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Inside the Matchup
Week 7

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

CHI @ TB (London) | WAS @ CAR | HOU @ TEN | IND @ NO



 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Eakin 17 4 81.0
2 Autry 18 7 72.0
3 Marcoccio 13 8 61.9
4 Smith 14 9 60.9

Bears @ Buccaneers (London) - (Smith)

TB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 1.6%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 3.0%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 42.1%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 2.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is having a solid if unspectacular season for the Bears and his fantasy owners. He’s thrown for eight touchdowns, but held his interception total down to just four. However, he has just one 300-yard passing game, and only two with more than 250 yards. His receiving weapons are nondescript, as evidenced by the fact that running back Matt Forte is the team’s leader in receptions and receiving yards, and Dane Sanzenbacher is the team’s leader in receiving scores with three.

Tampa Bay has been poor in pass defense this year, ranking 26th in the league, and are tied for 22nd in passing scores allowed. They haven’t put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, as just eight teams have fewer sacks than they do so far on the season. In terms of numbers, quarterbacks have had quite a bit of success against them this year, with three of the six starters they’ve gone up against having thrown for at least 300 yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Chicago’s offense centers entirely around running back Matt Forte. He hasn’t gained fewer than 82 yards from scrimmage in any game this season, which is good for his fantasy owners because that’s how he gets most of his points. He has just one rushing score and one receiving score for the year.

The Bucs’ rushing defense is squarely in the middle of the pack. They’re 18th in the league in that statistic, and have allowed five rushing scores on the year, which is 17th in the NFL. A good omen for Forte’s fantasy owners is that Tampa seems vulnerable to dual-threat backs – three backs have gained at least 40 receiving yards against them.

Jay Cutler: 270 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Devin Hester: 80 yds receiving
Johnny Knox: 65 yds receiving
Roy Williams: 35 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dane Sanzenbacher: 15 yds receiving
Matt Forte: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 65 yds receiving, 1 TD

CHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 22.4%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 1.7%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 73.6%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 8.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tampa’s very large (6’6”, 250 lbs.) quarterback, Josh Freeman, had his best outing of the season last week against the Saints, with 303 yards and two touchdown throws with no interceptions. He’s had an up-and-down year, to say the least. He’s alternated good and bad weeks, with three games of quarterback ratings below 80.0 each followed by games of a quarterback rating over 90.0. His offensive weaponry is inexperienced, but veteran tight end Kellen Winslow leads the squad with 27 receptions. He should be in line for a good week against Chicago, because the Bears are giving up more fantasy points to tight ends than any team in the league, with five different players at the position each registering at least seven points.

The Chicago pass defense has been a weakness for the team this season. They are 25th in the NFL in that statistic, and opponents are completing passes at a rate of 67.4%, which is the third-worst in the league. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown for 297 yards or more against the Bears three times, and in two games they allowed three touchdown passes.

Running Game Thoughts: LeGarrette Blount is likely out for this contest, leaving the ball-carrying duties to Earnest Graham, who carried the load last week against the Saints. He ran for 109 yards on just 17 carries in that contest, while also catching two passes for 22 yards.

Graham has a good match-up this week against the Bears, who are 22nd in the NFL in rushing defense, but rank dead last in the league in yards per carry allowed, as opposing ball carriers have toted the rock for 5.4 yards per rush. When you look at the numbers, it’s easy to see why – not one opposing running back has had more than 17 carries against Chicago (and only one back has had at least 15), but four different runners have gained at least 80 yards against them.

Josh Freeman: 235 yds passing, 2 TD / 20 yds rushing
Kellen Winslow: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Arrelious Benn: 40 yds receiving
Preston Parker: 25 yds receiving
Dezmon Briscoe: 15 yds receiving
Earnest Graham: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Bears 21 ^ Top

Redskins @ Panthers - (Smith)

CAR FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 15.7%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 32.7%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 34.4%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 62.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: With Rex Grossman being a known commodity as a turnover machine, including tossing four picks last week against the Eagles, John Beck will take over under center for the Redskins. Of course, fantasy owners aren’t exactly going crazy and picking him up off the waiver wire, which is a smart move. Beck has a quick release and is a good athlete, but has had a dull career to this point. One development that fantasy owners should take advantage of is the fact that tight end Fred Davis no longer has competition for looks at tight end now that Chris Cooley is lost with a hand injury.

Carolina has been burned by good quarterbacks this season, with their 24th-ranked pass defense having allowed over 300 yards and two touchdowns to Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Kevin Kolb. But Beck is not comparable to the first two in any way, and even Kolb has shown more promise in his career.

Running Game Thoughts: Ryan Torain was the team’s lead back last week against the Eagles, but he ran the ball only 10 times and gained just 22 yards. Tim Hightower did not play due to a shoulder malady, but he’s expected to see more action this week against the Panthers. But the 220 lb. Torain is the back with the most fantasy potential, and his match-up with Carolina is a good one – a very good one.

The Panthers are second-to-last in the NFL in run defense, and the eight rushing scores they’ve given up this season are tied for the most in football. Only in Week 5 against the Saints (and their triumvirate of runners) has Carolina not allowed an individual running back to gain at least 85 rushing yards, and three times they’ve allowed a running back to gain at least 90 yards and a score.

John Beck: 205 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT / 15 yds rushing
Santana Moss: 70 yds receiving
Fred Davis: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jabar Gaffney: 40 yds receiving
Ryan Torain: 95 yds rushing, 1 TD

WAS FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 18.1%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 22.2%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 1.3%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 10.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie signal-caller Cam Newton’s wonderful start to the season has taken a bit of a hit for his fantasy owners lately, at least in terms of his passing. He’s thrown for fewer than 240 yards in three of his past four games, and has two touchdowns and four interceptions in his past two contests. He still has wideout Steve Smith, however, and though Smith has just a single touchdown reception, he has just one game with fewer than 65 receiving yards, and individual wideouts have seen success against the Redskins, despite Washington’s overall effectiveness against the pass.

Three receivers – Larry Fitzgerald, Jeremy Maclin and Hakeem Nicks – have had 100 or more receiving yards against the ‘Skins this season, but they still rank sixth in the NFL in pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 54.9 percent of their throws against Washington, which is also sixth in the league, and they’ve allowed only four passing scores, which is tied for the second-fewest allowed.

Running Game Thoughts: The Carolina running game can be split into three parts – Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Of course, this fact is much to the chagrin of the fantasy owners who have Williams and Stewart, because Newton is the team’s de facto goal-line back, having scored five times on the ground compared to one each for Williams and Stewart. Neither running back is playing poorly, with Stewart running for 4.8 YPC and Williams running for 5.2 YPC, but they’re just not getting the amount of carries, or the chances near the goal-line that fantasy owners are used to.

The Redskins are 11th in the NFL against the run in the 2011 campaign, allowing 106 yards per contest. Yet runners are gashing them for 4.6 yards per attempt, which is 21st in the league. They’ve allowed at least 11 fantasy points to every starting running back they’ve played this season, with only Felix Jones not scoring on either a rush or reception, but he had 115 rushing yards and 40 receiving yards in the game.

