This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
Before we get into specific players to upgrade or downgrade, here are some of my favorite tools for analyzing matchups:
Note: Discussion below mostly is limited to players that are being started in less than 80 percent of lineups on Yahoo. There are plenty of other players with good or bad matchups, but we’ll focus our energy on the guys most likely to be involved in difficult start/sit decisions. Unless otherwise noted, references to ‘fantasy points’ are based on scoring with 25/10 yardage, 4/6 TDs and 0.5 PPR, a.k.a. standard settings on Yahoo and FanDuel.
Thursday Night Special
WR Christian Kirk at SEA — UPGRADE ⬆️
% started on Yahoo, % on ESPN
After scoring six touchdowns in 25 games through the first two years of his career, Kirk needed just seven appearances this season to double his total. Apart from that, he’s still been inconsistent, averaging 3.4 catches for 53.4 yards on 5.8 targets, while No. 1 receiver DeAndre Hopkins has racked up 7.4 receptions for 95.7 yards per game.
An optimist might point to a general upward trend with 351 yards and five TDs over his past five games, while a pessimist would note that Kirk has only one 100-yard performance and was limited to 4-27-0 last week in a seemingly favorable matchup with Buffalo.
Regardless of where you stand on the overall outlook, Kirk is in a good spot to enjoy one of his better games this week, facing a Seahawks team missing both starting CBs from a defense that’s given up a league-high 46.2 fantasy points per game (half-PPR) to wide receivers. Kirk himself went for 5-37-2 in an overtime win over Seattle a few weeks ago, with DeAndre Hopkins adding 10-103-1 and even Larry Fitzgerald hitting season highs for catches (eight) and yards (62).
That first matchup with Seattle was also the game where Kenyan Drake injured his ankle, taking 15 touches for only 41 yards before his early exit. Chase Edmonds had a much better night, with five carries for 58 yards and seven catches for 87. However, the Seahawks haven’t been a great matchup for running backs on the whole, ranking ninth in run-defense DVOA (-17.9%), fourth in opponent YPC (3.7) and 21st in fantasy points allowed to RBs (21.7, largely due to 10 TDs).
Drake has taken 13-to-20 carries in every game this year, but his snap share sunk to 52 percent last week, down from the 65-to-71-percent range he occupied Weeks 1-6. Relatively speaking, this matchup would seem a bit more favorable for Edmonds, who got eight carries and three targets on 49 percent snap share last week. Maybe Drake gets a larger portion in his second game back from injury, or maybe it’s a near-even split moving forward. (I have more questions than answers!)
On the other side of the game, Seattle is either one of the most interesting teams for fantasy football, or one of the least interesting, depending on your perspective. Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are weekly auto-starts, while the other passing-game players simply don’t see enough usage to warrant fantasy consideration outside of DFS showdowns or extremely deep leagues.
For what it’s worth, David Moore did jump up to 52 and 61 percent of snaps the past two weeks, catching six of nine targets for 87 yards and a TD in the process. However, that was largely a product of the Seahawks using more 11 personnel while playing from behind, as fellow WR Freddie Swain still got 34 and 37 percent of snaps.
The TE situation has been similarly messy, with Greg Olsen, Will Dissly and Jacob Hollister all getting work in recent weeks. Olsen logged 72 percent of snaps last week, but before that he played only 40 percent in a Week 9 loss to the Bills, while Hollister caught five of seven targets for 60 yards in that game. Naturally, Hollister’s big day was rewarded with 9 percent snap share last week, with Olsen apparently back in favor. Good luck trying to figure out how the TE snaps and targets will be divided moving forward. (Like I said… more questions than answers.)
On the other hand, Seattle’s backfield situation should be fairly easy to decipher for the first time in weeks, as Carlos Hyde has been cleared to return from a hamstring injury while Chris Carson (foot) likely will miss another game. The Seahawks will treat Carson as a game-time decision, but it sounds like he’s less than 50/50 to play.
With Travis Homer (knee) doubtful and Alex Collins back to the practice squad, we’ll likely see Hyde getting most of the carries and DeeJay Dallas handling a lot of passing downs. That probably stays the same even if Collins is called up from the practice squad before the game, but it is possible he’d steal a chunk of carries away from Hyde.
The Cardinals are 11th in run-defense DVOA (-14.2%) and 12th in fantasy points allowed to RBs (19.4), but they should be a bit more vulnerable than usual with DE Jordan Phillips (hamstring), DT Corey Peters (knee) and DT Leki Fotu (ankle) all ruled out. While none of those guys is a standout, it’s a tough deal to have all of them out at the same time, especially when DE Zach Allen (ankle) has already been absent since the first Seattle matchup. Hyde should find some room to run if he gets enough carries.
59% started on Yahoo, 52% on ESPN
The Steelers struggled prior to halftime in their wins over Baltimore (Week 8) and Dallas (Week 9), unable to move the ball consistently with a balanced approach. They then went pass-heavy after halftime in both contests, ultimately scoring a bunch of points and winning both games while relying on 01 personnel (0 RB, 1 TE, 4 WRs).
