by Scott Spratt
We're several weeks behind by the definition of the season, but this Monday night's Packers-Lions game should usher in the NFL's fall weather. Unlike rain and wind -- of which there could be some in a couple of games this week -- temperature does not have the same marked impact on teams' passing production as defensive matchups or even home/road splits. But cold temperatures can make a difference, even if the most prominent affected Week 6 fantasy option throws you off that scent.
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.
After a conservative start to his season, Kyler Murray has taken 22 carries for 189 yards in his last three games. That's a 1,000-yard pace over a 16-game season. It's really the optimal split for a fantasy quarterback and has jumped Murray into my true-talent top 10 at the position even in his rookie year. This week, he rises even higher to my No. 3 quarterback facing the Falcons and their No. 30 DVOA pass defense. The Falcons increase completion percentage by 8%, passing yards per attempt by 10%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 58% -- tied for the most in football -- but do not reduce passing plays like most bad teams.
Lamar Jackson has returned to earth after his otherworldly start to the season and is now "just" my No. 7 true-talent fantasy quarterback. He draws a home start in Week 6 against the kind of team he lit up in the first two weeks. The Bengals are the No. 31 DVOA pass defense and the No. 26 DVOA run defense, and they increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 46% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 16%. Both of those tendencies should help the multi-talented Jackson.
Jared Goff is not as fortunate as either Murray or Jackson with his matchup. After another impressive showing on Monday night against the Browns, the 49ers defense is now No. 1 in overall and pass defense DVOA. That isn't the ideal formula for a quarterback's fantasy success, but Goff has a different tendency playing in his favor: his massive home/road splits. Since 2017, Goff has averaged 323 yards and 21.4 fantasy points per game at home versus just 245 and 15.5 on the road. At home in Los Angeles, Goff is in a similar situation as Dak Prescott against the Packers last week. That went poorly for the Cowboys in general, but Prescott still contributed 463 yards and two touchdowns to his fantasy owners. Goff could do the same and is in my top 10 for the week.
Aaron Rodgers' meager passing totals over the first five weeks have me a bit nervous, but I'm still trusting the matchups that suggested decreased production against a quartet of opponents that cut passing touchdowns and a trio that cut passing plays in general. The Lions are the most favorable opponent Rodgers has faced for fantasy this season, boosting passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by a moderate 10%.
Still, it wouldn't be Rodgers in fantasy if there wasn't drama, and that comes this week courtesy of a Monday night game in Green Bay with a kickoff temperature of 43 degrees Fahrenheit. That makes this game the first "impact" cold game of the year. Quarterbacks have pretty steady performances with temperatures anywhere above 50 degrees, but their passing attempts and efficiencies start to fall below 50 degrees and fall further when temperatures cross into freezing.
Rodgers won't have to deal with that even as temperatures fall the deeper this game goes into the Wisconsin evening. And, mercifully for his fantasy owners, Rodgers probably won't have to worry about the temperatures in any case. Perhaps because he has grown used to unusually cold temperatures, or maybe because he was the perfect Packers quarterback to begin with, Rodgers has defied the typical quarterback temperature splits and enjoys very stable production throughout his career regardless of temperature.
I'm starting Rodgers as a top-five option on Monday, although I will likely drop him a few spots if his No. 1 receiver Davante Adams trends toward a second missed start.
Teddy Bridgewater probably made a lot of money for himself next season by lighting the Buccaneers up for 314 passing yards and four touchdowns last week. But really, that's not surprising. The Bucs are a plus matchup for passers, boosting passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 15% and 46%. Things will be much tougher for Bridgewater this week in Jacksonville. The Jaguars may not be the top pass defense in football without Jalen Ramsey -- although Ramsey may return this week -- but they still cut passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 5% and 71%. Since their Week 1 letdown against the high-flying Chiefs, the Jaguars defense has held their opponents to averages of 212 passing yards and 1.0 passing touchdowns per game. Avoid Bridgewater in all formats this week.
You may not be able to avoid Carson Wentz in your deeper formats, but I don't love his matchup either. The Vikings are the No. 9 DVOA pass defense and decrease pass plays by 7% and passing touchdowns by 13% per attempt. I see Wentz as a back-end QB2 for the week.
I'm a bit more optimistic for Matt Ryan, whose garbage time heroics have buoyed him over 300 passing yards in all five games this season. But I wouldn't be stunned to see that streak end this week, facing a relatively weaker opponent in the Cardinals that decrease pass plays by 7% and increase run plays by 18%.
