Inside Edge: 3 Week 14 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 14 matchups to look forward to.
Drew Brees vs. San Francisco Defense
Drew Brees is having another stellar season for the New Orleans Saints despite missing five games due to a thumb injury. Brees is leading the league in completion percentage for the third year in a row and is seventh in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. The Saints are eighth in Adjusted NEP per play and are tied for the best record in the NFL at 10-2.
New Orleans is 5-1 in games Brees has finished, but Brees hasn't faced any serious challenges along the way. New Orleans has played the easiest schedule of opposing pass defenses in games that Brees has finished this season (per Sharp Football Stats).
Brees has played full games against the Houston Texans (19th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play), the Arizona Cardinals (31st), the Atlanta Falcons (30th), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (15th), the Carolina Panthers (6th), and the Falcons a second time. He has faced bottom-three pass defenses in half of his full games after playing the Falcons twice and the Cardinals once.
This week will easily be Brees’ biggest challenge of the season. The San Francisco 49ers are first in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play. The Niners held MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson to just 105 passing yards last week and have limited all but two opposing quarterbacks to less than 200 passing yards this season.
San Francisco’s defense ranks top-two in completion percentage, passing yards, yards per attempt and quarterback rating allowed to opposing defenses this year. It is competing with only New England for the best pass defense in the league.
However, like New Orleans, San Francisco has faced an easy schedule this season. The Niners have played the fifth-easiest schedule of opposing pass offenses (per Sharp Football Stats). It has played against five of the worst six quarterbacks in the league in terms of quarterback rating and has faced only three quarterbacks ranked top-18 in quarterback rating.
This game could essentially decide the No. 1 seed in the NFC, as both teams are 10-2. The Saints and 49ers are both extremely talented with gifted offensive head coaches but have benefited from a weak schedule to this point in the season. It will be intriguing to see if Brees will continue to play as well as he has or if the Niners defense is legit.
Washington's Run Offense vs. Green Bay's Run Defense
Last week, Washington rushed for a season-high 248 yards against the Panthers. It was Washington’s highest single-game rushing total since Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris combined for 263 yards in their 2012 rookie season.
Since Bill Callahan became interim head coach in Week 6, Washington ranks second in run rate in neutral situations and sixth in overall run rate (per Sharp Football Stats). Callahan’s Washington runs as often when trailing by more than a touchdown (38%) as the Miami Dolphins do when leading by more than a touchdown.
Washington’s old-school, run-heavy approach worked last week against Carolina and has a good chance to work again this week against the Green Bay Packers.
The Panthers rank 32nd in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play, and the Packers rank 31st. Carolina and Green Bay both rank bottom-six in rushing yards, yards per carry, rushing touchdowns and fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs.
The main beneficiary of this mismatch is second-year running back Derrius Guice. Guice has played in just four career games due to knee injuries but ran for 129 yards last week in Carolina.
Since returning from injured reserve in Week 11, Guice is 15th in rushing yards and tied for second in rushing touchdowns despite ranking 34th in carries. He would rank first in yards after contact per carry, third in yards per carry, and 11th in Pro Football Focus grade among qualifying running backs this season if he had enough carries to qualify.
Guice has yet to handle more than 10 carries in a game this season, as he recently returned from injury and is in a timeshare with Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson. But after his career game last week, Guice will likely lead Washington’s three-headed rushing attack against Green Bay’s pitiful rush defense.
Ryan Tannehill vs. Oakland Defense
Ryan Tannehill is having a breakout year in his first season as a Tennessee Titan. The seven-year veteran has a career high in completion percentage, touchdown rate, yards per attempt and quarterback rating after replacing Marcus Mariota in Week 6. In fact, Tannehill ranks top-two in the NFL this season in each of those statistics.
Tannehill also ranks first in DAKOTA rankings (predictive expected points added per play and completion percentage over expected composite) and explosive pass play percentage (per Sharp Football Stats). Any way you look at it, Tannehill is not just playing well, he’s playing at an elite level.
Most importantly, the Titans are 5-1 in Tannehill’s starts. Tennessee has been heating up recently, and their Week 14 opponent, the Oakland Raiders, has been cooling down.
In the first six weeks of the season, the Titans were 2-4 and the Raiders were 3-2. But since Week 7 (Tannehill’s first start), the Titans are 5-1, third in Adjusted NEP per play improvement, and sixth in opponent point differential; the Raiders are 3-4, 28th in Adjusted Defensive NEP per play improvement, and 31st in opponent point differential.
Oakland’s defense this season ranks bottom-five in passing touchdowns, yards per attempt, quarterback rating and explosive passing plays allowed this season. Tannehill and the Titans should be able to continue to roll against the disintegrating Raiders.