NFL Week 7: Picks and preview
Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

NFL Week 7: Picks and preview

As is always the case, injuries are starting to become the big story in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns, already reeling at 3-3, listed 20 players on their initial injury report for this week. Dak Prescott suffered a calf injury on his game-winning throw against New England. Giants wide receiver Kadarius Toney is banged up yet again. And on and on it goes. The Baltimore Ravens scoff at those injury woes; despite rostering a backfield that would have looked devastating five years ago, Baltimore throttled the Chargers in what was supposed to be a marquee matchup. Buffalo’s recent veneer of invincibility was shattered by a heavy dose of Derrick Henry, and the Cardinals, though they didn’t have Kliff Kingsbury, among others, because of COVID-19, walloped Cleveland to remain the league’s only unbeaten team. Oh, and Urban Meyer got his first win in the pros. Congratulations to him. Let’s get to Week 7’s games.

BYE: Bills, Cowboys, Vikings, Steelers, Chargers, Jaguars

Point spreads are from DraftKings.com and are current as of 11 a.m. ET Thursday.

NOTE: Pick with spread is in bold.

Last Week: 6-8 (Season: 41-53)

 
1 of 13

DENVER (3-3) AT CLEVELAND (3-3) (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

DENVER (3-3) AT CLEVELAND (3-3) (Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

TV: NFL NETWORK        Line: Cleveland -1

What you need to know:  The Broncos’ chief weakness was exposed by the Raiders; specifically, Denver struggles to rally when playing catch-up. Teddy Bridgewater now has four interceptions on the season after starting the year with four clean games. Predictably, Denver is banged up, with linebacker Alexander Johnson on injured reserve, and Bridgewater, as well as Noah Fant, were both limited on Tuesday. The Browns are equally banged up, particularly on the offensive line, and Von Miller said, “I don’t know who the tackle I’m going against is, but I’m going to kill him.” Denver needs him to. Cleveland is going with Case Keenum at quarterback, which seems like a sensible move, given Baker Mayfield’s currently battered state, and Keenum’s familiarity and comfort with Kevin Stefanski. The Browns will have to go deep into their running back depth chart with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb both out. D’Ernest Johnson figures to get the bulk of the carries, but will Cleveland’s beat-up offensive line be able to block for him? The Browns had better hope so.

On the spot: Broncos LB Von MillerMiller started the season hot but has just a half-sack and two quarterback hits during Denver’s three-game losing streak. He’s already talked the talk before this game. Now he has to walk the walk.

Browns QB Case Keenum: Keenum is viewed as one of the best backups in the league, and a man both at home in Stefanski’s offense and comfortable playing within himself. A steady performance could get the Browns back on track and maybe even start a winning streak.

The pick: Browns 24 Broncos 13

 
2 of 13

WASHINGTON (2-4) AT GREEN BAY (5-1) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

WASHINGTON (2-4) AT GREEN BAY (5-1) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

TV: FOX        Line: Green Bay -7.5

What you need to know:  Taylor Heinicke’s strong start to the season has faded over the last two weeks, as he’s thrown three interceptions and just one touchdown against New Orleans and Kansas City. His performance against the Chiefs’ porous defense was particularly alarming. Equally problematic for Washington, if not more so, is the complete collapse of their defense, which ranks dead last in points allowed this season. The Football Team was supposed to be a potential breakout club this year, but their defensive issues and a tough upcoming schedule seem likely to tank those hopes before the season’s halfway point. Green Bay hasn’t been massively impressive from a points perspective, but they have won five straight games in a workmanlike fashion. This game is a must-win, primarily because road dates with the Cardinals and Chiefs loom, and matchups with the Vikings and Rams occur before a Week 13 bye. Green Bay still hasn’t fully broken out in either the pass or run game, but this game seems ripe for Rodgers to post huge numbers.

On the spot: Washington Football Team HC Ron Rivera.  Rivera is a defensive coach, and Washington’s stunning regression on that side of the ball reflects largely on him. Rivera is also known as a “culture change” guy, and he needs to make sure he doesn’t lose his locker room.

Packers QB Aaron RodgersIt goes without saying that Rodgers has been extremely efficient this season, but since a four-touchdown effort against Detroit in Week 2, he hasn’t put up eye-popping numbers. This game might change that.

