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Exploiting the Matchups: A New Brett in Titletown

Luke Hoover

Luke Hoover has covered fantasy football for Rotowire.com 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.

Welcome to the miserable world of quarterback streaming, spoiled Aaron Rodgers owners. That constant source of top-notch points is the latest victim in a season where no elite talent seems safe.

With Rodgers shelved, the fantasy season will now continue without the services of a trio of players – Rodgers, David Johnson and Odell Beckham – who were arguably the top overall at their respective positions entering the year. Indeed, football can be incredibly unforgiving. And so it’s with great sadness as both a Rodgers owner and a lifelong Packers fan that I and many others must carry on, taking the same “next man up” mentality that Green Bay and all NFL franchises give credence to.

When doing that, it certainly doesn’t hurt to get creative or aggressive or some combination of both, just like the Arizona Cardinals did when deciding to not just kick, but also burn the tires on Adrian Peterson. Seeing how well that bold move started, even the Rodgers owners must take hope in knowing that there’s still plenty left to be seen in this football season. That’s why I, for one, am willing to roll the dice in the exact same way that the Packers are by betting on the very man Rodgers has helped groom for this moment.

Removing bias is not an easy thing to do, which is why I re-watched Brett Hundley highlights going back to his stellar UCLA days. I’ve concluded that his ability is 100% that of a legitimate and potentially very productive NFL starter. The grooming he’s received is of the highest caliber, and the surrounding skill talent can make him look better than he is early on in this replacement process. Ultimately, many Rodgers owners, myself included, probably have less than desirable alternatives. So why not go with the unrealized potential of a third-year pro with the pedigree of 75 touchdown passes and 30 rushing scores in three years of collegiate play? When you lose a perennial top performer at the highest-scoring position in fantasy, what else have you really got to lose? We’ve reached the point of the season where a four to five game run in either a positive or negative direction is likely deciding your fate. Why not make it interesting? At a minimum, swinging for the fences with an unknown quantity will make for must-see TV on Sundays.

Maybe it’s the bats coming alive for the Yankees in October baseball, or maybe it’s just the blind hope of a demoralized Cheesehead convincing himself that the magic Rodgers has generated in recent years with his string of Hail Marys and improbable runs has been contagious for anyone that’s spent time with him, but that’s where I’m at. That “anything can happen” spell that sports can cast in the most intoxicating, enchanting way has me dreaming big and going for it. The Cardinals embraced it. The Yanks are chasing it. Green Bay believes and so do I. You can make your own decisions, but there’s magic to be captured yet in this topsy-turvy fantasy season.

Swing away.

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


UPGRADE


Quarterback

Brett Hundley, GB vs. NO


The Packers have four of their top six defensive backs injured right now, including three of their best corners. Moreover, their offensive line remains a mess. What do they have, you ask? They have a loaded group of capable pass catchers at receiver, tight end and running back. The Saints have played excellent football during their three-game win streak and against this MASH unit of a Packers team they will almost certainly have an early lead. Given his weapons and mobility, with a full week to take practice reps with the starters and have a game plan tailored for him, Hundley should put up some serious numbers in a likely comeback effort. Aaron Rodgers owners really don’t need to look far.

Tyrod Taylor, BUF vs. TB

Even with no one to throw to, Taylor can do damage against a Buccaneers defense that bleeds yards and points through the air. Only the Patriots have allowed more than the 301.6 passing yards per game Tampa Bay has given up, and just two teams have been more generous on a per attempt basis, as the Bucs are allowing a 70.9 percent completion rate and 8.2 YPA. All this, mind you, has come against pure pocket passers. Taylor will create an even bigger headache for a defense that struggles to rush the passer. His ability to create first downs with his legs, coupled with Tampa’s inability to defend in the back seven, gives Taylor an awfully high floor this week.

Jared Goff, LAR vs. AZ (in London)

Goff’s recent fantasy downturn should not be taken out of context. First, he struggled against a division rival that’s consistently produced one of the league’s best defenses for more than half a decade, and even then he tallied 288 yards. Then there was last week, when the Rams managed to win by double figures with Goff only attempting 21 passes – against the league’s No. 1 pass defense, at that. Only the Browns and Patriots have allowed more than the 13 passing scores the Cardinals have given up, and unlike Jacksonville, Arizona possesses the offensive firepower to keep this competitive. This will be a “get right” game for the Rams’ passing attack.

