Inside Edge: 3 Week 10 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 each week is decided by the combination of numerous matchups, but each week, some matchups matter more than others. This series aims 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 10 matchups to look forward to.
Los Angeles (Rams) Offense vs. Pittsburgh Defense
The Los Angeles Rams are coming off their bye week and will play the Pittsburgh Steelers this week. The Rams offense looked like its 2018 self over their last two games averaging 30.5 points and 425.5 yards, after an underwhelming first six weeks of the season (25.5 points and 370.8 yards per game).
A big reason Los Angeles was so productive in its two previous games was because their opponents were unable to pressure Jared Goff. Goff was pressured on 43.3% of his dropbacks in Weeks 1-6 (third-highest rate in the league), but that dropped to just 23.2% in Week 7-8 (lowest rate in the league).
Los Angeles played the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals in Weeks 7-8, who ranks 32nd and 30th in Football Outsider’s adjusted sack rate, respectively. Atlanta and Cincinnati are the only two teams in the league that have yet to reach double-digit sacks this season.
Goff will play an entirely different beast in Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Steelers rank second in adjusted sack rate and fifth in sacks. Last week, Pittsburgh racked up five sacks against a very good Indianapolis Colts offensive line.
The Steelers defense as a whole ranks third in numberFire’s Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, despite playing the 10th-hardest slate of opposing offenses (per Sharp Football Stats).
Goff will likely continue to target his favorite weapon, Cooper Kupp, across the middle of the field against Pittsburgh. Kupp comfortably leads all Rams players in targets, receptions, yards, and touchdowns. He ranks second in the league in targets per game, third in yards per game, and fourth in fantasy points per game among all wide receivers.
Kupp runs out of the slot on 72% of his snaps (per RotoWire.com), and the Steelers rank dead last in PPR points allowed to slot receivers.
Another advantage for Los Angeles is the fact that they have Sean McVay. In regular-season games, McVay is 10-0 against AFC teams (7-2-1 against the spread), and 9-1 against opponents with a rest advantage (7-2-1 against the spread).
The Rams offense has regressed this season in part because McVay hasn’t really adapted when teams are able to stop his 11-personnel-heavy zone-scheme offense, but chances are he used the LA's bye week to his advantage.
Goff will certainly be under more pressure this week than he had been in his previous two games. Though, with McVay calling plays and Kupp's consistent reliability, Los Angeles may be able to find success against Pittsburgh’s elite defense.
Ryan Finley vs. Baltimore Defense
Rookie quarterbacks have not fared well against Baltimore historically. In the last five years, first-year quarterbacks are just 3-10 (23%) against the Ravens and 94-171 (35%) against all other teams.
Only one rookie quarterback not drafted in the first round has beaten Baltimore in the past decade: Dak Prescott. Prescott won Rookie of the Year in 2016 on a 13-3 Dallas Cowboys team, and he is currently an MVP candidate. Finley, like Prescott, was drafted in the fourth round, but Finley will be making his first career start for the 0-8 talent-starved Bengals.
Baltimore’s defense ranks just 22nd in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play but has been playing much better lately. Last week, Baltimore held the undefeated New England Patriots to 20 points and 342 yards -- New England averaged 31 points and 370 yards against all other opponents. The week prior, Baltimore held MVP-frontrunner Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks to 16 points and 347 yards -- Seattle is averaging 29 points and 401 yards against all other opponents.
The Ravens rank 8th in pass rush win rate (per ESPN), however, they rank 27th in sacks. This is likely because Baltimore’s pass coverage struggled to start the season, allowing the seventh-most passing yards per game. However, Baltimore's secondary has been reinforced with the trade acquisition of Marcus Peters in Week 7 and Jimmy Smith's return from injury in Week 9.
Baltimore surrendered 8.3 yards per attempt in Weeks 1 through 6 before allowing just 6.0 yards per attempt in Weeks 7 and 9 (Baltimore had a bye Week 8), against Russell Wilson and Tom Brady. The additions of Peters and Smith to the starting lineup certainly boosted the Ravens defense.
Baltimore’s defense is finding its groove, and it may reach its peak against Finley and the winless Bengals. Cincinnati’s offensive line ranks dead last in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards, and they have also allowed the fifth-most sacks per game. This could finally be the game that Baltimore's sack numbers catch up to their pressure numbers.
This matchup may be the most interesting game of an otherwise sad season for Bengals fans as they’ll look to see if Finley could be their quarterback of the future. Unfortunately, they may not see as much of Finley as they’d like – Baltimore leads the league in time of possession –, and what they do see probably won't be pretty against Baltimore's surging defense.
Dallas Offense vs. Minnesota Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are 5-3 and sit atop the NFC East. Dallas ranks first in yards per play and yards per game, third in offensive points per game, and second in Adjusted Offensive NEP per play. Dak Prescott is an MVP candidate, and Ezekiel Elliott ranks fourth in rushing yards per game. The Cowboys offense is rolling.
However, Dallas has looked great partly because of a cupcake schedule to begin the season. Dallas has played the easiest schedule of opposing defenses per Football Outsiders' metrics, the second-easiest schedule of opposing defenses per Sharp Football Stats' metrics, and the second-easiest schedule in terms of opponent win percentage.
Dallas has played six teams ranked 20th or worse in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and won five of those games, averaging 32.2 points and 445.7 yards per game. The Cowboys have played just two teams ranked eighth or better in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play and lost both, averaging 17.0 points and 410.0 yards in those games.
This week, the Cowboys will play the Minnesota Vikings, who rank fifth in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The Vikings also rank fourth in points per game allowed and seventh in yards per game allowed.
Minnesota has played against four teams who rank inside top-10 in Adjusted Passing NEP per play and went 2-2. Those teams put up 22.8 points and 404.3 yards per game against the Vikings, as opposed to 25.8 points and 429.1 yards per game against all other opponents.
This will be a huge test for Prescott and the Cowboys. Dallas appears to be one of the best teams in the league, roughly halfway through the season. Sunday’s primetime game against the Vikings should be a sign of whether the Cowboys are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.