Dec 13, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown (84) prior to the play against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
For the battle between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers involving their top wide receivers, all is fair in love and war as in this scenario, a luxury car is the object of affection.
New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall recently challenged Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown to a challenge. Whoever accumulates the most receiving yards in 2016 gets the other players luxury car. If Marshall wins he receives Brown’s Rolls-Royce, but if Brown wins, he acquires Marshall’s Porsche.
Now the question is, who has the upper hand? Both are elite, game-changing receivers. Marshall posted 1,502 yards on 109 receptions and added 14 touchdowns. Brown accumulated 1,834 yards on 138 receptions though he had four less touchdowns than Marshall.
While talent may be a factor, there are elements outside of the players’ control that may dictate who wins this bet. Let’s take a look at the top three elements in detail.
Next: Strength of schedule
Dec 6, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman (25) against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. The Seahawks defeated the Vikings 38-7. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Strength of schedule
One of the biggest determining factors that’s outside of either receiver’s control is strength of schedule. The Jets are tied for the seventh hardest schedule with the teams averaging a 0.531 winning percentage. The Steelers are tied for the 23rd hardest schedule with their opponents posting a 0.473 winning percentage. It’s important to note that the stats are skewed since teams change every season and the percentages are based on results from the previous season.
How does this equate to the receivers production? The NFC division the Jets and Steelers play will be the X-factor. The Jets are facing the NFC West while the Steelers face the NFC East.
Automatically, one can assume that Marshall is at a disadvantage given the staunch, smash-mouth physical defenses in the NFC West. Apart from the San Francisco 49ers, the division is loaded with defensive talent. Of the top five defenses in the league, two of them were NFC West teams: Seattle Seahawks (No. 2) and Arizona Cardinals (No. 5).
As for the NFC East, the New York Giants unloaded their payroll to revamp their defense. The team added defensive end Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins. The Giants also added nose tackle Damon Harrison, who is considered one of the best run-stuffers in the game and helps put opponents in obvious passing situations which can hinder Brown’s ability.
The Redskins also upgraded their defense with the addition of cornerback Josh Norman who will likely duke it out with Brown. The Steelers play the Dallas Cowboys Week 13, so some of their star defensive players should be back from suspension. While on paper the NFC East improved, it’s still not on the same tier as the NFC West.
Jan 17, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) against the Denver Broncos during the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Marshall got his quarterback. The Jets re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick enabling the team to build upon the camaraderie established in 2015. Fitzpatrick enjoyed his best season throwing for a career high 31 touchdowns. He’s also very familiar with offensive coordinator’s Chan Gailey’s quarterback friendly system. Marshall and Jets fans are hoping FitzMagic picks up where he left off last season (game 16 aside).
Brown catches passes from two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger. While Roethlisberger’s numbers dipped from 2014 to 2015, the Roethlisberger-Brown connection is still considered one of the best quarterback-to-wide receiver tandems in the league.
In the past three seasons, Roethlisberger has thrown for more than 3,900 yards and Brown has been the beneficiary. Brown has posted more than 1,400 yards in the past three seasons and improved each year. Some are projecting him to hit 2,000 yards.
The key factor here will be injuries. Can Roethlisberger and Fitzpatrick stay healthy? Last season, Roethlisberger missed four games due to a knee injury while Fitzpatrick missed part of the Week 8 match-up against the Oakland Raiders with a thumb injury. Both quarterbacks have a history of catching the injury bug, but both are vital to their receivers. Brown averaged 10 targets per game when Roethlisberger threw the ball while Marshall average 12 catches with Fitzpatrick under center.
If one of these signal callers go down, the receiver catching footballs from the backup quarterback can kiss his car goodbye.
Next: Supporting cast
Dec 19, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker (87) celebrates with wide receiver Brandon Marshall (15) after scoring a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys during the second half at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
For the Steelers, Brown will have to carry more of the workload due to Martavis Bryant‘s one-year suspension. While this paves the way for Brown to see more passes thrown his way, it also gives the defense an opportunity to focus their efforts on the talented receiver. Le’Veon Bell is facing a four-game suspension, but his return will add another dimension to the offense of the Steelers, alleviating pressure off of Brown.
The number of receptions Eric Decker receives and the emergence of a No. 3 wide receiver will be important to watch when it comes to Marshall. Decker’s 80 receptions helped Marshall’s game as defenses had to pick their poison, but also took away potential receptions for him.
Similar to last season, finding a balance to get both receivers involved will be crucial. Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa is also expected to see more receptions, which can cut into Marshall’s numbers so yards after the catch will be vital.
It’s hard to predict who has the upper hand. Some have already hailed Brown as the winner, but Marshall is still an elite receiver and in the NFL anything can happen. Who do you think will ultimately win this battle between Marshall and Brown? Please leave your comments below!