Evan Silva


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Matchups: A Lot for a Little

Sunday, October 16, 2011

4:15PM ET Games

New Orleans @ Tampa Bay

The Bucs are getting obliterated by the pass, a dangerous proposition with Drew Brees coming to town. Tampa can't tackle or cover in the secondary, and over the past two weeks has allowed the dregs of NFL passers (Curtis Painter, Alex Smith) to combine for a 5:0 TD-to-INT ratio. Tampa's interior pass rush will be severely impacted by DT Gerald McCoy's high ankle sprain, leaving Brees with a clean pocket. Ranked No. 4 in fantasy QB scoring, Brees is an obvious must-start. ... McCoy's loss will also be felt in run defense, where he was particularly effective early this year. The Bucs ranked 23rd against the run, yielding 4.50 YPC even with McCoy in the lineup, so the bottom now threatens to fall out. Coach Raheem Morris also expressed concern this week with the status of MLB Mason Foster (ankle). Coming off a game in which he led all Saints backs in touches, Darren Sproles is a quality flex start regardless of format. He's averaging 89.8 combined rushing and receiving yards per week. ... Mark Ingram has reached pay dirt in two of his last three games and racked up five more red-zone touches in Week 5, bringing his season total to a team-high 19. Sproles is second with 10, and Pierre Thomas received three last week to give him seven on the year. ... FB Jed Collins vultured another one-yard touchdown against Carolina, but Ingram had one of his own. Collins has three offensive touches all season. Flukily, two have gone for scores.

A healthy, full-time receiver again, Marques Colston played a team-high 48 snaps in Week 5 and should be stapled into lineups as a WR2/3 going forward. In Colston's last four games against the Bucs, he's averaged a rock-solid six catches for 78 yards. ... Lance Moore and Devery Henderson have lost the most value among Saints wideouts with Colston back. Coming off a scoreless, 30-yard game, Moore has a 43.4 snap percentage in the last two weeks. He's a total roll of the dice as a WR3. ... Henderson is waiver-wire material. He played less than Moore against the Panthers and has one catch on two targets since Week 3. ... Robert Meachem (second to only Colston in Week 5 snaps) is now locked in as the Saints' No. 2 wide receiver, although he's really a No. 3 or 4 passing-game option, behind Jimmy Graham, Colston, and arguably Sproles. Meachem still has at least four catches in every game this year and is a much better week-to-week investment than Moore and Henderson. ... Graham has lapped the field as the most dangerous tight end on the planet, and is the position's new league leader in fantasy scoring. His targets have actually risen since Colston returned. Graham averaged seven a game in Weeks 1-3, but has 26 in Weeks 4-5.

The Bucs' offense has taken an ugly step back this season, and the loss of LeGarrette Blount to a knee injury will render it one-dimensional. Expected fill-in Earnest Graham is a 31-year-old plodder whose solid recent per-carry averages have been inflated by draw plays and small sample sizes as a third-down back. The good news is Graham should receive 15-18 touches, and New Orleans' defense permits 5.22 YPC. I'd overlook Graham in non-PPR leagues, but he's worth a flex start in PPR. Even when Blount was in the lineup, Graham ranked fourth among all tailbacks in receptions. ... I'm tempted to say Josh Freeman is a sneaky bye-week QB1, if only because Tampa may have to lean heavily on the pass in a potential shootout. That would also bode well for early-year fantasy bust Mike Williams. Neither player should inspire much fantasy confidence, though. ... The Saints struggle against tight ends on a weekly basis because SS Roman Harper can't cover, but they still managed to hold Kellen Winslow under 50 yards and out of the end zone in two 2010 meetings. Again, Winslow is an uninspiring fantasy option because he's lost so much playmaking ability after six career knee surgeries. ... Bucs slot receiver Preston Parker has been productive only against zone defenses this year, and the Saints play a lot of man. Parker isn't a Week 6 fantasy option.

Score Prediction: Saints 31, Bucs 20

Dallas @ New England

Cowboys-Pats has this week's highest over/under at 55.5 points, which is a nice tiebreaker if you're deciding whether to play guys like Felix Jones and Rob Gronkowski. Start 'em. ... Dallas should emerge from its welcomed Week 5 bye firing on all cylinders. At full strength, the Cowboys boast a lethal amount of weaponry, and New England not only surrenders points in truckloads with the league's last-ranked defense, it forces opponents to stay aggressive because no one generates more yardage than the Pats' No. 1-ranked offense. Start Tony Romo. ... Miles Austin practiced fully all week and should be at or near 100-percent health. Wesseling and Rosenthal have Austin eighth among Week 6 fantasy receivers. ... Wesseling and Rosenthal are slightly lower on Dez Bryant (No. 10), I suspect because Austin is a better bet for receptions. I'd consider Bryant just as good a bet for yards and the favorite for touchdowns. Like Austin, Bryant (quad) is back to full strength.

