Week 5 - Exploitable Matchups
By Allie Fontana
Bye weeks can be hazardous to your fantasy mental health and with the Cowboys, Lions, Raiders and Buccaneers out of action, we’re here to help you sort through your plug-and-play options and maximize your Week 5 lineup. So whether you’re torn between trusting a familiar name that has let you down enough to be a question mark, thinking about taking the plunge on a fast-rising yet risky fantasy star or hoping to ride the fantasy relevancy wave of a player who may be on borrowed time, we’ve got all the bases covered.
Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers @ New Orleans Saints
You may wonder why we’re talking about the very familiar Rivers in an article about exploitable matchups—but let’s face it fantasy owners, he’s been more matchup play than fantasy must-start through the first four weeks of the 2012 season. In Week 4 against the Chiefs, Rivers threw for 209 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. His 14 fantasy points in ESPN standard scoring was better than the two he put up the previous week against the Falcons, however still not the kind of numbers that we expect from Rivers. Coming up in Week 5, he faces the ‘get well’ defense of the New Orleans Saints—a unit that has given up 1,140 yards, eight total touchdowns and the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. If Rivers doesn’t put up 250-plus yards and a couple of scores in a potential shootout with Drew Brees, then we don’t know when he will. It’s time for this quarterback to heal thyself.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Miami Dolphins
Dalton has been red hot the past three weeks, posting nine total touchdowns and 20-plus fantasy points per game over the same span. He is flying under-the-radar as a reliable QB1 that many fantasy owners continue to overlook. The second-year pro has another exploitable matchup in Week 5, this time with the Miami Dolphins. Miami has allowed at least 300 passing yards in three consecutive games and five passing touchdowns in the same span. Heck, if Kevin Kolb could torch the Phins for 324 yards and three scores in Week 4, then Dalton should get it done for a fourth straight week. Oh, and before you turn your nose up at Dalton, ask yourself this: How many fantasy points did Tony Romo get you last week?
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings vs Tennessee Titans
Ponder channeled Alex Smith’s “game manager” persona last week when the Vikings jumped out to an early lead over the Detroit Lions after a pair of return touchdowns. Leslie Frazier & Co. became super conservative with the play calling which effectively killed Ponder’s chances to be a productive fantasy option despite the favorable matchup. It also didn’t help Ponder’s cause that Lions’ receivers dropped or missed multiple catchable balls including a few in the end zone. Hope is on the way in Week 5 as the 1-3 Tennessee Titans come to town. The Titans have given up 293 passing yards per game and a league-worst 10 touchdown passes—including seven to tight ends. While Ponder may have burned you last week, the Titans defense should be the only thing getting torched this week.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins @Cincinnati Bengals
Tannehill is coming off an impressive, poised performance in which he threw for 431 yards and a touchdown. While he made his share of mistakes (including two pick sixes and a fumble) in an overtime loss to the Cardinals, Tannehill continued to build rapport with emerging No. 1 receiver Brian Hartline (12/253/1) and also connected with slot receiver Davone Bess (7/123). His 1,046 passing yards are 15th best in the league; however he has just two touchdowns and seven turnovers on the season. Tannehill faces a Cincinnati Bengals defense that gave up 322 yards and two touchdowns to Joe Weeden and the Browns in Week 2. A healthy Reggie Bush could do some damage catching passes from Tannehill out of the backfield against the Bengals’ 31st-ranked run defense. Tannehill deserves a look as a bye-week replacement in very deep leagues or in start-two QB formats.
Other QB matchups we like:
Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts vs. Green Bay Packers—He’ll be forced to throw 40-plus time to keep the Colts in the game. Luck is viable as a fill-in for Tony Romo or Matthew Stafford or if you’re squeamish about Michael Vick @ Pittsburgh Steelers. We like him as a low-end QB1 in 12-team or more leagues.
Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee Titans @ Minnesota Vikings—He put up 193 yards and two touchdowns coming off the bench in relief of Jake Locker against a good Texans defense in Week 4. He also committed three turnovers. Hasselbeck appears to click with Kendall Wright and has chemistry with Nate Washington, which he’ll need because the Vikings will make him put the ball in the air. While he may not have a ton of upside, the seasoned vet brings stability and leadership to a struggling Titans squad. Hasselbeck is worth a look as a bye-week option in deeper leagues or start-two QB formats. Keep your fingers crossed for some garbage-time production.
