This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
So much for the idea that a shortened offseason and no preseason would lead to sloppy football in September. There were 87 offensive scores across the league last week, setting an NFL record for Week 1. Meanwhile, only the Saints scored a TD on defense, with 33 turnovers (1.03 per team) putting us well below last year's mark of 1.39 per team game.
Sixteen games is a small sample, but we do have a couple explanations, namely a lack of penalties (to an extent that appears intentional by the NFL).
The other big factor, at least in my opinion, is that all 32 teams have their starting quarterback healthy. The past two seasons also were favorable for QB health, but back in 2017 we saw a rash of injuries that coincided with a dip in scoring. Of course, that could all change as soon as Sunday.
Anyway, I'm adding a couple new features at the end of this column, first picking out some streaming options (startable players who are available in most leagues) and then asking for your help with one of my lineup decisions.
Last but not least, I want to plug my Hidden Stat Line articles that were posted earlier this week on RotoWire. They break down Week 1 usage for every fantasy-relevant RB, WR and TE, looking beyond the standard box score for stuff like snap shares, target shares, routes run, air yards, goal-line work and formation data. It's a lot of information, but I promise you'll find something useful for your fantasy teams:
Additionally, here are some of my favorite tools for analyzing matchups each week:
- Jeff Erickson's value meter
- RotoWire's weekly projections
- RW weekly composite rankings
- RW Betting odds
- RW Target share page
- RW Snap count page
- RW Defense vs. Position stats
- RW pages for advanced stats and TE route data.
- Pace stats and DVOA from Football Outsiders
- Next Gen Stats from NFL.com
- Player Grades and Premium Stats from Pro Football Focus
- Personnel Grouping Frequencies and Run:Pass Ratios from SharpFootballStats.com
Note: Discussion below mostly is limited to players that are being started in 10-to-90 percent of lineups on Yahoo. There are plenty of other players with good or bad matchups, but we'll focus our energy on the guys most likely to be involved in difficult lineup decisions. Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on scoring with 25/10 yardage, 4/6 TDs and 0.5 PPR, i.e., standard settings on Yahoo and FanDuel.
Thursday Night Special
- WR Tyler Boyd at CLE — UPGRADE ⬆️
34% started on Yahoo, 23% on ESPN
This is a perfect spot for Boyd to rebound, facing a banged-up Cleveland secondary that's using a nickel corner who played only 20 defensive snaps and 572 special teams snaps between 2018 and 2019. Boyd ran 82 percent of his routes from the slot last week, while Browns CB Tavierre Thomas allowed a 3-51-1 receiving line on three targets in his 15 slot-coverage snaps against the Ravens (per PFF).
Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland offense also appear to have a nice matchup — against a Bengals defense that won't have DT Geno Atkins (shoulder), DT Mike Daniels (groin) or third safety Shawn Williams (calf) — except that the Browns are just as banged up as the Bengals, with three of five O-line starters (including both tackles) listed as questionable.
- Tom Brady vs. CAR
55% started on Yahoo, 65% on ESPN
Even if Chris Godwin (concussion) is ruled out, the Bucs offense will have a massive talent advantage over the Panthers defense. Derek Carr completed 73.3 percent of his passes for 8.0 YPA in a 34-30 win over Carolina last week, while Brady dealt with an infinitely tougher matchup in New Orleans. The Bucs are nine-point favorites with an implied total of 28.25.
- Aaron Rodgers vs. DET
58% started on Yahoo, 48% on ESPN
Rodgers was incredible last week, while the Detroit defense suffered a complete meltdown against none other than Mitchell Trubisky. Now, the Packers return home as six-point favorites, boasting the fifth-best implied total (27.75) of Week 2. It may be a little early to have the "Is he ELITE again???" conversation for the 27th time, but we can at least say Rodgers is well positioned for another big game. The Lions just put slot corner Justin Coleman (hamstring) on IR, and the signing of CB Chris Jones off the Arizona practice squad hints at some level of concern Desmond Trufant (hamstring) won't be available Sunday.
- Ronald Jones vs. CAR
49% started on Yahoo, 34% on ESPN
Leonard Fournette may eventually push for more work, but his Week 1 usage was essentially a lesser version of Peyton Barber's role from last November/December. The former Jag got six touches on 13 percent of snaps, while Jones saw 17 carries and three targets on 47 percent snap share. It isn't ideal to have Fournette poaching a few carries and LeSean McCoy stealing passing downs, but we already saw Jones average 67.8 total yards, 2.8 catches and 0.44 TDs per game in a similar role over the final nine weeks last season. That makes him a solid RB2 play in good matchups, which he certainly has this week against a Panthers defense that was terrible against the run last year and kicked off 2020 by giving up a 31-133-3 rushing line to the Raiders.
