Evan Silva


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Matchups: This Week We Salsa

Saturday, December 07, 2013

1:00PM ET Games

Cleveland @ New England

A week after lighting up the Texans' then-top-ranked pass defense on the road for 371 yards and two TDs, Tom Brady returns home to face Cleveland's fifth-ranked unit. The Browns have played legitimately stout defense all season, but still have a 21:9 TD-to-INT ratio against, and Joe Haden has turned in back-to-back sub-par efforts with Antonio Brown (6-92-1) getting the better of Cleveland's top cornerback in Week 12, and Cecil Shorts (6-64-1) repeating the feat last Sunday. 116 of his last 165 (70.3%) passing for 1,458 yards (8.84 YPA), ten touchdowns, and two picks, Brady should be treated as a matchup-proof QB1 in the fantasy postseason. ... Brady's target distribution since Shane Vereen returned from short-term I.R. three games ago: Rob Gronkowski 29; Vereen 28; Julian Edelman 27; Danny Amendola 18; Kenbrell Thompkins 14; Aaron Dobson 7; Brandon Bolden 2. ... The Browns have defensive run-game personnel to all but eliminate New England's revolving door of early-down rushers, so expect heavy doses of movable-chess-piece Vereen from the matchup-oriented Pats. OC Josh McDaniels won't slam LeGarrette Blount or Bolden into brick walls all day. The Patriots will scheme around Cleveland's front seven instead of at it, with Vereen as their best means of moving the chains. Lock him in as an every-week RB2 with RB1 upside in PPR. ... Gronk has played in six games this season, and has at least 100 yards and/or a touchdown in five of them. Only Jimmy Graham has an argument as a superior Week 14 tight end bet, and I'd still play Gronkowski over him every time.

Although McDaniels and Bill Belichick have a tendency to shift skill-position usage at the drop of a hat, Edelman appears to have passed Amendola on the depth chart based on the last two weeks. Not only has Edelman severely outproduced his higher-paid teammate, he's started each game while Amendola has come off the bench, and played 87% of New England's offensive snaps to Amendola's 68% during the two-game span. Edelman is an every-week WR3 until things change, with additional PPR value. Amendola is a lower-ceiling, lower-floor WR3. ... The Patriots are not as vulnerable as most teams to the Haden factor because they work over the middle and down the seams so often. Haden is an outside-island corner. New England's "X" receiver would be likeliest to draw Haden's coverage, but neither Dobson (foot) nor Thompkins (hip) can be trusted in fantasy due to injury and role concerns. Dobson was scratched last week, while Thompkins lasted three snaps before calling it a day. ... The Browns rank fifth in run defense and permit 3.47 yards per carry, the third stingiest clip in football. Playing Blount or Bolden is not an advised Week 14 fantasy strategy. Bolden is third string -- behind Blount and Vereen but still ahead of Stevan Ridley -- while Blount is likely to only pay fantasy dividends if he lucks into a goal-line plunge.


Friday Update: Dobson (foot) was formally ruled out Friday, while Thompkins (hip) is listed as questionable. This is a fantasy situation to avoid when you add the Haden factor to the lack of clarity regarding Thompkins' health. For all we know, the Pats could trot out Josh Boyce at X receiver or even Austin Collie, whom they re-signed off the street this week.

Jason Campbell (concussion) will start at Foxboro. Campbell has hardly been a world beater, but at least gives Cleveland a better shot at generating offense than practice squadder Alex Tanney or in-season pickup Caleb Hanie. Twice in his career Campbell has faced a Bill Belichick defense, completing 46-of-75 passes (61.3%) for 541 yards (7.21 YPA) with a 2:3 TD-to-INT ratio. Belichick's 2013 unit is playing top-ten pass defense. Avoid Campbell in two-QB leagues. ... Campbell's target distribution on the year: Josh Gordon 40; Chris Ogbonnaya 25; Davone Bess 23; Greg Little and Jordan Cameron 21; Fozzy Whittaker 13; Willis McGahee 4. ... These are Cameron's stat lines in Campbell's four 2013 starts: 4-81; 1-4; 6-29; 3-32. The Pats are 20th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, leaving Cameron on the TE1 borderline. ... With early-season shutdown corner Aqib Talib continuing to battle hip problems, New England is showing vulnerability to enemy No. 1 wide receivers. Andre Johnson touched up the Patriots for 121 yards on eight receptions in Week 13, and Demaryius Thomas finished the game before with a 4-41-1 line, converting his touchdown in Talib's coverage. Gordon has more than earned a WR1/2 start in the first round of fantasy playoffs with a league-high 623 receiving yards over the last three weeks. Arizona's Michael Floyd is No. 2, with "only" 396 yards.

