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 define each week’s key matchups and advantages on both sides of the ball in:
- Explosive Plays
- Trench Battles
- Passing Game
- Red Zone Efficiency
Of course, things are a bit different this week with so many teams having severely different levels of motivation to win. Hayden Winks wrote a lovely article detailing each team's motivation to rest starters based on their chances of making the playoffs or at least moving up in seeding. His main takeaways on teams that could rest their starters, along with helpful nuggets from our industry-leading news feed through Thursday, are as follows:
- The Bills are locked in as the No. 5 Seed regardless of whether they win or lose (they’ll likely play the Texans in the first round), so they could sit starters if they want to. Coach Sean McDermott said the team will "play a majority of the guys," but wouldn't specify how much Josh Allen would actually play, and confirmed Matt Barkley will "likely" see time under center.
- The Ravens have clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. Coach John Harbaugh has already confirmed that Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram (calf) among others won't suit up this week.
- Coach Sean McVay hinted the Rams could rest some key starters in their Week 17 finale against the Cardinals. Beat writer Cameron DaSilva wouldn't "be the least bit surprised if Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Evans, and others are either limited in their playing time or don’t see the field at all" against Arizona.
- Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said that he has no plans to rest players for Week 17 against the Titans. O'Brien reaffirmed the organization is "playing to win" Sunday's largely meaningless regular season finale. Their motivation is essentially the chance to move into the No. 3 Seed, as they're most likely to be the No. 4 Seed and host the Bills at the moment.
- The Vikings are reportedly not expected to play their starters against the Bears. They're locked into the No. 6 Seed and don't figure to expose their banged up skill-position talents to too many, if any, snaps. The Bears opened the week has one-point underdogs, but have since risen to three-point favorites (per FantasyLabs).
- A full list of eliminated teams: Rams, Cardinals, Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Bears, Lions, Giants, Redskins, Broncos, Chargers, Colts, Jaguars, Browns, Bengals, Jets and Dolphins
Back to business. 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 1-16.
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 49ers (11.6%), Titans (11.4%), Rams (11.2%), Vikings (11%), Buccaneers (10.9%) and Cowboys (10.8%) have posted an explosive pass-play rate of at least 10.5% this season.
- The Steelers (7%), Colts (7%), Dolphins (6.9%), Bears (6.5%) and Panthers (5.6%) are the only offenses with an explosive pass-play rate at or below 7% through 16 weeks.
- Dak Prescott and company are set up exceptionally well against the Redskins' already-mediocre and now banged-up secondary. Still, he largely didn't practice all week while battling a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder. There have also been reports that Prescott is dealing with a hairline fracture in his finger. Clearly the fourth-year QB won't be near 100% when he takes the field for this must-win game.
- Be sure to monitor our Week 17 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: Baker Mayfield, Ryan Tannehill, Tom Brady, Jameis Winston, Drew Lock and Jared Goff.
- Maybe this is the week everything comes together for Mayfield against the Bengals' helpless secondary. If not, he'll have cleared 300 yards and thrown multiple touchdowns in just one game all season. Both Mayfield and especially Odell Beckham (illness) will benefit from the absence of William Jackson (shoulder, IR).
- The likes of Aaron Rodgers, David Blough, Prescott and Jimmy Garoppolo are also set up better than usual to rack up some explosive plays in the passing game.
- The Raiders (12.9%), Bengals (12.9%), Dolphins (12%), Lions (11.5%), Cardinals (11.3%) and Giants (11.3%) are the only defenses to allow an explosive pass-play rate above 11% this season.
- Courtland Sutton didn't receive overwhelming volume in any of the team's first 13 games, but suddenly he's received double-digit targets in consecutive weeks. Look for the talented second-year WR's inevitable 'boom' to occur in this prime spot as long as the volume keeps coming. The Raiders rank among the league's bottom-three defenses in pass DVOA (No. 30), DVOA vs. WR1s (No. 30), DVOA vs. WR2s (No. 31), net yards allowed per pass attempt (No. 32) and explosive pass-play rate allowed (No. 32).
- QBs that could struggle to consistently create chunk plays through the air include: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Mitchell Trubisky, Sam Darnold, Will Grier and Kyler Murray (hamstring).
- Darnold is the only QB from this group that'd I'd be willing to invest much in for daily fantasy contests due to his severely reduced salary and solid play of late. The Jets have somehow won five of their last seven games!
- Daniel Jones has earned weekly tournament consideration and is set up well against the Eagles' always-mediocre and now banged-up secondary. Only Lamar Jackson (7) has more games with at least 30 fantasy points than Jones (3) this season.
- Backfields that are poised for success in busting off some big runs include the Browns, Saints and Titans.
