"It's all about the matchups" is my favorite Fantasy Football mantra. Talent is king -- the very best players are worth starting no matter the opponent -- but there aren't many of those guys. For everyone else, having a favorable matchup might be the deciding factor in having the confidence to start a guy over someone else.
Many assumptions made before the season about how a defense will play have fallen flat. Other defenses that were expected to be doormats have played beyond expectations. Anyone could check out how NFL defenses have fared in Fantasy against a particular position, but our job is to read between the lines and find the fallacies in statistics. Predicting how a defense will perform from week to week is tough, but with six weeks of film to watch we can begin pinpointing which defenses are as good as their numbers say and which defenses are phonies.
Overrated vs. the run
Lions: The stats say they give up on average 10 Fantasy points per week and 3.7 yards per carry to running backs. Yet three of the five running backs they've faced have had at least 10 Fantasy points against them; the two they pinned down -- Steven Jackson and Chris Johnson -- are mired in their own struggles. The front seven is good but not dominant. They can be beaten.
Upcoming matchups: at CHI, SEA, at JAC, at MIN
Buccaneers: The Bucs passed a big test by holding Jamaal Charles to under 50 total yards in Week 6, but that came with no vertical passing threat in Brady Quinn under center for the Chiefs. Charles also had 12 carries and got saddled with a back injury. It seems like the Bucs' run defense has dodged bullets this season -- holding DeAngelo Williams to negative yardage in Week 1 while he had just six carries being an example -- and they'll continue to look good when they play the pass-crazy Saints this week. If they can pin down Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews in consecutive weeks then they'll be a feared unit.
Upcoming matchups: NO, at MIN, at OAK, SD
Steelers: Big, bad Pittsburgh is ranked 10th in the NFL against the run, but the Steelers are the only defense in the top third in the category to allow more than 4.0 yards per carry. They've allowed a touchdown to opposing running backs in four of five games (only the Jets failed) and three of five opponents have cumulatively averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry, the latest being Chris Johnson. It must say something when the Titans -- who have shied away from leaning on their back -- run the ball 19 times against the Steelers. It wouldn't be a surprise if they slammed the door on the Bengals this week but upcoming matchups against Alfred Morris, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice might get the better of them.
Upcoming matchups: at CIN, WAS, at NYG, KC
Underrated vs. the run
Browns: When you think Cleveland, you think pushover defense. It's been that way for a while. But through six games, they've allowed just three total touchdowns to running backs and only two 100-yard rushers. This has been without defensive lineman Phil Taylor -- who is expected to return soon -- and against the Giants they lost another big body in Ahtyba Rubin. Rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes have helped pitch in on the D-line and will help the unit become stout against the run once they're back at full strength. Throw in linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and there could be some surprising outcomes from running backs playing the Browns in the future.
Upcoming matchups: at IND, SD, BAL, at DAL
Rams: The season started poorly for the Rams run defense but they've tidied up over the last two weeks, holding down the Cardinals (no biggie) and Dolphins (biggie). The key has been rookie Michael Brockers, who has helped with the pass rush (11 of the team's 15 sacks have come in their last two) as well as the run defense (one rushing score since he's returned). The better he and the run defense plays the better the Rams' chances are at becoming a dominant defense, because their secondary has been quite impressive so far. They will get challenged, that's for sure.
Upcoming matchups: GB, NE, at SF, NYJ
Broncos: The only time Denver really got overpowered by the run was when it played at New England. Using their hyper-speed approach, the Patriots worked in 50 rush attempts and pounded the Broncos for an unheard of 253 yards. Take away that game and the Broncos have allowed 391 rush yards and one rushing touchdown on 120 carries over five games. That's not even 80 rush yards per game. This is a good run defense despite being ranked 20th in run defense and 17th in Fantasy points allowed to running backs.
Upcoming matchups: NO, at CIN, at CAR, SD
Overrated vs. the pass
Ravens: To be fair, the Ravens weren't overrated, but the loss of Lardarius Webb combined with a fledgling pass rush will make them overrated. Dez Bryant dominated his competition in Week 6, catching a career-high 13 passes on the Ravens. Upcoming quarterbacks won't have many concerns about the Ravens' defense because of their injured starters and erratic pass rush. Rushing back Terrell Suggs from an Achilles tear won't help. Don't fear them.
Upcoming matchups: at HOU, at CLE, OAK, at PIT
Jets: This one has less to do with stats and more to do with a gut feeling. Yes, the Jets are coming off a complete defensive performance against the Colts, but it's one they matched up well in. They were able to pressure Andrew Luck early because of his O-line issues, and it didn't hurt that the Jets got off to a good start and pushed the Colts into being one-dimensional. The week before they took on a Texans team that attempted only 28 passes and played ultra-conservative football. You mean to tell me that the Jets defense that allowed five passing touchdowns in two games with Darrelle Revis is better off without him just because they've hampered Alex Smith, Matt Schaub and Andrew Luck in consecutive weeks? I'm not buying it, and I bet the Patriots shred their secondary this week. After that they face more lackluster quarterbacks but it wouldn't be a surprise to see some of them play well.
