Evan Silva

Matchups

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Matchups: No Freebie for Free

Saturday, December 01, 2012



4:25PM ET Games

Pittsburgh @ Baltimore

Per ESPN's Bob Holtzman, here are Pittsburgh's baseline offensive stats with Ben Roethlisberger out of the lineup the past two weeks: 28 possessions, 14 punts, 11 turnovers. ESPN's Holtzman, Adam Schefter and Ed Werder, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the Beaver County Times all reported this week that Big Ben is unlikely to play at Baltimore. That's a cavalcade I wouldn't bet against. While this year's Ravens defense isn't as dominant as it's been in seasons past, Mike Wallace, Heath Miller, and a now-healthy Antonio Brown are all low-ceiling fantasy options with high bust risk with Charlie Batch under center. Batch truly was that bad in last week's lost to Cleveland. It's unfortunate, but these kinds of things happen every year and fantasy owners' best approach is to just avoid them. If it is reported Sunday that Ben has miraculously recovered and will play -- a possibility considering Roethlisberger's history -- immediately upgrade Wallace, Miller, and Brown. That just appeared very unlikely as this column was written Friday morning.

 

Friday Update: Welp, you can forget about that miraculous recovery. The Steelers have. Roethlisberger was formally ruled out for Week 13 when Friday's final injury report was released, and Batch will get another start. If Batch plays as poorly as he did in last week's loss to the Browns, we may even see some Brian Hoyer.

Another factor working against Pittsburgh's Week 13 offense will be seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum's starting debut at right tackle. Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are out with ankle injuries, leaving guard-built Beachum (6'3/303) to block Ravens sack leader LOLB Paul Kruger. Regardless of whether or not Roethlisberger plays, Miller may be needed for frequent "help" blocks at the line of scrimmage. ... Coach Mike Tomlin this week demoted Rashard Mendenhall from starter to third string after two Week 12 fumbles. The Steelers will start Jonathan Dwyer versus Baltimore's No. 26 run defense. In addition to Beachum's blocking, concerns for Dwyer include Batch's inability to move the offense, Dwyer's minimal pass-game role, and his own Week 12 lost fumble. Another one could get Dwyer benched for Isaac Redman or rookie Chris Rainey. Dwyer is worth flex consideration as a candidate for 18-22 carries, but he isn't without risk and the reward doesn't look to be especially high, just breaking down Dwyer's fantasy matchup on paper.

Joe Flacco has been infinitely better at home than on the road, going 5-0 with a 66.5 completion rate, 10:3 TD-to-INT ratio, and 108.3 passer rating at M&T Bank Stadium this season. It's just difficult to imagine Flacco posting better than high-end QB2 stats against a Steelers team that ranks No. 1 in total defense and No. 1 versus the pass. Pittsburgh has also been targeting this game for SS Troy Polamalu's (calf) return. Flacco is a two-quarterback league starter and nothing more. ... The Steelers let usual RCB Ike Taylor shadow Torrey Smith in these teams' meeting two games ago, and Taylor held Smith to one catch for seven yards. Pittsburgh figures to employ a similar tactic in Week 13. If I'm a Smith owner, I'm looking for alternatives in both WR2 and WR3 slots. Smith is the No. 16 overall fantasy receiver, but he's been inconsistent and this is a very difficult matchup. ... Pittsburgh was comfortable letting Anquan Boldin rack up short catches over the middle in Week 11, and Boldin came away with eight grabs for 79 yards. Those are solid WR3 stats, but his lack of weekly scoring potential -- Boldin has one touchdown in his last 15 games -- keeps him in WR4 territory. Owners with designs on fantasy playoff runs should probably be aiming higher.

