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So, a defense that’s giving up 36.4 points per game will now attempt to stop an offense that employs Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte. Fantasy fun times forthcoming.

New York Giants at Chicago Bears

1. Can Eli Manning pass to…anyone?

In this morning’s Flea Clicker I discussed Eli Manning’s perplexing Derek Zoolander problem that seems to go directly against all quarterback scientific laws. To review: while his completion percentage in general is horrifying (53.7 overall), and it’s declined swiftly over the past few games (from 57.1 in Week 2 to 46.2 last week), Manning is especially inefficient when throwing to his right. As the dedicated ESPN nerd artillery informs us, he’s completing only 48.3 percent of his passes to his right this year, and he converted on 62.6 percent of those same attempts last year.

It’s all very confusing, and it fills those who own either Manning or any of his pass catchers with deep hate. The latter scenario is far more concerning right now, since only those who strongly despise getting enjoyment out of fantasy football are starting Manning with an regularity. Either slowly or not slowly at all, Manning is sucking the value of his receivers dry.

Oh, there’s certainly been successes, and one obviously comes in the form of Victor Cruz, who’s currently fourth among all wideouts in receiving yards with 473 of them on 31 catches. That’s a pace of 94.6 yards per game — which has Cruz chugging towards 1,513 yards this season — and he’s already caught deep passes for 51, 69, and 70 yards. Then there’s also Rueben Randle, the second-year receiver who had 96 yards and two touchdowns last week, four weeks after opening the season against Dallas with a 101-yard game in which he merrily moved along at 20.2 yards per catch.

But between his own booms (142 yards last week and 114 in Week 1), Hakeem Nicks had a two-game stretch with only three catches for 33 yards, which included being shut out entirely against the Chiefs (his three drops didn’t help matters). Brandon Myers has also become an afterthought lately, as after two +60 yard games to start the year, he has all of 68 yards over the past three weeks, and he was blanked by KC too.

The most telling numbers, though, track the rate at which balls are being caught by the likes of Nicks and Cruz. Of the 55 balls that have been targeted at Cruz, only 57 percent of them have resulted in completions. Nicks has the same completion rate, and he’s been targeted 37 times.

Drops obviously play a role there, and again, Nicks dumped three balls in just one game. But those completion rates are rather lowly even with the odd muff. For context, Marshall, a receiver on the other sideline tonight, has been targeted 47 times and 66 percent of those have turned into good things. Then there’s Julio Jones, who was also targeted far more than Nicks and Cruz before breaking and leaving our lives, seeing 60 balls in total and catching 68 percent of them.

Stop make us weep uncontrollably, Eli.

2. Can Eli remain in his proper, upright position?

There’s a caveat to all the Manning inaccuracy bitching above: remaining accurate is difficult when you’re constantly starring at the sky. Manning has already been sacked 15 times, and hit 32 times. That puts him on pace to flirt with a 50-sack season, as his current pace rests at 48. Be prepared to be truly staggered by that sack pain:

  • Last year, Manning was sacked 19 times…all season.
  • Of his eight full, 16-game seasons, he’s been sacked less than 25 times in three of them.
  • His previous single-season high was 30, and his average early sack total prior to this year and excluding his rookie season is 25.

Of course, much of the Manning bone mashing can be blamed on a pincushion offensive line that’s lost Chris Snee and David Baas, and Justin Pugh has shown his rookie-ness often. The result has been a pocket that’s often barely existed, as Manning has had three games when he’s been sacked at least three times, highlighted by the searing crunch of Week 3 when the Panthers brought him down seven times. Then there was the Chiefs a week earlier, who forced two fumbles.

So you’re seeing how this might end. Tonight is a fine time for a Bears front seven with plenty of brute man in Julius Peppers alone to arise from its slumber (only seven sacks thus far), and ask Manning if he prefers the taste of Solider Field grass over all other grass. Between that and the forthcoming interceptions, this will be an evening when that guy in your league who reached for the Bears defense five rounds too early becomes worthy of a face punch.

3. Will a running back who catches a lot of balls still be a problem for the Giants?

You’re fully aware that Matt Forte is catching a lot of passes in Marc Trestman’s offense, and as was widely expected back in August, that ability and offensive tendency has quickly raised his fantasy production and value. But have you really taken a few minutes to fathom the girth of his potential receiving totals thus far? Surely you must know I’m about to do that for you, so don’t bother.

Forte currently has 200 receiving yards on 27 catches through five games, with a single-game high of 73 yards in Week 2. That means on average you’re getting four fantasy points per week solely through his receiving ability, and his pace is rather scary. Here’s Forte’s 2013 line based on the first five weeks: 640 receiving yards, and 86 catches. How did he do last year? 44 receptions and 340 yards.

This matters every week, but it really matters tonight for you giddy Forte owners, and especially so for those in PPR leagues. Forte is currently sixth in receiving yards at his position, and LeSean McCoy is only narrowly behind him with 186. When McCoy faced these Giants last week he finished with eight catches for 46 yards, which translates to 12 points in PPR leagues. Jamaal Charles is further ahead with 250 yards, and 62 of them came against the Giants, including a 31-yard catch. Then there’s DeMarco Murray, who caught eight passes for 39 yards in Week 1.

So yes, good things could happen for Forte tonight. Lots of them.

Decisions, decisions

Standard preamble/dire warning: in the end it’s all the same, but sit and start decisions on Thursday night just feel more pressing and possibly painful, because if you make a poor call one roster spot has already been burned long before Sunday. That sucks (#analysis).

No-brainers: Forte, Marshall, and Cruz. I’ll toss Alshon Jeffery — he of the 325 receiving yards over the past two weeks — in here too, with plenty of looks available against a secondary giving up 280.2 yards per game. Oh and what the hell, let’s throw in Cutler as well for the same reason (lots of yardage…so much yardage). Given their draft positions it’s quite possible that Matt Ryan owners also stashed Cutler, and if so he’s this week’s best bye replacement at quarterback.

Tweeners: You’re likely starting Nicks too, but be aware of the aforementioned pressure problems up front for the Giants that could restrict the amount of balls finding their desired destinations. Outside of a few bombs to Cruz, accuracy will continue to be problematic. Ditto for Rueben Randle. Oh, and start both tight ends (Myers and Martellus Bennett, assuming the latter is healthy enough to start, which seems likely), because these are two defenses getting routinely ripped by the position. The Giants are giving up 69.7 yards per game to tight ends, while the Bears are at a whopping 85.9.

Stay away: You’re not really thinking about starting Brandon Jacobs, right? If you own David Wilson in a deep league (my condolences) and you have to handcuff and start Jacobs, godspeed. Whatever burst he once had has entirely evaporated, and we’re now left with a running back who creates a dust cloud, and then stumbles through it for maybe a yard.

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