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:
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 1-14.
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 (11.8%), Rams (11.8%), Vikings (11.4%), Titans (11.4%) and Cowboys (11%) have posted an explosive pass-play rate of at least 11% this season.
It's unclear if Adam Thielen (hamstring) will be ready to return in Week 15 against the Chargers, but he at least managed to start the week off with a limited practice. Thielen (38 targets), Stefon Diggs (34), Dalvin Cook (26) and Kyle Rudolph (11) were the only players to get double-digit targets from Kirk Cousins in Weeks 1-6.
Be sure to monitor our Week 15 Injury Dashboard for daily practice participation along with estimated and official game statuses for every injured player.
Of course, Jimmy G benefits plenty from having arguably the league's most-valuable non-QB at his disposal. George Kittle has averaged 2.91 yards per route run this season after posting a 2.82 rate in 2018. Those are the two-highest marks among all TEs with at least 50 targets in a single season over the past 10 years (PFF). Be sure to check out Josh Norris' wonderful piece highlighting the top-10 plays of the Saints-49ers' entertaining shootout from Week 14.
The Raiders (13.8%), Bengals (13.6%), Dolphins (12%), Cardinals (11.8%), Giants (11.4%) and Lions (11%) are the only defenses to allow an explosive pass-play rate above 11% this season.
The Steelers have gone from good to great on defense since acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick. The former Dolphin is the ideal safety for the modern NFL, combining elite coverage skills with rare instincts and open-field tackling ability.
Prescott might not have a great matchup, but he does get to play with Jerry World Amari Cooper. Overall, Cooper has posted 5-58-1, 8-180-2, 8-76-0, 10-217-3, 4-20-0, 7-106-0, 8-106-1, 6-88-2, 11-226-1, 5-106-0, 11-147-1 and 8-85-0 lines in 12 home games since being traded to the Cowboys.
Backfields that are poised for success in busting off some big runs include the Seahawks and Raiders.
Rashaad Penny (torn ACL), IR) is done for the season. The Seahawks will move forward with a two-RB committee featuring Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise. This week's matchup against the Panthers is the definition of a smash spot, as they rank among the league's bottom-five defenses in PPR per game allowed to RBs (No. 31), rush DVOA (No. 32), yards allowed per carry (No. 32), rush yards allowed (No. 29) and rushing touchdowns allowed (No. 32). Lock in Carson as a strong RB1.
Run games that don't appear to be set up all that well to break off some explosive plays on the ground include the Jets, Dolphins, Bears, Cowboys, Packers, Lions and Bengals.
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 features the Patriots (No. 1 in situation neutral pace) at the Bengals (No. 7) as well as the Rams (No. 4) at the Cowboys (No. 3).
Additional matchups that could more closely resemble a track meet include Broncos at Chiefs, Dolphins at Giants and Browns at Cardinals.
The week's slowest-paced matchups feature the Eagles (No. 19) at the Redskins (No. 32) as well as the Jaguars (No. 31) at the Raiders (No. 21).
Additional matchups that could move more slowly than fantasy owners would prefer include Jets at Ravens, Bears at Packers, Vikings at Chargers and Colts at Saints.
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.
Allen might not be the most-polished QB in the world. Okay he's not even close. Still, there aren't five signal callers in the entire league that I'd rather devote three hours of my Sunday to watching. The man is as entertaining, for better and for worse, as any player in the league.
Brissett has numerous games with fewer than 30 pass attempts this season. Still, he's thrown 40 and 36 passes over the last two weeks with the Colts struggling to slow down opposing passing games. This *should* again be the case in Week 15 against Drew Brees and company.
Zach Pascal has posted 5-76-1, 2-26-0, 2-17-0, 0-0-0, 7-109-0 and 5-74-1 lines in six games since T.Y. Hilton originally started dealing with his calf injury. The recent production has been great, but the demonstrated floor still makes Pascal a risky play. Treat him as an upside WR3 in this spot.
Be sure to check out my Week 15 WR/CB Breakdown with TE Analysis for more specific matchup information on every passing game.
