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Top 5 Passing Matchups
Arizona at Detroit
The Cardinals come fresh off their most prolific passing game of the year. In a losing effort, Kyler Murray hit on 32 of 49 throws for 383 yards, showing no effects of his midseason ankle woes. It must be noted that Murray somehow didn’t throw a touchdown, and that it was his first game above 275 yards since Week 4. But the important takeaways were that he’s healthy, that game flow can boost his ceiling tremendously, and that all of his receivers have situational value in fantasy. In the rotation, DeAndre Hopkins (54 yards Monday) has yet to separate himself from the likes of A.J. Green (102), Christian Kirk (86), or even James Conner (94). All are difficult to trust individually, but the overall outlook is great against the Lions’ paper-thin defense. The mix of fast pace and dynamic playmaking makes for the best raw matchup on the Week 15 board.
The Lions pass defense remains the NFL’s weakest and most burnable. The entire unit was lacking badly in talent and cohesiveness even before numerous Week 1 starters fell to various injuries. As a result, they sit 31st in yards allowed per attempt and have for most of the season. Sometimes their weakness is hidden in the box score by a coasting opponent who doesn’t have to throw much. But when anyone does, they hit little resistance in posing a big fantasy day. Seven of their 13 opponents have topped 270 yards, including the likes of Andy Dalton (317) and Jimmy Garoppolo (314). Jerry Jacobs and Amani Oruwariye are stretched thin as the every-down starters at cornerback, but there’s little left in terms of able bodies, let alone competitors for snaps. Playmakers Justin Jefferson (11 catches, 182 yards, 1 touchdown), Cooper Kupp (10 for 156 and 2), and Darnell Mooney (5 for 123) can vouch for that. Journeyman Nickell Robey-Coleman was brought in to help stop the bleeding in the slot, but he’s no matchup-buster. The Cardinals will likely keep this game slow-paced and on the ground when they can, but Kyler Murray and his weapons should maximize whatever air volume they take.
Miami vs NY Jets
The Dolphins continue to give Tua Tagovailoa only so much responsibility. He’s throwing with ample volume (37 attempts per full start), but rarely is he testing anyone downfield (29th in yards per completion). Fantasy managers aren’t bothered, though, as it’s keeping the young passer in his comfort zone and compiling decent numbers. Tagovailoa has completed 80% of his throws over his last 3 games, averaging 249 yards with 5 touchdowns. It’s modest production, but it’s efficient enough to ramp up against a belly-up defense like the Jets’. When they met a month ago, Tagovailoa recorded 273 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Dolphins win. Even better, this attack is focused around three pieces: DeVante Parker, rookie Jaylen Waddle, and tight end Mike Gesicki, who combined to draw 51% of Tagovailoa’s targets in Week 13. They’re volume-driven guys, but Waddle especially has proven he’s explosive enough to create big plays; he’s long overdue for a 150-yard eruption. There may not be a better matchup to erupt in than this one. It is looking like the Dolphins will be without their top three running backs in this game due to Covid, so expect a heavy dosage of passing attack this week.
The Jets haven’t given up much passing yardage of late, just 192 per game over the past 3 weeks. But it’s worth noting that’s been influenced heavily by matchup and game flow. All three opponents were run-dominant on offense, and none threw the ball more than 26 times. The last time the Jets faced a pass-centric team was in Week 11, against these very Dolphins, who completed 27 of 33 for 273 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Opposing passers have had little trouble finding openings, but it’s been especially bad since star safety Marcus Maye was lost for the season. Over 8 games without Maye this year they’ve given up 8.3 yards per attempt and 14 touchdowns. There’s a silver lining here in young cornerback Bryce Hall, who’s excelled for much of his second NFL season. But he’s still developing consistency, and he isn’t schemed to shadow and shut down a specific playmaker. Besides, he has little help around him in coverage, so he’s easy to avoid. Brandon Echols and rookie Michael Carter II II have been picked on mercilessly down the field; that’s not the Dolphins’ specialty, but it may prove irresistible. Tua Tagovailoa should be able to pick his spots and find success for as long as he needs to throw Sunday.
