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Top 5 Passing Matchups
Denver vs Detroit
The Broncos have tempered their expectations with Teddy Bridgewater under center. Bridgewater continues to look like a backup-level talent: he doesn’t produce consistently (less than 250 yards in 6 of 11 full games), and he makes too many mistakes to be a “game manager.” Still, the Broncos have assembled a wide array of dynamic talent at the skill positions, and this unit can go off when it sees volume. Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Noah Fant have all proven capable of winning one-on-one matchups to make splash plays whenever focused on. It’s exciting to imagine this cast with an upper-level quarterback, but there’s upside here anyway, considering the sheer ineptitude of the opposing Lions. Sutton, Jeudy, Fant, and the rest should see no real resistance, and they’ll make the most of whatever volume they take on. And if the Lions can keep things competitive, the deep, explosive Broncos would project to their biggest day of the year. Jeudy has been the No. 1 since his Week 8 return, drawing 19% of targets, while Sutton has bullied his way to 90+ yards 3 times this year.
The Lions notched their first win of 2021 last week, but it was no thanks to this shaky unit. The Detroit pass defense has been ravaged by injury and ineffectiveness; now shallow and short on talent, it’s been exploited consistently throughout the year. Opponents don’t always have to throw much to win this game, but when they have, they’ve averaged 8.3 yards per attempt (31st in the league). Cornerbacks Jerry Jacobs and Amani Oruwariye continue to play every defense snap despite being picked on relentlessly down the field. Last week it was Justin Jefferson’s turn (11 for 182 and 1 touchdown), but he’s far from the first playmaker to exploit this secondary. Bears speedster Darnell Mooney erupted for lines of 5-125 and 5-123 here, and Rams slot extraordinaire Cooper Kupp (10-156-2) did the same. There’s not much help in the flats, either, a big reason tight ends keep posting solid stat lines of their own. Just this past month has seen the likes of Tyler Conklin, Cole Kmet, and Austin Hooper snap to life and put up usable numbers in this matchup. Simply put, this whole unit is wildly vulnerable whenever its opponent feels the need to throw. Everyone, even the ho-hum Broncos, enjoys a fantasy boost here.
Tennessee vs Jacksonville
The Titans continue to search for offensive rhythm with running back Derrick Henry and top wideouts A.J. Brown and Julio Jones all on the shelf. There’s hope that Jones can return to action Sunday, but even then they’d still find themselves decimated. Luckily, a date with the Jaguars tends to lift all boats. Jacksonville’s shoddy secondary has allowed big fantasy lines to all the usual suspects, but also to the likes of Tyrod Taylor (291 yards, 2 touchdowns), Teddy Bridgewater (328 and 2), and Tua Tagovailoa (329 and 2). It shouldn’t be hard for Ryan Tannehill to find soft spots of his own, and with the Titans’ many injuries, the target load should be concentrated on just a few guys. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine has been the nominal No. 1 on and off, and he carved up the Texans for 7 catches and 107 yards just 2 weeks ago. We can at least be confident he and Tannehill will able to make the most of whatever air volume they get.
The Jaguars defense plunged to new depths in last Sunday’s 37-7 crushing at the hands of the Rams. An equal-opportunity group, they allowed Sony Michel to dominate on the ground (24 for 121 yards and 1 touchdown) while Matthew Stafford (26 of 38 for 295 and 3) took what he wanted through the air. The secondary was again cut to pieces down the field, allowing Stafford 7 completions of 15+ yards over barely 3 quarters of play. Cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Nevin Lawson look ill-suited to every-down roles, and there’s little depth in the cupboard. There’s some promise up front, where Josh Allen and Dawuane Smoot lead an exciting young pass rush. But the team has dealt away all the intriguing pieces of the secondary and are now facing those consequences. Nothing will turn the tides for this group except two or three years’ worth of roster-building.
New Orleans at NY Jets
The Saints’ air attack is not, at the moment, where coach Sean Payton would like to see it. Losing both Drew Brees and Jameis Winston has taken its toll and forced Payton to choose between a low-level backup (Trevor Siemian) and his beloved gadget man (Taysom Hill). Siemian has been bad enough () to dampen the whole offense if he starts. But the versatile Hill should take the reins if his finger injury allows it. Most of his fantasy value comes from his legs, but he’d benefit from a date with the Jets’ weak defense, which can be exploited by just about anyone willing to go down the field. Hill has thrown for 291 and 264 yards in his last 2 starts, with 2 touchdowns apiece. His supporting cast will clear up if Alvin Kamara, who’s drawn an 18% target share, can return as expected. Wideouts Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris loom as well; both are physical mismatches who can work their way the short-handed Jets downfield.
