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Eli Mack, Sal Marcoccio, Chris Eakin, Nick Caron


Inside The Matchup: Wk 5
10/8/10

JAX @ BUF | GB @ WAS | TEN @ DAL | MIN @ NYJ

NO @ ARI | SD @ OAK | PHI @ SF | ATL @ CLE

TB @ CIN | STL @ DET | DEN @ BAL | KC @ IND

CHI @ CAR | NYG @ HOU
 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Kilroy 10 4 71.4
2 Marcoccio 10 6 62.5
3 Autry 8 5 61.5
4 Eakin 9 6 60.0
5 Caron 2 2 50.0

Jaguars @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: David Garrard has been Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde depending on where he happens to be taking his snaps. At home he’s put up solid numbers and played well, but on the road he’s been the type of QB that gets benched for Luke McCown. It’s not just this season. His career splits are 191.1 ypg with 45 TDs and 18 Interceptions at home versus 172.2 ypg with 27 TDs and 26 Interceptions while on the road. He’s on the road this week – ‘nuff said. Mike Sims-Walker has absolutely disappeared during two out of the four weeks this season and is therefore likely finding his way to fantasy benches throughout the country. Despite what seems like a juicy matchup against the overmatched Bills, it’s likely a wise move to find a better option than MSW for one more week at least.

The Bills pass defense has not been as effective as last season when they finished second in the league against the pass allowing only 184.3 ypg with 14 TDs and 29 interceptions. In 2010 they are allowing 208.8 ypg with 8 TDs through the air and no interceptions on the season. Last week they even allowed the Jets WR/Wildcat QB Brad Smith to toss a TD to TE Dustin Keller. On that note, the Bills have allowed 11.8 fantasy points per game to opposing TEs, the second worst in the league. If you have to start some one from the Jags passing game, it should therefore be Marcedes Lewis.

Running Game Thoughts: The rush of hot air you may have felt last Sunday at around 4:00 p.m. was all the Maurice Jones-Drew owners breathing out a sigh of relief. Jones-Drew finally lived up to his high draft status accumulating a 121 total yards and 2 TDs. Be prepared for some more hot air, because the Bills can not stop anyone on the ground. They are once again the worst run defense in the NFL allowing an incredible 174 ypg and 7 TDs on the ground through 4 weeks.

Projections:
David Garrard: 174 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 Ints. / 20 yards rushing
Mike Sims-Walker: 35 yds receiving
Mike Thomas: 55 yds receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Rashad Jennings: 45 yds rushing
Maurice Jones-Drew: 120 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick did his best Michael Vick impersonation last week running for over 70 yards and also throwing for 2 TDs. Unlike Vick though, Fitzpatrick’s runs were not generally by design, rather he was running for his life from the fierce Jets’ pass rush. Fitzpatrick didn’t play all that poorly, and received no favors from his o-line or his running backs. Lee Evans has been missing in action all season and he can no longer be depended on – his name recognition is likely the only thing even keeping him rostered in most leagues. However, Steve Johnson has developed into a dependable garbage time receiver catching two TD passes the last two weeks as the Bills played catch up.

Jacksonville used to have a formidable defense but those days have long passed. Their pass defense is yielding 303.8 ypg and opponents have scored 9 TDs through the air. The front seven gets little pressure on opposing QBs and David Jones and Rashean Mathis are often overmatched.

Running Game Thoughts: For the third game in a row Marshawn Lynch was once again the featured back in the Buffalo running game, however as you are very likely aware, he was shipped off to Seattle this week, leaving only the smaller quicker backs, Jackson and Spiller, to carry the load. That development may help hide some of the shortcomings of the Bills’ o-line, as they may be able to quickly run to the sliver of daylight that exists. Expect Spiller’s role to significantly increase as the Bills now look to justify spending the No. 9 overall pick on him in this past NFL draft.

The Jaguar run defense isn’t anything special either. They are allowing 101 ypg and 6 TDs on the ground so far this season. Questionable high draft pick DEs Tyson Alualu and Derrick Harvey just have not panned out, causing a talent void in the front seven.

Projections:
Ryan Fitzpatrick: 235 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 30 yds rushing
Lee Evans: 70 yds receiving
Steve Johnson: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jonathan Stupar: 25 yds receiving
C.J. Spiller: 65 yds rushing / 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Fred Jackson: 40 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Bills 24 Jaguars 17 ^ Top

Packers @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: This offseason Aaron Rodgers declared that his TE Jermichael Finley will be his first look in the passing game, and so far that has generally been the case. Finley is an athletic specimen who produced well last season after retuning from injury, and is on pace for around 1,400 receiving yards on the season. However the cagey old veteran Donald Driver has not gone away quietly and has had a very good season so far as well. It’s not surprise that a TE and possession WR should be leading the way for the Pack as once again the o-line has not held up very well, which forces Rodgers to throw underneath. This has left a lot of disappointed fantasy owners of deep threat Greg Jennings. Jennings will have his big days eventually, but he’ll also have his quiet days especially when the Packers face defenses that feature a big pass rush.

The Redskins may provide the tonic that the Rodgers to Jennings pass connection needs however. Washington is allowing 305.6 passing yards per game and has yielded 6 passing TDs on the season. OLB Brian Orapko has played reasonably well and has at time pressured opposing QBs, but the problem has been that the Skins have been unable to generate pressure without blitzing. Against a QB like Rodgers with all of his weapons in the passing game, if the blitz fails to get there the consequences could be devastating.

Running Game Thoughts: If I can borrow some words from the immortal Boris Karloff while narrating “The Grinch”, the three words that best describe the Packer running game after Ryan Grant went down are “stink, stank, stunk”. FB John Kuhn is a hard no nonsense runner who has gained positive yardage on most of his carries, but seriously lacks any big play capabilities. Brandon Jackson has simply looked awful. Fantasy owners may be wise to stash rookie James Starks on their benches as he is expected to come off the PUP list after the Week 6 game, and it doesn’t appear that the Packers are going to pursue any outside options to kick start the running game.

The Washington run defense led by linebackers Rocky McIntosh and crafty veteran London Fletcher and hard hitting safety LaRon Landry have held opposing rushers to a mere 3.7 ypc and have only allowed two rushing TDs on the season. If you were tempted to try and squeeze another week out of waiver wire pickup Brandon Jackson you’d be wise not to succumb to that temptation as the sledding will be real tough against the Skins.

