Fantasy football: Best and worst matchups at each position for NFL Week 12

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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 teamwide 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: Tyrod Taylor, Houston Texans (vs. New York Jets). September and November have been night-and-day different for the Jets’ pass defense, as this unit excelled in the season’s first three weeks, limiting quarterbacks to a total of 38.30 fantasy points, but it has collapsed in the past five weeks, affording the position an average of 21.02 during that time. During that time, Mac Jones, Joe Burrow, Carson Wentz, Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa each threw for at least 259 yards and two scores. Jones’ statistics in his two games against the Jets, in fact, provide appropriate contrast illustrating the team’s pre- and post-bye split: He scored 7.44 points against them in Week 2, and 22.18 against them in Week 7.

What’s interesting about this particular matchup, however, is that the Jets have been excellent against mobile quarterbacks all year, most notably holding Allen and Tagovailoa to a combined 9 yards on five rushing attempts the past two weeks. Perhaps part of that was neither team’s need to lean on its starting quarterback’s mobility, but that’s not likely to be the game script for the Texans, for whom Taylor’s mobility is almost certainly going to come into play. He did, after all, score two rushing touchdowns against the Tennessee Titans in Week 11. Maybe this is the week he does more with his arm than legs, but either way, he’s a standout streaming pick.

Unfavorable matchup: Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans (at New England Patriots). Speaking of the Titans, their offense hasn’t looked nearly the same since Derrick Henry’s potentially season-ending injury in Week 8, but it wasn’t until their upset loss to the Texans last week that the majority of people noticed. Tannehill has averaged 13.95 fantasy points since Henry’s injury, more than three full points beneath his average in his first eight games of the season (17.07), and the four interceptions he threw in Week 11 casts a significant shadow on his potential facing a defense as hot as the Patriots.

Some of the Patriots’ recent defensive success has been matchups-driven, as they faced Sam Darnold (Week 9) at his worst point, and had two other games where the opponent’s quarterback left early due to injury (the Jets in Week 7 and the Cleveland Browns in Week 10), but credit them for holding Justin Herbert to 13.82 fantasy points in Week 8 and Matt Ryan to 2.12 in Week 11. The Patriots do an excellent job of identifying their opponents’ key performer and removing them from the equation, and the Titans’ offense falls dangerously into that game plan, with A.J. Brown effectively their only trustworthy, elite wide receiver. Brown is on the injured list this week, so monitor his status before Sunday.

Running backs

Favorable matchup: Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys (versus Las Vegas Raiders). His workload hasn’t been worlds off that of starter Ezekiel Elliott, as Pollard has averaged 9.0 rushing attempts and 11.5 total touches per game to Elliott’s 15.1 and 18.3, and it’s important to note that Elliott suffered a knee injury early in Week 11 that could present some limitations in the short week. Pollard will almost assuredly be heavily involved in the game plan, between Elliott’s health and this matchup itself, as the Raiders’ defense has been far easier to attack via the run than the pass. Devontae Booker, Darrel Williams and Joe Mixon have totaled 68.9 PPR fantasy points on 74 touches the past three weeks combined, with each exceeding his seasonal average by at least five full points in those games.

Monday pick: Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team (versus Seattle Seahawks). The Seahawks’ run defense hasn’t been as porous in November as it was during the season’s first two months, but it still grades as a well-above-average matchup for opposing running backs, evidenced by AJ Dillon’s 26.8 PPR fantasy points in largely a backup/relief effort in Week 10 and James Conner’s 20.9 points in Week 11.

Gibson has handled 43 rushing attempts combined the past two weeks, an encouraging boost in workload that alleviates some of the worries about his dwindling receiving-game usage, and the Seahawks’ offense hasn’t yet clicked since Russell Wilson’s return to action, meaning game flow might yet remain in Gibson’s favor.

