Evan Silva


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Matchups: This Week We Salsa

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Kansas City @ Washington

Credit where it's due: Although "winner" Alex Smith's team has dropped three straight games, Smith has arguably turned in the best three-game stretch of his career during the losing skid, challenging defenses at the intermediate level and more often than not winning, as well as fitting throws into tight windows. If the Chiefs are going to overcome defensive depletion and make a Super Bowl run, they'll need Smith to keep playing in this manner. Smith has now completed 118 of his last 193 passes (61.1%) for 1,185 yards (6.14 YPA), and a 9:2 TD-to-INT ratio. He's a high-end QB2 with some QB1 streamer appeal against Washington's 27th-ranked pass defense. ... Smith's target distribution over his last four games: Dwayne Bowe 39; Dexter McCluster 28; Jamaal Charles 23; Donnie Avery 19; Anthony Fasano 15; Anthony Sherman and Sean McGrath 7; A.J. Jenkins 5; Junior Hemingway 3. ... Bowe's stats during the four-game stretch: 5-51-1; 4-57-1; 7-67; 3-56. The yardage totals aren't prolific, but the numbers are good enough to earn Bowe solid WR3 billing in this plus matchup. ... With 40-plus yards in five of his last six games, McCluster has assumed a larger pass-game role as Avery has faded. McCluster remains a fantasy option in return-yardage leagues only. Avery was droppable in 14-teamers months ago.

Nursing a concussion and knee sprain, Fasano was a TD-dependent fantasy commodity when 100%. Despite the attractive matchup against a Washington defense allowing the fourth most fantasy points to tight ends. I'd write off banged-up Fasano as a TE1 streamer. If Fasano does not play, McGrath would be on the Hail Mary radar. ... Smith's on-field improvement notwithstanding, the Chiefs remain most likely to attack Washington's defense with offensive centerpiece Charles, who is coming off a highly impressive 120-yard, one-score gashing of Denver's previously top-five run defense. Charles singlehandedly dropped the Broncos to No. 7 versus the run. In Week 14, he draws a Redskins team ranked 14th in run defense with an NFL-high 17 rushing touchdowns allowed. As LeSean McCoy faces Detroit, Adrian Peterson treks to Baltimore, and Marshawn Lynch does battle with San Francisco, Charles is fantasy's top running back starter this week.

This Week 14 matchup looked exponentially more daunting a month ago than it does now for Robert Griffin III. The Chiefs have since been gashed by Buffalo on the ground in Week 9, returned from a Week 10 bye to cough up over 100 combined points in the ensuing three games, and lost top edge rusher Justin Houston (elbow) in the process. Bookend OLB Tamba Hali played through a mid-ankle injury in last Sunday night's loss to Denver, but had zero impact in the pass game. RG3 now returns from one of his better outings of the year to face a Kansas City defense with all of two sacks over its last six games. Lock in Griffin as a low-end but intriguing QB1. He's still No. 8 in fantasy quarterback scoring on the season. ... RG3's target distribution since the Redskins lost Leonard Hankerson (ACL/LCL) two weeks back: Pierre Garcon 23; Josh Morgan and Logan Paulsen 6; Santana Moss, Aldrick Robinson, and Roy Helu 5; Fred Davis 4; Alfred Morris 3. ... That is all-out target domination by Garcon, who is currently on a six-game streak of six-plus receptions. Although Garcon's touchdown production has underwhelmed this season, he's been a PPR beast and at very worst is an every-week WR2 in standard leagues. Only Calvin Johnson has more targets across the league, and only Antonio Brown has caught more passes.

