Week 7: NFL Divisional Matchups – Part II

October 19, 2012 • Ben Heck • AFC, NFC, Preview

Analyzing the Week 7 divisional matchups – Part II. Take a look here to see Part I.AFC EAST
Jets (3-3) at Patriots (3-3): Sunday October 21, 4:25pm EST CBS
The AFC East has a 4-way tie for first with each team, Dolphins, Patriots, Bills and Jets, all at 3-3 (notwithstanding tiebreakers). Even though the Jets had some crucial injuries – shutdown corner Darrelle Revis and veteran wide receiver Santonio Holmes, both out for the season – they still find themselves in the hunt for the division lead. And in spite of a somewhat shaky start with the receiving corps of Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill, both now seem to be settling into their respective roles. Along with receiver Chaz Schilens, all three will need to take advantage of the Patriots injury-depleted secondary. Since the Patriots have been good at stopping the run, expect running back Shonn Greene’s production to be minimal, forcing quarterback Mark Sanchez and his receivers to exploit the Pats’ rookie safeties. The Pats will also have to contend with any sub packages using backup quarterback Tim Tebow.
Tom Brady heads the Patriots high-powered offense and they lead the league in average total yards per game (445) and points per game (31.3). The usually pass-happy Patriots have also added a very effective run game this year. Perhaps the Jets biggest challenge though, will be counteracting the Pats hurry-up, no huddle offense. The Pats have successfully used it in keeping defenses guessing and off-balance, and most of all, exhausted. To keep the game close, the Jets need to contain wide receiver Wes Welker and the always dangerous tight end tandem of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. Expect to see safeties Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry helping corners Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie cover the tight ends. The Patriots, though, will use this game to re-establish their supremacy in the AFC East.
Prediction: Jets 19 Patriots 41AFC NORTH

Steelers (2-3) at Bengals (3-3): Sunday October 21, 8:20pm EST NBC
If any team has shown us the folly of making preseason predictions, it is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Currently sitting at 2-3 and 3rd in the division, the Steelers will undoubtedly take this opportunity to turn their season around. But it will be no easy task as they are 0-3 on the road with all three losses coming after leading in the 4thquarter. Another factor making their task difficult is the injuries they’ve suffered to key personnel, especially on defense and their failure in jumpstarting a viable running game. Star running back Rashard Mendenhall has only played in one full game due to injury and backups Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, who have also suffered injuries, have not taken up the slack. With the Bengals ranking 2ndin sacks with 20, Big Ben’s skill of evading defenders and extending the play will be tested. But if it’s a case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, my money’s on the immovable object, Big Ben.
The Bengals greatest offensive asset is 2nd year wide receiver A.J. Green. The Dalton-Green connection has contributed to their averaging 282 passing yards per game, good enough for 8th in the league. However, quarterback Andy Dalton has been vulnerable when pressured, throwing 8 interceptions when blitz pressure is applied. Can the Steelers defensive line keep enough pressure on Dalton to disrupt his flow and force miscues? Both teams are struggling with the run. The Bengals are 21st averaging 99 yards per game; while the Steelers rank 31st averaging just 74. The game will be decided by each quarterback’s ability to connect with their respective receivers: Dalton with Green and Andrew Hawkins and Big Ben with Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emanuel Sanders. Because of the injuries to key Steelers, and the fact that those who are returning this week may not be playing to full potential, here’s my one upset pick of the 6 division matchups this week (if picking the 2ndplace team over the 3rd place one can even be called an upset).
Prediction: Steelers 17 Bengals 23
Update: QB Ben Roethlisberger left Thursday’s practice early after sustaining an ankle injury. We will have to stay tuned to see if this development will impact Sunday’s game.
Lions (2-3) at Bears (4-1):  Monday October 19, 8:30pm EST on ESPN
To say that the Detroit Lions have gotten off to a slow start is an understatement. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, who threw for over 5,000 yards last year, has only 4 touchdowns to 5 interceptions through 5 games. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who led the league in touchdown receptions for WRs last year with 16, only has one so far. They face a stout Chicago defense that is ranked No. 1 in defending the run, only allowing an average of 65 rushing yards per game. The Bears are also No. 1 in points allowed per game with 14.2. The Lions’ running game has gotten off to a slow start, though back Mikel Leshoure, who missed the first two games of the season, has given the Lions some spark at the position. Because of their stalled running game, the Lions will rely heavily on the pass.
Bears’ running back Matt Forte’s big play potential keeps defenses on their heels and opens up the passing game. The Lions will have to keep pressure on quarterback Jay Cutler to disrupt his connection with deep-threat wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The key to the game will be how well the Bears’ defense can contain the Lions’ receiving arsenal of Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. With the Lions trying to get back in the hunt in the AFC North, this will be a crucial game for both teams.
Prediction: Lions 21 Bears 23
Note: statistics quoted (exc. pts per game) are rounded off for clarity

Photo credit
Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images North America

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