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Top 5 Rushing Matchups
Jacksonville at NY Jets
The Jaguars committed to getting James Robinson the ball even in defeat as Robinson had 18 carries for 75 yards which was more than his prior two games combined as it became evident that Darrell Bevell was sending a message to his team who had been pleading to play Robinson. Even with Urban Meyer’s departure, the offense was a bit of a mess as they scored just 16 points which was their seventh consecutive game scoring 17 points or less. Needless to say the season has not gone the way that the Jaguars had hoped, but they should continue to try to lean on Robinson as right now the goal of the season is to give Trevor Lawrence some level of confidence heading into his second season and having a solid rushing attack should be the way to do it.
What more needs to be said about the Jets defense that has not been said already this season. Last week, Duke Johnson Jr had a career high in carries as the Dolphins leaned on Johnson to run for 107 yards adding two touchdowns to the mix. The Jets have allowed the most fantasy points this season by a wide margin as they are giving up 35 points per game and have allowed 25 touchdowns to running backs this season. To make matters worse, the Jets will be without Robert Saleh in this game as he is on the Covid list along with 12 players on the Jets this week which is something to watch as the game approaches. This is a defense that likely boasts the worst linebacking group in the NFL as C.J. Moseley just looks so far from the player he was prior to the injury in 2018/2019 as he is a liability while on the field and is not getting much help as the defensive line have all struggled mightily this season.
LA Chargers at Houston
The Chargers are a team to watch this week as they are one of the many that are dealing with Covid related issues as Austin Ekeler will likely miss this week after being added to the list on Wednesday. This likely means it will once again be Justin Jackson filling in for Ekeler. Jackson looked great last week against Kansas City as he had 13 carries for 86 yards while showing a consistency that we had not seen this season. The Chargers will also look to incorporate Joshua Kelley who is not nearly as dynamic and has struggled for most of the season averaging just 3.4 yards-per-carry which is very similar to his 2020 numbers in which he got an extended look due to injury, but it was much of the same story an inability to consistently produce as he averaged just 3.2 yards-per-carry last season. This is going to be a pass first offense, but in a game that they should have in hand against a bad defense, this is a game that Jackson could have a breakout performance that come out of nowhere to win someone a fantasy playoff matchup.
The Texans have been in a tough spot for most of the season as they have a lack of talent on the roster combined with negative game scripts which leads to a bad run defense. On the season, the Texans are allowing the most rushing yards per game at 125 yards per contest. Houston as of late has been even worse as they have allowed 140 yards or more rushing in three of their last four games two of which were against the Seahawks and Jets which are bottom-10 rushing offenses. Making matters worse for the Texans is that they currently have five defensive lineman and four linebackers on the Covid list and if that continues to grow throughout the week, could be in some trouble heading into this game so it’s difficult to even know what players they will have on the field or how much preparation they’ve had.
Kansas City vs Pittsburgh
The Chiefs are a bit of a mess heading into this game as both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce are both on the Covid list, which should mean that the Chiefs are going to go with a run-heavy approach and they likely have the perfect opponent this week in the Steelers to do that. Without those two top-end receivers, the Chiefs will likely lean on Clyde Edwards-Helaire who has been struggling to see consistent volume this season as he is averaging just 11 carries over his last four games. There is not a lot to be concerned about this week however as there are reasons that the volume has been as low as it has, whether it has been blowouts where the Chiefs substitute out Edwards-Helaire, defensive touchdowns which limit the offensive output of the overall team, or just the high efficiency pass offense like we saw last week where Patrick Mahomes II threw for 410 yards. This week should be different, as without those weapons (if they are out), you should see a commitment to the run early which should then help those wide receivers get open. The offensive line for the Chiefs has been phenomenal this season as Matt Bitonti has them rated as the best offensive line in football which the Chiefs should look to utilize to win this game.