Unfavorable matchup: Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Indianapolis Colts). Few prominent running backs face must-sit matchups in Week 11, but Fournette’s is one of the least appealing, at least from among the top-20 positional talent tier. For the season, the Colts have minus-5.8 Adjusted Fantasy Points Added, second-fewest in the league, and they are the only defense to have not allowed an individual 20-point PPR performance to a running back. In fact, only once has an entire team’s backfield totaled 25-plus PPR fantasy points against the Colts, again the fewest in the league, and that was when Derrick Henry and the Titans — the league’s most potent rushing attack during the season’s first half — scored 28.2 points against them. Fournette gets a decent amount done as a receiver, scoring 22.4 PPR fantasy points on catches the past two weeks combined, and he’ll probably have to do similar damage in that regard to perform as a high-end RB2 this week.

Wide receivers

Favorable matchup: Elijah Moore, New York Jets (at Houston Texans). Teams haven’t had to throw especially often against the Texans this year — their 34.4 pass attempts seen on average ranks 19th — but when you’re a team with the Jets’ defensive issues, there’s an excellent chance you’re going to find yourself in a good number of pass-friendly situations. The Texans have seen 10 different wide receivers score 10-plus PPR fantasy points this season, tied for fifth-most in the league, mostly because cornerbacks Desmond King II and Terrance Mitchell have underperformed (133.3 PPR fantasy points combined afforded to the position).

Moore’s reputation in fantasy might suffer from his team’s questionable quarterback situation, but he has been remarkably productive the past three weeks despite the shuffling between Joe Flacco, Josh Johnson and Mike White, so there’s no saying he can’t approach or exceed the 23.5 points he averaged in those games. Consider Moore a clear top-25 positional play.

Unfavorable matchup: Jaylen Waddle, Miami Dolphins (versus Carolina Panthers). He has been similarly productive to Moore of late, though Waddle’s success extends back six weeks, during which he has averaged 16.4 PPR fantasy points and 9.5 targets while enjoying an expanded role due to injuries to the Dolphins’ other receivers. That amount of usage, coupled with the likelihood that he’ll see a similar workload in Week 11, keeps him in the low-end WR2 range, but bear in mind that a Panthers matchup limits wide receivers’ upside.

Thanks to strong seasonal play by cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Donte Jackson and the recent return to action of Stephon Gilmore, the Panthers have seen only two wide receivers amass 15-plus PPR fantasy points the past five weeks: Terry McLaurin (21.3, in Week 11) and Dante Pettis (15.5, Week 7). Keep it tucked away if you’re counting on Waddle to carry your team.

Tight ends

Favorable matchup: Evan Engram, New York Giants (versus Philadelphia Eagles). The Eagles are this season’s automatic as far as tight end matchups are concerned. This fact says it all: They have seen their opponents’ tight ends combined score at least 13.5 PPR fantasy points in each of their past nine games, while no other team has seen more than eight opponents score that many in a game in total. Adam Trautman was the latest lesser-regarded tight end to excel against this defense, scoring 16.8 points on eight targets, which meant that six different tight ends scored at least 10 points against the Eagles just in the past three weeks.

There’s a reason for it: Quarterbacks prefer to avoid cornerback Darius Slay in coverage, meaning this is a week where Daniel Jones will look more to his slot receivers, of which Engram runs a significant number of his routes.

Unfavorable matchup: Hunter Henry, New England Patriots (versus Tennessee Titans). Thanks in large part to the play of safety Kevin Byard, the Titans have been one of the toughest defenses against opposing tight ends this season. Byard’s 70 coverage snaps — the number of times he has been the nearest defender to the intended receiver — are 12th-most among safeties, and in them he has allowed just 11 targets and 5.2 PPR fantasy points to the position, while adding one interception and three passes defensed. While it’s true that the Titans haven’t faced many top-tier tight ends, they did battle the position’s clear No. 1 in Travis Kelce in Week 7, and limited him to his third-lowest point total (13.5) on his largest target total (12) all season. Henry might have the position’s fifth-most PPR fantasy points (91.9) the past eight weeks, but 19 tight ends have seen more than his 32 targets during that same time span, with 16 of those doing so in fewer games than Henry has played. He’s a touchdown-dependent player, and he’s now in a positively brutal portion of his schedule from a matchups perspective, between this game and the two against the Buffalo Bills (Weeks 13 and 16).

Source: ESPN

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