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Exploiting the Matchups: Fly Eagles, Fly

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover has covered fantasy football for since 2011 and is most proud of recommending Victor Cruz as a starter in his breakout game against the Eagles. He's a lifelong fan of Notre Dame, the Packers and, unfortunately, the Knicks.

In the spirit of giving thanks and on the eve of a holiday that celebrates the wonders of family, food and football, I'm going to keep things short and sweet. You can give thanks for a reprieve from my usual rambling intros.

I wrote those exact words last year.

So my only advice this week is to go back to the well. Re-use. If it worked before, stick with it. Be thankful for your best players and play them. Words, fantasy stars, beers. All these wonderful things can be repeated. And I can't think of a better weekend for them to be. Set those lineups, enjoy some food, and be thankful for the glorious gift of football. Since I can't be thankful for my Packers as a whole, I'll be grateful that Aaron Rodgers is saving my fantasy season in my favorite league, and hopefully (spoiler alert!) going to continue racking up numbers this week despite a tough road test.

As always, this is not intended as a traditional start/sit piece. Upgrades are guys you wouldn't roll out every week while downgrades are generally lineup mainstays but for whom you may want to consider an alternative based on elements of their opponent/situation. With that out of the way, let's get to it.



Carson Wentz, PHI vs. GB

There is simply no worse secondary in football right now. The Cheeseheads are definitely Swiss this year. The Packers have allowed Marcus Mariota and Kirk Cousins to throw for a combined 670 yards and seven touchdowns the last two weeks on only 56 pass attempts. Heck, they even let DeMarco Murray toss a score for good measure. Wentz may lead a run-first offense that features several receivers with alligator arms, but it doesn't matter this week. Green Bay's coverage is almost as good as what you see in the Pro Bowl every year, and they're about to make Wentz look like he's in Honolulu.

Carson Palmer, AZ at ATL

In his last seven games, Palmer has produced merely eight touchdowns. Six of those have been in his last three contests, however, and he's topped 342 yards through the air in three of the last four. While he's improving, it's still ugly -- two picks in two straight -- so it's difficult to trust Palmer. It shouldn't be this week though with a visit to Atlanta on tap. The Falcons are getting Tevin Coleman back and have more than enough offensive firepower to force Arizona into a good amount of throwing. Versus a defense that's allowed the second-most passing touchdowns and yards, Palmer should cash in with a big day.

Sam Bradford, MIN at DET

The word you're looking for here is “safe.” For a two-QB league, Bradford is a super-safe second option. He's thrown a touchdown in every game, doesn't throw interceptions (two all year), and his 69.8% completion rate is third-best in the league behind only Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Bradford's consistently-efficient play is a match made in fantasy heaven versus a Lions defense that allows the highest completion percentage to opposing QBs (73.0%).

Running Back

Rashad Jennings, NYG at CLE

Just as he did last year when Jennings rumbled for 432 yards over the season's final four games, he's hitting his stride late in the year. This time to better serve fantasy owners, he's decided to start a month early. Fresh off consecutive games with over 100 yards from scrimmage, Jennings will feast on a Browns defense that has allowed at least 150 scrimmage yards to an opposing backfield in five straight.

Wendell Smallwood, PHI vs. GB

Smallwood led the way versus Seattle when both Ryan Mathews (knee) and Darren Sproles (ribs) left due to injury. After the way Philly pummeled Atlanta on the ground the week prior, it marked the second consecutive week Smallwood received 13 carries and tallied at least 70 scrimmage yards. Both Mathews and Sproles are considered day-to-day with injuries, but the trio of tailbacks could be useful this week, but especially Smallwood given his status as the most healthy. In each of their four straight losses, the disastrous Packers defense has allowed multiple touchdowns to one running back, with two straight tailbacks gashing them for over 120 yards on the ground as well. To make matters worse for the Pack, their two starting inside linebackers have both recently hit the training table.

Terrance West & Kenneth Dixon, BAL vs. CIN

Timeshare? Yes. Flex worthy? You betcha. Although Dixon is now stealing from West, both are viable for your starting lineup this week. West and Dixon each ran well against Dallas with the former scoring and the latter averaging nearly 7.0 YPC. When Baltimore is conserving a second-half lead versus a Bengals team missing offensive weapons, look for both backs to get heavy usage against a soft Cinci defense that's allowed over 100 scrimmage yards to opposing backfields in six straight games, including eight scores during that span.

