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

Create An Account  |  Advertise  |  Contact      

Inside the Matchup
Week 14

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




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Caron 36 12 75.0
2 Smith 35 14 71.4
3 Thorne 29 20 59.2
4 Anderson 25 21 54.3

Texans at Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Case Keenum has fallen on hard times of late after a fast start. He has one touchdown and a trio of interceptions over his last three games and has not completed at least 55 percent of his throws in his last four contests. That includes a game two weeks ago against Jacksonville in which he had 169 yards and no touchdowns with one interception. Andre Johnson was held to a pair of receptions for 39 yards in that contest, but the veteran wideout is 11th at his position in FPts/G, has 88 or more yards in five of his last seven contests and should be starting for all fantasy owners. Another Houston player fantasy owners should at least consider putting in their lineups is tight end Garrett Graham. With Owen Daniels still out, Graham has received nine or more targets in each of the past three games and the Jaguars struggle mightily against opposing tight ends.

Jacksonville may not have the worst pass defense in the NFL, but they’re at least in the conversation. They rank 23rd against the pass, 24th in completion percentage allowed, 25th in interceptions, 26th in touchdown throws yielded, 27th in yards per pass attempt surrendered, and last in sacks. Just four teams have given up more fantasy points to quarterbacks this year, only Arizona has allowed more fantasy points to tight ends and while the Jaguars are 16th in fantasy points allowed to wideouts, Michael Floyd scorched them for 193 yards and a touchdown in Week 11 and last week Josh Gordon wrecked them for 261 yards and a pair of scores.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s no secret that Ben Tate is banged up and when the Texans and Jaguars met two weeks ago, Tate gained all of three feet on his seven carries. However, he’s since rebounded and scored three times while gaining 102 yards against New England last week. In the three games this season that Tate has received at least 19 carries, he’s gained more than 80 yards in each of them so feeding him the ball should be a priority against the lowly Jacksonville run defense.

The Jaguars’ rush defense is bad and though the Bears can likely claim the worst in the NFL, Jacksonville isn’t light years behind them. They rank 29th in the league against the run, 23rd in YPC allowed and only Washington has allowed more rushing scores. Though the Jags have fared better against the run of late and are one of five teams who have not allowed a running back to catch a touchdown pass, they have still surrendered the ninth-most fantasy points in the league to backs.

Case Keenum: 265 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Andre Johnson: 105 rec yds
Garrett Graham: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
DeAndre Hopkins: 45 rec yds
Keshawn Martin: 20 rec yds
Ben Tate: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Dennis Johnson: 25 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jaguars have won three of their last four games, and though it would be a stretch to say they’ve done it on the right arm of quarterback Chad Henne, he’s at least shown himself to be a capable player in the league. By no means does that mean fantasy owners should plug him into their lineups, or any player in the Jacksonville passing offense outside of Cecil Shorts. While Ace Sanders does have three consecutive games with 60+ receiving yards, he has yet to score, and Shorts (who had eight catches for 71 yards against the Texans two weeks ago) is far more likely to find the end zone making him a capable WR3 against Houston.

The Texans have fallen off their perch at the top spot in the league’s pass defense rankings, and now sit second behind Seattle. Houston is 17th in touchdown throws allowed, but also rank 23rd in sacks and has the fewest interceptions in the NFL. Though they’ve surrendered the eighth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks for the year, the Texans have allowed multiple scoring passes in five of their last seven contests. They’ve been solid against wideouts, yielding the sixth-fewest fantasy points to players at that position, but have struggled against tight ends, having allowed a touchdown reception by a player at that position in three of their last four games.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew’s touchdown pass last week to Marcedes Lewis helped salvage what was an otherwise forgettable 77-yard effort on 23 carries. MJD has now accounted for a touchdown in each of his last four games, but is still averaging only 3.2 YPC this year and has only one contest in which he ran for more than 4.1 YPC. That game happened to be two weeks ago against Houston, when he had a touchdown and season-high 84 yards on 14 carries while also attaining season-highs with six catches and 60 receiving yards. It’s unrealistic for fantasy owners to expect a performance that would mirror two weeks ago, but Jones-Drew is still a solid flex play versus the Texans.

Houston is, to put it simply, a below-average team against the run. They rank 20th in the NFL in rush defense, 17th in rushing scores allowed, and 18th in YPC surrendered. The Texans have allowed the 14th-most fantasy points in the league to running backs, and haven’t exactly faced a murderers’ row of backs recently. Yet instead of improving their numbers, Houston has given up 20+ fantasy points to running backs in each of their last three games (counting the New England duo of Shane Vereen and LeGarrette Blount) as their disaster of a season continues.

Chad Henne: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Cecil Shorts: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Ace Sanders: 50 rec yds
Mike Brown: 30 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 25 rec yds
Clay Harbor: 15 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Jordan Todman: 15 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Jaguars 20, Texans 17 ^ Top

Bills at Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie EJ Manuel has had a typical season for a fresh-out-of-college quarterback, playing well at times and looking overwhelmed at other times. He has only four interceptions, which is less than one might expect from a rookie, but his rushing numbers aren’t up to expectations and his fantasy value is lacking. It doesn’t help that Manuel’s receiving options are middling, with no wideout among the top-45 in FPts/G and tight end Scott Chandler ranking 30th at his position in FPts/G. Tampa has struggled against the pass, but Buffalo simply doesn’t have the players that fantasy owners can use to take advantage of the match-up.

Just two teams have allowed more fantasy points to quarterbacks than the Buccaneers, who are 18th in pass defense, have given up the second-most touchdown throws and are 28th in sacks, though they do lead the league in interceptions. Tampa has yielded multiple touchdown passes to every quarterback they’ve faced since Week 6 and only the Eagles have allowed more touchdown receptions by wide receivers. Though the Bucs have been average overall against tight ends this season, they have allowed touchdown receptions to players at that position in two of their last three games.

Running Game Thoughts: C.J. Spiller has been plagued by injuries this season, rendering his season a disappointment to the fantasy owners that selected him with a top-10 pick. He still carries a healthy 4.8 YPC average, but has rushed for fewer than 25 yards in more than a quarter of his games this season. Spiller did run for a season-high 149 yards last week against Atlanta, but managed only his second touchdown of the season. Fred Jackson leads the team with seven rushing scores, but the timeshare between he and Spiller hurts the fantasy prowess of both players and neither is more than a flex play this week against the Buccaneers.

Tampa has been solid against the run this year, ranking 12th in the league in run defense, 19th in YPC allowed and seventh in rushing scores yielded. They have given up the eighth-fewest fantasy points to running backs this season, and only two of the six rushing touchdowns they’ve surrendered have come via the running back, which is tied for fewest in all of football.

EJ Manuel: 245 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 60 rec yds
Robert Woods: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
T.J. Graham: 30 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 30 rec yds
Marquise Goodwin: 20 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 65 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 35 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Though Mike Glennon has been decent this season, he is far from a fantasy entity, and the same can be said of his underwhelming supporting cast. There is however, one major exception – wideout Vincent Jackson. With all due respect to Tim Wright and Tiquan Underwood, Jackson is the only real fantasy option in the Tampa passing attack. He is closing in on 1,000 receiving yards for the season, is 16th in FPts/G among wide receivers and is averaging 20.1 yards per catch over his last three games. Consider Jackson a WR1 this week against a Buffalo team that has trouble containing wideouts.

The Bills have been somewhat contrasting against the pass this year. They rank 15th in the league in pass defense, lead the NFL in sacks, are tied for second in interceptions, and have allowed the third-lowest completion percentage, but are 26th in touchdown throws surrendered. Yet in part because no team has allowed fewer rushing yards to quarterbacks, Buffalo is 15th in fantasy points given up to signal callers. They’ve allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends, but have been battered by wideouts. Only the Eagles have given up more fantasy points to receivers than the Bills, as eight different wideouts have accumulated 100+ receiving yards against them and four have had games with at least 125 yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Bobby Rainey picked up 63 yards on the ground last week against the Panthers. That’s a solid total against a very good run defense, yet despite this accomplishment he did not find the end zone and has failed to produce any meaningful numbers for his fantasy owners over the last two games. Rainey does have a chance to make some noise this week against the Bills, a very good match-up that should have him in the flex/RB2 category.

Buffalo is 10th in the NFL in rushing touchdowns allowed, but have given up plenty of yards. They rank 24th in the league in rush defense and 20th in YPC surrendered. Just five teams have allowed more rushing yards to running backs than the Bills, but in part because they’ve allowed only a single receiving score and the fourth-fewest receiving yards to running backs, Buffalo is giving up the 13th-fewest FPts/G to players at that position.

Mike Glennon: 265 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 95 rec yds, 2 TD
Tim Wright: 60 rec yds
Tiquan Underwood: 45 rec yds
Bobby Rainey: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Brian Leonard: 25 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Bills 17 ^ Top

Panthers at Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton’s passing numbers continue to be less than eye-popping, but throwing all over the field isn’t what Carolina’s offense is all about and Newton’s rushing prowess makes him a fantasy starter no matter what. The same cannot be said about the pass-catchers for the Panthers, as only Brandon LaFell ranks in the top-50 in FPts/G among the team’s wideouts. Tight end Greg Olsen has been producing more lately, with at least eight fantasy points in five of his last six games, but New Orleans is a tough match-up and fantasy owners should not consider any Carolina receiver a legitimate option this week.

The Saints rank fourth in the NFL in pass defense, third in sacks, and sixth in touchdown throws given up. They have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and just four times have been beaten for multiple scoring passes in a game. New Orleans has ceded the 10th-fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends and the 11th-fewest to wide receivers. Just a single wideout has amassed 100 receiving yards in a game versus the Saints, and over their last seven contests, no receiver has broken the 80-yard mark.

Running Game Thoughts: DeAngelo Williams did not play last week, but could suit up for Carolina this week, making the team’s four-headed rushing attack possibly more difficult for the Saints to defend but also more watered-down for fantasy owners. Jonathan Stewart will likely see the bulk of the carries, but Mike Tolbert will also get some and Newton has run for 50+ yards in each of his last three games, so choosing who will be the leading rusher for the Panthers is virtually impossible. With the Saints playing better against the run recently, fantasy owners should look for other options before utilizing a Carolina back.

After struggling to contain the run earlier in the year, New Orleans has picked up their play in that regard lately. They rank 16th in the NFL in rush defense and 13th in rushing scores allowed, but are still giving up the fifth-highest YPC average in the league. The Saints have yielded the 10th-fewest fantasy points to running backs this season, have given up the second-fewest receptions to backs and are one of only five teams who have yet to allow a running back to catch a touchdown pass.

Cam Newton: 235 pass yds, 1 INT, 40 rush yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 60 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 55 rec yds
Steve Smith: 40 rec yds
Ted Ginn, Jr.: 25 rec yds
Jonathan Stewart: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 30 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 20 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Saints were throttled by the Seahawks last Monday night, and even Drew Brees was rendered ineffective. He had only 147 passing yards with one touchdown but did avoid throwing an interception. Brees has another difficult match-up this week, but with one big difference – he’s playing at home. That should be a huge advantage for fantasy’s number three quarterback (behind Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford), and will pay dividends for his fantasy owners. Also paying dividends will be Jimmy Graham, who managed the only touchdown for the Saints last week and whose 12 touchdown catches are tied with Calvin Johnson for the most in all of football. While the match-up with the Panthers makes it dangerous for fantasy owners to employ members of the Saints in their lineups, Brees and Graham are players who should remain entrenched in lineups.

Carolina claims the NFL’s sixth-ranked pass defense while also ranking second in touchdown throws allowed, sacks, and interceptions. They’ve allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points in the league to tight ends and the fourth-fewest to wideouts, but no squad has surrendered fewer fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than the Panthers.

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram led the Saints in carries yet again last week, and yet again he did very little, rushing for only 22 yards. Not that he was alone in doing nothing for the Saints on the ground, as Darren Sproles had only 11 yards and Pierre Thomas managed to go literally nowhere on four carries. The Saints’ backs are most effective as receivers, which actually works well in this match-up and is why Sproles should be the only running back considered fantasy-worthy against Carolina this week.

The Panthers have been dominant against opposing running attacks this year, ranking second in the league in rush defense and rushing scores allowed, while placing seventh in YPC surrendered. And though they’ve given up the third-most receptions and eighth-most receiving yards to running backs, Carolina has allowed just two backs to break the 65-yard rushing mark this season and have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to players at that position.

Drew Brees: 310 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 85 rec yds, 2 TD
Marques Colston: 50 rec yds
Kenny Stills: 40 rec yds
Lance Moore: 35 rec yds
Robert Meachem: 20 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 35 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 25 rush yds
Darren Sproles: 20 rush yds, 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Saints 24, Panthers 21 ^ Top

Titans @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Fantasy experts would have had a hard time advising owners to look at Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the reality is that the Tennessee backup has exceeded expectations. Fitzpatrick has scored at least 14 points in each of his past four contests, including scoring eight total touchdowns (six passing, two rushing). He has also done a fairly good job of avoiding turnovers. Before throwing three picks a week ago in Indianapolis, Fitzpatrick had gone three games without being intercepted. In a group of wildly inconsistent receivers, Kendall Wright has been the sole stud, at least in PPR formats. Although he has only scored two touchdowns all year and gone over 100 yards once, Wright has been the beacon of consistency for the Titans. Wright had caught at least five passes in all but two games this season. He has also had at least 69 yards receiving in eight straight contests, making him one of the most reliable PPR WR2’s in the entire league. Nate Washington and Justin Hunter have had their moments this season, but neither player is much of a fantasy consideration at the moment, especially not as we head into the fantasy playoffs. Tight end Delanie Walker had began to create some interesting fantasy waves over his past few games before a concussion knocked him out of the Indianapolis game a week ago. Walker had caught a touchdown in three of his past five games and even mixed in a 10-catch performance in his previous game against the Colts.