The Jets (43%), Dolphins (40%), Seahawks (40%), Giants (39%), Colts (39%), Falcons (38%) and Texans (38%) are the only offenses to be pressured on at least 38% of their dropbacks this season.
The Titans might be able to pressure Deshaun Watson, but it's unclear if the secondary will be able to keep everyone covered long enough for the pass rush to get home. Starting CBs Malcolm Butler (wrist, IR), Adoree' Jackson (foot) and LeShaun Sims (ankle) were all sidelined last week, leaving the defense with Logan Ryan (has allowed more yards in slot coverage than any other CB), Tye Smith (career backup that spent 2018 on IR) and Tramaine Brock (was released by the Cardinals after Week 13.
It's a bit confusing why Sammy Watkins (91% snaps in Week 14) and Demarcus Robinson (79%) continue to work so far ahead of Mecole Hardman (18%). The Chiefs' electric second-round rookie has certainly made the most of his limited opportunities this season. Hardman's average of +7.2 yards after the catch above expectation is the highest single-season mark among all receivers in the Next-Gen Stats database (which dates back to 2016). Kenny Golladay joins Hardman as the only players with five touchdowns of at least 30 yards this season. Overall, Hardman has caught 8-of-11 targets for 207 yards and four touchdowns since Week 7.
The Steelers, Saints, Eagles, Packers, Browns, Rams, 49ers and Patriots have separated themselves to this point as the league's top defenses in creating consistent pressure.
Danielle Hunter (80), Za'Darius Smith (73), Cameron Jordan (73), T.J. Watt (70), Shaq Barrett (66), Aaron Donald (66), Joey Bosa (62), Khalil Mack (61) and Everson Griffen (61) are the only defenders with more than 60 pressures this season (PFF).
Donald has now led all interior defenders in pressures for four straight seasons. He's also managed to best the next-closest DT by an average of 12.8 pressures per 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 Broncos, Raiders and Saints boast the week's most favorable matchups in the trenches.
Phillip Lindsay continues to see high-end RB2 usage, although the talented second-year RB hasn't managed to reach 100 total yards in a game since Week 5. Royce Freeman appeared to be trending out of the offense after posting a season-low 29% snap rate in Week 11, but he's since been on the field for 55%, 56% and 46% of the offense's snaps. Note that Lindsay's Week 14 performance could've been bigger if he didn't have a touchdown nullified by penalty. Treat Lindsay as a volume-based RB2 that is due for a big-time performance. Freeman is a touchdown-dependent RB4 at best due to volume concerns despite the prime matchup.
Player A: 4.4 yards per carry, 6.8 yards per reception, 2 TDs. Player B: 4.7 yards per carry, 6.6 yards per reception, 6 TDs. Player A is Alvin Kamara, while Player B is Latavius Murray. I'm not here to say the Saints' RBs are comparable from a talent perspective; Kamara's elite receiving ability creates more mismatches and headaches for defensive coordinators than arguably any other back in the league. Still, it's a reminder that coach Sean Payton hasn't gone out of his way to feature Kamara on the ground this season due to Murray's stellar play. The Saints' talented RB1 has 8, 10, 10, 9, 8 and 6 targets with Drew Brees under center, but didn't manage to surpass even 13 carries in those six games.
Check out my Week 15 Backfield Report for more specific information on the league's ever-evolving RB stables.
The Seahawks, Eagles and Chargers also boast above-average matchups at the line of scrimmage.
Coach Doug Pederson featured Miles Sanders to the tune of an 85% snap rate or higher in Weeks 10-13 with Jordan Howard (shoulder) sidelined. Previously, no RB had managed to surpass even 80% in a single game under Pederson since he took over in 2016. This changed during the Eagles' win over the Giants last Monday night. Sanders (56% snaps) still worked as the backfield's lead RB, but Boston Scott (44%) was plenty involved as well and demonstrated enough burst and talent to warrant more touches in the future.
