Remember how last week we talked about the importance of using small sample sizes? At this point in the season, team defenses have so many games under their belt that even an extremely good or bad performance will only swing their season ranking by a 2 or 3 spots. This isn’t particularly helpful — we don’t really care who dominated or got shredded in Week 3 — we need to know who has been making the plays over the last month or two.
So instead of continuing to use the season rankings, we’ll begin using the team defense rankings over the last 6 weeks — in this case, passing yards allowed per game. By now you are probably familiar with the defenses that are considered good and bad, but this will give you a clearer picture of who is really getting it done over the past few games.
Enough chit-chat, on to the games!
Thursday 8 PM game
New York Jets (1st) @ Buffalo (20th)
Hey, at least there’s not too many questions surrounding this game. Personal time with Joe Girardi aside, even if Sanchez plays, there’s better options on the waiver wire in most leagues. It’s a no-win here — if they let him air it out, expect some interceptions; if they put the clamps on him, chances for yardage and TD’s will be limited. There’s an argument for playing Cotchery in a PPR league, but that’s about it. Dustin Keller doesn’t lose too much value as Sanchez may be forced to throw underneath the coverage (see Fasano last week).
NYJ: Sanchez -2, Cotchery -1, Edwards -2, Keller -1
The Jets are planning to have Revis shadow Owens (meaning Lito Sheppard will cover Lee Evans) but I can’t recommend either Owens or Evans. Fitzpatrick is not an option. Need I say more?
BUF: Fitzpatrick -2, Owens -2, Evans -2
Sunday 1 PM games
New England (23rd) @ Miami (25th)
Not fun when your top-tier players get out of sync late in the season, but in 99% of cases you’ve got to play them and hope for the best. Fortunately, Miami’s secondary is young and less than dominant, so this should be a nice bounce-back game for the Patriots. The Dolphins won’t run the score up like the Saints, so I expect New England’s offense to not be quite so predictable (and thus defensible). Sam “What’s Shakin'” Aiken had a nice game, but I’m not convinced he’s worth a look in fantasy leagues yet.
NE: Brady +1, Moss +1, Welker +1, Watson 0
We’ve said it before. You can call the Miami pass offense surprisingly competent, promising, or maybe filled will potential. But you can’t call it productive for fantasy football purposes. After getting torched by Drew Brees, I’d expect the Patriots to be working on their pass coverage this week, so there’s a good chance Henne will toss another interception or two.
MIA: Henne -1, Bess -1, Hartline -1, Fasano -1
St. Louis (5th) @ Chicago (13th)
Surprisingly (or perhaps not), the transition to Kyle Boller hasn’t be entirely disastrous. Of course, Bulger wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire either. Amendola led with 7 catches last week, but Donnie Avery got the touchdown and is still really the only fantasy option on this team. He’s a weak WR2 and a passable WR3 with this matchup.
STL: Boller 0, Avery 0, Amendola 0
Jay Cutler completed 78% of his passes against the Vikings — but only totaled 147 yards and still managed to throw a couple more picks (who knew the Bears were actually trading for 2005 Brett Favre?). Cutler really is a mess, and it’s screwing with everyone’s value. In a bizarre turn, after weeks of wondering when Olsen would “break out”, it turns out that the TE is the most immune to the effects of Cutler’s problems, but when the pass has to be delivered more than 10 yards downfield to a WR, things go bad. Yes, it’s the Rams, but they’ve been better than average over the last few games, and it’s also Jay Cutler. Avoid it if possible.
CHI: Cutler 0, Hester -1, Knox -1, Bennett -1, Olsen 0
New Orleans (16th) @ Washington (3rd)
You’re not still worrying about matchups with the Saints, are you? Drew Brees does have the occasional stinker, but there doesn’t seem to be an easily predictable pattern, so you may as well assume it’s random and play him anyway. Colston and Henderson both had great days, and Meachem contributed his usual inexplicable 30+ yard touchdown (plus tossed in an extra 4 receptions to boot). The big disappointment was Shockey who barely showed up on the box score — he’s due for a permanent downgrade as he really has strung together any decent games this year, just his 2 TD opener and a single 100+ yard effort in Week 7. Brees isn’t using him, so why should you?
