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Top 5 Passing Matchups
Washington vs Seattle
The Football Team doesn’t boast a particularly potent air attack. Taylor Heinicke has made encouraging strides as a quarterback, but he’s averaged a ho-hum 238 yards since Week 5, with just 7 touchdowns. Still, there’s value here because this attack is often concentrated tightly around star wideout Terry McLaurin, who’s capable of dominating just about any matchup. McLaurin cleared 100 in last week’s win for the fourth time on the year, thanks in large part to his 27% target share. He’s electric on all levels of the field and most excels at winning tough catches in traffic – often in the end zone or to move the chains. Whenever such a big-play connection pops up in a generous matchup like this one, the fantasy world should go on notice. It’s hard to picture how Seattle’s weak cover men stay with McLaurin while keeping an eye on the supporting guys.
The Seahawks are in free-fall mode, losing five of their last six games. And while Russell Wilson and the offense are flailing, the defense remains a turnstile for opponents and a strong fantasy matchup to exploit. They’ve been picked apart by most of the quarterbacks they’ve faced, from Matthew Stafford (365 yards, 1 touchdown) and Kirk Cousins (323 and 3) to Colt McCoy last Sunday (328 and 2). There is a stunning lack of coverage talent in this secondary, a far cry from the days of Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman. The team finally took mercy and moved on from beleaguered cornerback Tre Flowers, but replacements Ugo Amadi and D.J. Reed have been worked over for much of the year. They’re a big reason virtually every dynamic receiver on the schedule has posted a big day. There’s not much safety help here, with Jamal Adams spending most of 2021 as a punchline in coverage, and the depleted pass rush doesn’t give much of a head start. Holding Washington’s Terry McLaurin below 90-100 yards and out of the end zone would be an achievement.
Carolina at Miami
The Panthers know Cam Newton no longer throws the ball at his former MVP level, but what he brings to the table is plenty for this offense. Newton completed 20 of his 25 throws, almost all short balls, in his first start back with Carolina, with a pair of touchdowns. He’ll likely open up a bit more as time goes by, and he’s a better facilitator for Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson than Sam Darnold would be. Newton showed Sunday he’s still versatile and determined enough to extend drives and create scoring opportunities. The pass-catchers are skilled enough to win one-on-one matchups all over the field, as seen Sunday on Newton’s touchdowns: an improvised 10-yarder to Moore and an instinctive 27-yarder to McCaffrey up the seam. Newton is far from a perfect passer at this stage, but he still has an impressive nose for those splash plays.
The Dolphins pass defense has taken steps forward of late, including great work against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens just two weeks ago. Still, this group continues to underperform from its lofty expectations. Most before the season projected this to be the team’s strength, but that’s been sporadic. Cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones carry big name value, but both have struggled to prevent splash plays down the field. The leaks have improved a bit lately, but they’ve required more help coverage than usual, which pulls help away elsewhere and creates holes. There are also struggles over the middle, with the linebacker crew often overextended against better backs and tight ends. Atlanta’s Kyle Pitts provided a blueprint a few weeks ago, consistently getting behind main linebacker Jerome Baker and beating the cornerbacks en route to 163 yards. Considering how the Panthers use Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore, there are real liabilities here to exploit for big plays.
Houston vs NY Jets
The Texans aren’t getting much from Tyrod Taylor through the air: just 240 and 107 touchdown-less yards in his 2 games back from injury. But it’s important to note that last week’s game took place in driving rain, and that coordinator Tim Kelly continues to push the ball down the field. This Sunday, Taylor and top wideout Brandin Cooks will likely face better conditions and one of fantasy’s friendliest defenses. Cooks has proven his meddle as both a deep threat and underneath go-to man, and his speed is tailor-made for a matchup like this one. His ability to explode on a dime through any crease will play well against a banged-up secondary that lacks coordination. As for Taylor, his fantasy appeal always comes from his legs, which supplement the shakier days through the air. In Week 12, he’s set up to maximize any opportunity he gets to air it out.