Jordan Reed will be a locked-in top-eight TE1 fantasy start if he receives medical clearance from his concussion. Otherwise, the Skins lack viable fantasy pass catchers beyond Garcon. Getting the ball to Morgan, Moss, and Robinson just isn't a big part of OC Kyle Shanahan's weekly plan. ... Coach Mike Shanahan explained following Morris' 11-carry Week 13 game that the Redskins purposely scaled back Morris' workload because they didn't feel comfortable slamming Alf into a stacked box on a slick FedEx Field. Still, this is a team that ranks No. 1 in the NFL in rushing and No. 7 in rushing attempts. The Redskins haven't suddenly scrapped their identity. Expect Morris to get back on track Sunday against a Kansas City defense that has had problems defending the run throughout the second half of the season. The Chiefs rank 21st in run defense and are allowing 4.57 yards per carry, the sixth most generous average in the league. Montee Ball set season highs in rushing yards (117) and YPC (9.0) at Arrowhead last week. Morris is a high-end RB2.

Score Prediction: Redskins 24, Chiefs 23

Miami @ Pittsburgh

Although OC Mike Sherman's whimsical week-to-week run-game commitment deprives Lamar Miller of true fantasy trustworthiness, Miller's arrow is clearly pointing up after he turned a season-high 23 touches into a respectable 85 yards in last week's clash with the Jets' league-best run defense. Miami's rushing attack played a crucial role in the 23-3 victory, which moved the Fins into sole possession of second place in the AFC East. The Dolphins have a more favorable Week 14 running-game matchup versus a Steelers defense that ranks 18th against the run and has given up 13 rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth most in the NFL. Pittsburgh will also be without RE Brett Keisel (plantar fasciitis). Miller is capable of paying serious flex-play dividends if Sherman keeps feeding him. Miller's opportunity has increased significantly following Daniel Thomas' torn ankle ligaments. ... The Steelers are vulnerable through the air, though not quite to the extent they are on the ground. Dick LeBeau's defense ranks 11th versus the pass with 14 passing touchdowns allowed, sixth fewest in football. With multiple scores in just two of his last five games and a 17:13 TD-to-INT ratio on the year, Ryan Tannehill is a middling two-quarterback-league play this week.

Tannehill's targets since Brandon Gibson tore his patellar tendon: Brian Hartline 50; Mike Wallace 48; Charles Clay and Rishard Matthews 40; Miller 16; Michael Egnew 6. ... As Steelers "top" CB Ike Taylor is on pace to set Pro Football Focus' single-season record for yards allowed, Pittsburgh is getting destroyed by opposing No. 1 receivers. These are the last three top wideouts to face the Steelers: Torrey Smith 6-93-1; Josh Gordon 14-237-1; Calvin Johnson 6-179-2. Ninth in fantasy receiver scoring the past three weeks, Wallace is trending toward WR2 value. ... Clay has a tough matchup against a Steelers defense allowing the sixth fewest fantasy points to tight ends, but remains a quality low-end TE1 with at least seven targets in four straight games. ... Slot receiver Matthews has topped 52 yards in just 1-of-12 games this season and can be dropped in 12- and 14-team leagues for the fantasy playoffs. ... Although Hartline's target numbers are way up the past three weeks and he is coming off of a 9-127-1 line against the Jets' inept secondary, Hartline hasn't suddenly morphed as a player. He'd be a poor WR3 gamble at chilly Heinz Field.

The Dolphins were vulnerable to the pass and suffocatingly stout on the ground in second-year defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's first season, but the opposite has been true in 2013. Keyed by a fearsome pass rush that's tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks, Miami is playing top-nine pass defense with a 12:16 TD-to-INT ratio against and the lowest passer rating allowed (72.7) east of Seattle. The Fins are likely to win one-on-one battles all day versus Pittsburgh's shaky offensive line, keeping Ben Roethlisberger under duress. Big Ben has quietly scored in the top-seven fantasy quarterbacks this year, but is best viewed as a QB2 in this difficult matchup. ... Ben's target distribution over the last month: Antonio Brown 42; Heath Miller 30; Emmanuel Sanders 26; Le'Veon Bell 22; Jerricho Cotchery 14; Markus Wheaton 6. ... The matchup says to sit Brown, as Miami has held opposing No. 1 receivers Vincent Jackson 3-28, Keenan Allen 3-45, Steve Smith 5-69, and Santonio Holmes 0-0 in serious check over the past four weeks. Brown has earned matchup-proof treatment, however, as the NFL's receptions leader (85) who torched Joe Haden for a 6-92-1 line two weeks back. Brown has at least five catches in every game this season. Brown is at his best working underneath, where Roethlisberger will need him to get open early in routes because Pittsburgh's vertical pass game will likely be a non-factor due to protection woes.

