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IDP Strong/Weak Plays

This will be a weekly feature for IDP owners out there who are having some troubles deciding who to start on Sundays. I'm going to analyze the statistics in a few different ways to find favorable matchups and unfavorable matchups and then point out some players who are most likely to be affected by those matchups. I'll try to provide the reasoning behind these selections so you can think about it and decide for yourselves. I will also review my picks from the week before so you can see how accurate the picks have been. As most people know, predicting performance on a game by game basis can be difficult for offensive players, but that difficulty is often exaggerated with IDPs. Matchups are important, but there are so many other variables that come into play that sometimes you have to just stick with your best players and hope they come through with just one or two big plays. Good luck.

Review of Last Week's Selections:

STRONG STARTS

DL Leonard Little, Rams (@ 49ers): 3 solos, 3 asst, 2 sacks, 1 FF = 12.5pts
DL Cornelius Griffin, Redskins (vs Bears): 2 solos, 1 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR = 9pts
DL Trevor Pryce, Broncos (@ Dolphins): 1 solo = 1pt
DL Osi Umenyiora, Giants (vs Cardinals): 1 solo, 1 asst = 1.5pts
LB James Farrior, Steelers (vs Titans): 3 solos, 5 asst, 1 FF = 7.5pts
LB Kawika Mitchell, Chiefs (vs Jets): 5 solos, 2 asst, 1 FR, 1 PD = 9pts
LB Kailee Wong, Texans (@ Bills): 3 solos, 4 asst = 5pts
LB Sam Cowart, Vikings (vs Buccaneers): 3 solos, 2 asst = 4pts
DB Tony Parrish, 49ers (vs Rams): 7 solos, 1 asst, 1 PD = 8.5pts
DB Terrence Kiel, Chargers (vs Cowboys): 8 solos, 1 asst, 1 FF = 10.5pts
DB Kenoy Kennedy, Lions (vs Packers): 1 solo, 1 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD = 6.5pts
DB Donovin Darius, Jaguars (vs Seahawks): 1 solo, 1 asst = 1.5pts
Hit Rate: 7/12 (58%)

WEAK STARTS

DL Terrell Suggs, Ravens (vs Colts): 3 solos, 2 asst = 4pts
DL James Hall, Lions (vs Packers): 2 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 FF = 8.5pts
DL Kabeer Gbaja-Biamilia, Packers (@ Lions): 2 solos, 2 asst = 3pts
DL Reggie Hayward, Jaguars (vs Seahawks): 1 asst, 1 PD = 1.5pts
LB Courtney Watson, Saints (@ Panthers): 5 solos, 3 asst = 6.5pts
LB Edgerton Hartwell, Falcons (vs Eagles): 1 solo = 1pt
LB Derek Smith, 49ers (vs Rams): 5 solos, 2 asst, 1 PD = 7pts
LB Shelton Quarles, Buccaneers (@ Vikings): 7 solos, 2 FF = 11pts
DB Brian Dawkins, Eagles (@ Falcons): 6 solos, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 2 PD = 20pts
DB Bryan Scott, Falcons (vs Eagles): 4 solos = 4pts
DB Greg Wesley, Chiefs (vs Jets): 4 solos, 2 asst = 5pts
DB Michael Boulware, Seahawks (@ Jaguars): 6 solos = 6pts
Hit Rate: 6/12 (50%)

A brief note about the hit rates: To provide an objective standard to evaluate these selections, 5 fantasy points will be used as the cutoff for DL and 6 fantasy points will be used as the cutoff for LB and DBs. Thus, when a player is listed as a strong start, that means I think he has a good chance to top 5 or 6 points based on his matchup, and when I say a player is a weak start, that means I think he has a good chance to put up fewer than 5 or 6 points. I'll continue to evaluate my success throughout the season to try and provide you with the information you need to make your starting decisions.

