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Next Gen Stats Week 13 and fantasy playoffs matchups

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Exploiting matchups is key in fantasy and can help us unearth sleepers, value plays and also alert us to when we should fade or lower expectations for more establish studs. There are a number of statistics and data-based tools to helps us decipher which matchups to exploit and which to avoid, and one of which is the NFL's Next Gen Stats package -- not just the fancy speed numbers you see on television.

Here we'll look where cornerbacks and wide receivers line up, which defenses are particularly susceptible to which player packages and so much more in order to find value with our fantasy players. As the season goes along we'll have even more data to use and a better understanding of the Next Gen Stats. Here are the top matchups that could bring value in Week 13.

Left wide receivers vs. the Chiefs

It's difficult to follow trends in the NFL because the sample sizes are so small, especially those within one individual season. Often times these patterns look like they are developing over the course of a couple of weeks, only to be foiled quickly and completely evaporate. However, one trend that has held up almost without fail all season is the Kansas City Chiefs giving up a ton of production to X-receivers that line up on the left side of the field.

Emmanuel Sanders was just the latest to do that on Sunday Night Football in Week 12, lining up at left wide on 44 percent of the Broncos' passing plays and catching all five of the targets he saw on that side.

Top receivers' production against the Chiefs when lined up at left wide:
Emmanuel Sanders - 73 percent of his yards
Mike Evans - 62 percent of his yards
Kelvin Benjamin - 60 percent of his yards
Allen Robinson - 63 percent of his yards
Donte Moncrief - 44 percent of his yards
Michael Thomas - 93 percent of his yards
Amari Cooper - 73 percent of his yards
Antonio Brown - 94 percent of his yards
DeAndre Hopkins - 63 percent of his yards

We know that Marcus Peters rarely moves from the right corner position, which is why teams are so easily able to attack the Chiefs in this way. Peters has been in coverage on 654 pass plays this year and he's lined up at left cornerback on 94.3 percent of those plays. While this helps them erase receivers on the defensive left side of the field, it makes them painfully vulnerable on the other portions:

Chiefs production allowed to wide receivers:
Wide Right: 42 catches on 73 targets, 582 yards, 4 TDs, 73.0 passer rating
Wide Left: 70 catches on 110 targets, 1,020 yards, 3 TDs, 95. 4 passer rating

The biggest culprit in coverage is right cornerback Phillip Gaines. He allowed 209 yards and two touchdowns on six receptions to Broncos receivers on Sunday night. At this point in the season, it's unlikely the Chiefs will alter their defensive approach much, so this should remain a weakness in their stop unit for the rest of 2016. The last few games on the Chiefs schedule features several receivers who play a majority of their snaps and earn most of their production at left wide receiver:

Julio Jones: 51 percent of snaps, 56 percent of yards
Amari Cooper: 55 percent of snaps, 51 percent of yards
Tajae Sharpe: 55 percent of snaps, 77 percent of yards
Emmanuel Sanders/Demaryius Thomas: 31 percent of snaps, 51 percent of yards/46 percent, 59 percent
Tyrell Williams: 40 percent of snaps, 43 percent of yards

Of course, we know that players like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper are every-week starts, just as we should recognize Tyrell Williams is a near WR1 when he's healthy. However, we can also assume based on the Chiefs coverage issues that both Denver wide receivers will be solid plays in Week 16, even though only one of them may go off, as Sanders did in Week 12.

The real interesting name here is Tajae Sharpe, who gets the Chiefs in Week 15. Sharpe didn't meet early season expectations, but still averages the highest air yards per target among the Titans receivers this year. If he's going to get downfield targets against Phillip Gaines and the rest of the Chiefs corners not named Marcus Peters, he could make for an interesting fantasy playoffs dart throw.

Willie Snead vs. Lions secondary

The Lions' trip to New Orleans to take on the Saints should result in a high-scoring affair. Neither defense is a total sieve, yes even the Saints at this point are a near league average unit, but they specific areas where you can pick on.

For Detroit, they've struggled to defend the passing game. Their 4.6 sack rate ranks 26th in the NFL, showing a lack of ability to pressure the passer. As such, their weakest point is in the secondary where some of their inferior cornerbacks can't hold down in coverage. Outside cornerback Darius Slay is one of the more underrated coverage players in the league, but slot corner Quandre Diggs has been a liability this season. This likely coincides with some of Detroit's struggles to slow down the quick passing game.

The Lions allow the third-highest passer rating (101.3) on passes where the quarterback had a time to throw of 2.50 seconds or less. Drew Brees is well-known for his ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly. Brees' time to throw of 2.38 seconds is the second-lowest among NFL starters this year.

Willie Snead is the Saints slot receiver, seeing 77 percent of his targets from the interior. His 7.1 average air yards per target, the lowest of any Saints wide receiver or tight end (25-plus targets), making him the preferred option in the short-area passing game. Snead is in a strong position to approach the statistical ceiling he showed back in Week 1, or at least have a line akin to what he produced against the Chiefs with nine catches for 87 yards on 11 targets.

