Week 7 in the NFL is unusual in that there are no interconference games. Every game on the schedule could have meaning in tie breakers down the road when head to head is a big factor in deciding playoff slots. As usual there are story lines that capture my interest.
The Eagles situation: What a week in the city of brotherly love! Defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, who happens to be a fine offensive line coach, is fired. Last year the Patriots wasted little time signing Josh McDaniels when he was fired in Saint Louis. A team in the NFL East should make a run at Castillo right now and reap the benefit of his knowledge of the Eagles as well as putting an excellent set of eyes in the press box. The Redskins and Cowboys both still have two games each against the Eagles. As for the soap opera known as the Philadelphia Eagles, the team is off but a week from now Michael Vick and Marty Mornhinweg have to produce.
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What about team threatened with a third division loss? The Seahawks lost their third division game Thursday night which is never a good sign for teams trying to make a playoff run, except if you look back at 2011. Five of the 12 playoff teams last year had just 3 or 4 division loses. Cincinnati 2-4, Denver 3-3, Giants 3-3, Detroit 3-3, and Atlanta 3-3 all made the postseason so it isn't time to panic if your favorite team is facing a third division loss this weekend, which is the case for the Bengals at home against the Steelers and the Giants at home against the Redskins. If you want to look at the dark side of three division losses then 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007 present a different story. In those four seasons combined only 7 teams made the post season with at least 3 division losses and never more than two teams in any one year.
The Bears ‘Mug' defense: The Chicago Bears return to the field after their bye and the Lions will have to deal with the ‘Mug' defense. Keep an eye on how many times Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs step up into the ‘A' gaps on both sides of the center and force the Lions to change their pass protection. Sometimes they blitz, and sometimes they drop into coverage, but they usually free up one defensive tackle like Henry Melton to rush over a running back. Look for the mug look when Stafford is under center which can be a big problem because his running back is behind him and can't pick up either linebacker if they blitz.
The no huddle offense: A number of teams employ the no huddle attack and this weekend they will rely on it to neutralize their opponents. The Ravens have used it 195 times and scored 11 touchdowns averaging 6.1 yards per no huddle play. Can it be effective on the road against the Houston Texans and all the noise the fans will create? The Patriots have used the no huddle 171 times, getting to the end zone 7 times. The Pats are at home and will have little trouble using it all game long against the Jets if they decide to do so. The Green Bay Packers used their no huddle 110 times and will try to get it rolling in St. Louis. Jeff Fisher told me this week the Ram fans are pretty excited about the way this season is going and they will be a big factor in taking the no huddle out of the Packer arsenal.
Where's the perfect storm: When a 300 yard passer crosses paths with a defense that gives up more than 300 yards a game passing there should be fireworks on the field. That may be the case in the nation's capital when Eli Manning takes the field against the Redskins. Manning averaged 308 yards a game last year but didn't come close in his two losses to the Redskins. In fact Eli didn't throw a touchdown in either game. Now he faces a Redskin pass defense ranked #32 in the NFL, giving up 341 yards a game. Manning has not hit the 300 yard mark in his last two games and the Redskins always get up for the Giants and Manning's offense. Eli hasn't cracked the 300 yard mark in six straight games against the Redskins but this week looks like the perfect storm.
The other game to watch for passing fireworks is Pittsburgh heading into Cincinnati. The Steeler defense is not what it used to be and Andy Dalton and AJ Green plan on some big passing damage. Ben Roethlisberger is on pace for the best passing year of his career and is without his top two running backs. I wouldn't be surprised if there is close to 700 yards passing in this game.
Sloppy red zone play: Getting into the red zone is no easy task in the NFL. The NFL average for trips into the red zone this season is 3 trips a game. When your favorite team gets in the red zone they must score, but as you can imagine that's not always the case. The two best teams in the red zone are last year's Super Bowl teams. The Patriots have been in the RZ 29 times with 16 touchdowns and 10 field goals. The Giants have also been in the RZ 29 times with 13 touchdowns and 14 field goals. Both teams have thrown one interception in the scoring zone but that doesn't represent how sloppy RZ play has been this year. There have been 38 giveaways (interceptions and fumbles) in the first six weeks, which is not good, and even worse is the goal to go giveaways, which numbers 19. At least the Eagles (4) and the Chiefs (3) aren't playing this weekend because they lead the league in RZ turnovers so maybe the sloppy RZ play will not be as bad as usual.
Field goal kicking is better than ever: You may not believe it if you are a Cardinal fan after watching your kicker miss a 38-yard kick to win the game last week on the last play of regulation. The first six weeks of 2012 has seen kickers make 87.6 percent of their field goal attempts, which is the highest percentage since the merger. There have been 16 game-winning field goals through the first six weeks, which is the most since 1983. When you consider 27 games so far have been decided by 3 points or less, it still holds up that you can't take the ‘foot' out of football.