This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
Is it too early to call 2020 the asterisk season, rather than the pandemic campaign? With apologies to Russell Wilson and his brilliance, it feels a little unfair to compare stats from this season to stats from previous years.
Anyway, it's something we've discussed here on RotoWire a few different times already, so for this week I'll just direct you to the recent ESPN article by Kevin Seifert. The short version is that offensive players now are allowed to hold their opponents, while defensive players mostly still have to follow the written version of the rules.
This bitter Ravens fans couldn't help but notice the Chiefs taking full advantage on Monday Night Football, though it wasn't a close enough game for a few penalties to make the difference. It seems this is the new reality of the NFL, so we probably need to slightly readjust expectations for what constitutes a great/good/mediocre/bad fantasy performance, especially when discussing quarterbacks.
Anyway, I'm tossing in a bonus poll this week, in addition to our usual end-of-article poll where readers and twitter followers get to make one of my lineup decisions for me. Plus, we have another new feature at the bottom of the page, highlighting streaming options for every position and league size.
Before we get into specific players to upgrade or downgrade, here are some of my favorite tools for analyzing matchups:
- 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 less than 80 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 start/sit decisions. Unless otherwise noted, references to 'fantasy points' are based on scoring with 25/10 yardage, 4/6 TDs and 0.5 PPR, a.k.a. standard settings on Yahoo and FanDuel.
Thursday Night Special
TE Noah Fant at NYJ — UPGRADE ⬆️
58% started on Yahoo, 58% on ESPN
Apart from streaming the defenses, there isn't a lot to like about this Thursday game, either for fantasy purposes or general entertainment value. It's hard to think of a less interesting primetime matchup in recent history, as even the annual Titans-Jags TNF classics of past years typically were bad in a funny way rather than a depressing way. And last week's Dolphins-Jags battle offered serious fantasy intrigue, as both teams appeared much better on offense than defense, featuring risk-loving quarterbacks and young lead backs with unexpected value.
This week, we're looking at Sam Darnold vs. Brett Rypien, both facing defenses that have been merely bad rather than terrible. And with Phillip Lindsay (toe) potentially returning from a two-week asbence, we could be looking at committees in both backfields. (Editor's note: a Thursday morning report from Tom Pelissero says Lindsay is "considered unlikely" to play).
On the bright side, Jamison Crowder (hamstring) is on track to return from a two-week absence, bringing double-digit-target upside in an offense that has little else in the way of receiving options. The Broncos have been using undrafted rookie Essang Bassey to cover the slot, and while he's only allowed 63 yards on 83 cover snaps (per PFF), Crowder has the matchup advantage if he's actually healthy.
On the other side, Broncos slot receiver Jerry Jeudy gets a tougher draw, as inside cover man Brian Poole is one of the few reliable players on the Jets. Poole allowed a league-low 0.57 yards per slot cover snap last season, and while he hasn't been nearly as good this year (1.56), he still has the best PFF grade (65.5) among Jets CBs.
KJ Hamler and Tim Patrick have better matchups outside, but they combined for just nine of the team's 38 targets last week, despite playing the vast majority of snaps. While Hamler at least offers theoretical upside, Patrick already has had multiple chances in the NFL and never manages to draw targets on a significant percentage of his routes or snaps.
Fant is the potential target hog here, coming off a team-high 10 last week and now ranking eighth among tight ends with 19.4 percent team share for the season. The Jets haven't faced any heavy hitters at the position, but they've nonetheless felt the impact of Jamal Adams' absence, allowing a combined 100 yards and three TDs to Jordan Reed and Mo Alie-Cox the past two weeks. Despite Rypien's presence under center, Fant should be able to land near his season averages of 4.7 catches for 61.3 yards.
- Joe Burrow vs. JAX
24% started on Yahoo, 23% on ESPN
The Jaguars still haven't faced a top quarterback, but that hasn't stopped them from giving up the sixth most fantasy points to the position, yielding a combined 8.5 YPA to Philip Rivers, Ryan Tannehill and Ryan Fitzpatrick en route to a last-place ranking in passing DVOA. Meanwhile, the Bengals rookie is tied for 10th among QBs in fantasy scoring average (19.7), buoyed by a combination of big-time passing volume (47 attempts per game) and rushing stats (64 yards, one TD). Burrow's passing efficiency should improve as he gains more experience, and Week 4 brings what might be the best possible matchup — a home game against Jacksonville.
