Week 7 of the 2013 NFL regular season began with a bang, as the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Arizona Cardinals 34-22 on Thursday Night Football. The clash between the NFC West rivals offered a glimpse into how the postseason race is shaping up.
The question is, how do all 32 teams look entering this weekend's action?
|2013 NFL Regular-Season Standings|
|New York Giants||0||6||0||.000|
|Green Bay Packers||3||2||0||.600|
|New Orleans Saints||5||1||0||.833|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||0||5||0||.000|
|San Francisco 49ers||4||2||0||.667|
|St. Louis Rams||3||3||0||.500|
|New England Patriots||5||1||0||.833|
|New York Jets||3||3||0||.500|
|Kansas City Chiefs||6||0||0||1.000|
|San Diego Chargers||3||3||0||.500|
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 6: 19-35 loss at Denver Broncos
Week 7: vs. San Diego Chargers
The Jacksonville Jaguars fell to 0-6 with a 35-19 loss to the Denver Broncos during Week 6. The return of Justin Blackmon has inspired hope in Jacksonville, but as the season goes on, the Jaguars should be asking only one question.
Jadeveon Clowney or Teddy Bridgewater?
Chad Henne posted a strong outing for Jacksonville, but the organization is focused on Blaine Gabbert. Once considered to be a snub when Cam Newton went No. 1 overall instead of him, Gabbert has posted a career completion percentage of 53.3 in 28 games.
With both Blackmon and Cecil Shorts shining at wide receiver, it's puzzling why Gabbert is playing so poorly.
Jacksonville did perform well against the Broncos, trailing by just two points at halftime, but the end result was as expected. Considering a 16-point defeat is viewed as a strong showing for this team, you don't need to know anything else about the Jaguars.
The roster features some promising players, but Jacksonville needs the draft of a lifetime to see any instant fixes.
31. New York Giants
Week 6: 21-27 loss at Chicago Bears
Week 7: vs. Minnesota Vikings
The New York Giants may not be the most consistent organization, but no one expected them to start the season at 0-6. That's what has transpired, as turnovers have crippled every effort New York has made to win games.
Yet somehow, New York is just three games back in the NFC East.
The Giants have a league-worst 23 giveaways during the 2013 regular season, with the second-worst team checking in at 15. Eli Manning is No. 9 in passing yards per game, but he has an NFL-high 15 interceptions and two fumbles through six games.
Carson Palmer and Geno Smith are the only others with at least 10.
The encouraging sign for New York is that Brandon Jacobs carried the ball 22 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns during Week 6. It was the first time that a Giants player topped 100 yards rushing in 2013.
Until New York wins, however, all of the upside is irrelevant.
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 6: 20-31 loss vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Week 7: Bye Week
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano has come under fire during his second year in the league. The pressure reached a new high when the Buccaneers committed to Schiano and released franchise quarterback Josh Freeman.
During Tampa Bay's first game of the post-Freeman era, it fell 31-20 to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mike Glennon was strong, going 26-of-43 for 273 yards, two touchdowns and one interception with one fumble. He found Vincent Jackson nine times for 114 yards and two touchdowns, and Timothy Wright caught seven passes for 91.
After allowing 10 straight fourth-quarter points, however, the Bucs couldn't hold on for the win.
Despite possessing Darrelle Revis at cornerback, the Bucs have decided to commit to a zone defense. It bears a resemblance to the Philadelphia Eagles from 2011 and 2012, when they wasted the talents of Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel by going to a zone.
With a lack of discipline—penalties continue to be an issue in Tampa Bay—and questionable coaching decisions, Schiano is on the hot seat.
29. Minnesota Vikings
Week 6: 10-35 loss vs. Carolina Panthers
Week 7: at New York Knicks
According to the Minnesota Vikings' official Twitter feed, head coach Leslie Frazier has named Josh Freeman as the starting quarterback for Week 7. It'll be a tough first test, as Freeman will lead the Vikings into a Monday Night Football meeting with the Giants.