The Steelers and Ravens played to a 13-10 final two games ago. A relatively similar score should probably be expected if Roethlisberger doesn't dress. Pittsburgh has permitted the eighth fewest fantasy points to tight ends, and Dennis Pitta's role since early in the season has been game-plan specific. Pitta can be dropped by fantasy owners with true top-12 tight ends. ... To be perfectly frank, there is little to nothing that suggests Ray Rice is an especially strong Week 13 fantasy running back play, aside from the fact that he's Ray Rice. The Steelers are playing top-five run defense again, and held Rice to 40 yards on 20 carries in Week 11. Rice did pad his stats with five receptions for 53 additional yards, however, and versatility always props up the consistency of Baltimore's feature back. Perhaps downgrade Rice from RB1 to RB2 this week, but he's never seriously worth benching. ... Rice owners should all have rookie Bernard Pierce rostered at this point in the year; he's worth picking up for non-Rice owners, too. Pierce is averaging a crisp 4.32 YPC over his past nine games. He's be a legit RB2 for the stretch run if Rice suffered an injury.

Score Prediction: Ravens 17, Steelers 13

Cincinnati @ San Diego

Spearheaded by Defensive Player of the Year sleeper DT Geno Atkins (9 sacks) and contract-year RE Michael Johnson (8 sacks), the Bengals' defensive line is playing as well as any group in football right now. Cincinnati's front four destroyed Oakland's pass game in Week 12 by heaping constant pressure on Carson Palmer, both up the middle and off the edge. No AFC team has fielded a more disappointing offensive line than San Diego this season, and the mismatch in the trenches is a major concern for Philip Rivers' Week 13 outlook. With LT Jared Gaither gone for the year, Rivers is no longer playable outside of two-quarterback leagues. ... Cincinnati ranks a mediocre 17th in run defense, but Ryan Mathews has flatlined as an upside-lacking RB2/flex in San Diego's bottom-eight offense. In Norv Turner's previous four years as coach, the Bolts never ranked worse than 11th in total offense. Mathews hasn't helped himself with tentative running, seemingly more concerned with ball security than big gains. Perhaps this year's biggest fantasy disappointment, Mathews has failed to reach 4.0 yards per carry in five of his last six games.

Rivers' updated target distribution since Danario Alexander took over as a starter three games ago: Alexander 26, Malcom Floyd 18, Mathews 15, Antonio Gates 11, Ronnie Brown 10, Eddie Royal 8, Robert Meachem 3. ... Although Alexander didn't light up the Week 12 box score (5-74), he continued to show impressive leaping ability, a monster catch radius, and post-reception explosion. He's legit. It's also a good sign for a receiver when a slow week involves leading his team in targets and yards. Locked in as an every-week WR3, Alexander gets another favorable matchup in Week 13 versus Bengals 34-year-old LCB Terence Newman. ... Floyd has taken a backseat with DX's emergence, failing to clear 70 yards since Week 5. Floyd moved from Z receiver back to the X spot last week and will square off with Bengals top CB Leon Hall on the majority of Sunday's snaps if the position switch holds. With a difficult matchup and diminishing role, Floyd is a low-upside and non-recommended WR3 option. ... Like Mathews, Gates has fallen victim to a dysfunctional Chargers offense that can't protect its quarterback, turns the football over, and lacks a sustaining element in both the pass and running games. Gates is a fantasy bust. He does have an appealing on-paper Week 13 matchup versus a Cincinnati defense that surrenders the eighth most fantasy points to tight ends.

The Chargers lost a pair of key defenders in Week 12, as Pro Bowl candidate ILB Donald Butler and SS Atari Bigby suffered significant groin injuries that will shelve them against the Bengals. They'll be replaced, respectively, by Jonas Mouton and Brandon Taylor, both of whom have never played in an NFL game. San Diego has quietly fielded a top-ten defense this season, but it won't be at full strength on Sunday. ... The No. 7 overall fantasy quarterback, Andy Dalton has settled in as a reliable weekly starter as an impressive supporting cast quietly develops around him. We all know about A.J. Green, but new No. 2 wideout Mohamed Sanu is a fantastic complement as a chain-moving, sure-handed possession target who's paying dividends in the red zone. Sanu hasn't dropped a pass all year. ... As for Sanu's standalone fantasy appeal, he doesn't offer a whole lot despite the four touchdowns in his last three games. That scoring rate is obviously unsustainable. Until we see Sanu more regularly utilized between the 20s, he'll be WR4/5 material in 10- and 12-team leagues. ... Particularly with Bigby and coverage-asset Butler out, this has the look of a Jermaine Gresham game. Ravens TE Dennis Pitta racked up six catches against the Chargers last week, and Gresham may match up often with special teamer Corey Lynch and/or debuting rookie Taylor. Gresham is the No. 6 overall fantasy tight end on the year.

