by Scott Spratt
Thursday night's unexpected thunderstorm in Carolina aside, the first two weeks of the NFL season have enjoyed picture-perfect weather conditions. Based only on temperatures and precipitation, things look the same in Week 3. But moderate to heavy winds offer a subtle challenge to team's passing attacks that could have significant impacts on a number of fantasy-relevant players, including the game's best fantasy quarterback.
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 within 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.
I'm not sure we are quite at a place where you just move every quarterback facing the Dolphins to the No. 1 spot in your fantasy rankings, but we aren't far off either. The Dolphins have been the No. 32 DVOA pass defense in football through two weeks and just got worse, trading defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick for another future asset Meanwhile, Dak Prescott has been exceptional this season under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. He has completed 82.3% of his passes, 13.2% more than expected based on the attempts he has made. That's the best difference in football. The only fear is that the Dolphins are so bad that they encourage teams to run the ball against them, and I do project them to cut pass plays by 10%. But that is not enough to counterbalance the 20% and 70% increases they offer in passing yards and touchdowns per attempt. Prescott is my No. 1 quarterback this week, and receivers like Randall Cobb and Devin Smith are deeper-league and DFS tournament options.
Unlike most bad teams, the Jets increase pass plays by 5%. Add that to their boosts of passing yards and touchdowns per attempt of 16% and 35%, respectively, and Tom Brady enjoys another plush matchup in Week 3 at home in Foxboro.
Josh Allen has established himself as a solid fantasy option through two weeks of his sophomore season, but I absolutely love him this week at home against the Bengals, who are the No. 29 and No. 31 DVOA defense against the pass and the run through two weeks. Forecasted winds of 12 mph could put a damper on Allen's deep connection with new No. 1 receiver John Brown, but the Bengals' promotion of rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 14% and 23% are the real boons for Allen. He has run in 10 touchdowns in his 13 career starts and is a good bet to do so again on Sunday.
I'm definitely more concerned that Kirk Cousins could see a low-volume passing day at home against the Raiders than I am for either Prescott or Brady. That strategy was an effective one for the Vikings in a Week 1 blowout of the Falcons, and the Raiders cut pass plays by 12%. That said, the Raiders also increase pass yards and touchdowns per attempt by 20% and 75%, both the most in football. I'm willing to bet on two-plus touchdowns for Cousins this week and would use him in shallow formats.
Jacoby Brissett did not have a lot of surrounding talent when he was the Colts starter in 2017, so I don't fully trust his small-sample 2.0-fantasy point home advantage from that season. That said, quarterbacks who play their home games in a dome almost always have greater home/road splits than outdoor quarterbacks. I'll take the risk and start him this week at home against the Falcons. The Falcons have looked better as the No. 9 DVOA pass defense with a healthier roster through two weeks, but I still see them as a plus passing matchup.
I already mentioned the moderate forecasted winds in Buffalo, but there are also slated to be wind speeds up to 11 mph in Jacksonville, up to 13 mph in Green Bay, and sustained gusts of 15 to 20 mph in Kansas City. Marcus Mariota falls to my No. 31 ranking with that wind on a short week in Jacksonville. The Jaguars rebounded nicely in Week 2 after Patrick Mahomes carved up their normally excellent pass defense in Week 1. I still have them as the hardest matchup for passing touchdowns, cutting them by 32% per attempt.
Josh Allen should be relatively immune to moderate winds since his rushing buoys his fantasy value, but the same is not true for his opponent, Andy Dalton. Meanwhile, Dalton is stuck facing the Bills defense that is seventh in pass defense DVOA through two weeks and cuts pass plays by 11%. I still have the Packers as a slightly plus passing matchup thanks to some regression to last season, but they are the No. 3 DVOA pass defense through two weeks this season. And Joe Flacco had one of the bigger home/road splits in football the last three seasons, scoring 14.9 fantasy points per game at home and just 12.4 on the road. Baltimore consistently sees one of the bigger home advantages in football, but the same will likely be true for Flacco with the home altitude in Denver. Avoid him this week in all formats.