New York may be 0-6, but Monday Night Football is known for breeding breakout performances.
The Vikings are coming off a 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers where Matt Cassel was 32-of-44 for 241 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. All in all, it was a strong performance, but his turnovers were Minnesota's ultimate undoing.
Now, the Vikings will trust Freeman to provide what the team has needed since Brett Favre's departure: a monster arm.
With Freeman's ability to avoid pressure and make throws downfield, players such as Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson should be more effective. More importantly, the field should open up for Adrian Peterson, who routinely faces eight in the box.
Minnesota is only three games back of .500, but a loss in Week 7 would end the Vikings' postseason dreams.
28. Washington Redskins
Week 6: 16-31 loss at Dallas Cowboys
Week 7: vs. Chicago Bears
The Washington Redskins had the opportunity to secure a season-altering win over the Dallas Cowboys but instead fell 31-16. It was yet another display of the Redskins' lack of chemistry, as nothing seemed to come together on either end of the field.
That seems to be the only way to explain how a team can go from division champions in 2012 to 1-4 in 2013.
Washington did start slow last season, but in 2013, the issues have been found on both ends of the ball. Robert Griffin III has six touchdowns to five interceptions and five fumbles, the Redskins rank 24th or worse in rushing and passing defense, and Washington can't seem to play well during the first half.
Some may reference Washington's strong offensive numbers, but those have been built up during comeback efforts that have fallen short.
Washington has two losses by at least 15 points and another two by six points or less. That makes it difficult to gauge how this team could shape up to be a postseason contender, as the Redskins' quality outings have been close losses.
The only question at this point is whether or not Washington will turn things around before it's too late.
27. Oakland Raiders
Week 6: 7-24 loss at Kansas City Chiefs
Week 7: Bye Week
The Oakland Raiders played the Kansas City Chiefs well enough to be in the game until the fourth quarter. From there, it was a matter of inexperience and a ferocious road crowd leading to a loss.
At least Oakland is competitive again.
Terrelle Pryor has been a revelation in Oakland and continued his strong play by going 18-of-34 for 216 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and 56 rushing yards. It wasn't flawless, but Oakland managed 121 rushing yards against one of the best defenses in the league.
For a young offense, that's something to be excited about.
Perhaps nothing was as significant as the performance by Oakland's defense, which held Alex Smith to 14-of-31 passing. It was yet another strong performance by a unit that's beginning to pressure the quarterback.
The postseason may be an unrealistic dream for Oakland, but it's playing well enough to compete with any team.
26. Atlanta Falcons
Week 6: Bye Week
Week 7: vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Atlanta Falcons were on a much-needed bye during Week 6 of the regular season. It was a welcome break for a team that had lost three consecutive games and four of its first five.
Atlanta returns to action during Week 7 against the Buccaneers.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 6: 19-6 win at New York Jets
Week 7: vs. Baltimore Ravens
The Pittsburgh Steelers breathed a temporary sigh of relief during Week 6, as they finally won a game. Behind a smothering defensive performance, Pittsburgh moved to 1-4 with a 19-6 road win against the New York Jets.
Now, Pittsburgh will host the Baltimore Ravens.
Ben Roethlisberger was 23-of-30 for 264 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, finding Antonio Brown nine times for 86 yards and Heath Miller six times for 84. The return of Miller may be the most underrated story in the league, as his presence has been monumental for Pittsburgh.
Roethlisberger now has a reliable blocker and checkdown option when facing heavy pass rushes.
If not Miller's return, then the most dramatic improvement for Pittsburgh has come on defense. The Steelers have shut down all but one opponent with dominant defense, but they had struggled to sack the quarterback or force turnovers.
During Week 6, both Ryan Clark and Lawrence Timmons registered interceptions, and three separate players had sacks. Pittsburgh may be back.