 

Friday Update: We talk him up, and he gets hurt. Coach Marvin Lewis revealed Friday that Sanu suffered a stress fracture in his foot during Thursday's practice and will miss the season's remainder. The Bengals will likely turn back to a rotation opposite Green, involving Brandon Tate, Marvin Jones, Andrew Hawkins, and perhaps even ineffective early-season starter Armon Binns. Sanu's injury essentially leaves behind a black hole at No. 2 receiver in Cincinnati, from a fantasy perspective. Jones has the best chance to emerge as a significant stretch-run contributor for the team.

Green moves around a lot, but he'll square off with Chargers LCB Quentin Jammer on most of Sunday's snaps. Slow of foot with little to no recovery speed, Jammer can neutralize guys like Eric Decker and Tampa's Mike Williams. Not A.J. Green. This is another mismatch in Cincy's favor. ... BenJarvus Green-Ellis is 27 and over halfway through his fifth NFL season. So, in all likelihood, last week's 19-129-1 game against a sieve-like Raiders defense wasn't indicative of a light flipping on in The Law Firm's career. Oakland is just plain bad. I still think you can count on the Bengals generating ball movement against the Chargers, particularly through the air, and that would set up red-zone chances for their lead running back. Butler and Bigby's absences make San Diego's top-five run defense appear less daunting, so consider Green-Ellis a respectable, if unavoidably low-upside flex option due to his uninspiring running ability. ... Cedric Peerman has quietly emerged as a worthwhile late-season running back stash. Peerman is averaging 8.3 yards per carry and can play in the passing game, which would make him a possible every-down back if Green-Ellis went down. "I didn’t think he’d be known for breaking long ones like he’s done," OC Jay Gruden said of Peerman this week. "But we are surprised about that. Just keep getting him more touches.”

Score Prediction: Bengals 28, Chargers 17

Cleveland @ Oakland

Weather Alert: Sunday’s forecast for The Coliseum is calling for winds in the 26-35 MPH range and a 100 percent chance of rain, with “potential for flooding.” It’s a Tropical Storm. Check Rotoworld’s Players News page for updates Sunday morning. The conditions may negatively impact pass routes in the Browns-Raiders game. A wet field may also be a concern for Darren McFadden’s balky ankle.

 

McFadden is expected to start versus Cleveland after missing the last three games with a high ankle sprain. The ideal fantasy approach for any player coming off an extended absence is to put them on a "wait-and-see" week in their first game back, and consider it a plus if they play well. If so, you'll know to start them in the next game. If not, you'll know they're bench fodder. Because Marcel Reece played so well in McFadden's place -- Reece is very clearly a better fit for OC Greg Knapp's zone-run scheme -- the Raiders plan to ease DMC into the lineup by rotating him with Reece. With mammoth DTs Ahytba Rubin and Phil Taylor both healthy, the Browns have also been defending the run well of late. They've held Steelers and Cowboys backs to 102 yards on 39 carries (2.61 YPC) over the past two weeks. So not only has the Raiders' backfield devolved into a timeshare, the backs don't have a great matchup. It is a Week 13 fantasy situation to avoid.

 

Friday Update: All throughout the week Raiders beat writers anticipated McFadden returning to the lineup Sunday, but on Friday the player himself was noncommittal about his Week 13 availability. "It's good, but not 100 percent yet," Knapp conceded when asked by reporters about McFadden's burst. A slew of arrows are pointing toward McFadden being a must-bench in fantasy leagues. If McFadden is deactivated Sunday, Reece would resume every-down back work. Knapp hinted Reece would get more snaps and touches even if McFadden plays.

