll be competing his butt off.

Yes, quite a week for full football immersion. Speaking of which ...

You're making me blush, @WritinginHeels.

While writing in my Reefs, I was relaxed enough to see the broad Week 7 picture. This is "crunch or be crunched" time for several teams hoping to salvage their seasons. The 2-4 Texans have to win on the road against the 6-0 Chiefs. Yes, the Redskins still have hope in the garbage NFC East, but another loss will put them three games back in the division. (They host the Chicago Bears on Sunday.) Meanwhile, there are five other squads that might want to sign up for Obamacare after this week.

So, who stays viable in the playoff race? See below. Your thoughts always are welcome ... @Harrison_NFL is the place.

Now let's get to it.

Elliot Harrison went 10-5 on his predictions for Week 6, giving him a record of 57-35 so far this season. How will he fare in Week 7? His picks are below, with home teams listed second.

Tampa Bay and Atlanta played a tight one last year in Week 17, with the Buccaneers eventually prevailing. Just 10 months later, these teams are totally different. Mike Glennon is entrenched as the Bucs' starting quarterback, and he's been OK. The Falcons' offense is not even close to what it was last December: Julio Jones is done for the year, Roddy White is ailing and the new tailback -- Steven Jackson -- has been out since Week 2. If the Falcons can generate some pass rush, they should get a win. But even a rookie like Glennon can expose a defense if he has 55 seconds to make his reads. The Birds can't get their butts off the field, allowing a staggering 50 percent third-down conversion rate to opposing offenses. The run defense, however, has been excellent ... meaning Doug Martin is due for another so-so day. Falcons take a close win at home. #TBvsATL

Would you believe the 2-3 Panthers have outscored their opponents 109-68? The Rams are trying to stay afloat in the NFC wild-card race, even though they've played pretty poorly -- until last Sunday in Houston, that is. The key for St. Louis: How much can the pass rush fluster Cam Newton, who still lacks significant weapons and can be prone to frustration? The Rams' defensive strength is supposed to be applying pressure, yet the defensive line was dominated in losses to the Cowboys and 49ers last month. Coach Jeff Fisher will want to pound running back Zac Stacy, so as to avoid putting the game on Sam Bradford. The tactic worked beautifully against the Texans, but this Panthers run defense -- anchored by Dwan Edwards, Star Lotulelei and Luke Kuechly -- is solid. You'd better recognize. #STLvsCAR

Neither of these clubs have been particularly consistent, yet with Calvin Johnson still not 100 percent and Nate Burleson not ready, we're taking Cincinnati on the road. The Lions can't rely on Joseph Fauria to score three times again, especially against a defense as talented as the Bengals' -- which has, nonetheless, been quite erratic. This is the group, after all, that allowed Thad Lewis to hit some big plays and come back from two scores down last Sunday. The important thing for Marvin Lewis is that Jim Schwartz's team is as up-and-down as his own Bengals squad. And boom goes the dynamite. The keys will be what kind of push Cincinnati gets against Detroit's defensive front and how well the tandem of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard performs. #CINvsDET

Jacksonville is getting better. Don't laugh, you jerks. Chad Henne is not a bad player, and he's certainly more capable of moving this team than Blaine Gabbert. Justin Blackmon, for all the trouble he's been, has had quite a productive first two games since returning from a suspension, collecting 326 receiving yards. The Chargers, meanwhile, have been giving up yards in chunks, particularly in the passing game. They also were allowing opposing quarterbacks to post a passer rating of 112.4 (highest in the NFL) ... until last Monday, when defensive coordinator John Pagano countered the Colts' offense better than any other team so far in 2013. If the Bolts can handle Henne even half as well as they did Andrew Luck, this will be an easy W. Incidentally, how the heck can the Chargers be 3-3 despite letting quarterbacks go crazy against them for most of the season? Well, when Philip Rivers plays at the level he's been playing at, coach Mike McCoy's group stays in games. It's that simple. #SDvsJAX