Projections:
Aaron Rodgers: 345 yds passing, 3 TDs / 15 yds rushing
Greg Jennings: 100 yds receiving, 1 TD
Donald Driver: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
James Jones: 30 yds receiving
Jermichael Finley: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
John Kuhn: 35 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving
Brandon Jackson: 25 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Donovan McNabb made a triumphant return to Lincoln Financial Field last weekend, but the Redskins relied more on their running game and defense to do so rather than McNabb’s arm. McNabb was of course traded from Philadelphia to division rival Washington this offseason. McNabb has played reasonably well so far in 2010 but just doesn’t have the weapons to put up significant passing numbers on a weekly basis. After WR Santana Moss and TE Chris Cooley, the depth chart is seriously lacking NFL talent. Last week I surmised that the team will eventually work TE Fred Davis into the offense while using more 2 TE sets, and I still believe that is in the team’s best interest. Joey Galloway, Anthony Armstrong and Roydell Williams just aren’t getting it done.

The Packers are allowing a respectable 185 ypg game and 1 TD per game through the air in 2010 despite their banged up secondary. Clay Matthews has put a lot of pressure on opposing QBs which can go a long way towards making an average (due to injuries) secondary look better. Surprisingly journeyman Shaun Hill lit them up last week which should give some hope to McNabb owners. If the at times shaky Skins o-line can hold up, McNabb may put up some numbers as the team tries to keep up with the high flying Packers.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s time for the Torain Train to leave the station. Clinton Portis said he heard a pop in his groin last week and is in serious jeopardy of missing a significant chunk of the season (reports state he will miss at least 4-6 weeks). Torain isn’t very fast but runs with authority. He showed just that as he ran over safety Quinton Mickell on his way to a 12 yard TD last week.

The Green Bay Packers had the No. 1 defense against the run last season. They allowed a mere 83.3 ypg and a ridiculously low 5 TDs on the ground all of last season. They haven’t fared as well thus far allowing 118 ypg and 2 TDs through four weeks, but are still a formidable unit albeit a banged up one.

Projections:
Donovan McNabb: 225 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 15 yards rushing
Santana Moss: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Joey Galloway: 35 yds receiving
Chris Cooley: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ryan Torain: 95 yds rushing / 15 yds receving

Prediction: Packers 27 Redskins 17 ^ Top

Titans @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Vince Young had a relatively big passing day in Week 1 against the Raiders but has been his usual unreliable self (from a fantasy perspective at least) since. He has not broke 200 yards passing nor has he thrown for more than 1 TD pass in any game during Weeks 2-4. His lack of running while trying to prove himself as a pocket passer, hasn’t helped his fantasy owners either. Former Rutgers star Kenny Britt has caught a TD pass the last two weeks but must begin to show some consist production before he can make a real fantasy impact. With that said, he is far too talented to lose targets to mediocre veterans like Justin Gage and Nate Washington, so if Vince Young ever develops into a adequate NFL passer, Britt could blossom.

Young is the type of QB that can neutralize the Cowboys above average pass rush if he can mange to escape the pocket and make some big plays with his legs early in the contest. If that does happen, with the Cowboys being a middle of the road pass defense (215 ypg and 4 TDs in 3 games), the former Texas star may be able to post adequate stats for those that need a bye week filler. You likely can find a better option though.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson has fallen way off the pace from achieving his goal of 2,500 rushing yards. However, he has had a few big runs called back due to penalties and he is still a “sure thing” in your starting line-up even when he has a “down” week. The Cowboys however may present a stiff test for Johnson, as they have only allowed 83.7 rushing yards per game and have not allowed a rushing TD on the season.

Projections:
Vince Young: 185 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 45 yds rushing
Kenny Britt: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 65 yds receving
Bo Scaife: 15 yds receiving
Chris Johnson: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 40 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo had his best season as a pro in 2009 (4,483-26-9) but got off to a slow start in 2010 largely as a result of his makeshift o-line. The line has been getting a little more healthy in recent weeks and will now be coming off a bye which should allowed them to come back strong. Rookie WR Dez Bryant has been targeted often by Romo this early season, but in the last game it was forgotten man Roy Williams that starred in the passing game. However, it’s Mile Austin and TE Jason Witten that are the ones that fantasy owners can truly rely on as they offer the talent and targets necessary for consistent production.

After a miserable 2009, the Titans pass defense has come back around this season (210.8 and 3 TDs). Cortland Finnegan is developing into one of the better coverage CBs in the league and may make life difficult for Miles Austin this week, allowing the other options to see an increase in targets.

Running Game Thoughts: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Jerry Jones came out this week and said that everyone involved from the coaching staff down to the guy selling peanuts at the stadium are in agreement that Felix Jones needs to be more involved in the offense going forward. Of course that really means that Jerry Jones thinks that Felix Jones needs to be more involved in the offense going forward. Felix has bulked up, looking stronger while still maintaining his big play ability so it wouldn’t be an unwise decision, but we’ll see if it happens. OC Jason Garrett seems to fall in love with the passing game once the whistle blows which makes any Cowboy RB a risky start.

The Titans are the 10th ranked run defense in the NFL. They are giving up only 92 yards per game and have only allowed one rushing TD on the season, so for this week at least abandoning the run may not be such a bad way to go for the Boys.

Projections:
Tony Romo: 285 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 15 yds rushing
Roy Williams: 25 yds receiving
Miles Austin: 40 yds receiving
Dez Bryant: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Felix Jones: 80 yds rushing, 1 TD / 30 yds receiving
Marion Barber: 35 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving

Prediction: Cowboys 24 Titans 20 ^ Top

Vikings @ Jets - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Ho Hum, another boring Monday Night contest lacking any subplots or intrigue. Yes, Brett Favre makes his return to his one time home of New Jersey to face his former team. While it’s not exactly Favre returning to Lambeau Filed as an opponent, the fact he returns with Randy Moss as his pitch and catch partner helps add some luster. Moss and Favre will only have a few days to create some chemistry, however given Brett’s gunslinger mentality and Moss’ deep speed the transition should come quickly for the two future first ballot Hall of Famers. Moss’ presence should also help open up the underneath routes for Percy Harvin and Favre favorite Visanthe Shiancoe which could be the real story come Monday Night.

Randy Moss v. Revis 2010 II (a/k/a the slouch v. the stud) was not expected to unfold until much later in the season. However, in a strange twist of fate, Revis makes his return to the field three weeks after tweaking a hamstring while covering Moss on his amazing one handed TD catch to once again face Moss. It’s always a difficult decision to bench a stud like Moss, but in a week where he is learning a new playbook, meeting new teammates and will be facing a very difficult matchup, it’s something to at least consider, even if he will potentially be rejuvenated by his new surroundings. Also keep in mind, the return of OLB Calvin Pace should really help the Jets’ pass rush which could in turn make those deep routes a dangerous proposition given Minnesota’s o-line issues and Brett’s bum ankle.

Running Game Thoughts: Adrian Peterson will be in the house as well, a fact that’s easy to overlook with all the Favre/Moss hype that is sure to come. The Vikings would be wise to try and pull back the reigns on the Jets blitzes by running Peterson up the gut early in the game. Peterson is a game changing back and will be the key to Minnesota pulling out a tough road win. If the Vikings can run the ball, it will make it more likely that Moss makes more of an impact on the field than he will during the pre-game show.

