The Math Behind the Matchups: Week 8
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. This is especially true in a week with multiple teams on Bye like this one!
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, Bills etc. Similarly, we don’t want to put a bad defense on a pedestal just because they played well against the Texans or Matt Nagy’s Bears. 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.
- Jared Goff and D’Andre Swift continue to dominate in terms of checkdown yardage; the former ranks #3 among QBs over the last few weeks, the latter takes the top spot in terms of receiving yards coming from checkdowns. They get the Eagles this week, a below-average team against dump-offs. D’Andre Swift is a locked and loaded RB1 each and every week, but Goff could be worth a stream and even Jamaal Williams a FLEX dart throw.
- The Bucs offense is ridiculously good: a different receiver shows up among the league leaders for each type of throw (Godwin for checkdowns, making him the only WR in a chart of mostly RBs, Antonio Brown for short passes and Mike Evans for deep passes). The Bucs square up with the Saints this week, who have performed solidly against passing attacks and all phases. The weakest area, though, is deep passes (where they are close to average) and we could see Mike Evans going off for a second straight week (with permission to give away Tom Brady‘s 601st touchdown ball). On the flip side, it’s possible that Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin have quieter days.
- Incredibly, Kyle Pitts is 3rd in the league in terms of yardage on deep passes. This is virtually unheard of for TEs but, then again, Pitts is no normal TE. Look for the party to continue against the Panthers, who are susceptible to being burned deep. Pitts is an elite TE going forward with week-winning potential upside.
- Like Pitts, Dawson Knox makes a surprise appearance among the leaders in deep targets. Knox will be out this week with an injury, which is unfortunate because his Bills are facing the Dolphins, who have been absolutely shredded deep of late. The upshot is that some of the Bills other receiving options – Emmanuel Sanders, for example – could be worth a look.
- Myles Gaskin has been on a bit of a run recently, with three receiving TDs in the past three weeks. He gets the Bills this week, who are Top-10 in terms of defending both checkdowns and short passes. It’s probably a good time to pivot away from Gaskin if you can.
- The Titans are are playing red hot football, holding the Chiefs to just 3 points in Week 7. Largely thanks to this, they rank as the second best defense against deep passes (vs. expectation) over the pass three weeks. Michael Pittman Jr., who has delivered some big games due to his dynamism as a deep threat, may have a difficult time making headway against the Titans secondary (a sentence I did not think I would say earlier this season).
- Whatever the Bears woes on offense, they have still been playing solid defense, especially against mid-distance passes. The 49ers lead the league over the past 3 weeks, although this largely because of the monsoon-like conditions of their most recent game; the Bears sit as the second toughest defense against these passes. These teams actually play each other in Week 8, and it’s difficult to envision any pass-catching options other than Deebo Samuel being worthy of a confident start.
- As mentioned above, Antonio Brown and Chris Godwin draw a tough matchup against the Saints. It could be Mike Evans as the Bucs receiver that goes off this week.
Here’s a fun matchup to watch: Ja’Marr Chase, leading the league in deep yards over the past few weeks, faces the Jets, the stingiest unit against deep bombs in this sample. An unstoppable force meets an immovable object; for the record, I think Chase will come out on top!
Let’s now turn to rushing yards gained and allowed vs. expectation, depending on the location (left, middle, right) of the run:
- The Packers have not been great at stopping middle and right runs, whereas the Cardinals love to run up the middle. Chase Edmonds and James Conner are decent RB2/FLEX options this Thursday night; in Edmonds’ case especially, recall (from the chart above) that the Packers are worse than average against checkdowns.
- While Kyle Shannhan’s legendary rushing offense has lost some luster this year, their opponent – the Bears – have been sneakily porous against the run of late, especially up the middle (where the 49ers are best). Look for Elijah Mitchell to post another nice stat line with Jeff Wilson Jr. still sitting this game out.
- It’s been a bumpy few weeks for the Chiefs, but the Giants could be the cure in Week 8. The G-men lead the league by far in rushing yards allowed to the right over expectation, which is exactly where the Chiefs like to go. I’m starting Darrel Williams and hoping for a Week 6 repeat.
- Rookie Khalil Herbert had an impressive performance against a stout Buccaneers front – in a very negative game script – last week. I don’t expect the magic to continue against the 49ers, who have been Top-5 in terms of run-stopping across the board, and I will be sitting both Herbert and Damien Williams.
- Thanks to J.J. Watt and company, the Cardinals have been surprisingly good against left/right runs (although not very good against middle runs). You’re starting Aaron Jones, but AJ Dillon probably is best left on the bench, especially after the fumble last week.
Streaming D/ST and TE
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:
- If you’ve held onto T.J. Hockenson, sit back and enjoy Week 8. He’s playing the Eagles, far and away the worst defense against TEs in recent weeks. Evan Engram could also be worth a start: the Chiefs have been second-worst against the position, and the Giants don’t have many other active receiving options.
- The Cincinnati Bengals are far and away my favorite target this week. They’ve been middle of the road in terms of defensive performance, but they face the anemic Jets, who will be trotting out Mike White in relief of the injured Zach Wilson. It’s difficult to see this game not being a blowout.
- The Atlanta Falcons have been sneakily good against expectation, and they face the spiraling Carolina Panthers. Matt Rhule’s unit will still be without Christian McCaffrey, and Panthers Sam Darnold has been doing his best Jets Sam Darnold impression over the past few weeks. Atlanta, not usually considered an elite defense, could be an interesting option.
- If you’re really desperate, the Detroit Lions could be in the conversation. They have performed well against expectation, and draw the Eagles in Week 8. While Jalen Hurts has managed to put up elite fantasy numbers by producing massively in the 4th quarter, the rest of the Eagles have had a difficult time staying fantasy relevant. You might find some D/ST value in what could be the first win of the year for Detroit.
Curious about any more matchups? Message me on Twitter.
Chart styling from Sam.