Bess hasn't cleared 70 yards in a game all year, hitting pay dirt in 1-of-12 appearances. He isn't even worth rostering in 16-team fantasy leagues. ... Little has been almost as ineffective with two games above 50 receiving yards and seven drops on the season, among 80 targets. He has no re-draft-league value, and Little's Dynasty appeal is minimal to be kind. ... The Patriots' defensive weakness is versus the run, where they rank 31st overall and cough up 4.48 yards per carry, the seventh highest clip in football. Unfortunately, Cleveland lacks both workload clarity and talent in the backfield. Fullback/halfback Ogbonnaya is coming off of a nine-touch, 34-yard game where he played behind McGahee. McGahee's 57 rushing yards in last week's loss to Jacksonville were a single-game high since Week 5, but there's very little chance McGahee's 32-year-old legs are suddenly coming alive down the stretch of his 11th season in the NFL. He's a low-ceiling flex option at best. Pass-game specialist Whittaker hasn't reached double-digit touches in 2013.

Score Prediction: Patriots 24, Browns 16

Detroit @ Philadelphia

A week after dropping 115 total yards on Arizona's top-four run defense, LeSean McCoy will square off with Detroit's top-three group as Chip Kelly's virtually unstoppable run game meets the Lions' immovable defensive front. Over its last six games, Detroit has stymied enemy running backs for 228 scoreless yards on 108 carries (2.11 YPC). The Lions haven't allowed a rushing TD since Week 4. McCoy has been a matchup-proof RB1 throughout the season, but he may need a fluky long run or goal-line score to meet fantasy expectations. As Detroit's defense returns from a long week following a Thanksgiving Day win over Green Bay, Philly is more likely to have passing than running success in Week 14. ... Red-hot Nick Foles has a fantastic fantasy playoffs schedule that begins Sunday versus the Lions' No. 26 pass defense in a game with the highest over-under of Week 14, at 54 points. I'd start Foles over Tom Brady (vs. CLE), Cam Newton (@ NO), Russell Wilson (@ SF), and Philip Rivers (vs. NYG) this week. Foles leads the NFL in touchdown rate (9.7), yards-per-attempt average (9.1), and quarterback rating (125.2). ... Foles' target distribution since returning from a concussion four games ago: Riley Cooper 24; DeSean Jackson 21; Zach Ertz and McCoy 15; Jason Avant 12; Brent Celek 6; James Casey and Bryce Brown 3.

With few exceptions, the Lions' defense has been shredded by enemy No. 1 wideouts throughout the season. Stat lines that stand out against Detroit include Antonio Brown 7-147-2, Brandon Marshall 7-139-2, A.J. Green 6-155-1, Dez Bryant 3-72-2, and Josh Gordon 7-126. Shake off Jackson's slow Week 13 effort and start him as a WR1. The Lions are dealing with dual injuries to critical CBs Chris Houston (ankle) and Darius Slay (knee). ... Cooper is shaping up as a hit-or-miss WR3, but also has an attractive matchup versus Lions No. 2 corner Rashean Mathis. Whereas D-Jax will run most of his pass patterns against hobbled LCB Houston – assuming he even plays -- Cooper will take on 33-year-old right corner Mathis on the majority of Sunday's downs. ... Ertz's Week 13 breakout game (5-68-2) is a reminder of his intriguing long-term fantasy outlook, but keep in mind the rookie did it against a Cardinals defense allowing the most fantasy points to tight ends. The Lions are 28th in that category. Ertz's outlook hasn't changed much based on one game. He's still just a mid-level TE2. ... Clearly taking a backseat to Ertz in the passing game, Celek hasn't cleared 50 yards in a game since September. Celek is waiver-wire material in fantasy leagues.

