NFL Week 7 Previews

THE NFL WEEK 7 SUNDAY AFTERNOON KEY PREVIEWS ARE HERE AS WE CHECK OUT RAVENS-TEXANS,'SKINS-GIANTS AND JETS-PATS

PLUS WE RANK THE TOP 3 NFL COACHING JOBS THIS YEAR (SO FAR)

By Jim Hurley

How's this for a strange-but-true NFL season so far?

We're now a game into Week 7 on this 2012 season and there's not a single team with a winning record in either the AFC East or the AFC West and the league's only unbeaten team - that's the 6-and-oh Atlanta Falcons - seem to get less public praise we can remember than any undefeated team at this stage of an NFL campaign.

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Go figure!

In reality, everything's seemingly been turned upside down in Commish Roger Goodell's kingdom from that early-season replacement officials dark cloud to the here-and-now where two of the last three Super Bowl-winning teams (that's New Orleans in 2009 and Green Bay in 2010) are a combined 4-7 SU (straight-up) and on the outside looking in at the current (and albeit early) chase for playoff spots.

So, this all got us here at Jim Sez to be thinking ... with all the topsy-turvy nature to this season, what have been the best coaching jobs turned in so far?

Here's our ranking of the Top 3 NFL Coaching Jobs - feel free to disagree if you'd like:

1 - JEFF FISHER, ST. LOUIS RAMS - Maybe the team's 3-3 SU (straight-up) mark doesn't exactly wow you (we understand!) but do keep in mind this NFC West crew won a combined 15 games between the start of 2007 through the end of last year (a 15-65 mark in all) and now this club plays with major heart and with a never-say-die attitude. Note that four of the Rams' first six games have been decided by 6 points or less and if star rookie PK Greg Zuerlein could have made a couple of "gimmes"last weekend in Miami this St. Loo bunch would be the true toast of the city ... yeah, along with those unbelievable baseball Cardinals.

2 - LESLIE FRAZIER, MINNESOTA VIKINGS - Here's another major rags-to-riches story inside the NFC: The Vikings had a preseason won/loss forecast of just 6 victories but there's an opportunity this weekend to go 5-2 with the home date against Arizona and so let's toss some bouquets the way of Minny's two-plus year head coach. Frazier's already pushed his club into the winner's circle as underdogs against San Francisco and Detroit this season and how about the fact the Vikes are a perfect 3-and-oh SU at home after winning just once inside the Metrodome a year ago? The defensive-minded boss man has allowed his offense to take the training wheels off QB Christian Ponder and the defense has yielded 13 points or less in three different games. Bravo!

3- MIKE SMITH, ATLANTA FALCONS - Maybe other gridiron "experts"believe that the Falcs' balloon will burst soon enough but the reality is this NFC South squad remains the league's only unbeaten bunch and gut-check wins the past three weeks against Carolina, Washington and Oakland have proven that this franchise has indeed turned the corner and knows how to win the tight-fitting games. Smith's confidence in both the offense/defense has been illustrated on many occasions this year and somebody's gotta get a round of applause for allowing QB Matt Ryan to throw that long ball from his own end zone a couple of weeks back in the aforementioned win against the Panthers, right?

If you're looking for  "honorable mention"types to our NFL Coaching Job of the Year award for now than don't forget Miami's first-year coach Joe Philbin, New York Giants two-time Super Bowl-winning boss Tom Coughlin and Chicago coach Lovie Smith. Three cheers for this trio as well!

Now, here's a look at the NFL Week 7 Key Sunday afternoon previews:

BALTIMORE (5-1) at HOUSTON (5-1) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Just 'cause the Texans finally lost a game last week is no reason for anyone to push the proverbial panic button in the Space City but folks in these parts know that Houston's lost all six of its games against Baltimore while dating back to the 2002 birth of this AFC South franchise. Plus, there is some concern with a Houston secondary that last Sunday night surrendered six scoring strikes from Green Bay slinger Aaron Rodgers - might Baltimore QB Joe Flacco (1,924 yards passing with 8 TDs and 4 INTs) be licking his chops a bit here while eyeballing WR Torrey Smith for some deep passes?

Spread Notes - Baltimore staggers into this tilt on a four-game pointspread losing streak but note the Ravens are 12-8-1 ATS away since the start of the 2010 campaign. Meanwhile, Houston's 4-2 vig-wise so far this year and the Texans are 11-5-1 ATS as betting favorites the past year-plus.

WASHINGTON (3-3) at NEW YORK GIANTS (4-2) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Loved how the Giants downplayed that terrific 26-3 win in San Francisco last week - maybe the football world at large expected the 49ers to win that one going away but not Big Blue!