Jones is going to get on a roll shortly. He faces a Patriots defense in Week 6 that surrenders 4.59 yards per carry, followed by the Rams (32nd in run defense) and Eagles (most fantasy points allowed to running backs). If Jones is still available on the trade market, now is the time to strike a deal. He benefited from the bye week, nursing his previously dislocated shoulder back to full health and has been the front-runner for goal-line carries in Dallas' backfield all season. ... Can Romo and the Cowboys' passing attack support three big-time fantasy pass catchers? The guess here is yes, and particularly so in Week 6 considering the opponent and high-scoring game projection. In points per week, Jason Witten is the No. 4 overall fantasy tight end. He should be locked into lineups.

Long a believer in letting week-to-week matchups dictate backfield distribution, coach Bill Belichick leaned on BenJarvus Green-Ellis in Week 5 against a Jets defense selling its soul to slow Tom Brady. According to Pro Football Focus, Rex Ryan's unit used six or more DBs on 73% of snaps, often even employing seven in a rare 3-1-7 alignment. Green-Ellis capitalized with career-highs in touches (28) and yards (149), scoring twice. It's just not fair to call this a sign of things to come, mostly because the Jets' approach didn't work; Brady threw for 321 yards and averaged 9.73 yards per attempt in New England's 30-21 win. Green-Ellis is still the safest bet for weekly carries and goal-line scores among Patriots backs. Four of Law Firm's five touchdowns have come inside the five-yard line, and Belichick trusts him more than Stevan Ridley in pass protection, even if Ridley is a better pass catcher. ... While BJGE is a strong play in a likely shootout, Ridley has resumed risky flex status as a No. 2/3 back in a game that probably won't produce enough rushing success from New England to support two fantasy runners. Keyed by emerging superstar ILB Sean Lee, the Cowboys rank No. 1 against the run and are surrendering a league-low 3.13 yards per carry.

Green-Ellis did show up on the injury report with a toe ailment, believed to have occurred in practice Wednesday. He missed Thursday's workout entirely, but returned Friday. It's still a situation to monitor, because Ridley would leap up the backfield pecking order were Green-Ellis to miss the game. At this point, it doesn’t look like he will. ... Danny Woodhead is supposed to return from a multi-week ankle injury, but should be viewed as a fantasy non-factor, both independently and as a threat to others' touches. There's simply no way to tell whether Woodhead will have a prominent role, or whether he's even going to play. ... It might seem weird, but Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are both top-10 fantasy tight end options in Week 6. Remember, Gronk and Hernandez ranked Nos. 2 and 3 on the team in targets prior to the latter's knee injury. Gronkowski remains New England's best bet for red-zone receiving touchdowns. Hernandez racks up catches all over the field and has monster PPR potential. ... Cowboys slot CB Orlando Scandrick should be no match for Wes Welker in the slot. An incredibly overrated (and overpaid) player, Scandrick doesn't have the lateral athleticism to slow Welker's roll. ... Chad Ochocinco is waiver fodder. ... Deion Branch is worth a WR3 gamble because the Pats offer enough passing volume and efficiency to feed at least three viable fantasy starts on a weekly basis. In this kind of a game, they certainly should be able to support four.

Extra Point: On NFL Network Playbook Thursday night, Greg Cosell of NFL Films pointed out that Rob Ryan’s Cleveland defense double teamed both Welker and Branch on virtually every snap in last year’s November 7 upset of the Patriots. Ryan used a linebacker to hit Gronkowski whenever he broke from the line of scrimmage to run a route. Welker finished with 36 yards on four catches, Gronk four receptions for 47 yards, and Branch 21 yards on two grabs. Hernandez was the big beneficiary of Ryan’s approach, leading the Patriots in receptions (5) and receiving yards (48), and scoring twice in New England’s 34-14 defeat. Ryan, of course, is now the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator.

Score Prediction: Patriots 34, Cowboys 30

Sunday Night Football

Minnesota @ Chicago

Only two Week 6 games have less projected scoring than Vikes-Bears in the ugliest Sunday Night Football matchup to date. Defense should dominate this game. The premier fantasy play, of course, is Adrian Peterson. In their last four games, opposing tailbacks have gutted the overrated Chicago defense for 516 yards on 90 carries (5.73 YPC), and the Bears have allowed three rushing scores. It can't help that Chicago will be without starting NT Matt Toeaina (knee). The Vikings need to control this game on the ground. ... Wide deceiver Bernard Berrian is expected back in the lineup after being held out of last week's win for missing team meetings. Berrian's return cancels out Devin Aromashodu's fantasy appeal despite an 81-yard Week 5 game. ... Molasses Michael Jenkins has 33 yards in his last two games. He's averaging pathetic 8.8 yards per reception for the season. ... Percy Harvin missed practice time this week due to a rib injury and has been a fantasy disaster all year. He had two touches for 23 yards in Week 5 and has yet to score a touchdown on offense.

