We are down to the final two weeks of the regular season and the stakes are incredibly high for several teams battling for playoff positioning. This week's schedule features a few key divisional battles, as well as a matchup between the AFC's top squad and an NFC playoff hopeful. Inside these games are key individual battles that could tip the scales in favor of one side or the other.
Here are my five marquee matchups for Week 16:
LeSean McCoy vs. London Fletcher
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McCoy will be back in the starting lineup against the Redskins after missing the past four games due to injury. This season has been a major disappointment for both McCoy and the Eagles. After leading the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns in 2011, McCoy has only tallied two rushing scores this season. On the bright side, McCoy should have fresh legs and he's very capable of exploding for a big play at any time.
Fletcher will be responsible for containing the explosive Eagles running back. The veteran Redskins linebacker has been about as consistent and reliable as any player in the NFL over the past decade. He has started all 16 games in every season dating back to 2001 and he's tallied more than 100 tackles in each of those campaigns. He's currently leading the 'Skins with 118 tackles and still has two more games to add to that total.
Edge: Fletcher. The Redskins linebacker got the better of this matchup in their first meeting. He recorded 12 tackles, while McCoy was limited to 45 rushing yards before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with the concussion that has sidelined him until now. I expect a slightly better performance from McCoy, but I'm still giving the edge to Fletcher.
This is one of the weekend's most important games. These two division rivals know each other very well and it is always a very physical affair when they face off. In their first meeting, the Steelers' offensive line won the battle against the Bengals' talented defensive line. The Steelers allowed three sacks, but dominated with their rushing attack, tallying 167 yards on the ground.
Cincinnati's defensive line has been consistently disruptive throughout the season. The Bengals currently lead the NFL with 43 sacks and they are ranked ninth against the run. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins has turned himself into one of the NFL's best defenders. He can dominate versus both the run and the pass.
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Can anyone slow down Adrian Peterson? He's currently leading the NFL with 1,812 rushing yards and he's within striking distance of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record (2,105). Following last week's 212-yard effort against the St. Louis Rams, Peterson needs to average 147 rushing yards over the final two weeks of the season to surpass Dickerson's mark. He has been a big-play machine all season long. He leads the NFL with 20 rushes of 20-plus yards and eight rushes of 40-plus yards.
The Texans' front seven is one of the best in the NFL. J.J. Watt's pass-rushing exploits have garnered the headlines, but he's also a dominant run defender. He leads a front seven that is currently ranked fifth against the run. These guys are very gap disciplined and they tackle extremely well. They have allowed just seven rushes of 20-plus yards and have yet to allow a run of 40-plus yards.
Josh Gordon vs. Champ Bailey
There has been plenty of attention on the rookie quarterbacks, but there are first-year players at other positions who are having fantastic seasons, as well. Gordon is a perfect example. The Browns' talented receiver leads all rookies with 759 receiving yards and he's averaging an impressive 16.9 yards per catch. He has outstanding speed, but he also has developed into a solid route runner over the second half of the season.
Bailey is an ageless wonder. The Broncos' 34-year-old cornerback continues to play at a high level during his 14th NFL season. He has recorded two interceptions this season and opposing quarterbacks still avoid him during large stretches of games. He might have lost half a step through the years, but he more than makes up for it with his instincts and experience.
Edge: Bailey. The seasoned vet will give the talented rookie some cushion to avoid giving up a big play and will use his instincts to break on balls thrown underneath.
Pete Carroll vs. Jim Harbaugh
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This has turned into one of the best rivalries in the NFL. Carroll and Harbaugh have a personal history that dates back to their time as Pac-10 head coaches at USC and Stanford, respectively. Both coaches have teams that mirror one another. They possess young, athletic quarterbacks and powerful running games. On the other side of the ball, they are extremely physical and have dynamic pass rushers.
Harbaugh has had the upper hand in this matchup since he arrived in San Francisco. He's won all three matchups against Carroll, although the games have been incredibly competitive. Both head coaches believe in being aggressive and aren't afraid to take risks. Last week was a great example, as both teams successfully pulled off fake punts.
Edge: Harbaugh. This is really a toss-up between two bright coaches with similar football teams. I'll give the slight edge to Harbaugh because of his offensive creativity. I think we will see Colin Kaepernick run the football more this week than he has since taking over the starting job.