So, apart from Belichick’s gamble creating the greatest debate since Wittgenstein vs. Popper, the big news from last week was the slew of running back injuries. “But Razzball,” you say, “this is a passing matchup article — why are you bringing up running backs?”
Here’s why — teams that were either relying heavily on one back (like Atlanta or Cincinnati) or splitting carries between a couple backs (like Philadelphia or Miami) must now shift some offensive emphasis to their passing game. It’s unrealistic to expect these teams to hand the ball of 25-30 to the 2nd string RB (or some combination of the 2nd and 3rd RBs), so naturally, we can expect to see a small but still significant boost in passing attempts. This is especially important in games these teams lead by several touchdowns, as they may continue to throw more than usual in order to save wear and tear on their running backs.
So, yes, be happy that you snagged Jason Snelling or Justin Forsett. But also keep in mind the potential increase in value for the quarterbacks and receivers on these teams, and adjust your player evaluations accordingly.
Miami (27th) @ Carolina (4th)
Go ahead and cross Chad Henne off your “Has fantasy value in 2009″ list. He’s like a poor man’s rookie Matt Ryan — surprisingly competent, but just can’t be counted on for the yardage and TD’s necessary for fantasy success. Even with Ronnie Brown out, I’m not sure that throwing 5-10 more times per game really boosts Henne’s value, especially not against the Panthers’ 4th ranked pass defense. Davone Bess did total 72 yards on 4 catches, so he’s worth a look in better matchups than this.
MIA: Henne -2, Bess -1, Camarillo -2, Hartline -2, Ginn -2
Consider last week’s performance to be the realistic upside for the Carolina pass offense. Not a lot of yardage for Delhomme, but efficient in completions and touchdowns considering just 24 attempts. Miami has a putrid secondary, so look for a similar result this week. Muhammed led in receiving yards but Steve Smith caught both of Delhomme’s touchdowns. Kellen Winslow had a very nice day against the Miami defense so Rosario’s worth a shot in very deep leagues.
CAR: Delhomme +1, Smith +2, Muhammed +1, Rosario +1
Sunday 1 PM games
New Orleans (20th) @ Tampa Bay (15th)
Probably expected a bit more than 223 yards from Drew Brees against STL, didn’t you? I’d be more concerned about the 7 interceptions in the last 2 weeks. Unless you’ve got a straight up deal for Brady or Manning, however, he’s still your best option, and Tampa’s secondary is middling. I still think Colston is the best red zone target for the Saints so ignore the 2 straight supbar weeks. Devery Henderson had a better week than Colston. Meachem caught a touchdown on his only reception, bringing his year totals to 14 receptions and 4 touchdowns. He’s a high-risk, high-reward option. Shockey’s 105 yard game in Week 7 is starting to look like the outlier in his season, but he’s still a safe option for 50ish yards.
NO: Brees +1, Colston +1, Henderson +1, Meachem 0, Shockey +1
Against a terrible Miami secondary, Josh Freeman was….meh. To be fair, he’s severely lacking in downfield weapons, but our purpose here isn’t to be fair in our player evaluations — it’s to brutally dissect why you shouldn’t ever think about starting Freeman on your team. The upside? Well, he’s not scared of throwing to Kellen Winslow. For the second straight week, more than half of Freeman’s completions were to TE’s or RB’s. Stovall’s worth keeping an eye on in very, very deep TD-heavy leagues. It’s too bad there’s not more WR’s of interest here, because the Saints secondary is fubar — they just signed Chris McAlister as a stopgap measure. McAlister was once a good DB, so you know there’s a reason he was available halfway through the season. Darren Sharper will almost certainly return by Week 12 so the Saints secondary should improve a bit.
TB: Freeman +1, Stovall +1, Stroughter 0, Winslow +2
Atlanta (28th) @ New York Giants (2nd)
Matt Ryan at least cracked 200 yards against the Panthers. The Giants defense finally seemed to get back on track against San Diego (Rivers had 209 yards and 2 INT’s, though he did get a couple second half TD’s). I like Roddy White’s chances of a good game here, but I think the Giants defense may force Ryan into at least a couple errors. Assuming Turner doesn’t play, the Falcons may go with a slightly more pass heavy attack, which should boost yardage totals for White and Gonzalez.
