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DeAndre Hopkins, Jalen Ramsey ready to renew rivalry in NFC West showdown

DeAndre Hopkins and Jalen Ramsey take their rivalry from the AFC South to the NFC West.

The star receiver and lockdown corner butted heads for years, clashing seven times with the Texans and Jaguars, respectively. Now they renew that rivalry with new squads come Sunday afternoon's showdown between the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams.

The battle is sure to be one of the best in the league in Week 13.

"These guys have a lot of experience playing against one another," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "Two great players, two perennial Pro Bowlers, All Pros. You see the plays in the production that DeAndre has made throughout the course of his career. He can do it all. They do a great job of trying to make sure he gets his touches. There will be some situations where he and Jalen will be going against one another. Jalen's had a great season. He's done so many things. I think Jalen is a guy that's not just playing star coverage, he's playing all over the field. He's a great football player for us. I know that he relishes the opportunities to go against great players that he has a lot of respect for. I've talked to him about DeAndre and I know he feels really strongly and respects his game. That's what you love about the NFL."

Hopkins' 396 receiving yards with Ramsey in coverage are the most by any player against the corner since he was drafted in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. The two TDs score by Nuk with Ramsey in coverage are the most by any WR versus the Pro Bowl corner (tied with Sammy Watkins).

In the seven meetings between the Jags and Texans in which both played, Hopkins has averaged 6.3 catches per game and 72.4 receiving yards and scored three total TDs, while Ramsey has compiled 27 tackles, one INT and 12 passes defended.

In their last meeting, in Week 2, 2019, before Ramsey was traded to L.A., Hopkins earned just four catches for 27 yards on seven targets with the star corner in coverage, per PFF. On the day, Hopkins had five catches for 40 yards in a 13-12 Houston win. 

The familiarity should breed a fierce battle Sunday.

"DeAndre has certainly established himself as one of the premier players in the NFL, let alone a receiver," Rams DC Brandon Staley said. "The good thing for Jalen is those guys have had a lot of matchups being in the same division against one another. Those guys have a great sense of who each other is. Much like a few weeks ago when Jalen was going head to head with (Seattle WR DK) Metcalf and then (Buccaneers WR) Mike Evans and (Buccaneers WR) Antonio (Brown) and all those guys, that's what makes the NFL special.

"Certainly, these guys have had a history together, so that kind of adds to the intrigue, but DeAndre has really fit in well with that offense. I think (coach) Kliff (Kingsbury) is doing a really good job getting him the football and he's a really dangerous player. He can really challenge you in the deep part of the field. He's physical. He can run the route tree inside and out. He's really good after the catch, if he catches it short, he can break tackles. So, it's going to be a fun matchup for fans for sure."

Sunday marks the first time the two will clash after becoming the highest-paid receiver and corner in the NFL (based on per-year average). This will be the seventh matchup in the last 10 seasons between the highest-paid WR and highest-paid CB in the NFL. The highest-paid WR has had 100-plus receiving yards in five of the previous six matchups, per NFL Research.

Hopkins is coming off back-to-back games with fewer than 60 receiving yards and zero TDs -- the first time he's had such a streak since four straight in 2016.

Facing a lockdown L.A. defense will be new for the Kyler Murray-Hopkins connection. Sunday marks the Cardinals' first game in 2020 versus an opponent ranked in the top-5 in pass defense entering the week. Last year, Murray threw for 188.0 yards per game with 6 TDs and 2 INTs while the Cards went 0-3 versus top-5 pass defenses. Hopkins, meanwhile, generated 71.9 receiving YPG and 6 TDs in 18 previous such games in his career.

The winner of the battle will give his team a leg up on its division rival with postseason football approaching. With two matchups between the Rams and Cards before the season ends, a lot is riding on Sunday's contest. The victor has a huge advantage in the race for a higher playoff seed, while the loser could be scrapping to cling to their postseason bid.

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