Sunday NFL Preview: Week Seven

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: October 18, 2008

NFL PHILADELPHIA – This week in the NFL I am dubbing “Time to Step-up”. With the midway point of the 89th NFL Season fast approaching, it is indeed time for NFL teams to live up to this year’s league slogan “Believe In Now”.

Though this season has been extremely hard to predict with only one undefeated team left, furious finishes, upsets, and just plain wackiness, I really believe that teams will start to separate themselves.

The crucial playoff drive months of November and December will be here before we know it, so teams must soon decide if they are pretenders or contenders.

Speaking of furious finishes, the 2008 NFL season through the first six weeks of the season has had 28 of 88 games (31.8 percent) decided by a fourth-quarter comeback.

All of the comebacks have put this season on pace to have the highest percentage of games with a fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history (record is from 1989 with 70 out of 224 games) and it’s only October.

For certain the NFL is must-see television and you better keep your head on a swivel to not miss a second of the action. In fact the NFL games topped the local ratings in 22 of 30 markets in week 6 beating out the season premiere of CSI, the second presidential debate and MLB’s AL and NL Championship Series with the FOX doubleheader game on Sunday (Cowboys-Cardinals) the most-watched program of the week (Oct. 6-12) with 23.6 million viewers.

Right now everyone other than lower tier teams (1 or less wins) still have a legitimate chance at one of the 12 coveted playoff berths, but a couple of missed opportunities could quickly turn some teams’ dreams into nightmares.

The standings are very tight, so separation in the parity-laden league seems to be inevitable…unless we see another upset filled week like week 6 (very possible).

The Tennessee Titans as the lone undefeated team left (5-0), but I fully expect the 1972 Dolphins to be celebrating the continuation of their record as the only undefeated Super Champion record real soon.

After the Titans there are only 13 other teams with winning records [Three (4-1) teams -- Giants, Bills, and Steelers; seven (4-2) teams Buccaneers, Falcons, Cardinals, Broncos, Redskins, Cowboys, and Panthers; and three (3-2) teams -- Patriots, Colts, and Jets].

I am calling the group of winning teams the “stellar fourteen”, but many will debate the term “stellar” as almost every winning team listed has had a letdown or two making you question their staying power as a contender.

The teams that I am most interested in seeing if they are ready to “Step-up” are the gaggle of eight (3-3) teams — Bears, Eagles, Colts, Saints, Chargers, Jaguars, Vikings, and Packers.

The (3-3) teams are a group that includes several divisional winner picks from the pre-season that have been too fickle to count on them to live up to early season hype and expectations.

The division leaders after 6 weeks features some craziness including three-way ties for first place in the NFC South (Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers all at (4-2) w/ a 1 game lead over the Saints) and NFC North (Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, and Chicago Bears all at (3-3) w/ a 3 game lead over the Lions).

The rest of the divisions feature leaders: NFC East: NY Giants (4-1) w/ a half-game lead over the Cowboys; NFC West: Arizona Cardinals (4-2) w/ a 2 game lead over the Niners; AFC South: Tennessee Titans (5-0) with a 2 game lead over the Colts; AFC East: Buffalo Bills (4-1) w/ a 1 game lead over the Patriots; AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1) w/ a 2 game lead over the Ravens, and AFC West: Denver Broncos (4-2) w/ a one game lead over the Chargers.

Two divisions (NFC South and East) have every team with a .500 or better record.

Surprisingly this week only features three divisional games (PIT @ CIN, MIN @ CHI, and NO @ CAR), so the majority of teams will get a good look of how they stand against the rest league in conference and inter-conference games.

The games I am most interested in watching are the Vikings at the Bears (Black and Blue NFC North statement game), Colts at the Packers (Can the Colts maintain their roll at Lambeau), and the Chargers at the Bills (two teams near the top of the rankings that need to solidify their standing).

Also watch out for a possible letdown by the Jets as they visit the Raiders.

Some things to watch for this week include:

Cool Brees – New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees leads the NFL with 1,993 passing yards and is on pace for an NFL-record 5,314 yards (which would surpass Dan Marino’s record 5,084 yards in 1984). Brees has thrown for at least 320 yards in four consecutive games and needs 320 yards this week against Carolina to join Rich Gannon (6) and Kurt Warner (5) as the only players in history with five consecutive 320-yard games.

Welcome Back Shaun - With running backs Clinton Portis (hip) and Ladell Betts (knee) nursing injuries, expect to see a lot of former 2005 MVP Shaun Alexander when the Redskins take on the Cleveland Browns. Alexander, who has rushed for 9,429 yards in his career, should be valuable around the goal line as he knows how to plow it in from close range (101 career touchdowns).

Trading deadline aftermath - Now that WR Roy Williams and DT John McCargo have new address with the Cowboys and Colts respectively, it will be interesting to see how fast they adapt to their new teams. I think this especially applies to Williams as he will need to learn a whole new scheme and routes in order to play this Sunday against the Rams.

