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Week 18 Rushing Matchups

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

Jump to Passing Matchups

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


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.


Atlanta Falcons Rushing Offense at Los Angeles Rams Rushing Defense (Great Matchup)

The Atlanta run game closed 2017 with a sputter, producing just 2.76 yards per carry and 63.5 per game over the final 2 weeks. Of course, this is a stout unit, so there’s no real concern that we’re seeing a prolonged drop-off. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman remain an upper-tier duo – over their 12 full games together they averaged 95.3 yards a game. They cap each other’s upsides, though, which is a major drawback. Lead dog Freeman topped 75 yards just 4 times all year, and Coleman rarely got the opportunity to shine; he reached 50 only twice with Freeman playing. All told, though, we can generally count on this pair to produce. They enjoy the benefits of one of the league’s premier offensive lines, ranked first overall by our Matt Bitonti with an A- run-blocking grade. It’s an especially effective line with center Alex Mack and left guard Andy Levitre healthy – much of that late-season swoon came while they sat with injuries – but Levitre aggravated his triceps in his Week 17 return and won’t return this year. Still, Mack is back, and all told, we can carry a generally confident feeling into this matchup.

The Rams run defense has been a thorn in the side of the team’s mega-successful 2017 rebirth, Even with all-world tackle Aaron Donald playing at a dominant level, this unit has been gashed thoroughly for much of the year. They’ve allowed the league’s fifth-most ground yards to opposing running backs and tied for the second-most touchdowns. Over the second half of the season, they allowed big games to Latavius Murray (95 yards and 2 touchdowns), Kerwynn Williams (97 yards), and Jay Ajayi (78 in a rotational role). What’s most discouraging is their tendency to give up big rushing totals even when they control the game flow; there are simply major holes in the Rams front seven. They boast dynamic playmakers like linebacker Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron, but lack consistency in gap discipline and tend to allow massive holes. Not to denigrate Kerwynn Williams, but if a mediocre reserve runner can find success in this matchup – while losing his game by 16 points – there’s plenty of reason for optimism for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

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


Carolina Panthers Rushing Offense at New Orleans Saints Rushing Defense (Great Matchup)

The Panthers running game remains a three-headed monster, but there’s still palpable fantasy appeal here. They run behind an elite front line – our Matt Bitonti ranks it fourth in football, with an A+ run-blocking grade – and they boast an array of diverse weapons. Veteran Jonathan Stewart handles the gritty interior game, while explosive rookie Christian McCaffrey is finding his legs and producing on quick and outside runs, and quarterback Cam Newton remains a dynamic bulldozer. McCaffrey is a work in progress as a runner: he cracked 3.60 yards per carry in just 7 of his 16 games, including two big nothings (4 for 16 and 6 for 16) against the Saints. But Stewart looks made for this matchup: he drew just 23 attempts in their 2 regular-season meetings but generated 102 yards and 1 touchdown as a situational hammer. That moderate ceiling looks to be the Panthers’ best path to running back production, but we can’t overlook the impact Cam Newton brings to this attack. Newton has been running out of his mind of late, averaging 9.9 rushes for 62.4 yards over the second half of the season, with 3 touchdowns along the way. The Saints struggled to contain him fully: a still-injured Newton ran just 3 times in their first meeting but found the end zone, then racked up 51 yards on 6 carries in Week 13. All told, this isn’t the most efficient backfield, and it’s always hard to pin down fantasy production that’s not merely peripheral numbers for Newton. But the good news is that their outlook tends to amplify against the Saints.

The New Orleans run defense remains, for the most part, a down-to-down mess. Their ineptitude has often been hidden by pro-Saints game flow – opponents often abandon the run fairly quickly – but they’ve allowed opposing backs to run roughshod far too often. They’ve given up the league’s fifth-most yards per rush (4.40), and lead backs have averaged a tremendous 4.72 yards per carry. Second-year nose tackle Sheldon Rankins has been atrocious as a space-eater for much of the year, and the team’s linebackers have been a rotating nightmare. Manti Teo has been the snap leader inside for several weeks now and seems allergic to the run game; there’s little second-level support to speak of here. As always, the game’s flow will determine the Panthers’ success here. The Saints have handled Christian McCaffrey (10 carries for 32 yards) but struggled against the power running of Jonathan Stewart (23 for 102 and 1 touchdown). Game script has limited Stewart’s ceiling in their meetings (both Saints wins of 10+ points), but there’s plenty of efficiencies to be had here.

