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Take Jonathan Stewart last week. Coming into the Panthers' game against the Chiefs, Stewart was an obvious play -- he was getting the bulk of the Carolina carries and was going up against a porous run defense. Instead, DeAngelo Williams scores three times and Stewart ends up with 80 yards and a fumble. Right idea, wrong guy.
What about Lance Moore? Moore had become Drew Brees' favorite target before Monday night's game against the Vikings, serving as the underneath target while everyone else went deep. Brees threw for 330 yards, but Moore only had 31 of them; the forgotten Devery Henderson ended up with 104 yards and Brees' only touchdown.
(You'll never guess who started Stewart and Moore last week.)
Other times, guys just beat their matchup and have huge days regardless. Clinton Portis was fantastic against the Eagles, for example. It makes a fantasy owner want to regret spending those 40 hours a week sitting in a cubicle and reviewing his or her team, but like the stock market, you've got to look at the long-term, not the short-term. Williams had three scores last week, but Stewart is still likely the guy to get about 55 percent of the carries going forward. Moore is still the Saints' No. 1 wideout until Marques Colston comes back. Like all other running backs, Portis isn't impervious and will have bad games against good rush defenses. We can say that with confidence because we have the benefit of scads of data to get us through the lean weeks. As Bjork would say, you've got to trust it.
This week's best matchup belongs to the Vikings' offense, which takes on the awful Lions. 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.
|Adrian Peterson, RB, MIN (14%)|
|Clinton Portis, RB, WAS (13%)|
|Chester Taylor, RB, MIN (12%)|
|Gus Frerotte, QB, MIN (11%)|
|Bernard Berrian, WR, MIN (11%)|
|Dallas Clark, TE, IND (10%)|
|Santana Moss, WR, WAS (10%)|
|Jason Campbell, QB, WAS (9%)|
|Ronnie Brown, RB, MIA (9%)|
|Marcedes Lewis, TE, JAC (9%)|
|Antonio Gates, TE, SD (9%)|
|Chris Cooley, TE, WAS (9%)|
|Larry Fitzgerald, WR, ARI (9%)|
|Kurt Warner, QB, ARI (8%)|
|Julius Jones, RB, SEA (8%)|
|Andre Johnson, WR, HOU (8%)|
|Jay Cutler, QB, DEN (7%)|
|Aaron Rodgers, QB, GB (7%)|
|David Garrard, QB, JAC (7%)|
|Brett Favre, QB, NYJ (7%)|
|Philip Rivers, QB, SD (7%)|
|Le'Ron McClain, RB, BAL (7%)|
|Todd Heap, TE, BAL (7%)|
|Donald Driver, WR, GB (7%)|
|Kevin Walter, WR, HOU (7%)|
|Antwaan Randle El, WR, WAS (7%)|
|Selvin Young, RB, DEN (6%)|
|Andre Hall, RB, DEN (6%)|
|Ricky Williams, RB, MIA (6%)|
|Brandon Jacobs, RB, NYG (6%)|
|Brian Westbrook, RB, PHI (6%)|
|Donte' Stallworth, WR, CLE (6%)|
|Brandon Marshall, WR, DEN (6%)|
|Greg Jennings, WR, GB (6%)|
|Matt Jones, WR, JAC (6%)|
|Reggie Williams, WR, JAC (6%)|
|Jerricho Cotchery, WR, NYJ (6%)|
|Chad Pennington, QB, MIA (5%)|
|LaMont Jordan, RB, NE (5%)|
|Sammy Morris, RB, NE (5%)|
|Derrick Ward, RB, NYG (5%)|
|T.J. Duckett, RB, SEA (5%)|
|Early Doucet, WR, ARI (5%)|
|Devin Hester, WR, CHI (5%)|
|Patrick Crayton, WR, DAL (5%)|
|Eddie Royal, WR, DEN (5%)|
|Plaxico Burress, WR, NYG (5%)|
|Laveranues Coles, WR, NYJ (5%)|
|Matt Hasselbeck, QB, SEA (-5%)|
|Jerious Norwood, RB, ATL (-5%)|
|Michael Turner, RB, ATL (-5%)|
|Frank Gore, RB, SF (-5%)|
|Ryan Grant, RB, GB (-6%)|
|Brandon Jackson, RB, GB (-6%)|
|Steve Slaton, RB, HOU (-7%)|
|Reggie Wayne, WR, IND (-7%)|
|Peyton Manning, QB, IND (-8%)|
|J.T. O'Sullivan, QB, SF (-8%)|
|Kevin Smith, RB, DET (-8%)|
|Rudi Johnson, RB, DET (-8%)|
|Joseph Addai, RB, IND (-9%)|
|Antonio Bryant, WR, TB (-9%)|
|Vernon Davis, TE, SF (-13%)|
|Muhsin Muhammad, WR, CAR (-13%)|
Jason Campbell (Redskins, plus-9 percent): Who looks farther removed from Week 1: Jim Zorn or Jason Campbell? Either way, the only thing standing between Campbell and the Pro Bowl is health. It's certainly not the Rams, who are allowing nearly 246 passing yards per game. Campbell's a must-start this week; that is, unless you believe in the inspirational new coach meme.
