Any great rivalry in sports will always come down to a mano y mano, one mans will against another. In football, none stand up to the sacred wide receiver and defensive back battle. Tasked with making each other look bad, incredible talent on both sides will always be a treat. So to ring in the upcoming new year, let’s take a look at the most intriguing receiver and defensive back matchups.
10.Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs v. Richard Sherman (September 9th)
After the Seahawks evidently threw the towel in on the thirty-year-old corner, the tour of vengeance for Richard Sherman kicks off with a brutal road contest that will force him to attempt proving the Seahawks wrong. A ruthless competitor, Sherman has to be aiming to drop Seattle in remorse for cutting ties with him. Opening the year with a massive game against a killer offense and a killer receiving corps has to be the go for the Stanford product. Overall a critical matchup for a wild-card 49ers team, taking home the statement game will lie largely in Sherman’s ability to contain the two-headed monster in Thielen and Diggs.
9.Mike Evans v. Kyle Fuller (September 30th)
After a quiet comeback year earning his first-round pedigree and validating his strong rookie year, Kyle Fuller looks to take the next step for a flowering Bears defense. His first major challenge comes in the form of Mike Evans, a receiver with four consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns. Restraining his otherworldly big-play ability will dictate the outcome of this contest against a vigourously plucky Bucs team. For the Bears to begin to come into their own as hoped, this game has to be a must-win.
8.Antonio Brown v. Denzel Ward (September 9th and October 28th)
How does starting a rookie corner’s career against the league’s undisputedly best receiver sound? That will be the reality for the fourth overall selection in this past April’s draft, tasked with containing the six-time Pro Bowler. With the Browns mounting a comeback year for the entire sports landscape of Cleveland, Ward’s capability to handle Brown will have a noticeable impact on the entire game. The Steelers and Browns rivalhood has fallen off due to the Browns struggling to be competitive but the league could be in for a show if Ward and the Browns can keep up with one of the heavy hitters of the AFC.
7.Michael Thomas v. Marcus Peters (November 4th)
The Rams’ offseason screamed all-in and trading for Marcus Peters had been one of the defining moments for an LA team gunning for a Super Bowl win. As officially a member of a possible superteam in LA, Peters gets to prove the trade a booming success if he can shut down Saints star Michael Thomas as intended. At the seasons’ midpoint, the Rams could put a stamp on their legitimacy if Peters and the defense as a whole can contain one of the league’s best offenses in the Saints.
6.TY Hilton v. Malcolm Butler (November 18th and December 30th)
Without Luck, TY Hilton had a noticably down year last season, ending the three-year streak for Pro Bowl selections with a low 966 yards and a lackluster four scores. And as Andrew Luck looks to earn trust back from fans and teammates alike, Hilton looks to reprove himself as among the most reliable receivers in the league. On the other side, Malcolm Butler similarly finished last season on a crushingly low note, winding up benched for the lost Super Bowl with the Patriots. Regaining his repertoire and finding his Pro Bowl swagger again will have to come against the toughest receiver in the division, who coincidentally has a related agenda. Mark your calendars, folks.
5.Odell Beckham Jr. v. Josh Norman (October 28th and December 9th)
While the storied rivalry grew slightly cold after Odell Beckham Jr. tumbled to the IR well before the Redskins could take the field against his Giants last season. However, the explosive clash of egos should retake center stage between the two squads. As one of the dramatically juiciest and yet blindly stupid storylines of the 2015 and 2016 season, it has admittedly been a little minute since the Week Fifteen brawl that, five combined personal fouls later, triggered the feud. Though time may have put the antagonism on ice just a tad, the pure tainted history between the two should catch the league’s eyes once again.
4.Sammy Watkins v. Marcus Peters (November 19th)
This game carries dual stakes for each player, with one searching for definite redemption and the other revenge. The Chiefs moved on from one of the brightest young corners in the game after shipping Marcus Peters to the Rams. Moreover, he will get his chance at vengeance in Week Twelve. After a thoroughly unsuccessful career for the former first rounder, Sammy Watkins gets potentially his final chance at an NFL career in a Chiefs jersey. Going off for a career game against the former Chiefs star could cement his stay in the NFL. Considering his fate may already be sealed this late in the season, besting Peters could be a career-saving game for Watkins.
3.Allen Robinson v. Xavier Rhodes (November 18th and December 30th)
Take this matchup as a welcoming mat for the new-look Bears offense. Though the Vikings loved playing the Bears pass game (only allowing an average of 153 yards in the two contests last season), the Bears underwent an offseason of pouring millions into revamping the offense and surrounding the crowning jewel of the offense quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the finest supporting cast. Allen Robinson remains as their magnum opus of free agency. Also, the obvious go-to offensive weapon for an increasingly pass-reliant offense. And as unquestionably the best corner in the division, Xavier Rhodes’ top-notch physicality matches Robinson’s otherwise dominant size advantage. From both a contest of talent and a potential statement game, a Robinson and Rhodes clash create must-watch TV.
2.Julio Jones v. Marshon Lattimore (September 23rd and November 22nd)
Despite one of the finest defensive rookie seasons in recent memory, even the rookie phenom Marshon Lattimore struggled to hold his own against the force of nature in Julio Jones this past season, allowing for 247 yards in the two matchups they saw each other last season. Now the sophomore could be on the verge of absolutely exploding into one of the league’s premier corners and it begins with capping the two-time All-Pro receiver. Locking down Jones would be a textbook breakout party for the budding Lattimore.
1.Antonio Brown v. Jalen Ramsey (November 18th)
Great defensive back and wide receiver matchups need to carry both top-tier talent and historical significance. As both the mountain peak of their respective positions, an unmissable Antonio Brown and Jalen Ramsey duel would still land very high on this kind of list. But backtrack last season’s AFC Divisional round that saw Brown’s Steelers have their seasons ended in a total shootout to Ramsey and the Jaguars, even with a wickedly competitive Brown smoking Jacksonville for 132 yards and two scores. Considering the sting has to still ring fresh, this matchup has to be circled extra on both squads’ schedules. After Brown named Ramsey “his favorite corner”, the newly budding rivalry between the AFC heavyweights flows right through the clash .