News & Analysis

Mismatch Manifesto: Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are set up for Week 1 offensive success

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 QB.

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

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

  • Explosive Plays
  • Pace
  • Pressure
  • Yards Before Contact
  • Passing Game
  • EPA

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. And, of course, to have fun.

Note: This data is based on what has happened in 2019.

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.

  • 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 15-plus yard gains per rush attempt and the opposing defense’s rate of 15-plus yard runs allowed per rush attempt. A higher percentage is better for offenses (green is good, red is bad).

  • Only the 49ers (11.8%), Titans (11.1%), Buccaneers (11.1%), Rams (11%), Cowboys (10.6%) and Vikings (10.5%) posted an explosive pass-play rate of at least 10% last season.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo low key provided some boom performances throughout the season. only Lamar Jackson (four) had more games with at least four passing scores than Jimmy G (three) in 2019.
  • QBs that are set up for success this week in creating chunk plays through the air include: Garoppolo, Cam Newton, Tyrod Taylor, Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff.
  • It’s fair to question whether or not Newton and Taylor can provide the same sort of efficiency through the air as their respective team’s former signal-callers. Still, for fantasy purposes their rushing ability far outweighs middling passing efficiency; both QBs have worked as top-eight options at the position far more seasons than not over the past decade.
  • The likes of Derek Carr, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Tannehill and Patrick Mahomes are also set up better than usual to rack up some explosive plays in the passing game.
  • It’s hard to understate just how good TanneThrill was in 2019. Overall, Tannehill posted the league's sixth-best QB rating on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield among 46 qualified signal callers.

  • The Bengals (12.9%), Dolphins (11.7%), Raiders (11.7%), Cardinals (11%), Giants (11%), Lions (10.9%) and Jaguars (10.5%) were the only defenses that allowed an explosive pass-play rate above 10% last season.
  • The Dolphins stand out as the main defense that likely improved their secondary in a big way during the offseason thanks to 1) The decision to make ex-Cowboys CB Byron Jones a very rich man, and 2) Drafting Noah Igbinoghene in the first round.
  • QBs that could struggle to consistently create chunk plays through the air include: Sam Darnold, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kyler Murray.
  • Fitzpatrick and company left a sour taste in the Patriots’ collective mouths the last time they met in Week 17. That sort of performance is always possible from FitzMagic, but don’t underestimate the Patriots’ (depleted) defense to rack up some takeaways.
  • Additionally, the likes of Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Dwayne Haskins, Matt Ryan, Joe Burrow and Daniel Jones aren't in anything resembling a smash spot.
  • Watson stands out from the group thanks to his demonstrated sky-high rushing floor; he's one of 12 QBs in NFL history to average at least 30 rushing yards per game (minimum 16 starts).
  • Backfields that are poised for success in busting off some big runs include the Ravens, Colts, Raiders, Cardinals and 49ers.
  • Josh Jacobs is set up to smash against potentially the league’s worst defense. He carries a moderate projected ownership and can be counted on as a true RB1 despite the likelihood that Derek Carr and company won’t be feeding him targets.
  • Jonathan Taylor and Marlon Mack are poised to absolutely feast against the Jaguars’ futile rush defense. The Colts boast PFF’s No. 1 offensive line and are cozy eight-point favorites.
  • Run games that don't appear to be set up all that well to break off some explosive plays on the ground include the Packers, Lions, Patriots, Bengals and Broncos.
  • Among that group, Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones and Melvin Gordon stand out as talented-enough backs to still make the most out of their respective likely-voluminous workloads.

Pace

Fast-paced games lead to more plays, which lead to more points. Every week usually consists of at least a few games that could resemble a track meet based on their combined situation-neutral pace (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 features the Cowboys (No. 2 in situation neutral pace) at the Rams (No. 3).
  • Additional matchups that could more closely resemble a track meet include Dolphins at Patriots, Texans at Chiefs and Cardinals at 49ers.
  • The week's slowest-paced matchup features the Browns (No. 28) at the Ravens (No. 27) as well as the Colts (No. 24) at the Jaguars (No. 30).
  • Additional matchups that could move more slowly than fantasy owners would prefer include Eagles at Football Team, Chargers at Bengals and Titans at Broncos.

