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This week we discuss the following:
For people who just lost Joe Flacco or Justin Forsett for the season, can they plug in Matt Schaub or Javorius Allen and expect to get somewhat comparable production, or will the Ravens offense be a disaster going forward?
Matt Waldman: Javorius Allen is a volume producer. He's a Bilal Powell type of back. A little quicker than you expect, but not a high-end athlete compared to top starters in the league. Allen's versatility will help him earn enough touches for flex-play relevance and only greater relevance against the likes of Cleveland next week. The rest of the schedule is more daunting with the Seahawks, Chiefs, and Dolphins ahead.
I expect less from Matt Schaub than I do Allen, and my expectations for Allen are pretty low.
Daniel Simpkins: I expect Allen to be a decent low-end flex play from here on out. Not only will he get rushing volume, but he'll catch some passes, too, as there is a lack of quality receiving options for this injury-riddled team. He's a good receiver for the size of running back he is, as he demonstrated against the Rams. I don't expect Schaub to do much, given his lack of weapons and his own limitations at this point in his career. I think there are much better streaming options available to use in all but the deepest of leagues.
Ryan Hester: Allen can be plugged in for Forsett with similar value, but that's absolutely not the case for Schaub replacing Flacco. This team is going to have fewer long possessions, fewer red zone chances, and score fewer points overall. Allen is somewhat protected from that in comparison to Forsett because Forsett wasn't heavily used in the red zone anyway. Allen also has reasonable floor due to his pass-catching prowess and the lack of above average targets in Baltimore. Schaub should only be considered for two-quarterback leagues, and he's a desperation play there at least until we see him play and gauge his competence.
Justin Howe: I figure the Ravens offense will be a disaster, yes. And I don't think even volume can save them—I don't see many sustained drives or hefty leads to sit on with Matt Schaub under center. The fledgling value in Kamar Aiken is fading fast, and Allen just hasn't shown enough talent to make me assume he can produce big games. He may very well post some solid lines—he is a dual threat, after all—but it'll be nearly impossible to anticipate them. Which teams left on their schedule can we project the Ravens to beat? And which defenses will struggle with Schaub, Allen, and Aiken?
I guess I can still see some value in Crockett Gillmore. He and Aiken are likely to dominate short and intermediate game with Schaub's pop-gun arm, but Gillmore brings some touchdown chances to the table, while Aiken looks like a weekly lock for around five catches and 60 yards, at best.
Chris Feery: The Ravens offense is quickly heading towards disaster mode. That being said, Allen should be able to provide similar value to Forsett—if Schaub doesn't cause the entire offense to implode. In a perfect world, the Ravens would employ a conservative scheme to reduce the chances of a Schaub-inspired implosion featuring multiple interceptions and lean heavily on Allen through the ground game and short passes.
Can people drop Jordan Matthews in redraft leagues? How do you evaluate his dynasty value right now?
Matt Waldman: Jordan Matthews is bound to have a week or two where he out-produces diminished expectations, but I can see the argument to drop him. He's a younger, less reliable Marques Colston-type of option without a quarterback of Drew Brees' skills. I've long considered Matthews a limited option who got picked by a team that had more promise to use him well than most. Now that the Eagles aren't maximizing Matthews' skills and Matthews' isn't giving them reason to, I wouldn't think of Matthews as worth more than Danny Amendola before injuries befell the Patriots. He's worth having on a roster in dynasty leagues, but the NFL has caught up with what Matthews does well and Matthews hasn't come up with a counter punch.
Daniel Simpkins: I think owners can safely move on from Matthews in redraft. He'll undoubtedly have better performances ahead, but trying to figure out on which weeks those will occur is risky business. In dynasty, I think we need to be a little more cautious before writing him off. His perceived value has dipped due to his lack of production this year. Yet many aren't considering that there are some mitigating factors. He struggled early on with a hand ligament injury. The offense around him hasn't been running well on most weeks. There are definitely aspects of his game that Matthews needs to work on, but we need to remember that he is only 23 years old and is not even all the way through his second NFL season yet. I'm open to him developing his game and for his situation to improve next year. This is a nice buy-low window for dynasty owners.
