Evan Silva


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Matchups: Lock in Harvin

Friday, November 25, 2011

1:00PM ET Games

Minnesota @ Atlanta

Adrian Peterson's high ankle sprain will thrust Percy Harvin into the primary playmaker role in Minnesota's offense. Coach Leslie Frazier is all for it. "One of the things coming out of the (Week 9) bye, we wanted to come up with more ways to get Percy the football," Frazier said this week. "That's what we have been trying to do. ... The fact that Adrian wasn't in the ball game created more opportunities for Percy." After Peterson went down in the first quarter of Week 11, Harvin racked up seven touches, gaining 63 yards with a touchdown. He was targeted a team-high eight times and operated as the Vikings' change-of-pace back behind Toby Gerhart. Harvin also had a would-be 35-yard TD run negated by a Michael Jenkins holding call. Perhaps an even bigger fantasy beneficiary than Gerhart from the Peterson injury, Harvin is a candidate for 15 touches at Atlanta. He'll have a particularly favorable matchup in the slot against Chris Owens. Oft-burned throughout his career, Owens is playing in place of Kelvin Hayden (foot). ... Gerhart will start in the Vikings' backfield, but is likely to struggle against the Falcons' No. 2 run defense. Lacking any hint of elusiveness, Gerhart would likely need a goal-line touchdown to be a worthwhile fantasy play. Unless you're truly desperate for a fill-in flex, Gerhart probably isn't worth the waiver claim.

Here is Christian Ponder's updated target distribution over the past three games: Harvin 21, Devin Aromashodu 16, Kyle Rudolph 13, Jenkins 13, Visanthe Shiancoe 11. ... Jenkins has not cleared 50 yards or scored in any of Ponder's last three starts. ... Shiancoe and Rudolph are canceling each other out. Rudolph is a nice long-term prospect -- keep in mind Shiancoe is in a contract year -- but neither will find a groove this season. ... Aromashodu plays a ton of snaps, but is just a better blocking version of Bernard Berrian. Aromashodu has one catch on his last ten targets. ... Ponder showed moxie bringing the Vikings back from a 24-7 first-half deficit in Week 11, leading two quick fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Of course, Ponder was part of the reason Minnesota fell behind in the first place. He still passed for 211 yards, ran for 71 more, and threw two touchdown passes. When Ponder finally starts putting together complete games -- and gets better wideouts -- he's going to be a borderline fantasy starter. He's well worth a two-QB league play against Atlanta's No. 26 pass defense.

Matt Ryan has been most effective at home throughout his career, and the trend has held true this season. Whereas Ryan has a 9:5 TD-to-INT ratio in five Georgia Dome games in 2011, his score-to-pick ratio falls to 6:5 in five away games. In this week's home game, Ryan couldn't ask for a more favorable matchup. The Vikings' defense ranks 28th versus the pass and has permitted a league-most 19 touchdown passes. Only the Colts allow enemy quarterbacks to complete a higher percentage of throws. For Sunday and Monday's games, these are the only three fantasy QBs I'd play over Ryan: 1) Cam Newton 2) Tom Brady 3) Drew Brees. ... Julio Jones is 14 days removed from his latest hamstring pull. While he carries some risk of re-injury, Jones will be near impossible to bench against the Antoine Winfield-, Chris Cook-less Minnesota secondary. Jones also went through an extensive practice on Thanksgiving and is fully expected to start. "I thought I was going to be rusty, but I wasn't," said Jones after the practice. "I feel real good about it." ... Roddy White took over last week's game in the second half against an underrated Tennessee back end, beating double teams en route to 147 yards on seven receptions. White should be considered a legit WR1 this week as he faces off with Vikings LCB Asher Allen. Cedric Griffin will primarily be on Jones.

Atlanta's Week 8 bye seemed to come at a good time for 35-year-old Tony Gonzalez, who's found pay dirt in three consecutive games since. Gonzalez has a plus matchup this week against a Vikings defense that has allowed two touchdowns to tight ends in the last three games, plus 209 yards on 16 receptions. It's a five-catch, 70-yard weekly average. ... Glass-half full Michael Turner owners can fall back on Michael Bush's Week 11 rushing line (30-109-1) as reason for Week 12 optimism. Unlike Bush, however, Turner is a zero in the passing game and rarely compensates statistically when defenses hold him scoreless. Prior to last week, the Vikings had not allowed a tailback to rush for a touchdown since Marion Barber vultured a three-yard score from Matt Forte in Week 6. Turner now ranks third in the NFL in carries, which remains concerning considering last year's dramatic late-season drop-off after another monster workload. Minnesota ranks ninth against the run, and Turner's Week 13 opponent, Houston, is fourth in rush defense. The winds are blowing toward a disappointing fantasy finish for "The Burner."

