Evan Silva


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Matchups: Use the Full Nelson

Friday, September 23, 2011

4:05PM ET Games

NY Jets @ Oakland

Shonn Greene owners can point to Buffalo's 217 yards rushing against Oakland in Week 2 in an effort to feign confidence in their early-round fantasy pick, but Greene's long-range outlook isn't pretty. Nick Mangold is the NFL's best center, and he's out indefinitely with a high ankle sprain. His backup is undrafted rookie Colin Baxter. Even before Mangold's loss, a declining, ultimately overrated Jets line opened up enough holes for their backs to gain 113 yards on 43 runs in Weeks 1-2, for a pathetic average of 2.63. This isn't nearly the rushing offense it once was, and Greene isn't talented enough to make up for it. Don't be surprised if the Jets start mixing in Bilal Powell. ... LaDainian Tomlinson has 18 touches and is averaging 2.18 YPC through two games. He's not a fantasy option. ... Dustin Keller is the real deal as the Jets' only pass catcher capable of getting open aside from Santonio Holmes. Playing 79.5% of the offensive snaps so far, Keller is off to an incredibly efficient start with 11 catches on 14 targets, going for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Jets OC Brian Schottenheimer will continue to call more pass plays for Keller if he keeps it up.

If the Jets can't kick start their run game, they'll have to strongly consider throwing the ball more. It would bode well for Holmes. The Nnamdi Asomugha-less Raiders have been susceptible to opposing No. 1 wide receivers early, allowing Stevie Johnson and Brandon Lloyd to combine for 14 catches, 185 yards, and a score in their first two games. Despite a groin injury in Week 2, Holmes played 48-of-62 snaps (77.4%). And he's healthier now. ... Plaxico Burress doesn't get separation at age 34, and it showed up last week when he went catch-less against the Jaguars. Plax is never a bad bet for a red-zone score, but owners should aim higher. ... Mark Sanchez is the 15th-ranked fantasy quarterback after two games. The Raiders rank 21st against the pass after facing the Broncos and Bills, so consider Sanchez a reasonable two-QB league option.

Darren McFadden ranks third in the NFL in touches through two weeks, behind only Peyton Hillis and Ben Tate. The Jets present a difficult run defense matchup on paper, but sprung some leaks in last week's win over the Jags, allowing Maurice Jones-Drew to average 4.89 yards per rushing attempt. McFadden is better than Jones-Drew and gets the ball more in the passing game. As the No. 3 fantasy back so far and his offense's centerpiece, DMC is an every-week starter, regardless of opponent. ... Jason Campbell has a pretty impossible Week 3 matchup, but he's worth grabbing as a QB2 for the future. In his last 11 games, Campbell has a 14:5 TD-to-INT ratio. He can be a passable option when bye weeks hit. ... Kevin Boss (knee), Darrius Heyward-Bey (knee), Jacoby Ford (hamstring), and Louis Murphy (sports hernia) are all either banged up or will be inactive. Explosive rookie Denarius Moore is set up to lead Oakland in targets again this week, but will he be blanked by Darrelle Revis? The Jets certainly are aware of Moore. "We really liked him (before the draft)," coach Rex Ryan told reporters this week. "We had him in for a visit. .... I tell you what, he had a huge game this past week, with about 150 yards receiving and a reverse for 25 yards. He really did a nice job. That catch he made in double coverage against Buffalo was big time."

Score Prediction: Raiders 17, Jets 13

Kansas City @ San Diego

The Chargers usually find a way to make it more interesting, but on paper this game reeks of mismatch. A San Diego passing game averaging 351 yards and completing 70.5 percent of its attempts plays host to a K.C. defense that has allowed a league-high eight touchdown passes and generated a league-low one sack. Without SS Eric Berry, the lifeless Chiefs have made Ryan Fitzpatrick and Matthew Stafford look like All-Pros. (In fairness, Stafford probably is.) Philip Rivers will light them up. ... Keep an eye on Antonio Gates' troublesome foot leading up to game time. He's combined for 194 yards and three touchdowns on 12 catches in his last two meetings with the Chiefs, but there is speculation in San Diego that Gates may have to take a week off. The Chargers confirmed their concern by holding Gates out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