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


Jacksonville Jaguars Rushing Offense vs Buffalo Bills Rushing Defense (Great Matchup)

Leonard Fournette has had an impressive rookie campaign as he finished the regular season with over 1,000 rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Fournette has five games with over 100 rushing yards and has scored a touchdown in eight of his 13 games this year. Where Fournette has consistently struggled has been with his efficiency, as he finished the regular season averaging only 3.9 yards per rush attempt. Fournette had only three games this season with over four rushing yards per attempt, with only one of those outings occurring since Week 6 of this season. Between his ankle and quadriceps, Fournette has lacked durability for most of this season. However, he has not lacked toughness as Fournette has been plagued with the injuries for most of the year but still suited up in all but one game during the second half of the season. of running backs as he has battled through those injuries for most of the year. The Jaguars offensive line has also been a contributing factor to Fournette’s lack of efficiency as this unit has been on and off throughout the year. This unit looks to be healthy coming into their playoff debut though, as left tackle Cam Robinson is expected back after battling an abdomen injury throughout the past week. With all starters on the field, Footballguys’ Matt Bitonti actually ranks the Jaguars in the top tier among offensive lines in the league.

The Bills had a decent start to the season against opposing running backs, giving up just the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game through Week 8. However, as the season progressed, this unit fell off a cliff to allow the league’s most fantasy points from Week 9 onwards. The Bills have given up five rushing touchdowns in their last five games with six running backs rushing for 75 or more yards against them over that span. Defensive end Jerry Hughes is the best run-defender this team has since they lost Shaq Lawson back in early December. The Bills linebackers have all been absolutely brutal against running backs while their dynamic duo of safeties has specialized more so in coverage than getting their hands dirty against the run. Ranking 31st using DVOA against the run, this is a complete mismatch in favor of the Jaguars run-first offense with a talented offensive line and rookie running back who has shown the ability to put up big numbers with his high volume of carries. Look for Jacksonville to rely heavily on Fournette to take advantage of this disparity.

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


Tennessee Titans Rushing Offense at Kansas City Chiefs Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

The Titans rushing offense has taken a dive in recent weeks as they have seen their ranking fall outside of the top-10 all the way down to 15th in rushing yards per game (114.6). The Titans continue to operate a run-heavy offense, but the struggles of their entire offense have certainly contributed to a hampered running game. Demarco Murray led this backfield for most of the season, but he is now sidelined with a knee injury and expected to sit out again this week. In Week 17, we got a first look at what Derrick Henry could do with the lion’s share of carries. The Titans held nothing back with Henry as was given a career-high 28 carries. However, Henry could get next to nothing going as he squandered most of those carries for minimal gains, rushing for just 51 yards for an average of 1.8 yards per attempt. Despite the tough defensive matchup overall, the Jaguars are actually ranked 26th against the run using DVOA. With Henry running behind one of the better run-blocking offensive lines in football (ranked 7th with an “A” run-blocking grade by Footballguys offensive line specialist Matt Bitonti), he should have taken better advantage of his 28 carries last week. Derrick Henry did have the first, and only multiple touchdown game of his career against the Chiefs in their meeting last season, so that will certainly be in the back of his mind. Marcus Mariota is also a key part of this Titans rushing offense, as he is averaging right at four carries and 21 rushing yards per game with five rushing touchdowns on the year. Mariota rushed for a season-high 60 yards against the Jaguars last week, showing no signs of immobility from his hamstring injury earlier in the season. If Mariota can extend and create plays with his legs this week like he did against the Jaguars, the Chiefs will be in for a challenge to defend against him.

The Chiefs’ stats against the run have been below average this season, giving up the eighth most rushing yards per game (118.1) and tied for the fourth most rushing touchdowns allowed (15) as they actually rank last in the league against the run using DVOA. Running backs have accounted for nearly 100 rushing yards per game, but the Chiefs have only allowed one running back to rush for over 100 yards against them this season as they have done a solid job at limiting big plays on the ground. The interior of their defensive line is led by Chris Jones, who has been a very proficient player when it comes to defending the run—however, Bennie Logan is nursing a knee injury that kept him limited or sidelined for the past three games. He has not yet appeared on the injury report as of early this week though, so it looks as if he is good to go. Justin Houston on the edge has been the best player on this Chiefs defense, and he has been equally impressive against both the pass and run. Where the Chiefs have struggled all season though has been at linebacker, as they lack both talent and depth to deal with opposing runners that make it to the second level. With the talent on the Titans offensive line, they should have the advantage in the trenches here—and with the weaker Chiefs linebackers, look for both Derrick Henry and Marcus Mariota to find some room to run.

