IDP Strong/Weak Plays
Posted 9/29 by Aaron Rudnicki, Exclusive to Footballguys.com
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 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
- DL Shaun Ellis, Jets (vs Jaguars): 6 solos = 6pts
- DL Bryce Fisher, Seahawks (vs Cardinals): 3 solos, 1 sack = 6pts
- DL Aaron Schobel, Bills (vs Falcons): 1 solo, 1 PD = 2pts
- DL Pat Williams, Vikings (vs Saints): 2 solos, 1 asst = 2.5 pts
- LB Mike Peterson, Jaguars (@ Jets): 4 solos, 6 asst = 7pts
- LB Julian Peterson, 49ers (vs Cowboys): 2 solos, 2 asst = 3pts
- LB Shelton Quarles, Bucs (@ Packers): 7 solos, 2 asst, 1 PD, 1 FF = 11pts
- LB Odell Thurman, Bengals (@ Bears): 3 solos, 2 asst = 4pts
- DB Marcus Trufant, Seahawks (vs Cardinals): 2 solos, 1 asst, 1 PD = 3.5pts
- DB Dwight Smith, Saints (@ Vikings): 5 solos, 1 asst = 5.5pts
- DB Charles Tillman, Bears (vs Bengals): 3 solos, 1 asst = 3.5pts
- DB Ronde Barber, Bucs (@ Packers): 4 solos, 2 asst = 5pts
Hit Rate for Week 3: 4/12 (33%)
Year to date: 18/35 (51%)
- DL Marques Douglas, 49ers (vs Cowboys): 1 solo, 1 asst = 1.5pts
- DL Richard Seymour, Patriots (@ Steelers): 4 solos, 2 sacks, 1 PD = 11pts
- DL Aaron Smith, Steelers (vs Patriots): 0 tackles = 0pts
- DL Jevon Kearse, Eagles (vs Raiders): 1 PD = 1pt
- LB Dat Nguyen, Cowboys (@ 49ers): 7 solos, 1 INT, 1 PD = 12pts
- LB Eric Barton, Jets (vs Jaguars): 4 solos, 4 asst = 6pts
- LB James Farrior, Steelers (vs Patriots): 9 solos, 6 asst, 1 sack = 15pts
- LB Edgerton Hartwell, Falcons (@ Bills): 5 solos, 3 asst = 6.5pts
- DB Chris Crocker, Browns (@ Colts): 1 solo, 2 asst = 2pts
- DB Madieu Williams, Bengals (@ Bears): 8 solos, 1 asst, 1 INT, 1 PD = 13.5pts
- DB Terrence Kiel, Chargers (vs Giants): 11 solos = 11pts
- DB Anthony Henry, Cowboys (@ 49ers): 2 solos = 2pts
Hit Rate for Week 3: 5/12 (42%)
Year to date: 18/36 (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.
Things didn't go so well in week 3, as I failed to hit on 50% of either my strong starts or weak starts. Week 3 was difficult to predict because it was hard to know whether to look primarily at 2004 data, or data from the first couple weeks of the season. Anyway, it looks like the fantasy points allowed data through weeks 1 and 2 that I relied on may not have been all that reliable yet. Now that we're 3 games into the season for most teams, however, the reliability of the data should improve and any real trends that exist should start to reveal themselves. For this week, I'm going to implement a change that I think should be more helpful and easier for everybody to use. I'm going to focus primarily on the teams that have the best or worst matchups and then briefly discuss the players most likely to benefit or suffer as a result. I'll also highlight the top 1 (or 2) choices from each unit that you should consider starting or benching along with any potential sleepers that might still be available on your waiver wire.
- DL New York Giants (vs St Louis Rams): DE Michael Strahan
After 3 weeks, Marc Bulger has been sacked an NFL-leading 15 times and he nearly fumbled away a big lead against the Titans last week. The Rams come into this game ranking #3 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL (after ranking #9 last year), and the Giants should have enough talent on the line to take advantage of the matchup. Except for a rough outing on Sunday night against LaDainian Tomlinson and the Chargers, the Giants defense has been playing very well this year. LDE Michael Strahan played great in the first 2 games (10 solos, 2 assists, 2.5 sacks), but his back problems flared up this week and limited him to just 1 solo tackle. He's not listed on the injury report this week so he should be ready to play. He'll primarily be matched up against rookie RT Alex Barron, who will be making the first start of his career and could have trouble with a crafty veteran like Strahan. On the other side, RDE Osi Umenyiora (8 solos, 4 assists, 2 sacks, 1 FR) will be matched up primarily against elite LT Orlando Pace. While it would seem that Pace will have the edge here, Cardinals RDE Bert Berry did manage 2 sacks while playing against him in week 2. If his back problems don't act up again, Strahan should be a safe play this week, while Umenyiora carries a bit more risk.