NO: Brees 0, Colston 0, Henderson 0, Meachem +1, Shockey -1
Last week Jason Campbell put up the kind of game that earned him his “Not good in real life, but decent in fantasy” reputation in the past. Remember what happened before? Don’t get sucked in. A TD each saved the day for Fred Davis and Santana Moss, but as usual the yardage was spread around to nearly eligible TE, FB, and RB on the roster. The Saints patched-together secondary is playing with confidence right now, so this matchup is tougher than the ranking indicates. Expect mistakes from Campbell once the Redskins fall behind.
WAS: Campbell -1, Moss -1, Davis 0
Philadelphia (22nd) @ Atlanta (29th)
DeSean Jackson is almost certainly going to sit this week. Losing his big play ability knocks McNabb from a +2 to a +1 (eh, call it +1.5) against this tasty secondary, but I have a feeling he’ll still put up great numbers. The upside is a big boost for Maclin and Avant. Part of the problem with the Eagles offense is how much the ball is spread around, but remove a couple of weapons (Jackson, Westbrook) and suddenly the remaining pieces (McCoy, Maclin, Avant, and Celek) are brimming with value. Maclin has legit WR1 value, Avant is a respectable WR2, and Celek has to be considered an elite TE play this week.
PHI: McNabb +1.5, Maclin +2, Avant +2, Celek +2
Well…at least one Atlanta QB had a good day. It’s a shame that such a nice matchup was wasted on a QB nobody had rostered, and now even if Ryan plays he’ll have a gimpy toe. Don’t underestimate the effect of foot and ankle injuries on QB play. This isn’t a bad matchup at all for Tony Gonzalez, regardless of which QB plays, but I worry about Roddy White’s production. With the Eagles blitz and Ryan’s toe possibly affecting his ability to move in the pocket, long pass plays may not have time to develop. Still, the Eagles have been vulnerable recently so he’s probably a must play on most rosters.
ATL: Redman -2, White -1, Gonzalez 0 (EDIT Matt Ryan is OUT and Chris Redman will start.)
Tennessee (17th) @ Indianapolis (26th)
What to make of Vince Young? 387 yards, and with a 9.0 yards per attempt average, he wasn’t dinking and dunking down the field either. On the other hand, it was against the Cardinals’ pass defense. The Indy secondary doesn’t feature a shutdown corner, but they’ve played better than their low ranking and inexperience might suggest. It’s worth stashing Young and Kenny Britt, but I wouldn’t throw them in there immediately.
TEN: Young -1, Britt -1, Washington -1
The Titans’ defense is “titaning” up, but even still, Leinart managed 220 yards and no picks against them. I wouldn’t be worried about their defensive resurgence affecting Manning (even though he has thrown 2 picks in each of the last 3 games). Austin Collie got back into the mix last week, but the 3 TD’s went to Garcon, Wayne, and Clark. I wouldn’t upgrade Collie much just yet but if he was dropped in your league, keep an eye on his role.
IND: Manning +1, Wayne +1, Garcon +1, Clark +1, Collie 0
Denver (6th) @ Kansas City (30th)
Kyle Orton was surprisingly effective against the Giants defense. The ankle injury doesn’t seem to be affecting his accuracy too much, so unless there’s more injury news, consider him ready to go for the matchup with KC — and what a matchup it is. I’m expecting big, big numbers from Brandon Marshall. Unfortunately, for those of you still hanging on to Eddie Royal, he suffered a thigh bruise last week, and may have his return role limited. Without the added yardage in return yard leagues, he’s too risky to play. Jabar Gaffney will pick up some value if Royal is limited, but not enough to matter. Scheffler had a decent game but is too unreliable.
