NFL

5 Daily Fantasy Football Matchups to Exploit in Week 9

In fantasy football, matchups are key to setting any lineup.

This series will take a look at a few matchups that can be exploited for success on the football field and for profit in DFS.

Steelers Offense vs. Cowboys Defense

The Pittsburgh Steelers are this week’s winner in “Who gets to play the Dallas Cowboys?” The Cowboys rank dead last in points allowed and are allowing top-10 FanDuel points to every skill position this season. Dallas has been a defense to target for fantasy purposes all year long, and while the loss of Dak Prescott has made games less competitive, Jerry World is still a hive for opposing fantasy production.

JuJu Smith-Schuster ($6,500), Chase Claypool ($6,300) and Diontae Johnson ($6,000) all rank between 20th and 50th in FanDuel points per game among wide receivers this season, as no Steeler has a target share north of 25% or an air yards share over 30%. Claypool dominated Pittsburgh’s Week 5 matchup against Philadelphia in a three-touchdown explosion in a game that Johnson played just 8% of offensive snaps due to a back injury. In games that Claypool, Johnson and Smith-Schuster all played at least 25% of snaps (Weeks 1, 2, 7 and 8), Johnson paces the team in target share, air yards share and end zone targets.

Claypool and Johnson have the better matchups as Pittsburgh’s perimeter receivers against Dallas’ outside cornerbacks Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown -- but game script could be an issue for the passing offense, as the Steelers are favored by 14 points (per FanDuel Sportsbook) and rank fifth in time of possession when leading this season while the Cowboys rank 31st (per Football Outsiders).

That translates directly to "James Conner week.” Conner ($8,200) played just 15 snaps in the season opener because of an ankle injury but has scored double-digit FanDuel points in each game since. Since Week 2, Conner ranks top-10 in touches, yards from scrimmage and FanDuel points among all running backs. He should see a big workload against a Dallas defense that has allowed the most rush attempts, most rushing yards, fourth-most rushing touchdowns and sixth-most FanDuel points to opposing running backs this season.

Conner has been consistently good in the past six weeks but has a great opportunity to score 25-plus FanDuel points for the first time this season -- and a stack with Pittsburgh D/ST ($5,000) is mouthwatering considering the Steelers' defense leads the league in pressure rate and is set to face either Garrett Gilbert or Cooper Rush on Sunday.

Cardinals Offense vs. Dolphins Defense

Similar to the Steelers, the Arizona Cardinals' running game could have a big day on Sunday. Arizona is coming off its bye and will face the Miami Dolphins' aggressive defense, which has prioritized its pass defense at the expense of its run defense -- Miami ranks first in numberFire’s Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play but 19th in Defensive Rushing NEP per play.

Those efficiency rankings carry over to fantasy football: the Dolphins are allowing the 14th-most FanDuel points to opposing wide receivers but the third-fewest points to quarterbacks and tight ends, while allowing the 12th-most FanDuel points to running backs.

Kyler Murray ($8,600) and DeAndre Hopkins ($8,800) each rank in the top-six in FanDuel points at their respective positions and are simply too good to not start in season-long leagues, but it may be wise to fade each in daily fantasy in what is their toughest matchup of the season, especially considering that they each rank top-three in price on this week’s slate.

On the other hand, Chase Edmonds ($7,400) is in line for a blow-up game against Miami’s exposable run defense -- assuming Kenyan Drake ($6,000) sits. Drake hasn’t been ruled out of the game yet but hasn’t practiced yet this week and is unlikely to be a major factor even if he does suit up.

Among running backs with 25-plus carries and 10-plus receptions this season, Edmonds ranks first in Rushing NEP per carry and eighth in Reception NEP per target. In short, he’s an efficient running back getting his first full workload in an efficient run offense that’s playing an inefficient run defense. Play Kliff Kingsbury’s lead running back with confidence this week.

Broncos Offense vs. Falcons Defense

The Denver Broncos' offense has been a tough watch this season, as it shifted through quarterbacks during Drew Lock's ($7,200) shoulder injury and currently ranks 27th in points per game and 31st in offensive efficiency. Lock has thrown for a touchdown in just two of his five starts this season, albeit he is coming off a three-touchdown performance in a comeback win against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Lock and the Broncos will try to carry the momentum of their come-from-behind victory to the state of Georgia, where they will face the similarly vulnerable Atlanta Falcons. Atlanta ranks fifth in defensive rushing efficiency and has allowed the 11th-fewest FanDuel points to opposing running backs this season, so the committee backfield of Melvin Gordon ($6,600) and Phillip Lindsay ($5,700) may be one to avoid. In the three games the two have played together this season (Weeks 1, 7 and 8), Gordon has paced the backfield in snaps, carries, targets and goal line carries, so he would be the Bronco running back to play if looking for a cheap/unpopular play.

The majority of Denver’s offensive production, however, is likely to come through the air against an Atlanta pass defense that ranks last in efficiency and touchdowns allowed. Atlanta has allowed the most FanDuel points to opposing quarterbacks and tight ends as well as the third-most points to receivers.

Lock is a shaky play considering he’s surpassed 15 FanDuel points just once this season, but he is nevertheless a sharp contrarian option considering his favorable matchup in a game that has a total of 50.0 points. Noah Fant ($5,800) has been a slight disappointment this season as he currently ranks 12th in FanDuel points among tight ends this season. Fortunately, Fant played 78% of offensive snaps last week, which was his most since Week 3, and he’s on deck to play a Falcons defense that’s allowed double-digit FanDuel points per game to the position and the most productive fantasy games of their respective seasons to Robert Tonyan, Jimmy Graham, Dalton Schultz, T.J. Hockenson and Greg Olsen.

While Fant is an obvious high-upside play, Jerry Jeudy ($5,700) is a sneaky buy-low candidate. Jeudy is averaging just 7.6 FanDuel points per game this season and has yet to top 100 receiving yards in a game, but his usage against Los Angeles was encouraging. He hauled in four catches for 74 yards and had a team-high 10 targets to go with a league-high 159 air yards in Week 8. Atlanta is allowing the highest rate of explosive pass plays in the league this campaign (per Sharp Football Stats) and could be the conductor needed to allow Jeudy’s first big game as a big-leaguer.

Bills Offense vs. Seahawks Defense

The Seattle Seahawks have been a defense that has been targeted without fail all season for fantasy purposes. The Hawks rank in the top half of the league in defending running backs and tight end fantasy production, but they have allowed the most FanDuel points per game to both quarterbacks and receivers.

That’s great news for the Buffalo Bills, which ranks seventh in neutral-situation pass rate and first in target share allotted to receivers. Josh Allen ($8,200) has scored fewer than 20 FanDuel points in each of the past four weeks after scoring 25-plus in every game in the first month of the season, but some of that can be allotted to poor weather conditions. Allen figures to be a popular buy-low play but undoubtedly has one of the highest ceilings among quarterbacks this week in a game with the highest projected total of the weekend (54.5).

Stefon Diggs ($7,600) leads all players in targets this season and ranks second in receptions and receiving yards behind only DeAndre Hopkins. He’s an obvious upside start considering his elite workload and matchup, but considering that he figures to be among the most popular plays of the week, daily fantasy players should consider pivoting to John Brown ($5,500) for exposure to Buffalo’s offense.

Brown started off hot with back-to-back games of 70-plus receiving yards and a touchdown to start the season but has been hampered by a knee injury since then. He played 81% of snaps last Sunday after missing Week 7 and drew just two targets against New England's tough secondary. Brown didn’t practice on Wednesday but practiced in full on Thursday, and while the injury is cause for concern, Brown has undeniable upside in this fantasy-favorable game. He should be at the top of the radar of anyone looking for a cheap/unpopular high-ceiling play.

Texans Offense vs. Jaguars Defense

The Houston Texans will face the Jacksonville Jaguars for the second time this season. In the first matchup, Deshaun Watson ($8,300) threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns with Brandin Cooks ($6,100) as the main beneficiary, catching eight of 12 targets for 161 yards and a touchdown.

Watson, Cooks and Will Fuller ($7,100), who also scored in Week 5 against the Jaguars, are all solid plays against a Jacksonville defense that has allowed the third-most FanDuel points to opposing quarterbacks and the 15th-most to opposing receivers

Meanwhile, a David Johnson ($6,800) and Houston D/ST ($3,700) running back/defense stack is essentially a cheaper version of a James Conner/Pittsburgh D/ST stack. The Texans led just 10-7 over the Jaguars at halftime of the first matchup but had a dominant second-half showing and eventually won the game 30-14. Johnson registered the most rushing yards (96) and second-most carries (17) of his season with the help of the positive game script, and it’s likely to be a similar show on Sunday, as Jacksonville is a 6.5-point underdog, ranks dead last in time of possession with a lead this season, and is without quarterback Gardner Minshew (thumb).

Sixth-round rookie Jake Luton will make his first career start in Minshew’s place, and while Luton’s abilities are unknown, it’s obviously unlikely that he will be a gamebreaker. The Houston D/ST had a season-high nine points against the Jaguars in Week 5. Watson, Cooks and Fuller should excel in this plus-matchup, but Johnson and Houston D/ST will likely have the most opportunities for fantasy success.