The N.F.L. season is not even at its halfway point, but Sunday night’s matchup could decide the N.F.C. West, as the Seattle Seahawks travel to Arizona with the hope of beating the Cardinals. It should be the game of the week after Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s knee injury spoiled a tantalizing matchup with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on Sunday afternoon. Here is a look at Sunday’s matchups and who we think will win them:
Seahawks (4-1) at Cardinals (3-3)
It seems ridiculous to attach so much importance to a Week 7 game, but in a meeting of division rivals that excel on both sides of the ball, it could go a long way to determining how things play out in the N.F.C. West. If the Cardinals win, it’s a race to the finish. If they lose, Seattle’s lead will become nearly insurmountable.
In the past, it would have been up to Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer to get things done, but at 36, he has shown signs of decline beyond recent injuries. He seems to have several plays a game in which he just misses on deep throws that would have been touchdowns in the past.
With Palmer’s “home run” ability gone, David Johnson has become all-important to Arizona’s offense. A dynamic second-year running back, he frustrates defenses by being an effective runner — he is third in the N.F.L. with 568 rushing yards — and by serving as a safety valve for the passing game, turning swing passes into huge gains. With far less fanfare than Dallas’s Ezekiel Elliott, he is leading the N.F.L. in yards from scrimmage with 833 to Elliott’s 801.
Johnson and Palmer will be tested against a Seattle defense that has allowed 74.6 yards a game on the ground. The Cardinals may get a lift if the mammoth run-blocking guard Mike Iupati can return from ligament damage in his ankle. With Arizona’s offense struggling to connect for much of the season, against Seattle’s first grade defence I cant see them scoring enough in this one.
Patriots (5-1) at Steelers (4-2)
This game was eagerly awaited, but Roethlisberger’s absence takes away much of the drama. Losing Roethlisberger is a blow to the entire offense, but to wide receiver Antonio Brown, especially. Last season, in the 12 games he played with Roethlisberger (11 that he started and one in which he came on in relief for most of the game), Brown averaged 9.9 catches for 133 yards, scoring 10 touchdowns. In the four games Brown played primarily with Pittsburgh’s other quarterback options, he averaged four catches for 59 yards and did not score. A similar downturn by Brown would sink the Pittsburgh offense, even with Le’Veon Bell at his best.
Pittsburgh’s “bend but don’t break” defensive approach is risky against the Patriots, who can send tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett out on any red zone play and watch as they outrun, outjump and outmuscle anyone who tries to get in their way.
Vikings (5-0) at Eagles (3-2)
You might think that Sam Bradford facing the Eagles, the team that traded him in the preseason, would result in a revenge game, but how could there be bitterness on either side? Bradford is the starting quarterback for the N.F.L.’s last undefeated team. The Eagles were clearly wise to hand the offense to the rookie Carson Wentz, who has lost two games in a row but has yet to produce fewer than 20 points in a game and has the makings of a star. The advantage goes to the Vikings, though. Their elite secondary will give any passing team a tough day.
Redskins (4-2) at Lions (3-3)
Toward the end of Detroit’s Week 5 win over Philadelphia, Golden Tate had a big reception that helped set up a go-ahead field goal. It was the lone bright point in what had been a tumultuous start to the season, but it apparently sparked something inside him; last week, he had eight catches for 165 yards and a touchdown in a win over Los Angeles. If Tate returns to his form of the last few seasons, the Lions’ offense will be in good shape.
Washington are a team slowly flying under the radar, there defence headed by Josh Norman has been outstanding and allowed just 4 passing touchdowns in the past 5 games.
Raiders (4-2) at Jaguars (2-3)
Oakland’s productive passing attack had a rare poor showing last week, but holding quarterback Derek Carr to 10 points again would be too much to ask of Jacksonville’s developing young defense. The Raiders have too many options.
Bills (4-2) at Dolphins (2-4)
The Bills’ hot streak after an 0-2 start seemed to come out of nowhere, and it is hard to believe it will end against the Dolphins. Riding some great play by the team’s defense, a tough rushing attack and enough passing to keep defenses honest, Buffalo has turned into an ideal Rex Ryan team, and that is bad news for Miami.
Giants (3-3) at Rams (3-3)
The N.F.L.’s forays to Europe continue with this game at England’s Twickenham Stadium, which usually hosts big rugby matches. Because the Rams are the home team, they will play only seven games in Los Angeles in their first year back in the city. The fans at home may be O.K. with skipping what could become an ugly game if the Rams’ defense continues to struggle.
Saints (2-3) at Chiefs (3-2)
Neither of these teams has shown enough consistency for there to be a worthwhile prediction. The Chiefs’ most reliable asset is their secondary, and the most reliable thing about the Saints is that their defense will be terrible nearly every week. So those two things should combine for a Chiefs victory in some form.
Buccaneers (2-3) at 49ers (1-5)
Starting at quarterback last week for the first time in nearly a year, Colin Kaepernick played fairly well but was not able to win. San Francisco’s defense was so bad at slowing the Buffalo offense that Joe Montana and Steve Young, in their prime, might have had a hard time winning as well. This week, Kaepernick is home against a terrible defense, and he will have a better chance to show what he can do under Coach Chip Kelly.
Chargers (2-4) at Falcons (4-2)
The Falcons, whose four-game winning streak ended last week, have been playing well with Matt Ryan reasserting himself as a star quarterback and receiver Julio Jones looking unstoppable when healthy. They should have won last week if it wasnt for a late no call and they would be the in form team in the competition. The Chargers have been great all year, they just continually find a way to lose. This game will be close and a high scoring spectacle.
Browns (0-6) at Bengals (2-4)
Joe Haden, Cleveland’s top cornerback, is nursing a groin injury and would be wise to let it heal another week, as his presence won’t prevent this game from being a slaughter. If anything, he might want to look into some sort of cryogenic freezing process so he could sit out several seasons and then be reanimated when the Browns have built a roster with more than four or five interesting players. The same goes for Joe Thomas, the team’s dominant offensive tackle, whose prime years are being wasted.
Ravens (3-3) at Jets (1-5)
Ryan Fitzpatrick has lost the starting quarterback position to Geno Smith, which will probably cost him the chance to complete an amazing reversal: Last season, he broke Vinny Testaverde’s franchise record for single-season passing touchdowns, which had stood since 1998, and this season, he was nearly on a pace to break Al Dorow’s franchise record for single-season interceptions, which has stood since 1961 (and was matched by Richard Todd in 1980). Joe Flacco has a questionable shoulder injury, if he starts the Ravens win.
Colts (2-4) at Titans (3-3)
DeMarco Murray is probably not as good as he looked in Dallas two seasons ago, but he is also not as bad as he looked in Philadelphia last season. Entering his seventh game with the Titans, he needs 176 rushing yards and two touchdowns to match his 15-game totals from last year. Running behind one of the best offensive lines and against one of the worst defenses just might get him there.