Upcoming matchups: at NE, MIA, at SEA, at STL
Cowboys: The Cowboys have the top-ranked pass defense in football. Not coincidentally they also have been thrown on the fewest amount of anybody, averaging 26.0 pass attempts against per game. Eighteen defenses allow fewer yards per pass attempt than the Cowboys, who are at 7.6 yards per. Pass defenses look good when opponents attempt fewer than 30 passes per game, which has been the case each of the last four games for the Cowboys. The pass rush hasn't gotten home much, averaging 2.0 sacks per game, and that's partially because they've been without Anthony Spencer for two games. And the secondary, for all the dough they spent on Brandon Carr and the big pick they spent on Morris Claiborne, looks good statistically but hasn't been tested much. Wait until they start taking on some real quarterbacks and we'll see how this unit looks.
Upcoming matchups: at CAR, NYG, at ATL, at PHI
Underrated vs. the pass Buccaneers: You might not buy the Bucs' statistically-sound run defense, but the team's pass defense has held up despite allowing a bunch of yards. Three of the five quarterbacks they've faced have topped 300 yards. One has more than one passing touchdown and three quarterbacks failed to throw a touchdown against them in consecutive weeks. Now, one of those quarterbacks was Brady Quinn, but the other two were Robert Griffin III and Tony Romo -- not exactly slouches. They must work hard on getting their pass rush back on track; if they can do that then their secondary could really start shining.
Upcoming matchups: NO, at MIN, at OAK, SD
Dolphins: Everyone's on board with the Dolphins' run defense being strong. But they're getting better against the pass. Over the last few weeks they've played without cornerback Richard Marshall and slammed Andy Dalton and Sam Bradford (one passing touchdown between them). Fine, those quarterbacks might not be considered studs and same goes for Matt Schaub, Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez, but each of them had one passing touchdown against them with Marshall on the field. Kevin Kolb had a career game against the Dolphins and Miami has allowed a 300-yard passer in four of six games, but they're close to being a complete defense thanks to their pass rush (18 sacks).
Upcoming matchups: at NYJ, at IND, TEN, at BUF
Vikings: It's pretty clear that the Vikings' run defense, at least against people not named Robert Griffin III, will be tough to go up against. No group of running backs has posted even 4.0 yards per carry against Minnesota yet. So the prevailing thought was that the Vikings' pass defense would suffer as teams go after them. But through six games the Vikings have allowed one 300-yard passer and have limited quarterbacks to one or zero passing touchdowns in each of their last four matchups. The defensive backs have stepped up, especially Antoine Winfield, and this could turn into a defense that will be a real nightmare for Fantasy owners to start players against, beginning this week with Larry Fitzgerald.
Upcoming matchups: ARI, TB, at SEA, DET
Fantasy & Reality
Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.
Fantasy: Aaron Hernandez will play on a limited basis at Seattle. Technically true because he didn't play a full game, but Hernandez more than doubled the 15-play estimation many people had for him in Week 6. I'm starting to get the feeling that when several reporters believe a player will be "limited," it really means the team is feeding information to throw off the opponent. Remember when Adrian Peterson was supposed to be limited in Week 1?
Reality: Here comes Darren McFadden. Against the Falcons McFadden plowed his way to 70 rush yards and a score on 27 carries and added 28 yards on three catches -- and even had runs of 15 yards and 21 yards called back due to penalties. The Raiders did more angle blocking instead of the zone-blocking scheme they've been running and it gave McFadden a better chance to make some plays. The Raiders' upcoming schedule is against the Jaguars, at the Chiefs, vs. the Buccaneers, at the Ravens, vs. the Saints and at the Bengals. It feels like the only thing that will slow down McFadden will be an injury. If you can trade for him, do it now. And when you do it handcuff him with Mike Goodson, because he's been running pretty well (8.1 yards per carry) and would replace McFadden in the event of him missing time.
Fantasy: Philip Rivers is a great quarterback. This one hurts. Everyone who knows me knows how big of a Philip Rivers fan I am, but he's been taken down a notch. His offensive line is in rough shape, and it has nothing to do with an undrafted rookie playing at left tackle. His receiving corps is in rough shape, and it has everything to do with the Bolts not having a replacement for Vincent Jackson. Put it together and throw in a passer with some lost zip on his throws and you have a mess in San Diego. I'm not ready to call Rivers a bust but if Vincent Brown's eventual return coupled with some returning players to the offensive line don't push his numbers up, then it could be time for the Chargers to consider other options. He's strictly a matchup-based starter for now.
