Evan Silva


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Matchups: The Slump Busters

Friday, October 05, 2012

Buffalo @ San Francisco

Buffalo is off to its annual hot offensive start, but brakes will be put on Ryan Fitzpatrick's crew in Week 5. San Francisco won't let Fitzpatrick pick apart a zone, instead playing their typical press coverage on the outside while Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, and the NFL's two best inside 'backers manhandle Buffalo in the trenches. The Bills will be without two starting offensive linemen in this game; LT Cordy Glenn and RG Kraig Urbik suffered serious ankle injuries in last week's blowout loss to New England. Glenn was fast tracking toward All-Rookie Team honors with the way he played in the first three games. Urbik is rock solid in both the run and pass games and has graded as the league's sixth-best guard by Pro Football Focus to this point. These are major losses at critical positions entering a matchup like this. For fantasy lineup decisions, I'd strongly consider avoiding the entire Bills passing offense in Week 5. ... Stevie Johnson is off to a slow start, though fantasy owners aren't whining because he scored a touchdown in each of the first three games. Johnson is on pace for just 780 yards, which would be a three-year low. He had a 2-23-0 line in Week 4. Johnson will get back on track eventually, but I might put him on a wait-and-see week.

Maybe I'm a pessimist, but I think Vic Fangio's defense will shut down Chan Gailey's offense. The 49ers rank top six against both the run and pass and are a far more physical defense than the Bills are an offense. If the Week 4 workload distribution was any indication, Buffalo's backfield will be a near-even timeshare going forward, with Fred Jackson handling the majority of between-the-tackles carries and C.J. Spiller operating out in space. If that remains the case at San Francisco, I'll like Spiller's chances better of hitting a big play against such a stout front. Jackson plays in the pass game enough to salvage some fantasy value, but I expect him to struggle in this matchup. ... While starting any Bills skill-position player would require a Week 5 leap of faith, Scott Chandler has settled in as Buffalo's top week-by-week bet for touchdowns. Fitzpatrick and Gailey are very much willing to dial up pass plays deep in the red zone, where Chandler towers above the crowd at 6-foot-7 with a vertical leap that might surprise you. Just keep in mind Chandler hurts fantasy owners when he doesn't find pay dirt. He's on pace for only 48 receptions and 700 yards.

We're closing in on that time when you sell Frank Gore high in fantasy leagues. With the Giants, Seahawks, Cardinals, upstart Rams, and Bears following up on the slate, doing so immediately after Week 5 might be the ideal time. Now 29, Gore has over 2,000 touches worth of wear on his tires. His 2011 campaign hit the skids in November, as Gore averaged 3.49 yards per carry in the final eight games after posting a 4.92 YPC clip in the first half. A year older now, it's reasonable to project he'll resume slowing down a bit sooner. Brandon Jacobs' return as a goal-line specialist further threatens Gore's fantasy stock. Start Gore against a Bills defense that ranks 28th against the run and served up a Week 4 monster game to New England's Bolden-Ridley backfield, then put Gore on the trade block next Monday. ... 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick is an explosive zone-read package weapon. He gashed the Jets for 50 yards and a touchdown on five Week 4 runs, and has 67 rushing yards on the year. Kaepernick remains off the standard-league fantasy radar, but this is a hint at his scoring upside should Alex Smith ever miss time. Kaepernick has a power arm for vertical "shot-play" throws, and is an electrifying athlete with the ball in his hands.

Kendall Hunter would be San Francisco's main back if Gore broke down and should be rostered in all leagues. Possessing some stand-alone value as a pace-change runner in a run-first offense, Hunter is averaging seven touches per game and 4.6 yards per carry. ... Michael Crabtree's name is bigger than his game. Lacking big-play ability, Crabtree is strictly a possession receiver averaging under 10 yards a catch this year without a touchdown. Crabtree does have a favorable Week 5 matchup against weekly whipping boy CB Leodis McKelvin in the slot and up-and-down Bills LCB Aaron Williams. ... The 49ers didn't need to throw to beat the Jets last week, so everyone in the San Francisco pass attack had a slow box score, unless you count Kaepernick. Smith resumes low-end QB2 value while Vernon Davis squares off with a Bills safety and linebacker corps that has surrendered 22 receptions for 278 yards and three scores to tight ends through four games. It's an average weekly stat line of roughly 6-70-1. Particularly with Bills FS Jairus Byrd battling a hip pointer, it's a good bet that Davis will be open frequently in this game. ... We've discussed Mario Manningham and Randy Moss' roles repeatedly in this space before, and you won't want to use either one of them in a fantasy league unless the other one gets injured.

