By: Brian McCormick @WaiverWiredFFB
The Best and Worst Matchups
Welcome to week 15, where the cream of the crop begins to shine during the playoffs. Forget about the noise and nonsense of “luck” bringing you to this point of the season, since you have done your homework each week (or you just happen to have Alvin Kamara on your squad). Either way, congratulations on coming this far, as you’re more than likely preparing for semifinal and/or championship matchups. Below are the best and worst matchups of the week, broken down by position.
The Best Matchups
Ben Roethlisberger – Since week 10, Big Ben has been the QB1 in fantasy football, averaging 30.4 points per game. Yes, you read that correctly. It should not be that shocking, since he plays with the best receiver and running back in the league today. For comparison, over that span, he is averaging over a point more than Russell Wilson (29), and nearly eight more than Tom Brady (22.2) per game. Speaking of Brady, the Steelers host the Patriots this week at Heinz Field, where Roethlisberger’s ten best career fantasy performances have occurred. New England’s defense has allowed the sixth most fantasy points to QBs this season, at 18.4 points per game. Coming off his best game of the year, in which he surpassed 500 yards through the air, Ben is one of the best starts this week.
Drew Brees – It is no secret that Brees, currently sitting as QB9, is having one of the least productive fantasy seasons of his career. The once pass-happy offense now favors a run-first approach, paving the way for the best fantasy running back duo of all time – Kamara and Ingram. Although he has only averaged 17.3 points per game in his last three contests, Brees has a bounce-back matchup this week against the Jets, who have allowed 18.8 fantasy points per game (3rd) to opposing QBs. In last week’s heartbreaker against Atlanta, Brees and star-receiver, Michael Thomas, began to dominate with their passing attack. New Orleans should score quickly and frequently against the Jets, amid the NFC’s strong playoff race.
Philip Rivers – Rivers is another big arm who will propel many fantasy teams into their championship games. He has quietly creeped up to QB9, despite many people thinking the Chargers would have thrown in the towel, after losing their first four games. Averaging 21.3 points across his last four games, Rivers has a spectacular matchup against the Chiefs, who are allowing the seventh most points per game (18.2) to QBs. Do not let your eyes misguide you from week 14, as Kansas City’s defense is not suddenly fixed. The Chiefs stomped Derek Carr, who has only exceeded 16 points once since week 2. Game planning against Rivers will be a much different story, for their secondary.
Nick Foles – Okay. In no way, shape, or form will he mirror the performance and talent of Carson Wentz. With fantasy’s QB2 tearing his ACL against the Rams, Foles (A.K.A. Nicky 6, Nicky Nitro, your favorite nickname here) has the opportunity to carry you over the top this week. Should you expect him to pass for five touchdowns and 400 yards? Absolutely not. But he should be more than serviceable against the Giants defense allowing the most points to QBs this year (19.5 PPG). Foles will have a dynamic rushing committee, Alshon Jeffery, and Zach Ertz’s return to lean on, while pushing the ball downfield. If you lost Wentz or do not feel comfortable with your options this week, Nicky Nitro (my favorite) is a streamer to plug in.
Kenyan Drake– If you have made it this far, chances are Drake is owned by you or one of your remaining opponents. Following Ajayi’s departure to Philly, Miami’s nonexistent rushing attack has come to life. Since Damien Williams’ injury in week 12, Drake has scored 23.7 points per game, including an eye-opening performance of 114 rushing and 79 receiving yards last game against New England. Why Adam Gase decided to favor Williams initially is beyond comprehension. Make sure Drake is in your lineups, as he runs against the league-worst Buffalo defense, who allows 22.5 points per game to RBs. He also has homerun potential, which stamps a very exciting opportunity to watch your score jump. Buffalo has also allowed the most rushing TDs this season (18).
Mike Davis – Davis, another running back mentioned in my matchup article last week, will count his blessings, since he will not see the Jaguars defense again. Attaining more than four yards per carry, since taking over the lead role two weeks ago, he will look to take advantage of his fortune against the Rams. Los Angeles, who has played strong defense this year, is allowing 21.6 points to RBs, which is second most in the league. Rib injuries are always scary and should be monitored up until game time, but Davis is expected to suit up.
