Fantasy Football

Ponder, Rudolph must-starts in Week 5

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John Halpin

John Halpin has been a fantasy contributor for FOXSports.com since 2007. He has written and co-hosted webcasts about fantasy football for FOXNews.com, and managed websites for the NHL, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Network. Listen to his "Fantasy 15 Podcast" on FOXSportsRadio.com and follow him on Twitter.

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Through four weeks, our Position vs. Fantasy Defensive Points Allowed tool is solidifying as a tool to help you find good matchups. It’ll get stronger as the season progresses, as we’ll have less reason to say things like, “But they’ve played against four terrible quarterbacks – of course their numbers are good!”

As always, please remember that the players listed are mostly meant to be borderline guys, who need reasons for you to play or bench them. You won’t see recommendations to start A.J. Green and Arian Foster, because you should always start A.J. Green and Arian Foster. Make sense? Good.

Note: The fantasy points per game (FPPG) referenced below are from FOXSports.com standard leagues.

Week 5 Byes: Cowboys, Bucs, Raiders, Lions
Thursday game: Cardinals at Rams

Quarterbacks

Stay away: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers (vs. Eagles)
The Eagles are seventh in the league in pass defense, and rank fifth with 13.8 FPPG allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Roethlisberger has had a strong season so far, but you have to think his number passing attempts will decline a bit with Rashard Mendenhall back. Try to sit Big Ben this week.

Also:

- The Jets are a desperate team, but even without Darrelle Revis, their pass defense should be decent, and they currently rank 10th with 16.9 FPPG allowed to opposing QBs. Also, because the Texans run the ball so well, Matt Schaub is in the lower third of the league with just 31 pass attempts per game. Stay away from Schaub in this week’s Monday nighter, and just enjoy the “WE WANT TEBOW!” chants from the Jets’ faithful.

Play, play, play: Christian Ponder, Vikings (vs. Titans)
Congratulations to the Tennessee Titans for allowing a league-worst 27.2 FPPG to opposing quarterbacks through the first quarter of the season! This week, the Titans visit the Vikings and surprisingly effective second-year signal caller Christian Ponder, who hasn’t lit the world on fire, but has dinked and dunked his way to 824 yards and four TDs. Look for Ponder to step up his game against the Titans, and be a worthy fantasy start if your other QB has a bye week or a tough matchup.

Also:

- Alex Smith is pretty good. The Bills’ pass defense (24.9 FPPG to opposing QBs) isn’t. Your big worry about Smith this week is that the 49ers will be ahead by so much that he’ll stop throwing.

- Joe Flacco was drafted as a borderline QB1, but has settled firmly into that category after throwing for 1,269 yards and seven touchdowns in his first four games. He should have a big day against the Chiefs, who have given up 10 touchdown passes and 26.2 FPPG to opposing QBs.

Running Backs

Stay away: All Panthers (vs. Seahawks)
For the two games in which Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams have both been active, Williams has averaged 12.5 carries, and Stewart has averaged 10.5. You want to start these guys against the tough Seahawks, who rank third against opposing backs with 10.8 FPPG allowed? Are you crazy?

Also:

- Jets RB Shonn Greene has been close to useless for fantasy owners, with 191 yards and a touchdown, and 2.8 yards per carry. “But he gets a lot of carries,” you say. “That means something.” Not against the Texans, who have given up just 14 FPPG to opposing backs, and haven’t allowed any rushing touchdowns. As tempting as it may sound to give Greene another start before he inevitably loses his job to backup Bilal Powell, you should give him the week off.

- Steven Jackson is expected to play despite a nagging groin injury that has limited his effectiveness over the past couple of weeks. Of course, it’s possible that Jackson just isn’t that good any more, or the Rams’ O-line is to blame, as he hasn’t yet run for more than 58 yards in 2012. The solid Cardinals’ D ranks ninth with 13.1 FPPG allowed to opposing backs, and SJ39 is unlikely to be a helpful fantasy option against them.

Play, play, play: Cedric Benson, Packers (at Colts)
Who says the Packers are pass-happy? Oh, that’s right – everybody. Even so, Benson has averaged 18 carries and 70 yards versus the Pack’s non-49ers opponents, and this week he gets to run against a Colts’ defense that has given up 24 FPPG to opposing backs. Benson should be both busy and productive.

Also:

- Ahmad Bradshaw’s owners have probably calmed down a bit after Andre Brown’s dominating Week 3 performance scared the bejeezus out of them. Bradshaw wasn’t great against the Eagles, but he carried 13 times and caught three balls, and seems to be the Giants’ primary ballcarrier, with Brown as more of a sidekick than a partner. The Browns have given up a mediocre 15.9 FPPG to opposing backs, but with the possibility of a blowout looming at the Meadowlands, Bradshaw and the Giants seem likely to run some clock in the second half. Start Bradshaw with more confidence than you did last week.

- The Saints are horrendous, allowing 28.3 FPPG to opposing running backs. If you want to start Jackie Battle against them, I will support your decision. If you’re getting scared of Ryan Mathews’ playing-time issues, I’ll have to draw the line. He’s going to have a nice game on Monday night.

