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TOP 5 PASSING MATCHUPS WEEK 16
TO VIEW ALL OF OUR WEEK 16 MATCHUP CONTENT, PLEASE SEE THE LINKS BELOW:
Tampa Bay at Detroit
The Buccaneers offense was a tale of two halfs last Sunday. Tom Brady and company floundered for the first two quarters (11 of 17 for 91 yards at halftime) but couldn’t be slowed in the final two (20 of 28 for 299). That inconsistency has been a hallmark of the 2020 Buccaneers, who have looked potent for chunks of the year but truly inept for others. The highs have been tremendous from a numbers standpoint - Brady has now topped 340 yards 5 times, with multiple touchdowns in 11 of his 14 games. Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski lead perhaps the most imposing attacks in football; the most east of Kansas City, if nothing else. Unsurprisingly, they’ve produced best against their worst competition, as seen in last week’s dismantling of the Falcons. Their date with the Lions looks even friendlier, so there’s almost no ceiling for as long as Brady feels the need to keep throwing.
The Lions pass defense continues to offer no real resistance. It’s true they’ve faced a daunting run of quarterbacks over the past month, including Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, and Ryan Tannehill. But those passers had little trouble carving up this patchwork unit, hitting on 75% of their throws for 10.1 yards apiece, with 10 touchdowns. Even Mitchell Trubisky threw a great Week 13 line (26 of 34 for 267 and a score) into the mix. Still down their two best cornerbacks, Desmond Trufant and rookie Jeff Okudah, the Lions continue to paper over the holes with practice-squad talents on the outside. It’s no wonder they’ve allowed a wideout to record 95+ yards in 5 of their last 6 games. Big plays tend to flow freely in this matchup, as seen just last week on Corey Davis’ long touchdown. The Lions failed to switch deep coverage onto Davis, who burned a hole in the secondary and simply jogged out a 75-yard score. Such lapses are commonplace for this unit; it would be a massive upset if Mike Evans and Co. didn’t make at least a handful of splash plays. There just isn’t the coverage talent here to handle such a deep group of weapons across the field.
Chicago at Jacksonville
The Bears have to be thrilled with getting at least competent quarterback play of late from Mitchell Trubisky. Since returning to the lineup 4 weeks ago, he’s hit on 68% of his throws at 8.4 yards apiece. He’s 5-2 as the starter and looks a notch or two better than Nick Foles at this point, so his leash should be fairly long down the stretch. It’s still business as usual for Allen Robinson, whose 9.5 targets per game has stayed flat regardless of who’s under center. Robinson has averaged 89 yards and found the end zone 3 times since Trubisky’s return. He’s often moved around the formation and will be unleashed against an already-weak secondary missing its top three cornerbacks. The rest of this attack is always iffy, but Robinson (and Trubisky) both project beyond their averages in this matchup.
The Jaguars secondary was young, inconsistent, and beaten often even before the starters began dropping like flies. The only two cornerbacks that have shown well, Sidney Jones and rookie C.J. Henderson, remain out of commission, while a handful of others have bounced on and off the field for the past month. Slot specialist D.J. Hayden has been lost as well, and all the reinforcements have been truly poor. Tre Herndon remains one of the game’s weakest cover men, yet he’s taken 89% of snaps this year, giving up yardage in chunks along the way. Reserve bodies Chris Claybrooks and Glen Mabin round out the rotation; it’s unclear who will be healthy and how snaps will divvy up Sunday, but there’s no reason to believe any of them will be effective. This group has allowed a wideout to reach 90+ yards in 11 straight games, from deep-ball speedsters like Marquise Brown to possession guys like Jarvis Landry. Perhaps this patchwork secondary could catch its breath with a viable pass rush up front, but that also needs serious retooling, sitting 31st league-wide in hurry rate. Through 14 weeks they’ve recorded just 17 sacks (29th) and offer no real pressure, allowing passers to casually pick things apart downfield. The deck is truly stacked against this unit week after week - even against shaky air attacks like Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears.
Cleveland at NY Jets
The Browns are rolling into the playoffs mostly on the legs of their dominant ground game. But it can’t go unsaid just how crucial Baker Mayfield’s moderate improvement has been to this 5-1 stretch. Coach Kevin Stefanski is careful to keep the game manageable for Mayfield, who has responded with sharp, dynamic play-action passing and few of his trademark miscues. Over the past 3 weeks, Mayfield has completed 71% of his throws and averaged 8.7 yards per attempt - adding up to 325 a game. Of course, the Browns don’t need Mayfield to throw for 325 yards to win, and would generally prefer to scale back his volume a bit. But it’s been encouraging to see Mayfield, Jarvis Landry, and Rashard Higgins put up such efficient production. They may not throw as much as desired against the 1-13 Jets, but are in a position to make the best of whatever volume they see.
