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 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 1-3.
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).
- Eight offenses have an explosive pass-play rate over 12.5% through three weeks: Chiefs (15%), 49ers (15%), Ravens (14%), Vikings (14%), Cowboys (14%), Patriots (13%), Chargers (13%) ... and the Lions (13%).
- New OC Darrell Bevel has implemented a downfield passing attack in Detroit. Overall, only Lamar Jackson (+13.4%) has a larger increase than Matthew Stafford (+10.7%) in percentage of passes thrown at least 20-plus yards downfield in 2019 vs. 2018 (PFF).
- The Browns haven't gotten going on offense just yet, but they face a Ravens Defense that surprisingly has allowed the eighth-highest rate of 20-plus yard completions this season. Still, I'd count on Earl Thomas and company figuring things out before too long, and that figure is undoubtedly inflated from facing Patrick Mahomes and company in Week 3.
- Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are set up exceptionally well against arguably the worst secondary in the league. Each of Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf and Will Dissly should benefit from this cake matchup. Check out my Week 4 WR/CB and TE breakdown for more specific analysis on the passing attacks from every game.
- The entire city of Jacksonville has a case of Minshew Mania at the moment. It's well deserved: The man has unlimited swagger and happens to also be playing some pretty great football. The early-season performance from breakout second-year WR D.J. Chark has certainly helped matters.
- Teddy Bridgewater attempted just one pass over 15 yards in Week 3 and didn't complete it (Next-Gen Stats).
- Dual-threat QBs Josh Allen, Kyler Murray and Mitch Trubisky all have tough home matchups this week against defenses that have done a solid job limiting explosive pass plays this season. I'm most inclined to believe Murray can overcome the poor outlook, as the Seahawks Defense hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row of QBs in Andy Dalton, Mason Rudolph and Bridgewater.
- Kyle Allen breathed new life into the Panthers' passing game last week. The Panthers ranked 30th in catchable targets in Weeks 1-2, but leaped all the way up to sixth in Week 3. Curtis Samuel, D.J. Moore, Christian McCaffrey and even Greg Olsen are plenty capable of again having their way with the Texans' underwhelming secondary.
- The Colts, Panthers, Texans, Cowboys, Raiders, Falcons and Giants are best positioned to create big plays on the ground. Be sure to check out John Daigle's Week 4 Waiver Wire column for more information on Wayne Gallman's quest to replace Saquon Barkley.
- None of the Eagles, Redskins, Bengals and Broncos are positioned well to create big plays on the ground this week.
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-pace matchup pits the Buccaneers (No. 16 in situation neutral pace) and the Rams (No. 2). Panthers at Texans and Bengals at Steelers also look like matchups that could consist of plenty of plays.
- Each of the Seahawks at Cardinals, Redskins at Giants and Eagles at Packers should additionally have a quickened pace of play.
- The week's slowest-paced matchup featured the Jaguars (No. 32) against the Broncos (No. 25). The Raiders (No. 27) and Colts (No. 30) matchup isn't far behind.
- None of the week's other matchups figure to be egregiously slow paced.
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.
- Carson Wentz could have some trouble staying upright against the Packers' newfound pass rush. The Eagles offensive line isn't bad by any stretch and ranks 12th in best pressure rate this season, but the Packers' league-best defense at consistently getting to the QB features two monsters on the edge in Za'Darius Smith (21 pressures this season) and Preston Smith (15). Be sure to monitor our Week 4 Injury Dashboard for the final status of Za'Darius (knee, questionable) as well as the daily practice participation for every injured player in the league along with estimated and official game statuses.
- Additional QBs that figure to face a heightened amount of pressure this week include: Deshaun Watson, Kirk Cousins, Josh Rosen and Mason Rudolph.
- Allow me to have a Good Will Hunting Robin Williams moment and let Josh Rosen know one thing: It's not your fault.
- The likes of Aaron Rodgers, Jameis Winston and Joe Flacco also aren't exactly positioned for success in their respective matchups against talented defensive lines.
- QBs that could have all day to throw include Jacoby Brissett, Gardner Minshew, Daniel Jones and Tom Brady.
- The top five defenses in pressure per dropback through three weeks are the Packers, Bengals, Saints, Jaguars and 49ers.
