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Inside the Matchup
Week 6

By: Damon Autry | Sal Marcoccio | Chris Eakin | Kyle Smith




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Eakin 16 4 80.0
2 Autry 13 6 68.4
3 Smith 13 8 61.9
4 Marcoccio 9 8 52.9

Panthers @ Falcons - (Smith)

ATL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +20.0%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +29.7%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -27.0%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -5.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton has been dynamic for the fantasy owners that gambled and selected him in the draft. Using a rookie quarterback in fantasy football – and winning – is usually about as effective as a toddler trying to win a NASCAR race on his Big Wheels (though much less dangerous for all involved). But Newton has been outstanding, and even though he’s tossed six interceptions, he’s thrown for seven touchdowns and run for five more. His biggest weapon is receiver Steve Smith, who many fantasy football aficionados likely gave up on after his poor outing last season. But Smith has over 600 receiving yards this year, and only once in five games has he gained fewer than 75.

The Falcons will have their hands full, because their pass defense has been horrid this season; they rank 28th in the NFL in that statistic, and are 20th (tied) in touchdown passes allowed. In five games, the Falcons have allowed at least 300 passing yards and two touchdowns in all but one of them. Receivers are working them over as well, as only two teams have given up more touchdowns to wideouts than the Falcons have.

Running Game Thoughts: The Panthers employ a three-man running game featuring Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. This may work for Carolina, but it rankles fantasy owners who have little idea on who to count on and when. Williams did run for 115 yards and a touchdown last week, but did so on only nine carries. The most carries he’s had in any game this year has been 12, and that was in Week 1. Meanwhile, Stewart’s highest amount of carries was 10, and that was in Week 3. He hasn’t run for 60 yards in any game this year, and while he’s more of a receiving threat out of the backfield than Williams, that usually doesn’t make up for his lack of work on the ground.

Atlanta is eighth in the NFL in run defense, and is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry. They haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, but the runners they’ve faced are doing damage out of the passing game. Just four teams have given up more receptions and receiving yards to running backs than the Falcons have.

Cam Newton: 285 yds passing, 2 TD, 2 INT / 25 yds rushing
Steve Smith: 110 yds receiving, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 65 yds receiving
Brandon LaFell: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Shockey: 35 yds receiving
Legedu Naanee: 20 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 55 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 receiving yds
Jonathan Stewart: 35 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving

CAR FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -13.7%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -17.9%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -8.0%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +40.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan hasn’t started the season the way his fantasy owners – and many others – expected. He’s 12th in the NFL with 1,302 passing yards, but he has the same amount of touchdowns and interceptions (seven and six, respectively) as his counterpart in this game, Cam Newton. Those numbers are good for a rookie signal-caller, but to put it in some perspective, Ryan has fewer touchdown throws than Kyle Orton, who was just benched. Roddy White is still not living up to expectations either, as he is second on the team in receiving yards to rookie Julio Jones (who will miss this game due to injury). One of the bright spots in the team’s passing attack has been tight end Tony Gonzalez, who led the squad with 60 receiving yards last week, and who sits among the top fantasy tight ends in terms of scoring.

The Panthers can be vulnerable to the pass, even though they rank 15th in the league in pass defense. Quarterbacks have a 99.6 rating against them, which is the fifth-highest in the league. Three times in five games they’ve allowed over 300 yards and multiple touchdowns, so by no means is Ryan running into the proverbial buzzsaw here. In two games against them last season, he averaged 231.5 yards and had three touchdowns with one interception.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner has been a solid performer for his fantasy owners, with double-digit points in all but one game this season. He’s currently 12th in the NFL in rushing yards with 360, and seventh in rushing scores, with seven, but he hasn’t been as dynamic in the last three games as he was to start the season. True, he does have three touchdowns in those contests, but he’s also run for just 2.8 yards per carry. But if there was ever a game in which the team could ride him to a win, it’s this one.

Carolina is poor against the run, ranking 27th in the NFL in rushing defense, and fantasy running backs have thrashed them. Only one team has given up more fantasy points to running backs, and in every game this season, opposing running backs have combined to run for at least 100 yards against the Panthers. And if recent history is any indicator, that trend will continue – Turner has run for 100 or more yards against Carolina in four of his past five outings against them.

Matt Ryan: 255 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 35 yds receiving
Michael Turner: 115 yds rushing, 1 TD / 10 yds receiving
Jason Snelling: 15 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Falcons 24, Panthers 21 ^ Top

Saints at Buccaneers - (Smith)

TB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +0.8%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +4.8%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +37.6%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +2.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Saints quarterback Drew Brees is having his usual superb season, ranking second in the league with 1,769 passing yards and fourth with 12 touchdown throws. He’s thrown for at least 350 yards in all but one game this season, and the same holds true for the amount of games in which he’s thrown multiple touchdowns. His weapons are unparalleled, as tight end Jimmy Graham has become the league’s most productive tight end, receiver Marques Colston is fully healthy, and running back Darren Sproles is the prototype pass-catcher out of the backfield.

New Orleans’ opponent this week, Tampa, is coming off a 48-3 shellacking at the hands of the 49ers, and if San Francisco can run up that many points, there’s no telling what the Saints will do. Tampa is 20th in the NFL against the pass, and tied for 20th in touchdown throws allowed. This is a team that allowed Alex Smith to throw for three touchdowns and Curtis Painter to throw for 281 yards and a pair of scores. Graham should be in for an especially good day, as no team in the league has allowed more touchdowns to tight ends than Tampa has.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints may have the most unique backfield in the league, with the triumvirate of Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram each having their unique roles. Sproles has been the most effective for fantasy owners, averaging 90 yards from scrimmage per game with one rushing score and one receiving score. Ingram is the team’s leading rusher, but he has not amassed more than 55 yards in any of the team’s five games this season.

The Buccaneers have struggled to stop the pass, but they’ve been even worse against the run – only eight teams allow more yards per game on the ground. They have allowed the 12th-most fantasy points in the league to running backs, and both Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore rushed for 120 yards or more against them.

Drew Brees: 330 yds passing, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Marques Colston: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Lance Moore: 45 yds receiving
Robert Meachem: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Devery Henderson: 20 yds receiving
Mark Ingram: 50 yds rushing, 1 TD
Darren Sproles: 35 yds rushing / 40 yds receiving
Pierre Thomas: 25 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

NO FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +13.4%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +7.5%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +46.2%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -13.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman has not been good this season, having thrown only three touchdowns in five games, which is fewer scoring passes than Curtis Painter and Chad Henne. His quarterback rating of 74.1 is 29th in the league, and he just doesn’t look like the same player from last season. His offensive weapons are struggling as well. Tight end Kellen Winslow has been consistent but, much to the chagrin of his fantasy owners, unable to find the end zone. Wideout Mike Williams is averaging fewer than 10 yards per catch and doesn’t even have 200 receiving yards for the year, and running back Earnest Graham is leading the team in receptions.

The Saints haven’t given up an obscene amount of yards – placing 16th in the league against the pass – but they have allowed 10 touchdowns through the air, and only two teams have given up more. New Orleans has allowed at least one receiver to gain 70 yards in all but contest this season, and Freeman did well against the Saints last year, averaging 237 passing yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in two games against them, so all is not lost for Freeman’s fantasy owners this week.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s looking as if LeGarrette Blount will likely be out for this game with a knee malady, leaving the running game in the hands of Earnest Graham and Allen Bradford. As we mentioned, Graham leads Tampa in receptions, but he hasn’t done much out of the backfield in terms of running the ball, with just 18 carries for 84 yards all season. He and Bradford are likely to rotate, but Graham is a solid fill-in option for those fantasy owners who need someone for the bye week.

