Evan Silva


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Matchups: No-Go for Romo?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Kansas City @ Cleveland

Good ole hindsight tells us that the Browns made a commitment to Trent Richardson as their offensive foundation player during the Week 10 bye. Whereas Richardson reached 20 carries in just 2-of-9 games before the open date, he's hit 20 in all three since while operating as an every-down workhorse. Bucking the mythical notion that rookie running backs struggle -- along with Doug Martin and Alfred Morris -- Richardson is the No. 5 overall fantasy player at his position. He's a legit RB1 squaring off with Kansas City's No. 26 run defense. ... The Browns' passing game returns from Brandon Weeden's 364-yard scorching of an uncompetitive Oakland defense to face a similarly leaky Chiefs group. Kansas City has surrendered a league-high 25 touchdown throws, and no defense permits a higher quarterback rating (103.0) against. Top CB Brandon Flowers and ILB Derrick Johnson also missed practice time this week with hamstring injuries. Weeden has sneaky two-QB league potential as a Week 14 matchup play. "I think he's improved," NFL Films' Greg Cosell observed of Weeden this week. "I think that he's a solid NFL quarterback, with a good arm and a chance to be a little better than a solid NFL quarterback."

No team has been thrown against less than Kansas City in 2012, yet it's still permitted the 12th most 20-plus-yard pass plays in football, and the third most 40-plus-yard completions. Particularly with Flowers banged up, the Chiefs are going to be highly susceptible to vertical shot plays. The intermediate to deep sections of the field are where Josh Gordon butters his bread. "I think he's a deceptive vertical speed guy," Cosell said of Gordon. "I think he's a speed-cut receiver. He's not a quick in-and-out-of-break guy, but there's a lot of receivers like that in the NFL. Even great receivers. ... I think that he's got a chance to be a pretty good receiver. The kid can run." Gordon is a high-upside WR3 play in Week 14. ... Weeden's target distribution since Cleveland's Week 10 bye: Gordon 21, Ben Watson 20, Richardson 17, Greg Little 13, Jordan Cameron 9, Mohamed Massaquoi 8. ... Beyond rookies T-Rich and Gordon, Watson is the only Browns skill-position guy seeing the ball regularly enough to be taken seriously in fantasy lineup decisions. On Sunday, he'll face a Chiefs defense allowing the NFL's third fewest catches and fifth fewest yards to tight ends.

Brady Quinn's surprisingly competent Week 13 performance has created more questions than answers. Can he keep it up? Is there even a chance? Quinn's combined career stats coming off 200-plus-yard games -- he's done it four times before -- are 53-of-120 (44.2 percent) for 536 yards (4.47 YPA), and a 0:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Throughout Quinn's six-year career, he has consistently proven incapable of sustaining a passing attack. Now facing an underrated and quietly surging Browns defense on the road, I think the best approach for fantasy owners is to chalk up last week as a fluke. Dwayne Bowe (4-64 in Week 13) will see Joe Haden's shadow coverage in Week 14 and is no better than an unreliable WR3 with lots of downside. Tony Moeaki returns from his season-best game (4-54-1) to face a Cleveland defense permitting the sixth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Jon Baldwin (2-37-1) has not cleared 40 receiving yards since September. Slot receiver Dexter McCluster (2-16) has been a non-factor regardless of how well Quinn has played.

Amid the Chiefs' 2012 buffoonery, Jamaal Charles has stood out as a reliable big-play contributor and legit offensive weapon. And to the Kansas City coaching staff's credit, they've been feeding him the rock with regularity over the past month. Charles has received 20 or more touches in four consecutive games, and broken off at least 100 total yards in all four. His yards-per-carry average across that span is 4.68. Black-hole back Peyton Hillis vultured a first-quarter goal-line touchdown in last week's upset of Carolina, but for the most part has stayed out of Charles' way. The Browns rank a respectable 16th against the run and have played even better than that statistic indicates in recent games, but Charles has delivered borderline RB1 stats in more difficult matchups than this one all season. He should be locked into fantasy lineups every week. Hillis is not worth owning.

