This is not intended to be a start/sit or a rankings sheet. Use it when you have a tough decision regarding 2 running backs at similar levels. I’m just presenting the data here to help you make more informed decisions so you can win more often. From best to worst the matchups will be listed as (Great, Good, Average, Bad, Terrible). Good luck!
Miami @ NY Jets
Jay Ajayi, MIA
The Jets’ vaunted run defense has been playing worse since their week 11 bye. Still ranking 6th in DVOA they now rank 18th in points allowed. LeGarrette Blount (6.09 YPC), Frank Gore (4 YPC) and Carlos Hyde (11.3 YPC, 193 yards) have all had success against them. With the injuries to the offensive line Ajayi has struggled of late but still looks to be at worst a solid RB2 play against a defense that is not as strong against the run as they once were.
Matt Forte/Bilal Powell, NY Jets
Maimi ranks 22nd in DVOA but has only given up the 16th most points to the position. Still they are allowing running backs to average 4.8 YPC and have given up 10 touchdowns. Forte has a torn meniscus but he thinks he’s been playing with it all year. If he sits this week Powell will be an easy RB2 with upside after destroying a terrible San Francisco defense last game. If Forte plays he will likely be limited making Powell a safe flex play.
Detroit @ NY Giants
Dwayne Washington, DET
Filling in for Riddick last week, Washington ran the ball 16 times for 64 yards against a Bears defense missing key players. The Giants rank 5th in DVOA and are 10th in points allowed. With Riddick ruled out again this week, Washington should be in line for most of the work but makes a tough start against a good defense.
Rashad Jennings, NY Giants
Jennings continues to see good volume as he’s gotten at least 12 touches in every game since the Giants’ week 8 bye. Unfortunately he has not been able to do much with it. This week he gets a tough matchup with a Lions defense still ranked just 24th in DVOA but 7th in points allowed. Jennings will likely need to find the end zone to pay off for his owners. Even that seems unlikely as he has only seen 1 goal line carry in the last 4 weeks.
Philadelphia @ Baltimore
Ryan Mathews, PHI
If you’ve been reading this column every week you know that Baltimore is the best run defense in the league. Ranked first in DVOA and points allowed your best bet is to stay away from this matchup. Mathews should see plenty of work in this one as Wendall Smallwood was placed on IR and Darren Sproles is out with a concussion. Still he can’t be considered more than a RB3 in the week’s toughest matchup.
Kenneth Dixon/Terrence West, BAL
Dixon broke out in a big way last week against the Patriots but owners have to wonder if game script played a role. Still he looked good and if I had to pick a Baltimore running back to start he would be the one. The matchup isn’t great as Philadelphia ranks 12th in DVOA and points allowed. Factor in the question marks surrounding this backfield and neither seem like more than a flex start.
Green Bay @ Chicago
Ty Montgomerey/Christine Michael, GB
The Bears rank 20th in DVOA but are the 5th best scoring defense to the position. However they are missing key players with Jerrell Freeman suspended and DL Eddie Goldman being questionable with an ankle injury. Montgomerey has looked good when given the opportunity which isn’t often enough. Michael is still carving out his role in the offense as he’s only seen 9 and 10 carries the last 2 weeks. Both are tough to trust this week.
Jordan Howard, CHI
Green Bay ranks 20th in DVOA and 13th in points against. They’ve played well against bad running offenses and poorly against good ones. This week they get a good one as Howard has looked great in his rookie campaign and has been the lone bright spot on a bad Chicago offense. Howard is a must start this week.
Indianapolis @ Minnesota
Frank Gore, IND
The Vikings rank 14th in DVOA and 6th in points allowed. Gore has averaged 4 YPC the last 2 weeks and is always a threat in the passing game. However the matchup against a tough Vikings defense makes him nothing more than a RB2 this week.
