Evan Silva


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Matchups: Run, DMC

Saturday, October 20, 2012

1:00PM ET Games

Arizona @ Minnesota

Adrian Peterson's five-game touchdown drought is about as fluky as it gets. It won't last. Running with ferocious power and all the characteristics of a game-breaking back, Peterson has amassed 309 yards on his last 60 carries (5.15 YPC) while seeing his passing-game role rise. Peterson quietly ranks second among NFL tailbacks in receptions over the past three weeks and played 72-of-86 snaps (83.7 percent) in last week's loss to Washington, bypassing Toby Gerhart for the third-down back job. Peterson dove in a fourth-quarter red-zone carry against the Redskins only to have it whistled back by Kyle Rudolph's false start. It's been written in this space before and is about to be written again: Make a trade offer to the A.P. owner in your league before Sunday's kickoff. If we're looking ahead -- and, as fantasy leaguers, we need to be at all times -- there isn't a better running back bet the rest of the way. ... Percy Harvin leads the league in receptions through six weeks, and he's averaging over 100 yards per game. Arizona's defense is most vulnerable in the slot, which is where Harvin plays the majority of his passing-down snaps. The sleeper NFL Most Valuable Player candidate will run around, by, and over slot CB William Gay.

The Cardinals rank No. 9 in pass defense, but it's fair to question the applicability of that stat for predictive analysis, particularly with center-field safety Kerry Rhodes (back) out indefinitely. Arizona's six-game quarterback slate has included Sam Bradford, rookies Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and a slow-starting Michael Vick. Christian Ponder has turned up his production the past two weeks with Minnesota having to lean more on the pass, and I think he can remain a strong two-QB league play against the Cards. Ponder still hasn't reached legit QB1 value yet. ... Jerome Simpson will start Sunday after missing last week's game on a coaches' decision. Simpson is battling back and leg ailments and will likely play most of his Week 7 snaps in Patrick Peterson's coverage. Look elsewhere. ... Rudolph led all NFL tight ends in Week 6 targets, securing 6-of-11 for 56 yards and a touchdown. He could have had a bigger day if not for two drops. Rudolph has good hands, so it's reasonable to chalk up the miscues as a one-game fluke. Rudolph is the No. 5 overall fantasy tight end and a locked-in every-week starter.

The quarterback transition from Kevin Kolb (shoulder, ribs, sternum) to John Skelton is unlikely to make a large impact on Arizona's weekly offensive box scores. There are 2011 stats that suggest Skelton did a better job of getting the football to Larry Fitzgerald last season, but Kolb wasn't doing so poorly in '12. (Fitz ranks third in the NFL in targets and has 90-plus yards and/or a touchdown in four straight weeks.) The one big plus Skelton brings is superior firmness in the pocket, which is generally needed behind the Cardinals' turnstile offensive line. Skelton won't save this offense, but there should be little or no drop-off from Kolb. ... Fitz returns to his home state of Minnesota, where he's averaged seven catches for 108 yards in five career meetings with the Vikings. ... Andre Roberts has had one worthwhile fantasy game in the past five weeks. As the No. 2 option in a passing game that won't stop struggling, Roberts is headed for more ups and downs. I don't think Roberts has an especially attractive Week 7 matchup against Vikings LCBs Antoine Winfield and Josh Robinson. Roberts does remain comfortably ahead of Early Doucet and Michael Floyd.

The Cardinals opened Week 6 with La'Rod Stephens-Howling as their primary back, but it didn't last long. "Hyphen" managed seven yards on his first six carries with runs of 2, -1, 3, 1, 0, and 2 before Arizona turned to William Powell in the second quarter. Powell is hardly a game breaker, but he's at least a functional runner between the tackles and I'd expect him to match or perhaps improve upon last week's 14 touches this Sunday. Unfortunately, he goes from facing Buffalo's No. 32 run defense to Minnesota's top-11 unit and is sure to have fewer running lanes. Powell is a low-upside flex option in Week 7. ... Third-stringer Alfonso Smith was briefly on the fantasy radar in 2011, but he's well behind Stephens-Howling and Powell this year. Smith played two offensive snaps against the Bills and didn't receive a touch. ... Todd Heap is always hurt, Rob Housler is a situational player, and Jeff King is a blocker. Avoid Cardinals tight ends in fantasy.

Score Prediction: Vikings 21, Cardinals 17

Dallas @ Carolina

The Cowboys' offense emerged from its Week 5 bye humming in last Sunday's narrow loss to the Ravens. They got to the edges in the running game and exploited Baltimore's outside corners with Dez Bryant's physicality. (You probably heard more about Dez's two-point conversion drop, but he secured 13-of-15 targets in the game.) While Dallas came up short, it was a promising effort for a unit long on talent if short on consistency. And it should theoretically carry over into this week's tilt versus Carolina's No. 23 defense. ... Tony Romo has played well in just 2-of-5 games this season, but he may have found a groove after the open date. Though Romo didn't hit any big downfield plays at Baltimore, he was sharp in the short to intermediate sections of the field. Carolina is vulnerable to vertical bombs due to poor safety play and inconsistent pass rush. Dallas figures to pass more in the wake of DeMarco Murray's (foot) loss, and Romo stands to benefit. ... Panthers LCB Chris Gamble suffered a setback Thursday morning with a lingering shoulder injury and was ruled out against the Cowboys. Bryant may match up with rookie RCB Josh Norman more in this game, anyway, because Norman covers Dez's usual side of the field. With 21 grabs for 200 yards and two scores in his last two games, Bryant is locked back in as a WR1.