While Walker does have an enticing matchup against a weak Denver defense, he still had not practiced as of Thursday and it is no guarantee that he will suit up on Sunday. If you are scraping the barrel for a tight end, make sure to have a backup plan for Walker. The Broncos have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in three straight games and have allowed 20 or more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks in five of their past eight games. One point of note is that the Broncos have struggled against “possession” receivers. Two weeks ago, Julian Edelman assaulted them for nine catches, 110 yards and two touchdowns. This bodes well for Kendall Wright who utilizes a similar skill set within the Titans offense. Those looking for a high-upside play at quarterback have to consider Fitzpatrick as garbage time points could come in bunches in this one.

Running Game Thoughts: As most expected he would be, the best fantasy player for the Titans this season has been running back Chris Johnson. A former 2,000-yard rusher, Johnson is well on his way to his sixth straight 1,000-yard rushing season, as he needs just 226 yards in his final five games to reach that number. Although his rushing totals have been good, his 3.8 yards per carry average is the lowest of his career despite significant investments made to the offensive line this past offseason. Johnson has seen some increased value in the passing game as he has scored three touchdowns as a receiver. He also had a season-high six receptions a week ago against the Colts. Johnson has lost some carries to backup Shonn Greene who is also always a threat to steal goal line touches. Greene ran the ball 10 times this past week against Indianapolis, while Johnson had 18 carries. While Johnson’s season started off slow, he has been better as of late with five games of 13-plus fantasy points over his past eight contests.

Johnson and Greene will both have an opportunity for fantasy value this week as they go up against a Denver Broncos defense that has struggled against the run in recent weeks. After only allowing one 100-yard rushing performance against them in their first seven games, the Broncos have allowed four opponents to rush for 100-plus yards over their past five contests. Denver has also been very giving in the touchdown department, as they have allowed a rushing score in all but two games they’ve played this season. There is some concern that Johnson and the Titans could fall behind multiple scores which would likely lead to less running, but that hasn’t stopped other teams from still getting some production out of their running games. Don’t expect a monster game out of CJ2K, but he’s a worthy RB2 this week.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Chris Johnson: 75 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 30 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Kendall Hunter: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 50 rec yds
Justin Hunter: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Delanie Walker: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The rumors of a Peyton Manning collapse were greatly exaggerated. A week after Manning’s worst fantasy day of the season, the likely league MVP completely decimated one of the top defenses in the league when he threw for 403 yards and five touchdowns against the Chiefs in Week 13. Although he threw multiple interceptions for only the second time all year, Manning looked as good as he has at any point during the year and is a completely unquestioned, must-start QB1 in every format. Manning has thrown multiple touchdowns in every game but one this season and his 41 touchdown passes on the year puts him on the same pace that Tom Brady was on during his record-breaking season in 2007. Manning’s top pass-catcher, Demaryius Thomas, once again hit double-digit fantasy points (standard scoring), this time against Kansas City. Although he only caught three passes, he made them count by going for 106 yards. It was his fourth 100-yard day of the season, including his third over his past four contests. Wes Welker’s incredible start to the season has been slowed down in recent weeks. After scoring nine touchdowns in his first eight games, Welker has failed to get into the end zone in any of his past four contests. It hasn’t just been his touchdowns, either. He has averaged just 4.5 catches for 40.5 yards over the past month. With Welker struggling, it was fellow wideout Eric Decker who had one of the biggest fantasy games that any player has put together all season. Decker punished the Chiefs with eight catches for 174 yards and four touchdowns. The four touchdowns brought his season total to seven and he has now re-established himself as a must-start in fantasy.

While Peyton Manning is impossible to bench right now, the reality is that matchups don’t get much tougher than this. Tennessee has been absolutely incredible against opposing passing games this season, having allowed a league-fewest eight passing touchdowns on the entire year. They’ve been even better as of late, having allowed just two passing touchdowns over their past eight games. Cornerbacks Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty have been unbelievable. Opposing wide receivers have only scored twice against the Titans in 2013 and they haven’t allowed any wide receiver into the end zone since all the way back in Week 2. While those numbers alone sound amazing, and there’s no denying the difficulty of the matchup here, it is true that the Titans haven’t exactly played against the best crop of wide receivers. Denver is the kind of team that can overwhelm opposing defenses. Whether it’s the big bodies of Demaryius Thomas or the precise route-running of Wes Welker, the Broncos receivers are eventually going to get theirs. If not, it could always be breakout tight end Julius Thomas who makes things happen. Thomas missed Week 13 with a knee injury, but practiced fully on Thursday of this week and is looking more and more likely to play on Sunday. His receiving ability, particularly over the middle of the field, will be a welcome addition to an already potent Denver offense. While the Titans have been extraordinary against opposing wide receivers, they haven’t been quite as lockdown against tight ends. They’ve allowed eight or more fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing tight ends in six of their 13 games this season. If he plays, Thomas is a must-play in what could be a high-scoring contest.

Running Game Thoughts: A week after his insane 224-yard destruction of the Patriots, Knowshon Moreno fell back a bit in Week 13 as he was held to a season-low 18 yards on the ground. Fantasy owners were still happy in the end, however, as he was able to add in an additional 72 yards as a receiver out of the backfield, including a touchdown. Moreno’s 11 total touchdowns on the year are tied for the most in the league, only matched by Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. Rookie backup Montee Ball has worked his way into the Denver offense more and more, including a massive 113-yard performance against the Chiefs a week ago and a two-touchdown performance against the Chiefs in Week 11; but the Denver running game definitely continues to run through Moreno.

Tennessee has allowed at least 12 fantasy points (standard scoring) in every game after Week 1, including a stretch of five contests where they allowed 20+ points and multiple touchdowns to the position. The Titans haven’t been up against particularly strong running games, either. Over their past four games against the likes of Jacksonville, Oakland and Indianapolis (twice), they have allowed an average of 21.25 fantasy points per game to the position. Even with Moreno playing well, the number of carries that Ball has been getting does give him intriguing fantasy FLEX play this week against a Tennessee defense that has not been very good against opposing running games this year. Meanwhile, Moreno is an obvious must-start and has truly become a rock solid fantasy RB1. Play him with confidence, as usual.

Peyton Manning: 290 pass yds, 2 TD
Knowshon Moreno: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Montee Ball: 30 rush yds, 1 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 70 rec yds
Wes Welker: 60 rec yds
Julius Thomas: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Broncos 34, Titans 24 ^ Top

Rams @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens hasn’t been a fantasy superstar since taking over for Sam Bradford, but he also hasn’t been a complete disaster, which in itself has been a surprise for many experts. Clemens has been between 11 and 15 fantasy points (standard scoring) in each of his past four games. During that stretch, he has thrown five touchdown passes with only one interception; and he’s done it against some good pass defenses. During this recent four game stretch, Clemens has gone up against the Titans, Bears and 49ers; each of whom are among the eight best defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks this season. With a season-high 37 pass attempts a week ago, the Rams seem to be confident in the veteran signal caller; and may very well rely on him again this week as the Arizona defense has been very good against opposing running games. The unfortunate thing for the St. Louis offense is that while Clemens himself has played well, none of his receivers have established themselves as anything other than a complete shot-in-the-dark from a fantasy standpoint. Rookie Tavon Austin had a gigantic Week 10 performance, but hasn’t had more than 47 yards receiving in any other game. Austin Pettis, Chris Givens and Brian Quick have all had their nice games, but none has been consistent whatsoever and are completely unworthy of fantasy consideration. The only other player in this passing offense worth even a moment of fantasy discussion is tight end Jared Cook who has at least looked decent in recent weeks.

Cook will be up against an Arizona Cardinals defense that has been horrendous against tight ends this season. Their 14.8 fantasy points per game allowed (standard scoring) are an astounding 5.1 points per game worse than any other team in the NFL. They’ve allowed league-mosts in every single fantasy statistic when it comes to opposing tight ends: receptions (79), yards (1042) and touchdowns (14). In fact, they’ve allowed five more touchdowns to tight ends than any other team. While it’s almost impossible to trust anyone in the St. Louis passing game, Cook is almost a must-play this week given the incredible matchup opportunity here.

Running Game Thoughts: There are breakout stars in fantasy football every year, but it’s not often that a player follows the path that Zac Stacy did. A rookie running back that was third or even fourth on the depth chart to start the season, Stacy took just one carry in the first four games of the season. Since taking over as the team’s primary ball-carrier, Stacy has established himself as one of the most reliable fantasy producers at the running back position. Stacy has scored at least seven fantasy points (standard scoring) in each of his past seven games, including scoring four touchdowns over his past four games. He ran into a buzzsaw this past week against a resurgent 49ers defense that is beginning to get healthy, but he still ran for a respectable 72 yards in a game that his team trailed by multiple scores throughout. The fact that the Rams were still willing to give him 19 carries in that kind of game is a great sign that they will not give up even if they do fall behind.

He’ll need that kind of confidence from his team this week as he heads to Arizona to challenge the league’s best fantasy run defense. The Cardinals have allowed just three games of over 10 fantasy points (standard scoring) to an opposing team’s running backs on the year and none such games since Week 7. Only San Francisco and Seattle have rushed for more than 100 yards against Arizona this year. While these teams did play back in Week 1, it was before Stacy took over as the primary back in St. Louis. In that game, the Cardinals held then-starter Daryl Richardson to just 63 yards on the ground, but did allow him to contribute as a pass-catcher out of the backfield to the tune of five catches and 33 more yards. It’s hard to overlook how well Stacy has played since becoming the starter in St. Louis, but if there is one matchup that should seriously give fantasy owners some hesitation, it’s this one. Arizona’s defense is not just getting lucky. They are holding good running backs in check and have not surrendered a single huge game to a running back all year. While he’s been a high-end RB2 most weeks, Stacy takes a backseat this week and should only really be considered a low-end RB2 or FLEX play this week.

Kellen Clemens: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Zac Stacy: 60 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Tavon Austin: 50 rec yds
Jared Cook: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: He went through a rough patch early in the year, but Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has finally started to come through in recent weeks. After his season-high three touchdowns a week ago against the Eagles, the former No. 1 overall NFL draft pick has now tossed multiple touchdown passes in five straight games and six of his past seven. Not only that, but he has significantly cut down on his turnovers. Palmer had thrown 13 interceptions in his first seven games as a Cardinal, but has now thrown just four picks in his past five games. Not only is his scoring better and turnovers lower, but Palmer has also been getting it done in the yardage department. After throwing for 300 yards just once in his first nine games of 2013, Palmer has now done so in each of his past three games. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been getting hot in recent weeks, as well. With four touchdown catches over his past three contests, Fitzgerald has now increased his total to nine scores on the year, with four games still to go. That total (nine) is already more than he has had in any season since 2009 and it just goes to show that Fitz is still a sure-fire fantasy stud if he has an even moderately competent quarterback. Fellow receiver Michael Floyd is also amidst a breakout of his own. With 395 yards receiving over his past three games, Floyd has been nothing short of incredible. His ability to make plays on the ball down the field are reminding many of what Fitzgerald did when he was younger, and he’s finally showing why he was a first round NFL draft pick in 2012.

While St. Louis has been fairly good from an overall fantasy standpoint, allowing the 11th-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks this year, they have not been quite as strong in recent weeks. Over their past three games, the Rams have allowed nearly 350 yards per game through the air. Given the lack of success that Arizona has had with running the ball throughout most of the year, it can be assumed that Carson Palmer will have a great opportunity to equal or even expand upon that number; making him a very interesting fantasy play as we head into the fantasy playoffs. The Rams have struggled at times against big-bodied receivers and did so back in Week 1 when they allowed both Fitzgerald and Floyd to gain 80 or more yards. Fitzgerald also added two touchdowns. Palmer himself was also good that day as he threw for 327 yards and the aforementioned two touchdowns, his second highest total of the year in both categories...and that was in his first game in a Cardinals uniform. Now more comfortable in the offense and truly hitting his stride, Palmer can finally be trusted again as a serious fantasy contributor. Start him, Fitzgerald and Floyd with confidence.

Running Game Thoughts: After missing this past week’s game against the Eagles with a knee injury, both the Cardinals and fantasy owners are hoping to have Andre Ellington back for this important divisional matchup against the Rams. Ellington has barely practiced as of Thursday, but the team is still hopeful that he will be able to suit up. Without Ellington, the Arizona running game just doesn’t have much luster. Sure, veteran Rashard Mendenhall has gotten into the end zone in two of his past three games and five times overall on the year, but it shouldn’t exactly be inspiring that his 76-yard performance in Week 13 was the most rushing yards he’s had all season. Mendenhall just doesn’t have the explosiveness that makes for a quality running back in the NFL, and certainly not one that can be relied upon in fantasy circles with any sort of confidence. Still, with seven or more fantasy points in each of his past three contests and the current weakened status of the running back position as a whole in the NFL, Mendenhall is going to make it into quite a few lineups this week...and if he has to be there, this is as good of a time as any.

