BOTTOM 5 PASSING MATCHUPS WEEK 17
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Arizona at LA Rams
The Cardinals offense opened the season with such high hopes, only to see many of them dashed on the rocks of injuries and a scheme that’s still working out its kinks. It certainly doesn’t help to have Kyler Murray fighting off repeated injuries: still pushing through shoulder troubles, Murray injured his leg on the Cardinals’ final play last week. It would be stunning to see him sit out in this must-win divisional matchup, but effectiveness is a real concern. Murray has produced a weak 6.4 yards per attempt over the past 6 weeks, with one touchdown or less in half of those. DeAndre Hopkins has been a tremendous addition to this offense, though the Cardinals are still working out the best ways to deploy him (and the other weapons). Hopkins has been held below 55 yards in four of his last six games, with only 2 of his 44 receptions going for scores. Unless Murray and company can unlock this dominant Rams defense in time, they’re in for another long Sunday. When these teams faced off four weeks ago, Murray needed 39 throws to churn out just 173 yards.
The Rams continue to smother opposing pass games on a league-best level. Only one opposing passer has topped 270 yards in this matchup: Josh Allen, all the way back in Week 3. Since that game, opponents have put up just 199 yards-per-game average with just 0.9 touchdowns. Last week it was Russell Wilson getting shut down by the Rams, but they’ve also stifled the likes of Tom Brady (4.5 yards per attempt) and Kyler Murray (4.4) in recent matchups. There’s very little answer for how to attack this star-studded unit, which is tough both up front and on the back end. The NFL has yet to learn what to do with Aaron Donald; he remains the game’s most dominant interior rusher and a threat to any drop back. He, Michael Brockers, and Leonard Floyd make a huge impact on behalf of the secondary, which can pin its ears back and attack the ball aggressively. Jalen Ramsey remains the prototypical shadow cornerback, suffocating in coverage but willing and able to make splash plays. And the team has to love the progress of rookie safety Jordan Fuller, who alters a few downfield throws every week. With no real weak -spots and a proactive mindset, this is never a fun unit to target. Just about any opponent’s projection scales down notably against the Rams, and the banged-up Cardinals are no exception.
Cleveland vs Pittsburgh
The Browns pass game fell on its face in last Sunday’s loss to the Jets, but those results can be more or less thrown out. The team’s top four wideouts all hit the COVID-19 list just a day before the game, forcing a handful of practice-squadders into most of the snaps. Predictably, Baker Mayfield struggled to find his footing, but his outlook is much better for the season finale. After all, he’s done nothing but improve when given his full slate of weapons. Mayfield had posted 8.8 yards per attempt - third-best in football - over the previous five weeks, with 10 touchdowns to just 1 interception along the way. The Browns’ powerful ground game opens up ample play-action opportunity for Mayfield, and his receivers are at least strong enough to win one-on-one at times. Still, this attack has been known to struggle when it’s not given an ideal game script. There isn’t much downfield weaponry here, and Mayfield has yet to prove he can be the catalyst of a high-octane pass game on his own.
The Steelers have spent the past month on a rocky road, to say the least, plunging from unbeaten to rock-bottom and back to a division title. But the one constant has been their dominant pass defense, which continues to harass opposing passers into shaky throws and weak stat lines. Only 3 of their 15 opponents have cleared 270 yards through the air - and it’s worth noting that Baker Mayfield was benched in this matchup back in Week 6 (6.6 yards per attempt and 2 interceptions). Last Sunday, Philip Rivers was suffocated through the decisive second half, unable to find room in the pocket nor down the field. The pass rush remains the NFL’s gold standard, leading the league in knockdown, pressure, and sack rates. The secondary is aggressive and opportunistic, feeding off the pass rush to turn errant throws into drive-killers and takeaways. In short, it’s simply not a unit for fantasy managers to target unless forced to. Mayfield has made his strides but will need to play a near-perfect game to get much by this group. The Browns will get some relief in this game as it is expected that T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward will not play this week, but so far the secondary appears to all be playing. Even still, this remains a dangerous defense for the Browns as they are well-coached and deep.
