Last season, I wrote a piece entitled, "Know
Thy Opponent". The main point of the story certainly was
to give DFS players another valuable tool in their weekly preparation,
but also provide the redraft owner with a handy instrument with
which to make better lineup decisions.
A few weeks after doing the aforementioned story - along with
its companion piece, "Just
Gravy" - I finished first among 7,000-plus entries in
a DraftKings contest, suggesting I may have been on to something.
With that in mind, I figured it would be smart to create similar
pieces this year and do them around the midpoint of the season.
Like last year, I have made a chart for each of the four primary
fantasy positions. (The bolded numbers at the top obviously reflect
the week.) Of the utmost importance are the numbers directly to
the right of each team, which signify that defense’s rank
against that position in that particular week. As an added bonus,
I felt it was pertinent to highlight which of those performances
came against high-caliber competition. Thus, the ranks that you
see in red print reflect those performances that came against
one of the top 10 players at that position (eight for tight ends).
I felt that by attacking this story from that angle, I would not
only help those owners hoping to get an edge in their DFS contests,
but also provide some context in regards to how (and against whom)
those ranks were achieved. Obviously, the ranks achieved in certain
weeks didn’t come as a result of only the primary players
at a position, but I think this kind of study is very helpful
To help you understand this better, let me provide a couple of
examples: Cam Newton squares off against Arizona this week. The
Cardinals have yet to face a top-10 quarterback and allowed their
only top-10 fantasy performance to a quarterback (Blaine Gabbert)
in Week 5. Atlanta has opposed top-10 quarterbacks three times,
yet allowed the most fantasy points to the position four times
As is usually the case, I’m not going to attempt to rationalize
or explain how every rank was achieved, but rather pick and choose
some teams or trends that catch my eye. While I will be approaching
this article from a DFS perspective this week, I think there are
obvious benefits to “regular” owners as well.
- Need a QB1? Look no further than the Lions' next opponent.
Elite quarterbacks such as Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers each
threw for four touchdowns against them, while every starting quarterback
has managed to score at least 20 fantasy points versus Detroit.
This is good news for Brock Osweiler this week and Sam Bradford
in Week 9.
- Ditto for the Browns. The Browns famously gave up 406 yards
and three touchdowns to Tom Brady in his season debut, but he's
really the only surefire every-week fantasy starter they have
faced so far. Cleveland has surrendered at least two passing scores
to every starting quarterback and three TDs to four of the last
five. That means quarterback streamers should feel pretty good
about rolling with Ryan Fitzpatrick (gasp) this week, Dak Prescott
in Week 9 and Joe Flacco in Week 10.
- The Saints have allowed at least 20 fantasy points and a QB1
finish to all but one quarterback as well, although they deserve
a bit of a pass considering three of those five instances came
against top-10 quarterbacks. The true barometer for this defense
should come in the next two weeks, as they face a less-than-100-percent
Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.
- Oakland has run extremely hot-and-cold thus far, giving up
QB7 finishes or better to four quarterbacks and QB20 finishes
or worse to three other signal-callers. The one commonality I
can detect: Excluding Joe Flacco's volume-assisted QB7 finish
in Week 4, the Raiders have yielded at least 30 fantasy points
to top-10 quarterbacks (Brees, Ryan and Rivers) and 15.1 points
or fewer to the average options (Marcus Mariota, Alex Smith and
- Although there is more to it than rookie S Keanu Neal's debut
in Week 3, it is notable the Falcons' pass defense has obviously
benefited from his presence. After surrendering at least 30 fantasy
points in each of the first four weeks (James Winston, Derek Carr,
Drew Brees and Cam Newton/Derek Anderson), Atlanta has yielded
no more than 16.6 to any of the next three signal-callers. Perhaps
Vic Beasley's 5.5 sacks over that same stretch has contributed
to quarterbacks feeling less comfortable in the pocket?
- You'd be hard-pressed to find a unit more up-and-down than
the Dolphins, who have allowed three top-three finishes and three
in which an owner would have been disappointed playing a quarterback
going against them in two-QB leagues. They were carved up by Jimmy
Garoppolo and Mariota, yet held Roethlisberger in check.
- After holding each of the five signal-callers they faced under
20 fantasy points, the Titans have yielded QB10 and QB1 finishes
Kessler and Andrew
Luck, respectively. Week 8 figures to be a great test to see
if this is a trend or anomaly, as the disappointing Bortles will
take his shot at turning his season around against this defense
on a short week.
