“Super” Wild Card weekend is upon us, and that means fewer games, less of a player pool, and more hyper-analysis on player matchups.
As it pertains to this year’s WC round specifically, we have games slated to be played in brutal weather conditions, as well as some key injuries that have begun to pile up throughout the week.
Expect a bit more conservative play calling in the aggregate, with a slight uptick in opponent-specific matchup-driven usage by teams, given the heightened importance of each game.
Let’s get right to it!
Playoff defenses coverage stats/tendencies from the regular season. pic.twitter.com/b4qalagRrz— Football Insights 📊 (@fball_insights) January 8, 2024
The weekly defensive table got downsized to just the postseason teams, and this one includes Baltimore and San Francisco, both of whom are on their byes this week as the #1 seeds.
Now we are only looking at teams playing wild card weekend. Specifically, we are looking at their Vegas implied team points total (X-axis) and their neutral pace of play on offense this season (Y-axis). Higher up equates to faster-paced offense on the season:
The next chart also shows implied totals on the X-axis, and this time neutral pass rate on the Y-axis from the regular season:
The most popular passing offenses will be the Cowboys, Lions, and Rams.
The weather in Kansas City for their game vs. Miami, and Buffalo’s matchup vs Pittsburgh could be abysmal, significantly diminishing the passing attacks in those matchups (unfortunately, three of those four are lucrative units).
Packers @ Cowboys
The Cowboys own the state's highest implied team total with a whopping 28.75 points. They’re favored by 7.5 against the visiting Green Bay Packers (21.25).
Defensively, the Packers deploy single-high looks on 61% of their coverage snaps, the 5th-most among defenses this season. They’re a pretty balanced unit in man/zone usage, so the heavy single-high looks make the sticky variable we’ll try to exploit.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott has been incredibly productive vs single-high defenses, his 0.56 points per dropback ranks 2nd in the NFL behind only 49ers QB Brock Purdy:
Single-high defenses tend to bode well for opposing WR1s, which brings our attention to CeeDee Lamb.
Green Bay’s primary coverage is Cover 3. They’ve used Cover 3 on 40% of their coverage snaps this year, Top 5 among all defenses during the regular season.
Lamb is the clearcut number one target for Prescott against Cover 3:
As for Green Bay, I'm not quite ready to buy into the notion that Jordan Love is the next franchise godsend at QB. Yes, he’s been playing well, but HC Matt LaFleur and the young group of pass catchers surrounding him remain underrated and provide the “luxury” of stability for a first-year starter.
Love needed a big win last week to get his team into the playoffs, and he delivered. Watching the game, he continued to hit wide-open receivers against a zone-heavy, inferior pass rush unit that are the Bears (29% team pressure rate, worst in the NFL this season).
This week, Love takes on a man-heavy, top pass rush unit in Dallas. Considering Love has dropped back a relatively high amount from a clean pocket, Dallas’ success or inability to make him uncomfortable is a primary driver of this game in my opinion.
If you do believe in Love (talking about football here), and WR Christian Watson is able to play, he’s a sneaky good player to consider, given his share of the team’s production on pressured plays:
Jordan Love faces pressure on just 28% of his dropbacks, 3rd-lowest n the NFL this season.— Football Insights 📊 (@fball_insights) January 11, 2024
DAL generates the league’s highest defensive pressure rate at 40%.
Always a “what if” for Christian Watson but assuming no injury, he dominates GB’s receiving room on pressured plays: pic.twitter.com/wkfr5ZQx4o
Again, if Love can stay upright and his efficiency moving the ball through the air isn’t a fluke, he’s proven to be productive against many looks, especially Man coverage:
Rams @ Lions
The much-awaited Motor City homecoming for Rams QB Matthew Stafford will finally take place in Detroit’s first home playoff game in decades.
The Rams are 3-point road underdogs with a 24.25 implied total vs the Lions, who own the 2nd-highest total on the slate (27.25).
