The NFL is a matchup-driven league. Offensive coordinators are always looking to scheme their playmakers into one-on-one situations against a defender, while defensive coordinators will attempt to do anything in their power to upset the timing and rhythm of the opposing QB.
Despite the obvious impact that defenses have on opposing offenses, fantasy players and fans alike are often left with one-way metrics to describe offenses and defenses that they are then forced to compare against each other in an attempt to identify mismatches.
The goal here is to provide easy-to-decipher charts and notes to identify each week’s key matchups and advantages on both sides of the ball in:
- Explosive Plays
- Trench Battles
- Passing Game
- Red Zone Efficiency
The following charts display matchup-specific information meant to highlight the largest mismatches in these ever-important facets of football to ultimately gain actionable betting and fantasy takeaways. And, of course, to have fun.
Note: This data is based on what has happened in Weeks 1-7.
Big plays make the football world go round. Matchups between explosive offenses and leaky defenses are exactly what we’re looking for when compiling game stacks in DFS, or when betting an over. We can calculate this with help from NFL.com’s team-based statistics.
- Explosive Pass Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions per pass attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 20-plus yard completions allowed per pass attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (green is good, red is bad).
- Explosive Run Rate: The sum of an offense’s rate of 20-plus yard gains per rush attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 20-plus yard runs allowed per rush attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (green is good, red is bad).
- Only the Vikings (12.4%), Lions (12.2%), Chiefs (11.9%), Packers (11.8%), Seahawks (11.7%), Patriots (11.4%), Cowboys (11.3%) and Jaguars (11.2%) have posted an explosive pass-play rate above 11% this season.
- Of course, the Chiefs are moving forward with Matt Moore ... right? Patrick Mahomes (knee) did manage to practice in a limited fashion on Wednesday and Thursday, but the 2018 MVP is reportedly expected to miss at least three weeks. Be sure to monitor our Week 8 Injury Dashboard for daily practice participation along with estimated and official game statuses for every injured player.
- QBs that are set up for success this week in creating chunk plays through the air include: Matthew Stafford, Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson.
- Watson has some porous career splits without Will Fuller (hamstring, doubtful) on the field, but I'd caution in assuming those will persist in 2019: Kenny Stills offers significantly more field-stretching ability than either Demaryius Thomas or DeAndre Carter. Also, Watson is a magician.
- The likes of Mason Rudolph, Gardner Minshew, Matt Moore, Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins are also set up better than usual to rack up some explosive plays in the passing game.
- The Dolphins (15.4%), Raiders (15%), Giants (12.8%), Bengals (12.3%) and Falcons (11.9%) are the only defenses to allow an explosive pass-play rate above 11% this season.
- QBs that could struggle to consistently create chunk plays through the air include: Case Keenum, Jacoby Brissett and Andy Dalton.
- Additionally, the likes of Carson Wentz, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, Philip Rivers and Ryan Fitzpatrick aren't in anything resembling a smash spot.
- Backfields that are poised for success in busting off some big runs include the Cardinals, Giants, Vikings, Falcons, Rams and Texans.
- The Bengals, Dolphins and Jets are the only offenses that still don't have a rush of at least 20 yards through seven weeks.
- Additional run games that don't appear to be set up all that well to break off some explosive plays on the ground include the Redskins and Titans.
Fast-paced games lead to more plays, which lead to more points. Every week usually consists of at least a few games that could resemble a track meet based on their combined situation-neutral pace (Football Outsiders).
- Combined Situation-Neutral Pace: Represents the combined situation-neutral pace between each matchup’s two offenses. A lower number indicates fewer average seconds per play (green = fast-paced game), while a higher number indicates more average seconds per play (red = slow-paced game).
- The week's fastest-paced matchup is easily the Bengals (No. 3 in situation neutral pace) at the Rams (No. 1).
- Additional matchups that could more closely resemble a track meet include Cardinals at Saints, Giants at Lions, Panthers at 49ers and Packers at Chiefs.
