Week 7 Preview: What will be the Deciding Factors in this week's games?

Week 7 sees many teams taking on divisional opponents as the fight for the division intensifies. Even the out of division clashes have some big ramifications, with the 49ers and Patriots both looking to kick start their seasons, while the Packers and Texans are both looking for bounce-back results. Let’s take a look at what will be the deciding factors in this week’s NFL games in our Week 7 preview.

You can find the breakdown for the Week7 clash between the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions here.

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints

The Panthers have been weak against the rush this season, and the Saints should be able to feast on the ground with RB Alvin Kamara. The Panthers’ pass defense figures to hold their own for most of the game, especially with WR Michael Thomas still out with injury. Carolina still need a better pass rush, as they are currently last in the league in sacks. 

For the Saints’ defense, while CB Marshon Lattimore should be able to remove either Robby Anderson or D.J. Moore on each play, the Panthers still have either Moore or Anderson, as well as Curtis Samuel and Mike Davis for short and intermediate targets against the LBs. With the Saints being one of the better teams against the run, the Panthers will be relying on their aerial attack to move the ball. Carolina will have chances to win this one, especially if they can close down the run better than they have so far this season, but it will come down to how successfully they can pass the ball.

NFL Week 7 Preview
Sep 13, 2020; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) runs as Las Vegas Raiders inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (44) defends in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets

The Bills will see this as a get right game, as they have an advantage in almost every area. While Buffalo’s run defense was exposed against the Chiefs last week, the Jets haven’t been putting up impressive numbers on the ground, and have the fewest rushing TDs in the league (two). New York’s OL will struggle against the four and five man pass rush that Buffalo use, while the Bills’ secondary should have little trouble against an underwhelming receiving group. 

Buffalo will also have the luxury of being able to use their complete zone run scheme by having both RBs attack outside of the Tackles, and should also have designed run plays for QB Josh Allen with bootlegs and RPOs to get him on the edge as well. The Jets’ secondary has been inconsistent, with few players able to match up against the receiving depth of Buffalo. WR Stefon Diggs will repeatedly get open, as should Gabriel Davis, filling in as the deep threat in place of John Brown. Buffalo could quite easily hand the Jets their second straight shutout of the season.

Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals

Despite having some positive signs passing the ball, the Bengals’ OL is too vulnerable to be able to withstand the Browns’ DL. Cleveland should be able to pressure QB Joe Burrow with just a four man pass rush, allowing extra defenders to defend the pass. While the Browns’ CB depth will be tested against the three and four WR sets Cleveland use, Burrow won’t have enough time to throw consistently, giving the Bengals plenty of third and long situations. The Bengals’ own pass defense might have some success early in the game, but once the Browns establish the run and use RB Kareem Hunt as a receiver a few times, it will open up space over the middle. The score should remain close for the first half, although the Browns should slowly pull away before the end.

Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Football Team

Despite having one of the best receiving corps in the league, Dallas struggled to do much through the air in Week 6 as they couldn’t protect QB Andy Dalton. Washington’s pass rush will cause problems for Dallas, but the Cowboys should be able to lean on RB Ezekiel Elliott a little more in this one. Washington’s own passing attack doesn’t look overly formidable either, but WR Terry McLaurin could have a field day against the Cowboys’ leaky secondary. If Dallas can contain Washington’s RBs and pressure QB Kyle Allen (if he remains the starter), they can double cover McLaurin all game and should be able to get a lead. However, if the Cowboys can’t get their own passing attack going early, they could find themselves in more passing situations, allowing Washington to really unload their pass rush.

Green Bay Packers @ Houston Texans

The Packers will be looking to unleash fury on the Texans after their poor Week 6 performance. If active, RB Aaron Jones should have a big game both as runner and a receiver against the Texans’ LBs, while WR Davante Adams works the seam and deep crossing routes, instead of the outside. 

Houston’s defensive front hasn’t done its job for most of the season, but if LT David Bakhtiari is ruled out, it could open up more chances for DE J.J. Watt to get after Aaron Rodgers. However, Green Bay’s own pass rush will be looking to right the ship as well, and get a favourable matchup against a Houston OL that has allowed the fifth-most sacks in the league. 

Although QB Deshaun Watson will keep the Texans in it with his escapability and movement skills, the Packers’ secondary shouldn’t be tested often, as their CBs regularly play tight coverage and should win their matchups for most of the game. The Texans’ rushing attack won’t help them either, as they have the third-fewest rushing yards this season, even with the Packers’ mediocre run defense. Green Bay’s passing attack and passing defense will be the major reasons they win this one.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Tennessee Titans

While Titans’ RB Derrick Henry is an X-factor in every game, so Pittsburgh will ‘spy’ him with their OLBs TJ Watt and Bud Dupree. Tennessee will see if they can get Henry going, but will quickly turn to more play action and deep passes to exploit a Steelers’ secondary that has been mediocre. While WR A.J. Brown may not be active, WRs Kalif Raymond and Adam Humphries will be sufficient on vertical routes, with Corey Davis on short and intermediate routes on the outside. 

Pittsburgh’s own rushing attack will likely have similar struggles, but their depth at WR will allow them to use three WR sets constantly to attack all areas of the field. Both have teams have strong defensive fronts, and while the Steelers’ will generate more pressure, the Titans’ LBs will be more effective in pass coverage. Ultimately, this game rests on the Titans being able to run the ball, and the Steelers’ CBs not giving up too many deep passes. If either team can succeed in this area, it should be enough to give them an extra advantage, but otherwise, these are fairly even teams.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Las Vegas Raiders

The Buccaneers have one of the best defenses in the league, especially with their secondary improving from week to week. The Raiders will have few chances to move the ball, and will need to use a combination of screens and short out routes to get their players into space away from the LBs. A few deep plays may be open at times as the Buccaneers blitz QB Derek Carr, but the Raiders will have to nickel and dime their way down the field to have a chance. 

