'The NFL Beat': Week 7
I picture the average human being in a glorified sense coming into Week 7 of the NFL's 2012 regular season. Everyone outside of these dreary confines is living a life reserved for those portrayed in R-rated gangsta rap videos.
While I am formulating scouting grades for defensive coverage units, others are in hot tubs.
Throwing dollar bills around and popping open expensive bottles of Champagne in celebratory fashion. A fat member of the happy entourage does a cannonball and splashes everyone, much to the enjoyment of the strippers on hand.
Shame on you.
If you have a moment to spare between your pool parties and your tee time with Shannon Sharpe and John Elway, here it is: "The NFL Beat": Week 7.
Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills
Titans RB Chris Johnson might still like football. Who knows? To me, he seems like the kind of player who gets paid and checks out. They call these guys, very creatively, "money players" within NFL personnel departments. Players that may have once loved football and no longer do, or players who might have never really loved the game and had gotten by previously on physical prowess alone.
They are an organization's nightmare, and there is a thorough screening process to try and identify candidates for this type of behavior prior to inking any deals, especially the big ones. Like the one that Johnson held out for in 2011 before returning to gloriously stink up the joint after getting paid. The Bills are my second-best matchup for opposing runners this week, though. This is one week I say roll with Johnson confidently.
Dallas Cowboys at Carolina Panthers
Panthers QB Cam Newton is averaging just over seven points less per game for his fantasy owners coming into Week 7 of the 2012 NFL season than he was coming into Week 7 of the 2011 season. Newton has been a relative disappointment thus far due to the sporadic nature of his productivity. He has given his fantasy owners a few great "Cam Newton" games, but just as many complete stinkers, making his serviceable-seeming 22.5 points/game average thus far much less dependable than it may indicate.
My matchup algorithm has Dallas as the sixth-worst matchup for opposing QBs, but something tells me that Newton will put up solid fantasy numbers at home coming off a bye. Tony Romo and the Cowboys will exploit the Panthers unbelievably suspect secondary, and things will be lubed up for Newton garbage-time rushing production in second-half hurry-up packages as a result.
Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans
The Texans were embarrassed last week when Aaron Rodgers showed up at the party in Houston and busted out his own six-pack on them. The Ravens are also currently playing defense that they themselves may even view as embarrassing given the team's historic dominance on that side of the ball. To make things worse, everyone is hurt.
Ray Lewis is out for the season and Ladarius Webb is done, too. Texans RB Arian Foster will go bananas in this game, and if you are having bye week issues, I would take a good look at his talented backup, Ben Tate, who is more than due for a breakout game. Baltimore is my 10th-best matchup for opposing fantasy runners coming into Week 7.
Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts
Browns CB Joe Haden returned from his four-game suspension in Week 6 for taking Adderall in the preseason. The return of the lockdown corner did not do much for the woes that have been recently experienced in Cleveland as a result of opposing passing attacks, however. A.J. Green of the Bengals unleashed a fantasy monster.
This week, two teams with very suspect defenses and rookie gunslinger QBs square off in a game that I certainly would not have pegged as a shootout in the preseason, but now most certainly do. If Browns WR Josh Gordon or Colts WR Donnie Avery are somehow on your waiver wire, they should not be. Both represent great value plays with tremendous upside moving forward and both face great matchups this week.
Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings
Sorry Arizona, it looks like the code has been cracked on how to stop you. Expose your offensive line for the abject liability that it is, get a pass rush going and always give help to the guy shadowing WR Larry Fitzgerald.
With no semblance of a running game, a rotating cast of banged-up bodies at QB, and a WR corps whose only threats outside of Fitzgerald are a rookie and a very TD-dependent Andre Roberts, it is not rocket science to key on how to stop this team. The issue lies in scoring points on their defense. I am downgrading expectations for all fantasy players in this game outside of Vikings WR Percy Harvin who has proven relatively matchup proof due to his versatility, getting put in strategic spots to make plays against the opponent's weakness.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw has had an unbelievable two-game run of fantasy glory for his owners. The cherry on top is the fact that the second of Bradshaw's two straight 100-yard games came against the vaunted San Francisco 49ers run defense.
The elephant in the room that just came and knocked this beautiful fantasy sundae out of your hands and splattered it all over your wall is Bradshaw's foot. Bradshaw has missed action this season due to a neck injury, but we have been free up to this point of any issues pertaining to his feet, which are currently more screw and rod than they are flesh and bone. Monitor the situation closely, and owners of Bradshaw as well as those facing bye weeks should be ready to roster and play Giants backup RB Andre Brown should Bradshaw be unavailable for duty.
Green Bay Packers at St. Louis Rams
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will have a tough time reporducing the absolute fireworks display he put on in front of mainly disgusted fans at Reliant Stadium last Monday night. What makes it harder are Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. Both Rams CBs play with a mean streak, and it has shown in the stat lines of opposing WRs and QBs.
