With just one quarter of the regular season remaining, we are starting to get a feel of how the playoffs may look.
A total of seven teams have a minimum of a two-game cushion when it comes to the playoffs. Meanwhile, it could be said that all but eight teams still have a reasonable shot at earning a spot in the second season.
With this comes a tremendous amount of drama, something that will be magnified when looking at individual matchups in a given week.
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As we have done all year, here are your top 10 matchups for this week’s NFL action.
A potentially record-setting receiver taking one of the biggest surprises of the season in an important inner-division game in the NFC South.
The Carolina Panthers may be undefeated on the season, but they remain just two games ahead of the Arizona Cardinals for home-field advantage in the NFC. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Falcons come into this week just one game out of the final wild-card spot having lost six of their past seven games.
Julio Jones — on pace to record 136 receptions for 1,784 yards — has been one of the few bright spots for a struggling Falcons team.
He’s going to be tasked with taking on a corner in Josh Norman that has allowed just 47.1 percent of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed for a ridiculously low 39.9 passer rating.
Who doesn’t want to look at this specific matchup 70-plus times come Sunday night? Watt has been the most-dominating all-around player in the NFL since the start of the 2013 season. He’s going to be tasked with getting to a quarterback that is among the best of his generation.
He will be doing so with the Houston Texans‘ playoff aspirations hanging in the balance and the New England Patriots looking to get back on track following two consecutive losses.
Watt has recorded 13 sacks and 29 quarterback hits in 12 games this season. Over the course of the past seven games, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year has nine sacks and 19 hits.
Meanwhile, Brady is coming off the wort performance of the season in a surprising home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. He put up his first multi-interception game since Week 10 of the 2014 campaign and has tallied five interceptions over the past five games after putting up just one in his first seven outings.
If Watt is able to get to an immobile Brady on a consistent basis, it will put the Patriots quarterback in a situation where he becomes vulnerable to more mistakes. That’s only magnified with both Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman slated to miss yet another game.
In the midst of the most difficult part of their schedule, the Minnesota Vikings need to find a way to knock off Arizona if they are going to seriously contend for the NFC North title.
Coming off a disastrous 38-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the key here will be getting Peterson involved in the offense once again. The future Hall of Fame running back had put up four 100-yard performances in five games prior to being held to 18 yards on eight attempts against Seattle.
Now taking on a Cardinals defense that ranks fourth in the NFL against the run, it is going to be tough sledding for Peterson.
More so than Peterson actually performing at a high level here, Teddy Bridgewater needs to take some pressure off his running back. The second-year quarterback ranks 36th among qualified players at 199.8 yards per game and has thrown just eight touchdown passes in 12 games.
That’s alarming for a number of reasons — mainly it indicates that defenses are able to zone in on the running game. If that continues on Thursday, the Vikings will be in trouble.
This could be the first of many games between these two young AFC West quarterbacks. And while there isn’t really much to look at here from a playoff perspective, the Denver Broncos need a win to maintain their status as the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders are on the verge of falling completely out of the playoff race at two games back.
What has been a stellar sophomore season for Carr was derailed in an important divisional game against the Kansas City Chiefs last week. The young signal-caller threw three fourth-quarter interceptions, including a pick-six late in the game.
Considering Carr came into the game with 24 TD passes and just six picks, that was pretty darn alarming.
After winning his first three starts in place of Peyton Manning, Osweiler looks to keep his Broncos in position to earn home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
He hasn’t put up spectacular numbers, but has been good enough to rely on a solid run game and one of the best defenses in the league. That should continue at home against the Raiders come Sunday.
We know the backstory here. McCoy is still a tad upset about Chip Kelly and the Eagles sending him to Western New York in a trade back in March.
No matter how ridiculous that may seem, you better believe it will light a fire under the running back come Sunday.
With 100-plus total yards in each of the past six games, McCoy is playing his best football of the season. He is also one of the primary reasons the Buffalo Bills sit at 6-6 on the season and just one game back in the AFC playoff race.
For the Eagles, it’s rather simple. Following a surprising road win against the New England Patriots last week, they control their own destiny in the NFC East. If they are able to come out victorious in the final four games of the season, the Eagles will earn the division title with an 8-8 record. Such is the nature of the beast in one of the worst divisions in recent football history.
