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Next Gen Stats: Week 12 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 12 Sunday-Monday slate through the lens of Next Gen Stats:

San Francisco 49ers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: George Kittle smashing and spiking on Bucs

The Niners only have two wins after Jimmy Garoppolo's (ACL) injury harpooned their 2018 aspirations, but if nothing else, San Francisco has learned George Kittle is an absolute freak. Even with three different starting quarterbacks this year, Kittle has recorded 79 or more yards in 7-of-10 games, he leads all tight ends in yards gained per route run, and trails only Saquon Barkley in total yards after the catch. Now, Kittle enters Week 12 in a matchup absolutely ripe for destruction. San Francisco wisely uses Kittle as a traditional receiver, either aligning him or motioning him into the slot (or out wide) on nearly 40 percent of his routes. This year, Tampa Bay has been terrorized for 129.8 YPG to enemy slot receivers, by far the most in the league. Meanwhile, only Oakland (11.0) is allowing more yards per passing target to tight ends than Tampa (10.7). Kittle is a fantasy league-winner and possesses a rare high ceiling and floor (for tight ends) in Week 12.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: Bills D/ST in a top streaming draw

The Jags' 2018 season is circling the drain, and it's due in large part to their completely inept offense. Make no mistake, though -- Jacksonville's defense is still elite. Per Next Gen Stats, the Jags' own the league's third-lowest success rate versus the pass (44 percent) and they are No. 1 in rushing success rate allowed (41.6 percent).

The offense deserves all of the blame for the Jags' skid.

Over Jacksonville's six-game losing streak, Blake Bortles has a 5:5 QB-INT ratio, he's completed just 58 percent of his passes, and he's been sacked three times per game. Bortles' 8.5 completion rate below expectation since Week 5 is second-worst in the NFL, trailing only Sam Darnold (8.8 percent). In this span, the Jags' are sixth-from-last in yards gained per drive while just 26.1 percent of their possessions have ended in a score. Only Arizona (20.3 percent) has scored less often.

On the flip side, Buffalo owns the fourth-best completion rate below expectation (4.9 percent) and the sixth-lowest passer rating (86.7), per Next Gen Stats. This year, the Bills D/ST has averaged 11.5 fantasy points per game at home (most in the league).

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals (1 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: Nick Chubb primed for success

Fresh out of the Browns bye, Nick Chubb enters Week 12 as one of the highest ceiling running back plays of the week. Chubb has been a monster on the ground this season, as he trails (17 percent) only Aaron Jones (21 percent) for the league lead in gains of 10 or more yards. Chubb is also first and second, respectively, in PFF's yards after contact and missed tackles forced on a per carry basis.

Chubb's elusiveness and ability to create yards on his own has helped foster one of the most explosive rushing environments in the NFL, regardless of defensive attention. Per Next Gen Stats, Chubb is averaging a nuclear 8.2 yards per carry when he faces eight or more defenders in the box -- by far the best clip in the NFL. The Browns happen to be catching the Bengals at the right time, too. Over the last five weeks, Cincinnati has allowed the ninth-highest rate of rushing gains exceeding 10 yards (15 percent), the fifth-highest YPC (5.3), and the second-most rushing scores (7). Since Carlos Hyde was traded, Nick Chubb has handled 79 percent of the Browns total rush attempts. Only Saquon Barkley (84 percent) has seen more work in this span.

Oakland Raiders at Baltimore Ravens (1 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: Can the Raiders defend Lamar Jackson's speed?

In a game-script that is almost unheard of in the modern NFL, Baltimore called just 19 pass attempts on 73 plays in Lamar Jackson's first start. The Ravens went 74 percent run-heavy! For reference, the league has been about 60 percent pass-heavy this season. In general, Jackson did not do much on his passes (150, 1 INT, 70.1 passer rating), but he turned his enormous 27 carries into 117 yards on the ground. Per Next Gen Stats, Jackson reached 15-plus MPH on 14 rush attempts while no other player has hit 15-plus MPH on more than nine rush attempts in any game this season:

Not only is the slowest defense in the NFL ill-equipped to deal with Jackson's speed, but the flashy rookie also showed a little promise when throwing from a clean pocket in his debut last week. Per Next Gen Stats, Jackson averaged a robust 9.4 YPA when he was not pressured in his debut. No team pressures the quarterback less often than the Raiders (16.5 percent).

New England Patriots at New York Jets (1 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: Patriots with and without Gronk

At press-time, the Patriots are expecting to get Rob Gronkowski back for Week 12. It's an obviously welcome return. Gronkowski has missed three of the Pats' last four bouts while dealing with another back issue, and the future Hall-of-Famer hasn't been as nearly as productive as we're accustomed to this season. Since dropping 7/123/1 on the Texans in Week 1, Gronkowski has averaged just 3.7 receptions and 54.2 yards per contest in his six other games. He hasn't scored in this span, either.

