• Expect a healthy Niners defense to slow down Cousins and the Vikings pass game
  • Can Derrick Henry attack the 2nd level against the Ravens defense?
  • Lamar Jackson has a favorable matchup against a weak Titans secondary

In advance of this weekend’s Divisional Round games, I wanted to isolate specific advantageous matchups that could be interesting from a fantasy and prop perspective. We’ll start with Saturday’s games.

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Minnesota Vikings vs San Francisco 49ers

Minnesota offense vs San Francisco defense:

  • Based on DVOA ranks, the San Francisco defense ranks 11th defending the run and second defending the pass. The Niners have allowed 11% of RB rushes to go for 10+ yards and rank 19th in explosive runs allowed. The pass defense ranks second-best in the percentage of explosive passes allowed.
  • The Niners pass defense has been tremendous this season and has only allowed two QBs to throw for over 300 yards this season. On average, the Niners have allowed QBs to throw for 168 yards per game. SF ranks No. 2 in pressure rate and are expecting to get back pass rusher Dee Ford on Saturday. 
  • Kirk Cousins has averaged 240 passing yards per game but has only faced two pass defenses in the top 10 in DVOA pass defense rankings. Against the Bears and Chiefs, Cousins averaged 227 passing yards on 62% completion percentage and a 6.1 yards per attempt average. This pales in comparison to his 8.5 YPA against all other teams. As mentioned above, the Niners rank second in pressures generated per drop back and interestingly they do it while blitzing the fourth-least this season. The Niners let their defensive line do all the work while they drop everyone else back into coverage. This is important since Cousins is excellent against the blitz this season, with a passer rating of 117 with 7 TDs and 0 INTs. All his numbers are better against the blitz than without. If the Niners can generate a strong rush without blitzing, look for Cousins to struggle. 
  • Dalvin Cook has averaged 19 carries for 82 yards and a 4.4 YPC average this season but hasn’t averaged over 4 YPC in any game since October. This spans seven games and includes his 28 carries for 94 yards last week against the Saints. In his last games he has averaged 17 carries for only 58 yards.
  • On the surface, the Niners look to be a bit vulnerable on run defense but some of those numbers are skewed. SF has had to face Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray twice, and Russell Wilson twice. That’s five games against QBs that rank first, second, and seventh in rush yards per game among QBs. In aggregate, the Niners have allowed 4.5 YPC to all runners this season but against just RBs that number falls significantly to 4.2 YPC.  The RBs the Niners faced average 4.3 YPC on the season. SF ranks 29th in success rate allowed to QBs and 15th to RBs. The good news for the Niners is that there is no threat of Cousins running the football.
  • As mentioned earlier, the Niners have been dominant defending the passing game. They rank in the top 3 in the NFL in yards per attempt allowed to RBs, TEs, and WRs. They rank second in lowest yards per game allowed to RBs, fourth-lowest to WRs and first against TEs.
  • It’s really hard to peg what to think of Adam Thielen after he caught 7 passes for 129 yards. That was only his second 100+ yard game of the season and has averaged 3 receptions for 50 yards. Stefon Diggs caught only two balls for 19 yards last week and has only one 100+ yard game since late October. In games when Thielen has been in the lineup, Diggs has averaged 3.5 receptions for 65 yards and 5 for 86 without Thielen.

San Francisco offense vs Minnesota defense:

  • The Vikings defense ranks seventh defending the pass and fifth defending the run, based on DVOA rankings.
  • Jimmy Garoppolo has averaged 248 passing yards per game but in nine competitive games, he has averaged 279 yards. The Niners have played so many blowouts that it’s tough to just use yards per game as a meaningful metric. Against five other pass defenses ranked in the top, he has averaged 222 passing yards but on only 27 pass attempts per game.
  • The Vikings have faced a relatively easy schedule of QBs this season but on average have allowed 237 passing yards per game.
  • The Vikings have allowed RBs this season to rush for 4.33 YPC against a schedule of RBs that on aggregate have rushed for 4.36 YPC.
  • Raheem Mostert has stepped up and led the Niners in rushing for the last month. In the last five games, Mostert has averaged 13 carries for 76 yards and his median numbers have been 11 carries for 57 yards. He has averaged 5.9 YPC against a set of run defenses that have allowed 4.3 YPC in the last 5 games.
  • After playing the Saints last week with a decimated secondary and still holding Drew Brees to 221 passing yards, it’s hard to deny the brilliance of Mike Zimmer. Emmanuel Sanders has had an up and down season since being traded to the Niners in October. He has averaged 3.6 receptions and 50 yards in his 10 games as a Niner. To show how volatile his yardage totals have been, his median numbers in that same stretch is only 29 yards.
  • Deebo Samuel had a solid rookie season and, like Sanders, had up and down numbers. He has three games of 100+ yards but also six games of 31 yards or less. In games with Sanders in the lineup, Samuel has averaged 4.2 receptions and 63.4 yards. His median yardage in those games is 45.5 yards. He has the upside to have a big game with his explosive capabilities, but his inconsistency makes him a gamble.

