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Week 20 Passing Matchups

by Justin Howe, Devin Knotts, and Keith Roberts, Exclusive to Footballguys.com

Jump to Rushing Matchups

Great Matchups:
Good Matchups:
Neutral Matchups: [JAX]
Tough Matchups: [MIN]
Bad Matchups: [NE] [PHI]


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.


Jacksonville Jaguars Passing Offense at New England Patriots Passing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Jaguars still probably lack a quarterback in their quest to rebuild entirely. But Blake Bortles has looked downright effective of late when tasked with little decision-making and lots of handing off. Between his ability to run an effective play-action and rely on his mobility when needed, Bortles is showing the ability to preside over a safe, sanitized passing game that can protect the ball and occasionally extend drives. And to excel this Sunday, Bortles will almost certainly need game flow and the Jacksonville rushing attack to click in ideal fashion – it’s still hard to project him to a dynamic passing game on his own merits, The big issues we run into remain in Bortles’ downfield game: he’s simply not an accurate deep thrower, and he’ll likely always struggle to place those passes. As a result, his overall upside (and those of his receivers) is generally capped at the dumpoff and intermediate levels, and his late-season string of 300-yard performances doesn’t seem especially repeatable under normal circumstances. It would be unfair to discount his recent success entirely, especially against a very beatable Patriots defense. But it’s similarly disingenuous to merely praise his work from within a tightly-controlled offensive box and throw away his very real struggles outside of it. Remember, he’s only 2 weeks removed from a comically bad 12-of-23, 87-yard showing on Wild Card Weekend. His floor remains exceptionally low for a Championship Game quarterback, and his ceiling, even in this matchup, isn’t exactly sky-high. His cast of playmakers has improved midstream, though, which of course always helps things. Marqise Lee has largely broken out this year (65+ yards in 7 of 15 full games) and has had another week to rest his troublesome ankle, while rookies Keelan Cole (62.2 per game since Week 7) and Dede Westbrook (43.9 since Week 11) have flashed real ability on veteran-sized workloads.

Simply put, this is a unit that lacks both a consistent pass rush and consistent coverage skills. That’s a death knell for most defenses, but none of the others are presided over by Bill Belichick. The Hall of Fame coach is almost always able to make lemonade by maximizing his defenses’ strengths, and while it was a challenge with 2017’s talent-starved group, this pass defense improved mightily over the course of the year. In fact, they’ve allowed the league’s 7th-fewest passing touchdowns and 4th-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks since Week 7. Still, those numbers have been largely inflated by matchups with some of the league’s weaker quarterbacks. There are still mismatches all over this unit, there to be taken advantage of by the right passing attack. The pass rush has come around of late, and last weekend’s eight sacks of Marcus Mariota were definitely impressive. But most of this rush is manufactured; there’s little natural dynamism off the edges or up the gut, and the Patriots can absolutely be had by quick-hitting pass games. And their cornerback duo, touted loudly entering the season, has mostly underwhelmed throughout the year. Stephon Gilmore has looked like just another guy at times, while Malcolm Butler has bounced in and out of the lineup – and was thrashed for two touchdowns by Titans rookie Corey Davis last week.

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


Minnesota Vikings Passing Offense at Philadelphia Eagles Passing Defense (Tough Matchup)

Case Keenum was plodding along to what would have been quite the mediocre outing last week until the 61-yard game-saving touchdown bomb top Stefon Diggs propelled Keenum’s stat line beyond 300 passing yards for just the third time this season. While Keenum has not put up massive numbers, he has actually done a solid job in leading the offense this year. One of the knocks on Keenum had been his gunslinger mentality that often led to interceptions, but Keenum did a great job at turning around that persona as the season progressed as he threw only two interceptions in his final seven regular season games. Keenum did toss up a wobbler that was picked off last week, but outside of that, he made some impressive throws while taking good care of the ball for the rest of the game. While last week’s performance from Stefon Diggs will certainly be defined by his heroic catch-and-run to close out the victory, he actually was leading the team in receiving yards with 76 even before hauling in that 61-yard bomb. Diggs is the fastest player on this offense and has shown his big play ability in flashes all season long. He is now coming off a four-game touchdown streak with 60 or more receiving yards in five of his last seven games, so momentum is certainly in his favor. Adam Thielen has been the leading receiver for the Vikings all season long, and he did have a solid showing last week with six receptions for 74 yards. The knock on Thielen, however, has been his inability to find the end zone with just four touchdowns on the year compared to the 16 receiving touchdowns between both Diggs and Kyle Rudolph. Speaking of Rudolph, it was very encouraging to see him look healthy again in last week’s game after being plagued with a sprained ankle for the last few games of the regular season. Rudolph was targeted eight times in that game with a couple of balls thrown his way in the end zone, but Rudolph converted on neither opportunity while finishing with only 28 total yards. His production and fantasy upside has been linked to touchdowns for most of this season as Rudolph has posted only two games with over 50 receiving yards.

