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Inside the Matchup
Week 11

By: Bill Andereson | Brian Thorne | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith


SF @ NO | NE @ CAR | MIN @ SEA | KC @ DEN


 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Smith 28 10 73.7
2 Caron 27 11 71.1
3 Thorne 20 16 55.6
4 Anderson 20 16 55.6

Colts at Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck had one of his worst games as a pro last week during the Colts’ throttling at the hands of the Rams. He threw for 353 yards, but that was because the team fell behind huge and all but abandoned the running game. Luck tossed one touchdown but three interceptions in the contest and was off-target all day. He is clearly struggling to find a comfort level with a receiver outside of T.Y. Hilton, who has become fantasy gold in the absence of Reggie Wayne, amassing 251 yards in his last two contests. Hilton will have a bigger challenge than usual this week as the Titans have been very good defending the pass.

Despite Tennessee’s loss to Jacksonville last week, they continued to play the pass well, allowing only 180 yards with two interceptions of Chad Henne. They are allowing the third-fewest FPts/G to QBs, rank seventh in pass defense and are tied for fewest passing scores surrendered. No team has allowed fewer FPts/G to WRs than the Titans, though they are allowing the 10th-most FPts/G to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s difficult to have thoughts on something that doesn’t exist, but that is the challenge I’m faced with in this segment. Trent Richardson has been hideous in his time with the Colts, though it should be noted he is running behind a below-average offensive line. Nonetheless, he gained all of six feet on five carries last week against the Rams, a team that has been sliced apart by most runners. Donald Brown actually went backwards by one yard in his two carries and neither is much of a fantasy option going forward, though don’t count out a Richardson score against Tennessee.

The Titans are 16th in YPC allowed and 21st in run defense, but gave up a pair of rushing scores last week and only the Jaguars have allowed more scores on the ground than they have. Tennessee has given up the fifth-most receiving yards in the league to RBs and the sixth-most FPts/G to players at that position, having yielded multiple rushing scores in each of their last four contests.

Andrew Luck: 280 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
T.Y. Hilton: 90 rec yds, 2 TD
Coby Fleener: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 35 rec yds
Griff Whalen: 30 rec yds
LaVon Brazill: 20 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 35 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Donald Brown: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Not only did the Titans lose to Jacksonville last week, they lost their quarterback, Jake Locker, for the rest of the year. Ryan Fitzpatrick played well in relief, though many quarterbacks have looked good when facing the Jaguars. His main target is Kendall Wright, who has established himself as a legit WR2 or WR3 depending on match-up. With Nate Washington disappearing recently, one player fantasy owners should look to in the rest of the way is Delanie Walker, who has 50+ yards and a touchdown in two of his last three contests, though he could struggle this week against Indianapolis.

Though the Colts rank 19th in pass defense and ninth in touchdown passes given up, they are trending downward fast. Indy has allowed an average of 328 yards through the air in their last three games with eight touchdowns and one interception and though one of those games was against Peyton Manning, the other two quarterbacks they’ve faced have been Case Keenum and Kellen Clemens. The team is 16th in FPts/G allowed to QBs and they’re giving up the sixth-fewest FPts/G to TEs, but the eighth-most FPts/G to WRs, with at least one wideout gaining 138 yards against them in each of their last three games.

Running Game Thoughts: I’m as confused by Chris Johnson as the rest of the fantasy owners out there. After slicing through the Rams two weeks ago, Johnson had yet another juicy match-up against the Jaguars last week and promptly responded with a resounding thud. He ran for 30 yards on 12 carries, marking the fifth time in his last five games he’s been held to less than 40 rushing yards. On the bright side, Johnson had 43 receiving yards and continues to be involved in the passing game, though it would be nice if he could find his form and add some rushing yards (or even a touchdown) against the Colts.

Indianapolis continues to be solid against running backs, despite being ranked 26th against the run. Many of those rushing yards have been ceded to quarterbacks, including 100+ yards to both Terrelle Pryor and Russell Wilson. As for RBs, the Colts are surrendering the seventh-fewest FPts/G to players at that position and the second-fewest receiving yards while allowing only two backs to gain 85 or more yards all season.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT, 30 rush yds
Kendall Wright: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 50 rec yds
Delanie Walker: 35 rec yds
Justin Hunter: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Damian Williams: 15 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 45 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 25 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 27, Titans 17 ^ Top

Falcons at Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan was supposed to be at least near the top-five fantasy quarterbacks this season – needless to say, it hasn’t worked out like that. Over his last three games, Ryan has only three touchdown passes and seven interceptions, he ranks 12th in FPts/G for the year, and the entire Atlanta offense has been a huge disappointment. Roddy White’s return to health may jumpstart things, but the wideout still caught only one pass for 20 yards last week despite playing most of the offensive snaps. The good news for those fantasy owners that have Ryan, White or Tony Gonzalez (toe) on their rosters is that the Buccaneers have been prone to allowing the opposition to produce through the air.

Tampa isn’t giving up a lot of yards through the air this season, ranking 14th in pass defense and not allowing a 300-yard passer since Week 2, but that’s where the good news ends. They are tied with the Falcons for 26th in sacks, have allowed multiple touchdown passes in each of their last four games and five of their last six, and rank 22nd in the NFL in passing scores allowed. The Bucs are giving up the ninth-most FPts/G to QBs, though are in the middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points allowed to receivers, having surrendered the 15th-most FPts/G to wideouts but the 14th-fewest FPts/G to TEs. Editor’s Note: Harry Douglas (knee) missed practice on Thursday so check his status over the weekend before placing him in your lineup.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson’s return to the lineup after missing time with an injury hasn’t been the boon to fantasy rosters that many figured it would. In his three games since suffering a Week 2 injury, Jackson has only 74 yards on 33 carries, an average of 2.2 YPC, and he still doesn’t have a rushing touchdown. I have a hard time believing he won’t scamper into the endzone at some point this season, and if anything, he’s due, even against Tampa’s stout run defense.

If the Buccaneers hadn’t allowed the 12th-most receiving yards (and three touchdowns) to running backs, they’d be even stronger against opposing fantasy runners. As it is, the team has yielded the eighth-fewest rushing yards and FPts/G to RBs. They have allowed only one rushing score by a back all season, are fifth in the league in run defense, sixth in total rushing scores surrendered and eighth in YPC allowed.

Matt Ryan: 265 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 60 rec yds
Tony Gonzalez: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Drew Davis: 20 rec yds
Darius Johnson: 10 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 25 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is by no means a fantasy stud, and in fact ranks 32nd among QBs in FPts/G. Yet he does not turn the ball over much, which keeps his offense on the field and allows players like Vincent Jackson to keep getting chances. Unfortunately, Jackson has done little lately, with only five catches for 39 yards in his last two games, but with the team’s utter lack of alternate receiving options, mounting injuries in their backfield and a good match-up this week, Jackson should be productive against Atlanta.

You have to hand it to the Falcons on one front when talking about their pass defense – they’ve been consistent. Unfortunately for them, I mean consistently bad. The Falcons have given up multiple touchdown throws in all but one game this year, are 25th in pass defense, 28th in passing scores allowed, 24th in interceptions and 26th in sacks. This has led to plenty of fantasy success from the opposition, and Atlanta is giving up the eighth-most FPts/G to QBs, the seventh-most FPts/G to WR, and the 13th-most FPts/G to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: First Doug Martin went down, then Mike James, so Tampa is now down to their third and fourth options at running back. Fantasy owners have likely gobbled up Brian Leonard and Bobby Rainey by now and though neither will be helpful in the long term, Leonard should get some flex plays this week based on nothing more than the amount of touches he’ll get and the fact that the Falcons struggle against the run.

Not only is Atlanta lousy against the pass, but they stink against the run as well. They are 27th in the NFL in both run defense and YPC allowed, but allow so many touchdowns through the air that they are 12th in rushing scores surrendered. Still, the team has given up the sixth-most rushing yards in the league to running backs and the 13th-most FPts/G to players at that position.

Mike Glennon: 230 pass yds, 1 TD
Vincent Jackson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Tim Wright: 50 rec yds
Tiquan Underwood: 35 rec yds
Brian Leonard: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Bobby Rainey: 45 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 24, Buccaneers 20 ^ Top

Cardinals at Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Palmer is an improvement over the sludge that Arizona put at quarterback last season, but that’s not really saying a whole lot. He hasn’t been an effective fantasy option however, ranking 35th at his position in FPts/G and failing to make Larry Fitzgerald the premier option he once was. Fitzgerald leads the Cardinals in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns, but is still outside the top-25 fantasy wideouts points per game. Then again, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to put Palmer in fantasy lineups this week and keep Fitzgerald as a starter considering they are playing the Jaguars.

Jacksonville won last week, but still allowed 264 passing yards and three total touchdowns (one rushing) to Ryan Fitzpatrick. They are 13th in pass defense, but no team has fewer sacks, only Green Bay has fewer interceptions, just five teams have allowed more touchdown throws and no team has given up more rushing scores to quarterbacks. Add it all up and you have a squad that has allowed the third-most FPts/G to QBs despite giving up the 14th-fewest FPts/G to WRs. But in covering those wideouts, they seem to be forgetting about TEs, and have yielded more FPts/G to players at that position than all but two other squads.

Running Game Thoughts: Andre Ellington has gone from being an afterthought at the beginning of the season to a legit fantasy option. He is more explosive and productive with the ball than backfield mate Rashard Mendenhall, and a far better receiving option. Fantasy owners shouldn’t hesitate to make Ellington a RB2 this week due to his terrific match-up.

The worst run defense in the NFL belongs to the Jaguars who are surrendering almost 25 more yards on the ground per game than any other team. They’ve also given up more rushing scores than any other squad and are 28th in YPC allowed. Predictably, they have allowed the fourth-most FPts/G to RBs in the NFL.

Carson Palmer: 280 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Floyd: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 45 rec yds
Robert Housler: 35 rec yds
Andre Ellington: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Rashard Mendenhall: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Pretty much all that fantasy owners need to know about Chad Henne is this: among the 43 quarterbacks averaging more FPts/G than him are Josh Freeman and Matt Cassel. Now that we’ve gotten past that, it’s on to the very ordinary Jacksonville receiving corps, though they do feature two fantasy-worthy players in Cecil Shorts and Mike Brown. Shorts is the more appealing option, with 70+ yards in five games this season, but he has only one touchdown and will struggle to add more, so expectations should be tempered against the Cardinals.

Considering they have Patrick Peterson, it’s a bit of a surprise that Arizona has struggled on pass defense this year, ranking 20th in the NFL. They’re also 22nd in passing scores given up and have been on the opposite end of some huge games by quarterbacks. The Cards have allowed three touchdown throws in two of their past three games, are yielding the 12th-most FPts/G to QBs, the most FPts/G (and receiving yards) to TEs, but perhaps because of that Peterson guy, are surrendering the 10th-fewest FPts/G to WRs.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew accumulated 74 combined rushing and receiving yards last week to go with one touchdown in the team’s win against Tennessee. He remains outside the top-30 in FPts/G at his position, hasn’t run for more than 75 yards in a game this season and has a brutal match-up against Arizona this week. I wouldn’t consider him a fantasy option, except in a pinch due to injuries and/or byes.

