Best, worst matchups at all fantasy football positions for Week 2

Tristian H Cockcroft
ESPN PLUS


Always play the matchups.

Weighing matchups helps you make difficult decisions between similarly valued players, and every week, it's important to analyze the best (and worst).

So what exactly constitutes a favorable or unfavorable matchup?

That's where the "Matchups Map" comes in. Each week, I'll provide a schedule-independent method to determine strength of positional matchups, using the most recent, relevant data. Check back for updated numbers each week, including matchups highlights at each position -- both favorable and unfavorable -- based upon those statistics. For these purposes, we will use PPR (Point Per Reception) scoring, though I have analyzed this data for both PPR and non-PPR and have found that the rankings would scarcely change (if at all). These do, therefore, help in either scoring format.



For Week 2, the maps include two measures: The first, "Rk," is my personal ranking of how favorable/unfavorable I consider that positional matchup; the second, "Adj. FPA," reflects how far above or below a player's average that defense held opponents at that position. For Weeks 1-3, 2017-full-season data is used for the latter, so take those with a grain -- or several grains -- of salt. Beginning in Week 4, we'll use 2018 data (three weeks in the books at that point), and then starting in Week 6, we'll use the most recent five weeks.



Finally, a caveat: Remember that matchups are only one ingredient in my rankings formula. Not every favorable matchup should be exploited; not every unfavorable matchup should be avoided. To get the most complete recipe for whom to start and sit, consult my weekly rankings.

Quarterbacks



Favorable matchup: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (at San Francisco 49ers). After such an ugly performance on Monday Night Football in Week 1 -- he was intercepted four times, his most in a game since 2013 Week 12 -- Stafford probably isn't going to have many supporters entering Week 2. The matchup, however, says to expect a swift rebound. The 49ers were the fourth-worst defense at containing quarterbacks last season, and they weren't much more efficient against Kirk Cousins in Week 1, allowing him to score 20.4 fantasy points. What's more, Adam Thielen, the Vikings' slot receiver, managed 16.2 fantasy points against the 49ers, doing the bulk of the damage against well-below-average nickel corner K'Waun Williams. Golden Tate, the Lions' most heavily used receiver out of the slot, should find plenty of space in this secondary, and that should help Stafford pick up his play.



Unfavorable matchup: Tom Brady, New England Patriots (at Jacksonville Jaguars). I'd have a difficult time sitting him in a traditional fantasy league, but it's conceivable that you roster has a stronger alternative than Brady -- Ben Roethlisberger and Alex Smith are two, and I'd start both of them first -- especially considering this matchup. The Jaguars made Philip Rivers (15.3, Week 10), Jared Goff (9.9, Week 6) and Ben Roethlisberger (2.6, Week 5) look bad last season. They also had a best-in-the-league average of minus-0.126 Adjusted Fantasy Points Per Pass Attempt for the year and, predictably, shut down Eli Manning in Week 1. In daily fantasy contests, Brady's price tag doesn't reflect the limited statistical ceiling of this matchup. Leave him to the sidelines there.




Running backs


Favorable matchup: James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers (versus Kansas City Chiefs). The shame of this situation is that, had his holdout ended sooner, Le'Veon Bell would have enjoyed two of the most favorable matchups he could have asked for, despite any concerns about rust after so much time away. If you were swift enough to scoop up Conner, however, you can now reap the benefits of this schedule, with a Chiefs defense up next. Kansas City allowed 23.1 PPR fantasy points to Melvin Gordon and 21.1 to Austin Ekeler in Week 1. Conner did lose a key fourth-quarter fumble in that contest, but he didn't lose the faith of the coaching staff -- a promising sign -- carrying the football nine more times with two receptions in the final seven minutes of regulation, plus overtime. He's a good bet for one of the week's top fantasy point totals.



Unfavorable matchup: Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers (versus Minnesota Vikings). As was the case in 2017, Williams couldn't seem to rack up yards against the Bears' defense in Week 1, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry after posting a 3.6 average last season. He'll find things even more difficult in Week 2, facing a stiff Vikings defensive front that led the league in Adjusted Fantasy Points Allowed to running backs in 2017 and limited the 49ers' running backs to a combined 14.5 PPR fantasy points in Week 1. Williams, a quality pass blocker, might also be needed to hang back if the Packers find themselves in more passing situations -- and they're already among the teams most apt to pass -- casting some doubt upon his carry total.




Wide receivers


Favorable matchup: Nelson Agholor, Philadelphia Eagles (at Tampa Bay Buccaneers). With Alshon Jeffery sidelined, Agholor paced all Eagles receivers with 10 targets and eight receptions in Week 1. His role is hardly about to shrink with Jeffery still out and Nick Foles under center for a second-consecutive week. This is a much more favorable matchup for Agholor, as the Buccaneers surrendered a whopping 62.3 PPR fantasy points to Saints wide receivers last week, in a game where it was clear New Orleans would be throwing, throwing, throwing while playing from behind. In fact, Agholor has another key advantage here: He's typically utilized out of the slot, which has been a particularly problematic area for the Buccaneers defense, which often uses Vernon Hargreaves as its nickel corner. Tampa Bay gave up a league-high 51.1 points to Saints slot receivers in the opening week.


Unfavorable matchup: Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns (at
New Orleans Saints). Between Stafford and Gordon, the theme of this week's column might as well be "trust your draft-day evaluations over a tiny Week 1 sample." Yes, the Saints defense looked awful in Week 1, with 2017 standout rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore as responsible as anyone, but it also still has a lot of talent on paper. This unit also got off to a slow start last season, surrendering 57.2 PPR fantasy points to Vikings wide receivers and 35.6 to the Patriots' catching corps. Maybe it's just a slow-starting unit? Gordon brings a lot of talent but also some question about his role, as he managed just one catch on three targets while playing on 78 percent (66-of-85) of Cleveland's offensive snaps.



Tight ends


Favorable matchup: Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders (at Denver Broncos). If you seem to recall Cook going off for a big game in the season's opening week before, you're not wrong. In fact, for his career, he has averaged 11.7 PPR fantasy points in Week 1 -- easily his highest in any individual week. So why buy into one strong performance, which came against a Rams defense that wasn't expected to be especially good defending the tight end? Simple: The Broncos represent a second-consecutive quality matchup for him, and in fact, a more favorable one than last week. This defense was 29th against the TE position in terms of Adjusted Fantasy Points Allowed (plus-2.20) in 2017, and it had a difficult time bringing down fourth-round rookie Will Dissly (19.5 PPR fantasy points), who was widely expected to be a blocking specialist in the NFL, in the season opener.



Unfavorable matchup: Charles Clay, Buffalo Bills (versus Los Angeles Chargers). Clay had an entirely forgettable 0-for-2 day catching his targets in Week 1, against a Ravens defense which has been much stronger at reining in wide receivers than tight ends since the beginning of last season. He's a volume play, and with QB questions in Buffalo, he's a wise player to leave to the sidelines in Week 2. For all their problems containing Patrick Mahomes in the opener, the Chargers did a handy job containing star tight end Travis Kelce, who had only one catch on his six targets.