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Ten Observations from Week 7 in the NFL

1. Flacco still isn’t ready to carry Ravens.
For the past four years, Joe Flacco has been able to get away with inconsistent performance after inconsistent performance because his defense constantly bailed him out. The Ravens coped with his hot and cold production because they were dominant on the other side of the ball. But with injuries to Ray Lewis and Ladarius Webb, Baltimore is no longer a force defensively. Houston’s receivers ran free in the Ravens’ secondary and the Texans’ offensive line had its way with Baltimore’s defensive front in the running game. For once, the Ravens needed Flacco to carry his defense and instead he turned in a brutal performance. He completed just 21-of-43 passes for 147 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, and when he wasn’t skipping passes to his receivers he was throwing over their heads. Granted, Houston relentlessly pressured the pocket and its secondary was excellent. But the game looked like it was moving way too fast for Flacco, which is troublesome considering he’s a fifth-year starter. Baltimore’s offense hasn’t been in sync for weeks and now that the defense is limping, the door has opened for the Steelers to chip away at their rival’s lead in the division.

2. Rodgers is heating up.
The Packers aren’t exactly the perfect specimens. Their no huddle isn’t firing on all cylinders, their running game is non-existent, and their defense can be ordinary at times. But when Aaron Rodgers plays like he did in Green Bay’s 30-20 victory over St. Louis on Sunday, the Packers are difficult to beat. Rodgers was insanely accurate versus the Rams, completing 30-of-37 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns. He was as good in the Lou as he was in Houston the week before and now that the Packers have gotten past the challenging part of their schedule (which included three straight road games), you can tell they’re ready to make a run at the Bears and Vikings in the NFC North. And thanks to Rodgers being Rodgers again, don’t be surprised if Green Bay eventually catches and surpasses its division rivals.

3. Pass defense makes Patriots vulnerable.
The Patriots claimed sole possession of first place in the AFC East with their 29-26 victory over the Jets on Sunday. Their rushing attack continues to be an important cog in their success, as they’re now 4-0 this season when rushing for more than 100 yards. But their pass defense continues to hold them back. Despite his best efforts not to at times, Mark Sanchez looked like a competent quarterback on Sunday. He completed a career-high nine passes of 15 yards or more and nearly led the Jets to what many believed to be an improbable victory in Foxboro. Opposing wideouts are allowed to run free in Bill Belichick’s zone and the pass rush continues to be inconsistent. Thus, even though the Patriots remain one of the most dangerous teams offensively, their defense will allow opponents to stay in games until the end, just as it did Sunday versus the Jets.

4. The Steelers’ defense finally steps up.
In Pittsburgh’s 24-17 victory over Cincinnati, the Steelers’ much maligned defense had to stop the Bengals on three separate drives in the fourth quarter. That’s usually not a noteworthy task for Dick LeBeau’s defensive unit, but the Steelers have become a team known for blowing fourth quarter leads this season. The Bengals didn’t even reach their own 40-yard line on each of their final three drives as Pittsburgh bowed up and finally resembled something of its past. Granted, it wasn’t all pretty for the Steelers. They dropped two touchdown passes in the first half and injuries continue to be a problem on defense. Still, the Ravens are a mess right now and the Bengals’ psyche has taken a huge hit. Furthermore, Pittsburgh was able to get its running game going thanks to Jonathan Dwyer (17 carries, 122 yards), so the Steelers might be able to help out their defense by sustaining drives and keeping opponents off the field. All of a sudden things are looking up again in Pittsburgh.

5. The Cowboys win but trouble remains.
The Cowboys essentially saved their season with a hard fought, but lackluster 19-14 victory over the Panthers on Sunday. There are several underlying problems in Big D right now. Sean Lee and Phil Costa had to leave the game with injuries, the Cowboys racked up just 19 points against a defense that allowed 25.0 PPG coming into Week 7, and there’s clearly a lack of trust between Jason Garrett and his team. Why else would he call a run on third-and-9 from the Carolina 15-yard line in the fourth quarter instead of allowing Tony Romo to fire a pass to the end zone? Maybe because Dez Bryant had just dropped yet another pass the play before? Or because Garrett is afraid Romo will once again turn the ball over trying to do too much? Garrett is playing not to lose and even though the Cowboys won on Sunday, that’s proven to be a losing proposition from week to week. Since their impressive victory Week 1 against the Giants, the ‘Boys have failed to generate much momentum over these last six games. If they’re not skating by with a win like they did in Carolina, they’re imploding like they did versus Chicago on Monday Night Football.

