Monday Night Football
Houston @ New England
Injuries have taken a toll on a Houston pass defense that opened the season playing as well as any group. Gone are every-down LBs Brian Cushing (ACL) and Brooks Reed (groin), and feisty slot CB Brice McCain (foot). Top CB Johnathan Joseph (hamstring, groin) will be a game-time decision Monday night, and his effectiveness has been compromised when playing at less than 100 percent. Over their last three games, the Texans have allowed Chad Henne, Jake Locker, and Matthew Stafford to throw for a combined 1,104 yards on 139 attempts (7.94 YPA) and a 7:3 TD-to-INT ratio. Houston has plummeted to 19th in the league's pass defense rankings. By no stretch is this a daunting matchup for No. 2 overall fantasy quarterback Tom Brady. ... Brady's target distribution since Aaron Hernandez returned from an ankle injury two games ago: Wes Welker 28, Hernandez 16, Brandon Lloyd and Julian Edelman 6, Danny Woodhead 4, Daniel Fells and Shane Vereen 3. ... Without McCain, Houston has little chance of slowing down Welker. Fill-in slot CB Brandon Harris got eaten up by the Titans' inside receivers after McCain's injury last week, and with Percy Harvin done for the year Welker stands alone as the NFL's best slot man. ... Coming off a 13-target game, Hernandez faces a Texans defense allowing the 12th most fantasy points to tight ends.
Lloyd's attractiveness as a Week 14 fantasy play depends largely on Joseph's availability and efficacy. Odds are, Joseph will at least try to play. “He looked good," coach Gary Kubiak said of his top corner after Thursday's practice. "... Looked very explosive, looked good." Joseph has publicly promised to start on Monday night. While Lloyd's targets haven't been an issue over the course of the year, the Pats have struggled to get the football downfield accurately all season long. Even with Edelman (foot) out for the year, Lloyd is a dicey WR3. ... Vereen received just three carries, gaining 14 yards, in last week's win over Miami and his week-to-week role has been minimal outside of garbage time-heavy blowout victories. He's Stevan Ridley's handcuff and nothing more. ... Woodhead has eight touches or fewer in five consecutive games. Owners in the fantasy playoffs are hopefully aiming higher. ... The Patriots are without Rob Gronkowski and Edelman, and it's conceivable that a team so shorthanded in its pass-catching corps will look to emphasize the rushing game in a matchup with a Texans defense that isn't as stout as its No. 2 run-defense ranking indicates. The Texans surrender over 4.0 yards per carry, and their ranking is skewed by the fact that Houston has faced the fewest rushing attempts in the league. Carrying teams into the fantasy postseason, Ridley has scored a touchdown in five straight games while maintaining reliable workloads. Only seven NFL running backs have more carries this season.
Following back-to-back games of 48-plus pass attempts, Matt Schaub's 35-throw, 207-yard Week 13 effort was more along the lines of what owners should expect from the glorified game manager week in and week out. Of course, matching up with the high-octane Patriots may well require the Texans to ask more of Schaub as a pure thrower on Monday Night Football. New England leads the NFL in total offense and points scored, and Houston will likely have to sling it around the yard to keep up. Consider Schaub a viable low-end QB1 in Week 14. It certainly doesn't hurt that the Patriots rank 29th against the pass. ... Andre Johnson is quietly on pace for 1,486 receiving yards, which would be the third highest sum of his Hall-of-Fame ten-year career. It will be interesting to see whether the Patriots leave Johnson manned up on Aqib Talib. Johnson can win that matchup. ... New England struggles mightly in coverage at linebacker and safety, surrendering the most yardage and second most fantasy points in the league to tight ends. Owen Daniels is the lesser tight end in this particular game, but he's been a top-five option at his position all season. Only Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, and Tony Gonzalez have scored more fantasy points per game.
Schaub's updated target distribution since Houston's Week 8 bye: Johnson 60, Daniels 35, Kevin Walter 25, Garrett Graham 21, Arian Foster 19, James Casey 16. ... Behind Johnson and Daniels, the ball doesn't go to the Texans' other pass catchers regularly enough for consistent production out of the likes of Walter, Graham, Casey, and Lestar Jean. None of them is rosterable in re-draft leagues. ... The Patriots' defensive strength is versus the run, where they rank in the league's top nine and permit under 4.0 yards per rushing attempt. Foster, of course, remains the NFL's premier workhorse and is a weekly must-start even in difficult matchups. No player has collected more fantasy points through 12 games. ... Justin Forsett is staying ahead of Ben Tate on the Texans' running back depth chart for the time being, although neither Houston backup is start-able in fantasy leagues. Forsett's 14 carries last week were attributable to a comfortable early lead over the Titans. Don't expect the Texans to go up by two touchdowns early against the Patriots. Meanwhile, Tate is still working his way into game shape. He does figure to retake the No. 2 spot behind Foster before the season ends.
Score Prediction: Patriots 30, Texans 27
Start or Sit: Monday night
Kay Adams (@heykayadams) breaks down the Texans - Patriots matchup which is bound to be filled with huge fantasy implications. But can you trust Brandon Lloyd and Owen Daniels? Check out her analysis.
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