Evan Silva


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Matchups: This Week We Salsa

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Minnesota @ Baltimore

Joe Flacco is in a similar category to Eli Manning as quarterbacks who simply haven't played well enough this year to be considered reliable QB1 streamers, frequently flopping in even the finest of matchups. Flacco remains an intriguing two-quarterback-league play and higher-end QB2 against a Vikings defense that ranks 30th versus the pass and has allowed an NFL-most 26 touchdown passes. Like Eli, Flacco also quietly has one of the most favorable fantasy playoff schedules in football. After the Vikings, Baltimore visits Ford Field for an indoor tilt with Detroit's No. 26 pass defense, and wraps up with a possible shootout against the Patriots in Week 16. ... Torrey Smith similarly stands to benefit from the Ravens' weak rest-of-season opposition. With 70-plus yards and/or a touchdown in five consecutive weeks, red-hot Smith is fantasy football's No. 15 overall wideout over that span. He's a borderline WR1 against Minnesota. ... This is Flacco's target distribution since Baltimore's Week 8 bye: Smith 44; Jacoby Jones 25; Ray Rice 23; Ed Dickson 17; Marlon Brown 15; Dallas Clark 13; Tandon Doss 11; Deonte Thompson 8; Brandon Stokley 4.

Despite the favorable Week 14 matchup, neither Jones nor Brown has been remotely productive enough to be counted on in the first round of fantasy playoffs. Jones has emerged as the better bet between the two with 13 targets the past two weeks compared to Brown's three. Brown didn't start in Week 13 for the first time all season, as Jones got the first-team nod opposite Smith. ... Coach John Harbaugh expressed hope this week that doctors would clear Dennis Pitta (short-term I.R., hip) to play Sunday, albeit in a limited role. If Pitta gets the green light and plays well on his handful of snaps, there is an outside chance he could be a realistic fantasy option in Week 15 against the Lions. ... Rice has cleared 3.5 yards per carry in 1-of-11 games and would likely need a goal-line plunge to pay dividends as a Week 14 start. He's been ineffective in both fantasy and real life all year. The Vikings rank 23rd versus the run, giving Rice appeal only as a low-upside flex play. ... Bernard Pierce has at least eight carries in four straight games, but is averaging under 3.0 YPC on the season and hasn't found pay dirt since his Week 3 start against Houston.

The Vikings will trot out Matt Cassel for his first start since Week 6 in a road date with Baltimore's top-12 pass defense. The Ravens are tied for fifth in the NFL in sacks and have a 12:9 TD-to-INT ratio against since Week 1. Cassel has always been a quarterback who struggles under pressure, which Baltimore can bring. This isn't a good matchup for Minnesota's already limited pass game. ... Cassel's 2013 target distribution: Jerome Simpson 26; Greg Jennings 21; John Carlson 15; injured Kyle Rudolph 13; Cordarrelle Patterson 12; Adrian Peterson 9; Jarius Wright 8; Toby Gerhart 5; Joe Webb 4. ... Despite Jennings' somewhat productive track record with Cassel under center -- he has 15 grabs for 202 yards with three touchdowns in 2.5 games of Cassel this year -- those numbers aren't something I'd hang my hat on in the fantasy playoffs. He's a poor WR3. Jennings has hit the 60-yard mark once since Week 4. ... As the Vikings manufacture touches for Patterson, he provides upside seekers with the highest ceiling in Minnesota's receiver corps. He's a better bet than both Jennings and Simpson. ... Baltimore is 17th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, and tied for 28th in receptions. This isn't a great week to stream Carlson. ... The Ravens rank sixth in run defense, but Peterson can never be benched. Once feared to be an injury risk, A.P. is coming off of season highs in carries (35) and rushing yards (211) in last week's overtime win over the Bears. Over his last two games, Peterson has 357 yards and a touchdown on 67 carries (5.33 YPC).

