NFL Week 12 Biggest Individual Matchups

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor INovember 23, 2012

NFL Week 12 Biggest Individual Matchups

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    First and foremost, here’s hoping everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving with friends and family.

    Speaking of Turkey Day, while most people prefer to be home for the holiday, it didn’t do the Detroit Lions, Dallas Cowboys or New York Jets much good.

    All three lost in their own respective buildings on Thursday, the Lions in overtime to the Houston Texans, the Cowboys to the Washington Redskins and the Jets to the New England Patriots (who may have just scored again).

    Still, there are 13 more games on the slate in Week 12 as we begin the final six weeks of the regular season. And with the off weeks all finished, it becomes a battle of attrition for the 32 clubs as they look to secure those 12 playoff berths.

    This is gonna be fun…

Oakland Raiders QB Carson Palmer vs. Cincinnati Bengals CB Leon Hall

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    Welcome home.

    Well, maybe.

    When last quarterback Carson Palmer took the field for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2010, he threw for 3,970 yards, 26 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions, with five of those picks being returned for touchdowns.

    The numbers have been somewhat similar for Palmer since joining the Oakland Raiders in 2011. In 20 games with the Silver and Black, the former Pro Bowl signal-caller has thrown 27 interceptions, with four of those miscues returned for scores.

    This Sunday, Palmer returns to the Queen City for the first time since last season’s trade to the Bay Area. And Palmer will see a lot of old friends on the other side of the field this weekend.

    One of those “pals” will be Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, who was the franchise’s first-round pick in 2007 four years after Cincinnati made Palmer the first overall selection in 2003.

    While Hall doesn’t have an interception this season, he leads the team with seven passes defensed this year. But Hall is perhaps hoping that Palmer may be feeling a little sentimental on Sunday.

Pittsburgh Steelers NT Casey Hampton vs. Cleveland Browns C Alex Mack

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    So what else is new for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

    Besides another different starting quarterback this week…

    Dick LeBeau’s defense entered Week No. 12 as the league’s stingiest when it came to giving up yardage. In four of the previous eight seasons under LeBeau dating back to his return to Pittsburgh in 2004, the Steelers have owned the top-ranked defense in the NFL.

    LeBeau’s unit also ranks fourth against the run in 2012 and has held eight of its first 10 opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing.

    While it’s been another disappointing year for the Cleveland Browns, it’s been a very respectable rookie campaign for running back Trent Richardson. The former Alabama star leads the team with 670 yards rushing and 37 receptions and has totaled six of the club’s 17 offensive touchdowns.

    Veteran nose tackle Casey Hampton continues to clog the middle for the Steelers’ defense. And he’ll face a stiff challenge this Sunday in his attempt to do just that vs. Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack in this clash of former Pro Bowlers.

Buffalo Bills CB Stephon Gilmore vs. Indianapolis Colts WR Reggie Wayne

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    Talk about your tall orders.

    Buffalo Bills rookie cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 10th pick in the 2012 draft, has been tested early and often this season. He’s tied for fifth on the club with 43 tackles and has totaled a team-high 11 passes defensed.

    As impressive as that may be, it pales in comparison a bit to Indianapolis Colts veteran wideout Reggie Wayne, who’s busy these days catching plenty of passes from the first selection in April’s proceedings in quarterback Andrew Luck.

    Enter Week 12, the prolific pass catcher had totaled a league-high 76 receptions and was second in the NFL with 1,003 receiving yards. Wayne has been targeted 130 times this season and has caught at least five passes in each of his 10 contests in 2012.

    The Buffalo defense has been up and down to say the least. If the Bills’ inconsistent pass rush is having one of its good days, Gilmore will have a much better chance against the prolific wideout.

Tennessee Titans CB Jason McCourty vs. Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon

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    Stunning would be an understatement when talking about the last time we saw the Tennessee Titans.

    That would be stunning as in good. Two weeks ago in south Florida, Mike Munchak’s team pasted the Miami Dolphins, 37-3. It was a shocking result considering that the Titans were coming off a 51-20 home loss to the Chicago Bears and that Munchak’s club had allowed a disturbing 308 points in its first nine games this season.

    Speaking of surprises, it was a pleasant one in regard to Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who burst out in a big way in last Sunday’s overtime loss to the Houston Texans.

    After totaling just 26 receptions for 250 yards and one score in his first nine games this season, the rookie pulled down seven passes for a whopping 236 yards and a touchdown at Reliant Stadium last Sunday.

