Evan Silva


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Matchups: Ravens Riding Rice

Friday, December 09, 2011

Philadelphia @ Miami

The Dolphins are defending the run better than anyone east of San Francisco, but they have not faced a running back with the lateral agility and elusiveness of LeSean McCoy. McCoy has proven matchup-proof in six meetings with top-11 run defenses, compiling a per-game total yard average of 113.2 with nine touchdowns. He's rushed 100 times for 484 yards (4.84 YPC) in those games. Don't overthink: Start McCoy. He's the No. 1 running back in fantasy football. ... Michael Vick will return from his cracked ribs to start against the Dolphins. While the Miami defense has held its last seven opponents to an average of 13 points per game, keep in mind that the Fins have faced just two top-ten offenses during that span and both scored 20 against them. The Eagles are third in total offense, and Vick is the No. 7 quarterback in fantasy points per game. He's a QB1 again. ... Tight ends have had success against the Dolphins this season, but Jeremy Maclin's return from hamstring and shoulder injuries will cut into Brent Celek's targets. Whereas Celek has averaged 54 yards per game when Maclin sits out a game or is injured during one (four-week sample size), he's managed 33 yards a game in Maclin’s healthy eight. Celek should be considered a TE2 going forward.

Maclin is in a similar position to Vick. He is coming off an extended absence and multiple injuries, but is a plug-and-play starter when healthy as a top-20 receiver in fantasy points per game. Maclin also has a more favorable Week 14 matchup than DeSean Jackson. Maclin plays the majority of his snaps on the left side of the formation at split end, the position most often covered by Dolphins RCB Sean Smith. Smith is far worse in coverage than LCB Vontae Davis. Miami's corner-wideout matchups are not 100% predictable -- see their Thanksgiving assignment of Davis to Cowboys split end Dez Bryant and Smith to flanker Laurent Robinson -- but this is how it usually goes. If the assumptions are right, I like Maclin's chances of a big game and dislike Jackson's. ... Like Celek, Eagles slot receiver Jason Avant's targets and yardage totals will be affected by Maclin's healthy return. It doesn't help that Avant has been held to 20 yards or fewer in four of his last five games.

Matt Moore is effectively managing games for the Dolphins, averaging 27 attempts per week with nine touchdowns in nine appearances (eight starts). He has two multi-TD games and four without a score. Moore has emerged as a passable real-life quarterback, but he's just a two-QB league option against an Eagles defense that ranks fifth in sacks and is a top-13 unit versus the pass. Expect another ground-heavy approach from Miami. ... The Eagles were improving in run defense before meeting their match last Thursday night against the Seahawks. Marshawn Lynch exposed Philly's embarrassing tackling for 148 rushing yards, a personal high since Lynch's rookie season in 2007. Reggie Bush remains the Dolphins' feature back and has a favorable Week 14 matchup. Daniel Thomas is still just a change-of-pace runner. ... Locked in as a WR2, Brandon Marshall is the No. 17 fantasy receiver in both standard leagues and PPR. Eagles LCB Asante Samuel plays almost strictly "off" coverage, which Marshall can eat alive, and RCB Nnamdi Asomugha (knee, concussion) won't be 100 percent if he's active for the game. This is a very strong matchup for Marshall. ... Anthony Fasano is the No. 7 overall fantasy tight end over the past five weeks, in large part because he scored a pair of touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 9. Fasano has four TDs on the season and is averaging under 30 yards a game. He's a desperation fantasy option.

Score Prediction: Eagles 23, Dolphins 20

New Orleans @ Tennessee

Chris Johnson's on-field performance is back on track, so the only factor that might deter him Sunday would be a big lead for the Saints, forcing the Titans into pass-heavy comeback mode. Tennessee will try to prevent that by force feeding Johnson to keep Drew Brees off the field. The matchup is working in Johnson's favor, as New Orleans allows 4.95 yards per carry. Effectively turning his season around just in time for fantasy playoffs, C.J. has 561 yards and three TDs on his last 101 carries (5.55 YPC). He had one score and 291 yards on his initial 105 attempts (2.77 YPC). ... Damian Williams is worth a WR3 look because he leads the Titans in targets over the past five games and will face off mostly with Saints RCB Patrick Robinson on Sunday. Nate Washington gets the tougher draw versus LCB Jabari Greer. My money would be on Williams leading Tennessee in Week 14 receiving. Washington is a weak WR3 gamble. ... Jared Cook set season lows in targets (1) and snaps (21) in Week 13 and is off the standard-league radar at this point. ... Perhaps a surprise shootout could buoy Matt Hasselbeck in a two-quarterback league, but he is averaging a pathetic 178 yards per game since Tennessee's Week 6 bye and has been held to 160 yards or fewer in three straight games. The Titans would be better off taking their chances with rookie Jake Locker, and you're better off leaving Hasselbeck off your fantasy roster.

