NFL Weekly Predictions: Week 7

Note: the quotes in this article are fictional.

Carolina @ Cincinnati

After last week's 23-21 win in Baltimore, the Panthers will look to continue running the gauntlet of AFC North teams. After defeating the Browns and Ravens in consecutive weeks, Carolina will face the suddenly reeling Bengals, who have averaged 13 points a game in losses to the Patriots and Buccaneers.

"The Bengals are playing like 'Ben-Gals,'" says Panther wide receiver Steve Smith, shaking a double-team from two autograph-seekers at a local mall. "The question is not, 'Will we beat the Bengals?' but 'Will the Panther cheerleaders hook up with some Bengal bad boys after the game?' Hey, here's a riddle? What do Panther cheerleaders and Bengal footballers have in common? A taste for alcohol and a penchant for ending up in confined spaces."

The Bengals dropped their second in a row, losing 14-13 to previously winless Tampa Bay. The Bucs were aided by a questionable roughing penalty against Cincinnati lineman Justin Smith, who sacked Bruce Gradkoski. The penalty kept their game-winning drive alive.

"If anyone is looking for babysitters with impeccable references," says the Bengals Marvin Lewis, "then NFL officials are a good bet. I'm not sure how they are with children, but they sure know how to treat a quarterback."

The Bengals may have home-field advantage, but the Panthers feature the most feared offensive player, Smith, and the most feared defender, Julius Peppers, in the NFL. Those two should make the difference, as Carolina wins, 26-23.

Detroit @ N.Y. Jets

The Lions finally picked up their first win of the season, which can mean only one thing: Roy Williams did not guarantee a victory. The Lions beat the Bills 20-17 behind Williams' big day, with 10 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown.

"I think we were inspired by the Tigers' postseason run," says Williams. "It's pretty embarrassing when a baseball team has won more series than we have games."

The Jets took over sole possession of second place in the AFC East with a 20-17 win over the Dolphins. Chad Pennington and Laveranues Coles hooked up twice for scores, and the Jets withstood a late Miami rally.

"Laveranues and I have a special connection," says Pennington. "Wait a minute, let me rephrase that. Laveranues and I hook up on occasion. Uh, let me try again. Whenever Laveranues and I make eye contact, I see fireworks. Umm, that doesn't work, either. Let's just say I pass, he catches."

Not that there's anything wrong with that, Chad.

Pennington has a huge day, which for him is 191 yards passing, two touchdowns, and no arm pain afterwards.

Jets win, 23-16.

Green Bay @ Miami

It's a battle of one-win teams as the 1-5 Dolphins host the 1-4 Packers. And, appropriately enough, the Dolphins' home is no longer called Pro Player Stadium. The Dolphins lost 20-17 in the Meadowlands to the Jets and are dead-last in the AFC East.

"Obviously, we have a lot less fight in us than some college teams in Florida," says Miami coach Nick Saban. "Wow, what a brawl between Miami and Florida International. That should have been on pay-per-view. And what about the player for Miami swinging his helmet? My guys are making fewer hits with their helmets on. Incidentally, the entire Bengals scouting organization was on hand to witness that brawl, and several players flew up their draft boards."

The Packers will be in search of their second win, and Brett Favre will continue the quest of Dan Marino's NFL record of 420 touchdown passes. Favre needs 17 to equal the former Miami great.

"Should Brett ever break my record," says Marino, "I will be on hand to gracefully congratulate him, unlike the 1972 Dolphins, who are the biggest bunch of poor sports in football. I hear they already have some hate mail en route to Arizona head coach Dennis Green for letting the Bears off the hook. Anyway, I have the utmost respect for Brett, although I would never, ever lose a girlfriend to Ben Stiller."

"Thanks, Dan," replies Favre, "for those kind words. By the way, you look fabulous. Are you down to your playing weight? What was that? 210? I play at 220, plus the eight ounces that my Super Bowl ring weighs. Anyway, I know you'll be there to shake my hand should I break your record. And I'll be wearing my Super Bowl ring so you can touch it."

While Favre has lost a receiving weapon, Koren Robinson, to a one-year drug suspension, Miami's Joey Harrington has gained one in Marcus Vick, who signed with the Dolphins from the practice squad. Vick reportedly rejected Miami's monetary offer and asked to be compensated with McDonald's gift certificates and ammunition for his Glock.

In this evenly-matched contest, the Dolphins' ground game is the difference. Ronnie Brown rushes for 124 yards and a touchdown. Olindo Mare's fourth-quarter field goal provides the game-winning points.

Miami wins, 23-20.

Jacksonville @ Houston

Holding a 6-3 lead at the half in Dallas, the Texans were outscored 31-0 by the Cowboys in the second half, giving up three touchdowns to Terrell Owens. The Texans could not muster a touchdown, and David Carr, previously the league's highest-rated quarterback, only managed 128 yards with two interceptions.

