In no particular order, here are the five most important games to be played in Week 7.
Pittsburgh at Atlanta
It's still too early in the season to pencil in teams to the playoffs (except for maybe the Colts, Seahawks, Bears, and Patriots); and it's also too early to write off most team's chances. That said, both teams desperately need a win this Sunday to set up a possible playoff run. Pittsburgh could still make a run if they were to be 2-4, but as I have repeatedly said, it's probably going to take 11 wins to make it as a Wild Card in the AFC this year, meaning we would have to finish 9-1 in our final 10 games.
The game also features some intriguing matchups. The high-powered Falcons running attack vs. the stingy run defense of the Steelers will of course take center stage. I'm also interested to see how the Falcons defense responds to their piss-poor showing against Tiki Barber and the Giants rushing attack last week. If our offensive line has anywhere near the kind of dominating performance they did last Sunday, we should be able to run the ball effectively.
Finally, it should be fun to watch DeAngelo Hall and Hines Ward square off. Hall already has 4 picks in 5 games this year. Is Ward healthy enough to get open against the All-Pro? Will Roethlisberger make the right decisions with the football if Ward is shut down? A strong dose of Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport in the first half will hopefully alleviate some of the concerns I have about our passing game this week.
Carolina at Cincinnati
Many people thought the Bengals were primed to build off last season's success and have an even bigger 2006. Carson Palmer was seemingly fine coming off knee surgery; Rudi Johnson is in his physical prime; and the defense was one of the very best at taking the ball away in 2005.
Palmer has been very good, but not great this year. He's completing more than 63% of his passes and has 7 TDs and 4 INTs. Good, but not great numbers. Rudi Johnson has also been effective, but not spectacular. He's averaging about 80 yards a game, and just under 4 yards per carry. If you take away his ineffective game against the Steelers though, he's certainly had his moments.
The offense certainly not been the high-flying act most of us expected, but it's their rush defense that's really been their achilles heel. The Bengals sport only the 25th best rush defense , giving a hefty 140+ yards per game. That's not going to get it done in this league. Fortunately for Cincinnati, the Panthers are not one of the better running teams in the NFL . The bulk of the Carolina offense has come in the air. Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith are in a ridiculous groove right now, and on those plays where Smith is taken out of the equation, Keyshawn Johnson has stepped up on the other side and provided critical receptions.
I honestly don't see the Bengals pulling this one out, even at home. The Panthers are too physical up front and will probably find a way to disrupt Carson Palmer all game long. Remember, we sacked Palmer six times. Imagine what the even faster and more talented defensive ends for the Panthers are going to do.
Minnesota at Seattle
I'm not going to in as in length about this one as the others, but I will say that this is Minnesota's opportunity to prove they are going to be a part of the playoff discussion as the season progresses. The Vikings are coming off their BYE after having coming from behind to take care of the Lions 26-17 at the Metrodome. Trust me, this was not an impressive win. The Vikings are one of the 'best bad' teams in the NFL. Does that make sense? I just don't think they have the offensive parts to compliment their much-improved defense. Brad Johnson got on a roll late last season, and people all of a sudden were willing to forget that this is an old man that has never really been great at any point in his career. Great, he 'manages' a game well. That's not going to be enough against a Seahawks defense that will be looking for some marked improvement after getting knocked around by the Rams offense last week.
A win at Seattle would go along way towards proving they're for real and ready to compete with the Panthers, Saints, Cowboys, Eagles, Rams and Giants for one of the two wild-card berths in the NFC. A loss will convince me that a 9-7 or 8-8 finish is the best this team can achieve.
Washington at Indianapolis
Wow, the Redskins fall to 2-4 after losing to the Tennessee Titans. At home! To make matters worse, the Skins have already lost their first two divisional games and may face an insurmountable deficit if they fall to 2-5.
Is their any chance that Washington pulls off the upset this week? I think there is, but it doesn't help that the Colts have had a week to patch up some of the problems they've had in their past two games against the Jets and Titans.
I watched most of the Colts-Titans game and was utterly unimpressed with the Colts run defense. Turns out the Titans aren't that bad running the ball, as they proved against the Redskins this past Sunday. Still, the Indy defense can be had. Unfortunately for Washington fans, Mark Brunell has been so bad the past two games that the Colts will undoubtedly load the box and force him to beat them. This may result in some 1-on-1 opportunities for Santana Moss. He's going to be need to break one, scratch that, he's going to need to break SEVERAL big plays if Washington is to have any chance at pulling off the upset.
Time for Joe Gibbs and his highly paid coordinators to prove their meddle and find a way to take down the undefeated Colts.
NY Giants at Dallas
I'm not much of an NFC guy myself, but I have to admit that this is an intriguing Monday Night matchup. Is it just me, or has anybody else noticed that the Giants have been involved in a ton of wacky, close, exciting games the past several years?
This game has all the ingredients for a fun one. Two defenses that can force turnovers; two quarterbcaks that have shown a propensity to turn the ball over; big-headed, loud mouthed players on both sides of the ball on both teams; and finally, high stakes, as both teams are fighting for inside position in the uber-tough NFC North.
The Giants defense yielded more than 200 yards on the ground last week, but found a way to sack the elusive Michael Vick seven times. Sheesh, how many times are they going to get to the statue that is Drew Bledsoe? A lot probably, but look for Dallas to run the ball first with their 1-2 combination in Julius Jones and Marion Barber.
It's much harder to run against the Dallas defense, which is tops in the NFL . It may be up to Eli to take this one upon his shoulders. Problem is, he's not very good at this, at least until his team has their backs to the wall late in the game.
Any other games anybody is particularly excited about?
Get ready for a big weekend of football folks.