Introductory paragraphs are the most difficult. The temptation to say things like, “Hello, everybody out there in cyberspace!” is almost overwhelming. Also, clever titles are difficult. This is a weekly look at pass defense matchups, so I considered “Air Force One” (GET OFF MY PLANE!) or “Air Traffic Control” (maybe a humorous line about the labor strike?). Feel free to make suggestions, or I’ll just make Doc write one for me.
A quick word about my rating system — I think league settings vary too much for me to be able to rank players accurately for you. Instead, I’m going to assume you have a basic ranking of players already, and will use a weekly rating of -2, -1, 0, +1, or +2 to indicate how I think this week’s matchup affects the base value of the player. Consider -1 and +1 to move the player to the bottom or top of their current tier; -2 and +2 bumps them into the tier below or above their normal position. Long term value changes will be discussed and the rating adjusted accordingly.
1 PM games
Cleveland @ Buffalo
Cleveland and Buffalo are both just a bit worse than league average in pass defense; unfortunately, both teams have so many questions surrounding their pass offenses that it’s a bit of a waste. For Cleveland, Derek Anderson had a decent second week as a starter against Cincinnati, but with Braylon Edwards on his way to the Jets, it remains to be seen if Massaquoi and Robert Royal can get open while drawing primary defensive attention. New addition Chansi Stuckey is unplayable. For Buffalo, Trent Edwards shouldn’t be relied on as more than a QB2 or bye week fill-in. T.O. and Lee Evans are still talented enough to play as WR2’s in most leagues. Buffalo doesn’t utilize TE’s enough to garner consideration. In other circumstances this ought to be a good week for both offenses, but most of their problems are internal.
Dallas @ Kansas City
Dallas and Kansas City are both listed near the bottom in pass defense, giving up just a bit over 250 yards a game. Dallas might be a bit better than they’ve shown; the more they can pressure the quarterback, the better their secondary will look. Romo still managed 255 yards against a tight Denver defense; if Dallas takes a lead, he might not increase that yardage much, but I do expect him to get at least a touchdown or two. Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton are both excellent plays and in deeper formats Miles Austin can be considered. Look for Witten to get involved after totaling only 31 yards last week. If KC is trailing, I expect a lot of passing from Cassel, but this also means Dallas can start really putting the pressure on him. Bowe remains a solid play, and if you’re scrounging for TE’s, Sean Ryan is seeing a lot of targets. Wade is too inconsistent to be relied on.
Minnesota @ St. Louis
Surprisingly, St. Louis’ pass defense isn’t that much worse statistically than Minnesota’s. I think the stats hide a bit of the reality here, though, as teams can run on STL at will, and usually have a lead early, meaning they aren’t required to throw in the second half nearly as much. For this reason (and the presence of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor), I wouldn’t upgrade your MIN starters too much. Still, I expect decent yardage from Favre with at least a couple big shots down the field, and Peterson and Harvin can turn dump-offs and screens into big yardage against STL. Berrian is likely to be targeted downfield several times. Shiancoe is a decent play as well, though I’d be surprised if MIN was required to throw near the goal line. STL’s passing game is clouded by the QB situation; neither Bulger nor Boller inspire much confidence. Donnie Avery will have some tough weeks until the QB situation is settled.
MIN: Favre +2, Berrian +2, Harvin +2, Shiancoe +1
STL: Bulger/Boller -2, Avery -1
Oakland @ New York Giants
Oakland is slightly better than average in defending the pass; however, the Asomugha effect is always a worry for the opposing #1 WR. New York is simply dominant right now. The only Raider you should ever consider would be Zach Miller; the lingering concussion and the matchup mean he should sit. Newly nonparenthetical Steve Smith declared that the Giants will test Asomugha, but Eli’s plantar fascia may disrupt the passing game. Manningham’s role in the offense may be diminished by the return of Hakeem Nicks. Other people like Kevin Boss more than I do; I don’t see Eli needing to target him very frequently in this game, but they will use the extra blocker. Eli was held out of practice on Wednesday; if he doesn’t start, downgrade the WR’s and TE a little more.
