By Zac Bellman
Special to the Tribune
Start: Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay) vs. Oakland – The Raiders defense hasn’t had to game plan for a top QB since their matchup with Matt Ryan three weeks ago. Meanwhile, Freeman is averaging over 300 yards and three touchdowns a game over the last three weeks. Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson are seemingly always open for Freeman and the Raiders may focus too much on running back Doug Martin, who had a big game against the Vikings last week.
Sit: Eli Manning (New York Giants) vs. Pittsburgh – Manning has failed to reach 200 yards in two of the last three games, and has two touchdowns and three interceptions over that same span. Eli’s brother Peyton only managed two touchdowns and 253 yards in a week 1 matchup with the Steelers, who have yet to give up a 300 yard passing game this year.
Sleeper Start: Michael Vick (Philadelphia) vs. New Orleans – Keep an eye on his status because rumors are circulating that he may be removed as the starter, but if he plays, he is matched up against a Saints secondary that will struggle to contain him and the Eagles receivers. He also averages one rushing touchdown per game in his career on Monday night, so look for him to break containment and scramble when things do break down.
Start: Ryan Matthews (San Diego) vs. Kansas City – The bad news is that Matthews still has a fumble problem that won’t go away, but the good news is that coach Norv Turner has gotten over his problem of benching his best running back. Matthews had a season-high 24 carries last week and the Chiefs have yet to hold a running back with 28 or more touches to less than 100 yards this season.
Sit: Chris Johnson (Tennessee) vs. Chicago – Johnson’s long road to redemption is going to take yet another detour this week as he faces the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense. The Bears are playing the run extremely well, holding opposing running backs to only one rushing touchdown on the season and has forced 11 fumbles.
Sleeper Start: Jonathan Stewart (Carolina) vs. Washington – The witch is dead, maybe. Multiple sources suggest De’Angelo Williams may be on the move at the trade deadline, which was moved to Thursday due to Hurricane Sandy. If this is indeed the case, the frustrating reign of the two-headed monster in Carolina’s backfield is over and Stewart becomes a reliable fantasy option.
Start: Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City) vs. San Diego – Provided they can sort out who’s throwing him the ball, Bowe should get back on track this week against a secondary he knows well. In their previous meeting this season, he caught seven passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.
Sit: Sidney Rice (Seattle) vs. Minnesota – Cornerback Antoine Winfield shut down Tampa Bay’s Vincent Jackson last week as he has against No. 1 wide receivers all year long. The Seahawks will look to establish the run against a defense that has been gashed by Martin and Arizona’s LaRod Stephens-Howling the last two weeks, leaving Rice to do little more than run block.
Sleeper Start: Andre Roberts (Arizona) vs. Green Bay – The Packers secondary played as thin as it looked going into their game against Jacksonville, giving up 303 yards to Blaine Gabbert. Roberts saw plenty of targets Monday night as Larry Fitzgerald seemed out of sorts throughout the game after taking a rough fall. He should find plenty of holes in Packers secondary that is not challenging wide receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Add: Detroit WR Titus Young (Owned in 44 percent of Yahoo! leagues) – Young caught nine passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns last week, and he is capitalizing on the single coverage he often gets with more proven threats like Calvin Johnson drawing the double teams. The Lions should be passing heavily in the next few weeks, especially with some of the high scoring opponents they have coming up in the Texans, Packers and Falcons.
Add: Miami Defense (Owned in 34 percent of Yahoo! leagues) – Maybe the Dolphins just looked really good against the Jets last week, but they have some favorable matchups on their schedule over the next few weeks against teams that don’t score a lot of points. An especially interesting one to note is a week 15 matchup against Jacksonville. Pick them up now before your future playoff opponent makes this observation as well.
Watch List: Panthers RB De’Angelo Williams (Owned in 57 percent of Yahoo Leagues) – If Williams gets traded to a team in need of a serviceable running back, he could become a valuable backup in the coming bye weeks, but don’t pick him up quite yet, because as long as he still suits up for the Panthers, he isn’t worth a spot on your roster.