Fantasy Football Week 7: Identifying Stars Who Will Struggle Most
Look.. a falling star!
A symbol romanticized in our modern culture of curious observers. We enjoy the plights of others.
We rejoice in their victories and sympathize with their relative defeats, often times in nosy fashion.
This is the society we live in, but now is not the time for star-gazing. Now is the time for destruction of your Week 7 enemy. While your fantasy league mates have their attention turned aimlessly towards life's little distractions- smash them in the face.
"I try to catch him right on the tip of the nose, because I try to push the bone into the brain." -Mike Tyson
These are the fantasy stars who will struggle most in Week 7.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Saying that Cam Newton has disappointed fantasy owners thus far in 2012 is like saying Jonathan Vilma is not a fan of Roger Goodell.
Completely understating a fact that everyone knows to be true. While 22.5 fantasy points per game seems OK on the surface, Newton's production has come in an inconsistent and unpredictable manner.
Could it be a sophomore slump?
As a rookie in 2011, Newton came into Week 7 with a newly-blazed NFL track record that looked like this:
Week 1 at Arizona Cardinals: 36.9 points
Week 2 vs. Green Bay Packers: 36.9 points
Week 3 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: 14.6 points
Week 4 at Chicago Bears: 38.2 points
Week 5 vs. New Orleans Saints: 27.9 points
Week 6 at Atlanta Falcons: 22.6 points
Averaging just under 30 fantasy points per game in standard leagues, Newton would go on in Week 7 to put up a 28.7 pointer in a win against the Washington Redskins.
This is Week 7 of 2012, however, and Newton faces another NFC East opponent under decidedly different circumstances:
Week 1 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 19.6 points
Week 2 vs. New Orleans Saints: 29.8 points
Week 3 at New York Giants: 18.7 points
Week 4 at Atlanta Falcons: 33.4 points
Week 5 vs. Seattle Seahawks: 11.3 points
Newton comes into Week 7 against the Dallas Cowboys (my fifth-toughest matchup for opposing QBs) averaging over seven fantasy points less per-game than he racked up in his rookie campaign.
Seven points doesn't seem like much until you ask the typical Cam Newton owner how many weeks they have lost to their opposition by 6.9 points or less. It's no fun.
Football is a game of inches and fantasy football is a game of decimal points.
If you own Newton, you will, of course, be rolling with him. The Panthers are coming off a bye week, and I would love to optimistically think that the additional focus to detail and the recent ribbing from Steve Smith regarding Newton's sideline-towel-pouting may awaken the fantasy monster we came to know in 2011.
The pessimist in me says that these are the Cowboys and they are playing the QB incredibly tough right now. Anything can happen any Sunday, but downgrade your expectations (again) for Newton this week.
Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
I'm not sure that fantasy owners of Matt Stafford would consider him a "star" at this point, but the fact remains that he was drafted in fantasy leagues as an elite QB option for 2012.
Stafford is a 5000-yard-caliber NFL quarterback, and he was 2011's biggest success story as voted by my fellow members of the Pro Football Writers of America. What Stafford has been in 2012 is inconsistent and a liability. Both in fantasy football and in the National Football League.
For the life of me, I can't figure out the new side-armed motion that Stafford has adopted as a predominant part of his delivery, even when he has a clean pocket.
Contrary to popular belief, there have been times this season where Matt Stafford has not been under duress caused by his porous offensive line. He has had the opportunity to make "Matt Stafford throws." Throws to Calvin Johnson which lead to sailing displays of aerial dominance from the sticky-handed Megatron.
Stafford just hasn't made those throws. For some reason, Matt Stafford seems to be digressing as an NFL quarterback. Stafford seems like he would rather throw to Nate Burleson or let his perfectly placed pass bounce off of Brandon Pettigrew's numbers than look for Megatron.
Calvin Johnson has only scored one touchdown through five games, and that is simply unacceptable. Things don't get easier in Week 7 as the Lions travel to Soldier Field to face 2012's version of the Chicago "Monsters of the Midway," boasting their old-school base Cover-2 defense that everyone knows is coming but can't seem to penetrate.
The Bears are currently my second-worst matchup for opposing fantasy QBs.
