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 1-4.
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).
- The Vikings, Ravens, 49ers, Chiefs, Chargers, Buccaneers and Broncos stand out as the top offenses that could have plenty of success creating big plays through the air this week.
- The most explosive passing offenses this season in 20-plus yard completions per dropback have been the 49ers (14.9%), Chiefs (13.8%), Lions (12.8%), Chargers (12.7%) and Ravens (12%).
- The Lions have a Week 5 bye, but it's worth noting they've undergone a bit of an identity shift on offense this season. New OC Darrell Bevell has Matthew Stafford throwing downfield at a league-high rate through four weeks.
- Additional passing offenses that are positioned well to create explosive plays through the air include the Patriots, Cardinals, Bears, Bengals and Eagles.
- Of course, the Bears are undergoing a bit of an identity shift with Mitch Trubisky (shoulder) sidelined for the foreseeable future. Check out my Week 5 WR/CB Matchups and TE Analysis column for more specific information on what to expect from Chase Daniel and company along with every other passing attack around the league.
- The Dolphins (14.8%), Raiders (14%), Giants (13%), Jets (13%), Jaguars (13%) and Bengals are the league's only defenses that have allowed an explosive pass play rate of at least 12.5% this season.
- The Jaguars, Seahawks, Jets, Packers, Redskins, Saints and Raiders stand out as offenses that could have trouble producing chunk plays through the air this week.
- RBs that are set up especially well to rip off some big runs include: Leonard Fournette, Devonta Freeman/Ito Smith, Dalvin Cook, Carlos Hyde/Duke Johnson as well as the Chiefs' committee backfield.
- The Chiefs are expected to welcome back Damien Williams (knee) this week after he got in a full practice on Wednesday. It seems likely they'll feature a two-back committee with him and Shady on Sunday night, with Darrel Williams working in a smaller pass-down role. Be sure to check out my Week 5 Backfield breakdown for analysis on every team's group of RBs.
- Additional RBs that are set up well to create some explosive plays on the ground include: Frank Gore/Devin Singletary, Ronald Jones/Peyton Barber as well as James Conner/Jaylen Samuels.
- Backfields that could have a tougher time than usual in trying to bust off some big runs include the Jets, Packers, Browns, Redskins, Titans, Bengals, Saints, Raiders and 49ers.
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 fastest paced matchup of the week pits the Cardinals (No. 1 in situation neutral pace) against the Bengals (No. 12).
- Additional matchups that could feature plenty of plays for both offenses include the Rams (No. 2) at Seahawks (No. 27), Falcons (No. 5) at Texans (No. 13), Vikings (No. 9) at Giants (No. 17) as well as Packers (No. 16) at Cowboys (No. 8).
- The slowest paced matchup of the week features the Broncos (No. 21) at Chargers (No. 31), with the Bears (No. 23) vs. Raiders (No. 26) in London not far behind.
- Additional matchups that could be more slow paced than usual include the Jaguars (No. 32) at Panthers (No. 6), Bills (No. 22) at Titans (No. 20), Buccaneers (No. 14) at Saints (No. 30) as well as Jets (No. 25) at Eagles (No. 11).
- The game total in each of the last four aforementioned slow-paced matchups has either dropped or held steady since open (per FantasyLabs).
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.
- The top-two QBs that could be overwhelmed by pressure this week are Jameis Winston and Kirk Cousins.
- The Buccaneers and Vikings join the Texans, Rams, Packers and Dolphins as the league's only offenses to allow a pressure rate of at least 40% this season.
- Each of Gardner Minshew, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, Sam Darnold (mono) and Dak Prescott also might not have all day to throw this week.
- Prescott in particular isn't in a great spot against the Packers' league-best defense in pressure rate with LT Tyron Smith (ankle) sidelined. The Cowboys have struggled to function as a top-tier offense without their stud LT in past years. This was most notable in 2017, when the Cowboys scored seven, nine, 12 and six points in four games that Smith played a combined three snaps in.
- The Texans don't exactly boast the league's most consistent offensive line, but Watson also deserves plenty of blame for taking 18 sacks through four weeks due to his tendency to hold on to the ball for too long at times. Still, the Texans' franchise QB has a history of being able to keep nearly any play alive, so Watson's high pressure rate should be seen as more of a price to pay for additional big gains vs. a kryptonite for the Texans Offense.
- QBs that could have all day to throw this week include Tom Brady, Chase Daniel and Patrick Mahomes.
