Hopefully, you had a chance to catch yesterday’s Xpert Eye in which I warned you about Brandon Bolden and Brandon LaFell. Last night’s game clearly showed that Bolden is not in Coach Bill Belichick’s plans for use at running back. Granted, I did think he was going to see at least some work, but Belichick instead opted to promote RB Jonas Gray from the practice squad and rotate him in there to spell Shane Vereen. Gray had three carries for 12 yards while Vereen had just 11 carried for 43 yards. Add in the one carry by Julian Edelman and that’s just 15 running plays vs. 37 pass attempts, which is very likely the way the Patriots will approach things from here on. You’ll see many more passing plays than running plays from the Patriots, which should increase Tom Brady’s overall Fantasy value going forward. Talk about turning a season around! Just two weeks ago, there was a parade of Fantasy analysts ready to bury Brady for the season.
The increased passing plays won’t necessarily help LaFell, who caught four passes for 55 yards in last night’s game. I still maintain that he is going to see limited targets, mainly longshots downfield that will result in an incomplete as often as not. This will limit LaFell’s value to those few times when he and Brady connect for a score. That isn’t something you want to bank on given the sporadic nature of that type of play and the number of drops that LaFell makes. LaFell just isn’t anything more than a matchup flex play.
Now that I’ve tooted my horn and made my soapbox speech, let’s get to the Week 7 matchups to exploit or avoid. As usual, this analysis is best used when evaluating somewhat equally ranked players. Don’t bench studs in poor matchups.
Passing Matchups To Exploit
Atlanta Falcons vs. Baltimore Ravens – Lots of folks are concerned about Matt Ryan from a Fantasy standpoint. The yardage has been there just about every week, but the touchdowns have not. Ryan has just one TD in each of his last two games, against the Bears and the Giants, not exactly considered to be great pass defenses. He’s also thrown four interceptions over his last three games, though that isn’t exactly out of character for Ryan, who takes his share of chances downfield. The Ravens have been surprisingly vulnerable to the pass this season; they’ve allowed more than 1,200 yards and five TDs to the wide receiver position. Ryan should rack up close to 300 yards in this game and connect with Julio Jones and/or Roddy White for at least one score against the Ravens’ less than quality secondary.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals are generally considered a good defensive team, but they are not without vulnerabilities, most notably to the TE position. They’ve allowed three TDs and a league-leading 473 reception yards to tight ends thus far. The Bengals have also allowed the eighth-most Fantasy points to the QB position. The rub is that they’ve also racked up seven interceptions, which marks them as a risk-taking defense that can be beaten by an accurate passer. Andrew Luck has connected for 17 TDs this season with seven interceptions and he leads the league in passing yards with 1,987 through six games. This should be another big game for Luck, who is most likely to connect with his TE Dwayne Allen for at least one score and will likely throw plenty to his favorite red zone target, Ahmad Bradshaw.
Detroit Lions vs. New Orleans Saints – Matt Stafford hasn’t exactly been striking fear in the hearts of opposing defenses this season, nor has he done his usual to help Fantasy owners. Last week, he managed just 185 passing yards with one TD against a weak Vikings defense. Of course, part of the problem last week was that the Lions’ defense simply crushed the Vikings offense so badly that Stafford didn’t need to do much to win. Then there’s also the fact that his most dangerous weapon, Calvin Johnson, is sidelined with a bum ankle. This week, the Lions face a more prolific offense in the Saints, which should require him to put up more points, and thus more passing yardage. Johnson probably won’t play again, though, nobody seems to know for sure, but Golden Tate has been a decent target for Stafford this season as well. The Saints have allowed nine passing TDs and have just one interception this season; they’re right up there with the Buffalo Bills in terms of Fantasy points allowed to QBs at 22.2 per game. Seven of those nine TDs have gone to wide receivers, so I’m expecting a big game for Stafford and Tate.
Passing Matchups to Avoid
NY Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys – This is always a competitive game; one that rarely goes in the Giants favor too. The Dallas defense has been much better than anyone anticipated; they’ve got seven interceptions on the season and are generating a tough pass rush. Just ask Russell Wilson, who was practically shut down on their home turf last week by these same Cowboys. After a couple of good offensive games, Eli Manning took a couple of giant leaps backwards last week, ultimately being plunked down on the pine by Coach Tom Coughlin after absorbing six sacks. Victor Cruz is gone, so the Giants will be relying on Reuben Randle, Preston Parker and rookie Odell Beckham to pick up the considerable slack. Let’s just say I’ve got a bad feeling about this one for the Giants and Manning because the Cowboys are on a roll.
