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 Four:
Packers RB Cedric Benson (vs. New Orleans) — Would it surprise anyone if the Packers ran a little more in Week Four, given their pass-protection and offensive-balance issues? The matchup is favorable for Green Bay’s ground attack, as the Saints have allowed 645 rushing yards in three games (215 yards per game).
Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez (vs. Carolina) — Quick: name the Falcons’ leader in target through three games. Is it Roddy White? Nope. OK, how about Julio Jones? Negative. Yes, Gonzalez is off to a smashing start in what he says is his final NFL season. At the age of 36, Gonzalez remains a go-to guy for QB Matt Ryan. He has hauled in a team-high 21 passes entering Week Four, catching 75 percent of the passes thrown his way. Moreover, Gonzalez’s three TDs are tied for the team led with Jones. With the Falcons’ passing game rolling, and with the Panthers surrendering 243.7 passing yards per contest, Gonzalez is a strong play on Sunday.
49ers RB Frank Gore (at N.Y. Jets) — The Jets’ defense has a strong reputation, but it has had its issues in 2012. New York has especially struggled vs. the run, allowing 148.7 yards per contest. This is a good matchup for Gore.
Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (at Kansas City) — Don’t overreact to Mathews’ Week Three debut. Yes, his ball security has been lamented after a lost fumble vs. Atlanta, but he still gained about five yards per touch — not bad whatsoever, in my view, after missing more than a month with a broken clavicle. The Chiefs are allowing 4.7 yards per carry, and Mathews easily could improve in his second game back in the lineup.
Broncos QB Peyton Manning (vs. Oakland) — Here’s a matchup Manning should relish. Opponents are completing 69.6 percent of their passes against the Raiders, who surrendered 384 passing yards to Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger in Week Three. Though Manning’s play has been somewhat inconsistent in the past two weeks, he has had to deal with an excellent Houston defense and an above-average Atlanta stop unit. Look for Manning to take a step forward Sunday.
Bills RB Tashard Choice (vs. New England) — If Fred Jackson (knee) and C.J. Spiller (ankle) are out, Choice will get the start Sunday vs. the Patriots. Considering the sheer volume of work he might get, I don’t have a problem with owners in big leagues starting Choice if he’s Buffalo’s featured back in Week Four. However, I would not be rushing him into the lineup if you have other viable options. The Patriots are allowing only 3.3 yards per carry, and Choice isn’t a playmaking threat of the caliber of Jackson or Spiller. Jackson, who returned to practice on Wednesday, seems more likely to play than Spiller — should that happen, Choice’s value will plummet.
Bears QB Jay Cutler (at Dallas) — The Cowboys’ pass defense is exceptional. Their pass rush, led by OLB DeMarcus Ware, can be fierce and varied. Cutler, who has thrown for only one TD and 309 yards in the past two weeks, is tough to start in one-QB formats, especially given this matchup.
Titans QB Jake Locker (vs. Houston) — Let’s suppose you have claimed Locker off waivers this week. You have to be very, very pleased. The Titans can’t run the ball at all, and the offense might rise and fall with the second-year quarterback for the rest of the season. Considering the potential he showed in Week Three, when he threw for 378 yards and a pair of TDs vs. Detroit, you might be thinking of starting him on Sunday. My advice? I’d think long and hard before doing so. The Texans’ defense is clearly the AFC’s best. Houston is stout vs. the run and stingy vs. the pass. If the Texans gave Peyton Manning fits a week ago, they will probably prove to be a headache for Locker.
Rams passing game personnel (vs. Seattle) — The Rams could struggle with Seattle’s pass rush and pass coverage. St. Louis has allowed 12 sacks in three games and ranks near the bottom of the league in yards per pass play. This isn’t an ideal set of circumstances for QB Sam Bradford, WR Danny Amendola and Co.
Redskins RB Alfred Morris (at Tampa Bay) — If Morris is among your very best options in Week Four, you are likely to play him no matter the matchup, but if you have strong RB depth, you will have to weigh whether the Buccaneers’ strength vs. the run is enough for you to bench Washington’s featured back. Tampa Bay is surrendering a paltry 2.3 yards per rush.