Fantasy Football Today - fantasy football rankings, cheatsheets, and information
A Fantasy Football Community!

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      

Inside the Matchup
Week 15

By: Bill Andereson | Sal Marcoccio | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Caron 37 14 72.5
2 Anderson 36 17 67.9
3 Smith 35 17 67.3
4 Marcoccio 27 22 55.1

Bengals @ Eagles - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Second year QB Andy Dalton has built upon his fine rookie season to become a top 10 fantasy QB this season. He’s fortunate to throw to one of the most talented WRs in the league in A.J. Green and an up and coming tight end in Jermaine Gresham, but he’s also made very good use out of lesser known types like Andrew Hawkins and rookies Mohammad Sanu and Marvin Jones. Jones has moved into a significant role with Sanu lost for the season and contributed last week when Green was mostly held in check. Expect A.J. to have a bounce-back game as he can dominate just about any cornerback in the league with his size, speed and sure hands.

Prior to last week it seemed the Eagles’ defense had lost interest in what has become a lost season for the team. Opposing teams have thrown for 25 passing TDs against them, but last week they held a decent Buccaneer passing attack in check. Andy Dalton and company will be looking to once again deflate the spirit of the Philadelphia secondary that’s giving up the sixth most fantasy points to Quarterbacks.

Running Game Thoughts: Former Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn’t going to “wow” anyone on film. He’s a solid grinder that hits the holes hard and gets the yards that are blocked for him and at times, a little more. BJGE follows in a long line of move-the-chains type runners that have thrived in the Marvin Lewis era. He’s benefitted from a young and under-rated o-line anchored by the resurgent play of top 10 pick RT Andre Smith.

The Eagles much maligned “wide 9” defense should be susceptible to Cincinnati’s power running scheme that looks to punch the ball up the middle of the defense. However, the unit despite all of the critics has performed more than adequately allowing 119.3 ypg and a mere 7 rushing TDs on the season.

Andy Dalton: 285 yds passing 2 TDs
Andrew Hawkins: 45 yds receiving
A.J. Green: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Marvin Jones: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 65 yds receiving
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 10 yds receiving
Brian Leonard: 20 yards rushing / 15 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: Michael Vick has almost fully recovered from his concussion, but as all of you are likely aware the starting gig belongs to rookie Nick Foles for the rest of the season. That decision was made before last week’s game, but Foles went out and earned it anyway with the best performance of his professional career. Foles threw for 381 yards and 2 TDs, including the last second game winning TD pass to Jeremy Maclin. Foles also ran for a score as well. Maclin had his best game since Foles’ took over and his owners will hope the momentum carries over to the short week. Unfortunately for Foles and the Eagles, TE Brent Celek will be out on Thursday night leaving backup Clay Harbor as the only option at the position.

The Bengals pass rush lead by DE Geno Atkins has been devastating this season, leading the league with 42 sacks. They have knocked opposing QBs around on a weekly basis and Nick Foles may be in a ton of trouble behind a banged up subpar o-line. The Bengals are allowing only 225 passing ypg and only 14 passing TDs on the season ranking the team in the top 10 amongst passing units.

Running Game Thoughts: Bryce Brown shined in his first two career starts, but struggled mightily against Tampa’s top ranked run defense last week. The Eagles gave him only 12 carries with their passing attack leading the way and with Dion Lewis taking a bigger role as a result. Brown gained over 300 yards and scored four times in his first two games while hitting the hole decisively and showing off his rare combination of size and speed, so a bounce back effort should be in order after his limited involvement last week. Starter LeSean McCoy could return soon based on recent reports so Brown owners will want to take advantage of perhaps his last opportunity as the bell cow in the backfield.

Nick Foles: 225 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 Int.
Damaris Johnson: 40 rec yds
Riley Cooper: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 80 rec yds
Clay Harbor: 30 rec yds
Bryce Brown: 105 rush yds, 1 TD / 25 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 27, Eagles 14 ^ Top

Giants @ Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning leads the New York passing attack, and while he’s clearly the best quarterback in the city, his year has been average. He’s 16th at his position in fantasy points and has 20 touchdowns but 13 interceptions. He has just one 300-yard game since Week 5 but has thrown eight touchdowns over his last three games. Manning’s top targets are wideouts Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz is having another outstanding season, ranking seventh among wideouts in fantasy points, and has produced 100+ receiving yards in each of his last two games. But fantasy owners haven’t gotten nearly the return on their investment that they thought they would with Nicks. Injury played a part, but he went seven straight games with fewer than 75 receiving yards in the middle of the season, and only now is starting to come on, with a pair of touchdowns over his last two games. It won’t be easy for any of the three to put up huge numbers against Atlanta, who has played the pass well this year.

The Falcons are 16th in the NFL in pass defense but are tied for third-fewest touchdown throws given up and are fifth in interceptions. That’s translated into them allowing the 12th-fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and the sixth-fewest FPTS/G to wide receivers, yet they are tied for seventh-most FPTS/G given up to tight ends. And though Atlanta has allowed at least one wide receiver to gain 90 or more yards in five of their last six games, no team in the league has allowed fewer touchdowns to wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: Ahmad Bradshaw was still questionable as of this writing due to his knee injury. He’s had a solid season but the injury opened the way for David Wilson to play last week, and he exploded with 100 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’s been a popular pick-up for fantasy owners this week, and should be considering how pliable the Falcons’ run defense has been.

Atlanta has struggled to stop the run this year, having allowed the eighth-most FPTS/G to running backs. They are tied for 23rd in run defense, but are alone at 28th in rushing scores allowed and rank second-to-last in giving up 4.9 yards per carry.

Eli Manning: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Victor Cruz: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Hakeem Nicks: 65 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Domenik Hixon: 30 rec yds
David Wilson: 80 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
Ahmad Bradshaw: 35 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan has picked a lousy time to start struggling, considering the fantasy playoffs are underway. He did throw for 342 yards and two scores last week, but had just two touchdowns and six interceptions in his previous three outings. He’s third in the NFL in passing yards, and should still be a fantasy starter despite his struggles, thanks in part to his triumvirate of pass-catching threats. Roddy White is ninth in fantasy points at wideout, Julio Jones is 10th, and Tony Gonzalez is second among tight ends. White’s touchdown last week was his first since Week 6, but he has four 100-yard games in his last six. Jones has two scores over his last three games with three contests of over 120 yards from Week 8 on, and Gonzalez is coming off a season-high eight catches last week. Each should be fantasy locks as starters considering their competition this week.

The Giants are 27th in pass defense and 17th in passing scores allowed but have been prone to allowing big plays, ranking 29th in yards per attempt given up. That’s cleared the way for New York to have allowed the eighth-most FPTS/G to quarterbacks and fourth-most to wideouts. Only once this season have they gone an entire game without allowing at least 70 yards to a receiver, and 12 wideouts have picked up 80 or more yards when facing New York.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner has touchdowns in each of his last four games, and five of his last six, but has run for fewer than 20 yards three times since Week 10. It has gotten to the point where Jacquizz Rodgers is on the field more often than Turner, and Rodgers adds a pass-catching dimension out of the backfield. We’d still consider Turner a flex option though, because the Giants have been soft at times against the run this year.

New York is a modest 22nd in run defense, and an awful 29th in YPC allowed, but they’ve kept teams from finding their way into the end zone via the ground. The Giants are tied for sixth-fewest rushing scores allowed, and as such have given up the 12th-fewest FPTS/G to running backs. But there are certainly yards to be had against them, with five different backs picking up 120 or more rushing yards against the G-Men this year.

Matt Ryan: 295 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Julio Jones: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 30 rec yds
Michael Turner: 45 rush yds, 1 TD
Jacquizz Rodgers: 30 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 31, Giants 27

Colts @ Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck has been very good this season, but from a fantasy perspective it’s hard to ignore the 18 interceptions he’s tossed. His 18 touchdown throws are tied for 16th, though he’s also seventh in passing yards. Luck has accumulated plenty of fantasy points on the ground, having scored five times that way, but he’s not a big-time running threat, so it’s hard to predict oodles of fantasy success for him on a weekly basis. It’s not hard to predict a great fantasy performance from Reggie Wayne though. He’s eighth among wideouts in fantasy points, fourth in receptions and third in yards this season, and though he’s been held to less than 70 yards in each of his last two games, did score a touchdown last week. Wayne is a no-doubt WR1 against Houston this week, who has been burned by passing offenses recently.

Football fans, and especially fantasy owners, should be well aware of the Texans’ struggles to stop the pass of late. They’ve fallen to 19th in pass defense and are tied for 25th in passing touchdowns given up. They’ve now allowed the 13th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, seventh-most to wideouts and are tied for seventh-most given up to tight ends. Every quarterback they’ve faced in their last four games has thrown for at least 296 yards, and three have tossed multiple touchdowns. Houston has allowed eight different wideouts to pick up 75 or more receiving yards in that time, while four different tight ends have amassed 50 or more yards.

Running Game Thoughts: With Donald Brown having hit injured reserve, Vick Ballard is the team’s clear-cut number one running back. He’s had some ups and downs, but ran for a season-high 91 yards last week against the Titans and has five games with at least 55 yards since Week 8. Still, Ballard is little more than a flex play this week against the Texans, who have been dominant against opposing running attacks most of the year.

