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Inside the Matchup
Week 13

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



DEN @ KC | CIN @ SD | NO @ SEA | JAX @ CLE

 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Caron 32 12 72.7
2 Smith 32 14 69.6
3 Anderson 24 18 57.1
4 Thorne 25 19 56.8

Packers @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Flynn will start for the Packers after filling in for Scott Tolzien who struggled mightily and allowed a 16 point deficit last week to the Vikings. While Flynn was not amazing in any area, he was fairly efficient and seems like the safest option at this point for a Packers team in desperate need of a win. The only other real news on the Packers front is TE Brandon Bostick will probably miss this game as well with a concussion, leaving Andrew Quarless as the only real TE threat. As for the matchup itself, it is a fairly juicy one, as the Lions are much weaker versus the pass than the run. The Lions have given up the 5th most passing yards in the league to this point and have been the 11th most generous to opposing QB’s in terms of fantasy points allowed. They will also be without starting CB Chris Houston.

While Matt Flynn is not exactly Joe Montana, the Lions defense has been burned by average QB’s all season long including Mike Glennon last week who was a very efficient 14 - 21 for 242 yards and 2 TD’s. With an even more talented receiving corps than the Bucs, Flynn could certainly approach those numbers and thus is a solid bet to be a high-end QB2 this week. As for the receivers, without a solid corner to cover any above average receiver, the man to own remains Jordy Nelson, who has the biggest upside among the Packers offensive players. Nelson has been a bit up and down since Rodgers has been out but he possesses one of the best size and speed combos in the league and only needs to catch a few balls to have a good day, especially versus a Detroit defense that has been the 2nd most generous to opposing fantasy WR’s thus far. Treat Nelson as a high-end WR2. James Jones has been up, down, hurt, and healthy again, and while he had a lot of targets last week I still think he is the 3rd option in the pass game right now. Treat Jones as a mid-range WR3. Jarrett Boykin has been fairly consistent since Randall Cobb’s departure and while he does not have as much upside as Nelson, he should see enough targets to make him a high-end WR3. Even with Bostick out of this game, Quarless is not an attractive option this week, as he is just a minor part of the passing attack. Treat him as a very low TE2 option.

Running Game Thoughts: Eddie Lacy continues to roll on the ground and is one of just a handful of backs in the league who get a hefty workload and are on an offense that can move the ball all game long. While Lacy is in consideration for being matchup-proof, this week’s game should really test his limits as the Lions will surely try to make newly re-acquired Matt Flynn try to beat them, rather than Lacy who has been on a tear and has increased his workload without Rodgers at QB. While the Lions are one of the weaker pass defenses in the NFL, their run defense is a whole other story as they rank 4th best in the entire league in run yards allowed. Last week they faced a red-hot Bobby Rainey and shut him down to the tune of just 35 yards on 18 carries. With numbers like that it is no wonder the Lions are now the 7th toughest on the year versus opposing fantasy RB’s.

While it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen I think there is a very good chance the Lions offense, versus a relatively weak Packers defense, will force the Packers and Flynn to throw more than usual, which will limit the upside of Lacy in this matchup. With probably less carries and facing a very solid run defense I believe Lacy goes from being a low-end RB1 to more of a higher end RB2 in this game. Lacy should still see a good amount of action but until Flynn can show he can keep up with Stafford and company, chances are Lacy will not be doing as much damage on the ground as he has the past few weeks. While James Starks may get a little more work than usual, possibly in the passing game, he is nowhere near startable in any league format.

Matt Flynn: 250 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Eddie Lacy: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Jordy Nelson: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jarrett Boykin: 55 rec yds
James Jones: 45 rec yds
James Starks: 15 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Lions strength on offense is obviously in the passing game and what better way to accentuate that strength than a game versus a weak passing defense such as the Packers. With WR Nate Burleson back in the lineup the Lions are basically at full strength and with several legit options to throw to, Stafford should be as deadly down the stretch as any other QB in the league. With the Packers ranking dead last in the NFL in interceptions, Stafford will more than likely test the secondary deep, with Calvin Johnson being the main beneficiary. While the Packers are a legitimate pass-rushing team, they give up a ton of yardage through the air, currently ranking 20th in the league in that category and 12th easiest for opposing fantasy QB’s to face. Stafford is a surefire QB1 in this game and it would be surprising to me if he did not hit the 300-yard mark in this game. Calvin Johnson is of course fantasy’s best option at WR once again in a juicy matchup where he should get thrown to a ton and be the first option on the majority of the offensive snaps.

With one game back to shake off any rust, Burleson immediately has regained his role as the Lions 2nd option in the passing game and while that role might not mean as much as it would on other teams, the amount of attention that Johnson attracts means Burleson should be single covered all game long. While Burleson is a more possession guy than big play threat at this point, he still should get enough action to make him a very viable WR3 this week, with upside. While Brandon Pettigrew caught a TD last week and Kris Durham has caught a fair share of balls lately, neither guy is a viable option as a fantasy starter, as byes are over, their talent is limited, and the RB’s eat up a majority of the remaining targets after Johnson and Burleson.

Running Game Thoughts: While neither Reggie Bush nor Joique Bell are anything comparable to Adrian Peterson, the duo should be happy to see this week’s opponent, the Packers run defense. Peterson and the Vikings ran for over 200 yards last week, with Peterson alone accounting for 146 of them (1 TD). To date, the Packers run defense ranks 19th in the NFL and 15th in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing RB’s. While neither of these numbers mean the Lions should have an overwhelming advantage, it also means there is yardage to be had and the Packers are far from elite when it comes to stopping opposing backs. On the fast track in Detroit, either Lions’ RB has the speed (more-so Bush) to break a long run at anytime, making the upside factor jump a bit in this one. As a big part of the Lions passing attack both Lions backs should be big factors regardless if this becomes a shootout or a run the clock out situation in the 2nd half. While Bush has not had a real big game in weeks, a home matchup versus an average defense on national television seems just like his kind of game to break out in a big way. I like Bush in this one as a low-end RB1 who should rack up a ton of total yards whether or not he gets in the endzone. As for Bell, he remains an excellent handcuff and deep league PPR flex guy, but his usage is so up and down that standard leaguers should have better options available at this point in the year.

Matthew Stafford: 310 pass yds, 2 TD’s
Calvin Johnson: 120 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Burleson:75 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 40 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 85 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Joique Bell: 20 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 30, Packers 27 ^ Top

Raiders at Cowboys - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: There is a full-fledged quarterback controversy afoot in Oakland after Matt McGloin has earned his third start of the season on Thanksgiving day following a 260 yard, one touchdown, one interception, and no sack performance in a loss against Tennessee last week. Against two of the seven best pass defenses in the league, McGloin has thrown four touchdowns and one interception while averaging 228 yards and a 58% completion rate. By comparison, in his last four games QB Terrelle Pryor averaged 178 yards and a 51% completion rate while facing three teams ranked between spots 10 and 17 plus one who has the worst pass defense in the NFL. As a team, the Raiders have been dreadful through the air but since switching to McGloin they’ve been improved. Before missing week 12 the top receiving target in Oakland was WR Denarius Moore who was sidelined with a shoulder injury; he was earlier described as “day to day” but will not play this week. Also absent for the majority of the contest was TE Mychal Rivera (concussion), the third leading receiver on the team, and without those two McGloin was severely limited in his receiving options against the Titans. The lack of receiving depth has hurt the Raiders all year and those injuries only highlight their shortcomings in that area.

The suspect Cowboys pass defense gives up 299 yards per game, second worst in the league by one single yard. Making matters worse for Dallas is top CB Morris Claiborne has a hamstring injury and is expected to miss the Thanksgiving contest; they have signed Sterling Moore to fill in despite him not playing in the NFL since being released following training camp. In their most recent game, Dallas did exceptionally well of limiting the Giants to only 174 yards through the air with a 53% completion rate while also recording two sacks, though they did give up two touchdowns without forcing an interception. On the year Dallas is tied for third worst in TDs surrendered, approximately average in INTs made and just below average in sacks forced. When combined with the second worst yards against total this cements their place among the worst pass defenses in the league. McGloin will be given the opportunity to demonstrate to the team that he’s their best choice under center for the near future and facing off against the Dallas secondary will help him to put his best foot forward.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite two missed field goals and two turnovers Oakland was never more than four points behind the Titans because the strength of their running game. For the season they’ve had a top five ground attack despite their star RB Darren McFadden being injured or unavailable multiple times and having limited weapons with which to spread the field through the air. Since taking over for McFadden four weeks ago RB Rashad Jennings has averaged 103 yards per game and over 5.6 yards per carry. Most impressively, even when his rushing totals haven’t topped 100 yards he has still been able to break that mark thanks to his contributions as a receiver. As the starter he has received more than 20 touches in each game, broken the century mark all four times, and has scored twice while amassing 553 total yards; projected over the entire season (11 games and one bye for all 32 teams) that would make him the second best fantasy non-QB behind only Jamaal Charles and would put Jennings at the top of the rankings for yards from scrimmage for all flex-eligible players.

Though Dallas did well to limit the Giants through the air they were atrocious against the run, allowing 202 yards on 30 carries, an average of 6.7 yards per touch, including a 6.0 yard per carry average to RB Andre Brown who totaled 127 yards on 21 carries; no running back statistically contributed to the passing game. For the season, New York averaged 88.4 rushing yards per game and recorded more than double that against Dallas last week and if the same comes true for Oakland they could be looking at nearly 300 yards on the ground. Being without LB Sean Lee for several games has already had a dramatic impact on the Cowboys defense and though there is an outside chance of him playing on Thursday the most likely scenarios call for him to return in week 13 against the Bears. With him out Jennings will look to replicate the success of the Giants and gash the Cowboys defense for the fifth week in a row.

Matt McGloin: 240 yards passing, 2 TD
Rashad Jennings: 110 yards rushing, 1 TD / 40 yards receiving
Rod Streater: 70 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: With a win over the Giants in week 12, Dallas continues to be undefeated in the division and sits atop the NFC East standings. It also provided the first true cold weather game of the season though as far as statistical outputs are concerned, QB Tony Romo and his receivers didn’t miss a beat. Romo threw for 250 yards (season average of 248) with two touchdowns and one interception (23-7 for the season); 139 of those yards and both touchdowns went to the team’s top two receivers, WR Dez Bryant and TE Jason Witten, who are averaging a combined 129 yards and more than one touchdown per game. The biggest struggle for Dallas continues to be consistency along the offensive line and trying to keep pressure off the quarterback, though several of the four sacks they surrendered and the five hits suffered by Romo could be attributed to play calling and not necessarily the adequacy of blocking. On the season they’ve been better than average with respect to giving up sacks, falling just outside the top ten statistically. With one of the league’s best collection of offensive weapons the only serious flaw is the O-line but when they’re doing well the Cowboys are all but unstoppable through the air.

The last three times that the Raiders have had to defend 25 or more passes that has resulted in the opposing team gaining more than 300 yards through the air and the Eagles went for 419 yards on only 31 attempts. Overall, Oakland is in the bottom ten of pass defenses in the league, surrendering an average of 258 yards per game and have allowed 21 touchdowns while forcing only seven interceptions. The Raiders are tied for fifth most completed passed against and are allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 66% of their attempts. Teams that are able to consistently produce through the air have done particularly well against Oakland, though two of their four wins have come against top ten passing offenses. The saving grace for the Raiders is their ability to get to the quarterback and although they’re in the middle of the pack in that category it is far and away the best statistical aspect of their defense. With Oakland CB D.J. Hayden on Injured Reserve there will be little stopping the Cowboys from using their aerial attack to propel them to a victory assuming the offensive line is able to keep Romo relatively clean.

Running Game Thoughts: The major flaw in the Cowboys rushing attack is that they don’t use it. Dallas has the second fewest rushing attempts in the NFL and their yards per attempt are just slightly below average. At 4.0 yards per carry they fall comfortably into the middle third of the league but because of their minimal number of attempts, they land in the bottom five in terms of weekly production. After investing so heavily in Romo it makes sense that they’re giving the franchise quarterback every opportunity to earn his salary, but with RB DeMarco Murray available in the backfield and averaging 5.1 yards per carry it would behoove the Cowboys to better utilize one of the most dynamic runners in the game. Play calling, coaching errors, and mismanagement have been complaint for the team for most of the season and until those get settled the full potential of the Dallas running game will likely never be realized. As good as Murray can be his results are largely dependent on the number of touches he receives, which is troubling considering he has just as many games (2) with 17+ carries as he does with single digits.

Turkey Thursday may not be the best time to decide to give Murray an abundance of carries considering how Oakland allows fewer than 100 rushing yards per game and only 3.8 per carry, both of which rank inside of the top ten for the league. They’ve also done well in limiting big plays on the ground with their longest rush allowed coming in at 32 yards, a mark which is bested by only two other teams. Generally teams have not needed to run against the Raiders in order to beat them because their pass defense is relatively weak but they’ve still faced more runs than a third of the league. In the past four weeks they have allowed three teams to break the century mark and all four have gained at least 90 yards, though in that span only one rushing has been given up. This further emphasizes the importance of a strong passing attack for their opponents, something which Dallas should be able to fully take advantage of at home on Thanksgiving.

Tony Romo: 270 yards passing, 2 TDs
DeMarco Murray: 60 yards rushing / 30 yards receiving
Dez Bryant: 80 yards receiving, 1 TD

Prediction: Cowboys 30, Raiders 24 ^ Top

Steelers @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Steelers whole team has been up and down this year but they have some real weapons on the offensive side of the ball that retain some real fantasy value even in tougher matchups. While the Steelers run game has improved dramatically from a year ago, it is still not to a point where it takes away from the pass. The Steelers coaching staff knows it’s best chance to win is still with the arm of Big Ben Roethlisberger, who is having another above average and in many ways an underrated year. While many thought the departure of WR Mike Wallace would doom the Steelers attack, WR Antonio Brown has stepped up very admirably and is now producing at a legitimate NFL #1 WR rate, even if he is not built like a Calvin Johnson or Dez Bryant. Brown has been a target monster and is among the league leaders in targets, catches, and yards, despite getting a lot of attention from opposing team’s top corners. After beating Joe Haden several times, this week’s matchup should seem like a breeze to Brown despite the better than average Ravens pass defense.

