Chris Burke and Doug Farrar get you ready for Week 7, discussing potential upsets, positional matchups to watch in two intriguing NFC games and road teams who badly need to come away from the weekend with a win.
Defend your Week 7 upset pick.
Chris Burke: Oakland over Arizona. I'm dipping about as deep into the upset well as possible -- a winless team over the NFC West leaders -- but aside from Dennis Allen's farewell loss in London, the Raiders have been pretty competitive this year. That includes Week 6's 31-28 loss to San Diego, a game Oakland led late and had a chance to win in the final minute.
The best news of all for Oakland coming out of that game: Derek Carr's play. The rookie threw four touchdown passes (before his late, game-sealing interception) and continues to take positive steps forward each week. The Cardinals did pick off Kirk Cousins three times last Sunday, but they have allowed more than 800 combined passing yards over the past two weeks. Carr will not be afraid to go right at them.
Can Oakland come up with any stops? The answer to that question probably will dictate how close the Raiders come to pulling the upset. Arizona's offense stabilized with Carson Palmer's Week 6 return.
To oversimplify it all, I'm just playing a hunch that the Raiders break through with a win soon. May as well be this week.
Doug Farrar: Carolina over Green Bay.Yes, the Packers have figured out their early-season offensive troubles, and yes, their defense is playing better of late. But one of the more underreported stories in the NFL this season is what Cam Newton is doing with the Panthers' offense without his three top receivers from 2013 and in spite of a running back rotation that can't seem to stay healthy.
Newton has made rookie Kelvin Benjamin his primary target and has been much, much better in the pocket this season. Still, he can break off and stretch any defense to its limits with his running ability, and the Packers are no great shakes against the run. Green Bay has the edge when it comes to Aaron Rodgers versus Carolina's sketchy pass defense, but if Newton's on his game, this will be a close one -- and he could be the difference when it's time for one team to make that spectacular winning play.
Which positional matchup is worth watching closely this weekend?
Burke: Drew Brees vs. Detroit's front four. Surprise, surprise: Detroit has the No. 1 defense in the league. (Shameless plug: More on the Lions' D here.) The Lions' rise to the top included a Week 3 win over Green Bay in which they held Aaron Rodgers to 167 yards through the air.
The Lions put the clamps on Rodgers mainly by rushing four and dropping seven in coverage -- an option available to them thanks to a defensive line featuring Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and a healthy rotation of others who were able to collapse the Packers' pocket. Detroit already has 20 sacks on the season, tied for most in the league with the Jets.
Brees, with his quick trigger and steady protection in front of him, provides another test. So far, Brees has been sacked just four times. The Saints also feature something Green Bay could not get going in Week 3: a run game.
First-year Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is a fan of dialing up blitzes, but any extra pressure obviously takes away a guy who could be used in coverage, which might open up space for Brees.
Will Detroit will be able to pick and choose from its blitz opportunities, or will Austin be forced to send reinforcements from the secondary to help a stymied front four? If it's the former, Brees could struggle the way Rodgers did.
Farrar: Denver's receivers vs. San Francisco's surprising secondary. This week's Sunday night game displays one very known entity against another many people are still getting to know. Everyone understands that when it's on, Denver's passing offense is the most explosive in the game. Not only can Demaryius Thomas beat most cornerbacks with his speed and physicality, but tight end Julius Thomas is catching touchdowns at a historic rate, and new receiver Emmanuel Sanders is making life very difficult for opposing defenses with his speed, route understanding, and shiftiness in zone spaces.
However, this unit will be tested against San Francisco's defense, which is performing very well despite key losses such as NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. Its success starts with safety Antoine Bethea, who signed with San Francisco this offseason and has been a revelation in Vic Fangio's defense. Cornerback Perrish Cox has allowed a 39.4 opposing quarterback rating this season, picking off three passes and allowing no touchdowns. Rookie Jimmie Ward has been vulnerable as a slot defender, but he's getting better. The problem for the 49ers might be Julius Thomas. Patrick Willis is not expected to play this game due to a toe injury, Bowman's already out for at least a few more weeks with a knee injury and it may be up to Ahmad Brooks to deal with Denver's prolific tight end. Fangio is one of the better defensive schemers in the NFL, but he'll have to pull out all the stops to get this done.
Which road team is most in need of a win?
Burke: New York Giants. Week 6 was a nightmare for Eli Manning and the New York offense, a humiliating 27-0 loss to the Eagles. A similar performance Sunday in Dallas not only would send the Giants reeling into their bye at 3-4, but it would drop them three games back in the NFC East. Even for a franchise with a knack for getting hot at the right time, that deficit might be close to insurmountable.
But an upset of the streaking Cowboys would change the outlook for both teams, pumping some needed confidence into the Giants while finally creating a little doubt in Big D.
The Giants already find themselves in a hole. Another loss Sunday would start to bury them.
Farrar: Seattle Seahawks. The Super Bowl champs are 3-2 after being systematically taken apart by the Cowboys at home last Sunday. Don't be fooled by the 30-23 final score -- were it not for Dallas' special teams mistakes, this could have been a rout. The Seahawks are searching for their identity on both sides of the ball, and that's a bad time to head into the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams are still trying to put it all together at 1-4, but they generally play the Seahawks tough, and quarterback Austin Davis has been a wonderful surprise, especially in the deep passing game. If the Seahawks drop this game, they're not just at .500 -- they're looking up at the Cardinals and 49ers in the NFC West, whether those teams win or lose later in the afternoon.