Cam Newton: 260 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT / 35 yds rushing
Steve Smith: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 55 yds receiving
Jeremy Shockey: 35 yds receiving
Legedu Naanee: 30 yds receiving
Brandon LaFell: 15 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 45 yds rushing / 15 receiving yds
Jonathan Stewart: 35 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Panthers 20, Redskins 14 ^ Top

Texans @ Titans - (Smith)

TEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 4.2%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 9.5%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 29.8%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 16.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub has been something of a tease this season. He hasn’t had any real awful performances, and has had a couple of very good ones, but the former University of Virginia gunslinger has thrown for more than 230 yards just twice in six games this year, and has thrown for more than two touchdowns on only one occasion. He’s likely going to be without receiver Andre Johnson again this week, but Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones are decent fill-ins, and tight end Owen Daniels should be primed for a big game against a Tennessee defense that has allowed three touchdown receptions to tight ends in their last two games.

That aside, the Titans have been solid against the pass this season, and rank 12th in the league in pass defense. They’ve been especially good in stopping wide receivers. No wideout has had a game with even 85 receiving yards against Tennessee, and before the team’s Week 5 game against the Steelers, they had only given up a single touchdown reception to a wide receiver.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Arian Foster has been excellent since coming back from his hamstring injury, showing the combination of running and receiving skills that made him a number one pick in numerous fantasy drafts this summer. He only managed 49 rushing yards last week against the Ravens, but still gave value to his fantasy owners by adding 52 receiving yards in the contest. He has had more than 100 combined rushing and receiving yards in all three games he’s played in since coming back from his injury.

Tennessee will present Foster with a challenge, however. They are 10th in the NFL in run defense, have allowed just one rushing score this season (tied for second-fewest in league), and opponents are running for 3.8 yards per attempt, which is eighth in the league.

Matt Schaub: 265 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Owen Daniels: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kevin Walter: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jacoby Jones: 55 yds receiving
Derrick Mason: 15 yds receiving
Arian Foster: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 40 yds receiving
Ben Tate: 25 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

HOU FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 6.3%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 11.9%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 44.4%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 0.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been much better than anyone could have predicted, including those fantasy owners who took a late-round flyer on him. He’s thrown for at least 260 yards in four of his five starts this season, and has multiple touchdown passes in three of those contests. He’s been doing this without Kenny Britt for the last few weeks, which is even more impressive considering the rather ordinary collection of receiving talent the Titans possess minus Britt.

The Texans have been much, much, much better against the pass this season than they were last. They are 13th in the league in pass defense, and are holding opposing quarterbacks to a completion percentage of just 54.2, which is the fourth-best number in the league. But there has been individual success against them, particularly by wide receivers. Seven different wideouts have amassed at least 75 receiving yards in a game against Houston, and four have had at least 75 yards and a touchdown.

Running Game Thoughts: Among disappointments at running back for fantasy owners, Chris Johnson is near the top. He has a terrible YPC average of 3.0, and has only scored once, in Tennessee’s loss to Pittsburgh in Week 5. Johnson has had over 55 rushing yards in one game this season, and has even struggled to be the dual-threat that he has been in the past, with just one contest of over 25 receiving yards.

Houston ranks the same in the NFL in run defense, 13th, as they do in pass defense. But they are a bit more vulnerable against the run, with opponents averaging 4.6 yards per attempt, and the five rushing scores they’ve allowed are 17th in the league. They’ve given up 100 rushing yards to an individual back twice, to Ray Rice and Daniel Thomas, but no other back has more than 51 yards against them. To put that in a bit of context, however, it should be noted that only three back have double-digit carries vs. the Texans.

Matt Hasselbeck: 230 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Damian Williams: 80 yds receiving
Nate Washington: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 45 yds receiving
Lavelle Hawkins: 20 yds receiving
Chris Johnson: 90 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Texans 21, Titans 17 ^ Top

Colts @ Saints - (Smith)

NO FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 12.4%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 1.3%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 50.0%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 22.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Curtis Painter has shown himself to be at least serviceable as a backup quarterback in the NFL, with five touchdown throws and only one interception in his three starts. He may not be the apple of fantasy owners’ eyes, however, because he seems to be mostly fixated on Pierre Garcon, leaving the owners of likely high fantasy draft picks Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark searching for alternatives. Garcon has 323 receiving yards and four touchdowns in his last three games, while Wayne has 194 yards and zero scores, with Clark tallying just 106 yards and one touchdown.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to get a great grasp on the Saints’ pass defense. While they rank 19th in the league in that category, they are also tied for last in touchdown passes allowed, but are holding opposing quarterbacks to the lowest completion percentage (52.8%) in the league.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Joseph Addai did not play in the Colts’ loss to the Bengals last week, and he is questionable for this week’s contest. That left the running duties to rookie Delone Carter, who gained just 42 yards on 14 carries against Cincinnati, and who hasn’t run for more than 3.2 yards per carry in any of his last four games.

New Orleans is 14th in the league in run defense, but the peripherals say that they are not stout when it comes to stopping the run. Opponents are running for 5.1 yards per carry against them, which is 29th in the NFL, and they’ve allowed an opposing running back to gain at least 80 rushing yards against them in each of the last four weeks.

Curtis Painter: 210 yds passing, 2 TD, 2 INT
Pierre Garcon: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Reggie Wayne: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dallas Clark: 35 yds receiving
Austin Collie: 15 yds receiving
Delone Carter: 40 yds rushing
Joseph Addai: 20 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving

IND FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 12.0%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 26.8%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 32.8%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 10.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Saints have arguably the best passing attack in the league because of the way they utilize players at every position on the field. Obviously, Drew Brees is the cog that keeps the wheel turning, and he’s thrown for 350 or more yards in every game but one this season. He has struggled with interceptions the last few weeks, however, with six in his last three games. But fantasy owners shouldn’t worry too much about that, because those numbers are sure to ebb, and he’ll keep flinging it to weapons like tight end Jimmy Graham, the top fantasy-scoring tight end in the NFL this year. Wideout Marques Colston regained his form last week as well, with over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Needless to say, it’ll be a challenge for the Colts to contain all of that firepower, and though they’re a respectable 18th in the league against the pass, opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 104.0 against them this year, which is the second-highest mark in the NFL. In addition, each of the last four quarterbacks to play the Colts has had at least 255 passing yards and one touchdown throw.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints are a very frustrating team in terms of running backs for fantasy owners. It’s hard to tell who will do what in any given game, but the breakdown usually goes something like this – Mark Ingram will lead the team in carries and rushing yards, Darren Sproles will get the fewest carries among running backs but the most catches and receiving yards, and Pierre Thomas will be in the middle in both rushing and receiving among the backs.

