Evan Silva


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Matchups: Just Start HIM

Friday, October 21, 2011

1:00PM ET Games

Denver @ Miami

In Tim Tebow's four career opportunities at meaningful playing time, the Broncos' rushing attack has 107 carries for 465 yards (4.35 YPC) and five touchdowns. Tebow has thrown 91 passes netting 730 yards (8.02 YPA) and five more scores. The yards-per-attempt average would rank eighth in the NFL today. These numbers compare favorably to Kyle Orton's last four appearances (4.21 YPC with just one touchdown for the running game, 6.19 YPA). Whereas Tom Brady has averaged 0.44 fantasy points per snap this year, Tebow averages 0.45 per play in his 12 career appearances. It won't always look pretty, but Tebow moves the chains, sets up his team to score, and absolutely lights up box scores. In this game, Tebow will have the entirety of Sun Life Stadium behind him in his return to Florida. There are only five QBs I'd play over Tebow in Week 7: Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, and Tony Romo. ... The Broncos haven't exactly bent over backwards to position Tebow for success by trading away top receiver Brandon Lloyd, but Eric Decker owners ought to be thrilled. Decker was already averaging nine targets per start in an offense that ranked 26th in passing yards per game, and 25th in pass attempts. Decker is now Denver's No. 1 passing-game option. Expect every-week WR3 value the rest of the way.

Willis McGahee has the Broncos' backfield all to himself with Knowshon Moreno yet to exceed three touches in any game since Week 1. Just be wary of inevitable statistical regression. While McGahee deserves credit for his 7.35 YPC average in two games prior to the Week 6 bye, Tebow will vulture short-yardage scores as well as open-field carries on designed quarterback runs. The Dolphins' rush defense showed it's back in business by holding Jets backs to a combined 99 scoreless yards on 28 carries (3.53 average) last Monday night. McGahee should get the ball 18-20 times, but his recent per-play production is unsustainable, his scoring chances are sure to decline, and defenses will crowd the line of scrimmage to guard against both his and Tebow's run threat, daring the offense to beat them with the pass. In fantasy, McGahee will come crashing back to earth. ... Moreno is a clear backup and McGahee handcuff only. ... With Decker inheriting the lead role in Denver's pass-catching corps, Eddie Royal is left to "compete" for targets and snaps with Demaryius Thomas and Matt Willis. Thomas easily has the most talent of the group and is the only secondary wideout worth a fantasy flier. Just don't expect an immediate starting job, and be skeptical about Thomas' effectiveness eight months removed from an Achilles' tear.

It makes you wonder what the Dolphins ever saw in Matt Moore. After an atrocious performance in last Monday's loss to the Jets, Moore is now 112-of-203 passing (55.2%) for 1,228 yards (6.05 YPA), five touchdowns, and 13 interceptions with 17 sacks taken in his last eight appearances. Sage Rosenfels will be playing soon. ... On the bright side in fantasy is the fact that Moore got the ball to Brandon Marshall six times for 109 yards. Moore is absolutely force feeding the Fins' No. 1 receiver. Since replacing Chad Henne in the first quarter of Week 4, Moore's target distribution: Marshall 22, Brian Hartline 10, Davone Bess 7, Anthony Fasano 5. I'd say to be wary of Marshall because of Champ Bailey's likely "shadow" coverage, but he repeatedly beat Darrelle Revis one-on-one last week. Marshall is playing at an extremely high level, and for better or worse Moore isn't afraid to throw to him. According to Pro Football Focus, Moore targeted Revis a season-high 14 times last week. ... The theory that Moore's alleged check-down tendencies would rejuvenate Bess hasn't come to fruition, and the slot receiver's fantasy value is officially in the gutter as a part-time player behind Hartline. Bess has only played 60-of-122 snaps (49.2%) in the last two games.

Daniel Thomas has 61 touches for 298 yards (4.89 average) in his last three games, while Reggie Bush has 38 for 168 (4.42). The averages are similar, but the touch distribution is obviously in Thomas' favor. Moore is playing so poorly that the Fins have no choice but to approach this game with a decidedly run-first mindset. While Thomas struggled in last week's loss to the Jets, he's likely to get the rock 20 or more times against Denver's No. 23 run defense. I'd want Thomas in my lineup this week. ... Bush broke off a 36-yard run in Week 6, but remains a change-of-pace back only. His receptions are in decline because the Fins haven't figured out how to use him correctly.

