This article is part of our Exploiting the Matchups series.
Before we get into specific players to upgrade or downgrade, here are some of my favorite tools for analyzing matchups:
- 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.
- Derek Carr at ATL
18% Yahoo, 19% ESPN
Carr doesn't provide rushing stats or gaudy yardage totals, but he's averaging 1.9 TD passes per game, finally seeing some reward on the stat sheet in his third straight season with a completion percentage around 70. The Raiders' efficient offense should have a huge edge over the perpetually struggling Falcons defense, giving Carr a nice shot at multiple touchdowns even if Vegas sticks with the run-first script. The Falcons have given up 20 or more fantasy points to opposing QBs in eight of their 10 games.
- Duke Johnson at DET
54% Yahoo, 43% ESPN
Duke has somehow been even more disappointing than David Johnson, scoring just one touchdown and averaging 54 yards per game in a lead role the past three weeks. However, Duke did play more than three-quarters of the offensive snaps in each of those games, and he'll now face a collapsing Lions team that ranks 24th in run-defense DVOA (-1.3%), 22nd in opponent YPC (4.5) and dead last in fantasy points allowed to RBs (31.2 per game, half-PPR). With David (concussion) stuck on IR for at least one more week, Duke should get at least a dozen touches against one of the NFL's worst defenses.
- Wayne Gallman at CIN
31% Yahoo, 15% ESPN
Neither Gallman nor the Giants offense is good enough for the running back's recent TD production to continue indefinitely, but the Week 12 matchup suggests it could last at least one more game. Coming off back-to-back wins followed by a bye week, the Giants are 4.5-point favorites against the Bengals, a team ranked 23rd in run-defense DVOA (-1.6%), 31st in opponent YPC (5.0) and 17th in fantasy points allowed to RBs (21.3). I never expected to see the Giants listed as a 4.5-point road favorite this year, but such is the power of
Ryan Finley Brandon Allen, apparently.
- Honorable Mentions: Kareem Hunt, CLE at JAX; D'Andre Swift, DET vs. HOU (if he plays); Salvon Ahmed, MIA at NYJ (if he plays)
- DJ Chark vs. CLE
50% Yahoo, 36% ESPN
Jake Luton may be terrible, but he at least seems to generally have the right idea in terms of target distribution, with Chark accounting for a 23.8 percent share in the rookie's three starts. While it only led to a big stat line in one of those three games, Chark should be able to get open downfield this weekend, as the Browns will be missing their two most important defensive players, DE Myles Garrett (reserve/COVID-19) and CB Denzel Ward (calf).
Update: Mike Glennon is starting instead of Luton, and Chark (ribs) missed practice both Wednesday and Thursday.
- Brandin Cooks at DET
56% Yahoo, 56% ESPN
After dealing with 25 mph winds in Week 10 and a Stephon Gilmore shadow in Week 11, Cooks will now play indoors against a lousy defense. The Lions are 23rd in pass-defense DVOA (15.8%) and 21st in fantasy points allowed to WRs (31.4), with first-round pick Jeff Okudah (shoulder) allowing 2.31 yards per cover snap and veteran CB Desmond Trufant giving up 1.58, per PFF.
Out of 128 cornerbacks with 100 or more cover snaps this season, Okudah ranks 127th and Trufant is 104th. Second-year pro Amani Oruwariye (1.0 yards per cover snap) has been better for Detroit, but he's hardly a shutdown corner, and Cooks shouldn't have to line up against him more than 40-45 percent of the time unless the Lions decide to shadow.
- Honorable Mentions: DJ Moore, Robby Anderson & Curtis Samuel, CAR at MIN; DeVante Parker, NYJ at MIA; Marvin Jones, DET vs. HOU; Jarvis Landry, CLE at JAX; Michael Pittman, IND vs. TEN; Travis Fulgham & Jalen Reagor, PHI vs. SEA
- Austin Hooper at JAX
66% Yahoo, 31% ESPN
Between his appendectomy, a bye week and the bad weather in Cleveland, it's been nearly a month and a half since Hooper did anything useful for fantasy managers. However, he could push for 20 percent target share R.O.S. with Odell Beckham (knee) out of the picture, and Week 12 brings a friendly matchup against a Jags defense ranked 30th in both fantasy points (12.4) and YPT (8.8) allowed to tight ends.
- Daniel Carlson at ATL
49% Yahoo, 72% ESPN
Carlson is already third in fantasy scoring (10.4 ppg) among kickers, and now he'll be playing in a dome with his Raiders carrying the third-largest implied total (29) of Week 12. He should come through with an 11th straight game scoring seven or more fantasy points, and he'll likely be busy yet again Week 13 against the Jets. The matchups aren't as good thereafter, but Carlson does get three straight home games during the fantasy playoffs in Weeks 14-16 (vs. IND, LAC, MIA).
- Honorable Mentions: Tyler Bass, BUF vs. LAC; Rodrigo Blankenship, IND vs. TEN; Ka'imi Fairbairn, HOU at DET; Cody Parkey, CLE at JAX
- Ryan Tannehill at IND
27% Yahoo, 17% ESPN
Tannehill finally broke out of his slump in the fourth quarter of Sunday's win over Baltimore, with a strong finish pushing him over 20 fantasy points for the first time since Week 6. The Titans surely feel much better after the big win, but now they get a road game against the same Colts team that beat them by 17 points in their own stadium two weeks ago. Indy has allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to QBs, ranking sixth in pass-defense DVOA (-6.5%) and 10th in opponent NY/A (6.0).
