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

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      

Inside the Matchup
Week 12

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


DEN @ NE | SF @ WAS | SD @ KC | CHI @ STL


 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Caron 29 11 72.5
2 Smith 31 13 70.5
3 Anderson 22 17 56.4
4 Thorne 22 18 55.0

Saints at Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees was held to a single touchdown throw last week against the 49ers, marking just the second time this season he failed to toss at least two touchdowns in a game. Yet he did throw for 305 yards and continues to trail only Peyton Manning in FPts/G. Marques Colston had 80 receiving yards against San Francisco, making it the second straight game he’s been productive after weeks of middling results. The only real concern for fantasy owners tight end Jimmy Graham, who is suffering through a foot injury and has not scored a touchdown in either of his last two games, though he’s still a must-start especially against an Atlanta team with a terrible pass defense. Brees threw for 357 yards against Atlanta in Week 1 with touchdowns to Colston and Graham.

The Falcons have given up the ninth-most FPts/G in the league to opposing quarterbacks, and every signal caller they’ve faced has thrown for at least two touchdowns with the exception of Cam Newton, who threw just one in Carolina’s Week 9 win over Atlanta – though he did rush for a score in that game. The Falcons are 30th in touchdown passes allowed, rank 26th in both sacks and interceptions and only San Diego is yielding a higher completion percentage. Accordingly, wideouts have had their way with Atlanta, who is allowing the fifth-most FPts/G to players at the position. Vincent Jackson registered 165 yards and one score against them last week, becoming the sixth receiver to gain 100+ yards versus the Falcons. Their only moderate success has been against tight ends, as they rank 16th in FPts/G allowed to players at that position, though by no means is that a reason to keep Graham out of fantasy lineups.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints continue to roll out their triumvirate of running backs in the form of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, and Mark Ingram. And while Ingram continues to be a fantasy non-entity, owners can continue to roll out Sproles – who leads all running backs in receiving yards and had 88 against the Falcons in Week 1 – as well as Thomas, who is 22nd at his position in FPts/G and is averaging more than the likes of Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew. Sproles injured his knee last week and is listed as Questionable on the injury report. Check his gametime status before inserting him into your lineup.

Atlanta is 30th in the NFL in rush defense, 17th in rushing scores yielded, and 28th in YPC allowed. No team in the league has surrendered more rushing yards to running backs and the Falcons are giving up the 10th-most FPts/G to players at that position. They started off decent, but have been thrashed of late – Andre Ellington ran for 154 yards and one score against Atlanta in Week 8, Marshawn Lynch gathered 145 yards and a touchdown in Week 10 and last week Bobby Rainey scored twice and piled up 163 yards.

Drew Brees: 365 pass yds, 4 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 85 rec yds, TD
Marques Colston: 70 rec yds, TD
Kenny Stills: 50 rec yds, TD
Robert Meachem: 40 rec yds
Lance Moore: 25 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 60 rush yds, TD, 25 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 35 rush yds
Darren Sproles: 20 rush yds, 60 rec yds, TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The Falcons are an unmitigated disaster and their fantasy owners are feeling the pain. Matt Ryan, who is now 13th at his position in FPts/G, threw for 254 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions last week in the team’s loss to Tampa Bay and it was the first time in nearly a month he had multiple scoring passes. One of those touchdowns was to Roddy White, though White added only 36 receiving yards in the contest and has yet to break the 50-yard mark this season. The better option for fantasy owners at this point is Harry Douglas, who had 134 yards and a score versus Tampa, and is one of the few wideouts who has had some success this season against the Saints, as his 93 yards in Week 1 will attest.

New Orleans gave up a pair of touchdown throws to Colin Kaepernick last week, the first time since Week 5 they allowed multiple touchdown passes in a game. Yet they also held him to 127 passing yards, marking the third consecutive game in which they’ve held a quarterback to less than 200 yards through the air. The Saints are allowing the third-fewest FPts/G to quarterbacks, the fifth-fewest FPts/G to tight ends, and the 10th-fewest FPts/G to wide receivers. Only one wideout has amassed at least 100 receiving yards in a game this season when facing New Orleans, but no player at the position has had even 75 yards against them in their last five contests.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson didn’t get many carries last week against Tampa, running the ball 11 times for 41 yards but it’s hard to run the ball when your team gets scored on early and often. Jackson has yet to score on the ground in his limited action this season, but can still be effective as both a runner and receiver, and the Falcons will need to run the ball early and often to keep the Saints off the field this week. It’s worth noting that when the Falcons and Saints met up in Week 1, Jackson had his best game of the season, running for 77 yards and he has a chance to do similar damage this week against a decent but not daunting New Orleans rush defense.

The Saints have been average against the run this season, ranking 17th in rush defense and rushing scores yielded, though they are also giving up the highest YPC average in the NFL. They’re allowing the 14th-most FPts/G to running backs and though they held Frank Gore to 43 yards last week, New Orleans has also surrendered 75+ yards to backs on five different occasions, including to the aforementioned Jackson.

Matt Ryan: 245 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Harry Douglas: 80 rec yds, TD
Tony Gonzalez: 55 rec yds, TD
Roddy White: 45 rec yds
Darius Johnson: 15 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 15 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Saints 38, Falcons 24 ^ Top

Jaguars at Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: There is very little to like about the Jacksonville passing game for fantasy purposes, from quarterback Chad Henne to any of their receivers. Henne is 42nd in FPts/G at quarterback and with Justin Blackmon out, their top fantasy wideout is Cecil Shorts, who is 52nd at his position in FPts/G. And tight end? Much ado about nothing despite Danny Noble’s 62-yard touchdown last week – the first catch of his career. There is nothing for fantasy owners to see here, against the Texans or any other team the Jaguars play.

Houston remains the league leader in pass defense, yet they are tied for fewest interceptions in the NFL, rank 23rd in sacks, and rank 19th in passing scores yielded. They have allowed three touchdown passes in three of their last five games and multiple scoring passes in four of their last five, but are still giving up the sixth-fewest FPts/G to quarterbacks and fifth-fewest FPts/G to wide receivers, though they are 16th in FPts/G allowed to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew ran for a touchdown last week for the second straight game but picked up only 23 yards on 14 carries. He’s failed to gain even 45 yards in three of his past four games, is averaging less than 3.0 YPC for the season and is 30th among running backs in FPts/G. MJD does have a solid match-up against Houston but fantasy owners should consider him nothing more than a flex play.

The Texans rank 23rd in run defense and 21st in YPC allowed, but are 12th in touchdown runs ceded. They are 16th in FPts/G allowed to running backs and last week surrendered 150 yards and a score to Oakland’s Rashad Jennings. It was the first time this season Houston gave up 100 yards to a running back but the sixth time they yielded 79 or more yards on the ground to an individual back.

Chad Henne: 195 pass yds, 2 INT
Cecil Shorts: 70 rec yds
Mike Brown: 35 rec yds
Ace Sanders: 45 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 15 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 45 rush yds, TD, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Case Keenum was benched last week in favor of Matt Schaub during Houston’s loss to Oakland, but the rookie will return as the starter against Jacksonville. Keenum’s completion percentage has been under 60 percent in his last three games, but he does have seven touchdowns and one only one interception in those contests and should be considered a decent fantasy option this week. And while Keenum doesn’t qualify as a must-start, Andre Johnson does. He’s somewhat quietly put together a fantastic season despite not scoring until a few games ago, but is eighth at wide receiver in FPts/G and should break the 1,000 receiving yard barrier against Jacksonville.

The Jaguars are 24th in the NFL in pass defense, 27th in completion percentage allowed, 28th in touchdown passes given up, 31st in sacks, and tied for last in interceptions. Though they’re 16th in FPts/G surrendered to wide receivers, Jacksonville gave up over 400 yards passing to Carson Palmer last week and is allowing the third-most FPts/G to quarterbacks and the second-most FPts/G to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Ben Tate is the definition of walking wounded, and on the injury report this week his maladies are listed as “ribs/ankle/toe.” Yet he still managed to pick up 88 yards against the Raiders last week while catching four passes for 29 yards. Tate has been kept out of the end zone most of this season having scored only once, but the Jaguars should be the remedy to that particular ailment.

Jacksonville is allowing more rushing yards per game than any team in the league and is tied for last in rushing scores surrendered, but they are 25th in YPC allowed, so they have that going for them. They’re giving up the eighth-most FPts/G to running backs, but truth be told, they’ve been solid against the run in their last two games having held Chris Johnson to 30 yards in Week 10 and the Arizona duo of Rashad Mendenhall and Andre Ellington to a combined total of 17 yards last week. Still, two games does not a season make, so fantasy owners should still have confidence in Tate this week.

Case Keenum: 265 pass yds, 2 TD
Andre Johnson: 110 rec yds, TD
DeAndre Hopkins: 60 rec yds
Garrett Graham: 45 rec yds, TD
DeVier Posey: 25 rec yds
Ben Tate: 105 rush yds, TD, 15 rec yds
Dennis Johnson: 15 rush yds

Prediction: Texans 27, Jaguars 16 ^ Top

Panthers at Dolphins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Following what was statistically his worst performance of the season, quarterback Cam Newton had possibly his best game of the year in front of the Monday night audience as he led Carolina past the Patriots to extend his team's winning streak to six games. He threw for 209 yards with a 67.9 percent completion rate and scored three touchdowns without throwing an interception; the only other time this year he’s had similar number was against the lowly Vikings in a blowout win. For the season, Carolina is averaging just under 200 passing yards per game, primarily relying on defense and their running game, as they’ve attempted the third fewest passes in the league. Despite the low number of throws, the Panthers are still in the top ten of both completion percentage and yards per attempt, proving that they are rather effective at moving the ball through the air when they choose to do so. The team does not have a receiver whose production stands out above the rest, with four players recording more than 400 receiving yards and none having more than 520; additionally, all four have scored three touchdowns but none have more than four. Newton relies primarily on veterans wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Greg Olsen, as they’ve been most consistent, but defenses know it and this often leaves wide receivers Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. with the more favorable matchups.

During the Carolina win streak, the Dolphins have won only twice, but during that time they’ve been fairly successful in limiting their opponents in the passing game, recording at least one interception per game and not allowing more than one touchdown pass since Week 4. Although their yardage totals have been erratic, their ability to limit scores, put pressure on the quarterback, and force turnovers has kept them in every game this season, with only two of their losses being by more than four points and nine of their ten total games being within seven points for the majority of the fourth quarter. For the season, Miami has been average or slightly better in most defensive passing categories, and as such the Panthers' efficient but underwhelming aerial attack will likely be held in check though largely unaffected by the defense. Since Carolina doesn’t rely on the pass and has demonstrated the ability to spread the ball around to four different receivers, they should continue to see success in that area. Though from a fantasy perspective the receivers will continue to have limited upside, Olsen ought to remain a good TE option, and Newton’s primary contribution will be through touchdowns and with his legs, since his passing totals won’t ever be particularly impressive.

Running Game Thoughts: The Panthers have been able to thrive with a mediocre passing attack because of the strength of their ground game, which ranks in the top ten for both yards gained per game and touchdowns scored on the ground. The Carolina backfield has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to personnel, with three quality running backs and the most experienced of the new duel-threat quarterbacks. With Jonathan Stewart injured for the early part of the season, DeAngelo Williams has been responsible for primary running back duties with Mike Tolbert coming in as relief or in short-yardage situations. As such, Williams is the leading rusher on the team but Tolbert is tied for most touchdowns with Newton, whose pocket presence and downfield vision allow him to scramble and take advantage of holes in the defense. Much like the other facet of the offense, the rushing attack can be frustrating from a fantasy point of view, as there are a number of contributors who could have a good game, but the most likely occurrence results in no standout individual performances, despite the team running well as a whole.

The greatest matchup discrepancies will come from this area on Sunday, as the strength of the Carolina offense will face the weakness of the Miami defense. The Dolphins find themselves in the bottom ten of the rankings because of the 122.6 yards they surrender each game and the ten touchdowns they’ve allowed on the season. Their yards per attempt is right around the league average, suggesting that teams are able to make ways on the ground through volume of attempts and a dedication to pounding the ball consistently. The Panthers seem to be perfectly suited to exploiting Miami via the rushing attack, as they have three if not four different ball carriers willing to physically wear down the defense as Carolina controls the clock and methodically marches the ball down the field, taking advantage of the Dolphins' inability to come up with stops in the running game or limit their opponents to fewer than four yards per carry.

