With only three weeks remaining in the regular season, each game takes on a new meaning around the NFL. Some teams have a chance to clinch a playoff spot or positioning in the postseason. Meanwhile, other squads are playing for an opportunity to keep alive their playoff hopes.
These are among the top 10 individual matchups for Week 15 of the NFL season that we will focus on in this article.
1. Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Josh Norman
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This might be the sexiest individual matchup of the 2015 NFL season. What Beckham Jr. is doing recently hasn’t been seen since . . . his rookie year. He has put up 43 receptions for 796 yards and eight touchdowns over the past six games. That’s a good season for most receivers.
But Beckham has yet to take on a player of Norman’s ilk. The breakout fourth-year pro has legitimately been the best cover corner in football all season, surpassing the likes of Richard Sherman and Patrick Peterson.
In 13 games this season, Norman has allowed a total of 37 receptions for 329 yards while yielding a ridiculously low 43.1 passer rating when targeted. Math suggests that these are some pretty strong numbers right here.
With the New York Giants playing for a division crown and the Carolina Panthers looking for the second undefeated 16-game regular season in NFL history, this one matchup will play a major role in dictating where each team stands heading into Week 16.
Any other time throughout the season, either player would be considered on the favorable end of a mismatch. Now going up against one another, we have no idea how it’s going to play out. That’s what makes this so darn exciting.
This would normally be the best individual matchup in a given week. One of the most productive receivers in the modern era taking on the most underrated corner in today’s NFL. The two doing so with playoff implications galore. Who doesn’t love this?
With over 3,000 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns over his past 29 games, Brown’s stats tell us a story of a receiver who’s been utterly dominating.
Narrowing it down a bit, the All-Pro Pittsburgh Steelers pass catcher has put up 48 receptions for 679 yards and four scores over the past five games.
For comparison’s sake, Harris has given up 39 receptions for 367 yards in 13 games for the Denver Broncos this season.
Something has to give here. Can Ben Roethlisberger continue to find his No. 1 receiving target against a corner who has yet to give up a touchdown on the season? If not, who else will step up against the best pass defense in the NFL?
At 8-5 on the year, Pittsburgh finds itself in a practical tie for a wild card spot heading into Week 16. It needs to find a way to beat a first-place Broncos team in order to maintain its status as a legit playoff contender.
On the other hand, Denver is coming off a disastrous home loss to the Oakland Raiders and is now the No. 3 seed in the AFC. Another loss here, and the Broncos can kiss home-field advantage throughout the playoffs goodbye.
Considering they combined to touch the ball on half their snaps, it’s a sign that Chip Kelly is going to continue relying on his running backs in an attempt to lead the team to a division title.
It’s not going to be easy against a Cardinals defense that ranks in the top five of the NFL against the run and has yielded fewer than 100 rushing yards in seven of its past nine games, including an average of 76 yards over the past four games.
That’s the key here. Philadelphia can’t afford to put all the onus on Sam Bradford against a ball-hawking Cardinals defense that has tallied 16 interceptions on the season.
That’s a recipe for disaster for a quarterback who has started to gain some confidence during an Eagles’ two-game winning streak.
Mack tied an Oakland Raiders record with five sacks against what was an overmatched Denver Broncos offensive line last week. The second-year linebacker was absolutely dominating throughout the afternoon, also finding a way to put two more quarterback hits on Brock Osweiler.
Mack has to be drooling from the mouth following that record-setting performance. After all, he now has the pleasure of taking on a Green Bay Packers right tackle that Pro Football Focus grades out as the fourth worst player at his position this season.
Barclay, who was forced into the lineup after Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending injury nine games into the year, has given up a total of 26 quarterback hurries in six games.
Expect Green Bay to chip at Mack with double teams throughout the afternoon. Even then, there is little reason to believe the standout linebacker won’t be able to put up a big game. If so, Aaron Rodgers and Co. will be in big trouble in Oakland on Sunday.
With six sacks on the season, Hardy hasn’t quite lived up to expectations for a Cowboys team that took a huge chance on him. In reality, these final three games could be the difference between another incentive-laden, one-year deal and a multi-year contract.
The good news here for Hardy is that he will be taking on a New York Jets left tackle who has regressed a great deal this season.
