Key matchups come in many different ways

Matchups take place in many different forms. It could be a player vs. player, like a pass rusher taking on an offensive tackle. Other times, it could be a player vs. player situation that has more to do with a team's offensive formation vs. an anticipated defense, based on previous down-and-distance tendencies.

An example of this kind of matchup took place last week in the Minnesota-Dallas game. The Vikings were looking for formations that would match up running back Adrian Peterson as a receiver being covered by safety Roy Williams, who is very good against the run but not as strong in pass coverage.

The Vikings were able to set up this matchup -- and their coaches must have been excited as the play developed -- but Williams made a nice play to break up the pass.

Nevertheless, the planning was there. Teams scout tendencies and devise plays that can exploit opponents' weaknesses. Sometime it will create an opportunity four times in a game, sometimes it will come once in a game. Either way, the other side needs to adjust.

You also have the more general matchups of one unit against another. Minnesota again provides a good example here. The Vikings have such a strong run defense, and that would create an advantage against a team like Jacksonville that relies heavily on its ground attack. It would not be an advantage against a passing team like Indianapolis, however.

Another interesting point is the role technology plays in these matchups. With the video systems used by NFL teams today, game tape is available almost instantly, as opposed to years past when film had to be cut up.

This will allow Carolina offensive tackle Travelle Wharton, for example, to better prepare for his opponent this week, Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. Although Wharton has never faced Freeney, he will spend all week studying "cut-ups" that break down when and how Freeney likes to use his favorite pass-rush moves. In order, they are:

1) Power move (against soft tackles) to the inside;
2) Double spin back inside;
3) Spin away from a chip and spin on a quick set; and
4) Speed to the edge with a low shoulder move.

While Wharton studies that tape, here are some other key Week 8 matchups to consider:

Packers CB Charles Woodson vs. Broncos WR Brandon Stokley

Stokley last played against Green Bay in 2004 when he was with the Colts, but he caught eight passes for 110 yards in that contest. All of his chances back then came against Ahmad Carroll -- Woodson was not there at the time. Stokley loves to run the quick slant inside, but he will go deep on occasion after lulling you to sleep. After leading the NFC with eight interceptions last year, Woodson is playing at a Pro Bowl level for Green Bay in 2007.

Packers QB Brett Favre vs. Broncos CBs Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly

Favre has never played at Invesco Field -- his only game in Denver was in 1999 at Mike High, and he completed just 7 of 23 passes, with no TDs and three INTs. There's an interesting matchup here with Green Bay's 32nd-ranked rushing offense against Denver's 32nd-ranked run defense, but the Packers know that they must pass the ball here to win. Bailey and Bly are very good against the pass, so this is truly strength versus strength. Also of note: Denver defensive assistant Jim Bates knows Green Bay very well, having spent 2005 as the Packers' defensive coordinator.

Lions QB Jon Kitna vs. Bears QB Brian Griese

Detroit coach Rod Marinelli is familiar with Griese from the two years they were in Tampa Bay together. Bears coach Lovie Smith knows Detroit offensive coordinator Mike Martz well from their days together in St. Louis. Both quarterbacks have the same TD-INT ratio this season: 8-6. Both of these defenses have shown weakness vs. the pass and neither team runs the ball very well -- both average less than 86 rushing yards per game and they have seven rushing TDs between them. Given the situation, it's safe to say that whichever team's QB has the better day here will win.

If that's Kitna, then I think the Bears' playoff hopes are most likely gone. If Chicago wins, they stay in the race. I think Griese prevails in a close game.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson vs. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson

Johnson and Minnesota coach Brad Childress were together seven years with the Eagles, so they know each other well. Minnesota has three TD passes in six games and averages just 151 passing yards, but it leads the NFL in rushing with an average of 163 yards per game. Peterson is the only back averaging more than 100 yards. The Eagles, on the other hand, allow an average of 88 rushing yards per game and have allowed just two rushing TDs all season. Look for the Eagles to send every type of run blitz known to man. Peterson thrives on carries and if he's given the chances, he'll have some 15-yard runs. Dallas slowed him down last week with eight- and nine-man fronts, but he still had a nice TD run. Expect Johnson's defense to win this matchup.

Browns QB Derek Anderson vs. Rams DE James Hall

Cleveland needs to block the Rams' pass rusher. Leonard Little is out this week, so Hall will be the focus. Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett will try to confuse Anderson with multiple coverages. If given protection, Anderson should have a good day with Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow catching his laser-like throws. It's a matchup of a great arm vs. the Rams' schemes. Look for a lot of blitzes, especially early.

Redskins defense vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady

This could be the biggest test of the year to date for Brady. Washington allows 4.3 yards per play, the lowest average in the league. The Redskins start four top-10 draft picks in the defensive backfield. And the third corner, Fred Smoot, was a second-round pick. Brady, of course, has three-plus TDs and a 100-plus passer rating in all seven games. He needs to know where safety Sean Taylor is at all times. Taylor is a corner playing safety -- he covers like a corner but hits like a big safety. Washington defensive coordinator Gregg Williams faced Brady six times when he was head coach of Buffalo. Brady was sacked seven times in one of those game and he threw four INTs in another. But don't let the past fool you, considering how much better Brady is now and how many more weapons he has.

As an aside, the matchup between Patriots OT Matt Light and Washington DE Andre Carter also will be a critical factor in this game.

Extra points

If the playoffs began today, the NFC seeding would be: Dallas and Green Bay with byes, Carolina and Seattle hosting first-round games, Giants and Redskins as wild cards. In the AFC: New England and Indianapolis with byes, Pittsburgh and Kansas City hosting first-round games, Tennessee and Jacksonville as wild cards. ... There are nine QBs with a passer rating of 90 or better. Of the nine, five were undrafted free agents -- Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo, Jon Kitna, Jake Delhomme and Kurt Warner.

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