The Cardinals’ pass defense may have their troubles, but their run defense is staunch. They are tied with the Jets for fewest rushing yards allowed to running backs this season, rank third overall in rushing defense and YPC allowed and fourth in rushing scores ceded. Most importantly for our purposes, no team in the league has surrendered fewer FPts/G to RBs this year.

Chad Henne: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Cecil Shorts: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Brown: 50 rec yds
Ace Sanders: 30 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 15 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 35 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Cardinals 24, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Raiders at Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Everyone can agree that they don’t have Terrelle Pryor on their fantasy teams for his throwing ability. He has just five touchdowns and 10 interceptions for the season and one touchdown and eight picks in his last four games, but the fact that he has more than 500 rushing yards can make up for his poor showing through the air. Unfortunately, he’s dealing with a knee injury that limited his effectiveness on the ground last week and kills his fantasy value. Pryor doesn’t have great weapons to throw to when he does pass and though Denarius Moore can be effective at times, he does not have a great match-up this week, even with the Texans struggling. Avoiding Moore is probably best.

The Houston pass defense started off the season superbly, but they’ve taken a step back in recent games. While still ranking first overall in pass defense, they’re 16th in passing touchdowns allowed, 22nd in sacks and 29th in interceptions. The Texans are giving up the seventh-fewest FPts/G to QBs, but have allowed at least 240 yards to opposing quarterbacks in each of their last three games and multiple touchdown throws in two of those contests. They’ve also allowed the 13th-fewest FPts/G to TEs, and the fifth-fewest FPts/G to WRs, though no team has surrendered fewer receiving yards to wideouts than Houston.

Running Game Thoughts: Darren McFadden’s hamstring injury opened the door for Rashad Jennings, and he’s burst through it. Jennings has 194 rushing yards and 93 receiving yards in the last two games, along with one touchdown. McFadden’s status for next week is unknown at this point, but with Pryor hurting, Jennings will be the chain-mover on the ground for Oakland and a solid RB2 against Houston.

The Texans are exactly average against the run, or so say the numbers. They rank 16th in the 32-team NFL in rush defense, 17th in YPC allowed, and 12th in rushing scores yielded. Houston is allowing the 14th-fewest FPts/G in the league to RBs, hasn’t allowed a back to gain 100 yards all season and hasn’t let a back pick up at least 90 since Week 4 while also surrendering the eighth-fewest receiving yards out of the backfield.

Terrelle Pryor: 180 pass yds, 2 INT, 35 rush yds
Denarius Moore: 60 rec yds
Rod Streater: 30 rec yds
Mychal Rivera: 20 rec yds
Jacoby Ford: 15 rec yds
Rashad Jennings: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Marcel Reece: 10 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Case Keenum has been more than effective as Matt Schaub’s replacement. In fact, he’s currently fourth among all quarterbacks in FPts/G even though his sample size has been smaller than others. Still, he’s made himself a starter for fantasy owners, and maybe just as important has made Andre Johnson a top fantasy wideout once again. Johnson has caught five of the six touchdowns Keenum has thrown in his last two games, is fourth in the league in receiving yards, and vaulted into the top-10 in FPts/G at WR. Johnson and Keenum are clear fantasy starters this week against the Raiders.

Oakland drafted a cornerback in the first round last year because their pass defense was broken and it has yet to be fixed. They are 22nd in the NFL against the pass, 26th in passing scores allowed, and 24th in interceptions. The Raiders have allowed the seventh-fewest rushing yards in the league to QBs, but the 10th-most fantasy points, having twice been thrown on for more than 400 yards, and once been thrown on for seven touchdowns – by Nick Foles, no less. A total of 11 different WRs have had games with at least 80 yards when facing the Raiders, and that’s helped contribute to the fact that they are yielding the fifth-most FPts/G to players at that position, though they’ve done better against tight ends, having allowed only the 14th-most FPts/G to them.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster is gone for the year, leaving the running game in the capable hands of Ben Tate. Unfortunately, Tate’s rib injury is proving meddlesome and likely keeping him from being as effective as he might otherwise be. Fantasy owners should still plug him into their lineups at least at flex, as Oakland has proven to be tough but not world-beaters against the run.

The Raiders have done an effective job against opposing running backs all season, not allowing a 100-yard rusher until New York’s Andre Brown crossed that mark last week. Oakland still ranks seventh in the league against the run and in YPC allowed, but 17th in rushing scores surrendered. They are in the middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points ceded and currently rank 15th in FPts/G allowed to RBs.

Case Keenum: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Andre Johnson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
DeAndre Hopkins: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Garrett Graham: 40 rec yds
DeVier Posey: 25 rec yds
Ben Tate: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Dennis Johnson: 15 rush yds

Prediction: Texans 21, Raiders 13 ^ Top

49ers at Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Colin Kaepernick threw for less than 100 yards last week in the 49ers’ loss to the Panthers, continuing a string of games in which he has passed for under 200 yards. In fact, he has just two games with at least 200 passing yards all season, has almost as many games without a touchdown pass (four) as games with (five), and is quickly being relegated to back-up status on fantasy rosters. Kaepernick is 25th at his position in FPts/G and while I realize he doesn’t have a superior supporting cast, he did get Mario Manningham back and still has Vernon Davis (concussion). The freakishly athletic tight end is likely good to go this week and fantasy owners should start him, but avoid all other San Francisco pass catchers versus the Saints.

New Orleans continues to play excellent against the pass, and most recently held Tony Romo to just 10 completions in a whitewashing of the Cowboys. This was just a week after the Saints held Geno Smith on eight completions and those numbers are one reason New Orleans is third in the NFL in both pass defense and passing scores allowed. They have surrendered the third-fewest FPts/G in the league to QBs, the fifth-fewest FPts/G to TEs and the 12th-fewest FPts/G to WRs.

Running Game Thoughts: While the San Francisco passing game may be in shambles, Frank Gore continues to pace the team on the ground and is posting yet another quality season for fantasy owners. He’s a top-10 back in terms of FPts/G, has at least 70 rushing yards in each game since Week 3 and has an excellent match-up this week, making him a legit RB1 against New Orleans.

The Saints seem to have found a solution to their defensive woes from 2012, at least when it comes to playing the pass. They still have a ways to go with their run defense however, and are 23rd against the run, 20th in rushing scores yielded and are allowing the highest YPC average in the league. Yet, only three teams have given up fewer receiving yards out of the backfield. With the opposition often forced to throw, big days for opposing runners are rare so Orleans is 16th in the league in FPts/G allowed to RBs.

Colin Kaepernick: 175 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds
Vernon Davis: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 45 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 40 rec yds
Frank Gore: 105 rush yds, 2 TD
Kendall Hunter: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: There isn’t much Drew Brees and the Saints can’t do in the passing game. He threw four more touchdowns last week and trails only Peyton Manning in the significant passing statistics. Brees gets everyone involved, and if I had told you he would throw four touchdowns to four different players, none of which would be Jimmy Graham, it would be surprising, but not shocking. Of course, that says more about Graham than anyone, who is the top fantasy tight end in the league by a long shot. Brees also made Marques Colston effective for the first time since September and though he and Graham have a tough match-up with San Francisco, Graham should never leave fantasy lineups and Colston is at least a WR3 now that he’s healthier.

The 49ers are capable of giving up plenty of yards – with three quarterbacks having thrown for 298 or more against them this season, but they’re also capable of shutting down passing games, and rank ninth in the league in pass defense. They’re also fifth in passing touchdowns yielded and have allowed the sixth-fewest FPts/G to QBs. San Francisco has also allowed just a single 100-yard receiver since Week 1, is giving up the fourth-fewest FPts/G to TEs and the seventh-fewest FPts/G to WRs.

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram ran for 145 yards and a touchdown last week against the Cowboys, marking the first time in his career that he broke the 100-yard mark. Hopefully fantasy owners see that for what it is – a likely aberration – than a sign of things to come. History has told us that Ingram is bound to disappoint and the better fantasy options in the Saints’ backfield continue to be Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas.

San Francisco hasn’t been as good against the run as expected, and even though they’re 12th in the league in rush defense and 11th in YPC allowed, the 49ers are also 20th in rushing scores given up. They’ve also allowed 90+ combined rushing and receiving yards to six different backs, and when you add it all up you have a team that has surrendered the 12th-most FPts/G in the league to RBs.

Drew Brees: 350 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 95 rec yds, 2 TD
Marques Colston: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenny Stills: 55 rec yds
Lance Moore: 35 rec yds
Robert Meachem: 20 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 40 rush yds
Darren Sproles: 25 rush yds, 45 rec yds

Prediction: Saints 31, 49ers 24 ^ Top

Patriots at Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady is coming off a bye one week after posting his best numbers of the season: 432 yards and four touchdowns against the Steelers in Week 9. Those numbers mask what has been a remarkably ordinary year for Brady, who is 27th in FPts/G among QBs. Injuries to Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola have impacted his play, so don’t’ count Brady out for the remainder of the season, but he has a very tough match-up this week and anything close to a repeat performance of what he did against Pittsburgh is unlikely.

When you allow a quarterback to throw for only 91 yards as the Panthers did last week against Colin Kaepernick, people take notice. The Panthers are currently fourth in the NFL in pass defense, are tied for fewest touchdown throws allowed and most interceptions, and are eighth in sacks. They still haven’t given up multiple touchdown throws in a game and have allowed the fewest rushing yards and FPts/G in the league to QBs. They’ve also given up the 11th-fewest FPts/G to TEs, and only the Titans are allowing fewer FPts/G to WRs than Carolina.

Running Game Thoughts: Stevan Ridley has returned to fantasy prominence after an early absence, and has scored at least once in each of his last four games while rushing for 79 or more yards in three of those contests. He still cedes some carries to LeGarrette Blount, but Ridley is clearly the team’s top back and a fantasy starter every week. That includes this week as even though Carolina is tough on opposing backs, Ridley’s nose for the end zone is undeniable.

Not only is Carolina stifling the opposition’s passing attack, they’re crushing their running attack as well. Only one team has allowed fewer rushing yards per game than the Panthers, who are also second in rushing scores allowed and ninth in YPC ceded. Yet, they’re not allowing the fewest FPts/G to RBs – just the fifth-fewest – because backs have accumulated over 400 receiving yards against them, which is seventh-most in the NFL.

Tom Brady: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rob Gronkowski: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Danny Amendola: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Aaron Dobson: 40 rec yds
Julian Edelman: 25 rec yds
Stevan Ridley: 65 rush yds, 1 TD
LeGarrette Blount: 30 rush yds
Brandon Bolden: 10 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton isn’t having a particularly fantastic season in any sense, but he is a top-10 fantasy quarterback, and a strong threat to do damage on the ground. His receiving corps does not benefit from the team’s run-first philosophy, with none of the team’s wideouts among the top-40 in terms of FPts/G. It’s tough to foresee anything but the status quo this week for Newton, Brandon LaFell, Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, which means they should be on the outside of fantasy lineups looking in.