24. Arizona Cardinals
Week 7: 22-34 loss vs. Seattle Seahawks
Week 8: vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Arizona Cardinals have suffered back-to-back 12-point losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks. It hasn't been pretty, but Arizona has displayed the upside of a postseason team.
During Week 8, the Cardinals will face the Atlanta Falcons before going into their bye.
Carson Palmer was 30-of-45 for 258 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions—including one that wasn't his fault—against the Seahawks during Week 7. Michael Floyd had six receptions for 71 yards, Rob Housler had seven catches for 53, and Andre Roberts caught five for 33.
Unfortunately for Palmer, Richard Sherman and company shut down Larry Fitzgerald, and the Cardinals failed to run the football well enough to open up the field and find the end zone.
Defensively, it was a difficult game, but John Abraham registered his first two sacks of the season, and Matt Shaughnessy came up with one of his own. The Cardinals forced two turnovers and continued to display promise.
Unfortunately, playing in a stacked NFC West is an excellent way for progression to be overshadowed by comparisons to the elite.
23. Buffalo Bills
Week 6: 24-27 loss vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Week 7: at Miami Dolphins
Despite playing without franchise quarterback EJ Manuel, the Buffalo Bills took the Cincinnati Bengals to overtime in a 27-24 loss. The Bills featured a balanced rushing attack, a strong defensive performance and an impressing outing by the low-profile backup, which offered reason for intrigue.
In the end, Buffalo proved that it's a dramatically improved football team.
Thad Lewis was 19-of-32 for 216 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson had 10 carries for 55 yards. Scott Chandler and Marquise Goodwin both caught touchdowns, and the Bills were within a Mike Nugent field goal of a huge upset.
The true stars of this game, however, were on defense.
Kiko Alonso continued his Rookie of the Year campaign, registering 22 tackles, and Mario Williams upped his number to 8.0 sacks through six games. The front office is beginning to look like geniuses as a perfect storm comes together in Buffalo.
With more experience, Buffalo is going to be a perennial postseason contender.
22. Cleveland Browns
Week 6: 17-31 loss vs. Detroit Lions
Week 7: at Green Bay Packers
The Cleveland Browns have been the most surprising .500 football team of the 2013 regular season, starting off at 3-3. What may be even more stunning about Cleveland is the fact that it's playing worse with its 2012 first-round draft choice at quarterback than it was with a career backup.
Who would've thought that an injury to Brian Hoyer would be Cleveland's undoing?
The Browns fell apart during Week 6, allowing 24 consecutive points en route to a 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions. Brandon Weeden had 292 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed two costly interceptions, including one backhand flip that shouldn't ever be duplicated.
At least Cleveland's receiving corps is legitimate.
Josh Gordon had seven receptions for 126 yards, and Jordan Cameron tallied five catches for 64 yards. Second-year cornerback Tashaun Gipson had an interception, displaying just how promising Cleveland's youth movement is.
During Week 7, Cleveland could turn heads with a road win against the Green Bay Packers.
21. Houston Texans
Week 6: 13-38 loss vs. St. Louis Rams
Week 7: at Kansas City Chiefs
The Houston Texans rank amongst the most disappointing teams of the 2013 regular season. Despite winning its first two games, Houston is 2-4 and beginning to lose hope when it comes to reaching the postseason.
According to Tania Ganguli of ESPN, head coach Gary Kubiak has announced that Case Keenum will start for the Texans in Week 7. It's that bad in Houston.
This is no slight on Keenum, who had a record-setting college career at the University of Houston. What this is an indictment of, however, is the monumental collapse that the Texans have experienced on both sides of the football.
Say what you will about Matt Schaub's tendency to turn the ball over, but Houston's defense hasn't been perfect, either.
Schaub and the Texans have accounted for 15 turnovers, which ranks second-to-last in the NFL. Houston is also second-to-last with three total takeaways through six weeks of action.
No matter which way you cut it, Houston is in trouble.