The way that the Steelers run defense has fallen off this season is something that is difficult to understand, but they are now averaging allowing 208 yards rushing over the last two weeks to Tennessee and Minnesota. While the signs have been there the entire season, this was a defense that truly fell apart back in the tie to Detroit where they ran all over this defense and ever sense, they have allowed 100 yards rushing to every starting running back with the exception of Austin Ekeler who scored four touchdowns, and Devonta Freeman who has not had a 100-yard rushing game since 2017. The Steelers are going through a bit of Covid issues themselves as linebackers Devin Bush and Marcus Allen both tested positive and will miss this game. Bush has been one of the worst run-stopping linebackers in the NFL as he is consistently out of position, but the problem is that Robert Spillane who will fill in for Bush has not been any better.
Chicago at Seattle
The Bears are a difficult team to figure out as offensively they seemingly have been sputtering towards the end of the season. David Montgomery is a tough player to figure out, as he ended last season as the workhorse back averaging 21 carries over his last five games with 7 touchdowns in that timeframe. This season, we haven’t seen the Bears willing to commit to the run as he has just two games in which he has rushed for more than 20 times, and he has four games in which he has rushed for 14 or fewer times. Lately, the Bears have been using Montgomery as a heavy receiving back as he has 19 receptions over his last three games where he previously had 12 receptions in his other 7 games. The entire Bears offensive philosophy seems to lack consistency at this point in the season and a big reason may be the offensive line which Matt Bitonti has as the worst offensive line in the NFL as they lost Jason Peters, have started rookie Tevin Jenkins which has not gone well. Montgomery is the type of player that can complement a strong offensive line, but is not good enough to overcome a poor offensive line which is why we are seeing so many dump off passes to him to try to get him in space instead of between the tackles.
Seattle is a difficult defense to figure out as they looked horrendous early on in the season, and then have been hit or miss in the second half of the year as they have shut down offenses such as Green Bay (98 yards on 30 carries), Arizona (77 yards on 27 carries), San Francisco (66 yards on 22 carries), but have been exposed by the Rams last week (115 yards on 24 carries), and Washington just three weeks ago (141 yards on 36 carries). While they have been playing better this second half of the season allowing just 92 yards per game compared to 108, they are still giving up the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs in the second half of the season. The biggest issue for the Seahawks continues to be their defensive line which does not make enough plays as Rasheem Green, Darrell Taylor, and L.J. Collier are all young players who simply do not make enough plays which puts a lot of pressure on Bobby Wagner who is still great but is starting to fall off a little bit compared to the elite All-Pro level in 2016-2020.
Indianapolis at Arizona
Jonathan Taylor has quickly emerged as the best running back in the NFL. For as great as Taylor is, the offensive line supporting him has been just as great as Matt Bitonti has the Colts as the number two overall offensive line as Quenton Nelson, Braden Smith, and Ryan Kelly have been dominant this season. Kelly is questionable with a personal matter and our thoughts are with his family at this time. Taylor has topped 100 yards in five of his last six games while scoring 11 rushing touchdowns over his last six games which is remarkable and has scored a touchdown in every game dating back to Week 4 which should gain him some momentum for some MVP votes.
Trying to figure out what has happened with Arizona is one of the great mysteries in the NFL right now as nobody saw the Cardinals losing by 18 to the Lions. What’s interesting is that we had talked very early on in the season about some issues with the Cardinals run defense and that statistically it is being propped up by the lack of volume that they’ve faced, but that has completely changed over the last several weeks as the Cardinals have faced an average of 26 carries over their last three games as the Lions seemingly ran the ball at will with Craig Reynolds last week. This is a defense that does not have any glaring holes but does have issues primarily that they are a Nickel defense that are built to shut down the pass as their linebackers in Isaiah Simmons and Jordan Hicks are both below average run stoppers so if you can get past the average defensive line that desperately misses J.J. Watt, you can see some big runs against this team. With the Colts elite offensive line, look for them to be able to get Jonathan Taylor to the second level for some big gains this week.