Those four-wide formations weren’t part of the plan last week in Cincinnati, but the Steelers did stick with their pass-first approach, allowing Roethlisberger to chuck it 46 times in a 36-10 victory. Now facing a miserable Jaguars defense, Roethlisberger should find success early in the game, and he could stay busy well into the fourth quarter even if the Steelers build a nice lead.
78%, 42% started on Yahoo; 78%, 51% on ESPN
McKissic won’t continue to see double-digit targets on a regular basis, but he does seem to be a favorite of Alex Smith, whose 104 pass attempts this season have included 33 throws to the satellite back. Early deficits inflated Washington’s passing volume the past two weeks, but even then, Gibson reached double-digit fantasy points, scoring three short rushing TDs and catching seven passes for 55 yards.
Washington used two-back formations for 15 or more plays in each of its last three games, with McKissic’s uptick in slot work allowing both him and Gibson to put up solid fantasy numbers at the same time. Volume will tilt more toward the rookie if his team doesn’t fall behind early, but McKissic should still be good for a handful of carries and a handful of targets.
42% started on Yahoo, 24% on ESPN
Rex Burkhead and Cam Newton may steal the touchdowns, but Harris is averaging 14.2 carries for 78.5 yards per game, including last week’s season highs (22 for 121) against an excellent Baltimore defense. The second-year pro gets a much softer matchup this week, facing a 2-7 Houston squad that ranks 32nd in run-defense DVOA (5.5), 32nd in opponent YPC (5.2) and 31st in fantasy points allowed to RBs (28.8).
Plus, Harris took four carries inside the 10-yard line over the past three weeks, so it’s not like he’s a total non-factor near the end zone. Sony Michel (quad) could return from IR this week, but the Patriots aren’t likely to give him many snaps with Harris sitting at 5.5 YPC and coming off a 100-yard game against a top-five defense.
Anthony Lynn said Kalen Ballage will most likely be the “primary back” moving forward. Wants to give him more “looks.” #Chargers
— Daniel Popper (@danielrpopper) November 18, 2020
36% started on Yahoo, 28% on ESPN
I discussed Williams in my Hidden Stat Line article earlier this week, noting that eight of his 20 targets the past three weeks travelled 20-plus yards downfield. The floor is always low for a deep threat who gets modest volume, but the ceiling becomes awfully appealing when he’s facing a defense that’s yielded 9.3 YPT (fourth worst) on passes to wide receivers. The Jets’ projected starters at cornerback are 2019 sixth-round pick Bless Austin and 2020 fifth-rounder Bryce Hall, so we should see at least one deep connection between Herbert and Williams.
36% started on Yahoo, 40% on ESPN
This isn’t necessarily a great matchup now that the Vikings are playing solid defense, but it’s at least a decent enough spot to where Cooper can be put back in fantasy lineups. He caught 14 of 17 targets for 159 yards and a TD in the first two games without Dak Prescott, before cratering in Weeks 8 and 9 when Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert started at quarterback. Andy Dalton is at least competent, and Cooper figures to run most of his routes against rookie cornerbacks Cameron Dantzler (concussion) and Jeff Gladney.
57% started on Yahoo, 41% on ESPN
Things look pretty ugly for Cook if we focus on his targets (3, 2) and snap shares (36%, 36%) from the past two games, but he was still usually on the field when it counted most, running routes on 69 and 54 percent of QB dropbacks. His playing time was scaled back once the Saints built up comfortable leads, and the team attempted only 58 passes between the two games.
Cook should have better luck this week, facing a terrible Falcons defense that’s given up a league-high 14.8 fantasy points to tight ends. It’s also quite possible the QB change works in his favor, as Cook’s 10.9 aDOT is easily the deepest among New Orleans pass catchers. The temporary shift from Drew Brees (ribs) to Jameis Winston probably won’t be good for the Saints offense as a whole, but it could work out well for the seam-stretching tight end.
27% started on Yahoo, 2% on ESPN
Bailey has attempted only 10 field goals in nine games, as the Vikings have either struggled to move the ball or done a good job converting their long drives into touchdowns. They’ll likely find the end zone a few times this Sunday, and it’s also a good spot for Bailey to get some three-point tries, as Minnesota has the fourth-highest implied total (28) on the Week 11 slate.
27% started on Yahoo, 19% on ESPN
A few weeks back, this Tennessee-Baltimore matchup looked like a clash of AFC heavyweights, not to mention a rematch of a playoff game from last season. Fast forward three weeks and things look a whole lot different, with both teams part of a crowded field fighting for wild-card spots in the AFC.
Tannehill’s four-game streak with less than 20 fantasy points can partially be attributed to matchups (PIT, @CIN, CHI, IND), but it’s not like the Week 11 draw is any better. Baltimore has allowed only two QBs to reach that 20-point threshold all season, ranking 10th in pass-defense DVOA (-1.4%) and third in NY/A (5.5).
