Combining Power Rankings, Start/Sit advice,* and game predictions, the Oracle is a Sunday morning smorgasbord out of the spread formation.* The variety of fantasy formats means conventional start/sit columns won’t address your dilemma. Shallow League Bench lets you know which star to keep in reserve in 10-team leagues. Deep League Start provides the deep sleeper for 14-team leagues (or leagues like the one I run that require you to start four wide receivers).
No. 32 Chiefs 13 at No. 26 Bucs 17
In Week 5 the Chiefs called the highest percentage of running plays since the forward pass was legalized. That strategy may not work quite as well against a Tampa defense ranked 8th in Expected Points Added Per Play. Kansas City, on the other hand, ranks 24th and begins a string of better matchups for Doug Martin. The Bucs aren’t making as much progress as most are saying but at least they have a coaching staff that is trying to win.
Shallow League Bench: Vincent Jackson. Brandon Flowers actually covered Anquan Boldin, not Torrey Smith, last week and struggled in that capacity, but he’s healthier this week and should take Vincent Jackson out of the game. All WRs are bad plays in a contest that will probably feature the fewest total number of plays on the weekend.
Deep League Start: LeGarrette Blount. Martin appears likely to cede goal line carries against a lousy run defense.
No. 10 Colts 27 at No. 30 Jets 17
With wins over the Vikings and Packers, Indy is one of the few teams with multiple Top 10 victories. The Jets are middle of the pack in pass defense, which should allow Andrew Luck to continue his impressive play. Expect Tim Tebow to take over for Mark Sanchez at halftime of this one and lead a mini-comeback before throwing an ugly pick-6 in the final minute.
Shallow League Bench: Shonn Greene. This game probably features the fewest viable fantasy players of any contest. Obviously you’re benching Greene in all leagues if you have other options.
Deep League Start: Vick Ballard. The Colts actually rank 10th in the run game on a per play basis and could actually find themselves in clock killing mode against the Jets 30th ranked run defense.
No. 15 Bengals 17 at No. 29 Browns 20
Brandon Weeden was the only starter to face pressure on fewer than 10% of his drop backs in Week 5 and capitalized with two touchdowns to Josh Gordon. The Browns have been more competitive than expected and will be the final team to break into the win department as Joe Haden returns to shut down A.J. Green.
Shallow League Bench: BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The Browns field a solid run defense when D’Qwell Jackson and Ahtyba Rubin play. At least one and possibly both will return to face the Bengals. If you’re truly desperate, Brian Leonard will see an expanded role in this one.
Deep League Start: Greg Little. Little saw only two targets in Week 5, inducing most owners to release him, but he actually managed the same number of routes as Josh Gordon and more than breakout player Jordan Norwood. With Norwood on the shelf, Travis Benjamin doubtful, and Gordon likely to be the least accomplished WR in history to draw the top cover guy, Little becomes Weeden’s default option.
No. 12 Lions 38 at No. 14 Eagles 27
Detroit’s current swoon isn’t any different than the 2-5 stretch they endured in the middle of last season. They’ve got too much talent to stay down long. Expect a restructured offense coming out of the bye. When the Eagles offense is on the field, it will be a case of the overrated – the Lions conventional defensive numbers are more impressive than their advanced stats – versus the erratic. PFF has Michael Vick at a lower accuracy percentage than players like Matt Cassel and Jake Locker while leading the NFL in pressure invited.
Shallow League Bench: Brandon Pettigrew. FO ranks Philly 5th against opposing tight ends, and Scott Linehan has had two weeks to develop a less TE-heavy passing strategy.
Deep League Start: Brent Celek at Flex. Meanwhile, the Lions rank 27th against opposing tight ends. Celek has had a couple of down weeks, but makes a better flex than many RBs or WRs.
No. 31 Raiders 10 at No. 2 Falcons 41
Oakland is overmatched on both sides of the ball against lousy teams, much less than ascending Falcons. Matt Ryan will shred their defensive backfield early – Michael Huff, Patrick Lee, and Matt Giordano are all struggling mightily – creating a second half field day for Michael Turner. Carson Palmer currently ranks 24th in the NFL in yards per attempt, not good news when you’re facing one of six teams that actually averages negative passing EPA/P.
Shallow League Bench: Darren McFadden in standard formats. Since this game projects as the weekend’s biggest blowout, you’ll have to at least consider benching McFadden if you don’t get credit for his catches. A lot of attention has been given to the zone blocking scheme in Oakland, but, as I detailed in Advanced Touches, his struggles after contact are causing most of the problems.
Deep League Start: Jacquizz Rodgers. Quizz barely touched the ball last week but still ran almost as many routes as a WR. If Rodgers is going to be usable at any point this season, it would seem to be in this type of matchup. Only a handful of teams give up more receiving yards to running backs.
