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Top 5 Passing Matchups
Cleveland vs Detroit
The Browns are a decidedly run-first team, which suits their personnel nicely. When the ground game isn’t clicking, Baker Mayfield and the air attack tend to find limitations and hit hard ceilings. With Nick Chubb returning to action, the whole offense should stabilize and return Mayfield (or Case Keenum) to his comfort zone: play-action and rollouts designed to shake their playmakers loose downfield. The pecking order isn’t much clearer post-Odell Beckham, but the team has seen big things in small doses from Donovan Peoples-Jones and the tight ends. Over the three games prior to last week’s dud, the speedy Peoples-Jones had posted 11 catches for 257 yards and 3 long touchdowns. A date with the Lions’ pitiful defense tends to highlight those strengths, so Mayfield looks poised to maximize whatever opportunities he gets Sunday.
The Lions pass defense continues to flail badly against all comers. They haven’t faced much volume through the air, but no team allowed more yardage per throw. It still appears only garbage time can keep opponents from taking what they want in this matchup. Most defenses would make a meal out of Mason Rudolph and the depleted Steelers in a downpour, but this group still gave up 240 yards through the air in an ugly tie. Rudolph is not an NFL-caliber quarterback, but he was able to find holes throughout the short and intermediate zones all day. The bleeding is even worse against better competition, as Matthew Stafford (334 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Joe Burrow (271 and 3) can attest. Cornerbacks Amani Oruwariye, Jerry Jacobs, and A.J. Parker have been overmatched all season yet continue to dominate full-time snaps. So it goes for a secondary that was already starved for talent before losing multiple Week 1 starters. With shaky play at the safety spots and little pass rush to speak of (just 14 sacks), this remains one of the game’s weakest units and perhaps the most targetable of fantasy matchups.
Miami at NY Jets
The Dolphins pass game is hit-or-miss even when healthy, and it’s often a tough sell to the fantasy world. But the Week 11 matchup could hardly be more attractive, and this unit may be on a bit of an upswing anyway. Last week saw Tua Tagovailoa sub in mid-game and post one of his most impressive NFL outings. It was encouraging to see Tagovailoa throwing past the chains and moving the ball when asked to. Together, he and Jacoby Brissett turned 36 throws into 314 yards, making the most of a stripped-down receiving corps. Jaylen Waddle and tight end Mike Gesicki remain his top targets, but last Sunday showed the value of Albert Wilson (4 for 97) and Isaiah Ford (4 for 84). This attack is built around samples of everyone’s skillsets, so Tagovailoa can boast strong numbers anytime game flow allows. He averaged 42 attempts and 275 yards over his last 3 pre-injury starts.
The Jets’ nightmarish 2021 season continues to spiral out of control on all sides. From the punchless offense to the fast-depleted defense, the Jets have sunk beyond the bottom of the NFL barrel. Defensively they’ve allowed 40 points a game over their last five, and almost all the damage has come through the air against a shellshocked secondary. Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II, and Bryce Hall have been among the league’s most-victimized cornerbacks over the past month. Without the cover of star safety Marcus Maye, who’s out for the year with a torn Achilles, this group typically has no chance when pressed. They had dodged big-time wideouts for several weeks, but were scorched last Sunday by Buffalo’s Stefon Diggs (8 for 162 and a touchdown) and Gabriel Davis (3 for 105) down the field. The Jets’ whole defense took turns giving up huge plays, which bodes well for the Dolphins’ array of weapons. Tua Tagovailoa and company may still be finding their way, but there are too many coverage holes here not to take advantage of. Even shaky passers like Carson Wentz, Mac Jones, and Matt Ryan have found success far too easily in this matchup.
Tennessee vs Houston
The Titans scramble to cover for the loss of Derrick Henry has been rocky for the whole offense. Thankfully, they draw an intensely favorable Week 11 matchup against what’s left of the Texans. Ryan Tannehill may still be searching for his post-Henry rhythm, but he throws to a pair of strong weapons that make for true mismatches against this woeful defense. A.J. Brown was bracketed last week by the Saints, but his dominant ceiling is well-established. He excelled against the similarly weak secondaries of the Chiefs (8 for 133 and 1 touchdown) and Colts (10 for 155 and 1) just last month. And his disappearing act allowed for the breakout of Marcus Johnson, who schooled Marcus Lattimore multiple times en route to a 5-100 day. If Johnson can make his own splash plays opposite Brown, Tannehill will find ample opportunity to burn through the Texans. With little to no ground game to lean on, he could find himself throwing with both elevated volume and elevated efficiency Sunday.
