Evan Silva


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Matchups: The TDs are Coming

Saturday, September 28, 2013

1:00PM ET Games

Chicago @ Detroit

Through three games in rookie coach Marc Trestman's offense, Jay Cutler is on pace for career highs in passing scores (32) and completion rate (67.6), and 16 sacks taken, which would be his fewest since 2008. There have been a handful of hiccups, but Cutler is getting the ball out quickly and playing his best football since Denver. In this potential shootout indoors against a Lions team that ranks fourth in the NFL in total offense, Cutler is squarely in the QB1 conversation. Detroit's pass rush has been a slight early-season disappointment, registering six sacks to tie for 27th in the league. ... Cutler's target distribution on the year: Brandon Marshall 28, Alshon Jeffery 21, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte 20, Earl Bennett 6, Michael Bush 2. ... The Bears made an obvious effort to get Jeffery more involved in Week 3 at Pittsburgh, targeting him a season-high eight times with five on the first drive alone. Unfortunately, Jeffery has yet to register any big plays and gets a difficult Week 4 draw against LCB Chris Houston, who is the Lions' top corner. Keep Jeffery rostered, but only as a WR4. ... On the other side, Marshall is set up for a blowup game against 33-year-old RCB Rashean Mathis. Mathis is playing only because Weeks 1-2 rookie starter Darius Slay couldn't cut it. Consider Marshall a top-three wide receiver play this week.

Bennett was held to ten yards on two receptions by Pittsburgh's defense, but remains fourth in fantasy tight end scoring. He's still more back-end TE1 than the to-date numbers indicate. ... Trestman announced this week that Bush would continue as Chicago's primary goal-line back, but there are clearly certain situations in which Forte will get the nod in scoring position; each of Forte's two early-season touchdowns have come at the five-yard line or closer. The No. 5 overall fantasy running back on the year, Forte is averaging 24.3 touches a game. The Lions are dishing out the eighth most yards per carry (4.52) in football and have allowed the third most rushing scores. Forte is an elite RB1 play. Bush is a handcuff only barring severe bye-week crunches.

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $30,000 Fantasy Football league for Week 4. It's just $25 to join and first prize is $5,000. Starts Sunday at 1pm ET. Click here to enter.

If the Lions' defense has been a slight early disappointment, the Bears have been a colossal one aside from fluky defensive touchdowns. Chicago is 25th in total defense and tied for the 13th most points allowed. They're 29th in sacks. The Bears lost franchise player DT Henry Melton to an ACL tear in Week 3, and 33-year-old RE Julius Peppers is showing signs of decline, grading 34th of 52 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus' 4-3 end ratings. LE Corey Wootton is 44th and No. 3 end Shea McClellin is 36th. Meanwhile, the Lions are getting pristine pass protection for Matthew Stafford. In 121 pass attempts, Detroit has ceded a league-low two sacks. Stafford has a chance to be the best quarterback value pick of 2013 fantasy drafts. Roll him out as a high-end QB1. ... Bears RCB Charles Tillman is one of the league's few corners who's given Calvin Johnson past fits. Megatron managed scoreless stat lines of 3-34 and 5-72 in their two 2012 meetings. Tillman is battling groin and knee injuries, however, and missed 22 snaps in last week's win over the Steelers. Tillman told reporters this week he does not anticipate shadowing Megatron. "As of now I'm just on the right side," he said. Fire up Calvin. ... Stafford's targets entering Week 4: Johnson 30; Nate Burleson 23; Joique Bell 19; Brandon Pettigrew 12; Reggie Bush 11; Kris Durham 7; Joseph Fauria 6; Theo Riddick, Ryan Broyles, Tony Scheffler, and Pat Edwards 3.

Patient Broyles owners are about to be rewarded, potentially in a major way. The Lions play high-volume passing offense, are getting efficient quarterback play, and Burleson is out until November with a fractured arm. Burleson quietly ranked 11th in the NFL in receptions through the first three weeks. Running high-percentage routes, Broyles will be a plug-and-play WR3 for the foreseeable future. ... Edwards is listed as doubtful with an ankle injury after an apparent late-week setback. ... I don't necessarily see Pettigrew, Scheffler, or Fauria experiencing major leaps in production. Broyles will slide right into Burleson's role, and Detroit likely won't miss a beat. It can't help that Pettigrew and Scheffler have been ineffective real-life players. Fauria is playing 14.3% of the snaps. ... The Bears have been better against the run than pass, though Bush isn't the type of runner about whom you worry when it comes to defensive stoutness. He is a space back and the Lions get him in space, where Bush cracks ankles and outruns defenders. Bush owners should be happy he sat out last week, because his knee bruise will be 100% healed for Sunday's tilt. Lock in Bush as a confident RB1 in all formats. ... Bell remains one of fantasy's premier handcuffs, but he can't be trusted as more than a desperation bye-week flex when Bush is active for games. Bell will probably see no more than ten all-purpose touches against the Bears.