No. 13 Rams 13 at No. 16 Dolphins 16
Both of these teams have played better than their records. Sam Bradford and Ryan Tannehill aren’t fantasy viable yet, but each has demonstrated the tools that made them such high picks. While other squads have gotten more publicity, Advanced NFL Stats ranks Miami 5th and St. Louis 8th in defensive EPA/P. Filling in for an ineffective Reggie Bush, Lamar Miller gives Miami the lead late with an 81-yard touchdown scamper.
Shallow League Bench: Brian Hartline. The Dolphins’ de facto No. 1 leads the NFL in receiving yards but should be left on your bench in a matchup with Cortland Finnegan, PFF’s second-ranked CB.
Deep League Start: Lamar Miller. The erstwhile third-stringer moves up with Daniel Thomas (concussion) out. Although it’s a very small sample, Miller leads the Dolphins in yards per carry, EPA/P, and success rate. He’ll get more touches this week with Reggie Bush far less than 100%.
No. 20 Cowboys 27 at No. 8 Ravens 24
Both of these teams seem to be underperforming their talent, although Baltimore has turned a fairly easy schedule into a 4-1 record. The Cowboys biggest problems are game-planning and game management, a fairly significant indictment of their coaching staff, but one which won’t come into play this week. Dallas knows they’ll have to be aggressive to take down the Ravens. Tony Romo – a quarterback who ranks No. 1 in NFL history in most times second-guessed and No. 3 in NFL history in passing efficiency – hits Kevin Ogletree in the end zone for the winning score with :02 on the clock.
Shallow League Bench: Joe Flacco. Flacco received a lot of buzz in the preseason and backed that up with a fast start, but after flailing helplessly against the hapless Chiefs, he looks a lot like the guy who was mocked for claiming to be the best QB in the NFL. For a player who ranks 12th in EPA/P and 10th in Win Probability Added Per Game, you’d expect him to be higher than 12th in fantasy points per game considering the no huddle attack. It turns out the up tempo nature of the Ravens offense is a bit of a mirage. Flacco only ranks 10th in drop backs per game. Since the Ravens don’t really have a go-to red zone receiving threat, Flacco is still a QB2.
Deep League Start: Kevin Ogletree. Although the Ravens are getting strafed by No. 1 receivers, they’re actually giving up 17 more yards to tertiary receivers than No. 2s.
No. 18 Bills 24 at No. 9 Cardinals 27
Despite fielding the NFL’s worst offense, the Cardinals are 11-3 in their last fourteen. In short, their close game and overtime luck has been worthy of the Baltimore Orioles. While home field can sometimes be overstated, Arizona is a team that needs their dome. The rejuvenated Bills defense has evidently been powering up on Thunder Muscle and should be a mild reprieve for Kevin Kolb. An injury-ravaged Bills offensive line will be no match for relatively unknown superstars Daryl Washington and Calais Campbell. Expect a Patrick Peterson pick-six early followed by a late Amish Rifle flurry that falls just short.
Shallow League Bench: Fred Jackson. Even before his latest injury, Jackson wasn’t the same this year. He’s averaging a startling 5.0 yards per carry less than C.J. Spiller and doesn’t even qualify as a flex play in yet another brutal matchup.
Deep League Start: Rob Housler. Buffalo has allowed 79 yards per game to opposing tight ends this season, which argues in favor of taking the penalty for 12 men on the field. Kolb was looking for Housler a lot early in Week 5, and the second year TE has blazing speed (he ran a faster 40 than almost all WRs at the 2011 Combine). He makes a good desperation play for Jimmy Graham owners in 14-team leagues and a crafty backup for those who are waiting to see if Aaron Hernandez is active in the late game.
No. 3 Patriots 24 at No. 17 Seahawks 6
Last Sunday, futuristic helmets and duck epaulets were the only things separating New England from the coolest football program on the planet. While the Pats like to run completely different game plans each week, hopefully they reprise the ultra-hurry up that tore apart Denver. Seattle’s elite defense has been carrying them – and I mean that literally, Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch are combining for negative 0.03 EPA/P – but they could face a historic number of snaps versus New England.
Shallow League Bench: Stevan Ridley. Ridley was nominated for various player of the week honors after 151 yards in Week 5, but Belichick may send another message after his late game fumble. Even if he plays a full complement of snaps, the Seahawks are allowing only 3.2 yards per carry.
Deep League Start: Russell Wilson. Only three teams allow more than New England’s 290 passing yards per game. Due to an expected deficit and faster than usual pace, Wilson should notch his season high in attempts and scramble for 40 yards as well.