- DL New York Jets (@ Baltimore Ravens): DE Shaun Ellis
Despite playing less than 2 full games, Ravens QB Anthony Wright has already been sacked 8 times. The Ravens offense comes into this game ranked #2 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL (after ranking #15 last year). While the Ravens offensive line has generally been solid in their run blocking, they are not very strong in pass protection and have struggled against Indianapolis and Tennessee. The Jets boast 2 of the league's best defensive ends in John Abraham and Shaun Ellis. Abraham is off to a great start this season with a sack in each of his first 3 games, along with 13 solos, 3 assists, 2 FF, and 1 PD. He'll face a tough matchup with LT Jonathan Ogden this week, who hasn't given up a sack yet, even after playing All-World DE Dwight Freeney in week 1. The player most likely to take advantage of this matchup is LDE Shaun Ellis, who has strung together 2 quality starts in a row. He'll be matched up against Ravens RT Orlando Brown, who struggled considerably and gave up 3 sacks to Titans DE Kyle Vanden Bosch in week 2.
- DL Buffalo Bills (@ New Orleans Saints): DE Aaron Schobel
Saints QB Aaron Brooks has been sacked 8 times on the year, including 7 over the past 2 weeks. In week 2 against the Giants, 3 different DL finished with 7 or more fantasy points. Then, last week against the Vikings, 5 different DL finished with 4 or more fantasy points. The Saints come into this game ranked #5 in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL (after ranking #14 last year). Meanwhile, the Bills defensive linemen are coming off two disappointing outings against the Bucs and Falcons, but should be able to get things going again this week. RDE Aaron Schobel (5 solos, 3 assists, 2 sacks, 1 PD) put some pressure on Vick and even had him in his grasp at one point, but wasn't able to collect a sack. He'll be matched up primarily against Saints LT Wayne Gandy, who gave up 2 sacks to Giants DE Osi Umenyiora in week 2 and 1 sack to Vikings DE Darrion Scott in week 3. LDE Chris Kelsay (5 solos, 4 assists, 1 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF) is off to a good start and has finished with 4 or more fantasy points in all 3 games so far, despite being held to just 0 tackles last week against the Falcons. He'll match up against rookie RT Jammal Brown, who gave up a sack to Michael Strahan in week 2 and another 1 to Kenechi Udeze in week 3. Schobel looks like a safe start this week and has a big upside, while Kelsay carries a bit more risk.
- DL Atlanta Falcons (vs Minnesota Vikings): DT Rod Coleman
The Vikings enter this game ranked #4 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL (after ranking #6 last year). Vikings QB Daunte Culpepper ranks near the league lead with 12 sacks taken after just 3 weeks, and he's also lost 2 fumbles. Surprisingly, the Vikings did a pretty good job of limiting production by the Bucs and Bengals defensive lines in losses during the first two weeks, only to fall apart a bit in a win over the Saints last week. Part of that was due to the Saints talented linemen getting 4 sacks of Culpepper (led by 2.5 from backup DE Tony Bryant), but it also coincided with the Vikings getting a lead and finally sticking with the run (38 rush attempts). The Falcons secondary is banged up so look for one of two things to happen: (a) the Vikings to attack the secondary with the passing game, which will create lots of pass rush/sack opportunities for the Falcons linemen, or (b) the Falcons to give both CBs help from the safeties, opening things up for the Vikings to run the ball and give the Falcons linemen additional tackle opportunities. RDE Patrick Kerney (7 solos, 4 assists, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR) has been solid in 2 of the 3 games so far and should line up against LT Bryant McKinnie, who was arrested this week but is expected to play and could be a tough matchup. The player most likely to take advantage of this matchup should be DT Rod Coleman (8 solos, 1 assist, 3 sacks, 3 PDs, 1 FF), who is coming off a very strong 2-sack performance against the Bills last week. Coleman is one of the best interior pass rushers in the league and the Vikings lost their #1 center Matt Birk to a season-ending injury.
