Evan Silva


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Matchups: Can't Stop the Pack

Friday, September 10, 2010

San Francisco @ Seattle

The San Francisco fantasy defense has week-winner written all over it. With Russell Okung out, Seattle will pick from street free agent Chester Pitts and inept undrafted tackle Tyler Polumbus to start on Matt Hasselbeck's blind side. Pitts had offseason microfracture surgery and didn't play a preseason snap. Polumbus was waived by the tackle-needy Broncos and Lions this summer. Avoid Hasselbeck, new starting split end Mike Williams, and dead-legged flanker Deion Branch. The 49ers ranked third in the NFL in sacks last year and will feast on the worst line in football.

Justin Forsett has been named Seattle's starting tailback, a designation he earned by outplaying the field down the stretch of 2009. But it's not the week to use him. Bolstered by the end of NT Aubrayo Franklin's holdout, the 49ers return a front seven that allowed the fewest yards per carry in the NFC last year. ... John Carlson might benefit from Seattle's inability to go deep due to pass-pro problems, but it's better to avoid this offense entirely. Carlson was invisible all preseason.

If one Seahawk did look good in August, it was LCB Marcus Trufant. Returning from an injury-ruined year, Seattle's top corner figures to be assigned to opposing No. 1 wideouts until the team sorts out a regular starter from Kelly Jennings and Walter Thurmond III. It's hard to say Trufant will be on Michael Crabtree all game, but it'd be silly if he wasn't. Blocking receiver Josh Morgan poses very little threat as a pass catcher. Crabtree is a fantasy starter, but expectations should probably be limited. The 49ers will likely rack up more rushing attempts than throws on Sunday.

Look for Vernon Davis to be Alex Smith's go-to target when the Niners go to pass, as Seahawks SLB Aaron Curry will be assigned to him. Davis is already a mismatch for linebackers, and Pro Football Focus graded Curry quite poorly in coverage last year. ... Frank Gore, as he will be most weeks, is the best fantasy bet on either side in this game. Fresh after being used sparingly in August, his two preseason carries went for gains of 49 and 9. Expect 25 touches on Sunday.

Sunday Night Football

Dallas @ Washington

No quarterback consistently dominates season openers like Tony Romo, who hasn't thrown for fewer than 320 yards in three Week 1s. His TD-to-INT ratio is 8:2, and his 12.2 YPA is insane. Mike Shanahan's alienation of top Skins defender Albert Haynesworth won't hurt. ... Despite a quiet August, safely insert Miles Austin and Jason Witten as fantasy starters. Washington's loss of FS Kareem Moore (knee) will press coverage liability Reed Doughty into more action on Witten. Austin is a 100-catch threat this season with Dallas likely to play musical chairs opposite him.

The transition from a 4-3 to 3-4 scheme hasn't been smooth in D.C., as no NFC team served up more preseason yards per carry. Marion Barber beat out Felix Jones for Dallas' starting tailback job, and is a rock-solid RB2 with two-touchdown potential. Jones is a mere change-of-pace back and kickoff returner. ... Dez Bryant is readjusting to the speed of the game after a camp-long high ankle sprain, but his return to health is bad news for Roy Williams. Once a good bet to at least finish third on the Cowboys in weekly targets, Williams is no longer usable even as a WR3.

Donovan McNabb (ankle) will start, but it'd be hard to use him as more than a QB2. He's not 100 percent, facing a defense that will give Washington's reconstructed line fits on blitzes, and has two players worth throwing to (Chris Cooley, Santana Moss). McNabb could flirt with QB1 value in favorable matchups. This isn't one. ... Cooley could still enjoy a big game. McNabb will likely have to check down more often than not so as to avoid DeMarcus Ware's pass rush, and Cooley was McNabb's favorite target in the preseason. Look for six catches and 70-plus yards.

While Joey Galloway is an obvious avoid, Moss will be McNabb's first read when he is able to find enough time for a five-step drop. Moved from split end to flanker this season, Moss will do more underneath dirty work. He doesn't appear to have elite upside considering the matchup, but is a plenty serviceable WR3. ... Owners so weak at running back that they have to rely on Clinton Portis as an RB2 or flex should consider anything they get a bonus. Portis' burst is long gone, and he barely contributes as a pass catcher. On a good fantasy team, Portis is an RB4.