The winds are blowing toward Ryan Mathews' breakout week, and not just because he'll rack up touches after San Diego takes an early lead. Mathews is involved in a backfield committee, and rotation partner Mike Tolbert is coming off both a toe injury and terrible game. Tolbert was stuffed cold after stutter-stepping at the Patriots' one-yard line on fourth-and-goal last Sunday, then lost a back-breaking fourth-quarter fumble that turned the tide of a one-possession game. Meanwhile, Mathews' role has increased steadily on passing downs, and he scored a red-zone touchdown in Week 2. He's also averaging 4.54 YPC to Tolbert's 2.14. Mathews is giving the coaches reasons to play him more, while Tolbert is stumbling. I'd struggle to consider Mathews any lower than a top-12 running back play this week. ... After a slow opener, the Chargers made it a point to get Vincent Jackson the rock by moving him to the slot. He responded with a 10-172-2 line against New England. Jackson will capitalize with monster statistics if Gates' foot remains problematic.

It's fair to wonder if the Chiefs have already called it a season. They don't have a prayer. The K.C. coaching staff continues to show zero faith in Matt Cassel, somehow managing a 27:23 run-to-pass ratio in Week 2, despite trailing for all but four minutes in a 48-3 blowout loss to Detroit. They benched Cassel for Tyler Palko in the fourth quarter, and ran the ball three times with a punt on their final four plays. "The season will not be canceled, as far as I know," coach Todd Haley said after the game. Could've fooled us. ... With Jamaal Charles out for the season, the Chiefs' lone offensive threat is Dwayne Bowe. Defensive coordinators are aware of this and will begin zeroing Bowe out of Kansas City's offense with double and triple teams. Bowe is not a good buy low. The Chargers have held Bowe to 13 yards or fewer in each of their last three meetings. Sit 'em.

The Chiefs are going to play from behind a lot this season. They have no pass or running game to speak of, and the defense has fallen apart both up front and in the secondary. While the Kansas City backfield won't produce a consistent fantasy scorer, Dexter McCluster has the best chance. A Sprolesian talent at 5'8/170, McCluster will be the Chiefs' passing-down back, and they'll have a lot of passing downs. Purely in terms of snaps, McCluster will be the lead back more often than not. He's worth adding in PPR leagues to see what happens. ... Thomas Jones was considered a hot Week 3 waiver wire pickup in some fantasy circles, but he won't get any support in this column. Jones just can't play anymore. His yards-per-carry average in his last 12 games is 2.85. In Jones' last seven, he's at 2.45. And he exits the field whenever the Chiefs throw the ball.

Score Prediction: Chargers 38, Chiefs 3

Baltimore @ St. Louis

The Rams made a slew of offseason front-seven additions, swapping out their nose tackle and two starting linebackers. It hasn't worked. Through two games, St. Louis ranks dead last in run defense and is surrendering 5.07 yards per carry. The Rams have only given up one run of longer than 20 yards, so offenses are grinding it out against them with success. Ray Rice needs to be the focal point of OC Cam Cameron's Week 3 game plan. On the season, Rice has three touchdowns and is averaging 5.98 yards per touch. There isn't a better running back start in the league this week. ... Lee Evans (ankle) is not expected to play Sunday, leaving Anquan Boldin as a legit candidate for 10-12 targets. Boldin is a recommended WR2. ... The Ravens will use some combination of rookies Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, and undrafted LaQuan Williams to replace Evans. Avoid.

At first glance, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta would appear to be canceling each other out for fantasy purposes. But there is a clear leader in the clubhouse. Dickson has a 96.7 percent snap rate to Pitta's 31.1 percent, and six more targets through two games. Dickson qualifies you're looking for a sleeper Week 3 tight end, along with Tony Scheffler if Brandon Pettigrew (shoulder) sits. ... We've mentioned it before, and it's still true: Joe Flacco won't break out as a legitimate fantasy starter until Cameron opens up the offense. Through two weeks, the Ravens rank their usual 25th in pass attempts. I'm not going to argue with Flacco's matchup, but he's a low-end QB1 at best.

