By Michael Salfino
Special to Yahoo Sports
Let’s preview this week’s NFL action by first focusing on the games that are expected to produce the most real and fantasy points before I go around the league to highlight the key players we should be watching and why. An important note every week: check the player’s status. There is so much injury uncertainty and Friday’s practice, which occurs after this is posted, is key.
Packers at Falcons (O/U: 52.5): The Falcons lead the league in yards per play and bet the offense vs. the stout defense, meaning play your Falcons fearlessly. Matt Ryan ($40) leads the league in yards per attempt but slumped a little last week against the Chargers. Devonta Freeman ($26) has a hip injury and Tevin Coleman is likely sidelined with a hamstring strain.
The Packers are tough to watch. Aaron Rodgers, who was once Mr. Efficiency, now needs insane passing volume to produce stats. Nothing comes easy for this Green Bay offense as the absence of a deep threat has allowed secondaries to just smother all the underneath and even intermediate routes. Deep routes? What’s that? I can’t bet on Ty Montgomery ($15). I think he’s a sell and, on our podcast this week, Scott Pianowski agrees.
Chiefs at Colts (O/U: 50): I see Jamaal Charles ($17) having a Darren Sproles role in the K.C. offense when he’s capable. That’s his upside: 10-to-15 touches. Given the insane rushing volume, that leaves about 20-to-30 touches for Spencer Ware ($30), who again is averaging more yards per touch than Charles ever did.
The Colts get Donte Moncrief ($19) back but he needs a show-me week. I think tight end defensive splits are a joke and will play Jack Doyle ($16) with no worries. How many teams even feature the tight end like the Colts (25.4 percent market share)? The Chiefs shut down the Jets tight ends who never catch passes. Congrats. Dwayne Allen is out indefinitely, making Doyle top five at the position going forward. T.Y. Hilton ($34) is always a good play. I guess you have to play Jeremy Maclin ($19) if you still own him.
Raiders at Bucs (O/U: 49.5): Are the Raiders truly bettable? That Chiefs game at home was a nightmare. But this Tampa Bay defense is weak at 25th in points allowed per game and also in yards per pass play. Oakland is a total horror show at 30th or worse in seven key defensive categories, including last in yards allowed per play. So this over/under may be conservative.
Jameis Winston ($35) is the rare downfield thrower in today’s game (9.82 yards average pass length, second to Carson Palmer). Derek Carr ($34) is dink and dunk though at 26th in that stat, which really hurts a supreme downfield weapon like Amari Cooper ($32). This makes league-leading touchdown receiver Michael Crabtree ($30), who is playing much taller than 6-foot-1 and showing elite boundary skills, a good bet going forward. Crabtree has become a poor-man’s Cris Carter.
-Brock Osweiler ($29) is the rare QB so terrible that he is destroying the elite skill players around him in the Houston offense — Lamar Miller ($27) and DeAndre Hopkins ($29). Of course, they will have their moments. But you pay premiums for players for week-in-and-out consistency and that is not possible in this offense. Osweiler’s rating relative to the league average where 100 is average is indexed now at 76, according to Pro-Football-Reference. There have been eight QBs since 2000 who had ratings indexed between 75 and 80 while starting at least 14 games: Eli Manning (2013), Mark Sanchez (2012), Blaine Gabbert (2011), Mark Sanchez (2009), Joey Harrington (2003), David Carr (2002), Jake Plummer (2002) and Chris Weinke (2001).
Maurice Jones-Drew and Thomas Jones were the only players on these teams to crack double-digit TDs. Both are running backs so maybe Miller has a chance but Hopkins, if history is a guide, has no chance. Not a single receiver on any of these teams scored more than six touchdowns. So if you are still betting on Hopkins, you’re really betting on Osweiler.
-According to the always excellent Rotoviz, Drew Brees ($35) has scored more fantasy points at home vs. top 10 defenses than vs. all other opponents. Of course, this is a very tough defense, the best in football by far according to Massey-Peabody. I will not bench Brees though, given how Ryan chewed up Seattle’s secondary a couple weeks ago in Seattle.
-LeGarrette Blount ($22) is so old-school with his standard-scoring game of bell-cow, between-the-tackle yards and reliable goal-line plunges in an elite scoring offense. He’s zeroRB gold. Expect 80 rushing yards and 1-to-2 scores.
-Cam Newton ($33) may not run much for the rest of the season with the concussion history and with the Panthers basically out of contention. Without his running, Newton is just another quarterback. The lack of runs from scrimmage will also hurt the efficiency of the Panthers RBs, which is back to Jonathan Stewart ($18) for now.
-The Cardinals should really punish this pathetic Carolina pass defense but seem to be transforming into team built around defense and a running game. So rather than Arizona being an embarrassment of fantasy riches, only David Johnson ($42) owners eat.
-There is no one to play in the Philly offense.
-While Scott Pianowski says Dez Bryant ($20) needs a show-me week, I’m rolling the dice, sight unseen, if he’s active.
-Stefon Diggs ($23) and Jordan Howard ($24) have gone from fantasy heroes to zeros so quickly. Forget Howard in this spot. But Diggs is a play, especially with all the byes as he did get 61 snaps last week, according to Rotowire, and is a decent bet to return to his early-season form.