The Funnel Defense Report: Super Wild Card Weekend

Below is a look at the league’s most extreme run funnel and pass funnel defenses through Week 18 — teams being consistently attacked on the ground or through the air regardless of game script.

Having an understanding of which defenses are being bludgeoned via the rush or pass should help us identify matchups that may be better than we think in Super Wild Card Weekend DFS contests and other fantasy formats.

Not every game, of course, features a clearcut run or pass funnel defense. I've broken down each of this weekend's six games, even if there are no trends in how a defense is being attacked. My hope is to provide a basis from which you can make your all-important lineups decisions in this condensed slate.

And please remember at all times: The process.

Rams vs. Lions

This one has all the makings of a gut-churning shootout for Lions fans who spent a dozen years rooting for the guy under center for LA.

Detroit, as faithful readers of this funnel-based space know by now, is a reliable pass funnel defense. Lions opponents have a 61 percent neutral pass rate (when the game is within seven points either way), the fourth highest mark in the NFL. They happen to be tied with the Rams.

Focus on the past month and the Lions become the league’s most extreme pass funnel. It makes sense for spreadsheet geeks and film grinders alike: Detroit’s secondary stinks. Only three teams — the Commanders, Eagles, and Cardinals — have allowed a higher EPA per drop back over the season’s final six weeks. Arizona and Washington are the only coverage units giving up a higher net adjusted yards per pass than the Lions.

Nearly 74 percent of the yards gained against the Lions this season have come via the pass — the highest rate in the league (that number has jumped to a mind-boggling 87 percent over the past three weeks).

Meanwhile, only four teams are more pronounced pass funnels than the Rams since Week 12. We saw the Giants post a remarkable drop back rate over expected of 10 percent against LA in Week 17. Big Blue’s season-long rate is zero percent. In Week 16, the Saints passed on 70 percent of their plays against the Rams in neutral game script.

Sign up to stream the Peacock Wild Card Exclusive between the Dolphins and Chiefs, only on Peacock, Saturday, Jan. 13 at 8 p.m. ET. Visit for details.

What it means for Super Wild Card Weekend: While neither team will find much success on the ground, I suspect the run-heavy Lions — with the NFL’s eighth lowest pass rate over expected — will try like hell to establish the run against an LA defense allowing the third lowest rate of rush yards after contact (trailing only the Browns and … the Lions).

Assuming that won’t go well, I expect plenty of target volume for Amon-Ra St. Brown with Sam LaPorta sidelined with a knee issue. Barring (very) weird game script, St. Brown should be a lock for double digit targets against the pass-funnel Rams. Josh Reynolds, who saw seven targets last week with LaPorta sidelined, will also be in play, as will Detroit’s LaPorta replacement, a fella named James Mitchel, who logged the third most pass routes on the team in Week 18 against the Vikings (and was targeted once).

Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp should be peppered with looks in this matchup. Kupp, running about 60 percent of his routes from the slot, goes up against a Detroit defense allowing a top ten target rate to opposing slot pass catchers. LA’s target share is the definition of condensed: Leading the league in three-wideout usage, Nacua, Kupp, and Demarcus Robinson from Week 14-17 combined for 71 percent of the team’s targets and 94 percent of the air yards (with Robinson leading the bunch). We know where the ball is going if the Rams go ultra pass heavy this week.

Over the aforementioned four-week span, Kyren Williams has just 13 targets, or a 9.2 percent target share. His 58 percent route rate leaves much to be desired. Williams’ path to a big stat line is awfully narrow against the pass-funnel Lions.

Cowboys vs. Packers

The good folks who grind funnel defense data all year know the Packers profile as a reliable run funnel, and have for some time. Green Bay finished the regular season as the league’s seventh most pronounced run funnel. Teams squaring off against the Pack had a 53 percent neutral pass rate. Only Arizona faced a lower rate. The Packers profile as one of the few teams who see a balanced attack from opponents while leading.

Hence, 38 percent of the yardage gained against Green Bay in 2023 was via the run, the sixth highest rate in the NFL. Teams were all too eager to go Full Smashmouth against a Green Bay front seven allowing the ninth highest rushing EPA.

Dallas never showed strong funnel tendencies either way in 2023. The 57 percent neutral pass rate deployed against the Cowboys was smack dab in the middle of the NFL.

