As if injuries and bad luck have not made your fantasy season challenging
enough, the bye weeks are now upon us. While several NFL teams will
not get their week off until Weeks 13 and 14, the bulk of them will
take a break before Thanksgiving (Week 12). For the majority of
fantasy managers, the upcoming six weeks will determine the fate
of most of our teams. Being able to grind out wins and get starter-level
production from backups and waiver-wire additions is critical.
This week, I will devote my time to identifying the players that,
in theory, should help us navigate the choppy waters between now
and the end of Week 11. My primary focus is quality matchups.
To that end, I singled out the eight most forgiving defenses against
each of the fantasy positions and the players that stand to benefit
the most as a result of facing those defenses over the next 1
Below you will find a position-by-position breakdown of the players
with the best matchups over that stretch. Not only will I provide
the weeks they should deliver the goods for you, but I will also
separate them into groups telling you how often they have a strong
matchup. I will focus the majority of my analysis on the players
who should be available in most leagues and allow my readers to
make their own decisions on how much they want to upgrade the
established every-week starters.
For the sake of time and space, "X2" refers to a player
or group of players having two favorable matchups between now
and Week 11. "X3" means he has three and "X4"
means he has four.
While the Saints' upcoming schedule for quarterbacks was not
the inspiration for this column, this is the kind of information
I was hoping to uncover. The only caveat here is that Winston's
status (back, ankle) remains up in the air. As far as we know,
Winston will return to starting status once he is cleared medically.
The first bit of good news is that most fantasy managers will
not look at adding him until that happens. The second bit of good
news is that the Saints' Week 6 opponent (Cincinnati) has been
good enough against quarterbacks that Winston (or Dalton) should
remain safely on waivers until next week.
Assuming Winston is the starter moving forward, he will face
the Cardinals, Raiders, Ravens and Steelers from Weeks 7-10. While
Baltimore's inclusion on this list could be a product of being
ridiculously beat up in the secondary in Week 2 when it gave up
six touchdown passes to Tua Tagovailoa, the other three teams
do not figure to improve much over the course of the season.
One of the most pleasant surprises through five weeks is that
Smith has emerged as a quality starting option. Not only are the
Seahawks playing with more pace this season, but Seattle's defense
is also putting the offense in a position where it needs to enter
shootout mode. None of this should take away from the fact that
Smith is playing at a level we have not seen him reach since he
was a senior at West Virginia in 2012.
Smith is already close to a must-start for any manager who began
the year with the likes of Matthew Stafford, Trey Lance or Dak
Prescott as their starter. The reason he is on this list is that
he gets to face the Cardinals twice over the next four weeks.
Against the three competent quarterbacks it has opposed to this
point, Arizona has surrendered at least 261 total yards and two
touchdowns each time.
Week 5 was a reminder that we cannot quite trust Lawrence as
a weekly starter yet, although it should be noted that Houston
has been surprisingly stout against quarterbacks thus far. What
we do know is that 2021 was more about Urban Meyer's incompetence
and less about Lawrence's ability. We also know that the Jaguars
will throw the ball under HC Doug Pederson (at least 39 attempts
in three of Lawrence's four starts that were not affected by weather).
Lawrence is unlikely to be available in most competitive leagues
right now, although he could be hitting the wire in some after
coming up short against the Texans. The next three weeks are not
particularly favorable for the last year's No. 1 overall pick,
but there is shootout potential in Week 9 against the Raiders
and Week 10 versus the Chiefs.
Likely every-week starters with two highly favorable
matchups:Aaron Rodgers (Weeks 9 & 11), Tom Brady
(Weeks 6 & 8)
As you will discover throughout the rest of this article, the
NFC South is where it's at, y'all. Much like the Saints' quarterback
situation above, it is a bit of a tricky proposition to identify
which running back to target. (We will address Cordarrelle Patterson
in a bit because he will not be available until Week 9.) Allgeier
has performed well enough since Williams (rib) went on IR after
Week 1 to justify being the primary early-down option (he has
been targeted twice in four games and run a route on only 26 percent
of drop-backs). Considering Allgeier was drafted with an eye on
making him the primary early-down back, it would seem logical
to keep him there and allow him to grow in that role. Despite
all of the time he has missed in recent years, Williams has proven
to be a capable receiver out of the backfield, so it makes sense
that he operates as Allgeier's complement until Patterson returns.