Score Prediction: Falcons 24, Vikings 20

Buffalo @ NY Jets

A crumbling Bills offense goes on the road Sunday to face a Jets defense against which Ryan Fitzpatrick has been horrific. In five career meetings with Darrelle Revis' unit, Fitz has completed 66-of-139 passes (47.5%) for 685 yards (4.93 YPA), four touchdowns, and four interceptions. He has never cleared 200 yards against the Jets. With as badly as Fitzpatrick has played recently, it's hard to imagine using him even in a two-QB league. ... This is also a prohibitive matchup for Bills receivers. The Jets will assign Revis to Stevie Johnson, and Naaman Roosevelt will take over for Donald Jones (ankle) at split end. Roosevelt, who ran 4.60, 4.63 coming out of college, lacks the big-play ability of Jones and will struggle to separate downfield. ... Slot receiver David Nelson has continued to battle an illness this week after it bothered him throughout last Sunday's loss to the Dolphins. Nelson was spotted vomiting on the bench and missed a big portion of the game. On a day when the entire Bills passing attack is likely to struggle, Nelson isn't worth the stomach ache.


UPDATE: As Bills offensive skill players continue to drop like flies, Roosevelt was ruled out for this game on Friday with a shoulder injury. He's expected to be replaced outside by some rotation of Ruvell Martin, Brad Smith, and Kamar Aiken. Nelson is listed as probable.

Fresh after a ten-day layoff following last Thursday's loss to Denver, the Jets' run defense has rebounded from its slow start. New York has allowed one touchdown to a tailback since Week 5, over that span permitting 394 yards on 114 carries (3.46 YPC) to the position. My suspicion is that the Bills will produce very few yards and points with offensive centerpiece Fred Jackson (calf) now on injured reserve. Left behind is C.J. Spiller as the starting halfback and physical rookie Johnny White. Fearful of contact and ineffective between the tackles, Spiller is a PPR option only in this matchup. He won't have much, if any rushing success against the stout Jets. ... White may be a more intriguing pickup for non-PPR owners. A quick-footed, downhill back who "runs angry," according to Pro Football Weekly's pre-draft scouting report, White could soon emerge as the favorite for inside carries in Buffalo's backfield. ... In a trend reversal, typically touchdown-dependent Bills TE Scott Chandler set career highs in catches (5) and yards (71) in last week's loss to Miami. Chandler played a season-most 50 snaps against the Dolphins, continuing to operate as a slot receiver in the Bills' Pistol Spread offense. Chandler's playing-time increase may have been due to Jones' in-game injury, as well as the fact that Buffalo fell behind 21-3 early and quickly entered pass-heavy comeback mode. With the bye weeks out of the way, here's guessing you can find a better Week 12 tight end starter.

Talk is brewing in Buffalo that DC George Edwards is on the hot seat, which makes sense considering the Bills' bottom-seven defensive rankings in points (26th), yards (26th), sacks (29th), and rushing TDs (30th) allowed. Cleared from his Week 11 rib injury, Shonn Greene should resume bell-cow status against Buffalo's soft front seven. In his last three matchups with the Bills, Greene has 252 yards on 52 carries (4.85 YPC) -- better production than he's enjoyed against any team in his career. Greene is a poor bet for a monster effort because he lacks passing-game value and big-play talent, but he's a worthwhile low-end RB2. ... Showing better cutting ability and short-area elusiveness than usual Jets passing-down specialist LaDanian Tomlinson, Joe McKnight filled in nicely for Greene against the Broncos, racking up 121 total yards. McKnight will have a limited role with Greene back healthy, but he may very well have supplanted Tomlinson in all passing sets.

Jets coach Rex Ryan gave Mark Brunell a handful of first-team practice reps this week after Mark Sanchez's implosion at Denver. Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's identity-less offense has 79 passes compared to 47 designed runs in their last two games, so Ryan is undoubtedly feeling a bit ornery. During the extended layoff, it seems likely that Ryan would've been in Schottenheimer's ear about the playcalling. Expect a heavily run-first approach from the Jets in this must-win game, curtailing Sanchez's pass attempts and fantasy upside. He's just a two-quarterback league option. ... In their last eight games, the Bills have yielded 45 receptions for 571 yards and five touchdowns to tight ends, good for a six-catch, 72-yard weekly average. Dustin Keller isn't going to blow the doors off in fantasy football, but he's got a favorable matchup. ... Bills LCB Terrence McGee would have covered Santonio Holmes for the majority of snaps in this game, but McGee tore his patellar tendon in last week's loss to the Dolphins. Against Miami, recently benched Leodis McKelvin took McGee's place at left cornerback, with rookie Aaron Williams in the slot and Drayton Florence at right corner in the nickel. McKelvin was then benched again in practice this week, replaced by seventh-round rookie Justin Rogers. The Bills can't rush the passer and all of their remaining cornerbacks have struggled in coverage, so Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress should get open plenty. Whether Sanchez will connect -- or be given the opportunity to connect -- with Plax and Holmes is unanswerable question. I like the latter as a WR3 and former as a solid bet to score.

