Wednesday, July 24, 2024

NFL Week 7 storylines to watch: Lions-Ravens, Bills-Patriots and possible Super Bowl preview

The NFL’s last two undefeated teams — the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles — both fell from their lofty spots last Sunday, and now has a Week 7 slate that features five 5-1 teams, three 4-2 teams and a cluster. About .500.

Several games on this week’s schedule are potential playoff previews, including the Miami Dolphins and Eagles, both potential Super Bowl contenders.

Meanwhile, life isn’t easy for many struggling teams. The starting quarterbacks of the Las Vegas Raiders, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants are nursing injuries that could sit them or force them into Week 7. Jimmy Garoppolo and Justin Fields have already been ruled out, and Anthony Richardson is done for the season. Both Daniel Jones and Deshaun Watson were questionable going into Sunday.

Here are five interesting storylines to follow across the league. (See the NFL Week 7 schedule here.)

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1. Lions-Ravens heavyweight showdown

Two of the league’s best teams — one in the NFC and one in the AFC — square off at M&T Bank Stadium. The Detroit Lions (5-1) aim to extend their winning streak to five games and build on the early lead they took in the NFC North. But they have a tough challenge in Baltimore against the Ravens.

Detroit’s offense is the best in the NFL, trailing only Miami and Buffalo in points. But Baltimore has the second-best defense in the league, so things won’t come easy for Jared Goff and his offense. Or will they? Last week, Goff passed for a season-high 353 yards and two touchdowns against a good Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. Amon-Ra St. Brown had 12 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. With Sunday’s win, the Lions matched the best start in franchise history dating back to 1956.

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Meanwhile, the Ravens will look to win at Tennessee and build momentum after an up-and-down start to the season, including blown chances and losses in winnable games against the Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers. Can Lamar Jackson and his talented but streaky receivers keep up with the Lions? (Lions at Ravens, 1 p.m. ET Sunday.)

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2. Continued dominance for Chiefs?

The Chiefs have won five straight since their season-opening loss to the Lions, and they still haven’t quite kicked things into high gear, averaging 30 yards and 5 fewer points than last season. On Sunday, the Chiefs welcome the Chargers, who have stumbled to a 2-3 start. Something was missing in the Chargers’ loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night, when Justin Herbert’s interception with 90 seconds left killed any hopes of a comeback win.

Brandon Staley should start to turn things around, but the Chargers have lost their last three meetings with the Chiefs and six of their last eight. Kansas City also hasn’t faced much competition for the division crown recently: It has won the AFC West seven straight seasons.

Sunday’s game will be a highly entertaining shootout between two of the league’s best quarterbacks in Herbert and Patrick Mahomes. But it’s unclear which Chargers team will show up. (Chargers at Chiefs, 4:25 p.m. and Sunday.)

3. Dolphins-Eagles: Best vs. Best?

The 5-1 Eagles welcome the electrifying 5-1 Dolphins to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night. Given the talent level of these teams, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if this could be a Super Bowl preview.

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Philadelphia’s unbeaten streak ended last week with a disappointing last-minute loss to the New York Jets. To recover, it must find a way to slow down the Dolphins, whose offense is at a blistering pace (2,992 total yards, second most in NFL history through six games). The Eagles’ defense ranks among the league leaders, and that unit joins the Dolphins (498.7) in yards per game (395.0) on offense.

Both teams are led by young, charismatic and highly creative head coaches. Both have two of the most talented young quarterbacks in Jalen Hurts and Dua Tagovailoa, former teammates together at Alabama. Both offenses boast dynamic wide receiver duos: Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle for Miami, and AJ Brown and Devonta Smith for Philadelphia.

Another intriguing figure in this matchup is Miami defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who was a consultant to the Eagles leading up to their Super Bowl 57 appearance. Fangio knows the Eagles well, but his new unit in Miami has yet to fully gel. Also, the Eagles coaches are well-versed in Fangio’s philosophies. Who is leading in this chess match? (Dolphins at Eagles, 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday.)

4. Decline of the Empire of the Patriarchs

For two decades, Bill Belichick’s Patriots ruled the AFC East. Now, it might be generous to call them a shell.

This presentation of the Patriots — 1-5, and three straight losses — is basically unrecognizable. Bill Belichick was once one of the untouchable coaches in the league, and now he’s facing questions about his job security. The Patriots need a turnaround in the worst way. But a win against Buffalo feels like a near-impossible task.

The Bills are flying high and ranked among the league leaders on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, the Patriots are anemic and lacking defensive difference makers. Buffalo has won the last four meetings with New England, including the January 2022 playoff contest. The Patriots last beat the Bills in a low-scoring affair (14-10) in Buffalo in December 2021. It seems unlikely, but can Belichick rediscover some magic and cook up a recipe good enough for Josh Allen and company? (Bills at Patriots, 1 p.m. ET Sunday.)

Purdy suffered his first loss as a starting quarterback (11 games) as the 49ers stumbled in a 19-17 loss to the Browns. His 49 runs eclipsed the perfect record set in 2023. Now, how will they respond?

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Next up is a Monday night date with the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis, where the 49ers haven’t won since 1992. Look for Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores to try to disrupt the young birdie.

Returning suspect Christian McCaffrey depends on his performance. But without wide receiver Tebow Samuel, who will be out for at least the next two games on Saturday, Purdy will have to carry a heavier load than he’s used to. It could be one of the biggest tests of his young career, and a chance to prove if he can carry a team rather than serve as an assistant.

If he doesn’t have a full supporting cast, Purdy may have to carry a heavier load than he’s used to. It could be one of the biggest tests of his young life. (49ers at Vikings, 8:15 p.m. ET Monday.)

(Best photos of AJ Brown, Bill Belichick, Lamar Jackson: Al Bello, Chris Unger, Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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