Score Prediction: Broncos 31, Dolphins 20

San Diego @ NY Jets

A suddenly run-soft Jets defense enters this game on a short week after Monday night's win, while San Diego's offense is fresh off a bye. Since Week 1, tailbacks have gutted New York for five touchdowns and 686 yards on 148 carries (4.64 YPC). They're going to have problems with Ryan Mathews. A top-seven back in fantasy points per game, Mathews is averaging 135 total yards a week while leapfrogging Mike Tolbert for the feature back role. Whereas Tolbert managed 20 combined touches in Weeks 3-5, Mathews piled up 71. Off the injury report after a full practice week, Mathews is easily a top-ten running back play. ... Tolbert has settled in as San Diego's change-of-pace and goal-line runner, though he's reached pay dirt just once since the opener. He's a weak flex. ... The Jets haven't faced dangerous tight ends aside from Rob Gronkowski and Jason Witten, but are still surrendering five catches for nearly 60 yards per game to the position. New York's defensive strength is its press-man outside cornerback play, and 5-foot-8, 188-pound free safety Jim Leonhard is an obvious matchup liability against big, physical pass catchers. Antonio Gates is expected to play in this game, even if it's primarily in red-zone packages. He'll remain the best bet for a receiving touchdown on San Diego's roster. Don't hesitate to start him.

The Chargers and Jets last squared off on January 17, 2010 in the second round of the playoffs. New York didn't assign Darrelle Revis to Vincent Jackson in the game, and V-Jax went off for 111 yards on seven receptions, avoiding Revis' coverage for each and every catch. Brandon Marshall had success against Revis on Monday night, and the buzz in New York is that Revis will move around the formation again, seeing a balanced amount of action on Jackson, Gates, and Malcom Floyd. Lock in V-Jax as a rock-solid WR2. In terms of targets, he's sure to benefit in the open field if Gates only plays when the Chargers move inside the 20. ... In the aforementioned playoff game, Gates successfully complemented Jackson with eight catches for 93 yards, but Malcom Floyd was left with 30 scoreless yards on three grabs. With Gates and Jackson back, Floyd's fantasy appeal returns to the toilet. He'll be the No. 3 or 4 passing-game option (if you include running backs) as San Diego takes on a top-five pass defense. It's not a good situation. ... Philip Rivers has started slow because his entire receiver corps has been affected by injuries. Two weeks ago, Rivers would've been a recommended "sit" in this matchup. He's now more of a low-end QB1.

Including the 2009 playoffs, Shonn Greene averaged 5.21 yards per carry during his rookie year. He's at 3.88 in 21 regular season games since, and 3.38 this year. (Maybe Greene finds a second gear in postseasons? He averages 5.07 yards per rush in six career playoff games.) Regardless, Greene essentially hit rock bottom last week with a scoreless, 21-carry, 74-yard game against Miami that confirmed he's capable of only getting what's blocked, and sometimes not even that. Greene needs heavy volume for worthwhile production. At least this is a fairly favorable matchup on paper. The Jets' defense should limit San Diego's scoring to keep the game close and the rushing game alive, and the Chargers' defense is surrendering 4.62 yards per carry. ... Passing-game efficiency has picked up since the Jets reverted to a Ground & Pound offense two weeks ago, although Mark Sanchez has averaged just 25.5 attempts and 184 yards versus the Dolphins and Patriots' bottom-four pass defenses. San Diego ranks second in the league against the pass.

The philosophical shift on offense has affected Dustin Keller more than any Jets pass catcher. Whereas Keller averaged eight targets and 66 yards per game in Weeks 1-4, he's down to 3 1/2 targets for 29 yards in the last two. Keller has maintained a sturdy 83.8% snap rate, but he's now "competing" for possession route targets with Plaxico Burress, new slot man Jeremy Kerley, and passing-down specialist LaDainian Tomlinson in a decidedly run-heavy offense. It's a situation to avoid. ... Plax hasn't scored in the past three weeks and is averaging 29.2 yards in the last five. Ranked 49th among fantasy receivers, he's a WR5. ... Santonio Holmes, on the other hand, has capitalized on Ground & Pound as a big-play artist who benefits from more defenders in the box, distracting loaded pass coverage. Lined up in the slot, Holmes whipped the Patriots' secondary for a 21-yard touchdown on an out route in Week 5. Last Monday night, Holmes made four Dolphins defenders miss en route to a 38-yard score. Holmes is an every-week WR3 in fantasy football.

