TOP 5 PASSING MATCHUPS WEEK 17
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Minnesota at Detroit
The Vikings have shown that while Cousins is a middle of the road quarterback, he is certainly good enough to be productive. Cousins has closed 2020 strongly, throwing for 290+ yards and multiple touchdowns in five of his last seven games. That’s pretty much his weekly ceiling - this remains a run-dominant offense - but the Vikings’ big-play outlook is always strong. Adam Thielen remains a rock-solid target, though it’s rookie Justin Jefferson that’s emerged as the most dynamic option. Over the past seven weeks, he’s turned a 26% target share into 91 yards a game, and on Christmas, he drew heavy shadow coverage from the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore. The rookie went ahead and caught 6 balls for 85 yards anyway. Week 17’s opponent is much softer and less prohibitive, so there’s high-octane potential for this attack as they close out the season.
The Lions were simply overwhelmed by the Buccaneers last Saturday, giving up 491 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air, 340 of which were in the first half. It was bad, but far from their first collapse of the 2020 season. They’ve now given up more yards and touchdowns per attempt than anyone in football, with even the likes of Mitchell Trubisky and Blaine Gabbert getting in on the fun. Devastated by injuries to their rebuilt secondary - and atrocious play from their reserves - this unit hasn’t put up much resistance at all over the past two months. It’s mostly veteran retreads and special-teams types at cornerback now, with free-agent prize Desmond Trufant and top pick Jeff Okudah both on the shelf. What’s worse, there’s almost no pass rush pushing the issue up front, so a lot is asked of that patchwork group down the field. Big-play wideouts Mike Evans (10 for 181 and 2 scores), Corey Davis (4 for 110 and 1), Davante Adams (7 for 115 and 1), Will Fuller V (6 for 171 and 2), and D.J. Moore (7 for 127) have all erupted in this matchup down the 2020 stretch. There’s little reason to bet against Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen doing so in the finale.
Tennessee at Houston
The Titans remain an underrated passing team, riding play-action and big play-minded receivers to one of football’s most dynamic attacks. Ryan Tannehill has truly found a Velcro-like fit for his skillset as a mobile, instinctive passer, one capable of huge things whenever defenses fear Derrick Henry. Tannehill struggled last Sunday night with the Green Bay snow as Jaire Alexander played a big part in shutting down this offense. The good news here is that the Texans play in a dome and won't have Jaire Alexander suiting up for them. Brown has found the end zone in 11 of his 15 games thus far, including twice when these teams met in Week 6. He and Davis should do as they please against this patchwork secondary for as long as Tannehill is still throwing.
The Texans continue to simply run out the clock on a horrendous 2020 season. There have been issues all over the field, but the pass defense remains one of their most glaring factors. That was highlighted Sunday when Cincinnati’s Brandon Allen put up the game of his life (29 of 37 for 371 yards and 2 touchdowns) in a loss the Texans would love to forget. Allen routinely found his wideouts for big plays, exploiting a weak downfield crew that routinely gives up chunk completions. Vernon Hargreaves III remains one of football’s worst starting cornerbacks all over the formation, yet he takes 100% of this secondary’s snaps out of sheer necessity. And with almost no safety help and a pass rush that hardly exists beyond J.J. Watt, there’s little support. The Texans have to blitz relentlessly to generate any pressure at all, which leaves holes to attack all over the field. Ryan Tannehill posted a gem (30 of 41 for 366 yards and 4 touchdowns) when these teams met in Week 6, and nothing has improved here since that day.
Indianapolis vs Jacksonville
The Colts enter Week 17 with an awful taste in their mouths, going from a 24-7 lead and the playoffs in hand to an embarrassing loss and needing help to advance. Last week’s meltdown was bad, of course, and it was discouraging to see Philip Rivers and the air attack so incapable of anything in the second half. But it must be noted that the Colts’ front line was running on fumes, missing both starting tackles (and the top backup on the left side) against the league’s best pass rush. As a result, Rivers had almost no time nor room to maneuver down the stretch, doing little but checking down to Nyheim Hines. Starters Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith should both return for Sunday’s do-or-die matchup, which will keep Rivers upright and in a much better position to produce. He’d hit on 75% of his throws over the previous 3 weeks, after all, with 6 touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Jaguars remain one of fantasy football’s most targetable pass units. Lacking sorely in talent and plagued by injuries to its useful parts, this group sits near the NFL’s bottom in just about every metric. Only the Lions have allowed more yards per attempt, and only those same Lions have given up more touchdowns through the air. Last week it was Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears exceeding expectations thanks to this matchup, compiling 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the easy win. Ex-Jaguar Allen Robinson had his way with the shaky cornerback crew, keeping alive a streak of 15 straight games allowing a wideout to register 90+ yards. Tre Herndon and Chris Claybrooks have been picked on and exposed throughout the year, yet the team has almost no choice but to make them near-every down players. And there’s almost no presence underneath and in the flats, where Philip Rivers and the Colts often find their sweet spot. Rivers should have his pick of where to attack against this undermanned unit.
