Welcome to Week 4 of the Matchup Machine. This is a feature Chet started using to help me out over at thefakebasketball.com in our daily fantasy basketball matchups. It proved highly effective for us on the NBA side of things, so we adapted it to the NFL. You will see a writeup on some of the more fantasy-intriguing NFL Matchups, then a chart examining exactly which players have the easiest defensive matchups each week. Please note that these stats only include the first two weeks right now and will get more effective as the season goes on and we can add more data.
CAR @ ATL
Much has been made of Cam Newton‘s struggles early in the season and its pretty clear he isn’t anywhere near where he needs to be reading defenses. However, with Carolina’s porous defense letting him throw constantly, he should be able to continually put up garbage time passing numbers complemented with his elite rushing stats. I have no doubt he remains a QB1. I would continue to hold off on the Panthers backfield until Jonathan Stewart gets healthy and establishes himself as the lead back. DeAngelo Williams seems to have lost his elite turn-the-corner quickness that made him highly effective early in his career. Both Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell were quiet in last week’s disaster, but I expect them to bounce back a bit. Smith remains a solid WR1 and LaFell is a great bye-week WR3 most of the time, including this week. Greg Olsen saw a huge uptick in targets last week, but it appeared to be more due to game flow than planning, so watch him closely this week before investing in him as a TE1.
Atlanta’s offense has finally become what we thought it would going into last season, an ariel circus. The Falcons are averaging 63% pass plays through the first 3 weeks, a recipe for fantasy success. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez are all must-starts at their positions at this point. Michael Turner racked up some stats in garbage time after the defense was worn down last weekend. If I owned Turner, I would sell high on those 80 yards and a TD quickly. He looked awful early in the game and was ceding a lot of reps to Jaquizz Rodgers who actually outsnapped him in this game.
NE @ BUF
The Patriots haven’t looked like the same offense so far this season, but we are only 3 weeks in so far. Tom Brady led a more hurry-up offense on Sunday Night that benefitted Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd is going to explode soon and is a WR1 in most matchups. Welker should be a more than viable WR2 at least until Aaron Hernandez returns. Rob Gronkowski was pretty silent last week, but look for him to bounce back sooner than later. The Patriots obviously don’t trust Stevan Ridley in the no-huddle yet, so Danny Woodhead ended up with the most carries on draws against a Ravens front that the Hoodie obviously deemed too stingy to try a power running attack against. I would expect Ridley to resume his 20-carry days this week against a much less physical Bills D.
The Bills are one of the more interesting teams early in the season as usual. Chan Gailey is a master at getting his RBs the ball in space, so whoever is back there becomes a must-start. Fred Jackson is expected to return and fill back in for the injured CJ Spiller, making him a solid play. Steve Johnson just puts up consistent performances every time out and is a rock-solid WR2. Ryan Fitzpatrick is the wild-card, whom I expect to slow down more and more as the season goes on. I would generally try to avoid the rest of he Bills skill players if possible.
NO @ GB
Drew Brees is doing his thing, putting up numbers and preventing us from knowing where they are going to come from. Jimmy Graham had a bit of a slow week, but he remains the one ring to rule them… I mean the one must-start skill player on this offense. Marques Colston is obviously banged up, so if you can get a good game out of him, I would consider selling high, he’s just a risk-reward WR3 at this point for me. Lance Moore is going to entice owners all season, but you will never know when the big games are coming, so try and run him out there every week in PPR leagues if possible. Mark Ingram always looks worse than he is because his presence in the game generally telegraphs the run. Look for Pierre Thomas to continue to assume a bigger role as long as he remains healthy, at the expense of Ingram and Darren Sproles, who only ran 18 pass routes last week.
I expect Aaron Rodgers to come out mad in this one and easily post his best game of the season against at porous Saints D. This is the same defense Jamaal Charles torched for almost 300 all-purpose yards last week, making Cedric Benson a rock-solid RB2 play, no other Green Bay running back saw a snap last week. This should also be the week Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings break out, so hopefully you are still running them out there. Jermichael Finley is maddeningly inconsistent, but too talented and in too good of an offense to fall out of the TE1 area. Randall Cobb has taken a backseat in the offense and is just a stash once again.