Welcome to another edition of KFFL's "Strong Plays, Weak Plays" feature. Here, we'll identify strong matchups of interest that you can exploit as well as determine a few weak matchups in which you might want to consider benching your normal starter in favor of a backup. Our intention is not to tell you the obvious, such as "Start LaDainian Tomlinson!" or "Start Peyton Manning!" Instead, it is to point out some matchups involving players who aren't considered fantasy stars. Of course, we'll sometimes highlight a top fantasy player's matchup if it is an especially noteworthy strong or weak play.
Important, Please Read! Remember, just because a player has a strong-play matchup does not mean that it is an automatic endorsement as a starter. It does provide you with some valuable information to make decisions, though. As an example, some players with the "Strong Play" tag may still be a No. 4 fantasy wideout and shouldn't be started ahead of your normal starters. He just may have greater potential than normal but not enough to warrant a definite benching of someone else for him. Conversely, if a player is on the "Weak Play" list, he may not be an automatic bench, either. A stud won't have an easy matchup every week. However, he's a stud because he can overcome the weak-play situation.
Quarterbacks - Strong Plays
Rivers (knee) heads into the matchup with the Lions after getting knocked from their game for a period of time last week, only to return and lead the team to an overtime victory. With all the questions that have surrounded him this season, two things stood out against the Titans; he is tough, and it doesn't look like he is listening to the criticism.
His status for this week's game remains uncertain, but if their last game was any indication, it would be surprising not to see him out on the field. More recent report suggest that he will indeed starter. The Lions defense has struggled against the pass and is currently in a multi-way tie for the fewest interceptions over the last four games. Rivers should be played as a low-tier No. 1 quarterback option.
Running Backs - Strong Plays
White (knee) carried the ball 30 times for 113 yards in their last game against the Chargers. It was the most carries and yards that he has accumulated since Week 9. Injuries have slowed him down over the last several weeks, but his performance is encouraging as he has scored touchdowns in back-to-back games.
The Chiefs defense has been horrible against the run of late, in both yardage and touchdowns against. If White can receive as many touches as he did last week, he has the opportunity to have a huge game. He should be played with confidence as a solid No. 2 running option.
Smith (knee) had been performing well in the absence of running backs Larry Johnson (ankle) and Priest Holmes (retired), rushing for 233 yards and two touchdowns in Weeks 12-13. Last week was a different story, totaling more carries than yards (13 carries for only 12 yards) and suffering a knee injury that forced him to miss a few plays.
He has a favorable matchup against a Titans team that is giving up the fourth-most rushing yards against and is tied for giving up the fourth-most rushing touchdowns against per game in their last four contests. Johnson isn't expected to play this week, which means the team could look to rely on Smith to carry the load. He is a solid option as a No. 2 fantasy running back.
Wide Receivers - Strong Plays
Now is the time to grab Williams if he is available on waivers. Despite what is a low reception total in his last four games, he has found the end zone in three of those games and is tied for the second-most utilizations on the team during that time.
The Steelers have been a favorite opponent for opposing receivers. They are allowing the seventh-most yards against per game and are in a multi-way tie for the eighth-most receptions given up to the position over the last four weeks. Williams has become a favorite target of quarterback David Garrard and should be played as a No. 1 receiving option.
Chambers has been hot and cold since coming over in a trade with the Miami Dolphins. He caught four passes last week for 90 yards after totaling seven receptions for 72 yards in the previous two games combined. He is a serviceable receiving option; made better only by his matchup this week.
The Lions pass defense is in the bottom third of the league while allowing a solid amount of touchdowns per game to the position over their last four games. This could be a week that Chambers follows a solid performance with another. He should be played as a moderate No. 2 or solid No. 3 option at receiver.
Driver became the missing face in the Packers receiving corps after wide receivers Greg Jennings and James Jones stole the headlines earlier in the year. Over the last four games, Driver has been the most utilized receiver in the passing game averaging nine per game while leading the team in receptions during that time. The only down note is that he hasn't found the end zone since Week 3.