Score Prediction: Bears 27, Lions 24

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Pittsburgh vs. Minnesota

It's another wait-and-see week for the Steelers' backfield. Projected rookie workhorse Le'Veon Bell is returning from a six-week Lisfranc sprain with a wholly uncertain workload behind an O-Line generating 2.98 yards per carry for its other backs. Felix Jones could stay involved as a change of pace, and Jonathan Dwyer is excelling in pass protection. The matchup is right -- Minnesota's defense ranks 21st in rushing yards allowed and 24th in YPC -- we just have no feel for which Steelers runner will get the ball when and how much. Bell is a risky flex. Jones and Dwyer aren't on the fantasy-lineup radar. Assuming he emerges from Sunday setback free, look for Bell to take over as a true bellcow after Pittsburgh's Week 5 bye. ... The Vikings' inability to generate pass rush is leaving its young secondary vulnerable. Minnesota has allowed a league-high nine TD passes while managing four sacks in three weeks. The Steelers made Week 3 strides against a talented Bears defense, showing signs of turnaround. Ben Roethlisberger is an intriguing QB1 streamer at Wembley Stadium, which has historically hosted some high-scoring results. The Patriots downed the Rams 45-7 in London in 2012, and in 2008 the Saints outlasted the Chargers 37-32. All time, six of the seven Wembley games have produced at least 40 points. Improving Roethlisberger's outlook is the inactivity of Vikings top CB Chris Cook (groin) and SS Jamarca Sanford (hamstring).

Big Ben's Weeks 1-3 targets: Emmanuel Sanders 30, Antonio Brown 29, Jerricho Cotchery 20, David Paulson 9, Heath Miller 4, Dwyer 3, Jones 2. ... Brown dominated the Bears' secondary in Week 3 and could give Minnesota's oversized cornerbacks matchup problems as a shifty, elusive, and versatile receiving presence. Brown is running most of his pass patterns down the middle and along the right sideline, where he'll take on rookie LCB Xavier Rhodes and struggling slot CB Josh Robinson. After a slow going in Weeks 1-2, Brown is back in the mix as an every-week WR2/3. The Steelers made a tangible effort to get Brown the football against Chicago, using him in higher-percentage spots and targeting him a team-high 13 times. Brown responded with a career-best 9-196-2 stat line. ... Sanders is seeing plenty of balls -- he got eight targets against the Bears -- but is averaging 10.9 yards per catch without a touchdown. Like Nate Washington, Sanders is a solid real-life NFL player who lacks the requisite playmaking ability for major fantasy impact. ... Still recovering from last year's triple-knee ligament tear, I'd like to see Miller's role grow before leaning on him in fantasy leagues. He played 59% of Pittsburgh's Week 3 offensive snaps and is rotating with Paulson and David Johnson until further notice. ... Rookie Markus Wheaton's snap counts through three games: 7, 5, 8. Wheaton dropped his lone target against Chicago.

Stacked boxes have limited Adrian Peterson to 203 yards on 68 carries (2.99 YPC) since his opening run of the season went for a 78-yard score, but he still ranks third among fantasy backs and is getting some help in Week 4. All-Pro FB Jerome Felton's three-game substance abuse suspension is up, restoring A.P.'s lead blocker. The Steelers have defended the run well for the most part this season, although Giovani Bernard and Matt Forte combined for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries (5.21 YPC) against them the past two weeks. Nonexistent is the matchup in which Peterson can be benched. ... Christian Ponder's stats over his last 16 games: 291-of-486 (59.9%) for 2,913 yards (5.99 YPA) and a 16:18 TD-to-INT ratio with seven fumbles, losing five. He did rush for two touchdowns last week. Off to an 0-3 start, Ponder remains at risk of being benched for Matt Cassel in any given game. ... Ponder's target distribution through three weeks: Jerome Simpson 21, Greg Jennings 19, Kyle Rudolph 18, Peterson 12, Jarius Wright 8, Cordarrelle Patterson 7, John Carlson 5, Toby Gerhart 4. ... Patterson's early-season snap counts: 5, 6, 19. Patterson's usage is indeed on the rise -- he caught 2-of-4 targets for 49 yards in Week 3 -- but he's still a rotational player only worth a bench stash in standard fantasy leagues.


Friday Update: Nursing a rib injury, Ponder missed his third straight day of practice Friday and will not play in London, giving Cassel the nod. Perhaps he will play better than Ponder, but Cassel's track record certainly doesn't offer a lot of room for optimism. The outlook of Vikings skill-position players is largely unchanged.

Jennings' production and performance have disappointed through three games as a Viking. He has two drops and is doing very little after the catch. Steelers corners are unimposing aside from RCB Ike Taylor despite their top-three pass defense ranking, but Jennings is a low-end WR3. ... Jennings plays the slot and on the strong side of the formation, so Simpson is likely to spend most of Sunday's game in Taylor's coverage. Confidently scratch Simpson off your Week 4 sleepers list. ... Rudolph is 19th in fantasy tight end scoring through three weeks. He has yet to clear 42 yards in any game. Consider Rudolph a fantasy backup until something changes, but I'm not optimistic Rudolph's "light" will flip on until the Vikings upgrade at quarterback. Cassel likely isn't that guy, although at this point I like Rudolph's chances better with him than Ponder.

