NFL Week 8 Biggest Individual Matchups
Sometimes it’s just hard to figure.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had lost nine consecutive road games entering last night’s visit to the Metrodome to face a Minnesota Vikings team that had been one of the surprise stories in the league. The last time the Bucs won away from home was in Week 2 last season, when they rallied to beat the Vikings.
So guess what happened?
Make it six straight wins over the Vikings and, more importantly, an end to that aforementioned skid. And apparently, the only way a road team wins one of those Thursday night games is to score 36 points, hence the Buccaneers' 36-17 win.
The only other team to win away from home on Thursday evening this season was the Giants, who traveled to Carolina in Week 3 and came away with a 36-7 victory.
So it’s one down and 13 games to go in Week 8, including a pair of very interesting divisional rematches.
Atlanta Falcons CB Asante Samuel vs. Philadelphia Eagles WR DeSean Jackson
It was just a season ago when these playmakers were teammates.
Atlanta Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel is playing for his third NFL team (Patriots and Eagles) and continues to come up big in crucial spots.
Although the veteran defender has totaled just one interception this season to date, it was a 79-yard return for a score against the Oakland Raiders—and it proved to be a pivotal play in Atlanta’s 23-20 win two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson currently leads his team in catches (29) and receiving yards (465), but has scored only once this season. Of course, we all know what he's capable of when he gets his hands on the football.
It will be interesting to see how he fares in his clash with one of the league’s best ball hawks. And even more importantly, can one team of Birds keep another from remaining the NFL's only unbeaten team in 2012?
Indianapolis Colts DC Greg Manusky vs. Tennessee Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck
Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky is in the midst of his 12th NFL season as a coach, which equals his number of seasons playing linebacker in the league.
It’s safe to say quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has seen a lot of everything during his long career, now with his third team in the Tennessee Titans after being drafted by the Green Bay Packers and then onto the Seattle Seahawks, where he led the franchise to their lone Super Bowl appearance.
While the pair never met on the field—although Manusky’s last two seasons in the league were Hasselbeck’s first and second—Manusky now hopes to put an end to the Titans’ sudden two-game winning streak, both fourth-quarter rallies vs. the Steelers and Bills.
We’ve seen both the best and worst of the Indianapolis defense this season, one that continues to struggle against the run in the team’s 3-4 alignment. And that could make for a long day against both Hasselbeck and running back Chris Johnson.
And it could be a very big day for the veteran signal-caller when it comes to the play-action pass. Stay tuned.
Washington Redskins CB Josh Wilson vs. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace
It’s a good guess that the Washington Redskins secondary is still smarting from last week’s late loss to the Giants, when Victor Cruz-ed past the unit for the game-winning touchdown with 73 seconds to play.
Now Jim Haslett’s group must deal with the dangerous receiving corps of the Pittsburgh Steelers, led by the always-explosive Mike Wallace. But that term had a different meaning last Sunday night at Cincinnati.
While last season’s Pro Bowl wideout did catch a team-high eight passes in the 24-17 win over the Bengals, he was also targeted 15 times—nearly twice as many times as any other pass-catcher by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And Wallace simply dropped too many passes by game’s end.
Now he and fellow wideouts Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders, as well as tight end Heath Miller, take aim at a Washington defense that has already given up 16 touchdown passes in seven games. And Josh Wilson is more than familiar with what Wallace is capable of, having spent the 2010 season with the Ravens.
It makes for an interesting reunion of sorts.
Miami Dolphins RLB Kevin Burnett vs. New York Jets TE Dustin Keller
It seems like all we heard this offseason was that the Miami Dolphins were doomed for failure.
That would be the second-place Miami Dolphins.
Six games into the season and two straight wins later, Joe Philbin’s club is 3-3 and firmly entrenched in the AFC East race. But one of their three losses was a 23-20 overtime setback to the Jets five weeks ago.
To avenge that defeat, the Miami defense must make New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez uncomfortable. And one way to do that is to keep his favorite pass-catcher under wraps.
Injuries have limited tight end Dustin Keller to three games this season. Last week at New England, he tied for the team lead with seven receptions, good for 93 yards and a touchdown. But it’s also worth noting that Keller was targeted exactly seven times.