It turns out I haven't learned my lesson from ranking Patrick Mahomes eighth in a Week 1 matchup at the Jaguars. He overcame that supposed challenge to the tune of 378 yards and three touchdowns, and then he piled on another 443 yards and four scores against the Raiders, mostly in an explosive second quarter. So obviously don't bench Mahomes in any season-long leagues, but I will try again and suggest you avoid him as the most expensive ($7,600) option on DraftKings this week. Mahomes hasn't faced heavy winds so far in his short career, but quarterbacks typically throw fewer attempts and complete fewer passes for fewer yards and touchdowns the harder the wind blows.
Meanwhile, the Ravens cut passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 10% and 26% and increase passer fumbles by 85%. They are better equipped to adjust to the run-focused game the wind may dictate, and even on the road, they could dominate the clock against the Chiefs' porous run defense. Apart from heavy precipitation, this will be as difficult a test as Mahomes will likely face.
Matt Ryan has avoided truly terrible matchups in his first two road starts thanks to playing in the domes in Minnesota and now in Indianapolis. However, Ryan really struggled with the Vikings' excellent pass defense, and the Colts are another one. They cut passing touchdowns by 28% and increase interceptions by 10%. It didn't make the board, but there is a chance of rain in Seattle on Sunday. The weather in a road game would normally have crushed Drew Brees' fantasy ranking, but he won't be starting this one with his hand injury. It's unclear whether Teddy Bridgewater will show similarly huge home/road splits, but avoid him anyway. In addition to the bad venue and weather matchup, he has to worry about Taysom Hill looking over his shoulder.
I'm assuming that Cam Newton is going to miss Sunday's game in Arizona, but I don't think that will hurt Christian McCaffrey's fantasy value. His involvement in the passing game shelters him from the home/road splits running backs normally face, and the Cardinals are a plus matchup for backs, increasing rushing plays by 21%.
In addition to their poor pass defense, the Dolphins increase rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 16% and 20%, respectively. Like Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott should have an excellent fantasy day. Sony Michel made an ironclad case that he is the clock-killer for the Patriots when he carried the ball 21 times against the Dolphins. Rex Burkhead and James White had just five and three carries, respectively. That said, I think White also enjoys a plus matchup at home against the Jets. He has tended to perform better at home than on the road in his career, a split that runs counter to the typical one for receiving backs.
The Rams-Browns game in Cleveland is the one with forecasted winds I haven't yet mentioned. Like in the Chiefs game, winds could push toward 20 mph. That doesn't throw Jared Goff into the worst matchups since the Browns increase passing plays by 9%, but I expect him to rely more heavily on his short passing game. That should be a boon for Todd Gurley, whose Week 2 workload reestablished him as a borderline RB1/RB2.
Tarik Cohen has averaged 4.0 catches on the road compared to 3.8 at home in his career. It's a pretty small difference, but receiving backs tend to catch the ball more on the road than at home. So I think he's a safer bet to do what he normally does than David Montgomery is in Washington. Of course, the Redskins have been the No. 29 rushing defense to go with their No. 28 pass defense, so you probably shouldn't be too scared of the road matchup for any of your Bears.
Cousins may be a somewhat risky plus play against the Raiders this weekend, but I'm confident Dalvin Cook is a great start. The Raiders increase run plays by 12% and rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 4% and 29%. Meanwhile, I love all of the Ravens' rushers in windy Kansas City this weekend, but those carries will likely be split among Lamar Miller, Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill, which makes it hard for any of those running backs to reach the matchups leaderboard. Ingram is my top back for the team, and the matchup jumps him from my No. 27 true-talent ranking to 24th this week.
With all the wind across the states this weekend possibly increasing teams' reliance on their running games, the running back trailers are dominated by difficult run defense matchups. The Bears cut rushing plays by 14% and rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 14% and 54%. They are the hardest matchup for rushing scores, and that's bad news for Adrian Peterson, who relies on those for the bulk of his fantasy value.
