Week 18 Passing Matchups

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

Jump to Rushing Matchups

Great Matchups:
Good Matchups: [BUF] [NE] [NO] [SEA]
Neutral Matchups: [MIN] [PHI]
Tough Matchups: [HOU]
Bad Matchups: [TEN]

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.

Buffalo Bills Passing Offense at Houston Texans Passing Defense (Good Matchup)

Josh Allen took a big step forward in 2019 as he enters his first career postseason game having led the Bills passing offense to over 3,000 yards with a positive ratio of 20 touchdowns to just nine interceptions. This offense is still one of the lowest volume passing teams in the league though, averaging just 201.8 passing yards per game (seventh-fewest) with just 299 pass completions (fourth-fewest). Allen has been held to fewer than two touchdowns in nine games (not counting Week 17) while this Bills offense ranks 23rd with just 19.6 points scored per game. Their primary contributor through the air has been John Brown, who led the team in targets and finished the season with over 1,000 yards. Brown’s volume, however, has fallen off over the second half of the season as he has seen just four targets and fewer than 40 yards in three of his last five games. Cole Beasley actually saw more targets than Brown since Week 12 and has crossed 100 yards twice with three touchdowns over that span. Beasley provides a solid option underneath while Brown will continue to be relied upon to stretch the field.

Houston’s pass defense has been one of the worst in the league, giving up the fourth-most passing yards per game (267.2) and second-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks. They have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in all but five games while allowing opposing quarterbacks to cross the 300-yard mark eight times. This secondary is starved of talent and undermanned as of late due to injuries to cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Johnathan Joseph. Both Roby and Joseph should be expected to play this week, but neither will likely be at 100%. This secondary will take anything to keep Vernon Hargreaves off the field though, as Hargreaves has been a significant liability in coverage from the slot. With a group of mediocre safeties, these Texans defensive backs should afford every opportunity for success to Bills pass-catchers. The trenches have been an equal struggle for Houston since losing J.J. Watt. They rank 26th with just 31 sacks as edge rushers Whitney Mercilus, Charles Omnihu, and Brennan Scarlett have been far from consistent. J.J. Watt could possibly make his return this week though, and if anywhere near 100%, he would be a much welcomed and significant upgrade to this defensive line. Lucky for Houston, the Bills passing offense has offered minimal resistance to most defenses and their offensive line has done a mediocre job in pass protection. If Watt were to suit up, the Texans would actually have the advantage in the trenches despite their continued inadequacies in the secondary.

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

New England Patriots Passing Offense vs Tennessee Titans Passing Defense (Good Matchup)

Tom Brady has had one of his least productive seasons in recent memory at the helm of a Patriots passing offense that has noticeably struggled down the stretch. Brady has passed for 221 or fewer yards in five of his last seven games and has multiple touchdowns in just half of his games this season. He looked lost in last week’s loss to the Dolphins and could very well be limited by an elbow injury that has been rarely reported. Brady has also suffered from a lack of reliable receivers. Julian Edelman has been the rock of this group with a career-high 1,117 receiving yards from 153 targets, but he has been plagued with injuries all season and was noticeably limited in last week’s game. While Edelman is likely not in danger of missing this week, he certainly could have used a first-round bye as he will likely be limited again. Mohamed Sanu has been far from the difference-maker the Patriots had hoped for when they traded for him this season, as he has averaged just 15.5 receiving yards per game over the last six weeks with just a 50% catch rate and no touchdowns over that span. Tight end has also been a struggle as the Patriots haven’t had a consistent contributor in any capacity this season and have fed just two touchdowns to tight ends on the year. James White remains a pass-catching threat out of the backfield though, hauling in four touchdowns while averaging nearly 50 receiving yards per game over the past five weeks.

