As you read, you may run into some colors in the text. Blue text is a good matchup for that team's offensive players. Red text is a bad matchup. Some other key items are below:
- All red/blue highlighting in tables is relative to the entire NFL, even when showing only a limited number of teams.
- All reference to fantasy points assumes DraftKings scoring rules unless otherwise specified.
- All stats reference the full 2018 season unless otherwise specified.
- All fantasy points rankings in the matchup graphics are on a per-game basis to account for bye weeks.
This week, we'll discuss the following topics:
- Follow the Targets
- Playcalling Preferences
- The Weakest Links
- How Will They Score?
- Paper Champions
- Dealer's Choice
Follow the Targets
In this section, we'll examine how the worst passing defenses in the NFL allow their production. This week, we sorted by the percentage of passing yards allowed, with the highest ratio of pass yards allowed at the top.
|New Orleans Saints||19.9%||12||1||62.7%||32||10||17.4%||3||1|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||20.1%||27||3||57.6%||26||11||22.3%||32||4|
- New Orleans allows 72.8% of its total passing yardage to wide receivers, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Minnesota gains 77.0% of its passing yardage via wide receivers, the sixth-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Tampa Bay allows 26.2% of its total passing yardage to tight ends, the third-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Tampa Bay allows 56.5% of its total passing yardage to wide receivers, the fifth-lowest ratio in the NFL.
- Tampa Bay allows 193.5 yards per game to wide receivers, seventh-most in the NFL.
- Cincinnati targets wide receivers on 61.5% of its pass attempts, the ninth-highest ratio in the NFL.
There's little need to say that Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are viable plays, but in a matchup against New Orleans, they're both high-end options. With his slot role, Thielen should avoid Marcus Lattimore more often, giving him the better matchup. But with a player like Diggs, all it takes is one big play.
Tampa Bay allows so much passing game production that their ratio of yardage allowed to certain positions can be low, but their gross yardage allowed can still be among the most in the league. They're a "whatever the offense wants to do" type of matchup. That means Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green should feast. Green had a huge first half last week but was forgotten in the second. Look for him to be involved throughout the day.
Typically in this column, we look at Funnel and Reverse Funnel defenses by examining how teams allow yards. This week, we're going to look at how each team's opponents call plays. Defenses who see many passes called against them are likely more susceptible to the pass, with the same notion being true of teams that have many run plays called against them.
Because game script and red zone can skew pass-to-run ratios, the percentages below only show plays called when the game is within seven points in either direction and plays run between the 20s.
|Offensive Team||Pass%||Defensive Team||Pass%|
|Buffalo Bills||48.0%||New England Patriots||68.1%|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||59.3%||Philadelphia Eagles||67.7%|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||68.9%||Cleveland Browns||66.1%|
|Arizona Cardinals||57.8%||San Francisco 49ers||66.0%|
|Baltimore Ravens||65.7%||Carolina Panthers||64.8%|
|Chicago Bears||55.0%||New York Jets||64.5%|
|Minnesota Vikings||65.7%||New Orleans Saints||64.4%|
|New Orleans Saints||61.6%||Minnesota Vikings||63.3%|
When we rank and sort by the defense like this, we like to see blue in the offense columns to match.
- Pittsburgh passes on 68.9% of its neutral-script plays, the second-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Cleveland faces pass attempts on 66.1% of its neutral-script plays, the third-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Minnesota and New Orleans both appear on both sides of this list, suggesting once again that the passing game assets in that game have increased value this week.
- We also see the Baltimore offense as a pass-happy team against the Carolina defense that has faced a high percentage of passes.
- Baltimore gains 75.2% of its total yardage via the pass, the eighth-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Carolina allows 73.3% of its total yardage via the pass, the seventh-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Carolina allows 50.4% of its total points via passing touchdowns, the seventh-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Baltimore scores points on 70.4% of its red zone drives, the fourth-best rate in the NFL.
- Carolina allows points on 73.3% of its red zone drives, the fourth-worst rate in the NFL.