ATL: Ryan -1, White +1, Gonzalez 0
After 3 subpar weeks in a row, Eli finally got back on track against…San Diego’s 11th ranked pass defense, surprisingly. 200+ yards, 2 TD’s, and best of all, no INT’s against a couple athletic and talented corners. This week’s matchup is much more favorable, though if it gets cold and windy for Sunday’s game you should probably temper expectations just a little. Steve Smith remains just a notch above Manningham and Nicks who seem to swap control of the #2 spot on a weekly basis. Kevin Boss only had 2 receptions but one was for a touchdown, but Atlanta has been holding TE’s in check so I’m not sure he’s a great option here.
NYG: Manning +2, Smith +2, Nicks +1, Manningham +1, Boss -1
Buffalo (9th) @ Jacksonville (26th)
Yeesh. I’m a big believer in the idea that continuity is more important for the passing game than the rushing game. Put a reasonably talented RB behind some guys who can block and he’ll figure it out. But there’s too many ways for a passing offense to get off track, and switching your QB (again) and head coach (even assuming the playbook remains the same) isn’t generally a recipe for success for a group that wasn’t terribly successful in the first place. So, what’s the status? Well, word is that Fitzpatrick will take over as QB. Earlier in the season, it was Fitzpatrick who seemed to light a fire under Lee Evans, so there’s at least hope that he won’t suffer from the changes. Fitzpatrick and Terrell Owens are not great options at this point, and time is running out on their chances to get it together.
BUF: Fitzpatrick -1, Evans 0, Owens -1
Given how bad Buffalo’s run defense is, I don’t expect a lot of pass attempts out of Garrard. Sims-Walker should get enough looks to make him playable, but you’d have to think that the Jacksonville will see what Chris Johnson did against the Bills and hand off to MJD as many times as they can. I’d avoid anyone beyond Sims-Walker.
JAC: Garrard -1, Sims-Walker 0, Holt -2
San Francisco (29th) @ Green Bay (6th)
Suddenly there’s plenty of open seats on the Alex Smith bandwagon. Go back a few weeks in the archives here and remember what we said about the risk of playing waiver wire QB’s over proven starters. Most concerning was that Vernon Davis, previously immune to poor passing days from the 49ers, totaled just 16 yards and no touchdowns. For now assume it was just a blip on the radar. Crabtree continues to confirm his talent and #1 role in SF — he’s playable as a WR2 even here.
SF: Smith -2, Crabtree -1, Davis -1, Morgan -2
Aaron Rodgers had a competent if not exciting day against Dallas — he didn’t reach 200 yards and threw just 1 TD, but he also didn’t throw any picks, and added a rushing TD to pad his totals. The 49ers don’t bring as much pressure or cover receivers as well as the Cowboys, so I’m expecting a total more in line with Rodgers’ usual production. Driver and Jennings are excellent plays here, but James Jones shot at being the clear 3rd option is gone with Jordy Nelson’s involvement. The TE production remains split between Lee and Havnar making both virtually worthless.
GB: Rodgers +2, Driver +2, Jennings +2, Jones/Nelson 0, Lee/Havnar -1
Seattle (22nd) @ Minnesota (23rd)
The Vikings defense gave up some surprising yardage to the Lions, so there’s no reason to think that the Seahawks won’t be able to throw against them as well. The big question, of course, is what the hell happened to Nate Burleson? He was targeted just 5 times (Housh had 17 targets) and didn’t catch a single pass. It’s worth noting, however, that in the first Seahawks-Cardinals game Burleson was also targeted 5 times, so I have a feeling it has more to do with Arizona rolling pass coverage his way and Hasselbeck hitting the uncovered receivers than it does any hidden injury or change in WR roles. I still think Burleson’s a better producer than Housh from here forward. Carlson should be in line for a nice game as the Lions TE’s combined for 6 catches, 56 yards, and TD against the Vikes.
SEA: Hasselbeck +1, Burleson +1, Houshmandzadeh 0, Carlson +1
So Favre did (more than) double his yardage from the first Lions matchup, but only tossed 1 TD pass, and it didn’t go to Rice, Harvin, Berrian, Shiancoe, or anyone you had any chance of finding on a fantasy roster. Dugan howzat? Chalk it up to the random nature of football and move on. Rice horded over half of Favre’s yardage to himself, but I think you’ll see Favre spread it around a bit more against a (somewhat) better secondary. Berrian had some red zone targets so don’t forget about him.
