Evan Silva


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Matchups: Dez's Destiny

Friday, November 11, 2011

1:00PM ET Games

Buffalo @ Dallas

Miles Austin will miss 2-4 games with a right hamstring strain, the leg opposite the hamstring that cost him practice time in August and three weeks earlier this season. Dez Bryant stands to benefit as Dallas' clear No. 1 receiver during an upcoming string of favorable matchups. Three of the Cowboys' next four opponents rank in the bottom eight against the pass, beginning with the No. 25 Bills in Week 10. Bryant leads Dallas in targets over the past month, and Tony Romo has re-found his stroke after an early-year rib injury, no longer needing painkillers to play on Sundays. Perhaps fantasy football's finest second-half trade target, Bryant is headed for a breakout finish. ... Bryant was battling a quad injury at the time, but it's worth noting that Jason Witten led Dallas in receiving (14-154-1) and targets (19) when Austin missed Weeks 3-4. Austin, by nature, is a possession receiver, and Witten is now Dallas' best possession threat left. In their last six games, the Bills have surrendered 33 receptions for 449 yards and three touchdowns to tight ends, good for nearly a six-catch, 75-yard weekly average. Bryant is the best bet to lead the Cowboys in receiving yards this Sunday, but Witten is the favorite for receptions. They're both must-starts.

Chris Wesseling recommended Laurent Robinson as this week's top waiver pickup at receiver. Robinson will be an every-down player in Austin's absence, primarily playing outside at flanker. Though he barely knew Dallas' offense at the time after signing on September 20, Robinson racked up 15 targets in Austin's two missed games earlier in the year. Since, Robinson has become a staple in the Cowboys' receiver rotation with touchdowns in back-to-back games and over 100 yards in two of the last five. Robinson will be a worthwhile WR3 until Austin gets back. ... Now past the rib injury, Romo displayed improved pocket presence in Week 9 against Seattle, particularly in the final two quarters. He connected with Witten on a pair of deep seam routes for long gains, the first for a 33-yard touchdown and the second for 23 on a third-and-six play. Like Bryant, Romo has an incredibly favorable schedule for the next month. He's going to get hot. ... DeMarco Murray is earning more trust from the Cowboys every week. Generating Jerry Jones' comparisons to Eric Dickerson, Murray is now averaging 170 total yards and 8.47 YPC in three starts. He's also playing more on passing downs. Felix Jones (ankle) won't return as better than a change-of-pace/third-down back, and it won't be this week. The Bills rank 20th against the run, permit 4.62 yards per carry, and have allowed the second most rushing touchdowns in the AFC.

I'm taking the over on Vegas' projected 48 points for Buffalo-Dallas. The Cowboys will again be minus top CB Mike Jenkins (hamstring), and Ryan Fitzpatrick's quick release will pose matchup problems for a defense that relies heavily on sack production. Fitzpatrick has taken just eight sacks, 33rd most in the league. This isn't to call Fitz a fantasy starter, but I'd feel good about him in two-QB settings and his pass catchers' chances of recording adequate stat lines in a sleeper shootout game. ... Donald Jones' return from an ankle injury is positive news for David Nelson, because it moves him back into the slot. Nelson led all Bills receivers in Week 9 targets and has 50 on the year to rank second on the team. Nelson offers limited week-to-week upside because he's not a featured player in a spread-the-wealth offense, but he'll continue to be on the WR3 radar. Look for Nelson (6'5/220) to match up often with Orlando Scandrick (5'10/191) on Sunday. ... Fitzpatrick's weak arm won't be deterred in the comfortable confines of JerryWorld Stadium, which figures to be enclosed for this game. It's good news for Stevie Johnson, who beat Darrelle Revis for 84 yards last week and has a much friendlier Week 10 matchup with Terence Newman.

According to Pro Football Focus, Jones played 58-of-59 snaps in Week 10, confirming that he's over his high ankle sprain. Jones was targeted just four times, however, securing one for six yards. Jones may have a couple of decent games down the stretch, but they'll be impossible to predict. He's prone to getting stuck running clear-out routes ala Lee Evans in Chan Gailey's offense last season. ... Dallas opened the year playing run-tough defense, but has sprung leaks of late. Seahawks and Eagles rushers have touched up the Cowboys for 401 yards and three scores on 68 carries (5.90 YPC) over the last two games. Perhaps ILB Sean Lee's return will help, but he's playing with a cracked, dislocated wrist. No. 2 fantasy back Fred Jackson should be used confidently. ... You know the drill with Scott Chandler by now. He's scored a TD in four games this season. In the other four, Chandler has seven catches combined for 33 yards. Good luck. ... C.J. Spiller has lost his part-time slot receiver job with Jones back, and Spiller's lone two Week 9 touches came when Jackson was nursing a short-lived "stinger" at the start of the second half. Spiller played 5-of-59 snaps (8.5%) and has no fantasy appeal without an F-Jax injury. ... Naaman Roosevelt can also be returned to waiver wires as the No. 5 or 6 option in Buffalo's passing game.

