Start and Sit: Wild Card Weekend

Derrick Henry
Derrick Henry
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

The playoffs provide far fewer opportunities to play the best matchups in your daily lineups, but that doesn't lessen the importance of contextual factors. In fact, context may be more important this weekend than it has been all season, with the bulk of the wild-card weekend starting quarterbacks showing marked career home/road splits, and with a potential for bad weather in both Philadelphia and Boston.

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.


Best Week 18 Matchups - Quarterbacks

Drew Brees has made my extreme matchup consideration with him look silly the last two weeks with three-touchdown performances on the road in Tennessee and Carolina, but touchdowns are often subject to small-sample oddities. Brees failed to throw for 280 yards in either of those games, something he has accomplished in all six of his home starts this season. Overall, Brees has thrown for 137 more yards, 0.8 more touchdowns, and 9.3 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road this season, and that doesn't dramatically outpace his broader trends. He has scored 5.2 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since 2016. But the reason Brees landed as my No. 1 quarterback this week over Deshaun Watson -- the reverse of how DraftKings priced them -- is a more favorable defensive opponent. Or really, less unfavorable. The Vikings' No. 7 DVOA pass defense cuts passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 7% and 21%, similarly bad rates to Watson's opponent in the Bills. But the Vikings also increase pass plays by 7%, counterbalancing some of the hit to quarterback passing efficiency. Brees isn't my favorite DraftKings value at $6,600, but I'd happily include him in some daily lineups.

My favorite value is none other than the suddenly-too-old Tom Brady. Brady underwhelmed as the No. 23 fantasy quarterback in the second half of the season, but the bulk of his poor fantasy performances came against unfavorable defensive matchups -- like against the Ravens (No. 4 DVOA pass defense), Chiefs (No. 6), and Bills (No. 5) or in unfavorable game scripts for fantasy scoring -- like against the Bengals. I don't think either is a major concern at home against the Titans. The Titans encourage their opponents to pass with the No. 21 DVOA pass defense and No. 10 DVOA run defense, increasing pass plays by 6%. Unless Boston's 74% chance of rain turns into heavy rain that dramatically discourages passing, Brady is underpriced at $5,800 as the No. 8 quarterback. I ranked him third.

As the position's most prolific rushing scorer, Josh Allen may not be quite as susceptible to his opponents' pass defenses as pocket passers like Brady. But Allen has shown dramatic passing splits based on opposing DVOA pass defense this season, and he fortunately draws a favorable one in the Texans this week. The Texans increase pass plays by 6%, passing yards per attempt by 5%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 30%. Allen won't have any weather concerns in the retractable dome in Houston, and he may not have any concerns for playing on the road. After showing an extremely positive home/road split in his rookie season, Allen has scored 8.8 more fantasy points per game on the road than at home this season, the biggest reverse split among regular starters. The two years add up to close to a neutral venue adjustment, and with the plus defensive opponent, Allen lands at No. 3 -- tied with Brady -- in my quarterback rankings this week. That's the same as his ranking by his $6,500 DraftKings salary.

The final quarterback with a plus matchup this week is Carson Wentz, but he still has several causes for concern. The most obvious is an extreme lack of skill-player talent with all of the Eagles' injuries. But the two others I'm worried about are extreme weather and a defensive opponent who is less friendly in fantasy than in reality. To the former point, the forecast in Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon calls for 43-degree temperatures and high winds of 15 mph and gusts into the 20s. Extreme winds not only cut completion percentages, they can dramatically shift team workloads from passes to runs. To the latter point, the Seahawks are neutral with the No. 15 DVOA pass defense, but they cut passing touchdowns per attempt by 33%. DraftKings shares my pessimism with a $6,200 salary that is sixth-highest at the position this week -- I ranked him sixth, as well -- but I would only use him if the forecast turned more favorable over the next few days.