Score Prediction: Ravens 20, Vikings 13

Oakland @ NY Jets

In a battle of bottom-11 offenses, Raiders-Jets predictably has the lowest over-under of Week 14 at 40.5 points. Both clubs will trot out sputtering rookie quarterbacks with injury questions in their supporting casts, and no guarantee of lasting all four quarters. Look to other games for fantasy sleepers this week. ... Geno Smith leads the NFL in interceptions (19) and turnovers (23), and hasn't so much as thrown a touchdown pass since October 20. I'd rather stream the Raiders' fantasy defense than lean on Geno in a two-quarterback league. ... Geno's target distribution over the last three games: Santonio Holmes 12; David Nelson 10; Stephen Hill 9; Kellen Winslow, Greg Salas, and Jeff Cumberland 6; Bilal Powell 5; Tommy Bohanon 2, Chris Ivory 1. ... With Holmes experiencing another setback with his constantly balky hamstring, Nelson has emerged as the best bet for production in New York's pass-catching corps. And that's not saying much. Possession receiver Nelson led the Jets in Week 13 targets (8), but parlayed them into 37 yards and hasn't scored a touchdown in eight games with the team. He's a fantasy WR4. ... Hill never did lose his starting job despite threats from Rex Ryan's coaching staff, but his performance has been pathetic. Hill has caught one of his last 14 targets for two yards. And that is not a typo.

Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley is due back from his dislocated elbow, an injury that wound up costing him a month. Kerley's return will send fill-in slot man Salas to the bench, though Kerley may need a game or two to resume playing full time. ... The Raiders are 19th in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, creating a matchup to avoid for rotating Winslow and Cumberland. ... The Jets' only chance to generate competitive offense is via the run game, to which playcaller Marty Mornhinweg's week-to-week commitment has been inconsistent. Ivory has rushed for 335 yards on his last 53 carries (6.32 YPC), yet Mornhinweg still doesn't seem to realize Ivory is his best offensive player. Ivory is a boom-or-bust flex option against the Raiders' top-ten run defense. Ivory would be a lot better bet if the Jets were intent on playing run-first football and "hiding" their quarterback. ... Averaging ten touches for 51 total yards per game since the Jets' Week 10 bye, passing-down specialist Powell won't be a realistic fantasy playoffs option barring an Ivory injury.

Coach Dennis Allen stated following Oakland's Thanksgiving loss to Dallas that the Raiders will use the rest of the season as an evaluation period for their two young quarterbacks. Allen wants to see both Matt McGloin and Terrelle Pryor play. So it's conceivable that both will see snaps against the Jets, especially if starter McGloin endures a slow first half. New York is 25th in pass defense with all kinds of secondary woes, and the Raiders still don't have a quarterback worth using in two-QB leagues. ... McGloin's target distribution through four appearances (three starts): Rod Streater 21; Andre Holmes 19; Rashad Jennings and Marcel Reece 14; Mychal Rivera and Jacoby Ford 11; Denarius Moore 9; Darren McFadden 1. ... Moore (shoulder) is expected to miss one more week, giving Holmes a third consecutive start coming off his breakout Thanksgiving game. Holmes repeatedly got the better of Cowboys top corner Brandon Carr, which suggests the seven-catch, 136-yard performance wasn't necessarily a fluke. Holmes is worth a long look for 14-team leaguers and WR3 desperados against the Jets. This is a defensive backfield that genuinely cannot cover, benching rookie first-round flop Dee Milliner repeatedly with major safety woes and banged-up Antonio Cromartie (hip) playing like very arguably the worst cornerback in the league.

