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Week 18 Passing Matchups

by Justin Howe, Devin Knotts, and Keith Roberts, Exclusive to

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Great Matchups:
Good Matchups: [KC] [LAR] [NO]
Neutral Matchups: [ATL] [TEN]
Tough Matchups: [CAR] [JAX]
Bad Matchups: [BUF]

PLEASE NOTE: This does NOT replace the Cheatsheet ranking. The Cheatsheet rankings are the final say on where we see a player for that week. The Matchup Breakdowns are simply one more tool in the box when it comes to helping choose your lineup.

Also note, just because a player has a "bad" matchup, it does NOT mean he's not a starter in your league. If Tom Brady is playing the toughest pass defense in the league, that just means he's got a tough matchup that week. He's also your starter unless you're loaded at QB. In the same way, if the worst QB on your roster has a "great" matchup that week, it doesn't necessarily mean he's your starter. It means we think he'll fare better than normal that week.

Bottom line is that the cheatsheets are the final say.

Kansas City Chiefs Passing Offense vs Tennessee Titans Passing Defense (Good Matchup)

Alex Smith has had a career-best season as he crossed 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his 13-year career. Smith also had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio (26-5) as he did a great job protecting the ball all season long. Smith has had impressive games sprinkled throughout the season, but it is worth noting that all five of his receptions have actually come within his last seven games. Smith has looked sharp in his last couple of games and is coming in fresh with a week of rest as he yielded to Patrick Mahomes in Week 17. Travis Kelce has been Smith’s favorite target this season as he led the team in targets, receptions, and receiving touchdowns. Kelce finished the year as the #2 fantasy scoring tight end with some massive outings sprinkled throughout the year. Kelce has shown to have one of the highest ceilings of any fantasy tight end with six games of 90 or more receiving yards. Tyreek Hill had an up and down season, as to be expected from a big play guy like him. Hill still finished just ahead of Travis Kelce for the team lead in receiving yards with 1,183. To show his variance from game to game though, Hill had four games with at least six receptions and over 100 receiving yards but five games with fewer than 45 receiving yards. Hill has been solid later in the season though, as he is averaging 114 yards per game with three receiving touchdowns over his last four outings. Albert Wilson had a career day in Week 17 against the Broncos with 10 receptions for 147 yards. He hadn’t hauled in more than five receptions for 72 yards prior to the season finale, and Tyreek Hill was not active, so this last game was a bit of an outlier based on what we have come to expect from Wilson. He was reported to be dealing with a hamstring injury but should be expected to suit up opposite Tyreek Hill. Kareem Hunt has also been an impressive weapon in the passing game as he has caught 14 balls over his last three full games. Hunt has at least three receptions in all but three games this season as the Chiefs love to get him involved with short screen passes.

The Titans passing defense has struggled consistently for most of this season, ranking 24th against the pass using DVOA and allowing the eighth-most passing yards per game. The Titans have allowed three quarterbacks to pass for over 300 yards in three of their last five games. The Titans secondary has played very well against poor passing offenses (Colts, Cardinals, Jaguars, Browns, Bears), but they have struggled mightily against a competent quarterback by allowing four passing touchdowns to the likes of Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Jared Goff. When it rains against this passing defense, it absolutely pours as those are four prime examples of this unit breaking down against proficient passers. This cornerback unit has struggled through some recent injuries as Leshaun Sims was lost for the season while both Logan Ryan and Brice McCain are playing through injuries. The rookie Adoree Jackson has been the only consistently healthy starting piece of this cornerback group, and he should match up primarily on Tyreek Hill this week. Jackson has had an impressive rookie season and certainly has the speed to contend with Hill. Where Jackson has struggled has been against bigger, more physical receivers—so Hill is actually a good matchup for Jackson as it may be the first time this season Jackson has faced a receiver of equal weight and height.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.

