Evan Silva


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Matchups: Ridley Me This

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Buffalo @ NY Jets

The Jets' defense had long had Ryan Fitzpatrick's number until the clubs met late in November of last year. In a hard-fought 28-24 loss, Fitzpatrick sparkled to the tune of 26-for-39 (66.7%), 264 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks. The Bills would have won if not for Stevie Johnson's late-game drop of a 40-yard would-be scoring bomb. Like this one, that game was played on the Jets' home turf. While I don't think Fitz will be quite as productive this time around, the Bills' Pistol Spread can be difficult to contain when the quarterback and Johnson find a rhythm. Buffalo floods the field with five receivers constantly, preventing double teams and clearing out running lanes. I was surprised to see Vegas favor the Jets in this game. A low-scoring affair seems likely, but I like the Bills to score more points. ... Look for Fred Jackson to be the offensive focal point as Buffalo upsets Rex Ryan's team. The Jets will likely be without run-plugging NT Sione Pouha (back), and Jackson has clearly retaken his feature back role from C.J. Spiller, if preseason first-team action was any indication. It's easy to forget that F-Jax racked up at least 100 total yards in eight of the Bills' first nine games last season, before succumbing to a fractured fibula. Jackson is healthy now and a top-end RB2.

Spiller hurt his chances of playing a big early-season role with a lost fumble in the third preseason game, and appears to be well behind Jackson in this mythical competition for carries. It's a myth because Jackson is the man. Spiller will need F-Jax to get injured again in order to be a fantasy starter. ... Nicknamed "Revis Beater" for his growing track record of success against the NFL's top corner, Johnson touched up Darrelle Revis for stat lines of 8/75/1 and 3/84/0 last year. Johnson gets open against Revis because Chan Gailey lets him freelance routes and Johnson has some of the NFL's quickest feet. The fact that Johnson is still going against Revis drops him from a WR2 to WR3, but he's certainly start-able. I'm not worried about Johnson's mild groin injury after he produced through it all last season. ... Intense fantasy owners can keep tabs on David Nelson, Donald Jones, Scott Chandler, and T.J. Graham, but all of the Bills' skill guys behind Johnson and F-Jax are role players. Nelson has the best shot at fantasy relevance, and it's still not a good one.

Santonio Holmes has gone 25 consecutive games without 100 yards and has been held to 50 yards or fewer 16 times during that span. It'd be easy to say that Holmes' elite skill level gives him weekly upside, but he hasn't shown it in seemingly forever. He's a WR4/5. ... Shonn Greene's historical success against the Bills can be dismissed now that Buffalo lines up Mario Williams next to interior cloggers Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, forming one of the league's most imposing front fours. Running behind an O-Line that looked worse than ever in preseason action, Greene has a lot to prove to be fantasy viable. I'd balk at starting Greene until he gives me reason to. He never played in the passing game and could lose goal-line work to Tim Tebow. ... Stephen Hill came down with a calf injury in practice this week after playing like a lost rookie all preseason. The second-round pick possesses big-time tools, but is third in line for targets behind Holmes and Dustin Keller and not worth a 12-team league roster spot. ... Keller is dealing with a hamstring injury of his own. He'll play against Buffalo, but the injury may curtail his on-field effectiveness. Avoid. ... I prefer the Bills' defense as a fantasy play over Mark Sanchez, even in two-QB leagues. Sanchez's pass catchers are banged up, and his pass protection is nonexistent.

Score Prediction: Bills 17, Jets 6

Miami @ Houston

The Dolphins played some of the fiercest run defense in football last season and bring back all of their key cogs, including massive NT Paul Soliai and LE Jared Odrick. Their pass defense may struggle mightily, however. GM Jeff Ireland sold off top corner Vontae Davis without a viable in-house replacement (Richard Marshall is a fine nickel, but doesn't qualify) and the Dolphins have just one consistent pass-rush threat (RE Cameron Wake). Opposing quarterbacks should have clean pockets and open receivers when they face Miami this season. Look for Andre Johnson to start fast in Week 1. ... Unfortunately, the remaining elements of Houston's passing attack are severely restricted by the league's run-heaviest offensive mindset. Matt Schaub is a glorified game manager, while Kevin Walter, Lestar Jean, and rookie Keshawn Martin will offer little or no box-score consistency. Rising third-year TE Garrett Graham and fullback/tight end hybrid James Casey, the Texans' version of Aaron Hernandez, will both cut into Owen Daniels' receiving looks.

Keep an eye on Arian Foster's knee after he exited Thursday's practice early with soreness. It's worth recalling that Foster played all of the 2010 season through a torn meniscus and underwent surgery the following February. He's had knee issues before. It seems Foster will be just fine, but check the Rotoworld News Page for updates Friday and Saturday. ... Foster is a matchup-proof fantasy workhorse, but so could be Ben Tate if the starter didn't play. Tate peeled off 135 yards on 27 touches in last year's Week 2 road game against the Dolphins, so there is a track record of individual success in this specific matchup. Other than moving from a 3-4 to 4-3 under new DC Kevin Coyle, the Fins' front seven hasn't changed much from last year. The personnel are basically all the same. If Foster sits out, you just plug Tate into your fantasy lineup, and don't think twice.