The Colts have been beaten up by opposing running backs this year, having allowed the 30th-most yards per game on the ground. They’ve also given up seven rushing scores, which is tied for 27th in the league, and have seen four different running backs gain at least 90 yards against them, with three of those backs eclipsing the 100-yard mark.

Drew Brees: 365 yds passing, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Marques Colston: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 55 yds receiving
Lance Moore: 50 yds receiving
Devery Henderson: 25 yds receiving
Mark Ingram: 55 yds rushing, 2 TD
Pierre Thomas: 30 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving
Darren Sproles: 15 yds rushing / 45 yds receiving, 1 TD

Prediction: Saints 35, Colts 17 ^ Top

Ravens @ Jaguars - (Smith)

JAX FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 12.7%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 36.3%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 58.5%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 5.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Quarterback Joe Flacco is not having a superior season for fantasy owners who thought he might be ready to take the next step and turn into a weekly starter. But that hasn’t happened, as he has only seven touchdown throws this year, including zero in each of his past two starts. Those performances have undoubtedly hampered the teams in which fantasy owners decided to utilize him in their lineups. He won’t have an easy go of it this week, either.

Jacksonville is ninth in the NFL in pass defense, which is a minor miracle considering how deplorable they had been in the recent past. They’ve held almost every quarterback they’ve played in check, and even held Drew Brees to one touchdown pass while intercepting him twice despite the fact he threw for 351 yards. But outside of Brees, none of the other five quarterbacks they’ve faced has thrown for even 270 yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice was one of the upper-echelon fantasy running backs before the season began, and he’s done nothing to displace himself from that category. Rice is the epitome of dual-threat running back, and has 398 rushing yards to go with 302 receiving yards. He even has the same amount of receiving scores (two) that he does rushing scores.

The Jaguars have been okay against the run, coming in at 19th in the league in run defense, but have had rough moments as well. Rashard Mendenhall awoke from his mediocre season to thrash the Jags for over 140 yards, while Darren Sproles had over 130 yards from scrimmage on just 12 touches against them.

Joe Flacco: 245 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Anquan Boldin: 100 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ed Dickson: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Torrey Smith: 35 yds receiving
Ray Rice: 75 yds rushing, 2 TD / 45 yds receiving

BAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 29.0%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 4.8%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 68.6%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 36.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has been okay in his initial go-round through the NFL, but he’s not someone fantasy owners should be using. He hasn’t thrown an interception in either of his last two games, but he hasn’t thrown for more than one score in any game this year. The team’s receiving options are so bad that the team re-signed Mike Sims-Walker this week, after he was released by a Rams team that has no playmakers at wideout.

If that news wasn’t dire enough, Gabbert and the Jags have to face a Ravens team that is seventh in the league against the pass, is allowing the second-lowest completion percentage in the league to opposing quarterbacks, and who hasn’t allowed more than 220 yards in the air in any of their last three games.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew has been everything that his fantasy owners could rightfully expect this season, having run for nearly 600 yards, although his receiving totals have dipped as he has just nine receptions all year. But there’s little more he could do on such a bad offensive team, and the fact that he’s run for at least 84 yards in every game this season is the type of consistency his fantasy owners have to love.

What they may not love this week, however, is MJD’s match-up. He faces a Ravens squad that is third in the NFL against the run, and who has allowed just a single rushing score all year. No running back has gained more than 75 yards on the ground against Baltimore, and they held Arian Foster, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson each to fewer than 55 rushing yards.

Blaine Gabbert: 155 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Mike Thomas: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Hill: 35 yds receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 20 yds receiving
Maurice Jones-Drew: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Ravens 28, Jaguars 14 ^ Top

Falcons @ Lions - (Autry)

DET FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -23.2%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -25.2%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +21.0%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -7.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s been a pretty bumpy ride for those who own Matt Ryan this year. Only once has he thrown for more than a single touchdown in a game, and most recently he’s averaged 165 yards passing in the last two. Not the kind of production we expected from what many considered a mid-level QB1 heading into the season. It won’t help that rookie wide receiver Julio Jones may not play this week. Roddy White, however, will play. The veteran hasn’t been highly thought of by his owners so far in 2011, but I urge those owners to remain patient. Sure, the two-catch performance last week was ugly, but keep in mind that only Calvin Johnson has more targets than White. So he’s getting the opportunities; it’s only a matter of time before he turns those into production.

Detroit presents a formidable defensive foe. Its sixth-ranked pass defense has pretty much limited every quarterback it’s faced, sans Tony Romo. Granted, the others aren’t a who’s who of signal-calling elite (Matt Cassel, Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith), but holding each of them to under 200 yards passing is a feat nonetheless. Ryan will have a difficult time putting up “startable” numbers, so keep your expectations for him in check.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner has been wildly inconsistent so far this season, following up a 114-yard rushing performance in Week 2 with a stink bomb 20-yard performance in Week 3. Additionally, his 139 yards last week against Carolina was 13 yards more than he had run for in the previous two games combined. His five rushing touchdowns in the last three games, however, should pacify his owners enough to tolerate the up-and-down yardage totals.

Surprisingly, Detroit has struggled against the run so far in 2011, though its 26th ranking doesn’t seem to match the personnel they have on that side of the ball. San Francisco gashed them for more than 200 yards on the ground last week, and Turner and the Falcons bring a similar approach to the running game. Expect Turner to reach 25 touches for the third time in the last four games. He should serve you well as a solid RB1 this week.

Matt Ryan: 210 yards passing / 2 TDs / 1 INT
Roddy White: 75 yards receiving / 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 40 yards receiving
Tony Gonzalez: 65 yards receiving / 1 TD
Michael Turner: 120 yards rushing / 1 TD

ATL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +22.5%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +23.5%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -21.0%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Dating back to his last two starts of 2010, Matt Stafford has thrown for multiple touchdowns in eight straight games (21 TDs, 5 INTs during that stretch). Talk about consistency! His slow starts this year does tend to work the nerves of his owners, but he carves out production by game’s end without fail. Stafford has worked himself into being one of fantasy’s most solid quarterbacks. Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson’s touchdown barrage has leveled off, but he obviously remains a top-3 fantasy WR. Brandon Pettigrew, though, has become a TE1 to most everyone’s surprise. Only Jimmy Graham has been targeted more at that position than Pettigrew. His touchdowns are lacking, but expect his scoring to pick up. All those passes thrown his way are bound to reap rewards at some point.

Atlanta has surrendered more than 300 yards in the air in two of the last three games, including 319 to (gulp!) Tarvaris Jackson in Week 4. The fact that Atlanta can struggle like that against a second-tier passing offense bodes well for Stafford’s prospects of continuing his hot streak. The Falcons are a ball-hawking defense, however. They are third in the league, with nine interceptions, so Stafford had best be mindful of that if he hopes to extend his streak of ten consecutive games with no more than one interception.

