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 that deep sleeper for 14-team leagues.
No. 9 Cardinals 6 at No. 10 Vikings 13
The loss of Kevin Kolb could be a bigger problem than people realize even though John Skelton started the Cardinals’ current stretch of amazing outperformance when he filled in for the injured starter last year. Contrary to common perception, Fitzgerald saw fewer yards per game and targets per game with Skelton last year. He did see more red zone targets, but that’s probably a sample size fluke. There’s very little chance the Cards move the ball in this one and an excellent chance an injury thrusts Ryan Lindley into action. Meanwhile, the Cardinals swarming defense should keep them in it. I think the quick kick could be an underrated strategy in this one.
Shallow League Bench: Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald won’t only be dealing with Skelton but a corner in Antonie Winfield who may be playing better than any other non-Watt defender in the league. You might also consider benching Adrian Peterson if you drafted players like Spiller or Morris late. Many are suggesting Peterson will break his TD drought after Arizona struggled to contain Spiller last week, but Adrian Peterson is no C.J. Spiller.
Deep League Start: Andre Roberts. It may seem strange to consider Roberts if Fitzgerald is a risky play but he could be the beneficiary of coverage stacked against the great one. Skelton was better at forcing the ball to Roberts last year than Kolb, and The Citadel star could see a flurry of targets if Arizona plays from behind.
No. 19 Cowboys 17 at No. 27 Panthers 20
Dallas is better than Carolina on both sides of the ball, but their penchant for conservative play should keep the score close enough for Newton to don his (heretofore missing) cape late.
Shallow League Bench: Dez Bryant. The mercurial one sports a new questionable tag due to a nagging groin injury and goes up against a Panthers defense that is allowing 14 fewer yards than average against No. 1 WRs.
Deep League Start: Phillip Tanner. A trendy pickup in high stakes leagues this week, Tanner benefits from Felix Jones’ perceived inability to handle a big workload and a Carolina defense that is atrocious against the run.
No. 24 Saints 27 at No. 26 Buccaneers 24
The Bucs move up only slightly after embarrassing the NFL’s worst team. Although the Saints actually dropped a home game to the lowly Chiefs a couple of weeks ago, they should start to rebound simply based on variance. They’ll throw early and often against a Tampa defense that is much better against the run. An early lead allows them to hold off the Bucs. Josh Freeman and company have created a lot of big plays over the last month, but they’re definitely not a fast paced, quick strike offense.
Shallow League Bench: Josh Freeman. The Tampa QB has made some impressive throws the last couple of weeks and the Saints are arguably the worst pass defense in the NFL. That will encourage owners without an elite QB to consider Freeman this week. Try to avoid the temptation. PFF’s numbers show Freeman is improved in deep passing and mitigating pressure, but his overall accuracy still ranks below Blaine Gabbert.
Deep League Start: Devery Henderson. Henderson will be back on most benches with Lance Moore expected to play, but he might be a strong sleeper play for one more week. Tampa is allowing 133 yards per game to non-No. 1 WRs. The NFL average is 96.
No. 5 Packers 24 at No. 12 Rams 13
It should help the Rams to play at home, but their line has gone from overmatched to overmatched-and-injury-riddled to Arizona-Cardinals-debacle quality. Clay Matthews should continue to rack up his gaudy IDP numbers in this one. Conversely, expect the suddenly high flying Packers offense to return to earth. Quarterbacks have a QB rating of 51.9 when throwing at Cortland Finnegan, a number which drops down to 30.9 when they take on nickel corner Bradley Fletcher.
Shallow League Bench: Randall Cobb. It’s tempting to suggest Jordy Nelson or James Jones, but the possibility of a bust game from those players is already on your radar. Cobb is the player who seems most matchup proof based on his profile, but it’s easy to forget that the elite secondaries of Chicago and Seattle held him to one catch apiece. St. Louis isn’t quite as strong against slot receivers but could do the same here.
Deep League Start: Daryl Richardson. The Rams scatback has a brutal finishing stretch and will be a deep league sell after this game, but he’s a better play against a Raji-less Green Bay defense than Steven “Stick a Fork in Me” Jackson.
No. 25 Racial Slurs 31 at No. 1 Giants 38
Frequent readers know I’m an arch skeptic of the Giants, so they wouldn’t be top-ranked if they didn’t deserve the accolade. Having emasculated the macho Niners in Week 6, it will be interesting to see how they handle the NFL’s most electric player. Barring injury, RG3 is a matchup nightmare who leaves opposing coordinators wishing they could simply not wake up. Even with a banged up and uninspiring receiving corps, he’s managed to move the ball. I agree with the Vegas line that sees a shootout here.
