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Top storyline for each Week 7 NFL game

Scott Clause/The Advertiser via USA TODAY NETWORK

Week 7 of the NFL season is key for a ton of teams around the league. First off, it’s the final week before some teams hit the midway point in the season. Secondly, there are plenty of stories to follow as teams play for relevance around the league.

In Philadelphia, the defending champion Eagles will look to start a winning streak against a Carolina Panthers squad coming off a bad loss to Washington last week. Which team will grab the momentum?

Over in the AFC, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans will be battling for first place. The same thing can be said for the Dallas Cowboys when they head to the nation’s capital to take on the Washington Redskins.

These are among the top storylines for each Week 7 NFL game.

Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals: Already on the hot seat

We’re going to give Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks a pass here. At 1-5 on the season, Arizona is nowhere near where the the team thought it would be. Such is the nature of the beast for a team that’s relying on a rookie quarterback after having benched its stopgap starter early in the season. Even then, a lack of any real progression moving forward could raise questions about Wilks’ future in the desert beyond this season.

On the other side of the ledger, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph is in win-now mode. He’s 7-15 as the Broncos’ head coach and is leading a team that’s now lost four consecutive games. Denver’s brass has not given Joseph a vote of confidence, a clear indication he might be gone if the team doesn’t turn this thing around soon.

Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Chargers: How good are the Chargers?

Both of Los Angeles’ losses this season came against teams that entered Week 6 with undefeated marks. In the Chargers’ other four games, they’re outscoring their opponents by a total of 53 games. That includes a blowout 38-14 win over an upstart Cleveland Browns squad last week.

The question now is whether these Chargers are legitimate contenders in the AFC. By virtue of Philip Rivers’ performance under center and what we’ve seen from Melvin Gordon, the answer to that question has to be a resounding yes. How Los Angeles performs against a bad Titans squad on Sunday will tell us a lot more heading into Week 8.

Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles: Looking for momentum

Following last week’s loss to Washington, the Panthers continue to find themselves mired in mediocrity. A 3-2 record might seem great on the surface, but Cam Newton’s squad could easily be a perfect 5-0 heading into Week 7. A slow start against Alex Smith and Co. doomed Carolina this past Sunday, something that simply can’t happen against an Eagles squad that’s riding high following a blowout win over the Giants.

As for the defending champs, they’re also among that group of mediocre NFC teams. Sure their 34-16 win over the Giants helps. But that doesn’t change the fact that Philadelphia is just 3-3 on the season with losses against the lowly Titans and Buccaneers. Both teams need momentum heading into the midway point of the season. Whoever comes out on top here will get it.

Minnesota Vikings at New York Jets: Statement game for the Jets

It’s possible that Sam Darnold and the Jets are much better than their 3-3 record suggests. In the midst of a two-game winning streak that has seen the young team average 38 points per outing, things are certainly pointing up in New Jersey. Darnold’s strong performances coupled with a ball-hawking defense has fans excited.

New York will now face a major test against a Vikings squad that also appears to be hitting its stride. After a horrible 1-2-1 start to the season, Minnesota took out the defending champion Eagles and blew out the hapless Arizona Cardinals. A win here for the Jets would be a huge statement.

Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts: Getting Andrew Luck some help

At 1-5 on the season, these Colts are already pretty much dead in the water. The remainder of the year will now be spent attempting to find the right mix to go with franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, something that has not happened through the first six weeks.

Luck is now on pace to attempt the most passes in single-season NFL history. Is that really the greatest of ideas given that he missed all of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery in his throwing arm? Think about that for a second. The key here will be getting some sort of rushing attack going and finding five starter-caliber offensive linemen. It starts Sunday against one of the most talented-stricken teams in the entire NFL.

New England Patriots at Chicago Bears: Rebounding from disaster

Chicago’s Week 6 loss to the Miami Dolphins told us a story of a team that has not yet gotten over that hump. After starting the season 3-1 and with a double-digit third quarter lead in South Beach, Matt Nagy’s squad fell in overtime. It was an ugly loss, one that could impact this team big time moving forward.

Even then, Chicago heads into Week 7 in first place in the NFC North. We’re not expecting a win against a Patriots squad that knocked off Kansas City for its first loss of the season this past Sunday. But a competitive performance is a necessity from Chicago. Should that not happen, we could be looking at the start of a massive free-fall.

Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Winnable game for Cleveland

In a somewhat surprising fashion, Cleveland was not competitive at home last week against the Los Angeles Chargers. It was an opportunity for the Browns to announce their presence on a league-wide stage. Instead, a poor performance from rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield and his offensive line led to a 38-14 blowout loss. It was the type of performance we’ve come to expect from the Hue Jackson-led Browns.

Now, going up against a struggling Buccaneers squad on the road, the hope here is that Cleveland can get back on the winning track. Following a 2-0 start to the season, Tampa Bay has lost three consecutive games. It has yielded a total of 112 points during that span. This should be a get-right game for the Browns.

