Biggest Weakness of Every NFL Playoff Team: Toughest Opponents For Each, Feat. Hard Test For 49ers vs. Cowboys

Biggest Weakness of Every NFL Playoff Team: Toughest Opponents For Each, Feat. Hard Test For 49ers vs. Cowboys article feature image
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Getty Images. Pictured: Eagles Q B Jalen Hurts, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Every NFL playoff team has its strengths, but this is the time of year when weaknesses get zeroed in on and exposed.

Below is a guide to each team’s biggest weakness on each side of the ball — and the toughest matchup they could face among playoff teams in their conference.


JUMP TO: AFC Teams | NFC Teams


Toughest Matchups For NFC Teams

I dig into deeper detail about what the weaknesses are below, but here’s a quick key of which opponents would pose the toughest matchup for the weaknesses of each NFC team on both sides of the ball.

Units that draw their toughest matchups in the Wild Card Round are highlighted.

Click on a team in the left column to skip ahead
Team Toughest Matchup For Offense Toughest Matchup For Defense
Packers Cowboys Bucs
Bucs Cardinals Eagles
Cowboys Cardinals Eagles
Rams Cowboys Packers
Cardinals Cowboys Eagles
49ers Cowboys Cowboys
Eagles Bucs Bucs
49ers

(1) Green Bay Packers

Offensive Weakness

Pressure From a Four-Man Rush

Aaron Rodgers is on his way to a second straight MVP. The only way to make him look human is to pressure him.

When Rodgers has been kept clean this season, he’s completing 77.1% of his passes at 8.5 yards per attempt with 29 touchdowns and one interception. His rating is 123.7. There’s no stopping that. But when Rodgers is under pressure, he’s completing just 38.4% of his passes for 5.1 YPA with eight touchdowns, three interceptions, and a rating of 67.9. He ranks just 32nd of 40 qualified quarterbacks in YPA under pressure.

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Joe Robbins/Getty Images. Pictured: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

But there’s a catch: You can’t blitz him to generate your pressure.

Rodgers has shredded the blitz, tossing 13 touchdowns while getting picked once. His rating when blitzed is 116.5, sixth-best. Bringing extra rushers means somebody is singled up, and Rodgers’ brain and arm are too quick to be confused at this stage in his career.

And if the receiver singled up happens to be Davante Adams, forget it.

Toughest potential matchup: Cowboys

They generate pressure 27.8% of the time (fourth) despite blitzing 27.1% of the time (10th), according to data from Pro Football Reference. Of all teams in the top six in pressure rate, the Cowboys blitz the least.

Defensive Weakness

Red-Zone Defense

I’m going to let the Packers off the hook for their leaky run defense, because although they allowed 4.7 yards per carry during the regular season, fourth-worst, they also faced the fourth-fewest attempts (395), resulting in the 11th-fewest rushing yards per game allowed (109.1).

The bigger issue is red-zone defense: The Packers allowed opponents to put a six on the board on 67.3% of their red-zone trips, which is tied for the third-highest rate in the NFL.

The silver lining: The Packers have allowed only 49 red-zone trips, fourth-fewest.

Toughest potential matchup: Bucs

They led the NFC with 45 red-zone touchdowns during the regular season.



(2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Offensive Weakness

Wide Receiver Depth

First Chris Godwin tore his ACL. Then Antonio Brown spazzed out. Then Cyril Grayson became relevant, but he tweaked his hamstring. Now the Buccaneers are left with Mike Evans and a whole bunch of ordinary men at wide receiver:

  • Tyler Johnson: 36/360/0 on 55 targets
  • Breshad Perriman: 11/164/1 on 18 targets
  • Jaelon Darden: 6/43/0 on 12 targets
  • Scotty Miller: 5/38/0 on 9 targets
  • Justin Watson: 0/0/0 on 0 targets

Aside from Evans, Johnson is the only Tampa Bay wideout to be targeted more than 20 times during the regular season, and he’s averaging 6.5 yards per target and hasn’t scored once on his 36 catches.

