NFL Week 4 Predictions: Top 10 Game Day Matchups
NFL games are decided by many factors. Schemes, turnovers, injuries, whenever the referees decide to call a holding penalty, and who knows when that will happen.
But most of all, they are decided by players and matchups.
Is this receiver just too tall for that corner? Is that tackle too slow in his back pedal for that blitzer? Is Michael Vick going to take over and leave a defense hopeless?
Here are ten matchups that will have the most impact this Sunday.
Andre Johnson Versus Nnamdi Asomugha
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Asomugha and Johnson are arguably the best at their positions since both were drafted in 2003.
In their last three games against each other, Asomugha has held Johnson to only five catches, no touchdowns, and 94 yards—and 62 of those yards came on one play. In their first game against each other though, Johnson had six catches, 115 yards, and a touchdown.
Asomugha shadowed Larry Fitzgerald last week and held him to two catches, 26 yards, and one touchdown. Johnson is a "game-time decision" because of an ankle injury, but is expected to play.
In Sunday's game, however, fans will be occasionally deprived of this competition, as Asomugha will sometimes be lined up against another receiver on the left side of the field. But when these two are face-to-face across the line of scrimmage, it's potentially the most talented mano-a-mano match of the weekend.
Carson Palmer Versus Himself
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Palmer currently ranks 29th in yards per attempt, 26th in completion percentage, 22nd in quarterback rating, and three touchdowns to three interceptions. His stats are similar to rookie Sam Bradford or journeyman Derek Anderson.
In other words, he's been abysmal so far.
Despite the Bengals offseason acquistions of Terrell Owens and rookies Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati's offense has been definitively average. The Bengals and Palmer would like to change that this week against the Cleveland Browns.
Joe Flacco has very similar stats to Palmer this year: 26th in yards per attempt, 28th in completion percentage, 27th in quarterback rating, and four touchdowns to five interceptions. While he has been ordinary against other opponents, Flacco picked apart the Browns last week, going 22 of 31 for 262 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions.
If Palmer can play like Flacco did against the Browns, it could be the step forward he and the Bengals need to get the passing game where they want it to be. But if Palmer continues to play like he has against this beatable defense, more and more pundits will declare him elite no more.
Joe Flacco Versus Troy Polamalu
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If it wasn't known during the Steelers' last Super Bowl run or lost year last season, it has to be known now.
Troy Polamalu is really, really, really, really good..
After Polamalu was lost for the season last year, the Steelers allowed 20 or more points in six of their last seven games, and lost five of their last eight. This season, the Steelers are 3-0 despite the absence of Ben Roethlisberger, and Pittsburgh has the No.3 rushing defense, No.6 defense overall with most takeaways in the league, and the No.1 scoring defense at 11 points per game.
Pittsburgh's amazing start to the season can be attributed to several factors, but Polamalu is far and away the No.1 reason. His ability to do, well, everything, keeps Pittsburgh's defense an unpredictable wrecking ball.
We just covered Flacco's season. Safe to say, he has his work cut out for him.
Chris Johnson Versus 2,500 Yards
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This offseason, Chris Johnson didn't so much set a goal of 2,500 yards this season as he said it was a foregone conclusion.
He is currently on track for 1,605 yards, or about 900 yards short. That's been good enough to help the Titans start the season 2-1 though, with their lone loss being to the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.
If Johnson wants to get to 2,500, he's going to have to start having those games fantasy owners dream about. Denver, the tenth rushing defense in the NFL, doesn't seem like the team to help Johnson do that. But don't bet against him getting enough yards to put him on pace for, say, 2,000 yards.
All he needs are a couple of good blocks and the Tennessee offensive line gives him plenty of those. Enough of those blocks and Tennessee will keep winning.
But no way will Johnson get to 2,500 rushing yards. 2,000, maybe. Sure. 2,500, come on.
New York Giants Offensive Line Versus Father Time
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Once the lifeblood of the team, the New York Giants offensive line has become dead weight this season.