Ryan Hester: Sure, Matthews can be dropped in redraft leagues. He's likely your fourth-best receiver at the moment, and if you need room for a high-value handcuff that emerged last week like Thomas Rawls or Spencer Ware or even one that is yet to emerge due to injury like Robert Turbin or Karlos Williams, Matthews is disposable. As Waldman said, Matthews will likely still have a game or two this season when he exceed expectations, but being able to predict that could be a fool's errand.
In dynasty, he's still a hold for me (and that's extra applicable for me as I own him in one of our Footballguys Staff Dynasty Leagues). He's still young and still has the size and tools that led to him being a high-end selection in rookie drafts. He just needs another receiver opposite him and more consistent quarterback play.
Justin Howe: Yes, at this point in the season, Matthews is wholly droppable. As Ryan pointed out, this is the time of year when guys high in impact and upside need to be rostered in place of our depth guys. There are no byes left, remember. You may benefit wildly from picking up Spencer Ware or Nate Washington, after all, but when will you play Matthews? We can't blame his struggles on a backup QB, because Matthews was nearly invisible with anointed starter Sam Bradford throwing the ball. We can't assume a breakout is coming, because Matthews' peripherals are awful and there's nothing to suggest he's an up-and-comer. We can't assume a massive volume shift is coming, because the Eagles have been crowding their WR rotation (the ghost of Miles Austin, of all people, logged 30+ snaps last week).
And where's the dynasty upside? He's not a physical marvel by any stretch of the imagination. He's not quick in the slot, which is really the only place the Eagles could productively play him due to his limitations outside. And his overwhelmingly positive asset as a prospect—sticky hands—has come unraveled this year. And his main sticking point as a fantasy player is the Eagles' play volume, but the team may very well move on from Chip Kelly and his staff this offseason. A new coaching staff is unlikely to run the same breakneck pace or fall in love with Drew Bennett Part II, so Matthews could be marginalized greatly this coming summer.
Chris Feery: Matthews looks droppable for redraft leagues but I think he could still hold some value in dynasty leagues. The season looks to be quickly getting away from the Eagles and barring a turnaround and playoff berth, we are likely witnessing the end of the Chip Kelly era. A change in leadership and a new scheme may be just the ticket to help Matthews realize his potential.
When considering whether to start a given wide receiver, to what extent to you take into account the individual corner(s) he will face? Are the corners that you really try to avoid matchups with (if so, who?), or is that a mere tie-breaker, or do you generally think that information is more noise than signal and therefore pay little attention to it? We can probably all come up with anecdotes in either direction (Darius Slay shut down Amari Cooper last week, but DeAndre Hopkins torched Darrelle Revis), but does the preponderance of the evidence lean one way or the other?
Matt Waldman: It's just as important to understand the receiver, quarterback, and the cornerbacks as it is to consider one cornerback. Few teams stick one corner on one receiver and have that defender follow the wideout around all game long. If the other corner is significantly weaker or average in ability compared to a top-cover man, I rarely even consider the match up.
But if the receiver is facing a team with no worse than two competent corners, I then consider that receiver's strengths. A decent NFL receiver has a minimum amount of skill as a technician with routes and rebounding athletic skill to win the ball against tight, physical man coverage. But most receivers have skills that are more in tune with technique or rebounding. Larry Fitzgerald, Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Dez Bryant lean more towards rebounding although all four have route skills. Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown offer excellent rebounding skills, but they are also excellent technicians. Sammy Watkins is more technician.
If the receiver faces a technically sound, physical cornerback and the receiver is a rebounder, I'm more cautious about using him unless he's paired with an aggressive, veteran quarterback confidence in making tight-window throws. If the receiver is a technician, I'm less cautious—even if the quarterback isn't at the top of his game. Sammy Watkins versus Darrelle Revis was a good example. Same with DeAndre Hopkins—and yes, Hopkins is actually an excellent route runner and more technician who can rebound great than a great rebounder who runs a route or two reasonably well. Hopkins is closer to having a great blend of both skills than most.
Daniel Simpkins: Which corners are covering which wide receivers are only a minor lineup-decision tiebreaker for me. I am only going to bench a stud in a tough matchup if I have another stud with a better matchup sitting on my bench. Yes, we've seen corners like Slay, Haden, Revis, Peterson, Davis, and others shut a player down; but more often than not, the elite wide receivers facing them will still produce, just on a little bit lower level than normal. Sunday night's contest with A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson was a perfect example of this. Peterson spent much of the night covering Green, but Green still broke through with a few good plays, both with and without Peterson covering him. Green was also targeted heavily in the red zone and narrowly missed a touchdown in the closing moments of the game. I adjusted my expectations for Green down a bit and was content with 79 total yards in a tough matchup.
