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7 NFL player matchups to look forward to in 2018

The 2018 season will treat us with a few can’t-miss duels.

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Unlike baseball, basketball or hockey, football doesn’t always let us see the best players go head-to-head against others at the top of the game. Teams in opposite conferences only play each other once every four years, and even teams in the same conference can dodge each other for three years if the stars don’t align right.

That means Michael Crabtree’s chain is safe from the snatching hands of Aqib Talib now that the receiver is with the Ravens and the cornerback got traded to the Rams. At least in the regular season, that is. The Ravens and Rams will meet for inter-squad practices in August and a preseason game, which should give plenty of time for them to hash it out.

But the 2018 NFL regular-season schedule will also treat us with a few player vs. player matchups guaranteed to be entertaining. And it starts in Week 1 with two games that will set players on collision courses.

Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Jalen Ramsey, Week 1

If this isn’t the sassiest one-on-one in NFL history, I don’t know what is. On one side is Beckham, a receiver with so much personality that even kicking nets have an up-and-down relationship with him. On the other side is Ramsey, a cornerback who has something to say after every. single. play.

This will be Beckham’s first game back since an ankle fracture that kept him out for most of 2017. When healthy, he’s not a player who holds back and already had a nasty feud with Josh Norman earlier in his career. Ramsey’s had intense battles with Steve Smith, DeAndre Hopkins, and A.J. Green in his first two seasons.

Both players have arguments as the best in the NFL at their respective position — or at the very least, among the elite tier. But their personalities mean this is a matchup that just can’t help but provide some fireworks to start the year.

Kirk Cousins vs. Jimmy Garoppolo, Week 1

Cousins and Garoppolo became two of the three highest-paid players in the NFL — behind only Matt Ryan — in 2018. But both quarterbacks are still relatively unknown commodities for the teams that dished over the huge checks.

Garoppolo started just five games for the 49ers, posting a perfect 5-0 record, before he received a five-year, $137.5 million contract. About a month later, the Vikings dished out a three-year, $84 million deal to Cousins that is fully guaranteed.

Once upon a time, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was determined to bring Cousins, his former protégé, to San Francisco. Landing Garoppolo instead could prove to be even better.

San Francisco and Minnesota will enter 2018 extremely optimistic. But one will start with a loss and the world will be dying to see if the two passers look worth their lofty price tags.

Aaron Rodgers vs. Tom Brady, Week 9

By the time this meeting happens, Brady will have turned 41 and Rodgers will be less than a month from turning 35. With the Packers and Patriots only set to meet once every four years, this should be — in all likelihood — the last time the pair of future Hall of Famers take the field against each other.

But despite Brady’s 253 games in the NFL and Rodgers’ 149, this will be only the second time they’ve played each other as starters. The one and only meeting was in 2014 when the Patriots lost on the road, 26-21. Both quarterbacks threw two touchdowns with no interceptions and finished with passer ratings over 100.

Rodgers sat out a battle between the teams in 2010 due to a concussion. He was still a backup for Brett Favre in the 2006 meeting, although he did enter the game and throw 12 passes in a blowout loss.

In 2017, Rodgers missed nine games due to a collarbone fracture. If he’s healthy and ready to go in 2018, Sunday Night Football in Week 9 will pit two likely playoff teams and legendary quarterbacks against each other in a must-see matchup.

Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Nate Solder, Week 11

In eight years with the Giants, Pierre-Paul tallied 58.5 sacks. But in November, he’ll return to New York with a chance to sack Eli Manning for the first time.

The pass rusher was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March for a fourth-round pick. With the $12.5 million in savings the Giants received in the deal, New York shored up its offensive line by signing former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder.

Solder spent the first seven years of his career protecting Brady, and now he’ll have to keep Manning clean. One of his toughest challenges of the year will be holding off Pierre-Paul in his revenge game.

Richard Sherman vs. Doug Baldwin, Week 13

Judging by the contract Sherman signed, the new 49ers cornerback is convinced he’ll be ready to play at 100 percent when the season starts. But even if he isn’t, Sherman should definitely be fine by the time the second half of the season rolls around. And that’s perfect, because his Week 13 trip to Seattle is the game he undoubtedly circled on his calendar.

On Sunday Night Football, Sherman will play in CenturyLink Field again but come out of the visitor’s locker room and face off against Baldwin, a receiver he certainly knows well from practice.

Will he be nice to Baldwin? Uhh ... no. This is the cornerback who told Russell Wilson “you fucking suck” during a practice. And that’s when they were teammates.

So yeah, Sherman’s gonna be out for blood in Seattle and Baldwin is a receiver up to the task. Buckle up.

Bradley Chubb vs. Mike McGlinchey, Week 14

The five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft will begin their career with veterans ahead of them on the depth chart. It’s unclear if and when those passers will take over as starters, so the only rookie vs. rookie duel on this list is one in the trenches.

The first pass rusher off the board in this year’s draft joined a defense that already has pass rusher Von Miller among other talented players in the front seven. That means Chubb may not start right away, but by the time December rolls around he should be a regular contributor, if not a starter.

Assuming both are healthy, that sets up a matchup for Chubb against the first offensive tackle drafted this April. McGlinchey should be an instant starter for the 49ers on the right side of the offensive line — the question is whether or not that’s where Chubb will play.

The game in San Francisco could have postseason implications for both conferences and a battle between Chubb and McGlinchey will be pivotal.

Julio Jones vs. Patrick Peterson, Week 15

Peterson was the No. 5 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft and was immediately followed by Jones, who went with the No. 6 pick. Both players have unquestionably lived up to their high draft status.

Jones is a five-time Pro Bowler and the all-time leader in receiving yards per game. Peterson has been to seven Pro Bowls in his seven NFL seasons.

The December matchup between the Cardinals and Falcons in Atlanta will be the fourth time the two teams have faced each other since drafting Jones and Peterson. Jones was held to 33 and 35 yards in two of the first three games, but exploded for 189 yards in the other. So it’s fair to say Peterson enters game four up 2-1 in the series.