The first two weeks of NFL action are in the books, and everything that’s happened on the field seems almost irrelevant at this point. The Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson controversies have overshadowed the league’s on-field product, but hopefully at this point next week, we’ll only be talking about real, actual football.
Let’s get that trend started now by focusing on some of the biggest head-to-head match ups in Week 3. These are the individual match ups that may end up determining the winner and loser in a number of games this weekend.
While watching some NFL action, these are the players you’ll be focusing on and for good reason. Here are the five must watch head-t0-head match ups in NFL Week 3.
5. Colin Kaepernick vs. Kevin Minter
To the surprise on many, the Arizona Cardinals sit atop the NFC West while the 49ers and Seahawks are tied for second. The reason for Arizona’s success has been it’s stalwart defense, which has help both it’s first two opponents to under 20 points.
The 49ers offense has a ton of playmakers around the field, but none is more dangerous than quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick can sling the ball around with the best of them, but he’s most dangerous on the run.
Larry Foote is Arizona’s top inside linebacker, but he’s not the fleetest of foot. That’s why the honor of spying Kaepernick tonight falls on the shoulder’s of Kevin Minter. Minter has eight tackles over the first two games, but is significantly more athletic than any other inside backer on the team’s roster.
When Kaep runs, good things usually happen for San Francisco. Minter will be following him around all game long, and if he can contain the Niners quarterback, the Cardinals will have a great chance to increase their record to 3-0.
4. Brandon Marshall vs. Dee Milliner
This is the matchup to watch on Monday Night Football. Jay Cutler has torched the Jets secondary throughout his career and Brandon Marshall is no easy cover. Just ask the 49ers defense how hard it is to keep the Bears top receiver out of the end zone.
Milliner made his season debut last week and it wasn’t pretty. Milliner got beat on just about every play by every Packer receiver on the field. His ankle didn’t look quite right, and he’s the Jets top corner when he’s on the field. The Jets secondary has enough issues to deal with already, and a hobbled Milliner doesn’t help.
The Bears have arguably the best one-two receiver duo in the league in Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. It won’t matter how dominant the Jets front seven is if Cutler is slinging it to his big receivers every play.
Milliner is going to have to play leaps and bounds better than he did against Green Bay if the Jets want any chance to containing this high powered Chicago offense.
3. J.J. Watt vs. Will Beatty
J.J. Watt just PAID this offseason, and one could argue that he’s still underpaid. Watt is that good. He might be the best overall player in the league, and the Giants’ offensive line has struggled mightily over the last year and two games.
More often than not, Eli Manning hasn’t had enough time to blink in the pocket before the pass rush is right in his face. Will Beatty is the Giants starting left tackle and he’s coming off offseason ACL surgery. He’s played average this year, but he hasn’t faced a pass rusher of Watt’s caliber yet this year.
Watt does a little bit of everything from his defensive end position. He’s an elite pass rusher, a stout run stuffer, and does a better job of batting down balls at the line of scrimmage than any other player in NFL history. Manning has a rough history of having tipped passes picked off, so Beatty will have to do a good job of engaging Watt at the line of scrimmage and not allowing him to get his hands in the passing lanes.
If J.J. Watt can consistently find his way in the Giants backfield, New York will drop to 0-3 for the second consecutive season.
2. Antonio Gates vs. Keith Rivers
The Buffalo Bills currently sit atop the AFC East standings right now with a 2-0 record. That’s not a typo. The Chargers are coming off a win over the reigning Super Bowl champs, and a big reason for their upset win was Antonio Gates superb performance.
The Seahawks couldn’t cover Gates, who caught seven passes for 96 yards and three touchdowns. That was against the same defense that completely shut down the Denver Broncos record setting offense from a year ago in the Super Bowl.
Brandon Spikes is Buffalo’s middle linebacker, but he’s significantly better against the run than he is against the pass. That’s why veteran LB Keith Rivers will likely draw the assignment of covering Gates, which is much easier said than done.
The Bills defense has put the clamps on it’s first two opponents, but they haven’t played an offense that features a tight end as much as San Diego does. Shutting down Gates in the seams will be the biggest challenge for Buffalo in their quest for a 3-0 star.
1. Richard Sherman vs. Demaryius Thomas
The Broncos-Seahawks game this weekend is easily the must watch game of the week, so naturally, the must watch head-to-head matchup would come from the same game. It’s a rematch of last year’s Super Bowl in which Seattle dominated, and Denver is out for revenge.
While Seattle dominated, Demaryius Thomas did catch 13 balls for 118 yards and a score. He was just about the only Broncos player who played well, and Richard Sherman will be doing everything in his power to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
The Chargers called out Sherman after the “exposed” him last Sunday, to which the league’s self-proclaimed best corner responded with:
Lmao Exposed? …. Complete 3 passes 0 touchdowns 0 explosive passes…. These guys make me laugh
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) September 15, 2014
Sherman will want to put to rest any chance of some receiver “exposing” him, so look for him to try and silence all his critics with his on-field performance. And then probably with a little inspired media session for good measure too.
If the Broncos want revenge, the Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas connection has to be there early and often, but doing it on Sherman won’t be easy.
Which is the best head-to-head matchup in NFL Week 3? Leave your thoughts below.
For more from Mike Lucas, check out StandingOSports.com