That’s because the Saints have not contained running backs that well through the season’s first five games. While they are 15th in rushing yards allowed per contest, opponents are gashing them for 5.2 yards per carry, which is tied with Oakland for the fourth-worst mark in the NFL. No running back has carried the ball 20 times in a game against New Orleans, yet they’ve given up at least 80 yards rushing to three different backs.

Josh Freeman: 255 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT / 15 yds rushing
Kellen Winslow: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 60 yds receiving
Preston Parker: 40 yds receiving
Arrelious Benn: 40 yds receiving
Dezmon Briscoe: 20 yds receiving
Earnest Graham: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 30 yds receiving
Allen Bradford: 30 yds rushing

Prediction: Saints 31, Buccaneers 20 ^ Top

Bills @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

NYG FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -7.7%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +18.7%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -34.3%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +9.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bills’ wide receivers are dropping like flies this season. Gone already—in addition to the traded Lee Evans—are Marcus Easley and Roscoe Parrish, and now starting wideout Donald Jones will miss the next 4-6 weeks with an ankle injury. Slot receiver David Nelson will move to the outside, and practice squad promotee Naaman Roosevelt will man the slot. Ryan Fitzpatrick has slowed down after an incredibly hot start, but he still managed to “upset” an over-rated Eagles team at home in Week 5. Fitzpatrick will now be asked to do more, with even less talent around him than he had before. Since he only had Stevie Johnson leading a bunch of over-achiever types in the first place, the thought that he’ll now be working with less must be pretty depressing for his fantasy owners.

Luckily for Fitzpatrick, the Giants’ pass defense has often looked overmatched this season after losing cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Prince Akumanura during the preseason; they even allowed Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst to move the ball against them last week. The team is currently ranked 20th in pass defense and is allowing 251.2 yards per game and five touchdowns on the season. What they have been able to do is get to the passer, as they lead the NFL in sacks with 18. The return of Osi Umenyiora to team up with Jacques Pierre-Paul on the defensive line will be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. However, the Bills’ O-line (once believed to be shaky) has allowed only four sacks on the season, and one was to wildcat quarterback Brad Smith. They’ll have their work cut out for them this week, but if the unit can keep the pressure off Fitzpatrick, the Giants will be vulnerable through the air.

Running Game Thoughts: In a contract year, the 30-year-old veteran Fred Jackson is having a career season. Funny how that often works out. Jackson has a total of 712 yards and has scored five rushing touchdowns through five weeks. He should have already earned a contract extension, but the team has been reluctant to give him one with their 2010 ninth overall pick, C.J. Spiller, waiting in the wings. Jackson is by far the better overall back, however, and he has the vision, balance, and strength to be an effective inside runner, something Spiller has not shown he can be in his early career. The longer the Bills remain in contention, the less likely it is that Jackson will lose carries to the disappointing Spiller, which creates an even more interesting dilemma: Can Buffalo really hand over a major contract to an aging back coming off a career-high workload?

The Giants’ run defense performed reasonably well during the first three weeks, despite having to start sixth-round rookie Greg Jones at middle linebacker because of Jonathan Goff’s season-ending injury. Over the last two weeks, however, they have been shredded by Beanie Wells and Marshawn Lynch and seem to be spiraling downward. If the Giants cannot win the battle in the trenches against an unexpectedly improved offensive line, Jackson will continue building on his career year.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 265 yds passing 2 TDs / 10 yards rushing
Steve Johnson: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Naaman Roosevelt: 35 yds receiving
David Nelson: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Scott Chandler: 20 yds receiving
Fred Jackson: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yards receiving
C.J. Spiller: 25 yards rushing / 15 yards receiving

BUF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +28.7%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +18.2%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +4.4%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +10.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning ended the day with big numbers last Sunday in New Jersey. However, he also ended the day throwing a crucial interception that was returned by Seattle for the game-sealing score. In fairness to Manning, the ball was well thrown but bounced off of Victor Cruz’s hands into Brandon Browne’s. Until that point, Cruz was having a solid game and continuing to impress as a big-time playmaker. He has clearly moved past Mario Manningham on Manning’s pecking order, if not on the official depth chart. This development has left the preseason breakout candidate Manningham a semi-bust, from a fantasy perspective, thus far. In addition to Cruz, even unheralded rookie tight end Jake Ballard has managed to make a bigger impact in the passing game than Manningham. The real star of the Giants passing attack, however, is Hakeem Nicks, a receiver that has every necessary skill to be a star at the NFL level.

This Sunday, the Giants’ passing attack should be able to continue their trend of putting up big numbers. The Bills are ranked 28th against the pass and are allowing 283.4 yards and an average of two touchdowns per game. Quarterbacks as inconsistent as Jason Campbell and rookie Andy Dalton have been able to move the ball effectively against the Bills so far, so Manning should have little problem picking them apart with both his old and newfound weapons.

Running Game Thoughts: This week Antrel Rolle said that he knew there was no way Brandon Jacobs was going to play against the Seahawks when he saw that his knee was “the size of a volley ball” due to all of the fluids in it. With the Giants having a Week 8 bye, it seems likely that Jacobs will rest again this week. That’s good news for Ahmad Bradshaw owners. Bradshaw finished with 85 total yards without Jacobs around last week, and he should have an even bigger day against a poor Buffalo run defense.

Last week I commented, tongue in cheek, on how the offseason moves the Bills made to shore up their run defense was really paying big dividends as they moved all the way up to 25th against the run from being dead last in 2010. Unfortunately for the Bills, they took a few steps back and are now ranked 29th (138.4 ypg). In fairness, facing Michael Vick will surely skew those statistics, as he rushed for 90 yards alone. And the team did “hold” running back LeSean McCoy somewhat in check with “only” 80 yards on the day. A t’d off Tom Coughlin has sworn to return the Giants to their power running roots after last week’s debacle against Seattle, so perhaps after they leave the Meadowlands this Sunday, the Bills will have moved another step closer to their 32nd rank of last season.

Eli Manning: 305 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int.
Hakeem Nicks: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 70 yds receiving
Jake Ballard: 45 yds receiving
Ahmad Bradshaw: 115 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Danny Ware: 35 yards rushing

Prediction: Giants 27, Bills 24 ^ Top

Eagles @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

WAS FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -22.6%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -21.8%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -15.7%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -18.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: For the second straight week, Michael Vick achieved a career high in a passing category. In Week 4, he set that career mark in passing yards with 416. Unfortunately, the mark he set this week was for interceptions, with four against Buffalo. Vick did put up nice fantasy stats, though, gaining 90 yards rushing to go along with his 315 passing yards and two touchdowns. On another positive note, he was not forced out of the game with an injury for the second consecutive week. DeSean Jackson is the most exciting player in the league with the ball in his hands, and he scored a touchdown last week as he continues to produce incredible yards-per-reception numbers (he’s averaging 19.5). Brent Celek remains the forgotten man in this offense and should no longer be rostered in any league with less than 16 teams—and even then you’re likely to have a better option.