If this is the way it plays out in Atlanta, advantage Allgeier
(at least until Patterson gets back). The Falcons have two matchups
against the Panthers (Weeks 8 & 10) and one each versus the
Chargers (Week 9) and Bears (Week 11). Carolina is surrendering
nearly five yards per carry to running backs, while Los Angeles
is giving up over six yards per carry. Over those four weeks,
only the Chargers figure to bring enough offensive firepower to
get Atlanta out of its comfort zone of running the ball.
Without question, Mostert is the man fantasy managers want from
this backfield right now. Given his injury history, however, the
odds are unfavorable that statement will be true by the time we
get to the end of this month. Despite his rise atop the depth
chart, Mostert is shockingly still the team's primary kick returner,
which only further increases the odds of him missing time. One
of the reasons why Edmonds was an attractive option in fantasy
drafts this summer was due to the Mostert's durability issues,
but he has seemingly fallen out of favor with new HC Mike McDaniel
and his staff very quickly. As a result, it seems like a worthy
investment to stash Gaskin at the very least, especially in light
of Mostert (knee) popping up on Wednesday's practice report. (We
will know within the next day or two if it is an issue or a convenient
excuse to give him a veteran's day off.)
Regarding the favorable upcoming matchups, either Mostert or
Gaskin (perhaps both?) are poised to make a push near the end
of this month. Beginning in Week 8, the Dolphins square off against
Detroit, Chicago and Cleveland, respectively. The Lions could
shoot out with Miami, while the other two are getting pounded
on the ground by running backs.
Since his teammates and Atlanta's favorable situation were discussed
above, consider this a recommendation to trade for Patterson and
stash him on your IR. What it will take to do so will vary from
league to league, but it seems unlikely many managers will turn
down a receiver or running back they can start during the bye-week
crunch for someone who they can't play for at least another three
weeks. During his three healthy games, Patterson was playing about
60 percent of the snaps and handling about half of the short down-and-distance
work. As noted above, Carolina (Week 10) is surrendering nearly
five yards per carry to running backs, while Los Angeles (Week
9) is giving up over six yards per carry. Patterson has already
set career highs twice this season in rushing yards behind the
Falcons' surprisingly strong run-blocking line, so we should expect
more of the same against the likes of the Chargers, Panthers and
Bears (Week 11).
Likely every-week starter with three highly favorable
Barkley (Weeks 8, 10, 11),
Cobb is going to be about the only player from this group that
is available in most leagues. Then again, let us see how quickly
that changes after Aaron Rodgers asked for his good buddy to get
more playing time and rewarded him with 13 targets in London.
Cobb was on the field for a season-high 70 percent of his team's
snaps in Week 5 - the first time he was over 51 percent since
the opener - yet he somehow leads Green Bay with 249 yards receiving.
The impending return of Sammy Watkins (hamstring) from IR figures
to make things a bit messy here, but does he deserve to play ahead
of Doubs? Does Aaron Rodgers have the same level of trust in him
that Cobb does? The answer to both questions is no.
Fantasy managers are probably already starting Lazard and Doubs
in most of their leagues. Nevertheless, both players should get
a bit of a bump for upcoming matchups against the Commanders,
Lions and Titans. Washington has faced only one passing attack
that could be deemed elite and surrendered 42.4 fantasy points
to A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Detroit has coughed up at least
15.8 fantasy points to one receiver in every game and nine double-digit
scoring efforts. Tennessee has been victimized by field-stretching
receivers such as Dyami Brown and Mack Hollins. The point here
is that Green Bay should be - at worst - the second-best offense
any of those teams have faced.
Fantasy managers are already starting Evans and Godwin, so let
this serve as a recommendation to trade for either one or both
(preferably Evans). Gage and Jones cannot seem to stay healthy,
and it is worth wondering if Gage (ankle) has a role on this offense
unless Evans or Godwin miss time. Jones (knee) is worth holding
if possible, although he has likely exhausted the patience of
the overwhelming majority of managers - especially those who cannot
stash him on IR. There is also no guarantee Tampa Bay will bring
him back anytime soon after GM Jason Licht and HC Todd Bowles
talked about "playing
the long game" with Jones early this week. IF he can
stay healthy (and that is a big if) upon his return, he still
possesses WR3 upside.
Life should be easy for Tom Brady & Co. over the next month,
as the Steelers, Ravens and Rams (fourth) await them in three
of the next four weeks.
There is a distinct possibility all three of these players are
available in your league. As much as we love the upside of Toney,
his injury luck is making it nearly impossible to keep him on
our rosters. Slayton reminded managers of his upside against the
Packers last weekend and may have done enough to carve out a spot
for himself in this offense - one he should have had from the
beginning with the relative lack of talent in the receiver room
in New York. However, the most interesting player (because Toney
cannot stay healthy, is in the doghouse or both) is Robinson.