Los Angeles Rams Passing Offense vs Atlanta Falcons Passing Defense (Good Matchup)

Jared Goff’s 2017 breakthrough has been wildly impressive, and he’s shown the ability to rise to the occasion and post great fantasy numbers virtually any time he’s been asked to. With Todd Gurley running the ball, Goff isn’t a volume king, but his efficiency has been off the charts (a league-best 7.72 adjusted net yards per attempt, which factors in sacks, touchdowns, and interceptions) and dragged him to a QB1 season. He closed the season in spectacular fashion, throwing a whopping 19 touchdowns over his last 8 games, with multiple scores in 7 of them. The return of Robert Woods from a late-season injury hasn’t been earth-shattering, but Goff’s top wideout is now fully healthy and pairs well with big-play weapon Sammy Watkins. And Gurley’s emergence as a receiver has been extraordinarily helpful to Goff’s numbers: Gurley has leaped from averages of 2.2 catches and 17.8 yards over his first 2 seasons to a wild 4.3 and 52.5 in 2017. All told, Goff looks like a strong play entering this matchup with the Falcons’ iffy pass defense. He’s protected by a solid front line – left tackle Andrew Whitworth has had a Pro Bowl-caliber Rams debut – and throws to a full, healthy set of playmakers on all levels of the field. We can worry about inexperience or rust or a handful of other indefinite narratives, but there’s little to take away from Goff’s 2017 that suggests he’ll underperform.

The 2017 Falcons pass defense has been one of the league’s most glaring examples of holding tight against poor passing games but buckling against the elite ones. On the whole, their numbers aren’t bad: 10th-best in net yards per attempt and eighth-best in raw yardage allowed. That said, they’ve come largely on the strength of their scheduling, padded by dates with Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They’ve also allowed recent big lines (271+ yards and 2+ touchdowns) to Jameis Winston and Drew Brees and were dink-and-dunked mercilessly by Case Keenum in Week 13 (25 of 30 and 2 touchdowns). The pass rush looks great, but there have been noticeable lapses in coverage of late. It’s worth noting that the play of sometimes-shadow cornerback Desmond Trufant waned a bit in 2017, and opposing wideouts have posted a lot of recent success in this matchup. Michael Thomas (10 catches, 117 yards, 1 touchdown), Ted Ginn (4 for 76 and 1), Mike Evans (5 for 79 and 1), and Adam Humphries (5 for 43 and 1) have all put up strong lines over the past 2 months, which is a bit uncharacteristic considering Trufant’s reputation on the boundary.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.

New Orleans Saints Passing Offense vs Carolina Panthers Passing Defense (Good Matchup)

It’s been odd to see caretaker Drew Brees, but it’s made all the sense in the world. The New Orleans run game has been utterly dominant, and the defense has controlled the flow of and shortened a number of games in a very un-Saints season. As a result, Brees has been called upon much less than usual. His 2017 brought his lowest marks in 12 years as a Saint in attempts, yards, and touchdowns as he spent much of it spectating. Still, he remains as efficient as they come, and we can be confident he’ll answer the bell if and when a shootout breaks out. Brees posted one of the strongest adjusted net yards per attempt (factoring in touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks) of his illustrious career. His touchdown dip has been pronounced, as his backs have been dominant near the goal line, and that does knock Brees’ fantasy outlook noticeably. But he’s remained so sharp that we can never count out his prospects for a dazzling fantasy day. He’s still throwing to playmakers, too, despite a pared-down supporting cast. Michael Thomas is an ultra-reliable target all over the field, averaging 6.5 catches and 77.8 yards per game, and Ted Ginn caught as many 20+ yard passes (15) as Tyreek Hill. And Kamara’s take-it-to-the-house dynamism in the passing game adds yet another weapon to the arsenal. Brees isn’t a fantasy crown jewel right now, but doubt him and this unit at your own risk.

The Carolina pass defense, dominant on paper for much of the season’s early going, went largely off the rails down the stretch. Now, it looks like a thoroughly targetable unit, and Drew Brees looks poised to overperform this weekend. The Panthers built strong numbers over the first half of the year, allowing just 202.0 yards per game from Weeks 1-8, but that was a mark inflated by awful competition and some egregious drops. Julio Jones’ jaw-dropping Week 9 muff of a sure-fire touchdown was one in a long line of dropped long-balls; it’s probably more precise to judge this unit on its late-season collapse. The Panthers gave up 294.5 yards per game from Weeks 9-17, more than any other team, including huge lines to Jameis Winston (367) and Matt Ryan (313) to close out the year. Shaky play from cornerbacks James Bradberry and Daryl Worley has allowed opposing wideouts to put on clinics – and – and squandered Carolina’s suffocating pass rush more often than not. The fact that Brees carved them up with surgical efficiency (75% completion rate, 7.76 yards per attempt, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) is the cherry on top; it’s safe to expect another ultra-efficient performance against this collapsing unit.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.