The Redskins come off the bye week ranked ninth in passing yards allowed per game (212.0) and have allowed only three touchdowns through the air. Their secondary is talented, but the real difference between this season and last is their ability to rush the passer. Rookie Ryan Kerrigan (2 sacks) has helped free up Brian Orapko (3.5 sacks) from the double teams he was seeing last season. Former Rams lineman Adam Carriker (3 sacks) has resurrected his career in Washington and is another of the relentless players wreaking havoc with opposing quarterbacks. Of course Michael Vick is a much more mobile target than the team has faced in prior contests—but Washington will still need to find a way to knock him around if they want to further bury the Eagles in the NFC East standings.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy continues to seamlessly replace Brian Westbrook, who was a vital part to the success of the Andy Reid style of attack. McCoy has all the quickness, lateral movement, and deceptive strength of his predecessor, and while he’s not as natural a pass catcher as Westbrook was, he’s still one of the best out of the backfield in the game today. The Eagles are a team loaded with speed at every position, and McCoy is just one more thing keeping opposing defensive coordinators up at night—and he might just be the player that would be the toughest for the Eagles to replace.

Washington has allowed only 84.5 ypg and three touchdowns through their first four games. It seems the team has completely adjusted to the new 3-4 scheme installed last season. Linebackers Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher are solid veterans who play the run well and are supported by perhaps the best run-stopping safety in the league, LeRon Landry.

Michael Vick: 295 yds passing, 2 TDs, 2 Int. / 45 yards rushing
DeSean Jackson: 75 yds receiving
Jeremy Maclin: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 50 yds receiving
Brent Celek: 20 yds receiving
LeSean McCoy: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ronnie Brown: 20 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

PHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -4.3%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -20.7%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -4.2%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +54.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rex Grossman is still making his share of mistakes, but has done enough good things that the Redskins are leading the NFC East with a 3-1 record. Rex’s rope is probably now a little longer than it was to start the year, and he has become a fantasy option as a QB2 with upside. Grossman has helped keep Santana Moss relevant and has even made Jabar Gaffney a consideration in fantasy circles. Tight end Fred Davis was off to a torrid start after two weeks, accumulating nearly 200 yards receiving, but he slowed down considerably the following two games. The Skins run plenty of two-tight-end sets, so even with veteran Chris Cooley completely healthy, Davis should still be a key member of the Washington passing attack.

The Eagles’ trio of Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Asante Samuel have done a good job limiting the opposition’s passing yards (211.8 ypg), but they have allowed the second most touchdown receptions in the league (11) through the first five weeks. The Eagles shouldn’t have that much trouble with Moss and Gaffney, who are solid but no longer very athletic players, but the tight end tandem could cause them some issues, as they have been vulnerable up the middle of the field.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners are all too familiar with the phrase “Shananigans.” Just when it seems like you’ve figured out Mike Shananhan’s running back rotation, he’ll throw you a curve ball like he did in Week 4. After not receiving any carries during the first three weeks, Ryan Torain carried the ball 19 times and gained 135 yards at the expense of starter Tim Hightower and rookie Roy Helu, who had handled the rushing workload up to that point. With the way Torain performed, I’d have to guess he’s in the driver’s seat for the bulk of the carries this week. But of course your guess is as good as mine when it comes to those Shananigans.

The tough thing concerning this matchup for fantasy owners is that the Eagles present a dream (team) matchup for running backs. They allow 54.3% more fantasy points to RBs than the NFL average. If you have a Washington runner, you’ll be tempted to play him against the league’s third worst run defense; the question is, will you be starting the correct RB?

Rex Grossman: 215 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT / 10 yards rushing
Santana Moss: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jabar Gaffney: 45 yds receiving
Anthony Armstrong: 30 yards receiving
Chris Cooley: 35 yards receiving
Fred Davis: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Tim Hightower: 35 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving
Roy Helu: 30 yds rushing
Ryan Torain: 115 yds rushing 1 TD

Prediction: Eagles 24, Redskins 21 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

NE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +28.6%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +38.1%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -38.5%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +15.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Coming off the bye week, Tony Romo’s ribs should be a little more healed and his outlook should be a little sunnier as he gets back his favorite target, Miles Austin. Austin missed two games with a hamstring injury and the bye week gave him three full weeks to heal. With Austin out, Dez Bryant failed to establish himself as a fantasy force, due to a leg injury of his own, and the Cowboys showed they have little depth at the position. Former Ram Laurent Robinson was the only other receiver that showed any signs of a pulse, and he’ll likely be the No. 3 receiver going forward. Jason Witten has been banged up as well, but he should play a big role this week now that he’s presumably back to health. With all the players back at or near full strength, expect the team to light up a very weak New England secondary.

The Patriots’ pass defense is still ranked dead last in the NFL despite the Jets’ decision to almost exclusively run the ball against them until the fourth quarter. The team has allowed 326.6 passing yards per game and nine passing touchdowns on the season. Devin McCourtey is a talent but has had issues with bigger and stronger receivers this season, and the Cowboys feature two guys that fit that mold. There should be some serious points scored in this contest.

Running Game Thoughts: Another one of the Cowboys’ walking wounded that needed the bye is running back Felix Jones, who was playing with a separated shoulder during his last two games. Jones finally looked to be breaking out before the bye week, even though he was playing through that tough injury. Perhaps his fantastic preseason will now lead to the breakout year many in the industry have expected from the former Razorback. The Cowboys will need him to run effectively in order to help keep Tom Brady on the sidelines in Foxboro this Sunday.

The Pats are a middle-of-the-road run defense (ranked 15th), allowing 106.4 yards per game and five touchdowns on the season—but 4.6 yards per carry. They allowed the Jets, who hadn’t been able to find any rhythm in the running game early in the season, to finally show something last week. Teams haven’t run on the Pats—mostly because they’ve fallen behind quickly and need to pass to keep up with the high-flying New England offense—but it’s a defense that can be run on. If the Cowboys can get out to a lead in this game, it’s something that they could use to their advantage to stay ahead.

Tony Romo: 295 yds passing 3 TDs / 20 yards rushing
Miles Austin: 125 yds receiving, 2 TDs
Dez Bryant: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 90 yds receiving
Felix Jones: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving
DeMarco Murray: 30 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving

DAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -3.5%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -10.2%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +22.8%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -32.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady has cooled down from his hot start, but his owners can’t complain all that much. Owners of tight end Rob Gronkowksi, however, may have cause for concern since he’s been virtually non-existent the last two weeks after an equally hot start. But if they really thought they could expect his production from the first three weeks to last all season, they were fooling themselves anyway. Gronkowski was ill last Sunday, but he should remain one of the focal parts of the offense this season, so expect better days ahead. Wes Welker showed against the Jets’ talented secondary that he’s still virtually uncoverable, even though he has also fallen off of his unsustainable early-season pace. The Patriots’ offense will be fine, people; regression to the mean is going to rear its ugly head eventually and had to be expected for Brady, Gronkowski, and Welker. On a positive note, Aaron Hernandez returned to the lineup and caught five balls. His return makes a dangerous offense that much harder to defend, as his size and speed combination creates major matchup issues. We just may see the early-season Patriots offense make a comeback in Week 6.

Despite being banged up for most of the season, the Dallas secondary has still managed to rank as a top-15 passing defense, allowing 230 yards per game and seven touchdowns on the season. Facing the Jets, Forty-Niners, and Redskins has helped keep those passing yards down, but they did also manage to keep the Lions’ passing game mostly in check until Romo kept handing the ball back to them in the second half. They will face their stiffest competition yet this week, however.