While their front seven is considered solid from an NFL standpoint, St. Louis’ defense hasn’t exactly shown it when it comes to stopping the run. The Rams have allowed double-digit fantasy point totals in six of their past seven games, including seven rushing touchdowns over that span. Only once this year have the Rams held an opposing team’s running backs to fewer than 9.0 fantasy points (standard scoring), which has made them fall all the way down to 28th against running backs on the year. Mendenhall might not be a sexy pick, but with a matchup like this and the possibility that Ellington could be on the sidelines again, Mendenhall does have low-end RB2 / FLEX written all over him. It’s hard to be confident and he may very well burn us like he has done so many times in the past, but you could do worse than Mendenhall in Week 14.

Carson Palmer: 280 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 TD
Rashard Mendenhall: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Andre Ellington: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Michael Floyd: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Larry Fitzgerald: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 30 rec yds
Robert Housler: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Cardinals 24, Rams 13 ^ Top

Giants @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The fantasy struggle for Eli Manning and the Giants passing game continued a week ago as the Giants QB was only able to amass 235 yards and one touchdown with an interception against a bad Washington Redskins secondary. The once high-quality fantasy quarterback has now been reduced to nothing more than a QB2 as Manning has not gone over the 15 point mark since his explosive, four touchdown game against the Cowboys back in Week 1. Worse yet, he hasn’t been doing a good job of holding onto the football. Manning trails only Geno Smith (19) with his 18 interceptions thrown on the year and is well on his way to his third 20-plus pick season. Predictably, with Manning’s lack of success has come an astonishingly pedestrian season even from former studs like Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Nicks has become the forgotten man in the New York offense and is no longer even a serious fantasy contender, as he has not topped 70 yards receiving since Week 5 and has not scored a single touchdown all season. Cruz himself has scored just one time in his past 11 games. This after a monstrous Week 1 performance where he went off for 118 yards and three scores versus the Cowboys. Although Cruz has had some value in PPR formats where he has caught at least five passes in eight of his 12 games, his drought from the end zone has now lasted eight games. The breakout performer in the New York offense has been wideout Rueben Randle who, despite trailing Cruz in overall fantasy production due to relative inconsistency, has become a true red zone threat. Randle leads the team with six touchdowns on the year, all of which have come from Week 4 on. Unfortunately Randle has frustrated fantasy owners with a lack of overall fantasy production, as he has not topped three catches in any game since Week 5.

If there is to become a time that the Giants do get back on track in their passing game, it could very well be this week as they head to San Diego. The Chargers have been lousy against the pass this season, including having allowed five games of 20 or more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. They have also held only two quarterbacks (Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton) to fewer than 10 fantasy points. Those numbers do tell an interesting story of opportunity for the Giants, but it is also worth noting that while the Chargers average allowing 18.3 fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks on the year, they have been significantly better in recent weeks. Including and since Week 6, the Chargers have allowed only 14.0 points per game to the position; a number which would put them in the top-10 of all NFL pass defenses if they had done it in the first five weeks. Because of the improved play by the San Diego defense, it’s hard to recommend Manning as anything other than a mid-level QB2 for fantasy purposes. Cruz, on the other hand, makes for a solid WR2 play in PPR formats. While it’s hard to expect a touchdown, he should be in line for another solid 10-plus point day. Those looking for a touchdown can reach again on Rueben Randle. Although he’s been held out of the end zone in his past two games, Randle is the most likely Giant to score against San Diego.

Running Game Thoughts: With David Wilson on the IR and no other New York running back establishing himself as anything other than a one-week fill-in, Andre Brown has already taken over as the runaway highest-scoring Giants running back this season despite playing in only four games. During that stretch, however, Brown has been highly effective, averaging 14.25 fantasy points per game (standard scoring). In fact, his only game below the 15-point mark came in Week 11 when he was held in check to only 8 points by the Packers. Brown has already topped the 100-yard mark twice in his four games and while he doesn’t have the sexy name that others do, has certainly established himself as a high-end RB2 or even a low-end RB1 largely due to his nose for the end zone. While he was held to just 35 yards rushing a week ago against the Redskins, Brown owners should not be pressing the panic button as he proved that even when he is slowed down, he still remains a threat for big time fantasy production when he scored two touchdowns with those 35 yards.

Brown will have an opportunity to continue with his fast pace when he and the Giants head to San Diego in Week 14 to face a Chargers defense that has been bleeding touchdowns to opposing running backs as of late. After holding opposing running backs without a single touchdown in their first seven games, the Chargers have since allowed a total of eight rushing touchdowns in just their past five games. While four of those came against the Redskins in Week 9, that hasn’t been the only game of significant fantasy production since the bye week. San Diego has allowed 80-plus yards in each of their past five contests, including back-to-back games of 118 yards and 149 yards to the Chiefs and Bengals. While Andre Brown is not necessarily a sure-fire 100-yard rusher this week, he does have the kind of upside that makes him a must-start in fantasy circles. Whether it comes in the form of yardage on the ground, receptions or touchdowns, Brown is certain to get something going against this porous defense.

Eli Manning: 255 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Andre Brown: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Victor Cruz: 90 rec yds
Rueben Randle: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Hakeem Nicks: 35 rec yds
Brandon Myers: 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It was a down performance for Philip Rivers and the San Diego passing game this past week as they went up against a very good Cincinnati Bengals defense that kept them in check for the most part. Rivers was able to break through with his ninth straight game of 200-plus yards when he threw for 252 and he was also able to continue his string of throwing at least one touchdown in every game this season, but his 12 total fantasy points were still a bit of a disappointment. Despite Rivers’ mediocre performance, however, rookie wideout Keenan Allen was able to continue his hot streak, posting his second straight 100-plus yard game. It was the fifth time he has made it into the triple digits in yardage and for PPR scoring formats, the sixth time that he had hauled in five or more receptions. Despite a lack of touchdowns (only three on the year), Allen has established himself as one of the better WR2’s in the league and his rapport with Rivers seems to grow every week. The other receiver who has began to establish himself as a real fantasy treat has been backup tight end Ladarius Green. Despite playing behind a potential future hall of famer in Antonio Gates, Green has now scored in back-to-back games and had gone for 81 yards in the game prior. Much of Green’s value does rest upon the health of Antonio Gates, which has been shaky as of late, but he has already begun to sneak onto the field more often. More importantly, he is being utilized as a pass-catcher significantly more often than Gates as of late, who has not topped the 70-yard mark since Week 5 and has scored only one touchdown during that span.

The fantasy outlook looks good for the San Diego passing game in this one as the New York defense has gone back to being a less-than-formidable fantasy defense. While the group had a beautiful stretch of four games where they allowed eight-or-fewer fantasy points to opposing QB’s, that stretch happened against Minnesota, Philadelphia, Oakland and an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay offense. Since then, Tony Romo and Robert Griffin III have had nice performances in back-to-back weeks, leading most fantasy experts to conclude that the Giants are really more like the unit that allowed an average of 22 points per game to opposing QB’s during their first six games, than they were during that short, four game stint. Rivers has been reliable enough all season that he has to be once again considered a solid fantasy QB1 this week. Allen’s role in the offense continues to expand every week and his placement in your fantasy lineup should not change. Despite the lack of touchdowns, he needs to be in all lineups, particularly in PPR formats where he can truly shine. Tight ends Antonio Gates and even Ladarius Green have to be considered low-end fantasy TE1’s this week as the Giants have allowed the ninth-most points to opposing tight ends this season. That includes a total of three touchdowns to the position over their past two games alone.

Running Game Thoughts: The confusion of the San Diego running backs continued this past week as Danny Woodhead was once again held to a mediocre fantasy performance, rushing for just 22 yards on seven carries. More surprisingly, the pass-catching back was held to just two receptions on the day against Cincinnati, tying his season-low in that category. Woodhead’s production in the San Diego offense seems to be very tied to the team’s overall offensive success. In games where the Chargers have scored a lot, we seem to be seeing a lot of Woodhead. On the other hand, when the team has struggled, they have seemed to rely more on Ryan Mathews. Mathews has now taken at least 14 carries in each of his past four games. He has also hit that number in all but three games this year. While he hasn’t been overly successful with only a 4.4 yards per carry average, Mathews does have three 100-yard rushing performances on the year. Where he has lacked value, however, is in PPR formats, where he has caught only 17 passes on the year, compared to his partner in crime, Woodhead, who has already hauled in 61 balls this season.

Given how bad New York has been as a whole this season, one would expect that this would be a very juicy matchup for the two-headed-monster in San Diego. That may not be the case, however, as the Giants have actually done a good job of keeping opposing running backs in check throughout most of the season. New York has allowed only one group of running backs (Dallas) to top the 100-yard mark on the ground over their past nine games. That includes games against Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy (twice), Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy and Alfred Morris. In fact, not a single one of those backs even hit 70 yards. Needless to say, this is a tough on-paper matchup for the Chargers backs, namely Mathews who has been used as the bruiser. Don’t expect Mathews to be much more than a RB3 this week against this tough Giants defense. Woodhead’s usage in the San Diego offense makes him a matchup nightmare overall for defenses and he can often buck trends that would normally keep other backs in check, but his lack of usage in the Chargers’ offense as of late has to be a concern. After posting an average of 6.1 receptions per game over his first eight games this season, Woodhead has averaged just three receptions per game over his past four contests. Given his relative lack of consistency, Woodhead should join Mathews as a RB3 in non-PPR formats. His value does rise up to a RB2 in PPR leagues, but that is a step down from when he was a low-end RB1 just a few weeks ago.

Philip Rivers: 290 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 50 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 25 rush yds, 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Keenan Allen: 90 rec yds
Ladarius Green: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 26, Giants 20 ^ Top

Seahawks @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Those who doubted second-year quarterback Russell Wilson are now eating a healthy plate of crow as the Seattle signal caller has now gone an impressive six straight games where he has thrown two or more touchdown passes. Not only that, but during that entire stretch, Wilson had thrown just a total of two interceptions leading the Seahawks to an NFL-best 11-1 record. This past week, Wilson led Seattle to a resounding victory over the closest team to them in the NFC playoff picture, the New Orleans Saints, as they won the game 34-7. Wilson was the offensive superstar, throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns; both his second-highest totals this year, and his 47 yards on the ground added to what was his best fantasy day all season. Wilson is heating up just in time for his team, and also for fantasy owners, many of whom head into the playoffs this week. With Percy Harvin back on the injury report and Sidney Rice out for the season, Seattle has had to look elsewhere for production in the receiving game. While Golden Tate has been the team’s most reliable option as a whole, it has been Doug Baldwin who has surprisingly stepped up in recent weeks. Baldwin has now had at least 63 yards passing in each of his past four games, while also scoring a touchdown in three of those four contests. He doesn’t have the name recognition that others do, but fantasy owners would be wise to start giving a serious look at Baldwin.

This may not be the week to trust Baldwin, however, as he and the Seahawks do have a very tough matchup on their hands as they head to San Francisco to battle the 49ers. San Francisco has stepped up in a big way against opposing quarterbacks, particularly in recent weeks. Over their past five games combined, the 49ers have allowed just three total passing touchdowns. That includes games against Drew Brees and Cam Newton. They’ve also done an incredible job of containing opposing wide receivers this season. They’ve allowed just six total touchdowns to the position on the year and have allowed only two scores to wide receivers in their past six games combined. Despite a blowout win by the Seahawks, Wilson did struggle a bit against the 49ers when these teams played earlier this year. He threw for just 142 yards, his third-lowest total this season, and was also largely held in check as a runner as he contributed just 33 yards in that category. Given Wilson’s hot streak, it’s hard to recommend sitting him even on the road against a very good San Francisco defense, but those looking for a high upside play may be wise to look elsewhere. This could be a decent game for Wilson, but it’d be hard to believe that he’s going to be single-handedly carrying anyone to a win in their fantasy playoffs this week.

Running Game Thoughts: The ever-reliable Marshawn Lynch has continued to be one of the premier backs in all of fantasy football again this season. If he can get just 30 yards on the ground this week, he will become the only player in the NFL to have amassed at least 1,000 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in each of the past three seasons. Lynch has had some tremendous games this season, including four contests where he’s gone over the 20-point mark (standard scoring). His great season hasn’t come without its down points, however. One of those such points happened this past week when he rushed for just 45 yards on 16 carries in a blowout win over the Saints. He also failed to get into the end zone for the first time since Week 9. This lack of fantasy production has to come as a bit of a surprise as the Seahawks completely dominated the game from start to finish. Normally those are the kind of games where Lynch, like most backs, is able to run wild against an emotionally beaten down team. While the sole running back touchdown in the game was given to Lynch’s backup Derrick Coleman, there shouldn’t be much concern going forward for owners of “Beast Mode.”

There is absolutely no question that Lynch remains the driving force that fuels the Seattle offense and he should be a fantasy stud even against a very good San Francisco run defense. The 49ers have held opposing running games in check as of late, having not allowed a single team to eclipse 100 yards on the ground since Week 6. They’ve also only allowed two rushing touchdowns to opposing backs during that six game stretch. San Francisco’s defense is beginning to get healthy and playing together as a unit once again, which does cause some concern for Lynch’s fantasy owners, but there shouldn’t be anything that prevents him from going into your fantasy lineup this week. Despite the 49ers being one of the league’s best run defenses over the past few seasons, Lynch has absolutely owned them from a fantasy perspective. Including his 98-yard performance against this defense back in Week 2, Lynch has hit at least that number or better in each of his past four games against the 49ers. He has also scored a total of four touchdowns in those four games. It may not look like the world’s best on-paper matchup, but Lynch is a rock solid fantasy RB1 and should never be out of your lineup; not even against the 49ers.

