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NFL Funnel Defense Ratings: Falcons Receivers to Feast on Saints Secondary on Thanksgiving Day

Nov 22, 2018 9:25 PM EST
  • Funnel defenses are successful at defending either the run or the pass, but not both.
  • Ryan Collinsworth explains how to leverage Week 12 ratings of these defenses in fantasy football and betting.

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

These 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 a brief recap, then dig into the Week 12 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.


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 metric 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 produces weekly matchup-based ratings for each NFL team.

Week 12 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 an opportunity for a potential shootout.

Consider rostering or stacking players from these high-volume games in DFS, and also consider taking the over on games toward the top of this list.

Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints

This Thanksgiving Day matchup features the highest Vegas total (60) and Combined Pass Funnel Rating (78.63) in Week 12. It is also a rematch from one of the most exciting offensive shootouts in this season. When these two teams met in Atlanta in Week 3, they scored a combined 80 points, and the Saints prevailed 43-37.

The Falcons will seek revenge on the road against the Saints, and Atlanta’s offense has the firepower to contend in this rematch. The Falcons rank third in passing yards per game (314.6) and fourth in Offensive Pass Rate (65.9%). Meanwhile, the Saints have allowed on average the fourth-most fantasy points (24.4) to quarterbacks and most fantasy points (30.8) to wide receivers per game this season.

In Week 3, Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley broke onto the NFL scene with a colossal seven-catch, 146-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Saints. Julio Jones has also scored a touchdown in three consecutive games.

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11).

Both Falcons receivers offer elite fantasy potential against the soft New Orleans secondary. Jones is our consensus No. 2 wide receiver for Week 12 and boasts top-five median, ceiling, and floor projections.

Saints playmaker Michael Thomas is the only receiver with better projections than Jones this week. He is our consensus No. 1 fantasy wide receiver and boasts the top median and ceiling projections among wide receivers in Week 12. Thomas and quarterback Drew Brees should have little difficulty running it up against the Falcons’ 32nd-ranked defense according to Football Outsiders.

This game also sets up well for the Saints’ running back duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram. The Falcons have conceded on average the most targets (10.1), most receptions (8.5), and second-most receiving yards (67.2) per game to running backs this season.

In the Saints’ Week 3 matchup against the Falcons, Kamara saw a whopping 20 passing targets, snaring 15 of them for 124 receiving yards. He scored 34.0 PPR fantasy points without scoring a single touchdown in the game.

Despite their strong Pass Funnel Rating in this game, the Saints could still conceivably draw up a run-heavy game plan. New Orleans ranks eighth in run offense DVOA, and the Falcons rank 31st in run defense DVOA. The Saints also rank 30th in Offensive Pass Rate (52.8%) and have maintained a strong commitment to a balanced offense.

As home favorites, the Saints could very easily lean on their running game, especially if they establish an early-game lead. Nonetheless, Atlanta ranks poorly in both run defense and pass defense against running backs, which means Kamara and Ingram should be able to produce in any potential game script.

Strongly consider stacking this game in DFS contests with Falcons receivers and Saints running backs.


Potential Run Funnels

Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills

The Jaguars draw a challenging matchup against a Bills secondary that ranks first in pass defense DVOA. Jacksonville prefers a run-heavy offensive game plan, and this particular matchup reinforces that preference.

Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will likely feed Leonard Fournette as many carries as he can handle. The Bills have an excellent run defense, but they are still allowing the 12th-most fantasy points per game (19.6) to running backs this season.

Buffalo’s offense generates the second-fewest yards per drive (21.7). When an offense cannot sustain offensive drives, it forces the defense to contend against extra possessions — usually with poor field position. That enables opposing offenses to rack up big yardage totals, which bodes well for Fournette’s fantasy upside.

Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27).

It’s also worth emphasizing just how much Fournette means to Jacksonville. In six games without Fournette this season due to injury, the Jaguars have averaged 19.5 rush attempts and 82.8 rushing yards per game as a team. But, in four games with Fournette, they’ve averaged 34.8 rush attempts and 133.3 rushing yards per game.

That increase in rushing volume is massive. Interestingly, however, it is not due to Fournette’s efficiency. He averages just 3.0 yards per carry this season — one of the worst marks in the NFL. Despite this inefficiency, the Jaguars coaching staff values Fournette enough to warrant a significant uptick in rushing plays per game.

Fournette is our consensus No. 9 running back for Week 12 and boasts top-10 median, ceiling, and floor projections against the Bills.

Buffalo is also in a strong Run Funnel matchup, due in large part to coaching style. The Bills rank seventh in Offensive Run Rate despite a lowly 29th ranking in rush offense DVOA. They’re not particularly good at running the football, but they insist on doing so.

Still, this is a less-than-ideal matchup for running back LeSean McCoy. Buffalo ranks dead-last in points per game (13.7), which stifles McCoy’s scoring upside. He has scored just two touchdowns all season, both of which came in the Bills’ 41-10 thrashing of the Jets in Week 10.

The Jaguars defense also ranks eighth in run defense DVOA, fifth in adjusted line yards allowed (3.87), and third in pass defense DVOA against running backs.

Despite the Bills’ strong Run Funnel Rating, this is not a great spot for Shady. Instead, view Buffalo’s Run Funnel Rating as an excuse to avoid the Bills’ passing game in DFS contests (as if you needed any excuses to fade the Bills).


Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals

Believe it or not, the Browns rank fifth in rushing yards per game (133.2), and they continue to trend upward in that category. Before trading Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars, Cleveland ranked 10th in rushing yards per game (123.6) and 18th in rushing yards per attempt (4.2).

In five games with Nick Chubb as the Browns’ feature back, Cleveland has averaged 142.8 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per attempt, both of which would rank in the top-two in the NFL if sustained for the entire season.

We should start viewing the Browns as one of the top rushing teams in the league — and project Chubb accordingly.

Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Nick Chubb

He boasts top-10 median and floor projections among running backs for Week 12 and is our consensus No. 12 running back. He’ll get to tee off against a truly bad Bengals run defense this week.

Cincinnati ranks 31st in adjusted line yards allowed (5.08), conceding on average the fourth-most rushing yards per game (120.6) to running backs this season. They also lead all teams with 26.2 fantasy points per game allowed to running backs.

On the other sideline, the Bengals’ Joe Mixon is also in a phenomenal rushing matchup. The Browns have the strongest Run Funnel Defense in the NFL and allow on average the sixth-most fantasy points (23.4), seventh-most rushing yards (110.5), second-most rushing touchdowns (1.2), and seventh-most receiving yards (53.8) per game to running baks.

Despite inconsistent usage this season, Mixon still ranks tied for 10th among running backs in PPR points per game (17.0). He’s coming off a miserable 12-14-1 rushing performance against the Ravens and may go slightly overlooked this week with players like Kamara and Saquon Barkley in excellent matchups.

His DraftKings salary has dropped $500 this month, which may present added fantasy value to complement his matchup advantage. He is our consensus No. 10 running back for Week 12 and boasts top-10 median, ceiling, and floor projections among running backs.

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