That’s where this column comes in. Every Friday, I will offer my passing and rushing matchups to exploit and avoid, with the goal being to provide you with some insight about where some of the big scoring and big busts might come this weekend. These picks are best used to decide between evenly ranked players. Don’t ever bench your studs because of a poor matchup, but if you have two studs and have to choose, this is where you turn to decide which to play. For the passing matchups we’ll look at quarterbacks and receivers, while the rushing matchups are strictly about the running backs (doh!).
Passing Matchups to Exploit
Andrew Luck vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – The only teams that have allowed more Fantasy points to quarterbacks than the Jaguars are the Broncos and the Saints. Andrew Luck is the top QB with 57 Fantasy points and he’s among the Top 5 in completion percentage (68.7 percent) and passing attempts (87). There is absolutely no reason why he can’t carve up the Jaguars this week. Jacksonville has allowed 610 passing yards and four TDs with only one interception through the first two games thus far. Two of the four TDs and almost one-third of the passing yardage allowed has gone to the tight end position. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen have been on the field for almost the same percentage of snaps so far, though, Allen held a slight edge over Fleener in Week 2. He’s the more talented receiver of the two, so this could be a big game for him. Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton are strong plays here as well, and Hakeem Nicks should be more involved in this game but isn’t recommended in 12-team leagues, as he just doesn’t get enough targets to be relevant.
E.J. Manuel vs. San Diego Chargers – The Chargers have allowed the seventh most Fantasy points to quarterbacks after two games, an average of 23 FP per game. In total, they’ve given up 504 passing yards and four TDs, including 304 yards to Carson Palmer in Week 1. Manual has been surprisingly good as a game manager type QB and Sammy Watkins has been outstanding, catching 11 of 15 targets for 148 yards and a TD, most of that coming in Week 2 against the Dolphins (119 yds.,TD). Interestingly enough, three of the four TDs the Chargers have allowed have been passes to running backs. So, while I fully expect a strong game from Watkins, the real damage in the passing game could come from Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, both of whom are very good pass catchers out of the backfield. Regardless of who is making the catches, I like Manuel for 240 yards and two scores in this game.
Jay Cutler vs. New York Jets – The Jets are tied with the Chiefs for passing TDs allowed with five, and they’ve allowed the fourth most Fantasy points to quarterbacks thus far (23.8 per game). Aaron Rodgers carved the Jets secondary up for 346 yards and I expect a similar type of game from Jay Cutler this week, especially if Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are both healthy enough to play.
Ryan Tannehill vs. Kansas City Chiefs – As mentioned above, the Chiefs have allowed five passing TDs already, and overall they’ve allowed the sixth most Fantasy points to the quarterback position, an average of 23.4 FP per game. Jake Locker (!) took KC apart Week 1, completing 22 of 33 attempts for 246 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and the Chiefs have yet to garner an interception this season. Without Knowshon Moreno in the backfield, the Dolphins will be relying on Tannehill and the passing game to carry the offense. Therefore, I am expecting a big game from Mike Wallace (137 yds. and 2 TDs so far), but it’s Charles Clay who will do the most damage. Three of the five passing TDs the Chiefs have allowed have been to tight ends, mainly because their linebacker corps is badly banged up. Clay should have a breakout game this week against the Chiefs, perhaps eclipsing the 75 yard mark and grabbing at least one score.
Passing Matchups to Avoid
Tom Brady vs. Oakland Raiders – Yes, the Raiders are terrible and I fully expect Brady and company to throttle them and do so early in this game. However, the Raiders are most vulnerable on the ground, allowing an average of 200 yards per game, worst in the NFL. Brady was very efficient against the Vikings last week, but once the game got out of hand the Patriots went to the ground game, which is exactly what could happen against the Raiders. Brady will probably make no more than 25-30 pass attempts and his total yardage could easily come in under 200 yards again this week. On the other hand, I’m expecting a big game from James Jones of the Raiders. He was the king of garbage time last week and I’m expecting much the same against the Patriots. If the Pats get far ahead and go to the run as I expect, they will remove their starting defense and play some of the second stringers, thus opening things up for Derek Carr to hook up with Jones, who could have another 100 yard game and possibly even score late in the fourth quarter.
