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 6 slate through the lens of Next Gen Stats.
Seahawks at Raiders (1 p.m. ET); in London
The Cooper Coaster has already run its full course through five games. Amari Cooper's stat lines are egregiously chaotic this season: 1/9, 10/116, 2/17, 8/128/1, and 1/10. Consistency isn't Cooper's strongest suit.
Jon Gruden promised to use Cooper as the "main vein" of his pass offense, but that has not come to fruition, at least consistently, in Weeks 1-5. The main problem is that Gruden isn't using Cooper creatively. Per Next Gen's tracking data, Cooper has lined up in the slot on a fairly promising 33 percent of his routes (a career-high), but he's just seen six targets from the interior this season (out of 31). Even though Cooper's separation metrics are better in the slot (3.8 yards) than out wide (3.5 yards), Derek Carr and the Raiders just aren't featuring him enough when he lines up inside.
Unlike last week when Casey Hayward traveled with (and shut down) Cooper, this does appear to be a decent week to hop aboard the Cooper Coaster. Per Next Gen Stats, the Seahawks are allowing the ninth-most fantasy points per game to outside WRs -- where Cooper has seen 81 percent of his targets this season.
Buccaneers at Falcons (1 p.m. ET)
Through four games, Tampa's pass defense has been a turnstile of production. Everyone is going off against the Bucs. They're 32nd in pass YPG allowed (370.0), 32nd in pass TD rate allowed (8.0 percent), 32nd in fantasy points allowed per dropback (0.67), 32nd in passer rating allowed (124.3; per Next Gen Stats), and their front seven is 31st in pressure rate forced (19.4 percent; per Next Gen Stats).
"Not great, Bob!"
Tampa's terrible coverage and their quiet front seven is a recipe for disaster ahead of their Week 6 date against a white-hot Matt Ryan. In fact, Ryan is sixth in passer rating (110.9) and eighth in YPG (320.2) while Julio is on pace for a cool 1,804 receiving yards. Jones has historically set Tampa on fire in his career, too -- putting up a ludicrous 6.9 receptions and 119 yards per game against the Buccaneers. It's a rare sight, but there is a relatively high likelihood Julio notches his first TD of the season against a Bucs' side that is allowing 2.3 TDs per game to enemy receivers.
This week, Julio will mainly do battle with boundary corners, Carlton Davis and Brent Grimes. On the year, Grimes has allowed a perfect passer rating (158.3) when he's the nearest defender to a receiver while Davis has not fared much better (136.3 rating allowed; ninth-worst), per Next Gen Stats. A positive TD regression candidate as well, Julio is about to erupt in Week 6.
Steelers at Bengals (1 p.m. ET)
The biggest problem Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers pass offense has faced this year hasn't been necessarily been opponent-related. It's time-based. You see, Big Ben's efficiency has waned this season when he holds the ball too long. When the Steelers stay on schedule and Roethlisberger delivers the ball in under 3.0 seconds, Pittsburgh's aerial attack has been borderline unstoppable:
Roethlisberger's poor production when he holds the ball for over three seconds is a huge storyline for Week 6. The Bengals front seven is forcing pressure at the league's second-highest clip (33.3 percent) even though they're blitzing at a league average rate (27 percent). If the Bengals can pressure Roethlisberger organically and affect the Steelers timing, they can throw Pittsburgh's entire offense off schedule. What's more, this goes without mentioning that Roethlisberger historically struggles on the road. As Rotoworld's Rich Hribar mentions, Roethlisberger has been inside of the top-10 in fantasy scoring in just two of his past 22 road games with early start times (1 pm EST) over the last five years.
Chargers at Browns (1 p.m. ET)
The Browns could very easily be 5-0, 0-5, 4-1, 1-4, 3-2, or 2-3 this year. Every single one of Cleveland's games in Weeks 1-5 has been decided by four or fewer points, and their turnaround and competitiveness is due in large part to their much-improved defense.
On the year, Cleveland owns the NFL's second-lowest completion percentage below expectation (-9.8 percent). Only the Ravens (-12.9 percent) are doing a better job at limiting completions, while the Jags' (-6.6 percent completion rate below expectation) are third-best. What's more, the Browns' 69.9 passer rating allowed is the second-lowest in the NFL and light-years better than their second-worst 96.2 rating they coughed up just last season.
