What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN’s matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN’s Football Power Index to rank games on a 0-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games of Week 13.
1. Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Matchup quality: 93 out of 100
FPI win projection: Eagles, 52 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Seahawks 34 percent, Eagles
Right now, this game doesn’t just have the highest matchup quality this week, but the highest pregame matchup quality this season.
Unfortunately, this game won’t feature the Carson Wentz vs. Legion of Boom matchup we’ve all dreamed of. This is one of those games where we have to consider what FPI doesn’t (explicitly) consider, and that is injuries to non-quarterbacks. Over time, these tend to work out because if there is a change in a unit’s performance, the model essentially “sees” that. But in this case where we have relatively recent injuries to significant players in Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, FPI is probably is overrating the Seahawks by a hair.
2. Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX)
Matchup quality: 84 out of 100
FPI win projection: Falcons, 53 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Falcons 24 percent, Vikings 1 percent
Much was made of the Falcons’ offensive falloff under Steve Sarkisian earlier this year. And it’s true — this offense has not been nearly as effective this season as it was last. But last year was also an anomaly in that the Falcons put together the fourth-most efficient offense since 2006 (behind the 2007 Patriots, 2011 Packers and 2011 Saints), so it was always likely that there would be fall-off. Though not what it was, the Falcons do have an effective offense and have been the fifth-most efficient on that side of the ball this season.
3. Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX)
Matchup quality: 73 out of 100
FPI win projection: Saints, 71 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Panthers 22 percent, Saints 13 percent
We ought to be very careful about deriving meaning from with-or-without-you analysis for football because there are just so many other variables and often small sample sizes. But sometimes, we have to point out a stark difference in a team’s performance when a player is not on the field.
And that is the case right now for Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. With the rookie corner on the field, the Saints defense has added .08 expected points per play, compared to -.1 without him. That .18 difference would translate roughly to 6.6 points per game if that pace had been kept up this whole season. Of course, there have only been 131 pass plays without Lattimore on the field and fellow cornerback Ken Crawley was also out last week along with Lattimore. So let’s not go wild and assume Lattimore is almost worth a touchdown per game — that would be crazy — but we can say the Saints will almost certainly be much better off if they have their first-round pick back in action this week.
4. New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Matchup quality: 63 out of 100
FPI win projection: Patriots, 75 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Bills 29 percent, Patriots 0.2 percent
For as well as Tom Brady has played this year, he hasn’t been all that productive against the blitz. In fact, he ranks 27th in raw QBR when opponents bring at least five pass rushers.
That may not be a huge problem for him against the Bills, however. Though Buffalo blitzes around the league-average rate, the Bills generate pressure on just 29 percent of those blitzes, the 29th-lowest rate in the league. So Buffalo may dial up the blitz, but it just isn’t all that likely to reach Brady.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)
Matchup quality: 61
FPI win projection: Steelers, 63 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Bengals 12 percent, Steelers 0.3 percent
The Bengals are flying up power rankings after two wins in a row made them 5-6, but let’s take a quick look at their resume like we might in college football. The Bengals’ wins this season have come against the Browns, Bills, Colts, Broncos and Browns again.
That means they don’t have a single win against a team ranked higher than 24th in FPI.
High-leverage game of the week: Detroit Lions at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX)
Matchup quality: 55
FPI win projection: Ravens, 59 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Lions 20 percent, Ravens 20 percent
Imagine how good the Ravens would be if they had Blake Bortles under center?
That comment is only half made in jest. The Jaguars and Ravens are built similarly, but Jacksonville really is getting more production out of its quarterback than Baltimore is. Joe Flacco has a Total QBR of 32.9, which is 29th among qualifying quarterbacks.
We noted earlier this year that the 2017 Jaguars pass defense had added more expected points per game than any other pass defense since 2006. That remains true, but the 2017 Ravens actually are now second in the category.
For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index.