I've gone 37-11 in this Skinny forum with my game predictions, which isn't so bad for the always unpredictable NFL, even if I am just picking straight up. Unfortunately, I've been much better in reality than fantasy, where I'd be embarrassed to reveal my overall win/loss record. I'll at least admit that I'm winless in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League, where the complete botching of my receiver picks – Mario Manningham(notes), Chad Ochocinco(notes), Mike Thomas(notes) and Danny Amendola(notes) taken in Rounds 4-7 – has buried me in a pit of despair.
It's still early enough to turn things around (although maybe not in the F&F league), and Week 4 seemed to return a bit of normalcy to the fantasy landscape as we saw Arian Foster(notes), Frank Gore(notes) and Chris Johnson finally get out of the starting gate, among others. It's with this renewed hope that I turn to the Week 5 matchups, Skinny-style (note that instead of labeling a player "chartreuse" when referring to someone between a green and yellow light play, I've listed them in a green-yellow font in the light sections of each matchup. Yes, I do peruse the reader's comments/feedback, and I agree that "chartreuse" is a tough word swallow):
Total Week 5 green-light plays by position: 11 QBs; 19 RBs; 23 WRs; 13 TEs; 5 Defenses
The question for the Raiders most weeks is going to be, "is anyone other than Darren McFadden(notes) a viable start?" And mainly, that question pertains to WR Denarius Moore(notes), a superb talent stuck in a less than ideal environment. The Texans have allowed the seventh-lowest QB rating and is fifth in the league with 12 sacks. They get after the QB, and this is not one of those weeks that I would rely on anyone outside of Run-DMC – Houston has given up 4.9 YPC and I can see the Raiders using the McFadden/Michael Bush(notes) combo to the extreme. … The Raiders are even worse against the run than Houston, allowing a league-worst 5.9 YPC. It's little mystery what the Texans' game plan will be with a now healthy Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson(notes) on the sideline with a hamstring injury. Last week, Matt Schaub(notes) threw just 21 times and Foster toted the ball 30 times as Johnson left the game early with the hammy injury. Sure, the Texans will throw some against an Oakland defense that has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to WRs, but banking on Jacoby Jones(notes) or Kevin Walter(notes) is an iffy proposition – neither can capably fill the go-to shoes. And if the Raiders game-plan to shutdown Owen Daniels(notes), that could make for a long day for Daniels. Raiders safety Tyvon Branch(notes) was fantastic last week playing a lead role in a scheme to eliminate Pats TE Rob Gronkowski(notes). Expect a spread-it-around conservative approach by Schaub, and don't be surprised if we see the intriguing James Casey(notes) get back into the mix this week.
Arian Foster; Darren McFadden; Owen Daniels
Matt Schaub; Michael Bush; Denarius Moore; Jacoby Jones; Kevin Walter; Houston Defense
Headline: McFadden outgains Foster, but Texans win the scoreboard battle
Apparently the Dream Team forgot about run defense. The Eagles have allowed seven running backs to reach double-digit fantasy points(default scoring setups). They have allowed the second-most rushing yards to RBs and the fifth-most receiving yards to RBs. Obviously, Fred Jackson(notes) is a slam-dunk start, but backup RB C.J. Spiller(notes) is at least a viable dice roll given the matchup and the bye week absences. Against wide receivers, with their three outstanding corners, the Eagles are much better. And, if not for some really bad tackling against WR Victor Cruz(notes) a couple weeks ago, they'd rate much better than their already solid standing as ninth-best in fantasy against the position. WR Stevie Johnson(notes) is a tough one to sit because he's a TD magnet, but I'd temper expectations for the Bills passing game, especially when you consider that the Bills don't have a legit tight end threat to give Philly reason to rein in their blitzes. … Despite a 3-1 record, Buffalo's defense is as bad as ever. It has allowed the sixth-most yards per game (eighth-most against both the run and pass). And it sports the league's worst pass rush (just four QB sacks). This is a great matchup for Michael Vick(notes), who threw for 416 yards and rushed for 75 yards last week. And I think Philly, with its back against the wall after three straight losses, is going to come out with the appropriate amount of determination this week. I'd consider all Eagles to be looking even better than usual.
