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Top 5 Passing Matchups
LA Rams at Baltimore
The Rams’ air attack isn’t immune to off weeks, as seen in their Sunday dud against the Vikings. Matthew Stafford turned in his worst showing of the year, but that can be excused, as he’s proven himself one of 2021’s most consistent producers. Sunday’s 197 yards marked his first finish all season below 240, and he’s thrown multiple touchdowns in 11 of 15 games. To say he’s established a bond with top wideout Cooper Kupp would be a wild understatement. Kupp has arguably been 2021’s fantasy MVP; he’s topped 7 catches and 90 yards in every game but one, averaging 9-116 and finding the end zone a league-high 14 times. His dominance pushes guys like Odell Beckham Jr, Van Jefferson, and Tyler Higbee into the margins as situational players, and they’re hard to project. Jefferson makes for a dynamic clear-out threat, but Beckham has surpassed him as Stafford’s No. 2. Since the Week 11 bye he’s turned a 19% target share into an average line of 4-46-1.
The Ravens’ pass defense has been abysmal this season as evidenced by this past week’s loss to the Bengals. By the time they caught a breath, Joe Burrow had completed 37 passes and amassed 525 yards, with 4 touchdowns, in a Bengals blowout. Baltimore has lost virtually every key defensive back to injury; last week saw the likes of Kevon Seymour and Daryl Worley shredded downfield at every turn. This has become the NFL’s starkest “run funnel” matchup, with opponents avoiding the Ravens’ front seven to attack the banged-up secondary. It’s no surprise this group has allowed 11 different receivers to record 80+ yards over the past 7 weeks. There’s no real help on the horizon, as the heart of the Ravens secondary (Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters) are shelved with long-term injuries. The Ravens are still dealing with some Covid effects as safety Tony Jefferson was placed on the Covid list this week and will miss this game.
Kansas City at Cincinnati
The Chiefs aren’t lighting the world ablaze as they did in 2019, but they’ve at least gotten their act together from a shaky midseason stretch. Since bottoming out against the Packers in Week 9, Patrick Mahomes II has averaged 296 yards a game (8.2 per attempt), with 13 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. Again, it’s not the electrifying stuff of two years ago, but it’s still in the NFL’s upper-upper tier. Last week saw Mahomes carve up the Steelers for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns over barely 3 quarters of play, and without Travis Kelce available. Kelce will return to action Sunday and slot back in as one of fantasy’s most explosive 1B-type receivers. Tyreek Hill always looms as a big-play threat, though his usage is much more varied and short-oriented of late. And if last week is any indicator, the team may be settling on Byron Pringle as the No. 2 wideout, at least on some weeks. Pringle turned 7 targets into 75 yards and 2 touchdowns in Sunday’s win.
The Bengals have taken leaps and bounds from what was once the NFL’s weakest pass defense. But at present, there’s still a lack of coverage talent and consistency here, and this remains a fully beatable fantasy matchup. The Bengals have pieced together a handful of reclamation projects at cornerbacks, and only one (Eli Apple) has panned out. Apple has been great on one side, but Chidobe Awuzie, Trae Waynes, Tre Flowers, and Vernon Hargreaves III have been pressed into various amounts of action and failed. Even slot man Mike Hilton, dependable for years in Pittsburgh, has underperformed for much of 2021. In fact, with the big-name safeties struggling in help coverage, the Bengals’ slots have been something of a fantasy cheat code of late. The scheme keeps the coverage men way off the line, which frees up just about any offense to build a rhythm on quick-hitting throws. If the trio of Jimmy Garoppolo, Josh Johnson, and Mike White can combine for 1,005 yards and 7 touchdowns, it’s daunting to imagine what Patrick Mahomes II can do.
Tampa Bay at NY Jets
The Buccaneers are restructuring their air attack in the wake of a handful of key injuries, and the results through two weeks haven’t been pretty (446 yards, 1 touchdown). The losses of Chris Godwin and Mike Evans were gut punches for Tom Brady, who will now rely more on the ground game than ever. Still, while the days of 45+ attempts may be farther between, Brady still has weapons at his disposal that can turn any volume into production. Last week it was Antonio Brown erupting for 10 receptions on a team-high 15 targets, good for 101 yards and a touchdown. He’ll dominate targets for the time being, though Rob Gronkowski always looms as a viable No. 2. Against the Jets, neither should have much trouble finding openings for as long as Brady feels compelled to throw the ball.