"I guess I'm not the highest-rated passer anymore," says Carr. "Which is fine, because I really felt out of place there. The Cowboys really shook me up. With the game out of hand, I was replaced behind center by Sage Rosenfels, whose name sounds less like a quarterback and more like a poet laureate. Shouldn't he have a locker beside of Maya Angelou, and not me? But we should have things in order by Week 13, when we'll be playing the Raiders for possibly the number one pick in the draft."

The Jaguars enjoyed a week six bye, and coach Jack Del Rio was pleased to build on their Week 5 41-0 whipping of the Jets.

"Hey, who was the creative genius who named Houston's team the 'Texans?'" asks Del Rio. "That's just brilliant. I'm seriously considering changing our name to the 'Floridians.' Anyway, Jaguar football is all about defense, and I spent the entire offseason devising a plan to stop Reggie Bush, whom I assumed the Texans would draft. But they didn't. Instead, they chose defensive end Mario Williams. So, I spent 15 minutes devising a scheme to stop Williams. I call it 'blocking him.' I'm a genius."

Everyone knows the Jags own the Texans, unless it's the last game of the year and Jacksonville has a playoff spot riding on the outcome. Then they lose. But this is just a regular season game, and the Jaguars need every division win possible to offset the two losses to the Colts they'll inevitably suffer. Byron Leftwich throws two touchdown passes, and Rashean Mathis makes his league-leading fifth interception.

Jacksonville wins, 27-15.

New England @ Buffalo

With the Bengals and Colts not too impressive lately, the Patriots are looking quite promising as the AFC favorite. New England already has a two-game lead on the Jets, and with a win in Buffalo, the Pats would hold a four-game lead in the loss column over the Bills.

"By Week 10," says Tom Brady, "I see a 'y' by our name in the standings. By Week 11, there should be an 'x.' But before all that, in Week 9, we'll face the Colts in New England. It'll be just like old times. Before the game, I'll chat with Peyton Manning and try to convince him once again that you don't win Super Bowls by tirelessly starring in commercials. I must say, though, that Peyton certainly has the acting chops, and I can definitely see him in the booth after he retires, or maybe in movies co-starring with Leslie Nielsen or Jackie Chan."

The Bills returned from Detroit to snow, as Buffalo was hit with an early fall snowstorm that dropped several inches on the city.

"That's just great," complains J.P. Losman. "Something to remind the people of Buffalo that it's hockey season. The Sabres are undefeated. Who wants to see the Bills play when you can catch a Sabres game and see more offense and better hitting than we can offer? And head coach Lindy Ruff is the greatest goon-turned-coach in the NHL."

Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell records a natural hat trick, kicking three field goals, but the Patriots, behind Brady's two touchdown passes to former Raider Doug Gabriel, the luckiest man in the world, prevail, 24-9.

Philadelphia @ Tampa Bay

What is this? The losers' bracket of the New Orleans Superdome Invitational? In the last two weeks, the Bucs and Eagles have both lost to the Saints. Two weeks ago, Reggie Bush beat the Bucs with a punt return touchdown; last week, the Eagles fell on John Carney's 31-yard field goal as time expired.

"As you know," says Donovan McNabb, "the Saints held the ball for the final 8:26 during their drive for the winning field goal. What's an offense to do when they can't even get the ball back? It's not like I'm asking a lot of our defense. I didn't want to put to much pressure on them, so I didn't ask for a three-and-out series. I went conservative, and simply asked for a 15-and-out series. They couldn't even handle that. Sixteen plays later, the Saints win and we don't have any time left."

Tampa coach Jon Gruden has formed quite a bond with quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, nicknamed the "Pole" for his Polish roots and other reasons. Gruden likes Gradkowski's toughness and decision-making, and his ability to perform under pressure.

"Bruce is like a son to me," says Gruden, "except he looks older than I do. He brings everything to the table that Chris Simms does, plus a spleen."

Gradkowski continues his strong play, with two touchdown passes, but McNabb tops him with three, and the Eagles hold on for a 27-23 win.

Pittsburgh @ Atlanta

Are the Steelers and Falcons heading in different directions? The Falcons are still the NFL's best rushing team, but gave up 259 yards on the ground to the Giants in a 27-14 loss. Meanwhile, the Steelers, after a 1-3 start, destroyed the Chiefs 45-7 to go to 2-3, leaving them only a game behind the Ravens and Bengals in the loss column in the AFC North. Ben Roethlisberger was 16-of-19 for 238 yards and two touchdowns.

"Finally," says Roethlisberger, "I can stop yelling 'Fore!' every time I throw the ball. But, I still think it's a good idea to yell 'Fore!' when I get on my motorcycle."

