Things that are easy are so much better than things that are hard. It’s a basic scientific theory that dates back to our core existence as people, and the fact that effort must never be wasted. Homer Simpson, however, has another theory.
Trying is easy, and even fun when a high return on said effort isn’t difficult to achieve. This brings us to Chris Johnson, who found running against the Bills — the league’s worst rushing defense that’s giving up an average of six yards per carry — to be a pleasurable experience with his 195 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns last week.
Now he’s staring down another week when few carries could be needed for high-end production. The only effort required will be running in straight lines and hitting holes. It’s easy, really, just please no backfield dancing, Chris. Wasted effort makes kittens cry.
The top three most favorable matchups
1. Aaron Rodgers vs. JAC: We begin with so much chalk, but after Rodgers has posted nine touchdowns and 680 passing yards over the past two weeks on secondaries that employ Johnathan Joseph, Daniel Manning, Cortland Finnegan, and Janoris Jenkins, posting more astronomical numbers against a far inferior Jaguars defensive backfield that’s giving up an average of 264.5 yards per game shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, this matchup is so good and so lopsided that there’s a legitimate fear this game will get out of hand too quickly, and Rodgers won’t be needed much in the second half.
2. Chris Johnson vs. IND: In a week filled with fun running back matchups (Matt Forte against Carolina? Mmmm), this could and should be the most productive game for a top-end RB, if we’re cool with calling Johnson that again now. A week after he pounced on a similarly appealing matchup against the Bills, Johnson now faces a front seven that’s allowing nearly five yards per carry (4.8).
3. Robert Griffin III @ PIT: The ruler of all things fantasy opposes a defense that will still be playing without Troy Polamalu, and as I noted earlier this week, the last time the Steelers faced an option quarterback running an option offense, the result was of the season-ending variety. That’s when one Timothy Tebow had 315 passing yards during the playoffs last January after his highest single-game total was 236 throughout the season, and he had 50 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown.
The top three unfavorable matchups
1. Matthew Stafford vs. SEA: Bench Stafford if you can, but you likely can’t. Cam Newton owners feel your pain, as it’s difficult to bench a quarterback that cost you an early second-round pick in most leagues, even if he’s struggling monumentally. This past Monday night Stafford had 5.7 yards per pass attempt against the Bears. We need to only look to that same number last year to see how far his mighty arm has fallen, as he averaged 7.6 yards per attempt in 2011. A deep Lions passing attack has now been overtaken by dinks and dunks, and
Optimus Prime Richard Sherman is ready to shut down Calvin Johnson, Stafford’s primary deep option who had only three receptions for 34 yards Monday while he was blanketed by Charles Tillman.
2. Jamaal Charles vs. OAK: Let’s be clear. This is called the top three unfavorable matchups, not the top three players who are doomed to fail, or something of that ilk. As such, I’m not saying that Charles should be benched, or anything absurdly idiotic like that. What I am saying, though, is that similar to RGIII above whom I expect to have a great day even by his lofty RGIII standards, mentally prepare yourself for the possibility of a poor day from Charles, at least by Charles’ standards. The Raiders do very few things right. In fact, they only do one thing right: defend against the run. The Raiders are allowing only 3.8 yards per carry.
3. Brian Hartline @NYJ: You’ve soured on Hartline a lot since that glorious Week 4 day when he had 253 receiving yards on 12 catches, both very easily career highs. Since then he’s only had 53 yards over two weeks, and even that’s a misleading stat because one of the Dolphins’ two games since Week 4 (they had a bye last week) didn’t feature Hartline’s name on the boxscore. That’s because to have your name on the boxscore you have to do something meaningful. Anything at all, really. Hartline didn’t, as he was shut down by Cortland Finnegan two weeks ago (zero catches, zero targets, zero anything) and this week he has another tough matchup against Antonio Cromartie.
The guy you should bench
Since we’re still in the middle of byes (*face meets palm*) benching Carolina’s Steve Smith is likely difficult. But if you can and there’s a more appealing matchup among one of your lower WRs, sitting down Cam Newton’s top receiver is preferable. That’s because Smith will spend most of his day lining up across from Charles Tillman, again the same Charles Tillman who shut down Calvin Johnson this past Monday night.