Jerick McKinnon/Matt Asiata/Adrian Peterson, MIN
The Colts rank 30th in DVOA and 24th in points allowed. They allow 4.5 YPC and have given up 9 touchdowns. Unfortunately the Vikings offensive line is terrible and neither McKinnon nor Asiata have been consistent fantasy options. To make matters worse on Friday it was announced that Adrian Peterson would play. How much of a role he will have is anyone’s guess. Starting any of these players in such an important game carries significant risk. Best to wait and see how it plays itself out this week and hope you’re playing one more meaningful game.
Cleveland @ Buffalo
Isaiah Crowell, CLE
The Bills rank 29th in DVOA and 28th in points allowed. The biggest hurdle for Crowell this week will be game script. In the last 4 weeks the Browns have been outscored 114-39 forcing them away from the run. That doesn’t seem likely to change as the Bills are 10.5 point favorites at home. Still Crowell should make for a low end RB2 in a great matchup.
LeSean McCoy, BUF
If it wasn’t for San Francisco the Browns would easily be the worst run defense in the league. They rank 32nd in DVOA and 31st in points against. Jeremy Hill put up 142 yards and a touchdown against them last week. Now McCoy gets them at home in a game the Bills should dominate. Already one of the best running teams in the NFL, McCoy has seen an increased role in the passing game with 7 targets in each of his last two. All factors point to McCoy having a big fantasy day.
Tennessee @ Kansas City
DeMarco Murray, TEN
The Chiefs rank 19th in DVOA and 14th in points allowed. Murray looked good against Denver coming out of the bye averaging almost 5 YPC. The Chiefs lost linebacker Derrick Johnson for the season last week which will be a big hole to fill. Murray seems to be fully over his toe injury and is a locked in RB1 in a decent matchup.
Spencer Ware, KC
The Titans rank 13th in DVOA and 8th in points allowed. Ware is getting RB1 type volume but is putting up RB2 numbers. His lack of touchdowns has hurt but the Chiefs seem to be using him more near the goal line (4 carries over last 4 games). Even with the matchup he should be a high end RB2 this week.
Jacksonville @ Houston
TJ Yeldon, JAC
Yeldon was pretty much the only healthy running back last week and turned 24 touches into 91 yards against a tough Minnesota defense. Now he faces a Houston defense ranked 18th in DVOA and 21st in points allowed. Likely to be the every down back again Yeldon offers a safe floor this week for owners in desperate need of a running back.
Lamar Miller, HOU
In 2 games against the Colts Lamar Miller has scored a combined 48 points in standard scoring. That has accounted for 33% of his season total. Unfortunately he no longer plays the Colts. This week he gets a Jaguars defense ranked 16th in DVOA and 17th in points allowed. The last time he played the Jags he rushed 15 times for 83 yards. Don’t expect another huge outing from him though he offers a safe floor.
Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati
LeVeon Bell, PIT
Coming off one of the best fantasy games in history, Bell gets a Cincinnati defense ranked 23rd in DVOA and 20th in points allowed. With the weather expected to be frigid and Big Ben’s struggles on the road, Bell could be in for another big week. He is an obvious must start.
Jeremy Hill, CIN
The Steelers rank 10th in DVOA but 27th in points allowed. When these teams met in week 2 Hill averaged just 2.2 YPC. Now the lead back he has seen over 20 carries in 2 straight games. Don’t expect another big game like he had last week against Cleveland though his volume keeps him in the low RB1 range.
New Orleans @ Arizona
Mark Ingram/Tim Hightower, NO
The Cardinals rank 7th in DVOA and 2nd in points allowed. Battling a toe injury, Ingram saw just 8 touches for 23 yards last week. Hightower wasn’t much better turning 7 touches into 39 yards. With the Saints offense likely to struggle again on the road in a tough matchup both Ingram and Hightower are hard to trust.
David Johnson, ARI
The Saints have looked better on defense lately but still rank 17th in DVOA and 28th in points allowed. Regardless of matchup, David Johnson is a sure-fire, must-start RB1.
