With the season winding down and playoff races heating up, this weekend is loaded with interesting matchups. These are some of the most interesting potential personnel battles in Sunday’s afternoon slate to get you prepared for the Patriots-Chargers nightcap.
1. Eagles OLB Connor Barwin vs. Seahawks RT Justin Britt
Most of the attention in Sunday’s big NFC clash as Seattle visits Philadelphia is rightly on Chip Kelly’s offense against what last year was one of the best defenses in NFL history. Don’t neglect the other side of the ball, though, as the Eagles’ defense this year is much-improved. Cole against Okung is particularly important because Russell Wilson is one of the most-sacked quarterbacks in the NFL-it doesn’t show up in most stats, because the past couple seasons the Seahawks have attempted as few passes as any team in the league-but he goes down a lot. Barwin leads the Eagles with 12.5 sacks and will likely face off plenty against a rookie tackle in Britt. Not only must Britt hold his own one-on-one, but he also must work effectively with right guard J.R. Sweezy against Billy Davis’ stunts and twists to give Wilson time to throw.
2. Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry vs. Ravens DB Matt Elam
Baltimore is 7-5 but has bad tiebreakers thanks to a worse conference record and needs a win against one of their possible competitors for a wild card spot. What doesn’t help is a beat-up cornerback grouping. That was key to San Diego’s comeback win. Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is likely to look to run a sustaining pass offense against the same secondary. The key to that, as he showed with eight grabs against the Jets on Monday night, is sure-handed rookie Landry. He had eight grabs on Monday night against the Jets and could play a big role against safety Elam, who has been pressed into duty as the nickel slot corner because of the issues elsewhere. If Joe Flacco can find success against Miami’s makeshift secondary, Ryan Tannehill will have to do the same.
3. Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap vs. Steelers RT Mike Adams
Normal Steelers right tackle Mike Adams seems likely to miss another game after not practicing on Wednesday or Thursday. That could be big news for Cincinnati’s best pass rusher, Dunlap, who tends to line up on the left side most of the time anyway. Ben Roethlisberger has shown many times throughout his career he can play against and through pressure, but he’s getting older, it’s December, and he doesn’t always get the ball out as quickly or as well as he did when he was putting up big numbers against the Colts and Ravens. He may need to go back to that this week, in a game that’s more a must-win for Pittsburgh than it is for Cincinnati.
4. Chiefs TE Anthony Fasano vs. Cardinals S Deone Bucannon
The cornerbacks have been the strongest part of Arizona’s pass defense. Will it matter against Kansas City, though, which still does not have a receiving touchdown by a wide receiver? Of great import is the Cardinals’ vulnerability against tight ends, and they’ll be playing without starter Tyrann Mathieu. That likely means more snaps for Bucannon, a key part of their dime sub package defense. He and his teammates will need to shut down Fasano, Jamaal Charles, and Travis Kelce to contain Alex Smith and the Kansas City passing game. Given the struggles of both Drew Stanton and the Arizona run game, the defense will need a strong performance for Arizona to finally get their tenth win of the season.
5. Washington QB Robert Griffin vs. Rams DT Michael Brockers, CB Janoris Jenkins, OLB Alec Ogletree, LT Greg Robinson, and RB Zac Stacy
Just to put the trade to rest, in terms of who go the better end of the deal. The St. Louis players are just the starters; they also got receiver Stedman Bailey, who had 100 yards in last week’s blowout win against Oakland.