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Brown, Bowe lead WR charge
If you missed the Thursday night affair between the Buccaneers and Vikings, the first look at the final score probably sent grand visions dancing through your head. After all, the Vikings possessed a stout run defense that clearly led Josh Freeman to dominate through the air. He did, only Vincent Jackson owners didn’t get to join the celebration. Mike Williams proved to be a strong WR3, producing six receptions for 68 yards with a touchdown, but the day was owned by Doug Martin.
Sunday’s slate offers a number of tasty matchups for wide receivers, punctuated by the evening game between the Saints and Broncos. I’ll start my “Lineup Calls” piece in Denver, where they’ve already experienced some snowfall in the mountains.
Break out the knit caps.
Eric Decker vs. NO
I have Demaryius Thomas rated as my No. 1 wide receiver this week in shootout. Decker enters the fray as a back-end WR1. He’s scored in three consecutive games and has amassed 34 receptions to date for 441 yards. The Saints have allowed the second-most fantasy points to wide receivers.
Antonio Brown vs. WAS
Brown ended last week’s game with 57 targets through six games, producing 36 receptions for 442 yards. He’s finished three of his past four games with at least seven receptions and 86 receiving yards. As a result, Brown is a high-end WR2 this week against the sieve-like Washington pass defense.
The Redskins have allowed 1,663 receiving yards on 110 receptions (174 targets) to wide receivers this season. That’s a 63.2% completion rate. Look for Ben Roethlisberger to post a huge game against the Redskins and for Brown to approach a double-digit reception count.
Dwayne Bowe vs. OAK
Fantasy owners are hoping to see Bowe traded before the deadline. In the interim, they’ll watch him compete against AFC West rival Oakland. Bowe’s caught three or more passes in every game this season, producing two 100-yard games and three touchdowns.
It’s obviously hard to trust Brady Quinn, but I’ll look to the high weekly target level to override my skepticism. Bowe averaged 11 targets per game through the Chiefs’ first six contests, producing 34 receptions for 25 yards. I know that he registered only 25 receiving yards against the Buccaneers. Shake it off and slot him as a WR2.
Miles Austin vs. NYG
The Giants are starting to get healthy, so the year-to-date stats are somewhat skewed. However, we know that Tony Romo is going to air it out frequently, particularly given the state of the Dallas offensive line and DeMarco Murray’s absence. Romo has averaged 36.8 passing attempts through six games.
Austin hasn’t posted one of those head-scratching, highlight-laden performances yet, but he’s quietly amassed 428 receiving yards and four touchdowns through six games. The growth of Dez Bryant (also a WR2) as a high-target complement and the attention afforded Jason Witten allows Austin to work in man-coverage. He’ll log his fifth touchdown in a high-scoring affair.
Randall Cobb vs. JAC
Cobb bounces up even higher in this week’s rankings because of the concern about Jordy Nelson’s hamstring injury (a game-time decision). He’s been a dominant performer between the 20s, though James Jones (also a WR2) has garnered the most red zone attention.
The Jaguars have allowed the 13th-most fantasy points to wide receivers to date. With the running game sputtering, look for Rodgers to air it out and try to find some room for Alex Green and James Starks.
Steve Smith at CHI
Smith has owned the Bears. That’s why he appears in this slot. It’s possible that Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings can contain him, but Smith has historically tormented the Chicago secondary. Granted, the Chicago pass rush has not been as persistent in those contests as Cam Newton expects to face in this contest.
However, if this game plays out as expected, Newton will be playing from behind and throwing a ton. Will they ever run the ball consistently anyway? Smith has been targeted nearly eight times per game and, while the efficiency isn’t there, he still has the wheels to take a short pass the distance.
Kenny Britt vs. IND
Throw it up and let him make plays. I know that he’s been frustrating through seven weeks. Britt’s production has been beset by dropped balls and injuries. The rise of Chris Johnson and the Tennessee run game affords Matt Hasselbeck ample opportunities downfield. The Colts have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points to wide receivers.
Brandon Gibson vs. NE
Can I simply say that I expect the Rams to being playing catch-up and throwing deep against the Patriots? Danny Amendola is getting closer to returning to the field, but Gibson is the No. 1 target in his absence. He’s caught 25-of-39 targets this season.
New England has allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to wide receivers, including 11 touchdowns. The Patriots started the season well, but have looked average at best in recent weeks. If the Jackson-Richardson find any success on the ground, Gibson can make plays in man-coverage downfield.
Jeremy Kerley vs. MIA
Kerley has emerged as a strong downfield target for Mark Sanchez in the past several weeks. His opportunities on the edge are obviously aided by the healthy returns of Dustin Keller and Stephen Hill. Kerley’s caught 15 passes in the past three weeks, and he did score in Week 3 against these Dolphins.
Miami has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to wide receivers this season.
Calvin Johnson vs. SEA
Johnson dropped a deep ball early in Monday’s loss against the Bears. Alas, he was unable to surmount his normal stat-padding in the fourth quarter. Johnson finished the game with three receptions for 34 yards against NFC Defensive Player of the Week Charles Tillman.
Johnson faces a difficult matchup this week against the physical Seattle cornerbacks. The Seahawks have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers this season (four touchdowns). Johnson has yet to connect with Matthew Stafford for a touchdown completion in 2012. You can’t bench him, but he’s all the way down at No. 10 on my WR rankings this week.
Larry Fitzgerald vs. SF
Likewise, Fitzgerald rates as a WR2 option for fantasy owners, but he’s hardly been dominant through seven games. The 49ers figure to make life miserable for John Skelton, just as the Vikings did to the Arizona quarterback last week when Fitzgerald was limited to 29 yards on four receptions. He’s posted three strong games this season. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald’s also finished four games with 64 receiving yards or fewer.
The 49ers have allowed the second-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers.
Hakeem Nicks at DAL
Nicks faces a physical challenge in Week 8 against the Dallas cornerbacks. He hasn’t been his normally dominant self in his past two weeks against San Francisco and Washington. Nicks was limited to eight receptions and 97 yards total in those games.
Dallas has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers (four touchdowns). Nicks has caught a single touchdown pass this season, part of his 199-yard explosion against the Buccaneers. He stands as a WR2 this week.
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