Week 9 fantasy matchups intel
Danny Tuccitto
3 de November de 2011, 4:07 PM
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Last week in this space, I laid out the case that, in non-points-per-reception leagues, the number of targets a wide receiver accumulates gives no additional information to fantasy owners above and beyond what they can already glean from simply looking at reception totals. This week, rather than judging whether one wide receiver statistic is better than the other, I'll simply provide you with some information that's not readily available on fantasy football websites.

These days, every pass in the NFL play-by-play is separated into air yards and yards after catch, or YAC. Simply put, air yards is the number of yards the pass traveled in the air, while YAC is the number of yards the receiver traveled after catching the pass -- illuminating, I know. League-wide, about 67 percent of reception yardage this season has been due to air yards, with the remaining 33 percent due to YAC.

Where they come into one's analysis of fantasy football depends on one's league scoring system. All but the most arcane scoring systems give points for yards. However, some give bonus points for long touchdowns, so players who either catch long throws or run a long distance after catching short throws have extra value.

Using Football Outsiders' play-by-play database, I calculated air yards and YAC for each of the top 72 fantasy wide receivers this season, which should cover almost every wideout on a fantasy roster at this point in the season. Because players accumulate more YAC the more receptions they have, I turned both air yards and YAC into per-reception statistics. Air yards per catch tells you which wideouts are gaining most of their yardage on deep routes, whereas YAC per catch tells you which ones are benefitting more from catching underneath routes in space. Below is a table showing the top 20 wide receivers in both air yards per catch and YAC per catch:

As you can see, the real fantasy studs are wide receivers like Steve Smith, Mike Wallace and Calvin Johnson, who each show up on both lists. Where the informational value lies, however, is in taking stock of the other wideouts. Those on teams like Baltimore, Oakland and San Diego, are especially useful in leagues with bonus points for long receptions or touchdowns, because those teams' pass offenses are built on play-action bombs, and their receivers' air yards per reception bears this out. In contrast, teams like New England, Tampa Bay and most of the others in the YAC-per-reception list, tend to rely more on short passes in space. Their receivers accumulate more receptions, with the opportunity for long touchdowns of the run-after-catch variety.

Hopefully, that information was useful to you in some way. Now, let's turn to specific player matchups for Week 9.

Quarterbacks

Matt Ryan (plus-21 points)

This week, Ryan faces the worst pass defense in the NFL according to our metrics: the Indianapolis Colts. To boot, this week sees the return of Julio Jones to the starting wide receiver spot opposite Roddy White. In the four games prior to Jones getting injured, Ryan averaged 284 yards and two touchdowns per contest. Over the past three games with Jones sidelined, Ryan has averaged 183 yards and one touchdown against competition of similar caliber.

Matt Cassel (plus-16 points)

In three of his past four games, Cassel has thrown for at least 250 yards and a touchdown. His best game of the season came against the aforementioned dead-last Colts pass defense. One spot ahead of the Colts in our rankings is the Dolphins' pass defense, which gave up 349 yards and two touchdowns last week on the road against Eli Manning. This week, Miami travels to Kansas City, and should therefore be ripe for another fit of generosity.

After several weeks at sea immediately following the loss of Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs' offense finally found its way back to shore thanks to the emergence of Jackie Battle. Last week, rookie wideout Jonathan Baldwin had his breakout game. Therefore, an extra bit of advice here is that, if there are any Kansas City starters languishing on your league's waiver wire, go ahead and pick them up.

Tim Tebow (plus-10 points)*

With Tebow, you never know what you're going to get from one play to the next. It's fitting, then, that his presence here is because I'm going to recommend against starting him this week despite his favorable matchup against Oakland. Yes, we rank the Raiders' defense 23rd against the pass. Yes, they've allowed two or more passing touchdowns in five of their seven games. However, excluding his miraculous fourth quarter against Miami, Tebow's thrown for a combined 212 yards and one touchdown in two starts. Essentially, unless the Raiders play prevent defense the entire game, Tebow is simply not good enough to exploit this matchup.

Ryan Fitzpatrick (minus-13 points)

After a couple of subpar games, Fitzpatrick has rebounded the past two weeks, passing for an average of 253 yards and two touchdowns. However, his opponent this week, the New York Jets, has the second-best pass defense in the league right now according to our metrics. What's more, if you exclude their games against the Cowboys and Patriots -- and I bet the Jets wish they could -- they're allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw for 163 yards and (essentially) zero touchdowns.

Running backs

LeGarrette Blount (plus-7 points)

Anyone who watched the Rams upset the Saints last week knows that St. Louis' offense relied on a steady dose of Steven Jackson. The fact Jackson was able to run all over New Orleans should have come as no surprise given that, in their prior three games, the Saints' run defense had given up 100-yard games to DeAngelo Williams, Earnest Graham and the two-headed non-monster of Delone Carter and Donald Brown.

All indications are that Blount will be returning to the starting lineup this week. With Earnest Graham out for the season, it also appears that he'll be more of a three-down back than he had been previously. Taken together, these circumstances warrant his inclusion in fantasy starting lineups this week.

Rashard Mendenhall (minus-15 points)

The Ravens' run defense has regressed somewhat over the past two games, but they're still second in our rankings. In the first Ravens-Steelers game this season, Mendenhall rushed for only 45 yards and failed to score. He's run the ball much better of late, but the rivalry games between these two teams tend to be knockdown, drag-out brawls. In other words, don't expect a lot of offense in this one.

Kevin Faulk (minus-10 points)

Over their past five games, the Giants' run defense has allowed an average of 118 yards and one touchdown to opposing No. 1 running backs. If you didn't watch last week's Patriots-Steelers game -- and shame on you if you didn't -- you might think that Faulk has immediately...
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