What it means for Super Wild Card Weekend: That the Cowboys are not a pass or run funnel doesn't mean they're particularly stout against either. The data says Dallas is quite bad against the rush, for instance. The Boys have allowed the league's highest rushing success rate this season, along with the tenth lowest stuff rate, and the ninth highest yards before contact per rush (closely correlated with explosive runs). This could, assuming decent game script, be a quietly solid spot for Aaron Jones unless AJ Dillon returns and eats into his workload.

Tony Pollard's struggles mean the Cowboys have kept their foot firmly planted on the passing game gas for much of the year. They're above their expected drop back rate in six of their past eight contests, going ultra pass heavy in the red zone over the past month. That has been the fuel for CeeDee Lamb's ridiculous run of production since November, and for Dak Prescott's career-high 36 touchdown passes.

Pollard's yards after contact per attempt — a category in which he excelled last season — have slowly crept upward after he posted abysmal after-contact numbers in the season's first half. His efficiency boost and the Packers ranking as one of the most burnable rush defenses could make Pollard a sneaky play. No one ever wants to play Pollard. Against such a pronounced run funnel, this might be the week to do it.

Eagles vs. Bucs

In a battle of who can be slightly less bad, this game should profile as two competing pass funnel defenses trying desperately to stop the bleeding and eke into the Divisional Round.

Tampa enters the postseason as the league’s second most pronounced pass funnel; only the 49ers are more extreme. Philly, meanwhile, is the fifth most extreme pass funnel despite teams becoming a little more balanced against the Birds in recent weeks.

The vast majority of yardage gained against these teams have come via the pass (72 percent of the Bucs, 70 percent of the Eagles). This is not quite like the Rams-Lions matchup: Both the Bucs and Eagles have faced a 57 percent neutral pass rate since Week 11, which ranks 18th in the NFL.

What it means for Super Wild Card Weekend: A.J. Brown’s knee injury — which he sustained on a dreaded hip drop tackle against the Giants in Week 18 — hangs over this game and could determine not only the outcome, but whether or not this matchup is a grind-it-out slog or a back-and-forth affair.

Without Brown, I think the Eagles are likely to go hugely run heavy against Tampa. It wouldn’t be a new approach for Philadelphia: They were 4 percent below their expected drop back rate in Week 3 against the Bucs, running the ball 38 times and dropping back on 40 snaps. A run-first approach should put D’Andre Swift at (near?) the center of the Eagles offense. The team rested him in Week 18, perhaps with the aim or deploying Swift as a workhorse in the postseason (this is where I tell you the Eagles would be foolish to think they can grind it out like they did last season and through the first month of this season; their depleted defense does not allow for such luxuries).

Brown, for what it’s worth, was targeted on almost 40 percent of his pass routes when these teams faced off in Week 3. It’s hard to imagine AJB being anything close to fully healthy, however. If Brown is inactive, Dallas Goedert would essentially slide into the WR2 role behind DeVonta Smith.

Mike Evans, meanwhile, was targeted on an obscene 44 percent of his routes against the Eagles in Week 3. He caught five passes for 60 yards and a score. Tampa was 3 percent over its expected drop back rate and passed on 65 percent of their offensive plays in neutral game script. I’m not entirely sure the Bucs can be pass heavy here with Baker Mayfield among the walking wounded, nursing rib and ankle injuries that hobbled him big time in Week 18 against the Panthers.

Chris Godwin, since his wife posted online about his dwindling target share ahead of Week 14 (we respect a fellow spreadsheet warrior) has seen 29 percent of the team’s targets to Evans’ 19 percent. Probably that has to shift if the Bucs are going to pull the upset. They’re not going to get it done checking down to Godwin five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Maybe Mayfield’s various injuries will — and have — limited his ability to wing it downfield. That’ll be a problem.

Texans vs. Browns

Cleveland’s defensive profile made quite the shift over the final month of the regular season. Once among the two or three most pronounced run funnels, the Browns from Week 13-17 were the league’s ninth most extreme pass funnel defense (we’re throwing out their meaningless Week 18 tilt).

Perhaps in response to the Flacco-fueled, pass-heavy Browns offense putting up gobs of points, Cleveland opponents over the season’s final four weeks had a 63 percent neutral pass rate. Only the Rams and Lions faced a higher neutral pass rate.