Cam Newton: 210 pass yds, 1 TD / 40 rush yds
DeAngelo Williams: 70 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Steve Smith: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Dolphins are becoming one of the more consistent offenses in the league but unfortunately many of their repeating results aren’t ones most teams try to emulate. Every week they’re good for around 240 yards passing, usually one touchdown to go along with one interception, passing attempts in the high 30’s and receptions in the low 20’s, and the four sacks they surrender each contest. The gross offensive numbers aren’t terrible, but when examining particular statistics, it becomes obvious that every facet of the game could use improvement. Miami is worse than average in nearly every major category in addition to being worst in the league at giving up sacks. For yet another week, wide receiver Mike Wallace was outperformed by one or more of his teammates; on the season he has the second most receiving yards, averaging roughly 53 yards per game, but has the lowest touchdown total (1) of any of the starting receivers, including the tight end Charles Clay. The only true starter with fewer touchdown receptions is running back Lamar Miller, but since he averages only 1.7 catches and 10.1 yards per game, this can hardly be considered an accomplishment for Wallace.

Excluding a few games at the beginning of the season, the Panthers have played like one of the league’s best defenses. And even including their slow start, they still have a top five squad against the pass. In addition to allowing only 210 yards per game, they’ve allowed the second fewest touchdowns through the air and are top five in interceptions recorded, giving them the best TD-INT ratio of the season. Their two worst areas, sacks (31) and yards per attempt (6.7), are still good enough to be in the top ten of NFL defenses, so it’s not like they’re exactly a liability in any given category. Against a consistently inconsistent team like Miami, the strength of Carolina is likely to be put on display, particularly as they attack an offensive line that is missing three of its five starters, including the center and the entire blind side, not to mention a secondary that shouldn’t struggle shutting down a star wide receiver who has frequently been shut down throughout the season. This will be the Dolphins' greatest test up to this point, not only because of the personnel missing from their team, but also largely because of the quality of their opponent and the many ways in which lesser teams have been able to limit Miami.

Running Game Thoughts: The same offensive line inconsistencies that trouble the passing attack are what make the Miami's ground game so unreliable. Compared to the worst teams in the league, the Dolphins are clearly better in most categories, but compared to the league averages, they fall short, meaning their offense has either the best bad rushing attack in the league or is the worst running game of team’s that aren’t considered to be bad teams. No team that records fewer than 90 yards per game has a winning record; Miami averages 88.7. No team with a winning record has fewer rushing touchdowns than the Dolphins. While their 4.1 yards per carry is roughly average for the league, when paired with a third lowest number of rushing attempts, it shows that even the things Miami does moderately well aren’t done frequently enough for the team to fully appreciate. In light of the offensive line problems on the field and the scandal associated with that unit off the field, it is no surprise to see inconsistent results in the running game. And with the media circus that still surrounds the team, it is hard to forecast improvements in the near future because of the focus that needs to be paid to factors not related to X’s and O’s.

Only one team has given up fewer rushing touchdowns than Carolina, but even they concede nearly 20 more yards per game than the Panthers; quite simply, there is not a more complete rushing defense than the one which will be lined up across from Miami on Sunday. They’ve faced the fewest rushing attempts of any team in the league and are in the top quarter of teams with respect to yards gained per carry, so not only do teams generally not try to run against Carolina, but when they do, they’re largely unsuccessful in doing so. During their six-game winning streak, the Panthers are giving up 79.3 yards per carry, which is five yards better that their season average—an average that is third best in the league. Considering the frequency with which Miami runs the ball and the stout resistance provided by the Carolina defense, the Dolphins would do best by focusing on pass protection and completing passes down field rather than actively trying to maintain a balanced offense; there are better matchups to exploit than those in the running game.

Ryan Tannehill: 180 pass yds, 1 INT
Lamar Miller: 40 rush yds
Mike Wallace: 20 rec yds

Prediction: Panthers 26, Dolphins 6 ^ Top

Cowboys at Giants - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Without rationalizing too much here, quarterback Tony Romo has alternated good and bad games throughout the season, and coming off of a forgettable Week 10 (bye last week), if the pattern continues he’ll be on the upswing Sunday afternoon in the rematch against the Giants. On the year, Romo has been a 64 percent passer and recorded 251 yards per game, throwing 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Interestingly, there hasn’t been a game this season that has resembled the averages, with his completion percentage either below 60 or above 67 and his yardage all over the place, only twice coming between 215 and 295 yards. With little relationship between yardage, completion rate, and game outcome, it's been frustrating for most Dallas fans, as it becomes difficult to determine how the team is truly doing and therefore all but impossible to figure out how to fix their problems. The saga of Good Romo vs. Bad Romo continues to wage on, as brilliant performances are sometimes squandered by late-game mistakes and statistically disappointing games somehow result in team victories. The one certainty is that in the NFC East anything can happen and that a win this week will once again tie the division leaders and put the Cowboys one game better than .500; we’re looking at another year where finishing 9-7 is likely to result in a playoff berth.

For the first time in six weeks (four wins, one bye) the Giants will face a strong passing attack at full strength. With victories over Minnesota (backup quarterback), Philadelphia (backup quarterback), Oakland (banged up quarterback, backup running back), and Green Bay (backup quarterback), they appear to have turned a page following an 0-6 start to the season but have yet to face an offense capable of exploiting potential deficiencies in the secondary with regularity like Dallas does. After a painful start and failing to hold any opponent to under 27 points, the Giants have won four straight and given up no more than 20 points during that span. Most recently New York surrendered 339 yards to quarterback Scott Tolzien (Green Bay) and failed to record any sacks. Had it not been for three interceptions, the outcome of that game may have been dramatically different. If Romo is on his game coming out of the bye week, big games may be in store for the entire Dallas offense, most principally of course wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, who have combined for nearly 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season, closely followed by wide receiver Terrance Williams, who has filled in nicely for the oft-injured Miles Austin with 438 yards and five touchdowns in the past seven games.

Running Game Thoughts: The bye week came at the perfect time for running back DeMarco Murray, giving him an opportunity to get back to full strength before the divisional clash with New York. His production on the season has been erratic, not because of his squandering opportunities but rather the number of opportunities he is given. In two of his last three games he has received ten or fewer touches twice and hasn’t seen 20 or more touches since the third game of the season. Even at that, he is averaging 68.5 yards per game on the ground and another 23.6 through the air, in addition to scoring four touchdowns and not losing a fumble. He is far and away the primary contributor to the running game, as the Cowboys average only an additional 8.5 yards on top of his rushing total. Averaging 4.9 yards per carry puts Murray with or near other elite running backs in the league, so the main hindrance that is keeping him from having a great game every week is simply the number of touches he’s receiving, a situation which needs to be corrected coming out of the bye.

Despite their defensive woes throughout the majority of the season, New York has one of the best rush defenses in the league, ranking in the top ten in yards per game, top five in yards per carry, and better than average in touchdowns allowed. While these numbers don’t bode particularly well for Murray on the ground, the hidden statistic in all of this is that the Giants are one of the worst teams against running backs who catch passes, so while Murray's rushing success may be held to a respectable total, his contributions out of the backfield should more than make up for his slow production on the ground. Because of the passing threat presented by Romo, Bryant, Witten, and Williams, the New York defense will likely be paying much greater attention to stopping the pass, which may open opportunities underneath for solid runs and a number of catches out of the backfield. Murray should be the ultimate X-factor this Sunday as his abilities on the ground and through the air may make him a nearly impossible matchup for the Giants to handle.

Tony Romo: 330 pass yds, 2 TDs
DeMarco Murray: 60 rush yds, 1 TD / 60 rec yds
Dez Bryant: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The past four games have been a welcomed change for New York after opening the season with six straight losses, and the most significant difference has come from the passing game, which now is focused more on mid- and short-range passes. Getting the ball out more quickly has allowed Eli Manning to take fewer sacks and has also significantly limited his turnovers. The change in philosophy has generally caused his completion percentage to increase and his weekly yardage totals to decrease; in three of the last four games he has completed 23-25 passes out of a total of 35-39 attempts and no play has gone for more than 35 yards. While the team is winning, most fantasy owners have been disappointed in the change because Manning has not thrown more than one touchdown since Week 5 and wide receiver Victor Cruz hasn’t found the end zone since the week before that. In his relative slump, wide receiver Ruben Randle has scored three times in the past four games to go along with three other scores on the season, making him responsible for half of all receiving touchdowns for the team.

As far as matchups go, defenses don’t get any worse than the Cowboys of 2013. That means that Manning and company are set for another big day like they had in Week 1. No team has given up more passing yards, and only three teams have surrendered more touchdowns through the air, so while another 450-yard, four-touchdown performance isn’t likely, there won’t be much stopping Manning from putting numbers similar to those of the first contest between these two teams. In the previous matchup Cruz totaled 118 yards and three scores, far and away his best of the year, and he’ll be searching for a way to pick up where he left off against the Cowboys. The primary area on which New York needs to focus is limiting turnovers, particularly interceptions; Manning threw three picks in Week 1 and the team fumbled six times, but even with those six turnovers they lost by only five points. If the new offensive philosophy continues to allow the Giants to protect the ball, they can expect to move up and down the field with little resistance as they once again exploit the weaknesses of the Dallas pass defense.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite playing in only two games, running back Andre Brown is already the Giants' leading rusher for the season; he averages over 90 yards per game, which is nearly triple the weekly averages of the three other Giants backs who have started a game in 2013. While conclusions are hard to draw from only a two-game sample size, what is clear is that New York will continue to give Brown his touches (52 total in two games) and that he has the skills to make the most of those opportunities. He’s proving to the coaching staff that they were right in selecting him as the starter for the season and that the injury that previously landed him on IR is entirely in the past. With Brown in the backfield, the Giants are now a legitimate rushing threat, an attribute that could not be affirmed by any of the other running backs who tried and failed to fill his shoes as the starter. Barring another injury, the New York ground game will continue to outperform the averages and expectations established before Brown was able to resume his starting role.

If only by a slim margin, the Dallas rush defense is not quite as bad as their pass defense, only because being ranked in the bottom four is ever so slightly less terrible than being dead last. In addition to yardage, they are tied for fifth worst in touchdowns allowed as well as being worst in the NFL in yards allowed per carry. Without much imagination, it is the combination of all of those factors which earns the Cowboys the designation as the league’s worst defense against the run, a position that is supported by recognizing that Dallas gives up the most fantasy points to opposing RBs. In consecutive weeks they have allowed 145, 140, and 92 rushing yards to opponents’ leading rushers, as well as surrendering eight rushing touchdowns during those three games. After losing linebacker Sean Lee for the year Dallas will be even more susceptible against the run, and with the resurgence of the Giants running game with Brown as the primary back, all signs point to a fourth game in a row that the Cowboys defense gets abused by a strong running game and that New York is able to ride that success to a fifth consecutive victory.

Eli Manning: 330 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Andre Brown: 110 rush yds, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Giants 35, Cowboys 34 ^ Top

Broncos at Patriots - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: After an unbelievable start to the season, Peyton Manning has slowed down just a bit but is still on track to beat the all-time mark for touchdowns in a single season. While this more moderate pace should not be cause for alarm, there is a troubling trend developing, one which builds upon years of data about the future Hall of Famer and his history of playing less than his best outdoors as winter arrives. Of the past three games, two have been played in the cool or cold weather of Denver (the other was in San Diego), and in those games Manning has thrown five touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s thrown six interceptions all year, and half of them came in one game against Washington, a team not known for having a particularly gifted pass defense, and that was at the end of October. Now Denver travels to New England, where the weather is expected to be noticeably below freezing with strong winds and a slight chance for precipitation; if the trend continues and Manning plays like an average NFL quarterback rather than the elite one he normally is, his team and his fantasy owners will likely be disappointed. Keeping in mind that the Broncos clearly have the best passing attack in the league, it would be wise to temper expectations of what the quarterback and his receivers may be able to accomplish when they visit Foxboro this Sunday evening.

The New England pass defense has already faced a supremely talented quarterback and a highly gifted receiving corps once this year when they defeated the Saints in Week 6, and they will be looking to do much of the same in Week 12. In addition to having a basic blueprint for success, the Patriots will have the weather on their side, as well has a few nicks and bruises courtesy of the Chiefs, whom the Broncos faced in Week 11. Wes Welker (concussion) and tight end Julius Thomas (knee) are both Questionable heading into the week after picking up injuries against Kansas City, and Manning is still nursing ankle discomfort stemming from hits late in the game two weeks ago. New England has one of the best “bend but don’t break” defenses in the league, giving up an average amount of yards but ranking near the top in sacks, interceptions forced, and yards allowed per attempt. If they’re able to force Manning into mistakes and take advantage of the discomfort the weather, Denver may have a hard time overcoming those obstacles to remain competitive for four quarters.