- Carolina faces 7.3 deep attempts per game, eighth-most in the NFL.
- Carolina faces deep passes on 20.7% of pass attempts against them, the sixth-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Baltimore attempts 8.1 deep passes per game, sixth-most in the NFL.
The Pittsburgh passing game should be voluminous, but there's reason to lean towards their running game instead (more on that later). Ben Roethlisberger and his dynamic duo of Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster are always in play. And if the DFS masses lean to James Conner (likely), Roethlisberger and either of his primary pass-catchers make for a solid GPP stack.
This column has become a John Brown fan page lately (and it even worked out last week!), so excuse the recommendation here again. Brown is in play this week as a GPP play in DFS and a WR2 with upside in season-long formats. The Vegas total in this game is low, which makes Brown's floor low as well. But when Baltimore moves the ball, they'll do so via the pass. When they get in the red zone, they'll be likely to score. And when Carolina allows yardage and points, they typically do so via the passing game.
|Offensive Team||Rush%||Defensive Team||Rush%|
|Seattle Seahawks||49.8%||Detroit Lions||50.7%|
|San Francisco 49ers||45.4%||Arizona Cardinals||47.9%|
|Miami Dolphins||37.8%||Houston Texans||47.2%|
|Los Angeles Rams||41.6%||Green Bay Packers||46.9%|
|Philadelphia Eagles||34.2%||Jacksonville Jaguars||46.5%|
|Houston Texans||43.4%||Miami Dolphins||46.4%|
|Detroit Lions||38.2%||Seattle Seahawks||44.7%|
|New England Patriots||44.8%||Buffalo Bills||43.8%|
- Seattle calls a running play on 49.8% of its neutral script plays, the third-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Detroit faces a running play on 50.7% of its neutral script plays, the highest ratio in the NFL.
- Seattle gains 39.3% of its total yardage via the rush, the third-highest ratio in the NFL.
- Detroit allows 38.7% of its total yardage via the rush, the fourth-highest ratio in the NFL.
It's nice that Seattle has a great matchup for their rush offense, but they aren't sure week-to-week who their best running back is. The one time they featured one running back, it took him 32 carries to barely eclipse 100 yards.
|Week 2||Week 3||Week 5||Week 6|
As you can see above, the usage in Week 3 was heavily concentrated with Chris Carson getting the bulk of the work. Since then, however, the other backs have been more involved. With a team that loves to run playing a team that is terrible against the run, this would appear to be a dream matchup. But since Seattle can't figure out which player they want to feature, it's risky to play any of them. At first, they wanted Rashaad Penny to mix in with Carson. Then, Penny fell out of favor and Mike Davis got involved.
Week 4 (not shown) was Davis' best outing, but Carson was inactive that game. In Week 5, Carson and Davis were both effective, while Penny didn't play a snap. Week 6 was a blowout win in London, where Penny's action came in mop-up duty. It stands to reason that if this week's game stays close, Carson and Davis will dominate the touches. But this level of musical chairs for running back touches makes picking the right Seattle back as difficult as nailing Jello to a wall.
The Weakest Links
In this section, we'll discuss the matchups that should top your list every week. And because even the strongest trends don't last all season long, we'll break this into two sections -- ongoing trends and developing trends.
QBs vs. Tampa Bay
- Trend: We discussed above how Tampa Bay is a defense yielding plenty of passing production. Let's take a look at just how bad they are, through the lens of DraftKings salaries and Fantasy Points per Dollar.
- Tampa Bay has allowed 330+ yards passing in five of their six games.
- Tampa Bay has allowed multiple touchdowns in five of their six games.
- Tampa Bay has allowed at least 3.5x value to quarterback in every game this season and at least 4.4x in four of six.
- This Week: Andy Dalton is priced too high in DFS to be a cash game lock, but the way Tampa Bay allows yardage and production through the air puts any opposing quarterback in GPP consideration. And with Dalton's weapons, especially A.J. Green going against a weak Tampa Bay cornerback group, he's no exception. A Dalton-Green stack could be rostered lower than any viable QB-WR in this juicy of a matchup all year.