Now, the G-men must prove that they can get a little angry at an opponent as last year's clean sweep by the 'Skins (see Spread Notes below) has a few of Coughlin's crew in a rather feisty mood but the real X-and-O key here is can Washington's rag-tag pass defense (last in the league while allowing 328.3 yards a game) slow down QB Eli Manning who's completed 10-or-more passes this year to six different receivers and mega-star Victor Cruz (43 receptions and 6 TDs) may gets a few chances to do the salsa here.

Spread Notes - The NY Giants are 3-2-1 spreadwise this season and 11-3-1 ATS overall dating back to the middle of last season. Note that Washington won/covered both matchups a year ago (a 28-14 triumph as 1 ½-point home dogs and a 23-10 win as 6-point road pups) and the 'Skins have split their six overall spread verdicts this season.

NEW YORK JETS (3-3) at NEW ENGLAND (3-3) - 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS
Want to know something a tad strange?

The Jets and Patriots each have won on the same weekend only once so far in 2012 - see Week 1 - and so it's not as if either of these AFC East rivals has gotten any real momentum going forward.

If the double-digit dog Jets wish to build on last weekend's sturdy 35-9 win against 3 ½-point dog Indianapolis, than RB Shonn Greene - who rushed for a career-best 161 yards last Sunday - must bang out the key between-the-tackle ground yards here and thereby keep that up-tempo Pats offense off the field.

Hey, did you realize that New England ranks third in the NFL in passing offense (293 ypg) and fourth in rushing offense (152.3 ypg) and yet Bill Belichick's crew found ways to blow fourth-quarter leads against Arizona, Baltimore and Seattle?

Spread Notes - New England is 4-2 versus the Vegas price tags this season and the Patriots are 11-6 ATS in head-to-head battles with the J-E-T-S since 2004. Note that NYJ is 3-2-1 ATS this season and a collective 31-28-1 ATS in the Rex Ryan Era that started in 2009.

CHECK OUT SUNDAY'S NFL SPECIAL PLAYS HERE

THE SUNDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL PREVIEW - STEELERS-BENGALS SQUARE OFF WITH LOTS ON THE LINE ...

PLUS COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEKEND NOTES AS 'BAMA AND K-STATE ROLL

Okay, so here's who we feel sorry for this weekend in the College Football world:

Anyone who wagered on the "under" in last night's Baylor versus Texas game (wait, someone just scored another TD!), anyone that had West Virginia QB Geno Smith winning this year's Heisman Trophy and - last but not least - anyone that thought Big 10 powers Ohio State and Michigan were gonna lose on the same day.

The ultra-dramatic wins by the Wolverines and the Buckeyes - the latter in overtime and without injured starting QB Braxton Miller - proved there's still plenty of life in the otherwise moribund Big 10.

On a College Football Saturday in which both #2 Florida and #4 Kansas State both showed off their wares - maybe there is someone out there that can/will beat the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide - there was plenty of great gridiron theatre and there's that looming question for one more week ...

What will happen when/if Alabama, Oregon, Kansas State and Notre Dame are all unbeaten at the conclusion of this 2012 regular season?

It gets a little stickier with every passing week, don't it?

NFL WEEK 7 SUNDAY NIGHT PREVIEW

PITTSBURGH (2-3) at CINCINNATI (3-3) - 8:25 p.m. ET, NBC
Maybe you won't quite get Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to declare this a "must-win" game - but we're sure getting close, right?

No doubt Pittsburgh's sure staggered in road games this season with losses in Denver, Oakland and Tennessee and now as if packing their bags and playing in the Queen City isn't bad enough came the late-week reports that QB Ben Roethlisberger injured his ankle in a Thursday practice.

Roethlisberger is 7-1 SU (straight-up) lifetime in Cincinnati and he's not been the problem in these aforementioned earlier-season road games (see 5 TDs and just 1 INT in the past two road tilts) but the Steelers here could well be operating without either RB Rashard Mendenhall or Isaac Redman and that would appear to heap more pressure on "Big Ben".

The Bengals, meanwhile, sport the NFL's eighth-ranked pass offense (averaging 283 ypg) and so QB Andy Dalton and mates welcome the news that S Troy Polamalu (calf) won't be active for this prime-time tilt but what's with Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis proclaiming after last week's 34-24 loss to Cleveland that his team has to stop being "so nice" ... say what!

The Bengals need Dalton to steer clear of the bad reads - he threw 3 picks last week for the second time in his young career - and how about a 100-yard rusher as Cincinnati's averaging 99 yards a game (that ranks 'em 21st in the NFL).

Spread Notes - The Steelers are a rotten 1-4 ATS (against the spread) so far this season but did you know Pittsburgh's covered nine of its last 11 head-to-head showdowns against the Cincy Bengals?

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