Each week, TSN.ca's NFL Editor Justin Boone and Fantasy Editor Scott Cullen will compare fantasy football rankings and provide justification for some of the more notable differences in their opinions.
Philip Rivers (vs. Broncos) vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick (at Cardinals)
Cullen (Fitzpatrick #12, Rivers #15) - I don't for a second think that Ryan Fitzpatrick is better than Philip Rivers, but I do think this week's matchup against the Cardinals isn't terrible for Fitzpatrick. Even with strong cover corners, and allowing the third-lowest completion percentage (53.6) by opposing quarterbacks, Arizona ranks 18th in the league with 231.0 passing yards allowed per game, which means that big plays could pay off for the Bills. Coming off a game in which he passed for 126 yards, his lowest since Week 13 of the 2009 season, Fitzpatrick is due for a bounce back performance.
By the same token, I'm not as sold on Rivers against Denver because the San Diego passing game has been relatively ineffective (19th in average passing yards -- 231.4 per game), even though Rivers did throw for a season-high 354 yards at New Orleans last week. Maybe once Antonio Gates returns to form they will be more consistently dangerous. Denver's pass defence has been decent, and I don't mind Champ Bailey and Tracy Porter on the corners, so I see this week as a case of regression for both Fitzpatrick and Rivers, with Fitzpatrick rallying from a bad week and Rivers coming down after his second 300-yard passing day in the last 13 weeks.
Boone (Rivers #6, Fitzpatrick #20) - Now that Ryan Mathews is back to being the starting running back, the Chargers' offence can get back to form. Injuries to the offensive line have hurt, but the fact that team's were able to focus on the passing game is what really has held San Diego in check some weeks. Mathews instantly becomes the biggest threat and defences will have to adjust accordingly. That means pass rushers forced to stay home and defend the run and it means more room for Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, and even Robert Meachem down field. Rivers still has the talent and he will deliver under the spotlight on Monday night. Also, you really shouldn't make lineup decisions like this, but isn't it always more fun when you have a player going on Monday Night Football. It guarantees you that you'll still have hope no matter what happens on Sunday.
It's easy to root for Fitzpatrick as the underdog quarterback that played well enough to earn a starting role, but it's becoming increasingly clear that he is not a playoff-calibre passer. Fitzpatrick struggles with deep throws and defences have caught onto this, which has thrown a wrench into Buffalo's JUGS machine. Fitzpatrick too often relies on garbage time to post his fantasy numbers and against better defences the late production is no guarantee. The 49ers held the Bills' offence at bay last week like a little brother with their hand on his forehead. The Cardinals' defence may not be quite as ferocious as San Francisco, but they are one of the better units in the league and the result will be similar.
Frank Gore (vs. Giants) vs. LeSean McCoy (vs. Lions)
Boone (McCoy #2, Gore #12) - The Eagles' offence hasn't been their usual explosive selves in 2012. Despite their difficulties to begin the season, McCoy is still fifth in the league in total rushing yards. The one thing missing from his game has been touchdowns. A year ago, McCoy spent all his free time in the end zone, tallying 20 combined scores, while this season he has just two through five games. While I didn't expect him to reach 20 touchdowns again, he's currently on pace for six and that's far too low for a player with his skill set. Not only can I see him passing the goal line on Sunday against the Lions, I think he will do it twice.
I'm also a fan of Gore this weekend, but the 49ers' tailback has a lot more company in his backfield than McCoy. Gore has to contend with Kendall Hunter, who is averaging eight touches per game this season. Gore has been successful thanks to his four touchdowns on the year, but his yards per game have been held in check due to Hunter's role in the offence. Gore has only touched the ball 20 times in one game this season, likely because the team wants to keep him fresh for a playoff run. That bodes well for the 49ers' long-term goals, but keeps the veteran back outside of the top 10 fantasy running backs this week.
Cullen (Gore #6, McCoy #14) - I can't very well expect regression from quarterbacks and then blindly expect a runner like Gore to duplicate his second 100-yard game of the season (106 yards on 14 carries against the Bills last week). At the same time, Gore has also scored four touchdowns in five games, and the Giants' run defence hasn't been particularly stout, allowing 4.5 yards per carry, so I'm comfortable with Gore rushing for 70-plus yards, but including a touchdown in his totals.
My expectations for LeSean McCoy have been significantly higher, really as one of the top three running backs coming into the season but, after 20 touchdowns last season, McCoy has two this season, getting one against Pittsburgh last week. For all of their inconsistency, particularly on defence, the Lions have only allowed one rushing touchdown through their first four games, so this is essentially a bet that, this week, Gore will get into the end zone and McCoy won't.
Vincent Jackson (vs. Chiefs) vs. DeSean Jackson (vs. Lions)
Cullen (V.Jackson #13, D.Jackson #18) - The Chiefs' pass defence held the Ravens in check last week, and they only allow 205.8 passing yards per game, so that doesn't necessarily bode well for Vincent Jackson, yet Kansas City is one of only six teams to allow more than eight yards per pass attempt and one of eight teams to allow at least 10 passing touchdowns. That seems like a fair opportunity for Vincent Jackson to score.
Detroit's pass defence has actually been okay (five touchdowns allowed) and the Eagles have more red zone receiving options, including Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek, whereas the Bucs don't have the same kind of depth behind Vincent Jackson.
In any case, DeSean Jackson and Vincent Jackson are both in the unenviable position of having inconsistent quarterback play and since both average about the same yardage per game this season (78.2 for DeSean and 76.0 for Vincent), I'm inclined to go with the Jackson who has 11 touchdowns in his last 20 games, Vincent, as opposed to the one with five, DeSean.
Boone (D.Jackson #15, V.Jackson #21) - The Eagles do have other options in the red zone, but that's not where DeSean Jackson makes his living. DeSean is a highlight maker, who can beat the defence deep or turn a bubble screen into a 50-plus yard touchdown. However, on top of being a big play threat, DeSean has been busy this year, catching 24 passes through fives games. He is currently on pace for a career-high 76 receptions and 1,251 yards. The Lions have shown that they are never out of a game, which means the Eagles will need to keep scoring and DeSean will be up for the challenge.
Vincent Jackson was a great acquisition for the Buccaneers and someone who brings a new element to their offence. However, Vincent is a streaky player who can also disappear for stretches. So far this season, he has had two great games and two weak outings. He is a riskier play because you simply don't know whether he will be used often or not. Greg Schiano is a run-first coach and under his watch Tampa Bay has played an incredibly simple style of offence. The Chiefs will also be looking to run, in an attempt to cover up their backup quarterback Brady Quinn. I expect a low scoring affair between the Buccaneers in Chiefs, filled with plenty of rushing and far too many three and outs.