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Next Gen Stats: Week 8 fantasy football matchups

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Now in its third season, Next Gen Stats has quickly exploded. The statistics are featured in game broadcasts, they are leveraged in countless articles, tweets, and podcasts throughout the week, and the Next Gen Stats database is free to access.

In this weekly column, we'll dive deep into Next Gen Stats' metrics and explore player and team-based matchups. The goal is simple: Next Gen provides truly unique analytical data we can use to uncover edges when making fantasy lineup decisions. Most importantly, Next Gen Stats' data coffers make us more informed viewers of the game.

Let's break down the Week 8 slate through the lens of Next Gen Stats.

Eagles at Jaguars (9:30 a.m. ET); in London


Key Matchup: Who has the edge in the battle of 3-4 playoff teams?

Week 8 is a pivotal week for the Eagles and Jaguars. Both teams won their division in 2017, both teams now sit at 3-4, and both sides are 11th in their respective playoff hunts. No one could have envisioned either team in this disappointing scenario.

Obviously, the key to this game will be if the Jags' passing offense can get off of the mat after three abysmal performances by Blake Bortles. Unless Jacksonville can muster a semblance of a passing offense, it won't matter how much Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon can "hammer" the ball on the ground. Over the last three weeks, Bortles' 7.7 percent completion rate below expectation is fifth-worst per Next Gen Stats. When facing pressure from the opposing pass rush, Bortles is 14-of-36 (39 percent) for 5.0 yards per attempt and a 0:3 TD-to-INT ratio. His 20.5 passer rating when under duress is the second-worst clip in the NFL over the last three weeks, among qualified passers.

This is the stone worst week for Jacksonville to take on one of the best front sevens in the league.

Per Next Gen Stats, the Eagles force pressure 31 percent of the time on non-blitz pass snaps (highest rate in the NFL). Meanwhile, the Eagles are stuffing run plays at or behind the line of scrimmage on 30 percent of attempts, the second-best rate in the NFL. Derek Barnett's loss for the season (shoulder) hurts, but make no mistake: The Philly front seven is still vicious. The Jags' are in trouble.

Ravens at Panthers (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Can Cam Newton consistently beat the Ravens stout secondary?

One of the main reasons Cam Newton is presently having his best season in completions (65.6 percent) and sack rate (4.6 percent) is because the Panthers aerial attack is finally condensed. Gone are the days where Cam was asked to haphazardly chuck the rock deep to big, lumbering receivers. Seriously, though -- Newton's deep ball attempt rate is way down this season compared to 2016 (15 percent) and last year (10.4 percent):

More short passing is paying off in Carolina. Per Next Gen Stats, Newton has a 105.6 passer rating on passes traveling less than 10 air yards (4th-best in NFL). In fact, Newton is completing 76 percent of his throws that travel less than ten yards in the air (ninth-best).

Unfortunately for Cam -- and the Panthers passing offense this week -- the Ravens are locking down aerial attacks at all field depths. Baltimore owns the NFL's fifth-best passer rating (77.2) on throws that fly less than 10 yards in the air and they're also fifth-best on passes that travel between 10-19 yards in the air (76.3 passer rating). Christian McCaffrey has yet to finish worse than the PPR RB22 in any game this season, but it's hard to be confident in any other Panther against this Ravens defense that is permitting just 22.2 yards per drive, the lowest clip in the NFL.

Jets at Bears (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Can Trubisky beat the blitz?

Over his last three games, the Bears second-year signal caller has piled on QB1, QB5, and QB2 overall weeks in fantasy. In this span, Trubisky has thrown for over 315 yards in each contest and put up 3/53, 8/47, and 6/81/1 rushing days on the ground. Trubisky has been on fire for fantasy ... but there is some dissonance between his numbers and real-life play. This week, Trubisky will have to figure out the Jets blitz-heavy scheme. Per Next Gen Stats, Todd Bowles' defense is sending five or more pass rushers 34 percent of the time, the fourth-highest rate behind Arizona (43 percent), Baltimore (38 percent), and Cleveland (35 percent).

Trubisky hasn't exactly been stellar against the blitz this season, owning the NFL's seventh-worst completion rate below expectation (-7.3 percent) and fifth-worst pass YPA (6.1). Trubisky makes an excellent QB1 play for Week 8 because of his second-reaction scrambling ability, but his passing floor is lowered against the aggressive Jets. Look for innovative head coach Matt Nagy to scheme up some quick-hitters to Tarik Cohen to subdue the Jets attack.

Buccaneers at Bengals (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Which version of Andy Dalton will we see?

With Andy Dalton's Week 7 disaster in Kansas City still fresh on everyone's mind (15-of-29, 148 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) -- the Bengals need a layup draw to kick-start their passing offense once again. They're going to get it this week. Tampa has been a turnstile of passing output this season, permitting the most pass YPG, the most fantasy points per dropback, the highest passing TD rate, and the league's highest passer rating.