New England allowed 400 passing yards and four touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger in their last game, but they had a big lead and forced the Steelers to throw, so the numbers are a bit misleading. And though the Patriots have faced a number of ordinary quarterbacks (Josh Freeman, EJ Manuel, Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith – twice), they did hold Drew Brees to 236 yards and two scores and for the season rank 12th in pass defense, ninth in passing scores allowed, fifth in interceptions, and eighth in sacks. They are allowing the 13th-fewest FPts/G to QBs, are 15th in FPts/G allowed to WRs, and have given up the 10th-fewest FPts/G to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: Jonathan Stewart has returned from injury, and predictably is the team’s top back once again. He effectively killed off Mike Tolbert’s fantasy value and knowing who is going to be the team’s top rusher between Stewart, Newton and DeAngelo Williams is anybody’s guess. I’ve long stayed away from the frustrating timeshare in the Carolina backfield, but suppose if there were one back I’d turn to, it’d be Stewart, though hesitantly so, even against the below average New England rush defense.

The Patriots have had their share of difficulty to say the least against opposing running games, and rank 30th in rush defense and 22nd in YPC allowed for the season. They’ve surrendered only four rushing touchdowns, which is sixth in the league, yet have allowed the 11th-most FPts/G and 10th-most receiving yards to RBs. New England consistently gives up yards to runners, with seven backs gaining at least 50 rushing yards against them in their last five games.

Cam Newton: 200 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 65 rec yds
Steve Smith: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 35 rec yds
Ted Ginn, Jr.: 20 rec yds
Jonathan Stewart: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 35 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 15 rush yds

Prediction: Patriots 24, Panthers 21 ^ Top

Vikings @ Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: One of the most confusing and most despicable quarterback situations has continued to unravel in Minnesota this season. Christian Ponder would be the starter if he was not injured, but a dislocated left shoulder in last Sunday’s win over the Redskins has his status in question. As such, the Vikings haven’t yet named a starter as of Thursday, only noting that it will either be Ponder or Matt Cassel. Ponder himself has said that the shoulder feels better than he expected it to, and he was already planning on playing, so chances are good that we will see him back in the starter role in Week 11. Those looking for a desperation play at quarterback may look toward Ponder, who is coming off of his first multi-touchdown passing day of the season. Don’t be overly confident with him, but Ponder has looked better in recent weeks. What hasn’t been so good, though, is the help he has around him. With 2012 Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph still expected to be out another month-or-so, veteran John Carlson stepped up this past week into the starting tight end role in impressive fashion. Carlson led the team when he caught seven passes for 98 yards and a touchdown in the win over Washington.

Carlson won’t have it so easy this week as he goes up a superb Seattle defense that has allowed just three touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season and only one game of over 65 yards to the position. Carlson has always been a reliable short-yardage pass catcher, but he has never really turned it into much fantasy relevancy. Don’t expect that to change with the likes of Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel behind center. Other receivers in the Minnesota offense have continued to struggle as neither Jerome Simpson nor Greg Jennings has gone over the 60-yard mark or scored a touchdown since their Week 4 dual-breakout. Simpson is expected to play in Week 11 despite an arrest earlier this month for suspicion of drunk driving. Simpson was suspended for the first three games of the 2012 for a similar offense and his punishment could come down any day. Perhaps the only player with any fantasy intrigue at all in this passing game is rookie wideout Cordarrelle Patterson, who was on the field for nearly 40 percent of the Vikings’ offensive snaps a week ago; his highest total of the year. Patterson is a dynamic playmaker who scored his first receiving touchdown against the Redskins in Week 10 and whose 6’2”, 220 lb frame makes him the team’s best red zone passing target going forward. He has also scored twice in the return game this season, which is a potential added bonus. Patterson’s value is limited to a WR4 or very low-end FLEX option for most leagues, but he does make for an intriguing option for those leagues that score return yardage. All of the Vikings pass-catchers will have trouble against a Seattle defense that ranks third in the league in shutting down opposing wide receivers this season. The Seahawks have only allowed six receivers to score against them all season and they’ve only allowed one team’s receivers to score more than once. As has been the case most weeks, it’s going to be tough to trust any member of the Minnesota passing game in your fantasy lineup.

Running Game Thoughts: Although he “only” rushed for 75 yards against the Redskins in Week 10, fantasy owners had nothing to complain about as the consensus top overall pick in the preseason as Adrian Peterson gave his owners their third two-touchdown performance on the ground. Peterson may not be the No. 1 scoring back in the league this season but he has been elite producer almost every single week and would still likely be the top-drafted back in most scoring formats if we were redrafting today. Peterson has been an absolute animal on a team that has struggled in just about every other facet of the game. He has now rushed for at least one touchdown in three straight games and has averaged over 112 total yards per game during that stretch. In Week 11, he’ll have an interesting test against a Seattle defense that has been shaky against the run as of late.

Unlike many of the other top teams in the league, Seattle hasn’t exactly been blowing out their opponents, which has allowed teams like Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Houston to all run the ball with some effectiveness. In those three games, the Seahawks allowed a combined 497 rushing yards while each team ran the ball 33-plus times. If and when Adrian Peterson gets that kind of a workload, he has shown time and time again that he can do some serious damage. Peterson ran for 182 yards and two scores the last time he played Seattle back in Week 9 of the 2012 season—his best fantasy performance of the season. Certainly Seattle will be focused on slowing down the reigning NFL MVP, but stacking eight or nine men in the box has not necessarily slowed Peterson down in the past. Although this looks like a tough matchup at first glance due to the hype that the Seattle defense gets, there is no reason for fantasy owners to begin making rash decisions. If he is on your team and suits up, Adrian Peterson needs to be in your weekly fantasy lineup each and every week.

Christian Ponder: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Adrian Peterson: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Cordarrelle Patterson: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Jennings: 35 rec yds
Jerome Simpson: 30 rec yds
John Carlson: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After saving the day for fantasy owners with some impressive rushing performances that made up for some ugly passing days earlier this season, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson appears to be finding his groove again. He has now thrown multiple touchdown passes in four straight contests—nine total during that stretch—and has thrown just two interceptions since Week 5. Wilson has been playing behind a patchwork offensive line that has played terribly, causing him to take significantly more hits as of late than he had prior to the injuries. Three of the linemen are considered possibilities to return to the lineup this week, including offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini, along with center Max Unger, which should give Wilson more time to get things done. In addition to the offensive line coming together, Wilson is also expected to get his first opportunity to play with the team’s biggest offseason acquisition, Percy Harvin, who has missed the first 10 weeks of the season with a hip injury. Harvin has been practicing for weeks and appears ready to suit up against his former team, the Minnesota Vikings, who are currently the NFL’s second-worst defense in allowing fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.

The Vikings have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in eight of their first ten games this season. Minnesota hasn’t held an opposing quarterback to under 200 yards passing yet this year and even though Wilson is averaging just 213 yards per game, he seems to be almost a lock for a solid fantasy day against this terrible defense. With Sidney Rice on the IR, it has been the team’s other receivers including Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and even Jermaine Kearse who have stepped up in a big way. Tate is coming off of a six catch, 106-yard and a touchdown performance a week ago, while Doug Baldwin has back-to-back games of 75-plus yards receiving and Kearse has scored his third and fourth touchdowns of the year over his past two contests. With Harvin coming back, expect Kearse to be the player who sees his value impacted the most. Although Harvin’s game most accurately mirrors that of Golden Tate among the group, the Seahawks would be hard pressed to sit Tate just to get Harvin on the field when they are down a player like Sidney Rice. Harvin will likely be on some sort of a snap count which will limit his upside but the “revenge against former team” angle cannot be overlooked in this one. Harvin is a boom-or-bust WR3 option in Week 11. The most likely player to continue his fantasy success seems to be Golden Tate, who has been the team’s top-scoring receiver so far in 2013. Tate has only caught fewer than three passes in one game so far and currently finds himself on pace to catch roughly 65 balls on the year. While those numbers aren’t spectacular, they do make him a low-end WR3 option and he is riding a bit of a hot streak with two games of 90-plus yards and three total touchdowns over this past three games. While Baldwin and Kearse are both likely to see the field some and make a few catches, neither player has shown that they are very consistent and should only be in fantasy lineups in very deep leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: An ugly Week 8 performance against the Rams is now a thing of the past as Marshawn Lynch has had his best two rushing performances of the season over his past two games. Lynch continues to be one of the most consistently excellent producers in the league and has now been in double-digit fantasy production (standard scoring) in 12 of his past 15 regular season games. Better yet, Lynch has been doing this with a banged up offensive line in front of him. Lynch is a yards-after-contact juggernaut who can do serious damage when he gets to the second level. With three of his five starting offensive linemen in consideration to return this week, things could conceivably get even better.

The Vikings have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season and have allowed two games of 140+ rushing yards to the Packers and Redskins over their past three contests. Minnesota has allowed 13 or more fantasy points (standard scoring) in seven of their first nine games this season and have averaged allowing 19.2 points to the position on the year. When these two teams played back in 2012, Lynch put up 150 total yards and a touchdown. With Lynch running as hard as anyone in the league, the Vikings playing badly on defense, and the Seahawks offensive line finally getting healthy, this could be the recipe for a big fantasy day. Proudly insert Lynch into your starting lineup as usual.

Russell Wilson: 225 pass yds, 2 TD, 30 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 85 rush yds, 2 TD, 10 rec yds
Golden Tate: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 50 rec yds
Percy Harvin: 40 rec yds, TD
Jermaine Kearse: 25 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 31, Vikings 17 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Kansas City fans are hoping that an extra week off due to the bye week will allow quarterback Alex Smith to get into better rhythm with his receivers as they head into their biggest game of the season. Despite a spotless record, Alex Smith simply hasn’t been producing for fantasy owners. Despite preseason expectations that he would be one of the better QB2’s in the league, Smith has barely even been that. While he’s currently ranked as the No. 13 quarterback in standard scoring formats, he has had three games of 8 or fewer fantasy points in his previous five contests. Worse yet, Smith has failed to throw a touchdown in four of his past five games. If the Chiefs hope to stay in this game, they’re going to need Smith to show up. They’re also going to need their top receiver, Dwayne Bowe, to prove that he’s still a high quality receiver (no pun intended). For as bad as Smith has been recently, Bowe has been even worse. Only his woes have lasted all season. Bowe is yet to hit the 70-yard mark as a receiver. He has also only scored twice on the year and hasn’t been in the end zone since Week 4. Unfortunately for Chiefs fans, there really hasn’t been anyone stepping up in Bowe’s absence in the passing game. Donnie Avery had a few nice games earlier in the year, but has not even had 35 yards receiving in any of his past four contests. He has not scored a touchdown since Week 1. The big play receiver in this offense has actually been the team’s best return man, Dexter McCluster, who has 13 catches in his past three contest. Still, McCluster is as inconsistent as they come and certainly capable of going catchless even against this less-than-stellar Denver defense.

The Broncos have certainly struggled against opposing quarterbacks this season, most notably when they went up against Tony Romo a few weeks back. Since that awful five touchdown-allowed performance, however, the Broncos have allowed just five total passing touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks in their past four games combined. Lots has been made about the Chiefs getting after Peyton Manning, but with Von Miller finally getting back into form and likely to be lined up against Chiefs rookie tackle Eric Fischer, Kansas City could be in trouble. Fischer has struggled against lesser players and the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year will have an opportunity to do some serious damage. It’s tough to trust anyone in this Kansas City passing game due to the playcalling in the Chiefs offense, but Smith could attempt more passes in this game than any other he plays in this season. Given that, he’s likely a mid-level QB2. Unfortunately, no one else in this passing offense is really worth trusting with a fantasy roster spot at this point.

