Week 1 fantasy projections

Match-up intel examines best, worst starts by position as NFL season begins

Originally Published: September 5, 2012
By Danny Tuccitto | Football Outsiders
Jay CutlerAP Photo/Bill KostrounJay Cutler has a favorable matchup against Indianapolis in Week 1.

Welcome back for another season of fantasy matchup advice courtesy of Football Outsiders. For those who were around last season, you might recall I started off the 2011 season in the least self-serving way possible. Namely, I argued that Week 1 is a time to avoid playing matchups, and just go with the guys you drafted to be your starters. The reason: As much as we think we know about the upcoming year, we have very little objective information to go on.

The piece was a bit controversial in that readers wanted matchup advice, including our famous plus/minus table. As you will see below, I've obliged those desires this time around. However, I do think it would be useful to revisit the argument to see if Week 1 of 2011 proved me right or wrong about the impact of a lack of data at the start of the season.

To project Week 1 performances, Football Outsiders only really has our preseason DVOA projections, which are based on myriad factors. I went back to our projections for 2011, and picked out the Week 1 matchups involving the eight worst defenses and eight best defenses. Presumably, if the players going against bad defenses had better games than their average fantasy output (and vice versa), then I'd be proven dead wrong. Matchups would matter, even during the week with the least information possible.

Starting with the quarterbacks, there were two main takeaways. First, both sets of players actually outperformed their typical weekly scoring average. More importantly, though, it turns out that the eight quarterbacks who faced the toughest projected defenses in Week 1 actually did better vis-a-vis their typical performance than did the quarterbacks who faced the easiest defenses. In other words, the matchups didn't matter much.

The phenomenon was almost identical for running backs: Those who faced the toughest projected defenses in Week 1 actually did better than those who faced the easiest projected defenses. In addition, the latter group actually got no benefit whatsoever from the "easy" matchup.

The situation was reversed for wide receivers. It looks like the matchups did matter insofar as the wideouts facing easy defenses vastly outperformed their typical weekly scoring. However, of note is the fact that so did those who faced tough defenses. Taken together, except for wideouts playing easy projected defenses in Week 1, the matchups aren't all that predictive across position groups.

One other thing I'll point out is that it's apparent that the better players over the course of the season scored more than the worse players. In other words, it was simply the case that good fantasy players score more than bad fantasy players in Week 1 regardless of the matchup.

Obviously, one critique an astute reader would make is that this is more a damnation of our DVOA projections than a damnation of playing the matchups in Week 1. Although it's true we'd all be sipping margaritas on our own private Caribbean island if our DVOA projections were extremely clairvoyant, the real issue here, again, is the lack of information this early in the season.

All of that said, below are a handful of players who might help (or hurt) your fantasy team this week (if all goes somewhat according to plan).

Quarterbacks

Jay Cutler (plus-5 points)


To read more fantasy advice, including which players you should start and which you should avoid in Week 1, you must be an ESPN Insider.