Go here for this week's Rushing Matchups
Top 5 Passing Matchups
Buffalo vs NY Jets
The Bills have watched Josh Allen trade off shaky performances with great ones week by week for the past three months. Not all of that inconsistency can be pinned on Allen, though. He’s dealt with a tough run of defenses, as well as a few bad-weather games, including last week’s snowy win over the Falcons. He’s produced when expected, though, as seen in big recent lines against the Patriots (30 of 47, 314 yards, 3 touchdowns), Buccaneers (36 of 54 for 308 and 2), and these very same Jets (21 of 28 for 366 and 2). The Buffalo scheme prioritizes multiple receivers, and Allen likes to spread the ball around freely. Top wideout Stefon Diggs hasn’t blown up the box score in months, but consistently turns 10+ targets into 70+ yards. And if Emmanuel Sanders can’t get cleared this week, Gabriel Davis will step again into a playmaking role that’s served him well across the field.
The Jets are mercifully on the verge of another end to another disastrous season. And as shaky as the baby-faced offense has looked, their most damning factor has been a truly weak pass defense. The team’s rebuild attempt stalled when the young cornerbacks proved overwhelmed and star safety Marcus Maye ruptured his Achilles. Entering the finale, no team has allowed more yardage per throw (8.2) or a higher passer rating (104.7). Young cornerback Bryce Hall has flashed promise, but Brandin Echols and Michael Carter II II have been targeted and beaten often. Tight ends have produced in this matchup, as well, as Kyle Pitts (9 for 119 and 1), Dallas Goedert (6 for 105 and 2), and Rob Gronkowski (7 for 115) can attest. With such spotty safety play on the back end, just about any playmaker can work his way into the deep secondary and succeed. On most weeks, the pressing question is whether opponents will have to throw enough to make a fantasy splash. That’s a fair question for the finale, but when these teams met back in Week 10, Josh Allen posted 366 yards and threw 2 touchdowns in a 45-17 game.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
The Steelers stand on the edge of a sea change as Ben Roethlisberger (likely) nears his final NFL game. By most measures, Roethlisberger is a shell of his former physical self, and that’s seen weekly in the Steelers’ struggles down the field. But it’s hard to find more motivation for the legend than keeping his playoff hopes alive while snuffing out those of the Ravens. Roethlisberger no longer pushes downfield with much efficiency, but he carries a great volume outlook in what should be a hard-fought game. And when pressed to throw, he can still produce solid numbers when in sync with his playmakers. Last week’s win over the Browns wasn’t easy on the eyes: top-three wideouts Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and Ray-Ray McCloud III combined to turn 34 targets into just 83 yards. But if we can expect a focused, passionate Roethlisberger for the finale, then it’s fair to project this group near its season highs against a generous Ravens secondary.
The Ravens pass defense has slipped mightily here in 2021, thanks in large part to a rash of devastating injuries. Joe Burrow’s Week 16 eruption (37 of 46, 525 yards, 4 touchdowns) was astounding, but it made for the fourth time an opponent has topped 400 in this matchup. The Baltimore secondary is running on fumes without its top three cornerbacks, two of whom, stars Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, are out long-term. Anthony Averett may return for the finale, but he’s a poor substitute as a No. 1 cornerback. The safety play has taken a nosedive, as well, leaving very little reinforcement for the shaky reserves. Dating back to Week 7, they’ve allowed a stunning 14 opposing receivers to post 80+ yards. This group has long depended on its dynamic pass rush to make life easier, but this rotation lacks firepower, sitting just 24th in sack rate. All in all, this has become one of 2021’s purest examples of a “pass funnel” unit. Opponents are airing the ball out against the Ravens more than ever, a decision that’s panned out far more often than not.
Arizona vs Seattle
The Cardinals remain in contention for the NFC West crown, which will keep their feet on the gas in the finale. That’s great news for fantasy players who lean on Kyler Murray and/or his wide range of receivers. Much of Murray’s fantasy appeal comes from his legs, but he’s developed into a solid producer through the air, averaging 273 yards and 1.8 touchdowns a game. Murray continues to strike the deep and intermediate zones efficiently, which sets up Christian Kirk and A.J. Green to make chunk plays down the field. Kirk has been the bigger breakout, averaging 7 catches and 75 yards over 3 games without DeAndre Hopkins. Meanwhile, tight end Zach Ertz (7-56) has made consistent noise at fantasy’s weakest position.