Friday Update: Bryant was a late-week addition to the injury report after missing Friday's practice with a groin injury. While Bryant did make the trip to Carolina, he'll likely be a full-blown game-time decision. Bryant is too good and the matchup too favorable to sit him in fantasy leagues if he's active, but we probably won't get an effective read on his status until Sunday morning. If Bryant missed the game, the Cowboys would turn to Ogletree as the starter opposite Austin. Dwayne Harris would figure to be the No. 3 receiver, with some Cole Beasley mixed in.


Saturday Update: ESPN's Adam Schefter and Ed Werder are now both reporting the Cowboys expect Bryant to start Sunday's game. The fact that the team is so confident about Dez's availability suggests they view the groin soreness as a minor issue. Start Bryant confidently.

Attacking Baltimore with perimeter runs may have been just as much a concession that Dallas no longer trusts its interior offensive line as it was a matter of identifying the Ravens as a defense exposable by stretch-zone plays. Outside runs are Felix Jones' bread and butter, and he looked like a different, more explosive back in a running offense emphasizing his strengths. Jones totaled 105 yards and a touchdown on 19 touches and averaged 5.11 yards per carry. Slated for Week 7 feature back duties with Murray shelved, Jones is an upside RB2 play against the Panthers' bottom-ten run defense. ... Phillip Tanner will be second in line for carries at Carolina. Tanner is a power runner who gets what's blocked and can break tackles. You could do worse for a Week 7 desperation flex option. ... Commandingly retaking Dallas' No. 3 pass option role from Week 1 FOY (Fluke of the Year) Kevin Ogletree, Jason Witten has strung together consecutive productive efforts to get himself squarely back on the TE1 radar. Romo's target distribution over his last three games: Bryant 36, Witten 27, Miles Austin 20, Ogletree 16. ... Austin is coming off his slowest week of the season, ostensibly because the Cowboys looked to feature Bryant in his matchups with Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith. Austin drew Ravens top CB Lardarius Webb until Webb tore his ACL, but Romo kept going to Bryant. Austin may be more WR2/3 than the legit WR1 he produced as in the Cowboys' initial four games, but he's certainly a nice fantasy bet against the Panthers. And even more so if Bryant sits out the game.

Losing perennial Pro Bowl C Ryan Kalil (Lisfranc) for the season has created a domino effect on Carolina's offensive line, with new starters at three different positions. The full impact of Kalil's loss remains to be seen, but it can't be good news for timeshare backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Pro Football Focus rated Kalil as a top-ten run-blocking center in each of the past three years. ... Stewart has played in three games this season and hasn't topped 12 touches in any of them. When Stewart has been healthy, Williams' season high is 14 touches. I can tell you with certainty that Stewart is the better back, but they're both week-to-week dice-roll flex options due to the way they are utilized. Dallas is playing top-13 run defense, so both Carolina runners may struggle in Week 7. Stewart is the superior bet if picking between the two. ... The Panthers' target distribution on the season: Steve Smith 38, Greg Olsen 34, Brandon LaFell 24, Mike Tolbert 14, Louis Murphy 11, Williams 7, and Stewart 6. ... Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is a schemer. Particularly in the passing game, Ryan has shown an ability to effectively eliminate the opposition's top weapon with one of the league's most gifted secondaries. Ryan's defense held Hakeem Nicks to a 4-38 line in Week 1, Sidney Rice to 3-33 in Week 2, Vincent Jackson to 1-29 in Week 3, and Torrey Smith to under 25 yards last week. While it's difficult to imagine benching Smith unless you're unbelievably loaded at wide receiver, I think he may struggle in this game.

If Ryan does take Smith away, it could translate to impressive box-score production from Olsen. Having clearly bypassed LaFell as Cam Newton's No. 2 pass option, Olsen is a solid bet to lead Carolina in Week 7 receiving. ... LaFell ranks a lowly 63rd in per-game fantasy receiver scoring and isn't going to break out this season. ... I was interviewed by The Score website this week and gave my thoughts on Newton. Here's a link. There are discouraging signs on Cam. I do believe it's well within the capability of Newton and playcaller Rob Chudzinski to right the ship, and trust Chud to have fixed some things during the Week 6 bye. I also think there is reason to believe the Panthers will have trouble throwing the ball against the Cowboys' top-ranked pass defense. And they'll have trouble moving the ball at all if they don't show greater commitment to a base run game. The Panthers play Dallas this week and the Bears in Week 8. My tentative expectation is Newton will experience two more slow weeks and catch fire down the stretch. Attempting to be a forward-looking fantasy owner, I will be targeting Newton for buy-low opportunities leading into Week 9.