Okay, so I guess the inevitable next question is: Do the Steelers have their swagger back?

"I'll answer that," quips Bill Cowher. "It's just like Justin Timberlake sings. We've got our 'SwaggerBack.' Actually, I don't think Timberlake sings a word of that song, but who cares? As long as he's exposing women's breasts on the Super Bowl half-time stage, then he's all right in my book. The bottom line is this: the Steelers are back in sync. That's how Steela' got its groove back. Now, don't ruin my euphoria by telling me we've only won one game in a row."

Early in the season, the Falcons were considered Super Bowl contenders. Now they're looking like a team that will have to struggle to make the playoffs.

"Playoffs!? Playoffs!" says Atlanta coach Jim Mora, Jr. "Nah, I'm not even going to finish the rest of that famous quote from my father. If there's a poster child for the one-dimensional team, then I guess we would be that. You know when you rush for 223 yards and lose by 13, then you're one-dimensional, and you've got problems. Look at us. How can we be considered a playoff team when we're playing at home and 1 1/2 point underdogs? By the way, give me $50 on the Steelers to cover."

Willie Parker rushes for 135 yards and a touchdown, and Roethlisberger throws a TD pass to Hines Ward.

Pittsburgh gets back to .500 with a 24-19 win.

San Diego @ Kansas City

San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson scored four touchdowns in the Chargers' 48-19 demolition of the 49ers in San Francisco. Tomlinson's first TD was his 84th as a Charger, and he passed Lance Alworth on the all-time San Diego TD list.

"I also passed Steve Foley on the highway after the game," says Tomlinson.

Kansas City's Larry Johnson struggled last week against the Steelers, with only 26 yards rushing, and also recorded one tackle when he hauled Troy Polamalu down by the hair after Polamalu intercepted a pass.

"Well, I guess it's not a weave," says Johnson, placing a lock of Polamalu's in his NFL scrapbook. "Just one question, Troy. Do you condition?"

Can the Chargers be stopped? By someone other than their own coach? Actually, the Chargers could play Martyball and still beat the Chiefs. But Schottenheimer opens things up, calling a flea-flicker, a quadruple reverse, and the Statue of Liberty play. He even goes for it on fourth-and-inches from the Chiefs' 11-yard line.

Chargers win, 31-13.

Denver @ Cleveland

A week after defeating the Ravens 13-3, the Broncos beat the Raiders by the same score and have allowed only one touchdown this year. The Denver defense is surrendering an average of only 7.4 points per game.

"That's pretty darn impressive," says Cleveland head coach Romeo Crenel. "Sure, the Denver defense is awesome, but lost in all the love for the defense is their anemic offense. They average only 12.4 points per game, which is better than only one team in the league, the Raiders. And this year, if you're only one of anything ahead of the Raiders, then you're in trouble, brother. We know what we have to do, and that's keep the Bronco offense on the field and wait for Jake Plummer to lick his fingers and turn the ball over."

Denver's Mike Shanahan knows the Broncos must sort out their offensive problems this week, because 12.4 points won't do them any good against Indianapolis next week.

"I don't know what's worse: only scoring 13 on the Raiders, or giving up three to them," says Shanahan. "As long as our defense doesn't give up touchdowns, we're in every game. I know we have issues on offense, and as soon as I have the guts to bench Jake Plummer, those issues will be solved."

Jason Elam gets his usual workout, with more field goals than extra points, and the Broncos win, 13-10.

Arizona @ Oakland

"Pink Taco. Black Hole. Pink Taco. Black Hole."

Randy Moss awakens in a cold sweat muttering those words, knowing that the NFL trade deadline has passed, and he's still a Raider.

"Dang! Usually when Randy asks, Randy gets, and I don't even have to pay for it," says Moss. "Madd Skillz wants to play for a contender. Look at the A's. They make the playoffs and lose, and they fire their manager. The Ravens lose, and Brian Billick fires Jim Fassel, his offensive coordinator, and convenient scapegoat. Neil Rackers misses a field goal, and the Cardinals fire their offensive coordinator. We're 0-5, Jerry Porter's suspended, our offensive coordinator's previous experience is running a bed and breakfast, and Art Shell, well, he was hired by Al Davis, who's the only person better than me at running a team into the ground. What's this world come to when I can't even get anyone fired?"

The Cardinals were on the verge of upsetting the Bears and handing them their first loss, then two defensive touchdowns, a punt return for a touchdown, and a missed Neil Rackers field goal later, the Bears left the desert with a 24-23 win. Arizona head coach Dennis Green was none too happy.

"If you want to crown the Bears, then crown them!" Green screamed in a press conference after the game.

