Welcome back to our weekly article, where we highlight fifteen players/units that you should definitely make a move on, or in some cases, avoid like the plague. Last week was an eventful one, as both Peyton Manning and Sam Bradford went down with respective injuries, while Ben Roethlisberger came off the bench to torch the Browns. Monday we learned that both Manning and Bradford will be out for at least the next two weeks, while the Rams decided to bench Nick Foles in favor of Case Keenum. Oh, and some Quarterback down in Dallas is on schedule to make his long-awaited return to the lineup on Sunday. Once again, this season continues to be ruled by utter CHAOS!!!! But hey, fret not my friends, for The Oracle has got you covered with the MOST COMPREHENSIVE ANALYSIS IN THE BUSINESS!!!
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- START ‘EM: Matt Ryan, Falcons v. Colts (Last Week, Bye) – Indeed, the Falcons have lost a good deal of their luster since their 5-0 start, losing three out of their last four games heading into their Bye Week. However, a week to recuperate should do them a wealth of good as Matt Ryan is a prime candidate to burn the Colts’ porous defense this Sunday. Now in his eighth campaign, Ryan is putting together another solid season completing 66.9% of his passes for 300.2 yards per game, 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, with a Total QBR of 65.13. Turnovers have been a bit of an issue for him this season (13 total), and much of that has come courtesy of some poor pass protection (17 sacks). Fortunately for him, his opponent this weekend can’t seem to get to the Quarterback; Indianapolis’s pass-rush has been non-existent, dropping opposing passers a mere thirteen times this season (30th Overall), which has put their Secondary in a very precarious position. The Colts have allowed their opponents to complete 61.9% of their passes for 279.3 yards per game (28th Overall) on 7.1 net yards per attempt (27th Overall), and sixteen touchdowns through the air (17th Overall). And if you can’t pressure this guy, then good night, folks.
- SIT ‘EM: Blake Bortles, Jaguars v. Titans (Last Week, 22/45, 188 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT @ Ravens) – Let us start this off by saying that Blake Bortles has improved immensely from a lackluster rookie campaign. The former No. 3 Overall Pick has improved in a number of key areas, including TD/INT Ratio (19/11 from 11/17), yards per game (264.6 from 207.7), yards per attempt (6.7 from 6.1), and Total QBR (56.13 from 25.22), with the most important being three victories which matches his total from the previous term altogether. Even with a developing offense, he’s still been very inconsistent, mostly because he has rarely been afforded the luxury of a clean pocket. Bortles was sacked a league-high fifty-five times in 2014, and it looks like he may surpass that number in 2015, as he has been dropped for a loss a staggering twenty-eight times already. Look for him to eat his share of turf this Thursday Night against a Titans’ defense that has been very proficient in applying pressure, amassing twenty-seven sacks through nine games, fifth-most in the NFL.
- SLEEPER: Matthew Stafford, Lions v. Raiders (Last Week, 24/38, 242 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT @ Packers) – After watching Matthew Stafford play this season, it’s hard to believe that this is the same guy who threw for a staggering 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns four years ago. Injuries, poor play-calling, even worse pass protection, and the complete absence of a running game have each played a part in his struggles this season, as the 27-year old has seen his numbers plummet across the board; his interception percentage (3.6%), yards per game (258.3), net yards per attempt (6.09), and Total QBR (49.48) represent the lowest such figures since his sophomore campaign, in which he only started three games due to injury. So why do I like him this weekend, you ask? Well, have you seen the Raiders’ pass defense of late? Simply put, Oakland’s defense has been a bonafide mess, with their injury-riddled Secondary in shambles, and to make matters worse, their opponents know it; no team has seen the opposition attempt more passes against them than the Raiders, who have permitted the second-most passing yards in the league (293.2). And if that wasn’t bad enough, news came down from the league offices proclaiming Edge Rusher Aldon Smith suspended for an entire year for his ever-growing list of off-field incidents. Oakland only has nineteen sacks thus far, and Smith accounted for 3.5 of that total, which means Stafford should have the benefit of a cleaner pocket this weekend. And hey, leading the Lions to their first victory at Lambeau Field since 1991 should keep his spirits high, right?