Unlike their pass defense, Houston has been strong against the run. They are tied for fewest FPTS/G given up to running backs this season, are tied for second in run defense, and tied for first in rushing scores allowed. Only one running back has picked up more than 80 rushing yards against the Texans this year, and just two have broken the 75-yard mark.

Andrew Luck: 295 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Reggie Wayne: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 65 rec yds
T.Y. Hilton: 45 rec yds
Dwayne Allen: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 20 rec yds
LaVon Brazill: 15 rec yds
Vick Ballard: 55 rush yds / 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub is anything but a fantasy stalwart, but can be useful in the right match-up. He’s 14th in fantasy points this season, with a modest 21 touchdown throws. Schaub’s top target is wideout Andre Johnson, who had a mid-season lull but has had four games with 95 or more receiving yards in his last six contests. Unfortunately, he’s scored just once since Week 3, but should be considered a WR1 this week against the Colts. Tight end Owen Daniels is not starter material, however, due to the Colts’ solid performance against players at that positon and the fact that he’s had fewer than 45 receiving yards in four of his last five games.

Indianapolis is all over the place in fantasy terms against the pass. They’re squarely in the middle – 17th – in FPTS/G allowed to quarterbacks, have given up the sixth-most FPTS/G to wide receivers, but the eighth-fewest to tight ends. Only one team in the NFL has allowed more receptions to wideouts, which is one reason why the Colts are 20th in pass defense, passing scores given up and yards per attempt allowed.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster’s 14 rushing scores are the most in the NFL, and he’s even found the end zone twice after catching the ball. He’s second in fantasy points behind Adrian Peterson, but Foster has four rushing scores in his last three games, has torched Indy in the past and should do so again this week.

The Colts rank 19th in rush defense for the year, but are tied for 23rd in rushing scores given up and are 28th in yards per carry allowed. And despite some solid performances, have yielded the 11th-most FPTS/G to running backs. Indy held Chris Johnson to 44 yards on 19 carries last week, but have been shredded on a number of occasions.

Matt Schaub: 265 pass yds, 1 TD
Andre Johnson: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 50 rec yds
Kevin Walter: 40 rec yds
Lestar Jean: 25 rec yds
James Casey: 15 rec yds
Arian Foster: 115 rush yds, 2 TD / 20 rec yds
Ben Tate: 20 rush yds / 10 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 30, Colts 20

Bucs @ Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh Freeman is fifth in touchdown throws but 14th in passing yards, which is why he’s 11th in fantasy points at quarterback instead of higher. He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in all but one game since Week 6, but hasn’t broken 265 yards passing in his last seven games. The last time Freeman did have more than 260 yards was Week 7, when he threw for 420 yards and three scores against New Orleans. Eight of Freeman’s 25 touchdown passes this year have gone to Vincent Jackson, who is fourth among wideouts in fantasy points and a season-high seven catches for 216 yards with one score against the Saints earlier this year. Mike Williams didn’t have the same success against New Orleans in that game, but is in the top-20 in fantasy points at his position and has scored in each of his last two contests.

There’s little to say about Saints’ pass defense except that it’s rotten. No team has allowed more fantasy points per game to quarterbacks than they have, and only their opponent this week, the Buccaneers, have given up more FPTS/G to wideouts. Even tight ends get into the act against New Orleans, as just eight other squads have surrendered more FPTS/G to players at that positon. They’re 30th in pass defense, tied for last in passing scores allowed, and tied for most touchdowns permitted to wide receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie Doug Martin has been fantasy gold this season, ranking third in both fantasy points and rushing yards among running backs, and his 10 touchdown runs are tied for second. He also catches the ball out of the backfield and is in line for a great day this week against the Saints, against whom he ran for 86 yards and a touchdown against in Week 7.

As bad as New Orleans is against the pass, they may be worse against the run. They have yielded the most FPTS/G in the league to running backs, and made a star out of New York’s David Wilson last week, who ran for 100 yards and a pair of scores against them after doing nothing all year. The Saints – who are last in the league in run defense and YPC given up – have allowed a back to gain at least 80 yards in each of their last four games, and they can’t stop players at that position from catching the ball either, having yielded the fourth-most receiving yards in the league to running backs.

Josh Freeman: 265 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 80 rec yds
Dallas Clark: 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Tiquan Underwood: 20 rec yds
Doug Martin: 110 rush yds, 2 TD / 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees leads the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns, but his 18 interceptions are tied for the league-high as well, and he ranks fourth in fantasy points among quarterbacks. He threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns in Week 7 against the Bucs, but has scuffled recently, with one touchdown and six interceptions over his last two games, despite throwing for over 340 yards in both. Brees’s struggles have coincided with the drop-off in play from tight end Jimmy Graham, who has fallen to third in fantasy points at his position, hasn’t scored in three games and has not gone over 60 receiving yards in four games. Wideout Marques Colston is the team’s number one wideout, but hasn’t gone over 75 receiving yards since Week 5, but does have eight touchdowns this year, including one in Week 7 against the Bucs as part of a seven-catch, 73-yard day.

There isn’t a team in the NFL that has given up more passing yards than Tampa Bay, who are the only squad to have allowed more than 300 passing yards per contest. They’re also 24th in passing scores permitted, 28th in completion percentage allowed and 30th in yards per attempt surrendered. The Bucs awfulness against the pass has meant they make fantasy stars out of the opposition’s passing game, and have given up the second-most FPTS/G to quarterbacks, the most FPTS/G to wide receivers and the 10th-most to tight ends. To top it all off, no team in the league has allowed more catches or receiving yards to wideouts

Running Game Thoughts: The only running back fantasy owners should be starting from the Saints is Darren Sproles, and he does most of his damage in the passing game. Sproles did run for his first touchdown of the season last week, but the majority of the carries go to Mark Ingram and either Pierre Thomas or Chris Ivory. Ivory has an injury right now, but even if he does suit up instead of Thomas, shouldn’t be playing for fantasy owners against a tough Tampa run defense.

The Buccaneers lead the league in rush defense, and allow less than 80 yards per game on the ground. That’s over 12 more yards per game fewer than any other team. They have also allowed the fewest yards per carry in the NFL, and the seventh-fewest FPTS/G to running backs. One area they have struggled a bit in is covering running backs on pass routes, as just four teams have surrendered more catches to running backs than Tampa.

Drew Brees: 335 pass yds, 4 TD, 2 INT
Marques Colston: 90 rec yds
Jimmy Graham: 70 rec yds
Lance Moore: 55 rec yds
Joseph Morgan: 40 rec yds
Devery Henderson: 30 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 45 rush yds
Pierre Thomas: 35 rush yds
Darren Sproles: 30 rush yds / 40 rec yds

Prediction: Saints 34, Buccaneers 30

Jets @ Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Mark Sanchez is not a fantasy-caliber quarterback, and we’re not sure he’s an NFL-caliber quarterback either – at least not as a starter. He’s been awful most of the year, and has fewer fantasy points than Alex Smith and Michael Vick, neither of whom has played the last four games of the season. The Jets don’t have a fantasy-worthy pass-catching threat either, with the possible exception of Jeremy Kerley, who has over 700 receiving yards this year but just two touchdowns.

The Titans have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks this season, and are 15th in FPTS/G given up to wide receivers, but have really had trouble against tight ends. Tennessee is tied for most touchdowns in the league allowed to tight ends, and is second in FPTS/G ceded to players at that position. They are also 26th in the league in pass defense and tied for 27th in passing touchdowns surrendered, but are dead last in completion percentage allowed, with opposing quarterbacks connecting on 67.8 percent of their throws when facing the Titans.

Running Game Thoughts: Unlike their passing game, the Jets do feature a capable running attack. Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell split the load, with Greene usually getting more carries. Each scored on the ground last week, and Powell has four rushing scores in his last four games, while Greene has just one since Week 7. Each should be considered a flex option for fantasy owners this week, and Greene could be a RB2 against a pliable Titans run defense.

Just three teams have yielded more FPTS/G to running backs than Tennessee this season. They are tied for 23rd in both rushing defense and rushing touchdowns allowed, but have been unsuccessful in covering running backs out of the backfield, and have allowed the sixth-most receiving yards in the NFL to running backs.

Mark Sanchez: 165 pass yds, 0 TD, 1 INT
Jeremy Kerley: 65 rec yds
Chaz Schilens: 55 rec yds
Jeff Cumberland: 35 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 80 rush yds, 1 TD
Bilal Powell: 55 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Jake Locker has thrown five touchdowns in his last four games, which is nice, but he’s also tossed seven interceptions in his last three games, and looks flustered at times. He has a gaggle of wideouts to throw to, and though Nate Washington leads the team in receiving yards, rookie Kendall Wright has caught 16 passes in his last three games and Kenny Britt finally returned to form last week with over 140 receiving yards. However, we wouldn’t recommend any Tennessee pass-catcher for fantasy owners this week against the Jets.

Only two teams rank ahead of New York in pass defense, and only Houston has allowed a lower completion percentage. They’re also tied for 17th in passing scores allowed, and tied for the fifth-fewest FPTS/G given up to quarterbacks and fourth-fewest FPTS/G to wideouts. Even without Darrelle Revis, the Jets have been great against receivers, having yielded the third-fewest receiving yards in league to wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson is 12th in fantasy points among running backs, but after a mid-season surge has cooled of late. He’s run for less than 50 yards in each of his last two games and 80 or less in each of his last three. Johnson has four touchdown runs this year, with each coming from Weeks 7-10. Yet fantasy owners have to consider him an RB1 this week against New York, who have been terrible in attempting to contain opposing runners this season.