Streater's day was slower against Dallas, but he's still 17th in fantasy receiver scoring over the past three weeks and a safer WR3 than Holmes, even if the latter offers more upside. Don't start Streater over studs, but he has an enticing Week 14 matchup and remains the favorite for targets in Oakland. ... Since its Week 10 bye, Rex Ryan's league-best run defense has stymied Buffalo, Baltimore, and Miami tailbacks for 204 scoreless yards on 86 combined carries (2.37 YPC). With McFadden (ankle/hamstring) not expected to play and Oakland's coaching staff trying to keep Jennings' (concussion) availability a secret, the Raiders' backfield is a situation to avoid in the first round of fantasy football playoffs. The Raiders were so desperate for tailback bodies in practice this week that they converted onetime running back and current cornerback Taiwan Jones to offense. Third-string runner Jeremy Stewart (ankle/knee) is also banged up. First-year OC Greg Olson has never seemed to fancy fullback Reece a competent ball carrier despite Reece's 2012 success in the role. Reece has received double-digit touches in 1-of-12 games under Olson.

Score Prediction: Jets 17, Raiders 13

4:05PM ET Game

Tennessee @ Denver

Ryan Fitzpatrick has been and always will be maddeningly streaky as a gunslinger without a gunslinger's skill set. He tries to make throws his physical limitations won't allow him to make. Following a Weeks 10-12 hot run, "FitzMagic" bottomed out last week at Indianapolis, committing four turnovers in the 22-14 loss. Fitzpatrick's historical trends suggest that game may be the precursor to a very rough stretch. Even in this possible shootout, Fitzpatrick shouldn't be on QB1 streamer radars. He's a fine two-QB-league play. ... Fitz's target distribution this year: Kendall Wright 57; Delanie Walker 39; Nate Washington 32; Chris Johnson 28; Justin Hunter 23; Kenny Britt 10. ... Wright's stat lines in FitzMagic's six games of extensive play: 7-78; 5-69; 6-74; 9-80; 6-103-1; 6-77. Wright has led Tennessee in targets in five, averaging over 80 yards a game. He's a WR2 in PPR and high-end WR3 in standard leagues. ... Hunter followed up his Week 12 blowup with one catch for nine yards in the loss to Indy, seeing five targets. With Damian Williams due back from a three-week quad injury, Hunter is in danger of losing snaps. ... Here's an interesting stat: A whopping seven of Washington's targets this season have been intercepted, just two shy of co-league leaders Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green in that metric. And Megatron and Green both have nearly double the overall targets. Perhaps this explains why Fitzpatrick has been loath to throw Washington the football. He hasn't seen more than six targets in a game since Week 7.

With Walker (concussion) not expected to play Sunday, the Titans will turn to some rotation of Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson, and Visanthe Shiancoe at tight end. Purely from a fantasy standpoint, I like Walker's absence for the Week 14 cause of Wright. They are both between-the-numbers pass catchers. There's a good chance Wright will be heavily targeted in this game. ... Johnson has 440 yards and four touchdowns on his last 97 rushing attempts (4.54 YPC), and was ankle tackles away from a number of long runs against the Colts. Although CJ?K is more of a low-end to mid-range RB2 versus Denver's top-seven run defense, he's running well and producing enough in the passing game to be worth a locked-in Week 14 fantasy start. It's worth noting Jamaal Charles touched up the Broncos for 120 total yards and a touchdown last Sunday. When Johnson is on his game -- and he is right now -- he's every bit capable of being a Charles-type back. ... Shonn Greene vultured a red-zone touchdown in Tennessee's post-bye Week 9 win over St. Louis, and has been scoreless since. He's averaging 7.5 touches over his last four games. Just a handcuff for Johnson owners, Greene is not in the flex-play discussion against Denver.

The Titans deserve credit for playing stout pass defense this season under the guidance of top defensive assistant Gregg Williams. Tennessee ranks seventh versus the pass and has allowed the fewest passing touchdowns (8) in football, holding enemy signal callers to the NFL's seventh lowest passer rating (79.0). I still think the most likely outcome for Sunday's game is Peyton Manning dissecting Williams' complex blitz packages and dropping 300-plus yards with multiple TDs for the 11th time this season. I'd confidently start Peyton as a top-three QB1 in the first round of the fantasy playoffs. ... It's still worth noting that Tennessee's greatest defensive vulnerability is on the ground, where they're playing No. 17 run defense and have coughed up 16 rushing scores, most in the AFC. This game sets up well for Knowshon Moreno, whose 18 yards on 15 carries in Week 13 aren't indicative of how spry he looked despite entering the game with a twisted ankle. He racked up 72 yards and a touchdown on four receptions, and having watched every snap of Broncos-Chiefs, in my opinion the reason Montee Ball was so much more productive in that particular game was because Denver's offensive line just so happened to block better on his carries than on Moreno's. Ball had alleys to run through; Moreno did not. And I don't think that is a reliable indicator of what's to come. Moreno should be locked into fantasy lineups as a borderline RB1 against Tennessee. Ball is just a dice-roll flex play with too much downside for my taste.

