When an NFL game features a decided mismatch, it's time to sit up and take notice. It's an ideal situation when one team's strength corresponds with the biggest weakness of its opponent. Coaches are constantly searching for ways to exploit such scenarios when they present themselves. Handicappers should too.
Here are this week's biggest mismatches in the NFL.
Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams (-7)
Nick Foles vs. Bears Pass Defense
The pass has been an afterthought for the Rams this season, which is understandable with a talent like Todd Gurley in the backfield. But the lack of production through the air is still a concern.
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Quarterback Nick Foles has averaged just 184.7 passing yards per this season, which ranks near the bottom of the NFL, as does his 58.2 percent completion rate.
A defense like Chicago's-which has been one the best against the pass this season-figures to put the clamp on Foles and company. The Bears have allowed just 220.2 passing yards per game this season, which is fifth-best in the NFL. Look for a big dose of Gurley this week.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5)
DeAngelo Williams vs. Browns Rush Defense
The veteran Williams has exceeded expectations in two starts since taking over as the Steelers feature back in place of the injured Le'Veon Bell. Williams rushed for three touchdowns against the 49ers in his first start of the season, then he rolled to 127 yards on 21 carries against the Patriots last week.
Williams and Bell have helped propel the Steelers to the No. 5 rushing attack in the NFL with 132.8 yards per game. This week comes a chance to pad the stats as they will face the worse rush defense in the NFL. The Browns have allowed an NFL-high 147.6 rushing yards per game this season, while also allowing the most runs of 20 yards or more with 11. Cleveland has been consistently gouged by big plays, and now they face perhaps the best big-play rushing attack in the NFL.
Pittsburgh has racked up a league-high 13 runs of 20 yards or more this season. Williams has had four such plays in his limited action. The 32-year-old Williams did have to miss some practice time this week because of a nagging foot injury, but all indications are he will play Sunday. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger likely out, expect another 20-plus carries and good production from the veteran back.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens (-5.5)
Ravens Rush Defense vs. T.J. Yeldon
This has been a season of disappointment for Baltimore, but the strong rush defense that's been a franchise hallmark for years remains intact. Opponents have averaged just 99.8 yards per game on the ground and 3.8 yards per carry, which is tied for the third-lowest in the NFL.
Jacksonville has little going for it offensively, and that has left the rookie Yeldon largely to swim with the sharks. The first-round draft pick ranks in the bottom-half of the NFL with 67.1 rushing yards per game while scoring just one touchdown this season.
Baltimore is coming off a bye week, giving them extra time to prepare and get healthy. This one could end up in the hands of Jags' quarterback Blake Bortles, who is improving but is hard to back with much confidence.
New England Patriots at New York Giants (+7)
Tom Brady vs. Giants Pass Defense
The Giants pass defense has been atrocious all season, with the bottom coming when Drew Brees tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a game. Brady and the Patriots figure to be licking their chops for the opportunity.
The Giants have allowed a whopping 307.8 passing yards per game this season, which is the second-worst in the league behind only Oakland. A big problem for New York has been a lack of a pass rush, as its nine sacks on the season is the fewest in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Brady is having another spectacular season. He ranks third in the NFL with 338.6 passing yards per game while completing 69.6 percent of his passes, which ties with Brees for the highest in the league.
New England schemes towards its opponents' weaknesses better than any team in the NFL. This is one Bill Belichik and the Patriots brain trust will look to exploit.
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