Running Game Thoughts: Many fantasy footballers were expecting rookie Stevan Ridley to continue to be worked into the offense at incumbent Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis’s expense after the rookie outplayed the Law Firm in Week 4 at Oakland. However, BJGE responded by running all over the Jets for 136 yards and two scores. It’s still a possibility that Ridley will start chipping away at Green-Ellis’s carries, but for now it seems the veteran’s role is safe. Green-Ellis has scored 19 rushing touchdowns since the start of 2010, making him an obvious fantasy football asset. Bear in mind that BJGE has missed practice time this week with an undetermined injury, so keep an eye on his status. Danny Woodhead missed last week’s game with an ankle injury, and there’s no word from the tight-lipped Patriots as to his status for this upcoming week, either. If either veteran back does miss the game, Ridley will see a good number of carries.

The Cowboys’ aggressive run blitzes have stifled Shonn Greene, Frank Gore, Tim Hightower, and Jahvid Best over the first four weeks. They are currently the top-ranked run defense, giving up only 61.8 yards per game and just one rushing touchdown to Frank Gore. The Patriots have one of the best run-blocking units in the league and know how to handle a Ryan-brother defense when they see one. Just because they are facing a tough run defense, the New England offense does not have to be one-dimensional.

Tom Brady: 385 yds passing 3 TDs
Chad Ochocinco: 45 yds receiving
Wes Welker: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Deion Branch: 50 yds receiving
Aaron Hernandez: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis: 65 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Stevan Ridley: 30 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receving

Prediction: Patriots 34, Cowboys 28 ^ Top

Dolphins @ Jets - (Marcoccio)

NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -32.4%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -31.7%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -16.3%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +30.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: With Chad Henne on injured reserve, Matt Moore will step in as the Dolphins’ quarterback. I liked what I saw out of Moore in the 2007 preseason with Dallas and with Carolina the past few years. John Fox’s blind loyalty to Jake Delhomme, along with the team’s misguided belief that Jimmy Clausen was a franchise quarterback, never allowed Moore to play consistently enough to develop his game. While it may not happen this week due to the matchup with Darrell Revis, Brandon Marshall owners will be happy to find that Moore is more of a gunslinger than Henne and will likely take some shots downfield instead of constantly checking down, as Henne was wont to do. Brian Hartline may now gain some value as a downfield threat, but he will likely never be consistent enough on a week-to-week basis to warrant a starting slot on your fantasy team. Davone Bess is the type of receiver that can find success against the Jets, and those owners with bye week issues could do worse than inserting Bess into their lineups.

The New York Jets are the fifth-ranked passing defense in the NFL this season, allowing 203 yards per game and only three touchdowns. Darrelle Revis continues to be a matchup nightmare for opposing wide receivers. He even managed to fare well against Wes Welker in Week 5, keeping him mostly in check when assigned to him in one-on-one coverage. On Welker’s long reception up the middle, it appeared that Revis was looking to turn him over to Erik Smith, who never got into position. But it could be argued that Revis was beaten on that play. In his defense, he did at least manage to catch Welker from behind and bring him down short of the end zone. The Jets’ defense has to step up this week if they hope to win, so I wouldn’t expect many fireworks from the Miami passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: The Phins stubbornly tried to make Reggie Bush something he’s not—a feature back—during the first couple of weeks. But once rookie Daniel Thomas got healthy and was incorporated into the game plan, Miami’s rushing attack became a lot more effective. Thomas, however, reinjured his hamstring and missed Week 4, but the long rest that came with the bye week should get him back on track. The team will need him to step back up as the power back and to extend drives if they are to have any chance of securing their first victory of the season.

It’s amazing that the Jets’ third-ranked run defenses of 2010 has fallen on such hard times (ranked 26th now) without much turnover in personnel. Linebackers David Harris and Bart Scott may be a step slower, and the young defensive linemen have had difficulties getting off of their blocks, but one has to imagine that Rex Ryan will get this thing turned around. If the Jets are able to shut down the Miami running game and force them to the air, they should win this game fairly easily.

Matt Moore: 205 yds passing, 1 TDs, 2 INTs / 20 yards rushing
Brandon Marshall: 40 yds receiving
Davone Bess: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Brian Hartline: 20 yards receiving
Anthony Fasano: 15 yds receiving
Daniel Thomas: 85 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Reggie Bush: 30 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

MIA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +20.6%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +25.1%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +60.5%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -5.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: After the disaster in Baltimore, the Jets’ coaching staff was hesitant to unleash Mark Sanchez, even against New England’s poor pass defense (that is, before they needed to catch up late in the game). Sanchez performed well when he had to, throwing two nice touchdown passes, one each to rookie Jeremy Kerley and Santonio Holmes. The team benched veteran Derrick Mason for most of that game and quickly shipped him off to Houston this week. Kerley should now be the Jets’ starting slot receiver, and fantasy owners should keep an eye on him. Plaxico Burress has been mostly ineffective during his first season back from prison, but he’s still a legit red-zone threat and is useful on deep balls down the sideline because of his size and strength. The team really needs to get tight end Dustin Keller back into the mix if they want to be successful passing the ball. Once again, he started the season off being very productive only to see the team move away from using him in subsequent weeks. If the Jets want Sanchez to grow as a quarterback, they need to focus the offense more around Holmes and Keller, his two most talented targets who can create matchup problems for opposing defenses.

Miami’s young defense was one of the highlights of last season but has been a disaster this year. Through the four games they’ve played, they are ranked 31st against the pass and have allowed 307 passing yards per game and nine touchdowns through the air. Things better turn around quickly or Miami could find themselves in the driver’s seat in the “Suck for Luck” battle—which may just be a good thing for their long-term prospects.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets were more effective running the ball last week, but they were hardly dominant on the ground. Running back Shonn Green isn’t the type of back that has a lot of wiggle or quickness and is unable to make anything happen on his own, but at least the O-line opened more holes for him against New England than they had been doing. The Jets desperately want to get back to their “ground and pound” identity, but they must first do a better job of creating running lanes.

Miami is the 14th-ranked run defense. That’s nothing to write home about in the first place, but that illusion of mediocrity is further aided by the fact that teams can throw on them so easily. The Jets will test Miami’s run defense this Monday Night as they try to control the game on the ground, most likely after they get out to an early lead. For those East Coast viewers who don’t have any fantasy players to follow, this game may create the perfect opportunity for a good night’s sleep, as it could be over quickly and not all that exciting even when it’s close.

Mark Sanchez: 265 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 10 yards rushing
Santonio Holmes: 75 yds receiving
Plaxico Burress: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Kerley: 30 yards receiving
Dustin Keller: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Shonn Greene: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
LaDainian Tomlinson: 20 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: Jets 27, Dolphins 10 ^ Top

49ers @ Lions - (Autry)

DET FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -16.6%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -17.4%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +13.3%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -23.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Alex Smith’s seven passing touchdowns and one interception this season is the best start of his seven-year career. Even though he’s thrown for more than 176 yards only once, the fact that Smith, who last year at this time had tossed nine picks, has played mistake-free football is enough to make even the most skeptical of us take notice. He’s still far from being a relevant fantasy option, however. And the only receiving option worth anything is TE Vernon Davis, especially since Josh Morgan has been lost for the season with an ankle injury and Michael Crabtree is still battling foot issues. In a nutshell, Davis is the TE1 we all thought he’d be; start him. All other options on this team relative to the passing game are better left either on your bench or on the waiver wire.