Running Game Thoughts: The Lions running game is in shambles right now. Jahvid Best is questionable with a concussion, and the trade that was supposed to bring in Ronnie Brown from Philly fell through after Jerome Harrison apparently failed his physical. That leaves the running duties in Detroit to Maurice Morris, Keiland Williams, and the aforementioned Harrison—if, in fact, Best sits this one out. Bottom line, don’t bother with the Lions running game this week. This will be a Matt Stafford aerial show for sure.

The Falcons have had some stellar games stuffing the run this year. They held Seattle to 53 yards and Green Bay to 57. These numbers are relative, since both teams torched Atlanta through the air, but stats are stats. And as I mentioned above, the Lions probably won’t concern themselves too much with their running game anyway, so neither should you.

Matthew Stafford: 290 yards passing / 3 TDs / 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 130 yards receiving / 2 TDs
Nate Burleson: 45 yards receiving
Titus Young: 35 yards receiving
Brandon Pettigrew: 60 yards receiving / 1 TD
Maurice Morris: 35 yards rushing
Keiland Williams: 20 yards rushing

Prediction: Lions 24, Falcons 21 ^ Top

Packers @ Vikings - (Autry)

MIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -3.3%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +20.4%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -29.7%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -15.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford are the only quarterbacks who have thrown multiple touchdowns in each game this season. But Rodgers is doing it at an MVP level. The yards, the passing touchdowns, the rushing touchdowns…he’s doing it all. And the fact that he’s yet to throw for less than 297 yards in each of his six games is ridiculous. The last time Green Bay paid a visit to the Metrodome, Rodgers had 300 yards and four touchdowns. Also, the team has five players with at least 15 receptions, with Greg Jennings leading the way. Jordy Nelson seems to get a lot of love in weekly ratings, but how often can we expect him to have two-reception, 105-yard, one-touchdown games? That well always dries up at some point; but while his production is plentiful, put him in your lineup.

Minnesota has been in the bottom-third of pass defenses this year. The top quarterbacks they have faced (Rivers, Stafford) combined for well over 600 yards and four touchdown passes. The Vikings have revived their pass rush, as defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison have a combined for 14 sacks. The rest of the team has three. So as long as Green Bay’s O-line keeps Minnesota’s rushing ends off Rodgers, the quarterback should have a dynamite game.

Running Game Thoughts: Green Bay’s running game is as nondescript as any in the NFL. Their top two tailbacks have one rushing touchdown between them; even Rodgers himself has two. Not to mention the undefined roles that both Ryan Grant and James Starks play, this has the makings of a running back situation that you shouldn’t want any part of.

The Vikings field the league’s fourth best rush defense, so whatever production the Packers get out of their two-headed running back attack probably won’t be much. Minnesota has held San Diego (77 yards), Detroit (20 yards), and Arizona (77 yards) to mediocre rushing totals this season, so don’t be surprised if Green Bay has difficulty reaching the century mark on the ground as a team this week.

Aaron Rodgers: 320 yards passing / 3 TDs
Greg Jennings: 95 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jordy Nelson: 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Donald Driver: 35 yards receiving
Jermichael Finley: 75 yards receiving / 1 TD
James Starks: 40 yards rushing / 1 TD
Ryan Grant: 25 yards rushing

GB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +14.4%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +11.8%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +5.1%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -28.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s easy to look at this game and expect rookie Christian Ponder to be shell shocked playing against the defending champions. But with the way rookie quarterbacks have played this season, Ponder being productive in this game probably wouldn’t be too big of a surprise. He certainly couldn’t be worse than Donovan McNabb. And for McNabb to tell the media this week that he still has a lot of football left in him is laughable. Certainly he can’t stand there and say he stinks, but come on! Ponder’s presence should make Percy Harvin a more consistent threat. But I think tight end Visanthe Shiancoe could be the biggest winner in Ponder’s ascension to the starting spot. He could see a lot of dump-off passes come his way.

I remain baffled over how and why Green Bay has the second-worst pass defense in the league. And when you consider that half of the quarterbacks they’ve faced this year (Cutler, Orton, Bradford) aren’t what you would call upper-echelon fantasy quarterbacks, their ranking is even more perplexing. Be that as it may, Ponder will still find it a challenge to pierce the Packers secondary while dodging what’s sure to be an onslaught of blitzes. McNabb was a fantasy afterthought, and so should Ponder be—at least for the immediate future.

Running Game Thoughts: Adrian Peterson will probably be counted on even more with the rookie under center. He was stuffed last week against Chicago but still managed to score a touchdown. Peterson’s lack of receptions, though, really hurts his overall value. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave indicated before the season that AP would be used more in the passing game. Well, two receptions over the last three games is not evidence of that. Perhaps we can expect his targets to increase with Ponder under siege and needing to dump it off quickly. We’ll see.

No team has been run on as few times as Green Bay. Perhaps that has a lot to do with them getting up early on teams. Whatever the reason may be, the Packers are fifth against the run and have given up only two rushing touchdowns. AP will find running lanes hard to come by this week, but we can be sure that he will at least get a boatload of opportunities.

Christian Ponder: 185 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Percy Harvin: 60 yards receiving
Michael Jenkins: 50 yards receiving / 1 TD
Visanthe Shiancoe: 55 yards receiving
Adrian Peterson: 85 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Packers 28, Vikings 17 ^ Top

Seahawks @ Browns - (Autry)

CLE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -20.0%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -31.0%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +42.6%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -6.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: All signs point to Charlie Whitehurst getting the nod over Tarvaris Jackson, who has a pectoral injury that he sustained in Week 5. Whitehurst, a three-year veteran at age 29, doesn’t appear to have much fantasy appeal—perhaps even less than Jackson. Jackson at least has a 300-yard passing game this season. Whitehurst, in limited action through his short career, has never passed for more than 192 yards and one touchdown in a game. As pedestrian as Seattle’s passing game has been to this point, it will probably take a step back with Whitehurst at the helm. Thus, Sidney Rice, Ben Obomanu, and Doug Baldwin are rendered useless.

Furthermore, Cleveland has been a surprisingly stingy defense, particularly against the pass. They are fourth in the league in passing defense and no team has thrown for more than 231 yards against them. The Browns should be able to limit whatever aerial attack Seattle throws at them. Bench all your Seattle passing/receiving components this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch’s production has been all over the place. An 11-yard rushing game followed by a 73-yard game; a 24-yard rushing performance followed by a 98-yard performance. Inconsistency is perhaps the biggest enemy in fantasy football. Lynch has yet to record more than 19 carries in a game this year, but his role could expand with Whitehurst possibly taking the reins of the offense this week.

As tough as Cleveland has been against the pass, they’ve been bad against the run. Teams average only 3.9 yards per carry against the Browns, but only five teams have given up more yards on the ground. Lynch will no doubt be the centerpiece to what the Seahawks do offensively. He should serve you well as a low-end RB2.