The Seahawks pass defense has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, but that has to be taken with a cup of salt. Bear in mind the schedule of quarterbacks they’ve faced over the past two months: Colt McCoy, Taylor Heinicke, Jimmy Garoppolo, Davis Mills, Matthew Stafford, Nick Foles, Tim Boyle. Also consider that McCoy, Garoppolo, and Mills all threw for 299+ yards and totaled 5 touchdowns through the air. This is not a deep secondary at all, one badly in need of a talent infusion even before safety Jamal Adams went down in Week 13. D.J. Reed has struggled as the only mainstay on the outside, while Ugo Amadi remains a big liability in the slot. And to make matters worse, there’s not much continuity as the team has been forced to mix-and-match bodies over the past few weeks. Last week they rotated a handful of practice-squad level guys with Sidney Jones and Blessuan Austin on the shelf. That held up against Boyle and the toothless Lions, but Week 18 brings a much tougher matchup. This unit looks extremely vulnerable even if Jones, who has flashed promise when healthy, can return to action.
Green Bay at Detroit
The Packers enter Week 18 with nothing to play for, but coach Matt LaFleur has made clear that his healthy starters will suit up. It’s fair to wonder just how much guys like Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams will play, but no one in a fantasy championship is benching either of them. They’ve ridden Rodgers and Adams through a two-month stretch as the overall PPR QB4 and WR1 respectively. Adams’ 31% target share points to a bond that can produce WR1 numbers even without a full run of snaps. He would be far from the first wideout to torch the undermanned Detroit secondary.
The Lions pass defense has been exploited throughout the 2021 season, and it would surprise no one to see the Packers take what they want through the air. On some weeks, the only thing between this group and statistical embarrassment is game flow; it often doesn’t take many throws to beat the 2-13-1 Lions. But when opponents do take to the air, they almost always do so efficiently. Only two teams have allowed more yards per throw, and only two have given up a higher touchdown rate. It’s no surprise, considering the shoddy state of this group even before losing numerous starters throughout the year. Ifeatu Melifonwu, A.J. Jacobs, and Will Harris are overmatched as every-down cover men; they’ve been beaten badly all year and don’t project well against even the weakest of offenses. Aaron Rodgers should dictate game flow from start to finish, or at least as long as the starters are on the field.
Chicago at Minnesota
The Bears continue to jostle their quarterback in what assuredly will be Matt Nagy’s last game. It was announced earlier this week that Justin Fields would get the start for the Bears, but he was just placed on the Covid-19 list which likely means that Andy Dalton will get the start for the Bears. Dalton has been a low-upside quarterback for most of the season as he thrown for 230 yards or less in five of his six starts on the season but did show a little bit of upside two weeks ago against the Cardinals throwing for 317 yards and a touchdown. This is a team that has very little talent on the offensive side of the ball outside of David Montgomery who has shown himself to be a very good receiving back and Darnell Mooney who is coming off of a 13-target game last week.
The Vikings passing defense has seemingly collapsed the second-half of the season as they are now allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, the fifth-most yards-per-game, and tied for fourth in terms of passing touchdowns allowed. Over the last five weeks, four quarterbacks have thrown for 280 yards or more against this defense including Justin Fields who threw for 285 yards. Other quarterbacks to do it were low upside Ben Roethlisberger threw for 308 and 3 touchdowns and Jared Goff threw for 296 and 3 touchdowns. The problem has been the secondary wide receiver against the Vikings as Mackenzie Alexander has seen his snap count drop dramatically recently, while they have not been able to find consistent play out of their number two to help Patrick Peterson and the elite safeties shut down the pass. Dalton could very likely have a big game which may be just enough for another team to sign him to a lucrative backup deal this offseason.
Bottom 5 Passing Matchups
Miami vs New England
The Dolphins continue to see incremental progress from Tua Tagovailoa, who did just preside over a seven-game win streak. But overall, the youngster remains a true project, and he’s yet to endear himself as the team’s cornerstone. Tagovailoa was badly off-kilter last Sunday, hitting on just 18 of 38 for 205 yards and 1 interception (with 3 fumbles) in a loss that helped end Miami’s playoff run. The weather in Nashville wasn’t friendly, but the Titans’ Ryan Tannehill managed to complete 72% and throw 2 touchdowns (with no turnovers) across the field. With Tagovailoa under center, this attack is rather low-impact, focusing heavily on quick throws under the defense. Among 32 regular starters he sits 19th in yards per attempt, but just 26th per completion. At least explosive rookie Jaylen Waddle has been able to show his wares, averaging 7 catches and 82 yards over the past 7 weeks. But even talented supporting options like DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki are often limited to checkdowns or ignored entirely. It would be hard to trust this group in the fantasy finals even in a neutral matchup; against the smothering Patriots, it’s nearly impossible. Even Waddle and Gesicki will likely need hefty volume to produce usable numbers.
