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Mike Carlson/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Week 7 NFL Game Picks 2020

Last week: 10-4

Season: 60-30-1


NYG (1-5) @ PHI (1-4-1) | THU 8:20 PM ET | FOX/NFL Network/Amazon

The winner of Giants-Eagles could be atop the NFC East by week’s end, and I expect tonight’s game to be decided by whichever quarterback is able to make more off-script plays. Both Daniel Jones and Carson Wentz have weakened supporting casts due to injury, but that’s been the case since last year, and for whatever reason, Wentz in particular seems to embrace being “the guy” when everything around him is in disarray. New York has a better defense than the one Wentz beat twice last season, though, and star corner James Bradberry has the size/skills to finally slow down Travis Fulgham—who has emerged as the top playmaker for Philadelphia; the return of DeSean Jackson (hamstring) could be key. For New York’s offense, I think Evan Engram needs to be the focal point to create mismatches over the middle, and Jones should be used more as a runner after seven carries for 74 yards last week. Overall, this game projects to be somewhat of a slugfest with the defensive line on each side having an advantage, but Wentz is in a situation that he’s won in before.

Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


PIT (5-0) @ TEN (5-0) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Week 7 is full of highly anticipated games, but a battle between the two remaining undefeated teams in the AFC should be viewed as the best of the week. Tennessee playing through superstars Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown is the exact formula needed to continue winning games, and getting Corey Davis back from COVID-19 will make it even more difficult to slow them down offensively. That said, Pittsburgh will be their toughest opponent yet, and I expect we’ll see a similar game plan from the opener when they sold out to stop Saquon Barkley, so Ryan Tannehill will look to keep up his high-level quarterback play to make them pay. On offense, the Steelers are at full strength with Diontae Johnson (back) set to suit up, and Ben Roethlisberger should always be able to find a matchup he likes; something tells me JuJu Smith-Schuster may finally have a big game on Sunday. It will be much easier said than done, but if Pittsburgh can at least slow down Henry and keep Brown from going off on the perimeter, I give them a slight lean for what is essentially a coin flip.

Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


DAL (2-4) @ WAS (1-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

The sky seems to be falling in Dallas, but they will lead the NFC East entering the weekend no matter what happens tonight, and it’s too quick to write off Andy Dalton after one bad game against an Arizona team that quietly ranks second in the league in total defense through six weeks. Now, the concern about the Cowboys not being able to turn things around is the offensive line being in shambles, so the coaching staff has to be more creative to in order to overcome it—getting the ball in CeeDee Lamb’s hands with screens, reverses, and pop passes similar to what San Francisco does for Deebo Samuel is one idea. Defensively, there was hope that Leighton Vander Esch’s return would fix things on Monday night, but that didn’t happen, and this weekend is a spot where Demarcus Lawrence and the defensive line needs to take over. To take full advantage of the defensive struggles, Washington should feature Antonio Gibson (37% snaps played last week) and Terry McLaurin as threats to score anytime they get in space. As long as third-string left tackle Greg Senat is given help against Chase Young, Dallas has the talent to bounce back.

Winner: Dallas Cowboys


BUF (4-2) @ NYJ (0-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Much of the doubts about Buffalo following two disappointing losses has been about Josh Allen and the offense, but the defense—as a whole—hasn’t been good all year, and not fixing the run defense before January will probably lead to another early exit. While some have suggested that Buffalo executed the game plan by not letting Patrick Mahomes and the weapons beat them, they didn’t get stops in obvious running situations in the second half, and the rain clearly hindered the passing attack for both sides. Fortunately, the offensive struggles are easily correctable because John Brown being less than 100% with various ailments is having a significant impact, but I still think Devin Singletary should be given more touches (including on screen passes), which would take the pressure off Allen. For the Jets to win this weekend, Adam Gase should try to control the clock by keeping the ball on the ground to a) keep the defense fresh, and b) set up play-action shots for Joe Flacco. Unless the confidence is drained too much for the Bills, they should take care of business in New Jersey.

Winner: Buffalo Bills


CAR (3-3) @ NO (3-2) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Could the Saints already be having buyer’s remorse after signing Michael Thomas to a five-year extension in the offseason? It’s impossible to know the full extent of the drama without being in the building, but Thomas has been enough of a problem that he was given a team-imposed suspension that apparently wipes out the guarantees on his big-money contract, and New Orleans eventually moving on wouldn’t be the first time a star receiver was let go in his prime for character issues. A hamstring injury in addition to the lingering ankle injury puts Thomas in doubt again this week, but the Saints are finding their stride on offense with 30+ points in each of the past three games, so they’ll try to keep that streak alive with or without him coming out of the bye. The on-field storyline for this week against Carolina is Teddy Bridgewater facing his former team, and the weapons are there—even without Christian McCaffrey (ankle)—for Matt Rhule’s squad to win a shootout and keep up their surprising start to the year. However, New Orleans will be healthier on defense after a week off, and Alvin Kamara should really test Carolina in the midst of his best season yet.