The Texans, averaging just 14 points per game and struggling in every aspect, don’t face much passing volume. Opponents are throwing the ball just 32 times a game, sixth-lowest in football, as they cruise to one easy win after another. But when they do, they tend to take whatever they want against this beleaguered unit. The Texans have given up (long passes). The Houston defense has steadily shed its talent over the past half-decade, leaving very little to work with in the secondary. Terrance Mitchell, Desmond King, and Tavierre Thomas are the last men standing at cornerback, and all are below-average contributors. Some safety help would tighten things up, but Justin Reid and Eric Murray are mediocre at best. Opposing wideouts like Cooper Kupp (7 for 115 and 1 touchdown), Stefon Diggs (7 for 114), and D.J. Moore (8 for 126) can attest to that. Overall, this remains one of the NFL’s weakest units and most in need of a talent infusion. Until then, it makes for one of fantasy’s most attractive matchups, regardless of game flow.
San Francisco at Jacksonville
The 49ers have to be reveling in the recent efficient play they’ve gotten from Jimmy Garoppolo. Viewed as a pure bridge to Trey Lance, Garoppolo has . Over the past 3 weeks he’s completed 69% of his throws for a sterling 9.5-yard average, with 4 touchdowns to 1 interception. This still isn’t the type of offense that will support several fantasy pass-catchers at once, but Deebo Samuel has cemented himself as must-see TV and a weekly WR1. He’s finally enjoying a healthy season, averaging 6 for 109 yards per game, with 7 all-purpose touchdowns. George Kittle is always a top-tier TE1, and his return consolidates the 49ers’ usage tightly; hardly anyone else draws any targets of note. Garoppolo isn’t a dazzling passer by any means, and his next erratic start could put him right back on the hot seat, if only to the public. But as long as he’s backed by a strong ground game and force feeding Samuel, he’ll be able to cash in on easy matchups like this one.
The Jaguars appears to have taken a step forward on defense over the past two weeks, but it’s debatable. They stifled one elite passer (Josh Allen) and a mediocre one (Carson Wentz) in two solid showings. Still, it will take more than that blip to override this unit’s horrendous play of the past few years. This has been one of the league’s leakiest groups since even before Jalen Ramsey was dealt away. Here in 2021, prior to the past 2 weeks they’d given up 8.9 yards per attempt and 290 a game. They struggled against the strong passers, of course, but even the likes of Tyrod Taylor (291 yards, 2 touchdowns), Teddy Bridgewater (328 and 2), and Tua Tagovailoa (329 and 2) put up season-best lines. The root of the issue lies in the secondary, which continues to rebuild almost perpetually. Rookie Tyson Campbell has endured a host of growing pains, while Shaquill Griffin remains one of the league’s most picked-on cornerbacks. The team can take long-term comfort in a young, dynamic pass rush led by Josh Allen. But at the moment, it’s simply too easy for opponents to beat the weak cover men and create splash plays.
Dallas at Kansas City
The Cowboys may boast the NFL’s strongest all-around offense at this point. Ezekiel Elliott works well behind what’s still an upper-tier front line, while Dak Prescott captains a high-powered air attack with talent at every spot. CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper make for a versatile and often explosive duo, and they’ve added back Michael Gallup at a normal workload. Lamb has definitively surpassed Cooper at this point, both in Cowboys usage and in current skill level. He shreds man coverage and attacks the ball with vigor, whether working from inside or out. Cooper has become a hit-or-miss play, thanks to volume and nagging injury concerns, but remains a playmaker who excels near the goal line. And when game flow allows, tight end Dalton Schultz (50+ yards in 5 of his last 7 games) has caught Prescott’s eye on all levels of the field. In short: this entire starting unit is a Week 11 free square in what could be the week’s wildest game.
The Chiefs’ beleaguered pass defense has tightened of late, but that may be more impressive on paper than in practice. Over the past 3 weeks they’ve dropped from giving up 285 yards per game to 224. On closer inspection, we see that over that span they faced: Daniel Jones and the depleted Giants, Packers with Jordan Love, and the dink-and-dunk Raiders. It would be unfair to just discount their improvement, but Dak Prescott and his many weapons present far more challenge. There are holes all over this secondary to exploit, and it hasn’t been hard for strong passers to take advantage. A.J. Brown picked the weak spots apart four weeks ago, further exposing cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Charvarius Ward as liabilities. Both have disappointed badly after strong 2020 seasons, and neither gets much safety help from Daniel Sorensen or even Tyrann Mathieu. Even in last week’s win, Derek Carr and his receivers were able to break open a handful of big plays through simple mismatches – often down the middle of the field. It’s frightening to think about what a (hopefully) healthy CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper can do between the Chiefs’ zones.