The Patriots pass defense has suffered three legitimate lapses on the year, giving up scattered big games to Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, and Davis Mills. Aside from those three showings, though, Bill Belichick’s unit has been historically dominant. None of their other 13 opponents has reached 270 yards or thrown 3 touchdowns on the day. Belichick continues to piece together one smothering unit after another; rather than chasing star power, he samples the talents of a trusted rotation of guys who do a few things well. The edge rush is led by Matt Judon, who’s likely to nab an All-Pro spot in his first year as a Patriot. But the real attraction is the shutdown secondary, which has settled nicely into the same six guys every week. Cornerback J.C. Jackson could also be an All-Pro; he’s blossomed into a coverage star and ballhawk () on the back end. Jalen Mills has been strong across the field, while slot man Miles Bryant has filled in admirably for the injured Joejuan Williams. The linebackers and safeties have been unbeatable up the seams, too: only one opposing tight end (Dalton Schultz back in Week 6) has reached even 30 yards in this matchup. Overall, this unit is enough to give any fantasy player pause, regardless of the matchup. Plugging a Dolphin not named Jaylen Waddle into his championship lineup may prove fruitless.
NY Jets vs Buffalo
The Jets have to be encouraged by Zach Wilson’s play last Sunday. It was his best overall game since Week 1; the rookie braved a tough Tampa Bay pass rush to throw for 234 yards and a touchdown in the near-upset. Still, those baby steps don’t offer much optimism as he closes out a mostly-disastrous rookie year on the road. Among 32 regular quarterbacks, Wilson sits 29th in adjusted yardage rate, 29th in touchdown rate, and 29th in sack rate. And in the finale, he may again suit up without two of his starting wideouts. Elijah Moore is the future of the position for the Jets, and there’s even less reason for veteran slot man Jamison Crowder to rush back. The Jets may rack up volume with low-impact throws, but there’s no reason to expect much. Any fantasy team facing its championship round with real investments in Wilson, Braxton Berrios, or Keelan Cole is on shaky ground, even before we factor in the matchup.
The Bills have dominated the pass as well as anyone here in 2021, and they’ve earned a medal for resiliency in the process. Top cornerback Tre’Davious White’s ACL tear was devastating; he’s an All-Pro talent, and his loss could cave in a shakier secondary. Thankfully, the Bills have stocked up nicely on strong coverage prospects, and they’ve been reaping those benefits all season. Levi Wallace had already broken out across the field before White’s injury, and he’s solid as the No. 1 cornerback in the interim. He’s supported by the league’s best safety tandem in Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer, who both provide deep help and make plays on the ball underneath. The secret weapon is slot specialist Taron Johnson, who’s spent the year limiting opponents on the inside. When these teams met back in Week 10, the Jets had Elijah Moore and Jamison Crowder on the field, but failed to produce anything until garbage time. This week they’ll likely face a batch of Jets reserves, and it’s hard to find any reason whatsoever to lean on any of them.
LA Rams vs San Francisco
The Rams continue to throw the ball effectively under coach Sean McVay, expertly taking what defenses give and consistently making the right play. McVay’s scheme (and personnel moves) have papered nicely over the loss of wideout Robert Woods. Matthew Stafford now sits top-three league-wide in adjusted yardage rate, yards per completion, and touchdown rate, in addition to a host of other metrics. That said, beyond Stafford and All-World wideout Cooper Kupp, no one else projects consistently in this matchup. Complementary receivers Odell Beckham Jr and Van Jefferson are efficient down the field, but their usage tends to waver, leaving them dependent on long touchdowns for fantasy purposes. The same goes for tight end Tyler Higbee, whose value is largely limited to the red zone. Against the stingy 49ers, they’ll be even harder-pressed to produce on cue.
The 49ers keep showing well against the pass despite missing their top cornerback for the long haul. Emmanuel Moseley is the team’s best cover man, but he hasn’t seen the field since spraining his ankle in Week 13 and isn’t expected back soon. Luckily, the 49ers defense tends to rely more on scheme than on individual names. It’s a deep group that’s rallied nicely, thanks in large part to a pass rush that sits eighth league-wide in sacks. Edge rusher Nick Bosa was the unit’s only Pro Bowl choice, but cases could be made for down lineman Arik Armstead, linebacker Fred Warner, and safety Jimmie Ward as well. Warner is an underrated cog in the machine; he’s an elite coverage linebacker, and he made his presence felt underneath in last week’s win. Matthew Stafford and the Rams have been efficient and high-scoring, but they focus heavily on the second level, which plays into the 49ers’ strengths. The Rams will need to get creative on the edges to poke holes in this stout group. One thing to keep an eye on as this week unfolds is the health of the 49ers secondary as they have placed three defensive backs on the Covid-19 list in Jimmie Ward, Dontae Johnson, and Ambry Thomas. Of the three, Ward and Thomas are the two starters which if they were without those two players the matchup does become slightly easier for the Rams this week.