The Jets’ pass defense managed to stymie Jared Goff in last Sunday’s shocking win, but it’s likely best not to read too far into it. Goff and the Rams were a stumbling mess largely of their own accord, struggling to move or even hold onto the ball for three quarters. On the whole, this Jets unit has been one of football’s worst and remains fully targetable against all comers. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks barely had to lift a finger in Week 14, but the Jets’ prior 8 opponents had produced 8.0 yards per attempt and 325 a game. They continue to rely heavily on a trio of rookies - Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, and Javelin Guidry - that has been picked on relentlessly. Blessuan Austin has taken a big step back from his breakout 2019, and star safety Marcus Maye can only provide so much help. Most likely, Mayfield’s play-action game will be able to poke holes and put up the big downfield plays that plagued the Jets through midseason. It’s also worth noting that this unit has been gashed by tight ends, with starters averaging 78 yards (and scoring 8 touchdowns) over the past 7 weeks.
Green Bay vs Tennessee
The Packers’ 2020 pass game has proven last season’s disappointing dip an aberration. Aaron Rodgers stands as an MVP frontrunner; he’s putting up 273 yards a game, leading the league in touchdown rate, interception rate, and adjusted net yardage. That efficiency keeps his production up even when he’s not needed to throw as much. (He actually hasn’t thrown 40+ passes in a game since Week 8.) With Marquez Valdes-Scantling winning consistently down the field and Davante Adams winning everywhere, the weekly potential for chunk plays and touchdowns is high. Adams remains locked in as fantasy’s top wideout regardless of matchup, still rolling on a 10-game streak of 6+ catches and 50+ yards. He’s essentially Michael Thomas from last year, dominating his offense and catching virtually everything. The wild card here is Robert Tonyan Jr, who leads all tight ends with 10 touchdowns. He’s a sight to behold on jump balls in the end zone, and he’s found the end zone in five straight games. The Titans are thin over the middle, so Tonyan could be looking at a handful of easy scoring chances.
The Titans have drastically shaken up their pass defense over the past month or so, looking to shore up their only truly glaring weakness, but to no avail (yet). There has been a modest improvement in the secondary, with ex-Charger Desmond King showing well right off the bat and top cover man Adoree’ Jackson easing back into action. Jackson was a difference-maker last year, and he chipped in 27 effective snaps last week. Still, this unit has been torched enough that real improvement must be seen to be believed. They’ve given up several hefty stat lines throughout the year, and 5 of their last 7 opponents have posted 295+ yards. Much of the blame has to be shouldered by the sheer lack of a pass rush, which doesn’t do the coverage unit many favors. With Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley Jr clear free-agent whiffs - neither is even suiting up again this year - there’s almost no pressure on any opposing passers. Baker Mayfield froze the entire defense with play-action en route to 334 and 4 touchdowns last month, while short-armed Philip Rivers shredded them for a pair of big lines of his own.
Detroit vs Tampa Bay
The Lions look likely to keep Matthew Stafford under center for Saturday’s game, despite a ribs injury that got him pulled from last week’s loss. (The Lions trailed by 21 in the fourth quarter when Stafford was sat down.) That’s obviously good news - the downgrade to Chase Daniel is a hefty one - and it keeps this unit in contention for a strong day against the Buccaneers’ declining pass defense. Top wideout Kenny Golladay remains shelved, but Marvin Jones continues to prove himself a steady (often dynamic) fill-in in the WR1 role. Jones has commanded 27% of team targets over the past 4 weeks, turning them into 81 yards a game and finding the end zone twice. He’s more than capable of succeeding against the Tampa Bay secondary, which tends to struggle badly against speedy wideouts on the outside. It’s also worth noting that tight end T.J. Hockenson was held to just 18 yards last Sunday, but had averaged 71 yards himself over the previous 4 games.
The Buccaneers pass defense has had quite a fall from grace over the past month. After opening the year in near-dominant fashion, they’ve been scorched for 350+ yards and 3 touchdowns in 3 of their last 4 games. There’s some reason for optimism with top cornerback Jamel Dean returning; he missed the majority of that recent stretch with a groin injury. But Dean isn’t a consistent shutdown guy, and there are clear liabilities all over this shaky secondary. They’re not the first team to lose a day to Tyreek Hill’s speed, but Hill’s 269-yard, 3-touchdown performance in Week 12 shone a light on just how beatable this secondary often is. Last Sunday, Calvin Ridley traded off beating Carlton Davis and company on deep man routes and poking holes between the zones for tough plays. Perhaps the biggest liability lies on the inside, where slot man Sean Murphy-Bunting has been relentlessly tested and beaten throughout the year. Overall, this is a fairly talented unit that simply hasn’t been playing up to its abilities of late. There are certainly avenues by which to blow past it, which the Lions will look to do Saturday regardless of who’s under center.