While I was writing this article, Doc and I started discussing the importance of looking at the most recent performances from a defense instead of relying on the full season’s worth of data. In fantasy baseball, the danger is in placing too much importance in small sample sizes, but in fantasy football, I’d argue that the opposite is true — there’s at least as much if not more danger in relying on large sample sizes. The turnover rate of injuries, depth chart changes, and coaching adjustments mean that often, the last few games actually provide the clearest picture of a team’s relative strength on offense or defense.
For example, the Giants pass defense is ranked 2nd in passing yards allowed per game. Unless they get horribly torched in every game till the end of the season, they will likely finish no worse than 4th or 5th. But when you look at the actual games, it becomes apparent that the Giants faced some abominable pass offenses early in the season which padded their stats, and they declined further when they lost Corey Webster. Are the games from Weeks 1-6 relevant? Sure, to a degree, but it’s more important to look at recent games — don’t let the annual totals and rankings mislead you. We’re working on developing a way to present this information to you in a concise and easily digestible format.
Thursday 12:30 PM game
Green Bay (7th) @ Detroit (32nd)
Woo-hoo! Hope you enjoyed the dramatic Lions victory. Not to be lost in the hubbub is the fact that the Detroit secondary allowed Brady Quinn to look more like Peyton Manning than the Myoplex model (“Now I’m done.” Yes, we’ve known that for a while, Brady). Detroit’s defense is average-ish in sacks, but it doesn’t matter. The only concern here is that the Packers start grinding out the clock with Ryan Grant, limiting Rodgers’ opportunities. Jermichael Finley is back and got a lot of looks last week, so feel free to plug him in here over a gimpy Witten. Jordy Nelson and James Jones cut into each other’s value to be much use in anything but your experts-only 5 WR league.
GB: Rodgers +2, Jennings +2, Driver +2, Finley +2, Nelson +1, Jones +1
Any Lions fans with Tivo should probably just rewatch last week’s game while they wait for the 4:15 game to start. Stafford and Calvin Johnson haven’t practiced yet and are unlikely to play given the short week. Even if Stafford and/or Johnson play, there’s a good chance of them heading to the sidelines partway through the game. The Packers secondary is good enough that you shouldn’t waste time scrounging for value from Culpepper, Northcutt, or Bryant Johnson in this game, but if you’re stuck feel free to play Brandon Pettigrew. He’s like a more urban Zach Miller. You can call him Black Miller.
DET: Culpepper -2, Northcutt -2, Bryant Johnson -2, Pettigrew 0, Stafford out, Calvin Johnson out
Thursday 4:15 PM game
Oakland (12th) @ Dallas (20th)
Blech and double blech. You shouldn’t be bothering with Oakland WR’s unless your league rewards drops and 40 yard dash times. Zach Miller rolls along with whoever they play at QB, and since I don’t see the Raiders having much success running on Dallas, he should get quite a few looks.
OAK: Gradkowski -1, WR’s -2, Miller +1
I wish I could tell you what’s going on with the Dallas offense. Last week against the Redskins they totaled 305 yards — 153 rushing (good) and 152 passing (not good). Oakland, like Washington, is better at defending the pass than the run, so I wouldn’t feel terribly confident about starting Romo, Austin, or Roy Williams. Jason Witten will likely be a game decision, so Martellus Bennett may get a few more looks, but he’s probably riskier than the top waiver options in most leagues.
DAL: Romo -1, Austin -1, Williams 0, Witten -2
Thursday 8:30 PM game
New York Giants (2nd) @ Denver (3rd)
Eli came out of the bye week like Gang Busters against a terrible Atlanta secondary. While I think he’ll have continued success against Denver, take a look at last week’s line by Philip Rivers (17/22, 145 yards, 1 TD) — efficient, but for fantasy purposes you’d rather have an inefficient day with lots of yards and redzone attempts. Manningham regained a little ground in the 3 way WR race with Steve Smith and Nicks. I haven’t been a big Kevin Boss fan, but he’s had 3 productive weeks in a row so he’s a worthy option if you’re scrounging for TE value (though to be fair, his WK 9 17 yard performance was salvaged by a TD).
NYG: Manning -1, Smith -1, Manningham -1, Nicks -1, Boss 0
The Giants pass defense hasn’t been nearly as dominant over the last few weeks as their ranking might suggest (which is in large part due to early seasons games against teams like Tampa Bay). Matt Ryan, subject of various “sell high” articles here (and with good reason), exposed the Giants secondary last week with 268 yards and 2 TD’s. The bigger question is Kyle Orton’s health — it looks like he’ll play, but the ankle injury may inhibit his ability to move around the pocket and deliver the ball with accuracy. Downgrade here even with the questionable NYG secondary.