The Jets pass defense has been abysmal in 2021, but especially bad over the past month. Dating back to Week 7, opponents have averaged 40 points and 311 passing yards, with 12 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. Few units around the NFL are more in need of a talent makeover than this beaten-up group. The only dependable piece of the secondary, underrated star safety Marcus Maye, sits on IR with a ruptured Achilles. There are reasons to be excited about breakout cornerback Bryce Hall, but he’s far from enough. The regular starters have been picked on relentlessly yet remain full-timers out of sheer necessity. Michael Carter II and Ashtyn Davis have been frequent victims, though it’s been a team effort allowing one big play after another. Broken coverages are common, as seen last Sunday on Mack Hollins’ easy 65-yard touchdown, or the week before as Josh Allen repeatedly carved through the secondary. It makes for as strong a bounce-back spot as any for Tyrod Taylor and Brandin Cooks.
NY Jets at Houston
The Jets are still waiting to see their newest franchise quarterback show his wares. Rookie Zach Wilson will return this week from a knee injury and has looked only borderline competent thus far. (The Mike White era, it appears, has drawn to a close.) Perhaps the bigger Jets story right now is rookie Elijah Moore, who erupted in last week’s loss for 141 yards and 1 touchdown on 8 catches. Moore was the easy target leader with 11 and offers massive upside as the team looks toward the future. He’s versatile and explosive both inside and out, and his 62-yard touchdown catch-and-run had the look of an “announcement.” The production beyond Moore will remain spotty, with Jamison Crowder and $38 million man Corey Davis making splashes situationally. But the sky is the limit for Moore, and the whole gang gets a matchup boost against the weak Texans.
The Texans pass defense has improved on paper over its past two games, but context matters. Those came against Dolphins backup Jacoby Brissett and Ryan Tannehill’s severely banged-up Titans. Overall, this is virtually the same unit that’s been worked over by most of the passers it’s faced. They sit 27th in net yards per attempt, struggling to either push the pocket (29th in hurry rate) or play the deep ball (28th in air yardage). Regular cornerbacks Terrance Mitchell and Desmond King have struggled mightily, leading to a handful of big lines from opposing wideouts. Last week it was Tennessee’s Nick Westbrook-Ikhine exposing the holes for a career-high 107 yards. The Jets aren’t exactly talent-rich, but they boast enough dynamism to take advantage of this shaky group.
Cleveland at Baltimore
The Browns try not to put too much on Baker Mayfield’s shoulders (just 27.5 attempts per game). But when they do, they typically ask him to use play action and rollouts to find big plays down the field. That hasn’t panned out over the past two weeks, but Mayfield has endured ups and downs all year. The last time Mayfield played this badly, in Weeks 3 and 4, he bounced back to shred the Chargers (23 of 32, 305 yards, 2 touchdowns) in Week 5. The keys to this attack are Mayfield’s ability to avoid mistakes and the health of speedy wideout Donovan Peoples-Jones, who sat out Sunday’s win. Peoples-Jones had broken out with 85 yards a game (23.2 per catch) over a 3-game span. Beyond him, the rotation is mostly situational, with Jarvis Landry and a slew of tight ends that work their way on and off the field. Health permitting, there’s a real path to a surprisingly strong day for Mayfield and his weapons.
The Ravens’ long-standing reputation for strong pass defense has seen a hiccup over the past month. Such slumps are to be expected in an aggressive, man-heavy scheme like this one, but this has been excessive. Over the Ravens’ last 4 games they’ve allowed a robust 8.8 yards per attempt and 299 a game to opponents. It’s notable that half that production came against the shaky air attacks of the Dolphins and Bears, with Tua Tagovailoa and Andy Dalton each finding a handful of huge plays down the field. Coordinator Wink Martindale‘s scheme asks the world of All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who can do only so much on his own. Anthony Averett and what’s left of Jimmy Smith make for iffy depth, and opposing receivers have made sure to take advantage. Cincinnati’s JaMarr Chase (8 for 201 and 1 touchdown in Week 7) can attest to that, as can Chicago deep threats Darrell Mooney and Marquise Goodwin, who combined for 9-225-2 last Sunday. The Browns are run-oriented, but they’ll surely look to capitalize on at least a few deep balls when the Ravens press the line of scrimmage tightly.