Jake Locker vs. Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals have been a middle of the road defense against the quarterback this season, but they’re a classic bend but don’t break type of defense against the pass. They’ve allowed 586 passing yards but just two touchdowns and they’ve generated four interceptions, including three against Matt Ryan in Week 2. Jake Locker couldn’t do much against a terrible Dallas defense and I’m expecting even less against the opportunistic secondary of the Bengals.
Rushing Matchups to Exploit
Stevan Ridley vs. Oakland Raiders – As mentioned earlier, the Oakland Raiders defense is vulnerable to the run and that’s putting it mildly. While the Patriots pass blocking has been just passable, their run blocking has been excellent and I fully expect them to let Ridley run the ball right down the Raiders’ throats. So, while I love Ridley in this matchup, I’m less than thrilled with Shane Vereen, who excels more in the passing game and in open space rather than the run. Of course, if Ridley fumbles all bets are off and your guess is as good as mine as to who gets the ball then. Heck, I wouldn’t be shocked if Brandon Bolden were called upon in the event of a Ridley fumble. Still, barring such a disaster, Ridley should breach the century mark and could score a pair of TDs before it’s all over.
Chris Ivory vs. Chicago Bears – The Bears defense is terrible against the run, as we’ve already seen them gashed by the Bills (193 rushing yards) and the 49ers (129 rushing yards) over the first two games. In fact, the only thing that might prevent Ivory from running up ridiculous rushing numbers is if the Bears get out to a big lead early. Ivory is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and his 145 yards is good enough to be ninth among all running backs in total rushing yards. The Jets passing game is pretty bad, so establishing the run and keeping the Bears’ offense off the field is the smart play here. That should result in good numbers from Ivory; at least, enough to make him an excellent Flex play this week.
Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – Only the Atlanta Falcons have allowed more Fantasy points to running backs than the Jaguars, who have coughed up an average of 34.5 FP per game to date. The Eagles RBs ran for 145 yards in Week 1 and last week the Redskins totaled 151 yards from their RBs against the Jags. Ahmad Bradshaw has just 85 rushing yards but he has another 96 yards in the passing game, and my expectation is that his versatility will make him a nightmare for the Jaguars defense to cover. Lots of folks were encouraged by Trent Richardson’s performance last week (21 carries, 79 yards) but I’m not convinced that he has suddenly remembered how to run. Bradshaw is the play here and he’ll put up a performance worthy of a Flex spot and possible RB2 status against a very weak Jaguars team.
Rushing Matchups to Avoid
Montee Ball vs. Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks defense is everything they’re hyped up to be and they owned Montee Ball in the Super Bowl; nothing has changed since then. Seattle kept the Chargers to just 2.7 yards per carry last week and limited the Packers to just 80 rushing yards total. The only way the Broncos can win this game in Seattle’s home stadium is on the strength of Peyton Manning’s pass attack because the run ain’t gonna get it done.
Darren McFadden vs. New England Patriots – McFadden looks like the starter again with Maurice Jones-Drew sidelined again, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be worth starting for Fantasy purposes. In fact, Oakland is ranked dead last in rushing attempts and yardage so far, and they will likely be playing from behind in this game. Really, circumstances couldn’t possibly worse for McFadden in this matchup. The Patriots run defense was awful in Week 1 but stiffened considerably last week and will be pumped to the max for the home opener. This game could get ugly fast and McFadden will suffer for it.
Terrance West vs. Baltimore Ravens – Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland’s rookie RB tandem, will have their hands full against a pumped up Ravens squad that has given up just 134 rushing yards and zero TDs to running backs over the first two games. While both young RBs are talented, the Ravens front seven will prove too much for them to overcome. Neither the Bengals nor the Steelers could do much on the ground against Baltimore, and Cleveland doesn’t have anywhere near as much talent on their offensive line. If you have other options this is a good time to use them.