Currently the Ravens rank 11th in passing yards given up and 1st in sacks. The passing yards stat should not scare away fantasy owners because the Ravens have let up some big games to opposing QB’s so Ben and company could easily pass for 250+ yards. The Steelers offense should be concerned however, with the Ravens pass rush because the Steelers offensive line remains the weak point in this unit and despite Ben’s improvisation skills, there could be a lot of short check-downs, pressures, hurries, and sacks. With the Ravens ranking 10th toughest versus opposing fantasy QB’s a big day by the Steelers is unlikely, but there are still some startable players on this team. Brown showed versus an even tougher pass defense (Cleveland) that he is basically matchup-proof. This does not mean he is going to score a TD and rack up 100+ yards every time, because he is not, but he will continue to get 10+ targets a game and his floor is much higher than 90% of the other WR’s in the league. Continue to start Brown with confidence as a low-end WR1 this week. As for Ben, he has had some huge games and some disappointing games, and usually a divisional rivalry game at a hostile environment is not the best place for a breakout performance. While I certainly think Ben is startable in 2 QB leagues and larger sized leagues, there are probably 10 or so better options this week fantasy-wise, so temper expectations but don’t be afraid to put him out there either if you do not have a better option. As for others, Cotchery has been on fire lately but you are really taking a gamble if you are expecting him to match is current hot streak. He is more of a high-risk high-reward WR4 overall. Sanders has looked great in bursts but disappears in others, making him a risky WR4 in most leagues. TE Heath Miller should be in line for a decent game in which Ben will have to throw quickly in the short and intermediate area, but he has been too inconsistent this year to recommend him as anything other than a lower TE2. No other passing team member should be considered this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie RB Le’Veon Bell has propelled the Steeler rushing attack to a respectable level. While Bell is not blowing people away with his overall stats, compared to the previous season and a half, he is Emmit Smith. Behind a poor offensive line, Bell has been a solid flex option nearly every week and has put up decent RB2 numbers in several other games. Bell is in there the whole game regardless of situation, meaning the opportunity is at least there for him to rack up points all 4 quarters and on all downs.

Unfortunately for Bell owners, this week’s matchup looks like one of the very toughest of the season, as the Ravens rank as the 3rd toughest for opposing fantasy backs to score against. To this point the Ravens have let up the 11th fewest rushing yards in the NFL and even more impressive, just 1 rushing TD on the year. As we all know, a TD can often save a poor fantasy day, but counting on one this week is like counting on Tim Tebow to become a starting NFL QB anytime soon. With the Steelers likely to go to the air much of the game, Bell will probably fail to reach 18+ touches meaning his upside is very much capped. As one of a handful of full-time workhorse backs in the game today it is tough to bench Bell outright, and unless you have a clear cut better option(s), I would still play him, but he is certainly more of a low-to-mid-range RB3/flex than a RB2 in this tough matchup.

Ben Roethlisberger: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Antonio Brown: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Emmanuel Sanders: 35 rec yds
Le’Veon Bell: 45 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Heath Miller: 35 rec yds
Jerricho Cotchery: 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Joe Flacco has looked awful for most of the season and while it is certainly not all his fault, with bad blocking, no run game, and an overall average receiving corps, he is getting harder and harder to trust in fantasy circles, even in good matchups. Unfortunately for Flacco, this week’s game has them pitted against the Steelers 10th ranked pass defense and a team that has been the 9th toughest for opposing fantasy QB’s. The stat that stands out to me for the Steelers defense is the completion percentage they allow, which is the 3rd lowest in the league. For highly accurate QB’s or at least passing games with short, quick, passes this may not be a big deal and can be overcome. With the Ravens however, they like to go deep and force balls into places they have little business being. For Flacco, this could be a long day with a lot of incompletions, handoffs, and/or drops.

There is one player that could save the day for the Ravens and fantasy owners. Torrey Smith has been a beast this year and is rounding into becoming a complete WR. He is a target monster and has a surprisingly good individual matchup versus Ike Taylor who has had a horrible year overall and is not the player he once was just a year or two ago. Taylor has given up huge games this year to several players including Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon and if nothing else, Smith has comparable speed to those 2 players. While Smith has not been a reliable source of TD’s this year, he is getting a ton of targets and only needs to catch a few balls per game to make a significant impact in the game and in fantasy box scores. Because of the Ravens overall ineptitude on offense, Smith is not a WR1 but a very solid WR2 on a team otherwise begotten of fantasy stars this season. As for other Ravens passing game players, I believe it is fairly simple; bench them. Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown trade good and bad weeks unpredictably and no Ravens TE is remotely consistent. Flacco in a great matchup is probably a solid QB2 but in a division rivalry game against a top 10 passing defense he should be firmly placed on your bench in all but the deepest 2 QB leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice has had an awful season overall and is one of the bigger fantasy busts in the league, but he showed a couple weeks ago in a juicy matchup, that he could still post RB2 numbers. This week is not a dream matchup but the Steelers are certainly beatable on the ground, ranking 23rd in the NFL (10th worst) in rush yards allowed while giving up the 3rd most rushing TD’s in the league. Consequently, the Steelers are the 10th most generous team to opposing fantasy RB’s on the year and have given up some rather big games to some of the league’s better runners. What’s even better for Rice and the Ravens, starting nose tackle Steve Mclendon is out this week, meaning the inside runs could yield a bit more yardage than usual. Of course, Rice is having a bad year and has really only looked good in 2 games all season long, so big expectations should be tempered, but against a team that boasts a solid pass defense and a weaker run defense, Rice should get his number called at least a bit more than usual this week.

It certainly feels like a gamble starting Rice most weeks this season but on paper this is a solid matchup for him and should be a very solid flex/RB3 option with some upside. Do not bench your studs for Rice, as he has let us down most of the year, but do not be afraid of using the former star, as a heavy workload is most likely in store. Bernard Pierce may see a bit more work than usual this week against a weaker run defense but is still just a handcuff, even in deeper and PPR leagues.

Joe Flacco: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Ray Rice: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Bernard Pierce: 20 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Marlon Brown: 35 rec yds
Jacoby Jones: 35 rec yds
Dallas Clark: 25 rec yds

Prediction: Steelers 20, Ravens 17 ^ Top

Buccaneers at Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bucs got another win last week in Detroit, with Mike Glennon continuing his solid, turnover-free play. He had 247 passing yards and two scores in the game, though his fantasy prowess is as a back-up only with the rookie ranking barely inside the top-30 quarterbacks in FPts/G. Both of his touchdowns against the Lions went to Tiquan Underwood but fantasy owners should consider that an outlier, and continue to roll with Vincent Jackson and even Tim Wright, who caught a touchdown and had 48 receiving yards in the Bucs-Panthers Week 8 match-up. Glennon threw for 275 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions in that game and Jackson catch five balls for 79 yards.

The Panthers may have allowed 295+ passing yards in each of their last two contests, but they still rank seventh in the NFL in pass defense and have yet to allow multiple scoring passes in a game this season. Carolina is tied for third-most interceptions and sixth-most sacks in the league and has surrendered the second-fewest fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks. They’ve given up the 12th-fewest fantasy points to tight ends and the third-fewest points to wideouts, with Miami’s Mike Wallace last week becoming the first opposing player to pick up 100 or more receiving yards against the Panthers since Week 2.

Running Game Thoughts: Bobby Rainey followed up his incredible Week 11 performance with a thud in Week 12, gaining only 35 yards on 18 carries. Take away his longest run of the day, 11 yards, and he averaged only 1.4 YPC. That’s not to say Rainey doesn’t have value going forward but fantasy owners may want to avoid him this week against a vicious Panthers run defense.

Just a pair of teams has given up fewer rushing yards this season than Carolina and only the Ravens have surrendered fewer rushing scores. The Panthers, who also rank eighth in YPC allowed, have held all but two running backs to fewer than 65 rushing yards this season and over their last six games only one player has even reached 60 yards. That type of dominance is why Carolina is allowing the fourth-fewest FPts/G in the league to running backs.

Mike Glennon: 220 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Tim Wright: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Tiquan Underwood: 40 rec yds
Bobby Rainey: 40 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Brian Leonard: 15 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton has just one game with at least 300 passing yards this season and has thrown for less than 200 yards in two of his past three contests, but still ranks fifth in FPts/G at his position for obvious reasons. He has a decent but not fantasy-worthy receiving corps to throw to as neither Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell or Greg Olsen rank as more than back-ups for fantasy owners. When the Panthers and Bucs met in Week 8 Newton threw for 221 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Ted Ginn had five catches for 80 yards but LaFell, Smith, and Olsen were all quiet.

Tampa is adept at snaring interceptions and is currently tied with Carolina for third-most in the league. It appears to be feast or famine for the team though as just two teams have yielded more touchdown passes this year. The Bucs are 21st overall in pass defense and only six teams have surrendered more fantasy points to quarterbacks in part because each of the last seven starting quarterbacks they’ve faced has tossed at least two touchdowns against them. Tampa has been decent against tight ends this season, but not so much against wideouts, having allowed the fourth-most touchdown receptions to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: The Panthers have a four-man committee to run the ball, counting the quarterback. Last week against Miami, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert combined to rush for 85 yards on 21 carries, though none of the backs picked up more than 31 yards. Newton actually led the way with 51 yards and a score, just like he did in Week 8 against Tampa, a game in which he picked up 50 yards and a touchdown. Williams rushed for 43 yards and one score in that game. With the multitude of players Carolina has running the ball, fantasy owners are left in the dark as to which might be productive in any given game and it’s best to leave all the team’s running backs on the sidelines, especially against Tampa. DeAngelo is likley to miss this game with a quad injury meaning Stewart and Tolbert should get the bulk of the carries.

The Buccaneers are 14th in YPC allowed but are ninth in run defense and seventh in rushing scores yielded. They’ve only allowed five touchdowns on the ground all season and just two of those have come via the running back. Tampa has actually allowed running backs to score more often on passing plays – three – than running plays. The team is also tied for 11th-most receiving yards allowed to backs but have still given up the ninth-fewest fantasy points to players at the position.

Cam Newton: 235 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 55 rush yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 65 rec yds
Steve Smith: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 40 rec yds
Ted Ginn, Jr.: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Jonathan Stewart: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 30 rush yds

Prediction: Panthers 27, Buccaneers 20 ^ Top

Titans at Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Fitzpatrick had a very good game last week against the Raiders tossing a pair of touchdowns and adding 320 passing yards. He’s a decent play this week for a fantasy owner looking for a fill-in, though not much more than that. The Harvard alum has one very good target to throw to in Kendall Wright, who has replaced Nate Washington as the Titans wideout with fantasy value. Wright had 103 yards and caught his second touchdown of the season last week and now has 69 or more yards in each of his last seven games. Another play to consider is Delanie Walker, who leads the Titans with five touchdown catches. This game is a re-match of only two weeks ago, a game in which Fitzpatrick threw for 222 yards with one touchdown and no picks, Walker snared 10 passes for 91 yards and a score, Wright had 80 yards on nine catches and Washington added 53 yards on a pair of receptions

Indianapolis may be 15th in fantasy points surrendered to quarterbacks this year and rank 10th in passing scores allowed, but those numbers don’t quite tell the whole story. The Colts are 19th in pass defense, have only a single interception since Week 6 and are allowing the fifth-most yards per pass attempt in the NFL. They’ve quieted tight ends, holding them to the ninth-fewest fantasy points in the league, but are getting smoked by wideouts. Indy has allowed a 100-yard receiver in all but one of their last six games and three times in that span has allowed 135+ yards to a wideout, which is why they have given up the sixth-most fantasy points in the NFL to receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: In Week 11 against the Colts, Chris Johnson ran the ball 17 times for 86 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The week before he averaged just 2.5 YPC and last week he averaged 3.7. It’s been a frustrating season for Johnson’s fantasy owners but the speedy East Carolina product is worth inserting into fantasy lineups against an Indy team struggling to contain the run in recent contests.

The Colts are 27th in the NFL in rush defense, 25th in YPC allowed, and 17th in rushing scores given up, yet are ceding the 11th-fewest fantasy points to running backs. While it may not make total sense with just a cursory look at the numbers, when you consider that Indy has twice allowed 100-yard rushing games to quarterbacks (thus hurting their total run defense) and that only the Jets have allowed fewer receiving yards to running backs, it’s a bit easier to comprehend. The Colts are by no means beasts against the run, and have in fact allowed four rushing scores in their last three games, but overall have performed solidly against running backs.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 295 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT, 25 rush yds
Kendall Wright: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Delanie Walker: 60 rec yds
Nate Washington: 55 rec yds
Justin Hunter: 30 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 35 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: During the Colts and Titans bout in Week 11, Andrew Luck threw for 232 yards without a touchdown or interception, though he did run for a score. It’s been that type of season for Luck and his fantasy owners as the second-year quarterback is not nearly as productive throwing the ball as everybody thought he would be heading into the season. Yet he ranks 10th at his position in FPts/G because he continues to be an effective runner. When he does throw, the ball usually finds its way to Coby Fleener or T.Y. Hilton. In Week 11, Fleener caught eight passes for 107 yards but Tennessee held Hilton to 44 yards on five catches. He’s been unproductive his last two games and I don’t think that will change much against Tennessee’s pass defense.

The Titans may have surrendered 260 yards to the unheralded Matt McGloin last week but don’t let that fool you – they’ve been dominant against the pass this year. Tennessee is eighth in the league against the pass and has allowed the fewest touchdown throws in all of football. Only four teams have given up fewer fantasy points to quarterbacks this year but no team has allowed fewer points to wide receivers. If the Titans’ pass defense had a kryptonite, I suppose one could argue tight ends, as they are allowing the 13th-most fantasy points and eighth-most receiving yards to players at that position, but just a single tight end has scored against them since Week 4.