Toughest potential matchup: Cardinals

They rank top-three in Football Outsiders’ DVOA versus both No. 1 wide receivers and tight ends, which could force Brady to come off of Evans and Rob Gronkowski in favor of targeting his ancillary receivers.

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Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images. Pictured: Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski (87), WR Mike Evans (13) and QB Tom Brady (12)

Defensive Weakness

Explosive Runs

Death, taxes, and the Bucs playing elite run defense. That has been the case since Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles arrived on the scene in 2019 — until this year. For the first time in the Arians-Bowles era, the Bucs finished outside the top spot in defensive rushing DVOA, recording a good-but-not great 12th-place ranking.

The biggest culprit? Opponents are popping big runs against them.

Per Sharp Football Stats, the Bucs have allowed an explosive run (defined as a run of 10 or more yards) on 14.2 % of opponent rushing attempts, the third-highest rate among NFL defenses.

Much of it has to to with failing to maintain gap integrity, as Bowles loves to dial up the blitz even on early downs — the Bucs lead the league with a 40.8% blitz rate — which can result in players out of position and give the offense numbers in the run game.

Toughest matchup: Eagles in the Wild Card Round

They rank first in the NFC with 73 explosive runs and a 14.1% explosive rush rate, per Sharp Football Stats.


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(3) Dallas Cowboys

Offensive Weakness

Third-and-Long

The Cowboys rank 31st in success rate on third and fourth downs with seven or more yards to go, converting just 16-of-92 (17.4%) such opportunities. DVOA tells the same story, as the Cowboys rank 27th on third- or fourth-and-long.

The good news for Cowboys fans is that third- and fourth-down numbers tend to be volatile, and since there’s nothing to suggest the Cowboys should be one of the league’s worst third-down offenses give their talent and success in other aspects, they could be in for some positive regression in this area.

Toughest potential matchup: Cardinals

They’re fifth in defensive DVOA in third- and fourth-and-long situations. They held the Cowboys to 3-of-11 on third down in a 25-22 upset victory at Jerry World in Week 17.

Defensive Weakness

Explosive Runs

The Cowboys aren’t as aggressive as the Bucs when it comes to blitzing, but they are an aggressive defense that specializes in creating turnovers in the passing game, which has led to some blown assignments on run defense.

The Cowboys have allowed an explosive run on 12.1% of opponent carries, 25th in the NFL.

If they can keep opponents from big gains on the ground, they become truly dangerous, as they  pair the NFL’s second-best pass defense in terms of success rate allowed (52%) with the league’s 10th-ranked unit in rushing success rate allowed (47%).

Toughest potential matchup: Eagles

In theory, at least.  The Eagles rank first in the NFC with 73 explosive runs and a 14.1% explosive rush rate, and they rushed for at least 160 yards in both matchups with the Cowboys this season, but they still lost both games by a combined score of 92-47.

Perhaps it’s the 49ers, who are second among NFC playoff teams in explosive run rate (11.4%), though that figure was good for just 15th in the NFL — 12 spots behind the Eagles.


(4) Los Angeles Rams

Offensive Weakness

Matthew Stafford’s Decision-Making

Stafford has one of the NFL’s best schemes, one of its best receiving corps, and one of its best offensive lines. All he needs to do is make good decisions and execute, but that has been a struggle over the second half of the season.

Stafford’s numbers are down across the board over the second half of the season.

  • Weeks 1-8: 69% comp, 9.1 YPA, 22/4 TD/INT, 118 rating, 2.53 avg. time to throw
  • Weeks 9-18: 66% comp, 7.3 YPA, 19/13 TD/INT, 90 rating, 2.77 avg. time to throw

Perhaps due in part to swapping out Robert Woods (IR-ACL) for Odell Beckham in Week 9, Stafford has been less decisive, holding onto the ball longer looking for an open man. And if that man isn’t Cooper Kupp, the results have been inconsistent.

Stafford has been putting the ball in harms way more down the stretch.

According to PFF, his 5.1% turnover-worthy play rate is tied for third among 24 qualified quarterbacks since Week 9. And on the season, Stafford has only  10 throwaways, giving the Rams the second-fewest ahead of only the Steelers (six). He also leads the league with four pick-sixes this season.

