Join the Footballguys Daily Update
Start your morning with our roundup of the most important stories in football - with the fantasy insight you need to make league-winning decisions. Delivered straight to your inbox, 100% free.
Top 3 Rushing Matchups
Note: This is a week where none of these matchups stand out as either great or good.
Dallas vs Green Bay
Dallas handing the reigns to Tony Pollard has not gone as well as they had hoped this season. Pollard averaged just 59 rushing yards per game and has topped 80 yards once this season. The issue for Pollard this season has been the lack of big play ability, as he has just two carries longer than 25 yards this season and none longer than 20 yards over his last six games. The offensive line for Dallas is among the league's best as Matt Bitonti has them 5th-overall led by All-Pro Zach Martin at right guard. For Dallas to make a deep run in the playoffs, they will likely need Pollard to make a big play at some point throughout the playoffs.
Green Bay's run defense this season has been near league average in most categories. They're allowing 96 rushing yards per game, the 10th-most this season. However, down the stretch, this defense has struggled to stop the run and has allowed five running backs to run for 80 yards or more since Week 10. The Packers' defensive line is among the biggest in the NFL, as Kenny Clark, T.J. Slaton, and Devonte Wyatt are all over 300 pounds, and while they have the size, they have struggled with athleticism as the running backs that have found success this season typically have teams not afraid to attack the interior as the outside linebackers in Preston Smith and Rashan Gary are elite run stoppers at outside linebacker. Tony Pollard could have some success based on his cutback style, which could create space against the Packers' large interior front.
Pittsburgh at Buffalo
Pittsburgh has turned to their run game to win their last three games and get them into the playoffs. The Steelers are averaging 34 carries per game between Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, with Harris getting the bulk of the work. Harris is leading the way with 24 carries, 104 yards, and 1.3 touchdowns per game over the last three weeks. With Mason Rudolph at quarterback, the Steelers will try to keep the ball on the ground and use the run game to set up the passing attack. This has worked well lately, with Rudolph completing 74% of his passes in his three starts. While the Steelers still have issues at the tackle position, the interior of the offensive line has turned into a cohesive run-blocking unit led by Isaac Seumalo.
Buffalo boasts one of the league's best defensive lines this season, but if you can get to the second level, this is where you can have some success against this defense. The Bills have struggled this season against some of the fastest running backs in the NFL. Breece Hall, De'Von Achane, and Travis Etienne all topped 100 rushing yards, while Saquon Barkley had over 90 yards against this defense. Where they've been elite is shutting down some of the downhill one-cut running backs, as they eliminated Joe Mixon, Josh Jacobs, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Rachaad White-type running backs. The issue for the Bills at linebacker has been that they lost Matt Milano back in Week 5 after already losing Tremaine Edmunds in the offseason. This has left the linebacker position already thin, but they may have lost Tyrel Dodson this week after being injured in Week 18. This could set up well for a Jaylen Warren game, given the profile of running backs who have beaten this Bills defense.
Buffalo vs Pittsburgh
James Cook is going to play a critical role in the playoffs as the Bills as he has completely taken over the backfield after an early timeshare with Latavius Murray. Murray had been the short yardage and goal-line back. But he has not had a touch in the red zone over the last three weeks and did not have a snap last week in a must-win game against the Dolphins. That red zone work has largely shifted to Cook and Josh Allen, who was tied with Jalen Hurts for the league lead in rushing touchdowns by a quarterback this season. For Cook, it is all about his ability to reach the second level. If there are holes in the defensive line, he can make a linebacker's day miserable as he seemingly picks up speed after he gets past the line of scrimmage. Consistency is the key for Cook, as in his game against Dallas in Week 15, he was just the third player in the last two seasons to average more than 4.0 yards before contact, per ESPN's Ed Werner. Yet in his next three games, he could not get anything going against the Chargers, Miami, and New England, averaging just 3.1 yards-per-carry and not having a carry longer than 15 yards.
Pittsburgh is another defense that is by no means a bad run defense, but this is a week where all of the teams playing have strong run defenses. Pittsburgh has been volatile this season against the run, as they're averaging 98 rushing yards per game, which is 11th-most in the NFL this year, but that does not tell the full story. This is a defense that they've had weeks where they look dominant, but in seven games this season, they've allowed over 100 yards to opposing running backs, including 170 yards to Indianapolis in Week 15, 130 yards to Arizona in Week 13, 170 to Cleveland in Week 2, and 162 in Week 1 to San Francisco. The Steelers will be without their best defensive player, T.J. Watt, who is dealing with a knee injury. The Steelers rely heavily on their defensive line and outside linebackers led by Cameron Heyward, Alex Highsmith, and T.J. Watt, as their middle linebackers have struggled to stop the run, so with Watt out, we could see some vulnerability this week with Mykal Walker and Elandon Roberts.
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