A large part of my success in 20-plus years in this industry - and
specifically in the 16 years I have utilized Preseason Matchup Analysis
- can be attributed to preparing for the playoffs before the season
begins. Do I put a lot of weight into matchups in July and August?
No, but I do account for them. That is an important distinction.
If it does nothing else, it helps to break ties. There is no question
in my mind that I have avoided a lot more "bust players"
over the years than the average analyst because of it.
While I do not expect the majority of readers to go to the same
lengths that I do, the savviest fantasy managers tend to use the
time leading up to Thanksgiving as an opportunity to prepare for
the postseason. It behooves each of us to consider the matchups
we want to target in late December and early January now. (I guarantee
your league-mates in most competitive leagues have already started
doing this or are about to do so.) Lining up key handcuffs and
great matchups now allows us to save on FAAB for more important
expenditures, such as when a manager is forced to drop a key player
during the Week 14 bye-week crunch or find a replacement for Cooper Kupp now.
The focus of this week will be targeting receivers, tight ends,
kickers and defense/special teams units with the best fantasy
playoff matchups. I understand the majority of the players below
are already on rosters, but many of them can be had a slight discount
for one reason or another via trade.
Jackson (@CLE, ATL, PIT)
- The Ravens' receiving corps is a "tread lightly" situation,
likely for the rest of the season. Since Lamar Jackson's red-hot
start to the regular season in Weeks 1-3, there have only been
three instances in which a Baltimore wideout has reached double-digit
fantasy points in PPR formats. Worse yet, there is only one instance
in which a Raven receiver topped five targets since Week 5.
With that said, it is hard to ignore what the schedule offers
during the fantasy playoffs. The Browns are a middling matchup
at best for a low-volume team like Baltimore, but the Falcons
and Steelers rank first and second, respectively, in most points
allowed to the position. Every team that has squared off against
Atlanta has seen at least one of its receivers score 12 fantasy
points. In eight of the Falcons' 10 games, two receivers have
achieved that feat.
Week 10 versus the Saints marked the first time the Steelers
managed to hold every one of a team's wideouts under 14.2 points.
Before that point, five sets of teammates scored at least 12.8
fantasy points against Pittsburgh. With only Cameron Sutton playing
relatively well in the Steelers' cornerbacks, there is little
reason to expect Pittsburgh's Week 10 success to become a trend.
Beckham Jr.? (@JAC, PHI,
@TEN) - Dallas receivers
rank a disappointing 20th in fantasy points scored per game (30.2),
which is just ahead of the Jets (30.1) and Broncos (29.9). A fair
amount of that is a product of Cooper Rush making more starts
this season than Dak Prescott. For proof of this, check out Prescott's
last two games versus Rush's five starts. (Why only Prescott's
last two games instead of all four? Because he was hurt in Week
1 and eased back into things in Week 7 following a five-week absence.)
In Prescott's last two games, Dallas receivers are averaging about
38.8 points per game. During Rush's run, that number was 30.4.
There was about a four-week stretch earlier this season in which
the Jaguars fooled fantasy managers into believing they were ready
to become a very good defense in 2022 - especially versus the
pass. Since that time, Jacksonville has surrendered surprising
receiver performances to the Colts, Giants, Broncos, Raiders and
Chiefs. Do not expect that to change when the Cowboys (maybe with
OBJ by that time) meet up with the Jags.
There is no getting around how difficult of a matchup the Eagles
will be in Week 16, but the Titans rank third in most points allowed
to receivers and don't have an avenue to improve much in that
regard the rest of the way, which is partly a product of the team's
great run defense. Sixteen receivers have reached double figures
against Tennessee, five of which have scored at least 19.9 fantasy
points. There is a very good chance Lamb almost singlehandedly
helps decide fantasy championship games in Week 17. Perhaps the
same will be said about Beckham if he is a quick study (IF he
joins the Cowboys).