Tackles David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie have become noticeably slower and older this season. Against the Indianapolis Colts, the Giants allowed four sacks to defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. The line as a whole gave up two sacks last week against the Tennessee Titans.
Going against Julius Peppers and the Chicago Bears, the No.1 rushing defense in the NFL, would be no easy matter for any line. Peppers is fresh off terrorizing the Green Bay Packers.
The Giants have the 14th best rushing offense this season, but according to FootballOutsiders, they have the 26th most "stuffed runs," a "stuffed run" meaning the running back was hit at or behind the line of scrimmage. This would indicate Giants running backs have got most of their yards on their own.
If the Giants want to challenge for the playoffs, their line is going to have to come together like in previous years. Soon.
Brandon Marshall Versus The New England Secondary
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Brandon Marshall is nicknamed The Beast. That is a very appropriate nickname.
At 6'4'', 230 pounds, and with 4.5 (but seemingly 4.2 in-game) speed, Marshall is a beast. And New England hasn't had much success stopping passing games this season, let alone passing games that feature The Beast.
New England gave up 247 yards and two touchdowns to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills last week. They gave up 220 yards and 3 touchdowns (and no interceptions) against Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets the previous week. The Patriots currently have the 25th passing defense in the NFL.
The Dolphins run the ball no matter what; that is what they do. But if they are also able to throw the ball to Marshall, or if Marshall diverts so much attention that other receivers can step up against this young secondary, then the Patriots will have a long game.
Dustin Keller Versus The Bills Linebackers
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The Bills have the 27th ranked rushing defense in the NFL, so it stands to reason the Jets will attempt to run the ball early and often. Like every Jets game.
But the Bills are only giving up 4.2 yards per carry. Against the Dolphins in Week 1, the Bills held Miami to 3.7 yards per carry. Buffalo has had some success when they focus on stopping the run.
The Jets will look to the air at some point to make the Bills pay for loading up on the run. When Mark Sanchez is passing, he's usually looking for Dustin Keller, and Buffalo has given up 17 receptions to tight ends (sixth most in the league) and 256 yards (fourth most). Keller is the Jets leading receiver this year with 15 receptions, 226 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
Look for a big day from Keller.
Jimmy Clausen and Steve Smith Versus Eight-Man Boxes
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The Carolina Panthers will try to run the ball as often as possible when they play the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Against eight-and nine-man boxes, they will run the ball. They'll do this not only because that is their bread and butter, but because it will also keep Drew Brees off the field.
But at some point, if they want to win their first game of the season, the Panthers will need to get something, anything from rookie Jimmy Clausen and Steve Smith. If they can keep the Saints somewhat honest and open up the field just enough, the tandem of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart could have a field day against the league's 30th ranked run defense.
Carolina has won seven of its past ten games against New Orleans. This divisional game should be close despite the Panthers season struggles and the Saints ability to score points at will.
That is, if Clausen and Smith can't connect and the Saints loaded defense can focus entirely on the run.
Maurice Jones-Drew Versus Peyton Manning
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This is a time-tested theory: If you want to beat Peyton Manning, keep him off the field.
For the Jaguars to keep the ball away from Manning, Maurice Jones-Drew must have one of his patented big games against Indianapolis. In eight games versus the Colts, Jones-Drew is averaging 97 yards and eight touchdowns, including one kickoff return. He has six games over 100 yards and two more games over 90 yards.
Jones-Drew is having a less than spectacular year so far, with 217 yards and 3.8 yards per carry in three games. But the Colts enter the game with the 28th rushing defense, just the defense to help Jones-Drew get going.
Manning is going to get his; that's how it goes. The Jaguars need Jones-Drew to get his, to get them in better down and distances and to control the clock, or they won't have a chance.
Donovan McNabb Versus Philadelphia
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Donovan McNabb is going against a lot Sunday.
The Eagles' defense, Michael Vick, Andy Reid, Charlie Day, and the Liberty Bell. All of Philadelphia basically.
It's not so much a matchup as it is a statement, and either McNabb makes a statement, or he doesn't.