Friday Evening Update: Foster failed to practice on Friday and will be a game-time decision Sunday versus Miami. I hope Foster drafters handcuffed him with Tate as they were instructed to. It's possible the Texans will decide they can defeat the starved-for-offense Dolphins without their $43.5 million bellcow back. Foster owners must prepare for their first-round fantasy pick to miss this game. Check Rotoworld on Sunday.

Rarely can we confidently say a team became noticeably less talented in one offseason. We can definitely say it for the Dolphins' passing game. The Legedu Naanee-Davone Bess-Brian Hartline triumvirate is an embarrassment to a passing league, and the right side of the Fins' offensive line threatens to be dominated by opponents on a weekly basis early in the year. The Texans trot out LE J.J. Watt, and pass-rushing menaces Brooks Reed and Whitney Mercilus as head-to-head foes for shaky rookie RT Jonathan Martin and whomever first-year coach Joe Philbin elects to trot out at right guard. Ryan Tannehill is a long-term keeper, but no Dolphins pass-catching hopeful is worth a fantasy league roster spot, let alone a Week 1 start. ... Miami's inevitable inability to move the ball through the air also bodes poorly for a running game that may skew more toward committee than Reggie Bush drafters hope. 2011 second-round pick Daniel Thomas appeared to be coming around as the preseason wrapped up. The Texans ranked fourth in run defense last season and third against the pass. They return 10-of-11 defensive starters while adding Mercilus to the mix.

Score Prediction: Texans 27, Dolphins 3

4:25PM ET Games

Seattle @ Arizona

I know, I know. He's a rookie. He was a third-round pick. He's under 5-foot-11. I am really intrigued by Russell Wilson's fantasy football prospects, not because of a bunch of factors we'd find impossible to prove relevant to the discussion. Wilson is a positive-yards scrambling threat. He spins the football with accuracy and velocity. And he is a natural-born playmaker. I also quietly like his receivers: Braylon Edwards has never struggled to create separation in the vertical passing game, Sidney Rice is healthy, and Doug Baldwin displayed big-play ability and big-time speed in the slot last season. I think Wilson will be a top-12 fantasy quarterback, and I'm starting him in one of my leagues (standard scoring) this week against a Cardinals pass defense that instills no fear aside from CB Patrick Peterson, who struggled at times in coverage as a rookie. ... Rice is a shaky WR3 in his likely matchup with Peterson, but he's right back in the fantasy mix. As a health risk with a rookie quarterback, I might take a wait-and-see approach on his first two games (@ AZ, vs. DAL). If he plays well, I'd trot out Rice the next four straight weeks (vs. GB, @ STL, @ CAR, vs. NE).

Drops and soft play have long been Edwards' biggest drawbacks, but you don't get penalized for either in fantasy football. He's worth a WR5 spot to see what happens. Seattle's offense has exciting potential, and their studly young defense will keep getting them the ball back. Golden Tate will not play Sunday due to a knee injury, so Edwards should be an every-down receiver. ... I think Wilson's first big impact will show up in the running game. Seahawks OL coach Tom Cable's zone-blocking scheme already demonstrated the ability to dominate games in Marshawn Lynch's career year, despite musical chairs all throughout the offensive line. The ZBS will be even more effective with a dual-threat quarterback whose bootleg ability forces front-seven members to stay in containment rather than play aggressively. Outside zone runs and stretch plays to the perimeter are going to be more dangerous than ever in Seattle this season. If Marshawn Lynch's back clears up, I think he's capable of improving on last year's career-best stats. If Robert Turbin starts against the Cardinals, I think you lock him in as an RB2/flex and don't look back.

Friday Evening Update: Lynch was a limited participant in Friday's practice and remains a game-time decision for Week 1. Hopefully Lynch owners were savvy enough to grab Turbin when news of his back spasms broke, because we won't know the starter's availability until about 3PM ET on Sunday. ESPN's John Clayton, who is based in Seattle and reports on the Seahawks best, does expect Lynch to play. If Lynch is active, you start him as an RB1. Check back Sunday afternoon.

The Cardinals' front five cannot pass protect, and it's a reality the coaching staff will simply have to work around. They need to formulate an offensive design that leans heavily on the run game and features Larry Fitzgerald as John Skelton's first read on upwards of 70 percent of pass plays. A formula at all similar to this would render secondary targets Andre Roberts, Early Doucet, and Rob Housler fantasy non-factors, at least until one emerges as a consistent, reliable "No. 2" to Fitz's clear No. 1. I don't think Roberts, Doucet, or Housler is worth a 12-team league roster spot until we see on-field evidence to the contrary. Michael Floyd is being brought along incredibly slowly, playing only in four-receiver packages. Floyd is not on pace for any early-season impact.

