Week 17 NFL Matchup Manifesto: Patrick Mahomes, C.J. Anderson Poised for End-of-Season Success
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15).
- Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes has one of the most favorable matchups of Week 17 against the Raiders.
- Rams RB C.J. Anderson can follow up a monster performance from Week 16 if Todd Gurley sits out vs. the 49ers on Sunday.
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 each week’s key matchups on both sides of the ball in:
- Explosive Plays
- Trench Battles
- Turnover Margin
- Passing Game
Last week’s manifesto correctly forecasted underwhelming performances for Lamar Jackson and Ryan Tannehill, solid rushing days for Chris Carson and Christian McCaffrey as well as uber-efficient passing performances from Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.
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: This data is based on games from Weeks 1-16.
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’ league-best offense in explosive pass play rate easily has the week’s best matchup against the Raiders’ league-worst defense in explosive pass play rate allowed.
- Additional pass offenses that are set up exceptionally well to create big plays through the air include the Saints, Chargers and 49ers.
- Of course, the Saints don’t have much to play for at this point and could rest their starters against the Panthers. You can check out the level of motivation for each team in Week 17 here.
- 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan won’t have Matt Breida (knee) or Dante Pettis (knee) at his disposal, so expect a healthy diet of targets for No. 1 receiver George Kittle.
Kyle Shanahan is going to do everything in his power to get George Kittle (1,228 receiving yards) the single-season record for yards by a tight end in Week 17, which was set by Rob Gronkowski (1,327) in 2011. https://t.co/IkcLobjlIV
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 24, 2018
- Matchups featuring offenses on both sidelines that are set up well to complete long passes include the Raiders-Chiefs, 49ers-Rams and Bengals-Steelers.
- Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins and Lamar Jackson stand out as the quarterbacks who could have the most trouble creating big plays through the air this week.
- Cousins’ matchup would obviously improve if the Bears choose to rest their starters, but Chicago’s league-best defense in overall DVOA is dealing with injuries to both stud slot corner Bryce Callahan (foot, IR) and PFF’s No. 1 overall safety Eddie Jackson (ankle).
- Be sure to monitor our Week 17 Injury Report for daily practice participation along with estimated and official statuses for every fantasy-relevant player.
- Additional offenses that aren’t set up all that well to create big plays include the Browns, Colts and Titans.
- Matchups featuring multiple offenses that could struggle to make explosive plays through the air include Cowboys-Giants, Jaguars-Texans, Bears-Vikings, Browns-Ravens, Cardinals-Seahawks and Colts-Titans.
- The likes of Tevin Coleman (groin), Sony Michel, Melvin Gordon and Damien Williams stand out as the running backs with the best matchups to bust off big runs in Week 17.
- Running backs that aren’t set up as well include Leonard Fournette, Josh Adams/Darren Sproles, and Marlon Mack.
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 week’s fastest-paced matchup feature the Falcons (No. 8 in situation neutral pace) and Buccaneers (No. 4), the 49ers (No. 12) and the Rams (No. 3) along with the Colts (No. 1) and Titans (No. 24).
- Additional matchups that could more-closely resemble track meets than football games include Jets-Patriots, Chargers-Broncos, Browns-Ravens and Bengals-Steelers.
- Week 17’s slowest-paced matchup pits the Eagles (No. 28) against the Redskins (No. 32).
- Other matchups featuring multiple slow-moving offenses include Dolphins-Bills, Cowboys-Giants, Panthers-Saints, Lions-Packers, Bears-Vikings and Cardinals-Seahawks.
- None of these matchups are expected to be particularly high-scoring affairs, as each has an over/under of fewer than 45 points as of Wednesday afternoon (per our Live NFL Odds Page).
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) 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.
- Deshaun Watson is the quarterback most-likely to face overwhelming pressure all afternoon. He’s been pressured on a league-high 44% of his dropbacks this season, but the Texans’ franchise quarterback has largely overcome this adversity all season long.
- Additional quarterbacks who aren’t expected to throw from clean pockets this week include Ryan Tannehill, Josh Allen, Josh Johnson, Kirk Cousins Nick Mullens and Josh Rosen.
- Matchups featuring competent pass rushes on both sidelines include Dolphins-Bills, Eagles-Redskins, Bears-Vikings, 49ers-Rams and Cardinals-Seahawks.
