By Chris Burke
October 21, 2013

Mario Williams (top) and others are on record sack pace through seven games. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports) Mario Williams (top) and others are on record sack pace through seven games. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

The Colts' Robert Mathis is on pace to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record. So is Kansas City's Justin Houston. And Buffalo's Mario Williams.

It has been a showcase seven weeks for veteran pass-rushers, capped by Mathis' showing Sunday night in a win over Peyton Manning's Broncos. Mathis had a pair of sacks in that game, one of which resulted in a fumble and safety (and left Manning throwing ducks the remainder of the night). He's now up to 11.5 sacks on the season, more than halfway to Strahan's total of 22.5 with nine games left. A five-time Pro Bowler, the 32-year-old Mathis has himself in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion -- and might even be the one to catch there.

Houston may do so. His sack pace has slowed since recording three in Week 1 and 4.5 in Week 3, but the Chiefs' dynamo still has 10 for the year. Houston's teammate, Tamba Hali, has stepped up his game in the meantime, with nine sacks, all of which came in the past five games.

Hali and Houston already have matched their 2012 sack totals. Williams is but a half-sack behind his previous-season total, following two take-downs of Miami's Ryan Tannehill on Sunday. The Bills' DE needs just four sacks in his final nine games to tie his career high: 14, set back in 2007 with Houston.

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A little love, if you will, for the interior linemen too. New York's Muhammad Wilkerson has six sacks from his DT spot and is in the midst of an absolutely dominating season. Plus, Hall and Houston probably would argue that their defensive tackle, Dontari Poe (4.5 sacks) deserve a lot of the credit for the Chiefs' early success.

Offenses may still rule the day in the NFL, but the defenses are pushing back -- starting with the men up front.

More of the best and worst from Week 7 ...

First Down: The Coach of the Year race.

Right now, this is Andy Reid's to lose. The Chiefs' new head coach has taken a 2-14 team and turned it into a Super Bowl contender. Reid's squad is the final undefeated team left standing in the NFL, thanks to Denver's loss in Indianapolis on Sunday night. If the playoffs were to start today, the AFC road would travel through K.C., where the fans just set a noise record one week ago.

A moment, though, to consider Rex Ryan. He has taken more than his fair share of pot shots and criticism (some of the latter deserved) during his time in New York, and he entered the 2013 season tagged as a dead coach walking -- a placeholder for this year, who would be fired after the season ended. Instead, Ryan has his team at 4-3 and just one game back in the AFC East after a win over the Patriots.

If the Chiefs finish, say, 13-3 and the Jets land at 11-5 or so, which of these two would you pick to take home that award?

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Fourth Down: Brandon Meriweather.

The Redskins' safety has to be creeping pretty close to a severe punishment from the league, right? Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, who was the recipient of another in a growing line of dangerous hits by Meriweather, certainly thinks so.

"Guys like that really don’t understand that there is life after football," Marshall told the Chicago Tribune. "I respect the league trying to better our game and guys like that, maybe he needs to get suspended or taken out of the game completely."

Meriweather, who was fined $42K for a helmet-to-helmet blow on Eddie Lacy earlier this year, picked up two unnecessary roughness penalties Sunday -- one on Alshon Jeffery, then another against Marshall. Given his track record, Meriweather is a virtual lock to receive at least a hefty fine. And it would not be a surprise at this point if the NFL sat him down for a game, as Marshall suggested.

First Down: Carolina, Pittsburgh and Washington.

Perhaps we all were too quick to drive the nails into these coffins ...

Let's start with the Panthers, who moved to 3-3 after an emotional win over the Rams. That's the first time Carolina has been .500 this late in the season since it pulled up to 8-8 on the final Sunday of 2009. The NFC's second wild-card team (currently Detroit) sits at 4-3, a mere half-game in front of Cam Newton and Co.

The Steelers have a lot more ground to cover, what with Cincinnati on top of their division at 5-2 and one of the AFC wild-card spots reserved for the West runner-up. But a second consecutive victory, this one over the archrival Ravens, has Pittsburgh believing that all is not yet lost in 2013.

Washington, meanwhile, is a mere two games back in the NFC East and finally got its offense into full gear during a 45-41 win over Chicago. The defense is another story.

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Fourth Down: Teams who play Seattle.

Perhaps it is merely a coincidence, but teams are now 0-6 the week after playing the Seahawks in 2013. Tennessee, Seattle's Week 6 opponent, kept that run going Sunday by falling to the 49ers at home. Next on the chopping block: Arizona, which lost to Seattle on Thursday and faces a Week 8 game against Atlanta.

First Down: The A.J. Green-Calvin Johnson battle.

There is more than enough evidence to argue that Johnson and Green are the top two receivers in football. True to form, they put on a show during Cincinnati's last-second win in Detroit.

Green started the fireworks with an 82-yard touchdown on Cincinnati's opening possession -- his first of six catches en route to a 155-yard performance. Johnson answered by scoring twice (once on an impromptu Hail Mary with two Bengals defenders all over him). Detroit's superstar matched Green at 155 yards, though he needed nine receptions to get there.

Fourth Down: Nick Foles' argument for the No. 1 job.

Hurry back, Michael Vick. After two strong showings in relief of an injured Vick, Foles faceplanted versus a very suspect Dallas defense. He was just 11-of-29 passing for 80 yards, then left with an injury in the fourth quarter.

The 3-4 Eagles next host the Giants, the team against which Foles first stepped in and starred with Vick sidelined. If Vick is healthy enough to give it a go, however, he should reclaim his starting job.

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First Down: Harry Douglas and Jarrett Boykin.

Their injury lists growing on offense, the Falcons and Packers headed into Sunday hoping someone would step up. Douglas answered the call in Atlanta, while Boykin did the same in Green Bay.

Playing the No. 1 receiver role with Julio Jones and Roddy White out of the lineup, Douglas ripped Tampa Bay's secondary for 149 yards and a touchdown in a must-win game for his Falcons. Later in the afternoon, Boykin helped Green Bay avoid a Cleveland upset attempt, posting game highs in catches (eight) and yards (103) with a late score.

Fourth Down: Chicago's defense.

The Monsters of the Midway, the 2013 Bears are not. In dropping to 4-3 Sunday, Chicago allowed 45 points to Robert Griffin III's Redskins -- the second time in four weeks that an opponent has hit the 40-point mark against Marc Trestman's team.

The Bears did get their obligatory important turnover, this one provided by (who else?) Charles Tillman to set up a Matt Forte touchdown in the first quarter. After that, though, the D could not get off the field.

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First Down: San Diego avoiding a letdown.

All the elements were there for the Chargers to ease off the gas Sunday: road game after a huge Monday night win, bye week forthcoming, downtrodden opponent in the winless Jaguars. They made sure to avoid a letdown early, starting with a 12-play, 7:30 drive for a touchdown. San Diego later bumped its lead to 14-0 and never looked back in a cozy 24-6 victory.

Fourth Down: The bottom three in the AFC South.

Should we just give the Colts their division crown? They knocked off Denver Sunday night to improve their record to 5-2, two games clear of second-place Tennessee. Neither those Titans nor the Texans nor the Jagaurs (especially the Jaguars) seem all that capable of getting back in the race. Those three teams are on a combined 15-game losing streak -- three straight for Tennessee, five for Houston, seven for Jacksonville.

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