Exposed (WR/TE matchups): Playoffs Week 2

Breaks down some of the best and worst WR/TE matchups this week from a defensive perspective.

The goal of this article is to break down some of the WR and TE matchups from a defensive perspective to help identify some of the most favorable or unfavorable matchups this week. I will try to project WR vs CB matchups, and also look at defensive units as a whole to hopefully assist you in building your weekly DFS lineups by targeting some matchups to avoid or exploit. Best of luck and feel free to reach out with any questions via email (rudnicki@footballguys.com) or twitter (@a_rudnicki). 

 

 

FAVORABLE MATCHUPS

WR Julio Jones, ATL (vs SEA)
Jones got a chance to rest his toe injury in week 16, but looked fully healthy against New Orleans in week 17 when he posted 7/96/1 on 9 targets. Jones is an elite weapon who Seattle will obviously focused on trying to slow down, but he gouged them for 7/139/1 on 9 targets back in week 6. Richard Sherman will likely be asked to shadow Jones, but he has not been nearly as effective when playing outside of his normal LCB position. Given that Jones spends the majority of his time on the left side of the Falcons formation, he should have a clear edge in this matchup. The Seattle secondary held up well against an ineffective Matt Stafford last week, but is vulnerable without Earl Thomas and should have a hard time containing Jones here.

WR Terrance Williams, DAL (vs GB)
Williams only plays about 75% of the snaps for Dallas and contributes primarily as a deep threat so he will be a boom or bust option. He’s averaged 5 targets over his last 4 games, and gets an expected matchup against Packers CB Damarious Randall who has struggled all year. This game is expected to be a high scoring affair so Dallas will likely have to take more chances throwing downfield than usual if they hope to keep pace with the red hot Packers offense. That makes Williams a nice low-cost option to consider using.

WR Davante Adams, GB (@ DAL)
With Jordy Nelson already ruled out this week, Adams figures to serve as the team’s #1 WR. He blew up for 8/125/1 against a tough Giants defense last week and has been one of the top red zone WRs in the league all year. While the Packers will likely make some changes due to the absence of Nelson this week, Adams lines up on the left side of the formation most of the time and that would match him up against Brandon Carr here. While Carr is a capable corner with above average size, he’s not someone that offenses would try to avoid.

WR Tyreek Hill, KC (vs PIT)
The Steelers defense is playing well coming into this game, but so is Hill. He was held without a catch in weeks 15 and 16, but had rushing touchdowns in each game to offset that. He also played a big role in week 17 with nearly 40 snaps and 5/46/0 on 7 targets. With 8 TDs in his last 6 games that have come in a variety of ways, it’s hard to focus on any particular matchup for him. If Kansas City hopes to keep pace with the Steelers offense, they will need some big plays and Hill has emerged as an elite playmaker.

WR Julian Edelman, NE (vs HOU)
Edelman had a huge game in week 17 vs Miami as he pulled in 8/151/1 on 13 targets. His targets and role in the offense improved considerably once Rob Gronkowski went down with a back injury, and should work primarily out of the slot here. That will allow him to avoid going up against Texans shutdown corner A.J. Bouye, and it’s likely that he will be too quick for nickel corner Kareem Jackson. The only risk here is that the Patriots pull out to a big lead and turn the game over to their running game, but Edelman could get enough work in one half to put up big numbers.

WR Antonio Brown, PIT (@ KC)
Brown embarrassed the Dolphins last week and is obviously a player who can be productive against any matchup. The Steelers have a lot of success moving him around the formation and hitting him with short passes that he can convert into big gains, and that makes it very difficult for defenses to key on him. With Le’veon expected to draw most of the attention from the Chiefs, they will have less bodies available to double Brown. I’d expect the Steelers to keep him away from Marcus Peters most of the time, but even that’s not a matchup they would likely shy away from. The weather here is a potential concern as a pending ice storm could make passing difficult.

