Matchups play a huge part in fantasy managers’ weekly lineup decisions. When choosing between two (or more) similarly talented players, the decision often boils down to: Which one has the best matchup?
Ah, but there’s that word again, one all too familiar in the fantasy football lexicon. What, exactly, constitutes a favorable or unfavorable matchup?
This is where the “Matchups Map” comes in. Each week, I’ll provide a schedule-independent method to determine strength of positional matchups, using the most recent, relevant data. Check back for updated numbers each week, including matchups highlights at each position, both favorable and unfavorable, based upon those statistics. For these purposes, we will use PPR (Point Per Reception) scoring.
“Adj. FPA,” or Adjusted Fantasy Points Allowed, reflects how far above or below a player’s average that defense held opponents at that position. A positive number means that the matchup is favorable; a negative number means it is unfavorable. This is a team-wide analysis, so a plus-5.0 Adj. FPA to running backs would mean that the defense afforded its opponents’ entire running back corps five additional points on average, which should be kept in mind when evaluating running back-by-committees. All data is from the past five weeks’ NFL action.
Finally, a caveat: Matchups are only one ingredient in my rankings formula. Not every favorable matchup should be exploited, and not every unfavorable matchup should be avoided. To get the most complete recipe for whom to start and sit, consult my weekly rankings.
Favorable matchup: Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team (versus Kansas City Chiefs). He has played largely into the hands of his matchups through four starts, delivering 27.90 points against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4, only to follow it up with 9.92 against the New Orleans Saints last week. Even better, Heinicke has shown good mobility during that time, scoring 17.0 points, or 24% of his total as a starter, on rushing plays, which almost entirely explains his “overcoming” a tough Week 3 Buffalo Bills assignment. Bear in mind he was intercepted twice, sacked once and completed just 58.3% of his passes in that game, meaning he did play somewhat into the hands of that matchup, too. Now Heinicke draws the Chiefs, a team with a potent offense but porous defense that has afforded the most fantasy points to quarterbacks though five weeks (140.42), as his Week 6 matchup. It’s projected to be the week’s highest-scoring game, so he’ll probably be tasked with 40-plus attempts, but even if he falls short in that quest, his mobility should suit him well against this defense that has allowed a sixth-most 1.04 fantasy points per run to quarterbacks.
Unfavorable matchup: Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders (at Denver Broncos). My, how quickly things change. Through three weeks, Carr was fantasy’s QB9 (69.42 fantasy points) and the league’s leader with 1,203 passing yards, seemingly approaching QB1 territory. In two games since, however, he and the Raiders’ offense has fallen into a funk, in large part because of difficult matchups against the Los Angeles Chargers (14.44 points, Week 4) and Chicago Bears (7.24, Week 5). A neck injury contributed to the latter, but the pattern underscores Carr’s longstanding status as a matchups-dependent fantasy quarterback. This week is another challenging matchup, as the Broncos join the Bills and Houston Texans as the only defenses to have not yet allowed 20 fantasy points in a game solely on passing plays (totaling all players on opponents’ rosters), and have allowed only 0.31 points per pass attempt to quarterbacks, third-fewest in the league. The Broncos have allowed a handful of big rushing plays to the position, but that’s not an area of strength for Carr.
Favorable matchup: Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos (versus Las Vegas Raiders). It’s not an easy time to evaluate the Broncos backfield. Through five games, Melvin Gordon III has the advantage in snap count (55%-44% played on offense), total rushing attempts (60-54) and targets (13-12), but Williams leads in goal-to-go rushing opportunities (5-4), receptions (11-10) and red-zone targets (2-1). Williams has two advantages, however: He was the superior runner in Week 5, doubling Gordon’s yards per attempt (7.6-3.8), and despite his shared-role status, is perceived as the lesser of the two, having been started in fewer ESPN+ leagues than Gordon every week. Williams is the upside play facing this favorable matchup, however, as the clearly quicker of the two, with 18.5% of his runs clocked at 15-plus mph, compared to Gordon’s 8.3%. The Raiders have been especially weak against speedy running backs, having allowed five runs that went for 20-plus yards already, and bear in mind that they haven’t played a lot of big-name positional talent: Ty’Son Williams and Malcolm Brown were responsible for two of those long gains, and Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert combined for 23.90 PPR fantasy points against this defense just last week.