The Jets, floundering at 4-11, don’t often face a lot of passing volume. Opponents typically don’t have to throw much to build a cushion, and Jets games tend to be wound down on the ground. But when they have faced the pass, they’ve been among the league’s weakest overall. Only the Jaguars have allowed a higher completion rate (70%), and no one can claim more yardage per attempt (8.2). The secondary craves talent to complement young breakout Bryce Hall, who’s still learning to be consistent himself. Fellow cornerbacks Brandon Echols, Javelin Guidry, and Michael Carter II II have been picked on relentlessly throughout the season. The loss of unsung star safety Marcus Maye in Week 9 was the last straw, pushing this into a matchup-proof fantasy target. It was no surprise when the likes of Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, and even Carson Wentz put up strong stat lines in this matchup. But it was even more telling to see Mac Jones (307 yards, 2 touchdowns), Gardner Minshew (242 and 2), and Trevor Lawrence (280 yards last week) hit their upsides so hard. Overall, while the raw numbers don’t always reflect it, this may be the most generous play-to-play matchup in all of fantasy. Positive game script or not, that speaks loudly as Tom Brady and a rejuvenated Antonio Brown come to town.
Green Bay vs Minnesota
The Packers continue to roll through the air, with Aaron Rodgers now the frontrunner to land what would be his fourth MVP award. He’s been especially prolific over the last 3 weeks, hitting on 75% of his throws at 8.0 yards per attempt. And to speak to his week-to-week ceiling, he’s thrown multiple touchdowns in 12 of his 14 appearances. It’s worth noting that when Rodgers faced these Vikings 6 weeks ago, he recorded 385 yards and found the end zone 4 times. Davante Adams feasted, catching 7 for 115 and 2 of those touchdowns, but that’s to be expected of the NFL’s premier alpha wideout. More importantly, that game kick-started a big run for deep-ball specialist Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has averaged 14.3 PPR points since. Rodgers’ arsenal is diverse and talented, and it’s a relatively small group sharing the opportunities. That makes for a bright Championship Week outlook against a fully burnable Minnesota secondary.
The Vikings defense showed well in a must win situation in Week 16, stifling Matthew Stafford and the Rams’ potent air attack. But that shouldn’t mask the prior three months, which this group spent firmly near the bottom of the NFL. The Vikings now sit 25th league-wide in net yardage allowed per attempt, and 27th on a per-game basis. They boast a productive pass rush and a solid pair of safeties, which highlights the cornerbacks as the major problems here, despite a handful of premium picks spent there. Patrick Peterson and Cameron Dantzler have been tested and beaten often on the outside, but the starkest weakness is in the slot, where Mackensie Alexander has struggled mightily. Even light-throwing opponents like the Steelers, Bears, and Lions found game-long success targeting Alexander and the linebackers over the middle. If they can produce at a median level, it seems a foregone conclusion that Aaron Rodgers can find the openings here. He totaled 385 yards and 4 touchdowns when they met two months ago, after all.
Seattle vs Detroit
The Seahawks may be throwing in the towel on the Russell Wilson Era. Their season has tailspun out of playoff contention, and Wilson has lacked the volume or the efficiency to make any fantasy noise. It’s hard to keep up the argument that Wilson should be unleashed more; he’s been thoroughly ineffective since returning from his early-season finger injury. Over 7 games he’s completed just 61% of his throws, and his 6.6 yards per attempt ranks 23rd among regulars. Most would agree that Wilson has good football left at just 33, though, and a domed-in date with the Lions is as strong a bounce-back spot as any. It’s no secret what DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are capable of in a given matchup. Over the season’s first 5 weeks, prior to Wilson’s injury, the duo combined to average 32.7 PPR points a game. And it was encouraging to see tight end Gerald Everett excel last week (4 for 68 and 1 touchdown). He’s a young Jared Cook type in an attack that’s utilized its tight ends disproportionately for years.
The Lions defense has tightened a bit in recent weeks and is no longer the sheer pushover it once was. They looked particularly improved two weeks ago in stifling Kyler Murray (a 72.9 rating) and stunning the Cardinals. Still, growth is a process, and it must be noted that most of their recent success has come against low-level passers. There are still holes throughout this unit, and better quarterbacks can still pick it apart whenever they deem it necessary. They’ve been burned in recent matchups with Kirk Cousins (30 of 40, 340 yards, 2 touchdowns), Matthew Stafford (28 of 41 for 334 and 3), and even Andy Dalton (24 of 39 for 317 and 1). Injuries have been crippling to the Lions, but there was a profound lack of talent in place even before they set in. With many original starters already injured or benched, rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu operated as the lead cover man last Sunday, and the results weren’t pretty. There’s no obvious plan in place for whom the team will even field from week to week, so this secondary is endlessly targetable. Seattle playmakers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett continue to await real breakouts, and this makes for as good an opportunity as any.