The pick: Packers 30 Washington Football Team 20

 
3 of 13

KANSAS CITY (3-3) AT TENNESSEE (4-2) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

KANSAS CITY (3-3) AT TENNESSEE (4-2) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

TV: CBS        Line: Kansas City -5.5

What you need to know:  The Chiefs got a much-needed win and righted their defense, at least temporarily, against Washington last week. Still, despite the lopsided score, it wasn’t a completely dominant effort from Kansas City; Washington led 13-10 at halftime, and a late touchdown made the final tally look more lopsided than it really was. What’s more, Patrick Mahomes continued to turn the ball over, throwing two more interceptions. The aforementioned defense was good against Taylor Heinicke, but stopping Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill is an altogether different task. Titans fans got to see a thriller Monday night, and Tennessee’s win helped wash off the lingering stink from a Week 4 loss to the Jets. Henry is a wrecking ball right now, on pace for a repeat of 2020’s 2000-yard campaign, and is showing no signs of slowing down. If Tannehill can regain his form from 2019 and 2020, the Titans should run away with the AFC South.

On the spot: Chiefs LB Nick BoltonBolton is Kansas City’s leading tackler. He has to deal with Derrick Henry this week. Good luck, Nick!

Titans QB Ryan TannehillEven though Tannehill got hot late to help propel the Titans to a win over Buffalo, he hasn’t been as consistent as in recent years. Winning a shootout with Patrick Mahomes would be quite the confidence boost.

The pick: Chiefs 33 Titans 30

 
4 of 13

ATLANTA (2-3) AT MIAMI (1-5) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

ATLANTA (2-3) AT MIAMI (1-5) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

TV: FOX        Line: Atlanta -2.5

What you need to know:  As of now the NFC South looks like, “Tampa Bay, and everyone else.” That means that the Falcons have a shot to crawl back into the proceedings despite looking terrible in defeat and lackluster in victory. The best thing Atlanta has going is the burgeoning connection between Kyle Pitts and Matt Ryan. Pitts is coming off his best game as a pro; 9 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. The Falcons need more of that because winning shootouts seem like their likeliest path to victory. Speaking of promising rookies, Jaylen Waddle looks like a different player when Tua Tagovailoa is under center. In two full games with Tagovailoa, Waddle has 14 catches for 131 yards and 3 touchdowns. In the other four? Twenty-three catches for 170 yards and no scores. Of course, none of this might matter much if the rumors of an imminent Deshaun Watson trade turn out to be true. What Miami really has to figure out, and fast, is how to play defense again. Last year’s sixth-ranked scoring defense has fallen all the way to 29 th.

On the spot: Falcons WR Calvin Ridley. Ridley didn’t make the trip to London for personal reasons, but now that Pitts and Ryan are developing a rapport, he could be the big beneficiary of the added attention towards Atlanta’s rookie tight end.

Dolphins HC Brian FloresReports are swirling that some in the Dolphins’ organization are losing patience with Tagovailoa, and the Watson trade rumors are omnipresent. It’s on Flores to try and cut through those distractions and stop the bleeding in a season that could get ugly.

The pick: Falcons 27 Dolphins 21

 
5 of 13

NY JETS (1-4) AT NEW ENGLAND (2-4) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

NY JETS (1-4) AT NEW ENGLAND (2-4) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS        Line: New England -7

What you need to know: Jets fans have to be sick about an offense that is dead last in the league in points and 31st in yards. They might be sicker still at Zach Wilson’s play, as the second overall pick has looked overwhelmed for most of his first five games. Wilson has been under siege, taking 18 sacks and throwing 9 interceptions, but while there is an occasional “wow” play in his repertoire, the mistakes are so numerous and egregious that it feels as if Robert Saleh is already doing damage control. New England may have been tempted to take a moral victory away from their 35-29 overtime loss to Dallas last week, but the fact of the matter is that Bill Belichick’s team got scorched for 567 yards of offense, the most in a game since Belichick took over as head coach. Mac Jones had his moments and finished with a better passer rating than Dak Prescott, but it’s clear that he’s not ready to win games for the Patriots on his own. Until he is, it’s hard to imagine the Pats making a lot of noise.

On the spot: Jets LB C.J. MosleyMosley is dealing with a hamstring injury, but assuming he’s healthy enough to play, his presence would give the Jets’ defense a wily veteran to try and confuse Jones and the rest of the Patriots’ offense.

Patriots QB Mac Jones: Jones is coming off perhaps his strongest overall game as a pro, but he’s so far been subject to the ups and downs that cause virtually all rookie quarterbacks to struggle. With a brutal schedule ahead, he needs a solid performance against New York.

