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Fans aren't only ones studying the matchups

We can talk all day about matchups in NFL games, but here's a brief history of how the matchups became so important in terms of actual game-planning.

In 1971, Cowboys coach Tom Landry created a new position on his staff -- quality control coach. The first person to hold this position was Ermal Allen. In 1972, Landry added a second quality control assistant, pairing Allen with Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman.

Their job was to scout upcoming opponents via film study and make recommendations about favorable matchups -- perhaps moving a receiver from one side to the other, or noting which players might be most likely to jump offside with a hard count, or simply detailing plays that had been successful in recent games against the opponent.

When Landry arrived in the office Monday morning after a Sunday game, this information was on his desk and ready to help him prepare for the next opponent.

Today, all teams employ multiple quality control coaches. Patriots coach Bill Belichick started his NFL career as a QC assistant with the Baltimore Colts in 1975. Bucs coach Jon Gruden was hired by Mike Holmgren to be the QC assistant in Green Bay in 1992.

Studying the matchups has become high-tech -- and high pressure. You can bet the Colts' and Patriots' quality control coaches have been hard at work studying each other for several weeks now.

Here are some key matchups from this week's monster game, plus a few others:

Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Colts QB Peyton Manning

Because of the closeness of these two teams, avoiding sacks and making third-down conversions will be just as big a part of this game as completions and yardage. It's hard to give an edge to either of these all-time great quarterbacks, but it's safe to say that neither can afford to make mistakes here. Brady has better stats this season but don't sell Manning short. Manning has won the last three head-to-head meetings, and Brady won the previous five.

Patriots LT Matt Light vs. Colts DE Dwight Freeney

Brady has not faced much pressure this season, thanks in large part to Light, who's very hard to fool on stunts. He's a very smart player, but the biggest challenge he'll face here is matching up against the speedy Freeney.

Patriots LB Rosevelt Colvin vs. Colts LT Tony Ugoh

Ugoh, who has played well for a rookie, is banged up. If he can't go here, he'll be replaced by second-year player Chalie Johnson. So in either case, this is a matchup of youth against experience. Colvin could be dangerous here.

Patriots S Rodney Harrison vs. Colts TE Dallas Clark

Harrison did not play in last season's AFC title game, and the Indy tight end caught eight passes for 179 yards, including the crossing route to Bryan Fletcher that was critical in the game-winning drive. Harrison is very good, though he is susceptible to play-action. Clark always presents problems because he's essentially a wide receiver with tight end size.

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Matchups to watch

Cowboys OT Flozell Adams vs. Eagles DE Trent Cole

Cole is a third-year player the Eagles thought so highly of that last year they gave him a five-year, $12 million contract extension. He has nine sacks through seven games this year. Cole is a younger version of Freeney -- undersized, but with outstanding first-step quickness, instinctive pass rushing skills and a motor that never stops. Adams was a Pro Bowl starter in 2006 and is playing well this season. Dallas has allowed just seven sacks this season. This looks like a size mismatch, but Cole makes up for size with competitiveness. The winner of this matchup will go a long way in determining the game's outcome.

Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips vs. Eagles RB Brian Westbrook

Phillips is one of the best coaches at planning to keep the opponent's best player in check. It will be interesting to see what he does here, because it would be hard to keep S Roy Williams on Westbrook and not worry about it. It's a tough matchup for any defense, given Westbrook's versatility. He lines up in the backfield, flanked outside, or put in motion (which helps determine if it's man or zone coverage). Westbrook is the only active player with 18 or more TDs both rushing and receiving. He had eight 100-yard rushing games last year and became the first player in NFL history to record TDs of 49 yards or more in consecutive postseason games.

Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis vs. Saints QB Drew Brees

In the past four games, Brees has been on fire. After throwing seven INTs and one TD in his first three games, he's got seven TDs and two INTs (plus 1,053 yards) in the last four. Mathis started in the Pro Bowl last year and had eight INTs. He's a very instinctive player with good height and long arms. He's also very good at luring the QB to throw into traps. He can be beat on double moves (Marvin Harrison beat him twice last year on such a move).

Broncos run defense vs. Lions RB Kevin Jones

Detroit has suddenly become a running team with Jones rushing for 105 yards and a TD last week vs. Chicago. The Lions have five rushing TDs this season after scoring just nine all of last season. After a slow start, they are averaging 103 rushing yards per game. Denver's defense, meanwhile, is last against the run. The Broncos, who allow 166 yards per game, gave up 104 last week to Ryan Grant of the Packers. Denver is playing with a new middle linebacker, D.J. Williams. You also need to check the health status of safety John Lynch, whose possible absence would also hurt. Strange as this sounds to be saying, the Broncos need to figure out how to stop the run and make Detroit beat them passing.

Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant vs. Browns WR Braylon Edwards

Edwards has nine TD catches this season, averaging 18.1 yards per catch, and he is clearly QB Derek Anderson's prime target. Seattle's pass defense, anchored by Trufant, has allowed just five TD passes in seven games. In their last two games against Seattle, Cleveland has scored a total of 13 points. For Seattle to keep Cleveland from winning its third straight game, Trufant has to make plays. Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow, by the way, are on pace to combine for 2,744 receiving yards.

Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

Last season, Baltimore limited the Steelers to seven points in two games, and they had 14 sacks compared to none for Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger has been playing much better this year, however. He has 15 TD passes in seven games, after throwing just 18 all of last year. His rating is up 27 points from a year ago as well. Suggs, after having 9½ sacks last year (2½ vs. Pittsburgh), has none this season. If the Ravens are to win, Suggs needs to make something happen or Roethlisberger will have a field day. The return to the lineup of Trevor Pryce could help.

Extra points

Bill Parcells always talks about the importance of turnover differential. Not surprisingly, Indianapolis and New England lead the NFL with a plus-11… Packers QB Brett Favre, with two TD passes of more than 75 yards Monday night, has 13 career TD passes of more than 75 yards, most ever… The Steelers will be wearing their throwback uniforms -- with yellow helmets -- on Monday night, saluting their all-time team in this, their 75th season in the NFL…. The biggest factor in games this Sunday will be pizza delivery time. Between the Pats-Colts game in the afternoon and the Cowboys-Eagles game Sunday night, the delivery guys will be busier than ever.

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