Evan Silva


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Matchups: Can't Stop the Pack

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cleveland @ Tampa Bay

Non-Bucs and Browns fans watching this ugly matchup will be focused on Bucs rookie WR Mike Williams. A camp sensation, the big-play threat carried the torch for a Tampa offense that was otherwise brutal in preseason. Williams' inability to practice with his young QB for two weeks due to Josh Freeman's thumb injury, however, makes him an undesirable play, and a talented Browns secondary won't help. Kellen Winslow and trusty Sammie Stroughter are just as good bets for targets. Winslow, in particular, draws a favorable assignment against rookie safety T.J. Ward.

Cadillac Williams generated a surprising amount of fantasy buzz this summer, mostly because he's got so little competition for carries. With the release of Derrick Ward, 5-foot-9, 185-pound Kareem Huggins is second on the depth chart. Feel free to use Williams in favorable matchups (like this one), because he'll be a consistent threat for 20 carries. But after torn patellar tendons in both knees, Cadillac's burst is long gone. He'll be a great sell-high candidate if he starts hot.

Jerome Harrison keeps catching breaks. First, it was Montario Hardesty's camp-long knee injury. Then, Hardesty tore his ACL. With the every-down back job all his and a promising line in front of him, Harrison qualifies as an every-week RB2 ... for two weeks, at least. He faces Tampa Bay (32nd in '09 run defense) this week and Kansas City (31st) next Sunday before consecutive matchups with Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh. Sell Harrison high before Week 3.

Jake Delhomme surprised even himself with a 79.2 preseason completion rate, chipping in two scores and no interceptions on 48 attempts. You can't start Delhomme in a standard league, but it does bode well for top wideout Mohamed Massaquoi. He already got a big matchup boost with Bucs shutdown CB Aqib Talib suspended for the opener, and Massaquoi can get vertical similar to Delhomme's old buddy, Steve Smith. ... Avoid Joshua Cribbs unless you're in a return-yardage league. He should get 6-8 offensive touches, but Brian Robiskie beat him out for the starting job.

Indianapolis @ Houston

We've come to expect great things from Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. The newest addition to Houston's version of The Big Three is Arian Foster. Foster totaled 200 preseason yards and two scores on 34 touches (5.9 average), and has next to no competition for carries with Steve Slaton (turf toe) on the mend and Derrick Ward still learning the offense. He's a borderline RB1 against Indy's annually soft run defense. ... With coach Gary Kubiak saying Owen Daniels (knee) isn't ready for more than 25 snaps, you'll have to bench the tight end until he's a full-time player.

A far more dangerous player than Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones will be a better weekly play than the "starter" all season. Jones' usage increases dramatically as a staple of Houston's three-receiver sets, which will be employed more than ever, especially with Daniels "eased" back in. Playing far fewer snaps than he will this season, Jones went for 67 yards in one of last year's games against the Colts, and scored a touchdown in the other. He's a WR3 start with upside.

Reggie Wayne has lost nothing entering his age-32 season. In the third preseason game, he reconfirmed that the Wayne-Manning inside slant remains indefensible, beating Packers CB Tramon Williams for a 10-yard TD on the dominant route. Expect big years from both Wayne and Peyton Manning. ... The same goes for Dallas Clark. We slightly prefer Jermichael Finley and Antonio Gates' upsides, but it would be an upset if Clark finished outside of the top-three fantasy tight ends. Clark combined for 23 catches in two games against Houston last year. For real.

The light has yet to flip on for Donald Brown, who had an ugly 29 yards on 16 preseason touches. He's not remotely on the radar as a flex play. Joseph Addai is safely a 20 touch-per-game threat; use him every week. ... Perhaps no defense in the NFL improved as much as Houston's down the stretch of last season, and their secondary projects to be rock solid. Pierre Garcon is a mid-range WR3, but I'd still be concerned about Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez rotating in the slot.