Of course the Jets 7th ranked run defense will be looking to keep Peterson in check, as they have done to all opposing running games thus far. With my sincere apologies to Ray Rice, Fred Taylor, Ronnie Brown and Marshawn Lynch, this will however be the stiffest test they have faced.

Projections:
Brett Favre: 235 yds passing 1 TD, 2 Ints.
Randy Moss: 45 yds receiving
Percy Harvin: 80 yds receiving
Visanthe Shiancoe: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Adrian Peterson: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Mark Sanchez has thrown for 8 TDs with zero interceptions through four weeks. That is quite a turnaround from last season where he finished with 12 TDs against 20 interceptions. Sanchez has worked extremely well with third year TE Dustin Keller, who is part of the new breed TEs that create mismatches wherever they line up. This week the former Trojan adds another weapon to the mix, former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes. Holmes is a playmaker that can run the short routes or stretch the field with equal aplomb and should form a dangerous duo with Keller. Holmes’ arrival will push Jerricho Cotchery to the WR3 role further diminishing his already minor fantasy value.

Sanchez’ progress will be tested this week as he faces the leagues 3rd ranked pass defense. (189.0 ypg and 3 TDs). The Vikings have turned around what was a very poor pass defense last season and have received strong play from CB Antoine Winfield. Surprisingly the Vikings have played the pass well without the benefit of a strong pass rush – only 4 sacks on the season – but with a player like Jared Allen on the team that could change any given week.

Running Game Thoughts: LaDainian Tomlinson has looked remarkable during the 2010 season and is clearly out to prove that he’s not finished yet. Last week he rushed for 133 yards and 2 TDs, including a 26 yarder where he left safety Donte Whitner grasping at air. Shonn Greene joined the party with a 100 yard game of his one – but unfortunately the Jets will not be playing the Bills every week so don’t expect both backs to be able to generate so much production on a weekly basis.

The Jets of course do not play the Bills this week, instead they face the Williams Wall and the Vikings 4th ranked run defense. The Vikings have been a tough opponent for opposing rushers for a few years running now – and it will interesting to see how Nick Mangold, Matt Slausen and Brandon Moore handle the tough interior of the Vikings front seven. If they can win their battles letting Tomlinson and Greene get their games going, the Jets should be able to defend their home field.

Projections:
Mark Sanchez: 240 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 10 yards rushing
Braylon Edwards: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Santonio Holmes: 65 yds receiving
Dustin Keller: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Shonn Greene: 35 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving
LaDainian Tomlinson: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Jets 28 Minnesota 17 ^ Top

Saints @ Cardinals - (Eakin)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Saints offense has started 2010 slower than most expected. Ranked fifth in passing is sluggish by their standards. Many factors may be involved but perhaps the most glaring has been the lack of big plays from top WR Marques Colston. In fact, both TE Jeremy Shockey and WR Lance Moore have better yards and more scores than Colston through four games. The Cardinals may provide just the dose of bad defense medicine that could kick-start the Saints engine. Colston will draw a tough cover corner in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, so he is still a bit of a risk, but odds are good that Lance Moore will extend his hot streak to three games. The Saints can take advantage of the Cards lack of cover ability at the safety and nickel corner positions. Moore has taken much of the quick hitting short routes the Saints usually reserve for Reggie Bush when active. Jeremy Shockey should also be licking his chops after seeing the Cards lose coverage on TE Antonio Gates for two scores last week. The sleeper play of the week is Devery Henderson. Henderson has been the main deep threat from the saints this season and draws one of the league’s most picked on CBs, Greg Toler. Henderson or Meacham will hit him for a big play, odds are its Henderson.

Running Game Thoughts: Pierre Thomas is questionable after missing last week with an ankle sprain. In his place Ladell Betts and Chris Ivory split carries evenly. Neither back has huge potential in that scenario even with a weak defense. Ivory is the more of the goaline threat, which may give him an edge. If Thomas plays, you have to assume he can have a big day.

Projections:
Drew Brees: 300 yds/2 TDs
Marques Colston: 60 yds
Lance Moore: 75 yds/1 TD
Devery Henderson: 70 yds/1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 65 yds rushing/40 yds rec/1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: As the season quickly spins out of control the Cardinals will turn to QB Max Hall, a rookie from BYU. The coaches are big fans of Hall, and maybe with a week of reps he’ll improve, but he looked lost when he entered in relief against the Chargers last week. The passing offense will remain limited while the rook gets his sea legs. They will continue to target Larry Fitzgerald a ton, but the Saints pass rush and exotic blitzing will confuse Hall and bracket Fitz. Another rookie Stephen Williams, has been thrust into a great opportunity with Breaston and Doucet out, but so far hasn’t parlayed his preseason magic into real game contributions. If you drafted Fitz, you may be stuck playing him, things can’t get worse.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints can be run on. The Cards will test put that theory to the test to protect their rookie signal caller. It will be interesting to see how RB Beanie Wells is used. Wells didn’t get his first carry last week until the end of the second quarter. With their current struggles, it is mysterious why the most talented healthy RB would not be thrust into action right away. His usage is apparently a mystery to Wells himself as his post game tirade showed. If he is second fiddle to Hightower again then it’s time to put a dog collar on him while he sits in the doghouse. For now, this backfield remains a split until proven otherwise.

Projections:
Max Hall: 150 yds/1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 60 yds
Stephen Williams: 35 yds
Tim Hightower: 45 yds rushing/30 yds rec
Chris Wells: 65 yds/1 TD

Prediction: New Orleans 31 Arizona 10 ^ Top

Chargers @ Raiders - (Eakin)

Passing Game Thoughts: Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have the hottest passing combo in the league right now are the reason San Diego will enter week 5 with the top rated offense. Most opponents choose to attack the Raiders on the ground, which they will do plenty of, but they are a throwing team and will get look for Gates in the red zone. The Raiders are a top five-pass defense in large part to CB Nnamdi Asomugha and their overall speed in the secondary. Both of which will make for a tougher than normal day for Malcom Floyd who relies on the deep passing game. Secondary options Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee will contribute but serve to cancel each other’s fantasy value.

Running Game Thoughts: Last week was expected to be the coming out party for Ryan Mathews after a frustratingly slow start. Instead, Mathews injures an elbow in practice and again takes a back seat to bowling ball Mike Tolbert. Tolbert continued to pick up chunks at ten-yard clips and continue making it hard to give full rushing duties back to Mathews. Mathews entered the game with some garbage time action and played just as well, making the situation complex. At this point, we have to take Norv Turner’s word on good faith that Mathews will be the starter moving forward. You better believe he and the rest of the organization hope the kid takes the job and runs with it before major controversy begins and people start questioning their first round pick usage on a 2nd string RB. Tolbert has at least earned himself a short yardage role for the time being. The juicy matchup makes both players worth a start for the week.