Stafford has to clean things up, lest he let the “can’t beat a winning team” narrative run rampant.

Data via Action Labs:

Toughest potential  matchup: Cowboys

They’re first in defensive passing DVOA and intercepted a league-high 26 passes during the regular season.

Defensive Weakness

Underneath Throws

While the Rams successfully accomplish their goal of limiting big plays — they rank second in DVOA against deep passes — they are 22nd in DVOA on short passes.

The Rams like to sit back in zone coverage, playing it at the third-highest clip. And despite being known for a star-studded defensive front, the Von Miller addition should probably be considered more of a necessity than a luxury. Despite blitzing at the 11th highest rate in the NFL (26.6%), the Rams have generated pressure just 22.8% of the time, which ranks 25th in the league and is stunningly the lowest among all playoff teams.

Pressure numbers are more predictive of future sacks than are past sacks, which suggests the Rams could be in for some regression toward the mean in that area. Since they tend to play with two safeties deep and blitz fairly often, they end up removing underneath defenders from coverage, allowing quarterbacks to get the ball out quickly, negating the pass rush and resulting in the aforementioned low pressure numbers.

In other words: The Rams are forcing every quarterback to play like Ben Roethlisberger, but they’re not necessarily holding those passer to Roethlisberger-type numbers.

This has particularly hurt the Rams on third and fourth down with six or fewer yards to go, where they’ve given up a conversion on 50% of opponent pass attempts, 22nd in the NFL.

Toughest potential matchup: Packers

Aaron Rodgers is tied for the seventh-quickest average time to throw (2.61 seconds) among 39 qualified quarterbacks, and his passer rating of 118.5 when getting the ball out in under 2.5 seconds is ranked second.

In Week 12, Rodgers went 28-of-45 for 307 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and one sack for zero yards lost in a 36-28 win over the Rams at Lambeau.


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(5) Arizona Cardinals

Offensive Weakness

Man Coverage

The Cardinals are averaging just 6.9 yards per targeted pass against man coverage compared to 9.1 against zone, and their interception rate goes from 1.7% against zone to 2.8% against man.

Playing man coverage against the Cardinals when DeAndre Hopkins was healthy was always tough, because you run the risk of leaving Hopkins singled up and/or having no spy on Kyler Murray while defenders’ backs are turned in coverage.

Without Hopkins, dialing up some man coverage concepts against the Cardinals becomes more worthy of the risk.

Toughest potential matchup: Cowboys

They rank first in defensive passing DVOA and play man coverage at the eighth-highest rate in the league.  Though the Cardinals knocked off the Cowboys 25-22 in Week 17, Murray was held to 6.9 YPA, a full yard below his season average.

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Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images. Pictured: Cardinals QB Kyler Murray

Defensive Weakness

Explosive Runs

Add the Cardinals to the list of playoff teams that struggle in this area. They’ve allowed an explosive run on 14.9% of opponent rushing attempts, the highest rate in the NFL. The Cardinals also rank 31st in second-level yards per carry allowed (1.49) and 27th in open-field yards per carry allowed (0.85), per Football Outsiders.

Toughest potential matchup: Eagles

As I’ve already mentioned, the Eagles rank first in the NFC with 73 explosive runs and a 14.1% explosive rush rate.


(6) San Francisco 49ers

Offensive Weakness

Passing Under Pressure

PFF assigned Jimmy Garoppolo a grade of 29.2 under pressure, worst of 40 qualified quarterbacks. Like all quarterbacks, he becomes less efficient, but the bigger issue is that he also becomes much more turnover-prone.

  • Clean: 9.0 YPA, 1.8% INT%
  • Under pressure: 7.4 YPA, 6.0% INT%

The most damning stat of all, though, is that when under pressure, PFF charts Garoppolo with zero big-time throws — defined as “a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window” — and 14 turnover-worthy plays.

The San Francisco offensive line has done a solid job in protection, ranking 10th in pass-blocking efficiency — a PFF metric that measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed — but when pressure gets through, all bets are off.

