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How Do Matchups Affect Fantasy Football Performance?

In the weekly Fantasy Trends, we leverage the Trends tool to find quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs with notable data points for the upcoming main slate. For more of our weekly football content, visit our NFL homepage.

The Jaguars’ elite defense held the Patriots to 20 points last week. Tom Brady managed an average passing line (234-2-0), and Rob Gronkowski had only two receptions for 15 yards.

Led by All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville is widely regarded as the top defensive unit in the NFL. That vaunted defense blanketed the Patriots offense last week, resulting in poor fantasy performances for New England’s skill players. But is the Jaguars defense capable of this kind of fantasy impact on a weekly basis, or was last week’s performance on the extreme end of realistic possible outcomes?

More broadly, how much of an impact do matchups have on opponents’ fantasy performance at each position?

To investigate the effect of matchup on fantasy performance, I used our Trends tool to filter players based on Opponent Plus/Minus and Opponent Rating. These metrics measure how well a defense has defended a particular position in the past. From an offensive player’s perspective, a high Opponent Plus/Minus and high Opponent Rating each represent a more favorable matchup.

For each position, average matchups usually have little to no effect on fantasy performance. However, extremely lopsided matchups produce substantial increases to players’ Plus/Minus and Consistency.


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Quarterback

Trend (Favorable Matchup)

  • Opponent Plus/Minus is between +5.00 and +15.00
  • Opponent Position Rating is greater than 90

Trend (Unfavorable Matchup)

  • Opponent Plus/Minus is between -13.50 and -5.00
  • Opponent Position Rating is less than 8

Results

Quarterback fantasy production seems strongly dependent on matchup from week to week. There is a +2.63 Plus/Minus split and 2.85 fantasy-point difference between quarterbacks with favorable matchups and those with unfavorable matchups. Quarterbacks playing against soft defenses also boast 8.6% average ownership. Be cognizant of this in guaranteed prize pool tournaments.

Players Who Fit Our Trend This Week

Week 3 features four quarterbacks with favorable matchups according to our trend:

  • Jimmy Garoppolo ($6,500 DraftKings), San Francisco 49ers
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick ($6,000 DraftKings), Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  • Alex Smith ($5,800 DraftKings), Washington Redskins
  • Matt Ryan ($5,700 DraftKings), Atlanta Falcons

There are also three quarterbacks with unfavorable matchups according to our trend:

  • Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers ($7,100 DraftKings)
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks ($6,000 DraftKings)
  • Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers ($5,800 DraftKings)

Running Back

Trend (Favorable Matchup)

  • Opponent Plus/Minus is between +4.00 and +10.00
  • Opponent Position Rating is greater than 98

Results

More than at any other position, running back production is very resilient to defensive matchups. Running backs do not demonstrate any systematic decline in Plus/Minus based on matchup. Interestingly, however, they do boast a +1.08 Plus/Minus against defenses that do not perform well against the run.

Players Who Fit Our Trend This Week

After facing the elite Jaguars defense last week, New England will travel to Detroit for its Week 3 matchup. The Lions rank last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (179.5), and this game sets up nicely for the Patriots backfield.

  • James White ($4,900 DraftKings), New England Patriots
  • Rex Burkhead ($4,200 DraftKings), New England Patriots
  • Sony Michel ($4,000 DraftKings), New England Patriots

Wide Receiver

Trend (Favorable Matchup)

  • Opponent Plus/Minus is between +2.95 and +4.95
  • Opponent Position Rating is greater than 95

Trend (Unfavorable Matchup)

  • Opponent Plus/Minus is between -7.70 and -3.80
  • Opponent Position Rating is less than 3

Results

Wide receivers have interesting Plus/Minus splits based on matchup metrics. At the extremes of the distribution, wide receivers experience pronounced variability. Wide receivers boast a +0.96 Plus/Minus against defenses with an Opponent Plus/Minus from +2.95 to +4.95, but they lose this edge beyond an Opponent Plus/Minus of +5.00. Additionally, wide receivers on the positive side of the Plus/Minus split feature a Consistency of 51.3%, whereas wide receivers on the negative side of the Plus/Minus split have a Consistency of just 34.0%.

Players Who Fit Our Trend This Week

The following wide receivers have favorable matchups this week according to our trend:

  • Julio Jones ($7,900 DraftKings), Atlanta Falcons
  • Michael Crabtree ($5,000 DraftKings), Baltimore Ravens
  • John Brown ($5,000 DraftKings), Baltimore Ravens
  • Paul Richardson ($4,300 DraftKings), Washington Redskins
  • Jamison Crowder ($4,200 DraftKings), Washington Redskins
  • Willie Snead ($4,000 DraftKings), Baltimore Ravens
  • Mohamed Sanu ($3,800 DraftKings), Atlanta Falcons
  • Calvin Ridley ($3,700 DraftKings), Atlanta Falcons
  • Josh Doctson ($3,700 DraftKings), Washington Redskins

The Seahawks receiving corps has an unfavorable matchup against the Cowboys. Consider fading the following players:

  • Tyler Lockett ($5,300 DraftKings), Seattle Seahawks
  • Brandon Marshall ($4,500 DraftKings), Seattle Seahawks
  • Jaron Brown ($3,600 DraftKings), Seattle Seahawks

Tight End

Trend (Favorable Matchup)

  • Opponent Plus/Minus is greater than +5.30
  • Opponent Position Rating is greater than 94

Results

Tight ends earn the biggest Plus/Minus improvement of any position against weak defenses. In positive matchups, tight end Plus/Minus jumps from 0.00 to +1.81, and Consistency improves from 38.8% to 50.5%. While tight ends also experience a decline in Plus/Minus in negative matchups, the statistical distribution is remarkably variable. Slicing up the data at any particular point in the negative side of the split yields drastically different results. Accordingly, I have not reported data for tight ends in unfavorable matchups.

Players Who Fit Our Trend This Week

Unfortunately, no tight ends fit our trend for Week 3, but save this trend for later weeks.


Defense

Trend (Favorable Matchup)

  • Opponent Plus/Minus is between +2.20 and +5.10
  • Opponent Position Rating is greater than 90

Trend (Unfavorable Matchup)

  • Opponent Plus/Minus is between -9.10 and -5.80
  • Opponent Position Rating is less than 12

Results

Defenses are subject to significant changes in Plus/Minus and Consistency due to matchup. Defenses in positive matchups feature a +2.59 improvement in Plus/Minus and a 3.24-point improvement in fantasy points compared to defenses playing against robust offenses.

Players Who Fit Our Trend This Week

There are four defenses with favorable matchups this week according to our trend. No defenses fit our trend for an unfavorable matchup.

  • New England Patriots D/ST ($2,900 DraftKings)
  • Houston Texans D/ST ($2,800 DraftKings)
  • New York Jets D/ST ($2,500 DraftKings)
  • Washington Redskins D/ST ($2,000 DraftKings)

News Updates

After this piece is published, FantasyLabs is likely to provide news updates on a number of players herein mentioned. Be sure to stay ahead of your competition with our NFL news feed.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Pictured Above: Jalen Ramsey