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15 most compelling matchups in NFL Week 12

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s NFL action is going to be absolutely lit.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

From three important Thanksgiving clashes to what promises to be a defining Sunday Night Football matchup, this week’s NFL action is going to be absolutely lit.

Can Kirk Cousins overcome last week’s struggles to keep his Vikings in contention against an equally desperate Packers team? The Redskins battle for first place against the Cowboys on Thursday. Can Dallas stop the Colt McCoy to Jordan Reed connection?

Meanwhile, we’re equally intrigued to see if Giants rookie Saquon Barkley can put the death knell on the Eagles’ repeat aspirations.

These are among the most intriguing matchups in Week 12 of the NFL season.

 

Julio Jones vs Marshon Lattimore

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It’s officially official. Jones is an absolute freak of nature for the Atlanta Falcons. Despite what was likely a season-ending loss to Dallas last week, this All-Pro performer continued to dominate. He put up six receptions for 118 yards, including what was then a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Jones has now tallied 73 receptions for 1,158 yards on the season. Atlanta still has six more games to play.

If it’s all about Atlanta playing the role of spoiler now, Jones is the one who must step up Thanksgiving night against a red-hot Saints team that’s won nine consecutive games. It will come against a second-year cornerback in Marshon Lattimore who had two passes defended and an interception in last week’s blowout win over the Eagles.

 

Taylor Lewan vs J.J. Watt

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Regardless of who is under center for the Titans, pass protection must step up. The combination of Blaine Gabbert and Marcus Mariota suffered five sacks in last week’s blowout loss to the Colts. All said, Titans quarterbacks have gone down to the tune of 25 times over the past five games. That’s just not sustainable. And as the highest-paid offensive tackle in the NFL, the onus is on Lewan to anchor this unit moving forward.

In a potential battle for first place in the AFC South, Watt and the Texans have an obvious advantage here. Not only have they won seven consecutive games, Watt has been a dynamo of late. He’s recorded 10 sacks over the past eight games and has 16 quarterback hits to his name this season. If the Titans can’t pass protect, nothing else will really matter in this one.

 

Andrew Luck vs Dolphins pass defense

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Luck and his Colts are in the midst of a four-game winning streak that has seen them average 35.3 points per game. For his part, Luck has thrown his hat into the MVP ring over the course of the NFL’s first 11 weeks. He enters this weekend’s action having thrown for nearly 2,800 yards with a whopping 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions on the season. One could easily say Luck is playing the best football of his career.

Taking on a Dolphins team that’s battling for a playoff spot with the Colts, Luck should have an advantage here. Miami has given up 30-plus points in three of the past four games. The good news for Miami is that its pass defense has also recorded 15 interceptions. If it can avoid giving up the big play while forcing a couple Luck mistakes, the Dolphins will have a fighting chance in this one.

 

Antonio Brown vs Chris Harris

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Brown pretty much saved the Steelers from losing for the first time since Week 4 this past Sunday against the Jaguars. Down 16-0 late in the third quarter, he finally found a connection with Ben Roethlisberger. The end result was a narrow Pittsburgh win with Brown himself tallying five receptions for 117 yards. Though, that came on 13 targets with Big Ben being picked off twice while throwing in Brown’s direction.

Denver might not boast the No Fly Zone like we’ve seen in the past, but it did enough to disrupt Philip Rivers in a surprise win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 11. As the Broncos’ best cover guy, Harris’ role will be to shadow Brown throughout this one. If he comes up big, Denver might pull its second consecutive upset.

 

Davante Adams vs Xavier Rhodes

Davante Adams

Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today Sports

This game is now pretty much to remain alive in the NFC North race. Adams and the Packers enter Week 12 at 4-5-1 and three games behind Chicago in the win column. But it has not been for a lack of production from this go-to receiver. He caught 10 passes for 166 yards in last week’s loss to Seattle and is just 47 yards from putting up his first 1,000-yard season.


A win here is also a necessity for Minnesota after it fell to Chicago this past Sunday night. We’re looking at a team that’s 5-4-1 and closer to last place than first place in the division. How Rhodes performs against Adams could ultimately tell us the entire story in this old black and blue division battle.

 

Baker Mayfield vs Bengals pass defense

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It’s probably not a good thing that Cincinnati is relying on Hue Jackson to help its defense after he was fired by Cleveland earlier in the season. After all, Mayfield has been stellar for the Browns since Jackson was let go. In a game between two Ohio teams going in complete opposite trajectories, this one is going to be an absolute blast.

We know full well Mayfield will want to show up his former head coach. We also know that Jackson will give his new Bengals team whatever inside information he might have. Unfortunately for the Bengals, they’ve now given up an average of north of 500 total yards over the past five games. Look for Mayfield to take advantage and possibly lead Cleveland to its second consecutive win.

 

Bryan Bulaga vs Danielle Hunter

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His Vikings might be struggling for playoff relevancy in the NFC this season, but Hunter has been a man on a mission. Still only 24 years old, Hunter has racked up 11.5 sacks in his fourth NFL season. Unfortunately for the Vikings, he was held in check during last Sunday’s loss to the Bears. Hunter recorded zero sacks and zero quarterback hits in the disheartening defeat.

Needless to say, Hunter will have to be more involved this week against the Packers in a game between two fledgling NFC North teams. Minnesota simply can’t afford to give Aaron Rodgers time to pass. If that were to happen, yet another loss might send the Vikings to the dumpster for the remainder of the season.