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


Los Angeles Rams Rushing Offense vs Atlanta Falcons Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Todd Gurley looks like a man possessed, and at the moment it’s hard to conceive of a matchup that will slow him. He’s topped 74+ ground yards in 5 straight contests, averaging 102.8 and scoring 5 touchdowns over that span. And that stretch has included dates with two truly elite run defenses (Arizona and Philadelphia) as well as the Seahawks’ and Titans’ stacked front sevens. He’s averaged 5.59 over that 5-game span; the Rams’ rebuilt front line has played a big part in Gurley’s massive year, of course, but as a runner, he’s moved onto another level. Boasting speed, athleticism, smarts, and decisiveness in his cuts, Gurley is a down-by-down threat to erupt for a massive play, and he’s a weekly threat to truly dominate up and down the field. The Falcons run defense is stout, boasting space-eaters up front and dynamic linebackers in pursuit, but it will take a special effort to shut down Gurley at the moment.

The Atlanta run defense has undergone a late-season resurgence and is beginning to look like a borderline-dominant unit. They’ve tightened immensely a first half of 2017 that saw them gashed repeatedly, and dating back to Week 12, only the Cardinals have allowed fewer ground yards to opposing running backs. Over that 6-game stretch, they’ve slowed or neutralized a handful of quality backs, including Jerick McKinnon (9 carries for 24 yards), Mark Ingram (25 for 93), Alvin Kamara (13 for 34), and Christian McCaffrey (6 for 14). Boasting two stud tackles in Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe, the Falcons are excelling at controlling the line of scrimmage and allowing their wildly athletic linebackers to roam and pursue; Deion Jones, in particular, has played at an All-Pro level. Where they’ve been most vulnerable has been against running quarterbacks – Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton have all excelled on the ground in this matchup – but Jared Goff brings no such threat to the table. It seems safe to expect this unit to present a difficult wall for Todd Gurley to overcome.

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


Buffalo Bills Rushing Offense at Jacksonville Jaguars Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Bills rushing offense has been one of the better units this season with 126.1 rushing yards per game, ranking them sixth in the league. Between LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor, the Bills have two dynamic sets of legs that can threaten opposing defenses. This offense could have taken a huge blow in Week 17 though, as LeSean McCoy had to be carted off the field with an ankle injury sustained in the third quarter. While his x-rays came back negative and the team believes he has a chance to play, McCoy will still be a game-time decision, so keep a very close eye on this situation. McCoy has been plagued with lingering injuries for most of this season, but he has still suited up in every game and put together yet another impressive season with over 1,100 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. If McCoy is unable to go, expect Mike Tolbert and Marcus Murphy would be splitting carries in this game. Murphy is a running back who is undersized but was able to burst a nice 25 yard run last week. Tyrod Taylor has also been a constant threat on the ground for the Bills, averaging just under 30 rushing yards per game with four rushing touchdowns, ranking third among quarterbacks with 427 rushing yards on the season. While this season as a whole was a step back for Taylor on the stat sheet, he still provides a critical dual-threat option that opposing defenses have to contend with. The Bills have rolled out one of the league’s healthiest offensive lines this season as they suffered only one season-ending injury with the loss of left tackle Cordy Glenn. Dion Dawkins stepped in to replace Glenn mid-season, and he has proven to be quite effective at the position. The Bills also had guard Richie Incognito earn a spot on the Pro Bowl roster with his impressive play this season. This offensive line will not blow you away with their talent, but they have got the job done for most of the season as a slightly above average unit that should be able to at least contend with the Jaguars front seven. Just make sure, as a reminder, that you keep a very close eye on LeSean McCoy’s status throughout the week—as this Bills offense as a whole would significantly transform (in a bad way) without their bell cow back on the field.

This Jaguars defense that is much improved after trading for former Buffalo Bills player Marcel Dareus who will be going up against his former team for the first time. Prior to the Jaguars getting Dareus they allowed 121 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs, but over the last eight games they have completely shut down opposing running backs as they have held opposing running backs to just 75 yards per game. The interior of their defensive line is an elite unit led by Dareus, Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, and Yannick Ngakoue. Where the Jaguars have been exposed is on chunk plays with runners making it to the second level. If there is one weak spot on the run defense it is Myles Jack who has been a much better pass coverage and pass rusher than a run defender. The one spot the Jaguars have struggled a little bit is stopping mobile quarterbacks rushing. The Jaguars gave up the seventh-most rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks during the regular season, including a 60-yard game to Marcus Mariota last week and a 50-yard game to Russell Wilson in Week 14. Tack on four more 20+ yard rushing performances by quarterbacks facing the Jaguars, and it is clear that they can be exposed by a quarterback with some running ability such as Tyrod Taylor. If the Bills are without LeSean McCoy the Bills running backs could have a tough time moving the ball although Tyrod Taylor is the one player who could have an opportunity to run.