Kurt Warner (Cardinals, plus-8 percent): On first glance, you'd think that this would be a bad matchup: a great pass rush against a quarterback who holds the ball too long and is missing one of his two star receivers. It's true that Warner will probably go down three or four times in this game, but he's still got Larry Fitzgerald, while the Cowboys will be missing Terence Newman and, potentially, Adam Jones. Mike Jenkins was also banged-up in last week's game. The point is that Fitzgerald's going to have a huge game, in what should be a shootout, and so will Warner. If he stays upright.
Peyton Manning (Colts, minus-8 percent): If you're a Peyton Manning owner, you already know how frustrating this season's been. If you're not a Peyton Manning owner, well, you'll probably be able to become one at a very affordable rate after this week. Manning plays the Ravens and their No. 1 defense. While Peyton had a great day against Baltimore last year, they weren't at full strength; this team is playing much more like the 2006 unit that held Manning to one of the worst days of his career in the playoffs.
J.T. O'Sullivan (49ers, minus-8 percent): O'Sullivan has been hit a lot already this year. Some of that is playing good pass rushes, and some of it is playing behind an offensive line that earns defensive ends new houses. This week, O'Sullivan plays an elite pass rush in Philadelphia. Remember what they did to Ben Roethlisberger a few weeks ago? That could very easily be O'Sullivan in this game.
Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks, minus-5 percent): No one else really has a really bad matchup, but Hasselbeck should struggle some against the Packers. Not so much to keep him out of your lineup, but if you can bench him for someone like Frerotte (I know, it sounds weird ), get the latter in there.
Adrian Peterson (Vikings, plus-14 percent): For the benefit of readers who are in impossibly shallow leagues or in pools, Peterson is your best bet to be the high score of the week. For those of you who want to bet their buddy that Peterson will set the single-game rushing record again, this would be the week. If Chester Taylor gets lost on the way to the stadium, Peterson could run for 400 yards.
Clinton Portis (Redskins, plus-13 percent): Portis' matchup is nearly as good; the only thing separating the Rams from the Lions is idea that St. Louis' defensive line can be passable. Not that they are, or that they will be. But they could be. Ladell Betts could also pick up more playing time this game with the hope of conserving Portis. It's still the Rams, though.
Ronnie Brown (Dolphins, plus-9 percent): No single-wing needed this week, folks. The Texans have offered up virtually nothing against the running game despite investing so much in their front seven, so expect Brown to get huge chunks of yardage. Our biggest concern? The oft-injured Brown will be on a field that's in rough shape.
Julius Jones (Seahawks, plus-8 percent): Whether it's because of the departure of Corey Williams or injuries to Cullen Jenkins, the Packers' rush defense has been dire this year; a woeful 29th in football. Jones is primed to take advantage of that, but don't expect much out of him receiving, as the Packers' defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) against running backs in the passing game is third in the league.
Joseph Addai (Colts, minus-9 percent): Go ahead! Start Addai against the best run defense in football. Put him in your lineup against a defense that hasn't allowed a back to reach 20 fantasy points since Week 12 in 2005, back when Rudi Johnson could run. See where it gets you. Hint: It'll get you to about eight because that's how many fantasy points Addai is primed to earn this week.