The pick: Patriots 23 Jets 17

 
6 of 13

CAROLINA (3-3) AT NY GIANTS (1-5) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

CAROLINA (3-3) AT NY GIANTS (1-5) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

TV: FOX        Line: Carolina -3

What you need to know:  Carolina made a valiant comeback against Minnesota to force overtime, but the Panthers came up short and lost their third game in a row as a result. Sam Darnold’s struggles since Christian McCaffrey was hurt continued; Darnold completed just 17-of-41 passes, and since McCaffrey’s injury, has thrown 4 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, and managed a passer rating of just 62.1. A season that got off to such a promising start – for the team and its new quarterback – now seems in real trouble. Speaking of trouble, Giants head coach Joe Judge narrowly avoided some when he left Daniel Jones in for the entirety of a 38-11 beating at the hands of the Rams, just two days after Jones had cleared the concussion protocol. New York’s miseries figure to continue; after this game, the Giants have a road date with Kansas City, and a bye week sandwiched in between games with the Raiders and Buccaneers. Judge might be trying to forge an identity for his team, but the only thing they’re currently known for is losing.

On the spot: Panthers OC Joe Brady. Brady got plenty of plaudits for his early work with Darnold, but now that his passer is struggling, some of the onus falls on him to help Darnold cut down his turnovers and put Carolina in better positions to win.

Giants HC Joe JudgeJudge’s aforementioned decision to keep Jones under center during a blowout was met with derision by the New York media. More pressingly, the Giants have regressed badly on defense this year, a factor that magnifies the offense’s struggles.

The pick: Giants 24 Panthers 20

 
7 of 13

CINCINNATI (4-2) AT BALTIMORE (5-1) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

CINCINNATI (4-2) AT BALTIMORE (5-1) (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)
Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

TV: CBS        Line: Baltimore -6.5

What you need to know:  A road date with the Lions could have been a trap for previous iterations of the Bengals. Instead, this group went in and drilled Detroit, jumping out to a 27-0 lead and never letting their foot off the gas. Ja’Marr Chase was great again, Joe Burrow was kept relatively clean, and Cincinnati’s defense – currently fifth in the league in points allowed and eighth in yards allowed – suffocated the Lions. If the Bengals pull a surprise against Baltimore, there is a very real chance they make it to their bye week 7-2. The Ravens delivered a statement in a season full of them, drilling the Chargers in a matchup of powerhouse teams. Lamar Jackson was merely pedestrian; instead, the Ravens’ stable of aging running backs – Devonta Freeman, Latavius Murray, and Le’Veon Bell – rumbled all over the Chargers for a combined 115 yards and 3 touchdowns. More importantly, one week after the Colts racked up 513 yards of offense, Baltimore held Justin Herbert and Los Angeles’ high-flying attack to 208 yards and six points.

On the spot: Bengals WR Tyler Boyd. As Chase and Burrow have heated up, Boyd, one of the best slot receivers in the NFL, has seen his targets drop. With Baltimore likely to pay extra attention to Chase, Boyd could be in line for a big game.

Ravens CB Marlon HumphreyHumphrey figures to see plenty of Chase in this game, and while he’s one of the NFL’s best, most physical corners, Chase has gotten the better of just about every opponent this year. This battle could easily decide the game.

The pick: Bengals 28 Ravens 24

 
8 of 13

PHILADELPHIA (2-4) AT LAS VEGAS (4-2) (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

PHILADELPHIA (2-4) AT LAS VEGAS (4-2) (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

TV: FOX        Line: Las Vegas -3

What you need to know:  Philadelphia turned in a resilient effort against Tampa Bay last Thursday, but the outcome of that game never felt in any serious doubt, despite the Eagles’ late push. Philly is already three games behind Dallas for the NFC East lead, and while their schedule eases up considerably down the stretch, there has been little so far to suggest that they are capable of taking advantage. If Nick Sirianni’s team can’t win this game, they might find themselves too far back in the race to make any kind of noise, even with several also-rans left to play. Las Vegas got the post-Jon Gruden era started in style, dominating the Broncos in a game they controlled comfortably from the second quarter onward. Derek Carr carved up the Broncos’ defense, and Las Vegas harassed Teddy Bridgewater into 4 turnovers and sacked him 5 times. The Raiders’ schedule turns brutal after a Week 9 tilt with the Giants, so it is imperative that they get to that point at 6-2.