Bilal Powell, NYJ vs. NE

Despite having only five games with at least 10 touches and never more than 11, Powell has four games this year with at least 70 scrimmage yards. In Gang Green's last three outings he's rushed 16 times for 135 yards (8.4 YPC) and scored once each on the ground and through the air. As the preferred option in passing situations to 30-year-old Matt Forte, the dynamic Powell is going to be on the field plenty versus a Patriots team that will be playing most of Sunday's game with a lead. Translation: the best is yet to come for this explosive Jet.

Wide Receiver

DeVante Parker, MIA vs. SF

No defense has allowed more touchdowns to wide receivers than the 18 that the 49ers have given up during their nine-game losing skid. The list of wideouts to score versus San Fran had already included the likes of Devin Funchess, Brice Butler, Justin Hunter and Russell Shepard prior to last week. Now rookie Malcolm Mitchell's name is on the growing list. Mitchell added 98 yards in the contest, and did so one week after the 49ers let a highly-struggling Michael Floyd reach the century mark in yardage for the first time all year. What does this all add up to you say? It adds up to Parker staying hot after following up his second 100-yard outing of the season with 79 and a score last week.

Emmanuel Sanders, DEN vs. KC

Only the Titans have allowed more yards to wide receivers than Kansas City. Only 10 wideouts have seen more targets this year than Sanders' 95. While Trevor Siemian has been able to connect with him on just 54 of those, they're success rate could go up this week, particularly if Marcus Peters is active and lining up opposite Demaryius Thomas.

Tyler Boyd & Brandon LaFell, CIN at BAL

The Bengals have to try to move the ball somehow without A.J. Green (hamstring) and Giovani Bernard (knee) in the lineup. Since Baltimore sports the best run defense (sorry, Jeremy Hill) and a back seven that has limited tight ends to the second-fewest fantasy points (tough luck, Tyler Eifert), expect Andy Dalton to be looking early and often to his remaining wideouts. That should equal huge target shares for Boyd and LaFell against a secondary that has allowed the second-most touchdowns all season to wide receivers (17).

Cecil Shorts, TB vs. SEA

The Seahawks figure to have two bodies shadowing Mike Evans at all times, one of which will likely be Richard Sherman, at least some of the time. Shorts is by far the most experienced receiver left on the Tampa roster and the most talented as well. He's been in and out of the lineup this year with injuries (the story of his career since coming just shy of 1,000 yards in 2012), but after catching five of seven targets for 62 yards last week he finally looks ready to emerge as Jameis Winston's No. 2 receiver.

Dorial Green-Beckham, PHI vs. GB

Yes, that's how bad the Packers offense has become. For leagues of 12 teams or larger looking for that last flex play, Green-Beckham is a name to strongly consider. Sure, he doesn't have a catch in two of his last five games, but in the other three he turned in at least 55 yards or a score. With a Packers secondary that can't cover anyone, don't be surprised when Green-Beckham is given multiple chances in the red zone and running free over the middle while Green Bay is more concerned with Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz, each of whom you're already starting.

Tight End

Zach Ertz, PHI vs. GB

Ertz is a matchup problem, plain and simple. He's 6-5, 250 and can run (see the 57-yard touchdown he had called back versus Seattle). In the past three games Ertz has converted 26 targets into 20 catches, 187 yards and a touchdown. In the past two, the Packers have allowed 212 combined yards and two scores to tight ends.

Eric Ebron, DET vs. MIN

For as stingy as Minnesota has been to wide receivers this year, they've stunk it up an awful lot lately defending tight ends. While they've shut down options outside the hashes, they've been burned in the middle of the field, having allowed 353 yards and two touchdowns to tight ends in their last four games, including the 92 yards Ebron hit them with in Week 9. So in case you didn't know already, Ebron is a top-five option this week.



Aaron Rodgers, GB at PHI

Yes, Rodgers has produced 16 touchdowns and topped 300 yards three times over the Pack's last five games. Very little has come easy for this Green Bay offense, however, and in that time span they didn't face a defense that can hold a candle to Philadelphia's. In their last three home games -- all wins -- the Eagles have limited Ben Roethlisberger, Bradford and Matt Ryan to a combined 748 yards and two touchdowns, while forcing six turnovers. So to sum up, this will be Rodgers' ugliest showing since the Vikings held him to 213 yards in Week 2.

Jameis Winston, TB vs. SEA

Winston has pitched it for over 300 yards or multiple touchdowns in five straight games, with 11 scores over that stretch. He's settled in nicely and has found ways to move the ball despite a thin receiving corps beyond Evans. But in the two previous instances in which he faced a pass defense on par with Seattle's -- versus Arizona and Denver -- Winston managed a meager 422 yards and one score combined, while throwing six interceptions.

