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Week 7 Game Rankings: Ravens-Texans, Jets-Pats ... and that's just the appetizer

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Coming off a loss to Tennessee, Roethlisberger could come out slinging in Cincinnati. (US Presswire)  
Coming off a loss to Tennessee, Roethlisberger could come out slinging in Cincinnati. (US Presswire)  


Maybe it's because the holiday season isn't that far off, and I'm getting in the giving spirit, but I'm gushing a little bit about the games this week. Footlongs all around!

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We get the two best teams in the AFC going head-to-head in a playoff rematch. We get two first-place teams in the AFC East knocking heads (and both marquee games are on CBS, no less). We get a big divisional game in the NFC North, a battle for first in the NFC West, another great test for Robert Griffin III -- and his first NFC East game -- during his Rookie of the Year tour.

Two of the AFC's dominant teams the past decade or so -- the Steelers and Patriots -- find themselves trying to shake off last-second losses against teams they were expected to beat, and face critical games against division foes.

We get statement games for some NFC surprise teams, who now look like they might fall back to the pack. Sure, there are a few potential clunkers this week, but even those involve AFC teams, and this looks like a year in which pretty much everyone is going to be in that wild card chance until late in the season. (Hooray for parity!)

It's got me pretty fired up. We're already on pace for a record season in terms of scoring, and with once air-tight defenses like Baltimore and Pittsburgh in a deep funk, and even the 49ers and Texans looking vulnerable last week, I bet we get our fair share of shootouts before Week 7 comes to a close.

  
 

Baltimore Ravens  at  Houston Texans

Baltimore at Houston
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: The only two AFC teams with records above .500 meet a week after each experienced very trying games. The Ravens play their first game in what may be the post-Ray Lewis era, and also do so without top corner Lardarius Webb. Both are out for the season. The Texans come in after getting thumped off their undefeated perch by the Packers on Sunday night. But they'll put their potent run game up against a Baltimore defense that has given up more than 200 yards in consecutive games and been on the field for about 80 minutes the past two weeks. These teams met in the playoffs a year ago, and the Texans nearly won in Baltimore with T.J. Yates under center.

What To Watch For: Dannell Ellerbe has to step in for Ray Lewis, though it's worth noting the Ravens went 4-0 without Lewis a year ago. Could Ellerbe be better against the run? ... An ailing Haloti Ngata won't make Arian Foster any easier to slow down. ... Can Cary Williams stay with Andre Johnson? ... Ex-Texan Jacoby Jones had a few big special teams miscues in that playoff game in Baltimore that contributed to his departure, but he comes into this game fresh off a 108-yard return for the Ravens last week. ... J.J. Watt will be a handful and perhaps the Ravens go with more jump personnel this week, and find a way to get swing tackle Bryant McKinnie on the field more against this pass rush.

New York Jets  at  New England Patriots

N.Y. Jets at New England
Sunday, Oct. 21, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Who doesn't love to watch these games? Rex Ryan came in as Jets coach, talking about winning rings and not kissing Bill Belichick's rings. Despite the New York circus and the New England Super Bowl expectations, both clubs are part of a four-team, 3-3 pile-up in the AFC East. Rex has a way of beating the Pats, even without their talent in key spots. But can he pull it off without Santonio Holmes and Darrelle Revis and with a host of other starters out or banged up? Throw in the Tebow factor, the Sanchez benching watch, an angry Tom Brady (couldn't put away the Seahawks and got picked off twice) and you have more than enough provocation to settle down with this one for three hours ... even if it turns into a blowout.

What To Watch For: Can the Jets run the ball with such authority two weeks in a row, or was that more a function of getting to face the Colts last week? ... If the Jets move Kyle Wilson back into the slot to try to stay with Wes Welker, and put a tight end out wide, who steps up? ... Antonio Cromartie is playing inspired football for the Jets, and Brady may want to avoid him. Getting his hands on a lot of footballs. ...  Look for Brandon Lloyd to show up more this week, particularly in the deep game. ... New York's without two running backs and the loss of Joe McKnight, in particular, will limit their field position and special teams units. ... Smells like a Danny Woodhead kind of a game to me. Belichick delights in using him against Woodhead's former team.