- Honorable Mentions: Aaron Rodgers, GB vs. ATL; Matthew Stafford, DET vs. NO; Ryan Fitzpatrick, MIA vs. SEA
- David Johnson vs. MIN
77% started on Yahoo, 75% on ESPN
Despite his disappointing first month of the season, Johnson remains an auto-start in all but the shallowest of fantasy leagues. His 90.3 percent snap share ranks second among running backs, with his production suffering due to a difficult early schedule and the Texans' inability to control possession against superior opponents (162 plays on offense, 208 on defense). Week 4 should be the start of a turnaround — at least to some extent — as the Vikings also are winless and rank bottom 10 for rushing DVOA (23rd), rushing yards allowed (26th) and fantasy points given up to RBs (25th). Even if Duke Johnson returns from an ankle sprain this week, David should rebound to the type of output we saw in the season opener at Kansas City (109 total yards and a TD).
- Mike Davis vs. ARZ
68% started on Yahoo, 70% on ESPN
While he didn't quite see Christian McCaffrey usage in his first start, Davis did land in the realm of RB1 volume with 76 percent snap share, 13 carries and nine targets. His role included two carries and two targets inside the 10-yard line, plus a receiving TD from 13 yards out. The volume makes Davis a must-start, even if he isn't much of a big-play threat or an especially talented runner. The Arizona defense has taken a nice step forward from last season, but it's still allowing 4.4 YPC, and the team's fast pace of play on offense always create some potential for the opponent to see extra snap volume as well.
- Jerick McKinnon vs. PHI
47% started on Yahoo, 25% on ESPN
This one isn't about the matchup so much as McKinnon's role, assuming Raheem Mostert (knee) misses another game. The Week 3 box score might lead one to believe McKinnon split work pretty evenly with Jeff Wilson, but our closer look in Hidden Stat Line showed that Wilson was barely a factor before garbage time. McKinnon played 82 percent of snaps through three quarters, with a 13-to-6 advantage in carries and 4-to-0 edge in targets. Wilson got nine of his 15 touches and both of his TDs in the fourth quarter, so he could be a dud this week if the Eagles give the Niners more of a game than the Giants did.
- Honorable Mentions: James Robinson, JAX at CIN; Darrell Henderson, LAR vs. NYG; Carlos Hyde, SEA at MIA
- DeVante Parker vs. SEA
62% started on Yahoo, 50% on ESPN
Between their quick-strike offense and their injury-riddled secondary, the Seahawks have provided an ideal fantasy matchup for passing offenses, allowing the most points to wide receivers and the second most to quarterbacks. Seattle's top cornerback, Shaquill Griffin, has allowed a league-high 318 yards into his coverage, while CB Quinton Dunbar (knee) and S Jamal Adams (groin) both appear in danger of missing Week 4. Parker hasn't put up a big performance yet this season, but he does have at least 47 yards in each game, including the Week 1 contest where a hamstring injury cost him the entire second half. This matchup sets him up for a breakout.
- Robby Anderson vs. ARZ
43% started on Yahoo, 42% on ESPN
The Cardinals have faced the ninth fewest pass attempts (32.3 per game), so we shouldn't be too concerned that they've allowed the second fewest fantasy points to wide receivers. That's more or less expected when you open your season against San Francisco and Washington, followed by a game versus Detroit in which Matthew Stafford threw only 31 passes (for 270 yards and two TDs, no less).
The Panthers probably won't have the luxury of a run-heavy approach, considering their defense is lousy and their star running back is on injured reserve. It all sets up nicely for Anderson, who ranks 21st in target share (23.5 percent) and 31st in air yards (208), with 55 or more receiving yards in each game this year. He's trending toward every-week-starter status, and the Panthers move him around the formation enough that he won't run too many of his routes against Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. The 30-year-old has played left cornerback on 68.9 percent of his snaps this year, while Anderson has lined up wide right on only 38.3 percent of his, per PFF. And if the Cards do use Peterson as a shadow, it likely will be on D.J. Moore rather than Sun God RA.
- Honorable Mentions: Tyler Boyd, CIN vs. JAX; Michael Gallup, DAL vs. CLE; Will Fuller, HOU vs. MIN; A.J. Green, CIN vs. JAX
- T.J. Hockenson vs. NO
47% started on Yahoo, 36% on ESPN
Last week, Hockenson had season highs for targets (seven), snap share (82 percent) and routes per dropback (0.89), helping him top 50 yards for a third straight game even as backup Jesse James poached four targets and a touchdown. James' involvement might seem a bit concerning at first glance, but it actually came at the expense of No. 3 receiver Danny Amendola (44 percent snap share, four targets) rather than Hockenson, i.e., the Lions used two-TE formations more often.
A few hours later, the Saints allowed a combined 9-104-2 receiving line to Green Bay's Robert Tonyan, Jace Sternberger and Marcedes Lewis, after giving up 12-105-1 to Darren Waller the previous week in primetime. The Saints have some big names at safety and linebacker, but they haven't played up to their reputations this year, with Demario Davis, Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Williams allowing a combined 309 yards and four TDs into their coverage, per PFF. It's probably worth noting that Jenkins is 32 years old and Davis is 31, though the latter enjoyed arguably his best season in 2019.
