Dolphins vs. Jets NFL Week 13: 5 Must-Watch Matchups

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Dolphins vs. Jets: 5 Must-Watch Matchups

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When the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets square off it's always an important game. The two AFC East foes' rivalry runs 94 meetings deep and has produced some of the league's most memorable moments, including the Fake Spike Game and the Monday Night Miracle.

The Dolphins and Jets hate each other -- they always have. And it doesn't take playoff implications to get each franchise's fan bases excited for this matchup. But high stakes certainly don't hurt.

Miami and New York remain in contention for the AFC's final Wild Card spot despite sub .500 records, and the winner of Sunday's showdown will move into ideal position to make a run at the postseason. Needless to say, this is a crucial game for each team. It's also a very interesting matchup on paper.

The Dolphins and Jets have polar opposite strengths and weaknesses. The Dolphins have fielded a solid pass defense all season and their strength offensively is throwing the football when quarterback Ryan Tannehill has time in the pocket. But Miami's running game has been virtually non-existent for the majority of the year and their once reliable run defense has been leaky through 11 games.

The Jets, meanwhile, own the league's top run defense and have the ability to run the football productively on offense. However, they struggle to defend the pass defensively and rookie Geno Smith has arguably been the worst starting quarterback in the entire NFL this season.

Let's dissect this AFC East clash further by highlighting the top-five individual matchups to keep an eye on in Week 13.

Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins writer for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.

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5. Cameron Wake vs. Austin Howard

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Only Tannehill has been sacked more times than the Jets' rookie quarterback this season. Smith has been brought down an average of 3.36 times per game in 2013. Pressuring him could go a long way in forcing some much-needed takeaways for Kevin Coyle's unit.

The Dolphins have the ability to get after the quarterback, but their top pass rusher will actually face a reliable right tackle in Week 13. Austin Howard has only given up two sacks all season for the Jets and is ranked 23rd among all offensive tackles by Pro Football Focus in pass-blocking efficiency.

Miami's Cameron Wake is more than capable of abusing Howard on Sunday, though. Wake currently ranks third in pass-rushing production for 4-3 defensive ends according to Pro Football Focus even though a knee injury slowed him down for over a month earlier in the year. If Wake can sack Smith or simply force the rookie into some hurried decisions on Sunday he'll have done his part for the Dolphins' defense.

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4. Jimmy Wilson vs. Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes

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With Dimitri Patterson likely to miss his seventh game of the season with a groin injury, the versatile Jimmy Wilson will likely hold down the nickel spot once again. The Jets possess the NFL's second least productive passing attack but own two dangerous slot receivers that could make life difficult for Wilson.

Jeremy Kerley leads New York with 347 receiving yards, and Santonio Holmes often operates out of the slot when healthy. Unless the Dolphins elect to have Brent Grimes shadow Holmes, Wilson could spend Sunday afternoon matched up with both.

Wilson hasn't been horrible in coverage this season but has allowed a 60.5 percent completion percentage when targeted. He can't allow Smith to have that much success throwing his way on Sunday.

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3. Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo vs. Calvin Pace

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Calvin Pace has never been one of the league's premier pass rushers, but he's well on his way to his first career double-digit sack total with 7.0 through 12 weeks. There are holes in the Jets' secondary for Tannehill to exploit, but he'll need sufficient time in the pocket to do so. Protecting him from Pace will go along way in providing him with just that.

It won't be easy for left tackle Bryant McKinnie and right tackle Tyson Clabo, who will both face Pace on Sunday. Each tackle has struggled to keep Tannehill upright at times in 2013. Despite playing well over the past month, Clabo has still given up more sacks than any other tackle in the NFL with 10. Meanwhile, McKinnie's play has taken a turn for the worse over the past two games, as the 34-year-old veteran has conceded a combined three sacks, three quarterback hits and six hurries in said contests.

Keeping Pace away from Tannehill will be step No. 1 for Miami's offensive line in its bid to aid a productive passing game on Sunday.

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2. Dolphins' Interior Offensive Line vs. Muhammad Wilkerson

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Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Step No. 2 in keeping Tannehill upright will be protecting him from defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. Only J.J. Watt has produced as many sacks as Wilkerson among 3-4 defensive ends this season, as each player has brought down the quarterback 10 times through 11 games. That is incredible pass-rushing production for a position which is typically reserved for stout run defenders.

If the Dolphins want to pick on a suspect Jets' secondary they'll need to keep Wilkerson in check. To do so Miami's makeshift interior offensive line might need to have its best performance of the season. There's hope center Mike Pouncey will return to the lineup after missing the past two weeks with a gallbladder illness. That helps, but left guard Nate Garner, whose versatility has kept the Dolphins' offensive line form falling apart despite the loss of three starters, will have his hands full with Wilkerson.

Defensive guru Rex Ryan will undoubtedly position Wilkerson against Garner as much as possible on Sunday. In three starts at guard and one start at center, Garner has allowed one sack and six quarterback hurries. Keeping those figures down will be key for Garner and the Dolphins on Sunday.

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1. Mike Wallace vs. Antonio Cromartie

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The $60 million receiver finally looked like, well a $60 million receiver in Week 12. Mike Wallace routinely burned the Carolina Panthers' secondary this past Sunday to the tune of five catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in his most impressive showing as a Dolphin to date.

And his stat line should have been even more prolific. Tannehill overthrew Wallace once and under threw him on one completion that easily could have gone for a touchdown if he was hit in stride. On the Dolphins' final drive of the game, Tannehill and Wallace narrowly failed to connect on a potential game-winning touchdown pass in which both players share blame.

Still, it was a step in the right direction for the duo. Similar production will be needed down the stretch for the Dolphins to qualify for the AFC's final playoff spot. Wallace will have the opportunity for another explosive game against New York's Antonio Cromartie this coming Sunday.

Cromartie is still capable of taking the football away with impressive ball-hawk ability, but he's been torn up in coverage all season. Out of cornerbacks who have played at least 25 percent of their defense's snaps in 2013, Cromartie ranks 99th of 110 in overall efficiency by Pro Football Focus. In 471 coverage snaps, Cromartie has allowed 666 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

There is a chance Cromartie won't play on Sunday as he's missed practice time this week with a hip injury, but that could be a blessing in disguise for the Jets.


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