Washington Redskins  at  New York Giants

Washington at N.Y. Giants
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: RG3 has to be one of the 10 most exciting players in the NFL right now. He is like elastic man with his darting and dashing, he has a nose for the end zone and his clinching, 76-yard scoring scamper down the sideline vs. Minnesota last week was one of the top plays of this young season. ... Griffin faces a division foe for the first time and a Giants team that can ravage a quarterback like few others. And who can forget Osi Umenyiora talking in the preseason about "Bob Griffin?" ... New York's already 0-2 in the division but comes in off a dismantling of San Francisco last week. This should be fun.

What To Watch For: Teams have success overpowering Umenyiora in the run game and Alfred Morris is running hard and running over people on outside zone plays. ... Redskins left tackle Trent Williams is starting to play to the level of his draft position, but he could see a unique rotation of bodies lined up opposite him Sunday. ... Not sure the Redskins have anyone on their back end who can slow down Eli Manning or receivers like Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. ... Redskins are tied for the NFL lead with eight goal-to-go rushing touchdowns; Giants have the NFL's best goal-to-go defense.

Seattle Seahawks  at  San Francisco 49ers

Seattle at San Francisco
Thursday, Oct. 18, 8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network)

Why To Watch: A power struggle in the nip-and-tuck NFC West, with what appear to be the two best teams battling for the first time. The match-up of football's two of the best defenses comes at a time when Alex Smith is suddenly throwing picks and Russell Wilson is throwing winning bombs. Seattle needs to win some road division games, having already lost at Arizona and at St. Louis. They can't go 0-3 in the West. The 49ers have done a great job of avoiding losing streaks lately. Starting a slide now and losing two straight at home within five days isn't prudent, either. With three teams tied at 4-2 in the division, and the Rams only a game back, this is a big, big game for October.

What To Watch For: Is Smith in a swoon, and how much more Colin Kapaernick do we see this week? Can Wilson keep it going and deliver enough of a drop-back game against this pass rush? If the Seahawks find a way to run the ball the way the Giants did and Seattle builds a lead, I wonder how the 49ers respond, because playing from behind doesn't seem to be their thing. ... Maybe, just maybe, we see a little more Randy Moss this week. Then again, will be he get beaten into submission by the most physical secondary in the league? ... Can Sidney Rice get something consistent going downfield for the Seahawks?

Pittsburgh Steelers  at  Cincinnati Bengals

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Sunday, Oct. 21, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Why To Watch: If the Steelers are going to prove they aren't too old, the O-line isn't too beat up, Ben Roethlisberger and new OC Todd Haley are on the same page and they can make a key stop or two in their secondary, well ... no time like the present! The Steelers should be plenty rested having had the early bye and then another break after a Thursday night game. The Bengals, fresh off a loss to the Browns, can't afford to drop a third-straight division game this early. Another game where the loser is in some trouble, particularly if the Ravens find a way to keep winning games despite their issues.

What To Watch For: How strong is Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall, assuming he plays, having already suffered a sore Achilles in his second game back from knee surgery? ... Will Steelers corner Ike Taylor remember how to cover someone, and will he do it before A.J. Green runs wild? ... Even without Troy Polamalu, who is injured again, look for the Steelers to try to bait Andy Dalton into a few picks with the zone blitzes. He's been more error prone than a year ago. ... Expect the Bengals to have difficulty moving the ball in the air. ... Another week with a reshuffled Pittsburgh offensive line, and rookie tackle Mike Adams will be targeted by coordinator Dick LeBeau. ... Been a long time since James Harrison had a big game, but I have a feeling his impact is felt in this one ... If Pittsburgh can't get it going offensively -- and Mike Wallace needs to re-emerge as a consistent vertical threat to make that happen -- then some in the organization fear a sideline showdown between quarterback and coordinator at some point.

Detroit Lions  at  Chicago Bears

Detroit at Chicago
Monday, Oct. 22, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why To Watch: A year ago the Lions undressed the Bears on Monday night, and you know Chicago wants some revenge at home. Detroit has lived dangerously, alternating between looking like one of the best, and worst, fourth-quarter and overtime teams in the NFL. But they do turn the ball over -- and the Bears have been a dominant defense scoring points off takeaways -- and the Lions yield return touchdowns on special teams at an alarming rate ... and the Bears do still have that Devin Hester cat, who is pretty much good for at least one score in every prime time game he plays. Have a hunch the Lions give the Bears' defense a run, though, with Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson coming in off an explosive fourth quarter at Philadelphia that may have saved the season.

