As the NFL season inches towards its midway point, we’re starting to see a ton of trends take hold. Individual performances from budding stars such as Patrick Mahomes and Todd Gurley have defined the first six weeks of the season. They have their respective teams as the top Super Bowl contenders thus far. They also have interesting Week 7 matchups.
Multiple pass-catchers are on pace to break the single-season reception mark. That includes Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. How will he perform against veteran Morris Claiborne and the Jets?
Meanwhile, New York Giants rookie Saquon Barkley will look to put a death knell on the Falcons’ playoff chances this week. These are among the top individual matchups for each Week 7 NFL game.
Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals: Demaryius Thomas vs Patrick Peterson
As much as fans in Denver want to blame Case Keenum for the team’s early-season struggles, he’s not getting much help from his No. 1 wide receiver. Showing himself to be incredibly inconsistent, Thomas has racked up less than 70 receiving yards in five of Denver’s first six games. He’s also coming off just a three-catch performance against the Rams last week. The good news? One of those catches went for a score.
In desperate need of a win after losing four consecutive games, the Broncos should be able to get right against a one-win Cardinals squad on Thursday. Though, a lot of that will depend on how Thomas performs against a corner in Patrick Peterson who has yielded a sub 50 passer rating on the season.
Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Chargers: Taylor Lewan vs Melvin Ingram
The entire Titans’ offensive line wants a mulligan after giving up an absurd 11 sacks of Marcus Mariota in last week’s shutout loss to the Baltimore Ravens. How bad was it? Mariota found himself sacked on nearly half of his drop backs in the shoutout loss. At this point, Mariota’s offensive linemen should buy him something for the holiday season, nice vice versa.
As it is, Tennessee is now tasked with taking on a Chargers squad that battered Baker Mayfield to the tune of five sacks last week. As the second highest-paid tackle in the game and the Titans’ franchise cornerstone, Lewan must step up here. If not, the Titans will drop to under .500 with the Chargers moving to a robust 5-2.
Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles: Zach Ertz vs Luke Kuechly
Ever since Carson Wentz returned from injury, he’s found a tremendous connection with Ertz. The tight end has tallied 27 receptions for 265 yards and two touchdowns over the past three games. During that span, he’s catching nearly 80 percent of the passes thrown in his direction.
In order for Philadelphia to start a winning streak Sunday, this connection needs to be as strong as ever. Given that Carolina yielded a touchdown catch to tight end Vernon Davis last week, it looks good for the Eagles. Though, Kuechly’s coverage ability will act as a deterrent here. That’s for sure.
Minnesota Vikings at New York Jets: Adam Thielen vs Morris Claiborne
Thielen has been among the most-productive receivers we’ve seen in recent NFL history over the first six games. He’s compiled 100-plus yards in each game and is currently on pace to shatter the single-season mark with 1,899 receiving yards. Shockingly, Thielen is also catching north of 70 percent of the passes thrown in his direction.
Minnesota will be in for a surprising test come Sunday in New Jersey. Here, it comes in the form of a former first-round pick that has rejuvenated his career. Claiborne, 28, has recorded 10 passes defended and two interceptions on the season. He also returned an Andrew Luck pass for a pick-six in the Jets’ win last week. This should be a stellar one-on-one matchup.
Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck vs Bills pass defense
Whether it’s his pass-catchers dropping balls or Luck making bad decisions, he’s turned the ball over at an alarmingly high clip through six games. That includes eight interceptions, three of which came in last week’s loss to the New York Jets. It also doesn’t help that Luck is currently on pace to attempt the most passes in NFL history.
In what should be an otherwise winnable game Sunday against a bad Bills team, Luck squares off with a pass defense that ranks in the top six of the NFL and is yielding a sub 90 quarterback rating. It will be interesting to see if he can remain mistake-free, leading the Colts to just their second win of the season.
New England Patriots at Chicago Bears: Trent Brown vs Khalil Mack
Through the first six games of this season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked a grand total of eight times. It’s an absud number given that New England is dealing with a makeshift group of offensive linemen. That’s until we realize Brown himself has held up well after San Francisco pretty much gave him to the Patriots this past April. He’s been a major component to this success.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy against a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Khalil Mack who has recorded five sacks and four forced fumbles in his first season with the Bears. After seeing his defense shredded by none other than Brock Osweiler last week, the onus is going to be on Mack to step it up here.
Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Baker Mayfield vs Bucs pass defense
It sure does seem that all the excitement Mayfield brought to the table earlier in the season has been floored for now. He struggled through a brutal outing last week against the Los Angeles Chargers and has turned the ball over a whopping seven times in his first three starts. Sure Mayfield gives Cleveland that excitement factor. But he’s already hitting that proverbial rookie wall after just four appearances.