Russell Wilson: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 35 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Doug Baldwin: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Golden Tate: 50 rec yds
Zach Miller: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Just when we thought it was finally cut and run on Colin Kaepernick, back-to-back good fantasy performances have pulled many of us back in for more. There’s no question that it has been a rollercoaster season for the 49ers QB, now in his second season as the starter. We’ve seen some tremendous highs that remind us why he was so highly sought after in fantasy circles this preseason, but we’ve also seen some ugly lows that tell us that maybe he is not ready to be relied upon as a QB1. We expected to see some inconsistency from a passing standpoint, but few could have predicted that we’d see so little production out of Kaepernick from a running perspective. The 49ers QB was an incredible producer on the ground this past year, but has not been nearly as effective on the ground in 2013. In fact, Kaepernick has been held to fewer than 30 yards on the ground in all but three games this season. With him not doing as much with his legs, we’ve needed to see more from him from a passing standpoint. With Anquan Boldin picking up steam again and both Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham back from injury, it seems possible that we might finally see Kaepernick get things going a little more consistently as a passer.

The only problem is that while his team is finally getting healthy, including his offensive line, Kaepernick and the 49ers are about to run into the buzzsaw that is the Seattle Seahawks defense. Predictably, the Seahawks have been almost impervious to the pass this season. No quarterback has gone over 18 fantasy points against this defense in 2013, and they’ve held a total of six QB’s to single-digit fantasy days. While they haven’t played against the toughest QB’s, Seattle’s defense is absolutely for real. Just this past week, they held Drew Brees to his worst fantasy day of the year. A 147-yard, single touchdown day that looked more like a Christian Ponder statline than one from a future Hall of Famer. Kaepernick himself struggled mightily against this defense when these teams played earlier this season. Kaepernick was held to just 127 yards through the air and he did not throw a single touchdown. While he did contribute a season-high 87 yards as a runner, he negated that by turning the ball over a total of four times. While it’s understood that it can be tough to find a good fill-in quarterback this deep into the fantasy season, Kaepernick owners would be wise to check the waiver wire for higher-upside plays this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Veteran running back Frank Gore may finally be hitting the wall that most backs hit when they get to his age. Despite receiving a fairly consistent workload of 13-or-more carries in every game but one this season, Gore has not exactly been a fantasy superstar as of late. He did make it into the end zone in the team’s 23-13 victory over the Rams a week ago, but Gore had has now gone six straight games without eclipsing the 90-yard mark on the ground. Worse yet, he has not even gone over 50 yards in any of his past three games. His touchdown against the Rams was also the lone score he has had since the team’s Week 9 bye, which has to give some concern to fantasy owners who do not like to see three straight single digit fantasy days as they head into the fantasy playoffs. Fortunately for fantasy owners, San Francisco has continued to trust their running back and have not yet begun to give meaningful carries to any other back. Anthony Dixon did take eight carries a week ago, but that was merely to relieve Gore and he is not a major factor going forward.

Gore does have an interesting fantasy matchup this week as he and the 49ers host the Seahawks. Seattle held the entire New Orleans offense in check a week ago which predictably led to just 45 yards rushing, but they had not been so good in the games immediately leading up to that. In fact, the Seahawks conceded three ugly games of 173 yards, 178 yards and 132 yards to opposing running games in the games leading up to their Week 12 bye. While one could say that their defense was rejuvenated by the week off, their struggles against the run are very real. While they have been able to keep opposing passing games in check, they have given up 12 or more fantasy points to opposing running backs in seven of their 12 games this season. Gore himself, however, has not been good against Seattle in his recent opportunities against them. When these teams battled in Seattle back in Week 2, Gore was held to a season-low 16 yards rushing. He also had just 28 yards rushing in his prior opportunity against the Seahawks, in Week 16 of the 2012 season. If there is a silver lining for Gore, it’s that he performed very well against Seattle the last time these two teams played in San Francisco. In that game, Gore rushed for 131 yards on just 16 carries while also adding 51 yards as a receiver. Don’t expect that kind of production again this week, but whatever he does should be a big improvement from the disastrous 16-yard day he had back in Week 2.

Colin Kaepernick: 175 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 TD, 35 rush yds
Frank Gore: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 50 rec yds
Michael Crabtree: 40 rec yds
Mario Manningham: 25 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Seahawks 23, 49ers 17 ^ Top

Colts @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While we all knew losing Reggie Wayne would hurt the Indy offense, I’m not sure anyone could have predicted just how bad it has crippled them. Since losing Wayne, Andrew Luck’s completion percentage and quarterback rating has dropped along with his touchdown rate, while his interception rate has risen. The Colts have lost as many games (2) in five games without Wayne as they have in seven with him. Without a solid run game and with tons of inexperience (and lack of talent) in the receiving corps, Luck has to carry the burden himself, and it has proven to be too much at this point. The good news for Luck owners is that he is one of the better running quarterbacks in the league, with four touchdowns on the ground and more than 300 yards on the year. This helps Luck’s fantasy value a lot because to this point he has just two 300-plus yard passing games and two games with three or more passing touchdowns, compared to four games of 200 yards or less passing and seven games of one or no passing touchdowns. In an above-average matchup Luck still could be a top 10 option at QB, but this week he travels to Cincinnati against a defense that has given up fewer passing yards than all but seven teams in the NFL. Even with losing two of their best defenders, the Bengals have remained a near-elite defense. They are fifth best in opponent’s completion percentage, third best in opponent's yards per pass attempt, and in the top 12 in opponent’s quarterback rating, touchdowns thrown, interceptions, and sacks. It’s no wonder then that they are the sixth toughest defense for opposing fantasy QBs to score against. Against a red hot Philip Rivers last week, the Bengals held him to 252 yards, one touchdown, and one interception—in San Diego, just one week after Rivers went to Kansas City and threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns against the Chiefs.

With less talent to pay attention to this week, the Bengals defense will be out for blood and more than likely will get the upper hand most times. Luck will run for some yards and is not prone to a ton of turnovers, so his floor is relatively high, even in a tough matchup like this. Unfortunately, his ceiling is severely limited by the talent around him, and a matchup like this just makes it worse. Luck is normally a low-end QB1 but in this matchup I have him downgraded to more of a high-end QB2 who is safe but unlikely to be much more. As for the receivers, there are really only two guys, T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener, that are relevant for fantasy purposes. Hilton, the unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver on this team now and the most talented they have, has the upside to make big things happen and is a threat to take it all the way any time he touches the ball. Hilton has been pretty quiet the past few weeks, however, and his size limits him in the red zone. Against a weak defense Hilton would be a high-end WR2, but the Bengals know how to limit a team’s best option, and with few complimentary players around him, all eyes will be on Hilton. Pencil in T.Y. as a low-end WR2 this week who has the chance to go boom, but will more likely be average. As for Fleener, he has been getting a good number of targets the last few weeks and has had three straight nice fantasy days for a borderline TE1/TE2. I look at Fleener as a safe option who should certainly get you 50-plus yards but most likely not bust out for much more than 70. Overall he retains his normal value as a high-end TE2 or low-end TE1, in that 10–13 range for the position. No other Colts passing game player is fantasy relevant at this point, though extreme deep leaguers may want to take a look at Lavon Brazill, who is getting a lot more looks lately.

Running Game Thoughts: You would think that with two former first-round picks in their backfield the Colts would have at the least an average run game, but you would be wrong. The Colts currently rank 20th in rushing yards and in reality would be a bottom five rushing team if it were not for Andrew Luck and his 300-plus rushing yards on the year. We have all seen how ineffective Trent Richardson has been since being traded to the Colts for a first-round pick, where he often just looks like he is running straight into his linemen’s backs. Donald Brown has easily outplayed Richardson but has yet to break the 80-yard mark on the ground, and it is clear that Richardson will eat into Brown’s touches just enough to keep him from being trustworthy. While it now seems clear that the Colts will lean more heavily on Brown, they will still give Richardson carries and are still a pass-heavy offense. While Brown is now the easy choice as the Colts RB to own in fantasy, his involvement is hit or miss in the passing game, and unless the matchup is juicy, he seems a stretch to be more than anything but a flex option most weeks.

This week the Colts must face a Bengals team who has given up the sixth least fantasy points to opposing RBs and have held eight of the last nine running backs they have faced to less than 70 yards rushing. While it is always possible Brown could get a fluky touchdown or break a long run, against this defense the odds are certainly against him. Brown may still be a flex option for owners with nothing better to choose from, but if you are still alive at this point in the season, chances are you do have a better option. Brown is merely a low-end RB3/flex option with limited upside this week. Richardson is totally off the fantasy radar at this point as anything more than bench depth or a handcuff.

Andrew Luck: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
T.Y. Hilton: 70 rec yds
Coby Fleener: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
LaVon Brazill: 40 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Donald Brown: 45 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Andy Dalton has a reputation for getting worse in the second half of the season and he is doing little to dispel that notion. Against a weak Chargers pass defense last week Dalton put up just 190 pass yards with one touchdown and one interception. That was just one week after completing less than half his passes and putting up just 93 passing yards (and two interceptions) against the Browns (though he did have three touchdowns). With a stud wide receiver in A.J. Green, a decent running game, and some nice complementary receivers, Dalton should be money in the bank most weeks as a high-end QB2 in most fantasy leagues, but at this point he’s hard to trust even as a low-end option. The only news to report from the Bengals offense this week is the season-ending injury to starting left guard Clint Boling. Boling tore his ACL last week and will miss the rest of the year. Boling has graded out positively this year, especially in pass protection, so his loss is significant, though not impossible, to overcome. The man that Boling would have helped to protect Dalton against is linebacker Robert Mathis, who happens to lead the league in sacks with 15.5. Dalton does not normally take a lot of sacks, but it remains to be seen how a loss on the line may change that.

The Colts pass defense overall are a solid unit, not elite in any area but not weak in any either. They are right in the middle in giving up fantasy points to opposing QBs and in many passing categories in general. The one weakness they do have in fantasy terms is to opposing wide receivers, where they rank as the eighth most generous defense and have given up a few big games, most notably to Andre Johnson, who went for 229 yards and three touchdowns against them. The Bengals have their own version of Johnson, in Green, who is not as thickly built as Johnson but is just as tall and perhaps has a better speed/jumping combo. I think it is foolish to trust Dalton this point as anything more than a lower-range QB2 unless the matchup is particularly juicy, which this one is not. I think Dalton has the potential to hook up with Green here a few times deep, so his fantasy day should not be a total let-down, but his overall numbers will most likely disappoint owners looking for an above-average day. Dalton is just outside the top 14 QB options this week. Green is a must-start every week as one if the more consistent guys who can also explode in any given game. Green is a solid WR1 and a top 10 option at WR again this week. The Colts play tough against opposing tight ends, and with Gresham and Eifert splitting targets, neither is a viable TE option this week as a fantasy starter. The Bengals' complimentary wide receivers have gone back and forth this season, with good and bad days from Sanu and Jones, but neither is anything more than a high-end WR4 because of their inconsistency.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bengals overall are a good, not great, running team. They attempt a fair amount of runs and thanks to their defense they are usually able to stay in games enough to rarely abandon the run entirely. Two running backs splitting carries keeps both backs fresh, and both BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard have had decent seasons in their own way. The problem, from a fantasy owner's perspective, is that “decent” basically translates into boring and un-explosive, which is true in this case. BJGE is a plodding runner who has had a few good games this year but is what he is, and mostly he just eats up 10–15 carries a game for 40–60 yards, with a touchdown sprinkled in every third game or so. This may make him valuable to the Bengals, but to fantasy owners he is barely a reliable flex option most weeks. Bernard on the other hand has had highlight reel runs, and he catches four or five balls a game and looks like a future star. The problem with him is that his usage is unpredictable and rarely enough to make him any more than a mid-range RB2 in standard leagues.

This week’s matchup against the Colts does little to shed light on the frustrating Bengals running back situation, as it is a decent but nowhere near elite matchup. To this point, the Colts have given up the fifth most rushing yards in the league. On the other hand, they are just the 22nd most generous defense to opposing fantasy backs. A closer look at how they fared against their opponents paints a more clear picture. While the Colts have not shut any opposing back completely down, they have not let any blow up either. I equate the Colts run defense to a “prevent” defense in the NFL, in that they basically say, “you can have some yardage and make a few plays but you are not going to burn us deep or score on us.” If you add that to the already maddening committee approach in the Bengals backfield, the upside of both Green-Ellis and Bernard is severely capped in this game. While both backs are likely to see 12 or more total touches, it would not be surprising to see the workload divided almost evenly. To me, BJGE should be on your bench at this point in the season unless your other flex options are just awful. Bernard is the guy with bigger upside and obviously a PPR RB2 option, but in standard leagues he is more of a low-end RB2 this week, or perhaps high-end flex option would be even better. Bernard is the better of these guys for sure, but do not expect a ton of fantasy points from the Bengals backfield this week.

