Along with these great team matchups, there are also several outstanding individual battles to monitor this weekend. Here are six key matchups to follow in Week 3:
Tom Brady vs. Ed Reed
There will be a playoff atmosphere in Baltimore on Sunday night, as the Patriots take on the Ravens in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game. Tom Brady and the Pats pulled out a narrow victory in that contest, but the New England quarterback didn't have one of his better games, tossing a pair of interceptions without a single touchdown pass. In fact, Brady has never enjoyed much success against the Ravens.
Free safety Ed Reed is one of the major reasons why Brady struggles against the Baltimore defense. Reed's ability to disguise coverage, read Brady's eyes and attack the football has been a major thorn in the Patriots' side. Bill Belichick has referred to Reed as the greatest secondary player that he's ever coached against. It's not often that you get to watch two of the greatest players to ever play their respective positions squaring off against one another. This chess match will be fascinating to follow.
Brandon Marshall vs. Cortland Finnegan
This should be an outstanding matchup between two very gifted players with unique personalities. Marshall has just about all of the tools you could ever want in a No. 1 receiver. He's big, physical, dynamic and productive. Unfortunately, the one area where he still needs to improve is his consistency catching the football. That issue arose last week, as he struggled in the Chicago Bears' loss to the Packers. Marshall dropped an easy touchdown and made very little impact in the game with two catches for 24 yards.
Finnegan is one of the NFL's top cornerbacks and he is also one of the league's best agitators. He loves to talk trash on the field and push the limits of "playing till the whistle." He successfully got under the skin of Washington Redskins receiver Josh Morgan late in last week's game. Morgan ended up retaliating, which resulted in a crucial 15-yard penalty that forced Billy Cundiff to unsuccessfully try a game-tying field goal from 62 yards, as opposed to 47. For the Bears to be successful in this game, they need Marshall to make plays down the field and avoid falling prey to Finnegan's mind games.
Peyton Manning vs. Wade Phillips
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The San Francisco 49ers have owned the spotlight of the football world with two high-profile victories to start the season, but there is another team that has quietly been just as impressive. The Houston Texans have physically dominated two lesser opponents to start the season. This weekend, they will get a high-profile matchup of their own, heading to Denver to take on Peyton and the Broncos.
Manning is coming off a rough outing against the Atlanta Falcons. He will have an even tougher test against an outstanding Houston defense led by veteran NFL coordinator Wade Phillips. Under Phillips, the Texans have been able to generate a consistent pass rush, forcing opposing quarterbacks into rushed throws and poor decisions. The Texans have yielded a measly 196 yards per game, which is tops in the NFL through the first two weeks of the season. For the Broncos to win this game, they will need Manning to keep his poise and avoid the costly turnovers that plagued him on Monday night.
DeSean Jackson vs. Patrick Peterson
The word explosive can be overused when discussing football players. However, there is no better word to describe both Jackson and Peterson. The talented Philadelphia Eagles wideout and the sensational young cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals are both bursting with speed and quickness. They are each known for providing big plays, and last week was no exception. Peterson picked off Brady to help the Cardinals upset the Patriots, while Jackson racked up 114 receiving yards in the Eagles' big win over the Ravens.
Jackson usually has a decided speed advantage against the cornerbacks assigned to cover him. That won't be the case against Peterson. For Jackson to shake free from Peterson, he must rely on his crafty route-running technique, as opposed to his raw speed. The Eagles love to use double moves against aggressive cornerbacks, so Peterson's technique and patience will be tested in this contest.
The Dolphins will host the Jets on Sunday in a meeting of 1-1 AFC East teams. After suffering an opening-game thrashing at the hands of the Texans, the Dolphins turned around and pasted the Oakland Raiders 35-13 in Week 2. One of the major reasons for the improvement last week was the play of running back Reggie Bush. He carried the ball 26 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Bush showed his trademark burst and elusiveness, but also ran with surprising power. Through two weeks, he is averaging over 120 rushing yards per game, which is good for second best in the NFL, behind only Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller.
Spiller is ranked at the top of the list in large part because of the 169 yards he put up against the Jets in the season opener. Gang Green linebackers struggled to corral the Bills' speedy back, allowing him to break several long runs. Those linebackers will face a very similar challenge against Bush this weekend. How well Bart Scott and David Harris contain Bush will have a big impact on this game.
Norv Turner vs. Mike Nolan
The Chargers and Falcons will meet Sunday afternoon in a battle of unbeaten teams. On Monday night, Nolan orchestrated a beautiful defensive game plan that resulted in three Peyton Manning interceptions in the first quarter of the Falcons' win over the Broncos. Atlanta's defensive coordinator will need to come up with another brilliant game plan in order for the Falcons to slow down a Turner-led Chargers team that is averaging 30 points per game.
In 2006, Turner and Nolan both worked together on the San Francisco 49ers staff. Nolan was the head coach of that team, while Turner served as his offensive coordinator. Both men should be very familiar with each other's philosophies, which will make for a very interesting battle on Sunday.