Winner: New Orleans Saints


GB (4-1) @ HOU (1-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

Teams want to win every game, but Aaron Rodgers was probably right when he said the Packers were a little too confident heading into last week’s blowout loss, and getting destroyed could help them refocus the rest of the way. Although run defense remains a major weakness for Green Bay, they’ve played very well on the backend (Tom Brady made some pinpoint passes last week), and Jaire Alexander has fully emerged as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks ahead of a possible shadow matchup against Will Fuller; it will be interesting to see how former second-round pick Josh Jackson holds up on the other side if he draws another start for Kevin King (quad). Deshaun Watson and his ability to make things happen will give Houston a chance every week despite their 1-5 record, but the entire team could be primed for a letdown following what may have been viewed as a do-or-die overtime loss to Tennessee, and it was disappointing to watch Watson react as if the game was over when they lost the coin toss in OT (the defense couldn’t have been feeling very confident taking the field after that). Look for Aaron Jones to get rolling in a Packers win.

Winner: Green Bay Packers


CLE (4-2) @ CIN (1-4-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS

Cincinnati had absolutely no answers for the Cleveland running game in the Thursday Night Football shootout earlier this year, but Nick Chubb (knee) being out makes for a favorable outlook in the rematch, and I’m sure we will see more balance from Zac Taylor’s offense than last time (61 pass attempts in the first meeting). While a classic AFC East game—considering the chest injury for Baker Mayfield and the amount of times Joe Burrow was hit back in Week 2—would probably benefit the Browns, big performances by A.J. Green (8/96) and Tee Higgins (6/125) last week should open up the middle of the field for Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd, so the No. 1 overall pick could come out firing with just one touchdown pass this month. Falling behind and allowing Myles Garrett to only worry about getting to Burrow would obviously be bad news for an offensive line that’s on pace to allow 64 sacks this season, though, so it’s important to start fast and keep the pass rushers honest. Cleveland was originally going to be my pick, but the Bengals are healthier and arguably hungrier.

Winner: Cincinnati Bengals


DET (2-3) @ ATL (1-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX

The spark for Atlanta down the stretch in 2019 ended up occurring too late, but a dominant performance last week against the Vikings felt like a similar turning point, and the team having no whispers of discontent throughout multiple seasons of not reaching expectations is a positive sign (and not surprising when you have guys like Matt Ryan and Julio Jones on the roster). Clearly, the offense is different when Jones is healthy, and Detroit’s young cornerback duo of Jeffrey Okudah and Amani Oruwariye—assuming former Falcon starter Desmond Trufant (hamstring) is out again—will really have their work cut out for them on Sunday against Julio and Calvin Ridley. On the other side of the ball, Matthew Stafford hasn’t had that monster performance we’ve seen out of him in previous years, but I think that might be what’s needed this weekend, and the Lions should lean on rookie runner D’Andre Swift after a breakout game in Week 6 to maximize the explosiveness on offense. Right now, I have more faith in the Falcons to stay hot at home while A.J. Terrell, Kendall Sheffield (foot), and Isaiah Oliver do what they can to slow down Kenny Golladay.

Winner: Atlanta Falcons


TB (4-2) @ LV (3-2) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX

If you told Jon Gruden and the Raiders that their entire offensive line would be forced to quarantine until pretty much kickoff one week, I think the Buccaneers would be at the very bottom of the list for their opponents, and it could be a long game for Derek Carr with the way Todd Bowles’ defense can bring pressure. The playmakers are there for Las Vegas to put up points if Carr can get the ball out of his hands, and Gruden could end up changing the game plan some to make Henry Ruggs III more of a catch-and-run threat—which is something he had tons of success with at Alabama; the aggressive pursuit of the Buccaneers might even allow him to make one guy miss for a game-breaking play. But scoring enough points is only half the equation, and with Tom Brady rekindling his connection with Rob Gronkowski last week, Tampa Bay’s offense has too many ways it can beat opponents, and Chris Godwin is due for a huge game. The bye gave Gruden time to hit the lab and come up with some tweaks/ideas for the final 11 games, but they may need to wait a week to be implemented if Bowles’ defense smells blood in the water.

Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers


JAX (1-5) @ LAC (1-4) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS

The Chargers have played everyone extremely tough this year (their losses have all been by one possession against .500-or-above teams, including two in overtime), but they need to start finishing games out of the bye, and the schedule looks very winnable over the next month (v JAX, @ DEN, v LV, @ MIA, v NYJ). Justin Herbert knowing he needs to get the ball to Mike Williams in single coverage is very encouraging for the offense, and that plus more touches for Joshua Kelley should help the group hit their full potential. Last year, Los Angeles handled the Jaguars in a 45-10 victory, and I don’t see the Jacksonville defense having significantly more success this week trying to defend Herbert’s dual-threat ability. Maybe the magic for Gardner Minshew and the offense can come back after two sub-par showing in a row (there might be some kind of supernatural rule where he and Ryan Fitzpatrick can’t simultaneously be lighting it up; the results so far check out based on that theory), but the Chargers should win up front if Joey Bosa (ankle) is healthy.

Winner: Los Angeles Chargers


SF (3-3) @ NE (2-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS

I said last week that San Francisco was on the ropes heading into Sunday Night Football, but they came away with a decisive victory over the Rams, and a big reason for it was featuring George Kittle (7/109/1) and Deebo Samuel (6/66/1) to make things easier on Jimmy Garoppolo as he deals with his ankle injury. Even without taking into account that Bill Belichick and the Patriots know Jimmy G perhaps better than anyone, the New England defense against Kyle Shanahan’s offense might be the best battle of the week, and I’m very interested to see how they decide to match up against Kittle and Deebo—as the duo could be given more attention than usual with San Francisco down both Raheem Mostert (ankle) and Tevin Coleman (knee) at running back; whatever the coverages are, tackling has surely been emphasized this week. Offensively, the Pats struggled last week with Cam Newton having two interceptions and two fumbles (though neither was lost), but showing more commitment to the running game can create space for N’Keal Harry and Damiere Byrd on the outside. Despite the struggles, I can’t pick against Belichick and New England as they try to avoid a three-game losing streak.

Winner: New England Patriots


KC (5-1) @ DEN (2-3) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS

Chiefs-Broncos is expected to be the first snow game of the season, but the elements coming into play doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a low-scoring game—as all of Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Le’Veon Bell, Melvin Gordon, and Phillip Lindsay seem to be runners with the balance to thrive in wintry conditions. When it comes to the passing game, Patrick Mahomes has a substantial advantage (as he does most weeks), so I’d say the snow being a factor would play into the hands of the underdog because it creates added unpredictability that’s often needed in an upset. Drew Lock didn’t have a great game last year in a December loss to Kansas City, but Noah Fant (ankle) being back gives Denver more firepower, and impressive route runner Jerry Jeudy might be able to create easy space on the outside if cornerbacks have trouble finding their footing. Still, this is an opponent where not having Courtland Sutton (knee) is a big loss, and the weather is unlikely to be enough of a boost for the Broncos to knock off the Chiefs.

Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


SEA (5-0) @ ARI (4-2) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC

The current coaching staff is only in their second season, but Arizona has given Russell Wilson plenty of problems over the past couple of years (183.3 yards per game with three touchdowns in four matchups), and last year in particular was a challenge for Seattle trying to protect their quarterback (nine sacks allowed in a series split). Of course, Wilson and the passing attack weren’t performing at the level they are in 2020, and Chandler Jones (bicep) was almost single-handedly responsible for wrecking the game with 4.0 sacks and two forced fumbles in a 27-13 win last December, so his absence will undoubtedly be felt on Sunday. Also, Tyler Lockett wasn’t healthy in the most recent meeting (he caught just one pass on seven targets), and it would be a shock if D.K. Metcalf was held without a catch again. Whether the Seahawks are able to stop Kyler Murray is a different story, especially if he and DeAndre Hopkins—who ripped Pete Carroll’s defense for an 8/224/1 line back in 2017—are on the same page; Jamal Adams (groin) looking likely to miss another game will make it all the more difficult. Arizona should be confident in a high-scoring affair, but Seattle has won six of their past seven out of the bye, and the game being moved to primetime gives them a further edge if history is any indication.

Winner: Seattle Seahawks


CHI (5-1) @ LAR (4-2) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN

I have seen people say the Bears are the worst 5-1 team in history, but I would argue that they have yet to play close to their potential (Nick Foles hasn’t really caught fire other than his off-the-bench heroics against Atlanta), so there is plenty of room for them to get better. What worries me is Matt Nagy being too locked into certain strategies, and the creativity of Foles will hopefully open things up as the pairing progresses over the next several weeks. On the other hand, Sean McVay can adjust on the fly with multiple ways to attack opponents, but I’d like to see second-rounders Cam Akers and Van Jefferson be more involved to provide a spark; Monday night would be a good time for it against a Chicago defense that has limited Jared Goff to 176.5 passing yards per game, zero touchdowns, and five interceptions in two matchups (1-1 record with 11.5 points per game scored). In particular, using Akers (along with Darrell Henderson) on screen passes should help neutralize a focused Khalil Mack (3.0 sacks over the past two games). Aaron Donald needs to be better than he was last week, but I’m going with the Rams in a close game.

Winner: Los Angeles Rams


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