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire at TB
81% Yahoo, 76% ESPN
For all their inconsistency in other areas, the Bucs haven't wavered in their excellence defending the run, with Christian McCaffrey's 59 rushing yards (in Week 2) still being the most they've allowed to any running back this season. Tampa leads the league in run-defense DVOA (-39.2%), opponent YPC (3.2) and rushing yards allowed per game (73.0), so we should see Andy Reid leaning on Patrick Mahomes and the passing game even more so than usual. Edwards-Helaire scored two TDs against Vegas last week, but his averages of 8.3 carries and 3.5 targets per game in the Le'Veon Bell Epoch leave the rookie with a dangerously low floor.
- Melvin Gordon vs. NO
52% Yahoo, 46% ESPN
Gordon had 84 yards and a pair of scores last week, but he's still averaging only 10.0 carries and 2.5 targets in the games where both he and Phillip Lindsay have been healthy from start to finish (Weeks 8-11). The workload is already precarious, and this isn't likely to be one of the better weeks, as the Broncos are 5.5-point underdogs to a Saints team that's Top 5 in pretty much any run-defense stat you can come up with. Aaron Jones is the only running back to reach 15 half-PPR points against the Saints this year, and even then it was a modest game by his own standards (86 yards, one TD in Week 3).
- Not-so-honorable Mentions: Darrell Henderson, LAR vs. SF; Raheem Mostert, SF at LAR; Jamaal Williams, GB vs. CHI
- Marquise Brown at PIT
27% Yahoo, 19% ESPN
The matchup will be slightly less awful if Steelers CB Joe Haden (knee) isn't able to play, but we'll still be left with the larger issue of a slumping Baltimore offense trying to deal with a pass rush that leads the league in sacks (38), hurries (58) and pressure rate (34.3 percent). You might remember Lamar Jackson's four sacks and two interceptions when the Ravens lost to the Steelers in Week 8 — a game in which Brown was targeted only twice.
The lack of volume has become a recurring theme, with the second-year pro slumping to 16 percent target share over the past five games, behind both Mark Andrews (22 percent) and Willie Snead (19 percent). Brown needs to play his way off of fantasy benches, and this isn't the week he's likely to do it.
- Jerry Jeudy vs. NO
36% Yahoo, 20% ESPN
The Saints have been dominant against the run all season, and they've also done a nice job defending the pass since a Week 6 bye, holding five straight opponents below 25 points and 250 team passing yards. Jeudy is a talented player who has seen eight or more targets four weeks in a row, but the efficiency remains subpar with Drew Lock struggling through a brutal season. Jeudy has caught only 26 of his 58 targets (44.8 percent) from the second-year QB, with 7.1 YPA and just one touchdown on those passes.
- Jared Cook at DEN
46% Yahoo, 31% ESPN
The tough matchup here is really just insult to injury, as the bigger issues for Cook are a lack of targets (six the past three weeks) and Drew Brees being on injured reserve. Taysom Hill threw only 23 passes in his first NFL start, and rookie TE Adam Trautman actually played more snaps (48 percent) than Cook (38 percent) in the game. Cook was prominently featured this week in my Hidden Stat Line article, where I deemed him droppable in many fantasy leagues. The numbers on Yahoo and ESPN suggest most fantasy managers don't agree, though it does seem a good number have at least moved Cook to the bench.
- Not-so-honorable Mentions: Jonnu Smith, TEN at IND;
- Brandon McManus vs. NO
25% Yahoo, 36% ESPN
McManus is tied for sixth among kickers in fantasy scoring at 9.9 ppg, converting 20 of 21 field-goal attempts for a team that has struggled to convert long drives into touchdowns. The problem this week is that the Broncos aren't likely to have many possessions reach FG range, carrying an implied total of only 19.25 against a red-hot New Orleans defense.
For Shallow Leagues (40-69 percent rostered)
QB Taysom Hill at DEN
QB Jared Goff vs. SF
RB Salvon Ahmed at NYJ
RB Wayne Gallman at CIN
RB J.D. McKissic at DAL
RB Zack Moss vs. LAC
WR Mike Williams at BUF
WR Jakobi Meyers vs. ARZ
WR Michael Pittman vs. TEN
WR Sterling Shepard at CIN
WR Curtis Samuel at MIN
WR John Brown vs. LAC
TE Logan Thomas at DAL
TE Robert Tonyan vs. CHI
K Daniel Carlson at ATL
K Rodrigo Blankenship vs. TEN
D/ST Cleveland Browns at JAX
D/ST New York Giants at CIN
For Medium-depth Leagues (10-39 percent rostered)
QB Derek Carr at ATL
QB Daniel Jones at CIN
QB Baker Mayfield at JAX
RB Frank Gore vs. MIA
WR Jalen Reagor vs. SEA
WR Nelson Agholor at ATL
WR Keelan Cole vs. CLE
TE Jordan Reed at LAR
TE Dalton Schultz vs. WAS
K Tyler Bass vs. LAC
K Dan Bailey vs. CAR
D/ST Dallas Cowboys vs. WAS
D/ST Washington Football Team at DAL
For Deep Leagues (under 10 percent rostered)
QB Andy Dalton vs. WAS
RB Brian Hill vs. LV
RB Devontae Booker at ATL
RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson at GB
WR Darnell Mooney at GB
WR Denzel Mims vs. MIA
WR Russell Gage vs. LV
WR Damiere Byrd vs. ARZ
TE Jordan Akins at DET
TE Jacob Hollister at PHI
K Cody Parkey at JAX
K Matt Gay vs. SF
D/ST Carolina Panthers at MIN
Crowd-sourced Lineup Decision
Each week I 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/virus news late in the week.
And please, feel free to drop you start/sit questions in the comments below, or you can ask me on twitter - @JerryDonabedian.