The NFL has treated us to a marquee matchup, in both real-life and fantasy, in its first Thursday game of 2010, as the Ravens travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. It's a great feeling to have a star playing on Thursday night, because you can jump out to an early lead and never relinquish it. If you have someone playing Thursday, odds are you'll get that early lead, as these are two of the most fantasy-rich teams in the NFL.
Michael Turner got off to a slow start this season, but lately he has looked like the top-five pick he was back in August. Turner has rushed for 413 yards and four touchdowns in his past four games, and that includes a 45-yard effort against the Eagles. Baltimore is a diluted brand on defense, even with Ed Reed back. Expect another big game from Turner
Ray Rice is another top-five preseason back who struggled to start the year but seems to be getting it going. The biggest problem for Rice in the early going wasn't the lack of touchdowns; that much was expected. It was the lack of receptions. That appears to be behind him, as he has racked up 15 receptions in two of his last three games, including a 7-catch, 97-yard performance against the Dolphins last week. Atlanta has one of the league's best run defenses, but Rice remains dangerous as a pass-catcher.
Roddy White is dealing with an ankle injury, but as long as he suits up he's an elite option. Reed is getting healthier, but this is a Baltimore defense that got torched by the Bills just three weeks ago. Steve Johnson had 158 yards and a touchdown, while Lee Evans piled up 105 yards and three scores. Look for another huge game out of White this week.
Anquan Boldin and Joe Flacco should be able to find plenty of holes against a Falcons defense that ranks as one of the worst units against the pass in the league, surrendering 7.9 YPA, 29th in the NFL. With Atlanta's run defense allowing just three touchdowns all season and fewer than 100 yards per game this year, the Ravens figure to rely on Flacco. He makes a great play this week.
Matt Ryan has been deceivingly mediocre the last three weeks. He has completed 64 percent of his passes for 784 yards and six touchdowns, but he's getting just 7.1 yards-per-attempt, and that's with one game of 9.1 YPA against Cincinnati. I think he's a good option against an overrated defense this week, but temper your expectations with an injured White.
With Jason Garrett taking over as the head coach in Dallas, changes are coming. Garrett is coaching for his job, and with Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden likely on Jerry Jones' short list, he's going to have to do one heckuva job to remain the head man in Dallas.
It's no secret that the former quarterback prefers a pass-first offense, especially with a pair of underwhelming running backs in Felix Jones and Marion Barber, and an awful offensive line. Bob Sturm over at the Dallas Morning News does a great job breaking down the Cowboys personnel packages every week in his blog, and looking at those can give us an idea of the direction Garrett will take the offense as head coach.
Last week against the Packers, the Cowboys picked up 188 of their 202 total yards out of a three-wide-receiver, shotgun formation. Of course, they trailed all game. But even in games that were close or where they had leads, like the Week 2 loss to the Bears or the Week 6 loss to the Giants, the Cowboys clearly favored the pass, starting 18 of their 24 drives in those two games with a pass play.
It's not the same with Jon Kitna under center in place of Tony Romo, and all bets are off if the Cowboys turn to Stephen McGee, but this is a team that is going to pass, whether they're winning or losing. With Garrett at the helm, I'd bump Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten up the rest-of-season cheat sheets.
Hopefully you haven't blown your FAAB budget, because with Sidney Rice's return on the horizon, you're going to want to go all-in to get him. Rice could be back from his hip injury this week against the Bears, and he figures to be back Week 11 at the latest. We all know how well he played with Brett Favre last year, and the Vikings are still looking for a true deep threat after the Randy Moss debacle. If Rice were available in any of my leagues, I'd spend the remainder of my FAAB budget.
This week, we call on our friend Nik Bonaddio from numberFire.com to help find the breakout player of the week. Peyton Hillis may not have been a lottery ticket from out of nowhere, but the fact that he appears to have staying power is a surprise. Here's Nik's analysis:
"Sometimes when you look at a rising star, you begin to wonder if it's not actually rising and if it was always there to begin with. Well, Peyton Hillis is one such case. Underrated due to the truly horrific play of Seneca Wallace and Jake Delhomme, Hillis has nonetheless performed demonstratively above league-average since his breakout early in the season. With the infinitely more versatile Colt McCoy now running the show, Eric Mangini has been slowly adding new wrinkles and formations to the offense, giving the Browns a credible and unpredictable passing threat -- can't remember the last time I typed that -- and as a result, more room for Hillis to pound the ball up the gut. The Browns face the Jets this week, who are a bit of an overrated defensive entity outside of Revis Island. If McCoy can attack the Jets' weak spots, particularly pass defense against WR2/WR3 (#24 and #29, respectively), he'll be able to keep the Jets' linebackers off-balace enough to give Hillis a good shot at finding holes and getting yards the tough way."
@end_oppression asks: Which receiver would you go with the rest of the season? J. Jones (HOU), D.Amendola, M.Thomas, M.Williams(SEA).
I like Mike Williams the best in that group. He's deadly in the red zone, and should have had a touchdown early in the blowout loss to the Giants. I wouldn't get too caught up in the no-show with Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback.