Dovetailing from my pessimism for Ryan, I think his teammate Devonta Freeman could have his best fantasy day of the year against the Cardinals. Not only do the Cardinals boost rushing attempts, they are susceptible in the passing game to receiving backs. Their No. 29 DVOA there (subscription required) is worse than their DVOA against No. 1 and No. 2 receivers even without Patrick Peterson on defense.
Across the field, Cardinals back David Johnson also has a plus matchup this week. In addition to being bad against the passing game, the Falcons defense is a sieve for running backs, increasing rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 12% and 3%. Johnson is fairly matchup-resistant with his receiving work, but I still like his chances at home this week and view him as a top-five option.
Speaking of receiving backs, Chris Thompson is on pace for his best ever receiving season. His 35 targets are third-most among running backs and have secured him a spot in my true-talent top 30 PPR running backs. You wouldn't necessarily expect the Redskins to need a checkdown option against the dreadful Dolphins defense, but that defense is somehow even more susceptible to receiving backs than it is to other skill positions. The Dolphins are allowing an unbelievable 129.1% DVOA on passes to running backs this year. That makes Thompson a back-end RB2 in PPR formats.
Coming off back-to-back weeks with 13 or more carries and at least one rushing touchdown, Jordan Howard has established himself as the Eagles' No. 1 rusher. Even in PPR formats, that should make him a flex consideration most weeks. But this is not most weeks. That Vikings defense that is ninth against the pass is even stronger (second) against the run. They also cut rushing touchdowns per attempt by 22%, third-most in football. With less involvement in the passing game than rookie teammate Miles Sanders, Howard needs to score to be relevant in fantasy. This isn't the week to expect that to happen.
LeSean McCoy was held without a carry in the Chiefs' upset loss to the Colts on Monday night. Game script likely contributed to that non-total, but consider too that McCoy played just 14 of the team's 61 offensive snaps, 20 fewer than now-healthy Damien Williams and just one more than third back Darrel Williams. I'm still projected McCoy to be involved, at least for one more week, but this isn't the place to use him in fantasy. The Texans cut rushing touchdowns per attempt by 33%, second-most in football. It's a much worse matchup for McCoy than it is for Damien Williams since Williams has drawn more than two-thirds of the team's running back targets in his three starts this season.
With Saquon Barkley and Wayne Gallman both out for tonight's Giants-Patriots game, Jon Hilliman and Elijhaa Penny are going to get touches. That makes Hilliman at the very least a fantasy-relevant player in deeper formats. But despite the boosted shares, Hilliman and Penny could not have any worse of a matchup. The Patriots cut running plays by 21% -- second-most in football behind only the Eagles -- and also hurt efficiency with the No. 3 DVOA run defense. My guess is something like an 11-to-6 carries split, and against the Patriots, that leaves both players outside of my top 25 backs.
I was high on rookie Cardinals receiver KeeSean Johnson in his Week 5 matchup against the Bengals, but he couldn't convert his increased involvement that led to seven targets into much fantasy production. But it's possible he'll have a second chance. As I mentioned when discussing Murray, the Falcons have a bad pass defense, but theirs should be particularly friendly to both Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald -- they rank next to last in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers, and dead last against No. 2s. You probably remember the Falcons allowing 14 catches, 217 yards, and three touchdowns to the Texans' No. 2 man Will Fuller last week, but they also allowed massive production to A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, and Nelson Agholor this season. Really, my only hesitation to include Johnson among my WR3s is the possible return of his teammates Christian Kirk and Damiere Byrd. They returned to limited practice on Wednesday, so I would watch the news. If Kirk plays, return him to your lineups instead of using Johnson.
So far, it has been a rough season for Kirk Cousins and the Vikings passing attack. They seem unusually committed to a run-focused offense in the modern passing era. But while that will be bad for Cousins and his top two receivers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, in terms of their full-season numbers, it should make it fairly easy to start and sit them based on matchups. Cousins has averaged 34 pass attempts per game against the two good opponents he has faced (the Packers and Bears) and just 20 pass attempts per game against the three bad opponents (the Falcons, Raiders, and Giants). This week's opponent, the Eagles, is part of that former group and does even more for the Vikings' passing potential, increasing pass plays by 17%, the most in football. That makes Thielen a WR1 and Diggs a WR2 for me this week.
