Evan Silva


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Matchups: Angry Birds' Revenge

Saturday, December 25, 2010

This is the final Matchups column of the 2010 season, which leaves me with something of an empty feeling and at the same time a sense of relief. I'm excited to move on to different things like the NFL playoffs, draft season, and free agency.

Owners eliminated from the fantasy postseason probably aren't reading this, but the best advice I can give them is to spend next spring and summer cultivating football knowledge. As is the case in any undertaking, the more you know, the better off you'll be. In fantasy football, it's all about drafting the best possible team and knowing who to start when.

Every last bit of expertise you hold over your opponent can be difference making in such a luck-based game. Just ask owners who entered the season already knowing about Arian Foster, Mike Wallace, and Mike Williams South, benched Calvin and Andre Johnson against Darrelle Revis, played Seyi Ajirotutu against the Texans, and bought the Jamaal Charles hype.

The Rotoworld staff is here to help, and we can be found on Twitter. Myself (@evansilva), Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal), Chris Wesseling (@chriswesseling), Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan), and L.J. Rader (@LJ_Rader) will be around all offseason.

Best of luck in Week 16. We all need it, and if you don't take the trophy, there's always next year. And the next. And the next after that. Fantasy football and Rotoworld are here to stay.

7:30PM ET Saturday Night

Dallas @ Arizona

The Cowboys and Cardinals are long since eliminated from playoff contention. This game is a real-life yawner, but has the potential to be a scoring bonanza indoors at Arizona. Though Larry Fitzgerald's season has been billed as a disappointment, he's on pace for a fourth straight 90-catch, 1,000-yard campaign. His touchdowns are down, but this matchup is right to remedy that problem. No team in the NFL has permitted more passing scores than the Cowboys, who also allow the highest quarterback completion rate in football. With double-digit targets in a whopping nine straight games, Fitzgerald is a WR1 in championship week. ... Fitzgerald has remained the Cards' clear offensive focal point with John Skelton under center, leaving scraps for the rest of the wide receivers. Slumping Steve Breaston is a low-end WR3 despite this game's favorable setup.

Last week's clunker (6-16, 3-12) in a matchup with Carolina's No. 23 run defense reconfirmed Tim Hightower as Fool's Gold in fantasy leagues. Hightower fumbled again, and finished with fewer carries than a healthy Beanie Wells. With neither of Arizona's backs a sure bet to top 10 touches in any given game, it's a fantasy situation to avoid. ... Wells is averaging 3.34 yards per carry on the season and 2.91 in the last month. He has two touchdowns in 2010. Clearly, Wells has taken several steps back following an incredibly promising rookie year (4.51 YPC, seven touchdowns).

It gets good on Dallas' side, starting with Jon Kitna. Holding a 12-to-4 touchdown-to-turnover ratio in his last six games, Kitna faces off with a Cards defense that ranks 23rd against the pass, 23rd in sacks, and will be without sack leader Joey Porter (triceps). Kitna will have a clean pocket, and couldn't ask for a friendlier passing environment. ... Though Miles Austin's yardage totals have fallen off, a favorable matchup indoors will be hard for his owners to pass up. Always a good bet to find pay dirt, Austin is still a top-15 fantasy receiver. ... Roy Williams' (groin) likely return is bad news more for Sam Hurd than Austin or Jason Witten. Williams and Hurd cancel each other out in fantasy. ... Over the last month, Witten is averaging a ridiculous eight catches for 88 yards and a touchdown per game. He'll give coverage-challenged safety Adrian Wilson fits down the seam.

Dallas is averaging 32.2 points per game since Week 9. It's going to be safe to expect consistent ball movement against Arizona's 27th-ranked defense, a factor boding well for Cowboys rushers. And quietly, Tashard Choice has emerged as the backfield's best fantasy bet for Week 16. Even if his bruised shin is slight, usual lead back Felix Jones has a history of poor performance at less than 100 percent. Jones is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry without a touchdown in weeks when he's missed at least one practice this season, and playing on the short week won't help his slow-recovering tendencies. Already the heavy favorite for goal-line work in Dallas, Choice also saw more open-field carries than Jones in Week 15. Both are viable RB2s considering a matchup with the Cardinals' No. 30 run defense. Marion Barber (calf) is highly unlikely to be a factor.

1:00PM ET Games

Detroit @ Miami

"Matchup-proof" is a common term in fantasy circles. Calvin Johnson has taken it to the next level as a quarterback-proof starter. Megatron has gone through three QBs, averaging a 6/81 line with eight touchdowns in Shaun Hill's eight starts, 5/53 with three TDs in Matthew Stafford's three starts, and 5/88 with one score in Drew Stanton's three. Destroying the Bucs' double teams last week, Johnson vaulted to No. 2 in receiver fantasy scoring. Hill's anticipated return is more good news, as Johnson has put up his best numbers with him under center. The Lions also have shown willing to go pass-crazy with Hill at quarterback. ... Hill will help the offense, but Nate Burleson is still hard to trust with a high of 35 yards in the last month. Though pass attempts may rise, Detroit is hardly guaranteed to have success throwing it against Miami's No. 6 pass defense.