Score Prediction: Cowboys 30, Bills 24

Tennessee @ Carolina

The Panthers appeared to turn away from DeAngelo Williams and toward Jonathan Stewart before their Week 9 bye, giving J-Stew 27 carries in Weeks 7-8 compared to 17 for D-Will. The off week should have kept the coaches' lean in Stewart's direction, because the per-play stats and game tape are heavily in his favor. Stewart also now has nine red-zone touches to Williams' three since Week 5. If I had to pick one running back to target for pre-fantasy deadline trades, it would be Jonathan Stewart. He's going to lead this backfield in carries and catches, and the Panthers face just two defenses ranked higher than 24th against the run in their final eight games. The Titans are No. 24. ... Having failed to top 3.7 YPC in three straight games, Williams has reached "handcuff" status in fantasy leagues. He's simply not usable with one touchdown on the season and an average of 53 total yards a week. ... In their last five games, the Titans have allowed 30 catches for 362 yards and five touchdowns to opposing tight ends. It's weekly average of 6-72-1. Greg Olsen is a top-nine tight end in fantasy points per game, and this is a favorable matchup.

Throw out a Week 8 date with Curtis Painter, and Tennessee has allowed opposing QBs to complete 64-of-96 passes (66.7%) for 741 yards (7.72 YPA), 10 touchdowns, and one interception in their last three games. This is a favorable matchup for both Cam Newton and Steve Smith, who are locked in as every-week fantasy starters. ... Brandon LaFell is worth picking up in 14- and 16-team leagues in hopes that the Carolina coaching staff increased his role during the bye. He's been an inconsistently-used part-time receiver to this point, but has significantly more playmaking ability than "starter" Legedu Naanee. LaFell is averaging 16.2 yards per reception with two touchdowns on the season, compared to no scores and a 10.9 average for Naanee. Per Pro Football Focus, LaFell has not dropped a pass since Week 1, while Naanee has two drops in the last five games. Neither is a Week 10 fantasy option, of course, but LaFell at least has potential.

I re-watched all 14 of Chris Johnson's Week 9 runs, and I still think his struggles are a matter of effort. Johnson has no interest in grinding out tough yardage inside the tackles, and was a total non-factor in the final two quarters with nine yards on five second-half rushing attempts. Earlier in the season, I surmised that Johnson's explosion was gone. I'm now convinced that his heart isn't in it. Perhaps a date with Carolina's No. 27 run defense will provide Johnson more lanes and long-run chances, but I still wouldn't feel comfortable considering him more than a flex option. Be it consciously or subconsciously, Johnson has thrown in the towel. ... Javon Ringer has a limited skill level, struggling to make defenders miss and almost never breaking into the open field. He hits the hole with considerably more ferocity than Johnson, but received only five Week 9 touches and is averaging 3.41 yards per carry on the season. Ringer is an RB4. ... Jared Cook missed practices with a knee injury this week, which won't help his chances of playing more on Sunday. In Week 9, he played 33-of-69 offensive downs (47.8%) and lost a fumble to seal the Titans' loss.

There's not much reason for optimism in the Titans' passing game. Nate Washington figures to match up often with Panthers top CB Chris Gamble, who's been a legit shutdown cornerback this season. Washington is also coming off a hip injury. Look elsewhere. ... Damian Williams and Lavelle Hawkins have traded off weeks leading Tennessee in receiving. Of course, neither has more than 63 yards in either game. Both offer little upside, though Williams remains the slightly better fantasy bet. ... Matt Hasselbeck is the No. 26 fantasy quarterback in points per game over the last five weeks (The post-Britt era). He's a QB2 against Carolina's 13th-ranked pass defense.