There was no secret behind the Raiders' Week 12 passing-game woes. They had no prayer of protecting Carson Palmer against the Bengals. Cleveland doesn't have a slouch defense, either, ranking in the top 11 in sacks. Palmer should have a better day at home versus the 21st-ranked pass defense if weather doesn’t play a major role, but he's off the QB1 radar entirely at this point. ... Denarius Moore has two catches for 29 yards and a touchdown in his last eight quarters. The Raiders are struggling to get him the ball, and Browns top CB Joe Haden's shadow coverage won't make life any easier. I'd view Moore as a dicey WR3 option in Week 13. ... As the fantasy playoffs approach, Darrius Heyward-Bey can be dropped in standard leagues. On competitive teams, at least, DHB won't be a viable starter down the stretch. ... Although Cleveland has allowed the fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends, owners shouldn't regard this as an impossible matchup for Brandon Myers. If Haden locks down Moore and Oakland struggles to run the ball -- they likely will if McFadden plays extensively -- Myers could end up being Palmer's go-to guy over the middle. Myers remains a low-end TE1.

Trent Richardson owners should be frothing at the mouth after homeless man's version of T-Rich BenJarvus Green-Ellis twice reset his career-long carry in last week's stomping of Oakland, en route to a 19-129-1 day. Richardson has twice the talent of Law Firm and is a top-ten running back against the Raiders' No. 28 run defense. ... Browns No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon has an attractive Week 13 matchup versus an Oakland defense that's even more porous in the back end. Receiver production is dependent on quarterback play, however, and Brandon Weeden has hit his Rookie Wall. He's failed to clear 6.5 yards per pass attempt since Week 6 and put together three touchdowns compared to four turnovers across his last four games. Weeden's failure to continue to improve is concerning both for his long-term NFL outlook and the immediate prospects of the players around him. ... Ben Watson and Jordan Cameron might form a relevant fantasy tight end if they combined their stats and playing time, but they cancel each other out. ... Greg Little started Cleveland's Week 12 loss to Pittsburgh, but finished with one catch for six yards. He's losing snaps to Mohamed Massaquoi (3-27) and can be confidently dropped in re-draft leagues. Behind Richardson, Gordon is the only Browns skill player worth fantasy consideration at this point.

Score Prediction: Browns 20, Raiders 17

Sunday Night Football

Philadelphia @ Dallas

Bryce Brown is the real deal, alright. Temporarily forgiving the seventh-round rookie for two lost fumbles due to careless if correctable ball-carrying technique, Brown's cutting ability, turbo jets down the sideline, and physical inside running jumped off the tape in Philly's Week 12 loss to Carolina. "His skill set is very similar to someone like Ben Tate," NFL Films' Greg Cosell observed of Brown this week. "He's a very decisive, downhill runner with natural power and short-area burst." Brown played ahead of Dion Lewis in passing situations against the Panthers, operating as an every-down back and hogging 23 of the Eagles' 29 backfield touches. Now facing a sagging Cowboys run defense that has lost both starting inside linebackers to injured reserve, Brown is a locked-in top-15 running back play on Sunday Night Football. ... LeSean McCoy remains in Phase 1 of his concussion testing and isn't going to play anytime soon. Brown is capable of being a stretch-run fantasy hero. Lewis was only a change-of-pace back against Carolina, rushing five times for 24 yards. They were his first touches of the year. Lewis is not worth rostering. ... Nick Foles' updated target distribution on the season: Jeremy Maclin 21, DeSean Jackson 17, Riley Cooper 14, Brent Celek 13, Clay Harbor 9, Brown 7, Stanley Havili and Damaris Johnson 6.