Wide Receivers

Stay away: Stevie Johnson, Bills (at 49ers)
Johnson and the Bills face a nasty 49ers’ defense that ranks fifth with only 16.3 FPPG allowed to opposing wideouts. Johnson gets plenty of targets from Ryan Fitzpatrick, but his catch numbers have been inconsistent – 4-2-7-2 over the first four games – and his high is 61 yards receiving. Johnson should start in most weeks, but not this one.

Also:

- After catching six passes for 118 yards and two scores against the Dolphins, Cardinals WR Andre Roberts has been a hot free-agent pickup this week. However, the Rams’ defense has been very good against opposing wide receivers, ranking fourth with 16.2 FPPG allowed. As good as Roberts has been, being the second target for Kevin Kolb isn’t the same as being the second target for Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. Also, rookie Michael Floyd started to emerge in Week 3 (four receptions, 35 yards, eight targets), and looms as a threat. Keep Roberts on your bench tonight if you can.

- Pierre Garcon appears to be over his foot injury, and his owners are undoubtedly hoping for a repeat of his Week 1 fantasy heroics. Unfortunately, he’s about to face a Falcons’ defense that is allowing a league-low 14.6 FPPG to opposing wide receivers, and has held Dwayne Bowe and Steve Smith to bad fantasy weeks. Don’t rush Garcon back into your lineup for this game.

Play, play, play: Domenik Hixon, Giants (vs. Browns)
Hakeem Nicks’ knee issues make him very iffy for Sunday’s game against the Browns. Nicks was also out last week, and while watching the game against the Eagles, I kept saying to myself, “Is Eli throwing to Hixon on every play?” It only seemed that way, but Hixon was targeted 11 times, catching six passes for 114 yards. Against the Browns’ Joe Haden-less pass defense (32.6 FPPG allowed to opposing WRs), Hixon is a top-20 fantasy WR option.

Also:

- The only nice thing you can say about the Saints’ defense is that they’re not quite as bad against the run as they are against the pass. They’re still a pretty bad pass-defending team, allowing 29.1 FPPG to opposing wide receivers. As the Chargers’ top wideout – even if he didn’t show it in Week 4 – Malcom Floyd figures to have a big game.

- As my colleague Joel Beall pointed out earlier this week, nobody has been able to clearly surpass Andrew Hawkins as the Bengals’ second receiving option after the beastly A.J. Green. Baby Hawk’s targets and catches have been down since his breakout Week 1 performance, but against a leaky Dolphins’ pass defense that ranks 25th against opposing wide receiviers (26.6 FPPG), he can sneak into your lineup as a bye-week replacement.

Tight Ends

Stay away: Heath Miller, Steelers (vs. Eagles)
Ben Roethlisberger is in the “stay away” category this week, and Miller should take a seat next to him on fantasy benches, as the Eagles have allowed a miniscule 4.9 FPPG to opposing tight ends. It’s tough to bench a tight end with 15 catches and four touchdowns in his first three games, but you can find better options than Miller.

The Seahawks come to Charlotte having allowed just 5.2 FPPG to opposing tight ends. Greg Olsen (20 receptions, 256 yards, TD) could have a tougher time than usual getting open on Sunday.

Play, play, play: Kyle Rudolph, Vikings (vs. Titans)
Here’s another opportunity to pick on the Titans, who rank last in the league with 17.6 FPPG allowed to opposing tight ends. They’ve faced mostly a Murderer’s Row at the position – Gronkowski/Hernandez, Brandon Pettigrew, Owen Daniels – but nobody told them they had to give up three TD receptions to DANTE FREAKING ROSARIO in Week 2. Rudolph (15 receptions, 146 yards, 3 TD) has been a pretty steady option for the Vikings, and could be in line for a big game. He’s a top-10 tight end this week, without question.

Also:

- This one is lukewarm, but with the Bears ranking 25th against opposing fantasy tight ends (9.8 FPPG), Jacksonville’s Marcedes Lewis is an interesting plug-and-play option if you’ve got Brandon Pettigrew or Jason Witten on a bye. Lewis has two touchdowns this season, as QB Blaine Gabbert likes to look for him in the red zone.

- Our final recommendation goes against the FPPG numbers, as the Texans are pretty good against opposing tight ends. However, if we’re sure by lineup time that Jets TE Dustin Keller will return from his hamstring injury, he’ll fall into the “Who the heck else is Mark Sanchez going to throw to?” category.

Tagged: Bills, Bengals, Browns, Lions, Packers, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Rams, Vikings, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Panthers, Jaguars, Ravens, Cardinals, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Drew Brees, Steve Smith Sr., Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger, Steven Jackson, Heath Miller, Alex Smith, Cedric Benson, Domenik Hixon, Ahmad Bradshaw, Joe Flacco, Stevie Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Arian Foster, Andre Brown, Joe Haden, Andre Roberts, A.J. Green, Christian Ponder

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