NFL Funnel Defense Ratings: Kareem Hunt and James White Primed to Feast in Week 8

NFL Funnel Defense Ratings: Kareem Hunt and James White Primed to Feast in Week 8 article feature image

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Kareem Hunt, James White

  • Funnel defenses are successful at defending either the run or the pass, but not both.
  • Ryan Collinsworth explains how to leverage Week 8 ratings of these defenses in fantasy football and betting.
  • Kareem Hunt and James White are in smash spots against run funnel defenses while Saints-Vikings features two pass funnels.

Action Network senior editor Bryan Mears introduced the funnel defense metric last season, and after a brief hiatus, it’s making its glorious return.

The following ratings use advanced data to analyze situations in which teams are more likely to pass or run than they usually do. For a comprehensive explanation of how Bryan developed this metric, check out his take here.

Let’s start with an abbreviated version then dig into the Week 8 ratings and how to leverage them.

Funnel Defense Explained

Funnel defenses are successful at defending either the run or the pass, but not both. Strong funnel defenses are so good against either the run or the pass that they tend to “funnel” offensive play-calling toward their complementary weakness.

It’s a simple concept: Why try to throw all over the Broncos’ “No Fly Zone” secondary? Why not employ a run-heavy scheme instead? In fact, that is what offenses have done in recent seasons, and the Denver defense is notorious for funneling offensive production toward the running game.

This trend holds true in 2018. The Broncos boast the strongest Run Funnel Defense through Week 7.

Measuring the Strength of a Funnel Defense

Using data to quantify the strength of a defensive funnel is complex. We must weigh several factors simultaneously:

  1. How good is a defense versus the running game and passing game? We employ Football Outsiders’ DVOA to measure this.
  2. What is the difference between DVOA production defending the run versus the pass? If the differential is great, it would imply the probability of a funnel.
  3. How good is an offense in the running game and passing game? We can use DVOA here as well.
  4. What is the difference between offensive DVOA production?
  5. What are the offense’s typical run/pass splits?

Our metric weighs each of these statistical factors and can produce weekly matchup-based ratings for each NFL team.

How to Use Funnel Defense Ratings

These ratings are designed to help predict run/pass percentages in a given matchup. They do not incorporate Vegas lines or totals. The metric assumes a neutral field, spread and game script.

Of course, some teams simply refuse to funnel production to either part of their offense. Some offensive play-callers might not recognize a defense’s weaknesses; or worse, some play-callers might stalwartly run or pass right into the teeth of a defense’s strength. Simply put: Some coaches are savvy, others suck at coaching football.

For these reasons, these ratings should be used in conjunction with other factors, including Vegas trends, coaching tendencies and statistical modeling. Nonetheless, they provide valuable insight into potential game script that can aid you in player projections, betting and DFS lineup construction.

Without further ado, here are our Week 8 Funnel Ratings:

Week 8 Funnel Ratings

Check out our live odds page for the latest lines, spreads, totals and betting percentages.

Potential Shootout Games

By averaging the Pass Funnel ratings for both teams in a given matchup, we can more easily identify games that could favor a passing-game script on both sides. Heavy passing volume presents opportunity for a potential shootout.

Consider rostering or stacking players from these high-volume games in DFS, and also consider taking the over on these matchups.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings

The Saints and Vikings boast top-end Pass Funnel ratings this week, which could result in offensive fireworks for both teams. The Saints’ defense is No. 1 Pass Funnel and No. 32 in Run Funnel, while the Vikings’ offense boasts the slate’s highest Pass Funnel Rating (94.35).

This combination could lead to big performances from Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

Based on FantasyLabs’ matchups tool, Thielen is projected to draw shadow coverage from All-Pro Marshon Lattimore, which could mitigate the receiver’s fantasy upside. Meanwhile, Diggs draws excellent matchups against either Ken Crawley or newly acquired Eli Apple.

Diggs has earned more targets than Thielen in three of the past four weeks and is among Ian Hartitz’s top fantasy football trade targets for Week 8.

Diggs is $2,000 cheaper than Thielen on DraftKings, offering both value and upside as a natural in-game pivot option. Additionally, Kirk Cousins offers top-five median and ceiling projections among quarterbacks. At only $5,900 on DraftKings, Cousins is another alluring value option for the Minnesota offense.

New Orleans also draws an excellent passing matchup in this game and could heavily feature rookie Tre’Quan Smith ($4,000 on DraftKings) starting for the injured Ted Ginn Jr. Smith out-snapped veteran Cameron Meredith 53 to 18 last week and offers immense upside as the Saints’ No. 2 wide receiver.

Michael Thomas could draw shadow coverage from Xavier Rhodes, which would further elevate Smith’s target market share in the dynamic Saints’ offense.

Potential Run Funnels

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

The Patriots are two-touchdown road favorites against the Bills, and this game shapes up to be a grind-fest on the ground.

The Bills will once again start Derek Anderson for the injured Josh Allen. They could also be without running back LeSean McCoy who is questionable with a concussion. Bereft of offensive playmakers, the Bills could attempt to control the clock by feeding Chris Ivory ($4,400 on DraftKings) as many carries as he can handle.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are dealing with injuries to Sony Michel (knee) and Rob Gronkowski (ankle). The Bills’ defense is one of the top run funnels in the NFL, due in part to shutdown cornerback Tre’Davious White.

With the Patriots heavily favored in this contest, they could opt for a conservative offensive game plan featuring James White ($7,200 on DraftKings) and Kenjon Barner ($3,500 on DraftKings) in the running game.

However, the Patriots could instead opt for an artificial run game by employing a short-yardage passing attack. Either way, White should benefit greatly from a combination of increased rushing usage and receiving targets, making him a high-upside target in DFS.

White is the No. 4 RB in our Week 8 PPR rankings and boasts the fourth-highest median projection at the position.

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs

Both teams boast strong defensive run funnels. The Broncos are 10-point road underdogs and could be without Royce Freeman (ankle) who is questionable.

The Chiefs have been perhaps the most impressive offensive team this season, and I don’t like the Broncos’ odds to cover here. Even though our ratings project a strong run funnel for Denver, the Broncos could be hard-pressed to execute a run-heavy game plan while playing from behind on the road.

However, there are tantalizing fantasy implications for Kansas City. The Chiefs should not drastically restrict Patrick Mahomes ($7,000 on DraftKings) as part of their game plan. When you have Mahomes’ arm strength combined with the elite speed and playmaking of Tyreek Hill ($8,600 on DraftKings), you don’t abandon the passing game.

Still, Denver’s commitment to defending the pass at all costs could produce a lot of Cover 3 looks, with the Broncos relying on Von Miller and Bradley Chubb to apply pressure with a three- or four-man pass rush. This (in theory) would leave the flats vacant, which greatly benefits Kareem Hunt and Travis Kelce.

Hunt is particularly alluring in this spot with the Broncos boasting the strongest run funnel in the NFL.

In addition to heavy rushing usage, Hunt could also see elevated targets out of the backfield due to Hill’s constant threat as a deep-field burner. Hunt is tied for the No. 5 running back in our PPR rankings this week and could be in a smash spot against the Broncos at home.

At only $7,100 on DraftKings, Hunt is a fantastic pivot away from Todd Gurley ($9,800 on DraftKings) or Saquon Barkley ($8,800 on DraftKings).