Fantasy Football Matchup Upgrades and Downgrades: Week 1

You don't always need to consider benching studs in tough matchups, but your fringe starters may be impacted enough to consider a replacement. These players or units should be considered in that group for Week 1.

There's no matchup in which starting James White over Christian McCaffrey makes sense, and while it's good to know the strength of matchups for all of your players, it's much more valuable in relation to the fringe starters and high-end bench players than it is for your studs.

Matchups should be one of the final components in making roster decisions, whether drafting for season-long strength of schedule or making a start/sit decision. It's a piece of the puzzle, but it should not be a primary consideration.

This series will look at borderline start/sit players and identify particularly good or bad matchups that could influence the decision. These are not specifically start/sit recommendations, as the alternative options are always relevant, but this can be used to upgrade or downgrade players in your weekly rankings.

For Week 1, I will be using players near the start/sit cutoff (12 quarterbacks, 30 running backs, 42 wide receivers, 12 tight ends) in ADP, which is roughly the total number of starters in a 12-team league with a standard lineup, though it will vary slightly based on your opponents' flex play decisions. Since this is the first week, most rosters will be starting the players they drafted first, so it makes the most sense to investigate the middle-round picks, which are likely the RB2/WR3/Flex candidates. With that established, let's look at some upgrades and downgrades.


Good matchup: Dak Prescott (vs. NYG) - Prescott might have gone undrafted in some 12-team leagues, as his ADP finished as QB17. On top of entering 2019 on a mission to get paid with a new contract, Prescott returns all key pieces of his 2018 offense, including Amari Cooper, whose arrival saw Prescott rank as a QB1 during the back half of the 2018 season. Prescott draws the New York Giants as his opponent in Week 1, a plum matchup. While the Giants allowed just 16.3 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks in 2018 (10th-fewest in the NFL), their secondary is a glaring weakness, ranking just 25th according to our algorithm entering 2019. Prescott should have an easy day throwing the ball, and his mobility always adds the benefit of rushing yards and a potential rushing score.

Bad matchup: Aaron Rodgers (@ CHI) - There aren't many fringe QB1 candidates who have really bad matchups, but Rodgers gets the pleasure of opening the 2019 season on the road against the Chicago Bears. The Bears allowed just 13.1 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks in 2018 (3rd-fewest in the NFL) and ranked 3rd in adjusted pass defense, via numberFire's metrics. They show no indications of weakness entering 2018. Rodgers could spend his Thursday evening under siege, and the game could be a low-scoring slug-fest. Rodgers is talented enough and has the surrounding weapons to post a decent fantasy week, but there are some later-round quarterbacks who are in much better spots for Week 1.

Running Back

Good matchup: Matt Breida (vs. TB) - In a bit of a surprise move, the San Francisco 49ers listed Breida as their starter on their final depth chart, ahead of Tevin Coleman. The 49ers always figured to use a committee, but if Breida is on the right side of the committee backfield, he's in a prime spot for Week 1. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers allowed 22.6 fantasy points per game to running backs in 2018 (6th-most in the NFL) and ranked 22nd in Adjusted Defensive Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play. With fewer backs in play in this backfield this season, Breida should see more reliable touches in 2019, and against a Buccaneers defense that didn't notably improve, the ground game should get off to a fast start. He's our RB25 for Week 1.

Bad matchup: Kenyan Drake (@ BAL) - Drake enters 2019 as the starter at least in name. That shouldn't come as a surprise, but he could still be the leader of a split backfield instead of playing a true lead-back role. Regardless, Drake will have his work cut out for him in Week 1, matching up against the Baltimore Ravens, who allowed a meager 13.5 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs in 2018 (2nd-fewest in the NFL) and ranked fourth in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play. Even in a better spot, Drake is at risk to lose more touches in 2019 to second-year pro Kalen Ballage, but this is not a good spot for the lackluster offense of the Miami Dolphins, and no part of the offense is really interesting for fantasy purposes in Week 1.

Wide Receiver

Good matchup: Marvin Jones (@ ARI) - Jones enters 2019 as a clear-cut starter opposite Kenny Golladay, on a team with a rookie tight end, no strong third receiver, and no more Theo Riddick. Jones and Golladay could both see monster target shares, and the good news for both Detroit Lions wideouts is that the Arizona Cardinals are missing Patrick Peterson due to suspension. The Cardinals have a solid secondary, but without Peterson, talented wideouts such as Jones and Golladay should be able to exploit weaknesses. Even on a run-first offense, both receivers should figure to post strong outings to start the 2019 season. Jones is our WR33 for Week 1.

Bad matchup: Robby Anderson (vs. BUF) - The Buffalo Bills allowed just 18.3 fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers in 2018 (5th-fewest in the NFL), but what's worse for Anderson is that he'll likely see shadow coverage from Tre'Davious White, one of the great, young shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL. White was a blanket in 2018, allowing his receivers to gain just 0.55 yards of separation at target (5th-fewest in the NFL). White also allowed just 5.8 yards per target when thrown at, ranking 6th in the NFL, and just 0.25 fantasy points per snap when he was in coverage, the lowest mark in the league. White was not burned deep once (5-plus yards of separation downfield) in 2018, which is Anderson's M.O., so Anderson will likely have a tough day and is our WR40.

Tight End

Good matchup: Delanie Walker (@ CLE) - Walker is back for 2019, and while there may not be much gas left in the tank, so to speak, Walker is in a prime spot both for Week 1 and for the 2019 season (if he stays healthy). The target competition for Walker features third-year wideout Corey Davis, who has struggled thus far in the NFL, rookie A.J. Brown, and newly-acquired slot receiver Adam Humphries. While Humphries will likely siphon targets, Walker is the only receiver on the team with any reliable connection with quarterback Marcus Mariota, and the Titans won't likely force-feed targets to the outside receivers against a Cleveland Browns defense that ranked 27th in Target Success Rate allowed to tight ends and 9th allowed to wide receivers. Cleveland also allowed the seventh-most points to tight ends per game in 2018. With a likely favorable target share, Walker is in a great spot to start hot in 2019.

Bad matchup: David Njoku (vs TEN) -- The other side of the Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns matchup looks very different. Third-year tight end David Njoku enters 2019 in a more crowded offense, featuring newly-acquired superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham but also ascending franchise quarterback Baker Mayfield. The strong offense with a lot of weapons likely means good season totals but volatile weekly production for Njoku. Week 1 is not a good time for this gamble, as the Tennessee defense allowed just 3.8 fantasy points per game to tight ends in 2018, a full point below any other team. The Titans have questions elsewhere on the defense, which means this would be a better week to bet on the wide receivers in the Browns passing game.

Mark Leipold is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Mark Leipold also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username mleipold5. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his/her personal views, he/she may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his/her personal account. The views expressed in his/her articles are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.