In the spirit of the Salute to Service campaign, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks spotlights players who are poised to have hero-like performances for their respective teams in Week 15:
Bell makes regular appearances in this column, due to his remarkable production as the most complete running back in the NFL. The second-year pro has posted 100-plus scrimmage yards in 11 of 13 games this season, and he's coming off a stretch of three straight games with 200-plus scrimmage yards. Bell's dangerous blend of running and receiving skills makes him nearly impossible to slow down in a dynamic Steelers offense that revolves around his versatility and explosiveness. The Falcons' defense has allowed 17 rushing touchdowns (most in the NFL) and surrendered 6.22 yards per play. Bell should feast on the Dirty Birds in the Georgia Dome. Expect Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley to give his top playmaker 20 to 25 touches on a variety of hard-hitting inside runs and deceptive screens or swing passes that enable Bell to carry Pittsburgh to a huge win on the road.
The 2014 rookie receiver class might go down as one of the best in history. And while much of the attention is going to Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr. and Kelvin Benjamin, Evans could be the best of the bunch, based on his consistent production. The 6-foot-5, 231-pounder leads all rookies with 935 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He has 17 receptions of 20-plus air yards, and he's scored at least one touchdown in five of his past six games. It's apparent the Bucs have made the big-bodied Evans -- who's been targeted seven-plus times in 10 straight contests -- the focal point of their passing attack. The Panthers have been victimized by big plays on the perimeter, and Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown will take several shots downfield, to see if Evans can sneak past a pair of lumbering safeties (Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud) manning the deep halves. If the Bucs are able to play "long ball" with Evans as the primary recipient, Tampa Bay could notch a satisfying win over a bitter divisional rival.
The Pro Bowler has certainly silenced the critics proclaiming his demise following an injury-plagued 2013 campaign by re-emerging as one of the premier runners in the NFL. Foster has already topped the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth time in six seasons, and he's averaging 102.8 rushing yards per game in 2014 -- the second-best mark in the NFL. Most impressively, he's dominated the competition in the AFC South, posting three 100-yard games in four divisional matchups this season. Given his remarkable production against the Colts in the past (Foster has averaged 143.5 rushing yards per game in six career outings vs. Indy), the Texans would be wise to feed Foster early and often, to take advantage of a defense that's been a little soft against the run. If Foster surpasses the 100-yard mark in this divisional battle, the Texans will be in prime position to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive.
There is little doubt that the loquacious cornerback absolutely loves playing Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers. Sherman relishes the opportunity to take a dig at his former college coach while also throwing a blanket over Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree on the perimeter. Against Boldin and Crabtree, Sherman has allowed just seven receptions (on 18 targets) for 114 receiving yards. Most importantly, he's snagged a pair of interceptions and held quarterbacks to a 21.3 passer rating on attempts to Boldin and Crabtree. Coming off a terrific performance against the 49ers on Thanksgiving Day, Sherman will dare Colin Kaepernick to throw in his direction. Given Sherman's perpetual dominance over the Niners' receivers, Harbaugh would be wise to tell his shaky quarterback to find another alternative -- or run the risk of having the chatty cover corner deliver a game-changing play that sparks a Seahawks win.
St. Louis Rams' defensive line
This athletic unit has been sparking the Rams' stellar defensive play since the middle of the season. The collective speed, athleticism and explosiveness of a front that features Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers has simply overwhelmed opponents at the point of attack. Most of the football world has taken notice of the line's outstanding play following back-to-backshutout wins, but I've been most impressed with the Rams' 29 sacks over the past six games (the most in the NFL during that span). The constant disruption at the line of scrimmage not only interrupts the timing and rhythm of the opponent's passing game, but it forces quarterbacks to make poor decisions with the ball. Given the Cardinals' problems in pass protection and Drew Stanton's spotty play, the Rams' defensive line could play a key role in deciding Thursday night's game. By collecting four or more sacks and generating consistent pressure in the pocket, the unit could help knock off the NFC West leader.