So, here we are at Week 11 of the NFL/Fantasy Football season…the nitty gritty, if you will. Fantasy teams that are at 4-6, 5-5 or 6-4 really need to win this week because next week is very likely the last game of the season for most of you; any chance of hanging in there to grab a final playoff spot will hinge on a win this week. Of course, this assumes you’re still in it with a record like that; there may be a good portion of you that are out of it. But hey, you’re still playing for pride and there is no way you should just lay down. That’s simply not fair to the rest of your league. I play in way too many leagues, and in about half of them I am not in the running for a playoff berth. However, my strategy for those leagues won’t be any different than it is for the leagues in which I am on the way to the playoffs; I’m going at it hard in all my leagues. That’s how I roll, and it’s how you should roll, too. As always, matchup analysis should be used to decide between two evenly ranked players; never bench your studs because of the matchup.
Passing Matchups to Exploit
Tom Brady vs. Indianapolis Colts – The Patriots’ offense has been killing it over the past few weeks. With Rob Gronkowski at 100 percent health and the team’s offensive line finally gelling, Tom Brady has ample time to make his reads and get the ball out to his favorite target. The Colts’ defense is as porous as can be; they’ve allowed an average of 264 passing yards per game this season and 16 passing TDs. In Week 9, they allowed 349 passing yards to the lowly Giants, and in Week 8, Ben Roethlisberger smoked them for 522 passing yards. Suffice to say, Brady is a better QB than either of those gents, and Gronk presents a mismatch that no team can compensate for. The Patriots also seem to struggle with pass coverage on the road, so this game could turn into shootout. I’ll take Brady in a shootout against just about anyone, but especially against this Colts secondary.
Robert Griffin III vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Everybody picks on the poor Bucs, and with good reason. They are ranked 31st in the NFL against the pass, allowing an average of 277 passing yards per game. They’ve coughed up 19 passing TDs, 14 of them to the WR position, against whom they’ve given up a league-high 29.5 Fantasy points per game. Griffin looked pretty sharp in his first outing back from the ankle injury and he’s now had two weeks to prepare for the Buccaneers. He should have a healthy Jordan Reed on the field, giving Griffin a full complement of targets to hit. This one could get ugly early.
Derek Carr vs. San Diego Chargers – The Chargers were the Cinderella story of the opening weeks of the season, rattling off five straight wins after losing the opener to the Cardinals, starting with a Week 2 spanking of the Seahawks. Unfortunately, they’ve dropped three straight since Week 7, as both the offensive line and the defensive secondary have broken down. Overall, the Chargers have allowed just 229 passing yards per game on average, but they’ve also allowed 17 passing TDs and have just four interceptions and only 15 sacks. They lack aggressiveness in all phases of their defense, a flaw that is at the root of their recent failures on the gridiron. In the meantime, Derek Carr has been carrying the Raiders’ offense over the last three games, attempting 41 or more pass plays in each; he’s thrown two TDs and two interceptions in each of the last two games. He’s discovered that TE Mychal Rivera can be a weapon, especially in the red zone, and James Jones continues to be the king of garbage time. I’m not sure the Raiders can pull of a win here because they lack any semblance of a running game, but Carr could certainly put up respectable numbers against the Chargers’ lackluster D.
Passing Matchups to Avoid
Russell Wilson vs. Kansas City Chiefs and Alex Smith vs. Seattle Seahawks – You get double the fun in this one folks, because neither QB is in for a good day in this game. Wilson has been trending downward of late, to say the least. He hasn’t cracked 200 yards in his last three games, has just one TD in that span (two games ago) and has only one 300 yard game all season. If not for his legs, he wouldn’t be among the Top 12 QBs. The Seahawks have consciously gone back to smashmouth football, running the ball more often and letting Marshawn Lynch carry the offense. The Chiefs’ defense is among the league’s toughest; they allow about 112 rushing yards per game but have yet to give up a rushing TD. Their pass rush is fourth in the league with 28 sacks and they allow the fewest passing yards per game on average (205).