- Jason Myers at MIA
38% started on Yahoo, 24% on ESPN
The Seahawks should continue to be one of the most efficient teams in terms of converting scoring chances into touchdowns, but their current ratio of 15 TDs to one FGA isn't sustainable even with Russell Wilson at quarterback. Myers eventually will get some three-point chances, and all the PATs give him a respectable floor in the meantime. The Seahawks have a Week 4 implied total of 29.75 points, fifth best in the league.
- Honorable Mentions: Mason Crosby, GB vs. ATL; Sam Sloman, LAR vs. NYG; Ka'imi Fairbairn, HOU vs. MIN
- Carson Wentz at SF
27% started on Yahoo, 24% on ESPN
Rushing stats kept Wentz's fantasy managers happy last week, but his real-life performance remained subpar (4.8 YPA, two INTS) and he lost two more pass catchers — DeSean Jackson, Dallas Goedert — to injuries. For all the losses the 49ers have dealt with this year, they've somehow managed to draw matchups against similarly injury-marred teams each week since the season opener.
Coming off back-to-back blowout wins over the New Jersey teams, the Niners are seven-point favorites for Week 4, with Philadelphia carrying the fifth-worst implied total (19) in the league. Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz should still be started on account of lofty volume expectations, but Wentz lands well outside the top 15 at his position this week, resigning him to superflex/2QB-league status.
- Not-so-honorable Mentions: Justin Herbert, LAC at TB; Daniel Jones, NYG at SF; Philip Rivers, IND at CHI
- Antonio Gibson vs. BAL
16% started on Yahoo, 23% on ESPN
Gibson is coming off back-to-back weeks with about 50 yards and a score in games his team lost by two touchdowns, so it isn't exactly a death sentence to be playing as a 13-point underdog. Of course, it also isn't a good thing, and a closer look at Washington backfield roles hints at potential for trouble ahead. Gibson dropped from 65 percent snap share Week 2 down to 39 percent snap share Week 3, with both J.D. McKissic (44 to 53 percent) and Peyton Barber (2 to 11 percent) getting small bumps.
Part of Gibson's appeal after Week 2 involved Barber's complete disappearance, as even 2-4 carries per game can be a big deal when the offense isn't providing much rushing volume overall. Washington carries the worst implied total (16) of Week 4, facing a Baltimore defense that's second in rushing DVOA and 10th in rushing yards allowed (107 per game).
- Adrian Peterson vs. NO
12% started on Yahoo, 12% on ESPN
Peterson's Week 3 workload — 60 percent snap share, 22 carries — suggests he should have some useful fantasy days coming up, but Sunday probably won't be one of them, playing as a four-point underdog against a Saints defense that's No. 6 in DVOA against the run, No. 6 in rushing yards allowed (100 per game) and No. 5 in YPC allowed (3.4). The Saints definitely have some flaws, but their run defense looks like a top-10 group for a third consecutive year.
- Not-so-honorable Mentions: Leonard Fournette, TB vs. LAC; Joshua Kelley, LAC at TB; D'Andre Swift, DET vs. NO; J.K. Dobbins, BAL at WAS
- T.Y. Hilton at CHI
47% started on Yahoo, 40% on ESPN
Injuries to their other wideouts may leave the Colts with little choice but to pepper Hilton with targets, after he saw just five and three the past two weeks. The problem here is efficiency, as Chicago has allowed the 11th fewest fantasy points to wide receivers while ranking fourth in passing DVOA, with veteran Kyle Fuller and rookie second-round pick Jaylon Johnson both getting top-20 PFF grades among cornerbacks. Slot man Buster Skrine has been more vulnerable, but the Colts have used Hilton inside for only 13 of his 79 routes (16.5 percent), per PFF.
Even if that changes this week, we still have to worry about the 30-year-old's oft-mentioned home/road and indoor/outdoor splits. Hilton has a 55.4 percent catch rate and 7.9 YPT in 46 career games outdoors, averaging only 4.2 receptions for 60.2 yards and 0.28 TDs (compared to 5.0 for 81.3 and 0.45 in stadiums with a retractable roof).
- Darius Slayton at LAR
33% started on Yahoo, 21% on ESPN
The Rams could use Jalen Ramsey to shadow Slayton, but even if they don't, fellow outside corner Darious Williams has played pretty well, ranking 34th in yards allowed per cover snap (0.91) out of 98 cornerbacks with 50-plus cover snaps, per PFF. Slot man Troy Hill has been the weak link, allowing 20 catches for 217 yards on 22 targets (1.85 yards per cover snap, 86th). The circumstances of this injury-marred offense essentially ensure Slayton of at least five or six targets, but it's Golden Tate who has better odds at efficient production this week. In addition to the tricky individual matchup, Slayton's team has the second worst implied total (17.5) of Week 4.