Headline: Vick goes wild as desperate Eagles get big road win
The Vikings are like the Raiders in that they really have only one viable green light play most weeks – Adrian Peterson. So, while the passing matchup looks good on paper for the Vikes against the inexperienced Cardinals secondary, it's very hard to trust QB Donovan McNabb(notes), who has been outside the top 20 QBs in fantasy points in each of his four games. And it's not as though the schedule has conspired to hold the passing game down. Both Kansas City (last week) and Tampa Bay (in Week 2) represent matchup advantages, according to the numbers. Because Percy Harvin(notes) is a such a threat on end-arounds and is seeing more snaps as the weeks progress, he's a defensible option. And the other element of the Vikings passing game I can buy into, and have been waiting to emerge, is TE Visanthe Shiancoe(notes). He went for 6/58 against Kansas City last week, and McNabb has long been friendly to the TE position. … Beanie Wells(notes) is coming off a huge three-touchdown effort against the Giants. Wells owners might be concerned about the matchup this week against an always stout Minnesota run defense. But Wells is averaging a fantastic 5.4 YPC, and he's piling up the majority of his yards to the outside – in other words, away from where Minnesota DT Kevin Williams(notes) resides. You can't bench him this week. And, of course, Larry Fitzgerald(notes) never sits. But don't put much faith in Kevin Kolb(notes). He's been one of the most sacked signal-callers and Minnesota is among the best at getting after QBs, and Kolb has not fared well in high-heat situations.
Adrian Peterson; Beanie Wells; Larry Fitzgerald; Percy Harvin; Visanthe Shiancoe; Minnesota Defense
None of significance
Seattle faces the always daunting task of traveling across country this week. In New York, the Seahawks plan to embrace the no-huddle system that produced three second-half touchdowns after falling behind 27-7 against Atlanta in Week 4. It's a good plan, in theory, as the Giants were reeling against a similar game plan by the Rams in Week 2 and had to fake some injuries to slow the Rams down. But, it's a perilous task given Seattle's trouble with pass protection and the Giants' skill at getting after the QB, especially with DE Osi Umenyiora(notes) back. WR Sidney Rice(notes) has looked great in his two games back, and the matchup warrants that you role with him again. But, even with Seattle's high hopes with the no-huddle approach, I wouldn't buy into anyone else on the Seahawks – although, as a deep sleeper, consider Doug Baldwin(notes), who is turning into Jackson's trusty slotman. … As I've mentioned here the past few weeks, the Seahawks are a legit run defense. No RB has rushed for more than 70 yards against them, and they are holding backs to less than 3.2 YPC. It's a bad week to bank on Brandon Jacobs(notes). But I'd stick with Ahmad Bradshaw(notes), who has been very productive on third downs and has been integrated into the passing game more this season. As a current top 10 fantasy QB in a game that sets up well from a passing standpoint, Eli Manning(notes) is definite green light material. And, besides Hakeem Nicks(notes) (6/128/1 vs. Seattle in '10), Manning should be able to make another WR viable for fantasy purposes. Right now, I would bet on that being Victor Cruz, who has quickly gained Manning's trust, and not Mario Manningham, who has been both unhealthy (concussion) and out of sync this season. There are no positives to grab a hold of with him right now. And Cruz has played his way into the picture, assuming he doesn't drop the ball again.
Eli Manning; Ahmad Bradshaw; Hakeem Nicks; Sidney Rice; NY Giants Defense
Brandon Jacobs; Mario Manningham
Victor Cruz; Doug Baldwin
Headline: Manning clicks with Nicks for two scores as Giants roll over the Seahawks
Six teams average more points per game than the combined weekly offensive output of KC and Indy. Indy RB Joseph Addai(notes), TE Dallas Clark(notes) (KC has been very generous to some very average tight ends this season), and KC WR Dwayne Bowe(notes) are reasonable options, and Colts WR Pierre Garcon(notes), coming off a big week and not as likely to draw the coverage of excellent corner Brandon Flowers(notes) (assuming he'll matchup most often on Reggie Wayne(notes)), could be in line for a couple more big plays – the Chiefs have allowed 17 pass plays of 20-plus yards, fifth-most in the league. But outside of those four, I'm not going to waste time trying to put lipstick on this pig of a matchup.