DEN: Orton -1, Marshall -1, Royal -1
Sunday 1 PM games
Tampa Bay (14th) @ Atlanta (29th)
Josh Freeman gets a nice matchup against the Falcons, but he’s still mistake prone and a huge risk. Just based on the matchup, you can consider Antonio Bryant as a WR3 and Kellen Winslow as a little better than waiver option.
TB: Freeman 0, Bryant +1, Winslow +1
Matty Ice finally gets a reprieve from his terrible second half schedule. Tampa’s pass defense rates mid-pack but as mentioned in this space, that rating is a function of opponents choosing to run against the putrid rushing defense once they have a lead. If you’ve been waffling about playing Ryan, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez over the last few weeks, breathe easy and start all 3 with confidence. Roddy White was held of out of Wednesday’s practice (as he has in previous weeks), but unless further news breaks before the weekend you shouldn’t worry about it.
ATL: Ryan +2, White +2, Gonzalez +2
Washington (1st) @ Philadelphia (10th)
Really, don’t bother. Campbell will occasionally get his yardage just from the sheer number of attempts, but you’re always risking an implosion (and benching). Moreover, Campbell’s preference for tossing underneath passes to RB’s and TE’s limits the value of the Redskins receivers. Fred Davis is worth a look if you’re out of other options as the Eagles blitz often results big days for TE’s.
WAS: Campbell -1, Moss -1, Davis +1
Are you really worried about starting McNabb here? It’s not like they’re going to start handing 20 carries a game to McCoy. Well, not 2 weeks in a row, anyway. Even if they get a lead and run a little more than usual, this offense starts with the passing game and McNabb should have plenty of attempts. He might not get his usual yardage but Philadelphia throws in the redzone plenty so TD’s should be available. Maclin’s a safe bet for 60ish yards, and if you’re lucky he’ll nab a TD as well. Avant’s getting screen time but he can’t be relied on.
PHI: McNabb 0, Jackson 0, Maclin 0, Celek 0
Carolina (5th) @ New York Jets (4th)
Not a great situation here. Delhomme had trouble against the Miami secondary last week — and this week you can expect Revis to shadow Steve Smith for most of the game. What happens when Delhomme’s favorite target isn’t open? Is it more likely that he’ll spread it around to other receivers and find the open target? Or is it more likely that he forces it more than a few times and pays the price? I know where I’d put my money.
CAR: Delhomme -2, Smith -2, Rosario -1
Sanchez completed 8 passes against the Patriots secondary last week. He also completed 4 passes TO the Patriots secondary. That’s not good. I don’t expect him to be that bad this week, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jets feature a run-heavy attack against a bad Panthers rush defense. Cotchery isn’t quite matchup-proof but he seems to produce even in tough games so he’s just a mild downgrade here.
NYJ: Sanchez -2, Cotchery -1, Edwards -2, Keller -2
Seattle (23rd) @ St. Louis (24th)
Despite not getting into the endzone, the Seahawks passing game was actually productive against the Vikings — high completion percentage, good yards per attempt, and over half the completions were to the top 2 receivers Burleson and Houshmandzadeh. On the other hand, Carlson disappeared completely — and this is after he barely salvaged the previous week with a single 31 yard TD catch. If you can’t risk a goose egg from your TE, it may be worth playing someone like Pettigrew who is a pretty safe bet to at least chip in 40-50 yards.
SEA: Hasselbeck +2, Burleson +2, Houshmandzadeh +2, Carlson -1
Here we have a case in which what’s good for the Rams in real football is bad for us in fantasy football. Ideally, in a marginal pass offense you’d hope for the production to be focused on one player (giving him competitive fantasy value — Megatron is probably the most extreme example). In this instance, the emergence of Amendola and Gibson as (somewhat) productive targets means Avery becomes riskier as a fantasy option. Avery is still the most explosive of the group, however, and this isn’t a bad matchup…if it weren’t for the reintroduction of Kyle Boller. Avoid if possible.
STL: Boller 0?, Avery 0, Gibson 0, Amendola 0
Miami (22nd) @ Buffalo (9th)
Henne continued his rookie-Matt-Ryan-lite impression last week. Davone Bess is playable in PPR leagues, but he’s marginal in non-PPR, and there’s just not much value beyond that, especially against a Buffalo defense that is much more susceptible against the run.
MIA: Henne -1, Bess 0, Hartline/Ginn/Camarillo -1
OK, what the hell? Even if you take away T.O.’s 98 yard touchdown, he’d still sport an 8 catch, 99 yard line last week, which I daresay most T.O. owners would be more than happy with at this point. The Dolphins secondary is pretty bad as well, but who knows if this week it’ll be Lee Evans that dominates and Owens gets stuck with a single 15 yard catch? I’m hoping you’ve traded out of this situation by now, but if not, this is another pretty good matchup — just understand the Buffalo passing game is high risk against any defense.