On the spot: Eagles QB Jalen HurtsHurts was great in Week 1, put up good numbers in a loss to the Chiefs in Week 4, and has otherwise been disappointing. He’s coming off a lackluster passing performance against Tampa Bay and needs to make big strides in the passing game to make Philadelphia dangerous.

Raiders DE Maxx CrosbyCrosby is coming off a monster performance against Denver, with three sacks and five quarterback hits. That ended a four-game string with no sacks and plenty of near misses. If he can get home with more regularity, the Raiders’ defense should be able to hang in all year.

The pick: Eagles 30 Raiders 24

 
9 of 13

DETROIT (0-6) AT LA RAMS (5-1) (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

DETROIT (0-6) AT LA RAMS (5-1) (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)
Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

TV: FOX        Line: Los Angeles -14.5

What you need to know:  Detroit is the NFL’s lone winless team, but the Lions don’t feel like the most embarrassing bunch in the league. That designation could go to the Jets, Jaguars, Dolphins, or Texans, depending on the week. Yet here we are, with the Lions still lugging around that goose egg, and Jared Goff’s play declining with each passing week. Goff’s Los Angeles homecoming probably won’t be very pleasant; the Rams’ defense will probably eat him up, while Matthew Stafford makes the kind of throws Goff simply didn’t have in his arsenal. Los Angeles did exactly what it was supposed to do against the Giants; batter them into submission and rout them. Los Angeles’ second-quarter explosion should be particularly worrisome for opponents, as the Rams’ defense forced turnovers, and the offense swiftly turned them into points. That’s the kind of dynamic that many pundits predicted would materialize this year, and why those same pundits thought the Rams would be a strong Super Bowl contender, something they certainly look like at this juncture.

On the spot: Lions QB Jared Goff Goff has struggled mightily of late, and it’s becoming readily apparent that he can’t do much for Detroit. At some point, it’s worth wondering how much longer Dan Campbell will trot him out there since the team is already going nowhere.

Rams RB Darrell Henderson Henderson was strong against the Giants, if not as explosive as he was the previous two weeks. With Sony Michel banged up, Henderson’s workload against the Lions might increase.

The pick: Rams 41 Lions 17

 
10 of 13

HOUSTON (1-5) AT ARIZONA (6-0) (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

HOUSTON (1-5) AT ARIZONA (6-0) (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS        Line: Arizona -17.5

What you need to know:  Pity the Houston Texans. What else is there to say about them? Davis Mills followed up a surprisingly good performance against New England with an absolute dud against the Colts, throwing 2 interceptions and failing to lead a touchdown drive. The worst part about that particular game wasn’t Mills, though. It was that the Texans’ defense gave up 31 points to Carson Wentz and Indianapolis’ middling offense. At least they might somehow manage to trade Deshaun Watson this week. Oddsmakers still don’t quite believe in the Cardinals; despite being the league’s only unbeaten team, the betting market still looks at Arizona as about the league’s fifth-best team when it comes to Super Bowl odds. Four of Arizona’s six wins are by double digits; they drilled the Rams, giving Los Angeles their only loss so far; they beat the Browns by 23 minus their head coach. Will destroying the Texans win over any skeptics? Probably not, but the Cards will be 7-0.

On the spot: Texans GM Nick CaserioLet’s be honest; the Texans aren’t giving anyone much to talk about on the field. The only thing most Houston fans care about is whether or not Caserio will actually manage to move Watson so that the franchise can move on.

Cardinals RB James Conner:  Chase Edmonds is the more explosive back, but Conner is the Cardinals’ red-zone touchdown machine. If Edmonds can’t go because of a shoulder injury, Conner will have more on his plate in this game.

The pick: Cardinals 37 Texans 13

 
11 of 13

CHICAGO (3-3) AT TAMPA BAY (5-1) (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

CHICAGO (3-3) AT TAMPA BAY (5-1) (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

TV: CBS        Line: Tampa Bay -12

What you need to know:  Justin Fields has unquestionably provided a jolt of excitement to the Bears and their fan base, but he’s got a long way to go to become a major impact quarterback in the league. Fields has been sacked 18 times this season, and while Chicago’s offensive line is terrible, he hasn’t always helped his own cause. Tampa is adept at applying pressure, even if the sack totals don’t necessarily suggest it, and Vita Vea alone might give Fields nightmares. Chicago’s only hope is that their defense keeps them in it, and Fields’ legs keep Tampa off his back. Don’t look now but the Bucs’ defense, maligned in some corners after their loss to the Rams, has returned to its dominant form, albeit against mediocre-to-bad competition. Still, you can only beat the teams on your schedule, and Fields and the Bears figure to provide more in the way of minimal resistance. As long as Tampa Bay can keep stacking wins while its secondary heals up and settles itself, they’ll be well-positioned to ensure that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC runs through Florida’s Gulf Coast.

