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Top matchup for each Week 2 NFL game

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 of the NFL season enabled us to understand better where teams stand. Some may conclude that the initial slate of action is an outlier. That’s certainly been the case in the past.

Even so, we saw some pretty elite matchups take hold between dominating players during the opening week. That’s not going to change in Week 2, especially given some of the rivalry games taking place.

It starts Sunday morning with Jets rookie Sam Darnold taking on his first ever AFC East opponent. Can he have success against a Dolphins defense that intercepted Titans quarterbacks three times last week?

Over in the NFC, Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers will go at it in their first game as division rivals. Is Rodgers healthy after a stirring comeback win over Chicago last week? If not, does Cousins have the upper hand here?

These are among the top matchups for each Week 2 NFL game.

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals: James Hurst vs Carlos Dunlap

Carlos Dunlap earned his new contract in a big way Week 1 against the Colts, recording a sack of Andrew Luck and multiple quarterback pressures in an impressive Bengals win. As one of the most consistent pass rushers in the game over the past eight seasons, Dunlap’s ability to bring pressure from the edge meshes well with all-world defensive tackle Geno Atkins doing his thing inside.

In what is now an important early-season AFC North battle, Dunlap’s ability to pressure Joe Flacco will be key on Sunday. Flacco was sacked just once in 37 dropbacks during what was a flawless three-touchdown Week 1 outing against the overmatched Bills. If Cincinnati is able to apply pressure, Flacco will revert back to his old ways. That’s for sure.

Kansas City Chiefs at Pittsburgh Steelers: Antonio Brown vs Kendall Fuller

Antonio Brown is on a mission.

Brown had his good and bad plays in Week 1’s surprising tie against the division-rival Cleveland Browns. Sure he beat Denzel Ward over the top for a touchdown, but the Browns’ rookie cornerback also picked off Ben Roethlisberger once when covering Brown. That was a pretty shocking development. This isn’t to say Brown has somehow regressed. He still caught nine passes for 93 yards. But it came on 16 targets.

On the other side, Fuller did not hold up well in his regular season debut with the Chiefs. Taking over for the traded Marcus Peters as the team’s No. 1 corner, he allowed Keenan Allen to catch 8-of-11 targets for north of 100 yards with a touchdown. Fuller was also called for a holding penalty. This same type of performance Sunday against Brown will cost Kansas City big time.

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: Sam Darnold vs Dolphins pass defense 

Darnold responded brilliantly in his first regular season action against the Lions Monday night. After throwing a pick-six on his first pass, the rookie from USC was flawless for the remainder of the game. He would go on to complete 15 of his final 20 passes for nearly 200 yards with two scores and zero picks while completely outplaying Matthew Stafford. In the end, New York came away with an absolutely shocking 48-17 win over the home team.

Now set to take on his first AFC East opponent, the rookie has an opportunity to continue this early-season success. It comes against a Dolphins pass defense that held Titans quarterbacks to 20-of-38 passing with zero touchdowns and three picks in a surprising Week 1 win. This will certainly be a major test for Darnold. It will also tell us whether his debut was an outlier or something we can expect moving forward.

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans vs Jalen Mills

Mike Evans

Like pretty much every Buccaneers offensive player last week against the Saints, Evans had himself a field day. The recently extended receiver caught all seven of his targets from Ryan Fitzpatrick for 147 yards and a touchdown. It might have been the most-productive game of Evans’ already brilliant young career. Though, it’s not yet known whether said performance was more about the Saints futility on defense or new Buccaneers playcaller Todd Monken’s excellence in Tampa. Either way, it was eye-opening.

Evans and the Bucs will now have an opportunity to continue this early-season push against an Eagles defense that allowed Matt Ryan to complete less than 50 percent of his passes last week. That strong outing did not include cornerback Jalen Mills, who was burned multiple times by a player in Julio Jones who finished the evening having caught 10 passes for 169 yards. Yeah, Mills will be in for a big test in this one.

Cleveland Browns at New Orleans Saints: Ryan Ramczyk vs Myles Garrett

Outside of a dumb block in the back penalty that cost his Browns big time last week against Pittsburgh, Garrett was his usually dominating self. He put up two sacks of Ben Roethlisberger while hitting the quarterback two more times and putting pressure on him six times. This is an absurd stat line against an offensive line that’s been among the best in the game over the past several years.

