Start and Sit: Week 7
by Scott Spratt
After the Packers teased us with our first cold weather of the year on Monday night, the Week 7 slate features almost exclusively warm temperatures and, even more importantly, little wind and no precipitation. That makes for another week with fantasy matchups driven by defensive opponents, but there are still a few surprises on the card, in particular because of the notable players on bye this week, which include Christian McCaffrey, Nick Chubb, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Odell Beckham.
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.
Josh Allen typically gets his fantasy value from his legs, so he isn't always the best choice to play the matchups. But that is probably also true of Lamar Jackson, who lit up the Dolphins and their No. 32 DVOA pass defense for 324 passing yards and five touchdowns in Week 1. Since then, the Dolphins have allowed two or more touchdowns to each of the four quarterbacks they've faced -- Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, Philip Rivers, and Case Keenum. Allen is a good bet to do the same and is in my top five this week.
Aaron Rodgers has a similarly good matchup against a Raiders defense that increases passing touchdowns per attempt by 60%, tied for the most in football with those Dolphins and the Falcons. But Rodgers also faces some uncertainty with all three of his top receivers missing Wednesday practice with injuries. If two of Davante Adams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Geronimo Allison are unable to go on Sunday, then I will likely drop Rodgers in my rankings. But assuming they all play, he's my No. 1 quarterback for the week.
Jared Goff has traditionally shown some of the biggest home/road splits at the position, but that failed to help him against the 49ers' No. 1 DVOA pass defense last week that held him to just 78 passing yards. I'm going to assume the opposite holds true for Goff this week in Atlanta. The Falcons are probably the best matchup for opposing quarterbacks, increasing passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 12% and 60% without cutting pass plays. Meanwhile, the dome should mitigate some of the damage Goff would normally see on the road. He's in my top five, up nine spots from his true-talent ranking of just 14th.
Across the field from Goff, Matt Ryan has shown himself to be immune to matchups this season, throwing for at least 300 yards every game and at least three touchdowns in four of his last five games. Garbage time is a wonderous thing. That touchdown trend could easily continue for Ryan against a Rams defense that increases passing touchdowns per attempt by 33%. The newly acquired Jalen Ramsey may soften that boost, but Ryan has gotten quality production from his secondary receivers and tight ends this season and should be an elite option either way.
Fresh off of allowing 333 yards and four touchdowns to Kirk Cousins last week and dealing with their own fading Super Bowl aspirations, the Eagles could have used Ramsey as much or more than the Rams. They didn't get him, and that's great news for Dak Prescott. The Eagles increase pass plays by 17%, the most in football, and Prescott rounds a top five full of quarterbacks buoyed by their weekly matchups.
I wouldn't argue with you if you decided to start Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes ahead of the matchup-boosted quarterbacks I have ahead of them this week. Both players have had pretty neutral home/road splits in their career so far, although Watson's at least seem unsustainably driven by seven road rushing touchdowns out of his 12 total. But Watson also deals with a Colts defense that held Mahomes to just one touchdown in Week 5 and generally cuts passing touchdowns by 24%, the fourth-most in football, and likely wouldn't be in the MVP conversation without the 425 yards and five touchdowns he threw against the Falcons' sieve of a defense.
Even in neutral matchups, you likely aren't starting Andy Dalton, Teddy Bridgewater, or new Dolphins starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. But you shouldn't start them anywhere in Week 7. Bridgewater and Fitzpatrick draw the obvious bad matchups in the Bears and Bills, both top-six in pass defense DVOA. And Dalton's Jaguars matchup is about as bad. The Jaguars are relatively susceptible to the run (No. 32 DVOA) versus the pass (No. 16), and even without Jalen Ramsey, their pass defense has been trending up. Since their Week 1 blowout courtesy of the Chiefs, the Jaguars have limited opposing offenses to just 214 passing yards and 1.0 passing touchdowns per game.
Saquon Barkley looks ready to make his return in Week 7, and so I returned him to his customary spot atop my weekly running back rankings. He doesn't really need a plus matchup, but he gets one in the Cardinals, who are No. 25 in DVOA against the run. And every-week RB1 Leonard Fournette has a similarly cushy draw in the Bengals and their No. 27 DVOA run defense.
Phillip Lindsay is more of a matchup consideration, and his contest this week against the Chiefs vaults him into my top 10. The Chiefs' offseason roster and coaching changes have not led to any improvements in their run defense, which is still 31st in DVOA this season.
In contrast, the Giants are fairly decent against the run (No. 13 DVOA) and much better than they are against the pass (No. 28). But that's honestly good news for David Johnson and his five receptions per game. Meanwhile, the Giants increase run plays by 6%, which goes a long way toward offsetting the damage they do to rushing efficiency.
Unlike his teammate Malcolm Brown, Todd Gurley was back but limited at Wednesday's Rams practice. And while the Falcons may be the best defense for opposing passing games, they are pretty favorable for running backs, too. They increase rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 11% and 4%, respectively.
By DVOA, the Texans aren't a Bears- or Patriots-level scary matchup. They are just 11th in DVOA run defense. But the Texans are in the highest class in limiting rushing touchdowns per attempt, which they cut by 37%, third-most in football. Marlon Mack will likely see plenty of touches at home against a team with an exceptional pass rush, but he is less likely than usual to score, and he relies more on scoring than many typical RB1s. I have him as an RB2 this week.
Latavius Murray may end up with a similar ranking to Mack and for a similar reason if Alvin Kamara ends up missing this week's game, a strong possibility with what may be a high ankle sprain. For now, I'm ranking Murray 44th assuming Kamara does play. Murray is the 26th-most expensive running back on DraftKings, but I wouldn't throw him in every lineup even if Kamara is out, given that the Bears cut rushing touchdowns by 38%.