On the spot: Bears LB Khalil MackMack is currently listed as questionable, but assuming he plays, the Bears’ best chance at springing an upset involves him single-handedly destroying Tampa Bay’s offensive line. He’s one of the few players in the league who could actually do it, too.

Buccaneers LB Devin WhiteWhite continues to come into his own as a force in the middle of Tampa Bay’s defense. His speed and instincts will play a big role in keeping Fields hemmed in the pocket and away from the open field.

The pick: Buccaneers 27 Bears 17

 
12 of 13

INDIANAPOLIS (2-4) AT SAN FRANCISCO (2-3) (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)

INDIANAPOLIS (2-4) AT SAN FRANCISCO (2-3) (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

TV: NBC        Line: San Francisco -4.5

What you need to know:  The Colts overcame the disappointment of squandering a big lead against Baltimore by blasting the Texans, 31-3. In the process, Carson Wentz extended his impressive streak of starts to three; in those three starts, Wentz has six touchdowns and no interceptions, and is completing 69 percent of his passes. His obvious natural talent makes the Colts interesting; if he really has put his ugly ending in Philadelphia in the rearview mirror, the Colts have the kind of roster that could allow them to give the Titans some problems in the AFC South. The bye week came at the right time for the reeling 49ers, losers of three straight games, all by a touchdown or less. Jimmy Garoppolo is poised to start against Indianapolis, and he needs to deliver a strong game to try and bring some clarity to San Francisco’s quarterback situation. Indianapolis has one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, so if Garoppolo can’t take advantage, it doesn’t bode well for the future.

On the spot: Colts LB Darius LeonardThe 49ers no doubt want to run the ball to make Garoppolo’s life easier, and Leonard will have to be a sure tackler to keep the Colts from getting gashed on the ground, which will lead to trouble for their already beleaguered pass defense.

49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Garoppolo can reassert himself as the starter with a strong game, but anything less than big numbers will continue to leave the quarterbacking situation an open question in San Francisco.

The pick: 49ers 26 Colts 23

 
13 of 13

NEW ORLEANS (3-2) AT SEATTLE (2-4) (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET)

NEW ORLEANS (3-2) AT SEATTLE (2-4) (Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET)
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

TV: ESPN        Line: New Orleans -4.5

What you need to know:  The Saints defense has to be excited to come off a bye week and see Geno Smith as opposed to Russell Wilson. So far, only Daniel Jones has put up monster numbers against the league’s third-ranked scoring defense, and it’s highly unlikely that Smith will follow suit. The one thing Seattle did well against the Steelers was run the football, particularly in the second half, but New Orleans is the league’s stingiest run defense, giving up just 3.3 yards per carry. Did the Seahawks find something with Alex Collins and the run game in the second half against Pittsburgh? Or did they merely take advantage of a tactical error from Mike Tomlin, who seemed convinced that Seattle would air the ball out to try and rally from a 14-0 halftime deficit? For now, Seahawks fans will have to hope that the former is true and that Pete Carroll’s game plans mix in more deep shots for Smith. For his part, Smith needs to do a better job of getting rid of the ball quickly and decisively, as his tendency to hold the ball too long made things easy for the Steelers.

On the spot: Saints QB Jameis WinstonWinston has put up largely excellent numbers in four of five games this season; the Seahawks’ porous defense should provide him with an opportunity to do the same yet again, even though the game is in Seattle.

Seahawks RB Rashaad PennyCollins was excellent against the Steelers, but got dinged up late in the game. That might open the door for Penny, who hasn’t played since Week 1 because of a calf injury.

The pick: Saints 24 Seahawks 21

Chris Mueller is the co-host of The PM Team with Poni & Mueller on Pittsburgh's 93.7 The Fan, Monday-Friday from 2-6 p.m. ET. Owner of a dog with a Napoleon complex, consumer of beer, cooker of chili, closet Cleveland Browns fan. On Twitter at @ChrisMuellerPGH – please laugh.

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