Detroit’s pass defense has really put the clamps on opposing passing games. Only Tony Romo has done anything of note against them. The Lions field the 12th-best pass defense, and they’ve only allowed six passing touchdowns. Detroit’s D-line has been much discussed this year. Rookie Nick Fairley made his debut last week. He didn’t record any stats, but his development will surely add to the production up front while making things tough for Alex Smith and company. The Lions DST is a quality start this week, especially with the holes in the receiving corps.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite Kendall Hunter getting about a third of the rushing attempts over the last two weeks, Frank Gore had his best back-to-back games since Weeks 13 and 14 of the 2009 season. Gore has battled minor injuries to become a solid low-end RB1 or high-end RB2. Hunter’s role, while frustrating I’m sure to some Gore owners, actually makes Gore more attractive. He isn’t counted on exclusively like he once was, and those rickety knees are certainly thankful for that.

Since holding Tampa Bay to a measly 56 yards rushing in Week 1, Detroit has given up at least 113 yards on the ground in each successive game. They’ve fallen to 18th against the run, but Adrian Peterson remains the only running back who has rushed for a touchdown against them. Gore will challenge that streak this week. Since I think San Francisco will struggle most of the game, Gore’s scoring chances will be limited. As a result, start him as a RB2 and keep your fingers crossed that he’s able to supplement his potential lack of scoring with a role in the passing game.

Alex Smith: 210 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Delanie Walker: 55 yards receiving
Ted Ginn Jr.: 30 yards receiving
Michael Crabtree: 25 yards receiving
Vernon Davis: 80 yards receiving / 1 TD
Frank Gore: 75 yards rushing / 1 TD
Kendall Hunter: 30 yards rushing

SF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +2.2%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +12.1%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -7.7%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -48.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: This is one of the few times the so-called experts were right when they pegged Matthew Stafford as the need-to-get fantasy QB in the mid rounds. And he hasn’t disappointed. What’s laughable is that mostly all fantasy magazines and websites—this one included—had guys such as Josh Freeman and Matt Schaub ahead of Stafford on preseason cheatsheets. Stafford is a star in the making and will be a top-5 fantasy QB for many years to come. And as long as Calvin Johnson continues to beat double coverage for scores, Stafford is smart enough to continue chuckin’ the rock to him. Nine receiving touchdowns in five games? Ridiculous! Nate Burleson needs to step it up, though. After 12 receptions through the first two games, he has only five in the last three. That’s not good enough for a team’s No. 2 receiver.

San Fran has given up the second fewest points in the league so far, but their pass defense is a bit lacking. They’re 23rd in the league, but only two teams have picked off opposing quarterbacks more than the Niners, who have eight interceptions. So Stafford’s going to have to be careful. Despite the resistance expected from San Francisco, Stafford should continue his torrid play. Start him with confidence.

Running Game Thoughts: The Lions running game came to life in a big way on Monday night. Jahvid Best sliced the Bears run defense on two long second-half runs, giving his owners much-needed production after probably scaring them senseless with his lackluster performance in the first half. Detroit will continue being a pass-first offense, so the 12 carries he got last week is indicative of what’s to come. Keep in mind, too, that he’s only once carried the ball more than 17 times—Week 1 against Tampa Bay, where he had 21 rushing attempts—so his production has to be supplemented in the passing game. Short of another long run, don’t expect the bulk of his production to come on the ground.

The Lions will face perhaps their toughest test in trying to run the ball against San Francisco. They’re 4th against the run and have yet to give up a rushing touchdown. There’s a good chance that won’t change this week. Only Philadelphia has rushed for more than 100 yards (108 to be exact), and Michael Vick had 75 of those. Needless to say, Best will have his work cut out for him on the ground this week.

Matthew Stafford: 320 yards passing / 3 TDs / 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 110 yards receiving / 1 TD
Nate Burleson: 45 yards receiving
Titus Young: 30 yards receiving / 1 TD
Brandon Pettigrew: 50 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jahvid Best: 40 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving

Prediction: Lions 24, 49ers 17 ^ Top

Texans @ Ravens - (Autry)

BAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -26.7%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +0.3%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -60.8%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -44.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Not since Week 2 of last year has Matt Schaub thrown for as many yards as he did last week. His 403 yards passing was a surprise to many, especially when considering that Andre Johnson was on the sideline. Tight ends Joel Dreessen and Owen Daniels picked up the slack, as did Kevin Walter and running back Arian Foster. The shock is Jacoby Jones. How a quarterback can throw for 400-plus yards and a starting wide receiver puts up a grand total of nine yards is alarming. But Jacoby Jones is Jacoby Jones: a non-relevant fantasy WR. Perhaps Jones’ play prompted the team to sign veteran Derrick Mason. Schaub probably won’t enjoy that kind of production this week against the league’s second best pass defense; consequently, don’t expect much production from his receivers. If you have another QB with a better match-up—Ryan Fitzpatrick against the Giants, Cam Newton against Atlanta—start him. Otherwise, limit your expectations for Schaub this week.

After being embarrassed by Tennessee in Week 2, Baltimore has re-established its place as one of the league’s best pass defenses. The 358 yards passing surrendered to Matt Hasselbeck was followed up with stellar performances against the Rams (132 passing yards allowed) and the Jets (112 passing yards allowed) while forcing a total of six turnovers. This is a ball-hawking defense that Schaub had better be mindful of. It’s going to be tough for him to sustain any level of consistent productivity this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster found success last week not in the running game but in the passing game. Foster led the team in receiving yards thanks to a well-designed 60-yards pass. He will need show that kind of diverse ability again this week if we’re to expect a day worthy of his RB1 status. Last week, the Raiders limited his rushing totals to 68 yards on 22 carries—a far cry from his contest against Pittsburgh the week prior. But Foster is a no-brainer and should be in your lineup regardless of the opponent.

It’s as if the Ravens played angry two weeks ago against the Jets. They didn’t allow New York much offensive production at all, yielding a hilarious 38 yards on the ground to the “Athletes Formerly Known as Ground and Pound.” The zone blocking scheme and bootleg roll-outs that are staples in the Texans offense will indeed give the Ravens some challenges. This low-scoring battle should be fun to watch.

Matt Schaub: 220 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Kevin Walter: 70 yards receiving
Jacoby Jones: 30 yards receiving
Owen Daniels: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Joel Dreessen: 35 yards receiving
Arian Foster: 75 yards rushing / 1 TD / 35 yards receiving

HOU FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -16.0%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +9.9%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -38.5%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -16.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Not that it wasn’t expected, but Joe Flacco came back to earth with a thud against the Jets after torching St. Louis for 385 yards and three scores the week before. It will probably be one of those years for Flacco, where his match-up will dictate his level of fantasy relevance each week. But his struggles aren’t his alone. Anquan Boldin, for as much as his style of play fits what the Ravens want to do, has not really put his mark on this passing game. He has only three 100-plus yard receiving games as a Raven and only one game with multiple touchdown receptions. Not the kind of production you’d expect from a team’s No. 1 receiver. Boldin is a very shaky WR2 each week, with this week being no exception. Don’t expect much consistency if you’re forced to start #81.