Toughest matchup: Cowboys in the Wild Card Round

As previously mentioned, the Cowboys rank first in pass defense DVOA and fourth in pressure rate.

Defensive Weakness

Downfield Passing

Jason Verrett’s ACL tear left the 49ers thin at cornerback, and they’ve struggled with penalties and long completions downfield. The San Francisco defense ranks 31st in DVOA against deep passes, 31st in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers, and 24th in explosive pass rate allowed (9.2%).

The return of Emmanuel Moseley paid immediate dividends last week, as he hauled in a game-sealing interception of Stafford, but 49ers fans will still be holding their breath every time the opposing quarterback goes deep.

Toughest matchup: Cowboys in the Wild Card Round

On paper, it’s the Cardinals, as Kyler Murray is third among 39 qualified passers with a 117.2 passer rating on throws 20-plus yards downfield, according to PFF.

However, with DeAndre Hopkins out, you could make an argument that it’s the Cowboys, as Dak Prescott’s 104.4 rating on deep passes ranks eighth in the league and second among NFC playoff teams.


(7) Philadelphia Eagles

Offensive Weakness

First-Down Passing

On first down, the Eagles are first in the NFL in rushing success rate (58%) but dead last in passing success rate (32%), according to data from Sharp Football Stats.

Committing to the run has served the Eagles well in the regular season, but being so over-reliant on it just to stay ahead of the chains can be problematic in the postseason, where you’re facing higher quality teams that will throw out their best scheme at you on defense and are more likely to force you to score more points than usual on offense.

It is officially prove-it time for Jalen Hurts.

expert-nfl-picks-saints-at-panthers-49ers-at-eagles-more-week-2-spreads-over-unders-to-bet
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images. Pictured: Eagles QB Jalen Hurts

Toughest matchup: Bucs in the Wild Card Round

Not only can the Bucs match the Eagles’ top-rated first-down rush offense with the league’s No. 3 defense in terms of success rate (42%), but the Bucs can also pray on the Eagles’ bottom-ranked first-down passing offense with a defensive unit that ranks eighth in first-down pass success rate allowed (51%), per Sharp Football Stats.

Defensive Weakness

Covering Tight Ends

The Eagles…

  1. Don’t get much pressure: Their 24.0% pressure rate ranks 22nd in the NFL and second-worst among postseason teams;
  2. Rarely blitz: Their 16.4% blitz rate ranks 31st in the NFL and second-worst among playoff teams;
  3. Like to sit back in zone coverage: They play zone at the fifth-highest rate on the season, though they have played a bit more man down the stretch, which is a recipe for disaster against tight ends because they tend not to have blocking responsibilities and can get a free release off the line of scrimmage into their pattern.

The result: The Eagles rank 27th in DVOA against tight ends and are allowing the third-most schedule-adjusted targets per game (8.2) and eighth-most schedule-adjusted receiving yards per game (62.0) to the position, per Football Outsiders.

The Eagles also allowed an NFL-high 14 touchdowns to tight ends.

Toughest matchups: Bucs in Wild Card Round or 49ers later

It’s Gronk or George Kittle — take your pick.


Toughest Matchups For AFC Teams

I dig into deeper detail about what the weaknesses are below, but here’s a quick key of which opponents would pose the toughest matchup for the weaknesses of each AFC team on both sides of the ball.

Units that draw their toughest matchups in the Wild Card Round are highlighted.

Click on a team in the left column to skip ahead
Team Toughest Matchup For Offense Toughest Matchup For Defense
Titans Patriots Bengals
Chiefs Patriots Bills or Bengals
Bills Raiders Titans
Bengals Steelers Chiefs
Raiders Patriots Bills
Patriots Bills Chiefs
Steelers Patriots Titans

(1) Tennessee Titans

Offensive Weakness

Passing Without Playaction

It is well documented that Ryan Tannehill and the Titans pass offense thrives on playaction. His numbers this season bear that out:

  • With playaction: 8.6 YPA
  • Without playaction: 6.4 YPA

The Titans convert at a 26% rate on third- and fourth-and-6 or more yards, which ranks 22nd in the NFL, and they are 25th in DVOA on third- and fourth-down pass attempts.