Score Prediction: Browns 23, Chiefs 14

Philadelphia @ Tampa Bay

Josh Freeman's production has slowed a bit off his red-hot midseason stretch, but his Week 14 matchup is ripe for the picking. "The two corners in the secondary have shut it down," NFL Network's Deion Sanders observed of Philadelphia's defensive backfield this week. "They're not covering anybody." Since the Week 7 firing of DC Juan Castillo, the Eagles have allowed opposing passers to complete 116-of-152 throws (76.3 percent) for 1,319 yards (8.68 YPA), 16 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Quarterbacks are cutting up Philly's pass "defense" like a hot knife through butter. ... Vincent Jackson will spend most of this game in RCB Nnamdi Asomugha's coverage, while Mike Williams draws LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Shake off V-Jax's Week 13 shutdown by Champ Bailey and start him as a top-ten receiver against declining Asomugha. ... Rodgers-Cromartie still can't tackle a lick -- see Dez Bryant's second touchdown last week -- but he's at least held his own in coverage and will likely make it difficult for Williams to get open. Averaging 55 yards over his last seven games, Williams is a viable, if somewhat risky WR3 in Week 14.

Dallas Clark has three touchdowns in his last four games, but he's prone to inconsistency as a 54-percent player on offense. OC Mike Sullivan won't increase Clark's role, either, because he gets blown up as a blocker. The Eagles rank 19th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, so the matchup isn't attractive enough to springboard Clark onto the TE1 radar. ... The Bucs are a virtual lock to generate consistent ball movement Sunday because Philly's defense is so bad. This game has sneaky shootout potential. A high-scoring affair versus a bad team could be just the recipe Doug Martin needs to bust his recent yards-per-carry slump. Martin has been held to 106 yards on 39 carries (2.72 YPC) the past two weeks. The Eagles rank 18th against the run and in no way present an imposing matchup for Tampa Bay's every-down back. Start Martin as a top-ten RB1.

Bryce Brown has now fumbled four times on 75 career carries, but the Philly coaching staff's commitment to its seventh-round pick is promising. Even after last week's back-breaking fourth-quarter fumble-six at Dallas, Brown was left in the game and played every remaining snap, including a two-point conversion attempt down 38-33. Brown runs with special explosiveness, racking up 347 yards and four touchdowns on 43 carries (8.07 YPC) in his last eight quarters of action. Brown is an every-down back oozing big-play ability and should be locked into Week 14 fantasy lineups despite a matchup with Tampa's No. 1 run defense. One potential positive for Brown's outlook would be the absence of Bucs DT Roy Miller (concussion). A run-stopping specialist at nose tackle, Miller has enjoyed a bit of a breakout season in a contract year. ... Nick Foles finally played competently and under control in the Cowboys loss, connecting on three 20-plus-yard pass plays and giving Philly a downfield threat to complement Brown's dominant rushing attack. Even in Foles' previous poor performances, he showed an innate ability to manipulate the pocket with subtle movements, evading the rush. Foles is still a promising talent with a big arm, and he's worth a look in two-quarterback leagues against the Bucs' last-ranked pass defense.

Foles' updated target distribution on the season: Jeremy Maclin 26, Brent Celek 21, Riley Cooper 19, DeSean Jackson 17, Brown 12, Clay Harbor 11, Damaris Johnson 7, Stanley Havili and Jason Avant 6. ... Maclin's production has underwhelmed the past three weeks, but he'll be a high-upside WR3 with Foles coming on strong in a mouth-watering matchup. Fantasy owners should not write Maclin off. ... Avant (4-79) and Celek (7-73) were Philadelphia's leading receivers in Week 13 for what appeared to be game plan-specific reasons. The Eagles identified a Dallas defense missing both inside linebackers as vulnerable over the middle and attacked with its tight end and slot receiver. The Bucs, on the other hand, are strong up the middle but susceptible on the perimeter after losing both starting corners, RCB Eric Wright to suspension and LCB Aqib Talib to trade. Look for Maclin to be heavily involved at Tampa, while Avant and Celek take more of a backseat.