- The likes of Mason Rudolph, Carson Wentz and Jacoby Brissett are also set up better than usual in terms of the amount of pressure they're expected to face.
- Note that Brissett will have his hands full dealing with the rowdy Arrowhead crowd. The Chiefs allowed 8.3 fewer points per game at home compared to on the road last season -- the largest home/away discrepancy in the league.
- The Packers, Saints, Bengals, Panthers, Eagles and Chargers have been the league's clear top-six defenses this season when it comes to consistently getting after the QB.
- The Chargers ability to create constant pressure will be tested this week with stud DE Melvin Ingram (hamstring) sidelined. Be sure to monitor our Week 5 Injury Dashboard for analysis and daily practice participation along with estimated and official game statuses for every injured player.
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.
- Ezekiel Elliott has the best matchup of the week against the Packers' run funnel defense. Overall, they rank No. 5 in pass defense DVOA compared to No. 27 against the run.
- Additional backfields that are set up well to consistently pick up positive yardage this week include the 49ers, Ravens, Colts and Vikings.
- One key backfield to especially monitor moving forward is the Buccaneers. They don't have the best matchup this week, but their run-blocking metrics would likely be quite a bit more favorable if Ronald Jones didn't have two monster runs nullified by questionable penalties last week.
- Le'Veon Bell and Adrian Peterson stand out as the two RBs with the week's worst matchups in the trenches against the Eagles (No. 1) and Patriots (No. 3) respective top-three defenses in adjusted line yards allowed per rush.
- Additional backfields that could have a bit more trouble getting going on the ground than usual this week include the Steelers, Bengals and Falcons.
- The Falcons in particular face an uphill battle with trying to establish any sort of dominance at the line of scrimmage considering their plethora of injuries across the offensive line. Overall, C Alex Mack (elbow) and backup RG Jamon Brown (concussion) didn't practice Wednesday, backup RG/C Wes Schweitzer (shoulder) and RT Kaleb McGary (knee) were limited, and Week 1 starting RG Chris Lindstrom (foot, IR) is out for the foreseeable future.
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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.
- Shocker: Patrick Mahomes has the week's best pass-game matchup. Still, his history against zone-heavy defenses from last season suggests we might not see the Chiefs Offense function at their absolute best Sunday night. Overall, Mahomes posted 256 yards-4 TDs-0 INT, 243-2-0, 314-3-0, 249-2-0, 273-3-0 and 278-0-0 passing lines against top-10 zone-heavy defenses in 2018.
- Additional QBs that are set up better than usual to find consistent success through the air include the Patriots, Steelers, Buccaneers, Vikings, Chargers and 49ers.
- Winston has been the definition of a boom-or-bust QB for most of his career and especially over the past 1.25 seasons. Overall, he's finished as a top-six fantasy QB in as many games (five) as he has as the QB18 or lower (five) in 13 starts since Week 1 of last season.
- The only defenses to allow at least eight net yards per attempt this season are the Dolphins (9.7), Giants (8.2), Ravens (8.2) and Bengals (8.2).
- QBs that could have a tough time getting much consistent success through the air this week include Gardner Minshew, Colt McCoy/Case Keenum/Dwayne Haskins as well as Marcus Mariota.
- The only defenses to allow fewer than 5.5 net yards per pass attempt this season are the Cowboys (5.3), Bears (5.2), Packers (5.2), Bills, 4.7), Patriots (4.3) and the Panthers (3.9)
- It's worth noting that the Panthers' solid secondary wouldn't be ranked quite so high if Deshaun Watson had been just a tad more accurate on pretty much his only two downfield shots of Week 4.
- Additional QBs that aren't set up for much success through the air include Josh Allen (concussion), Derek Carr, Sam Darnold (mono) and Aaron Rodgers.
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, Bills, Titans, Texans, Eagles and Cowboys stand out as the week's top offenses that are set up well to convert their opportunities inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns.
- The only offenses to convert at least 70% of their red zone possessions into at least six points have been the Cowboys (77%), Seahawks (77%), Bills (73%), Colts (71%), Texans (70%), Titans (70%) and Vikings (70%).
- The only defenses to stop their opponent from finding the end zone on more than half of their possessions inside the 20-yard line this season are the Patriots (25%), 49ers (25%), Cowboys (36%), Steelers (36%), Buccaneers (43%), Bears (45%), Jaguars (46%) and the Eagles (47%).
- Offenses that could have to settle for field goals more often than usual include the Jaguars, Cardinals, Bears, Jets and Browns.