Rudi Johnson (Lions, minus-8 percent), Kevin Smith (Lions, minus-8 percent): Speaking of Johnson, he can't run anymore, and he's now doing so in what appears to be a timeshare with Smith. It doesn't really matter; the Lions can't run the ball anyway, and since they're so often down several touchdowns, they're throwing to catch up on a regular basis. There's no reason to think that they'll be beating Minnesota, or that either back would be able to run on an excellent rush defense.
Steve Slaton (Texans, minus-7 percent): Slaton has been impressive this year, and he had a great day against an excellent Titans rush defense. Again, though, you're looking at long-term trends, not just a one-week sample. It's surprising, but the Dolphins' rush defense is currently third in the league in DVOA. Are they really that good? No. Are they top 10? Probably, and if so, Slaton should have some trouble moving the ball.
Ryan Grant (Packers, minus-6 percent), Brandon Jackson (Packers, minus-6 percent): The battle of redemption! On one side, we have Grant, who looks like a total bust a year after putting up MVP numbers for half a season. Jackson is on his side, too, but it's more the guy who stands next to the star and looks tough and/or relevant as opposed to being an actual character in this plotline. They go up against the Seattle linebackers, who were abused by the Giants' offensive linemen last week when they weren't trying to hip-check Brandon Jacobs. We predict that the Seahawks' linebackers, who have only had one off week, take care of Grant, who hasn't had one good week.
Bernard Berrian (Vikings, plus-11 percent): You've waited patiently. Have some dessert. Berrian has struggled some with a knee injury the past couple of weeks, but he's Minnesota's only wide receiver of note and the Lions can't cover deep threats. Berrian would be something like plus-17 or so if he had better hands, but even if he ends up with five catches for 110 yards and a score, no one will be complaining.
Santana Moss (Redskins, plus-10 percent): The blame game can be fickle and forgetful at times. Redskins fans wanted to run Moss out of town last year after he totally gave up on a Todd Collins wounded duck that Marcus Trufant returned for a game-sealing touchdown. Now he's the best receiver in football. Obviously, he's somewhere in between; he's going to look like the latter, this week, because the Rams should have absolutely no way to cover him.
Larry Fitzgerald (Cardinals, plus-8 percent): It's not as if Fitzgerald wouldn't get the ball anyway, but Anquan Boldin and Terence Newman are out, and Adam Jones, at the time of writing, is up in the air. Perhaps literally. Fitzgerald should have a huge game if the most plausible scenario -- a back-and-forth shootout between Warner and Romo -- actually happens. In fact, it's hard to envision a scenario where he doesn't get 100 yards and a touchdown; even if the Cardinals go way behind, they still have Matt Leinart, and they'll still try to catch up.
Muhsin Muhammad (Panthers, minus-13 percent): We pointed out last week that the Buccaneers were dynamite at stopping No. 2 guys; Royal had three catches for 23 yards. Muhammad shouldn't do much better than that.
Antonio Bryant (Buccaneers, minus-9 percent): The Buccaneers, on the other hand, have a quarterback controversy on their hands and are playing the fifth-ranked pass defense in football. That means that Bryant should be taken out of the game pretty quickly, with the potential to feast on some scraps not worth the likelihood that he'll have little to do Sunday.
Reggie Wayne (Colts, minus-7 percent): It's not that you should bench Reggie Wayne, since you won't. But he's playing a team which has done the best job against No. 1 receivers of anyone in football, and for the first time, Wayne is undoubtedly his team's top guy.
Dallas Clark (Colts, plus-10 percent): So then, why say Clark will have a big game? Because Clark essentially amounts to the Colts' slot receiver; he spends much more time there than he does with a hand down in the dirt. The Ravens' one weakness is that they have the worst defense in football against slot guys and tertiary receivers. That's where Clark could come in with 90 yards and a score.
Vernon Davis (49ers, minus-13 percent): The 49ers' offensive line can't handle the Eagles' pass rush. Davis is an excellent blocker. Do you see what Davis is going to be doing Sunday? 'Cause we do.
Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.