Running Game Thoughts: In Week 11 against Tennessee, Donald Brown ran the ball 14 times for 80 yards and Trent Richardson ran eight times for 22 yards. Then Week 12’s game against Arizona came and the Colts got behind early (again) and their running game went bye-bye (again). Brown finished with a single yard on two carries and Richardson’s underwhelming output continued as he racked up 15 yards on seven carries. Dan Herron led the team with 33 yards on four carries, though I think the team will continue to feed Richardson. The Titans are a good match-up for a team with quality running backs, but none of the Colts runners should be in starting lineups.

Tennessee’s proficiency against the pass has not translated to their run defense. They may be 18th in the NFL against the run and 13th in YPC ceded, but no team has allowed more rushing scores and only four squads have given up more fantasy points to running backs. Not only do the Titans allow rushing yards to backs – eight have picked up 70 or more yards when facing Tennessee – they have given up the third-most receiving yards in the league to running backs.

Andrew Luck: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
T.Y. Hilton: 50 rec yds
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 30 rec yds
LaVon Brazill: 25 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 35 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Donald Brown: 30 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Dan Herron: 15 rush yds

Prediction: Colts 20, Titans 17 ^ Top

Patriots at Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: In his past three games, Tom Brady has finally started to look like the Brady that fantasy owners have been used to. He’s thrown for more than 295 yards in all three of those games, with eight touchdowns and only one interception. He (and his fantasy owners) suffered due to the injuries to his pass-catchers, and for the season Brady is still completing fewer than 60 percent of his throws and ranks 22nd among quarterbacks in FPts/G. The return to health of Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and even Shane Vereen has boosted Brady’s numbers, and therefore, his fantasy value. Gronk has touchdown receptions in each of his past three games and should be a big factor against a Texans team that has quality numbers against the pass but has been burned by tight ends recently.

Houston’s pass defense continues to rank number one in the league, though they’re 16th in passing scores yielded, 19th in sacks, and no team has fewer interceptions. They’ve surrendered the sixth-fewest fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks and fifth-fewest to wide receivers. In fact, no team in the NFL has given up fewer catches or receiving yards to wideouts than the Texans. The team has been solid against tight ends as well, but not spectacular, having allowed the 13-fewest fantasy points to players at that position, including giving up touchdowns to a tight end in two of their last three contests.

Running Game Thoughts: Stevan Ridley gets the ball, Stevan Ridley fumbles the ball. That in a nutshell is what has thrown his fantasy value into the abyss. He has lost a fumble in each of his past three games and the Patriots are now going with a committee that includes the aforementioned Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Bolden led the team in rushes last week against the Broncos but anybody who tells you they know who will get the bulk of the carries this week is lying. For example, here is the number of carries each of the team’s running backs has gotten in the last two games. Week 11: Ridley 13, Blount 10, Bolden 3, Vereen 1. Week 12: Bolden 13, Vereen 10, Ridley 4, Blount 2. It’s an impossible mess for fantasy owners to try and decipher leaving any and all of those players on the bench this week against Houston is advisable.

The Texans are 15th in rushing scores surrendered, but 22nd in both YPC allowed and run defense for the season. Their recent efforts have been lackluster though, as they allowed 150 yards and a score to Oakland’s Rashad Jennings two weeks ago, and 144 rushing/receiving yards and a touchdown to the previously hapless Maurice Jones-Drew last week. Despite those efforts, Houston is still 14th in fantasy points surrendered to running backs, but sliding quickly.

Tom Brady: 310 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rob Gronkowski: 90 rec yds, 2 TD
Danny Amendola: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Aaron Dobson: 45 rec yds
Julian Edelman: 30 rec yds
Kenbrell Thompkins: 15 rec yds
Shane Vereen: 45 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Stevan Ridley: 35 rush yds
LeGarrette Blount: 30 rush yds, 1 TD
Brandon Bolden: 20 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Case Keenum played well to start his career but the rookie is suddenly looking very much like a young quarterback. He had 169 yards with no touchdowns and one interception last week in Houston’s loss to Jacksonville and even made Andre Johnson a non-factor in the contest, something that should not have happened against the Jags. Keenum should not be in fantasy lineups this week, but Johnson should. Despite his young quarterback struggling, Johnson remains a top-10 fantasy player at wideout, and a tough match-up with New England should not deter fantasy owners.

The Patriots are ninth in the NFL in pass defense, 16th in scoring passes allowed, sixth in sacks, seventh in yards per pass attempt allowed, and eighth in interceptions. The team has held more than half of the starting quarterbacks they’ve faced to less than 215 passing yards and have allowed the 14th-fewest fantasy points to both quarterbacks and tight ends. Only one wide receiver has amassed 100 receiving yards when facing New England and they’ve given up the 13th-fewest fantasy points to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Ben Tate is banged up, but even with that as a qualifier, his game against Jacksonville was inexplicable. He amassed just a single yard on seven carries before ceding to Dennis Johnson, who had 74 yards on 13 totes. Nonetheless, Tate remains in place as the starter and should see the majority of carries against the Patriots. This is a good match-up for the dual-threat Tate and fantasy owners should plug him in as a quality flex play.

New England ranks a highly respectable seventh in rushing scores allowed this year, but they’re 26th in YPC allowed and second-to-last in the league in rush defense. A study in contrasts against running backs, they’ve allowed the second-most rushing yards to those players but the seventh-fewest touchdowns – just four. The Patriots have also allowed the 11th-mosts receiving yards in the league to backs and when you add it all up you have a team that is surrendering the 11th-most FPTs/G to running backs despite their stinginess around the goaline.

Case Keenum: 225 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Andre Johnson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
DeAndre Hopkins: 45 rec yds
Garrett Graham: 35 rec yds
Keshawn Martin: 15 rec yds
Ben Tate: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Dennis Johnson: 35 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Patriots 31, Texans 20 ^ Top

Giants at Redskins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: After starting the season with six straight losses, New York knew they’d have their work cut out for them if they had any aspiration of making the playoffs. Losing in week 12 certainly didn’t help their cause and with that loss coming against division leading Dallas for the second time this season, the Giants are all but mathematically eliminated from the post season. Even with two-time Super Bowl champion QB Eli Manning under center the team has committed a league worst 30 turnovers, 18 of which are interceptions and also a league worst. While a number of factors have contributed to those marks, one recurring theme is uncertainty and inconsistency along the offensive line; this weekend will mark the sixth different starting O-line combination now that C Jim Cordle is out for the season, G Kevin Boothe will fill in for him, and James Brewer slides in at guard for Boothe. Additionally, the receiving corps and an entire stable of running backs have battled injuries all season but things are slowly and surely settling down in that area. Star WR Victor Cruz hasn’t scored a touchdown in seven straight games, a career worst, but the majority of that slack has been picked up by Ruben Randle who has scored all six of his touchdowns since Cruz last found the endzone. Despite the revolving door of availability New York has still managed to average 236 passing yards per game, ranking right in the middle of the league; their 14 touchdowns ranks sixth worst in the league and the incongruence between the yards and the points once again falls back on consistency, New York’s area of greatest concern.

Division rival Washington isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with their season either and trails New York in the division standings, sinking all the way to the bottom of the NFC East. The greatest weakness of the team just may be their pass defense, ranking seventh worst in yards allowed with 271 per game, yielding 8.6 yards per opponent’s attempt, and allowing more touchdowns than all but two other teams. The strongest aspect of Washington’s pass defense is their ability to create pressure, recording 27 sacks on the season as well as forcing 10 interceptions, both of which rank inside the middle third for the league. While there are a number of holes in the defensive secondary the front seven is the glue that holds the unit together, either making the plays necessary for the defense to be successful or coming up short and not being able to count on the back end to pick up their slack. New York needs to win this week to maintain any hope of making the playoffs and the best way to do that will be to exploit the Redskins defense through the air.

Running Game Thoughts: Andre Brown has played in only three games yet leads the team in rushing. Six different running backs have started for New York this season because of a variety of injuries but in total they have gained 972 rushing yards and 308 of them have come from Brown. In other words he’s contributed nearly half as many yards in three games as the other five running backs have in eight games combined. Before he was injured in the preseason, the Giants had him pegged as their top running back going forward and if the last three games are any indication, then New York has made an excellent decision. Even with the offensive line participating in their own version of musical chairs, Brown has recorded 115 yards or more twice and has gained more than 90 yards from scrimmage in all three games. While the effects of the latest disruption to the O-line have yet to be determined there is great reason for optimism so long as Brown remains healthy and is carrying the ball as often as possible. By not playing for eight weeks his legs are some of the freshest in the league and his body has taken less abuse than every other starting running back, making him one of the top fantasy RBs to own for the remainder of the season.

From a small sample size Brown has rushed for the most yards per game of any running back in the league, averaging more than 102 yards per game and an efficient 4.5 per carry. On top of that he’s received 12 redzone touches to only two by Brandon Jacobs, showing that the Giants trust him as their every down every situation ball carrier. All of this should lead to an outstanding game this Sunday since Washington yields the third most fantasy points to opposing running backs. While their rush defense is respectable, giving up a better than average 111.5 yards per game they have surrendered the most touchdowns of any team in the NFL. In most other respects Washington is approximately average against the run but when it comes to the carries that count the most, those in the redzone and in short yardage, they seem significantly worse than the majority of the league. Despite losing each of the past three games the Redskins have held each of their opponents below their season rushing averages but have allowed five touchdowns, further emphasizing the trend they’ve set for the year of reasonably limiting yards but not preventing scores.

Eli Manning: 260 yards passing
Andre Brown: 80 yards rushing, 2 TDs / 10 yards receiving
Victor Cruz: 70 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s taken twelve weeks for these teams to meet for the first time this season and the differences between 2012 and 2013 are staggering, especially considering how QB Robert Griffin III was leading the Redskins to the playoffs as a rookie and redefining what it meant to be a duel threat quarterback in the NFL. Roughly 12 months and one reconstructive surgery later, the Washington signal caller has yet to find the endzone with his feet and has hardly thrown more touchdowns than interceptions while leading his team to a disappointing 3-8 record. Rather than challenging the Giants for first place as they did last year, the 2013 installment of this rivalry has the teams battling to avoid last place in the NFC East. Washington averages 240 passing yards per game and is completing 59.7 of their passes, planting them comfortably in the middle of those rankings. Two of the past three games have been improvements on those marks but the most recent contest was anything but one of them. Against the 49ers in Week 12, Griffin completed 61.5% of his passes but still managed to gain only 118 yards through the air while also taking six sacks and tossing one interception. After a slow start to the season the young quarterback showed significant improvement until he faced one of the top defenses in the league, so whether week 12 was an anomaly because of a quality opponent or was due to significant regression from Griffin only this weekend can truly tell.

With the exception of forcing sacks the Giants pass defense is remarkably average, though in that one category they’re next to last in the league; they should provide a reasonable benchmark for Griffin to compare himself against the weekend to hopefully be able to calm the media storm which currently surrounds the Redskins quarterback. For the first time in four games, New York faced a true starting quarterback and also for the first time in four games they lost, clearly not a coincidence. While the weather wasn’t particularly conducive to an aerial shootout the opposing quarterback was still able to throw for 250 yards and two touchdowns with only one interception, setting the stage for Griffin to continue exposing the Giants as a mediocre team preying on weakened opponents. Last season Griffin was able to complete 67% of his passes for an average of 210 yards per game, threw three touchdowns and only one interception, and led the Redskins to a series split with New York, primarily because of the threat he poised with his legs as he rushed for more than 72 yards in both contests. Without a similar rushing output this season the Giants will be better able to key against the pass and continue to limit his success.

Running Game Thoughts: The primary contributor to the Redskins ground attack is RB Alfred Morris and his 88.2 yards per game. Washington averages a league high 151.5 rushing yards per game, meaning that nearly 60 additional yards are produced by one or more sources including Griffin and also fellow RB Roy Helu. While the touchdowns are fairly evenly split between those two backs as well as FB Darrel Young, the vast majority of touches go to Morris and as such he produces the bulk of the rushing yards. While little about the Redskins offense gives confidence to fantasy owners, Morris is about as close as it gets to a sure thing, seeing 12 or more touches in every game this season as well as 22 or more in three of the last four contests. He’s averaging 5.0 yards per carry on the year so about the only way he doesn’t produce is when he isn’t given a chance to do so. Seeing how Griffin is coming under more and more scrutiny it would make sense to give Morris additional touches to take some of that pressure away from the quarterback as well as helping to shoulder the blame should things continue to go poorly.

Considering that the Giants are a top ten rush defense and allow fewer than 100 yards per game there is a very real possibility that the season could get worse before it gets better for Washington. On the year, New York has allowed only seven rushing touchdowns and a meager 3.7 yards per carry, additionally no team has been able to break a run of 35 yard or longer against them, severely limiting the big play potential of even the most dynamic RBs in the league. Twice in the last three weeks the Giants have allowed 107 rushing yards so reaching triple digits is certainly possible but it will require the Redskins to be effective enough through the air so that the defense maintains balance and isn’t able to load the box against the rush. If Griffin is once again able to utilize his legs like he did in 2012 it will drastically expand the possibilities and options for the offense, but if the game plan becomes one dimensional and Morris is asked to carry the team to victory all by himself, the Giants will be able to limit his success much like they did against two of the best running backs in the league. Adrian Peterson (Minnesota) and LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia) were held to season lows in back to back weeks during the New York win streak and if they are to get back to those winning ways the most logical way to do that will be by shutting down Morris and forcing Griffin to earn the win by himself.

Robert Griffin III: 210 yards passing / 20 yards rushing
Alfred Morris: 90 yards rushing, 1 TD
Pierre Garcon: 80 yards receiving

Prediction: Giants 24, Redskins 20 ^ Top

Rams @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Kellen Clemens hasn’t been a great fantasy quarterback since he took over for Sam Bradford, but he hasn’t been terrible either. He has four touchdowns over his past three games without throwing an interception during that span. A week after his breakout, rookie Tavon Austin was back to being what he has been throughout the majority of the season: a non-factor in the passing game. Austin caught just two passes for 39 yards against the Bears but saved his fantasy day by rushing for a 65-yard TD. Tight end Jared Cook had his biggest game since Week 1, catching four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Chris Givens went catchless for the first time this season, but has not been a great fantasy asset anyway. He has not caught more than five passes in any game this season and has not scored a touchdown all year. He has only one game with over 60 yards receiving and is also a non-factor in fantasy. In fact, no St. Louis receiver has caught more than five passes in any game since Tavon Austin caught six all the way back in Week 3.

