Schedule Release Reaction: Fantasy Matchups To Target
I know what you’re thinking. The whole idea of creating content around a schedule feels contrived.
It’s May. Go out and touch some grass.
But the best-ball bros need their rosters fully correlated. And the leaks already had us thinking back to highlights from last season. So, with the table set for the ’23 season and a few spreadsheets, I found some matchups I’m excited about once the games kick off in September.
Quick Process Note
I had to devise a method for finding noteworthy games or use a combination of vibes and my Bengals fandom. Luckily, I had already done some of the work.
Efficient teams and pass-friendly offenses typically net us games filled with fantasy goodness. And last season was no different. After calculating weekly ranks for both metrics, I came away with a couple of nuggets:
- 35 of the 43 games that went 10+ points over the projected total had at least one team above the league average in expected points added (EPA) per play and pass rate over expected (PROE)
- 40.9% of the games that beat their total by 7+ points featured a top-12 offense in EPA per play and PROE
- Only 10 of 89 games with two top-12 offenses in PROE failed to get within a field goal of the projected total
Training camps and preseason hype may change my mind, but I’ll let the stats guide me to some of the best matchups in the upcoming season.
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Week 4: Dolphins at Bills
Honestly, I’d have picked this one just based on vibes anyway. Do you remember how last year's regular season games ended?
And let’s not forget the (near) catastrophic Super Wild Card game with Skylar Thompson bringing the Dolphins within a field goal of an upset. With Mike McDaniel at the helm, this AFC East rivalry goes from a cakewalk for the Bills to a barnburner anytime the two teams get together. And last season’s ranks back up the hype.
Both squads finished the ’22 season top 10 in PROE and EPA per play. Josh Allen was the fantasy QB2, and Tyreek Hill was the WR2. Seven skill players across both offenses require a top-100 pick in best ball drafts making both offenses one to target. But I chose this divisional matchup for a separate reason.
The Bills and Dolphins upgraded their personnel through the draft. Dalton Kincaid went to Buffalo on Day 1, and Devon Achane took his speed to Miami. Given a month of action, we’ll see both rookies integrated into the offense. Plus, with 60 points generated in their last two matchups, I’ll have my popcorn ready for this one.
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Week 15: Vikings at Bengals
Come on. You knew something about the Bengals was coming. Regardless, let’s do a vibes check.
We’ve got Justin Jefferson on one side and his former LSU teammates, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, on the other. They haven’t been on the field together since Week 1 of the 2021 season, but a pre-game check to see who has the best griddy may be in order.
Oh, and the actual game should be fun, too.
Despite a disastrous end to a playoff run, Minnesota’s offense looked futuristic compared to their ’21 tendencies. Under coach Kevin O’Connell, their PROE skyrocketed, and Kirko Chainz hit a career-high in pass attempts. And the Vikings’ offense only looks more potent with T.J. Hockenson fully onboard and Jordan Addison waiting to complement Jefferson. But this game isn’t about just the passing attacks. We’ve also got a potentially weak defense for the Bengals to exploit.
Minnesota was 31st in passing yards allowed per game and gave up the tenth-most QB1 performances last season. As a result, they used three of the first four draft picks on their defense.
Cincinnati will return their primary starters and host a young Vikings defense with two rookies in the secondary who are both under six feet tall. I expect Tee Higgins to Moss defenders again, but Minnesota has the offensive firepower to answer back.
Week 7: Chargers at Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes pitted against Justin Herbert sounds like a heavyweight bout, given the arm talent between the two passers. Their interdivisional rivalry has been a fantasy goldmine since the Chargers drafted the Oregon product.
When the two meet, the assets tied to that game benefit. And it’s no surprise both units wound up in the top 5 for PROE. But these matchups haven’t been entirely enjoyable for everyone playing. Mahomes only has one loss against the Bolts with Herbert under center. It’s always something. But maybe LA has a better answer this season.
In Week 2 (without Keenan Allen), Herbert converted just four of 11 third and fourth-down attempts. Allen was back in Week 11, but Herbert was under fire all game (44.7% pressure rate). However, Los Angeles made strides to fix both issues over the offseason.
LT Rashawn Slater will return, and the front office re-signed offensive line depth at the start of free agency. But their biggest addition (literally and figuratively) was at WR.
Quentin Johnston instantly steps in as the (much-needed) third receiving option for the Chargers. He’s an upgrade over the ancillary options currently on the depth chart and will help keep the chains moving for Herbert.
We already know Mahomes, armed with Travis Kelce and (WR1?) Kadarius Toney, will keep LA’s aerial attack on notice all game. But now, Herbert and company may be able to turn the tables on the Super Bowl champs.
Week 15: Eagles at Seahawks
I’ll be honest. Picking this matchup goes against my process. Only the Eagles were top 12 in EPA per play last season. On the flip side, the Seahawks finished top 12 in PROE. Maybe we won’t see much of an offensive battle here. Instead, we could get more quotes from the QBs to hype us up.
And Jalen Hurts continues to be the consummate professional.
Each statement sent the community reeling with praise for either signal caller, but there aren’t any style points in fantasy leagues. We need some indication each franchise will either be more efficient or pass-happy in 2023. Luckily, we got some subtle signs.
- PHI: Added Olamide Zaccheaus (better downfield blocker, but quietly had the second-most first downs for Atlanta in ’22) and D’Andre Swift (earned 60-plus targets in back-to-back seasons)
- SEA: Spent first-round pick on Jaxon Smith-Njigba (consensus ‘23 WR1 prospect) and drafted Zach Charbonnet on Day 2 (productive receiver)
Undoubtedly, the Seahawks will push for more passing, but their upgraded personnel and healthy offensive line will result in fewer turnovers in critical situations for Geno Smith. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s offense could use the passing-game shift their additions suggest.
Hurts was bottom-12 in targeting the RB and TE positions while having the third-most efficient TE on his team. Dwain McFarland noted Hurts could be on the Josh Allen career arc of growing into a pass-first team, making this matchup a hidden gem on the schedule.
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Week 15: Ravens at Jaguars
Again, the metrics don’t fully support this one, but I’m tossing the spreadsheets aside for what should be an exciting AFC matchup. Let’s start with the Ravens.
Lamar Jackson returns to Baltimore but to a brand new offense. The Ravens ended ’22 ranked 24th in PROE, which fell in line with OC Greg Roman’s playcalling. But Todd Monken replaced Roman, and the former Georgia OC has a slightly different take on what matters for an offense.
Monken’s offenses have been top-10 in early-down pass rate the last three seasons he called plays. As a result, we saw the rise of Jameis Winston and a career-high in passing yards from Baker Mayfield. But a coaching change alone won’t give us the passing development we want for Jackson. He needs weapons, and the Ravens’ front office got them.
Odell Beckham going to Baltimore gives them depth, but drafting Zay Flowers lifts their floor and ceiling. He complements Rashod Bateman as an intermediate threat on crossing routes while still threatening defenses deep. Jackson wants to throw for 6,000 yards, and the Jaguars gave up the sixth-most passing yards per game in ’22. But Jacksonville can put up a fight.
Before adding Calvin Ridley, the Jags were top 12 in EPA per play and PROE. Now, they have an alpha WR1 to stretch defenses with middle-of-the-field options in Christian Kirk and Evan Engram. Trevor Lawrence has a fully operational battle station to command against a Ravens’ secondary that finished 18th in EPA per dropback allowed.
It’s not hard to see how quickly this matchup can turn into a shootout with these offenses in the mix.