Five things I’ll be looking at in the seventh week of the 2017 NFL season:
1. Can the Patriots shake off their stupor?
It’s not surprising that the New England Patriots-Atlanta Falcons Super Bowl rematch will be in prime time. It is one of the best attractions of the season. Adding an interesting sidelight is the fact the Falcons, who blew a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl, blew a 17-0 halftime lead to Miami last week.
But the surprising thing is that the Patriots come into this game with more issues than the Falcons, and an Atlanta win would be no surprise.
Matt Ryan put up 28 points against the Patriots defense in the Super Bowl and the Patriots defense was better last year. Every quarterback the Patriots have faced this year has thrown for over 300 yards, and Bill Belichick’s offseason moves are being questioned.
The AFC is so weak – every team has at least two losses – that the Patriots can’t be written off, especially since they still have Tom Brady. But if their defense is strafed by Ryan, more questions will be raised about whether Belichick can fix this defense. Brady has overcome Belichick’s mistakes in the past. Can he do it one more time?
2. Can the Bengals keep their bounce-back going?
The Cincinnati Bengals have won two in a row after starting off 0-3 and can climb back into the AFC North race by upsetting the 4-2 Pittsburgh Steelers, who have been engulfed in controversy much of the season, but handed Kansas City its first loss last week and are leading the division.
Le’Veon Bell had a big game against the Chiefs, and the Steelers figure to see if the Bengals can stop him.
The Bengals and Steelers have quite a rivalry going even though the Steelers have won 16 of last 21 meetings. Four of the last eight have been decided by eight points or fewer. The league switched the game from a 1 p.m. start to a late afternoon to give them a doubleheader TV attraction.
The Steelers are now playing only two 1 p.m. games the rest of the season and will play five prime time games, including four prime time games in a row.
3. Can the Chargers overcome homefield ‘disadvantage’?
The 2-4 Los Angeles Chargers won two road games after starting out 0-4 and now they return “home’’ to host the 3-2 Broncos.
The problem is the Chargers have no homefield edge in their small stadium, and the opposing team usually has as many if not more fans than the Chargers. So look for a lot of Denver fans to be there.
San Diego gave the Broncos a good game in the opener at Denver, losing 24-21 when the Broncos blocked a late field goal attempt. The Broncos have lost two of last three, but figure to win this one.
4. Can the Jaguars straighten out their rollercoaster-like season?
The Jacksonville Jaguars won in weeks 1-3-5 and lost in weeks 2-4-6, so they are due to win in week 7 against the Indianapolis Colts.
Since Jacoby Brissett is young and Blake Bortles is inconsistent, the key in the game is how well the two teams will be able to run the ball. But Leonard Fournette of the Jaguars is questionable with an ankle injury and didn’t practice this week, so Chris Ivory may get a bigger workload for the Jaguars even if Fournette sees some action.
5. How much will the Packers struggle without Aaron Rodgers?
The 4-2 Green Bay Packers are likely to start a long slow decline against the 3-2 New Orleans Saints. It will be the first start for Brett Hundley now that Aaron Rodgers it out with a broken collarbone.
Hundley threw three interceptions after Rodgers went down against the Vikings. The Saints defense isn’t as good as Minnesota’s, and Hundley has had a week of practice with the first time offense. But nobody will be surprised if Hundley can’t outduel Drew Brees.