Evan Silva


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Matchups: Aaron's Arrival

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cincinnati @ St. Louis

Cincinnati's No. 7 defensive ranking and St. Louis' No. 30 mark on offense suggest this will be a low-scoring game, at least for the Rams. The Bengals are sixth in the NFL in sacks, which is going to be problematic for replacement quarterback Kellen Clemens, who's exhibited incredibly shaky pocket presence throughout his six-year career. There's no question that the Rams will struggle to pick up first downs and sustain drives on Sunday. The Bengals' run defense held Arian Foster to 41 yards on 15 rushing attempts in Week 14 and presents a difficult matchup for Steven Jackson. Having managed just 187 yards on his last 62 carries (3.02 YPC), Jackson will be worth benching in favor of a higher-upside option such as Felix Jones or Kevin Smith this weekend.

While A.J. Green is the obvious must-start against St. Louis' talent-deprived secondary, Cedric Benson enters Week 15 as the Bengals' best bet for touchdowns. Essentially a non-factor when facing stout run defenses this season, Benson has instead preyed on the weak. In four matchups with bottom-eight units against the run, CedBen has rolled up three TDs and 388 yards on 81 carries (4.79 YPC). He has 495 yards on 141 attempts (3.51 average) and two scores in his other eight games. 32nd against the run and allowing opponents to average 4.96 yards per carry, the Rams have the poorest defense Benson has faced all year. Consider Benson a rock-solid RB2.

Score Prediction: Bengals 24, Rams 13

Tennessee @ Indianapolis

Early-week indications were that Jake Locker would make his first NFL start, but Matt Hasselbeck quickly saw the writing on the wall. Appearing in four games so far, Locker has averaged a Tom Brady-esque 8.68 yards on 50 pass attempts with four all-purpose touchdowns and no turnovers. Hasselbeck rushed back from his calf injury in time to practice Thursday, and the Titans have promised to keep him in the starting lineup as long as he's healthy. Unfortunately, Hasselbeck has been a drag on Tennessee's offense since early in the season and takes the life out of Nate Washington, Damian Williams, and Jared Cook's fantasy appeal. Barring a pre-game reversal in the quarterback decision making, Chris Johnson is Tennessee's only strong fantasy play in Indy.

The Colts' offense showed its true colors at Baltimore in Week 14, as Dan Orlovsky went 17-for-37, absorbed four sacks, and fumbled three times. No Indianapolis receiver cleared 50 yards. Indy's passing game can't be relied upon against a stout Titans pass defense during fantasy semifinals week, but Donald Brown is worth a look in a flex position after leading Indianapolis' backfield in carries and overall touches for the fifth straight game. Tennessee's defense has struggled against the run recently, allowing Bills, Saints, Bucs, and Falcons backs to pile up 430 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 94 carries (4.57 YPC) over the past month. Brown offers limited upside because he has limited talent, but 14-17 touches are likely in a favorable matchup.

Score Prediction: Titans 24, Colts 14

Seattle @ Chicago

Finally in shape during the final year of his rookie contract, Marshawn Lynch will face his toughest test yet when the Seahawks head to Soldier Field for Sunday's matchup with Chicago's shutdown run defense. Over their last five games, the Bears have permitted just one touchdown and 365 rushing yards on 112 carries (3.26 YPC) to opposing tailbacks. Chicago hasn't done it against chump opponents, either, holding in check Michael Bush, Ryan Mathews, and Willis McGahee during the dominant stretch. Lynch is a top-five fantasy running back on the season, but he threatens to finish on a disappointing note against the Bears and 49ers in Weeks 15 and 16. I suspect Lynch will struggle to generate top-20 running back stats in the last two fantasy weeks.

No Week 15 game has a lower over/under than Seattle-Chicago, and Vegas' 35.5-point projection may even be optimistic. This is a matchup to avoid where possible because it won't produce many points or yards. While much was made of Marion Barber's late-game mental errors in last week's collapse at Denver, fantasy owners should be more concerned in Week 15 with the presence of Kahlil Bell and Seattle's stout front seven. Bell already plays in all passing sets and is an oft-used change-of-pace back on early downs. More often than not, Bell appeared to be the Bears' best tailback option in Week 14. The Seahawks rank 11th against the run. Chicago's backfield offers a limited statistical ceiling this week, and both Barber and Bell would ideally be left on benches.

Score Prediction: Bears 17, Seahawks 13

Green Bay @ Kansas City

Greg Jennings' torn MCL will end his fantasy season and leave behind a powder keg of targets for Green Bay's healthy pass catchers. Jennings' 99 targets easily led the Packers through the first 14 weeks, with Jordy Nelson (69) and Jermichael Finley (68) ranking a distant second and third. James Jones and rookie Randall Cobb will see the largest bumps in playing time, as Jones joins the starting lineup and Cobb now plays in the majority of passing situations. Arguably Green Bay's best run-after-catch receiver already, Jones will be a strong WR3 play the rest of the way. The same can be said for Cobb in return-yardage leagues. Despite his Week 14 clunker, Finley will be a top-five Week 15 tight end play with more footballs likely to come his way and the potential to emerge as Green Bay's featured player in the passing game. As for Finley's matchup this week, it's notable that Kansas City has allowed the second most touchdowns in the league to tight ends.

Early deficits and cornerback cushions have something to do with it, but there's no question that Dwayne Bowe has earned an every-week start during the fantasy playoffs. Only four players in the league have been targeted more this season. Playing lights out in his contract year, Bowe's outlook is also improved by interim coach Romeo Crennel's installation of Kyle Orton after the Chiefs suffered through four dead-duck starts under Tyler Palko. Orton has now spent over three weeks in Kansas City's system and is a significantly sharper pocket passer than his predecessor. Bowe is the lone worthwhile fantasy option on the Chiefs, but should be played with confidence.

Score Prediction: Packers 34, Chiefs 20

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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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