STRONG STARTS

DL James Hall, Lions (@ Bears)
Hall had a career year in 2004, and kept things rolling in week 1 (2 solos, 3 asst, 1 sack, 1 FF) despite a seemingly tough matchup against the Packers. The Lions travel to Chicago this week, and the Bears should provide an easier matchup, having given up 3 sacks to the DE-challenged Washington Redskins last week. The Bears will try to establish the running game with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson early on, but will likely be playing from behind in the second half and that could give Hall a chance to collect a sack or two. The Bears ranked #2 in fantasy points allowed to opposing defensive linemen in the 2004 season and #13 last week.

DL Aaron Smith, Steelers (@ Texans)
Smith enjoyed a rebound season in 2004, tying his career high with 8 sacks. Playing DE in the 3-4 will always minimize his tackle numbers because his main job is to tie up blockers in order to let the linebackers make plays, but he gets a nice matchup with the Texans coming to town. Last week, Bills DEs Aaron Schobel and Chris Kelsay combined for 5 solos, 3 assists, and 3 sacks against this Texans offense. Houston ranked #4 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL last year and #10 in week 1.

DL Chike Okeafor, Cardinals (vs Rams)
Okeafor had a disappointing start to the season, managing only 1 solo and 1 PD against the Giants last week. This week, however, he'll be facing a Rams team that just gave up 7 sacks to the 49ers, including 3 to LDE Bryant Young and 2.5 to LOLB Julian Peterson. The Rams will likely want to double team players like Bert Berry and Darnell Dockett, which could open things up for Okeafor to have a big day. Because the Rams love to pass the ball so much, that creates plenty of sack opportunities for opposing linemen and can lead to some big scoring weeks. Last year, the Rams ranked #9 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL.

DL Grant Wistrom, Seahawks (@ Falcons)
Wistrom had a decent game last week against the Jaguars with 4 solo tackles and 2 passes defensed. This week, he'll be matched up against the Falcons and Mike Vick, who was sacked 4 times last week. The Falcons like to run the ball a lot (40 rush attempts last week), so Wistrom should get plenty of tackle opportunities as well. Wistrom is a solid all-around DE who should be able to consistently win his matchup with LT Kevin Shaffer. Last year, the Falcons ranked #6 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL and the Seahawks.

LB Danny Clark, Raiders (vs Chiefs)
After not doing much for a few years while playing as an outside linebacker with the Jaguars, Clark signed with the Raiders and had a breakout season in 2004 and had a breakout season after they moved him to MLB. He had a productive opener against the Patriots with 6 solos and 3 assists, and gets a dream matchup this week as the Chiefs come to town. Kansas City ranked #2 last year in fantasy points allowed to opposing LBs and thanks to their power running game should continue to be a fantasy goldmine for opposing defenders.

LB Shelton Quarles, Buccaneers (vs Bills)
Quarles has had the most productive years of his career since turning 30, and at 34 years old he has shown few signs of slowing down. Although the Bucs scheme funnels most plays to WLB Derrick Brooks, Quarles still had a very productive 2004 with 72 solos, 35 assists, and 3.5 sacks. Despite playing a Vikings team that had limited success running the ball, Quarles still managed 7 solo tackles while also creating 2 forced fumbles. This week, he gets a favorable matchup against the Bills, who ranked #4 in fantasy points allowed to opposing LBs last year. Ever since McGahee has taken over at RB, the Bills have ranked near the top of the league in rushing attempts and that should continue as they attempt to take pressure off new QB JP Losman.

LB Brad Kassell, Titans (vs Ravens)
Kassell was one of the most productive IDPs in the league down the stretch in 2004, and there is little reason to expect much of a dropoff this year. The Titans remain a very shaky team on the defensive side of the ball, so they will have a hard time getting off the field most weeks. In a blowout loss to the Steelers last week, Kassell produced a steady 6 solos and 1 assist. This week, he'll match up against Jamal Lewis and the Ravens, who turned MLB Gary Brackett into the top scoring linebacker last week. Baltimore also ranked #6 in fantasy points allowed to opposing LBs last year, so you should feel pretty safe starting Kassell this week.