Houston’s defense took a major blow last week when Mario Williams was lost for the season. Williams played the poor man’s DeMarcus Ware in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ system. It will be interesting to see how the Texans respond to this challenge. They will have to put pressure on Flacco and disrupt his flow, much the way the Jets did two weeks ago. Houston’s secondary is still a work in progress, but I don’t think the Ravens have the horses on the outside to take advantage of that one weakness on the Texans’ squad.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice is the quintessential fantasy RB: a dual threat player with a clearly defined role on his team. And despite Ricky Williams getting about a third of the rushing attempts, there’s no confusing Rice as anything other than one of the top-3 most important fantasy RBs. In addition to everything else there is to like about Rice’s ability, his 15.1 yards per reception is just nuts. He’s the type of player who can struggle in on area of the game but more than make up for it elsewhere. That’s a comforting feeling to have as a fantasy owner. Expect a well-rested Rice to frustrate Houston all day long.

The Texans held traditional running teams Pittsburgh and Oakland to sub-par performances the last two weeks. Their defense was clicking and seemed to be doing all the things Phillips wanted. Again, Mario Williams’ absence will play a key role in whether or not Houston is capable of containing Rice. He is sure to line up all over the field, and it will be up to the speedy and athletic Texans defense to keep up. Regardless, Rice will find production and make his owners once again happy that they drafted him.

Joe Flacco: 205 yards passing / 2 TDs
Anquan Boldin: 80 yards receiving
Torrey Smith: 35 yards receiving
Ed Dickson: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Ray Rice: 120 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving / 1 receiving TD

Prediction: Ravens 17, Texans 14 ^ Top

Vikings @ Bears - (Autry)

CHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +20.0%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -4.5%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +67.9%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +3.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Even though both teams are well under .500, this game is probably the most important on the NFL docket. A loss by either team, even only six weeks in, pretty much renders the season a lost cause. With that said, the play of Donovan McNabb doesn’t bode well for the Vikings’ chances. He’s mired in the worst start to a season in his career. And even with his struggles last year in Washington through the first five games, he at least had a 426-yard performance in Week 2 and a 357-yard performance in Week 5. McNabb has yet to throw for more than 212 yards in a game in 2011. He’s a shell of himself, and he’s better left on the waiver wire. A good play, though, could be TE Visanthe Shiancoe. He’s not what he used to be, but the Bears are surrendering the most receiving yards to tight ends this year, and no other team has given up more receiving touchdowns to tight ends than the Bears’ five.

As well as Matthew Stafford played against Chicago on Monday night, that was one of the best statistical performances the Bears have had defending the pass this year. Yeah, that shows you how far this defense has fallen. Stafford’s passing yards (219) were the fewest allowed this season by Chicago. Sadly, McNabb has struggled getting to 200 yards. That more than likely won’t change in Week 6. It certainly helps that defensive end Julius Peppers will be limited, if he plays at all. He’s going through knee issues right now, and his situation should help McNabb’s chances of staying upright in the pocket. It remains to be seen if McNabb can take advantage of Chicago’s 27th-ranked pass defense. I wouldn’t count on it.

Running Game Thoughts: Adrian Peterson is doing everything he can to make Minnesota’s offense worth something. McNabb’s struggles directly affect Peterson’s production, however. Drives are stalled, passes are off target; all these things limit AP’s opportunities. But the Vikings made a concerted to get him the ball last week, and he came through big time, putting up his second multiple-touchdown game already this season. He didn’t score multiple touchdowns in a game last year until Week 12. He should be in line for another big day.

Chicago is giving up a league-worst 5.7 yards per carry, and they allowed Detroit’s Jahvid Best to break two long second-half runs after limiting him in the first half. They’ve given up 100 yards on the ground every game this season, and there’s no reason to think that AP won’t add to that streak. While AP might not score multiple touchdowns in this contest, you should at least bank on his being extremely productive against a reeling Chicago defense.

Donovan McNabb: 190 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Michael Jenkins: 55 yards receiving
Percy Harvin: 40 yards receiving
Devin Aromashodu: 35 yards receiving
Visanthe Shiancoe: 40 yards receiving / 1 TD
Adrian Peterson: 95 yards rushing / 1 TD

MIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -3.1%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -0.5%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -15.8%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +3.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Jay Cutler was efficient last week, completing 74 percent of his passes. But he still remains a fantasy football afterthought that requires a healthy sense of fortitude to place in your lineup. You never know what you’ll get from this guy from week to week. With the porous offensive line and the ridiculously horrible receiving corps that big mouth Roy Williams can’t even seem to crack, you have yourself a situation that’s far from conducive to productive QB play. Look elsewhere if at all possible.

Another compelling reason to keep Cutler on the bench is the relentless pass rush of the Vikings. Teams have been able to throw for quite a few yards on them, as their 25th ranking in defending the pass would indicate. But Minnesota has put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season. They are second in the league in sacks with 16, with more than half (8.5) coming from Jared Allen. The veteran defensive end has had a revival of sorts this season. Any game plan geared toward attacking the Vikings through the air must start with keeping Allen off the quarterback. I’m just not sure Chicago will be capable of doing that.

Running Game Thoughts: Matt Forte has been as solid and predictably good as any RB in fantasy football so far in 2011. Whether it’s on the ground or through the air, he has given his owners reasons to smile every week. He accounts for more than 50 percent of the Bears’ offensive production—yet the team is not ready to negotiate a new contract for this guy? Insane! Not much needs to be said about Forte. He’s a must-start option regardless of the opposition.

Minnesota is tough against the run, though. Already this year, they’ve held Detroit to 20 yards on the ground, and last week they limited Arizona to 77 yards. But again, the true beauty of Forte is his ability to punish defenses in every facet of the offense. You bottle him up on rushing attempts, he’ll slice you out of the backfield on passing plays. He’s truly a do-everything running back that will be in contention all season as the top fantasy RB. Feel fortunate if you own him.

Jay Cutler: 220 yards passing / 2 TDs / 1 INT
Devin Hester: 55 yards receiving
Johnny Knox: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Dane Sanzenbacher: 30 yards receiving
Kellen Davis: 30 yards receiving
Matt Forte: 70 yards rushing / 55 yards receiving / 1 TD receiving

Prediction: Bears 20, Vikings 17 ^ Top

Rams @ Packers - (Autry)

GB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +27.5%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +24.8%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +12.3%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -25.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Three touchdown passes through the first four games of the season? Huh? What’s going on with Sam Bradford? Many pegged him, along with Matthew Stafford, as a sleeper QB to target in this year’s fantasy drafts. While Stafford has rewarded his owners, Bradford has become trade material. Is the problem him, his receivers, the offensive philosophy? This same offense, designed by coordinator Josh McDaniels, triggered a rebirth of Kyle Orton in Denver last year, so many thought it would do the same for Bradford. Unfortunately for Bradford owners, we still have a long way to go till the youngster replicates Orton’s antics of 2010.

But fortunately for Bradford owners, the Packers have been surprisingly poor against the pass this season. They’ve allowed Jay Cutler, rookie Cam Newton, and the aforementioned Kyle Orton to have productive days against them. It’s still a stretch, though, to foresee Bradford doing the things that these signal callers did. I’d keep him on the sideline until he shows signs of waking up from his funk.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson is in the midst of his longest drought between 100-yard rushing games since his rookie season in 2004. Dating back to last season, it’s been seven games since Jackson rushed for more than 100 yards. That lack of production from the team’s leading rusher stunts the explosiveness of this offense. Without a running game to keep defenses on their toes, opponents can now gang up on the young Bradford, hence his recent struggles. At best, consider Jackson a low-end RB2 this week.

As bad as Green Bay has been defending the pass, they’ve been just as good stopping the run. Only the Broncos have been able to hit the century mark against the Packers. And with the overall struggles the Rams have offensively, don’t expect much from Jackson.