6. Despite the loss, RGIII’s statue continues to grow.
Robert Griffin III made several mistakes on Sunday, which included turning the ball over twice in New York territory and taking a 12-yard sack on a 1st-and-10 early in the fourth quarter. But the man continues to dazzle, so much so that following the game the Giants crowned him the best quarterback they’ve faced this season. There was the sensational 19-yard completion to Logan Paulsen on 4th-and-10 less than three minutes remaining that kept Washington’s hopes alive. There was the picture perfect 30-yard rainbow to Santana Moss that should have been the Redskins’ game-winning score. And there were the nine electric runs for 89 yards that sent the crowd at MetLife Stadium to their feet. It wasn’t a perfect performance and he’ll have to limit the mistakes going forward, just as he’s learned to cut down on absorbing big hits when he runs. But RGIII once again put on a show and once he figures out how to win on a consistent basis, then he’ll really impress.

7. How long before Ponder bursts Minnesota’s bubble?
Nobody expected the Vikings to be sitting at 5-2 after seven weeks. But thanks in large part to a restructured offensive line, a healthy Adrian Peterson and a defense that doesn’t have a glaring weakness, Minnesota is very much a playoff contender at this point. That said, how long will it be until Christian Ponder starts holding this team back? He completed just 8-of-17 passes for 58 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in Minnesota’s 21-14 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday. It was the second time in two weeks that he floated an interception to a defender, failed to sustain drives and generally misfired on most of his passes. Granted, he’s dealing with a sore knee so maybe that has affected his performance. But Sunday was also the second time in the past four games that Leslie Frazier and his coaching staff decided to run out the clock as soon as they built a second half lead. The Vikings turned the lights off at Mall of America Field as soon as Harrison Smith went 31 yards to the end zone on a pick six to start the second half. Are Frazier and Co. overly cautious or do they not trust Ponder? We’ll find out after Minnesota’s Week 11 bye when they play at Chicago and Green Bay before hosting the Bears in Week 14.

8. The Bucs are the Bucs’ own worst enemy.
The Bucs were screwed on the final play of the Saints’ 35-28 victory on Sunday. It’s more than a little unfair that Mike Williams was shoved out of bounds by a New Orleans defender and after hauling in a touchdown pass from Josh Freeman (who was outstanding, by the way), was penalized for being the first person to touch the ball. After all, what’s from stopping defenders from pushing receivers out of bounds all the time if they know the refs aren’t going to call pass interference? Regardless, the Bucs had already shot themselves in the foot twice before that game-ending play. With 14:54 left in the fourth quarter and the Saints leading 28-21, the Bucs drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for trying to simulate the snap count on a 51-yard New Orleans field goal attempt. Instead of possibly trailing by 10 with the entire fourth quarter left to play, the penalty kept the Saints drive alive and the Bucs fell behind by two touchdowns. Earlier in the half, Freeman hit Vincent Jackson on a 95-yard touchdown pass to set Tampa up at the New Orleans 1-yard line. The Bucs then proceeded to call three straight runs with LeGarrette Blount, all of which were stopped cold by the league’s worst defense. Freeman then lost four yards on 4th-and-1 and the Bucs inexcusably didn’t get points on the drive. Thus, while Tampa Bay fans have every right to cry foul on the final play of the game, their team didn’t do themselves any favors, which included blowing leads of 14-0 and 21-7 in the first half.

9. The Saints aren’t going away but their road back remains challenging.
Drew Brees reminded everyone on Sunday that he’s still one of the most dangerous passers in the NFL, one that is quite capable of leading a team out of the doldrums. He completed 27-of-37 passes for 377 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in the Saints’ 35-28 victory over the Bucs. He did all of this with one of his biggest and best weapons, Jimmy Graham, sidelined with an ankle injury. The 6-0 Falcons have a commanding lead in the NFC South but don’t forget that the Saints still have two games against their division rivals. It’s not inconceivable that New Orleans rattles off a few more wins and put itself in position to make a run at one of the Wild Card spots in the NFC. That said, the Saints are owners of the worst defense in the league and their schedule is challenging the rest of the way. They play Atlanta twice, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York and Dallas before the year is out. And even with Brees throwing for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns, it’s going to be difficult for the Saints to overcome that early 0-4 hole they put themselves into.

