Inside Edge: 3 Week 6 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 6 matchups to look forward to.
Christian McCaffrey vs. Tampa Bay Defense
In the modern NFL, there is rarely a player more important to a team than its quarterback. But with Cam Newton sidelined with a foot injury, running back Christian McCaffrey has inarguably become the Carolina Panthers' most valuable player.
So far this season, McCaffrey has accumulated 136 touches (23rd most all-time through a team’s first five games of a season) and 866 yards from scrimmage (most all-time).
McCaffrey is on a full-season pace for 435 touches (would rank 13th all-time) and 2,771 yards from scrimmage (would rank 1st all-time).
He is also on pace for the best PPR fantasy season of all-time, regardless of position.
Carolina is 3-0 sans Newton and 3-2 overall. A lot of credit has rightfully gone to backup quarterback Kyle Allen, but McCaffrey has shouldered an absurd 30 touches per game the past three weeks and is the main catalyst of Carolina’s offense.
The Panthers will face Tampa Bay this week for the second time this year. After being projected as one of the league’s worst defenses prior to the start of the season, the Buccaneers have performed surprisingly well under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, especially against the run. Tampa Bay ranks 11th in numberFire’s Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) per play and 1st in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play.
What makes Tampa Bay’s rush defense even more impressive is the elite caliber of running backs they have faced. The Bucs have played successfully stalled Matt Breida (allowed 2.5 yards per carry), McCaffrey (2.3 YPC), Saquon Barkley (1.3 YPC), Todd Gurley (3.2 YPC), and Alvin Kamara (3.9 YPC).
Those five running backs have averaged a combined 2.7 yards per carry against Tampa Bay and 5.9 yards per carry against all other opponents. For context, Adrian Peterson is averaging 2.7 YPC (ranks 49th among running backs with at least 20 carries) and Dalvin Cook is averaging 5.9 YPC (ranks 4th).
Tampa Bay hasn’t just excelled against the ground attack -- they’ve also had success stopping running backs catching passes out of the backfield. The Buccaneers have allowed the fifth-fewest yards per target to running backs and have not allowed a running back receiving touchdown. Tampa Bay ranks first in both rushing and receiving defensive efficiency against running backs, per Football Outsiders.
McCaffrey was bottled up by Tampa Bay’s defense in their Week 2 matchup. He ran 16 times for 37 yards and caught 2 of 6 targets for 16 yards. McCaffrey had just seven second-half touches as the Panthers tried to come back and eventually lost 20-14.
Since then, the Panthers haven’t made the same mistake and have ridden McCaffrey to a 3-0 record in the last three games. McCaffrey should be expected to see a large workload in Week 5, but if the Buccaneers are able to contain him again, the Panthers could be in trouble.
Josh Rosen vs. Washington Defense
This game is difficult to forecast, because it’s hard to tell how motivated each team is at this point in the season. The Miami Dolphins and Washington are both winless and have the highest projected odds of earning the first overall pick in the 2019 Draft, per ESPN’s Football Power Index.
The Dolphins appear to be tanking on purpose, and Washington appears to be tanking on accident. After Washington fired head coach Jay Gruden on Monday, it’s hard to imagine any player on either team being highly motivated in the 2019 season toilet bowl.
The player who likely has the most to play for is Dolphins second-year quarterback Josh Rosen. After a pitiful rookie season in the worst possible football environment last year with the Cardinals, Rosen is trying to prove that he belongs in the league.
Rosen ranks no better than 31st among 33 qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate, and quarterback rating. However, he ranks 24th (bad but not terrible) in Total Quarterback Rating, an ESPN metric that accounts for factors that aren’t under complete control of the quarterback (e.g. dropped passes, sacks as a result of poor offensive line play, strength of schedule, etc.). Rosen ranks ahead of quarterbacks like Baker Mayfield, Teddy Bridgewater, Kirk Cousins, and Mitchell Trubisky in Total QBR.
While 24th may not seem like an impressive ranking, considering Rosen’s environment, it is. Rosen is getting no help from his defense (ranks 32nd in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play), his offensive line (30th in adjusted sack rate), or his receivers (32nd in yards after catch and 30th in dropped passes).
Rosen doesn’t have the benefit of a clean pocket often, but when he does, he’s played well. Sports Info Solutions also has a passer rating system that accounts for factors beyond the control of the quarterback: Independent Quarterback Rating. Per Steven Ruiz, Rosen had a higher IQR from a clean pocket than players like Carson Wentz, Aaron Rodgers, and Deshaun Watson through Week 4. He had a higher on-target throw percentage from a clean pocket than Tom Brady.
Rosen is not better than Tom Brady or many of the other quarterbacks listed. The point is simply that he not as bad as his traditional passing statistics might suggest. A big reason for that is due to the Dolphins' lack of surrounding talent and their lose-now culture, but it is also a result of a difficult schedule this far this season. Fortunately for Rosen, the Dolphins are coming off a bye week and will play Washington at home.
We already profiled Washington’s defense in the Week 4 article of this series, and not much has changed: it is bad. The Redskins currently rank 28th in both overall Adjusted Defensive NEP per play and Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. Washington has allowed the eighth-most passing yards and the most passing touchdowns this season.
Rosen has not yet completely proven himself as a starting-caliber NFL quarterback. But considering the current state of the “fish tank” Dolphins, he has likely played as well as most quarterbacks could in that situation. Rosen likely won’t have a better chance to prove that he belongs in the NFL than this week in this matchup.
New York (Jets) Offense vs. Dallas Defense
The Jets' offense ranks last in the league in total yards, yards per play, and first downs. They have scored just 9.8 points per game, which ranks 31st. Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook each have more yards from scrimmage this season than the entire Jets' offense.
In Darnold’s absence, former sixth-round pick Luke Falk has been New York’s starting quarterback and main scapegoat. Falk ranks among the bottom of the league in yards per attempt, touchdown rate, interception rate, and quarterback rating. He also ranks dead last in ESPN’s Total QBR.
The Jets are 0-4, and the season could not have started any worse in Adam Gase’s first year as head coach. Fortunately for the Jets, Darnold has been cleared to return and is expected to start this week.
Darnold had an encouraging rookie campaign last season and has high expectations as the quarterback of the future for New York. The Jets scored on 33% of Darnold's drives in the preseason, compared to their current clip of just 6% of all drives in the regular season. Darnold will no doubt bring some life back to the offense.
The Jets will face the Dallas Cowboys this week, a team that ranks 24th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play. Last week, the Cowboys surrendered 34 points and 335 yards of offense in Jerry World against Green Bay Packers.
It's unrealistic to expect the struggling Jets' offense to perform as well as the Packers did last week, but it’s a decent opportunity for New York to try to turn their season around. With Darnold back under center, this game will be a strong indication of how the rest of the 2019 Jets season will go.