OAK: Seriously? Everyone -10
NYG: Manning -1, Smith 0, Manningham -1, Nicks +1, Boss -1
Tampa Bay @ Philadelphia
Tampa Bay is midpack in passing yards against; however, these yards are coming in the fewest passing attempts against. Because of their abominable run defense, teams aren’t throwing very much, but when they do take their shots, big plays happen. This means trouble against playmakers like DeSean Jackson. Celek should be in line for a nice game as well. Kevin Curtis (knee injury) is still the second WR, but I like slot receiver Jason Avant as much if not more. This is a perfect game for McNabb’s return and you should have no worries about starting him. If McNabb can’t play, feel free to use Kolb as a strong QB2 or bye week fill-in. As for Tampa…well, it’d be hard to recommend anyone on Tampa’s offense, but matched up against the second best pass defense, it’s a no-brainer to avoid them. If possible, sit Kellen Winslow too until he shows he can get involved with Johnson at QB.
TAM: Winslow -2, Everyone else -5
PHI: McNabb/Kolb +1, Jackson +2, Avant +1, Curtis 0, Celek +2
Pittsburgh @ Detroit
Pittsburgh slides to mid pack in pass defense without Polamalu, while Detroit is just horrendous. The Drew Brees bombing makes the numbers look a little worse than they are in reality, but don’t kid yourself — they are bad. Pittsburgh’s willingness to give Mendenhall 25-30 carries may limit the amount of damage Roethlisberger can dish out, but if Pittsburgh’s fourth quarter defensive woes continue, they may have to keep throwing to maintain their lead. Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes are both good plays, and Mike Wallace is worth a look in deeper formats. Expect a decent day from Heath Miller (but not 2 TD’s). This isn’t a bad matchup for Detroit, as we’ve seen that you can throw on Pittsburgh, but Stafford’s health makes things dicey. With a healthy Stafford, I’d expect a nice day from Calvin Johnson. If Stafford can’t play (and he did miss Wednesday’s practice), downgrade Johnson a bit and upgrade Brandon Pettigrew as Culpepper is likely to check down frequently.
Washington @ Carolina
The Redskins and the Panthers are both near the top in pass defense, but Carolina is allowing an abnormally high completion percentage. Since Washington isn’t a big play offense anyway, I’d expect decent yardage totals and good completion percentage, but a low chance of passing touchdowns. Jason Campbell partially salvaged his Week 4 with a couple touchdowns, but if your league penalizes interceptions and fumbles lost, I’d avoid him until we see a solid performance. Cooley is a must play here (especially in PPR leagues), as I expect lots of underneath patterns. I don’t like Santana Moss’s chances of busting any long TD’s but he’s still a serviceable WR2. Don’t rely on Delhomme as anything but an emergency injury or bye-week fill in. Steve Smith (CAR) is a must play but temper expectations. If Washington bottles up the WR’s, Dante Rosario could have a good day.
Cincinnati @ Baltimore
Cincinnati is allowing a lot of passing yards per game, but they are pretty good at pressuring the QB and limiting passing TD’s. Baltimore’s defense is only a few spots ahead of Cincy’s so far in 2009. I expect Baltimore’s D to be motivated after last week’s loss to the Patriots, but I’m not confident they can shut down Cincy and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bit of a shootout. Start Palmer without worry (though don’t be surprised by at least one INT). Ochocinco is a strong play. Andre Caldwell has doubled Laveranues Coles’ production so far, plus he’ll help in return yardage leagues. Flacco will have a below average week sooner or later but I don’t think it’s this week. Derrick Mason remains a strong play, and Todd Heap is decent if unexciting. Mason was held out of the Wednesday’s practice with a neck injury, so keep an eye on him and give a mild upgrade to Mark Clayton if Mason is out.
4 PM games
Atlanta @ San Francisco
Atlanta is an odd case — they are allowing 245.3 passing yards per game, good for 6th worst in the league. But they’ve also only allowed 3 passing touchdowns, 1 in each game so far. San Francisco, on the other hand, is very good on both counts — 210.3 yards per game and 4 passing touchdowns against in 4 games. SF’s excellent rush defense probably means that ATL will be forced to pass frequently anyway though, so don’t downgrade Matt Ryan et al too much. Shaun Hill is a low risk, low reward bye week fill in, and this might be the week Josh Morgan owners are rewarded. Vernon Davis remains a strong play. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez are all safe starts, though I doubt we’ll see White bust his first big play this week. If SF bottles up the passing game watch for Gonzalez to get a lot of underneath looks. Michael Jenkins hasn’t received much fantasy attention, but he’s actually just a tick above his yards per game pace from last year – keep an eye on him.