Score Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Eagles 21

NY Jets @ Jacksonville

The Jets this week decided to reinsert Mark Sanchez as their starting quarterback after yanking him in the third quarter of last Sunday's game at Arizona. Greg McElroy led a game-winning TD drive against the Cardinals, but the Jets operate on a zero-accountability policy and have turned back to their faux-franchise passer. To the Jets' credit, however, they're keeping Sanchez on a short leash. "There was a serious difference of opinion about what to do," ESPN's Sal Paolantonio reported Wednesday, hours after coach Rex Ryan recommitted to Sanchez. "He said that if Mark Sanchez struggled against Jacksonville, he would 'absolutely' bench Sanchez just like he did last week. ... It sounds like (Sanchez) has a very short leash and Rex Ryan is ready to pull the plug." Ryan also told both the Jacksonville and New York medias that Tim Tebow -- not McElroy -- will be the Jets' backup this week. Potential in-game quarterback musical chairs, and a complete lack of upside even if Sanchez does last four quarters, ought to render Jets pass catchers hands-off in Week 14 fantasy lineup decisions. ... Dustin Keller might be the one guy worth a look, but Keller suffered a significant ankle sprain against the Cardinals and has been ineffective when trying to play at less than 100 percent. The Jaguars also allow the fifth fewest fantasy points to tight ends.

The Jets' run game has deteriorated into a hot-hand backfield comprised of plodders Bilal Powell and Shonn Greene. Both backs are averaging under 4.0 yards a carry, and neither possesses any hint of big-play ability. Powell got the start in last week's "win" over the Cardinals, only to give way to Greene, who registered his second 100-yard effort of the year in a dozen tries. The Jets figure to have some Week 14 rushing success against Jacksonville's 31st-ranked run defense, but there is no anointed feature back in the timeshare, and weekly goal-line carries are always up for grabs. Start Jets running backs at your own low-upside risk. ... Jeremy Kerley is the lone Jets wideout even remotely on the fantasy radar at this point. Facing the Jaguars' No. 28 pass defense, Kerley might be start-able if New York had a competent quarterback. Unfortunately, he has cleared 60 receiving yards in just one of his last five games and belongs on waiver wires in standard leagues.

The Jags will trot out their fourth different starting tailback of the season in Week 14 when special teamer/fullback Montell Owens gets the nod against the Jets. Owens, 28, has toted the rock 21 career times for 112 yards (5.33 YPC) and two touchdowns. On 40 preseason carries, he's gained 116 yards (2.90 YPC) and scored once. While Marcel Reece in Oakland showed us this season that versatile fullbacks can't be ruled out as potential fantasy assets, it would be a stretch to consider Owens a top-24 fantasy running back play, even against the Jets' bottom-four run defense. ... If Owens can't spark the Jaguars running game Sunday -- and here's guessing he's a long shot to -- Jacksonville's offense will struggle to generate ball movement and points. The Jets are a terrible team, but they still field a top-four pass defense and can take away No. 1 receivers with Antonio Cromartie's shadow coverage. This isn't a week to get excited about Chad Henne.

Henne's updated target distribution on the year: Cecil Shorts 35, Justin Blackmon 30, Marcedes Lewis 18, Jordan Shipley 9, Kevin Elliott 8, Rashad Jennings and Jalen Parmele 7, Owens 2. ... Also working against the outlook of Jacksonville's offense is the expected Week 14 absence of top wideout Cecil Shorts (concussion). Undrafted rookie Elliott will enter the starting lineup, and Cromartie will be assigned to shadow Blackmon. Since Darrelle Revis' Week 3 ACL tear, here are the statistical lines of receivers covered by Cromartie: Brian Hartline (twice) 1-41, 4-41; Michael Crabtree 2-15; Andre Johnson 1-15; Reggie Wayne 5-87; Brandon Lloyd (twice) 1-6, 3-26; Sidney Rice 2-54-2; Chris Givens 4-19; Larry Fitzgerald 1-23. Last week, Bills rookie Stephon Gilmore shut down Blackmon to the tune of one reception for nine yards. Could Cromartie hold Blackmon to negative fantasy points? ... By simple process of elimination, perhaps Lewis will deliver a solid fantasy day. The Jets have allowed the 11th most fantasy points in the league to tight ends.

