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Jimmy Garoppolo Week 15 fantasy sleeper matchup

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Through the first two years of their existence, the Next Gen Stats have quickly progressed, not only in their depth and insight but also in their utility. Now that we've spent the last two-plus NFL seasons exploring and tracking the data provided by the microchips in the players' shoulder pads, we're ready to take the information and its practical value to the next level.

In this space, every week we'll use some of the Next Gen Stats metrics to delve into every game of the week and explore individual player or team-level matchups. The hope is with some of the truly high-level analytic data we can uncover unique edges for fantasy football players when making lineup decisions for the upcoming week. Most of all, we'll be more informed consumers of the NFL contests, which we should always strive to be in our fantasy decision-making process. Let's dive into games on the Week 15 slate to examine areas where Next Gen Stats can help cut through some of the questions.

You can explore the charts and data provided by Next Gen Stats for yourself right here, as well.

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (4:30 pm EST on Saturday)


Last time Jordan Howard faced the Detroit Lions back in Week 11, he ripped off 125 yards on just 15 carries and scored a touchdown. It could be argued this was his best game of the 2017 season. In terms of creating yards on his own, it was the peak performance of this campaign. Howard averaged 7.2 yards gained after defenders closed within one yard of him, by far his highest figure in any game all season. The second-year back currently ranks eighth on the season among backs with 80-plus carries with a 4.22 average.

Los Angles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (8:25 pm EST on Saturday)


A big part of what has made Alex Smith's 2017 season so different than the rest of his career's work is excellent work throwing the deep ball. Just 10 percent of Smith's passes in the first 12 weeks of the season traveled 20-plus yards in the air. However, he had a sterling passer rating of 136.5 passer rating on those throws, chucking seven touchdowns and no interceptions.

Smith has been even more aggressive the last two weeks since Matt Nagy took over the play-calling duties. His deep ball rate more than doubled, jumping to 22.4 percent in Weeks 13 and 14. He's been just as effective on throws of 20-plus air yards in that span, owning a 127.1 passer rating.

While he's been able to carve up the Jets and Raiders as a deep passer the last two weeks, he'll face a far different test against the Chargers on Saturday. Los Angeles' excellent secondary is one of the best at limiting vertical passing games.

Chargers production allowed on 20-plus air yard throws
61.4 passer rating (5th)
19.7 percent completion rate (4th)

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (1:00 pm EST on Sunday)


DeAndre Hopkins will be the latest wide receiver to find himself in the crosshairs of the legendary cornerback duo of A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey. The Jaguars have stifled No. 1 wide receivers this year, allowing the fewest yards and catches to opponents all season. Bouye was Hopkins' teammate in Houston last season, while Ramsey has a longer history with the dominant wide receiver. Hopkins has averaged just 40.3 yards per game when covered by Ramsey since the Jaguars corner entered the NFL.

One area to track these two is down the sideline. DeAndre Hopkins has 12 catches on the boundary (defined as catches made within 1 yard of sideline) this year, which leads all wide receivers. Hopkins and Antonio Brown (10) lap the field and are the only wideouts to have more than six catches along the boundary this season. Jalen Ramsey has only allowed four sideline catches on 10 targets this year.

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns (1:00 pm EST on Sunday)


The effective vice grip of press coverage deployed the Baltimore Ravens secondary is just one of the reasons they have such an effective defense. Baltimore leads all NFL defenses by using press coverage on 53.9 percent of the pass plays against them. The Ravens give opposing receivers just 3.9 yards of cushion at the line of scrimmage, by far the lowest in the league. The second-lowest average is the 4.7 owned by the Green Bay Packers.

So far, just five of Josh Gordon's 17 targets have come against press coverage. Naturally, he's shown well in those limited looks. Gordon averaged 2.01 yards of separation on those targets, besting the 1.87 average among receivers with 10-plus pressed targets. He hauled in two of those targets for big plays, averaging 20.5 yards per reception. The Ravens pass defense is starting to show some cracks and just lost top press corner Jimmy Smith, so Gordon should find success.

Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers (1:00 pm EST on Sunday)


After a rough start to their season, the Panthers running game looks to have turned a corner since their Week 11 bye. In the first 10 weeks of the regular season, the Panthers backs were among the worst at creating yards on their own, averaging just 3.4 yards gained after defenders closed within one yard of them (ranked 25th). Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey are both heating up as the season goes on. Since Week 12, Carolina's backs lead the NFL with 5.1 average yards gained after close.

McCaffrey's improvement as a pure runner is a welcome sign. In the first nine weeks of the regular season, the rookie was completely unable to make anyone miss or break first contact, as he averaged 2.7 yards after close, falling a full yard short of the 3.7 leave average. The Packers run defense has started to show some cracks over the last four weeks, allowing the eighth-most rushing yards (426) in that span.

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (1:00 pm EST on Sunday)


Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White continues to offer up one of the best seasons among rookie defenders. Opposing quarterbacks have a mere 70.9 passer rating when targeting White this season and he leads all rookies with 15 passes defensed. White could find himself across from struggling Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker often on Sunday. Parker has been one of the worst receivers in tight coverage this season. Over 32 percent of Parker's targets this season have come on tight window throws this season and Dolphins quarterbacks sport a 13.3 passer rating on those throws, ranking 70th out of 75 receivers with 10-plus targets.

Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings (1:00 pm EST on Sunday)


The matchup destined to get the most attention is A.J. Green vs. Xavier Rhodes, who has allowed just 475 and a 68.2 passer rating on 74 targets this season. We've seen the full range of outcomes with No. 1 wide receivers vs. the Vikings of late. Rhodes held Julio Jones to under 30 yards in Week 13 but that was sandwiched between two strong games by top wideouts. Marvin Jones won against the stud corner for over 100 yards and a pair of touchdowns, mostly winning in contested situations. While Rhodes gave up just one catch to Devin Funchess over his coverage attempts, the Panthers lined up their top receiver in the slot on the play where he scored his touchdown to get him away from the Vikings top corner.

Green should be able to get his, as long as Andy Dalton's play cooperates. His style of quarterbacking should help him mitigate some of the Vikings' pressure, as he has the second-fastest (2.49 seconds) time to throw among quarterbacks this year.

Arizona Cardinals at Washington Redskins (1:00 pm EST on Sunday)


The 2017 season has brought us a number of elite individual defensive performances. One of those players who has seemingly flown under the radar, likely because of the non-contending team he plays for this season, is Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones. He's one of just five players with more than 50 total pressures on the season.

Top-five individual pressures
Aaron Donald - 56
Everson Griffen - 54
Demarcus Lawrence - 53
Yannick Ngakoue - 53
Chandler Jones - 51

Injuries have struck Washington's offensive line hard here in the back-half of the season. Jones could have a chance to show why he's one of the most underrated top-notch defenders in the league.

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants (1:00 pm EST on Sunday)


The Eagles lost MVP candidate Carson Wentz to a torn ACL in Week 14. Philadelphia has a capable backup in Nick Foles, an excellent underrated defense and the type of skill position talent to keep their heads above water in the NFC without their second-year quarterback. However, while Foles may be viable, his presence under center is destined to reveal just how much this Eagles offense was centered around Wentz's ability to create plays on his own.

Wentz was a pristine improvisor and the numbers bore out the evidence as to how much he thrived when the play broke down. The star quarterback threw 11.7 percent of his passes the last two years outside the tackle tack box and hurled six touchdowns. He also checked in with a 2.68-second time to throw. Foles needs to operate in structure to a far greater degree than the player he's replacing. He gets the ball out quick with a 2.37-second time to throw over the last two seasons and just 5.8 percent of his pass attempts coming outside the tackle box.

If there's one area where the offense should remain static it's the vertical passing game. Wentz (9.2) and Foles (9.1) carry almost identical air yards per attempt figures over the last two seasons. In Week 15, the aggressive Foles should find success attack the Giants down the field. New York gives up a 123.3 passer rating on deep passes, the second-worst in the NFL this year.

New York Jets at New Orleans Saints (1:00 pm EST on Sunday)


Robby Anderson and the entire Jets passing game received a downgrade with the season-ending injury to Josh McCown in Week 14. However, it's worth noting that Anderson was a big-time favorite of replacement quarterback Bryce Petty when the duo hooked up last season. Anderson owned a whopping 50.3 percent share of Petty's intended air yards in 2016. The Jets tried to get Anderson away from Aqib Talib by having him play out of the slot on 22 percent of the snaps last week. They could deploy a similar strategy against the Saints and Marshon Lattimore, who has allowed a 60.8 passer rating in coverage.