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups
Jacksonville at New England
The Jaguars’ pass game has been nothing short of disastrous throughout Trevor Lawrence’s rookie year. The prized youngster has started every game but sits 30th (out of 32 regulars) in completion rate, 31st in yardage rate, and 32nd in touchdown rate. Last week’s loss to the Jets marked Lawrence’s first finish above 240 yards since Week 6; over that 9-game span, he’s thrown just 2 touchdowns to 6 interceptions. That’s not all Lawrence’s fault, of course, as the 22-year-old has been thrust into one of the most dysfunctional spots in American sport. And it was encouraging to see him post his best game in months last Sunday, hitting on 67% of his throws for 280 yards. Still, this remains one of football’s weakest units, with Lawrence throwing almost entirely to low-level receivers cast off other rosters. Marvin Jones Jr is the nominal No. 1, but he’s topped 50 yards in just 3 of his last 9 games. Guys like Tavon Austin, Laquon Treadwell, and tight end Dan Arnold are mere space-fillers that don’t move the needle for Lawrence even in a neutral matchup. Against the powerful Patriots, they’re all non-starters for anyone still chasing a fantasy title.
The Patriots boast an elite pass defense, last week’s struggles notwithstanding. Josh Allen became just the third 2021 quarterback to clear 270 yards in this matchup, and just the fifth to throw multiple touchdowns. Recency bias is a powerful thing, but that shows just how consistently stout this unit has been. Overall, they’ve smothered most comers and forced them to seek wins on the ground; it’s no coincidence they’ve faced the league’s eighth-fewest pass attempts. And they’ve fared well when tested recently by Justin Herbert (18 of 35, 223 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 interceptions) and Allen himself (15 of 30 for 145 and 1 in their Week 13 matchup). As with most Bill Belichick units, this one doesn’t boast big star power but relies on dependable cogs throughout the machine. It’s a deep enough group to withstand the one-week absence of top pass-rusher Matt Judon and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. And with cover-man extraordinaire J.C. Jackson on the back end, it’s already papered over the loss of shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Jackson doesn’t shadow receivers quite like Gilmore did, but he had a huge hand in the team shutting down the likes of Mike Williams (19 yards on 5 targets), D.J. Moore (32 on 7), Stefon Diggs (51 on 7), and Michael Pittman Jr (7 on 5) in recent matchups.
New Orleans vs Carolina
The Saints will almost certainly have a veteran passer back under center Sunday. Rookie Ian Book was wildly overmatched in Monday’s loss, and it appears that Taysom Hill will return as the starting quarterback after missing last week’s game due to Covid. Hill provides a dynamic threat to an offense that does not have much outside of Alvin Kamara who has struggled with volume over the last two weeks touching the ball just an average of 14 times per game over his last two weeks. Hill is a limited passer as he has thrown for 175 yards or less in two of his three starts this season. The Saints have also struggled to find consistency at the wide receiver position as Marquez Callaway who has been forced to step into the number one receiver role has topped 50 yards just once in the last 10 games. This is an offense that is likely going to struggle until they can add some talent in the offseason as at the moment they don't pose a consistent enough threat through the air.
The Panthers continue to tailspin overall, but they can at least point to a still-dominant pass defense for optimism. They’ve only allowed 2 opponents to top 230 yards: Zach Wilson in Week 1, and Kirk Cousins in Week 6, both of whom relied on garbage time to get there. On a per-opportunity basis, few 2021 units have compared to the Panthers, who rank fourth in net yardage per throw. Most impressively, they’ve succeeded while rebuilding on the fly, with injuries shaking up the personnel throughout the year. They’re down their top two cornerbacks from Week 1, as well as their top replacement from midseason, and they’ve shuffled their safeties just as much. That’s why they’re thankful for the strong play they’ve gotten from reclamation projects Stephon Gilmore and C.J. Henderson, both de facto starters now. Both have predictably shown well in man coverage, bolstered by a pass rush that ranks second league-wide in pressure rate. All told, they’ve locked down far stronger wideouts than what the Saints will throw at them. This would be a shaky fantasy proposition even if New Orleans were putting Drew Brees under center.
LA Chargers vs Denver
The Chargers continue to produce through the air, even when franchise quarterback Justin Herbert isn’t at his best. But there’s no denying Herbert has been relatively shaky over the last two weeks, both crushing Chargers losses. Last week’s stat line was adequate (27 of 35, 336 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions) but it was aided by game script and masked several head-scratching throws. Herbert should get Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler back this week, which obviously helps matters, but may not be a cure-all for the offense’s overall struggles. Herbert’s whole, healthy supporting cast failed badly two weeks ago, dropping several sure-thing touchdowns in losing to the Chiefs. This is a difficult unit to outright bench in fantasy; anyone still alive is here largely on the strength of Herbert, Ekeler, Williams, and Keenan Allen. But considering the past few weeks, as well as the daunting divisional matchup on the board, expectations must be kept in check.
