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 14:
Even before vivid images of Beckham's improbable one-handed touchdownagainst the Cowboys in Week 12thrust the rookie playmaker into the national spotlight, scouts around the league viewed Beckham as a potential superstar based on his impressive production this season. He's posted five straight games with 90-plus receiving yards -- and that's despite having to develop chemistry and rapport with Eli Manning after injuries kept Beckham out of most of training camp and the opening month of the season. In fact, he's just settling into his role as the Giants' WR1. Beckham could go big against a Titans secondary that lacks the manpower to slow him down on the perimeter. If Beckham faces one-on-one coverage on the majority of downs Sunday, expect him to notch the fourth 100-yard game of his rookie campaign and help the Giants end their seven-game losing streak.
After getting off to a disappointing start this season under coordinator Gregg Williams, the Rams' defense has come on like gangbusters. The unit has registered 27 sacks in St. Louis' past seven games, second-most in the NFL during that span. Quinn has certainly been the primary catalyst to this turnaround, posting nine sacks in the past seven games and providing a number of disruptive plays off the edge. His combination of speed, quickness and burst threatens to overwhelm a Redskins offensive line that has yielded 39 sacks on the season. Although Washington left tackle Trent Williams' presence on the edge could pose a challenge, the Pro Bowler has been battling an assortment of injuries that have prevented him from playing at an elite level. Given Quinn's explosive first-step quickness and closing burst, Gregg Williams could employ a few stunts and games that give the Rams' most dangerous rusher a free path to the quarterback.
Tom Brady's willingness to work the middle of the field has been one of the keys to the Patriots' offense. The veteran quarterback loves to throw to these big-bodied tight ends between the hashes on an assortment of short crossers, digs and post routes. While Gronk is still Brady's favorite target over the middle (Brady has attempted 101 passes to Gronkowski, completing 64 for 897 yards and eight touchdowns against two picks for a 110.0 passer rating), the quarterback has increasingly turned to Wright in key situations (Brady has thrown to Wright 26 times, completing 23 passes for 215 yards, six scores and a 145.2 passer rating) to take advantage of one-on-one coverage on the back side. Opponents have been at a loss when it comes to defending the Patriots' double-tight end sets. Against a Chargers secondary that's struggled to blanket opponents -- particularly on third down (San Diego's defense ranks 29th in the NFL, allowing a third-down conversion rate of 46.2 percent) -- Brady certainly will make it a point to target his tight ends to keep the chains moving. If Bolts defensive coordinator John Pagano is unable to come up with a gimmicky tactic to slow down Gronkowski and Wright over the middle, the Chargers could have a tough time against the streaking Patriots in this AFC tilt.
It's rare that I would include three playmakers from one team on this list, but the Steelers' QB/RB/WR combination is the most dominant trio in the NFL. The crew has accounted for 6,009 total yards, the most combined yards by a leading passer, rusher and receiver. While the Steelers haven't been in rhythm in recent weeks, a pivotal AFC North battle against the Bengals should awaken this squad. Cincinnati has allowed just 12.0 points per game in its past three outings, but the lack of a consistent pass rush could allow Big Ben and Co. to get back on track. If the Steelers' offense surpasses 350 total yards and finishes four drives within the red zone, Mike Tomlin's group could walk out of Paul Brown Stadium with a big win.
Between his random flashes of brilliance and ineptitude, Cutler is the Jekyll and Hyde of quarterbacks. When the veteran is on top of his game, he's a spectacular playmaker who bowls over opponents with his sensational arm talent. This has been particularly true when facing the Cowboys; heading into Thursday night's matchup, Cutler has completed over 73 percent of his passes and compiled an impressive 138.2 passer rating against Dallas, his highest passer rating versus any team. But it's not exactly easy to expect Cutler to terrorize a vulnerable Cowboys' secondary when he leads the NFL with 20 giveaways (14 interceptions and six fumbles lost) and shows a propensity to force the ball into traffic. Given the Bears' 1-5 record this season when Cutler tosses multiple picks, Thursday's outcome could be determined by the play of the maddeningly inconsistent quarterback. With his place on this list, I'm thinking we see "Good Jay."