The Fantasy Focus is a weekly column that breaks down everything you need to know to set your fantasy football lineups. Make your start and sit decisions with fantasy facts, injury information, matchups stats, predictions for the week and more.
Handcuffing is a widely used strategy in fantasy football, but rarely is it used correctly. We often hear about handcuffing during fantasy draft season. People prioritize handcuffs in the late rounds, and what typically ends up happening is they drop these players three weeks into the season.
Sure, if you drafted James Conner this year, the strategy worked like gangbusters. But that’s the exception, not the rule. So the advice I gave and will continue to give is don’t handcuff on draft day unless you have a crazy deep bench. Instead, spend those late-round picks on high upside wide receivers and late-round quarterback options.
But that’s not to say that I’m against the idea of handcuffing. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Handcuffing is an excellent strategy in mid-November. At this time of year, you likely have a player or two who is simply wasting space on your bench. These guys are never going to crack your starting lineup, so why are they still on your roster?
Cut bait on these space-eaters and grab some of the premium handcuffs. Guys like Spencer Ware, Malcolm Brown, and Rod Smith are widely available and should be stashed immediately. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll be fantasy relevant this season, their fantasy value would shoot through the roof if their respective starter was lost due to injury.
Sure, you could try to win the free agent bidding war for their services after the fact. But wouldn’t you rather take the shot now? Not only do you have the potential make a massive return on investment, but also just think of how tilted your league will get when they see that handcuff already owned on your roster.
It hasn’t been a breakout season for Corey Davis, but the wide receiver is coming off a breakout game against the Patriots with seven catches for 125 yards and a score. Davis led all receivers for the week with three end-zone targets. While some fantasy owners have been reluctant to use Davis, he’s trending up at the right time. More importantly, Davis is seeing a massive 31% target share on the season. Only DeAndre Hopkins has seen a larger team target share in 2018.
Chances are that if you have Eric Ebron, he probably was on your bench last week. And yes, his production was impressive. But it’s important to consider that he did all of that damage in just 20 snaps. That’s what the kids like to call “unsustainable.” Meanwhile, Jack Doyle ran more than double Ebron’s snaps (45) and equaled him in targets (3). As much as you may not want this advice, Doyle is still the better play for fantasy given those usage numbers.
Tevin Coleman led all running backs last week with four carries inside the 5. While he didn’t score on any of them, this usage is very encouraging for Coleman. There’s still a committee in the Atlanta backfield with Ito Smith in the mix, but Coleman’s usage and recent performance bodes well for him to sustain high-end RB2 value going forward.
On 301 passing attempts, Alex Smith has only thrown to the end zone nine times. To put that into context, Matt Barkley had 25 attempts in Week 10 and four of them were to the end zone. If you’re looking for the reason why Jordan Reed has been a fantasy disappointment this season, that’s it right there. Reed has seen 53 targets on the year and zero of them have come in the end zone. He’s the most heavily targeted player to not see an end-zone target this year.
A.J. Green’s troublesome toe is looking like it’ll cost the star wideout another game, after he missed practice on Thursday. To make matters worse, a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter suggests Green could miss time into December. Green owners should be prepared to weather the storm over the next few weeks. In the meantime, John Ross figures to continue to see increased volume going forward. Ross racked up eight targets in Green’s absence last week.
It’s looking likely that the Ravens will be without Joe Flacco this weekend. The veteran is dealing with a hip injury and has yet to practice this week. If Flacco doesn’t play, the signs are pointing to rookie Lamar Jackson getting the start. Jackson missed Thursday’s practice with a stomach issue, which isn’t a major concern. The bigger issue here is whether or not the Ravens decide to roll with Robert Griffin instead. The moral here is that Jackson is far from a safe bet to be under center as the starter this weekend.
The Lions could be without Marvin Jones this week. Jones has a bone bruise in his knee and hasn’t practiced this week. Jones sitting would leave the Lions extremely thin at wide receiver. While that will likely mean more targets for Kenny Golladay, it could also mean extra defensive attention shifting his way. Regardless, Golladay will be a volume play in the front-end of the WR2s.