The Broncos have endured a brutal stretch of opposing quarterbacks, facing Dak Prescott, Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes II, Joe Burrow, and Derek Carr over the past two months. But they’ve risen to the task, giving up just 6.8 yards per throw (215 a game) and 6 touchdowns to that dynamic set. There’s ample reason to debate Vic Fangio as the Broncos’ head coach, but none over his ability to install a dominant pass defense. Since his Chicago days, Fangio has prioritized strong cover men on the back end, and his units have consistently slowed opposing WR1s. They’ve allowed only two receivers to crack 100 yards all year, and the second came all the way back in Week 5. Slot specialist Bryce Callahan is back in action, so Fangio is again stocked with an intimidating set of cornerbacks. Rookie Patrick Surtain II struggled in last week’s loss, but has been a smash hit overall, more than making up for the flop of free-agent prize Kyle Fuller. With Ronald Darby playing at a Pro Bowl level on the other side, and safety Justin Simmons set for another All-Pro nod, this is a suffocating matchup for just about everyone. The Chargers’ offense is a high-powered one, but it definitely projects near its floor this week.
Atlanta at Buffalo
The Falcons passing offense has been sputtering in Arthur Smith’s first season. After a hot start where they averaged 269 yards per game over their first 8 games, they have averaged just 233 yards per game since then and have failed to top 250 yards in seven of those eight games. Part of the issue has been that this offense is desperately missing Calvin Ridley, but there is more to it than that. Kyle Pitts has largely been a disappointment as he has struggled very similarly to most rookie tight ends as he has not been able to consistently get open especially with the additional focus of the opposing defenses not having to rely on Ridley. The one bright spot for this offense has been Russell Gage who has topped 60 yards in four of his last five games.
The Bills secondary was expected to fall off with the loss of Tre’Davious White, but outside of a Tom Brady performance where he threw 356 yards, the defense has been extremely solid since the loss of White. The Bills in three of their four appearances since White’s injury have allowed 19 passing yards to Mac Jones, 156 to Cam Newton, and 145 to Mac Jones. This remains a talented defense particularly at safety with Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde that can cause significant problems for opposing offenses. The one question that remains will be how this defense will perform throughout the season with Dane Jackson as their number two corner which will be the weak spot as Levi Wallace is capable of stepping into the number one position. As the season progresses into the playoffs, this defense will have to prove that they can overcome the loss of White, but this shouldn’t be the case this week as they should be able to shut down the Falcons passing game fairly easily.
NY Giants at Chicago Bears
The Giants are desperately trying to find a replacement for the injured Daniel Jones and they just have not been able to do so. Last week, Jake Fromm started for the Giants and it was nothing short of a disaster for the second-year quarterback. Fromm completed just 35% of his passing, throwing for 25 yards, and ended up being benched for Mike Glennon in the third quarter. Glennon did not fair much better throwing the ball 27 times and amounting just 93 yards all while the game was already well decided as the Giants could not mount any garbage time stats. This week, it appears that the Giants are going to potentially rotate Glennon and Fromm as the 4-11 Giants are just in player evaluation mode at this point trying to determine whether either of these players are worth keeping a roster spot for next season.
The Bears season has been a disappointment, but the one bright spot on this team has been their pass defense. The Bears have been arguably the best pass defense in football the second half of the season as outside of a dominant Aaron Rodgers performance, the Bears shut down the other six quarterbacks averaging just 164 yards per game to Ben Roethlisberger (205), Tyler Huntley (219), Jared Goff (171), Kyler Murray (123), Kirk Cousins (87), and Russell Wilson (181). The Bears do have a key Covid issue to watch in this game as Akiem Hicks is questionable for this week and is still on the Covid list. Hicks has been tremendous on the defensive line and has been a big reason that Robert Quinn has had such a great season with 17 sacks. The Bears rely on their pass defense heavily to help their secondary as they are 5th in the NFL in sacks with 42 on the season and with the offensive line issues of the Giants (28th according to Matt Bitonti), the Bears could have a tremendous opportunity to pressure both Jake Fromm and Mike Glennon.
|Week 17 Passing Matchups|
|LA Rams||at Baltimore||Great|
|Kansas City||at Cincinnati||Great|
|Tampa Bay||at NY Jets||Great|
|Green Bay||vs Minnesota||Great|
|Baltimore||vs LA Rams||Good|
|NY Jets||vs Tampa Bay||Good|
|San Francisco||vs Houston||Good|
|Cincinnati||vs Kansas City||Neutral|
|Chicago||vs NY Giants||Neutral|
|Indianapolis||vs Las Vegas||Neutral|
|Carolina||at New Orleans||Neutral|
|Minnesota||at Green Bay||Neutral|
|Denver||at LA Chargers||Neutral|
|New England||vs Jacksonville||Tough|
|Las Vegas||at Indianapolis||Tough|
|Houston||at San Francisco||Tough|
|NY Giants||at Chicago||Bad|
|LA Chargers||vs Denver||Bad|
|New Orleans||vs Carolina||Bad|
|Jacksonville||at New England||Bad|