Only two teams have given up fewer fantasy points to tight ends than the Fins, so it's not worth the trouble when Brandon Pettigrew hasn't scored since Week 9 and is averaging 25 yards in his last three games. ... Another bad idea: Chasing Maurice Morris' 119-total yard effort from Week 15. The Dolphins are absolutely slamming the run, allowing a miniscule 2.23 yards per carry to running backs in their last four games, with zero rushing touchdowns. This is in matchups with Peyton Hillis (No. 2 fantasy back), Darren McFadden (No. 4), Fred Jackson (21), and LaDainian Tomlinson/Shonn Greene (20/38). Morris should be avoided like the plague. ... Even easier to avoid: Jahvid Best, with zero touchdowns since Week 2 and a 3.17 YPC average since Week 9.

The Dolphins are eliminated from playoff contention, but Brandon Marshall sure didn't play last week's game like a receiver who's given up. Turning in his best fantasy performance since Week 3, Marshall ran circles around Bills RCB Drayton Florence for 106 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions. Marshall's outlook gets even better this week against a Lions defense set to trot out Nathan Vasher at right corner. Bucs rookie Mike Williams whipped Vasher for a 24-yard score on a double move last week. ... The Lions have been gutted by slot receivers in recent games (e.g. Earl Bennett -- 7/104; Wes Welker -- 8/90/2), so Davone Bess is safely back to every-week WR3 status in PPR leagues. Bess had nine receptions for 78 yards against Buffalo last Sunday.

Marshall could've put a bigger dent in the Week 15 box score had Chad Henne been willing to throw downfield. Marshall was open on a number of fly routes down the left sideline, but Check-Down Chad couldn't muster up the guts to connect. All 11 of his hookups with Marshall were of horizontal variety. Though the Lions' pass defense is plenty vulnerable, Henne continues to be a low-end QB2. ... Much like Henne, favorable matchups just haven't been enough to make Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams overly desirable fantasy starts. Ronnie is at 3.09 yards per carry in his last six games, while Ricky's average stands at a better, if still pedestrian, 4.16 in his last seven. With both backs in contract years, expect an overhaul of the Dolphins' rushing offense this spring.

Baltimore @ Cleveland

Ray Rice showed in Week 15 exactly what he's capable of as a game plan's centerpiece. Seeing a season-high 36 touches, Rice totaled 233 yards, scored twice, and averaged 4.94 yards a carry -- his most since Week 3. With Baltimore finally finding the right mix in its front five, Rice should stay hot against a Cleveland run defense falling apart at the seams. So gashed were the Browns by struggling Cedric Benson in Week 15 that coach Eric Mangini seized defensive play-calling duties from coordinator Rob Ryan mid-game. It didn't work, of course, as Benson rolled out 75 second-half yards. Rice also saw eight of the Ravens' 10 red-zone touches in last week's win over the Saints, while Willis McGahee failed to exceed eight carries for a seventh straight game.

Though Joe Flacco threw multiple TD passes for the seventh time in his last nine games in Week 15, his 172 yards were a low since Week 2 as part of a run-heavy attack. With 16-18 MPH winds, sub-25 degree temps, and a 40 percent chance of snow in the Cleveland forecast, another run-first approach is likely. Flacco just doesn't offer as much upside as someone like Matt Schaub, Jon Kitna, or even Ben Roethlisberger. He's a low-end QB1. ... Anquan Boldin lit up CB Eric Wright for an 8/142/3 line in the Ravens' early-season meeting with Cleveland, but Wright (injured reserve, knee) is no longer around to torment. Having topped 50 yards once in his last seven tries, Boldin is a risky WR3. ... Derrick Mason had one catch last week and ranks 28th among fantasy receivers. He's certainly not an exciting option. ... Ed Dickson simply hasn't done enough to warrant a championship week start, especially with Todd Heap (hamstring) possibly returning.

Last week, we discussed Peyton Hillis' tendency to fade late in games. His per-play production has also dropped late in the year. Whereas Hillis averaged 4.84 YPC with eight TDs in the first eight games, he's down to a 4.03 in his last five while going scoreless in three straight. Owners lacking great alternatives can look to Hillis' 180-yard Week 3 effort at Baltimore for confidence, but keep in mind that was his coming-out party. The Ravens have stiffened against the run since, ranking fifth in the league in rush defense and permitting just five touchdowns on the ground in 14 games. After he was seen limping at Browns headquarters Wednesday, it's not a crazy idea to sit Hillis for someone like BenJarvus Green-Ellis or LeGarrette Blount in a non-PPR league. In PPR, Hillis is still a shoo-in top-ten running back. Only three backs in the league have more catches.

Colt McCoy has six starts, and three of them have coincided with strong games for Ben Watson (6/88/1, 5/74, 7/92). Watson is far from a sure thing, but he's also the best bet for catches and receiving yards on the Browns whenever McCoy is under center. Baltimore is tough on tight ends, but did allow a 5/47/1 line to Watson in Week 3. ... Brian Robiskie's 46-yard touchdown last week was fluky considering it came in recently signed street free agent CB Keiwan Ratliff's coverage on a pass that should've been picked off. Robiskie isn't an option this week. ... Neither is Mohamed Massaquoi, who has one touchdown since Week 1 and is an afterthought when McCoy starts.

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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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