What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN's matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN's Football Power Index to rank games on a 1-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games ...and more »
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What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN's matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN's Football Power Index to rank games on a 1-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games of Week 7.
1. Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders (Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
Matchup quality: 77 out of 100FPI win projection: Chiefs, 58 percentFPI playoff leverage: Raiders 8 percent, Chiefs 3 percent
Before the season started FPI projected the AFC West as one of the closest divisional races, with the Chiefs as slight favorites over the Raiders to win the division. Six weeks later we have teams nearing either extreme of their projected outcomes and a divisional race largely seen as a fait accompli.
The Chiefs have surpassed all expectations, winning five of their first six games, and are 92 percent favorites to win the AFC West. Even if they lose on the road, FPI would still give them an 87 percent chance at the division.
Oakland thus far has failed to live up to projections, starting 2-4, prompting FPI to give them a less than 1 percent chance at the AFC West and just a 6 percent chance at the playoffs. Even with a win, the division may be out of reach, but making the playoffs becomes a 10 percent possibility.
2. Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Matchup quality: 74 out of 100FPI win projection: Patriots, 69 percentFPI playoff leverage: Falcons 21 percent, Patriots 6 percent
In a fun quirk of the schedule, the Falcons are in the midst of playing each of the four AFC East teams in a row. A less fun twist, if you're a Falcons fan, at least, is that they've started the four-game stretch with home losses to Buffalo and Miami.
Despite the unexpected setbacks, the Falcons are still very much alive in the hunt for the playoffs, but that could change with another loss. They now have a 45 percent chance to make the playoffs and a 22 percent chance at the NFC South title. A win moves them to 59 percent for the playoffs and 30 percent for the division, while a loss brings those down to 38 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
3. Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
Matchup quality: 72 out of 100FPI win projection: Seahawks, 53 percentFPI playoff leverage: Seahawks 13 percent, Giants 3 percent
Expect plenty of defense in this contest as both the visiting Seahawks (second in defensive FPI) and the host Giants (fifth) rank near the top of the league in defensive FPI.
The Giants are coming off of their best defensive performance of the season in getting their first win of the year at Denver, where they had a defensive efficiency of 93.5. Seattle is coming off a bye week but has posted a defensive efficiency of 80 or better in two of its past three games.
If the Giants can't pull off the upset, they once again will be more likely to end up with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft (0.8 percent) than they will end up in the playoffs (0.7 percent). It may not seem like much, but a win would double their chances of making the playoffs to 4 percent from the current 2 percent.
4. Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Matchup quality: 63 out of 100FPI win projection: Eagles, 70 percentFPI playoff leverage: Redskins 21 percent, Eagles 9 percent
Aaron Rodgers' injury crushed the Packers, and it also shook up the landscape of the NFC.
All of a sudden, the Eagles are the new favorites in the conference. And it's not even that close. Philadelphia has a 45 percent chance of entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, dwarfing the main challengers in the Vikings (15 percent) and Seahawks (14 percent). The Eagles also have the best shot to reach the Super Bowl (31 percent) of any team in the conference.
What's fueling the Eagles is the obvious: Carson Wentz. The former North Dakota State quarterback was treated like a rising star after last season despite largely playing poorly. But this time, the breakout is legitimate. Wentz is third in Total QBR, trailing only other neophyte signal-callers in Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott.
5. New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)
Matchup quality: 61 out of 100FPI win projection: Saints, 50.1 percentFPI playoff leverage: Packers 27 percent, Saints 23 percent
FPI does account for quarterback injuries, so it has already downgraded the Packers' rating and resulting chance to win substantially as a result of the loss of Rodgers. Just like he is to everyone else, backup Brett Hundley is a major unknown to the model. FPI handles quarterbacks who have never played in the league before by guessing that they are at replacement level, so it is guessing Hundley will be oh-so-slightly-worse-than-replacement level given his poor performance last week.
A non-Rodgers story to keep an eye on in this one is the surprising competency of the Saints' defense. From an expected points per game standpoint, New Orleans' pass defense ranks 14th and its run defense ranks 18th in the league so far. That might not sound like much, but considering how often the Saints' defense has let down QB Drew Brees in the past, this is an interesting development that could keep the Saints relevant deep into the season.
High-leverage game of the week: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
Matchup quality: 56 out of 100FPI win projection: Chargers, 59 percentFPI playoff leverage: Broncos 26 percent, Chargers 13 percent
FPI is ... kind of in on the Chargers? It has them as the 17th-best team in the NFL going forward, sandwiched right between the Texans and the Raiders. Not bad for a 2-4 squad. The scores of their games show why. Their four losses were a three-point loss at the Broncos, a two-point loss to the Dolphins, 14-point loss to the Chiefs and a two-point loss to the Eagles. They were all close aside from the game against the best team in football.
Granted, the Chargers beat the Raiders by only one point last week, but it isn't picking Los Angeles to win the Super Bowl here. It's just saying the Chargers are OK, and about the same as the Broncos. All that being said, the Chargers' rush defense has been a hindrance, ranking 31st in expected points added per game this year, which isn't ideal against a Broncos team that is better attacking on the ground than through the air.
If the Chargers beat the Broncos, they would have a 17 percent chance to reach the postseason, which at least isn't nothing.
For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index.
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