So far, early returns suggest the Browns nailed their NFL Draft evaluation on Denzel Ward. Per Next Gen Stats, Ward is allowing just 5.57 yards per target and a 50 percent catch rate when he's the nearest defender to a receiver. Free agent find E.J. Gaines has been equally punishing, allowing 5.8 yards per target and the league's second-lowest catch rate (40 percent). For reference, 7.5 yards per target is average for cornerbacks this season. Ward and Gaines have their work cut out for them in Week 6, however, as Philip Rivers is quietly putting together his career-best season (116.4 passer rating; third-best among all quarterbacks). Rivers has thrown for 300 yards and/or multiple scores in three-straight seasons against the Browns defense of old.
Bills at Texans (1 p.m. ET)
Deshaun Watson has already been sacked an exorbitant 18 times this year, second-most in the NFL behind only ... Josh Allen (19)! Now up against Buffalo's tenacious front seven, this is a catastrophic Week 6 matchup for the Texans shoddy offensive line. Over the first five weeks, Buffalo has forced pressure 30.3 percent of the time -- the ninth-best rate in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Texans are allowing pressure at the league's ninth-highest rate (31.4 percent). As a result of a poor offensive line (and poor scheme), Watson is being forced to hold onto the ball far too long (3.13 seconds until attempt; second-slowest per Next Gen Stats). The Texans must manufacture quicker attempts for Watson, or else he'll get knocked around against the Bills pressure-heavy front.
Bears at Dolphins (1 p.m. ET)
Fresh out of a Week 5 bye, Khalil Mack and the Bears tenacious front seven are in a near-perfect spot to continue creating mayhem in offensive backfields. Heading into Week 6, only five offensive lines have allowed pressure more often than Miami (35 percent). That might be a problem against Chicago.
What's concerning for Miami is that Ryan Tannehill has been far from efficient when under pressure this season. Tannehill is lighting up enemy secondaries when kept clean (115.7 passer rating), but his passer rating falls by a hefty 62 points when he's pressured (53.6 rating under pressure), per Next Gen Stats. No fantasy D/ST has a higher ceiling in Week 6 than Chicago.
Cardinals at Vikings (1 p.m. ET)
Even though Arizona has stopped allowing shutdown CB Patrick Peterson to shadow opposing receivers this year, it hasn't stopped him from being one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Peterson's passer rating permitted when he's the nearest defender to a receiver is an other-worldly 34.9, second-best in the NFL. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown at Peterson 16 times ... and tallied 66 yards.
Peterson is as dominant as ever, but he likely won't see much of Adam Thielen in Week 6. Per PFF data, Peterson has lined up in the slot on just two percent of his snaps this season -- while Thielen is the Vikes' primary slot wideout (60 percent of routes in the slot; per Next Gen). Instead, Thielen will mainly do battle with struggling rookie slot corner, Budda Baker (79 percent catch rate; 94.6 rating allowed). It may not look like it on paper -- Arizona is allowing the fewest fantasy points per target to receivers -- but Thielen's Week 6 outlook is rosy out of the slot.
Colts at Jets (1 p.m. ET)
Through five games, Indianapolis is simply putting too much on Andrew Luck's plate. The Colts are passing on a ludicrous 72 percent of their offensive plays, the highest rate in the NFL. It doesn't help that the Colts trail eighth-most often (56.6 percent), forcing Andrew Luck to air it out even more. When the Colts play from behind, they throw 78.2 percent of the time (fourth-highest rate).
The good news, if there is such a thing in an incredibly imbalanced offense, is that Luck is finally starting to push the ball downfield:
Luck and Co. may find the airspace is thin against a Jets' secondary that's eighth-best in passer rating (78.2) and ninth-best in completion rate below expectation (-2.5 percent), per Next Gen Stats.
Panthers at Redskins (1 p.m. ET)
The Panthers have done a masterful job re-tooling and re-scheming their offense around Cam Newton this season. Carolina is using play-action far more often, they lead the NFL in rush yards before contact (PFF), they are No. 1 in rushing offense, and Christian McCaffrey leads all RBs in yards from scrimmage per game (130.3).
The goal is for Carolina to run a more efficient offense with less variance week-to-week, and it's working. Newton is heaving the ball deep far less often, as just seven percent of his attempts this season have traveled over 20 yards in air, per Next Gen Stats. Over the two prior seasons, Newton attempted a deep pass 13 percent of the time -- nearly double his rate this year.
Washington's defense was exposed as a fraud in New Orleans after an easy opening schedule kept their ancillary defensive metrics appearing strong. The Redskins opened up against the lifeless Cardinals, saw Andrew Luck in his second start after he missed well over a year, and then they caught a gimpy Aaron Rodgers at home in Week 3. The Panthers' diverse attack that predicates on play-action and deception at the snap should make easy work of the 'Skins in Week 6.
