This article takes a look at players from each of the positions in your starting lineup who have interesting matchups. Not all players covered are your classic sleepers who might outperform expectations. Some are nominal starters with tricky matchups or players who might be deep sleepers in smaller leagues, but starters in larger leagues. Realizing that leagues and roster sizes vary wildly; your mileage could vary, too.
Carson Palmer, ARI vs. Phi
The Eagles defense performed well in their last game at home against Eli Manning and the Giants, limiting them to a combined 211 yards and no TDs. Maybe they’re turning the corner with a bye week to work out their flaws and get healthier. I’m going to error on the side of their previous five games in which they allowed 2 or more TDs and 22 fantasy points or more to Chad Henne, Andrew Luck, Kirk Cousins, Colin Kaepernick and Austin Davis. Since Palmer returned to the lineup he has put together a pair of games with at least 250 yards and 2 TDs.
Joe Flacco, Bal at CIN
The Bengals defense is banged up and struggling coming into this week’s rematch with the Ravens. Their top corner Leon Hall was forced from Sunday’s game with a back injury and as of Wednesday hasn’t practiced yet. In the season opener, Flacco finished with 21 fantasy points against the Bengals with 345 yards, a touchdown and an interception. In their last three games following their bye, the Bengals have allowed over 24 points per game to Tom Brady, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, or at least 284 yards and 2 TDs each week with only one interception in their last four games. Give me Flacco for 300 again, Alex.
Ryan Tannehill, Mia at JAX
The Jaguars have fallen from allowing the 2nd most points to quarterbacks to 9th over the last two weeks thanks to a pair of soft matchups against Brian Hoyer and Charlie Whitehurst. The Jaguars are still allowing the third most passing yards and a 12:2 TD to interception ratio, but they do have 22 sacks. Tannehill remains inconsistent but he has strung together three straight games with 2 TDs while averaging 262 passing yards and 44 rushing per game.
Alex Smith, KC vs. Stl
Smith doesn’t provide very much upside with only two games of 20+ fantasy points and a season-high of 255 passing yards in Week 2 against Denver, but the Rams are not getting after the quarterbacks (4 sacks), not intercepting passes (3 INTs) nor are they holding up in coverage (68% completion rate and 8.1 YPA). They’ve allowed 19 or more points in five straight games and 73 in their last two with running quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick wreaking havoc. Smith has wheels himself and he should find a rhythm in this home game. He’s just not as likely to breakout for anything more than 18-to-24 points, which still isn’t bad in deeper leagues.
Teddy Bridgewater, Min at TB
Bridgewater outlook might seem rather grim after his last three starts yielded two touchdowns and five interceptions, but the other side of this matchup is just too darn good to overlook. In their last three games, the Bucs have allowed 991 yards, 10 TDs and 3 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 71.6% of their passes for 8.4 YPA for 15 TDs, 4 INTs and a passer rating of 111.9 while being sacked just 9 times. You won’t find a more appealing matchup this week, but rolling with Bridgewater as your starter in regular-sized leagues is still a reach. For larger or 2-QB leagues, Teddy is your man.
Kyle Orton, Buf at NYJ
The Jets secondary has struggled since the preseason but after they lose Dee Milliner even defensive mastermind Rex Ryan is running out of creative ways to stop the bleeding. In their past three games, they’ve allowed 9 passing TDs, intercepted just one pass and five of their last six quarterbacks have produced 24 points or more against them. On the Bills side of the matchup, since Orton took over behind center he’s averaging more than 41 pass attempts for 297 yards per game with 5 TDs and 3 INTs. For someone who was on waivers a month ago, he’s a nice volume play with a decent probability of continued production.
Jerick McKinnon, Min at TB
It took a few weeks, but the cream has risen to the top in Minnesota with McKinnon firmly running ahead of Matt Asiata with 17 and 21 touches over his last two games. He has an excellent matchup against a Buccaneer defense allowing the fourth most points to RBs. They are coming off the bye allowing some key players to get healthier, but they also allowed 100+ yards to their last three opposing RBs (Justin Forsett, Pierre Thomas and Le’Veon Bell) and a fourth (Khiry Robinson) narrowly missed. McKinnon is going to have a breakout game soon and this matchup could be the one.
