With NFL Week 10 set to kick off here shortly, the season now officially enters its second half. It’s in this that there are a ton of important games on the week’s slate of games.
None more important than the Seattle Seahawks traveling to New England on Sunday night. Not only is this a rematch of the Super Bowl from two seasons ago, it pits two title contenders against one another. It goes without saying there’s a ton of solid individual matchups in this game.
The same can be said for the New Orleans Saints hosting the Denver Broncos. This game will pit Drew Brees against the best pass defense in the NFL. It’s that one specific matchup that should dictate the outcome of this game.
These are among the top-10 matchups for NFL Week 10.
1. Rob Gronkowski vs Earl Thomas
This is truly elite going up against elite. Gronkowski has dominated to the tune of 21 receptions for 473 yards and three scores in the four games since Tom Brady returned from suspension. This has the New England Patriots with an NFL-best 7-1 record heading into Week 10.
On the other hand, Thomas still continues to perform at a tremendous level against the pass. Thus far on the season, the All Pro has yielded a sub 50 percent catch rate when targeted.
In a rematch of the Super Bowl from two seasons ago, it’s going to be important for the Seattle Seahawks to contain a potent Patriots offensive attack. Should that not happen, the good feelings from last week’s win over Buffalo will be replaced by more angst from fans in the Pacific Northwest.
2. Drew Brees vs Denver Broncos pass defense
Despite a consistently poor performance from his defense, Brees has the New Orleans Saints at 4-4 and in the thick of the NFC Playoff race heading into Week 10. And we don’t really have to be geniuses to understand why. The future Hall of Famer has put up nearly 2,700 yards with 21 touchdowns compared to five interceptions at the midway point of the season.
Over the course of the past four games (three wins), Brees has been absolutely dominating.
Drew Brees past four games: 73.7 completion, 1,420 yards, 11 TD, 2 INTs, 114.7 QB rating. Over 30 completions per game pic.twitter.com/CzIXAdkLaP
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 7, 2016
Though, it must be noted that two of these games came against squads in the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers that have each yielded 98-plus quarterback ratings on the year. Interestingly, Brees was able to complete 27-of-35 passes without an interception in the Saints’ Week 8 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Now slated to take on the league’s best pass defense, Brees is in store for the most-difficult test of the season. Even after losing to the Oakland Raiders on the road Sunday night, the Denver Broncos’ defense continues to prove itself elite. It is yielding a 67.2 quarterback rating with six touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine games. That’s some crazy stuff right there.
If New Orleans wants to get back to over .500 on the season, it will need Brees to continue performing at the level we’ve seen this year. For the Broncos, it’s now all about the team’s defense carrying this squad with Trevor Siemian and their offense struggling so much.
3. Mike Remmers vs Dee Ford
One could easily conclude that this is a mismatch. After all, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has been bruised and battered all season long. The reigning NFL MVP has seen himself sacked 21 times in seven games after going down 33 times all of last season. Last week alone, Newton was dropped five times by a swarming Los Angeles Rams defensive line. All this has led to Newton himself being worried about his safety on the field.
Those worries likely won’t be subsided this week against the onslaught that is the Kansas City Chiefs’ pass rush, including a breakout former first-round pick in Dee Ford. All said, the third-year player ranks second in the NFL behind Von Miller with nine sacks. Heck, Ford has been absolutely dominating the opposition over the past four games, recording a total of 7.5 sacks during that span.
Unfortunately for Cam Newton’s health, starting right tackle Mike Remmers has been an embarrassment thus far this season. That came rearing its ugly head against Aaron Donald this past Sunday.
We really need to see how the Panthers are going to scheme against this. In order for them to have any chance of collecting a third consecutive win, Remmers and the offensive line must perform better. It’s in this that Ford needs to be contained.
4. Antonio Brown vs Brandon Carr
Lost in all the hoopla surrounding the play of rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas is the fact that the Cowboys are vastly improved from a pass defense standpoint. They may only rank in the middle of the pack against the pass, but their corners have played extremely well against stiff competition.