Score Prediction: Jaguars 9, Jets 6

Atlanta @ Carolina

Catching fire since midseason, Cam Newton has posted a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio as a passer with three rushing touchdowns over his last five games. He would've thrown four TD passes last week -- and the Panthers would have won -- had Brandon LaFell not dropped a perfectly-placed 52-yard scoring bomb against Kansas City. No quarterback has scored more fantasy points in the past five weeks, and Cam's overall fantasy QB ranking has surged to No. 6 overall, behind only RG3, Brady, Rodgers, Brees, and Peyton. Newton is making owners who had enough foresight to buy low after a relatively slow first half look awfully fantasy-savvy right about now. In Carolina's Week 4 game at Atlanta, Newton completed 15-of-24 passes (62.5 percent) for 215 yards (8.96 YPA), two touchdowns, and no interceptions, and rushed nine times for 86 yards and a third score. Keep riding Cam down the stretch. ... Steve Smith draws RCB Dunta Robinson in coverage on a heavy majority of snaps when the Panthers play Atlanta, and he's totaled 187 yards and nine catches in their last two matchups. Coming off a 5-120-1 line at Kansas City, lock in Smith as a high-end WR2 in Week 14. ... Newton's target distribution during the five-game hot stretch: Smith 37, Greg Olsen 34, LaFell 26, Louis Murphy 13, Mike Tolbert 11, Jonathan Stewart 7, DeAngelo Williams 3.

LaFell spent the past week in a walking boot battling turf toe and will be replaced by Murphy in the starting lineup, squaring off with Falcons LCB Asante Samuel. Look for Olsen to be the primary box-score beneficiary of LaFell's absence against an Atlanta defense surrendering the ninth most yards to tight ends. ... Stewart's high ankle sprain will sideline him again this week. Williams' combined stats in Stewart's three missed games this year: 116 yards on 29 carries (4.0 YPC), and four catches for 29 yards. Despite golden opportunities against the Chiefs (No. 26 run defense), Giants (21st), and Bucs, Williams hasn't scored a touchdown in any of those three games. The Falcons rank 20th against the run and have been vulnerable on the ground all year, but Williams has established himself as a bottom-barrel flex play. He's the No. 43 overall fantasy running back.

In the aforementioned Panthers-Falcons meeting, Atlanta successfully and relentlessly attacked Carolina's suspect safeties, specifically Week 4 goat-of-the-game FS Haruki Nakamura. Roddy White beat Nakamura for 49- and 14-yard touchdowns, in addition to a 59-yard Hail Mary bomb on the Falcons' game-winning drive. Nakamura also blew a tackle on Michael Turner's 60-yard TD reception. Nakamura had since lost his starting job, but he'll get it back Sunday after Sherrod Martin tore his ACL and MCL in Week 13. It should be music to the ears of White and Matt Ryan. ... Julio Jones returned healthy from an ankle injury two games ago. Ryan's target distribution since: Jones 17, White 14, Tony Gonzalez 10, Jason Snelling 8, Harry Douglas 5, Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers 4. ... Julio's production has been a bit up and down as the Falcons' one-dimensionality has caught up to their offense, but there's every reason to think Jones can get back on track versus overmatched Panthers fifth-round rookie RCB Josh Norman. Through 12 games, Pro Football Focus ranks Norman 105th out of 112 qualifying corners in pass coverage.

In Ryan's last four meetings with Carolina, he's gone 83-of-132 (62.9 percent) for 1,088 yards (8.24 YPA) and a 10:1 TD-to-INT ratio, chipping in an 11th touchdown on a rushing score. Ryan's three-week statistical lull has been well documented, but he's much more likely to pick it up than regress. ... The Panthers have been middling against tight ends this year, allowing the 14th most fantasy points to the position. Gonzalez remains a quality TE1 play, but it wouldn't be crazy for tight end-rich owners to consider someone like Martellus Bennett (vs. NO) or Owen Daniels (@ NE) over him, based purely on matchups. ... Rodgers has played more snaps than Turner in three straight weeks as Atlanta's backfield devolves into a true timeshare. Turner had more fantasy production in Week 13; Quizz led the scoring the week before. The Week 14 matchup is favorable versus Carolina's No. 25 run defense, but Rodgers and Turner are both dicey flex options. Turner is heavily reliant on goal-line chances. Even though Rodgers plays more offensive snaps, he sees fewer touches and would likely need to break off a big play in order to prove a worthwhile start.

Score Prediction: Panthers 27, Falcons 24

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

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