I’d like to believe a football game can be explained by the sum of its individual match-ups. If every NFL contest is a painting, I want an understanding of the big picture before any color hits the canvas. Furthermore, I want to understand how each brushstroke leads to the next. This idea was the genesis of my Game Flowbotics spreadsheet a couple years ago. To predict game flow, we need to understand the unique machinations of countless in-game match-ups, and we also need some idea of the game flow’s origin point. The origin isn’t necessarily defined by what happens on the opening drive, though. It’s a critical thread or pattern running through the fabric of the entire match-up.
For example, when the New England Patriots head to the Bay Area to face the 49ers on Sunday, the game will hinge on whether the 49ers defense can stop the Pats’ high-powered offense. If we want, we can zoom in on either phase of the Patriots’ offense. Can the Niners contain LeGarrette Blount in the running game? Can they neutralize Tom Brady’s aerial assault? The answer is “probably not” in both cases, so the match-up on the other side of the ball is largely irrelevant.
Colin Kaepernick and Co. should be able to post some number of points on New England’s defense, but we know they can’t score as efficiently as the Patriots. Even if the Niners start with the ball and immediately go up 7-0, the crux of the match-up remains San Francisco’s chance of slowing down New England’s offense. Of course, this is an easily cherry-picked example, and we can very easily misjudge the fundamental tension in any given game. Plus, variance is always around to punish our prognostications. That doesn’t mean we should stop searching for those core match-up truths. Here’s my Game Flowbotics page for the Week 11 slate:
As always, my ranks are a couple mouse-scrolls away, but for the space between, here are a couple interesting Week 11 rankings situations based on unique angles from the world of flowbotics…
Andy Dalton vs. BUF
There’s enough to like about this match-up on the surface. The Bengals are 4.5-point favorites according to MyTopSportsbooks, at home against Buffalo’s 23rd-ranked passing defense by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. With Tyler Eifert finally healthy, Dalton has a full arsenal of receiving weapons at his disposal. Cincinnati also rates well enough running the ball, so there’s little risk of a truly one-dimensional offense.
Regardless, one small match-up quirk jumps out and has me worried about Dalton. The Bills’ defensive line ranks first in adjusted sack rate with a mark of 9.10%. The Bengals’ offensive line ranks last in adjusted sack rate, with an identical mark of 9.10%. We can’t take these stats as gospel, but as a thought exercise, what would happen if Dalton were actually sacked 9.10% of the time? His 317 passing attempts in his first 9 games equate to slightly more than 35 attempts per game, which would result in about 3.2 sacks per game. Yikes.
Naturally, Cincinnati must be aware of this concern, so they’ll game-plan accordingly to keep their quarterback upright as much as possible. Also, it’s not as if a frequently-sacked passer can’t produce solid fantasy numbers (for proof, see Andrew Luck’s career stats). Still, we should prepare for safe and run-heavy play selection from the Bengals. On the other side of the ball, if the Bills maintain their plodding pace on offense, Dalton’s volume of snaps could be hindered. High risk of pressure from the opposing defense plus potential for diminished workload is not a recipe I want to bank on in fantasy football, so I’m fading Andy Dalton slightly in Week 11.
The DVOA Title Bout between PHI & SEA
The Philadelphia Eagles take their emerald jerseys to the Emerald City this week to battle the Seattle Seahawks. and these teams happen to rank #1 and #2 respectively in overall DVOA. Say what you will about Football Outsiders evaluation of Philly, but we can all agree their defense is much better than the New England unit that finally made Russell Wilson look like a QB1 again in Week 10.
The beef between Bill Simmons and Cris Collinsworth regarding the quality of Seattle’s offensive line has already been squashed, but let’s flog the dead horse a bit more and consider how the Seahawks might fare against Philly’s second-ranked pass rush. Things could get certainly get ugly again for Russell Wilson, but the hype for a strong second half of the season is beginning to pull me in. Thomas Rawls is set to return, and C.J. Prosise has come on strong in recent weeks. That help in the running game and Wilson’s improving health quell my fears with the Seattle O-line to some extent.
Meanwhile, the Eagles’ defense looks more beatable since their Week 4 bye, allowing solid-to-good fantasy performances to every quarterback they’ve faced not named “Sam Bradford.” Put it all together, and I’m cautiously optimistic for Russell Wilson’s fantasy stock this week (and in future weeks). You should consider buying Wilson if you can find an owner looking to “sell high” in the face of this match-up, especially if Wilson’s owner is under the assumption his Week 10 performance was buoyed by a soft Pats’ defense. After Week 11, the Seahawks face Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Green Bay, all of which are solid passing match-ups.
Going back to the the rushers for a moment, I’m hesitant to recommend Rawls. Seattle’s release of Christine Michael all but cements Rawls as a fixture in the offense moving forward, but how prominently will he be used? C.J. Prosise could hold onto the lion’s share of the work, and fellow rookie Alex Collins could also get into the mix. Plus, if you believe in a late-season Russell Wilson renaissance like I am wont to do, it would likely come at the expense of Seattle’s running game. I could be wrong about all of this, of course, but until we see Rawls in action taking a sizable portion of the hand-offs, Prosise must be ranked higher. Speaking of rankings, let’s dive in…