- The week's slowest-paced matchups feature the Chargers (No. 31) at the Bears (No. 24) as well as the Jets (No. 30) at Jaguars (No. 28).
- Additional matchups that could move more slowly than fantasy owners would prefer include Redskins at Vikings, Broncos at Colts and Buccaneers at Titans.
An overmatched offensive line can result in poor fantasy days for all skill-position players involved. Meanwhile, QBs with all day to throw can help generate points in bunches. We can determine which offensive lines might be especially better (or worse) this week with help from Pro Football Focus’ offensive and defensive pressure statistics.
- Combined Pressure Rate: The sum of the offensive line’s rate of pressures allowed per dropback and the opposing defense’s total pressures generated per dropback. A higher percentage (red) is better for defenses and indicates that QB could be under fire, while a lower percentage (green) indicates that matchup’s QB could face reduced pressure.
- QBs that could be under consistent duress this week include Jared Goff, Andy Dalton, Kyle Allen, Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Case Keenum.
- Be sure to check out my Week 8 WR/CB Breakdown with TE Analysis for more specific matchup information on every passing game.
- The Jets (43%), Seahawks (41%), Vikings (41%), Rams (41%) and Chargers (40%) are the only offenses to be pressured on at least 40% of their dropbacks this season.
- Of course, pressure tends to not matter all that much for Russell Wilson considering the Jedi-like chemistry he has with No. 1 WR Tyler Lockett. Somehow, Wilson nearly has as many incompletions when targeting D.K. Metcalf in 2019 (20) as he does to Lockett (21) in 2018 and 2019 combined.
- Mason Rudolph and Deshaun Watson (for once) stand out as QBs that could have all day to throw this week.
- The 49ers, Rams, Saints, Packers, Panthers, Vikings and Eagles have separated themselves to this point as the league's top defenses in creating consistent pressure.
RBs receive most of the praise for an offense’s rushing output, but an overmatched offensive line can thwart a team’s run game before it even has a chance to get started. We can determine the offensive lines that might be especially better (or worse) off this week with help from Football Outsiders' offensive and defensive adjusted line yards per rush statistics.
- Combined Adjusted Line Yards Per Rush: The sum of an offensive line’s adjusted line yards per rush and the opposing defense’s adjusted line yards allowed per rush. A higher number (green) is good for RBs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble consistently running the ball.
- The Vikings, Saints, 49ers and Packers boast the week's most favorable matchups in the trenches.
- I can't stress enough how much of a smash spot this is for Tevin Coleman. The 49ers' No. 1 RB has racked up 16-plus touches in each of his three games since returning from injury and is facing a Panthers Defense that has been significantly better against the pass (No. 3 in DVOA) compared to the run (No. 3). Sure, Matt Breida will remain involved, but fantasy owners can live with a two-back committee when it's taking place inside of the league's most run-heavy offense. I'll have an irresponsible amount of exposure to Coleman on DraftKings at just $5,000.
- Check out my Week 8 Backfield Report for more specific information on the league's ever-evolving RB stables.
- The Broncos and Giants also boast above-average matchups at the line of scrimmage.
- Saquon Barkley might not be all the way back to 100%, but it turns out even a reduced version of the Giants' stud RB is incredibly difficult to get to the ground.
- The Bills (5.13), Saints (4.98), 49ers (4.95), Raiders (4.92) and Cowboys (4.85) are the league's only offenses that have averaged more than 4.75 adjusted line yards per rush this season.
- The Titans and Bengals stand out as offenses that could have a tough time creating much of a consistent push against their respective opponent's fearsome defensive lines.
- Tough matchups aren't too big of a deal for Derrick Henry's fantasy stock, as the Titans' workhorse joins Leonard Fournette, Le'Veon Bell, Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Chris Carson as the league's only RBs with at least 15 touches in every game this season.
