Week 8 Passing & Rushing Matchups To Exploit Or Avoid
[caption id="attachment_263101" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Matt Stafford has a great matchup against the Falcons in London. Photo Credit: IllegalShift"][/caption]
Welcome to the Friday edition of The Xpert Eye, where we take up our usual Passing and Rushing Matchups to Exploit or Avoid, as we head into Week 8 of the NFL/Fantasy Football season. As always, matchup data is best utilized when comparing somewhat equally ranked players. In other words, don’t bench your studs just because they have a poor matchup, but if you are deciding between two studs or between two lower ranked players, the more favorable matchup could be the tipping point you’re looking for to make your decision.
Passing Matchups to Exploit
Matt Stafford vs. Atlanta Falcons – Lots of folks are worried about this game because it’s in London and being shown on American television at 9:30 AM on Sunday. However, the teams have been in England all week and should be acclimated to the time by Sunday, so there should be no worries about playing in the morning or any of that nonsense. The other big concern about Matt Stafford is that he is very likely going to be without Calvin Johnson again for this game. Before you get all worked up about that, keep in mind that Stafford still managed 299 passing yards and two passing TDs and he brought the Lions back from a 23-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to win the game. Golden Tate stepped up his game to make 10 receptions for 154 yards, including a 73 yard TD catch on a little sideline route in which he outran the entire Saints secondary.
The Falcons’ defense has been slowly sinking all season long, getting worse with each game to the point that they are now the 31st-ranked defense against the pass, allowing an average of 274 yards per game. Their pass rush has generated just seven sacks (two teams have fewer) and the secondary has just four interceptions. In other words, they’re not exactly a fearsome group of defenders. Stafford and company should have little problem getting their passing game going in high gear, with Golden Tate again getting about a dozen targets to lead the way. Megatron made the trip to London with the team but still isn’t practicing and isn’t likely to play. It won’t matter. The Lions have more than enough weapons to pick apart the depleted Falcons defense, making Stafford and Tate must-starts this week.
Kyle Orton vs. NY Jets – Kyle “Uncle Rico” Orton has been pretty darn good for Fantasy owners since he took over as the Bills’ QB. He’s started three games and has completed 85 of 124 pass attempts (68.5 percent) for 890 yards with five TDs and three interceptions. Overall, he’s averaged 21.5 Fantasy points per game (depending on league scoring), good enough to be the 13th ranked QB, right around Tony Romo and Cam Newton territory. Sammy Watkins has become his favorite receiver, with 30 targets in three games, and the guy he goes to when he needs a first down. In fact, 15 of his 18 receptions in that time have either been for a first down (13) or a TD (2).
The Jets’ rush defense is quite stout but they are just awful against the pass. Despite a pass rush that has generated 20 sacks, they’ve allowed a league-high 18 passing TDs and they’ve got just one interception this season. Granted, the Buffalo offense will have to adjust to life without Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who were both adept pass-catchers out of the backfield. However, with Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods along with the new RB tandem of Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown, the Jets will have their hands full trying to stop the Bills’ passing game. Orton should be good for at least a couple of scores to go with 250 passing yards; Watkins should have another stellar outing and Robert Woods should check in with a score as well.
Teddy Bridgewater vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Let’s face it; Teddy Bridgewater has not played very well so far. He’s thrown five interceptions over the last two games and has just one passing TD in his four games played this season. He looks very much like the rookie that he is but it’s not all his fault; the players around him, aside from Jerick McKinnon, haven’t done all that much to help their QB. Even so, Bridgewater does have one 300-yard passing game under his belt, that being Week 4 against Atlanta, when he completed 19 of 30 pass attempts and led the Vikings to a 41-28 thrashing of the Falcons. The point being that the talent is there.
Of course, the same can’t be said of the Buccaneers, whose pass defense is even worse than the Falcons. The Bucs have allowed a league-worst 295 passing yards per game on average and 15 TDs through the air. Only the aforementioned Jets have allowed more passing TDs. Tampa Bay has just nine sacks and intercepted just four passes this season. If you are desperate at QB this week, there will likely never be a better game to roll with Bridgewater, as there isn’t another team in the NFL that can make a QB look so good. Look for Bridgewater to add a couple of TDs to his resume and break the 200-yard plateau for just the second time this season. Cordarrelle Patterson will finally have that breakout game we’ve all been expecting and waiting for all season.
