Week 21 Passing Matchups

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

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Great Matchups:
Good Matchups:
Neutral Matchups: [KC]
Tough Matchups: [SF]
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.

Kansas City Chiefs Passing Offense vs San Francisco 49ers Passing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The legend of Patrick Mahomes grows week after week, achievement after achievement. One week after spearheading a 51-7 run to upend the Texans, Mahomes carved up Tennessee with 294 too-easy yards and 2 scores in the Championship Game. Andy Reid’s bunch seems never truly out of a game, so long as Mahomes is given the chance to beat defenses downfield with his lethal receiving corps. Armed with the NFL’s collection of wideouts, Mahomes is often given a wide array of options all over the formation. Tight end Travis Kelce looms over all, and all indications are that his knee injury from last month are behind him. Kelce was bracketed well by the Titans in the Championship Round, but the Texans are still having nightmares of his 134-yard, 3-touchdown eruption the week before. He’s one of football’s toughest covers over the middle and up the seams, and a Rob Gronkowski-level mismatch near the goal line. For their parts, Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Mecole Hardman are ever-present threats to blow a game wide open with a single play. Hill scored twice last week, on a jet-sweep toss and a fantastic one-on-one win down the field. Watkins put Kansas City up big with a 60-yard go-route touchdown, and Hardman later sealed the game by drawing a 49-yard interference penalty. That said, drops have been a noticeable problem this postseason, with at least five catchable throws missed. All told, though, there hasn’t been a more frightening attack in years, and there’s virtually no ceiling for the plays they’re capable of making.

Most would argue that the 49ers are in the Super Bowl thanks mostly to their pass defense, which has been fantastic for much of the season. No team has allowed fewer yards through the air, and only 4 of 18 opposing passers has topped 250 in a game. (It bears noting that two of those opponents relied heavily on garbage time to do it - including Aaron Rodgers two weeks ago.) The dominance starts up front, where Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have bent the edges consistently and combined for 19.5 sacks through 18 games. Between them, Arik Armstead (10.0) and DeForest Buckner (7.5) push the pocket exceptionally well, and life is rarely easy for opposing passers. Behind them, second-year man Fred Warner broke out as one of football’s most impactful pass-defending linebackers. In the secondary, All-Pro Richard Sherman leads a group that’s consistently been greater than the sum of its parts. Emmanuel Moseley and Ahkello Witherspoon are somewhat beatable across the field, but K’Waun Williams remains extremely stingy in the slot. Together, they stifled Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen (a combined 107 yards) in the Divisional Round, then held Davante Adams to little more than screen catches in an impressive NFC Championship showing. They’ll have their hands full with Kansas City’s speed, and Travis Kelce is a walking mismatch at tight end. But if any defense boasts the depth, four-man pass rush, and downfield physicality to slow Patrick Mahomes and his weapons, it’s this one.

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

San Francisco 49ers Passing Offense at Kansas City Chiefs Passing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The 49ers’ ideal passing attack - low-volume and low-impact - has been on full display this postseason. Jimmy Garoppolo got past the Vikings and Packers dropping back just 30 times and completing 17 total passes. On the regular season, the 49ers as a team threw the league’s fourth-fewest passes a game and a good-not-great 28 touchdowns. They were efficient, though, ranking fourth league-wide in net yards per attempt. Without much of a downfield component - they lack a true deep threat, while Garoppolo has long struggled with his long ball - this unit relies heavily upon its playmakers to weave magic on short and intermediate routes. Leading the way is full-fledged superstar George Kittle, who may be facing his tight end equal (Travis Kelce) on Sunday. Kittle has been quiet this postseason, spending most of his time blocking, but averaged 75 yards a game on a whopping 28% target share during the season. Garoppolo has also seen success, if only sporadically, when throwing to Emmanuel Sanders and dynamic rookie Deebo Samuel. Sanders can still win downfield, but hasn’t caught more than 3 balls in a game since Week 14. Shanahan manufactures 4-7 weekly touches for the explosive Samuel, and he’s responded nicely. But if all goes to plan for the 49ers, they’ll control the Super Bowl on the ground and supplement with just a few well-timed splash plays from their receivers.

The much-maligned Kansas City pass defense took a dramatic turn for the better midway through the 2019 season. Dating back to Week 9, they’ve allowed just 6.3 yards per attempt and 239 a game, with only 3 opponents (aided by garbage time) topping 225. The Texans’ trio of DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Kenny Stills found success in the Divisional Round, but that had all the looks of a true outlier. Houston spent much of that game in desperation mode, and the Kansas City defense allowed just 46 passes of 20+ yards this season, eighth-best in football. Outside cornerbacks Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland are volatile in coverage, but both possess shutdown ability against downfield wideouts. Against the 49ers, though, the biggest burden will be on their slot unit as they seek to keep the likes of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Emmanuel Sanders from making plays underneath. Slot cornerback Kendall Fuller had an up-and-down season, but has traditionally been strong inside, while safety hybrid Tyrann Mathieu has excelled as an on-ball playmaker (16 pass breakups and 4 interceptions). It’s not a bulletproof unit, and they allowed a handful of big games to slot men and tight ends down the 2019 stretch. But often, opponents are pushed into shootouts early on, and the swarming pass rush forces a number of errant and ill-advised throws. As a result, this is no longer an easy group to throw on, even when the game is blown wide open. Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo will need to get creative to make big plays happen Sunday.

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