IDP Matchups to Exploit and Avoid: Week 1

Dave Larkin breaks down the key clashes to target and fade for IDP production in the NFL's first week of games.

Each week, this column will take a critical look at key statistical trends to highlight pass rushing and tackle matchups to exploit and avoid. We'll be heavily relying on another great feature at FBG this season, the IDP Matchup Spreadsheet that will be generated by Aaron Rudnicki. That spreadsheet will contain a few weekly and weekly average statistical measures to help identify those defensive teams who are facing the best and worst opportunity as the season progresses. While this column will include analysis of tackle and pass rush opportunity and matchup data, it's only a fraction of the data available in the spreadsheet. We hope that the Matchup Spreadsheet and this column will join John Norton's weekly IDP projections, Doug Drinen's Matchup Analyzer Tool and our customizable MyFBG function as useful tools to assist in making weekly line-up and waiver wire decisions.

You are very welcome to the first edition of what will be a season-long look at the best and worst matchups in the IDP landscape based on detailed, accurate spreadsheet data generated by Aaron Rudnicki on a weekly basis.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Dave Larkin. I am a veteran IDP player and what some would call a diehard fan of this game of football that we all love so much.

Defense is my passion. Over the past few years, I have assimilated countless pages of data from various sources to hone my knowledge of the defensive side of the football. Each week I will study film from the previous week’s games and provide you with nuggets of wisdom that will put you on the right track to the playoffs, and hopefully a championship.

Week 1 presents a challenge in that we are operating with a blank slate. If we think of the 2018 season as a puzzle, right now we would have only the corner pieces. At the best of times, fantasy owners make educated guesses about who to start and who to bench, but the theme of this week’s article is ‘go with your gut’.

If you watched the preseason, there were definitely some valuable tidbits to stash away in your memory banks but realize that the reality could change in an instant. Teams try new things in preseason. Coaches, like artists seeking that perfect portrait, are tinkerers by nature - but that doesn’t mean we can’t glean useful information to be deployed on the fantasy battlefield this week.

So, without further ado, let’s see where our gut takes us in Week 1.

Pass Rushing Matchups to Exploit

Baltimore pass rushers vs. Buffalo offensive line

Footballguys’ resident offensive line guru Matt Bitonti has Buffalo’s patchwork offensive line ranked dead last in the league, and few would blame him. The Bills will march out the inexperienced Nathan Peterman to start against a ferocious Ravens front that will be champing at the bit to get their season off to the perfect start.

The Baltimore coaching staff will be aware of Peterman’s promising preseason play, but that shouldn’t deter them from implementing a game plan heavy on confusing coverages to confound the quarterback. The Ravens do not boast a true ‘difference maker’ on the edge, but the totality of their pass rush is bound to grind down a subpar Bills line.

Key stat: The Bills allowed pressure on 17.2% of dropbacks in 2017, while the Ravens registered pressure on just 15.4% of dropbacks.

Jacksonville front seven vs. New York Giants offensive line

The press clippings this offseason have all been reading positively about the New York Giants’ revamped offensive line. Certainly, the addition of Nate Solder will, on paper, upgrade the unit at one spot, but there are still gaps. Bitonti’s 29th-ranked unit will struggle to handle a Jacksonville pass rush that, quite bluntly, made mincemeat of their competition at times in 2017.

The concern for the Giants is that the Jags front looks just as formidable as their 2017 incarnation, except for Dante Fowler Jr Jr., who is suspended. Although this is a road clash for the AFC South team, it should not affect their prospects as pass rushers. The Giants have skill players to burn, but they may be frustrated by the green wall in front of them.

Key stat: The Jaguars applied pressure at a higher rate on the road than at home in 2017, averaging heat on 17.9% of away games.

Pass Rushing Matchups to Avoid

Tampa Bay pass rushers at New Orleans

The Saints have assembled one of the finest and most cohesive offensive lines in the league, rivaled only perhaps by Pittsburgh for its continuity. The NFC South seems like it could be a dogfight again in 2018, with the Bucs very much on the outside looking in. This clash will go a long way to figuring that out; will the Bucs fold like wet toilet paper, or rise on the road behind a retooled defensive front?

