Thursday Night Football
NY Jets @ New England
Over the last five weeks, Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Philip Rivers, and Peyton Manning have combined to convert 114-of-175 throws (65.1%) for 1,389 yards (7.94 YPA), and a 13:1 TD-to-INT ratio against the Jets' cornerback-deficient defense. Suddenly red-hot Tom Brady enters this game 50-of-72 passing (69.4%) for 653 yards (9.07 YPA) with six touchdowns and no turnovers over his last two games. Silencing all of his doubters -- myself included -- Brady has played himself back into the weekly QB1 conversation with improved pocket decisiveness, heavy reliance on Rob Gronkowski, and better pass protection, particularly from LT Nate Solder. I own Brady and No. 4 overall fantasy quarterback Jay Cutler in one league, and am having a tough time deciding between them this week. Genuinely dysfunctional in the first month of the season, New England's offense has come an awful long way in a short period of time. ... Brady's Weeks 1-6 target distribution: Julian Edelman 55; Gronk 45; Brandon LaFell 32; Shane Vereen 27; Tim Wright 10; Danny Amendola 7; Stevan Ridley 5; Aaron Dobson 4; Brian Tyms 2. ... Coming off a 9-91 line on a team-high 12 targets in last week's win over Buffalo, quick-footed Edelman is sure to have openings against a Jets cornerback group that is big and slow, especially after losing Dee Milliner to an Achilles' tear. Edelman is an every-week WR2 in PPR leagues and a solid WR3 in non-PPR. ... Targeted 20 times the past two weeks, Gronk has registered stat lines of 6-100-1 and 7-94. He had a touchdown negated by a holding penalty in last week's win over Buffalo. The Jets coughed up a 4-51-2 number to Julius Thomas in Week 6, and have allowed the fifth most fantasy points to tight ends this season.
LaFell's roller-coaster stat lines the past three weeks were 6-119-1, 1-20-0, and 4-97-2. His snap rates in those games were 100%, 89%, and 69%. The Patriots' volatile skill-position usage is the biggest concern for LaFell, who could in any game take a backseat to Tyms, Wright, or Dobson. This game's favorable matchup makes LaFell worthy of WR3 discussion, but don't expect season-long consistency. ... Wright's Week 6 playing time actually did rise -- from 22% in Week 5 to 24% -- but Wright was targeted only once against the Bills. He scored a one-yard touchdown, essentially vulturing Gronk. Wright is a good player, but really hard to trust when he's barely on the field. He's a low-ceiling, low-floor streamer. ... I mentioned in last week's Matchups column that Tyms should be owned in all Dynasty leagues. Back from suspension, the 25-year-old freak athlete caught a 43-yard touchdown pass in heavy coverage and played eight snaps in his first game back from suspension. Tyms is in a similar boat to Wright. He's got a lot of talent, but doesn't have enough opportunity yet to be a trustworthy re-draft option. ... The Jets have quietly begun springing run-defense leaks, allowing Chargers and Broncos running backs to pile up 297 yards and a touchdown on 70 carries (4.24 YPC) the past two games. Now playing on a short week, it's fair to be skeptical Rex Ryan's defense will immediately resume top form. Will Shane Vereen's usage spike with Stevan Ridley (ACL) on I.R.? Maybe, maybe not. He certainly seems like the safest bet in the Patriots' tailback corps. Rookie James White will probably be active on game day, while Brandon Bolden is New England's best option to handle inside runs. I like Vereen this week, but I liked him last week, too, and he managed seven scoreless yards on six touches. This is a crapshoot backfield.
The Patriots' run defense has been up and down. Gutted by Jamaal Charles, Knile Davis, and Gio Bernard for a combined 5.55 YPC average in Weeks 4-5, New England suddenly shut down Buffalo's ground game in Week 6, holding Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, and Anthony Dixon to 68 yards on 23 carries (2.96 YPC). The Patriots did lose impact run-stopping ILB Jerod Mayo to a "significant" knee injury against the Bills. I'd view this as an average matchup for Chris Ivory. Although Ivory's Weeks 5-6 usage disappointed, he is averaging a robust 4.85 yards per carry on the season and remains the Jets' lead back. Ivory is a low-end RB2/flex against the Pats. A major concern for Ivory is Vegas' 9.5-point spread, favoring New England. Ivory's usage can fall off a cliff when the Jets get blown out. ... It didn't take long for the Jets to realize Chris Johnson isn't an effective player. He hasn't been in several years. In chronological order, Johnson's carry totals from Weeks 1-6: 13, 12, 10, 6, 7, 3. Here's how NFL Films' Greg Cosell broke down Johnson in a radio interview last week: "My guess is he's probably not long for the NFL, because at this point he's just not a very good runner. I'm not sure he'll be in the league next year." ... Although his pair of touchdown passes looks nice on the stat sheet, Geno Smith generally struggled to move the Jets' offense in last week's loss to Denver before throwing a game-ending pick six. Particularly with LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson having perhaps the worst year of his career -- and now taking on studly Pats edge rusher Chandler Jones -- this will be a daunting matchup for Geno. Ranked No. 3 in pass defense, the Patriots have the ability to take away top receiver Eric Decker with Darrelle Revis' press-man coverage, forcing Smith to play with Jace Amaro, Jeremy Kerley, and David Nelson, among others. New England's fantasy defense is a strongly recommended start.
Geno's Weeks 1-6 target distribution: Kerley 35; Decker 34; Amaro 27; Jeff Cumberland 18; injured Greg Salas 16; Johnson and Ivory 14; Nelson 12; Bilal Powell 5. ... Decker played 90% of the Jets' Week 6 snaps, parlaying ten targets into a 6-54-1 line against Denver. The last time Decker appeared out of the woods with his hamstring injury, he lasted 12 snaps in the following game. Now playing on a short week and contending with Revis, Decker is a high-risk WR3 option. ... Second-round rookie Amaro has quietly topped 50 yards in three of his last four games, although he's only played 41% of New York's snaps during that span. He played a season-high 56% last week, en route to career highs in targets (12), catches (10), and yards (68). The Patriots are 23rd in fantasy points allowed to tight ends, but with Decker on Revis it isn't crazy to think Amaro could remain Geno's go-to option Thursday night. Still a limited-snap player on a bad passing team, Amaro remains a hail-mary streamer. ... It seems like every time we expect Kerley to produce, he does nothing. Every time we expect Kerley to do nothing, he winds up producing. That's obviously not bankable logic, but Kerley can't be trusted as a fantasy option so long as Decker is theoretically healthy. Kerley is essentially competing with Cumberland, Salas, and Nelson to be the No. 4 option in OC Marty Mornhinweg's offense, behind the running game, Decker, and Amaro.
Score Prediction: Patriots 23, Jets 13