Sam Bradford: 190 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Brandon Gibson: 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Mike Sims-Walker: 40 yards receiving
Lance Kendricks: 45 yards receiving
Steven Jackson: 55 yards rushing / 25 yards receiving / 1 TD rushing

STL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +7.7%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +20.0%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -64.5%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +36.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: As good as Aaron Rodgers was last year, it pales in comparison to his start in 2011. His nine touchdowns to six picks at the start of 2010 are a shadow of his 14-2 stat line so far this season. What I’ve said all along about what separates Rodgers from the other top quarterbacks is his ability to do damage outside the pocket. And it’s not just creating time to throw the ball; he’s looking to score. He already has two rushing touchdowns this season, which makes him arguably the most dangerous fantasy player to be up against. And, oh, by the way, I have the pleasure of going up against him this week. But I won’t allow my desire for him to struggle this week affect my outlook on this game. This will get ugly for the Rams real quick. The only hope for those of us playing against him is to have our own QBs (in my case, Stafford) keep up.

Outside of the Week 3 debacle against Baltimore, St. Louis has been admirable defending the pass this year. They’re ranked 13th in the league, but they don’t put much pressure on the quarterback. Only three teams have fewer sacks than the Rams’ eight. They had better put some kind of pressure on Rodgers; otherwise, he will have a career game throwing on this team.

Running Game Thoughts: Being down 14-0 early in last week’s game against Atlanta gave Mike McCarthy enough reason to squash the running game in favor of the dynamic passing attack—something he did with regularity in 2010. Ryan Grant is slated to return after missing last week’s game, and together with James Starks, the duo makes up perhaps one of the most frustrating RBBCs in fantasy football. Their roles aren’t clearly defined, rendering both equally useless. There aren’t many top-notch RBs on bye this week, so you shouldn’t be cornered into starting either one of Green Bay’s. The one saving grace about this game would be if the Packers get up early and milk the clock late in the contest. In that case, I’m a bigger believer in Starks than in Grant.

Oh yeah, the Rams do have the league’s worst run defense. Even though they’ve played one less game than all but six teams in the NFL, they have still surrendered the most rushing yards, averaging 180 per contest. Again, I think Starks will benefit the most from this obvious defensive weakness.

Aaron Rodgers: 290 yards passing / 3 TDs
Greg Jennings: 90 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jordy Nelson: 65 yards receiving / 1 TD
James Jones: 40 yards receiving
Jermichael Finley: 65 yards receiving / 1 TD
James Starks: 95 yards rushing / 1 TD
Ryan Grant: 45 yards rushing

Prediction: Packers 31, Rams 14 ^ Top

Colts @ Bengals - (Autry)

CIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -29.6%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -26.7%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -13.3%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Predictably, the Colts have struggled mightily on offense with their leader on the sideline. Curtis Painter has shown grit and determination, but he’s simply overmatched as an NFL quarterback. He’s found rapport with Pierre Garcon over the past two games, connecting with “Frenchy” on four scoring tosses in that span. But come on. Generally speaking, Painter’s presence has the long-term fantasy consequence of sending both Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark circling down the drain. I’m sure those who selected Wayne and Clark did so with the expectation that Peyton would return at some point this season. That’s not happening, obviously, so the only suggestion I’d give regarding Indy’s passing game is to ride Garcon as a WR3 while he’s hot and wait for Wayne or Clark to have a solid game, with the aim of shipping them off to a sucker in your league who may have a serious bromance with one of the veterans. Slim chance, but who knows?

Making matters worse for the Colts is the Bengals’ fielding the third best pass defense in the league. They’ve yet to relinquish more than 202 yards passing in any game this season. And they don’t fancy themselves as an opportunistic defense that forces turnovers. In fact, they have forced only six all year (by comparison, the Bills have forced 16). Cincy simply prides itself on hard-nosed defense that makes the offense work for everything it gets. Painter and company should expect a long, long day in Cincinnati.

Running Game Thoughts: Joseph Addai more than likely won’t play this week, meaning Delone Carter and Donald Brown will get the bulk of the playing time. Neither has done much of anything this year, and Brown was even demoted in favor of Carter. The Colts rank among the bottom third of NFL teams in offensive plays run; the offense is simply not good enough to remain on the field. Those limited reps make an already struggling offense that much more unattractive. Stay as far away from this bunch as possible.

Cincy has the league’s top-ranked defense, meaning they should carve up the anemic Indy offense. Teams average only 3.2 yards per carry against them, and they’ve allowed only four rushing touchdowns all season. This contest could become one-sided rather quickly.

Curtis Painter: 180 yards passing / 1 TD / 3 INTs
Reggie Wayne: 60 yards receiving / 1 TD
Pierre Garcon: 35 yards receiving
Austin Collie: 25 yards receiving
Dallas Clark: 40 yards receiving
Delone Carter: 55 yards rushing
Donald Brown: 35 yards rushing

IND FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -29.6%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +22.1%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -26.2%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +19.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Besides the Lions, the Bengals have to be the biggest surprise in the league. While a 3-2 record typically doesn’t garner boatloads of media attention, the fact that they’re this competitive in the AFC while starting a rookie quarterback and wide receiver shows that they may have struck gold on those early-round selections. Andy Dalton is not going to wow you with his stats; nor has he put himself on the fantasy radar. But he’s been just good enough to keep the rest of the offense from crashing down around him, a la Curtis Painter. A.J. Green has shown studly potential, as has tight end Jermaine Gresham. Both are starter-worthy in fantasy football, and both should be in lineups this week.

The good news for the Colts is that Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are as productive and active as Indy needs their defensive ends to be. The bad news is that the duo is getting no help from their teammates. Nine of the team’s 10 sacks belong to Freeney and Mathis. Someone else will have to step up in order for Indy’s defense to become respectable. If their two-man show continues, the Colts will again struggle on defense while allowing the opposition to rack up solid fantasy numbers.

Running Game Thoughts: Perhaps the specter of a suspension hanging over his head has Cedric Benson struggling with inconsistency this season. His 104-yard, 5.4-yard-per-carry game in Week 4 against Buffalo was sandwiched between games where he totaled 117 rushing yards while averaging 2.9 yards per carry. The key for the Bengals and Benson is to get him 25 or more carries. Cincy is 11-1 when he reaches that magic number, and that amount of opportunities is bound to bear fruit at some point in the game. Expect a heavy dose of Benson with the expectation of solid production.

Only one team has given up more rushing yards than the Colts. Surprisingly, Pittsburgh was the only team the Colts have held to less than 100 yards (during that energy-charged Sunday night game in Week 3). Everybody else has torched them for at least 106 yards, including the Chiefs, who ran for 194 yards last week. Don’t expect much to change this week. Benson should have his way with this defense.

Andy Dalton: 210 yards passing / 2 TD / 1 INT
A.J. Green: 80 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 40 yards receiving
Andre Caldwell: 30 yards receiving
Jermaine Gresham: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Cedric Benson: 115 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Bengals 24, Colts 10 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Steelers - (Autry)

PIT FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -34.9%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -42.9%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +1.7%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +2.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Blaine Gabbert rebounded rather nicely last week after stinkin’ it up pretty good the week before against New Orleans. As the rookie continues to develop as an NFL quarterback, the fact that his receivers aren’t the best tends to stunt that growth—kind of like Sam Bradford’s situation. Mike Thomas and Jason Hill aren’t considered world beaters, although Hill did a number on the Bengals last week. The player that needs to step up is tight end Marcedes Lewis. After having a career year last season with 10 touchdowns and 700 yards, he’s come back to the pack with unproductive play. Gabbert’s growth will depend largely on Lewis recapturing his 2010 form. All that being said, no one on this team relative to the passing game should be started in fantasy football this week.