I could give you stats and scouting reports that might make the Titans' pass defense look like a tough matchup, but they can be thrown out the window for the hottest quarterback south of Green Bay. Drew Brees has a 17:3 TD-to-INT ratio with an 18th touchdown on a rushing score over his past six games. He's eclipsed 300 yards in 9-of-12 weeks and is the No. 2 fantasy quarterback. ... Marques Colston is still squarely in the WR2 realm as the top wideout in the NFL's top-ranked passing offense, but Colston has a difficult matchup. Titans RCB Cortland Finnegan covers the slot when opponents use three- and four-wide sets, and Colston will face off with him frequently both inside and out. At 5'10/188, Finnegan has struggled with big receivers in the past (e.g. Andre Johnson), but is playing at an All-Pro level this season. Fantasy owners filthy rich at receiver can use these facts to break lineup ties. ... Jimmy Graham is the safest bet to lead New Orleans in receiving against the Titans. Playing musical chairs at safety, Tennessee has permitted the fifth most yards and fantasy points in the league to tight ends. Graham is set up for a monster day.

Robert Meachem has consistently played a significant amount of snaps this season and is a 67% player on the year. His targets and production have been another story. While he a plus matchup with Titans LCB Jason McCourty (concussion) in danger of missing this game, Meachem is a high-upside, high-risk WR3. He is a better bet than Devery Henderson and quite arguably Lance Moore, who sees less field time than Meachem and offers inferior big-play ability. Meachem is coming off a 3-119-1 line. Moore had 2-23-1 against Detroit. ... Mark Ingram's case of turf toe is not believed to be severe, but the Saints held him out of practice all week and will lean on their impressive backfield depth in Nashville. Here was New Orleans' backfield touches-yardage-touchdown distribution during Ingram's two missed games earlier this season: Pierre Thomas 23-125-2, Darren Sproles 21-175-1, Chris Ivory 21-85-0. ... Little else changes in the three-headed monster when Ivory replaces Ingram as the short-yardage/power back. Sproles and Thomas both stay heavily involved and will be worthwhile flex options against Tennessee's No. 21 run defense.

Score Prediction: Saints 30, Titans 17

Tampa Bay @ Jacksonville

LeGarrette Blount's Week 13 clunker would have been predictable if we knew going in that the Panthers would blow out the Bucs. Tampa coaches refuse to use Blount in passing situations, and he wound up playing only 26-of-57 snaps (45.6%) as the Bucs fell behind 14-0 early. If you believe the Jaguars will win a Week 14 blowout, sit LeGarrette Blount. Injury-ruined Jacksonville certainly doesn't present an imposing run-defense matchup. Over the last three games, opposing backs have touched up the Jags for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 71 carries (4.90 YPC). ... Overcoming musical chairs at quarterback, Mike Williams has turned around his season with at least 80 yards in three consecutive games. The key stat: no dropped passes. If you watched last Monday night's Chargers-Jaguars game, you know Jacksonville's secondary is incredibly vulnerable after losing three of its top four corners to injured reserve, plus FS Dwight Lowery (shoulder). Williams has played well enough recently to "earn" a WR3 start in a plus matchup.

Here is Tampa Bay's target distribution during Williams' three-game hot run: Williams 31, Kellen Winslow 23, Arrelious Benn 15, Preston Parker 8, Dezmon Briscoe 5. ... Winslow's knees are shot after six surgeries, and he no longer possesses legit playmaking ability. The matchup is still good enough that Winslow isn't a terrible fallback option for Fred Davis owners. No team in the league has allowed more receptions to tight ends than Jacksonville. ... Benn, Briscoe, and Parker don't get the ball enough for fantasy reliability. ... Josh Johnson connected on pretty deep throws to Williams (42 yards), Benn (38), and Briscoe (23-yard TD) against the Panthers, showing that all is not lost for the skill players around him when Johnson plays. Josh Freeman (shoulder) is expected to start against the Jaguars, but Johnson's performance was confidence-instilling if Tampa Bay's starter is unable to make it through the game. Freeman has been a QB2 all season, and there's little to reason believe that will change Sunday despite the collapsing opponent.