Beyond that, recently we’ve seen what Smith looks like against elite cornerbacks, and it’s an ugly sight compared to the rest of his games against more average defenders. Although he still hasn’t scored, Smith has averaged 78.5 receiving yards per game, which is rather impressive considering Newton’s struggles. But against Atlanta’s Asante Samuel/Dunta Robinson in Week 4 that number dropped to 52 yards, and then it plunged further to 40 yards against Sherman and the Seahawks in Week 5.
The stat(s) that will make you happy
Sean Lee is gone, and he’s never coming back…this year. Ahmad Bradshaw gets the first crack at a Lee-less Dallas front seven, and the middle linebacker led the team with 58 tackles. I’m fully aware that his tackle total is about as surface-y as it gets in terms of Lee metrics, but sometimes all you need is the simplest number to illustrate the impact of one player.
Lee didn’t just lead the team in tackles. It wasn’t even close, as the Bruce Carter is second with 32, meaning even though he won’t play another game this year it’s conceivable that Lee is still the Cowboys’ top tackler for up to two more weeks. Over the Cowboys’ six games thus far they’ve tackled an opposing ball carrier 370 times, so Lee had a hand on said ball carrier during 15.7 percent of their defensive stops. That kind of anchor can’t be replaced, and it’s a glaring hole that Bradshaw should easily exploit, even if he’s playing at less than full health (and really, he’s always playing at less than full health).
The best case scenario for…Josh Gordon
Peyton Manning >>>>>>>>>> Brandon Weeden. But Josh Gordon owners should still be encouraged by the fact that the Chargers defense allowed an NFL quarterback — any NFL quarterback — to complete 80 percent of their passes, as they did last week against the Broncos. Somewhat sadly, Carson Palmer is pretty much Weeden’s equal at this point, and back in Week 1 he was also allowed to finish with an unhealthy completion percentage (69.6).
That frequent game of catch against the Chargers continues this weekend, along with San Diego’s hobby of giving up lengthy passes. They’ve allowed five receptions of 40 yards or more, while Gordon has averaged a Madden-esque 34.3 receiving yards per game since Week 5.
Bold-ish prediction for Gordon: 3 Rec, 104 yards, 1 TD
The worst case scenario for…Brandon Lloyd
Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins continue to suffocate the opposition’s deep passing game, an area that collectively the Rams will be able to focus on a little more often when Tom Brady drops back with Aaron Hernandez out, giving the Patriots one less weapon to use while drawing attention up the middle. There’s hope, because Lloyd had success against Seattle’s Sherman, but that’s countered by his disappearance against Champ Bailey (three receptions for 34 yards) and especially last week against Antonio Cromartie (one reception for six yards).
Bold-ish prediction for Lloyd: 4 Rec, 56 yards
The guy who’s currently sleeping
We can call Jonathan Stewart a sleeper simply because he’s been used minimally due to both injuries (he’s missed two games), but mostly the Panthers’ stubborn continued display of classic insanity, sticking to a nearly even split in their backfield despite the supreme ineffectiveness of DeAngelo Williams. It was all just so very Panthers of them, as while Williams had some moderate success (4.6 yards per carry between weeks 2 and 5) his games of woe have been far more glaring. He had -1 yards on six carries in Week 1, and six yards on six carries in Week 5. If you started Williams during the latter game you suck, according to Williams.
So a change that’s been anticipated all week has arrived with Stewart named the starter, although it’s one that’s still mildly surprising since the Panthers aren’t fans of logic. In comes the rumbling, hulking Stewart as the definitive starter, with head coach Ron Rivera saying that he’ll be given an opportunity to find a rhythm and establish himself as the hot hand.
This all sounds wonderful, as Stewart is one of the most talented but vastly underused running backs in the league. In his 66 game appearances since 2008, Stewart’s received 15 or more carries in a game just 15 times, and in those games he has 1,738 yards. That’s nearly half of his career rushing yardage (47.7 percent).
What does that mean this week as he opposes a strong Bears rush defense? Welp, maybe nothing, maybe a lot.
With the exception of Maurice Jones-Drew in Week 5, the Bears haven’t faced many top tier rushing offenses yet (Packers, Colts, and Lions are among the others). So feel free to flex Stewart, banking on his downhill power being the perfect counter for an aggressive group of linebackers. Those dealing with byes (hi, Ray Rice and Arian Foster owners) have also inherited a fine depth option if Stewart is on their bench.