Houston vs Tennessee
The Texans have watched their 2020 slip away from them, but they can’t blame Deshaun Watson for it. Watson continues to produce consistently - he’s posted 300+ yards in 9 of his 15 outings, including 5 of the last six. It’s been even more impressive to see him do so without much playmaking around him. With Will Fuller V, Randall Cobb, and Kenny Stills all out of commission, Watson now throws to a stripped-down group that includes Brandin Cooks, slot-only specialist Keke Coutee, and an assortment of backs and tight ends. Credit him with the ability to maximize this group so effectively. Cooks always offers a ceiling due to his speed and instincts, though the others are generally just situational weaponry. Watson may not play all of Sunday’s meaningless game, but the matchup sets him up for big-play opportunity while he’s in.
The Titans pass defense has been shuffled around plenty, but still just can’t get out of its own way. They’ve performed decently against the low-end, dysfunctional offenses they’ve faced, but strong passers have generally had their way. The biggest issue for the Titans is the lack of pass rush as they have just 15 sacks and had just one sack in December. Last Sunday, Aaron Rodgers hit on 21 of his 25 throws in the snow, finding Davante Adams for three of his four touchdowns. And when these two teams faced off back in Week 6, Deshaun Watson posted one of the best lines of his young career (28 of 37 for 335 and 4). The Titans actually boast a strong trio of cornerbacks in Malcolm Butler, Desmond King, and a returning Adoree' Jackson, who worked up to 98% of snaps Sunday night. Still, opposing passers are unafraid to work the middle and seam areas, taking advantage of wide zones and weak safety play. Adams just couldn’t be stopped on back-shoulder throws and mind-meld connections with Rodgers, and shaky tackling allowed him to extend a few plays down the field. The Texans don’t boast an Adams-level talent, but they don’t necessarily need one to succeed in this matchup. A tight scheme and confident quarterbacking can simply pick these Titans apart.
Denver vs Las Vegas
The Broncos are staring into yet another offseason of uncertainty at quarterback. Drew Lock has shown very little in his second NFL season: among qualifying passers, he sits 28th in yards per attempt, 28th in touchdown rate, and 36th (dead last) in interception rate. The Broncos were beset by offensive injuries, but Lock still threw to enough pass-catching talent to assert himself, and he failed overall. Still, they’ll get a final chance to make a 2020 impression against the Raiders’ stripped-down pass defense. Rookie wideouts Jerry Jeudy and K.J. Hamler have flashed dynamism, while speedy second-year tight end Noah Fant continues to forge a strong playmaking rapport with Lock. Fant looks fully healthy and has turned 5+ targets into 55+ yards in four of his last five games. He’s the most consistent weapon in this attack, and he matches up nicely against the Raiders’ banged-up safety crew.
The Raiders continue to struggle badly in terms of pass defense. Last week's epic meltdown - a long, last-minute completion coupled with a personal foul that set up a heartbreaking loss - was a perfect microcosm of this unit's dysfunction. Thanks largely to injuries, the secondary has been a patchwork group for much of (another) season. Of course, injuries don't explain away the still-weak pass rush, which sits 29th league-wide in sacks. Simply put, opposing passers can typically do as they please against this group. Over the past four weeks, quarterbacks have completed 69% of their throws and produced 8.6 yards per attempt, with eight touchdowns along the way. Cornerback Trayvon Mullen has taken a star turn here in 2020, but rookie Damon Arnette has struggled mightily across the field when healthy, and Lamarcus Joyner remains a hefty free-agent bust as a slot/nickel man. There's not much safety help, either, despite the team spending real capital over the past two years to add some.