The weekly Funnel Defense Ratings uses advanced data to analyze situations in which teams are more likely to pass or run than they usually do. For more of our weekly football content, visit the NFL homepage.
About a month ago I introduced a new funnel metric; see that piece for the explanation on how I created it. The metric has some hits and misses, and there are a couple reasons it’s best thought of as descriptive rather than predictive. First, I don’t incorporate Vegas data (although I’ll include it in the ratings table below), mostly because I don’t have exact numbers on historical run/pass ratios based on Vegas spreads and implied team totals. That’s a large project perhaps for the offseason. Second, and this is important to remember, some teams simply refuse to funnel production to either part of their offense. We saw this with the Steelers in Week 5: Although the opposing Jaguars boasted an elite secondary and were the best against the pass in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), Ben Roethlisberger chucked it 55 times.
Also, it’s important to note that a team could have a high run or pass funnel rating, get funneled into that phase of the offense, and still suck and not put up fantasy points. Just look at the Buccaneers-Giants game from last week: It had the highest combined pass funnel rating of the week and didn’t disappoint in terms of pass attempts. The teams together threw the ball 77 times and ran it just 38 times. Ryan Fitzpatrick bounced back and had a nice fantasy day, but Jay Cutler got pulled after throwing three interceptions. Sometimes teams suck at passing even if they’re doing it a lot, and sometimes teams get into the red zone and kick a bunch of field goals. Football can be random. Still, I was pleased about the process of being on that game. (Although I will admit I feel ridiculously lucky after betting the over and hitting it only when the Bucs landed on the ball in the end zone with no time remaining.)
Anyway, onto the Week 12 funnel ratings.
Potential Shootout Games
It’s been two weeks in a row in which a game with a high combined pass funnel rating and low(ish) Vegas total has gone over (again, last week’s was lucky, but still). Players from these games haven’t been highly-owned, as DFS users often target high-total games. For example, DeSean Jackson was only 3.6 percent owned in the DraftKings Millionaire Maker. His teammate, Mike Evans, was only 10.0 percent, while on the other side of the ball Jarvis Landry got up to only 13.5 percent.
The games with the highest combined pass funnel ratings — by far — are Dolphins-Patriots and Broncos-Raiders. The first has a moderately high total of 48.0 points — and the Patriots are tops on the slate with a massive 32.25 implied team total — while the second currently has an over/under of just 43.5 points. You might be surprised to learn that the Raiders now own the strongest pass funnel defense in the league — ahead of teams like the Browns and Dolphins, who have been easy targets all year. This doesn’t mean the Raiders are bad against the pass and strong against the rush. Sometimes it works out that way, but sometimes a team is just so egregiously bad in one facet that they’re still a strong funnel in one direction. Oakland is an example of this: They aren’t great against the run, ranking 21st in Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), but they’re just so atrociously awful in the pass game, as evidenced by their 48.0 percent pass defense DVOA. For reference, Detroit had the worst pass defense last season with a 36.2 percent DVOA.
The obvious downside with the Broncos is that they’ll be starting Paxton Lynch, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury since training camp. We can assume he’s fully healthy, but it’s not as if the Broncos had any superior options. Still, there’s upside in this matchup given the combined pass funnel rating and Denver’s fourth-fastest pace of play in neutral situations. As I mentioned in my Week 12 Market Share Report, the Broncos ran a whopping 81 offensive plays in Week 11, and wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas played 76 and 71. If you’re looking for a low-owned game stack, you’ve found it.
Maybe even more notable is that the Week 12 game with the highest Vegas total — the Saints-Rams game at 53 points — has the lowest combined pass funnel rating. These teams can certainly be efficient on the ground, and they’re rolling out talented backs in Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara, and Todd Gurley, but it’s possible this game could be played slower than expected and go under the total. The Rams and Saints rank first and 11th in neutral pace of play, but each team also boasts a solid defense. Your exposure to this game will go a long way in dictating your profit in guaranteed prize pools, and it could be a week to go under in your exposure, as scary as that may be.
Notable Potential Funnels
In the first table, the rightmost column is titled “Oppo.” That is the absolute value of the difference between each team’s run/pass rating and the defense’s run/pass funnel rating. It highlights negative situations, such as when a pass-heavy team faces a team that is a strong run funnel. The biggest example by far in Week 12 is the Arizona Cardinals, who have a strong pass rating but face an elite secondary in the Jacksonville Jaguars, who own a strong run funnel defense. This is an awful matchup for the Cardinals, who want to pass, and they still might have to as 5.5-point home favorites. Put simply: Their offensive strengths strongly clash with their opposition’s defense strengths. Avoiding teams with high Oppo numbers and targeting teams with low ones could be wise.
The team with the strongest run funnel rating is the Dallas Cowboys, who face a Los Angeles Chargers team that funnels production in that direction. The question is whether the Cowboys offensive line can hold up, as they’ve looked shaky without left tackle Tyron Smith. He’s reportedly set to return for their Thanksgiving matchup, but it remains to be seen how this offense will go with a healthy offensive line but without Ezekiel Elliott. Still, this is an intriguing situation to target since the Cowboys backs will likely be underowned even on a small three-game slate. Alfred Morris got 17 carries but no targets in Week 11, and he’s just $200 cheaper than chalk lock Samaje Perine. He’s a great leverage play for GPPs.
The teams with the three-highest pass funnel ratings are the New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders, and Cincinnati Bengals. The Patriots are obvious: They’re the best offense in the league, ranking first in pass DVOA, and they’re facing a strong pass funnel defense in the Miami Dolphins, who are decent against the run, ranking 15th in DVOA, but atrocious against the pass, worse than every team except for the Raiders. We discussed the Oakland game above, so let’s touch on the Bengals in Week 12. Cincinnati’s pass offense has been down recently, but they have been on the road for three straight weeks and faced talented secondaries in the Broncos and Jaguars. Week 12 brings a beautiful matchup against the Browns, who rank first in rush DVOA but 24th in pass DVOA. The matchup could funnel a lot of work to A.J. Green and company.
Bryan Mears is an editor at FantasyLabs and host of the Daily Fantasy Flex podcast.