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars: Battle for first place

The AFC South is turning into a weak division that might see a seven or eight-win team earn the title. That’s been made possible by a major regression on the Jaguars’ part. They’ve now lost two consecutive games — yielding an average of 35 points per game during that span. To put this into perspective, Jacksonville had given up a total of 56 points in its first four games.

The Houston, it’s a much different story. The team has won three consecutive games since an 0-3 start to the season. That included overtime victories over both Indianapolis and Dallas. Now in the midst of a three-way tie in the division, the Texans are flying high. Can Jacksonville put an end to this by taking advantage of a Texans offensive line that’s allowed 25 sacks of Deshaun Watson on the season? Only time will tell.

Detroit Lions at Miami Dolphins: Two different trajectories

Detroit entered its Week 6 bye having defeated the Green Bay Packers in a mistake-filled game for Aaron Rodgers and Co. This put an end to a disastrous stretch that saw Matt Patricia’s squad lose three of its first four games. In no way does this mean the Lions are prepared to contend in the NFC North. They’re not. That’s the unfortunate reality of the situation.

On the other hand, Miami came back from a double-digit third quarter deficit to defeat an upstart Bears team last week. This put an end to a two-game losing streak and has Adam Gase’s squad at 4-2 on the season. A win over Detroit at home would enable the Dolphins to announce their presence on the league-wide stage. Yeah, this is a big game for Brock Osweiler and Co.

New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens: Elite vs elite

New Orleans entered its Week 6 bye boasting the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL at 36 points per game. Drew Brees has tossed 11 touchdowns compared to zero interceptions during what has been a record-breaking season. Alvin Kamara has 650 total yards in five games. Meanwhile, Michael Thomas has caught 94 percent of the passes thrown in his direction and is on pace to break the single-season reception mark. Yeah, the Saints’ offense is a well-oiled machine.

In no way does this mean Sean Payton’s squad will run roughshod over the Ravens come Sunday. Quite the contrary. Baltimore is coming off a shutout win over Tennessee in a game that saw its defense sack Marcus Mariota 11 times. This unit ranks No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed, has allowed a 73.1 quarterback rating and is on pace to rack up nearly 70 sacks. Get your popcorn read, this is going to be a blast.

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins: Surprise tilt with playoff implications

At 3-2 on the season, Washington wants to avoid the mediocrity that has defined its recent past. In order for that to happen, the Redskins will have to come out on top at home against a Cowboys squad that dominated a Super Bowl contending Jaguars team to the tune of a 40-7 win last week. The backdrop here is that this could very well be a battle for first place heading into the midway point of the NFL season.

While Dallas was making quick work of Jacksonville last week, the Redskins took out what was then a one-loss Carolina Panthers team. Can Jay Gruden and Co. start their first real winning streak in years? If not, will the Cowboys announce their presence with a second consecutive statement win? Sunday’s rivalry game in the nation’s capital will tell us a lot about both of these squads moving forward.

Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco 49ers: Sean McVay vs Kyle Shanahan 

McVay was not happy about the Rams’ 34-13 Week 17 loss to San Francisco last season. It’s a game that saw Los Angeles rest its starters after having already clinched the NFC West. Now three games up in the division and as the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL, McVay’s going to make a point of the 49ers here. Should the Rams get up early, don’t look for his starters to ride the pine. That’s for sure.

From a 49ers perspective, last week’s loss to the Packers at Lambeau was absolutely brutal. There’s no reason the team should have lost that game to fall to 1-5 on the season. In a meeting between the two-best offensive minds in the NFL, Shanahan has a tall task in terms of getting his team ready for this one.

Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs: Are these Chiefs really this good?

Despite losing their first game of the season this past Sunday night against the Patriots, these Chiefs still look to be the class of the NFL. At the very least, Kansas City’s high-octane offense has those in Missouri thinking Super Bowl. By coming back from a two-score halftime deficit Sunday night to take a fourth quarter lead, Patrick Mahomes proved his worth as a legit MVP candidate. He now has his Chiefs averaging a ridiculous 36 points per game.

In a game that was just recently flexed to Sunday night, Kansas City will be taking on a surprising 4-2 Bengals squad. The goal here is for Mahomes to have a short memory and not dwell on the four interceptions he’s tossed over the past six quarters. Should that happen, any idea given to the Chiefs finding themselves in the midst of a losing streak can be thrown out the window.

New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons: Must win for the home team

Primarily due to the ridiculous play of former MVP Matt Ryan, the Falcons were able to save their season last week in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It took 34 points and some extra work on offense in the final stanza for Atlanta to come out on top, 34-29.

For his part, Ryan has now tossed 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions in his past four games, with Atlanta losing three of them. That’s the key here. While Atlanta can rely on Ryan against a one-win Giants team, it’s unsustainable to expect this level of performance from him moving forward. And should he falter on Monday night, there’s a chance this team could drop to a catastrophic 2-5 on the season.