With three of the NFL's five undefeated teams on bye this week, the spotlight falls solely on the Jets-Patriots matchup. In this battle of AFC East rivals, who will emerge with the division lead? Don Banks makes his Week 7 picks.
With three of the league’s five remaining unbeaten teams taking their bye this week—Denver, Green Bay and Cincinnati—the brightest spotlight falls on the Jets-Patriots showdown in New England, where a surprising New York team (4–1) will test itself against the defending Super Bowl champs, who are 5–0 and drawing comparisons to their record-breaking 2007 team.
Nobody has really thrown much of a scare into the Patriots, starting from the moment Judge Berman ruled in favor of Tom Brady’s Deflategate appeal. But the Jets have a defense that could get their hands on No. 12 and play the physical style that has given him trouble in the past. And with Darrelle Revis playing back on the other side of this rivalry once again, Brady’s passes had better be sharp and on target.
With the Jets on Sunday followed by a visit from Miami on Thursday night, the Patriots could be 3–0 in the division and in command of the AFC East once again before November even arrives. But we’re getting a bit ahead of the story until we see if a little of the Mets’ magic can rub off on the much-improved Jets.
Now on to Week’s 7 picks...
• Last week: 11–3; Season: 59–32 (.648).
• Best pick in Week 6: San Francisco 27, Baltimore 19 (actual score: 49ers 25–20).
• Worst pick in Week 6: Arizona 26, Pittsburgh 16 (actual score: Steelers 25–13).
The Jaguars have played the good solider and agreed to hold one “home” game a year in London through at least 2020, as the league desired. But is a steady diet of Jaguars games really the best scenario for football fans in England? Sunday’s Bills-Jags “Breakfast at Wembley” matchup is the 13th game in the London series, which means there have been 26 teams making the trek across the pond since 2007. Of those 26 teams, only eight clubs (31%) had a winning record going into the game, and there have been nearly that many winless teams take the field in London. Jacksonville is making its third London trip in three years, having lost badly to San Francisco and Dallas the past two seasons. A good showing this time by the Jaguars would at the minimum make them more palatable to watch. And with Buffalo missing key players like Tyrod Taylor, Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, Karlos Williams and Kyle Williams, if not now Jacksonville, when?
The Lions did their level best to remain winless last week at home against Chicago, giving up 18 fourth-quarter points to the Bears, but they couldn’t get it done and won in overtime, 37–34. As for the Vikings, they let the one-win Chiefs hang around all day and then have themselves a 10-point fourth quarter, with Minnesota eventually prevailing 16–10. If Mike Zimmer’s team is going to be more than .500 material this season, the Vikings’ two-game road trip to Detroit and Chicago has to yield two wins and put some distance between the playoff contending portion of the NFC North and the also-rans.
The Colts melodrama looks like it’s built to last all season, and the pressure seems to be taking its toll on all concerned. I’m guessing there won’t be any trick plays in this week’s game plan in Indianapolis, but fortunately for the Colts, the Saints defense is vulnerable enough not to need them. Make no mistake, this is a massive must-win for Chuck Pagano’s 3–3 team. With at Carolina (5–0) and home against Denver (6–0) on tap in Weeks 8 and 9, then a bye in Week 10, the Colts have to climb back over .500 and finally prove they can triumph in a non-AFC South game.
Landry Jones seemed comfortable and in control of the offense in getting the win in relief last week at home against Arizona, and I think he’s going to continue his solid work against a reeling Chiefs team at Arrowhead Stadium. Don’t sleep on these Steelers, because at 4–2 with a defense that’s rounding into shape, Pittsburgh is a dangerous club that could wind up giving the likes of Cincinnati and New England a run for AFC supremacy later this season.
This just in: In a shocking development, interim Dolphins head coach Dan Campbell “knows” Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon “is not a dirty player,” even though the league saw fit to fine Vernon for his illegal low hit on Titans rookie QB Marcus Mariota last week in Nashville. Does any coach ever come out and admit his guy played dirty, so what’s the point of making a pronouncement to begin with? Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt saw the hit as dirty. So I guess we all just agree to disagree. If Miami can somehow keep Houston receiver DeAndre Hopkins fairly well contained—something no defense has done lately—the Dolphins should scratch their way back to the .500 level just before heading to Foxboro to take on the Beasts of the East Patriots in Week 8.