This is an indoor game between two innovative offenses with competency under center and with their skill players. This is definitely a matchup we need to consider. These are some pretty eye-opening numbers I just want to share:
Overall, the Lions are a run-heavy team. Their 50% neutral pass rate in all of 2023 ranks 25th in the NFL. However, they finished top 10 in neutral pass rate over the final month of the regular season.
Defensively, the Rams allow the highest neutral pass rate to opposing offenses in all of 2023 (62%). All of these come together to suggest the Rams will be inviting the Lions to throw the ball.
Furthermore, these defenses allow the league’s highest average depth of target (DADOT) to opposing pass attacks — the Lions at 9.5, the Rams 9.4.
LAR uses zone coverage at the 8th-highest rate among defenses at 76%. What they do with zone looks deserves a closer look.
The Rams “disguise” their coverages at the highest rate in the NFL (44%). What this means is they rotate their safeties after the ball is snapped, changing their coverage look from single-high to two-high (or vice versa).
How often defenses have rotated their coverage looks from single-high to two-high (or vice versa) after the ball is snapped this season. pic.twitter.com/OuOcK2kkXR— Football Insights 📊 (@fball_insights) January 10, 2024
One of the goals of doing this is to make opposing QBs hold the ball a bit longer as they’re processing the rotation(s) after the snap. From a fantasy angle, Lions QB Jared Goff faces a slight dropoff in production vs disguised looks:
In my opinion, how Goff handles these defensive tactics from his former team will determine how productive the Detroit passing attack will be.
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown is their clear top weapon vs zone coverage, but OC Ben Johnson does feed a lot of mouths in his gameplans, though it could be one fewer if Sam LaPorta sits:
As for the Rams, they’re facing a Lions coverage unit deploying man coverage at the 7th-highest rate during the second half of the season (32%) and allowing 0.70 FP/DB in that same timeframe (5th-worst among defenses).
WR Cooper Kupp has been targeted more often vs. man coverage, but rookie phenom Puka Nacua has been the more efficient target.
Bills QB Josh Allen averaging the 2nd-lowest expected points added (EPA) per pass over the middle of the field out of 27 qualifying QBs (0.03)
- Steelers defense allows the NFL’s 2nd-highest pass rate over the middle (27%)
Texans use two-high shells at a 57% clip on defense, 4th-highest in the NFL this season
Browns WR Amari Cooper: 2.10 YPRR vs two-high defenses, 2.78 YPRR vs single-high defenses
Browns TE David Njoku: 1.91 YPRR vs. two-high defenses, 1.66 YPRR vs. single-high defenses
QB Joe Flacco averaging 8.03 YPA and 0.56 FP/DB vs two-high defenses. Both rank 2nd in the NFL out of 35 qualifiers.
Texans WR Nico Collins owns a 3.83 YPRR vs single-high coverage
2nd-best in the NFL this season out of 174 qualifying pass catchers
Browns deploy single-high coverage the most among all defenses (65%)
Packers use Cover 3 on 40% of their coverage snaps, 4th-highest in the NFL this season
WR CeeDee Lamb: 31% target share / 2.88 YPRR vs Cover 3
WR Brandin Cooks: 16% target share / 1.73 YPRR vs Cover 3
TE Jake Ferguson: 9% target share / 0.76 YPRR vs Cover 3
Rams use Zone coverage on 76% of their coverage snaps, 8th-highest in the NFL this season
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown: 28% target share / 3.24 YPRR vs Zone
TE Sam LaPorta: 17% target share / 1.82 YPRR vs Zone
WR Josh Reynolds: 10% target share / 1.40 YPRR vs Zone
WR Jameson Williams: 10% target share / 1.64 YPRR vs Zone
WR Kalif Raymond: 8% target share / 2.35 YPRR vs Zone
Buccaneers allow the highest first-read pass rate to opposing offenses (74%)
- Eagles WR AJ Brown has a 37% first read target share — 6th-highest in the NFL this season and the highest share on this slate