BUF: Fitzpatrick +1, Owens +1, Evans +1
Cleveland (26th) @ Cincinnati (19th)
All aboard the Brady Quinn Express! Well, actually, the Brady Quinn Express is about to derail again. The Bengals secondary isn’t terrible and they’ll get more pressure on Quinn that the Lions did. Forget the blip and resume your previously scheduled disgust off all things related to the Browns pass offense.
CLE: Quinn -1, Massaquoi -2, Stuckey -1, Cribbs 0 (return yardage leagues)
2 questions: (1) Did you see what Stafford did to Cleveland? and (2) Do you think that Carson Palmer is a better quarterback with more weapons than Stafford? Love this matchup. Cleveland’s defense is getting worse each week and the Bengals will be motivated after falling prey to a classic trap game scenario against the Raiders. Ochocino and Coles are great plays here, not interested in Caldwell.
CIN: Palmer +2, Ochocinco +2, Coles +2
Indianapolis (18th) @ Houston (15th)
Matchup proof. Peyton had an “off” game against Baltimore’s defense, off-setting his 1 TD with 2 INT’s and barely missing the 300-yard bonus. Rankings aside, I don’t believe that Houston’s secondary is actually as good as Baltimore’s so I wouldn’t worry about it. For the time being it looks like Pierre Garcon has taken the #2 WR spot for himself (de facto #3 target after Wayne and Clark), so downgrade Austin Collie until we see him get a little more involved.
IND: Manning +1, Wayne +1, Clark +1, Garcon 0, Collie -1
Looks like Houston’s solution to the loss of Owen Daniels is just to spread the ball around to every damn eligible receiver on the roster. Oh well. Walter retains his previous value with the possibility of a bit more, but I don’t think we’re going to see the huge boost we were hoping for. Andre Johnson remains #1 with a bullet. David Anderson’s an interesting guy but I don’t see him surpassing Walter this year (which means he’s near worthless for fantasy). Indy’s secondary is well coached but they are young and I think Schaub won’t have too much trouble picking them apart.
HOU: Schaub +1, Johnson +2, Walter 0
Sunday 4 PM games
Jacksonville (25th) @ San Francisco (30th)
After some big swings in value, the Jaguars pass offense has settled down to just about what we expected. Against a bad pass defense, Garrard is a safe bet for 200-220 yards, and 1 or 2 TD’s. Sims-Walker is a great play against an undermanned 49ers secondary, but beyond that the production is too scattered to be of use.
JAC: Garrard +1, Sims-Walker +2
Alex Smith is erratic, but he’s making plays and that’s not a bad thing against a bad Jags defense. Still, play any proven starter over him. Crabtree and Vernon Davis have separated themselves as targets and both are excellent plays here. This doesn’t pertain to this week’s matchup particularly, but I have to say I’ve been shocked at how productive Crabtree has been after missing training camp, preseason, and several game weeks. It’s going to be difficult to project his value for next year’s draft but he could be very, very good.
SF: Smith +1, Crabtree +2, Davis +2
Kansas City (28th) @ San Diego (11th)
I hate this matchup. KC shocked the Steelers but they were still nearly doubled up in yardage. Think they’re going to be quite as motivated this week as they were last? The SD secondary is better than the Polamalu-less Steelers unit, and while Chambers has some personal motivation to perform well in this game, I’m not sure it’ll matter much.
KC: Cassel -2, Chambers -1, Long -2, Bradley -2, Wade -2
With the game against Denver clearly in control, Rivers wasn’t required to take many shots downfield last week. It’s about as good a bad game as you could hope for (or maybe as bad a good game). What I mean is that his lack of fantasy production was only a result of his team’s dominant performance in all phases of the game, not because he was personally struggling or some deficiency in the Chargers pass offense. Even if San Diego takes an early lead, I’d expect good yardage and TD opportunities against the Chiefs. V-Jax and Gates remain the big dogs; if you added Floyd’s and Naanee’s lines together it’s a nice day but individually neither is worth starting.
SD: Rivers +2, Jackson +2, Gates +2, Floyd 0, Naanee 0
Arizona (27th) @ Tennessee (31st)
As of Wednesday, it looked as if Warner will play, but you should be ready with another option just in case. Leinart’s an easy spot start here if Warner sits; it’s clear (even in last week’s game) that he’s not nearly as dynamic a downfield passer as Warner, but it’s a great matchup with great weapons. I don’t buy the Titans defensive resurgence entirely (Schaub was just fine against them) so I’m still upgrading the Arizona offense here.