Bottom 5 Rushing Matchups
Carolina vs Tampa Bay
The Panthers are a team that is a bit of a mess as they are trying to figure out offensively where they are headed. They fired Joe Brady two weeks ago and there offense simply has not improved as Cam Newton has now lost his last 12 games as a Panthers starting quarterback dating back to 2018. The Panthers allegedly fired Joe Brady due to wanting to run the ball more, but their running backs have run significantly less since his departure as they have totaled 14 carries and just 10 carries last week. With Sam Darnold expected to play some in this game with Cam Newton starting, expect Chuba Hubbard to get some additional work that otherwise was going to Cam Newton.
Tampa Bay’s run defense continues to be one of the best in the NFL as they completely shut down the New Orleans Saints last week allowing just 28 rushing yards on 20 carries to Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram II. The Buccaneers did lose a key piece to their defense in LaVonte David who will miss the remainder of the year as he is their defensive play caller and key run stopping linebacker. This is a defense that has enough pieces around him to still be one of the top units in the NFL and is facing one of the weaker rushing offenses as of late in Carolina. This is a situation where the Buccaneers have another veteran in Kevin Minter ready to step in rather than having to rely on a rookie which provide some level of continuity by having a player in his tenth NFL season stepping in. This is still one of the best defensive lines in football led by Vita Vea, William Gholston and Ndamakong Suh that should give the Panthers all sorts of issues.
Miami vs New Orleans
With Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed both active, the Dolphins out of nowhere gave Duke Johnson Jr the most carries he has had in his seven years in the NFL as Johnson ran the ball 22 times against the Jets this past week. This week, the Dolphins running back room gets even more crowded as they will get Phillip Lindsay back in the mix who had 12 carries in his first game with the Dolphins before getting injured. It will be interesting to see where the Dolphins go this week at the running back position as it seems as if Johnson should once again get the start, but whether he can keep the job or if they go back to a committee approach is yet to be seen in a much more difficult matchup than facing the Jets last week. Also of note, that Gaskin and Ahmed were both questionable in the week, so it may have been a scenario where the Dolphins just didn’t need to go with those other guys as Duke was having such success running the ball.
The Saints are a team that started the season off as the best run defense in the NFL, and while they’re still very good, they have fallen off a little bit in recent weeks. While this is a defense that has not been shredded on the ground, they have allowed over 100 total rushing yards in three of their last four games to opposing running backs with the biggest game being back in Week 11 when the Eagles ran for a combined 173 yards through Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, and Boston Scott. Prior to this stretch, the Saints had not allowed more than 82 yards rushing all season. Part of the issue has been schematic, as the Saints have essentially moved to 100% Nickel placing Pete Werner on the bench as the Saints try to sure up their pass defense, but the other issue for the Saints has been the play of Malcolm Jenkins who has fallen off over the last several weeks. This is likely a week where the Saints get right as they should have a significant advantage over the Dolphins offensive line which Matt Bitonti has just at a C+ in terms of run blocking this season.
Cincinnati vs Baltimore
The Bengals appear to have dodged a significant issue after it looked like Joe Mixon might be out for a period of time, but Mixon did practice on Wednesday which is a great sign heading into the weekend. Last week, the Bengals struggled to get the running game going in a tough matchup against Denver as Mixon was able to muster just 58 yards on 17 carries which is third straight game of 60 yards or less averaging just 3.1 yards-per-carry over that stretch after having two huge rushing performances. The Bengals coaching staff is smart in their utilization of Mixon as when he has a favorable matchup, they look to exploit it as his three games with over 20 carries were against Pittsburgh, Minnesota, and Las Vegas all of which have below average run defenses and Mixon dominated topping 120 yards in all three appearances. In his other 11 appearances, he’s failed to top 100 yards, topping 70 just once back in Week 2 against the Bears.
Baltimore has stood up to the test after being embarrassed back in Week 9 by Dalvin Cook who ran for 110 yards against to be the first running back to do so this season. Since that game, the Ravens have faced Aaron Jones, Nick Chubb twice, Najee Harris, and David Montgomery holding them all under 75 yards and allowing just one touchdown amongst the group which was last week to A.J. Dillon. The Ravens are dealing with some Covid issues in this game, which is something to watch as while it is mostly backups, Justin Madubuike and Justin Houston both were added to the list this week which should cause them some issues. Even still, this is a defense that is incredibly well coached, has a poor pass defense which helps limit the number of rushing attempts, and has enough players who play in the scheme led by Calais Campbell to be a dangerous run defense.
