In recent months I’ve become very attached to the belief that NFL backups aren’t ridiculously less talented than the starters.
Throw countless examples at me if you want, but I’m going to point to Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn who threw for 480 yards, tying the Packers single game record.
While skill is important to NFL success, the most skilled quarterback won’t shine unless he has ample opportunity and a sufficient supporting cast.
It’s difficult to look at the matchups through a lens that filters out our perception of skills, but we must if we want to find diamonds in the rough and charcoal in the king’s crown. (Too goofy? Eh, I’m going to let it go.) Starting the right sleepers and avoiding the busts will be crucial for you Sunday when you try to take down me and 92,000 other fanatics for a $1 million top prize at Draft Kings.
For the record, my best and worst defensive rankings are based on Football Outsiders’ Defensive Efficiency ratings, not yardage (which is too incomplete) or fantasy points (which can be greatly skewed by outliers).
Top quarterback matchups
1. Drew Brees vs. Tampa Bay — Our first matchup looks like a righteous mix of opportunity and player talent. My projections say he is the No. 5 quarterback this week, but he could blow those expectations out of the water. His salary seems too high at Draft Kings which could mean many fantasy owners will stay away. That opens an opportunity for you. It also doesn’t hurt that we’ll have his counterpart on the field, Mike Glennon, on the list in a few paragraphs. This could be a shootout.
2. Nick Foles vs. St. Louis — Two weeks ago, Nick Foles threw for 325 and 3 TDs against Washington. Foles has a perception in the daily fantasy community that he’s not a ceiling player. He’s the fifth-most expensive quarterback this week, another reason why he might not be overowned. The one caveat I have is his reliance on Jeremy Maclin as options 1A and 1B in the passing game. Maclin is a great player, but St. Louis has been effective when offenses try to throw to their No. 1 wide receivers. They’ve been less effective against WR2s and, to a lesser extent, tight ends. It looks like a neutral matchup to running backs on paper, but I took a closer look at it for our RB PPR rankings, where we have Darren Sproles first this week.
3. Mike Glennon vs. New Orleans — I alluded to it in the Brees blurb, but this game has the makings of an offensive explosion. I’ll probably have a player or two from this game in my Millionaire Maker lineup. While they’re not as great as what Brees has, Glennon has some help at the skill player positions — like Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and the emerging Austin Sefarian-Jenkins. The Saints have the worst defense in the NFL, according to FO.
4. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Jacksonville — Like two of the quarterbacks above, Roethlisberger is likely to end up in a shootout. Jacksonville has the second worst defense overall and the Steelers are the seventh-worst overall. Jacksonville is fifth-worst against the pass. Pittsburgh is seventh-worst. Roethlisberger also has the top fantasy wide receiver in the NFL to throw to, good secondary and tertiary options and one of the best running backs in the NFL. The big issue with Roethlisberger is that I think he’ll be heavily owned in the Millionaire Maker. Everybody and their brother knows to target teams facing the Jaguars.
5. Jake Locker vs. Cleveland — Here’s a name I’m not seeing mentioned anywhere as a sleeper candidate for this week. I’d be reluctant to start him or suggest you start him, but we’re trying to look at this through a filter, so here goes: Cleveland is the fourth-worst defense in the NFL and the sixth worst passing defense (Oakland is sixth, but they’re on bye). Locker has talented weapons in Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Delanie Walker. A budding running back in Bishop Sankey and a pass catching RB specialist — which have given Cleveland absolute fits this season — in Dexter McCluster. Rest assured, Locker will have extremely low ownership.
6. Blake Bortles vs. Pittsburgh — Bortles is super cheap and he gets the Steelers defense — which I talked about in detail in the Roethlisberger blurb — in his second NFL start. I’m leaning toward making Bortles my starter in the Millionaire Maker. But a lot of prognosticators are touting Bortles as a start this week, someone to pair with Allen Robinson and/or Clay Harbor to be able to maximize the rest of your lineup. I’m unsure what that might do to his ownership come Sunday. In either case, I think Bortles will be a heck of a play this week.