Although he has been better than expected, Clemens should still remain off of fantasy radars against a San Francisco defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this season. San Francisco’s defense has allowed only two quarterbacks to score more than 15 fantasy points only twice. They are allowing only 11.6 points per game to the position. San Francisco has not allowed a quarterback to throw for more than one touchdown since Week 7. They’ve allowed only two total passing touchdowns against them in their past four games. That includes contests against Drew Brees and Cam Newton. The 49ers also allow the fourth-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends, which doesn’t bode well for Jared Cook to repeat on his good performance last week. They didn’t allow a single catch to the Redskins’ tight ends without Jordan Reed on the field and held Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen to a combined 58 yards in their previous two contests. With the fantasy playoffs on the horizon, this is not the time to press your luck with the St. Louis passing game. If you have to take a chance, Tavon Austin is likely the player with the best chance to do something of value. Even then, there have to be better options on the waiver wire.

Running Game Thoughts: St. Louis running back Zac Stacy has been incredibly productive since taking over the starting role and is now creeping up on being a top-15 player at the position despite taking just one carry over the first four games of the season. Stacy has rushed for 410 yards over his past four games. He had taken 26 or more carries in each of his previous three games before suffering a concussion against the Bears in Week 12. Prior to going out, Stacy had already rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Backup Bennie Cunningham stepped in and played well in Stacy’s absence. Cunningham took 13 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown in his first substantial playing time, leading us to believe that perhaps Stacy’s success has been more due to the system than it has been his individual play. Cunningham is expected to get the start on Sunday if Stacy cannot pass his concussion tests during the week, but we may not find out more information on that until late in the week. Even if Stacy does get the start, expect Cunningham to see a decent number of touches. He took seven carries for 72 yards in the team’s Week 10 blowout win over the Colts and although we don’t expect something like that to happen again, the team will likely try to be at least somewhat conservative with Stacy.

Although San Francisco has not been their usual dominant self against the run this season, one thing is for certain—they’re playing a lot better than Chicago did against St. Louis this past week. They have not allowed 100 yards rushing to a team’s running backs since Week 6. In addition to that, they have allowed just three total rushing touchdowns over their past eight games combined. Earlier this year, San Francisco held St. Louis to just 22 yards rushing on 16 carries. It happened back in Week 4 when the 49ers blew out the Rams by a final score of 35-11. That was the last opportunity that the Rams gave to Daryl Richardson before making the move to Stacy. It’s hard not to look at the poor rushing performance that the Rams put together in their previous game against the 49ers, but things have changed quite a bit since then. Stacy has been one of the most productive backs in the league and has to be considered at least a FLEX play if he’s healthy. If Stacy doesn’t play, Cunningham moves into being a solid RB2. Even if Stacy does play, Cunningham could have some value as a low-end FLEX play.

Kellen Clemens: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Zac Stacy: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Benny Cunningham: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Tavon Austin: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Chris Givens: 40 rec yds
Jared Cook: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Colin Kaepernick that fantasy owners were hoping for when they drafted him this offseason has finally arrived. Granted, it’s about 10 weeks too late, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. It was Week 10 when Kaepernick had his worst fantasy day of the season: a 91-yard passing day with no touchdowns and an interception with only 16 yards rushing against the Panthers. Fantasy owners were disgusted and many vowed to bench Kaepernick going forward. But those who stuck with him have been pleasantly surprised, especially with his most recent game against the Redskins when he threw for his first three-touchdown performance since Week 1. At the end of the day, Kaepernick went 15 of 24 for 235 yards and three touchdowns. He also added 20 yards as a runner. While Kaepernick’s rushing totals are still significantly down from what we expected going into the year, he seems to be catching stride as a passer. After weeks of fantasy irrelevance, Anquan Boldin is finally back on the radar, having caught 11 passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns over his past two contests. Boldin hasn’t been over 100 yards in any game since his gigantic 208-yard performance in Week 1, but seems to be benefiting from the return of Mario Manningham as a viable No. 2 option at receiver. Manningham himself has just eight receptions since returning in Week 10, but the impact he has made for other players since his return has been great. Tight end Vernon Davis has also shown up with touchdowns in back-to-back games and still leads the team with nine total scores on the year, making him one of the premier tight ends in all of fantasy football.

The last time these two teams played, both Boldin and Davis made trips to the end zone, with Boldin catching five passes for 90 yards and Davis making two grabs for just 16 yards. It should come as no surprise that Boldin and Davis are once again expected to be the focal point of the San Francisco passing game as they go up against a St. Louis defense that has allowed 773 yards through the air over their past two games. Certainly it’s hard to expect that Kaepernick is going to suddenly double the 167-yard passing performance he had back in Week 4 when these teams played, but an improvement does seem likely. There are better options at quarterback but Kaepernick isn’t a complete disaster waiting to happen this week. If you need him, place him in your lineup with some level of confidence.

Running Game Thoughts: After an incredible start to the season that saw Frank Gore run all over defenses with 10-plus fantasy points in eight of his first nine games this season, things have slowed down in recent weeks for the 49ers’ all-time leading rusher. With Kaepernick being relied upon to pass the ball more over his past two games, Gore has been significantly less involved in the offense, carrying the ball just 13 times in each of his past two games. He has now not touched the ball more than 20 times since back in Week 7 when he ran 24 times for 70 yards and two scores against the Titans. A 48-yard day against the Saints in Week 11 was forgivable but the 31 yards on 13 carries that Gore had against the Redskins this past week is a serious cause for concern. The Redskins had allowed 18 or more fantasy points (standard scoring) in 10 of their first 11 games of the season, then held the 49ers’ backs to just a combined five fantasy points in Week 12. Workload concerns could be a real consideration for the 49ers who are looking to make a run at the playoffs, but do not want to overwork their 30-year-old tailback. He is second among all active running backs in terms of total carries throughout his career and this could be a case of wanting to make sure he has fresh legs down the stretch. Backup running back Kendall Hunter took eight carries against the Redskins, his most since Week 8, but was also very unsuccessful as he rushed for just 12 yards on the day. Hunter himself is not much of a fantasy consideration as anything other than a handcuff for Gore, but he and Anthony Dixon have both been touchdown vultures earlier in the year.

The bright side for Gore owners is that he has an excellent track record against St. Louis. He had his most productive rushing day of the season when these teams played back in Week 4, as he ran for 153 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Gore has only been over 100 rushing yards one other time this year, but has scored a touchdown in each of his past three contests against the Rams, so there’s reason to be optimistic that this will be a bounceback game. St. Louis has been atrocious against the run all year, including allowing 14-plus fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing running backs in all but three of their games this season. Only one time have they held an opposing team’s running backs to fewer than 9 fantasy points. With back-to-back bad games, it’s understandable if you’re worried about Gore. But give him one more chance this week as he goes up against one of the league’s worst run defenses.

Colin Kaepernick: 210 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Frank Gore: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 40 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: 49ers 21, Rams 17 ^ Top

Broncos @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: There is no question that Peyton Manning is well on his way to winning his all-time-best fifth NFL MVP award, but fantasy owners have been a bit surprised by the “down” weeks we’ve seen from him over his past two contests. It’s hard to believe that 473 total yards and three touchdowns with only one interception would be considered “down games,” but that’s the kind of amazing start that Manning got off to in his first nine games this season. His 150-yard, two touchdown, one interception performance against the Patriots a week ago may show us that, at least for one night, he is still human. It was his worst game of the season both from an NFL standpoint as well as a fantasy standpoint, and it happened against a Patriots defense that had allowed a total of 609 passing yards and six touchdowns over their previous two games. Manning has been often criticized as not playing as well in cold weather games and that will be tested again as he and the Broncos head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs in a rematch of their Week 11 game. Current weather forecasts indicate that it could be up to 49 degrees, which is a far cry from the windy, 23-degree weather that the team dealt with against the Patriots a week ago. In fact, it looks very similar to the weather he played in against the Chiefs just two weeks ago. Manning threw for 323 yards in that game, although it was also the only time that he has been held to fewer than two passing touchdowns in any game this season. Receivers Eric Decker and Wes Welker are both coming off of some of their worst games of the season, as they caught just a combined four passes for 36 yards and no touchdowns. Meanwhile, Demaryius Thomas had only four catches for 41 yards himself, but he did get into the end zone for the sixth time in his past five games. Thomas is now the No. 2 receiver in all of fantasy football, behind only Calvin Johnson. Tight end Julius Thomas did not play in Week 12 which could have been a major factor that led to the Broncos offense not being in sync. Thomas has been one of the elite breakout superstars in all of fantasy football this season and had scored 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games of the season prior to missing Week 12. He is expected to return against the Chiefs this week, a team which he caught three passes for 43 yards and a score against in Week 11.

Kansas City’s secondary is coming off of their worst game of the season when they allowed 392 yards and three touchdowns to Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Including their Week 11 performance against Manning, the Chiefs have now allowed back-to-back 300-plus yard games to opposing quarterbacks after having not allowed any quarterback to reach that total prior to their Week 10 bye. A lot of that stems from the injuries to their top two pass rushers, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Hali is expected to be back, but Houston could still miss another 2-3 weeks. While they’ve struggled in recent weeks, the Chiefs have still only allowed two teams to throw for more than one touchdown against them in any game this season. Not only that, but they haven’t allowed a single team’s wide receivers to catch more than one touchdown pass against them in any game. One area that the Chiefs have struggled recently is against the tight end. After having allowed only 25 total fantasy points to opposing tight ends in their first nine games of the season, the Chiefs have allowed a total of 144 yards and two touchdowns in back-to-back weeks against the Broncos and Chargers. This bodes well for Julius Thomas who should be back and ready to play again on Sunday and makes for an obvious start at the weak tight end position.

Running Game Thoughts: With Peyton Manning struggling to get anything going in the passing game against the Patriots a week ago, Denver turned to running back Knowshon Moreno. Moreno, who had been having an incredible season as it was, had by far his best game of the season as he ran for 224 yards and a score in the loss. Moreno has now carried the ball a ridiculous 64 times in his past two games, averaging over 4.7 yards per attempt over that span. He has clearly established himself as Denver’s go-to ball carrier at all points on the field, but most importantly near the goal line as he has already scored nine rushing touchdowns on the year. Moreno would be an obvious must-start this week if it weren’t for a bone bruise that the team found out about after the game in New England. Moreno was on crutches immediately following the game and his status for Sunday’s rematch with Kansas City is still in question. We do know that he practiced in limited fashion on Thursday, which does tell us that there is a decent chance that he suits up on Sunday in a must-win game over against the Chiefs that will determine which team heads into the final month of the season as the division leader. If Moreno is unable to go, it will likely be rookie Montee Ball who sees an increased workload, as he helped take over when Moreno was hobbled in Week 12. Ball looked decent in limited work, taking his 10 total touches for 57 yards. Perhaps more importantly, he had by far his best fantasy production of the season the last time these two teams played, when he ran for two touchdowns.

Whoever gets the start for the Broncos will have a chance to put up some good numbers against a Kansas City run defense that has struggled in recent weeks. The Chiefs have allowed 22 or more fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing running backs in each of their past three games, after having not allowed any team to reach that total in any game prior. If Moreno is unable to play, Ball moves into the conversation as a low-end RB2. With none of the currently-rostered running backs having much experience in pass protection, Ball doesn’t really find himself behind the eight ball in that area and he has been the most productive runner of the bunch outside of Moreno, despite fumbled a few times. Even if Moreno plays, Ball could end up seeing enough snaps to make him an intriguing FLEX option. If Moreno does play, and current reports indicate that he is more likely to play than not play, then he needs to be inserted into fantasy lineups as usual. The concern that his foot could cause him some problems are real, but it’s worth noting that he did go back onto the field after suffering the injury, meaning that it is likely more of a pain tolerance issue than anything else. The risk/reward is just too great with this guy, as he is coming off the best performance of his entire career and he has been among the brightest stars in all of fantasy football in 2013.

Peyton Manning: 285 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Knowshon Moreno: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Montee Ball: 25 rush yds, 1 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 75 rec yds
Eric Decker: 50 rec yds
Julius Thomas: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: While his team hasn’t been in the win column now since Week 9, it’s hard to blame quarterback Alex Smith who has actually been having some of his better passing performances of the season. Smith has gone for 22 and 21 fantasy points against the Broncos and Chargers over his past two games, which is the best two-game stretch he has had all year. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has also come alive in those losses, catching nine total passes for 108 total yards and two scores since Kansas City’s Week 10 bye. He has been incredibly disappointing all year, but back-to-back games with a touchdown cannot be ignored when you’re talking about a player with the track record of Bowe. Defenses might know that he is their only real threat in the downfield passing game, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t still be effective. If Smith continues to look his way as he has since Week 9, Bowe could actually be back in consideration for fantasy lineups.

Denver has been atrocious against the pass this season, having allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks on the year. They’ve allowed at least one passing score in every game except one (Jacksonville) and allowed Smith to strike for two scores against them in Week 11. While he hasn’t been the greatest fantasy quarterback over the course of the season, Smith has actually been very good at home in almost every game. He is averaging 17.8 points per game (standard scoring) at home, and could very well exceed that number this week. Other options in the Kansas City passing game include wide receivers Dexter McCluster and Donnie Avery, both of whom had solid performances against the Chargers a week ago. Avery caught four passes for 91 yards and a touchdown, his first since Week 1, while McCluster made it back-to-back games with five or more catches when he snagged seven balls for 59 yards. McCluster is more valuable in PPR formats but he does have the type of elusiveness to cause problems against Denver’s weak secondary. Avery, on the other hand, is really only a complete shot in the dark kind of fantasy play. While he has gone over 90 yards three times this season, he has been held below 40 yards in every other game, including his one catch for 20 yards against the Broncos in Week 11. While Avery and McCluster really can’t be trusted, both Bowe and Smith could be intriguing options for those who are hurting at those positions going into Week 13. The other player to look at in deep leagues might be tight end Anthony Fasano. Fasano scored against the Broncos back in Week 11 and was also able to sneak into the end zone against the Chargers this past week. He has never been a superstar fantasy player, but with the Broncos likely putting a lot of their linebacker attention on stopping Jamaal Charles in the passing game, there could be opportunities for Fasano to get open, particularly in the red zone. Don’t be surprised if he makes it three straight weeks with a touchdown as he is up against a Broncos defense that has allowed the fourth-most fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends on the year.