The Titans pass defense finished with a below-average 255 passing yards per game (9th-most) allowed to opposing offenses. Injuries have plagued this secondary over the back half of the season as they lost Malcolm Butler for the year and Adoree Jackson has been sidelined since Week 13 with a foot injury. The loss of Jackson has certainly been impactful, but not as much as may be perceived as this secondary has actually limited wide receivers to the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game (PPR scoring) since Week 13 when Jackson was injured. Both Trumaine Brock and Tye Smith are still exploitable individual matchups, but Logan Ryan has played well from the slot while safeties Kevin Byard and Amani Hooker have been spectacular. It will be worth monitoring Jackson’s status coming into this weekend, as he did practice leading up to Week 17 and could on track to suit back up--which would be a significant upgrade for this secondary. Beyond linebacker Jayon Brown, this group of linebackers has struggled to contain pass-catching running backs. This defense has allowed 24% of pass attempts to go to opposing running backs (fifth-highest) and has allowed the ninth-most receiving yards per game (47) to the position. An opposing running back has caught at least five passes for 30 or more yards in five of Tennessee’s last seven games, and they square off against one of the league’s best pass-catching running backs in James White this week.

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

New Orleans Saints Passing Offense vs Minnesota Vikings Passing Defense (Good Matchup)

Drew Brees and the Saints offense are peaking at the perfect time. Over the last seven weeks, Brees has thrown for three touchdowns or more in six of those games and has thrown 15 touchdowns over the last four weeks. Brees is completing 74.3% of his passes and a big reason is Michael Thomas who set the reception record with 147 receptions this season. This is an offense that is going to be difficult for any team to deal with as they have allowed just 25 sacks on the year which is the third-fewest amongst any team as Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead make it difficult for any defensive end as they are one of the best pairings of tackles in football this season giving Brees time which makes it incredibly difficult for defenses to defend Thomas. Jared Cook in this offense has turned largely into a deep threat as he has a catch for 20 yards or longer in nine straight games this year and has done it in every game except for one this season.

The Vikings secondary once lauded with Xavier Rhodes as one of the best cornerbacks in football has taken a downward turn over the second half of the season as Rhodes has been a liability since Week 6 the Vikings have allowed the ninth-most passing yards per game at 265 yards per game. The problem has been defending wide receivers as they are allowing the third-most yards per game to opposing wide receivers during that time with 181 yards and the most receptions per game to opposing wide receivers with 15. This is a unit that is still strong at the coverage linebackers and safeties as they have shut down opposing running backs and tight ends as Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris are two of the best safeties in the NFL with Eric Kendricks being one of the best linebackers in the NFL this season. Ultimately, the Vikings are going with a four-man rotation at the cornerback position trying to keep guys fresh to shut down opponents but it has not been working as Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackenzie Alexander, and Mike Hughes have all struggled as of late which could open up a big opportunity for Michael Thomas in this one.

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

Seattle Seahawks Passing Offense at Philadelphia Eagles Passing Defense (Good Matchup)

The Seahawks chances in the playoffs this season are going to firmly fall on the arm of Russell Wilson. While Wilson has not put up the eye-popping numbers this season as he only topped 300 yards three times, the Seahawks as we saw on Sunday Night are going to have to go with a more pass-heavy approach due to their lack of running backs on the team. Seattle threw the ball 40 times last week which was partially due to falling behind early, but also as they are trying to find something that works as they come into the playoffs having lost three of there last four games. The passing game continues to run through Tyler Lockett, but it may be looking to go back to DK Metcalf as he had 12 targets last week after having a total of five targets in the previous two games. At the tight end position, Jacob Hollister has been a possession receiver for this offense as he has 31 targets over his last five games and while he is nothing more than a catch and fall type of player with an average yard per catch of just 8.5, he is a guy who can provide another option for this offense. Finally, Travis Homer in his first start looked competent in the receiving game as he caught five passes as the Seahawks were playing from behind last week.

