by Scott Spratt
With just the Cowboys and Ravens on bye and with the Vikings, Falcons, Saints, Lions, and Colts all playing at home in their domes, fantasy owners should enjoy some big numbers in Week 8. But that doesn't mean you should ignore the matchups. Defensive opponents will likely swing some head-to-head contests this week, so peruse the following start and sit recommendations before you set your lineups.
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.
Deshaun Watson isn't the caliber of quarterback most fantasy players use situationally. But his results so far this season show why matchups are important for every passer not named Patrick Mahomes. Watson built his MVP campaign on a five-touchdown day against the Falcons, a top-three opponent for passing touchdowns. Now, Watson draws a Raiders team that is the best in that category, boosting passing touchdowns by 69% and fresh off of allowing Aaron Rodgers to throw five touchdowns against them. Importantly, the Raiders defense pressures quarterbacks on just 25.7% of their dropbacks (subscription required), bottom-10 in football according to Sports Info Solutions. If Watson actually has some protection for a change, he should excel. I had Rodgers No. 1 last week, and I have Watson No. 1 this week.
Ryan Tannehill didn't see a massive boost in my true talent rankings after enjoying a 23-of-29 passing day for 312 yards and two touchdowns against Chargers, a plus passing matchup. I expect him to be a back-end QB2 most weeks. But this week, he vaults into my top 10 thanks to a home start against a Buccaneers defense that is much better against the run (No. 1 DVOA) than the pass (No. 25). Meanwhile, NFC South rival Drew Brees believes he can return this week against the Cardinals. If he can, he'll land in my top 10 as well, one spot ahead of Tannehill as my No. 8 quarterback. The Cardinals defense is No. 26 in DVOA against the pass, and Brees has scored 4.9 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since 2016. Only Ben Roethlisberger has had more extreme home/road splits among regular starters.
Speaking of Roethlisberger, his Steelers should get their preferred backup, Mason Rudolph, back this week coming off their bye. It's too early to know whether Rudolph will have similarly massive home/road splits, but he shouldn't need them hosting the Dolphins this week. The Dolphins increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 64% and have allowed at least two passing touchdowns to all six of their opposing quarterbacks this season, including some quarterbacks you wouldn't regularly expect that from like Case Keenum and Josh Allen the last two weeks. I expect Rudolph to follow suit. He's in my top 20.
Amusingly, Russell Wilson and fellow MVP frontrunner Deshaun Watson entered this week tied for second in my true talent rankings (behind Aaron Rodgers). Wilson stays second after my contextual adjustments, but the Falcons defense is a pretty amazing consolation prize. They increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 59%, and playing in the dome in Atlanta should help mitigate some of the fantasy losses you would expect from Wilson away from his home in Seattle. If throwing his first interception of the year on Sunday means Wilson is in a slump, he should bust out this week.
Carson Wentz needs DeSean Jackson back. Since losing him after Week 1, Wentz has thrown for just 223 yards per game. And unfortunately, the early indications are that Jackson won't be ready to go this weekend. And if that weren't bad enough, Wentz will also have to contend with 12-mph forecasted winds that are the heaviest of this weekend's games, as well as a Bills defense that decreases pass plays by 10% and passing touchdowns per attempt by 9%. Those factors conspire to drop Wentz all the way to 19th in my rankings for the week.
After last week's dismantling by the Patriots, fantasy owners are likely not eager to start Sam Darnold. That's not the right reason, but it's the right instinct this week in Jacksonville. Even accounting for his rough home start last week, Darnold has had extreme career home/road splits, scoring 6.3 more points per game at home. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have rebounded from their Week 1 blowout against the Chiefs to reenter the top 10 in DVOA pass defense. That knocks Darnold down to the No. 30 spot this week, one spot ahead of Joe Flacco, also down because of his matchup against the Colts, who cut passing touchdowns per attempt by 25%.
Jameis Winston has not been Darnold-extreme, but he has scored 2.9 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since 2016. That could be a problem for him this week in Tennessee, even though the Titans are stronger against the run (No. 3 DVOA) than the pass (No. 23). They still reduce opposing passer touchdowns by 6%. In contrast, the Chiefs are much stronger against the pass (No. 4 DVOA) than the run (No. 29), and I think that's the real concern for Aaron Rodgers this week on his Packers team that seems much more nimble in terms of strategy than under Mike McCarthy. The 40-degree temperatures and moderate winds on Sunday night in Kansas City do less to scare me since Rodgers has been pretty much immune to the traditional weather splits in his career. I have him fourth at the position this week.
I don't expect Alvin Kamara to play this week. He missed last Sunday's game and did not practice on Wednesday. But if he does miss another week, you can go ahead and substitute in Latavius Murray for this top spot among matchup-boosted running backs. His backup Dwayne Washington took just one snap last week, and the Saints also released running back Zach Zenner. Whoever suits up against the Cardinals should succeed. They have the No. 26 run defense, increase run plays by 18%, and increase rushing touchdowns per attempt by 45%.