- Fantasy football doesn't have to be hard: Play RBs facing the Panthers or the Jaguars. This week the Saints get the cozier matchup of the two against their long-time NFC South rival. The Panthers haven't slowed down anybody on the ground all season. Overall, the Panthers rank among the league's bottom-two defenses in PPR per game allowed to RBs (No. 32), rush DVOA (No. 32), yards allowed per carry (No. 32), rush yards allowed (No. 31) and rushing touchdowns allowed (No. 32).
- Run games that don't appear to be set up all that well to break off some explosive plays on the ground include the Dolphins, Bears, Lions and Falcons.
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 matchups feature the Cardinals (No. 2 in situation neutral pace) at the Rams (No. 3) as well as the Dolphins (No. 8) at the Patriots (No. 1).
- Additional matchups that could more closely resemble a track meet include Jets at Bills, Saints at Panthers and Falcons at Buccaneers.
- The week's slowest-paced matchups feature the Steelers (No. 29) at the Ravens (No. 27) as well as the Colts (No. 25) at the Jaguars (No. 30).
- Additional matchups that could move more slowly than fantasy managers would prefer include Raiders at Broncos and 49ers at Seahawks.
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 Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sam Darnold, David Blough and Will Grier.
- Keep an eye on our industry-leading News Feed for updates on the Ravens' situation under center. Lamar Jackson (rest) is obviously out, but some reports have indicated that rookie sixth-round pick Trace McSorley could also potentially see some snaps. It's probably a situation to avoid in general with everyone on the offense expected to split reps to some extent against the Steelers' beastly defense. Make no mistake about it: Minkah Fitzpatrick is a freaking baller.
- Case Keenum isn't expected to have all day to throw, but he is just $4,500 on DraftKings this week after Dwayne Haskins (ankle) was ruled out for Sunday. Keenum has had his low points, although the veteran QB did post QB6, QB12 and QB15 fantasy finishes in three of his first five starts of the season. Clearly Keenum at the very least doesn't deserve to be priced as the slate's cheapest signal caller. This is particularly true in an indoor matchup against a Cowboys Defense that has been better against the run (No. 16 in DVOA) than the pass (No. 24) through 16 weeks (Football Outsiders).
- Check out my Week 17 DFS Breakdown for more-specific thoughts on this slate's pricing as well as top plays and potential fades at each position.
- The Jets (44%), Dolphins (40%), Seahawks (39%), Colts (39%) and Texans (38%) are the only offenses to be pressured on at least 38% of their dropbacks this season.
- Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson figure to remain on this short list for a while if they continue to stick to their respective styles of play. Both will hold the ball too long at times and take "unnecessary" sacks, but the only real options that a signal caller has in these sort of pressure situations are: throw to a covered receiver, throw the ball away or attempt to extend the play until something better develops. Each has their own respective upsides and downsides; there isn't a perfect cookie cutter mold for what a productive NFL QB needs to consistently play like. Just appreciate the best in the world doing their thing.
- Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Patrick Mahomes stand out as QBs that could have all day to throw this week.
- Mahomes has bounced back from arguably the two worst performances of his career (at least statistically) against the Chargers and Raiders in Weeks 11 and 13 with a win in Foxborough followed by back-to-back efforts with at least 25 DraftKings points. Blowout factor is a concern here: The Chiefs are nine-point favorites in Arrowhead against a Chargers team that has combined hilariously-bizarre losses with mostly porous overall efforts throughout most of the season. Still, Mahomes has managed to average a robust 26.56 DraftKings points with a +6.2 Plus/Minus and 71% Consistency Rating in 14 career games when favored by at least a touchdown (per the FantasyLabs Trends tool).
- The Steelers, Saints, Rams, Packers, 49ers, Chiefs and Eagles have separated themselves to this point as the league's top defenses in creating consistent pressure.
- Danielle Hunter (88 pressures), Za'Darius Smith (87), Cameron Jordan (81), T.J. Watt (79), Shaq Barrett (74), Aaron Donald (71), Chandler Jones (71) and Von Miller (70) are the only defenders with at least 70 pressures this season (PFF).
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 Saints, Cowboys, Patriots, Chargers and Packers boast the week's most favorable matchups in the trenches.
- The Saints are set up well enough that Latavius Murray should garner serious fantasy consideration. He's received 7, 12, 7, 4, 9, 11 and 9 touches in seven games since Alvin Kamara returned from injury in Week 10. It wouldn't be surprising to see him flirt with 15 touches this week in a matchup that the Saints (-13) should be able to control. Murray is a great contrarian play in tournaments this week at an affordable price tag in a best-case spot.
- Melvin Gordon has caught five passes in three consecutive weeks and continues to largely work as the offense's lead RB ahead of Austin Ekeler despite the latter player's superior efficiency as both a rusher and receiver. Ekeler is the play vs. the Chiefs in a game that figures to feature some negative game script, although everyone on this Chargers Offense is best approached with extreme caution against this rising Chiefs Defense. Overall, the Kansas City has allowed a combined 31 points in four games since the team's Week 12 bye.