Reality: Here comes Chris Johnson ... right? For the second time in three games Johnson has been productive. Not ridiculously productive like many hoped for, but productive nonetheless. It helps that his two games against the Steelers and Texans involved lots of carries, improved offensive line play and less dancing around by Johnson. We're getting closer to Johnson being great again and a matchup at Buffalo in Week 7 should help, but he's not "back." Shoot, a good game at Buffalo might just present another opportunity to sell high on him in a trade.
DeMarco Murray, Cowboys: For a guy with a history of foot and ankle injuries, this isn't good news. A sprained foot will sideline him for at least a week, maybe more. Felix Jones is the fill-in who has a tremendous matchup against the Panthers in Week 7; Phillip Tanner will be his backup, which means he could be the fill-in by Week 8, since Jones hasn't proven to be the picture of health.
Trent Richardson, Browns: Rib cartilage was damaged at the hands of the Bengals and it could mean him being limited (we'll see if the team actually says "limited") this week against the Colts. Smart Fantasy owners will rush out to get Montario Hardesty to back him up. Savvy PPR leaguers might gamble on Chris Ogbonnaya too. But, as of now, estimations are that Richardson will play and he should slice and dice the Colts.
Jimmy Graham, Saints: There's a rumor that Graham's ankle is banged up and his availability is up in the air against the Buccaneers. There is no replacement for Graham if he's out; David Thomas would see a lot more playing time but it's not like he's 6-foot-7 and fast. Until there's something substantiated we'll expect him to play.
Brandon Lloyd, Patriots: He hurt his shoulder late at Seattle and mum's been the word out of Patriots camp since. That's typically how things work in New England, Aaron Hernandez's ankle injury notwithstanding. We'll wait and see on this but it could mean more three-tight end sets for the Patriots.
Jahvid Best, Lions: Best has yet to be cleared to play football after suffering multiple concussions last season. I have the feeling he won't play this year. Unless you have the patience and roster room, he's not worth keeping on your team.
DST sleepers for Week 7
All of our DST sleepers are owned in 50 percent of CBSSports.com leagues or less.
Last week's DST sleepers: Dolphins (9 points), Rams (12 points), Buccaneers (18 points), Chiefs (11 points). Not bad.
This is a tough week because there are six teams on bye including two Top 10 Fantasy DSTs (Falcons, Broncos). You might have to really settle for a mediocre pickup if you're playing the waiver wire for defenses.
Raiders (vs. Jaguars) ... Let's give the Raiders some credit for shutting down Michael Turner, getting in Matt Ryan's face and picking him off three times while containing the Falcons' offense in Atlanta last week. That was a surprise, and a heck of a tune up for their return home to take on the Jaguars. Three of the last four DSTs to take on the Jags have posted at least 19 Fantasy points.
Bills (vs. Titans) ... I told you this was a tough week. Buffalo's defense finally showed some promise when it did a nice job against a Cardinals offense sporting a terrible offensive line and third-string running backs. The Titans' offensive line is a baby-step up from there and if the unit plays to expectations again in front of the home crowd, they could corral the Titans. Tennessee has scored 10, 14 and 7 points in their three road games.
Panthers (vs. Cowboys) ... Fact: The Panthers have scored more Fantasy points that the Steelers, Eagles and Cowboys DSTs so far. That includes their butts getting kicked by the Giants back in Week 3, by the way. Take away that horrible game and they've posted at least eight Fantasy points per game, including a 20-point effort in Week 5 against the Seahawks. The Cowboys' offense can obviously make some mistakes and their O-line has struggled to protect Tony Romo. The Panthers have 14 sacks this season. You really could do worse.
Two more things
• I'm not sure the Packers should be in any big hurry to bring Greg Jennings back. In fact, because James Jones has been lights out, he just might push Jennings off the roster if he keeps up this kind of work. The team has given extensions to Jones and Jordy Nelson over the last couple of years and Randall Cobb is still working on his rookie deal. Jennings is a free agent after this season. You could almost link Jennings to ex-coordinator Joe Philbin in Miami.
• If you have the chance to pick up any Broncos players, do it. If you have Broncos players, do not trade them. Check out their remaining schedule -- there isn't a tough matchup left for them and plenty of high-scoring matchups are ahead. And here's a sleeper to pick up in the interim: Joel Dreessen. Over the last three weeks he's been far more productive than Jacob Tamme and it looks like he's starting to dominate the playing time as well. Against the Chargers, he played three more plays than Tamme and had five more targets. He's the sneakiest of waiver wire adds this week.