Three-and-out: NFL’s best matchups of Week 7

The NFC has two intriguing matchups in playoff positioning, but the AFC might have the best game of the week with the New York Jets (4-1) facing the undefeated New England Patriots (5-0). We highlight the top games from Sunday, each in a different time slot.

New York Jets (4-1) at New England Patriots (5-0)

The Patriots won two close contests last year between these two teams by a combined three points, and now the Jets have a new coaching staff that most figure upgrades their team.

To wit: the Jets are a top-10 team in five of the six main offensive and defensive rankings – eighth in offense (first in rushing, 21st in passing) and first in defense (second in both rushing defense and passing defense). Chris Ivory is first in the AFC with 460 yards rushing, averaging an impressive 5.5 yards per carry and Brandon Marshall is having a very solid season with 511 yards receiving, a 13.8-yard average and four touchdowns. Marshall has four consecutive games with 100 yards or more.

Part of the progress has come with the efficiency of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has 10 touchdowns in his past four games against New England, including two or more in each of the last four times he has gone up against the Patriots.

Of course, that’s still not up to Tom Brady standards. He leads the league with a 118.4 passer rating, already has 1,699 yards and 14 touchdowns with only one interception – the lowest interception rate in the NFL to date – and needs only 43 yards to become the fifth player in NFL history with 55,000 for his career.

While the Patriots have proven to be an offensive juggernaut this year – second overall and second in passing – the Jets have the advantage defensively. New England has the 17th-ranked defense while the Jets are first.

Both teams are among the best in turnover ratio and have solid kicking games, so this game is likely to come down to if the Jets defense can contain Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski enough for the New York offense to stay balanced.

Dallas Cowboys (2-3) at New York Giants (3-3)

The Cowboys are switching up their quarterback position once again. After Tony Romo went down, it was Brandon Weeden’s show. Now that responsibility goes to veteran journeyman Matt Cassel to extend the Cowboys’ five-game winning streak over the Giants. Can Cassel be the placeholder that keeps the Cowboys in contention for the NFC East until Romo returns?

In September against the Giants, Romo threw for 356 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winning 11-yard TD to Jason Witten with 7 seconds left. Their last two games have resulted in Cowboys wins, but only by a combined total of four points.

The key for the Giants is which Eli Manning will show up. He has the longest active starts streak among NFL quarterbacks (173), but he’s been erratic this year. He already has 11 touchdowns but threw two interceptions last week, including one pick-six in a loss to the Eagles. He’d better watch out for Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, who has 12 interceptions since 2010, the most of any linebacker in the league. Even with that, the Giants have a plus-six turnover margin, tied for tops in the league, and the Cowboys are minus-5.

Fortunately for the Giants, Manning is much better at home, where he has seven touchdowns and only one interception for a 109.8 rating. Last time against Dallas, Odell Beckham Jr. had 10 catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and he has four touchdowns against Dallas in his three meetings.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (5-0)

This game could measure how far the Panthers have come since last year, or how much progress the Eagles have made of late. The Eagles have won five of the last six meetings between the two teams and whipped up on the Panthers 45-21 last November when Mark Sanchez was quarterbacking the Eagles.

Now it’s Sam Bradford, who has a 103.3 rating in two career starts against Carolina, and he might finally have a running game with DeMarco Murray, who rushed for 109 yards last week.

But if the Panthers are to be knocked from the realm of undefeated teams, the Eagles have to get to Cam Newton, as they did last year. The Philadelphia defense had nine sacks against Carolina last year, led by Connor Barwin with 3½.  Even so, Newton has thrown for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns in both meetings with the Eagles.

Another key for the Eagles defense will be limiting Panthers TE Greg Olsen. He had seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown last week and had six catches for 119 yards last year against Philadelphia.

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