NFL WEEK 7: With the NFL’s two best teams on bye and nine games featuring point spreads of a touchdown or more, this Week 7 might not be the most exciting slate of games on paper, but things rarely work out how they’re supposed to in this league so I’m sure we’ll have another action-packed Sunday with plenty of surprises.
As a matter of fact, the week has already produced one major surprise, with the Panthers dealing All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco late Thursday night in exchange for a handful of draft picks. This changes the complexion of a 49ers offense which had been struggling to find its identity with Jimmy Garoppolo under center, and it will certainly open things up a bit for the Niners’ other playmakers, most notably Deebo Samuel.
San Francisco isn’t the only NFC West team to have recently added an elite weapon to its offense– Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins, perhaps the league’s best receiver, returned from a 6-game suspension on Thursday night to pace the Cards with 10 catches for 103 yards in their 42-34 win over New Orleans. With Hopkins and McCaffrey now in the mix, the West suddenly looks much more interesting than it did a couple of weeks ago, and the defending Super Bowl champion Rams had better get their act together quickly if they plan on a return trip to the postseason.
Here are my favorite Week 7 games:
Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens (BAL -6.5, 46)
Recommendation: Baltimore -6.5 at 1.97
These are two of the best rushing teams in the NFL, with Cleveland leading the league in total rushing yards and Baltimore ranking first in yards per carry. That said, the two defenses are not equally matched in this area– the Ravens rank 8th in the NFL against the run, surrendering 103.8 rush yards per game, while the Browns defense has been leaky up front, surrendering the second-most rushing yards in the AFC and allowing a whopping 5.0 yards per attempt. That’s bad news with Lamar Jackson next on the schedule, and Jackson isn’t the only big-play threat in that Baltimore backfield– speedster Kenyan Drake produced 119 yards on only 10 carries last week, and the Ravens draw up some creative stuff for all-purpose weapon Devin Duvernay as well. Baltimore’s Achilles heel is a secondary that surrenders nearly 270 passing yards per game, but the Browns are ill-equipped to attack that weakness with journeyman Jacoby Brissett under center, as they average just 213 pass yards per game and only 6.4 yards per attempt (28th in NFL). This feels like a great matchup for a Ravens team that is in dire need of a big win after blowing another double-digit lead last week.
New York Giants @ Jacksonville Jaguars (JAX -3, 42.5)
Recommendation: Jacksonville -3 at 1.89; Jacksonville moneyline (to win) at 1.63
This line sure looks odd at first glance– the Giants are 5-1 on the season and have won three straight games, while the Jags are 2-4 and have lost three straight, including back-to-back division games to Houston and Indianapolis. Have you seen the Giants play, though? I’m being serious. Yes, they keep pulling the rabbit out of the hat every week and the new coaching staff surely has something to do with that, but the overall product looks very similar to what we’ve seen the last few seasons– an uninspiring offense that struggles to move the ball consistently (25th in the NFL in total offense), and a “bend but don’t break” defense that has major issues against the run (29th in rushing defense).
The Jags, meanwhile, are better statistically than their record would indicate, and the impressive RB tandem of James Robinson and Travis Etienne should find plenty of running room against a New York front seven that is allowing a league-worst 5.6 yards per carry to opposing backs. And though Trevor Lawrence has had an uneven start to his career, he’s coming off an excellent game in which he threw only two incompletions and led the team on a would-be game-winning drive only to be let down by his defense. I have a strong feeling that Jacksonville will be able to put it all together this week and come away with a big home win.
Green Bay Packers @ Washington Commanders (GB -4.5, 41)
Recommendation: Washington +4.5 at 1.98
Incredibly, the Green Bay offense has been one of the most anemic units in the NFL this season, averaging just 17.8 points per game. The 107 total points scored is the lowest mark in any 6-game span of Aaron Rodgers’ career. Rodgers is really feeling the loss of Davante Adams, and the lack of perimeter weapons in Green Bay has been a major storyline throughout this season, but the less-discussed problem with this Packers offense has been the play of the line. They have simply been unable to keep Rodgers upright, and as a result there are very few downfield shots, with the offense having been reduced to a completely nonthreatening, dink-and-dunk attack. Washington has a defensive front seven that is among the best in the NFL at getting after the quarterback, ranking 4th in the league in sack percentage, so this is a tough matchup for the Pack, and I would expect Rodgers to finish this game with plenty of grass stains on his jersey. On the other side of the ball, I really believe that Carson Wentz’s injury will be a blessing in disguise for the Commies, as new starter Taylor Heinicke has much more experience in the offense and can add a new dimension with his running ability. In what should be a low-scoring game, the 4.5 points could really come in handy here… gimme the home ‘dog.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Miami Dolphins (MIA -7.5, 46)
Recommendation: Miami -7.5 at 1.97
I was born in 1981, and I believe this to be the worst Steelers team of my lifetime. And their inexplicable Week 6 win over Tampa Bay, with the discarded and distrusted Mitch Trubisky playing the hero after starting QB Kenny Pickett left the game with concussion symptoms, does not change my opinion on the matter. Prior to last week Pittsburgh had lost 4 straight games, including a humiliating 38-3 drubbing in Buffalo, and the offense has been borderline unwatchable, ranking 28th in the league in total yards, 30th in points scored, 29th in rush yards per attempt, and 32nd (aka dead last) in pass yards per attempt. That is… not good. There are no bright spots, and the darkest hole may be at quarterback, where the rookie Pickett is clearly in over his head but is still the preferred option over confirmed bust Trubisky.
Pickett has cleared concussion protocol and will apparently start this game, and he’ll be facing a Miami defense that blitzes more than any unit in the NFL. It just feels like a disaster waiting to happen, and the matchup isn’t much better on the other side of the ball, where a Pittsburgh defense that has surrendered more passing yards than all but two teams leaguewide will be tasked with slowing down Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. I don’t care who is playing QB for the Fins (it will reportedly be Tua); the Steelers secondary will have their hands full. All things considered, a blowout feels like the most likely outcome here.