It won’t get much easier Sunday against the Saints. Despite falling 48-40 against Tampa Bay last week, Drew Brees dominated to the tune of 439 passing yards and three scores. He was sacked just once and hit five times on 46 dropbacks. Multiple hits came from the right side of the line where Ramczyk is in his first season as a full-time starter. That’s troublesome for Brees and Co.

Indianapolis Colts at Washington Redskins: Jordan Reed vs Darius Leonard

Reed is going to be a mainstay in Washington’s passing game with Alex Smith under center. Last week saw the newly-acquired quarterback complete 13-of-16 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns to non-receivers. Four of those catches and one of those scores went to Mr. Reed. With Smith’s reliance on running backs and tight ends, Reed should have himself a heck of a statistical season if he can stay healthy.

It will be a bit more difficult against a middle of the Colts defense that has improved leaps and bounds recently. That includes second-year safety Malik Hooker and this rookie second-round pick from South Carolina State. Leonard recorded nine tackles and a pass defended in Week 1’s loss to the Bengals. Indy also allowed just four catches to tight ends in the narrow defeat. This should be a tremendous all-around matchup.

Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills: Keenan Allen vs Tre’Davious White

In what will be an otherwise lopsided affair, this one matchup promises to provide fireworks. Flying firmly under the radar, Allen continues to be among the most productive receivers in the NFL when targeted. Last week alone, he caught 8-of-11 passes for 108 yards and a score against Kendall Fuller. Dating back to the 2015 campaign, the CAL product has tallied an average of seven receptions per game with a 69 percent catch rate (nice).

Allen and his battery mate, Philip Rivers, will be involved in a surprisingly difficult matchup come Sunday. Since entering the league as a first-round pick last year, White has been among the most-productive cornerbacks in the NFL. Despite being blown out 47-3 by Baltimore last week, Ravens receivers didn’t do a whole lot of damage. All said, they caught 10-of-16 Joe Flacco targets. White was one of the primary reasons for that success. If Buffalo is to have any chance here, the second-year cover guy will have to step up big time.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers: Kirk Cousins vs Aaron Rodgers

Assuming Rodgers is able to go after suffering a knee injury during an exhilarating comeback against Chicago last week, this is going to be a matchup for the ages. Minnesota signed Cousins as a way to upgrade at the game’s most important position. He did just that, proving to be mistake-free in a 24-16 win over San Francisco last week. Despite this, Cousins did miss on his final eight pass attempts in that game. Taking on a Packers pass defense that’s improved leaps and bounds, this will be a major first road test for Captain Kirk.

More importantly, Rodgers takes on the very same Vikings squad that sidelined him for nine games last season. He does so at nowhere near 100 percent and with major MVP buzz surrounding the Super Bowl champ. Facing a Minnesota defense that’s the best in the NFC, this will also be a major test for Rodgers in a matchup between two teams expected to compete for the Lombardi moving forward.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: Andy Levitre vs Kawann Short

Short absolutely dominated against an overmatched Cowboys offensive line last week. The All-Pro ultimately recorded two sacks and multiple hurries of Dak Prescott in a game that saw his Panthers give up just eight points. It’s this type of elite-level pass-rush ability that has made Short one of the best interior linemen in the entire game.

To be clear, he’ll be tested against Levitre and the Falcons this week. Short did not record a single sack in two games against Atlanta last season, hitting Matt Ryan just once in the process. If Levitre is able to give Ryan a clean pocket from the interior of the line, it will help the Falcons rebound from a disastrous Week 1 offensive performance against Philly.

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: DeAndre Hopkins vs Malcolm Butler

DeAndre Hopkins

Hopkins was pretty much held in check by Butler’s former Patriots teammate, Stephon Gilmore, last week. He recorded just 78 yards on 11 targets. That’s not exactly what the Texans had planned for the dynamic duo, led by young quarterback Deshaun Watson. Whether it’s a precursor of things to come or more representative of Gilmore’s skillset remains to be seen.

We’ll find out a lot more with Butler making his home debut as a member of the Titans after they made him a high-paid corner during the offseason. Led by Butler last week, Tennessee struggled big time covering wide receivers in a surprising loss to Miami. It included Ryan Tannehill completing 16-of-22 passes to his wide receivers. This could be a potential get-right game for Watson and the Texans.