Andy Dalton: 220 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
A.J. Green: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Giovani Bernard: 45 rush yds, 30 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 55 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Tyler Eifert: 35 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 23, Colts 20 ^ Top

Falcons @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite running the ball 30 times last week, the Falcons remain the NFL’s most pass-heavy attack, throwing 67.7 percent of the time. Despite losing Julio Jones earlier in the year, Matt Ryan is putting up nice numbers, other than a career-low TD:INT ratio (19:12). Through multiple injuries to receivers, running backs, and offensive lineman, the Falcons passing attack has remained fantasy relevant, and this week is no different. The usual suspects remain the same, with Ryan, Harry Douglas, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez all expected to play big roles. White had his best game of the year last week (10 rec, 143 yds) and while he says his ankle is still bothering him, he finally produced at a level we expected and is now back in the conversation as a trustworthy fantasy option. The Falcons' opponent this week, the Packers, are a below-average pass defense, though not a total pushover. Currently the Packers have given up the 10th most passing yards in the NFL and allow a generous 8.0 yards per pass attempt (fourth highest in the NFL). While the Packers have picked off the second least amount of passes thus far (6), they have a ferocious pass rush that has registered the third most sacks in the league, and that is with their best pass rusher, Clay Matthews, missing multiple games. For real life purposes, this game may not be pretty for the Falcons, as their offensive line will probably get man-handled and Ryan will probably be under constant pressure. Playing in Lambeau field is also a big disadvantage for the Falcons, as they notoriously play much better at home or in domes. In fantasy terms, however, all hope is not lost, as Ryan will more than likely throw the ball 35-plus times, giving himself and his receivers plenty of opportunity to rack up big yardage.

With one of the worst defenses in the league, the Falcons will most likely need to play catch-up most of the game, and we all know that can mean a lot of garbage-time points. The Packers are the 10th most generous to opposing fantasy QBs at this point, and while it is likely that Ryan gets sacked a bunch and has a few turnovers, he should also flirt with 300-plus yards and a couple of touchdowns. His upside is limited playing in Green Bay, but Ryan should still be a decent low-end QB1 this week. While White’s breakout game last week is a great sign, it is still just one game and he said himself that his ankle still bothers him. There is some risk associated with White this week, but Ryan obviously trusts him (14 targets last week), and that alone should make him an interesting mid-level WR3 with some upside. As for Douglas, he is a PPR machine and a quality WR2 in that format, catching 21 balls over the past three weeks. In standard leagues Douglas is more of a solid WR3 this week, as his upside is capped by his lack of touchdowns, but the yardage should still be there. As for Gonzalez, thanks to the lack of real quality at the TE position this year, he remains a solid TE1 despite the average numbers (for him) on the year. Start Gonzalez with confidence as a top 10 option at the position.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson has not lived up to his name this season but has show signs of life the past few weeks and may be warming up just in time for the fantasy playoffs. Jackson has just three rushing touchdowns on the year, all of them coming the past two weeks, where he has also averaged over 80 total yards per game. While injuries, age, game plan, and poor blocking have made this a lost season for Jackson, his fantasy owners may actually get some real usage out of him these next couple weeks.

The Packers run defense is coming off a game where they got crushed for 241 yards on the ground against the Lions. On the season they have given up the seventh most rushing yards and a healthy 4.5 yards per carry. While the Falcons will undoubtedly go pass-heavy as they always do, they have let Jackson run the ball at the goal line in consecutive weeks now, and the Packers have given up a healthy amount of rushing touchdowns. While it would be foolish to think Jackson will have a huge yardage game, the Falcons should be able to move the ball well enough to at least give him a few chances in the red zone to get a score. His upside is capped by a lack of overall involvement, but Jackson is a decent option as a low-end RB2 and an excellent RB3/flex start this week. Don’t expect the world from SJax, but as a complimentary fantasy player, he could really surprise.

Matt Ryan: 305 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Roddy White: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 85 rec yds
Tony Gonzalez: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Steven Jackson: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: At the time of this writing Aaron Rodgers has not been medically cleared to play, and most believe he will not play this week. While Rodgers insists he wants to play as soon as he possibly can, the Packers are historically conservative when it comes to injuries, and with the playoffs a long shot at this point, they have little reason to rush back their franchise player. If Rodgers does not play, Matt Flynn will make his second straight start after falling flat on his face last week against a generally bad pass defense in the Detroit Lions. Flynn went 10 for 20 and managed just 139 yards with no touchdowns and one interception while getting sacked seven times. That performance was against a poor pass-rushing team that was letting up around 275 passing yards per game before last week. This week the matchup is also a good one, but even with some talented weapons around him, Flynn has to be one of the bottom few QBs you can trust for fantasy purposes.

The Falcons are currently 20th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. They allow the fifth highest completion percentage and the fourth highest yards per pass attempt average to opposing quarterbacks, have the second fewest sacks, and have the worst TD:INT ratio allowed in the league with 24 passing touchdowns to just six interceptions. All in all they are a terrible defense, and away from their friendly dome they strike little fear in opposing quarterbacks. It is a real shame that Rodgers will probably not play in this game because the numbers he and the receivers could put up might be their best of the year. The reality is that the Packers will probably rely a lot on the run this week and try to get Flynn to throw shorter, high-percentage passes. This type of game plan obviously limits the upside of all the Packers passing game players, although all hope is not lost because of the juicy matchup. Still, Flynn must be avoided at all costs this week. Yes, the matchup is enticing, but this point of the season is no time to get cute. There are easily 18 better and safer options than Flynn this week at QB. Bench him. As for the receiving corps, Rodgers would have made four receivers relevant in this game with no problem, but with Flynn in I think you can only really look at two guys, Jordy Nelson and James Jones. Jones actually had the best chemistry with Flynn last week, and while a big game is very unlikely, he should see a decent amount of targets and should rack up enough yards to make him a mid-range WR3. As for Nelson, as the most talented player left on offense it would be a big surprise if the coaching staff did not find ways to get him more involved this week. His upside is limited with Flynn at quarterback, but he has the size and speed to be a red zone threat or take a short pass and turn it into a big gain. Nelson is a low-end WR2 this week in a juicy matchup. No other Packers passing game player is relevant with Flynn under center. If Rodgers does miraculously play, he is a top-end QB1, Nelson is a solid WR1, Jones is a solid WR2, and Brandon Bostick is a solid WR3.

Running Game Thoughts: With Matt Flynn most likely under center again, Eddie Lacy will probably be asked to carry a large load. Of course this is dependent on the Packers not falling so far behind that they have to abandon the run, like they did last week against the Lions. Lacy got just 10 carries last week and facing a very good Lions run defense, and looking at a 26–10 deficit in the third quarter, the Packers had to give up on the run. The good news for Lacy and the Packers this week is that the Falcons, while having a decent offense, is not at Detroit’s level, especially in unfriendly territory, and therefore the chances of them getting a huge lead early is possible but unlikely. The even better news is that the Falcons run defense is one of the worst in the NFL, allowing the third most rushing yards in the league to this point. On top of the yardage allowed, they have allowed the third highest yards per carry, and are currently the sixth most generous defense in fantasy points scored by opposing RBs.

The best case scenario in this game is that Lacy gets 20-plus carries and a few catches in a game that is close or sees Green Bay leading most of the way. In that case Lacy should be good for 100-plus yards and a score. In a worst case scenario Lacy would get little more than10 first-half carries and the Falcons would run away with it in the second half, forcing the Packers to abandon the run. In that scenario Lacy would be looking at around 50 or so yards and maybe a chance for a touchdown. I think the most realistic scenario is somewhere in the middle, with the game being close enough for Lacy to run at least 18 times, and while the Falcons will focus on stopping the run with Flynn under center, Lacy should still total 75-plus yards with a good chance at a touchdown. In this way I see a Lacy as a solid mid- to high-range RB2.

Matt Flynn: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Jordy Nelson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
James Jones: 70 rec yds
Brandon Bostick: 35 rec yds
Eddie Lacy: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 27, Packers 26 ^ Top

Dolphins @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Surprisingly perhaps, the Dolphins are the fourth most pass-heavy team in the NFL at this point, throwing 62.8 percent of the time. Although Ryan Tannehill has some decent weapons, a nice completion percentage, and throws a ton of times, he is still not a trusted fantasy asset at this point because he is too inconsistent and does not throw for enough touchdowns. In a juicy matchup Tannehill has some value, as do his receivers, as more than a fringe fantasy start. Unfortunately for owners of these players, this week’s matchup is far from juicy, especially playing in the hostile Pittsburgh environment against an angry team who just barely lost to a divisional foe. The Steelers pass defense is not quite elite but they are in the top 12 in several important categories, including passing yards allowed, completion percentage allowed, yards per pass attempt allowed, and passing touchdowns allowed. Consequently, the Steelers are the ninth toughest team for opposing fantasy QBs to score against and have been even better at home. While the Steelers do not pick off a lot of passes or sack the quarterback a ton, they play solid and smart cover defense and force a lot of tough throws. On the season, only two quarterbacks have had really good fantasy days against the Steelers, Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford. News flash here... Tannehill is not as talented as nor does he have the weapons of that those two guys, so do not expect a big day here. Because Tannehill throws a lot and can run a little, he is not totally off the fantasy radar this week, but trusting him as anything more than a low-end QB2 would be dangerous.

As for his receivers, this game marks the return of Mike Wallace to Pittsburgh, where he played up until this year, and while Wallace has struggled overall this season, he has come on of late and is an interesting option this week. Of course there is the “step up your game against your old team” factor that goes into play here, and he is used to playing in Pittsburgh, but there is something more important to consider here. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor has shown he has really lost a step this year, and since he usually covers opposing team’s No. 1 wide receivers, it is likely he will shadow Wallace much of the game, especially because of his familiarity with Wallace’s skills. Taylor has been burned badly this year several times, especially against “speed” receivers. The past five weeks Aaron Dobson, Josh Gordon, Calvin Johnson, and Torrey Smith have all torched Taylor and all four of those guys are in that “speed” category, just like Wallace. While I’m not predicting a monster game from Wallace, I think there is a good chance he beats Taylor deep at least once, making a touchdown more likely. I like Wallace this week as a high-end WR3 with upside for more. Brian Hartline has been up and down this year and his upside is certainly capped but he easily leads the team in targets, and for a team that throws as much as the Dolphins, there is some value in that. There are certainly more attractive and explosive guys out there with better upside, but if you are looking for a strictly safe and reliable 60–80 yards, Hartline would certainly fit that mold. He is a solid but unspectacular low-end WR3 this week. The only other Dolphins passing game player that is worth mentioning here is tight end Charles Clay, who has also been up and down but has about as much upside as any other TE not named Gronk or Graham most weeks. While Clay has only three games of 80-plus yards this year, he is averaging just over eight targets and six catches the past four weeks, and that alone makes him a safe bet to rack up some yards and contribute to your fantasy team. Clay is a safe, low-risk, decent upside high-end TE2 this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Most of the season the Dolphins backfield was the dreaded Running Back By Committee, with Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller splitting reps. Both backs had good and bad weeks but were generally ineffective as one of the leagues bottom eight rushing attacks. With Daniel Thomas out this week, and most likely the rest of the season, Miller now has the green light to be an every-down back and perhaps perform close to what his preseason hype said he would do. Last week against one of the best run defenses in the NFL (Jets), Miller averaged just 3.3 yards per carry but managed enough carries (22) to put up fairly solid numbers (72 yards rushing, 13 receiving). It was a decent performance, but the good news for Miller owners is that the Dolphins showed faith in Miller by giving him that many carries, and with the run game being a big part of why they won, it is likely they will continue to trust him as their bell-cow.

This week Miller faces a Steelers run defense that is middle of the pack, ranking right around the average in yards allowed per carry and per game. The Steelers have let up more rushing touchdowns than the average, however, and thus are a little more generous to opposing fantasy RBs than the average. While the matchup is neutral for Miller, the situation is a pretty good one, as this should be a close game and Miller could flirt with 20-plus touches once again. While Miller’s track record is sketchy at best so far in his young career, he has loads of potential and it would not be a huge surprise if he busts out the next few games after 12 or so games of splitting the workload. Some running backs need a full workload to get in to that rhythm, and perhaps Miller is one of those guys. While he is a risk, it is a calculated one as a guy who should get a lot of touches in a close game. Miller to me is a moderate-risk, high-upside mid-range RB2 this week. No other Dolphins running back is on the radar this week, as Miller should see the bulk of the work.