Not only are the Bucs' cornerback's struggling, but their front seven is also not generating pressure. It's created a recipe for disaster for Tampa and fruitful fantasy picks for us. Per Next Gen Stats, Tampa has forced pressure on just 23 percent of dropbacks this season (fourth-lowest rate). In the Bengals four wins this season, Dalton has shredded secondaries when facing pressure (111.8 passer rating) while he's supremely struggled against heat in Cincy's three losses (13.5 passer rating under pressure). Dalton will see plenty of clean pockets in Week 8, though. Hopefully, we get Good Andy.

Seahawks at Lions (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: What difference does Damon "Snacks" Harrison make for Detroit?

Heading into Week 8, the Lions inarguably have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. They've allowed a gargantuan 6.02 YPC to opposing backs this season, by far the worst clip in the NFL. Per Next Gen Stats, the Lions permit 4.5 yards after a defender has closed within a yard (worst), over 51 percent of runs against their front seven are successful (ninth-worst), and they're stuffing runs at or behind the line of scrimmage just 17.8 percent of the time (11th-worst).

However, Detroit's destitute interior defense is about to get a huge boost. This week, the Lions flipped a fifth-round pick to the tanking Giants in exchange for the league's best interior run defender. Per Next Gen Stats, Harrison leads all inside defensive lineman in run stuffs since the beginning of 2016:

Harrison practiced with the Lions on Thursday this week, perhaps putting him on track to make his Detroit debut against Seattle. We'll see. Whether he suits up this week or next, one thing is clear: Detroit's run defense is about to improve exponentially.

Broncos at Chiefs (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Breaking down Philip Lindsay's potential blowup spot

With Royce Freeman (high ankle sprain) likely sidelined for Week 8, rookie phenomenon Philip Lindsay is in a near-perfect situation this week against the Chiefs. While Kansas City's secondary has quietly played significantly better over the last month -- they've held quarterbacks to a 68.3 passer rating (second-best in this span) -- they are getting routinely whacked by receivers out of the backfield.

This year, the Chiefs have allowed 7.0 receptions (second-most) and 73.0 yards (most) per game to enemy running backs. Per Next Gen Stats, 18.3 percent of Kansas City's total passing output allowed this season has gone to receivers out of the backfield (tied with Atlanta for the ninth-highest clip). Since Freeman will more than likely miss Week 8, Lindsay should handle most of Denver's backfield duties. Prior to injuring his ankle in Week 7, Freeman averaged 10.0 routes run and a 35 percent snap rate per game. Lindsay's projected increase in playing-time should lead to more targets for the shifty satellite back, who leads all Broncos in target rate per route run (29 percent).

Redskins at Giants (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Is this the week Eli steps up? Narrator: "Probably not."

No team is pressuring the quarterback more often than Washington (34.4 percent). Meanwhile, no quarterback turns into a turtle against pressure faster than Eli Manning. Seriously, when Manning faces pressure -- he has absorbed a sack 28.8 percent of the time, the ninth-highest rate in the NFL. The Giants offensive line isn't doing Manning any favors for sure (8.4 percent adjusted sack rate; ninth-worst). But, to be fair, Manning rarely sticks in the pocket and delivers a throw under duress. Per Next Gen Stats, Manning gets rid of the ball in 2.88 seconds (seventh-fastest) and averages just 5.9 scramble yards per attempt (seventh-fewest) when under pressure. Manning's lack of aggression is especially apparent on third-downs, as he's throwing 2.2 yards short of the sticks on average (worst in NFL). With limited pocket mobility, Manning turns into a sitting duck against violent front sevens. Washington has one. Watch out.

Browns at Steelers (1 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: It's Jarvis Landry week. Again.

Just like last week, Jarvis Landry finds himself in a pristine matchup out of the slot. After rinsing the Bucs shoddy slot coverage for 10/97/1, he gets to face a Steelers' side that has allowed 141.5 yards per game to enemy slot wideouts. That's second-most behind only ... Tampa Bay. In fact, 46.2 percent of the Steelers total passing yardage output allowed has gone to slot receivers (highest clip in NFL).

Since Baker Mayfield took over as the Browns starter, Landry leads the team in target share (27 percent), air yards (30 percent), and red-zone targets (8). He's seen double-digit targets in each game (45 total) and runs 60 percent of his routes from the slot. Landry is about to eat again.

Colts at Raiders (4:05 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Andrew Luck vs. tanking Raiders

Who doesn't love a good fire sale?

The Raiders are clearly playing for 2019 (and beyond), giving Andrew Luck and the Colts passing offense a perfect road spot to stay in the hunt for the AFC South title. Over the last month, Andrew Luck has finally looked at or near full health as he has thrown 15 passing scores and averaged 7.9 air yards per pass attempt. In the first three games of the season, Luck's 5.6 air yards per throw was third-lowest in the NFL.

Without Khalil Mack and behind a faltering secondary that has benched their two most talented cornerbacks (Gareon Conley and Rashaan Melvin), it should be no surprise Oakland is third-worst in passer rating (102.8) and dead last in pressure rate forced (15.8 percent). Over their last four games, the Raiders have allowed a passing gain of 20 or more yards on 15 percent of their attempts faced (worst rate in NFL). With T.Y. Hilton getting back to full speed after a hamstring kept him sidelined for two weeks, the Colts' aerial attack is full-go in Week 8.