Pressure

An overmatched offensive line can result in poor fantasy days for all skill-position players involved. Meanwhile, QBs 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 PFF’s 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 and indicates that QB could be under fire, while a lower percentage (green) indicates that matchup’s QB could face reduced pressure.

  • QBs that could be under consistent duress this week include Ryan Fitzpatrick, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, Deshaun Watson and Philip Rivers.
  • The thing about Watson is that he’s always under pressure, until he’s not. The Texans’ franchise QB is a borderline wizard in and out of the pocket, regularly creating big plays out of thin air.

  • The Jets (43%), Dolphins (40%), Seahawks (40%), Colts (39%) and Texans (38%) were the only offenses to be pressured on at least 38% of their dropbacks last season. The Falcons, Giants and Lions weren’t too far behind.
  • Wilson joins Watson as a signal-caller that might take an “unnecessary” sack or two per week between big plays. This is truly the pickle that QBs must wrestle whenever they face unexpected pressure in the pocket. Options include: 1) Take a sack, 2) Force the ball into coverage, or 3) Try to make something happen. There are obviously times for each; just realize there’s a method to the madness of these off-script masters.
  • Cam Newton, Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky and Joe Burrow stand out as QBs that could have all day to throw this week.
  • However, the latter QB could be in serious trouble if Joey Bosa or Melvin Ingram prove to be too much for the Bengals’ unproven tackles to handle. I’d start Tyrod Taylor over Burrow in fantasy leagues of all shapes and sizes in Week 1.
  • The Steelers (41%), Patriots (39%), Eagles (39%), Packers (38%), Saints (38%) and Ravens (38%) separated themselves as the league's top defenses in creating consistent pressure.
  • Za'Darius Smith (93), Danielle Hunter (88), Cameron Jordan (83), Shaquil Barrett (81), T.J. Watt (81), Aaron Donald (80) and Nick Bosa (80) were the only defenders with at least 80 pressures last season.

Trench Battles

RBs 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 by looking at yards before contact.

  • Combined Yards Before Contact 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 RBs, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s offense could have some trouble consistently running the ball.

  • The Ravens and Cardinals boast the week's most favorable matchups in the trenches.
  • Lamar Jackson and company have a new weapon in rookie J.K. Dobbins, although it remains to be seen if he will fully supplant Gus Edwards and serve as Mark Ingram’s direct backup. All three backs are capable of balling out with enough touches, but don’t assume anyone other than Ingram will immediately see more than a handful of touches.
  • The Cardinals utilized a one-back backfield for the overwhelming majority of 2019, whether it was David Johnson, Chase Edmonds or Kenyan Drake. The latter back is set up to serve as the offense’s workhorse in 2020, a role that should continue to yield plenty of production inside of one of 2019’s most-efficient rushing attacks.
  • Check out my Week 1 Backfield Report for more specific information on the league's ever-evolving RB stables.
  • The Texans, Chiefs, Packers, Eagles and Colts also boast above-average matchups at the line of scrimmage.
  • It remains to be seen just how large of a workload Miles Sanders will command, although he is responsible for the four highest single-game snap rates dished out by Doug Pederson during his time as the Eagles head coach.
  • The Cardinals (2.7), Ravens (2.5), Panthers (2.1), Giants (1.9), Texans (1.8) and 49ers (1.8) are the league's only offenses that averaged at least 1.75 yards before contact per rush last season.
  • The impact of a rushing QB can’t be understated, which is why Austin Ekeler and the Chargers could see a massive boost in efficiency on the ground. Tyrod Taylor’s 2015-2016 Bills offenses join the 2019 Ravens and Cardinals as the top-four offenses in yards before contact per rush over the past five years.
  • The Jets, Dolphins, Saints, Rams and Steelers stand out as offenses that could have a tough time creating much of a consistent push against their respective opponent's solid defensive lines.
  • Of course, Alvin Kamara’s annual 81 receptions make him one of the most matchup-proof backs in the league. Reminder: Never, ever sit your studs because of the matchup. Not even if there’s a fire.