I’d give the Jets a much better shot to pull the upset and take over first place in the AFC East if they were drawing the Patriots at MetLife Stadium, rather than Gillette Stadium. But I think it’ll be a four-quarter game, because it almost always is when New York and New England play. The margin of victory in their past six games was Patriots by 1, 2, 3, 30 and 3 points, with the Jets winning once by three points. And two of those games went to overtime. If Ryan Fitzpatrick plays his cleanest game, New York has the defense and running game to get the job done. But New England’s offense will be just productive enough to lift the Patriots to 6–0.
The Cardinals’ loss at Pittsburgh last week breathed new life into the Rams’ division chances, and don’t forget St. Louis already owns a pair of division wins, over Seattle and Arizona. The Rams usually rise to the level of their competition and then struggle against weaker teams, but this is a game Jeff Fisher’s guys have to put in the win column, improving to 3-3 and reaching .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2013. The Browns can’t seem to stop the rush no matter what they try, and that means a big old heaping does of Todd Gurley is headed their way.
The Falcons finally had their perfect season ended by the Saints in the Superdome two Thursdays ago, but that’s what happens when New Orleans blocks a punt for a touchdown against Atlanta. At that point, from history the Falcons knew it wasn't going to be their night. With Marcus Mariota ruled out for Tennessee thanks to last week’s knee injury, it’s probably not going to be the Titans’ day on Sunday against the 4–1 Falcons. And with that, Ken Whisenhunt’s club will have gone a troubling six weeks without a victory.
All kinds of Gruden ties in this one. Washington head coach Jay Gruden used to be a Bucs assistant on the staff of his brother, Jon Gruden, who led Tampa Bay from 2002 to 2008, including the Bucs’ only Super Bowl championship. Neither team has any real title hopes this season, but Jay Gruden’s two-year tenure in Washington will really be in trouble if his team can’t produce a win against rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and the 2-3 Bucs.
This is the first meeting of the Chargers and Raiders since the two organizations hatched a plan to share a potential new stadium in the Los Angeles area, and you wonder if that means everyone will be on their best behavior and play nice in this longtime AFC West rivalry. Oakland is rested and coming off a bye, while San Diego is the only team that could have its quarterback throw for 500-plus yards and still manage to score a mere 20 points. The Chargers won’t need another monster game out of Philip Rivers to get the win, but they need more than 20 points.
The Cowboys have been crazy good on the road in the division since 2012, winning seven in a row and nine out of 10 overall, but most of that damage was done with Tony Romo at quarterback. I expect Matt Cassel to do a very credible job in his first Dallas start, but it won’t be enough to end the Cowboys’ month-long losing streak. New York had Dallas beaten in Week 1 in Arlington, of course, but then went brain-dead on the clock management front, giving the game away in the final minutes. No such drama will unfold this time, as the Giants climb back over the break-even mark and the Cowboys absorb a fourth consecutive defeat, matching their loss total from the entire 2014 regular season.
For a team that has won 10 out of its last 11 games, the Panthers still seem to surprise us when they post a statement win like last week’s upset in Seattle. But maybe it’s time we recognize that the aberration was Carolina starting last season 3-8-1 after its 2013 NFC South title, not the strong work Ron Rivera’s team has turned in from December 2014 to present. The Eagles defense is playing winning football, but Sam Bradford and the Eagles offense are still too streaky and unreliable to go into Charlotte and knock off the confident Panthers.
The Cardinals are too good to play as badly as they did in the second half in Pittsburgh, but returning home to face a Baltimore team that is sinking to new lows every week is just the antidote for what ails Arizona. Carson Palmer should have some gaudy statistics compiled by game’s end, given the state of the Ravens’ shoddy secondary. This might have had Super Bowl preview potential when the schedule was being assembled in April, but the harsh reality of late October is that it’s Monday night blowout material.