Dolphins linebacker Kevin Burnett may be the man to slow Keller down. The veteran defender not only ranks third on the team with 36 tackles, he’s third on the club in passes defensed (4).
Ah, the intrigue.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts vs. Green Bay Packers CB Casey Hayward
Yes, we’re well aware of the fact that Laurent Robinson and rookie Justin Blackmon are the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting wideouts.
But it’s hard to ignore what receiver Cecil Shorts has done this season with just over two handfuls of catches. The big-play performer has totaled only 12 receptions, but for a team-high 284 yards and three touchdowns. The latter number would have tied for the team lead in scoring catches in 2011.
Enter Green Bay Packers ball hawk Casey Hayward, the second-round draft choice from Vanderbilt who is also not a member of the starting lineup.
But the former Commodore does lead the Pack with four interceptions this season. And Hayward’s seven passes defensed is second on the team behind standout cornerback Tramon Williams (10).
You never know when Shorts may go long, but Hayward hopes to limit any explosive play by the Jaguars' home-run threat.
New England Patriots RT Sebastian Vollmer vs. St. Louis Rams LDE Chris Long
Who would have thought that at this stage of the season, the St. Louis Rams would have won one fewer game than the New England Patriots?
And who would have guessed that Bill Belichick’s club would find itself struggling against the other conference?
The Patriots are 4-3, already equaling last season’s number of losses, and their three setbacks have come by a total of four points. But two of those defeats have come at the hands of the NFC West’s Cardinals (20-18) and Seahawks (24-23)—teams known for defense.
Now Tom Brady and company hope to solve Jeff Fisher’s unit overseas in England. The Rams' talent-laden front four includes defensive ends Robert Quinn (7.0 sacks) and Chris Long (4.0), the former first-round picks combining for 11 of the club’s 21 sacks.
New England’s veteran signal-caller has thrown for 12 scores and just three interceptions, although it’s worth noting that all three of those picks came vs. the Cardinals and Seahawks.
Hence, along with the rest of the offensive line, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer will be doing his best to make sure Brady isn’t falling down in London.
San Diego Chargers WR Malcom Floyd vs. Cleveland Browns CB Joe Haden
Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden has played in the team’s last three games following his four-game suspension and has certainly made his presence known. The former first-rounder recorded interceptions against the Giants and Bengals and has totaled 15 tackles and four passes defensed in just three outings.
Now he’ll take aim at San Diego Chargers wideout Malcom Floyd, who remains Philip Rivers' top big-play option.
Although he’s scored just once this season, he leads the team with 25 receptions—almost twice as many as the next wide receiver on the team in Eddie Royal (13)—and his 418 receiving yards is almost 200 more than Antonio Gates' total (224).
Of course, Haden is also hoping that Rivers continues to be in his recent generous mood. The former Pro Bowl quarterback has thrown 29 interceptions in his last 22 games dating back to last season, including a career-high four picks in the team’s disastrous 35-24 loss to the Broncos two weeks ago.
Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton vs. Chicago Bears RLB Lance Briggs
Talk about a reversal of fortune.
And this season, it’s been more a case of misfortune for the Carolina Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton.
Much more was expected after a season in which the team won four of its last six games while Newton set several rookie and overall records for his performance.
But the most impressive thing about the former Heisman Trophy winner was his demeanor. There was no talk about individual performance, but it was about wins and losses and always displaying a positive attitude.
So what happened?
No one can be sure, but what we do know is that scoring 14 points or less in four of six games won’t get you many wins in the NFL. Neither will nine turnovers in six games, as is the case with Newton.
And that plays right in the hands of Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs, who’s still going strong. The veteran defender leads the team with 37 tackles, has knocked down six passes, forced a pair of fumbles and returned two interceptions for touchdowns.
Seattle Seahawks CB Richard Sherman vs. Detroit Lions WR Calvin Johnson
What’s harder to believe?
That the 4-3 Seattle Seahawks, finishing 7-9 in 2011, have won twice as many games as the 2-4 Detroit Lions, who were 10-6 a year ago en route to their first playoff appearance since 1999.