- The FF
Points allowed page suggests the six defenses owners should
avoid most are (in order): the Eagles, Broncos, Bills, Vikings,
Cardinals and Seahawks. My analysis confirms that as well. While
each unit has permitted at least one top-12 finish, consistent
success against those units has been elusive. Of the bunch, only
Houston (5:3) and Philadelphia (6:5) have allowed more passing
touchdowns than interceptions out of that group. Obviously, neither
mark is all that appealing for quarterback streamers.
- Perhaps the biggest surprise of this group (at least based
on preseason expectations) would be the Cowboys, although not
all the credit can go to DC Rod Marinelli. Dallas has only seen
the running back carry the ball against its defense 99 times through
six games - an average of 16.5 times per contest. The 'Boys have
yielded 4.6 YPC on those 99 carries, which means they are doing
a fine job of shortening the games to reduce play volume on both
sides (which was expected) and getting out to early leads (not
as expected) in order to make opponents more one-dimensional.
The high YPC suggests Dallas could actually be a positive matchup
for running backs if opponents could flip the script, although
I wouldn't expect that to happen in either of the next two weeks
against Philadelphia or Cleveland - two of the slower-paced teams
in the NFL per Football Outsiders.
A ton of credit also needs to be thrown in the direction of Bears
DC Vic Fangio, whose run defense is actually right on par with
the Cowboys' in terms of fantasy points allowed despite a ton
of personnel losses and being in much less favorable situations.
Unlike Dallas' game-script dependent defense, Chicago is giving
up only 3.8 YPC and 80 yards rushing per game to opposing running
backs. Not surprisingly, the best effort turned in by an opposing
running back against Bears' defense thus far in PPR scoring was
by Ezekiel Elliott (18.0) in Week 3.
- The Lions appear to have a strong defense against running backs,
but a closer look reveals that is not the case. In what has to
be considered a bit of a fluke, four running backs have topped
100 total yards (two of which rushed for over 100) against Detroit,
but no back has scored a rushing touchdown (two have scored receiving).
The Lions are allowing 4.9 YPC to running backs and have yielded
44 receptions to the position (fourth-most in the league) to further
support the likelihood the dam is about to break.
- San Francisco's inability to stop the run has been well-documented,
but Tampa Bay surprisingly hasn't been much better. C.J. Anderson's
12.2-point effort in Week 4 is the lowest by a lead rusher versus
the Bucs, and Atlanta (???) in Week 1 is the only opponent thus
far not to have one of its backs visit the end zone against the
Bucs. The return of DT Gerald McCoy should help scale Tampa Bay's
woes in this area back a little when he is fully healthy, but
owners of Latavius Murray this week and Devonta Freeman (with
Tevin Coleman expected to be out a bit with a hamstring injury)
next week should be optimistic.
- For all the criticism the Dolphins faced in the weeks prior
Ajayi's awakening, they have been better than expected defending
running backs. Miami has surrendered only two total touchdowns
to the position despite facing an average of 25.7 rushing attempts
(and 30 touches) on a weekly basis. Only four backs have even
reached double figures in fantasy points against them in PPR scoring,
and two of them (Le'Veon
Bell and Duke
Johnson) needed at least five catches to help them get there.
- Remember all the years where it wasn’t a good thing to see
the Steelers on the schedule? Well, times-are-a-changin'. Pittsburgh
is getting eviscerated by running backs in the passing game (40
catches for 425 yards and three TDs) as well as on the ground
(at least two rushing scores to the position in three of its last
four contests). It's possible the Steelers' Week 8 bye will help
them get some healthy bodies back, but owners of Terrance
West (and possibly Kenneth
Dixon) in Week 9 as well as Ezekiel Elliott in Week 10 have
to be thrilled about what their backs might be able to do to Pittsburgh
in its current state.
- So, it turns out Dallas' running game and vaunted offensive
line is just that good. The Packers' only blemish against running
backs this season came against Elliott & Co. T.J. Yeldon is
the only back to score against Green Bay, which is holding runners
to 3.2 YPC and has given up 48.6 percent of its PPR fantasy points
to the position through the air. That means owners of Devonta Freeman this week, Frank Gore next week and DeMarco Murray in
Week 10 could come away a bit disappointed.
- Despite their showings in primetime spots (C.J.
Anderson in Week 1 and Jacquizz
Rodgers in Week 5), the Panthers have otherwise been a fairly
difficult matchup for running backs (3.4 YPC allowed to the position
through six games). It makes sense given the quality of their
front seven, but one would think DC Sean McDermott may begin to
move his linebackers back a bit going forward in order to give
some more help to his young secondary. It may not happen anytime
soon, however, as the passing games of the Cardinals (Week 8),
Rams (Week 9) and Chiefs (Week 10) may not strike a ton of fear
- It's easy to take a look at Tampa Bay over its last two contests
and say DC Mike Smith is starting to get some solid production
from his secondary, but it is notable the Bucs have faced Derek
Anderson and Colin
Kaepernick in those games. Prior to those outings, Tampa Bay
had allowed double-figure fantasy-point totals to exactly two
receivers in each of its first four games. As such, owners of
Crabtree (this week) and Julio
Jones (next week) have relatively little to worry about.
