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Defenses and Dragons: Fantasy implications for Lions-Eagles

An early bye week allowed a couple of key Philadelphia starters rest up for their game against Detroit.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Defenses and Dragons takes a look each week at the key skill players that will go up against the Detroit Lions by comparing their fantasy output to that allowed by the Lions defense. All scoring and rankings use six points per passing touchdown and half a point per reception.

Much like it was for the Detroit Lions, Week 4 was one to forget for D&D. The numbers did not favor the ragtag trio of Brian Hoyer, Jordan Howard, and Eddie Royal, but here we are. Fantasy football is not a game played on paper (well, kind of), and determining the outcome of any single matchup is near impossible. Deciphering the surprising Philadelphia offense is no easier, but onward we march.

Quarterback

Rookie Carson Wentz has enjoyed a nice start to the season, sitting 10th in PPG. He has five touchdowns overall while averaging over 250 yards per game, and he has yet to turn the ball over. He barely runs at all, totaling just 21 rushing yards this season, but that may be the only area where he is not excelling. For a brand new quarterback—and an undrafted fantasy asset—Wentz has greatly exceeded expectations.

The Lions still rank near dead last against quarterbacks, and the excuses are running out. Facing Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers initially inflated the numbers, but after Marcus Mariota and Hoyer had serviceable days, the trend is now clear. Go ahead and start Wentz this week. He is a top-10 play with top-5 upside.

Running back

This becomes difficult on a few levels. The Lions have been the seventh-toughest defense for fantasy running backs, although just middle-of-the-pack against RB1s. They have been the third-best team against RB2s, but that is mostly due to the opposing offenses they have faced, all of whom have a clear top back. Philadelphia does not fit this mode.

The Eagles have recorded the second-highest total running back PPG, with both their RB1 and RB2 ranking in the top 10. However, who those top two backs are is hard to say. To start the year it was Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, but an injury to the former gave way to Wendell Smallwood. Now after a bye week, both Mathews and Smallwood figure to see some touches, as well as Kenjon Barner.

Sproles seems like the safest best, simply due to his pass-catching abilities, but it would be hard to see him as anything more than a Top-30 option. Despite coming back from an ankle injury and the competition for touches, Mathews looks like the player to go with this weekend. It would not be surprising for Smallwood to hit double-digit points as well, but Mathews has the better chance for a Top-20 output.

Wide receiver

Quarterbacks are tearing apart the Detroit defense and so are their wide receivers. The Lions rank just 27th against the position as a whole, and 25th against WR1s. Despite Wentz’s hot start, the Eagles have failed to put up great fantasy numbers from their receivers. But as with earlier opponents, facing the Lions might be the cure they need.

The Eagles do have a clear top receiver and his name is Jordan Matthews. Playing mostly out of the slot, Matthews should have the chance for nice game in Week 5. He is averaging just under nine targets and 70 yards a game this season and has hauled in a pair of touchdowns. Look for him to surpass his 13.3 PPG average on Sunday.

The other two receivers for Philadelphia are Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham, two players with a lot of talent and excitement but limited production. Neither has done too much this season, and the pair has combined for just one touchdown. Because of the Lions’ inability to slow the passing game, there may be some points to go around this weekend, but hopefully your fantasy team has a few better options.

Tight end

Ah, this is the place to live for fantasy owners facing the Lions. Though Detroit is actually not the very worst team in stopping opposing tight ends in fantasy (thanks, Atlanta!), they are not far off. Meanwhile, the Eagles are a top-10 team in this department and have impressively done so with a varied approach.

Zach Ertz makes his return after a rib injury kept him out for a couple games and is expected to take back the main duties. His replacement, Trey Burton, fared just fine while Ertz was out and averaged 8.2 PPG during this span. Blocking tight end Brent Celek has seen a little action as well, but Ertz is the guy to go with in Week 5. It could get ugly for the Lions. Again.