Ryan Tannehill: 245 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Lamar Miller: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Mike Wallace: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Brian Hartline:70 rec yds
Charles Clay: 55 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite playing some decent defenses Ben Roethlisberger has been a solid QB2 the past five weeks with a 13:3 TD:INT ratio in those games combined. Big Ben has a solid group of receivers and, despite less-than-stellar line play, has worked well with what he has been given and has helped make the Steelers offense an above-average unit the past five or so weeks. With a breakout year from wide receiver Antonio Brown and a solid contribution from rookie running back Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers offense now has multiple players that are fantasy relevant each and every week. Of course things are not all rosy for the Steelers this week, as some injuries and a poor matchup may really set them back a step from a fantasy perspective. On the injury front Bell is questionable after suffering a concussion in last week’s game. While this is perhaps not a big direct blow to the passing attack, defenses have had to respect the rookie running back, who is having a nice year, and without him the Steelers have one of the worst rushing attacks in the league. If Bell does not play, it is a blow for the Steelers passing game, as defenses will surely focus more on stopping the pass. Secondly on the injury front, the Steelers have lost their second starting center this year, with Fernando Velasco injuring his Achilles last week; he is done for the year. The Steelers offensive line was already an issue (allowed seventh most sacks) this year, so losing a starting player can only make it worse. As far as the matchup goes, it appears to be a tough one on paper, as the Dolphins have allowed the ninth fewest passing yards and the second lowest quarterback rating in the NFL thus far. In addition, they boast an impressive 12:16 TD:INT ratio allowed, one of just five teams that have intercepted more passes than they have allowed passing touchdowns. Finally, they have registered the fifth most sacks in the league, and absolutely shut down the Jets passing offense last week. All in all, it is not going to be easy for the Steelers passing attack, as a lot of things are going against them this week.

On the bright side, the Dolphins defense has let a few opposing quarterbacks put up big numbers against them this year, and Pittsburgh will obviously have a nice advantage playing at home. As for what to expect, the Steelers will still throw the ball 30-plus times, meaning there is some opportunity for some decent fantasy days overall. Big Ben will probably get thrown around a bit and most likely turn the ball over a few times, but there are certainly worse options out there. Plus, the sheer volume of work he will get should make him a low- to mid-range QB2 at worst. There are better options at QB, but Ben’s floor is relatively high, so do not be afraid to start him if your gut tells you so. Antonio Brown is a must start as the league leader in receptions, and while he struggled last week, he has burned defensive backs all year and is so heavily involved in the offense that even on a bad day he is a decent WR2. In this game I look for Brown to get back on track and see 10-plus targets, even if he does not see the end zone. He is a high-end WR2 this week. As for the rest of the receivers, tight end Heath Miller, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery have each had big games and each has had dud games as well, but outside of Miller as a possible solid but limited TE2, I do not see much value here this week. In a juicy matchup maybe Sanders or Cotchery could be trusted as a low-end WR3, but the Dolphins have let up the second fewest points to opposing fantasy WRs this year and neither guy is talented enough to overcome that.

Running Game Thoughts: Although Le’Veon Bell suffered a concussion last week, he practiced in full on Wednesday and is probable to play barring any last-minute setbacks. Bell has not had a record-setting rookie campaign but has been very productive and, compared to what the Steelers have had the past two years or so, he is pretty amazing. While the Steelers have become one of the top five pass-heavy teams in the league, Bell at least helps keep defenses honest and is getting involved in the passing game enough to keep fantasy owners happy. In the past five weeks Bell is averaging 20-plus total touches per game and has performed fairly well in both tough and easier matchups.

This week’s matchup is a good one, as the Dolphins are a better pass defense than run defense that has given up the eighth most rushing yards on the year. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Dolphins are currently the eighth most generous defense to opposing fantasy RBs and have given up double-digit fantasy points to opposing backs in all but three games this season. While Bell has yet to have a true breakout game, and his yards per carry (3.3) is unimpressive, he gets a lot of total touches and should be active in this game up until the final whistle blows. While his overall talent limits his upside, the matchup and his usage should more than make up for that factor. Overall Bell is a solid high-end RB2 this week.

Ben Roethlisberger: 230 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Antonio Brown: 80 rec yds
Heath Miller: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Emmanuel Sanders: 40 rec yds
Le’Veon Bell: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Jerricho Cotchery: 30 rec yds

Prediction: Steelers 26, Dolphins 24 ^ Top

Vikings @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: At the time of this writing Christian Ponder has still not been cleared to practice and most think Matt Cassel will start this week against the Ravens. Last week Cassel actually looked decent, at least relatively speaking compared to other Vikings quarterbacks this year, as he threw for 243 yards, one touchdown, and one interception on 20 for 33 passing attempts. Of course that was at home against a poor and depleted Bears defense and with the help of Adrian Peterson’s 211 yards on the ground to take the pressure off. Peterson will still be around this week, but the matchup is much harder with the Ravens being a dangerous pass defense, especially in the pass rush area. The Ravens currently rank fifth in the league in sacks and are also holding opposing quarterbacks to a 58.4 percent completion percentage, seventh best in the NFL. As far as fantasy points go, the Ravens are the 12th toughest to opposing QBs on the year but perhaps realistically even a bit better thanks to the team’s complete demolishing by Peyton Manning in Week 1, when Manning threw for seven touchdowns. The bottom line is that the Ravens are a solid pass defense that can perhaps be exploited by an elite passing attack, but should easily handle a team like the Vikings, at least in their passing game. Cassel has looked good in short spurts this year but is not a trustworthy fantasy option, especially on a team focused on the run game and Adrian Peterson.

There are easily 14 better options this week than Cassel at QB, so unless you play in a huge league, you need to look elsewhere. As for the receiving corps, Greg Jennings and Cassel seem to have a decent chemistry, more than Jennings has had with Ponder or Josh Freeman, but Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb is a good cover guy and, given the overall state of the Vikings passing game, Jennings' upside is capped at that of a mid-range WR3. John Carlson has just one touchdown on the year and is not a big-play guy, but he’s getting a nice amount of targets and yards and you could do worse at TE this week. Carlson is a mid-level TE2 in this matchup. No other Vikings receiver should be considered a viable fantasy option this week, as the ball is spread around a lot and "inconsistent" would be a good word to describe this unit overall.

Running Game Thoughts: While the opponent was one of the worst in the NFL, Adrian Peterson took full advantage against the Bears last week and racked up an amazing 211 yards rushing on 35 carries (6.0 ypc) en route to a three point victory. The Bears are one of the worst run defending teams in the NFL, so the performance was not the most amazing feat ever, but still, it further emphasized how great Peterson really is. This week’s opponent is a much tougher foe, as the Ravens are among the top six run defending teams in the league. To this point the Ravens barely give up 100 rush yards per game and have only let up two rushing touchdowns on the year, which is best in the league. While the Ravens are certainly a bad matchup on paper for opposing running backs, we all know by now that Peterson is no normal player. While many running backs have struggled against the Ravens this year Peterson is more than capable of outperforming any of them as the focus of the Vikings offense. If Le’Veon Bell can put up 73 yards and a touchdown (his number last week) against this Ravens team, Peterson owners should look at those numbers as an absolute baseline for what Peterson should do this week. While Peterson will surely not sniff 200 yards again this week, 100-plus and a touchdown is certainly a distinct possibility. Start Peterson with confidence as a RB1 and a top three option at the position.

Matt Cassel: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Greg Jennings: 55 rec yds
John Carlson: 50 rec yds
Cordarrelle Patterson: 30 rec yds
Adrian Peterson: 115 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: For fantasy owners who have struggled through using Joe Flacco all year or have stashed him on your bench most weeks, the wait may be finally over for you to start him with confidence. This week Flacco and the Ravens get another home game and this time is it against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. The Vikings to this point have let up the third most passing yards in the league, the most passing touchdowns, the seventh highest completion percentage, and the seventh highest quarterback rating. Consequently, they are the second most generous to opposing fantasy QBs, just 0.1 points per game less than the Cowboys, who are the more generous. The Vikings just sneaked out a victory last week against the Bears but in the process let up 355 yards and two touchdowns (with no interception) to Josh McCown, a backup quarterback. On the other hand, Flacco and company also are coming off a win in which Joe threw for 251 yards and one touchdown while not throwing an interception for the first time since Week 7. Flacco’s 98.7 quarterback rating in that game was also his second highest of the season, and this was all in a game against a better-than-average Pittsburgh pass defense. With the possibility of one of Flacco’s favorite targets, tight end Dennis Pitta, returning from injury this week, the Ravens quarterback's stock is pointing upwards as a sneaky good play in the first round of many fantasy league’s playoffs. While Flacco is not throwing a lot of touchdowns overall and his been up and down this season, things look to be lining up this week for his best game of the year. He is playing much better at home than on the road (a 6% higher completion rate and much better TD:INT ratio) and while facing one of the league’s worst defenses he should be a safe high-end QB2 with the upside.

As for the Ravens receiving options, at this point it is basically all about one man, wide receiver Torrey Smith. Smith looked solid against the Steelers last week, leading the team in targets, catches, and yardage while getting his fourth touchdown of the year. While Smith does not score as much as most of the other elite wide receivers in the NFL, his targets, catches, and yards are as consistent as anyone. Going against a Vikings defense who has been the fifth most generous to opposing fantasy WRs this year, Smith is a low-end WR1 option with a fairly safe floor. While the probable return of Dennis Pitta is great news for Flacco and the Ravens offense in general, it is way too hard to trust a guy that has missed most of the year with injury in his first game back. Pitta will probably be limited if he does play, and while he might have a decent game, he also might have a real dud. Grab Pitta off the waiver wire if you can, but put him on your bench until he shows us something. No other Ravens player in this unit is worth a start, as Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown split the other targets and neither is consistent enough as anything more than an average WR4.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice and the Ravens run game may have forced fantasy owners to buy a large quantity of Tums because they have surely caused a lot of indigestion watching them crawl to one of the worst rushing outputs in the NFL this year. While it is always tough benching a player you spent a high pick on, like Rice, he really only put up starter-worthy numbers in about one-third of the games he’s played this year. There are many factors that come into play here, including poor blocking, injury, and bad play-calling, but Rice must be to blame too, as he has too much talent to blame those things as the major cause of a disappointing year. While I think it is certainly too late for Rice to redeem himself this season, there is some hope for his owners this week to at least have some confidence if you start him. Of the 11 games Rice has played this year, five of them have been against a top eight rushing defense. Two weeks ago Rice played the Chicago Bears, the 32nd-ranked rush defense, and put up 131 rush yards and a touchdown. In Week 4 he faced the Dolphins, the 25th-ranked rush defense, and put up 74 yards and two touchdowns. See what I’m getting at here? While Rice looks a half step slower and the O-line is below average, they have taken advantage of good matchups this season, and this week’s is another good one.

The Vikings are currently the 23rd-ranked rush defense and have given up the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the NFL. They have given up the third most points to opposing fantasy backs and are coming off a game where they gave up 120 yards on the ground to Matt Forte alone, and that was at Minnesota. While I do not think a good matchup is suddenly going to turn Rice back into his old self, it could easily go down as one of his best two or three games of the year, and if the Vikings struggle on offense, like they have been known to do, Rice may find himself on the better side of 18 carries. Rice simply does not have the upside right now of a true RB1, but for this week alone he should be a safe mid- to high-end RB2. Bernard Pierce actually racked up three more yards than Rice on the ground last week but remains too inconsistent to start in any league at this point, even in a plus matchup.

Joe Flacco: 300 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Torrey Smith: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Ray Rice: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Bernard Pierce: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Jacoby Jones: 45 rec yds
Marlon Brown: 30 rec yds
Dennis Pitta: 30 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 30, Vikings 23 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Although Tony Romo often gets criticized in the national media, he is quietly having a nice statistical season, with a healthy 24:7 TD:INT ratio and a 97.3 quarterback rating. Of course even though he has some nice weapons at his disposal and a pass-first approach, most fantasy owners still want more, as he is still not in that upper tier of fantasy QBs that you can count on every week for huge points. For example, last week’s game against Oakland should have been one of those games where Romo threw for 300-plus yards and at least two touchdowns. But instead he put up a nice and efficient yet unspectacular 225 yards and one touchdown. It's games like that one that keep us from fully trusting Romo as a solid QB1, even though his final year-end numbers look like that of one. This week Romo gets the Bears, who are much tougher against the pass than the run, though nowhere near elite either way. On the year, the Bears are pretty much right in the middle of most pass defense statistics, although they are stronger than the league average in interceptions and weaker in sacks. As far as fantasy points allowed, they are surprisingly tougher than the average, being the 11th toughest against opposing fantasy QBs. Of course there is certainly the possibility of their having a bad day, as they have given up big fantasy days to six quarterbacks this year, three of those being at home. In reality, I believe the Bears are a bit worse than their numbers show, as they have faced sub-par quarterbacks, including Seneca Wallace, Matt Cassel, Kellen Clemens, and Christian Ponder, in at least a third of their games. Still, expectations for Romo and company should not be through the roof, as Chicago can still be a tough place to play and the defense could force Romo into several turnovers. All in all, I view Romo this week as what he has been all year, a guy you should start and have faith in but temper expectations to that of a low-end QB1. His floor should be fairly high and he has some real upside, but Romo is just as likely to be mediocre as fantastic.

As for the receiving corps, only two guys are relevant at this point, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten. Bryant remains one of the most physically talented wide receivers in the game today, and while he has been almost shut down a few games, it is obvious the more he gets involved the better the Cowboys are. The Bears have no shutdown corners, and all the big name wide receivers (Green, Brown, Johnson) have had big games against them this year, so it is likely Bryant will follow that trend. Bryant is a high-end WR1 this week. Witten has been up and down this year but is still one of Romo’s favorite targets, and the Bears have given up the ninth most fantasy points to opposing TEs. While Witten is certainly not elite anymore, he is still a back-end TE1 this week and should be the Cowboys' second best receiver. No other Cowboys passing game member is start-worthy, as Miles Austin is doing nothing except stealing snaps from Terrance Williams, making both guys WR4s at best.