DEN: Orton +2, Brandon Marshall +2, Royal/Gaffney -1, Scheffler 0
It’s feels weird saying it, but Chris Chambers is the lone bright spot in this pass offense. He’s even a little dinged up and still producing. Don’t use Cassel as a fill-in here, I’m expecting 160-170 yards with TD — if you’ve got to take a chance, at least take it on someone who has a decent matchup. Chambers’ fantasy leash gets a little longer each week, so I can see starting him as a WR2 here, but keep your fingers crossed for a TD because I think yardage will be limited. And if you’ve reached this page by Googling the words “chamber”, “leash”, and “fantasy”, just leave quietly and we’ll pretend you were never here.
KC: Cassel -2, Chambers -1, Long/Wade meh
Houston (10th) @ Jacksonville (15th)
The Jaguars defense isn’t quite the patsy we’ve expected over the last few weeks. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson are reliable enough that you shouldn’t worry about starting them against a midpack defense, but don’t expect the passing bonanza some might be predicting. Kevin Walter led in receiving last week, but I’d wait to see another productive week before relying on him. Casey and Dreessen are splitting the TE production making both worthless.
HOU: Schaub 0, Johnson 0, Walter 0, Casey/Dreessen -1
How do you analyze last week for Jacksonville? They had more totals yards, more passing yards, more rushing yards, and more first downs than the 49ers. They were also -2 in turnovers (both lost fumbles by Garrard) and lost 20-3. Ultimately, I think it just confirms what we knew all along — the Jags have an average pass offense, and you’ve got to pick your spots to find value there. I don’t think you’ll find much value this week, though. Sims-Walker is worth playing as a WR2, but I wouldn’t waste time with Garrard, Holt, or Marcedes Lewis.
JAC: Garrard -1, Sims-Walker 0, Holt -1, Lewis -1
Detroit (32nd) @ Cincinnati (4th)
As usual, the big issue here is the health of Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Both are expected to play, but the fact that there’s any question at all cuts into their projected value. Megatron caught an early touchdown last week, but only caught one more pass after that (and it wasn’t a TD). While Stafford and CJ have had nearly a week and a half to heal up, Cincy is just as tough a matchup as Green Bay. Stafford shouldn’t be an option unless you’ve lost your starting QB to injury (and both Warner and Ryan are supposed to start, so no excuses), but I’m fairly optimistic for Megatron. Play him with confidence, I think he’ll get a lot of looks. Pettigrew’s done for the year, don’t bother with the other Detroit TE’s until we see who (if anyone) emerges.
DET: Stafford -1, Johnson +1, Northcutt 0, Heller/FitzSimmons 0
Huh. So Palmer threw 24 times against Cleveland (completing 13), while LJ and Bernard Scott racked up 40 combined carries. This is cause for concern — for fantasy purposes, it’s not a good sign for offenses to coast in easy matchups. Still, the Lions are such a terrible pass defense that Palmer could easily rack up a worthy fantasy day in just 24 attempts. It’s not enough to worry about benching Palmer, Ochocinco (as a WR1), or Coles (as a WR2). My feeling is that most coaches don’t like to let more than a week go by without letting the QB take some shots to keep things in sync. Caldwell lost his return role so he’s just a marginal WR3 at this point.
CIN: Palmer +2, Ochocinco +2, Coles +2, Caldwell 0
Tampa Bay (21st) @ Carolina (9th)
I think Josh Freeman should force Josh Johnson to change his name — apparently there’s only one decent Josh in Tampa, and it’s not Johnson. Carolina’s a mite tougher than the Falcon’s in pass defense, so he may not have such an easy time this week. Kellen Winslow safe enough against most defenses, and Antonio Bryant is creeping back up into WR2 range. Just not this week.
TB: Freeman -1, Bryant -1, Winslow 0
There’s the Jake Delhomme we all know and love! Last week was a little reminder about the danger of relying on bad QB’s. The Bucs are not nearly as good a pass defense as the Jets (and don’t have a corner like Revis), so I think you can resume starting Steve Smith as a WR2 or borderline WR1 (meh). Rosario remains a serviceable but unexciting TE option.