If the Packers decide to work WR Randall Cobb directly out of the slot, the Rams will likely counter with moving Finnegan inside, forcing Donald Driver to beat them one-on-one to the outside.
I don't like the sound of that. I am downgrading expectations for Packers players in this game, and actually do not think the matchup will be as lopsided an affair as many expect. If you are looking for waiver-wire plays in this game, the most readily available interesting candidates would be Rams WRs Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens who have emerged as true threats with the positive development of QB Sam Bradford and the loss of No. 1 WR Danny Amendola.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Saints TE Jimmy Graham is going to be giving his fantasy owners headaches leading right into Sunday's games as his status seems to be in serious question after not practicing all week on what might or might not be a high ankle sprain.
Saints WR Lance Moore will be returning, however, as the Saints emerge from their Week 6 bye following their first win of 2012 in Week 5 against the San Diego Chargers. Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount has been a fantasy afterthought and dropped in many leagues. The Saints are my best matchup for opposing RBs, and with Blount seeming to heat up with goal-line carries, he represents a solid flex play during the bye week hustle.
New York Jets at New England Patriots
Patriots RB Stevan Ridley is due for a big game after Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks elected to effectively take the run away from New England in their Week 6 win at home against the Pats. Patriots HC Bill Belichick will be foaming at the mouth to establish the run and use recently-returned TE Aaron Hernandez as an extension through a hapless tight-end coverage personnel group the Jets leave patrolling the middle.
Patriots backup RB Brandon Bolden, who has been a bit of a thorn in the side of Ridley owners at times due to the Patriot Games Belichick plays with his running back rotationn- especially in goal-line sets. Bolden looks very iffy to play this week however, and owners in a bind should consider rostering and starting Pats RB Danny Woodhead who will be receiving virtually all change of pace duties in Bolden's absence given the non-emergence of now-healthy fellow reserve RB Shane Vereen.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Oakland Raiders
A bad game that should be good for fantasy production. Raiders RB Darren McFadden has not looked completely like himself thus far in the 2012 season, and as I have been saying since before the season started, this is due largely in part to the fact that Raiders OC Greg Knapp runs a zone-blocking scheme that does not cater to Run DMC's elite physical skills. Former Raiders HC Hue Jackson realized this, and switched the blocking scheme to more of "man/body-on-a-body" scheme in the trenches that resulted in McFadden bursting into the second level of the defense like a rocket. Over and over.
The good news for McFadden owners is that the Raiders obviously worked on some things over their Week 5 bye which allow McFadden to get more free in open space, and the result was evident in his great fantasy day last week in Atlanta. McFadden has one of the easiest (if not the easiest) schedule of any fantasy RB down the stretch, and it is looking now like buying low on McFadden early may have not been an entirely bad move if the staff continues to address this very obvious disconnect in their offensive scheme.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
If you read my draft advice, you likely own A.J. Green. As we projected, Green is on pace for a monster. The Pittsburgh Steelers are not a great matchup for opposing WRs, but Green is matchup proof, and is very likely to be drafted in front of Calvin Johnson next season, taking over the role as fantasy football's most coveted receiving asset. Steelers RBs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman are both very iffy to play Sunday, which puts fantasy owners in a real bind. This game will be broadcast nationally on Sunday Night Football, meaning if you have Mendenhall in your lineup and he doesn't go, you will only have players from this game and the Monday night game to get in as fill-ins.
Make sure that if you currently starting Mendenhall in one of your RB spots and have an RB in the flex as well, move your healthy (likely lesser) RB into your RB slot and Mendenhall into your flex. Trust me. If Mendenhall can't go Sundaay night, you do not want to be limited to only RBs as desperation fill-ins. If you have to go this route, there will actually be some good options on your waiver wire that are largely unowned. I would recommend (in this order) Bengals WR Andrew Hawkins, Bengals RB Cedric Peerman, Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer, Bengals WR Armon Binns, and Steelers RB Baron Batch.
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
Things have not gone well for Matt Stafford owners, and one look at the remaining schedule for the Lions signal-caller is not exactly encouraging. This game counting as part. The Monsters of the Midway have returned, and you can't go into Soldier Field as an NFL QB currently without being a little concerned about their propensity to jump routes and disguise techniques playing out of a simple, base cover-2.
It must be infuriating and scary at the same time. While I am not convinced about the fantasy fortune of Stafford, I do love one man on the receiving end of his regressing passing motion - Calvin Johnson. Megatron.
Coming into Week 7 with an astonishing one touchdown, Megatron is poised for a monster. Johnson has been a Top 15 fantasy WR this season, showing why he is one of the least-TD dependent fantasy studs in this game we play. However, big players make big plays in big games, and I love the stars to come out on Monday night.
The matchup is awful, but I'm not entirely sure that Megatron goes by humanly calculated algorithms, thought up in a basement as shoes pass by in the window, worn by lucky people.
[Alex Dunlap is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and founder of Rosterwatch.]