Exploiting the Match-ups: Week 6
By Luke Hoover
If you’re sitting at 5-0 or 4-1 and your starters are relatively stacked the info in this column probably means a lot less to you. If you’re 0-5 or 1-4, maybe it will help you sneak out an extra win or two. But if your team is looking like a middle-of-the-road club that needs some juice to get over the top, listen up.
This soapbox should have been stood on three weeks ago because I believed it just as strongly then, and now it may be too late. Austin Davis is a 4,000-yard passer. Maybe closer to 4,500 even (accounting for the two quarters he served as a backup, he’s on pace for 5,161 based on the 80.6 yards per quarter he’s averaged). And while he probably won’t save your season if you don’t have more than one win, if you’re middle of the pack and not starting Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees or Matt Ryan, do what you can to go get Davis. Now. If he’s somehow still unowned because your leaguemates are looking at the soft schedule he’s played and doubting, capitalize. If someone grabbed him as a backup, make a trade offer. I’m that bullish on Davis.
The talent was evident when Davis completed 38-of-52 passes (73.1 percent) at 8.2 YPA in his first six career quarters of action. Sure, he didn’t find the end zone, but with a highly underrated stable of athletic targets that features a blend of size and blazing speed, it was only a matter of time. Two games later he has six TDs and 702 more yards. And the Rams have allowed 34 points three times already this season. Their defense is underperforming, particularly against the run, which will translate to a ton of volume games for the young passer that reminds me of a slightly more athletic, gunslinger version of Chad Pennington. The next seven weeks the schedule is particularly tough – brutal even at points – but that will also translate to consistency as Davis should be among the league leaders in pass attempts. And if he’s truly as good as I think, the high-football-IQ QB will find a way to post some huge games despite the rough slate, starting with this week in his first primetime action.
Speaking of this week, the bye schedule is once again a relatively painless one. The Saints are far from themselves these days so the only guys you’re truly missing are Brees and Jimmy Graham, while Jamaal Charles is the lone Chief to cry over. And even then, quarterbacks and running backs that could be snagged off waivers this week are staring in the face of friendly matchups, while tight end is deeper than ever.
Same as always, this is not intended as a traditional start/sit column. Upgrades are players you wouldn’t consistently start (or who have consistently underachieved), while those downgraded generally are lineup mainstays. The designations are simply a guide to make those close calls easier.
Austin Davis, STL vs. SF
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If you’re having quarterback troubles, Davis could be your savior. Sure, the 49ers will be by far his stiffest test yet, but the fearless QB is up to the challenge and will at least be throwing it plenty against a defense that ranks third versus the run but just 28th in sacks.
Eli Manning, NYG at PHI
This shouldn’t require any explanation. The Odell Beckham addition is huge. The Eagles horrible pass defense is too easy. And Manning is too hot (two scores, at least 200 yards in four straight). Consider this must-start territory if you don’t own one of the elites.
Joe Flacco, BAL at TB
Aside from an uncharacteristically un-Drew-Brees-like performance, the Bucs have been awfully easy on QB’s all year. Only Oakland is allowing a friendlier completion percentage than the 71.4-percent rate at that Tampa lets passers connect with their targets, so expect a bounce-back showing from Flacco.
Brian Hoyer, CLE vs. PIT
If you need a safe play, the Browns ho-hum signal caller has yet to post below 200 yards and a score in a game this year and has reached 290 in consecutive contests. Moreover, the Steelers recently let Mike Glennon toss it for 300 and two TDs. Need I say more?
Branden Oliver, SD at OAK
The Chargers were the least efficient rushing offense entering Week 5 with a pathetic 2.4 YPC as a team. Then a Donald Brown concussion opened the door for Oliver to make Swiss cheese of the Jets’ top-ranked run defense. Using a shiftiness, center of gravity and burst comparable to Giovani Bernard, I can’t wait to see his encore versus Oakland’s 31st-ranked unit.
Andre Williams, NYG at PHI
The Eagles have allowed running back tandems to surpass 130 total yards and find the end zone in four straight contests. With Rashad Jennings sidelined with a MCL sprain, Williams will be flying mostly solo versus that same defense.
Lamar Miller, MIA vs. GB
Miller and his exceptional 5.7 YPC should be the focal point of Miami’s offense versus Green Bay’s last-placed run D. In two games as the starter Miller has topped 130 total yards in one and found the end zone twice in the other, making him a potential top-10 option this week even if Knowshon Moreno (elbow) returns.
Steven Jackson, ATL vs. CHI
The Bears have been much better versus the run this season, but they have still allowed a score to a running back every week so far. Grinding out the tough yardage for Atlanta, Jackson has quietly topped 50 total yards in every game and hit paydirt in two of the last three.
Bishop Sankey, TEN vs. JAC
This is the week. It has to be the week after last week should have been the week. The Jaguars have quietly held every rusher they’ve faced under 100 yards, but this has still gotta be the week. Blind faith and a smidgeon of foolishness tell me Ken Wisenhunt can’t possibly hold back his best runner any longer.
