Football Outsiders: Peyton due for another bad outing

"I tell you this because, as an artist, I think you'll understand."

The Christopher Walken quote that leads off the ninth track ("Jet Black") of the fourth and final Jawbreaker LP ("Dear You") comes from the Woody Allen movie "Annie Hall." It serves as a wonderful lead-in to what I, your fearless fantasy prognosticator, am about to tell you.

I'm benching Peyton Manning this week for Matt Schaub.

I don't say this with the idea that I'm going to do it in the future, when I might forget or change my mind. I've already made the move. It seems weird to have Manning on my bench, but I assure you he's there.

Is it outlandish to do such a thing? Perhaps. Is it stupid, or a reactionary act to the poor season Manning is having in Indianapolis? Not in the slightest.

When writing about fantasy matchups, I get e-mails from readers who have suggested, for better or worse, that drafting a player with their first-round pick (as I did with Manning) ties you to that player, that you draft him because you don't want to be concerned with matchups or sit/start scenarios each week.

That's a fine theory. It's also absolute nonsense. Since 1995, the average fantasy quarterback has put up 14.6 points per start. Since 2001, 21 of Manning's 103 non-Week 17 starts (20.3 percent) have been below that figure; in other words, Manning is a below-average fantasy quarterback 20 percent of the time. For those people who insist on playing their "studs" every week, you get a below-average performance three times a year. It's true at other positions, too: 29 of LaDainian Tomlinson's 106 games as a pro (27.3 percent) have resulted in performances below the starting running back average since 1995 of 12.6 fantasy points.

Of course, every player has the occasional random bad game. A good portion of these games, though, come against very good defenses, particularly elite ones. And while Manning took advantage of a Baltimore defense that thought he couldn't throw the ball anymore against man coverage, the Ravens adjusted after an abysmal first quarter and held Manning to the same mediocre performance he's had the rest of the year. It's only natural that Tennessee, the league's best pass defense by defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), will have seen that film and adapted accordingly.

"You win, you lose, it's the same old news."

Not all Jawbreaker references are applicable to fantasy football. Setting your lineup properly, though, is an art form, and it's the biggest thing you can do after draft day to extract extra wins out of your roster. If you can't figure out why your team's the same old news, you probably owe it to yourself to think a little out of the box.

Best and worst matchups for Week 8


Jason Campbell (Redskins, plus-15 percent): Week after week, a quarterback goes up against the Lions. He puts up 20-plus fantasy points. Somehow, these quarterbacks aren't being started universe-wide in fantasy leagues. Don't make that mistake. Campbell is the best start of the week.

J.T. O'Sullivan (49ers, plus-12 percent): Back from the dead! O'Sullivan has gone from fantasy delight to disaster over the past few weeks, but he should stop that decline this week against Seattle and its pass defense, ranked 31st in the league by DVOA. The matchup should also be a high-scoring affair, and the 49ers being at home adds an extra point or two to O'Sullivan's totals. The final bonus is that the Seahawks' rush defense is pretty stout, so Frank Gore is less likely to see the end zone in the running game than he would be otherwise.

Matt Schaub (Texans, plus-10 percent): The whole introduction to this piece is about Manning, so let's get to Schaub. He has impressed against weak pass defenses the past two weeks, and this time around, he gets the Bengals and their porous air defense. In a game between two awful defenses, we're expecting a shootout; not only should Schaub and the Texans win that, but that would mean serious potential for a huge week. The possibility always exists (like Cincinnati-Cleveland earlier in the season) that two bad defenses could combine for a low-scoring game, but we expect the two decent offenses in this game to go crazy.

JaMarcus Russell (Raiders, minus-15 percent): Right. This is an (essentially) rookie quarterback on the road against an elite defense. Not only is Russell a bad fantasy start in any league, this might have the highest expectation for negative points of any quarterback start all year.

Brad Johnson (Cowboys, minus-13 percent): The hidden great defense of 2007 was Tennessee; you know about their coming-out party this year. The Tennessee of 2008 is Tampa Bay, which is following a very good '07 with a superb '08 in which it ranks in the top-three in both pass defense and run defense DVOA. Of course, it'll be easiest to take down Johnson, who looked lost at times last week despite having the playbook chopped down by 75 percent.

Peyton Manning (Colts, minus-11 percent): Already discussed at length, but for further frame of reference, Tennessee's pass defense has given up an average of just over six fantasy points per game this year. They've knocked three quarterbacks out for extended periods of time. Does this sound like a defense you want to depend on having a bad game?

