We're going to cover fantasy football all season long here at Birds' Nest by answering five questions every week about various fantasy-related topics. Let's roll.
1. Who's the best fantasy quarterback in the Thursday night matchup between the Seahawks and 49ers? For the uninitiated, it's Seattle rookie Russell Wilson against San Francisco's 2005 first-overall pick Alex Smith. Both quarterbacks have similar styles -- they rely on their running games and defenses to do the heavy lifting and can occasionally connect on a big play to sustain a drive or put points on the board. But neither will be confused for a franchise quarterback, although Wilson's just six games into his NFL career. With Smith, meanwhile, it's what you see is what you get. Simply put: he's a game manager (we say that in the most complimentary way possible) who struggles to lead his team from behind.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying: if you have to go with either Wilson or Smith this week, take Smith. Barring last Sunday's aberration against the Giants, the 49ers' defense has a nasty habit of playing well at home. Which means that San Francisco will likely be ahead and that's right in Smith's wheelhouse. He can complete the high-percentage throws, move the sticks, and rack up fantasy point while avoiding game-changing mistakes.
2. Can Cam Newton get back on track against the Cowboys? After Newton's jaw-dropping rookie season, most folks agreed that his style of play was slump-proof. Yeah, forget about that. Newton has been awful through five games and even though the Panthers are coming off a bye, the team lost the cornerstone of the offensive line, center Ryan Kalil, to injured reserve making an already bad situation worse for Newton. The Cowboys have their issues, but Newton is a victim of his own failings. The old NFL bromide that quarterbacks and cornerbacks have to have short memories appears lost on Newton, whose demeanor changes for the worst once his game heads south. It's hard to have faith in a guy who doesn't have faith in himself.
3. How many yards will Arian Foster gained on the suddenly awful (and injured) Ravens defense? We've conservatively set the over-under at 400 yards. We're only half-kidding. Consider these numbers: in the last two games, the Ravens' "defense" gave up 227 yards to the Cowboys and 214 yards to the Chiefs. Dallas has the league's 19th-ranked running game and Kansas City is 22nd. Houston, meanwhile, with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, is ranked seventh. So you do the math. Baltimore will also be without linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb, who were lost for the season to injuries. And defensive lineman Haloti Ngata has been slowed by an MCL injury. All this points to a HUGE day for the Texans Sunday.
4. Is the Packers' offense officially back? If nothing else we've learned this much: don't make Aaron Rodgers angry. The man lost his mind Sunday night against the Texans' defense, throwing six touchdowns in just over three quarters of work against what was supposed to be one of the NFL's top units. The Packers face a much-improved Rams team in St. Louis Monday, but there's no reason to think that Rodgers hasn't regained his otherworldly form. Look at it this way: If the Packers can march up and down the field against an undefeated Texans team in Houston, there's no telling what they'll do in St. Louis where there are sure to be plenty of Green Bay fans in attendance.
5. The Jets are tied for first in the AFC East. Will this last? Until Sunday morning, yes. After that, it's back to reality for Gang Green. Coach Rex Ryan, quiet for the first six games of the season because the Jets have been awful, was suddenly back to his gum-flapping ways days ahead of the matchup with the Patriots. We're guessing this has to do with a) the Jets' convincing win over the Colts, b) New England's loss in Seattle, and c) the division rivalry that had taken a back seat until now. New York may be 3-3 but they still have huge issues at wide receiver and quarterback, and the defense is without cornerback Darrelle Revis. If you're looking for fantasy value, look elsewhere.