20. New York Jets
Week 6: 6-19 loss vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 7: vs. New England Patriots
The New York Jets made quite a statement during Week 5, securing a road win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. One week later, we saw the Jets we know, as the offense fell apart during a 19-6 loss.
At least the Jets have potential.
Geno Smith was 19-of-34 for 201 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, while Bilal Powell had nine carries for 30 yards. It was a disappointing performance, but Jeff Cumberland did continue his strong play with four receptions for 59 yards.
All in all, it was an up-and-down day of offensive play.
Defensively, the Jets played strong, registering four sacks and limiting the Steelers to 73 yards on the ground. Muhammad Wilkerson continues to star, and the Jets' criticized draft choices are now turning out to be strong players.
Rex Ryan has had his twists and turns, but he has earned some job security.
19. Tennessee Titans
Week 6: 13-20 loss at Seattle Seahawks
Week 7: vs. San Francisco 49ers
Jake Locker's absence has come at a rough time for the Tennessee Titans. Tennessee's current three-game stretch includes road losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks and an upcoming home game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Locker is becoming a fine young quarterback, but Tennessee would have had an uphill battle with anyone under center.
The Titans nearly won during Week 6 but eventually fell 20-13 to the Seahawks in Seattle. Ryan Fitzpatrick was 17-of-29 for 171 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, while Chris Johnson tallied 33 yards on 12 carries.
Tennessee is still waiting for CJ2K to step up behind a revamped offensive line.
The Titans defense hasn't been to blame for the losses, as it forced two turnovers and came up with a defensive touchdown in Week 6. This was yet another strong showing by a group that is developing into one of the best units in football.
A Week 7 meeting with the San Francisco 49ers completes this unfavorable string of games.
18. Carolina Panthers
Week 6: 35-10 win at Minnesota Vikings
Week 7: vs. St. Louis Rams
The first five weeks have been confusing for the Carolina Panthers, as the known-to-be explosive offense has struggled to do much of anything. The defense has been playing elite football, but without points on the board, Carolina has been unable to get above .500.
During Week 6, the Panthers began to flash their postseason upside by topping 35 points for the second time in three games.
Cam Newton was surgical by going 20-of-26 for 242 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and by adding 30 rushing yards and a score on the ground. DeAngelo Williams continued his bounce-back season with 117 yards of total offense, and Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith found the back of the end zone.
Throw in Mike Tolbert's two touchdowns—one rushing and one receiving—and Carolina's offense is alive and well again.
The Panthers have the potential to be a force in the NFC, with an explosive on-paper offense and a dominant defense. Led by one of the best linebacker corps in the league, Carolina is second in the NFL and No. 1 in the NFC at 13.6 points allowed per game.
It's now on Newton to step up as the franchise player and lead Carolina to an above. 500 record in his third season.
17. Philadelphia Eagles
Week 6: 31-20 win at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 7: vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Philadelphia Eagles can be nothing but pleased with the fact that there's a quarterback controversy. Both Nick Foles and Michael Vick have played high-quality football under head coach Chip Kelly, and in Week 6, it was Foles' turn to shine.
Shine he did.
He led the Eagles to a 31-20 win over the Bucs by going 22-of-31 for 296 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a rushing score. LeSean McCoy added 171 yards of total offense, DeSean Jackson had two receiving touchdowns, and Riley Cooper topped 100 yards receiving.
Philadelphia has now won two consecutive games with a high-octane offensive attack and a rapidly improving defense.
Against the Bucs, Bradley Fletcher had an interception, and both Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan recorded sacks. Philly held Doug Martin to 67 yards on 16 carries and impressed for the second straight game.
Now, the Eagles will play the Dallas Cowboys in a fight for the division lead.
16. San Diego Chargers
Week 6: 19-9 win vs. Indianapolis Colts
Week 7: at Jacksonville Jaguars
The San Diego Chargers made the statement of the week, defeating the Indianapolis Colts 19-9 on Monday Night Football. It was a well-rounded effort that saw San Diego continue to play postseason-caliber football in 2013.