The Jets, who fell out of the playoff mix back in Week 4 or 5, don’t often face much passing volume (just 34 attempts per game, 20th in the league). But only the Jaguars have allowed a higher completion rate (%), and no one has given up more yardage per throw (8.3). Seven of their 12 opponents have cleared 270 yards, and a few more easily would have if they’d had to throw for all 4 quarters. The Jets boast a rising star in cornerback Bryce Hall, who looks more and more like a shutdown guy each week. But Hall is far from enough on his own to stop the bleeding, and the outlook remains great for even the shaky Saints. The inexperienced Javelin Guidry and Michael Carter II have been pushed into heavy cornerback snaps, and the results out their way haven’t been pretty. Last week it was Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert finding holes, racking up 105 yards and 2 touchdowns through the Jets’ soft zone looks. Without star safety Marcus Maye, who’s on the shelf with an Achilles rupture, there’s no help to speak of on the back end. Big things tend to happen whenever the green, uncertain cornerbacks are actually tested down the field.
Pittsburgh at Minnesota
The Steelers aren’t earning many style points through the air, but they’ve at least realized that it offers their best chance to win. The putrid front line can’t open holes for the ground game, so Ben Roethlisberger continues to approach 40 attempts whenever possible. (It doesn't help that game flow keeps working against the Steelers, who have one just once over their last four games.) Roethlisberger’s arm has deteriorated at 39, so the deep-ball game is no longer much of a threat. But while that may cap the upsides of wideouts Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool, the short-ball focus actually boosts their volume outlook. Johnson has drawn 10+ targets in 9 of his 11 games thus far, turning them into a weekly average of 7 catches and 83 yards, with 6 touchdowns. His high-volume role looks as locked-in as anyone’s, and his explosive play-to-play upside is well-known at this point. The new wild card here is versatile tight end Pat Freiermuth. The rookie has climbed to a 16% target share since the Week 7 bye, drawing more looks inside the 10-yard line than anyone in football.
The Vikings continue to struggle mightily to defend the pass. No inch of the team has been safe from their wildly shaky and uneven play here in 2021, Mike Zimmer’s defense included. Through 12 games they’ve given up the league’s fifth-most yards per attempt and eighth-highest touchdown rate. The once-dominant pass rush looks far more pedestrian with both Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen out, leaving a wide playmaking void up front. That wouldn’t be such a blow if the secondary were better-constructed but a series of poor draft choices have left them relying on journeymen. Bashaud Breeland, Mackensie Alexander, and Patrick Peterson have made for a truly burnable trio of cornerbacks. Over six games since their bye, this unit has allowed 9 different receivers to top 80 yards. Last week it was Detroit’s Amon-Ra St. Brown and T.J. Hockenson finding cracks as quarterback Jared Goff led a methodical, game-winning drive. Ben Roethlisberger and his weapons will present a step up from that level, and they’ll look to exploit this secondary wherever possible.
Kansas City vs Las Vegas
The Chiefs still don’t look like their dominant selves on offense, and there’s no shortage of theories as to why. A number of factors have led here, from a still-gelling front line, to increased defensive attention on the deep ball, to the loss of Sammy Watkins leaving a void as the No. 2 wideout. Still, when faced with a favorable divisional matchup like this one, few quarterbacks have earned more trust than Patrick Mahomes II. The phenom feasted when these teams met last month, hitting on 35 of 50 passes for 406 yards and 5 touchdowns. Mahomes has disappointed twice since then, but projects as well as ever against the Raiders. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce remain the face of this attack, averaging 150 yards a game together, and they draw most of the defensive focus. But there are mismatches everywhere here; the Raiders will have to find answers for the speed of Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, and others in the process. It’s no fun to try and project this unit’s energy and effort levels from week to week, but there’s no questioning the fantasy upside in play.
The Raiders have taken baby steps forward on defense here in 2021, which is to be celebrated. This has been one of football’s worst units for years, and a few strong draft picks have created cause for optimism. But at the moment, this remains a great matchup to see on a fantasy schedule. They’ve given up an average of 281 yards over their last 4 games, with 10 touchdowns along the way. There are exciting pieces in place, like rookie defensive backs Nate Hobbs and Trevon Moehrig, both of whom have locked down starting jobs and excelled. But there are liabilities everywhere else, particularly at cornerback, where Brandon Facyson and even Casey Hayward have struggled. It was telling to see Dak Prescott and the Cowboys rack up 375 yards with both CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper out; both their replacements topped 100 on Thanksgiving. The problems are made even worse when the pass rush isn’t hitting home. Too much has been spent on the edge spots for Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue to still be the only playmakers there.
