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 proved to be another news-filled weekend, as injuries reared their ugly head once more, while Tony Romo returned to the field after missing the past eight weeks with a broken collarbone. Peyton Manning was benched in favor of Brock Oswieler, who may or may not be the Broncos’ savior moving forward, while Rams’ Quarterback Case Keenum was concussed after making his first start of the year replacing Nick Foles. Oh, and Tyrod Taylor and Danny Amendola both limped out of Monday Night’s exposition in horrid officiating. 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: Carson Palmer, Cardinals @ 49ers (Last Week, 20/31, 317 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs v. Bengals) – At this point, it’s academic; Carson Palmer is a must-start every week. The 36-year old has found the proverbial Fountain of Youth in Arizona, leading the league’s most explosive offense (33.6 points, 427.3 yards per game). He’s also on quite a run; No. 3 has thrown for 1,054 yards, eleven touchdowns and four interceptions over the last three weeks. The latter two contests against Seattle and Cincinnati came against two of the most stifling defenses in the NFL, and this guy made them both look like the 2015 Saints. Furthermore, Palmer is having the kind of career-defining campaign in which he is leading the league in passing touchdowns (27), yards per attempt (9.0), yards per completion (14.1), and QBR (81.9). This is the second meeting between these teams this season; when they met back on September 27th, he torched the Niners for 311 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Since that point San Francisco has done nothing but get worse defensively, yielding 277.8 yards through the air (27th Overall) on 7.5 net yards per attempt (29th Overall). This is arguably the most sensible matchup of the week, folks. Don’t overthink it…
- SIT ‘EM: Tony Romo, Cowboys v. Panthers (Last Week, 18/28, 227 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs @ Dolphins) – Tony Romo’s return couldn’t have come at a better time for the Cowboys, who had lost all seven of the games that No. 9 had missed with a broken clavicle. His performance after the hiatus against Miami was predictable, as Romo made some big throws, but also missed quite a few others. It may take a bit longer for him to regain the timing necessary to turn Dallas’ passing game back into a formidable threat, and I’m betting that it’ll in all likelihood be in Week Thirteen, AFTER this Thursday’s clash with the undefeated Panthers. First and foremost, Carolina’s defense is downright nasty, ranking fourth in total defense (322.8), seventh against the pass (228.3), fifth in passing touchdowns allowed (6), and second in net yards per attempt relinquished (5.2). Furthermore, they’ve forced more turnovers (25) than any team in the NFL, including a league-high fifteen interceptions. It’s a short week for Jason Garrett and Co. which doesn’t lend towards his Quarterback having enough preparation to shred a stop unit that has made a lot of really good passers look really bad thus far. Remember what they did to Aaron Rodgers?
- SLEEPER: Kirk Cousins, Redskins v. Giants (Last Week, 22/30, 207 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT @ Panthers) – Kirk Cousins has been on an odd, yet predictable trajectory this season, his first as the unquestioned starter in the Nation’s Capital. With the exception of ten interceptions, Cousins has actually been a pretty decent Quarterback in 2015, completing 68.3% of his passes for an average of 248.5 yards per game, with fifteen touchdowns and a QBR of 58.66. When he’s played at the friendly confines of FedEx Field, he’s been very good, completing 75.7% of his passes for an average of 266.0 yards per game, with ten touchdowns to two interceptions. On the road, well, he’s been downright dreadful, netting just 61.9% of his attempts for an average of 231.0 yards per contest, with five touchdowns to eight interceptions. Furthermore, his opponent this weekend, division rival New York Giants, have struggled mightily in terms of defending the pass; no team has given up more yards through the air than Big Blue, who have permitted a league-worst 309.9 yards per game. New York has allowed over 300 yards passing on five occasions this year, including a staggering 505 back on November 1st to Drew Brees and the Saints. Granted, Cousins had a hard time in their previous meeting this season, a 316-yard, one touchdown, two-interception performance in a 32-21 loss back in Week Three, but a lot of things have changed since then, particularly the relative health of the Giants’ Secondary. The bottom line is that this guy has shown the ability to tear up bad defenses, which Tom Coughlin and Co. most certainly have.