Collins (KC, @TEN,
JAC) - It is like an annual
rite of passage. Every summer when I go through my Preseason Matchup
Analysis process and again around this time of the year when I
amplify my efforts to secure the best matchup possible for the
fantasy playoffs, I am disheartened by the number of times I see
great matchups wasted on either bad teams or bad quarterbacks.
Let me be clear, I have no faith in OC Pep Hamilton to end his
fixation with the running game (and desire for balance in the
passing game) for long enough to feature Cooks or Collins. If
we need to see proof as to how much of a downgrade Hamilton has
been from the previous play-caller (Tim Kelly) for the offense,
consider that Houston is worse in most of the major offensive
statistical categories in 2022 despite improving the offensive
line and adding a stud running back.
The Mills-to-Cooks connection that was so wonderful for most
of 2021 is virtually nonexistent this year. Cooks is legitimately
neck-and-neck with Chris Moore in targets since the team's Week
6 bye (18-15 in favor of Cooks as both receivers have played three
games over that span). Despite inking Cooks to an offseason extension
that averages about $18 million per year, it appears Houston is
ready to see if Collins is ready to be the alpha in this offense.
As it stands right now, the Chiefs (fifth), Titans (third) and
Jaguars (10th) all rank inside the top 10 most favorable matchups
for receivers. Kansas City is likely the only one of the three
teams powerful enough offensively to force the Texans into negative
game script for a half. Unfortunately, we have seen the Texans'
movie play out with the Titans and Jaguars already. Even in the
softest matchups for Houston, Cooks and Collins have offered virtually
Sims (@CAR, LV,
@BAL) - Pittsburgh has essentially
been Houston North, albeit with slightly more occasional upside.
In case you think that might be an exaggeration, Steelers' receivers
have caught 26 more passes than the Texans' (113-87) but for fewer
yards (1,158-1,145) and fewer touchdowns (5-2). Many of the same
quarterback and offensive coordinator complaints made with Houston
above apply here as well. It is a multi-layered problem when talents
such as Johnson and Pickens continually fail to hit their ceiling.
The offense is in such bad shape right now that Pittsburgh's offense
has become more focused on getting more touches to the running
backs lately. Remember, these are the same running backs stuck
behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league.
The Steelers do not have the same sweetheart schedule during
the fantasy playoffs as the Texans, but the Panthers (eighth)
and Raiders (12th) are still favorable matchups. Despite facing
Atlanta twice in the last three games, Carolina has surrendered
four double-digit performances to receivers. The Panthers have
not yielded huge upside games to wideouts all season (only two
receivers have topped 20 points and neither one went for more
than 23.7), however.
The Raiders also have not given up huge individual fantasy efforts
to wideouts (two over 20, neither one higher than 21.6), but it
is at least mildly interesting both 20-point performances have
come over the last two weeks. Despite where Baltimore sits for
the year against receivers (sixth-most points allowed to the position),
Mike Evans (18.3) is the receiver to top 13.5 fantasy points against
the Ravens since their secondary got healthy after Week 3.
McBride (@DEN, TB,
@ATL) - Arizona's fantasy
playoff schedule was one of several reasons why losing Zach Ertz
for the season in Week 10 really stung. The unfortunate thing
about the 2022 Cardinals is that the pass-catching quartet of
DeAndre Hopkins, Marquise Brown, Rondale Moore and Ertz will not
play a single snap together. With that said, we should see the
wide receiver trio they expected to have on the field together
for the first time in Week 11 or Week 12. Ertz's role was already
diminishing as a result of Hopkins' return, so pessimism is probably
warranted as it relates to McBride because Brown's eventual return
only figures to reduce the number of targets Arizona tight ends
will see even further.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals have made the tight end position
a priority for the last two seasons. Maxx Williams flashed on
occasion as recently as last season despite not being a great
talent. His injury ultimately led to the trade for Ertz. Despite
keeping Ertz around this offseason, Arizona added a player in
McBride that was widely considered the best tight end prospect
in the 2022 draft. That suggests the position is important in
this offense, even if it doesn't always seem like it.
