10 Things to Know About Each Wild Card Round Matchup
I have no idea how you're handling the NFL playoffs. During the regular season, I know the majority of you reading content on this site are doing so because you're a fantasy football addict and you need season-long and daily fantasy information. Now? Now, I don't really know.
Whatever the case may be -- maybe you've got a fantasy football playoff competition, or perhaps you're trying to get some action over on FanDuel -- here are 10 things you should know about each matchup this weekend.
Note: You'll notice "nERD" being referenced below. nERD is our algorithm's way of showing the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average one on a neutral field.
Titans (-3.42 nERD) at Chiefs (+2.10)
1. Only Russell Wilson had more deep ball (15 or more air yard throws) touchdowns than Alex Smith this season. And among relevant quarterbacks, the only quarterback with a better passer rating on those types of throws was Matthew Stafford.
2. The Titans faced five quarterbacks this season who finished the year with a top-15 adjusted net yards per attempt rate (Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff, Ben Roethlisberger, Jimmy Garoppolo). Four of those five quarterbacks threw four touchdown passes against them, while the fifth, Jimmy Garoppolo, had 381 passing yards. The average passer among the group finished with 3.4 touchdowns and just 0.2 interceptions versus Tennessee. Alex Smith ranked third in adjusted net yards per attempt this season.
3. Tennessee allowed the 10th-most receiving yards to tight ends this year despite having just three matchups against tight ends who ranked in the top-15 in receiving yards (Jack Doyle twice, Jared Cook once). Travis Kelce, their opponent this week, was one of two tight ends with 1,000 receiving yards this year.
4. The Chiefs ranked 31st in situation-neutral pace (that is, the speed in which they run plays when the game is within six points) while the Titans ranked 28th within the metric. Overall, Kansas City ran at the third-slowest pace this season while Tennessee finished seventh-slowest.
5. Marcus Mariota had 10 games with multiple touchdown passes in 2016. That fell to just three in 2017. He had four performances with three or more touchdowns last season, but he failed to reach that mark in any game this year.
6. According to our Net Expected Points (or NEP, which you can read more about in our glossary) metric, the Titans have the best rush defense among all playoff teams (this is adjusted for strength of opponent). However, they allowed 127 more receiving yards to running backs than any other team in the league. Since Matt Nagy took over play-calling duties for the Chiefs, Kareem Hunt has seen an average of 5.25 target per game. Before that, he was getting 3.82 looks through the air per contest.
7. The Titans have had one 100-plus yard receiving performance by a wide receiver this year, coming from Rishard Matthews in Week 11 against Pittsburgh. The team's wideouts actually tallied the seventh-fewest receiving yards as a unit. Meanwhile, Kansas City surrendered more yards to wide receivers in 2017 than any team not named the Buccaneers.
8. To this point, per AirYards.com, Kansas City allowed nearly 600 more air yards in 2017 than any other NFL team. About 22% of Marcus Mariota's passes this season travelled 15 or more yards through the air, which was a top-10 number among relevant quarterbacks.
9. Derrick Henry finished the year with a 40.91% Success Rate (percentage of positive-expected-point runs produced), which ranked 14th among the 47 backs with 100 or more carries. His teammate, DeMarco Murray, had a 30.43% Success Rate, ranking 44th.
10. No team had a higher percentage of their drives result in a field goal than the Chiefs this year (23.4%). No team allowed a higher rate of field goals per drive than the Titans (20.2%).
Falcons (+2.83) at Rams (+6.58)
1. The Rams finished the season with a 1.14 pass-to-rush attempt ratio, which was the ninth-lowest (ninth-most run-heavy) in the league. But in a neutral game script -- when a game's within six points -- their ratio jumped to 1.51, the seventh-highest under those circumstances. The difference between their overall pass-to-rush attempt ratio and their rate in a neutral script was the largest among all NFL teams this year. Meaning, in close games, the Rams are much more prone to throw the football.
2. On a per-play basis, Los Angeles ranks third-worst in rush defense efficiency (per numberFire metrics). They also allowed a 10-plus yard run at the sixth-highest rate in the league this season. Over the last three seasons, only LeSean McCoy has more 10-plus yard runs than Devonta Freeman.
3. There were 25 teams in 2017 with at least one game with three or more passing touchdowns. Cleveland and Denver were among those teams. Atlanta was not. The last time Matt Ryan threw three or more touchdowns in a game was in last year's NFC Championship.
4. Of the 39 quarterbacks with 30 or more deep ball passes this year, Matt Ryan ranked 23rd in completion rate (37.6%) on those throws. Last year, 35 quarterbacks had 30 or more deep ball throws. And Ryan, in 2016, ranked second in deep ball completion percentage (57.6%), throwing 7 more long-ball touchdowns than he had this year.
5. Julio Jones had 19 red zone targets this year and scored just one touchdown from that area of the field. It was easily the worst red zone touchdown conversion rate of his career. As a result, he became the first player in NFL history with 1,400 or more receiving yards and 3 or fewer touchdowns.