Running Game Thoughts: If the weather forecast holds true Denver may lean on the rushing attack more on Sunday than they have all year, involving two if not three running backs to an appreciable extent. For the majority of the season Knowshon Moreno has been the workhorse, but against Kansas City, rookie Monte Ball received a handful of touches and was able to turn them into 25 yards and two touchdowns, suggesting that the team will continue to expand his role and bring him into the offense more frequently. In the past three games he has recorded 25 touches and three touchdowns, compared to 43 touches and no scores over the previous seven games. As a team, the Broncos are slightly below average in yards gained per game but are third in the league in rushing touchdowns; when in the red zone, Manning will take advantage of what the defense gives him, which often means calling an audible to set up a running play that can result in a score. With the skill of the ball carriers and the field vision of the quarterback, Denver is one of the most dangerous red zone teams in the NFL despite their poor yards per carry average.

The Patriots rush defense presents additional opportunities and reasons for Denver to utilize the run more frequently this weekend; at 125.7 yards against per game, they are sixth worst in the league but have allowed only four touchdowns (tied for third best in the NFL), so they’re obviously doing something right in the area of the field which counts the most. To a large extent, the Patriots have been able to limit the big play, but their yards per carry against is still in the bottom ten. In line with the “bend but don’t break” philosophy, they aren’t afraid to give up yards in the middle of the field, so long as those gains don’t ultimately result in touchdowns. The running game may ultimately come down to a coaching battle, both for the plays called from the sideline and the audibles used by the offensive and defensive field generals, as each team will try to test the limits of how far the defense can be pushed without finally giving up the touchdowns that they’ve been so good at preventing through the first eleven weeks.

Peyton Manning: 280 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Knowshon Moreno: 80 rush yds
Demaryius Thomas: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Whereas the visiting quarterback is having the better season thus far, it is the hometown hero, quarterback Tom Brady, who enjoys the career advantage over Manning whenever the two have met head to head. Unlike the leader of the other team, Brady is comfortable in the winter weather and is able to cope with and compensate for the various conditions better than most. In the passing game, the Patriots fall right on the midline with 237 yards per contest, and Brady has a modest 14-7 TD-INT ratio. The most glaring defect has been the sacks surrendered by the offensive line; with more than three per game over the last five weeks New England is slightly above their own average of just under three per week. An extra sack on occasion or additional pressure every so often won’t make or break the team, but in combination with some of the injury and turnover problems they’ve experienced throughout the season, those small extra mistakes begin to add up. As receivers become and stay fully healthy and the rookies continue to develop and become more reliable, Brady will see an increase in productivity from the passing game and protection from his O-line, as more defenders will be dedicated to coverage rather than bringing pressure.

The best part of squaring off against Manning, at least as far as New England is concerned, is that Brady will get to throw against one of the worst passing defenses in the league. Denver is built to play from ahead and protect the lead; they have given up far too many yards and touchdowns, but they have begun to make up for it by not allowing an abundance of touchdowns while forcing sacks and pressuring the quarterback. They can best be described as opportunistic, often taking advantage of situations as they present themselves but largely being unable to generate their own opportunities to make an impactful play or come up with a big turnover. With tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola both listed as Questionable, Brady is in danger of being without one or both of his two most capable receivers, though understanding the importance of this game, it would be surprising if either is unavailable come Sunday night.

Running Game Thoughts: While the storyline on Sunday will be about the quarterback battle, the true game changer will be the Patriots' rushing attack. New England has a top ten running game, averaging 126.9 yards per game and tied for fifth with 11 rushing touchdowns. Stevan Ridley has really come into his own in the past five games, scoring seven touchdowns during that time and averaging 77.6 rushing yards per game. In the most recent contest he lost a fumble for the second time this season and was benched for the majority of the remainder of the game. Earlier in the season a similar thing happened and in the subsequent weeks he saw his playing time and workload greatly diminish. He has been the best running back on the team, but with Bill Belichick’s intolerance of turnovers, Ridley may once again be in for a reduced role. If he is benched for any period of time, the most likely replacement would be Shane Vereen, who recently came off IR and was considered the up-and-coming star of the backfield prior to breaking his wrist in Week 1. Vereen is the best pass-catching running back on the team, and that versatility combined with what he can do on the ground gives Brady and Belichick one more weapon in the wide-open Patriots offense.

Regardless of who is in the backfield, he will be up against a Denver rush defense that ranks in the top five of yards allowed, though their stats appear slightly more impressive considering they have faced the ninth fewest rushing attempts; even at that, they give up only 3.7 yards per rush, which is also in the top five of that category. The major flaw in the defense is in touchdowns allowed, where the Broncos have nine against them on the year ,which is in the bottom ten of those rankings. This suggests that when it counts the most, Denver is usually unable to come up with stops on either short-yardage situations or in the red zone. Since the return of linebacker Von Miller from suspension, the scoring defense has improved slightly. Without him they surrendered six scores in six games, with him they’ve allowed three in four. The main factor that helps the rush defense, however, is the fact that they’re usually playing with a considerable lead, essentially forcing opponents to throw the ball rather than run and thus contributing to the impressive statistics and the top five ranking in the ground game.

Tom Brady: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs
Stevan Ridley: 80 rush yds, 1 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 100 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 38, Broncos 27 ^ Top

49ers at Redskins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Considering all the success he saw last year, it’s almost hard to fathom quarterback Colin Kaepernick experiencing a sophomore slump. But considering the last place passing offense of San Francisco, calling it only a slump seems generous. In addition to not accumulating yards, the young signal caller is also second worst in completion percentage in the league and his team has attempted the fewest passes of anyone this season; with low numbers of attempts and an atrocious completion percentage, it is no surprise that San Francisco has completed the lowest number of passes and gained the fewest yards through the air of all 32 teams. Even with those minimal attempts, the 49ers have still surrendered 24 sacks on the year, tying them with teams who have thrown roughly 100 more passes; Kaepernick is sacked one time for every 11.5 drop-backs; by comparison the Redskins' Robert Griffin III, who is also having a particularly disappointing season, is sacked once every 18.3 passing plays, and the best mark in the league is once every 35.9 drop backs, more than three times better than the Kaepernick mark. The major hindrance to the passing game has been a lack of dominant receivers, but with the potential return of Michael Crabtree (Achilles) this week, that may slowly begin to change. Keep expectations low for this first week or two, but down the stretch look forward to big things from Crabtree and a noticeable improvement from his quarterback.

For a passing game seeking improvement, going up against Washington is an excellent way to facilitate growth. The Redskins defense ranks in the bottom seven in both yards against (275) and completion percentage allowed (66.4) while recording touchdown and interception numbers that are both worse than average for the league. Simply put, there is a lack of elite talent at most levels of the Redskins defense due to either injury, personnel deficiencies, or both, resulting in unimaginative schemes that are fairly simple to diagnose and pick apart. The eventual return of defensive tackle Adam Carriker may help their situation to an extent, especially with linebackers Brian Orakpo, London Fletcher, and Ryan Kerrigan making up one of the strongest cores of any defense. The problem will continue to come on the back end, as the secondary is underwhelming as a unit despite having good name recognition of several of their players. Unfortunately for the defense, the names on the back of the jerseys don’t do anything to stop passes that are thrown their way or intimidate defenders who continually run past them in coverage.

Running Game Thoughts: In all of the six 49ers wins, running back Frank Gore has carried the ball at least 17 times, and in the four losses he has carried 16 or fewer times; while that magic number can’t be the only key to victory, it certainly is a wonderful place from which to start. With the statistical slow down of the passing game, San Francisco is being limited to fewer plays and thus they can’t run as often as they’d wish as they play catch-up, but a game plan built around the running game would go a long way toward improving the potency of the offense and would provide excellent stability behind Kaepernick to reduce some of the pressure that is being placed on him. The veteran running back and young quarterback account for 1,083 of the 1,410 team rushing yards, nearly 77 percent of that production. They may hit a snag in Week 12 with left guard Mike Iupati (MCL) set to miss the game, leaving the rushing attack without one of its best run blockers. Even in his absence San Francisco should look to build on its top five running game and add to its league-leading 15 rushing touchdowns. The ability to move the ball on the ground, score via the run, and control time of possession will be central to the success of the 49ers moving forward.

In opposition to the San Francisco ground game will be the pedestrian Redskins rush defense, ranking slightly worse than average in yards allowed per game and tied for last in touchdowns allowed despite facing the fewest attempts of any of their co-losers. When considering that yards against mark and the poor showings in the other rush defense statistics, it is clear that the Redskins have one of the worst units in the NFL. Since their bye in Week 5 they have defended the run better than they had prior, and if that continues, there may be a glimmer of optimism this Sunday against San Francisco. The linebacker corps is solid and the 49ers offensive line won’t be at full strength, so the battle at the line of scrimmage should be close to even and the victors in that area will likely carry that success throughout the game and use it to secure the victory. Both teams are riding back-to-back losses, and a win will prevent a three-game losing streak for one of these squads hoping to make a push for the playoffs.

Colin Kaepernick: 210 pass yds, 1 TD / 50 rush yds
Frank Gore: 60 rush yds
Anquan Boldin: 70 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The lineup for Sunday will revert back toward what it resembled at the beginning of the season, at least with respect to the pass catchers on the team. Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson was placed on IR and will undergo an LCL surgery that will cause him to miss the remainder of the year. Tight end Jordan Reed (concussion) is officially listed as Questionable. Those two will be replaced by wide receiver Josh Morgan and tight end Fred Davis, two players who had previously been successfully phased out of the lineup. Simply put, the current starters had outperformed the veterans who will now be starting in Week 12, though their presence may be a blessing in disguise, as their experience and leadership could be exactly what the Redskins need to get their season back on track. With 257 yards per game, RGIII has led Washington to a spot just outside the top ten in yards gained even though his completion percentage is decidedly below what it was last season and roughly mediocre for the NFL this year. The offensive line, despite struggling with injuries earlier in the season, has protected Griffin rather well, currently sitting in the top ten for sacks allowed despite facing top ten passing attempts numbers; the Redskins throw more than most and their quarterback gets hit less than most, even with those increased passing numbers. The primary area of concern is the TD-INT ratio, which currently sits at 14-10 and has remained fairly constant all season.

The top ten Redskins offense will be evenly matched by a top ten 49ers defense that allows just 220 passing yards per game and has allowed an equal number of touchdowns and interceptions at 11 each. Despite having one of the best front sevens in the league San Francisco has recorded only 21 sacks on the year, better than just five other teams. If they can't pressure the quarterback on Sunday, Griffin should be able to use that time to find holes in the secondary and move the ball down the field by exploiting the weakest aspect of the 49ers defense. Most defensive statistics suggest that San Francisco is an average defense in most respects, which is a stark contrast to how they were ranked and viewed only one season ago. Without a strong offense there is more pressure put on the defense, as opposing teams are more able to attack them using a balanced plan rather than having to play from behind. The 49ers have a strong front seven but are weak on the back end, so if they are unable to protect against the pass, most offenses are capable of exploiting their weaknesses, whereas last season that was far less likely to happen.

Running Game Thoughts: As a team, Washington recently took over the top spot as the best rushing offense in the league, surpassing division rival Philadelphia, who held the spot for the majority of the season. Despite losing four of the last six, the Redskins are averaging 188 rushing yards per game, no doubt the fuel needed to propel their season average to 155.2 with a per carry average of 5.1 yards. The primary workhorse has been Alfred Morris, who averages 91.8 yards per game and 5.1 per carry while scoring five touchdowns in ten total games. He is followed by Griffin, who after a slower start to the season is now averaging 34.5 yards per game and 5.2 per carry. Those two account for 1,263 of the team’s 1,552 rushing yards, over 81.3 percent of the production from the ground game. Other contributors to the rushing offense are used sparingly but have been largely responsible for the red zone touchdowns scored by Washington, a trend that has bothered fantasy owners since Morris is doing the majority of the heavy lifting and others are seemingly stealing his scoring opportunities. In a Mike Shanahan offense, though, these RB troubles have become the norm and not the exception, a trend that has haunted fantasy owners from back in his days in Denver.

Leaning on the running game this weekend should pay great dividends for the Redskins, as it can balance the San Francisco defense and open up the entire playbook for Griffin. With the injuries to starting receivers, the ability to run the ball will be even more critical, but when it can be done effectively, the result will be even more impressive, considering how the 49ers are likely to favor that phase of the game anyway. San Francisco falls just outside the top third in rushing yards allowed, with 103.8 per game, so while individuals may see a slight dip in their season averages, the team as a whole is expected to greatly surpass that mark even if they can’t reach their recent average of nearly 190 yards. Look for the backup running backs to see slightly extended playing time as Morris is worked hard but rested when appropriate to keep him fresh for the later stages of the game. A balanced attack is what is needed to beat San Francisco, and that all starts with Morris, Griffin, and the others being able to run the ball successfully and force the defense to over commit to stopping the ground game.