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups
New Orleans vs Buffalo
The Saints continue to baffle onlookers with their post-Drew Brees quarterbacking plans. Last season, coach Sean Payton shockingly forced Taysom Hill under center full-time when Brees was hurt, and the gadget man was predictably overwhelmed yet dynamic in the role. Now, with Jameis Winston off the table, Hill draws a big contract while Payton leans on replacement-level journeyman Trevor Siemian to start. Siemian has been predictably low on both efficiency and production, putting up just 6.4 yards per attempt and 230 a game. The majority of even those modest numbers came when the Saints were forced into catch-up mode. Siemian throws to a revolving cast of low-volume weapons who mean much more to the Saints’ conservative gameplan than to the fantasy world. There’s always hope for the dynamic TreQuan Smith (5 for 64 last week) and Marquez Callaway (touchdowns on 5 of his 24 receptions). But as long as this band of misfits lacks a quarterback and a go-to threat, it will be easy to ignore in fantasy.
The Bills are in recovery from Sunday’s unexpected thrashing, but there’s still no reason to doubt their smothering pass defense. The Colts hardly even tested the waters against the NFL’s best unit, winning the game almost entirely on the ground. Through 10 games, only 2 Bills opponents have topped 220 yards through the air, and both were helped along by hefty garbage time to get there. It’s true they haven’t yet faced much of a quarterback schedule, but that won’t change this Sunday, and this group looks poised to suffocate Trevor Siemian. The Bills don’t blitz often, yet still lead the league in hurry rate and have deleted far better air attacks than this one. On the back end, TreDavious White has actually been the least consistent link in 2021’s best trio of cornerbacks. Taron Johnson and Levi Wallace have made names for themselves as well, and they’re all backed by a truly elite pair of safeties that make quarterbacks pay for errant throws. As a result, no pass-catcher has reached 100 yards in this matchup, and those who have crept close have needed heavy volume to do so. The Saints have lacked identity in their passing game all year, and it’s unlikely they’ll find it this week in such a monumental mismatch.
Miami vs Carolina
The Dolphins air attack has taken noticeable steps forward over the past few weeks, with Tua Tagovailoa looking more comfortable as a low-risk dinker making mostly high-percentage throws. But it’s fair to wonder just how much impact is made that way, and whether quality defenses can simply erase it when they see it. Tagovailoa took very few shots in Sunday’s win over the Jets, throwing 10+ yards on just 4 of his 33 attempts. There’s simply not much gameplan confidence in his connections down the field, which have been set back further by long-term injuries to DeVante Parker and Will Fuller. Tagovailoa spends most of his days looking for Jaylen Waddle on quick slants a few feet away, or checking down to Myles Gaskin and Mike Gesicki in the flats. There’s usually at least strong volume appeal here, but even that’s hard to trust as they take on a daunting matchup.
The Panthers pass defense has been dominant for much of 2021; in fact, it’s been the driving force in this team hanging tough at 5-5. Coordinator Phil Snow has put together a deep, versatile unit that’s held 9 of its 10 opponents under 260 yards through the air. The Panthers sit second league-wide in net yardage allowed and third in sacks. Those numbers may have been deflated a bit by a relatively weak schedule, but it doesn’t take away from a truly impressive turnaround from last season. Dating back to Week 7 they’ve allowed just a single receiver (Terry McLaurin last Sunday) to clear 65 yards. Much of the credit goes to Snow’s offbeat scheme, which pressures the pocket off-and-on from all angles. But some must be reserved for the island of misfit cornerbacks, cobbled together through free agency and excelling in Snow’s coverage packages. Starters Donte Jackson and A.J. Bouye have had their share of beats, but they’re supported by a deep group that uses five and six backs to limit the options downfield. Midseason pickups Stephon Gilmore and C.J. Henderson keep contributing as they build up their workloads. Tua Tagovailoa and what’s left of his weaponry will have their work cut out finding big plays Sunday.
Tennessee at New England
The Titans are still seeking an offensive identity without Derrick Henry on the shelf. With both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones bouncing in and out of the lineup, it looks like a near-impossible task. Ryan Tannehill spent most of last week’s second half forcefeeding Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Chester Rogers, and Dontrell Hilliard out of the backfield. Tannehill compiled 323 yards in the fast-paced loss, but he needed 52 attempts to do so and threw 4 interceptions. It would be unfair to judge Tannehill as he sorts through this mess, but it doesn’t look to get much better against New England. Brown hasn’t been ruled out, but Jones and top reserve Marcus Johnson both sit on injured reserve. This is essentially a JV offense until some positive injury news emerges.