Worst Week 18 Matchups - Quarterbacks

During Brady's terrible second-half stretch, Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill finished fifth in fantasy scoring and second in fantasy scoring per game at the position. That's enough of a sample to encourage the trust that likely informs DraftKings' $6,300 salary, fifth-highest at the position. But for all of the true-talent positives, I think matchup considerations make Tannehill a clear player to avoid this week. He has averaged 5.4 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road this season, and must contend with a 74% chance of rain in Boston as well as the Patriots' No. 1 DVOA pass defense. That defense cuts pass plays by 5%, passing yards per attempt by 15%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 31%. His 2.5-point matchup loss is triple the other bad quarterback matchups and lands him in eighth place in my quarterback rankings this week.

Russell Wilson is the source of the biggest negative discrepancy between DraftKings and my quarterback rankings this week, and I understand why. Wilson scored more total fantasy points this season than any other quarterback playing this week. But despite the Seahawks' unusual relative team success on the road versus at home this season, Wilson tends to have pretty dramatic home/road splits, especially for a quarterback who plays outdoors. He threw for 0.9 more touchdowns and scored 5.9 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road this season, and he has generally scored 3.1 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since 2016. The Eagles encourage their opponents to throw the ball with the No. 16 DVOA pass defense and No. 4 DVOA run defense, but that could be difficult in Philadelphia with high winds. Forecast-depending, I wouldn't argue if you preferred him over Allen or Brady this week -- their projected differences amount to less than half a fantasy point. But I just can't justify Wilson's No. 1 ranked $6,800 DraftKings price ahead of both Brees and Deshaun Watson.

Watson hardly draws a picnic defensive matchup against a Bills team that is No. 5 in DVOA pass defense and cuts passing yards and touchdowns per attempt by 11% and 34%. But for me, those defensive concerns are counterbalanced by the home start in a retractable dome. Watson has averaged 4.1 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road this season and 2.2 more fantasy points per game at home than on the road since 2017. Watson also averaged more fantasy points per game than Wilson in general. He's the better DraftKings value at $6,400.

The Saints defense may not be the Patriots defense, but they are still a bad matchup for Kirk Cousins. They cut pass plays by 8%, passing yards per attempt by 6%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 13%. Cousins draws a bit of a reprieve by playing in a dome, but it's still on the road. And late-season injuries to his top skill talent in Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen have led to the same passing cocooning that the Vikings showed in the early season against inferior opponents. Cousins is ranked just seventh with a $6,100 DraftKings salary, an appropriate figure by my weekly ranking of him.

Running Backs

Best Week 18 Matchups - Running Backs

With Jordan Howard out all of December, rookie Miles Sanders finished as the No. 6 back in PPR formats, seeing five or more targets in all five of his games and scoring four total touchdowns. There's no doubt he would be a DFS building block against a Seahawks defense that is No. 26 in DVOA run defense and that increases rushing yards per attempt by 12% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 77%, by far the most among the eight teams playing this weekend. But Sanders' value is in serious flux thanks to a low-ankle sprain. You'll probably have to wait until Saturday to find out if Sanders can go -- although the Eagles' signing of Elijah Holyfield doesn't bode well -- and he may cede some snaps to a finally healthy Jordan Howard in any case. With better fortune, Sanders would be a steal at just $6,200 on DraftKings, fourth-highest at the position. But as things stand, I'd likely only use him in a tournament setting, and only after confirming he will play.

Alvin Kamara has had his own ankle concerns that likely contributed to a down year by his own lofty standards. Well, a matchup against the Panthers and their No. 32 DVOA run defense is the perfect panacea. Two touchdowns later, Kamara is my No. 1 running back this week against the Vikings despite their No. 9 DVOA run defense and tendency to cut rushing touchdowns per attempt by 49%. That's the power of the Drew Brees home game for a back who enjoys the bulk of his success as a receiver, in any case. I would happily pay Kamara's $7,400 price tag on DraftKings. I love his value compared to Derrick Henry this week.

Speaking of receiving backs, James White draws an excellent matchup this week against a Titans defense that is No. 10 in DVOA run defense and that allows 49 receiving yards per game to running backs, eighth-most in football (subscription required). White could be a real focal point of the Patriots' passing attack, especially if Boston sees some bad weather. He isn't underpriced at $5,700 in DraftKings, but he could be a tournament-winning selection given the boom-or-bust nature of his receiving workload.

