In "Exploit or Avoid," we take a close look at some of the week's more favorable — and tough — matchups for skill-position players. Here's who we like on each side of the ledger in Week 10:
49ers WR Michael Crabtree (vs. St. Louis) — There's a lot to like about Crabtree this week. First, he comes off a spectacular game at Arizona (five catches, 72 yards, two TDs). The numbers are nice, but the film was even more flattering to Crabtree. He looked like a legitimate difference-making receiver in the 49ers' Week Eight win, getting the best of talented Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson. Making Crabtree even more appealing: he lit up the Rams for 12 catches, 182 yards and three TDs (15 targets) in two 2011 matchups. Yes, the St. Louis secondary is better than a season ago, but the Rams nonetheless had no real answers for the Patriots two weeks ago. Crabtree is playing too well to sit.
Bills TE Scott Chandler (at New England) — In the first 2012 meeting with the Patriots, Chandler was targeted a season-high eight times. And did he ever do well with those opportunities, catching a pair of TD passes and racking up 62 yards on four receptions. While Chandler hasn't caught a TD since, he did rack up 51 receiving yards on three catches at Houston in Week 10. He's an intriguing Week 10 play.
Jets RB Shonn Greene (at Seattle) — The Seahawks have had some issues stopping the run in recent weeks, making Greene a reasonable RB or flex play, especially in bigger leagues. After a slow start, Greene has really picked it up of late. The four combined rushing scores in Weeks Six and Seven weren't lost on fantasy owners, but I also liked that he racked up 77 yards on 15 carries (although zero TDs) against a very good Miami run defense in Week Nine.
Jaguars RB Rashad Jennings (vs. Indianapolis) — The Colts have had problems vs. the run for most of the season and have surrendered at least 4.5 yards per carry in five of the last six games. Jennings, who was inactive in Jacksonville's Week Three win at Indianapolis, now gets his shot against a Colts defense that Maurice Jones-Drew worked over for 177 yards (including a 59-yard TD run) in September.
Falcons RB Michael Turner (at New Orleans) — The Saints' run defense is a major weakness. Even in an impressive 28-13 victory over Philadelphia on Monday night, New Orleans didn't exactly impress with its ability to stop the run, surrendering 221 yards on the ground. This marked the fourth time that the Saints have allowed an opponent to rush for more than 200 yards in eight games. Yes, Turner has had his disappointing stretches this season, but at least he has two games to come against New Orleans.
Arizona, Cleveland, Green Bay and Washington are all on bye in Week 10, and each team has at least one widely started player. In looking for bye-week replacements, avoiding low-upside matchups is key. With this in mind, here are four groups of players I would steer clear of in Week 10:
Jets passing game players (at Seattle) — The key names to avoid, in my view, are TE Dustin Keller and WR Jeremy Kerley, as they are the most likely to be considered as starter-caliber in fantasy leagues. Fantasy owners in bigger leagues also will want to avoid QB Mark Sanchez and WR Stephen Hill. The Seahawks have allowed just nine passing TDs in nine games; look for passing-game players in more favorable circumstances than the Jets are facing.
Rams skill-position players (at San Francisco) — The 49ers' defense has been exceptionally stingy, surrendering zero touchdowns in four of the past five games. I wouldn't want to be counting upon RBs Steven Jackson or Daryl Richardson this week. The same goes for QB Sam Bradford and WR Chris Givens. I'd even say the same for the productive Danny Amendola, who's likely to be back this week. Amendola, the Rams' go-to receiver, isn't an unreasonable play if you are lacking other options; surely he will put some points on the board. However, I would be far more eager to start him in future weeks.
Raiders running backs (at Baltimore) — The Raiders' top two running backs, Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, have high ankle sprains, which can be injuries that linger for weeks. If McFadden and Goodson are out, the Raiders will turn to RB Taiwan Jones and FB Marcel Reece. Jones is untested (17 career carries), and Reece is primarily a pass-catching option. While the Ravens are surrendering the fifth-most rushing yards per game (139.5), they are allowing just 4.03 yards per carry, the 11th-best mark in the NFL. Will the Raiders, given their RB situation, lean on the running game in Week 10? I don't think I would make that bet.
Complementary Vikings passing game players (at Detroit) — The “complementary” tag is the operative term. If Percy Harvin (ankle) can play, I’d start him. However, it’s hard to endorse any of the Vikings’ other passing-game options, with QB Christian Ponder and TE Kyle Rudolph at the top of the list. Both were held in check in the first meeting vs. the Lions and have really cooled off of late. Rudolph, who had five TD catches in the Vikings’ first six games, still has fantasy value, but he has been targeted only eight times in the past three games, and he has had two no-catch games in that span. Ponder has less value than Rudolph but might be on benches in big leagues or two-QB formats; that’s why I mentioned him. One caveat about Minnesota: Vikings WR Jerome Simpson isn’t a terrible flier in big leagues that start three or more wideouts; he caught 4-of-5 passes thrown his way for 40 yards in the first meeting vs. Detroit in Week Four. Also, he drew a pair of pass-interference penalties. It also stands to reason that if Harvin is out, Simpson could get more opportunities. Nevertheless, Simpson’s inconsistency will eliminate him from consideration for a lot of owners. I would have a very hard time counting on him in a two-WR format.