Tom Brady vs. Chicago Bears – Brady had a rough start to the season, only generating an average of 14 Fantasy points per game over the first four. However, he’s nearly doubled that over the last three weeks, averaging 27.8 Fantasy points per game with a high of 34.4 FP in the Week 6 game against Buffalo. Brady has thrown nine touchdown passes over the last three games with zero interceptions; for the season he’s got 13 TDs and just two interceptions to go with his 1,705 passing yards. Julian Edelman remains Brady’s top target but Rob Gronkowski is catching up quickly and has looked better and stronger with each game. Brandon LaFell and even Danny Amendola have become more involved of late, with both of them getting TDs passes and increased targets. Shane Vereen remains a dangerous weapon as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, who can take it to the house on any touch.
The Bears have allowed the eighth-most Fantasy points per game to QBs at 23.3 FPPG. They’ve allowed 12 passing TDs and an average of 248 passing yards per game. This game could turn into a shootout. The Patriots’ defense has suffered the loss of its’ best run stopper (LB Jerrod Mayo) and now their best pass rusher (DE Chandler Jones) is sidelined with a hip injury, which means they’ll have issues against the Bears’ offense both through the air and on the ground. The Bears could easily be able to march right down field and score at will, which will greatly increase the pressure on Brady and the offense to produce plenty of points to keep up. Look for Brady to throw another three TDs in this game and rack up at least 300 yards through the air.
Coincidentally, Jay Cutler is also a recommended start in this game for the reasons already stated. However, be careful about starting Brandon Marshall, as he is very likely to be shadowed by Darrelle Revis, which could severely limit his targets. (Sammy Watkins saw just three targets as a point of reference.) That should leave Alshon Jeffery as a decent start, and Martellus Bennett should see his usual 8-10 targets as well. Look for target leader Matt Forte to have a big day in all aspects of the offense.
Passing Matchups to Avoid
Matt Ryan vs. Detroit Lions – The Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line is in a shambles, as I detailed earlier this week. Ryan has four straight games with no more than one TD pass and he’s thrown seven interceptions this season, which puts him on pace to match last year’s 17 interceptions. In addition, the Falcons’ rushing game isn’t doing him any favors, and he’s absorbed nine sacks over the last two weeks.
Things aren’t going to be any better against the Lions, who are fourth in the NFL in sacks with 21 and are tied for third-most interceptions with eight. The Lions have allowed just 217 passing yards per game on average, which puts them as the sixth-best pass defense overall and they’ve allowed just seven passing TDs, best in the NFL. Combine that with the fact that the Lions are also among the Top 3 rushing defenses and it’s quite possible that the Falcons are shut down completely on offense in this game. Personally, I’d bench all Falcons players in all formats this week.
Colt McCoy vs. Dallas Cowboys – The Dallas Cowboys are on a roll. There is no doubt about that whatsoever. Their defense isn’t dominant in any one phase of the game but they’re good enough all around to keep opposing offenses off balance, allowing Tony Romo guide their offense to victory. The Redskins are down to their third string quarterback, the venerable Colt McCoy, who’s never really scared anyone with his mediocre talent. Don’t allow last week’s game, in which McCoy completed 11 of 12 pass attempts for 128 yards and a score, to cloud your judgment about him. McCoy’s career numbers include a 22:20 TD:INT ratio and a 58.9 percent completion rate. He’s averaged 6.3 yards per completed pass and never played a full season as a QB in his five-year career. Simply put, he’s not a quality QB by anyone’s standards.
McCoy’s status aside, there are whispers that Robert Griffin III might actually play in this game. Personally, I’m not buying it. But you can’t ignore the possibility that Jay Gruden is gaming us all and that RGIII is actually healed, healthy and ready to play. Of course, it could all be a load of manure. But given the matchup problems and McCoy’s history, why even consider taking the chance?
Blake Bortles vs. Miami Dolphins – Bortles is another rookie that is playing exactly the way you’d expect a rookie to play. He’s thrown five TDs in five games so far, but he’s also thrown 10 interceptions. He’s actually completed 65.5 percent of his passes but if you take out his one big game (336 yds. vs. Tenn.), he’s averaging just 207 yards per game.
The Dolphins are the fourth-best pass defense in the NFL, allowing just 213 yards per game on average. They’ve allowed 11 TDs but have generated 17 sacks and four interceptions, and they’ve held opposing offenses to just 6.0 yards per pass attempt, the lowest such rate in the NFL. The Dolphins will look to exploit the fact that the Jaguars have allowed a league-worst 29 sacks this season and keep the pressure on Bortles to make mistakes. The battle for Florida bragging rights could be the least watchable game on the slate in Week 8.
Rushing Matchups to Exploit
Matt Forte at New England Patriots – Forte has been one of the Top 3 running backs in the game despite having just one game in which he rushed for more than 100 yards. Of course, with Forte it’s the balance between pass and rush yardage that produces the big numbers each week, and over the last three games the touchdowns have started as well; all five of his TDs have been in the last three games.