For perhaps the first time in Andy Reid's soon-to-end tenure as head coach, the Eagles played run-first offense in last week's loss to the Panthers. Falling behind can change that, but entering this game we can expect a low-volume passing approach from Philadelphia. With Foles struggling mightily, it's the Eagles' best (only?) option. ... Cooper will start for Jackson, who's lost for the year with fractured ribs. Maclin will be Philly's No. 1 receiver against Dallas' top-eight pass defense. Because Foles has played so poorly, Maclin is a gambling man's WR3 option. Cooper, Johnson, and Jason Avant should be left on waiver wires. ... Celek secured 2-of-3 targets versus Carolina, and Pro Football Focus charted him with only 15 pass routes run. Celek blocked on his other 30 snaps. The Eagles need Celek to stay in and protect their rookie quarterback because their offensive line can't on its own. Celek is not a recommended Week 13 fantasy play.

The Eagles' defense plays without discipline, and there are increasing questions about whether they're playing hard at all. They certainly don't tackle like they're going all-out. "There's just far too many breakdowns," Cosell added. "... Things have gotten far worse since Todd Bowles has taken over. Their defense, which was not the issue when Juan Castillo got fired, has now become the issue." Tony Romo has completed 116-of-173 passes (67.1 percent) for 1,284 yards (7.42 YPA) and a 7:2 TD-to-INT ratio over his last four games. With a favorable matchup Sunday night, Romo is a sensible QB1 streamer. ... On an eight-game tear, Dez Bryant has improved his fantasy ranking to No. 9 among receivers. He's the locked-in, every-week WR1 he was supposed to be. Bryant dropped 87 yards and a score on the Eagles in these teams' November 11 meeting, despite only five targets. He's been a much bigger part of the game plans since, seeing 15 and 11 targets in the two ensuing weeks. Philadelphia's defense has allowed a 20:7 TD-to-INT ratio, and Dez will continue to be a good bet to score in RCB Nnamdi Asomugha's coverage. ... Jason Witten has caught six or more passes in eight straight games and had eight grabs in the Week 10 meeting. Witten's playmaking ability has faded -- he's averaging a career-low 8.7 yards per catch with one touchdown on the season, but he's still an every-week starter. He's on pace for 120 receptions.

Battling a balky hip and hamstring and simply not playing as fast as he used to, Miles Austin has taken a clear backseat to Bryant and Witten in Dallas' passing attack. Scoreless with a 41.5-yard average over the past month, Austin was held to 32 by the Eagles in the Week 10 game. He's just a WR3 option. ... The Cowboys' third receiver job has devolved into an unpredictable rotation of Kevin Ogletree, Cole Beasley, and Dwayne Harris. It's an obvious fantasy situation to avoid. ... DeMarco Murray finally returns from his six-game absence on Sunday night. While his matchup is favorable versus Philadelphia's No. 18 run defense, keep in mind Murray will need time to get his wind and legs back after so much missed action, most of which was spent off the injured foot and without conditioning. He's probably headed for 12-15 carries, with Felix Jones and perhaps some Lance Dunbar mixed in. Murray's fantasy owners would have to be pretty shorthanded at running back to start him with any confidence. His effectiveness and workload are both question marks.

Score Prediction: Cowboys 23, Eagles 20

Monday Night Football

NY Giants @ Washington

In addition to shutting down Aaron Rodgers' juggernaut passing attack, the Giants returned from their Week 11 bye last Sunday night with a run-based offensive approach. They recorded a 32:30 run-to-pass ratio, employing an even rotation of Andre Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw. While Brown fractured his left fibula midway through the fourth quarter, Bradshaw ran with newfound energy and burst, piling up 119 total yards and a touchdown. With Brown out of the picture, Bradshaw can expect an increased workload and should be locked into fantasy lineups as an RB2 with upside versus a Washington run defense that isn't as imposing as its No. 3 ranking suggests. ... The Brown injury finally clears a path for first-round pick David Wilson to receive more touches, although he'll be no better than a change-of-pace back barring injury to Bradshaw. Wilson is still one of the top late-season lottery ticket stashes in fantasy football right now. ... Coming off the open date, the Giants also emphasized re-involving Hakeem Nicks. Targeted a team-high 13 times -- next closest was Victor Cruz with six -- Nicks racked up five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown and can be trusted as a WR2 against Washington's No. 31 pass defense. Pressing the issue against the Packers, Eli Manning targeted Nicks four times on end-zone fades alone.