The first inkling I had was to lean toward the Bills, who seem to wind up in end-game thrillers every week. But here's the bottom line: The Dolphins are at home and their defense has had two weeks to rest, while doubt remains regarding a) Thad Lewis' health and b) the legitimacy of last Sunday's performance. Not to mention (but we'll mention) the fact that C.J. Spiller seems banged up. Fred Jackson played twice as many snaps last week as his younger backfield mate. While Jackson provides solid pass protection, is a good receiver and can be effective on the ground, Buffalo could use the home-run threat Spiller is supposed to provide in Miami. The Dolphins, meanwhile, have had ample time to figure out how they were beaten downfield by Drew Brees and Joe Flacco in Weeks 4 and 5. Those guys > The Thad. #BUFvsMIA

Expecting a closer game than all the Gang Green haters anticipate. Few teams are bagged on more than the Jets, and yet, they sit at 3-3 -- apparently, they're the NFL's David Caruso. We digress. Considering the Patriots' "here now, gone later" running game, the key matchup Sunday is Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie versus anybody. He must lock his guy down so Tom Brady is forced to hold the ball or throw to other receivers more often. Think of the kind of presence Aqib Talib has provided the Patriots' defense this year; Cromartie can be that and then some -- when his knee is right and he's not slumping, of course. Right now, the knee isn't right and he is slumping, having allowed 382 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. #NEvsNYJ

One might think this game will come down to Tony Romo, as Dallas contests often do, yet the running back position is the 300-pound Jay Ratliff in the room. Boy, the Cowboys could use help on the defensive line. Ratliff is gone, DeMarcus Ware is out and Jason Hatcher is banged up. We've seen Dallas going with a D-line that often is composed entirely of backups, which means LeSean McCoy could rush 25 times for 150 yards or 25 times for 1,500 yards. The other running backs in this game figure to be Cowboys rookie Joseph Randle and the physical Phillip Tanner. There's no doubt Romo can exploit the Eagles' secondary; the question is, how will Randle and Tanner fare in pass protection -- or at catching the ball? Oh, how this Dallas team will miss DeMarco Murray ... #DALvsPHI

Like the Cowboys, the Bears are seriously hurting on the defensive line. The Redskins should run Alfred Morris 30 times. After all, given that Brandon Jacobs looked like Eddie George for the Giants last Thursday at Soldier Field, Morris should resemble Riggo this week. There's just one problem for Washington, and Chicago's wide receivers will pose it. OK, so maybe DeAngelo Hall can bait Bears quarterback Jay Cutler into coughing up a pick-six. That's great. But who will cover Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett or Matt Forte? The latter should catch eight balls in this game. Until Robert Griffin III starts running more, we won't trust the Redskins' offense on third down. #CHIvsWAS

Call me "Positive Perry," but I like this matchup. Thinking the Titans are going to hang tough. Yes, the 49ers are better at key spots, like quarterback, running back, tight end, offensive line and linebacker. That said, if Ryan Fitzpatrick can avoid giving up the kinds of turnovers Carson Palmer surrendered at Candlestick last Sunday, he should be able to make plays on the 49ers' secondary. San Francisco's once-stout defense has been awful in the red zone, allowing opponents to score at a 72.2 percent success rate (30th in the NFL). Still, the Titans will have trouble with both Colin Kaepernick and Vernon Davis. The only decent tight end they've faced this season -- Antonio Gates -- caught five balls for three first downs and one touchdown. Davis is better. #SFvsTEN

"Low score" alert! For Green Bay, James Jones is hobbling, Randall Cobb is up a creek and Jermichael Finley is still disappearing in the middle of games. At least Jarrett Boykin makes up for it by never seeming to be where Aaron Rodgers throws the ball. Considering how well the Browns' defense has played, the Packers might be lucky to hit 17 points. The problem for Cleveland is that Brandon Weeden doesn't protect the ball and Willis McGahee has zero explosion -- he rushed for 37 yards last Sunday. All of which has us leaning toward the home team. By the way, the Packers actually have a worse turnover differential (minus-three) than the Browns (zero). Still, in a matchup this close, it's difficult to trust Weeden on the road versus Rodgers. It'd be like trusting a Sandra Bullock-starring sci-fi to be worth 12 bucks. ( Is "Gravity"? Just wondering ... let me know @Harrison_NFL.) #CLEvsGB

BREAKING NEWS: Case Keenum will be the Texans' starting quarterback in place of the injured Matt Schaub on Sunday. Fortunately, for the purposes of this column, which was published before said breaking news, all analysis below stands. Convenient. This development does, however, beg one vital question: Does Keenum have what it takes to extend Houston's five-game pick-six streak?

