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Next Gen Stats preview: Packers vs. Vikings

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There are a number of statistics and data-based tools to help us decipher which matchups to exploit and which to avoid, one of which is the NFL's Next Gen Stats package.

Here we'll look where cornerbacks and wide receivers line up, which defenses are particularly susceptible to which player packages and so much more. 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 16.

Packers receivers vs. Vikings

Are you old enough to remember when the world was in full-on panic mode about Aaron Rodgers this season? Part of the offenses' struggles to begin the season was their inability to get much going deep down the field.

Rodgers posted a 49.6 passer rating on passes that traveled 20-plus yards in the air in the first 11 weeks of the season and averaged 4.7 such attempts per game. The script flipped the last month as the Packers went on a four-game winning streak. Rodgers averages 6.3 deep pass attempts per game with a passer rating of 119 the last four weeks.

If the Vikings are without safety Harrison Smith on Sunday this new development in the Packers offense could spell trouble for Minnesota. There has been a dramatic difference in their defense's ability to defend the deep ball without their field general on the backend:

Vikings defense on deep passes with Harrison Smith
4.2 attempts per game
1 TD - 5 INTs
21.8 completion rate
7.1 yards per target
24.7 passer rating

Vikings defense on deep passes without Harrison Smith
4.5 attempts per game
2 TDs - 0 INTS
44.4 completion rate
15.8 yards per target
130.8 rating without

Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson have been the primary deep threats for the Packers during their win streak. The former hauled in a 66-yard touchdown against the Seahawks in Week 14, while Nelson caught the long bomb from Rodgers last week against the Bears. That pass to Nelson traveled 60.8 yards in the air, the longest throw of the season for the Packers quarterback:

Of wide receivers with 70 or more targets from one quarterback this year, Nelson (13.1) and Adams (13) rank 15th and 16th in air yards per target, showing their downfield prowess. If Smith is out again, both Nelson and Adams have a shot to hit big plays in this game.

However, Smith did get back to practice on Thursday. If he returns, there's more risk in both of their outlooks. The Vikings have been one of the best teams in the NFL at limiting perimeter receivers, allowing a league-low catch rate:

Receivers lined out wide vs. the Vikings
193 targets
96 catches
49.7 percent catch rate
1,089 yards
7 TDs

Both Terence Newman and Xavier Rhodes have been outstanding this year in taking away outside passing lanes. The Packers have moved Jordy Nelson inside at times this year to get him more space, as he has 31 percent of his targets from the slot. Adams, on the other hand, should be tangled up with those two almost exclusively, as 76 percent of his targets come when he's lined up outside and 46 percent when he's lined up at left wideout.

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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