Chicago vs Green Bay
The Bears have to like what they've squeezed from Mitchell Trubisky over the past five weeks. Left for dead early in the year, Trubisky is still no one's idea of a franchise quarterback, yet he's thoroughly reclaimed the starting job from Nick Foles who struggled mightily when given the opportunity. Still, there's not much dynamism among his weaponry, beyond the great Allen Robinson and the red-zone version of Jimmy Graham as Cole Kmet and Anthony Miller continue to struggle with consistency. When these teams met a month ago, Robinson spent much of his day in Jaire Alexander's coverage and needed 13 targets to produce 74 yards. His two touchdowns came when the Bears trailed by 24 and 31 points, and no other Bears pass-catcher did anything of note.
The Packers pass defense suddenly stands as a shutdown unit here in 2020. Even with a few strong pass games on the schedule, they've given up just 7.2 yards per attempt and 236 a game. There are exciting pieces all over this unit - like a pass rush, led by Za'Darius Smith, that sits eighth in sack rate. But the most impactful star has been top cornerback Jaire Alexander, whose superb coverage was recognized with his first Pro Bowl nod. Alexander bounces around the formation, and he's been instrumental in shutting down the likes of Marvin Jones Jr (just 48 yards on 8 targets), Robby Anderson (21 on 5), and Corey Davis (catchless) over the past three weeks. With dynamic, big-play safeties giving support in Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, this has morphed into one of fantasy's scariest matchups. The Packers have only allowed one quarterback to top 300 yards all season which was Deshaun Watson back in Week 7 and it is difficult to see Trubisky topping that number against this defense.
Philadelphia vs Washington
The Eagles, eliminated from playoff contention in the NFC East, are ready to look towards the future. It appears that they’ve found their quarterback spot for the near future, with Jalen Hurts injecting the dynamism Carson Wentz simply can’t at the moment. The rookie Hurts is a gunslinger at heart, always looking to extend a play and push the ball downfield. With that gunslinger mentality comes inconsistency at times as he is completing just 55% of his throws while throwing three interceptions and has had a handful more dropped by the defense. Hurts offers a big upgrade for the downfield receivers, like DeSean Jackson, whose only target last week went for an 81-yard touchdown. But there’s also a low floor to his passing numbers - especially in tough matchups - while he’s hitting on barely half of his throws.
The Football Team continues to have a mediocre season, but have the potential to claim a playoff spot. Most of their success has come against low-level offenses, but they’ve answered the bell against a handful of strong ones as well. Overall, the passing defense is the clear strength of the team, and stout enough to make fantasy players think twice about the Philadelphia receivers. They’ve done fantastic work against the likes of D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, and JuJu Smith Schuster over the past month as that group combined to turn 43 targets into just 181 total yards in this matchup. Much of the credit goes to the burgeoning Washington pass rush, led by rookie Chase Young (6.5 sacks) and the defensive line that they have invested in so heavily over the last few seasons in Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Montez Sweat. But they’ve also gotten great coverage work from a deep set of cornerbacks, often erasing good receivers from gameplans altogether. This may not yet be a full-on shutdown unit, but it’s certainly strong enough to discourage a rookie passer as the Football Team fights for its postseason life.
Kansas City vs LA Chargers
The Chiefs have nothing to play for in Week 17, so it’s unlikely we’ll see much (if any) of their key offensive starters. Coach Andy Reid has indicated he’ll rest many of his prominent guys. It is likely that the Chiefs will be without Patrick Mahomes II, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce see the field at all. Of course, Mahomes, Hill, Kelce, and company are capable of fireworks on any touch whatsoever. While the Chiefs still have speed on their depth chart in Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, and Mecole Hardman, it will be a difficult matchup with Chad Henne at the helm. Henne who has not started an NFL game since 2014 will be thrown in there against one of the best secondaries in football.
The Chargers’ transitional season is grinding to a close, and for all that went wrong, they can certainly point to the pass defense as a point of pride. They’ve given up the league’s seventh-fewest yards per attempt on the year, and they haven’t allowed an opposing passer to hit 300+ yards since Drew Brees back in Week 5. This is a talented unit, though it is worth noting that Joey Bosa looks unlikely to suit up Sunday and that Casey Hayward left Week 16 with a hamstring injury. Hayward remains the team’s top cornerback, and the team may not press him into a meaningless Week 17 matchup. Still, this defense is deep with startable bodies; they’ve overcome numerous key injuries over the past two years. Michael Davis and Chris Harris Jr are plenty capable of holding down the top two cornerback spots, and there’s more than enough here to slow the Chiefs’ secondary targets. After all, when these teams met in Week 2, Patrick Mahomes II needed half an overtime and 47 throws to produce 302 yards.