Exploiting the Match-ups: Week 11

Fantasy Football Fantasy Football Strategy

By Luke Hoover

Fantasy football constantly teaches new things. And in a very rough way I learned something last weekend that I should have easily known already. From now on I will religiously make sure that my lineup is SET before going to the bar for games.

Being a bit old fashioned, I took longer than most to join the smartphone community, so until a couple seasons ago making that last minute switch from wherever my feet found me was not an option. And last year it was also rarely a consideration since NFL Ticket always meant my laptop was nearby on Sundays. But I’ve made a conscious change this year to make football Sundays more social, hence weekly visits to various bars; essentially forcing me to either lock in my decisions an hour-plus before kickoff or finally embrace the technology nestled in my pocket. Last week it cost me dearly.

My iPhone is ready for an upgrade, but it’s not just mine that is to blame. I spoke to numerous friends that have had issues adjusting their lineups in a timely manner from their phones, regardless of their networks. So there I stood Sunday 15 minutes before kickoff trying to swap Mike Evans into my flex for Bobby Rainey after reading something that made me re-think the “favorable” matchup Atlanta provides to running backs. I realized Charles Sims would steal enough of the workload from Rainey to kill his upside, which I knew I needed with a stacked opponent — who happened to be rolling out Marshawn Lynch, Emmanuel Sanders and the Cardinals defense. I was worried that Josh McCown would put a damper on Evans’ recent surge, but at least I could be more confident in his opportunities. My league locks rosters at five minutes until kickoff. Plenty of time, right?

It took eight minutes just for my phone to let me select Evans and Rainey for the swap. With a minute to spare a trash talk chat menu for my league drops down to cover the submit button, a “fun” new feature to the site my friends use for only my favorite league ever. Right as the change failure is about to become official my brother — the league commissioner — walks into the bar. He offers to force the change through after the lock time. I decline. In part because I figure this one move won’t cost me (which he assures me it will), but mostly because the close friend I’m playing had a similar problem weeks earlier and we told him “tough luck.” Turns out it was REALLY craptacular luck for me. I lost by 7.6 as Aaron Rodgers pulled me close and we finished with two of the highest scores in the league this season. In a highly competitive league the difference between Evans and Rainey might cost me the playoffs. Moral of the story: don’t leave your house until your lineup is thoroughly considered and locked the expletive in stone.

Stepping off the soapbox, another crucial week for playoff hunting finds us with a handful of byes, but friendly byes this time. Despite four teams being out of action — the Cowboys, Jaguars, Jets and Ravens — the only true stars missing from lineups wear them on their helmets every other Sunday. DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant will leave gaping holes in lineups, while Denard Robinson and Justin Forsett are also not easily replaced these days. While there are some advantageous matchups, Week 11 definitely has the feel of a play-your-best-talent type of week. I lost sight of that last week worrying about a QB change without first acknowledging that Evans is simply a better football player than Rainey. Don’t let that be you this week.

Of course, just as with any other week, there are tough defenses that warrant giving a starter a second thought. In those cases be sure that your alternative has either a considerably better matchup or at least an equal amount of skill. For instance, it’s easy to forget with the Lions’ stout D coming to town that Andre Ellington posted his best game of the season against Denver — the only run defense statistically better than Detroit’s — and he did so with Drew Stanton and Logan Thomas at quarterback. Ellington is a pure talent; so while he’s an obvious downgrade this week due to a rough matchup, if you’re backup plan doesn’t face a weak run defense or boast an equally dynamic skillset don’t risk it. Stay the course with the guys that have put you in position to make a playoff run.

As always, this is not intended as a traditional start/sit column. Upgrades are players you wouldn’t consistently start (or who have consistently underachieved), while those downgraded generally are lineup mainstays. The designations are simply a guide to make those close calls easier.



Matthew Stafford, DET at AZ

He has Calvin Johnson back. Like all the way back. Now Stafford gets to face a Cardinals team giving up 274.2 yards per game through the air. And Johnson is back. Did I mention Johnson is back?