LA Rams vs Seattle
The Rams appear to be over their midseason swoon, coming fresh off a pair of statement wins that saw Matthew Stafford re-enter the MVP race. Stafford was masterful on Monday night, hitting on 23 of his 30 throws for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns. More impressively, he did so without the services of running back Darrell Henderson and tight end Tyler Higbee. As usual, Stafford leaned hard on All-World wideout Cooper Kupp, who’s now averaging 9 catches for 115 yards a game, with 12 touchdowns. Kupp makes plays on all quarters of the field, and if Odell Beckham Jr remains on the COVID list, his astounding workload would be even more stable. If Beckham is cleared, he’ll look to build on a nice run with Stafford, turning in 81- and 77-yard performances as the second banana to Kupp. He’s been running ahead of Van Jefferson as the No. 2, though the youngster continues to make plays down the field. Tight end Tyler Higbee remains a wild card: he’s seen just 62 targets through 12 games, but 8 have come inside the 10-yard line, with just 2 turning into touchdowns.
The Seahawks have officially tail spun, and their once-proud pass defense is largely to blame. For all the disarray on offense, this unit has given up more net pass yards than anyone in football. Even the benefit of a favorable schedule hasn’t helped: they’ve allowed big fantasy lines to the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo (299 yards, 2 touchdowns), Colt McCoy (328 and 2), and Davis Mills (331 and 1). The runway appears set for Matthew Stafford and his weapons to do as they please Sunday. Slot man Ugo Amadi will be tasked with slowing down All-Pro-to-be Cooper Kupp, who shakes himself free both underneath and down the field. When these teams met back in Week 5, Kupp and Robert Woods combined to beat these cornerbacks for a combined 242 yards. Stafford was rarely under duress and will now take on the same unit, minus star safety Jamal Adams, in what looks like a lopsided rematch. It’s hard to imagine how this thinned-out group can slow what’s (usually) been a prolific Rams attack.
Green Bay at Baltimore
The Packers have endured a roller coaster with Aaron Rodgers through every inch of the preseason (and chunks of the regular season, as well). But their patience pays off when Rodgers erupts as he has over the past month, averaging 8.7 yards per throw and 331 a game. Rodgers is unafraid to push the ball Davante Adams’ way, sending his star wideout 28% of his attempts. Last week Adams “quietly” posted 10 receptions for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. The rest of the pass-catchers tend to fall in behind Adams, though several have notable roles. No. 2 wideout Allen Lazard continues to fly under the radar with potential to close the year strong, while running back Aaron Jones always has Rodgers’ eye near the goal line. The Packers are in a great spot here, but wise fantasy players will monitor the status of his injured toe this week to confirm it.
The Ravens may appear beefed up against the pass, based on recent game logs, but don’t be fooled. Their last five games have consisted of dates with Jacoby Brissett, Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, and Baker Mayfield (twice) – it’s no surprise they haven’t been giving up much. Prior to this stretch, they’d been bowled over several times by opponents with competent air attacks. Now they’ll press on with both their All-Pro caliber cornerbacks, Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, on the shelf. There’s no realistic way to prepare for that, particularly with No. 3 man Jimmy Smith, himself a part-time player already, up in the air for Week 15. This will be close to a practice-squad/ special teamers unit working against Aaron Rodgers, and it’s fair to project that winner with some certainty.
Denver vs Cincinnati
The Broncos continue to trust Teddy Bridgewater under center, to results that are unspectacular but occasionally productive. Bridgewater struggled during a rough schedule through midseason, but he had erupted in softer matchups early in the year. That box is checked this week against a relatively thin Bengals’ secondary that struggles down the field. When Bridgewater does throw deep, he goes to a batch of physical playmakers that can exploit coverage holes up the seams. Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, and Courtland Sutton typically lead the way, and all are adept at creating separation. They present real mismatches when isolated on safeties or pushing deep down the field. This isn’t the most attractive fantasy offense to target on paper, but it offers gobs of splash-play potential.
