Week nine doesn't necessarily have the strongest of match-ups on paper, as there's only one game between two teams with winning records. That doesn't mean this weekend's action is less interesting, however. We're now past the mid point of the season, and that means the battle for wild card spots will really start heating up.
Which teams will be looking to get a early jump on a late season run to the playoffs in week nine?
Top Match Ups to Watch
Tennessee OTs Michael Roos and David Stewart vs. St. Louis DEs Robert Quinn and Chris Long
There aren't too many marquee match-ups this weekend, and that means the biggest match-up just may be between Jeff Fisher and his former team, Tennessee. Fisher's best seasons in Tennessee came when he had a strong pass rushing precsence from both defensive ends, and that's what he's working with in St. Louis as well. Robert Quinn and Chris Long have racked up a combined 15.5 sacks through the first portion of the season, and opposing teams have yet to find a way to stop both of them simultaneously.
If success on the field was determined solely by one's reputation, the Titans would stand a great shot at stopping the Rams' pass rush, as Michael Roos and David Stewart have been hailed as one of the best OT duo's in the league for several years. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the years haven't been kind to Roos and Stewart, and they've not played up to expectations over the past two seasons.
Like most Fisher-led defenses, Quinn and Long are coached to be extremely aggressive in pursuit of the quarterback. While that strategy has been successful thus far this season, it's a game plan that's not entirely without weakness. Opposing offenses can take advantage of occasional over pursuit by allowing mobile quarterbacks to tuck the ball and run, which is exactly what Jake Locker will be looking to do on Sunday. It's not likely that Roos and Stewart will be able to stop Quinn and Long entirely, but can they give Locker just enough time to find some room to get down the field?
New Orleans QB Drew Brees vs. New York Jets' Defense
To say the Jets' defense struggled last weekend might just be the understatement of the season in New York. Andy Dalton and the Bengals absolutely shredded the New York secondary, which ended up allowing Dalton to have the best game of his career. As the Jets enter into this match up with New Orleans trying to hold on to an outside shot at a wild card berth, their pass defense must drastically improve.
Drew Brees will have plenty to pick on this weekend, as both Antonio Cromartie and Dee Milliner have struggled all season. Milliner has even been benched twice this season, but thanks to even less reliable depth behind him he's been allowed to keep his starting job for the time being. The same goes for Cromartie, who owns the distinction of being Profootballfocus's lowest rated corner this season.
Unless the Jets were able to make some drastic changes over the course of this week's preparations, the question really isn't if Brees will be able to have success, but rather who he'll be throwing to. He's got plenty of options and they all should feel quite optimistic about their chances of a big day. For New York, a surprising performance from their secondary is absolutely crucial – their season depends on it.
Atlanta LT Lamar Holmes vs. Carolina DE Greg Hardy
All eyes will likely be on Matt Ryan vs. Cam Newton as the Panthers try to prove they're a legitimate playoff contender, and rightfully so. Newton is doing his very best to silence his doubters (including some notable voices in his own organization), and beating Ryan and the Falcons would be a big step towards doing just that.
While Newton's performance will be a big key to this game, there's another Panther who could have a huge impact as well. Defensive end Greg Hardy has recorded 34 hurries and six sacks this season, and this weekend he'll be facing off against an offensive tackle who's not playing at the top of his game.
Lamar Holmes is naturally a right tackle, but injuries forced him to move to the left side, one of the toughest positions switches to make mid-season. It's gone predictably poorly, and there's no doubt he's been a key weak spot in an offense that's been incredibly disappointing this season. Will he be able to turn things around, or will Hardy spend most of his day in Atlanta's backfield?
- Cam Newton is obviously a key player to watch this week, for real life as well as fantasy purposes. He's going up against an Atlanta defense that has been absolute shredded this season. Some have argued that thanks to a slow start, Newton wasn't an obvious every week start, but he just may be the best fantasy QB play this week.
- CJ Spiller is reportedly recovering well from his injury, and he may even be healthy enough to play this week. That doesn't mean you should start him, however. He's got a terrible match up against the Chiefs' defense, and it'd be nice to actually see if he's fully healthy before you waste a starting spot on him.
- DeMarco Murray is healthy, and the Vikings' defense he's matched up against ranks 21st against the run the season. There's never a guarentee with Murray, but you probably should feel quite confident starting him.
- Tennessee's defense is strong, but they're not particularly effective against the run. Considering the issues on St. Louis' offense, it's clear that Zac Stacy is going to be the centerpiece of the offense from here on out. He's almost a lock for double digit points no matter the match up, and you shouldn't worry about starting him against the Titans.
- There's no question the Colts are going to miss Reggie Wayne for the remainder of the season, but T.Y. Hilton looks primed to help the Colts forget that loss. He's finally going to get the targets he deserves, and he's clearly got the talent to do huge things with the extra touches.