Predictions:
Philip Rivers: 255 yds/2TDs/1 INT
Malcom Floyd: 65 yds
Legedu Naanee: 45 yds/1 TD
Antonio Gates: 90 yds/1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 85 yds
Mike Tolbert: 45 yds/1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Guys like Bruce Gradkowski are why fantasy pundits often preach skipping QBs early in fantasy drafts. There are always surprises to be had that step up and produce serviceable numbers. In two close losses, Jason Campbell’s replacement has thrown for 255 and 275 yards. It was a good indication of his progression that with a beat up WR core relied upon his first two weeks, Gradkowski was able to adapt by hooking up with TE Zach Miller for 122 yards and a score. He is diverse enough to hurt defenses in different ways that will make defensive game planning difficult when Louis Murphy, Darius Heyward-Bey and eventually Chaz Schilens get healthy. Murphy and Heyward-Bey are still banged up but should play. The Chargers have been terrific on defense thus far and will keep the speedy Oakland WRs in front of them. They will allow the Raiders to dink and dunk to Miller and hope to build a lead if they can put it all together on the road for the first time this year. A lead will make the Raiders one dimensional and vulnerable to the pass rush.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite comments, on the contrary I don’t think Run DMC plays this week. If you’ve ever pulled a hamstring, you understand why. In his place preseason popular breakout candidate, Michael Bush will get his shot. The two pro game that Bush has seen 20 plus carries he has delivered big. If he can triple it up against one of the stingiest run defenses thus far, he may earn himself a timeshare when McFadden returns.

Projections:
Bruce Gradkowski: 220 yds/1 TD/2 INT
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 50 yds/1 TD
Louis Murphy: 60 yds
Zach Miller: 80 yds/1 TD
Michael Bush: 85 yds/1 TD

Prediction: Chargers 27 Raiders 20 ^ Top

Eagles @ 49ers - (Eakin)

Passing Game Thoughts: “McNabbapalooza” couldn’t have gone any worse for the Eagles. They lose two and the league’s hottest players in Mike Vick and LeSean McCoy, along with a division loss at home. Re-enter Kevin Kolb who can’t have much confidence after being anointed over a possible Hall of Famer McNabb, concussed after one poor quarter of play, demoted in favor of a player once in the NFL’s biggest…well, doghouse, and thrust back into starting after two weeks of anointing his replacement. The result of his roller coaster ride has him turning and firing every pass at his RB after a three step drop, commonly known as, “Checkdownitis Syndrome”. Three-yard outs make for good accuracy but won’t do much for big play dependant WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. The fact is it’s too soon make rash judgments on Kolb, but I don’t like his chances to put up big numbers against a 49er defense that will being playing for their season in front of the home crowd. Kolb will be safe, not dazzling, and TE Brent Celek will be the biggest beneficiary.

Running Game Thoughts: As of writing this, the status of LeSean McCoy is still up in the air. The rib injury doesn’t sound good but he wants to give it a go and did stay in the game after sustaining it last week. If he plays, McCoy will face a stiff 49er defense against the run. He won’t be pounded in to the line repeatedly given his condition so his fantasy production will be reception heavy. Look for Mike Bell and Eldra Buckley will fill in. Bell would be a flex at best given the matchup.

Projections:
Kevin Kolb: 225 yds/1 TD
DeSean Jackson: 60 yds/1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 50 yds
Brent Celek: 80 yds/1 TD
Mike Bell: 65 yds/35 rec

Passing Game Thoughts: As expected the change at offensive coordinator led to a increase in passing last week. Lead WR Michael Crabtree showed a pulse, which is encouraging. What wasn’t encouraging was his post game interview in which he threw his QB Alex Smith under the bus by saying his new OC “…can’t throw the passes…” If Crabtree doesn’t get going, the season is lost. Josh Morgan is just a guy. He’s a complimentary player at this point not a guy you can hang your hat on. TE Vernon Davis remains the biggest passing threat outside if Gore. The Eagles have a history of struggling to cover TEs because they lack size in the secondary. Davis should have a big game and Crabtree will steadily continue to get more involved as long as the Niner’s still have a shot to get back in the division race, which they do if they win this critical game.

Running Game Thoughts: Because Adrian Peterson had a bye last week, Frank Gore is second in fantasy production for RBs behind Arian Foster. A big part of his success has been as receiver, so his production shouldn’t drop off too much as the Niner’s install that “new-fangled” forward pass trick in to their plans. The Eagles are small on defense, which has posed problems stopping the run against physical fronts. The 49ers have a physical front. The 49ers will run and run well. Big week for Gore with the season in the balance.

Projections:
Alex Smith: 200 yds/1 TD/1 INT
Michael Crabtree: 65 yds
Josh Morgan: 40 yds
Vernon Davis: 85 yds/1 TD
Frank Gore: 120 yds/35 rec/2 TDs

Prediction: 49ers 27 Eagles 17 ^ Top

Falcons @ Browns - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan has been an inconsistent fantasy player so far in 2010. Back to back games in weeks 2 and 3 against Arizona and New Orleans saw Ryan throw a combined five TDs with no INTs. But those games were sandwiched between outings against Pittsburgh and San Francisco in which he tossed a total of one TD and three picks. Fantasy football is tough enough, but it’s doubly troubling when your QB is up and down like that. Perhaps it would help if someone other than Roddy White or Tony Gonzalez stepped up their play. This duo accounts for 55 percent of Ryan’s completions. While that’s not a value-killer, something has to be said about the lack of depth at the receiver position for the Falcons.

That being said, that kind of tunnel vision toward White and Gonzalez certainly heightens there fantasy appeal. White’s 32 receptions put him second in the league, and Gonzalez has been…well…Gonzalez. Teams have been able to move the ball through the air vs. Cleveland, as the 24th-ranked pass defense has given up seven passing TDs. Atlanta is a well-balanced team and should be able to keep Cleveland’s defense guessing. He should, however, keep Gonzalez and White relevant in fantasy football, and both are solid starts this week. Injured WR Michael Jenkins is getting closer to returning to action, but probably won’t go this week. Keep him on your bench.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner has gotten off to his slowest start as an Atlanta Falcon. He has only one TD through four games, compared to five scores through four games in both 2008 and 2009. It should also be noted that back-up RB Jason Snelling is getting more carries too. However, Turner remains the beast many believe he is and is the primary cog in a balanced Atlanta offense. The Falcons so far this season have 149 called pass plays and 149 called run plays.