Joseph Addai; Dwayne Bowe; Pierre Garcon; Dallas Clark
None of significance
Headline: Defense helps Colts escape the ranks of the winless
Pittsburgh has key injuries on both offense and defense. On the offensive side, Ben Roethlisberger(notes) is dealing with a foot sprain and Rashard Mendenhall(notes) tweaked his hamstring – both are likely to be questionable for Sunday, although early indications are that Mendenhall will sit. The matchup is not good for either as the Titans have been one of the best defenses of the young season. Bye weeks might make it tough, but owners of both players need to have contingencies in place – like Mendenhall fill-in Isaac Redman(notes), who could play a huge role with Mewelde Moore(notes) also expected to sit. Mike Wallace(notes) is the only Steeler you can hang your hat on. Yes, Tennessee has been fantastic against receivers, but Wallace is faster than anyone on the field and he's improved vastly as a route runner. He won't be shut down very often. … Chris Johnson topped 100 yards last week (phew!), and he has a great shot at repeating that feat this week. The Steelers have allowed 4.9 YPC to running backs, and OLB James Harrison(notes), who is excellent against the run, is going to be out with a eye injury. It feels weird to say it, but the Titans are likely to attack Pittsburgh with a run-heavy approach, affording Johnson another 20-25 carries. With that in mind, and considering that Pittsburgh has been mostly lights out against opposing passing games, I'd fly all key components of the Titans passing game under the caution flag this week, although I like Week 4 breakout TE Jared Cook(notes) more than anyone, especially with fellow TE Craig Stevens(notes) nursing sore ribs.
Chris Johnson; Mike Wallace; Jared Cook
Headline: Johnson, Titans run down reeling Steelers
As Blaine Gabbert(notes) cuts his teeth, Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) is pretty much the entire offense for the Jaguars – and the only hope for the Jags from a fantasy standpoint. The Bengals have been a quality defense against the pass this season and the upside for Mike Thomas is no higher than what he did last week (5/73). … Over the past three games, the Jaguars are allowing more than double the league average in terms of fantasy points to the tight end position. Jermaine Gresham(notes) has been building on his role as a safety valve for rookie Andy Dalton(notes), as he's the eighth-most targeted tight end – he's clearly a strong option this week. In general, though, the Jaguars are much improved on defense and they are allowing just 3.8 YPC to RBs. Darren Sproles'(notes) 13-point fantasy effort against the Jags last week was the high mark for RBs against the Jags this season. It's understandable in a bye week to want to lean on a RB (Cedric Benson(notes)) that has the second-most carries in the league. But I see this as a classic 20/75/0 kind of performance from Benson. The Jags are also among the five stingiest defenses in fantasy to opposing receivers, and they have faced three of the top 11 most productive WR corps in fantasy, thus far. A.J. Green(notes) is so talented that he's hard player to sit, but the matchup is definitely concerning.
Maurice Jones-Drew; Cedric Benson; A.J. Green; Jermaine Gresham
None of significance
Headline: Strong defense and a whole lot of MoJo lead Jags to narrow victory
Cam Newton(notes) is the No. 3 fantasy QB, ranking among the top three QBs in three of his first four weeks in the league. Benching Newton is no longer an option. And Newton has taken Steve Smith along for the ride, connecting with the veteran sparkplug for 150-plus receiving yards in three of four games. The Saints have been decent in pass coverage, but the likelihood of Newton having to play catch-up in this contest makes Smith and TE Greg Olsen(notes) too enticing to resist. And even WR Brandon LaFell(notes) is a justifiable option. I still like Jonathan Stewart(notes) more than DeAngelo Williams(notes) in the backfield despite Williams getting untracked last week (10/82). Stewart is getting nearly equal carries and is seeing more time on passing plays, which is what matters this week. But both will continue to have a hard time finding the end zone, as Newton has stolen four touchdowns from a distance of four yards or less on the ground. … Like I said last week, Darren Sproles is the only green light option in the Saints backfield until injury or a change of philosophy. But Sproles owners will be happy to keep things as they are. He's a dynamo working in the shadow of Drew Brees(notes), averaging 8.9 YPC on 15 carries and 8.6 YPR on 26 catches. Sproles is averaging at least eight more plays from scrimmage per game than either Mark Ingram(notes) or Pierre Thomas(notes). Carolina has done an admirable job against receivers this season, especially against opposing go-to wideouts, holding Larry Fitzgerald, Greg Jennings(notes), Mike Thomas and Johnny Knox(notes) to no more than 62 yards. That makes Marques Colston(notes) an iffy proposition this week, assuming the Panthers deem him the go-to guy. Colston was a non-factor in both meetings last season. Only Lance Moore(notes) enjoyed any kind of success among the Saints WRs last season against Carolina, and even that was fairly modest. It seems best to temper your enthusiasm for all New Orleans receivers and figure that it'll be another big day for Sproles and Jimmy Graham(notes) through the air.