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups
Tampa Bay vs Buffalo
The Buccaneers continue to win games, and Tom Brady can obviously be trusted to erupt any given week. He did just that last week in posting his fifth 300-yard game of the season. Still, Brady and coach Bruce Arians know when to pick their spots. They’re unafraid to lean on the runners and the underneath game, taking what’s given them by the defense. It’s unlikely they’ll look to test the Bills’ stout secondary unnecessarily, even with Tre’Davious White on the shelf. The Tampa Bay long-ball game has been spotty anyway, with Mike Evans’ fantasy stock always in flux. Brady spends long stretches handing off and checking down almost exclusively; he’s landed below 230 yards in 3 of his last 6 games, after all. Last week he threw the ball 51 times, yet only 5 traveled 15+ yards downfield. All told, this remains a dynamic unit, and it’s never advisable for a fantasy manager to bench a key Buccaneer. But expectations must be tempered in matchups like this one. There’s real potential for Brady to find his true floor here.
The Bills’ dominant pass defense has lost its top player, cornerback Tre’Davious White, to an ACL tear, and that’s no small thing. White has been an All-Pro caliber player for several years, and his absence will be felt dearly. Still, this has been football’s best unit by a mile throughout 2021, and White is far from the only reason for that. Only two opponents have reached 225 yards in this matchup, and both did so in blowouts that featured hefty amounts of garbage time. Levi Wallace has broken out as a coverage star across from White, while Taron Johnson continues to look like one of the league’s best inside men. The Bills have allowed virtually nothing to the slot position (or to tight ends) all year, which works against Tom Brady’s specialty. If Brady is to find success, he’ll likely need Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to punish White’s replacement, Dane Jackson, down the field. Jackson wasn’t tested in his first start, which saw the Patriots throw all of three passes. His play will be crucial, but this group is constructed too well to just fall apart in White’s absence.
NY Giants at LA Chargers
The Giants’ already pitiful air attack looks nothing short of doomed before Sunday’s game even kicks off. The matchup wouldn’t be pretty even if low-level starter Daniel Jones were under center, but injuries have bumped the Giants down to their QB3: Jake Fromm, signed off the Bills’ practice squad nine days ago. Fromm has yet to attempt an NFL pass, and he’ll likely throw to a stripped-down receiving corps down Sterling Shepard and Kadarius Toney. Kenny Golladay has yet to look like a difference-maker of any kind, nor have Evan Engram or Darius Slayton. Simply put, it’s stunning to see an NFL offense fall so far in the wake of losing Daniel Jones. Perhaps Fromm will be good news for running back Saquon Barkley’s output, but absolutely nothing can be assumed as this bad unit hits its new bottom.
The Chargers come fresh off allowing their second 300-yard passing game of the season, but context matters. They beat the Bengals soundly last Sunday, forcing Joe Burrow to throw the ball 40 times to get there (to exactly 300). Prior to that, they’d ridden out a rough month of injury woes but looked like a shutdown unit when healthy together. They’d love to have impressive rookie Asante Samuel Jr back from his Week 11 concussion, but this is a deep secondary that’s weathered the past two weeks well. Michael Davis and Tevaughn Campbell are streaky but talented cover men, while veteran Chris Harris Jr keeps holding steady in the slot. The Chargers’ ace in the hole, safety Derwin James, looks destined for another All-Pro nod as a do-it-all playmaker. The Giants likely don’t have an answer for the Chargers pass rush, which rank fifth league-wide in hurry rate, to begin with. It will be interesting to see Jake Fromm try to pick through the secondary on the few occasions he’s allowed to throw.
Cincinnati vs San Francisco
The Bengals enter Sunday’s date with the 49ers on a bit of a rollercoaster. Their young pass-game nucleus continues to show dynamism and succeed most weeks but remains hard to pin down for fantasy purposes. Quarterback Joe Burrow totaled 300 yards in last week’s loss, but it was his first such game since Week 7, and it took 40 attempts to get there. Meanwhile, he hasn’t thrown multiple touchdowns in a game since Week 8, and he’s pressing forward with a dislocated finger on his throwing hand. Wideouts Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins are young, explosive, and always boast week-winning upside. But there are numerous factors working against them this week, from Burrow’s injury to the matchup the offensive philosophy itself. With all the Bengals’ talent at receiver, it’s easy to forget just how important the run game is to coach Zac Taylor. Joe Mixon tends to grind things out whenever the Bengals find themselves in positive game script.
The 49ers have inched back into the NFC playoff race, thanks in large part to a pass defense that’s settled down and kept opponents in check. Over the past month they’ve shown great in matchups with Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, and Russell Wilson (a combined 6.5 yards per attempt). Last week Wilson completed 30 of his 37 throws, but only 6 of them were sent deep (15+ yards downfield). The 49ers’ disruptive pass rush and surprisingly strong cornerback play has mostly discouraged the deep ball, forcing opponents to mostly dink and dunk. Dating back to Week 8, only one wideout (Cooper Kupp) has cleared 100 yards in this matchup. They’ve scattered strong performances against upper-level wideouts throughout the year, and they’re unlikely to be intimidated by the Bengals’ trio, even with cornerback Emmanuel Moseley on the shelf. Moseley’s replacement, Dontae Johnson, is generally solid, while K’Waun Williams has developed into an elite slot man inside. Behind them, safety Jimmie Ward is healthy and a massive help all over the field.