MIN: Favre +1, Rice +1, Harvin 0, Berrian 0, Shiancoe 0
Indianapolis (16th) @ Baltimore (13th)
The Ravens pass defense is rapidly climbing the rankings but…so what? The Patriots have been ranked near the top all year in pass defense and it just didn’t matter. Yeah, a couple picks, but 300+ yards and 4 TD’s more than makes up for it. I don’t see that kind of shootout here, but Manning, Wayne, and Dallas Clark are all must starts against any D. Collie and Garcon continue to split value; last week, Collie caught more balls but Garcon snagged the TD. I still give the edge to Collie for now, but this may not be the matchup to take a chance on either of them if you can avoid it. Terrell Suggs will be out for BAL so the defense may not be quite as tough as they’ve been in recent weeks.
IND: Manning 0, Wayne +1, Clark +1, Collie 0, Garcon -1
Everyone expected a little more out of Baltimore’s offense against Cleveland, but the Browns defense played them fairly tough, and the Browns offense was so inept that there wasn’t much reason to take chances. I doubt we’ll see the Ravens rush 36 times and pass just 19 times (including Ray Rice’s wounded duck) against the Colts this week. The Colts are probably a little better in pass defense than their current ranking — giving up that much yardage to Brady and Moss is bound to skew the numbers for a little bit. Derrick Mason and Todd Heap both made some nice grabs last week but I’d bet on Mason being the one to continue his success.
BAL: Flacco -1, Mason 0, Heap -1
Washington (1st) @ Dallas (18th)
The Cowboy’s pass defense is another that finds itself improving statistically each week, and if you think Jason Campbell + imposing pass rush = offensive success, that’s just fuzzy math. Campbell did total nearly 200 yards against the Broncos, but he’s returned to (or stuck with?) his habit of dinking and dunking passes to every TE and RB on the roster. This is a terrible matchup for Campbell, and by extension, Santana Moss, who generally is the only pass receiver of note in Washington. Fred Davis isn’t Chris Cooley but he’s playable — however I worry that his questionable pass-blocking skills may mean fewer snaps for him this week.
WAS: Campbell -2, Moss -2, Davis -1
Last week the Redskins furthered Denver’s woes, taking advantage of the loss of Kyle Orton and coming back to win. The total numbers looked pretty good for the Redskins D, but take a closer look — Orton nearly hit 200 yards in just a half game (and Brandon Marshall was absolutely abusing the Washington secondary). It wasn’t until Chris Simms took over the helm that the Redskins “clamped down”. Romo did just fine against a talented Packers secondary and I don’t see him having a problem here. Teams have been gameplanning around shutting down Miles Austin and Jason Witten (thus the upspike in Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton’s production), but I think Austin’s yards-after-catch skills will net him some big gains here.
DAL: Romo 0, Austin +1, Williams 0, Crayton 0, Witten +1
Pittsburgh (12th) @ Kansas City (24th)
No two ways about it — Roethlisberger looked terrible against the Bengals. 40 pass attempts to get 174 yards is not good. But while Cincy’s D looks bad statistically and can be kind of good, the KC defense is just as bad on the field as they are on paper. They looked alright last week against JaMarcus Russell and Bruce Gradkowski but basically every defense looks good against the Raiders. The only risk here is whether the Steelers will shift to a run-heavy attack. As such, you may want to temper expectations in terms of yardage, but I’d still look for the Steelers to take a few shots downfield with Holmes and Wallace, and target Ward and Miller in the redzone.
PIT: Roethlisberger +1, Holmes +1, Ward +1, Miller +1, Wallace 0
There’s the stinker from Cassel: just over 200 yards, no TD’s, and a pick to boot. And to top things off, the Chiefs just lost Bowe for 4 games. Chambers steps into the #1 role. You’ll see lots of recommendations for Lance Long, but I can’t help but wonder if the Chiefs will move Mark Bradley into the #2 WR spot and leave Long in the slot (hey-o!). Still, he should get a few more targets over the next 4 games. Fortunately, you should not be tempted to start any of them against the Steelers, even sans-Polamalu, so you have a week to see how things play out.