Running Game Thoughts: DeMarco Murray has his limitations and he certainly seems injury-prone, but for fantasy owners who have stuck by him all year, he is paying off and perhaps about to explode. With three touchdowns last week and three straight solid fantasy games, he now faces perhaps the worst run defense in the NFL. The Bears have allowed an awful 5.0 yards per carry to opposing running backs (worst in the NFL), and are behind only the Cowboys in giving up fantasy points to opposing RBs. The Bears gave up 211 yards on the ground to Adrian Peterson last week and have now allowed eight running backs to hit the 100-yard mark this season, including Peterson twice. While the Bears have held a few opposing teams to poor rushing games, these are primarily teams that are pass-first anyway, or have sub-par running backs (Steelers, Saints, Bengals). Among the running backs the Bears have given up big games to this season: Brandon Jacobs, Benny Cunningham, and a struggling Ray Rice.

While the Cowboys are a pass-first team, Murray has averaged 15 carries the past three games and is getting involved in the passing game enough to pad his overall stats. As one of just a handful of every-down backs in the league (especially now with Lance Dunbar out), Murray has big upside this week in a game that the Cowboys should be in the whole way through. In a juicy matchup I’d pencil Murray in as a low-end RB1 who could wind up a top five performer at the position and is a safe player to start even if he does not get in to the end zone. No other Cowboys running back is remotely on the fantasy radar right now.

Tony Romo: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Dez Bryant: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
DeMarco Murray: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Terrance Williams: 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: There is good news, bad news, mystery, and drama surrounding the Bears passing game this week. The mystery and perhaps drama is the ongoing injury issues to Jay Cutler, who has had both groin and ankle injuries and as of Wednesday night has yet to gain medical clearance to play. The bad news for the Bears is two-fold, as Cutler will probably not play in this game, or be somewhat limited if he does. Also bad is the probable return of Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee, who was playing like a defensive MVP before he got hurt and is a big boost to their pass defense as the main play-caller, a good coverage guy, and an excellent anticipator of passes. The good news for the Bears is that even if Cutler does not play, the emergence of veteran Josh McCown as a red-hot signal caller means the team, and most notably the other skill players, should not miss a beat or get downgraded at all. The other good news is that the Cowboys represent one of the best matchups a quarterback can ask for.

The Cowboys are currently the most generous defense to opposing fantasy QBs and not much better to WRs or TEs, where they rank 12th and 8th, respectively. While the return of Lee will help Dallas, it is hard to overlook the 295 pass yards per game they have allowed, second most in the league. Speaking of 295 yards, that number is just 46 more yards than Alshon Jeffery had receiving last week against the Vikings. Jeffery now has the fourth most receiving yards in the league, and with Brandon Marshall opposite him, even good defenses are going to have nightmares trying to cover both stud receivers. With both being physical specimens, the Cowboys will have their hands full, especially after struggling with the much less talented but similarly sized Andre Holmes last week, who went off for 136 yards. While we cannot predict which wide receiver will have the better game, this matchup certainly looks to be a shootout, with two poor defenses and two high-flying passing attacks, so both Marshall and Jeffery should see a ton of targets. I like both of them as low- to mid-range WR1s this week, and both could well be top 12 performers at the position. With Marshall and Jeffery being total target hogs, there are very few balls to go around, especially with Matt Forte also in the mix. But Martellus Bennett should also be a decent play this week as a low-end TE1 who has a chance to get a touchdown against a Dallas defense that has given up six touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season. Finally, McCown is on fire right now, and while it is tough to recommend a guy that has been a career backup, it is also impossible not to after last week’s performance and this week’s matchup. I do not think McCown is a top five option at QB this week, but top 10 is certainly a distinct possibility, making him a solid QB1.

Running Game Thoughts: Anyone looking to gamble on who this week’s best performing fantasy RB should definitely consider looking at Matt Forte. If we do not even consider the matchup, Forte is still on the short list of guys who are talented enough and performing well enough to be considered an elite option every week. Forte is on pace to have a career year in rushing yards, touchdowns, catches, and receiving yards. For a guy who has been around six years and is consistently a top 10 fantasy RB, that is saying a lot. Forte continues to be a huge part of an offense that demands defenses to play off the line of scrimmage thanks to Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who are both tearing up defenses deep. As one of just a handful of every-down backs in the league, Forte shines on the ground and in the passing game and has been shut down just one time all year (versus the Lions) as far as fantasy points go. Even is Forte was playing the toughest run defense in the league this week, he would be a must-start as a guy who consistently gets 15-plus touches and is rarely taken out. For Forte owners, as a bonus, he is not playing the toughest run defenses; he is in fact playing one of the worst.

The Cowboys have given up the sixth most rushing yards in the league thus far and have allowed a healthy 4.8 yards per carry (third highest in the NFL). In addition, Dallas has given up the fourth most rushing touchdowns (tied) and the most fantasy points to opposing RBs. With all that said, I have not even mentioned yet why I like this matchup more than any other fantasy RB’s matchup this week. The Cowboys have allowed opposing running backs to catch 86 passes this season, which is about 30 more than the league average. They have also allowed the second most receiving yards to opposing running backs and are tied for the most receiving touchdowns by opposing backs. Matt Forte, if you have not heard, is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and is currently third in receptions, second in targets, and fifth in receiving yards among all running backs in the NFL. Regardless of how this game goes, Forte will be heavily involved and it would be a big surprise to me if he did not get 20-plus total touches. Start Forte with confidence as a RB1 and a top three player at the position this week.

Josh McCown: 315 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Matt Forte: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 45 rec yds
Brandon Marshall: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 115 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Cowboys 33, Bears 30 ^ Top

Browns at Patriots - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Another game in the books, another possible quarterback change for the Cleveland Browns. After a 370-yard, three-touchdown, two-interception performance, Brandon Weeden was diagnosed with a concussion and will have to pass a battery of tests to ensure he’s fit for Week 14. After losing his starting role multiple times Weeden has been successful in finding his way back onto the field, this time after Jason Campbell was forced to miss last week because of a concussion of his own. If neither is available for Sunday, former Dallas practice squad player Alex Tanney will be the signal caller against New England. While the player throwing the ball is constantly changing, those catching it haven’t changed much from the beginning of the year. The most significant difference has been which receiver has been the center of attention. Initially tight end Jordan Cameron was the star, recording six touchdowns in seven weeks and finishing with 50 or more yards six times during that same span; since then he has not found the end zone and has broken 50 yards on only one occasion. Now wide receiver Josh Gordon is by far the primary receiving threat, and while he contributed reasonably for the first several weeks following his suspension at the beginning of the season, his biggest games have come since Cameron started slowing down. Since Week 8 Gordon has five touchdowns in five games, has broken 230 yards twice, and has failed to reach 120 yards only once.

The Browns quarterback, whoever it may be, will be facing a Patriots defense that ranks in the top ten of yards allowed per game, sacks recorded, yards per attempt against, and interceptions forced. Additionally they’re the best in the league with respect to opponent’s completion percentage, with 55.6 percent allowed. In many ways, New England’s most recent opponent, the Texans, resembles the Browns. They rank next to each other in yards per game, each have inconsistency problems at the quarterback position, availability issues at running back, impressive tight ends who are generally underutilized, and offenses that feature one of the most impactful receivers in the game to go along with a capable counterpart on the other side of the field. Against such a team, the Patriots limited the quarterback to 50 percent passing, didn’t allow a touchdown, and recorded both an interception and a sack. On top of their recent successes and the consistency they’ve shown all season, the game Sunday will be played at home, where the Patriots have yet to lose.

Running Game Thoughts: There are only five teams in the NFL who have not reached 1,000 rushing yards through Week 13, none of those teams have a winning record, and Cleveland is very much among that group. Beyond the yardage futility, the Browns are also the team least capable of reaching the end zone on the ground; their two rushing touchdowns is worst in the league and half as much as the team immediately above them in the rankings. Since trading away running back Trent Richardson the Browns have not seen a significant change in rushing output; rather than getting 52.5 yards per game out of Richardson, they’re now getting 52.4 out of the combination of Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya. The problem remains with an offensive line that, aside from a three-game span in the middle of the season, has been terrible for the vast majority of the year and is weighing down an already mediocre offense. The Richardson trade changed very little for Cleveland because he was largely not the problem, but he also couldn’t be the solution for the issues that materialized on the O-line in front of him. The combination of McGahee and Ogbonnaya will continue to struggle even against some of the worst defenses in the league because of who is blocking for them and trying to establish their running lanes.

Against Jacksonville the Browns were able to gain only 97 yards on the ground despite rushing 30 times, a disheartening 3.2 yards per carry against the fourth worst defense in the league. Cleveland will have one last chance for redemption against a New England offense that is slightly worse in both yards allowed per game and per attempt. In the Patriots’ latest game they allowed 121 yards and three touchdowns to a Texans team that ranks in the middle of most statistics and used to be the second least successful team in scoring touchdowns on the ground. While the Browns rushing attack is one of the worst in the league, watching New England struggle in their most recent contest provides a small glimmer of hope for Sunday. While neither Browns running back is likely to have a great game, the two combined could put together a performance that isn’t embarrassing , provided of course that the offensive line is able to make a push against the New England front seven. The deck is stacked against Cleveland, so this Sunday may ultimately be the one of the last decent opportunities for the Browns to contribute to fantasy rushing totals.

Jason Campbell: 200 pass yds, 1 INT
Willis McGahee: 40 rush yds
Josh Gordon: 80 rec yds
Jordan Cameron: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Even at less than his expected best, Tom Brady still has the Patriots in the top ten of passing offenses, the team is sitting second overall in the AFC, and they lead the division by three games with four to play. The biggest stumbling block New England faced this season was being without tight end Rob Gronkowski for six weeks, but following the latest contest, the team has now played just as many games with him as they have without, allowing for convenient comparisons to be made. In Weeks 1 through 6 Brady completed 56.9 percent of his passes for an average of 246.7 yards per game while throwing eight touchdowns and four interceptions. In the six contests following the return of Gronkowski, the quarterback’s numbers increased dramatically, to 64.6 percent, 297.8 yards, and an 11:4 TD:INT ratio. Projected over the full 12 weeks rather than just the most recent six, the Patriots offense would rank in the top four, and based on how they’ve looked recently, it’s more accurate to view them in that way. Behind the superstar tight end, four wide receivers contribute 40–60 receiving yards per game and running back Shane Vereen adds an additional 55 through the air as well as what he does on the ground; that collection of pass catchers averages a total 351.3 yards per game, excluding injuries.

By the numbers, Cleveland is one of the best suited defenses to slow down the New England passing attack, as they allow the fifth fewest yards per game and the fewest yards per attempt of anyone in the league. The key to their success has been limiting the big play, largely because cornerback Joe Haden all but shuts down the opponent’s top receiver, which poses an interesting problem for Sunday. For the season, wide receiver Julian Edelman is the leading wide receiver in New England, principally because Danny Amendola was injured or limited for a number of games; but on a per game basis, the leading pass catcher for the team is actually their star tight end. While Haden could limit one of those three, he certainly can’t cover them all, and while he could likely hold either of the wide receivers in check, he gives up seven inches and 75 pounds to Gronkowski, making it all but impossible to guard him in space. The Patriots have a spectacular passing attack because Brady has between four and six legitimate receiving threats on any given play, and the best pass defenses can only hope to take away a few of them because of the talent that New England has at its skill positions.

Running Game Thoughts: For the first time in four weeks running back Stevan Ridley did not fumble. It may, however, be more important to note that Ridley was in street clothes for the entirety of the game. Yes, the two are related. Coach Bill Belichick decided to make the Patriots' leading rusher a healthy scratch for Week 12, after his three fumbles in three consecutive weeks, and almost like magic the team committed zero fumbles. LeGarrette Blount and Shane Vereen received 12 and 10 carries for 44 and 38 yards, respectively, in Ridley's absence. Blount scored a touchdown on the ground and Vereen scored one through the air and added 37 receiving yards to his totals. Because of injury to Vereen, the majority of the non-Ridley carries have gone to Blount this season, who himself has previously struggled with fumbles. For the time being, that duo will handle primary ball-carrying duties, and while Blount has been reasonably reliable all season, Vereen is the more dynamic back and a far more significant contributor to the passing game. Look for New England to continue to use each back according to their strengths, giving Blount more carries in shorter yardage situations and Vereen more touches in the middle of the field and also out of the backfield. The biggest advantage in the running game comes from audibles and quick decisions made by Brady, putting his running back (whoever it is) into the best position to take advantage of the defensive call or the personnel they have on the field at that time.

Very much like their pass defense, the Browns also rank in the top five against the rush in both yards per game and per attempt, giving them one of the best all-around defenses in the NFL. Despite their stinginess, they do give up an average number of touchdowns to both phases of the attack, so while teams don’t drive on them often, they do frequently make those drives count as far as the scoreboard is concerned. That being said, Cleveland has given up only 89.5 rushing yards per game in the past four contests since the bye and hasn’t surrendered a touchdown during that span, showing that now more than ever the Browns defense is dominating against the run. The Patriots use their running game primarily when the opportunity presents itself instead of relying on it, so the fact that the Browns don’t give up many yards doesn’t change anything for New England going forward. Vereen and Blount will still see enough touches to keep the defense honest and will likely be given carries when the Browns are caught out of position following a passing play or a big gain, though expecting monster performances from either one of them is highly unlikely given the quality of the defense they’ll be up against.

