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Week 7 Picks (The Early Games): Teams looking to extricate themselves from parity

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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The AFC's two winning teams face off today. (Getty Images)

Pete Rozelle's dream of a league in which any team could beat any other team is in full effect this season -- if you're looking for a team that seems dominant week in and week out, you'd best find a time machine. 11 of the NFL's 32 teams are 3-3 right now, including the entire AFC East, and only two AFC teams (the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens) have winning records. In Week 7, important divisional matchups will define the day, and set several teams on the path as the 2012 NFL season approaches its halfway point.

Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills

The Titans haven't played since two Thursdays ago, when they surprised an undermanned Pittsburgh Steelers team despite fielding what is the NFL's worst overall offense, per Football Outsiders' metrics. They come back to face a Bills team that currently fields the league's second-worst defense per those same numbers. Last week, Buffalo beat an Arizona Cardinals team that has a great many questions on the offensive side of the ball, but with almost no pass rush generated from that Bills defensive line, Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck should have sufficient time to get all surgical.

Pick: Titans 27, Bills 22

Washington at New York Giants

Believe it or not, this is Robert Griffin III's first NFC East matchup, and the kid doesn't get it easy to start. The Giants would seem to have a counter for everything Griffin does, but Griffin has already proven that he's more than a shot-play guy and option quarterback. The Redskins throw more backfield action and motion at defenses than any other team in the NFL, and though the Giants shut down San Francisco's multiple run game last Sunday, this is a different challenge. Griffin can beat you with a 75-yard pass and a 75-yard run, and that's no exaggeration -- he's already burned defenses with those kinds of plays. That said, and while we know that RG3 is the real deal, we think that Washington's defense will win or lose this game. Look for the matchup of DeAngelo Hall in the slot against Victor Cruz. If you have seen both players lately, you know how that goes.

Pick: Giants 27, Redskins 19

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Saints have had the worst defense in the league so far, but it isn't the return of Jonathan Vilma that will turn that around -- it's the fact that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is finally implementing subtle blitzes to upset opposing quarterbacks. If Spags dials up enough chaos to keep Josh Freeman off balance, the Bucs' secondary doesn't have an A+ answer for New Orleans' passing offense, despite the absence of Jimmy Graham.

Pick: Saints 31, Buccaneers 17

Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers

The Panthers have lost the offensive identity that made them so effective last season -- in 2011, it was about Cam Newton running option plays with the dual threat of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams to throw defenses off the trail, Now, Newton's worrying too much about mesh points and downfield throws, and the Panthers' backs have just 73 combined runs. Reverting to the rushing strategy that works would be the best option against a Dallas defense that loves to throw multiple fronts out there. Carolina could win or lose based on their ability to keep that defense honest. Keep the game close, and wait for Jason Garrett's head to explode in the two-minute drill? Yeah, that could work.

Pick: Panthers 17, Cowboys 13

Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans

One problem with the Baltimore Ravens' increasing use of three- and four-receiver sets is that fullback Vonta Leach is off the field more often, and Baltimore doesn't benefit from Leach's powerful pass protection. As a result, halfback Ray Rice is tasked to provide more pass protection, and as Greg Cosell detailed in this week's Matchup podcast, the usually excellent Rice isn't providing a passing grade. Last week against the Cowboys, Leach was on the field for just 22 offensive plays -- 43 percent of the offensive snaps. It's good that the Ravens are opening things up, but any team dealing with pass protection issues against the Texans' ravenous defense could be in for a long day. Factor in a Ravens defense that was underperforming before injuries to Ray Lewis, Lardarius Webb, Haloti Ngata, and Ed Reed, and the Texans seem to have the distinct advantage.

Pick: Texans 34, Ravens 23

Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts

Here's a battle of two rookie quarterbacks that provides a reunion of a bowl game -- in this case, the 2012 Fiesta Bowl, when Brandon Weeden's Oklahoma State team edged Andrew Luck's Stanford Cardinal in overtime. Both quarterbacks are first-round picks, but while Luck has been singled out for his mastery of little things, Weeden is still putting things together in a professional sense. One thing's for sure about Weeden -- no rookie quarterback this year has seen a bigger spike in production and efficiency. From his disastrous Week 1 performance to leading the Browns to their first win over the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, Weeden is starting to impress. However, Luck has had it rolling most of the season, and he's shown an amazing knack when it comes to pulling himself up when he falls. Just for fun, we'll say that Luck gets his revenge in overtime.

Pick: Colts 24, Browns 21

Green Bay Packers at St. Louis Rams

Last week's win over the Texans was Green Bay's statement game after a rocky start to the season, but this is a real turning point for the Rams in ways this team hasn't seen in years. Jeff Fisher has added a tone of toughness and defensive effectiveness to the Rams' franchise, leading to a vastly improved defense. The key matchup here is the one between Green Bay's overmatched tackles Marshall Newhouse and Bryan Bulaga, and dominant Rams pass rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Aaron Rodgers will want to focus on getting the ball out quickly, and this game could be a lot closer than people expect. If Sam Bradford had more and better targets, I'd predict an upset.

Pick: Packers 30, Rams 18

Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings aren't 4-2 with smoke and mirrors -- second-year quarterback Christian Ponder is playing well, Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin are marvelous weapons, and that Minnesota defense is the best one you're probably not talking about. Ponder will have his hands full with Arizona's diverse and aggressive defense, but even with John Skelton taking the reins for the injured Kevin Kolb, the Cards simply don't have the offensive structure to deal with most NFL defenses. This will be a nice breather for Jared Allen and his buddies after they wore themselves out chasing RG3 all over the field last week.

Pick: Vikings 27, Cardinals 12

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