KC: Cassel -2, Chambers -1, Bradley -2, Long -1
Cleveland (19th) @ Detroit (32nd)
Holy smokes. Can we just move on? The only pass-involved Brown with a pulse was Josh Cribbs; apparently Brady Quinn found this insufferable and used his final playcall of the Monday night game to sabotage the single remaining interesting player. Who’s looking forward to Derek Anderson in another week or two? Here’s a fun stat — in the last 12 months, no Browns RB or WR has scored a touchdown.
CLE: The Field -10
Signs of life from the Lions pass offense! The Vikings secondary isn’t great, but still, you can’t feel too bad about Stafford spreading the ball around, hitting Calvin Johnson 8 times, Northcutt 6 times, and his TE (Pettigrew and Heller, no sign of FitzSimmons this week) 6 times. The Browns defense was motivated on Monday night against a division rival, but an early game against Detroit that will be televised virtually nowhere? I like it. I think Megatron should have massive success against the Browns secondary, Northcutt’s not a bad low-end option, and I still believe Pettigrew is the TE to have out of the group.
DET: Stafford +1, Johnson +2, Northcutt +1, Pettigrew +1
4 PM games
Arizona (30th) @ St. Louis (25th)
Cake. Walk. Excepting his 5-INT game (and yes, I know that’s one huge exception), Warner has been incredibly reliable, and while you’re always holding your breath when he gets hit, you have to love this matchup. Larry Fitzgerald? Yes please! Anquan Boldin? Don’t mind if I do! Steve Breaston? Go for it! Early Doucet? Just kidding. Go back to the bench, Early. It’s an added bonus if the Rams offense looks as frisky as it did last week against the Saints so the Cardinals keep throwing right to the end.
ARI: Warner +2, Fitzgerald +2, Boldin +2, Breaston +2
Apparently they’ll let just about anybody try to knock off the Saints these days. I know the Cards are ranked 30th in pass defense, but I’m not convinced their secondary is quite as rough as the injury-depleted Saints unit was last week. Still, if you need a stopgap measure, this isn’t a terrible matchup for Bulger and Avery (just remember what we’ve said about managing risk in regards to playing weekly matchups over proven starters). Brandon Gibson played great in place of Keenan Burton (out for the season), but before you consider starting him, just remember that for most of the year there was barely enough pass offense to make Donnie Avery startable.
STL: Bulger +1, Avery +1, Gibson 0
Cincinnati (21st) @ Oakland (14th)
I was right on the money in predicting 180 yards for Palmer last week (though I did figure on a touchdown which he didn’t get) — not great, but completing 60% and not tossing a pick against Pittsburgh is pretty good too. Oakland’s pass defense isn’t as good as their rating; it’s at least partially a product of teams preferring to run on the terrible Raiders run defense, and avoiding Asomugha. The Bengals won’t want to run too much with Benson and risk overworking Bernard Scott, so I’m expecting a nice day from Palmer. Asomugha may suppress Ochocinco’s totals just a bit but he’s still worth playing. Coles has stepped nicely into the #2 role (finally) and is a strong WR2 play here. The Bengals released Ben Utecht, for any of you playing in 5-TE leagues.
CIN: Palmer +1, Ochocinco 0, Coles +1
Russell got benched (again), and the QB who replaced him was arguably worse (at least Russell hadn’t turned the ball over yet). Gradkowski is only marginally interesting, in that he may be able to get the ball more consistently to Zach Miller. Emphasis on “may”. This is a bad situation and it’s not getting any better — treat it like the Raiders all have the H1N1 virus (actually, that would explain a lot).
OAK: Gradkowski -2, Miller -2, Are you really going to make me list the Oakland WR’s?
San Diego (11th) @ Denver (5th)
Rivers was excellent against the Eagles blitz attack, hitting 80% completion and getting sacked just twice. Weirdly, he did it while all but ignoring Vincent Jackson. Antonio Gates was the beneficiary and he may be in line for another nice game if Denver can bring pressure on Rivers. Jackson is still too dominant physically to bench but Champ Bailey is as smart as they come so be prepared for another subpar game from V-Jax (hopefully better than last week, anyway). Floyd has yet to put together a game that will make him worth starting in most leagues, and Naanee’s involvement may keep Floyd’s value from increasing much.
