The fantasy playoffs are here, and that makes matchup considerations more important than ever. It certainly makes sense to be disciplined in your decision-making, especially as it concerns players with recent breakouts and unproven track records. But if you blindly dance with who brought you, you may be dancing alone this December without the company of a fantasy championship trophy.
The following tables feature the players with the best and worst matchups of the week. Each listed player shows a true-talent (TT) ranking that represents how I would rank him with a perfectly neutral game context. Then, that ranking is adjusted by adding the context of the venue (Ven) -- home and road and dome and outside -- the forecasted weather (Wea), and the defensive tendencies of the opponent (Def). The line beneath those rankings shows how much those contextual factors move projected PPR fantasy points. That total (Tot) number gives you a comprehensive estimate of how many fantasy points the player will score this week more or less than his typical total.
|Best Week 14 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz are borderline shallow-league starters in a true-talent sense, but both have plus matchups in Week 14 that pull them into my top five. The former plays at home against the Lions, and while I identified a trend in Cousins' first-half performances that suggested he did not throw enough passes to be a viable fantasy starter when facing bottom-half DVOA teams, he has fought that tendency over the last month. In fact, he has thrown 32 or more pass attempts in five of his last six games, including 34 in his first game against the Lions in Week 7. That lends me confidence that Cousins can take advantage of an excellent defensive matchup. The Lions increase pass plays by 8%, passing yards per attempt by 8%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 24%. That latter rate is the sixth-highest in football.
For Wentz, the good matchup is a Giants team that is much weaker against the pass (No. 30 in DVOA) than the run (No. 11). The Giants increase their opponents passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 14% and 22%, respectively. With a full array of weapons including a healthy Alshon Jeffery, Wentz looked his normal self last Sunday, throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns. Really, my only concern for Wentz this week is the 56% chance of rain in Philadelphia on Monday night. You can watch that forecast on Saturday and Sunday morning, but even if it continues to look likely, I don't think I could run away from such an appetizing matchup.
Aaron Rodgers has proven himself to be generally immune to the weather factors that affect most quarterbacks, and that will be a boon for him this week with a forecasted 41-degree kickoff temperature and 14-mph sustained winds in Green Bay. If Rodgers shrugs that off like usual, then he should be able to benefit from a Redskins opponent that is No. 20 in pass defense DVOA and that increases passing touchdowns by 21%. I have him first at the position this week with a few of the other usual suspects facing difficult matchups.
For deeper-league players, Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold can be enticing playoff options. Mayfield is at home against a Bengals defense that is No. 31 in DVOA pass defense. They increase passing yards per attempt by 25% -- by far the most in football -- and passing touchdowns by 19% per attempt. Of course, Mayfield has the same colder temperatures and wind that many of the northern and northeastern teams have to contend with this Sunday, and that keeps him just outside of my top 10 at 12th. Meanwhile, Darnold faces the other worst team in football in the Dolphins. They have the No. 32 DVOA pass defense, increase passing yards per attempt by 8%, and, perhaps most important for fantasy, increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 47%. That is the most in football.
|Worst Week 14 Matchups - Quarterbacks|
The big question of this weekend is whether you can stomach a decision to bench Patrick Mahomes in the fantasy playoffs. Mahomes has a track record that suggests you never should bench him, but he has seldom encountered as difficult a matchup as his road game in New England this Sunday. The Patriots have the No. 1 DVOA pass defense. They decrease pass plays by 6%, passing yards per attempt by 19%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 35%. Those efficiency declines are both top five among all defenses.
Last week, Deshaun Watson provided an argument that an elite fantasy passer can handle the Patriots, but I still have my doubts. Watson boosted his fantasy production with a non-passing touchdown -- his was a receiving score on a trick play. Dual-threat quarterbacks such as Watson, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen have had some success in this spot, but they have done it more with their legs than their arms. Even looking just at the top quarterbacks they have faced, the Patriots are allowing just 10.0 average fantasy points on passes this season. And Mahomes, while athletic, does not typically produce those non-passing points the way some other elite fantasy quarterbacks do.
|Top Fantasy QBs vs. Patriots, 2019|
That 10-point average would have finished just 31st at the position last week. Mahomes is hardly average, even by the standard of other top fantasy quarterbacks. But I've still lowered him to 15th at the position this week. Among the streamer class, I prefer Cousins, Wentz, Mayfield, Jameis Winston, Kyler Murray, and Tom Brady. And I definitely prefer those other options in DFS, where Mahomes remains the second-priciest option at $7,000 in DraftKings.