RBs vs. Cleveland
|Melvin Gordon III||6||18||132||3||2||18||0||38.0||$8,200||4.6|
- Trend: The teams that emphasize the run and/or are capable of doing so have performed well against Cleveland.
- Cleveland has already allowed three 100+ yard rushers and three multi-touchdown games to running backs this season.
- Cleveland is allowing 18.1 rushing fantasy points per game, third-most in the NFL.
- This Week: Pittsburgh's passing game was mentioned above, but James Conner should have success as well. And sometimes, the best friend of a running back is an effective passing game.
WR2s vs. New Orleans
|Willie Snead IV||7||3||23||0||6.6||$4,000||1.7|
|Odell Beckham Jr||4||7||60||0||14.0||$8,700||1.6|
- Trend: New Orleans had just one good cornerback, and the lack of a second became such an issue that they traded for Eli Apple this week. Even if Apple plays this week, he's not likely to perform at a high level right away.
- Excluding Week 5, where they played Washington, New Orleans has faced an opponent each week with a clear top receiver and capable secondary options.
- In each of those weeks, the secondary options have out-performed their WR1 counterparts. John Brown over Michael Crabtree, Sterling Shepard over Odell Beckham Jr Jr, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu over Julio Jones, Antonio Callaway over Jarvis Landry, and DeSean Jackson over Mike Evans display a clear pattern.
- This Week: Minnesota's duo is unique. Adam Thielen is the better fantasy producer, but he's not the typical WR1. Due to Stefon Diggs playing on the outside, Thielen profiles as the player who should perform better against New Orleans. Expect Thielen to continue his incredible 100-yard streak.
TEs vs. Pittsburgh
- Trend: Pittsburgh can't cover tight ends. Their middle linebackers lack talent, and their safeties lack discipline.
- Pittsburgh has allowed 5+ receptions to five tight ends.
- Pittsburgh allows 7.7 receptions per game to tight ends, most in the NFL.
- Pittsburgh has allowed 50+ yards to five tight ends.
- Pittsburgh allows 79.7 yards to tight ends, third-most in the NFL.
- This Week: David Njoku is on the rise. The best thing to happen to Njoku was for the outside-throwing, play-it-safe Tyrod Taylor to give way to Baker Mayfield, a much more complete passer (even at this stage of his young career).
- Excluding Njoku's Week 1 (which is fair to discount due to Taylor and terrible weather), Pittsburgh has faced two tight ends with salaries above $3,000 on DraftKings. Those players averaged 6.5 receptions, 90.5 yards, and 1 touchdown.
How Will They Score?
This is a concept created by Ben Gretch at Rotoviz and now published on FantasyLabs. However, it's one I wanted to share as it is an interesting way to think about how teams score and allow points and can lead to some surprise/contrarian lineup decisions. For some background, see the bullet-point summary below.
- Take each team's implied Vegas team total
- Average the percentage of points that team scores via passing touchdowns and the percentage their opponent allows via passing touchdowns
- Multiply that average percentage by the implied total
- Do the same for rushing touchdowns
- An asterisk denotes a home team
Passing + Rushing won't add up to the entire team total. There are kicking and defense/special teams points as well. However, those aren't as predictable, so we're focusing on offense only. You'll get the hang of it with the help of the charts and some examples.
|Offense||Defense||LV Total||Off PaTD%||Def PaTD%||Proj. Pass|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||29.25||48.9%||55.1%||15.21|
|Indianapolis Colts||Oakland Raiders||26.50||63.5%||44.3%||14.28|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Denver Broncos||32.50||50.8%||36.6%||14.20|
|New England Patriots||Buffalo Bills||29.25||44.9%||44.6%||13.08|
|Los Angeles Rams||Green Bay Packers||33.00||35.7%||41.7%||12.77|
|Minnesota Vikings||New Orleans Saints||26.50||47.5%||47.9%||12.63|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Cincinnati Bengals||24.75||57.5%||44.3%||12.60|
|Green Bay Packers||Los Angeles Rams||24.00||48.6%||51.6%||12.03|
Commentary and Action Items
It's interesting to see both Green Bay and Los Angeles (Rams) on this chart. We know those teams can throw effectively, but the Rams are known more for Todd Gurley rushing touchdowns. The Rams score 28.1% of their points via passing touchdowns, the 10th-lowest ratio in the NFL. Meanwhile, Green Bay allows 41.7% of their points via passing touchdowns, the 12th-lowest ratio in the NFL.
