Matchups: Aaron's ArrivalFriday, December 16, 2011
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Carolina @ Houston
Ben Tate is always a dicey flex option because he needs big leads for worthwhile workloads and satisfactory yardage. While the Panthers have shown the ability to score consistently and stay competitive even when they lose (six of Carolina's nine losses are by eight points or fewer), they are also 23rd against the run, allow over 4.5 yards a carry, and have permitted an average of more than one rushing score per game. The matchup is obviously inviting. The game's outcome is among this week's least predictable. While Tate offers 12-15 carry, 90-110 yard potential, he also presents significant risk. I'd consider him over someone appearing to be short on Week 15 upside like C.J. Spiller or Marion Barber. Fantasy owners just need to be aware that Tate is a gamble.
Appearing on Yahoo's Shutdown Corner podcast this week, NFL Films guru Greg Cosell deemed Houston's Johnathan Joseph the second best press-man cornerback in the league, behind only Darrelle Revis. Joseph has flashed the ability to take No. 1 receivers out of games without safety help over the top. The relatively bad news for Carolina's Steve Smith is that he has a difficult one-on-one Week 15 matchup. The good news is that this might be Smith's best opportunity all year to avoid double teams because of the Texans' confidence in Joseph's man-coverage skills. During the fantasy semifinals, I'd find it awfully difficult to bench the NFC's leader in receiving yardage.
Score Prediction: Texans 27, Panthers 21
Miami @ Buffalo
Reggie Bush is the Dolphins' feature back and rookie Daniel Thomas is his change of pace, and those notions couldn't have been reinforced to a greater degree than they were during last week's loss to Philadelphia. Sprinkled in intermittently on early-game possessions, Thomas became an almost complete non-factor as Miami's deficit grew in the 26-10 loss. The touch distribution was 10:2 in Bush's favor from the middle of the third quarter on. Bush piled up 130 yards on 14 carries and five catches, while Thomas managed 13 yards on his nine opportunities to get the football. Thomas is off the radar as a potential Week 15 fantasy play. As Bush squares off with Buffalo's 25th-ranked run defense, he'll be a top-15 running back option with a slight boost in PPR formats.
I've touched on the topic enough in this space that you already know if you read these Matchups columns, but Miami's defense is incredibly difficult to run against. LeSean McCoy has consistently been the best running back in football this season, yet the Dolphins still held him to 38 yards on 27 attempts in Week 14. Now ranked third versus the run, the Fins have allowed 592 yards on 192 carries (3.08 YPC) to opposing tailbacks over their past nine games. McCoy is the only back who's scored against them during that span. Regressing since a respectable start as Buffalo's top back, C.J. Spiller will struggle to find running room and is best left on fantasy benches this week.
Score Prediction: Bills 17, Dolphins 13
4:05PM ET Game
Detroit @ Oakland
The Raiders' run defense has been bad for most of the year, but it's hit rock bottom over the past six games. Dating back to its Week 9 bye, Oakland has silver-plattered 738 yards on 133 carries (5.55 YPC) to opposing tailbacks, along with five rushing touchdowns. While it's reasonable to be somewhat concerned with Kevin Smith's ankle, the facts that he has impressed in practice and is now 14 days removed from his last game appearance should instill some confidence. The cake-walk matchup makes Smith a prime RB2 for fantasy owners in pursuit of Week 15 upside. Smith has been the Lions' every-down back when healthy, so even in the unlikely event he struggles on the ground, Smith can compensate with receiving production. I'd be excited about playing him. The Lions’ offense won’t struggle for ball movement Sunday, setting up scoring opportunities for Smith.
While Oakland's offense is still scuffling to get healthy at the skill positions, the Lions' defense is almost all the way back to full strength. Difference-making inside rusher Ndamukong Suh has returned from suspension and makes everyone around him more effective. LCB Chris Houston (knee) practiced all week and should play in Oakland. Denarius Moore's return from an ankle/foot injury can't hurt, but Carson Palmer is going to be under heavy duress Sunday and is playing too poorly to be trusted in standard fantasy leagues. Here are Palmer's stats from his last three games: 65-of-120 (54.2%) for 821 yards (6.84 YPA), three touchdowns, and six interceptions. All three games were against defenses ranked 25th or worse against the pass. The Lions rank ninth.
Score Prediction: Lions 30, Raiders 20
4:15PM ET Games
Cleveland @ Arizona
When NT Dan Williams went out for the season with two fractures in his left arm in Week 11, I expected Arizona's run defense to experience a drop-off. It hasn't happened. The Cardinals have inserted 6-foot-3, 305-pound former Steelers reserve Nick Eason at nose tackle and suddenly have one of the league's most improved defenses. Since Williams' injury, Arizona has held the previously hot running games of Dallas, San Francisco, and St. Louis to a combined 258 yards on 63 carries (4.09 YPC) over the last three weeks. The Cards have allowed just one rushing score during that span. Peyton Hillis is off the Week 15 injury report and expected to start, but I worry about Cleveland generating ball movement against an underrated defense with Seneca Wallace at quarterback. Hillis may also lose touches to Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya. Hillis isn't a terrible flex option, but he's also probably not a great bet to steer you toward a fantasy title.
Beanie Wells has predictably struggled in terms of yards per carry during back-to-back matchups with the Cowboys and 49ers' stout run defenses. This week should get Wells' per-play stats back on track. In their last seven games, the Browns have been roughed up for 1,170 yards and seven touchdowns on 222 rushing attempts (5.27 YPC) by opposing tailbacks. It's an average of over 167 rushing yards and one rushing score per game. Wells' fantasy owners need to shake off his recent sluggish performances and get Beanie into Week 15 lineups. This should be an easy one.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 23, Browns 13