Now, San Diego can move to above .500 with a Week 7 win over the Jaguars.
Philip Rivers continued his extraordinary play by going 22-of-33 for 237 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Keenan Allen caught nine passes for his second consecutive 100-yard receiving performance, and Ryan Mathews finally showed up with 22 carries for 102 yards.
Defensively, the Chargers were just as impressive.
Kendall Reyes registered his second sack in three games, and Derek Cox had his first interception of the season. The front seven was huge, limiting Indianapolis to 74 yards on 17 carries, and San Diego secured a huge win.
Closing out games has been an issue, but after this win, expect the Chargers to be a new team—a postseason one.
15. St. Louis Rams
Week 6: 38-13 win at Houston Texans
Week 7: at Carolina Panthers
The St. Louis Rams were once a 1-3 football team with two losses by at least 24 points. Now, the Rams are a 3-3 team with back-to-back victories, including a 38-13 road drubbing of the Houston Texans during Week 6.
Now, St. Louis hits the road to take on the Panthers.
Sam Bradford didn't throw the ball very often, but he went 12-of-16 for 117 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions during Week 6. Zach Stacy added 79 yards on 18 rushing attempts, helping to develop long-awaited offensive balance.
St. Louis will need both Bradford and Stacy to shine moving forward.
Defensively, Alec Ogletree led the Rams with a team-high 10 tackles and a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown against Houston. Janoris Jenkins also pulled in a pick, and St. Louis came up with five sacks as a team.
St. Louis is turning up the intensity at the perfect time.
14. Miami Dolphins
Week 6: Bye Week
Week 7: vs. Buffalo Bills
The Miami Dolphins are coming off a Week 6 bye and will face the Buffalo Bills at home in Week 7. Miami is currently 3-2 and trails the first-place Patriots by 1.5 games in the AFC East.
Miami was 3-3 after six games in 2012 but finished at 7-9. Consider Week 7 to be a critical game for Joe Philbin's squad.
13. Dallas Cowboys
Week 6: 31-16 win vs. Washington Redskins
Week 7: at Philadelphia Eagles
The Dallas Cowboys have three one-sided victories, two one-possession losses to undefeated teams and a second-half collapse. That all adds up to a team that, early in the season, is making strides toward becoming a Super Bowl contender.
It's difficult to believe in Dallas after years of inconsistency, but in 2013, the hype appears to be real.
During Week 6, Dallas toppled the Redskins 31-16 behind a balanced attack. Dwayne Harris starred with 222 total return yards, including an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown. Tony Romo found Terrance Williams for a score through the air, and both DeMarco Murray and Joseph Randle ran it in for six.
Unfortunately, Murray and star defensive end DeMarcus Ware are among a number of key players who are injured.
But don't write the Cowboys off just yet.
Dallas has received exemplary play from Romo, who has 14 touchdowns to three interceptions on a completion percentage of 70.2. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are still available, as is Williams, and the Cowboys should have no trouble putting points on the board.
The injuries hurt, but until they fall, the Cowboys have done nothing but offer reason for optimism.
12. Baltimore Ravens
Week 6: 17-19 loss vs. Green Bay Packers
Week 7: at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Baltimore Ravens put forth a magnificent defensive effort during Week 6, but the offense couldn't do enough to earn a victory. A 19-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers is hardly something to be upset about, but the defeat dropped Baltimore to 3-3.
Now, the Ravens hit the road to play their rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
Joe Flacco was 20-of-34 for 342 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, tossing both scores in the fourth quarter. Tandon Doss stepped up with 99 huge receiving yards, Dallas Clark caught a touchdown, Marlon Brown caught three passes for 71 and Jacoby Jones had a score in his first game back.
Unfortunately, Ray Rice and company ran for just 47 yards on 22 carries.