And to @MetsJetsFan81, I hope my advice to go with Kellen Winslow over Randy McMichael didn't undo my advice to start Matthew Stafford and Steve Smith (NYG) over Jay Cutler and Dwayne Bowe. If it did, I owe you a beer.
Quarterbacks1. Peyton Manning vs. Bengals2. Matt Schaub @ Jaguars3. Eli Manning vs. Cowboys4. Michael Vick @ Redskins5. Matt Ryan vs. Ravens6. Joe Flacco @ Falcons7. David Garrard vs. Texans8. Ben Roethlisberger vs. Patriots9. Josh Freeman vs. Panthers10. Kyle Orton vs. Chiefs11. Carson Palmer @ Colts12. Shaun Hill @ Bills13. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. Lions14. Jay Cutler vs. Vikings15. Chad Bradford @ 49ers
Running Backs1. Adrian Peterson @ Bears2. Chris Johnson @ Dolphins3. Michael Turner vs. Ravens4. Rashard Mendenhall vs. Patriots5. Arian Foster @ Jaguars6. Jamaal Charles @ Broncos7. Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Cowboys8. Frank Gore vs. Rams9. Cedric Benson @ Colts10. Ray Rice @ Falcons11. Steven Jackson @ 49ers12. Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Texans13. LeSean McCoy @ Redskins14. Peyton Hillis vs. Jets15. LeGarrette Blount vs. Panthers16. Jahvid Best @ Bills17. Beanie Wells vs. Seahawks18. Ronnie Brown vs. Titans19. Ryan Torain vs. Eagles20. LaDainian Tomlinson @ Browns21. Matt Forte vs. Vikings22. Thomas Jones @ Broncos23. Knowshon Moreno vs. Chiefs24. Fred Jackson vs. Lions25. Shonn Greene @ Browns26. Donald Brown vs. Bengals27. Joseph Addai vs. Bengals28. Javarris James vs. Bengals29. Marshawn Lynch @ Cardinals30. BenJarvus Green-Ellis @ Steelers
Wide Receivers1. Hakeem Nicks vs. Cowboys2. Andre Johnson @ Jaguars3. Roddy White vs. Ravens4. Reggie Wayne vs. Bengals5. Calvin Johnson @ Bills6. Terrell Owens @ Colts7. Brandon Marshall vs. Titans8. Randy Moss @ Dolphins9. Anquan Boldin @ Falcons10. Miles Austin @ Giants11. DeSean Jackson @ Redskins12. Steve Smith (NYG) vs. Cowboys13. Mike Wallace vs. Patriots14. Dwayne Bowe @ Broncos15. Brandon Lloyd vs. Chiefs16. Santonio Holmes @ Browns17. Hines Ward vs. Patriots18. Mike Thomas vs. Texans19. Mike Williams (TB) vs. Panthers20. Larry Fitzgerald vs. Seahawks21. Santana Moss vs. Eagles22. Steve Johnson vs. Lions23. Dez Bryant @ Giants24. Johnny Knox vs. Vikings25. Percy Harvin @ Bears26. Mike Sims-Walker vs. Texans27. Pierre Garcon vs. Bengals28. Braylon Edwards @ Browns29. Mike Williams (SEA) @ Cardinals30. Danny Amendola @ 49ers
Tight Ends1. Vernon Davis vs. Rams2. Jacob Tamme vs. Bengals3. Aaron Hernandez @ Steelers4. Tony Gonzalez vs. Ravens5. Dustin Keller @ Browns6. Kellen Winslow vs. Panthers7. Tony Moeaki @ Broncos8. Jason Witten @ Giants9. Marcedes Lewis vs. Texans10. Todd Heap @ Falcons11. Brandon Pettigrew @ Bills12. Ben Watson vs. Jets13. Visanthe Shiancoe @ Bears14. Greg Olsen vs. Vikings15. Jermaine Gresham @ Colts
It was another 2-for-3 week last week, and I wish I could have updated my article on Friday, because the spread on the New England-Cleveland game was moving against the money. I actually ended up picking Cleveland to win outright in my Pick'Em league. Anyway, there appear to be three near-locks this week.
1. Indianapolis Colts (vs. Bengals): Peyton Manning at home off a loss against a severely inferior opponent. This one gets out of hand early and stays out of hand, but allows Carson Palmer to once again show off why he's the league's best garbage time quarterback.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Panthers): Will all due respect to the Cowboys, the Panthers are the worst team in the league. More impressive than the Buccaneers staying in last week's game in Atlanta, and being in a position to win the game late? The fact that they went down by 14 early, and rallied back to being just a few yards away from victory against one of the NFC's best teams.
3. New York Giants (vs. Cowboys): Even though the Cowboys are in shambles, the above two feel safer to me. Eli Manning, Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith have been lights out, and this offense should have no problem ripping through a Dallas defense that has surrendered a shocking 8.0 YPA (30th in the NFL) and 4.4 YPC (24th). In their past five games, they've allowed 34, 24, 41, 35 and 45 points. The Giants should roll.