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups
Indianapolis at Buffalo
The Colts remain a run-oriented team, which is why they’re generally satisfied with Carson Wentz’s uneven play. Wentz’s season has been a mix-up of five mega-efficient games (9.2 yards per attempt) and five poor ones (5.4). As a result, while he’s avoiding turnovers, he’s topped 250 yards just 3 times all year. What’s worse is that no receiver beyond Michael Pittman has been able to build any kind of pass-catching rhythm. Pittman has truly broken out, with 60+ yards in 7 of 10 games (and 5 touchdowns). But T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, and the tight ends are always shaky propositions, even when Wentz is forced to throw with volume. And against the Bills’ daunting secondary, Pittman will be hard-pressed to find the same cracks he’s found against the Titans, Jets, and Jaguars.
The Bills defense may be headed for regression at some point soon. After all, they’ve been as dominant as anyone in recent memory to open the season, giving up just 5.7 yards per attempt and 201 a game. Last Sunday they thoroughly suffocated the Jets, adding them to the pile of literally every opponent thus far. Top wideout Corey Davis gathered just 28 yards prior to garbage time, thanks to yet another dominant showing by the NFL’s premier secondary. Tre’Davious White, Levi Wallace, and Taron Johnson have been among the hardest cornerback groups to throw against, and this wasn’t the first time they’ve erased an elite wideout. Of course, it helps to have a world-class duo of coverage safeties in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde on the back end. Opposing passers often just refuse to test this group, keeping things short and underneath whenever possible. But the Colts don’t exactly boast a potent West Coast attack, and Buffalo has more than enough of an arsenal to slow down Michael Pittman. It’s hard to see where the middling Carson Wentz can attack with any confidence at all.
Seattle vs Arizona
The Seahawks didn’t surprisingly didn’t immediately improve from Russell Wilson’s return to the lineup. Wilson bounced back from a three-week absence to turn 43 dropbacks into just 161 scoreless yards. He completed just one deep ball (15+ yards downfield), pulling the explosive DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett out of the game. It’s fair to wonder whether Wilson is yet in optimal shape after a finger injury that wasn’t minor. He missed on a number of routine throws, which is well out of character and suggests the team may have rushed him back out of desperation. Until Wilson proves he’s back on track, it will be hard to trust Metcalf and Lockett to anywhere near their full potential. Both remain must-starts in fantasy, but their floors and ceilings are much more defined when this air attack isn’t clicking. Perhaps tight end Gerald Everett, who caught 8 balls for 63 yards as Wilson’s checkdown partner last week, will see another increased role in the meantime.
The Cardinals were pummeled Sunday by the seemingly hapless Panthers, but the pass defense was hardly tested by Carolina backup P.J. Walker (just 5.8 yards per attempt). This unit has been thoroughly dominant all season: they’ve given up 250+ yards only twice, with both Matthew Stafford and Jimmy Garoppolo needing 40+ throws in garbage time to get there. It’s an aggressive group that punishes both quarterbacks and receivers. Chandler Jones is enjoying another All-Pro campaign as an edge menace, while Markus Golden may be even better and more consistent at this point. Together they force more than their share of rushed, errant throws, allowing the downhill secondary to take advantage. Cornerback Byron Murphy and free safety Jalen Thompson have broken out as playmakers on the ball, while Budda Baker continues to build a case as an elite two-way safety. Not even a healthy, red-hot Russell Wilson would project well in this matchup. It’s a brutal time in his recovery to face this punishing unit.
Washington at Carolina
The Football Team may have already hit its ultimate ceiling with Taylor Heinicke under center. Heinicke has been thoroughly mediocre here in 2021, and he hasn’t always capitalized when given high volume. At least he recognizes Terry McLaurin as his prime weapon (a 27% target share), though they often struggle to connect consistently. McLaurin averaged 89 yards from Weeks 1-4, but has topped 60 just once since then. They’re always capable of hitting big on a given week, yet difficult to trust for locked-in WR1 numbers. It’s worth monitoring whether tight end Ricky Seals-Jones will be able to suit up; if so, he’ll be the default No. 2 receiver. If not, guys like DeAndre Carter, Adam Humphries, and the running backs will be leaned on a bit more. Either way, it’s hard to envision any of these pass-catchers finding holes in the Panthers’ punishing defense.