The Patriots, true to form under coach Bill Belichick, stand as one of fantasy’s toughest matchups to justify. Virtually no one throws on Belichick’s group; apart from a two-game stretch early in the season, opponents have averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt (would be best in the league) 197 a game (would be second). Understandably, much of the credit goes to Belichick’s scheme, which samples everyone’s skillset while minimizing their weaknesses. Cornerback J.C. Jackson has emerged as a man-coverage star who’s already emerged from Stephon Gilmore’s shadow. He’s played a big role in the team shutting down the likes of D.J. Moore (4.6 yards per target), Mike Williams (3.8), and the Buccaneers’ trio of Mike Evans/Chris Godwin/Antonio Brown (just 6.9 together). In fact, this unit hasn’t allowed a wideout to find the end zone since Week 8. No Belichick defense would be complete without a diverse pass rush from all angles, and this group certainly has one. It all makes for a daunting task for their opponents, and a headache for fantasy players who take the plunge against them.
Minnesota at San Francisco
The Vikings air attack has been outstanding over the past two weeks, shredding the Chargers and Packers for 635 yards and 5 touchdowns. Most of the thanks goes to wideout Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, who have drawn 46% of Kirk Cousins’ targets this season and 57% of the yardage. There’s not much dynamism behind them, though, which doesn’t leave much room for error. The 49ers tend to defend outside receivers well, and their dynamic front seven makes it difficult for opposing passers to get their timing down. Cousins will be hard-pressed to keep spreading the ball around so well if the 49ers can throw him off his rhythm. That will be especially true if Jefferson and Thielen succumb to too much bracket coverage down the field. There aren’t many sources of splash plays to be found down the depth chart.
The 49ers pass defense isn’t flawless, but it’s a talented group that’s served as a fantasy vacuum for most of 2021. They haven’t allowed an opponent to reach 250 yards since Week 3, a stretch that’s included dates with Matthew Stafford, Kyler Murray, and a pre-injury Russell Wilson. Despite nagging injuries to the secondary, they’ve excelled at blanketing receivers downfield and cutting off splash plays. Over that seven-game span they’ve given up just eight touchdowns through the air, and only four have gone to wideouts. Their only real Achilles’ heel has been in the slot, where the dependable K’Waun Williams has endured a down year. He has reinforcement, though, from an elite up-front coverage unit led by linebacker Fred Warner. Coordinator DeMeco Ryans’ aggressive scheme uses all its front-seven playmakers to track and play the pass, which is what puts Warner, Nick Bosa, and perhaps Arik Armstead on the short list for All-Pro honors.
Denver vs LA Chargers
The Broncos know they operate best when asking less from Teddy Bridgewater. The journeyman is generally solid in calm waters, but he lacks the tools to beat the blitz and dissect tough coverages from week to week. The Denver offense boasts a wealth of skill-position talent, from the dominant Courtland Sutton, to the young and polished Jerry Jeudy, to a dynamic set of young tight ends in Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam. Sutton and Jeudy complement each other as a downfield ace and a playmaker, respectively, while Fant is an athletic marvel from the slot. But until John Elway secures a quarterback with the skill and the arm to take advantage, this will always be a bumpy fantasy play at best. Bridgewater has cleared 250 yards in just 4 of his 9 full games, and 2 of those required garbage time to get there.
The Chargers pass defense has dipped in recent weeks, but it’s been a point of strength through most of an up-and-down year. It’s important to note that injured starters have been working their way back into the lineup for weeks, and that the core now looks to be at full health. Safety Derwin James remains the spine of this unit; he looks poised for another All-Pro bid as a master of many trades on the back end. His presence is a boon for the cornerbacks and allows them to play the ball more aggressively. Michael Davis, Chris Harris, and Asante Samuel have been inconsistent overall, but also pesky and more than willing to challenge or break up a throw. From the start of the year through Week 6, when notable injuries began to mount, only a single opposing wideout (CeeDee Lamb) topped 65 yards in this matchup.
|Week 12 Passing Matchups
|vs NY Jets
|at New Orleans
|at NY Giants
|vs Las Vegas
|vs Tampa Bay
|vs LA Rams
|at Green Bay
|vs LA Chargers
|at San Francisco
|at New England