- START ‘EM: Darren McFadden, Cowboys @ Dolphins (Last Week, 17 carries, 32 yards @ Buccaneers) – Many have had this game circled for quite some time now, for Cowboys’ Quarterback Tony Romo is tabbed to make his long-awaited return after suffering a broken clavicle in the second week of the campaign. Much has been made of Dallas’ ineptitude without him, losing a franchise-worst seven consecutive games in his absence. While postseason hopes are likely far-fetched, it’s the hope of many in the Fantasy World, that his return will now ignite the Cowboys’ offense, along with a number of it’s playmakers. That’s the rhetoric here, as Romo’s presence under Center alone should keep opposing defenses honest, as they have shown no respect for the passing game of late. This should mean plenty of room to run for one Darren McFadden, who despite a lackluster performance last Sunday in Tampa, has cemented himself as the No. One Tailback in their backfield. In Weeks Seven through Nine, he received seventy-six carries for 333 yards (4.4 y/c) and a touchdown, while also catching nine passes for another sixty-four yards, including a pair of 100-yard outbursts in that time. If Romo can find Dez Bryant and Jason Witten a few times downfield, than McFadden should enjoy a wealth of space, which Tampa did not afford him as they crowded the line of scrimmage and dared Matt Cassel to beat them with his arm. Helping matters is an inconsistent Dolphins’ run defense (31st Overall) which has been gashed at times this season; Miami has relinquished over 150 rushing yards four times this season, including a staggering 266 to the Bills two weeks ago.
- SIT ‘EM: Jeremy Langford, Bears v. Broncos (last Week, 20 carries, 73 yards, 7 catches, 109 yards, 2 TDs @ Rams) – Don’t look now, Matt Forte, but you just became expendable. Since the Pro Bowler went down with a mild MCL sprain, his rookie understudy is making a case of supplanting his master. The former Michigan State Spartan has been a revelation of late, posting 324 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns over the past two games, fueling a Bears’ offense that is becoming sneaky good. So why don’t I like him this week, you ask? In what will develop into a theme as the article progresses, it’s a matter of a multitude of things working to his detriment. First and foremost, his opponent this Sunday, the Denver Broncos, sport a wicked defense; Wade Phillips has turned these guys into a monster, allowing the fewest yards in the league (277.4). As we’ll detail later, they’re pass defense is second to none, and their rush defense isn’t too shabby either; Denver has allowed just 94.6 yards per game on the ground (7th Overall) with just 3.5 yards coming per carry, the second-fewest figure in the NFL. Second, Forte is expected to return to the field this Sunday, which will undoubtedly cut into Langford’s touches. Lastly, with his emergence coupled with that of Tight End Zach Miller, Chicago suddenly has an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions, meaning that there are now plenty of options for Jay Cutler to utilize this weekend.
- SLEEPER: LaTavius Murray, Raiders @ Lions (Last Week, 12 carries, 48 yards v. Vikings) – Murray has been a tricky player to get a read on this season. Despite proving effective when he’s been handed the ball, the third-year starter out of Central Florida has been a casualty of the Raiders’ predilection towards the passing game. Only twice this season has this kid seen twenty or more carries, and on both occasions he made the most of it, rushing for 139 yards and a score on twenty-six carries against Cleveland, and racking up another 113 yards on twenty attempts against the Jets. A concussion suffered on a big hit early in the Third Quarter two weeks ago at Pittsburgh prevented him from adding a third such performance to his resume’, and he looked like he was still out of sorts, along with the rest of the offense, last week against the Vikings. Again, it’s just a matter of carries with Murray, who has averaged 4.7 yards per attempt this season, including a robust 5.34 over the past four weeks. There is no reason to think that he won’t get opportunities against the Lions’ miserable defense this weekend, for Detroit has allowed the fourth-most rushing yards in the league (124.1) along with the most rushing touchdowns (14).
- START ‘EM: Julio Jones, Falcons v. Colts (Last Week, 10 catches, 137 yards, Bye) – This one is a no-brainer, right? In the midst of a career campaign, Jones is a Must Start every week. No. 11 did everything but score in his last outing, shredding the Niners’ beleaguered Secondary for ten catches and 137 yards, the fifth time this season in which he has surpassed the 130-yard threshold. Even with the Falcons’ offense being in a funk for the last five weeks, don’t expect him to slow down any at home against the Colts. Without Andrew Luck on the field, don’t expect the Colts’ offense (led once again by Matt Hasselbeck) to string together too many lengthy drives, meaning that their defense is going to be on the field a lot, which is good news if you own Jones. Indianapolis has given up the fifth-most passing yards to this point (279.3 per game), including the sixth-most net yards per pass play (7.1), all the while getting minimal pressure on opposing Quarterbacks, with a mere thirteen sacks (30th Overall). Thanks to their schedule, they’ve had the luxury of facing very few dominant Receivers, but that will change this Sunday.
