Enjoying the 2012 NFL season? Damn right, you are. What’s not to like? There already have been 24 games with the winning points scored in the final two minutes or overtime, most in NFL history through six weeks since the 1970 merger. The AFC East has four 3-3 teams, no NFC West team is under .500, the Broncos have trailed by 20 points or more in four of their six games — Norv Turner (left) can tell you more details about that — and James Jones leads the league in receiving TDs. You predicted that before the season, right? Sure you did. Let’s dig into Week 7’s 10 storylines. — Peter Schrager
Is this Tampa defense for real?
Giants collapse aside, the Buccaneers defense has been awfully stout this season. At home, Tampa’s resembled the Monte Kiffin D’s of old. In comes Drew Brees and the Saints, off their first win and off a bye week. Tampa’s riding high off its biggest victory since 2010, and there’s genuine optimism from the fan base. Bill Sheridan’s D was one of only two units to have any inkling of success against Robert Griffin III (Atlanta the other). Can the Bucs put the clamps on Brees? If they do, they’re suddenly a 3-3 team heading into Week 8. They’re in the hunt.
Can the Steelers win on the road?
Pittsburgh is 0-3 in road games this year, with head-scratching losses to the Raiders and Titans in the first six weeks. The offensive line, the defense and Mike Tomlin’s clock management all have been suspect in games played outside of Heinz Field. The stadium will be rocking in a rare Sunday night prime-time game being played in Cincinnati. A.J. Green gave the Steelers fits in two games last year. If Pittsburgh loses another road game, it's going to need to go on a heck of a run over the last two months of the season.
Cutler’s on national TV again. Cue up the 'petulant' narrative.
I’m a Cutler guy. He wins, his star receiver swears by him and he’s got a rocket for an arm. The last two times he was on national TV — the Thursday night game against Green Bay and the Monday night game against Dallas — the big story the next morning was the fact he “disrespected” a teammate or coach (J’Marcus Webb/Mike Tice). Third time’s a charm? I don’t know. But I do know that if Cutler — a guy ex-jocks now serving as talking heads on TV love to criticize — wins on Monday night, the Bears will be 5-1 and alone atop the NFC North. Not bad for a “petulant” troublemaker.
The Raiders aren’t done. Not yet, at least.
Don’t sleep on the Raiders. After coming out of the gates a bit wobbly in games against the Chargers and Broncos, Oakland’s played sound football in its last game, nearly beating the undefeated Falcons on the road in Atlanta. As the other three AFC West foes are on their bye week, Oakland faces a winnable game at home vs. woeful Jacksonville. Up ahead on the schedule are winnable games against Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Win these three and the Raiders suddenly are 4-4.
No Ray. No Webb. No Suggs. No chance?
Not so fast. The Ravens defense has been struggling all season, and yet the team is still 5-1 and atop the AFC North by two games. This misconception that the 2012 Ravens are the 2000 squad or even the 2006 one is way off. The offense is the horse that carries the load on this team, as the defense has struggled — even with Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis in the lineup — this year. The Ravens are bad against the run and just above average against the pass. The offense has been far better than the defense this season. They’ll miss Lewis and Webb dearly, but they’ll still be competitive without them. If Joe Flacco were to go down, I’d be singing another tune.
Two quarterbacks desperately need a win down in Carolina this weekend.
I can’t imagine two quarterbacks needing a win this weekend more than Tony Romo (right) and Cam Newton (left). They just happen to play each other. Cam’s coming off the bye week and a horrendous performance at home vs. the Seahawks two weeks ago, while Romo’s fresh off two bad losses to the Bears and Ravens. The winning quarterback can silence the media for at least another week. The loser? Watch out.
Rex Ryan’s back. Finally.
I go back and forth on Rex Ryan. Sometimes I love his bravado. Other times, I question whether it hurts his Jets team more than it helps. This week is one of those times I’m all about his confidence. Rex had been uncharacteristically quiet five games through the season, doing this bizarre humble and modest routine at every news conference. When asked about Tom Brady after Sunday’s win over the Colts, he insisted he wasn’t going to “tug on Superman’s cape.” I gotta say — I was disappointed. I thought this game could use a little of Rex’s bluster. Sure enough, Monday, he came shooting out of the gates with this zinger: “I want them to know — and they know — that I think we're going to beat them.” Finally! Rex is back. I was getting worried. Guess what? If the Jets win? They’re in first place and 3-0 in the division. Not too shabby.
It’s John Skelton time in Arizona. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Well, John Skelton, it’s on you now, sir. With news that Kevin Kolb’s sternum injury is going to keep him out of the lineup for six weeks, the Cardinals pin their hopes to the guy they pinned their hopes to in training camp. Kolb was playing well, leading the Cardinals to a 4-0 start, but Skelton was the locker-room leader in August. How quickly we forget the Skelton love from just a few months back. He’s 7-4 all time as a starter in Arizona and is respected by his teammates. Everyone’s leaping off the Cardinals bandwagon, especially with Minnesota up ahead this weekend, but Skelton beat the Eagles and Cowboys last season. He’s not exactly chopped liver.
Is this weekend’s New York-Washington game the Giants’ annual trap game?
Giants fans are ready for the classic letdown game. It’s a staple of these Giants teams under Tom Coughlin. Whether it was last year’s loss to the Redskins after a gutsy Sunday night win over the 49ers, 2010’s blowout loss to Tennessee or 2009’s Sunday night loss to the Cardinals — the Giants always are good for one head-scratching home loss in the Meadowlands. They went 0-2 against Rex Grossman last year. RGIII presents a problem and a skill set that could give the Giants fits. This team’s shown it has had difficulty against “inferior” squads the week after big statement wins. Washington could give the Giants a lot of trouble on Sunday.
Aaron’s got his groove back.
Did you get the feeling Aaron Rodgers may have wanted that game Sunday night vs. the Texans? With many in the media doubting (cough), questioning (cough) and criticizing (cough) the Packers offense, Rodgers exploded with six touchdown passes on the road on national television. This St. Louis defense has been lights-out in home games this season, going 3-0. The crowd will be rowdy, but the beast has been awoken. Rodgers — a guy who’s always thrived on his critics’ doubts — is about to go on a tear.