NFL Preview: Week 7

Close Calls

If you had money on any of the NFL action last week (which of course we don&#039t condone) you were probably getting ready to eat the barrel of a gun. Which tastes better with mustard, by the way.
Eight of the 13 games last week were decided by three points or less, only two shy of the league record of 10 (October 10-11, 1999). That is why, if you were wondering, betting lines are often three points. It&#039s called a push, my friends.

Denver Defense

It is getting kind of silly now, isn&#039t it? The Broncos have still only allowed one touchdown all season. They are ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed per game (7.4)&#039and head to very bad Cleveland on Sunday. If Denver can keep the Browns out of the end zone, they will become the first team since the 1934 Detroit Lions to allow one or no touchdowns in the first six games of a season. It&#039s a good thing also, since their offense sucks.

Running Strong

Quick quiz: Which NFL team has rushed for the most yards, and which team has given up the least, since 1992? The answers are the Atlanta Falcons (10,695) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (6,183). The two teams are playing each other this week so it will be interesting to see which group asserts there will. Atlanta better, since Michael Vick can&#039t complete a pass.

Staying with the running game, in most fantasy leagues La Dainian Tomlinson was one of the top three picks (unless your league is full of idiots). He will have a heck of a time making his owners happy this week, because the Chargers are visiting the Chiefs, who have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 17 straight home games. This is the longest active streak in the NFL, a mark Kansas City happens to share with the Chargers and the Pittsburgh. Tomlinson, by the way, has 29 100-yard rushing days in 84 career games.

Player to Watch

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin can make history this Sunday against the Raiders by catching just one pass. His next reception will be the 300th of his career, which would make him the fastest player to that milestone. Boldin has 299 catches through his first 46 games, and the record is through 54 games, established by Lionel Taylor from 1959-63.

And now to the picks.

Carolina Panthers (4-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) 1 p.m.

The Bengals looked flat and uninterested in giving the Tampa Bay Bucs their first win of the season last week. In fact, after scoring 85 points in their first three wins, the Bengals managed just 26 in losses to New England and the Buccaneers. They will need to do much better this week against a Panthers offense that is hitting its stride.
Since his return from injury, Steve Smith has 31 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns, and Carolina has yet to lose. In comparison, Keyshawn Johnson has 32 catches for 419 yards and two touchdowns, and he has played in two more games.
Cincinnati will also be without left tackle Levi Jones, who will need arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. This will hurt Rudi Johnson big time, especially since they are already without starting center Rich Braham, who suffered a knee injury in Week Two.
Prediction: Carolina was the team many picked to go to the Super Bowl before the Bears became everyone&#039s wet dream. Julius Peppers (eight sacks) and the defense will not allow the Bengals to keep up.

Arizona Cardinals (1-5) at Oakland Raiders (0-5) 4 p.m.

This is the Raiders’ Super Bowl. It is the only game that, when you look at their schedule, you might think, &#039Oh, they could win this one.&#039 If they don&#039t win, you could be looking at 0-16. Which would be kind of awesome, because Raider fans will attack a mall like Night of the Living Dead.
What makes this game really worth watching though is the Cardinals. After suffering one of the worst collapses in NFL history Monday against the Bears, they get to come back on short rest against the worst team in the league. If they lose, Dennis Green might go into the pressroom with an uzi. Many were wondering why the Raiders passed on Matt Leinart in the draft, but if you’re Leinart, you were pretty much screwed either way.
Amazingly, the Raiders (statistically) have the best pass defense in the NFL, but teams also run against them more than any other (probably because they don&#039t want to run up the score). So many story lines.
Prediction: Arizona. The Cardinal&#039s defense forced six turnovers against the Bears; they should be able to force 16 against the Raiders. Are they actually airing this game on TV?

Minnesota Vikings (3-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-1) 4 p.m.

Somehow, I don&#039t think the return of Steve Hutchinson will garner the same attention as TO&#039s return to Philly, but his absence has been felt just the same. Matt Hasselbeck has been sacked 17 times in five games after being sacked just 27 times last season. Hasselbeck has responded by trying to get rid of the ball quicker, which has resulted in seven interceptions. He had nine all of last season.
Despite that, however, the Seahawks are 4-1, even with Shaun Alexander not being available, who will miss a third straight game with a cracked bone in his foot.
The Vikings said before the season began that they were committed to the run, and they have kept their word. Chester Taylor has rushed for 421 yards, but has scored only one touchdown. The Seahawks defense ranks fifth in the league against the run, allowing only 75.6 yards per contest.
Prediction: I went against Seattle last week against the Rams. I won&#039t make the same mistake twice. I am riding the ‘Hawks till they bite me.

New York Giants (3-2) at Dallas Cowboys (3-2) MNF

This is a big game in the NFC East between two teams that don&#039t like each other very much. You would have thought that catching three touchdowns last week would have contented Terrell Owens, but now he is complaining that he doesn&#039t get the ball early enough. It will never end, but TO looks like he has hit his stride. Now all Dallas has to do is keep Drew Bledsoe upright. The Giants defense sacked Michael Vick seven times last week, and when Bledsoe is pressured, he is useless.
Tiki Barber leads the league in rushing, but has yet to score a touchdown. It really is amazing: Eli Manning has thrown 11 already, and Brandon Jacobs has slammed two in from the goal line. The Giants are averaging 151 yards a game on the ground, tying them, ironically, with Dallas for fourth in the NFL. Both teams will be looking for the running game to open up there receivers downfield.
Prediction: Have the Giants finally reached consistency? I say yes and I am still not as sold as many others are on the quality of the Cowboys.

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