Go here for this week's Passing Matchups
Top 3 Rushing Matchups
Tennessee vs Cincinnati
The Titans should get a significant boost this week with the return of All-Pro running back Derrick Henry. Henry was activated from injured reserve Friday and all signs point to his return to the field against the Bengals. The Titans have averaged 28 points per game with Henry in the lineup but only 21 points per game without him. Even though Tennessee played nine games without Henry, they still lead the NFL with 32 rushing attempts per game. The Titans' wide receivers will be at full strength this week with both A.J. Brown and Julio Jones in the lineup. As a result, the Bengals won't be able to pack the box as tightly with the hope of stopping Tennessee's rushing attack.
The Bengals rushing defense has struggled over the last three games after playing up and down for most of the season. In each of the last three weeks, the Bengals have surrendered an average of 132 yards rushing while allowing 80 or more yards to an opposing running back. By contrast, Cincinnati allowed just 83 rushing yards per game prior to this three-game skid. The Bengals have a strong defensive line led by D.J. Reader and Trey Hendrickson, but the linebacking group of Germaine Pratt, Logan Wilson, and Markus Bailey have all struggled against the run. Every team remaining in the playoffs has a good run defense, but the Bengals are trending sharply downward. Cincinnati could struggle Saturday if Derrick Henry regularly gets past their line and forces their linebackers to stop him.
Kansas City vs Buffalo
The Chiefs should get Clyde Edwards-Helaire back this week for the first time in a month. His last game was on December 26th. While they will get Edwards-Helaire back, they will likely be without Darrel Williams who saw just one carry last week while dealing with a toe injury. Jerick McKinnon led the Chiefs with 12 carries in the Wild Card round against Pittsburgh. The Chiefs continue to be a team led by its offensive line which Footballguys expert Matt Bitonti has ranked as the top offensive line in football. While the Chiefs are a pass-heavy team, they have been efficient running the ball this season with a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. Expect a combination of Edwards-Helaire and McKinnon who looked great last week with 61 yards on just 12 carries.
The Bills defense looked fantastic last week, seemingly shutting down the Patriots in every facet of the game. The Bills had allowed Damien Harris to top 100 yards in their two prior meetings, but they held him to just 30 yards last week. Even on a slate where seemingly every defense is very good, the Bills make the top 3 rush defenses based on their regular-season play. The Bills allowed 86 rushing yards per game this season, the second-most among teams left in the playoffs. The Bills defense has been all-or-nothing against rushing this year. They allowed more than 100 yards rushing in five games, but only Carlos Hyde had more than 50 yards in the other 13 games. Hyde finished with only 61 yards back in Week 9. This is a defense led by their elite defensive line and safeties, but they do have some holes at the linebacker position.
Devin Singletary has emerged as one of the league's top running backs after taking over the starting job in Buffalo. Singletary has topped 80 yards in four of his last five games and scored seven rushing touchdowns over that span. Singletary combined with Josh Allen to provide a dynamic one/two punch that was on full display last week as the Bills ran for 176 yards against the Patriots.
The Chiefs’ run defense is crucial to their playoff success. They bottled up the Steelers last week, allowing just 57 yards rushing on 18 attempts. Kansas City isn't bad against the run this season, They've averaged just 91 yards rushing allowed per game and 4.5 yards per carry to opposing running backs. Even so, that's the highest average allowed by any team remaining in the playoffs. The Chiefs' most effective run defense may be their high-scoring offense. They're a team designed to get out to an early lead, then defend the pass. The issue continues to be the Chiefs' love of playing in a Dime set with Daniel Sorenson coming down to linebacker. While Sorenson is an average coverage player, he is one of the league’s worst run-stoppers who has been consistently exploited throughout the season.
Bottom 3 Rushing Matchups
LA Rams at Tampa Bay
Cam Akers' comeback from an Achilles injury in just five months has been near-miraculous. Recovery normally takes a year, and some athletes are never the same after returning to the field. Akers has not looked 100% yet as he has just 58 yards on 22 carries over his last two games. But he has provided a nice stop-gap for Darrell Henderson who's still out with an MCL injury. We expect the Rams to continue with a committee approach. Sony Michel had 13 carries to Akers 17 last week and was slightly more productive with 4.5 yards per carry compared to 3.2 for Akers. The Rams offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, but they'll be without left tackle Andrew Whitworth this week.
The Tampa Bay run defense completely derailed the Eagles game plan. Outside of a 34-yard touchdown run after the game was already decided, the Eagles simply could not move the ball against the Tampa Bay defense. Philadelphia managed just 55 yards rushing, most of which came from Jalen Hurts. Miles Sanders could only deliver 2.3 yards per carry. The Buccaneers have been the gold standard for rushing defense the past few seasons and this year is no exception. They've allowed the fewest yards to opposing running backs, the fewest rushing attempts, and they're tied for the fewest rushing touchdowns allowed. Vita Vea and the Buccaneers defense have elite talent at every level. Lavonte David is one of the league’s best linebackers and Antoine Winfield Jr Jr has been outstanding building off his 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year season.
Green Bay vs San Francisco
The Packers have fully embraced a running back by committee approach with both A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones carving out a role in this offense. From a fantasy perspective, it creates a bit of a headache trying to determine which running back to take. But Dillon has been taking more of the lead role lately while Jones has been playing more change-of-pace/third-down back. Jones averaged just 9.6 carries per game over the second half of the season compared to 13.9 carries per game for Dillon. This running back group is averaging a respectable 4.3 yards per carry even with All-Pro Left Tackle David Bakhtiari missing nearly the entire year. Week 18 was Bakhtiari's first game of the 2021 season.
The 49ers defense has been one of the NFL's best for most of this season, and they're one of the NFL's hottest defenses coming into this matchup. They completely shut down the Cowboys rushing attack last week as Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for just 45 yards on 16 carries. San Francisco has not allowed a running back to top 60 yards since Week 9 and has surrendered only one 100-yard rusher on the season. The 49ers front seven is as good as it gets. Their defensive line, led by Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, and D.J. Jones, has been outstanding this year. Their linebacking corps led by Fred Warner continues to be one of the most consistent in the NFL. This will be the second time these teams have met this season with Green Bay rushing for 100 yards in their Week 3 faceoff. Aaron Jones had 82 yards on 19 carries in that game. Since then, the 49ers have improved dramatically and they'll be relying on their defense as they seek to pull off the upset.
Cincinnati at Tennessee
Joe Mixon and the Bengals rushing offense are sputtering a bit heading into this week. Following outstanding games in Week 11 and Week 12, Mixon hasn't posted more than 65 rushing yards in any of the last six games. He's averaging just 3.1 yards per carry during that stretch. This late-season struggle started with right tackle Riley Reiff's Week 12 ankle injury. Reiff tried to play Week 14, but he reinjured his ankle and was placed on IR. His backup, Isaiah Prince, has been one of the league’s worst tackles this season.
The Titans’ run defense has been one of the best units in football this year. They've allowed the league's second-fewest yards with just one opposing player topping 70 yards. That was Jacksonville's James Robinson, who posted 149 rushing yards on Tennessee way back in Week 5. The Titans have held opponents to just 3.2 yards per carry and haven't allowed more than 50 yards to a rusher over the last eight games. This Titans defense boasts the NFL's best safety combination in Amani Hooker and Kevin Byard. They're consistently in the right position to make plays so opponents rarely spring a long gain on the ground.