On the surface some may believe that Turner is a shoo-in for a solid game. Sure, Cleveland has the 17th-ranked run defense in the league. Nothing real special, right? But keep in mind the Browns have yet to surrender a rushing TD—this after playing teams who love to run the football: Kansas City, Baltimore and Cincinnati. If anybody can break that streak, Turner can. Just be mindful of the way in which Cleveland has limited RBs so far this season.

Projections:
Matt Ryan 220 yards / 2 TDs / 1 INT
Michael Turner 85 yards / 1 TD
Roddy White 95 yards / 1 TD
Harry Douglas 30 yards
Tony Gonzalez 70 yards / 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Cleveland’s passing game is not pretty to look at. They have no true threat on the outside and their QB situation ranks among the leagues’ worst. Jake Delhomme looks to return to action this week from an injured ankle sustained in week 1. Seneca Wallace played admirably in his absence and could fill in if Delhomme experiences a setback this week. But regardless of who plays QB, this team is painfully devoid of any receivers of note in fantasy football, although TE Ben Watson is among the league leaders in targets for TEs.

Atlanta has quietly been solid against the pass this year. They’ve held opposing QBs to only four TDs with eight INTs, and only Drew Brees has thrown for more than 250 yards against them. True, they’ve only faced the likes of Dennis Dixon, Derek Anderson and Alex Smith, but that makes the prospects of holding down a limited Cleveland passing game that much more plausible. As mentioned earlier, keep your Cleveland WRs on the bench, sans Ben Watson in TE-required leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Every year a player emerges at each position that gives fantasy owners a healthy sense of ingenuity. Peyton Hillis is one of those players for 2010. After opening the eyes of fantasy players everywhere with his stellar performance against Baltimore in week 3, he follows it up with an equally stellar game against Cincinnati last week. He’s scored a TD in every game so far, plus he has a role in the passing game. His 16 receptions are second on the team behind Ben Watson’s 18. The Browns found themselves a player that they can build a physical offense around. He’s a 20-25 carries-per-game player if ever there was one. Hillis’ opportunities in both phases of the game will continue to make him a solid fantasy RB. Put him and keep him in your line-up.

Projections:
Jake Delhomme 185 yards / 1 TD / 2 INT
Peyton Hillis 90 rushing yards / 35 rec yards / 1 rushing TD
Chansi Stuckey 55 yards
Josh Cribbs 40 yards rec / 30 rushing yards
Ben Watson 50 yards / 1 TD

Prediction: Atlanta 24, Cleveland 17 ^ Top

Buccaneers @ Bengals - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: His yardage total could be higher and so could his completion percentage, but all things considered, Josh Freeman has shown rapid signs of development in only his second season. After throwing a total of four TDs with only one INT through the first couple of games in 2010, Freeman came back to earth with a thud in game #3 against Pittsburgh. That still didn’t prevent fantasy owners from grabbing him off the wire and stashing him in the just-in-case-he-blows-up section of their bench.

His development has been aided by the play of WR Mike Williams (the good one) and the oft-injured but still-producing TE Kellen Winslow. Cincy is a top-10 pass defense so far this season and will present a tough challenge to the young core of Tampa’s passing game. The one good aspect of the Bucs’ attack against the Bengals is Cincy’s three sacks are the fewest in the league. That lack of pressure will help Freeman scan the field and find his targets. Both teams are known for playing ugly, low scoring games. Only once this season has either Cincy or Tampa scored more than 20 points. It could be that kind of game this week, so don’t expect eye-popping stats from the Bucs’ passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: For better or for worse, Cadillac Williams is Tampa Bay’s primary ball carrier. His 2.7 yards per carry won’t worry many defenses, especially a defense in Cincinnati that’s given up only two rushing TDs so far this season. To shine an even dimmer light on the situation is Tampa Bay has only one rushing TD this season, so suffice it to say, don’t expect Williams or any other Tampa RB to hit pay dirt. Earnest Graham, while not a factor in the running game, certainly gets his share of looks in the passing game. He has 10 receptions on the year along with a receiving TD. Graham has bottom-feeder value for those desperate owners in PPR leagues. Otherwise, steer clear of Tampa’s RBs this week altogether.

Projections:
Josh Freeman 210 yards / 1 TD / 1 INT
Cadillac Williams 70 yards
Earnest Graham 20 yards rushing / 35 yards rec
Mike Williams 65 yards
Sammie Stroughter 30 yards
Kellen Winslow 60 yards / 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Palmer’s 2005 season seems like a decade ago. He threw a career high 32 TDs that season and appeared on the verge of becoming a yearly top-5 (at least) fantasy QB. Well, things haven’t quite worked out that way over the last four-plus seasons. Ok, he has two games this season in which he threw for well over 300 yards. But those games book-end two stinkers against Baltimore and Carolina—games that saw him throw a total of one TD and two picks. That kind of inconsistency drives fantasy owners nuts and makes deciding to start players like that a dreadful experience.

Palmer displayed flashes of his former dominant self last week, throwing for the most yards in a game since week two of the 2007 season. Even Terrell Owens dipped into the fountain of youth. The problem, however, remains the inconsistency of this passing attack. Collectively, the Bengals’ offense followed up a week one stellar performance with a forgettable game against Baltimore in week two. Tampa’s no Baltimore, I’ll admit. And the Bucs have only faced Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore and Charlie Batch, making their #10 defensive ranking a bit liberal. But I can’t say with any level of confidence to start either Palmer, Owens or Chad Ochocinco. They all make me nervous. I realized, though, that some of you may be forced to do so. In that case, start them and simply hope for the best.

Running Game Thoughts: Owners of Cedric Benson enjoy one of the few non-RBBC situations in the league. He’s a workhorse and the Bengals treat him accordingly. It’d be nice, however, if Benson starts putting up the numbers he tantalized us with in 2009. He’s averaged 4 or more yards per carry only once this season and hasn’t come close to breaking the century mark. His lack of attention in the passing game is also a buzz kill. But as long as you understand what you have in Benson, there’s little to dislike fantasy-wise about him. His opportunities will eventually translate into productive games, and your patience will soon be rewarded.

This could be the game where Benson breaks out. Tampa Bay is 28th in the league against the run, and they’ve only played three games. Opposing RBs average almost 5 yards per carry against them, so Benson should have running lanes to run through. Expect Benson’s best performance of 2010 this week.

Projections:
Carson Palmer 220 yards / 1 TD / 0 INT
Cedric Benson 95 yards / 2 TDs
Chad Ochocinco 85 yards
Terrell Owens 60 yards
Jermaine Gresham 50 yards / 1 TD

Prediction: Cincinnati 21, Tampa Bay 13 ^ Top

Rams @ Lions - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: So much for bringing the rookie QB along slowly. Sam Bradford has averaged 40 pass attempts per game in 2010 and has looked anything BUT the rookie that he is. It helps that he has a bunch of productive—albeit not necessarily the most talented—receivers. Mark Clayton. Danny Amendola. Daniel Fells. These names look like they belong on a practice squad somewhere. But the rookie has orchestrated a passing offense chock-full of cast-offs and has-beens and formed them into a productive unit.