However, the Patriots offense drastically changes when Gronkowski is not on the field. In Weeks 7, 9-10 -- New England became almost exclusively an 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs). Per Next Gen Stats, the Pats' use 11-personnel 22 percent more often when Gronkowski is out of the lineup:


Amazingly, the Patriots have not attempted a single pass attempt out of 12-personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) without Gronkowski on the field this season. His return instantly makes the Pats' offense more multiple and diverse. Tom Brady and the Pats' pass offense has stagnated over their last two games in particular, mustering just one score through the air. Since Gronk entered the NFL in 2010, Brady has averaged 8.0 yards per attempt with Gronkowski versus just 6.8 YPA without Gronk.

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: How will the Panthers defend Russell Wilson?

With multiple passing scores in 9-of-10 games this season, Russell Wilson is having a season for the ages in the efficiency department. To start, Wilson has tossed a passing score on a gargantuan 41.5 percent of his red-zone pass attempts this season. Not only does this rate lead the league, but it is also the second-best red-zone TD rate since 2000. Only Deshaun Watson (2017; 48.2 percent) has been better inside-the-20 in this span.

Not only is Wilson ripping enemy secondaries in the red-zone, he's also been lethally accurate at all field depths this year. Per Next Gen Stats, Wilson ranks fifth-best in completion rate above expectation on short throws (0-9 yards), he's fourth-best on intermediate throws (10-19 yards), and he's first in completions above expectation on deep balls (20 or more yards).

Wilson's dominance will be on full display this week against a back-sliding Panthers secondary. Over their last five games, Carolina has permitted a 105.1 passer rating (eighth-worst), they've allowed a 2.1 percent completion rate above expectation (fifth-worst), and a 7.6 percent pass touchdown rate (fifth-worst) per Next Gen Stats.

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles (1 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: Can Barkley beat stacked boxes?

After vaporizing the Eagles for 229 yards from scrimmage and a score on 22 touches back in Week 6, it's safe to think Philadelphia will take a different approach defending Saquon Barkley in Week 12. In that contest seven weeks ago, the Eagles used eight or more defenders against the run... once. That was a mistake. Over the full season, however -- Philadelphia has been one of the most 'heavy' defensive front sevens against the run. Per Next Gen Stats, the Eagles commit 7.07 defenders into the box on rushing plays (second-most) and they stuff 35 percent of runs at or behind the line of scrimmage when they have seven or more defenders in the box (fourth-best).

Likely due in part to New York's porous offensive line and Barkley's running style, the Giants are far less effective on the ground when facing normal and stacked fronts. However, among qualified ball carriers, Barkley's 7.6 yards per rush when facing six or fewer defenders leads the NFL:


Slowing Saquon down is a tall task, but the Eagles must find ways to commit extra defenders in the box in obvious rushing situations against the Giants. Not doing so in Week 6 led to a 13/130/1 rushing day for the No. 2 overall pick.

Arizona Cardinals at L.A. Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: Can the Bolts bounce back against the blitz-heavy Cardinals?

Coming off a "classic" Chargers last-second loss at home to the inferior Broncos last week, the 'Bolts stay in L.A. to face a Cardinals side that is finally showing signs of life. Los Angeles is a sure favorite to win, but Arizona's path to stealing a victory is clear. As the league-leaders in blitz rate (42.2 percent), the Cards' use multiple pass rush sets to disturb opposing offenses. Philip Rivers is enjoying a career-best season, but he has regressed against the blitz as of late. Over his last five games, Rivers ranks 16th-of-33 in passer rating when blitzed (98.2) while his 3 INTs when facing five or more pass rushers leads the NFL in this span.

While Rivers must be better against the blitz, Melvin Gordon is in another absolute smash spot. While Arizona manufactures heat, they're incredibly susceptible to opposing backs. Over the full season, only four teams have allowed more yards from scrimmage per game to opposing backs than Arizona (170.5) while Gordon has tagged 123, 165, and 156 scrimmage yard totals since returning from the 'Bolts bye in Week 8. Arizona is permitting the eighth-most yards per carry before a defender closes in -- per Next Gen Stats. Gordon should have plenty of space to get loose.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos (4:25 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: How do Broncos match up versus AB and JuJu?

Currently ranked 10th and 13th in yards per game among wideouts, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown have been wreaking havoc on opposing secondaries all year. Whereas Brown is tied for the NFL lead in receiving scores (11) and has hit pay dirt in eight-straight, JuJu leads the NFL in yards per game out of the slot (63.2) per Next Gen Stats.

