Inside Edge: 3 Week 3 Matchups That Could Decide Games

When seeking value on betting lines and predicting fantasy football outcomes, the difference between success and failure can come down to a few key matchups that can have a large impact on the final outcome of those games.

Every game every week is decided by the combination of numerous matchups, but each week, some matchups matter more than others. The aim of this series is to identify a few key matchups every week that will likely have a large impact on the final outcome of select games.

Without further ado, here are three Week 3 matchups to look forward to.

Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson

Chiefs versus Ravens on Sunday afternoon might be the closest we’ll get to a real-life video game. Kansas City was a part of last season’s game of the year when they played the Los Angeles Rams in Week 11 and a combined 105 points were scored.

The Ravens' offense exploded in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, as Lamar Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to have a game of 5-plus touchdowns, 300-plus yards, 15-plus yards per attempt and 3 or fewer incompletions. Jackson has proven the haters wrong by throwing for a league-high seven touchdown passes through the first two weeks of the season, leading Baltimore to a 2-0 start.

According to NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Jackson ranks first in average intended air yards, first in passer rating, sixth in completion percentage, and fifth in completion percentage above expectation (among quarterbacks with at least 23 attempts).

Jackson hasn’t stopped running either. He ranks first in carries (19) and rushing yards (126) among all quarterbacks, and his 6.6 yards per carry ranks third among all players behind Justin Jackson and Saquon Barkley.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, continue to dominate on offense after finishing first in points scored in 2018. Patrick Mahomes won MVP in his first full year as Andy Reid’s starting quarterback, and despite many football analysts predicting a natural regression to the mean this season, the Chiefs have started the first two weeks on fire.

In Week 1, the Chiefs posted 40 points and nearly 500 yards of offense against one of the league’s best defenses in Jacksonville. In Week 2 against the Raiders, Mahomes threw for 278 yards and 4 touchdowns in the second quarter alone. If game scripts weren’t an issue and the Chiefs played aggressively regardless of the score, who knows how many touchdowns Kansas City would rack up.

Through Week 2, Mahomes and Jackson rank first and third, respectively, in numberFire's Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) among all quarterbacks. Jackson also ranks first among quarterbacks in Rushing NEP. These two offenses both rank top-five in the league in Adjusted Offensive NEP per play, Adjusted Passing NEP per play, total yards, passing yards, passing touchdowns, and points scored.

Hopefully, for the sake of every football fan, this matchup will live up to the hype. There is a legitimate chance the winner will be whichever team gets the ball last, like in said Chiefs-Rams clash last season. In any case, Mahomes and Jackson should be exciting to watch, and whichever quarterback plays better, their team will likely come away with the win.

Alvin Kamara vs. Seattle Front Seven

With Drew Brees out for the next few weeks, the Saints will likely be turning to Teddy Bridgewater until Brees returns from his hand injury. Bridgewater’s performance filling in for Brees against the Rams in Week 2 was underwhelming, as he completed 17 of 30 passes for 165 yards, zero touchdowns, and zero interceptions.

Head coach Sean Payton has yet to even announce Bridgewater as the Saints' starting quarterback for Sunday. There is a real possibility that Taysom Hill, who Payton typically uses more as a gadget player than a quarterback, could start or at least play considerable snaps under center.

With the quarterback situation up in the air, Payton will undoubtedly turn to Pro Bowl running back Alvin Kamara to lift the offense. Kamara ranked second in Rushing NEP, third in Receiving NEP, and first in overall NEP among all running backs in 2018. Kamara currently ranks 7th in yards from scrimmage among running backs despite ranking 15th in touches this season.

Kamara will have his hands full against the Seattle Seahawks. After ranking seventh in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP last season, Seattle ranks first this season after two games.

Bobby Wagner and company held Joe Mixon to 10 yards on 6 attempts (1.7 yards per carry) in Week 1 and James Conner to 33 yards on 11 attempts (3.0 yards per carry) in Week 2. Seattle has allowed a single rusher to reach 100 yards just once in its past seven regular season games, going back to 2018.

Last season, Seattle ranked 10th or better in rushing attempts, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns allowed to running backs. However, they also ranked 26th or worse in targets, receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns allowed to running backs.

So far this season, the Seahawks rank top-12 in targets and receptions allowed to running backs, but bottom-12 in yards per target and yards per reception allowed to running backs.

Seattle typically defends running backs extremely well on the ground but isn’t as effective when they catch passes. Sean Payton’s game plan for Kamara (preferably feeding him targets as opposed to establishing the run) will have a huge effect on the final score of Sunday’s game and the overall ceiling of a Brees-less Saints offense.

Pittsburgh Offense vs. San Francisco Defense

One of the largest headlines of the first two weeks of the season has been quarterback health. Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Sam Darnold, and Ben Roethlisberger all missed game time in Week 2 due to injury or illness.

Second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph will be replacing Roethlisberger for the remainder of the season in Pittsburgh after Big Ben had season-ending surgery on his elbow.

Rudolph played the entire second half of last Sunday’s game against the Seahawks. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns. Rudolph also threw an interception, but it bounced off Donte Moncrief's hands straight to a defender.

The Seahawks took the lead in the beginning of the third quarter and James Conner left the game (knee injury) in the end of the third quarter. Consequently, Rudolph dropped back to pass on 70% of his snaps.

Pittsburgh ranked second in pass rate last season behind only Green Bay. Even without Roethlisberger behind center, it’s possible the Steelers will want to continue operating as a pass-first offense, but that may not be wise to do so against the San Francisco 49ers this week.

San Francisco ranks second in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play and first in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play this season. Granted, the Niners did play Jameis Winston and Andy Dalton the first two weeks, but the pass defense looks dangerous nevertheless. After recording just two interceptions in all of 2018, the 49ers returned two picks for touchdowns in Week 1.

San Francisco added Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, and Jason Verrett to their defense this offseason, and it has clearly benefited the team. Rudolph will have a tough test in his first career NFL start.

Meanwhile, Conner has run against a stacked box on 38.1% of rushes this season, which is the third-highest rate among running backs with at least 15 carries (per Next Gen Stats). His 2.6 yards per carry is the fifth-worst average in the same sample size. The Steelers currently rank 29th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play.

Pittsburgh’s run game has been unproductive in part due to tough opponents to begin the season -- New England and Seattle rank fourth and first, respectively, in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play.

Fortunately for Pittsburgh, their schedule of opposing rush defenses will be ease up, starting this week in San Francisco. The 49ers rank 23rd in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber (I repeat: Ronald Jones and Peyton Barber) averaged 5.1 yards per carry against the Niners in Week 1.

In order to win in San Francisco this weekend, the Steelers may have to adjust their typical pass-happy approach to one that relies more on Conner and the running game. Putting less pressure on Rudolph (this is his first career start) and a larger burden on Conner (2018 Pro Bowler) would be sensible, especially against a 49ers defense that fields a suffocating pass D and vulnerable run defense.