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Some pass offenses are obviously more efficient than others, while certain secondaries are seemingly capable of shutting down any aerial attack. We can determine the week’s largest mismatches in the passing game using each offense’s and defense’s net yards per pass attempt (via Pro Football Reference).
- Combined Net Yards Per Pass Attempt: Net yards gained per pass attempt differs from yards per attempt by accounting for sacks. The rate is calculated by subtracting a QB's sack yards from his passing yards, then dividing that number by the sum of the QB's pass attempts and sacks taken. A higher number (green) is good for QBs and receivers, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s pass offense could be in trouble.
- Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson and Mason Rudolph are set up the best to consistently find success through the air this week.
- The likes of Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff and Matt Stafford are also popping a bit as signal callers with plus matchups this week.
- Perhaps the Lions will trend towards becoming a more pass-happy offense with Kerryon Johnson (knee, IR) sidelined for at least the next eight weeks. Stafford is certainly playing well enough to warrant extra pass-game opportunities, ranking among the league's top-10 QBs in touchdown rate (No. 6), QB rating (No. 9), yards per attempt (No. 9), adjusted yards per attempt (No. 6) and yards per game (No. 6)
- The Cowboys (8.2), Chiefs (8.2), Vikings (8), Seahawks (7.5), 49ers (7.3), Packers (7.3), Lions (7.2), Texans (7.1) and Rams (7.1) are the league's only offenses averaging more than seven net yards per pass attempt this season.
- Sam Darnold, Kyle Allen and Baker Mayfield have the week's least-promising matchups in terms of expecting consistent aerial success.
- Sam Darnold's ghost-themed trainwreck last Monday night was easily the worst we've seen the second-year QB ever look. Still, he's hardly the first 22-year-old QB to have trouble against Bill Belichick and company. Better days will be ahead for this entire passing game. I like Darnold's chances to bounce back this week, particularly with Robby Anderson.
- Each of Case Keenum, Jacoby Brissett, Kyler Murray, Carson Wentz and Ryan Fitzpatrick also stand out as signal callers that aren't set up in anything resembling a smash spot.
- The Chiefs (5.9), Bears (5.7), Vikings (5.7), Broncos (5.7), Bills (5.2), Panthers (5.1), 49ers (4.3) and Patriots (3.9) are the league's only defenses to allow fewer than six net yards per pass attempt through seven weeks.
Red Zone Efficiency
The field shrinks inside the red zone, as the defense essentially gains an extra sideline with the back of the end zone limiting the types of vertical concepts that offenses can run. We can help identify which teams have the best potential to cash in on their opportunities inside the 20-yard line using each offense and defense's red zone TD percentage rates (via TeamRankings.com).
- Combined Red Zone TD Rate: The sum of an offense's rate of TDs per red zone possession and the defense's percentage of TDs allowed per red zone possession. A higher percentage (green) indicates an efficient offense inside the 20-yard line against a defense that struggles to keep their opponents out of the end zone, while a lower percentage (red) indicates an offense that hasn't had much success converting their scoring chances into six points and is facing a defense that has managed to largely thrive with their backs against the wall.
- The Seahawks, Eagles, Bears and Texans stand out as the week's top offenses in terms of who is least likely to have to settle for field goals in scoring position.
- Additional offenses that are set up better than usual to convert drives inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns include the Vikings, Bills and Raiders.
- The Saints (65%), Browns (65%), Falcons (66%), Chargers (67%), Jets (67%), Texans (68%), Raiders (68%) and Dolphins (70%) are the only defenses to allow a red-zone touchdown rate of at least 65%.
- On the other side of the ball, the Colts (65%), Packers (65%), Texans (65%), Falcons (67%), Bills (69%) and Vikings (71%) are the league's only offenses to score a touchdown on at least 65% of their red zone possessions.
- The Panthers and Browns stand out as offenses that could wind up settling for three points more than fantasy owners might prefer this week.
- The 49ers (38%), Bengals (35%), Cardinals (35%) and Jaguars (33%) have been the league's worst offenses in scoring position when it comes to touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line.