- LB New York Jets (@ Baltimore Ravens): MLB Jonathan Vilma
After just 2 games, the Ravens rank #1 in the league in fantasy points allowed per game to opposing linebackers (after ranking #6 last year). In week 1, all 3 Colts linebackers finished with 8 or more fantasy points, including MLB Gary Brackett with 19. In week 2, all 3 Titans starters at linebackers finished with 6.5 points or more, including MLB Brad Kassell with 11. With the Jets hurting at QB, expect the Ravens to go conservative on offense and give Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor plenty of carries this week. That should play right into the hands of Vilma, who is playing well to start the season (24 solos, 8 assists). WLB Eric Barton is going to miss the game with an ankle injury, and will be replaced in the lineup by Mark Brown. Brown started 6 games at SLB last year for an injured Victor Hobson but didn't really show enough to get excited about his prospects this week. Vilma looks like the only good play from this matchup and he could produce top-5 LB numbers this week.
- LB Oakland Raiders (vs Dallas Cowboys): MLB Danny Clark, OLB Kirk Morrison
The Cowboys enter this game ranked #3 in fantasy points allowed to opposing LB. They rely heavily on a running game with Julius Jones, but also have two very good weapons in the short and intermediate passing game in WR Keyshawn Johnson and TE Jason Witten. In week 1 against the Chargers, all 4 starting linebackers finished with 8.5 fantasy points or more. In week 2 versus the Redskins, only SLB Marcus Washington was a quality start after finishing with 10.5 fantasy points. Then, last week against the 49ers, only ILB Jeff Ulbrich broke the 6-point quality start threshold but 6 different linebackers finished with 3 points or more. MLB Danny Clark (19 solos, 6 assists, 2 PD) has picked up right where he left off last year with 3 quality starts in a row. Rookie Kirk Morrison, who isn't even listed as a starter on a depth chart but plays in the team's nickel package with Clark, has been one of the year's biggest IDP surprises so far. After 3 weeks, he's leading the team in tackles (20 solos, 8 assists, 1 PD) and has been a quality start in all 3 games so far. Look for both players to see plenty of action this week and continue their quality start streaks.
- LB Cincinnati Bengals (vs Houston Texans): MLB Odell Thurman
Like the Ravens, the Texans have only played 2 games thus far, but they currently rank #2 in fantasy points allowed to linebackers (after ranking #24 last year). In week 1 against the Bills, MLB London Fletcher and WLB Takeo Spikes finished with 9.5 and 9 fantasy points respectively. In week 2, 4 different Steelers linebackers finished with 7 or more fantasy points, including 21 solo tackles. Bengals MLB Odell Thurman is off to a great start (12 solos, 6 assists, 1 INT, 1 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR) and has really helped solidify the Bengals defense. His tackle numbers are a bit low, but they should pick up this week as new Texans offensive coordinator Joe Pendry likes to commit to the ground game and will likely give RB Domanick Davis 20+ carries. WLB Brian Simmons has been a fantasy disappointment so far this season (7 solos, 3 assists, 1 INT, 2 PDs), but may be ready to break out of his slump against this matchup. SLB Landon Johnson has taken over the starting job from David Pollack and had a solid 5 solo performance last week, but he remains a risky start.
- LB Carolina Panthers (vs Green Bay Packers): MLB Dan Morgan
The Packers currently rank #5 in fantasy points allowed to opposing LB (after ranking #20 last year). The Packers offense has been struggling, but that hasn't been a problem for opposing IDPs. In week 1, all 3 starting Lions LB combined for 16 fantasy points but RB Ahman Green only got 12 rushing attempts in that game, which was a blowout loss. In week 2, Browns ILB Andra Davis had a huge 16.5 fantasy point game (12 solos, 7 assists, 1 PD) against this Packers offense, while OLB Kenard Lang also managed 6 solo tackles himself. Last week against the Bucs, MLB Shelton Quarles and SLB Ryan Nece both finished with 11 fantasy points while WLB Derrick Brooks had another disappointing outing with just 4 fantasy points. Panthers MLB Dan Morgan has generally been one of the more productive linebackers in the league when healthy, but he got off to a slow start this year with just 5 solo tackles and 2 assists in his first 2 games. He showed signs of improvement last week against the Dolphins with 6 solos and 5 assists, and should be a safe start this week. WLB Will Witherspoon was much more productive than Dan Morgan in the first 2 games but he missed the Miami game with a knee injury. He returned to practice on Thursday this week, but is still listed as questionable. Given the matchup data, Morgan looks like the safest play, but Witherspoon might be good enough to buck the trends of WLB not scoring well against the Packers so far this year.