Greg Salas blew a golden opportunity to run with St. Louis' slot receiver job last Monday, dropping two passes and fumbling a punt. Danny Amendola (elbow) probably won't return in Week 3, but Salas may now appear on the inactives list. He couldn't have been worse. ... Danario Alexander is the Rams' only receiver capable of separating downfield, but diminutive snap counts (he played 16 downs in Week 2) kill his fantasy reliability. We saw this last year when Alexander "broke out" for 72 yards and a touchdown in Week 6, then caught one ball for six yards in Week 7, playing 12 snaps. Alexander has a five-times surgically repaired left knee, and the Rams are well aware of it. He can't hold up on full workloads and is a major roll of the dice as a WR3. ... If only Brandon Gibson could combine his play time and knees with Alexander's skill set. Gibson can't get open.

Mike Sims-Walker leads the Rams in targets through two weeks. He's worth a WR3 start against a Baltimore pass defense serving up huge games to versatile, No. 1 receivers who play all over the field (Mike Wallace, 8-107 and Kenny Britt, 9-135-1). That isn't to say MSW has the talent of a Wallace or Britt, but he's used similarly and saw his snap percentage leap from 60.3% in the opener to 92.8% in Week 2. He's clearly the biggest beneficiary of Amendola's absence and a borderline every-week WR3. ... Sam Bradford has one touchdown and a 51.3% completion rate through two games. Bradford should pick it up later in the year after he grasps new OC Josh McDaniels' offense more fully, and the schedule weakens. He's worth hanging onto as a QB2 with more upside than the first two games indicate, but is nowhere near start-able. ... Steven Jackson has a lingering quad injury and Cadillac Williams a bum hamstring. Baltimore ranks fourth in the NFL in run defense, having held Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson to a combined 98 yards on 36 carries (2.72 YPC) without a touchdown. Avoid the Rams' backfield entirely this week.

Score Prediction: Ravens 27, Rams 17

4:15PM ET Games

Green Bay @ Chicago

The Bears' passing offense is much more the unit that showed up at New Orleans than the Week 1 version. Jay Cutler already leads the NFL with 11 sacks taken, and it's only going to get worse with RT Gabe Carimi (knee) out indefinitely. All-Pro OLB Clay Matthews happens to play over the opposing right tackle. Cutler's stats in his last four meetings with Green Bay: 67-of-125 (53.6%) for 734 yards (5.87 YPA), 3:9 TDs to INTs. Steer clear. ... The Bears won't get anything going with outside receivers Johnny Knox, Roy Williams, and Devin Hester if they can't keep Cutler upright. Cutler has 77 attempts through two games, and just 14 have been complete to the above trio. None has topped 60 yards in a week. Look elsewhere. ... Slot receiver Earl Bennett has a badly bruised torso and 20 yards through two games. Move along. ... Matt Forte has led Chicago in receiving both weeks, averaging 20.5 touches for 162 total yards a game. The Packers have also had trouble containing him recently; Forte's last two games against Green Bay netted 311 yards.

The Packers were involved in a Week 1 shootout and fell behind early last week, so they haven't yet experienced an opportunity to lean on the run. They'll execute when they do. RT Bryan Bulaga has emerged as a true mauler, and his partner on the right side RG Josh Sitton was already a dominant run-blocking force. Per Pro Football Focus, Green Bay cleared enough Week 2 lanes to give James Starks and Ryan Grant a 4.3 YPC average before they even felt contact. Starks continues to operate as the lead back, playing 84 snaps with 24 touches to Grant's 35 and 19, respectively. You may want to avoid the situation against a Chicago run defense that's better than its 5.30 YPC allowed indicates, but Starks is going to break out one of these weeks, and it will happen before midseason. He's a recommended trade target. ... In Jermichael Finley's last meeting with Chicago, he racked up nine catches for 115 yards. Finley is the ideal zone-busting tight end against a Cover 2, and it can't help the Bears' chances that they have injuries at safety.

