As we do every Friday, we’re going to take a look at some matchups to exploit or avoid for Week 4. Never ever bench your studs because of a matchup, but when you’re trying to decide between two somewhat evenly ranked players, this is when looking at matchups can be the difference between winning and losing during a given week.
Don’t forget that we’ve got six teams on a bye this week – the Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams will all be playing golf on Sunday. That makes for some tough decisions, especially with all the injuries to running backs.
Passing Matchups to Exploit
San Diego Chargers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – Everyone thought the Dallas defense was the worst in the NFL but as it turns out, the Jaguars are actually far worse. The Jags have already allowed 1,000 passing yards and eight touchdowns this season, and they’ve got exactly one interception as a team. Half of those touchdowns through the air have gone to tight ends, so a healthy Antonio Gates should have a big week. Philip Rivers has been efficient and accurate again this season and should pick apart a very weak Jaguars secondary. He’s averaging 255 yards per game and could easily top 300 yards this week, especially with the Chargers running game sorely lacking personnel to execute. Eddie Royal actually leads the Chargers in targets (22) with Gates (18) and Keenan Allen (17) right behind. Danny Woodhead, now on injured reserve, was the primary target in the red zone and in key third down situations, so this week could tell us a great deal about where his targets will be directed going forward. My money is on Royal, who clearly has Rivers’ trust already. Look for a big game from him as well.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles have also allowed eight passing TDs this season and the third most passing yards to quarterbacks (865 yds.), so they clearly have issues in the secondary as well. Philly has allowed an average of 26.2 Fantasy points to opposing QBs and last week they were lit up for 427 passing yards by Kirk Cousins. Half of the passing TDs allowed by the Eagles have gone to WRs, so Michael Crabtree, who leads the team in targets (24) and Anquan Boldin (21) should both have banner days. Vernon Davis is also expected to play and is always in the mix, especially in the red zone. Colin Kaepernick has just four TD passes and has thrown three interceptions so far, but he’s completed over 70 percent of his passes and has 131 rushing yards already. This should be a game in which he pads those stats nicely. Given that the 49ers defense has allowed seven passing TDs and hasn’t really shut any quarterback down yet, allowing an average of 22.4 FP per game to QBs, this could also be a big game for Nick Foles. Jeremy Maclin blows everyone else on the Eagles away when it comes to targets (31), so he could be in for a big day against San Fran. The 49ers have only allowed one score to TDs, so this won’t be the week that Zack Ertz breaks out. Both Jordan Matthews and Riley Cooper have been targeted regularly (both with 17 targets), so whenever Maclin doesn’t get the ball, one of those two will. This game has shootout written all over it and could be the highest scoring game of the week.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The poor Bucs were just abused by the Falcons on Thursday Night Football in Week 3, so much so that I doubt they’ve recovered, even with 10 days to prepare for their next opponent. Conversely, the Steelers efficiently dispatched the Panthers in Week 3 and Ben Roethlisberger looks like a rejuvenated QB so far in 2014. The Buccaneers are second only to the 49ers in Fantasy points allowed to wide receivers, averaging 30.3 per game, and the 573 yards they’ve allowed to the position are the fourth most in the NFL.
Detroit Lions vs. New York Jets – The Jets rushing defense is among the best in the NFL but the same cannot be said of their pass defense. In fact, their secondary has given up the fourth most Fantasy points to wide receivers, an average of 27.7 per game, and they’ve allowed five TD receptions to WRs, second most in the NFL. Matt Stafford is fourth in the NFL in passing yards (883) and eighth in attempts (114) through the first three weeks, though he has just three TDs and has thrown three interceptions. Calvin Johnson is Stafford’s favorite target with 34 so far but Golden Tate has 21 and Reggie Bush is third with 17. Johnson is banged up at the moment and had not practiced this week as of Friday morning, so this could be a big week for Tate, and we just might see Eric Ebron emerge as a scoring threat this week. Overall, given the Jets’ stout run defense, Stafford could be in for a 300 yard passing day that could involve both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell more on pass plays than anything else.
Passing Matchups to Avoid
New York Jets vs. Detroit Lions – Geno Smith has looked better this season but he’s still mistake prone, which could make this matchup with the opportunistic Lions defense very difficult for the second year quarterback. Add in that Eric Decker might not be ready to play against a defense that stifled Aaron Rodgers for just 162 passing yards and this looks like a nightmare in the making for the Jets receivers too. Jeremy Kerley will be covered heavily if Decker is a no go, so the Jets TE tandem of Jeff Cumberland and Jace Amaro could see more targets against the Lions, who have given up two TDs to the position in the first three games. Regardless of who gets targeted, it’s a terrible matchup which leads me to think the Jets receivers are best left on the bench this week.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots – The Patriots defense is ranked number one in the NFL against the pass, having allowed just 554 yards and three passing TDs through three games. They’ve intercepted six passes and allowed QBs just 14 rushing yards so far. The Pats have also allowed the fewest Fantasy points on average to QBs and WRs, and the fifth least to TEs this season. Alex Smith has been his usual game managing self out there; he’s thrown four TD passes with three interceptions and has a total of 643 yards, 22nd in the NFL. Jamaal Charles is expected to play and will again be the focal point of the offense. The Patriots will stack the line and force Smith to throw and interceptions will ensue. Besides, you’d have to wait until Monday night only to find out you’re getting nothing from your QB and/or receivers if you go with Smith, Dwayne Bowe or any other Chiefs player. Nope, not a good idea.
Rushing Matchups to Exploit
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – We’ve already declared the Bucs a bad defense and outlined their recent thrashing. Pittsburgh’s run game is already in mid-season form with both Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount registering 100-plus yard games against the stout Carolina Panthers defense. Everything points to another big game for both running backs in Week 4.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers – The Packers have been run over by a couple of trucks over the past two games after allowing 146 rushing yards to the Jets in Week 2 and 115 to the Lions in Week 3. And let’s not forget the thrashing they took from the Seahawks in Week 1 while we’re at it (137 yds.) Chicago’s Matt Forte has been rather quiet over the past two weeks after putting up 169 total yards (passing and running) in Week 1, but that should change against the Packers this week. Green Bay has allowed an average of 25.5 Fantasy points.
Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Carolina Panthers vs. Baltimore Ravens – The problem here is that the Panthers don’t have anyone healthy to run the ball. Oh, DeAngelo Williams is supposedly ready to play, but he hasn’t been able to shoulder a full workload on his own for several years, and the Panthers will likely have to turn to either Fozzy Whittaker or Darrin Reaves to help him. Whittaker has been sidelined with a quad injury and Reaves was on the practice squad until a week ago. The Ravens have been quite good against the run, allowing less than 90 yards per game and only two rushing TDs, both to the Browns last week. If you’re counting on Williams you’ve got a problem.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. San Diego Chargers – Toby Gerhart has been less than impressive, to put it kindly. But the real culprit here is the Jaguars offensive line, which can neither pass block nor run block. Meanwhile, the Chargers have yet to allow a rushing touchdown and have only allowed 184 rushing yards against the likes of Seattle, Arizona and Buffalo. Most of the damage by running backs against the Chargers has been through the air, but that’s not a strength of the Jaguars offense (then again, do they even have a strength?).