- DB San Francisco 49ers (@ Arizona Cardinals): SS Tony Parrish
After 3 games, the Cardinals rank #1 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs (after ranking #3 last year). With a strong receiving corps and an ineffective running game, it makes sense that the Cardinals offense would rely heavily on the passing game, thus giving opposing DBs plenty of tackle and INT opportunities. With Kurt Warner out for a month, Josh McCown will start this game for the Cardinals. While not the passer Warner is, he is a much more mobile QB with a strong arm and he has also been turnover prone throughout his brief career. Amazingly, 6 Giants DBs finished with 5 or more fantasy points in the season opener, led by SS Gibril Wilson with 9.5. Then, in week 2, 5 Rams DBs finished with 5.5 fantasy points or more, led by SS Adam Archuleta with 10. Then, in week 3, 4 Seahawks DBs finished with 4.5 fantasy points or more, led by CB/S Jordan Babineaux with 11 and SS Michael Boulware with 8.5. If the trend continues, Tony Parrish should be in for another big week as he currently leads the team in tackles and INTs (18 solos, 6 assists, 2 INTs, 3 PDs) and scored a TD last week off an interception of Drew Bledsoe. The rest of the 49ers secondary was decimated with injuries this week, as starting CB Ahmed Plummer had ankle surgery and will miss 2 to 6 weeks and FS Mike Rumph injured his foot in practice and was placed on IR. 2nd year CB Shawntae Spencer (10 solos, 1 assist, and 3 PDs in last 2 games) will likely see plenty of action matched up against either Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin, while Mike Adams (had 4 solos, 1 sack, 1 INT, and 2 PD in week 1 vs the Rams) could line up at either CB or FS. Parrish is a very safe play this week, with Spencer and Adams looking like strong sleeper candidates. If rookie CB Derrick Johnson gets the start at CB, expect him to be tested early and often as well.
- DB Carolina Panthers (vs Green Bay Packers): CB Chris Gamble
The Packers currently rank #4 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs (after ranking #4 last year as well) and have given up a lot of points in all 3 games thus far. Brett Favre isn't afraid to throw the ball 30 or 40 times/game and with as bad as the Packers defense has been, but he's been under more pressure this year and thrown more interceptions than usual (his 7 INTs rank #2 in the league behind Culpepper). In week 1, 6 Lions DBs finished with 4.5 points or more, including 8.5 and 9.5 from SS Kenoy Kennedy and CB Fernando Bryant respectively. In week 2 against the Browns, 4 DBs finished with 4.5 or more points, including 3 CBs scoring 6.5 points or more. The trend continued last week, as 3 Bucs DBs finished with 7 points or more, including both starting cornerbacks. So, after 3 weeks, all 6 opposing starting cornerbacks have finished with 6 or more points when facing the Packers offense. This plays directly into the hands of CB Chris Gamble, who leads the Panthers in tackles with 15 solos and 3 assists, while also adding an INT, 2 PDs, and a FF on the season. The other starting CB Ken Lucas had 10 solo tackles in week 2 vs the Patriots but he missed last week's game with a shoulder injury. He practiced this week and is expected to play, but might be a risky start until he proves he's fully healthy. Meanwhile, the safety position, which began the year looking like a strength of this team, has underperformed so far this year. Between 1st round pick Thomas Davis, veteran Mike Minter, and the new starting SS Marlon McCree, none have produced a single quality start yet this year. This could be the week it happens, but it would be hard to predict which guy will come through.
- DB Cincinnati Bengals (vs Houston Texans): SS Madieu Williams
The Texans have only played 2 games so far, but have given up enough points to opposing DBs in those 2 games to earn a #2 ranking (after ranking #13 last year). In week 1 vs the Bills, 3 Bills DBs finished with 7.5 points or more, including double digit totals from both starting safeties. In week 2, 4 Steelers DBs finished with 5 points or more, led by 16 from strong safety Troy Polamalu. Bengals SS Madieu Williams (14 solos, 3 assists, 1 INT, 3 PDs) is coming off a huge game against the Bears last week and should be the safest start from this group. CB Deltha O'Neal has also been around the ball a lot so far this year (13 solos, 2 assists, 4 INTs, 7 PDs, 1 FR) and currently leads the league with 4 interceptions. His counterpart at CB Tory James has also played well with 3 solos and an INT in each of the past 2 games. Whichever player gets matched up with WR Andre Johnson should have a good game, but it's hard to know who that will be ahead of time so both players are risky starts with upside. FS Kevin Kaesviharn is a solid player coming off consecutive quality starts and could also be worth a start this week, despite not having as much upside as the other players.