If you want a safer option in a similar price range, take a look at Bills rookie Devin Singletary. After finally getting healthy in the second half of the season, Singletary has taken 16 or more touches in six straight games. And while the Texans are less friendly for running backs in fantasy (cutting run plays by 6% and rushing touchdowns per attempt by 27%) than reality (they have the No. 22 DVOA run defense), Singletary should be less susceptible to defensive matchups thanks to his receiving talent. Meanwhile, the Texans allow 56 receiving yards per game to running backs, second-most in football. Singletary's $6,000 DraftKings salary is fifth-highest at the position, a match for my weekly ranking for him.

Worst Week 18 Matchups - Running Backs

Derrick Henry is the running back you're going to want to build around this week. His 26.0 PPR points per game over the second half were second-most in football behind Christian McCaffrey, and the Patriots have lost three of their last five games and are more susceptible to the run (No. 6 DVOA) than the pass (No. 1). But a major side effect of an exceptional passing defense is a decrease in the number of scoring opportunities across the board. The Patriots in fact cut rushing touchdowns per attempt by 48%. And while Henry has been known to score from all over the field, if tendencies hold, he'll have 10% fewer carries to try that than usual. I wouldn't tell you to avoid Henry in DFS this week, but I will tell you he is a bad value at $8,200 in DraftKings. I've tentatively ranked him third, pending updates on Sanders' health. At the very least, I'd lean more on Kamara in my DFS lineups.

Marshawn Lynch is an easier back to talk you out of playing. He stuck to an early-down role in his first game back in Week 17 with rookie Travis Homer seeing all of the Seahawks' running back targets and outscoring Lynch because of it. That specific workload will likely make things difficult on Lynch this weekend. The Eagles, the No. 4 DVOA run defense, cut run plays by 13%, and rushing yards per attempt by 6%. The Eagles do increase rushing touchdowns per attempt by 14%, and a score would likely salvage Lynch's fantasy day. I just wouldn't count on it, even in heavy winds in Philadelphia. His $5,200 salary puts him ninth at the position, three spots ahead of my ranking of him this week.

Wide Receivers

Best Week 18 Matchups - Wide Receivers

Michael Thomas is easily my No. 1 wide receiver this week in true talent, so he didn't need a plus matchup to justify his exorbitant $9,300 DraftKings salary. But it's nice that he has it. The Vikings' No. 7 DVOA pass defense is weakest (No. 21 DVOA) against No. 1 receivers. And regardless of defense, Thomas should enjoy a big boost playing at home in the dome, where Brees tends to pass more and with greater success than he does on the road. I'd rather build lineups around Thomas than Derrick Henry this week.

If you need to save some money at receiver, take a look at the primary Bills receivers, John Brown and Cole Beasley. They draw a Texans defense that is No. 26 against the pass, increases passing yards per attempt by 5%, and increases passing touchdowns per attempt by 30%. The Texans are No. 14 in DVOA against both No. 1 and against "other" wide receivers, including slot receivers like Beasley. With Allen's 2019 success on the road, I think both are excellent choices this week. But while Brown is more expensive at $6,000 compared to $5,600 for Beasley, I have Beasley ranked four spots higher at the position. He has seen at least six targets in five straight games and has three 75-plus yard games and three total touchdowns in that time.

It seems unlikely that Nelson Agholor would return this weekend from his four-week absence given that he missed practice on Wednesday yet again. But Greg Ward has enjoyed modest success in the role of de facto No. 1 wide receiver over the last three weeks considering that he was on the team's practice squad less than two months ago. Ward should benefit from the home start, and the Seahawks are a neutral pass defense in general (No. 15 DVOA) and against No. 1 receivers (No. 12 DVOA). The current forecasts for heavy winds knock Ward down into a below-average matchup rating, but that could improve if the weather does. And even if it doesn't, Ward's $5,200 DraftKings price is too low at just the 11th-highest among receivers.