New Orleans Saints vs. Detroit Lions – It was amazing to see Drew Brees and company struggle against a terrible Tampa Bay Buccaneers team two weeks ago. They needed to go into overtime to pull off what should have been a slam dunk win against what is arguably one of the worst defenses in the league. This week, they face the number one pass defense in the NFL in the Detroit Lions, who embarrassed the Vikings last week and have generally wreaked havoc on opposing offenses all season. There’s a very good chance that Jimmy Graham misses this game, which only makes things tougher for Brees. I’d avoid this game like the plague.
[Related Link] Jake Ciely’s Saints Fantasy Preview on neworleanssaints.com
Rushing Matchups to Exploit
Arizona Cardinals vs. Oakland Raiders – Only four teams have allowed more Fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Raiders, who are allowing close to 150 rushing yards per game on average. Last week, the Raiders allowed Branden Oliver, a third string RB making his second NFL start, to pile up 101 rushing yards in 26 carries. Andre Ellington enters this game averaging 3.8 yards per carry despite playing most of his games with a bum ankle. He’ll have the added benefit of a much improved passing game to complement his rushing efforts, now that Carson Palmer is back under center. This game has romp in the park written all over it, and you can reasonably expect Ellington to turn in his first game of 100 or more rushing yards for the season against the Raiders 31st ranked rush defense.
Green Bay Packers vs. Carolina Panthers – Eddie Lacy and the Packers offensive line have had their problems with the running game all season. Lacy has turned in just one game with more than 100 rushing yards and the offensive line carries most of the blame. Carolina’s defense has been up and down against the rush, allowing the Bengals to gash them for nearly 200 yards last week while holding the Bears to just 85 rushing yards the week prior. Overall, the Panthers have allowed the second-most Fantasy points to the RB position this season with the second most yards allowed and eight TDs. Given the passing prowess of Aaron Rodgers and home field advantage, you can expect Lacy to bounce back with a big game here. Rodgers will open the defense up with the pass, and Lacy will exploit the holes.
Buffalo Bills vs. Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings have allowed the fourth-most Fantasy points to the RB position this season, averaging 24 FP per game with eight touchdowns allowed. Over the last two games, the Vikings have allowed 100 rushing yards to the Lions and 156 rushing yards to the Packers. The Bills use an even split committee of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, but the more versatile Jackson has been enjoying the most success of the two, primarily because of his abilities in the passing game. The Vikings seem particularly vulnerable to versatile backs like Jackson, especially in light of the games put up by Joique Bell and Eddie Lacy, who beat them on the ground and through the air. Look for another fine Fantasy week from Jackson against a lost Vikings defense.
[Related Link] – First And Ten
Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Minnesota Vikings vs. Buffalo Bills – The Bills have the distinction of being the best rush defense in the NFL. They’ve allowed a stingy 68 yards per game and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown, one of only two teams than can boast the feat (KC is the other). The Vikings running game is in flux, with Jerick McKinnon coming on recently to take the majority of the RB touches at the expense of Matt Asiata, and by a decent margin. Neither Minnesota RB has been particularly effective this season from a Fantasy standpoint, even in seemingly good matchups. The Bills will effectively shut down the Vikings’ RB tandem, making them good candidates to ride your bench this week.
Oakland Raiders vs. Arizona Cardinals – The two Oakland RBs combined have scored exactly one touchdown this season. Darren McFadden has exactly one game in which he cracked the 60 yard rushing mark; last week against the Chargers he ran for 80 yards. Maurice Jones Drew’s best effort was 30 rushing yards, also against the Chargers. Meanwhile, the Cardinals own the second ranked defense against the run and have allowed the least yardage (295) and the third least average Fantasy points per game to RBs (12.3 FPPG). The Raiders are constantly playing from behind in games, making it necessary to abandon the running game, usually before the first half is over. Things are very likely to go the same way this week as well, making it a matchup to avoid.