Unlock More Content Like This With A
Footballguys Premium Subscription
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE
Go here for this week's Rushing Matchups.
Top 5 Passing Matchups
Dallas at Washington
Dak Prescott and the Cowboys passing offense responded in a big way this past week after two consecutive road losses to keep control over the NFC East. Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb were great as Prescott threw for 345 yards, with 227 going to Lamb. This week, however, Prescott goes back on the road, where he has struggled as he has completed just 73% of his passes at home compared to 63% on the road while averaging 309 passing yards at home compared to just 220 on the road. Even though this is a road game, it is critical that the passing game figures out some level of consistency against one of the league's worst pass defenses in Washington. The Cowboys need to figure out a secondary receiving option for Prescott. Outside of Lamb, Dallas has not been able to get consistent production from Brandin Cooks, Michael Gallup, or Jalen Tolbert this season. Jake Ferguson has been a nice piece for Dallas, but for them to make a deep playoff run, they will need to get production out of those receivers, given their inability to run the ball over the second half of the season.
Washington's passing defense has consistently been one of the worst in the NFL this season, but this week, they are likely to struggle even to fill out a team based on all the injuries they're dealing with. Star cornerback Kendall Fuller, who has been the bright spot of this pass defense, is likely to miss this week with a knee injury. Benjamin St-Juste, who is dealing with a concussion, seems unlikely to play, and while he has been one of the worst cornerbacks in football, there's a reason that the Commanders continue to start him. From a depth perspective, the Commanders could be without Christian Holmes and Tariq Castro-Fields, and while neither player has played much this season, they did play 47% and 30% of the snaps last week due to the injuries to Fuller and St-Juste, so the Commanders will need to go further down the depth chart this week. On the defensive line, the Commanders could be without Jonathan Allen, who is their leader in sacks, as he is dealing with a knee injury. The Commanders, who have already allowed the most fantasy points and third-most passing yards to opposing quarterbacks, are in a difficult spot this week. They will likely need to start both rookies Emmanuel Forbes and Jartavius Martin, who were their top two draft picks in the 2023 draft. Neither has worked out as hoped so far, and the team has been hesitant to start either player this season.
Minnesota at Detroit
Minnesota will go back to Nick Mullens this week after rookie Jaren Hall just did not look ready to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. The move away from Mullens was due to turnovers, as the quarterback threw six interceptions in his two starts. However, besides the turnovers, he is by far the most capable quarterback on this roster as he averaged 357 yards in his two starts, throwing for four touchdowns in those two starts and 8.8 yards-per-attempt. With Mullens starting, the outlook for Justin Jefferson should increase substantially as Jefferson averaged 113 yards, while players such as Jordan Addison and K.J. Osborn should have increased upside with Mullens as both topped 90 yards in one of the two starts with Mullens at quarterback this season.
Detroit's secondary has completely fallen apart over the last two weeks and has outlined a potential red flag heading into the playoffs. Since Week 7, the Lions are allowing the second-most passing yards per game, but what has largely been exposed the past two weeks is that this is a defense that has largely been propped up by one of the easiest schedules in the NFL. Playing six games against the NFC North and another four games against the NFC South this season has largely skewed their results. When facing quality competition, this is a team that has allowed 345 yards and 2 touchdowns to Dak Prescott, 323 yards and 4 touchdowns to Justin Herbert, 357 yards and 3 touchdowns to Lamar Jackson, and 328 yards and 2 touchdowns to Geno Smith. Their one great performance this season was in Week 1, which shaped the narrative that this defense was better than indicated as they held Patrick Mahomes II to 226 yards and 2 touchdowns, which at the time was almost unheard of, but looking back it was largely set up by numerous Kadarius Toney drops. While Nick Mullens is not in the class of these quarterbacks, Mullens had 411 yards and 2 touchdowns against this defense just two weeks ago. Cameron Sutton has struggled for Detroit as he was expected to lock down the cornerback position for Detroit after being signed from Pittsburgh, but he is allowing the sixth-most yards in coverage this season. The good news for Detroit this week is that they should get C.J. Gardner-Johnson back at safety after losing him in Week 2.
San Francisco vs LA Rams
San Francisco will be resting their starters this week as they have clinched the number one seed in the NFC. The 49ers have already announced that they will not play either Brock Purdy or Christian McCaffrey, and we haven't heard whether they will play other players such as Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, Trent Williams, or George Kittle. This is a veteran team as Sam Darnold will get the start for the 49ers, while they have contributors at wide receiver in Chris Conley and Jauan Jennings that, if Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk did not play, could still be capable of moving the ball down the field. At tight end, we could see a combination of Charlie Woerner and Brayden Willis, both who are young, athletic tight ends but have been unable to contribute much this season in limited playing time.
