2020’s Most Deceptive Matchups

By Ty Gour and Andrew Metcalfe

Many trade deadlines have passed at this point of the season, which means that it’s time to buckle down and evaluate your current players.  These next few weeks will be vital in separating the contenders that will advance to the playoffs from the pretenders that will be on the outside, looking in.  Making sure that you understand defensive matchups at each position is important when making critical start/sit decisions, so this will help provide some clarity to several teams that are not what they appear to be on paper.

First, here a few teams that your fantasy apps will tell you are bad matchups, but after taking a closer look, we aren’t too convinced that you should avoid them: 

QB

Patriots (Fantasy points allowed to QBs: 6th least)

  • Fitzpatrick was starting Week 1, not Tua.
  • Russell Wilson finished QB4 in Week 2
  • Caught Mahomes in a rain game in Week 4, held him to QB17
  • Drew Lock’s first game back in Week 6, finished QB28
  • Blowout loss to SF, Jimmy G only threw the ball 25 times
  • Got Joe Flacco in Week 9, finished as QB18
  • Lamar Jackson finished as QB8 in week 10

Here’s the deal with the Pats, they’re not a bad pass defense, but they’re not a top-6 unit and in fact should be treated as more of a middle of the pack crew. They have gotten incredibly lucky thus far and caught 2 backups, a rain game against a top-5 offense, a QB coming off injury and performed mediocrely when faced with good QBs in front of them. Their remaining schedule consists of the Texans, Cardinals, Chargers, Rams, Dolphins and Bills so that 6th ranking is bound to plummet back down to earth.

Giants (Fantasy points allowed to QBs: 7th least)

  • Nick Mullens started in Week 3 for SF, finished as QB16
  • Dak Prescott got injured in Week 5. Put up 12.44 points in 3 quarters.
  • Kyle Allen’s first game as starter in Week 6. Finished as QB16
  • Kyle Allen got hurt in Week 9, Alex Smith takes over and finishes as QB25.

Same as the Patriots, they are a fine pass defense but not a great pass defense like the metrics may say. They’ve gotten a backup, caught a QB in his first start of the year, and injured 2 starters. Add all of this with the fact they play in the NFC Least and thus get to play Carson Wentz twice a year and you can see why the numbers are slightly inflated. They get the Bengals, Seahawks, Cardinals, Browns and Ravens after their bye this week so this will regulate shortly.

RB

Falcons (Fantasy points allowed to RBs: 4th least)

  • Zeke finished as RB7 despite Cowboys being down big most of Week 2
  • Montgomery finished as RB41 in Week 3, Bears came from behind in 2nd half
  • CMC hurt in Week 5, Mike Davis finishes as RB1
  • Dalvin Cook hurt in Week 6, also won in a blowout, Vikings only had 13 RB carries
  • CMC still hurt in Week 8, Mike Davis finishes as RB32
  • Up big most of Week 9 vs Broncos, no RB finished above 4 points

The Falcons are the reason we’re doing this article. The reason they are the 4th best run defense is entirely situational. With 4 game situations where teams would seldom be running the ball, and getting to avoid CMC in both matchups is a major reason why they are where they are. They still need to face Kamara twice, Josh Jacobs, Ekeler if he’s healthy by Week 14, Tampa and KC, so it’s likely they plummet back to earth sooner rather than later.

WR

Chiefs (Fantasy pts allowed to WRs: 5th least)

  • Herbert’s first start in Week 2, only really trusted Keenan Allen
  • No Cam Newton in Week 4, also a rain game
  • John Brown seldom used in Week 6
  • Snow game in Week 7
  • No Jamison Crowder in Week 8

I’m not saying the Chiefs are a bad pass defense, but I wouldn’t bench your WR just because KC is on the schedule. They are most likely a top-10 defense, but top-5 seems a little high given the circumstances they’ve faced so far. With pass happy teams like the Falcons, Saints and Bucs yet to come, we could really see what this defense is made of.

TE

Dolphins (Fantasy points allowed to TEs: 6th least)

The case against the Dolphins is simple. They’ve only played 2 top-12 TEs so far, one was George Kittle in a blowout loss where his QB got benched at halftime and finished as the TE16. The other was Hunter Henry who finished as the TE3 last week. Don’t be scared to fire up your startable TEs against the Dolphins, they’ll do just fine. Expect to see the Dolphins return back to earth with matchups against Noah Fant, Travis Kelce and Darren Waller yet to come.