Detroit @ Chicago

An awful preseason was worrisome, but Jay Cutler will start hot. Already the league's weakest secondary, Detroit didn't play a single preseason game with its four starting DBs on the field together. The Lions start Falcons and Rams castoffs (Chris Houston, Jonathan Wade) at corner, undrafted rookie Aaron Berry in the nickel, and bomb-magnet C.C. Brown at strong safety. Cutler is a must-start, and his confidence should be renewed heading to Week 2. ... Greg Olsen had four preseason catches and none in the third game, when starters play the most. Keep him benched.

Along with Cutler, Johnny Knox has to be in lineups. You probably drafted him late, but he's going to lead Chicago in targets every week. Wait and see on Flying Devins Hester and Aromashodu. Until proven otherwise, there's only one sure-fire fantasy starter at receiver in Chicago. ... Coming off a rejuvenated preseason, Matt Forte squares off with a Lions front four that's vastly improved. But it doesn't look like MLB DeAndre Levy (groin) is going to play. Expect a touchdown and 100 total yards.

Matthew Stafford's ball security remained an issue this preseason (two picks, one fumble), but he showed improved accuracy (71.1 percent completions), without toning down his aggressiveness. He's a boom-or-bust QB2, regardless of matchups. ... The higher completion rate does bode well for Calvin Johnson, who routinely destroys the Bears' Cover 2. Megatron's lines in his last three games against Chicago: 8-94-1, 8-133, 6-86-1. ... Avoid Nate Burleson, who was quiet in the preseason with 59 yards in four appearances. He may prove a relative afterthought in the offense.

Explosive almost beyond compare in preseason action, Jahvid Best averaged 8.3 yards per touch this August. The failure of Kevin Smith to even convincingly beat out Maurice Morris for No. 2 back work ensures that Best will be Detroit's feature runner. With 18-20 touches per week a near-given for the rookie, he'll be a mainstay in your starting lineup. ... Tony Scheffler has the look of a sleeper tight end, though it's a week to watch, not invest in the under-the-radar vertical threat.

Atlanta @ Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh hasn't finished worse than third in rush defense since 2003, and returns its front seven intact, in addition to a healthy Troy Polamalu. Michael Turner remains a good bet to score, but Atlanta will have to pass to move the ball consistently. ... The stars have aligned for Roddy White. Michael Jenkins (shoulder) is out, clearing the way for White to see double-digit targets against a Steelers secondary that still has big question marks at cornerback. Bryant McFadden (pectoral) missed much of camp, William Gay isn't an answer, and Ike Taylor is a long bomb waiting to happen.

Jenkins' absence leaves the underneath game to Tony Gonzalez. Though the healthy return of slot man Harry Douglas may cut into Gonzo's production when all's said and done, the ageless tight end should be heavily targeted at Pittsburgh. Jenkins fill-in Brian Finneran will spend most of the day blocking. ... Polamalu's return helps, but let's not forget that the Steelers' pass defense was mediocre at best last season. If Turner struggles, Matt Ryan will be forced to wing it. Expect 30 pass attempts, 240 or so yards, and a pair of touchdowns from the underrated third-year QB.

With Rashard Mendenhall running more decisively than ever, Pittsburgh led the NFL in preseason rushing. The line can't pass protect a lick, but it opens lanes. The front five's task becomes even easier with Falcons top DT Jonathan Babineaux out on suspension. Look for 30 touches for Mendenhall as a prime RB1. Coordinator Bruce Arians confirmed Thursday that Mendenhall will get goal-line carries. ... Dennis Dixon gets the nod at quarterback, but won't be on a long leash. While he's worth a look in two-QB leagues because of his rushing potential, the Steelers won't want him trying more than 25 passes after a shaky preseason.

The Steelers will take a run-first approach, so if the downgrade to Dixon from Ben Roethlisberger wasn't enough for you to bench Heath Miller, the fact that he'll be on the line blocking seals it. ... Mike Wallace and Hines Ward are still hard to sit. Wallace was the best receiver in Pittsburgh's preseason, and Ward will be Dixon's safety net with Miller helping Max Starks and Flozell Adams. Wallace is only a WR3, but his big-play ability offers plenty of upside. The Falcons are also weak at corner behind Dunta Robinson, with undersized Chris Owens and Brent Grimes competing.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
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