This has the makings of a high-scoring game. Detroit’s 26th-ranked pass defense can’t seem to get out of its own way and are primed for the picking—even by a rookie QB making only his fifth start. Detroit played well on the road last week against the potent Green Bay passing attack, so conventional wisdom says they should play well against the Rams. But as we all know, there’s nothing conventional about the Detroit Lions. Look for Clayton to get deep on at least one long pass play; he should have a big game along with Bradford.

Running Game Thoughts: I haven’t had Steven Jackson on my fantasy team since his rookie season when he split time with Marshall Faulk, but it now must be frustrating for his owners to see him with minor bumps and bruises that put his availability in question each week. He’s a monster when healthy, and I’m certain he won’t miss the action against Detroit this week. Remember, he torched them last year and had his best rushing game of the season. Detroit supposedly fortified its rush defense, but they’re still ranked among the league’s worst in yardage allowed and TDs surrendered. Jackson should have a good game this week both via the ground game and his role in the passing game.

Projections:
Sam Bradford 235 yards / 2 TDs / 2 INTs
Steven Jackson 135 yards rushing / 35 yards rec / 1 rush TD
Mark Clayton 110 yards / 1 TD
Danny Amendola 45 yards
Daniel Fells 25 yards

Passing Game Thoughts: No team has thrown the ball more than the Detroit Lions through the first four games of 2010. What does that mean from a fantasy standpoint? That means a high probability of turnovers from the QB Shaun Hill (seven on the season), as well as an abundance of opportunities for the WRs and TEs to have productive games. Calvin Johnson has been masquerading as an elite NFL receiver for some time. Let’s see him produce for once on a regular basis. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game in eight tries and only has four TDs in that stretch—and half of those came last week. Johnson should be able to do a few things against the Rams 25th-ranked pass defense. But we’ve said that before.

A player who’s flown under the radar all season long is TE Brandon Pettigrew. He leads the team in receptions, and only three TEs in the NFL have been thrown to more than Pettigrew. He plays for an awful team, but he has gotten all kinds of attention in the passing game. If you’re struggling at TE or having issues with the bye week, go get Pettigrew now. WR Nate Burleson could return this week from injury, but he’s a non-factor.

Running Game Thoughts: Jahvid Best’s value was waaaay over-inflated after the first two games. It’s come down to where it should’ve been in the first place, but kudos to those who may have gotten a steal while he was a white-hot commodity on your roster. Some may point to an ailing big toe as the culprit for his play leveling off the past two games, but I simply think it’s the level of play we should have expected from day one. Sure he’s an explosive player, but the comparisons to Barry Sanders after two games were, obviously, a bit premature. This could prove to be another game in which Best doesn’t meet the standards he set in the first two games. The Rams have only given up one rushing TD, so whatever damage Best may inflict may be done via the passing game. Don’t be surprised if Best breaks another long pass off a screen play.

Projections:
Shaun Hill 255 yards / 2 TDs / 2 INTs
Jahvid Best 55 yards rushing / 40 yards rec
Calvin Johnson 90 yards / 1 TD
Bryant Johnson 20 yards
Brandon Pettigrew 55 yards / 1 TD
Tony Scheffler 35 yards

Prediction: St. Louis 24, Detroit 20 ^ Top

Broncos @ Ravens - (Autry)

Passing Game Thoughts: I have skin underneath my fingernails from scratching my head at the fact that Kyle Orton leads the league in passing yards. Kyle Orton. The Broncos have no semblance of a running game, but they more than make up for it with a passing game led productively by Orton. He’s averaging more than 350 yards passing per game and I’m sure has supplanted fantasy starters drafted many rounds prior. What’s so strange about Denver leading the league in passing is the fact that they are without a bona fide superstar at WR. They got rid of Brandon Marshall and essentially expected the likes of Brandon Lloyd, Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney to step up their games. And they have.

It should be a treat to watch Denver’s top passing offense go against the league’s top pass defense in the Ravens. Funny how we all thought Baltimore’s secondary would be a hindrance heading into the season. They haven’t gone up against a passing attack like Denver’s, but I think the Ravens will be up to the task. Baltimore has only given up one TD pass so far in 2010. Orton and crew may have their worst outing of the season this week. You should definitely limit your expectations.

Running Game Thoughts: Denver is scrambling to create a running game. They’re currently last in the league in that department; although they hope Laurence Maroney’s arrival will help infuse some productivity. The Broncos as a team barely average 2 yards per carry, and with Knowshon Moreno’s return still probably at least a week away, that number won’t change much anytime soon. Denver is not suited to exploit Baltimore’s biggest weakness so far in 2010: its run defense. The Ravens are 21st against the run and allowed Peyton Hillis to rumble for a ton of yards several weeks ago. So they can be had. The problem is Denver doesn’t have the horses to succeed with that gameplan. Expect another average day from the Broncos rushing attack.

Projections:
Kyle Orton 220 yards / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Laurence Maroney 35 yards
Correll Buckhalter 20 yards rushing / 35 yards rec
Brandon Lloyd 65 yards rec
Eddie Royal 45 yards rec / 1 TD
Jabar Gaffney 30 yards rec
Daniel Graham 35 yards

Passing Game Thoughts: Joe Flacco has recovered nicely from that week two debacle against Cincinnati when he tossed four INTs. He’s since thrown four TDs and one INT over the last two games and it appears he’s finally in sync with Anquan Boldin. Flacco remains well behind last year’s pace, but it’s nice to see his play come around recently. I believed Boldin would reach 100 receptions this season and he’s well on his way. Boldin has flourished for the most part this season despite going up against some of the league’s toughest defenses (Jets, Steelers). Don’t expect anything less than a solid performance from Boldin this week.

The Broncos miss DE Elvis Dumervil. They have only four sacks on the season, so if they’re unable to pressure Flacco, things could get dicey for Denver’s secondary. Champ Bailey isn’t getting any younger, plus he’s continuing to battle through nagging injuries. Derrick Mason is the same under-the-radar fantasy performer he’s been for the last half-dozen years or so. Start him if you need a WR3. T.J. Houshmandzadeh, his game-winning TD catch last week aside, continues to try and fit into the passing scheme in Baltimore. He’s yet to become a reliable fantasy option; keep him benched until further notice.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice is attempting to fight through a knee injury that limited his effectiveness last week against Pittsburgh last week. Ok, well maybe it was a combination of the knee and the Steelers stifling defense. Whatever the case, Rice has been a bit disappointing so far this season. Dating back to last season, he hasn’t scored in his last seven games. That’s not the kind of production many hoped for when they chose Rice with what was likely a top-7 draft pick. Things won’t get much easier this week against Denver. They have the 12th-ranked run defense and held the ever-dangerous Chris Johnson to a paltry 53 yards last week. Willis McGahee could see more action as Rice continues to get incorporated more in the gameplan while working through his knee injury. Fantasy production in this game will come from both teams’ passing attack. Limited expectations from the running game should be the order of the day.