Atlanta Falcons Passing Offense at Los Angeles Rams Passing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Matt Ryan and the Falcons passing offense certainly disappointed this year. A far, far cry from his electrifying 2016, Ryan’s 2017 featured his lowest passing yardage (255.9 per game) in 7 years and a return to his typically ho-hum touchdown rates. Ultimately checking in as just the per-game QB22 of standard leagues, Ryan topped 275 yards just 6 times all year, falling below 225 in 5 of his last 8 games. It’s worth noting that Ryan’s main problem was rooted more in a lack of volume than efficiency – he actually posted a solid 6.87 adjusted net yards, his second-best mark since 2013 – as this offense was an exceptionally slow-paced one built to win with the run. Still, that looks unlikely to suddenly shift in the playoffs, so Ryan will need to showcase strong efficiency to excel going forward. It’s encouraging that he closed the season with lines of 288 and 317 yards, but his sheer lack of touchdown projectability is truly damning. Ryan threw just five touchdowns over the final six games, and he posted multiple scores just five times all year. It doesn’t help his cause that Julio Jones has continued to vanish near the goal line. Jones was mostly great in 2017, averaging 90.3 yards per game, but still doesn’t produce touchdowns on any noticeable level. He drew 11 targets from inside the 10-yard line, but caught just 4 of them (only 1 for a touchdown), furthering his only longtime drawback. Jones will always carry a volume-based floor and tantalizing upside, but will always be held back to a degree by this strange inability to score. Ryan may also enter Wild Card Weekend without his second-best downfield threat; situational speedster Taylor Gabriel left Week 17 with a hamstring injury and may not be ready on the short week. If we’re to see any dynamite from this unit, Ryan will need to concentrate his downfield and red zone focuses on Jones and tight end Austin Hooper, but 2017 has conditioned us to not expect better than high-end QB2 production.

The Rams pass defense has been up-and-down in 2017, but a solid unit that’s performed better than its numbers indicate. They’ve allowed 275+ yards to 3 of their last 4 opponents and 4 of their last 7 (though it’s worth pointing out that many of their key defenders shuffled out of their meaningless Week 17 early). Still, though, they’ve given up the league’s ninth-fewest net yardage per attempt, which factors in sacks and sack yardage. Thanks to an often-suffocating pass rush led by Aaron Donald (11.0 sacks), Robert Quinn (8.5), and a host of complementary pieces, they tend to make up for their secondary deficiencies. And they boast real playmakers against the pass: veteran safety Lamarcus Joyner has enjoyed an All-Pro-caliber season in coverage, while rookie John Johnson III has excelled at forcing incompletions at the catch point. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have struggled to create dynamism all year, and they’ll be hard-pressed to find exploitable openings in this matchup.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.

Tennessee Titans Passing Offense at Kansas City Chiefs Passing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Titans passing offense has been one of the worst in the league over their last six games as Marcus Mariota has struggled in tough and good matchups alike. Mariota finished the regular season as one of only a handful of starting quarterbacks with more interceptions (15) than passing touchdowns (13). Over the past six games, Mariota is averaging just 190.5 passing yards per game with five passing touchdowns and five interceptions. Mariota’s top and most consistent receiving option this season has been Delanie Walker, who leads the team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards. Walker’s yardage totals have fallen off over the past month as he is averaging just 33 receiving yards per game over that span after a streak of six straight games with at least 60 receiving yards per game. Walker has seen consistent targets all season long though, and he leads all Titans receivers in red zone looks on the season. Rishard Matthews would have led the team in receiving yards if not for a hamstring injury that sidelined him for three weeks mid-season. Matthews has been another reliable option for Mariota for most of the year, but he will draw a tough matchup with Marcus Peters in this matchup that should qualm his upside. Corey Davis had a tough Week 17, but he showed a big flash of upside in Week 16 against the Rams with six receptions and 91 yards. Davis contains raw talent to make extremely athletic plays, but he has yet to string together back to back impressive outings this season. Eric Decker should line up primarily out of the slot for the Titans. Decker had a nice stretch of games from Weeks 14-16 with between 56 and 73 receiving yards per game, but the touchdown machine we knew from the Jets and Broncos has not shown up this season as Decker has just one score on the year. He is not coming off a great game either, as Decker had three drops despite some nice opportunities against a tough Jaguars secondary last week.