- The Bills appear to be a difficult matchup for receivers in
large part because they have been stingy in terms of giving up
touchdowns to the position (four). In reality, only a Jacoby Brissett-led
passing attack has really faltered against the Buffalo secondary.
The Bills were shredded by the Jets in Week 2 and it could be
argued Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker were the best receivers
they have faced up to this point. Deep threats Torrey Smith and
Kenny Stills each enjoyed their finest performance of the year
against this defense over the last two weeks, so it wouldn't be
a surprise if Chris Hogan (this week) or Jermaine Kearse/Tyler Lockett (next week) found similar success.
- While Miami may be sporting a better run defense than most
might anticipate, the secondary is going to remain a work in progress.
The Dolphins have ranked in the top half of most fantasy points
allowed to receivers in six of seven weeks and don't have much
in the way of talent on the back end of their defense to expect
a drastic improvement. That's great news for Brandon Marshall
next week (and again in Week 15), Tyrell Williams in Week 10 and
Kenny Britt in Week 11.
- Are there cracks in the Seattle armor? That's a bit of a tough
call to make at the moment, although there is reason to believe
the Seahawks are vulnerable through the air. Each of their last
three opponents have had two receivers score at least 10 points
against them. While that is not an uncommon occurrence for defenses
around the league, the volume of PPR fantasy points Seattle has
surrendered over that time is rare, especially for "The Legion
of Boom" (at least 39 to the Jets, Falcons and Cardinals).
- The Redskins have certainly improved over last season in terms
of defending receivers, but the combination of Josh Norman and
Bashaud Breeland has still been extremely hit-or-miss this season.
Giving up big games to Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. is
no crime, but three teams have accumulated more than 40 PPR fantasy
points against the Washington secondary. In their other four games,
the Redskins have given up an average of 24.7.
- Remember how the Chargers' secondary was supposed to fall apart
after the loss of stud CB Jason Verrett? It hasn't happened …
yet. Sure, Amari Cooper (25.8 PPR fantasy points) and Julio Jones
(26.4) each went to town against San Diego, but those instances
are forgivable. T.Y. Hilton, who actually got a huge chunk of
his 31.4 points on a late 63-yard TD grab against the Bolts in
Week 3, is the only other receiver to top 17.2 fantasy points.
- If Denver (in Week 5) was interested in throwing to its tight
end, the Falcons and Lions would have completed a dubious clean
sweep. With the exception of the Broncos a couple of weeks ago,
every tight end group that has faced either Atlanta or Detroit
has finished in the top 11 that week. The fact Cleveland and Carolina
have somehow been worse at defending the position is almost mindboggling.
It should go without saying if you want to load up at other positions
and save at tight end, those are the four opponents you want to
- Every year, there seems to be a team or two that seems to avoid
a stud at a certain position (it happens more at tight end than
any other position due to the obvious lack of elite options at
the position). The Redskins are one of those teams and it is reflected
in their 20th-place ranking on the FF Today points allowed page
(PPR scoring). A closer look reveals that ranking may not be reflective
of how good they really are against tight ends, however. Gary Barnidge, Dennis Pitta and Jason Witten are the most notable players
(sorry Zach Ertz) to face Washington and two of the three have
topped 12 points. While all three are name-brand tight ends, none
of them are anything more than low-end TE1s at the moment. That's
kind of a big deal in the coming weeks as they face Tyler Eifert
in London this week and return from a bye to square off against
Kyle Rudolph in Week 10.
- Dallas' inability to shut down tight ends this season is baffling,
especially when one considers S Byron Jones had a big hand in
shutting the position down as a rookie. Zach Miller (27.8 PPR
fantasy points in Week 3) is responsible for over a quarter of
the production the Cowboys have allowed to tight ends, but Washington
(22.1) and Cincinnati (15.2) have also posted totals that would
have been unheard of last season.
- Once again, the Seahawks seem to be having issues - at least
recently - with their communication on the back end. Atlanta (19.5)
and Arizona (10.5) don't make it a habit to throw to their tight
ends very often, yet Seattle has yielded a top-10 finish to the
position in each of the last two weeks. When one considers the
Seahawks have faced the Dolphins, Rams, 49ers and Jets, there
may be reason to believe a tight end like Coby Fleener this week
could be a savvy DFS pick. In Week 10, perhaps Rob Gronkowski
and Martellus Bennett could have a field day.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.