TOP 4 PASSING MATCHUPS WEEK 19
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Kansas City vs Cleveland
The Chiefs passing attack is a unit that sputtered into the postseason, as they are coming off of two of Patrick Mahomes II' worst games of the season against New Orleans and Atlanta in Weeks 15 and 16. Mahomes completed just 55% of his passes and threw an average of just 266 yards in those contests. The Chiefs did not play their starters in Week 17 and had a bye last week, so they should be well-rested and healthy heading into this game which should allow the offense to get back to being the best in the NFL. Andy Reid is 20-3 in his career when coming off a bye, so expect the offense to get back to normal standards of being a highly efficient offense.
The Browns have defied expectations and made it into the Divisional Round of the playoffs for the first time since 1993. The secondary, however, still remains to be a significant problem for Cleveland as evidenced by Ben Roethlisberger throwing for an astounding 501 yards and 4 touchdowns last week. While all of the yardage was in garbage time last week, it does highlight the major issues that Cleveland has in the secondary. On the season, the Browns have allowed 6 quarterbacks to top 300 yards passing, and 4 of those topped 389 yards passing. The Browns secondary stats are largely propped up due to a weak schedule and three consecutive games in which weather made it essentially impossible to throw the ball. The good news for Cleveland is that they will be as healthy as they have been all season as Denzel Ward and Kevin Johnson will return pushing liabilities Robert Jackson and M.J. Stewart back to the bench. The only glimmer of hope in this offense is Ward, who is one of the few cornerbacks in the NFL who has the speed and skill to keep up with Tyreek Hill as Ward ran a 4.32 40-yard dash coming out of college. The problem for the Browns will be stopping the tight end position, which is a position that has decimated them all season as they have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to the position allowing 57 yards per game while not having to have faced Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, or George Kittle.
Cleveland at Kansas City
The Browns passing offense is one that has been improving throughout the season and Alex Van Pelt and Kevin Stefanski have done a tremendous job evolving. While still not a high-powered passing offense, has improved in turning Baker Mayfield into a game manager. After early-season troubles with turnovers, Mayfield and the Browns have only thrown one interception over their last 10 games which is remarkable considering Mayfield threw seven interceptions in their first seven games and threw 21 interceptions in 2019. A big reason for this has been a much improved offensive line especially up the middle which is where Mayfield runs into problems is pressure that prevents him from stepping up into the pocket. The loss of Odell Beckham Jr has forced Mayfield into reading through his progressions quicker and then check it down to his tight end or running backs when in trouble. It is by no means an offense that is going to lead the league in passing yards, but it is much more efficient and complementary to the strong rushing attack that the Browns have.
The Chiefs defense is one that is designed to rush the passer and hope that they get to the quarterback prior to their secondary allowing the receiver to get open, and to prevent the big play with Tyrann Mathieu at safety. The Chiefs have spent a lot of money to build this defense the way that they have as Frank Clark, Chris Jones, and Tyrann Mathieu represent three of their five highest-paid players on the team. It is far from a perfect unit especially in the second half of the season as the Chiefs have allowed 300+ yard passers in three of their final 4 games of the year and have allowed quarterbacks to hit the mark 7 times all season. The corner position continues to be the weakest position, especially at the slot corner as L'Jarius Sneed has struggled at the position and is one of the weaker slot corners. Keep an eye on Tyrann Mathieu in this game, as the Browns strength is Jarvis Landry out of the slot, so that could set up a matchup problem that may force the Chiefs to move Mathieu down to the slot corner.
New Orleans vs Tampa Bay
The Saints throw the ball as efficiently as just about anyone, even if they don’t always find the volume to post big fantasy numbers. Drew Brees returned from injury with two shaky performances but has righted the ship with his full complement of weapons together. Michael Thomas’ return to action Sunday went about as expected, producing 73 yards and a touchdown despite a limited role. Thomas remains among the game’s most dependable wideouts, though it’s worth noting he found little room to maneuver in his regular-season dates with the Buccaneers (just 68 yards on 11 targets). Tampa Bay will again look to funnel attention away from Thomas and down underneath, where the Saints boast several options. Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook are dynamic and versatile underneath, and both are threats to turn any touch into a splash play.
The Buccaneers have built a pass defense that’s aggressive and opportunistic, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the year they gave up the league’s eighth-fewest adjusted yards and picked off 16 passes, yet their raw numbers (269 yards a game and 29 touchdowns) were well below the line. Tampa Bay games often turn into shootouts, which drives up those numbers even when Todd Bowles‘ defense is playing well. They can definitely rely upon Jamel Dean, who’s broken out as one of 2020’s best cornerbacks. Dean doesn’t shadow receivers often, but he certainly played a role in limiting the likes of Terry McLaurin, Calvin Ridley, and Marvin Jones Jr over the past three weeks. Across the field, Carlton Davis has also emerged as an occasional shutdown guy, though he’s not immune from being beaten downfield. If there’s a clear weak spot here, it’s on the edges of the field, where tight ends and slot men have found success in recent weeks. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, that’s precisely where Drew Brees and his many weapons are set up best to target.
Baltimore at Buffalo
The Ravens passing attack offered little to write home about during the regular season, finishing with the league’s fewest passing yards while Lamar Jackson tossed at least one interception in half of his games while finishing with only three 200+ passing yard outings. This passing offense does have dynamic weapons, however, and Jackson can feed them when he gets locked in. Marquise Brown has been a primary playmaker throughout the second half of the season, finishing with at least 90 yards or a touchdown in each of his past seven games--including a season-high 109 yards in last week’s win. Brown has the top-level speed to match up with most cornerbacks out there, but his hands have failed him on and off this season as drops have been a significant problem. Tight end Mark Andrews is right behind Brown in productivity, as he often finds open space down the seams using his size to make big plays for this offense--but he too has struggled with drops, including an ugly one last week. The Baltimore offensive line has done a decent job protecting Jackson this season, but there was a breakdown last week as Jackson took a season-high five sacks against an inept Titans pass rush. Jackson will need to be on his toes this week against a talented group of Bills edge defenders.
The Buffalo passing defense relies on a solid pass rush and reasonably strong secondary, anchored by shut-down cornerback TreDavious White. This secondary has contributed to holding opposing wide receivers to the fifth-least fantasy points per game during the regular season, and White was a huge part of that. Beyond White, the Bills have solid safeties in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, but this defense has been known to give up some big plays at terrible times--including a few fourth-quarter comebacks throughout the regular season. This defense has had less success defending against the tight end position, giving up the fifth-most fantasy points per game during the regular season and allowing Jack Doyle to go for 70 yards and a touchdown last week. Mark Andrews should be in a great spot, whereas the likes of Miles Boykin and Marquise Brown will have tougher matchups.