The Chiefs passing defense has made some improvements over the second half of the season compared to their abysmal start to the year. Allowing an average of 270 passing yards per game and 16 passing touchdowns in their first nine games, the Chief had given up the fifth most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and the most fantasy points by a wide margin to opposing wide receivers. Since their Week 10 bye, the Chiefs have done a great job at improving upon those numbers as they have improved to allowing just the 20th and 18th most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and wide receivers respectively. Marcus Peters has been a big reason for the Chiefs’ recent success against the pass, as he has been playing excellent football as of late and is their clear top cornerback. Expect for Peters to be lined up against Rishard Matthews for most of this game. Corey Davis should actually draw the most favorable matchup in three-receiver sets as he should line up against an aging Darrelle Revis who has been inconsistent for most of this season. It is also worth noting that the Chiefs have done an excellent job at shutting down pass-catching running backs, giving up the fewest receptions and third-fewest receiving yards to running backs with only two receiving touchdowns allowed to the position this season. If not for Melvin Gordon gashing this defense with six receptions for 91 yards in Week 15, the Chiefs would likely be the best in football against pass-catching running backs. While Derrick Henry did have a career-high 66 receiving yards last week, he is not known for his pass-catching ability—so you were not looking for much from him in this department, to begin with.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.

Carolina Panthers Passing Offense at New Orleans Saints Passing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Cam Newton has endured one of his rockiest NFL seasons in 2017. He entered the year hampered by lingering injuries, rebounded for a handful of scattered big games around midseason, then closed things out with a whimper. Ultimately, he posted career lows in yards per game and adjusted net yards per attempt, topping 225 just 6 times and throwing multiple touchdowns just 6 more. It’s hard to blame him too much, though – the Panthers passing game has been upturned every which way throughout the year. His two top targets were gone for much of the year – WR1 Kelvin Benjamin was traded midseason, while tight Greg Olsen lost nine games to a broken foot. And Olsen’s return has been largely uneventful; it seems clear the injury sapped his momentum and kept him a tentative target when on the field. All told, this passing game has been exceptionally hit-or-miss all year, and there’s little dynamism to project here. Devin Funchess’ inconsistency (7 games under 50 yards) and the team’s lack of pass-catching depth work against it. Newton is an eruptive passer, of course, one always capable of surprising with his arm; a 300-yard, a multi-touchdown day is never out of the question. But there’s nothing predictable about them, and Newton’s two games against the Saints (6.60 yards per attempt, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions) were not encouraging. It’s probably most sensible to project Newton around his seasonal averages, with questionable ceiling against the Saints’ improved pass defense.

One of 2017’s biggest stories has been the rebirth of Dennis Allen’s pass defense. Long an NFL laughingstock – and the league’s second-worst through the first two weeks – this unit rallied impressively around rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore to field one of football’s more prohibitive units. Lattimore is a gifted cover man and looks like a shoo-in for Defensive Rookie of the Year; his work in man coverage has been inspired and has helped to neutralize a handful of dangerous opposing WR1s. The unit struggled mightily during his three-game midseason absence, but righted itself immediately upon his return and hasn’t looked back. From Weeks 3-10 and 14-17, the Saints allowed just 203.2 passing yards per game. They buckled a bit to close the year, allowing big lines to Matt Ryan (288 yards) and Jameis Winston (367), but that doesn’t overshadow what a borderline-dominant group this was for most of the year. Their defense against Cam Newton – 6.60 yards per attempt, 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, 6 sacks – was certainly impressive, and stands as a very fair baseline expectation for Wild Card Weekend.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.

Jacksonville Jaguars Passing Offense vs Buffalo Bills Passing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Blake Bortles has looked much better this season despite his decreased overall passing numbers with two fewer touchdowns and an average of nearly 14 fewer passing yards per game compared to the 2016 season. Cutting back on the turnovers have been a big improvement for Bortles as he has been under much less pressure to carry the offense this season now that the Jaguars finally have a competent ground game. Bortles had a rather abysmal showing last week though, as he failed to pass for a touchdown for only the third time all season with two interceptions and only 158 passing yards. Bortles has now thrown five interceptions in his last two games against what should have been relatively soft passing defenses (Titans and 49ers). He did, however, pass for multiple touchdowns in four straight games leading into last week. Having this game at home in Jacksonville will be a big advantage for Bortles as he has really struggled when playing outdoors outside of Jacksonville, averaging just 137 passing yards per game with two touchdowns to four interceptions in those four outdoor road games against the Jets, Steelers, Browns, and Titans. Keelan Cole has come on strong in recent weeks. Not including his tough outing last week, Cole had averaged over 110 yards per game with three touchdowns in his last four games. Dede Westbrook had been much less consistent than Cole as he had three of his five games in December with over 70 receiving yards but caught just two passes for 21 yards against an atrocious Texans secondary in Week 15. Last week, Westbrook led the team with nine targets but only managed to haul in one for nine total yards on the day. Marquise Lee had been the top receiving target for most of the season for Bortles, but he has been sidelined with an ankle injury for the past three games. He is targeting to return this week, but keep an eye on the practice reports throughout the week. If Lee does return, expect for both Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole to see a slight decrease in their targets as Lee gets back involved in the offense.

