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The Four Must-See Matchups for NFL Week 7

A matchup between the NFL’s no. 1 scoring offense and no. 1 scoring defense pits Drew Brees’s enduring excellence against the Ravens’ miserly defense. What else will we learn this weekend?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

An NFL executive I spoke with this week compared September and October in the modern NFL to the first few days of a golf tournament: Everyone is sort of jumbled together and the key is to make sure you don’t fall too far behind. I wrote earlier this week about the increasing parity in the league and how Week 7 is probably still too early to make any definitive statements about who is good. Remember, at this time last year the Chiefs were 5-1; by December 3 they were 6-6. This is not to say that this will happen again in 2018—Patrick Mahomes II is certainly better than Alex Smith. I’m simply saying that in a season that has produced the most passers in history with a quarterback rating over 100, any team is capable of beating anyone on a weekly basis. Well, almost any team.

Drew Brees vs. the Baltimore Defense

One of the beautiful things about the Ravens is that they’ve proved it’s still possible to win with defense in a league ruled by offense. They’ve allowed four fewer points per game (12.8) than anyone else. They haven’t allowed a second-half touchdown through six weeks, matching the mark of the 1934 Detroit Lions, who did so against the likes of the Brooklyn Dodgers and St. Louis Gunners.

Their matchup against the New Orleans Saints this week is the second this season between the no. 1 scoring defense and no. 1 scoring offense. Two weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars occupied those roles and Kansas City’s win marked the sixth time the top-ranked offense has beaten the top-ranked defense in the past seven matchups between such teams in the past 15 years.

We know that Brees is a good quarterback because he received a laminated certificate two weeks ago to certify that no one has ever been better at accumulating passing yards. The Saints are averaging 36 points per game and the Ravens are coming off a game in which they sacked Marcus Mariota 11 times.

The winner of this game probably gets to join the Los Angeles Rams and Chiefs in the conversation for elite teams.

This game will also make you feel old:

Bill Belichick vs. Mitchell Trubisky

There’s an old saying: A young quarterback doesn’t become a veteran until he plays Bill Belichick. Now, I just made that up, but it seems like it should be a saying, so I’m going to put it out into the universe.

Since 2001, quarterbacks in the first two years of their career are 11-53 against the Patriots. Mahomes came close but failed last week to become the first quarterback under the age of 25 to win a game in Foxborough in 24 tries. Mahomes missed some throws during that game and threw two interceptions, one straight to Dont’a Hightower, a play in which Mahomes didn’t even see the linebacker.

Don’t expect the Chicago Bears to match last week’s 43-40 epic between the Patriots and Chiefs. The Bears have a much better defense than Kansas City. The similarity is simply that a young quarterback is about to get his biggest test.

Trubisky’s quarterback rating is above 100, prompting reporters to ask head coach Matt Nagy about the fact the second-year passer’s quarterback rating is higher than Tom Brady’s.

Belichick will probably want to keep the ball in Trubisky’s hands and force him to make throws and not give him easy access to running back Tarik Cohen, who has 211 receiving yards combined in his past two outings. A Bears loss wouldn’t mean that Trubisky is a bad quarterback, but if he beats Belichick’s game plan, it will go a long way toward shutting up the doubters. And by the doubters I mean me.

On the other side of the ball, Bears linebacker Khalil Mack has missed practice this week and there are real concerns about his health. Belichick is probably concerned about Mack’s impact on the game, but he’s really concerned that anyone dared compare Mack to Lawrence Taylor.

Bonus Pats-Bears content: Tom Brady once juked the hell out of the Bears’ best player of the 2000s:

Matt Ryan vs. Atlanta’s Lost Season

Ryan is just off the pace from getting a laminated certificate of his own if he keeps this up:

This Falcons are, in theory, better than the lost season they are currently embarking on. In August I spoke with their general manager, Thomas Dimitroff, about how they were built for the modern game: a great presence in the middle of the field and athletes versatile enough to stick with anything an offense could throw at them. Of course, linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal, the prime examples of that, were quickly lost for the season. Running back Devonta Freeman is now also out for the season, meaning Ryan is going to resemble a version of Brees during those lean Saints years—constantly in shootouts, passing all the time, putting up massive numbers and … not winning a whole lot.

The good news is that Eli Manning and the New York Giants are coming to Atlanta this week, and even this Falcons defense seems incapable of getting into a shootout with the Giants’ woeful offense. Eli Manning has the same odds of starting for the Giants next year as he does at being in a TV booth—hardly a good sign.

Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Because Someone Has to Win the AFC South

Pray for Deshaun Watson:

The AFC South is an absolute mess whose games, until further notice, should not be televised. Three teams are 3-3. The Texans put Watson in harm’s way every Sunday. The Tennessee Titans let their quarterback get sacked 11 times last week. The Jaguars have Blake Bortles and although Andrew Luck looks competent this season, he’s throwing just 7 yards in the air on his attempts, down 3 full yards from 2012, an Eli Manningesque drop. It seemed impossible a few weeks ago—when the Texans looked helpless and the Jaguars were steamrolling the Patriots—that these teams would have the same record while squaring off for short-term supremacy in the division. I am more interested to see how the Jaguars defense regains its footing after two substandard weeks—one understandably bad outing against Mahomes and one puzzling performance against the Dallas Cowboys in a loss so dramatic that America briefly stopped questioning whether Jason Garrett should be fired and Conor McGregor misinterpreted a joke I made about Blake Bortles as being about him.

If the Jaguars don’t get to Watson at the same rate as other teams and fall to 3-4, then it’s time to start worrying. Look at this:

The Jaguars have very little flexibility going forward. Bortles is probably their quarterback of the future. This is who they are, and if the past two weeks are the best they can do, that’s a problem.