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Top 3 Passing Matchups
Las Vegas at Cincinnati
The Raiders passing attack has been sputtering towards the end of the season as they’ve averaged just 219 yards per game through the air over their last four weeks. The good news if you’re Derek Carr and the Raiders is that they have faced four incredibly difficult matchups in Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis and Los Angeles Chargers to end the season so things should get progressively easier as we head into the playoffs. The big story heading into this game has to be the health of Darren Waller who returned last week for the first time since Thanksgiving but was largely ineffective as he had just two receptions for 22 yards but was on the field for 78% of the snaps which was encouraging. The Raiders are going to need him to step up alongside Hunter Renfrow who has also struggled as of late after three consecutive 100-yard performances he is averaging just 40 yards per game over his last four performances.
On the season, the Bengals’ passing defense has been incredibly inconsistent. This is a defense that on the season has allowed 264 yards passing, which is the 7th most in the NFL. Looking into the numbers, this is a defense that has allowed 300 or more yards to Josh Johnson, Mike White (405 yards), Ben Roethlisberger, Kirk Cousins, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson/Tyler Huntley, and Aaron Rodgers. The one thing that the Bengals should have going for them is that one of their better performances this season was against these Raiders as they held Derek Carr to just 215 yards in a game in which the Bengals dominated from start to finish. The key to beating the Bengals will be through Darren Waller this week as the Bengals are playing two replacement linebackers in Clay Johnston and Markus Bailey both who have struggled in pass coverage.
Arizona at LA Rams
The Cardinals are likely going to have to rely on Kyler Murray’s arm in this game as they are going to be dealing with some injuries that are likely going to leave them shorthanded as it appears that James Conner will miss this week and DeAndre Hopkins has already been ruled out. The Cardinals started the year off incredibly strong throwing for 300 yards in two of their first three games, but since then have topped the 300-yard mark just once. The good news is that the other 300-yard performance was against this same Rams team as Kyler Murray threw for 383 yards which should give Murray some confidence heading into his first playoff game.
The Rams passing defense has been all over the place this season, but unfortunately is heading into the post season on a low note as they have allowed 300 yards in three of their last five games to Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, and Kyler Murray. The Rams since Week 8 have not allowed a quarterback to throw between 200-300 yards as it has either been above 300 yards or below 200 yards in one of the stranger stats of the season. Outside of Jalen Ramsey, the secondary has major issues as they have signed Eric Weddle to the roster who will likely have to play a significant role after Jordan Fuller who is the team’s leading tackler was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Weddle retired two seasons ago, and to make matters worse Taylor Rapp the other safety may also be out with a concussion leaving this secondary barren.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City
The Steelers passing offense over the last four weeks has been a high volume low efficiency offense. The Steelers are averaging 38 passing attempts for just 169 yards averaging just 4.5 yards-per-attempt which is abysmal. The problem for the Steelers has been Diontae Johnson who earlier this season was big run after the catch player, but he has not been able to get loose on any downfield plays as he is averaging just 6.5 yards-per-catch over this span while averaging 12.2 yards-per-catch in his other games. This week the Steelers will have to figure their passing attack out quickly if they want to compete against the high scoring Chiefs.
The Chiefs pass defense has been a liability for most of the season as they are now allowing the third-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and allowing 268 yards passing per game which is the seventh-most in the NFL this season. There is plenty of talent on this defense in Tyrann Mathieu, Rashad Fenton, L’Jarius Snead, and Juan Thornhill. This defense has improved since Week 6 when it replaced Daniel Sorensen who was a defensive liability for Thornhill, but Joe Burrow exposed this defense back in Week 17 throwing for 446 yards and 4 touchdowns which was the first time that a defense had topped 300 yards since Thornhill replaced Sorensen, but the problem is they just do not shut many defenses down as they’re consistently allowing 250-260 yards to opposing offenses.