Austin Ekeler posted 8-101-0 rushing and 4-112-1 receiving lines in the Chargers' blowout victory over the Jaguars last week. There were moments where Ekeler looked borderline unstoppable. And yet, Ekeler was out-snapped by No. 3 WR Andre Patton for the sixth consecutive game. Note that Patton has three receptions ... this season.
The Saints (4.98), Cowboys (4.79), Raiders (4.7) and Ravens (4.66) are the league's only offenses that have averaged at least 4.6 adjusted line yards per rush this season.
The Ravens take on the Jets in Week 15. Sure, they're taking on a defense that has been much better against the run (No. 2 in DVOA) than the pass (No. 22) through 14 weeks, but this Lamar Jackson-led rushing attack has been historically good this season. Overall, the 2019 Ravens are one of just six offenses over the past 50 years to average more than 5.4 yards per carry. Each of Jackson (No. 1 in yards before contact per rush among 46 qualified players), Gus Edwards (No. 8) and Mark Ingram (No. 16) have benefited from both the Ravens' excellent run blocking as well as the scheme.
The Jets, Ravens, Bengals, Lions, Dolphins and Chiefs 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 (2.7), Cardinals (2.4), Giants (2.2), Panthers (2.2) and Texans (2.1).
The worst have been the Jets (0.8), Titans (1.1), Steelers (1.1), Rams (1.2) and Buccaneers (1.2).
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 49ers and Buccaneers are set up the best to consistently find success through the air this week.
Jameis Winston (thumb) is tentatively expected to suit up Sunday, but Ryan Griffin took all the first-team reps in practice Wednesday. Winston reportedly wasn't even gripping a football at practice. The entire Buccaneers Offense would need to be severely downgraded if Winston is ultimately ruled out.
Jimmy Garoppolo has proven capable of putting up numbers in shootouts, but he's also had five games with 25 or fewer pass attempts inside of the 49ers' run-first offense. His target distribution since getting George Kittle back in Week 12 is as follows: Kittle (18 targets), Emmanuel Sanders (16), Deebo Samuel (14), Kendrick Bourne (9), Raheem Mostert (7), Tevin Coleman (5), Kyle Juszczyk (3), Jeff Wilson (2) and Matt Breida (1). The Falcons rank 31st and 25th in most yards per game allowed to opposing No. 1 and No. 2 WRs, respectively (Football Outsiders).
The Cowboys (7.7), Vikings (7.6), 49ers (7.4), Chiefs (7.4), Chargers (7.2), Raiders (7.1) and Rams (7.1) are the league's only offenses averaging more than seven net yards per pass attempt this season.
Haskins isn't set up all that well against the Eagles, but his No. 1 WR could make things easier if he's able to consistently break open again. Terry McLaurin's rookie season hasn't been overly consistent, although the talented third-round pick certainly carries a nice ceiling against the Eagles' mediocre CBs.
The Steelers (5.6), Rams (5.6), Bills (5.1), Patriots (4.7) and 49ers (4.5) are the league's only defenses to allow fewer than 5.8 net yards per pass attempt through 14 weeks.
The Bengals (7.7), Raiders (7.6), Cardinals (7.4) and Dolphins (7.4) are the only defenses allowing at least 7.4 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 and Vikings 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 Buccaneers, Ravens, Eagles, Seahawks, Packers and Colts.
The Jaguars, Panthers, Falcons, Rams, Lions, Titans, Texans and Raiders are the only defenses to allow a red-zone touchdown rate of at least 60%.
On the other side of the ball, the Titans, Vikings, Packers, Ravens and Texans 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 one or fewer receiving scores include: Robert Woods (107), Auden Tate (80), Danny Amendola (77), Mike Williams (72), Anthony Miller (67) and Alex Erickson (60).
The Patriots, Bengals, Cardinals and Steelers stand out as offenses that could wind up settling for three points more than fantasy owners might prefer this week.
The Redskins, Jaguars, Cardinals, Bengals and Steelers have been the league's worst offenses in scoring position when it comes to touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line.