- DB Detroit Lions (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers): SS Kenoy Kennedy
For an offense that ranks #28 in passing yards per game, it is a little surprising to see the Bucs as the #7 ranked team in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs (after ranking #21 last year). However, they are 1 of only 6 teams to have given up 30 fantasy points or more to the opposing secondary in all 3 games so far. In week 1, both Vikings safeties were quality starts with SS Darren Sharper having a huge game that also included a TD return. In week 2, the only Bills DB who didn't top 6 points was FS Troy Vincent, but SS Lawyer Milloy was heavily involved in the run defense and finished with 11 points. Last week against Green Bay, who don't have much talent at the safety position, the CBs picked up the slack with both starters finishing with 7 fantasy points or more. This week against the Lions, Kenoy Kennedy should be a very strong start as he will need to help out in run support to try and slow down "Cadillac" Williams and the Bucs running game. Kennedy has been somewhat disappointing during the first 2 games with just 2 solo tackles and 2 assists, but he did collect an interception of Favre in week 1 that has helped. FS Terence Holt is coming off an 8 solo tackle performance against the Bears in week 2, but he had no tackles (and 1 INT) in week 1 vs the Packers. The Lions put CB Fernando Bryant on IR, who had been their most productive CB. He will be replaced by Andre Goodman, who hasn't done enough yet to warrant a start. Meanwhile, CB Dre Bly has been a strong fantasy performer in the past, but only has 5 solos, 2 PD, and 1 FF so far this year. If Bly gets matched up against WR Michael Clayton, he could be in for a solid game this week. Kennedy looks like the safest play of the group here, but Holt and Bly have decent sleeper potential.
FBG standard scoring system for IDPs:
- DL St Louis Rams (@ New York Giants): DE Leonard Little
What a turnaround a QB change makes. Last year with Kurt Warner under center, the Giants were giving up more sacks than anyone and ranked at the top of the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL. Since Eli Manning has taken over, however, the sacks allowed have dropped dramatically and the Giants currently rank #32 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL making this a very tough matchup for the Rams. In week 1, Cardinals DE Bert Berry was the only lineman to finish with more than 3 fantasy points. Then, in week 2 against a formidable Saints DL, no lineman finished with more than 3 fantasy points. Last week, the Chargers defensive linemen only managed 5.5 fantasy points total, which was the lowest total allowed by any team all year. Leonard Little is the player most likely to be hurt by this tough matchup as he's off to a great start (8 solos, 5 assists, 3.5 sacks, 1 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR) and has been a quality start in every game thus far. DE Anthony Hargrove began the year as a good sleeper candidate, but he hasn't been able to provide much pressure on opposing QBs so far and seems like a must-bench this week. The Rams DTs Jimmy Kennedy (2 sacks) and Ryan Pickett (7 solos, 5 assists, .5 sack) have shown flashes but aren't nearly reliable enough to consider starting this week.
- DL New England Patriots (vs San Diego Chargers): DE Richard Seymour
The Chargers currently rank #29 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL (after ranking #25 last year) and should present a tough matchup for a Patriots defense that will now be without SS Rodney Harrison. With Harrison out, the Chargers may be more willing to take some chances in the passing game with Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield. In week 1 against the Cowboys, DT La'roi Glover was the leading scorer with 4.5 points and the only lineman to finish with more than 3 points. In week 2, Broncos DE Courtney Brown finished with 6 points and none of the other starters had more than 1 point. Last week against the Giants, DE Osi Umenyiora finished with 7.5 points and Justin Tuck had a good game filling in for an injured Michael Strahan with 4.5 points. Based on those numbers, only 2 opposing DL have scored enough points to be considered "quality starts" through the first three weeks of the season. Patriots DE Richard Seymour is off to a great start in terms of his tackle numbers (14 solos, 2 assists) and had 2 sacks of Ben Roethlisberger last week, but he is the player most likely to be hurt by this matchup. The other starting DE Ty Warren hasn't had a quality start yet this year and probably wouldn't be a good play this week. Nobody else on the Patriots defensive line is worth considering.
- DL Tennessee Titans (vs Indianapolis Colts): DE Kyle Vanden Bosch
Most football fans know that Peyton Manning is one of the most difficult QBs to sack, and it shows in the statistics as the Colts rank #25 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL this year (after ranking #32 last year). In week 1 against the Ravens, stud RDE Terrell Suggs managed to get 4 points while the less heralded LDE Anthony Weaver finished with 5, and the DTs did nothing. In week 2 against the Jaguars, stud DT John Henderson had a great game with 11.5 fantasy points and DT Marcus Stroud had 4.5 himself, but none of the DEs did anything. Last week against the Browns, DE Orpheus Roye had a decent game with 4.5 points and DE Alvin McKinley had 3 points. The Titans defense has played surprisingly well during the first few weeks and kept them in games longer than most people expected. One of the biggest surprises has been LDE Kyle Vanden Bosch, who has 5 sacks over the past 2 weeks. Look for him to cool off a bit this week, however, due to the difficult matchup. The only other linemen from this group who has done much this year is 2nd year DT Randy Starks, who has 6 solos, 4 assists, and 1.5 sacks in his last 2 games. The Jaguars defensive tackles had good games against this Colts offense, but Henderson is a much better player than Starks so he's probably a poor start this week as well.
