Inside Edge: 3 Week 8 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 could have a large impact on the final outcome of those games.
Each week, every game is decided by the combination of numerous matchups, but each week, some matchups matter more than others. The series aims to identify a few key matchups every week that will likely have a significant impact on the final outcome of select games.
Without further ado, here are three Week 8 matchups to look forward to.
Baker Mayfield vs. New England Defense
In Week 7, the Patriots played the Jets on Monday Night Football and won 33-0. Sam Darnold had five turnovers and recorded the lowest single-game passer rating since 2014 (among quarterbacks with at least 20 passing attempts). Darnold was mic’d up for the game and said on the sidelines that he was seeing ghosts.
Bill Belichick’s daunting defense ranks first in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play, points allowed, yards per play allowed, and turnovers. New England’s defense alone (excluding extra points, field goals, and special teams touchdowns) has outscored opposing offenses 20-18.
Football Outsider's efficiency metrics - which accounts for era and strength of schedule - ranks the 2019 Patriots as the best defense in their entire database (which dates back to 1986) through a team's first seven games.
New England thrived off of a marriage of superb man coverage and pass rush. Their zero-blitz package and other defensive schemes have forced opposing quarterbacks to take 26 sacks (second-most in the NFL) and throw 18 interceptions (most).
The Patriots will play the Cleveland Browns this week, who aren’t exactly set up for success against New England’s historic defense.
In order to have a chance at winning, Mayfield must throw quickly, play calmly under pressure, and avoid turning the ball over. He has yet to prove that he can do any of those things this season, as he ranks fourth-highest in time to throw (per Next Gen Stats), last in passer rating under pressure (per Pro Football Focus), and first in interception rate among eligible quarterbacks.
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens and his staff have surely spent their bye week preparing a game plan to offset the Patriots' elite ability to pressure the quarterback and force turnovers. Unfortunately for Cleveland, that is much easier said than done, especially against mastermind Bill Belichick.
Unless Mayfield comes out of the bye ready to stand in the pocket and deliver against pressure – which we have yet to see from him on a consistent basis this season – the Patriots are poised to have another field day in Week 8. Be on the lookout for ghosts in Foxborough this week.
Leonard Fournette vs. New York (Jets) Defense
Third-year running back Leonard Fournette has been a workhorse for the Jacksonville Jaguars this season. Among all running backs, Fournette ranks first in touches and third in yards from scrimmage. He is one of just two backs -- the other being Chris Carson -- to have 20-plus carries in each of his team’s last four games.
Fournette has predictably played better against defenses that struggle against the run. He’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 155 yards from scrimmage against the Chiefs (24th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play), Broncos (22nd), Panthers (26th), and Bengals (18th).
This week, Fournette and the Jaguars will play the New York Jets. The Jets rank second in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. According to Football Outsiders, they rank second in yards per carry allowed and first in stuffed rank (percentage of runs where the opposing running back is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage).
Fournette has handled over five more touches and 50 yards from scrimmage per game more in wins than in losses this season. The argument that running backs don’t matter is becoming increasingly clear, but it’s obvious that Fournette is Jacksonville’s offensive focal point, and much of their success relies on his play.
It will be interesting to see if Fournette can continue to carry the workload this Sunday, or if Gardner Minshew will be forced to win the game for Jacksonville.
One interesting note to add: Despite their elite run defense, the Jets have allowed the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL (10). Fournette ranks first in the league in carries but is tied for 36th in rushing touchdowns (1). Even if Fournette plays poorly from an efficiency perspective, it would not be surprising to see him score a touchdown.
Carson Wentz vs. Buffalo Defense
The Buffalo Bills are 5-1 due in large part to their defense. The Bills rank third in total yards allowed, points allowed, and yards per play allowed this season. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 58.7% of passes for a measly 5.9 yards per attempt. The Bills have allowed just four passing touchdowns (second in the NFL) and have six interceptions (ninth).
Buffalo's defense appears to be legit. However, they rank 21st in numberFire’s Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) per play because of an easy opening schedule. Each of Buffalo’s first six opponents rank bottom-12 in Adjusted Offensive NEP per play, points scored (with the exception of New England Patriots), and yards per play.
The Bills rank third in Football Outsider’s defensive efficiency without strength of schedule adjustments and 12th in defensive efficiency with strength of schedule adjustments.
Buffalo will play the Philadelphia Eagles this week, who rank just 26th in Adjusted Offensive NEP per play. Quarterback Carson Wentz ranks 20th in Total NEP among all quarterbacks, behind the likes of Case Keenum and Derek Carr.
The Eagles were thought to have one of the most talented offensive rosters in the league prior to the start of the season. However, Doug Pederson’s unit has underwhelmed in the first seven weeks. Injuries to key players like DeSean Jackson and Jason Peters, along with a horrific secondary that often makes the Eagles play from behind, certainly hasn’t helped. Additionally, three of Philadelphia’s four previous games have been against teams ranked top-12 in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play.
This will be a huge test for both teams as the push for the playoffs begins. Philadelphia’s offense has no choice but to pick up the defense’s slack in order to have a shot at winning the NFC East. Buffalo looks like a playoff team so far, but must prove themselves against a challenging opponent after an easy start to their schedule.
It’s still somewhat early in the season, but the outcome of this game is very important for two teams hoping to play in January.