More injury notes: The Texans could get Keke Coutee back this week, but fantasy owners will want to steer clear. His role is unclear with Demaryius Thomas now on the roster. … It’s looking very iffy for Chris Godwin this week after the young wideout missed his second practice of the week on Thursday. If Godwin doesn’t go, Adam Humphries will get a bump up to flex territory. … Jordy Nelson is trending toward not playing this week. You probably weren’t considering him anyway, but Nelson is remarkably still owned in 46.8% of leagues. He’s just taking up space on all of those rosters and should be dropped.
Wide receiver matchups
Michael Thomas has been an absolute fantasy monster this season. He enters the week tied for the league lead in receptions with 78 and second among receivers in yards with 950. Better yet, Thomas faces a banged-up Eagles secondary that just lost arguably their best corner in Ronald Darby to a torn ACL. To make matters worse, both Jalen Mills and Sidney Jones enter the week banged up, so the Eagles could be forced to rely on a cornerback trio of Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, and Chandon Sullivan.
We know there are going to be fireworks in the Chiefs/Rams game, so start every piece of it that you can. That’s especially true for Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, who will draw a favorable matchup any time they’re in Marcus Peters’ coverage. The former Chief has allowed a massive 72% catch rate, 16.6 yards per catch, and six touchdowns in his coverage this season. Hill is an every-week starter, but Watkins gets a nice bump this week and should be considered a back-end WR2.
Odell Beckham Jr. is another every-week play, but he’s especially appealing this week against the Bucs. Veteran Brent Grimes has been a plus matchup for opposing wideouts with 15.2 yards per catch and 67% catch rate allowed. Beckham is coming off a two-score outing and has the chance to add to his touchdown total this week.
Fantasy players who started Golden Tate last week were likely disappointed in his debut performance with the Eagles. Tate ran just 32% of the Eagles pass routes and had only two catches. While that doesn’t instill any confidence, Tate is in play as a WR3 option this week. His role should expand going forward and he draws a favorable matchup against P.J. Williams out of the slot. Williams is allowing and 72% catch rate and has surrendered five touchdowns in his coverage this season.
There’s no reason to ever bench Julio Jones, but fantasy owners need to be aware of his matchup this week. Jones will see plenty of Byron Jones, who has been excellent for the Cowboys this year. He’s allowing a modest 51% catch rate and has zero touchdowns scored in his coverage. The matchup isn’t enough to bench Julio Jones, but don’t panic if he has a suboptimal day.
Likewise, Antonio Brown is always in your starting lineup. But he also has a tricky matchup this week with the potential that he sees a shadow from Jalen Ramsey. While Ramsey hasn’t been shutdown this year, he has only allowed one touchdown and receivers have managed to catch just 53% of balls in his coverage.
Allen Robinson returned to the field last week after missing time with a groin injury and proceeded to torch the Lions for 133 yards and two touchdowns. While those numbers are encouraging, fantasy owners may want to temper their expectations for Robinson this week. He’s a good bet to draw a shadow from Xavier Rhodes. While Rhodes hasn’t graded out particularly well through the first half of the season, he has done a good job of containing opposing No. 1 receivers with an average of just 3.7 targets thrown into his coverage per game since Week 2.
The Broncos anointed Courtland Sutton as their No. 2 receiver after trading Demaryius Thomas to the Texans. While this move certainly opened up more opportunity for Sutton, it’s wise to fade him this week. Sutton will likely see Casey Hayward in shadow coverage. Hayward has allowed a total of 14 yards in his coverage in shadow situations over his last three games.