Next are several teams that seem to be “smash plays” based on fantasy points allowed so far this season.  Defenses have been bad overall in 2020, so it was difficult to find deceptively good ones.  Here are some that aren’t quite as bad as we might perceive when you consider injuries and remove outlier games:  

QBs

Bills (Fantasy pts allowed to QB: 5th most) 

  • CB Josh Norman been on COVID list since week 7
  • Tre-Davious White battled ankle and back injuries throughout the first half of the season
  • 3 out of the past 5 matchups have been against Wilson, Murray and Mahomes

Buffalo’s defense has been a victim of both injuries and a tough schedule.  Back-to-Back matchups against 2 MVP candidates (Wilson and Murray) is just brutal.  Especially since Josh Allen and the offense have been scoring at such a high rate, forcing them into many shootouts.  Much of opposing QBs’ success against this defense has come on the ground.  Kyler only had 245 passing yards and 1 TD against them in week 10, which was only the 2nd time this season he failed to reach either 250 yards passing or 2+ passing TDs in a game. 

RBs

Jets (Fantasy pts allowed to RBs: 8th most)

  • Patriots scored 3 rushing TDs against them from within 5 yards out in week 10
  • 182 rushing yards given up to SF in week 2, mostly accumulated by 80 and 55 yard long runs
  • Melvin Gordon has been the only RB to rush for 100+ yards against them this season (week 4)

The Jets have been put into tough goal line situations, mostly due to their poor pass defense.  Six RBs have scored rushing TDs against them since week 3 and four of them were from the 1 yard line.  Their rushing DVOA is actually ranked 10th best in the NFL, it’s not the easy matchup that it appears to be for RBs. 

Packers (Fantasy pts allowed to RBs: 3rd Most)

  • 2 games against Dalvin Cook: 274 total yards and 6 TDs have greatly skewed their run defense stats 
  • Pro Bowl DT Kenny Clark suffered a groin injury in week 1 and missed their next 3 games
  • MLB Christian Kirk, who was brought in to replace Blake Martinez, has missed 5 weeks due to injury

This is a defense that has been missing key pieces from their front 7 for the majority of the season.  They’ve also been burned twice by Dalvin Cook, who pretty much has torched every team he’s gone up against.  With Kirk and Clark back into the lineup and both Vikings games behind them, I expect them to be more of an average run defense from here on out.

WRs 

Vikings (Fantasy pts allowed to WRs: 4th most)

  • Defense has faced the 10th highest attempts per game this season 
  • Week 1: Devante Adams went for 156 yards and 2 TDs on 17 targets
  • Multi-TD games allowed to studs like Adams, Metcalf, and Julio Jones

The Vikings secondary lost both of their starting CBs this past off-season to free agency, forcing them to start two rookies on the outside (Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler).  With a lack of off-season activities this year, it’s no surprise that it has been a rough start. There have been several poor performances against the leagues’ best WRs so far on the year, but the pass defense has actually been closer to average against everyone else (11st best Pass DVOA in 2020).  While Minnesota is not a matchup for any fantasy manager to fear, don’t expect every WR to blow up against them going forward. 

TEs

 Chargers (Fantasy Pts allowed to TEs: 4th most)

Unfortunately for the Chargers, LA is in the same division as Darren Waller and Travis Kelce, who have both had big games against them this year.  It’s hard to fault them much in those matchups, as both players are used more like Wideouts in their respective offenses.  They have also given up TDs to OJ Howard and Jared Cook on plays where they were able to use their athleticism to get behind the defense.  The only other TE TD allowed came from Durham Smythe (Dolphins), who caught a wide open TD on a Goal Line play action fake that was beautifully executed by Tua.  Outside of those blunders, other starting TEs are averaging 2.9 receptions for 36.6 yards per game against this defense. 

*BONUS* DST

Washington Football Team (4th most DST points allowed)

If you play in a league with defenses, don’t sleep on the Redskins as an opponent. While they may have a lot of points against them, their offense has a “new” QB in Alex Smith and in his first full start last week, he looked incredible throwing for nearly 400 yards and putting up 27 on the Lions. While it is the Lions, who themselves rank 27th in points allowed, it’s still worth mentioning how efficient the new-look offense looked especially in the 2nd half. The FT is not a team you can set and forget against anymore. 

Tennessee Titans (5th least DST points allowed)

The Tennessee offense runs through Derrick Henry.  Since they lost star LT Taylor Lewan in week 7, they haven’t been as efficient.  Henry has only scored 2 TDs since Lewan has been out, after producing 6 TDs in the first 6 games.  In that same timeframe, Tannehill has not surpassed 300 passing yards and has also seen a major dip in his rushing production.  A less efficient offense will force them into higher pass volume game scripts, which leads to more opportunities for sacks and turnovers.   

If this article will teach you anything, it’s that the numbers are always deeper than they seem. While defensive juggernauts like the Steelers and Colts are borderline unplayable against week in week out, it doesn’t mean you should avoid playing the top 5 in every position. The same goes with the bottom 5 as the Falcons and Cowboys are smash plays almost no matter what but that can’t be said for everyone. Keep all this information in mind as you’re making those tough lineup decisions during the stretch run. And if you wanna #BringHomeTheGold this season, stay tuned to all of the lights out content we produce here at RDFHQ!

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