Jordan Howard – After a rebound performance against Cincinnati, it seems that the consensus 2017 first round fantasy draft pick is back (at least for now). One has to imagine that his 26 points on Sunday reminded many owners of what he is capable of. You can relax and instill your faith in him this week, as his schedule features the Lions, who have given up the second most rushing touchdowns this season (17). Side note: Tennessee has allowed only five rushing touchdowns. Is that not mind-blowing? Anyway, Howard has averaged 15.1 points per game against the league’s bottom half run defenses this year. Fire him up with confidence.
Jay Ajayi – With Nicky Nitro (there I go again) starting under center for the first time in a long time, expect Doug to call running plays consistently, in effort to alleviate the QB’s pressure. Ajayi should receive more carries (15 last week) against the Giants’ porous run defense, allowing the second most points (20.6) to RBs. He averaged over 5 yards a carry last week against Los Angeles, who ranks second.
Julio Jones – Smooth sailing awaits for Jones this week, who has struggled to find the end zone, catching only three TDs through 13 games. Julio has had his share of struggles this season. He even dropped a long, wide-open touchdown in week 9. Julio’s best game of the year was against Tampa Bay, where he caught 12 balls for 253 yards and two TDs. The Bucs’ defense either took that day off, or they just flat out forgot his jersey number. What a coincidence, as he plays them again this week.
Keenan Allen – The league’s hottest player will not be slowed down anytime soon. He has a juicy matchup against the ailing Chiefs secondary, who allows 25.1 points to receivers (2nd most). Kansas City really struggles in defending the slot, where Allen runs half his routes. Look for Rivers to throw all the balls he can to Allen, who has been targeted over 12 times per game, since week 11.
Devin Funchess – Scoring four touchdowns in as many games, dating back to week 10, Funchess is certainly Cam’s favorite redzone target. The big bodied talent is showing he is capable of number-1 receiver duties, and he will be on many fantasy championship rosters. He should be fired up in all lineups, as he should feast on Green Bay’s pass defense, who allows the 3rd most points to receivers (23.9). He will be a top-10 WR play this week.
Dede Westbrook – Since being activated in week 11, Westbrook’s yardage has increased every week. He’s fast, strong, and is a great route runner for a rookie WR. What’s not to love about him if you’re Blake Bortles? Leading the team in targets twice over the last three games, Westbrook is an enticing flex play this week against Houston’s horrible secondary, which receivers have burned for 23.6 points per game. His upside cannot be ignored going forward.
Zach Ertz – The New York Giant’s defense is horrible no matter which way you look at it, as they also allow the most points (11.6/game) to tight ends. Although Wentz can no longer feed his favorite target, Foles also loves to utilize his tight ends in the passing game, throwing 7% more of his career passes (29%) to the position than Wentz (22%). With Foles becoming acclimated in the offense this week, expect an array of quick throws to Ertz.
Jason Witten – He completely spoiled his excellent matchup against the Giants defense last week, but owners exhaled a deep breath after he caught a 20 yard score in the fourth quarter. Witten had zero targets through three quarters of the game, but that should not be the case this week. Dak should aim to get him involved early, as the Raiders give up the 3rd most points to TEs.
Ricky Seals-Jones – Averaging 15 points between weeks 11 and 12, the tight end sensation has gone cold, producing only 3 points a game over the last two. His target share has declined and he has failed to catch a touchdown during that stretch. Nevertheless, Seals-Jones can make spring back against the Redskins (2nd) defense that just allowed 50 yards and a touchdown to Hunter Henry. They have also allowed a touchdown to tight ends in the past two games. Let the streak continue.
The Worst Matchups
Alex Smith – He has the third most fantasy points in the league so far. I get it. Since his bye week, he has averaged 17.5 points per game over four contests. If you take out his 37.6 point performance against the Jets, that average dips to 10.8 points across those remaining three games. Smith exceeded 25 points three times this year, so his boom potential is there. But can you trust him to carry you to the championship? He will have to read the same Chargers defense that just made Kirk Cousins, and his offensive line, look silly. Smith does have much more weapons on his team, but consistency continues to be his Achilles heel.
Matt Stafford – Facing the Chicago Bears this week, who have allowed the 8th fewest points to opposing QBs, should not be as daunting in reality as it is on paper. The Bear’s offensive struggles should clear some paths for Stafford’s offense to gain advantageous field position. Despite this, he arguably has the second worst matchup this week among the top-15 ranked QBs. In his last meeting versus Chicago (allowing 13.7 points to QBs), Stafford was able to find success, scoring 18.3 points and falling a yard shy of 300 passing yards.
