Week 18 Rushing Matchups

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

Jump to Passing Matchups

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

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 Rushing Offense at Houston Texans Rushing Defense (Good Matchup)

The Bills eighth-ranked rushing offense (128.4 yards per game) comes into this playoff matchup with all three primary rushing contributors healthy and ready to go. Devin Singletary is in charge of the backfield, as he was the clear leader in snaps and carried over the second half of the season since getting healthy. Singletary has performed well with a heavy workload since Week 11, averaging just over 17 carries and 77 rushing yards per game while maintaining a respectable 4.5 yards per carry average. Frank Gore did a solid job in charge of this backfield earlier in the season, but he has played less than a third of the snaps in each game since Week 11 and had little success on the ground over the second half of this season. Look for him to be marginally involved, but keep expectations low. Quarterback Josh Allen has been one of the most dynamic rushers in the league, ranking third with 510 rushing yards while leading the league in rushing touchdowns (9) by a quarterback. Allen has exceeded 30 rushing yards in over half of his games and is averaging just over seven attempts per game. He has shown little fear to tuck it and challenge opposing defenses, and his first playoff appearance should only encourage Allen to lay it all on the line this week. The offensive line for Buffalo specializes in run blocking and ranks near a top-10 unit in the league. Center Mitch Morse has been dealing with an ankle injury as of late, but he saw some snaps in Week 17 before getting much-needed rest leading into this week. Right tackle Ty Nsekhe was carted off with a re-aggravated ankle injury during last week’s game though, so look for the struggling rookie Cody Ford to get the start this week--an overall downgrade for this line as he has been one of their worst linemen over the second half of the season.

Last week’s performance makes it tough to objectively evaluate this Texans run defense after they were obliterated by Derrick Henry, giving up 211 rushing yards and three touchdowns. While most starters were playing, some key run-defenders such as D.J. Reader, Whitney Mercilus, and Zach Cunningham either did not play or played only during the first half--during which Henry was limited to fewer than 50 yards. The second half of the season has not been kind to this group though, as the Texans close out the year having given up the third-most fantasy points per game to running backs since Week 9. Big plays have been a problem as they have given up the 15 runs of 20 or more yards on the season (T-4th most) and finished allowing 4.8 yards per carry (6th-most). This group has some excellent run-defenders in Reader and Cunningham, but the defensive line has struggled to find consistent contributors since the loss of J.J. Watt. This week, however, Watt has the possibility to return from the pectoral injury that has sidelined him since Week 8--which is basically when this run defense started to struggle. Keep an eye on his status, as a return from Watt would be a massive boost to this unit, both from a talent and morale perspective. With or without Watt though, the Bills offensive line should put up a fight against this defense. The Texans have also struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks throughout the season, giving up 20 or more rushing yards on five occasions while allowing three rushing touchdowns to the position.

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

Houston Texans Rushing Offense vs Buffalo Bills Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Texans own an above-average rushing offense that finished the season ranked ninth with 125.6 rushing yards per game and an impressive 4.6 yards per attempt (T-8th). Carlos Hyde led this backfield on the way to his first season with over 1,000 rushing yards. Not counting a partial game in Week 17, Hyde averaged just over 16 carries per game as he was the undisputed leader of this backfield despite the consistent presence of Duke Johnson as a passing-down specialist and change-of-pace option, usurping nearly just as many snaps as Hyde. Johnson showed he can be effective when given the opportunity, those opportunities have been few and far between to close out the season as he rushed just nine times for 25 yards over his last four games. Deshaun Watson has been one of the top rushing quarterbacks in football this season, finishing with 413 rushing yards (4th) and seven rushing touchdowns (T-3rd). He has rushed for 30 or more yards in nine of 15 games played and consistently represents a threat to pick up important yardage in key situations, especially near the goal line. The Texans offensive line has been an evolving unit throughout the season as they have struggled to find any level of consistency. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil has finally come around with decent play over the second half of the season after a sluggish start with Houston, and he received a week of rest to get healthy for this matchup. Right tackle has been a volatile position as rookie Tytus Howard never really panned out prior to his season-ending injury in Week 12, and the duo of Chris Clark and Roderick Johnson has been largely ineffective. With this offensive line closing the year ranked firmly in the bottom-tier per Matt Bitonti of Footballguys, they should make it no easier for Carlos Hyde to remain productive in a difficult matchup this week.