- Not-so-honorable Mentions: Jerry Jeudy, DEN at NYJ; Mike Williams, LAC at TB; Anthony Miller, CHI vs. IND
- Jimmy Graham at ATL
15% started on Yahoo, 16% on ESPN
Week 3 brought a bunch of positive developments for Graham's fantasy value, beyond even the 6-60-2 receiving line. For starters, the Bears made a QB switch to Nick Foles, who then targeted Graham on seven of his 29 pass attempts. Somewhere along the way, Tarik Cohen suffered an ACL tear, a season-ending injury for a guy who finished second on the team with 104 targets last year. It thus appears Graham is set up for steady volume going forward, but it won't necessarily translate to production this week against a Colts defense that's allowed the fewest fantasy points to tight ends.
The Colts haven't faced any top players at the position, but it's nonetheless impressive to give up only six catches for 32 yards on 14 targets, backed by high-level play from LB Darius Leonard, S Khari Willis and slot corner Kenny Moore. There's also the matter of Graham looking washed up the past few years, and even his 2020 resurgence has entailed only 5.7 YPT, with three TDs (on five targets inside the 10-yard line) accounting for most of the fantasy points. It still isn't clear the 33-year-old can be trusted again.
- Rodrigo Blankenship at CHI
34% started on Yahoo, 40% on ESPN
Great matchups the past three weeks made Blankenship a popular and successful addition to fantasy teams, but it's time to move on to another kicker now that the rookie is playing in a game with the second lowest over/under (43) of Week 4. He'll be kicking outdoors, with the Sunday forecast in Chicago calling for a high of 53 degrees, winds around 15 mph and a 50 percent chance of rain. There are better kicker options freely available in nearly every fantasy league.
Week 4 Streaming Picks
For Shallow Leagues (30-69 percent rostered on Yahoo)
QB Jared Goff vs. NYG
QB Gardner Minshew at CIN
QB Baker Mayfield at DAL
RB Carlos Hyde at MIA
RB James White at KC
RB Nyheim Hines at CHI
WR Brandin Cooks vs. MIN
WR Brandon Aiyuk vs. PHI
WR Golden Tate at LAR
WR Preston Williams vs. SEA
WR Keelan Cole at CIN
TE Austin Hooper at DAL
TE Dalton Schultz vs. CLE
K Jason Myers at MIA
K Joey Slye vs. ARZ
D/ST Arizona Cardinals at CAR
D/ST Seattle Seahawks at MIA
For Medium-depth Leagues (10-29 percent rostered)
QB Kirk Cousins at HOU
QB Teddy Bridgewater vs. ARZ
RB Chris Thompson at CIN
RB Brian Hill at GB
RB Frank Gore vs. DEN
RB Darrel Williams vs. NE
WR Tee Higgins vs. JAX
WR Hunter Renfrow vs. BUF
WR Tre'Quan Smith at DET (if MT is out again)
WR Cole Beasley at LVR
TE Logan Thomas vs. BAL
TE Jordan Akins vs. MIN
TE Chris Herndon vs. DEN
TE Tyler Eifert at CIN
K Ka'imi Fairbairn vs. MIN
D/ST New York Jets vs. DEN
For Deep Leagues (under 10 percent rostered)
QB Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. SEA
QB Nick Mullens vs. PHI
RB Jamaal Williams vs. ATL
RB La'Mical Perine vs. DEN
RB Travis Homer at MIA
WR Greg Ward at SF
WR KJ Hamler at NYJ
WR Kendrick Bourne vs. PHI
WR Zach Pascal at CHI
WR Gabriel Davis at LVR
WR Isaiah Ford vs. SEA
WR Nelson Agholor vs. BUF
TE Robert Tonyan vs. ATL
TE Drew Sample vs. JAX
K Sam Sloman vs. NYG
K Randy Bullock vs. JAX
D/ST Cincinnati Bengals vs. JAX
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, which means I'm required to start the player who gets the most votes, unless there's relevant injury news late in the week.
Last week you goons forced me to start D'Andre Swift, who scored 2.9 PPR points and played a whopping total of six snaps. Fortunately, it didn't matter, because the team I faced had Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry and James Conner. A 55-point loss may not look pretty, but it's sure to build character and help me sort out which guys are good fits in the locker room and which need to be sent to the discard pile.
This week's pool comes from that same dynasty league, as the Steelers-Titans cancellation seems to have robbed me of my other tough lineup decisions.
And please, feel free to drop you start/sit questions in the comments below, or you can ask me on twitter - @JerryDonabedian.