Contrary to what the Jets have done against the pass, they’ve struggled to contain the opposition’s run game. They are 29th in the NFL in rush defense and tied for 26th in rushing scores surrendered. Only six teams have given up more FPTS/G to running backs, and those points are almost all coming via runs, because New York has allowed the third-fewest catches in the league to running backs.

Jake Locker: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 25 rush yds
Kendall Wright: 70 rec yds
Kenny Britt: 60 rec yds
Nate Washington: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Craig Stevens: 15 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 110 rush yds, 2 TD / 20 rec yds

Prediction: Titans 21, Jets 17

Vikings @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: As the season rolls on, things aren’t getting much better for Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. After starting without an interception in four games, Ponder has since thrown at least one pick in eight of his past nine games. Even after a surprising win over the Bears in Week 14, Ponder couldn’t avoid boos from the crowd as he completed just 11 of his 17 passes for 91 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. It certainly doesn’t help that Percy Harvin has been shut down for the season, but given the success that Adrian Peterson has had running the ball, one would have to expect that defenses are leaving holes that could be exploited in the passing game. Ponder simply hasn’t been able to find or exploit those holes. With only three weeks left, it seems unlikely that the Vikings are suddenly going to become a throw-happy offense, so using anyone in the passing game is very risky.

This week the Vikings will be up against a St. Louis Rams defense that hasn’t allowed more than one touchdown pass against since Week 8. At the moment, Kyle Rudolph appears to be the only player in this passing game who warrants any real fantasy consideration, though his up-and-down season continued last week when he went catchless for the third time in his past seven games. What’s frustrating, is that he has caught five or more passes and scored a touchdown in three of those other four games. Rudolph might be the biggest boom-or-bust tight end in the league this season, so play him if you’re in need of a big game. Just don’t be surprised if he drops another goose egg on you.

Running Game Thoughts: The debate over the NFL’s best running back is over. 13 games into the season, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson sits at a nice, round 1,600 rushing yards - nearly 350 ahead of his next-closest competitor, Marshawn Lynch. When you consider that he’s doing all of this coming off of season-ending ACL surgery, what Peterson has done this year is nothing short of amazing. He has said that he is looking to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, which was set at 2,105 yards in 1984.

With three games remaining, Peterson will need to average just over 168 yards per contest, starting against the St. Louis Rams and their 19th-ranked fantasy run defense. Although this unit is improved from previous seasons due to the ever-improving play from their defensive line and linebackers, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. The Rams have allowed eight rushing touchdowns over their past six games, including two-touchdown games to both the Jets and Cardinals running backs. Needless to say, Adrian Peterson is on another level and should be confidently placed in every lineup.

Christian Ponder: 160 pass yds, 1 TD
Jarius Wright: 40 rec yds
Michael Jenkins: 30 rec yds
Jerome Simpson: 25 rec yds
Kyle Rudolph: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Adrian Peterson: 140 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The St. Louis Rams remain in a tough situation with quarterback Sam Bradford. The former No. 1 overall pick has not proven to be an elite quarterback, but he has never really turned the ball over enough to make those in the organization question that he should be their starting quarterback. Fantasy owners, however, have seen a surprising level of consistency, albeit mediocre consistency, from Bradford who has posted between between 10-14 fantasy points in eight of his 13 games this season. He has only one game where he’s thrown more than two touchdown passes on the year, but also only one game where he’s thrown more than one interception. He does have an emerging deep threat at wide receiver in Chris Givens, but the inconsistencies that a long-ball receiver brings combined with numerous injuries to slot receiver Danny Amendola have caused the Rams passing game to struggle to get on the same page all season.

In Week 15, Bradford will be up against a Vikings defense that has been less-than-stellar against the pass all season. Recently they’ve allowed four quarterbacks to pass for multiple touchdowns against them over their past six games, dropping them all the way to being the 26th-ranked fantasy defense against quarterbacks. One big positive for those who are considering starting one of the Rams receivers is that Minnesota has allowed 10 or more receptions to opposing wide receivers in every game this season and have allowed at least one touchdown to the position in six of their past seven games. It’s looking like Danny Amendola could be back this week, so look for him to get involved early and often. If he’s unable to go, Brandon Gibson could see another nice game similar to the one he put together in Week 14 when he caught 6 balls for 100 yards and a touchdown against the Bills.

Running Game Thoughts: The surprising second-half of the season for Steven Jackson continued this past week when he ran for 64 yards and a touchdown against the Bills. Jackson’s return to fantasy relevance came after it looked as if Daryl Richardson might be taking the job at about the midpoint of the season. Richardson hasn’t taken more than eight carries since Week 7 though, and Jackson has been consistently touching the ball upwards of 15 times per game, including a 31-touch game against the 49ers in Week 10. He may not have the explosive ability he once did, but the Rams offense has been performing better as of late, which has led to more opportunities for Jackson to break loose into the secondary. The Rams tailback has averaged nearly 11 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) since Week 7, and we look for him to continue that streak this week.

At one point this season, the Vikings actually had the No. 1-ranked fantasy run defense. Things haven’t been going so great lately, as they have since tumbled all the way down to the No. 15 spot, having allowed 16 or more points (standard-scoring) to the position in six of their past eight games. Although they kept the Bears running backs out of the end zone, Matt Forte was able to put together more than 100 total yards in a game that his team lost on the road. After getting up to play the Bears in Week 14, it would not be at all surprising to see the Vikings have a bit of a hangover this week as they head to St. Louis. Don’t expect a blowout in this one, but a competitive game should mean plenty of touches for Steven Jackson.

Sam Bradford: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Chris Givens: 50 rec yds
Brandon Gibson: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Danny Amendola: 40 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Daryl Richardson: 35 rush yds

Prediction: Rams 23, Vikings 20

Lions @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The topsy-turvy 2012 season for Matt Stafford continued this past week when the Lions quarterback had a surprisingly effective game against the Packers despite throwing for just one touchdown and turning the ball over twice. It was Stafford’s one-yard rushing touchdown - his fourth score on the ground this season - that saved an otherwise ugly fantasy day for the former No. 1 overall pick. Though he has thrown for at least one touchdown in five straight games, Stafford has just four games all season where he has thrown for multiple scores, putting him on pace for just 19 passing touchdowns this season. This is particularly disappointing when you consider that he threw 41 TDs just a season ago in essentially the same offense. The touchdown totals have hurt wide receiver Calvin Johnson as well, but not enough to keep him from being a stone cold lock as an elite wide receiver. Johnson has more than 115 receiving yards in six straight games, including three games with 10 or more catches during that span.

Although the Cardinals have been historically bad on offense through the second half of the 2012 season, the truth is that their defense has actually been very good during that stretch, particularly against opposing quarterbacks. Over their past four games, Arizona has allowed just four total touchdowns to the position while forcing 10 interceptions. On the season, they’ve held opposing quarterbacks to 10 or fewer fantasy points in more than half of their games, including a five-interception performance against Matt Ryan in Week 11. Only two quarterbacks have thrown for more than two touchdowns against this defense in 2012, which puts a low ceiling on Stafford’s projections. Arizona has been a bit more giving to wide receivers this year, ranking No. 11 in the league against the position, but Calvin Johnson remains a must-play against any defense.

Running Game Thoughts: One of the most frustrating backfields in fantasy football this season has to be the Detroit Lions and their duo of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell. Leshoure, who has primarily been used as a workhorse back and also gets goal line touchdowns, has taken 10 or more carries in every game he’s played this season. However his upside has been limited by Bell, who has become a surprisingly consistent source of fantasy points in the receiving game. With Bell’s 28 and Leshoure’s 27 fantasy points over the past three weeks, it appears as if this backfield is a complete timeshare which adds to the irritation that fantasy owners already have for this offense.

The Arizona Cardinals defense has only allowed five rushing touchdowns through their first 12 games of the 2012 season. In addition to that, they have held opposing teams to under 100 rushing yards in half of those 12 contests. It all came crashing down in Week 14, though, when the Seattle Seahawks completely humiliated them to the tune of 274 rushing yards and four touchdowns from their running backs. It was Marshawn Lynch’s best fantasy day of the season by far as he scored three of the four touchdowns and rushed for nearly half of the yardage. Rookie Robert Turbin got involved by adding his first 100-plus yard rushing day of the season. Arizona fell behind early and couldn’t move the ball, allowing Seattle to control the clock and run the ball down their throat all afternoon. While Detroit’s running game is improved in 2012 from what it has been in recent years, they are still on pace to set an NFL record in pass attempts for the season, which should mean that Arizona is safe from another horrific performance against the run in Week 15.

Matthew Stafford: 260 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Calvin Johnson: 130 rec yds, 1 TD
Kris Durham: 35 rec yds
Tony Scheffler: 50 rec yds
Mikel Leshoure: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Joique Bell: 25 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: What can we say at this point that hasn’t already said about this horrific passing game? Even those who had low expectations for the Cardinals could not have expected this collapse. The Arizona passing game has now failed to throw a single touchdown pass since the third quarter of their Week 9 loss to the Packers. During that drought, the quarterback rotation of John Skelton and rookie Ryan Lindley has thrown a combined nine interceptions. We’ve seen some bad passing games recent years, but nothing can touch this. If you’re interested in knowing, head coach Ken Whisenhunt has named his starter for the week - it’ll be Ryan Lindley who has completed less than half of his passes in 2012, including five interceptions and zero touchdowns. He is about as immobile as it gets as a runner so don’t expect this to be some sort of coming out party for the Cardinals rookie.