Okay, I will, Denny. Here you go, Bears. I present you with this paper crown I got my kids at Burger King. That's the prize you win for beating the Cardinals. You also win a free small soft drink.

If the Raiders want to silence the 0-16 talk, this is the week to do it. With upcoming games against the Steelers, Seahawks, Broncos, Chiefs, and Chargers, it doesn't get any easier. The Raiders end their winless streak; Moss scores a touchdown, and Lamont Jordan rushes for 100 yards. Neil Rackers' 62-yard field goal attempt as time expires hits the crossbar.

Oakland wins, 27-25.

Minnesota @ Seattle

Seattle stunned the Rams 30-28 in St. Louis on Josh Brown's 54-yard field goal as time expired, lifting the Seahawks to sole possession of first place in the NFC West.

"It's always satisfying beating the Rams," says Seahawks coach Mike Holgren. "Especially when their coach starts prematurely celebrating a win. Hey, Scott Linehan, you pansy, any fool knows an illegal formation penalty doesn't require a 10-second clock runoff. It's right there in the rule book on page 1,238. Don't you know and illegal formation from a false start? Here's a false start: you celebrating before you've won the game, which you didn't."

The Vikings will face the Seahawks after enjoying a bye week, and Minnesota players apparently heeded the word of coach Brad Childress, who warned them to "behave themselves" during their week off.

"As far as I know," says Childress, "there was no funny business on the promenade deck of any boat on Lake Minnetonka last week. Although I did happen to see Fred Smoot encouraging a team of young ladies to ‘stroke' as they raced their rowboats down a local stream. But where's the harm in that?"

Seattle's Shaun Alexander is out two more weeks with a broken bone in his foot, so the Vikings' game plan is clear: stop Matt Hasselbeck, Darrell Jackson, and Deion Branch, while controlling the clock with running back Chester Taylor. Sounds like too much to ask of the Vikings, especially after asking them not to get freaky on a boat during their off week. Hasselbeck throws for 220 yards and two touchdowns, and Josh Brown kicks two field goals.

Seattle wins, 27-24.

Washington @ Indianapolis

The Redskins are in turmoil after suffering a 25-22 defeat at home to the Titans, who had previously not beaten anyone before shocking Washington. The loss left the 'Skins 2-4 in the NFC East, in last place. Washington owner Daniel Snyder is perplexed, unsure why his all-star team of head coach Joe Gibbs, offensive coordinator Al Saunders, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is not working.

"I don't know whether to fire someone," says Snyder, "or just buy a new team and start from scratch. While I contemplate that, I've commissioned a artist to paint a portrait of Joe Gibbs crossing the Delaware, trailing Andy Reid, Bill Parcells, and Tom Coughlin crossing the Delaware."

Obviously, giving up over 200 yards rushing to the Titans two weeks ago inspired the Colts to act, and they traded for defensive tackle Anthony "Booger" McFarland of Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

"Of all the defensive tackles offered to us," says Tony Dungy, "it was in our best interest to pick Booger."

Although I can't put my finger on it, for some reason, I think the Redskins will keep it fairly close. Clinton Portis complained about not getting enough carries last week. That won't be the case this week. Portis rushes 28 times for 140 yards, but the 'Skins can't stop Peyton Manning when it counts.

Colts win, 27-21.

N.Y. Giants @ Dallas

Terrell Owens caught three touchdown passes, tying a career high, as the Cowboys blew out the Texans 34-6. It was a tumultuous week in Dallas, as Owens and receivers coach Todd Haley clashed over Owens' practice habits and general bitchy attitude.

"Nothing three touchdowns won't solve," says Owens as he signs Haley's paycheck. "Everyone's happy now. I was named Michael Irvin's No. 1 playmaker for the week, and Miami Hurricane Anthony Reddick threw the week's No. 1 haymaker with his helmet swing. I'm a lot like Irvin. He was a physical, trash-talking receiver, and so am I. Our only difference is Michael had run-ins with law enforcement, and I have run-ins with head coaches, quarterbacks, receivers coaches, and various other people who hate me."

Dallas in not unique to controversial receivers. The Giants have their own in tight end Jeremy Shockey, who has no qualms about criticizing coaches. But, when it's game time, Shockey comes to play. In the Giants' 27-14 win over the Falcons, Shockey caught six passes for 55 yards and two touchdowns.

"I'm a playmaker, just like T.O.," says Shockey, "and like Irvin, I'm from the 'U'(se your helmet as a weapon)."

T.O. on Monday night in Dallas? Whether he's signing a football or ogling a half-naked Nicolette Sheridan, Owens comes up big on Monday nights. T.O. catches two touchdown passes, and a big third quarter hit by DeMarcus Ware spells early retirement (for the night) for Tiki Barber.

Dallas wins, 30-27.

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