Welcome to the Week 6 installment of The Opening Drive. After this week's action, we'll officially be through more than a third of the NFL season (and nearly halfway through October). As a statistician, I'm always anxious to take each week's results and begin analyzing the numbers. Early in the season, sample size is a big issue that looms over any meaningful output that we can draw from the analysis. Fortunately, we're quickly moving through the season and acquiring a more meaningful sample size. As the sample size increases, more opportunities present themselves to be able to look at the data in new ways.
A couple weeks ago we introduced the topic of offensive red zone analysis into your lineup creation process. This week we're going to take it a step further and also look at team defenses in the red zone. Obviously, this analysis can help while choosing a defense, but it's also a useful tool to use while selecting the other offensive positions in your lineup. Knowing how opposing defenses perform when backed up against their own goal line is an essential key when trying to pick the players with the most touchdown upside.
Most of the general team defense statistics (i.e. avg yards allowed, TDs allowed, etc) are readily available and are already used in fantasy content across the web or radio. Sites have even isolated this data to show how defenses perform against different types of opposing positions (i.e. vs TEs, vs WRs, etc). But much like the offensive red zone data, the defensive red zone information is just as hard, if not harder to find. Using this information will absolutely give you an edge simply because the information is not widely publicized. Let's get into it.
Table 1: Offensive Red Zone Performance (Through Week 5)
This first table might look a little familiar to you. We touched on this a couple weeks ago but let's review what this data means since it's updated with results through Week 5. Based on the table above, we can draw two important conclusions. First of all, a higher red zone success rate is only valuable if it's paired with a high number of red zone opportunities. Second, a high number of red zone opportunities is only valuable if paired with a high success rate. From this data, I can make the assumption that in general, it's a good idea to target players from Kansas City, Green Bay, New Orleans, and Chicago because each of those teams have a high number of red zone opportunities and a high red zone success rate. Conversely, players from Arizona and Jacksonville are probably not the best choices because their offenses do not produce many red zone chances and when they do, their teams' rarely convert.
Table 2: Defensive Red Zone Performance (Through Week 5)
The second table introduces an additional variable to the analysis of red zone data. Now we can measure an opposing defense to see how frequently they have allowed red zone opportunities and how often they have been scored upon in the red zone. When picking players to play, you ideally want to pick players that are playing against a team that is both frequent in red zone chances allowed and have a high red zone conversion rate allowed. In the example above, players on teams facing the Falcons, Bears, Jets, Redskins, Titans and Buccaneers are all viable options to use.
The next step in the process is to bump the two lists next to one another to see if there are any high efficiency offenses (higher red zone chances + higher red zone conversion rates) facing low efficiency defenses (higher red zone chances allowed + higher red zone conversion rates allowed). The results are below.
Best RZ Matchups in Week 6:
Denver - Denver travels to New Jersey to face off against the Jets in what is expected to be one of the highest Vegas line totals of the week. Denver's highly efficient offense converts red zone opportunities 28% of the time while the Jets allow opponents to score 23% of the time. Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas lead the team in red zone targets with 9 and 8, respectively.
Atlanta - Even though Atlanta has only generated 28 red zone opportunities through the first 5 weeks of the season, they are converting their opportunities an incredible 39% of the time. This week, Chicago comes to town and they have allowed the 6th most red zone opportunities to their opponents to begin the year, allowing the opposing team to score 22% of the time. Steven Jackson has seen 25% of the red zone opportunities, followed by Jacquizz Rodgers with 21% and Julio Jones with 11%.
Green Bay - The Miami defense has done a great job at limiting red zone opportunities this year but their number of 23 is probably a little understated. First of all, they had bye week in Week 5 and second, they faced the Bills, Chiefs and Raiders in Weeks 2-4. In the 24 chances the Miami Dolphins have seen, they succeeded at stopping the offense only 70% of the time, 4th worst in the league. On the other side of the football, Green Bay has converted their 48 chances over 27% of the time, with Eddie Lacy (38%), Jordy Nelson (30%), and Randall Cobb (24%) seeing the majority of the red zone opportunities.
Worst RZ Matchups in Week 6:
Philadelphia - Philadelphia has a terrible 14% red zone conversion rate and they take on the New York Giants who have allowed their opponents to score in the red zone just 17% of the time.
Miami - Miami takes on the Green Bay Packers at home on Sunday. The Dolphins have converted just 19% of their 42 total red zone opportunities this season while they face the Packers who have allowed their opponents to convert on only 13% of their 54 red zone chances.
San Diego - On the surface, the Oakland Raiders defense appears to be pretty weak. Digging deeper, however, the Raiders are actually quite adept at stopping red zone attacks. Oakland has allowed the second most red zone opportunities through the first 5 weeks (even though they only played 4 games) but have the 4th best red zone success rate against. This doesn't bode well for Philip Rivers and company who have the 16th best red zone conversion rate at 20%.
The Final Word:
This information is designed to be used in conjunction with all your other research methods. Just because there is a statistical trend after 5 games doesn't necessarily mean it will predict the outcome of future games. Many of these early season stats can be skewed by strength of schedule, injuries or player suspensions. Use this data as just another tool in your ever growing fantasy toolbox. As sample sizes increase, we'll be able to look at specific player data a little more closely along with coach play-calling tendencies and total target distributions to continue building your data analytic inventory.
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Good luck this week!