Matchups: Stick with SmithSaturday, December 24, 2011
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Tampa Bay @ Carolina
The Bucs' defense is getting shredded at an embarrassing clip. Five of their last six opponents have scored at least 30 points, and Tampa's top two defenders (Aqib Talib, Gerald McCoy) are on year-ending injured reserve. It's hard to imagine them having any answers for Cam Newton and Steve Smith. The Bucs' No. 30 run defense makes Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams both appetizing flex plays. No defense in the league has allowed more rushing scores than Tampa's. Facing a team that seems to have already called it a season, the Panthers' offense shouldn't struggle to rack up yards and points on Saturday. This is a matchup to exploit where possible.
On the flip side, LeGarrette Blount's season has gone downhill in a hurry. He has one touchdown in his last four games and 102 yards on his last 39 rushing attempts (2.62 YPC). In theory, Blount should be a strong RB2 play against a Panthers defense that ranks 25th against the run. But his teammates are killing his fantasy value, and Blount has done nothing to instill confidence with his recent performance. Whereas Carolina is trending up late in the season, the arrow is pointing straight down on Tampa. Owners looking to use Blount in fantasy title week have to hope that the Bucs can keep this game close for at least two quarters. If not, Blount will be staring at another clunker.
Score Prediction: Panthers 30, Bucs 17
Arizona @ Cincinnati
A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson both entered college in 2008 as top-ten recruits. They squared off twice in the SEC, with Green (3-89-1, 5-99-1) getting the better of Peterson's LSU Tigers in both instances. Green's Week 15 shoulder injury won't threaten his status against the Cardinals, and I'd feel confident about his fantasy outlook despite Peterson's recently improved play. There's no doubt that Peterson will be assigned to shadow Green all over the field. Other than Green, the Bengals' passing game is likely to struggle on Saturday. Regressing sharply, Andy Dalton has a 4:6 TD-to-turnover ratio over his last six games and has not cleared 200 yards since November.
Beanie Wells' Week 15 effort was disappointing in that he received only 16 touches and managed 61 yards against a weak Browns defense. Also working against Wells was the fact that Arizona got down 10-0 early, and 17-7 by the third quarter. In my game reviews this week, I still thought Wells looked relatively spry and on the verge of breakout runs on several carries. The early deficit clearly took away from his playing time and workload. Wells isn't playing at 100 percent, but if the Cardinals' O-Line had given him an open-field opportunity, I believe he would have capitalized with a long gain. While the Bengals have defended the run well for the most part, it has not been tough matchups that have stopped Beanie Wells this season. I would want him in my lineup as an RB2.
Score Prediction: Cardinals 20, Bengals 17
St. Louis @ Pittsburgh
The Rams will be severely overmatched Saturday at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh will have its pedal on the gas after last Monday's loss to San Francisco, as the AFC North title hangs in the balance. Held out of practice early this week due to illness, Brandon Lloyd will have his hands full with borderline shutdown CB Ike Taylor. Per Pro Football Focus, Taylor has been targeted 84 times this season. He's allowed 36 completions (42.9%) for 416 yards (4.95 YPA) and two touchdowns. Assuming he's at full tilt physically, Lloyd is good enough to make a few acrobatic receptions and post a respectable stat line against the Steelers. Lloyd offers little fantasy upside, however, especially after Kellen Clemens spent most of last week's game throwing dump-off passes to Steven Jackson and slot receivers. Feel free to bench Lloyd if you are stacked at wideout.
Despite several national reports to the contrary, Rotoworld's expectation all last week was that Ben Roethlisberger would play on Monday Night Football. He did. But the feeling has changed this week. Badly inhibited by his high ankle sprain, Roethlisberger's accuracy was brutal in the 20-3 loss at San Francisco. Pittsburgh will turn to Charlie Batch in a game-manager role on Saturday, leaning on Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman to carry the offense. While the Steelers should rack up enough points and all-purpose yardage to keep Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace well fed, Mendenhall projects as the premier Week 16 fantasy start on Pittsburgh's side. St. Louis allows a league-high 153.4 rushing yards per game, and third-down back Mewelde Moore's (MCL sprain) absence will likely lead to more passing-game usage for Mendenhall. Just don't outthink yourself when it comes to Brown and Wallace. They will be open throughout Saturday's game.
Score Prediction: Steelers 27, Rams 7
Minnesota @ Washington
Chris Wesseling thoroughly broke down Washington's Week 16 matchup from a passing-game standpoint in this week's edition of Waiver Wired. The Vikings' secondary has been so wrecked by injuries that opposing receivers have no trouble getting open to all areas of the field. More concerning is the start-ability of Roy Helu, who is battling an array of late-season injuries after four weeks of averaging 28 touches per game. With his workload likely to decrease in a matchup against Minnesota's top-ten run defense, Helu should be thought of as more of a flex option than must-start RB2. Evan Royster, who has 16 carries over the past two games, figures to play a more prominent role than usual. This isn't to recommend benching Helu, but there are reasons for concern. Working in Helu's favor is the fact that the Redskins' offense should move the ball consistently against the Vikings, even if it's mostly through the air. He projects to have scoring chances.
The Vikings' Week 15 offensive performance was anemic against the Saints. Minnesota lost the time-of-possession battle 39 to 21, and fell behind 35-13 on the scoreboard by the third quarter. Some fluky box-score numbers resulted, as Toby Gerhart led the Vikings in receiving and scored twice on short grabs. Fantasy owners of Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin need to overlook last week's game and start their studs as they normally would. Now off the injury report, Peterson's workload should be restored in what projects as a closer, more competitive game. Gerhart won't be a fantasy option. Harvin is also 100% healthy and remains Christian Ponder's first read on the vast majority of passing plays. Peterson is a top-five running back and Harvin a top-15 receiver.
Score Prediction: Redskins 24, Vikings 20