49ers at Cardinals (4:25 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Will new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich save David Johnson's season?

The Cardinals haven't played in over a week, but they are going to have a new identity in Week 8 against the Niners. New offensive Byron Leftwich is taking over for Mike McCoy, vowing to emulate David Johnson's usage under former head coach, Bruce Arians. We shall see. In 2017, Arians hired Leftwich and praised him enthusiastically when given the opportunity.

Regardless, Johnson's usage can't much worse. As we've noted in this space all year, Johnson is running just three percent of his routes split out wide as a receiver (or in the slot), down significantly from his 2016 season under Arians (20 percent of routes in the slot or out wide). Additionally, former-offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was using Johnson as a "hammer" back -- instead of the dynamic weapon he actually is:

Over the full season, the Cards' defense has allowed a rushing gain over 10 or more yards at the seventh-highest clip even though the unit sends eight or more defenders into the box at the league's second-highest rate. What's more, no team is permitting more fantasy points per target to opposing running backs than Arizona. David Johnson's fantasy owners have A New Hope.

Packers at Rams (4:25 p.m. ET)


Key Matchup: Robert Woods' perfect draw

Robert Woods has quickly become a fantasy stud this season, earning at least 5 catches and gaining over 78 yards in six-straight games. Woods leads L.A. in target share (26 percent) while his 653 air yards bests speed demon Brandin Cooks (579).

Without Cooper Kupp (knee) last week, Robert Woods was the Rams primary slot receiver, running 62 percent of his routes from the interior. That's a sizable jump from his season-long average (30 percent slot rate; per Next Gen Stats). Now, Woods faces a Green Bay secondary that has actually done an adequate job slowing down receivers out wide but is still getting whacked by slot receivers. Per Next Gen, the Packers are allowing 97.3 yards per game to interior receivers (tenth-most) while 42 percent of their total passing output allowed comes via the slot (fourth-highest rate). Kupp is "doubtful" to play for Week 8, allowing Woods to remain the Rams slot man for one more game. Load up.

Saints at Vikings (8:20 p.m. ET); Sunday Night Football


Key Matchup: Will the Saints use long-developing plays to exploit the Vikings?

The Vikings pass defense has been up-and-down to start the season, to say the least. This year, Minnesota has allowed a perfect game to Jared Goff and coughed up a 68 percent completion rate, 8.9 yards per attempt, and a 111.2 passer rating to Josh Allen in Week 3. Those were all easily season-highs for Allen.

Of course, the Vikings also just demolished rookie Sam Darnold on the road in Week 7, forcing three interceptions, three sacks, and two fumbles (one lost). So, what's behind their inconsistency?

Well, one factor could be Minnesota's lack of discipline in coverage when the quarterback holds the ball for an extended amount of time. Next Gen Stats' data shows the Vikings have given up an enormous 10.5 yards per attempt and 116.1 passer rating when they give the opposing quarterback over 2.5 seconds to throw:


You don't need Next Gen's incredible data to tell you that Drew Brees is incredible, regardless of how long he possesses the ball in the pocket. However, the Vikes' inability to hold their coverage could spell trouble if the Saints choose to call longer developing pass plays. While Xavier Rhodes is still performing near an all-world level (5.5 yards per target; 69.1 passer rating allowed when he's the nearest defender), opposite boundary corner, Trae Waynes, is laboring in coverage (8.9 yards per target; 96.8 passer rating allowed). Michael Thomas will get much-deserved shadow treatment from Rhodes this week, but Rhodes is banged up (ankle) and was torched for 7/85/2 in the playoffs last season when these two sides met. How the Saints try to beat the Vikings unsettled defense makes for a perfect primetime storyline.

Patriots at Bills (8:15 p.m. ET); Monday Night Football


Key Matchup: Josh Gordon's impact

It's official: Josh Gordon is back. Gordon may never return to his 2013 form (6.2 receptions, 117.6 yards per game), but he's been a crucial part of the Pats' recent offensive turnaround. Each week over the last month, Gordon has become a larger part of New England's attack:

Unsurprisingly, Gordon's presence has allowed the Patriots to employ a significantly more diverse attack. In Weeks 1-3 (without Gordon), the Patriots used 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) just 35.6 percent of the time (lowest rate in the NFL), per Next Gen Stats. Over the last month, New England has used 11-personnel 57 percent of the time. In this span, the Pats are averaging the fourth-most yards per play and have the league's best success rate when they are in '11':


This week, Josh Gordon will likely draw shadow coverage from the Bills best corner, Tre'Davious White. Among qualified cornerbacks, White is top-25 in yards per target allowed when he's the nearest defender (per Next Gen Stats). White also plays press coverage on 56 percent of his snaps, the eighth-highest rate in the league. Get your popcorn ready.

-- Graham Barfield is the managing editor of fantasy football content at NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter @GrahamBarfield.

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