The Fins have surrendered the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends, making Miller an attractive Week 14 play. Over the past three weeks, Miller ranks fourth among tight ends in targets (25), first in catches (21), and sixth in yards (194). With one solitary touchdown on the season, Miller is "due" to hit pay dirt. ... Having topped 70 yards in just three games all year, Sanders is a low-ceiling WR3 gamble. If the Dolphins leave top CB Brent Grimes at his usual left cornerback post, he'll be likely to draw Sanders on most of Sunday's snaps, leaving Brown in more burnable RCB Nolan Carroll's coverage. ... Cotchery's career-high eight touchdowns look awfully fluky when he's on pace for under 700 receiving yards. Cotchery had never topped six TDs before in a season and has two catches for six yards combined the past two weeks. Cotchery is not a recommended WR3 versus Miami. ... With 18-plus touches in each of his nine rookie-year appearances, Bell has been and will continue to be a volume workhorse. He has a plus matchup in Week 14. Over its last six games, Miami's run defense has allowed 769 yards and five TDs on 170 carries (4.52 YPC) to enemy tailbacks. Le'Veon is the No. 10 overall running back in per-game fantasy scoring.

Score Prediction: Steelers 23, Dolphins 20

Indianapolis @ Cincinnati

The Colts pulled out a Week 13 win over Tennessee despite continued pass-game struggles. The offensive line can't protect Andrew Luck, who's absorbed more hits than any signal caller in the league. Lacking trust in his supporting cast, Luck has begun to show signs of shell shock, holding onto the ball too long and sensing pressure that isn't there, leading to erratic ball placement. The Bengals' pass defense has remained stout amid year-ending injuries to DT Geno Atkins and CB Leon Hall, and currently ranks No. 8 overall with a 15:13 TD-to-INT ratio against and the league's fourth stingiest passer rating allowed (74.5). Just 89 of his last 154 passing (57.8%) for 948 yards (6.16 YPA), two touchdowns, and six picks, Luck is a clear fantasy QB2 at this point. ... Luck's target distribution since Reggie Wayne's ACL tear: T.Y. Hilton 46; Coby Fleener 38; Darrius Heyward-Bey 27; LaVon Brazill 21; Trent Richardson 15; Donald Brown 13; Stanley Havili 10. ... Hilton is currently on a stretch similar to what Pierre Garcon has experienced in Washington at times this year. He is racking up receptions and targets, but the yardage and touchdowns haven't been there the past three weeks for a variety of reasons. As it was with Garcon, fantasy owners' best approach with Hilton is to keep starting him as an upside WR3. He has at least five catches in five straight games and a plus Week 14 matchup against Cincinnati's elderly cornerbacks.

As Hilton draws 35-year-old LCB Terence Newman and 30-year-old RCB Pacman Jones on the perimeter with 33-year-old Chris Crocker at slot corner, No. 2 pass-game option Fleener will deal with a Cincinnati defense allowing the fourth fewest receiving yards to tight ends. Fleener is a low-end TE1. ... Brazill played ahead of Heyward-Bey for much of last week's second half after an ugly DHB drop. Emerging as Luck's No. 3 target, Brazill is worth rostering in 14- and 16-team leagues down the stretch. At 5-foot-11, 192, Brazill ran a 4.43 forty at the 2012 Scouting Combine. ... The Colts hinted at more of a three-wideout committee behind Hilton this week, with Da'Rick Rogers' role expanding at the expense of Heyward-Bey's. While Rogers has intriguing long-range talent, he only played 13 snaps in Week 13, failing to see a target. Rogers does deserve some credit for drawing a roughly 30-yard pass interference call against Titans CB Alterraun Verner. He just lacks re-draft fantasy value. ... Appropriately installed as Indy's feature back in last week's win over the Titans, Brown played 52 snaps compared to Richardson's 13, handling 16 touches to T-Rich's five. Richardson was primarily used as a short-yardage back. T-Rich was droppable in 12-team leagues a few weeks ago. Brown is on the back-end flex radar against Cincinnati's top-eight run defense. Note that the Bengals have allowed four rushing TDs all year, third fewest in the league.

