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Peterson-Hawk showdown one of critical Week 7 matchups

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Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Packers LB A.J. Hawk

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC

This is a game of utmost importance for both teams, and Peterson and Hawk will be right in the center of the action. Minnesota plays only two teams with losing records the rest of the season. Green Bay has five dates with losing teams. Favre is instilling less fear in opponents this year, putting even more of the burden on Peterson.

Peterson has outstanding speed and running skills. It doesn't matter if the play begins inside, he has the ability to bounce it outside and make a big play on the edge.

To stop him, you have to gang tackle him. It falls on Hawk to get that initial hit until the cavalry arrives. Once he gets past the line of scrimmage, watch out.

He has not fumbled all year, improving heavily in that area. Despite that progress, Hawk possesses the ability as a hitter to force fumbles. His ability to do so against Peterson could be a major factor in the game.

Peterson runs just as well on grass as he does on turf, which should suit him well at Lambeau Field. Hawk, meanwhile, has gotten better in space, and his proficiency at flowing to the ball should help prevent Peterson's effectiveness as a receiver out of the backfield.

Bonus matchup: Vikings WR Randy Moss vs. Packers CB Charles Woodson

Moss wants the ball, and when he makes a play early, more will certainly follow. It is up to Woodson to slow him down in the first quarter and set the tone.

Dolphins CB Vontae' Davis vs. Steelers WR Mike Wallace

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS

This is a great battle between two very fast, young players, who are in their second NFL season.

Wallace, taken in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft, started five games last year, caught 39 passes for six touchdowns and had an amazing 19.4 yards per catch. Those are outstanding numbers for a rookie. Davis also excelled as a rookie, starting nine games and leading the team with four interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

Wallace has great straight-line speed and is best at deep routes. He loves to lull defenders to sleep and go long on the 9-route. Davis has the speed to cover that, and is great in the air in jump balls, but sometimes struggle to maintain his concentration.

The return of Ben Roethlisberger helps Wallace get down field and make explosive plays of 20-plus yards. He has four over 40 yards already this season. Davis, though, is physical at the line of scrimmage, and likes to jam receivers in man coverage. It could be tough for Wallace to get into his pattern, as long as Davis doesn't have any lapses, which he suffers from at times.

Bonus matchup: Dolphins OT Vernon Carey vs. Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley

Woodley led the Steelers in sacks last year and will look to beat Carey, who is starting his 100th game. This showdown is important, because Long should be able to handle James Harrison on the other side.

Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Cowboys CB Terence Newman

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Eli Manning quarterbacked the Giants to a victory in the first regular-season game at the new Cowboys stadium last year by passing for 329 yards and two touchdowns.

Manning's nickname is easy, but don't let that fool you. He will cut your heart out to win. His completion percentage suffers late in the year, because of the wind conditions in New York.

Defenses have trouble fooling him, and he makes great adjustments at the line. He excels at finding the open man and gets rid of the ball quickly. Newman, who is coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2009, has to make sure he gets a good break on the ball to offset Manning's timing patterns.


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Newman has had a down year so far, with just one pass defensed and no interceptions, and Manning figures to test him often. Manning loves to set up the defensive back for the kill shot, and Newman must take advantage whenever he gets an opportunity for an interception.

The blitz does not rattle Manning. In my opinion, he is the top quarterback in the NFC. He can beat you with his head and arm. He has the best October winning percentage since 1966 (19-4). For the Cowboys to make that 19-5, Newman will have to play his best.

Bonus matchup: Giants DE Osi Umenyiora vs. Cowboys OT Doug Free

Umenyiora has been one of the hottest players in the league the past month, while Free has played very well in his first year as a starter.

Rams QB Sam Bradford vs. Bucs QB Josh Freeman

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX

These are two young quarterbacks who seem to have promising NFL futures. This seems to be a matchup between two evenly matched teams. In such games, quarterback play dictates the outcome.

Bradford is smart, but like all young players at his position, will be fooled by schemes he has not seen before. He steps up quickly into the pocket and has been tutored well by Dick Curl.

The key to winning is to take care of the ball, and Bradford has to make sure he sees where Ronde Barber is at all times. Bradford also cannot take sacks and leave his team in third-and-long situations. He has the tools to make all the throws but needs his receivers to make some plays this week.

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Historically to be successful in the passing game, you have to have a threat in the running game, and Tampa Bay averages just 91 yards per game. Because defenses don't have to respect the running game as much, it makes it tougher on Freeman to find openings in the passing game.

Freeman is well coached and is not making as many mistakes as he did last year. In order to win this game, he must continue his good TD/Interception rate (6/3). He also needs to make several plays with his feet when needed. He has the tools to be very good.

Bonus matchup: Rams LB James Laurinaitis vs. Bucs LB Barrett Ruud

This game could come down to which middle linebacker is able to create a takeaway.

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