- The Browns, Lions and Colts also boast above-average matchups at the line of scrimmage.
- Kareem Hunt returned from suspension in Week 10. He and Nick Chubb have worked as the PPR RB16 and RB14, respectively, during the Browns' last seven games. Clearly Hunt presents some value in this plus spot due to the difference in each back's respective price tag ($5,200 vs. $7,500), particularly in full point-per-reception formats like DraftKings.
- The Saints (4.96), Cowboys (4.78), Ravens (4.71) Raiders (4.64), Packers (4.58), Vikings (4.57) and Broncos (4.55) are the league's only offenses that have averaged at least 4.5 adjusted line yards per rush this season.
- The Broncos were able to play with a lead in Week 16 and accordingly handed Phillip Lindsay a strong 58% snap rate and more importantly 21 touches. There's again a lot to like for this week's matchup against the Raiders' 31st-ranked defense in overall DVOA.
- The Dolphins, Bills, Falcons, Giants and Steelers stand out as offenses that could have a tough time creating much of a consistent push against their respective opponent's fearsome defensive lines.
- The best offenses in terms of yards before contact per rush have been the Ravens (3.3), Cardinals (3.29), Panthers (3.19), 49ers (2.95), Packers (2.6) and Texans (2.57).
- The worst have been the Jaguars (1.78), Buccaneers (1.68), Dolphins (1.65), Steelers (1.41) and Jets (1.38).
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.
- The Chiefs, Buccaneers, Cowboys and Rams are set up the best to consistently find success through the air this week.
- Jameis Winston still managed to score 18 fantasy points last week during his four-interception effort. The problem is the league's most pass-happy QB doesn't have the world's easiest matchup against a Falcons Defense that has been playing much better since their Week 9 bye, and it's tough to expect a true 'boom' performance from Winston if both Mike Evans (hamstring, IR) and Chris Godwin (hamstring) are again sidelined. Overall, the Falcons have allowed a league-best average of 13.1 fewer points per game in Weeks 9-16 compared to Weeks 1-8.
- The likes of Baker Mayfield, Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Tannehill and Jimmy Garoppolo are also popping a bit as signal callers with plus matchups this week.
- The Houston secondary is far from a unit to fear. Still, TanneThrill has attempted 29, 33, 39, 19, 18, 22, 27, 36 and 27 passes in his nine starts this season. He'll need to continue to function as the league's most-efficient QB in order to meet value as the slate's fourth-most expensive signal caller.
- The Cowboys (7.6), Chiefs (7.5), 49ers (7.2), Vikings (7.2), Chargers (7.2), Ravens (7.1) and Buccaneers (7.1) are the league's only offenses averaging more than seven net yards per pass attempt this season.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick and Sam Darnold have the week's least-promising matchups in terms of expecting consistent aerial success.
- Each of Mitchell Trubisky, Will Grier, Case Keenum, Devlin Hodges, Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson also stand out as signal callers that aren't set up in anything resembling a smash spot.
- Note that Allen Robinson has double-digit targets in four of his last five games and now faces off against a Vikings Defense that has struggled to find a single consistently-competent corner this season. Overall, each of Mackensie Alexander (PFF's No. 49 ranked CB among 131 qualified corners), Trae Waynes (No. 58), Mike Hughes (No. 89) and Xavier Rhodes (No. 125) have played rather poorly this season. A-Rob can win in this spot.
- The Chiefs (5.7), Steelers (5.6), Bills (5.3), Patriots (4.8) and 49ers (4.7) are the league's only defenses to allow fewer than 5.8 net yards per pass attempt through 16 weeks.
- The Raiders (7.5), Bengals (7.4), Dolphins (7.4), Lions (7.3), Giants (7.2) and Cardinals (7.1) are the only defenses allowing over seven net yards attempt per pass attempt.
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 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 Titans, Texans, Packers and Buccaneers 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, Panthers, Saints, Eagles, Ravens, Colts and Seahawks.
- Players with the most touches this season with two or fewer touchdowns include Frank Gore (170), Matt Breida (138), Gus Edwards (118), Jaylen Samuels (112) and Alexander Mattison (110).
- The Texans, Raiders, Titans and Rams are the only defenses to allow a red-zone touchdown rate of at least 63%.
- On the other side of the ball, the Titans, Ravens, Packers, Eagles and Buccaneers are the league's only offenses to score a touchdown on at least 65% of their red zone possessions.
- WRs with the most targets this season with two or fewer receiving scores include: Robert Woods (127), Danny Amendola (93), Dede Westbrook (93), Mike Williams (85), Anthony Miller (84) and Mohamed Sanu (84).
- The Steelers, Jaguars, Raiders and Bengals stand out as offenses that could wind up settling for three points more than fantasy investors might prefer this week.
- The Cardinals, Bengals, Jaguars and Steelers have been the league's worst offenses in scoring position when it comes to touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line.