Matchups to Watch  

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Individual matchups might determine who makes playoffs

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The only matchups featured this week will be from games that have playoff implications, with one bonus matchup from the Vikings-Lions tilt.

 
Suggs
 
Whitworth

Bengals at Ravens: Terrell Suggs vs. Andrew Whitworth

Whitworth is a very underrated player. He is very athletic and strong with good feet. He does a good job of getting his hands on you. He has to negate Suggs' pass-rush ability. To beat the Ravens, you have to be able to pass the ball. Suggs struggled last week against Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas, and Whitworth is another difficult challenge for him. Whitworth won the fan vote for AFC offensive tackles for the Pro Bowl, but was bumped out when the coaches' and players' votes were added (each comprises one-third of the selection process). Whitworth can't suffer a letdown against Suggs, however, because the linebacker has a great first step and the athletic ability to get around the edge. He needs to pressure Carson Palmer for Baltimore to win.




 
Taylor
 
McCoy

Steelers at Browns: Ike Taylor vs. Colt McCoy

Taylor is the Steelers' best cover corner and McCoy must also be aware of him coming off the edge at times to blitz. Taylor is very good at turning and running with receivers and has very good ball skills. He cannot afford to give up big plays because of Pittsburgh's lack of scoring. McCoy's first start came earlier this year against Pittsburgh, and he performed well. He has athletic ability to move around the pocket, good accuracy, is very smart, has a command of the huddle and players believe in him. He can sprint out and run. He needs to play well for the team to have a chance.




 
Knox
 
Williams

Bears at Packers: Johnny Knox vs. Tramon Williams

Knox has great speed and is very quick off the line. He excels at separating from defenders and has outstanding hands. It won't be easy to get away from Williams, however, as he has elite quickness and ball skills. Williams will most likely play man-to-man on Knox wherever he lines up, and he has to win his individual matchup for the Packers to be successful. Knox has good run-after-the-catch ability and is capable of making people miss. He is very cocky and sure of his play, so Williams has to disrupt his timing and make him feel uncomfortable. Bears-Packers is one of the best rivalries in football, and this individual matchup should live up to those standards.




 
Jackson
 
Hawthorne

Rams at Seahawks: Steven Jackson vs. David Hawthorne

Jackson will most likely carry the ball at least 25 times and also be involved in the passing game. He has speed and power and is able to make the first man miss. That man figures to consistently be Hawthorne and the Seahawks' leading tackler can't afford to miss. Jackson has struggled in the past two weeks against elite middle linebackers Derrick Johnson and Patrick Willis, and Hawthorne has to play up to the level of those two standouts. Jackson is a very good receiver, and Hawthorne can't lose track of him in the passing game. Jackson has to make plays to open things up for Sam Bradford, and it is up to the aggressive Hawthorne to make sure that doesn't happen. If Jackson reaches 100 yards, the Rams are likely to win.





 
Freeman
 
Williams

Buccaneers at Saints: Josh Freeman vs. Gregg Williams

Freeman has exceeded expectations as a quarterback and team leader. He has also been good on the road, winning six of nine starts in his career, including one at New Orleans last year. He has shown lots of poise, which is very important when you play in New Orleans. Williams will do his best to test that composure, however, by coming up with a variety of coverages and schemes. He is one of the best defensive coordinators in the league at coming up with a game plan to confuse opposing quarterbacks. Freeman will most likely see different alignments in the second half than in the first. Williams blitzes about 50 percent of the time, but Freeman has the accuracy and intelligence to make good reads and beat the pressure. This should be a good matchup of wits.




 
Babin
 
Manning

Titans at Colts: Jason Babin vs. Peyton Manning

Babin is a real surprise as a pass rusher. A former first-round pick, he has 12.5 sacks this season and was selected to the Pro Bowl. He's a good athlete with lots of speed and quickness, which helps him rush the passer. He's a very aggressive player. He needs to have three sacks for the Titans to have a chance to win this game. Manning is having another great year throwing to backups. Until the last two games, he had no rushing attack to speak of, but with Joseph Addai back, the ground game is finally starting to pick up steam. He is very accurate and can put the ball on the numbers 90 percent of the time. He has thrown 17 interceptions this year, a high total for him. He needs to be sharp in this game.




 
Smith
 
Foster

Jaguars at Texans: Daryl Smith vs. Arian Foster

Smith is an undersized linebacker, who has great instincts and explosiveness for the position. He's very strong in his upper body and can make plays in space. He's a try-hard player. He needs to stop Foster and create a turnover for the Jaguars, who are a minus-13 in turnover ratio this season. Foster was selected to play in this year's Pro Bowl and is the NFL's leader in rushing and rushing touchdowns. The amount of carries seems to have taken its toll on Foster the past two weeks. He does have good vision in the Texans' zone-blocking schemes. He does a good job as a receiver and will block in pass protection.

 



 
Bradshaw
 
Fletcher

Giants at Redskins: Ahmad Bradshaw vs. London Fletcher

Bradshaw is the team's leading rusher and has dominated the Redskins recently. He is very athletic, with good burst. He is also a good receiver. Bradshaw has had problems with fumbles and lost the starting job for a period of time. The Giants have won four straight in Washington. They were stuck in Wisconsin for three days, making this a very short week. Fletcher is a tackling machine who makes stops all over the field and is very competitive. He will attack the run.

 



 
Stewart
 
Lofton

Panthers at Falcons: Jonathan Stewart and Curtis Lofton

The Panthers are going to run and try to shorten the game and Stewart will lead the way. He was injured earlier in the year, but is the team's leading rusher. He is very powerful and has good speed. He has averaged 106 yards over the last five weeks and has rushed for 215 yards against the Falcons in the past two meetings. He's a good receiver and blocker and needs to get loose for a big play for the Panthers to have a chance. Lofton plays on all downs. He has very good athletic ability. He can make plays in space and is a good tackler. He plays with a passion and is very competitive. He needs to stop the run and make Carolina pass to be successful.




 
Webb
 
Levy

Vikings at Lions: Joe Webb vs. DeAndre Levy

Minnesota is trying to decide if Webb can be its quarterback of the future. He has the size and speed to go with his mobility and arm strength. He needs a lot of work to become an NFL quarterback. The jury will be out on him for several years. Levy has speed and athletic ability. He can make plays in space. He's had a game-winning and game-saving play in the last two weeks. He is very competitive and does a good job at playing in space. After looking at the Eagles game, it looks like the Vikings will keep two backs in to pass protect. That means Levy will have to make some plays in space for Detroit to come out on top.

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