The Bills have had a stingy run defense over the second half of the season, giving up just three rushing touchdowns since Week 9 while allowing an average of 83 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs--10th-fewest over that span. Despite that success, this front seven does have some holes. Their interior linemen have not been the best--rookie Ed Oliver has delivered mixed results and right tackle Star Lotulelei--while a massive space-eater--has made inconsistent contributions. Linebacker Matt Milano has been solid in coverage and helping to contain quarterbacks, but he has been a liability when trying to bring down opposing running backs. The Bills have, however, done a decent job containing rushing quarterbacks this season. They limited Lamar Jackson to just 40 rushing yards--which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Beyond that game, only two quarterbacks have exceeded 14 rushing yards and none have scored since Week 7 as the Bills linebackers are looking sharp with their containment. Top-notch safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer have played a huge part in picking up an otherwise mediocre linebacker core and should continue to help carry the Bills defense this week.

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

New England Patriots Rushing Offense vs Tennessee Titans Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

The Patriots rushing offense finished the season near the middle of the pack with an 18th-ranked 106.4 rushing yards per game while averaging just 3.8 yards per carry as a team--tied for seventh-worst in the league. Sony Michel continues to lead this backfield, but he has been a game-script dependent, uninspiring rusher as he finished the season with just 3.7 yards per carry and virtually no involvement in the passing game. Michel has maintained heavy workloads at times, rushing 18 or more times in half of his games(and in each of the past three weeks). However, his usage has also sporadically taken a nosedive with 10 or fewer carries in five games--particularly when the Patriots have been playing from behind. While they are favored in this week’s home matchup, it is tough to rely on Michel for a consistent level of production even if he does see a healthy workload, as he has scored just once in his past nine games and has yet to cross the 100-yard mark on the season. Beyond Michel, the Patriots have kept Rex Burkhead relatively involved on the ground as he has carried at least five times in four straight games with two touchdowns over that span. Still, however, Burkhead is clearly in a change-of-pace role and has played fewer than a third of the snaps in each of his past seven games. The offensive line for New England has improved as the season has progressed, as all five starters now appear to be healthy after the return of right tackle Marcus Cannon last week. This is still an average offensive line, but full health and some momentum coming into the playoffs will certainly help them this week.

The Titans run defense finished the season ranked just below league average, giving up the 12th-fewest rushing yards per game (104.5) and seventh-fewest rushing yards per attempt (4.0). While this team has made it tough on opposing running backs to move the ball at times in recent weeks, they certainly have had no problem allowing touchdowns as at least one rushing touchdown has been scored by a running back in seven of the last eight games against this Titans defense. They started the season very strong against the run, but injuries and rough matchups got the best of this unit over the second half of the season. Closing out the year, however, this defense is relatively healthy with their entire front seven intact. Jurrell Casey remains the best run defender on this team, but fellow linemen DaQuan Jones and rookie Jeffery Simmons have also put together impressive seasons and should be stout matchups for the interior offensive line of New England. This defense will afford the most opportunity to run on the edges, but the Patriots have had limited success with outside runs due to the plodding one-dimensional running style of Sony Michel. Look for a relatively even matchup in the trenches with the success of this Patriots ground game naturally dependent on the game script, as it has been for most of the season.

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

New Orleans Saints Rushing Offense vs Minnesota Vikings Rushing Defense (Neutral Matchup)

Alvin Kamara and the Saints rushing attack has been a unit that was a little disappointing in 2019. A unit that finished sixth in the NFL in rushing yards in 2018, dropped down to 16th in 2019 as the team saw a decrease in production with the loss of Mark Ingram and the replacement of Latavius Murray, and Alvin Kamara suffering some ankle and knee injuries which caused his volume to decrease from 194 carries last year down to 171 carries this year. Even with his reduced volume, Kamara was still as effective as last year averaging 4.6 yards per carry behind an offensive line that is one of the best in the NFL led by Ryan Ramczyk the All-Pro right tackle. This is a unit that is going to continue to look to establish the run as we saw last year where they ran the ball 31 times in their first playoff game.