ARI: Warner +2/Leinart +1, Fitzgerald +2, Boldin +2, Breaston +2
Arizona’s pass defense isn’t as bad as these numbers and Tennessee isn’t much of a passing threat with Chris Johnson doing his thing. But the reemergence of Vince Young is something we need to take notice of. His rushing ability makes him a possible start every week especially in leagues where rushing yards and TD’s are worth more than passing yards and TD’s. If he plays conservatively in the passing game and gets you 50+ yards in the running game he can be reliable, but if he has to pass a lot while down, it could be a disaster. Oh, and the Titans do have some wide receivers. Kenny Britt looks like he is becoming one of Young’s favorite, but it’s just hard to project any of them getting enough work to be startable.
TEN: Young 0, Britt -1, Washington -2, Scaife -2
Chicago (8th) @ Minnesota (21st)
Finally we won’t be subjected to the Bears in a night game. There’s been a lot of amateur psychoanalysis of Cutler done over the last few weeks, but all I can say is that he looks out of sync with the receivers. He’s consistently missing the open opportunities and forcing the ball into unnecessarily tight spots. The offensive line isn’t helping him, and that’s a legitimate concern against the Vikings and Jared Allen. Minnesota’s secondary isn’t great, but given their pass rush and Cutler’s inconsistency (or, more accurately, his consistently poor play), I think you have to give them at least a mild downgrade across the board. He does seem to be relying more on Olsen so that’s a decent play.
CHI: Cutler -1, Hester -1, Bennett -1, Knox -2, Olsen 0
The Bears pass defense ranking does not scare me at all — Favre has answered all my questions. Since they loosened the reins after the first 3 weeks, he’s been productive in nearly every kind of game and situation. Even Berrian who had a “bad” week with just 11 yards managed to snag a TD. Favre, Sidney Rice, and Shiancoe are all top tier options right now and should be played every week. Harvin’s just a step down but has huge potential. Berrian is a little riskier as he hasn’t been consistently involved in the offense (in part due to minor injuries) but is still playable. The zeroes here do not indicate any lack of confidence, but instead are recognizing that expected value is so high it’s difficult to “upgrade” them much against anything but the worst defenses.
MIN: Favre 0, Rice 0, Harvin 0, Berrian -1, Shiancoe 0
Sunday 8 PM game
Pittsburgh (13th) @ Baltimore (17th)
The Steelers pass offense put up huge numbers trying to stay in the game with the Chiefs (kind of weird to write that), but I don’t see them repeating that success this week. Roethlisberger has a history of concussions and even if he plays as expected, I’d be worried about both the direct and indirect effects on his play, as well as the possibility that another good hit takes him out of the game. Additionally, the Ravens secondary is much better than the Chiefs (and better than their 17th place ranking). Holmes, Ward, and Miller are still playable here, but I’m downgrading them a bit for those 2 reasons. I wouldn’t take the chance on a big Mike Wallace reception here.
PIT: Roethlisberger -1, Holmes -1, Ward -1, Miller 0, Wallace -2
Flacco looked pretty good against the young Colts secondary, and only his inability to get a TD or two limited his production last week. Polamalu is unlikely to play in this game and by all appearances his absence turns the Steelers from an excellent pass defense to an average or worse pass defense. Derrick Mason is a nice play here, and Todd Heap is a low end TE fill-in, but that’s about it, since Ray Rice garners so many pass targets.
BAL: Flacco +1, Mason +1, Heap 0
Monday 8:30 PM game
New England (6th) @ New Orleans (16th)
Brady, Moss, and Welker. Start those three. Edelman and Stanback. Do not start those two, regardless of how many times the announcers remind you that they played quarterback in college. The Saints secondary is good but not great, and it’d take more than a great secondary to make it worth considering not starting Brady, Moss, or Welker. How many ways can it be said? Don’t bench them. Do, however, expect the production of Moss and Welker to even back out from last week — that was an a Revis-caused aberration.
NE: Brady +1, Moss +1, Welker +1
I want to mention Robert Meachem and the quandary he presents. In terms of overall looks, receptions, and yardage, he isn’t producing enough to be worthy of fantasy consideration on a weekly basis. But damned if he doesn’t get into the endzone on 86% of his receptions (probably not true). It’s like Colston, Shockey, Henderson, and Bush are busy in the kitchen making sandwiches while Meachem sits on the couch watching So You Think You Can Dance, and just when Colston, Shockey, Henderson, and Bush are all smearing mayonnaise on the top slice of bread and smushing it down onto the sandwich, Meachem jumps up, runs over, and eats all the sandwiches. Now, read that again but replace sandwiches with touchdowns. And the sandwich ingredients are yards. Or maybe receptions. But if your league rewards sandwiches, then consider Meachem to be your deli-man.
NO: Brees 0, Colston 0, Meachem 0, Henderson -1, Shockey -1