Williams will also have the added joy of not taking away too many touches from T.O and Jason Witten. I expect Williams to play 15 to 20 snaps with him running basic routes. Also it will be interesting to see how Tony Gonzalez performs for the Chiefs against the Titans after they failed to trade him and he was not happy about it one bit saying he was “pissed” over the situation.

Romo might give it a go - After encouraging words from Jets quarterback Brett Favre, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may play with a broken pinkie on his throwing hand. Romo practiced on the side on Thursday as veteran Brad Johnson took the majority of snaps with the first team, but there is a chance the 2007 Pro Bowl player will suit up. Favre advised Romo to try as hard as he can to play through the pain because of his value to the Cowboys. “The only thing I said was, it’s worth trying [to play] if you can deal with the pain and can function good enough with a splint, If not, don’t try.” With Romo expected to have difficulty gripping the ball and taking the snap expect to see Johnson.

600th Monday Night Football Game – The 600th game in the history of Monday Night Football – the longest continuously-running primetime entertainment series in television history at 37 years (started on September 21, 1971 with the NY Jets 21 at the Cleveland Browns 31) – will be played this Monday night when the New England Patriots host the Denver Broncos.

Featured Game

Ravens (2-3) at Dolphins (2-3) 1:00 PM ET (CBS)

Broadcast Team: Bill Macatee and Steve Beuerlein

The Dolphins host the Ravens in a game that features two teams led by rookie head coaches (Ravens John Harbaugh and Dolphins Tony Sparano) who are trying to get in the middle the playoff hunt by the midpoint of the season. You have never met two teams with more distinct calling cards as the Ravens are known for their turnover creating attacking defense led by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.

While the Dolphins’ offense has turned the NFL on its ear with their innovative “Wildcat” offense featuring single-wing and spread option snaps directly to running backs Patrick Cobbs, Ronnie Brown, and Ricky Williams.

Getting to .500 is paramount with both teams trailing their division leaders by two games (AFC North Steelers and the AFC East Bills) with crucial division games coming in November and December. The Ravens will try to get an offense on track that has only produced one touchdown in a lopsided 31-13 loss to the Colts.

The Dolphins last week tried to continue their surprising rise up the AFC ladder, but in one of week six’s unbelieveable finishes the Houston Texans won in the last 10 seconds as quarterback Matt Schaub ran for a score on fourth and goal.

Players to watch for the Dolphins are running back/single-wing quarterback Ronnie Brown (71 rushes for 336 yards and an NFL leading 7 TDs with an eye on continuing his streak of five straight games with a touchdown), who has looked like the second coming of hall of fame back Fritz Pollard, and on defense linebacker Joey Porter.

The former Steelers star linebacker has brought back the teeth to Bill Parcels defense producing an AFC leading 6.5 sacks. The Ravens have struggled on offense as injuries to their O-line have cause a lot of pressure on first round draft pick quarterback Joe Flacco (90-144, 844 yards, 1 TD, and 7 INT). The young former University of Delaware passer is learning, but we all know the Ravens will be trying to produce their owm mayhem on defense.

The Ravens’ “D” is back as they have allowed an NFL best 220.8 yards per game. It will be real interesting to see if defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s unit has done enough homework to stop a Wildcat Offense that sprung upsets over the Patriots and Chargers (ran out of the formation 11 times last week for 49 yards and Cobbs caught 3 TDs out of it).

The key match-up will be the Ravens active linebackers (Lewis, Jarret Johnson, Bart Scott, and Terrell Suggs) vs. the Dolphins running backs. The Dolphins are 4-0 against the Ravens in Miami including their only win in 2007.

In their upset win that really spelled the end for former Ravens coach Brian Billick, receiver Greg Camarillo caught a 64-yard overtime touchdown catch as the the Dolphins snapped a 16-game losing streak with a 22-16 win.

LV’s Pick: The Dolphins have won five of six regular-season meetings with the Ravens, so I am expecting the same kind of results this week. Flacco to me is still learning and it will take time for him especially with running back Willis McGahee banged up. Expect to see Porter and rookie DE Kendal Langford to cause pressure that will produce some turnovers. On offense I expect the Dolphins running backs and quarterback Chad Pennington to execute. The game maybe close early, but in the end I see the Dolphins winning 23-10.

Week 7 Games

Sunday’s Games

SD @ BUF 1:00 PM (CBS)

PIT @ CIN 1:00 PM (CBS)

TEN @ KC 1:00 PM (CBS)

BAL @ MIA 1:00 PM (CBS)

DAL @ STL 1:00 PM (FOX)

SF @ NYG 1:00 PM (FOX)

MIN @ CHI 1:00 PM (FOX)

NO @ CAR 1:00 PM (FOX)

DET @ HOU 4:05 PM (FOX)

IND @ GB 4:15 PM (CBS)

NYJ @ OAK 4:15 PM (CBS)

CLE @ WAS 4:15 PM (CBS)

SEA @ TB 8:15 PM (NBC)

Monday’s Game

DEN @ NE 8:30 PM (ESPN)

Byes: Cardinals, Falcons, Jaguars, Eagles.