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 Six:
49ers TE Vernon Davis (vs. N.Y. Giants) — In two games against the Giants in 2011, and including the NFC title game, Davis caught TDs of 73, 31 and 28 yards. You were going to start him anyway, I'm guessing, but I'm sure you didn't mind the reminder. You drafted Davis for his big-play potential, and here he faces a defense that had more problems with him in the playoff rematch than in the regular-season meeting.
Raiders RB Darren McFadden (at Atlanta) — While the Raiders' running game has sputtered this season, the Falcons are allowing 5.4 yards per carry through five weeks. The Raiders' best defense against a strong Atlanta offense might be a ball-control attack with McFadden as the focal point. With just 57 carries in four games, and with Oakland coming off its bye, McFadden should be ready to deliver a strong performance.
Vikings QB Christian Ponder (at Washington) — As a Week Six fill-in starter, Ponder has considerable appeal. The Redskins have surrendered 1,643 net passing yards and 13 passing TDs in just five games. Here is another situation in which the Vikings' second-year quarterback can potentially thrive.
Browns RB Trent Richardson (vs. Cincinnati) — The Browns are winless, but they are not uncompetitive, and Richardson is one of the reasons why. He is a star in the making, and he is a must-start against a Cincinnati defense that he gashed for 145 total yards and two TDs in Week Two. If you haven't watched the Browns much this season, make sure to tune in to see Richardson.
Steelers skill-position players (at Tennessee) — The Titans are 28th against the run and 25th against the pass, and no team has surrendered more points than Tennessee. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Rashard Mendenhall, TE Heath Miller and WRs Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace are all strong starting options on Thursday night. Don't forget to submit your lineups.
Chargers RB Jackie Battle (vs. Denver) — He received six touches (four carries, two receptions) in Week Five, compared to 18 (12 carries, six receptions) for Ryan Mathews. Considering Mathews' strong play Sunday, and with the Broncos allowing just 3.8 yards per carry, Battle is tough to recommend in Week Five.
49ers WR Michael Crabtree (vs. N.Y. Giants) — In two matchups against the Giants in 2011, Crabtree was held to two combined catches for 24 yards on nine targets. While Crabtree is simply playing too well for some owners to easily bench him — he has, after all, caught 27-of-38 passes thrown his way for 311 yards and a TD in five weeks — he's not a slam-dunk start, given his 2011 production.
Packers RBs Alex Green and James Starks (at Houston) — Wednesday morning dawned with many fantasy owners pleased to find that their waiver claims for Green had been successfully processed. However, if you have other reasonable options, I wouldn't rush him into the lineup just for the sake of playing him. The Texans are allowing just 85.4 rushing yards per game, and they are the only team to yet to surrender a rushing TD. If you have to play a Packers running back, Green is much preferred to Starks, who has been a nonfactor to this point but may get more of a chance to play with Cedric Benson sidelined with a significant foot injury.
Rams RBs Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson (at Miami) — The Dolphins' run defense is the league's stingiest. Opponents are gaining a mere 2.7 yards per carry against Miami. Owners with bye-week scarcity issues might have no choice but to start Jackson, and his volume of work (18 carries or more in 3-of-5 games) is reassuring. The matchup, however, is very tough. Richardson, who spells Jackson, has an even less promising fantasy outlook for Week Six.
Raiders QB Carson Palmer (at Atlanta) — He has thrown one TD pass or less in 3-of-4 starts, and the Falcons are allowing 203.0 passing yards and one passing TD per game. If you have to start him, you are hoping McFadden's running leads to some juicy play-action passing opportunities — or you are hoping the Raiders are in pass-first mode while playing from behind.