World-Herald NFL editor John Rodino breaks down the league’s Week 7 matchups, including key statistics and what to watch for.
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Giants (5-2) at Cowboys (3-3)
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Line: Giants by 2½
Last meeting: Cowboys won 24-17, Sept. 5
Lowdown: You can’t go by first impressions in the NFL. When we last saw these teams in New Jersey the first week of September, Tony Romo and the Cowboys spoiled the Giants’ first game in defense of their Super Bowl title. Romo had the passing game working so well that third receiver Kevin Ogletree was the star. Running back DeMarco Murray and linebackers Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware also sparkled. Since then, the promise from such a start has faded. Romo’s been up and down, Lee is out and, with Murray limited by injury, Big D has been a puzzle. Meanwhile, New York seems to be getting better by the week. Eli Manning led a fourth-quarter rally in last week’s victory over the Redskins, his second such comeback this season and eighth (including overtimes) in the past two seasons. Manning, game-breaking receiver Victor Cruz and the offense have used the first Dallas game as a wake-up call.
Pick: Giants 28-24
Jaguars (1-5) at Packers (4-3)
Line: Packers by 14½
Last meeting: Jaguars won 20-16, Dec. 14, 2008
Lowdown: After getting cuffed around for two games, the Jaguars were in a close one with the Raiders last Sunday, but lost top runner Maurice Jones-Drew (foot injury, out for Sunday) and quarterback Blaine Gabbert (shoulder, probable). Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb have been so good lately for the Packers that Aaron Rodgers will have a pleasant problem keeping everyone happy when top receiver Greg Jennings returns.
Colts (3-3) at Titans (3-4)
Line: Titans by 3½
Last meeting: Colts won 27-13, Dec. 18, 2011
Lowdown: Veteran Matt Hasselbeck gets the call at quarterback again as the Titans, coming off that track meet with the Bills, seek a third straight win. Jake Locker had better win when he comes back from his shoulder injury. The Titans got a big game from running back Chris Johnson against the Bills. The Colts have shown grit, surpassing last season’s win total despite defensive leaders Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis missing time with injuries.
Panthers (1-5) at Bears (5-1)
Line: Bears by 7½
Last meeting: Bears won 34-29, Oct. 2, 2011
Lowdown: Cam Newton, in a sophomore slump, is frustrated with his play and the Carolina offense in general. He’s taking the heat for the Panthers losing four straight, the past three by five points or fewer. There’s no rest in sight Sunday, with Charles Tillman and the surging Bears defense coming off a near shutout of the Lions. Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler (ribs) survived Ndamukong Suh’s crunching hit and is expected to play.
Dolphins (3-3) at Jets (3-4)
Line: Jets by 2
Last meeting: Jets won 23-20 in OT, Sept. 23
Lowdown: There may be another good one brewing in this great old rivalry. Mark Sanchez and the Jets have to be snarling after the quarterback’s fumble let the Patriots off the hook in overtime last week. The Dolphins, coming off their bye, seek revenge after Dan Carpenter’s missed field goal in overtime paved the way to a Jets victory last month. Sunday’s winner stays close to New England in the cramped AFC East.
Chargers (3-3) at Browns (1-6)
Line: Chargers by 3
Last meeting: Chargers won 30-23, Dec. 6, 2009
Lowdown: Awful times in San Diego. Quarterback Philip Rivers is getting a heap of criticism for the Oct. 15 meltdown against the Broncos. Coach Norv Turner always seems to be on the hot seat — even though the Chargers are right there in the AFC West. And now this sticky substance investigation. Don’t be surprised if Brandon Weeden and the young Browns give the Bolts a tussle.
Falcons (6-0) at Eagles (3-3)
Line: Eagles by 3
Last meeting: Falcons won 35-31, Sept. 18, 2011
Lowdown: It’s the battle of birds flying in opposite directions. Atlanta, the more efficient of the two, has been able to finish even when not playing its best (the past three games). Help was on the way in the bye week as defensive tackle Corey Peters (foot injury) moved closer to his first action of the season. Error-prone Philadelphia’s fourth-quarter fade in the Oct. 14 home loss to Detroit didn’t help coach Andy Reid’s job security.
Seahawks (4-3) at Lions (2-4)
Line: Lions by 2½
Last meeting: Seahawks won 32-20, Nov. 8, 2009
Lowdown: You can count on the Seahawks, led by talented cornerback Richard Sherman, to give you good defense. They have given up more than 16 points once, in a 24-23 victory over the Patriots. They did little with the ball in losing to the 49ers on Oct. 18. That’s been a trend for NFC West teams. The Lions, who offered little offense in falling to the Bears last Monday, have no identity. What’s happened to the Matt Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson connection?
Redskins (3-4) at Steelers (3-3)
Line: Steelers by 4½
Last meeting: Steelers won 23-6, Nov. 3, 2008
Lowdown: No question Washington rookie QB Robert Griffin III is the game’s most exciting player. His running prowess and ability to improvise a pass off a scramble are uncanny. He’s good in the pocket for someone with his run-first reputation. And, after watching Eli Manning work his fourth-quarter magic against the Redskins last week, Griffin can learn from another one of the best “closers,” the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.
Patriots (4-3) vs. Rams (3-4)
Line: Patriots by 7
Last meeting: Patriots won 23-16, Oct. 28, 2008
Lowdown: Blown leads (see last week’s overtime victory over the Jets), missed opportunities and failure to finish in three losses. Unusual words associated with the Patriots, but they still bring the league’s top offense and top yardage receiver, Wes Welker, to Sunday’s game at London’s Wembley Stadium. Sam Bradford and the Rams’ offense bogged down after a competitive first half during last weekend’s loss to the Packers.
Raiders (2-4) at Chiefs (1-5)
Line: Chiefs by 1
Time: 3:15 p.m.
Last meeting: Raiders won 16-13 in OT, Dec. 24, 2011
Lowdown: The Chiefs have continued to regress since winning the AFC West title in 2010. Brady Quinn, who flopped in Cleveland and rode the bench in Denver, replaces Matt Cassel as Kansas City’s starting quarterback. Quinn will be expected to manage the game first and foremost. Oakland has played better of late, overcoming a so-so performance to outlast Jacksonville last week. Before that, the Raiders lost in the final second to unbeaten Atlanta.
Saints (2-4) at Broncos (3-3)
Line: Broncos by 6½
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Last meeting: Broncos won 34-32, Sept. 21, 2008
Lowdown: Get out the adding machines! Points galore are possible. After their second-half comeback against the Chargers, the Broncos are getting more mention as the team to beat in the AFC West. It sure looks like the rust is off Peyton Manning now. The Saints, winners of two straight, still don’t resemble the powerhouse of old. Even with linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s return, the defense gave up lots of yards and points in beating the Buccaneers.
Monday’s game: 49ers at Cardinals (7:30 p.m., ESPN). Open date: Ravens, Bills, Bengals, Texans. Capsules and predictions by John Rodino. Predictions not related to point spreads. Record last week: 12-1; Season: 64-40. Information from the Associated Press was used in this outlook.