NFL WEEK 7: Week 7 began with a scare, as Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP and the man responsible for directing the league’s most explosive offense, went down with a rough-looking knee dislocation in Kansas City’s Thursday night win over Denver. There was speculation that Mahomes’ season could be over, but further tests Friday revealed no structural damage, so the current prognosis is three weeks. Bullet dodged for the Chiefs, and yet another reminder that we should take nothing for granted in the NFL– one game, one play, one hit could change everything. Yesterdays successes sometimes tell us very little about what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Is that a premature justification for my betting against the Patriots in their divisional clash with weak stepsister New York, and backing an Atlanta team that has lost four straight and has surrendered 87 combined points in their past two games? Possibly. Believe me– getting there took some mental cartwheels, on both counts. But this Week 7 slate strikes me as one that will produce some surprises, so we best approach each game with an open mind and a fresh set of eyes.
There are a couple of sides that I’m really drawn to but just don’t have the guts to pull the trigger on, because the teams involved have been so bad. That happens a lot, of course, but the draw has been particularly strong this week in Cincinnati, where the putrid Bengals are in a decent-looking spot as a home dog against a Jacksonville team with a bad offense, and in Tennessee, primarily because I’m a card-carrying Ryan Tannehill truther. The last man standing who believes in the “Tannehill is good” conspiracy theory. I’ve reconciled myself to the illness and am proud that I’ve been able to stay away this week… so far. One day at a time.
Here are four that I feel good about:
Oakland Raiders @ Green Bay Packers (GB -4.5, 46.5)
Recommendation: Oakland +4.5 at 1.97
I’ll go ahead and say it: as of right now, with them sitting at 5-1 and being talked about as a Super Bowl contender, the Green Bay Packers are the single most overrated team in the league. Now, that may change, as the Packers are bound to get better as they get healthier. But this week’s team– the Week 7 Packers that will face the Raiders in Lambeau on Sunday– is utterly nonthreatening on offense, and vulnerable on defense precisely where a team like Oakland can hurt them. Though they’ve been good in the secondary, this Green Bay defense is allowing 4.9 yards per rush and will have trouble dealing with a Raiders offense that has run the ball very effectively this season, averaging, coincidentally, 4.9 yards per rush, and nearly 135 rushing yards per game.
But let’s talk about the Packers offense, because that is what the team has been known for over the years, and what many bettors who like the Green Bay side this week will be hanging their hats on. Yes, Aaron Rodgers is an all-time great quarterback who still has some good football left in him, as he proved again last week in leading the Pack to a come-from-behind Monday night win over Detroit. But the offense was stagnant for much of that game, and if it wasn’t for the porous Detroit run defense– the Lions allow 5.1 yds. per rush and gave up 170 rushing yards on 29 carries to Green Bay– Rodgers wouldn’t have had the chance to work his late-game magic. Oakland is stout against the run, surrendering just 3.7 yards per carry, so Rodgers will have a heavy burden in this game, and he’ll be surrounded by a bunch of backups in the receiving corps, as Davante Adams is out again, and both Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison are doubtful after missing practice all week. It wouldn’t surprise me if Rodgers were able to pull the rabbit out of the hat in the 4th quarter, but like last week, the Pack are simply favored by too many points here. They’re not 4.5 points better than Oakland right now.
St. Louis Rams @ Atlanta Falcons (STL -3, 54.5)
Recommendation: Atlanta +3 at 1.9
The Rams made a splash this week with their acquisition of Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who had grown dissatisfied in Jacksonville and forced his way out. Ramsey will undoubtedly help a secondary that has been hit hard by injuries, but he won’t be a cure-all, as he’s playing opposite a guy in Troy Hill who will get picked on a lot, and the Rams third corner this week, Darious Williams, hasn’t even taken a snap on defense this season– he’s solely been a special-teamer. Moreover, Ramsey can’t do anything about the struggles on offense, a unit that was elite last season but began to show some cracks over the past month before fully collapsing in San Francisco last week. The offensive line has regressed, Todd Gurley seems to be breaking down, though he’s expected to be back in the lineup this week, and Jared Goff has looked awfully unsteady. All of these are contributing factors to the team’s current 3-game losing streak.
