Evan Silva


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Matchups: Can't Stop the Pack

Friday, September 10, 2010

As explained in Tuesday's Pancake Blocks breakdown of Thursday night's opener, the objective of this column is to appeal to readers willing to consider, more deeply, those factors that may or may not cause fantasy players to have favorable or unfavorable matchups. This article is for the fantasy leaguer looking to gain an extra edge.

16-plus hours per week go into the formulation of the Matchups breakdown. I place an emphasis on statistics, re-watching of games, tendencies, injuries, and roster turnover. This year, I've enlisted assistance from the analysis-based website Profootballfocus.com, which presents in-depth charting data for each player in the league, offensive and defensive.

The column received consistently positive feedback last season, and my goal is to take it to another level this year. For questions, arguments, and suggestions, contact me on my Twitter account, @evansilva.

1:00PM ET Games

Denver @ Jacksonville

Jacksonville's passing game takes the field against one of the best secondaries in football. The Broncos ranked third in pass defense last year, and return all four starters. Historically, David Garrard is a better home than away quarterback, but he's not on the QB1 radar. ... The year-ending loss of Elvis Dumervil puts much more pressure on Denver's DBs, however, and opponents will be able to exploit the heavily downgraded pass rush by going deep. Mike Sims-Walker is the Jags' lone vertical receiver. Don't expect a ton of catches, but 80-plus yards is doable. He's a strong WR2.

New starting flanker Mike Thomas will be used underneath, sliding into the slot when Jarett Dillard enters for three-receiver sets. Thomas, who averaged 9.5 yards per catch as a rookie, averaged 9.1 this preseason. He might catch 5-6 balls, but won't be a great bet to top 50 yards. ... Maurice Jones-Drew's knee injury is concerning, as is the demotion of top run-blocking lineman Vince Manuwai in favor of Justin Smiley. But you can't sit MJD against Denver. The Broncos had the worst run defense in the league during the preseason. ... Marcedes Lewis had a nice training camp, but did little in exhibition games. He's a block-first tight end until proven otherwise.

Eddie Royal was Denver's best receiver last preseason, only to disappear as a sideline-running decoy in the real games. Jabar Gaffney has taken hold of the No. 1 receiver job, at least until Demaryius Thomas (foot) is healthy. Gaffney poured six catches for 98 yards on Detroit in the second preseason game. Don't expect big plays, but he's a worthwhile WR3 in PPR leagues. ... Jacksonville's secondary will be among the NFL's worst this year, and red-hot Kyle Orton should capitalize as a high-end QB2. The Jags are starting former draft bust Anthony Smith and special teamer Sean Considine at safety. The nickel back is practice squad-type William Middleton.

The word in Denver is that Knowshon Moreno will be "eased in" after a camp-long hamstring strain. It's the best move for the Broncos. Correll Buckhalter, more productive on a per-touch basis last year, is 100 percent and looked spry on a 15-yard swing pass in the preseason finale. Moreno and Buckhalter may make each other weak fantasy plays early in the season, even in favorable matchups. ... You know not to start Denver tight ends. Shoot, can you even name one?

Oakland @ Tennessee

Oakland has remade its defense, targeting a pressure-heavy design especially at linebacker. They figure to remain vulnerable on the ground, however, as run support has never been a strong suit for OLBs Kamerion Wimbley and Quentin Groves. Chris Johnson will explode after a quiet preseason. ... Jeff Fisher threatened last week to deactivate Kenny Britt for a multitude of mental errors and drops in exhibition action. Britt was unable to pass Justin Gage on the depth chart in August, so keep him saddled to the end of your bench. Lacking upside, Gage belongs there too.

Nate Washington is a sneaky WR3. He'll square off with a Raiders secondary that flip-flopped starting corners within the last week, promoting Stanford Routt over incumbent Chris Johnson. Both will play, but Routt has never come close to his potential, and Johnson was burned for 120 yards on four completions against Seattle in the preseason finale. If someone outside of CJ2K is going to have a big game for Tennessee, it'll be their lone probable every-down wideout.

The Raiders won't tip their hand as to Michael Bush's (thumb) status, but the writing on the wall says to avoid Oakland's backfield regardless. Only Minnesota was better than the Titans against the run in the preseason, and Darren McFadden still hasn't proven to be more than a third-down back. Take a wait-and-see approach. ... Zach Miller is a serious candidate to lead all tight ends in targets this season, especially if the running game doesn't get on track. He's a must-start.

Last year's Oakland passing game was a wasteland beyond Miller, but that's changed. With Chaz Schilens out indefinitely, Louis Murphy deservedly becomes a full-time player, and won't struggle to best bust-in-the-making Darrius Heyward-Bey for "No. 1 receiver" status. Murphy may see lots of Cortland Finnegan in coverage, but Finnegan's been a shell of himself since returning from a lengthy groin injury, getting torn apart by the Saints' second-team offense in the preseason finale. ... Jason Campbell is a fine QB2, but his protection will stink. He's not a fantasy starter.

Cincinnati @ New England

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is one of our generation's greatest defensive minds, but what's he to do without any players? The Pats' top defensive end (Ty Warren) and corner (Leigh Bodden) are both out for the year, and there are no pass rushers to speak of beyond Tully Banta-Cain, many of whose 9.5 sacks last season were fluky. Barring true magic from Belichick, New England's defense will be a favorable matchup for opposing skill players all year. Cedric Benson looked as powerful and quick as ever in the preseason, and will get the ball rolling on Sunday afternoon.

Debate rages on at Rotoworld as to Cincinnati's No. 1 receiver. I side with Terrell Owens, who caught 12 preseason passes for 143 yards compared to Chad Ochocinco's seven for 74. Ocho admitted publicly that T.O. is the new No. 1, and the stats support it. Owens hasn't been a No. 2 since the '90s with Jerry Rice. ... The Bengals appear to have hit on rookies Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham, but they'll probably help Carson Palmer more than fantasy teams. Palmer does have enough weapons at his disposal to qualify as a high-end QB2. He lacks QB1 talent.

If there is a positive outcome from New England's defensive losses -- in fantasy terms -- it's that Tom Brady will wing it early and often. The beneficiaries will be Brady as a matchup-proof starter, Randy Moss in a contract year, and Wes Welker, who may have been on an early-season snap count had Julian Edelman survived camp healthy. Edelman (ankle) didn't, and is questionable for the opener. ... In the same vein as Cincinnati's draft picks, Pats TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez look like keepers after big preseasons. They just won't be reliable fantasy players.

The Pats didn't have a running back finish better than 29th in fantasy points last season, and that may not change. Not only has the line lost top run blocker Logan Mankins to a holdout, RT Nick Kaczur is out indefinitely after August back surgery. Fred Taylor is entrenched as the starter, Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk are second-teamers, and Laurence Maroney appears to be No. 3 (if he's even active on game days). Cincy ranked seventh in the league in run defense last year.

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

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