- START ‘EM: Chris Johnson, Cardinals @ 49ers (Last Week, 18 carries, 63 yards v. Bengals) – As we stated earlier in this column, the 49ers’ defense is pretty darn bad, and as was the case with his teammate Carson Palmer, Chris Johnson is also a strong play this weekend. The artist formerly known as CJ2K appears to be rejuvenated, ranking second in the league in rushing yards (797) behind a vastly improved Offensive Line. This guy nearly lost his life in the Offseason, and was a late addition to the roster, but has repaid the Cardinals’ Brass by running like he has a new lease on life. Granted, he’s slowed down a bit over the past two weeks, particularly when compared to the 567 yards and three touchdowns he churned out between Weeks Three trough Eight, but part of that is due to his competition. Seattle and Cincinnati own two of the league’s better defensive units, while this week’s opponent, well… doesn’t; the Niners have been beaten up on the ground nearly as bad as they have through the air, yielding 126.2 yards per game (27th Overall) on 4.3 yards per carry (22nd Overall), along with the fifth-most rushing scores overall (10), as well as over 200 yards to one Thomas Rawls last week at Seattle. And when Johnson faced these guys earlier in the season, he amassed a total of 150 yards from scrimmage on twenty-three touches and a pair of touchdowns. He and Palmer’s fortunes go hand in hand this weekend, for if one falters, the other will likely make up the difference. Take that one to the bank…
- SIT ‘EM: Todd Gurley, Rams @ Bengals (last Week, 25 carries, 66 yards, 1 TD @ Ravens) – Todd Gurley is indeed the front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, but after an insane romp through the NFL in which he rushed for 566 yards through Weeks Four to Eight, has found himself in a bit of a slump. Over the last two weeks, Gurley has looked largely pedestrian, stumbling to just 111 yards on thirty-seven carries. If you’re mathematically deficient then fear not, folks, for I’ve crunched the numbers and have come up with 3.0 yards per carry, which bears stating the obvious: that’s not very good. The Rams’ murky situation at Quarterback doesn’t really help his plight, as opposing defenses have gone to great lengths to stack the line of scrimmage to slow him down. And last time I checked, his opponent this weekend, the Cincinnati Bengals, field a top-flight defense. Granted, they do permit a very questionable 4.5 yards per carry (27th Overall), but Marvin Lewis has seen his charges give up just three rushing touchdowns this season, second-fewest overall. This has a lot to do with the Bengals’ pass-rush, which has been so good at creating lengthy down and distance situations with sacks (28), which is not favorable for a team that wants to move the chains by handing it to Gurley. Coming off a pair of losses on primetime television, Cincinnati should return home with a vengeance, which doesn’t bode well for Gurley and the Rams.
- SLEEPER: Eddie Lacy, Packers v. Bears (Last Week, 22 carries, 100 yards @ Vikings) – Alright, let’s out it all out on the table, folks; 2015 has not been a good year for one Eddie Lacy. Like really bad. If you spent an early pick on this guy, then I’m going to wager that a high percentage of you have already parted ways with the Tailback. However, with the Fantasy Playoffs right around the corner, picking this guy back up could be a very shrewd move. Between Weeks One through Ten, Lacy had been invisible, averaging a meager 38.5 yards on the ground. 85-yard and 90-yard performances were negated by 9-yard, 3-yard, and a ten-yard weeks, leading towards many to discard the oft-injured former Fantasy starlet. However, we have signs of life, people! Last week against the Vikings’ staunch defense, Lacy enjoyed 100 yards on twenty-two carries, showing the burst that made him a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the previous two seasons. There is reason to believe that he will continue this upward trend, particularly with bitter rivals Chicago on tap; while improved, the Bears have been gashed on the ground to the tune of 123.7 yards per game (25th Overall) on 4.6 yards per carry, the third-worst such average in the league. That aforementioned 85-yard performance came against Chicago in the Season Opener, so rolling the dice on No. 27 could pay some real dividends.
- START ‘EM: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans v. Saints (Last Week, 5 catches, 118 yards, 2 TDs v. Jets) – If you’ve been following this column, then you know that I love picking anybody against the Saints’ beleaguered defense. It’s simply a percentage play, and a high one at that. Opposing Quarterbacks, Tailbacks, Receivers, and Tight Ends have wrecked the hell out of New Orleans this season, so much so that Head Coach Sean Payton made the most anticlimactic decision of the year by relieving Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan of his duties during their Bye Week. Defensive Backs Coach and former Raiders’ skipper Dennis Allen has stepped up to be the latest whipping boy in the Big Easy, which I highly doubt will lead to any changes in performance of this unit. So with that said, DeAndre Hopkins is a rather obvious play here, particularly after romping through the Jets’ Secondary this past Sunday, compiling 118 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just five catches. Hopkins has five 100-yard games this season to go along with nine receiving touchdowns already. Conversely, New Orleans has allowed a league-worst twenty-eight passing scores in just ten games, making this matchup a case of simple math, folks.