Greg Jennings will likely struggle for deep bombs Sunday, but he's either caught a touchdown or cleared 97 yards in each of his last three matchups with the Bears. He needs to be in lineups as a WR2. ... Jordy Nelson's historical stats aren't great against Chicago, but on paper he has a better matchup than Jennings. While Green Bay's No. 1 receiver will face off with physical RCB Charles Tillman, Nelson will play most of his snaps against smallish LCB Tim Jennings (5'8/185). Nelson has a seven-inch and 32-pound size advantage. ... Donald Driver's snap rate fell from 68.7% in the opener to 50% in Week 2, while Randall Cobb and James Jones' both rose. The Packers' pass catchers behind Jennings, Finley, and Nelson have created a fantasy situation to avoid. ... The Bears have done an excellent job of bottling up Aaron Rodgers over the years, holding him to a 3:4 TD-to-INT ratio in their last five meetings. Just once in those games has Rodgers exceeded 244 passing yards. It's not crazy to consider starting Cam Newton over Rodgers this week.

Score Prediction: Packers 17, Bears 10

Arizona @ Seattle

Larry Fitzgerald plays most of his snaps across from right cornerbacks, and Brandon Browner is Seattle's RCB. According to Pro Football Focus, Browner allowed an incredible 10-of-10 passes thrown his way to be complete last week, for 194 yards and a touchdown. The Seahawks will have to come up with an awfully bright idea to keep Fitz in check. Most likely, he'll burn them for his second straight monster week. ... I mentioned it in Week 2 Matchups: Seattle fields a legitimately run-tough defense with big uglies Alan Branch (6'6/325) and Red Bryant (6'4/323) clogging up holes. The Seahawks held Rashard Mendenhall and Frank Gore to 125 yards on 41 carries (3.05 YPC) in their first two games, and Beanie Wells is now coming off an in-practice hamstring injury. Never known for playing well hurt, Wells drops all the way to risky flex option after having the look of an RB1 in the first two games. Dead-legged Chester Taylor wouldn't be a good fall-back plan.

Kevin Kolb ranks 12th among fantasy QBs through two games, playing far more formidably than he did last year or in his first preseason as a Cardinal. The possible lack of a run game could translate to more attempts for Kolb, and he's likely to have success picking apart the Fitz-Browner matchup. Consider Kolb an excellent two-QB league play and a quietly viable QB1 if you're streaming. ... Early Doucet confirmed that his 100-plus yard Week 1 game was a fluke by turning in a 20-yard clunker in Week 2. With Doucet earning only 45.9% of the Cardinals' offense snaps and Andre Roberts not producing, Fitzgerald is the team's only fantasy-relevant pass catcher.

Charlie Whitehurst isn't necessarily better, but you have to wonder if the Seahawks are seriously tanking the season for Andrew Luck if they stick with Tarvaris Jackson. In T-Jack's first two starts, the NFL.com play by play has described 60 of his 66 attempts as "pass short" (90.9%). Jackson is 0-for-6 on throws characterized as "deep," with one interception and another "deep" pass that led to a Ben Obomanu injury. Jackson has two completions for gains of longer than 13 yards. Sidney Rice won't save this passing offense. ... Marshawn Lynch has 44 yards on 19 carries through two games, "good" for a 2.31 average. Even as poor as Arizona's run defense is, it's hard to imagine ever using Lynch in a fantasy league. In his last 12 regular season games with Seattle, Lynch has 143 carries for 484 yards (3.38 average). Be sure to trade Lynch if he does anything in this game. The Seahawks' offensive line remains in shambles with LG Robert Gallery shelved 4-6 weeks after groin surgery, and there's simply no cohesiveness in position coach Tom Cable's unit.

Score Prediction: Cardinals 20, Seahawks 7

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