Defensively, Elvis Dumervil had two sacks, Arthur Jones registered one, and Jimmy Smith came up with an interception. It was a very strong performance, as Baltimore held Green Bay to 0-of-4 in the red zone.
Until Baltimore can consistently produce offensively, however, the defense will continue to shine without reward.
11. Chicago Bears
Week 6: 27-21 win vs. New York Giants
Week 7: at Washington Redskins
This is where we get to the established Super Bowl contenders, as the Chicago Bears are a balanced 4-2. Chicago outlasted the New York Giants 27-21 in Week 6 and has now recovered from two rough losses.
Jay Cutler is playing elite football, the Bears' run game is providing supporting fire, and the defense is as terrifying as ever.
Cutler was 24-of-36 for 262 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Giants. Matt Forte added 111 yards of total offense, and Brandon Marshall was dominant with nine receptions for 87 yards and two scores.
Defensively, Chicago continued to add to its ever-growing number of takeaways.
Tim Jennings had two interceptions, including one pick-six, and Zack Bowman came up with a pick of his own. Chicago is now third in the NFL in takeaways with 17 through six games and leads all teams with four defensive touchdowns.
The Bears are dangerous on both sides of the ball and looking like a genuine postseason force to be reckoned with.
10. Detroit Lions
Week 6: 31-17 win at Cleveland Browns
Week 7: vs. Cincinnati Bengals
The Detroit Lions of 2013 aren't the team that we've come to know over the past three decades. Instead, this team is displaying resiliency and a will to succeed in the face of adversity.
It's been a long time since we've been able to say that about the Lions.
During Week 6, that was on full display as the Lions came back from being down 17-7 at the half to defeat the Cleveland Browns 31-17. Matthew Stafford had four touchdown passes, including three in the second half, and Reggie Bush went off for 135 yards of total offense and one receiving score.
As Calvin Johnson gets healthier, this Lions offense will only get better. How's that for a scary thought?
Defensively, DeAndre Levy came up with two vital interceptions, and both Devin Taylor and Willie Young registered sacks. It wasn't the perfect performance, but outside of a 45-yard rush by Travis Benjamin, Detroit held Cleveland to 81 yards on 20 carries.
There's room for improvement, but Detroit has much to feel good about.
9. Green Bay Packers
Week 6: 19-17 at Baltimore Ravens
Week 7: vs. Cleveland Browns
The Green Bay Packers have recovered from a 1-2 start with a two consecutive victories. One was against the Detroit Lions, which owns the lead in the NFC North, and the other was against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
The latter victory was the most significant of all.
Prior to its 19-17 Week 6 win at the Ravens, Green Bay had lost four consecutive road games dating back to Week 17 of the 2012 regular season. Eddie Lacy stepped up with 120 rushing yards on 23 carries, and Jordy Nelson caught four passes for 113 yards and a touchdown to snap that streak.
As for Aaron Rodgers, he did his best impression of struggling by throwing for 315 yards.
The key in this game was linebacker A.J. Hawk, who registered three sacks in the Packers' first game without Clay Matthews. Micah Hyde and Nick Perry also came up with sacks, and Datone Jones recovered a fumble that set up a significant Mason Crosby field goal.
The injuries are adding up for Green Bay, but it's currently in control of its destiny in the NFC North.
8. Cincinnati Bengals
Week 6: 27-24 OT win at Buffalo Bills
Week 7: at Detroit Lions
For all that's been made about Andy Dalton's underwhelming play, his progression as a leader doesn't receive enough credit. During Week 6, that was on display as Cincinnati survived a scare with a 27-24 overtime win at the Buffalo Bills.
For anyone who's familiar with the Bengals, it's no secret that this team would have cracked under pressure as recently as last season.
Dalton was 26-of-40 for 337 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, also setting up the game-winning field goal in overtime. A.J. Green snapped a recent funk with six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 86 and Gio Bernard had 100 yards of total offense.