Score Prediction: 49ers 20, Bills 13

Tennessee @ Minnesota

The Vikings beat the Lions with special teams and defense last week. Percy Harvin returned the opening kick 105 yards to pay dirt, and two quarters later Marcus Sherels housed a punt return from 77 yards out. Aside from a late-game scrambling score by Matthew Stafford, those were the only touchdowns on either side in what was ultimately an odd game. ... Because the Vikings essentially took the air out of the ball after building a first-half 13-3 lead that became 20-6 on the Sherels TD, it's going to be difficult to hold last week's box score against Kyle Rudolph (2-8), Harvin (3-22), or Christian Ponder. They're also facing a brutal Titans defense. Tennessee has surrendered a league-high 151 points in the season's first month. It's 20 more points than the next closest team, and puts the Titans on pace to shatter the NFL record of 533, which has stood for 31 years. So, yeah, even the most diligent chasers of last week's points need to shake off the Vikings' Week 4 box score and start Rudolph, Harvin, Ponder in a two-quarterback league or as a bye-week QB1, and Adrian Peterson. The Vikings have offensive firepower to light this group up.

Jerome Simpson was targeted five times in his first game off of suspension, securing four for 50 yards and drawing two P.I. flags. He's the one fantasy-viable Vikings skill-position player of which I'm wary because of how inconsistent Simpson has been throughout his career, both in real life and fantasy. Despite an enticing on-paper matchup, I wouldn't start him in Week 5. ... Peterson is running like an animal again, but hasn't scored a touchdown since the opener. That's going to change very soon. I'd encourage you to put a fair-ish but low-ball trade offer in for Peterson on Friday or Saturday, just to see if his owner bites. Fantasy leaguers get anxiety when their guys aren't scoring TDs, and Peterson hasn't had one in three weeks. I'd be shocked if that didn't change against Tennessee's 27th-ranked run defense. ... Where the Titans are really getting drilled is against the pass, though. Ranked 27th in pass defense, as well, they've surrendered a 10:1 TD-to-INT ratio against and league-high 118.3 passer rating. ... Tennessee has allowed an incredible seven touchdowns to tight ends, and it's not a fluke. They have the worst safety play in the league. I've seen all four Titans games and feel like after every passing score they allow, FS Michael Griffin is either on the ground nearby or was just burnt in coverage. Get Rudolph fired up.

The final Week 4 stats might suggest Chris Johnson is getting back on track. I do not believe he is. Tennessee's line deserves credit for clearing running lanes against Houston, but Johnson still shied from contact and head-scratchingly padded his stats with the Titans trailing by 31 points in the fourth quarter. Tennessee went out of its way to give Johnson carries despite the huge deficit, clearly attempting to restore the confidence of their fallen star while trying to get the running game going. I think Johnson will go back in the tank this week against a Minnesota defense that does not allow holes to open. ... Although his box score (4-46-1) doesn't look shabby, Kendall Wright had the kind of Week 4 performance that could conceivably get a rookie benched. He dropped three balls and generated 46 yards on eight targets. Kenny Britt's (ankle) absence for another week should still keep Wright locked into the Titans' lineup. ... Nate Washington has 15 fewer targets than Wright this year. Wright is the better WR3 bet if you're choosing between the two.


Friday Update: The Vikings get back WLB Erin Henderson from a concussion this week, which will make life even tougher on Johnson. Pro Football Focus graded Henderson as the No. 4 overall run-defending 4-3 outside linebacker in the entire league last year, among 44 qualified players. Henderson's return would make me more leery of chasing Johnson's last-week fantasy points.

I think the Minnesota defense is worth a look as a spot-start play against the Titans. They can render Tennessee's offense one-dimensional, forcing Matt Hasselbeck to throw to try to move the chains. The Vikings are a top-seven team in sacks, and 37-year-old Hasselbeck's passes float through the air, making him interception prone. ... Battling a shoulder injury, Titans TE Jared Cook's snaps have been way down the past two games, playing just 34.1 percent of the downs. It remains to be seen whether he'll resume playing every down in this game or the next. On the season, Cook has one quality fantasy performance out of four. You should be able to do better.