Peyton's target distribution since Denver's Week 9 bye: Demaryius Thomas 38; Wes Welker 29; Eric Decker 27; Moreno 15; Julius Thomas 10; Ball 9; Jacob Tamme 8. ... Demaryius has at least 100 yards and/or a touchdown in six straight games. This is a tough matchup with Titans outside CBs Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty, but Demaryius has been matchup proof all season. ... In the passing game, this contest has Welker written all over it. Tennessee's perimeter coverage has arguably been the league's best, but it can be exposed inside. Welker is also likely to be Peyton's primary "hot" read when Williams inevitably dials up blitzes. Just as Decker busted a slump in last week's win over Kansas City, Welker will likely break his box-score funk versus the Titans. ... Decker runs most of his routes against left cornerbacks, which is McCourty's position. Pro Football Focus has graded McCourty as a top-three NFL corner this year -- even higher than Verner -- and charged him with zero touchdowns allowed since Week 2. I'd treat Decker as a WR3 despite last week's four-TD explosion. ... Orange Julius is an every-week starter whenever active, and his return to full practice Thursday suggests he's very much on track to play against the Titans. Tennessee is allowing the 15th most fantasy points and eighth most yards to tight ends. At Thomas' position, only Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are better plays this week.

Score Prediction: Broncos 27, Titans 17

4:25PM ET Games

St. Louis @ Arizona

The Cardinals return home from a Week 13 road loss to Philadelphia to face a St. Louis defense with imposing outside-edge rushers and not a whole lot else. Despite the benefit of Robert Quinn and Chris Long, the Rams rank 19th in pass defense, and allow the second highest yards-per-pass attempt average (8.4) and completion rate (67.2) in football. When Arizona and St. Louis met in Week 1, Carson Palmer pummeled the Rams at their place for 327 yards and two TDs with a 65% completion rate. Now back in the desert, Palmer has completed 129 of his last 188 throws (68.0%) for 1,568 yards (8.34 YPA) and a 12:4 TD-to-INT ratio. The Cards scaled back Palmer's practice reps this week in order to rest his arm, but he's a viable QB1 streamer and locked-in two-quarterback-league start. ... Palmer's target distribution during Arizona's 4-1 hot stretch: Larry Fitzgerald 41; Michael Floyd 34; Andre Roberts 27; Rob Housler 26; Andre Ellington 10; Jim Dray 8; Rashard Mendenhall 6. ... Notable enemy receiver stats coughed up by St. Louis' defense this year: Brandon Marshall 10-117-1; T.Y. Hilton 7-130; Golden Tate 5-93-2; Justin Blackmon 5-136-1; Cecil Shorts 5-74-1; Fitz 8-80-2; Dez Bryant 4-38-1; Julio Jones 11-182-1; Steve Smith 5-69-1; Andre Johnson 7-88; Anquan Boldin (twice) 5-90-1 and 9-98. ... Fitzgerald is approaching WR1 value with five touchdowns over his last five games. Among NFL wideouts, only Calvin Johnson (12) and Demaryius Thomas (10) have more TDs than Fitzgerald's nine. ... Floyd is second in the league in receiving yards (396) over the past three weeks. He's earned every-week WR2 billing.