Robert Griffin III: 210 pass yds, 1 TD / 20 rush yds
Alfred Morris: 80 rush yds
Pierre Garcon: 70 rec yds

Prediction: 49ers 17, Redskins 13 ^ Top

Chargers @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After a few seasons of inconsistent play, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has gotten into a groove in 2013. He currently sits as the No. 7 fantasy quarterback on the season and he has scored between 12 and 18 fantasy points (standard scoring) in each of his past six games. Although those numbers don’t jump off the page, it can be easy to forget that consistency at the quarterback position can often be the difference between winning and losing your games on a week-to-week basis. Rivers has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game this season and has drastically reduced his number of turnovers. Through his first 10 games, he has thrown a total of 19 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Perhaps the most under-the-radar positive statistic for Rivers, however, has been his lack of fumbles. After fumbling the ball a total of 15 times in 2012, Rivers has fumbled only once thus far in 2013; and even that was recovered by the Chargers. A lot of credit has to go to the San Diego offensive line who has kept their quarterback upright throughout most of the year. They will have perhaps their greatest test this week, however, as they go up against a Kansas City front seven that ranks second in the NFL in sacks with 36 on the year.

The Chiefs had been absolutely relentless at getting after opposing passers to start the season, but they have actually taken a big step back in recent weeks. It shouldn’t be surprising that they didn’t get to Peyton Manning a week ago, but the fact that they didn’t force a sack the week prior, against Jeff Tuel, was almost unfathomable. Perhaps opposing teams are beginning to pick up on the four-man pressures that Kansas City has been sending at them, or maybe we’re seeing the natural regression of a few players who were performing above their natural abilities. Either way, Kansas City will need to hit Rivers if they hope to keep the score low in this game as they have in most others this year. Rivers has a very track record against Kansas City, as he is 11-4 against them all-time. In 2012, he threw four touchdown passes and two interceptions in his two games against the Chiefs, both multi-score Chargers wins. San Diego receivers to look out for in this game include, of course, Antonio Gates who has seen somewhat of a career resurgence in 2012. Although he had not scored since Week 4 prior to his touchdown a week ago, Gates has caught at least four passes in every game since Week 2. He has been the Chargers’ most consistent receiver and given the lack of production overall at the tight end position this season, should be considered a must-start for most fantasy owners. Rookie Keenan Allen has been the team’s best wide receiver this season, but has regressed a bit over his past two games, catching only seven total balls for 86 yards over that span. Allen’s numbers may be a bit skewed due to an injury that knocked him out in the fourth quarter of last week’s game, but the fact that he was only targeted three times in the passing game prior to that injury is more telling. Allen remains a low-end WR2 for the time being and he will likely have his hands full against the Chiefs’ Brandon Flowers, but pay attention to what he does this week. If Rivers doesn’t start to look his way more often, it could be time to start benching the rookie until he gets involved more in the offense. Other receivers such as Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown should essentially be ignored from a fantasy standpoint at this time. Neither player is being targeted enough to make much of an impact in fantasy lineups.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners of Chargers running back Danny Woodhead were dealt a poor hand a week ago as the team opted to rely on former first round pick Ryan Mathews to do the bulk of the grunt work. Mathews took 19 carries for 127 yards—his third 100-yard day over his past five games—while Woodhead took only five carries for 21 yards. Worse yet, the juicy on-paper matchup that saw Woodhead—one of the game’s best pass-catchers out of the backfield—against a team that had struggled to slow down opposing runners in the passing game, didn’t pan out at all. Woodhead caught just two passes for 16 yards, which Mathews matched identically. It was Woodhead’s lowest receiving output of the season. The ugly performance highlights the reality that is pass-catching running backs. There have been some big performances from Woodhead this season, but when the team chooses to run the ball more frequently, that can really hurt players like Darren Sproles and Woodhead whose bodies are simply not built to take that kind of every-down punishment. With Mathews reemerging as a legitimate NFL running back, Woodhead is seeing less playing time than he had through the first half of the season. Mathews was on the field for 36 snaps a week ago, while Woodhead saw just 29 snaps. Even Ronnie Brown stepped in on some third downs, a position that had been pretty much locked down by Woodhead prior to Week 11. One week doesn’t tell the whole story and it doesn’t necessarily even indicate that Mathews will lead the team in snaps going forward, but it does likely mean that we are headed for a more even “by committee” approach.

Whoever is touching the ball for the Chiefs will have their hands full, however, as they go up against a Kansas City Chiefs run defense that has been dominant throughout most of the season. Prior to their Week 11 letdown when they allowed two goal line scores to the Broncos, the Chiefs had allowed only one score on the ground to an opposing running back on the season. Having allowed 318 yards on the ground over their past two contests, however, Kansas City’s defense may be coming back to reality, which could mean good things for both Mathews and Woodhead. There is a bit of a concern that Mathews hasn’t had a whole lot of fantasy success against the Chiefs recently. In each of his past three games against Kansas City, Mathews has failed to reach 70 rushing yards and he has not scored a single touchdown. The ability for the Chargers to create a viable rushing attack in this one could go a long way in determining the outcome of the game as a whole. If Kansas City slows down the run enough early in the game to force San Diego to abandon it, they could really start to attack Philip Rivers in the second half. Look for the Chargers to try to get Danny Woodhead more involved again in the passing game this week. He has been an extremely reliable target for Rivers and against a front four that is aggressive at attacking the passer, short dump-offs can be a good way to counteract an aggressive pass rush. Mathews has moved up to being a low-end RB2 against the Chiefs. Woodhead can be a solid RB2 in PPR formats, but his value in standard scoring leagues is significantly lower. Given his lack of production over his past two contests, Woodhead is only an RB3 when he’s not getting points for receptions.

Philip Rivers: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Ryan Mathews: 60 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 25 rush yds, 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Keenan Allen: 70 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The lack of a downfield passing attack cost Kansas City a week ago as Alex Smith was held to just 230 yards on 45 attempts. Although he added 52 rushing yards as a supplement and actually had his biggest fantasy day of the year, we may have seen the high end of Smith’s potential fantasy production in this dink-and-dunk Kansas City offense. Although 22 points is a fine day and nothing to complain about at all, when the low end is the four points he put out in his previous contest, the risk/reward factor just doesn’t seem to be there. On the bright side, Smith has actually started to look the way of his top target, Dwayne Bowe, who now has 11 catches over his past two games, including a touchdown against the Broncos in Week 11. Smith threw an astonishing 26 passes Bowe’s way over his past two contests, which gives us some hope that more respectable fantasy numbers may be on the way after an unbelievably bad start to the year. Bowe’s upside there may be limited given Smith’s inefficiency in passing deep, but Bowe still remains the Chiefs’ most respected and best target. One has to imagine that he will lead the team in targets once again in Week 12 as the Chiefs host the Chargers.

While Kansas City’s receivers have been among the worst in the league, they do have a chance to produce something worthwhile against San Diego, who has been absolutely decimated by opposing wideouts thus far in 2013. Only four teams have allowed more fantasy points to the position and San Diego has not allowed fewer than 142 yards to receivers in any game this season. In fact, they’ve allowed over 200 yards to wide receivers in five of their 11 games so far. One thing worth noting, however, is that the Chargers have been surprisingly decent at actually keeping receivers out of the end zone in recent weeks. If you look past their letdown against the Broncos, San Diego has not allowed any other wide receiver to get into the end zone since Week 5. While this is still a very good matchup for the Chiefs’ receivers, those who are looking at the likes of Dexter McCluster, Donnie Avery or tight end Anthony Fasano for bye week or injury fantasy fill-ins should probably still look elsewhere. It’s just too hard to trust the Chiefs passing game when Alex Smith has still not hit 300 yards in any game this season.

Running Game Thoughts: After a monstrous start to the season that saw Jamaal Charles get out to a lead as the top scoring running back in all of fantasy football, there has been a bit of a regression in recent contests. Charles has seen his fantasy point totals drop in each of his past five games, starting from the 24-point (standard scoring) day that he had back in Week 6, leading up to his discouraging 7-point day against the Broncos in Week 11. That alone isn’t surprising, but the fact that Charles has actually seen his carry total drop in each of those games is a bit more worrisome. Not only have Charles’ rushing numbers taken a bit of a dip in recent weeks, but his production in the passing game has also been discouraging. Charles has just 46 total receiving yards in his past three games combined. That total is fewer than the number he had in four individual games earlier in the season. While it’s true that Denver has some of the most athletic linebackers who can hold players like Charles in check in the passing game, the fact that he was targeted eight times and only caught two passes tells us that there may be some miscommunication between Charles and his quarterback. These aren’t long, downfield passes which can be overlooked when they don’t go well. They’re almost short, checkdown passes that should have a high rate of completion.

When you consider how bad San Diego’s defense has been throughout the year, you’d probably think that this would be a good bounce-back opportunity for Charles in Week 12. That may not be the case, however, as a closer look at the scoring totals will tell us that San Diego has actually been very good against opposing running games so far this season. If you remove their awful, four touchdown allowed performance against the Redskins a few weeks back, San Diego has allowed only one rushing touchdown in their other nine games combined. That includes games against Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Knowshon Moreno and others. There’s no question that Charles still remains a must-start, rock solid RB1 option in fantasy, but he may not be the unstoppable force that he looked like at the beginning of the year. Against an underrated San Diego run defense, Charles may simply be in for another decent but not great afternoon.

Alex Smith: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 80 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Dexter McCluster: 60 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 35 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 25 rec yds

Prediction: Chiefs 19, Chargers 17 ^ Top

Bears @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: When Jay Cutler was knocked out of Chicago’s Week 7 game against the Redskins, most fantasy experts believed that we would see a sharp decline in production from the passing game in the Windy City. That hasn’t been the case, as Josh McCown has filled in very nicely, prompting many to begin questioning whether the team should still be considering a potential gigantic contract extension at the end of the 2013 season. While Cutler was playing some of the best football we’ve seen him play since becoming a Bear, McCown has been doing much of the same. The primary difference, however, is that in the three games where McCown has been the team’s primary quarterback, he has been limiting turnovers better than Cutler ever did. McCown has not yet thrown an interception in 101 attempts this season. Cutler, on the other hand, threw eight of them in his 265 attempts. McCown has also not yet fumbled, whereas Cutler has fumbled three times. Certainly the small sample size may play a role in those numbers, but the immediate fantasy impact has been that the Chicago passing game has remained very efficient. Both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have remained among the most-targeted players in the league and their production really has not suffered at all with McCown behind center.

With McCown at the helm again in Week 12, both Marshall and Jeffery are must-start fantasy receivers this week as they go up against a St. Louis Rams defense that has been only average at shutting down opposing receivers and has already allowed 11 touchdowns to the position on the year. Only once this season have the Rams been able to hold opposing teams’ wide receivers to under 100 total yards, and that came in a Week 2 loss to the Cowboys when they still allowed two touchdowns. A week ago, it was the Colts who, sans Reggie Wayne, saw their receivers catch 15 passes for 209 yards against this secondary. One place that St. Louis has done very well on defense is against opposing tight ends. Allowing just 4.2 points per game to the position, the Rams are second-best in the league at keeping tight ends off the board and they have not allowed a tight end to go over 50 yards or score a touchdown against them since Week 4. Martellus Bennett has been in a lull since his early season breakout, having not gone over 6.0 fantasy points (standard scoring) since Week 4. Given the lack of production from the tight end position as a whole this season, it wouldn’t be surprising if fantasy owners don’t have a better option, but Bennett really is a weak play this week against the Rams. Don’t expect much if you are forced to put him in your lineup, but he does always possess the possibility to make a trip to the end zone.

Running Game Thoughts: With Jay Cutler not behind center, Matt Forte has been having to do more with less as defenses have been keying in on the all-purpose tailback. That hasn’t stopped him from continuing to be a very productive fantasy contributor, however, as he proved last week when he put together an impressive 125 total yard, one touchdown performance against Baltimore. Having touched the ball at least 16 times in every game this season, Forte has become one of the most formidable and consistent fantasy producers in the game, particularly in PPR formats where he has reminded all of us of his stellar ability to catch the ball. Forte has caught four or more passes in all but one game this season, including 14 receptions over his past three contests and his first receiving touchdown of the year came in Chicago’s win over the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. What’s been most impressive about Forte’s return to fantasy stardom, however, has been his work in the red zone. After giving fantasy owners fits over the past few seasons by conceding carries to Michael Bush at the goal line, Forte has become one of the most productive goal line backs in the game this season. He has already scored seven rushing touchdowns on the year while Bush has practically been a non-factor, with only one score all the way back in Week 3.