6. The Rams allowed 10 wide receiver touchdowns this year, sixth-fewest in the league.
7. Todd Gurley saw 15 or more carries in 12 of 15 games this season. The Falcons faced just four running backs who saw that type of volume, and they finished the year with 402 rush attempts against, a bottom-10 number in football. They also ranked in the top-10 in pass-to-rush attempt ratio against.
8. Los Angeles scored either a touchdown or field goal on almost 46% of their drives, second to only New England this season. The Falcons, though, ranked second in yards per drive (behind the Patriots), while the Rams were 10th.
9. Falcons running backs caught more passes than any running back group this year, but the Rams allowed the ninth-fewest receptions to the position.
10. The Falcons are the team that's struggled to stop running backs in the receiving game -- in each of the last two seasons, Atlanta's led the league in running back receptions allowed. Todd Gurley, in 15 games played, ended the year ranked sixth in running back targets.
Bills (-5.83) at Jaguars (9.42)
1. Jacksonville is currently an 8-point favorite in this weekend's game, but according to nERD, the point differential between these two teams should be closer to 15. That's by far the largest gap among the wild card matchups.
2. Buffalo ended the year ranked dead last in rush defense according to numberFire's schedule-adjusted metrics while allowing a 10-plus yard run on over 14% of rushes faced, also the worst in the NFL.
3. Jacksonville finished 2017 with the second-lowest pass-to-rush attempt ratio in the NFL. The only team that was more run-heavy? Buffalo.
4. The Jaguars scored 11 rushing touchdowns within the opponent's five-yard line this year, second to only New England. The Bills allowed the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL from that area of the field.
5. Jacksonville also ran the ball 26 more times than the second-ranked Minnesota Vikings. Buffalo, meanwhile, faced the seventh-most rush attempts this season. (Jacksonville's going to run the ball a lot against Buffalo, you guys.)
6. The Jaguars ranked 20th in per-play rush defense efficiency according to Net Expected Points, but they finished 30th in Success Rate allowed.
7. The Bills allowed a 2.44% touchdown rate (touchdowns per attempt) this year through the air, which was better than every team outside of Minnesota. But they also gave up the 13th-most passing yards, so the lack of touchdowns allowed (14 in total, second-lowest in the league) was pretty fortunate.
8. Buffalo wide receivers finished the year with just 1,474 receiving yards. Not only is that lower than Antonio Brown's 14-game total, but that's also the lowest team wide receiver total since the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs.
9. Meanwhile, the Jaguars allowed 1,730 receiving yards to wideouts this season, which was tops in the league. They also have by far the best schedule-adjusted secondary in the NFL as well, per our numbers.
10. Buffalo was sacked on 9.0% of the team's drop backs this year. Only the Texans and Colts were sacked at a higher rate. The Jaguars' defense got to opposing quarterbacks on 9.8% of drop backs, which ranked second-best in the NFL.
Panthers (+3.63) at Saints (+8.14)
2. Carolina had a pass-to-rush attempt ratio of 1.53 when trailing by 7 or more points this season, which was the second-most run-heavy in the league. On Sunday, the Saints are near seven-point favorites.
3. Mark Ingram scored 12 rushing touchdowns on 230 attempts and 1,124 yards in 2017. Using data since 2011, a running back with that many attempts would've been expected to score 6.77 touchdowns. And a player with 1,124 yards would be expected to find the end zone 7.71 times. Those discrepancies -- 5.23 and 4.29 rushing touchdowns, respectively -- were the biggest seen by any running back this year.
4. The Panthers allowed just three running backs to reach 100 total yards from scrimmage in a game this year. Two of them were Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
5. Michael Thomas scored five touchdowns this season, and two of those scores came against the Panthers. Both of his touchdowns came via short passes to the right side of the field. Thomas also finished the year with 27.61% of New Orleans targets, which ended up being the highest share a Saints player has ever seen during the Drew Brees era in New Orleans.
6. The Saints had a pass-to-rush attempt ratio of 1.21 this season. Since 2011, the lowest ratio seen by New Orleans was 1.54.
7. Drew Brees threw for his lowest yardage total as a Saint in 2017, but it was the fourth-best season of his career according to adjusted net yards per attempt. He also completed over 57% of his deep ball passes, his best rate on those types of throws since 2011.
8. During the regular season, Cam Newton averaged 206.38 passing yards per game. In two games against New Orleans this year, Newton tallied 167 and 183 passing yards, throwing 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
9. In eight games with Kelvin Benjamin this year, Cam Newton averaged 230.13 passing yards per game and a 7.00 yards per attempt rate. Without Benjamin, those numbers are 182.63 and 6.38, respectively. But Newton's run the ball more: he went from 7.50 rushing attempts per game with Benjamin to 9.88 without him, and his rushing yards per game has gone from 31.88 over the first half of the season to 62.38 during the second half.
10. Though Christian McCaffrey finished the season with more targets than any other running back in the league, he actually saw his targets per game go from 8.25 to 5.88 when Benjamin was traded. And that wasn't just because the Panthers weren't throwing the ball as much -- his target share dropped 4.57%.