C.J. Beathard, SF vs. DAL

Making his first appearance of the regular season, Beathard showed promising poise in the pocket, the requisite toughness to play the position and enough zip and touch to generate first downs and points. If he can throw for 245 yards on a physical Redskins defense (albeit one depleted a bit in the secondary) in around 36 minutes of action, he should be able to at least match that production in a full 60 minutes against a much softer Dallas unit that sports a welcoming 11:2 TD:INT ratio through five games. Add in the fact that the 49ers, with a miserable pass defense of their own, could very well be playing catch up early and you have a nice recipe of favorable defense and volume working in Beathard’s favor.


Running Back

Orleans Darkwa, NYG vs. SEA


Have no fear, Darkwa is here! The Giants offense may have finally found an identity by leaning on an unlikely career backup who has been forced to take center stage because of the litany of skill position injuries that have hit Big Blue. Darkwa has rumbled for 186 yards and a score on 29 carries (6.4 YPC) the last two weeks, showcasing a combination of decisiveness and power that’s been missing in the Giants’ backfield since the days of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. If Darkwa can top the century mark against a Broncos defense that remains the top run-stopping unit, it’s fair to expect him to continue finding success against a banged up Seattle front line that’s surprisingly given up 4.9 YPC to opposing tailbacks (third most in the league).

Tevin Coleman, ATL at NE

Coleman now has at least 58 yards or a touchdown in every game this year, and he’s averaging a fantastic 7.1 yards per touch, or put differently, 2.3 more yards per touch than star teammate Devonta Freeman. Now the duo will get to attack a Patriots defense that’s given up a league-high 457 receiving yards to tailbacks while also allowing 4.7 yards per carry. That inability to cover running backs or limit chunk yardage plays perfectly to Coleman’s strengths, as the speedy, versatile back already has seven gains of at least 20 yards on only 52 touches.

Chris Ivory, JAC at IND

Very quietly Ivory has managed to produce at least 41 scrimmage yards in every game while averaging 5.4 yards per touch. He’s coming off his best showing and only touchdown of the season because rookie star Leonard Fournette suffered a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter versus the Rams, and Ivory could be called upon more than usual if Fournette is hampered at all when the Jags visit Indianapolis. Against a Colts defense that proved susceptible to a power run game last week, with Ivory’s decent floor, and given his history as a former 1,000-yard rusher, it’s easy to see him coming through with a big game if his workload increases.

Jamaal Charles, DEN at LAC

Though he’ll likely cede the larger share of carries to C.J. Anderson, as a big-play threat (5.1 YPC) going up against the league’s worst run defense, and with the Broncos very thin at wide receiver, Charles should see enough work under optimal conditions to succeed. Given that the Chargers have allowed a 100-yard rusher in three of their last five outings, with over 100 team rushing yards and a touchdown in the last four, it would surprise if Charles didn’t post one of his best box scores of the year.

Dion Lewis, NE vs. ATL

The absolute fewest scrimmage yards the Falcons have allowed to the opposition’s top back this season was 86, which Ameer Abdullah posted in Week 3. Four other backs topped the century mark in yardage. Through six games, Super Bowl LI hero James White leads the Patriots in scrimmage yards, but the Falcons should be prepared to defend him this time, so the shiftier Lewis may pose a bigger threat. In his last three outings Lewis has tallied at least 63 yards or scored a touchdown while averaging a robust 5.6 YPC. In fact, his two scores came from inside the 10-yard line, and after a costly Mike Gillislee fumble last week, there could be more valuable opportunities to come.


Wide Receiver

Robert Woods, LAR vs. AZ (in London)

Woods has generated at least five grabs for at least 66 yards in three of Los Angeles’ last four contests, and two of those performances included meetings with the elite Jacksonville and Seattle secondaries. Now in a matchup that figures to see a Patrick Peterson vs. Sammy Watkins showdown, Woods is primed to remain Jared Goff’s favorite target. Facing lesser coverage from Justin Bethel and Arizona’s contingent of safeties, secondary receivers Kenny Golladay, Brice Butler, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor and DeSean Jackson have combined for 340 yards and six touchdowns, with each finding the end zone. Woods could become the next receiver to excel under those circumstances.

Bennie Fowler, DEN at LAC

You can rest assured that the Chargers will be much more aware of Fowler’s whereabouts after he burned them for two red zone touchdowns in Week 1, but that still shouldn’t deter desperate owners from taking a shot on this third-year wideout. Although Fowler has done very little since his surprising Monday night debut, the Broncos will almost certainly need him to get more involved this Sunday. An already very narrow receiving tree just lost a branch with Emmanuel Sanders (ankle) out this week, and Demaryius Thomas (leg) is banged up right now (though he fought through pain very admirably for 133 yards against the Giants). With his targets set to spike, Fowler could be a sneaky flex against a Chargers defense whose 10 touchdowns allowed to wide receivers are tied for the league high.

Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker, TEN at CLE

After Decker emerged last week as the reliable chain-mover many expected him to be, it seems the Titans have a 1A and 1B moving forward at the wideout position. That makes both Matthews and Decker – each of whom possesses the size and strong hands to excel in the red zone – viable starters in “The Dawg Pound.” Cleveland has allowed a starting wide receiver to either eclipse 100 yards or find the end zone in every game, culminating last Sunday with the top three wideouts for Houston hitting paydirt.

Taylor Gabriel, ATL at NE

If Jermaine Kearse can burn the Patriots for 79 yards on four targets, Gabriel and his Sonic the Hedgehog speed could do the same or better. The diminutive deep threat beat New England for nearly identical numbers to Kearse’s in last year’s Super Bowl implosion, and with Mohamed Sanu (hamstring) still not 100% healthy and the Patriots having allowed a league-high 1,191 yards to wide receivers, Gabriel is set up nicely for a repeat performance.


Tight End

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, NYJ at MIA


The yards have yet to come, but Seferian-Jenkins has proven to be one of the most reliable chain-moving options in the Jets offense, as he’s averaged just over seven targets and nearly six catches per game since rejoining the team versus Miami in a Week 3 victory. In fact, his 19 targets over the last two contests are not only tops among the Jets, but they’re also tops among the entire tight end position in that time span. Moreover, the quality of his targets can’t be overlooked, as he has two touchdown catches from inside the 5-yard line (and should’ve had a third). So in case it’s not obvious, Seferian-Jenkins is a safe bet to continue the trend of tight ends piling up catches on the Dolphins (seriously, the 7.0 grabs per game they allow to the position are tied for most in the league).

Austin Hooper, ATL at NE

With injuries to Julio Jones (hip) and Mohamed Sanu (hamstring) over their last two games, Hooper has led Atlanta in targets, catches and yards receiving. While he doesn’t figure to lead the team in all three categories in the rematch of last year’s epic Super Bowl, Hooper is certain to remain involved against a Patriots group that has struggled to defend tight ends – New England has given up a score to the position in all but one game and allowed at least 60 yards to a tight end in three of their last four outings. Moreover, Hooper burned the Pats for a 19-yard touchdown in the Super Bowl to get a taste of success against this defense, so he has reason to be confident going to Foxborough.


DOWNGRADE


Quarterback

Derek Carr, OAK vs. KC


The timing of the short week for Oakland couldn’t be much worse. With just one completion of more than 15 yards against the Chargers, it was clear Carr’s back injury was limiting his ability to stretch the field. With the Thursday kickoff offering even less recovery time, it’s difficult to see things being much different against a Chiefs pass rush led by Justin Houston and Dee Ford. Carr will already have little time to get rid of the ball, and now with the ghost of Amari Cooper routinely pulling a vanishing act, he’ll have a limited number of targets to exploit a secondary missing Eric Berry.

Russell Wilson, SEA at NYG

As if life were not difficult enough for Wilson behind one of the league’s most patchwork, underdeveloped offensive lines, he’ll now travel across the country to face a revitalized defensive front without the services of veteran left guard Luke Joeckel (knee). Although Wilson escaped the shackles of a prohibitively bad offensive line for a two-game window in which he totaled seven touchdowns against the Titans and Colts, when he faced defenses with playmakers in both the front four and secondary he failed to produce multiple touchdowns or top 200 passing yards in three contests. Wilson has been the league’s most matchup-dependent quarterback this season, and Week 7 falls on the wrong end of the spectrum.

Kirk Cousins, WAS at PHI

In Week 1 when Cousins’ wide receivers failed to get open or make plays with any consistency he needed 40 attempts to reach 240 passing yards and committed a trio of turnovers in a 30-17 loss to the Eagles. He and the offense as a whole have since turned it around, as he’s tallied eight total scores in the last three contests while averaging 305 passing yards. The problems with his wideouts, however, have remained, as the team’s two leading receivers are third-down back Chris Thompson and backup tight end Vernon Davis. Facing the nightmare interior pressure Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan produce for Philly, that simply won’t cut it.