Anthony Dixon & Bryce Brown, Buf at NYJ
The Jets had allowed the fewest points to opposing RBs through Week 4, but since then they have allowed the 12th most, and it all started with Branden Oliver’s surprising 182 yards and 2 TD breakout game. Ronnie Hillman followed that with 100 yards rushing and a week later Shane Vereen broke loose for 114 yards and a pair of touchdown catches. It’s merely a coincidence that all three performances came on the heel of injuries that prompted each to take on bigger roles. This week’s potential quartet comes courtesy of Fred Jackson’s groin injury and C.J. Spiller’s broken collarbone. Dixon and Bryce Brown take over with much speculation as to who will fill what role. Dixon thinks he’ll be the lead back and that could certainly be the case, despite Brown’s higher upside. For all we know Brown could be Spiller to Dixon’s Jackson – a huge tease. Sooner or later, the cream will rise to the top (much like Jerick McKinnon overcoming Matt Asiata in Minnesota), but it might not happen straight away this week. Then again, it’s entirely possible that both provide useful stats in deeper leagues.
Mark Ingram II, NO vs. GB
With a game under his belt since returning from injury and Pierre Thomas sidelined, Ingram is in store for a decent-sized workload alongside Khiry Robinson. The Packers have improved over the last few weeks after struggling to adjust to the loss of NT B.J. Raji, but three RBs in their last five games have topped 18 fantasy points (PPR) against them. Ingram has been running angry since last season and he is in the midst of a contract year. After the Lions bottled him up last week, look for Ingram to bust loose on Sunday night, especially if Khiry Robinson is limited or out – he didn’t practice on Wednesday. In deeper PPR leagues, you should consider Travaris Cadet, who will get passing down work with Thomas sidelined.
Darren McFadden, Oak at CLE
McFadden is coming off his best game of the season and he has a good matchup this week to at least be in the hunt for RB2 numbers against a Brown defense allowing the 2nd most rushing yards to opposing RBs and the 8th most fantasy points. Denard Robinson seized the Jaguars running back job with a healthy 22-127-1 performance against the Browns on Sunday while Storm Johnson also chimed in with a touchdown and 16 yards. McFadden is healthy and getting the majority of touches for the Raiders under interim coach Tony Sparano. If I owned McFadden, I’d enjoy this short run of productivity with nice matchups and look to unload him immediately if possible.
Reggie Bush, Det at ATL (in London)
Bush has been a disappointment this season while playing through some nagging injuries and playing second fiddle to Joique Bell, but the Falcons are the best matchup in the league for running backs allowing 127 yards rushing and 1.6 TDs per game along with 6-54-0 receiving. Until Sunday’s game against Baltimore, they had allowed nine different backs in 6 games to get double digit fantasy points against them – and two others came close with nine. Justin Forsett (23-95-0) and Bernard Pierce (21 yards, 1 TD) came close to double digits, but cancelled each other out a bit. While Bell is a rock-solid RB1 option as the lead back in this committee, Bush remains a strong PPR RB2/Flex even though he is slowed by an ankle injury that he tweaked last week. Bush is expected to play in London but be cautious and monitor his status via our daily email and injury updates. With an early start on Sunday morning, you don’t want to be caught with Bush in your lineup in the off-chance he’s inactive. Otherwise, he should at least be a decent reach for double digit PPR points.
Isaiah Crowell, CLE vs. Oak
The Raiders are allowing a league-high 31 rushing attempts and 133 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs (along with 1 TD/game). Andre Ellington touched the rock 30 times against them on Sunday while Stepfan Taylor took over in the red zone for him with 59 yards and 2 TDs. The week before Branden Oliver trucked them for 124 yards and a TD, and before that, Lamar Miller tallied 67 yards and 2 TDs. Ben Tate is setup for a huge game, but with Terrance West possibly benched after failing to convert a first down on two different carries last Sunday, Crowell’s hold on the backup job is even stronger. It’s always risky starting a backup RB and hoping for a healthy number of touches, but that’s exactly what I expect out of Crowell this week – 10+ touches, 50+ yards and a decent chance of finding the end zone.