Running Game Thoughts: If there has been one constant in the Chiefs offense this season, it has been the excellent play of running back Jamaal Charles who continues to prove why he was well worth a first round fantasy football draft pick this off-season. Charles had been over 100 total yards in every game prior to his most recent game against the Bills. In that game, he fell four yards shy of 100, but who’s going to complain about that? He’s always been a very good pass catcher, but his success as a receiver has been even more impressive in 2013. He’s currently on pace for 84 receptions for 692 yards. It goes without saying that this makes him one of the most valuable players in PPR formats, but Charles is still the top scoring fantasy running back in standard scoring formats. The Chiefs will need to lean heavily on Charles once again as they hope to move the ball down the field to keep the Broncos’ high-octane offense off the field, so expect him to get plenty of touches both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield.

Charles will be looking to do better in 2013 than he did in 2012 against this Denver defense when he ran for a total of 160 total yards his two contests against the Broncos. One thing that fantasy owners should be aware of is that Denver does have a few linebackers, such as Danny Trevathan, who have the skills to closely cover running backs in the passing game out of the backfield. Charles caught only one pass in his two games against the Broncos a season ago. Of course, this is a vastly different offensive system, but Charles may have more trouble than usual. Still, Charles remains an absolute must-start no matter the format and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Alex Smith: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 45 rec yds
Dexter McCluster: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Dwayne Bowe: 40 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The most talked about game in the NFL this week centers around Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and his injured ankles. Manning, who has not missed any playing time, has battled a few minor injuries throughout the year and has missed some practice time this week. Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young even suggested that Manning sit this week and rest his body for a playoff run. As of right now, however, there are no reports that Manning will heed Young’s advice and sport a headset over a helmet this weekend. A win will mean that the Broncos take back the lead in the AFC West, and there’s just no way that Peyton Manning is going to let that opportunity go by. Manning and the Broncos will be up against a Kansas City defense that has been unbelievable this season. The Chiefs haven’t allowed more than 17 points in any game this season.

While they have not exactly played against a world class group of quarterbacks in recent weeks, there is no denying that this defense is the reason that Kansas City is the lone team remaining with a perfect record. No team has better weapons in their passing game than the Broncos and this will unquestionably be the biggest test of the season for the Chiefs defense. Rumors around the Kansas City camp are that Eric Decker could be shadowed quite a bit by safety Eric Berry. Although he is a big, strong and fast safety, this could be a net win for the Broncos overall. Decker has 3” and weight on Berry. Current reports are that cornerback Brandon Flowers will see a lot of action against the NFL’s leading touchdown scorer at the wide receiver position, Wes Welker. Welker has been integrated seamlessly from the New England offense to the Denver offense and he and Peyton Manning are already one of the very best duos in the league. Meanwhile, Flowers has struggled at times this season. We’ve seen him take a beating from the likes of Dez Bryant and although Welker is not the physically imposing force that Bryant is, he is perhaps the best route-runner in the league and Flowers is just getting his feet wet covering slot receivers. If this is the matchup, Welker could still produce, but he won’t likely have a huge game. If Berry is on Decker and Flowers is on Welker, that would likely mean that wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will be covered by cornerback Sean Smith. Smith has had his moments this year, but this would certainly be his most difficult test of the season. All three Broncos wide receivers are must-starts as usual, as is tight end Julius Thomas. Thomas is still nursing a sore ankle, but had no problem breaking off a 74-yard touchdown a week ago, proving that he can still outrun defenses. With an extra week to heal, one has to believe that Thomas could be in for another nice day. The only potential problem for Thomas’ fantasy owners is that the Chiefs have been so good against opposing tight ends this season. They’re the only team that has not allowed a single touchdown to the position yet this season and only one team (CLE) has even cracked 50 yards receiving against this defense. Still, given Thomas’ skills and the relative lack of depth at the tight end position this season, it’s hard to believe that fantasy owners have better options than Thomas heading into Week 11. Place him in your lineup as usual, but do so with the understanding that this might be a “down” week for one of 2013’s biggest breakout players.

Running Game Thoughts: Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno continued with his surprising return-to-glory season this past week when he put together an impressive 114 total yard performance in Denver’s win over San Diego. Moreno has now gone over 100 total yards in back-to-back games and it is his usage in the passing game that has been so helpful in fantasy circles. He has made 29 catches over just this past five games alone. Those in PPR formats have really appreciated Moreno’s receptions as he has been a surprising contributor in that scoring system, but even non-PPR fantasy owners have loved what they’ve been getting from Moreno. The Broncos tailback has hit double digit fantasy point totals (standard scoring) in each of his past six games, making him one of the most consistently productive players in all of fantasy football.

This may be the toughest challenge he faces all season, however, as he goes up against a Kansas City defense that has done very well against opposing running backs. The Chiefs have held opposing running backs to fewer than 70 yards on the ground in six of their first nine contests. There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however, as they have allowed 86, 165 and 214 rushing yards in the other three games. Most recently, Kansas City struggled mightily to slow down the Bills when C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson combined to run the ball 34 times for 214 yards, also adding an additional 61 yards in the receiving game. Moreno doesn’t have quite the dynamic playmaking ability that Spiller does but it’s going to come down to opportunity in this one. With Peyton Manning still hobbled a bit with sore ankles, the Broncos could certainly run the ball 20-plus times in this contest. Although Kansas City has mostly been good against the run this season, it’s hard to bench a player like Moreno who has done nothing but produce. Put him in your lineup as usual as a low-end RB1, high-end RB2.

Peyton Manning: 310 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Knowshon Moreno: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Eric Decker: 80 rec yds, TD
Demaryius Thomas: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Julius Thomas: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 31, Chiefs 20 ^ Top

Jets at Bills - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: There are 16 teams in the NFL with non-losing records and only two of those teams have a negative point differential on the year, one of which is the Jets. Despite being above .500 and going 2–1 in the division, New York has the sixth worst point differential in the league and has alternated wins and losses for the entire season up until their bye in Week 10. The team tends to go as their talented but inconsistent rookie quarterback goes, which isn’t surprising by any means but plays out rather predictably when results are compared to statistics. In games where Geno Smith threw at least as many touchdowns as interceptions the Jets won; in those victories he has seven TDs and four INTs. In the losses he has thrown more picks than scores by a total of nine to one. As a rookie Smith isn’t yet able to have his play overcome some of the mistakes he makes through inexperience, and this inconsistency has led the Jets toward the bottom of team passing rankings with only 202 yards per game. Not helping Smith's situation any is an offensive line that has surrendered 31 sacks on the year, tied for fourth worst in the league. At any rate, New York has not seen anyone step up to fill the No. 1 wide receiver void left by the injured Santonio Holmes, ultimately capping the upside of Smith regardless of how well he plays during any particular week.

Despite losing three straight, Buffalo has still been able to do what they do best, pressuring the quarterback and recording sacks; they have ten in the last three games and 33 on the season, which is second best in the league. That pressure has also led to interceptions, of which they have 13, tied for best in the NFL. Other defensive statistics are far less impressive, as the Bills have a high-risk/high-reward philosophy when it comes to slowing down the passing game. They give up 239 yards per game and 7.1 per attempt, both of which rank right in the middle of the pack, and the 21 touchdowns they’ve surrendered this season are tied for worst. Their defensive schemes combined with the Jets' offensive inconsistencies pave the way for three entirely different scenarios: everything goes the Jets' way, everything goes the Bills' way, or the inconsistencies balance out and the game stays incredibly close. Based on the win-one-then-lose-one pattern, New York is arguably due for a defeat, and seeing how Buffalo creates pressure while the Jets give up plenty of sacks, the most likely outcome for Sunday is that Smith will be forced into mistakes and the aerial attack will be grounded because of it.

Running Game Thoughts: Even with the inconsistencies of their passing attack, the Jets have generally been able to rely on production from the ground game, and in several instances this has all but won the game for them. Their lowest rushing output of the season has been 83 yards, which came in a loss against the Steelers despite their averaging 4.2 yards per carry. At the other end of the spectrum is their 198-yard performance (5.5-yard average) in a win against the Saints. On the season they’re a top ten rushing offense averaging 129 yards per game and 4.2 per carry. The only area in which they’re below average (in the bottom ten, in fact) is touchdowns scored (5), but as a team that thrives on defense and time of possession, low scores are almost expected. In the two games in which Chris Ivory has received 13 or more carries, he has gained more than 100 yards and his team has won each contest, beating the Saints and Patriots. Only once has he scored a touchdown this season, but his primary contribution to the game plan is grinding out yards on the ground and taking pressure off of his young quarterback.

Across the line of scrimmage the Bills defense appears to perfectly complement the success Ivory has seen this season; they give up over 117 yards per game (bottom third of the league) but have only surrendered three rushing touchdowns (tied for fourth best). New York should continue to see success as they move the ball down the field but will likely encounter difficulties in the red zone much as they have all season. Fortunately, they have the ultimate X-factor in Smith, and his mobility has been key to both extending drives and improvising scores inside the red zone; he has three rushing touchdowns this year and the Jets have won every game in which he has scored with his legs. While relying on a rookie’s decision making is often the downfall of an offense, it has been beneficial for New York to allow Smith the freedom to scramble and make decisions in the open field, using his athleticism to make plays.

Geno Smith: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 30 rush yds
Chris Ivory: 80 rush yds
Santonio Holmes: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Amazingly, the lesser of the two passing attacks may actually belong to Buffalo in this weekend’s matchup, as they average ten fewer yards per contest (192) and over a full yard less per attempt (6.0). Unlike the Jets, however, the home team has started three different quarterbacks this season, though they finally have their opening-day starter back under center. EJ Manuel was injured in Week 5 and returned to the field last week in the loss to Pittsburgh after missing over four weeks. In the past six weeks, including the game in which he was injured, the Bills have won only once, and in the past three contests they were unable to score more than 17 points. In his only full game since September, Manuel completed 56 percent of his passes for only 155 yards while throwing one touchdown and one interception, right in line with the Bills' season completion percentage and TD–INT ratio, though slightly below the already underwhelming yardage average. Wide receiver Steve Johnson (groin, questionable) was unable to complete the Week 10 contest and still managed to lead the team in receiving yards despite not breaking 50 and being targeted ten times (three receptions).

Even without Manuel in mid-season form and Johnson fully available, Buffalo may still be able to throw the ball against the Jets and their bottom ten pass defense. They’re about average in sacks recorded and yards per attempt, but are near the bottom in yards against and touchdowns allowed, suggesting that they don’t frequently give up big plays through the air but are susceptible to getting beaten by the pass fairly consistently; teams don’t need to attack them deep down the field often because the short and intermediate passing game tends to work well enough on its own. The problem that has limited the Bills all year is their shortage of top-end receivers, but with Johnson on the field and rookie Robert Woods across from him, defenses have two deep threats to consider, which at least opens up the field for tight end Scott Chandler and each of the running backs to contribute through the air. If Buffalo can keep pressure off of their rookie quarterback and improve on their bottom four sack numbers (31 surrendered), they can keep the game close enough to win it late in front of the home crowd.