10. Injury roundup.
The Redskins were hit the hardest on Sunday. They lost tight end Fred Davis to a season-ending Achilles tendon injury and it was reported following the game that Pierre Garcon has a torn tendon in his foot. London Fletcher also left the Giants game with a hamstring injury. For the Browns, rookie running back Trent Richardson was apparently benched for ineffectiveness against the Colts but he says his rib injury is worse than people think. As previously mentioned, Cowboys’ linebacker Sean Lee left the Carolina game with a toe injury and Phil Costa suffered an ankle sprain that looked pretty bad at the time.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 7 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…

DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING…

Denver Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow celebrates after running the ball in for a two-point conversion to tie the score in the fourth quarter of play against the Miami Dolphins in their NFL football game in Miami, Florida October 23, 2011. REUTERS/Doug Murray (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- Earlier this week the Broncos said that they’re not going to change their offense with Tim Tebow taking over at quarterback. Then on Sunday, they kept their game plan ultra-conservative and hardly called any screen passes or high-percentage throws to help build his confidence while being dominated for 56 minutes by a winless Miami team. Do they want the kid to fail? Are they trying to prove that they were right by not starting him over Kyle Orton? Are they trying to stick it to all of the fans that have basically begged the organization to play Tebow? Either way, I absolutely love what the former Gator did today. Despite his coaching staff’s unwillingness to put him in position to succeed, he found a way to pull off a miraculous victory with some help from his defense and kicker Matt Prater. It wasn’t hard to figure that he would score a couple of touchdowns and compile over 200 total yards. But the way he did it was marvelous. The Broncos did nothing until four minutes left in the fourth, when he basically willed them to victory. He’s too nice of a guy to say it, but that had to feel good to stick it up his critics’ asses for just one week.

- While Denver refused to change its offense in efforts to help Tebow, Minnesota did a nice job of using designed roll-outs and plays that maximized rookie Christian Ponder’s strengths at quarterback. The rookie will be seeing Charles Woodson (2 INTs) in his nightmares for a while, but he showed a lot of grit bouncing back in the fourth quarter to nearly lead the Vikings to an upset over the still-undefeated Packers. Ponder is clearly an upgrade over Donovan McNabb and his performance today was definitely something to build on. Green Bay’s defense has struggled all year but for Ponder to have Minnesota in position to win in the fourth quarter was something not a lot of people expected.

- Anyone who watched DeMarco Murray play at Oklahoma knew he was a versatile player with a bright future. He did everything for the Sooners in his time at OU and the Cowboys really got a steal last April when they selected him with the 71st overall pick in the third-round. Nobody envisioned him rushing for 253 yards (a Dallas single-game record) in one game, but it was only a matter of time before Murray turned heads. Granted, 91 of those yards came on one play and he did face a pathetic St. Louis run defense. But given all the issues the Cowboys have had at running back over the years, his feat today had to be refreshing for Jerry Jones and Co. Here’s hoping the 23-year-old back can avoid injuries and build off of this incredible performance.

- I made it clear in my predictions this week that I liked the Chiefs to at least cover the 3.5-point spread in Oakland. But 28-0 with two 50-yard pick-sixes? Yeah, no – didn’t see that coming. Suddenly Kansas City is only a game back of San Diego and Oakland in the win column. That’s quite a contrast to where the Chiefs were a month ago, when head coach Todd Haley was nearly fired for the team’s ugly 0-3 start.

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Fade Material: NFL Week 7 Predictions

Fans of Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow hold up a sign during their NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Denver November 14, 2010. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

While my college picks continue to do well, a .500 record for my NFL predictions seems to be out of the question. After hitting the 49ers and Packers in the early games, the Saints were dropkicked by the Bucs and the Vikings…oh, the Vikings.

Following my 2-2 effort in Week 6, that puts my season record at 10-14 on the year.

Broncos @ Dolphins, 1:00PM ET
I was one of the many who chastised the Broncos for trading back into the first round to take Tim Tebow in 2010. But now that it has become almost cliché to bag on Tebow’s abilities as a passer, I’m flat out rooting for him now. RELEASE THE TEBOW! From a performance standpoint, you can’t get much worse than the Miami defense. Their pass rush isn’t that bad but what’s the difference? They can’t stop the pass or run so teams can still pretty much do whatever they want against the Dolphins. Tebow will probably throw for 87 yards but give me two I say TWO touchdowns in a Denver victory today.
THE PICK: DENVER BRONCOS +1