Rueben Randle & Odell Beckham, NYG at PHI
Randle has 37 targets over the last four games with an 89-yarder in there and two others with scores. Beckham is a pure playmaker with uncoverable athleticism and strong hands. The Eagles are giving up 274 passing yards per game and have allowed the most scores through the air at 13 so far. Flex both and reap the rewards.
Vincent Jackson, TB vs. BAL
In case you weren’t sold on Jackson being back to a stud wideout after a slow start, he should follow up his 144-yard explosion last week (called here, by the way) with another triple-digit showing versus a Ravens defense that’s allowed the most yards to wide receivers through five weeks (1,005, tied with Jacksonville).
Kendall Wright, TEN vs. JAC
After a 1,000-yard mild breakout in Year 2, Wright has struggled to get yards (no more than 55 in a game). But like I said, the Jags are tied for the most yards allowed to receivers. Wright’s struggles are not for lack of catches either – he has five or more in four games. It’s cash in time for any patient owners.
Justin Hunter, TEN vs. JAC
See Wright, Kendall … but only if you’re desperate/in need of huge upside. Hunter has yet to really put it together and is reliant on the big play. This might be the defense to snag one against, however.
Mohamed Sanu, CIN vs. CAR
One way or another the versatile Sanu has been responsible for the ball crossing the goal line in every game so far (hey, a two-point conversion in Week 1 counts). Now with A.J. Green (toe) possibly sitting again, Sanu should see a target boost against a Panthers D that’s allowed seven TDs to receivers this year.
Owen Daniels, BAL at TB
Daniels has 13 targets in the last two weeks and gets to take advantage of a Buccaneers defense that’s allowed an average of 81 yards per game to the tight end position. Expect an encore to last week’s 70-yard day for this vet.
Tony Romo, DAL at SEA
The Seahawks let Kirk Cousins post good numbers, but they did so on the road, where they are just not themselves sometimes — and 117 of his 283 yards came on two plays, leaving his YPA on his other 34 attempts at 4.8. Even Peyton Manning struggled mightily in Seattle and needed a vintage Hall-of-Famer drive to finish with good numbers. Romo may not have a drive like that left in him, if he ever did.
Colin Kaepernick, SF at STL
You likely drafted Kaepernick to be your starter, but he’s not even the best fantasy QB in this Monday Nighter. Kaepernick has yet to top 250 yards passing and has more than one score only twice. The Rams also happen to be allowing the fewest passing yards in the league (192 per game) in case you were wondering.
LeSean McCoy, PHI vs. NYG
The Giants haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, and McCoy couldn’t even take advantage of a Rams defense that had been blasted by running backs in the previous two games. McCoy has just 120 yards on 53 carries in three weeks (2.3 YPC) and despite a good history versus the G-Men, he’s barely a flex now.
Ronnie Hillman, DEN at NYJ
Generally speaking, the starting running back in a Peyton Manning offense is a surefire starter. Don’t fall into a trap this week, though. Hillman will probably get the first crack with Montee Ball (groin) out, but expect a timeshare and expect a steaming mad Jets front seven to pulverize Broncos backs this week.
Stevan Ridley/Shane Vereen, NE at BUF
This duo gouged Cincinnati for 203 yards on the ground with each tallying more than 100 total yards. Those fantasy returns aren’t coming though versus a beefy Bills front seven that has dominated opposing running backs. Buffalo has yet to allow a rushing touchdown and is limiting offenses to 71 yards per game at just 3.0 YPC.
Doug Martin, TB vs. BAL
The touches are there. The talent is supposed to be. It still hasn’t come together yet for Martin, however, as he’s struggled to just 3.0 YPC the last two weeks. Getting a Ravens D that’s given up only two rushing scores to opposing backs and is allowing a meager 3.4 YPC doesn’t help much.
Michael Floyd, AZ vs. WAS
The Cardinals’ QB situation is a mess now that rookie Logan Thomas might start in place of a concussed Drew Stanton. The developmental signal caller completed just 1-of-8 in limited action last week. Floyd is now just as questionable as Larry Fitzgerald has been all year.
Terrance Williams, DAL at SEA
The touchdown binge Williams went on the last three weeks may leave his owners hungry this week. The Seahawks have allowed just four scores to wide receivers this season and if anyone is going to get one, it’s hard to bet against Dez Bryant getting fed first.
Kelvin Benjamin, CAR at CIN
Wide receivers have caught just 51 percent of their targets against the Bengals. In his only two single-digit fantasy outings, Benjamin hauled in a miserable five of 19 passes. And while he’s a monster in the red zone, Cinci has also limited wideouts to just two touchdowns.
Larry Donnell, NYG at PHI
The addition of super athletic rookie Odell Beckham and Eli Manning‘s recent love affair with Rueben Randle (10 targets in three straight) is going to limit Donnell, as we saw in his zero-catch Week 5. Facing an athletic Eagles defense that’s allowed just one tight end TD doesn’t figure to help.