I don't know how to rank LeSean McCoy or any of the other Chiefs running backs. McCoy went from zero of nine running back carries in Week 5 to eight of 10 in Week 6. The only thing I feel like I do know is that McCoy is less involved in the Chiefs' passing game, and that should make him more sensitive to matchups than either Damien or Darrel Williams, assuming either will be regularly involved moving forward. This week in Denver, McCoy has a tough matchup.
Opposite Murray, the Bears' David Montgomery has become a true-talent RB2 for me in his rookie season. But he falls a bit short of that this week against a Saints defense that has played much better with Teddy Bridgewater under center. Their defense is up to 14th overall and 16th in run defense DVOA, and they cut run plays by 16%, third-most in football.
Michael Gallup may be the Cowboys' No. 1 receiver this week. Amari Cooper didn't practice on Wednesday with his quad injury and sounds like he's closer to missing multiple weeks than playing on Sunday night. But even if Cooper does play, Gallup should be a high-end WR2 against an Eagles defense that increases pass plays by 17%, the most in football. Gallup has seen at least seven targets in each of his healthy games this season.
Davante Adams is in that trio of Packers receivers dealing with injuries, but he if he is able to return this week, he should benefit from the Raiders matchup. And while the Texans can be tough for opposing quarterbacks because of their pass rush that increases passer fumbles by 102% -- especially if their name is Kyle Allen -- they are a nice matchup for opposing receivers. They increase pass plays by 4% and passing touchdowns by 10% per attempt, and they are particularly beneficial for No. 1 receivers, who are seeing 8.7 targets and 80 yards per game against them this season. T.Y. Hilton already scores 2.0 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road in his career. That plus the Texans matchup jumps him to third at the position for me the week.
In recent weeks, I've been focused on the Falcons defense as a boost for outside receivers. But in addition to being the No. 30 DVOA defense against No. 1 wide receivers and No. 31 defense against No. 2 wide receivers, the Falcons are also No. 30 against all other receivers (subscription required). I think that makes Cooper Kupp the best play among the Rams receivers this week. After a fairly balanced target distribution in 2018, Kupp is seeing 31.7% of the Rams' wide receiver and tight end targets in 2019 compared to just 23.4% for Woods and 17.0% for Cooks. Of course, I still have Woods up to 23rd and Cooks up to 34th with the matchup, about five spots higher than normal for each.
The Patriots' No. 2 pass defense make both of the Jets outside receivers -- Robby Anderson and Demaryius Thomas -- stay-aways for this week. But I think I'm ready to roll the dice on slot receiver Jamison Crowder. Crowder is averaging 13 targets per game in Sam Darnold's two starts this year versus five targets per game in his other starts. In PPR formats, he's a back-end WR2 for me.
Tyreek Hill doesn't get any worse than a WR2 now that he's healthy again, but I think he's just that this week in Denver. Hill has generally performed poorly against the Broncos in his career, averaging just 43 yards and scoring just one touchdown in five starts.
Cornerback Chris Harris still anchors Denver's coverage of No. 1 receivers, and after a slow start to the season, the Broncos have rebounded to become the No. 8 DVOA pass defense. Even without Bradley Chubb, they sacked the Titans seven times last week and may prove unusually disruptive to the Chiefs' explosive passing attack.
Keenan Allen suffers a similar weekly fall as Hill. Allen faces a Titans defense that is top-10 in DVOA against both No. 1 and No. 2 outside receivers. They are more susceptible to slot receivers and may cede yards to Austin Ekeler if the Chargers continue to play him alongside power back Melvin Gordon. The Jaguars are also better defending outside receivers than slot receivers, even without Ramsey for most of the season. That should be good news for the Bengals' Tyler Boyd, whom I have 20th this week.
Michael Thomas faces the stout Bears defense that cuts passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 15% and 34%, the most in football. But Thomas is also seeing an astounding 48.2% of his team's wide receiver and tight end targets, more than 10% more than the next highest receiver in football. He remains my No. 1 receiver for the week despite the matchup.
Tyler Lockett has climbed his way up to the No. 2 spot in my true-talent receiver rankings behind Thomas, but he falls two spots from there for me this week. The Ravens clearly don't have the same dominant defense this year that they did last year, but they've maintained their strength against No. 1 receivers with the No. 2 DVOA. Their top cornerback Marlon Humphrey has been exceptional, with an 83% success rate in coverage (subscription required). It's their other cornerbacks and an injury to Jimmy Smith that prompted their trade for Marcus Peters.
Austin Hooper is banging on the door of the top tier of tight ends. His 480 yards are second-most of all tight ends and have him on pace to nearly double his previous career high. This week, he faces a Rams defense that is in the upper half of targets and yards allowed to the position this season. Hooper is my No. 2 tight end for the week.
Jimmy Graham sat out of Wednesday practice alongside the three wide receivers I previously mentioned, but he could be a compelling fantasy option if he plays and a few of those others players do not this week. The Raiders are a bottom-10 DVOA defense against tight ends.
The Michael Thomas of tight ends, Travis Kelce has to go on the road and face the Broncos' No. 6 DVOA defense against tight ends, but that still doesn't drop him out of my top spot at the position this week. Kelce has enjoyed a much more encouraging track record against the Broncos than Hill has. And that includes a remarkably similar pair of games of 78 yards and a touchdown and 79 yards and a touchdown in 2018.