As mentioned earlier the Patriots’ defense is in a state of flux. Without Jerrod Mayo to stop the run and Chandler Jones to lead the pass rush, the Patriots will have to find other ways to keep opposing offenses from running roughshod over them. It’s quite doubtful that they are there just yet, despite having 10 days to prepare for this game. The Jets piled up an embarrassing 218 rushing yards against the Patriots in Week 7 and the Bills ended up with 299 passing yards against the Pats in Week 6. Miraculously, the Patriots won both game; however, this game with Chicago could end up with the Bears getting a combination of offensive yards of ridiculous proportions – as in, perhaps 180 yards rushing and 300 yards passing. No matter what, I would play all my Bears this week, with the only exception being Brandon Marshall, who could end up stranded on Revis Island. However, Revis has a groin injury, which could jeopardize his play in this game. So keep an ear to the ground (and your browser tuned to RotoExperts) because if Revis doesn’t play due to this injury, even Marshall becomes a must-start. By the way – every Sunday morning, The Xpert Eye delivers the game day inactives and last minute injury reports, news and analysis you need to make those last minute lineup decisions. So be sure to check in every Sunday morning between 10 AM and Noon for all the latest news.
Jerick McKinnon vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – We’ve already detailed the soft Buccaneers defense but why not pile on? The Bucs have been gashed by the running game of late too. In Week 6 (prior to their bye week), they allowed the Baltimore Ravens to amass 169 rushing yards while Joe Flacco picked them apart for five TDs. In Week 5, the Bucs were trampled for 140 rushing yards by the Saints, whose rushing offense hasn’t exactly been top notch this season.
McKinnon is now the clear number one running back for the Vikings. He has yet to score a touchdown this season, but this could be the week it finally happens. McKinnon rushed for 106 yards against the Buffalo Bills, who were considered among the Top 3 rush defenses at the time. So the talent is there; it’s just a matter of giving him the touches. The Vikings are no longer trying to divide the touches between McKinnon and Matt Asiata evenly. At this point, Asiata is really only taking the goal line work. If McKinnon can break one into the end zone from outside the red zone, his scoring drought will end. Tampa Bay has allowed six rushing scores and two passing scores to the RB position, so I really like McKinnon’s chances this week.
Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Tampa Bay Buccaneers RBs vs. Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings rush defense isn’t particularly stout, so the reasoning here has less to do with the matchup and more to do with the Buccaneers’ RB situation. Doug Martin is averaging all of 2.9 yards per carry, which is awful to say the least. Bobby Rainey has averaged 4.9 yards per carry but has had trouble keeping the ball off the ground. Overall, the only rush attack considered worse than the Buccaneers is the Oakland Raiders. The Bucs’ rushing offense ranks 31st in the league, so they’ve decided to muddy the situation further by adding Charles Sims to the mix. Sims returned to practice this week after missing much of the last two months with an ankle injury. Sims won’t be eligible to play until November 2, so he won’t be a factor in this matchup. However, you want no part of a lame duck running back like Martin, who could be out of a job by this time next week.
Atlanta Falcons Running Backs vs. Detroit Lions – Once again, we have a defense we’ve already detailed as being one of the best in the NFL whether pass or rush is under discussion. The Lions have allowed just 3.1 yards per attempt, an average of just 82.4 yards per game (best in the NFL) and just six rushing TDs. Steven Jackson looks like a mere shadow of his once great self and Jacquizz Rogers has been almost non-existent on the field. The only Falcons RB that is causing any buzz is Antone Smith, but he is touchdown dependent for his production, which makes him the ultimate boom or bust play. Devonta Freeman has all kinds of crazy upside, but he simply doesn’t play, which is a shock when you consider that the Atlanta rush attack has gone, is going, and will go nowhere any time soon unless a change is made. No matter what, you want no part of this mess.
New England Patriots RBs vs. Chicago Bears - Last week with Stevan Ridley gone, everyone anointed Brandon Bolden as his replacement in the Patriots’ run game. Everyone that is, except Bill Belichick. The Patriots went with an offense that was 70 percent passing plays, and they really just threw in the occasional running play to keep the defense off of Tom Brady every once in a while. Jonas Gray was promoted from the practice squad and Bolden was on the field for just a few snaps while Gray got three carries. The Patriots can’t continue to run an offense with 70 percent passing plays, but nobody knows which running back is going to take on Stevan Ridley’s role. The only thing we know for sure is that it won’t be Shane Vereen, who will continue to catch balls out of the backfield and get about 10 touches on rushing plays. The “other” RB could be Gray, or it could be James White. Heck, it could even be Bolden, though, I seriously doubt it. Regardless of who it is, you don’t want to waste roster space speculating, and you certainly don’t want to play any Patriots RB not named Vereen. And with Vereen, you don’t want to play him in any format that isn’t PPR.