Todd Gurley's backup Malcolm Brown also missed Wednesday's practice, and we'll likely get an earlier indication of his chances to play on Sunday if he travels to London with the team. Either way, I'll have Gurley in my top 10 this week facing the No. 28 Bengals run defense. They increase run plays by 19%, the most in football.
I can pretty much repeat all of the positive things I said about Mason Rudolph for his running back James Conner's matchup. The terrible Dolphins pass defense isn't any better against the run (No. 32 DVOA). Meanwhile, the Dolphins tend to fall behind in games, increasing their opponents run plays by 17% and rushing touchdowns by 11%. Jaylen Samuels is still a few weeks away from returning from his knee surgery, so Conner should also see all of the team's receiving back work ahead of power runner Benny Snell.
Speaking of receiving backs, Austin Ekeler has not missed a fantasy beat since Melvin Gordon returned from his holdout and took over the team's top rushing duties. Ekeler just skewed his work further toward the receiving game, where he has seen 28 targets the last three weeks. That's honestly a plus behind a Chargers offensive line that is 24th with 3.84 adjusted line yards. It's also likely a plus this week against the Bears. Chicago has not played up to last year's standard as the No. 3 DVOA run defense, but I still estimate they cut run plays by 11% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 33%. The matchup jumps Ekeler 13 spots ahead of his teammate Gordon this week.
As the heaviest workload runner in football this season, Leonard Fournette never falls too far for a bad matchup. But he may justify his hefty $7,800 DraftKings price tag at home against the Jets this week. The Jets defense is stronger against the run (No. 6 DVOA) than the pass (No. 17), but they also increase rushing touchdowns per attempt by 47%, second-most in football.
The Chiefs increase rushing touchdowns by an astounding 73%, the most in football. That should spell good news for Packers running back Aaron Jones. Despite some wishy-washy workload splits with teammate Jamaal Williams, Jones has asserted himself as the team's preferred goal-line option, taking all nine of the team's carries within 5 yards of the end zone this season. He just misses the RB1 designation as my No. 13 back for the week.
I tipped my hand to my poor Gordon ranking in my write-up on Ekeler, but I'll offer two more reasons to justify my declining No. 19 true talent ranking of him. In just three games since his return, he has -75 DYAR, second-worst in football, and -56.4% DVOA. And with Ekeler's expanded role, Gordon has seen his average targets per game decline from over 5.0 the last two years to just 4.3 this season. Maybe he'll be traded before next Tuesday's deadline into a more favorable situation. But this Sunday's performance in Chicago is unlikely to impress his suitors.
Adrian Peterson seems to have avoided a major ankle injury and should suit up against his former team in the Vikings tonight. But I still wouldn't bet on his chances for vengeance. The Vikings decrease rushing touchdowns per attempt by 31%, and Peterson relies more on touchdowns for his fantasy scoring than pretty much any other running back.
It may be premature to declare that rookie runner Josh Jacobs has significant home/road splits. He has had just three games in Oakland and three elsewhere this season. But he has scored all four of his touchdowns at home, and his 4.3-carry home advantage makes sense for a Raiders team that should presumably be sensitive to matchups with middling roster talent.
That may make this a difficult week for Jacobs, who has to travel on the road to face a Texans team that decreases run plays by 9% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 41%. An elite carry volume gives Jacobs a floor as an RB2, but he is that for me this week as opposed to his true-talent position as a back-end RB1.
Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones have fallen into a frustrating workload split for fantasy owners that keeps both out of my top 30 at the position in my true talent rankings. Facing a Titans defense this week that is stronger against the run (No. 3 DVOA) than the pass (No. 23) and that decreases rushing touchdowns per attempt by 46%, the most in football, I have both outside of my top 40.
With forecasted rain and moderate winds in Boston this Sunday, the Browns will likely try to rely heavily on their workhorse back Nick Chubb. I have him seventh this week and wouldn't bench him in any season-long lead. But I still don't expect a tip-top game from him facing a Patriots defense that is almost as strong against the run (No. 8 DVOA) as it is against the pass (No. 1). Regardless of efficiency, the Patriots tend to force their opponents into unfavorable game scripts. That's a big reason they have yet to allow a running back to score a touchdown this season.
I had some concerns about the meteoric rise of former CFL star Duke Williams, but last week suggested that Williams (53% offensive snap share) ate more into Cole Beasley's (55%) role than that of John Brown (95%). As such, I think you can confidently start Brown at home against the Eagles this week. The Eagles have a bottom-10 DVOA defense against No. 1 receivers (subscription required), and they increase their opponents' pass plays by 14%, the most in football.
Last week with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, Corey Davis saw a season-high seven targets and reasserted himself as the Titans' top receiving option. That's just in time to face a Buccaneers team that is relatively weak against the pass (No. 25 DVOA) and particularly weak against No. 1 receivers (No. 25 DVOA). Davis is my No. 30 wide receiver for the week. Tyler Lockett is No. 2, facing a Falcons defense that is bad against No. 1 wide receivers (No. 29) and bad in general (No. 31 pass defense). They boost passing touchdowns by 59%, and Lockett and DK Metcalf should score even more of those now that tight end Will Dissly is out for the season.