Forte may just be this week’s best fantasy option at running back as he goes up against a St. Louis defense that has done practically nothing but get embarrassed by opposing backs all season. Since shockingly holding Marshawn Lynch to under 30 yards on the ground in Week 8, the Rams have been abused in back-to-back weeks by opposing running backs, conceding a ridiculous 188 yards and three touchdowns on the ground to Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene and the Titans’ backs in Week 9 before giving up big yardage and a touchdown through the air to the Colts’ running backs in Week 10. The Rams have given up four separate 150-plus yard rushing days to opposing running backs and Forte may very well make it five if he is fed the ball enough. Even if he doesn’t get there on the ground, however, St. Louis could find it very difficult to slow him down in the passing game. Only one team (DAL) has allowed more receiving yards to opposing wide receivers this season and with 49 catches for 374 yards as a receiver already, Forte is poised to inflate that number even further.

Josh McCown: 230 pass yds, 2 TD
Matt Forte: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 45 rec yds
Brandon Marshall: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Martellus Bennett: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With former No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford still on the sidelines, it has been veteran signal caller Kellen Clemens who has stepped in to try to keep St. Louis out of the cellar of the league. Clemens started off slow, but has gotten progressively better, even finally getting his first win as a starting QB since 2009 in St. Louis’ most recent, blowout victory over the Colts. Clemens threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns on just nine total completions that day, as he was really not relied on much after the Rams got up multiple scores in the first half and chose to run the clock out rather than run up the score. Clemens hasn’t thrown an interception in either of his past two games, which is a good step in the right direction after he had thrown two against Seattle back in Week 8, but it’s hard to trust that he’s going to be able to keep that up, especially against the highly aggressive Chicago secondary that has made so many QB’s pay in the past. The Bears have been good against opposing quarterbacks this season, as they typically are, and have intercepted just one fewer pass (14) than they have allowed touchdowns (15). It’s also worth consideration that while they’ve only held two quarterbacks under 200 yards on the year, only one quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) has gone over 300 yards against them.

After a breakout Week 10 performance when he caught two passes for a whopping 138 yards and both went for scores, Chicago would be wise to key in on rookie playmaker Tavon Austin. Austin, who had been almost silent since his previous two-touchdown performance all the way back in Week 2, also brought back a punt return for a score; making him one of only three players (Randy Moss and Gale Sayers) as the only rookies who have ever scored three or more touchdowns of 50-plus yards in a single game. Austin is still stuck in a group of less-than-exciting fantasy receivers, but he has clearly established himself as the big play target who can make things happen after the catch; just as NFL draft analysts said he would be before the Rams selected him. With players like Chris Givens and Austin Pettis who have not topped 60 yards receiving since Week 2, it’s hard to trust any of these receivers. But if you are looking for a hail mary, Austin is the guy who you should give a chance to. The Bears have allowed at least one passing touchdown to an opposing receiver in seven of their first 10 games this season, including four over their past two games.

Running Game Thoughts: If St. Louis is going to win back-to-back games for the first time since Weeks 2 and 3, chances are that they will need a big day from their rookie tailback Zac Stacy. Stacy has been one of fantasy football’s brightest breakout stars since getting his chance back in Week 5. The team had been fumbling around, both figuratively and literally, with a host of other backs before they finally stumbled upon Stacy, who has been one of the most productive backs in the league since then. He has taken at least 26 carries in each of his past three contests while also contributing solid numbers in the passing game. He has scored at least one touchdown in three of his past four contests and had 134 yards on the ground in the other.

Few could have predicted this kind of fantasy production, but those who took a chance on him either in their draft or on the waiver wire have been riding high. With a week of rest now under his belt, Stacy could again see a significant number of touches as he goes up against a Chicago defense that has been dreadful against the run this season. Only one team (Atlanta) has allowed more rushing yardage in 2013 than the Bears, and they have been particularly awful as of late, having allowed at least 120 yards on the ground in every game since Week 5. If you go back to their Week 4 game against the Lions, Chicago has given up at least 14 fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing running backs in every game. Worse yet, they’ve averaged allowing over 24 points per game to the position during that stretch. Stacy has been very good and there’s no reason to think that he won’t pick up where he left off prior to St. Louis’ bye week. The Bears have not had an answer for any running game, so get Stacy in your lineup. He’s a legitimate RB1 option this week with high-end production very possible.

Kellen Clemens: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Zac Stacy: 110 rush yds, 2 TD, 20 rec yds
Tavon Austin: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Chris Givens: 50 rec yds
Austin Pettis: 30 rec yds
Jared Cook: 25 rec yds

Prediction: Rams 27, Bears 24 ^ Top

Colts @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After a fine start to the season, Andrew Luck has struggled in the first half’s of recent games. It’s hard to determine exactly why that is, but Luck has been awful from a fantasy and real-life NFL standpoint while his Colts have fallen behind in the first half of each of their past two games. Once they have, however, Luck has been keeping his fantasy owners content, saving the day by passing the ball all over the yard in the second half. Luck has also remained one of the league’s most efficient runners from the quarterback position, as he has now rushed for four touchdowns on the year. With only one truly “bad” fantasy performance on the season, Luck has given his fantasy owners a steady dose of very good fantasy production while doing a fairly good job of not turning the ball over. Other than his ugly, three interception performance against the Rams in Week 10, Luck has not thrown more than one interception in any game, and he has not turned the ball over at all in three of his past four contests. With Reggie Wayne out, it has been primarily T.Y. Hilton and second-year tight end Coby Fleener who have picked up the slack. Hilton has 19 catches for 296 total yards and three scores over his past three games since Wayne’s injury, and he has been the focal point of the offense in each game.

He has averaged 9.5 targets per game since becoming the defacto WR1 in Indianapolis and that number should continue even as he is shadowed this week by one of the league’s best cornerbacks in Patrick Peterson. Hilton has made it through tough matchups in the past, including in Week 5 when he torched the Seahawks for 140 yards and two scores, so Luck will likely continue to look his way early and often in this one. Fleener, Luck’s college teammate at Stanford, is coming off of career bests in both yardage (107) and receptions (eight) this past week against Tennessee and he has been significantly more involved in the Colts’ offense since Wayne’s injury back in Week 7. He’s certainly capable of dropping an egg on his fantasy owners, but there aren’t many tight ends with a higher potential for a big game than Fleener this week. The Cardinals have been atrocious against opposing tight ends this season, averaging allowing a ridiculous 14.0 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) to the position this season. That’s worst in the league by a country mile, as the next worst team (Jacksonville) is averaging just 10.6 fantasy points per game. Arizona has allowed league worsts in every notable category to tight ends: receptions (65), yards (886) and touchdowns (10). Play Fleener with confidence.

Running Game Thoughts: To say that the Trent Richardson experiment looks like a failure would be an understatement. Since making the move from Cleveland to Indianapolis earlier this season, Richardson has been disgustingly bad. Other than his goal line scores against the 49ers and Jaguars in his first two games as a Colt, Richardson has barely even been worth a fantasy roster spot; let alone a starting NFL tailback position role. Richardson has not topped 60 yards on the ground in any game as a Colt and, even worse, has been held to 40 or fewer rushing yards in each of his past five games. He also has not scored a single touchdown since those first two as a member of the roster. While he finally got involved a bit more in the passing game this past week, catching five passes for 31 yards, it wasn’t enough to save what was yet another awful fantasy performance. Richardson may be the biggest first round bust of the 2013 fantasy season and his role may be reducing even further if Donald Brown’s recent production has any say in things. Brown, a former first round NFL draft pick himself, rushed for 80 yards and two scores a week ago on just 14 carries. He was also productive from a fantasy standpoint in Week 10 when he was able to contribute in the passing game to the tune of 64 yards and a score. The Colts have seemed to catch on recently that their offense is clicking much better with Brown on the field and it seems as if the only thing preventing them from making the full switch is that the coaching staff and management team don’t want to admit the massive mistake they made when they gave up a future first round draft pick for Richardson earlier this year. The Indianapolis running game is in shambles as a whole and things really don’t look likely to get better as they head to Arizona to challenge the Cardinals and their top-ranked fantasy defense against the run.

Allowing just 10.4 fantasy points per game to opposing running backs, Arizona has been absolutely stellar this season. They have allowed only two teams to reach over 100 yards on the ground and it took each of them 24 or more carries to do so. With Indianapolis struggling so much to run the ball, don’t be surprised if they barely even reach half that number. As has been the case a lot lately, neither Richardson nor Brown make for a particularly good fantasy play, but Brown is the one who has the highest potential here. If you have to roll the dice on one Colts back, make it him. Richardson doesn’t deserve to see the light of day in a fantasy lineup until we see him turn things around on the field...and even then, it’ll be hard to trust him.

Andrew Luck: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Donald Brown: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 30 rush yds, 25 rec yds
T.Y. Hilton: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 30 rec yds
Coby Fleener: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: It took 10 games, but the Cardinals’ offseason acquisition of Carson Palmer finally paid off as he torched the Jacksonville Jaguars secondary to the tune of 419 yards and two touchdowns. It was his first game of even 300 yards passing since Week 1 and, even more surprisingly, it was also his first game all season where he did not throw a single interception. Palmer went through some early season struggles, but has played significantly better in recent weeks, completing nearly 70-percent of his passes over his past three contests. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been almost like clockwork with his off-and-on performances this season, having scored a touchdown in every other game since Week 4. If we were to take that as anything other than happenstance, this would be an “off” week for Fitz, but we have to trust that he’s going to buck that trend and give fantasy owners another nice fantasy day as he goes up against the Indianapolis Colts and their eighth-worst fantasy defense against opposing wide receivers.

Indianapolis has allowed 120-plus yards to opposing receivers in all but one game this season and they’ve even been the victims of back-to-back 300-plus yard games conceded to the position just a few weeks ago. Over their past six games, opposing receivers have averaged an almost unfathomable 30.5 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) while scoring 11 touchdowns against the Colts. Although the Cardinals have had their share of struggles in the passing game this season and Robert Mathis has been terrorizing opposing quarterbacks with his pass rushing skills, this is a week when you can really trust Larry Fitzgerald to produce. Those looking for a potential boom-or-bust option may even turn to second-year receiver Michael Floyd who blew up a week ago, catching six passes for 193 yards and a touchdown—his best ever game as a pro. Floyd has been limited in practice due to a shoulder injury, but is expected to play and could be in line for another big day. Another player to look out for is tight end Rob Housler who has really come on in recent weeks. Housler was the talk of the fantasy football community as a potential “sleeper” tight end, but early season injury concerns and a lack of production made him an obvious cut on most rosters. He has turned things on as of late, however, with 22 receptions over his past four contests. He is coming off of his best two games of the season and with the Colts having allowed a big game to Delanie Walker a week ago, this seems like another potentially nice fantasy day for Housler. Considering the number of quarterbacks who are currently on the sidelines throughout the league, Palmer is suddenly an intriguing fantasy option once again. If you’re struggling at the position and someone had cut and run on Palmer earlier in the year, give him a shot this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Frustrated fantasy owners of Andre Ellington have been growing by the week as the Cardinals continue to give the ball to veteran snail Rashard Mendenhall over the much more exciting Ellington. Mendenhall hasn’t done much with the ball all season and has really shown no signs that anything better is to come, but he has now taken 25 carries over his past two games, compared to just 20 for Ellington. Those who fell asleep and accidentally mashed their keyboard enough times to insert Mendenhall into their lineup a week ago were pleasantly surprised when the back scored a touchdown despite rushing for just 14 yards on the day, on 12 carries. It was Mendenhall’s fourth rushing score of the year and although he has not yet hit even 70 yards on the ground in any game this season, he has been the pain in the backside that has kept Ellington away from a potential fantasy breakout. In the one game that Mendenhall missed, Ellington rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown. The very next game, the Cardinals went right back to Mendenhall, giving him more carries than they did Ellington. Unfortunately this appears to be the Arizona coaching staff’s way of giving the finger to fantasy owners, which means that we should continue to see plenty of Mendenhall, especially at the goal line.

Indianapolis has been decent against opposing running backs this season, having not allowed any team to hit the 150 yards rushing mark against them, but they have also struggled in recent weeks. Teams have rushed for at least 116 yards and/or scored at least one touchdown against the Colts in each of their past six contests. A week ago, it was Titans back Chris Johnson who got off to a huge start on Thursday night; nearly putting the game out of reach in the first quarter before he was bottled up by the Colts in the following three quarters. With neither Ellington nor Mendenhall touching the ball often enough to be considered a true “starting” running back, both players currently sit as RB3’s in most formats. Ellington’s ability as a pass catcher could make him a low-end FLEX option in PPR leagues, but given the team’s seeming desire to bottle up his fantasy production, it’d be hard to expect a big game out of him unless Mendenhall somehow goes out of the game with an injury.

