Evan Silva


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Matchups: Ravens Riding Rice

Friday, December 09, 2011

4:15PM ET Games

Buffalo @ San Diego

The Chargers' offense hit on all cylinders in last Monday's 38-14 floor-wiping of Jacksonville, and they have a matchup to stay hot versus Buffalo's defense, a unit weaker than its No. 22 overall ranking indicates. Over the last five games, opponents have licked the Bills for 708 rushing yards and six rushing scores, including last week's 31-carry, 187-yard bulldozing by Tennessee. Ryan Mathews has 391 yards on his last 70 carries (5.59 YPC) and is pushing RB1 status now that he's healthy. ... With Mathews all the way back to 100%, Mike Tolbert received just six touches in Week 13. Tolbert carries very little value as a change-of-pace back, needing red-zone touchdowns to save his fantasy games. ... Vincent Brown has dropped off the standard-league fantasy radar with Malcom Floyd returning from his own injury. The promising if inconsistent rookie is now a clear-cut third receiver. According to Pro Football Focus, Brown played 5-of-58 snaps in Week 13.

Back home in sunny San Diego, the Chargers' passing game is set up for success. Floyd, Antonio Gates, and Vincent Jackson turned in a full practice week for the first time since early in the year, and they're all coming off productive Week 13s. Gates is the No. 5 fantasy tight end in points per game, while V-Jax is the No. 9 receiver. They should both be locked into lineups. ... After sitting out Weeks 9-12 with a strained hip amongst other ailments, Floyd returned as a full-time player against the Jags. He played 43-of-58 snaps (74.1%), a rate that will rise going forward. In this game, Floyd will spend the majority of the day in Bills RCB Drayton Florence's coverage. It's a favorable matchup for WR3 usage, and Floyd knows Florence well from his 2003-2007 stint with San Diego. ... Over the last five weeks, only Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Eli Manning have scored more fantasy points among quarterbacks than Philip Rivers. Rivers' on-field play hasn't necessarily turned around, but he's filling stat sheets and should continue to do so Sunday.

C.J. Spiller has a good enough matchup to be considered a rock-solid flex against the Bolts' No. 26 run defense, but he's not shedding the "boom-or-bust back" label anytime soon. In Week 13 against Tennessee, 11 of Spiller's 17 touches went for three yards or fewer with four carries of zero or negative yardage. He did break off gains of 12, 25, and 30 yards, the latter for a score, and had a would-be 41-yard touchdown run called back by penalty in the first quarter. Tashard Choice had six touches in the change-of-pace role off the bench. Johnny White didn't get the rock. ... The Chargers' pass defense isn't nearly as effective as its No. 6 ranking suggests, but Ryan Fitzpatrick has just one multi-touchdown game in his last five and has cleared 300 passing yards once all season. Fitzpatrick has backup-caliber talent and is not on the standard-league radar.

Despite Fitzpatrick's struggles, Stevie Johnson has scored in back-to-back games while being featured in Buffalo's offense. Here is the Bills' target distribution since their Week 7 bye: Johnson 49, David Nelson 37, Scott Chandler 25, Brad Smith 24, Spiller 16, Naaman Roosevelt 9. Johnson plays all over the formation and will see plenty of Chargers RCB Antoine Cason and LCB Quentin Jammer, both of whom are struggling. It's a plus matchup in a sneaky shootout game. ... Chandler (ankle) is not expected to play, improving Nelson's outlook because he'll have little competition for targets over the middle in the slot. Nelson is always a fair bet for touchdowns. ... Smith is starting over Roosevelt opposite Johnson. Smith won't sustain his 17 targets over the past two games, but he is lining up across from Leodis McKelvin on kickoffs and is a viable return-yardage league play.