The Titans gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is huge, as it maximizes their chances of using that edge to build a lead and keep the playaction game in play, as Tannehill’s passer rating drops from 98.7 when leading to 78.7 when trailing.

Toughest potential matchup: Patriots

They rank third in pass-defense DVOA and specialize in forcing opponents away from their strengths thanks to Bill Belichick. Tannehill threw for just 93 yards in a 36-13 loss to the Patriots in Week 12.

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Jim McIsaac/Getty Images. Pictured: Titans QB Ryan Tannehill

Defensive Weakness

Slot Coverage

Elijah Molden allowed a 122.6 passer rating in slot coverage this season, eighth-worst of 43 qualifiers (min. 100 slot coverage snaps), per PFF. Molden allowed 11.8 yards per reception despite a 6.7 average depth of target, primarily due to conceding an alarmingly high 6.5 yards after the catch.

Per Football Outsiders, the Titans rank 29th in DVOA versus non No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers, allowing the most schedule-adjusted receiving yards per game to the position (77.1).

Toughest potential matchup: Bengals

Tyler Boyd edges Hunter Renfrow in yardage out of the slot (748-601) and is more difficult to provide help on than Renfrow since the defense still has to be even more concerned with Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins on the outside.

(Note: I’m not counting Tyreek Hill here, as he plays roughly half of his snaps in the slot but is not Kansas City’s primary slot receiver.)


(2) Kansas City Chiefs

Offensive Weakness

Taking What the Defenses Gives Them

Patrick Mahomes still shows his usual flashes of greatness, but he’s been in his head this season. Watch him play any team but the Raiders, and he doesn’t look comfortable.

Mahomes still shreds the blitz, averaging 9.3 YPA and a 114.4 rating, but he is having trouble when defenses sit back in coverage, dipping to just 7.0 YPA and a 95.5 rating when defenses don’t bring extra rushers.

Over the past four seasons, Mahomes has struggled more and more when defenses force him to take the underneath throws, which can be seen in his decline in passer rating when not blitzed.

  • 2018: 109.0
  • 2019: 103.8
  • 2020: 98.7
  • 2021: 95.5
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Though the Chiefs have gotten unlucky with turnovers this year, the bigger issue is that Mahomes simply isn’t making the big-time throws that we’re used to seeing him make from from a clean pocket.

Here are his big-time throws vs. turnover-worthy plays from a clean pocket over the past four seasons:

  • 2018: 37 BTT, 21 TWP
  • 2019: 32 BTT, 18 TWP
  • 2020: 40 BTT, 21 TWP
  • 2021: 19 BTT, 21 TWP

Defenses have finally started to catch on to the precise locations Mahomes likes to target with his otherworldly arm talent, and they are putting bodies in those places and forcing a lot of empty incompletions and throwaways.

Toughest potential matchup: Patriots

No one is better at making quarterbacks uncomfortable than Belichick. New England not only ranks third in pass-defense DVOA, but also top-two against both No. 1 wide receivers and tight ends, meaning they are as best equipped as a defense can be to limit Hill and Travis Kelce.

Defensive Weakness

Daniel Sorensen in Coverage

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has done a good job limiting Sorensen’s coverage responsibilities as the season has worn on, but he’s still averaging 25.5 coverage snaps over the past eight games, according to PFF.

Those snaps generally haven’t been pretty: Sorensen allowed 30 completions on 41 targets for 521 yards and five touchdowns. His catch rate allowed clocks in at 73.2% , and his yards per reception allowed stands at 17.4.

Despite six Chiefs defenders being targeted more than him on the season, Sorensen has allowed the second-most yards and most touchdowns in coverage.

Toughest potential matchup: Bills or Bengals

Both teams have enough weapons in the passing game to get the matchup they want on Sorensen. He allowed 114 yards and a touchdown in Week 5 to the Bills and 86 yards in a touchdown in Week 17 to the Bengals — both of which were Chiefs losses.