It will be a battle of ineptitude in Week 15 as Lindley and the Cardinals host the Detroit Lions and their less-than-stellar pass defense. While it is worth noting that Detroit held Aaron Rodgers without a touchdown pass a week ago, the reality is that they have been bad against opposing QB’s all season, having allowed multiple passing touchdowns against them in eight of their 13 games. For those looking for a bit of hope, Detroit has allowed opposing teams’ wide receivers to have more than 130 receiving yards against them in nine straight games, including a horrible day against the Colts in Week 13 when they allowed 284 yards and three touchdowns to the position. Still, at this point, having only caught six passes in his past four games combined, Larry Fitzgerald has become no more than a desperation FLEX option for fantasy owners.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s probably not surprising to hear that Arizona struggled to run the ball during their blowout loss to the Seahawks in Week 14. Between their three backs, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell, the Cardinals rushed for just 43 yards on the day and the team failed to score a single point on offense. With Wells having taken 32 carries over the previous two games prior to the Seattle debacle, we do believe that he will remain the primary ball-carrier. But given how bad this offense has been, it’s not as if that title comes with much upside. Wells’ 48-yard, two touchdown performance against the Rams in Week 12 is likely to be his best fantasy day all season.

Detroit hasn’t exactly been a great run defense in 2012, but even with the Cardinals going up against their run-of-the-mill defense, it’s hard to be too inspired by Beanie Wells or any of their backs. With Detroit’s offense putting up points at a fairly decent rate, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Cardinals fall behind again this week, which could lead to another terrible day for Wells, especially if they get behind early in the game. No other player in this backfield is worth any fantasy consideration, but like his teammate Larry Fitzgerald, Beanie Wells may be worth some consideration as a FLEX if you’re in a tough spot due to injuries. He does have some ability to score near the goaline so if Arizona happens to find themselves near the endzone, he could sneak in for an easy touchdown.

Ryan Lindley: 145 pass yds, 1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 40 rec yds
Andre Roberts: 30 rec yds
Robert Housler: 25 rec yds
Beanie Wells: 50 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Lions 24, Cardinals 10

Panthers @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After starting the season off slow, there may not be a hotter player in fantasy football right now than He has thrown a touchdown pass in six straight games, including seven over his past three, but it has been his return to the running game that has given him so much fantasy success. Newton has rushed for 246 yards and three touchdowns in his past three games alone. In addition to Newton’s success, wide receiver Steve Smith has also been hot as the receiver has 229 receiving yards over the past two weeks. Tight end Greg Olsen has also seen his name back on the fantasy radar, having caught touchdowns in back-to-back weeks.

After allowing their fifth game of three-or-more touchdown passes to an opposing quarterback, the San Diego Chargers have slipped down to being the No. 23-ranked fantasy defense against QB’s this season. Other than a two-game stretch against the Browns and Chiefs during the middle of the year, San Diego has been bad against opposing QB’s, having already allowed 24 passing touchdowns on the year. One thing they haven’t really played against this season, though, is a quarterback who has mobility like Newton. It’ll be interesting to see if their defense can keep up with the speed and versatility that Newton brings to the table. Even if they can slow down his legs, Newton does have the ability to beat them through the air.

Running Game Thoughts: With a season-high 17 rushing attempts and his best fantasy day of the year coming just a week ago, fantasy owners may be taking a closer look at a formerly elite fantasy running back, DeAngelo Williams. Williams compiled 112 total yards on 19 touches, including a long reception for a score in the Panthers’ surprising win over the division-leading Falcons in Week 14. Unfortunately for Williams owners, it appears that Newton remains the team’s primary goal line option, so the upside for a player like Williams, who has only touches the ball more than 15 times once this season, is limited.

The likelihood of another big fantasy day from Williams seems low this week as he and the Panthers will challenge the San Diego Chargers and their seventh-ranked fantasy defense against opposing running backs. The Chargers are coming off one of their best games of the season when they surprised the Steelers in Pittsburgh, allowing just 32 yards to their leading rusher, Jonathan Dwyer. San Diego hasn’t allowed a touchdown to an opposing running back in their past five games and the chances that they slip up and allow one to DeAngelo Williams don’t seem likely.

Cam Newton: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 65 rush yds, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Louis Murphy: 50 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 50 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Coming off a two-week stretch where he threw just one touchdown, it was hard to believe that Philip Rivers was going to have a bounce-back performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers and their elite defense. But that’s exactly what he did; tossing three touchdown passes in the Chargers’ shocking win in Pittsburgh. Rivers seems to have found a new favorite target in Danario Alexander who has caught five or more passes in five straight contests, including two 100-yard games and five total touchdowns during that stretch. The only other receiver on the roster who has held much fantasy value has been Malcom Floyd, who has caught three or more passes in every game but one this season, including four touchdown receptions in his past six games. Unfortunately tight end Antonio Gates has continued his slide down the rankings as he has just nine total fantasy points (standard scoring) in his past four games combined.

This week Rivers and the Chargers will be up against a Carolina Panthers defense that has actually been pretty good at slowing down opposing quarterbacks this season. Although they’ve allowed 17 touchdowns to the position on the year, Carolina has only allowed two games of more than two touchdowns to an opposing quarterback. This has allowed many quarterbacks to post solid numbers, but no one has really had the monster fantasy day against them either. If you remove the five touchdowns they’ve allowed in two games to one of the league’s hottest QB’s in Matt Ryan, the Panthers have allowed an average of just one passing touchdown per game. Rivers was good last week, but he might have trouble getting another big performance against the Panthers this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before... Ryan Mathews failed to reach double-digit fantasy points in Week 14 as he rushed for just 65 yards on 25 carries, failing to get into the end zone in the process. For those who have owned or paid attention to Mathews in 2012, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. After a strong 2011 season, Mathews has been dreadful in 2012, having failed to get to the 10-point mark in every game except one this season. He has precisely zero 100-yard games, despite having touched the ball 20+ times in five games this year.

Even with Ronnie Brown’s status for Sunday’s game in question due to a hamstring injury, Mathews’ ceiling isn’t particularly high. That has to be particularly disappointing when you consider that the Panthers have allowed seven rushing touchdowns in their past seven games. Only one team has failed to see their running backs get to double-digit fantasy points against the Panthers this season, but Ryan Mathews’ is another pathetic performance away from joining that group. It would certainly be nice to see the Chargers’ former first round pick turn things around and get hot going into 2013, but if he can’t do it this week against the Panthers, it’s hard to believe that he’s going to be able to do it against anyone.

Philip Rivers: 235 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Danario Alexander: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Malcom Floyd: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 40 rec yds
Ryan Mathews: 70 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 20, Panthers 17

Chiefs @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Arizona Cardinals might be the only offense more pitiful than the Kansas City Chiefs who have now scored just a combined 49 points in their past four games. In fact, they’ve been so bad that they have only scored more than 13 points in two of their past nine games. With Brady Quinn at the helm and Dwayne Bowe likely having played his last snap in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform, things don’t look good for this offense.

An optimist might say that the Chiefs have a decent chance to put some points on the board this week as they go up against the Oakland Raiders and their 29th-ranked fantasy defense against opposing quarterbacks, but even that shouldn’t inspire much confidence. We don’t know what this passing game will look like without Bowe, so trusting receivers like Jon Baldwin or Dexter McCluster doesn’t seem like a great idea when you’re in the fantasy playoffs. At least for one week, fantasy owners should try to avoid anyone in the Kansas City passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: It has been a horrible season for the Chiefs overall as they contend for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, but that hasn’t stopped running back Jamaal Charles from having a nice bounceback season after coming off major surgery in 2011. Charles has now rushed for over 1,200 yards, including three straight 100-yard performances despite Chiefs losses. Though he only has five total touchdowns due to Kansas City’s inability to move the ball in the passing game, Charles is a solid top-10 back in fantasy leagues and has to be considered one of the top backs heading into Week 15.

With the 30th-ranked pass defense in the league, one would think that the Raiders would be better against the run. But you’d be wrong. The complete incompetence in the Oakland secondary has been topped only by their inability to slow down opposing running backs. They have allowed nine touchdowns to the position over the past six weeks, including at least one in every game during that stretch. It is worth remembering that the Chiefs inexplicably gave Charles only five carries when these teams met in Week 8, but given the lack of success with the passing game and Dwayne Bowe out, it seems likely that Charles could get five times that many touches in Week 15.

Brady Quinn: 140 pass yds, 1 INT
Jonathan Baldwin: 40 rec yds
Dexter McCluster: 30 rec yds
Tony Moeaki: 40 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 115 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The 2012 season is a lost cause for the Raiders but that hasn’t stopped quarterback Carson Palmer from continuing what has been a surprisingly good fantasy season. Although he’s thrown at least one interception in nine straight games, fantasy owners can’t be complaining too much as he has also thrown for at least two touchdowns in six of his past seven games. What has been most disappointing in recent weeks when it comes to the Raiders passing game is that wide receiver Denarius Moore has caught a total of just eight passes in his past four games combined. Many expected this to be a breakout season for Moore who has done well with six touchdowns, but he has not been able to catch more than five passes in any game so far, which has really limited his upside. With Moore not being targeted as often as we expected him to be, Palmer has actually been turning to Rod Streater who now has back-to-back games with 90+ yards receiving.