So why are the Rams on this list? Because their team total is so high, they're bound to appear on any list of highest projected scores of the week. Situations like this make the Rams passing game valuable GPP assets. Monitor Cooper Kupp's health, but lean towards Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks. Either way, all roads lead back to Jared Goff, who is a great GPP play with similarly-priced quarterbacks likely to be more attractive to the masses.
|Offense||Defense||LV Total||Off RuTD%||Def RuTD%||Proj. Rush|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Cleveland Browns||29.50||28.1%||33.9%||9.14|
|Los Angeles Rams||Green Bay Packers||33.00||28.1%||25.0%||8.76|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Denver Broncos||32.50||16.2%||29.3%||7.38|
|Denver Broncos||Kansas City Chiefs||22.50||29.1%||29.7%||6.61|
|New Orleans Saints||Minnesota Vikings||26.50||32.4%||14.5%||6.21|
|New England Patriots||Buffalo Bills||29.25||19.6%||20.6%||5.88|
|San Francisco 49ers||Arizona Cardinals||21.50||15.2%||39.1%||5.84|
|Arizona Cardinals||San Francisco 49ers||21.50||32.6%||19.3%||5.58|
Commentary and Action Items
Cleveland allows 33.9% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the second-highest ratio in the NFL. Pittsburgh scores 28.1% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the eighth-highest ratio in the NFL. James Conner is a candidate to score multiple touchdowns for a third straight game.
Speaking of multiple rushing touchdowns, there are the Rams again. They score 28.1% of their total points via rushing touchdowns, the seventh-highest ratio in the NFL.
Arizona allows 39.1% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the highest ratio in the NFL. San Francisco scores 15.2% of its total points via rushing touchdowns, the eighth-lowest ratio in the NFL. San Francisco can run the ball effectively, though, as they gain 38.2% of their total yardage via the run, the fifth-highest ratio in the NFL. The way they gain their yards plus this week's opponent suggests a potential uptick in the rushing touchdown department.
If the oft-injured Matt Breida is rested, look to Raheem Mostert. You could do worse than the guy who has been a pleasant surprise in the passing game role. Mostert has also been the team's leading rusher in two straight games.
We saw some of the league's weakest links above. But viewing raw "defense vs. position" (DvP) stats can be misleading, as it makes no consideration for the strength of opponents.
So, in this section -- which is new to the column this week -- we're going to compare our Normalized Strength of Schedule over the last five weeks vs. raw DvP for the entire season and find notable deltas between the two. The idea is to find defenses to target that other DFS players might not.
|Green Bay Packers||23||10||-13|
|Los Angeles Rams||19||7||-12|
|Los Angeles Chargers||8||17||9|
|New England Patriots||17||27||10|
|Kansas City Chiefs||15||26||11|
Commentary and Action Items
This table shows both extremes. These teams have the largest differences between Normalized Strength of Schedule (NSoS) and Defense vs. Position (DvP). The first four are teams that NSoS ranks poorly, while the last four are teams that rank poorly on a DvP basis but not as badly according to NSoS.
Thinking about NSoS and what it does can help to better illustrate this. For example, Green Bay recently yielded a decent performance to C.J. Beathard, a poor fantasy performer. Thus, their NSoS took a bigger hit than their raw DvP. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Indianapolis held Derek Anderson to 3.0 fantasy points last week. That helps their DvP significantly, but NSoS knows that facing Anderson and Buffalo isn't the same as facing an average-to-good opponent.
