Some notes on five key matchups this week:
1. Steelers at Titans:
A battle of unbeatens is the most interesting matchup of the week. Ryan Tannehill is playing at an MVP level and leads the league in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), throwing 13 TD and only 1 INT over five games with over 1,300 yards and completing almost 70% of his passes. On the ground, Derrick Henry leads the league in rushing yards, tearing off a 94-yard run in Week 6. The Steelers’ superb defense is more than capable of challenging the Titans, as they rank second in the league in yards allowed per game and tied for third in points allowed per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked as the best defensive unit in the NFL, so expect this one to be a tight defensive battle.
A key factor for both of these teams: How will they fare in replacing key players that have been lost to injury? The Steelers must make do without LB Devin Bush. The Titans must replace LT Taylor Lewan. Bush and Lewan are both out for the season after getting hurt last week.
2. Buccaneers at Raiders:
While Tom Brady gets all of the accolades in Tampa, the defense has been the story so far this season. The Bucs defense ranks first in the NFL in yards allowed per game and has forced the second-most turnovers in the league. Their staunch defense will be tested by TE Darren Waller, who has the most receiving yards of any tight end not named Kittle or Kelce. Derek Carr is playing at a high level as well, with the third-highest DVOA of all QBs in the league. Can the Raiders keep their momentum going after a big win against the defending champion Chiefs?
3. Seahawks at Cardinals:
The third remaining unbeaten team, the Seahawks take on the Cardinals in an NFC West showdown. If the Cardinals’ top 10 defense can slow down Russell Wilson, Arizona’s offense may be able to keep up. The Seahawks’ defense has been porous all season, ranking in the bottom third of the league in DVOA. If DeAndre Hopkins can get going, this one could be a shootout.
4. Panthers at Saints:
The Saints rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive DVOA and are coming off a thrilling overtime victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. Top receiver Michael Thomas is still listed as questionable, and though Brees has struggled a bit without his top option, he ranks third in completion percentage. Four of the Panthers’ six games this season have been one-possession games, and if they can find a way to contain Alvin Kamara, we could see another close contest this week.
5. Bears at Rams:
The Rams’ offense ranks fifth overall in DVOA, thanks to their top-ranked offensive line. The battle in the trenches will be the most intriguing part of this matchup, with top pass rusher Khalil Mack on the other side of the ball. The Bears have the fifth-ranked defense, while their offense remains near the bottom of the league, despite the change to Nick Foles at QB. For the Bears to win, their defense needs to slow down the rushing attack and force Jared Goff to beat them with his arm.