Week 6 is full of exciting games. There is a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game, a battle between Pete Carroll and his former team and a clash between the surging Indianapolis Colts and sinking New York Jets.
I've identified intriguing matchups inside each of those three games, as well as three other battles to follow closely on this weekend's slate:
Reggie Wayne vs. Antonio Cromartie
The Colts pulled off an impressive come-from-behind victory over the Green Bay Packers last weekend, largely behind the strength of their passing attack. Andrew Luck and Wayne hooked up 13 times for 212 yards and a touchdown. Wayne has been Luck's go-to target all year long and he currently leads the league in receiving yards per game (126.5). Wayne's ability to contort his body and make circus catches has made life much easier for his rookie signal-caller. Wayne must be at the top of his game this week because he will be matched up against one of the NFL's top cornerbacks.
Cromartie has always had the physical ability to be an elite player, but his concentration and discipline have drifted at times. The Jets cornerback has been much more focused and consistent this season. He completely shut down Andre Johnson last week, holding the Houston Texans wide receiver to one catch for 15 yards. Cromartie has the speed to run with any wideout in the league and his size (6-foot-2) is a huge asset when defending the jump ball. The Jets suffered a huge loss with the injury to Darrelle Revis, but Cromartie has stepped up his play to help fill that void.
DeMarcus Ware vs. Michael Oher
I'm really looking forward to watching this Dallas Cowboys-Baltimore Ravens bout. Both teams possess a plethora of skill-position talents, but the key matchup in this game will take place in the trenches. Ware, Dallas' All-Pro outside linebacker, is the NFL's most disruptive edge rusher. He already boasts five sacks and three forced fumbles over the Cowboys' first four games of the 2012 campaign. Ware is one of the rare pass rushers capable of taking over a game, and he will look to do just that when he lines up against a Baltimore left tackle who has struggled this season.
Oher has bounced around from right to left tackle during his four years with the Ravens. He has manned the blind side this season and the results have been a little shaky. Oher is a very physical run blocker, but he's given up too much pressure as a pass protector. He has the quick feet and the strength to handle top-tier pass rushers, but far too often he fails to finish plays and allows late pressures or sacks. He gave up two sacks against the Kansas City Chiefs last week because he fell off his block late in the play. He will need to play much better this week against Ware in order for Baltimore's offense to get back on track.
49ers' offensive line vs. Giants' defensive line
I can't wait to see this NFC Championship Game rematch! Both teams pride themselves on discipline, toughness and dominating the trenches. The San Francisco 49ers' offensive line is full of road-grading run blockers. These guys consistently create movement at the point of attack and wear opponents down by the time the fourth quarter comes around. They completely dominated the defensive lines of the Jets and Bills over the last two weeks, but the competition will be much more difficult on Sunday afternoon.
The New York Giants' defensive line is big, athletic and disruptive. The sack total (eight in five games) is down for this group, but Big Blue still generates consistent pressure on the quarterback. In order for the G-Men to get after Alex Smith this week, they must first prove they can control San Francisco's rushing attack. New York is currently ranked 16th against the run, allowing 111.4 yards per game. If the Giants can hold the 49ers to that number, they should have a very good shot at leaving the Bay Area with a victory for the second time in the last nine months.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Brandon Spikes
Sunday's matchup between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks promises to be very physical, as both teams are running the football extremely well. I'm fully expecting the Seahawks to hand the ball off to Lynch early and often in this contest. The Seahawks star is one of the NFL's most powerful runners and he's off to a great start this season, averaging over 100 yards per game.
The charge to stop Lynch will be led by Spikes, the Patriots' third-year middle linebacker. Spikes is a very aggressive, physical, downhill linebacker. He is excellent with his hands, taking on and shedding lead blockers. He consistently squares up running backs, drives his feet and finishes tackles. There surely will be some violent collisions when Lynch and Spikes meet up in the hole this Sunday.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Wade Phillips
Rodgers is currently the NFL's eighth-leading passer (96.9 rating). While that would be considered good news in most NFL cities, Green Bay has come to expect much more from its signal-caller. There have been injuries to his receiving corps and spotty play up front, but Rodgers still deserves some of the blame for his production drop-off. He is forcing too many balls into crowded areas, not taking the easy throws when they are given to him by the defense.
Rodgers and the Packers' offense face a sizeable challenge this weekend, visiting the undefeated Houston Texans. Phillips' defense is only allowing 14.6 points per game this season. In his second year with the Texans, Phillips runs a very sound scheme and has dynamic playmakers at all three levels of his defense. He excels at creating mismatches, with outside linebackers going against running backs and tight ends. The winner of the Rodgers-Phillips battle will likely win the game.
C.J. Spiller vs. Daryl Washington
The Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals both will look to rebound from a disappointing loss when they square off this weekend. For the 2-3 Bills to upset the 4-1 Cardinals, Buffalo must get a big game from Spiller. Everything looked very promising for Spiller after he racked up 292 rushing yards in the first two games of the season. Unfortunately for Spiller and the Bills, he suffered an injury the following week against the Cleveland Browns and he's struggled to regain his earlier form. Over the last three games, he has rushed for only 73 yards. Despite his recent slump, he is still capable of hitting a home run at any point. His explosiveness jumps off the screen when he's been healthy enough to compete.
In Sunday's game, Spiller will face a defender with similar strengths. Washington might be the fastest inside linebacker in the entire NFL. He has rare lateral range and closing speed. He gains ground very quickly and is an explosive striker when he reaches the ball carrier. He already has 39 tackles this season. He is also one of the best blitzing inside linebackers in the league, as evidenced by his four sacks this season. It will be fascinating to watch these speed merchants match up against each other in both the run game and the passing game.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.