The latter seems the more unlikely and pie in the sky notion from a neutral perspective, so despite the additions of established names like Jason Pierre-Paul, Vinny Curry, and Beau Allen, it is safe to put the Buccaneers on ice this week. The Saints have more than enough in their arsenal to stifle the Tampa Bay pass rush; expect a balanced approach that will steadily wear them down.

Key stat: The Saints allowed pressure on only 9.7% of dropbacks last season, one of the best marks in the league.

Tackle Matchups to Exploit

Dallas defenders at Carolina

When we look back at the 2018 season, the biggest secret of the offseason in hindsight may be the Carolina offense. With Norv Turner at the controls, the Panthers offense looks more tooled up than in any of Cam Newton’s previous seasons. A bulked-up Christian McCaffrey looks primed for a bigger workload than last year, while the receiving talent, including new faces D.J. Moore, Torrey Smith, and Jarius Wright, add a new dimension.

Dallas, on the flip side, has undergone something of a transformation offensively. However, it is on defense that there may be holes to exploit for a high-octane Carolina offense – especially at safety. The smart money here is on Carolina to have, if not a breakout party, then a mini fiesta on offense at the expense of the Cowboys. That will lead to big tackle days for the likes of Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie and Jaylon Smith.

Key stat: Bank of America Stadium has an average TVO of 1.216 over the past four seasons according to my research, ranking fourth overall in that period. The stat crew here is a generous one, so even fringe IDP options are appealing.

Kansas City and Los Angeles Chargers defenders

The AFC West clashes in 2018 should be among the very best of football on offer, with high-flying offenses, intriguing defenses and engaging personalities keeping us coming back for more. This face-off qualifies as one of the premiere matchups, and there could be IDP production on both sides here.

The Chargers’ home stat crew is one that will award more points than average, so in what should be a back-and-forth affair we can expect plenty of points. The feeling is that the Chargers should have the better of it, meaning the Chiefs’ options might be slightly favoured overall, with Reggie Ragland, Anthony Hitchens and Eric Berry, in particular, profiting.

Key stat: The L.A. Chargers’ home stat crew at the StubHub Centre ranked second in TVO factor last season, but the Chargers’ home has been a good bet for several years. Their home, wherever it was geographically, ranks seventh in TVO factor on average in the past four seasons.

Tackle Matchups to Avoid

Philadelphia and Atlanta defenders

The last time these NFC behemoths clashed was in the playoffs just a few short months ago, when Philadelphia edged out the visitors on a late goal line stand. Whether that kind of dramatic flourish of an ending can be reproduced on Thursday night as the Eagles unveil their first Super Bowl banner remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: quality tackles may be hard to come by. That is because a distinctly unfavourable TVO factor has riddled the Philadelphia home stadium for several years. While the sheer volume of plays by both teams, who could keep the offenses matriculating down the field, may somewhat offset this concern, the wise move this week is to watch from afar and glean actionable information to act on in future weeks.

Key stat: Philadelphia’s home stadium ranks as one of the worst for TVO factor, meaning IDP owners get less bang for their buck for every tackle made compared to the average stadium. Over the past four seasons, Philadelphia has ranked 30th in TVO.

Washington and Arizona defenders

As they say in property magazines, it is all about location, location, location. That might be sage advice this week as the Redskins, sans rookie phenom Derrius Guice, visit the desert in Arizona. The University of Phoenix Stadium has, true to its land’s characteristics, been a barren outpost for fantasy points. With TVO factor against it and two teams who are more likely to grapple than brawl, this one is a nice stay-away option in Week 1.

Key stat: Arizona has ranked 28th in average TVO over the past four seasons, making their home stadium a poor ground to mine fantasy points.

Best of luck with Week 1 and make sure to check back next season for more matchup analysis.

If you have any further questions or tricky line-up decisions you need advice with, please drop me a line at larkin@footballguys.com, or if you prefer you can tweet me @davlar87.