Robinson has been a frequent subject of this column. The second-round
pick was "the
star" of the offense during training camp, according to NBC
Sports' Peter King. Sterling Shepard was the closest thing this
offense had to a consistent force before tearing his ACL in Week
3, attracting 10 targets in each of his last two games. The key
difference is what Robinson can do after the catch. Robinson carried
the ball 141 times in three college seasons and occasionally served
as Nebraska's primary rusher in his two seasons at the school.
He is tougher than his 185-pound would suggest.
The biggest mystery here is whether Robinson will live on the
perimeter - Richie James easily leads the team with 108 snaps
in the slot - or if he will take over for James inside. Much like
Randall Cobb albeit with a much higher upside, Robinson needs
to be owned in the majority of leagues before the majority of
Week 6 games kick off Sunday afternoon.
As mentioned earlier in regards to Baltimore's pass defense,
there is some question as to how great of a matchup the Ravens
are for quarterbacks and receivers, so fantasy managers should
not try to force Robinson or Slayton into their lineups in Week
6. We should have a much better idea by Week 11 against the Lions.
Then again, matchups may not matter all that much if Robinson
ends up being as dynamic as I believe he can be.
Tight end is once again a fantasy wasteland, outside of the privileged
few managers who invested heavily in Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews,
Tyler Higbee or Zach Ertz. A common refrain over the year is that
we need to hope for a touchdown for our tight ends if we want
them to be useful for fantasy purposes. Well, Seattle tight ends
have scored five of them in five games. The problem is those five
TDs have been caught by three different players. Dissly has three
of them, but he is almost the very definition of a touchdown-or-bust
option. None of Seattle's tight ends has more than four catches
or 49 yards receiving in a game yet.
With that said, Arizona (Weeks 6 & 9) trails only Seattle when
it comes to giving up massive fantasy point totals to the tight
end position. Some of that is likely a product of facing Kelce,
Darren Waller and Dallas Goedert already, but it is probably not
a coincidence all three were targeted at least eight times against
the Cardinals. Tampa Bay (Week 10) also had the misfortune of
opposing Kelce as well but has been solid otherwise against the
position, so fantasy managers should probably stick to the two
matchups against the Cardinals for Fant and/or Dissly.
Fantasy managers likely understand by now that Hill is not so
much a tight end as he is an all-purpose weapon who does most
of his damage on the ground. With all due respect to his underrated
talent, everything he has touched has turned into gold in 2022.
He has one pass attempt for the season (touchdown). Four of his
21 carries have been in the red zone, all of which have ended
going for scores. Another way to look at his production to this
point: he has six fewer carries than D'Andre Swift (27-21), three
fewer rushing yards (231-228) and four more rushing scores. Make
of that what you will, but it is unsustainable. Further consider
that most of his production (112 rushing yards, 22 passing yards
and four of his five TDs) came against arguably the worst defense
in the league last week versus the Seahawks.
We should probably consider Hill a running back and Alvin Kamara's
change-of-pace option despite his being listed as a tight end.
His Week 7 matchup against the Cardinals and Week 8 game versus
the Raiders are great for full-time tight ends, which is why he
appears in this section. However, they are the 12th- and 13th-toughest
matchups, respectively, for running backs. With tight end being
what it is in fantasy, he probably needs to start for managers
who have been forced to stream due to Dalton Schultz being injured
or burned by the slow starts from Kyle Pitts and George Kittle.
As long as it is understood that fantasy managers need to look
at running back points allowed as opposed to tight end points
allowed when deciding when and where to start him, Hill could
pay off as a part-time fantasy starter.
This is more of a deeper-league recommendation. It took a matter
of a couple of weeks before the new regime gave up on Albert Okwuegbunam.
There is no chance the new regime feels Eric Tomlinson or Eric
Saubert is the answer at tight end. Dulcich (hamstring) could
be activated from IR as early as Week 6. He was this regime's
second draft pick (third round) and considered a likely option
to replace the production Tim Patrick left behind once the veteran
wideout was lost for the season this summer. Dulcich took first-team
snaps during OTAs and minicamp, suggesting HC Nathaniel Hackett
and his staff expected immediate contributions from him. Especially
in light of what managers are dealing with at the tight end, he
is well worth stashing on IR immediately in leagues that allow
Fantasy managers likely have the luxury of time with Dulcich.
Not only has the Denver offense struggled mightily thus far, but
their best tight end matchups also do not come for another month
- Week 10 versus the Titans and Week 11 against the Raiders.
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.