Carson Palmer: 310 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rashard Mendenhall: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Andre Ellington: 35 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Michael Floyd: 100 rec yds
Larry Fitzgerald: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 30 rec yds
Robert Housler: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Cardinals 30, Colts 27 ^ Top

Titans @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: With Jake Locker now out for the season, it is a bit of a lost year for the Titans who have since turned to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick. Acting in relief of the former first round pick, Fitzpatrick really hasn’t been bad. He hasn’t thrown an interception in either of his past two contests, while throwing three total touchdowns against the Jaguars and Colts. Fitzpatrick has also been decently productive as a runner. Although he’s a little longer in the tooth than Locker, Fitzpatrick is still fairly mobile. He won’t run for 100 yards in a game, but the 25-or-so yards that he gets are a nice added bonus, especially when you add in that defenses tend to forget about him near the goal line. It would have been easy to expect a drop off in fantasy production for the Tennessee receivers, but that hasn’t really been the case. Kendall Wright has been very productive with either Fitzpatrick or Locker passing to him, having at least 50 yards per game in nine straight contests. As a PPR receiver, Wright has been excellent. He currently sits in the top-10 of the league in receptions, tied with Calvin Johnson at 59, and has only been getting better. He has 16 receptions for 158 yards over his past two games with Fitzpatrick as the primary passer. Unfortunately, Wright has not been quite as great in standard scoring leagues. His lack of touchdown production and the fact that he is rarely even targeted in the red zone really limits Wright’s upside. He is a solid, reliable upper single digit producer in standard scoring leagues, but that’s also about his cap. He is a classic example of a player whose value varies greatly between scoring formats. There hasn’t been much production outside of Wright among the Titans receivers, one player who has been really showing up as of late is tight end Delanie Walker. Walker came over from San Francisco over the off-season, but hadn’t done much early in the season. Over his past four contests, however, Walker has been very impressive, catching 19 passes for 218 yards and three total scores. The best game came in Week 11 when he tore up the Indianapolis defense to the tune of 10 catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.

Walker is in line for another nice game this week as he goes up against an Oakland defense that is coming off of some ugly performances. In Week 11, they were torched for seven receptions, 136 yards and a touchdown by the Texans’ tight ends. Two weeks prior, they gave up eight receptions for 69 yards and two touchdowns to the Eagles’ tight ends. Tight end points-allowed statistics can be very skewed based on who the team has played against, but this is definitely one to pay attention to. Neither the Texans or Eagles are particularly stacked at tight end and Delanie Walker is likely better than anyone on either roster. As a whole, the Raiders have actually been fairly good against opposing quarterbacks as of late. If you can look beyond the seven touchdown performance that Nick Foles dropped on them in Week 9 (and I realize that’s very hard to do), Oakland actually only allowed three total passing touchdowns in games against the Chiefs, Steelers, Giants and Texans. Fitzpatrick isn’t exactly enticing as a fantasy option himself unless you’re in a really tough situation, but he should be productive enough to make Wright and Walker viable fantasy options this week.

Running Game Thoughts: After a quarter in Week 11, it appeared as if Chris Johnson was well on his way to a classic “CJ2K” performance. He had already rushed for two scores by the time the first quarter had ended and the Titans were blowing out the Colts...then reality came back to rear its ugly head. After rushing for 70 yards in the first quarter, Johnson was held completely in check from that point on. He got to just 86 yards on the night, finishing with a productive overall fantasy night but disappointing those who thought he might be on his way to single-handedly winning some fantasy games. On the bright side, Johnson has been utilized in the Titans’ passing game a lot more in recent weeks than he was at the beginning of the year. He has been over 40 yards receiving in three of his past six contests. Unfortunately Johnson’s upside has been significantly hampered with the healthy return of Shonn Greene, who had missed the majority of the first half of the season with an injury. Greene has taken Jackie Battle’s place as the power back complement to Johnson and has already seen work near the goal line. While Greene himself may not be a very reliable fantasy option, what he has done is make Johnson owners worry. As we creep closer toward the fantasy playoffs, that is never a good thing.

Johnson will have an opportunity to give fantasy owners some confidence going forward as he and the Titans host the Raiders and their 14th-ranked fantasy run defense. Oakland has allowed double digit fantasy production and an average of nearly 17 fantasy points per game to the running back position over their past eight games. While they’ve only allowed three teams to rush for 100 yards against them over that span, they have allowed a total of eight touchdowns. Although he can be frustrating to own, Johnson is a must-start against this less-than-stellar defense and he does have the potential to be one of the better fantasy backs this week. Those in touchdown-heavy leagues could give consideration to Greene, who has every bit as good of an opportunity to score as any of the other touchdown vultures throughout the league.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 210 pass yds, 2 TD, 25 rush yds
Chris Johnson: 70 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 25 rush yds, 1 TD
Kendall Wright: 65 rec yds
Nate Washington: 35 rec yds
Delanie Walker: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: With Terrelle Pryor still out of action with a sprained MCL, the Raiders will again turn to rookie quarterback Matt McGloin as they head to Tennessee to do battle with the Titans. McGloin filled in admirably for Pryor a week ago, even throwing three touchdown passes in his very first professional start, as the Raiders snuck by the Texans in Houston. McGloin is completing barely 50-percent of his passes, but is still a significant upgrade from Pryor in terms of consistency in throwing the ball. Although he’s not likely to be the next great star at quarterback for the Raiders, McGloin could play an important role in converting the team’s receivers into more viable fantasy options. With McGloin behind center, both Denarius Moore and Rod Streater were able to get into the end zone. Tight end Mychal Rivera also saw his best game of the season as he caught five passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. Rivera actually has a decent matchup this week against the Titans who have allowed 49 or more yards to opposing tight ends in eight of their past nine games. They’ve also allowed three 100-plus yard games to the position over that stretch, including a career game to Indianapolis’ Coby Fleener just this past week. Rivera’s solid production in Week 11 may seem like a complete fluke, but a closer look at the numbers will tell you that he has been getting targeted fairly consistently all season. In fact, he is currently third on the team in total targets this season. Rivera is certainly a desperation play for fantasy circles, but don’t be surprised if he comes up with another good fantasy day against the Titans. Moore (shoulder) and Streater will not have quite as good of a matchup this week as the Titans have been spectacular at shutting down opposing wide receivers this season. Excellent play from the Titans’ cornerback duo of Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty has the Titans ranked No. 1 in the league in fewest points allowed to opposing receivers and they have not allowed a single touchdown to the position since all the way back in Week 2. While there is a lot to like about Moore and Streater with their new pass-friendly quarterback, this is really not the week to test the waters. Don’t be surprised if both players are held in check.

Running Game Thoughts: Darren McFadden, who? Veteran tailback and former Jacksonville Jaguar Rashad Jennings has been spectacular since taking over for the injured McFadden just a few weeks ago. Over his past three games, Jennings has accumulated an impressive 340 yards and two scores on the ground, in addition to the 11 catches for 91 yards he has as a pass-catcher. Jennings’ most impressive number, however, might just be how he is accumulating this huge fantasy production. Jennings was credited with 109 rushing yards after contact in the Raiders’ Week 11 win over the Texans—that’s more than any player in the league has had in a single game this season. With McFadden missing practice all week once again, and Jennings running the way he is, it seems likely that he will be in line to get the start once again in Week 12. There’s no use in rushing McFadden back now and even if he does, it will likely be in a limited role to start.

Either way, Jennings makes for a very intriguing fantasy option as he will be up against a Tennessee defense that has been smacked around by opposing running backs all season. They have allowed a league-worst 13 rushing touchdowns on the year. They’ve also been the unfortunate victims of having allowed two rushing touchdowns to opposing running backs in each of their past five games. Needless to say, with Jennings running as well as he is and the Titans struggling to stop the run as much as they are, this could be another big game for the Raiders’ back. Few could have ever predicted this kind of scoring outbreak but if you’re the lucky one who snagged Jennings off of the waiver wire, now is not the time to get worried. Get him in your lineup and enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Matt McGloin: 165 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rashad Jennings: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Rod Streater: 35 rec yds
Denarius Moore: 30 rec yds
Mychal Rivera: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Titans 20, Raiders 17 ^ Top

Steelers @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: There is both good and bad news for the Steelers passing attack at this point in the season. The good news is that they are coming off their best game of the year, racking up 367 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Just as good, Ben Roethlisberger took just one sack last week and spread the ball around to eight different receivers, including exciting rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who looks to get more involved each week the season moves on. With both quality and depth in his receiving corps, an improving line, and at least the threat of a run game, Big Ben is looking like a much more attractive fantasy than he was three or four weeks ago. On the bad news side, this week’s opponent could easily take the momentum the Steelers passing attack has and turn it around. The Browns passing defense is one of the NFL’s more elite units, currently allowing the fourth least passing yards per game and the 11th least fantasy points to opposing QBs. In addition to yardage totals, the Browns hold opponents to an NFL-best 5.9 yards per pass attempt and are tied for ninth in sacks. A big reason the Browns are so good is cornerback Joe Haden, who is an elite cover man that returned an interception for a touchdown last week and held wide receiver A.J. Green, a usual stud, to just seven yards on two catches. This week Haden will likely cover wide receiver Antonio Brown most of the time, who is having a career year but is less naturally talented than the aforementioned Green. As a team, the Browns are the sixth toughest for opposing wide receivers to score against and even better than that versus opposing teams No. 1 wide receivers. Take a quick look at receivers who did the most damage against the Browns and you will find few big names, as Haden has managed to slow down, or shut down, some of the game's best wideouts. For the Steelers, look for Emmanuel Sanders to make a bigger than normal impact this week, even though he hurt his foot last week, and also look for Jerricho Cotchery, Markus Wheaton, and tight end Heath Miller to each have of an uptick in production as Roethlisberger looks to throw away from Haden.

I like Big Ben going forward as a solid QB2, but the matchup this week, especially away from home, is a brutal one, and he is more of a desperation QB2 play in a game that should be low-scoring and defensive-minded. While you cannot bench Antonio Brown this week because he gets so much work (sixth in targets, fifth in yards in the NFL), he is more of a low-end WR2 than his usual low-end WR1. Brown will probably be moved around a lot to get Haden off of him, but his overall numbers will certainly take a dive from where they normally are. As for the other guys in this group, I think a healthy Sanders probably has the most upside, but he is still just a mid-range WR3 in a tough matchup. Cotchery (despite his recent touchdown outburst) and Wheaton (despite his increased workload) should be placed firmly on your bench until a much better matchup presents itself. Miller had a nice game last week, and the Browns are more generous to tight ends than to wide receivers, but his upside is still low and should not be trusted as anything more than a mid-range TE2 this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell is clearly the Steelers' workhorse in their running attack, and while his yards per carry average are unimpressive (3.1) behind a less than average line, he gets the call at the goal line, catches some balls in the passing game, and touches the ball enough to be starter-worthy every week in fantasy leagues, even if it’s as an average flex play. This week Bell faces a tough opponent in the Browns, who are letting up just under 100 yards per game on the ground (eighth best) and have yet to allow any single back to rack up more than 88 yards—and the 88-yard rusher was Adrian Peterson. Bell is nowhere near Peterson as a runner, and while this game should be close enough all game to allow Bell to get 18-plus touches, the Browns defense is so stingy overall that a lot of short drives with no touchdowns is probably what the Steelers will be looking at most of the game.

With a stout front seven, Bell’s best chance for gaining yardage may actually be through the passing game, where a lot of check-downs are possible against a Browns secondary that covers opposing wide receivers well. Because Bell is one of a handful of backs that stay in the game in nearly every situation, his floor should be relatively high, meaning he is still a startable guy in a tough matchup like this one, especially with starting right guard Ramon Foster due back. While most matchups have Bell as a low-end RB2, the Browns defense is nothing to mess with, therefore downgrading Bell to more of a RB3/flex guy in this matchup. While Bell should see a halfway decent total yardage number, his owners may really have to hope for a lucky touchdown to get anything more than an average day from him this week.

Ben Roethlisberger: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Antonio Brown: 50 rec yds
Emmanuel Sanders: 70 rec yds
Heath Miller: 40 rec yds
Le’Veon Bell: 45 rush yds, 35 rec yds
Markus Wheaton: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: In his first two games as starter this year Jason Campbell looked surprisingly good for a guy who was getting up there in age and had been around the league for several years. Against two good defenses (KC and Baltimore) Campbell threw for over 550 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions while completing 63 percent of his passes. This past week, against another good defense (Bengals), Campbell looked much more like the third-string quarterback that he started the year as, completing just 48 percent of his throws with just one touchdown and three interceptions. Whether it was a fluky game or that the defense was on to him after having two games worth of tape to study is hard to say, but the poor performance puts serious doubt on his ability going forward as both an NFL and fantasy QB. This week the matchup does not get much easier, with the Steelers being an excellent passing defense. Currently the Steelers rank ninth best in passing yards allowed per game and ninth in completion percentage allowed. The only area the Steelers defense struggles in is getting to the quarterback, as they have just 18 sacks on the season, fifth worst in the NFL. This is a good thing for the Browns because Campbell is not a mobile quarterback and he could really use the extra time to find receivers downfield. Speaking of receivers, the Browns best two weapons , wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, have had mixed results with Campbell under center. Gordon has had huge games in two of the three he’s played with Campbell (5/132/1, 5/125/1), but virtually disappeared in the other (3/44/0). As for Cameron, other than a few garbage-time catches, he has been M.I.A. the past three weeks, scoring no touchdowns and combining for just 114 yards. While Cameron has the physical skills to be an elite tight end in this league, it is troubling that Campbell has not developed chemistry with him at this point.