The Rams have already clinched a playoff spot, but now it comes down to seeding this week, as they will either be the sixth or the seventh seed in the NFC. However, this team has struggled mightily against the pass over the last six weeks, and if not fixed quickly, that could lead to an early playoff exit. Over the last six weeks, five quarterbacks have thrown for 250 yards or more, while quarterbacks have thrown for 300 or more yards in three of the last four weeks. The concerning issue for the Rams is that we are not talking about the league's best quarterbacks, as they've faced Kyler Murray, Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson, Sam Howell/Jacoby Brissett, Derek Carr, and Tyrod Taylor and are allowing 282 yards per game which is the second-most in the NFL during this stretch. This is a defense that just does not have a lot of talent at cornerback as Ahkello Witherspoon and Cobie Durant have both struggled this season. The Rams have allowed a receiver to top 80 yards in every game since Week 11.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Mason Rudolph has been great in his two starts for Pittsburgh, as he has taken one of the worst passing offenses this season and has stabilized it. In his two starts, Rudolph has thrown for 270 yards or more against Seattle and Cincinnati, while the team has put up an average of 3 2 points in those two games as he has kept the Steelers' hopes for a playoff bid alive. The big benefactor of Rudolph starting has been George Pickens, who has 130 receiving yards or more in both starts. The Steelers have had offensive line issues all season, but Rudolph has done a tremendous job in avoiding sacks, as he has been sacked just twice in his two starts on 53 dropbacks, which is among the league's best. While it is a small sample size, if he can have time to throw, he's shown that he can connect with Pickens downfield and will look to take advantage of the Ravens' depleted defense this week.
Baltimore's defense is not going to be the defense that we've been accustomed to fearing all season. This team will be without a significant number of starters this week as the team has already locked up the number one seed in the AFC. At cornerback, the Ravens could be without their top five cornerbacks, as Marlon Humphrey, Daryl Worley, and Ronald Darby seem like they are going to miss, while Arthur Maulet and Brandon Stephens also are players who have a limited practice this week, so it remains to be seen if the Ravens will start them. For the rest of the defense, the Ravens will be without All-Pro caliber safety Kyle Hamilton, linebacker Patrick Queen seems questionable to play, and linebackers Malik Harrison and Kyle Van Noy could also miss this week. This is still a well-coached unit and will try to get the most out of whoever is playing for them this week, but there simply will be too much of a talent gap in this game between these two teams.
Cincinnati vs Cleveland
Jake Browning did his best to keep the Bengals in the playoff race but fell just short as the Bengals quarterback is now 3-3 as a starter. For Browning and the Bengals, this is still an opportunity to finish the season 9-8. Based on the injury report, Cincinnati is going to try to play their full starters, but the one exception may be Tee Higgins, who is dealing with a hamstring injury that kept him out of Wednesday's practice and is something to keep an eye on moving forward. Browning has shown that he is more than capable of leading an offense as he is averaging 285 passing yards per start while completing 71% of his passes in games that he started this season. He has limited the upside of Ja'Marr Chase since starting, as Chase has just one game over 100 yards since Browning started, as Browning has shown a willingness to check the ball down quicker to tight ends and running backs than Joe Burrow previously had as Tanner Hudson, Irv Smith, Chase Brown, and Joe Mixon all have had a role in the passing game.
Cleveland is another team similar to Baltimore that will likely be resting a vast majority of their defensive starters. While they haven't announced specific players missing on the defensive side of the ball just yet, those announcements are likely coming soon as the team has elected to start Jeff Driskel, who was just signed five days ago. It seems extremely unlikely that Cleveland will be without Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett, Za'Darius Smith, and probably Juan Thornhill, based on the lack of depth that the Browns have at safety, given the prior injuries to Rodney McLeod and Grant Delpit. Cleveland has dealt with injuries all season, but no player is as crucial to this pass defense as Denzel Ward. Without Ward, Cleveland allowed 279 yards and 3 touchdowns to Matthew Stafford and 2357 yards and 3 touchdowns to Trevor Lawrence. Now add in the lack of pass rush with Garrett and Smith potentially out and the lack of safety help, and this will be a completely different defense than the one that leads the NFL in the fewest passing yards allowed this season.
Continue reading this content with a PRO subscription.
"Footballguys is the best premium
fantasy football only site on the planet."
Matthew Berry, NBC Sports EDGE