CAR: Delhomme +1, Smith +1, Rosario 0
Oakland (14th) @ Pittsburgh (24th)
The Steelers pass defense really is markedly worse without Polamalu, but there just isn’t much value to be had in the Raiders offense. Just be happy that Gradkowski turns Zach Miller into a low-risk TE instead of a high-risk TE.
OAK: Gradkowski 0, Miller +1
Roethlisberger is expected to return this week, which is good news for the Steelers receivers. The presense of Dennis Dixon under center clearly limited the options. Santonio Holmes had a decent week and is a good play here regardless of who plays QB (even if he gets covered by Asomugha — see Miles Austin’s line last week). Hines Ward and Heath Miller are good plays with Roethlisberger, but I’d downgrade if Dixon plays. I’m expecting a lot of running against the Raiders so keep expectations in check. I’d want to see Mike Wallace have a productive week again before throwing him out there.
PIT: Roethlisberger 0, Holmes 0, Ward 0, Miller 0, Wallace -1
4 PM games
San Diego (7th) @ Cleveland (18th)
Rivers turned in another efficient game against KC, surpassing 300 yards on just 28 attempts. The only real disappointment was Vincent Jackson, who could only reel in 2 catches for 27 yards. I think it’s worth noting that while V-Jax clearly has #1 talent, the Chargers offense isn’t structured to guarantee lots of looks on a weekly basis. If teams decide to take Jackson out of the game, Rivers will gladly throw to Gates, Floyd, Sproles, Tomlinson, or whoever is left open. Another good game from Floyd, and he may be worthy of WR2 consideration (or not — do you really want to risk it right as the fantasy playoffs are starting?). The Browns are not good, and the Chargers just aren’t committed to running the ball 35-40 times a game, even against bad defenses (they rushed 31 times against the Chiefs last week, after you remove the “rushes” by Rivers and Volek).
SD: Rivers +1, Jackson +1, Floyd 0, Gates +1
Yeesh. At this point, it’s hard to recommend even Josh Cribbs in return-yardage leagues. As for Brady Quinn, Massaquoi, and Stuckey, I say, “NUTS!” At least the Browns are no longer beholden to handing carries to Jamal Lewis, but that won’t help Massaquoi or Stuckey get open against the SD corners.
CLE: Quinn -2, Massaquoi -2, Stuckey -2
San Francisco (31st) @ Seattle (28th)
I think Alex Smith is safe-ish against bad pass defenses, and Seattle certainly qualifies. Crabtree and Vernon Davis get a nice boost here. Don’t mess around with anyone beyond that. And remember, it’s still Alex Smith, and Crabtree is still a rookie. Relying on them carries a risk not found in other situations. The potential is there (and it’s worth gambling on), just don’t forget that it is a gamble.
SF: Smith +2, Crabtree +1, Davis +2
Wow…what do you do with Seattle now? They were HORRIBLE against the Rams. All the Burleson, Houshmandzadeh, and Carlson owners had circled that date on their calendars. Some of you that have Hasselbeck as a backup to a middling second tier QB were probably looking forward to that week as well. I don’t have any particular insight to the situation, but I can tell you how I’d play it. No matter how you slice up the stats, the 49ers are legitimately bad on pass defense. Hasselbeck, don’t be tempted — it isn’t worth the risk. If you have Burleson, he’s still a strong WR2 — play him over anyone but a legit WR1. Houshmandzadeh is a decent WR2 but there’s more risk. TE is thin enough that Carlson is a must play on most rosters UNLESS you have a top tier guy like Gates or Gonzalez. That’s two words in all-caps in one paragraph; now that’s getting your money’s worth.
