Matchups: Aaron's ArrivalFriday, December 16, 2011
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You've qualified for the semifinals of your fantasy football league, proving yourself to be a cut above the rest of the field. You don't need me telling you to start Arian Foster against the Panthers, or Aaron Rodgers against the sorry Chiefs. You know Legedu Naanee and Jason Avant are weak options on whom you don't want to rely if you're serious about taking home a title.
In this and next week's Matchups columns, I will focus on the one most fantasy-relevant story for each team in the league. We won't waste words discussing whether to start Cam Newton or sit Thomas Jones. You know better.
Saturday Night Football
Dallas @ Tampa Bay
The collapsing Bucs defense has been trounced for an average of 35 points a game over the last five weeks, including last Sunday's 41-point embarrassment in Jacksonville. The Cowboys won't struggle to pour on points Saturday night. While Felix Jones was one of fantasy's biggest early-season disappointments, he couldn't have asked for a more favorable matchup in his return to Dallas' feature back job following DeMarco Murray's year-ending injury. Over their last seven games, the Bucs have been steamrolled for 1,219 yards and 14 TDs on 236 carries (5.17 YPC). Jones will be an every-down back against Tampa because his lone backup is 34-year-old Sammy Morris, who signed off the street Tuesday. Make room for Jones in your fantasy lineup this week.
The Bucs' offense has fallen off to the point that no player on the roster can be played confidently during fantasy semifinals week. LeGarrette Blount would be the best option, but he's squaring off with Dallas' top-eight run defense in a game Tampa Bay threatens to trail early. It's no secret that Blount is worthless when opponents force the Bucs into comeback mode, and it doesn't help that the 247-pound power back's production has gone in the gutter with 93 yards on his last 30 carries (3.1 YPC). Blount is never a terrible bet for a short touchdown, but he certainly has the look of an underwhelming RB2 Saturday night. The aforementioned Jones would be a more appealing bet.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 34, Bucs 16
1:00PM ET Games
New Orleans @ Minnesota
Mark Ingram is expected to miss one more game with a turf-toe injury. The Saints claim Chris Ivory immediately assumes the short-yardage/power-back role when Ingram sits out, but their usage of Ivory has been different from Ingram's in fantasy terms. Whereas Ingram routinely leads New Orleans in red-zone touches when healthy, Ivory is rarely used in scoring position. Here is the team's red-zone distribution in Ingram's three missed games so far: Darren Sproles 5, Pierre Thomas 4, Ivory 2. Thomas has been the Saints' goal-line back, scoring the club's only two red-zone touchdowns from three and nine yards out. Ivory's two red-zone touches have come outside the opposing ten-yard line. No member of the Saints' backfield is an especially desirable fantasy play against Minnesota's top-nine run defense, but based on precedent Thomas is the best bet for TDs, and Sproles for total yardage. Ivory is most likely to post an empty, 11-carry, 50-yard day.
Some Percy Harvin owners have expressed concern that Adrian Peterson's return might cut into their WR1/2's production. It's certainly true that the Vikings' staff pulled out all possible stops to feature Harvin during Peterson's three-game absence. It's also true that Michael Jenkins' year-ending knee injury moved Harvin into the clear-cut featured role in Minnesota's passing game, playing a greater percentage of snaps and operating as Christian Ponder's first read on the vast majority of pass plays. Beneath a dome in a potentially high-scoring affair, I think you can make a fair argument for Harvin as a legit top-five receiver play in Week 15. He's absolutely a must-start.
Score Prediction: Saints 34, Vikings 24
Washington @ NY Giants
While it's likely to be a long day for Washington's passing game as Rex Grossman plays behind an offensive line minus both starting tackles and its left guard, the Redskins' running game should have success in New York. The Giants' No. 22 run defense is fresh off serving up Felix Jones' best performance (16-106) of the season and will be playing with Justin Tuck (toe) at less than 100 percent. Roy Helu has amassed 390 yards on his last 82 carries (4.76 YPC), and last week became the first back in Redskins history to rush for 100 yards in three straight games. It's a good bet that a fourth is in the offing. Over the last three weeks, no NFC running back has touched the football more than Helu. This is a red-hot runner with tremendous volume in a favorable matchup.
The Giants' Week 14 box score is misleading in that Ahmad Bradshaw was benched for the entire first half after missing curfew. Brandon Jacobs operated as New York's feature back before the G-Men resumed their usual timeshare in the second half. Bradshaw is expected to return to the starting lineup this week and will be a superior fantasy option to Jacobs. When Bradshaw and Jacobs have both entered weeks healthy and avoided in-game injuries and suspensions this season (five-game sample), Bradshaw has averaged 22 touches per game compared to Jacobs' 12. While neither Giants back is an overwhelmingly attractive Week 15 fantasy option, the smart money is on Bradshaw getting more touches and yards versus Washington's No. 17 run defense.
Score Prediction: Giants 24, Redskins 20