Week 3 fantasy projections
Sit Peyton Manning and Vincent Jackson; start Chris Johnson
One of the most interesting things we've found at Football Outsiders is that No. 1 cornerbacks don't cover No. 1 wide receivers more than 50 percent of the time. Same goes for No. 2 cornerbacks vis-a-vis No. 2 receivers, and so on. For instance, the league average rate of cornerbacks sticking to a specific side of the field last year was 75 percent. In other words, for the average NFL defense, the matchups you expect only happen about one-fourth of the time.
In 2011, the eight teams with the highest frequency of No. 1-on-No. 1 were (in order from most to least frequent) the Bucs, Giants, Jets, Cardinals, Dolphins, Steelers, Jaguars and Rams. For the sake of context, it's important to note that the rates for these defenses ranged from 47 percent to 33 percent, which actually isn't frequent at all.
And what did these defenses have in common last year: a clear No. 1 cornerback. Whether we're talking about Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib or Patrick Peterson, each of these teams relied heavily on a guy who was head-and-shoulders better than his counterparts. It turns out that even teams such as Jacksonville, Miami and St. Louis, which you wouldn't think had shutdown corners, actually did. Miami traded Vontae Davis, while Rashean Mathis and Ron Bartell were lost to injury last year.
The converse is true of the teams that finished with the lowest No. 1-on-No. 1 frequency (e.g., Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Dallas). These teams had two (or three) corners of relatively equal quality, either all good (Philadelphia) or all bad (Buffalo).
So what does this mean for your matchup decisions this year? It's a two-part answer. First, notice that five of the eight high-frequency defenses had a coaching regime change in the offseason. Essentially, we won't know how these teams shift philosophies this season, if they shift at all. There's an early indication that Arizona's acquisition of William Gay has led to less set-it-and-forget-it corner responsibilities for Peterson. For the other teams that changed coaches though, only time will tell.
With that in mind, then, here's the bottom line: When evaluating wide receiver matchups, only account for the opposing cornerback when the wide receiver plays the Steelers, Jets, or Giants. Specific to No. 1 wideouts, you can be pretty sure that your guy is going to be covered by Ike Taylor when he plays Pittsburgh, Revis when he plays the Jets and Corey Webster when he plays the Giants. Matchups against other defenses just don't matter because what you expect happens far more rarely than you think.
Here are the best and worst fantasy matchups for Week 3:
Andrew Luck (plus-2 points)
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• Friday: Fantasy Football Now
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• Friday, 1 p.m. ET: Matthew Berry
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