Ryan Hester: In traditional leagues, owners very rarely have multiple elite options that would allow them to bench a true "stud" receiver if the matchup didn't look promising. So players like Hopkins, Julio Jones, and Antonio Brown are going to must-starts in just about any case. It's in DFS, however, that the cornerback matchups can further dictate player selection. In cash games, for instance, selecting a receiver opposing Josh Norman, Revis, Slay, or even New England's emerging Malcolm Butler may not be advisable if a lesser talent has an easy matchup against one of the league's lesser pass defenses.
In GPPs, however, poor cornerback matchups might actually be the best time to deploy these high-end WR1s. For instance, there were plenty scared by Hopkins against Revis last week, and Hopkins really differentiated his teams. When the entire player pool is available to fantasy owners, cornerback-receiver matchups become something to be analyzed more deeply.
Justin Howe: For top-end wideouts, I care less and less every week about cornerback matchups in non-daily leagues. These are generally imperfect measures, as shutdown CBs typically have shelf lives for their ability to erase good WRs—not even Darrelle Revis is thoroughly dominant anymore. As much as I like the idea behind CB coverage metrics, I wonder a lot about their application. So Julio Jones may face an elite-rated CB this week, but has he defended anyone on Jones' level to build those stats? As Ryan pointed out, who do you bench the stud for? Do you sit all-world Julio Jones because the opposing CB shut down Kenny Britt and Kamar Aiken this month? Of course not; Jones is the asset he is because his skill level allows him to beat anyone at just about any time.
Chris Feery: I think Justin nailed it: for top-level wide receivers or even those just a notch below that receive a ton of targets, I don't put as much stock in opposing cornerback matchups as some do. The matchup becomes a factor for me when it's a matter of deciding between two mid-level wideouts. If one is facing a strong defense and will likely be blanketed by a shutdown corner for much of the day, that becomes a check mark against that wideout for the week. If both are facing so-called shutdown corners, I'll lean towards starting the wideout from the overall better offense or the offense that has played the best lately.
Who's your #1 ranked fantasy wide receiver from this point forward?
Matt Waldman: My top fantasy receiver moving forward remains Antonio Brown. He can beat you so many ways and he has the quarterback, ground game, and skill to win on athletic dominance and technical savvy.
Daniel Simpkins: I'm with Matt Waldman on Antonio Brown being the #1 ranked fantasy wide receiver from this point forward. He's got everything you could want— the athleticism, the ability to get separation with precision route-running, a prolific offense, a great quarterback, and a number-two wideout in Martavis Bryant that demands enough respect from the opposing defense to keep their defensive backs from cheating over to double Brown.
Ryan Hester: As the others have said, Brown is the player to choose here. Jones and Hopkins deserve to be considered, but quarterback play is a concern for both of them. Neither have as complete an offense as Brown has with Pittsburgh either, which helps Brown get more possessions and longer possessions, allowing for more volume potential.
Justin Howe: It's absolutely Brown. There's not much separation from him to Jones and Hopkins, but there's enough. Brown is on the best overall team and offense, and it's an offense missing its dynamic running back. (Not that that matters much to Brown, who's capable of dominating targets and excelling on the stat sheet even in a run-heavy game script.) Conversely, Jones is on a descending team with a descending QB and no threats elsewhere on the field to keep away double coverage. Hopkins has excelled with a dumpster fire at QB, but it seems clear we've seen the best of his 2015 production already. Brown simply offers the best mix of consistency and dynamism, for any number of reasons.
Chris Feery: I am in Brown's corner as well and view him as the top wide receiver from this point forward, edging out Hopkins and Jones. As others have mentioned, it simply comes down to quarterback play and the overall talent of the offense. The Steelers are in position to push for a wild card berth, while the Falcons are spiraling downward and the Texans are too unreliable for fantasy purposes.
Let's take a look at a handful of this weekend's more interesting matchups, starting with Minnesota at Atlanta. Matt, is the Falcons defense going to be able to contain Adrian Peterson and the rest of the Vikings' offense?