The Texans in their Week 16 loss to the Browns posted a 0 percent drop back rate over expected. Because they were trailing (by a lot) for much of the game, Houston’s drop back rate was 78 percent. In neutral script — before the game got out of hand — the Texans passed at a 62 percent rate. That’s a bit over their season-long neutral rate of 59 percent.

What it means for Super Wild Card Weekend: The Texans offense without Tank Dell has made every effort to create balance. They were at or below their expected drop back rate in each of their final six regular season games, a couple of those with Case Keenum under center.

A little digging and we’ll find only a handful of teams with a lower neutral pass rate (49 percent) than the Texans in the final couple games of the season. Without runaway negative script here, I don’t see any way Texans OC Bobby Slowik will let Stroud drop back a bunch against Cleveland. A side note: The Texans strike me as a team freaked out by their own success. Against the Browns, I think they’ll play scared and run the ball more than they should.

The Browns will continue dropping back at extraordinary rates and should make quick work of a quietly vulnerable Houston secondary allowing the NFL’s second highest completion rate over expected. Cleveland is 5 percent over its expected drop back rate in Flacco’s five starts; their 65 percent neutral pass rate over that span leads the NFL. More of the same means ridiculous target volume for Amari Cooper and David Njoku and basically no one else.

The Texans’ best bet is to pressure Flacco early and often. Houston — with the league’s fourth highest QB pressure rate — picked off Flacco twice in Week 16. Both throws came under pressure. In fact, Flacco against the Texans completed just seven of his 14 attempts under pressure at a measly 5.3 yards per pass.

Bills vs. Steelers

Buffalo enters the postseason as a slight pass funnel defense. I’m not sure that will matter a whole lot against a Steelers offense bound and determined to establish the run until a wormhole to 1955 opens up.

Bills opponents on the season have a 57 percent neutral pass rate. Since Week 13, that’s spiked to 61 percent. Miami in Week 18 was 3 percent over its expected drop back rate against the Bills. But the previous two Buffalo opponents — the Patriots and Chargers — were well below their expected drop back rate.

Pittsburgh has faced the sixth highest neutral pass rate (62 percent) this year. That plunges to 51 percent when a team is leading the Steelers, a bottom-ten rate.

What it means for Super Wild Card Weekend: The Steelers, I suspect, will remain as run heavy as humanly possible as they try to knock off the red hot Bills in Buffalo. Mason Rudolph — who leads all quarterbacks in completion rate over expected over the past three weeks — will be tasked with throwing as little as he can against Buffalo.

To help folks better understand just how run heavy Pittsburgh has been over Rudolph’s three starts: Their expected drop back rate during that stretch sits at 58 percent. Their actual drop back rate? Forty-two percent. Only Arthur Smith’s Falcons finished the regular season with a lower pass rate over expected. That should, with decent game script, fuel touch volume for Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. Since Rudolph took over, Harris is averaging a downright silly 25.7 touches per game, while Warren averages 14.6 touches. Warren leads the team in receptions during the Rudolph era. This is all to say that George Pickens (and Diontae Johnson) can’t keep getting away with it. Unless, of course, game script spirals out of control against the Bills and Rudolph has to let it fly.

The Bills, since their last pass-heavy game against Kansas City in Week 14, have shifted hard to the ground game. They are 10 percent below their expected drop back rate over their past four outings. Buffalo’s 48 percent neutral pass rate over that span is the fourth lowest in the league. The Steelers, naturally, have the lowest neutral pass rate from Week 15-18.

This game profiles as a low volume affair for both teams, chock full of running with little chance of much target volume for any pass catcher. It will, in other words, be ugly.

Chiefs vs. Dolphins

This is a deeply uninteresting game through the funnel defense lens: Neither Miami nor KC are funnels of any kind and haven’t been this year.

What it means for Super Wild Card Weekend: A look at the Chiefs-Dolphins Week 9 game might offer some clues as to how these teams will attack each other on the frozen tundra of Arrowhead Stadium.

The Dolphins were 2 percent below their expected drop back rate in their Week 9 loss to the Chiefs, with a 62 percent neutral pass rate, perfectly in line with their season-long rate. Miami’s pass rate didn’t budge much when they trailed against Kansas City, sitting at 63 percent.

The Chiefs were 7 percent over their expected drop back rate, matching their season long rate. Notably, KC passed the ball on just 54 percent of their snaps in neutral script, miles below their season long mark of 64 percent. That could translate to a big old workload for Isiah Pacheco against Miami.