Shallow League Bench: Ahmad Bradshaw. I recommended benching Bradshaw last week and he responded with an epic performance against the Niners, but his matchup is actually even worse this week. Washington’s run defense is virtually identical to that of San Francisco in terms of EPA/P, and their pass defense is atrocious. Such an imbalance obviously incentivizes a pass-heavy game plan. Moreover, Bradshaw’s foot issues have cropped back up, leaving his workload very much in doubt.
Deep League Start: Martellus Bennett. Washington is one of the worst teams in the NFL at defending tight ends (79 yards allowed per game) and Bennett’s ankle injury seems mostly behind him.
No. 8 Ravens 13 at No. 2 Texans 27
Baltimore is 5-1, but I’m becoming less of a believer by the week. Their offense ranks only 9th in passing EPA/P and their defense is cratering. They should run away with a weak AFC North but wouldn’t be a playoff team in the NFC. On the other sideline, the Texans have to recover from a humiliating loss that exposed Arian Foster’s brutal lack of efficiency, a passing game that doesn’t function well in comeback mode, and a defense that looked completely lost without Brian Cushing. The Texans should bounce back here with a stronger game plan and another dominating performance from J.J. Watt.
Shallow League Bench: Joe Flacco. Flacco finds himself in a five-way tie for 12th in TD passes with lesser lights like Kevin Kolb and Mark Sanchez. Some are suggesting the Texans pass D could be ripe for the picking. Jonathan Joseph’s play has fallen off the table the last two weeks due to a debilitating groin injury. He’s a game time decision on Sunday. Unfortunately for Baltimore fans, former first round pick Kareem Jackson has finally figured it out on the opposite side and is allowing only 47% completions on 36 passes thrown his way. If he can take his guy out of the game, the Ravens don’t have enough other options to light the world on fire.
Deep League Start: Ben Tate. Arian Foster is averaging 3.8 yards per carry, but that actually understates how pedestrian he’s been. Only Mikel Leshoure and Danny Woodhead have been worse after contact among qualifying backs. Ben Tate hasn’t been much better, disappearing after a big Week 2. The second-stringer returns at close to full health this week and possesses the goal line acumen to be a desperation starter in any format.
No. 22 Titans 27 at No. 17 Bills 31
Few teams are as Jekyll and Hyde as the Bills, but at these their various transformations make some sense. After trying to add more speed and physicality on the lines in the offseason, they remain a finesse team that excels when not overpowered. That makes their matchup with Tennessee a good one. Points should fly in this game, although the Titans will try to get Chris Johnson involved and slow down the pace.
Shallow League Bench: Stevie Johnson. Johnson is struggling with a 49% catch rate even thought the vast majority of his targets come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Although the Titans field two strong corners, worst case sees him matching up with Alterraun Verner, the best stealth corner in the NFL and a great tackler. Verner is only allowing 11.9 yards per reception and has yet to give up a touchdown.
Deep League Start: Chris Johnson. It’s sad when a first round fantasy pick is only a starter in deep leagues, but Johnson might actually be a worthwhile play in most formats this week. In two of the last three weeks he’s averaged three or more Vision Yards and those strong performances were against Houston and Pittsburgh. Buffalo is almost twice as bad as any other run defense in EPA/P, so this obviously qualifies as a plus matchup.
No. 29 Browns 27 at No. 18 Colts 31
I predicated the Browns would get on the board with a win against Cincy last week, and I remain high on the Colts despite the debacle in New York. Brandon Weeden has demonstrated the big arm that made him a first round pick. (I could easily see him as the next quarterback of the Eagles when the Browns inevitably decide to get younger at the position.) Andrew Luck will get more help from his receivers this week and should bounce back against a Browns secondary that’s only average even with Joe Haden in the fold. The Colts dodge a bullet with Trent Richardson playing at far less than full strength and escape with the victory.
Shallow League Bench: Reggie Wayne. Joe Haden was torched for three big plays and a touchdown by A.J. Green last week. Perhaps a tad overrated, Haden was hit or miss in 2011, allowing only 49% completions but a per catch average over 15 yards. Expect the Browns to employ Haden and a variety of extra gimmicks to contain Wayne as Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton were both drop machines last week.
Deep League Start: Josh Gordon. Gordon’s three touchdowns the last two weeks have been of the fluke variety and his already paltry route numbers could fall with Travis Benjamin poised to return. Regardless, Indy corners Jerraud Powers and Vontae Davis aren’t stopping much of anything, and Gordon is only Browns receiver capable of making a big play.