The Bengals emerged from their Week 12 bye attempting to mask up-and-down quarterback Andy Dalton's flaws with a decidedly run-first game plan. Racking up 38 rushing attempts to 23 passes, Cincinnati handled San Diego 17-10 on the road. The Bengals will likely continue that approach Sunday against Indianapolis' 28th-ranked run defense, particularly with road-grader RG Kevin Zeitler returning from a foot injury. Although BenJarvus Green-Ellis remains no better than a low-ceiling flex option, the offensive switch bodes well for every-week RB2/flex Giovani Bernard, who has at least 15 touches in three straight games. In the passing game, OC Jay Gruden won't stop trying to spring Gio into space. ... Dalton has an above-average matchup on paper against Indy's No. 17 pass defense, but won't get enough volume to support QB1 stats if Cincinnati sticks to smash-mouth offense. While run-heavy game plans are capable of increasing Dalton's efficiency, they will hurt his counting stats. Having completed 80 of his last 151 throws (53%) for 876 yards (5.80 YPA) and a 6:9 TD-to-INT ratio, Dalton has regressed into a two-QB-league option only. ... Dalton's target distribution over his last four games: A.J. Green 46; Mohamed Sanu 24; Bernard and Marvin Jones 19; Tyler Eifert 17; Jermaine Gresham 15; Andrew Hawkins 7.

The Bengals' offensive transition is least likely to impact Green, who will still hog targets just as Andre Johnson, Percy Harvin, and Michael Crabtree have done in recent years on teams with similar philosophies. Keep trotting out Green as an elite WR1. ... The Bengals started Jones over Sanu coming off the bye, but both remained rotational wideouts. Each played under 50% of the snaps, and they combined for 21 yards on five targets. Neither can be trusted in fantasy playoff lineups. ... Slot man Hawkins broke off a 50-yard reception against San Diego, but played fewer downs than both Sanu and Jones. Hawkins is a better real-life than fantasy player. ... Nothing has changed for Eifert and Gresham, who would be a TE1 if combined into one tight end but as is are canceling each other out of weekly fantasy consideration. They're TE2s to begin with, and low-end ones this week against a Colts defense allowing the seventh fewest fantasy points to tight ends.

Score Prediction: Bengals 21, Colts 20

Buffalo @ Tampa Bay

Regardless of the Buccaneers' top-12 run defense ranking, Buffalo will invariably enter this game with a run-based mindset because such is rookie coach Doug Marrone's offensive philosophy. The Bills rank second in the league in rushing attempts and 23rd in passes, attacking teams on the ground in spite of defensive strengths and weaknesses. It's worth noting Tampa Bay will be without SLB Jonathan Casillas (knee) in this game, stripping the Bucs of a core early-down run defender. Although his recurring ankle woes are something of a concern, C.J. Spiller exploded off Buffalo's Week 12 bye to drop 157 yards and a touchdown on Atlanta. View Spiller as a high-upside, low-floor RB2 in Week 14. ... Fred Jackson wasn't quite as prolific as his more talented teammate against the Falcons, but parlayed 15 touches into 78 yards and two touchdowns, and remains the heavy favorite for all goal-line work in Buffalo. F-Jax is a safer RB2/flex option than Spiller, albeit with a more limited ceiling. He's still a high-quality fantasy start. ... Beginning to settle into something of a late-rookie-year groove, E.J. Manuel has completed 41 of his last 63 throws (65.1%) for 468 yards (7.43 YPA), four touchdowns, and no interceptions with a fifth score on a scramble. He's worth a look in two-quarterback leagues against a Bucs defense that ranks 18th versus the pass, has allowed the second most passing touchdowns in football (24), and is now dealing with multiple injuries to top defensive player Darrelle Revis (groin, chest/shoulder).