Continuing to lack both on-field and box-score consistency, Housler finished last week's loss to the Eagles with 21 yards on three receptions, committing a bad drop that could lead to reduced playing time. I wouldn't want to stream Housler against a Rams defense allowing the fifth fewest fantasy points to tight ends. ... Roberts had eight catches for 97 yards in the Week 1 game at St. Louis, but his snaps have been scaled back dramatically ever since due to Arizona's increased reliance on two-tight end sets. Roberts can't be trusted in the fantasy playoffs. ... Ellington is tentatively expected to return from his knee injury this week, but presents an awful lot of Week 14 risk as a role player at less than full strength. I'd like to see Ellington play effectively in a game before trusting him. Knee injuries can be a serious drain on skill-position performance. ... The Cardinals plugged Stepfan Taylor into Ellington's passing-back role in last week's loss to the Eagles, giving Mendenhall 18 carries with no receiving usage. Mendenhall remains a low-upside flex option who likely won't pay fantasy dividends unless he scores a goal-line touchdown. He's BenJarvus Green-Ellis West. This is a middling matchup. St. Louis is 15th versus the run.

Although its run-heavy approach has worked in certain instances this year, the Rams' offense is extremely limited in the post-Sam Bradford era with little to no threat of a passing attack, and zero chance of battling back from early-game deficits. The Cardinals' defense also poses a daunting matchup for opposing pass games. Over the last five weeks, Arizona has limited enemy signal callers to 124-for-219 passing (56.6%), 1,157 yards (5.28 YPA), and an 8:7 TD-to-INT ratio. The blitz-oriented Cards sacked Nick Foles five times last week. Kellen Clemens is a virtual lock to struggle, making Arizona's defense a recommended Week 14 fantasy play and the Rams' receiving corps a situation to avoid. ... Here is Clemens' 2013 target distribution in case you're desperate: Chris Givens 33; Jared Cook 27; Tavon Austin 20; Zac Stacy 17; Austin Pettis 11 and Brian Quick 11; Lance Kendricks 10; Stedman Bailey 6. ... Cook would be the one Rams pass catcher worth a Hail Mary look with two factors working in his favor: Cook shredded Arizona for by far his season-best game (7-141-2) in these clubs' Week 1 meeting, and the Cardinals far and away give up the most fantasy points to tight ends. Cook has otherwise flopped, of course, and is just a matchup-based streamer option. ... Stacy remains the centerpiece of St. Louis' offense, but is a mere mid-range RB2 against Arizona's top-four run defense, a unit holding enemy rushers to the second stingiest yards-per-carry clip (3.46) in football. As defenses are now gearing up to stop Stacy, his production has begun to tail off a la fellow rookie bellcow Eddie Lacy in Green Bay.

Score Prediction: Cardinals 21, Rams 10

Seattle @ San Francisco

Colin Kaepernick has made two career starts against Pete Carroll's Seahawks defense. In those two affairs, he's combined to complete 32-of-64 passes (50.0%) for 371 yards (5.80 YPA), one touchdown, and four interceptions. Kap has rushed for 118 yards in his two starts versus Seattle, though the rushing stats aren't enough to offset his passing woes. I think Kaepernick has played better than given credit for this season considering his depleted supporting cast -- he's accounted for 12 TDs compared to three turnovers over his last six games and his passing yardage has risen in three straight weeks -- but I wouldn't even consider him in a standard fantasy league in this matchup. The Seahawks are No. 1 in pass defense and didn't miss a beat without CBs Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond III in last Monday's beatdown of New Orleans, holding Drew Brees to season lows across the board. ... Kap's target distribution with Michael Crabtree back in the starting lineup last week: Anquan Boldin 10; Vernon Davis 5; Crabtree and Bruce Miller 4; Frank Gore 2. ... Seattle stifled Boldin in these clubs' Week 2 meeting, holding him to one catch for seven yards with LCB Richard Sherman traveling into the slot more often than usual in an effort to eliminate Kaepernick's first read. Boldin should be more productive this time around, though probably not by much. He's a stretch as a WR3 play in the first round of fantasy playoffs.