    Tennessee Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, tied for third on the club with secondary mates Alterraun Verner and Michael Griffin with 56 tackles, also has a team-high two interceptions and eight passes defensed.

    This could be the first of two interesting battles for these AFC South rivals this season.

Denver Broncos LB Von Miller vs. Kansas City Chiefs RT Eric Winston

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    As the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs prepare to meet twice in the final six weeks of the season, it should be noted that this is as close as the two AFC West rivals will be to each other in 2012.

    That’s because the 7-3 Broncos have won five straight games while the 1-9 Chiefs have lost seven in a row.

    Speaking of seven, that’s the luckiest of numbers for Broncos outside linebackers Von Miller. Last season’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowler has totaled 7.0 sacks in his team’s last three games. And with 13.0 sacks on the year (surpassing last season’s total of 11.5), Miller is beginning to get a little play when it comes to league Defensive Player of the Year honors.

    It’s been a bitterly disappointing season in Kansas City, and no one has felt it more than highly reliable right tackle Eric Winston, who was picked up by the team this offseason after being released by the Houston Texans earlier this year.

    Safe to say this could be one of the more intriguing battles come Sunday afternoon.

Minnesota Vikings RDE Jared Allen vs. Chicago Bears LT J’Marcus Webb

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    The good news for the Chicago Bears is that Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen doesn’t have a sack in each of his last two games.

    The bad news may also be the same.

    Last season’s NFL sack leader with 22.0 quarterback traps had totaled 7.0 sacks in a five-game stretch before being shut out in this department the last two games.

    Sacks are a sore subject for the Chicago Bears, who have allowed 34 of them in 10 games this season. In Monday night’s 32-7 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Bears quarterback Jason Campbell was dropped six times, 5.5 of those by right outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

    It’s safe to say that Chicago Bears left tackle J’Marcus Webb has heard his share of criticism this season. And it doesn’t figure to end if he doesn’t fare well in his battle with Allen, who has totaled an amazing 64.0 sacks in his 74 games with the Vikings.

Atlanta Falcons SS William Moore vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin

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    Sometimes the numbers are just far too convenient.

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Boise State running back Doug Martin the 31st pick in last April’s draft. They moved back up in the first round to get him, and Greg Schiano has to be ecstatic.

    Martin has rushed for exactly 1,000 yards this season (that would be 100.0 yards per game for this math whiz) but he’s been extremely hot as of late, with 592 of those yards coming in the last four games.

    The 9-1 Atlanta Falcons have the NFC’s best record, but there are doubters. And one question mark surrounding Mike Smith’s team is the play of the defense, which has allowed 130.5 yards per game on the ground (26th in the NFL). Last week, the Arizona Cardinals brought the league’s worst-ranked running attack to the Georgia Dome and rushed for 137 yards.

    Head coach Mike Smith will need a very big game from strong safety William Moore if the Falcons are to cool off the Bucs, who have scored at least 27 points in each of their last six games. The hard-hitting defender is second on the team with 58 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles.

    Regardless of where Moore tracks down Martin on the field, the Falcons’ safety needs to make his presence felt so the Buccaneers rookie can’t.

Seattle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch vs. Miami Dolphins MLB Karlos Dansby

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    Talk about picking up where you left off.

    There were few running backs hotter during the second half of 2012 than Seattle Seahawks workhorse Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 100-plus yards in six of his last nine games.

    There are few runners, save for the Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson, hotter than Lynch at the moment. He entered Week 12 second in the league in rushing with 1,005 yards and has topped the 100-yard mark in four straight games.

    Lynch’s play has made life far easier for rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. Last season’s Pro Bowl back has totaled 26 and 27 carries, respectively, in the last two weeks and each time rushed for 124 yards in the wins over the Vikings and Jets. Not surprisingly, Wilson has thrown five touchdown passes without an interception in those victories.

    The Miami Dolphins defense is led by middle linebacker Karlos Dansby, who tops the team with 76 tackles. His unit has struggled against the run as of late and the veteran defender may be looking at a double-digit day in terms of stops vs. the hard-running Lynch.

Baltimore Ravens ROLB Paul Kruger vs. San Diego Chargers LT Michael Harris

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    It’s been another peculiar season for the San Diego Chargers.

