by Scott Spratt
As the calendar flips to November, weather will become a consistently important factor for weekly projections and rankings, not just in the odd October rainstorm like the one the 49ers and Redskins played in in Week 7. Even in the first week of the new month, the Texans-Jaguars, Redskins-Bills, Vikings-Chiefs, Colts-Steelers, and Patriots-Ravens games have forecasted temperatures in the 40s or lower. The Texans-Jaguars, Redskins-Bills, and Vikings-Chiefs games have forecasted wind speeds between 10 and 20 mph. And the Texans-Jaguars game -- showing off those beautiful London autumns -- has a chance of rain. Cold, wind, and rain hurt pass efficiencies and shift teams' play-calling toward the run. Of course, the two most prominent quarterback fallers in Week 9 have defenses to blame for their 10-spot drops in my weekly rankings.
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.
The Seahawks handled the Falcons a bit too easily last week, which led Russell Wilson to a disappointing 182 passing yards along with his expected two touchdowns. I expect a rebound as Wilson returns to Seattle to face another NFC South team in the Buccaneers. The Buccaneers are much stronger against the run (No. 1 DVOA) than the pass (No. 26). Because of that, they increase their opponents' pass plays by 17%, and so Wilson should throw the ball more than the 20 times he managed last week. Meanwhile, the Bucs also increase passing touchdowns per attempt by 36%, third most in football. Add that with his tendency to score 2.5 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road, and Wilson vaults to No. 1 in my quarterback rankings this week.
I'm a bit nervous to recommend Philip Rivers as a top-five passer the way the contextual factors of his game suggest I should. Without even a bye week to prepare, the Chargers fired their offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt this week. That pushed former quarterbacks coach Shane Steichen into a new role as a playcaller, something he has never done in his career. But if that transition goes smoothly, Rivers should do well. He should enjoy good weather in Los Angeles, and the No. 8 DVOA pass defense Packers aren't the same bad matchup in fantasy as they are in reality, increasing passing touchdowns by 3% per attempt.
Matthew Stafford has a more obvious plus passing matchup. He faces the Raiders defense that allowed six total touchdowns to Aaron Rodgers two weeks ago and three to Deshaun Watson last week. Overall, they increase passing touchdowns by 54%, the most in football. And across the field, Derek Carr may match Stafford touchdown for touchdown. The Lions have the No. 22 DVOA pass defense and increase pass plays by 13%.
Like Rivers, Josh Allen has some forces fighting him this week. Despite being a bottom-10 DVOA pass defense and bottom-half DVOA run defense, the Redskins are neutral for pass plays, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. Allen also will have to deal with cold and moderate winds at home in Buffalo. But Allen has tended to perform better at home than on the road in his career, in large part because he has run in seven of his 11 career touchdowns at home. I read that as more a game script split, and so I like Allen's odds to score with his legs this week against a lesser Redskins team.
Lamar Jackson's legs make him one of the least matchup-dependent quarterbacks in football. But that theory will be put to a major test this week as the Ravens welcome the Patriots to Baltimore. The Patriots have the No. 2 DVOA pass defense in football, and they and the 49ers are well ahead of the rest of the field. Quarterbacks have averaged just 163 passing yards, 0.3 passing touchdowns, and 2.3 interceptions per game against them this season.
Jackson is a better player than most of the Patriots opponents this season, but a defense that decreases passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 28% and 75% and increases interceptions by 130% would sabotage anyone's fantasy potential. He falls from third in my true talent rankings to 13th at the position for me this week.
Kyler Murray has a similarly stiff challenge facing the 49ers tonight. They decease passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 24% and 54%, increase passing interceptions by 47%. And unlike the Patriots, they also decrease pass plays by 23%, the most in football. Andy Dalton provided an outlier performance that the Patriots have not allowed this season, but quarterbacks are still averaging anemic totals of 156 passing yards, 0.7 touchdowns, and 1.4 interceptions against the 49ers this year.
Murray falls from 12th to 23rd for me this week. Meanwhile, he is stuck facing the 49ers again in two weeks just before his bye. This might be a good time to trade him if you can find an owner who is less concerned with playing the matchups.
Baker Mayfield has faced both the Patriots and 49ers this season. The Broncos aren't that extreme of an opponent, but they do have the No. 5 DVOA pass defense and decrease pass plays by 9%, yards per attempt by 15%, and touchdowns per attempt by 53%. They snapped out of their early-season sack funk with 12 total sacks the last three weeks and will likely disrupt Mayfield behind a patchwork Browns offensive line.