Dwayne Bowe, KC vs. StL
In their last four games, the Rams have allowed 8 TDs to opposing receivers. Looking at it from the other side, seven of the last eight starting WRs caught touchdowns against the Rams,and (of course!) Bowe doesn’t have a touchdown catch yet either. He has been targeted consistently 6 or 7 times each week and he has finished with 5 catches and 81 or more yards twice in the last three weeks. While I’m not much of a Bowe fan myself, I’d definitely play him this week with the Rams corners dropping like flies in recent weeks. The Rams are down to rookie nickel corner Lamarcus Joyner and E.J. Gaines with Janoris Jenkins, Trumaine Johnson, Brandon McGhee and safety Maurice Alexander all dealing with various injuries.
Mohamed Sanu, CIN vs. Bal
Sanu didn’t get it done last week despite being the #1 option for Andy Dalton with A.J. Green out. He was still targeted 9 times and has been targeted a whopping 33 times over the last three weeks, though. Green is close to returning after receiving some good news from his foot specialist, but that isn’t necessarily bad news for Sanu either. It means the Ravens won’t be able to bear down on him with Green on the field, giving him a decent chance to return to double digit production like he had in three out of four previous weeks before Sunday’s disappointing 3-54-0 against the Colts.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Min at TB
This could just as easily be written about Greg Jennings or Jarius Wright, but Patterson has such a high ceiling and the Bucs are the best possible matchup going for opposing receivers. Jennings leads the three in targets (41 to Wright’s 34 and Patterson’s 37), but Patterson’s life support system is alive after scoring on Sunday for the first time since week 1. He’s a swing-for-the-fence kind of play, but the #1 receiver on the opposing team topped 100 yards and scored in three of the Buccaneers last four games. I’m just saying there’s a chance… a much better chance than normal this week.
Doug Baldwin & Jermaine Kearse, Sea at CAR
The Panthers secondary has played awfully this year and earlier this week converted safety/corner Charles Godfrey took the fall when he was waived following their latest loss and defensive debacle. With Percy Harvin out of the way, rookie Paul Richardson Jr was one of the biggest benefactors in terms of playing time, but it was Doug Baldwin who became a target-eating machine against the Rams. Kearse remains a better bet in TD-only leagues with his size and red zone skills, while Baldwin gets the nod in PPR leagues as a WR3/Flex with this plus matchup. In deeper leagues, you might even take a shot with Richardson and hope he breaks off a long touchdown knowing that it’s coming soon.
Davante Adams, GB at NO
Adams is definitely a speculative reach as the Packers No. 3 receiver, but the Saints are a prime matchup allowing the 2nd most points to receivers. With Calvin Johnson out on Sunday, both Golden Tate (10-154-1) and Corey Fuller (3-44-1) caught touchdowns against them. In their previous game against the Bucs (without Mike Evans) they allowed 8-144-0 to Vincent Jackson along with touchdown catches to Louis Murphy and Robert Herron. In their last three games, they’ve allowed 7 TDs to receivers and 13 different receivers have topped double digit PPR production against them in six games. Adams is on the rise and we’ve seen Aaron Rodgers make good use of his top three receivers consistently over the past few seasons. He’s definitely worth a reach in deeper leagues.
Robert Woods, Buf at NYJ
The Jets secondary is battered by injuries and poor play and Sammy Watkins can’t catch everything. Under Kyle Orton the Bills have transformed into much more of a pass-happy offense and has been targeted 10+ times in two of his last four games. He is still only a WR4/flex option, but there is plenty of opportunity and upside to take a chance with Woods this week. He’s a distant #2 option behind Watkins, but as defenses adjust to the talent rookie, Woods will have opportunities to make them pay.
Justin Hunter, TEN vs. Hou
It’s hard to keep going back to Hunter’s well as long as Charlie Whitehurst continues to start for the injured Jake Locker, but the playing time is there. He is on the field almost every single snap for the Titans, so maybe he can break through this week against a Texan defense allowing the fifth most points. Rookie Martavis Bryant scored his first NFL touchdown against them on Monday night in his first significant amount of playing time this year. Hunter continues to be a boom or bust play and he continues to have a procession of good matchups. The confidence is waning and for now he remains just another highly skilled player with untapped potential.