Score Prediction: Chargers 34, Bills 20

Oakland @ Green Bay

I'm running out of good things to say about Aaron Rodgers. He's the No. 1 fantasy quarterback and should be in your lineup against Oakland's No. 17 pass defense. ... Greg Jennings plays the majority of his snaps in the slot and at split end, where he aligns to the right side of the offensive formation. He will not have to deal much with Raiders LCB Stanford Routt in this game. ... Jordy Nelson also moves around enough that Routt's spotty coverage shouldn't stand in the way of another monster day. Jennings is the No. 5 fantasy wideout; Nelson is No. 7. ... Here is Rodgers' target distribution since the Packers' Week 8 bye: Jennings 38, Jermichael Finley 30, Nelson 28, Donald Driver 17, Randall Cobb 9, James Jones 9. ... Finley has six drops over that span, but the bottom line is that he's the second-most heavily targeted pass catcher in the NFL's No. 3 passing offense. Owners with patience to stick with Finley through bumps in the road will reap the reward during difference-making fantasy games like last week (6-87-1). Finley is the No. 6 fantasy tight end, behind Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, and Fred Davis.

As his average of just over two targets per game suggests, Jones is an unreliable fantasy option competing for balls with Driver and Cobb at the end of the totem pole. Jones possesses big-play ability, and many NFL teams blew their chance to sign him affordably this offseason, but he's a WR4 with goose egg potential. Jones was not targeted in Week 13. ... The Packers are expected to hold James Starks (ankle) out against the Raiders, leaving backfield chores to be split amongst washed-up Ryan Grant, undrafted rookie Brandon Saine, and designated goal-line vulture John Kuhn. Grant is arguably worse than Thomas Jones at this point, managing 166 yards and no touchdowns on his last 67 carries (2.48 YPC). Saine is a desperation option, but he will play in the passing game more than Grant and probably receive close to, if not as many touches. Kuhn is the best bet for touchdowns in Green Bay's backfield, as has been the case for most of the year.

The best way to "contain" Aaron Rodgers is to keep him off the field, and Green Bay has flashed susceptibility to the run by surrendering 4.89 yards per carry on the season. While the possibility of a large early deficit is realistic for the Raiders, they'll likely do their best to avoid one by trying to get Michael Bush going early. If they do fall behind, Bush can stay relevant because he's a three-down back who plays in all passing situations. Shake off Bush's disappointing Week 13 game and use him on Sunday. Hue Jackson certainly plans to. ... I know that the Packers are low in the NFL’s pass defense ranking, particularly in terms of yardage allowed. I also know that Carson Palmer has been completely ineffective without Denarius Moore (ankle) and Jacoby Ford (foot). It is hard to imagine counting on Palmer in a standard league until Moore and Ford return to the lineup. … Chaz Schilens and Darrius Heyward-Bey will start at flanker and split end, respectively, if Moore and Ford are out again. A high pass attempt total is probable for Palmer, giving DHB and Schilens some WR3 appeal for fantasy owners willing to stretch.

Score Prediction: Packers 33, Raiders 17

Sunday Night Football

NY Giants @ Dallas

Dallas gets back lead blocker Tony Fiammetta from a three-game absence due to an inner ear infection this week, and that's good news for DeMarco Murray. In Murray's initial four games as the Cowboys' feature back with Fiammetta in the lineup, the rookie racked up 601 yards and two touchdowns on 75 carries (8.01 YPC). In three games without Fiammetta since, Murray has 198 yards and no scores on 59 carries (3.36 YPC). In Week 13, the Cowboys started Murray but mixed in Felix Jones for an early possession and the two rotated the rest of the way. Jones out-produced Murray, though not by much. The good news for Murray is that he should again have the opportunity to establish the hot hand early, and Fiammetta's return improves his chances. The Giants also rank 23rd against the run, so this is a favorable matchup. ... I've kept a running tally of New York's deficiencies in tight-end coverage, and they resurfaced in last week's loss to Green Bay. Over their last five games, the G-Men have allowed six touchdowns and 41 catches for 496 yards to tight ends. It's good for an average weekly line of over 8-99-1. Jason Witten is up next.

At full strength, the Cowboys' passing attack is explosive enough to keep pace with the NFL's top offenses. Consider last week's 13-point game at Arizona a mirage. Miles Austin practiced all week and will resume his flanker-slot role, rendering Laurent Robinson all but a non-factor in fantasy. Robinson's shoulder injury is the nail in the coffin for his Week 14 start-ability. ... Dallas took all precautions possible with Austin's pulled hamstring because Robinson had been so productive playing in his place. Austin immediately regains WR2 value. ... In his last six matchups with the Giants, Tony Romo has completed 114-of-173 passes (65.9%) for 1,373 yards (7.94 YPA) with a 14:5 TD-to-INT ratio and two more rushing scores. The Giants rank 29th against the pass this year and will not have enforcer SS Kenny Phillips (knee) for Sunday night’s game. ... Giants-Cowboys has a 49-point over/under, the second highest of Week 14. Vegas clearly believes this game has shootout potential beneath the JerryWorld Dome. Austin's return won't necessarily make Dez Bryant a less desirable fantasy play. In fact, it may decrease the defensive attention Bryant faces. He's arguably the best bet for touchdowns on Dallas' roster Sunday night.

