Evan Silva


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Matchups: Lean on Lloyd

Friday, September 21, 2012

San Francisco @ Minnesota

The 2012 49ers have a legitimate chance to be this decade's version of the 2000 Ravens. They render rushing attacks non-factors with dominance in the trenches, and keep quarterbacks under constant duress with edge benders and bull rushers. Offensively, the Niners mix a deep, effective run game with efficient passing. From a fantasy perspective, the Niners' defensive ruin of enemy ground games has the greatest box-score impact. If you're starting Adrian Peterson, it isn't because you think he'll light the 49ers up. San Francisco has permitted 85 yards on 31 carries (2.74 YPC) through two weeks. It's been five games (Week 17 last year) since they allowed a rushing touchdown. ... Percy Harvin has at least 100 total yards in seven of his last eight games. Locked in as a WR1, Harvin may be Minnesota's primary means of ball movement -- especially if Peterson is stifled. ... Something for fantasy leaguers to keep in mind: Jerome Simpson returns from suspension next week. Simpson has long been an inconsistent, unremarkable wide receiver, but Vikings coaches think highly of him and he's worth picking up to stash as a WR5.

Be it due to wideouts who can't separate downfield or his own tendency to drop his eyes, Christian Ponder leans heavily on the short passing game and his scrambling ability. Perhaps Simpson will change things, but so far this hasn't been a vertical offense. The horizontal approach suits Harvin, and the same will be said for Kyle Rudolph once he starts playing better. Rudolph has a drop in each of Minnesota's first two games, including one of a would-be red-zone score last week. If he converts those plays, we're talking about Rudolph as an every-week TE1. Through two games, tight end has been the one offensive position giving San Francisco problems. Jermichael Finley and Brandon Pettigrew both have touchdowns against them. ... Exclude Ponder's four games after his Week 13 hip pointer last year -- an injury that torpedoed his late-season performance -- and Ponder's career stats through eight healthy games stand at 168-of-278 (60.4 percent) for 2,037 yards (7.33 YPA), and an 11:8 TD-to-INT ratio. He's also run for 160 yards. That's quality QB2 production, and he should only get better. Ponder remains a low-end QB2 in this matchup.

The one advantage this year's 49ers have on the aforementioned Ravens team is more effective quarterback play. Alex Smith continues to play with consistency and efficiency, and over his last nine games has accounted for 15 all-purpose touchdowns. He's turned the ball over once. Smith is a high-end QB2 against a Minnesota defense that can take away run games but not stop the pass. ... Opposing quarterback stats bordered on prolific against the Vikings for much of 2011, and they've picked up where they left off. Blaine Gabbert and Andrew Luck combined to complete 43-of-70 passes (61.4 percent) for 484 yards (6.91 YPA), four touchdown passes, and no interceptions against the Vikes in Weeks 1-2. Passing success should not be difficult for the 49ers to come by. Start Vernon Davis confidently. ... Michael Crabtree continues to wallow as a low-end WR3 and figures to square off frequently Sunday with top Vikings CB Antoine Winfield. Though he's getting long in the tooth, Winfield is still exceptionally physical and effective in coverage.

Minnesota's run defense has been dominant for over a half-decade, and it's still going strong in the post-Pat Williams and E.J. Henderson era. Frank Gore is just playing too well to sit. While he remains a passing-game afterthought, Gore ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing and is averaging over six yards a pop. Even if the YPC average comes down against a stout Vikings front, Gore will be a solid bet for a touchdown with goal-line vulture Brandon Jacobs (knee) out another week. ... Kendall Hunter is one of the league's better and more consistently used change-of-pace backs, though he's rarely an effective flex option and certainly not in difficult matchups. Hunter has 16 touches for 85 yards through two games. He needs Gore to get injured or slow down to be start-able in fantasy leagues. ... Randy Moss and Mario Manningham are rotating as second receivers who are really third and fourth pass options behind Davis and Crabtree. Moss, coming off a one-catch, 14-yard game, is bench material in fantasy football. Manningham isn't worth a roster spot.