Set to take on a Buccaneers pass defense that has yielded 16 touchdowns compared to one interception to go with a 129.5 opposing quarterback rating, Mayfield has a solid matchup in Week 7. Should he struggle on the road against the league’s worst pass defense, we’ll be interested to see how Hue Jackson and Co. handle the rookie moving forward.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars: DeAndre Hopkins vs Jalen Ramsey
We’re going to give Ramsey a bit of a break for his less-than-stellar performance in a blowout loss to the Cowboys last week. The All-Pro performer was dealing with a knee injury and wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent. That was about as obvious as it gets on the field in Dallas. The rest of this Jaguars team? No, they don’t get a pass following a 40-7 loss.
For Ramsey, there’s no rest for the weary. He’ll immediately be thrown into the mix against a receiver in Hopkins who has been in domination mode recently. Including this ridiculous touchdown catch last week, Hopkins has caught 24 passes for 383 yards and two scores over the past three games. In a battle for first place in the AFC South, this one matchup could ultimately tell us the story in Duval.
Detroit Lions at Miami Dolphins: Frank Gore vs Lions run defense
Gore almost single-handedly willed his Dolphins to an overtime win over the Chicago Bears last week. With Kenyan Drake struggling holding on to the ball, Adam Gase and Co. turned to Gore late in the game. He responded by putting up 101 yards on 15 attempts. It’s the first time this season that Chicago has given up 100-plus yards to a running back. And it was quite impressive.
Having averaged a robust 4.9 yards per carry through six games, Gore now takes his talents into a game against a Lions defense that’s yielded the second-most rushing yards in the NFL. If Gore performs well here, and no matter who is under center for Miami, the Dolphins could be looking at a 5-2 record.
New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens: Alvin Kamara vs Ravens run defense
It’s now at the point when it might be justifiable to conclude that Baltimore boasts the best defense in the NFL. It completely blanked Tennessee last week, yielding a total of seven first downs and 106 yards of offense. That included 11 sacks of Marcus Mariota. It was pretty much a bloodbath for the Titans in Nashville.
Coming off their bye, the Saints are flying high. They’re averaging a league-best 36 points per game and boast a 4-1 record on the season. For his part, Kamara is on pace for nearly 2,100 total yards. He’ll need to produce at a high level in order to create balance for Drew Brees on offense. With Baltimore having yielded the fifth-fewest rushing yards in the NFL, it’s going to be no small task.
Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: Morgan Moses vs Demarcus Lawrence
Aided by interior pressure from Tyrone Crawford against the Jaguars last week, the Cowboys put a ton of pressure on Blake Bortles. It threw off Jacksonville’s timing in the passing game and made the Dallas’ secondary look much better than it is. This is an area that had been missing in Big D for some time now.
Heading into a battle for first place against Washington this week, the onus is going to be on the Cowboys’ edge guys to get pressure. That includes a Pro Bowler in Lawrence who has been quiet since racking up three sacks against the Lions in Week 4. It’s in this that he needs to dominate the right side of Washington’s offensive line.
Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: Todd Gurley vs 49ers run defense
If San Francisco is going to have any chance against the undefeated Rams, it must go all out stopping the likes of Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods in the passing game. This unit was once again torched in a brutal Week 6 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. It’s now given up 14 passing touchdowns compared to one interception.
If San Francisco has to stack the box against Gurley, it’s going to get ugly for Kyle Shanahan’s squad. The bad news here is that Gurley is playing at an historically-elite level. He’s already tallied nearly 900 total yards and 11 scores in the season. The small amount of silver lining is that San Francisco ranks in the top 10 of the NFL against the run.
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill vs Dre Kirkpatrick
After struggling through the past three games (by his standards), we were all waiting for Hill to break out big time. He did just that in Kansas City’s narrow 43-40 loss to New England last Sunday night. After a slow start to the game, Hill came on big time. He recorded seven receptions for 142 yards and three scores, including this go-ahead touchdown in which Hill made the Pats’ defense look absolutely silly.
In a game that could have wide-ranging playoff ramifications in the AFC, how Hill performs against a Bengals defense that’s in the bottom five of the NFL defending the pass will be telling. It’s in this that Kirkpatrick must step up big time.
New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons: Saquon Barkley vs Falcons run defense
What Barkley has done throughout the first six games of his NFL career is almost unparalleled in the modern history of the game. He’s gained 100-plus total yards each game and is coming off a brilliant 229-yard performance against Philadelphia last week. All said, Barkley has already put up 811 total yards. In. Six. Games.
The Giants are pretty much dead in the water as a team. At 1-5 on the season, their only relevance rests on the running legs of Mr. Barkley. The same can’t be said for a Falcons squad that’s coming off a much-needed second win of the season. With Atlanta continuing to struggle defending the run, Barkley could very well put an end to the team’s playoff aspirations before the calendar even hits November.