What To Watch For: Louis Delmas is a difference-maker at safety for the Lions. They can take a few more chances with him back in the lineup. That means receivers have to think twice about running freely. ... Detroit's lack of cover corners could be glaring, however, if Brandon Marshall gets going. ... Detroit's maligned defensive line found its groove a week ago, and pass protection remains a major source of concern for the Bears. If it turns south, does quarterback Jay Cutler pout and mope and try to push people around, again? ... Matt Forte in the screen game might be too much for Detroit's linebackers to handle. ... Getting Tony Scheffler back has opened up the offense for Detroit, and they can throw two tight ends at you in spread formations -- which will get older linebackers like Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher running around. ... Another game where Julius Peppers likely gets toggled from left to right -- and sees a fair amount of snaps inside as well -- to capitalize on match-ups.

  
 

Green Bay Packers  at  St. Louis Rams

Green Bay at St. Louis
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: A pissed-off Aaron Rodgers is a dominant Aaron Rodgers and I bet he still isn't done telling people "Shhhh" just yet. Six touchdowns passes a week ago, but it'll be very interesting to see how the Rams' top corner duo faces this challenge. Green Bay needs to string wins together and the Rams need to avoid a losing streak to keep the young team in the playoff hunt. The Rams' pass rush could give the Packers' suspect offensive line fits, and Green Bay's search for a running game also plays into the Rams' strengths.

What To Watch For: Courtland Finnegan vs. Jordy Nelson would be a heck of a match-up, should the Rams go that route. ... Jermichael Finley seems to fall more out of favor in Green Bay by the week, with Tom Crabtree an emerging target. ... Packers linebacker Clay Matthews could be in store for a three-plus sack game because the Rams are unable to give Sam Bradford time to play to his full capabilities. ... Steven Jackson's getting his legs back under him and is seeing more work for St. Louis. ... Rams are in the top quarter of the NFL in three-and-outs forced, and third down defense, and their play on that down Sunday could be exactly what keeps them in this game.

Arizona Cardinals  at  Minnesota Vikings

Arizona at Minnesota
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Two of the early upstarts, teams getting off to better-than-projected starts, meet with both reeling a bit, and perhaps some doubt creeping in. The winner stays right where it wants to be in the crowded NFC playoff picture, while the loser is a loss away from falling to .500 and possibly wasting that strong start. With Kevin Kolb hurt atain, Arizona is forced back to John Skelton, who was shaky in relief last week. Christian Ponder had by far his worst game of the season for the Vikings, and at some point they are probably going to have to expand that offense, but good luck doing it against this defense.

What To Watch For: How fired up is this crowd, and can the Vikings maintain what has been a strong home-field advantage this season? The louder it is, the more prone Skelton is to making crushing mistakes. ... Could be a big day for Jared Allen against one of the NFL's worst offensive lines, and the Cards still can't establish a run game to take pressure off their under-fire quarterbacks. ... Adrian Peterson vs. Darnell Dockett. Talk about your big-boy match-ups in the trenches. ... Percy Harvin will be moved all over the place. ... Could be a big day for Ponder's rushing totals, with him likely under duress. ... Can Jay Feely bounce back from missing a winning kick a week ago? Will Blair Walsh remain more-or-less perfect?

  
 

Dallas Cowboys  at  Carolina Panthers

Dallas at Carolina
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: How will the Cowboys blow this one? A bunch of crazy picks? Dropped two-point conversions and horrible clock management after recovering an onside kick? Bizarre fourth-down decisions? Missed field goal? All of the above? Never boring with America's Team. The Panthers come off a bye beyond desperate for a win and with Cam Newton, coach Ron Rivera and GM Marty Hurney getting grilled locally. And perhaps one of these offenses will finally get going. Dallas (94 points) and Carolina (92 points) are the lowest scoring teams in the NFC, despite some eye-popping talent.

What To Watch For: Jason Witten started to come out of the doldrums last week and with Dez Bryant dropping a potential tying two-point conversion, Witten may be the third-down go-to-guy again. ... Felix Jones has a chance to show something with DeMarco Murray injured and this is the perfect opponent to boost his stock, with Carolina allowing 127 yards per game. ... Did Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski come up with any new tricks for this offense in the bye? ... How close does Jerry Jones come to wringing Jason Garrett's neck on the sideline if the Cowboys botch another late-game situation? ... Dallas' secondary, so good early in the season, is getting a little banged up. Will that be a factor with Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell able to get deep? ... Jay Ratliff might just feast on the interior of Carolina's offensive line with Ryan Kalil on IR.