Jacksonville @ Seattle
The Jaguars are allowing the most passing yards per game, the second most completions per game, the second highest completion percentage, and have the fewest sacks in the league. This is a smorgasbord of passing opportunity for Seattle, and I don’t think it matters whether Hasselbeck or Seneca Wallace starts. Great week to own John Carlson, Nate Burleson, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Seattle is boringly midpack in pass defense. Garrard has alternated horrible games and excellent games, but he’s mostly played to the quality of the opposing defense. I expect his first average performance (but still worth starting as he has potential to turn in an excellent week). Sims-Walker is quickly approaching WR1 status, and Holt is a solid WR2. Marcedes Lewis is a solid but unexciting play at TE this week.
JAC: Garrard 0, Sims-Walker 0, Holt 0, Lewis 0 (I did actually consider all of those carefully…I just don’t see anything out of the ordinary here)
SEA: Hasselbeck/Wallace +1, Burleson +2, Houshmandzadeh +2, Carlson +2
Houston @ Arizona
Houston statistically ranks a bit above average against the pass, but the Swiss cheese run defense means teams aren’t required to throw as predictably against the Texans. Arizona’s units are reversed, with a possibly stout run defense “complimented” by a porous pass defense. Expect great numbers from a dangerous Houston passing game — Schaub, Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter, and Owen Daniels are all great starts, and Jacoby Jones is worth a look in deeper leagues or leagues with return yardage. Despite Houston’s defensive statistics, I wouldn’t downgrade Arizona too much — they don’t have the run scheme to pound the ball 30-40 times a game successfully. Start Warner, Fitzgerald, and Boldin confidently. Breaston should be healthy after Arizona’s bye so he’s a good play as a WR2 or flex.
New England @ Denver
New England’s defense isn’t particularly impressive per play, but so far they are limiting the numbers of plays the opponent can run. For instance, they are giving up 4.5 yards per carry, but only 95.3 yards rushing per game. Similarly, none of their pass defense numbers stand out as exceptional, but they are limiting opposing QB’s to 192.3 yards per game. Denver’s defensive numbers are near the best in the league; quality of opponent was a question, but they passed the first real test against Dallas. Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker remain must starts (assuming health, which is no small thing with Belichick — have plan B ready). Ben Watson downgrades from marginal to unplayable. Brady is smart enough not to throw directly at Champ Bailey, but you still have to assume that either Moss or Welker will have a rough day, if not both. I think Welker’s a safer bet as he gets more catches underneath on quick slants. I don’t like Orton facing the Patriots defense…if he can’t rack up cheap yards, there’s not a lot of value there. Marshall is (finally) a must start, but Royal is risky until we see a decent game from him. Scheffler may have value if Orton is forced to throw underneath.
8 PM game
Indianapolis @ Tennessee
This is simply a mismatch; Indy’s pass defense and pass offense units are among the best in the league, while Tennessee can’t stop anyone and just this week has given their QB the “vote of confidence.” I don’t see Manning & Co taking it easy on the Titans, so if you’ve got a Colt, put him in your lineup. Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark are must starts, and even Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie are worth consideration as WR2, WR3, and flex plays. On the other hand, this may be the week that breaks Kerry Collins, particularly if Dwight Freeney can play enough to put consistent pressure on him. Any team that can dump off to Chris Johnson has a chance, but don’t look for much production from Nate Washington, Justin Gage, or either part of the Bo Scaife/Alge Crumpler combo. If you have to, start Washington — he’s scored in three straight, including one against the Jets defense.
New York Jets @ Miami
The Jets are in a virtual tie with Indianapolis for second best in passing yards per attempt allowed (the Giants are first), and lead the league with a 51.0% completion allowed — in a word, dominant. Miami is below league average in passing yards per game allowed, but they do get decent pressure on the QB and have limited opponents to a 57.6% completion rate. Mark Sanchez has a new target in Braylon Edwards, but despite New York claiming they will have Braylon ready to play by Monday night, this doesn’t (positively) affect the NYJ offense for Week 5, except perhaps for Jerricho Cotchery if he (temporarily) garners less defensive attention. Dustin Keller should continue to get targets until Braylon is integrated into the offense. Whatever remains of the Miami pass offense must be downgraded precipitously. It’s hard to imagine either Teddy Ginn or Devone Bess having much success this week. Henne and Anthony Fasano should not be rostered in most leagues.