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Each Tuesday morning, we will preview every NFL game of the upcoming week. All of our NFL content, including our most recent power rankings and links to the pre-season preview are located here.
The inputs to the 10,001 simulations of each upcoming game are based on a rigorous analysis of each team that considers strength-of-schedule-adjusted team and player ratings and then makes modifications for injuries and depth at each position. To see other picks like our Upset and Locks of the Week, as well as our season-to-date performance, click here.
Game of the Week: #2 Minnesota Vikings 24 @ #6 Pittsburgh Steelers 23
They may have just narrowly edged San Francisco (by 3 on a last-minute 32-yard touchdown caught by a player with only one reception on the year) and Baltimore (by 2 with a fourth quarter defensive collapse saved by a missed 44-yard field goal) at home, but the Minnesota Vikings are undefeated and looking like a genuine Super Bowl contender. Pittsburgh has been on the other end of that situation twice, losing on the road by 3 points in the last 15 seconds of the game. At 4-2 though, the Steelers are tied for the AFC North lead and still in good position for the playoffs. So what happens when the roles are reversed and Minnesota goes into Pittsburgh to play in what should definitely be a close game throughout?
Against what we view as the eighth easiest NFL schedule to-date, Minnesota, a team previously known for its stout run defense and tough mentality, is winning with a high-scoring, balanced offense. The Vikings rank second in the NFL in scoring at 31.5 points per game (trailing just New Orleans at 38.4 points per game). They are ninth in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (7.6) and 12th in yards per rush (4.3), while only turning the ball over four times in six games. Adrian Peterson has remained the key to this offense as a workhorse back who currently leads the league in rushing yards (624), is second in attempts (121) and eighth among all qualifiers in yards per attempt (5.3). The Pittsburgh Steelers will counter the Vikings' attack with a defense that has barely been better than league-average this year. Pittsburgh's defense ranks 11th in the NFL scoring defense (18.7 points per game), eighth in passing (6.3 yards per pass attempt) and 11th in rushing (3.8 yards per rush), while only forcing four turnovers in six games. The Steelers have recorded 17 sacks - the third highest total in the league - yet teams have passed against them more than usual, so the Steelers rank just eighth in sack per pass play (7.5%).
Pittsburgh has faced a similarly difficult schedule - the ninth easiest, yet has been limited on offense by only one successful dimension. The Steelers have been great through the air. Ben Roethlisberger leads all quarterbacks with 9.1 yards per pass attempt, while Hines Ward leads all receivers with 599 yards receiving. However, Pittsburgh ranks just 14th in scoring (23.3 points per game). Part of that is due to the fact that Roethlisberger has also been prone to mistakes with six interceptions and 16 sacks. Most of the issue on offense has been the running game. Rashard Mendenhall, who is now starting over Willie Parker, had one big game where he ran for 165 yards on 29 carries. Outside of that effort, Pittsburgh has rushed 137 times for a mere 477 yards or 3.5 yards per rush. Mendenhall has not been nearly as effective since. On defense, Minnesota has not nearly been as impressive as in recent years. The Vikings are actually being outgained through the air with 7.8 yards per pass attempt allowed and are at the league average allowing 3.9 yards per rush. Roethlisberger could have a huge day passing; however, he will also likely be sacked quite a bit. The Vikings biggest strength on defense this season has been in the pass rush where they are second in the league in sacks per pass play (9.2%).
In 10,000 simulations, the Vikings' balanced offense, great pass rush and advantage in the turnover battle, barely give them the edge over Pittsburgh's homefield and downfield passing attack. Minnesota wins 54.9% of the time and by an average score of 23.8-23.4. With Pittsburgh is favored by four points, Minnesota is a strong bet. The Vikings win against the spread 61.0% of the time, which is enough to make this game our "Upset of the Week," though not quite our "Lock of the Week" (more on that below).