There are only three teams that are giving up more receiving yards than the Rams, while giving up the second-most receptions in the league to the position in the last four games. Driver should be considered a moderate No. 2 option or a high No. 3 receiver.
Tight End - Strong Play
If your fantasy team is in need at the tight end position, both Clark and Olsen could be options that could pick up a few points. Clark's numbers have taken a jump at the expense of Olsen, who had been turning into a dynamic threat in the receiving game. The team is set to start their third different quarterback of the year, turning to quarterback Kyle Orton to add a spark in the offense. The Bears will likely use a lot of short passes, which should involve both tight ends.
If there were a weakness in the play of the Vikings of late, it would have to be how their defense has played in the passing game. While they are one of the worst at covering receivers, they are equally as bad against the tight end position, currently in the bottom 10 of the league in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns against. Clark could be played as a No. 1 option, with Olsen being a bigger risk as a low-end No. 1.
Place Kicker - Strong Play
Dawson has been one of the most consistent kickers in the league over the last month, averaging 9.2 actual kicking points per game. Only four other place kickers have scored more points per contest than Dawson during that time.
The Buffalo defense hasn't been the most difficult to score on of late, currently behind just two teams for the most points allowed to the position in their last month. Dawson is a solid option and should be played with confidence in all fantasy lineups.
Team Defense - Strong Play
Fantasy owners shouldn't look deeply into the Dolphins defense being a strong play. They face a Ravens team that looked lethargic and ready to pack it in for the season last Sunday night. Although they are allowing a decent amount of points, their defense has had some success creating turnovers and generating sacks in their last four games.
The Ravens looked like they didn't want to be on the field against the Colts last week after coming off a disheartening loss to the New England Patriots. The offensive line has struggled to protect the quarterback while the offense is averaging more than three turnovers per game since Week 11. The Dolphins defense could fill in if fantasy owners need a quick fix at the position. Play them as a solid No. 1 option.
Quarterbacks - Weak Plays
The only hand Kitna has been touched by is that of inconsistency, and he has been the quintessential fantasy matchup play this year. Last week he picked apart a weak Dallas Cowboys secondary but couldn't reach the end zone.
The Chargers' aggressive secondary could mean trouble for Kitna as the unit has had more interceptions than touchdowns allowed. After an outburst against a normally stout Dallas run defense last week, running back Kevin Jones could enter the picture more frequently, meaning Kitna could see more conservative play calls. He should still complete his share of mid-range passes, but the Lions may not try many daring plays. Kitna should be left on your bench.
Running Backs - Weak Plays
Portis had a sub-par week on the ground with 36 yards in Week 14, but he had six receptions for 86 yards. He also watched from the sidelines as backup running back Ladell Betts scored twice. Portis' rushing touchdown in Week 13 was his only end zone appearance in his last five games.
Against the Giants in Week 3, though, Portis had 97 total yards with a touchdown. The Giants have not given up huge numbers to the position over the last month, and with Betts proving himself last week Portis might not see enough carries to carry your team. He's still a decent choice as a No. 2 back.
The other Peterson fizzled last week with only 44 total yards after cranking out 149 the previous week. He was a waiver wire nugget when he first ascended to replace injured running back Cedric Benson (knee) but has lost some luster when he's actually received the opportunity.
This week doesn't line up as a chance for him to shine. The Vikings run defense has plagued opposing running backs all season and has given up only 57 rushing yards per game to the position over the last month. Peterson's saving grace rests in his pass-catching ability, and the Vikings have been giving up some receptions to the position. Peterson has had 78 utilizations over the last month, so his opportunities still make him worthy as a No. 2 or No. 3 running back.
Wide Receivers - Weak Plays
In an inconsistent offensive year for the Ravens, Mason has been a rock. He set the single-season franchise record last week as he reached 88 receptions and is on his way to a 1,000-yard season. Mason has been a seemingly unexpected source of value as a No. 2 receiver, especially in point-per-reception formats.