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks (4:05 pm EST on Sunday)


Jared Goff's improvement from his rookie to second season has been evidently noticeable. A mix of his own progress, improved wide receivers and the excellent scheme and play design from Sean McVay has been the catalyst for the young quarterback's leap. One area where Goff has been outright excellent is throwing down the middle of the field. Goff has thrown 125 passes over the middle of the field and leads all quarterbacks with a 116.8 passer rating on those passes. His play in attack those zones is a big reason why he's thrown just 14.7 percent of his attempts into a tight window. Only Alex Smith and Joe Flacco check in with a lower rate among full-season starters.

If McVay and Goff stick with that plan of attack, it could mean heavy usage for slot maven Cooper Kupp and possession receiver Robert Woods, who looks likely to return from a multi-week injury. It's worth noting that Goff had an outlier performance throwing into his favorite area of the field in the Rams first meeting with Seattle. In that Week 5 meeting, he posted a 60.8 passer rating on throws over the middle, his worst performance of the season.

Tennessee Titans at San Francisco 49ers (4:25 pm EST on Sunday)


Jimmy Garoppolo continues to look every bit the part of a franchise quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers. During his brief appearance as a starter in 2016, Garoppolo was noticeably conservative when throwing into tight coverage. Just 12.7 percent of his pass attempts went to a receiver with less than a yard of separation last season, falling well below the 18 percent league average. His style doesn't appear to have changed in San Francisco. Garoppolo has thrown just 15.5 percent of his passes into a tight window this year.

While it's in a small sample, Garoppolo has been absolutely money on those tight window throws. His 109.3 passer rating on tight window passes leads all quarterbacks with 70-plus attempts this season. The second-place quarterback is Dak Prescott with 84.3, while Case Keenum checks in third with 75.2.

New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 pm EST on Sunday)


Tom Brady had easily his worst game of the 2017 season against the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Miami was able to effectively rattle Brady with waves of pressure. It particularly compromised his ability to effectively get the ball down the field. Brady posted a paltry passer rating of 13.9 on throws of 20-plus air yards against the Dolphins, completing just one of six attempts and throwing an interception. He had a 98.1 passer rating on those throws coming into Week 14.

Brady has a strong chance at redemption in Week 15 against the Steelers. Pittsburgh allows a 95.5 passer rating on deep passes this year, including seven touchdowns (second-most).

Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders (8:30 pm EST on Sunday)


Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch appears to be heating up as the season wears on, which isn't surprising considering he's coming off a year away from the game. Lynch averaged 3.62 yards gained after defenders closed within one yard of him in Weeks 1 through 6. Since his return from a Week 8 suspension, Lynch averages 4.22 yards after close. Even if he's getting hot, the running won't be easy against the Cowboys on Sunday. Sean Lee is one of the few true difference-making linebackers in the NFL and he returned to the lineup in Week 14. Dallas allows just 4.61 yards per play when Lee is on the field compared to 6.04 when he's not. Lee's -1.43 defensive participation impact is the second-highest among linebackers with 100-plus plays.

Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8:30 pm EST on Monday)


Mike Evans has the volume profile of a wide receiver who should be having a far better season than his current 763 yards and four touchdowns would indicate. Despite the presence of deep threat DeSean Jackson, Evans leads the Buccaneers with a 28.9 percent share of the team's intended air yards. However, that's still a massive drop-off from his NFL-high 42.7 percent share from last season. Volume cleans up all blemishes in raw counting stats and with his volume falling back to the pack, thanks to the vertical threat of Jackson gobbling up extra air yards, Evans' margin for error is far thinner here in 2017. Unfortunately, his quarterback has proven woefully incapable of walking the fine lines this season. Jameis Winston sports a 37.6 passer rating when throwing into tight windows this year (NFL average - 51.7), ranking 32nd out of 43 quarterbacks with 70 pass attempts.

Matt Harmon is a 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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