StrategyOctober 29, 2009

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Weak Defenses and Favorable Week 8 Matchups

By Jeff LaGrassa

Looking to exploit favorable fantasy matchups in Week 8? In this article, I list the worst rushing and passing defenses in the league through the first seven weeks of the season, their opponents, and who may benefit and produce great fantasy performances.

Worst Run Defenses

RankTeamGamesYds. AllowedYds/gameRush TDs
27St. Louis Rams7951135.911
28San Diego Chargers6826137.76
29Tampa Bay Buccaneers71,137162.47
30Oakland Raiders71,188169.711
31Cleveland Browns71,194170.610
32Buffalo Bills71,207172.49

Matchups in Week 8

27 St. Louis Rams @ Detroit Lions (Kevin Smith)
28 San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders (Justin Fargas, Michael Bush)
29 Tampa Bay Buccaneers BYE WEEK
30 Oakland Raiders @ San Diego Chargers (LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles)
31 Cleveland Browns @ Chicago Bears (Matt Forte)
32 Buffalo Bills vs. Houston Texans (Steve Slaton, Chris Brown)

Worst Pass Defenses

RankTeamGamesYds. AllowedYds/gamePass TDs
24Cleveland Browns71,710244.310
25St. Louis Rams71,747249.611
26Atlanta Falcons61,504250.78
27Kansas City Chiefs71,765252.113
28Cincinnati Bengals71,773253.310
29Arizona Cardinals61,546257.710
30Detroit Lions61,551258.517
31Jacksonville Jaguars61,572262.012
32Tennessee Titans61,864310.719

Matchups in Week 8

24 Cleveland Browns @ Chicago Bears (Jay Cutler, Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Greg Olsen, Earl Bennett)
25 St. Louis Rams @ Detroit Lions (Matthew Stafford / Daunte Culpepper, Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson)
26 Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees, Marques Colston, Jeremy Shockey, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem)
27 Kansas City Chiefs BYE WEEK
28 Cincinnati Bengals BYE WEEK
29 Arizona Cardinals vs. Carolina Panthers (Jake Delhomme / Matt Moore, Steve Smith)
30 Detroit Lions vs. St. Louis Rams (Marc Bulger, Donnie Avery, Keenan Burton)
31 Jacksonville Jaguars @ Tennessee Titans (Kerry Collins / Vince Young, Justin Gage, Kenny Britt)
32 Tennessee Titans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (David Garrard, Mike Sims-Walker, Torry Holt, Marcedes Lewis)

Some caveats:
# While we now have six or seven weeks worth of data for most teams with which to notice trends and draw conclusions, this data can be greatly influenced by whether a team has faced strong rushing or passing offenses so far this year.
# Injuries can come into play; a strong defense at the start of the year may be getting weaker due to the loss of stud defensive players, and the opposite is also true – the return of key personnel may bolster what was initially a weak defense, but the “averages haven’t caught up yet.”
# You should never bench your studs.
# Just because teams have favorable matchups against weak defenses does not necessarily guarantee fantasy success. A lot of other factors come into play depending on what is going on with the gameplan, the game itself, and other things.
# Teams may decide that even though their opponent may have a weak passing defense, they’d rather gameplan to run the ball.
# If a team gets down quickly, they may not have the choice of running the ball even though their opponent may have a weak running defense — they may be forced to pass and play catch-up.
# A tight end who should have a favorable matchup against a weak passing defense may be needed to stay and help block because of a decimated offensive line.

These favorable matchups pan out more often than they fail, but it’s important to stress that other than the obvious studs, some of the players listed are for borderline roster decisions in larger (12 and 14-team) leagues which also start a 3rd WR, a 4th WR, or a flex spot. In a smaller (10-team) league which only starts 2 RB and 2 WR positions, I’m not likely to ever bench my studs solely to opt for a player with a favorable matchup.

Additional notes

At nearly the halfway point in the season, Week 8 marks a do-or-die point for many NFL players and whether you utilize them in fantasy football re-draft leagues. If you have a losing record, there’s no longer time to wait around for a struggling player. Matt Forte was a top-five pick in most formats, but the Bears offensive line has looked very shaky this year and Forte has been a bust to date. If he doesn’t produce at home against the second-worst run defense in the league this week (Cleveland), then he probably never will. In fact, if he has a productive week then he might be a good sell high candidate as his fantasy playoffs schedule in Weeks 14-16 consists of Green Bay, Baltimore, and Minnesota, all currently top-11 run defenses. So even if you’re able to turn your season around and make the playoffs, Forte likely won’t be of much help then.

In other matchups against weak run defenses, Kevin Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson and Steve Slaton all look towards productive weeks ahead of them. Slaton has been accumulating a lot of yardage through the air, but his running has been suspect and he’s been fumbling quite a bit; perhaps this is the week he gets it back on track on the ground. I think it goes without saying that because the Raiders offense has been so inept this entire year, despite the favorable matchup, starting a Raiders RB is like playing with fire. Similar to Forte, if Tomlinson can’t manage a modicum of success at home against a Raider defense that just got gashed for over 315 yards by the Jets, one wonders if he no longer can find success at all.

As for this week’s passing defenses, two of league’s weaker pass defenses are on bye, so we’ll again go a little deeper into the rankings. Some of these matchups are “U-G-L-Y!” To wit, while Carolina, St. Louis and Tennessee all have favorable matchups, each team’s respective quarterback play has been brutal. I know a lot of NFL teams are on bye this week and Carson Palmer, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger owners have to examine their options, but Choke Delhomme, Off-the-Mark Bulger, and Scary Collins are not viable ones!

Cutler should rebound from his miserable Week 7 performance vs. the Bengals — playing the Browns is always a soothing cure-all — and expect the New Orleans juggernaut to keep rolling on Monday night versus an Atlanta defense which has been torched by Jay Cutler and Tony Romo in successive weeks.

Jeff LaGrassa is a Steelers fan and a Cafe regular, and a proud new dad. In his free time (yeah right!) he enjoys disc golf, skiing, and playing the electric bass. You can catch him posting in the Cafe forums as The Lung.
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