Unfavorable matchup: Chris Carson, Seattle Seahawks (at Pittsburgh Steelers). He’s sure to be on the injury list heading into the week, having missed Week 5 with a neck injury, but despite coach Pete Carroll’s optimism that Carson will return for this game, this is a matchup to avoid wherever possible. The Steelers have struggled mightily in the secondary, affording a second-most nine touchdowns to opposing wide receivers, but have been quite strong up front, the only defense to have not allowed as many as 12 PPR fantasy points to an opposing running back nor more than 10.9 to a single backfield on exclusively rushing plays (the Green Bay Packers totaled that many in Week 4). Specifically, Aaron Jones managed just 10.9 points against these Steelers, while Joe Mixon scored 10.4 against them in Week 3. Carson is a flex play if cleared, and in the event that he’s absent again, fill-in Alex Collins hasn’t done enough the past two weeks (25.0 PPR fantasy points) to warrant plug-and-play status.
Favorable matchup: Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs (at Washington Football Team). No defense has been more disappointing through five weeks than Washington’s, which has surrendered the fourth-most PPR fantasy points to opposing wide receivers (224.1) and, as I mentioned on Sunday, has allowed an NFL-most five touchdowns on pass attempts that traveled at least 20 yards downfield. That might not be the aspect of Hardman’s game that most strengthens his matchup, as his 6.8 yard average depth of target is lowest among the Chiefs’ wide receivers, but it’s not like Washington has fared much better against short-range passes. This defense has surrendered six touchdowns (tied for seventh most) and a 75.0 Total QBR (fifth-most) on throws 10 yards or shorter, not to mention it has struggled in another regard favoring Hardman, surrendering 23.6 PPR fantasy points per game to receivers lined up out of the slot. He has run half his routes out of the slot thus far, and is coming off a 12-target Week 5, so he’s an appealing upside play in the WR4/flex class.
Unfavorable matchup: Marquise Brown, Baltimore Ravens (versus Los Angeles Chargers). As Lamar Jackson’s preferred deep threat, Brown should see the same 7-9 targets he usually does, usage that on its own propels him into the WR2/3 rankings tier. The problem, however, is that this is not only an upside-capping matchup for the big-play wideout, but it’s also one that significantly lowers his statistical floor. The Chargers have been stifling against opposing No. 1 wide receivers: Terry McLaurin scored 10.2 PPR fantasy points and had four targets against them in Week 1, Amari Cooper and CeeDee Lamb combined for 22.8 points on 14 targets in Week 2, Tyreek Hill totaled 9.7 points on eight targets in Week 3 and Odell Beckham Jr. had 4.0 points on three targets last week. Brown aligns about one-third of the time out of the slot, but even when he shifts there rather than on the perimeter, he’ll draw the talented Chris Harris Jr. in coverage, whereas he’ll probably be most commonly aligned with Asante Samuel Jr., who has allowed only 38.9 PPR fantasy points on 129 coverage snaps, on his perimeter routes. This is quite the risky matchup.
Favorable matchup: Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins (at Jacksonville Jaguars). The Jaguars have the third-most Adjusted Fantasy Points Allowed to tight ends (5.4), not to mention afforded the position the third-most PPR fantasy points per target (2.4), but what stands out most has been the type of talent amassing those numbers against this defense. C.J. Uzomah (26.5 points, Week 4), Pharaoh Brown (10.7, Week 1) and MyCole Pruitt (8.4, Week 5) have had big days against the Jaguars, which bodes well for a more-involved tight end like Gesicki. In terms of usage, Gesicki’s year looks similar to Noah Fant’s, a tight end who managed 13.3 points on six targets against this defense in their Week 2 meeting. This is a TE1 matchup for sure.
Unfavorable matchup: Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys (at New England Patriots). To be clear upfront, with the way that the tight end position has thinned out beneath its top tier, there are few tight ends I’d call a straight “sit,” matchups be damned. In Schultz’s case, though, the buzz exceeds his Week 6 potential, as while he has been heavily involved in the Cowboys’ offense, his usage still isn’t quite to the level of a Travis Kelce, Darren Waller or even Kyle Pitts, and his matchup against the Patriots is one of the toughest a tight end could draw. They’ve most commonly had their safeties covering their opponent’s tight end, with Kyle Dugger, Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips affording the position a combined 14.5 PPR fantasy points on 51 coverage snaps, and the team has allowed a league-low 1.1 points per target to the position. Schultz will provide this defense its toughest test yet, and the Cowboys’ wide receiver depth might help to create openings for the tight end, but this is probably not a matchup in which he’ll match his 19.3 point average the past three weeks.