Your reaction when the backup quarterback is either starting or when he enters the game is one in which a face meets a palm with unmatched speed. That’s because the assumption is that the targets and production of the wide receivers and tight ends he’s throwing to will suffer substantially. And that could prove to be quite depressingly correct this weekend when Jason Campbell is repeatedly planted by the 49ers while Brandon Marshall watches in shame, and Byron Leftwich takes about nine years to complete a five-yard check down.
But you can learn to like Nick Foles, we promise, as DeSean Jackon, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek won’t wilt beneath his wobbles. We think.
The top three most favorable matchups
1. Felix Jones vs. CLE: Jones has been exactly what you wanted him to be: a substandard running back who’s been able to sometimes post numbers that are sort of alright while your hate for DeMarco Murray grows. But this week against the Browns he has a real opportunity to do something that’s above average, and most importantly, far above replacement value. That’s quite the accomplishment for a replacement, and one who’s already trending upwards a bit with his 202 yards from scrimmage over the past two weeks. Cleveland ranks 27th against the run, and over that same two-game stretch they’ve given up 216 rushing yards to running backs.
2. Cam Newton vs. TB: This is one of the best matchups for a quarterback who isn’t named Carson Palmer. Yes, there’s a legitimate fear that the league’s best run defense and the mobility of Tampa’s linebackers will neutralize Newton’s running, which is especially troubling because during otherwise poor afternoons he often still gives you points with his legs. But I’ll take that minimal risk in exchange for the appeal of a secondary that’s still the league’s worst against the pass, and it’s not even close. The Bucs are allowing 321.3 yards per game through the air, while the also crappy 31st Saints have allowed 307.3.
3. DeSean Jackson @WAS: Yeah, we know that whole deal about Foles playing, and Michael Vick not playing. And we know that you’re concerned, fearful, and frantic about Foles’ impact on Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Don’t be. While Foles will make rookie mistakes because he’s a rookie and that’s what they do, and those mistakes will be magnified due to the hopes and dreams that have been placed on his arm, he’ll still be able to connect with his receivers, and do it consistently. He flexed his mobility and pocket sense last week against the Cowboys, and this week he gets the soft landing spot of a defense that’s been continually ripped by passing offenses. Much of the Redskins’ struggles are rooted in their lack of quarterback pressure without Brian Orakpo, which is ideal for a rookie quarterback making his first career start. The Redskins have just 14 sacks for an average of only 1.4 per game, so there will be lots of time to find Jackson.
The top three unfavorable matchups
1. Roddy White vs. ARI: It’s difficult to get a gauge on this matchup for White. He’ll likely spend much of the game staring at Patrick Peterson, an elite cornerback who’s somewhere in the same area code as Nnamdi Asomugha, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, three other such corners that White has faced in recent weeks. Against the Cowboys he finished with seven receptions for 114 yards, and against the Eagles he was held to a season-low 38 yards. We’ll lean heavily towards the more ineffective White appearing here after the Cardinals held Aaron Rodgers to just 218 passing yards and a 46.7 completion percentage two weeks ago during their last game. There’s also the Julio Jones factor, with coverage sliding White’s way far more often if his main running mate is either out or limited due to his ankle injury.
2. Larry Fitzgerald @ATL: Going to the other side of the ball in the same game, lowered expectations may also be required for Fitzgerald. Asante Samuel has two interceptions over his last four games, and in two of those games (vs. DAL, @PHI) the Falcons have held other similarly fast and lanky receivers to the good but far from output of less than 80 receiving yards.
3. Frank Gore vs. CHI: At best, Gore has been wildly inconsistent this year. And at worst, he’s been average, or just bad. Simply bad. He’s had four games with less than 65 rushing yards, and three over 100. He’s also had two games with less than four yards per carry, and three with more than seven. Yeah, good luck forecasting this future, because aside from the Buffalo game when he had a season-high 131 yards, matchups seem to have little bearing on which Gore shows up. This week, though, we feel pretty confident that the slow, plodding, and falling Gore will resurface since stopping the run is something the Bears are sort of good at (only 92.3 rushing yards per week), and they’ve only allowed two rushing touchdowns.
The guy you should bench
I understand why you’re happy, Torrey Smith owners. You saw the boom last week, and the bust went away, at least temporarily. He caught two passes, and both of those receptions ended with the Ravens’ wideout standing in the end zone. That’s a pretty efficient scoring rate, and what’s even more fun is that Smith has now scored three TDs over the past two weeks, and last week against the Raiders he averaged 33.5 yards per catch. Madden is jealous.
Unfortunately, deep ball receivers and the Steelers’ secondary aren’t friends, even with Troy Polamalu out. The division rivalry resumes between the Ravens and Steelers tomorrow, and the Steelers have allowed a league-low of just 17 passes for 20 yards or more. That’s extremely minimal chunk yardage, and Smith leans heavily on his speed and vertical ability to be productive. He’s logged a +20 yard catch in seven of the Ravens’ nine games this year.
The best case scenario for…Andrew Luck
Above passes allowed of 20 yards or more was referenced as I advocated against putting yourself through a Torry Smith start. It’s a fun stat because it shows how frequently a defense is gash thoroughly, and it’s a stat Andrew Luck will especially enjoy this Sunday against the Patriots.
After giving up a league worst 79 such passes last year, the Pats are once again being dominated by long, deep passing, allowing an average of 5.2 +20 yard passes per game. To repeat that in more daunting terms, opposing quarterbacks have usually needed only five completions against the Patriots to arrive at 100 passing yards. Aqib Talib will help, but this is a deep wound that goes far beyond one man.
So yeah, that downward deep ball trend will continue this week, especially with the Colts’ vertical passing game still thriving.
Bold-ish prediction for Luck: 321 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 14 rushing yards
The worst case scenario for…Willis McGahee
There’s so very little reason to trust McGahee this week. Against a far inferior Bengals run defense two weeks ago he had just 2.9 yards per carry on 23 tries. That’s plodding epitomized against a front seven that’s allowing 4.4 yards per carry, and it didn’t get much better last week, when McGahee posted his sixth game with less than 70 rushing yards against an also weak Panthers rush D.
That lack of momentum will persist this week against a much better Chargers ground defense, one of only three that’s allowing less than 90 rushing yards weekly.
The guy who’s currently sleeping
Marcel Reece wants to be the best flex play in the history of point-per-reception leagues. This is a known fact, as any time you can get 15 receptions from a running back over a two-game stretch, that’s some serious cash money.
Reece’s value as a flex option goes beyond PPR leagues, though, especially this week as he faces a New Orleans defense that may be improved recently, but it’s still notoriously awful in nearly every facet of the game. Since he’s a converted wide receiver who has 152 receiving yards over his last two games, the Saints’ vulnerability to running backs who enjoy catching footballs is especially appealing. During their win last week over the Falcons, Jacquizz Rodgers had four catches for 33 yards, and in Week 8 Willis McGahee need only two catches to reach the same yardage total.