Another concern for San Francisco's offense is LT Joe Staley's MCL sprain. Pro Football Focus has graded Staley as the NFL's second best offensive tackle. His Week 13 injury appeared so significant 49ers beat writers initially fully expected him to miss this game. Staley plans to play, but LG Mike Iupati will not due to an MCL injury of his own, shaking up the left side of San Francisco's offensive line in a tilt with Seattle's deep group of speedy edge rushers. ... I looked at every route run by Crabtree in his Week 13 debut. His most impressive play was a 60-yard reception that reminded of Crabtree's run-after-catch skills with a vicious stiff arm of LCB Trumaine Johnson. The throw was perfectly placed deep down the right sideline by Kaepernick, but Crabtree ran an excellent stop-and-go route to cross up heavy-footed Johnson, and added yardage to the play with physicality. Crabtree played 42-of-67 snaps (62.7%), rendering Mario Manningham (23.9%) obsolete. I wouldn't start Crabtree against Seattle, but would consider him a prime WR3 candidate for Week 15 at Tampa and particularly Week 16 versus Atlanta, assuming he continues to play well. ... It's difficult to hold Davis' 3-20 stat line from Week 2 versus Seattle against him because he left early with a hamstring injury. Davis is the only Niners pass catcher I'd feel confident starting in Week 14. The Seahawks allow the 15th most receptions in the league to tight ends. If the 49ers are going to have any sliver of passing success Sunday, it'll go through Davis. ... Seattle's run defense has been only above average this season, ranking 13th in rushing yards per game allowed and 15th in yards per carry (4.10). They have historically been far more vulnerable on the ground in away games as opposed to at home. This game is on the road. Gore is more of a mid-range RB2 this week, but he's still a fantasy starter.

Vegas' over-under for this game is 41 points, third lowest of Week 14. Although San Francisco-Seattle games have been incredibly difficult to predict over the past two seasons, especially in terms of scoring, my gut feeling is this will be a 13-7 kind of result as the Niners' top-five defense takes on Seattle's No. 1-ranked group. In the aforementioned Week 2 meeting, San Francisco held Russell Wilson to 8-of-19 passing for 142 yards, a touchdown and a pick, with 33 rushing yards. Despite Wilson's recent statistical tear -- he has a 20:5 TD-to-INT ratio over his last ten games with a 21st score on a scramble -- I wouldn't want to trust Wilson in the first round of the fantasy playoffs. He looks like a boom-or-bust play more likely to bust. ... Wilson's target distribution with Percy Harvin (hip) back on the shelf last week: Zach Miller 8; Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate 5; Marshawn Lynch 4; Jermaine Kearse 3; Luke Willson 1. ... Miller's team target high is likely not a sign of things to come. San Francisco allows the fewest fantasy points in the NFC to tight ends, and these are Miller's stats in his last five meetings with the Niners: 2-22, 2-15, 0-0, 1-9, 2-19. ... Baldwin is just a low-end WR3, but he would be my pick to lead Seattle in Week 14 receiving. Baldwin will run most of his routes against 32-year-old slot CB Carlos Rogers, and has combined for 104 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games against San Francisco.

Tate's last five stat lines versus the Niners: 1-8-1, 3-16, 0-0, 2-27, 1-19. Perhaps Tate will buck that trend this week, but I wouldn't want to bet on it. He's a WR4 in Week 14. ... With Harvin not expected to play again, Kearse will continue to play in three-receiver packages as the Seahawks' No. 4 passing-game option. Although Kearse is never a bad bet for a touchdown, he's cleared 50 receiving yards in 1-of-12 appearances this season and is no more than a deep-league Hail Mary option against San Francisco's top-three pass defense. ... The one Seattle skill-position player with a documented and consistent history of success against the Niners' defense is Lynch. Over his last four 49ers meetings, Lynch has rushed 95 times for 419 yards (4.41 YPC) and scored five all-purpose touchdowns. Lynch has totaled over 100 yards in all four games. He remains an RB1.

Score Prediction: 49ers 13, Seahawks 10

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