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 biggest mismatches in the passing game using each offense and defense’s pass yards per dropback.

  • Combined Passing Yards Per Dropback: The sum of an offense’s passing yards per dropback and the opposing defense’s passing yards allowed per dropback. A higher number (green) is good for QBs and receivers, while a lower number (red) indicates that matchup’s pass offense could be in trouble.

  • The Chiefs, Chargers and 49ers are set up the best to consistently find success through the air this week.
  • The artist formerly known as TyGod might not demonstrate the same level of overall efficiency as Philip Rivers, but that doesn’t mean Keenan Allen can’t eat. The Bengals were the NFL’s worst defense in yards per attempt to receivers lined up in the slot, and Allen might just see all the targets he can handle if Mike Williams (shoulder) is sidelined.
  • The likes of Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr and Cam Newton are also popping a bit as signal-callers with plus matchups this week.
  • Prescott probably has the least volume concern among those aforementioned QBs. The Rams boast some true blue-chip talent in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, but Prescott deserves some credit himself for his ability to put the team on his back at times.

  • The Cowboys (7.7), 49ers (7.6), Chiefs (7.5), Vikings (7.4), Titans (7.3), Chargers (7.3), Raiders (7.3), Buccaneers (7.2) and Saints (7.2) were the league's only offenses to average more than seven pass yards per dropback last season.
  • The hurdle for Cousins to become a high-end fantasy QB is simple: volume. His 444 pass attempts in 2019 marked the first time in five seasons he hadn’t reached even 540 passes. Overall, Cousins never threw 40 passes in a game and finished as the QB19 in fantasy points per game.
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kyler Murray, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones and Josh Allen have the week's least-promising matchups in terms of expecting consistent aerial success.
  • Jones is in a hellacious spot against the Steelers’ juggernaut defense. Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger is set up well against the Giants’ porous secondary. Note that Big Ben averaged *more* fantasy points per game in away games than home games in 2018.
  • Each of Dwayne Haskins, Deshaun Watson, Joe Burrow and Drew Lock also stand out as signal-callers that aren't set up in anything resembling a smash spot.
  • The Ravens (5.9), Chiefs (5.8), Steelers (5.7), Bills (5.4), Patriots (5.2) and 49ers (5.1) were the league's only defenses to allow fewer than six pass yards per dropback in 2019.
  • The Dolphins (7.3), Raiders (7.3), Bengals (7.3), Lions (7.1), Cardinals (7.1) and Giants (7.1) are the only defenses allowing at least seven pass yards per dropback.

EPA

Points are ultimately what wins football games. We can measure the expected points of every play on offense and defense by considering the down, distance and field position before factoring in the result. Estimated points added (EPA) is thus the value of a play that takes context into account and thereby better measures efficiency at the play level.

  • Combined EPA: The sum of an offense’s EPA/play and their opposing defense’s EPA/play allowed. A higher number (green) is good for offenses, while a lower number (red) indicates that offense could be in trouble.

  • The Chiefs, Ravens and 49ers stand out as the top-three offenses that are expected to seriously have their way with their opposition.
  • Texans-Chiefs, Seahawks-Falcons and Raiders-Panthers are the only matchups that don’t feature at least one offense with a negative combined EPA.
  • Jets-Bills, Bears-Lions, Buccaneers-Saints and Steelers-Giants are the only matchups that don’t feature at least one offense with a positive combined EPA
  • The Jets, Dolphins, Giants and Football Team stand out as offenses that could be especially screwed in their quest to efficiently move the ball on offense.
  • The Bears are the week’s only team that had a better combined EPA, yet isn’t favored to win their matchup.
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