    After opening 2-0 and winning three of their first four games, Norv Turner’s club is 1-5 in its last six contests. And if you break it down a little further, the only team that the Bolts have beaten in its last eight outings is the Kansas City Chiefs.

    That’s hardly the problem for the 8-2 Baltimore Ravens, who come off a hard-earned 13-10 triumph over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. John Harbaugh’s club appears on track for a fifth consecutive playoff appearance, extending the league longest current active streak.

    On the other hand, the 4-6 Chargers are in danger of missing the playoffs for a third straight year, this after four consecutive AFC West titles.

    Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger has enjoyed a solid season for a Baltimore defense that hasn’t been its traditional outstanding self in 2012.

    Kruger leads the team with 4.5 sacks and hopes to bring even more heat at the expense of Chargers rookie left tackle Michael Harris. The former UCLA product has started six games this season in place of Jared Gaither, who was placed on injured reserve on Friday, and hopes to do his share in the attempt to protect turnover-prone quarterback Philip Rivers.

San Francisco 49ers TE Vernon Davis vs. New Orleans Saints TE Jimmy Graham

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    This past January, both New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis had their says in the teams’ NFC Divisional playoffs encounter.

    Graham caught five passes for 103 yards and two scores, giving his team a 32-29 lead with 1:37 to play on a spectacular 66-yard reception.

    However, Davis pulled down seven passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, the second a 14-yarder with nine seconds remaining that was the difference in the Niners' 36-32 victory.

    This season, Graham is tied for the club lead with 51 catches, including a team-high eight scores. Davis has totaled 35 receptions, second-most on his squad, and is tied for the team lead with five touchdowns.
    Don’t be surprised if either makes the game-deciding catch in this postseason rematch from a year ago.

St. Louis Rams CB Cortland Finnegan vs. Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald

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    It’s not surprising to see Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at the top of the team’s receiving chart.

    It’s somewhat stunning not to see him leading the Cards in touchdown catches.

    The perennial Pro Bowler has totaled 52 receptions for 596 yards but for only four scores, one touchdown short of teammate Andre Roberts.

    This week, Fitzgerald has yet another new quarterback at the helm in rookie Ryan Lindley, who saw action in last week’s eventual loss to the Atlanta Falcons but makes his first NFL start today vs. the St. Louis Rams.

    These are the same Rams that sacked teammate Kevin Kolb nine times back in Week 5, handing the Cardinals their first of what would become sixth straight losses…and counting.

    On Sunday, Fitzgerald will no doubt have his hands full with St. Louis Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan, one of the best in the business. The former Pro Bowler has three of the team’s eight interceptions and is second on the club in tackles (64) and passes defensed (8).

Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. New York Giants QB Eli Manning

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    Talk about a super match-up?

    In Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers vs. New York Giants signal-caller Eli Manning, you not only have the leaders of the last two Super Bowl champions but the Most Valuable Players of those victories. And in the case of Rodgers, you also have the league MVP from 2011.

    But that’s where the comparisons end, at least as of late. Rodgers has thrown 17 touchdown passes and only a pair of interceptions during the team’s current five-game winning streak, one that has elevated Mike McCarthy’s team to a first-place tie with the Chicago Bears in the NFC North.

    On the other hand, the Giants have lost their last two games but Manning has been less than stellar for roughly a month.

    Big Blue’s signal-caller has thrown for only one score while serving up six interceptions in his last four outings, quite a contrast from his first six outings this season when he threw more than twice as many touchdown passes (11) as picks (5). And Manning has failed to throw for a score in each of his last three contests.

    Can Rodgers stay hot? Can Manning get back on track? It will be quite the Sunday evening at MetLife Stadium.

Carolina Panthers LG Amimi Silatolu vs. Philadelphia Eagles RDT Fletcher Cox

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    It’s been a bitterly disappointing season for both the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles.

    Both finished strong in 2011 and the feeling was that for one or both teams, that late-season surge would carry into 2012. But the teams have combined for five wins.

    And both teams, firmly entrenched in last place in their respective divisions, are perhaps already looking towards the future. So we’ll be happy to give them a glimpse.

    Left guard Amimi Silatolu was the Panthers’ second-round pick in April and has started all 10 games this season.

    Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has played in every game for the Birds this season and made four starts. His 3.0 sacks are second on the team and he’s gotten one sack apiece in each of Philadelphia’s last two contests.

    It will be interesting to see if Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton can deal with the inside pass rush of Cox, who hopes to play a big part in containing Carolina’s ground attack.