As we start the second half of an unprecedented 2020 NFL season, here’s a look at five key Week 9 matchups, with an eye toward EPA statistics
Seahawks (6-1) vs. Bills (6-2)
Both defenses have their weaknesses, so this matchup could become a shootout between quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Josh Allen.
Wilson continued his bid for NFL MVP last week, tossing 4 TDs and completing 73% of his passes. Wilson leads the league in completion percentage over expected, meaning he completes difficult passes at an extremely high rate. The Bills’ defense is in the bottom third of the league in EPA/pass allowed, so Wilson could be in line for another big day.
Allen, meanwhile, has been prolific on play-action this season – he’s third in the NFL in EPA/Pass on play-action. On passes not off of play-action, Allen is right around league average EPA/Pass, so the Bills need to establish the run in order to set up play-action opportunities and exploit the Seahawks’ porous secondary. For all Seattle’s defensive struggles, however, their defense has preformed relatively well against the run, ranking in the top 10 in EPA/rush allowed.
Saints (5-2) vs. Buccaneers (6-2)
When these teams met in the season opener, it wasn’t so clear that Tampa Bay was ready to challenge the Saints for the NFC South title. Yet here we are. New Orleans won that first meeting, 34-23. Tom Brady had some trouble getting the offense off the ground, throwing two interceptions and being sacked three times. Since that game, Brady has thrown 18 touchdowns with only two interceptions and is in the top half of the league in EPA/pass.
Drew Brees has been efficient as usual this season, leading the league in completion percentage at 73.7% and is sixth in EPA/pass. The status of top WR Michael Thomas is still up in the air, but would provide a much-needed spark against a tough Bucs defense. When healthy, Thomas is one of the top receivers in the league in EPA/target, and the Bucs defense leads the league in defensive efficiency. With Brady’s progression throughout the season and Thomas potentially still out, this rematch may have a different outcome than the first contest.
Ravens (5-2) vs. Colts (5-2)
The Ravens are coming off a tough loss to the undefeated Steelers, despite gaining Pittsburgh 2-to-1. Lamar Jackson committed four turnovers and struggled to pass the ball efficiently in non-play-action situations. Baltimore may struggle to run the ball again this week against the Colts, who have a top 5 defense in EPA/rush allowed, which does not bode well for setting up play-action. Indy’s defense is top 5 in EPA/pass allowed as well, so it may be tough sledding overall for the Ravens’ offense.
The Colts had the luxury of facing a lackluster Lions pass rush last week and won big. This week, they will not have the same fortune, as Baltimore’s defense ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in sack rate. The Ravens’ defense has been a top 5 overall unit this season, and the matchup between them and the Colts’ stellar offensive line may be the X-factor in this game. Expect a tough defensive battle in this one.
Bears (5-3) vs. Titans (5-2)
The Bears posted a negative EPA/play on offense in last week’s overtime loss to the Saints. Nick Foles ranks in the bottom five in EPA/pass through Week 8. Fortunately for Chicago, the Titans’ defense has been just as bad, ranking in the bottom 5 in EPA/play allowed. This week could be an opportunity for the Bears to put together a solid offensive performance against an underperforming Tennessee defense.
The Titans are coming off a surprising loss at the hands of the Bengals, falling to rookie QB Joe Burrow. Tennessee’s success so far this season has come mostly on the offensive side of the ball, with QB Ryan Tannehill ranking in the top 3 in EPA/pass and their running game is in the top 10 in EPA/rush. This matchup will be one of strength vs strength, pitting the explosive Titans’ offense against the Bears’ hard-nosed defense.
Raiders (4-3) vs. Chargers (2-5)
This game is a matchup of two top 10 QBs in EPA/pass. Rookie Justin Herbert is playing at an elite level for his young age and is especially efficient on third down. He ranks second in third-down EPA/pass among all quarterbacks, behind only Patrick Mahomes. Derek Carr has also been performing well on third down, ranking fifth in EPA/pass. The Chargers’ defense ranks 11th in percentage of third-down conversions allowed, while the Raiders’ defense ranks 21st — giving an edge to the Chargers on third down.
Herbert has also been clutch in the red zone, ranking third in EPA/pass, while the Raiders’ defense ranks 22nd in red-zone scoring percentage. Performance by the young quarterback in these crucial situations may be enough to help the Chargers pull out a victory, though they have been infamously bad in one-score games the past few seasons. Six of L.A.’s seven games this season have been decided by one score, and all but one of them were losses. If the Chargers want to win this game, Herbert will have to continue to step up.