Running Game Thoughts: With or without Manuel in the lineup, Buffalo is a run-first team and when healthy has one of the best pairs of running backs in the league; with stars on other teams injured or unavailable, it’s possible that the best tandem currently in the NFL resides in the Bills' backfield. Between Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller alone, the team would average over 110 yards per game(55.7 yards per game each). But they also get occasional contributions from Tashard Choice and scrambles from Manuel. In total, Buffalo averages over 140 yards per game and 4.3 per carry while having recorded eight rushing touchdowns, marks that are exceeded by only four teams in the league. Unfortunately, the ability to run the ball hasn’t correlated with victories, with yardages totals having no causal relationship with the outcome of the game. Even considering the four teams with quantitatively better rushing attacks, two of those four have the same 3-6 record as Buffalo. The NFL is often referred to as a passing league, and while the inability to run the ball is often symptomatic of other issues, a legitimate rushing attack still yields to the strength of the passing game.

The normally superb Buffalo running game will be put to the test Sunday against a Jets defense that ranks as far and away the best at stopping the run; their yards per game (73.8) and per rush (3.1) are both best in the league. Partially because of the strength of the rush defense and the relative weakness of the pass defense, there are only two other teams that have faced fewer runs than New York has, and if this continues, the Bills are certainly going to be putting too much pressure on Manuel to take control of the game. Even though the New York defense wants to stop the run, Buffalo will have to commit to the ground game and the hands of veteran players like Jackson and Spiller instead of a rookie who has recently returned from injury. With their running backs both available, the Bills will not have to worry about keeping a runner fresh and will need only focus on discovering what will work against a Jets defense that has been impressive all season. Using the run to set up the pass will be essential in buying time for Manuel, but without an established ground game, the defense will be able to focus in on the rookie and possibly add to the offensive woes frequently experienced by the Bills.

EJ Manuel: 180 pass yds, 1 TD / 10 rush yds
C.J. Spiller: 30 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Marquise Goodwin: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Jets 17, Bills 16 ^ Top

Redskins at Eagles - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: In the past three weeks Washington has enjoyed the benefits of playing against three of the worst five passing defenses in the league, though looking at box scores from those contests may not show it. Over that span, Robert Griffin III (and Kirk Cousins in a brief period of relief) has thrown four touchdowns and five interceptions while averaging 250.6 yards per game, which is statistically lower than their season average. Despite the relative caliber of their opponents, the Redskins couldn’t perform like the top ten passing offense they’ve been in 2013. Not surprisingly, they lost two of those three games by an average score of 36–24, including their overtime victory at home against San Diego. It took several weeks for Griffin to trust his legs again, and that has greatly improved his game recently, but the primary fault with Washington continues to be the offensive line. As a unit, the O-line is one dimensional, and that single area of greatness does not encompass pass protection; even though they’ve only surrendered 18 sacks this season (sixth best in the league), the quarterback is constantly under pressure, and that has contributed to an average or worse number of interceptions, touchdowns, and completion percentage for the year, three items you wouldn’t expect from a team throwing for 259 yards (top ten) every week.

This will mark the fourth week in a row that Washington faces a bottom five pass defense, and this one will be statistically the worst of the bunch. Philadelphia gives up 307 yards per game through the air, which is second worst in the league; they’ve also allowed 15 passing touchdowns (near average), and are one interception shy of leading the league in that category. Most of that can be rationalized by understanding that the Eagles have had more passes attempted (and completed) against them than anyone else in the NFL, despite their having held opponents to a slightly worse than average completion percentage. Teams have determined that the best way to beat Philadelphia is by committing to throw against them, and most have been effective doing just that. Washington will be tasked with slowing down the below-average Eagles pass rush, and if they’re able to effectively protect their young quarterback, Griffin will have time to pick apart a Philadelphia secondary that has underperformed all season.

Running Game Thoughts: The weakness of their opponent may be in stopping the pass, but the strength of the Redskins is in their rushing offense; they are third overall in yards per game (2.3 behind first place) and are tied for the best yards per attempt at 5.1, one of only two teams at or above five yards per carry. But running the ball still may not be enough for Washington, for as good as they are on the ground, they’ve yet to run frequently enough to force their opponent to wholly commit to stopping that facet of their offense. Of course they would like to have a balanced offense, but if one aspect can’t be stopped by the defense, why voluntarily stop themselves? On the season, the Redskins have passed 52 more times than they’ve rushed, and considering that they gain half of a first down every time they run the ball, that ratio should be turned around or even further exaggerated. The primary workhorse for Washington has been Alfred Morris, who averages 91.7 yards per game, doing most of his damage in the open field. In the red zone the ball gets handed off to others more frequently, with Morris accounting for only five of the 12 total touchdowns scored by running backs. The X-factor in the running game is the contribution from Griffin, who after getting several games under his belt is now back to his duel-threat ways, averaging 45.8 yards per game with his legs.

Against the run, Philadelphia falls comfortably into the middle of the pack in the major statistics, with the exception of attempts faced. Their offense tends to be fast paced, allowing their opponents more plays against the defense, effectively skewing what would otherwise be a decent, though not great, run defense. Compared to their poor pass defense, having mediocre rankings against the run makes that aspect of their game seem like a strength. The defensive line is strong, especially at the ends in this 3-4 scheme, and the linebackers are effective in filling gaps and stopping the run before it reaches the next level. Much like the blue-collar city itself, Philadelphia's front seven is hard-working and generally not flashy but gets the results the team needs. The defense gets a bad rap for giving up so many points, but considering that Green Bay, Seattle, and San Francisco have very similar run defense numbers, the blame should absolutely fall on another aspect of the game.

Robert Griffin III: 260 pass yds, 2 TDs / 30 rush yds
Alfred Morris: 100 rush yds, 1 TD
Pierre Garcon: 80 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: If it hasn’t been done already, we can now add Philadelphia to the list of teams that play better with their backup quarterback than their starter, making them at least the fifth (if not the eighth) team to have had that revelation in 2013. Excluding the season opener, Nick Foles has appeared in all four of the remaining victories earned by the Eagles thus far, has a 3–0 record as a starter (in games he has completed) this season, and regardless of who else has played for Philadelphia, has been the better performer in each of the five contests in which he has appeared. He’s thrown 15 touchdowns and no interceptions, and despite playing in portions of only five games this season, he is the leading passer on the team in every category in which it is good to be the leader. Since Foles took over the starting role, the Eagles are 4–1 and tied for first in the division; a win over Washington would give them a half-game lead over Dallas since they’re on bye this week. Through roughly four and a half games this season, Foles has thrown for 1,207 yards and 16 scores with a completion percentage better than 63.3. Projected over a 16-game season, that would give him 268 yards and 3.5 touchdowns per game, totaling almost 4,300 yards and 57 touchdowns on the season.

Nothing Washington has done to this point in the season suggests that they’ll be able to slow down the Eagles passing attack. In Week 1 against Michael Vick they allowed 203 pass yards and two touchdowns on 60 percent completions, and by all objective measures Foles has outperformed Vick by leaps and bounds. The Redskins surrender 275 yards per game, have given up 19 touchdowns while forcing only 10 interceptions, and have recorded a below-average 22 sacks on the season while allowing 66.5 percent completions against, which is fourth worst in the NFL. They don’t defend the pass well, they don’t force turnovers, they don’t get to the quarterback regularly, and they give up touchdowns almost consistently. On top of that, they’re catching the Eagles currently riding a 4–1 record and motivated to pick up a win and take over first place in the division in front of the home crowd. It’s still the NFC East and strange things have happened in this division all season, but looking at both the numbers on paper and the performances on screen, it’s hard to imagine the potent Eagles passing attack being derailed by the Redskins defense.

Running Game Thoughts: For as much attention as is paid to the passing attack, the strength of Philadelphia is still in their ability to run the ball. In yards per game and per attempt they’re the best in the business, and they’re right in the middle of the pack when it comes to rushing touchdowns, likely because the offense had consistency problems early in the season and now has a highly efficient passing attack that has been finishing off drives. Because of the nature of the offense, the running game is most effective in the middle of the field where the defense is spread out, and that creates more opportunities for mismatches to exploit. LeSean McCoy averages 93.2 yards per game and 4.8 per carry and leads the league with 1,258 yards from scrimmage. The only downside of a strong passing attack is that the running game can sometimes be used less frequently, as three of the past five games have seen—though in the other two, McCoy recorded over 160 total yards from scrimmage. He has scored only one touchdown (receiving) since Foles took over, however.

The same mediocrity that affects the Redskins pass defense also permeates what they’re able to do against the run, and against McCoy and the Eagles' offensive scheme, that likely won’t be good enough. Veteran left tackle Jason Peters is listed as questionable (leg) for Sunday’s game, and his potential absence is about the only thing that may be working in Washington's favor . In Week 1 the Redskins gave up 184 yards and one touchdown to McCoy on 31 carries, an average of 5.9 yards despite having no single rush longer than 34 yards. And the team recorded 79 yards on top of what the star running back earned, making a total of 263 yards, two touchdowns, and 5.4 yards per carry. While that was the Redskins' worst defense performance against the run this season, it was also the best ground game they’ve faced, and if Week 11 goes anything like Week 1, it’s going to be a long day for Washington. And that's not accounting for the noticeable improvements made to the Philadelphia passing game since their first meeting.

Nick Foles: 280 pass yds, 3 TDs
LeSean McCoy: 100 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
DeSean Jackson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Riley Cooper: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Eagles 42, Redskins 31 ^ Top

Chargers at Dolphins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: One of the biggest fantasy surprises this season has been the resurgence of Philip Rivers, coming off a pair of woefully underwhelming seasons and having arguably the least talent around him in recent history because of preseason injuries. Even with those circumstances, Rivers is completing a career high 71.6 percent of his passes in leading the fourth most productive passing offense in the NFL with 289 yards per game. San Diego is better than average in both touchdowns scored and interceptions thrown, and the number of sacks they’ve given up (16) is tied for fourth best in the league. Rivers may face a little more pressure this weekend after left tackle King Dunlap strained his neck last week against Denver and his status for Week 11 has yet to be determined. Additionally, center Nick Hardwick left that game with a relatively simple injury, though up to that point he had been the only Chargers lineman to play every snap of the season. With a revolving offensive line, San Diego has seen inconsistencies all season, and Rivers has certainly noticed an increase in pressure after positions and personnel were shuffled to account for the new injures, a trend which unfortunately is likely to continue on Sunday.

Despite losing five of their last six games and not having a regulation victory in nearly two full months, the Dolphins pass defense falls right in the middle of most statistical categories. The major exception to that is their being one of five teams to have forced more interceptions than touchdowns allowed, and they’re also slightly above average in sacks recorded, including the game-winning play in their overtime victory against Cincinnati. As a pass defense, Miami hasn’t allowed a multiple-touchdown performance since Week 4, the beginning of their 1–5 skid. They have recording seven interceptions during that time compared to only two touchdowns allowed. With a reasonable yardage average and a stingy scoring record, the Dolphins should be one of the best pass defenses San Diego has faced since opening weekend against Houston, a game in which Rivers threw for only 195 yards and less than 50 percent passing but still managed four touchdowns and only one interception, accounting for all 28 of his team’s points.

Running Game Thoughts: The leadership of Rivers accommodates for the offensive line struggles when San Diego chooses to pass, but their running game is much more susceptible to the inconsistencies. The team is averaging 106.8 rush yards per game and has scored only four touchdowns on the ground, better than only four other teams. The most surprising injury news is that star running back Ryan Mathews hasn’t been forced to miss a game this year after the first three years of his career have been sprinkled with missed games, hesitant performances, and questionable availability. In 2013 he has the majority of the rushes for San Diego, and despite early reports of a committee backfield situation, he has more than doubled the production and attempts of fellow running back Danny Woodhead. The key to the Chargers' success may be in getting Mathews going on the ground. In games where he has recorded more than 60 rushing yards, the team has won; and in games where he has not reached that mark, his team has lost.