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


Kansas City Chiefs Rushing Offense vs Tennessee Titans Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

After what appeared to be a long mid-season nap according to fantasy owners, Kareem Hunt has finally made a valiant return to relevance in recent weeks. Hunt has capped off his season with games of 116, 155, and 91 rushing yards in Weeks 14 thru 16. He only had one carry in last week’s matchup with the Broncos, but Hunt took that single carry for 35 yards and a touchdown before being rested for the remainder of the game. After a nine-game touchdown drought, Hunt now has scored in four straight games and has finished the regular season as the top rusher in the league with 1,327 rushing yards. The Chiefs have won more often than not when they have utilized Hunt heavily this season. In those three games from Weeks 14 thru 16, Hunt averaged 26 carries per game with 14 receptions to tack on to that over the three-game span. The Chiefs have not given him the best offensive line to run behind, but this volume is not something to ignore as Hunt has proven to be successful when given the ball on a consistent basis. Look for Hunt to be very heavily involved in the Chiefs game plan here despite the Titans’ effectiveness against the run.

The Titans have done an excellent job in defending the run this season, ranking seventh against the run using DVOA and allowing the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to running backs. Until their encounter with Todd Gurley in Week 16, the Titans had not allowed a running back to exceed 80 rushing yards against them. They finished the regular season allowing only 88.8 rushing yards per game—fourth-fewest in the league. What is most impressive about this rushing defense has been their ability to keep opposing rushing offenses out of the end zone, as the Titans have allowed a league-low five rushing touchdowns. The Titans are actually the only defense in the league that has forced more fumbles (nine) than rushing touchdowns allowed. Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey has been a huge part of their success against the run as he is one of the best run-defenders in the league. The Titans’ linebackers have all been very successful against the run this season as well with both Avery Williamson and Wesley Woodyard stopping up the middle of the field on a routine basis. While the rookie Kareem Hunt has game-changing talent and the volume to rack up yardage despite a tough matchup, expect for nothing to come easily this week against this stout Titans run defense.

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


New Orleans Saints Rushing Offense vs Carolina Panthers Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Saints’ dominant run game hasn’t looked the part of late. The Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara pair simply sizzled from Weeks 6-13, averaging 159.4 combined yards per game. But Kamara suffered a concussion in Week 14, and since then their average together has plunged to 91.0. Still, it makes more sense to attribute that to other factors, including scheduling and random variance. Over that 4-game span they’ve throttled the Jets and looked solid against the Buccaneers’ improved run defense, yet been contained twice by the Falcons’ stout unit. Both remain woven deeply into the offense, both are remarkably efficient runners who excel in the open field, and both run behind one of the league’s best lines. It’s worth noting that the Saints have performed quite well in their 2016 matchups with this dynamite Panthers run defense; in fact, they’ve been the only team to produce more than 109 yards against Carolina, and they did it both times (149 and 148). In the first meeting, the production was gradually pieced together by Ingram (14 carries for 56 yards), Peterson (9 for 33), and a lightly-used Kamara (2 for 37 and an electrifying 25-yard touchdown). And in Game 2, both Ingram (14 for 85 and 1 touchdown) and Kamara (9 for 60 and 2) erupted for chunk run after chunk run. This line clearly understands the intricacies of the Panthers’ stifling front seven, and these two backs know how to explode into the open field – we don’t need to downgrade their outlooks much, if at all.

Few teams can boast a run defense as strong as that of these Panthers. Finishing the year third-best in both raw yardage and touchdowns allowed, they’ve been a nightmare for opposing run games – only 2 managed to top 110 ground yards. Those numbers have been a bit inflated: they allowed the league’s 3rd-fewest raw yards but 11th-fewest per attempt, as a handful of backs (including the Saints’ Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara) managed solid success on a per-carry basis. Still, few have been able to sustain that success over a full game. The Panthers boast two star tackles and an all-world middle linebacker in Luke Kuechly; it’s difficult to grind them down. Their matchup with the Saints’ dominant front line will be a sight to behold, but there’s reason to believe New Orleans can handle this unit. They were the only team to top 120 yards against it, and they did it handily both times (149 and 148). It’s generally wise to project this run defense to hold tight, but the matchup has to give a lot of pause.

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