Despite losing their past three games, the New York Giants remain tied for first place in the NFC East with a 5-7 record. Depending on how Sunday’s action plays out, they could enter "Monday Night Football" controlling their destiny in the division.
The team as a whole has been an absolute disaster this season, but Beckham Jr. continues to prove his worth among the best receivers in the NFL. He has put up five consecutive 100-yard games and is on pace to absolutely obliterate the numbers he put up during an historical rookie campaign last year.
New York is going to need Beckham Jr. to continue playing at an elite level in order for the team to overcome shortcomings elsewhere on the field.
On Monday, it will come against a Miami Dolphins corner that is among the most underrated at his position in the NFL — a corner in Brent Grimes has struggled to an extent recently.
Over the course of his past three games, Grimes has yielded 17 receptions on 23 targets with two touchdowns and one interception. This comes after he gave up just 29 receptions and two touchdowns in the first nine games of the year.
At 5-7, Miami finds itself on the verge of falling completely out of the AFC playoff race. The biggest key in terms of remaining in contention will be Grimes’ ability to prevent Beckham Jr. from having yet another outstanding game. I don’t like the odds here.
In their first meeting this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers went into New Orleans and handed the Saints what was then a stunning defeat. Now 11 weeks later, that outcome doesn’t seem to be much of a surprise anymore. Simply put, the Buccaneers are a better team than their NFC South counterparts.
The only real thing we can take from that Week 2 game is the fact that it represented Winston’s first career win.
At 6-6 on the year, the Buccaneers are just one game out of the final wild-card spot in the NFC. A win here against an inferior Saints team would go a long way in Tampa Bay finding a way to shock the football world following a two-win 2014 campaign.
Coming off a disheartening late-game home loss to the undefeated Carolina Panthers last week, you better believe that Brees will have his Saints ready to go in this one. Very rarely has Brees played the role of spoiler, but he has that opportunity this week in Tampa.
Some wanted to chalk Butler’s Super Bowl performance to being nothing more than a fluke. Through 12 games, he’s thrown that narrative completely out the window.
Following around the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver all season, Butler is allowing just over four receptions per game and is yielding a completion percentage of under 59. That’s not too shabby considering he’s consistently going up against upper-echelon competition.
Butler will have his hands full Sunday night against a receiver that has proven himself to be among the best in the NFL this season.
Hopkins finds himself on pace for 115 receptions, 1,559 yards and 13 touchdowns heading into Week 14. Interestingly, the third-year receiver has seen his production dip from what was a staggering early season performance. After putting up four consecutive 100-plus yard games earlier in the campaign, the Houston Texans’ top play-maker has racked up triple-digit yards just one in his past six games.
This is actually a very intriguing matchup between a young quarterback with a whole heck of a lot to prove and a young secondary that has performed extremely well recently.
We know very well what is on the line for Manziel here. Cleveland Browns head coach Mike Pettine was hesitant to turn back to the enigmatic second-year quarterback. However, pressure from the organization forced his hand here. With a four-game window to prove his worth to the franchise, Manziel is going to have to hit the ground running here.
On the other side, a very young San Francisco secondary is looking to continue its stellar recent play. Going up against an MVP candidate in Carson Palmer and a vastly improved Jay Cutler over the past two games, the 49ers have yielded zero touchdown passes and a pedestrian 73.3 passer rating.
It’s the play of sophomore standouts Kenneth Acker and Jimmie Ward as well as the excellent performance of rookie second-round pick Jaquiski Tartt that has San Francisco’s secondary playing at a high level.
More so than draft positioning between two cellar-dwelling teams, there is going to be a whole heck of a lot decided here. With youngsters ready to either flourish or bomb out late this season, it’s important for both organizations to see what they have. That starts Sunday in Cleveland.
Remember the last time the Dallas Cowboys played at Lambeau Field? We are pretty sure Mr. Bryant does. Coming off a late-game win against the Washington Redskins that saw Bryant play a huge role, Dallas head into Week 14 just one game out of first in the NFC East.
The Cowboys are going to need Bryant to step up big time against a Packers defense that’s been mediocre defending the pass this season.
Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Bryant has failed to produce at an incredibly high level without Tony Romo under center this season. He’s recorded just 15 receptions in the five games with another quarterback tossing him the rock.