Rams at Broncos (4:05 p.m. ET)
Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp's (concussion) availability is crucial for this Week 6 duel between AFC and NFC West teams, but it's fair to wonder what the Broncos defense has left in the tank at this point. Denver is allowing the NFL's 11th-worst passer rating (93.3), the eighth-worst pass YPA (7.94), and they're only forcing pressure on 22.4 percent of pass plays (fifth-lowest rate). It's just bizarre to see this once-dominant defense struggle so much. After getting drummed for 512 total yards by the Sam Darnold-led Jets, the Broncos return home to face a Rams team that is averaging a massive 7.4 yards per play out of 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WRs), second-most in the NFL. Meanwhile, Denver is allowing 6.9 yards per play against 11-personnel (per Next Gen Stats). Yikes.
Jaguars at Cowboys (4:25 p.m. ET)
This has been a common theme in this space all season, but Dallas must do something to change their pass offense. Dak Prescott simply has zero help. His receivers are bottom-three in yards of separation (per Next Gen Stats), and it's forcing Prescott to fail under pressure. That's a problem with Jacksonville next up. Per Next Gen Stats, Prescott is dead last in passer rating (36.6), YPA (2.0), and completion rate (28.6 percent) when pressured this season. The Jags, on the other hand, are forcing pressure on 29 percent of their non-blitz snaps -- the fifth-best clip in the NFL.
Ezekiel Elliott will, once again, be forced to put the team on his back in Week 6. Elliott's 480 rush yards leads the NFL, he leads Dallas in receptions (22), and he is second on the team in pass routes run per game (21.8). What's worse, Jacksonville's pressure-heavy front seven is also excellent at stopping the run, giving up just 3.62 YPC to enemy rushers (seventh-best). If Dallas is going to turn their season around, something is going to have to change out wide. Dallas' current way of doing business on offense is defunct.
Ravens at Titans (4:25 p.m. ET)
At full health after hamstring tightness plagued his 2017 season, John Brown is back to smoking enemy cornerbacks. Per Next Gen Stats, Brown leads all WRs in deep targets (over 20 yards in air) with 5.0 per game. The next closest receiver in deep targets per game is DeAndre Hopkins (2.4). Brown has rewarded the Ravens wise free agent spending and he's back to being one of the league's premier deep threats.
What will be interesting in Week 6 is how the Titans elect to cover Brown. While left corner Adoree Jackson owns the NFL's tenth-lowest yards per target when he's the nearest defender to a receiver (4.89 yards), free agent signee Malcolm Butler is on the other end of the spectrum. The former Patriot is struggling. Mightily. When Butler is the nearest defender, he's allowed a massive 12.2 yards per target (third-worst) and the NFL's 12th-worst passer rating (130.7). The Titans may be wise to use Jackson in shadow coverage on Brown when they meet on the boundary, or, at the very least, give Butler safety help over the top.
Chiefs at Patriots (8:20 p.m. ET); Sunday Night Football
The Next Gen Stats research team notes that since 2016, Brady has been noticeably more efficient through the air when Gronkowski and Edelman are on the field together. The Pats also air it out far more often when New England's lead receivers are active:
The Chiefs passer rating allowed (83.1; 11th-best) has dipped in recent weeks after two dates with Case Keenum and Blake Bortles, but make no mistake: Their secondary is still burnable. Kansas City is still allowing the second-most pass YPG (360.4) and the most passing gains of 20 or more yards (27), per Next Gen Stats. While Josh Gordon's participation ramps up, we may finally see the Pats offense back in full gear in a likely high-scoring Week 6 affair.
49ers at Packers (8:15 p.m. ET); Monday Night Football
After a knee injury slowed him down in Weeks 1-3, Aaron Rodgers is back to doing what he does best: Create second-reaction, off-schedule plays on the run. With his knee getting close to 100 percent, Rodgers threw three TDs on the run (moving 8-plus mph) in Weeks 4-5 against Buffalo and Detroit:
Green Bay's offense has been sluggish to start the season, but this is about as good of a "get right" spot as an offense can get. San Francisco allowed 20 or more fantasy points to every quarterback they faced in Weeks 1-4 and their 12.0 TD-to-INT ratio is second-worst in the NFL. Per Next Gen Stats, San Francisco has forced a tight window throw on just 13.6 percent of pass attempts this season (sixth-fewest). Look out.