Carson Palmer saw the Kansas City defense once already this season, leading his team to a 26-16 victory in Arrowhead. The Raiders QB did throw for two touchdowns in that contest, but it was a balanced attack that included a nice day from the running game, which really helped Oakland get ahead and ultimately secure the win. If Oakland is going to make it 2-0 against their division rivals this season, look for them to run the ball quite a bit. Another multiple-touchdown day isn’t out of the question for Palmer, but don’t expect huge yardage in this one.

Running Game Thoughts: Darren McFadden’s return to the field was short-lived as the Raiders tailback left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury that momentarily put his Week 15 in doubt. Although he has since been able to get through a full practice, the injury reminds fantasy owners of what we’ve been told so many times - this guy just cannot be trusted to stay healthy.

Earlier this season, Darren McFadden rushed for 114 yards against the Chiefs in his second 100-yard game of the year. He took 29 carries that afternoon, a season-high, and Kansas City wasn’t able to contain him for the entirety of the game. Of course, that was also before fullback Marcel Reece became such a big part of the offense, particularly in the passing game. Even though he only touched the ball a total of five times in Week 14, Reece is expected to remain at least somewhat involved in the backfield, which could limit McFadden’s touches going forward as they try to keep him healthy going into 2013. Considering that most leagues are in their playoffs, it’s hard to trust Darren McFadden to stay healthy. But for those who are in need of the boom-or-bust potential that he brings, this is a very intriguing matchup. The Chiefs rank 25th against the run this season, so it’s unlikely that most fantasy teams are going to be stacked enough to sit McFadden in Week 15.

Carson Palmer: 240 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 65 rec yds
Rod Streater: 50 rec yds
Denarius Moore: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Myers: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Darren McFadden: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Marcel Reece: 10 rush yds, 35 rec yds

Prediction: Raiders 24, Chiefs 13

Packers @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: In their first matchup against the Bears this season, Aaron Rodgers had one of his least productive games of the year, throwing for just 219 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. A lot has changed on both sides of the ball since that game, with injuries and hot and cold streaks factoring in to what these teams are looking at this week. From the Packers' and Rodgers' side, life has been pretty good since that game; Rodgers ranks 10th in pass yards, fourth in completion percentage, and sports a very healthy 29:8 TD-to-INT. While his receivers have been up and down, hot and cold, healthy and hurt, there is at least one guy each week that steps up and puts up at least, and often times better than, solid WR2 numbers. The most reliable of the group seems to be Randall Cobb, who has emerged from third or fourth-string wide receiver to a guy who now leads the team in catches, yards, and touchdowns.

From the Bears' perspective on defense, it has been a season of highs, where they just dominated every team they faced for the first half of the season, shifting to a span of six weeks in which the defense has shown its vulnerabilities. If you look at the Bears passing defense, you begin to see a trend: a pattern of giving up a higher amount of fantasy points, followed by a lower amount. Of course the degree to which they give up the points has changed from week to week, but the pattern has held true so far. And this week should be a “higher” week, as they only gave up 91 passing yards with no touchdowns and one interception last week to the Vikings. In a game where a few defensive starters are missing for the Bears, the matchup should be a bit easier than what it looks like on paper. While this is certainly not an elite matchup for Rodgers, he is a guy you simply have to start. Count on at least low-end QB1 numbers this week, especially if he has a healthy compliment of receivers at his disposal. Greg Jennings looks to have shaken off the rust and makes for a high-end, high-upside WR3 in his third game back from injury. Jordy Nelson is listed as questionable, but it sounds as though he will probably not play. If he does suit up, it would be tough to trust a guy plagued by hamstring issues, so don't expect more out of him than you would a WR4. As for Cobb, no matter who else is playing, I like him as a solid WR2 this week, since Rodgers seems to find him every week regardless of the matchup. The only other legitimate guys in the passing attack, WR James Jones and TE Jermichael Finley, are both risky starts this week, as both have gone a bit cold lately and the number of targets they have been seeing is certainly on the down-swing. Jones is no more than a WR4 (maybe a low WR3 if Nelson is out) and Finley is a low to mid TE2.

Running Game Thoughts: The Packers seem to run the ball not because they want to or think they’ll be successful doing so, but because they have to keep opposing defenses somewhat honest. Of course this might change if an ultra-talented running back were in the Green Bay backfield, but that is not happening anytime soon. In fact, they are scouring the barrel now because of injuries, leaving running back Alex Green as pretty much the last man standing. As “the guy” that gets the majority of the carries on the team, you would think fantasy owners would be a little excited about the prospects of starting someone who is practically guaranteed to get 12 or more touches a game. In this case, however, there was a collective yawn when the starting job fell to Green. He has done very little in limited action and not much more as the starter. With 122 carries on the year, Green has yet to find the end zone and has yet to break 70 yards rushing in a game. If you are a Green owner, the only good news is that his job is pretty safe for now, although running back DuJuan Harris had a decent seven carries for 31 yards and a touchdown last week. Trying to stop Green and the Packers this week is a Bears rush defense that may be a little more bark than bite, at least recently.

On the season, the Bears rank 12th in rushing yards allowed and are tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns allowed. In addition, they are the fifth toughest defense for opposing fantasy RBs to score against. While these stats are impressive, they do not tell the real story of this matchup, as some things have changed drastically over the past month or so. First, linebacker Brian Urlacher has been out and will continue to miss time with a hamstring injury. Second, while the Bears gave up only 437 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown over their first eight games, they have given up 765 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns through the past six games. Not coincidentally, over the past five weeks the Bears have become the sixth easiest defense for fantasy RBs to score against. So whatever the reason for the turn-around, the Bears defense has now become a favorable matchup for RBs. Even with the matchup being easier on paper, however, it is hard to recommend Green as anything but a mid-range RB3 this week, although the upside is certainly there for him to be a decent RB2 if the Packers can get up big and run the clock out. While it is a sneaky play to start Green this week, if you don’t have much better options, he may just pay off nicely for you in a better-than-anticipated matchup.

Aaron Rodgers: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Randall Cobb: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Jennings: 55 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 40 rec yds
Alex Green: 70 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: From a fantasy perspective this season, the Bears passing game pretty much comes down to one guy, and it is not their QB. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall has defied the odds this season. As the NFL’s leading receiver in catches, second in receiving yards, and tied for third in receiving touchdowns, Marshall is one of fantasy’s top 3 WRs, despite being on a below-average passing offense. The Bears thus far are 27th in the league in passing yards and post a sub-par 6.8 yards per passing attempt and a 18:15 TD-to-INT ratio. While some of the blame can be placed on an ineffective offensive line (Chicago has given up the sixth most sacks), a lot can also be placed on injuries at wide receiver, the lack of a steady complimentary receiver, and Jay Cutler's poor decision-making. While Cutler and even wide receiver Alshon Jeffery have shown us some excitement and fantasy relevance, nobody but Marshall has been anywhere near consistently productive in either real life or fantasy.

This week the Bears face a Packers pass defense that has been up and down and are thus ranked right in the middle of most defensive pass stats, including average fantasy points allowed to QBs and WRs. Where the Packers should scare the Bears is in the pressure they put on opposing quarterbacks, as they currently rank sixth in sacks. And a below-average Bears line will most likely let the Pack add to that total. What may even be worse for the Bears is that Green Bay’s very best defensive game against the pass came against Chicago back in Week 2, when Cutler and company were held to just 126 passing yards while being picked off four times (1 for a TD). In that game Marshall dared the Packers to play press coverage against him and his bluff was called, as he was held to just 24 yards on two catches, by far his worst game of the season. While defensive back Charles Woodson is out again for the Packers, linebacker Clay Matthews sounds like he will return, and that should make the pressure on Cutler even worse. While the numbers say this is a decent matchup for Cutler and the pass game, I would personally not start any Bears player on this unit outside of Marshall. There is just too much inconsistency and poor line play, and Cutler may still have some lingering neck pain. Start Marshall as a low- to mid-tier WR1 this week, but bench the rest of the Bears passing game players until further notice.

Running Game Thoughts: While Matt Forte has not really produced at an elite fantasy level this year, as many had hoped, there are some nice signs for those patient owners of Forte. First, Forte’s production has increased over each of the past three weeks in both rushing and receiving yards. Second, running back Michael Bush, who many thought would take up to 50 percent of the workload from Forte, has seen his carries drop dramatically, with just eight combined carries in the past two games. Third, this time of year the weather can get nasty (especially in Chicago), so the Bears should lean more heavily on the run. Finally, the matchup with the Packers defense is a fairly favorable one. While Forte was only given seven carries in their previous meeting, he did turn those into 31 yards and had a season-high 49 yards receiving.

While Forte is on a bit of an uptick in production right now, the Packers run defense is in the midst of a slump. In their past four games they have given up well over 500 combined yards with four touchdowns on the ground. That span includes their two worst games to opposing fantasy RBs on the year. While Forte may not quite put up top-end RB1 numbers this week, the he'll have the opportunity to post some of his best fantasy numbers of the season this week. With very little worry about Bush stealing his touches, and with cold weather creeping in and the momentum favoring the Bears run game, feel free to start Forte with confidence as a low-end RB1 with some nice upside.