- DL Jacksonville Jaguars (vs Denver Broncos): DT Marcus Stroud
The Broncos rank #20 in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing DL (after ranking #18 last year), but their ranking may be slightly deflated because they haven't faced many good defensive linemen so far this year. In week 1, DE Jason Taylor managed to finish with 11 fantasy points and nobody else had more than 3 points. In week 2, Chargers DE DeQuincy Scott finished with 7 points and NT Jamal Williams finished with 4. In week 3, Chiefs DEs Jared Allen and Eric Hicks both had good games and finished with 7.5 points each. Based on those data, it looks like the Broncos have done a pretty good job of preventing scoring from the opposing DTs, but have given up some production to the DEs. If that trend holds up, this would make DT Marcus Stroud (10 solos, 2 assists) and maybe even DT John Henderson (13 solos, 5 assists, 3 PDs) a risky start this week. Meanwhile, DE Paul Spicer is coming off a 3-sack performance last week vs the Jets and may be a decent sleeper pick going up against 2nd year RT George Foster, who has struggled at times. DE Reggie Hayward has looked like a free agent bust so far this year and probably isn't worth a start this week since he is known to struggle against the run and may have trouble with the Broncos ground attack.
- LB Philadelphia Eagles (@ Kansas City Chiefs): SLB Dhani Jones
The Chiefs are a tough team to figure out right now. After ranking #2 in fantasy points allowed to opposing LBs last year, they enter this game ranked #32. The running game hasn't been as effective as it had been in the past, and the Chiefs have been relying a lot more on their defense. In week 1 against the Jets, only MLB Jonathan Vilma was a quality start and his 7 fantasy points probably even seemed like a disappointment to some of his owners. In week 2 against the Raiders, Danny Clark and Kirk Morrison finished with 10 and 9.5 fantasy points respectively. Then, last week against the Broncos, WLB Ian Gold was the only quality start with 8 fantasy points while MLB Al Wilson finished with 5. Based on the data from last year and the solid games from both Raiders linebackers in week 2, it seems as though the Chiefs low ranking may be a bit of a fluke. If not though, MLB Jeremiah Trotter could be in for a disappointing game after his 10 solo tackle, 3 PD, 1 FF performance against the Raiders last week. Given his strength against the run and the Chiefs reliance on their running game though, he should see enough playing time to be a decent start this week. SLB Dhani Jones has been surprisingly productive (16 solos, 1 assist, 1 INT, 2 PDs) to start the season, but that shouldn't continue this week. Even if he gets matched up against Tony Gonzalez in coverage, that is a mismatch that Gonzalez should take advantage of. WLB Keith Adams hasn't done anything (6 solos, 1 assist) to warrant a start yet.
- LB New England Patriots (vs San Diego Chargers): OLB Mike Vrabel
It may also come as a surprise to many to see the Chargers ranked as a tough matchup for linebackers given their strong running game, but they come into the game ranked #31 in fantasy points allowed to linebackers (after ranking #25 last year). In week 1 against Dallas, MLB Dat Nguyen was the only productive player with 7.5 fantasy points, but that was his lowest total of the season so far. In week 2 against the Broncos, MLB Al Wilson (10pts) and WLB Ian Gold (8pts) were both productive. Last week against the Giants, WLB Carlos Emmons finished with 7pts and MLB Antonio Pierce's 3pts points were well below his previous two totals. Now that Bruschi is gone, the Patriots linebacker group hasn't been nearly as productive as they had been in the past. In fact, all Patriots LBs have only combined for 3 quality starts so far this year (OLB Mike Vrabel in weeks 1 and 2, and OLB Willie McGinest in week 3). Based on Vrabel's solid performances thus far, he is the player most likely to be hurt by this matchup, and the fact that no other SLBs have done well against the Chargers this year makes this a risky start for him (facing Lorenzo Neal won't help either). ILBs Chad Brown and Monty Beisel have been a disappointment in fantasy terms, although Beisel (9 solos, 7 assists, 1 PD) has been the more consistent of the two. The two of them, along with OLB Willie McGinest, all seem like risky starts this week but there probably aren't too many IDP owners counting on them each week anyway.