Running Game Thoughts: There may not be a more valuable non-quarterback offensive player in all of football than Jamaal Charles, who has contributed a higher percentage of his team’s total offense than any other player in the league this year. Charles, who got back on track with a 115-yard rushing, two touchdown, 42-yard receiving performance this past week, had slowed down a bit in his previous two games. Although he ran for 90 and 78 yards in his prior two contests, he wasn’t nearly as involved in the passing game and did not score a touchdown. There was really no reason to be concerned as he was still getting plenty of touches, but it was certainly nice to see Charles put together another 100-plus total yard performance; his ninth of the year. In addition to being the No. 1 running back in the league heading into Week 13, Charles has also been the model for consistency. He has averaged 16.5 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) and has been nothing short of spectacular in PPR formats, where he has averaged 21.3 fantasy points per game. He is still on pace for 77 receptions on the year, which would make him one of the top pass catchers that the running back position has seen in years, especially among players who are also their team’s primary runner. There is absolutely no question that a healthy Jamaal Charles goes into every fantasy lineup this week, but if there is some cause for concern, it is that Charles did have his worst game of the year when these teams met back in Week 11. That night, Charles ran for 78 yards on 16 carries. He also had his worst receiving day of the season when he caught just two passes for -6 yards.

As bad as Denver’s defense has been as a whole, they have not been completely run over by any running game. They haven’t allowed any team’s backs to rush for more than 125 yards in a game against them, nor have they allowed more than one rushing touchdown to the position in any game. On the bright side, they have allowed at least 90 yards rushing in each of their past four games, so Charles should be in line to at least contribute something of value. As the top-scoring running back in the league, Charles certainly cannot be benched, but expecting a huge performance against the Broncos might also be a bit much. Try to keep your expectations in check.

Alex Smith: 260 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Dexter McCluster: 50 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 40 rec yds
Anthony Fasano: 25 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 27, Chiefs 24 ^ Top

Bengals @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: One of the most up-and-down fantasy quarterbacks of the year has been Bengals signal caller Andy Dalton. Dalton has turned the ball over nine times in his past three games alone. If you look only at that number, you might completely dismiss him as a viable fantasy option, but it’s his high risk / high reward style of play that has led him to some nice fantasy performances even during that stretch. Dalton has thrown 16 touchdown passes over his past six games, including four 300-plus yard performances during that stretch as well. While he threw for just 93 yards and had two interceptions in the team’s Week 11 blowout win over the Browns, Dalton was also able to throw three touchdown passes, which still made him a decent fantasy play. Of course, it helps when you have playmakers like A.J. Green and Giovanni Bernard to throw to. Speaking of Green, his Week 11 matchup against Joe Haden didn’t exactly go his way. Green was held to just two catches for seven yards on the day, bringing his total to 58 yards on the year in his two games against the Browns. Green had been on an amazing tear prior to that, having produced at least 100 receiving yards in each of his five previous contests. One player who has practically disappeared in the Bengals offense is receiver Marvin Jones. Jones, who had scored six touchdowns over a three-week span from Weeks 6 through 8, has caught just six total passes over his past three games. Although he still has the potential for a big play from time to time, he is not on the field often enough to be a serious fantasy option at the moment. Perhaps we can reassess Jones after a bye week to rest and a chance to refocus.

Dalton and Green both have to be considered strong fantasy plays as they head to San Diego to challenge the Chargers and their 30th-ranked fantasy pass defense. The Chargers have allowed eight touchdown passes over their past three games and have held only one quarterback to a single digit fantasy performance all year. Their production against opposing wide receivers is even worse. After allowing the lackluster Kansas City receivers to catch 17 passes for 223 yards and two scores against them a week ago, the Chargers have now allowed at least 11 catches and 142 yards to opposing receivers in every game this season. They are not generating nearly the kind of pass rush needed to slow down Andy Dalton and their secondary simply does not have the size, speed and overall skill needed to slow down a player like Green. Green is an easy top five fantasy option this week and should be right back in your fantasy starting lineup after his bye week.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite losing significant early down work to veteran tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals rookie Giovani Bernard has established himself as one of the best offensive rookies to come out of this draft class. Bernard is averaging over a full yard per carry better than Green- Ellis and has also been a monster in the receiving game, where he has already caught 42 passes. Bernard’s role in the Bengals offense is as a “lightning” complement to Green-Ellis’ “thunder” and he has been nothing short of a star. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, his inconsistent workload has caused some headaches. It did so back in Week 11 when, despite the Bengals winning the game by multiple scores and Bernard averaging well over six yards per touch, he was only given 14 total touches on the day. Meanwhile, Green-Ellis, who averaged fewer than 4.0 yards per touch, matched that total with 16 touches of his own. While it could just be a case of the Bengals not wanting to overextend and end up losing effectiveness from Bernard, it is interesting to wonder just how good Bernard would be if he was getting the lions share of the touches in Cincinnati. Even as things are right now, Bernard is a top-10 back on the year in PPR formats and drops only down to around 13th in standard scoring leagues. Meanwhile Green Ellis, who has not scored a touchdown or been over 90 yards rushing since Week 5, barely even slides in as an RB3 in most leagues.

The two-headed monster in Cincinnati will be at it again this Sunday as they head to San Diego to go up against the Chargers and their 14th-ranked fantasy defense against running backs. The Chargers were excellent against the run early in the year, allowing just two teams to break even 80 yards against them on the ground, but have not been so good since their bye week. Over their past four contests, the Chargers have allowed an average of 110.5 rushing yards per game with seven total touchdowns. While they are coming off of a big, emotional win in Kansas City, the Chargers could be in for a letdown this week as they will be up against a more talented offense with bigger playmaking ability as a whole. That could mean some nice numbers for both Green-Ellis and Bernard, especially in PPR leagues. Bernard should check in, as usual, as a high-end RB2; while Green-Ellis can be used sparingly as a RB3/FLEX option for those in need.

Andy Dalton: 290 pass yds, 3 TD
Giovani Bernard: 50 rush yds, 40 rec yds, 1 TD
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 50 rush yds, 1 TD
A.J. Green: 125 rec yds, 2 TD
Mohamed Sanu: 25 rec yds
Jermaine Gresham: 30 rec yds
Tyler Eifert: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: 2013 has truly been the career resurgence of quarterback Philip Rivers. A former top five fantasy quarterback, Rivers had fallen all the way down to outside the top-20 in 2012 and it looked as if we had probably seen the best of him. Not so fast. Rivers has come back in dramatic fashion this year, including a gigantic road division win over the previously 9-1 Chiefs a week ago. Rivers slashed up the Kansas City defense to the tune of 398 yards and three touchdowns, while not throwing an interception. It was his excellent play that kept the Chargers in the game and, at this point, there is no question that he still has “it.” Rivers had been on a bit of a cool streak in recent weeks, having thrown for just six touchdowns in his previous five games combined, but it was great to see him out there, shredding up a defense that many considered to be the best in the league heading into that game. The team’s top receiver, rookie Keenan Allen, was back at it again as he tied his season high with nine receptions for 124 yards. Allen has now been over 100 yards in four of his past seven games, making him one of the better breakout rookies of the 2013 season. There was some talk that he had hit a bit of a wall with only 41 and 45 yards in his previous two games, but Allen dispelled all of that. He is clearly Rivers’ favorite target and is a must-start in just about every fantasy scoring format. Tight end Antonio Gates has been relatively quiet as of late. The former multi-time All-Pro has not been over 75 yards receiving since Week 4 and has only scored one total touchdown over that span. Meanwhile fellow tight end Ladarius Green has been quietly making his presence felt in the San Diego offense. Those who follow the Chargers closely know all about the hype surrounding Green, but they are finally starting to see it materialize on the field. Green has 81 and 80 yards receiving over his past two games, including his first touchdown of the season this past week against the Chiefs. Green’s production could have been even better if a penalty didn’t take another touchdown off the board. Rivers is looking for Webb a lot in the red zone and he makes for a sneaky play, especially with Gates battling a hamstring injury that has kept him out of practice so far this week. Current reports indicate that Gates is unlikely to start on Sunday and could be limited even if he does play.

Unfortunately for those relying on the San Diego pass offense this week, they do have a tough matchup against one of the league’s best defenses. The Bengals have allowed just three total passing touchdowns over their past four games combined. Those numbers could possibly indicate that this is the week to sit Rivers, but a closer examination will tell us that those numbers might be a little misleading. What’s more important to look at than the touchdowns alone is that the competition they’ve been up against has been lackluster at best. During that four game stretch, the Bengals have gone up against Geno Smith, Ryan Tannehill, Joe Flacco and Jason Campbell. Needless to say, Rivers, who has been a top five fantasy quarterback so far this season, will be a significantly tougher test for the Cincinnati secondary. If they’ve taken you this far, don’t be too worried about Rivers and Allen this week, even against a good defense. They’re the kind of players who can still produce in tough situations, as they showed against the Chiefs.

Running Game Thoughts: Running backs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead were back at it again this past week as the dynamic duo rushed for a total of 80 yards and two touchdowns against a good Kansas City defense. Woodhead also got back involved in the passing game when he caught four passes for 45 yards and a touchdown, his fifth receiving score of the year. The two players have now combined for 11 total touchdowns on the year and have truly been the kind of one-two punch that doesn’t come along often, with both players being productive most weeks. Woodhead’s production is still largely tied to the league’s scoring format as he jumps from being just the No. 15 running back in standard scoring formats, all the way up to being the No. 8-scoring running back in PPR leagues. Woodhead’s 59 receptions are most among all running backs across the league and put him on pace for an impressive 86 catches on the year. Few could have expected quite this kind of production from a player like Mathews who had been written off as a bust and Woodhead, who was on a new team. At this point, both players have proven that they are viable, every week fantasy backs. Mathews has been a bit banged up this week and did miss some time in practice, but returned on Thursday and is expected to play on Sunday as he and Woodhead will be up against a very good Cincinnati defense.

The Bengals are allowing the fifth-fewest points per game to opposing running backs and perhaps most impressively, have not allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 3. Only once all season has an opposing team rushed for more than 150 yards in a game against the Bengals and not a single team reached that total against them during the entire 2012 season. If the Chargers are going to move the ball with their running backs in this one, it might have to happen through the passing game, meaning Woodhead could be in line for some increased work. The Bengals have allowed 67 receptions to opposing running backs this season, fifth-most in the NFL. Look for Woodhead to get back to being the guy who averaged over six receptions per game in his first eight games this year. The Chargers will need him to create mismatches if they hope to walk away with a win in this one.

Philip Rivers: 290 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Ryan Mathews: 40 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 35 rush yds, 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Keenan Allen: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Eddie Royal: 50 rec yds
Ladarius Green: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Bengals 31, Chargers 27 ^ Top

Saints @ Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Another week, another great performance from Drew Brees. It almost seems boring at this point, but Drew Brees has just been the model of incredible consistency in fantasy football. For years now, no one has played better. Brees has thrown a touchdown in every single game this season, and 68 of his past 69 regular season games. He’s already thrown for 28 scores this year with only eight interceptions as the Saints look to run away with the NFC South and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Tight end Jimmy Graham got back into the end zone after a two-week drought, as he caught five passes for 100 yards. Graham is the unquestioned top tight end in all of fantasy football and has proven to be one of the best receivers regardless of position. His 156 points (standard scoring) would make him the second-highest scoring wide receiver, as he trails only Detroit’s Calvin Johnson in that area. With a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Drew Brees behind center and an unbelievable physical talent at tight end like Jimmy Graham, it’s no wonder that opposing defenses have had such a tough time slowing down the New Orleans offense this season. Even Marques Colston, who had been a gigantic bust through the first half of the season, has shown up in recent weeks. With 16 catches for 227 yards and a touchdown over his past three games, Colston is beginning to creep back up into being an at least somewhat viable fantasy option. Things won’t be easy this week, though, as he and the Saints head to Seattle to battle the only team currently ahead of them in the NFC.

Seattle is widely known for being one of the best defenses in the league and most of it stems from their tremendously physically gifted secondary. Seattle has allowed just 11 passing touchdowns against them on the year, while forcing a league-best 16 interceptions. On the surface, it appears as if this might be a very tough week for quarterback Drew Brees. It still might be. But with cornerback Brandon Browner facing a suspension from the league, Seattle may be a little more vulnerable than usual. The Seahawks have allowed five passing touchdowns over their past three games against less-than-stellar passing attacks, including a two-TD performance to Christian Ponder and the Vikings a week ago. Brees is the kind of player who can make any team pay if they make mistakes and if Seattle isn’t all there mentally, this could very well be a better fantasy matchup than the numbers indicate. Play Brees and Graham as usual and even Marques Colston could be considered as a FLEX play against the Seahawks.

Running Game Thoughts: With Darren Sproles out due to a knee and ankle injury this past week, it was once again veteran Pierre Thomas who stepped up in a big way, rushing for 73 yards and adding 57 yards as a receiver out of the backfield against the Falcons. Thomas has been a reliable pass catcher all season for the Saints and is currently second among all NFL running backs in receptions with 56, trailing only Danny Woodhead of the Chargers. While he hasn’t been quite as consistent running the ball, with only one game of over 75 yards all season, Thomas has still been worth a look in fantasy, especially when either Mark Ingram or Darren Sproles has been out with an injury. Ingram himself has been playing the “bruiser” role in the New Orleans offense and, despite a tragically low yards per carry average, is still touching the ball on a fairly regular basis. He has taken 29 carries over the past three weeks and could be in line for more this week as the Saints try to keep up with the physical play that the Seattle defense will assuredly bring. Sproles is also expected to return this week and was a full participant in practice on Thursday. We don’t know the extent of the snaps he will get, but given the number of injuries at the running back position, it’s going to be tough not to find a spot for him at least as a FLEX play this week, even against a very good Seattle run defense.