Or that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has yet to throw a touchdown pass to wideout Calvin Johnson so far this season, after the pair helped restore the roar by combining for 16 scores last season?
Let’s throw a third equation into the mix. Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has a team-high three interceptions this season, tripling Johnson’s touchdown production in 2012 (backup quarterback Shaun Hill connected with him vs. the Titans in Week 3).
It could be an interesting duel between the 6'3" Sherman and the 6'5" Johnson. For the Lions, getting to 3-4 is the much more pivotal number.
New York Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Dallas Cowboys RILB Dan Connor
It sounds like New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw is anxious to run the ball a little more.
This may be the week he gets his chance.
Talk about big losses. While Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware gets plenty of headlines and rightfully so, inside linebacker Sean Lee led the club in tackles last season and has totaled a team-high 58 tackles in 2012.
But the talented defender is now gone for the season, leaving a chasm-like hole on the interior of the Dallas defense. It will be up to linebacker Dan Connor, who began his career with the Carolina Panthers, to fill a potential grand canyon of sorts.
As for Bradshaw, he was limited to only 43 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries in last week’s win over the Redskins. That was off back-to-back outings in which he totaled 57 attempts for 316 yards and two scores in victories over the Browns and 49ers.
Don’t be surprised to see the Giants runner, if he's near 100 percent, be closer to 20-plus carries in this crucial rematch with the Cowboys.
Oakland Raiders RT Willie Smith vs. Kansas City Chiefs ROLB Justin Houston
If the Silver and Black are to continue their winning ways at Arrowhead Stadium, then keeping the quarterback upright is a huge priority.
The Oakland Raiders have won five straight games at Kansas City. But the Chiefs, losers of their last three games, have had two weeks to prepare for Dennis Allen’s club, which is coming off a come-from-behind overtime win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
When last we saw Romeo Crennel’s club, it was being humbled by the Buccaneers in Tampa. But one bright spot this season, if there is such a thing during a 1-5 season, has been the play of outside linebacker Justin Houston, who ranks fourth on the team in tackles, second in passes defensed and has totaled nearly half (6.0) of the team’s 13 sacks.
Raiders right tackle Willie Smith, filling in for injured Khalif Barnes these days, will try and keep Houston out of the Oakland backfield—not an easy task. And just as important, Smith will try and keep him out of quarterback Carson Palmer’s sight lines.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees vs. Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning
Yes, it seems like every time we see Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning on the schedule, he and the quarterback he's facing make up the featured matchup.
Of course, this isn’t just a matchup of any two signal-callers. Manning is one of only six players in NFL history to throw at least 300 touchdown passes, and another member of that group will also be in the building, Broncos executive John Elway.
Now, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees looks to join that select group. The prolific performer has now thrown at least one touchdown pass in an NFL-record 49 consecutive games, and one is all it will take to reach that magic mark of 300 career touchdown passes.
But besides those impressive numbers, this also marks the first meeting between the quarterbacks since Super Bowl XLIV, when Brees and the Saints knocked off Manning and the Colts, 31-17, in South Florida.
Sit back and enjoy the ride.
San Francisco 49ers RG Alex Boone vs. Arizona Cardinals LDE Calais Campbell
The Arizona Cardinals' pass protection woes are well-documented.
The San Francisco 49ers have had some issues in terms of sacks allowed as well.
Both of these teams have used two quarterbacks in one fashion or another this season, and the quartet has been sacked a combined 55 times.
The majority of that number has been at the expense of Ken Whisenhunt’s team, which has not only allowed a league-high 35 sacks, but 29 have come in the last four games vs. the Dolphins (8), Rams (9), Bills (5) and Vikings (7).
While it’s easy to focus on the Cardinals offensive front, we thought we’d take a look at the other perspective. While defensive end Calais Campbell has gotten to the opposing quarterback only twice this season, he frees things up for the rest of Ray Horton’s unit, including linebackers Daryl Washington and O’Brien Schofield, the left-side duo that's teamed for 10 sacks this season.
It will be up to 49ers right guard Alex Boone to keep Campbell from doing too much damage. The Niners guard has done a solid job replacing free-agent departee Adam Snyder, who is now the starting right guard for (you guessed it) the Cardinals.