Evan Silva


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Matchups: Here's Johnny

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Playcalling is about probability. Not certainty.

- Ron Jaworski, Monday Night Football Week 5

The above quote is just as applicable to fantasy football as it is for real-life offensive coordinators. Anquan Boldin entered Week 5 as a top-five receiver, but a run-heavy game plan and a date with Broncos shutdown cornerback Champ Bailey resulted in a one-catch, eight-yard day. Based on Boldin's Weeks 1-4 performance, it seemed certain that Baltimore's No. 1 receiver would turn in a productive effort. But Bailey's coverage sharply decreased the probability of another big game, and the Ravens' heavy reliance on Ray Rice (league-high 31 touches) all but canceled it out.

We can't know a team's plan entering a particular week, but can make an educated guess. To supplement the probability of separating fantasy studs from duds, we can also account for one-on-one matchups (e.g. the likelihood of Bailey covering Boldin), roles (e.g. Demaryius Thomas playing fourth-receiver snaps), defensive and offensive tendencies, and sheer talent (e.g. Kenny Britt > Kevin Walter) to formulate a reasonable approximation. Also factoring in -- but not necessarily counting on -- recent performance, this column attempts to help you estimate the probability of a player having a highly productive, mediocre, or disappointing fantasy performance.

1:00PM ET Games

Miami @ Green Bay

The efficacy of Green Bay's defense depends heavily on Clay Matthews. Prior to Matthews' third-quarter hamstring injury in Week 5, Washington's offense worked its way into Packers territory once and punted on a whopping 7-of-8 possessions. The Packers fell apart after the injury, as the Redskins went on a 13-0 run to win the game. Green Bay has next to no pass rush with Matthews out, so upgrade Dolphins skill players if he sits. (He's not expected to play.) ... The rested Fins return from their bye on a two-game losing streak with a struggling quarterback. With four picks in his last two outings, it's even been speculated that Chad Henne is on a short leash. Miami is 3-7 when Henne has 30-plus pass attempts, so coach Tony Sparano has indicated that he'll recommit to a run-first plan of attack. Henne is a weak QB2 against a Packers team serving up just one passing TD per game.

Averaging 11 yards per catch, slot man Davone Bess will take a major hit if the Fins' throwing dwindles. He doesn't score or make plays downfield. 2009 Defensive POY Charles Woodson also covers the slot when opponents go three wide, making Bess totally hands off for this one. ... On pace for 1,360 yards and 108 catches, Brandon Marshall remains an every-week WR1. "No. 1" wideouts have lit up the Pack in two straight games: Calvin Johnson - 6/86/2; Santana Moss - 7/118. ... Ronnie Brown is averaging 15 touches a week compared to Ricky Williams' 12. Ronnie has 4.86 yards per touch to Ricky's 4.70. Committees don't get more even. Brown is still the slightly better play, but Williams is worth flex consideration against a Green Bay defense that not only surrenders the sixth-highest yards-per-carry average in football (4.7), but will be without ILB Nick Barnett (wrist), probably run-stopping DE Ryan Pickett (ankle), and possibly Matthews.

The last time we heard of a coaching staff huddle to increase a player's involvement, Felix Jones went from fantasy afterthought to rock-solid RB2 in Dallas. The same thing happened in Green Bay this week, with Packers staff game-planning specifically to remake Greg Jennings their featured player. His targets were already destined to rise with Jermichael Finley (knee) out, and Donald Driver didn't earn similar treatment with four back-breaking Week 5 drops. Jennings has been running mostly fly patterns, but look for him on more slants and screens going forward. Aaron Rodgers (concussion) is on track to play, so Jennings should immediately capitalize on his burgeoning role. ... Andrew Quarless showed his underrated ability with 51 yards after Finley's Week 5 injury, but Donald Lee's (chest) return to practice makes Packers tight ends undesirable.

Rodgers is safe to plug into lineups. The Fins boast the NFL's No. 4 pass defense, but Rodgers is the No. 4 fantasy quarterback and an every-week starter. He's accounted for 11 touchdowns in five games. ... Behind Jennings, James Jones is a good bet to pick up quite a bit of the slack left behind by Finley. Like Finley, Jones can play outside and inside, and Rodgers loves throwing to him. Through five games, Jones has bested Driver, Jennings, and Finley in target-to-snap ratio, and Jones' playing time only projects to rise with not only Finley gone, but Green Bay increasing its spread offense usage. Consider Jones a more than viable bye-week WR3. ... The Packers wouldn't reinstall a concussed Rodgers if their plan was to feature the running game, so don't expect Brandon Jackson or John Kuhn to forge significant value. Throw out Jackson's fluky 71-yard run in Week 5 and he's averaging 3.35 yards per carry. The Dolphins' run defense also gets a big boost from the returns of DE Jared Odrick (leg) and ILB Channing Crowder (groin).

Cleveland @ Pittsburgh

With Colt McCoy debuting at Pittsburgh, Browns skill players should be avoided like the plague in fantasy leagues. Peyton Hillis is included, despite his fast start. The No. 6 fantasy back through five weeks, Hillis squares off with a Steelers team that leads the NFL in run defense and permits a league-low 2.6 yards per carry. As if that wasn't enough, Hillis aggravated his quad strain early in the Browns' Week 5 loss, finished with his smallest workload since formally supplanting Jerome Harrison, and averaged his fewest yards per carry on the year. Owners should pray that Hillis' injury doesn't worsen on the historically quaggy Heinz Field playing surface, once deemed by Fred Taylor "a lawsuit pending." The Browns face New Orleans' No. 22 run defense in Week 7.