Charlie Whitehurst: 210 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Sidney Rice: 65 yards receiving
Ben Obomanu: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 30 yards receiving
Anthony McCoy: 25 yards receiving
Marshawn Lynch: 75 yards rushing / 30 yards receiving / 1 rushing TD

SEA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +13.4%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +31.8%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +10.3%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -2.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Colt McCoy has quietly maneuvered his way into being worth a roster spot. He hasn’t thrown for less than 210 yards all season and has stayed away from the big turnovers. He even has a 350-yard game thrown in there for good measure. While he’s continued ascending the fantasy relevance chart, so too have his receivers. Rookie Greg Little has emerged as a solid mid-season sleeper. He’s been made a starter and looks to reward owners who took a chance on him. Tight end Ben Watson should also be given a look as well.

Seattle got whipped two weeks ago, right before their bye, as Eli Manning sent them on their one-week hiatus with the stench of a 395-yard passing day still fresh in the air. They’re a bottom-tier defense overall, and Cleveland and its upstart passing attack should be able to move the ball on them. McCoy is a borderline starter in deeper leagues, and Greg Little should give you production as a WR3.

Running Game Thoughts: Peyton Hillis continues to be a question mark heading into this contest. A sore hamstring has limited him all week in practice. But even with Hillis healthy, Montario Hardesty has garnered his share of rushing attempts. Hardesty will more than likely get the nod this week and look to redeem himself after acknowledging his struggles last week against Oakland.

The Seahawks have limited teams on the ground this year, however. The Giants ran for only 69 yards against them in Week 5, so whoever receives the lion’s share of the carries will be doing so against a run defense that statistics say is a top-10 unit. For those owners who may be without Fred Jackson, Frank Gore, or LeSean McCoy due to the bye, Hardesty should do well as a stopgap option this week.

Colt McCoy: 235 yards passing / 2 TDs
Greg Little: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Mohamed Massaquoi: 45 yards receiving
Josh Cribbs: 35 yards receiving
Ben Watson: 50 yards receiving / 1 TD
Montario Hardesty: 85 yards rushing

Prediction: Browns 20, Seahawks 14 ^ Top

Chargers @ Jets - (Marcoccio)

NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -47.8%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -43.6%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -42.8%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +31.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Chargers come off their bye week looking to get their passing game back on track. In 2010, despite missing Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, and Malcolm Floyd for multiple games, Philip Rivers was able to throw for over 4,700 yards with 30 touchdowns, turning practice squad-type talents into viable targets. This season, while Gates and Floyd have been in and out of the lineup, Jackson has been mostly healthy but Rivers just hasn’t seemed to be able to get fully on track. Through five games, he has thrown for 1,536 yards and six touchdowns, but he also has seven interceptions already—after averaging only 11 per season over the last three years. Rivers is too good a quarterback to stay in this funk and should turn things around soon. Antonio Gates has been out since Week 2 with a painful plantar fasciitis injury, but he may return this week depending on how he practices and if he can block out the pain enough to be effective. Gates is making no promises, so his owners will need to pay close attention to his status as Sunday approaches.

The New York Jets are the fifth-ranked passing defense in the NFL this year, allowing 200.8 yards per game and only three touchdowns on the season, so Rivers’ turnaround may be a week away yet. Darrelle Revis continues to be a matchup nightmare for opposing receivers. He gave up mostly meaningless yardage to Brandon Marshall last week (Marshall’s 46-yard reception came against Antonio Cromartie), and he returned a Matt Moore pass 100 yards the other way. Vincent Jackson owners may be hard-pressed to bench him if their other WRs are on bye, but expectations should be tempered. Antonio Cromartie, however, has struggled much of the season and was banged up in the Monday night contest, so Malcom Floyd could make a sneaky good start.

Running Game Thoughts: The Chargers have had one of the better one-two punches in the league at running back. Ryan Matthews has come into his own after an injury-plagued 2010 and a slow start to 2011. He has good vision and acceleration along with outstanding balance, making him an effective inside runner with enough speed to take it outside on sweeps. His counterpart, Mike Tolbert, lacks high-end speed, but he has a decent initial burst and is as strong as a bull, punishing defenders that get in his way. He also has soft hands and runs effective routes (as well as being a strong blocker), which has earned him most of the third-down snaps. Recently, Matthews’ production has diminished Tolbert’s role in the offense after a torrid start to the season, but in a week where the team will need a strong running game, and with the Jets’ deficiencies in stopping the run, Tolbert should make a good flex option.

The Jets’ third-ranked run defense of 2010 went into Week 6 of this year ranked 26th. They looked a little more focused on Monday night, but the Dolphins were still fairly effective at running Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas when they chose to do so. The Jets will need to focus on shutting down the Chargers running game this week if they wish to extend their meager one-game winning streak.

Philip Rivers: 235 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 40 yds receiving
Malcom Floyd: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Randy McMichael: 45 yds receiving
Ryan Mathews: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 45 yds receiving
Mike Tolbert: 30 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving, 1 TD

SD FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.7%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -35.2%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +69.2%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Since the pounding that he took in Baltimore, Mark Sanchez has appeared to be much less comfortable in the pocket the last two weeks. He eventually found his groove on Monday night, but he started off looking really jumpy and showed even worse accuracy than usual. A beautiful catch and run by Santonio Holmes for a touchdown plus a five-yard quarterback draw for a score saved his fantasy owners (if there were any starting Sanchez) on what could have been a really bad night. The offseason signing of Plaxico Burress has not produced the desired results, as he’s been non-existent most weeks. Burress appears sloppy in running his patterns and has lost enough speed to make him—at best—an average option in the passing game. The team really needs to get tight end Dustin Keller back into the mix if they want to be successful passing the ball, especially against a Charger team that has really struggled containing opposing tight ends. Keller has proven to be a difference maker in the past and is one of the few players that can cause a matchup problem for opposing defenses.

The San Diego pass defense isn’t likely to be the tonic that cures Mark Sanchez’s ills. The Chargers are the second-ranked pass defense in the league, allowing only 179.6 yards per game and seven touchdowns on the season. Defensive back Quentin Jammer was taken with the fifth overall pick in 2002 and has never lived up to his draft billing, but he’s having one of his better seasons despite his advanced age. One aspect that could help Sanchez get some of his confidence back is San Diego’s inability to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Chargers have only eight sacks on the season, so Sanchez should have time in the pocket—time he will spend trying to find Dustin Keller if the Jets did their homework properly in preparing for this game.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets have been more effective running the ball since Rex Ryan proclaimed their return to “ground and pound,” but they have hardly been dominant on the ground. The O-line finally opened some holes for running back Shonn Greene against the Dolphins, but he failed to really take advantage of them. LaDainian Tomlinson couldn’t get much done either and has clearly lost a step. Greene and Tomlinson will likely be the ball carriers once again this week, but a change could be coming soon. The Jets desperately want to get back to a run-heavy offensive scheme, so now that the O-line has started to create running lanes, their backs had better take advantage of them if they want to keep being fed the ball.

