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Thursday, October 2, 2008
Football Outsiders: Playing the Week 5 matchups

By Bill Barnwell
FootballOutsiders.com

Sometimes, what makes for good fantasy football is entirely the opposite of what makes for good real football.

Edgerrin James
His Cardinals were blown out last week, but that didn't stop Edgerrin James from putting up big fantasy stats.
Take last week's Cardinals-Jets game. In a game that was effectively not a contest after the second quarter, the teams combined for 47 second-half points that absolutely helped win fantasy games for owners of Jerricho Cotchery, Edgerrin James, and in close matchups, Brett Favre. Anquan Boldin owners got a totally meaningless touchdown that was as relevant to them as a real game-winning score. Of course, Boldin is likely to be out this weekend after suffering a terrible hit in the end zone while trying to score more meaningful points.

Alternately, look at the Terrell Owens situation. Despite getting 20 combined attempts when you include rushes and throws in his direction, Owens complained after the loss to Washington that he didn't get the ball enough.

If you're an Owens owner, you obviously want your star receiver to get as many touches as possible; as long as Owens doesn't fumble or forget which end zone to head toward, you're picking up fantasy points.

In reality, though, having a receiver get a ton of attempts is almost always a bad thing. In 2007 and 2008, teams that had a receiver get 15 or more targets in a game were 12-33, a .267 winning percentage. That's because teams that throw that often to one receiver in a game are often losing; otherwise, they'd be throwing less and running the ball to kill the clock.

Sometimes, fantasy performance isn't only antithetical to real-life football; your player's real team being successful can actually be a hindrance to your fantasy team. So when your favorite team goes down 35-3, you can still be heartened that your starting quarterback might help at least one of your teams win in the second half.

Best and worst matchups for Week 5

Quarterback

Best and worst matchups

This week's best matchup belongs to the Bears, which gets to face the Lions on Sunday. Football Outsiders calculates the difficulty of a player's matchup and compares it to his expected average performance in the 2008 season; the matchups with the biggest effect on player value are shown below.

Matt Forte, RB, CHI (13%)
Kyle Orton, QB, CHI (10%)
Owen Daniels, TE, HOU (10%)
Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR (9%)
Joseph Addai, RB, IND (9%)
Marty Booker, WR, CHI (9%)
Wes Welker, WR, NE (9%)
Santonio Holmes, WR, PIT (9%)
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT (8%)
Brian Griese, QB, TB (8%)
Mewelde Moore, RB, PIT (8%)
Terrell Owens, WR, DAL (8%)
Greg Jennings, WR, GB (8%)
Tony Romo, QB, DAL (7%)
Jerious Norwood, RB, ATL (7%)
Michael Turner, RB, ATL (7%)
Jason Witten, TE, DAL (7%)
Lee Evans, WR, BUF (7%)
Devin Hester, WR, CHI (7%)
Patrick Crayton, WR, DAL (7%)
Anthony Gonzalez, WR, IND (7%)
Chris Chambers, WR, SD (7%)
Bryant Johnson, WR, SF (7%)
Peyton Manning, QB, IND (6%)
Philip Rivers, QB, SD (6%)
J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, SF (6%)
DeAngelo Williams, RB, CAR (6%)
Felix Jones, RB, DAL (6%)
Marvin Harrison, WR, IND (6%)
Hines Ward, WR, PIT (6%)
Antonio Bryant, WR, TB (6%)
Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB (5%)
Drew Brees, QB, NO (5%)
Marion Barber, RB, DAL (5%)
Frank Gore, RB, SF (5%)
Heath Miller, TE, PIT (5%)
John Carlson, TE, SEA (5%)
Vernon Davis, TE, SF (5%)
Chad Johnson, WR, CIN (5%)
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR, CIN (5%)
Brandon Marshall, WR, DEN (5%)
Lance Moore, WR, NO (5%)
Vincent Jackson, WR, SD (5%)
Kurt Warner, QB, ARI (-5%)
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, SEA (-5%)
Jason Campbell, QB, WAS (-5%)
Larry Johnson, RB, KC (-5%)
Donald Lee, TE, GB (-5%)
Derrick Mason, WR, BAL (-5%)
Justin Gage, WR, TEN (-5%)
Antwaan Randle El, WR, WAS (-5%)
Santana Moss, WR, WAS (-5%)
Fred Taylor, RB, JAC (-6%)
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC (-6%)
Kevin Boss, TE, NYG (-6%)
Jerry Porter, WR, JAC (-6%)
Reggie Williams, WR, JAC (-6%)
David Garrard, QB, JAC (-7%)
Ray Rice, RB, BAL (-7%)
Andre Hall, RB, DEN (-7%)
Selvin Young, RB, DEN (-7%)
Jay Cutler, QB, DEN (-8%)
Kerry Collins, QB, TEN (-8%)
Sammy Morris, RB, NE (-8%)
Brandon Jacobs, RB, NYG (-8%)
Marcedes Lewis, TE, JAC (-8%)
Mark Clayton, WR, BAL (-8%)
Deuce McAllister, RB, NO (-9%)
Derrick Ward, RB, NYG (-9%)
Clinton Portis, RB, WAS (-9%)
Randy Moss, WR, NE (-9%)
LenDale White, RB, TEN (-10%)
Todd Heap, TE, BAL (-10%)
Joe Flacco, QB, BAL (-13%)
Eddie Royal, WR, DEN (-13%)
Kyle Orton (Bears, plus-13 percent): Orton has actually played better than expected this year; he's averaging nearly 200 yards and a score per game. Although Orton lost his favorite receiver in Brandon Lloyd, he gets to play the Lions this week. That makes him a perfectly useful bye week starter for you Brett Favre owners.

Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers, plus-8 percent): The Jaguars have struggled mightily against the pass this year while handling the run; that's the opposite of last year, when they struggled for consistency against the run but were decent against the pass. Roethlisberger should have opportunities to take advantage of their corners and march down the field, picking up big yardage numbers along the way.

Brian Griese (Buccaneers, plus-8 percent): Despite having both Dre' Bly and Champ Bailey at cornerback, the Broncos' defense has almost totally capitulated against the pass since Bly's arrival. If they had more than one above-average pass-rusher, it would help, but the Broncos struggle mightily against tight ends and Bly's been below-average since his arrival. Griese should be able to take advantage of that come Sunday.

Joe Flacco (Ravens, minus-13 percent): Flacco showed signs of brilliance Monday night, but he obviously still has a ways to go before he's a consistently viable fantasy quarterback. That especially includes this week, when he has to face the fearsome pass rush -- and defense as a whole -- of the Tennessee Titans.

Kerry Collins (Titans, minus-8 percent): Of course, it shouldn't be any picnic for Collins; the Ravens' pass defense grades out as the best in football according to defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), our metric which takes into account performance on a play-by-play basis relative to down, distance, situation and opponent. The Ravens' pass rush isn't as fierce as the Titans', while the lack of Dawan Landry in the Ravens' lineup should give Collins a little extra space to work in. Even so, Collins isn't primed for a big day.

Jay Cutler (Broncos, minus-8 percent): As great as Cutler has been this season, an offense predicated on big plays will struggle to create some against a defense (like the Tampa 2) designed to prevent them. Cutler will have to settle for smaller gains and avoid making mistakes; as good as he's been this season, he hasn't yet shown he can do that effectively.

Running backs

Matt Forte (Bears, plus-13 percent): There are, rightfully, some concerns about Forte's workload through the first four weeks. He's right on pace to hit the vaunted Curse of 370, which has slain many a back more talented than Forte. On the other hand, he's facing a Lions defense which has allowed just over 207 rushing yards per game to its opponents. Rest Forte against Minnesota in Week 7, Lovie Smith. But give him the rock Sunday and let him win some fantasy teams some games!

Jonathan Stewart (Panthers, plus-9 percent): Kansas City is another one of the teams allowing over 200 rushing yards a game so far. The chances of an inexperienced Chiefs defense giving up a long score are higher than normal, too. The reason Stewart's listed ahead of DeAngelo Williams is because he's got 55 carries this year to Williams' 45.

Joseph Addai (Colts, plus-8 percent): The rehabilitation of Addai's reputation continues; of course, regular readers know his slow start was a mirage caused by an incredibly difficult schedule in his first two weeks. The Houston Texans' rush defense would not be considered difficult unless you were its parent, in which case you might send it to bed at this point without ice cream. Addai had 21 fantasy points against the Texans in Week 3 last year; that's not a bad target for this week.