Score Prediction: Panthers 28, Titans 21

New Orleans @ Atlanta

Saints-Falcons has Sunday's highest over/under with 50 projected points in a pick-'em game. Shy not from this one. ... Both Atlanta wideouts should be locked into fantasy lineups, but it's worth wondering if Julio Jones might overtake Roddy White to be Matt Ryan's preferred option down the stretch. In Jones' last three full games played, he leads Atlanta in receptions (20) and yards (373), and is coming off a 164-total yard, two-score destruction of Indianapolis. White still comfortably paces the Falcons in targets, but has exhibited decreased explosiveness en route to a career-low 11.7 yards per catch. Jones is riding a 17.5-yard clip. ... White has been held to an average of 3.3 receptions for 51 yards in his last three meetings with New Orleans. As the Falcons' flanker, he has a tougher Week 10 matchup than Jones. White will spend the majority of this game in LCB Jabari Greer's coverage. Jones will face off with a combination of RCB Patrick Robinson and slot CB Leigh Torrence with Tracy Porter (neck, chest) out for Sunday's game. ... Red-zone scores can keep Tony Gonzalez's fantasy value afloat, but he's slowing down with a 43.5-yard average since Week 2. Gonzalez ranks 16th among tight ends in fantasy scoring over the past five weeks.

In his last three games against the Saints, Matt Ryan has completed 53-of-101 passes (52.5%) for 665 yards (6.58 YPA), four touchdowns, and three interceptions. A shootout may buoy Ryan's Week 10 numbers, but that's two-QB league production. ... While Michael Turner will have a hard time running strong for the season's duration with so much wear on his tires, he has a favorable matchup against a New Orleans defense allowing the league's highest yards-per-carry average (5.33). Long term, keep in mind that Turner has led the NFL in rushing attempts in two of the past three seasons, ranks fifth in carries per game this year, and turns 30 in three months. His legs petered out late in 2010, averaging 3.42 YPC in the final four games despite facing a string of weak run defenses. A year older now, Turner's demise could happen sooner. Owners should start shopping him around before fantasy trade deadlines. ... Jacquizz Rodgers received a season-high 11 touches in Week 9, but seven came after Atlanta had already built a 28-7 fourth-quarter lead in a blowout win over the 0-9 Colts. It's almost certainly not a sign of things to come. Rodgers isn't a recommended late-year stash because he'd share time with Jason Snelling if Turner went down.

The Saints attacked the Bucs with a smash-mouth approach in Week 9, only using three-receiver sets on 27-of-64 snaps (42.2%) and finishing with a 28:36 run-to-pass ratio. It was obviously out of character for a team that leads the NFL in pass attempts, and game planned specifically for a Tampa defense that can't stop the run. I would therefore struggle to hold Marques Colston (5-52) and Drew Brees' (258 yards, two touchdowns) relatively mediocre stats against them. Whereas the Bucs' weakness was run stoppage, the opposite can be said for the Falcons' defense. Atlanta ranks seventh against the run, compared to 19th against the pass. ... Brees has averaged 40 pass attempts per game in his last four matchups with the Falcons, completing 121-of-160 throws (75.6%) for 1,271 yards (7.94 YPA), and nine touchdowns. In terms of yardage, it's a per-game average of 318. ... Brees' updated target distribution since Colston returned from his Week 1 collarbone fracture to become a full-time receiver in Week 6: Jimmy Graham 34, Darren Sproles 30, Colston 29, Lance Moore 19, Devery Henderson 11, Robert Meachem 8. ... Henderson and Meachem have become almost total non-factors and can safely be sent to fantasy waiver wires.

On pace for 11 all-purpose touchdowns and 1,410 total yards, Sproles has settled in as an every-week flex regardless of format. He's a perfect fit for this offense. ... Jimmy Graham leads all tight ends in targets (82), receptions (55), yards (791), and standard league fantasy points. Matchups don't matter anymore. ... Moore has a touchdown in back-to-back weeks, but his targets and snaps are too inconsistent for comfort. He's a dicey WR3/flex. ... As for the Saints' running backs behind Sproles, it's ideally a fantasy situation to avoid because of the role uncertainty and tough matchup. They aren’t playing the Bucs anymore. Pierre Thomas is at least healthy. Mark Ingram (heel) and Chris Ivory (hamstring) were both limited in practice all week and are questionable to play against Atlanta.


UPDATE: Ingram is listed as probable and Ivory questionable. In his first game back after a two-week heel (Achilles?) injury, Ingram would be a very shaky fantasy play in a tough matchup. Ivory is not expected to be active for the game.

Score Prediction: Saints 31, Falcons 23

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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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