Eli didn't quite look all the way back from his "tired arm" against Green Bay, but box scores don't discriminate. He threw three TD passes and has a favorable Week 13 matchup. Manning is a strong two-quarterback league start and viable QB1 streamer. ...  Victor Cruz dismantled the Giants for seven catches, 131 yards, and a touchdown in these teams' earlier-season meeting. Expect him to match up often with burnable DeAngelo Hall on Monday night. ... Martellus Bennett racked up 79 yards on five grabs in the aforementioned Week 7 Giants-Redskins game, and Washington has allowed the third most fantasy points to tight ends on the season. Although Bennett's production has waned significantly since early in the year, he's still on the radar for owners scrambling at his position. ... Rookie Rueben Randle caught his first career touchdown pass against Green Bay, playing extensively only because Domenik Hixon (ankle) was injured. Avoid the Giants' third receiver in Week 13 fantasy lineup decisions.

Over his past two games, Robert Griffin III has completed an otherworldly 34-of-43 passes (79.1 percent) for 511 yards (11.8 YPA), and an 8:1 TD-to-INT ratio. He's chipped in 113 yards on 18 carries (6.28 YPC). On the season, Griffin has accounted for 22 TDs and only six turnovers. He has consistently produced against tough defenses, ranks third in fantasy quarterback scoring, and should be permanent-markered into Week 13 fantasy lineups regardless of how well the Giants' defense played last week. ... Pierre Garcon's snap count didn't change dramatically from Week 11 to 12. Garcon played 39.7 percent of the downs against the Eagles two weeks ago. On Thanksgiving, Garcon played 44.6 percent. He had three catches for five yards in Week 11 versus a bad Philadelphia defense. Garcon broke off 93 yards and a touchdown on five receptions last week against the Cowboys' top-eight pass defense. We try to deal in logic in the weekly Matchups columns, but nothing about Garcon's production curve is logical. He's a dice-roll WR3 with big upside, but obvious downside on Monday night. ... Nothing is logical about Santana Moss' scoring binge, either. Moss is playing the fewest snaps of his career, averaging just over four targets per game, and yet he's scored seven touchdowns -- Moss' most since the 2005 season. A touchdown-dependent player with low weekly reception and yardage ceilings, start Moss at your own risk.

Leonard Hankerson, Logan Paulsen, streak-route specialist Aldrick Robinson, and Josh Morgan are all waiver-wire fodder. One or two may have a productive fantasy game down the stretch, but it won't be predictable to the extent that you know to start that guy in that given week. Just move on now. ... When the Redskins and Giants met in Week 7 earlier this season, Alfred Morris clicked off 120 yards on 22 carries (5.45 YPC). New York's glaring defensive weakness this year has been versus the run, where it ranks 16th in the league and generously surrenders 4.42 yards per carry. Morris' lack of usage in the passing game has rendered him more RB2 than top-12 option, but this is a plus matchup and his ball-carrying workload is never problematic. Confidently start ALF in his Monday Night Football debut. ... Morris' backup is Evan Royster, who is worth stashing over non-starter tight ends and wide receivers this late in the fantasy season. My top-ten running back stashes going forward: 1) Robert Turbin 2) Royster, 3) Bernard Pierce, 4) Daryl Richardson, 5) David Wilson, 6) Ben Tate, 7) Shane Vereen, 8) Joique Bell, 9) Toby Gerhart, 10) Cedric Peerman. You never know: Perhaps one of these guys will become the next Bryce Brown.

Score Prediction: Giants 28, Redskins 27



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



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