Matchups, man. Every week we seek to either exploit them, or avoid them. So every week, I’ll check in with a handful for both of those categories, along with some sleeper recommendations.
Three guys who could be just the best
1. Stevan Ridley (@BUF): Ridley had 294 rushing yards against the Bills last year, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Kiko Alonso and Manny Lawson will improve the Bills’ front seven, but they won’t be nearly enough for unit that gave up a total of 332 yards on the ground to New England last year.
2. Tony Romo (vs. NYG): You always know what you’re getting from Romo. Yards upon yards in chunks and chunks, mixed in with a smattering of poor decisions that lead to interceptions. Mostly, the yards and the resulting touchdowns more than compensate for the mistakes, and that was what won the day against the Giants last year. Romo had six games with 20 or more fantasy points in 2012, and two of them came against his division rival. Combined over the two games he threw for 744 yards, with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Those picks matter a lot less against an opponent that’s gave up 372 yards per game to this particular quarterback.
3. Pierre Garcon (vs. PHI): I just really, really like Garcon this year, and especially early against an Eagles secondary that was dismantled and then re-assembled, but is facing a difficult first test against Robert Griffin III, even if he’s not quite at full speed. Over a five-game stretch to end the season last year Garcon averaged 80 receiving yards per game. And even better, a healthy Garcon was targeted 8.6 per week.
Three guys who could be just the worst
1. Steve Smith (vs. SEA): The combination of Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman is inviting to no man. Last year those two were especially awful for Smith, who was held to just 40 yards on four catches in Week 5, and his longest catch of 14 yards was the shortest of his long balls throughout the year.
2. Chris Ivory (vs. TB): Bilal Powell may be the “starter”, but that’s a tag which could carry little meaning. Ivory will have the larger workload and get the early down work, but he’s only a reaching flex play this week. Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson will shut down whatever sprinkling of a passing game the Jets can possibly muster, while a run defense led by Lavonte David that allowed only 82.5 yards per game last year and 3.5 per carry is still rather daunting.
3. Larry Fitzgerald (@STL): This one is more difficult to project, since looking back on last year isn’t fair to anyone who was remotely in the vicinity of the Arizona Cardinals. Now a respectable quarterback has arrived in the form of Carson Palmer, though the Cardinals’ offensive line may still resemble a waterfall. You can’t bench Fitzgerald because your investment in him is far too high, but you can lower your expectations. You don’t really have a choice after Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins combined for 23 passes defensed last year, and after the Rams tied for the league lead with 52 sacks.
Three sleeper plays
1. Terrelle Pryor (@IND): I know, the Raiders will be horrible, and by extension they’ll make Pryor horrible in reality. But separate reality from fantasy, because those two things can’t co-mingle. In fantasy, Pryor will maintain weekly value simply due to the volume of his rush attempts, with running ability carrying much more weight. NumberFire’s Rich Hribar dropped an interesting bit of knowledge regarding quarterback rushing volume in his exhaustive Pryor analysis: since 2001, 43 quarterbacks have had 60 or more rushing attempts in a season, and 35 of them finished as a QB1 (top 12 or better).
2.Greg Little (vs. MIA): Yeah, Little’s hands resemble rocks far more than mitts. This much we all understand with his seven drops on only 85 targets last year. But in a deeper league he maintains flex value for two weeks with Josh Gordon suspended, and Little’s length and speed relied on more regularly. He’ll likely be second in targets behind only Jordan Cameron, and a decent deep league flex play. Here’s to hoping at least, because I’m flexing him in a 20-team league. Friends don’t let friends sign up for 20-team leagues.
3. Joique Bell (vs. MIN): Reggie Bush could regain some of his long lost USC swagger in Detroit, but Bell will still have a role of some significance after thoroughly outplaying Mikel Leshoure during the preseason. Bell’s value this week and most weeks lies in the passing game, as even with Bush sucking back most of the targets out of the backfield, sheer throwing volume from Matthew Stafford will still lead to opportunities. And really, it doesn’t take much for Bell to justify his presence in your flex spot, especially against these Vikings. Last year he had 116 yards on 11 catches over two games against Minnesota, an average of 10.5 yards per grab.