Bernard and Marvin Jones were on the receiving end of Dalton's other touchdown throws.
Vontaze Burfict, who was a top-10 draft choice with character issues that forced him to go undrafted in 2012, is now No. 2 in the NFL in tackles. He had 11 with a fumble recovery against Buffalo, and six separate Bengals got in on sacks.
With an elite defense and a rapidly maturing quarterback, Cincinnati is finally looking like it could live up to the hype as a Super Bowl contender.
7. San Francisco 49ers
Week 6: 32-20 win vs. Arizona Cardinals
Week 7: at Tennessee Titans
Week 6 of the 2013 regular season marked the most important game of the year for the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners secured a 32-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals, and they're now two games above .500.
The truth of the matter is, none of that is what made the win so monumental—Colin Kaepernick made it big.
He was 16-of-29 for 252 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against the Cardinals. That snapped a four-game stretch in which he failed to top 170 passing yards and completed just 50.5 percent of his passes.
San Francisco traded Alex Smith because it believes Kaepernick is the franchise player, and with his Week 6 performance, he might have salvaged his disastrous season.
Outside of Kaepernick's play, the Niners were strong offensively, as Frank Gore ran for 101 yards and Vernon Davis had a career-game with eight receptions for 180 yards and two scores. Corey Lemonier came up with his first career sack, and both Eric Reid and Carlos Rogers had interceptions.
The Niners will only go as far as Kaepernick leads them, and this was a critical game for his confidence.
6. Indianapolis Colts
Week 6: 9-19 loss at San Diego Chargers
Week 7: vs. Denver Broncos
During Week 7 of the regular season, the Indianapolis Colts will host the Denver Broncos in Peyton Manning's return to Lucas Oil Stadium. During Week 6, the Colts were caught looking ahead and lost 19-9 to a strong San Diego Chargers squad.
Now, a high-profile game has become a high-stakes meeting.
Andrew Luck was 18-of-30 for 202 yards, no touchdowns and one interception against the Chargers. Reggie Wayne caught five passes for 88 yards, but the Colts ran for just 74 yards as a team and failed to register a single touchdown.
That's not the momentum-building win the Colts were hoping for entering a game against the Broncos.
Indianapolis did have two sacks, but it failed to do much of anything against a rushing attack that hadn't been strong in previous outings. Keeping the Chargers out of the end zone is more important than yardage allowed, but this was an all-around disappointing performance.
Now, the Colts will fight to remain on top of the AFC South.
5. New Orleans Saints
Week 6: 27-30 loss at the New England Patriots
Week 7: Bye Week
If the New Orleans Saints fail to earn home-field advantage in the 2013 NFL playoffs, Week 6 will haunt them. The Saints had the game won, celebrated prematurely and gave Tom Brady a drive that shouldn't have existed.
In turn, New Orleans is 5-1 instead of 6-0.
Drew Brees was 17-of-36 for 236 yards, two touchdowns and one interception with scoring throws to Travaris Cadet and Kenny Stills. Khiry Robinson ran for a score, and New Orleans overcame injuries to Marques Colston and Jimmy Graham.
Now, New Orleans will have a bye week to reminisce on what went wrong.
Keenan Lewis had an interception that should've sealed the game, and New Orleans registered five sacks as a team. As the game came to a close, however, the Saints' play-calling was questionable at best, which allowed Brady to strike.
New Orleans was the better team for 47 minutes, but it was a disappointing ending.
4. Seattle Seahawks
Week 7: 34-22 win at Arizona Cardinals
Week 8: at St. Louis Rams
The Seattle Seahawks came up with an impressive Week 7 victory, shining on Thursday Night Football against the Arizona Cardinals. With a balanced rushing attack, the Seahawks won 34-22 and moved to 6-1 on the season.
With the 49ers beginning to string together victories, the Seahawks' victory couldn't have come at a better time.