Jackie Battle, San Diego Chargers @ New Orleans Saints
Norv Turner stabbed fantasy owners in the hearts when he out-shanahaniganed Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan by benching Ryan Mathews for close to three quarters against the Chiefs in favor of journeyman Jackie Battle. The drama continued in the run up to Week 5 when a look at the Chargers’ depth chart showed Battle ahead of Mathews. While we think the cream (Mathews) will eventually rise to the top, fantasy owners would be foolish to dismiss Battle completely. He may not be the second coming of Mike Tolbert, but three touchdowns in four games make you go ‘hmmm’. San Diego travels to the Big Easy, where they’ll look to put another nail in the coffin of the Saints’ season. Expect the rusher recently described by Rotoworld’s Chris Wesseling as having the ‘lateral agility of a riding mower’ to be part of Turner’s game plan. Not only does New Orleans rank dead last against the run, they’ve also given up a league-worst six total touchdowns to running backs. Battle is a viable option if the bye week, bad matchups or injuries have you in a bind.
Kendall Hunter, San Francisco 49ers vs. Buffalo Bills
If you have a choice between taking a flier on either Battle or Hunter this week, the thorn in Ryan Mathews’ side is more of a ‘sure thing’ than the player drafted to eventually replace Frank Gore. That said, Hunter looked great in limited duty last Sunday, rushing for 56 yards and a score on eight carries. Gore and Hunter split the workload roughly 70/30 and in games in which San Francisco has a big lead, the second-year back could see extended playing time. Hopefully the 49ers watched the game film of Patriots running backs gouging the Bills run defense for 247 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday and they’ll figure out a way to get Hunter involved in a similar plan when they host Buffalo in Week 5. Hunter is definitely worth a look as a flex option in deeper leagues or if you’re juggling bye weeks and injuries. There are safer flex options out there than Hunter this week, so only start him if you can live with the risk that comes with a young player still carving out his place in the offense.
Cedric Benson, Green Bay Packers @ Indianapolis Colts
We recommended Benson as an “exploitable matchup” in Week 4 against the New Orleans Saints. And while he played 22 snaps and had over 100-total yards, he failed to find the end zone like we had hoped. You can thank backup QB Graham Harrell for that—Harrell filled in for Aaron Rodgers on a play and promptly did a ‘slip and fumble’ at the 1-yard line. Benson gets a shot at redemption this week against the soft run defense of the Indianapolis Colts. Indy has given up four rushing touchdowns over three games and the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. Benson could be in for another productive day as the Packers continue to strive for balance on offense. Plug him in as a solid RB 2 or even better flex this week.
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
In an ideal world, we’d recommend that fantasy owners wait a week before starting a running back who is returning from a major knee (ACL) to face one of the league’s stingiest run defenses. So while the matchup isn’t great and you would be rolling the dice with Mendenhall sight unseen, we’ve been there, done that with Adrian Peterson and it turned out okay. The Steelers run game is sorely in need of a reboot, and all signs point to Mendenhall stepping back into the starting role and seeing enough playing time (15 touches) Sunday to help the cause. If you’ve had Mendenhall stashed on your bench or found him buried on your waiver wire, he’s a risky, but interesting flex option vs. the Eagles in Week 5. Keep your expectations in check if you put him in your lineup—then sit back and hope he has the juice to bust off a big run or two.
Other RB matchups we like:
Ben Tate, Houston Texans @ New York Jets—Tate disappointed last week and has an unspecified toe injury, but Houston should steamroll Rex Ryan and the Gang Green, so he has a chance if he’s healthy on Monday night. Justin Forsett would back up Foster in the change-of-pace role if Tate can’t go, but rolling with Forsett would be a stretch.
Domenik Hixon, New York Giants vs. Cleveland Browns
Hixon has a terrific opportunity to capitalize on the misfortunes of teammates Hakeem Nicks (foot, knee) and Ramses Barden (concussion), both of whom have been ruled out for Sunday’s home game with the Cleveland Browns. There was a lot to like about Hixon when he lined up opposite Victor Cruz in Nicks’ absence last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He led all G-Men wideouts with six receptions and 114 yards on 11 targets. Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden is serving the final game of his suspension and the Browns pass D just isn’t the same without him. The Browns are tied with the Redskins and Bills for allowing the most touchdowns (7) to opposing wide receivers; behind only the Buccaneers in receptions (66) and third-worst in passing yards allowed (872). Not only do we expect Hixon to rack up receptions and yards, we think he’ll find the end zone for the first time this season. Unless you have receiver depth coming out the wazoo, start Hixon with confidence.