On the other side, Tampa Bay will make full use of their TEs and slot receivers to attack the LBs in the air. They will also run the ball frequently in this one, as the Raiders are one of the worst teams against the run, and are bottom-five in rushing TDs allowed. Las Vegas can slow down Tampa Bay with their own pass rush, but unless their receivers make plays all game long, they will likely be playing from behind in the fourth quarter.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos

The Chiefs should be able to systematically move the ball against Denver’s CBs, while the latter also has no single player who can defend TE Travis Kelce. With Kelce demanding attention from Denver’s defense, either WR Tyreek Hill should have space downfield, or RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire will have space underneath. 

The Chiefs’ defense will need to focus on closing down the run so that in the worst case scenario it becomes a shootout, which drastically favours Kansas City. The Chiefs’ DBs will be strategically deployed to have one CB deeper against WR Tim Patrick, with WR Jerry Jeudy mostly double-covered. Safeties Tyrann Mathieu and Daniel Sorenson will be used against the TEs, and this will give QB Drew Lock few receiving options. The Chiefs will gradually add on points, and should be closing it out by the 4th quarter.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Los Angeles Chargers

The Jaguars’ run defense has given holes to opponents regularly, which will benefit the Chargers greatly. The Chargers’ receivers will spread the field out, with TE Hunter Henry running up the seam and crossing routes, while WR Keenan Allen runs slants and fade/post routes on the outside. Between these two, the RBs and other WRs will be able to run underneath routes or in single coverage on the opposite sideline, allowing the Chargers to move the ball on the ground or through the air consistently. 

Jacksonville’s OL will have difficulty against the Chargers’ pass rush, and although they will have some success with RB James Robinson up the middle, they will need to be able to pass often. Their best targets will be the slot receiver(s), with shots to WR D.J. Chark on the outside once the middle of the field starts seeing more defenders. Although the Jaguars will score through the air a few times, their defense’s inability to get stops will cost them.

San Francisco 49ers @ New England Patriots

Although the 49ers’ greatest weakness this season has been against the pass, with CB Jason Verrett healthy again, and the Patriots’ lack of quality WRs, this game will be closer than it should be. New England will look to get their pass attack working, but will ultimately rely on their running game. With 49ers’ MLB Fred Warner patrolling the second level, the Patriots will supplement their run game with screens, jet sweeps and end arounds, as well as trying to force Warner to defend QB Cam Newton and the RB on read options. 

With the Patriots creatively using their rushing attack, they will keep the pressure on the 49ers’ offense. Moreover, New England’s secondary has the pieces it needs to match up with the 49ers’ WRs, and can bracket TE George Kittle to remove him as an option for much of the game. Where the Patriots will struggle on defense is against the 49ers’ rushing attack, especially runs to the outside, which will gradually also see fake handoffs and RB screens embedded. Although this game should see plenty of rushing yards, the 49ers’ ability to also pass the ball regularly with diverse receiving options gives them a minor advantage.

Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals

The Seahawks have been able to attack teams through the air vertically this season, although the Cardinals’ CBs may give up fewer broken coverages than other teams that Seattle has played. Instead, Seattle will have to rely on outside throws to WR Tyler Lockett and TE Greg Olsen for much of the game, as well as RB screens and swing routes. Seattle won’t abandon deep passes, but might reduce the frequency that they use them, and will instead focus on moving the ball on the ground in a more balanced approach, as the Cardinals are 15th in rushing yards allowed and 17th in yards per carry. 

Arizona’s passing attack needs to find a way to push the ball downfield, especially against a Seahawks’ secondary that has some weaknesses. With the Cardinals having one of the lowest yards per completion in the league, Seattle will able to use their LBs in zone coverage across the middle of the field, taking away the spread-style options of WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk. LB K.J. Wright will also spend time spying QB Kyler Murray to prevent him from making big plays, forcing Arizona to pass more often. Although WR DeAndre Hopkins should have some success winning one-on-one matchups, Seattle will provide Safety help on his side to avoid big plays. Seattle’s ability to move the ball on the ground and through the air will keep them in the end zone, whereas Arizona’s struggles passing the ball will be their downfall.

Chicago Bears @ Los Angeles Rams

Chicago’s DL and secondary have kept them in most games, allowing them to boast a winning record at this stage of the season. With the Rams’ OL not consistently providing strong pass protection, DL Akeem Hicks will disrupt QB Jared Goff’s timing regularly Providing Hicks has overcome the effects of his illness. CB Kyle Fuller will be used as a blitzer as well at times, but will mostly be used to cover WR Robert Woods. The Rams will struggle to get receivers open over the middle, and will have to take shots to Woods and WR Cooper Kupp when they get matchups with CB2 Jaylon Johnson on deep routes. 

Meanwhile, Los Angeles will lean on the run more, and will need to get Darrell Henderson running to the outside, including on toss plays and RB screens, so that he is kept away from the Bears’ LBs. However, as tough as it will be for the Rams’ offense, the Bears’ own offense will also have difficulty moving the ball. With CB Jalen Ramsay covering Allen Robinson throughout the game, the Bears will need to get Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney on intermediate routes to the outside and over the middle, as the Rams’ LBs can be beaten by shiftier receivers such as these. 

However, with DL Aaron Donald also coming after QB Nick Foles, Chicago will see plenty of incompletions, and don’t have the same diversity in the run game as the Rams do to lean on. If Hicks especially doesn’t play, the Rams should get the win, but if he does, this game will go down to the wire.

Owen Ravenna

NFL Analyst