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5 Players to Watch in Week 15

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No team in football finishes the season with a tougher three-game stretch than the defending champion Denver Broncos.

Denver welcomes top-seeded New England for a late Sunday afternoon kickoff, then travels to Kansas City on Christmas night before ringing in the new year with a home date against the Oakland Raiders.

Those three opponents hold a combined record of 31-8, occupying three of the six AFC playoff spots. As Week 15 kicks into gear, the Broncos cling to the sixth and final playoff position.

The Miami Dolphins hope to have something to say about that on Saturday night, visiting the lowly division rival Jets. At 8-5, Miami sits on the wrong side of the cut line right now due to a tiebreaker.

Players from both those squads are in focus for this week’s 5 to Watch.

Chris Harris Jr., CB, Broncos

The game’s top slot corner gets his annual test with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman coming to town.

Edelman received the highest target share (15 of 36) among Patriots receivers in Week 14, making seven receptions for 73 yards. Harris battled injury in last year’s AFC Championship to limit Edelman to seven catches for 53 yards.

Brady has shown no fear of involving the Patriots’ first-year weapons – Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, etc. And the Pats added troubled ex-Cardinal Michael Floyd on waivers Thursday. But when the cards are down, Brady trusts Edelman to shake loose and beat man-to-man coverage. This should be a great chess match, particularly if Denver successfully gets pressure off the edge.

Josh Norman, CB, Redskins

It’s hard to imagine Norman not circling the date Dec. 19 on his schedule the second he landed in Washington.

The Panthers rescinded the franchise tag on Norman, and his free agency lasted less than 48 hours. Washington quickly signed the 29-year-old to a five year deal worth $75 million, including $50 million guaranteed.

Carolina’s certainly missed Norman’s ability to defend the boundary. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Panthers have surrendered a completion rate of 66 percent at a clip of 7.7 yards per attempt outside the numbers (54 percent, 5.6 yards per attempt in 2015).

Individually, Norman’s had a strong season and expanded his responsibilities to shadow No. 1 receivers. This week, he’ll likely see a lot of former teammate Kelvin Benjamin. Norman is fully capable of a game-changing play, and given the 2016 struggles of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, it could happen in front of a national audience on Monday night.

Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys

Oh man, the Tony Romo supporters – namely CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco and Fox Sports’ Skip Bayless – will be out in full force if Prescott can’t deliver Sunday night.

It’d be nothing short of ludicrous for the Cowboys to double back and bench Dak, who enters the week with a 102.7 passer rating and a 20-to-4 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. Yes, he’s not a polished product. And yes, the Giants have exposed some flaws. But this should not be a debate.

Prescott is the future of the Cowboys franchise, and he should certainly continue to be the present.

Red-hot Tampa Bay storms into Arlington for a nationally televised showdown. Since Week 10, the Bucs have allowed the fewest points per game (12.8), have the most takeaways (14) and allowed the lowest passer rating (62.5), as pointed out in a piece this week by NFL.com’s Kevin Patra.

Justin Pugh, G, Giants

Big Blue gets a big boost with the return of Pugh, one of the game’s top guards, from a sprained right MCL.

The left side of the Giants’ offensive line has threatened to get Eli Manning killed in recent weeks, and he’s shown signs of duress in the pocket whether the pass rush gets home or not. Ereck Flowers has been extremely sloppy in his technique, and the Giants have started three other guys (Brett Jones, Marshall Newhouse and Adam Gettis) at left guard in Pugh’s absence.

Ziggy Ansah, should he play, and emerging pass-rusher Kerry Hyder could give the tackles fits. With rain and wind expected, the Giants will have to find a way to get the run game going – behind Pugh and right guard John Jerry.

Kenny Stills, WR, Dolphins

Don’t expect the Dolphins to be too passive on offense even in the absence of Ryan Tannehill.

According to Pro Football Focus, Matt Moore attempted a deep pass (traveling 20 or more yards in the air) on 17 percent of his throws when he last started in 2011. Moore averages 9.7 yards in the air per attempt since entering the NFL in 2007, ESPN Stats and Information.

Meanwhile, the Jets have surrendered 861 yards on deep passes, sixth-worst in the league. Not to mention, only the Jaguars (3) have fewer interceptions than Gang Green’s six picks.

Those stats scream for Stills to take the top off the Jets’ secondary. Even though he’s hauled in less than half of his targets, the ex-Saint averages a team-best 17.6 yards per catch, including eight plays of at least 20 yards.


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