(3) Buffalo Bills

Offensive Weakness

Picking Up Tough Yards On the Ground

The Bills are 25th in the league in conversion rate on third and fourth downs with three or fewer yards to go, converting 22-of-37 (59.5%) times, according to Sharp Football Stats. And if we isolate just the running backs, they are converting just 33% of the time (5-of-15), second-worst.

The league average quarterback converts 80% of these plays, but Josh Allen — despite his rushing prowess — is converting just 76% of the time, which is 4% below the league average.

The inability for the running backs to pick up tough yards coupled with the predictability of Allen keepers could end up costing the Bills an important possession or two in a playoff game.

Toughest potential matchup: Raiders

They rank first on defense with a 56% conversion rate allowed on third- or fourth-and-3 or fewer yards.

Defensive Weakness

Run Defense in Nickel

The Bills like to keep three cornerbacks on the field because nickel corner Taron Johnson is one of their better defensive players. But Johnson, while strong in coverage, has a small frame (5-foot-11, 192 pounds) and is unsurprisingly weak against the run.

In fact, Johnson is one of four players in the secondary who has been a liability in run support:

  • CB Taron Johnson: 45.5 PFF run defense grade, 98th of 108 CBs
  • S Jordan Poyer: 50.7 PFF run defense grade, 79th of 86 safeties
  • CB Levi Wallace: 51.6 PFF run defense grade, 83rd of 108 CBs
  • S Michah Hyde: 56.2 PFF run defense grade, 68th of 86 safeties

Buffalo has allowed 29 explosive runs on first down, tied for seventh-most, and it is 31st in open field yards per carry (0.98), per Football Outsiders.

Toughest potential matchup: Titans

The Patriots have the best rush offense DVOA ranking (seventh) of all AFC playoff teams, but the Titans would be a nightmare if Derrick Henry is back. Henry ran 20 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo in a 34-31 Titans win in Week 6.



(4) Cincinnati Bengals

Offensive Weakness

Right Tackle

Starting right tackle Riley Reiff is on IR with an ankle injury, thrusting third-year man Isaiah Prince into the role. Prince has struggled mightily, ranking 72nd of 85 qualified tackles with a 58.0 grade at PFF.

Reiff allowed 21 pressures and four sacks in 396 pass blocking opportunities, and despite barely half as many opportunities (208), Prince has coughed up nearly as many pressures (18) and sacks (3).

Joe Burrow also doesn’t get much help inside from rookie Jackson Carman at right guard, who has earned a PFF grade of just 53.0 in pass blocking, 60th of 82 qualified guards.

Toughest potential matchup: Steelers

This has to go to the Steelers, because First-Team All-Pro T.J. Watt lines up on Prince’s side, but an honorable mention goes to the Raiders due to Maxx Crosby, who has played out of his mind this season, leading the league with 101 pressures  — 15 more than second-place Aaron Donald .

Defense: Downfield Passes

Just as the Bengals give opponents trouble with downfield throws on offense, they’ve also had trouble containing them on defense. Cincinnati ranks 25th in deep-passing DVOA and 29th in explosive pass rate allowed (9.8%).

The Bengals have also allowed the air yards on completions of any team in playoffs (2,470).

Toughest potential matchup: Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes’ 113.3 passer rating on passes 20-plus yards downfield ranks fifth in the NFL and tops among AFC playoff quarterbacks.


(5) Las Vegas Raiders

Offensive Weakness

Situational Football

“Situational football” sounds like a cliche, but what is generally refers to is specific game situations teams have special plays for, such as on third down or in the red-zone. If the Raiders have been practicing these situations, it hasn’t paid off, as they have the worst third-down conversion rate (37.4%) and worst red-zone conversion rate (51.7%) of any team in the playoffs.

The silver (and black) lining: The Raiders are good on early downs, ranking fourth in success rate (54%), which tends to be more predictive going forward.

Toughest potential matchup: Patriots

They’re fifth in third-down conversion rate allowed (36.5%) and second in red-zone conversion rate allowed (47.9%).