San Diego is statistically the 17th-ranked run defense. They have allowed 113.6 yards per game but only three rushing touchdowns on the season. Defensive tackle Antonio Garay may be better known for his wacky haircuts and hair colors, but he’s also been pretty dominant inside, despite being undersized at his nose tackle position. Jets Center Nick Mangold looks to have finally fully recovered from his high ankle sprain, which should help the Jets keep Garay at bay.

Mark Sanchez: 245 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 20 yards rushing
Santonio Holmes: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Plaxico Burress: 30 yds receiving
Jeremy Kerley: 30 yards receiving
Dustin Keller: 75 yds receiving, 1TD
Shonn Greene: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
LaDainian Tomlinson: 20 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: Jets 27, Chargers 24 ^ Top

Broncos @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

MIA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.3%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -6.4%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -16.0%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -7.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Amazingly, the Miami Dolphins will be honoring opposing quarterback Tim Tebow during halftime of this week’s game. Well, technically they are honoring Tebow’s Florida Gators National Championship team, but scheduling it on the day he is set to return to the state speaks volumes. As everyone knows by now, Tebow will be replacing Kyle Orton as Denver’s starter this week, after he provided a spark to the team when he replaced Orton at halftime of their previous game. Tebow is not a conventional passer, but in his three starts of last season and his two quarters of play this season, he has shown that he can lead a team and get results on the field. More importantly to people reading this column, the guy produces fantasy football points, as he gains valuable yards with his legs and scores rushing touchdowns. Tebow’s slow delivery may catch up to him someday, but his strong arm, his confidence, and his ability to keep plays alive by moving away from defenders allows him to advance the ball, even if his passes don’t always look so pretty. He’ll be without Brandon Lloyd now, as he was sent to the Rams before the trade deadline because he was going to be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Second-year wideout Eric Decker, who was really starting to put things together with Orton, will now be the No. 1 target in the passing game. The team hopes fellow second-year receiver Demaryius Thomas and veteran Eddie Royal will be healthy enough to help out. Decker is a big target who attacks the ball in the air and has the body control, hands, and athletic ability to make big plays after the catch. Thomas was considered raw coming out of Georgia Tech, but he’s an athletic freak in the mold of Calvin and Andre Johnson. If healthy (he’s coming off a blown Achilles tendon and broken thumb), he and Decker could become a formidable duo. Tebow has the weapons, the smarts, and the desire to succeed, and we’ll soon find out if he can.

Miami’s pass defense is ranked 31st on the season, so Tebow at least gets a soft mark right off the bat. They are allowing 284 yards per game and 10 touchdowns through five contests. The return of Vontae Davis last week made the unit look better on Monday night, but with Mark Sanchez looking so inaccurate, it was difficult to ascertain whether Davis really made them turn the corner or if it was just happenstance.

Running Game Thoughts: Veteran Willis McGahee, who has gone for over 100 yards rushing in each of the last two games, replaced the disappointing Knowshon Moreno as the Broncos’ starting running back after Week 2. On the season, McGahee has 384 yards rushing and has scored twice (including a receiving touchdown). He no longer has the explosiveness he had—even post knee surgery—earlier in his career, but he’s a hard runner who can use his blockers effectively and move the chains. Moreno has been relegated to a third-down role but managed to be effective in that role by taking a short Tebow pass 28 yards for a score in Week 5. Going forward, expect the team to rely even more heavily on their running game as they make the transition to Tebow. John Fox loves a good ground game, and he has two solid backs to make it work.

Miami has played well against the run, allowing 106.8 yards per game and only three touchdowns on the ground so far, but to some extent, those numbers are bolstered by the opposing team’s ability to throw on their defense. Karlos Dansby is the only real impact player among the Dolphins’ front seven, with Cameron Wake only really useful as a pass rusher. Expect Denver to keep the ball grounded throughout this contest, even when Tebow drops back to pass.

Tim Tebow: 165 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 40 yards rushing, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Eddie Royal: 30 yds receiving
Demaryius Thomas: 10 yards receiving
Daniel Fells: 15 yds receiving
Willis McGahee: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
Knowshon Moreno: 20 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

DEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +51.4%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +61.9%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -26.0%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -25.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Moore made his Dolphins debut on Monday night and it wasn’t very pretty. He was facing a really tough pass defense in a tough spot, though, so there is still a chance he shows a little more as the season goes on. Last week I stated that I always liked what I saw out of Moore while he was with Dallas in the 2007 preseason and then with Carolina, and there were some good things to take away from this past week as well. Moore showed himself to be more of a gunslinger than Henne, and he is willing to take some shots downfield instead of constantly checking down, as Henne often did. He also knows where his bread is buttered, as he constantly locked in on Brandon Marshall, who is really the Phins only legit threat in the passing game. Brian Hartline and Davone Bess aren’t bad complimentary players, but they can only do so much. This week I’d expect more of the same; and we get the added bonus of Marshall going up against the team that no longer wanted him. He should be eager for a little payback. For a game where the two teams are a combined 1-9, this one sure has a lot of intrigue and reasons to watch.

The Denver Broncos are currently the 22nd-ranked passing defense in the NFL, allowing 262.4 yards per game and ten touchdowns on the season. However, that includes a game where Aaron Rodgers showed no mercy, throwing for 408 yards and four touchdowns (while also rushing for two scores), so the unit isn’t really as bad as it seems. But that’s not to say that they’re particularly good, either. When Champ Bailey plays, they at least have a shutdown type cornerback, though an aging one. Coming off the bye week, Bailey should be as healthy as he’s been all season and will be looking to shut down (and shut up) Brandon Marshall in what may be the matchup of the game.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush was actually having an impressive game on Monday night before (surprise, surprise!) succumbing to injury in the third quarter and leaving the game. Daniel Thomas returned from his second hamstring injury and looked decent. When Thomas combines with Bush, the Miami rushing attack can be a very effective unit. Thomas has an upright style but moves well and has nimble feet for a back his size. Bush, for all of his faults, still has enough open-field speed and agility to be an effective weapon in the right role. Miami will need to run effectively this week if they want to come away with their first win of the season—and there is some debate about whether they want that win or not.

Denver has not been able to stop opposing runners very effectively, allowing 123.4 yards per game and four touchdowns through five games. Their defensive line is way undersized and they are unable to get any penetration into opposing backfields, or even keep their ground. Opposing running backs are therefore often able to gain three to four yards before any initial contact, which is a good formula for an offense to sustain drives.