Jay Cutler: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Brandon Marshall: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 50 rec yds
Devin Hester: 30 rec yds
Matt Forte: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 27, Bears 23

Redskins @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The big news this week concerning the Redskins passing game is centered around the health of Robert Griffin III. While there seems to be an update every few hours about what he has and has not been able to do, I am going under the assumption that he will be playing this week. It seems he is doing enough at this point in the week to at least give it a go on Sunday, and since the Skins still have a shot at the playoffs, Griffin knows this is a big game they need to win. On the season, Griffin has dazzled many football fans with highlight reel plays, efficient passing, and surprising fantasy dominance, as he is a top 3 fantasy QB in almost every type of league. Thanks to his legs, some big plays, and a lack of turnovers (just 4 INTs), RG3 has become matchup-proof because he can do so many things so well. Somewhat surprising is the fact that no Washington receiver has stepped up as a dominant or even legitimately consistent fantasy starter to this point. Pierre Garcon missed a large chunk of the season with a foot injury but seems to have taken over the Skins No. 1 receiver role by default, totaling 17 receptions, 275 yards, and three touchdowns the past three weeks.

If Garcon can keep this up, he becomes a nice low-end WR1 the rest of the way out, but this week’s matchup may put the brakes on that as he sees plenty of attention from Cleveland's stud cornerback Joe Haden. Since Haden has returned from suspension, the Browns' once porous pass defense (and their overall defense) has tightened up and seems to be peaking right now, as they have been the sixth toughest defense for fantasy QBs to score against the past five weeks. Over their past seven games, the Browns have actually intercepted more passes (5) than they have allowed touchdown passes (4) and have held opponents to under 200 yards passing in five of those seven contests. Even more relevant to this week, four of those five great defensive games for the Browns have been played in Cleveland, the site of this week’s game. While RG3 is obviously a special talent unlike any the Browns have seen this year, the Cleveland defense should not be taken lightly, as they have momentum and another home game may just keep that going strong. As long as RG3 plays—which I expect—he is a must-start because of the many ways he can rack up fantasy points. While I do not expect him to be a top 5 option this week by any means, he should be a safe but very low-end QB1. As for the Skins receivers, the only legitimate possible starter is Garcon, but the presence of Haden really hurts his upside. In my eyes, Garcon is a low-end WR2 this week. That's still pretty good, all things considered, just don’t expect another 100-yard, one-touchdown game in this matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: While much of the hype and attention have been on RG3 this season, the Redskins' real highlight has been the effectiveness of their run game. They currently rank first in rushing yards, third in rushing yards per attempt, and sixth in rushing touchdowns. While RG3 certainly has contributed greatly to these stats, running back Alfred Morris has flown mostly under the radar as a very productive real-life and fantasy player this season, ranking fourth in rushing yards with over 1,200 thus far. The more amazing thing about Morris is that, despite being a rookie, he has shown no sign of wearing down as the season has progressed, and in fact has had three straight 100-yard games going into this week, while he had just three the rest of the season combined. With RG3 likely to play but play banged up, the Redskins may lean more heavily on Morris this week. He has averaged over 20 carries per game the past four weeks and should easily meet or exceed that number this week.

The Browns run defense he is slightly worse than average, but three of their best five performances have come in the past four games, and their defense as a whole has noticeably improved as the season has progressed. In terms of average fantasy points scored by running backs, the Browns rank as the 13th most generous defense on the year; however, through the past five weeks they actually rank as the eighth toughest defense. An away game against an emerging defense is far from an elite matchup for Morris, but because of the volume he is sure to see and the kind of hot-streak he is on, I would start him confidently as a high-end RB2 or low-end RB1.

Robert Griffin III: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 40 rush yds
Pierre Garcon: 70 rec yds
Santana Moss: 40 rec yds
Leonard Hankerson: 45 rec yds
Alfred Morris: 85 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The Browns passing game has had its highs and lows this season but has seemed to settle down into a respectable offensive attack the past few weeks. They rank 20th in terms of passing yards, but their 13:15 TD-to-INT ratio is what really brings them down. While quarterback Brandon Weeden continues to go through some rookie struggles, the only guy close to being a fantasy star in this phase of the offense is rookie wideout Josh Gordon. Gordon started the season strictly as a deep threat, catching two to three balls per game, but is now a legit WR3, catching five to eight balls in each of his last four games (315 yards).

While the Browns passing attack has yet to garner much excitement, the Redskins pass defense sure has made opposing offenses excited. On the season, they rank 31st in passing yards allowed and have given up a league-high 27 passing touchdowns. While the Skins defense has been a bit stingier in three of their past four games, they are still apt to give up huge games on any given Sunday. They have already given up three or more passing touchdowns in six games this season, including a 441-yard, three-touchdown game on the road to quarterback Tony Romo three weeks ago. While the Redskins have given up big games through the air both home and away, four of their six worst defensive days through the air did come on the road. This week I expect a balanced attack from the Browns, as they look to get their best player (running back Trent Richardson) a bunch of carries but also try to exploit the main weakness of the Redskins defense. While Weeden is probably not going to be a start-worthy QB in most standard fantasy leagues (even in favorable matchups), he has done just enough, especially of late, to make Gordon a viable WR3 most weeks, and this week is no exception. I would feel confident starting Gordon this week, as he is getting a consistently high number of targets and is capable of a long touchdown catch at any time. No other Browns receiver is even close to being a fantasy starter, however, as the consistency is just not there—not even enough to exploit a nice matchup like this one.

Running Game Thoughts: The Browns run game has been a mixed bag this season. On one hand, the team ranks 24th in rushing yards, and rookie running back Trent Richardson is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry on the season. On the other hand, fantasy owners of Richardson have been mostly pleased with his production on the whole, as he has scored 9 rushing touchdowns (10 total TDs), has consistently run the ball 15 or more times a game, and has actually looked better and produced more as the season has gone on. In addition, thanks to both the Browns passing game and defense improving slowly over the course of the season, more running lanes are opening for Richardson, and the Browns can commit to the run game all day long since they have been in most games all the way to the end.

This week, a Redskins defense that is fresh off giving up 121 yards and a touchdown to Ray Rice will try and slow down the Browns running attack in Cleveland, where Richardson has compiled 354 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his last four home games. The Redskins rushing defense has been much better than their lousy pass defense this year, ranking seventh in rushing yards allowed and allowing just less than 99 yards per game on the ground. Fantasy-wise they also rank in the upper half of the league in terms of tougher defenses for fantasy RBs to score against, although they have allowed a few big games to some of the more talented backs in the league. The good news for Richardson owners is that even though the matchup is not elite, the Browns have shown a commitment to the run regardless of the matchup. Expect 18 or more carries in this one, along with a few catches and a handful of carries in the red zone. Start Richardson with confidence as a high-end RB2 or low-end RB1 and as one of the few backs in the league getting almost all the work in their team’s backfield.
Brandon Weeden: 240 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Josh Gordon: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Little: 40 rec yds
Ben Watson: 45 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Browns 27, Redskins 20

Broncos @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: After a couple of early season games that had people questioning quarterback Peyton Manning’s arm strength, Manning has put together an MVP-type season and is currently among the top six quarterbacks in passing yards (3,812), completion percentage (68.3), passing touchdowns (30), and quarterback rating (104.0). Because of Manning’s strong season he has also made several receivers relevant, in particular Demaryius Thomas (5th in rec yds), and Eric Decker (tied for 7th in TDs). This week the Broncos take on a Ravens pass defense that has given up a very healthy amount of pass yardage (10th most) but is tied for first in touchdown passes allowed (12). In addition, they are just one of four teams that have intercepted more passes (13) than they have allowed touchdown passes (12).

On the season, the Ravens rank as the ninth toughest team for fantasy QBs to score against, but because of some key injuries and some tough matchups, they actually have been much easier to score on lately, ranking as just the 17th toughest over the past five weeks. With Manning being one of the very best at finding mismatches in the secondary, and Baltimore being a bit thin in that area, look for the Broncos to move the ball down the field relatively easily, even if many of their drives end in field goal attempts rather than touchdowns. While a road game against a very hungry and motivated team is not the ideal matchup, I see Manning as a very safe QB1 this week, even if a huge touchdown day is not in the cards. As for Thomas, there are few defensive backs in the league that can match his combination of size, strength, and speed, and without a top cover corner on their roster this week (CB Webb out), Thomas should get open early and often and be a nice mid-range WR1 this week. Decker has been hot-and-cold as of late, but he clicked with Manning last week and I see that continuing this week, at least in terms of receiving yards. Feel free to start him as a low-end WR2 in this matchup. As for the other Broncos receivers, I would tend to stay away just because the targets to guys not named Thomas and Decker are spread around so inconsistently from week to week that guessing which guy might be up this week is just too risky, especially this time of year.

Running Game Thoughts: What a difference an injury and a few weeks can make in the NFL, huh? Running back Knowshon Moreno was almost left for dead earlier in the season, as he was a healthy scratch in several games and there were even rumblings of his being waived. Fast forward to a Willis McGahee injury and some ineffectiveness by rookie Ronnie Hillman, and Moreno took his opportunity to shine and ran with it. Over the past three weeks Moreno has racked up 72 carries, 273 rushing yards, and a touchdown. While nobody is going to mistake Moreno as the next Adrian Peterson, he is the bell-cow on a high-scoring offense, and in the fantasy world that counts for an awful lot.

