Evan Silva


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Matchups: Here's Johnny

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Baltimore @ New England

Rushing offenses capable of gashing defenses up the middle can literally impose their will on an opponent. And that's exactly what the Ravens did to Denver in Week 5. The Broncos bottled up Chris Johnson for 64 total yards the week before, but Baltimore saddled up Ray Rice and C Matt Birk and went to work. According to Pro Football Focus, the Ravens generated 73 yards on 14 carries (5.2 YPC) on runs off Birk's back, while Rice led all running backs in touches (31) for the week. And that isn't even the best news. Rice supplanted Willis McGahee as the Ravens' goal-line specialist, scoring twice on one-yard runs. His scoring upside soaring, Rice now takes on a Patriots defense that ranks 20th against the run and allows 4.4 yards per carry -- tied for ninth most in the league. Hopefully, you've already bought Rice low. The arrow is pointing skyward.

Taken out of Week 5 by Champ Bailey and a Rice-centric game plan, Anquan Boldin should return with fury against an extremely vulnerable Patriots pass defense. The Pats rank 28th in the category, have let up nine passing touchdowns in four games, and are allowing quarterbacks to complete a league-high 69.1 percent of their throws. As of Thursday afternoon, Weather.com called Sunday the "best day to golf" in Foxboro over the next several days. Golfing weather is passing weather. Shake off last week and start Boldin as a WR1. ... The breakout so many expected from Joe Flacco will have to wait due to Baltimore's reliance on the ground attack, but Joe Cool won't have many better matchups. He's still a top-ten play. ... Todd Heap is averaging a scoreless 42 yards per game. Derrick Mason has one TD, but even fewer yards. Sit 'em.

The Pats will unveil their "horizontal," Randy Moss-less offense, and should certainly have enough success to make Tom Brady a worthwhile QB1. But with roles yet to be defined in a date with Baltimore's No. 2 pass defense, it's smart to sit back and watch youngsters Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski, as opposed to use them in fantasy. ... New England will stay pass heavy, but the ditching of a long-bomb passing game appears to be geared toward taking pressure off a bad defense. They can't stop offenses like they used to, so a ball-control approach will be Bill Belichick's remedy. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the feature back. Fred Taylor (toe) is not expected to play and Green-Ellis is averaging 16 carries per game in his last two, with a touchdown in each. Baltimore's run defense has shown leaks, so you could do worse at RB2.

It's widely expected that Wes Welker will assume the double coverage Moss once commanded, though slot receivers are more difficult to consistently double than wideouts. Welker's yards and TDs may be affected, but he'll remain a strong bet for 5-7 catches per game. Don't pull him out of your PPR lineup. ... Deion Branch and Tate appear to be competing for snaps. Consider them threats to cancel each other out in the box score until further notice. We just don't know enough about the offense yet. ... One thing we can say for sure: Aaron Hernandez was a major reason the Pats were so comfortable dealing Moss. A shorter but faster version of Jermichael Finley, the rookie is an every-down player. Already averaging nearly 65 yards per game, Hernandez will be a fantasy starter the rest of the way. Baltimore's linebackers don't cover well enough to contain him.

San Diego @ St. Louis

Vegas projects Bolts-Rams to be Week 6's highest scoring game. (Of course, a strong majority of the points is likely to come from San Diego.) In domed environs against a St. Louis defense that crumbled in Detroit last week, Philip Rivers, Malcom Floyd, and Antonio Gates are all elite plays. ... Gates leads the NFL in touchdowns (7). The Rams served up eight catches and a score to Lions tight ends in Week 5. ... Rivers has passed Peyton Manning as the top fantasy QB, and Kyle Orton as the league's passing yardage leader. You might want to play him. ... Rivers, Gates, and especially the deep threat Floyd all get upgrades from the return of left tackle Marcus McNeill, who makes his 2010 debut Sunday. Coming off a 213-yard breakout -- much of it against Nnamdi Asomugha -- Floyd's ability to go long will be further enhanced by Rivers' improving protection.

