What does the NFL deliver week in and week out? Nail biters, head scratchers and fantastic finishes.
And here’s the evidence: through Week 7, there have been 57 games decided by seven or fewer points, the most at this point of a season in NFL history.
Also of note through the first seven weeks, there are 17 teams at or within one game of a .500 record. That’s the highest total through Week 7 since 1970.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
The Buccaneers and Vikings punched and kicked off Week 8 on Thursday Night Football in Minnesota.
The Vikings, who have a 4-0 record at home this season, defeated Arizona 21-14 in Week 7. Minnesota was led by running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed for a season-high 153 yards and one touchdown ad was named the NFC Offensive Player for Week 7. The six-year veteran registered his ninth career game with at least 150 yards, the most among active players.
Peterson, 29, also tied former Vikings’ running back, now ESPN college football analyst Robert Smith for the most 100-yard rushing games in franchise history.
“We have shown that we can be productive in the run game and the pass game,” said Peterson on the keys to the Vikings’ early season success after a 1-6 start a year ago.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay aimed to get back on the winning track after a 35-28 loss in Week 7 against New Orleans.
“This is a league that comes down to execution,” said Buccaneers’ quarterback Josh Freeman. “You can have the best scheme in the world, but if you are unable to execute, then it’s all for naught.”
Freeman passed for 420 yards last week, the third-most passing yards in a single-game in franchise history, trailing only former Bucs quarterbacks Doug Williams (486) and Vinny Testaverde (469). In his past two games, Freeman has totaled an NFL-best 748 passing yards and is second in the league with six touchdown passes, trailing only Aaron Rodgers (nine).
The Bucs were fresh off another disappointing lost in Week 7 against the New Orleans Saints, and surprisingly due to an aggressive style of play-calling, Tampa Bay man-handled a hot Minnesota team Thursday night as they ran all over the Vikings, 36-17.
Led by quarterback Josh Freeman who threw three touchdown passes and finished 19 of 36 for 262, the Buccaneers were powered by the legs of rookie running back Doug Martin. Martin led the team in rushing yards (135) and receiving yards (79) and scored twice (one rush, one pass).
“They did an awesome job, an awesome, awesome job,” said Martin. “A lot of credit goes to the front line. (Donald) Penn, (Carl) Nicks, (Jeremy) Zuttah, (Jamon) Meredith, (Demar) Dotson, the big guys really did a job today, and opened up a lot of holes for me today.”
Thanks to the aggressiveness of the Bucs’ offensive line, Tampa Bay bullied the aggressive Vikings’ front seven and their defense consistently attacked Vikings’ quarterback Christian Ponder as they kept him off balanced.
Peterson stands alone in Vikings’ history for having the most 100-plus yard games with 30. He finished with 123 on 15 tries.
“I thought the guys did a good job,” said Bucs’ head coach Greg Schiano. “We took everything off them, as far as helmets, shoulder pads, but they worked. They went out, it wasn’t full sprint, but they really paid attention to detail, and I think they prepared both in the meeting room and you heard them talking throughout the week. Sometimes I think that urgency of the Thursday, they did an excellent job in their preparation, and I think it showed tonight. There were some different things. They played a little more defensively than we kind of anticipated. There were good adjustments.”
New England Patriots (4-3) vs. St. Louis Rams (3-4) – in London
The New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams are no strangers to close games as all seven of the Rams’ games and five out of seven of the Patriots’ games have been within seven points – at some point of the fourth quarter. Four out of seven contests for both clubs have been decided by six points or fewer. The Patriots and the Rams will meet on Sunday as the NFL returns to London and historic Wembley Stadium for the sixth International Series matchup in as many seasons.
“We had a lengthy meeting and the players are all excited,” said Rams’ head coach Jeff Fisher, whose entire team took part in a youth football clinic Thursday with approximately 500 children at London’s Regent’s Park, according to NFL press release “They’re looking forward to the experience.”