The Seahawks have allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs this season and have not allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 8. That’s not to say that they have been particularly great against opposing running backs lately, however. In fact, they’ve been on an ugly stretch that includes embarrassingly bad games allowed to Zac Stacy, Mike James and the duo of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart in Minnesota. While they have walked away with wins in each of those games, Seattle fans have to be a bit concerned as New Orleans comes to town. If the Saints can even get close to 100 yards rushing, the Seahawks are going to be forced to focus on stopping the run, which could mean big plays from Drew Brees and the passing game. Look for the Saints to come out and try to run the ball with Pierre Thomas, with a bit of Mark Ingram sprinkled in. If that works, we will likely see more of it throughout the game. If not, it could mean a quick switch to a typical Saints pass-heavy offense, which would mean more opportunities for Sproles and much fewer for Ingram.

Drew Brees: 275 pass yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Pierre Thomas: 50 rush yds, 35 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 25 rush yds, 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Mark Ingram: 30 rush yds
Marques Colston: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Kenny Stills: 40 rec yds
Jimmy Graham: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: With Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill all hitting somewhat of a sophomore slump, it has been Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who has been setting himself apart from the 2012 quarterback class in recent weeks. With his 230 yard, two touchdown performance in Week 11, Wilson has now thrown for multiple touchdown passes in five straight games, all while throwing just two total interceptions since Week 5. It looked like things were going in the wrong direction when St. Louis was able to sack Wilson seven times back in Week 8, but the Seattle offensive line has continued to get healthier and gel ever since. Wilson has only been sacked three times since that game and his Seahawks are in the driver’s seat, cruising toward an NFC West title and a first round bye in the playoffs, perhaps with home field advantage. They will take a big step toward that goal with a win over the team that is closest to them in the standings, the New Orleans Saints. With Percy Harvin now in the mix, things are only getting better for the Seattle passing game. Unfortunately the lack of consistency from other receivers such as Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse have left fantasy owners scratching their heads, trying to figure out who they should put in their lineups.

None of the Seattle receivers are particularly great fantasy options this week as they go up against a New Orleans defense that has been greatly improved this season under coordinator Rob Ryan. The Saints are allowing the third-fewest amount of fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks and have not allowed more than two passing touchdowns in any game this season. Wilson himself is still likely a must-start this week due to his hot streak as a passer and his always dangerous running ability, but he is more of a low-end QB1 this week. It’s unlikely that fantasy owners are going to have better options, so he’s going to make it into most lineups, but don’t be too surprised if he doesn’t extend that streak of five games with multiple touchdowns to six games.

Running Game Thoughts: When it comes right down to it, this game could very well come down to the Saints ability to slow down Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch, who has been an unstoppable fantasy monster in most games this season, has already scored 11 touchdowns in 10 games and has been in double digit fantasy point totals (standard scoring) in all but three of those contests. The play of fullback Michael Robinson has been a great addition for Lynch as of late, who has rushed for 324 yards and four total scores over his past three games. He had just one 100-yard performance prior to his Week 9 game against the Buccaneers, but Lynch’s fantasy totals have been just fine. He is the No. 3 scoring running back in standard scoring fantasy leagues and there is little reason to believe that he won’t continue to improve upon that as the season nears closer to its end. The biggest concern for Lynch owners has to be an injured knee that has kept him limited in practice throughout the week. While Lynch ends up on the injury report in some way, shape or form just about every week, it is worth paying attention to going into Sunday’s game at home against New Orleans.

The Saints have been respectable against the run this season, but have been susceptible to allowing touchdowns to opposing running backs. New Orleans has already allowed eight scores on the ground and six of those have come over their past six games. Teams with in-your-face, bruising running games have been most effective against New Orleans so far this year, with the Patriots rushing for 124 yards and two scores back in Week 6 before the Jets ran for 168 yards and a score against them in Week 9. Marshawn Lynch is about as powerful as it comes at the running back position, which has to give fantasy owners plenty of confidence heading into this important Week 13 matchup. Look for the Seahawks to feed him the ball early and often as they hope to control the clock and keep Drew Brees and the Saints offense off the field as much as possible. Barring an injury, Lynch should see at least 22-25 touches, and 30 touches wouldn’t be out of the question if the Seahawks are up in the fourth quarter. That kind of work, in addition to Lynch’s talent, means an obvious fantasy start in all scoring formats.

Russell Wilson: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 45 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 110 rush yds, 2 TD, 15 rec yds
Golden Tate: 50 rec yds
Percy Harvin: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 40 rec yds
Jermaine Kearse: 25 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 30, Saints 24 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Jags got a win last week, it was nothing for fantasy owners to get too excited about, as quarterback Chad Henne failed to throw a touchdown and now has just two in his last six games. Without suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon, the Jags passing attack is one of the worst in the league, with below average talent, poor play-calling, and proneness to mistakes. The only thing saving any kind of value for the Jags is the fact that they are normally so far behind that “garbage time” yards add up, making a couple of their players start-worthy in the right matchup. This week it remains to be seen whether the Jags will fall much behind the low-scoring Browns offense, but the Browns defense is so good that there may be very few yards to be had anyway. Currently the Browns pass defense ranks fifth in yards allowed and is among the 10 toughest teams for opposing fantasy QBs to score against. For the Jags receivers there is both good and bad news this week. The bad news is that elite cover corner Joe Haden will be on the field and is capable of shutting down even the best receivers in the league, none of which the Jags have. The good news is two-fold: Haden was burned last week versus Antonio Brown, so perhaps Cecil Shorts, who will probably be covered by Haden, still has an outside chance of posting decent numbers, especially in PPR leagues.

Secondly, starting opposite of Haden is Buster Skrine, who is expected to miss the game this week, or at least be limited with a rib injury. Skrine has been a decent player this season but is obviously picked on a lot because Haden is so good. If Skrine cannot go, it is a big boost to the Jags' No. 2 wide receiver (Sanders or Brown), as often the opposing team’s second option scores the most fantasy points against the Browns. As for who is on the fantasy radar this week, it surely is not Henne, who even in a great matchup is a lower-end QB2. In this matchup, away from home, against one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, Henne is a bottom three option at QB—in the entire league. Shorts has been up and down throughout the season but is usually a decent WR3 in standard leagues and often a nice WR2 in PPR leagues. While Shorts will probably still get around 10 targets in this one, it would not be surprising if Haden shuts him almost totally out. Shorts to me is a risky start, even as a WR3. While normally the No. 2 receiver is a good start against the Browns, the problem here is that we do not know for sure who the Jags No. 2 guy really is. It is more than likely either Ace Sanders or Mike Brown, but it’s possible that they split those duties all game long, making both players a gamble to start on your team. After posting some nice numbers last week, Sanders would probably be the guy I’d pick if forced to, but chances are you have better options anyway. Both guys are WR4s this week. No other Jags passing game player is on the radar this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew had his best game of the year last week, with 144 total yards and a touchdown. While he broke a few tackles and had a couple of nice longer runs, MJD still seems to lack that initial burst he once had, and behind a poor offensive line and a passing game that would not scare a good high school team, MJD is stuck in a bad spot for fantasy purposes. In a great matchup he could still be useful because of his total involvement in the offense, but this week will be tough to get going against a stout Browns run defense. The Browns are barely above average against fantasy RBs this year, but that is mostly because they have given up a decent amount of touchdowns. In terms of giving up rushing yards, the Browns are elite, giving up the sixth least yards in the league. What this all means is that, against a high-flying offense that gets a lot of red-zone opportunities, the Browns run defense may not be that scary, but the Jags are one of the worst offenses in the NFL and touchdown opportunities are normally few and far between.

With Joe Haden locking down the Jags' best receiver, the rest of the defense may focus their attention on MJD, making him a risky RB to start in a game that will more than likely be low scoring and feature the punting and kicking game more than normal. Because he gets a decent workload and is coming off a great game, MJD is still worth consideration as a high-end RB3/flex play, but expectations should be tempered, as this is one of the tougher matchups an RB will face this week. No other Jags runner is remotely on the radar this week.

Chad Henne: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Maurice Jones-Drew: 45 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 45 rec yds
Mike Brown: 40 rec yds
Ace Sanders: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Browns passing game is interesting because there is some real opportunity here against an overall poor defense, but there is also a chance they will fall flat on their faces. With Jason Campbell out this week Brandon Weeden will face a Jags defense that ranks just 17th in passing yards allowed. In addition, the Jags have registered the fewest sacks in the league and the third fewest interceptions, which would normally make opposing quarterbacks drool at the possibilities. In a home game Weeden and the Browns have some real hope here, especially if they utilize wide receiver Josh Gordon, who is about as hot as they come right now after posting a ridiculous 14 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown last week. On the downside of things, this is still Brandon Weeden we are talking about, who could make many poor defenses look good by holding on to the ball too long, making bad reads, and overshooting receivers. Also, as bad as the Jags have been, they still basically shut down Case Keenum and the Texans pass game last week, and they are at the very least equally talented as the Browns. With Weeden at quarterback against a defense weaker against the run than the pass, the Browns may go run-heavy. Overall this should be a low-scoring affair full of three-and-outs and plenty of ugly plays.

Normally a QB going against the Jags would be a juicy fantasy play, but Weeden has shown too little to make us believe he can be more than a mid-range QB2, even in a plus matchup like this one. While Weeden may rack up some decent yardage, he will most likely turn the ball over several times and his upside is certainly capped. As for the receivers, Josh Gordon does not get a lot of attention or respect around the NFL, probably because the Browns are struggling and lack a good quarterback, but he has quietly become almost matchup (and quarterback) proof. Regardless of who is throwing him the ball Gordon demands targets and is the focus of this offense, regardless of how average it is. In a bad matchup Gordon is still a solid WR2 because of the volume of work he gets, but in a good matchup like this one, Gordon should be considered a WR1, even with Weeden at quarterback. The only other Browns passing game player on the radar this week is tight end Jordan Cameron, who has cooled off considerably after his red hot start but still has as much potential as almost any other tight end in the league. While Cameron is in a slump and no longer a sure thing, the Jags give up the second most points to opposing fantasy TEs, and Weeden actually seems to focus on Cameron more than Jason Campbell does, making this a perfect opportunity for Cameron to get back on track. He is a legit TE1 this week and top eight option at the position.

Running Game Thoughts: The great news for the Browns this week is that they are at home against one of the weaker run defenses in the NFL. The Jaguars have let up the fourth most rushing yards and are tied for giving up the most rushing touchdowns. Consequently, they are the eighth most generous team in terms of giving up fantasy points to opposing RBs. For probably 29 or so NFL teams, these numbers would mean a field day for at least one running back on the roster facing the Jags. For the Browns, however, it means an opportunity but a clouded scenario in which three running backs are splitting reps in one of the least talented backfields in the league. Throughout the 12 games the Browns have played, there have been no fewer than four running backs that have led the team in carries, yet none have stood out as anything more than fringe fantasy plays at best in standard leagues.

Willis McGahee was signed to carry the load after Trent Richardson was traded, but he has looked every bit his age and has gotten worse as the year has gone on. At this point he is probably the odd man out, although he will probably still get just enough touches to be annoying. Fozzy Whitaker was the low man on the totem pole but led the team in carries last week (still just 6) and will probably given more work again this week, as he looked decent in limited work. Finally, Chris Ogbonnaya looked on the verge of breaking out a few weeks back but has done little with his opportunity and even fumbled once last week, which of course could influence the coach’s decision to give him a bigger workload this week. What all this means is that, while the on-paper matchup looks juicy, the reality is so cloudy that only desperate owners should risk their week on one of these Browns' backs. If you own all three and really want to roll the dice, I would bet Ogbonnaya ends up with the best stats, but he’s still just a risky RB3/flex option. It is certainly possible one of these three breaks out this week at home against one of the worst defenses, but picking who it will be could cost you your matchup, so proceed with caution.

Brandon Weeden: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Chris Ogbonnaya: 45 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Josh Gordon: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Cameron Jordan: 75 rec yds
Greg Little: 30 rec yds

Prediction: Browns 23, Jaguars 20 ^ Top

Bears @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: This game has about everything you want if you are an owner of a Bears passing game player. First, weather will not be a factor under the dome in Minnesota. Second, even though he is a backup, Josh McCown has played well in relief of Jay Cutler, making good use of his excellent weapons and doing a lot more than just throwing short check-downs. Finally, and maybe most important, the matchup is about as juicy as you can get. The Vikings currently have given up the most passing touchdowns and the fourth most passing yards in the league. They have very few sacks on the year, even less interceptions, and starting corner Xavier Rhodes might miss the game after suffering a concussion last week. In fantasy terms, the Vikings are the seventh most generous to WRs, fourth most generous to TEs, and second most generous to QBs. With two ultra-talented WRs, an above average TE, and a QB with some momentum, the Bears could be a fantasy goldmine this week. One word of caution before getting too excited here: this is still a division rivalry game and the Bears will run quite a bit, so while the Bears should certainly put up some fantasy points, temper your expectations to quality but not record-breaking numbers here.

McCown has put up nice numbers in place of Cutler, and while he is not as naturally talented, he’s in a quarterback-friendly system and takes advantage of his weapons. In this game McCown is a low-risk, moderately high-reward option as a high-end QB2, with potential to be a top 12 option. Martellus Bennett is often touchdown dependent in order to have a big game, but he's a reliable option as a back-end TE1 in a game where he should get a few red zone looks. Brandon Marshall continues to be elite regardless of who throws him the ball and should be a top five option at WR, especially if Rhodes misses the game. Jeffery is another matchup nightmare for defenses that try to double Marshall, and he has been consistent enough to be counted on as a safe low-end WR2 in a juicy matchup. If you own a Bears passing game member, enjoy the ride this week, as at least four players should be in most fantasy lineups and it would be surprising if at least two of them were not top 10 options at their positions.

Running Game Thoughts: Matt Forte is having an excellent year and if the Bears coaching staff was not so stubborn, he could be even better. But they decided to run backup running back Michael Bush multiple times at the goal line last week, and he failed multiple times, including on a fourth-and-goal from the one yard line. While Forte re-tweaked his knee last week, he should be good to go in this one, and boy is it a nice matchup! The Vikings are currently the third most generous to opposing fantasy RBs and have given up the eighth most rushing yards on the year. While Forte may be limited this week and may cede more carries than normal to Bush, he is a clear RB1 if he plays, which he should.

