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Next Gen Stats: Wild Card round matchups


Welcome to the Wild Card round. In this weekly column, we 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' makes us more informed viewers of the game.

Let's break down at least one key matchup that will impact the four-game, Wild Card round slate:

Texans vs. Colts (4:35 p.m. ET) on Saturday

Key Matchup: DeAndre Hopkins vs. press and off coverage

After setting career-highs in receptions (7.2 per game), yards (98.3 per game), catch rate (70.6 percent), and yards gained per route run (2.51), DeAndre Hopkins was the most valuable receiver in the league this season. What makes Hopkins' stellar year even more impressive is all of the defensive attention he faces. Per Next Gen Stats, Hopkins saw press coverage (three or fewer yards of cushion) on 72 of his 163 targets, a 44.2 percent clip. Among all receivers and tight ends that averaged at least 5.0 targets per game, only Marvin Jones (51.6 percent) faced press coverage more often on his passing looks.

Hopkins is arguably the best receiver in the league at not only earning targets but beating press coverage. This year, Hopkins earned a ludicrous 2.8 yards per route run versus press coverage -- the third-best clip in the league. For context, Tyreek Hill gained 4.5 yards per route when facing press coverage (best) but he only faced three or fewer yards of cushion on just 20 percent of his passing looks, more than half the rate Hopkins' faced. Julio Jones gained 3.8 yards per route run against press, but again, he faced press coverage on his targets (28 percent) far less often than Hopkins.

This week, 'Nuk' will get a break from physical coverage while facing the Colts zone-heavy scheme. Per PFF, the Colts are one of just three teams to play zone defense on over 75 percent of their defensive snaps. As a result, Indy's boundary cornerbacks -- Pierre Desir and Quincy Wilson -- both play press on just 13 percent of their pass targets faced in coverage. Colts' corners are in trouble this weekend regardless of scheme, though -- considering Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins formed the fifth-most efficient quarterback-receiver duo when facing off-coverage this season (112.3 passer rating).

Seahawks vs. Cowboys (8:15 p.m. ET) on Saturday

Key Matchup: Russell Wilson throwing into tight windows

A lot has changed since Seattle met Dallas in Week 3 this year. In that bout, Amari Cooper was still a Raider, Brandon Marshall led Seattle in targets (6), and Dak Prescott folded for the worst game of his career (54.5 passer rating, 5 sacks absorbed, 2 INTs). Both sides exited the contest sitting with one win and two losses.

Now, the two teams meet again in the Wild Card round in a likely run-heavy slug fest. Seattle called run on 53 percent of their plays in one-score situations during the regular season, easily the highest rate in the NFL. Dallas' run rate in neutral game scripts was right at league average even after the Amari Cooper trade (42 percent). Stopping Seattle's north-south run offense is a top priority for Dallas -- Chris Carson is averaging 111 yards per game at 5.0 yards per tote over the last month -- but slowing Russell Wilson down is key for the Cowboys secondary.

Dallas plays stingy defense by mixing Cover-3 and Cover-1 concepts and rarely blitzing. According to Next Gen Stats, Dallas sent five or more pass rushers on just 21.5 percent of pass plays this season -- the seventh-lowest clip in the league. Instead, the Cowboys want their elite front four led by Demarcus Lawrence to create havoc and they use physical press coverage to slow down enemy aerial attacks. As a result, the Cowboys have three cornerbacks that rank in the top-four in tight window throw percentage forced (Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Anthony Brown).

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, Russell Wilson was inarguably the league's most prolific passer when throwing into tight coverage this season. Per Next Gen Stats, Wilson ranked first in yards per attempt (8.4), touchdowns (9), and passer rating (103.4) when throwing into less than one yard of receiver separation. Wilson's magic will need to be on full display against Dallas' ball-hawking aerial defense.

Chargers vs. Ravens (1:05 p.m. ET) on Sunday

Key Matchup: Keenan Allen against Ravens elite secondary

One of the best draws of the Wild Card round slate features Baltimore's fantastic corners against Keenan Allen. While Allen is known for his prowess out of the slot, he's actually been targeted at a higher clip when he runs his routes split out wide on the boundary. Per Next Gen Stats, Allen has been targeted far more often when he's out wide (36 percent) than when he's in the slot (24 percent). For context, Allen has nearly split snaps in the slot (340) and out wide (351) this year.

Led by shutdown corner Jimmy Smith, the Ravens will welcome Keenan Allen's high volume receiving role on the boundary. No team has been even as close to dominant as Baltimore has been at defending receivers out wide this season. Per Next Gen Stats, the Ravens rank 32nd in completion rate (49.8 percent), yards per attempt (5.8), and passer rating allowed (66.8) on all targets to receivers split out wide. In fact, during the regular season, only Buffalo (15.6) gave up fewer PPR points per game to receivers aligning out wide than Baltimore (16.9). Instead, Allen's most advantageous matchup comes out of the slot or in tight to the Chargers formation, where the Ravens gave up 49 percent of their passing PPR points during the regular season (fifth-highest rate).

Eagles vs. Bears (4:40 p.m. ET) on Sunday

Key Matchup: Nick Foles against the blitz

Albeit on a sample of just 37 pass attempts, Nick Foles has easily been the league's best passer against the blitz this season. When defenses have sent five or more pass rushers at Foles, he's responded with an 81 percent completion rate (first), 9.2 yards per pass attempt (first), and a 132.2 passer rating (first).

While Chicago does not blitz often (21 percent; sixth-lowest rate over the last eight weeks), they have been incredible when they do send extra pressure. Per Next Gen Stats, the Bears own the league's third-best sack rate (14.3 percent) and third-lowest passer rating (70.6) when they deploy five or more pass rushers. From a tendency perspective, the Bears have an edge over Foles and the Eagles. Not only does Chicago not blitz often, but they are also as stingy as possible when DC Vic Fangio dials up heat.

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