Score Prediction: 49ers 20, Vikings 17

Detroit @ Tennessee

While Jake Locker's physical tools continue to tease and entice, his early-season play has been problematic in crucial areas. At San Diego in Week 2, Locker showed an alarming propensity for running out of the pocket when pressured, and missing easy passes due to throwing off his back foot. He's also getting little help from his teammates. Tennessee has the worst running game in the league, and Pro Football Focus has charged Titans receivers with an NFL-most eight drops through two games. The Lions rank fourth in sacks and have defensive line talent to exploit the Titans' glaring weaknesses at center and right guard. (Ndamukong Suh plays a large majority of his snaps versus the latter position.) This is a difficult matchup for the Tennessee offense, and Locker played poorly enough last week that he may no longer have a long leash. The season is getting away from the Titans. ... Think about buying Chris Johnson low, then think again. CJ?K's post-Week 3 slate pits him against Houston, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh in Weeks 4-6. Perhaps he'll be benched for good by the time that run ends. Or maybe the Titans will still be trotting him out and you'll be able to get Johnson for near-free leading into Week 7. Current Johnson owners should bail if they can salvage something worthwhile. Target Jamaal Charles or Trent Richardson.

Kenny Britt played 19 snaps in his return from suspension and dual offseason knee scopes. He caught one ball for five yards on two targets at San Diego. Keep in mind the Titans only got off 42 plays as they were dominated in time of possession, so 19 snaps were almost half of what was available. And after watching All-22 tape of Britt's plays, I'm ready to start him in a fantasy league against Detroit. Britt exploded off the line as if he'd never been hurt and played extensively in the slot, where he'll be tougher to double team. Coach Mike Munchak confirmed Wednesday that he anticipates Britt playing "a lot more" in Week 3. I expect Britt to lead Tennessee in receiving the rest of the way. ... If Britt returns to dominant form as I suspect he can as soon as this week, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, and Nate Washington will vie for leftover targets in what could be a bit of a fantasy-headache situation. Williams actually led that group in Week 2 snaps. Wright led in targets. Washington was fighting through a leg injury, although he's supposedly healthy this week. ... Jared Cook's playing time is way up from last season, but his box-score production has been disappointing along with the rest of Tennessee's offense. He's just a TE2 until we see more.

No team in football is as vulnerable up the middle as the Titans. FS Michael Griffin and SS Robert Johnson have been easy to beat in pass coverage, and MLB Colin McCarthy's (high ankle sprain) absence has been more than felt. The Titans allowed five passing touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 2. They were all scored by tight ends. If there was ever a week to play Brandon Pettigrew in your fantasy league, this is it. ... Both national and local projections envision about 12-16 touches for Mikel Leshoure in his Week 3 return from a two-game suspension on the heels of an Achilles' tear. It's a wait-and-see week for his fantasy prospects. Running backs notoriously struggle to regain burst after Achilles' surgery, and his 2.2 August YPC average inspired little confidence that Leshoure will beat the odds. ... It's been just two weeks and Kevin Smith's fantasy value already seems to be on shaky ground. The Lions increased Joique Bell's Week 2 involvement (8 touches) and now Leshoure is back. Tennessee does not play tough run defense, but it may not matter if Smith's playing time takes a sudden spill. While still offering a fair amount of upside as a skilled passing-down back in a pass-based offense, Smith has the look of an extremely dicey RB2/flex.

Opposing quarterback stats through two games against the Titans: 47-of-63 (74.6 percent) for 520 yards (8.25 YPA) and a 5:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Don't forget to start Matthew Stafford. ... Calvin Johnson has 14 catches for 205 yards on 19 targets after two weeks. He just hasn't found pay dirt yet. The touchdowns will come. ... Stafford's target distribution behind Megatron so far: Pettigrew 14, Tony Scheffler and Nate Burleson 11, Smith 9, Titus Young 6, Bell 3. ... Young isn't worth dropping, but he clearly isn't worth starting and doesn't look close. That could change in a matter of one week, of course. ... Scheffler (calf) is not expected to play Sunday. ... Burleson is just a guy and is not worth a fantasy roster spot. ... Rookie Ryan Broyles has yet to play an offensive snap.