WR Paul Richardson Jr, SEA (@ ATL)
Richardson had a coming out party last week against the Lions as he had several spectacular catches on his 3/48/1 day. With Jermaine Kearse serving only as a seldom-used big play WR and Jimmy Graham seeing his role reduced of late, Richardson could be in line for a big role here. This game has clear shootout potential and the Atlanta secondary has been weakened considerably without CB Desmond Trufant. Richardson lines up on both sides of the field, but both outside corners for Atlanta are vulnerable to giving up big plays.

TE Jared Cook, GB (@ DAL)
The Cowboys don’t have many weaknesses, but defending tight ends is one of them. They don’t have much of a pass rush so opponents don’t need to worry about keeping extra blockers in to protect the QB, and their safeties are good but not great in coverage. Zach Ertz went off for 13/139/2 against them in week 17, but the Cowboys were resting most of their players. They have also allowed big games to Eric Ebron (8/93/0), Cameron Brate (5/73/1), and Jordan Reed (10/95/2) since week 12 though. The loss of Jordy Nelson for Green Bay should open up more targets and create a great opportunity for Cook, who is averaging nearly 5 catches/game over the past 4 but hasn’t found the end zone since week 11.

TE Travis Kelce, KC (vs PIT)
If you’re going to pay up at the position this week, Kelce is pretty much the only option. He has been one of the hottest players in the league through the second half of the season and just lit up a tough Broncos defense for 11/160/1 in a key week 16 matchup.  The Steelers have gotten improved play at the CB position but their safeties remain a weak spot as Michael Mitchell often goes for the big hit over the easy tackle, and that can leave him vulnerable to big plays. The TE facing the Steelers has accounted for 5 or more catches in each of the past 3 weeks, so Kelce looks like a very safe play despite his high cost.


UNFAVORABLE MATCHUPS

WR Taylor Gabriel, ATL (vs SEA)
Gabriel has seen fewer than 30 snaps in 3 of his last 4 games and he sat out week 17 with a foot injury. He’s clearly a big-play threat whenever he’s on the field, but the Seattle secondary has only allowed 1 TD to an opposing WR over the last 4 games combined. Given that he’s only likely to see a handful of targets, he’s a risky choice this week.

WR Jeremy Maclin, KC (vs PIT)
The Steelers secondary is no longer the weak spot it was in the past, and their corners have been doing a great job of keeping plays in front of them and avoiding giving up deep catches. Maclin has been limited by injuries at times, but has not met expectations even when healthy. With Travis Kelce emerging as the primary target in this offense and Tyreek Hill providing the big plays, Maclin has been reduced to a complementary piece. His upside appears limited here.

WR Malcolm Mitchell, NE (vs HOU)
WR Michael Floyd, NE (vs HOU)
Mitchell is listed as questionable for this game with a knee injury that he suffered back in week 16. He’s provided a nice boost to the Patriots passing attack, but would likely be matched up against shutdown CB A.J. Bouye if he’s able to play. If he’s not healthy enough to play, that would likely elevate Michael Floyd into the lineup, but he would also draw the most difficult matchup. You can throw in Chris Hogan here as well, but it’s difficult to predict which of these WRs will see the most work against a pretty strong group of outside corners. Given that the game could be a blowout, none seem like recommended plays.

WR Jermaine Kearse, SEA (@ ATL)
Kearse has not been nearly as effective for Seattle this year as he had been in previous years. He was held to just 1 TD all season on 828 offensive snaps and 89 targets. Furthermore, it’s likely Seattle will want to rely heavily on their newfound running game to try and keep the Atlanta offense off the field, and that could lead to Kearse only playing about half the game. He could still come through with a big play against a vulnerable Falcons secondary, but Russell Wilson may not have much trust in him after the way the year has gone.

TE Austin Hooper, ATL (vs SEA)
The Seattle defense has not been very generous to opposing tight ends all year (and in prior years). The absence of Earl Thomas may change that, but it hasn’t been apparent yet. They held Eric Ebron to just 2/23 last week and have only allowed 3 TDs to the position all year. One of those was scored by blocking specialist Levine Toilolo back in week 6, but rookie Hooper has taken over as the primary receiving option since Jacob Tamme went on I.R. He missed the last two games with an injury, but has just 2 catches in his previous 3 games combined so he should be a non-factor.