SD: Rivers 0, Jackson -1, Floyd 0, Naanee 0, Gates +1
Orton’s status is the issue here. As of Wednesday he was not practicing (Simms was taking first team snaps) but said he intended to play if possible. While it probably won’t be as bad as Simms getting tossed into the middle of a game, you have to figure that whether it’s Orton or Simms, the Denver pass offense is going to suffer. Brandon Marshall is still playable as a WR2 here, but I am a little afraid of the situation and would definitely avoid playing Royal. If you’re desperate, an argument can be made for playing Scheffler as the Chargers have a history of giving up big plays to TE’s.
DEN: Orton/Simms -2, Marshall -1, Royal -2, Scheffler 0
New York Jets (3rd) @ New England (7th)
The Patriots lost the first Jets game, they lost last week to Indy, and all their defense has been hearing on ESPN is how their coach doesn’t trust them. Think they’ll be a little motivated? I do not like this matchup at all for Sanchez, and wouldn’t be surprised to see him finish with fewer than 200 yards and a couple picks. Cotchery is ok here but I’m not sure you want to bank on a big play from Braylon Edwards to salvage his day. Dustin Keller is getting more and more involved, but NE has a habit of shutting down TE’s so this may not be the week to rely on him.
NYJ: Sanchez -2, Cotchery -1, Edwards -2, Keller -1
This is not the same Pats offense that couldn’t crack 300 total yards against the Jets in Week 2. New York’s secondary is good (we all know about Revis by now), but other than possibly a yardage hit to Moss, don’t downgrade your Patriot starters much if any. At this point, beyond Moss and Welker, the ball is spread around too much for fantasy relevance. Ben Watson remains a marginal fantasy TE.
NE: Brady 0, Moss -1, Welker 0, Watson 0
8 PM game
Philadelpha (10th) @ Chicago (8th)
The best case for any commitment to the rush in Philly would be a healthy Westbrook and McCoy, splitting carries in order to keep both of them fresh. As it is, with Westbrook still out (and out for the forseeable future), Andy Reid has no qualms about throwing the ball on nearly every down and every situation. This will result in the occasional turnover, but you can’t argue with the yardage. DeSean Jackson actually turned in a normal WR line (8 catches, 91 yards), Maclin remains a nice #2 WR, and Avant stole the show with 156 receiving yards. Avant’s still a clear #3 in that offense though, and probably the 4th option when you include Celek. Chicago “shut down” the 49ers pass offense — big whoop. Play your Eagles here, ignore the 8th place ranking.
PHI: McNabb +1, Jackson +1, Maclin 0, Avant 0, Celek +1
I’m pretty curious about this matchup. I know that Cutler wasn’t responsible for all 5 of his interceptions last week, but it’s not as if he’s known for having the poise of Philip Rivers, and the Eagles will definitely sell out to put pressure on him. Cutler’s success is going to rest heavily on the play of the offensive line and the blitz pickup by the RB’s and TE’s. But if the Eagles get in his face, you know he’s willing to take the risky shots downfield that result in turnovers. Forte and Olsen may end up with a good bit of receiving yardage again if the Bears use the screen and dumpoff to combat the Eagles blitz.
CHI: Cutler -1, Hester -1, Bennett -1, Knox -2, Olsen 0
Tennessee (31st) @ Houston (17th)
Can it be said that the Tennessee passing game was effective last week? Does dumping it off to Chris Johnson and letting him run through the defense count? CJ caught 9 balls; nobody else caught more than 2. Houston’s defense is a little more balanced that Buffalo’s, so you’ll likely see some more passes to the WR’s, but other than deep, TD-heavy leagues, I don’t see a lot of value in Nate Washington or Kenny Britt the rest of the year. There will be big pass plays occasionally as defenses sell out against the run, but not frequently enough to count on.
TEN: Young 0, Washington 0, Britt -1, Scaife 0
This ought to be a nice return to action for the Texans after their bye. Andre Johnson should shred the Titans secondary, Kevin Walter is a strong WR2 play especially in PPR leagues, and Jacoby Jones is worth a look in deep leagues or return yardage leagues. Dreessen caught a couple balls in Week 9 but it’s clear they aren’t going to try to make him something he isn’t (namely, Owen Daniels).
HOU: Schaub +2, Johnson +2, Walter +2, Jones +1