I already explained my unexpected optimism for Goff's fantasy potential against the 49ers and their No. 1 pass defense. But it seems a bit harder to predict which Rams' receivers will benefit. I definitely don't believe in Gerald Everett after his seven-catch, 136-yard Week 5 performance. He doesn't pull a target share to support him as a TE1 in fantasy, and the 49ers are the best DVOA defense against tight ends this season. My guess is that Cooper Kupp will have the team's top performance. Kupp has distanced himself a bit from Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks in target share, and the 49ers have allowed 75 and 122 receiving yards to Jarvis Landry and Tyler Boyd, the two prominent slot receivers they've faced this season. I have Kupp in my top five receivers for the week.
My new No. 1 true-talent receiver, Michael Thomas, lands one spot behind Kupp at sixth for me this week. You clearly would never bench him in a season-long league, but I don't love him in DraftKings, where he is the second most expensive wide receiver at $7,600. The Jaguars have not been the top pass defense we expected them to be before the season without a healthy Jalen Ramsey, but they still cut passing touchdowns per attempt by 71%. With the No. 32 run defense, expect the Jaguars to cede more points to Alvin Kamara than to Thomas this week.
Julio Jones is the most expensive DraftKings receiver ($8,000), but apart from name recognition, I have no idea why. The Cardinals are not as scary a No. 1 WR matchup without Patrick Peterson, who will miss the last game of his suspension this week. But they still cut pass plays by 7% and are the No. 29 DVOA defense against both tight ends and receiving backs. I expect both Austin Hooper and Devonta Freeman to have big games. Meanwhile, Jones is seeing just 25.3% of the Falcons' wide receiver and tight end target share this year, which is just 36th at the position. I have him as a true-talent WR2 in fantasy at this point. Obviously, he could go off at any time, but I'd rather bet on a player like DeAndre Hopkins, who continues to draw a WR1 target share.
Tyler Lockett clearly belongs to that elite WR1 group now, and as such, even his bad matchups like his one against the Browns this week fail to boot him from the top 10. That said, the Browns are a bad matchup, with the No. 8 DVOA against No. 1 receivers and with a pass defense (No. 11 DVOA) that is generally stronger than their run defense (No. 23). Meanwhile, Lockett will have to deal with forecasted winds of 17 mph, which could hinder his and Russell Wilson's deep connection.
In addition to the Giants' injuries at running back, the team will also be without Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard tonight. That leaves Golden Tate and rookie Darius Slayton as practically the only two healthy bodies to catch passes. But I still wouldn't rely on Tate in typical formats. The Patriots are the No. 3 DVOA defense against No. 1 receivers and the No. 1 DVOA defense against No. 2 receivers. And this is the other game this week with wind concerns, with forecasts of 16 mph plus a chance for light rain. I don't expect this to be 223-yards-of-total-offense bad like it was for the Redskins last week, but let's just say I'm eager to start the Patriots defense in fantasy this week.
Mark Andrews is fighting through a foot injury that should probably drop him a bit from the No. 4 true-talent ranking I have for him. However, he was able to play 52% of the Ravens' offensive snaps in Week 5, and he draws a Bengals defense that is No. 31 in DVOA against tight ends. Even in shallow formats, I don't think you can bench him. But maybe pick a different top option in DFS.
Greg Olsen may be an interesting DFS alternative. I rank him five spots behind Andrews at the position this week, but he's $600 cheaper and faces the Bucs defense he torched for six catches and 110 yards despite Cam Newton's obvious injury in Week 2. And at $3,600, Hunter Henry may be an even greater value. Henry returned to practice after missing a month with a broken kneecap. If he can play this weekend, he will likely see a ton of targets for a Chargers team that is injury-ravaged across the offensive skill positions.
It takes a lot to bump one of the triumvirate of top-tier tight ends out of the weekly top three. The Vikings couldn't do it to Zach Ertz despite their No. 4 DVOA defense against tight ends. They are a bad matchup, but they also allowed 22 combined catches and 211 combined yards to Darren Waller and Austin Hooper. Ertz can overcome it. But I did drop George Kittle to No. 4 at the position this week against a Rams team that is No. 7 in DVOA against tight ends and shockingly gettable everywhere else on defense.
Jared Cook provided his fantasy owners with a bit of hope with his first touchdown of the season in Week 5, but his 20.7% wide receiver and tight end target share is outside of the top 10 and much lower than I expected on a Saints team without an obvious No. 2 receiver behind Thomas. I still view him as a true-talent TE2, and he falls to the top of my TE3s this week against a Jaguars team that is No. 8 in DVOA against tight ends and relatively weaker against wide receivers and against the run (No. 32 DVOA).