After three weeks, it’s becoming clear that these rankings are starting to take their true shape. As I’ve stated in my two previous articles in this series, it’s hard to know if this data is a true indication of relative defensive strengths or largely a byproduct of matchups this early in the season . While it’s true that some teams have had a much easier go of things than others, the change in the overall standing from week 2 to week 3 was much less than from week 1 to week 2. This tells me two things: (1) the law of averages still holds true and (2) our sample size is approaching a point significantly large enough to essentially equate relative matchups on a league wide basis.
Surveying the data in the tables below, I see several things worth pointing out:
- Jeff Davidson (Panthers Offensive Coordinator) is insane.
Well maybe not quite. He does get paid millions to coach while I sit here writing articles for free. Yet, it’s inexplicable to me that he’ll have Jake Delhomme throw 33 times while giving two of the more talented backs in the league, in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart, just 11 and 3 carries respectively. The Cowboys have a soft secondary and a relatively good running defense, sure, but that doesn’t justify moving so far away from your offense’s bread and butter. Don’t expect this to happen again. Williams is still a solid RB1 and Stewart is a good matchup play.
- The Giants defense is good, but not this good.
Contrary to what I said in the introductory paragraph, the Giants overall defensive ranking is a byproduct of matchups. Case in point: they held the Buccaneers to 58 yards passing and 28 yards rushing last weekend. Um…what? Yeah, those numbers are legit. This is the same defense that was humiliated to the tune of 251 yards on the ground in week 2 against the Cowboys. Also, Clinton Portis looked better against the Giants in week 1 than he did against the Lions last weekend (though neither performance particularly good). Bottom line, you have to question the Giants ability on defense particularly against the run. They’re a defense to keep an eye on in the coming weeks.
- The Chargers still can’t stop the run.
I said this last week and I’ll say it again to make sure I get the point across, “The Chargers can not stop the run without Jamal Williams at NT.” The Dolphins ran all over them in week 3, in week 2 the Ravens controlled the game on the ground, and in week 1 they made the Raiders look like a legitimate NFL offense (McFadden and Bush ran for a combined 123 yards on 29 carries). Keep this in mind for future matchups. If Willie Parker can do much of anything against them (he still looks terrible), then any RB who starts against them becomes an immediate play for fantasy leagues (if they haven’t reached that status already).
Notable Week 4 Matchups
Jay Cutler vs. Lions Defense:
I profiled Jay Cutler last week against the Seahawks. In that article I wrote that the matchup would help in differentiating the contender from the pretender (the Seahawks had been impressive to date and Cutler was coming off a great week 2 performance against the Steelers). I gave the edge to Cutler and that looks like a gross understatement in hindsight.
It didn’t take Cutler long to hit his stride and pick up right were he left off in Denver. Perhaps most surprisingly, he’s doing it largely without Greg Olsen. Devin Hester suddenly looks like true WR1 for the Bears and Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett as a tandem give Cutler a good secondary option at wide receiver when Hester is being doubled.
Since he’s playing the Lions, you don’t need me to tell you to use him this week. Just make sure he’s starting for you unless you own one of the big three at QB (Peyton/Brady/Brees) — and even then you could make a good case for Cutler. Expect top five QB stats this week and don’t be surprised to see him at the very top.
David Garrard vs. Titans Defense:
This could turn into a fairly high scoring game. Both defenses are extremely vulnerable through the air. MJD might have difficulty running against what is looking to be an extremely good run defense, but Garrard has a chance for one of his best stat lines of the year.
Garrard remains at best a decent backup, but his matchup this week is appealing enough to warrant a start over the lower level QB1s. I view him as a borderline top ten option at QB this week. You should strongly consider starting him.
Terrell Owens vs. Dolphins Defense:
The Miami Dolphins are strong in the trenches. Their offensive line is impressive and their run defense has been very tough. Though the Bills get Lynch back this week, they likely won’t be able to use him too much this week.
Don’t get me wrong, Trent Edwards remains well below average as an NFL QB, but the Bills will have to go to the air if the Dolphins are able to control the ground game (which is likely). To this point, TO’s value has been drained mostly due to lack of targets and not a rapid decline in skills (he still has an impressive size/strength/speed combination). This week should be breath of fresh air for his fantasy owners. His targets should see a sharp rise and as such, he should be in for a great week.
This is one of the few times I’m going to recommend using TO. But I like him as a WR2 this week. Go ahead and use him.
Roy Williams vs. Broncos Defense:
To be honest, I’ve never thought much of Roy Williams. He lacks big play ability and separation skills. He runs well after the catch and has good leaping ability, but he’s not a WR who can take over a game. I like him even less this week against a defense that has shown incredible improvement from last year.
Roy Williams shouldn’t be used in all but the deepest leagues. Expect Tony Romo to continue to rely on Jason Witten as his primary target.
Notable Week 4 Matchups
Cedric Benson vs. Browns Defense:
Benson ran very strong against one of the best and most physical run defenses in the league last week in the Steelers. The Bengals offensive line was able to open some decent sized holes in the latter part of the game and Benson did well with what was given to him.
The difference between Benson now and his days in Chicago is simply incredible. He runs with surprising speed and quickness as well as a toughness that makes him difficult to bring down upon initial contact. Whether he can keep this up or not is a matter of opinion, but at the moment he simply looks very good.
His resurgence will continue this week. Expect another great showing. Use him with confidence as your RB2.
Steven Jackson vs. 49ers Defense:
Mike Singletary is doing an incredible job as the head coach in San Francisco and that shouldn’t be ignored. I watched the entire Vikings vs. 49ers game last weekend right up to the point where Favre stole a win for his team. That kind of thing would dishearten most teams and likely lead to underwhelming performances in the upcoming weeks. However, the 49ers are less susceptible to this because, as the announcers pointed out several times, they act like a family together. They displayed incredible teamwork right up to the end of the game and Singletary has them feeling good about a strong showing against a loaded Vikings team.
Furthermore, the reason the 49ers were able to stay in the game was because they were able to contain Adrian Peterson (which is also why Favre had to throw for 300 yards). Consider this: take away AD’s 35 yard scamper, and he ran for 50 yards on 18 carries (2.77 YPC). If the 49ers can contain the most talented RB in the NFL running behind one of the best offensive lines, then you can’t expect much more from S-Jax.
Unless you’re blessed at the position, S-Jax has to remain in starting lineups at RB, but you simply shouldn’t be expecting a big game. The best thing he has going for him is that the 49ers have shown susceptibility to short passes out of the backfield to RBs (something Jackson is obviously extremely good at).
Note: All numbers besides TDs and INTs are averages. Also, see my week 1 column if you missed my method for calculating the overall ranks.
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