Donte Moncrief, Ind at PIT
With Reggie Wayne’s status up in the air this week, Hakeem Nicks could move into the starting lineup in his stead. While Nicks looks like the one most likely to benefit, Moncrief’s playing time also goes up and in my opinion is the one more likely to make an impact. The Steelers aren’t a great matchup, but Andrew Luck’s scorching play makes this passing attack nearly matchup proof. If Wayne is out, Moncrief moves into the WR4/flex realm in deeper leagues.
Other reaches this week for deeper leagues include Brandon LaFell (vs. Chi) and Corey Fuller (at ATL/London). For good measure, you could include Brian Tyms in that mix as well. The Patriots should be able to exploit the Bears injury-depleted defense and LaFell has at least hit two out of the last four weeks. Brian Tyms could do the same if his playing time increases following his promising debut. Fuller remains in play if Calvin Johnson is inactive in London. Stafford should have another productive game against a Falcons defense that has allowed the fourth most passing yards and more 40+ yard completion in the league (9).
Jordan Reed, Was at DAL
Reed is back in the lineup and right back to catching nearly everything thrown his way. In his two games since returning, Reed has turned 17 targets into 13 catches for 136 yards. Whoever starts at quarterback shouldn’t matter. Reed is a target monster and he faces a Cowboy defense that has allowed the second most points to tight ends (7-77-1 per game).
Owen Daniels, Bal at CIN
Daniels isn’t a top performer or even an exciting option, but the 31 year old veteran has produced double digit points in two of the last four weeks while averaging just over 6 targets a game. He caught four balls for 34 yards against a fully healthy Bengals defense in Week 1 with Dennis Pitta hauling in 10 catches for 83 yards. Fast forward to this week’s rematch and the Bengals have allowed more points to opposing TEs than any defense in the league and Pitta is on IR. In their last three games alone they’ve allowed four touchdowns and five different tight ends produced 52 yards or more.
Charles Clay, Mia at JAC
Clay is finally rounding into shape after a pre-season knee injury, but he’s unlikely to get back to the mid-TE1 status he enjoyed last year. He caught a touchdown last week and he is consistently getting about 5 targets a week. The Jaguars have been a good matchup for opposing tight ends this year. With Clay’s improved health and consistency, he’s a good bye week replacement or flex option in deeper leagues.
Heath Miller, PIT vs. Ind
Miller’s production has waned over the last few weeks but as a reach or a bye week replacement in deeper leagues, Miller will do just fine against a Colts defense that has allowed at least 12 points (PPR) to five different TEs in seven games.
Kansas City vs. St. Louis
The Chiefs defense hasn’t been very good this year, but they’re starting to play better the last few weeks even if the fantasy production hasn’t been there. The pass rush is coming around, Eric Berry has a chance to return this week and the Rams have been one of the most generous offensive matchups for fantasy defenses this year. The Chiefs defense at home against this Rams team is a recipe for some sacks, turnovers and maybe a return for a score, too.
Miami at Jacksonville
If there is a better matchup for fantasy defenses than the Rams, it’s easily the Jaguars. Rookie Blake Bortles has shown why the Jaguars made him the second overall pick in the draft, but he has also been an interception machine. The Jaguars have allowed opposing defense to score in double digits in five of their seven games this year – and the other two – SD (9) and Cleveland (8) weren’t far off.
Tampa Bay vs. Minnesota
It’s a hard sell going with Tampa Bay’s defense with as many yards (423) and points (34) as they allow per game to their opponents, but let’s put this into perspective. It’s a road game for rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, the Bucs defense had a week of rest coming off their bye, and the Vikings have allowed 19 sacks in their last three games combined with 8 turnovers while putting only 29 points on the scoreboard.
Dallas vs. Washington
Washington’s quarterback situation is a mess. Although there’s a chance we could see Robert Griffin’s return this week, it’s hard to say if that will be an improvement or not. The Cowboys defense has played surprisingly well considering the exodus of talent in the offseason and the rash of injuries to key players. Three times this year opposing defenses scored 10 or more points against them and in four of Washington’s seven games they’ve turned over the football 2 or more times.