Monday Night Football

Baltimore @ NY Jets

If the vaunted Jets pass defense (No. 1 overall in '09) and return of Darrelle Revis weren't enough to make Joe Flacco a weak fantasy start, the state of Baltimore's line is. RT Jared Gaither (back) is out, leaving the position in the dicey hands of Oniel Cousins or Tony Moll. Cousins was creamed by pass rushers in the preseason and is coming off a concussion. Moll wouldn't make many 53-man rosters. The odds of Baltimore posing any deep threat Monday night are poor. Revis might be rusty. Maybe. But are you gonna bet on it? Use Anquan Boldin at your own risk.

The Jets have a tough run defense. Ray Rice owners can look to the loss of stud run-defending OLB Calvin Pace as incentive to keep Rice in the lineup. Not to mention his game-breaking talent and versatility. ... We don't know if the Jets will use Revis to "shadow" opposing No. 1 receivers in his return from a camp-long holdout, and we don't even know if Revis is a full-time player yet. The best approach is to avoid Baltimore's passing offense entirely. New York's other DBs are far from slouches, and it's not like Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, or Todd Heap has much upside anyway.

This projects as perhaps the lowest scoring game of Week 1. The Jets' passing offense was the worst in the AFC this preseason, so you'll want to avoid Mark Sanchez and Jerricho Cotchery with little chance of a shootout. If there is a Jets passing-game member worth a look, it's deep threat Braylon Edwards. Edwards' hands are unreliable, but few receivers in the NFL separate as easily deep downfield. With Lardarius Webb (knee) set to be inactive and Josh Wilson slated for nickel duty only, Edwards will square off with special teamer Chris Carr in coverage for most of the night.

With LaDainian Tomlinson coming off an impressive preseason, the Jets will open the year with a running back committee. Tomlinson has simply earned the right to get the ball 10-14 times a game. LT will fade as the season wears on, but for now his presence makes Shonn Greene only a low-end RB2 gamble in tough matchups like this. ... Chris Wesseling favorite Dustin Keller is a real wildcard play in this game. He's been drafted only as a TE2, but there is talk that Keller could end up as one of Mark Sanchez's most heavily targeted receivers. He's not without TE1 talent.

San Diego @ Kansas City

We can't count on Todd "Mangini 2" Haley to do much logically, but the preseason did confirm that his best talent is on the ground. Thomas Jones, Jamaal Charles, and even fringe NFL player Jackie Battle had success behind the revamped front five, while Matt Cassel finished 60th among the 115 players who threw a preseason pass in rating (79.3). To upset the Chargers, the Chiefs will have to run early and often. Even if Charles doesn't start, he should get the ball enough (15-18 touches?) to be worth an RB2 play. Eventually, Jones will fade as Larry Johnson did last year.

However, new Chiefs playcaller Charlie Weis is from the pass-happy Belichick school. Dwayne Bowe, coming off a terrific camp, will be the clear go-to guy when Weis radioes in passing plays. The Chiefs' RWR after Chris Chambers' midseason addition last year, Bowe will likely square off mostly with Chargers LCB Quentin Jammer. Bears first-year starter Johnny Knox had his way with Jammer in the preseason, so it's not hard to imagine Bowe doing quite a bit of damage. He's a borderline WR2 start against San Diego, while Chambers will settle in as a WR4/5 this season.

If August's most impressive rookie wasn't Jahvid Best, it was definitely Ryan Mathews. Totally unafraid, the 12th overall pick exhibited outrageously quick feet, no hesitancy to run between the tackles, plenty of speed to reach the perimeter, and better-than-anticipated passing-game skills. As the Chargers should, you'll want to ride Mathews as long as possible. He's got a sensational matchup this week against a Chiefs defense that ranked 31st against the run last year and did nothing to upgrade in the offseason. Mathews will be the focal point of San Diego's 2010 offense.

While his pass attempts will be down due to an improved ground attack and his ability to go deep will be adversely impacted by pass protection issues and Vincent Jackson's holdout, Philip Rivers is an obvious must-start against the Chiefs. ... Due to Jackson and LT Marcus McNeill's loss, San Diego's scheme will change, with Antonio Gates featured over the middle and Malcom Floyd as the deep threat. Gates is setup for a monster year, and K.C. has never been able to contain him. ... Floyd will be inconsistent because of his role, but after Gates he's the best bet on the team for receiving yards. Naanee (0 drops in '09), however, could still out-produce Floyd in the catches column, assuming he continues to hold off Patrick Crayton. Naanee should.

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