LB Eric Barton, Jets (vs Dolphins)
The Dolphins are a much different offense this year and they got off to a very impressive start against the Broncos last week. In that game, the Broncos 3 starting linebackers combined for 14 solo tackles with WLB Ian Gold leading the way with 6. The Chiefs enjoyed a great deal of success running the ball towards the left of the Jets defense, so look for the Dolphins to try the same thing as they give rookie RB Ronnie Brown a heavier workload.

DB Antrel Rolle, Cardinals (vs Rams)
Rolle had a solid preseason but was nearly invisible last week against the Giants when he only managed 1 assisted tackle. This week, he faces a much better team in the Rams, who love to air the ball out to their WRs. Whether Rolle is matched up against Holt or Bruce, he can expect to see plenty of passes thrown his way. The Rams ranked #1 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs last year, and last week 49ers starting CBs Ahmed Plummer and Mike Adams combined for 12 solo tackles, 4 assists, 1 sack, and 1 interception.

DB Travis Fisher, Rams (vs Cardinals)
The Cardinals and Rams both had 56 pass attempts in their respective games last week, so this game should place a lot of pressure on both secondaries. The Cardinals boast two of the more promising WRs in the league in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, so Fisher should have his hands full no matter which matchup he gets. The Cardinals finished last year as the #3 ranked team in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs, and with Kurt Warner under center and a struggling running game in place, look for that trend to continue.

DB Chris Crocker, Browns (@ Packers)
Crocker beat out 2nd year pro Sean Jones for the starting SS job and came through with a very productive season opener (8 solos, 2 assists, 1 sack) against the high powered Bengals attack. This week, he'll face a similar offense as the Browns travel to Lambeau. As long as Brett Favre is around, you can expect the Packers to be at or near the league lead in pass attempts. The Packers ranked #4 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs last year, and despite the loss of Javon Walker, aren't expected to change much about their offensive game plan. As the strong safety, Crocker should also see a heavy dose of Ahman Green, which will lead to a healthy number of tackle opportunities. Romeo Crennel brought over the same system he used with the Patriots, which certainly didn't hurt Rodney Harrison's numbers.

WEAK STARTS

DL Reggie Hayward, Jaguars (@ Colts)
Starting defensive linemen against the Colts is rarely a good idea because Peyton Manning is the least-sacked QB in the league. The Colts ranked dead last in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL last year and the Ravens weren't able to get to him in week 1 either. Many are expecting big things from Hayward this year, but he's had two very tough matchups to start the season. In week 1, he faced off against Walter Jones who may be the best offensive tackle in the league, and now he gets to face Tarik Glenn and Manning. Hayward isn't known as a very strong run defender either, so he isn't likely to put up good tackle numbers during most weeks.

DL Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Packers (vs Browns)
KGB seems to get off to a slow start every season, but when the year is over his sack numbers are almost always near the top of the league. This year looks to be no different as he managed 2 solos and 2 assists but was held sackless against the Lions last week. This week, he will face the Browns who did not give up a single sack of Trent Dilfer last week. KGB will primarily match up against LT LJ Shelton, who did a great job of shutting down Robert Geathers last week. The Browns ranked #26 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL last year and gave up even fewer to the Bengals last week.

DL Mike Rucker, Panthers (@ Patriots)
After putting up 31 sacks in 3 seasons from 2001 to 2003, Rucker fell off considerably and only managed 3.5 sacks in 2004. One of the reasons often given for his decline was the season-ending injury to DT Kris Jenkins, who often drew double teams and helped make things easier on Rucker. Well, now that Kris Jenkins has torn his ACL and is out for the year, Rucker might be in for another disappointing season. He certainly didn't help his case with just 2 solo tackles and 1 assist against the Saints last week, despite Deuce McAllister getting 26 carries.

DL Justin Smith, Bengals (vs Vikings)
Smith had a very good season in 2004, but the Bengals decided to move him from RDE to LDE this year to open up a spot for Robert Geathers. Smith is a very good all around player, but he hasn't quite turned into the dominating pass rusher the team hoped for when they drafted him with the #4 pick overall. The position switch seems like good cause for concern as he will have to deal with the tight end on his side of the field this year, and that extra blocker could wind up hurting his overall productivity. His 1 solo, 1 assist performance against the Browns last week wasn't very reassuring either.