Matt Stafford will bounce back. Just not this week. Hopefully, when his run occurs, your fantasy run will still be alive.
Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
49ers HC Jim Harbaugh is no dummy. Like Bill Belichick did in New England's Week 6 loss to Seattle, Harbaugh will most definitely try to neutralize the Seahawks' biggest threat in Marshawn Lynch.
Apparently Patrick Willis got the memo.
Marshawn Lynch showed us he is "matchup-proof" in 2011 when he ended the 49ers' near-three-year streak against opposing 100-yard rushers, as well as their 15-game streak not allowing a rushing touchdown in one fell swoop.
Yet, alas, Lynch has showed us in 2012 that even against the easiest matchup imaginable, he is still capable of being shut down. Lynch wet the bed against the Carolina Panthers, who Giants backup RB Andre Brown made look like amateur posers just one week prior in Ahmad Bradshaw's absence.
Speaking of Bradshaw, many fantasy owners of Lynch may take solace in Bradshaw's 18-point outburst in San Francisco running the football in Week 6. They may see the performance as a harbinger of decline in the Bay Area trenches.
Lynch is a better running back than Bradshaw, no doubt. Why should he not face a similar fortunate fate?
Two reasons: Eli Manning and Martellus Bennett.
Russell Wilson has actually been a fairly reliable fantasy QB as of late, but let's not mince words: He is no Eli Manning. When the run comes from Seattle, the defense will know the run is coming.
There is no "on-your-toes-meter" that Wilson sets off in the minds of opposing defenders like Manning does. The Seahawks also do not have an elite blocking option to keep inside on run-downs like the Giants have in Martellus Bennett.
Fantasy owners of Bennett who are wondering where his production went in Week 6 need look no further than Ahmad Bradshaw. Bennett paved the way in the run game.
Marshawn Lynch is a Top 6 RB in fantasy football for rest-of-season purposes, but is merely a high-end RB2 for Week 7 purposes.
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens at Houston Texans
Let's start off by saying that Ray Rice is arguably the best RB to own in fantasy currently, and a solid rock in your week-to-week lineup.
Let's follow that up by saying that the Houston Texans are not only the best defense, but also the best team in the AFC. They are pissed off, and at home following a solid thumping by the Green Bay Packers in Week 6.
A thumping in which Packers QB Aaron Rodgers popped the caps on a six-pack of Milwaukee's finest right in the middle of the Lone Star State. Texans DC Wade Phillips is embarrassed, and he will not be blind-sided by the obvious threat that Rice represents.
The Houston Texans are currently my fifth-worst matchup for opposing runners. The loss of Brian Cushing is not entirely accounted for in my algorithm, but even after manufacturing variables that account for his absence, my system still predicts that Houston is very tough to run on.
A fast, downhill defense like Houston keying on your best player causes problems, and Ray Rice has the dubious distinction in Week 7 of being that player.
You cannot bench Rice. The only week you will bench Rice (barring injury) this season will be next week, when Baltimore has their Week 8 bye. Downgrade your expectations this week, though.
This will be an 8-12 point week in standard leagues for Rice, which is more than serviceable, but certainly not the level of production owners have come to expect out of their first-round stud.
Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings
Larry Fitzgerald is the best pure receiving threat in the National Football League.
And this is where fantasy differs from reality.
Larry Fitzgerald's 2012 Fantasy Average Draft Position: 17
That is mid-second round in 12-team leagues. Fitzgerald is currently being outplayed at his position by the likes of fifth- and sixth-round selections such as Marques Colston, Torrey Smith, Reggie Wayne, Vincent Jackson and Demaryius Thomas.
As a Fitzgerald owner, I'm sure it hurts.
I understand why people may have drafted Fitzgerald here, although I certainly never advocated it.
The offensive line in Arizona is horrible and regardless of their impressive record, the Cardinals offense is disjointed. Things are now worse with the loss of a very unproven running back in Ryan Williams following the placement of Beanie Wells on non-season ending injured reserve.
Fitzgerald has shined through garbage QB play before, but now faces a seemingly week-in-week-out revolving door of QBs who haven't recently gotten creamed. This week, it will be John Skelton's turn to get blasted by a resurgent 2012 Vikings defense that has shown the ability to establish a pass rush on weak offensive lines.