Atlanta at Carolina
The Falcons can always rely on Matt Ryan to lead a reasonably steady attack, aiming short and completing passes at a high clip (68% this year). But there’s no longer much impact to made in this unit, which has fallen half a world from its heyday of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Ryan is posting his lowest yardage rate (6.9 per attempt, 243 per game) since 2010, and his lowest touchdown rate (1.1 per 30 attempts) since 2015. He rode garbage time to 297 yards last week, but failed to find the end zone for the third time in four weeks. Ryan’s skills have scaled back for sure, though it’s only fair to note the dire straits of the receiving corps. In a perfect world, gifted tight end Kyle Pitts could produce majorly as the team’s nominal WR1, but he draws heavy coverage as the only mismatch on the field. On most weeks, Ryan leads a low-risk, low-reward game that focuses heavily in the slots and flats. Last week saw Russell Gage, a slot specialist who’d be stretched as a WR3, command 12 of Ryan’s 41 throws. Until the coaches prove they can creatively scheme up some playmaking, this unit is fully hands-off against the Panthers.
The Panthers’ season continues to circle the drain, but don’t blame their pass defense, which has been one of 2021’s most dominant. Coordinator Phil Snow has prioritized pressure up front, and his pass rush (second in the league in pressure rate, fourth in sacks) makes life easier for the whole unit. Only 2 of their opponents have topped 230 yards, and only 4 have thrown multiple touchdowns. They’ll move forward without cornerback Donte Jackson, who hit injured reserve over the bye, but that shouldn’t make much impact. Stephon Gilmore and A.J. Bouye have been fantastic reclamation projects, and they look more than capable of shouldering a full workload. Even ex-Jaguar C.J. Henderson has chipped in quality snaps, but perhaps most importantly, impressive rookie Jaycee Horn could return as soon as this week from a broken foot. That makes for a deep, talented secondary capable of blanketing wideouts all over the field. Over the past six weeks, apart from a pair of long catches by Terry McLaurin and Jaylen Waddle, they’ve allowed just 6.7 yards per target (95 per game) to wide receivers.
LA Rams at Arizona
The Rams’ pass game sprang back to life last week, which is what typically happens when a slumping team faces the Jaguars. But Matthew Stafford’s struggles go back further than that; he’s been fighting through injuries all year and his accuracy has waned. From Weeks 9-12 he completed just 61% of his throws, with 5 touchdowns to 5 interceptions. The Rams’ struggles have been most pronounced in their more physical, slow-paced games, which isn’t ideal heading into a date with the Cardinals. Top target Cooper Kupp (a 31% share) continues to look uncoverable, both in the slot and down the field. He’s the new Davante Adams, having topped 10 targets and 90 yards in every game but one. But he’s relegated fellow wideouts Odell Beckham Jr and Van Jefferson to “supporting cast” status, just as he had early on with Robert Woods. Both play big situational roles in real life, but the treading gets a lot tougher this week, and their fantasy value is even shakier than usual.
The Cardinals have spent 2021 shutting down pass games as well as anyone west of Buffalo. Coordinator Vance Joseph’s scheme assaults the pocket with pass-rushers like Chandler Jones and Markus Golden from all angles. That forces errant throws, and it also pushes many opponents to shift to shorter, lower upside gameplans. Only 2 of their 12 opponents have topped 250 yards, both blowouts that were weighted heavily by garbage time. The whole approach falls apart without a secondary can hold coverage, and Joseph has put together a deep, complementary crew. Youngsters Byron Murphy, Jalen Thompson, and Marco Wilson have been tremendous in coverage, as has veteran Robert Alford on the outside. Over the last month they’ve been the driving force in shutting down the likes of Darnell Mooney (27 yards), DK Metcalf (31), and D.J. Moore (24). Tight ends haven’t been finding many seams either: only one, George Kittle back in Week 9, has recorded more than 41 yards in this matchup.
|Week 14 Passing Matchups|
|New Orleans||at NY Jets||Great|
|Kansas City||vs Las Vegas||Great|
|LA Chargers||vs NY Giants||Good|
|NY Jets||vs New Orleans||Neutral|
|Buffalo||at Tampa Bay||Neutral|
|Chicago||at Green Bay||Neutral|
|Green Bay||vs Chicago||Neutral|
|San Francisco||at Cincinnati||Neutral|
|Las Vegas||at Kansas City||Tough|
|Arizona||vs LA Rams||Tough|
|LA Rams||at Arizona||Bad|
|Cincinnati||vs San Francisco||Bad|
|NY Giants||at LA Chargers||Bad|
|Tampa Bay||vs Buffalo||Bad|