Running Backs

Thomas Jones (Jets, plus-14 percent): Two of those quarterbacks the Titans put on the shelf are Chiefs, whose defense will attempt to shut down Jones this week. They won't. The Chiefs are 31st in the league against the run. Jones should have a big run or two in the first half, and then a steady stream of carries running out the clock in the second half. Do 160 yards and a touchdown sound unreasonable?

Clinton Portis (Redskins, plus-14 percent): Portis gets the Lions, whose 29th-ranked defense should be little match for the league's leading rusher. Why is Portis below Jones? Detroit's pass defense against running backs is eighth-best in the league, which limits the chances that Portis will pick up 40 or 50 yards in the passing game. Kansas City's 31st against running backs in the passing game, so Jones could easily see that with a touchdown in addition to his rushing exploits.

Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars, plus-10 percent): We suppose the possibility exists that Shaun Rogers could eat MJD. That would put a damper on his day. Failing that, the Browns' rush defense shouldn't be able to do much in the way of stopping the Jaguars' dynamic back.

Willis McGahee (Ravens, plus-10 percent): McGahee will have to be healthy for this rating to be relevant, but as Oakland's run defense begins to regress back to its awful 2007, running backs return to being must-starts against them. If the Ravens get a big lead (and they will), McGahee likely will give way to Le'Ron McClain, which could cost him a touchdown. He could still very easily end up at something like 18 carries for 110 yards and a TD, which would be acceptable.

Oakland Running Backs (Raiders, minus-20 percent): Whether it's Darren McFadden, Michael Bush or Justin Fargas, none of them will productive games against the Ravens' rush defense this week. There's no reason to play any of them. Not one.

Marion Barber (Cowboys, minus-11 percent): The Buccaneers' rush defense has been too good this year for Barber to run roughshod through them; on the other hand, though, it's likely that the Cowboys' offense will run through him. He could very well end up with 85-90 yards on 20-plus carries, which won't help the Cowboys or you as much as you'd like.

Marshawn Lynch (Bills, minus-8 percent): It hurts our heart to bench Marshawn, but Miami's rush defense is fourth in the league in DVOA so far this year. If Buffalo moves the ball on Sunday, it'll be through the air.

Joseph Addai (Colts, minus-8 percent): For all the talk about how fearsome the Titans' pass rush is, people are sleeping on how good this run defense is, too. Sixth in football at the moment, the Titans are using dominant tackle Albert Haynesworth as the core of their run defense, not just their pass rush. The Colts' response should be to get two hats on Haynesworth on every play and worry about the rest later.

Wide Receivers

Santana Moss (Redskins, plus-14 percent): Santana Moss is, in fact, wide open for a first down as you read this.

Chad Johnson (Bengals, plus-12 percent): Dragged down by his jersey saga and a bitter offseason, he has fallen into the No. 2 role in Cincinnati. This is the perfect week for it, as Cincy faces a Houston team that's 10th in the league against No. 1 wideouts, but 32nd in the league against No. 2 guys.

Antwaan Randle El (Redskins, plus-10 percent): If Campbell and head coach Jim Zorn choose, both Moss and Randle El could go over 150 yards in this game.

Roy E. Williams (Cowboys, minus-24 percent): We were right about Williams' inability to make an impact last week, and that was against St. Louis; against a good defense, and with only a week more to digest the playbook, Williams isn't ready to contribute yet.

Ronald Curry (Raiders, minus-17 percent): Baltimore, believe it or not, has already covered Ronald Curry. He's not open.

Marvin Harrison (Colts, minus-14 percent): Reggie Wayne likely will see more targets, which is why he's slightly down the list; Harrison, though, could see a lot of former practice buddy Nick Harper come Monday. Will he accidentally tell Harrison all his Colts secrets?!?

Tight Ends

Chris Cooley (Redskins, plus-12 percent): OK, so Cooley will get the start in most leagues anyway, but we just like pointing out that he's playing the Lions. This is a good thing.

Jason Witten (Cowboys, minus-8 percent): Not only is Witten going against an excellent pass defense, but he's giving up some of his touches to Patrick Crayton, a situation that should make neither player happy. Until then, Witten should be downgraded some, and when his impending partnership with Brad Johnson was confirmed this week, I was happy to do the same in confirming him on this side of the table.

Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.