SEA: Hasselbeck 0, Burleson +2, Houshmandzadeh 0, Carleson +1
Dallas (12th) @ New York Giants (19th)
Wow! Those rankings look a lot different when you wipe out the first few weeks of the season, don’t they? Still believe the people saying the Cowboys are “vulnerable” on pass defense, and the Giants’ secondary is elite? Romo is a fine play here. Miles Austin is a strong WR2/borderline WR1, Roy Williams is a marginal WR2, and then we have Jason Witten. In my primary league I traded for Witten some weeks ago thinking I was “buying low”. After weekly 40-yard performances, a foot injury, and a short week, I decided to go with Jermichael Finley over Witten on Thanksgiving. Lo and behold, 100+ yards, and a legitimate long pass play (44 yards). Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you don’t (have a top tier TE option like Gates), then do (start Witten).
DAL: Romo +1, Austin +1, Williams 0, Witten 0
Remember the show Talespin? With Baloo? Well, the Giants are kind of like that, except there are no bear pilots involved, and it’s spelled tailspin, indicating a downward spiral. I wouldn’t be playing Eli Manning this week if I could help it. The Giants’ receivers did just about what we expected last week — Smith led in receptions and yardage, and Nicks and Manningham were close behind (Nicks with edge in yardage, Manningham in receptions). If possible I’d only be playing Smith this week. Don’t try to guess whether Nicks or Manningham will have the better week. Kevin Boss didn’t get his TD last week, but he remains a reasonably decent TE option.
NYG: Manning -1, Smith 0, Nicks -1, Manningham -1, Boss 0
Sunday 8 PM game
Minnesota (11th) @ Arizona (27th)
What if Tom Brady and Brett Favre were playing an incredible ruse on the rest of the league and America by switching places this year? Things would make a little more sense, wouldn’t they? Favre (I mean Brady) showing incredible poise, leading last minute comebacks, and avoiding mistakes. Brady (I mean Favre) flashing brilliance but too often overthrowing downfield receivers, getting happy feet in the pocket, and worst, throwing interceptions. Probably not, but Favre is playing as good as we’ve ever seen him play, and the Cardinals’ secondary isn’t likely to stop him. Upgrade the usual suspects here.
MIN: Favre +2, Rice +2, Harvin +2, Berrian +1, Shiancoe +2
The Vikings pass defense has been better recently than their year ranking, and the question of Warner’s health remains up in the air. If Warner is cleared to play, I think you cautiously expect about average performances from Warner, Fitzgerald, and Boldin (which is generally very good). If Warner is a game time decision, or Leinart plays, I think you have to downgrade the receivers quite a bit — Leinart just isn’t as comfortable putting the ball downfield. Knock them down to -1 if Warner can’t go or is a last minute start (in other words, if he’s not healthy enough to be cleared ahead of time, it’s still pretty risky).
ARI: Warner 0, Fitzgerald 0, Boldin 0, Breaston -1
Monday 8 PM game
Baltimore (2nd) @ Green Bay (8th)
If you watched last Sunday night, you heard a lot of talk about Flacco spreading the ball around more. Well, he got Mark Clayton involved, but that’s about as far as it went. For now, let’s assume that Derrick Mason is the only reliable pass receiver in Baltimore until Clayton does it a few weeks in a row. Todd Heap keeps sliding down and is barely usable as a fantasy TE at this point. The Packers secondary is legit, so downgrading Flacco is necessary here.
BAL: Flacco -2, Mason -1, Clayton -1, Heap -1
The Packers go from facing the league worst pass defense to facing arguably the best pass defense (or close to it, anyway). Yeah, everyone talked about Baltimore’s vulnerability early in the year. Forget it, it’s no longer true. I don’t know if it’s just the adjustment time necessary with a new coordinator, but they are shutting people down. Unfortunately, I’m guessing that most Aaron Rodgers owners don’t have a legit second option at QB — and I’d probably play him anyway. Just don’t expect career highs from him. Driver stole the long touchdown last week, pissing off thousands of Greg Jennings owners. Hey, the fantasy regular season is almost over….Jennings has to break out sooner or later, right? Just deal with it, he’s a WR2 right now. Jermichael Finley gave up his rightful TE touchdown Donald Lee. Finley’s better than waiver material, but he’s ready to join the group of reliable TE’s yet.
GB: Rodgers -2, Driver -2, Jennings -2, Finley -1