A week after serving up 302 passing yards and three touchdowns to Carson Palmer, the Eagles' Jekyll & Hyde defense takes on a Lions passing attack that ranks No. 2 in yardage behind only Denver, third in passing touchdowns, and third in 20-plus-yard completions. With Peyton Manning and Drew Brees both facing difficult matchups, an argument can be made for Matthew Stafford as Week 14's premier fantasy quarterback play. Philadelphia ranks last in the league against the pass. ... Stafford's target distribution in Nate Burleson's five 2013 starts: Calvin Johnson 54; Burleson 37; Joique Bell 26; Reggie Bush 23; Kris Durham 20; Brandon Pettigrew 19; Joseph Fauria 8. ... After a one-target clunker on Thanksgiving, look for a bounce-back game from Burleson versus a Philly defense sure to be preoccupied with defending Megatron and Bush after their monster Week 13 efforts. Game flow and defensive attention from Tramon Williams contributed to Burleson's catch-less Turkey Day, but the good news is his teammates made the Packers pay in the 40-10 tail kicking. Burleson lacks a high ceiling as a 32-year-old possession/slot receiver, but remains a formidable WR3, particularly in PPR leagues. ... The Eagles allow the most fantasy points in the league to enemy wideouts, reinforced by Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald's 5-99-1 and 5-72-1 stat lines, respectively, last week. You might want to start Calvin Johnson against them.

Pettigrew has one game above 60 yards all year and Philly allows the third fewest fantasy points to tight ends. Pettigrew isn't a viable fantasy playoffs streamer. ... Fauria only plays in the Lions' red-zone offense and will burn you badly if he doesn't high-point a touchdown in any given week. He's accomplished the feat in 4-of-12 games this year. Tough odds. ... Durham played a bigger role as Burleson took a backseat to Green Bay on Thanksgiving, but managed to parlay seven targets into just 68 scoreless yards. The Lions' No. 3 wideout and No. 4 or 5 pass-game option, Durham can be comfortably dropped in 12- and 14-team fantasy leagues. ... Bush is on fire again with 428 yards on his last 82 rushing attempts (5.22 YPC). With 100-plus total yards and/or a touchdown in 7-of-11 appearances this season, Bush is the No. 7 overall running back in fantasy football. He's a mid-range to high-end RB1 against the Eagles' 19th-ranked run defense. ... The Lions have kept Bell involved as a change-of-pace and breather back behind Bush, but his 22 Thanksgiving Day touches aren't a trustworthy workload as we look forward. Bell's usage spiked due to the blowout 30-point victory. He would be a high-risk and ultimately unappealing dice-roll flex play in Week 14.

Score Prediction: Lions 30, Eagles 27

Atlanta @ Green Bay

Eddie Lacy's fantasy owners are understandably frustrated by his inconsistency in the absence of Aaron Rodgers, but from a big-picture standpoint nothing significant has changed. Lacy remains the focal point of a Packers offense that wants to feed him a high volume of weekly carries in order to mask its quarterback and defensive deficiencies. The Week 14 matchup is certainly right for a bounce-back game as Green Bay's offensive line returns from a long week to recuperate from its Thanksgiving Day pummeling by Detroit. Atlanta's defense has hemorrhaged 857 yards and eight touchdowns on 138 carries (6.21 YPC) to Pierre Thomas, Marshawn Lynch, Bobby Rainey, Carolina's backfield, Andre Ellington, and C.J. Spiller/Fred Jackson over its last six games. East, west, or south of Chicago, there isn't a more favorable matchup for run games than facing the Falcons. Perhaps hold your breath, but lock in Lacy as an RB1. ... Matt Flynn was downright horrendous two Thursdays ago, exacerbating protection breakdowns by holding onto the ball too long and performing like a deer in headlights against the Lions. The Packers are still expected to start Flynn against the Falcons, though he's highly likely to be on a short leash with Scott Tolzien waiting in the wings. Flynn has a great matchup and still isn't a two-QB-league play.