- SIT ‘EM: Amari Cooper, Raiders @ Titans (Last Week, 1 catch, 4 yards @ Lions) – What in the name of Tim Brown and Calvin Branch has happened to Amari Cooper? As we highlighted earlier in regards to his fellow frosh Todd Gurley, this may simply be a case of another youngster hitting the dreaded rookie wall. After hauling in forty-five catches for 685 yards and four touchdowns in Weeks Two through Ten, the No. Four Overall Pick in last May’s Draft limped out of Detroit with a scant four yards on one lone catch. A lingering quad injury has rumored to be an issue for the past few weeks, but drops has been another problem altogether; Cooper has dropped eight passes already this year, which is second-most amongst Receivers to this point. And this is a really bad time to be in a funk, for this weekend’s opponent, the Titans, have been very strong in pass coverage, relinquishing the third-fewest yards through air (214.2). Tennessee is also enjoying some sorely-needed rest, with the benefit of the mini-Bye Week due to playing last Thursday Night.
- SLEEPER: Travis Benjamin, Browns v. Ravens (Last Week, Bye) – While this Monday Night’s matchup between the Ravens and Browns has all the signs of a bonafide Toilet Bowl, that is not say that it will be without any fantasy value. Coming off their Bye Week, the Browns announced today that they will be relegating starting Quarterback Johnny Manziel to Third String after a video of the maligned sophomore emerged during the week featuring the former Heisman having fun with a bottle of Champagne. This is great news for Travis Benjamin, who will see former starter, and far steadier hand, Josh McCown, take the snaps under Center against Baltimore. When McCown faced the Ravens’ porous defense back in Week Five, he lit them up for a staggering 422 yards. Odds are, he’ll be targeting Benjamin, who has flourished despite the instability at Quarterback; the speedster has averaged 73.6 receiving yards per game with four touchdowns, and brings to the table the added value of being a solid Punt Returner (273 yards, 1 TD). Baltimore has given up a dreadful 257.0 yards through the air (24th Overall) on 6.7 net yards per attempt (23rd Overall), along with nineteen passing touchdowns (23rd Overall). When he last saw these guys, Benjamin came away with six catches for eighty-three yards in a 33-30 overtime victory.
- START ‘EM: Jimmy Graham, Seahawks v. Steelers (Last Week, 3 catches, 39 yards v. 49ers) – Alright, let’s try this again. Last week I picked Jimmy Graham in this very same position, expecting him to break out of this season-long funk against the Niners’ porous pass defense. Well, it’s apparent that he doesn’t read this column, for all he did was reel in three catches for thirty-nine yards. Making matters more alarming is that he has now failed to reach the End Zone in a mind-numbing seven consecutive games. In fact, he hasn’t scored since Week Three. Now it’s been discussed at length in the media about his difficult assimilation into the offense in Seattle, and the fact that he has been utilized improperly, so I’m not going to waste my time repeating the thoughts and opinions of my contemporaries. What I am going to do though is DOUBLE DOWN. That’s right, folks, this is going to be the week when Graham reminds us all why he was an All Pro pass catcher two years ago when he hauled in a league-best sixteen receiving touchdowns. This week’s opponent, the Steelers, possess a pass defense that is the pits (pun intended). Mike Tomlin’s defense has allowed 278.4 passing yards (28th Overall) on 6.6 net yards per attempt (21st Overall), and have allowed over 300 passing yards in each of the last two contests. And with that said, if Graham doesn’t break out of this rut, then I will officially place him as a permanent member of the Sit ‘Em category below.
- SIT ‘EM: Ben Watson, Saints @ Texans (Last Week, Bye) – One of the pleasant surprises of the 2015 season thus far, Ben Watson has successfully filled the void left by the departure of the aforementioned Graham during the offseason. The twelfth-year veteran has acclimated himself quite seamlessly to life in New Orleans, serving as Drew Brees’ safety valve in the passing game; Watson has hauled in 551 yards and three touchdowns on forty-six receptions. However, in my opinion, his value is inflated due to a pair of huge performances; a 10-catch, 127-yard day coupled with a 9-catch, 147-yard outburst two weeks later made him very attractive to those looking for support at Tight End. But his production over the rest of the campaign has been very average, for he has failed to post more than sixty yards in any of the other eight games in which he has taken part in. Furthermore, his opponent this week, the Texans, have been very stingy against the pass; Houston has permitted a mere 219.8 yards through the air (5th Overall) on just 5.9 net yards per pass (6th Overall). To add to that, they’ve been hot lately, relegating each of their last three opponents under 200 yards passing. Now I doubt that New Orleans will meet that same fate, but I thoroughly expect Watson to spend more time blocking J.J.Watt and Co. than romping through the Secondary.