Singletary: 46% started on Yahoo, 42% on ESPN — Moss: 23% started on Yahoo, 9% on ESPN
Singletary and Moss saw nine carries apiece in the season opener, with the former holding a modest advantage in snap share (59% to 45%), targets (7-4) and routes run (27-20). That's as close to 50/50 as you'll find in any NFL backfield... not exactly ideal for fantasy purposes. We may not be able fully trust either player right now, but a favorable Week 2 matchup does mean both are startable. Remember that Josh Allen won't get 14 carries every week; he averaged 6.8 per game last year.
Honorable Mention: David Montgomery, CHI vs. NYG
- Marquise Brown at HOU
70% started on Yahoo, 49% on ESPN
Brown caught five passes for 101 yards before halftime in Week 1, but he saw just one target after the break as Lamar Jackson was limited to nine throws in the second half of a blowout win. Everything else was encouraging, with Hollywood seeing 24 percent target share and 0.80 routes per dropback. This week's game in Houston should be at least somewhat more competitive, and it also sets up Brown against a subpar group of cornerbacks. Everything we applied to Sammy Watkins last week applies to Brown for this upcoming Sunday.
- T.Y. Hilton vs. MIN
67% started on Yahoo, 67% on ESPN
We all saw what happened to the Minnesota secondary last week, and we also saw Hilton handle a full workload — 80 percent of snaps, 19.6 percent target share, 0.85 routes per dropback — in a road game at Jacksonville. Week 1 brought a nice matchup in terms of the opponent, but it also put Hilton on the wrong side of his home/road and dome/outdoors splits. For his career, he averages 5.0 catches for 78.4 yards and 0.42 touchdowns in Indianapolis, compared to 4.4 for 66.9 and 0.34 TDs on the road.
- Diontae Johnson vs. DEN
30% started on Yahoo, 16% on ESPN
If we look at usage rather than production, Johnson stands out as one of the hidden gems from Week 1. He played 86 percent of snaps and ran a route on 94 percent of Ben Roethlisberger's dropbacks, and he even led the Steelers with 10 targets (32.3 percent share). A 6-57-0 receiving line isn't so bad, and we could see another step forward in a friendly matchup this week. Per PFF, Johnson took 55 percent of his Week 1 snaps aligned wide to the left, which is where the Broncos used third-round pick Michael Ojemudia as their right cornerback after A.J. Bouye (now on IR) dislocated his shoulder. The rookie did solid work on A.J. Brown, but the Steelers nonetheless figure to investigate whether Ojemudia is truly up to the task of a starting job in the NFL.
- Honorable Mentions: Michael Gallup & CeeDee Lamb, DAL vs. ATL; Emmanuel Sanders, NO at LVR; Parris Campbell, IND vs. MIN; Allen Lazard, GB vs. DET
- Hayden Hurst at DAL
40% started on Yahoo, 33% on ESPN
The Cowboys allowed a league-high 104 receptions to tight ends last season, and they've now lost star linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to a broken collarbone. Hurst was a Week 1 disappointment with only five targets and 38 yards, but his role otherwise looked identical to Austin Hooper's from last season, with the former Raven getting 78 percent snap share and 0.80 routes run per QB dropback.
- Logan Thomas at ARZ
6% started on Yahoo, 2% on ESPN
Unlike Hurst, the WFT tight end took advantage of his hefty Week 1 route share (0.86 per QB dropback), going for 4-37-1 on a team-high eight targets. Thomas now heads to Arizona, where tight ends regularly feasted last season and the defense still appears to have some issues covering the middle of the field (just ask Raheem Mostert).
- Honorable Mentions: Jared Cook, NO at LVR
- Ryan Succop vs. CAR
15% started on Yahoo, 10% on ESPN
Succop technically missed one kick in his Bucs debut, but it was a 54-yarder that got blocked. He's still available in the majority of fantasy leagues, despite playing for a team with the third-best implied total (28.25) of the week.
- Matthew Stafford at GB
31% started on Yahoo, 29% on ESPN
Stafford has a strong track record of fantasy production against the Packers, but he'll have a few things working against him this week, starting with the potential for another absence from Kenny Golladay (hamstring). While we may not think of the Green Bay defense as a powerhouse, it does have at least 10 of 11 starters currently healthy, including pass rushers Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith as well as all the key players in the secondary. The Lions have an implied total of only 21.75 points, and even if they do find success, it might be with Adrian Peterson and the running game rather than on the strength of Stafford's right arm (Green Bay finished ninth in pass-defense DVOA and 27th in run-defense DVOA last season).