Pittsburgh usually feasts on inexperienced or below-average quarterbacks. Just ask Tarvaris Jackson, Curtis Painter, or Kerry Collins what it was like facing the Steelers this year. All this talk about their being old—or more precisely, playing old—has become bothersome to me. They’re still the second-ranked overall defense in the league, and they are league leaders in defending the pass. That doesn’t bode well for the Jags’ chances. But then again, you shouldn’t be starting Jaguars anyway, now should you?

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew has been the cornerstone of the Jags offense this season, and rightfully so. He’s averaging five yards every time he carries the ball, but the one surprise is his lack of receptions. He has the fewest receptions through the first five games of a season in his career. And the fact that he has a young quarterback who you’d think would check down often to his running backs is shocking. Still, as it stands, MJD is a RB1 who you should start every week regardless of the opponent.

Speaking of the opponent, Pittsburgh’s traditionally tough defense against the run has had a few hiccups this year—Week 1 against Baltimore and Week 4 against Houston. They still have the ability to shut down running backs, as last week’s pedestrian numbers from Chris Johnson prove.

Blaine Gabbert: 160 yards passing / 0 TD / 2 INTs
Mike Thomas: 60 yards receiving
Jason Hill: 40 yards receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 45 yards receiving
Maurice Jones-Drew: 65 yards rushing / 1 TD

JAC FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -8.4%
JAC FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -28.1%
JAC FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +41.8%
JAC FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Foot injury? What foot injury? Ben Roethlisberger came out last week and showed us that he’s more than a nibbled-footed quarterback who does his damage outside the pocket. Even with a strained foot sustained the week before in Houston, Ben threw for more touchdowns in last week’s game (5) than he had in the previous four games combined (3). The five scores against a solid Tennessee defense reminds all of us that, indeed, Ben is still a force in fantasy football, despite the slow start.

The Jags defense has held three of five opposing quarterbacks to under 182 yards this season. The flip side of that coin is that they also allowed 326 yards passing in a game. Which Jags defense will show up? That’s the question. I suspect it will be the one that will allow Ben, Mike Wallace, and their friends to be solid starters in Week 6.

Running Game Thoughts: According to offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Rashard Mendenhall is “ready to go and back to normal.” Hopefully “normal” isn’t going back to what Mendy’s owners saw during the first four games of the season. He’s yet to run for more than 66 yards or average more than 3.7 yards per carry in a game this year. Plus, he hasn’t run for more than 100 yards since Week 11 last year. It’s been a snail’s pace of a slow start for Mendenhall, who just happens to be an RB1 for many fantasy owners. Keep in mind that the Jags have yet to surrender 100 yards to an opposing back, so things may continue to be dicey for Mendy and Pittsburgh’s running game.

This is the start of a tough three-game stretch for the Jags’ run defense. After Pittsburgh, they welcome Baltimore at home before traveling to Houston. All three teams pride themselves on running the football, so Jacksonville will have its work cut out. They are a top-10 rush defense, however, even without brand-name players on that side of the ball. Expect some hard hitting and tough football this week in Pittsburgh.

Ben Roethlisberger: 235 yards passing / 2 TDs
Mike Wallace: 120 yards receiving / 1 TD
Hines Ward: 40 yards receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 30 yards receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 75 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Steelers 21, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Browns @ Raiders - (Eakin)

OAK FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +21.6%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +7.0%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +16.3%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +41.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Colt McCoy enters what should be a reasonably good matchup as the 25th ranked fantasy QB. The Browns passing game is very conservative. It is predicated or short passes to fit the skill set of McCoy who is accurate but lacking arm strength. Despite the league wide passing frenzy, McCoy has only 6 TD passes in five games - that’s two thirds of Calvin Johnson’s total alone. On the outside, the Browns promoted rookie Greg Little to the starting line-up in place of Brian Robiskie. Little is the most athletic WR on the roster. The hope is that he can break a tackle on the short routes to give them a shot at some big plays. His promotion puts him on the radar as a sleeper moving forward, but some expectations should be tempered in that he’s already been playing a significant amount of snaps.

The Raiders struggle in pass defense (29th) allowing 300 yards per game. Maybe the Asomugha trade was a lose/lose deal? They Raiders played inspired ball in beating the Texans after the death of Al Davis. While they could have an emotional letdown, I think being the first home game since his passing could extend the moment. The crowd may have a little extra electricity. They may get hit for a play or two, but the Browns don’t have the firepower to take advantage of the weakness in the Raiders secondary.

Running Game Thoughts: The stalwart of the Browns ground game, and Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis, has been mired in “Fevergate” back in Cleveland based on speculation he sat a game healthy due to contract negotiation advice from his agent. A road game is likely welcome. All signs seem to indicate that he will still get the majority of carries over the younger Monatario Hardesty. Still, there is a door crack chance that he finds himself in the doghouse, and splits the carries. Treat him to start, hope the dust settles, but start him with some caution.

The Raiders are very physical on the defensive line, yet they still rank 22nd in rush defense. They have size, and should match-up well with the Browns who want to out physical opponents with the big and plodding Hillis. They Raiders are better attacked on the outside, where the quicker Hardesty is better suited. Perhaps another reason to pause on Hillis this week. I have not been extremely impressed with 2nd year MLB Rolando McClain. Not only does he not make the amount of tackles compared to other inside linebackers, he also seems a bit, well, lacking of intensity. His motor often seems to be on idle, not hustling in pursuit of plays away from him or past him. Furthermore, he is questionable to with an ankle injury.

Colt McCoy: 315 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int.
Mohamed Massaquoi: 55 yds receiving
Greg Little: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Ben Watson: 45 yds receiving / 1 TD
Peyton Hillis: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 40 yds receiving

CLE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -14.5%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -30.9%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +43.5%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -3.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Don’t look now but the Raiders just may have a serviceable pass attack moving forward. There are several reasons for optimism. One is Darrius Heyward-Bey. For two straight weeks he has put up fantasy starter numbers, and they came off legitimate routes, not say, one big play running deep. He is big, fast, strong, and looks to be maturing in his craft, making him a popular waiver wire add this week. The emergence of DHB will help open the field up for their other wide outs Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford, easily the fastest starting trio on the league. Moore was blanked last week and drew double teams, which is partly what helped Heyward-Bey take advantage of single coverage. Teams will have to decide which player is the bigger threat now.

The Browns look like they will be without their best cover corner Joe Haden. Haden is growing praise as one of the league’s elite covers in just his second year. The Browns will be vulnerable to the Raiders deep passing attack without him.

Running Game Thoughts: Oakland could dominate possession in this game with the 2nd best rushing attack. The Browns are big up front and at the linebacker position, but they lack speed. This just in, Darren McFadden does not lack speed. He can have a big day getting to the edge on the Browns 25th ranked rush defense. The Browns will begin by stuffing the box, but a few big plays by the passing game will limit their ability to sell out on the run, and McFadden will feast.

Jason Campbell: 245 yds passing, 1 TDs, 1 INT
Denarius Moore: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 70 yds receiving
Kevin Boss: 35 yds receiving
Darren McFadden: 125 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Raiders 27, Browns 20 ^ Top