Worst Week 18 Matchups - Wide Receivers

Even as a rookie, A.J. Brown is a far more trustworthy option at receiver than Ward is. But one good DeVante Parker performance doesn't erase the broader trends of the Patriots defense that Brown will have to face this weekend. The Patriots are the No. 1 DVOA pass defense in general and are also No. 1 against No. 1 receivers. They cut pass plays by 5%, passing yards per attempt by 15%, and passing touchdowns per attempt by 31%. Defensive player of the year favorite Stephon Gilmore will likely shadow Brown, and even after his poor performance last week, Gilmore is top 20 among qualified cornerbacks allowing just 6.5 yards per target (subscription required). He's fifth-best among cornerbacks with at least 60 targets, behind just Tre'Davious White, Marlon Humphrey, Joe Haden, and Carlton Davis. And Brown will likely also have to contend with rain and with a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill who averaged 5.4 fewer fantasy points per game on the road than at home. With virtually every possible circumstance weighted against him, Brown doesn't justify his $7,400 price tag on DraftKings. I ranked him just ninth at the position this week.

Brown at least can boast a consistent workload of late. That's the reason I don't have tremendous confidence in my rankings of Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf at fourth and 11th among receivers this week. Metcalf had just 24 targets in his previous five games before victimizing backup cornerback Emmanuel Moseley on Sunday night. The Eagles aren't a difficult passing matchup, but even neutral with the No. 16 DVOA pass defense, they may limit Metcalf's target share. Meanwhile, Wilson has thrown nearly a touchdown more per game at home than on the road this season. Both Lockett and Metcalf could struggle to find the end zone this week in heavy winds in Philadelphia. I rank Lockett closer to his DraftKings price of $7,200 than I do Metcalf at $6,100, but neither are top choices for my daily lineups this week.

Tight Ends

Best Week 18 Matchups - Tight Ends

I have mixed feelings about giving Jared Cook the biggest matchup boost among tight ends this week. Of course, he should enjoy the same benefit of Drew Brees playing at home that Kamara and Thomas do, but the Vikings do have the No. 1 DVOA defense against tight ends. I take some solace in the fact that they allow 51 yards per game to the position, which is more in the middle of the pack. But I wouldn't go out of my way to throw Cook in your lineups given his $4,900 price tag.

For me, Dallas Goedert is the better choice among the expensive players at the position. Zach Ertz seems unlikely to play this weekend following a rib injury; he has yet to be cleared for contact even in practice. And Goedert has shown the ability to be a top fantasy tight end over the last two weeks, converting his substantial 22 targets into 156 yards and a touchdown. I expect that production to continue this week against a Seahawks defense that is No. 17 in DVOA against tight ends, allowing 68 yards per game to the position, third-most in football. Goedert is the most expensive DraftKings option at the position this week at $5,200, but I think that's justified.

Worst Week 18 Matchups - Tight Ends

Jonnu Smith is in that same Dallas Goedert camp of secondary tight ends whom I expect to have bright fantasy futures as No. 1 options. But even though Smith has that job today with Delanie Walker out of the season, I don't expect him to have the same short-term fantasy success as Goedert. The Patriots are not quite as stifling of tight ends as they are wide receivers, but they're still seventh by both DVOA and by yards allowed per game (45) to the position. That plus their general cutting of pass plays by 5% and passing touchdowns by 31% lower Smith a spot lower in my weekly rankings than his $3,800 DraftKings price would suggest for him.

After an initial outburst of three touchdowns in his first four games following Will Dissly's injury, Jacob Hollister has failed to score a touchdown in his last six games. He has also eclipsed 50 receiving yards just once in that span -- in Week 16 against a Cardinals defense that is 32nd in DVOA against the position. Things likely won't be easy for him this weekend against an Eagles defense that is 12th in DVOA against the position and that limits tight ends to 46 yards per game, eighth-fewest in football. A lack of elite options at the position lands Hollister the No. 3 spot in my rankings this week, a match for his $4,300 price tag on DraftKings. But cheaper options like Dawson Knox and Joshua Perkins are not far behind him.


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