Coach Norv Turner vowed early this week to return Ryan Mathews' lead back role if the rookie practiced fully. Mathews, still struggling with an ankle sprain, did not practice Wednesday. In spite of the pledge, Turner would be foolish to not reinsert Mathews as the starter when he's averaging 6.35 yards per touch in his last two efforts, and the Chargers were just upset by Oakland with Mike Tolbert starting and averaging 0.9 yards per carry with a lost fumble. Rotoworld will update San Diego's backfield late Friday, but in order to win Turner needs to play his best players. ... The return of Vincent Jackson, ostensibly in Week 12, is a situation to track closely. Even with stubborn GM A.J. Smith at the helm, the Chargers would be crazy to not immediately reinsert him as a three-down wideout. He could be an impact player by the fantasy playoffs.

If the final three quarters of last week were any indication, the Rams' passing game will struggle mightily without No. 1 receiver Mark Clayton (torn patellar tendon). With Brandon Gibson dropping passes, Laurent Robinson unable to get open, and Danny Amendola lacking playmaking ability, Sam Bradford couldn't even find a late-game rhythm against the Lions' prevent defense. Bradford is barely a QB2 in a date with a Chargers defense that ranks third against the pass and gives up nothing downfield (only nine 20-plus yard completions allowed in five games). ... Amendola was a hot Week 6 waiver add, but he's really only a PPR option. The slot receiver averages 8.3 career yards per catch with one TD on 76 receptions. He offers little to no standard league upside.

If the Rams are to stay in this game, it'll be because of Steven Jackson. Off the Week 6 injury report, Jackson has resumed practicing fully and declared himself 100 percent recovered from his Week 3 groin injury. The Chargers are stout against the run (3.8 YPC allowed, No. 7 overall), but workloads like Jackson's are impossible to find. Outside of his injury-shortened Week 3, S-Jax is averaging 25 touches for 116 yards per game. ... Keep an eye on Michael Hoomanawanui, the rookie tight end who shined this preseason. He caught four passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns from Bradford in St. Louis' third exhibition game -- a win over the Patriots -- while playing mostly against New England first-teamers. Hoomanawanui is returning this week from a high ankle sprain.

4:05PM ET Games

NY Jets @ Denver

Regardless of Knowshon Moreno's (hamstring) status, it'll be another unproductive rushing day for Denver. Though Adrian Peterson (18-88) knocked the Jets' run defense rank down a few pegs in Week 5, the unit is still fourth in football and allows 3.3 yards per carry, with one rushing score against in five games. Routinely rag-dolled Broncos rookie C J.D. Walton gets one of his tougher tests yet against Jets mammoth NT Sione Pouha. Don't expect holes for Broncos backs, or anything resembling a feature runner if Moreno sits again. Denver's carry allotment, YPC, and touchdown totals since Week 2: Laurence Maroney - 29/1.93/0; Correll Buckhalter - 15/1.87/0.

The Broncos' offense has become easy to defend, at least in theory. Denver ranks 32nd in rushing offense and second with the pass. The blitz-happy Jets still figure to take chances, especially with CB Darrelle Revis (hamstring) not expected to play. Confidently keep Kyle Orton going. The Broncos won't win the game, but in fantasy it's hard to beat 43 pass attempts and 347 yards a week. ... During Week 5, Brandon Lloyd overtook Austin Collie as the No. 1 receiver in fantasy football. Antonio Cromartie is tentatively expected to shadow Lloyd, but there's no guarantee that Rex Ryan pays the journeyman wideout such respect. He's hard to bench at this point. ... With Demaryius Thomas (neck, concussion) all but out of the mix, Lloyd, Eddie Royal, and Jabar Gaffney don't have to sweat losing snaps to the mega-talented rookie. The Broncos will stay in a three-receiver set all game. Start 'em.