The Eagles secondary, in general, has a negative perception, but over the second half of the season has been much improved compared to early 2019 and 2018. Since Week 8, the Eagles have allowed 234 yards passing and 1.2 touchdowns which is the 8th fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and 10th fewest yards per game. Before Week 8, the Eagles allowed 288 yards passing 2.0 touchdowns per game and the 8th most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and 5th most yards per game. A big reason for the improved play was Ronald Darby, who will miss this game with a hip injury which will force Rasul Douglas back into a meaningful role which is a cause for concern as Douglas has struggled for most of the year on the outside and will likely be matched up against DK Metcalk for a majority of the game. The other area of concern is Jalen Mills who injured his ankle against the Giants. If Mills is unable to go, this defense becomes the one that we saw early in the year with Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones on the outside which is a major cause for concern. As of now, it is still a good matchup without Douglas as Daniel Jones threw for 301 yards against the Eagles with no Douglas, but if Mills is also out this becomes a great matchup.

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

Minnesota Vikings Passing Offense at New Orleans Saints Passing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Vikings passing attack has dealt with a multitude of challenges this season as Adam Thielen has been dealing with a hamstring injury for most of the season and at times Stefon Diggs has been less than 100%, but when this offense is on, it can cause matchup nightmares for defenses as Diggs and Thielen are both All-Pro caliber wide receivers. The Vikings primarily run a two-wide receiver, two tight end set as both Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith play over 60%. While the Vikings have allowed the seventh-fewest sacks on the season, this stat is often overblown as they have thrown just 466 passes. The Vikings have been sacked at 6% of the passes which is right around league average as while the Vikings have two strong tackles in Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neal, they do struggle on the interior at times.

The Saints passing defense has been an up and down unit for most of the season, but over the last half of the season, they have struggled. Since Week 11, the Saints are allowing 281 yards passing per game which is the sixth-most in the NFL during that time. There is hope on the horizon for the Saints as their major issue has been against slot receivers as we saw earlier this year where Emmanuel Sanders had 157 yards and a touchdown. The Saints claimed Janoris Jenkins two weeks ago and so far, it is paying dividends as he had an interception last week in the Saints blowout win over the Panthers. Jenkins may no longer be the player that he was, but if the Saints can find the right role for him to play along Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple, this is a defense that can quickly improve as they have one of the best pass rushes in the NFL with the third most sacks with 51 this season.

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

Philadelphia Eagles Passing Offense vs Seattle Seahawks Passing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

What Carson Wentz has been able to do has been nothing short of amazing over the last several weeks. In must-win games, the Eagles have had to rely on players such as Greg Ward Jr., Boston Scott, and Joshua Perkins due to all of the injuries that they have suffered over the last few weeks. Heading into this game, the Eagles are looking like they will be without Nelson Agholor, Miles Sanders, Zach Ertz, and DeSean Jackson which once again will force the Eagles into a similar situation as last week where they have no starting players from the beginning of the season and only Dallas Goedert was second on the depth chart to begin the season. Greg Ward has been a nice find as a possession receiver, Boston Scott has filled the Darren Sproles role admirably, and Joshua Perkins is trying to fill that critical role as a receiving tight end in this offense.

The Seahawks secondary is one that has been in the middle of the road for most of the season. This is a defense that the way to beat them is fairly simple it is the usage of running backs and tight ends as they have allowed the second-most fantasy points to tight ends and the fifth-most yards receiving to opposing running backs. The issue here is that the safeties and linebackers for the Seahawks are weak particularly K.J. Wright at linebacker, and Bradley McDougald has struggled at tight end. This is a unit that will be playing a critical role in the outcome of this game as they will once again be tested by a strong tight end and running back receiving group. On the outside, the Seahawks are strong led by Shaquill Griffin who has emerged to become a top-tier cornerback this season. The pass rush will also be key for the Seahawks as they have just 28 sacks on the year which is the second-lowest in the NFL which is surprising considering they feature one of the best pass rushers in Jadeveon Clowney in a system known for pressure.