- SIT ‘EM: Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears v. Broncos (Last Week, 3 catches, 23 yards @ Rams) – As we touched upon earlier with his teammate Jeremy Langford, this is simply the case of a player’s opportunities diminishing with the healthy return and emergence of other playmakers. Jeffery was on fire after returning from an injury that forced him to miss four consecutive games, totaling twenty-eight receptions for 414 yards (14.8 y/r) and two touchdowns over the following three outings. However, as we accurately predicted last week, No. 17 had a rough go about it against the Rams’ staunch pass defense, managing just three catches for twenty-three yards. Make no mistake, the Bears handed the Rams a beating, amassing 397 total yards in the 37-17 drubbing, but with the emergence of both the aforementioned Langford and Tight End Zach Miller, there are all of a sudden fewer balls to go around. Look for that trend to continue this weekend against Denver, who ranks atop the league in virtually every significant pass defense category, including passing yards allowed (182.8), passing touchdowns relinquished (8), and net yards per pass attempt permitted (4.8). Oh, and did we fail to mention that stud Cornerback Aqib Talib is due to return from his one-game suspension?
- SLEEPER: Michael Crabtree, Raiders @ Lions (Last Week, 4 catches, 55 yards v. Vikings) – The Raiders’ explosive offense fizzled against a very good Vikings’ defense last weekend, but don’t expect that to be the case again this Sunday as they travel to the Motor City. Quarterback Derek Carr was on fire before meeting Minnesota, with Crabtree playing the role of beneficiary; against the Jets and Steelers, he hauled in fourteen passes on twenty-four targets, for 210 yards (15.0 y/r) and three touchdowns. In the midst of a bit of a career renaissance, the former Niner has put forth three 100-yard games thus far, while on pace for career-bests in receptions (51) and receiving yards (646). More telling is the fact that he’s been Carr’s most frequently targeted Receiver (71), more so than stud rookie Amari Cooper. He should see plenty of looks against a Lions’ pass defense that has been terrible all year long, and is now decimated by injuries. Allowing 260.1 passing yards per game (23rd Overall) on 7.0 net yards per attempt (26th Overall) does not bode well with Oakland coming to town, particularly now that Defensive Back Rashean Mathis (Concussion) is on Injured Reserve, and teammate Josh Wilson very nearly joining him after suffering a torn ligament in his foot this past weekend at Lambeau Field.
- START ‘EM: Jimmy Graham, Seahawks v. 49ers (Last Week, 3 catches, 41 yards v. Cardinals) – If you still own Jimmy Graham, then you are no doubt a patient person, for the explosive Tight End has posted some very modest totals this season, and more importantly has now failed to find the End Zone in six consecutive games. However, this may finally be the week where that patience pays off. San Francisco’s pass defense has been terrible this season, yielding 280.6 yards (29th Overall) on 7.5 net yards per attempt (29th Overall), while logging just sixteen sacks (22nd Overall). Seattle’s Offensive Line has been equally as bad (33 sacks!?!?!?!?), but if Russell Wilson can finally get some time in the pocket, then he should be able to find Graham traveling through a Secondary that could likely be without the services of four different Defensive Backs. In his previous meeting with the Niners, No. 88 was largely quiet, hauling in just a pair of passes for thirty-one yards, but as is oftentimes the case with players of his caliber, it’s just a matter of time.