The No. 1 DraftKings option, Lamar Jackson, also sees a tough matchup this week on the road against the Bills. The Bills encourage their opponents to run with a defense much stronger against the pass (No. 5 in DVOA) than the run (No. 22). They also decrease passing touchdowns per attempt by 54%, the most in football. Jackson can rely on his legs to counterbalance some of the losses he sees against good pass defenses, and the Bills do allow more rushing touchdowns per attempt than average. But the net of that is still a minus draw, especially given the sub-40-degree temperatures and heavy forecasted winds. I dropped Jackson to seventh this week.
Across the field from Jackson, Josh Allen presents a similar story with a lower standard to work from. The Ravens have the No. 3 DVOA pass defense and No. 25 DVOA run defense and decrease passing touchdowns per attempt by 52%, second-most behind only the Bills. Jackson will likely need to run in a touchdown to be useful in fantasy this week. Luckily, he does that a lot, and the Ravens encourage it relative to typical teams. The net of it is a drop from 10th in true talent to 17th at the position this week.
And finally, but also first, Dak Prescott draws a difficult opponent in the Bears in Chicago this Thursday night. The Bears are not the all-time defense they were a year ago, but they are still up to eighth in DVOA pass defense. They decrease passing yards per attempt by 7% and passing touchdowns per attempt by 46%, the third-most in football. Even if you are someone who would never bench Mahomes, I strongly encourage you to avoid Prescott this week. He falls from ninth in true talent all the way to 25th this week in my rankings.
|Best Week 14 Matchups - Running Backs|
Aaron Schatz assures me that the Panthers are not historically terrible at run defense, but they may still be historically beneficial for rushing opponents. Their split of the No. 32 DVOA run defense and No. 7 DVOA pass defense encourages their opponents to run, and they allow those opponents a boosted yards per attempt by 22% and boosted touchdowns per attempt by 151%, by far the most in football. Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson combined for 228 yards and three touchdowns last week. Devonta Freeman may produce that himself as Atlanta's reestablished feature back. He jumps from 20th to 11th for me this week and is an absolute no-brainer at just $5,400 in DraftKings.
Austin Ekeler is more of a receiver than a runner at this point, so he may not benefit from the Jaguars split of No. 31 in run defense DVOA and No. 16 in pass defense DVOA than Melvin Gordon should. But Ekeler no doubt will benefit from a defense that is No. 25 in DVOA in coverage against running backs (subscription required). In addition, Ekeler has continued to be involved near the goal line despite his smaller stature, and that is an excellent trait against a defense that increases rushing touchdowns per attempt by 44%, the third-most in football.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt have found a recipe to both be productive in fantasy, the former still seeing 20-plus carries per game and the latter seeing five catches per game to bolster his PPR value. Both approaches should work well against a Bengals defense that is No. 27 in DVOA run defense and No. 28 in DVOA pass defense against running backs. The Bengals also increase rushing plays by 20%, the most in football. So this week, Chubb and Hunt may both have a top-20 volume.
In terms of efficiency, neither the Seahawks nor the Giants are the same boon to running backs that the previous matchups were. They are just 18th and 11th in DVOA run defense. But both matchups remain attractive in fantasy, the former because they increase rushing touchdowns by 64% and the latter because they increase run plays by 15%. That should be good news for Todd Gurley and Miles Sanders, who both do their best work as receivers in any case. For Sanders, my No. 8 ranking for the week assumes that teammate Jordan Howard misses another game. Sanders had 22 touches and played 88% of the Eagles' offensive snaps without Howard last week. But keep in mind you may not know that for Sanders' Monday night game prior to all the Sunday afternoon kickoffs. It's a risk, but one that could have a major reward as Sanders is just the 20th-most expensive back in DraftKings.
|Worst Week 14 Matchups - Running Backs|
Raheem Mostert and Darwin Thompson were my top two waiver-wire recommendations this week, but neither one draws the most appealing matchup this Sunday. Mostert draws a Saints defense that is No. 6 in DVOA against the run and, more damaging for fantasy players, decreases run plays by 17%, the second-most in football. Mostert may not see an RB2 volume this week even with his apparent promotion, especially since Matt Breida looks likely to return.