- The latter defense has been spearheaded by the presence of No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa, who has racked up 17 pressures this season -- tied with Myles Garrett for 10th most among all defenders.
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.
- Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson are each set up to ball the hell out against the Dolphins' sad excuse for a run defense before Melvin Gordon returns in Week 5. Jackson in particular deserves to find the end zone after having TD runs nullified by penalties in back-to-back weeks.
- Each of Josh Jacobs, Ezekiel Elliott, Alvin Kamara and Kerryon Johnson also appear to be set up particularly well on the ground.
- Coach Jon Gruden expressed the desire to get Jacobs more involved in the passing game this week as well. Check out my Week 4 Backfield breakdown for more specifics on the projected outlook of every RB situation across the league.
- Kamara figures to face stacked boxes sooner rather than later due to Bridgewater's reluctance to test defenses downfield. Still, it might not matter if he continues to break tackles like an absolute mad man.
- Kenyan Drake, Devonta Freeman, the Green Bay committee of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, Nick Chubb and Chris Carson (for now) are also not looking at the best matchups in terms of how consistently we should expect them to find room on the ground.
- The Cardinals haven't been great at run defense, but the Seahawks' 30th-ranked offensive line in adjusted line yards per rush is better than only the Dolphins and Bengals. Chris Carson has gained just 159 yards on 45 carries (3.5 YPC) this season.
- Additional RBs that aren't expected to consistently find gaping holes include Leonard Fournette as well as Joe Mixon. The good news for fantasy owners is that Fournette (6.7 targets per game) has demonstrated a surprisingly high pass-game floor despite his slow start, and Mixon had his most-efficient game of the season in Week 3 by racking up 95 yards and a touchdown on 17 combined carries and receptions.
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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.
- The likes of Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, Case Keenum and Patrick Mahomes are expected to have their way through the air this week.
- Keenum (foot, DNP on Wednesday) has surprisingly worked as fantasy's QB9 through three weeks and has a great matchup against a Giants secondary that has been torched worse than any defense outside of Miami. He's an intriguing GPP-pivot off the likely high-owned Danny Dimes.
- Prescott boasts the week's single best pass-game matchup. The absence of Michael Gallup (knee) could impact this, but Devin Smith (92% snap rate in Week 3) still offers field-stretching ability that demands attention from opposing defenses. Amari Cooper deserves to be on any short list of the NFL's very best route runners.
- Carson Wentz has a tough matchup against Jaire Alexander and the Packers' underrated secondary. The good news is Alshon Jeffery (calf), Dallas Goedert (calf) and JJ Arcega-Whiteside (heel) will all suit up, although DeSean Jackson (abdomen) has been ruled out for their Thursday night matchup.
- The likes of Marcus Mariota, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Jameis Winston, Kyler Murray and Mitch Trubisky also aren't set up particularly well through the air.
- In addition to Murray, I wouldn't bet against Watson in this or any other matchup. He's simply too good and offers overall QB1 upside in any given week thanks to his dual-threat ability. With that said, underrated CBs James Bradberry and Donte Jackson do present tough projected shadow matchups for DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller thanks to the CB's respective plus-size and speed.
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 (89% red zone TD rate), Texans (86%), Packers (86%) and Cowboys (81%) have been the best offenses thus far at converting their possessions inside the 20-yard line into scores.
- Meanwhile, the Bengals (38%), Cardinals (36%), Buccaneers (27%) and Dolphins (20%) have been forced to settle for field goals far too often deep inside their opponent's territory.
- The Patriots' rate is a bit inflated due to the fact that the Bills have allowed their opponents to find the end zone on all four of their chances this season. Brady and company are plenty efficient in their own right, but don't sleep on the Bills' No. 6 ranked defense in DVOA at home against the Patriots' banged-up offensive line.
- The Patriots Defense is yet to allow a TD anywhere on the field this season, let alone the red zone. The Jets' 14 points in Week 3 came via a botched punt as well as a pick-six by Jamal Adams. Sheesh.
- The only defenses to keep their opponents from scoring a TD on fewer than 50% of their red zone possessions this season are the Patriots (0% red zone TD rate), 49ers, (25%), Buccaneers (30%), Packers (33%), Jaguars (40%), Bears (40%), Steelers (45%) and Lions (45%).