The Rams (three) is one of three teams – joining the Indianapolis Colts (three) and the Minnesota Vikings (five) – that has already surpassed last year’s win total.
The Patriots amassed 381 total net yards in its 29-26 overtime victory against the New York Jets last week. The Patriots have posted at least 350 total net yards in 16 consecutive games, tied with the Rams (1999-2000) for the longest such streak in NFL annals. New England currently leads the NFL in total offense with 436.1 yards per game.
“They’re excited and looking forward to the opportunity to play well on Sunday against a new opponent that we have to get to know and become familiar with,” said Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick. “It’s a very young and aggressive and fast and explosive team. Hopefully we’ll be up to that challenge.”
On the docket for Week 8 of the NFL is a key NFC West match-up between the San Francisco 49ers (5-2) and Arizona Cardinals (4-3) with first place on the line on Monday Night Football.
New York Giants (5-2) at Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
NFC East rivals will meet on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium. The Giants look to build on their come-from-behind victory last week, while the Cowboys hope to sweep the season series after their win on Kickoff Weekend.
Trailing Washington 23-20 with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter last week, Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning connected with wide receiver Victor Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown pass, the longest game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes of a game in franchise history.
The defending champions are in first place in the NFC East and have won three consecutive games.
“We understand that it’s a division opponent and we have to be ready to play,” said Cruz. “Giants versus Cowboys is always a big game. They’re coming off a solid win against Carolina and we want to be able to match their intensity and come out firing.”
The Cowboys improved to 3-3 last week with a 19-14 win at Carolina. Dallas got timely stops on defense and two field goals by kicker Dan Bailey late in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys seek back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
“I think each week you have to start fresh and work hard,” said Cowboys’ wide receiver Miles Austin, who caught the eventual game-winning touchdown in the Cowboys’ 24-17 win against the Giants on Kickoff Weekend. “It’s going to be big. It’s obviously a huge week, they all are.”
Atlanta Falcons (6-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
With a bye in Week 7, both the Falcons and Eagles are back in action on Sunday and will meet for the fifth consecutive season.
Atlanta is off to its best start in franchise history at 6-0 and is the NFL’s only undefeated team. Falcons’ tight end Tony Gonzalez (99), who needs one touchdown reception to become the eighth player in NFL history to reach 100 career touchdown catches, knows his team still has plenty to accomplish.
“It’s a special feeling,” said Gonzalez on being 6-0. “I’ve been there before. It doesn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things as far as our goals are concerned. But it’s a great start and we’ve got to build off of it.”
Falcons’ quarterback and Philadelphia native Matt Ryan seeks his first win at Lincoln Financial Field. Ryan tied a career-high four touchdown passes against the Eagles last season in the Falcons’ 35-31 win in Atlanta.
Philadelphia has lost its past two games, but is confident coming off the bye. The Eagles have won 13 consecutive games after a bye, the longest such winning streak since the bye was instituted in 1990.
New Orleans Saints (2-4) at Denver Broncos (3-3)
A matchup between two of the NFL’s most prolific passers will unfold in Denver when the Broncos host the Saints on Sunday Night Football.
New Orleans’ quarterback Drew Brees has led his club to two consecutive wins after an 0-4 start to the season. On Sunday, Brees (299) needs two touchdown passes to surpass Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Broncos quarterback John Elway (300) for the sixth-most touchdown passes in NFL history.
“We want to get on a streak here,” said Brees. “Now we’ve got two. We want to keep that going.”
The Broncos had a bye in Week 7 after the team’s come-from-behind 35-24 victory at San Diego in Week 6. The Broncos overcame a 24-0 deficit and became the first team in NFL history to win by double-digits after trailing by at least 24.
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning recorded his 47th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime to tie Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino for the most by a player since 1970.
Manning has 36 career games with at least three touchdown passes and zero interceptions, including two such games in 2012. With at least three touchdowns and zero interceptions on Sunday night, Manning would surpass former NFL quarterback Brett Favre (36) for the most such games in NFL history.
Byes: The Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and the Houston Texans