Even though the weakness of San Diego lies in their running game, that is also the weakness of the Miami defense they’ll be facing on Sunday. The Dolphins are a bottom ten defense, giving up 119.1 yards per game and just under four yards per carry. The relatively low per-carry average suggests that the Dolphins don’t give up big plays particularly often but that in a methodical attack they can be beaten by consistently pounding the ball in the ground game. In their Week 10 loss to previously winless Tampa Bay they allowed more than 140 rush yards, with three different players recording more than 40 yards each and two of those three averaging more than five and a half yards per carry. Miami is one of only eight teams to have given up double-digit rushing touchdowns, reinforcing the fact that in short-yardage or red zone situations they’re generally unable to come up with critical stops. If San Diego is able to consistently pick up a few yards at a time by running Mathews and Woodhead, they should be able to control the game and secure a victory.

Philip Rivers: 230 pass yds, 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 70 rush yds, 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Keenan Allen: 80 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Though they tried to deny it, last week was anything but business as usual for the Dolphins, following the fallout from national media coverage and a league investigation. While that all is ongoing, it is now one week removed from being new, so hopefully Miami can begin to refocus on football and move those distractions to the background. To his credit, quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a remarkably normal outing against Tampa Bay, throwing for 229 yards on 64 percent passing with more touchdowns than interceptions, nearly mirroring his season averages of 217 yards and 61 percent, again with more scores than picks. The most notable difference between Week 10 and the season averages was the number of sacks conceded, as Tannehill took only two after previously averaging four per game for a league worst 37. The offensive line is still missing the two starters from its left side, so the likelihood of keeping sack numbers low for a second week in a row is not good. Troubles along the O-line have plagued the Dolphins for the majority of 2013 and will continue to be the primary hindrance between the team and the winning ways to which they’re trying to return.

If the offensive line is able to buy time for Tannehill, he’s likely to find plenty of opportunities for success against a Chargers defense that ranks in the bottom five of yards allowed and has given up 14 touchdowns while forcing only four interceptions, though three of them have come in the past four games. The key to success for either time will be in affecting quarterback pressure; San Diego is below average in sacks recorded, so that battle of weaknesses will be central in determining the outcome of the game. The primary weakness of the Chargers defense is their secondary, so wide receiver Mike Wallace may once again become fantasy relevant, at least for this week, as he may finally be able to beat coverages with consistency. The play of wide receiver Rishard Matthews in Week 10 gives Miami a solid slot receiver to complement Wallace and Brian Hartline, potentially forcing the Chargers secondary into more one-on-one situations rather than allowing them to double team the speedy star wideout, clearly something with which Wallace has struggled for most of this season.

Running Game Thoughts: Two weeks ago Lamar Miller had the first 100-yard rushing performance of his career. Last week he was the team’s leading rusher with two total yards. While neither of these accurately reflects him as a young player, they do in combination capture his skills rather well. His upside is phenomenal, with good speed and crafty moves in the open field; his floor is equally as impressive, though in exactly the opposite way. Without holes to run through, Miller has difficulty creating opportunities for himself and has had trouble turning a moderate gain into a breakaway run or in finding a way back to the line of scrimmage when plays get disrupted in the backfield. Much of this can be blamed on the offensive line, who even at full strength isn’t one of the better units in the NFL. But every bit a running back can do to help the big guys in front of him seems to pay its dividends down the road. There are a number of reasons Miami averages only 87 rushing yards per game and none of them can be fixed by resolving the scandal, investigation, and media circus that currently surrounds the organization.

Facing off against San Diego may give a boost to the running game, as the Chargers give up 144.6 yards per game and are one of only four teams yet to recover a fumble this season. San Diego is average with six rushing touchdowns scored against them, a number that stays reasonably low because most scores come from the passing game. They’re not particularly adept at slowing down the rush either, allowing 4.8 yards per carry for the season, the fourth worst mark in the league. To this point in 2013, teams have preferred to throw against San Diego and have been generally successful, making the Chargers' defensive woes on the ground all the more depressing. For the most part, San Diego wins by outscoring their opponents rather than holding their opponents to fewer points. If Miami can manage their offensive line, they should be able to run enough to keep the Chargers balanced on defense, ultimately opening up more opportunities in the passing game and using that to lead them to victory.

Ryan Tannehill: 210 pass yds, 1 TD
Lamar Miller: 40 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Mike Wallace: 70 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 20, Dolphins 17 ^ Top

Packers at Giants - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s hard to use a sample size of one as the basis for future predictions, but in the almost-entire game in which quarterback Scott Tolzien has led the Packers, his performance left something to be desired. He looked like a guy who was unexpectedly thrown into his first NFL game, which was in fact the situation in Week 10. His overall numbers weren’t bad—24 of 39 for 280 yards with a score and two picks—but some of his decisions weren’t the best and at times his throws were off target. Given a full week of starter’s preparation he ought to be in a better position for Week 11 against the Giants. After two and a half seasons on the practice squad Tolzien will make his first true start on Sunday, and much like last week, it is expected that his favorite target will continue to be wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, also a former practice squad player and one with whom the new quarterback clearly has a great deal of comfort. Last game Boykin recorded eight catches on 13 targets and turned them into 112 receiving yards, more than doubling the production of every other individual receiver on the team. With Randal Cobb still on IR, Boykin will continue to have opportunities to contribute to the offense, and as defenses focus on Jordy Nelson and James Jones, the recent call-up can use his existing relationship with Tolzien to be a fantasy contributor, as well as help out the Packers on Sundays.

On their current three-game winning streak, the Giants have not allowed a touchdown pass and have recorded four interceptions to go along with nine sacks, all of which are significant improvements over their prior six games of the season. To be fair, the talent of quarterbacks they have faced recently has not been the same as they faced to open the year. Now they get to face Tolzien rather than Aaron Rodgers, potentially paving the way to four wins in a row. During their streak, New York is averaging 166.7 yards against through the air and opponents are averaging less than 38 percent completions, both of which would be best in the league if spread across the season. Tolzien will have his work cut out for him as he squares off against the newly inspired Giants, and he will have to call on his years of experience managing an offense for the practice squad in order to lead the Packers to a road victory on Sunday.

Running Game Thoughts: Without Rodgers under center, the Packers gained only 99 yards on the ground in Week 10, well short of their 143.1 average. Much like his predecessor, Tolzien used his feet to pick up a big gain when the defense opened up in front of him, scrambling once for 19 yards. That means the rest of the team gained only 80 yards on 29 carries, a 2.8-yard average, two full yards short of their season mark. The ultimate contribution to the running game is the passing threat presented by Rodgers, forcing the defense to respect his abilities through the air and thus opening up running lanes on the ground. Since Week 5 against Detroit, Eddie Lacy have averaged 109 rushing yards; his lowest output was 82 yards, but in that contest he scored a touchdown, something he had done for three straight weeks when Rodgers was last the quarterback.

Much like the pass defense has seen a resurgence during the past three games, the Giants' ability to stop the rush has improved dramatically. During the streak, New York has allowed an average of only 61.7 yards per game, including holding Adrian Peterson to 28 and LeSean McCoy to 48 in back-to-back weeks. Without an elite passing threat to defend against, the Giants are able to remain balanced or even load up against the run, essentially forcing the outcome of the game onto the shoulders of the opposing quarterback. At home against a young player making his first NFL start, that strategy should pay off again. New York will likely stack the box against the run, forcing the Packers to try to take advantage of one-on-one matchups along the perimeter of the defense. If Green Bay can find success throwing or make appreciable gains on the ground in spite of the Giants' efforts, the game will likely come down to the final possession.

Scott Tolzien: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Eddie Lacy: 80 rush yds
Jordy Nelson: 60 rec yds
Jarrett Boykin: 70 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Giants have discovered that their key to victory is avoiding mistakes in the passing game; in the past three contests quarterback Eli Manning has thrown two touchdowns and one interception, with TD–INT ratios of 1–0, 0–0, and 1–1 respectively. Compared to the rest of the season (9–16), that is a drastic improvement. New York is slowly establishing themselves as a running team and is getting away from using Manning as their game winner, scaling back his role to allow him to manage the game and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves instead of trying to create opportunities where they are not. With the simplification of the offense there are fewer receiving yards to go around and certainly fewer touchdowns, but it has created a more balanced passing attack rather than focusing primarily on wide receiver Victor Cruz. While this change is generally good for the team, it is less than ideal for fantasy owners who have banked on Cruz’s big-play ability and the abundance of passes thrown his way. While he still possesses breakaway speed and can get open most anywhere on the field, for the time being his team is focusing less on the big play and is utilizing shorter passes and the running game to come out ahead.

If there were a perfect opponent for the Giants passing game, it just may be Green Bay. They are in the bottom half of the league in yards surrendered, have allowed 17 touchdowns, and have recorded a league worst three interceptions, meaning yardage should be available in bunches and there is minimal chance of passing plays resulting into turnovers. While the primary goal is undoubtedly to limit mistakes and maintain possession of the ball, it would behoove New York to use all of their players, especially their receivers, to the fullest of their abilities. Getting Cruz on the perimeter and sending him deep will open up the field for wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Ruben Randle and will also benefit the running game as more Green Bay defenders commit to defending the pass. Since putting up 31 in an opening-game loss at Dallas, the Giants have scored more than 21 points only three times, two of which occurred in the past three games, and in front of the home crowd, it would be good to show the league and all of their fans that they’re capable of putting up points and moving the ball down the field.

Running Game Thoughts: Welcome back, Andre Brown! After missing the first nine weeks to injury, Brown came off the IR and received 31 touches against the Raiders, which he turned into 119 total yards (one reception for four yards) and a touchdown. Thanks to the revolving door of running backs New York has used this year, their season average for yardage is only 76.9 and their per-carry mark is a mere 3.2 yards, third worst in the league. Throughout the preseason it was expected that Brown would be the primary back for the Giants, and in his only game this year, it appears as if the organization made the right choice in going with him. The offensive line still isn’t in great shape, but for the first time in a while it at least isn’t getting any worse. With one game under his belt and nearly three months without appreciable contact, Brown is still significantly more fresh and ready to go than every starting running back in the league. As such, his production should remain high as long as the O-line continues to work together and grow confident as they become increasingly more familiar with each other.

The Packers rush defense may play an additional role in convincing the Giants to attack them through the air. While not stellar, they rank in the top half of the league in most categories, and in longest rush allowed they have the second best mark (32 yards) on the season. They have given up seven rushing touchdowns, which is just worse than the league average, suggesting that in the red zone they are no more capable of stopping the rush than they are in the middle of the field, allowing teams the opportunity to get into the end zone on the ground or through the air. New York would be best suited in employing a balanced game plan for Week 11, focusing on all aspects of the offense, inside and outside rushes along with both deep and short passes. In their most recent contest, Green Bay allowed 204 rushing yards on 37 carries, including 155 to one player on just 25 touches; they also gave up 228 passing yards, further highlighting how a balanced Giants attack should lead to a victory and see them climb closer to the top of the division standings. Giving Brown another 30 or more carries will pay dividends in all phases of the game on Sunday.