TE Martellus Bennett, NE (vs HOU)
The Texans got to this point on the strength of their defense, and they have been really tough against opposing tight ends with just 3 TDs allowed all year. Meanwhile, Martellus Bennett has not been fully healthy so he hasn’t been able to take full advantage of his opportunity since Rob Gronkowski went on I.R. He has 3 TDs in his last 4 games, but 11 catches on 15 targets. With the Texans outside pass rushers likely becoming a focal point, and a game script that could see a run-heavy offense in the second half, Bennett may see more time as a blocker than pass catcher.

TE Jimmy Graham, SEA (@ ATL)
The Falcons defense looks generous on the surface, but a closer look shows that most of the damage done against them came early in the season. The only TE they’ve faced in the second half of the season to really go off on them was Travis Kelce in week 13, but they’ve held Greg Olsen (6/59/0), Coby Fleener (3/38/0), and Zach Ertz (6/55/0) in check. Meanwhile, Graham has also seen his production fade considerably down the stretch as he’s accounted for just 10 catches (on 16 targets) and 175 yards with 1 TD over his last 4 games. Several of his disappointing games have come against what looked like great matchups on paper too.

NEUTRAL MATCHUPS

WR Dez Bryant, DAL (vs GB)
The Packers secondary hasn’t really shown that they can stop anybody, with the exception of Matt Stafford and his injured throwing hand last week. That being said, Bryant figures to draw Ladarius Gunter for most of the game this week, and he has been the only Packers corner who has played well at times this year. He should also see free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix often shaded to his side of the field. Bryant has been dealing with a back injury of late, but got to rest it during the bye week and has been very good at home. I don’t see any strong reason to avoid Bryant this week, but I think the matchup is better for the other Cowboys WRs.

WR Randall Cobb, GB (@ DAL)
Cobb isn’t going to catch anybody by surprise after going off for 3 TDs a week ago. The absence of Jordy Nelson will shift more targets to him, but will also result in him seeing more defensive attention. As the primary slot receiver, Cobb would match up most often with Cowboys corner Orlando Scandrick. He missed time this year with injuries, but has still been their best corner.

WR DeAndre Hopkins, HOU (@ NE)
The Patriots are likely to use their top corner Malcolm Butler to shadow Hopkins this week, and they held him to just 4/56/0 when the two teams met back in week 3. Brock Osweiler at QB doesn’t really generate any confidence in the Texans passing game, although he’s gotten Hopkins more involved the past two weeks than he has throughout most of the season. If this game script goes as expected with New England pulling out to a huge lead early, Hopkins will probably get enough targets in garbage time to be valuable. The Patriots have had one of the best defenses in the league all year, however, and gave up 0 TDs to opposing WRs from weeks 14 to 16 before giving up some late scores to Miami in a blowout week 17 win.

WR Doug Baldwin, SEA (@ ATL)
Baldwin has taken almost all of the passing targets in the Seattle offense over the past month, but his splits suggest he’s been much more effective at home than on the road. In 8 road games, he has averaged 5/47 compared to 7.5/95 in 9 road games. The Falcons are without their best corner in Desmond Trufant, but have gotten surprisingly good play from undrafted rookie Brian Poole. In fact, they have given up 0 TDs to opposing slot receivers in the second half of the season, which includes matchups against Willie Snead, Jordan Matthews, Tyreek Hill, and Larry Fitzgerald.

TE Jason Witten, DAL (vs GB)
The Packers defense has been victimized the most by opposing WRs this year, but trying to plug those gaps has left them vulnerable to opposing TEs as well. Kyle Rudolph (6/53/0), Eric Ebron (6/61/0), and Will Tye (4/66/0) have all put up solid games against them the past 3 weeks, so there is a chance for Witten to continue that trend here. Apart from his week 15 outburst (10/51/0) against Tampa Bay, however, he hasn’t shown much in the last two months.


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