Matt Waldman: The Falcons finally face a great running back still in his prime. It's the first time this season that the defense will be tested in this manner. I expect them to fail. Adrian Peterson will reach the century mark and score at least once. Teddy Bridgewater will also have a decent day—at least 250 yards and a score—because the combination of Peterson's production and the quarterback's skill handling pressure far more intimidating than the Falcons will pay off.
On the other side of the ball, this is a matchup between two pretty good units. Will the Falcons move the ball successfully against the Vikings defense?
Matt Waldman: Julio Jones will toast Xavier Rhodes at least once on a fade route or a deep post. The question is whether Matt Ryan will deliver an accurate pass that requires a throw beyond 30 yards. Jones will accumulate the bulk of Ryan's production in the passing game. If Atlanta earns a touchdown from one of Leonard Hankerson, Jacob Tamme or Devonta Freeman, it will come from a red zone opportunity where the Falcons have been inefficient. Don't expect more than one meaningful play from Hankerson and Roddy White proved he could not earn enough separation to make a difference.
Devonta Freeman's status is uncertain heading into the weekend. If he's out, how does that change your analysis?
Matt Waldman: If Devonta Freeman's concussion keeps him on the bench, Tevin Coleman is a high-risk, high-reward option. He's faster than Freeman and he displays impressive balance when he can generate momentum. Coleman is also far less capable at approaching creases with patience and finding alternate holes when his first choice gets closed off. Coleman may be more likely to break a play wide open for a long touchdown than Freeman, but he lacks the maturity to turn minimal gains into productive outputs the way Freeman can and Atlanta doesn't trust Coleman to move the chains.
So what's the take-home message for fantasy owners? What players will put up mucho points?
Matt Waldman: Peterson and Jones are the two obvious plays. Freeman too, if he clears the concussion protocol, but consider him a high-end RB3. Diggs, Tamme, Rudolph and Hankerson give you a puncher's chance at accumulating production in PPR leagues or as big-play options or earning a red zone opportunity.
If Freeman remains on the bench, Coleman is more likely to earn something like 12-40 on the ground. If he has a good day, expect one carry to be the difference between a 12-40 day and a 13-110 outing. I'd rather start Teddy Bridgewater than Matt Ryan, but neither are ideal options.
Let's move on to Oakland at Tennessee. Daniel, how will the Raiders respond after last week's disappointing showing against the Lions?
Daniel Simpkins: This contest should see Derek Carr and the rest of the Raiders offense get right after a tough matchup with a rejuvenated Lions team. The Titans defense has improved from last year under the tutelage of Dick LeBeau, but it can still be passed upon and, to a lesser extent, run upon. Carr is a low-floor QB1 and Latavius Murray can be played with confidence as an RB2. Amari Cooper burned many an owner with his one catch for four yards stat line in week eleven, but against Tennessee's banged-up secondary, I look for him to have a better day.
How about when the Titans have the ball?
Daniel Simpkins: On the Tennessee side, Kendall Wright is expected to be active for the first time since injuring his knee against the Texans. This will be a big relief to an offense that had to run through Delanie Walker due to injuries and the ineffectiveness of the other receiving targets. With Wright back, Mariota becomes a streaming option in a favorable passing matchup. The coaching staff hasn't been imaginative when it comes to finding ways for Mariota and Dorial Green-Beckham to connect and I don't anticipate that will change on this day. Antonio Andrews will continue to carry the rushing load for the Titans, but expect David Cobb's touches to grow slightly from the four he received last week. My prediction is that the Raiders win this one by a score of 24-17.
Let's talk about Pittsburgh at Seattle. Ryan, what's your take on that game?
Ryan Hester: While Seattle is still a very difficult place to play, the 2015 Seahawks aren't the same ferocious defensive team that their 2013 and 2014 versions were. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has been surprisingly stout this season against the run (6th in terms of fewest yards allowed) but leaky against the pass (28th). Here's how the fantasy outlook should play out:
Which quarterback do you like in this game?
Ben Roethlisberger is still a top-10 option this week. But if you're looking for a reason to go away from him, note that in 2014, Roethlisberger averaged 75.5 fewer yards and 1.8 fewer touchdowns in road games than home games (2015 stats don't really apply as he has only played one full road game this season).