Case Keenum doesn't have rushing touchdowns to balance his home/road splits, and that could make this a nightmare week in the wind in Buffalo and facing a Bills team that is No. 6 in DVOA pass defense, decreases passing yards by 9% per attempt, and decreases passing touchdowns by 54% per attempt. He only beats Mayfield in my weekly rankings.
Deshaun Watson has a similarly difficult weekly test against a Jaguars defense that has rebounded all the way to seventh in DVOA pass defense since their Week 1 dismantling by the Chiefs. The Jaguars decrease passing touchdowns per attempt by 26%, and Watson may lose more if the London game produces the rain and wind it is forecasted to do. You'll be able to decide on Watson early since his game starts at 9:30 a.m. EST, but if the weather is bad, he becomes more of a back-end QB1 for me that you should avoid at $7,000 in DraftKings.
The 49ers beatdown of the Panthers in Week 8 may have pushed their No. 32 DVOA run defense a bit further down in those rankings than they should be. But even before they allowed four total touchdowns to Tevin Coleman last week, they allowed two rushing touchdowns to the normally pass-happy Buccaneers the week before. The Panthers increase rushing yards per attempt by 42% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 176%, the most in football. Derrick Henry may be due for one of his classic 30-touch, 150-yard, two-touchdown performances, even on the road.
Josh Jacobs does not have enough of a career sample to confirm the extreme home/road splits he has shown, but he has still yet to score a rushing touchdown in his four games on the road while he has four in three games at home. However true that trend is, Jacobs should benefit from a home game against the Lions this week. While weak against the pass, the Lions are also below-average (No. 19 DVOA) against the run. They also increase run plays by 12%.
The Packers are much stronger against the pass (No. 8 DVOA) than against the run (No. 22), and while that should also favor between-the-tackles runner Melvin Gordon, I think it helps Austin Ekeler more because Ekeler has become the better fantasy option in the Chargers' offense. Most of that is his pass-catching, but since Gordon's return, Ekeler has also continued to see work in the red zone, where the Packers' 24% boost to rushing touchdowns should help him.
With a counter trend from most backs with good matchups, Ezekiel Elliott faces a Giants team this week that is stronger against the run (No. 12 DVOA) than the pass (No. 28). But while Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will likely thrive on a per-touch basis, Elliott should still excel in fantasy because the Giants increase run plays and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 16%. And while the Vikings may struggle to match points with the Chiefs in Kansas City, they should still be able to maintain a heavy rushing workload. Despite their explosive offense, the Chiefs' defense increases rushing plays by 8%. And as the No. 30 DVOA run defense, they increase rushing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 14% and 33%. Cook may even improve on his 20-carry-per-game average if the wind blows.
I'm not sure Lamar Jackson can be effectively defensed, no matter how dominant the Patriots are. But I'm confident the Patriots defense can handle Mark Ingram and the traditional parts of the Ravens running game. In addition to their No. 2 DVOA pass defense, the Patriots have the No. 8 DVOA run defense. They decrease run plays by 22% and rushing touchdowns by 54% per attempt. The season is half-over, and they still haven't allowed a rushing touchdown to a running back.
Leonard Fournette sees too big of a workload to drop out of the RB1 range with a bad matchup. That said, he has a bad matchup against the Texans in London. Even before they lost J.J. Watt, the Texans were much stronger against the run (No. 5 DVOA) than the pass (No. 23). They decrease run plays by 16%, rushing yards per attempt by 16%, and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 62%. Bad weather may dictate a more run-focused approach for the Jaguars, but I'm not sure that plan will be effective. I'm not sure it will across the field for Carlos Hyde, either. The Jaguars defense decreases run plays by 7% and rushing touchdowns by 6% per attempt.
With David Johnson and Chase Edmonds expected to miss tonight's game against the 49ers, new trade addition Kenyan Drake may see all of the Cardinals' work out of the backfield. That keeps him in my top 20 at the position, but the 49ers defense decreases run plays by 7% and rushing touchdowns by 60%. He is no guarantee to have a decent fantasy day even if Murray and the Cardinals passing attack struggle.
You may not think of either the Steelers or Raiders as good run defenses, but they both cut rushing yards per attempt by at least 20% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by at least 15%. The former is bad news for Marlon Mack on the road, and the latter is bad news for Tra Carson. Carson has just one start to his name, but given his size of 5-foot-11 and 228 pounds, his relative receiving efficiency in college, and his 0-to-4 target disparity with teammate Ty Johnson last week, I expect Carson to operate as the Lions' power back. That will likely give him more extreme matchup splits than his rookie teammate and in my mind make him a poor start with the Lions on the road facing a Raiders defense than invites their opponents to pass.
