DFS Roundtable: Individual Matchups to Avoid

It's early in the season, but are there defensive matchups you've yet identified as a batch to avoid? Give us two or three examples of matchups you don't want any part of in cash games, where we're looking for stable, confident production.

Through two weeks, we've seen a fair amount of poor defensive play, to the point that we've all identified at least one or two NFL teams that we want to exploit with our picks. For many of us, for instance, the first item on the week's DFS to-do list is to scan the matchups for New Orleans and stock up on their opponents. But are there defensive matchups you've identified as a batch to avoid? Give us 2-3 examples of matchups you don't want any part of in cash games, where we're looking for stable, confident production.  It could be an entire defense, a specific unit of a defense, or even just a shutdown cover man that turns you away.

Dan Hindery: I’m avoiding any player going against the Denver defense. While that isn’t a novel concept when it comes to quarterbacks or wide receivers, it is a new stance for me when it comes to running backs. The Broncos ranked towards the middle of the pack against running backs last season, but have been suffocating early in 2017. Denver has faced two of the league’s top fantasy running backs (Melvin Gordon III and Ezekiel Elliott) and held them to a combined total of 62 rushing yards and just 2.3 yards per carry. LeSean McCoy is priced down this week but won’t be in my cash lineups.

The Steelers defense is another unit I am generally looking to avoid. The Steelers were a defense to target as recently as this time last year. For example, Andy Dalton passed for 366 yards against them in Week 2 of 2016. But the Steelers have had a string of strong defensive drafts and suddenly find themselves with one of the more talented units in the league. The 64 rushing yards allowed to Dalvin Cook last week were the most allowed by the Steelers in their past 12 games (except for Week 17 last season when starters were resting). I’ll be avoiding all players going up against the Steelers. I’ll also try to fit the Steelers defense into my fantasy lineups when they face below-average offenses.

Devin Knotts: I am going to take another angle on this question and talk about matchups that may be perceived as strong, but truly are not. We put together a rushing and passing matchup analysis every week and one of the things that we try to do is to break down whether a defense is for real or whether they have just not played a strong schedule yet. While we always want as much information as we can get, evaluating matchups can still give you an advantage.

Matchup to avoid that last year we would have targeted
Colts run defense - The Colts have completely rebuilt their defensive line with Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, and Johnathan Hankins, and so far it looks to be a much-improved unit. In Week 1, they held Todd Gurley to just 2.1 yards per carry. 

Detroit pass defense - We all know to avoid Darius Slay, but so far the cornerback we once loved to pick on, Quandre Diggs, has shown tremendous improvement in his third season and is making this secondary one of the best in the NFL so far this year.

Footballguys Rushing Matchups, Week 3

Footballguys Passing Matchups, Week 3

Jason Wood: I generally find strength of schedule analysis to be problematic early in the season. Relying on prior year's defensive rankings has next to no predictive value, and it takes a few weeks into the season before you can trust this year's sample. Right now (two weeks into the season) is when you see a lot of people act like the data is predictive, and get in trouble as a result. Certainly, Dan has a point that Denver is a defense to avoid, but that's mainly because they've demonstrated an elite level of play that matched our preseason expectation. We are more apt to buy into early season performance when it confirms our preseason biases.

Danny Tuccitto: Overall, I'm on the same page as Jason with respect to taking a wait-and-see approach early in the season when looking for defensive matchups to exploit. That said, one way around the randomness is to identify defenses that have actually been good/bad and were projected to be good/bad before the season. In practice, this algorithm is carried out by Football Outsiders' DAVE statistic, which weights their DVOA statistic by their preseason projections, albeit decreasingly so as the season progresses.

For instance, here are Football Outsiders' projected Top and Bottom 8 defenses:

Top 8 - Seahawks, Rams, Broncos, Giants, Cardinals, Patriots, Panthers, Texans.

Bottom 8 - Chargers, Buccaneers, Titans, Browns, Bills, Colts, 49ers, Saints.

Through Week 2, here are their Top and Bottom 8 defenses according to DAVE ("still there" defenses in bold):

Top 8 - Ravens, Panthers, Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals, Broncos, Lions, Steelers.

Bottom 8 - Dolphins, Titans, Patriots, Jets, Colts, Browns, 49ers, Saints.

Based on the above, if I'm going to be incorporating defensive matchups into my analysis at this juncture of the season, it'll be to lean toward avoiding players going against the Panthers, Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals, and Broncos and lean toward using players going against the Titans, Colts, Browns, 49ers, and Saints.

Justin Bonnema: It's still a bit too early for me to straight-up avoid any defense. I'm more on the page of avoiding dumpster fire offenses such as the Jets, Bills, Browns, and Colts. But in the case of the elite defenses Danny laid out above, I generally avoid wide receivers going against the Broncos, especially when in Denver, but their run defense doesn't scare me. The same is true for the Seahawks. It would take a special player, such as Julio Jones or Antonio Brown, for me to challenge that secondary with members of my lineup, especially in Seattle. But I'm not particularly concerned about their run defense. 

We have a lot to learn after only two weeks. I think the Lions, Eagles, Vikings, Buccaneers, and Steelers could all end up being defenses we avoid down the road. For now, I'm sticking with great offenses regardless of who they're playing, and targeting soft matchups wherever I can.

Chris Feery: As Dan mentioned, avoiding players against the Broncos is a wise choice. That’s the only unit I’m willing to circle as a clear avoid at the moment. That proved to be prescient for those that shied away from Ezekiel Elliott last week, and that serves as a reminder to me until we see some chinks in the armor. Outside of that, it’s matchup specific on a week-to-week basis. 

An elite offense will generally get theirs, but there will be weeks in which you have to temper expectations. There’s also plenty of spots in which a player can produce against a generally stout defense - i.e. defense doesn’t match up well with players of that type, injury concerns on defense - so there’s not any other automatic avoids at this early juncture of the season.  

 

Justin also makes an excellent point about shying away from poor offenses until they show signs of life. That opens up the possibility that you’ll miss out on the bounce back that everyone is waiting for, but there’s another side to that coin. What if it never comes? I’d rather see a pulse before risking valuable salary cap dollars, and I’m not willing to chase a turnaround that simply may not be in the cards.

I’m avoiding any player going against the Denver defense. While that isn’t a novel concept when it comes to quarterbacks or wide receivers, it is a new stance for me when it comes to running backs. The Broncos ranked towards the middle of the pack against running backs last season, but have been suffocating early in 2017. Denver has faced two of the league’s top fantasy running backs (Melvin Gordon III and Ezekiel Elliott) and held them to a combined total of 62 rushing yards and just 2.3 yards per carry. LeSean McCoy is priced down this week but won’t be in my cash lineups. 

The Steelers defense is another unit I am generally looking to avoid. The Steelers were a defense to target as recently as this time last year. For example, Andy Dalton passed for 366 yards against them in Week 2 of 2016. But the Steelers have had a string of strong defensive drafts and suddenly find themselves with one of the more talented units in the league. The 64 rushing yards allowed to Dalvin Cook last week were the most allowed by the Steelers in their past 12 games (except for Week 17 last season when starters were resting). I’ll be avoiding all players going up against the Steelers. I’ll also try to fit the Steelers defense into my fantasy lineups when they face below-average offenses.