So, how will Denver try to deal with this duo?

While JuJu Smith-Schuster aligns out of the slot on 67 percent of his snaps, he'll face primary coverage from the best slot corner in the NFL. Chris Harris Jr. has limited opposing wideouts to the fewest receptions per snap in four-straight seasons (PFF) and is currently enjoying another stellar season. Per Next Gen Stats, Harris has allowed just 34 receptions for 360 yards (on 56 targets) when he's the nearest defender. While Harris is giving up just 6.4 yards per target in his coverage, fellow boundary CBs -- Bradley Roby and Tramaine Brock -- aren't faring as well.

Antonio Brown will align out wide against Roby and Brock on 85 percent of his routes, seeing majority coverage against a Broncos duo that is allowing 8.8 yards per target to enemy wideouts. While Harris can slow down JuJu out of the slot, Antonio Brown is set up to exploit Denver.

Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts (4:25 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: Luck's improved protection

With three or more passing scores in now eight-straight games, Andrew Luck now trails only Patrick Mahomes (9.5 percent), Russell Wilson (8.3 percent), and Drew Brees (7.5 percent) in passing touchdown rate over the full season. Luck's frenzied pace is due in large part to the Colts' much-improved offensive line. Since stud LT Anthony Castonzo returned in Week 6, Indianapolis has allowed pressure on just 11 percent of Luck's dropbacks -- easily the best rate in the NFL. They have allowed a grand total of zero sacks in this span.

Not only is Luck hardly ever seeing pressure, he's dominating when pressure (rarely) affects the play. Again, with Castonzo in the lineup, Luck's 125.6 passer rating under pressure in Weeks 6-11 is the best in the NFL.

Miami had two weeks to prepare for the game coming off their bye, but their secondary is struggling mightily coming into Week 12. Over their last five games, the 'Fins own the NFL's fifth-worst passer rating (108.6), they've forced a tight window throw just 10.7 percent of the time (fifth-lowest; per Next Gen Stats), and have given up a passing gain of 20 or more yards 13 percent of the time (third-worst). Miami's 20.1 percent pressure rate forced in this span is also third-lowest.

Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings (8:20 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: Rodgers vs. pressure

At 4-5-1 and 5-4-1, respectively, the Packers and Vikings seasons both hang in the balance ahead of Week 12. After losing three of their last four games, this road date could not be coming at a worse time for Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers has notoriously struggled against Mike Zimmer's defense since he joined the Vikes. Over his last four full games against Minnesota, Rodgers has absorbed a gargantuan 18 sacks (4.5 per game) and averaged a pedestrian 7.08 yards per attempt.

Once again, whether or not the Vikings can get to Rodgers consistently will likely determine the outcome of the game. For a multitude of reasons, Rodgers has struggled supremely against pressure this season, completing just 36 percent of his passes (lowest in NFL) when under duress. Rodgers' 71.3 passer rating and 5.2 YPA against pressure is bottom-12 in the league, too.

After an early season lull, the Vikings front seven has remained elite at getting after the passer this season, generating the fifth-highest pressure rate (30.5 percent) and fourth-highest sack rate (8.9 percent). Not only is Minnesota one of the five best pass-rushing teams in the NFL, they have plugged their proverbial holes on defense over the last five weeks. To open the season, Minnesota allowed the seventh-most passing yards per game (278.6) in Weeks 1-5. Since then, the Vikes' have given up just 173.4 pass YPG (third-best).

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans (8:15 p.m. ET)


Key matchup: DeAndre Hopkins "nuking" Titans

Determining the best wideout in the NFL is a futile endeavor at this point. Seriously, there are at least six receivers with a direct claim to the "best receiver" mantra -- but what DeAndre Hopkins is doing this season is nothing short of insane. After finishing as the WR2 in fantasy points per game last year (20.8), Hopkins has arguably been even better this season. Per Next Gen Stats, Hopkins' catch rate is 13.2 percent higher than expected and the third-best clip in the NFL. Hopkins' 70.8 percent catch rate is (by far ) a career-best.

Now, Hopkins gets to face a Titans secondary that is not only sneakily struggling -- but a unit 'Nuk' routinely has his way with. Tennessee's corners are permitting the seventh-most fantasy points per target to opposing receivers and the fifth-most YPG to wideouts aligned on the boundary, per Next Gen Stats. That's where Hopkins runs 82 percent of his routes. What's more, Hopkins has basically made a career out of ripping the Titans secondary. Over their last eight meetings, Hopkins has averaged 7 receptions, 109 yards, and 0.75 TDs per game against Tennessee.

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

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