Every Thursday, Steve Wyche will examine a handful of the week's premier matchups on the field.
Wes Welker vs. Darrelle Revis
Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie said New York's game plan is to rough up the Patriots' receivers before they can get into their routes in Sunday's highly anticipated AFC East grudge match. That could end up being a countermeasure the way Patriots wideout Wes Welker has been striking defenses.
Then again, the Jets have cornerback Darrelle Revis, who's snuffed out the best receivers in the NFL, altering offensive game plans in the process. How the Jets use Revis on Welker could determine how this game plays out -- that is, if New York can score enough points to even keep that matchup relevant.
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Welker's 40 catches for 616 yards and five touchdowns in four games are off the charts. Revis will be on Welker at times, but how much? If New York moves him into the slot to cover Welker, they'll be exposing the edges, and we know New England will take shots there if Revis is lodged in the middle. If the Jets don't put Revis on Welker, they could expose themselves to the hottest receiving target in the NFL.
Then again, Welker might not be the Jets' main priority. In three meetings last season -- including the Jets' 28-21 playoff victory -- Welker totaled 20 catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns. As good as Welker was then, he's at another level now and figures to be a primary object of Revis' attention.
Tony Gonzalez vs. Desmond Bishop
As hot as Welker is, Gonzalez isn't far behind. The veteran Falcons tight end has four touchdowns in the past three games and has had at least five catches in three games. The Green Bay Packers aren't big on allowing tight ends to be targets, though, allowing just 10 catches to primary tight ends this season.
One of their main tactics is to have inside linebacker Bishop cover, re-route or flat-out lock up tight ends at the line of scrimmage, then funnel them off to a nickel defender if needed. Gonzalez had just one catch when these teams met in the playoffs last season, but he had six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown when Atlanta beat Green Bay in the regular season in 2010.
The Packers' secondary has not played its best but it does have the skill and depth to deal with Atlanta's wideouts. Gonzalez could be a huge factor when these teams meet again Sunday night -- or nonfactor -- depending on his ability to get open and fend off Bishop.
Darren McFadden vs. Texans run defense
We can call this the throwback game of the week because Oakland and Houston are going to run the ball like the good ol' days when offenses were based around the running back. The Raiders lead the NFL with 178 yards rushing per game while the Texans are No. 4 at 148.5 yards. Oakland's Darren McFadden and Houston's Arian Foster are big-hitters who will force opposing defenses to clog the line of scrimmage, make sure tackles in the open field and swarm to the ball.
The Texans' evolving 3-4 front has been far more effective against the run than Oakland has but the Raiders are as physical as any team along their front four. Both teams also have solid offensive lines but Houston's is among the best in the NFL. If the Raiders can sustain their integrity up front and generate some negative plays in the running game, it could force Houston to throw.
That's not something opponents normally would want, but with wide receiver Andre Johnson out (hamstring), the Raiders will load up to limit Foster.
Donovan McNabb vs. The Inevitable
With things going the way they are in Minnesota, veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb will be replaced by rookie Christian Ponder at some point. Ponder isn't ready now, but really, things can't be much worse.
The question is the timing. After perusing the Vikings' schedule, I think we'll see Minnesota break Ponder in the same way Tampa Bay transitioned Josh Freeman as a rookie, and that's near midseason. It will probably happen when the Vikings face Carolina and fellow rookie quarterback Cam Newton on Oct. 30.
After this weekend's game with Arizona, the Vikings play at Chicago Sunday night then play host to the Packers. Would you really want Ponder's baptism to come against those divisional foes and their defenses?
The Panthers would be a more ideal launching pad. Minnesota has a bye after that to help Ponder learn from the mistakes he will make in his debut and to prepare for a Nov. 14 game at Green Bay. Coach Leslie Frazier could feel pressure to make the move sooner but if Ponder isn't ready he should continue to indoctrinate him into the system and not throw him into a bad situation. Yet.