While the Bears passing attack should be effective, it is possible they get an early lead and lean on the run game more than normal. This is a divisional game, meaning the defense will be amped up to play a team they know fairly well, so do not expect career days here. With that in mind, this is the kind of day that Forte could carry a fantasy team, even at less than 100 percent. While he is a legit RB1 this week, Bush is still not a startable player in all but the deepest leagues. I do think Bush will get at least 8 touches, which is way more than normal, but still not enough to make a big impact. Of course if Forte sits for some reason, Bush becomes a strong RB2 in a game where he would get 15 or more touches.

Josh McCown: 290 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Matt Forte: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Brandon Marshall: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 75 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Bush: 20 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The stage is set perfectly for one member of the Vikings to have a near-epic fantasy day. Unfortunately for the passing unit, that one player is Adrian Peterson. Of course, this is not an unusual case for the Vikings, as Peterson is easily their best player, their passing game stinks, and the Vikings are one of the few run-heavy teams in the league. This game, however, accentuates the norm more than usual because the Bears defense is at least decent against the pass but absolutely horrible against the run. Currently they are ranked 13th against the pass and have picked off more passes than the league average. While they are certainly not a dominant NFL pass defense, the Vikings passing attack is so weak that they may actually look like one in this game. Facing one of the league’s worst run defenses, the Vikings will almost certainly rely almost exclusively on the run unless the Bears get a big lead and are forced to pass more to try and catch up. In that kind of situation it may not be pretty for Christian Ponder and company. Even if they rack up some garbage time yards, they will more than likely turn the ball over a good bit and probably not see the end zone much.

The one piece of good news for Vikings fans, and perhaps dynasty league owners, is that wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is seeing a lot more snaps and is an actual contributing member of the passing attack, after being held back most of the year. By the end of the season Patterson may reach WR3 status, but at this point, in this game, he is still a lottery ticket WR4. Ponder, plain and simple, should be on your bench (or on waivers) this week, as his overall volume of work will be relatively low and the matchup is just average. I could easily go through each of the wide receivers and tell you to bench them, but instead I will just address them as a whole and say the same thing. It is too hard to predict which wide receiver, if any, will put up decent stats, and chances are fairly strong that none of them will. Patterson has the highest upside and Jennings is probably the safest, but these are relative terms and neither is a viable starter in fantasy. The only player I’d consider from this unit is tight end John Carlson, as he has been hot and is a nice safety valve for Ponder if they need to play hurry-up and the Bears play a prevent defense, where Ponder would check down to Carlson. Carlson should be a solid TE2 here, in a year where TEs are generally producing less than normal.

Running Game Thoughts: Every week is a good week if you own Adrian Peterson, one of the most consistent forces in fantasy football today, but this week has the potential to be one of his absolute best games of the year. The Bears got totally rocked last week by the Rams run game, and that was with guys who just two months ago most casual fans never even heard of (Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham). This week the Bears face the unquestioned best running back in the league on his home turf. Anyone care to bet against him?

The Bears' run defense statistics read like an opposing running backs dream. They have given up the most rush yards on the season, the second most yards per carry, and the second most rushing touchdowns. In addition, they are the fourth most generous to opposing running backs right now. The Bears defense has been limited by injuries and underperformance, and there is little hope on the horizon. I could go on and on here about how good AP is and how bad the Bears are on run stopping, but the bottom line is that you are probably going to start Peterson even if he goes back in time and plays the Steel curtain this week, so you are certainly starting him here. Peterson is an elite RB1 and more than likely the best performing RB overall this week. No other Vikings runner is worth starting, as Peterson should eat up 95 percent of the touches from the backfield.

Christian Ponder: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Adrian Peterson: 130 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Greg Jennings: 40 rec yds
John Carlson: 55 rec yds
Cordarrelle Patterson: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 30, Vikings 20 ^ Top

Dolphins at Jets - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: On offense there is little the Dolphins do well. Statistically they’re average at best in every major category, and yet only three of their 11 games have been decided by five or more points and they’re still mathematically in the thick of the AFC playoff picture. That’s not bad considering they average only 225 passing yards per game and 6.8 per pass, which rank twentieth and twenty-first, respectively. And their star wide receiver, Mike Wallace, isn’t even the leading receiver on the team in terms of yardage, big plays, first downs, or receiving touchdowns. The Achilles heel for Miami all year has been their offensive line, and with their recent off-field issues and on-field injuries, the unit is in as bad of shape as it’s even been, giving up seven sacks in the last two games and surrendering a league-worst 44 sacks on the season. After missing the past two games, it appears center Mike Pouncey is close to being ready to play this Sunday; according to local reports he’s feeling great after gallbladder issues kept him from playing recently. Ultimately, the success of the passing attack will come down to quarterback Ryan Tannehill being more consistent when his protection holds up and using his mobility to buy time for his receivers when the protection falters. Even with the pressure, the team is completing 61.8 percent of their passes, which is twelfth best in the league. So if the miscommunications with Wallace can be cleared up, the receivers can reduce their drops, and the underthrows can be minimized, there’s room for easy improvement for Miami through the air.

The strength of the Jets defense has certainly not been their ability to slow down opponents’ aerial attacks, as they rank in the bottom ten against the pass, with 250 yards against per game, and have allowed 20 touchdowns while forcing only six interceptions, both of which also rank in the bottom ten of the NFL. Even that which they do best, getting to the quarterback, doesn’t rank in the top ten for the league. Despite a four-sack performance in Week 12, they’ve still recorded only eight in the past four games, a pace which puts them behind their three-per-game average (32 in 11 games). Over the past four games New York has been able to hold only one team below the 250-yard mark, and that was by only five yards to the Bills and even at that they allowed over 71 percent passing to a rookie quarterback. During that same stretch they have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete more that 60.3 percent of their passes (their season average) all but once, and that was by a mere 1.5 percentage points. As underwhelming as they’ve been all season, they’ve been particularly poor throughout the past month, paving the way for a bounce-back game for Tannehill and helping his receivers to get back on track as Miami tries to overtake the Jets in their push for the final AFC Wildcard spot.

Running Game Thoughts: Playing time and production established running back Lamar Miller as the starter early in the season, but backup Daniel Thomas still saw nearly two touches to each of Miller’s three as they split the workload roughly 60-40; that will certainly change going forward, as Thomas tore a ligament in his ankle last week and will miss the remainder of the season. As such, the carries given to Miller will likely increase and the backup duties will be shared by Mike Gillislee (no stats in 2013) and Marcus Thigpen (eight yards on two carries this season), increasing the fantasy value of all players involved while obviously making Thomas instantly droppable. For the season Miller has averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry, just a touch better than his team’s 4.1-yard mark, so the total rushing output for the Dolphins is unlikely to change dramatically from the 85.4 yards they’ve averaged each contest. The primary concern with Miller has been his uncertain durability, but so far he’s been all but unscathed in a little over a full season in the league. Only time will tell what this increase to his workload will mean, while both the Dolphins and fantasy owners put their playoff hopes in the second-year man who showed flashes of brilliance at the end of 2012 and has since been mostly held in check.

Of all the teams to debut against as a true primary back, the Jets are the toughest team in the league and statistically one of the best in recent history; Miller will certainly have his work cut out for him. For the season New York is averaging only 72.6 yards against per game, more than 10 percent better than the next best team. On a per-carry basis, the Jets are even more dominant, allowing a meager 2.9 yards, roughly 15 percent more stingy than the team with the second best mark. The only area in which they aren’t elite is in touchdowns allowed, but with six on the year they’re still one of the ten best teams in the league. Unfortunately for the Dolphins, the strength of New York is across the defensive line, followed closely by their linebackers, and it is against that front seven that Miami will have to defend against quarterback pressures and try to create running lanes. Teams with far less tumultuous and significantly more experienced offensive lines have been unable to establish a strong running game against Gang Green, so optimism for an impressive output from Miller and his backfield mates should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Ryan Tannehill: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Lamar Miller: 40 rush yds/ 10 rec yds
Mike Wallace: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Even before the cold and windy winter weather truly sets in across the Northeast, the Jets have slowly been amassing the least threatening passing attack in the NFL, leading the way with a 55.1 percent completion rate and 18 interceptions, both of which are dead last in their respective categories. Close behind are their marks for other stats, with 188 passing yards per game (second worst), 38 sacks allowed (third worst), and nine touchdowns (second worst) rounding out the New York tale of woe. As a side note, looking at their passing numbers as well as the numbers for the Giants, can we really be excited about the Super Bowl being held in February and played in the open-air MetLife Stadium, home to both of those New York teams? That’s a different talk for a different day. Regardless, for quarterback Geno Smith the colder weather and winter storms can likely only make things worse, which is anything but comforting as the concept of home field advantage dissipates as snow and wind continue to harass the city. In the last six games (three home, three away, 2–4 record) Smith has thrown one touchdown and ten interceptions, has recorded fewer than 130 yards three times and broken 230 only once, and has completion percentages of either less than 43 percent or greater than 51 percent, all of which combine to suggest that teams are able to force him into predictable situations and take advantage of his inexperience at key moments in the game, regardless of the success he may have seen against them previously.

The Dolphins and their better-than-average pass defense aim to continue the trend that opponents of New York have established recently. With good marks in touchdowns allowed (12, fifth best), interceptions forced (14, sixth best), sacks recorded (32, eleventh best), yards per attempt (6.9, eleventh best), completion percentage (59.5%, thirteenth best), and yards against (235, fourteenth best), the team is arguably one of the top handful of all-around units in the league. While the defense is not stellar in any one area, their philosophy has been largely successful by limiting big plays and consistently forcing quarterbacks to make decisions quickly and under pressure. The defense has given up more than 27 points only once and opposing offenses have never scored more than 27, with the defense scoring two touchdowns and recording a game-winning safety. While playing on the road doesn’t figure to do Smith and the underwhelming offense any favors, at least they’ll be able to escape the near-freezing cold and likely rainfall expected in New York on Sunday. The key for the Jets will be to limit mistakes from their young quarterback, something which has been wildly unsuccessful for the past month and a half.

Running Game Thoughts: On the first play of the game last week running back Chris Ivory injured his ankle and commented afterward that it was “both” a high and low ankle sprain; his status for Sunday is officially Questionable, but with a true high ankle sprain it would be hard to imagine him playing. Whether Ivory is active or not, his production will almost certainly be limited, opening the way for Bilal Powell to once again resume primary rushing duties. Powell received 12 or more carries from Weeks 1 though 5 but not since, and in that time he averaged better than four yards per attempt. The Jets average 30 rushes per game, so Powell could quite conceivably be in line for 100-yard games without much extra effort, even with Smith rushing a few times each game and contributing to the attempts total. On the season New York averages 127 yards per game, ranking inside the top ten for the league, largely because of their offensive line and the team’s focus on getting production out of the ground game. Whoever is carrying the ball—Ivory, Powell, Smith, or anyone else—the strength along the O-line will continue to open running lanes and the player receiving the most carries will ultimately benefit from the larger workload.

Facing the Dolphins on Sunday should provide an extra boost to an already strong running game, as Miami has allowed more than 135 yards on the ground in five straight games despite facing rushing attacks that rank no better than New York in yards per game. That 135-yard mark is slightly above the average Miami has established throughout the season, slowly slipping in the wrong direction coming into this weekend’s matchup. While they give up 4.2 yards per carry, slightly worse than the league average, the Dolphins have faced more runs than all but three teams in the league. New York should aim to exploit this trend, taking four or more yards per rush and continuing to pound the ball on the ground again and again and again until the plays begin to yield the desired results. With Powell relatively fresh and ready to shoulder the load plus Smith and his ability to improvise, the Jets have an opportunity to use their running game to take the pressure off of their young quarterback and move the ball via the run rather than asking Smith to pass.

Geno Smith: 140 pass yds, 1 INT / 20 rush yds
Bilal Powell: 80 rush yds/ 10 rec yds
Santonio Holmes: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Dolphins 17, Jets 9 ^ Top

Cardinals at Eagles - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: While the four-game win streak has featured a few impressive wins, the Cardinals aren’t getting as much attention as they might deserve due to the caliber of the teams they’ve beaten during that streak. They’ve faced off against a team devastated by injuries, the whipping boy of the league for the past several years, a backup quarterback paired with a backup running back, and a team without a serious presence on either side of the line of scrimmage. Of course it’s better to win against these teams than lose, but those victories garner little attention just as doing what is expected is rarely met with praise. During the streak, Carson Palmer has thrown for over 300 yards twice, completed 70 percent or more of his passes three times, and has scored two passing touchdowns in each of the four games while also not throwing an interception in the most recent two. These marks are all noticeably better than Arizona's season averages, suggesting that the team has either found its stride or that they’re the same mediocre team taking advantage of lesser opponents. Either way, this weekend provides them an opportunity to strengthen their bid for the final NFL playoff spot, where they are currently ahead of the Eagles by one game. That means a loss on Sunday would move Philadelphia ahead of them because of the head-to-head tiebreaker and a win would put them one or two games clear of the field and keep them in contention should a team ahead of them slip.

Whatever the fine line is between “bend but don’t break” and “the wheels are falling off,” the Eagles have somehow managed to perfectly walk that tightrope with their pass defense. By all statistical measures they’re horrible, giving up a league worst 300 yards per game for the season and yielding even more than that (314.7) during their three-game win streak. During that time they’ve allowed only three touchdowns compared to five interceptions, flipping their season ratio of 17 touchdowns to 13 interceptions on its head. Their ability to get to the quarterback has remained fairly steady, as they've recorded eight sacks in the past three games while totaling 24 on the season, a mark that lands them within the bottom ten of the league. Trying to slow down an Arizona team that has been highly efficient had has found a way to limit mistakes will be a test for Philadelphia coming out of the bye week, but having that extra time to prepare could be just what the team needed to extend their winning streak, maintain their place at the top of the division, and close the gap between them and the wildcard spot should the NFC East crown end up in the hands of another team.