- LB New Orleans Saints (vs Buffalo Bills): MLB Courtney Watson
Like the Chiefs, the Bills rank low this year (#29) after ranking high last year (#4) in fantasy points allowed to linebackers. Whereas the Bills would get leads last year and then continue to run the ball with McGahee in the second half, they've been forced to play from behind the past two weeks and haven't been very effective as sustaining long drives on offense. In week 1, none of the Texans linebackers finished with more than 5 fantasy points. In week 2 against the Bucs, MLB Shelton Quarles was the only player to do much as he finished with 11 points. Then, last week against the Falcons, all 3 Falcons starting LBs finished with 6 points or more as McGahee set a career high with 140 rushing yards on 27 carries. If the Bills can effectively run the ball this week, the Saints linebackers could be productive, but the only Saints LB to finish with more than 6 points in a game this year has been MLB Courtney Watson (weeks 1 and 3). The Saints front 4 should make things very difficult for Bills QB JP Losman, which will limit the effectiveness of the offense and lead to fewer snaps for the Saints defense in their first "home game" at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Watson looks like the only Saints LB worth starting this year, but you may want to look elsewhere this week.
- LB Denver Broncos (@ Jacksonville Jaguars): WLB Ian Gold
The Jaguars come into this game ranked #28 in fantasy points allowed to opposing LBs (after ranking #17 last year). Fred Taylor has been able to carry a heavier workload than people expected (37 carries last week), but he hasn't been all that effective (3.5 y/r). In week 1 versus the Seahawks, SLB Jamie Sharper was the leading scorer with just 5.5 points. In week 2 against the Colts, MLB Gary Brackett (7pts) and WLB Cato June (6pts) both were quality starts, but just barely. Then, in week 3, with Taylor getting 37 carries, WLB Eric Barton (6pts) and MLB Jonathan Vilma (11.5pts) both managed to put up quality numbers. Leftwich was playing injured last week and the game was a close one that went into overtime, so Taylor played a bigger role than he should this week. The Broncos boast one of the fastest LB groups in the league, led by MLB Al Wilson (19 solos, 1 PD), WLB Ian Gold (15 solos, 1 sack, 2 FF, 1 FR), and DJ Williams (6 solos, 2 assists). Gold has been the most reliable of the 3 so far this year thanks primarily to his big play potential, so he stands to be hurt the most by this matchup. Opposing MLBs have put up solid numbers in each of the past two weeks so Wilson might still be worth starting, although I think his upside his limited. Meanwhile, D Williams has seen his production drop off considerably with the move to the SLB this year and should probably be benched unless you have no better options.
- DB Arizona Cardinals (vs San Francisco 49ers): FS Robert Griffith
After 3 games, the 49ers rank #31 in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs (after ranking #16 last year). The team has played better than expected this year, and being in close games has allowed them to run a more conservative offense compared to last year when they were forced into many more passing situations. In week 1's surprise upset of the Rams, none of the Rams DBs finished with more than 3.5 points which is surprising for a cover-2 team. In a blowout loss to the Eagles in week 2, CB Lito Sheppard had a huge game (11pts), while FS Brian Dawkins (6pts) and SS Michael Lewis (5pts) did alright. Last week in a close game against the Cowboys, the leading DB scorer was SS Roy Williams with just 5.5 points. So, apart from the one big game from Lito Sheppard, opposing DBs have not done very much against this 49ers offense. That could spell trouble for Cardinals safeties Adrian Wilson (18 solos, 6 assists) and Robert Griffith (15 solos, 5 assists), who are two of the more productive tacklers from the DB position in the league. Wilson is probably too good to bench, but Griffith seems like an obvious candidate to sit this week based on the matchup. At CB, Antrel Rolle was targeted often by Matt Hasselbeck last week and finished with 10 solo tackles, but he left the game in the 4th quarter with a knee injury and may be a risky start this week. None of the other Cardinals CBs have done enough to consider starting in this matchup.