Trying to stop Moreno this week, the Ravens run defense is certainly not what it used to be, giving up the eighth most rushing yards in the league so far this season. In addition, the Ravens defense has been the 10th most generous to fantasy RBs and has given up 90-plus yards on the ground nine times this season, including eight of the past nine games. While Moreno is not a huge breakaway threat, Manning and company should be able to pass the ball downfield enough to get him a handful of red-zone touches, and odds are a few goal-line carries as well. Watch the injury report closely this week, because the Ravens have been banged up on defense. If they are again without starting linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Jameel McClain, the chances of Moreno having a huge game jump considerably. As it stands, Moreno should be a very safe mid-range RB2 in this matchup with some upside, depending on the Ravens injury situations.

Peyton Manning: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Demaryius Thomas: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 75 rec yds
Jacob Tamme: 40 rec yds
Knowshon Moreno: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Against the Redskins last week, statistically one of the worst pass defenses in the league, Joe Flacco put up nice touchdown numbers (3) but a very poor 182 passing yards, the fewest the Skins have allowed all season. While Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta each caught touchdowns (Boldin had two) to save their fantasy day, Torrey Smith was underutilized once again, catching just one pass for 21 yards on a mere three targets. While a matchup with the Skins should have produced much nicer fantasy numbers, this week’s matchup against a white-hot Denver defense looks much tougher. Currently the Broncos rank as a top 10 passing defense, especially excelling in sacking quarterbacks (39, tied for 2nd ) and holding quarterback to a low completion percentage (58.5, ranking 7th).

Consequently, the Broncos are one of the 10 toughest defenses for fantasy QBs to score against, and one of the seven toughest defenses for fantasy WRs. The Broncos use a simple but very effective method for terrorizing opponents passing games: they get a lot of pressure on the quarterback with linebacker Von Miller and cover opposing No. 1 wide receivers with stud cornerback Champ Bailey. Besides the matchup itself, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron this week and replaced him with quarterback coach Jim Caldwell. While I do not expect a huge change in philosophy or production this week, it is certainly something to monitor going forward, as Cameron was criticized by many for being too pass-heavy at times. Perhaps a more run-focused attack is in store down the road, but in a short week I do not expect major changes in this matchup. As for who to start in this game, I would shy away from Flacco as a starter unless you are in a two-QB league, where he would still be just a mid-range QB2. I would sit Torrey Smith as well, since he has been pretty cold lately anyway and is likely to have Bailey on him most of the day. Boldin has been doing ok lately, but I still don’t see him as more than an upper-end WR3, especially in a relatively tough matchup. The only guy I do kind of like here is Pitta, who has come on as of late and is actually going against a Denver defense who is one of the five most generous to fantasy TEs. Look for Pitta to be a high-end TE2 this week with some nice upside.

Running Game Thoughts: The Ravens run game, led by Ray Rice, has been streaky this year in terms of production, but mainly in terms of use. Thus far Rice has eight games where he has toted the rock 18 times or fewer and five games where he has 20 or more carries. Of the four games the Ravens have lost this season, three of them have been on days where Rice had minimal carries (16, 9, and 12, respectively). The other game was this past week where Rice had 20 carries for 121 yards and a touchdown but the Ravens lost in overtime by a field goal by the Redskins. In that game the announcers noted how fresh Rice looked for late in the season and proposed that his workload had been lightened this year so that he would be at his best for the playoffs. While I tend to agree that Baltimore has purposely lightened the load for Rice, they must also be realizing that they will only go as far as Rice takes them, so I expect a heavy dose of Rice the rest of the way out.

The issue for Rice owners this week, however, is that one of the league’s hottest defenses (and teams in general) are in town and are clicking on all cylinders. The Broncos rate as a top seven defense versus the run, giving up the second least yards per carry and the third least rushing touchdowns. Accordingly, the Broncos are one of the five toughest defenses for fantasy RBs to score against, with just three running backs having gained over 100 yards against them (Foster, Ridley, Charles). While I would certainly compare Rice’s talent favorably to any of those three backs, I would also caution that a lot of Rice’s production this week will be based on how much the Ravens use him, and that has been sketchy at best so far. In addition, right guard Marshal Yanda, perhaps the Ravens' best offensive lineman, is doubtful this week with a sprained ankle, and the Broncos will certainly look to take advantage of that loss. The fact that the Broncos offense is scoring almost at will is also a bit concerning for Rice owners, since it is possible they will need to go pass-heavy late in the game if the Ravens can’t keep Manning and company in check. Luckily Rice has been involved in the pass game most games, so at the very least he should have a place in the offense throughout the contest. The bottom line is that you did not draft Ray Rice to sit him in the fantasy playoffs, so you are starting him this week regardless. And while this is not a great matchup on paper, I believe the Ravens will give Rice the rock at least 18 times, and with a few catches added in, he should be used enough to approach low-end RB1 numbers.

Joe Flacco: 200 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Torrey Smith: 40 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 55 rec yds
Dennis Pitta: 75 rec yds
Ray Rice: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 27, Ravens 24

Jaguars @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Chad Henne will be looking to exact some revenge on the team that cast him aside after a few serviceable but unspectacular years in Miami. With a strong finish, Henne has an opportunity to earn the starting gig heading into Jaguars camp next season, and other than last week, he has performed well after taking over the job from Blaine Gabbert. Henne was without his favorite target, Cecil Shorts III, last week and couldn’t get into rhythm against an above-average Jets pass defense. He was also not helped out by Shorts’ replacement in the starting lineup, undrafted rookie Kevin Elliot, who dropped several balls and failed to keep his feet in bounds on what should have been an easy reception. With Antonio Cromartie blanketing rookie Justin Blackmon, last week may have been only an aberration for Henne rather than a regression back to what he once was. Shorts is expected to play this week, and that should help the Jacksonville passing attack rebound against its in-state “rival” that has allowed 250.6 yards per game and 15 touchdowns through the air this season.

Running Game Thoughts: Injuries to the Jaguar's stable of running backs lead to fullback and special teamer Montell Owens getting starting carries last week. Owens, surprisingly, had arguably the best game of any Jacksonville back this season, rushing for over 90 yards and a score against the Jets. He is likely to get another start this week but is a risky fantasy start against what has been a top 10 rushing defense this season. Desperate owners may be forced to roll the dice and hope for another score, but Owens is likely to struggle this week. Proceed with caution.

The Dolphins run defense has allowed only 102.1 yards per game on the ground and just eight rushing touchdowns on the season, so this is a difficult matchup for any running back, let alone a fourth-stringer.

Chad Henne: 235 pass yds 2 TDs / 15 rush yds
Justin Blackmon: 45 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Marcedes Lewis: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Montell Owens: 40 rush yds/ 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has had a nice rookie season but isn’t consistent enough to be relied upon in redraft leagues at this important time of year. Tannehill has some nice tools, including size, a strong arm and nice mobility, but right now he doesn’t have enough weapons to produce big numbers even if he were a little more polished. Brian Hartline has been living off of his dynamic game against Arizona from earlier in the season and is the de facto No. 1 wide receiver for Miami, but he’s much better suited to be a supporting member of the passing attack. Davone Bess is a decent option as a WR3 in PPR leagues against weaker pass defenses, but his lack of big-play ability limits his upside. My guess is that not many readers who are still alive in their playoffs are considering starting any member of the Miami passing attack.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush has regained his role as the feature back, after being in a timeshare with second-year back Daniel Thomas during the middle portion of the season. Bush is also being used in the passing game again, after having been replaced on third downs by the less dynamic Thomas. Bush hauled in five catches for 38 yards last week and should be heavily involved in this week’s game plan.

The Jaguars run defense is the second worst in the league, having allowed 145.7 yards per game and 18 touchdowns on the ground. It’s time to get Bush back in your starting lineup if you own him.

Ryan Tannehill: 225 pass yds 1 TD / 35 rush yds
Brian Hartline: 35 rec yds
Davone Bess: 70 rec yds
Rishard Matthews: 15 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Reggie Bush: 115 rush yds, 1 TD / 45 rec yds
Daniel Thomas: 35 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds

Prediction: Dolphins 21, Jaguars 17

Steelers @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Ben Roethlisberger returned to the lineup, with mixed results, after a three-week layoff due to rib and shoulder injuries. While his final numbers looked fine, the passing offense got off to a slow start until the game was out of reach and they were forced to play in catch-up mode. With another week of practice reps under his belt, Ben should be able to get back in synch and play a more complete game. Wide receiver Mike Wallace seemed happy to have Big Ben back under center, as he racked up more than 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns after doing very little with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch at quarterback. The Steelers offense doesn’t feature the deep ball under offensive coordinator Todd Haley as much as it did under Bruce Arians, but with Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders running deep, it can still be very effective when it does. With Antonio Brown also back and getting healthier the Steelers passing attack should start clicking again.

Dallas is the eighth-ranked pass defense in the league, giving up only 217.8 yards per game and 17 touchdown passes on the season. With only 29 sacks on the season, however, they haven’t been getting a ton of pressure on opposing passers. But Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have done a very good job in coverage. However, with the Steelers’ porous O-line and downfield speed at receiver, don’t be surprised to see the Cowboys make a more concerted effort to get pressure on Roethlisberger and test out his ailing ribs.