Running Game Thoughts: In the National Football League, where things change week to week and fewer certainties exist as the season goes on, one of the most confusing situations of all may be the Arizona game plan when it comes to their running backs and how they approach their rushing attack. Almost (or completely) to a fault, the Cardinals have stuck with a two-back system, primarily utilizing Rashard Mendenhall as the starter but giving Andre Ellington a considerable number of touches most games as well. Based on their output, it seems Ellington is better suited for runs outside of the red zone and on passing downs, with his 6.0 yards per carry average and his explosive potential out of the backfield. Mendenhall on the other hand appears to be best suited for short-yardage plays and situations that call for a more powerful back, potentially turning him into a red zone specialist or the change-of-pace back who is capable of some heavy lifting. While the specialties of each runner are generally put to good use, the most curious aspect of the established system is that Mendenhall, averaging 3.0 yards per carry, has seen close to double the touches of Ellington, and that the latter is still the leading rusher on the team while also being twice as effective in the passing game. Ellington is the RB to own for the future but neither produces consistently enough to warrant more than a spot start in most leagues for the time being.

With all of that said, Arizona and their 88.7 yards per game will be given an opportunity to establish a strong running game against the Eagles, who give up 117.8 per contest. Even splitting that difference would yield more than 100 yards on the ground and would further work to keep the Philadelphia defense balanced rather than allowing them to load up in pass coverage. The key to victory may very well come down to how well the rush defense from Philadelphia and the rushing attack from Arizona are able to match up against one another. Going into the weekend, both teams and most fantasy owners are anticipating an aerial shootout on Sunday, so the ground game could very much be there for the taking for whichever unit decides to seize it. Anticipate another week of Mendenhall receiving the majority of the carries and possibly grinding out a red zone score while Ellington makes the more dynamic plays and is able to more significantly contribute in the passing game. So far his only real opportunity to score has come from break-away runs or slick moves out of the backfield, so without a decent number of touches his upside becomes limited. Philadelphia must continue to limit the points allowed (17.4 in the last seven games) by standing strong in short-yardage situations and taking advantage of any turnover opportunities should they present themselves; even in surrendering the second most yards in the league, they are able to stay competitive by holding opponents out of the end zone.

Carson Palmer: 340 pass yds, 2 TDs
Rashard Mendenhall: 50 rush yds
Larry Fitzgerald: 70 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: It took weeks of question dodging and non-committal answers for Chip Kelly to finally confirm this week that Nick Foles is set to be the starter for the remainder of the season regardless of the health of Michael Vick. From interviews and sound bites taken during the bye week, it seems like the move has the support of Vick himself, who said prior to the announcement that Foles should continue to be the starter for Philadelphia. Even before the promotion was made official, the conclusion was all but made, thanks to the stellar play from the former backup, as he has thrown for 16 touchdowns with no interceptions, completing 63.6 percent of his passes, and in five starts has led the team to four wins. Without exaggeration, the season Foles has put together thus far resembles and even bests that which Tom Brady assembled in his first season as a starter in 2000, when he took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe and led the team to a Super Bowl victory. The young Eagles quarterback is being asked to do much more, throwing for more yardage on more attempts and with a slightly better completion percentage, all while scoring dramatically more touchdowns and committing far fewer interceptions. While Philadelphia isn’t yet Super Bowl bound, they’re currently in control of their own fate for making the playoffs, and if the rest of the team can play at the level of their quarterback they’ll be unstoppable.

Amazingly, the seventeenth ranked Arizona defense will be the best that Foles has faced at any point this season; after Sunday, even the toughest opponent will be statistically below average, which may help explain some of the success he’s seen so far but doesn’t necessarily take away from all he’s accomplished. Good, quick decisions along with accurate passes and a short throwing motion are critical regardless of the quality of the opposition, and more importantly those are what have enabled Foles to excel in the new offensive system where even Vick has fallen short. The Cardinals are right around average in every passing defensive category except for one, interceptions forced, where their 15 is tied for third best in the league and is only one behind the leaders. With two of the league’s most dynamic playmakers in their secondary and a collection of talented linebackers who can both rush the passer and wreak havoc in coverage, Arizona is exceptional at allowing their opponents to make mistakes and exploiting opportunities as they are presented. For the Eagles to be successful through the air, their young quarterback will need to continue to protect the ball well and take advantage of what the defense gives him. Chances are that wide receiver DeSean Jackson will be severely limited because of coverage from cornerback Patrick Peterson, so it will be up to the other receivers to make up for that production and allow Foles to continue the torrid pace he’s set for himself and the club since taking over as signal caller.

Running Game Thoughts: Though the gap is slowly closing, the Eagles are still the best rushing team in the league in both yards per game and per rush. The star of the Philadelphia backfield is LeSean McCoy, who once again is at or near the top of every significant individual rushing category as well as being the primary contributor to the Eagles' success on the ground. While Foles isn’t thought of as being as dynamic as Vick, he’s usually good for a scramble or two per game, often picking up first downs, extending drives, or scoring touchdowns as he has twice already this season. Following the quarterback change, McCoy has seen a drop in his averages both in total and per touch outputs, either because defenses are trying to prevent him from having a big game (and thus allowing Foles more passing lanes) or because the Eagles have seen that Foles is capable of leading the offense and they’ve decided to preserve the star running back so he’s in better condition for the end of the season and especially in the playoffs. Regardless of the reason, Philadelphia still has the best rushing attack in the league, and their primary ball carrier is possibly the best individual player at that position because of his lateral agility and his instant acceleration through the hole and around defenders.

Just as the Arizona pass defense will be the best Foles has faced this year, their run defense is the best that Philadelphia has encountered all season since they’re the second best in the league. The Cardinals give up only 81.3 rushing yards per game and have allowed only four touchdowns and 3.5 yards per carry, both of which are third best. Because of their stinginess on the ground, the Cardinals have faced fewer rushing attempts than all but three other teams, largely because teams either recognize they can’t run against them and thus try something else or because teams haven’t yet discovered that it’s extremely difficult to run against the Cardinals and are about to find out the hard way. With a solid front seven and athletic playmakers all over the field, Arizona is built as a defensive powerhouse who is finally playing like one, and the shutdown ability of the secondary allows even more attention to be focused against the run. To this point in Foles’ limited experience, the Eagles have been able to approach the run game casually and ultimately fall back on his abilities should things not go well initially. But Arizona presents a unique situation in which the ground game may be severely limited from the start, and the team may have to depend on Foles and his arm to soften the Cardinals defense so that they can then establish a rushing attack and let McCoy do what he does best.

Nick Foles: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs
LeSean McCoy: 70 rush yds/ 30 rec yds
DeSean Jackson: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Eagles 31, Cardinals 27 ^ Top

Falcons at Bills - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: As fans of the Falcons are all too familiar, Matt Ryan is one quarterback at home and a different one on the road; being on the road this week in Toronto presents the rare opportunity of not playing at home but also not playing at the home stadium of another team, possibly providing the circumstances needed for him and the entire team to break their five-game losing streak and to pick up their first road win of the season. Outside of Atlanta, Ryan is completing 60.5 percent of his passes compared to 72.4 percent at home, has thrown 10 touchdowns and one interception at home verses eight and 11 away, and even his yardage totals dip from 308.5 to 261.8 when he leaves town. Playing without wide receiver Julio Jones for the majority of the year and having Jones' counterpart, Roddy White, severely limited all season has significantly impacted the offense, especially combined with inconsistencies along the offensive line and running back Steven Jackson missing a number of games with an injury of his own. That offensive vacuum has paved the way for Harry Douglas to emerge as the top wide receiver, as he joins veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez (toe, Questionable) as the primary receivers for the Falcons. Douglas has recorded the second most receiving yards in the NFL since Week 7, and even as both White and Jackson have returned to full health, Douglas has continued to produce at an extremely high level.

The local favorite in Toronto will certainly be the Bills, and the support of the crowd will help the defense to wreak havoc on the Atlanta pass offense; Buffalo has silently put together one of the best defenses in the league with respect to most statistical categories. No team has forced more interceptions or recorded more sacks, and they are the only team to be in the top five of both. Their yards per attempt and per game averages are both better than average for the league, and the completion percentage they allow is only 57.1, putting them behind only two other teams. Since Ryan sees his completion percentage plummet, his interceptions increase, and his overall production take a hit, facing the Bills becomes an even more daunting task. The silver lining for Atlanta is that the Bills allow the third most passing touchdowns despite being stellar in most every other category, so even if the outcome of the game doesn’t favor the Falcons, it is still entirely possible for Ryan and his receivers to put together respectable fantasy games if their good can outweigh their bad.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Falcons' rushing statistics don’t fall to the bottom of any single category, they all hover very near it in every one of them. In one respect the injury to Jackson derailed what Atlanta hoped to be able to do on the ground, but it was the futility of the offensive line that made it impossible for running backs Jacquizz Rodgers or Jason Snelling to establish a consistent ground game. Last week Jackson received a season-high 16 carries and turned that into his best post-injury game, rushing for 63 yards and scoring his first touchdown of the year. After a painfully slow start the Falcons finally didn’t look awful on the ground; and even at that, Jackson averaged only 3.9 yards per carry. After giving up a season-high five sacks, the offensive line may be up for yet another change precipitated by poor performance, in addition to the changes necessitated through injury. Atlanta has struggled with O-line issues since the beginning of the preseason, and the ideal combination of players and positions has yet to be determined, casting a long shadow of doubt across the remainder of the season despite Jackson appearing to be as close to full health as he’s been since early in the season.

In every way that the Bills pass defense is stellar, their rush defense is nearly the exact opposite, which is something Atlanta will certainly try to take advantage of this weekend. Buffalo ranks in the bottom ten of yards against and they give up 4.1 yards per carry, a mark which is right at the midpoint for the league. They’ve forced fewer fumbles (2) than all but one team but they have recovered both of the fumbles they have forced. Where the pass defense struggles is in touchdowns allowed, and that is the one area where their rush defense excels, giving up only four touchdowns on the ground for third best in the league. Generally speaking, it would be in Atlanta’s best interest to try to run while in the middle of the field and then, once they get near the red zone, aim to move the ball through the air, thus taking the pressure off of their makeshift offensive line and trusting their franchise quarterback to make good decisions. In turn, this will take pressure off of Ryan for a larger portion of the game while Jackson carries the load, and being the workhorse for his team is something that the veteran running back has been doing since he started with the Rams and was responsible for a large proportion of the touches and yards gained during those years in St. Louis.

Matt Ryan: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Steven Jackson: 80 rush yds/ 10 rec yds
Roddy White: 60 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: In his injury-shortened rookie season, quarterback E.J. Manuel is coming off his best game yet and has set the high-water mark against which the remaining five games will be measured. Against a less-than-stellar Jets secondary Manuel completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 245 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, making that only the second time he’s thrown more than one touchdown and only the third game (which he finished) where he didn’t thrown an interception. After hitting a low point in Week 3, Manuel has steadily improved as the season has progressed, seeing his completion percentage climb with each additional game and his TD–INT ratio become more ideal along with it. In Week 12 the Buffalo offense will be as healthy as it’s been all season, with wide receivers Steve Johnson and Robert Woods both expected to return from injury after missing the victory last week, meaning Manuel will have his full complement of weapons in addition to having built rapport with the receivers further down the depth chart when the starters were unavailable. All signs point to the passing attack being ready to fire on all cylinders and fully taking advantage of the domed stadium in Toronto rather than facing the winter weather expected in New York this weekend.

The most encouraging comparison between the Week 11 contest and that of Week 12 is that Atlanta ranks behind the Jets in every statistical category except for one, interceptions forced, and in that one they are equally poor. Manuel is coming off his best game as a professional and is now facing a team that gives up more yards per game, records fewer sacks, allows a much larger completion percentage, and surrenders more touchdowns; in every area that matters to a quarterback, the Falcons are expected to be a less formidable opponent than the one Manuel just dispatched. During their five-game losing streak, Atlanta has finished only one game 14 points or more behind their opponent, so while the passing defense generally resembles a sieve, the teams they face tend to run more frequently than expected as a way of controlling the clock and more rapidly bringing the end of the game into view. Whether the game stays close and Manuel is forced to make plays with his arm or if things get handled early and Buffalo shies away from the pass, neither situation should put the rookie quarterback under much pressure as he continues to build on his recent success.

Running Game Thoughts: The dynamic duo of running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson have led Buffalo to a ton ten rushing offense with 134.1 yards per game despite having a relatively mediocre per-carry average of 4.1 yards. The pair has been well utilized this season, with Spiller being featured in the middle of the field where he’s able to break big plays and Jackson seeing more carries in short-yardage and red zone situations. The most impressive part of their backfield relationship is that each can carry the load of the other despite having separate areas of expertise. This versatility creates enough of a nightmare situation for opposing defenses in itself, but on top of that Manuel has ample ability to scramble when plays break down and he can certainly hold his own when he’s asked to carry out designed runs. While the quarterback isn’t used as a primary runner, his presence is enough of a threat to make defenses pay attention, and the true beneficiary is the running back who is greeted with softer coverage and more wide-open running lanes.

As poorly as Atlanta defends the pass, how they do against the run may be even worse. With 130 yards against per game they rank in the bottom five of the league, and on a per carry basis they’re just as poor, also in the bottom five with 4.6 yards. About the only area they’re not near the bottom is in touchdowns allowed, where they come right in the middle of the league with eight scores. During their five-game losing streak Atlanta is averaging 166.4 rushing yards against per game and has given up six touchdowns. After starting the year by holding their first three opponents to fewer than 100 yards total, they haven’t been able to do that in the eight games since, and the likelihood of them holding Buffalo below the century mark is highly unlikely. Both Spiller and Jackson average better than 50 yards per game even when slowed by injuries at different times. If Buffalo gets out to an early lead, expect to see their rushing totals climb quickly, with both running backs having the potential to break 100 yards, given enough carries, and find their way into the end zone.

EJ Manuel: 230 pass yds, 1 TD / 10 rush yds
C.J. Spiller: 70 rush yds/ 10 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 50 rush yds, 1 TD
Steve Johnson: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Bills 27, Falcons 16 ^ Top