Eli Manning: 200 pass yds
Andre Brown: 90 rush yds, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 70 rec yds

Prediction: Giants 20, Packers 16 ^ Top

Ravens @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: In a nutshell, the Ravens passing attack is below average and the Bears passing defense is the same. The Ravens have a decent set of skill players, but other than wide receiver Torrey Smith, they all seem to be having a down year, including Joe Flacco, who is completing just 59 percent of his passes (22nd in the NFL) and has thrown just one more touchdown than interceptions on the season. While some of this can be attributed to poor offensive line play and key injuries, in the end a good quarterback overcomes these things, and Flacco looks average at best this season. On the other side of the football, the Bears defense has also been decimated by injuries to key players including cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs. Consequently, the Bears are giving up the 10th most passing yards per game and have just 14 sacks on the year, second worst in the league. The only thing really saving the Bears from being a terrible defense (and a dream matchup in fantasy) is that they play a kind of bend-but-don’t-break style that has held opposing quarterbacks to just 14 passing touchdowns (tied for fifth least in the NFL), while picking off 12 balls, good for second highest in the league.

With all this being said, it is difficult to get a clear idea on who this specific matchup favors, as both sides of the ball are subpar and both are coming off poor statistical performances. While I would give a slight edge to the Bears here in a home game, the one player that I think can do some real damage is Torrey Smith. While Smith has had trouble scoring (2 TDs), he is racking up the yards and targets at a solid pace while facing some of the tougher pass defenses in the league, including the Browns twice. Against a depleted secondary that has let up five scores to opposing wide receivers the past four games, I expect Smith to have a big game here and perhaps carry the Ravens offense on his back. Smith is a high-end WR2 this week and should be started in all formats. No other receiver on this offense should be started, as there is just no real momentum or consistency behind any of these players right now. Flacco remains a lower-end QB2 again this week, although has some upside with the aforementioned Smith poised to have a big day. Overall, except for Smith, you can do a lot better than this Ravens squad for your fantasy football needs.

Running Game Thoughts: This could be the game where we know once and for all, at least for the rest of this season, whether Ray Rice has just been bad as a fluke or if something is really wrong. Rice is having a career-worst year and while injury, play-calling, and line play is certainly partly to blame, Rice has simply not looked like himself. While many believe Rice is playing hurt, the coaching staff acknowledged this week that they may be willing to go with the hot hand moving forward rather than show total confidence in Rice. What this means is that Bernard Pierce is expected to get a heavier workload than usual in an attempt to revitalize one of the NFL’s worst rushing attacks of the year. Whether or not Pierce capitalizes on this opportunity is another thing, as he has not been much better than Rice, but it still makes for some added drama and uncertainty in this now crowded backfield.

The good news for Rice and the Ravens is that this game should be a good showcase and possible kick-starter for the run game in general. The Bears are currently giving up the second most rushing yards per game and are the seventh friendliest to opposing fantasy RBs. While the Ravens defense should be able to keep the Cutler-less Bears offense in check, this game provides a great opportunity for the Ravens to re-feature the run with both running backs. With Torrey Smith taking the top off a weak Bears secondary, there should be open running room and the stage should be set for a better-than-usual day from the run game. This all sounds good on paper. but the Ravens are playing historically bad run offense, so this is just what should happen, not what will happen. Either way, if you are a Rice owner this may be the last chance you have for a good game this year from him (sell high maybe?), so you must certainly cross your fingers in hopes that the Ravens take advantage of the juicy matchup. Rice to me is a low-end RB2 in this game, which is actually a step up from where he is normally ranked. Pierce should certainly see more touches this game, but until we see just how much the coaches want to get him involved, he remains a lottery-ticket flex option. If the Ravens rushing attack doesn't get it together in this one, it may be time to throw in the towel for the rest of the year.

Joe Flacco: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Ray Rice: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Bernard Pierce: 40 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Marlon Brown: 30 rec yds
Jacoby Jones: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Ravens passing defense is average in most areas, they are a ferocious pass-rushing team (32 sacks), and with starting quarterback Jay Cutler already out with an injury, the Bears can ill-afford to let backup Josh McCown take too many hits. While McCown has played surprisingly well in limited action, he is still a backup with limitations. He may be OK in a great matchup, but against a team that will likely be blitzing him all day, he's probably in over his head. On the bright side for McCown, he can scramble and, even more importantly, has a talented cast of receivers around him, including Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, and Matt Forte. If Coach Trestman can simplify the game plan, feature the run a little more, and get the ball out quickly to his playmakers, the Bears actually have a decent shot at having a solid if unspectacular afternoon. While McCown may do enough to keep the Bears in this game, from a fantasy standpoint you should be able to do quite better. McCown is a low-end QB2 this week.

As for the receivers, Marshall will probably see a lot of coverage from cornerback Lardarius Webb, one of the better defensive backs in the league, meaning his upside, especially with McCown, is limited this week. Marshall still is an elite talent and a target monster, so he should still crack your starting lineup, but expect more of a solid WR2 than his usual elite WR1 performance. Jeffery is in the midst of a hot streak and was targeted a game-high 18 times last week, and while his upside is also limited in this game, he should be a solid WR3 with the upside for more as he draws weaker coverage. While tight end Martellus Bennett has been inconsistent this year, he may be a nice safety valve for McCown this week, as he might be forced to throw fast and short to the middle of the field. Bennett remains a nice red-zone option and is a moderately safe, low-end TE1 this week. No other Bears passing game player is on the radar this week as nearly all the targets are divided up between four main players (including Forte).

Running Game Thoughts: For a team that is without their starting quarterback and will probably lean more on the run than usual, this is not a great matchup by any means. The Ravens run defense has been solid this year, ranking 10th in rushing yards allowed per game, while only giving up one rushing touchdown (best in the NFL). They have allowed just one 100-plus yard rusher and until last week did not allow any opposing running back to catch a touchdown pass. With all this being said it should be no surprise that the Ravens are the second toughest team for opposing fantasy running backs to score against this year.

The good news for Forte owners is that the volume of work he gets in this game should counter a lot of the bad matchup problems, as the offense may run through him more than it usually does. With Forte having a solid year and neither of these offenses being explosive, I expect the Bears to stick with the run (and the dump-off pass) for all four quarters, meaning a 20-touch day for Forte is likely. While the matchup puts a big damper on Forte’s upside, he is as talented as some other backs who have had decent fantasy days against the Ravens this year, including Eddie Lacy, Fred Jackson, Le’Veon Bell, and Giovani Bernard. Forte is not a strong RB1 this week but I still like him as a back-end RB1 or high-end RB2. No other Bears running back is on the fantasy radar once again this week.

Josh McCown: 220 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Brandon Marshall: 70 rec yds
Alshon Jeffery: 70 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Matt Forte: 75 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 24, Bears 23 ^ Top

Browns @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Normally a third-string quarterback means big trouble for an offense, and fantasy owners alike, but in the case of Jason Campbell, he may be making a bigger impact than both quarterbacks that once sat above him on the Browns depth chart. In the two games Campbell has started this year, he has thrown for a combined 555 yards, five touchdowns, and no interceptions while completing just over 63 percent of his throws. While these numbers are nice by themselves, what’s even more impressive is that both games were against well above-average defenses (Chiefs and Ravens). With a bye week to rest and prepare, Campbell and the Browns passing attack travel to Cincinnati where the Bengals are hurting on defense and are coming off a tough overtime loss to the Ravens. On the season, the Bengals are seventh best in pass yards allowed per game, 10th in completion percentage allowed, and seventh in sacks. While the Bengals lost two of their best defenders in Leon Hall and Geno Atkins, they still looked good last week, holding the Ravens to 140 pass yds (2 TDs, 2 INTs), while getting to Joe Flacco five times. The Browns offensive line has been a strength this year, and while the Bengals still have a tough defense, without Atkins the pressure up front gets a whole lot easier for the Browns. In the matchup earlier this year, a Browns passing attack led by Brian Hoyer put up 269 yards and two touchdowns against a healthier Bengals defense.

While Hoyer and Campbell are certainly different quarterbacks, I expect the numbers this week to be pretty similar, as Campbell will look to put the ball in his best playmakers’ hands. Tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receiver Josh Gordon combined for 162 yards and a touchdown in that earlier game, and that seems like a reasonable expectation again this week. While there are certainly safer and higher-upside plays than Campbell this week, you could easily do worse. As a solid mid-range QB2, Campbell won’t blow you away with his numbers but should put up enough stats to make a real difference. Josh Gordon remains one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the NFL, and with a bye week to prepare and no shut-down cornerback on the Bengals' roster, I expect him to go deep often and win more jump balls than he loses. Gordon is a solid WR2 this week with the upside to be even better. As for Jordan, he had his worst game of the season last week (1 rec, 4 yds), but as a big focus of this offense, it will be a big surprise if he does not bounce back this week. Cameron is still a solid TE1, especially with the position being so shallow this year. While both Davone Bess and Greg Little had nice fantasy days last game, neither is remotely consistent enough to be on the fantasy radar this week.

Running Game Thoughts: When the Browns traded running back Trent Richardson to the Colts earlier in the year, they might as well have said “we are giving up on the run game.” Starting running back Willis McGahee is averaging 2.6 yards per carry and was even worse in the Browns' last game, totaling 31 yards on 21 carries in addition to losing a fumble. It is obvious McGahee has little left in the tank and the Browns need to move on. On that same note, both the head coach and offensive coordinator emphasized that Chris Ogbonnaya would see an increased workload right away and that the backfield would be more of a timeshare. Of course for fantasy owners, “timeshare” is a bad word, especially if it is on an offense with limited talent to begin with.

Ogbonnaya, to his credit, is averaging 5.3 yards per carry in limited action and has become a solid contributor as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. For the short-term future, this backfield will probably be too even of a split to make Ogbonnaya a legit fantasy threat, but pay attention to this split, as there may be some real sleeper appeal in a few weeks if Ogbonnaya makes the best of his increased workload. For this week, the situation is one to avoid entirely, as the Bengals are an above-average run defense even without Geno Atkins. To this point, the Bengals are ninth in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game and are the fifth toughest defense for opposing fantasy RBs to score against. With the matchup being tough and the timeshare unstable, move on from this situation this week.

Jason Campbell: 280 pass yds , 2 TDs, 1 INT
Josh Gordon: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Cameron Jordan: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 40 rec yds
Willis McGahee: 35 rush yds
Chris Ogbonnaya: 35 rush yds, 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: For about a three-week stretch there, it looked like Andy Dalton might have been turning the corner on his young career and finally putting it all together. But just as in previous years that proved to be merely a tease, as Dalton’s second-half meltdown looks to be creeping in again this year. Making matters worse is the fact that he faces a near-elite defense this week in the Cleveland Browns, who are 10th best in pass yards allowed per game, first in pass yards allowed per attempt, and tied for fifth in sacks. In their previous matchup Dalton had one of his worst games of the year, completing 55 percent of his passes for just 206 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception (and two sacks). While this game is at home for Dalton and the gang, the matchup is no easier, especially with the Browns coming off a bye week well rested and prepared. The good news for Dalton is that he still has a near-elite crew of receivers around him, with A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard.