Honorable mention goes to the Bills, who rank first in third-down conversion rate allowed (30.8%) and sixth in red-zone conversion rate allowed (51.1%), though you would expect those figures to rise with top cornerback Tre’Davious White on IR with an ACL injury.

nfl-odds-picks-predictions-raiders-broncos-spread-first-half-under-expert-bets-late-sunday-week-16-2
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images. Pictured: Raiders QB Derek Carr

Defensive Weakness

Red-Zone Defense

It’s interesting that the Raiders are a sweetheart team that made the playoffs with an interim head coach, but they struggle most in areas coaches generally have the greatest effect on. The Raiders’ 81.4% red-zone conversion rate allowed is by far the worst rate in the NFL. Again, there is a positive, though: Vegas’ 43 red-zone trips allowed are tied for fewest in the league.

Toughest potential matchup: Bills

They led the NFL with 77 red-zone trips and 48 red-zone touchdowns during the regular season.


(6) New England Patriots

Offensive Weakness

Going on the Road

The Patriots average 31.2 points per game at home but 22.6 on the road. Their -8.8 difference between home and road scoring average is the second-highest in the NFL behind the Cowboys (-9.8), but the Cowboys are still sixth in road points per game (26.6).

At home, New England is second in offensive DVOA but just 23rd on the road, which is the largest gap in the NFL. Strength of schedule doesn’t explain it, as DVOA is schedule-adjusted. It’s also not like the Patriots have a weak offensive line.

Perhaps we can chalk it up to rookie quarterbacks struggle on the road, as Mac Jones’ passer rating drops from 97.5 at home to 85.4 on the road while his adjusted yards per attempt go from 7.39 at home to 6.49 as a visitor.

Toughest matchup: Bills in Wild Card Round

They lead the NFL in defensive DVOA and fewest points per game allowed (16.6) at home.

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Defensive Weakness

Covering Running Backs

The Patriots rank top-five in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers (second), No. 2 wide receivers (fourth), non-No. 1/2 wide receivers (fifth), and tight ends (first), but they are just 29th against running backs. New England has allowed 51.5 schedule-adjusted receiving yards per game to opposing running backs, fourth-most.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy has been excellent in coverage, ranking first among linebackers with an 84.2 PFF coverage grade, but fellow linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Don’ta Hightower have been a different story, combining to allow 60 completions on 76 targets for 555 yards.

Toughest potential matchup: Chiefs

Not many coaches rival Andy Reid when it comes to scheming his running backs open in the passing game, and the Chiefs were fourth in backfield receiving yards (824) and tied for sixth in backfield receiving touchdowns (5) this year.

The Raiders were second in backfield receiving yards (869), but a big chunk of those came from Kenyan Drake, who was fourth among running backs in receiving DVOA but is currently on IR with an ankle injury.


(7) Pittsburgh Steelers

Offensive Weakness

Downfield Passing

Ben Roethlisberger should have retired in after Week 14. Up until then, he was just plain bad. Since, he’s been throwing whiffle balls.

  • Weeks 1-14: 7.3 aDOT, 6.3 YPA, 10.3 Yd/Cmp
  • Weeks 15-18: 6.0 aDOT, 4.5 YPA, 7.2 Yd/Cmp

Unsurprisingly, the Steelers are 29th in explosive pass rate on the season (6.0%) and dead last over the last four weeks (0.8%), per Sharp Football Stats. Big Ben isn’t even pretending to look deep: According to PFF, his average time to throw of 2.26 seconds is quickest in the NFL.

Toughest potential matchup: Patriots

They rank third in defensive passing DVOA overall and second on short passes.

Defensive Weakness

Stopping the Run

The Steelers are the classic run-funnel defense: They rank eighth in DVOA against the pass, but 27th versus the run. The Pittsburgh run D has been shredded for the most yards per carry (5.0) and per game (146.1) in the NFL.

Tackling has been an issue, as Pittsburgh’s 125 missed tackles are fourth-most in the league, according to data from Pro Football Reference.

Toughest potential matchup: Titans

They rank fifth in the league with 141.4 rushing yards per game. They hung 201 rushing yards on the Steelers in Week 15, but lost due to self-inflicted errors, as they turned the ball over four times in a narrow 19-13 defeat.

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