I'm completely enamored with Darwin Thompson's long-term prospects, but he maybe should remain on your shallow-league benches in New England this week even if both Damien Williams and Darrel Williams miss the game -- something that seems likely given the Chiefs re-signed Spencer Ware this week. The Patriots do their best work against the pass, but they still have the No. 7 DVOA run defense. And their general defensive quality leads to 16% fewer run plays and 50% fewer rushing touchdowns, the fourth-biggest drop in football. Thompson may need the majority of his team's touches to excel, and I'm not convinced he will get it with LeSean McCoy sharing that backfield.
I have a lot fewer concerns for Bo Scarbrough's role on the Lions. He has averaged 18 carries per game the last three weeks and seems fully established as the team's primary early-down option. Unfortunately for Scarbrough, that role does not lead to a lot of receiving work. He has just one target all season. And that recipe will make him much more susceptible to matchups. He definitely has a bad one of those this week in Minnesota. The Vikings have the No. 9 DVOA run defense and cut rushing touchdowns by 55% per attempt, second-most in football.
Jonathan Williams' surprise benching in Week 13 likely sabotaged any efforts fantasy owners had to glean fantasy from the Colts' backfield, at least until Marlon Mack returns. For Week 14, I lowered Williams to 43rd and Jordan Wilkins to 26th at the position in true talent. Then I dropped them further because of their shared matchup against the Buccaneers. The Bucs are much stronger against the run (No. 1 in DVOA) than the pass (No. 19), and that encourages teams to throw the ball. The Buccaneers cut their opponents' run plays by 15%. Meanwhile, they also cut their rushing yards per attempt by 24%, knocking both backs out of my top 30 at the position this week.
Not quite to the same extreme as the Bucs, but the Texans encourage their opponents to pass more and run less with the No. 15 DVOA run defense and No. 25 DVOA pass defense. That leads to 11% fewer run plays. Couple that with a defense that reduces rushing touchdowns by 53%, and the Broncos' Phillip Lindsay falls from 12th to 18th at the position this week.
|Best Week 14 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
With Adam Thielen looking no closer to a return in Week 14, Stefon Diggs will enjoy at least one more week as an undisputed No. 1 receiver. That's a great spot to be against a Lions defense that is No. 26 in DVOA against the pass and increases pass plays, yards per attempt, and touchdowns per attempt. I have him in my top 10.
James Washington isn't at home, but he draws a similarly excellent defensive matchup against a Cardinals defense that is No. 26 in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers. More generally, the Cardinals also increase pass plays by 9%, passing yards per attempt by 9%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 33%, second-most in football. JuJu Smith-Schuster is trending the wrong way for another week, and if he misses this one, Washington should again be the Steelers' top receiver and a WR2 in my rankings.
Speaking of injuries, the Colts have been completely decimated. Over the last couple of weeks, Eric Ebron and Chester Rogers have joined Devin Funchess on injured reserve. And while T.Y. Hilton isn't there, he recently expressed concern that he might not make it back in 2019 from his injured hip. Even if rookie Parris Campbell can return in Week 14, Zach Pascal should be the team's No. 1 receiver option. And like with Diggs and Washington, that's a nice role to have facing a Bucs defense that is No. 22 in DVOA against both No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers. The Bucs also increase pass plays by 20% and passing touchdowns per attempt by 30%. Both rates are top-three among all defenses. Beyond Pascal in deeper formats, Marcus Johnson is even a top-70 receiver option in this matchup.
|Worst Week 14 Matchups - Wide Receivers|
After my writeup on Mahomes, you could probably guess which receiver would face the full brunt of the Patriots matchup. Tyreek Hill may have the speed to overcome any matchup, but I still wouldn't bet on it against a defense that is No. 2 in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers. New England's tendency to limit pass plays, passing yards per attempt, and passing touchdowns per attempt knock Hill from a normal top-10 option all the way to 23rd for me this week. Look elsewhere in DFS.
Amari Cooper is the perfect illustration of what the Patriots can do to an excellent receiver. They held him catchless on two targets just two weeks ago. I wouldn't expect a repeat of that performance this Thursday night, but I'm also not optimistic about his success against a Bears defense that is No. 4 in DVOA against No. 1 receivers. I have him one spot in front of Hill at 22nd at the position.
