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Best, worst matchups at all fantasy football positions for Week 1

Does a date with the 49ers make starting Cam Newton in Week 1 a good idea? Chuck Burton/Associated Press

Stop me if you've heard this before: "Play the matchups."

Matchups are what help fantasy owners make the difficult decisions between players of similar value, and it's important -- every week -- to analyze the best (and worst) of the bunch.

Let's get right to the obvious follow-up question: "What, exactly, constitutes a favorable or unfavorable matchup?"

In Week 1, this can be particularly tricky to determine. Matchup data is the sketchiest it will be all season in the opening week, and it's a mistake to present "matchup numbers" that pertain only to last season's statistics or to the 2017 preseason. Citing 2016 stats alone assumes no change to defensive personnel, whether it's players on the roster or injury situations. Citing preseason stats puts weight on a four-game sample, during which time first-team defensive players participated on limited snaps -- often one-third of each game or less.

There's an additional wrinkle to consider with 2016 statistics: Fantasy point totals against individual skill positions are useful tools, but they need to be taken in context, considering the strength of schedule those teams faced.

To use a specific, team-versus-position example, the Los Angeles Chargers (way back in 2016, when they were still in San Diego) earned a middling ranking in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks (259.1 total, or 16.2 per game). Looking closer, the Chargers played only nine of their 16 games against quarterbacks who finished among the top 20 at the position in fantasy points, and only four against top-10 passers.

Those four top-10 quarterbacks, incidentally, averaged 14.4 points against the Chargers. Adjusting for their schedule -- this compares opponents' seasonal averages to the team's fantasy point total allowed in each game -- the Chargers actually finished seventh against quarterbacks, or nine spots better than their raw fantasy point total indicated.

That's where the "Matchups Map" comes in. Each week, I'll provide a schedule-independent method to determine strength of positional matchups, using the most recent, relevant data. Check back for updated numbers each week, including matchup highlights at each position --- both favorable and unfavorable -- based on those statistics. For these purposes, we will use PPR (Point Per Reception) scoring, though I have analyzed this data for both PPR and non-PPR and have found that the rankings would scarcely change (if at all). These do, therefore, apply to both scoring formats.

For Week 1, the maps include two measures: The first, "Rk," is my personal ranking of how favorable/unfavorable I consider that positional matchup; the second, "Adj. FPA," reflects how far above or below a player's average that defense held opponents at that position. For Week 1, 2016 full-season data is used for the latter, so take those with a grain -- or several grains -- of salt. Beginning in Week 4, we'll use 2017 data (three weeks in the books at that point), and then starting in Week 6, we'll use the most recent five weeks.

Finally, a caveat: Remember that matchups are only one ingredient in my rankings formula. Not every favorable matchup should be exploited; not every unfavorable matchup should be avoided. To get the most complete recipe for whom to start and sit, consult my weekly rankings.