The Eagles passing defense has been up and down this season, but overall, this is a solid unit that finished ranking seventh against the pass using DVOA. Their strength has certainly been on the defensive line though, as this unit has been troublesome for opposing quarterbacks and offensive lines for most of the season. Despite their middling rank in terms of sacks, this defensive line led by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham has a ton of depth as they rotate out pass rushers to apply consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Their linebackers have helped out both in coverage and pass-rushing as well, with Mychal Kendricks coming up big in a number of situations this year. In the secondary, this defense also deserves some praise for their performance last week as they held Matt Ryan to only 210 passing yards and one touchdown, virtually shutting down all Falcons receivers other than Julio Jones. Cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills man the outside for the Eagles, with Mills actually being most likely to be exploited as he has had just an average season. These cornerbacks typically stick to one side or the other, with Jalen Mills staying on the left while Darby typically doesn’t stray far from the right side of the field. Knowing this, Mills should see most snaps against Stefon Diggs, which bodes well for Diggs as he draws the best matchup of any Vikings receiver. Adam Thielen actually does not have a positive matchup here as he should see the Eagles best cornerback, Patrick Robinson, out of the slot in three-receiver sets.

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


New England Patriots Passing Offense vs Jacksonville Jaguars Passing Defense (Bad Matchup)

Even after limping to the finish line in the regular season, Tom Brady proved last week that the postseason is generally of no real obstacle. His 337-yard, 3-touchdown masterpiece against the Titans’ barely-there secondary was a sight to behold, and it reinforced just how great this passing game is. Of course, that one game doesn’t totally sew up Brady’s issues – he and this unit had their share of difficulties down the 2017 stretch. Brady’s numbers almost always dip as December nears, and this year’s dip was rather noticeable. After producing 340.4 yards per game over the season’s first 5 weeks, his average has fallen to a good-not-great 267.6 over the last 12. That run has included a handful of fantasy clunkers, including late slip-ups against the Bills (258 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception in a 23-3 win), Dolphins (233 with 1 and 2), and Jets (just 18 of 37 for 190 and 2 scores). Like all passers, Brady can absolutely struggle in cold weather, and with Dion Lewis and the running game so reliable and stout, Brady isn’t asked to throw as often as usual. Still, he remains an efficiency king, one who’s as capable as anyone of turning his attempts into fantasy points. Over the course of the 2017-18 season, he’s generated a league-best 286.1 yards per game and the 5th-best touchdown rate (5.51%) in football. He still throws to ultra-dynamic weapons, too. Rob Gronkowski remains arguably the NFL’s toughest cover and an absolute touchdown machine – he’s now found the end zone 37 times over his last 54 games. He’s no one-dimensional touchdown guy, either, with 75+ yards in 24 of those. Brandin Cooks’ mega-potent deep game has only clicked with Brady occasionally, but he’s always a threat to burn a secondary; on the other side, Chris Hogan was quiet last week but is working back from major injury. Regardless of things like timing, momentum, etc., this passing game remains as terrifying and high-ceiling as any in football. If there’s a unit capable of going toe-to-toe on an efficiency level with this Jaguars defense, it’s Brady and his crew.