- Not-so-honorable Mentions: Derek Carr, LVR vs. NO; Teddy Bridgewater, CAR at TB; Gardner Minshew, JAX at TEN; Drew Lock, DEN at PIT; Ryan Fitzpatrick, MIA vs. BUF; Sam Darnold, NYJ vs. SF
- Malcolm Brown at PHI
26% started on Yahoo, 30% on ESPN
Brown's Week 1 usage was highly encouraging, but he did lose 40 percent of the carries to Cam Akers, which likely would be problematic in a tougher matchup. It just so happens Brown gets a tricky one this week, facing an Eagles defense that was top seven in rushing yards allowed each of the previous three seasons. For all their other issues, the Eagles still shut down the run Week 1 against Washington, allowing only 80 yards on 36 carries. Even Peyton Barber's goal-line success was kind of a mirage, requiring five carries inside the five-yard line to score a pair of TDs. Expect Jared Goff to do the heavy lifting this week.
- Nyheim Hines vs. MIN
42% started on Yahoo, 23% on ESPN
Another popular waiver add, Hines has already benefited from Philip Rivers' tendency to target running backs, and there's one less body competing for snaps after Marlon Mack suffered a torn Achilles. On the other hand, Jonathan Taylor will take most of the carries and thus see steady volume, while Hines' role as the receiver/scatback means his production is likely to be volatile. A big game for a mediocre passing-down back is what happens when everything else goes wrong; it isn't something a team tends to emphasize ahead of time. Playing at home against a vulnerable Minnesota secondary, the Colts should be able to build a successful offensive gameplan around Taylor and T.Y. Hilton.
- DeVante Parker vs. BUF
29% started on Yahoo, 23% on ESPN
Talk about bad luck. Parker pulled a hammy during training camp, before opening his season with matchups against two of the stingiest secondaries in the league. To make matters worse, he aggravated his hamstring in the Week 1 loss to New England, missing the entire second half after he caught each of his four targets for 47 yards in the first half. It sounds like he could be back for Week 2, but he'll be subject to increased risk of in-game injury, not to mention the possibility of a shadow matchup with Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White. The talented wideout put up 190 and a TD in two games against Buffalo last year, but there's a lot working against him this week to prevent similar production.
- Sammy Watkins at LAC
32% started on Yahoo, 16% on ESPN
Given how well Watkins played in a season-opening prime-time game, it isn't exactly surprising to see him started in more lineups than Diontae Johnson, Jamison Crowder and Henry Ruggs, among others. But that doesn't make it a good idea, as Watkins essentially is in the same situation that produced only 6.0 targets per game over his first two seasons with the Chiefs. Starting him in a favorable matchup is one thing. Starting him on the road against Casey Hayward and Chris Harris is another.
- Mike Gesicki vs. BUF
14% started on Yahoo, 11% on ESPN
Gesicki played 73 percent of snaps and ran a route on 79 percent of Ryan Fitzpatrick's dropbacks last week, so the underlying usage at least was encouraging, though he managed just 3-30-0 on five targets. Even if there are better days ahead, Gesicki likely will struggle Week 2, facing a Buffalo defense that limited him to 59 yards on 10 targets in two games last season.
- Matt Prater at GB
86% started on Yahoo, 90% on ESPN
Prater is a good kicker coming off a big Week 1 fantasy performance, but his team isn't expected to score many points this Sunday, and he's made only 81.4 percent of his career field-goal attempts outdoors (compared to 87.5 percent in domes).
QB Ryan Tannehill vs. JAX
QB Tyrod Taylor vs. KC
QB Philip Rivers vs. MIN
RB Joshua Kelley vs. KC
RB Myles Gaskin vs. BUF
WR Parris Campbell vs. MIN
WR Jalen Reagor vs. LAR
WR N'Keal Harry at SEA
WR Russell Gage at DAL
WR Steven Sims at ARZ
TE Logan Thomas at ARZ
TE Jimmy Graham vs. NYG
K Ryan Succop vs. CAR
K Chris Boswell vs. DEN
Crowd-sourced Lineup Decision
Each week I'll post a twitter poll with one of the toughest start/sit decisions from my own lineups. The process will be truly democratic, i.e., I'm obligated to start whichever player gets the most votes, unless they end up inactive due to an injury. (Feel free to vote for the inferior option if sabotage is your thing.)
And please, feel free to drop you start/sit questions in the comments below, or you can ask me on twitter - @JerryDonabedian.