Bottom 3 Passing Matchups
Dallas vs San Francisco
The Dallas passing offense is coming into the playoffs with a ton of confidence as they have thrown for a staggering 12 touchdowns over their last three games while facing the Eagles, Cardinals, and Washington. Even more amazing over the last three weeks is that only two of those touchdowns has gone to either Amari Cooper or CeeDee Lamb as Cooper was able to haul two in while Lamb has been scoreless during the passing hot streak. The Cowboys seem to have found a replacement for Michael Gallup in Cedric Wilson who has filled in admirably as the team’s number three receiver scoring three touchdowns over the last two games while amassing 119 yards last week. This is a passing offense that when they are clicking can be as dangerous as any offense in the NFL.
The 49ers for most of the season have been a very difficult team to throw the ball against as they are allowing just 224 passing yards on the season. This is a defense that has allowed just two quarterbacks on the season to top 265 yards as both Joe Burrow and Jared Goff both topped 300 yards this season. The 49ers appear to be getting some good news from an injury front as they should get K’Waun Williams back after missing last week while Josh Norman’s status appears to be a game time decision. This is a defense that creates a significant amount of pressure through Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead as they are sixth in the NFL in sacks this season, so it will likely play a key role in this game this week.
LA Rams vs Arizona
Matthew Stafford has some questions heading into the post season primarily regarding the amount of turnovers this offense has produced. Stafford has thrown a staggering eight interceptions over the last four weeks as this offense has also thrown for 250 yards or less in three of those four games. This is an offense that for the most part was clicking throughout the season as they had thrown for less than 250 yards just once all year prior to these last four games. The Rams desperately need a second receiving option to step up, as the Odell Beckham Jr signing has not gone nearly as well as the Rams would have hoped, and Van Jefferson continues to be inconsistent. If the Rams want to make a deep run into the playoffs, they are going to need to figure out how they can get back to their early season form in not turning the ball over and being the dominant passing offense that they’ve shown they’re capable of.
The Cardinals got some great news this week as they likely will get J.J. Watt back after missing most of the season which if nothing else should provide a tremendous lift to an already very good defense. On the season, this is a team that is designed to rush the passer, stop the pass and outscore you on offense as they are allowing just 225 yards passing per game which is the seventh-best in the NFL. If Watt returns, we will once again see the dynamic pass rush of Watt and Chandler Jones forcing offenses into having a very difficult time stopping both players. This is a defense that relies on scheme as well as their safeties in Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson to keep everything in front of them and make defenses work for every yard as they have allowed just one 300-yard passer on the season which was to Jimmy Garoppolo who got it done through garbage time.
Cincinnati vs Las Vegas
The Bengals’ passing offense is seemingly impossible to stop as there are so many different weapons whether it be Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, or Tyler Boyd it’s an offense that makes you take chances as you aren’t going to have enough elite defensive players to stop all three of those guys consistently while still stopping Joe Mixon and this rushing attack. Joe Burrow is entering these playoffs as the hottest quarterback in the NFL as over his last two games he has thrown for 971 yards and 8 touchdowns which is just video game numbers against the Chiefs and Ravens while also throwing for 300 or more yards in four of his last five games. This is an offense that saw both Tee Higgins (194 yards) and Ja’Marr Chase (266 yards) both have completely dominant games.
The Raiders are in an interesting position heading into this week as on the season they have been very good at stopping the pass allowing the 8th fewest passing yards per game (225), and the 7th fewest fantasy points allowed to the position. This is a defense that has shown that they’re capable of shutting down just about any offense as they held the Bengals and Joe Burrow to just 148 yards earlier this season along with Justin Herbert to 222 yards. However, they’ve also shown that when they struggle, they can be one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL as they have allowed 300+ yards passing four times this season including a 383-yard 3 touchdown performance to Justin Herbert last week which almost cost them a playoff spot albeit a majority of that was in a comeback attempt. This is the unit that is going to be the deciding factor for this game this week as if they can once again hold Burrow to just 148 yards as unlikely as that is, they have a real chance to win this game.