In three full games before his Week 10 injury, Ertz saw target
totals of four, five and eight. That represents McBride's
most optimistic ceiling in all likelihood. During the fantasy
playoffs, the rookie may top out at five targets in his three
matchups. Nevertheless, Arizona faces three of the top 14
best matchups for tight ends over that time. Given the state
of the tight end position right now, we almost have to bet
on matchups with many of the fringe types and pray the talent
cashes in once or twice. McBride has the talent and the matchup,
so managers need to hope he earns enough trust over the next
month to warrant five targets per game in late December and
Kelce (@HOU, SEA,
DEN) - There is no need to extol the virtues of Kelce
here. Fantasy managers start him in the most unforgiving matchups
for tight ends and usually come out unscathed. His mention in
this space is merely a nod to the fact he has two average or slightly
above-average matchups in Weeks 15 and 17 and one of the sweetest
spots he could ask for in Week 16 against the Seahawks.
JAC, @SEA) - Conklin has
shown a fair amount of upside in 2022. The problem is that it
has taken more than half of the season to understand when he might
be useful. When he has hit, he has offered TE1 upside. When fantasy
managers have been wrong about starting him, they have been burned
badly. For now, it appears the best time to use him is when we
believe the Jets will lose. In three Jets' defeats, Conklin has
averaged 17.9 fantasy points (with a low of 11.4). In New York's
six wins, Conklin has scored a total of 28.8 points. Just like
most fantasy trends, they are never set in stone. With that said,
this trend appears to have some teeth to it.
Since I do believe in the aforementioned "trend," I
will tell you to focus more on potential wins and losses for the
Jets during the fantasy playoffs. New York should beat Jacksonville
at home in Week 16, but road tilts against the Lions and Seahawks
could be losses. As luck would have it, Detroit and Seattle rank
third and second, respectively, in fantasy points allowed to tight
ends. The Lions have not exactly faced an elite tight end this
season, so Conklin's matchup in Week 15 is good - especially against
the team that just gave up 23.4 points to Cole Kmet. Some of the
Seahawks' lack of success against tight ends is a product of Taysom
Hill going off against them in Week 4, but Ertz (twice) and Gerald
Everett have each gouged them for 10-plus points since their defensive
resurgence following Week 4.
Projecting matchups for fantasy kickers is not entirely useless.
It is often more of a matter of finding bend-but-don't-break defenses
that allow offenses to get inside the 20 or 30 but typically find
a way to get to the offense to stall at that point. One of the
quickest ways to do this is to see what defenses have allowed
the most field-goal opportunities. For example, six teams are
allowing more than 2.1 field-goal attempts against them in 2022.
Of those six, five are the best matchups for fantasy kickers.
The Cowboys are the lone exception, ranking as the 12th-friendliest
matchup for kickers.
There are five D/STs with matchups I like for the fantasy postseason.
Here they are:
Browns (BAL, NO,
Chargers (TEN, @IND,
Giants (@WAS, @MIN, IND)
Jets (DET, JAC, @SEA)
Eagles (@CHI, @DAL, NO)
I do not like all five. The Jets and Eagles are likely owned
in most competitive leagues and should remain that way. They could
easily be the difference between a win or a loss in the fantasy
playoffs. The Giants might be owned now, if only because fantasy
managers likely scooped them up for their Week 10 matchup with
the Texans. They are not a must-own, but they are a respectable
The Browns have been respectable in the sack department (20,
nine of which came in two games) but forced just eight turnovers.
The Chargers have more upside than Cleveland, but I would be hesitant
to trust them at any point - at least until Joey Bosa returns.
Even then, the run defense has been so bad that turnovers and
sacks may be hard to come by. With that said, the Chargers have
done a good job of consistently forcing one turnover per game
this season and should be able to accomplish that and maybe more
against the Colts and Rams during the final two weeks of the fantasy
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.