Matthew Stafford, DET vs. MIN

A month ago, Stafford was flirting with MVP conversation. Sans Megatron he had 14 touchdown passes in six games and had led three game-winning drives. Recently, however, Stafford has thrown just four TDs in four outings and hasn't seen a 300-yard day since September. The Vikings did allow him to toss two scores less than three weeks ago (including the game-winner in OT), but they remain one of the stingiest pass defenses, and on a short week, with his top wide receivers slumping and no threat of a ground game, there are simply much better plays than Stafford.

Running back

Jeremy Hill, CIN at BAL

Hill has at least 63 yards or a touchdown in four straight games. He's carried it at least 15 times in three straight and his workload is only going to go up now that Bernard is on IR. Unfortunately, this is not the week that his volume will translate to fantasy production. The Ravens, who boast the top-ranked run defense (just 76.0 rushing yards per game), proved themselves by holding rookie dynamo Ezekiel Elliott to 97 yards on a hefty 25-carry workload.

Latavius Murray, OAK vs. CAR

Since the Panthers let C.J. Anderson and an anonymous Broncos fullback find paydirt a combined three times in Week 1, they've given up just one touchdown to a runner while also allowing only one 100-yard rushing effort. That means Murray, who's largely been touchdown-dependent for fantasy production, could be in for a long day. Of course, if Luke Kuechly (head) is out this week, all bets are off.

Jordan Howard, CHI vs. TEN

Jay Cutler (shoulder) is out and Matt Barkley is in. In limited relief duty so far this season, Barkley is 6-of-15 for 81 yards and two interceptions. And that was against a dreadful Green Bay defense in the spiraling team's last win. Barkley had Alshon Jeffery (suspension) and Zach Miller (foot) in that game, too. Without them this offense -- led by Barkley -- will be a dumpster fire, and sadly, the recently-hot Howard will be going up in smoke with them.

Wide Receiver

T.Y. Hilton & Donte Moncrief, IND vs. PIT

Hilton is sixth in the league in receiving yards and Moncrief has found the end zone in all four of his full games this year. But fantasy owners will not be giving thanks for their play on Thursday with Andrew Luck (head) sidelined. The Steelers' pass rush has turned it up in recent weeks and with a win pivotal for their playoff hopes, Pittsburgh is going to create problems for career-backup Scott Tolzien behind an already shaky offensive line. With little time to get open and facing a Pittsburgh secondary that's allowed the fewest touchdowns to wide receivers (five/tied), Hilton and Moncrief are poised to disappoint.

Golden Tate, DET vs. MIN

Were it not for arguably the play of the year by Tate when he caught the game-winner in OT versus Minnesota less than three weeks ago, he would have finished that game with 51 yards. Of course, the playmaker with the flare for the spectacular came through and finished with 79 and a score. The two games sandwiching that fine performance, however, tallied 69 yards on 10 catches with a lost fumble. With Tate not getting opportunities downfield (7.0 yards per catch in his last three), betting on him besting a Vikings secondary that's held wide receivers to an average of 110.8 yards per game (second-fewest in the league) seems foolhardy.

Terrelle Pryor, CLE vs. NYG

Pryor has been a revelation in his first full season at wide receiver. Despite playing with a revolving door at quarterback, Pryor currently sits 15th in receiving yards and is well on his way to a 1,000-yard season. He's going to hit a detour this week, however. Janoris Jenkins has been as stingy as they come at corner this year and Pryor will be his next victim. During the Giants' five-game win streak, just two wideouts have found the end zone, and only the great A.J. Green (who was limited to 68 yards) did so against Jenkins.

Tight End

Tyler Eifert, CIN at BAL

The losses of Green and Bernard will actually not be Eifert's gain. Or, not this week at least. Buffalo set the standard for how to shut down the Bengals offense after Green went down: double Eifert and dare Cinci to beat them with their auxiliary weapons. Since Eifert is far and away the best remaining receiver in the Bengals' offense, expect Baltimore, which coincidentally has allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to tight ends, to follow the same model.

Jared Cook, GB at PHI

In his first game back since Week 3, Cook went off for 105 yards and a touchdown, proving to be the exact mismatch weapon the Packers signed him to be in the offseason. Moving all over the formation, Cook took advantage of a slow-footed group of Redskins linebackers and safeties. This week, unfortunately, he won't pose the same mismatch. The Eagles boast the athleticism in their back seven to stay stride-for-stride with the speedy Cook, just as they did versus Jimmy Graham last week aside from a broken play the All-Pro tight end turned into a long score (he had 11 yards otherwise).