The Vikings are my absolute worst matchup for opposing WRs coming into Week 7. Downgrade expectations for your star WR in Fitzgerald, and I hope you drafted well at other positions.
Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers at St. Louis Rams
Whether Jordy Nelson faces off against Cortland Finnegan or rookie Janoris Jenkins, one thing is for sure: Things will not come easy.
Not easy like the three touchdowns that Nelson surprised his disenchanted fantasy owners with in Week 6 after delivering a series of fantasy stinkers to start the season.
The Rams represent my third-worst matchup for opposing WRs. Greg Jennings seems like a player who is content to sit and wait on his groin injury to heal, and I can't blame him.
I would be very surprised to see Jennings suit up on Sunday, leaving Nelson as the Packers' premiere receiving threat with Randall Cobb, James Jones and Donald Driver picking up the scraps.
James Jones seems to like picking up scraps of the six-point, Porterhouse-variety.
The Rams are going to roll coverage over the top on Nelson and not allow the kind of easy exploitation of zone shells that Houston did in Week 6. The Rams have it all on tape, and saw how Nelson's fantasy explosion occurred. St. Louis does not have a slot corner whose deficiencies they are trying to mask the way the Texans did with Brice McCain.
I do not view Week 6 as a fantasy aberration for Nelson moving forward. I actually like him quite a bit. I was honestly disappointed by the big performance as a non-Nelson-owner, as he was a player I was hoping to target as a buy-low candidate.
Three TDs and a rosy outlook sans-Greg Jennings have driven up the price of poker, however. Too rich for my blood this week.
This is a week-to-week game we play, and the swings are huge. Sometimes painful, sometimes glorious.
Remember next week, after Jordy Nelson's pedestrian performance against St. Louis in Week 7, how much you loved him after Week 6. That is how you cook up trades that win championships.
Jimmy Graham, New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What is wrong with Jimmy Graham's ankle and what else could go wrong in New Orleans?
Not to mention, even if Graham does play this weekend, he faces my worst matchup of Week 7 against opposing TEs in Tampa Bay.
This is an attempted reverse-jinx as I own Graham in many leagues. If Jimmy Graham is active, he will find his way into the action. In much the same way that he has worked his way through coverage into an article about people who will struggle.
After covering so many Saints training camps, and I can say one thing with confidence: If the New Orleans offense runs though any one player other than Drew Brees, it is Jimmy Graham.
Graham was seen in a walking boot immediately following the Saints' Week 5 victory at home against the San Diego Chargers. Thankfully for Graham and his fantasy owners, the injury occurred heading into New Orleans' Week 6 bye.
Tuesday morning, sources indicated that Graham was feared to have the dreaded high-ankle sprain, and possibly miss up to six weeks. An absolute disaster for Saints fans and fantasy owners alike.
Sources are now telling PFT that Graham is expected to play this weekend.
I will note that this is a horrible matchup for TEs. In fact, it is my worst coming into Week 7.
I wanted to say that Jimmy Graham will struggle, given the injury and the matchup, but I can't.
I feel defenseless... in much the same way I'm sure opposing defensive coordinators do.
Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota Vikings vs. Arizona Cardinals
Kyle Rudolph has been a welcome waiver-wire or late-round draft pick addition for fantasy owners over the course of the past two weeks.
It appeared, despite consistently leading the Vikings in snap count percentage, that Rudolph's role may have started being phased out following the entry of Jerome Simpson into the Vikings starting lineup.
Simpson now has a busted back, and a tingling leg to match.
Simpson needs a microdiscectomy, likely to get the pressure of the inflamed, herniated disc shaved away from the delicate spinal cord and sciatic nerve which magically send various tingles and shakes to all sorts of places on our bodies.
It will be a few weeks before Simpson is back, and it is a situation that fantasy owners should monitor.
For the time being, Rudolph generally represents a good stop-gap type of TE who has TE1 upside.
This is a week where I explore other options, though. I hate relying on a TE that has to catch balls through lanes patrolled by the long arms of Calais Campbell and the like.