Brandon Jacobs had more Week 13 box-score production than Ahmad Bradshaw, but Bradshaw returned from his cracked foot as the Giants' lead back. Bradshaw started and played 32 snaps to Jacobs' 14, also receiving five more touches. While Jacobs figures to remain the favorite for goal-line carries, the timeshare will lean more and more in Bradshaw's favor as he continues to prove his health to the Giants' medical and coaching staffs. If you're looking to invest in New York's backfield against Dallas' No. 9 run defense in Week 14, Bradshaw would be your best bet in a flex spot. Jacobs is an option in TD-heavy leagues only. ... Eli Manning has thrown multiple touchdown passes in five of his last six games and ranks sixth overall in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks, behind only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, and Matthew Stafford. Romo has a better Week 14 matchup than Manning and would be a superior option if you're deciding between the two, but Eli has been locked in as a top-seven weekly option for several months now.

Mario Manningham is expected to return from his knee injury against the Cowboys, although it's old news that he's been passed by Victor Cruz as a top-two option in New York's passing game. Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are borderline WR1s. Manningham won't be worth fantasy consideration until he proves his health on the field and that he can still be a productive player in what will likely be a reduced role. His knee was "weak and not stable" as recently as two weeks ago. ... While Manningham's return shouldn't affect Cruz and Nicks much, it will make TE Jake Ballard and fourth receiver Ramses Barden bit players in New York's offense. Ballard can go back to help-blocking DeMarcus Ware. Barden will probably play no more than a dozen snaps Sunday night.

Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Giants 24

Monday Night Football

St. Louis @ Seattle

This sorry excuse for a prime-time game contains just one surefire fantasy starter. Marshawn Lynch is breaking tackles at a prolific rate, and his workloads are enormous. Over the past five weeks, Lynch leads the NFL with 128 carries. Michael Bush is second with 113 and DeMarco Murray's 101 are a distant third. No running back has scored more fantasy points than Lynch during that span. Neither of these teams is likely to score many points on Monday, but Lynch is easily the best bet for touchdowns on either side. The Rams still rank dead last in run defense, and are permitting 4.99 yards a carry. ... Behind Lynch, the only Seahawks skill player worth a fantasy look is Golden Tate. Tate started in a three-receiver set last Thursday, playing 51-of-59 snaps and leading Seattle in targets and receiving. Big Mike Williams, Doug Baldwin, and Ben Obomanu were rotating part-timers against the Eagles. Williams played the most behind Tate.

In three career matchups with Pete Carroll's Seahawks, Steven Jackson has managed 157 yards on 48 carries (3.27 YPC). He's yet to score a touchdown against Carroll's team. Also appearing to wear down late this season, Jackson has 124 yards on his last 42 carries (2.95 YPC) and no TDs since Week 8. Jackson is an undesirable option for fantasy playoff teams. ... Tom Brandstater will make his first career start as A.J. Feeley (thumb fracture) and Sam Bradford (high ankle sprain) nurse injuries. We have little idea of what to expect from Brandstater on the basis that he's never attempted a regular season pass, but he is at least familiar with OC Josh McDaniels' offense after being drafted by McD in Denver. Glass-half full Brandon Lloyd owners can point to the fact that Brandstater finished the 2010 preseason with a respectable 6.8 YPA and promising 4:1 TD-to-INT ratio in Indianapolis. Fantasy leaguers interested in Seattle's fantasy defense can note that Brandstater is on his fifth NFL team in three years. McDaniels' Broncos were one of the teams that cut Brandstater. The Colts also waived him in favor of Curtis Painter last September.

Score Prediction: Seahawks 20, Rams 10

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

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