Robert Griffin, WAS vs. TB

In his two full games this season Griffin hit at least 250 yards in each. The Bucs are even more generous to the passers they face, allowing 277.1 yards per game to opposing QBs (31st in the league). Moreover, Tampa’s 19:6 TD:INT ratio is among the league’s friendliest.

Mark Sanchez, PHI at GB

The Packers pass rushers and secondary are a steep upgrade from the Carolina crew Sanchez regularly burned on Monday night, but to keep pace with a blazing hot Aaron Rodgers the Eagles may have to throw it 40-50 times in Lambeau. On sheer volume alone Sanchez should be productive.

Josh McCown, TB at WAS

McCown has produced at least two touchdowns in each of his three complete games, and with Mike Evans playing at a high level, he hit the 300-yard mark last week. Moreover, the old man can move. He’s averaged 7.2 YPC on his 10 rushes with two scores. And Washington’s 18:3 TD:INT ratio makes it a far from scary defense.

Running Back

Frank Gore, SF at NYG

The Niners know what they have to do to win games. Hand the ball off. A Giants team last in rushing yards allowed per attempt (5.0) and game (144.7) as well as ground TD (13) will make that much easier. Coming off a 23-carry showing, expect Gore to stay heavily involved.

Ryan Mathews, SD vs. OAK

If you’re feeling frisky this week, Mathews is on schedule to return versus a Raiders defense that’s giving up 165 total yards per game to opposing running backs. The Raiders also allowed 12 scores to the position and just let C.J. Anderson rip through them in his first extended action of the season.

C.J. Anderson, DEN at STL

John Fox is a “ride-the-hot-hand” type of coach when it comes to his running backs, which he proved last year when Knowshon Moreno dominated a Denver backfield that was supposed to be handed to Montee Ball. Back from a groin injury, Ball will get carries, but Anderson’s 163 total yards last week should earn him the bigger workload versus a Rams D giving up 124.2 per game on the ground.

Jeremy Hill, CIN at NO

New Orleans has limited yardage on the ground, but only four teams have allowed more than the 10 rushing scores they’ve given up. With Giovani Bernard (hip/clavicle) expected to remain out, any goal-line work is there for the 238-pound Hill to gobble up.

Wide Receiver

Mike Evans, TB at WAS

The smooth, towering Evans has gone for 249 yards and three scores in two games, with each score coming from 20-plus yards. As it turns out, the Redskins have allowed the third-most TD (10) on passes over 10 yards.

Odell Beckham, NYG vs. SF

When Richard Sherman goes out of his way to praise a wide receiver, you know that man can play. Beckham burned Sherman for a 44-yard grab en route to becoming just the second receiver in Seattle’s last 11 home games to top 100 yards. He is a superstar in the making and a must-start.

Brandon LaFell, NE at IND

In their last four contests the Colts have allowed 442 yards and three touchdowns combined to opposing No. 1 wideouts. LaFell, who has a 25 targets in New England’s last two games, has scored four times over four games and has emerged as Tom Brady‘s favorite target not named Rob Gronkowski. That’s a damn good thing to be.

Pierre Garcon, WAS vs. TB

The Bucs have allowed a league-leading 14 TD to wideouts. And Robert Griffin is back under center. If you were ever going to play Garcon again, this would be the week.

John Brown, AZ vs. DET

The dynamic rookie has more touchdown catches than Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd combined (five to four), and three of those he hauled in from Stanton in less than three games. With Detroit stuffing the run, Brown should have his chances to keep making plays.

Greg Jennings, MIN at CHI

Jennings has notched at least 75 yards or a touchdown in three consecutive as his rapport with Teddy Bridgewater continues to improve. Facing a Bears defense that has been absolutely gutted through the air lately, Jennings could be in line for his best performance of the season.