- Patrick Mahomes and Ben Roethlisberger stand out as quarterbacks who shouldn’t have to deal with much pressure this week.
- Additional quarterbacks who should have plenty of clean pockets to throw from include Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston, Drew Brees (if he starts), Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Lamar Jackson and Andrew Luck.
- Matchups that aren’t expected to feature much of a pass rush from either defense include the Falcons-Buccaneers, Panthers-Saints, Lions-Packers, Raiders-Chiefs and Colts-Titans.
- The Raiders’ pass rush in particular is simply awful. They’ve pressured opposing quarterbacks on a league-low 29% of their dropbacks, while the league’s second-worst pass rush (Cleveland) comes in at 39%.
Khalil Mack sacks this season: 12.5
Total sacks by the Raiders defense: 13
Amari Cooper TDs with the Cowboys: 6
TDs by non-Cooper Raiders WRs this season: 8 pic.twitter.com/ozPjoj1MWS
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 26, 2018
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 the offensive lines that 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.
- C.J. Anderson stands out as the running back with the best matchup this week if Todd Gurley (knee) is again sidelined.
- CJA converted 20 rushes into 167 yards (8.35 YPC) and a touchdown while playing 51-of-68 snaps (75%) in Week 16.
- Additional running backs who are set up exceptionally well at the line of scrimmage include Doug Martin/Jalen Richard, Jaylen Samuels, Marlon Mack, Melvin Gordon, Jamaal Williams and Sony Michel.
- Matchups featuring competent run games on both sidelines include Chargers-Broncos, Raiders-Chiefs and 49ers-Rams.
- Of course, workload is more important at this point in the season than matchups. Luckily, there’s still a strong pool of true three-down backs to choose from in Week 17.
RBs that played 70%+ snaps in Week 16
Jamaal Williams 95%
Ezekiel Elliott 94%
Christian McCaffrey 90%
Saquon Barkley 88%
Eli McGuire 85%
Kenyan Drake 85%
Joe Mixon 81%
CJ Anderson 75%
David Johnson 75%
Dalvin Cook 75%
Leonard Fournette 73%
Jaylen Samuels 71%
(Jeff Wilson 69%)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) December 26, 2018
- Running backs who could struggle to get much going on the ground include Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette, Lamar Miller and Dalvin Cook.
- Additional backfields that could struggle to find consistent room on the ground include the Bills, Redskins, Browns, Titans, Bengals, Bears and Falcons.
- Barkley and Cook stand out among this group as backs who are most capable of overcoming their porous offensive lines. Both featured backs have found a way to evade would-be tacklers all season, with the latter back in particular coming on strong in recent weeks.
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.
- Offenses that are expected to have a tough time taking care of the football include the Bills, Jets, Jaguars, Vikings, 49ers and Cardinals.
- Only the Jaguars (Blake Bortles) and Vikings (Kirk Cousins) will start non-rookie quarterbacks among that aforementioned group.
- Matchups featuring potentially turnover-prone offenses on both sidelines include Dolphins-Bills, Panthers-Saints and Bears-Vikings.
- Offenses that stand out as units that shouldn’t make a habit of turning over the ball include the Packers, Rams and Seahawks.
- Matchups that feature two defenses that aren’t expected to rack up turnovers include Cowboys-Giants and Lions-Packers.
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 his 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 2018 fantasy football MVP (Patrick Mahomes) easily has the week’s best matchup in combined net yards per pass attempt.
- Additional quarterbacks who are set up for success include Matt Ryan, Jameis Winston, Drew Brees, Phillip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.
- Falcons-Buccaneers appears to have the best chance at featuring above-average pass offenses on both sidelines.
- Quarterbacks who are set up to fail this week include Ryan Tannehill, Baker Mayfield, Kirk Cousins, Jeff Driskel and Josh Rosen.
- Of course, Mayfield has been a different monster since Hue Jackson left town. He posted a 58% completion rate while averaging 6.6 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns and six interceptions in Weeks 3-8 compared to a 71% completion rate, 8.5 yards per attempt along with 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions from Weeks 9-16.
- Matchups that could feature futile passing games from both offenses include Dolphins-Bills, Bears-Vikings, Browns-Ravens, Cardinals-Seahawks and Colts-Titans.