While the Steelers defense is weaker versus the run, the Browns' best weapons are easily in the passing game, and thus Campbell will surely pass 25-plus times in this one, allowing for the opportunity for some decent numbers. I would not start Campbell in this game, as there are plenty of better options out there, and with a strong Pittsburgh pass defense, it is likely his numbers are closer to last week than to the previous two weeks. Campbell is a low-end QB2. Gordon had a bad game two weeks ago but easily has had the most success of any Browns receiver with Campbell under center, so another 10-plus targets is almost guaranteed. Gordon is a safe and solid WR2 in this matchup. As for Cameron, the tight end crop is so thin this year that it is almost impossible to sit him at this point simply for the lack of better options. While it is clear that Campbell and Cameron are not totally on the same page, Cameron only needs one good catch to make it a worthwhile fantasy day. There is a little risk involved of another dud game, but he is still a low-end TE1 this week. No other Browns receiver is on the radar, as Gordon, Cameron, and the running backs hog most of the targets, and a tough defense should limit the overall output of this squad anyway.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Browns still have one of the NFL’s absolute worst running attacks, both for fantasy and real-game purposes, there may be a changing of the guard that should at least stir up the pot a little and intrigue deep league managers, especially in PPR leagues. After publicly promising to get running back Chris Ogbonnaya some more work, the coaches were true to their word, and Ogbonnaya got 14 overall touches, with a whopping 12 targets in the passing game (second behind Josh Gordon). While Ogbonnaya “only” totaled 99 yards with those touches, it was the best running back performance from a Browns player since early in the season when Trent Richardson was still around. While Ogbonnaya will most likely stay the overall touch leader in the Browns backfield, the Browns are not running the ball enough (29th in the NFL in attempts) to really make that a very exciting stat, fantasy-wise. In a dream matchup maybe the Browns could get an early lead against a poor run defense and run out the clock (making Ogbonnaya useful), but this Browns offense is not nearly explosive enough to make that happen anytime soon.

This week the matchup is not a total dream but it is favorable for the Browns rushing attack. The Steelers at this point are letting up the seventh most rushing yards per game and have let up 13 rushing touchdowns on the season, good for second most in the league. Consequently, the Steelers have been pretty generous to opposing fantasy backs, allowing the ninth most points this season. With right defensive end Brett Keisel and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley both set to return this week, the defense should be better than advertised, but it still presents an opportunity for Ogbonnaya to seize the job outright and show us what he can do. If you are in a 12- team PPR league, I could see a solid argument for starting Ogbonnaya as a solid flex guy this week, as he should be a workhorse (at least by Browns standards) and see a healthy amount of targets in the passing game. For smaller PPR leagues and standard leagues, I simply believe there are stronger and safer options out there and Ogbonnaya is more of a RB4 in those types of leagues. Ogbonnaya might be a great late-season surprise this year, or he could fall flat on his face, but in most leagues you are going to want to make him prove it before you risk starting him on your fantasy team. No other Browns running back is remotely on the fantasy-starter radar.

Jason Campbell: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Josh Gordon: 80 rec yds
Jordan Cameron: 50 rec yds
Chris Ogbonnaya: 55 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Greg Little: 35 rec yds

Prediction: Steelers 24, Browns 23 ^ Top

Buccaneers @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Since taking over as starting quarterback, Mike Glennon’s completion percentage (62.1) and TD/INT ratio (11/4) have been very nice; however, his yardage (219/game), or lack thereof, has held the offense back, therefore making him a risky fantasy play most weeks. The possible remedy for this is to face a team that gives up a ton of yards in a game where Glennon will probably be forced to throw 35-plus times to keep up. It would also help if the weather was not a factor. Hmmmm, if only we could find such a matchup for Glennon. Oh wait! That is exactly what this week’s matchup is! The Detroit pass defense is giving up 284 yards per week (third most in league) and has the third fewest sacks on the season. Under the dome, where weather will not be a factor, Glennon should have a little extra time to throw, and be forced to throw a lot with the Lions offense on fire in a shootout. The Lions are currently the 10th most generous to opposing fantasy QBs and the second most generous to opposing fantasy WRs. In other words, "Glennon to Vincent Jackson" should be a phrase that you hear all game long in this one.

While Glennon does not have a full array of quality weapons, the offensive line is blocking nicely, the run game has been good, and Jackson alone should mean Glennon matches his season high numbers, with a real chance to have his best game yet as a pro. Glennon is a solid QB2 this week with nice upside and a high floor against a Lions defense that provides a great matchup. Jackson is a legit WR1 and a top eight player at the position this week. No other Bucs passing game player should be considered, even in a great matchup, as nobody has stepped up on a remotely consistent basis. Tight end Tim Wright has shown some promise but is still hit-or-miss and the Lions have actually been way tougher versus opposing tight ends (seventh toughest) in fantasy points allowed.

Running Game Thoughts: Was something wrong with Doug Martin? Since Martin’s season was ended a few weeks back, the Bucs running game has taken off under guys that have supposedly much less talent. First there was Mike James, who against a stout Seattle defense put up 158 yards on the ground, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. When James got hurt in the following game, the trio of James, Leonard and Rainey racked up 143 yards on the ground en route to their first win of the season. Finally, this past week Bobby Rainey, a cast-off from the Browns (who have not run well), exploded for 163 yards and two touchdowns on the ground at home in the Bucs' second win of the season. For those who watched the game, it was obvious that the Bucs O-line dominated the outmatched Falcons, but Rainey, to his credit, looked explosive and decisive when hitting the hole while averaging a healthy 5.4 yards per carry. While Rainey will certainly be a hot pickup this week, it is fair to wonder if the Bucs as a team have turned the corner on offense, if it was just a fluke, or if Rainey is the real thing. To me, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, as the Bucs were supposed to have one of the better lines in the league from the beginning but have not lived up to that potential until the past three or four weeks. When a line blocks as well as they have recently, even moderately talented running backs like Rainey (and James) should be able to put up numbers, especially in good matchups. While it is hard to expect consistently huge numbers going forward, if the matchup is right I think there is real value in Rainey as a high-end flex guy or even an RB2.

This week the matchup is less than ideal, but not impossible, as the Lions run defense is giving up the fifth least yards per game in the NFL. While this alone might scare off many owners, it is important to note that they have been rushed on the second fewest times and the 4.1 yards per carry they allow is really just about average around the league. While the Lions have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher on the year, they have allowed four receiving touchdowns to opposing running backs (second most in the NFL) and Rainey did have a receiving touchdown last week, so it’s not like it would be a huge surprise to see another one this week. Overall, in a game where the Bucs should be playing catch-up in the second half, the running yardage will most likely not be there, but both Rainey and Brian Leonard should be involved in the passing game enough to consider this backfield in fantasy circles. While Rainey will not come close to last week’s performance, there is some nice appeal here as a solid high-end RB3/flex guy who should total 15 or more touches and come close to 100 total yards. Leonard has not shown enough to be trusted yet, and with Rainey exploding last week, he will be lucky to get 10 total touches, making him worthy of nothing but the bench at this point.

Mike Glennon: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Bobby Rainey: 50 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Brian Leonard: 20 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Tim Wright: 35 rec yds
Tiquan Underwood: 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: If you looked at just the first half of last week’s game you would have thought the Lions were going to set some records with their passing attack, with Calvin Johnson catching six balls for 179 yards and two touchdowns in just that half. Unfortunately, the second half was a completely different story: the Lions could not score any points and Megatron failed to record a catch. Still, the Detroit passing attack is putting up big numbers every week and in all but the toughest matchups should be considered a lock for a nice dose of fantasy points. This week they get a Bucs defense that let up 254 yards and two touchdowns (with two INTs) to Matt Ryan and the Falcons last week, a talented but injured offensive unit. While the Bucs possess some highly talented players—Darrelle Revis being the most talked about— they are underperforming this year as a unit and currently rank 18th in passing yards allowed per game and 23rd in completion percentage allowed. On the year they are also the eighth most generous to opposing fantasy QBs, giving up monster games to Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Nick Foles. In addition, the Bucs will be without starting free safety Dashon Goldson, who is suspended for this game for an illegal hit last week. All in all, while it is not a total dream matchup, considering Revis should do a better-than-average job on Johnson, the Lions should keep the scoreboard operators busy against an overmatched secondary forced to cover guys at all levels of the defense.

Matthew Stafford is a must-start at home as a QB1 who should find plenty of time (the Bucs are 24th in sacks) to find guys open either deep or to check down to one of his dynamic running backs (the Bucs have given up the eighth most catches to running backs). Stafford is a top eight play at the position. As for Megatron, he will face a solid cover man in Revis but he continues to be a must start WR1 even if this will not be one of his best handful of games on the year. The only other guys even worth discussing here are tight end Brandon Pettigrew, wide receiver Nate Burleson, and wide receiver Kris Durham. Pettigrew continues to be an option in deep PPR leagues but has such little upside in standard leagues that I can’t recommend starting him this week. As for Burleson, I know he has missed a lot of time, but he is back and the Bucs actually give up more fantasy points to opposing team’s No. 2 receivers (the Revis effect), so he makes at least for an intriguing WR3 start in most leagues. Last week, the Falcons' No. 2 receiver (Harry Douglas) outgained their No. 1 (Roddy White) 134 to 36 in yardage. Just something to think about if you need an upside WR3 play this week. Durham has had some decent games in Burleson’s absence but should be relegated to your bench until further notice.

Running Game Thoughts: It is a great thing for Reggie Bush and Joique Bell owners that both guys contribute in the passing game so much because this week they have a tough matchup against a Bucs run defense that is one of the tougher units in the NFL. Currently the Bucs rank ninth in rush yards allowed per game and have let up the 12th fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs. While 12th fewest does not seem that imposing, the only real reason they are not ranked higher is because they have been fairly generous to those opposing backs in the passing game, giving up the 11th most yards, eighth most catches, and third most touchdowns. This is great news for this unit, as they are easily the best one-two punch in terms of pass-catching running backs in the NFL.

Of course the Lions will attempt to run the ball to keep the defense honest, but they know the weak point of this defense is against the pass, and with such an effective passing attack, look for both Bush and Bell to be targeted five or more times in this contest. While their ground numbers may not blow anyone away this week, they both should get involved enough to be fantasy considerations, especially in a home game where the opposing team could struggle to keep up with the Lions' scoring. Bush is normally a solid RB1, and while it’s possible he has that kind of upside, I think the tough run defense is enough to knock him into that high-end RB2 range this week. As for Bell, he got more work than normal last week with Bush fumbling but tweaked his foot and will probably be used more in his normal range of touches this week, making him nothing more than a deep PPR RB3.

Matthew Stafford: 305 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Burleson: 70 rec yds
Kris Durham: 35 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 35rec yds
Reggie Bush: 45 rush yds, 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Joique Bell: 15 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 30, Bucs 24 ^ Top

Vikings @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Christian Ponder was benched last week for ineffectiveness versus the elite Seahawks pass defense but is expected to make another start this week in a much easier matchup against the Packers. Of course, regardless of the matchup, Ponder does not exactly make fantasy owners jump for joy, as he has been injured, ineffective, benched, or all three through most of this season. With the Vikings being built around the running abilities of Adrian Peterson, there is little excitement, value, or upside around the Vikings passing attack right now, as they rank 25th in yards per game and post a horrible 10–13 TD-to-INT ratio. But even the worst teams can have matchups where certain players are valuable from a fantasy perspective, and this could be one of those. Of course “valuable” is a relative word, as the Vikings' players (other than Peterson) have been inconsistent, unexciting, and mostly a big waste of roster space this year. The good news, however, is that the Packers pass defense is below average, and other than their ability to rush the passer (tied for ninth in sacks), they are pretty generous to opposing passing game players, ranking 12th most generous to fantasy QBs, WRs, and TEs.