Ferguson has yielded a ridiculous 33 quarterback hurries and five sacks on the season. This comes after he gave up just one sack in 16 games last year.
With an immobile yet productive Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, it’s going to be important for Ferguson to up his game in this one. The 8-5 Jets, who are currently one of the two wild-card teams in the AFC, will be relying on him to do just that Saturday night.
Coming off a performance against the Denver Broncos that saw him fail to catch a pass on seven targets, Cooper has caught just 12 of the 32 passes thrown in his direction over the past four games.
Some of that has to do with opposing defenses throwing more attention his way, but Cooper himself has struggled with drops. He leads the NFL with 14 on the season.
On the other side, Randall has continued to play stellar football in his first season with the Green Bay Packers. He has allowed a ridiculously low 50-percent completion rate while giving up an average of less than three receptions per game.
With Oakland in desperate need of a win to remain alive in the AFC playoff race, it is going to need Cooper to win this individual matchup. If that doesn’t happen, a promising season could go down in flames on Sunday.
Outside of J.J. Watt, there hasn’t been a more dominating defensive lineman in the NFL than Donald. The second-year player has anchored an otherwise injury-riddled St. Louis Rams defensive line to the tune of 29 quarterback hurries and 11 sacks in 13 games. Not too shabby for an interior pass rusher.
Usually on the favorable end of a mismatch, Donald will face a surprising rookie in Marpet, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the second round of this year’s draft.
The small-school product has had his fair share of struggles, but he has given up just one sack in 13 games and has showed himself to already be one of the best run-blocking guards in the league.
Donald should have the advantage here from a pass-rush standpoint, but don’t be surprised if Marpet is able to open up some running lanes for Doug Martin.
Here are two good young players who have struggled to an extent this season. For Jeffery, it’s been all about the constant strain of injury issues.
He’s missed five games on the season and has been hobbled in a few other outings thus far. That’s been troublesome for a Chicago Bears team that has been without rookie receiver Kevin White all season. This is one of the primary reasons Chicago finds itself out of the playoff race following a strong midseason push.
For the Minnesota Vikings, the playoffs seem to be a lock at this point. They are two games up on a plethora of six-win teams for the final wild card spot in the NFC.
Unfortunately, Rhodes hasn’t had much to do with this. Heading into his sophomore campaign, the former first-round pick had Pro Bowl expectations. He was coming off an outstanding rookie season and was prepared to join Harrison Smith in creating one of the top secondaries in the NFL.
It simply hasn’t turned out that way. Instead, Rhodes has been among the worst starting corners in the NFL this season. Through 13 games, he has yielded six touchdowns compared to zero interceptions for an absurd 112.8 quarterback rating.
If the Vikings are going to get back on track and potentially challenge Seattle for the fifth seed in the NFC, they are going to need Rhodes to perform at a high level against a seemingly healthy Jeffery. That’s the biggest key in this NFC North matchup.
Robinson was held to a season-low one catch last week against the Indianapolis Colts, though he did score a touchdown, bringing his three-game total to five. Overall, the second-year receiver has put up over 1,000 yards with a league-leading 12 touchdown catches.
In order for the Jacksonville Jaguars to remain in the AFC South title hunt, they are going to need Robinson to be at the top of his game against a corner who has been among the best in the game this season.
Trufant, a likely Pro Bowl performer in an NFC stacked with talent at the corner position, has been one of the few bright spots for an otherwise bad Atlanta Falcons team.
He has allowed just over 300 receiving yards and a touchdown in 13 games this season. More than that, opposing quarterbacks boast a 72.5 rating when targeting him on the year.
With just eight sacks on the year, some figure that Houston is having a down season. That’s box score scouting in its truest fashion. The All-Pro performer has been as dominating as any pass-rushing outside linebacker in the NFL.
Taking on double teams on a consistent basis, he has still been able to rack up a whopping 45 quarterback hurries in 13 games. That’s an absurd stat right there. It’s also one of the primary reasons that the Kansas City Chiefs are currently riding a seven-game winning streak.
On the other side of the ball, the Baltimore Ravens have been an absolute disaster on offense this season. Most of that has to do with pretty much the entire offense being out with injury, but it’s a unit that doesn’t stand much of a chance of putting up points against the Chiefs come Sunday.