Smith’s recent numbers aren’t all that different from Wilson. He’s averaged less than 200 yards per game over the last three, has just two TDs in that span and hasn’t had a 300 yard game at all this season. Smith is the epitome of a game manager and Jamaal Charles is the straw that stirs the drink for the Chiefs. Seattle’s pass defense is nothing special this season but they should have no trouble containing Smith, who just doesn’t have the arm strength to scare anyone at all. The bottom line here is that this looks like a low-scoring defensive battle from start to finish, with the team that makes the fewest mistakes coming away with the victory. Neither QB will be the focal point of the offense, so neither of them will put up much in the way of yardage. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see neither team score a touchdown.
Eli Manning vs. San Francisco 49ers – The Giants’ offense has been so inconsistent this season, especially since the loss of Victor Cruz, but really all season long. Eli Manning has been better than last year and earlier this season, but you just never know which Manning is going to show; he’s still subject to major meltdowns that result in turnovers galore. The 49ers pass defense is ranked fourth overall, allowing 215 yards per game on average. They’ve allowed 17 passing TDs but have 11 interceptions and 15 sacks, and QBs have completed just 58.5 percent of passes against them. Cleveland is the only defense that has a lower QB completion rate against. Given Manning’s inconsistency and the Niners’ need to win this game, I’m leaning towards the hungry abusing the hopeless in this one.e
Rushing Matchups to Exploit
San Francisco 49ers vs. NY Giants – The Giants have allowed a league-worst 144 rushing yards per game this season after being abused by the Seattle Seahawks for 350 rushing yards just a week ago. They’ve also tied with the Falcons and Panthers for most in the league with 13 rushing TDs allowed. In short, the Giants come up quite short on the run. The ageless Frank Gore made it clear that talk of his demise is premature with 81 yards on 23 carries last week against the Saints, and Carlos Hyde has come on in recent weeks as a short yardage threat and potential TD vulture. The Niners seem to have recommitted to the run, and if they do to the Giants what they did to the Saints last week, Gore could cross the 100 yard threshold for the first time this season and Hyde could join him if things get out of control for NY early again.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears – There is no “D” in Chicago and no “D” on the Bears. That should be obvious after two consecutive weeks of allowing 50 plus points to opponents. While a good portion of the damage done to the Bears was in the passing game and by two of the best QBs in the NFL, they were also gashed for more than 120 rushing yards in both games. The Vikings will come out with a two-pronged attack led by Jerick McKinnon between the twenties and Matt Asiata in the red zone. Given the poor state of the Bears’ linebacker corps, it will only be a matter of time before they are worn down by this twosome, and Teddy Bridgewater will pass well enough to keep them off balance. The Vikings will put up some more crooked numbers in this game, which could be the final hurrah for Marc Trestman.
Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Detroit Lions vs. Arizona Cardinals and Arizona Cardinals vs. Detroit Lions– The Lions’ offensive line suffered some injuries last week that may require them to shuffle some players around to cover. On top of that, Reggie Bush is still hobbled by the lingering ankle injury that limited him last week. What was once a clear delineation of duties between Bush and Joique Bell has now become a three-headed monster, with Theo Riddick taking touches away from both of them, so that none of them are getting the kind of volume necessary for solid Fantasy production. Add in Arizona’s third-ranked rush defense, which allows an average of 79 rushing yards per game and has only given up five rushing TDs, and you’ve got a recipe for a big fat disappointment. You can’t start any of the three Lions RBs and expect to win a Fantasy matchup, so the whole shebang is best avoided altogether. By the way, I’m not especially fond of Andre Ellington vs. the Lions in this one either. The Lions rush defense is right up there with Arizona, so this could end up being another low scoring affair. Best to avoid both sides of the equation.
NY Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers – Yes, the Giants are expecting Rashad Jennings back for this game, so we cannot look at the RB results for NY over the past few weeks for comparison purposes. However, the 49ers rush defense has been fairly stout; they’re ranked fifth overall, allowing just 91 rushing yards per game on average and only five rushing TDs this season. So we have a solid defense up against a team that has offensive line issues, a lousy second RB in Andre Williams and an inconsistent passing game, all being led by a RB returning from a serious injury in his first game back. No thanks.