Don't anticipate the Texans laying an egg on the Arrowhead turf like they did on their own field last Sunday. At some point, talent shines through. Does this mean Houston has as much of that talent as all the preseason prognosticators might have thought? No. Schaub had been something like a train wreck before suffering his ankle injury. Andre Johnson has a bad shin. Owen Daniels has been shut down by injury. The defense, meanwhile, has not imposed its will on an opponent once this year. Sunday's matchup in Kansas City will feature a stout defensive unit, but it won't be wearing anything resembling a warped Chicago Bulls logo. The Chiefs have allowed 65 points this year, or 10.8 points per game. The record for a 16-game season is 10.3, set by ... well, take a guess.

We'll wait.

Alright; it was these guys. #HOUvsKC

Feeling a Troy Polamalu game. Call it optimistic, but the 32-year-old still can make plays, and he has a history of doing exactly that against the Ravens. Will he decimate Joe Flacco on a safety blitz? It will be a lot easier for the Steelers to get pressure if Baltimore deviates from the ground attack early, or if the Ravens fail to get any kind of push (similar to what happened against the Packers last Sunday). If Polamalu -- or any other Steelers defender -- isn't made to hesitate even a little bit before crashing the pocket, the spotty Pittsburgh pass rush suddenly will appear to be rather formidable. Baltimore is averaging 2.74 yards per carry right now -- 2.48 in the club's three losses. Ray Rice's long run of the season is 11 yards. Pittsburgh rookie Le'Veon Bell will be the most productive back in this game, which the Steelers will take at home. #BALvsPIT

We sure wish Peyton Manning would've won more Super Bowls when he was a Colt. At least one important person will see him victorious in Indy on his way to another Super Bowl, so that's good. Indianapolis' defense has to play smarter than it did in San Diego; even though it didn't quite show up in the points column, the Chargers consistently caught the Colts out of position in their coverages. That's why San Diego converted half of its third downs and held the ball for a whopping 38 minutes and change. The handiwork of Mike McCoy and Philip Rivers surely did not go unnoticed by Manning, who had McCoy as his offensive coordinator last season. Indianapolis has injury concerns at all three levels of the defense, and the Colts missed Jerrell Freeman on Monday night. For their sake, let's hope they don't miss Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno, because he'll be getting the rock plenty. Denver improves to 7-0. #DENvsIND

OK, before you get all hot dogs and apple pie about Josh Freeman starting at MetLife on Monday night, bear in mind that Snoopy knows the Vikings' playbook almost as well as the quarterback does. On the flip side, the Giants' offense -- minus, of course, the giveaways -- had its moments last Thursday. New York must run the football effectively again to keep Eli Manning from resorting to the old chuck-and-duck, which is not to be confused with the "Cluck n Chuck," where Tommy Bradford's friend, Ernie, worked in "Eight is Enough." Manning, by the way, is on pace to give up 40 interceptions. The most since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger is 35, a record set by Vinny Testaverde in 1988 (while playing for a crap Bucs team in just his second season). Manning is a 10th-year vet. He has to give this Giants squad more without gifting a bunch of short fields to Freeman and his unfamiliar offense. You know what, though? Giants nab their first win of 2013 here. #MINvsNYG

ALREADY COMPLETED:

The matchup that counts on "Thursday Night Football" is without question the one between Carson Palmer and the Seahawks' secondary. So let's get you up to date. The 11th-year vet is rocking a 69.3 passer rating, 31st in the NFL. (Don't worry: He still ranks ahead of Eli Manning, who sits at 64.0.) Seattle, meanwhile, has the best secondary in the league. This clearly is a mismatch. The Seahawks' run defense, of course, is pretty darn good, too, allowing just 3.94 yards per carry. Chris Johnson got all of 33 yards on them last Sunday, so don't expect Andre Ellington to be breaking off many long runs. That said, the Cardinals beat the Seahawks in Arizona in 2012 (it was Russell Wilson's first career start), and they played the Niners close last Sunday. #HopeFloats #SEAvsAZ



Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.

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