Evan Silva


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Matchups: Stick with Smith

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Denver @ Buffalo

Coming off what seemed like a boom-or-bust Week 15 throughout fantasy land, several proven studs are in shake-off-last-week mode heading into Week 16. Willis McGahee is among them. A full participant in practice all this week, McGahee's reduced workload in last Sunday's loss to New England was largely attributable to a three-score deficit in the second half. Lance Ball plays more in passing situations, and the Broncos were in shotgun-spread formations for the majority of the final two quarters. McGahee is primed for a breakout week in a game the Broncos should be able to control on the ground. The Bills rank 29th against the run, permit 4.85 yards a carry, and are allowing an average of more than one rushing touchdown per game. There aren't many teams in the league that set up better on paper for a run-oriented Broncos club to pound into submission.

On Buffalo's side, Stevie Johnson is likely to spend the vast majority of Saturday's game in Broncos shutdown cornerback Champ Bailey's coverage. While Johnson's precise route running makes him a difficult cover for even the game’s best corners, Bailey has held several more gifted wide receivers than Johnson to subpar stat lines. Vincent Jackson (2-25, 3-34), Dwayne Bowe (2-17), Santonio Holmes (4-39), and Brandon Marshall (6-61) have all been held scoreless by Bailey this season. Whereas C.J. Spiller has played well enough lately to be a recommended fantasy start against Denver's suspect run defense, Johnson has a matchup to avoid if possible.

Score Prediction: Broncos 24, Bills 19

Oakland @ Kansas City

Michael Bush's per-play production has slowed in recent games, likely due at least in some part to massive workloads taking a toll on his 245-pound frame. His usage hasn't decreased, though. Bush has at least 25 touches in two straight games and gets one of the most favorable matchups he's seen all year when the Raiders visit Arrowhead. In six career games against the Chiefs, Bush has poured out 497 yards on 86 carries (5.78 YPC), complemented by nine catches for 73 yards. Kansas City has been as susceptible to the run as ever this season, ranking 24th in the league in rush defense. Fantasy owners of Darrius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore should be concerned with the Chiefs' press-man coverage that stifled Green Bay's Week 15 passing attack, but Bush is a safe play with plenty of upside. I like Bush as a top-seven running back in fantasy title week.

I'm not mistaking Kyle Orton for Joe Montana, but during last week's Upset of the Year, Orton was as sharp as a quarterback possibly can be less than a month removed from a waiver claim. He spread the ball around generously in his first start with the Chiefs, but history hints that Orton will gradually become smitten with Dwayne Bowe just as he did Brandon Marshall and Brandon Lloyd in Denver. I'd like this matchup for Bowe even if Tyler Palko was still quarterbacking Kansas City. In nine career meetings with the Raiders, Bowe has racked up 60-plus yards and/or scored a touchdown eight times. He's averaging 75 yards in the last four. Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin remain fantasy non-factors for title week, but Bowe comes in as a borderline WR1.

Score Prediction: Raiders 21, Chiefs 20

4:05PM ET Game

San Diego @ Detroit

There aren't five NFL running backs playing at a higher level than Ryan Mathews entering fantasy championship week. Mathews has amassed 595 yards on his last 116 carries (5.13 YPC) and over 100 total yards in four straight games. Running with exceptional balance and acceleration on the edges, Mathews was the key to San Diego's Week 15 win over Baltimore, also finishing with four red-zone touches and executing twice on carries around the goal line. While Mike Tolbert still excels in the change-of-pace back role, Mathews has clearly taken over as the Chargers' feature runner. Detroit ranks 27th versus the run and allows a league-high 5.15 yards per rushing attempt, so this is a favorable matchup for Mathews. He's an easy top-ten running back play in Week 16.

None of Saturday's games has more projected scoring than Bolts-Lions, with Vegas setting the over/under at 52 points. Fire up your San Diego and Detroit skill players. ... Many owners were burned by Kevin Smith in Week 15, but the Lions' coaching staff stuck with him. Smith dominated the workload, receiving 15 carries while no other Detroit back exceeded one. Maurice Morris was a non-factor, playing one solitary offensive snap. Smith was in for 71. Game flow cost Smith some touches and his ankle wasn't 100 percent, but he's six more days removed from the original injury and again has a favorable matchup in a projected high-scoring affair. Fantasy owners still alive need to stick with Smith against San Diego's No. 21 run defense. He's a true every-down back, will be healthier after a full practice week, and offers multi-touchdown upside versus the Bolts.

Score Prediction: Lions 30, Chargers 28

4:15PM ET Games

Philadelphia @ Dallas

In a late game, at less than 100%, and perhaps even facing the possibility of being held out altogether, Felix Jones isn't worth the risk in fantasy leagues this week. Eagles-Cowboys will be worthless from Dallas' perspective if the Giants beat the Jets at 1ET. Should the Jets win, on the other hand, the Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a defeat of Philly. "We're all interested in how (Giants-Jets) comes out, and that's natural," Jerry Jones said this week. "I'm certainly looking with interest at that ball game." Felix barely practiced this week due to a tight hamstring and is the most likely Cowboy to either be benched or rested early should they enter the game with nothing on the line. If Jones does not play, Sammy Morris would carry the load against the Eagles' No. 17 run defense. We won't know the Cowboys' starting tailback until around 3ET Saturday, but Morris would emerge as a quality flex play if Jones is scratched. My bet is that we will see heavy doses of Morris regardless of Felix's availability. It seems a bit complicated, but if the Giants win and Felix Jones is active against the Eagles, your best fantasy approach would be to simply look elsewhere.

Asante Samuel's (hamstring) is big news for Tony Romo and the Cowboys' passing game because Samuel has been Philadelphia's top defensive back all season. Eagles coach Andy Reid revealed that Samuel suffered a setback with the hamstring on Tuesday, and the team was forced to rule him out on a league-wide short week. "We're trying to rehab it and see how it goes from there," Reid said. Samuel is strictly a left corner, the position opposite which Miles Austin lines up in base formations and Dez Bryant faces in most three-wide sets. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would be a significant downgrade as Samuel's replacement. I like Austin's chances of leading Dallas in Week 16 receiving, and Bryant was already an every-week fantasy starter. Laurent Robinson remains a high-risk WR3. I expect him to see quite a bit of Nnamdi Asomugha in coverage.

Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Eagles 24

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