Through the first eight games, Dallas has gone up against the likes of Odell Beckham Jr., A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson and Terrelle Pryor. They have held this foursome to an average of 4.5 receptions and 59.5 yards while yielding an average of just 7.7 yards per target.
Unfortunately for the streaking Cowboys, they are going to be without the injured Morris Claiborne again come Sunday. That’s a less-than-ideal scenario with Antonio Brown and Co. looming. It’s in this that Carr needs to continue his solid season against one of the top pass catchers in the NFL.
While it most definitely is a difficult matchup for Carr, he has proven himself to be more than a capable cover guy thus far in 2016.
Cowboys' top @PFF defensive grades vs. Browns
Brandon Carr 81.1
Anthony Hitchens 79.0
Sean Lee 76.4
Damien Wilson 76.4
Tyrone Crawford 73.7
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) November 7, 2016
That’s been a continual theme for Carr throughout the season. And on the other side, Brown himself has struggled a tad recently. The star receiver has failed to put up 100-plus yards in four of the past five games and has crossed that plateau three times on the season after hitting this mark nine times during the 2015 campaign.
If the Steelers are going to get back on track after losing three consecutive, it really is going to be up to the Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown dominating in the passing game. If not, the team will fall to under .500 with Dallas earning its eighth consecutive win.
5. Doug Baldwin vs Malcolm Butler
Butler wasn’t just a Super Bowl hero for the New England Patriots two years ago. Instead, he’s been among the most consistent cover corners in the NFL since.
Malcolm Butler is the 127th-highest-paid CB this season. He ranks 4th in PFF grades: https://t.co/8gdkYWS3Yj
— PFF (@PFF) November 5, 2016
This has New England performing exceptionally well against the pass, yielding an 84.9 opposing quarterback rating. That’s a dramatic improvement from last season. It’s also one of the primary reason the Pats head into Week 10 with a 7-1 record and found a way to win three of four with Tom Brady suspended.
On the other hand, Baldwin continues to play at an extremely high level for Russell Wilson. He caught all six passes thrown in his direction in Monday’s win against the Buffalo Bills and has tallied an absurd 77 percent catch rate on the season.
In a game full of elite-level matchups, it’s this one that could help dictate the outcome the most. Should Butler find a way to shut Baldwin down, it will force Wilson to take on a strong center of the Pats defense by targeting Jimmy Graham. That hasn’t proven to be a success for other squads that have gone up against New England this season.
6. Zach Strief vs Von Miller
Outside of his own excellence, one of the primary reasons Drew Brees has been so great this year is the level of protection he’s getting from the Saints’ two starting tackles. Teaming up with Terron Armstead, Strief has been one of the catalysts for a unit that’s allowed 12 total sacks in 359 drop backs . Yes, that’s an average of one sack every 30 times Brees drops back to pass the ball.
For his part, Strief has been absolutely tremendous in pass protection for the vast majority of his career. This most definitely hasn’t changed thus far in 2016.
He’s allowed a total of seven pressures in eight games and ranks among the top-five players at his position, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s pretty darn awesome for a right tackle in today’s NFL.
Though, Strief himself will have his hands full in a big way taking on a player in Von Miller who leads the NFL with 9.5 sacks and is coming off an MVP performance in Super Bowl 50. Miller has been downright dominating, and there’s not a single tackle in the league today that’s been able to handle him.
Should Miller find a way to put consistent pressure on Brees, it will throw off the Saints’ passing game and likely force some mistakes from the future Hall of Fame quarterback. That might be the only way the Denver Broncos can keep with the Saints on the track field known as the Supererdome.
7. Nate Solder vs Cliff Avril
Avril might not get a ton of press on the Seattle Seahawks’ defense due to the presence of Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner. He’s more than fine with that. True football diehards now just how good Avril has been since he broke out with a double-digit sack season with the Detroit Lions back in 2011.
