Week 7 of the 2012 NFL season features a meeting between the teams with the two best records in the AFC (the only two above-.500 teams, in fact), plus numerous divisional battles. Here’s a preview this week’s action:

Thursday, Oct. 18

Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers — 8:20 P.M.

Candlestick Park, San Francisco
Despite having the NFC’s second-worst offense, Seattle (4-2) has found a way to win close games behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch, the NFC’s top rusher, will need to gain ground against a 49ers’ defense that allows 275.8 yards per game, the fewest in the league. Quarterback Alex Smith had a dreadful game for San Francisco (4-2) in last week’s loss to the Giants. The Seahawks, who have the league’s fourth-ranked defense, will look to cause more trouble for Smith via the pass rush, especially with left tackle Joe Staley likely out with a concussion.


Sunday, Oct. 21

Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills — 1 P.M.

Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.
Tennessee (2-4) will start backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck instead of injured Jake Locker for the third straight week. The Titans still have the league’s worst rushing attack. They need running back Chris Johnson to break loose against the NFL’s worst rushing defense, which yields 173.5 yards per contest. With running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller alternating playing time, Buffalo (3-3) has the league’s fifth-ranked rushing attack, rolling up 147.7 yards per game. The Bills could pile up yardage—and points—against a Titans defense that gives up a league-high 34 points per game.

Washington Redskins at N.Y. Giants — 1 P.M.

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
The Giants (4-2) were impressive in routing the 49ers last week. Eli Manning and the league’s third-ranked offense will test a Redskins defense that gives up a league-high 328.3 passing yards per game. Washington (3-3) has the league’s second-ranked rushing offense, with quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris leading the way. The Redskins may try to exploit the New York secondary to keep the Giants from crowding the line of scrimmage.

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 1 P.M.

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
New Orleans (1-4) sends Drew Brees and the NFL’s top-ranked passing offense against a Buccaneers pass defense that ranks next to last in the league, giving up 312.2 yards per game. Tampa Bay (2-3) has had significant success having quarterback Josh Freeman throw down the field. Freeman will have the opportunity to work against a Saints defense that allows 456 total yards per game, the most in the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers — 1 P.M.

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Dallas (2-3) has been inconsistent on offense this season. Quarterback Tony Romo may have to pick up his passing game, as the Cowboys will start Felix Jones at running back in place of DeMarco Murray, who is out with a sprained foot. Losers of three games in a row, Carolina (1-4) may need to rely on the running game against a Dallas defense that allows an NFL-low 181.6 passing yards per game. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton may need to show his playmaking skills while facing a stiff pass rush led by DeMarcus Ware.

Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans — 1 P.M.

Reliant Stadium, Houston
Injuries to linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb will hurt Baltimore (5-1) on the defensive side of the ball. The Ravens have just the 26th-ranked defense in total yards, but they are stingy, allowing just 19.7 points per game. The Texans will test Baltimore with running back Arian Foster, whose 561 yards rushing rank second in the league. Houston (5-1) is without injured linebacker Brian Cushing. They missed him while giving up six touchdown passes against Green Bay last week. They’ll face a Ravens offense rolling up an average of 385 yards per game behind quarterback Joe Flacco.

Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts — 1 P.M.

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
After he helped the team break an 11-game losing streak last week, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden leads Cleveland (1-5) against a Colts defense that is much stronger against the pass than it is versus the run. Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson could be in line for a big day, but his status is uncertain due to a rib injury. Indianapolis (2-3) sends rookie quarterback Andrew Luck against the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense, which yields 294.2 yards per game.

Green Bay Packers at St. Louis Rams — 1 P.M.

Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis
Green Bay (3-3) averages 25.7 points per game thanks to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose 105.4 passer rating leads the league. Rodgers has been sacked 23 times, second-most in the NFL. The Rams’ seventh-ranked defense is also seventh in sacks, so they know how to get pressure on a quarterback. St. Louis (3-3) has the 28th-ranked offensive unit, averaging 300.7 yards per game. Quarterback Sam Bradford will need to make quick reads, as the Packers lead the NFL with 21 sacks, including eight by linebacker Clay Matthews.

Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings — 1 P.M.

Mall of America Field, Minneapolis
Arizona (4-2) will be without quarterback Kevin Kolb, who is out with a rib injury. John Skelton will replace Kolb as the Cardinals’ starter, but he’ll face the Vikings’ eighth-ranked defense, led by tackle-machine Chad Greenway. On offense, Minnesota (4-2) is led by Adrian Peterson, whose 499 rushing yards rank sixth in the league. The Cardinals are weaker against the run than they are the pass.

N.Y. Jets at New England Patriots — 4:25 P.M.

Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
The Jets (3-3) took advantage of a weak Colts rushing defense to get a win last weekend. Despite that success, New York still ranks 30th in the league in total offense with an average of 295.5 yards per game. The Patriots are tough against the run, giving up just 82.7 yards per game. However, quarterbacks like Kevin Kolb and Russell Wilson have been able to beat the New England defensive scheme for big plays late in games. New England (3-3) has the league’s most productive offense, averaging 445.3 yards per game. With the Jets’ defense allowing just 209.3 yards per game through the air, fifth-best in the NFL, the Patriots’ game plan could feature running back Stevan Ridley, whose 524 rushing yards rank fifth in the league.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders — 4:25 P.M.

O.co Coliseum, Oakland
Jacksonville (1-4) averages 241.2 yards of offense and 13 points per game, both NFL-worsts. Though the Raiders allow 29.6 points per game, their defense has improved throughout the season. Oakland (1-4) generates just 17.4 points per game on offense. Now that quarterback Carson Palmer has receiver Denarius Moore back in the lineup, the Raiders’ point total should rise. Palmer may not have to worry about pressure, as the Jaguars have recorded an NFL-worst three sacks as a team this season.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals — 8:20 P.M.

Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
With a 99.9 passer rating that ranks fourth in the league, Ben Roethlisberger leads the Pittsburgh (2-3) offense, while the Steelers running game ranks next-to-last. The Bengals’ defense ranks second in the league with 20 sacks. They’ll be coming after Roethlisberger. Behind quarterback Andy Dalton, Cincinnati (3-3) throws for 282.8 yards per game, eighth in the NFL. Bengal A.J. Green leads the NFL with 628 receiving yards. The Steelers’ fourth-ranked pass defense will look to slow down Dalton and Green.


Monday, Oct. 22

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears — 8:30 P.M.

Soldier Field, Chicago
Detroit (2-3) may have saved its season by winning against the Eagles last weekend. Lions’ receiver Calvin Johnson, fourth in the league with 558 yards, is the centerpiece of the NFL’s second-ranked offensive unit. The Bears’ third-ranked defense is on a historic roll, returning five interceptions for touchdowns in the past three games. Chicago (4-1) is also holding opponents to an NFL-low 14.2 points and 65.8 rushing yards per game. Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler will see an aggressive Lions’ pass rush. Detroit will look to force turnovers.

Bye Week:
Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia, San Diego

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