No. 28 Jets 17 at No. 6 Patriots 38
Both AFC East foes are 3-3, but New England is +51 in scoring margin while the Jets are -9. After being one of the luckiest teams from 2001-2005, the Patriots have struggled in close games over the last half decade. People like to say that these things even out over time, and that type of balancing usually takes a half decade or more. Belichick and Brady were overrated as clutch performers during the first half of their reign and concerns that they’ve turned into chokers are equally ridiculous. The problem New York faces in this game is one of talent. They won’t be able to keep it close.
Shallow League Bench: Brandon Lloyd. I’m assuming you already have Shonn Greene benched against the Patriots shutdown run defense if you have any options. Lloyd should find his way there too if you have other options. I explained his travails in this week’s Advanced Targets, and the forecast doesn’t improve against Antonio Cromartie.
Deep League Start: Stephen Hill. Ideally, the Jets would like to shorten the game with a run-heavy approach, but New England’s defensive philosophy tends to take that away. The Patriots rank 22nd in passing yards allowed and must be attacked through the air if New York has any thoughts of winning. Hill may see limited snaps due to a toxic combination of injury and inexperience, but he’s their only big play threat.
No. 30 Jaguars 17 at No. 31 Raiders 16
Other than the two Raiders/Chiefs tilts, this could be the worst game the NFL sees this season. Oakland showed some fight on defense against the Falcons’ high-powered attack and claim to be turning the corner in their own run game (an assertion undercut by Darren McFadden’s paltry 2.9 yards per carry on 27 totes). Having nearly stunned Atlanta due to a margin of almost 200 yards, they still profile out as well below average in virtually every category. Jacksonville is almost identically as bad, but they can at least run the ball (fifth most efficient in the league). Oakland will have more scoring opportunities in this one but fall after settling for field goals.
Shallow League Bench: Carson Palmer. The Jags pass defense is atrocious, but most of Palmer’s yards come in garbage time. The Raiders shouldn’t fall far enough behind to rack up big numbers in comeback mode this week.
Deep League Start: Justin Blackmon. The Raiders don’t have a serviceable corner, and Jacksonville GM Gene Smith spent much of the bye week suggesting the offense needed to run through Blackmon.
No. 21 Pittsburgh 24 at No. 16 Cincinnati 27
Despite a fast start by Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers find themselves in the middle of the pack in yards per game, yards per play, and scoring offense. Without a bevy of injured stars on defense, this team isn’t scaring anyone on that side of the ball either. After several decades of physical dominance, the Steel Curtain has dissolved and left Pittsburgh without an identity. The Bengals have flipped the script and actually seem to know what they’re about: A.J. Green on offense and a defensive line stocked with playmakers. Cincinnati still has a lot of holes, but they suddenly have the superior star power. Look for them to eke out a victory at home.
Shallow League Bench: Antonio Brown. The Steelers passing offense has become more gimmicky and less vertical under Todd Haley. The transformation is most clearly emphasized in the route tree of Brown which includes a whopping 13 targets behind the line of scrimmage. The possession threat is a very mediocre play in standard leagues.
Deep League Start: Andrew Hawkins. Ike Taylor will probably be matched up with A.J. Green but Keenan Lewis has been equally terrible, and the Steelers rank 27th against slot receivers. Hawkins leads the NFL with 9.2 yards after the catch and could have field day in this one.
No. 11 Lions 27 at No. 7 Bears 17
The first quarter will be incredibly important in what profiles as a hugely entertaining Monday Night affair. The Bears are great frontrunners with their swarming defense, but an overmatched offensive line will struggle badly against Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley if the Lions can get an early lead. Although no one has emerged to complement Calvin Johnson in the passing game and Matthew Stafford’s mechanics have been abysmal as the trigger man, Detroit still ranks second overall in yards per game. They seemed to be finding their stride late against Philadelphia and should have enough to pull out a crucial road game . . . assuming they remember to quadruple team Brandon Marshall.
Shallow League Bench: Mikel Leshoure. Like Ryan Williams, Leshoure could probably use another offseason to truly recover his burst. He won’t find it against a team that ranks 9th in success rate against the run.
Deep League Start: Jay Cutler. After riding a storm of Marshall-inspired hype to the edge of QB1 status this preseason, Cutler has plummeted back down cheat sheets due to a No. 20 ranking in points per game. Even without Alshon Jeffery, he’s a good bye week fill-in. On passing downs, Detroit may be forced to complement Chris Houston with late round draft picks and street free agents .