Thursday Night Football may have been a bit of a dud (as some have come to expect), but that doesn't mean that the entire slate of week fourteen match-ups are all going to be snooze-fests. With four games left to go and three divisions up for grabs, the final stretch of the regular season should be exciting as ever.
Will this year's exceptional rookie class "hit the wall", or will they again beat the odds and power through? What teams will be looking to make a late season push?
Top Match-ups to Watch
Baltimore’s Wide Receivers vs. Washington’s Secondary
When the Ravens and Redskins face off this weekend, there is no doubt that with the combination of Robert Griffin III and a banged up Ravens defense could create one of the most entertaining games of the weekend. But we shouldn’t focus entirely on the big play potential that RGIII brings to the field. Joe Flacco and the Ravens are going to have to keep up, and that will depend largely on who wins the battle between Baltimore’s wide outs and Washington’s defensive backs.
Josh Wilson and DeAngelo Hall have had up and down seasons for the Redskins. Hall hasn’t given up many touchdowns, but isn’t providing much resistance outside of that. He’s allowed plenty of completions – just not big plays. Wilson on the other hand is an almost entirely opposite case. He doesn’t give up the same number of plays that Hall does, but when Wilson does give something up it’s usually a big play.
Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin have both had decent years, but there play has largely been reliant on the play of Flacco. He should have plenty of time to throw in this match-up – will his receivers be able to get open?
Carolina’s Ground Game vs. Atlanta’s Rushing Defense
Atlanta hasn’t been great against the run all season long, giving up 4.8 yards per carry, the third worst YPC average in the league. Fortunately for the Falcons, this week’s opponent hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire with the ground game.
After observers have clamored all year for the Panthers to allow Jonathon Stewart to carry the load at running back, DeAngelo Williams had his best game of the year with Stewart out, averaging 5.6 YPC on 12 carries. Stewart is likely to miss this game as well, meaning Carolina’s running game will hinge on the read option dual threat of Cam Newton and Williams.
The read option will put most of the stress on pass rushers like John Abraham and Kroy Biermann, who this week can’t just pin their ears back and chase down the quarterback. They’ll have to be disciplined and stay at home, something that doesn’t always come naturally for most defensive ends.
Philadelphia DE Trent Cole vs. Tampa Bay LT Donald Penn
Remember that time when Trent Cole was one of the better pass rushers in the league? Cole hasn’t looked like himself this season, and many have assumed that stepping away from the wide-9 system could prove to the final nail in the coffin for Cole.
In spite of that, he’ll get one last chance to turn his season around when he lines up across from Donald Penn this week. Penn has not been able to slow many pass rushers down this season, and there’s not much reason to think that will suddenly change this week. Josh Freeman’s play drops off drastically when under pressure. Will Cole revert to his old form, or will Penn finally step up?
Nick Foles and Doug Martin Square Off in Tampa Bay
In any other season, Doug Martin could be a run away rookie of the year. This year, he’s been somewhat over shadowed by his classmates, but that takes nothing away from his season. He’s carried the load all season for Tampa Bay, and now some feel that he’s starting to wear down.
However, he’s facing an Eagles’ defense that has made many offensive players feel much fresher this season, and Martin has a great chance for a bounce back performance following two below average (for him) games.
Philadelphia will be watching their most prominent rookie closely this weekend as well. Nick Foles has been awarded the starting job for the rest of the season, after he was able to shake off his early performances and but up some more respectable ones in the recent weeks.
Like Martin, Foles has a chance to take advantage of a poor defense. Tampa Bay’s secondary has been terrible throughout the season, ranking dead last in the NFL in passing yards allowed. On paper, Foles should have a great game. Will he be able to lead the Eagles to an upset win?
Jacksonville WR Justin Blackmon
Prior to last week, Justin Blackmon had been one of the hottest receivers in the last several games. Bad weather and a great defensive performance by Stephon Gilmore put a stop to that, but Blackmon could turn that around this week.
Facing a New York Jets team that has struggled to effective cover the middle of the field, the Jaguars should feel confident about Blackmon’s ability to succeed in this game. The Jets’ weaknesses play right to Blackmon’s strengths. Will the Jets’ defense stiffen, or will Blackmon dominate the middle of the field?
Fantasy Quick Hits
Russell Wilson was great last week, but don’t look for a repeat performance. The Cardinals have an awful run defense and the Seahawks should look to run the ball for most of the game.
Sure enough, CJ Spiller’s workload dropped after a promise from Chan Gailey that it would increase. He’s still a RB1 against the Rams however – just hope that Gailey doesn’t continue to overthink things.
Hakeem Nicks has a great chance at breaking out this weekend against the Saints, if his knee will allow it. He’s missing practice some this week, and while he’s a no brainer start if healthy, his status is something you should keep an eye on.
Is there a position more frustrating this year than the tight end spot? Brandon Myers was a top five tight end play by most accounts, and finished the game with just 1 catch. That’s bound to be a disappointing start for many teams who are now in the playoffs.