The Dolphins have allowed single-digit receptions to opposing wide receiver corps over the last month. Although he's the No. 1 target in the passing game, Mason should not be expected to carry your wideouts. However, you could still play him as a No. 2 wideout.
In what was supposed to be a joyous occasion for his fantasy owners, Holmes (ankle) returned to the lineup against the Patriots last Sunday and was subsequently held to one 13-yard reception. Holmes combined for 238 receiving yards in the three games before he was derailed in Week 11.
Holmes still might not be at full speed yet and could face some of the problems Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress (ankle) faced before he broke out last week. He can't be counted on for a big day until he regains the explosiveness that made him a top receiver earlier in the season. The Jaguars don't pose much of an opportunity for him to break out as they have held receivers to 10.75 total receptions per game over the last four weeks. Holmes should still see some looks in the red zone, so he could have some value as a No. 3 wideout.
Fantasy owners would figure the stocks of both Johnson and McDonald would soar in the absence of wide receiver Roy Williams (knee). Their last month hasn't argued much against that point; McDonald has been racking up numbers in point-per-reception leagues, and Johnson has had two touchdowns in the last four weeks.
However, their problems lay with those that could bother Kitna. Going hand-in-hand with their numbers against quarterbacks, the Chargers have allowed opposing wideouts an average of just 7.50 receptions per game and one total touchdown over the last four weeks. Both still make for reliable No. 3 wideouts, but with Kitna's recent erratic play they shouldn't be counted on.
Tight End - Weak Play
This has not been the fairy-tale season many expected from Davis as he has been effectively blocked from production by waffling quarterback play. Even with his average of seven targets per outing in the last month, Davis doesn't have much going for him right now. The Niners' matchup with the Cincinnati defense would normally be construed as a great matchup, but the Bengals resurgent pass defense is just another reason to count him out this week.
The Niners are set to start No. 3 quarterback Shaun Hill this week with Alex D. Smith (shoulder) out for the season and Trent Dilfer (concussion) still feeling the lingering effects of a concussion. The first instinct here would be that Hill would rely on Davis more as a security blanket in a check-down offense. However, he might not be trusted to throw much, and the Niners could rely on running back Frank Gore to carry much of the offensive load. The Bengals have snuffed out opposing tight ends as of late, and their pass defense has been one of their strong points in the last few weeks. Davis is a borderline No. 1 tight end for Week 15.
Place Kicker - Weak Play
Janikowski's statistics justify his place in a fantasy lineup as he has averaged 8.8 actual kicking points and 2.75 field goal attempts per game over the last four weeks. The Raiders offense also normally comes up short of the red zone, so he's normally expected to get many longer attempts as well.
His opportunities might be limited this week with the quarterback position expected to be split between quarterbacks Josh McCown (finger) and JaMarcus Russell. This might sound like a great opportunity because the Raiders might settle for field goals, but they have to have a consistent means of getting the ball downfield first. With running back Justin Fargas (ribs) a bit banged up as well, the Raiders might struggle to give Janikowski many field goal chances. That being said, his leg strength rates him as a marginal No. 1 place kicker.
Team Defenses - Weak Play
That hangover could carry through this week against a scorching Jaguars offense. Garrard has been effective in limiting turnovers (he has thrown just one interception this season), and the Jaguars will likely look to pound the ball with their running back tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Their ground game also has an open window this week as well with defensive end Aaron Smith (biceps) recently ruled out for the season. Bite the bullet and bench the Steelers this week.
About Richard Garcia
Garcia served as a managing editor for KFFL. Prior to his time with KFFL, Richard worked in managerial roles with both Frito-Lay Inc. and UPS. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in public relations from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona and fulfilled his internship requirements with the Los Angeles Kings Hockey organization in 2001.
Don't miss these great reports....
Recent KFFL releases
Fantasy Football Rankings: Standard Scoring
Fantasy Football Rankings: PPR Scoring
Fantasy Baseball Closer Depth Charts: White Sox chaos coming?
Fantasy Football Rankings: Scoring only