LB Dan Morgan, Panthers (@ Patriots)
While playing in only 12 games last year (a career high), Morgan managed to have the best season of his career and received a long-term contract extension this offseason. Last week against the Saints, Morgan only managed 3 solo tackles and 1 assist in a game when Deuce McAllister had 26 rushing attempts. The loss of Kris Jenkins up front also means that opposing linemen will have an easier time reaching Morgan.

LB Derek Smith, 49ers (@ Eagles)
Smith has been a very productive MLB in the 49ers 4-3 scheme the past few years, but the switch to a 3-4 under new HC Mike Nolan could hurt his fantasy value. He put up solid numbers against the Rams last week (5 solos, 2 assists, 1 PD), but the Eagles run the ball less than any other team in the league and ranked #31 in fantasy points allowed to opposing LBs last year.

LB Courtney Watson, Saints (@ Giants)
Watson had an up and down rookie season, but finished the year strong and many have high hopes for him this year. His season got off to a solid start with 5 solos and 3 assists against the Panthers last week, but the Giants look like they should be a tougher matchup. The Giants ranked #28 in fantasy points allowed to opposing LBs last year and last week against the Cardinals, MLB James Darling only managed 1 solo tackle. Many of Tiki Barber's runs are to the outside, which makes it harder for the MLB to make plays. Look for the OLBs and SS to get most of the production for the Saints.

LB Odell Thurman, Bengals (vs Vikings)
Thurman looks like he could be the best fantasy LB out of this rookie class, and he got off to a great start with 6 solos, 1 assist, 1 INT, and 1 PD against the Browns last week. The Vikings, however, ranked #27 in fantasy points allowed to opposing LBs last year and only totaled 16 rushing attempts against the Bucs last week. Shelton Quarles did manage 7 solo tackles himself though, so this might not be as bad of a matchup as it seems.

DB Ken Hamlin, Seahawks (vs Falcons)
Hamlin is one of the better young safeties in the league, equally capable of blanketing a WR in coverage or knocking him out with a big hit. He didn't do too much last week against the Jaguars, finishing with just 4 solo tackles, and this week he'll face the Falcons who throw downfield less than probably any other team in the league. Last year, the Falcons ranked dead last in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs simply because Vick was unable or unwilling to throw deep. Michael Jenkins may be emerging as the #1 WR the team has needed, but it's still early and this seems like a matchup that will be tough for Hamlin to make much of an impact in.

DB Lance Schulters, Dolphins (@ Jets)
Schulters struggled all preseason and reports indicated that he was having a hard time picking up Nick Saban's defense. Like the rest of the Dolphins, however, his season got off to a great start with 5 solos, 3 assists, 1 INT, and 1 PD against the Broncos. The Jets should be a tougher matchup as Pennington had a rough time against the Chiefs last week and is still showing adverse effects of the shoulder injury that he suffered nearly a year ago. Even with a healthy Pennington under center for much of 2004, the Jets only ranked #28 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs.

DB Kenoy Kennedy, Lions (@ Bears)
After a few solid but unspectacular years as a starter, Kennedy broke out with a career-high 66 solo tackles last year and received a big free agent contract from the Lions. While he only got 1 solo tackle and 1 assist against the Packers last week, he did manage to collect an interception and a pass breakup. The matchup against the Bears should be considerably tougher though, as the Bears ranked just 25th in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs last year and the team will likely employ a very conservative game plan with rookie QB Kyle Orton under center.

DB Bob Sanders, Colts (vs Jaguars)
When he was expected to line up as the starting SS, Bob Sanders was one of the most promising fantasy DBs in the league this year. But, late in the preseason, the Colts coaching staff apparently decided they wanted more size at the position and shifted Sanders back to FS. He'll still be able to make some plays back there with his range and instincts, but he could have been a force as an in-the-box safety. Sanders finished with 2 solos and 1 assist against the Ravens last week despite 54 passing attempts from the Ravens QBs combined. The Jaguars ranked #29 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs last year and only one of the Seahawks defensive backs managed to put up 6 points last week (SS Michael Boulware) against them.

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