One of the most immediate ways to decide what fantasy football players to put in your lineup is to consider how a defense has done against a certain position. You can find these stats on just about any fantasy service – DraftKings, FanDuel, Yahoo!, ESPN, whichever you use. But does that number always paint an accurate picture?
Take, for instance, the Packers' run defense.
So far in 2016, the Pack ranks at or near the bottom in terms of a favorable matchup for running backs.
But a closer look should make you ask yourself whether you should believe they're that good.
So far, Green Bay has faced the Jaguars (T.J. Yeldon and Denard Robinson); the Vikings (Adrian Peterson injured himself during the game, and even before that, was continuing a poor start to 2016); the Lions (who have little skill running between the tackles); and the Giants (a cast of underwhelming backups replacing an injured Rashad Jennings and, as our own Chris Liss knows too well, a crippling offensive identity crisis).
Still scared of them?
It's all about context. You'll read plenty of football analysts – fantasy and reality – argue that the Cowboys may have a tough time running on Green Bay in Week 6. Sure, the Packers' defensive line, led by stud Mike Daniels, presents a tough test.
Either way, it probably isn't as harmful as you think. While Dallas has carved up some weak defenses this year, this ground game has two-plus seasons of elite performance. Its latest incarnation, led by rookie stud Ezekiel Elliott, doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Not that Elliott probably would be benched in any capacity right now, but reading too much into statistics that may not represent the opponent's true difficulty level may make you worry about things that aren't there.
This sample size usually is enough to start believing in season-long numbers, but there's still room for error.
Other potentially misleading stats:
• The Eagles' pass defense ranks as one of the best so far. They did well against Ben Roethlisberger in Week 3, but they had good padding for stats against the Browns (Robert Griffin III) and Bears (Jay Cutler and, after he was hurt, Brian Hoyer). But while they held Matthew Stafford to 180 yards, he threw for three scores against them. Philly may torture Kirk Cousins this weekend, but more upcoming opponents – Sam Bradford, Dak Prescott and even Eli Manning – should perform better than expected.
• The Chargers sit near the middle of the league in terms of defending wide receivers. But in the first game after cornerback Jason Verrett (knee) went on Injured Reserve, they were blown up by the Raiders' Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Expect them to be much more favorable to the position from here on out.
• The Cardinals have barely allowed fantasy points to tight ends. They've faced a Martellus Bennett who wasn't allowed to go on many routes in Week 1, then Cameron Brate, Charles Clay, and the Rams and 49ers, who rarely use the position. The Jets in Week 6 probably won't, either (unless perennial sleeper Austin Seferian-Jenkins can take advantage of injuries or convince them he's useful). Still, over the next several weeks, Arizona will be tested by the likes of Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen and Kyle Rudolph. You won't bench any of them based on past stats that don't represent the threat they pose.
Lesson: Always look at who the defense faced, and determine whether that hinders a player's chances to succeed.