The Vikings run defense has been a unit that has been hit or miss for most of the season and on the year rank squarely in the middle allowing 99 yards rushing per game to opposing running backs. When they are good, they are one of the best units in football, but the issue is that there has been the inconsistent play that has led to five running backs topping 100 yards this season against the Vikings and as of late they have struggled allowing the fourth-most rushing yards per game over the last five games. This is a very talented defense led by All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks and two All-Pro safeties in Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, but he problem is that the defensive line is built to rush the passer with Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter who when they commit to stopping the run are able to do so, but their primary focus is rushing the passer. This ultimately puts a lot of pressure on Anthony Barr who has struggled this year at defending the run consistently. Also, the Vikings get almost no run support from their corners as Xavier Rhodes has been one of the worst cornerbacks in football this season.

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

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

Jordan Howard was active last week but played just one snap against the Giants as we learned he was in an emergency role for the Eagles last week. Howard may be forced into a role this week as Miles Sanders suffered an ankle injury and did not practice on Wednesday. It would seem a long-shot for Sanders to play which would mean that Boston Scott would be the primary running back for the Eagles. While Scott was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, this was mostly due to his three touchdowns and his work as a receiver. As a running back, Scott struggled to consistently gain yardage as he averaged just 2.8 yards-per-carry which included a 15-yard run to increase that average. At 5’6’’ 203 pounds Scott is a guy who is better served in the Darren Sproles receiving role than a primary running back which could lead to Jordan Howard once again seeing significant snaps if he is healthy enough to go. The Eagles will also be without right guard Brandon Brooks who suffered a shoulder injury and the All-Pro guard will be lost for the year which is a major blow to the offensive line as most of their interior running plays are centered around Brooks.

The Seahawks run defense is starting to show weakness after a strong start to the season. Since Week 12, the Seahawks have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing running backs averaging allowing 95 yards and 1.5 touchdowns per game and have allowed eight rushing touchdowns over the last four weeks. The issue for the Seahawks has been the left side of their defensive line not keeping blockers off of the linebackers as Jarran Reed and Rasheem Green have both struggled to keep linemen from getting upfield as Mychal Kendricks has struggled to shed blocks which have put pressure on their safeties Bradley McDougald and Delano Hill both are coverage safeties. The good news for the Seahawks is that they expect to get Qandree Diggs back who while is a coverage safety as well, is better in run defense than Hill. This is a defense that is still led by Bobby Wagner and Jadeveon Clowney but outside of those two has lacked consistent playmakers stopping the run.

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

Minnesota Vikings Rushing Offense at New Orleans Saints Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

While Mike Boone looked better last week in his second start rushing for 148 yards and a touchdown, the Vikings got some good news in that they will get Dalvin Cook back for this week after missing the previous two games with a shoulder injury. Behind Dalvin Cook, it appears that Alexander Mattison may return after being questionable the last two weeks which will bring the dynamic running game back to Minnesota just in time for the playoffs. On the year, the Vikings were the sixth-best rushing offense averaging 133.3 yards per game. This is an offensive line that is built from the outside in as they feature two tremendous run-blocking tackles in Riley Reiff and Brian O’Neal.

The Saints run defense has been one of the better units of the season. They have allowed just one running back to rush for over 75 yards which was back in Week 1 where Carlos Hyde ran for 83 yards as they have not allowed a 100-yard rusher which they are the only team to do that this season. On the year, they are the fourth-best in terms of fewest yards allowed. If there is a criticism of this defense, it is that they have faced the second-fewest attempts in the NFL as teams either fall behind and abandon the run or go with a pass-heavy gameplan. This has led to a 4.2 yards-per-carry average which is in the middle of the pack in the NFL, but don’t let that fool you this is an elite defense. This is a defense that has All-Pro caliber players at each stage of the run-stopping operation as Cameron Jordan on the defensive line, Demario Davis at linebacker, and Marcus Williams at safety all play significant roles in stopping the rushing attack for Minnesota.