Pittsburgh can be beaten through the air. Antwon Blake is a bottom five cornerback per ProFootballFocus.
Wilson could also earn some fantasy points on the ground as Pittsburgh's blitz-heavy defense could over-pursue and allow Wilson to break free.
Both are top-12 options (and both are nice GPP plays in DFS).
This is a battle of backup running backs who will nonetheless get huge workloads. How do you see the respective running games performing?
Ryan Hester: When we talk about the running backs, we're not just talking about the running game. DeAngelo Williams has two four-reception games this season in the four-and-a-half games he has been the main back. Meanwhile, in their last few games, Seattle has given up eight receptions to Shaun Draughn, three to Andre Ellington, six to Darren McFadden, and give to Giovani Bernard.
But getting back to the running games, Pittsburgh has allowed just three opposing rushers to eclipse 100 total yards. In fact, they've allowed just five teams to surpass 100 total yards combined by the backs.
Ultimately, neither Williams nor Rawls are elite plays due to matchup, but both have RB1 upside due to volume.
Which wide receivers do you like in this game?
Ryan Hester: The only receivers to surpass 20 PPR points against Seattle were Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald in the same game in Week 10. Pittsburgh has a similarly potent duo in Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant.
On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh has allowed four receivers to exceed 20 PPR points and eight to exceed 15 points since Week 6.
Bottom line? Antonio Brown is a must-start regardless of opponent, Bryant has WR1 upside in any matchup; Pittsburgh's poor defense but Seattle's lack of weapons points back to Russell Wilson as the best play. For DFS, Brown can be started in any format; Bryant and Lockett are upside GPP plays.
How about tight ends?
Ryan Hester: Heath Miller has 80+ yards or a touchdown in three of the five games Ben Roethlisberger has finished this season. And Seattle has allowed a double-digit PPR performance to a tight end in seven games (eight total 10+ point performances).
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has allowed five or more receptions to seven tight ends this season.
So will this be a slow, low-scoring game, or will we see any fireworks?
Ryan Hester: This game will be surprisingly high-scoring, and Pittsburgh will keep it closer than the five-point spread predicts. But Seattle wins it late, 28-27.
Another game that could produce a lot of points is New Orleans at Houston. Justin, can you take us through your thoughts on that game?
Justin Howe: All told, I like the Saints-Texans matchup to get high-octane quickly. These two teams have averaged a combined 52.6 points over their last five games, and Vegas pegs it as the highest-scoring game of the week (47.5). Assuming one or both teams are able to strike quickly, catch-up ball seems very, very likely as the run games are all but abandoned. In fact, my model projects 76.2 combined pass attempts Sunday&mdash. And there's been no gift in recent fantasy history quite like the Saints defense, which has already allowed a mammoth 28 TDs through the air. Hopelessly thin in the secondary and the pass rush, even Brian Hoyer projects to reach 300 yards and two touchdowns.
Lastly, we've got an NFC East matchup when the Giants travel to Washington. Chris, does this one also have shootout potential?
Chris Feery: This game looks to be one of the highest-scoring affairs of the week with a projected total of 47 points. Both teams have had their struggles against opposing quarterbacks lately. Over the past three games, Washington has allowed nine passing touchdowns and an average of 251.33 passing yards per game, while the Giants have also allowed nine touchdowns and an average of 362 yards (somewhat inflated by the wild shootout against the Saints in Week 8).
Kirk Cousins has been up—and-down over the past few weeks with strong performances against the Buccaneers and Saints but disappointing outings against the Panthers and Patriots. Look for this week to fall into the up category and for Cousins to put together a solid outing. Jordan Reed could be in line for a nice day as the Giants have allowed some big outings to opposing tight ends this season, while DeSean Jackson appears to be back to full strength after last week's 5/87/1 and should receive plenty of opportunities to produce.
Eli Manning has been plagued by similar inconsistency lately with a monster outing against the Saints followed by a poor performance against the Buccaneers and a solid bounce back last week versus the Patriots. Manning should be able to produce against a Washington team that has allowed multiple passing touchdowns in seven of the team's ten games. Odell Beckham Jr has a great opportunity to extend his streak of 100-yard receiving performances, which currently stands at three games.
That will do it for this edition of the Footballguys Roundtable. Please join us again next week.