Score Prediction: Jets 24, Bills 10

Arizona @ St. Louis

We've pegged the Cardinals as a favorable matchup for opposing ground attacks for most of the season, in large part because they've allowed 12 rushing TDs through ten games. Realistically, though, Arizona has been respectable against the run and is a top-ten unit in yards per carry allowed (4.04). That may change with NT Dan Williams done for the year after breaking his arm in Week 11. The 26th pick in the 2010 draft, Williams was realizing his immense potential as an early-down plugger before the injury. The Cards will turn to seventh-round rookie David Carter at nose tackle moving forward, and in terms of body type it's a dramatic change. Whereas Williams was a fire hydrant at 6-foot-2, 327, Carter will struggle to get beneath guards and centers at an angular 6'5/297. In the trenches, the low man wins. Steven Jackson, who lit into Arizona for 142 yards earlier this season, now has a more favorable matchup. ... Assuming game flow allows, the Rams must lean heavily on S-Jax on Sunday. Both of St. Louis' starting offensive tackles are out, as is "swing tackle" Mark LeVoir with a strained pectoral. Since returning from his high ankle sprain a month ago, Sam Bradford has completed 58-of-101 passes (57.4%) for 591 yards (5.85 YPA), two touchdowns, and five turnovers. Both Bradford and his protection aren't good enough for the Rams to rely on the pass to move the ball. Feel free to drop Bradford in standard leagues.

Veering from their Weeks 1-10 strategy of "playing sides" in the secondary, the Cards employed rookie Patrick Peterson in a shadow technique during last week's loss to San Francisco. The result? 49ers No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree's season-high 120 yards. Peterson supplied Crabtree with large amounts of cushion, and struggled to flip his hips and run with the wideout when Crabtree got by him. It was a brutal torching, and one that doesn't bode well for Peterson's chances of staying at cornerback long term. It also foreshadows a big game for Brandon Lloyd, who's scored a touchdown in three of his last four games and is the No. 8 overall fantasy receiver over the past five weeks. ... Behind Lloyd, the Rams' pass-catching corps has become a fantasy wasteland. Starting Z receiver Brandon Gibson catches only dump-off passes, while Mark Clayton (knees), Danario Alexander (hamstring), and Austin Pettis (knee) have all been banged up. Lance Kendricks has been reduced to a part-time player. In Week 11, he played 23-of-64 snaps (36%). Clayton was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Thursday, so he can safely be dropped.

The Week 11 box score shows only eight carries for Beanie Wells, and coach Ken Whisenhunt confirmed afterwards that the Cardinals "managed" Wells' workload due to concerns with his knee. I re-watched all of Wells' snaps, and came away convinced that Arizona could've been far more competitive against the 49ers had he played a bigger role. Wells made sharp cuts, displayed impressive burst up the middle, and had a run-tough San Francisco defense on its heels whenever he was in the game. My expectation is that Whisenhunt and his staff will see the same thing on tape and turn back to Wells as their offensive centerpiece against St. Louis' last-ranked run defense. It's also worth noting that Rams MLB James Laurinaitis (foot) and NT Justin Bannan (shoulder) are nursing injuries. Trot out Wells as a high-end RB2 in the most favorable matchup he'll see the rest of the way. ... In rather predictable fashion, John Skelton went back in the tank against the 49ers in Week 11. After completing just 6-of-19 passes with three interceptions and a fumble, Skelton was mercifully yanked in favor of Richard Bartel in the fourth quarter. Kevin Kolb (foot, toe) is tentatively expected to resume starting against the Rams, but no member of the Cardinals’ quarterback corps is a fantasy option.

It's reasonable to have little faith in the Cardinals' signal callers, but just as reasonable to believe Larry Fitzgerald will be open for the entirety of Sunday's game. Decimated by injuries in the secondary, the Rams may be forced to start street free agent Roderick Hood and practice squad type Josh Gordy at cornerback should Justin King (ankle, knee) not play. King is Pro Football Focus' 103rd-rated corner out of 104, so it's not as if his activity would improve St. Louis' coverage. In situations like Fitzgerald's, sometimes you just have to trust the dominance of the player. With four touchdowns in his last three games despite the uncertainty under center, Fitz certainly has that part down pat. ... Early Doucet and Andre Roberts should be off the fantasy radar this week. Rushing attempts are sure to increase on Arizona's side after last week's lopsided 35:11 pass-to-run ratio, and both Doucet and Roberts offer scant week-to-week upside even when the Cardinals' offense is hitting on all cylinders. That hasn't happened much this year.

Score Prediction: Rams 23, Cardinals 21

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