The Bengals continue to struggle against the pass, turning more of Joe Burrow’s big games into shootouts than they’d like to. Six of their 13 opponents have posted 295+ yards, including the last two. On Sunday it was San Francisco’s George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk carving up the middle of the field, combining for 213 yards (and 2 touchdowns) on 19 receptions. It made for the third straight week a receiving duo has topped 175 yards against this unit, which is relatively strong in the middle but susceptible to the deep ball. Safeties Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell have underwhelmed in support of a solid set of cornerbacks, and big play wideouts have been quick to pounce. The Broncos’ air attack is anything but dependable, but it does boast a handful of big-bodied playmakers capable of getting downfield. It’s easy to picture Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant, or even Courtland Sutton working their way through those seams.
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups
Indianapolis vs New England
The Colts try not to ask too much of quarterback Carson Wentz, who’s thrown just 32 times a game, 16th among regular starters. Much of that is due to coach Frank Reich’s desire to control the ball with 2021’s most explosive runner, Jonathan Taylor. But it’s also because Wentz continues to display many of the flaws that boiled over his time in Philadelphia. For what it’s worth, the Colts have lost both games in which he’s been asked to throw 35 times or more. Wentz has topped 270 yards just 3 times thus far, and he doesn’t focus on any set of receivers, which makes projections spotty even on a strong day. Aside from top wideout Michael Pittman Jr, who’s managed to clear 50 yards in 10 of 13 games, there’s little dynamism to speak of here. This low-impact unit is built around a big handful of limited role-player types, and it’s hard to project anything real. Even when Wentz threw 44 times in catchup mode against the Buccaneers two weeks ago, only two receivers even reached 50 yards on their own.
The Patriots are where they are today, atop the AFC at 9-4, mostly on the heels of the game’s most dominant pass defense. If we take out a bizarre Week 5 lapse against Davis Mills and the Texans, opponents have averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt and 204 a game. One could poke holes in the relatively weak schedule, but the Patriots have answered that with tight squeezes on Justin Herbert and Josh Allen. Overall, it’s unwise to roll the dice with middling offenses against coach Bill Belichick’s better units, and this one certainly qualifies. Up front they’re hurrying and sacking quarterbacks at a top-tier level, to the point of creating rushed, panicky throws. It’s no surprise they also lead the league in interceptions, thanks in large part to J.C. Jackson, who could be due for an All-Pro nod as Belichick’s new lead cornerback. Jackson isn’t quite on Stephon Gilmore’s prime level yet, but he’s dynamic on the ball and proven capable of handling even elite wideouts. He’s led the charge against the likes of Stefon Diggs (just 51 yards on 7 targets), D.J. Moore (32 on 7), and Mike Williams (19 on 5). This is never an exciting matchup to see on a fantasy schedule, and it makes little sense to test it with an offense like the Colts unless you’ve run completely out of better options.
Detroit vs Arizona
The Lions should be accustomed to getting replacement-level production from Jared Goff week after week. Much of the blame does lie on Goff, who has regressed in a tailspin manner since his Super Bowl appearance. Goff struggles with the rush and with coverages, and he’s done little as a Lion but check down into low-risk, low-impact throws. He sits 31st in yards per completion and 25th in touchdown rate, averaging just 233 and 1.2 per game. Of course, it’s only fair to note the embarrassing lack of pass-catching talent he works with. Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown has functioned as the No. 1 for much of the year, but his 9.0 yards per catch and one single touchdown don’t excite anyone. It’s hard to find the end zone in this offense, especially so if you haven’t been thrown at inside the 10-yard line in over a month. Not even tight end T.J. Hockenson can be unleashed, with 19 targets but just 135 yards over his last 4 games. Perhaps new addition Josh Reynolds, who recorded 69 yards last game, can finally break out as a playmaker. But this attack, for lack of a better word, remains two or three drafts from any must-play fantasy consideration.