Matt Moore: 215 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT / 10 yards rushing
Brandon Marshall: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 35 yds receiving
Brian Hartline: 20 yards receiving
Anthony Fasano: 15 yds receiving
Daniel Thomas: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
Reggie Bush: 40 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Broncos 24, Dolphins 17 ^ Top

Rams @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

DAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -1.7%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -14.8%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +42.9%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -32.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a high ankle sprain in last week’s game against Green Bay, putting his status in doubt for Week 7. If he sits out, A.J. Feeley will get the nod. While statistically it may look like Bradford has regressed in his second season, he has in fact been plagued by very poor O-line play, and the Rams receivers seem to drop every other ball that hits their hands. The team went out and tried to land him that “go to” No. 1 receiver that he has lacked all season when they traded a fifth-round pick to Denver for Brandon Lloyd. Of course Lloyd is now reunited with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who coached the Broncos last season when Lloyd rose out of the ashes to resurrect a very disappointing career. Lloyd is an athletic deep threat who should immediately step in and become the Rams’ most targeted receiver. Last week rookie tight end Lance Kendricks (7 catches) finally lived up to his outstanding preseason and was a major contributor to the passing attack. Kendricks is a smooth route runner with great hands—although he has dropped a good number of balls this season—and the Rams are probably hoping Week 6 jumpstarts the rest of his rookie season. Rookie wideout Greg Salas (8 catches) also stepped up and will likely be cemented into Danny Amendola’s slot position, with the disappointing Mike Sims-Walker having been released this week. The slot position is an important role in McDaniels’ offense, so keep an eye on the rookie from Hawaii. McDaniels’ system and the talent on the Rams are both too good to be kept down all season. Expect things to pick up once Bradford gets healthy again.

Despite many injuries, Dallas has still managed to rank in the top half of the league’s passing defenses, and they did a great job keeping Tom Brady in check last week until his game-winning drive to close out the contest. The team is allowing 238 yards per game and nine touchdowns on the season. The Rams will need to be aware of outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware on his blitzes, with Bradford’s mobility being limited, if he is even able to play. He’s already been banged up a couple of times this season, and if they want him to build chemistry with his new receiver, he needs to stay on the field.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson started the season with a bang, breaking off a long touchdown run on the first play, but he left shortly after due to a strained calf. He has not looked the same since. Age and wear and tear seem to be catching up to the veteran, who has carried the Rams offense on his back for much of his career. The team will need to keep riding Jackson, however, with only uninspiring veterans Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood behind him on the depth chart. Jackson is still capable, but the burst and power just aren’t there as they were in his prime. He’s still serviceable and able to put up a big game here and there, but the Rams and fantasy owners can no longer rely on him to consistently carry their teams.

The Cowboys’ aggressive run blitzes have kept Shonn Greene, Frank Gore, Tim Hightower, Jahvid Best, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis mostly in check over their first five games, and they’ll likely do the same to the beat-up Jackson. Dallas is currently the top-ranked run defense, allowing only a meager 69.6 yards per game. And Frank Gore has been the only back able to score a rushing touchdown against them. Don’t expect a below-average Rams O-line to start blowing open holes this week in Jerry World.

Sam Bradford: 245 yds passing, 2 TDs / 10 yards rushing
Brandon Lloyd: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Danario Alexander: 50 yds receiving
Greg Salas: 60 yards receiving
Lance Kendricks: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Steven Jackson: 65 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving
Jerious Norwood: 20 yds rushing

StL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +13.3%
StL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +44.5%
StL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -60.9%
StL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +16.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo had a quiet fantasy game in Week 6, but he did almost lead the Cowboys to a victory in Foxboro. Miles Austin made his return from a hamstring injury and saw a good number of targets, but he didn’t have one of his monster fantasy games either. The Cowboys played the game very conservatively, despite losing starting running back Felix Jones during the second quarter, and despite playing the worst pass defense in the NFL. Wide receiver Dez Bryant was visibly upset by both the game plan and Romo’s failure to find him when he was single covered. While he probably should have hidden his frustrations better, it’s hard to blame him. The Cowboys have three of the game’s most talented receivers in Austin, Bryant, and tight end Jason Witten, and head coach Jason Garrett will need to regain his trust in Romo if the Cowboys are going to get back to the playoffs. Romo of course has made his share of boneheaded mistakes this season, but he has one of the quickest releases in the league, great accuracy, and nice mobility to keep plays alive by moving in the pocket. When he’s on his game and allowed to use the aforementioned weapons, there are very few defenses that can shut this team down.

The Rams’ secondary has been even more banged up than that of the Cowboys and has allowed 240.4 yards per game and 11 touchdowns on the season. They’ve also forced only four interceptions, so Garrett should be able to turn Romo and the receivers loose this week without much worry. St. Louis has also had issues getting to the passer, with only nine sacks despite investing heavily in their defensive line. Head coach Steve Spagnolo was famous for his pass rush when he was with the New York Giants, but it seems that could have had more to do with his personnel than his schemes.

Running Game Thoughts: Felix Jones, who was already playing through a separated shoulder, has now suffered a high ankle sprain and will be lost for the next two to four weeks. After he left the game in New England, rookie DeMarco Murray and veteran Tashard Choice split the workload, but neither was very effective. This week it looks like Murray will get the bulk of the first- and second-down carries while Choice will be used as the third-down back and possibly at the goal line. It isn’t an ideal situation for fantasy owners nor for the Cowboys alike, but with the possibility of the Boys jumping out to a big lead, the running game could be heavily utilized. Murray is a hard runner with very good straight-line speed, but he was beat up a lot during his college career and lost some of the agility and lateral movement that could have made him an effective NFL back. Still, Jerry Jones seems to love him, and there is talent there, so fantasy owners need to get on board and hope to catch a break.

This matchup plays perfectly for Murray to shine, as the Rams are currently the worst run defense in the NFL. They are allowing 163 rushing yards per game; however, they’ve given up only three touchdowns so far. If the Cowboys want to run, they should be able to, despite the loss of Jones.

Tony Romo: 285 yds passing 2 TDs / 20 yards rushing
Miles Austin: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 70 yds receiving
Jason Witten: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Tashard Choice: 35 yds rushing, 1 TD / 30 yds receiving
DeMarco Murray: 85 yards rushing / 15 yards receiving

Prediction: Cowboys 30, Rams 17 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Raiders - (Eakin)

OAK FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +20.4%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +5.2%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +24.0%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +25.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: After a slow start to the year, the Chiefs have feasted on two inept opponents in the Vikings and Colts their last two games. A win against the Raiders puts them right back in the hunt for the division at 3-3. The passing game during these two weeks served to get both Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston out of the fantasy doghouse. The Raiders make for a third favorable match-up as Oakland is the 28th ranked pass defense. The Chiefs are expected to get highly rated rookie Jonathan Baldwin back on the field after the preseason beat down from Thomas “Hitman” Jones. The addition of Baldwin helps allow the Chiefs to run more three wide sets, spreading the thin Oakland secondary. Baldwin is not a fantasy factor yet, but should be on the radar. Bowe ranks as a low end WR1, Breaston a decent WR3. Until proven otherwise, Dexter McCluster is on your bench. He isn’t getting enough touches or making any big plays.

Lost in all the Carson Palmer hoopla now is the Raiders acquisition of Aaron Curry. Curry was labeled the safest player in the draft by scouts as an outside pass rusher. With Kamerion Wimbley on the opposite side, the Raiders have the makings of an elite pass push if Curry turns his career around.