Steelers @ Cardinals, 4:05PM ET
Here’s the way I’m viewing this game. Pittsburgh is a 3.5-point favorite but let’s toss out the spread for a second. I ask myself, ‘Do I think the Steelers will win?’ The answer is yes. And if I believe they’re going to win, then they’re probably going to beat a bad Arizona team (which has proven it can’t finish games) by more than a field goal, right? Again, the answer is yes. (At least in my eyes.) The Steelers have been models of inconsistency thus far, but if you follow that same model then they should roll today. After the Ravens hammered them 35-7 in Week 1, the Steelers covered as 14-point favorites the following week against the Seahawks. After they lost to the Texans in Week 4, they covered easily as a 3-point favorite against the Titans in Week 5. And after they barely squeaked by the Jaguars last Sunday, I expect them to cover against Arizona. It’s science.
THE PICK: PITTSBURGH STEELERS –3.5

Chiefs @ Raiders, 4:05PM ET
Every time I’m utterly confused by a point spread it usually winds up burning me in the end. The Raiders opened as 3-point point home favorites against the Chiefs when it was presumed that Kyle Boller was going to be Oakland’s starter. That makes sense. The Raiders are at home, they’re the better team and the old rule is that home field advantage is worth three points. Thus, Oakland –3. But after they acquired Carson Palmer on Tuesday and it was announced that he was playing, the line climbed a full point to 4.5. Then the damn thing jumped up to 5.5 as the public presumably hammered the Palmer-led Raiders. So what you’re telling me is that Palmer is worth a full 1.5 points? Are you kidding me? I know this isn’t the same the Chiefs team that won the AFC West last year but they are 2-0 in their last two games and 3-2 against the spread this year. They’re also coming off a bye and playing an opponent they’re incredibly familiar with (sans Palmer, that is). Plus, and this is the biggest reason why I can’t understand the line, Palmer hasn’t played in a live game since January 2. Now, after reporting on Friday that Palmer might not start, the line is back down to 3.5. Either way, give me the points. I don’t trust either Palmer nor Boller.
THE PICK: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS +3.5

Packers @ Vikings, 4:15PM ET
The Packers haven’t played a full game in a couple of weeks, as they struggled in the first-half against the Falcons in Week 5 and completely took their foot off the gas in the second-half last Sunday against the Rams. That scares me, although not as much as what Aaron Rodgers is going to do in a dome against Minnesota’s brutal secondary. Even if rookie Christian Ponder plays well in his first career start, he isn’t going to keep pace with Rodgers and the Packers. I’ll probably get burned by this same Viking team that I predicted would upset Chicago last Sunday but just like the Chiefs-Raiders game, I’m not going to over-think this one. (I also love that the spread has stayed below the key number of 10.)
THE PICK: GREEN BAY PACKERS –9

Check out the most current NFL Football Betting odds.

2011 NFL Week 7 Primer

Denver Broncos reserve quarterback Tim Tebow celebrates his fourth quarter 12-yard touchdown run against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 9, 2011 in Denver. Despite a comeback effort from Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, the Chargers held on for a 29-24 win. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Broncos @ Dolphins, 1:00PM ET
Tim Tebow said that the Denver coaching staff didn’t change the team’s offensive scheme to fit the quarterback’s skill set during the bye week. That makes sense. I mean why would any coaching staff want to try and play to their quarterback’s strengths? Bill Belichick doesn’t do that with Tom Brady. Mike McCarthy doesn’t do that with Aaron Rodgers. Both of those teams largely keep the ball on the ground and let Brady and Rodgers be the game managers they are. (I hate that I even have to write this but I know some people will misconstrue things: I’m being sarcastic.) While I like Tebow’s chances of succeeding this weekend in Miami no matter what the scheme is, I think the Broncos should have styled their offense around what he does best (i.e. being creative in both the run and the pass). But what do I know? I’m a doctor, not an offensive coordinator.

Falcons @ Lions, 1:00PM ET
It’s all well and good that the Falcons want to get back to Michael Turner and their ball-control ways, but at some point OC Mike Mularkey better figure out how to beat teams through the air. Matt Ryan is the only quarterback in the NFC South who has yet to throw for over 300 yards in a game this season and he ranks 17th in the league in overall passing yards. With Julio Jones (hamstring) expected to miss another week, it would be wise for the Falcons to keep the ball on the ground against the Lions’ suspect run defense. But again, at some point Mularkey has to do his job and figure out a way to let Ryan soar. The most obvious solution is to put him in the no-huddle full-time, but Mularkey and Mike Smith’s conservative ways just won’t allow it.

