Week 8 NFL Matchup Manifesto: Eagles-Jaguars Could Be a Defensive Slugfest

Oct 24, 2018 7:40 PM EDT
  • Week 8 features four notably explosive matchups: Broncos-Chiefs, Packers-Rams, Saints-Vikings and Buccaneers-Bengals.
  • Eagles-Jaguars, 49ers-Cardinals and Packers-Rams will feature dominant defensive lines on both sides of each matchup.
  • Chris Carson, Marlon Mack, Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara and James White/Kenjon Barner should have success on the ground.

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 quarterback.

Despite the obvious impact that defenses have on opposing offenses, fantasy players are often left with one-way metrics to describe offenses and defenses that we’re then forced to compare against each other in an attempt to identify mismatches.

My goal is to provide easy-to-decipher charts and notes to identify each week’s key matchups on both sides of the ball in:

  • Explosive Plays
  • Pace
  • Pressure
  • Trench Battles
  • Turnover Margin
  • Passing Game

Last week’s manifesto helped us correctly forecast the Cardinals’ and 49ers’ offensive-line issues, the Colts’ comfortable home matchup against the Bills, and big rushing days from the Lions, Dolphins and Rams.

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.

Note that this data is based on what has happened in Weeks 1-7, so it’s a small sample size and doesn’t fully factor in new injuries.

Explosive Plays

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).

  • The Chiefs, Broncos, Rams and Saints boast the week’s best advantages in the explosive pass game. The Chiefs and Vikings join the Chargers (on bye) as the league’s only defenses that have allowed at least 30 passes of 20 or more yards.
  • The Eagles, Patriots and Bills are expected to have the most problems creating big plays through the air. The Dolphins, Giants, Panthers and Cardinals aren’t set up particularly well, either.
  • Eagles-Jaguars, 49ers-Cardinals, Patriots-Bills and Browns-Steelers are the week’s least-explosive combined pass-game matchups.
  • The Chiefs, Bengals and Bears are best positioned to create big plays on the ground against the Broncos, Bucs and Jets, respectively. The Chiefs and Bengals boast workhorse running backs, while the Bears have a backfield committee.
  • The Saints and Cardinals could have trouble ripping off huge runs against the Vikings and 49ers, respectively.

Pace

Fast-paced games lead to more plays which lead to more points. There are several games that could resemble a track meet based on their combined situation-neutral pace ranking (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 Broncos (No. 10) and Chiefs (No. 5) form the week’s only matchup featuring two top-10 offenses in situation-neutral pace rank.
  • Buccaneers-Bengals, Colts-Raiders and Ravens-Panthers are the week’s next-fastest paced matchups.
  • The Redskins (No. 31) and Giants (No. 25) form the week’s slowest overall matchup in combined situation-neutral pace.
  • Seahawks-Lions and Jets-Bears also figure to be fairly slow-paced affairs.

Pressure

An overmatched offensive line can result in poor fantasy days for all skill-position players involved. Meanwhile, quarterbacks with all day to throw can help generate points in bunches. We can determine which offensive lines might be especially better (or worse) off 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, while a lower percentage (green) indicates that matchup’s quarterback could face reduced pressure.

  • Quarterbacks expected to be under the most duress this week include Blake Bortles, Josh Rosen, Carson Wentz, Eli Manning and Derek Anderson. Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers aren’t in good situations, either.
  • Ben Roethlisberger, Derek Carr, Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton figure to have the most time to throw.
  • The Colts-Raiders matchup stands out as the week’s only game featuring two defenses that shouldn’t be able to get after the opposition’s quarterback frequently.
  • The Eagles-Jaguars, 49ers-Cardinals and Packers-Rams matchups feature defensive lines on both sides of the ball that are expected to give the opposing offensive lines problems.
  • The Browns’ offensive line hasn’t allowed a ton of pressure this season, but it has given up a league-high 31 sacks regardless. The Steelers defense at home might as well be a cheat code at $2,300 on DraftKings.

Trench Battles

Running backs 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 which offensive lines 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 running backs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble running the ball.

  • The Broncos and Rams should both boast massive advantages at the point of attack when trying to run the ball. Be sure to monitor our Week 8 Injury Report to see whether Royce Freeman (ankle) is ultimately able to suit up for Denver.
  • Chris Carson, Marlon Mack, Mark Ingram/Alvin Kamara and James White/Kenjon Barner also appear to be set up for success on the ground.
  • Offenses that could have the most trouble consistently running the ball this week include the Jaguars, Bengals, Ravens and Cardinals. The Vikings should have an especially hard time against the Saints’ second-ranked defense in Football Outsiders’ rush DVOA.
  • The chart above offers more evidence to the notion that neither defense should be able to stop either offense in Broncos-Chiefs or Packers-Rams.

Turnovers

Matchups between two careless teams are obviously of interest when it comes to targeting fantasy defenses. Crafting a turnover differential for each individual matchup between an offense and defense can help identify when turnover-prone offenses are taking on ball-hawking defenses.

  • Combined Turnover Rate: The sum of the offense’s turnover rate and the opposing defense’s takeaway rate. A higher percentage (red) is better for defenses, while a lower percentage (green) is better for offenses and indicates the absence of a turnover-prone offense or takeaway-happy defense.

  • The Jets and Bills are (unsurprisingly) two of the week’s best bets to destroy themselves with untimely turnovers.
  • The Eagles, Redskins, Seahawks, Panthers and Vikings have done a good job taking care of the ball this season and don’t enter particularly lethal matchups featuring takeaway-heavy defenses.
  • The Dolphins-Texans, Jets-Bears, 49ers-Cardinals and Patriots-Bills matchups could feature an abundance of sloppy football. None have an over/under higher than 45 points.
  • The Ravens-Panthers and Saints-Vikings matchups stand out as games featuring offenses that have largely managed to avoid turnovers this season.

Passing Game

One of my amazing Twitter followers suggested an addition to the manifesto that would identify mismatches in the passing game. 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 quarterback’s sack yards from their passing yards, then dividing that number by the sum of the quarterback’s pass attempts and sacks taken. A higher number (green) is good for quarterbacks and receivers, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s pass offense could be in trouble.

  • The Bucs and Rams are set up for success through the air, with the Texans, Chiefs, Bengals, Colts, Vikings and Saints also holding distinct advantages in the passing game.
  • The Eagles, Browns, Panthers, Cardinals and Bills are the week’s most overmatched pass offenses.
  • Broncos-Chiefs, Packers-Rams, Saints-Vikings and Buccaneers-Bengals all offer game stack appeal with pass offenses on either side of each matchup set up for aerial success. These are four of the week’s five games with an over/under of 50-plus points (see live odds here).
  • Those four are the week’s only matchups featuring multiple more-than-competent passing attacks.
  • There might not be much success in the passing game in the Eagles-Jaguars, Ravens-Panthers, 49ers-Cardinals or Patriots-Bills matchups.
Credit:

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Jalen Ramsey, Fletcher Cox

Follow Ian Hartitz on Twitter
@IHartitz

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