62% started on Yahoo, 54% on ESPN
Gurley’s dominance of red-zone carries in a decent offense is enough to make him an every-week starter for the majority of fantasy squads, but this is one of those times where you should sit him if you have a solid alternative lined up. The Saints are first in run-defense DVOA (-37.3%), second in opponent YPC (3.3) and first in fantasy points allowed to running backs (16.0). They’ve also been quite good defending the pass in recent weeks, so there’s no guarantee of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones setting up Gurley for another lay-up TD.
47% started on Yahoo, 23% on ESPN
Henderson would be risky even in a good matchup, considering he got only eight carries and 33 percent of snaps in last week’s 23-16 win over Seattle. He did score a touchdown, but Malcom Brown scored two, and Cam Akers actually led the team with 10 carries for 38 yards. This could be a three-way committee moving forward, and the floor is much more likely than the ceiling against a Bucs defense that leads the league in rushing yards allowed per game (76.6) and per carry (3.3).
48% started on Yahoo, 25% on ESPN
Jeudy piled up 32 targets and 266 yards the past three weeks, taking full advantage of a new role after the Broncos moved him from the slot to the perimeter. But he also got some help from matchups, facing the Chargers, Falcons and Raiders in games where Drew Lock attempted more than 40 passes. Lock now appears questionable for Week 11 due to a rib injury, and he may overwhelmed by the red-hot Miami defense even if he’s able to play. The Dolphins’ starting cornerbacks, Byron Jones and Xavien Howard, both are being paid more than $15 million per season to spearhead the NFL’s most improved defense.
24% started on Yahoo, 25% on ESPN
Brown looked pretty good in his first two games, catching 10 of 13 targets for 100 yards. However, he’s been coming off the field when the Bucs opt for a second TE over a third WR, playing only three of the team’s 28 snaps in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs, 2 WRs). Last week, his snap share dropped to 49 percent and his route share to 63 percent, hinting at potential for a dud in the future. This could very well be one of those weeks, as the Rams have allowed a league-low 21.7 fantasy points per game to wide receivers, getting consistently strong play from CBs Jalen Ramsey, Troy Hill and Darious Williams.
There’s also the matter of Brown’s latest off-field incident, in which he allegedly destroyed a security camera and threw a bicycle at a security-guard shack in his gated community. That wouldn’t be a big deal for most players, nor should it matter for Week 11, but it does create some cause for long-term concern when Brown’s history is taken into account.
56% started on Yahoo, 40% on ESPN
Smith relies on touchdowns and big plays rather than steady volume, so it’s hard to get excited about his prospects when the Titans have an implied total of 21.75 points for a road game against one of the better defensive teams in the league. The Ravens are middle of the pack in terms of cumulative fantasy points surrendered to tight ends, but they still haven’t allowed even 15 PPR points to any one player at the position. If anything, they’ve had problems against backups, yielding 3-50-1 to David Njoku, 2-23-1 to Darren Fells, 3-31-0 to Richard Rodgers and 3-43-0 to Mo Alie-Cox.
34% started on Yahoo, 34% on ESPN
Crosby won’t have to contend with the wind this week, but it isn’t all good news playing indoors, as the Colts rank fourth in scoring defense (19.7 ppg) and seventh in fantasy points allowed to kickers (6.8). The Packers’ implied total of 24.25 points isn’t bad relative to other teams, but it is the lowest we’ve seen for them in a while.
For Shallow Leagues (40-69 percent rostered)
QB Matthew Stafford at CAR
RB Giovani Bernard at WAS
RB Kalen Ballage vs. NYJ
RB J.D. McKissic vs. CIN
RB Salvon Ahmed at DEN
WR Jakobi Meyers at HOU
WR Mike Williams vs. NYJ
WR Sammy Watkins at LV
TE Austin Hooper vs. PHI
TE Logan Thomas vs. CIN
K Jason Myers vs. ARZ
K Chris Boswell at JAX
D/ST Cleveland Browns vs. PHI
For Medium-depth Leagues (10-39 percent rostered)
QB Jameis Winston vs. ATL
QB Philip Rivers vs. GB
RB La’Mical Perine at LAC
RB Rex Burkhead at HOU
RB Malcolm Brown at TB
WR Michael Pittman vs. GB
WR Jalen Reagor at CLE
TE Dalton Schultz at MIN
TE Trey Burton vs. GB
K Michael Badgley vs. NYJ
D/ST Washington Football Team vs. CIN
For Deep Leagues (under 10 percent rostered)
QB Andy Dalton at MIN
QB Alex Smith vs. CIN
RB Devontae Booker vs. KC
WR Josh Reynolds at TB
WR Denzel Mims at LAC
WR Russell Gage at NO
WR KJ Hamler vs. MIA
TE Kyle Rudolph vs. DAL
TE Gerald Everett at TB
TE Tyler Eifert vs. PIT
K Nick Folk at HOU
D/ST Cincinnati Bengals at WAS
Crowd-sourced Lineup Decision
Each week I post a twitter poll with one of the toughest start/sit decisions from my own lineups. The process will be truly democratic, which means I’m required to start the player who gets the most votes, unless there’s relevant injury/virus news late in the week.
And please, feel free to drop you start/sit questions in the comments below, or you can ask me on twitter – @JerryDonabedian.