Eagles linebackers vs. Cowboys' RBs Marion Barber and Felix Jones
When you're thinking about going in another direction after 17 weeks of an NFL season, you know you're in trouble. But that's what Eagles coach Andy Reid may do for the rematch with the Cowboys. Hey, why not? The Cowboys' running game gashed the Eagles for 179-yards on Sunday. Outside linebacker Chris Gocong could replace Moise Fokou and 12-year vet Jeremiah Trotter could replace Akeem Jordan. Will Witherspoon should hold down the other spot, but defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has tried six LBs this year. Maybe he should use them all -- at once.
2 of 12Simon Bruty/SI
Cowboys' Tony Romo vs. Eagles blitz
Could it get any worse for the Eagles than the 24-0 beat-down they took on Sunday? No, probably not. Thus, as much as Romo has become proficient at reading blitzes and exploiting them, expect Philly to be blitzing as soon as they get off the bus this time around. It is a risk, no doubt. But Romo still has yet to carry his team to a playoff win and the Eagles did snag 25 interceptions in 2009 (their most since 1999). If the Eagles can force Romo into mistakes early, perhaps they get into his head.
3 of 12Len Redkoles, Al Bello/Getty Images; Al Tielemans/SI
Eagles OL Nick Cole and Max Jean-Gilles vs. Cowboys NT Jay Ratliff
The Eagles have not been a good running team in 2009 (22nd in the league). Things got much worse when center Jamaal Jackson was lost for the season with a torn ACL in Week 16, with Cole (far left) having to switch to center and Jean-Gilles went to guard. That's not a recipe for success against the agile Pro Bowler Ratliff and the Cowboys' D-line. Cole had a costly bad snap in Sunday's loss and quarterback Donovan McNabb was sacked four times.
4 of 12Rich Kane/Icon SMI
Bengals DC Mike Zimmer vs. Jets OC Brian Schottenheimer
There's a lot of football pedigree in this matchup. Both are sons of coaches and both are innovative football minds who have transformed the way the NFL views their teams' respective units. Zimmer's charge this week is to figure out the Jets' wildcat formation and success with Brad Smith, who torched the Bengals for 92-yards on just four carries Sunday night. Schottenheimer clearly will search for ways to counter-attack, more than likely by using success rushing the ball to gameplan a safe, effective play-action air attack utilizing quarterback Mark Sanchez.
5 of 12Al Bello/Getty Images
Bengals receivers vs. Jets secondary
Naturally, this game will be heavily touted as Chad Ochocinco vs. Darrelle Revis 2.0. But if you think this will be a one-on-one show, you must be some kind of twit. Or, Twitter, as the case may be. Ocho and Revis may be dominating cyberspace, but in Sunday night's humiliating 37-0 loss to the Jets, an assortment of Bengals receivers suffered an unacceptable number of drops against the league's top defense. Revis may be the anchor, but Jim Leonhard, Kerry Rhodes and Lito Sheppard all made big plays Sunday, as they have all year.
6 of 12Damian Strohmeyer, Heinz Kluetmeier/SI; Aaron Josefczuk/Icon SMI
Bengals defensive line/linebackers vs. Jets running backs
This is perhaps the greatest unknown going into the Bengals-Jets rematch. Could being without linebacker Rey Maualuga and defensive linemen Domata Peko (94) and Robert Geathers (91) have been that big in the Jets' dominating season finale? The Jets had their way all night long, stripping the Bengals front-seven of everything but their jockstraps. Peko and Geathers should be back Saturday, but Maualuga is out. And the experienced, nasty, confident Jets front-five clearly are inside the Bengals' collective heads.
7 of 12Heinz Kluetmeier, Damian Strohmeyer/SI(2)
Ravens' RB Ray Rice vs. Patriots DLs Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren
If the behemoth Patriots defensive line stars can find Rice, they'll squish him like a grape. The problem is, Rice is exactly the kind of player who gives big defensive linemen fits, squirting through holes almost unseen, while showing deceptive power and burst. Rice is slippery and clever, which is a tough task for a Patriots defense that has had its share of tackling problems.
8 of 12Tom Croke/Icon SMI, David Bergman/SI, Larry French/Getty Images
Ravens' secondary vs. ... Julian Edelman?
Yes, Julian Edelman. With Wes Welker out for the year, the Ravens' secondary clearly will shift focus toward finding a way to stop Randy Moss. Safeties will cheat toward Moss' side of the field. Cornerbacks will press-cover Moss, knowing they have help deep and over the middle. Welker's replacement, the shifty and deceptively fast Edelman, will have to produce in his first moment on the big-time stage.
9 of 12Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Ravens' Trevor Pryce and Jarret Johnson vs. Patriots' tackles
Tom Brady has busted ribs and a broken finger on his throwing hand. The Patriots' offensive line has been protecting their franchise quarterback superbly of late, giving up just one sack over the final five weeks of the season. The Ravens' end and linebacker, however, have quietly had terrific seasons rushing opposing quarterbacks, combining for a dozen sacks. If rookie tackle Sebastian Vollmer and veteran Nick Kaczur flinch, Brady could be in a world of hurt, literally.
10 of 12Christian Petersen, Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Cardinals WRs Anquan Boldin/Steve Breaston vs. Packers CB Jarrett Bush
The Cardinals are going to try everything they can to exploit the weakest link in the Packers' secondary. That's Bush, whose penchant for either giving up big plays or making them has to have Packer fans worried. Even if Charles Woodson handles Larry Fitzgerald most of the day, Bush ultimately will have to face Boldin, who is expected to play, or Breaston. Kurt Warner will continually try to attack Bush.
11 of 12Harry How/Getty Images, John Biever/SI
Cards S Adrian Wilson vs. Packers TE Jermichael Finley
Cardinals CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is hurting (bruised kneecap). The Cardinals' secondary is not nearly as effective as it was a year ago, ranking 22nd against the pass. Pro Bowl safety Adrian Wilson suddenly will find himself having to cover a lot more of the field, against Aaron Rodgers and the talented Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. But Finley -- fast becoming a star tight end who can stretch the field -- could be a difference-maker. If Wilson cannot shut down the middle of the field, Arizona will be in trouble.
12 of 12Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Packers RB Ryan Grant vs. Cardinals' defensive front
If it's possible for a player on one of the league's flagship teams to have a quiet 1,200-yard season rushing, Grant did it. Between Aaron Rodgers' terrific season and Dom Capers crafting a monstrous defense, Grant slipped between the cracks. He also slipped a lot of tackles and could be THE key to a Packers Super Bowl push. If the banged-up Cards cannot stop Grant on first-down, consider it advantage Packers.
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