Divisional Round Matchup Manifesto: Aaron Donald & Patrick Mahomes Primed for Big Games, More


USA Today Sports. Pictured: Aaron Donald, Patrick Mahomes

Jan 12, 2019, 12:10 AM EST
  • Patrick Mahomes is set up for success in the Colts-Chiefs matchup while Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald will wreak havoc on the Cowboys.
  • Below are various matchup-based advantages and disadvantages to leverage in the four Divisional Round games.

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 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 identify key matchups on both sides of the ball in:

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

Our Wild Card Round manifesto accurately forecasted an underwhelming performance for Lamar Jackson, a solid rushing day for Ezekiel Elliott as well as an uber-efficient passing performance from Andrew Luck.

The following charts have matchup-specific information meant to highlight the largest mismatches in these ever-important facets of football to ultimately gain actionable betting and fantasy takeaways for the four Divisional Round matchups.

Note: This data is based on games from Weeks 1-17.

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).

  • There are fairly distinct tiers in terms of how explosive each team’s pass offense has been this season.

  • Surprisingly, Dak Prescott’s deep-ball ability hasn’t taken a massive leap forward since the addition of Amari Cooper. Prescott posted a 36% completion rate while averaging 14 yards per attempt with a 114.8 quarterback rating on deep passes (20-plus yards downfield) between Weeks 1 and 7 compared to 35% with 13.7 yards per attempt and a 111.8 rating since.
  • The high-powered offenses of the Chiefs, Rams, Chargers and Saints are all set up well, although it’s hard to not be especially infatuated with Patrick Mahomes and a Kansas City offense implied to score a slate-high 31 points.
  • The Colts utilized zone coverage at a league-high rate during the regular season. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce averaged respective 4.8-91.4-0.8 and 5.4-56.2-0 lines in five matchups against defenses that ran zone at a top-eight rate this season.
  • The Colts are certainly on a roll, but Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton have negative outdoor splits and face a Chiefs defense that has allowed 6.3 fewer points per game at Arrowhead Stadium in the Andy Reid era.
  • Jared Goff and the Rams might be better off attacking the Cowboys’ secondary than running the ball with a banged-up Todd Gurley. Overall, the Cowboys’ pass-funnel defense ranks fifth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA against the run compared to 16th against the pass.
  • The Chargers don’t have the easiest matchups on the outside against a Patriots defense that boasts three of Pro Football Focus’ top-30 cornerbacks in Stephon Gilmore (No. 1), Jason McCourty (5) and J.C. Jackson (27).
  • Nick Foles and the Eagles could find the most success by feeding Golden Tate, who is set up brilliantly in the slot against consistent liability, P.J. Williams — PFF’s No. 110 cornerback out of 121 qualified corners.
  • Allen Robinson eviscerated Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox for a 10-143-1 line in the wild-card round with a ton of help from double-moves. This is a skill Michael Thomas has quite literally been burning corners with for the past half decade.

  • Damien Williams and Ezekiel Elliott are best positioned to create big plays on the ground as the No. 2 and No. 4 respective rated running backs in Adam Levitan’s Pro Model.
  • Melvin Gordon (knee) and Austin Ekeler are also set up well against the Patriots’ slow-moving group of linebackers. Be sure to monitor our Divisional Round Injury Report for Gordon’s daily practice participation along with his estimated and official game status. He’s presently expected to suit up.
  • The Colts, Cowboys, Patriots and Eagles aren’t expected to find many holes on the ground, although their respective rates wouldn’t be considered that terrible in an average week featuring more than four games.


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).

Top Offers

Odds Boosts
See More >
Odds boosts are simply regular bets offered at enticing odds. They're available to everyone and there's no limit to how many you can bet.
Sportsbook Reviews
See More >
Discover the best online sports betting sites and take advantage of bonus offers from legal sportsbooks.
Expert Picks
See More >
See what plays the Action Network experts are making for all of today's games.
PRO Membership
See More >
Access betting systems and signals to get daily, actionable picks.
Download the App
See More >
Download the Action app to track all your bets in one place. Exclusive data helped you make smarter betting decisions.
See More >
The best sports betting newsletter with trends, insights and news - condensed in a two-minute read.
Live Odds
See More >
See live odds and the best lines for every game.

Follow Us On Social

Top Stories