Running Game Thoughts: After being a healthy scratch the last two weeks, former starter Rashard Mendenhall has now been suspended for this game by the team. Mendenhall failed to show up at Heinz field last week in protest of being declared inactive. Jonathan Dwyer, a no-nonsense, north–south runner, has been starting in Mendenhall’s place, and while he hasn’t been producing big yardage totals, he’s been effective enough to keep defenses honest. Dwyer does have good straight-line speed and is a powerful runner, but without much lateral movement or an ability to make defenders miss, he won’t be breaking many big plays. Backing him up is veteran Isaac Redman. Neither back has the flash of Mendenhall, but both can hold on to the ball and gain positive yards when they rake the carry—traits that seem to keep head coach Mike Tomlin satisfied for now.

Ben Roethlisberger: 275 pass yds 2 TDs / 25 rush yds
Emmanuel Sanders: 20 rec yds
Mike Wallace: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 60 rec yds
Heath Miller: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Jonathan Dwyer: 75 rush yds, 1 TD / 15 rec yds
Isaac Redman: 35 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The biggest question surrounding the Cowboys passing game this week is whether the red-hot Dez Bryant will be able to play through a finger injury. The injury, first reported as ligament damage, is now alleged to be a broken finger, and there are reports that playing through it could lead to long-term damage. As of now, owner Jerry Jones is leaving the decision up to Bryant, who swears he’ll be on the field—though he is still seeing specialists. Jason Witten and Miles Austin will get a bump in value if Bryant cannot play or is merely used as a decoy, but Romo will take a hit without his biggest playmaker. Even if Bryant sits out, Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris are too risky to be in your lineup with the playoffs on the line.

Pittsburgh has one of the top-ranked pass defense this season; but with cornerback Ike Taylor expected to miss the game, that ranking alone should not scare owners of Cowboy players. On the season the team has allowed only 169.2 passing yards per game, but Taylor’s absence last week made it easier for struggling Phillip Rivers to throw three touchdowns against the Steelers.

Running Game Thoughts: DeMarco Murray was mostly silent last week after dominating during his first week back from a foot injury, but he did cross the goal line to save his fantasy day. The physical Murray goes up against the hard-hitting Pittsburgh run defense that has allowed only 93.2 rushing yards per game but has started to show its age. With his fresh legs, Murray should be used early and often to soften the defense up a bit, before the Cowboys take some deep shots downfield.

Tony Romo: 220 yds passing 2 TDs, 2 INTs / 30 rush yds
Miles Austin: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 40 rec yds
Dwayne Harris: 45 rec yds
Jason Witten: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
DeMarco Murray: 95 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Felix Jones: 20 rush yds / 15 rec yds

Prediction: Cowboys 27, Steelers 24

49ers @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Jim Harbaugh took a big risk benching the quarterback that took his team to the NFC Championship Game last season for a raw, second-year player. Colin Kaepernick had a tremendous game against the Bears while spelling the concussed Alex Smith, so Harbaugh rode the “hot hand,” naming Kaepernick the starter for the following week. Kaepernick has struggled at times, but his athletic ability has been the difference in making the 49ers offense more dynamic and has given opposing defenses one more thing to worry about. Tight end Vernon Davis had a big game during Kaepernick’s first start but has been invisible since, leaving Davis to publically call for Alex Smith to regain his starting job. From a fantasy perspective Kaepernick has become a viable option. But as a result of the team’s conservative game plans, none of Kaepernick's targets, with the possible exception of Michael Crabtree, have been consistent enough to garner consideration.

The Patriots pass defense has improved after a horrible start to the 2012 season. They made a nice move in acquiring Aqib Talib, but their secondary is still the weakest link on a team that has virtually no other flaws. The defense has capitalized on turnovers in recent weeks, but that could be taken away from them against a 49ers team that is careful with the football.

Running Game Thoughts: 29-year-old running back Frank Gore was written off by many in the fantasy community, but he’s thrived once again as a workhorse back in a scheme that suits him well. The Niners have a big solid O-line and a conservative attack, which asks Gore to be the focus. Gore hasn’t lost much despite his years, and he continues to be a compact runner with tremendous vision and body control who quietly racks up rushing yardage each week. Rookie LaMichael James was finally active last week and saw some carries in the change-of-pace role that opened up when Kendall Hunter was placed on IR. James looked quick to the outside and could be a dynamic weapon if the staff can design some plays to get him in space, in the same way the Saints use Darren Sproles.

In a matchup of strength on strength, San Fran’s rushing attack will meet a Patriots run defense that has allowed only 100.8 yards per game and just 10 touchdowns on the season. If the Patriots can stifle the Niners’ run game, this could be New England's second straight thrashing of one of their main competitors to winning another Super Bowl.

Colin Kaepernick: 225 pass yds 2 TDs / 55 rush yds
Michael Crabtree: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Randy Moss: 40 rec yds
A.J. Jenkins: 35 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 40 rec yds
Frank Gore: 60 rush yds, 1 TD / 5 rec yds
LaMichael James: 15 rush yds / 25 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady lost tight end Rob Gronkowski, the biggest weapon in the New England passing game, in Week 11, but that didn’t slow down the offense, which has averaged 38 points per game without him. Brady still has Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd at his disposal, and he has “made due” with those options in Gronkowski’s absence. Lloyd had his best game as a Patriot last week, and perhaps he’s finally earned Brady’s trust after taking a backseat to Welker and the tight ends for most of the season.

Brady picked apart a top defense last Monday night in Foxboro and will look to do the same to the team he grew up rooting for. San Francisco is the second-ranked pass defense, allowing a mere 184.7 passing yards per game. Defensive end Aldon Smith will be looking to make life miserable for Brady. However, over the years it’s been pressure up the middle and not an outside pass rush that’s been Brady’s kryptonite. With that said, pressure from Smith and the rest of the defense will give the Niners their best chance to leave the Northeast with a win.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Ridley has carried the rushing load for an offense that has been very balanced this season, but he will face a difficult time against Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and the second-ranked San Francisco run defense, which has allowed only 90.8 yards per game on the ground. Ridley is a more athletic version of last season’s team-leading rusher, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ridley is a hard-charging, no-nonsense runner, but he does have better lateral movement and can make tackler’s miss far better than BJGE, and he's been the most productive back for the Patriots since Corey Dillon was brought aboard.

Tom Brady: 285 pass yds 3 TDs, 1 INT
Brandon Lloyd: 65 rec yds
Wes Welker: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Stevan Ridley: 55 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 15 rush yds / 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Shane Vereen: 35 rush yards

Prediction: Patriots 24, 49ers 21

Seahawks @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

Passing Game Thoughts: Lost in the shadows of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III is the incredible rookie season of Russell Wilson. Thought to be undersized, Wilson has thrown for more TD passes than Luck or Griffin and has the Seahawks in position to make the postseason. Wilson isn’t asked to throw the ball often in the Seahawks run oriented attack but has been very effective when he needs to be and already throws one of the best deep balls in the league. Sidney Rice, the Hawks top option at receiver was seen in a walking boot earlier in the week but is expected to try and play. Rice and fellow starting wideout Golden Tate both make decent options for those in deeper leagues.

The Bills are allowing a very respectable 227.6 passing ypg, but have yielded 22 passing TDs on the season.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch missed a good portion of last week’s game against Arizona but still rushed for over 150 yards and 3 TDs. Lynch, famous for his hard charging style, has 1,266 yards on the ground and has scored 9 times making him a must start for fantasy owners each and every week. The Seahawks have invested some high picks on their o-line and run the most conservative offense in the league. Behind Lynch they have rookie Robert Turbin, who possess a similar body type and style to Lynch, but adds a little more speed and pass catching ability.

The Bills run defense has improved a bit over the course of the season, but is still one of the league’s worst units. The Bills allow 134.5 ypg and have given up 18 TDs on the ground. On the road, expect the Seahawks to grind the ball on the ground all game.

Russell Wilson: 185 pass yds 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 30 rush yds.
Golden Tate: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Sidney Rice: 40 rec yds
Zach Miller: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Marshawn Lynch: 115 rush yds, 1 TD / 10 rec yds
Robert Turbin: 35 rush yds / 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Ryan Fitzpatrick era looks to be coming to an end in Buffalo and is going out with a whimper. Once again the Bills passing attack has got progressively worse from the start of the season to the end. Steve Johnson has failed to improve on his very good 2011 season and is no longer viewed as a WR1, making adding an impact WR a priority for the Bills who will also be looking to draft a franchise QB.

The appeal of Richard Sherman’s suspension has still not taken place allowing the Seahawks to keep one of their dynamic duos at CB on the field for the time being. Brandon Browner will still be serving his suspension, but Brower’s absence did not hurt the team last week as it humiliated Arizona. Expect last week’s turnover fest to continue in Toronto this week.

Running Game Thoughts: With Fred Jackson on IR, C.J. Spiller should once again get the chance to shine. Of course the last time Jackson was out, the team chose to pull their best weapon off the field in the red-zone in favor of journeyman Tashard Choice. Spiller is the only legitimate playmaker on the Bills’ offense and his fantasy owners would love to see him turned loose. In a lost season, the Bills would be wise to let that happen.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 245 pass yds 2 TDs, 3 Ints. / 35 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Donald Jones: 30 rec yds
T.J. Graham: 15 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Tashard Choice: 25 rush yds / 15 yds receiving
C.J. Spiller: 115 rush yds, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Seahawks 30, Bills 24