You already know, but Tampa's defense is getting destroyed on the ground. Over their last six games, the Bucs have been stampeded for 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns on 202 carries (5.46 YPC). Six games, and that'd be a nice full season for one running back. Expect another decidedly run-heavy game plan from interim coach Mel Tucker, whose goal is to win games and earn the Jags' full-time head coaching job rather than play out the string. Feeding Maurice Jones-Drew gives Tucker his best chance. As the No. 4 fantasy back through 12 games, MJD is a shoo-in top-five runner in Week 14. ... We've seen the "upside" of Jacksonville's wide receivers and tight ends, and it isn't pretty. Blaine Gabbert had his best game of the season last Monday night, but Jones-Drew was the only player on the roster to clear 30 receiving yards. Marcedes Lewis is now dealing with an ankle injury, and wideouts Mike Thomas, Jarett Dillard, and Cecil Shorts form the laughingstock unit of the league. MJD is the only start-able Jaguar during the fantasy playoffs.

Score Prediction: Bucs 24, Jaguars 17

New England @ Washington

Fred Davis' season-ending suspension leaves fantasy owners in a bind because the Redskins don't have a pass-catching replacement on their roster. Logan Paulsen (one career touchdown at UCLA) is a blocking specialist, and Mike Sellers is an ex-fullback. Tight ends won't be a big part of Washington's offense in the last four games. ... The obvious beneficiary of Davis' loss projects to be Santana Moss, who shouldn't struggle to lead the Skins in targets down the stretch. Moss sees frequent action in the slot, running over-the-middle routes where Davis did much of his damage. The Patriots have had trouble slowing slot receivers (see Jason Avant 8-110-1, Davone Bess 5-92, Victor Cruz 6-91, David Nelson 6-84) all season. Moss is a rock-solid WR3 for the fantasy playoffs with matchups against the Pats (No. 32 pass defense), Giants (No. 29), and Vikings (26) to finish up. ... New England got top corner Devin McCourty back from a shoulder injury in Week 13, and McCourty will match up with Jabar Gaffney for the majority of this game. Gaffney may be slightly more productive with Davis out of the lineup, but he's a significantly worse bet than Moss.

At the same time, LT Trent Williams' four-game ban will make life tougher on Rex Grossman. Rex has already turned the ball over seven times in the last month, and Williams would've spent this game blocking top Patriots pass rusher Andre Carter (nine sacks). The Skins have resorted to an in-practice competition between veteran Seahawks castoff Sean Locklear and undrafted rookie Willie Smith. Grossman may simply not have a clean enough pocket to capitalize on what could have been a favorable pass-defense matchup. He's a two-QB league option only. You don’t want to pin your fantasy playoff hopes on Rex Grossman, anyway. ... Roy Helu was the Redskins' offensive centerpiece in Week 13 before the game got a bit out of hand in the second half. Helu touched the football 10 times on Washington's initial 14 offensive snaps, picking up 68 yards and a touchdown. Neither Evan Royster nor Ryan Torain received a single carry. This game could get out of hand as well if the Patriots pour on points as they normally do, but Helu can compensate in fantasy leagues because he's an excellent check-down target. While New England does have a top-ten run defense, Helu is a must-start because he's a safe bet for 20 touches.

Washington is playing top-ten pass defense, but it hardly matters for New England's matchup-proof passing attack. Tom Brady has faced top-ten pass defenses in four games this year, going a combined 105-of-147 (71.4%) for 1,271 yards (8.65 YPA) with a 9:1 TD-to-INT ratio. It can't hurt Brady's chances of a big game that Skins SS LaRon Landry (groin) will not play. ... Wes Welker is on a vicious tear with 19 catches for 225 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games. He's too quick for Redskins oversized slot CB Kevin Barnes to handle. ... Landry vs. Rob Gronkowski might have been an intriguing one-on-one matchup in this game, but it won't happen because of Landry's injury. Gronkowski is the No. 1 overall fantasy tight end and can't be stopped. ... Deion Branch is a hit-or-miss fantasy option with only one game over 60 yards in the past six weeks. As New England's lone viable outside receiver, Branch is more likely to be affected by the Redskins' solid cornerback play than Gronkowski or Welker. Feel free to sit Branch for higher-upside bets.

No Patriots running back exceeded eight carries in Week 13 as Bill Belichick went experimental against the winless Colts. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the only viable fantasy play in New England's backfield, but carries risk due to the unpredictable usage. Rookie Stevan Ridley led the group in touches last week. Law Firm had the lone touchdown. Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead were sprinkled in, and Shane Vereen was inactive due either to a hamstring injury or the fact that he simply wasn't in the game plan. ... It's just a matter of time before Aaron Hernandez resumes scoring touchdowns. He has 13 catches in his last two games and was targeted on a goal-line play at the end of the second quarter last week. The week before, Hernandez caught a 13-yard pass to get down to the Eagles' 15-yard line and had another first-quarter red-zone target. Hernandez is no Gronk, but he's definitely an every-week fantasy starter. The TDs will come.

Score Prediction: Patriots 33, Redskins 17

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