SportsPulse: Lorenzo is looking to bounce back after his first sub .500 week of the season. Here are his best bets for Week 7 in the NFL.
A quick glance at items of interest as Week 7 rolls on in the NFL:
KEY STORYLINE: ANTONIO BROWN REUNITES WITH TOM BRADY … and BRUCE ARIANS. Well, business is boomin’ again for AB84, and the Bucs’ Friday night signing of the controversial receiver to a one-year deal has TB12’s fingerprints all over it. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that Arians – whose path crossed with Brown’s in Pittsburgh — vehemently declared that his team wouldn’t be in the market for Brown because he wouldn’t be a good fit. So, what happened?
Brady, whose work with the NFL’s best tandem of wideouts has been thrown out of sync by injuries to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, undoubtedly pushed for this. Evans and Godwin are back now, but it’s clear that you can never have enough weapons. Brady and Brown collaborated for all of one game with the Patriots last season (five catches, 43 yards, one TD in a Week 2 contest) before more off-the-field drama led to the team cutting Brown. That was on top of other issues (including alleged sexual assault) that triggered the NFL suspension that Brown will soon complete.
Yet before the bubble burst with Brown, Brady was committed to help with the hands-on acclimation process to the point that he offered his guest house to the receiver to help with the logistics of drilling down on the playbook. Now another prime weapon is in the mix, and it’s not a stretch to think that Brady – who didn’t have the desired clout with the Patriots when it came to personnel moves – took his case to GM Jason Licht, whose connection with the quarterback was formulated during his stint in New England.
WHO’S HOT: DERRICK HENRY. The Titans’ reigning NFL rushing champ heads into the heavyweight showdown against the similarly unbeaten Steelers atop the NFL rushing charts with 588 yards (4.6 per carry, six TDs). It’s the toughest matchup he’s seen all season as Pittsburgh’s prolific defense ranks second in the NFL against the run (66.2 yards per game) while allowing a league-low 3.3 yards per carry. Henry could be the ultimate barometer of the game’s flow. If the Steelers keep Henry in check, long-yardage situations will allow ample opportunities for a unit that leads the NFL with 24 sacks to go after Ryan Tannehill.
PRESSURE’S ON: JON GRUDEN. With the ripple effect of right tackle Trent Brown’s positive COVID-19 test, the Raiders coach faces his former team with an O-line that didn’t have a single practice as the rest of the offensive line starters were sent home to quarantine due to close contact with Brown. The impact of the layoff and lack of practice will be critical for protecting Derek Carr against a No.1-ranked Todd Bowles defense that is not shy about unleashing creative blitzes. So, add a COVID-related challenge for Gruden to have his team ready for the Bucs. Also, budding star safety Johnathan Abram will miss the game, too.
KEY MATCHUP: Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Bill Belichick. Imagine how smooth the Patriots’ offense might flow about now had Belichick been able to hang on to Brady’s former understudy. Instead, the Patriots’ offense is trying to manage with Cam Newton running the point. With Garoppolo attempting to get back to form after missing time with a sprained ankle, it’s likely that Belichick’s defense will seek to test Garoppolo’s mobility in his return to Foxboro with the 49ers.
ROOKIE WATCH: Chase Claypool. Is there any team in the NFL that drafts impact receivers like the Steelers? The big, physical and smooth Claypool – dubbed “Mapletron” as a nod to his Canadian roots and to former NFL star Calvin “Megatron” Johnson – is the latest in a long, impressive line.
NEXT MAN UP: Tre’Quan Smith … and Deonte Harris.With Saints all-pro Michael Thomas hampered by a hamstring injury just as he was close to returning from a high ankle sprain (and team discipline issue), veteran Emmanuel Sanders has wound up on the COVID-19 list with a positive test. That bumps Smith and likely Harris (who leads the NFL in punt-return average) from supporting roles to starting roles. So, more adjustments for coach Sean Payton and Drew Brees, who have spent the bulk of the season trying to make up for the production that had been so routine for Thomas.
Last season, Thomas set an NFL single-season record with 149 receptions, and before that he logged 125, 104 and 92 catches in his first three seasons. They’ve managed with Alvin Kamara able to line up all across formations, tallying a team-high 38 grabs, but now need to replace Sanders’ emerging production (26 receptions), too.
STOMACH FOR AN UPSET:Seahawks at Cardinals. For several years, regardless of their record, the Cardinals have repeatedly played Seattle tough. Pesky. Now, with Kyler Murray adding layers to his game, Arizona is better as it hosts the Sunday night matchup. Knock the Seahawks (5-0) from the unbeaten ranks and the Cardinals will send quite the statement about their legitimacy. Of course, Seattle is undefeated for a reason. The Seahawks win the close ones. Memo to Big Red: Don’t let Russell Wilson have the ball last.
IF THE PLAYOFFS WERE TODAY … The Bears (5-1) would be NFC North champs, which puts them atop Green Bay (4-1), based on winning percentage. It’s possible that at the end of the regular season, the win-percentage factor could determine playoff spots and division titles if the pandemic forces cancellations that can’t be made up and teams play uneven schedules. As for Chicago’s “Monday Night Football” date with the Rams in Los Angeles, it’s worth noting that Chicago’s path to its last division crown (2018) went through LA, and the Bears put the clamps on Sean McVay’s offense, limiting the Rams to six points. If Chuck Pagano’s defense can measure up to the Vic Fangio-coordinated unit from 2018, a division crown would certainly be in reach.
DID YOU NOTICE? Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire heads into Sunday’s game at Denver leading the NFL with 682 yards from scrimmage. Yes, the LSU product has adjusted well as a multiple dimension in the Andy Reid-Eric Bienemy scheme (averaging 4.7 yards for his 505 rushing yards and snagging 21 passes.) It’s unclear exactly how large of a role is envisioned for just-acquired Le’Veon Bell, but it seems possible that the Chiefs will try to preserve Edwards-Helaire for the grind of a long season.
STAT’S THE FACT: Dallas takes the NFL’s No.1-ranked offense to Washington, but the bad news is that it is linked to the NFL’s worst turnover margin (-12) and a defense on pace to give up a franchise-record 581 points.