 

Kenny Golladay vs Kyle Fuller

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For the first time since Golden Tate was traded late last month, Golladay looked like a true No. 1 receiver. In last week’s surprise win over Carolina, the second-year pass catcher hauled in eight receptions for 113 yards. He’s now put up 714 yards in 10 games and is on pace to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. Not bad for a 25-year-old that started last season buried on the team’s depth chart.

At 4-6 on the season, Detroit’s only hope to remain alive in the NFC North race is to take out the first-place Bears on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, he’ll have to go up against a corner in Kyle Fuller who Pro Football Focus ranks as the fourth-best cover guy in the NFL. This will be a great test for the young receiver.

 

Jordan Reed vs Leighton Vander Esch

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To say that rookie Vander Esch has filled in well for the injured Sean Lee would be an understatement. In the past two games alone, the first-round pick has put up 21 tackles, four passes defended and two interceptions. He already looks to be one of the best cover linebackers in the NFL. That’s just crazy to think about given how much Dallas has struggled at this position in the past.

In a battle for first place on Thanksgiving against the Redskins, Vander Esch must continue his dominant recent play. Now that Colt McCoy is the starter for the remainder of the season after Alex Smith suffered a leg injury last week, the veteran will be targeting his tight end big time moving forward. A lack of success in that area could lead to Dallas romping on turkey legs as a way to celebrate its first-place standing.

 

Keenan Allen vs Patrick Peterson

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Allen’s Chargers might have lost for the first time since Week 3 in their most-recent outing, but that wasn’t for a lack of production from this vastly underrated receiver. Allen caught 9-of-12 targets for 89 yards and a touchdown. It’s the third consecutive game in which Allen has racked up six-plus catches as he continues to be Philip Rivers’ favorite target on a contending Chargers team.

We don’t really expect the Cardinals to put up much of a fight in this one. They just fell to the hapless Oakland Raiders and the team’s only two wins on the season have come against the equally bad San Francisco 49ers. Even then, Peterson continues to play the best ball of his career. He’s yielding a sub 50 passer rating when targeted. The future Hall of Famer will certainly need to step up in this one to give Arizona a fighting chance.

 

Saquon Barkley vs Eagles run defense

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The most productive all-around rookie running back we’ve seen since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016, and before that Eric Dickerson, Barkley continues to dominate at every turn. The New York Giants’ most dynamic weapon (sorry OBJ) is coming off a three-touchdown performance in a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Penn State product has now tallied 1,268 total yards and 10 touchdowns in as many games this season. That’s just plain ridiculous.

Barkley will now put his Offensive Rookie of the Year candidacy on the line Sunday against an Eagles team that’s given up an average of 172 rushing yards in the past two games, both losses. In order for the defending champs to have any chance to compete for a playoff spot moving forward, they’ll need to hold this generational talent in check.

 

Cam Newton vs Russell Wilson

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One former MVP taking on an MVP candidate in a game between two playoff hopefuls in the NFC. There’s not much more we could hope for in this post-holiday battle this coming Sunday. Newton heads into Week 12 having put up 24 total touchdowns compared to six interceptions. Unfortunately, his Panthers have lost each of the past two games and are in need of a major statement win in this one.

For the Seahawks, it’s pretty much the same story. Wilson led this team back against the Packers last week. Seattle is now at 5-5 on the season and a half game out of the final playoff spot in the NFC. That’s primarily been due to the excellence of Wilson under center. He’s accounted for a resounding 23 touchdowns compared to just five picks on the season. Whew.

 

Michael Thomas vs Desmond Trufant

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Move over Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins, you might have some new company among the NFL’s elite receivers. Still flying under the radar in New Orleans, what Thomas has done as a third-year pro is nothing short of extraordinary. The former Ohio State standout has caught a whopping 90.1 percent of his passes and is on pace for 1,667 yards to go with 13 touchdowns. Some perspective here. Jerry Rice never caught more than 74 percent of his targets in a single season.

Thomas has yet another plus-level matchup this week against a Falcons cornerback in Desmond Trufant who has struggled after five Pro Bowl-caliber seasons to start his career. Trufant heads an Atlanta pass defense that ranks in the bottom four of the NFL and is yielding a 103.3 quarterback rating.

 

Alejandro Villanueva vs Von Miller

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For as immobile as Ben Roethlisberger is, he’s only been sacked 14 times in 10 games this season. A large part of that success, Villanueva has given up all of two sacks thus far on the campaign. He’ll certainly be in for a test Sunday against a player in Von Miller who has put up 10-plus sacks for the fifth consecutive season.

Even more amazing is the fact that Miller has racked up four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in going after quarterbacks this season. All said, he has an absurd 16 quarterback hits. If Miller can put continual pressure on Big Ben, we might see a replay of the quarterback’s mistakes from last week.

 

Deshaun Watson vs Titans pass defense

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Here’s a harsh reality: Watson was not good in Houston’s seventh consecutive win last week. He threw two interceptions against the Redskins and left the ball out there for what could have been another pick or two. It’s the first time since his Texans started this winning streak that Watson just has not played well.

There’s good news and bad news here for Watson. He’ll be taking on a Titans defense that was torn apart by Andrew Luck and the Colts last week. That’s the good news. The bad news? Tennessee still ranks in the top 10 in pass defense and will have coordinator Dean Pees back after he had to take an emergency trip to the hospital in-game last week.

 

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