Inside Edge: 3 Week 7 NFL Matchups That Could Decide Games

The Rams' offensive line has been brutal to start 2019, but they're up against a Falcons pass rush that has also struggled. That matchup could dictate who wins between the two teams this week.

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 7 matchups to look forward to.

Kirk Cousins vs. Detroit Pass Defense

After the Minnesota Vikings lost an ugly game against the Bears in Week 4, Kirk Cousins was ripped to shreds by the internet and labeled as an overpaid, overrated quarterback.

However, Cousins silenced the haters the past two weeks, as he threw for at least 300 yards and 2 touchdowns against both the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles. He had a completion percentage above 75% and a quarterback rating above 138 in both games. The Vikings scored at least four touchdowns and won by 18 points both weeks.

Granted, the Giants and the Eagles do not have good passing defenses. New York and Philadelphia rank 23rd and 21st, respectively, in numberFire’s Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. Both teams rank bottom-four in passing yards allowed and have allowed double-digit touchdown passes so far this season.

Cousins will face a much tougher opponent this week against the Detroit Lions, a defense which ranks fifth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The Lions sit in the top-11 in the league in completion percentage, quarterback rating, yards per attempt, and passing touchdowns allowed to opposing quarterbacks despite playing the fifth-toughest schedule of opposing offenses, per Sharp Football Stats.

Minnesota has mostly been leaning on Dalvin Cook and the running game this season -- and it's worked well as Cook ranks first in Rushing NEP and Total NEP among all running backs. The Vikings as a team rank top-four in rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and rushing yards per attempt. Minnesota ranks second in rush rate this season (sixth in rush rate in neutral game scripts), per Sharp Football Stats.

The Vikings have been impressive on the ground, and it has certainly helped them win some games. But passing has the highest correlation to wins in today’s NFL, and Kirk Cousins' splits prove it.

Minnesota's four wins have come against teams ranked 21st, 23rd, 24th, and 31st in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. In those games, Cousins has averaged a 77.0% completion percentage, 135.8 quarterback rating, 10.5 yards per attempt, and 9.2% touchdown rate. Those numbers would all rank first in the league this season. For reference, those numbers are all better than the numbers Patrick Mahomes had in his MVP season last year.

Minnesota's two losses have come against teams ranked 3rd and 8th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. In those games, Cousins has averaged a 60.3% completion percentage, 73.3 quarterback rating, 6.8 yards per attempt, and 1.5% touchdown rate. Those numbers would all rank no better than 29th out of 38 eligible quarterbacks this season. For reference, both Eli Manning and Blake Bortles had better numbers than those last year.

The Vikings will continue to try to rely more on Cook than Cousins, as head coach Mike Zimmer is dedicated to an outdated game plan centered on running. But it’s clear that Cousins has a huge impact on the outcome of games, even when he doesn’t throw as often as Cook runs.

Cousins' performance against Detroit’s impressive defense may be the biggest factor in the outcome of Sunday’s matchup.

T.Y. Hilton vs. Houston Secondary

The Indianapolis Colts have had some poor injury luck to start their season, as defensive starters Darius Leonard, Malik Hooker and Clayton Geathers have all missed at least one game. T.Y. Hilton sat Week 4 due to a quad injury and Marlon Mack has also been banged up with minor calf and ankle injuries.

Fortunately, Indianapolis had a bye in Week 6, and they should field a healthier team in their Week 7 divisional matchup against the Houston Texans. Hilton, who has practiced fully all week, may be the biggest factor in Sunday’s game, assuming he stays healthy all four quarters.

Hilton has historically dominated Houston's secondary. In his career, he has averaged 5.4 receptions for 103.2 yards and 0.6 touchdowns per game against the Texans. He has averaged 4.6 receptions for 70.2 yards and 0.4 touchdowns per game against all other opponents.

For reference: If Hilton averaged his career stat line against Houston over a 16-game season, he would’ve ranked second in fantasy points last season behind only Tyreek Hill. If Hilton averaged his career stat line against all non-Houston opponents in a 16-game season, he would’ve ranked 17th in fantasy points last season.

In three games against the Texans last season (including playoffs), Hilton averaged at least 17.0 yards per reception in each game. Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson all average fewer than 17.0 career yards per reception. The sample size is certainly small, but Hilton's production against Houston is impressive nevertheless.

Hilton has generated a passer rating of 131.7 in his career against the Texans and a 92.6 rating against all other opponents (per PFF). Three of his four best career games in terms of receiving yards has been against Houston (223 in 2014; 199 in 2018; and 175 in 2017). Hilton has caught three touchdowns in a single game just once in his 112-game career -- I bet you can guess who the opponent was.

The point is, Hilton has torched Houston’s defense time and time again. Most of his production has admittedly come with Andrew Luck under center, but Hilton has still been playing well with Jacoby Brissett this season. He is averaging 6 receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown per game this year and ranks eighth in PPR fantasy points per game.

Hilton is averaging over three more targets per game than any other Indianapolis player this year. Now that he’s reportedly back at full health, the Colts should -- and likely will -- rely on him on Sunday against the Texans.

Los Angeles Rams Offensive Line vs. Atlanta Pass Rush

One of the most well-known game splits in the NFL is Jared Goff's performances at home versus on the road. Last season, Goff averaged 9.0 yards per attempt, a 116.7 quarterback rating, and had a 7:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio at home. On the road, he averaged 7.6 yards per attempt, an 82.7 passer rating, and had a 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

This year, however, the story is pressure rate. The Los Angeles Rams lost both of their starting offensive guards in the offseason, and this year’s unit has struggled.

That is not great, Bob!

Goff has been under pressure at the 3rd-highest rate (43.3%) among 36 qualifying quarterbacks this season after facing pressure at the 26th-highest rate (32.0%) among 38 qualifying quarterbacks last season, per PFF.

When under pressure, Goff has a 50.0% completion percentage and averages 6.3 yards per attempt. When kept clean, he has a 71.1% completion percentage and averages 7.5 yards per attempt. Goff throws touchdowns twice as often when kept clean (4% touchdown rate) as he does when under pressure (2% touchdown rate), per SportSource Analytics.

Goff has a 91.5 passer rating when kept clean and a 60.5 passer rating under pressure, per PFF. Andy Dalton, Case Keenum and Marcus Mariota are among the quarterbacks who have a better passer rating under pressure than Goff does.

Fortunately for Goff and the Rams, they will be playing against the Atlanta Falcons this week. The Falcons rank dead last in efficiency against pass protection (per Sharp Football Stats) and adjusted sack rate (per Football Outsiders). Four of Los Angeles’ first six opponents this season ranked top-10 in both categories, which is likely part of the reason the Rams' offensive line has been underwhelming to start the season.

Atlanta’s two previous opponents were the Texans and Cardinals, both of which are known for having poor offensive lines. Per PFF, Deshaun Watson faced pressure on 48.1% of dropbacks in Weeks 1 through 4 before facing pressure on 16.7% of dropbacks against the Falcons in Week 5. Kyler Murray faced pressure on 30.2% of dropbacks in Weeks 1 through 5 before facing pressure on 17.1% of dropbacks against the Falcons in Week 6.

Goff has inarguably played poorly to start the season. But he has been under constant pressure as a result of weak performance from his offensive line and a tough opening schedule of opposing pass rushes. Sunday’s game against Atlanta’s struggling defense will give Goff a great chance to prove whether or not he is worthy of the $134 million contract he signed in September.