Projections:
Joe Flacco 240 yards / 2 TDs / 1 INT
Ray Rice 35 yards rushing / 20 yards rec
Willis McGahee 30 yards
Anquan Boldin 110 yards / 1 TD
Derrick Mason 45 yards
T.J. Houshmandzadeh 20 yards
Todd Heap 35 yards / 1 TD

Prediction: Baltimore 20, Denver 10 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Colts - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s hard to believe the only remaining undefeated team is the Kansas City Chiefs—a team that won just four games in 2009. Kansas City just seems to get enough out of their minimally talented roster to walk away with wins. It’s surprising, as well, because the Chiefs passing game has been struggled heavily, ranking 27th in the league at just 161.3 yards per game. After a Week 1 game when he threw for just 68 yards, Matt Cassel improved to 176 in Week 2 and 250 in Week 3. Still, it’s hard to trust a passing game whose leading receiver is rookie tight end Tony Moeaki. Wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers have been huge disappointments so far and have caught just 12 total passes between them in 2010. The Chiefs will need them to step it up significantly if they want to make it to 4-0.

They will have a chance to turn things around in the passing game this week as they play an Indianapolis Colts defense that has been struggling against the pass, having allowed six touchdowns while intercepting just three passes. After giving up nearly 500 yards passing to Denver’s Kyle Orton, there is always the chance that Cassel could break out with a big game—but try not to count on it.

Running Game Thoughts: As bad as the Chiefs passing game has been, their running game has been the polar opposite. With 160.7 yards per game on the ground, the Chiefs currently rank third in NFL in rushing yardage—behind only the Texans and the Jets. The one-two punch of veteran Thomas Jones and up-and-comer Jamaal Charles has been extremely successful. While Jones has been getting about two-thirds of the carries, Jamaal Charles has actually been the more productive back, having run for 21 yards more and contributing 86 yards more in the passing game.

If the Chiefs can stay in this game against a hungry Colts team, it will likely be due to success on the ground. Currently 29th in the league in rushing yards allowed, the Colts have really struggled to stop three of the four teams they’ve faced from running all over them. If Indianapolis doesn’t get ahead early in the game, we could see the Chiefs run the ball 35-plus times this week.

Projections:
Matt Cassel 165 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Jamaal Charles 75 yards rushing / 1 TD / 20 yards receiving
Thomas Jones 90 yards rushing / 1 TD / 5 yards receiving
Dwayne Bowe 55 yards receiving / 0 TD
Dexter McCluster 35 yards receiving / 0 TD
Chris Chambers 25 yards receiving / 0 TD
Tony Moeaki 45 yards receiving / 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: To say that this guy is a fantasy star is an understatement—Peyton Manning may very well be the best fantasy quarterback of all time. Currently the top-scoring quarterback in the league, Manning has thrown multiple touchdowns in every game this season while throwing for at least 325 yards in three of the Colts’ four contests. Practically every receiver who has been on the field has contributed in some way, including a breakout campaign from second-year wideout Austin Collie. Like Manning, Collie is currently the top-scoring player at his position and has caught at least one touchdown in every game this season. Collie, however, missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, making him questionable for Sunday’s game (pay attention to Friday and Saturday’s practices to get a better idea if he will play). With the Colts defense allowing opposing teams to stay in almost every game, Manning has been asked to pass even more than usual. That should continue this week against the Chiefs.

The Chiefs pass defense numbers don’t look particularly bad on the surface, but when we consider the competition they’ve faced, they may be a bit misleading. The Chiefs started the season with a big win over the division rival San Diego Chargers, but they quietly allowed nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns against Philip Rivers during a torrential downpour. The Chiefs then conceded back-to-back 225-plus yard passing games to the Browns and 49ers—two teams that are among the worst pass offenses in the league. Needless to say, weather won’t be an issue at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, and Peyton Manning is much scarier than Seneca Wallace or Alex Smith. This has “big game” written all over it.

Running Game Thoughts: Though he hasn’t cracked 100 yards on the ground in 23 straight games, Colts running back Joseph Addai finally got into the touchdown column this season when he rushed for two scores last week against the Jaguars. Unfortunately, the Colts running game is far too inconsistent to expect that from Addai on a weekly basis. With the Chiefs defense coming off of a game where they held Frank Gore to under 50 yards on the ground, it’s hard to believe that Addai is going to do much of anything. He remains a low-end RB2 or a flex play, especially against an underrated Chiefs run defense.

Projections:
Peyton Manning 335 yards passing / 3 TD / 0 INT
Joseph Addai 40 yards rushing / 0 TD / 25 yards receiving
Reggie Wayne 120 yards receiving 1 TD
Pierre Garcon 40 yards receiving / 1 TD
Austin Collie 20 yards receiving / 0 TD
Blair White 25 yards receiving / 0 TD
Dallas Clark 70 yards receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Kansas City 21, Indianapolis 30 ^ Top

Bears @ Panthers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After a great start to the season, quarterback Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears passing game fell back to earth in their Week 4 game against the Giants. With an amazing night that included double-digit sacks, the Giants pummeled and knocked both starter Jay Cutler and backup Todd Collins out of the game, forcing the Bears to look even further down the depth chart to second-year quarterback Caleb Hanie.

Cutler has been ruled out for this coming game, so the Bears will turn back to Collins to start. Collins, a career backup, was last relied upon to start a game back in 2007 as a member of the Washington Redskins, when he replaced an injured Jason Campbell. Though Collins has performed well in his backup role, he is not much of a threat to a Panthers pass defense that held Carson Palmer and Drew Brees in check in back-to-back weeks leading up to this Sunday’s contest.

Running Game Thoughts: With Jay Cutler out, the Bears will likely lean heavily on a running game that includes both Matt Forte and Chester Taylor. Forte’s best game on the ground this season has been just 50 yards, while he’s had three other games of less than 30 yards. Fortunately for the Bears, Forte has been impressive in catching passes, as he currently leads the team with 16 receptions and three touchdowns. Backup running back Chester Taylor hasn’t been given much opportunity to run the ball, with just 19 carries in four games. But like Forte, Taylor has done most of his damage as a receiver.

Look for the Panthers to stack the box in an effort to stop Forte and Taylor—they won’t respect Todd Collins’ passing ability until he proves he can make them pay.