Michael Thomas has the biggest target share at the position, so there just aren't many circumstances that can put a dent in his weekly top-five status. This week may be the closest it gets this season, at home against the 49ers. The 49ers have a tremendous and versatile pass defense. They are top-10 in DVOA against all wide receiver groupings as well as tight ends and running backs. But they also cut pass plays by 18%, tied for the most in football. Fifty percent of a smaller number of targets is fewer catches.
Marquise Brown has continued to see fantasy success thanks to receiving touchdowns, but he has only seen 15 total targets in his five games since returning from a hamstring injury. That has me very worried entering a road matchup against the Bills and their top corner Tre'Davious White. White has a 62% coverage success rate that is 10th-best among qualified corners and is allowing 5.6 yards per target, fifth-best (subscription required). He is a major reason the Bills are No. 5 in DVOA defense against No. 1 receivers and decrease passing touchdowns per attempt by 54%.
And while the Jaguars lost their name brand cover corner in Jalen Ramsey, they have not missed a beat in their defense against No. 1 receivers. They are No. 3 in DVOA against those players and will likely hurt Keenan Allen's fantasy prospects this week. I dropped him from fourth to ninth a the position given the matchup.
|Best Week 14 Matchups - Tight Ends|
Kyle Rudolph has seen has target share spike since Adam Thielen got hurt, and that has bumped him out to 12th in my true-talent rankings. This week, he rises further to eighth facing a Lions defense that is No. 30 in DVOA against tight ends. And with all of the Colts' skill-player injuries, Jack Doyle has jumped even further to eighth in true talent. Last week, he played 94% of the team's offensive snaps and was Jacoby Brissett's No. 1 target, wide receivers included. I have him sixth this week facing the Buccaneers. They are No. 29 in DVOA defense against tight ends and allow 70 yards per game to the position, second-most in football.
The only team that allows more yards per game to tight ends than the Bucs is the Cardinals. The last three weeks, they have transformed also-ran tight end options O.J. Howard (4-41-1 on seven targets), Ross Dwelley (4-14-2 on five targets), and Tyler Higbee (7-107-1 on eight targets) into elite fantasy options. All three players saw their season-high in their Cardinals matchup. I think the Steelers' Vance McDonald could be next in that line. His fantasy value has cratered since Ben Roethlisberger's injury, and I normally have him as a TE3. But this week with the best possible matchup, I boosted him to 18th at the position. He is absolutely a viable streaming option in shallow formats.
With Hunter Renfrow's increasing involvement in the middle season, Raiders tight end Darren Waller was trending toward a streamer-class player. But since Renfrow's injury, the Raiders do not have enough professional targets to spread the wealth. Last week, Waller was back up to his early-season elite standard with nine targets. That new reality jumps Waller back in my top five in true talent, and he's my No. 1 option at the position this week, at home against a Titans defense that is No. 21 in DVOA against the position.
|Worst Week 14 Matchups - Tight Ends|
Travis Kelce may be a bit less sensitive to matchups than Tyreek Hill, but he still faces a difficult one in the Patriots. The Pats are No. 7 in DVOA defense against tight ends, and they allow just 42 yards per game to the position. Don't bench Kelce in redraft formats, but don't pay up for his top DraftKings price of $6,200 this week. And by the same token, avoid Mark Andrews at his $5,600 price tag. The Bills are No. 9 in DVOA defense against tight ends, and they allow even fewer yards per game to the position, 35.
Evan Engram would have been a risky play on Monday night regardless of his matchup. He expects to play, but you won't have a parachute other than teammate Kaden Smith, if you trust he can return from his month-plus absence. But he's doubly risky since he faces an Eagles defense that is allowing just 45 yards per game to tight ends, tied for seventh-fewest in football. It may make sense to leave Engram on your bench for one more week.
And finally, Jared Cook has seen his target rate balloon to 6.5 per game since his return to the Saints lineup in Week 10. I'm just not sure he'll get there this week against the 49ers. The 49ers are the most difficult defensive opponent for tight ends, limiting the position to just 26 yards per game with the No. 1 DVOA defense against the position. Cook may benefit from Drew Brees' typical huge home/road splits in a home matchup, but I'd still rather avoid him in my shallow formats this week.