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams: Larry Fitzgerald vs Marcus Peters 

No one should be surprised by what we saw from Peters in his Rams regular season debut Monday night. Playing in front of his home crowd in Oakland, Peters clinched the game with a pick-six of Derek Carr. It was yet another reminder that the Pro Bowler is the best ball-hawking defensive back in the game.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, this Week 2 matchup comes after they were absolutely blown out at home by the Washington Redskins in the season opener. Sam Bradford was completely lost in the lopsided defeat, leading to speculation that rookie Josh Rosen might get the call soon. In order for Bradford to even come close to beating Los Angeles, he’ll have to rely a great deal on Fitzgerald. The future Hall of Famer accounted for nearly half of Arizona’s receiving yards last week.

Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers: Marvin Jones vs Richard Sherman

This one promises to be fun. While we’d prefer Sherman to go up against former teammate Golden Tate, how he performs in covering Jones will be telling for a 49ers team in desperate need of rebounding from a Week 1 loss. Sherman allowed just two catches in coverage and stayed with Stefon Diggs in his regular season debut. Meanwhile, Jones was a product of horrible quarterback play in a blowout loss to the Jets Monday night. He caught just 4-of-8 targets for 54 yards.

If Sherman is able to shut down one side of the field, it will enable San Francisco to help on Tate with the likes of Ahkello Witherspoon, Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert. Facing a 49ers secondary that came up huge against Kirk Cousins last week, that could spell even more doom for Matthew Stafford and Co. on Sunday.

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: Raiders offensive line vs Broncos pass rush 

We’d focus on the Raiders’ pass rush having to get to Case Keenum in this one. But that possibility ended up in Chicago following the Khalil Mack trade. Just look at how inept this unit was against Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1. Instead, it’s now all about Oakland’s offensive line protecting struggling quarterback Derek Carr against the best pass-rush group in the AFC.

Last week against Seattle, the likes of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb led the Broncos’ defense to six sacks of Russell Wilson. It was a downright brilliant performance from this unit and led Denver to a narrow victory. While Oakland’s offensive line has been good, rookie left tackle Kolton Miller struggled in his regular season debut. Look for Denver to exploit that in a big way come Sunday at Mile High.

New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars: Rob Gronkowski vs Jalen Ramsey

While Gronkowski and Ramsey won’t necesarily be going up against one another too much in this game, we can expect them to butt heads multiple times. Last season’s AFC Championship Game was a prime example of this. It also woudn’t be a shock if the Jaguars did in fact bring Ramsey into the slot to cover Gronkowski. Heck, the Pats have been known to line their stud tight end out wide.

Last week saw Gronkowski dominate a lesser Texans linebacker in Zach Cunningham to the tune of seven catches for 123 yards. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Jacksonville look to change it up a tad here, especially with its weak link on defense (if there is one) being safety play.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: Saquon Barkley vs Cowboys run defense

Most will focus on Dallas’ lackluster offense as the reason it dropped an ugly affair against Carolina last week. That’s fine. Head coach Jason Garrett and quarterback Dak Prescott share a ton of the blame. Even then, the team’s inability to stop Carolina’s rushing attack loomed large in that game. Cam Newton put up 58 yards and a score on 13 attempts, leading the Panthers in both categories. Meanwhile, the combination of C.J. Anderson and Christian McCaffrey tallied 85 yards on 17 attempts.

Dallas is in for an even bigger test against a rookie running back in Saquon Barkley who thrilled onlookers to the tune of a 68-yard touchdown run in his regular season debut. Sure Barkley tallied only 38 yards in his other 17 attempts, but that game-breaking ability could come back to haunt Dallas in this Sunday Night Football matchup.

Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears: Germain Ifedi vs Khalil Mack

Oh, boy. This is not going to be fun for Russell Wilson. Fresh off being sacked six times in Seattle’s Week 1 loss to Denver, the Super Bowl quarterback and his weak offensive line face an even more difficult test. How in the world can Seattle expect Ifedi to go up against Mack after having acted the part of a turnstile throughout his entire career? The former first-round pick’s performance against Von Miller and Co. was downright laughable last week. We’re not kidding.

Now set to take on a player in Khalil Mack who absolutely dominated the Packers in his Bears debut, there’s no telling just how bad this is going to get for Mr. Wilson. Already the most sacked quarterback since he entered the league back in 2012, we’re more worried about the dude’s health than anything else.