During this week’s slate of NFL games, a ton of individual matchups will take center stage as 30 of the league’s 32 teams take to the field.
Can Denzel Ward continue his great rookie season en route to leading the Browns to a winning record against Keenan Allen and the equally hot Los Angeles Chargers? Patrick Peterson will look to continue his excellent play in hopes of stopping a Vikings receiver in Adam Thielen who is on pace to break the single-season catch mark. And in Kansas City, the Patriots must contend with the league’s best offense, Tyreek Hill included.
These are among the top individual matchups for each Week 6 NFL game.
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants: Odell Beckham Jr. vs Ronald Darby
OBJ finally broke out big time this past Sunday, putting up eight receptions for 131 yards in a narrow loss to the Carolina Panthers. It was needed, especially after he spouted off at the mouth in the days leading up to the game. But it was not enough for New York to avoid a 1-4 start to the season.
The good news here is that these Giants are on a short week and will be hosting an Eagles team that’s in the midst of an ugly two-game losing streak. They will be doing so against a secondary that’s pretty much given up the house to opposing receivers in the passing game. In a matchup that pits two struggling NFC East teams against one another, how Beckham Jr. performs will be telling.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons: Donovan Smith vs Takkarist McKinley
Despite his team’s 1-4 start to the season, McKinley has been brilliant. The former first-round pick has five sacks thus far this season. That accounts for all but three of Atlanta’s quarterback take downs. With the injuries we’ve seen to this unit, Takk will have to keep this up in order for the Falcons to have any chance to get back into the NFC South race.
This coming Sunday, he’ll be tasked with going up against an underrated left tackle in Donovan Smith who has proven to be that franchise stalwart the team was expecting when it surprisingly selected him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He’ll need to hold up here if the Buccaneers want to end their current two-game losing streak and send the Falcons’ playoff aspirations packing for the cold winter.
Los Angeles Chargers at Cleveland Browns: Keenan Allen vs Denzel Ward
We’re running out of expletives to explain just how good Ward has been as a rookie this season. He was legitimately one of the primary reasons Cleveland earned its second win of the season last week against the Baltimore Ravens. With the Ravens leading 3-0 in the second quarter, Ward picked off Joe Flacco right near the goal line. It stalled the drive and helped Cleveland pull out a 12-9 overtime win.
On the other hand, Allen returned to form with a convincing performance against a bad Raiders team. He recorded eight catches for 90 yards on 11 targets. That helped Philip Rivers and Co, earn a second consecutive win. In a game between two potential playoff contenders, this one matchup could loom large.
Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets: Sam Darnold vs Colts pass defense
Darnold and the Jets absolutely torched a previously elite Broncos defense to the tune of 512 total yards in an upset win last week. While only 189 yards of that came through the air, the rookie hit on several big passes en route to throwing three touchdowns. It seems that he has righted the ship to an extent after struggling over the previous three games.
New York should have the matchup advantage on Sunday against a Colts pass defense that’s yielded the fifth-most yards in the NFL and is without multiple key contributors to injury. If that were to happen, Darnold and Co. could be looking at a .500 record. Meanwhile, Indy itself would then fall to 1-5. This one matchup will tell us the story.
Seattle Seahawks at Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr vs Seahawks pass defense
It’s rather simple. The Raiders are not going to do anything of substance this season until Carr turns his act around. While a lot of that is dependent on scheme, the quarterback himself has been atrocious. He’s thrown a league-high eight interceptions through five games. To put this into perspective, Carr threw a combined 19 interceptions in his previous 30 starts. Talk about a major regression on the former Pro Bowler’s part.
It’s not going to get any easier Sunday against a Seahawks defense that’s been surprisingly good stopping the pass this season. Despite team-wide struggles during a 2-3 start to the campaign, a revamped Seattle secondary has yielded the seventh-fewest passing yards and an opposing quarterback rating of under 80 through five games.
Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins: Josh Norman vs former team
Norman might want to make a statement against his former team come Sunday. He’s still pissed about the way that relationship ended following the 2015 season. That’s fine. But Norman’s Redskins were taken to task in a big way by Drew Brees and Co. this past Monday night. In fact, the former Pro Bowler was benched at times throughout the game.
Seemingly a shell of his former self, Norman will be taking on former teammate Cam Newton in a game that pits two players who have no love lost for one another. Tempers will run high in the nation’s capital. We’ll hear a bunch of talking on the field. And with the Redskins in desperate need of a win after Monday’s implosion, the pressure is squarely on Norman to deliver.
Buffalo Bills at Houston Texans: DeAndre Hopkins vs Tre’Davious White
This specific matchup could be a whole lot of fun. Hopkins is coming off a dazzling Week 5 performance that saw him catch nine passes for 151 yards, including a brilliant catch-and-run in overtime to help defeat Dallas. He’s now put up 19 receptions for 320 yards over the past two games. Yeah, the Deshaun Watson to Hopkins connection is hitting big time right now.
In a game between two 2-3 teams, how White defends Hopkins will be the biggest story here. The second-year corner has been among the best at his position in the NFL since entering the league. Through five games of the 2018 campaign, White is yielding a sub 65 passer rating when targeted.
Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings: Adam Thielen vs Patrick Peterson
An argument could be made that Peterson is currently playing the best football of what will be a Hall of Fame career. He’s allowing just a 43.6 passer rating when targeted through five games and seems to be 100 percent after a couple injury-plagued seasons. That’s tremendous news for an otherwise bad Cardinals team.