Running Back

DeMarco Murray, TEN at CLE


The Browns are quietly tied for the fewest yards per carry allowed (3.0) and sit sixth in rushing yards allowed per game (84.3). The duo of Lamar Miller and D'Onta Foreman topped that mark with exactly 100 yards, but 39 of them came on one Foreman gallop. It took 26 carries to achieve the other 61 yards. That spells bad news for Murray, who is dealing with a sore hamstring, splitting carries with (and being outshined by) Derrick Henry and, aside from his 75-yard jaunt against the Seahawks, is averaging just 3.6 YPC and 39.7 rushing yards per game.

Marshawn Lynch, OAK vs. KC

The Chiefs bled goal-line touchdowns to Mike Gillislee in Week 1 and were pelted over 30 times for a whopping 191 scrimmage yards last Sunday by Le'Veon Bell. In between, however, they limited four backfields to an average of 93.3 scrimmage yards per contest, relenting just one touchdown to a tailback. And that group included Melvin Gordon, LeGarrette Blount, Lamar Miller and Chris Thompson, a quartet that all told has piled up 367 touches, 2,051 yards and 15 touchdowns in a combined 23 games. So in other words, Kansas City has played and limited some of the most productive backs in football, sans Bell, arguably the best. Lynch, who has not exceeded 13 touches or 63 yards since Week 1, should not be on the RB2 radar this week against a physical KC front seven.

Doug Martin, TB at BUF

In their last two victories the Bills limited two similarly short, compact, shifty backs in C.J. Anderson and Devonta Freeman to a combined 94 yards on 26 carries (3.6 YPC). And a 32-yard burst by Anderson accounted for a third of that total. On the year, Buffalo has limited opposing tailbacks to just 3.8 YPC. Martin is off to a hot start with scores in both of his appearances while setting a nice floor for yardage; however, he’s yet to face a defensive front with the pedigree Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes bring to battle.


Wide Receiver

T.Y. Hilton, IND vs. JAC


Considering he managed just 19 yards versus the Titans’ generous corners when Jacoby Brissett slung it around 37 times, it seems a near certainty that Hilton will fall well shy of the century mark for the fifth time this year when faced with the elite coverage of studs Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Moreover, although Hilton is fourth in the league in receiving yards, the fact that 68 percent of those came in just two games makes him awfully hard to trust, even in good circumstances.

Keenan Allen, LAC vs. DEN

Allen managed a score in a Week 1 meeting with Denver’s duo of shutdown corners Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, but he also produced a measly 35 yards on 10 targets in that effort. It just so happens that he’s failed to find the end zone since, despite seeing at least nine targets in every contest and ranking fourth in the league in that category. Additionally, Allen is similar to T.Y. Hilton in that over half his yards have come in two performances, with none of his other four having topped 67 yards. The floor, outside of PPR formats, is simply too low this week to trust.

Jarvis Landry, MIA vs. NYJ

After posting at least 40 yards in every contest, Landry’s floor seems to be set. But then again, so too might his ceiling have been hit when he posted 62 yards and a score last week. An underneath receiver only, his long catch of the year – on 57 targets – is just 18 yards. Landry has averaged a fullback-esque 4.8 YPT in a Jay Cutler offense that is incapable of effectively stretching the field. In fact, in a Week 3 loss to the very Jets that Miami will welcome this week, Landry averaged an even lower 4.4 YPT while tallying 48 yards on six grabs. So although he’s managed to score in consecutive weeks with DeVante Parker (ankle) missing action, an up-and-coming Gang Green secondary led by Morris Claiborne, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye has the personnel to stop Landry’s streak.


Tight End

Tyler Kroft, CIN at PIT

Some would be surprised to see Kroft listed among a group of “downgraded” players given that he’s far from a regular starter, but in Cincinnati’s last two games he’s filled in quite admirably for the injured Tyler Eifert (back-IR). Kroft has at least four catches in each of those contests, with over 100 yards between them and a two-score effort in Week 4. Coming off the steady play and his bye week, he’s not a recommended streaming option, however. Only eight teams have allowed fewer yards per game to tight ends than Pittsburgh, who just limited Travis Kelce to 37 yards on seven targets.

Jason Witten, DAL at SF

Only the Buccaneers have allowed fewer than the 34.8 yards per game the 49ers have relinquished to tight ends, and that’s with San Fran having faced the likes of Greg Olsen (his one healthy game), Jimmy Graham and Jordan Reed, a trio that combined for just 56 yards against them. So although Witten got back on track prior to Dallas’ bye with an eight-catch, 61-yard effort – his third in five games with at least seven grabs and 59 yards – he figures to find a tough time maintaining that production level in this one, especially with Ezekiel Elliott still on hand to hammer a defense that’s allowed the second most scrimmage yards in the league to tailbacks.