The Buccaneers are a favorable matchup for their passing opponents, in general, but they are particularly good for teams' No. 1 and No. 2 outside receivers. They rank 24th and 29th in DVOA against them this season but are 10th against other wide receivers (subscription required). Those are bad strengths and weaknesses to have against a Seahawks team that does the bulk of their passing work with outside receivers Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. I have Lockett as my No. 1 fantasy receiver this week, and Metcalf just misses a WR1 ranking.
Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay should enjoy a similar defensive boost from a Raiders defense that is No. 29 against No. 1 and No. 26 against No. 2 receivers. The Raiders also generally boost passing touchdowns by 54%. Start both Jones and Golladay as WR2s this week, but maybe avoid slot receiver Danny Amendola. Like the Bucs, the Raiders are a top-10 DVOA defense against other wide receivers.
Tyrell Williams' standing as a WR1 this week may swing on the health of Lions' cornerback Darius Slay. Slay wasn't traded this week -- not that he minds, he's a millionaire, dude -- but he was still limited in practice on Wednesday because of a hamstring injury that held him out last week. But even if Slay plays, the Lions increase pass plays by 13% and are at their best (No. 4 DVOA) defending other wide receivers, so Williams will likely see a lot of volume.
Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry have more role diversity than the top two Seahawks and Lions receivers, but I still don't expect either to excel against the Broncos in Denver on Sunday. The Broncos are No. 13 against No. 1 receivers and No. 3 against other receivers this season, and they cut pass plays by 9%, passing yards per attempt by 15%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 53%. And if Kyler Murray, like so many other passers facing the 49ers, can't reach 200 passing yards, both Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald will suffer.
The Bills pass defense isn't nearly as dominant as the 49ers', but it decreases passing touchdowns by 54% per attempt. Meanwhile, it is also well-equipped to stymie its opponents' No. 1 receiver. For the Redskins, that is rookie Terry McLaurin. He will likely see cornerback Tre'Davious White in shadow coverage, and White has a 63% coverage success rate this season that is seventh of 59 qualified cornerbacks. He is allowing just 1.6 yards after the catch (subscription required).
With their ridiculous target shares this season, Darren Waller and Hunter Henry didn't need positive matchups to reach the top two spots in my weekly tight end rankings, but they don't hurt. Waller draws his in a Lions team that is bottom-10 in DVOA against tight ends. Henry draws a Packers defense that, while neutral in DVOA against tight ends, favors them by allowing 56 yards per game.
A bit more questionable as starters in typical formats, T.J. Hockenson and Jacob Hollister face worse defenses in defending tight ends than either Waller or Henry. The Raiders are No. 29 in DVOA against the position and the Buccaneers are No. 27. The Bucs also allow 93 yards per game to tight ends, which is the most in football. Hockenson moves to 15th at the position for me this week, but Hollister advances to just 31st. While he has seen eight targets the last two games since Will Dissly's injury, his snap splits suggest he is in more of a shared role with tight end Luke Willson.
George Kittle is another tight end who doesn't need matchup help, but he draws what is likely the best matchup for a tight end in the Cardinals. They are No. 32 in DVOA against the position and allow 90 yards per game. I think the only risk for Kittle is that the 49ers can simply run too effectively to need to throw him the ball in the air. But I'm still more than happy to pay his full $7,000 price tag in DraftKings.
The Patriots defense doesn't have any obvious weaknesses, and that includes their defense against tight ends. They are No. 3 in DVOA against the position and allow just 31 yards per game. Mark Andrews may be fractionally safer than either Mark Ingram or Marquise Brown, but he's just seventh at the position in my rankings this week. The Cardinals' Charles Clay sees an even worse bump facing the 49ers that are No. 1 in DVOA against the position and allowing just 23 yards per game.
I expect Redskins tight end Jeremy Sprinkle to earn another start in Week 9. Vernon Davis remains limited with a concussion. Sprinkle should generally be a decent emergency TE2 for as long as Davis is out, but I think he's more of a TE3 this week facing a Bills defense that allows just 38 yards per game to the position. O.J. Howard may miss another week with his hamstring injury as well. Cameron Brate is a better plug-and-play option that Sprinkle is, but he also gets a matchups downgrade in Seattle. Brate has scored five of his eight touchdowns the last two years at home in Tampa Bay.
You may be tempted to start the Texans' Darren Fells after his two-touchdown performance a week ago. But remember that came in a plus matchup against a Raiders defense that is bottom-five DVOA against tight ends. The Jaguars are not the same pushovers, allowing just 47 yards per game to the position.