McCoy, truly a fringe NFL talent despite his big name, averaged 5.95 yards per attempt on 39 preseason throws, committed four turnovers, took six sacks, and failed to throw a touchdown pass against third-stringers and defenders who didn't make rosters. Fire up the Steelers' fantasy defense. ... Jake Delhomme couldn't move the pocket, and Seneca Wallace couldn't throw deep. McCoy possesses both injured quarterbacks' weaknesses. He'll probably complete a few passes to Ben Watson or Chansi Stuckey, but neither is a fantasy option. Nor is Mohamed Massaquoi.

The Steelers figure to dominate the time-of-possession battle, boding particularly well for Rashard Mendenhall. The Browns played the run well entering Week 5, but fell apart against the Falcons last Sunday. Atlanta ran for 165 yards, including Michael Turner's year-best 7.37 YPC average. On Turner's season-long 55-yard run in the second quarter, Atlanta cleared a canyon-sized hole in the middle of Cleveland's defense. On Turner's 22-yard burst in the fourth, the running back went untouched off-left tackle until being "guided" out of bounds by CB Eric Wright. Mendenhall, who ranks third in the league in rushing yards per game, has outplayed Turner so far this season.

Ben Roethlisberger will be rusty after a five-week layoff, and a run-heavy game plan to "ease" him in is possible. Cleveland's pass defense has been incredibly up and down, but is coming off a strong effort, holding Matt Ryan to a season-low 187 yards. Big Ben is still a borderline top-12 option, but this looks like a wait-and-see week if you have viable alternatives. He'll be a surefire starter eventually. ... Roethlisberger's aggressive style remains a huge plus for Mike Wallace right off the bat. Easily Pittsburgh's top deep threat, Wallace has combined three clunkers with one big game, twiddling his thumbs as the Steelers tied for the second fewest 20-plus yard completions in the first month. That's all going to change. ... Hines Ward also gets a bump, but like Big Ben, it's a week to watch Heath Miller, not start him. Miller hasn't topped five targets or 40 yards yet.

Detroit @ NY Giants

It's only a matter of time before Hakeem Nicks begins drawing double teams, but so far defenses have routinely left him singled up, with Steve Smith seeing safeties over the top. Fantasy owners need to capitalize while the iron is still hot. Last season, Nicks only played 57 percent of the Giants' snaps compared to then-starter Mario Manningham's 71 percent. This year, Nicks is at 81.7 to Mario's 54.6. More importantly, Nicks is hogging targets, with 50 on the year to lead the Giants. ... Smith relied on volume last year to post what probably will go down as his career-best season, finishing as the 11th overall fantasy receiver. He's 34th in 2010. Smith is definitely worth using as a WR3 against the Lions, but he's clearly been bypassed by Nicks in the pecking order.

Detroit got a lift in the pass defense rankings last week from a Rams offense that fell apart after the early-game loss of Mark Clayton, but the Lions are still 24th and were giving up two passing TDs per week prior to Sam Bradford's egg-laying. An incredibly streaky passer, Eli Manning is hot coming off a 297-yard, three-score performance. Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling smartly consider Manning a top-five QB1 play. ... Continuing to play musical chairs at inside linebacker, the Lions rank 26th against the run and give up the third most yards per carry in football (only Oakland and Tampa Bay are more generous). Practicing fully again, Ahmad Bradshaw's ankle appears to be as healthy as it's been in weeks. Even goal-line vulture Brandon Jacobs is worth a look as a flex play in standard leagues. The red-hot G-Men shouldn't struggle to move the rock.

Whereas the Lions are defensive bottom feeders, the Giants give up the fewest passing yards per game and are No. 1 in total defense. Despite Shaun Hill's recent success, he's a better bet for a game like Week 3 against the Vikings (237 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) than Week 5 against the Rams (227 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs). ... Calvin Johnson is a game-time decision. He's still in pain after falling hard on his right shoulder in the fourth quarter last week, unable to stretch for catches in practice. Megatron is a top-ten fantasy receiver and must-start if he plays, but we won't know for sure until noon ET Sunday. ... If Johnson does sit, Hill is hands-off. His three-receiver set would morph from Calvin-Nate Burleson-Bryant Johnson to Burleson-Bryant-Derrick Williams. Ugly.

Megatron's absence could make Burleson a sneaky WR3. Burleson showed he's recovered from his early-season high ankle sprain with a 4-56-1 line against St. Louis. He operated mostly out of the slot, running well after the catch. ... Should Johnson not play, stopping Jahvid Best would become the Giants' focus. But he'd likely also be the focal point for Detroit's plan of attack. New Meadowlands Stadium uses FieldTurf, on which Best has been noticeably more effective (6.58 yards per touch; 3.33 on grass). Best's workload has climbed in three straight weeks (9/17/22). His toe injury is no longer a concern. ... The Giants are one of the NFL's toughest teams on tight ends. Through five games, only Dallas Clark has topped 45 yards against them. They've given up one tight end touchdown all year. It's bad news for Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.

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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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