From the Sidelines

Bengals vs. Redskins in England is worth waking up for

09 October, 2016: Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) during a match between the Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Redskins at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire)

The games played in London this year haven’t exactly been worth waking up for. Sure, both matchups thus far (Colts/Jaguars and Giants/Rams) have been closely played, but neither’s been particularly well played. And that’s saying nothing of the fact that none of those four teams seem all that likely to qualify for postseason play.

This only serves to emphasize the fact that Sunday’s game in London between the Cincinnati Bengals (3-4) and Washington Redskins (4-3) is easily the best game England will see all year. It’s also arguably the biggest NFL game the country has ever hosted.

While there have been better individual teams, like the Super Bowl 41 Champion New York Giants, to play in London, matchups between two teams that have good chances to compete in January have been rare.

Excluding 2015, there have been 11 games in London.

Of the 22 teams to compete in those games, 11 have had losing records, six have had winning records and five finished 8-8. Only twice have teams that met in London finished the season within two games of each other. Six times they’ve finished as much as five games apart.

With this in mind, Cincinnati and Washington is almost a no-brainer as the most enticing matchup in the NFL’s still-young international series. Both teams are defending division champions and, given how contentious their divisions are shaping up to be, need every win they can get.

With a full day of football ahead either way, that alone might not convince the night owls in the crowd to set their alarms to catch the whole game. But one matchup within this matchup should – Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green versus Washington cornerback Josh Norman.

Green’s been outrageous this year with 50 receptions (first in NFL) and 775 yards (second) after just seven games. Green’s on pace for 114 receptions and 1,771 yards, both of which would represent career highs by a wide margin. With so many other great receivers in the league, Green is sometimes overlooked, but he seems determined to put a stop to that here in 2016.

Even more impressive, Green is posting those numbers without much in the way of weaponry around him. In some sense that means he’s seeing extra looks, but it also means defenses are rolling coverage his way. His ability to dominate while drawing increased defensive attention is a testament to his status as a top-flight wide out.

Norman’s season, as with any corner, can’t be qualified with statistics. Norman has 27 tackles, eight pass deflections, one interception and one forced fumble thus far. Now, of course those numbers suggest a standout season on their own, but they don’t tell the full story of Norman’s effectiveness.

The recognizable cornerback has had an up-and-down season to date. He was plenty effective in limited work against both Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant. He struggled some with rival Odell Beckham Jr. and, more recently, Marvin Jones. In all, Norman’s been targeted 37 times and has allowed 20 receptions, 289 yards and a score.

Norman doesn’t matchup with opponent’s top receivers on every snap, but he’s done his share of battling with the big names. With that in mind, his numbers are satisfactory. Especially given the Herculean task of combating physical freaks within the rules that all defensive backs face nowadays.

Norman won’t lineup opposite Green on every snap, but when he does it’ll be a battle well worth watching. Whether that’s in the first quarter or the fourth, two titans of their craft deserve your attention.

So, whether you’re a football buff or a weekend warrior, make sure you have your alarm clock and your popcorn ready.

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