In his weekly "Bucky's Best" series, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks highlights the can't-miss matchups you need to watch.
Most favorable offensive matchup
The Jets' potent running game features a fine 1-2 punch in Ivory and Johnson. Each runner possesses the speed, quickness and burst to take it the distance, but both are gritty runners between the tackles. Although Ivory brings a little more physicality and toughness to the table, Johnson's explosiveness makes him just as dangerous to defend on inside runs. Considering Rex Ryan's commitment to "Ground and Pound," it's not a surprise the Jets are bludgeoning opponents with the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack.
After Chicago's spirited performance against the 49ers, it's easy to forget about the Bears' struggles against the run in their season-opening loss to the Bills. Chicago's defense lacked gap discipline and cohesion at the point of attack in Week 1. And though the unit shored up some of those issues against Frank Gore and Co. last Sunday night, the Jets' potent running game will test the physicality of the Bears' unit. If the "Monsters of the Midway" are not up to par, Gang Green's punishing ground game could produce a lopsided result Monday night.
Most favorable defensive matchup
The most dominant defensive player in the game began the 2014 season in spectacular fashion, notching three tackles, one sack, one pass defensed and blocking an extra point in a win over Washington. Watt's relentlessness was on full display, as he completely blew up the Redskins' offensive game plan. In Week 2, he added a score to his stat sheet, catching a one-yard touchdown pass as a short-yardage tight end. From a defensive standpoint, Watt has been nearly impossible to stop, regularly showcasing his talent, versatility and disruptiveness. He overwhelms blockers with his quickness and exhibits the kind of power that makes quarterbacks quiver in the pocket.
Against a Giants offensive line that's struggled owning the line of scrimmage and protecting Eli Manning, Watt could enjoy a banner day -- unless Tom Coughlin's troops are able to regroup prior to game day. Will Beatty, Justin Pugh, J.D. Walton, Weston Richburg and Brandon Mosley must play on a string, communicating their assignments along the line to contain Watt on stunts and when he uses his clever pass-rushing tactics. Additionally, Pugh and Beatty must find a way to slow down the All-Pro defensive end on one-on-one battles on the edge.
Best WR-CB matchup
For all of the conversation about the 49ers' powerful running game, the wide receivers could play a vital role in helping the team rediscover its winning ways against the Cardinals. Crabtree and Boldin are strong, physical pass catchers with extraordinary hands and ball skills. They win with grit and guile on the perimeter, which makes them tough to defend in straight man coverage.
The Cardinals, however, are well-equipped to handle the 49ers' big-bodied receivers. Both Peterson and Cromartie are long, rangy corners with the size and strength to wrestle with Boldin and Crabtree on the edge. Additionally, the two defenders are superior athletes, possessing the speed and quickness to eliminate the deep ball. Given Colin Kaepernick's struggles with ball placement and accuracy, the Cardinals' ability to blanket the 49ers' top receivers could force the fourth-year passer into another poor performance.
Most intriguing matchup
To the casual eye, the Eagles' offense appears to revolve around quarterback Nick Foles, but league observers understand that it is Chip Kelly's use of his running backs that makes his system so tough to the defend. McCoy and Sproles are unique, electric talents capable of taking over games; Kelly does a great job of getting them the ball on an assortment of zone-reads, stretch plays and screens. Coming off a game where the duo combined for 280 total yards from scrimmage on 35 combined touches, the Eagles will certainly rely on their two-headed rushing attack against a Redskins defense that's been surprisingly stingy this season.
Jim Haslett will attempt to snuff out the Eagles' running game by plugging gaps with his front seven, particularly Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson. As inside linebackers in a 3-4 defense, the two defenders should be able to run freely to the ball from the second level to contain the inside and outside zone. In addition, they'll be responsible for keeping Sproles and McCoy in check on screen passes. In a game where big plays are coveted at a premium, the winner of this particular matchup will likely determine the outcome.
Best under-the-radar matchup
Quinn certainly made a case for being the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year after tallying 19 sacks one season ago. The 24-year-old All-Pro is a freakish athlete with explosive first-step quickness and burst. He frequently blows past blockers with a speed rush, but also displays an inside counter that allows him to win against aggressive offensive tackles. Thus, Quinn is a handful to deal with when he is able to pin his ears back and come after the quarterback.
Smith is one of the best young offensive tackles in the game, exhibiting a combination of size, strength and athleticism that makes him an impenetrable wall on the edge. The Cowboys' standout mauls elite pass rushers at the line with his strong hands and massive frame. He frequently uses a short set and power punch to stone rushers in their tracks, particularly against smaller guys who prefer to use speed and quickness to turn the corner. In addition, Smith loves to use his size (6-5, 320) and strength to mash edge rushers in the run game. He not only blows defenders off the ball, but he finishes in a fiery manner that changes the way rushers attack off the edge. Although these tactics won't alter the way Quinn pursues quarterback Tony Romo, Smith's methods could keep the Rams star from having a big impact on Sunday.
Best coaching matchup
Adam Gase vs. Dan Quinn
All eyes will be on the chess match that ensues between these coordinators after the Seahawks' demolition of the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Everyone wants to see how Gase will adjust his strategy to attack the "Legion of Boom" on the perimeter. From the utilization of picks and rub routes to cleverly mixing in a variety of exotic formations, the Broncos' offensive coordinator will need to come up with a plan to attack a defense that's snuffed out many of the top quarterbacks in the game.
For Quinn, this is an opportunity to get the Seahawks back on track after a disappointing outing in San Diego. The Chargers used a patient game plan to knock off the defending champs, so it's important Quinn has answers for the problems that plagued the Seahawks against Philip Rivers. In a copycat league where everyone steals ideas from their coaching brethren, Quinn's ability to correct the Seahawks' flaws could determine whether Seattle bullies Denver in this high-octane rematch.
After getting off to a slow start, Brady should be able to find his groove against the hapless Raiders. Oakland has been unable to slow down its first two opponents, surrendering 364.5 total yards per game and getting dominated in time of possession (roughly 37 minutes to 23 minutes). Brady hasn't looked like himself of late, completing just 55.8 percent of his passes this season. But, given plenty of time to attack an aging defense with few playmakers, the perennial Pro Bowl passer should be able to get back on track Sunday. I expect him to feed the ball to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman while building chemistry with his other options in the passing game.
The Falcons would be wise to get Jones the ball in space against the Buccaneers. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound playmaker leads the NFL with six receptions of 20-plus yards and remains one of the most dangerous receivers in the league. From his impressive stop-start quickness to his explosive running skills in the open field, Jones poses a tremendous challenge for defenders tasked with guarding him in man coverage.
That's why Verner will need to bring his "A" game to slow down the Falcons' most explosive offensive option. The Pro Bowl defender is a gritty cover corner with outstanding instincts, awareness and toughness, but he lacks exceptional top-end speed. Thus, if the Falcons can catch him isolated with Jones on the perimeter, they might be able to exploit the corner on vertical routes. With Roddy White sidelined by a hamstring ailment, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will enter Thursday night's game intent on feeding the beast in the No. 11 jersey. How effective the savvy play-caller is at creating one-on-one matchups on the outside could determine Jones' impact in a pivotal NFC South showdown.