Cam Newton; Drew Brees; Darren Sproles; Steve Smith; Jimmy Graham; Greg Olsen; New Orleans Defense
None of significance
Headline: Newton comes up big, but just short on the scoreboard, once again
LeGarrette Blount(notes), as expected, overpowered the Colts' finesse run defense. But he'll face a much more challenging matchup this week, traveling to San Francisco to face fantasy's top run defense. The Niners are the only team left to not allow a rushing TD, and they are holding RBs to less than 2.9 YPC. Blount feasts on yards after contact, but San Fran is a physical bunch that doesn't miss many tackles. Hard to shy away from Blount after last week, but I would if I had other options that were reasonable. I do like Josh Freeman(notes), and the Bucs' passing game, this week. Freeman is cool under pressure, and he can pick on corner Tarrell Brown, who has been a repeated burn victim this season. The Niners have also struggled against No. 3 wideouts (see Doug Baldwin, Jesse Holley(notes), Andre Caldwell and Jason Avant(notes)), which makes the emerging Preston Parker(notes) an attractive sleeper this week. … I'm not sure Frank Gore is completely out of the woods after crossing the century mark in rushing yards last week – the Philly run defense is so very, very bad. That said, the Bucs aren't really a shutdown unit against the run, which offers hope that Gore can keep the good vibes going. In the passing game, you know the drill. It's Vernon Davis(notes), and that's it.
Josh Freeman; Frank Gore; Mike Williams; Vernon Davis
Headline: Freeman leads Bucs to another dramatic finish
Champ Bailey(notes) (hamstring) hopes to return for Denver in Week 5. But he won't be enough to hold back the No. 6 passing offense in the league. The Broncos have allowed the third-most fantasy points to QBs and have been the worst in fantasy against WRs. Even with a Bailey return, Philip Rivers(notes) and Vincent Jackson(notes) are unbenchable. And Malcom Floyd(notes) also offers some intrigue, assuming he's not a health scratch. The Broncos have been a much improved unit against the run (thanks to Von Miller(notes)), but the Chargers sport the second-most productive backfield in fantasy. And the Broncos have been helped by circumstance in that they have yet to yield a rushing TD to an RB. They do allow 4.0 YPC, which is not a number for Ryan Mathews(notes) and Mike Tolbert(notes) owners to be overly concerned about. … In the past three weeks, Willis McGahee(notes) is a top 15 running back in fantasy, and that's despite facing the likes of Green Bay and Tennessee (and the Bengals, who haven't been a slouch). Knowshon Moreno(notes) is no more than a third-down back these days and McGahee, even in this tough matchup, deserves something close to green-light status given what he's accomplished on the ground in recent weeks. You have to figure that the matchup is going to force Denver to throw a fair amount. And I'd have a really hard time benching Brandon Lloyd(notes) and Eric Decker(notes) given how good they have looked &ndash both Lloyd(even with one DNP) and Decker are top 25 among WRs in receiving yards, and Decker has four TDs. Lloyd hasn't found the end zone this season, but he scored in both his meetings against the Chargers last season.