Santonio Holmes' three-catch, 41-yard Jets debut was disappointing, but it's not a sign of things to come. While Holmes and Mark Sanchez weren't quite on the same page, Holmes was targeted on a whopping nine passes in 36 snaps, compared to Braylon Edwards' 11 in 64 snaps and Jerricho Cotchery's 10 in 63. A deep threat, Holmes also projects to benefit from the Broncos' inability to generate pass rush. Denver has the second fewest sacks in football, and Jets LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson is playing lights out, not allowing Jared Allen a single QB pressure in Week 5. With Champ Bailey likely to guard Edwards (easily the Jets' most productive receiver thus far), a bust-loose game could be in the offing for Holmes. He's not a WR2 yet, but he's definitely a WR3.

Dustin Keller's down Week 5 should've been salvaged by his sixth touchdown of the year, but the tight end let Sanchez's red-zone pass slip through his usually sure hands. Keller still ranks second at his position in fantasy points. Use him with confidence against a Broncos defense that will be without tight end coverage ace Brian Dawkins (knee), and let the middling TE corps of Tennessee and Baltimore combine for 140 yards over the past two weeks. ... Currently the No. 10 fantasy running back, LaDainian Tomlinson is a sure-fire RB1 against Denver's No. 25 rush defense. The Broncos have served up one rushing touchdown per game and are allowing 4.4 yards per carry. They're defending so poorly that Shonn Greene even looks like a strong flex. Baltimore backs combined for an otherworldly 250 total yards and three TDs against them last week.

Oakland @ San Francisco

As pointed out by Pro Football Focus, Zach Miller has missed one offensive snap all year. The zone-busting tight end is on an unmitigated tear, ranking third at his position in fantasy points and first over the last three weeks. The Niners have allowed a tight end to find the end zone in three of their last four games. ... Jason Campbell draws the start for Bruce Gradkowski (shoulder). After entering in Week 5, Campbell directed six of his passes Miller's way, and four to Louis Murphy. Darrius Heyward-Bey wasn't targeted once, finishing the game without a catch. Campbell also hit Murphy on a 58-yard catch-and-run. Murphy has had back-to-back slow games, but is undoubtedly the best bet for production in Oakland's wideout corps. Miller should still lead the way in receiving.

Darren McFadden (hamstring) is tentatively expected to be active at Candlestick, but coach Tom Cable has made it clear that Michael Bush will continue to serve as Oakland's feature back. Bush ranked second among NFL rushers in workload last week, generating 135 yards and a touchdown on 29 touches. Dating back to camp, the Raiders never had any intention of using a running back committee, and they've followed through by employing a true workhorse in every game this season. Expect another 25-plus touches for Bush against a 49ers run defense springing leaks. There's talk in the Bay Area that NT Aubrayo Franklin's offseason-long holdout has affected his play, and it's showing up in ILB Patrick Willis' statistics as well as Willis' on-field effectiveness.

Oakland is coming off an upset win over San Diego and facing the 0-5 49ers, but the Niners are still 6.5-point favorites. We're pretty sure where the points and production are going to come from. The Raiders' rebuilt defense still has no prayer of stopping the run, ranking 31st in the league and surrendering a league-high 5.0 yards per carry with the second-most rushing touchdowns against. Such a favorable matchup can't help but make Frank Gore's 3.5 YPC average to this point look much better. Wesseling and Rosenthal rank Gore first among all Week 6 running back plays.

Michael Crabtree has enjoyed back-to-back season-best games since the installation of new OC Mike Johnson, playing with consistency and racking up yards after the reception. Johnson is moving Crabtree all around the offensive formation, so last year's No. 10 overall pick doesn't have to worry about Raiders RCB Nnamdi Asomugha sticking to him like glue. Ride Crabtree while he's hot. ... Oakland's previously stingy pass defense was exposed as a lackluster unit by Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates in Week 5, with Philip Rivers hitting each for a touchdown and throwing for 431 yards. Vernon Davis has at least 73 yards or a score in all but one game this year, and 10-of-12 dating back to 2009. He may come close to equaling last season's career year, after all.

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