Running Game Thoughts: No official announcement has been made, but all indications are that RB Jackie Battle is the majority shareholder of the Chief backfield. He had a big game against the poor run defense of the Colts, and despite having a physical front seven, the Raiders rank just 16th against the run. I’m not sold on Battle having a big day, but he will get enough carries to make a serviceable flex or even RB2. The Raiders MLB Rolando McClain was questionable last week with an ankle, but played through it and had a decent game. McClain lacks elite agility and pursuit, but Battle is a straight line runner. McClain and Battle will be meeting head on, often, in a three-yard and cloud of dust affair.

Matt Cassel: 275 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int.
Dwayne Bowe: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Steve Breaston: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Leonard Pope: 35 yds receiving
Jackie Battle: 75 yds rushing

KC FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +8.5%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +20.7%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +12.6%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +20.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Nothing of note here to discuss here. Oh, besides the fact that the Raiders just mortgaged a couple first-round picks on this new kid from USC, what was his name….I have it here somewhere, oh yes, Carson Palmer. Couple things here; One, I think Palmer is more name than talent. He lost some arm strength last we saw him. Maybe he has returned fresh and recovered? Maybe. That said, he’s better than Kyle Boller, the non-Aaron Rodgers Cal QB product that came with almost equal hype. You know who else Carson Palmer is better than? Jason Campbell. Palmer finished 12th in QB Fantasy points scored last year. He started out hot but faded late. The consensus was that Palmer should be producing more, given his WR tandem of Chad Ochocinko and Terrell Owens. In hindsight, we have some indication that Chad is nowhere near an elite WR, and lacks precision running routes, or else he would be on the field, actually playing this year in New England. So there is some chance that much of the inconsistency Palmer showed last year, was not all Palmer’s fault.

In summary, The Raider fantasy players all stand to benefit from their previous ranking; Darius Heyward-Bey, who has now played three consecutive good games, Denarius Moore, and Jacoby Ford. For now the bump in value should remain tame, until we get some sense of how Palmer looks, who he gels with, and how his arm holds up. If Palmer starts, which he is rumored to do, I wouldn’t expect big numbers. He’s had three days worth of practice and probably doesn’t know half his teammates names. Not exactly conditions to which anyone, even say a Payton Manning, could thrive. Plenty of room for optimism moving forward, just not yet.

Running Game Thoughts: The Raiders will want to take the pressure off Palmer by doing what they do best; run the football. Darren McFadden is the 4th best fantasy RB to date. The Chiefs are 21st in stopping the run, allowing 118 yards per game. Using secret algorithm formulas passed down in our family from generation to generation, I can say without hesitation, McFadden is a must start and a good bet to produce better than average results.

Carson Palmer: 200 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 24, Chiefs 20 ^ Top

Steelers @ Cardinals - (Eakin)

ARI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +5.9%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +10.9%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -6.7%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +2.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Fantasy Points Against numbers we post above are a useful tool for both writing, and reading. Occasionally, there are times though that the numbers can be misleading. At a glance, the Cardinals points allowed looks pretty solid. Closer examination shows they have played Minnesota, Seattle, and Washington, all lousy at passing the ball. In the two capable passing teams they have faced, we find that Cam Newton tore them up in the season opener, and the Giants Eli Manning, thanks in part to a monster game from Hakeem Nicks, tore them up week five. The Cardinals pass defense is not good. Cornerback Patrick Peterson may turn in to a future star, but other than punt returns, he’s been disappointing. The Cardinals are slow at safety with Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes and Rhodes is out a month with a broken foot.

Throw out any talk of gloom and doom concerning the Steelers. They made some adjustments on the offensive line and have an easy schedule from here on out - minus a Ravens matchup. They will use the Cardinals poor secondary to get their vertical passing game revved up. The one concern is the hamstring on fantasy footballs 2nd best receiver, Mike Wallace. Wallace missed practiced Wednesday, was limited Thursday and is listed as questionable. If he doesn’t play, Antonio Brown moves up into the WR2 range as a must start play. If Wallace goes, he’s a given, and both Hines Ward and Antonio Brown make solid bye week fill-ins. The logic here is that in order to protect themselves from the deep shots to Wallace, having lost their one safety with good range, the Cardinals will back off to protect Abdullah and the struggling Peterson. That leaves all the underneath routes open; routes that go to Hines Ward, Antonio Brown, Heath Miller and even Emmanuel Sanders.

Running Game Thoughts: I traded for Rashard Mendenhall last week, and presto, he showed the entire world that I am a fantasy genius and the world is my oyster. One small footnote, I left him on the bench in favor of Mr. 10-carries-for-22-yards Ryan Torain. Yep. Debated it all morning and changed him out five minutes before game time. Perhaps there is no pearl in that oyster of mine. I’m still trying to get past it, clearly. Don’t be like me… PLAY MENDENHALL. The Steelers offensive line is improved and the Cardinals are 20th in stopping the run. There is a better than average chance the Steelers get a lead and kill the clock with Mendenhall late.

Ben Roethlisberger: 275 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int.
Mike Wallace: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Hines Ward: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Heath Miller: 35 yds receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 95 yds rushing / 2 TDs

PIT FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -35.8%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -41.8%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -7.7%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -2.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: There has to be a smidge of doubt creeping in around the organization regarding Kevin Kolb. He hasn’t looked sharp. While he should be getting comfortable he seems to be regressing ala Mark Sanchez. When watching his games, he looks lacking of pocket presence. The Cardinals are not getting the ball to Fitzgerald as much as would be expected. Last year, beyond lacking a Quarterback with accuracy, they lacked a running threat to keep defenses honest. That isn’t the case now with Beanie Wells averaging five yards per tote. Protection is partially to blame. They use Fitzgerald in the vertical routes and Kolb isn’t getting or buying enough time to wait for them to develop. The result is underneath shots to Doucet and Andre Roberts. Neither of who has consistently made use of their targets. Reportedly they have worked on these issues over the bye week, and are excited about their adjustments. We shall see how those pan out.

The Steelers are no longer world beaters on defense. Polamalu is more of a linebacker than safety and a liability in coverage. What he can do is move around and blitz from any position. Kolb must find him, and attack the blitz by giving Fitzgerald attempts to beat one-on-one coverage behind.

Running Game Thoughts: Big game for measuring Beanie Wells. He is of to a great start, averaging 95 yards per game. They will need him to get around the century mark to have a shot at winning. He must keep double teams off Fitzgerald and slow the Pittsburg blitz down by keeping the Cardinals offense in manageable third down yardage. Wells has faced one opponent good at stopping the run - Week 1 versus the Vikings - and managed just 60 yards. Success running on the Steelers will show that Wells and the Cardinal run game are for real.

Kevin Kolb: 200 yds passing, 1 TDs, 1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Early Doucet: 70 yds receiving
Andre Roberts: 35 yds receiving
Chris Wells: 75 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Steelers 31, Cardinals 20 ^ Top