Andy Dalton – His stock was trending up as he scored an average of 19 points per game from weeks 11-13. Dalton struggled mightily against the Bears’ defense (go figure) last week, failing to break eight fantasy points in his outing. His offense has not shown up for most of the season, and they will probably fail to click on all cylinders against Minnesota (28th), a team coming off a tough loss. In three games against top-5 QB defenses this year, Dalton has averaged a mere 5.2 points per game. Best of luck.
Carlos Hyde – He arguably has the worst five game rush-defense stretch to end his season. Hyde was able to find pay dirt last week against Houston’s stingy defense (30th), which boded well considering he was held without a catch for the first time this year. The road this week is easier against Tennessee (23rd), but you should not expect him to run like crazy on the ground either. With Matt Breida rotating into passing down work, Hyde needs to catch a few balls this week to have success.
Jamaal Williams – Following a dominant stretch against relatively soft rushing defenses, Williams will be tested in his remaining two fantasy weeks, against Carolina and Minnesota. The Panthers allow the 3rd least rushing yards/game and the fourth fewest points to running backs (15.5/game). Williams has playmaking ability in the pass game, which will help him rack up points this week. Just don’t expect his RB1 performance to continue at Bank of America Stadium.
Samaje Perine – His offensive line is really banged up, which prevented him from stomping mediocre defenses these last two weeks (DAL and LAC). Tough sledding will remain this week, as he will need to find the minimal holes that Arizona (26th) allows to RBs. Perine has been able to keep his hands busy, as he has seven catches over the last two games. Those targets have been beneficial for his stat line, as he toted the mail for a repulsive 2.86 yards per carry during that span.
The Cincinnati Backfield – Joe Mixon’s status is still up in the air, and Gio Bernard had a great performance last week in Mixon’s place, even though it happened during garbage time. The Vikings defense is allowing the second least points to RBs this season, and should not have to worry about rushing attempts in the second half. Minnesota should jump out to an early lead, forcing Dalton to throw predominantly after halftime.
T.Y. Hilton – T.Y. most definitely does not stand for “thank you.’ He will have to fight off Chris Harris and Aqib Talib, who help the Broncos secondary allow the 2nd fewest points to receivers (16.2/game). Unless you are completely desperate, Hilton should not be started in your lineup. Hilton has shown flashes of his 2016 campaign, in which he led the league in receiving yards. You may be grasping on the chance that this is a boom week, as he has scored 17+ points three times this year. On the flipside, he has failed to score more than four points in nine games this year. Downright ugly.
A.J. Green – This name brings a smile to many faces, as he helped a good share of teams break into the playoffs, with his 19 point first half performance against Pittsburgh in week 13. Expectations should be severely hindered this week, as he will be mostly shadowed by Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes, who held Antonio Brown to his second worst performance of the year, and Julio to his worst performance.
DeAndre Hopkins – The matchup-proof freak will need to exert extra effort this week to find separation from the Jaguars, who boast the best fantasy secondary against receivers. Jalen Ramsey and crew are allowing less than 15 points a game to receivers this year. While Hopkins should not put up an abysmal stat line like the two receivers above, questions surrounding his chemistry with third-stringer T.J. Yates will be in flux. This will most likely not be a week to write home about.
Josh Doctson – As stated previously, the offensive line is not protecting Cousins, disallowing sufficient time for routes to develop downfield. Adding insult to injury, Doctson will have to catch balls against the freakishly athletic, shutdown corner, Patrick Peterson. Does any more need to be said here?
Greg Olsen – Last week’s performance was pitiful. Olsen was targeted once against Minnesota, and that theme should continue against Green Bay. The Packers have the second best defense against TEs this year, allowing a shade less than six points per game. His health and effectiveness cannot be trusted just yet.
Tyler Kroft – No surprise here. Minnesota’s defense is great against all positions on the field. Kraft has seen three targets per game over the last six, which translates into a whopping average of four points. One of the most overrated tight end options every week, he should be avoided at all costs.
Eric Ebron – He was forgotten by most of the fantasy population, until he erupted for 10 grabs and 94 yards against Tampa in last week’s tilt. You can bank on him for a few catches a game, but he’s not going to replicate that crazy performance against Chicago (28th) this week.