Score Prediction: Vikings 24, Titans 17

Sunday Night Football

San Diego @ New Orleans

At 54 points, Chargers-Saints has the highest over-under of any Week 5 game. I believe it's also the highest over-under so far this year. It consistently pays to invest in shootouts, so trot out your studs and lean toward players in this game to break lineup-decision ties. ... Jamaal Charles. Cam Newton. Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, and James Jones. Lacking any hint of a pass rush and defending the run at a league-worst clip, the Saints' defense has busted each of those players' early slumps and should get a Charger or two off the schneid this week. The first candidate I'd look at is Antonio Gates. ... Gates has been left for dead by fantasy land to the point that I was asked this week whether he's worth dropping for Kellen Davis. So I when I watched Chargers-Chiefs on Tuesday night, I keyed on Gates' movements on every pass play. And I thought he looked great. On the rare occasions he drew man coverage, Gates ran circles around SS Eric Berry. His box score (3-59) underwhelmed because Kansas City regularly double teamed Gates and bracketed him in scoring position. I saw him triple teamed on one red-zone series. On another, two defenders literally acted like blockers and refused to let Gates off the line of scrimmage. The Chiefs paid for this strategy by getting shelled on their home turf by the rest of San Diego's roster. Now is a great time to move on Gates, because you can get him for pennies on the dollar. By far, Gates is the best buy-low tight end in fantasy football.

The second Chargers slump that needs to be busted is that of Ryan Mathews. Surprise Week 4 tailback starter Jackie Battle may stay involved for the next game or two, but Mathews earned an increased workload by establishing ball security on 16 touches at Arrowhead while out-YPCing Battle 4.36 to 2.60. Mathews should be in lineups as an RB2 until he regains his full-time role, which will happen sooner rather than later. The matchup keeps Battle in the mix as a worthy flex. ... Although he's battled early-season inconsistency, Philip Rivers is a locked-and-loaded QB1 in this game. His protection is finally under control with LT Jared Gaither healthy, and the Saints rank 24th against the pass. Rivers will have a clean pocket Sunday. ... After two straight slow weeks, Malcom Floyd can get back on track in a date with scuffling Saints RCB Patrick Robinson, on whom Floyd has nearly seven inches and 30 pounds. Robert Meachem will get the more difficult on-field draw of the two Chargers wideouts, dealing with LCB Jabari Greer. In pass coverage alone, Greer is a respectable 40th among 100 qualifying corners in Pro Football Focus' ratings. Robinson is 76th. Meachem has also gone catch-less in two of his past three games.

After three slow weeks to open the year, Marques Colston busted his own slump last Sunday at Lambeau, securing nine passes for 153 yards and a touchdown. Look for him to stay hot versus San Diego, facing RCB Antoine Cason and slot CB Marcus Gilchrist in coverage. Cason was Dwayne Bowe's personal Week 4 whipping boy, while Colston has six inches and 30 pounds on Gilchrist. He'll be a borderline WR1 the rest of the way. ... Lance Moore's 37 targets rank second on the Saints -- just three behind Jimmy Graham -- so his absence due to a hamstring injury is significant. I think the best bet to soak up Moore's targets will be Graham, Colston, and Darren Sproles; all guys you should already have in your lineup. Moore was getting most of his pass looks over the middle and underneath. ... Deep threat Joseph Morgan caught an 80-yard TD bomb at Green Bay, shaking by Packers RCB Sam Shields. Morgan has only six targets on the season, however, and has not been a consistent part of New Orleans' pass offense. ... Despite his team's 0-4 start, Drew Brees is the No. 3 fantasy quarterback behind only RG3 and Matt Ryan. The Saints' problems this year are not related to the offense, which was Sean Payton's side of the ball. New Orleans is racking up losses because Steve Spagnuolo's defense can't stop anybody.

Graham is the most heavily targeted player in the NFL's third-ranked passing offense, so his stats are bound to improve. He's the No. 4 fantasy tight end and I still think he'll finish first. Fellow NFC South TE Tony Gonzalez gashed this same Chargers defense for 91 yards and a touchdown on nine catches two weeks back. ... Devery Henderson has been held to 11 yards or fewer in 3-of-4 games. Avoid. ... The notion of being "more motivated" is probably mythical above all else, but it's conceivable that Saints OC Pete Carmichael will draw up a few extra plays for Sproles in his first meeting with the Bolts since leaving San Diego after the 2010 season. Sproles is an every-week starter anyhow. ... Pierre Thomas has slowed down considerably since his 143-total yard Week 2 game. He has 79 yards combined in his last two and still hasn't scored a touchdown on the season. Thomas remains a better real-life than fantasy football player. ... Mark Ingram's fantasy value is scant. He's averaging just eight touches a game and played 13-of-80 snaps in Week 4. The Chargers rank sixth in the league in run defense, so this isn't an attractive matchup, either.