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

Houston Texans Passing Offense vs Buffalo Bills Passing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Deshaun Watson-led Texans passing offense finished the season as an average unit, ranking 15th with 236.4 passing yards per game and tied for 12th with 27 passing touchdowns. Deshaun Watson has come up big at times this season, but he has struggled with consistency since theWeek 10 bye--throwing at least one interception in five of his last six games with seven interceptions to eight passing touchdowns over that six-game span. Watson suffered a back injury in Week 14 that helped to keep him sidelined in Week 17, so he may not quite be at 100% coming into this week. The other significant injury concern for this offense is that of Will Fuller, who is on track to return from a groin injury for this game. Fuller may not be at full strength, but his presence would be a huge boost for this passing offense that has struggled without him this season. Fuller adds a field-stretching presence to help all facets of this offense, especially in a week in which tough coverage will blanket all offensive weapons for Houston. DeAndre Hopkins has seen at least eight targets in all but one game this season, but his overall production took a noticeable step back this season. He did finish the year with over 115 yards in two of his last three games, but Watson has struggled against tough secondaries and will be up against one of the best cornerbacks in football this week.

The Bills roll into the playoffs with one of the most talented secondaries in football--a big reason why they have allowed just 195.2 passing yards per game (fourth-fewest), 6.2 yards per pass attempt (third-fewest), and 15 passing touchdowns (T-second fewest). Their elite duo of safeties--Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer--should receive a ton of credit for their spectacular seasons. These two have been excellent in coverage and have proven their worth by helping to limit offenses to just four passing plays of 40 or more yards--the fewest in the league. Both should make it tough on Texans tight ends, as the position has been targeted on a league-low 15% of pass attempts while averaging just 36 yards per game--second-fewest in football. Cornerback Tre’Davious White has been amongst the best in the league at his position and should make it very tough on DeAndre Hopkins in shadow coverage. Opposite White, cornerback Levi Wallace comes into this week questionable with an ankle injury sustained last week. Wallace has played well in his second season and would be a tough matchup for Fuller, but his absence would vault lesser talents Kevin Johnson and Taron Johnson into bigger roles--naturally a positive for the Texans. In the trenches, the Bills have had a strong pass rush that has notched four or more sacks in seven games this season, and they will face a Texans offensive line has noticeably struggled in pass protection and given up the eighth-most sacks (49) of any team this season. The combination of that strong pass rush and elite secondary should give this Texans offense fits throughout the afternoon on Saturday.

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

Tennessee Titans Passing Offense at New England Patriots Passing Defense (Bad Matchup)

Ryan Tannehill has set the league on fire since taking over this Titans offense. He owns the top passer rating in football (116.4) and leads the league in passing yards per attempt (9.6). Since his first start in Week 7, Tannehill has passed for multiple touchdowns in all but one week and ranks as the fourth-best fantasy scoring quarterback. The success from Tannehill has also helped spark wide receiver, A.J. Brown, into a rising superstar and rookie of the year candidate. Brown finished the season with over 1,000 yards while leading the Titans offense in targets (84). While overall reception volume remains a concern (just two games with more than four receptions since Week 7), Brown finished the season on a hot streak with over 110 yards in four of his last six games while scoring five times over that span. Corey Davis has become an afterthought as his contributions have been consistently mediocre all season. Tight end Jonnu Smith is a strong option for Tannehill, but Smith’s usage as a receiver in this offense has been wildly inconsistent--finishing with 60 or more yards twice but with zero yards three times over his last six games. Receiver Adam Humphries has been sidelined with an ankle injury since Week 13 and remains questionable for this game. Humphries hasn’t made much of an impact at all for the Titans this season, but he does represent a viable slot target that Tannehill has trusted on third downs throughout the season. If Humphries were to suit up, it would help this entire passing offense.

The Patriots passing defense has minimal flaws as they finished as one of the best groups in football, holding offenses to just 180.4 passing yards per game (2nd-fewest), 6.0 yards per attempt (2nd-fewest), and a league-low of just 13 passing touchdowns. While many teams tout having just one lockdown cornerback, the Patriots have virtually had three as opposing wide receivers have scored the fewest fantasy points per game against the Patriots. Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore is one of the best at his position and should represent the toughest challenge rookie A.J. Brown has faced all season. Both J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones will also offer challenging matchups to the other Titans receivers, while safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon have made it tough on any receivers to get past them. Tight ends have found some success against the Patriots by sheer necessity as these cornerbacks funnel targets to other positions. Jonnu Smith will be under tough coverage, but he could see increased opportunities as one of few open options this week.

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