In "Exploit or Avoid," we take a close look at some of the week's more favorable — and tough — matchups for skill-position players. Here's who we like on each side of the ledger in Week Five:
Rams WR Danny Amendola (vs. Arizona) — Everyone knows the Cardinals surrendered 253 receiving yards to Dolphins WR Brian Hartline in Week Four. However, Arizona also gave up 123 receiving yards to the Dolphins' other starting wideout, Davone Bess. While I don't expect the Cardinals' pass defense to be that porous Thursday night at St. Louis, there's nonetheless a strong case to start Amendola, the Rams' top target.
Broncos RB Willis McGahee (at New England) — The Patriots have been strong vs. the run in 2012. However, McGahee fared well in two meetings vs. New England in 2011, racking up 70 yards on just seven carries in the regular-season loss at Denver and accumulating 17-76-1 in the playoff loss in Foxborough. Given the strength of the Broncos' offense and McGahee's prominent role in the attack, he's hard to sit, in my view.
Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas (at New England) — In two games vs. the Patriots a season ago, Thomas was targeted 23 times, catching 13-209-0. Though some of that production might have been related to Eric Decker missing the divisional-round loss to the Pats with a knee injury, make no mistake — Thomas is a tough matchup for just about any secondary, and particularly a New England defensive backfield that's improved but still vulnerable.
Giants WR Domenik Hixon (vs. Cleveland) —Hixon will be a key part of the Giants' passing game if Hakeem Nicks (knee, foot) and Ramses Barden (concussion) are unable to play. With the Browns allowing 286 passing yards per game, Hixon will have a good deal of fantasy value if he gets the start opposite of Victor Cruz.
Browns RB Trent Richardson (at N.Y. Giants) — The Browns' best defense against Eli Manning and Co. might be a ground-heavy attack on offense. The Giants are 21st in rushing yards allowed and 25th in yards surrendered per rushing attempt. Richardson has scored at least one TD in three consecutive games, and he's getting the vast majority of touches in the Cleveland backfield. Start him.
Colts WR Donnie Avery (vs. Green Bay) — I'm all for fantasy owners picking up Avery on waivers, considering the volume of opportunities he has received in the first three games (27 targets). However, I don't see him as a wonderful starting option this week. Yes, the Packers' secondary gave up a lot of yards in Week Four, but it had shown improvement early in the season, and the New Orleans passing game is much more formidable than Indianapolis' attack. Note that in two of Avery's three games, he has caught less than half of the passes thrown his way.
The Bills' complementary skill-position players (vs. San Francisco) — Fantasy owners depending on RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson figure to play these backs on Sunday, even with the 49ers having a strong defense. Moreover, as the Bills' go-to guy, there's always a case to play WR Stevie Johnson. However, those thinking of starting, say, TE Scott Chandler and WR Donald Jones might want to carefully consider their options before proceeding.
Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (vs. Miami) — Since racking up 91 yards and a TD on 18 carries in an impressive Bengals debut at Baltimore, Green-Ellis has struggled. In the past three weeks, Green-Ellis has gained just 195 yards on 64 carries (3.04 avg.), and he has fumbled three times in this span. With the Dolphins allowing fewer rushing yards per game and per carry than any other team, Green-Ellis isn't a slam-dunk start for fantasy owners with sterling RB depth.
Jets RB Shonn Greene (vs. Houston) — Here's the case for Greene: the Texans' run defense has allowed more than four yards per carry in 3-of-4 games, and Titans RB Chris Johnson gave Houston fits last Sunday. And maybe the Jets double-down with the running game, too, considering the state of their passing game. However, I believe the Texans' defense has quite a bit more upside than the Jets' rushing attack. With a lack of passing-game punch, the Jets are going to have a hard time stopping opponents from stacking the box against the run.
Panthers WR Brandon LaFell (vs. Seattle) — The Panthers' other starting wideout, Steve Smith, is tough to bench no matter the opponent. However, LaFell must be spotted carefully. The Seahawks' secondary is strong. There will be better matchups for LaFell than this one.