Commentary

Top Week 7 fantasy matchups

Owners should look to start Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer; avoid Philip Rivers, others

Originally Published: October 20, 2011
By Danny Tuccitto | Football Outsiders
Philip RiversDonald Miralle/Getty ImagesPhilip Rivers has a tough matchup this week on the road against the New York Jets.

As mentioned in last week's column, Week 7 of the NFL season is generally when a team's performance level has coalesced around what it's going to be for the entire season, barring a rash of bad luck. To be sure, some dormant teams and players will erupt from here on out, and others will go from fantasy hero to fantasy goat, but the vast majority will be who we think they are. With that in mind, one thing that's useful for fantasy football owners to do leading up to Week 7 is akin to scouting. Namely, now is the point at which you want to take stock of the strengths and weaknesses of your team, the strengths and weaknesses of other teams and the strength of each NFL team's remaining schedule; all in hopes of devising favorable trades to fuel your stretch run.

What we'll focus on here is the third aspect of the midseason evaluation process, strength of schedule, because it's the one that best lends itself to number crunching. After all, fantasy owners who have been starting Peyton Hillis and Marshawn Lynch every week don't need a spreadsheet, calculator or the math nerd writing this column to know that an upgrade at running back is important going forward. In contrast, owners probably do need them to figure out whether a passing schedule from Weeks 10 to 14 against the Broncos, Patriots, Steelers, Bears and Jets is better than one against the Redskins, Bills, Cowboys, Raiders and Eagles (possibly surprising correct answer: it is).

With that in mind, we took the basic matchup-based framework that we use to give you recommendations each week in this space and extended it to a more general look at fantasy schedule strengths for the rest of the season. In essence, we averaged the pass defense DVOAs (defense-adjusted value over average) of remaining fantasy opponents (i.e., through Week 16) to create a schedule strength measure for quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends, and made an analogous calculation for running backs based on run defense DVOA.

There's not enough space to display them all, but the eight easiest and eight toughest schedules are in the above table. Really, these are the ones to focus on because they're the most extreme cases in which players will most likely succeed or fail based on particularly good or bad remaining matchups. Obviously, fantasy owners shouldn't expect to get sneaky trade value by unloading Tarvaris Jackson or trading for Matthew Stafford based on strength of schedule, so some common sense is in order. To wit, here are several under or overvalued players who we think stand to benefit or suffer most because of the caliber of their opponents for the rest of the season: