Going into the NFL Week Ten episode of the Student of the Game’s Match-Up Mania, many of the midseason awards have been released throughout the sports media universe. When I look through these, I’m afraid I don’t understand why “experts” would pick anyone as the MVP thus far other than Carolina franchise quarterback Cam Newton.
Many out there left the Panthers as an afterthought once wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin went down in the preseason (me included). In fairness, there was plenty of reason to do so. . . Benjamin was the best rookie at the position not named Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014 and the only pass-catching threat on the 2015 roster of major prowess not named Greg Olson. Pair that with the departure of long-time ground and pound guru DeAngelo Willaims, and all that may be been left for Cam to lean on was an injury-prone Jonathon Stewart at running back. At that point, Newton may have a great defense to support him, but the number of weapons in the cupboard seemed to hit Old Mother Hubbard Status — it was bare. Cam is most associated with his “Superman” end zone celebration, but I would imagine his lineup on paper has him looking more like the Avengers’ arrow toting assassin Hawkeye in this state of mind:
And yet, the same limitations that excuse the struggles of Russell Wilson from criticism as the game manager for the defending NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks sitting at 4-4 are a plight shrugged off by Cam Newton whose squad’s record matches the undefeated status of the Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots at 8-0. And that’s with a tougher schedule thus far than the Pats. Hand the honor to New England’s Tom Brady and his 20 touchdowns if you want, but keep in mind without Rob Gronkowski, no aspect of that Patriots offense in the land or air reaches the same level of success. Contrary to popular belief in this instance, the numbers are lying to you as to who is currently doing more to lift up their team.
Bills v. Jets
These two teams got their share of dark horse playoff votes back in early September, and this game is an important leg in the race to the fulfill the postseason prophecy. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor is returning to form just in time to challenge a talented Jets defense. The receiver corps is a concern facing this secondary as most expectations would be set that Darelle Revis will silence Sammy Watkins. However, in the past couple of weeks, Revis’ counterpart, Antonio Cromartie has struggled to keep his part of the field on lock. If Taylor and the Buffalo air attack can exploit that and force the Jets to back off the line, setting the table for their punishing run game, there’s a chance circled wagons prevail in downing New York in an epic battle between AFC East rivals.
The X-Factor is which D-Line better controls what goes on up front. Pressuring the passer after forcing the opposing offense into a single offensive dimension will lead to a victory. Sure, the flashy guys may will make some plays, but they’ll need the big guys to catch them when they fall in the meantime. I imagine it would look something like this:
Vikings v. Raiders
In this battle of young guns, the Vikings battle to remain the fifth element in their conference. The “Fifth Element” vs. the Raiders? I would imagine that Minnesota fans would hope that it turns out like this:
Unless the Raiders find a way to stop Adrian Peterson up front, this concept may not be far off even with Shaun Hill handing the ball off to him in place of Teddy Bridgewater who suffered a concussion last week. But it appears that Oakland has the makings of their version of a supreme being with #4 at quarterback, Derek Carr. With DC4 and Rookie of the Year Candidate Amari Cooper completing the up and coming Carr-to-Cooper-Combo, the Vikings defense have their share of challenges to come away with the ‘W’. While the path to the desired destinations is unique, each squad must execute on the similar challenge of taking away their opponent’s main weapon to find success.
Browns v. Steelers
I wouldn’t have selected this game for the MuM at first glance, but with Big Ben Roethlisberger out again due to a foot sprain, Landry Jones steps onto the field as the game manager to keep the Steelers playoff relevant. That means the focal point of both the air and ground offense for Pittsburgh will be backups. Suddenly, you can’t help but think division rivalry with the Cleveland Browns a bit more difficult.
Sure, whether it’s Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel slinging passes for Cleveland, the weakness for the Browns is at that position. Yet if they are left to hang around and they make some plays on defense daring Jones to beat them passing down the field, suddenly inevitably instead looks more like instability.
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