Tight End

Travis Kelce, KC vs. SEA

In nine games Seattle has allowed 10 touchdowns to tight ends, with seven finding the end zone over five games. That Alex Smith has yet to throw a touchdown to a wideout works in Kelce’s favor as well.

Jared Cook, STL vs. DEN

You can sure as heck bet the Rams will not be able to keep the score down enough in this one to go run heavy. When they have to throw they have few other options besides their super athletic tight end, and as it turns out, the Broncos are allowing 65.7 yards per game to the position.

Chase Ford, MIN at CHI

“Who?” you say. That’s right. The non-descript backup for Kyle Rudolph. Ford has at least 60 receiving yards in consecutive games (127 total leading the team), adding his first career score as well. Quickly becoming a security blanket for rookie Teddy Bridgewater, he now gets to face the most fantasy-friendly defense to tight ends. Kyle Rudolph‘s return won’t keep him off the field.



Russell Wilson, SEA at KC

Over his last five games Wilson has completed just 56.8 percent of his passes with three passing scores and four games with less than 200 yards. And none of those defenses is even close to the Chiefs’ top-ranked pass defense. The trip to Arrowhead doesn’t help matters either, of course.

Matt Ryan, ATL at CAR

This is a simple case of Ryan on the road. If you can’t trust him to throw for more than 300 yards or multiple touchdowns against a Tampa Bay defense that has been consistently among the worst versus the pass this year, which can you trust him against when Atlanta travels?

Running Back

Andre Ellington, AZ vs. DET

Ellington has averaged less than 3.8 YPC in six of his last seven games, culminating in a horrifically bad 18-for-23 performance (1.3 YPC) last week. With Drew Stanton under center and the Lions’ second-ranked run D in town, he’s a major risk despite the whopping 25.8 touches he’s averaged during Arizona’s five-game winning streak.

Lamar Miller, MIA vs. BUF

Given his shoulder injury and the mere 11 snaps he saw versus Detroit en route to just 10 yards, chances are you were already planning to sit Miller. This is a reminder not to get cute versus Buffalo’s eighth-ranked run defense just because Kansas City ran on it. Jamaal Charles could juke the linebackers from NFL Blitz out of their oversized pads.

Tre Mason, STL vs. DEN

Denver allows a league-low 3.2 YPC and 67.0 yards per game on the ground and is poised to stomp the Rams. For owners in need of more than just a handful of points, it would be wise to look elsewhere despite Mason’s uptick in touches.

Joique Bell, DET at AZ

No team has allowed fewer total yards to opposing running backs than the Cardinals. Bell is clearly the lead back for Detroit, but he’s also averaging a meager 3.3 YPC this year and is nowhere near as active as a receiver after consecutive 50-plus catch seasons (thank you, Theo Riddick). This has the recipe for a stinker.

Wide Receiver

Larry Fitzgerald, AZ vs. DET

In the last five games that Carson Palmer started, Fitzgerald experienced a renaissance, snagging 31 balls for 461 yards and his only two scores of the season. He failed to top 57 yards in a single of Stanton’s three starts earlier in the year, however. Now Detroit’s top-ranked defense comes to town.

T.Y. Hilton, IND vs. NE

Hilton has been on fire the last four games with 556 yards and three TD, but a potential one-on-one with Darrelle Revis and visit from the third stingiest fantasy defense to wideouts could put his hot streak on ice.

Dwayne Bowe, KC vs. SEA

Not so fast. As the best wideout in Chiefs country, Bowe was finally starting to resemble the Pro Bowl, 1,000-yard receiver of years past, hitting at least 80 yards in three of six games and getting 22 targets the last two weeks. Seattle’s secondary will make him resume the vanishing act he’s performed during most of the Andy Reid tenure.

Tight End

Martellus Bennett, CHI vs. MIN

After a blistering start to the season, Bennett has topped 60 yards just once in five games. Next up is a Vikings D that’s allowed only two tight end touchdowns this year while giving up the third fewest points to the position. No bueno.

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