- SLEEPER: Antonio Gates, Chargers @ Jaguars (Last Week, 1 catch, 6 yards v. Chiefs) – Once a fixture in the realm of Fantasy Football, Antonio Gates has not aged like a fine wine. Once Philip Rivers’ primary target in the passing attack, injuries and a four-game suspension had caused his Quarterback to look towards other outlets in a season in which he has thrown for an NFL-best 3,211 yards. However, with the exception of last week’s egg against the Chiefs, Gates has performed fairly since returning from suspension; from Weeks Five to Nine, the 35-year old has posted solid totals of twenty-eight receptions for 312 yards and two touchdowns, all the while rekindling his prolific relationship with Rivers. Furthering matters is his opponent this weekend, the Jaguars. While showing real signs of improvement, Jacksonville is still very much a team in rebuilding mode, particularly on defense; the Jags have allowed 262.8 yards through the air (25th Overall) on 6.6 net yards per attempt (20th Overall), and haven’t been good at getting their hands on the football, with just five interceptions. Granted, Rivers’ protection is a very real issue against a team that has proven proficient at getting to the Quarterback (23.0 sacks), but I’m thinking that he’ll get the ball out of the pocket quickly this week, and Gates will be the beneficiary.
- START ‘EM: Cardinals @ 49ers (Last Week, 31 points, 377 yards allowed, 4 sacks, 1 turnover v. Bengals) – Don’t be fooled by eighty-three points allowed over the past three games, folks, for the Cardinals are very legitimate on defense. Just take a look at the numbers; through ten games, Arizona has allowed 21.6 points (13th Overall) on 322.2 total yards (3rd Overall), including 228.7 versus the pass (8th Overall) on 6.0 net yards per attempt (8th Overall), along with 93.5 versus the run (6th Overall) on 4.0 yards per carry (14th Overall). Turnovers have been a major factor here, positively and negatively; only five teams have forced more turnovers than these guys (19), but unfortunately the offense has coughed up quite a few themselves (19). Those turnovers have meant that their cohorts on the opposite side of the ball have put them in a few predicaments too many this season, forcing them to defend a short field. Case in point; over the last three outings alone, Arizona has committed a total of nine turnovers, which has played a large role in the aforementioned eighty-three points allowed over that span. In fact, the Cardinals has turned it over at least twice on six occasions this year, and in all six of those tilts they allowed at least twenty points. Fortunately, this weekend’s opponent has been starved for takeaways (8), which means that just this once, Carson Palmer and Co. should take care of the ball. That of course should parlay into a fine day against one of the most inept offenses in the NFL (dead last in points and total yards).
- SIT ‘EM: Rams @ Bengals (Last Week, 16 points, 388 yards allowed, 1 sack, 2 turnovers @ Ravens) – Now I already know what you’re going to say; “St. Louis has the tenth-ranked defense in the NFL, has forced eighteen turnovers thus far (8th Overall), and has logged a staggering thirty sacks already”. You’re all absolutely correct, for Jeff Fisher definitely has one of the better units in the league today. They are absolutely loaded with young talent. So why don’t I like them this weekend at Cincinnati, who is now on a two-game losing streak after a sterling 8-0 start? Well, to start things off, not only are the Bengals very potent offensively, but they’re also incredibly balanced; Cincinnati ranks ninth in passing offense (273.8) and twelfth in rushing offense (113.6) thus far, en route to scoring 26.6 points per game (5th Overall). Furthermore, they’ve only committed eleven turnovers, seventh-fewest overall. Cincy also sports a solid defense, which we detailed earlier, with a nasty pass rush (28), which is likely to keep their inept passing game (32nd Overall) heading towards the sidelines, which means that the Rams’ defense is going to be on the field for a very long time. Fresh off of two losses and returning home, I’m banking on Cincinnati returning to form, which is bad news for St. Louis.
- SLEEPER: Buccaneers @ Colts (Last Week, 17 points, 383 yards allowed, 3 sacks, 4 turnovers, 1 touchdown @ Eagles) – Don’t look now, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have finally turned the corner of their lengthy rebuild. Winners of three of their last four outings, the Bucs absolutely humiliated the Eagles this past Sunday in a performance that was reminiscent of their 2002 Super Bowl Championship run; the visitors wrecked havoc all day at Lincoln Financial Field, forcing four turnovers, highlighted by a Lavonte David interception return for a score towards the end of the fourth quarter. While rookie Quarterback Jameis Winston continues to develop every week, so does the defense, for Lovie Smith has seen his charges become sneaky good of late. Tampa ranks a respectable thirteenth in total defense (339.1) and pass defense (234.6), and has proven very difficult to run against, yielding a scant 3.7 yards per carry (5th Overall). As we highlighted earlier with the Cardinals’ defense, the 25.4 (26th Overall) points they’ve allowed is misleading due to some truly sloppy performances by their teammates on offense; Winston and Co. have committed seventeen turnovers (19th Overall), which again, doesn’t do these guys any favors. With that said, they’ve generated twenty takeaways themselves (4th Overall) and posted twenty-three sacks. Furthermore, their opponent Sunday, the Colts, will be once again led by the ageless wonder that is Matt Hasselbeck, who has led a very middling offense that has struggled with turnovers throughout the campaign, committing twenty-two, most in the league.