Philip Rivers; Ryan Mathews; Vincent Jackson; Eric Decker; Brandon Lloyd; San Diego Defense
None of significance
Chargers: TE Antonio Gates(notes) (foot); CB Quentin Jammer(notes) (hamstring); WR Vincent Jackson (leg); WR Malcom Floyd (groin, shoulder); C Nick Hardwick(notes) (neck)
Headline: Late field goal lifts Chargers over Broncos
The Jets have allowed at least one running back to top double-digit fantasy points in each game. And with Danny Woodhead(notes) dealing with an ankle injury, the Patriots could deliver the next double-digit producer against the Jets, be it BenJarvus Green-Ellis(notes) or Stevan Ridley(notes) – both should be good for at least double-digit touches given the extra work afforded by Woodhead's absence. Tom Brady(notes) is leaning heavily on Wes Welker(notes), and Welker owners might be a bit fearful of the gravy train running off the road this week on Revis Island. But keep in mind that Welker caught 20 passes and scored twice in three games against the Jets last season. I'm not expecting Welker to go crazy like he has in the past two weeks, but a 6/80/1 line is very doable. … The Jets are flailing in the running game, as Shonn Greene(notes) has plodded along at a 3.1 YPC clip. Now head coach Rex Ryan is declaring that "ground and pound" is back. That's probably enough to get Greene another leap of faith start from his fantasy owners against a Pats defense that has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to RBs. Keep in mind, though, that New England has yielded a league-high 374 receiving yards to RBs and this could be yet another game where LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) upstages Greene. It's an odd time for Ryan to declare the return to a no-nonsense running approach as the Patriots are the most susceptible team in the league against the pass, allowing a league-high 30 pass plays of 20-plus yards (seven more than any other team). It's hard to think that Mark Sanchez(notes) won't get sucked into aerial pursuit of the Patriots as Tom Brady and company have scored at least 30 points in 12 straight regular-season games.
Chad Ochocinco; NY Jets Defense; New England Defense
Headline: Backfield boosts Brady bunch to big win over Jets
Plan on aerial fireworks in this rematch of the '10 NFC Divisional playoffs, a game the Packers won 48-21 behind 366 passing yards and three TDs from Aaron Rodgers(notes). This season, the Falcons have allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to QBs, including 319 passing yards and three TD passes by Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson last week. As for the Packers, well, no team has been a more lucrative matchup for opposing QBs. That has a lot to do with the Packers' league-high 37 PPG average and the fact that their defense is nearly impossible to run on, at least in traditional running situations. It would be very surprising to see Michael Turner(notes) get more than 60-70 rushing yards this week. The setup just does him no favors. For Green Bay, Ryan Grant(notes) is expected back from his bruised kidney and he's likely to take back over the lead role in the backfield. Atlanta has been decent against the run, but it'll likely be so geared up for the pass that Grant should find room to run. He's got flex appeal in the scaled-down bye week.
Headline: Rodgers throws four TD passes for second straight game as Packers outgun the Falcons
For the Bears, less Jay Cutler(notes) is more – they are 2-12 in games in which Cutler has thrown 36 or more times, including 0-2 this season. Last week, the Bears went run-heavy in a victory over the Panthers. And it's a blueprint they will likely try to follow again this week against Detroit, if they can. It's an iffy proposition considering that the Lions allow just 4.2 YPC and have scored so much this season on offense that it's forced opposing QBs to throw the ball – three quarterbacks have thrown 36-plus times against the Lions this season. Forte is a safe play regardless of how things play out, but Chicago has nothing to offer in the passing game – Cutler and the Bears WRs and TEs all rank among the bottom 10 in fantasy scoring at their respective positions. … The Bears have been roasted by No. 1 wideouts, not that you needed any more reason to feel good about Calvin Johnson(notes) or Matthew Stafford(notes). They've also allowed the most fantasy points to tight ends, which makes Brandon Pettigrew(notes) a savory option this week, as well. Oh, and by the way, Chicago is also allowing 5.1 YPC to RBs and has allowed five running backs 30 receiving yards or more. Jahvid Best(notes)? You bet. He had 97 YFS when he hosted the Bears in Week 13 last year, and that's around where I see him netting out this week.
Headline: MegaTron scores twice for fifth straight game, Lions roll to 5-0