There are a few things that Darrelle Revis and Sammy Watkins have in common. Both were first-round draft choices. Both are extraordinarily talented and both of them try and maximize that talent by putting in just as much work in the film room as they do on the field.
Tonight the two players will match ability and wits in what is largely expected to be a one-on-one battle from start to finish.
Revis has a laundry list of top receivers he's shut down over the years. Neutralizing some of the league's highest producing wideouts is just his job description. Devoid of such talent since the time Revis left the Jets following the 2012 season, New York brought him back winning a bidding war with division rival New England. The results?
Even at age 30, they've been largely the same. The question is does Revis' career trajectory allow him to slow a Bills receiver, who looks ready to explode onto the NFL scene?
Watkins is coming off his most productive day as a pro in what has largely been a season of frustration due to hip and ankle injuries. The second-year receiver is still not 100 percent healthy, which makes his eight-catch 168-yard receiving day last week all the more impressive.
The Bills top wideout caught every pass thrown to him last week and deftly set up Miami CB Brent Grimes twice for 63 and 44-yard pass plays, with the second going for a touchdown. Brimming with confidence Watkins still has much respect for the veteran cornerback he'll be facing tonight.
"I understand he's going to be a hard matchup and he's probably going to be shadowing (me) everywhere," said Watkins. "As a top receiver, as a receiver that wants to be known as a top receiver you definitely want to go against those type of guys. I know that's going to be probably the hardest challenge of my career and season every year, so I look forward to the matchup."
With Antonio Cromartie doubtful for tonight's game with a deep thigh contusion the likelihood of Revis following Watkins all over the field throughout the game is virtually guaranteed.
While the $100 million invested by the Jets in their secondary in free agent contracts hasn't helped of late on the whole, Revis has largely maintained his elite level of play. He leads the league in takeaways with three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
Just a couple of weeks ago there were some national reporters openly wondering if Revis has slipped a bit now that he's firmly on the back side of his career. The demands of his position don't allow many to excel there for much more than six to eight years.
Bills head coach Rex Ryan, who built most of his defense around Revis' talents when he was the sideline boss of the Jets, doesn't see any slip on film.
"We'll let you get off of press (coverage) against him and we'll see if that's still the same guy," said Ryan. "This guy is a tremendous player. If he's fallen at all, he's coming from the very top of the mountain. So how far down he is? I don't know. But if he's coming down at all, he's coming down from the very top. So, he's obviously a great player."
Watkins, who prides himself on his own film study, often going back up to three seasons on an upcoming individual opponent, sees how Revis is equally committed to knowing his matchup assignments.
"He's just so disciplined in everything he does," said Watkins of Revis. "Sometimes you don't even have to run the route, he'll run it for you just by knowing concepts and what the guy has on the other side. You just have to be aware of what he's trying to do and give him different looks."
That's how Watkins beat Grimes twice for deep balls last Sunday. Early in the game Watkins beat the Miami cornerback on an inside release, so he used his win on that play to win on a play later in the game.
"I live by the film," Watkins said. "I watched him in every game and how he plays press and he doesn't switch it up. So I set it up to keep taking inside, keep selling it. I beat him inside on the first throw, so I knew when in doubt that he's going to jump inside if I do it. So I double-moved him inside, sold him with my body. He jumped, and I just put my hand up, and Tyrod (Taylor) delivered the ball."
The result was a 44-yard touchdown.
What will the results be tonight?
That's hard to say. In their two matchups last season Watkins at times was more a victim of being dependent upon a quarterback who barely looked his way in the first matchup with Revis, who was playing for New England last season. Watkins was only targeted by Kyle Orton three times against Revis in the first meeting with the Patriots and had just two catches for 27 yards.
He was targeted five times in the rematch, but had a pedestrian 57 yards on three receptions.
Watkins has a quarterback this season who is far better at throwing the deep ball and has demonstrated a trust in giving him the opportunity to make plays. He admitted he has an increased level of confidence when Taylor is throwing to him.
"Any quarterback in the league can make those throws, but when you're in the huddle and the guy is controlling everybody, saying, 'Be quiet,' or, 'Hey, we need this first down. Go get this first down. I'm coming to you.' That's the type of guy that you consider special," said Watkins. "We just have to keep working together and being consistent every week and just keep being positive."
Whether Watkins can outsmart a veteran who does his homework like Revis will be known in a matter of hours. But Buffalo's top wideout was preparing for any contingency with the Jets defense.
"We've just got to go with the game plan and we've been watching all the DBs right now and watching what they do good and what they do bad," said Watkins. "But I'm pretty sure he'll be following me around. I'm looking forward to it."