While Ponder is still off the fantasy radar, even for desperate owners, there is one player I like this week as a legit fantasy starter. Tight end John Carlson has had back-to-back nice games and, with Kyle Rudolph out for the year, has seized almost all the tight end reps for a team without a lot of receiving talent. With a solid pass rush against him, Ponder will not have a lot of time to throw downfield and may look even more to that 8- to 12-yard area where Carlson should be camping out. I like Carlson this week as a low-end TE1 who should have decent yardage numbers even if he does not get into the end zone. With Adrian Peterson banged up, and the possibility of playing from behind, Ponder should be airing it out more than usual this week and Carlson should be the main benefactor. As for the other receivers, Greg Jennings is expected to play but is battling a sore Achilles and should not be near your starting lineup right now. Jarius Wright caught two touchdowns last week, but chasing points from him is a foolish proposition, as he will likely see less time with Jennings back this week. Cordarrelle Patterson is the team’s most talented wide receiver and is earning more snaps and targets but, until he fine-tunes his game or gets a better quarterback throwing to him, should also be avoided in all leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Adrian Peterson is banged up this week (groin) and, while he is expected to play, may be a bit more human than usual, especially against a Packers run defense that is above average and looking to stop the Vikings' only legitimate weapon. Currently the Packers rank 12th in rush yards allowed per game and are the 15th toughest defense for fantasy RBs to score against. They have not allowed a receiving touchdown to an opposing running back yet this year but have let up seven on the ground. Of course, even at less than 100 percent and in a tougher than normal matchup, Peterson is a top five RB play as one of the most consistent overall players in the league. With the volume of work he should get, Peterson remains an RB1, with his upside capped just a little by his injury and the possibility of missing parts of the game. With an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers offense, the Vikings may actually not be too far behind for much of the game, meaning 20-plus touches for Peterson is likely if he can gut out his injury issue. He’s not automatic this week, but be honest with yourself; are you going to bench one of the best fantasy players around and possibly miss a top five potential RB performance? I think not.

Christian Ponder: 200 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Adrian Peterson: 80 rush yds, 1 TD
John Carlson: 70 rec yds
Greg Jennings: 35 rec yds
Cordarrelle Patterson: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While former third-stringer Scott Tolzien did not exactly have a great statistical game last week (0 TDs, 3 INTs), he was fairly accurate (24/34) and did something that should at least give fantasy owners some real hope this week: he looked downfield. While a lot of inexperienced quarterbacks often check down to backs and tight ends early in their career, Tolzien actually averaged a more than respectable 10 yards per passing attempt. This gave a few Packers receivers (Nelson and Boykin) nice fantasy days and left Tolzien with a healthy 339 passing yards to at least salvage some points for owners bold enough to start him. This week Tolzien and the Pack face a Vikings defense that is giving up the fourth most passing yards per game and are the second most generous to fantasy QBs. While Tolzien is nowhere near the talent of Aaron Rodgers, sometimes the matchup can dictate the success level more than talent, and this is probably the case this week. While the Packers may lean on running back Eddie Lacy more than normal (Minnesota is not great in run defense either), Tolzien should have less pressure on him this week than last and should be able to find the open man more times than not. With receivers like Jordy Nelson, Boykin, and James Jones, all good run-after-the-catch guys, Tolzien’s final stats may actually look pretty nice by game’s end. While it may feel strange to be starting a guy you probably never heard of just a month ago, the matchup here is so juicy, and his supporting cast is talented enough, to make Tolzien a sneaky and intriguing start this week as a mid to high-end QB2. Don’t get cute and bench any studs for him, but surely the opportunity is there for him to put up serious yardage again and improve greatly on that 0–3 TD-to-INT ratio from last week.

As for the receivers, Nelson has become matchup proof as the unquestioned No. 1 receiver on this team and, after catching eight of a team-high nine targets last week, has obviously earned the trust of Tolzien early in his tenure. With no near-elite cover guys on the Vikings roster, Nelson is once again a low-end WR1. As for the rest of the guys, Boykin would certainly be my next choice, as he had a good game last week and is healthier than James Jones right now. Look for Boykin to approach last week’s numbers once again, making him a solid WR2 in a juicy matchup. While Jones is not totally healthy, he should play and probably also approach last week’s numbers, meaning he should be a high-floor, low-ceiling WR3. I would not touch any other Packers passing game player at this point, as the aforementioned guys and Eddie Lacy get the overwhelming majority of the targets right now.

Running Game Thoughts: While Eddie Lacy struggled last week, a lot of that had to do with the flow of the game and the fact that the Packers were playing from behind and had to basically abandon the run versus the Giants. Of course anything can happen, but against one of the lower-scoring offenses in the NFL, the chances that the Packers have to play catch-up and abandon the run this week are slim. Since returning from injury earlier in the year Lacy has been one of the league’s—and fantasy world’s—most consistent running backs. Against the Vikings earlier in the year Lacy racked up 94 yards and a touchdown on the ground (18 yards receiving), and that was at Minnesota. With the home crowd behind him and perhaps a little more volume than usual, Lacey should come close to those first game numbers, with a little upside for even more. The Vikings are a better run defense than pass, but they still are just 14th in the league in rush yards allowed per game. They also have allowed 13 total touchdowns to opposing backs, making them the sixth most generous to fantasy RBs.

While no Rodgers at quarterback this time means a little more attention can be paid to stopping the run, the talent of the Packers receivers and Tolzien’s performance last week should be enough to keep the defense honest for most of the game. Even without Rodgers I would expect the Packers to keep pace, or more likely take an early lead against one of the NFL’s worst defenses, meaning Lacy should run all game long and easily rack up 20-plus touches. Even if the defense limits his yards per carry (they allow 3.9 on the year), Lacy is a good bet for 80-plus total yards here, making him a safe and solid RB2 with the chance of putting up RB1 numbers. Start him with confidence this week. James Starks may see a bit of action in this one but is merely a handcuff at this point in the season because of Lacy’s continued production.

Scott Tolzien: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Eddie Lacy: 90 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Jordy Nelson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Jarrett Boykin: 80 rec yds
James Jones: 55 rec yds
Brandon Bostick: 30 rec yds
James Starks: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 30, Vikings 20 ^ Top

Jets @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Geno Smith was benched last week in the fourth quarter after committing four turnovers in a blowout loss to the Bills. This week Smith will get the start again but will undoubtedly be on a short leash, as the Jets are still alive in the playoff hunt and can ill afford to lose many more games. While Smith has shown flashes this year of being a competent quarterback, that is basically all they are, flashes, amid consistently shaky play and poor decision-making. Besides some accuracy issues, the big thing with Smith seems to be his lack of handling the blitz well, as he seems to get rattled easily and make bad choices when under pressure. This week that lack of pocket awareness may bite him and the Jets passing game hard, as the Ravens are one of the NFL’s better pass-rushing units. To this point the Ravens are tied for third in sacks and are 11th best in opponent’s completion percentage, another area where Smith already struggles. Basically, this matchup is strength versus weakness, and the Ravens should have a pretty clear advantage here.

Facing a tough defense with a below-average receiving corps allows for little upside here for the Jets passing unit, regardless of what of league you play in. Sure, there is always a chance Smith could break off a long rushing touchdown or throw a long touchdown bomb, but you would have to be a big gambler to stomach that kind of bet. Smith should be avoided at all costs this week, as there is a decent chance he does not even make it through the whole game. As for the receiving corps, I guess wide receiver Santonio Holmes would be the lottery ticket I would buy if forced to choose one, but even he should be considered no more than a lower-end WR3 this week. When it comes to fantasy point potential, this unit is near or at the bottom of the barrel this week and should probably be looked over completely.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets rushing attack is having an overall nice year, ranking eighth in yards to this point, with the two-headed attack of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. Ivory in particular has been a fantasy standout (though inconsistent), with back-to-back nice games. Unfortunately for the Jets and fantasy owners alike, this week could be a major bump in the road of an otherwise nice season, with the Baltimore run defense being well above average. To this point the Ravens rank 11th in rush yards allowed per game and third toughest versus opposing fantasy RBs. Including receiving touchdowns, the Ravens have allowed just three total touchdowns to opposing running backs (lowest in the NFL) and have allowed just one running back to gain 100-plus yards in any game this year.

While the Jets are basically a run-oriented team, the advantage here still has to be with the Ravens because there is little reason to be scared of Geno Smith throwing all over them, meaning eight or more men in the box should be expected for a majority of the game. With neither running back being involved much in the passing game (Powell more than Ivory though), there is little fantasy upside in starting a Jets runner this week, especially because Rex Ryan likes to feed the hot hand and we cannot be sure exactly who that will be. Desperate owners who own both guys should probably ride Ivory’s momentum and hope to get a few goal-line carries or a long run, but he is still just an average RB3/flex guy this week. In good matchups this unit has some real potential, but until that comes along, or Smith makes defenses fear the pass more, this squad is mostly an afterthought for contending fantasy teams.

Geno Smith: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 10 rush yds
Chris Ivory: 50 rush yds
Bilal Powell: 20 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Santonio Holmes: 45 rec yds
David Nelson: 25 rec yds
Greg Salas: 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: This week’s matchup between the Ravens passing attack and the Jets pass defense could be a big factor in deciding the game simply because both units are playing terribly and one would think one of the teams will take advantage of that. The Jets are giving up the 10th most passing yards per game and are coming off a game where the Bills' average passing offense shredded them for 245 yards and two touchdowns with a 71 percent completion percentage. The Jets are below average across the board in most passing stats, especially in interceptions, where they have just five (tied for second least in the NFL), although they have registered 28 sacks, which is a little above the league average. The Ravens passing attack has had poor protection all year, taking the sixth most sacks in the NFL, and they have the fifth worst TD-to-INT ratio at 13–13. The problems are many with the Ravens: poor protection, bad run game, and few legit weapons outside wide receiver Torrey Smith, but quarterback Joe Flacco must take a lot of the blame, as he is having the worst season of his career. Against a below-average Bears defense last week Flacco completed just 54 percent of his passes for 162 yards and two interceptions (with one touchdown) while taking three sacks against one of the league’s worst pass-rushing teams.

This week something will have to give, as it will be tough for both units to play so poorly at the same time. While I don’t think he will put up huge numbers, I’ll give Flacco and the Ravens the slight advantage at home, where Flacco has played much better across the board. With some teams still on a bye, Flacco is probably a startable player this week in a nice matchup, though he is still just a mid-range QB2. With a tough Jets run defense, look for Flacco to air it out 30-plus times in this one. As for his receivers, the Jets defense is actually the 10th most generous to opposing fantasy WRs this year, so there is certainly some opportunity for points. The only problem is that outside of Torrey Smith, who should see a lot of cornerback Antonio Cromartie (an above-average defensive back), no other Ravens receiver has been remotely consistent this season, making it impossible to tell who will step up. To me, Smith is a solid WR2 this week simply because Flacco loves him and he should see 10 or more targets even in tight coverage. No other Ravens receiver is worth starting here, including the tight ends. If Flacco can’t get going this week, it may be time to dump him from your roster, if you haven't already.

Running Game Thoughts: Attention ladies and gentlemen, there has been reported signs of life in the Ravens backfield for the first time all year! Finally, against the injury ravaged, 31st-ranked Chicago run defense, Ray Rice ran 25 times for 131 yards and a touchdown. Rice had a huge run of 47 yards where he showed a good amount of burst and acceleration that has been missing all year, although most of the rest of the game he plodded along for 3- or 4-yard gains. In such a sweet matchup it would have been awful for Rice to underperform again, and at least for one week he made his owners happy. A savvy owner probably should have sold high after that performance because Rice’s schedule only gets tougher, starting this week against a Jets run defense giving up the fewest yards per game on the ground in the entire league (73.2). Perhaps even more impressive for the Jets is that they are giving up a full half yard less per carry than the next best run defense (2.9 compared to 3.4 by the Cardinals). Consequently, the Jets are one of the two toughest defenses for opposing fantasy RBs to score against, just slightly behind the Cardinals, who have given up four less touchdowns.

For a Ravens run game that has basically struggled in every game but one (last week), this is a nightmare matchup, even at home. While Rice obviously has some momentum right now, the Jets are likely to take all that away in just a few quarters of football. While a name like Rice is hard to bench in fantasy circles, there is little reason, other than his possible involvement in the pass game, to expect anything more than low-end flex numbers from him this week. If you have no other option, then put him out there and hope for a lucky touchdown or some yards through the air. But hopefully you have someone better, because it might be ugly this week. Bernard Pierce is obviously off the radar this week, as he was not even able to do anything last week in a way better matchup. Tough week coming for this unit.

Joe Flacco: 255 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Ray Rice: 35 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Bernard Pierce: 10 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Marlon Brown: 35 rec yds
Jacoby Jones: 40 rec yds
Dallas Clark: 30 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 27, Jets 20 ^ Top