NFL

Inside Edge: 3 Week 9 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 9 matchups to look forward to.

Matt Stafford vs. Oakland Defense

Matthew Stafford is quietly having a career season. National media has been more focused on the other NFC North quarterbacks – Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins have also been playing very well but on teams with better records, and Mitchell Trubisky has struggled mightily – but Stafford may be playing the best football of his life right now.

Stafford’s 2019 touchdown rate (6.4%), yards per completion (8.4) and passer rating (105.3) are all career-high marks. Those numbers are all top-six in the league, and Stafford ranks second in touchdown passes despite sitting 14th in pass attempts.

Last week, Stafford threw for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns against the New York Giants. His 78.1% completion percentage and 129.4 passer rating were his best single-game rates since Week 7 against the Miami Dolphins last season. His absurd 10.7 yards per attempt was the third-highest single-game rate in his 148-game career.

It helped that New York has a poor pass defense, but so do the Oakland Raiders, who Stafford and the Lions play this week. The Giants rank 25th in numberFire's Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, while the Raiders are 29th. Oakland ranks bottom-five in passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, and passer rating allowed per game.

The Raiders' secondary has especially been torn apart the past two weeks, as Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson averaged 354 yards passing yards and 4 touchdowns in 70 combined attempts. In his last two games, Stafford has averaged 353 passing yards and 3.5 touchdowns on 77 combined attempts.

Stafford is entering this weekend looking hot, while the Raiders are entering the weekend looking burnt. Considering that Kerryon Johnson was recently placed on injured reserve and Oakland has a good run defense (11th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and 6th in opposing yards per carry allowed), Stafford may pass the ball a ton, and should have success while doing so.

Russell Wilson vs. Tampa Bay Defense

Another quarterback having a career season is Russell Wilson, whose 265.9 passing yards per game, 8.5 yards per attempt, and 115.5 passer rating are all career highs. Wilson leads the league in touchdown rate, interception rate, and passer rating among qualifying quarterbacks. He ranks just 13th in pass attempts but ranks first in passing touchdowns.

Wilson is very, very good. But his coaches have implemented an offense that under-utilizes their best player, as Seattle ranks 29th in pass rate. The Seahawks rank 10th in time of possession while trailing (per Football Outsiders), yet they have the fifth-best record in the league thanks to Wilson, who leads the league with three fourth-quarter comebacks. Seattle’s insistence on establishing the run until they’re losing and are forced to let Wilson win the game for them feels like a weekly occurrence.

This week, the Seahawks play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unfortunately for Seattle's coaches but fortunately for Wilson and football fans, the Bucs have an elite run defense. They rank first in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and have allowed a league-low 3.0 yards per carry against a schedule that boasts some great running backs, including Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara and Saquon Barkley.

Seattle may be forced to let Wilson work his magic early if the run game starts slowly. It’s also very possible that the Buccaneers will jump to an early lead against Seattle’s suspect secondary, which ranks 22nd in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play.

Jameis Winston ranks sixth in passing attempts per game and fifth in passing yards per game. Seattle has allowed the fifth-most passing attempts per game and the sixth-most passing yards per game. A shootout between Winston and Wilson would not come as a surprise, as the game has the highest point total (51.5) of the week, per FanDuel Sportsbook.

Between Tampa Bay’s wall of a run defense and the likelihood that Winston will be able to put up points against Seattle’s D, all signs point to Wilson being relied upon early and often. The Buccaneers rank bottom-six in pass yards and passing touchdowns allowed per game, so Wilson should be able to put up some big numbers in what could be a pass-heavy, high-scoring matchup.

Derrick Henry vs. Panthers Defense

Derrick Henry has been the focal point of the Tennessee Titans' offense this season. He ranks fourth in carries and sixth in total touches among all running backs. Henry is responsible for 71.9% of his team’s rushing attempts and 44.3% of his team’s total touches.

For comparison, Dalvin Cook -- who leads the league in Rushing NEP and yards from scrimmage -- is responsible for 59.3% of his team’s rushing attempts and 44.3% of his team’s total touches.

Henry has at least 15 carries in every game this season, and the Titans will likely continue to rely on him this week when the team plays the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina ranks dead last in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play and has allowed 5.0 yards per attempt to opposing running backs. The Panthers have allowed an additional 1.2 yards per carry to opposing starting running backs without Kawann Short, who was placed on injured reserve on October 1st. Additionally, Tennessee ranks 5th in power rushing success while Carolina ranks 31st in opponent power rushing success (per Football Outsiders).

The San Francisco 49ers ran for 232 rushing yards on 38 carries (6.1 yards per carry) last week against the Panthers. Granted, Kyle Shanahan is an offensive genius and the Niners have an elite run game, but Henry should also be able to put up impressive numbers against Carolina’s pitiful run defense.