Commentary

FBO: Week 1 fantasy matchups

Why you should start Jay Cutler, Adrian Peterson and Kellen Winslow this week

Updated: September 9, 2010, 3:10 PM ET
By Bill Barnwell | Football Outsiders
Dennis Dixon, Jerome Harrison and Calvin JohnsonGetty Images, US Presswire, AP PhotoFootball Outsiders likes the matchup for each of the three guys above this week.

There's an ugly truth to fantasy football that could be the difference between winning and losing games each week. All you have to do is believe in the data.

The truth: There's not a player in the league that should be in fantasy lineups every week of the year. Matchups dictate that even the best players in the league deserve to be on fantasy benches one or two weeks a year. Heresy? Perhaps. But it's true. Take any player and you'll see that he doesn't produce enough points every week to justify a guaranteed roster spot.

Take Chris Johnson, for example. The leading pick off the board in most drafts paced all running backs in fantasy points last year, but he wasn't a viable starting back every single week. To push a team towards a win in a standard scoring league each week, the average running back needs to score about 11 points.

Johnson scored fewer than 11 fantasy points in four different games last year. Three of those four games came against defenses that were in the top ten in rush defense DVOA: Pittsburgh (ninth in rush defense DVOA, 6.8 fantasy points), Jacksonville (seventh in DVOA, 7.4 fantasy points), and the New York Jets (eighth in DVOA, 10.5 fantasy points). He scored 4.3 fantasy points against Indianapolis, which ranked 20th in the league.

Noticeably, those three teams were three of the four toughest run defense games on Johnson's schedule; his toughest game came against San Francisco, when he ran for 135 yards and scored 28 fantasy points against the league's fourth-best run defense. Still, benching him against top-ten run defenses would have been a wise move three out of four times.

Johnson is not an exception; he's the rule. Adrian Peterson has started 39 games in his young career; in 12 of them, he's scored fewer than 11 points. Seven of Maurice Jones-Drew's starts haven't hit that threshold. In 21 of Frank Gore's 60 starts he hasn't reached 11 points. This axiom is true with other positions, too.

With that in mind, if you're smart enough to employ matchup advice where it fits your team and brave enough to make decisions that go against the fantasy status quo, you can win an extra close game or two each year, as well as win some fantasy football games that you otherwise would have lost. Each week, we'll give details on some of the best and worst matchups of the week and provide a statistical expectation for those players who are likely to gain or lose the largest percentage of their fantasy value.

Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) is a staff writer for Grantland.