After they play the Saints this week, the Lions will get the Bears, Giants, Cowboys and Packers to close out the schedule. None of the other quarterbacks on the schedule release the ball as quickly as Drew Brees or even under the 2.50 seconds threshold. The closest is Eli Manning with 2.52. His slot receiver, Sterling Shepard, has a 10.1 air yards per target on the season, which is lower than both Odell Beckham and Victor Cruz. Despite a zero last week, Shepard will be worth considering when he faces the Lions.

Jamison Crowder vs. Arizona Cardinals

Over the last five games, even when they've played with a full cast of characters, Jamison Crowder has remained Washington's most consistent producer. He's totaled 442 yards and three touchdowns over that span. On Sunday he faces a team in Arizona that can be exploited over the middle of the field.

Matt Ryan threw both of his touchdowns, a pair of dump-offs that Taylor Gabriel housed, and posted his highest passer rating over the middle of the field (106.3) against the Cardinals last week.

Taylor Gabriel's 35-yard touchdown came on a player where he lined up in the slot, and Mohamed Sanu caught all six of his targets from the slot for 52 yards.

The Cardinals weakest area of their defense is their middle of the field coverage, because teams are forced to pick there. Patrick Peterson shuts down the outside wide receivers, which leaves the inside difference.

The only slot receiver that Peterson dedicated extra attention to this year was Stefon Diggs. Even then, Diggs shadowed him on just 19 pass plays (67.9 percent) and left him uncovered in the slot on eight of 17 routes out of the slot. If he did not exclusively track Diggs into the slot on all of his routes it is unlikely Peterson will do so for Crowder, who sees 75 percent of his targets from the slot.

The second-year receiver should see a ton of Tyrann Mathieu on Sunday, who has had an up and down season as he works back from a late-season 2015 ACL tear. Matheiu has been target 19 times out of the slot this season after returning there in Week 5 after playing safety early in the season, and allowed 140 yards and one touchdown. However, he personally gave up just 25 yards on three catches in Week 12 after missing multiple games. With teams forced into the middle of the field to avoid Patrick Peterson but the Cardinals also being one of the best teams at defending tight ends, expect receivers that run routes over the middle and out of the slot to continue getting targets.

The Cardinals get the Dolphins, Saints, Seahawks and Rams to close the season after facing off with Washington. All of those teams, outside of the Rams have a high-volume, short-area slot receiver on their team:

Jarvis Landry: 76 percent of targets from the slot, 7.6 air yards per target
Willie Snead: 77 percent of targets from the slot, 7.1 air yards per target
Doug Baldwin: 73 percent of targets from the slot, 9.2 air yards per target

Malcolm Mitchell vs. the Rams

Often-times rookie wide receivers are slow to pick up the Patriots complex offense, and they've had more than their fair share of misses over the year. It appears they have finally found a true keeper in Malcolm Mitchell out of Georgia.

With injuries to multiple pass-catchers over the last two weeks, Mitchell has stepped up. His first true breakout game came in Week 11 when the Patriots traveled to San Francisco. Mitchell led the Patriots with 4.4 average yards of separation on his targets. He showed the needed aptitude to work open for Tom Brady.

While Mitchell finished second in the game with a 15.4 percent share of QB Tom Brady's intended air yards his role grew in Week 12, despite going out on less plays (46 percent). Against the Jets he owned a 24 percent share of Brady's intended air yards.

With Rob Gronkowski out, we should expect Mitchell to continue to play a big role, and for the Patriots to play more three-wide receiver sets. Since Week 11 70 percent of his targets have come when lined up at left wide receiver, or the X-receiver positon the Patriots have desperately missed for years. The Rams best corner, Trumaine Johnson, who lines up at left corner on 83.2 percent of his snaps. Los Angeles' weak link in the secondary is right corner E.J. Gaines, and Michael Thomas just ripped up the Rams last week while gaining 89 yards and both of his touchdowns off six catches when lined up at left wide receiver.

Air yards potential playoff hero and sleeper

Michael Crabtree saw 47.3 percent of the Raiders intended air yards in Week 12, which was the sixth-highest share on the week. Crabtree sees 54 percent of his targets from the right wide receiver position. Oakland gets the Bills, Chiefs, Chargers and Colts the next four weeks. Buffalo has issues at left corner with Ronald Darby in the concussion protocol. We know the right corner is the strength of the Chiefs defense, but the Colts non-Vontae Davis corners are liabilities at left corner, and Crabtree should square off with them in a potential Week 16 shootout.

Dorial Green-Beckham led the Eagles with a 38.5 percent share of Carson Wentz's intended air yards and registered over 80 yards.

Green-Beckham split his time moving from right wide receiver, where he took 57 percent of his snaps on passing plays, and the left side where he saw 60 percent of his targets. The Eagles have badly needed an outside receiver to emerge and Green-Beckham did nothing to quell optimism he can help by playing on 81 percent of the Eagles' plays.

The Eagles play the Bengals, Redskins, Ravens and Giants to end the season. There are some tough cornerbacks in those matchups, so it might not be worth starting him unless he completely breaks out. Yet, the opportunity dictates he's worth having on your bench to find out.

Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB or like on Facebook.

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