Score Prediction: Saints 34, Chargers 30

Monday Night Football

Houston @ NY Jets

Much public focus has been placed on the impact of Darrelle Revis' year-ending injury on the Jets' defense. The secondary is obviously much less competitive, but the front seven was always a problem. Rex Ryan's unit is getting rag-dolled up front. Ranked 28th against the run entering Week 4, New York proceeded to get pounded by San Francisco for 245 yards and three TDs on 44 carries (5.57 YPC). The Jets' run defense now ranks 31st. It's safe to say this is a mismatch game decidedly in the Texans' favor. Houston leads the NFL in rushing attempts, and coach Gary Kubiak isn't ruling out the possibility of giving Arian Foster 400 carries over the course of the year. Foster is the best fantasy running back play in the league this week. ... Perhaps the wear and tear of handling 28 touches a game will take its toll on Foster eventually, but he looked fast, quick, and elusive when I re-watched Texans-Titans on Tuesday. Foster was a few fluky turf-monster slips from a third straight 100-yard game. With an extra day of rest heading into this week's Monday nighter, expect Foster to pummel the lifeless Jets. ... Ben Tate's toe injury is another reason to expect a hefty workload from Foster. If Tate sits, Justin Forsett would fill the change-of-pace back role. Forsett isn't a realistic fantasy option, but he could be a sneaky candidate for 7-12 carries. Tate is shaping up as a game-time decision.


Friday Update: Jets NT Sione Pouha suffered a setback in his recovery from a preseason back injury and is not expected to play against the Texans. Pouha is New York's best interior run defender. Upgrade Foster's matchup, not that it needs to be.

Matt Schaub will never lead the NFL in pass attempts again now playing in the league's most run-heavy offense, but he's passing efficiently and productively enough to offer solid two-quarterback league value. He's also a viable bye-week QB1. Houston is a lock to generate ball movement on Monday, setting up scoring chances, and Schaub has been on a roll. He's completed 44 of his last 66 passes (66.7 percent) for 559 yards (8.47 YPA), and a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio. The Texans could take the air out of the ball if they grab a big lead, but Schaub should have success whenever he drops back. ... Look for Antonio Cromartie in the Revis role, shadowing Andre Johnson outside. While Johnson's 24 targets through four games are underwhelming for an NFL No. 1 receiver, Johnson has made the most of them by securing 16 and averaging nearly 17 yards per catch. The Texans' play-action passing game is clicking right now. Johnson will get open deep if Cromartie bites. ... Owen Daniels quietly ranks eighth in fantasy tight end scoring, emerging as Schaub's clear-cut No. 2 pass catcher with a team-high 28 targets. Daniels reminds me a little bit of Miles Austin. He's producing at a locked-in fantasy starter's rate, but generating little to no fantasy buzz.


Friday Update: Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine confirmed Friday that Cromartie will be assigned to Johnson in this game. Cromartie has been New York's best player on defense this year. Should Cromartie give Johnson trouble down the sideline, Daniels could pad his team-leading target total down the seam. I think this is a really good matchup for Daniels, who is quietly making a lot of plays.

Every year, there is an NFL offense that we refer to as "fantasy wasteland." It's often been the Browns in recent seasons. Oakland. This year's fantasy wasteland is the New York Jets. Shonn Greene is the worst running back in the league still trotted out as a starter. With Santonio Holmes done for the year, there is no longer a chronic underachiever to tease our hopes, then catch two passes for 13 yards on Sunday and single-handedly fracture his team's locker room in the process. Mark Sanchez is going to be benched for Tim Tebow before the Week 9 bye. Dustin Keller can't shake his balky hamstring. Chaz Schilens is a starter in this offense. For real. On its last 34 possessions, the Jets' "offense" has scored one touchdown. ... Jeremy Kerley is the lone Jet worth Week 5 consideration as a desperation WR3 or flex play. Forced into the starting lineup due to Stephen Hill (hamstring) and Holmes' injuries, Kerley should be an every-snap player on a team that projects to be playing from behind on Monday night. Kerley is a weapon with the football in his hands, able to make guys miss. He should eat up Texans LCB Kareem Jackson's off-coverage cushion and is a candidate for 6-8 receptions. ... Instead of wasting your time with more Jets talk, here is J.J. Watt's stat line over his past eight games, including January's playoffs: 40 tackles (33 solo), 12 sacks, 9 batted passes, 17 quarterback hits, 16 tackles for loss, and an interception returned for a touchdown. He is an unblockable beast. Good luck, Brandon Moore.

Score Prediction: Texans 27, Jets 3

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