Matt Forte is the Bears' only serious fantasy consideration in Week 6. It will be tough sledding for Forte on the ground against Minnesota's No. 4 run defense, but he should keep owners competitive with his versatility. Forte leads all running backs in receiving yards and ranks second to only Darren Sproles in receptions. ... Fresh off Detroit's destruction of Chicago's front five, the unit gets to tangle with Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and red-hot LE Brian Robison. Like Ray Edwards before him, Robison is exploiting single teams and tight end blocks as Allen and Williams get all the attention. He has four sacks and a forced fumble in his last three games. I don't care about Jay Cutler's historical stats against the Vikings. He's going to be on his back all night. ... Dane Sanzenbacher is the lone intriguing Bears receiver this week, and he's only an option in PPR leagues. He'll have a better chance of getting open if Vikings slot CB Antoine Winfield (neck) misses another game. ... Overlook Johnny Knox, who is going to waste in a Bears offense that can't get the football deep. Knox hasn't found pay dirt all season, and his yardage has declined in three straight weeks.

Score Prediction: Vikings 17, Bears 13

Monday Night Football

Miami @ NY Jets

The Jets lost their Week 5 game against New England, but there were promising signs for New York's rekindled Ground & Pound approach. The Jets showed true commitment to the run, finishing with a balanced 26:25 pass-to-run ratio despite trailing 10-0 early. The return of C Nick Mangold sparked the attack, as Shonn Greene piled up 13 gains of four or more yards en route to a season-best 3.95 YPC average. Greene remains a low-end RB2, but volume and occasional goal-line work can keep his value afloat, even if he lacks any hint of big-play ability. The Fins rank a middling 14th versus the run. ... Even with the return to a run-heavy philosophy in Week 5, LaDainian Tomlinson received a year-low two carries and caught one pass. Averaging 54.8 total yards per game with one touchdown on the season, L.T. isn't on the fantasy radar. ... There was chatter of Joe McKnight's role increasing last week, but he got one carry, gained one yard, and is averaging a lowly 2.14 YPC. ... In the Jets' passing game, Dustin Keller has lost the most immediate fantasy value as a result of the change in offensive philosophy. Keller blocked on more plays than he ran pass routes for the first time this year in Week 5, catching one pass for seven yards on a measly two targets.

The Jets' offense isn't spurning the pass game entirely. Santonio Holmes came up with his most productive game of the year against the Pats, scoring 12 standard-league points and 16 in PPR. The idea behind the Ground & Pound is to control time of possession and play with more efficiency, regardless of play call. Holmes doesn't have to "compete" with Keller for targets anymore. Consider him a solid WR3 with upside again. ... Plaxico Burress will match up with Dolphins RCB Sean Smith for most of this game. At 6-foot-4, 213, Smith is one of the rare NFL corners that can nearly match Burress' size. Plax is never a terrible bet for a red-zone touchdown, but he'll hurt you if he doesn't score one. ... While the Fins' pass defense ranking isn't pretty on paper, the life has been sucked out of Mark Sanchez's fantasy upside. He's barely on the two-QB league radar this week.

The Jets may want to consider activating hulking, 346-pound rookie Kenrick Ellis on game days, because they're showing no ability to stop the run. This was a problem even before New York left only 3-4 defenders in the box at New England last week. In the past four games, opposing tailbacks have creamed the Jets for 568 yards and five rushing touchdowns on 123 carries (4.62 YPC). No team in football has allowed more rushing scores (8) on the season. This all adds up to a strong matchup for Daniel Thomas, who should be a fixture in fantasy lineups going forward. ... In Week 14 against the Dolphins last season, the Jets threw a curveball by using Antonio Cromartie instead of Darrelle Revis to shadow Brandon Marshall. Marshall finished with two catches for 16 yards and a touchdown. While Cromartie has performed at a high enough level this year that it's conceivable the Jets would repeat the strategy, I'd want to avoid Fins pass catchers altogether before seeing how new quarterback Matt Moore fares. If Marshall draws Darrelle Revis, he could be zeroed out of the box score. ... Reggie Bush is just a change-of-pace back when Thomas plays. Avoid. ... Davone Bess hasn't scored a touchdown all year, or topped 52 receiving yards in his last three games. He's not producing, and never offers upside even when he is relatively productive. Aim higher.

Score Prediction: Jets 20, Dolphins 16

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