Tennessee Titans vs Baltimore Ravens

Tennessee offense vs Baltimore defense:

  • The Ravens defense ranks fourth defending the pass and 17th defending the run, based on DVOA.
  • The Ravens have allowed 216 passing yards per game this season but only 180 since the trade for Marcus Peters. They also lead the NFL in blitz rate at 55%.
  • As a starter, Ryan Tannehill has averaged 243 yards per game with a median of 259 yards passing. He has done this while also facing three teams in the top 10 in DVOA pass defense. He has also faced three of the top 10 in blitz percentage. Against the Bucs, ranked second in blitz percentage and 12th in DVOA pass defense, Tannehill completed 21 of 33 for 193 yards (5.8 YPA) and 3 TDs. Against the Saints, who rank 13th in DVOA pass defense and is ninth in blitz percentage, Tannehill went 17-27 for 272 yards (10.0 ypa) and 3 TDs. Against pressure this season, Tannehill ranks third in completion percentage, second in QB rating and also has taken the third-highest percentage of sacks in the NFL. 
  • A.J. Brown has turned into the Titans’ No. 1 WR and finished the regular season as one of the hottest WRs in the NFL. With Tannehill under center, Brown has averaged 3.5 receptions for 71 yards. However, with Tannehill at QB, Brown has faced three top 13 DVOA pass defenses and posted poor numbers. He has put up 81, 17, and 4 yards in those three games. Where Brown has made the most hay is after the catch where he led the NFL in YAC per reception at 8.8. Baltimore ranks 24th in YAC per reception allowed. 
  • The one area on defense the Ravens have been a bit susceptible is on the ground. The Ravens are 17th in DVOA run defense and 16th in success rate allowed to RBs. 
  • Derrick Henry is on a hot streak that may be the best the NFL has ever seen from a running back. He is averaging 154 rush yards on 25 carries in his last 7 games. He has also scored 11 TDs during that stretch. He has rushed for 100+ yards in 6 of his last 7 games. The Titans, led by Henry, rank fifth in open field yards and will go up against a Ravens defense that ranks 29th in open field yards allowed. The Ravens have faced three other teams that rank in the top 10 in open field yards, the Browns, Chiefs, and Niners. Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy from the Chiefs ran the ball 17 times for 116 yards (6.9 YPC) on the Ravens. In two games against the Ravens, Nick Chubb ran the ball 35 for 210 yards (6.0 ypc) in two games and Raheem Mostert 19 for 146 yards (7.7 ypc) against the Ravens. There’s no reason to believe Henry can’t continue his hot streak against this Ravens defense.

Baltimore offense vs Tennessee defense:

  • The Titans defense ranks 21st defending the pass and 10th defending the run, based on DVOA.
  • Nobody can simulate what they are going to see with Lamar Jackson running the ball, but the Titans did face Josh Allen and Deshaun Watson. In those two games, they allowed 59 yards rushing on 17 carries. Jackson averaged 11.7 carries for 80.4 rush yards with a median yardage of 79 yards. He’s been very consistent with his rushing stats and he has gone over 77 yards in eight of his 15 games. If you eliminate the opening game against the Dolphins where it was clear the Ravens made it a point to highlight Jackson’s improved passing, his average jumps to nearly 85 rush yards per game. 
  • Jackson has also shown clear passing splits when facing good pass defenses or poor defenses. Against five pass defenses in the top 10 of DVOA pass rankings, Jackson has averaged 168 passing yards and 1.8 passing TDs per game. He has gone over 169 passing yards once against a top 10 pass defense, 267 yards against KC. Against eight pass defenses in the bottom half of the NFL, Jackson has averaged 247 passing yards and 3.1 passing TDs. He has gone over 230 yards in 5 of those 8 games. As a reminder, the Titans rank 21st in pass defense. The Titans have faced four teams that rank in the top 10 in DVOA pass offense like the Ravens, who rank first. In those four games, the Titans have allowed at least 258 passing yards in each game and an average of 323 passing yards.
  • Mark Ingram has been hampered with an ankle injury and is questionable Saturday night. It’s a playoff game so odds are high he will play but it’s obviously a huge risk that he can play well. For the season, he has averaged 13 carries for 68 yards. He’s done even better against the best competition, as he has averaged 87 yards per game in four games against top 10 DVOA run defenses. The Titans are 30th in target rate allowed to RBs in the passing game and 21st in yards per game allowed. Ingram has not been a major factor in the passing game, although his numbers have ticked up a bit as of late. For the season he is averaging 16.5 receiving yards per game but in the last three, he has gone for 29, 10, and 36 yards.
  • Not sure we can call rookie Marquise Brown the Ravens’ No. 1 WR but he’s definitely the most explosive. After a hot start, Brown has slowed down at the end of the season, with no games over 45 yards receiving since early November. To be fair he has drawn four top 10 DVOA pass defenses during that stretch. The Titans are 20th in DVOA pass defense and rank 31st in yards per game allowed to No. 1 WRs. In four games where Brown faced a pass defense that ranks in the bottom half in both DVOA pass defense and in yards per game allowed to No. 1 WRs, he has averaged 4.5 receptions, 75.3 yards, and 3 TDs. The Titans also rank 24th in average depth of target allowed, so there is a chance Brown explodes in a D.K. Metcalf kind of way on Saturday.
  • Jackson’s number one target all season has been TE Mark Andrews. He has averaged 4.3 receptions and 53 yards per game. The Titans rank 21st in yards per game allowed to TEs this season. His median yardage per game was a bit lower at 47.5 yards. Against bottom half defenses against TEs, Andrews’s average yardage figure jumps to 65.7 yards per game. Andrews has only been on the field for 44% of all Ravens’ offensive snaps so he needs to be highly efficient in his limited snaps.