The Panthers have faced a relatively soft run of quarterbacks over the past month, but that doesn’t take too much away from the dominance they’ve shown. On the year, only 2 of their opponents have topped 205 yards through the air; most have been swarmed over by one of 2021’s toughest units. The pass rush sits fifth leaguewide in sacks, with Haason Reddick (9.5 sacks) and Brian Burns (6.0) both making All-Pro cases. More importantly, the secondary has taken a massive step forward this season, even in the face of rough injury luck. They didn’t necessarily need to add former DPOY Stephon Gilmore to the mix, but he’s fit in nicely over limited snaps. Overall, it’s a unit built to confuse and attack shaky, inexperienced passers just like Washington’s Taylor Heinicke.
Minnesota vs Green Bay
The Vikings pass game has been strong and even dynamic throughout the year, if only in spurts. Kirk Cousins has settled into a groove throwing to an elite duo of Justin Jefferson (6 catches, 86 yards a game) and Adam Thielen (7 touchdowns as the red-zone leader). Both can be dominators when called upon, and the fact that the Vikings’ usage is so concentrated provides a fantasy floor. Slot man K.J. Osborn, tight end Tyler Conklin, and the running backs are used only situationally. Still, this attack doesn’t always hit home, and it plays into the strengths of the Packers defense. Few wideouts have exceeded expectations in this matchup, including the likes of DK Metcalf and Tyreek Hill over the past two weeks. Jefferson and Thielen are fantasy no-brainers regardless of the matchup. Jefferson, in particular, always offers week-winning upside as a target hog and a downfield threat. But with few other ways to attack consistently, they’ll likely find themselves clawing hard for everything, which caps their upsides.
The Packers defense has surged of late, clamping down on the likes of Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes II, and Russell Wilson over the past three weeks. That trio averaged just 200 yards in this matchup, with a single touchdown and 4 interceptions. What’s amazing is that they’ve tightened up so much in the absence of All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander, who hasn’t seen the field since Week 4. The Packers have stockpiled young (if raw) secondary talent that’s paying off in the form of strong depth. Prized rookie Eric Stokes has flashed tremendous coverage talent, while Kevin King has bounced back nicely from injuries and a horrendous 2020 season. Just as importantly, the Packers boast arguably the league’s best safety duo in Adrian Amos and Darrell Savage over the top. They’re huge reasons this group has given up just 99 yards per game to wideouts over this stretch.
Pittsburgh at LA Chargers
The Steelers will likely have Ben Roethlisberger back for Week 11, and he’s a clear upgrade over the practice-squad caliber Mason Rudolph. But the statistical edge isn’t huge; both passers are low-risk, low-impact passes who will produce only as far as game flow takes them. Roethlisberger’s efficiency numbers remain as low as they’ve ever been, and he won’t have the homerun potential of Chase Claypool to hint at real upside. Diontae Johnson (81st in yards per target) and Ray-Ray McCloud (139th) are little more than accumulators in this weak-armed offense. It’s still fun to watch the wrinkles added to the script for rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth’s skillset, but even he doesn’t offer much dynamism (8.6 yards per catch).
The Chargers continue to serve as one of the NFL’s best examples of a “run funnel.” The relatively light run defense invites opponents to keep the ball grounded whenever possible. It also helps that the Chargers boast gobs of talent on the back end; they’re even deep enough to paper over some recent injury woes. Asante Samuel and Tevaughn Campbell have been the starters at cornerback, with Chris Harris still treading water in the slot. Prior to the past two weeks, they hadn’t allowed an opposing wideout to top 70 yards since Week 3. Plenty of credit, though, belongs to a deep, talented pass rush that pushes the pocket from all angles. Led by likely All-Pro Joey Bosa, they rank just 27th in sacks, but 6th in hurry rate and 12th in knockdowns. Neither Steelers quarterback wants to see that kind of pressure behind a bottom-tier line, so it’s hard to picture the Steelers having much success this week.
|Week 11 Passing Matchups|
|San Francisco||at Jacksonville||Great|
|Dallas||at Kansas City||Great|
|Miami||at NY Jets||Great|
|New England||at Atlanta||Good|
|Philadelphia||vs New Orleans||Good|
|Kansas City||vs Dallas||Good|
|Las Vegas||vs Cincinnati||Neutral|
|NY Giants||at Tampa Bay||Neutral|
|Cincinnati||at Las Vegas||Neutral|
|Green Bay||at Minnesota||Neutral|
|NY Jets||vs Miami||Neutral|
|Tampa Bay||vs NY Giants||Tough|
|LA Chargers||vs Pittsburgh||Tough|
|New Orleans||at Philadelphia||Tough|
|Jacksonville||vs San Francisco||Tough|
|Atlanta||vs New England||Tough|
|Minnesota||vs Green Bay||Bad|
|Pittsburgh||at LA Chargers||Bad|