Texans @ Titans, 1:00PM ET
Hey Matt Schaub, it’s go time buddy. The AFC South is yours for the taking and while I understand that you lost your best playmaker and your defense is now without its best weapon, it’s high time you raise your game. Arian Foster is seeing eight man fronts so there’s no reason for you not to exploit defenses with your arm – Andre Johnson or no Andre Johnson. Tennessee’s pass rush is one of the weakest in the league, so figure it out and get your team a win, Matt.

Chargers @ Jets, 1:00PM ET
“The more we get comfortable, we start playing pitch and catch and I’m doing my thing out there, the offense is going to go through the roof,” said Plaxico Burress in regards to Mark Sanchez and the Jet offense. Right, because naturally Plax is the key to whether or not New York’s offense is going to eventually get out of its funk. I think the Jets have it right in giving Shonn Greene an increased workload. The only way they’re going to really get their offense going is relying on the ground game to open things up for Sanchez. Burress is probably right when he suggests that he and Sanchez need to develop more chemistry, but the key to this offense is Greene and the ground attack.

Redskins @ Panthers, 1:00PM ET
Mike Shanahan is in a mess of his own making. Everyone knew going into the season that Rex Grossman is fine in small doses, but over the course of a season he’s going to hurt you. Thus, now that Shanahan has switched things up and is starting John Beck on Sunday, he better win. The Panthers are better than their 1-5 record would indicate but this is a game the Redskins have to win if they want to keep pace with the Giants in the NFC East.

Seahawks @ Browns, 1:00PM ET
Peyton Hillis has an injured hamstring and won’t practice on Thursday. His agent has advised him not to play in this game, or the next 12. If a case of the sniffles is equal to missing one game, then an injured hamstring must be equal to 13 missed games. Hillis and his agent just can’t be too careful when it comes to the King of Fumbles’ health.

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2011 NFL Week 7 Point Spreads

Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner (#33) runs past Carolina Panthers linebacker James Anderson (#50) in the second half of an NFL football game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia on October 16, 2011. The Falcons defeated the Panthers 31-17. UPI Photo/Erik S. Lesser

Four spreads of note:

Falcons +3.5 @ Lions, 1:00PM ET Sunday
Apparently the Falcons showed enough last week in their win over the Panthers to make people believe they’re starting to turn things around. Either that or folks are slowly starting to climb off the Lions bandwagon. The spread for this game opened at Detroit –4.5 and within a day it was down to 3.5. Considering Atlanta was viewed as a potential Super Bowl team this season, the Falcons look like a value getting over a field goal. With Julio Jones iffy to return from a hamstring injury, we could see a lot of Michael Turner again this Sunday, especially considering Detroit has had its issues with stopping the run. The Falcons relied heavily on Turner last week against Carolina, as he rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Personally, I think the total is the most attractive play in this game. Forty-seven points seems way to high for two teams that have struggled at times offensively.

Bears -1 @ Bucs, 1:00PM ET Sunday
The Bucs beat the Saints last week at home and they’re now a 1-point underdog against a Chicago team that hasn’t won back-to-back games all season? I guess that’s not too surprising seeing as how ugly the Bucs have looked at times, but it’s not like the Bears have performed any better away from Solider Field (0-2 with two non-covers at New Orleans and Detroit). There’s value here somewhere but it’s hard to figure out which teams will show up this Sunday, especially seeing as how the game is being played in London. Both of these squads have had rather uneven performances from week-to-week this season.

Steelers –3.5 @ Cardinals, 4:05PM ET
The spread in this game seems awfully low to me, even when you account for home field advantage. That’s probably because the Steelers have looked great one week (see Titans), only to come out the next week and barely beat an inferior opponent (see Jaguars). If the Cardinals have any chance of getting back into the NFC West race, they need to win on Sunday. The problem is that Kevin Kolb hasn’t been the quarterback Arizona thought it was getting when it traded for him this offseason. The Cards have been in every game this year except their disastrous Week 5 showing in Minnesota, but Kolb just hasn’t gotten it done in the fourth quarter.

Chiefs +4 @ Raiders, 4:05PM ET, Sunday
It’s funny, the Raiders opened as a 3-point favorite with Kyle Boller under center and as soon as they announced that Carson Palmer would start, the spread climbed to 4 points. So Palmer, who hasn’t taken a snap in a live game since January, is worth a full point in a divisional game? I know he’s familiar with the offense thanks to the time he spent with Hue Jackson in Cincinnati but so much for easing the guy in. That speaks volumes towards Oakland’s confidence in Boller. It’ll be interesting to see how this game plays out come Sunday.

2011 NFL Week 8 Point Spreads & Totals:

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