The Jaguars pass defense remains dominant, for the most part. They allowed quite a bit of production last week, but most of that can be chalked up to the script of a wild Steelers rally, spearheaded by a Hall of Fame quarterback/wide receiver combination. On the whole, the Jaguars have simply smothered opposing passing games all year. Even including last week’s Pittsburgh eruption, Jacksonville has allowed the NFL’s fewest passing yards per game. They’re adept at forcing turnovers, even against the best: Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Philip Rivers combined to hand over nine interceptions and two fumbles across their five turns in this matchup. Again, it’s hard to knock any defense for failing to contain Antonio Brown, who’s simply the most productive wideout in league history. And the Jaguars, armed with the elite cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, tend to choke off production for most human WR1s. They’ve certainly shut down their fair share of them, including T.Y. Hilton (just 78 yards on 14 targets over 2 games), Larry Fitzgerald (12 on 8), Keenan Allen (48 on 7), and A.J. Green (6 on 2). Slowing Tom Brady and the Patriots’ array of weapons is a big ask, of course. But the Jaguars certainly boast the personnel – and the upside to dominate one-on-one matchups – to slow them for extended chunks of time. If nothing else, they look poised to put themselves in Brady’s face (a 9.8% sack rate this season, 2nd-best in football) and make a big day difficult.

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


Philadelphia Eagles Passing Offense vs Minnesota Vikings Passing Defense (Bad Matchup)

The Eagles passing offense has looked much different with Nick Foles under center for these last four games versus the Carson Wentz tenure before his Week 14 injury. While Foles looked impressive in his Week 15 debut, he left a lot to be desired Weeks 16 and 17 while turning in a very mediocre performance in last week’s game against the Falcons. To the defense of Foles though, he was used in much more of a game management role last week as the Eagles elected to hand the ball off on nearly half of their snaps while Foles very rarely attempted a pass downfield with an average of only 5.2 yards per target. Foles did show a much-improved chemistry with top receiver Alshon Jeffrey last week though, completing four of five passes for 61 yards to Jeffrey in that game after completing only five of 14 targets for 57 yards to Jeffrey over his last three games prior. Jeffrey has been a touchdown magnet in the latter part of this season for the Eagles, scoring seven times in the last nine games of the season after scoring only twice in his first seven outings. Jeffrey is on a three-game drought right now though as the last time he found the end zone was Week 15 against the Giants. Zach Ertz has been a huge red zone threat for the Eagles as well, and he was coming off a couple of nice games in his last two full starts leading into the playoffs. Ertz did not have a good showing last week though as he only managed three receptions for 32 yards.

The Vikings pass defense got off to a hot start last week as they shut down the Saints offense, allowing no points while intercepting Drew Brees twice before halftime. After the half though, this unit imploded as they gave up a slew of yards and three touchdowns on their way to allowing what would have been one of the biggest postseason comebacks in history if not for the heroism of that Vikings offense to save the day. It is tough to apply harsh judgment on this unit after one half of bad play though, especially considering it was against one of the best quarterbacks in the league. This defense had such a dominant regular season, allowing the second-fewest passing yards per game (192), second-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, and fewest fantasy points to both wide receivers and tight ends. One of the big strengths of this defense has been it’s defensive line. While they tallied only 37 sacks in the regular season, the Vikings front seven has been a terrifying group for opposing offensive lines. The Vikings should have the advantage in the trenches against the Eagles offensive line this week, particularly on the left side as Everson Griffen will match up against Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Vaitai has filled in for the injured Jason Peters for the past few weeks, and based on Vatai’s performance, Griffen should clearly win these matchups and prove to be a consistent nuisance for Nick Foles. The Vikings secondary is in good hands as well, with top cornerback Xavier Rhodes expected to shadow Alshon Jeffrey this week. While Rhodes did get banged up in last week’s game, he did not appear on the injury report and is expected to be good for Sunday. Rhodes should limit Jeffrey’s upside as not many receivers have found success against his coverage this season. Zach Ertz should be looked after by either linebacker Eric Kendricks or star safety Harrison Smith. Regardless of who is covering Ertz though, he is in a tough spot as the Vikings finished the regular season allowing the league’s fewest fantasy points per game to tight ends with no touchdowns to the position since Week 5. Vikings starting free safety Andrew Sendejo was having a spectacular game before being forced off the field with a concussion last week. He is now moving through the protocol, so keep an eye on his status coming into this Sunday’s game as Sendejo’s absence could help open things up for some extra deep balls by this Eagles passing offense. Slot cornerback Terence Newman was limited last week with a foot injury, yielding some snaps to rookie Mackensie Alexander, which is quite the downgrade at the position. Newman appeared to get through the game without significant setbacks, but still, keep an eye on this as a high snap share for Alexander could bode well for Eagles slot receiver Nelson Agholor.

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