Score Prediction: Chargers 24, Jets 17

Washington @ Carolina

With a quarterback making his first start in four years and his left tackle out indefinitely due to a high ankle sprain, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has no choice but to enlist an extremely run-oriented Week 7 game plan. It can't hurt, of course, that Carolina ranks 31st against the run while allowing league highs in rushing scores (8), 20-yard runs (10), and 40-yard runs (3). While fantasy owners have every right to be disappointed in Ryan Torain's Week 6 effort (10-22), they have only Rex Grossman to blame for forcing Shanahan to abandon the run after an early two-TD deficit. The Skins finished with just 13 designed run plays. Torain remains the favorite for carries in D.C., and John Beck will be much more game manager to Grossman's pseudo-gunslinger. In what will be a closer game from the outset, Torain should flirt with 20-22 touches as a high-upside RB2. ... Tim Hightower didn't play a Week 6 snap and is expected to remain on the backburner until further notice. He didn't get it done with a 3.48 YPC average in the first month. ... The Redskins' back to watch in terms of long-range potential is rookie Roy Helu. Initially, Helu didn't receive feature back consideration because he struggled in training camp passing-game drills, but he played on all third downs against Philadelphia. Even if the touches aren't quite there yet, it's a sign that Helu's development as an NFL running back is going smoothly. His time is likely coming.

After Beck replaced Grossman in Week 6, he targeted Fred Davis a team-high four times. It's a small sample, of course, but Davis spent much of camp working with Beck, who rotated with the first- and second-team offenses throughout August. Beck and Davis were often on the field together in preseason games. The two should have a formidable rapport, and Chris Cooley's indefinite absence due to a shattered finger and possible further knee surgery will keep Davis in the mix as a TE1. ... Washington's likely run-heavy approach is a concern for Santana Moss, but shouldn't push him off the WR3 ledge. He's been steady with at least 70 yards and/or a touchdown in 4-of-5 games. Moss is still the QB's first read on the majority of passing plays. ... Jabar Gaffney ranks just 44th among receivers in fantasy scoring, and is droppable in 12-team leagues with the move to Beck. He's the clear-cut No. 3 option in a passing game that doesn't project to throw as often.

Cam Newton is the No. 3 fantasy quarterback through six starts, posting 17.5 points last week in his worst statistical game of the year. As has been said before in this space, Newton is consistent with an exceptionally high "floor." Though Newton threw three Week 6 interceptions, only the last was really his fault -- on a last-second Hail Mary attempt. The first pick was tipped by a leaping Falcons linebacker into CB Brent Grimes' hands, and the second came on a great play by Falcons DT Corey Peters to snuff out a screen-pass attempt. Newton is an every-week fantasy starter, and matchups don't matter. ... It is worth noting for the fantasy matchups of Newton's receivers, however, that the Redskins have a top-nine pass defense and have allowed the fewest passing TDs in the NFC. While Steve Smith figures to have his way with gambling CB DeAngelo Hall, Legedu Naanee and Brandon LaFell should be left on fantasy benches and/or waiver wires.

Washington is weaker in run than pass defense, surrendering 4.57 YPC and flashing susceptibility to long runs. The Panthers' backfield just doesn't provide enough volume for fantasy comfort, and last week's game reinforced that notion. While DeAngelo Williams started and equaled his season high with 13 touches, he managed 46 total yards without a score. Jonathan Stewart racked up 72 yards and a touchdown, but only got the ball ten times. J-Stew is clearly the more productive per-play back, averaging 6.46 yards per touch. Williams' average is 5.30, a clip that falls to 4.19 if you leave out his 69-yard Week 5 touchdown. It's Williams' lone score on the season. ... Over the past four weeks, the Skins have given up 17 catches for 155 yards and one touchdown to tight ends. Those aren't particularly favorable numbers for Greg Olsen, who is trying to play through turf toe. I don't like Olsen as much as usual this week, but he's scored plenty to stick with as a low-end TE1.

Score Prediction: Panthers 28, Redskins 24

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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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