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

Tennessee Titans Rushing Offense at New England Patriots Rushing Defense (Tough Matchup)

The Titans enter this game with the hottest rushing offense in football led by 2019’s league-leading rusher, Derrick Henry. With Henry coming off a game with 32 rushes for 211 yards and three touchdowns, it is clear the Titans have plenty of momentum on the ground. Henry has now rushed for over 100 yards in five of his last six games with multiple rushing touchdowns in four of those outings. Those 32 carries from last week were a season-high, but Henry has handled a heavy workload all season with a healthy average of just over 20 carries per game. Dion Lewis has been involved as a change-of-pace option, but he has had limited success with just 3.9 yards per carry on the season. Ryan Tannehill has certainly flashed with his legs though, as he rushed for 19 or more yards in five games and finished with four rushing touchdowns. While Tannehill is far from what anyone would label as a rushing quarterback, he has enough mobility to make plays on the ground when it matters and is not afraid to tuck it when needed. A big part of Derrick Henry and this rushing offense’s success over the back half of the season has been improved play from the Titans offensive line. While they have struggled in pass protection this season, this unit has provided decent run blocking all season but finally got healthy around the middle of the year, at which point they turned it up a notch. Both tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin have been healthy and playing together for nine straight games while tackle Roger Saffold has finally caught on with this line after a rough spell to start the season. This line finished the year ranked seventh by Footballguys offensive line specialist Matt Bitonti and was one of just six teams to receive an A+ Run Grade--all great things for the prospect of a big Derrick Henry game coming into this week.

This week will be an interesting matchup as this hot Titans offense dependant upon a successful ground game squares off against one of the best run defenses in football. The Patriots finished the season giving up an average of 95.5 rushing yards per game (sixth-fewest) while allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to opposing running backs both on the season as a while and over their last four games. Limiting touchdowns has been the calling card of this defense, as they have allowed a league-low one rushing touchdown to running backs this season. Yardage has been there for the taking, as running backs like Joe Mixon (136 yards), Nick Chubb (131 yards), Mark Ingram (115 yards), and Frank Gore (109 yards) all had success against this team. A big reason for these yards, however, was due to a shift in defensive scheme with the Patriots having built substantial leads. With the Titans offense on fire and their defense playing relatively well, it may be tough for the Patriots to build that lead in this one--which could help them keep the likes of Derrick Henry contained. This front seven for New England is filled with high-quality players at all positions with no glaring weaknesses for the talented Titans offensive line to exploit. The Titans will need Derrick Henry to bust one of those signature big play, as grinding out tough yards in the trenches appears to be a tall order this week.

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

Seattle Seahawks Rushing Offense at Philadelphia Eagles Rushing Defense (Bad Matchup)

The Seahawks rushing attack is decimated heading into the playoffs as Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise, and Rashaad Penny are all out for the season with an injury. The Seahawks relied on a tandem of Marshawn Lynch and Travis Homer last week as they split carries almost evenly. Marshawn Lynch showed that even though he has not run the ball in a year, he still has the power against the 49ers running for a touchdown after contact. Homer is going to play the speed back as he runs a 4.45 40-yard dash who will continue to see a significant number of touches due to his familiarity with the offense and his big-play cutback style of running. The offensive line remains a problem for the Seahawks as Matt Bitonti has them ranked as the 30th offensive line in football this year. Duane Brown remains out which is a major loss at left tackle, and Jamarco Jones struggled mightily trying to replace him last week in Jones’ first start which could lead to the Seahawks trying George Fant who has more left tackle experience.

The Eagles run defense, for the most part, this season has held up for most of the season as they are allowing the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season and the fourth-fewest yards allowed. This is a unit that is led by their defensive line in Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, but if you can get past the defensive line, there are holes in the run defense particularly at the linebacker position after the loss of Zach Brown earlier this year. Nathan Gerry has attempted to fill in, but the second-year player has been vulnerable to mistakes in stopping the run that combined with Nigel Bradham being forced into a new role, has allowed for three running backs to rush for over 90 yards this season including Saquon Barkley last week who did most of his production on a 68-yard run. This is a defense however that if you are unable to break the long run is going to be difficult to consistently move the ball particularly for the Seahawks who have a poor offensive line and a rookie as their primary running back.

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