DeAndre Hopkins may not be the top overall receiver anymore, but he continues to see a top-10 volume with 33.8% of the Texans' wide receiver and tight end target share. Despite his fantasy struggles, I think he's a clear top-10 option. And I have him fourth this week, facing that Raiders defense that ranks 30th in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers and increases passing touchdowns by 69%. DJ Chark, the Jaguars' breakout No. 1 receiver, is set to enjoy a plus matchup against a Jets defense that is relatively weak against the pass (No. 17 DVOA) and that increases passing touchdowns by 11% per attempt.
With Jackson likely to miss another week, Alshon Jeffery remains the Eagles' No. 1 receiver. But that is actually bad news for his fantasy prospects this week against a Bills defense that is No. 5 in DVOA against the pass and No. 4 in DVOA against No. 1 wide receivers. Combining the defensive opponent, the potential for wind, and Jeffery's own declining play -- he has fallen from a 21.1% DVOA last year to -3.5% so far this year -- Jeffery is down to my No. 41 fantasy receiver this week.
The Titans pass defense seems to have its greatest weakness in the middle of the field. They are No. 7 in DVOA against both No. 1 and No. 2 outside receivers but No. 32 against all other receivers. But the Bucs may not be equipped on offense to take advantage of that weakness. As such, Chris Godwin and Mike Evans fall a bit for the matchup, but both start so high -- as my No. 2 and No. 8 true talent receivers -- that you would only consider avoiding them in daily fantasy. Godwin in particular has been amazing this season with a 71.2% DVOA and 340 DYAR, which nearly doubles up the next-closest wide receiver.
The Jaguars pass defense looks a lot like the Titans', with top-10 DVOAs against both No. 1 and No. 2 receivers but the No. 24 DVOA against other wideouts. You were probably already avoiding Robby Anderson, but you should probably look elsewhere than Demaryius Thomas as well, even though Thomas has racked up 22 targets the last three weeks for the Jets.
It somehow took me two dozen paragraphs to make my first mention of the stifling 49ers defense, up to No. 2 overall and No. 2 against the pass. You'll probably want to avoid all Panthers except for Christian McCaffrey. At this point, that means the most for receiver D.J. Moore, who falls from 19 to 29 in my receiving rankings this week.
Delanie Walker is not the Alvin Kamara of tight ends, but I think you can treat he and his backup Jonnu Smith in a similar fashion to Kamara and Latavius Murray this week. The Buccaneers matchup that hurts Derrick Henry and helps Corey Davis should maybe help Walker or Smith the most. The Bucs are No. 21 in DVOA defense versus tight ends, and they are allowing 88 yards per game to tight ends, second-most in football behind only the Cardinals.
Darren Fells has more direct competition than a healthy Walker in the form of teammate Jordan Akins, but his matchup against the Raiders is so good, I still have him as a back-end TE1 this week. The Raiders are 29th in DVOA against tight ends and are allowing 70 yards per game to the position. The Seahawks defense is in a similar boat, allowing 71 yards per game with the No. 22 DVOA defense against tight ends. The Falcons' Austin Hooper doesn't really need the help, but he still jumps one spot to fifth for me this week.
Unsurprisingly, I have Travis Kelce even higher. I dropped him to fourth in my true talent rankings with Matt Moore under center -- possibly an overreaction since Kelce had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons before Patrick Mahomes took over -- but he jumps up to third facing a Packers defense that is stronger defending wide receivers than tight ends.
Sadly, there may not be great tight end options to take advantage of probably the best two opposing defenses for tight ends to face, the Dolphins (No. 31 DVOA versus tight ends) and the Cardinals (No. 32). The Steelers face the former, and I have Vance McDonald as a high-end TE2. But he has just four catches and 39 yards in two games since Ben Roethlisberger went down. Meanwhile, the Saints' Jared Cook missed Week 7 and did not practice on Wednesday. I'm already assuming he's out this week, and while you can use Josh Hill in a pinch, he isn't a TE1 either.
I'm not super worried about Zach Ertz's slow start to the season. His lack of touchdowns has been the major culprit of his lack of fantasy scoring. But Week 8 likely won't be the week that changes against a Bills defense that is allowing just 36 yards per game to tight ends, tied for third-fewest in football. He falls to seventh for me this week. Coming off an incredible two weeks, I've actually moved Chargers tight end Hunter Henry ahead of Ertz in my true talent rankings. But he's down to fourth for me this week. The Bears defense has struggled in general this year, but I still put some stock in their No. 3 DVOA ranking against tight ends last year.
After a hamstring injury derailed his Week 6 potential return from his PED suspension, Chris Herndon has started practicing and may finally suit up this weekend. But this may not be the week to put him in your fantasy lineup, facing a Jaguars defense that is allowing just 44 yards per game to tight ends. And the Panthers' Greg Olsen faces that No. 2 DVOA 49ers defense that has been the best so far this season defending tight ends. They're allowing just 24 yards per game to the position.