Inside Edge: 3 Week 4 NFL 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 4 matchups to look forward to.
Davante Adams vs. Philadelphia's Secondary
The first three weeks of the season, Davante Adams and the Packers played the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, and Denver Broncos. Each team has a premier cornerback in Kyle Fuller, Xavier Rhodes, and Chris Harris, respectively.
Elite coverage wasn’t a problem for Adams last year, as he finished top-seven in the league in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns despite facing a brutal schedule of opposing cornerbacks. However, Adams isn’t faring as well this season. He’s averaging 4.3 less targets, 2.4 less receptions, and 26.4 less yards per game than he did a year ago. He scored 13 touchdowns last season and has zero this season.
Fortunately for Adams, his opposition eases up starting on Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles rank 21st in numberFire’s Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play and 15th in Target Success Rate allowed to wide receivers so far this season.
Philadelphia ranks bottom-nine in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns allowed to wide receivers this season. In 2018, the Eagles ranked bottom-three in each of the same categories but touchdowns.
Number-one receivers especially have profited off Philadelphia’s poor secondary. In the first three weeks of the season, the Eagles have allowed an average of 5.3 receptions on 8.7 targets for 110.7 yards and 1.3 touchdowns to Terry McLaurin, Julio Jones and Marvin Jones. Each receiver had a top-10 fantasy performance against the Eagles.
The point is: after starting the season with three tough matchups, Adams has a great opportunity against Philadelphia to prove he’s still an elite NFL receiver.
The Packers' defense -- third-best by our numbers -- has been extremely impressive this season and is the big reason for Green Bay’s 3-0 start to the season. However, the offense (25th-best) has not been as electrifying as cheeseheads had hoped after Matt LaFleur was hired as head coach this offseason. Adams’ slow start to the season certainly hasn’t benefited Aaron Rodgers and the rest of the offense.
The over/under for Thursday’s game opened at 47.5, which is the third-highest line of the week. Whether or not Adams and Rodgers are able to revive their old connection will likely have a large impact on if that many points are scored as well as a huge say on the eventual outcome of the game.
Daniel Jones vs. Washington's Defense
In his first NFL start, rookie quarterback Daniel Jones led the New York Giants on an 18-point comeback to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 32-31. It was the Giants' largest comeback victory in nearly 50 years.
Jones completed 23-of-26 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns against a much-improved Bucs defense (one that currently ranks seventh by our numbers). Jones added 28 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on four carries. He is the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl Era with 300-plus passing yards, 2-plus passing touchdowns and 2-plus rushing touchdowns in a game, and he did that in his first career start.
Jones impressed a lot of people on Sunday, especially after so many doubted him after the Giants surprisingly selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft. Fortunately for Jones, he has a great opportunity to continue impressing America this Sunday against Washington.
Washington currently owns the second worst-defense in the league, according to our schedule-adjusted numbers. Washington also ranks bottom-four in the league against the pass by our metrics.
Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Mitchell Trubisky all threw for at least 225 yards and 3 touchdowns versus this Washington D in the first three weeks of the season. Granted, Wentz and Prescott are franchise quarterbacks in very good offenses, but it was significant to see Trubisky play so well in Washington after recent struggles. Trubisky completed just 58.3% of his passes and received a 65.0 quarterback rating the first two weeks of the season, but he recorded an 80.7% completion percentage and a 116.5 quarterback rating against Washington last week.
Washington has also allowed the fourth-most rushing yards by a quarterback this season despite allowing just the 15th-most rushing attempts by a quarterback. Jones certainly shouldn’t be expected to run for two touchdowns every game like he did last Sunday, but it is fair to expect him to use his legs to his advantage. Jones is no stranger to rushing, as he averaged nearly 40 rushing yards per start in college.
It is far too early to tell if Jones will be a franchise quarterback -- regardless of how well he played in his debut. But the stars have aligned for him to continue his hot start in his first-ever divisional matchup. Assuming his first start wasn’t a complete fluke, Jones should be able to continue to impress in Week 4.
Cleveland's Offense vs. Baltimore's Defense
The Cleveland Browns are 1-2 to start the season and have been a massive disappointment on offense after an offseason full of hype and hope. Freddie Kitchens’ offense ranks just 30th in Adjusted Offensive NEP per play and 27th in points scored.
Baker Mayfield has played poorly, but Kitchens should take some of the blame. After recreating the Browns' offense halfway through the 2018 season and making Mayfield look like Cleveland’s next LeBron, the offense has sputtered under Kitchens this year.
According to Warren Sharp, Kitchens utilized more 12 personnel -- one running back, two tight ends and two wideouts -- after his promotion to offensive coordinator last season. Mayfield had a much better success rate and yards per attempt with more tight ends on the field because they were valuable blockers and efficient targets.
In the offseason, the Browns acquired superstar receiver Odell Beckham and have since used tight ends much less often. Cleveland has deployed 11 personnel -- one running back, one tight end and three receivers -- on 84% of offensive plays this year (second-highest rate in the league) after using 11 personnel on 55% of plays last year under Kitchens (third-lowest rate). Conversely, the Browns have a higher passer rating (101.4 versus 73.0) and yards per attempt (8.3 versus 7.5) in 12 personnel than 11.
Tight end David Njoku was recently placed on injured reserve, while receivers Rashard Higgins and Antonio Callaway will both be back on the field soon once they return from injury and suspension, respectively. As a result, Kitchens will likely continue to employ heavy 11 personnel this season.
So far in 2019, the Browns have played the Titans (37% success rate against 11 personnel this season), Jets (34% success rate) and Rams (39% success rate). Those rates all rank top-six in the league against 11 personnel.
This week, Cleveland will play in Baltimore, which has allowed a 53% success rate against 11 personnel (sixth-worst in the league). The Ravens have allowed a 126.8 passer rating and 11.1 yards per attempt against 11 personnel as opposed to a 66.8 passer rating and 5.5 yards per attempt against 12 personnel.
To be clear, Kitchens definitely does not deserve all of the blame for Cleveland's slow start on offense. The offensive line is a legitimate weakness, and Mayfield has struggled throwing under pressure and reading defenses -- all of which are serious issues regardless of playcalling.
But if this current offensive system is going to succeed, its best chance to do so will be against Baltimore in Week 4. Hopefully we will finally see the offensive fireworks everyone was expecting from the Browns this year, but if it doesn’t happen this week, it likely won’t happen at all until Kitchens makes some kind of change to his offense and finds a new way to help Mayfield succeed.