Now, in his fourth season with Seattle, Avril has taken his game to a completely different level. He’s put up nine sacks in eight games and ranks among top two 4-3 defensive ends in quarterback pressures. Even when looking at how well Seattle’s secondary has played, Avril has to be considered one of the primary reasons this unit ranks first in the NFL in points allowed.
On the other end of the spectrum, Solder has struggled mightily for the Patriots. He allowed two sacks of Tom Brady in the team’s most-recent game against the Buffalo Bills back in Week 8. He needs to step it up in order for Brady to find the time to beat the Legion of Boom Sunday night. Should that not happen, the Pats will be in a world of trouble.
8. Jordan Reed vs Harrison Smith
Despite missing two games to a concussion earlier this season, Reed remains Kirk Cousins’ favorite target with the Washington Redskins. In fact, he has to be considered the second-best pass-catching tight end in the NFL behind only Gronkowski. In six games this season, Reed has caught 42-of-59 passes for 415 yards and three scores. Yes, that’s an absurd 71 percent catch rate.
When Reed and Cousins are clicking on all cylinders, the Skins’ offense can be dominant. We’ve seen this multiple times throughout the first half of the season.
It’s going to be incredibly tough Week 10 against a Minnesota Vikings defense that’s allowed just 44 receptions and 7.2 yards per target to tight ends on the season. It all starts in the middle of the field with Harrison Smith, who continues to prove himself among the top cover free safeties in the NFL.
This is where the matchup is. Can Reed find a way to break through a talented middle of the Vikings’ defense to give his quarterback open passing lanes? If so, Washington, coming off its bye, could send Minnesota to a fourth consecutive defeat.
9. DeMarco Murray vs Green Bay Packers run defense
Murray enters Week 10 as the second-leading rusher in the NFL behind the aforementioned Ezekiel Elliott. He’s tallied 807 rushing yards and has already surpassed his total yardage from a season ago. He’s done this in just nine games.
With rookie Derrick Henry likely out multiple weeks after suffering a groin strain in pregame warmups this past Sunday, the expectation here has to be that Murray will continue to see a bulk of the Titans’ workload. Considering he’s already touched the ball 209 times on the season, that’s a sure sign the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year will continue to make a major impact.
Though, it’s going to be a tough battle Sunday against a Green Bay Packers defense that’s yielded the fewest rushing yards in the NFL and just 3.3 yards per rush.
With both the Titans and Packers reeling after losses in Week 9, it’s this one matchup that will likely play a huge role in determining who heads into Week 11 on a high note.
For the Titans, it’s the difference between being two games under .500 or right in the thick of the AFC South division race. Over in the NFC, the Packers need a win here in order to avoid a fourth loss in five games and further questions about the team’s ability to contend in the old black and blue division.
10. A.J. Green vs Janoris Jenkins
To say that Green has been dynamite this year would be a massive understatement. He’s tallied 17 receptions for 290 yards over the past two games and is on pace for nearly 1,800 receiving yards. More than that, Green is averaging a whopping 15.2 yards per catch and over 10 yards per target on the year. Those are truly absurd numbers.
In order for the New York Giants to be able to contain Cincinnati’s passing attack, their high-priced free agent is going to have to step up. Jenkins was brought on to shut down the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver. Through the first half of his initial season in the Big Apple, that’s exactly what he has done.
Janoris Jenkins continued to build on a strong season today. Allowed just one of six passes thrown his way to be caught.
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) November 6, 2016
This is, however, Jenkins’ most-difficult matchup of the young season. After all, he’s taken on the likes of Jordan Matthews, Kenny Britt and a Steve Smith-less Baltimore Ravens team over the past three games. That’s not exactly the best of competition right there.
At 5-3 on the season, New York currently holds one of the two wild card spots in the NFC. It also needs to continue winning in order to keep up with the red-hot Dallas Cowboys back east. On the other hand, Cincinnati has benefited from struggles by the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. Despite posting just one win since the end of September, the Bengals are just a half game out in the division.
This one specific matchup won’t only help dictate who wins on Sunday, it could have some wide-ranging playoff implications in each conference.