Manuel's target distribution since returning from a knee injury three games ago: Stevie Johnson 18; Marquise Goodwin 17; Scott Chandler 12; F-Jax 10; Spiller and T.J. Graham 9; Chris Gragg 6; Chris Hogan 5; Robert Woods 3. ... Woods returned from his high ankle sprain to regain his every-down Z receiver role in Week 13 against Atlanta, but was targeted just three times and will need to demonstrate production to become a deep-league option late in the fantasy playoffs. ... Notable slot receiver stats against the Bucs over the last seven weeks: Harry Douglas 7-149-1 and 6-134-1; Nate Burleson 7-77-1; Rishard Matthews 11-120-2; Doug Baldwin 6-75-1. Johnson runs the majority of his routes in the slot – where he should avoid Revis Island -- and is a high-end WR3 versus Tampa. ... Goodwin and Graham's catch-less Week 13 games are a reminder that they are raw, developing deep threats in an overall inefficient and low-volume passing offense. Goodwin in particular has blowup potential in any given week, but can't be counted on for reliable game-by-game numbers. With Woods back last Sunday, Goodwin played 23 downs, his lowest snap count since Week 7. ... Lumbering Chandler does battle this week with a Bucs defense allowing the 16th most fantasy points to tight ends. Averaging 40.9 yards per game without a touchdown since early October, Chandler is just a TE2.

The Bucs' offense takes on a Bills defense that got gashed in terms of yardage by Atlanta in Week 13, but still made numerous big plays. Despite serving up Steven Jackson (23-84-2) and Roddy White's (10-143) best games of the year, Buffalo sacked Matt Ryan six times and forced two turnovers. Now leading the NFL in sacks and tied for second in interceptions, the Bills pose a daunting test for rookie Mike Glennon, who is returning from arguably his worst game of the year. Consider Glennon a bottom-barrel QB2 and keep starting Buffalo's fantasy defense. ... Despite yards-per-carry struggles from feature back Bobby Rainey -- he's managed 99 yards his last 38 runs (2.61 YPC) -- it is promising from a forward thinker's perspective that OC Mike Sullivan has stayed the course and continued to feed Rainey in brutal back-to-back matchups versus Detroit and Carolina's top-three run defenses. The Bucs aren't an abandon-the-run kind of team. They didn't even give Brian Leonard a Week 13 carry, confirming Rainey is entrenched as their go-to runner. Quietly, Rainey's 76% snap rate in last week's loss to the Panthers was his highest in a Bucs uniform. Rainey gets some matchup relief Sunday against a Bills defense that ranks 24th versus the run and got torched by Atlanta for 151 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 30 rushing attempts (5.03 YPC) last week. Rainey is a better Week 14 flex than meets the eye.

Glennon's target distribution this year: Vincent Jackson 92; Tim Wright 43; Leonard 29; Tiquan Underwood 28; Chris Owusu 10; Rainey 7. ... On plays where its pass rush doesn't get home, Buffalo is vulnerable in coverage with top CB Stephon Gilmore still struggling to find his bearings following early-season wrist surgery. These are the stat lines of the last four No. 1 receivers to face the Bills: Antonio Brown 6-104; White 10-143; Santonio Holmes 2-71; Dwayne Bowe 7-67. V-Jax is a boom-or-bust WR2, but it's hard to imagine ever benching him because he is so heavily targeted and capable of scoring multiple TDs. ... Underwood has made five starts since Mike Williams landed on I.R., registering box-score lines of 2-29-1, 3-64, 1-20, 3-108-2, and 3-51. I don't like those odds. ... Wright is a hit-or-miss streamer with an unattractive matchup. The Bills have allowed the second fewest yards and fifth fewest receptions in the league to tight ends.

Score Prediction: Bills 20, Bucs 17

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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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