NFL Mismatches: Week 16

Updated: December 20, 2002, 2:56 PM ET
By by Ryan Early
Each week we preview the biggest mismatch in each game, one that should make an impact either through its exploitation or in changing a team's plans to try to compensate. There are much fewer games featuring two teams fighting for their playoff lives this week, which will just make the inevitable upsets even more surprising and heart wrenching.

Dolphins at Vikings
RB Ricky Williams vs. MLB Henri Crockett
The Dolphins have never won in Minnesota and, in spite of the hype surrounding Cris Carter's return to play his old team, they may be looking ahead to next week's game against the Patriots, probably for the division title. The Vikings haven't quit this year, as the Saints found out last week, and should make this a very close game. The Dolphins' game plan is quite simple. Pound the ball away with Ricky Williams. Then when the Vikings overcommit to stopping the run, go down the field with Chris Chambers and Randy McMichael in the passing game. When Jay Fiedler was out injured, the Dolphins couldn't execute the second portion of their attack and it left defenses free to put eight and nine men in the box. So far this season that has been the only thing to stop Williams, who has 1,601 rushing yards. If the Vikings get solid play from their defensive line and MLB Henri Crockett, a late offseason addition who has been one of their best defenders, can avoid the fullback and consistently make the tackle on Williams, then they might be able to control this game. Too bad that couldn't happen even in the best of circumstances, and especially not with Crockett dealing with a chest injury that forced him to leave last week's game and limited his practice time during the week.

Eagles at Cowboys
DTs Corey Simon and Darwin Walker vs. C Tyson Walker and G Andre Gurode
The Eagles may have gotten more players into the Pro Bowl than any other team, but two guys who are feeling underappreciated right now are Philadelphia's starting defensive tackles. Corey Simon gets the press as a former first-round draft pick and gets constant double-teaming by opponents, but Darwin Walker has been the team's defensive MVP this year. He stepped into the starting lineup during the preseason when Hollis Thomas was lost for the season and quickly showed why the Eagles' front office is the league's best at acquiring and holding onto talented players. He's second on the team with 6.5 sacks and has played with such unrelenting energy that most teams wish he hadn't signed a contract extension mid-season, whuch would have made him a free agent come March. They will be going up against a patchwork Cowboys offensive line that has been the biggest weakness on a team that has just collapsed down the stretch. While trying to block for a rookie quarterback, the Cowboys have allowed 42 sacks, third worst in the league. In the running game, the middle of the line isn't doing any better, averaging just 2.7 yards per rush up the middle, again third worst in the league.