Score Prediction: Cowboys 27, Panthers 20

New Orleans @ Tampa Bay

The Week 6 box score suggests Josh Freeman lit up the Chiefs, but his on-field performance was quite a bit less impressive. Accuracy remains a big issue for Freeman, and he continues to look skittish and uncomfortable in rookie OC Mike Sullivan's offense, leading to ball-placement issues. The good news is Freeman can power the ball downfield, and is armed with two field stretchers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Freeman might have another productive game in Week 7 because New Orleans' defense is similarly awful to Kansas City's, but based on last week's play, the Tampa quarterback has yet not turned his season around. ... Much has been made of the Saints' run-defense struggles, but they're equally poor against the pass, due largely to an inability to put pressure on passers. Only the Chiefs allow a higher yards-per-pass-attempt average, and enemy quarterbacks complete over 67 percent of their throws against the Saints. It's the ultimate recipe for big passing stats. V-Jax is a legit WR1 in Week 7, and Williams is squarely on the WR2 radar due to improved recent play. Jackson is currently the No. 9 overall fantasy receiver in points per game. Williams is No. 22, but he's coming off back-to-back 110-plus-yard games.

Last week's box score is humorously deceptive as it relates to Tampa Bay's backfield. Doug Martin was the clear-cut feature runner when the game was at all in doubt. He ran with more confidence against the Chiefs inside the tackles, and got into space twice for big-play receptions. Martin is a much, much better running back than LeGarrette Blount, and he has locked himself back in as an RB2 coming off the 131-total yard effort. Start Martin confidently against New Orleans' No. 31 run defense. ... Blount got five of his seven carries and 53 of his 58 yards with five minutes left in the game and the Bucs up 31-10. He could generously be characterized as a clock-killer. Realistically, he was playing in complete garbage time. Blount may look good as an on-paper flex if you take last week's stats and apply them to this matchup, but that's also a great way to get yourself in trouble. Blount's role has not noticeably increased, and he isn't going to be on the football field if the Bucs fall behind the Saints. Don't walk into this trap door.

I dropped Mark Ingram in one of my leagues two weeks ago. He just has so many factors working against him, as seven carry-a-game back who only plays on obvious run downs. I suppose Ingram could do well Sunday if the Saints grab a big lead and enter clock-killing mode, but I personally have thrown in the towel. I think it's a usage and scheme issue; not an indictment of Ingram's individual talent. ... NFL teams rarely make the high-impact "tweaks" we hope for during byes, but it certainly would've made sense for the Saints to discuss getting Darren Sproles the rock more during their Week 6 open date. Sproles exceeded ten touches just once in the first five weeks and is well off his 2011 yardage and workload pace. The Bucs play tough run defense, ranking fourth in the NFL in that category. New Orleans can avoid the stout front by getting their "satellite" back out in space. I like Sproles as a Week 7 flex play and believe he'll fare better in the final 11 games than he did in the initial five. ... Screen-pass sensation Pierre Thomas is averaging ten touches for 64 total yards per game and has yet to discover pay dirt on the season. He's not a terrible low-end flex play, but has a difficult Week 7 matchup and is generally a better real-life than fantasy player.

Tampa Bay's one-dimensional defense shuts down run games but is exposable through the air. Top CB Aqib Talib is now on game two of his four-week suspension and will be replaced by E.J. Biggers against the Saints. The Bucs' 31st-ranked pass defense should prove no match for Drew Brees. Even with an early-season bye, Brees is a top-five fantasy quarterback on the year. ... Remember Marques Colston's "slow start"? Me neither. Colston has a ridiculous 18 catches for 284 yards and four touchdowns in his last two games and will be a WR1 the rest of the way. The Week 6 bye could only help Colston's plantar fasciitis recovery. ... Colston is a slot receiver, and Lance Moore plays outside. It may seem odd, but Moore actually stands to benefit more from Talib's absence than New Orleans' No. 1 receiver. If Jimmy Graham (ankle) is limited or doesn't play Sunday, it's reasonable to think that Moore would also be the beneficiary in that respect. Moore is a strong bye-week WR3 with upside. ... Avoid Devery Henderson, please. He's gone 1-for-4 on halfway decent fantasy performances and has always been a tease as a clear-out route runner in Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael's offenses. Henderson is never a featured receiver in the scheme. It would not be surprising if Greg Camarillo outproduced him against the Bucs. ... There has been some buzz of Graham being used as a decoy in Week 7. I own Graham in a couple of leagues and am starting him if he's active for the game, regardless of speculation.


Saturday Update: Camarillo was released on Saturday to make room for LB Jonathan Vilma's activation from PUP. More importantly, Graham has been ruled out against the Buccaneers. David Thomas will replace him in the lineup, although the Saints won't be dialing up any pass plays intended for Thomas and he's not sure to be an every-down player. Look elsewhere for a Week 7 fallback option at tight end.

Score Prediction: Saints 30, Bucs 21

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