Russell Wilson was magnificent, going 18-of-29 for 235 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Marshawn Lynch added 91 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, and three Seahawks found the back of the end zone.
It was yet another example of Wilson getting better with every passing performance.
If you're not impressed with the offense, the defense should convince you of Seattle's legitimacy.
Brandon Browner and Earl Thomas both secured interceptions, and Seattle came up with seven sacks as a team. Most impressively, eight separate players were in on the sacks, displaying just how much depth and potency Seattle's pass rush possesses.
Steven Hauschka added two field goals, and the Seahawks preserved their status as the NFC's top contender.
3. New England Patriots
Week 6: 30-27 win vs. New Orleans Saints
Week 7: at New York Jets
During Week 6, the New England Patriots were given an opportunity that shouldn't have existed. As we've come to expect, they cashed in, as Tom Brady hit Kenbrell Thompkins for the game-winning score.
Just like that, New England moved to 5-1 and continued to win games while struggling.
Brady was 25-of-43 for 269 yards, one touchdown and one interception, connecting with eight different receivers. The story of the game, however, was Stevan Ridley's return to prominence, as he ran the ball 20 times for 96 yards and two scores.
Ridley tallied 12 rushing touchdowns in 2012 but hadn't found the end zone in 2013 until New England's win over the Saints.
The defense did an excellent job against Brees, with Chandler Jones securing a sack to bring his season total to 4.5. Kyle Arrington, who had seven interceptions in 2011, registered his first pick of the season as New England contained the Saints' explosive offense.
Ugly or not, a win is a win. Despite their struggles, the Patriots are 5-1.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Week 6: 24-7 win vs. Oakland Raiders
Week 7: vs. Houston Texans
Andy Reid wasted no time in reminding the NFL that his teams were once perennial Super Bowl contenders. With five career appearances in the NFC Championship Game and one Super Bowl berth, it's hard to be too surprised by his success in Kansas City.
Considering the Chiefs have a world-class linebacker corps, a powerful defensive line and a deep defensive backfield, there's no secret about the source of their success.
During Week 7, the Chiefs registered nine sacks, three interceptions and a defensive touchdown against the Oakland Raiders. This was nothing new, as Kansas City currently leads the NFL with 30.0 sacks and rests atop the AFC with 18 takeaways.
If you're still not impressed, the Chiefs lead the NFL in scoring defense and opponent third-down conversion percentage and top the AFC in both interceptions and fumble recoveries.
That elite balance is what has opened the door for Kansas City to put together strong performances on the opposite side of the ball. Running back Jamaal Charles has responded with 775 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns, while Alex Smith has seven touchdowns to three interceptions.
The personnel is in place for Kansas City to be a Super Bowl contender, and early in 2013, it's becoming just that.
1. Denver Broncos
Week 6: 35-19 win vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 7: at Indianapolis Colts
The Denver Broncos have actually been criticized for defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 35-19. In some eyes, a 16-point win is considered to be a disappointing result for this team.
I must have missed that memo.
Knowshon Moreno continued his development into the franchise running back by amassing 104 yards of total offense and three rushing touchdowns. Julius Thomas and Wes Welker found the end zone on receptions, and Peyton Manning was 28-of-42 for 295 yards, two scores and one pick.
When that's a player's worst stat line of the season, his skill level is on another planet. That's the case for Manning.
He will lead the Broncos against the organization that he built, the Indianapolis Colts, during Week 7. After reaching the playoffs three times from 1984 to 1998, the Colts received postseason berths in every season but one from 1999 to 2010 with Manning.
If Jim Irsay is disappointed by that, he probably should have thought about finding Manning some support. Now that he has it in Denver, no one is coming close to his level of play.
Manning is averaging 33 more yards per game and has thrown eight more touchdowns than the next leading NFL quarterback through six weeks. Denver is 6-0 and just as untouchable as a team.
Good luck, NFL. You're going to need it against Denver.