Arizona vs Indianapolis
The Cardinals mysteriously just fell apart last week against the Lions in inexplicable fashion as they seemingly failed to move the ball the entire game against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. What was amazing is how quick Cliff Kingsbury went back to his roots of just throwing the ball seemingly the entire game as the Cardinals ran the ball a total of 15 times last week and just 4 times in the first half while the game was still in reach. The bigger concern here is that the Cardinals seemingly went back to the committee approach as James Conner had 8 carries to Chase Edmonds having 6, which is something to continue to monitor going forward. Kyler Murray posed zero threat of running as he still does not look right since returning from his ankle injury as he ended with just four carries for three total yards last week.
The Colts defense is quickly turning them into real contenders in the AFC as they simply dominated the Patriots for most of the game last week holding Rhamondre Stevenson and Brandon Bolden to just 39 yards rushing after the Patriots had been a run-heavy team the last several weeks dating back to their victory against Cleveland in Week 10. On the year, the Colts have been hit or miss, as they have allowed some very big games most notably to Leonard Fournette who had four touchdowns against this Colts defense, but that was their only hiccup since Week 8 which includes a 68 yard on 28 carry performance from Derrick Henry who was bottled up the entire game. This is a defense that has a great front seven led by DeForest Buckner and Darius Leonard, but they can be beaten in the secondary as Andrew Sendejo and Khari Willis both are flawed run-stoppers.
Tampa Bay at Carolina
The Buccaneers have giant question marks on offense this week as they will be without Leonard Fournette, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and potentially Breshad Perriman this week, and were shut out last week against the Saints. This leaves Tampa Bay in a precarious position where they went out and signed Le’Veon Bell to a contract. Bell will likely be nothing more than an insurance policy if something were to happen to Ronald Jones II as the only back that they have is Ke’Shawn Vaughn who has just 37 total carries in his NFL career over his first two years. Jones has shown that he is more than a capable back when given the chance as he showed last season where he topped 100 yards four times last year. The good news for the Buccaneers is that they still boast one of the best offensive lines in the NFL so they should lean on this unit to be able to potentially carry them until they can get healthy.
For as bad as the Panthers have been this season, their defense is one that is still showing promise as they have allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs while facing the 8th most rushing attempts on the year as they are consistently in negative game script situations due to their inability to score on offense. This is a defense that is extremely well-coached by Matt Rhule on the defensive side of the ball. This is a defense that relies heavily on Shaq Thompson as they have some of the best edge players in the NFL in Brian Burns and Haasan Reddick, but up the middle on the defensive line is the weak point which puts a significant amount of pressure on Thompson who has been outstanding this season. This is a defense that has given up big games throughout the season, but those have mostly subsided since Week 6 as they allowed Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliott both to top 140 yards but have not allowed a running back to top 100 yards since that time.
|Week 16 Rushing Matchups|
|Jacksonville||at NY Jets||Great|
|LA Chargers||at Houston||Great|
|Kansas City||vs Pittsburgh||Great|
|Denver||at Las Vegas||Good|
|Houston||vs LA Chargers||Good|
|LA Rams||at Minnesota||Good|
|New England||vs Buffalo||Good|
|Buffalo||at New England||Good|
|NY Giants||at Philadelphia||Neutral|
|Cleveland||at Green Bay||Neutral|
|Philadelphia||vs NY Giants||Neutral|
|Pittsburgh||at Kansas City||Neutral|
|NY Jets||vs Jacksonville||Neutral|
|Minnesota||vs LA Rams||Neutral|
|New Orleans||vs Miami||Neutral|
|Tennessee||vs San Francisco||Tough|
|Las Vegas||vs Denver||Tough|
|Green Bay||vs Cleveland||Tough|
|San Francisco||at Tennessee||Tough|
|Tampa Bay||at Carolina||Bad|
|Miami||vs New Orleans||Bad|
|Carolina||vs Tampa Bay||Bad|