The Cardinals defense has been its unsung hero for most of this 10-3 run. Only 3 of their 13 opponents has topped 245 yards, and 2 of them needed garbage time to do it. In neutral game script, only last week’s Rams have produced quality fantasy passing numbers against this unit. It’s a testament to coordinator Vance Joseph’s aggressive scheme that pressures both the passer and the receiver, allowing almost nothing to come easy. They’ve excelled in a handful of recent matchups against top receivers, from D.J. Moore (24 yards on 7 targets) and Brandin Cooks (21 on 7) to DK Metcalf (31 on 8) and Darnell Mooney (27 on 7). That bodes poorly for an offense that boasts Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds as its top two receivers. The pass rush has hit home most of the time, and the Cardinals roll out a trio of strong cornerbacks more than capable of holding coverage with such cushion. Youngster Byron Murphy, in particular, has broken out as a Pro Bowl-level talent in his third season as a starter. Ultimately, it’s been unwise all year to roll the dice in this matchup, which grinds down both volume and productivity. There certainly isn’t a Lion that’s worth trying out here.
Buffalo vs Carolina
The Bills set the NFL ablaze in 2020, then opened 2021 red-hot, on the strength of one of the league's most dynamic air attacks. But defenses are wising up and playing more deep-cover sets, looking to keep Stefon Diggs and company from burning holes in the secondary. And without a cohesive plan for how to attack elsewhere, the Bills have floundered a bit over the past month. Dating back to Week 11, Allen has dipped from 7.5 yards per throw and 289 per game to just 6.3 and 231. Diggs has tumbled accordingly, averaging just 5 catches and 56 yards over that span. They’ll likely be without Emmanuel Sanders this Sunday, and while Gabriel Davis offers playmaking off the bench, the team has been hesitant to lean on him (just 31 targets through the first 12 games). Overall, the sky is always the limit for this explosive offense, and Allen has proven he can bust out of a slump. But this is not the matchup in which to project them to those upsides, nor even particularly close.
The Panthers remain an absolute mess on the offensive side of the ball, but on defense, they’ve been among football’s strongest throughout 2021. Coordinator Phil Snow’s new scheme has paid off against the pass, where virtually no one has found success in this matchup. Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins dazzled with 373 yards back in Week 6, but no one else has topped 260, and only 3 others have thrown multiple touchdowns. The Panthers have benefited from a favorable quarterback schedule, but the level to which they’ve dominated overall is striking. They harass the passer from all angles, sitting top-10 in hurry rate and sack rate and papering over whatever secondary issues they’ve faced. They’ve looked just as suffocating on the back end even with top cornerback Donte Jackson on injured reserve. The team has to be thrilled with surprise trade acquisition Stephon Gilmore, who’s stepped right in as a shutdown presence on one side of the field. Not to mention second-year safety Jeremy Chinn, who’s evolving fast from an out-of-control run-stuffing demon into a well-rounded playmaker in help coverage. It rarely makes sense to bench Bills players in fantasy; quarterback Josh Allen and wideout Stefon Diggs are locked-in weekly starters regardless of matchup. But the rest of the Buffalo offense hits a wall here, and it’s fair to wonder what Allen’s Week 15 upside truly is.
New England at Indianapolis
The Patriots continue to develop rookie quarterback Mac Jones at a calculated pace, making sure not to apply too much pressure too fast. But the 9-4 Patriots look destined for the playoffs, and Jones will have to keep pace with a fairly limited route tree. He’s spent most of the year checking down and throwing quick slants; that advances Bill Belichick’s scheme, but it also leaves fantasy players disappointed. Ultimately, the team would prefer to run whenever possible, and the stripped-down receiving corps reflects that. Jakobi Meyers leads the way with a 23% target share, but he’s a short-ball guy only (10.5 yards per catch and just a single touchdown). There’s always room for the team’s expensive new tight ends, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, to assert themselves in the offense. At the moment, though, it’s hard to project any sparks from this low-impact attack against the Colts, who have held off much stronger units than this one.
