Six weeks into the NFL season and the standings have been turned upside down for many would-be contenders. In the NFC West, the Los Angeles Rams (3-3) were rated as odds-on favorites to win the division title when preseason numbers were posted. Three straight losses, however, have seen last year’s Super Bowl runner-up slip to third place in a four-team race behind the San Francisco 49ers (5-0) and the Seattle Seahawks (5-1).
Over in the AFC North, the upstart Cleveland Browns (2-4) held the edge in divisional preseason prognostications, while franchise predecessors the Baltimore Ravens (4-2) were pegged for a third-place finish. Fast forward to Week 7, and it’s the Ravens on top with a comfortable two-game lead over the Browns.
It’s the same situation in the AFC South, where the sudden departure of quarterback Andrew Luck has led the Indianapolis Colts (3-2) to fall behind the Houston Texans (4-2).
Ditto for the NFC North, as a stifling (3-2) defense hasn’t been enough to elevate a bad Chicago Bears (3-2) offense over the Green Bay Packers (5-1) or the Minnesota Vikings (4-2).
All told, four out of the eight divisions in the NFL currently have leaders which weren’t favored to hoist a banner by season’s end.
On that note, Week 7’s betting preview – using the most recent odds posted by online sportsbook Bovada – will focus on pivotal divisional matchups that might just decide the playoff pecking order when January arrives.
NFC East Lead on the Line in Big D
In the undisputed “Game of the Week,” the thus far disappointing Dallas Cowboys (3-3) host the Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) with the NFC East lead up for grabs.
Dallas started on a hot streak, going 3-0 against overmatched competition before flipping the script in a three-game losing streak as the schedule got tougher. Philadelphia, meanwhile, has put on a curious display of inconsistency, losing to the woeful Atlanta Falcons (1-5) but beating the Packers – and on the road no less.
Both teams are smarting from losses last week, and judging by comments made by Philly head coach Doug Pederson immediately after his squad was destroyed by the Vikings, the Eagles may be the more motivated bunch. Pederson didn’t exactly guarantee a victory in Dallas, but he did make it clear that the Eagles know exactly what’s on the line entering this Sunday Night Football showdown:
“We’re going down to Dallas, our guys are gonna be ready to play.
And we’re gonna win that football game, and when we do, we’re in first place in the NFC East.”
Pederson’s counterpart Jason Garrett finds himself on the hot seat once again after a dispiriting defeat to the previously winless New York Jets (1-4). Garrett has had success against the Eagles over his nine-year tenure in Dallas, running off an 11-8 record and winning the last three meetings.
Whether or not his players rally to save their longtime leader’s job remains to be seen, but the bookmakers like Dallas as basic (-3) home favorites in this one.
Texans Look to Take Two-Game Lead in AFC South
Houston may be Texas’ “second son” when it comes to pro football, but head coach Bill O’Brien’s bunch can take a stranglehold on the AFC South with a win over the Colts.
Texans’ QB Deshaun Watson has looked like a world-beater of late and last week he managed to do what few signal-callers can – outduel the otherworldly Mahomes in Arrowhead Stadium. Bolstered by a retooled offensive line – and gifted short fields with regularity by a resurgent J.J. Watt on the defensive side – Watson has led Houston to a gaudy 27.0 points per game (8th best in the NFL).
He’ll face a rested Indianapolis defense which is fresh from its bye week, but the Colts’ neutered offense only scores 22.6 points per game (15th in NFL).
Backup turned starter Jacoby Brissett has performed admirably in Luck’s stead, but his dink and dunk scheme might not be enough to keep up with Watson’s deep bomb attack.
Nonetheless, the oddsmakers have Indy installed as (-1) home favorites with an extra week of preparation on their side.
Chiefs Hope to Turn Things Around on Thursday Night
For the first time in his professional career, second-year starter Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) finally looks mortal.
Of course, a lingering ankle injury is likely responsible for Mahomes’ regression of late, but the NFL cares little for excuses. Last year’s MVP led the Chiefs offense to 33.8 points per game in a blistering 4-0 start, but that nagging ankle has slowed Kansas City’s aerial attack to 21.5 points per game in a pair of consecutive losses.
That’s a mirror image of the Denver Broncos (2-4) season, after an 0-4 start has been followed by two suffocating defensive victories. The Broncos have only allowed 13 points total in those two wins, including last week’s 16-0 shutout over the visiting Tennessee Titans (2-4).
It’s a classic unstoppable force meets unmovable object situation on Thursday Night Football, but Bovada has the Chiefs as (-3.5) road favorites thanks to the return of speedy wideout Tyreek Hill.