James Jones, Green Bay Packers @ Indianapolis Colts
Jones is a guy that many fantasy owners have labeled ‘hard to trust’ because of his tendency to put together a couple of solid performances and then slip into a fantasy coma. He finds himself in a good place heading into Week 5. Not only will start opposite Jordy Nelson in Greg Jennings’ absence, Jones is in one of his productive phases. He caught five of six targets for 55 yards against the Seahawks and five of six targets for 56 yards—two for touchdowns—in Green Bay’s get well game against the Saints. Jones has a chance to make it three in a row in a road game with the Indianapolis Colts. While it’s always best to keep expectations for Jones in check, there’s nothing scary about the matchup. The Colts below-average pass D has given up four touchdowns to wideouts in three games—which may not sound all that impressive, but keep in mind their first three opponents were the Bears, Vikings and Jaguars—not exactly passing juggernauts. It’s hard not to like Jones’ opportunity this week.
Donnie Avery, Indianapolis Colts vs. Green Bay Packers
The Colts return from the bye to host the Green Bay Packers at Lucas Oil Stadium and you can be sure that Andrew Luck will be airing it out 40-plus times to keep up with Mr. Rodgers & Co. With Austin Collie out for the season, Avery finds himself in an excellent position to become an integral part of Indy’s offense. He has 14 receptions for 176 yards and a score through three games, including nine grabs for 111 yards in Week 2 against the Vikings. If the Packers focus on taking Reggie Wayne away, Avery could see a lot of man coverage situations and potential opportunities underneath. In Week 4 against the Saints, Green Bay gave up an 80-yard strike to rookie wideout Joseph Morgan and Lance Moore received a team-high 15 targets that he converted to seven catches for 67 yards. Avery’s ability to move the chains against an improving, yet still vulnerable Packer pass defense could pay dividends for the Colts and fantasy owners in need of a sneaky WR3 or flex option this week.
Other WR matchups we like:
Davone Bess, Miami Dolphins @ Cincinnati Bengals—He had a career-game in Week 4, posting seven catches for 123 yards. Viable as a WR3/flex in PPR formats.
Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers @ New Orleans Saints—Deep threat against a defense that gives up big plays could mean a big fantasy day. If he doesn’t deliver this week, Floyd could be in deep doo-doo with his fantasy owners. Five catches for 75 yards in the last two games isn’t going to cut it.
Leonard Hankerson, Washington Redskins vs. Atlanta Falcons—Sneaky pickup and play this week as a PPR flex option if you need him. He’ll run more short possession routes if Garcon is healthy, so don’t expect huge totals.
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers@ Indianapolis Colts—Cobb is a slot receiver and situational-passing down back. He should see more snaps in Jennings’ absence because the veteran wideout has been primarily playing in the slot. Cobb is worth a look as a flex play in PPR or return-yardage leagues.
Nate Washington/Kendall Wright, Tennessee Titans @ Minnesota Vikings—Kenny Britt looks like a game-time decision, and if he sits out again, then one of these two wideouts has the potential to have a nice fantasy day. While the Vikings pass D has given up the 10th fewest fantasy points per game to opposing wide receivers, they are by no means shutdown. Hasselbeck and the Titans will have to throw the ball to stay in the game, especially if the Vikings successfully bottle up Chris Johnson. Garbage-time production could be a factor.
Jerome Simpson, Minnesota Vikings vs. Tennessee Titans—He had a solid debut in Week 4 with four catches for 50 yards. Potential sneaky play in deeper leagues thanks to matchup against a vulnerable Titans pass D. Don’t kid yourself—he’s a risky reach.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings vs. Tennessee Titans
Rudolph was another casualty of the Vikings ultra-conservative play calling after they jumped out to a lead over the Lions and never looked back. As with Ponder, Rudolph finds himself in prime position to offer owners a little fantasy redemption in Week 5. Titans’ safeties have allowed a mind-blowing seven touchdowns to tight ends and 20-plus fantasy points to the position in three out of four games. Put aside whatever bad taste is left in your mouth from last week and make sure Rudolph has a spot in your lineup.