While a run-dominated Arizona offense could prop up Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells when they face cupcakes, Seattle's shutdown run defense makes both undesirable Week 1 flex options. The Seahawks ranked fourth in the NFL in yards-per-carry allowed (3.79) last season and return six of their front-seven starters. The Cards plan to use a hot-hand rotation, and both Wells and Williams looked relatively sharp this preseason despite returning from knee injuries. They are timeshare backs in a really difficult matchup. No thanks. ... Arizona understandably struggled mightily to run the ball in its two 2011 matchups with Seattle, so it resorted to targeting Fitzgerald relentlessly. Fitz piled up 26 targets, securing 14 for 213 yards and a touchdown. In the Week 17 meeting, Skelton was the quarterback and connected with Fitzgerald nine times for 149 yards. Fitzgerald quietly averaged 94.1 yards a game when Skelton played more snaps than Kevin Kolb in 2011. Skelton has shaky accuracy and no mobility, but excels at making one read and powering throws to his best receiver.

Friday Evening Update: Wells was added to the injury report Friday with a hamstring ailment, ostensibly suffered on the practice field. While Wells vows to play Sunday, this is more reason to write him off as a Week 1 fantasy option. He's got a ton of factors working against him, and now Beanie may not be 100 percent.

Score Prediction: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 10

San Francisco @ Green Bay

Little-known stat on Aaron Rodgers: He did not face a single top-ten defense during his MVP 2011 season. When Rodgers finally played a top-11 unit in Week 15, he completed 17-of-35 throws for 235 yards and one touchdown as Green Bay fell to Kansas City 19-14. Rodgers is too good to bet against, but Week 1 fantasy expectations should probably be conservative. The 49ers field the most physical defense in the league. They lack weaknesses on Vic Fangio's side of the ball. ... Cedric Benson showed fresh legs in preseason, but he'll be running into a brick wall against the Niners. San Francisco is good enough up front that it can drop five or six guys into coverage and still shut down a run game. If you're starting Benson, you're gambling on a goal-line score. He won't have much open-field success. ... As good as Benson looked, I still think Alex Green will be the Packers back to own by midseason. He's just such a better fit for what Green Bay does on offense.

Packers receivers move around the formation so much that it's difficult to say which corners Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Donald Driver will face the most in Week 1. I think you simply start Nelson, Jennings, and Jermichael Finley with confidence. Nelson and Jennings are too good not to, and Finley possesses talent to undress a defense if his head is on straight. ... Randall Cobb's time is coming, but he's a WR5 in fantasy leagues at the moment. Cobb is expected to open the season competing for Green Bay's No. 4 receiver job with Driver while returning kickoffs.

Rotoworld was adamant about avoiding Frank Gore in 2012 fantasy drafts, in large part because his pass-game role is evaporating and he'll eventually lose goal-line work to 260-pound hammer back Brandon Jacobs. If you still drafted Gore, now is the time to start him. Jacobs (knee) will miss Week 1, and Gore is squaring off with a Green Bay defense that went soft in 2011 and is now trying to work around an ankle injury to NT B.J. Raji. Gore's schedule is favorable in Weeks 1 (at Lambeau) and 2 (versus Lions), then gets awfully tough quickly. It wouldn't be a bad idea to ride him the first two games, then sell Gore high if he starts fast. Kendall Hunter is capable of emerging as the best back in San Francisco by midyear. ... Coach Jim Harbaugh has made it clear that the 49ers do not intend to pass more in 2012, despite offseason additions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, and A.J. Jenkins. The 49ers want to pass more efficiently. Jenkins figures to be an early-season game-day scratch after a quiet August, while Moss and Manningham will rotate in a run-based offense. Green Bay's pass defense is hardly a shutdown unit, but Niners receivers beyond Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree are Week 1 bench material.

Whereas Manningham and Moss' fantasy outlooks are adversely affected by usage, Crabtree's is impacted by a difficult matchup. As a Z receiver in base packages and slot receiver on passing downs, Crabtree will take on LCB Tramon Williams and SS/slot CB Charles Woodson for a heavy majority of Sunday's snaps. Crabtree runs crisp slant routes and can get in front of the Packers' top DBs for 5-6 catches and 60-70 yards, but it's not going to be easy. He's a low-end WR3. ... Almost by process of elimination, I like Davis to pace San Francisco in Week 1 receiving, and perhaps explode for a monster game. Davis admitted this offseason that he didn't understand Harbaugh's offense for much of last season. Davis finally caught on in December, and promptly reeled off 28 catches for 536 yards and five touchdowns in the final five games. Davis will push Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski for No. 1 fantasy tight end if he keeps that pace in 2012.

Score Prediction: Packers 17, 49ers 14

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