Of course, there’s nothing like a meeting with the Atlanta defense to get well– the Falcons have been terrible defensively this season, particularly in the secondary. The front seven has actually been pretty decent in stopping the run, allowing just 3.9 yards per carry, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t rush the passer and can’t cover anybody, which have been the issues in Atlanta. Still, it’s not like the Falcons are lifeless– they once again have one of the NFL’s most prolific passing attacks, ranking second in the league with 317.8 pass yards per game, and unlike the Rams their offense has been steadily improving over the course of the season, with their two highest-scoring outings coming in their last two games. This just feels like a tough spot for an L.A. team that is moving in the wrong direction– other side of the country, early time slot, facing a Falcons team that has been excellent at home in the Matt Ryan era. Remember– this is only Atlanta’s third home game this year, after beating Philadelphia in Week 2 and losing to Tennessee in Week 4. The ugly losses (with the exception of Tennessee I guess) have all come on the road. The Falcons feel like the right side here.
New Orleans Saints @ Chicago Bears (Chi -3.5, 37)
Recommendation: Chicago -3.5 at 1.9
Just look at the total in this game! Two winning teams, no bad weather expected, and we get a 37-point total– it’s like we time-warped back to 1986. And though this season’s Chicago defense may not be able to measure up to the legendary ’86 unit, it’s still a pretty fearsome group, led by All-Pro outside linebacker Khalil Mack and a star-studded secondary. The Bears rank 5th in the league in yards allowed and 3rd in points allowed, surrendering just 13.8 points per game. And they should be plenty motivated coming off their worst defensive performance of the season, when they gave up 24 points and 398 yards to the Raiders in London. They’ve had a bye week to stew about that performance and get healthier, and I expect them to be utterly dominant against a punchless New Orleans offense that will be without its best player, running back Alvin Kamara.
The Saints are undefeated since losing Drew Brees to a hand injury, which is a testament to good defense and great coaching. The offense has looked lost without its conductor, producing a mere 13 points in Jacksonville last week and just 12 against Dallas in Week 4, and now that they’re down both Kamara and playmaking tight end Jared Cook, it’s difficult to envision them getting many first downs, much less scoring points, in Chicago this week. The real concern here for the Bears is the play of their own offense, a unit that has been held below 300 total yards in all five of their games (!!). Starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky is expected to return to the lineup this week, and he has two capable weapons on the perimeter in wideouts Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. The New Orleans defense has been playing very well, however, so it’s going to be tough sledding for Trubisky and Co., which is why I wouldn’t touch the Over in this game, even with a total like 37. Laying 3.5 points in this spot does concern me a bit, I’ll be honest, but I’m confident enough in Chicago’s defensive dominance that I’m willing to live with the struggles on offense. Don’t expect many points here, and don’t expect a New Orleans victory, either.
New England Patriots @ New York Jets (NE -9.5, 44)
Recommendation: New York +9.5 at 2.0
For obvious reasons, it’s always difficult to bet against New England in this matchup. Not only are the Patriots the best team in the AFC and the undisputed king of the AFC East, they’ve beaten the Jets seven consecutive times, most recently in Week 3 of this season, and five of those wins have come by double-digits. Incredibly, they actually failed to cover in Week 3 despite winning the game 30-14, as they were 20-point favorites due to the Jets starting backup quarterback Luke Falk. But Falk is gone now (he’s been released, so he’s quite literally “gone”), and Sam Darnold was brilliant in his return to action last week, throwing for 338 yards and two touchdowns in New York’s 24-22 win over Dallas, their first victory of the season. Darnold will have his work cut out for him against the excellent New England defense, but the Jets offense now has hope where there was previously very little, as Darnold will now work beside all-world tailback Le’Veon Bell for only the third time this season.
On the other side of the ball, everyone knows the story– Tom Brady has been machine-like in his 20th season, ranking 6th in the NFL in passing yards with a completion rate north of 65%. But just below the surface, there are some issues brewing with the Patriots offense, such as their utter inability to run the ball. Despite a seemingly talented backfield led by Sony Michel, the Pats average just 3.5 yards per carry, which is fewer than all but four teams leaguewide. I suppose that’s not such a big deal when you can just lean on the passing attack every week, but the group of pass-catchers in New England is growing frightfully thin, as Josh Gordon, who led the Pats with 6 catches for 86 yards on 11 targets in their Week 3 win over the Jets, is expected to miss this game with knee and ankle injuries. That leaves Brady with Julian Edelman, a banged-up Philip Dorsett, and… who else? Jakobi Meyers? The running backs? Even for Brady, making things happen with the current crew is going to be a challenge, and the Jets have a top-10 defense that will be getting its best player, linebacker C.J. Mosley, back for the first time this season. This feels like a dangerous spot for New England, and I’m happy to take my chances with the Jets as a healthy home ‘dog.