Peterson must be at the top of his game against one of the game’s most-productive receivers if the Cardinals are going to have any chance in this one. As underrated as they come, Thielen currently leads the NFL with 47 receptions through five games. That has him on pace so shatter the all-time single-season reception mark. Did we also mention that he’s catching north of 71 percent of the passes thrown in his direction?
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: James Conner vs Bengals run defense
Connor has been something of a revelation for Pittsburgh through the first five games of the season. In replacing the embattled Le’Veon Bell, the second-year back has racked up 581 total yards and five touchdowns. He also leads all NFL backs in broken tackles, including a whopping 12 last week against the Atlanta Falcons. To put that into perspective, Bell has accomplished this feat just once in 66 career NFL games.
In order for Pittsburgh to pull off a win against the division-leading Bengals, Conner will have to come up big here once again. Cincinnati ranks in the bottom 10 of the NFL against the run and has yielded 4.5 yards per rush. Conner’s ability on the ground will help the Steelers overcome what promises to be a heavy pass-rush headed in Ben Roethlisberger’s direction.
Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins: Mitch Trubisky vs Dolphins pass defense
Despite losing the past two games by a combined 41 points, Miami’s pass defense continues to be a major surprise in South Beach. A week after picking off Tom Brady twice, the Dolphins got to Andy Dalton for a red-zone interception this past Sunday. Thus far this season, we’re looking at a unit that’s yielded just six touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions. That’s pretty insane stuff right there.
Speaking of insane stuff, Trubisky is coming off one of the best performances for a Bears quarterback in the modern history of the franchise. Just prior to the team’s Week 5 bye, he sliced and diced the Buccaneers to the tune of 354 yards and six touchdowns. In a game pitting two surprising winning teams against one another, how Trubisky performs against Miami’s secondary will be telling.
Los Angeles Rams at Denver Broncos: Demaryius Thomas vs Marcus Peters
This should be all sorts of fun. Two former AFC West rivals taking on one another in a huge game for the home team. As much as Peters enjoyed taking on his hometown Oakland Raiders as a member of the Chiefs, he was equally pumped to go up against the division’s most longstanding No. 1 wide receiver. It has provided fireworks in the past and promises to do that once again come Sunday afternoon at Mile High.
The backdrop here is as important as the rivalry. Denver has lost three consecutive games since a 2-0 start to the season. Peters himself was burnt for two touchdowns against Seattle last week. In order for Denver to have a fighting chance against Los Angeles’ elite offense, it will need to score a ton of points. That’s where the Case Keenum to Demaryius Thomas connection comes into play.
Baltimore Ravens at Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota vs Ravens pass defense
This is as much about the Titans needing some sense of consistency from Mariota as anything else. Fresh off a humiliating loss to the lowly Buffalo Bills last week, this former first-round pick has continued to show himself to be a below-average quarterback. He’s thrown two touchdowns compared to four interceptions in four games. That comes on the heels of a 2017 campaign in which Mariota tossed 13 scores and 15 picks. It’s been rough.
Unfortunately for not-so Super Mario and Co., he’ll be forced to take on a Ravens pass defense that has yielded the fifth-fewest yards and a 71.8 quarterback rating on the season. With Baltimore and Tennessee both at 3-2, this game could have wild card ramifications. It’s in this that Mariota vs Baltimore’s secondary will be a major Week 6 matchup to watch.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott vs Jaguars run defense
After a stirring performance in a Week 4 win over Detroit, Elliott was bottled up big time this past Sunday night against the Houston Texans. He went for 54 yards on 20 attempts, and it showed big time. Dak Prescott couldn’t pick up the slack on offense, throwing two interceptions en route to a disastrous overtime loss for the Boys. It’s now becoming rather clear that Elliott must be at the top of his game for his team to have a fighting chance in what is a pedestrian NFC East.
On the other hand, Jacksonville is reeling from a Week 5 blowout loss at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s a game that saw Blake Bortles go all Benny Hill en route to tossing four interceptions. Much like Elliott in Dallas, the onus is almost solely on Jacksonville’s defense. That’s where stopping Zeke could help the Jags rebound big time.
Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots: Tyreek Hill vs Stephen Gilmore
Despite Kansas City’s record-setting offensive pace and Patrick Mahomes’ MVP candidacy, the undefeated team has not gotten a whole lot from its most-dynamic skill-position player in recent weeks. After putting up 358 all-purpose yards over the first two games, Hill has combined for 239 yards in the past three games. That includes 166 receiving yards. The Chiefs might be averaging a league-best 35 points per game. But it’s going to be tough sledding moving forward without more production from Hill in the passing game.
Set to take on one of the top individual cover corners Sunday night, it will be interesting to see how Hill responds. If he breaks loose, the Chiefs are looking at a three-game lead over New England in the AFC. No pressure there.
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers vs Richard Sherman
Normally, we’d conclude that Mr. Rodgers would absolutely tear apart a 49ers pass defense that’s yielding a 99.1 quarterback rating on the season. While that might very well be true, Sherman continues to prove himself to be among the best corners in the NFL. This season alone, he’s yielded a total of one catch for 18 yards on eight targets. That’s one catch per 146 coverage snaps. No one is even close to him in this category.
What makes Sherman’s presence so interesting in what seems to be an otherwise lopsided matchup is that he doesn’t shadow opposing team’s No. 1 receiver. Regardless of who is healthy enough to line up at wide receiver against Sherman, it could force Rodgers to eliminate looking at one side of the field. If not, Sherman could pounce and make a game-changing play against what has been a surprisingly mediocre Packers offense.