- DB New Orleans Saints (vs Buffalo Bills): SS Dwight Smith
The Bills passing game ranks 31st in the league and Losman has really struggled with his decision making and accuracy. As a result, the Bills rank #29 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs this year (after ranking #17 last year). Unfortunately for opposing DBs, Losman has done a pretty good job of avoiding sacks and preventing turnovers despite his struggles. That may change this week as the Saints have one of the best defensive lines in the league and they should be able to force Losman into making some bad throws. The Bills played the Texans in week 1, and in Losman's best game of the year, 4 different Texans DBs finished with 5 points or more. In week 2 vs Tampa, the Bills were completely ineffective on offense, and CB Ronde Barber (6.5 pts) was the only DB to do anything. The trend continued last week against Atlanta, with CB DeAngelo Hall (9pts) the only player to score 5 points or more. The Saints signed Dwight Smith (12 solos, 3 assists) this year to upgrade their defensive secondary and will move him from FS to SS this week, but Smith owners may need to wait another week to see the benefits of that switch. With an injury to Jay Bellamy, rookie Josh Bullocks is expected to enter the starting lineup at FS, but he only has 1 solo tackle on the season. CBs Mike McKenzie (9 solos, 1 assist, 1 INT, 2 PDs) and Jason Craft (12 solos, 1 INT, 1 PD) have shown flashes and may come down with an INT this week, but are very risky starts this week given the Bills woeful pass attack.
- DB Minnesota Vikings (@ Atlanta Falcons): FS Corey Chavous
Atlanta ranks #19 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs this year, but that is inflated by the Eagles performance in week 1 as they blitzed their DBs frequently and came up with a few sacks as a result. In 2004, the Falcons ranked #32 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs, which is not surprising given how ineffective their passing game was. In week 1, as mentioned, FS Brian Dawkins (18.5pts) and SS Michael Lewis (15.5pts) both had huge games due to their blitzing while the CBs didn't do much. In week 2, all Seahawks DBs were held to 5.5 points or less. In week 3 against the Bills, FS Troy Vincent (9pts) and CB Terrence McGee (8.5pts) were the only DBs to do much. So, based on the above, of the 4 opposing DBs to have "quality starts" against the Falcons this year, 3 of them were safeties, and it was mostly due to their play up near the line of scrimmage blitzing or in run support. The Vikings boast one of the most talented secondaries in the league, but they've been a bit of a disappointment so far this year. SS Darren Sharper had a great first week against the Bucs, but didn't do much in week 2 and missed last week's game with a knee injury and will be a game-time decision this week. FS Corey Chavous (11 solos, 7 assists) had 2 good games to start the season, but was a non-factor last week against the Saints and probably won't be too involved this week either. Vikings CBs Antoine Winfield (14 solos, 1 assist, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FR) and Fred Smoot (3 solos, 2 assists, 1 INT, 5 PDs) played well last week limited Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth of the Saints to just 1 catch last week, which wound up hurting their numbers. Don't expect things to get much better this week either as they should have similar success shutting down Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran. While Smoot is more of a true shutdown CB who doesn't get enough tackles to be a regular starter, Winfield is one of the best tacklers in the league and he is always actively involved in run support so he shouldn't be hurt too much by this matchup.
- DB New York Jets (@ Baltimore Ravens): FS Erik Coleman, CB David Barrett
After only 2 games, the Ravens currently rank #28 in fantasy points allowed to opposing DBs (after ranking #22 last year). The Ravens offense has struggled badly during their first 2 games, and that should continue this week against the Jets in what should be a low scoring, defensive struggle. In week 1 vs the Ravens, Colts CB Nick Harper (6.5pts) and CB Donald Strickland (9.5pts) both had quality starts while the safeties didn't do much. In week 2 vs Jacksonville, SS Donovin Darius suffered a season-ending injury and none of the Jaguars DBs finished with more than 5 points. The best fantasy performer from the Jets secondary so far this year has been rookie SS Kerry Rhodes (18 solos, 3 assists, 1 INT, 2 PDs), and if the Jets stack 8 men in the box to try and stop Jamal Lewis, he might still be able to produce in this matchup. Last year's rookie sensation, FS Erik Coleman (7 solos, 8 assists, 1 PD), however, hasn't been quite as productive as he was a year ago and he should have trouble doing much this week. Same rule applies to the Jets cornerbacks this week. Ty Law will likely be matched up against WR Derrick Mason, which may be enough to scare the Ravens away from his side of the field. On the other side, David Barrett (14 solos, 1 INT, 3 PDs, 1 FF, 1 FR) has been a quality start in all 3 weeks thus far, but with the Ravens expected to focus mainly on the running game and go conservative on offense against the Jets without Pennington, he looks like a risky start and should see a drop in his numbers.
Solo tackle = 1pt
Assist = .5pt
Sack = 3pts
INT = 4pts
Pass Defensed = 1pt
Forced Fumble = 2pts
Fumble Recovery = 2pts