Calvin Johnson is a scary individual, and easily the scariest on his Detroit Lions offense. But he could be out again this week, or at least all gimpy and wobbly. Or he could be a decoy, and go all Boobie Miles on us.
That means if you’re in the business of hunting for the best weekly fantasy team defense play — as we are here, every week — you’re starting with Johnson’s worthy foe.
1. Cleveland Browns vs. Lions (Percentage owned: 24%)
There’s some gambling required here, but you’re already gambling, so hey whatever.
If Johnson remains out (he practiced on a limited basis again today, and will be a game-time decision), clearly the Lions offense becomes drastically different. Toss in Nate Burleson also still being out because he tried to save a doomed pizza, and Matthew Stafford’s receiving options would be exceedingly thin again. He’d be left throwing to Ryan Broyles and Kris Durham as his primary wideouts when he seeks to stretch the field, and due to an injury for the former and the general non-existence of the latter, they’ve combined for all of 13 catches through five games.
Last week in a loss to the Packers — proud owners of the league’s 26th-ranked pass defense that’s allowing 288.8 yards per game — the absence of Johnson led to a yards per attempt of just 6.6 for Stafford, which is significantly lower than his overall season average of 7.8. And his Week 7 passing yards (262) also fell well short of his season average (304.8).
If Johnson plays, even a limited Megatron is better than all but a few receivers in the league (that’s even more true now with Julio Jones gone for the year). But how will a gimpy elite wide receiver perform against an also elite cornerback who isn’t gimpy at all? Joe Haden is a blanket of humanity, and his season so far has been highlighted by holding other top tier receivers to little or nothing. Mike Wallace was able to catch only one ball for 15 yards against him, and two weeks ago A.J. Green caught seven, but only for 51 yards, a pitiful average of 7.3 per catch.
Add in the likely return of Jabaal Sheard to a front seven that’s tied for third in sacks with 18, and the Browns will be repeatedly whooping an offensive line that allowed Stafford to go down five times last week.
Reggie Bush and/or Joique Bell will still be a threat with their receiving ability after a week after Fred Jackson finished with 40 yards on four catches against these Browns. But back in Week 2 the Browns’ laterally quick linebackers held Ray Rice to only nine yards on three catches, and more importantly, any damage Bell and Bush do through the air should be their only damage since D’Qwell Jackson et al are allowing just 3.3 yards per carry.
2. New York Jets vs. Steelers (percentage owned: 20%)
I’m a ramblin’, gamblin’ man today. Sort of.
First, let’s start with the bad news here, and why the Jets defense scares you this week. Mostly, that scare can be summarized with one name: Antonio Cromartie. He’s the central figure in a secondary that’s been pretty, pretty good so far while giving up only 6.3 yards per pass attempt, and they’ve done that despite facing Matt Ryan, and Tom Brady. Now Cromartie will be a game-time decision after suffering a knee injury in practice this week.
OK then, that’s the ungood part of this, as Dee Milliner is out too, and thus the Jets could be forced to start the far less than formidable pair of Kyle Wilson and Darrin Walls as their cornerback tandem. That will give Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders much easier targets to burn deep.
Fine, so there could be some passing yards happening against the Jets, and some points scored. But as far as we’re concerned here in the search for bargain fantasy defenses, that’s a lesser worry. Primarily, fantasy defenses earn their fake employment through sacks, and creating turnovers. And you saw what Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and big ol’ Damon “Snacks” Harrison did to the Falcons’ offensive line, yes? Ryan was sacked twice — one of which ended in a fumble — and he was repeatedly hurried and hit. Atlanta’s run game pretty much didn’t exist, as they averaged only 2.9 yards per carry.
So now that bruising welcomes the Steelers, and their offensive line that lost its anchor for the season long ago (Maurkice Pouncey) will attempt to slow down the Jets’ brute blocks of human that have sacked quarterbacks 16 times. That matches the total number of QB takedowns for the Titans thus far, the Steelers’ Week 1 opponent that sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times.
3. Indianapolis Colts @ Chargers (percentage owned: 34%)
This circumstances here are similar to those facing the Jets above, though a little worse with the chunky passing yards since the Colts don’t have hope that Antonio Cromartie could be just fine and healthy enough to play, mostly because Antonio Cromartie doesn’t play for them.
Indy’s secondary has been just fine while allowing only 201.4 yards per game and a completion percentage of 56.9, although it hasn’t truly been tested yet. Of their five opponents thus far (Oakland, Miami, San Francisco, Jacksonville, and Seattle), four of them currently rank 25th or worse in passing offense. Monday night they’ll oppose very much the opposite, as in San Diego Philip Rivers is back to his chucking and gunning ways under Mike McCoy. Rivers has thrown 13 touchdown passes, which is second to only Peyton Manning’s absurdity, and seven of those scores have come at home.
A Chargers offensive line that was horribly weak throughout the preseason has now allowed only 11 QB hits and just eight sacks over five games. This is a matchup then that puts strength against strength, as Robert Mathis alone has 9.5 sacks (more than the Vikings, Bears, Giants, and Steelers), which leads the league. I’ll favor him and overall a Colts front that’s taken quarterbacks down 15 times — pressure that’s caved in pockets and contributed to seven interceptions — over a hobbled and battered offensive line (only center Nick Hardwick has played in all five games). D.J. Fluker will be either limited or out Monday night, and with Mike Harris gone for the season due to an ankle injury, the Chargers may be forced to start Nick Becton, an undrafted free agent, at left tackle. That won’t end well.
Honorable mention quick hits:
- Right about now, any team that’s defending Matt Schaub and his four straight games with a pick six needs to be considered. But I’m not sure how much you really trust a Rams defense that will likely be without Cortland Finnegan (though that may not be an improvement), has given up 11 passing touchdowns, and is allowing a passer rating of 106.7.
- The Titans are mighty tempting given their aforementioned ability to hurt quarterbacks, and Russell Wilson’s new-found tendency to run into sacks (he’s been sacked 15 times).
- Similarly, Cam Newton is inviting against the Vikings. Minnesota has forced 13 turnovers (seven interceptions and five fumbles) and Newton’s continued lack of fundamentals and pocket sense have already led to games when he was sacked six times (Week 2), and seven (Week 5).