The projected boxscore for this game sees Adrian Peterson rush for 104.6 yards on 21.2 carries and average an even touchdown a game. Peterson is our top fantasy running back of the week (again). Ben Roethlisberger throws for more yards (256.3) than his counterpart Brett Favre (221.1), but also more interceptions (0.9 to 0.5). After Peterson, Favre's new favorite target, Sidney Rice, is actually the most likely player to score a touchdown. Rice averages 0.6 TDs on five catches for 88.4 yards.
Our Against the Spread "Lock of the Week" is now 5-1 on the year and 21-4 all-time (and we are currently winning the charity media pick'em contest held by Bodog). To see other picks like our Upset and Locks of the Week, as well as our season-to-date accuracy, click here.
Click on the Boxscore below to the average results from 10,000 simulations of that game. Or click on Simulate Game to play the game once and view stats and play-by-play from that simulation.
NFL Week 7
|@ Carolina Panthers||60.3||24||Simulate Game|
|@ New York Giants||54.3||22||Simulate Game|
|@ Cincinnati Bengals||54.1||20||Simulate Game|
|San Francisco 49ers||46.6||20||Boxscore|
|@ Houston Texans||53.4||23||Simulate Game|
|@ Dallas Cowboys||51.3||23||Simulate Game|
|@ Pittsburgh Steelers||45.1||23||Simulate Game|
|New York Jets||61.3||21||Boxscore|
|@ Oakland Raiders||38.7||17||Simulate Game|
|@ Washington Redskins||31.1||16||Simulate Game|
|San Diego Chargers||74.4||24||Boxscore|
|@ Kansas City Chiefs||25.6||18||Simulate Game|
|Green Bay Packers||76.6||26||Boxscore|
|@ Cleveland Browns||23.4||18||Simulate Game|
|New Orleans Saints||76.9||29||Boxscore|
|@ Miami Dolphins||23.1||21||Simulate Game|
|New England Patriots||88.2||28||Boxscore|
|@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers||11.8||15||Simulate Game|
|@ St. Louis Rams||10.1||14||Simulate Game|
Other Notable Games in Week 7
In eight of the 13 games this week, the road team is favored by the projections (yes, homefield is factored into the technology). Notably among those games, San Diego bounces back from a tough home loss against Denver to win convincingly over Kansas City 74.4% of the time and, in an intriguing matchup of opposing offensive styles, the New Orleans Saints continue their winning ways in Miami with a 29-21 victory (on average).
Elsewhere, each of the five games won by the home team is decided by less than six points. Among those matchups, the banged up Giants will host the surging Cardinals. New York wins, but in a close game. The Giants win and improve to 6-1 just 54.3% of the time and by an average score of 22-19. Former Eli Manner tutor, Kurt Warner throws for 279.1 yards in the game, but the Cardinals are outrushed by 23 yards in their close loss.
Other Notable Names in Week 7
In a game that pits two young, improving teams, Michael Crabtree debuts as a starting wide receiver for the 49ers when they visit Houston. Crabtree catches 3.3 passes from Shaun Hill for 38.5 yards. Needless to say, he likely won't make the difference as Houston narrowly wins by an average score of 23-20.
In the same game Frank Gore returns from injury and the bye week to rush for 98.5 yards on 19.8 carries. He scores 0.9 touchdowns on average.
Peyton Manning leads all quarterbacks in passing yards in our Week 7 projections, but that still does not guarantee that he will break 300 for the sixth straight game to open this season. On average, Manning throws for 283.4 yards, 2.3 TDs and 0.6 interceptions against the Rams. The simulator is smart enough to call more running plays (Chad Simpson and Mike Hart even get into the mix) later in the game when the Colts have a big lead and passing isn't needed (we'll see if Jim Caldwell and the Colts do the same). Nevertheless, Manning throws for over 300 yards in 44.7% of the simulated games.
Paul Bessire is the Product Manager of Content and Quantitative Analysis for WhatIfSports.com, a division of FOX Sports Interactive specializing in fantasy football simulation analysis and football sim games. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!