The Bills secondary has been the clear strength of this defense as the weakness of their interior has funneled a number of teams towards the ground game. This matchup in general actually suits the Jaguars as they are a run-first team, but when Blake Bortles has to pass, he will certainly have his hands full with this unit. Tre’Davious White has been one of the top cornerbacks in the league and is a candidate for defensive rookie of the year with four interceptions and 18 passes defended—both ranking him in the top-10 among cornerbacks. White should be matched up against Keelan Cole for most of the game, so look for Cole to struggle in one of the worst matchups of the week. The Bills then have E.J. Gaines covering the other side of the field and set to line up against Marquise Lee if he returns this week. Gaines has battled injuries throughout the season, but when he has been on the field, he has done a great job against opposing receivers. The Bills also have a pair of very talented safeties in Pro Bowl selection Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. While this group has allowed a handful of huge games to opposing receivers this season, they, for the most part, have been quite effective at containing opposing passing offenses. Their defensive line and linebackers, however, are definitely a big weakness as they lack proficiency in both pass coverage and rushing the quarterback. The Bills are tied for 30th worst in the league with only 27 sacks on the year, so this will be one bit of relief for Blake Bortles this week.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.

Buffalo Bills Passing Offense at Jacksonville Jaguars Passing Defense (Bad Matchup)

The Bills finished the regular season with one of the worst passing offenses in the league, ranking 31st with only 177 passing yards per game—just one yard more per game than the lowest mark in the league. The quarterback position has certainly been a struggle for the Bills, as they tried to bench Tyrod Taylor earlier in the season, but were forced back to him due to the complete failure of Nathan Peterman. The top receiving option for the Bills finished with only 558 receiving yards as tight end Charles Clay sits atop this list. The talent at wide receiver has also plagued this team, especially considering they have both a tight end and running back (LeSean McCoy) with more receiving yards than any of their wide receivers. Deonte Thompson ended the season as their top wide receiver with just 430 receiving yards as he has rarely appeared on the fantasy radar with only two games of five or more receptions. Kelvin Benjamin was supposed to be the shining star with his mid-season trade to the Bills, but he has never hit his stride for this offense as he has not been a consistent option in this offense which part of that has to do with an inability to stay healthy. Charles Clay put together a respectable season, but he too has been unreliable throughout the season. His usage in recent weeks, however, has been very encouraging as Clay has led the team in targets for three straight weeks.

The Bills will draw the league’s top passing offense for their first playoff game of the century. The Jaguars have managed to hold opposing offenses to just 170 passing yards per game—a full 22 yards fewer than the Vikings at the #2 spot. Jacksonville finished the season with the fewest fantasy points allowed to both quarterbacks and wide receivers as they have shut down opposing offenses on a routine basis. The second half of the season has certainly been worse from a scoring perspective though, as the Jaguars allowed only four passing touchdowns through their first eight games compared to 13 in their last eight games. The turnovers have been consistent for most of the season though, and the Jaguars nearly closed the game out with an interception in every single game over their last eight games. They could not pick off the Titans in Week 17, but they racked up 11 interceptions in the seven games between Weeks 10 and 16. Cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye will both be starting in the Pro Bowl for the AFC, as they have been two of the top cornerbacks in all of football, routinely shutting down opposing receivers. This does not bode well at all for Bills’ outside receivers Thompson and Benjamin. Safety Barry Church should be poised to cover recent top target Charles Clay, and Church has allowed one of the higher catch rates among safeties in the league this year. However, Jacksonville has still been proficient against opposing tight ends as they have allowed only three tight ends to finish with more than 50 receiving yards in a game, and only one tight end has caught more than four receptions in a single game. The matchup in the trenches from a pass-protection perspective does not favor the Bills either here as Jacksonville notably leads the league in sacks with 56, while the Bills tied for the seventh most sacks allowed (47). This offensive line has been just fine at run blocking, but they have struggled to protect Taylor on multiple occasions this season, including the last two weeks as Taylor, has been sacked 10 times over that span—certainly not a positive trend to complement this already bad matchup.

Please refer to the NFL's injury report for the latest injury news regarding your players.