The Ravens cut rushing plays by 13% and rushing yards per attempt by 19%. They are a neutral matchup for rushing scores, probably because their excellent secondary limits receiving touchdowns. I think that adds up to a less bad matchup for Damien Williams than LeSean McCoy since the former player has the team's lone goal-line carry and is more involved in the receiving game. Of course, the Ravens were the No. 1 DVOA defense against receiving backs in 2018. Meanwhile, both Williams and McCoy are trying to play through injuries, a knee contusion for the former and an ankle injury for the latter I think the smart thing to do is to avoid both in your leagues this week if you can.
Justin Jackson is probably not valuable enough to start in typical fantasy formats, and Leonard Fournette is too valuable to bench. But both will face stern tests this week against Texans and Titans defenses that cut rushing touchdowns per attempt by 30% and 44%, respectively.
Their No. 9 ranking in pass defense DVOA offers some optimism, but I tend to think it was a fluke that the Falcons held Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz to one passing touchdown each in Weeks 1 and 2. I'm trusting the longer trend that says T.Y. Hilton is a great start this week, but if the Falcons shut him and Brissett down, I'll consider changing my stance.
The Jets increase passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 16% and 35%, and Antonio Brown and Julian Edelman should be the biggest beneficiaries since they look like they will be the two most heavily targeted Patriots wide receivers. The Texans bump passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 7% and 20%, and Keenan Allen has seen about half of the Chargers' wide receiver and tight end targets with Hunter Henry hurt and Mike Williams playing through a knee injury. I ranked Allen third this week.
As the parallel case to earlier Kirk Cousins discussion, I'm putting more faith in the Raiders' increases to passing yards and touchdowns than their decreases to pass plays. Adam Thielen is an obvious start every week, but I believe the matchup moves Stefon Diggs into the top 20 among wide receivers as well.
The windy game in Buffalo that will hurt Andy Dalton's fantasy chances will have similar negative effects for his top two receiver options, Tyler Boyd and John Ross. I wouldn't get cute and try to make a counter play based on Tre'Davious White's coverage splits. The Bills were the No. 7 DVOA defense against slot receivers last year. Boyd and Ross will likely both have bad days. In contrast, I think Corey Davis is the clear Titans receiver to avoid because of the shadow coverage. He should draw Jalen Ramsey in what could be his swansong in Jacksonville. That said, I'm not enthused about starting any Titans receiver.
Joe Flacco has thrown nearly all of his passes to the small group of Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, Noah Fant, and his two primary running backs. Those target shares should sustain the Broncos skill players even if Flacco is one of the quarterback trailers in passing production. I actually have Sanders up to No. 12 among receiver in true-talent ranking. That means that his fall to a No. 19 ranking this week may have him higher than you would expect, so consider your options before you bench him just because of his start in Green Bay.
Eric Ebron provides the opposite case of Sanders. He should enjoy the No. 1 matchup boost among tight ends this week, at home against the Falcons. But even that positive matchup fails to jump him into my TE1s. He's splitting time with Jack Doyle this season, and their respective plus matchups this week are more relevant for deeper formats and DFS tournaments.
If you want a tight end you can trust in shallow leagues, go with Zach Ertz. He already sees a massive target share for a tight end that could further increase this week with DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, and Dallas Goedert all injured. Meanwhile, the Lions were the No. 26 DVOA defense versus tight ends and No. 31 DVOA defense versus slot receivers in 2018. The Steelers and Raiders were the second-worst and worst DVOA defenses versus tight ends last year. That could lead to nice fantasy days for George Kittle and Kyle Rudolph, as well.
Travis Kelce faces a relatively bad matchup against the Ravens, but given the possible wind affecting downfield throws and with the Ravens' relative weakness against tight ends -- they were No. 22 in DVOA against the position in 2018 -- I still have Kelce second at the position this week. But you might be considering both Delanie Walker and Tyler Eifert in your shallow leagues, and I'd look elsewhere this week. The Jaguars were the No. 13 DVOA defense versus tight ends and No. 5 DVOA defense versus slot receivers in 2018, and the Bills were the No. 2 DVOA defense versus tight ends. I have Walker ranked 16th and Eifert ranked 21st for the week.