Flynn's target distribution through two appearances as a Packer: Jarrett Boykin 12; James Jones 11; Lacy 10; Jordy Nelson 8; Andrew Quarless 6; James Starks, Brandon Bostick, and John Kuhn 2. ... Due to Flynn's talent limitations and thus-far inability to perform in a competent manner, all Green Bay pass catchers will be Week 14 shots in the dark. Boykin missed multiple opportunities to win in contested situations on Thanksgiving, going catch-less on three targets. On Sunday, Boykin will run most of his pass patterns into Falcons top cornerback Asante Samuel's coverage. ... Nelson has the best matchup among Packers receivers Sunday against an Atlanta team that has mixed and matched slot corners throughout the season, failing to find any real stability at the position. Matchups don't matter when the quarterback can't get the receiver the football, of course. Nelson is a boom-or-bust WR3. ... Same goes for Jones, who led Green Bay in targets (5), catches (3), and yards (79) against the Lions. I'd rank them Nelson > Jones > Boykin for this week. ... Athletic tight end Bostick is due back from his concussion, but projects as no better than fifth in line for Flynn's pass attempts. Bostick hasn't seen more than three targets in any game this year. Quarless remains the Packers' in-line blocking tight end.

The Falcons' offensive outlook is trending upward with a cake Weeks 14-15 schedule returning from arguably its finest performance of the year. Although their seasons ultimately will go down as "lost," Roddy White and Steven Jackson are both hitting their stride just in time to face Green Bay and Washington's Nos. 24 and 23 total defenses, respectively. I wrote last week in this space that S-Jax is running far better than he did initially coming off his early-season hamstring strain, and Jackson promptly delivered year highs in carries (23), rushing yards (84) and touchdowns (2) in Atlanta's Week 13 triumph over Buffalo. Over the past five weeks, the Packers have been gashed by Matt Forte, LeSean McCoy, Andre Brown/Brandon Jacobs, Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart, and Reggie Bush/Joique Bell for 803 yards and five scores on 151 carries (5.32 YPC). Jackson is a quality RB2/flex. ... The Falcons have begun rotating Antone Smith, Jason Snelling, and Jacquizz Rodgers as change-of-pace complements to Jackson, preventing all backups from establishing even the slightest sliver of flex-play relevance. None of the above is worth a roster spot in 12-team fantasy leagues. ... Matt Ryan's target distribution since Roddy's Week 10 return: Harry Douglas 43; White 29; Tony Gonzalez 26; Darius Johnson 21; Quizz 13; S-Jax 12; Snelling 7; Smith 3.

White ate up Buffalo's defense underneath and beat LCB Leodis McKelvin down the sideline for a 29-yard gain in last week's win. While Roddy didn't look explosive or create much separation, he's a skilled enough route runner to rack up catches on Green Bay's up-and-down cornerback crew. Playing his way back into the high-end WR3 mix, look for White to match up with Sam Shields on most of Sunday's snaps. ... Replacing rookie Micah Hyde at slot corner, Tramon Williams played a leading role in Nate Burleson's catch-less Thanksgiving. I prefer White over slot man Douglas this week. ... This has the look of a White-Gonzo game. Green Bay has served up the tenth most receptions and yards to tight ends. Despite OC Dirk Koetter's affinity for rookie TE Levine Toilolo, Gonzalez is not in danger of losing significant snaps and is worth starting as a mid-range TE1 at Lambeau Field. He's No. 6 in fantasy tight end scoring on the season. ... Johnson has been the Falcons' No. 3 receiver with Julio Jones on I.R. and White back healthy. Lacking re-draft fantasy value, Johnson has topped 40 receiving yards in 1-of-7 appearances. ... The Packers rank 22nd in the league in pass defense and have been carved up for a 22:6 TD-to-INT ratio against. Enemy quarterbacks have combined for a 99.1 passer rating versus Green Bay, the sixth highest mark in football. Despite Ryan's struggling second half of the season, he's worth matchup-based QB1 discussion. I'd start him over Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, and Russell Wilson this week.

Score Prediction: Falcons 24, Packers 20

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