New Orleans Saints  at  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

New Orleans at Tampa Bay
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Drew Brees is starting to look like Drew Brees again. And the Saints come out of a bye with a win finally under their belt, so this not a totally hopeless situation. And if Jonathan Vilma is able to play in this one -- despite all the suspension drama and his litany of knee injuries -- might that provide them with a shot of adrenaline? Getting to face the Bucs' secondary without suspended Aqib Talib should aid Brees. Josh Freeman finally looked like a competent quarterback last week for Tampa, but needs to keep it going. He'll have help because the Saints' defense has made everyone look good this season.

What To Watch For: Expect the Saints to be plenty motivated in the final game under interim-to-the-interim coach Aaron Kromer, with Joe Vitt coming back in a week. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo badly needed to tune up his defense, and are there any tangible signs of improvement out of the bye. ... Jimmy Graham's ankle sounds like it could be a problem, and if he is able to play, how hindered is he? ... Mark Ingram has just 15 carries in the past three games, but can be reclaim more of a share of the backfield rotation now? ... Does Spagnuolo dial down the pressure? The Saints are allowing an unfathomable 155 passer rating against when they blitz, allowing six touchdowns without an interception.

Tennessee Titans  at  Buffalo Bills

Tennessee at Buffalo
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: If Matt Hasselbeck can win another game for the Titans, Jake Locker's shoulder may not heal as quickly -- if you catch my drift. The Titans want to avoid a QB controversy and coach Mike Munchak has been adamant that Locker is the guy once he's healthy, but they might end up taking their time with that diagnosis if Hasselbeck can pick up where he left off in a Thursday win over the Steelers. Both the Titans and Bills won on last-second field goals -- in Buffalo’s case, in overtime -- and in the horrible, bunched-up AFC, this game has some meaning.

What To Watch For: The Bills found a way to get both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller going last week in the run game, and the Titans have been overpowered at times this season. ... Bills free-agent bust (so far) Mario Williams knows the Titans' personnel well from his time in Houston, so maybe he finally gets going, mystery wrist injury or not. ... Ryan Fitzpatrick still only completing 56 percent of his passes for the Bills, but is Chan Gailey any more hesitant to go to Brad Smith in the Wildcat after Smith threw a late pick last week?

  
 

Cleveland Browns  at  Indianapolis Colts

Cleveland at Indianapolis
Sunday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Can the Browns usher in their new owner Jimmy Haslam with a win in his first game since officially being voted in? Are you not immediately intrigued with the prospect of a real-life Browns two-game winning streak? Can the Colts, who slipped on the road last week, get it going again at home with their coach Chuck Pagano battling cancer at a hospital down the street? And Andrew Luck has been especially great at home, with the game on the line.

What To Watch For: Brandon Weeden could be afforded lavish amounts of time with the Colts' pass rushers either injured or struggling and Jerry Hughes trying to offset the situation. ... Josh Gordon is emerging a bit for the Browns' receiving corps, but Greg Little continues to disappear for stretches. ... Joe Haden's return boosts seemingly everything about the Cleveland defense, and he should see a lot of Reggie Wayne. ... With Trent Richardson banged up, Montario Hardesty is getting some key carries for the Browns, and the Colts are sorry against the run.

Jacksonville Jaguars  at  Oakland Raiders

Jacksonville at Oakland
Sunday, Oct. 21, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Do you like to see your quarterbacks all neat and clean without any dirt or grass on their uniforms, or, dare I say it, blood stains anywhere? Then this is your game. The Jags and Raiders occasionally feign the ability to get to the passer, hint at it a little bit, but that's usually as far as they go. The Raiders and Jags have combined for seven, count 'em, seven sacks and all of minus-38 combined sack yards, in 10 combined games. Think about how many snaps that is. Yikes. So, well, if this is your sort of thing, then this is your game.

What To Watch For: Well, aside from healthy quarterbacks, the Jags are emphasizing getting their inside running game going out of the bye, while Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson were complimenting each other very well last week in a near-upset of Atlanta. ... Blaine Gabbert might start hearing Chad Henne's footsteps if he can't display more patience in the pocket.


Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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