Score Prediction: Lions 30, Titans 20

4:05PM ET Games

Atlanta @ San Diego

Ryan Mathews has received full medical clearance and practiced without limitations this week. I expect him to handle a near-full workload against Atlanta, based at least partially on the fact that Curtis Brinkley and Ronnie Brown were brutally bad during Mathews' time away, combining to average 1.84 yards per carry on 37 runs. Now playing on a short week after last Monday night's win, the Falcons' rush defense has been an early-season sieve, allowing opposing first-string tailbacks Willis McGahee and Jamaal Charles to combine for 200 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries (5.26 YPC) in Weeks 1 and 2. Mathews will be a top-five weekly running back starter the rest of the way. ... Antonio Gates (ribs) was a last-minute scratch in Week 2, perhaps because the Chargers felt they could beat the scuffling Titans at home without him. Coach Norv Turner described Gates as "moving fast" and looking "good" following Wednesday's practice, and he had no late-week setbacks. Gates is still the heavy favorite for targets, receptions, and yards in Philip Rivers' pass-catching corps over the course of the year. Leave Dante Rosario on the waiver wire.

Considering the adversity he's been dealt at offensive line and receiver, I think it's fair to suggest that Rivers is playing some of his best ball. While he remains a low-end QB1 -- ranking 11th in fantasy quarterback scoring -- Rivers has kept you competitive thus far and can remain a matchup play. His blindside protection remains a big concern. Undrafted rookie LT Mike Harris was abused by Titans RE Kamerion Wimbley in Week 2, and Harris' sledding gets even tougher this week against Falcons RE John Abraham. It wouldn't be a bad idea to sell high on Rivers. I have no confidence that LT Jared Gaither (back) will get his act together. ... Rivers' targets through two weeks: Malcom Floyd 14, Brown and Brinkley 9, Gates 8 (missed one game), Robert Meachem 6, Eddie Royal and Rosario 5, Randy McMichael 4. ... Meachem is playing under 70 percent of the snaps and essentially running clear-out routes down the sideline while Rivers works the middle of the field and looks for Floyd on the perimeter. Meachem's role isn't far off what it was in New Orleans. He's a WR5. ... Royal remains the fantasy non-factor he's long been. ... Gates and Floyd are the only start-able Chargers pass catchers for the foreseeable future. Look for Floyd to match up often with burnable RCB Dunta Robinson Sunday. Approaching legit WR2 value, Floyd has at least 100 yards and/or a touchdown in eight of his last ten games.

The Falcons got back to their roots a bit early in their Week 2 game against Denver, employing a power-running offense that predictably sputtered. Michael Turner executed at the goal line on Atlanta's opening drive, went on to average 2.47 yards per carry on 17 runs, and hit the town at night. He was arrested Tuesday at 5AM for DUI and speeding. Turner is a first-time offender of the NFL's substance abuse policy and in no danger of suspension, but the off-field incident may give playcaller Dirk Koetter a convenient excuse to turn away from the declining onetime power back, possibly for good. Toss out a fluky Week 17 game against a Bucs defense that had already called it a season, and Turner has been completely ineffective since about midway through last year. No team in football has defended the run better than San Diego through a couple of games. Sit Turner in Week 3. ... Jacquizz Rodgers has overtaken Jason Snelling as the Falcons' No. 2 back. Rodgers has 12 touches compared to Snelling's four, and has played 35 more snaps. I wouldn't get excited about either one in fantasy leagues. Rodgers is a good football player and excels in the pass game, but continues to underwhelm as a ball carrier (2.5 YPC, career 3.43).