Mewelde Moore (Steelers, plus-8 percent): Welcome your new Steelers starting running back! Moore seemingly had been buried on the Vikings' depth chart for years before jumping to Pittsburgh this season, but his performance in small doses there has always promised at future success. This is his chance, and he's luckier than Rashard Mendenhall; instead of facing the best run defense in football, Moore's first start is against a Jaguars team that has been decent against the run, but is worst in the league at defending against running backs in the passing game. Moore is a very capable receiver, so it's entirely possible that he could run for 80 yards ... and then catch passes for 80 more. Throw a touchdown in, and Moore suddenly has a 24-point day.

LenDale White (Titans, minus-13 percent): We pretty much got White's week down last week: 11 carries, 13 yards, a 1-yard plunge for a score. It only gets harder this week, as White goes from one elite rush defense to another. Expect a line similar to last week's.

Clinton Portis (Redskins, minus-9 percent): The Eagles' rush defense was good last year, but it's been the best in football so far this year. Don't expect that to remain the case, but it's still going to be a team that stifles most opposing runners. With the Eagles' exotic blitz schemes ready to pounce on young quarterback Jason Campbell, the possibility also exists that Portis will spend much of the game pass blocking, not running. Portis gained 69 yards on the road against Philly last year, upping that to 137 in the friendly confines of FedEx Field. He'll be on the road Sunday.

Derrick Ward (Giants, minus-9 percent): For those owners picking up Ward as a bye-week guy, let him go. It's the wrong week; he plays this week against Seattle, the second-best rush defense in the league so far. Brandon Jacobs has a better shot at getting a TD, which puts him slightly ahead of Ward.

Deuce McAllister (Saints, minus-9 percent): We're excited about the Deuce once again being loose, but he won't get too much space this week against the Vikings; his power style is a bad matchup for the Vikings' defense, which means you'll see a lot more Reggie Bush on Monday night.

Wide receiver

Marty Booker (Bears, plus-9 percent): Just like we've hyped Orton and Forte, we project success for Booker for all the same reasons. As the last Bears receiver standing, he's their nominal No. 1 target -- and Detroit has struggled mightily with top guys this season.

Wes Welker (Patriots, plus-9 percent): If you've given up on Welker because of Matt Cassel's struggles, don't. Welker's always going to be a target for Cassel's steady stream of junk underneath coverage, and he's a great matchup against the 49ers and their mediocre outside linebackers and safeties. He's a must-start this week.

Santonio Holmes (Steelers, plus-9 percent): Jacksonville is 24th in the league against No. 1 guys so far; Holmes isn't as well-known as Hines Ward, but he's really the Steelers' top guy at this point. Either way, his speed is a good matchup for a Jacksonville secondary that can sometimes get lost in coverage.

Eddie Royal
Eddie Royal isn't going to be helped by facing a tough Bucs defense.
Eddie Royal (Broncos, minus-13 percent): Against No. 1 wideouts, Tampa Bay is 27th in the league. Against No. 2 wideouts? The Bucs are the best in football by a wide margin. Of course, with Ronde Barber seemingly decaying by the week, why would teams want to avoid him? Brandon Marshall should have a big game this week, but expect Royal to be very quiet.

Randy Moss (Patriots, minus-9 percent): The 49ers' defense doesn't do much very well, but they do a very solid job against the opposing team's top wideout by virtue of big-ticket cornerback Nate Clements. Clements should spend his day covering Moss, and with Moss' obvious degradation without Brady in mind, fantasy owners might even consider sitting him this week.

Mark Clayton (Ravens, minus-8 percent): Tennessee's defense is second-best in the league against No. 2 wideouts; Clayton is very clearly the second fiddle in Baltimore behind Derrick Mason, and with Flacco running a very conservative offense, it's unlikely Clayton will get a chance this week to be the deep threat he was in 2006.

Tight ends

Owen Daniels (Texans, plus-10 percent): After picking on tight ends facing the Broncos the past couple of weeks, we recommend Daniels this week against the Colts, whose performance against tight ends this year is 31st in the league. That owes to defensive injuries at linebacker and safety, primarily Bob Sanders.

Todd Heap (Ravens, minus-10 percent): Heap, on the other hand, plays a Titans defense that was best against tight ends in 2007 and has been third-best so far this season. For some strange reason, he has struggled to see the ball this season, so hold off before inserting him back into your lineup.

Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.