Inside Edge: 3 Week 12 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 12 matchups to look forward to.

Jameis Winston vs. Atlanta Defense

Through Week 8, the Atlanta Falcons ranked 31st in Adjusted Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. Through Week 11, it ranks 28th. That might not seem like much of a difference, but the Falcons had the second-largest defensive improvement in the past three weeks behind only the Baltimore Ravens.

Atlanta’s newfound success is a result of a play calling change. Head coach Dan Quinn called plays in the first half of the season, and the Falcons ranked 29th in yards allowed and 32nd in touchdowns allowed.

During its Week 9 bye, the Falcons agreed to allow linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich to call plays on first and second down and assistant head coach Raheem Morris to call plays on third downs and two-minute drills. Since Week 8, Atlanta ranks fifth in yards allowed and first in touchdowns allowed.

In Weeks 1-8, the Falcons had a 28:2 touchdown to interception ratio, averaged 8.1 yards per play allowed, and had a 2.7% sack rate. Since then, Atlanta has a 0:4 touchdown to interception ratio, averages 4.9 yards per play allowed, and has a 10.3% sack rate.

The Falcons held the New Orleans Saints (which had previously averaged 24.4 points per game) to 9 points and the Carolina Panthers (which had previously averaged 25.0 points per game) to 3 points. This week, Atlanta will play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have scored 27.7 points per game so far this season.

Tampa Bay ranks sixth in both yards per game and points per game this season but is 15th in Adjusted NEP per play on offense. The Buccaneers' poor efficiency is a result of turnovers -- Jameis Winston leads the league in interceptions and Tampa Bay leads the league in total turnovers.

The turnovers are partly due to a bad offensive line -- Winston has been sacked and hurried more than any other quarterback this season. Tampa Bay ranks 22nd in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate allowed. The Falcons recorded six sacks against the Saints (9th) and five sacks against the Panthers (27th).

The Falcons' defense is heating up and plays its next game against the most turnover and mistake-prone quarterback in the league. Assuming Atlanta is able to continue applying pressure against Tampa Bay, the Falcons should continue to roll.

Lamar Jackson vs. Los Angeles Rams Defense

Lamar Jackson has been on an absolute tear in his first full season as the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback. He is the odds-favorite to win MVP as he’s led Baltimore to a 8-2 record, including back-to-back wins over the previously-undefeated Tom Brady and fellow MVP candidate Russell Wilson.

Jackson ranks second in touchdown rate, fifth in passer rating, and eighth in yards per attempt. His rushing production is untouched by fellow quarterbacks, but among running backs, Jackson ranks 22nd in carries, 10th in rushing yards, 10th in rushing touchdowns, and 1st in yards per attempt.

Jackson ranks fourth in Passing NEP per drop back, first in Rushing NEP per carry, and first in Total NEP among qualifying players. Per ESPN, he ranks third in total quarterback rating and fifth in total expected points added.

The Ravens are coming off a 41-7 beatdown against the Houston Texans and have the second-largest point differential in the league. This week, Baltimore will be playing the Los Angeles Rams, which may have the best chance of stopping Jackson of any team the Ravens have faced to date this season.

Baltimore has played the sixth-easiest schedule of opposing rush defenses and the easiest overall schedule of opposing explosive rush defenses to date (per Sharp Football Stats). The Ravens have played just one team ranked inside the top-10 in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play (the Pittsburgh Steelers). Against the second-ranked Steelers' run defense, Baltimore rushed for just 3.45 yards per carry. Against all other opponents, the Ravens rushed for 5.93 yards per carry and had at least 5.12 yards per carry in each game.

The Rams rank eighth in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. It has allowed the fifth-fewest carries and the fewest rushing yards to opposing quarterbacks. Its defensive line ranks fourth in adjusted line yards allowed and ninth in percentage of opposing rushes stuffed, per Football Outsiders. Perhaps most importantly, Los Angeles ranks ninth in second level yards and second in open field yards, meaning it doesn’t allow running backs to break out for long runs often.

The Ravens appear to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and Jackson is the frontrunner to win MVP, and rightfully so. But it will no doubt be interesting to see how well the highest-scoring offense in the league plays against what may be the best defense it faces this season.

Daniel Jones vs. Chicago Defense

Daniel Jones has faced an easy schedule of opposing pass defenses so far this season to start his NFL career. He has played teams ranked bottom-12 in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play in six of his eight starts (Tampa Bay, Washington, Arizona, Detroit, Dallas, and New York). He has played teams ranked top-12 in his two other starts (New England and Minnesota).

Jones has looked like a decent NFL quarterback against weak pass defenses. In those games, he’s averaging a 66.1% completion percentage, 270.7 yards per game, and 7.3 yards per attempt with a 13:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But in his two games against strong pass defenses, Jones is averaging a 52.2% completion percentage, 171.5 yards per game, and 5.0 yards per attempt with a 2:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Jones averages -0.01 Passing NEP per drop back against bottom-12 pass defenses (23rd among 31 qualifiers) and -0.46 Passing NEP per drop back against top-12 pass defenses (30th).

This week, Jones will face the Chicago Bears, which ranks seventh in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The Bears rank top-10 in passing touchdowns per game, passing yards per game, yards per attempt, and passer rating allowed to opposing quarterbacks.

To make matters worse, Jones has been hit the most of any quarterback this season and has taken the third-most sacks. Chicago ranks fifth in hurry rate and ninth in pressure rate.

Fortunately for Jones, he should have some offensive weapons return to the field. Of New York’s last five games, Sterling Shepard missed four, Evan Engram missed two, and Saquon Barkley missed one but played at less than full health when he did play. The Giants had their bye last week, so New York’s playmakers should be the healthiest they’ve been for a while.

Jones will need all the help he can get in what will be one of the toughest games of his young career in Chicago against the still-dominant Bears defense.