Seattle at Arizona
The Seahawks finally came alive through the air in Sunday’s 51-29 win over the hapless Lions. Russell Wilson threw four touchdowns in the win, making for his best fantasy showing since Week 1. Still, caution must be exercised in trusting Wilson in the season finale. The matchup is brutal, and Wilson throws with middling volume (just 29 attempts a game), topping 250 yards just once in his 8 games back from injury. The team clearly has no interest in cutting Wilson and his dynamic wideouts loose, so they’ll continue to rely on big plays and touchdowns for fantasy value. DK Metcalf (12 touchdowns) and Tyler Lockett (72 yards per game) are capable, but these Cardinals have stifled stronger, more confident air attacks than this one.
The Cardinals draw most of their headlines from their offense, which is fair, as it’s packed with big-named playmakers. But their pass defense has spent much of 2021 dominating quietly; one could argue this as the team’s most valuable unit overall. Despite a tough schedule of opposing quarterbacks, only two of them have topped 240 yards. Injuries have taken a toll recently, with two starting cornerbacks on the shelf and one of them (Robert Alford) unlikely to return until 2022. Thankfully, the team could get Marco Wilson back on the other side this week. This unit has pushed through key injuries all year, thanks to a well-coached scheme that uses all pieces available to attack both the passer and the receiver. Last Sunday the stiff pass rush, led by Chandler Jones and Markus Golden, pushed Dak Prescott and the Cowboys into a low-impact day overall. Prescott threw 3 short touchdowns, but produced just 226 yards on his 38 attempts on a forgettable day. Just as notably, his top wideouts, CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, combined to claim just 27% of those yards. That’s a common thread for the Cardinals, who have also stifled the likes of Deebo Samuel (just 6.7 yards per target), D.J. Moore (3.4), and this week’s opposing WR1, DK Metcalf (3.9).
Minnesota vs Chicago
The Vikings must be bursting with excitement over Kirk Cousins’ return to action. Last week’s crucial date with Green Bay was doomed by the offense’s sheer inability to move under Sean Mannion. The backup played extremely safe football and failed to create anything of note downfield. Cousins has his warts, but he’s far more capable of feeding Jefferson, who’s averaged 97 yards a game with his quarterback. That said, the Vikings boast very little firepower beyond Jefferson. K.J. Osborn appears maxed-out as a WR3/4 type, both in reality and in the fantasy world. He offers some situational explosiveness, but is hard to count on in this offense. Tight end Tyler Conklin has proven himself a compiler, but he’s only topped 50 yards once over the past 9 weeks. Overall, this team looks on the verge of a long, brutal offseason, and the matchup doesn’t help their cause.
The Bears haven’t done much right here in 2021, so it’s been encouraging to at least see the early stages of a strong pass defense. Over the past eight weeks only one opposing passer (a scorching Aaron Rodgers) has managed 220 yards through the air. Some of that comes from game flow, as teams don’t generally have to pass much to beat the Bears. But there’s been clear improvement on the field, led by impressive young cornerback Jaylon Johnson’s breakout. Perhaps the most striking jump has come from Artie Burns, who flamed out badly in Pittsburgh but looks like a long-term solution here. The whole unit (minus an injured Johnson) did great work two weeks ago against Seattle’s DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, who combined to put up just 71 yards. And the week before, they bracketed this week’s big threat, Justin Jefferson, into just 4.7 yards per target. Overall, this matchup looks destined for low scoring and a lack of big downfield plays.
|Week 18 Passing Matchups|
|Buffalo||vs NY Jets||Great|
|Green Bay||at Detroit||Great|
|Carolina||at Tampa Bay||Good|
|New Orleans||at Atlanta||Good|
|NY Giants||vs Washington||Good|
|Denver||vs Kansas City||Good|
|Las Vegas||vs LA Chargers||Good|
|Washington||at NY Giants||Neutral|
|San Francisco||at LA Rams||Neutral|
|LA Chargers||vs Las Vegas||Neutral|
|Detroit||vs Green Bay||Neutral|
|Atlanta||vs New Orleans||Neutral|
|Kansas City||at Denver||Neutral|
|Tampa Bay||vs Carolina||Tough|
|New England||at Miami||Tough|
|LA Rams||vs San Francisco||Bad|
|NY Jets||at Buffalo||Bad|
|Miami||vs New England||Bad|