Through the first two years of their existence, the Next Gen Stats have quickly progressed, not only in their depth and insight but also in their utility. Now that we've spent the last two-plus NFL seasons exploring and tracking the data provided by the microchips in the players' shoulder pads, we're ready to take the information and its practical value to the next level.
In this space, every week we'll use some of the Next Gen Stats metrics to delve into every game of the week and explore individual player or team-level matchups. Since it's Week 17, we'll look at just the most pivotal matchups for playoff implications. The hope is with some of the truly high-level analytic data we can uncover unique edges for fantasy football players when making lineup decisions for the upcoming week. Most of all, we'll be more informed consumers of the NFL contests, which we should always strive to be in our fantasy decision-making process. Let's dive into games on the Week 17 slate to examine areas where Next Gen Stats can help cut through some of the questions.
Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers (4:25 pm EST on Sunday)
Despite the presence of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who rank in the top-10 among individual pass rushers with 54 and 49 pressures, respectively, the Chargers rank just 19th in pressure rate on the season. When teams take care of Bosa and Ingram, the Chargers don't have another player who can put heat on the passer. Last week, the Jets were able to accomplish that. Ingram and Bosa combined for just one pressure and Los Angeles posted the third-lowest pressure rate (12.9 percent) among Week 16 defenses.
If the Raiders are to pull the upset and keep their division rivals out of the playoffs, their offensive line will have to contain Ingram and Bosa. Oakland has consistently allowed the lowest pressure rate in the NFL and Derek Carr (2.47 seconds) has the fastest time to throw among starting quarterbacks.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans (4:25 pm EST on Sunday)
The entire Jacksonville defense has been outstanding but the Pro Bowl cornerback duo of Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye has been particularly dominant. The Jaguars allow a league-low 52.2 passer rating on targets when a cornerback is the nearest defender. When any other position is the nearest defender, they allow a 101.6 passer rating. That -49.4 differential is the largest in the league.
The Jaguars can't secure a bye in the playoffs this week but their rival Titans need a win to keep their playoff dreams alive. Tennessee should look to attack the middle of the Jaguars pass defense rather than hack away at the outside lanes. That should mean plenty of work for Delanie Walker and potentially even Eric Decker inside the numbers.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4:25 pm EST on Sunday)
Just about everyone knows of the exploits of All-Star rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The 11th overall pick in the draft has allowed fewer than 54 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed and gives up a 60.2 passer rating in coverage. However, his fellow corner Ken Crawley, a second-year undrafted free agent, has been a factor in their defensive stabilization, as well. The Saints allow just 4.91 yards per play when Crawley (who missed three games) is on the field and 6.69 when he isn't. His -1.78 participation impact (yards per play differential) leads all defensive backs who have been on the field for 200-plus snaps this season.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (4:25 pm EST on Sunday)
Larry Fitzgerald hasn't slowed down a bit and, even as he heads down what might be the final stretch of his career, is white-hot to end the season. He hasn't guaranteed he'll return for the 2018 season, but seeing as he just clinched his third-straight 100-catch campaign, it's clear he hasn't lost a step. As it stands heading into Week 17, Fitzgerald leads all wide receivers with 19 receptions in tight windows (less than one yard of separation). The future Hall of Famer is a master on contested catches. He also thrives at getting off the line, as his collection of quarterbacks have a 115.4 passer rating when targeting him in press, fourth-highest among receivers with 20-plus targets.
Fitzgerald's two areas of strength set him up for success against the Seahawks. Seattle plays press on 38.9 percent of their defensive pass plays, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens (51.8 percent) and Kansas City Chiefs (42.1 percent). Even if they do manage to get solid coverage on Fitzgerald, their defensive backs have struggled at the catch point. The Seahawks allow 44.7 percent of the 105 tight window throws against them to be completed, the highest rate in the NFL. As Seattle makes one last stand for their playoff chances, they'll need to make containing Fitzgerald priority No. 1, 2 and 3.
Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (4:25 pm EST on Sunday)
It's quite clear to anyone watching the games this year that Matt Ryan is nowhere near the same player as he was during an incredible MVP run in 2016. One of the biggest reasons for the decline is his drop-off when the defense gets some heat on him. Ryan led the league with a 104.9 passer rating and completed over 60 percent of his passes when under pressure last year. This season, he's more along the middle of the pack with a 72.3 passer rating and 53.6 percent completion rate.
Carolina's defense owns the seventh-highest pressure rate (30.5 percent) this season. Four of their defenders, Mario Addison (12.2), Kawann Short (10.8), Julius Peppers (9.9) and Charles Johnson (8.2) have pressure rates over 8.0 percent. If Ryan falls into the same issues he's had when facing pass rushers this season, the Falcons will struggle to secure the win they need over their division rival to earn a postseason berth.
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (4:25 pm EST on Sunday)
Ravens running back Alex Collins has emerged as the X-factor in the team's offense this season after being promoted from the practice squad early in the year. Collins leads the team with 895 rushing yards and five touchdowns. However, his last two games have been some of his slowest outings of the season, as he's taken his 30 carries for a whopping 70 yards (2.3 per carry). Collins hasn't been breaking tackles or making people miss as he has for most of the season. For the season, the Ravens back ranks inside the top 20 with 3.93 average yards gained after defenders close within one yard (NFL average - 3.7). However, his last two weeks have dragged down his season average with 2.92 against the Browns and 2.74 against the Colts. He averaged over 4.0 yards gained after close in seven games this season, and over 5.0 in five of them.
Collins will have a chance to rebound against a Bengals defense that has been gashed on the ground this year. Cincinnati has allowed 1,928 rushing yards this season, the second-most in the NFL. The team needs Collins to regain peak form if they want to make a deep postseason run.