The Colts pass defense opened the year in awful form, with injuries keeping a handful of key secondary members out. But over the past month, they’ve gotten healthy and excelled over a tough stretch of schedule. Dating back to Week 10 they’ve given up just 5.3 yards per throw and 180 per game. Most impressive has been their dominance of wideouts, including the likes of Chris Godwin (4 for 24), Mike Evans (3 for 16), Brandin Cooks (3 for 38), and Stefon Diggs (4 for 23, with 2 touchdowns). The Colts quietly boast an outstanding trio of cornerbacks, led by Kenny Moore II on the inside, who’s been the key to shutting down those slot dominators above. It speaks volumes that this group has developed so well even with Xavier Rhodes, once its only competent piece, going through an up-and-down season. It’s unlikely Mac Jones and the Patriots will even make a run at being the Colts’ first 250-yard opponent since Week 9. And even if pushed into a shootout, this secondary looks more than ready to handle the patched-together Patriots.
Cincinnati at Denver
The Bengals air attack continues to impress, with Joe Burrow fresh off back-to-back games of 300+ yards. Young, explosive wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins offer high weekly ceilings, and this certainly isn’t an offense to bench in fantasy. Still, expectations need to be kept in check in Denver. Burrow’s last two games made for just his third and fourth 300+ yard efforts all year, after all; this offense is run-heavy whenever it can be. And the Broncos boast an elite secondary, one with no real weak spot to attack and a bullying pass rush to force the issue. Those wideouts have their work cut out for them downfield, and Burrow will need to be upright to find them. He was sacked five times and knocked down six more last Sunday as the Cincinnati line struggled from left to right. Never doubt this offense’s potential as it grows, but brace for impact.
The Broncos, despite too much personnel turnover to even recall offhand, continue to field one of football’s best pass defenses. They’ve taken in stride the losses of Von Miller, their two best off-ball linebackers, and Bradley Chubb for most of the year, only to bounce back into the top 10 in yardage and touchdown rates. Only 3 opposing passers have topped 270 yards; Justin Herbert and the Chargers managed 303 recently, but they had to work for it in a blowout loss. Overall, this unit remains stingy and makes for a fantasy downgrade, even for the Bengals. The secondary is so deep it’s just absorbed the loss of elite slot man Bryce Callahan and still has a great cornerback group intact. Rookie Patrick Surtain II looks like a future All-Pro in coverage, while free agent Kyle Fuller has begun to adjust from his putrid start in Denver. It always helps to have Justin Simmons, one of the game’s best all-around safeties, providing help coverage on the back end. The Bengals can throw lots of looks and weapons at them, but the Broncos are uniquely set up with downfield talent all over the place.
|Week 15 Passing Matchups|
|Miami||vs NY Jets||Great|
|LA Rams||vs Seattle||Great|
|Green Bay||at Baltimore||Great|
|Tampa Bay||vs New Orleans||Good|
|Dallas||at NY Giants||Good|
|San Francisco||vs Atlanta||Good|
|New Orleans||at Tampa Bay||Good|
|Seattle||at LA Rams||Good|
|NY Giants||vs Dallas||Neutral|
|NY Jets||at Miami||Neutral|
|LA Chargers||vs Kansas City||Neutral|
|Baltimore||vs Green Bay||Neutral|
|Cleveland||vs Las Vegas||Neutral|
|Las Vegas||at Cleveland||Neutral|
|Kansas City||at LA Chargers||Tough|
|Atlanta||at San Francisco||Tough|
|New England||at Indianapolis||Bad|
|Indianapolis||vs New England||Bad|