Scott Chandler, Buffalo Bills @ San Francisco 49ers
If we had to put money on which Bills skill-position player would find the end zone this week, Chandler would be the odds-on favorite. He’s an imposing target for Ryan Fitzpatrick deep in the red zone—and Buffalo will need to take advantage of his size and athleticism against a formidable 49er defense. While the Niners rank sixth against the pass and the run, the unit is in the bottom half of the league in defending tight ends. They have given up a touchdown per game and the 10th-most fantasy points per game to the position as well. Fitzpatrick could use Chandler as a safety valve against the 49ers pass rush or as an extension to the run game a la Matthew Stafford and Brandon Pettigrew. Chandler is a bit of a boom or bust pick in Week 5—either a low-end TE 1 option if he scores or a bye-week bust that comes up small if he fails to find the end zone.
Brent Celek, Philadelphia Eagles @ Pittsburgh Steelers
We like the matchup especially if the Eagles use Celek as a key receiver for Michael Vick across the middle as they did last week against the Giants’ blitz. While his stat line wasn’t overwhelming (4/57), the catches were critical to Philly’s success. Celek heads into Week 5 with 315 receiving yards—tops among all tight ends. Pittsburgh has given up 16 catches for 151 yards and touchdowns to the Broncos’ Jacob Tamme and Raiders’ Brandon Myers. The only downside to Celek that we can see is the possibility the Eagles ask him to do more in pass-pro with the Steelers’ James Harrison back from his knee injury.
Others TE matchups we like:
Fred Davis, Washington Redskins vs. Atlanta Falcons—Although Davis isn’t a must-start, he’s been more involved in the passing game over the past two weeks with 11 catches for 160 yards. Falcons surrendered six catches for 89 yards and a touchdown to Carolina’s Greg Olsen in Week 5. Decent option in PPR if you need him.
Owen Daniels, Houston Texans @ New York Jets—Daniels currently leads Texans’ receivers in targets (28) and receptions (19). We recommended Daniels in Week 4 and he didn’t disappoint, catching six balls for 72 yards and a score. While the Jets have been fairly solid at defending the pass, a Revis-less secondary should help open up Houston’s pass attack. Daniels will look to find the end zone for the third consecutive week.
Blair Walsh, Minnesota Vikings vs. Tennessee Titans
Ryan who? Minnesota fans quickly forgot their long-time kicker in favor of the sixth-rounder out of Georgia they dubbed ‘Legatron’. While the nickname has been usurped by fellow rookie Greg Zuerlein of the St. Louis Rams, Walsh continues to impress. He has connected on nine-of-10 field goal attempts and all nine extra point attempts through four games. Walsh has a great opportunity to pad his stats at home and in a dome against a Titans squad that has yielded 38, 34, 41, and 38 points to opponents this season. If you’re looking to maximize every spot on your roster, it may be time to dump the familiar ‘old’ guy you drafted and give the up-and-coming Walsh a shot.
Others K matchups we like:
Nick Novak, San Diego Chargers @. New Orleans Saints—Novak kicked three field goals and four PATs in Week 4 against the Chiefs. Saints have yielded 10 field goals, 14 PATs and second-most fantasy points per game to opposing kickers. Worth a look in what should be a high-scoring game.
Mike Nugent, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Miami Dolphins—Nugent may find himself kicking field goals, not extra points against a generally solid Dolphins defense.
Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers—Hauschka is far from a lock because Seattle’s offense isn’t exactly prolific, but it’s an awesome matchup by the numbers if they can exploit the weaknesses of the Panthers D. The Panthers have surrendered 13 field goals, 10 PATs and the most fantasy points per game to opposing kickers.
Team Defense/Special Teams
Minnesota Vikings D/ST vs. Tennessee Titans
Before you ask, the answer is no, we haven’t been imbibing JaMarcus Russell’s ‘purple drank’. The heavy Vikings’ presence in this week’s column directly relates to the Titans’ haplessness more than anything else. Matt Hasselbeck steps in for an injured Jake Locker, and while a full week of first-team reps will help him shake off the rust, his passes are of the floaty variety, which makes them ripe for the picking. ‘Harass Hasselbeck’ could very well be the mantra of the day for a Vikings pass rush that averages three sacks per games. The unit will also look to do something the Texans then-ranked No. 6 run defense couldn’t do in Week 4—shut down Chris Johnson. He will be hard pressed to repeat his breakthrough performance this week against a stingy Minnesota run defense that has allowed less than 3.2 yards per carry and zero rushing scores.
Other D/ST matchups we like:
New York Giants D/ST vs. Cleveland Browns
Cincinnati Bengals D/ST vs. Miami Dolphins
Atlanta Falcons D/ST @ Washington Redskins