Projections:
Todd Collins 180 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INT
Matt Forte 50 yards rushing / 0 TD / 50 yards receiving / 1 TD
Chester Taylor 25 yards rushing / 0 TD / 10 yards receiving
Johnny Knox 35 yards receiving / 0 TD
Devin Hester 20 yards receiving / 0 TD
Earl Bennett 30 yards receiving / 0 TD
Greg Olsen 30 yards receiving / 0 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie Jimmy Clausen is on the other side of the field in a game that might include the least amount of passing yardage between two teams this week. In two starts, Clausen has averaged just 167 yards while throwing just one touchdown. He has also been intercepted once and fumbled three times. His only touchdown came on a deep ball to running back Jonathan Stewart last week on a complete defensive breakdown—don’t expect that to happen regularly.

Chicago has done a good job stopping the deep pass from opposing offenses, and they will certainly do everything they can to keep multiple defenders on Steve Smith all day. Smith is currently listed as questionable with an ankle sprain, so even if he does play, his upside won’t be very good.

While the Bears are one of only a few teams that have allowed more than 1,000 yards passing this season, the majority of those yards came against Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers—significantly better quarterbacks than Clausen. In addition, the Bears have allowed just two passing touchdowns while intercepting four passes and forcing four fumbles from opposing quarterbacks. Clausen could develop into a franchise quarterback at some point, but don’t risk your fantasy game on him this week.

Running Game Thoughts: The Panthers are admittedly a run-first offense. With perhaps the best backfield combo in the league in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, Carolina needs the running game to reach its potential if they want a chance of winning this game. Though neither back has broken a 100-yard game this season, the potential for both of them to do it in the same week is always there.

Chicago had its hands full last week with the Giants’ duo of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, allowing nearly 200 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. No disrespect to those two, but the Williams/Stewart combo is much more talented, and the Panthers will likely rely on the run even more than the Giants did.

Projections:
Jimmy Clausen 135 yards passing / 0 TD / 2 INT / 10 yards rushing
DeAngelo Williams 105 yards rushing / 1 TD / 5 yards receiving
Jonathan Stewart 55 yards rushing / 1 TD / 10 yards receiving
Steve Smith 30 yards receiving / 0 TD
David Gettis 40 yards receiving / 0 TD
Dante Rosario 30 yards receiving / 0 TD

Prediction: Chicago 13, Carolina 17 ^ Top

Giants @ Texans - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Something has gone wrong with the Giants passing game. After throwing five touchdowns in the first two games, Eli Manning failed to throw even one in the next two. Though he has continued to put up a decent number of yards, Manning’s six interceptions to five touchdowns is more reminiscent of the early Eli Manning days than of the past couple seasons where he has looked like a top-10 NFL quarterback. Despite being drafted behind teammate Steve Smith in almost every draft, Hakeem Nicks seems to be the team’s only consistent receiver so far in 2010, catching 21 passes for 279 yards and four touchdowns. Manning will need Smith, Mario Manningham, and especially Kevin Boss to step up if he hopes to get back on pace.

The Texans’ swiss cheese–like pass defense is Eli’s chance to do just that. Currently ranked 31st in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, the Texans have already allowed eight passing touchdowns and over 1,400 yards through the air. They’ve forced just two interceptions, both of which came in Week 4 against Oakland’s Bruce Gradkowski. Manning is certainly capable of making similar mistakes, and Texans defensive end Mario Williams will do everything in his power to force Manning into those blunders.

Running Game Thoughts: The transition is officially complete—Brandon Jacobs is no longer this team’s starting running back, and Ahmad Bradshaw has become perhaps the best fantasy player on the Giants roster (even though he still yields some carries to Jacobs near the end zone). Bradshaw had his first 100-yard day on the ground this season in Week 4, when he rushed for 129 yards on 23 carries and scored a touchdown against a normally pretty good Bears run defense. Jacobs added 62 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but had just six carries, one of which he fumbled away in the red zone.

The Texans haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, but they have allowed four touchdowns on the ground. In addition, they have struggled to stop opposing backs in the passing game, having allowed over 200 yards receiving to opposing backs already. They do get 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing back this week, so the defense should start to play better. Still, Cushing may need time to get to the level he played at last season. Look for a healthy dose of touches for Bradshaw and a handful for Jacobs.

Projections:
Eli Manning 285 yards passing / 2 TD / 2 INT
Ahmad Bradshaw 80 yards rushing / 1 TD / 30 yards receiving
Brandon Jacobs 30 yards rushing / 0 TD / 5 yards receiving
Hakeem Nicks 105 yards receiving / 1 TD
Steve Smith 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Mario Manningham 30 yards receiving / 0 TD
Kevin Boss 25 yards receiving / 0 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: After leading the league in passing yardage in 2009, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is on pace to retain that title in 2010. Schaub is already over 1,000 yards passing with 7 touchdowns in four games, despite a Week 1 game where he attempted less than 20 passes against the Colts. With All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson missing Week 4’s contest, Schaub turned to his other receivers to fill in. While he threw for only 192 yards, Schaub did throw two touchdowns with no interceptions in a Texans road win over the Raiders.

The Giants pass defense has been a tough matchup this season, having forced five interceptions and five fumbles from opposing quarterbacks while holding three of four of them to under 200 yards through the air. The only quarterback who has had a productive day against the Giants thus far has been Peyton Manning. Schaub is good, but he’s not quite on Manning’s level yet. Andre Johnson is still listed as questionable this week, so be cautious with this matchup. But Schaub has shown that he can be successful even without Johnson.

Running Game Thoughts: Who would have expected the Houston Texans to be the NFL’s leading rushing team through the first quarter of the year? Running back Arian Foster is currently the NFL’s highest-scoring fantasy back, and may be the highest-scoring player overall in some leagues. His rise to stardom was unexpected, and there haven’t really been signs that he’s going to slow down. Foster has 120 or more total yards in every game this season and has scored five touchdowns over four games.

The Giants have done a good job slowing down running backs in the passing game, having allowed just eight catches to backs this season—including only two to the Bears’ duo of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor last week. They have been pedestrian, however, in stopping the run. They allowed a big game to Chris Johnson in Tennessee and were even beaten up by the Colts’ mediocre running game the week before that. They were able to shut down the Bears’ running backs in Week 4, but it won’t be so easy to shut down Arian Foster and this high-powered Texans offense.

Projections:
Matt Schaub 230 yards passing / 2 TD / 1 INT
Arian Foster 115 yards rushing / 2 TD / 30 yards receiving
Andre Johnson 50 yards receiving / 1 TD
Kevin Walter 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jacoby Jones 30 yards receiving / 0 TD
Joel Dreessen 30 yards receiving / 1 TD
Owen Daniels 15 yards receiving / 0 TD

Prediction: New York Giants 24, Houston 34 ^ Top