7. Eli Manning vs. Atlanta — It looks like the Giants offense is firing on all cylinders and they couldn’t have picked a better time to come around for fantasy owners. Now they get Atlanta which is surprisingly good at slowing opposing No. 1 wide receivers, but susceptible to WR2s, RBs and TEs. Like the other teams on this list, Atlanta’s is among the worst overall defenses in the NFL.
8. Russell Wilson vs. Washington — The Redskins have been a good matchup to opposing quarterbacks, allowing Eli Manning and Nick Foles to shine in consecutive weeks. It’d be easier to recommend Wilson every week if he wasn’t on a run-first team. But this week Marshawn Lynch goes up against a defense that limits opposing running backs to just 3.3 yards per carry, one of the stingiest totals in the league. Wilson has the talent to be one of the highest-ceiling players in the NFL and before his career is over he’ll be in that elite tier of quarterbacks. I believe we could see a glimpse of that this week.
Bad quarterback matchups
1. Tom Brady vs. Cincinnati — As if things couldn’t get worse for the Patriots after last week, they have to face Cincinnati in Week 5. No team has been more stingy against opposing quarterbacks. Football Outsiders ranks them as the most efficient defense in the NFL. Brady is not a safe or sneaky start in any format against any opponent right now, let alone against the toughest D in the league.
2. Andy Dalton vs. New England — It looks like the Sunday night game — which Vegas has at even odds, predicting a 23-23 score — is going to be a yawner for some of you. I love to watch a good defensive showdown, but I also know it’s bad for my fantasy teams.
3. Tony Romo vs. Houston — Romo is going through a bit of a resurgence, but until DeMarco Murray gets hurt, he’s going to be a game manager primarily. Dallas isn’t going to make Romo drop back 50 times against Houston’s All-Universe Monster J.J. Watt, especially as effective as teams have been running against them.
4. Kyle Orton vs. Detroit — Many will consider Orton a sneaky start this week. I threw him in Thursday FanDuel tournament lineup. But Detroit has the second most efficient defense in the league. They are the toughest matchup for opposing No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers. My Orton recommendation: Start the Lions defense this week.
5. Matt Ryan vs. New York Giants — Ryan has been great. I said in a post earlier this week that I wanted Julio Jones and Victor Cruz in my daily lineups this week. This ranking has me second guessing. Also, did you see how the Giants manhandled Kirk Cousins last week? Cousins isn’t as good as the hero he looked the week before, but the Giants made him look bad. They are the fifth best overall defense in the NFL. They have allowed only 57.6 yards per game on 8.0 catches per game to opposing No. 1 wide receivers. That means those WRs are seeing a lot of opportunities, but getting stuffed.
6. Drew Stanton vs. Denver — The primary reason you’d want to start Stanton here is because of garbage time, but Arizona’s pass defense is also in the top-10, they’re third overall and the worst team to try to run on. Denver wins, but maybe not by as much as we expect. Denver has the fourth-best defense overall and the sixth-best against the pass. Even if Stanton were to get garbage time he’d probably be a bad play this week.
7. Alex Smith vs. San Francisco — Alex Smith shouldn’t be started in any league until Kansas City starts throwing to its wide receivers or gets Travis Kelce in the lineup on more snaps. This is a bit of a revenge game for Smith against his former team. That’s usually good for something, but there are a lot of arrows pointing us away from that outcome.
8. Peyton Manning vs. Arizona — The Cardinals, as stated in the Stanton blurb are the third-most efficient defense in the NFL. I could see you starting Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker or Julius Thomas this week. But I have to believe Manning’s ceiling will be limited, making him a less than optimal start in your daily fantasy leagues.
9. Cam Newton vs. Chicago — I touted Newton several articles ago as someone I’d like to start this week. Now I’ve got this statistical analysis staring me in the face. I’m taking it back. I have to. Chicago’s defense has been significantly more efficient than it was last season. The Bears are still a great matchup for opposing WR2s, but the other numbers indicate a defense you don’t want to mess around with in your daily games.
NOTE: Green Bay is the true No. 8 bad matchup but they played Thursday night. Oakland and Minnesota are the true No. 4 and No. 9 good matchups but they are on bye and played Thursday respectively.