At the bottom of the chart, New England has face Patrick Mahomes II and Andrew Luck in their most recent five-game stretch. Their DvP data also contains Week 2's eruption by Blake Bortles, which is not contained in the NSoS data because we're only looking at the last five weeks there.
Green Bay and Los Angeles (Rams) show up on the same chart again. This chart shows that both teams have gotten healthy against weak passing games. Now facing each other, that qualifier no longer applies. Get your popcorn ready.
|vs. Running Backs|
|New York Jets||22||16||-6|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||18||24||6|
Commentary and Action Items
These charts don't just point out teams who have benefited from easy schedules. They also show teams that are poor from a DvP perspective but also bad when adjusting for strength of opponent. Atlanta, for instance, is a target even though the NSoS adjusts their fantasy points allowed downward. Unfortunately, Atlanta doesn't play this week, so we'll need to wait until Week 9 to exploit them again.
Denver is bad against running backs by either metric. Coming off a massive effort on Sunday night, Kareem Hunt has a juicy matchup to continue his momentum.
|vs. Wide Receivers|
|Los Angeles Rams||26||8||-18|
|Green Bay Packers||32||18||-14|
|San Francisco 49ers||11||22||11|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||21||32||11|
|Kansas City Chiefs||7||21||14|
Commentary and Action Items
Look, the Rams and Packers again. Neither team's tight end is a sound play this week. The points will come from the quarterbacks and wide receivers (and, of course, Todd Gurley).
|vs. Tight Ends|
|Los Angeles Chargers||26||14||-12|
|New England Patriots||19||28||9|
|Los Angeles Rams||12||24||12|
Commentary and Action Items
Oakland makes for a great target, so monitor Jack Doyle's status as he has an outside chance of playing this week. If not, fire up Eric Ebron again. Even in the event that Doyle plays, Ebron could still have a TE1 week, albeit with a lower floor.
Like we did last week, we asked Twitter for suggestions on some trends to monitor. Let's see what the followers came up with:
How are we using Richard and Martin in the Oak backfield?— Chris Wittstruck (@ChrisWittstruck) October 23, 2018
Commentary and Action Items
This one is a little bit less concrete than we typically discuss in the column, but there is some data available that can help form an opinion. For instance, there have been seven times this season where an Oakland running backs has seen at least five targets in a game. Jalen Richard has five of those seven. In games that Oakland has lost by more than a touchdown (four times this season), Richard has caught 9, 6, 6, and 7 passes.
It's unlikely that Richard will take Lynch's role and also keep his. But it's certainly possible that he keeps his own role (which has standalone fantasy value as is) and takes some of the early-down work that is likely to be assigned to Doug Martin. For this week, if Oakland decides to attack Indianapolis' weaknesses, Richard is the player to utilize. Indianapolis allows 7.0 receptions per game to running backs, third-most in the NFL and 73.0 receiving yards to running backs, second-most in the NFL.
How Aaron Rodgers has performed statistically coming off a bye week.— Jeremy Orth (@plugs003) October 23, 2018
Commentary and Action Items
Outside of a horror show when visiting the 2015 Denver Broncos and their lock-down pass defense, Rodgers has been fine coming off a bye week.
- 2016 vs. NYG: 259 yards, 2 touchdowns, 20.5 fantasy points, QB13 finish
- 2015 at DEN: 77 yards, 0 touchdowns, 7.0 fantasy points, QB28 finish
- 2014 vs. CHI: 315 yards, 6 touchdowns, 45.8 fantasy points, QB1 finish
- 2013 vs. DET: 274 yards, 1 touchdown, 19.5 fantasy points, QB15 finish
- 2015 at DEN: 236 yards, 2 touchdowns, 20.1 fantasy points, QB14 finish
- 2015 at DEN: 247 yards, 4 touchdowns, 37.6 fantasy points, QB1 finish
Questions, comments, suggestions, and other feedback on this piece are always welcome via e-mail email@example.com