Men will be separated from boys as the NFL season heads into December this upcoming weekend. There’s a ton of intriguing individual matchups between major rivals with playoff positioning and division title aspirations on the line.
From the slippery and elusive Russell Wilson taking on a suddenly dominant Eagles defense to Julio Jones looking to build off last week’s ridiculous performance against a red-hot Vikings team, some of these matchups will help determine how playoff seeds are decided.
Meanwhile, a rivalry is renewed between Antonio Brown and Adam Jones as the Steelers look to win their seventh consecutive game. These are among the top matchups for NFL Week 13.
Dez Bryant vs Josh Norman
Bryant has been MIA for the Cowboys over a large part of this season. He’s coming off a three-catch performance in last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers and is hauling in just 53 percent of his targets from Dak Prescott on the season. This needs to change in short order if Dallas is to snap a three-game losing streak and become viable in the NFC Playoff race.
That starts Thursday night against the division-rival Redskins, a team that ranks in the bottom half of the NFL in pass defense. And for his part, Norman that has not quite been the same by his standards this season.
Jake Matthews vs Everson Griffen
If the Falcons are going to keep their hot streak going in the first week of December action, they’ll need to make sure Matt Ryan is protected well. The quarterback has been sacked just two times during the team’s three-game winning streak. And his franchise left tackle, Jake Matthews, is the primary reason for this.
It might prove to be difficult this week against a fearsome Vikings defensive line that includes a player in Everson Griffen who leads the NFL with 12 sacks and is on pace for nearly 20 on the season. Griffen and fellow pass rusher Danielle Hunter are two of the primary reasons Minnesota heads into Week 13 in the midst of a seven-game winning streak.
Josh McCown vs Chiefs pass defense
McCown has been much better than expected for this Jets team. Despite last week’s loss, the veteran almost led New York back from behind against Carolina. He’s also tossed 17 touchdowns compared to eight interceptions on the season, leading to speculation that the Jets might want the career journeyman back next season.
On the other hand, Kansas City’s pass defense has been much worst than expected this season. With the team mired in a stretch that has seen it lose five of its past six, this unit has yielded the sixth-most passing yards on the season. If the Chiefs can’t stop McCown here, their season will be all but over.
Brandin Cooks vs E.J. Gaines
Despite Buffalo’s recent struggles (three losses in past four games), its pass defense continues to perform at a high level. In last week’s win over Kansas City, this unit held Alex Smith to less than 200 yards en route to a surprising 16-10 win. By virtue of the victory, Buffalo now finds itself just one game out of a playoff spot in the AFC.
It will obviously be tough sledding Sunday against a Patriots squad that has won seven consecutive games by an average of nearly three touchdowns per. And for his part, Cooks has started to cook with Tom Brady in his first season with the Pats. He’s tallied 12 catches for 222 yards over the past two games. If Buffalo expects to hang tough with New England, Gaines will have to continue with his excellent performance in Western New York.
T.Y. Hilton vs Jalen Ramsey
When shadowing future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald last week against Arizona, Ramsey allowed two catches for negative-four yards on four targets. That’s just complete and utter domination. And it has Ramsey firmly in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year conversation as he leads a Jaguars defense that ranks No. 1 in the league against the pass.
The only real hope Indianapolis has this week against a 7-4 Jaguars team hinges on Hilton becoming the first receiver to actually perform well against Ramsey this season. The former Pro Bowler has put up just 38 receiving yards in the past two games and has crossed the 30-yard plateau once in the past six games.
Russell Wilson vs Eagles defense
Wilson and the Seahawks didn’t put up a tremendous performance in a win over the hapless 49ers last week. But they did just enough to get by and remain one game behind Los Angeles in the NFC West. It’s going to be a completely different ball game this week against an Eagles team that has won nine consecutive games by a total of 154 points. In fact, each of Philadelphia’s past three wins have come by 28 points. Talk about domination.
And as much as people want to talk about Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ defense has stepped up in an absolutely huge way. This unit has held its past two opponents to a combined 12 points and an average of just over 200 total yards per game.
It’s in this that Wilson needs to perform better than we saw last week if Seattle is going to have any real chance at home against Philadelphia. That’s only magnified with both Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor lost for the season. There’s no real reason to believe Seattle can contain an Eagles offense that ranks No. 1 in scoring at nearly 32 points per game.
Laremy Tunsil vs Shane Ray
Two teams pretty much out of playoff contention and struggling big time. Two young players who will be cornerstones in their respective team’s rebuild. Dolphins left tackle Laremy Tunsil has had his growing pains in his first season in that role.
Miami quarterback Matt Moore was sacked a whopping seven times in the team’s Week 12 loss to New England. That came a week after Tunsil did not allow a single pressure against Tampa Bay. Consistency is definitely a major issue here.
On the other hand, Ray has struggled to gain his footing after missing the first six games of the season to injury. The former first-round pick has recorded just one sack on the season. While Denver’s quarterback situation remains its biggest question mark right now, its pass rush needs to step up behind Von Miller. That’s where Ray needs to start picking up where he left off during an eight-sack 2016 campaign.
Julio Jones vs Xavier Rhodes
This is the elite individual matchup on the Week 13 NFL slate, and it could have wide-ranging ramifications on the NFC Playoff race moving forward. Julio Jones is coming off an absolutely brilliant performance against Tampa Bay last week, having recorded 12 receptions for 253 yards and two touchdowns (watch, here and here).
In order for Atlanta to pull off its fourth consecutive win and end the Vikings’ seven-game winning streak, Jones is going to have to get the best of Xavier Rhodes. Having performed like an elite-level corner in the first 10 games of the season, Rhodes was burned for two touchdowns by Marvin Jones last week. If Julio can mirror that performance, maybe the Falcons will pull the upset here.
Saints running backs vs Panthers run defense
A logical argument could be made that Saints running back Alvin Kamara is a top NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. He already tallied nearly 1,100 total yards and is averaging an NFL-best 7.1 yards per rush on the season. Teaming up with Mark Ingram (1,055 total yards) Kamara and the Saints head into Week 13 with the third-best rushing attack in the league.
In what will be a matchup of elite against elite, New Orleans will have to run its way through a Panthers defense that is yielding the third-fewest rushing yards on the season. And in a game pitting two teams tied for first in the NFC South, this one matchup could make a world difference.
Antonio Brown vs Adam Jones
This rivalry has been downright heated at times. And that promises to remain the same when Pittsburgh and Cincinnati meet for the final time this season in Week 13.
Earlier in the year, Brown was held to four catches for 65 yards on 10 targets against Jones and the Bengals. Having put up 20 receptions for 313 yards and five scores over the past two games, Brown will want to exact his revenge Monday night. Should that happen, the Steelers will likely win their seventh consecutive game and move to 10-2 on the season.