No. 11 Giants 17 at No. 4 49ers 38
This is being billed as a rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game – which is factually correct, obviously – but the roles have been reversed. Although the Niners had the much better record, last season they were an inexperienced team relying on defense in an offensive era. The Giants had rediscovered their Super Bowl aura by dismantling better teams en route and owned an underrated offense to pair with their pass rushing demons. In short, New York was the better team. That’s no longer the case. Mauling opponents on both lines, the 49ers are all but unstoppable. Look for them to score early, force turnovers, and then feed on a frantic New York offense in the second half.
Shallow League Bench: Ahmad Bradshaw. There’s nothing in Bradshaw’s 200-yard outburst that will carry over against the 49ers. C.J. Spiller is averaging 7.6 yards per carry on the season. He managed a measly 3.4 against San Francisco.
Deep League Start: Kendall Hunter. The Giants are allowing 4.5 yards per carry, 8th worst in the NFL. While Hunter has seen barely a third of Gore’s snaps, he has almost half as many carries and grades out much better on a per touch basis.
No. 6 Vikings 24 at No. 25 Racial Slurs 27
A month ago it would have seemed unlikely that Leslie Frazier would be a rising star and Mike Shanahan would be confirming data about the decline of elderly coaches. (Sure, Shanahan looked overmatched and crotchety last year, but that was with Rex Grossman.) The Vikes are 4-1, and their bad loss against the Colts suddenly seems like a reasonable slip up against an ascending squad. The NFL is still close enough in talent that the No. 6 team could go on the road to the No. 25 and be realistically expected to lose . . . if Shanahan the Younger removes the training wheels. RG3 will throw 30 times to avoid a stout Minnesota run defense and start to build his legend with a furious 4th quarter rally.
Shallow League Bench: Alfred Morris. Nobody drafted Morris to be a starter, and he should be on your bench this week if you’re not facing a bye crunch. This version of Minnesota’s run D is allowing 3.2 yards per carry and may be one of their best ever (the legendary rush defense of 2006 allowed 2.8 for a full season). Morris doesn’t add a lot in the passing game, and the Vikes have only allowed a single rushing touchdown.
Deep League Start: Robert Griffin III. Coming off of a concussion and with his corps of receivers failing to impress, Griffin’s a risk/reward selection in 10-team leagues, but his rushing prowess and deadly accuracy – he leads the NFL with 69% completions – make him a must-start in larger formats.
No. 5 Packers 27 at No. 1 Texans 24
The Pack started 2010 at 8-6 before reeling off 19 in a row. They’ve gone 4-5 since. While a few pieces have been shuffled around, it’s essentially the same team. Green Bay has been the best team in the NFL over that stretch, and it’s simply a bunching of random results that makes them appear to have gotten things figured out and then lost the formula again. These are two similar teams, but the Packers are better in the area that matters most: passing offense. They’ll pull this one out to save their season.
Shallow League Bench: Andre Johnson. This would seem to be a better week to own Johnson – theoretical shootout and all – but Packers corner Tramon Williams is only allowing a 73.9 QB rating in passes thrown his direction. Meanwhile, Andre1500 only has two 100-yard games in his last 11 and only five touchdowns over his last 14 games. Never a big time TD threat, he’s no longer a WR2 in most formats.
Deep League Start: D.J. Williams. This is for extreme deep leaguers who don’t have roster issues and need a desperation play if Aaron Hernandez ends up inactive. Williams wears the dreaded questionable tag himself, but you don’t have to pull the trigger until Sunday night – after you’ve seen Hernandez’s status. Williams is an intriguing talent at TE; Green Bay is getting tired of Finley’s injury and attitude antics. The Texans have an excellent pass defense, but aren’t anything special against tight ends. (And if neither of those guys plays? Umm, Dante Rosario on Monday Night? Those three guys are options A, B, and C in one of my 14-teamers.)
No. 19 Broncos 31 at No. 23 Chargers 23
While technically 5-5, these AFC West foes have not defeated a team in the Top 20. The Chargers won’t start here. The Broncos defense is horribly overrated, but they should handle a San Diego line missing Jared Gaither. Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer are big names, but both have struggled, grading out negatively against weak competition. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker will light them up on the way to victory.
Shallow League Bench: Willis McGahee. I make the case against McGahee in this week’s Advanced Touches, and the Chargers’ run defense is probably the best unit on their team.
Deep League Start: Robert Meachem. Champ Bailey mostly plays left corner, which means the Chargers could get Meachem plus matchups if they move him around (and if Bailey shadows anyone, it will be Malcom Floyd). Tracy Porter and Chris Harris are both getting scorched by opposing passers. Meachem finally showed signs of life in Week 5 and should have a bigger role in a what profiles as a shootout.