Perhaps the biggest threat to a big fantasy day is Browns cornerback Joe Haden, who limited A.J. Green to 51 yards on a whopping 15 targets the last time these two teams met. While no cornerback is good enough to completely shut Green down, Haden does just enough to limit him, in turn negatively affecting the whole Bengals offense, which is normally opened up by Green’s downfield ability. If Dalton can get his other receivers involved early, it should throw off the Browns' defensive rhythm and could open things up all game long. Of course Dalton may simply lock onto Green and lots of three-and-outs may follow, severely limiting the fantasy appeal of this whole squad. While this is certainly one of the tougher matchups for Green, he gets targeted so much (first in the NFL) that it is impossible to sit him. He remains a WR1 this week, though his upside is limited by Haden’s presence, so huge expectations should be tempered. As for the other Bengals receivers, as talented as they may be, there are just too many of them to feed and not enough balls to go around. Marvin Jones looked like he was busting out a few weeks ago but fell back to Earth hard with a one-catch, two-yard performance last game. Jones remains one of the higher-upside complimentary WRs in the game but is no more than a low-end WR3 this week. With two solid tight ends, the Browns and Dalton are in good shape, but for fantasy owners this is like a running-back-by-committee situation at a different position. While Gresham missed last week’s game with an injury, he is fully expected to play here, and thus takes away the upside of both Bengals tight ends. Both are low-end TE2s now and going forward until one steps up big or gets hurt. As for Dalton, he is a frustrating guy to own because he has shown greatness and has the weapons to succeed but has also flopped hard numerous times. In a good matchup I will still take my chances on him, but this week the matchup and the negative momentum make it hard to believe he is anything but a low-end QB2.

Running Game Thoughts: While BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still getting enough carries to be a pest to Giovani Bernard’s fantasy value, it is crystal clear who the more talented and valuable back is. While the carries and yardage out of the backfield are normally fairly even between the Bengals running backs, Bernard’s work in the passing game is what sets him apart and gets his fantasy owners excited about his potential. Last week he had another highlight-reel play when he took a short dump-off pass and turned it into an 18-yard score, dodging and juking defenders all along the way. Because of plays like that, Bernard is always a threat to turn a game around on any given play. This week the Bengals take on a solid run defense that has let up the sixth least rushing yards per game.

The Browns are holding opposing teams to less than 100 yards on the ground and a 3.6 yards-per-carry average, fourth best in the NFL. The bright spot for fantasy owners here is that, while the yardage numbers are going to be harder to get than normal, the Browns have let up a surprising amount of touchdowns to opposing running backs (9). Because of this, the Browns are right in the middle in terms of the fantasy points they give up to opposing RBs. While the Browns have yet to let a single running back rack up 100 yards or more, they have allowed nice fantasy days to opposing running backs with similar skill sets to Bernard, including Reggie Bush, who racked up 135 total yards and one touchdown. Bernard himself totaled 75 yards earlier in the year against the Browns, but I would use that number as an absolute floor because the Bengals were still easing him into bigger workloads at that time. While the presence of BJGE caps Bernard’s upside, Bernard should still be a solid mid-range RB2 this week because of his dual-threat ability. While the Lawfirm is occasionally usable as a flex guy in excellent matchups, the Browns are tough on the ground, and without much else to offer, Green-Ellis needs to be firmly placed on your bench this week.

Andy Dalton: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Giovani Bernard: 45 rush yds, 40 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 30 rush yds
A.J. Green: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Marvin Jones: 50 rec yds
Tyler Eifert: 35 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 27, Browns 24 ^ Top

Lions @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Sometimes the numbers do lie, and while the Steelers have allowed just 201 passing yards per game, good for fourth in the NFL, a closer look at the numbers may reveal why this is not as tough a matchup as one might think. Here is a list of the opposing quarterbacks the Steelers have faced so far this year: Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler, Matt Cassel, Geno Smith, Joe Flacco, Terrelle Pryor, Tom Brady, and EJ Manuel. Besides Brady, this is mostly a list of rookies, average talent quarterbacks, guys on a down year, and guys on vanilla offenses. Brady on the other hand, is a future Hall of Famer on a dynamic offense, even though it has struggled compared to previous years. And Brady’s numbers against the Steelers this year? 432 yards passing, four touchdowns, and a nearly 70 percent completion percentage. Now, I am not trying to say Matthew Stafford is as good as Brady, but the Lions passing attack is certainly one of the best in the league and probably the best the Steelers have seen all year. A bit concerning for the Lions this week is that all-world wide receiver Calvin Johnson missed both Wednesday and Thursday practices with a knee injury, but he usually does take extra rest days, so at this point we will assume he plays Sunday. If for some reason he does not, then I certainly give the advantage to the Steelers defense, as the Lions are a totally different team without Megatron. With Johnson in the game, however, the Lions have a big advantage because the entire defense focuses on Johnson, which opens up other players, both in the passing game and the run game. What is even scarier for the Steelers defense is that Johnson, usually double- or even triple-teamed, still makes plays consistently and is nearly impossible to stop in an end zone jump-ball situation.

Another thing the Lions have going for them is that the Steelers pass rush is average this year, registering only 16 sacks (fourth worst in the NFL), meaning Stafford should have a little extra time to find an open man downfield or check down to one of his dynamic pass-catching running backs. While playing in Pittsburgh always makes the game tougher for opposing offenses, this is not the elite Pittsburgh defense we have come to expect in recent years, with even their best cover cornerback, Ike Taylor, struggling. With such a high-powered offense, the matchup only slightly downgrades the Lions this week. Stafford is still a QB1 as long as Johnson plays and a top 10 guy at the position. Johnson is an elite WR1 once again, even at less than 100 percent and against a defense allowing the sixth least fantasy points to opposing WRs. As far as the other Lions receivers go, I realize tight end Brandon Pettigrew remains a decent option in PPR leagues, but the guy I still like, despite just one target last week (a touchdown), is wide receiver Kris Durham. He is not going to be a top option but could be used in a pinch as a WR3/flex guy this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush has been on fire the last couple of games, totaling 197 yards and a touchdown just on the ground. What better way to keep that going than to face a rush defense giving up the fourth most rushing yards per game. In addition, while Bush has just two rushing touchdowns on the year, the Steelers have given up 12, tied for second most in the league. On the season, the Steelers are the ninth friendliest team to opposing fantasy RBs, and that is with facing only two real top-end running backs (Peterson and Forte) thus far. Really, the only negative side of playing the Steelers defense, besides it being a road game, is the fact that they have actually given up the fewest receiving yards to opposing running backs in the entire NFL. While this is certainly a negative for a back like Bush, who gets so involved in the pass game, he has been so good on the ground lately that this should not greatly affect his fantasy performance in this one, especially if the Lions grab an early lead, which is likely. I would start Bush with confidence this week as an RB1 who should finish among the top 10 at the position. While running back Joique Bell has looked good lately and remains one of the best fantasy handcuffs around, he is really only usable in extremely good matchups, and this would not qualify as one of those. Hold on to Bell but keep him on your bench in all but the deepest PPR leagues.

Matthew Stafford: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Reggie Bush: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Joique Bell: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 40 rec yds
Kris Durham: 55 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Steelers season has been a big disappointment in general, the passing game under Ben Roethlisberger has shown flashes of excellence, and currently ranks 11th in the NFL in yards per game, sixth in completion percentage, and ninth in yards per pass attempt. On the other hand, the offensive line has been awful, giving up the second most sacks. And while racking up yardage has not been a problem, getting into the end zone has been, as the Steelers have scored just 13 times in nine games. While the line will continue to struggle, especially with left guard Ramon Foster out this week, the receivers for the Steelers are a solid group, with Antonio Brown fifth in the NFL in receiving yards and first in receptions and Emmanuel Sanders contributing nicely in a complimentary role. When the matchup is right, Ben, Brown, and Sanders are all start-worthy players, as the Steelers have been pass-heavy this year, often because they are playing catch-up.

This week the matchup is a nice one, first of all because the Lions offense should handle the Pittsburgh defense with relative ease, meaning the Steelers should have to throw through all four quarters, possibly including some garbage time. Secondly, though, the Lions pass defense is average at best, ranking sixth worst in passing yards allowed per game and third worst in sacking opposing quarterbacks. With the home crowd behind them, the Steelers should get a boost, and with the Lions giving up at least one passing touchdown in all but one game this year, the chances of a few passing touchdowns increases quite a bit. While Big Ben’s propensity to get sacked and turn the ball over limits his upside, this matchup is a positive one for him from a fantasy perspective, and I would feel comfortable with him as a high-end QB2 this week. Brown is pretty much impossible to sit as it is because of the amount of targets he gets, and while he is not a big threat to score most weeks, the volume of work he gets makes him a safe WR2 this week. Sanders has been up and down, and while he looked like he was poised to break out after two nice games, he fell last week and is more of a low-end WR3 than anything else. Still, you could do much worse in a game that is set up to be a shootout. Tight end Heath Miller has been a disappointment this year, as he has had to stay in and block more than usual and his scoring opportunities have been cut way down compared to years past. Miller at this point is a low-end TE2. While wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery has had nice back-to-back fantasy games and leads the team in touchdowns, you are really chasing points and gambling on a guy that is clearly past his prime and the third option, at best. Cotchery is a WR4 this week, as I expect rookie Markus Wheaton to eat into Cotchery’s snaps sooner rather than later.

Running Game Thoughts: While running back Le’Veon Bell is not flashy and does not possess big-play ability, he is solid, steady, and the Steelers seemingly trust him enough to maintain or increase his workload almost every week. Bell’s yards per carry average (3.3) is not good, but that stat is not what gets fantasy owners excited, points are. And in that department, Bell has been fairly consistent and reliable, which is worth something in a year where there are not a lot of backs consistently putting up numbers outside the top eight or so guys. While Bell has been a workhorse for the Steelers, the Lions defense has been working opposing backs over, ranking eighth best in rushing yards allowed per game and has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this year. Of course some of this can be traced back to the Lions offense being so high-powered that opposing teams must go pass-heavy to keep pace, but still, the Lions do have one of the better defensive lines in the game and therefore need to be taken seriously. Another blow to Bell owners this week is the absence of left guard Ramon Foster, who is out with an ankle sprain and will be missed, as he ranked as one of the league’s better guards. Overall, it is going to be a tough game for Bell and the Steelers run game, as they do not have the defense to slow the Lions down much, which may force Big Ben into taking over the game by passing more.

With a tough defensive line bearing down on him, Bell’s yards per carry is not likely to go up much this game, meaning he is really going to need a large volume of carries to rack up some yards, or some goal-line carries to save his fantasy day. On the bright side, Bell is being used in the passing game, and if the Steelers get to the goal line, he is likely to at least get a shot at running it in. While I appreciate Bell’s consistency, he and the Steelers running attack is not dynamic enough to make a big impact in a tougher-than-average matchup. While Bell has been a nice mid- to high-end RB2 most weeks, this matchup downgrades him to a high-end RB3. While he should get enough work early in the game to score a few points, he will be hard-pressed to find a lot of running room and to run the ball all four quarters. No other Steelers running back is on the fantasy radar this week, or any going forward unless Bell gets hurt.

Ben Roethlisberger: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Le’Veon Bell: 45 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Antonio Brown: 85 rec yds
Emmanuel Sanders: 55 rec yds
Heath Miller: 35 rec yds
Jerricho Cotchery: 30 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 27, Steelers 20 ^ Top