Score Prediction: Steelers 24, Vikings 17

Baltimore @ Buffalo

Buffalo will field the NFL's most injury-depleted defense when it hosts the 2-1 Ravens in Week 4. Already minus top CB Stephon Gilmore (wrist surgery), the Bills lost LE Alex Carrington to a year-ending quadriceps tear in Week 3, while RE Mario Williams (ankle), DT Marcell Dareus (ankle), and CB Leodis McKelvin (hamstring) all left the game early and did not return. FS Jairus Byrd is questionable with plantar fasciitis. This pass "defense" -- most noticeably fill-in CB Justin Rogers -- was a remedy for scuffling Jets receivers Santonio Holmes (5-154-1) and Stephen Hill (3-108-1) last week, and ought to get Torrey Smith back into the end zone. On pace for career highs in catches (86) and receiving yards (1,435), it's only a matter of time before Smith resumes scoring touchdowns. Start him as an every-week WR2. ... Joe Flacco's target distribution through three weeks: Smith 30, Dallas Clark 20, Brandon Stokley 16, Marlon Brown 15, Ray Rice 14, Vonta Leach 8, Ed Dickson 6, Bernard Pierce 4. ... Clark lacks fantasy start-ability despite being Baltimore's second-most heavily targeted pass catcher. The 34-year-old is playing 50% of the offensive snaps and in Week 3 only played on obvious passing downs. He's a bottom-barrel TE2.

Flacco's stats have underwhelmed to this point, but he may not get a more favorable matchup all year. He's squarely on the quarterback streamer radar and should be locked into two-QB league lineups. ... Brown is coming off a two-catch, six-yard game against the Texans. While Brown is a good-looking young prospect, the Ravens don't make an obvious effort to call plays for him and get him the ball. Even in great matchups like this, Brown will be a risky WR3. He's yet to top six targets in any game. ... Buffalo's up-front injuries will be felt in run defense, where the team is already getting gashed. The Bills have allowed Jets, Panthers, and Patriots tailbacks to combine for 440 yards on 94 runs (4.68 YPC), including career days for Shane Vereen and Bilal Powell. Rice's hip flexor strain was initially expected to cost him 2-3 games, but he practiced on a limited basis this week and will be a game-time decision. He's an RB1 in a cake matchup if he goes. If not, Pierce will be set up for 20-plus touches after handling 26 in last week's win over the Texans.

Since ceding seven of them to Peyton Manning on opening night, the Ravens haven't allowed a touchdown in either of their past two games. They're sixth in the league in sacks. Baltimore has a top-five NFL defense in terms of talent, and it'll give E.J. Manuel fits. I'd worry about the Bills generating ball movement. Manuel was Buffalo's biggest Week 3 liability against the Jets, taking eight sacks and connecting on 1-of-8 passes beyond 20 yards. Avoid Manuel outside of desperate two-QB league scenarios, and fire up the Ravens' fantasy defense. Manuel has accuracy issues and is beginning to look like a sitting duck. ... Manuel's Weeks 1-3 target distribution: Stevie Johnson 29, Scott Chandler and Robert Woods 18, Fred Jackson 17, C.J. Spiller 11, T.J. Graham 9. ... This is not a great matchup for Johnson -- he'll see a lot of Ravens top CB Lardarius Webb in the slot -- but sheer target volume has and can continue to buoy him into respectable WR3 territory. No other Buffalo pass catchers are stepping forward as reliable competitors for Manuel's throws. ... Switching up their safety corps with Matt Elam entering the lineup, the Ravens held hot-starting Owen Daniels to 29 yards on nine targets and Garrett Graham catch-less in Week 3. Chandler is coming off one of the better games of his career (5-79-1), but is a long shot to repeat. Chandler has topped 70 yards just three times in 46 career games played.

Manuel targeted Woods ten times against the Jets, but the rookie secured just two for 35 yards, dropped one, and the rest of the incompletions were errantly thrown. Woods is only worth stash consideration in the deepest leagues. ... Not only have the Bills thrown Spiller into a near-even timeshare with 32 1/2-year-old Jackson, they've consistently failed to get Spiller into space and in the flats, instead slamming him into eight-man boxes. Spiller fumbled twice last week and missed the fourth quarter with a thigh bruise. Spiller's mammoth upside can never be benched in fantasy, but there's no ignoring his questionable usage or difficult Week 4 matchup. Through three games, the Ravens have stymied Broncos, Browns, and Texans rushers for 224 scoreless yards on 66 runs (3.39 YPC). Spiller should still be considered a high-ceiling RB2 play against Baltimore, and is a recommended buy-low target. Before getting hurt in last week's clunker, Spiller was averaging 20.5 touches per game. ... Unless Spiller were to miss time, Jackson will remain a middling flex play. Jackson's relatively heavy usage in the passing game increases his appeal in PPR settings. Strictly as a ball carrier, Jackson is unlikely to get much going against Baltimore's stout front.

Score Prediction: Ravens 23, Bills 14

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