San Francisco @ Atlanta
Carlos Hyde, SF
Hyde has been playing great lately. Coming off a 193 yard, 1 touchdown game against the Jets he gets a Falcons defense ranked 28th in DVOA and 30th in points allowed. The 49ers seem to be in full tank mode and are just feeding Hyde the ball. In a plus matchup this week Hyde makes an easy start and should be in the RB1 range.
Devonta Freeman/Tevin Coleman, ATL
San Francisco’s struggles against the run are well documented. They rank 31st in DVOA and 32nd in points against. Last week filling in for Matt Forte, Bilal Powell carved them up for 179 yards and 2 touchdowns. Freeman was out touched 10-8 last week while Coleman scored 2 touchdowns to Freeman’s 0. Still you would have to think Freeman is more involved this week and should be in line for RB1 numbers. Coleman also makes for a great play and should be a RB2 with upside.
New England @ Denver
LeGarrette Blount, NE
The Broncos rank 25th in DVOA and 22nd in points allowed. With the Broncos pass rush and lock down corners likely holding the passing game in check (at least as much as any defense can), Blount should be the focal point of the offense. He is in the RB1 range this week and is a must start.
James White/Dion Lewis, NE
The Broncos rank 16th in DVOA against pass catching backs averaging 45 yards through the air. White seems to be the preferred option over Lewis but both are tough starts in any format.
DeVontae Booker/Justin Forsett, DEN
Week 14 may have been the week Booker finally lost the starting job. Given a golden opportunity to showcase his talents after CJ Anderson was lost to injury he fell flat and could never get it going. Forsett saw 9 touches to Booker’s 5 last week. Neither seem startable against a New England defense ranked 2nd in DVOA and 11th in points against. Unless one clearly takes over the starters role this week this is a backfield to avoid.
Oakland @ San Diego
Latavius Murray, OAK
San Diego is actually OK against the run ranking 15th in DVOA and allowing just 3.7 YPC. Where they struggle is keeping backs out of the end zone as they have given up 17 touchdowns to the position. Even if Murray struggles to gain yards he is a great goal line threat as he’s seen 6 goal line carries (T-3rd) over the last 4 weeks. Murray is on the RB1 radar and is a great start this week.
Kenneth Farrow, SD
Oakland ranks 26th in both DVOA and points allowed. With Melvin Gordon out at least one more week with a hip and knee strain, Kenneth Farrow should be in line for the bulk of the work. Even with the matchup it’s hard to project him as more than a RB2 though he is a safe option for those in need of running back help.
Tampa Bay @ Dallas
Doug Martin, TB
All last week the rumor was Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers would be more involved. Well that didn’t happen as Martin saw 25 touches to Sims’ and Rodgers’ 9 combined. Dallas ranks 4th in DVOA and 3rd in points allowed so the Martin is in a tough spot this week. Still the volume and goal line work (6 carries in the last 4 weeks) make Martin a solid RB2.
Ezekiel Elliott, DAL
Tampa Bay has been playing much better defense of late. While they still rank 21st in DVOA they are now just 15th in points allowed. Obviously you’re starting Elliott regardless of matchup, but this could be another week were he underwhelms compared to what we expect to see from him.
Carolina @ Washington
Jonathan Stewart, CAR
Washington ranks 27th in DVOA and 25th in points against. Stewart has not been effeicient with his carries this year but he’s seeing plenty of goal line work. Over the last 4 weeks no other running back has seen as many goal line carries as Stewart (8) and he’s totaled 4 touchdowns over that span. Against a weak Washington defense he could certainly find his way into the end zone once again.
Robert Kelley, WAS
Apart from the thrashing put on them by Thomas Rawls, Carolina’s run defense will get a big boost this week with the return of Luke Kuechly. Still ranked 8th in DVOA and points allowed, the Panthers present a tough matchup for Kelley. As the Redskins only reliable back he still makes for a solid RB2 this week.
Questions about the matchups? Anyone I missed? Let me know in the comments below.