- SIT ‘EM: Martellus Bennett, Bears v. Broncos (Last Week, 3 catches, 18 yards @ Rams) – And the trend continues with Bears players that should be on your bench against the Broncos this weekend. Upon Jay Cutler’s return under Center in Week Five, Bennett was targeted at least eleven times in each of the following three games, reeling in twenty-one receptions on thirty-five targets for 174 yards and a score. However, since the healthy return of Alshon Jeffery, coupled with the emergence of both fellow Tight End Zach Miller and the aforementioned Langford , this guy has seen fewer and fewer balls thrown his way; Bennett has been targeted just seventeen times over the last three weeks, amassing fourteen catches for 107 yards and a score. Now with Matt Forte returning to the lineup, look for the proverbial pieces of the pie to be divided up even more so. Oh, and then there is the little matter of Denver’s top-ranked pass defense (182.8 yards/game) to consider…
- SLEEPER: Charles Clay, Bills @ Patriots (Last Week, 5 catches, 52 yards @ Jets) – In all honesty, this one here is just speculation, folks. When Clay encountered the Patriots earlier in the campaign, he was rather invisible, posting just nineteen yards on three catches. However, the Bills’ offense has been slowly coming together (25.7 points per game), particularly now that their triumvirate of Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy, and Sammy Watkins are finally healthy. Oddly enough, it’s been Clay who leads the team in targets (57), receptions (40), and receiving yards (408) thus far, while New England’s Secondary was torched by the Giants (342 yards, 2 TD) last weekend. The added benefit of the mini-Bye Week should help here against a pass defense that has given up 255.7 yards through the air (22nd Overall), along with the fact that Bill Belichick will have to find someone to replace the production of Julian Edleman, who is going to be out for quite a while with a broken foot. The Pats are beginning to drop like flies on offense, which means that they may not be able to control the game like they have so often in the past, parlaying into more possessions for Buffalo, and more opportunities for Clay.
- START ‘EM: New York Jets @ Texans (Last Week, 280 yards, 4 sacks, 22 points allowed v. Bills) – Planets, stars, and moons are all in alignment here, folks, as the Jets’ defense gets that precious mini-Bye Week after playing on Thursday Night Football, only to face a team coming off a short week with potentially a backup Quarterback to start. Houston’s Brian Hoyer departed early in his team’s shocking victory over the previously undefeated Bengals this past Monday Night, with backup passer T.J. Yates picking up the slack. The Texans’ defense was outstanding, but their offense managed just ten points against Cincinnati. In last week’s loss to the Bills, New York played well defensively, particularly in the second half, but their offense squandered solid field position with four turnovers. Ranking ninth in points allowed (20.4) and fourth in total defense (318.4), not to mention fourth in takeaways (19), it’s simple logic to expect these guys to get after an opponent who has been very one-dimensional all year long.
- SIT ‘EM: Packers @ Vikings (Last Week, 287 yards, 1 Fumble recovered, 18 points allowed v. Lions) – After getting shredded for an average of 491.7 yards over a three-game period, the Packers’ defense was much better against the hapless Lions, holding their bitter rivals under twenty points and 300 total yards in a losing effort. Don’t expect that to become a trend against another division foe, for Minnesota is likely to give them all manner of problems. Despite permitting a solid 20.6 points per game (11th Overall), Green Bay has been trampled to the tune of 116.2 yards (24th Overall) on 4.2 yards per carry (21st Overall). It’s been a case of feast or famine for this unit; they have held four of their nine opponents under eighty rushing yards, but they’ve given up at least 130 rushing yards on four different occasions. With Adrian Peterson, the league’s leading rusher (961 yards) on tap, this would be a fine time to field another defense if you can pick one up. Furthermore, Peterson has rushed for more yards against the Packers (1,648) than he has against any other team in his career, averaging 117.7 yards in fourteen meetings.
- SLEEPER: Titans @ Jaguars (Last Week, 303 yards, 5 sacks, 20 points allowed v. Panthers) – If you’re defense is on a Bye or has an unfavorable matchup, then picking up the Titans’ defense could be a sly move to get you through the weekend. Yes, at 2-7 and having already fired their Head Coach, Tennessee stinks, but their defense has played very well at times this season, evidenced by their 326.1 yards per game allowed, fifth-fewest in the league. Here’s a few things to consider about these guys. First, they’re very well-coached with Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton and Assistant Head Coach Dick LeBeau pulling the strings. Second, they’ve proven extremely difficult to pass against, yielding a mere 213.8 yards through the air (3rd Overall), while amassing twenty-seven sacks (5th Overall); four different players have notched at least four sacks, with Brian Orakpo leading the way with six. Third, they’re facing a Jaguars offense that has struggled to find any consistency this season, and may be without Tailbacks T.J. Yeldon (Foot) and Toby Gerhart (Groin). Furthermore, they’ll be facing an Offensive Line that has been a mess thus far; a year after leading the NFL in sacks sustained (55), Jags’Quarterback Blake Bortles is on his way towards meeting that number again (28) this season.