Matt Ryan is the No. 2 fantasy quarterback and I wouldn't expect him to slow down anytime soon. Ryan actually hit his stride last November. Over his past 11 regular season games, Ryan has a 25:4 TD-to-INT ratio with eight efforts of 260-plus yards. Consistent and possessing more upside than ever, Ryan will live up to his 2012 fantasy draft position and then some. The Chargers' defense is much less imposing through the air than on the ground. ... Roddy White will square off with heavy-footed LCB Quentin Jammer for most of this game's snaps, while Julio Jones deals with streaky RCB Antoine Cason. Both Falcons wide receivers have favorable Week 3 matchups. Trot 'em out. ... Tony Gonzalez doesn't run as well as he once did, but still has a knack for finding soft spots and is a go-to target in scoring position. He's locked in as a TE1. ... Ryan's target distribution through two weeks: White 19, Jones and Gonzalez 16, Harry Douglas 7, Rodgers 3. ... This offense can support three fantasy-viable pass catchers (Jones, White, Gonzalez), but not four. Douglas is buried in the passing-game pecking order and not roster-worthy in 12-team leagues.

Score Prediction: Falcons 27, Chargers 24

Philadelphia @ Arizona

The Cardinals have won nine of their last 11 games dating back to the middle of last season, but they have not scored more than 23 points in any of them. They are winning with defense. Arizona has playmakers at all three levels and should not be regarded as an attractive fantasy matchup going forward. Of course, I'm about to tell you to start virtually all of your Eagles this week. Sometimes this stuff doesn't just make sense. But we try to give credit where it's due. ... Michael Vick leads the NFL in turnovers and interceptions. He still ranks fifth among quarterbacks in fantasy scoring. Because Vick runs for so many yards and plays in such an explosive, passing-based offense, he's fantasy slump-proof as long as he's playing four quarters. And Vick will get better. You'll be glad you drafted him. ... DeSean Jackson has at least 80 total yards in four straight games dating back to last season and is playing with more of a focused chip on his shoulder. D-Jax moves around the formation enough that he won't exactly be easy for Patrick Peterson to follow in "shadow" coverage. Ride Jackson while he's hot, and especially when Jeremy Maclin (hip) isn't playing.

Maclin will apparently be a game-time decision, but I might write him off as a Week 3 fantasy option after he aggravated the hip trying to play through it last week, and finished with 23 yards. Maclin is a difference maker in real life and fantasy when healthy, but he could really benefit from a rest week. My guess is we won't see him at Arizona. ... Brent Celek leads the NFL in receptions of 20-plus yards. While his 18.5 yards-per-catch average is unsustainable, Celek was the primary beneficiary of Maclin's reduced Week 2 role, tying a career high with eight grabs and setting one with 157 yards. Celek is on the TE1 radar as long as Maclin is missing time. ... LeSean McCoy could afford to cut out the fumbling, but reasserted himself as matchup-proof with 89 total yards and a touchdown against the Ravens in Week 2. ... Rookie Bryce Brown has passed Dion Lewis on the tailback depth chart in Philadelphia and is a better McCoy handcuff for deep-league owners. ... Slot guy Jason Avant has been less of a factor than usual, failing to clear 35 receiving yards in the first two games. ... Undrafted rookie Damaris Johnson would see increased playing time against the Cards if Maclin can't go. Johnson has two catches for 23 yards through two games.

Friday Update: Maclin has been ruled out for Week 3.

I couldn't bring myself to bench Larry Fitzgerald under any scenario, but it's more than fair to be concerned after he managed just 67 combined yards in the first two games. It's notable, too, that Fitz dusted the Philly pass defense for seven catches, 146 yards, and two touchdowns in a November game last year. He'll bust his slump sooner rather than later. ... As the Patriots took Fitzgerald away in Week 2, it was Todd Heap to the rescue with 62 yards on five catches before spraining his left PCL. Heap just isn't a fantasy option this week. The 32-year-old has been unable to play effectively through injuries late in his career. ... Early Doucet, Andre Roberts, and Kevin Kolb are fantasy waiver-wire fodder against Philadelphia's top-four pass defense. ... Beanie Wells is under three yards a carry, and Ryan Williams is at 1.22. Neither is better than a fantasy RB3.

Score Prediction: Eagles 23, Cardinals 13

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