It’s a tough matchup for the Vikings passing game this week. You’re starting Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs no matter what, but this is going to be a tricky week. Thielen will see his share of Bryce Callahan in the slot. He’s done a great job of keeping everything in front of him and allows just 7.8 yards per catch. Diggs will also be tested on the outside where he’s likely to see Kyle Fuller. The Bears corner is allowing a 56% catch rate
Matchup stats to know
Ezekiel Elliott enters the week red hot after roasting the Eagles Sunday night. Elliott racked up 187 scrimmage yards and two scores against one of the toughest run defenses in the league. This week, he gets to face one of the league’s most porous units. Nick Chubb absolutely shredded the Falcons last week and ripped off the longest play of the season with his 92-yard touchdown. Look for more of the same from Elliott in this extremely favorable matchup.
It hasn’t been the most consistent season for Alex Collins, but there’s a lot to like about his matchup this week. Collins faces a reeling Bengals defense that currently surrenders the third-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. A big part of the success running backs have been having against Cincinnati is their ability to find the end zone. Over their last four games, Cincinnati has surrendered a massive six touchdowns to opposing running backs. Collins is a front-end RB2 play this week.
In a week with six teams on bye, you may be forced to use players like Doug Martin. While there’s little to like about the Raiders offense and Martin’s age is somewhat scary the later we get into the season, he does draw a favorable matchup against Arizona. The Cardinals have allowed 100-plus yards to six of the nine backfields they’ve faced with four rushing scores allowed to running backs over their last four games. Martin sneaks into the back-end of the RB2s this week.
If you own Joe Mixon, you likely have to start him this week. But keep in mind that gamescript and matchup aren’t in his favor. With the Bengals defense struggling, Mixon isn’t likely to see a script with the Bengals playing from the lead. He also has to face a Ravens defense that has surrendered the fewest fantasy points per game to running backs this year. If there is any silver lining, it’s that James Conner put up a big day against the Ravens in Week 9.
Don’t sleep on the Titans. Tennessee’s defense has been impressive in the middle of the season, and the Titans are now the second-worst matchup for running backs in fantasy. They completely shut down the New England run game last week and held Ezekiel Elliott in check the week before that. Marlon Mack is still in the RB2 conversation with six teams on bye this week, but fantasy owners will want to temper expectations for him in this matchup.
If you need help at quarterback this week, Dak Prescott is the top streamer of the week. He’s trending up for fantasy and has more stability at wide receiver with Amari Cooper in house. Better yet, Prescott draws a plus matchup against a Falcons defense that has surrendered three-or-more passing scores to six of the nine quarterbacks they’ve faced, including Baker Mayfield last week.
Eli Manning is coming off a three-score outing on Monday night and is in play as a streamer option again this week. He enters the week third in end-zone throws with 29, so the potential for a big day is there. Plus, Manning faces a Bucs defense that has been very friendly to opposing signal-callers with the third-most fantasy points per game allowed to the position.
Deshaun Watson returns from bye this week and he’s in play as a rock-solid option with a plus matchup on tap against Washington. Opposing quarterbacks have been racking up the yards against the Redskins. Over the last three weeks, Washington is surrendering an average 357 passing yards per game. That massive number plus Watson’s weapons at receiver bode well for fantasy success this week.
It’s tough to provide a ringing endorsement for Kirk Cousins this week. Cousins faces a Bears defense that has been excellent for most of the season. Over their last four games, Chicago has allowed just two passing scores and an average of 202 passing yards per game. Fade Cousins this week if you can.
Other matchup upgrades:
Cam Newton vs. Detroit
Jared Goff vs. Kansas City
Drew Brees vs. Philadelphia
Carson Wentz vs. New Orleans
Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. NY Giants
Christian McCaffrey vs. Detroit
Phillip Lindsay vs. LA Chargers
Peyton Barber vs. NY Giants
Other matchup downgrades:
Andy Dalton vs. Baltimore
Matthew Stafford vs. Carolina
Leonard Fournette vs. Pittsburgh
Mark Ingram vs. Philadelphia
Dalvin Cook vs. Chicago
Dion Lewis vs. Indianapolis
Adrian Peterson vs. Houston
Jordan Howard vs. Minnesota
Josh Adams vs. New Orleans