We all know by now how vital a matchup is to a player’s success on Sundays. As seen last week by guys like Eddie Lacy devouring the Vikings and Jordan Cameron submitting a solid day despite a matchup that seemed difficult, it is important to analyze a player’s matchup before setting your expectations.
So just like Week 8, I’m going to dish out nine players who have either good, hard, or deceiving matchups this Sunday, and hopefully I can help you steer your fantasy team to success.
Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots
The “Belitricks” aren’t over with, as Ridley barely saw the field in the first half last week. But the quick-footed power-back has clearly shown he is the best horse in the Patriots stable of a backfield. Over the past three weeks, Ridley has averaged over 5.0 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns, re-assuring all his owners of why they stuck with him.
This week, the Patriots lead runner takes on a Steelers team that ranks 23rd in the NFL against the run according to our Defensive Net Expected Points metric (to learn about NEP, read up on it here). Because of their poor run defense, opposing fantasy running backs have posted almost 20 points per game on them, the seventh-worst mark in the league. Being that the Patriots are a game plan oriented team, I’d expect Belichick to give Ridley a full workload and exploit the Steelers weaknesses. Start him as a low-end RB1 this week.
Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys
I generally like to avoid playing touchdown-dependent players, but a player with four games in a row with a score and a dreamy matchup can change that. Enter Terrance Williams, fantasy’s number six receiver over the past five weeks. Tony Romo loves Williams, especially in the red zone and on deep throws, as the duo have posted 11.68 yards per completion.
This week the Cowboys take on the Vikings and their 29th-ranked pass offense. This is mainly due to the fact that not only has the team suffered major injuries to the secondary, including star safety Harrison Smith, but they can’t rush the passer either, as only five teams trail them in sacks. This has allowed opposing receiving groups to feast on them, to the tune of 26.1 fantasy points per game including over 36 last week from the Packers. Tony Romo should have all day in the pocket, which will let T-Will tee off this week, in route to WR2 numbers.
Greg Olsen, TE, Minnesota Vikings
Olsen’s roll has diminished since averaging over five catches a game over the first five weeks of the season, as he has only seen 12 targets the past three weeks. But a matchup against Atlanta, the worst pass defense in the league, can cure all ailments. According to Defensive NEP, the Falcons are the worst team in football at defending the pass, and by a considerable margin. Tight ends have also gotten in on the action of pounding this secondary, scoring five touchdowns on the year. Olsen likely won’t crack 100 yards, but is a good bet to score a touchdown this week which makes him a solid play at a weak position.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills
After a week of rest to recover from an ankle injury, this year’s most disappointing fantasy player is back for Week 9 with a tough matchup against Kansas City. Most owners will likely bench Spiller due to the matchup and their general distaste with the first-round pick, but that could be a mistake. Upon further investigation, this week’s matchup with the Chiefs actually may be quite favorable for Spiller.
Despite ranking third in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs, when adjusting for schedule the Chiefs actually sit at 21st against the run according to Defensive NEP. To add on to the numerical evidence, Spiller’s skill set provides optimism towards the matchup as well. Unlike his backfield teammate Fred Jackson, Spiller’s running style isn’t to run behind his center and guards down the middle and right into the looming arms of Dontari Poe. Spiller likes to bounce the ball off-tackle and try to reach the sidelines, something that can be accomplished due to Kansas City’s elite outside linebacker’s focus of rushing the quarterback. That brings up that fact that whoever starts at quarterback will likely be under constant pressure and will likely look to dump it off to the former track star in the flats and on swing passes. The matchup presents an opportunity for Spiller to regain his fantasy glory, but remains a boom-or-but RB2.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans
While not scoring any touchdowns, AJ has been pretty solid of late, posting at least 88 yards in three of his past four games despite the team's quarterback quagmire. And once fantasy owners remember the 23 catches for 292 yards Johnson put up on the Colts last year, they won’t hesitate to plug Dre in their lineups. But should they?
The Colts allow the 16th-most fantasy points to opposing receivers, but a very large chunk of that came against Denver. That means when adjusting for schedule, Indy actually has a top-10 pass defense according to Defensive NEP. The betterment of the Colts defense this year is likely due to a revitalized Robert Mathis, who leads the NFL in sacks, and an improved group in the secondary. Johnson will draw coverage from the best of the group, cornerback Vontae Davis, who has been playing at a Pro Bowl level this season. The Colts pass defense has been surprisingly stingy this year, which leads me to believe that AJ will struggle surpasses his average of 83 yards per game.
Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers
Contrary to the public perception, the Redskins are actually a good team against the pass, ranking in the top-10 in Adjusted Defensive Pass NEP. They do give up a lot of yardage, but that has mainly been due to a tough slate of opponents, otherwise they have been rather good. So should owners bench Antonio Gates against Washington this week?
Probably not. Numbers don’t tell the entire story, as the Redskins muddy safety situation has let opposing tight ends carve up the middle of the field and red zone. Tight ends have scored on the Skins every week this year other than Week 6, so Gates will more than likely get his first touchdown in almost a month on Sunday. The Chargers leader in targets, receptions, and receiving yards will look to add on to the average 9.3 fantasy points Washington gives up to the position, and should be started as a TE1.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
A good amount of the league’s top run defenses are on bye this week, so I’m forced to pick on Charles. Don’t get me wrong, Charles is as good and consistent as it gets at the position, but a down week could be on the horizon. This week, Charles and the Chiefs take on the Bills stout run defense. On the backs of a very talented defensive line and stud rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso, the Bills have been able to hold opposing running backs to only 14.3 fantasy points per game, almost 25 percent less than Charles’ season average. The NEP numbers also support the Bills run defense, ranking 9th in the NFL when adjusting for schedule. Because of this, Andy Reid may choose to attack Buffalo through the air, and compounded with lingering knee injury, Charles may have an off game by his elite standards.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Many deemed Jackson’s season over when rookie quarterback Mike Glennon took the wheel on offense, but the complete opposite has occurred. V-Jax is now the league leader in targets at 90, and is third in the NFL in Reception NEP for the season. This has had a direct impact on his fantasy value, as Jackson has put up over 19 fantasy points per game since Glennon took over.
Now comes the bad news.
V-Jax and the Bucs travel to The 12th Man to take on Seattle. The Seahawks and their secondary, or “The Legion of Boom”, have been an absolute black hole for opposing receivers. The leagues number two pass defense gives up only 16.4 fantasy point per game to the position, including only one game allowing over 20 points. Jackson plays both on the outside and in the slot, so he should avoid being blanketed by Richard Sherman, but Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond are by no means easy matchups. The raw volume will allow V-Jax to post WR2 numbers, but I doubt he’ll reach his elite upside this week.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Atlanta Falcons
Tony G makes his second consecutive appearance here, but for a different reason this time. Carolina boasts the sixth-best pass defense in the NFL when adjusting for schedule, which is more a result of one of the league’s best front sevens than a ball hawking secondary. Also allowing only 7.0 points per game to opposing tight ends, Gonzalez might be in for a lousy Sunday. However there is hope, as tight ends have scored in three of the past four games against the Panthers. He likely won’t have a good outing unless he scores, but remains a top-10 play despite the matchup.