The Math Behind the Matchups: Week 11 (Fantasy Football)

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In this series, we dive deep into the NFL matchups for the coming week and – of course – the implications for fantasy football. Every manager knows that, outside of the stud players that drive your roster’s performance, matchups play a massive role in deciding who is fantasy relevant in a given week and who is best left on the bench.

One thing to note: we will often be considering performance above expectation, especially when looking at statistics of an entire offense or defense. This is crucial, because we don’t want to punish a good defense for giving up yards to great offenses like the Bucs, Cardinals etc. Similarly, we don’t want to put a bad defense on a pedestal just because they played well against the Texans or Jets. The idea, then, will be to look at how many yards the defense allowed minus the average yards the opposing offense usually gains (and vice versa for offenses above expectation).

I will point out some matchups that I think look ‘juicy’ (targets) or situations that you might want to stay away from (fades). These will by no means create an exhaustive list: there is a lot of information in the charts below, so feel free to study the matchups on your own and identify players that you might want to target or sit for the week.  All data, unless otherwise noted, is from nflfastR. Let’s get into it.

Hidden Stats

We have a brand new section to kick things off this week: identifying the ‘hidden statistics’ that often go unnoticed but could help your fantasy team down the road. First, every manager has felt the pain of their RB getting tackled on the 1-yard line, only for the team to toss it to the 3rd-string TE for the touchdown on the very next play. In this vein, we can count the number of times a player has ‘almost’ scored – which doesn’t show up on the stat sheet – with the idea that upwards regression in the future could be coming. The numbers here are different drives where the player was tackled inside the 5 (it doesn’t make sense to include multiple plays on the same drive, since the player can only score once) and didn’t eventually end up scoring on that drive.

The two names that jump out to me are Jalen Hurts and Michael Carter. The former has ran and thrown his way to fantasy stardom – unfortunately not NFL stardom – and it’s a testament to his mobility that he’s 2nd on what is mostly a running back list. We discussed Michael Carter in the ‘Rookie Bump‘ Mythbusters article, and it’s notable that he was mere yards away from another trio of touchdowns in recent weeks.

Overall, you could make similar arguments for all of the players on this list. It’s ridiculous that Jonathan Taylor, who has already been the best RB in fantasy football, still leads the league in ‘almost TDs’. Hard to imagine things getting better for him, but it appears that it’s possible…

We can consider pass-catchers next. To start, one of my biggest fantasy football pet peeves is that WRs don’t score fantasy points for drawing Defensive Pass Interference (DPI) penalties. It’s 2021, we have the technology…let’s start crediting wideouts for plays that generate real NFL yardage but don’t show up in the box score!

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Anyways, using simple regression models (which takes air yards to predict YAC and TD probability) we can estimate how many fantasy points were taken off the board by a defensive penalty. Here are the Week 10 leaders:

A similar approach tells us which pass-catchers underperformed and over-performed this week. Again, a simple regression model uses air yards, targets and defensive ability to predict how many fantasy points a player should score, and compare that to how many they actually score. An overachieving player might be one who catches a few TDs on only a couple of targets; an underachieiving one sees a lot of targets (against a bad defense) and doesn’t do much with it. Here are the standouts:

There is plenty to analyze, but here are my main takeaways.

  • Tyler Lockett is frustrating. He scored 10 points below expectation and lost 3 points thanks to DPI. With Russell Wilson (hopefully) more rested next week, I expect Lockett to start to get back on the right track, and he could be a trade-low target.
  • The Patriots had a vintage performance against the Browns, largely on the back of incredible offensive efficiency. It’s unsurprising that Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry top this list, but it’s probably not worth it to chase the dragon, especially with Bourne. Hunter Henry is a solid start in the always difficult TE-landscape, but I’m not chasing either player aggressively on waivers.
  • Jamal Agnew continues to impress: he had five targets and didn’t come down with any of them, hence the ‘underachieving’ label; he did have a massive rushing TD to save his fantasy week. Mike Gesicki (‘Goose-icki’) had a ridiculous seven targets for zero receptions (the first TE to do that in the last 20 years).
Passing Attacks

Let’s return to our regularly scheduled program:

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Note that the ‘deep’ charts are missing some teams because, with the Bye weeks recently, we simply don’t have a large enough sample size for a few of the teams.

Targets
  • I mentioned this above, but Michael Carter is an exciting option for the back-half of the season. He’s leading the league in checkdown yardage over the pass three weeks, and plays the Dolphins in Week 11 (sixth-worst against checkdowns). This is a bit dependent on who ends up starting for the Jets – Mike White loves to throw to his RBs – but Carter can be a solid RB2. A similar argument holds for Jamison Crowder (leading in short yardage) against the Phins (4th worst against short passes).
  • The Ravens defense, while solid generally, has been oddly susceptible against big plays and deep throws. Matt Nagy’s much-maligned offense has actually had success throwing the ball deep, which means Darnell Mooney and Allen Robinson could find themselves with a splash play to define their week.
  • Although it’s inflated by the slaughter at Gilette Stadium in Week 10, the Browns have been gashed by checkdowns in the last three weeks. Earlier this season, the Lions were check-down kings and may return to form (after an invigorating tie). You’re always starting D’Andre Swift, but Jared Goff and Jamaal Williams could be worth a look.
  • Hilariously, the Saints and Eagles, who are playing each other this week, are the two worst teams against short passes. Just something fun to note!
Fades
  • While their numbers (vs. expectation) are inflated by a surprisingly stout performance against the elite Bucs offense, we have to give the Washington pass defense some credit. Cam Newton will likely be at the helm in his first start back in Carolina, and questions about his ability to push the ball downfield – as well as this matchup with Washington – have me sitting all fantasy options outside of Cam as a QB2 and, of course, Christian McCaffrey.
  • Don’t look now: the Jaguars more or less shut down solid passing offenses for each of the past two weeks (Bills, who are great, and Colts, who are decent). They get the 49ers this week; you have to start George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, but I’m waiting another week for the Brandon Aiyuk breakout (and leaving Jimmy Garoppolo on my bench).
  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are above-average against all types of passes, and that Tom Brady fellow will probably be getting after them all week following a second consecutive loss. Avoid – and pity – the Giants receiving options that play them in Week 11.
Streaming D/ST

Finally, let’s take a look at the fantasy points scored and allowed by the major positions; this can help to identity D/ST units and tight ends that could be wise to stream this week:

  • I mentioned this above, but the Bucs defense has been good, and the Giants offense downright bad. If they’re available, roll out the defending Super Bowl Champs.
  • The Miami Dolphins looked more like we expected of them last Thursday against the Ravens; their defense has been quietly solid over the past three weeks. They get an AFC-East matchup with the Jets this week, who have actually posted decent fantasy points (thanks to the Mike White breakout) but should not be very scary going forward.
  • The Carolina Panthers defense has kept them in the playoff hunt, and they draw the Washington Football Team, broadly scoring below average across the fantasy positions. Think this team is energized by the return of Cam Newton? They’re a great streaming option this week.

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Curious about any more matchups? Message me on Twitter.

Chart styling from Sam.

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