Tom Brady: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs
Shane Vereen: 40 rush yds / 50 rec yds
Rob Gronkowski: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Julian Edelman: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Danny Amendola 50 rec yds

Prediction: Patriots 38, Browns 16 ^ Top

Raiders at Jets - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: If you value experience and precision, this particular game could be hard to watch, though the better effort will likely come from the Raiders. Matt McGloin has once again earned the start at quarterback over a healthy Terrelle Pryor, but coach Dennis Allen hinted at an ongoing evaluation process, which could at any time bring Pryor back into the fold. For the time being though, Oakland will continue to go with the undrafted rookie as they travel to New York for the second time in five weeks, this time to play the AFC opponent out of MetLife Stadium. In his three starts McGloin has averaged 237.3 yards per game with four touchdowns and two interceptions and a 58.5 completion rate, all close to or better than the Oakland season averages, suggesting that he’s been better than Pryor in the passing game despite not being able to contribute on the ground to nearly the same extent. He has yet to throw more than 32 passes and has not completed more than 19, so in the event of a shootout he has no NFL track record to build upon, though he also has no tragic performances to overcome. Going on the road to New York and facing the Jets in the cold and potentially breezy open air stadium will be the first time the young quarterback has been in less than ideal weather situations in his professional career, though he should be able to draw on his collegiate experiences from playing at Penn State.

In the event that the rookie is forced to air it out this weekend, he’ll be glad that he’s doing so against the Jets, one of the worse pass defenses in the league. They give up 257 passing yards per game and have surrendered 22 touchdowns through the air, both of which rank in the bottom eight. Their seven sacks on the season are fourth worst and are partially responsible for their poor rankings in other areas; without pressure it is significantly more difficult to force the quarterback into a bad throw. The only area that has allowed New York to stay out of the cellar of NFL defenses is the 33 sacks they’ve recorded, though even that is barely above the league average. In all, the Jets have a reasonable collection of talented individuals but not everyone is on the same level, and that creates holes for opponents to exploit. Despite beating New England and New Orleans this season, Gang Green is still one of the worst teams in the NFL, and when the defense isn’t at the top of its game, they have a hard time staying competitive for four quarters.

Running Game Thoughts: Like most teams, the Raiders have three running backs, including a dynamic starter, a solid backup capable of carrying the load and making plays, and a reasonable third-stringer in the event of emergencies. Unlike most teams, Oakland may be without all three of them this Sunday due to injuries. The starter (Darren McFadden) has battled hamstring injuries recently but picked up an ankle tweak and is not expected to be at full strength for this weekend, if he is available at all. The third-string running back (Jeremy Stewart) has ankle and knee issues of his own and has not been participating in practice, making his availability for Sunday an uncertainty. The back with the best chance to play is Rashad Jennings, but he suffered a concussion on Thanksgiving and needs to clear the NFL protocol before being allowed back onto the field. Jennings has been the best back even with McFadden healthy, so having him ready for Sunday is of most importance to Oakland. The fourth best option is Taiwan Jones, a former running back who was converted to cornerback this offseason, so if Jennings is unavailable, he’s the likely starter. Jones may see playing time anyway, depending on what depth chart players are or aren’t available. In the past month Jennings has led the league in yards from scrimmage and has recorded four touchdowns in November, taking some of the pressure off McGloin and delighting the fantasy owners that were fortunate enough to pick him up when McFadden suffered his first real injury of the season.

Assuming Jennings is available, he’ll have the league’s best rush defense lined up across from him. The Jets allow only 77.0 yards per game and a miniscule 2.9 per carry, both of which are tops in their respective category. Even if teams are able to work their way into the red zone, New York has only surrendered six rushing touchdowns on the season, a mark which is tied for seventh best. At 0.5 touchdowns and less than 80 yards allowed per game, opposing running backs seldom have a decent day against the Jets, let alone a performance which could be considered great. In the likeliest scenario, Oakland will be forced to give up on the run and thus throw the ball more frequently, putting McGloin in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation. Though his yardage totals may end up being reasonable, all of the new factors at play should ultimately result in unnecessary errors and mistakes that give New York a chance to hang around as the game goes on. That has been the Jets' game plan against the best teams in the league this season, and if they’re able to apply it to those in the middle of the pack, they may finally start to see consistent results.

Matt McGloin: 230 pass yds, 1 INT
Rashad Jennings: 50 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Rod Streater: 60 rec yds
Andre Holmes: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Coaches and analysts often talk about viewing the NFL as four separate four-game mini seasons, and by those standards Geno Smith has been the worst quarterback in the league during this latest four-game stretch. In Weeks 9 through 13 he completed only 39.2 percent of his attempts and recorded no more than nine successful passes in any of those games. In the last five games Smith has failed to throw a touchdown and on the season he has committed 19 interceptions, the most in the NFL. For the entire season, the Jets are averaging a league worst 179 passing yards per game and have thrown for only nine touchdowns, second worst to only Jacksonville. To orchestrate such a collapse a number of factors have to fall just wrong, but considering the injuries to wide receivers, ineffectiveness of the offensive line, and inexperience of the quarterback, the Jets season long woes are hardly a surprise. The first step in the right direction for Smith and the passing attack is to stop making mistakes. But even if they get that under control, the whole of the New York offense is next to worthless in the realm of fantasy football.

After playing on Thanksgiving the Raiders have had 10 days to prepare for the Jets' aerial attack, and even by generous standards that is far more time than necessary, even considering that their defense isn’t exactly a stalwart unit. Against the pass Oakland gives up 254 yards per game, landing them inside the bottom ten of the league. They are tied for fourth fewest interceptions forced, and of the teams as bad as (or worse than) them, only one has allowed fewer touchdowns. By comparison, the only team with as bad of a pass defense as the Raiders belongs to their Week 14 opponent, the Jets. One additional area in which Smith may be able to use to his advantage is that Oakland allows their opponents to complete 66.4 percent of their passes, and considering the dreadful streak the Jets quarterback has gone through recently, every deficiency a defense presents can only help Smith bounce back to his early-season form.

Running Game Thoughts: To a large extent New York has spent the season emphasizing the run, partially because of how they’d moved away from that in recent years and partially as a way to protect their rookie quarterback. And while they don’t have the touchdowns to show for it, they have been successful in gaining yards and running efficiently. They rank in the top ten with 124.7 yards per game and in the top half of the league at 4.2 yards per carry. Of the three primary ball carriers this season, Smith has the most touchdowns, backup running back Bilal Powell has received the most carries, and the starter, Chris Ivory, has gained the most yards. This division of success has mostly worked to the Jets' advantage, but has been a nightmare for fantasy owners. The saving grace for most borderline fantasy backs is how they contribute in the passing game, though for Ivory this is his Achilles heel; for the entire season he has been targeted six times and has converted only two of those into receptions for a total of ten yards. Powell is much more active in the passing game but isn’t as explosive of a runner, explaining why the Jets use each and why fantasy owners should use neither.

Though not to the same extent as their opponents, Oakland is also much better against the run than the pass, ranking in the top ten in yards per game with 102.8 and allowing a similarly impressive 3.9 yards per carry. As a team, the Raiders are about average in touchdowns allowed and just below average in fumbles recovered from rushing plays; whereas most are better near the red zone, the numbers suggest that Oakland is better in the middle of the field, generally being able to limit their opponents’ number of big plays but having a harder time keeping them out of the end zone or coming up with stops on short-yardages plays. Much like the matchups featured in other areas of this contest, this one should be evenly matched, pitting strength against strength in the running game and weakness against weakness through the air. While not likely based on game performances up to this point, Sunday could be one of the best opportunities the Jets have to score a rushing touchdown, if they’re ever able to make it to the red zone that is.

Geno Smith: 160 pass yds / 20 rush yds
Chris Ivory: 50 rush yds
Jeremy Kerley: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Jets 10, Raiders 9 ^ Top

Lions at Eagles - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite having a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, the primary focus of the Lions passing attack is wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the current league leader in receiving touchdowns and receiving yards despite not leading the league in either yards per game or total receptions. Johnson himself has more receiving touchdowns (12) than three entire teams and he doesn’t even account for half of the 27 passing touchdowns thrown by quarterback Matthew Stafford. While the Lions offense isn’t highly efficient, they do attempt more passes than all but one other team, and that has allowed them to record 309 yards per game through the air, second best in the league. The area in which they excel is at protecting Stafford, surrendering a league-low 15 sacks on the season; one of the primary reasons they’re able to gain so many yards as a team is that their quarterback is given time to throw and the additional protection gives receivers extra time to beat their coverage. Even though Stafford is completing less than 60 percent of his passes, the marks he’s earned for yards per attempt rank in the top ten for the league, suggesting that the throws which are completed tend to be downfield throws that result in big gains. As Johnson is one of the best big-play receivers in recent history, and perhaps ever, the Lions’ success is anything but surprising, making him and Stafford weekly fantasy powerhouses.

In the sense that they put 11 players on the field standing between the offense and the end zone, Philadelphia technically has a pass defense. Beyond that, though, it’s hard to suggest much more when it comes to their stopping the aerial attack of their opponent. Much as they have all season, they continue to give up the most yards per game, partially because they’ve faced the most pass attempts, but that again comes back to them giving up so many yards. Put this porous defense up against one of the more pass-happy offenses in the league and the stage is set for fireworks, meaning this Sunday could closely resemble a New Year’s Eve pyrotechnics display. Beyond yards surrendered, the Eagles are basically average in most every other category, so while they’re atrocious in the middle of the field, they become noticeably less awful in the scoring areas, providing the faintest glimmer of a silver lining to their otherwise regrettable pass defense.

Running Game Thoughts: By most measures, this aspect of the Detroit offense is perfectly mediocre, though considering the passing attack they accompany, anything more than mediocre becomes unnecessary. The unquestioned star of the ground game is running back Reggie Bush, and he is joined in the backfield by one of the better backups in the league in Joique Bell. While Bush is more dynamic and better out of the backfield, Bell is used primarily in run-only situations and handles more touches near the goal line. As a team, Detroit averages 115.2 rushing yards per game, with the split coming to75 and 35 yards, respectively. Both backs average 4.1 yards per carry or better, and when including rushing touchdowns, they each have five or more on the season. Even in receiving yards per game they each average more than 31. The value of Bush and Bell to the Lions is that they keep each other fresh and, despite having areas in which they excel, both can adequately step in for the other. For fantasy players this is a potential headache each week, but the best bet is for Bush to handle the bulk of the load, Bell to see a respectable number of touches, and for their early performance in the game to go a long way in determining how they finish, with Bell getting the nod in garbage time, of course.

In the spirit of fighting fire with fire, the Lions' average rushing attack will be met by the average rush defense of Philadelphia. The Eagles give up just as many yards as Detroit averages (115), has nearly the same yards per carry mark at 4.1 (compared to 4.2), and have given up a similarly better-than-average number of touchdowns as the Lions have scored (7 and 11, respectively, both ranked at number ten). Because this matchup is expected to be so tight, it will almost certainly weigh heavily on the outcome of the game. If Detroit is able to move the ball on the ground successfully and make considerable gains against the Eagles defense, it will open up a world of possibilities in the passing game. Without a solid rushing attack the defense may be able to load up against the pass and attempt to limit Johnson using double coverage, and possibly sending a third man on some plays. The 3-4 scheme and their personnel should give the Eagles an early advantage on the ground, but as the secondary gets exploited, the box will soften and the backfield duo should be set for a pair of big games.

Matthew Stafford: 360 pass yds, 3 TDs
Calvin Johnson: 150 rec yds, 2 TDs
Nate Burleson: 60 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 80 rush yds / 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: In the unfortunate event you’ve been trapped under a rock for the past two months, the Eagles quarterback situation may look a little different now, but according to coach Chip Kelly, that shouldn’t happen again for “the next 1,000 years” or so. At a press conference it was declared that quarterback Nick Foles was the starter for the rest of the season as well as the next millennium, and despite the obvious sarcasm, it was nice to finally have a declaration out of Philadelphia. The choice has been obvious to the public for several weeks, if not more, especially since Foles has thrown for 17 touchdowns and no interceptions on 196 total attempts. He’s completing 63.3 percent of his passes and recording a modest 183 yards per game but it is his ball security and effectiveness that have earned him the spot as the unquestioned starter in Philadelphia. They are one of the only teams that has a nearly even run–pass ratio, rushing the ball 49 times compared to 51 passes out of every 100 plays; by comparison their opponents have run 61 and 39 per 100 plays. In all but one of his starts Foles has scored multiple touchdowns, but even in that one he did rush for a score, giving his fantasy owners a bit of redemption in standard leagues. While his numbers are rarely overwhelmingly impressive, he seldom makes mistakes and has the potential to have a monster day because of how his skill set works so well with the offense Coach Kelly runs.

The up-and-down season for wide receiver DeSean Jackson is likely in store for a massive turnaround against a Lions defense that has allowed multiple touchdowns to receivers in five of the past six games, despite playing against backup quarterbacks three times during that span. On the season Jackson has 20 receptions of 20 or more yards, making him one of the most substantial big-play threats in the league. Detroit averages 262 yards against per game and has allowed 21 receiving touchdowns on the season while forcing 12 interceptions; all together this puts the Lions defense in the middle third of the league, at best, even with their recent less-than-remarkable opponents. Against a highly efficient Philadelphia passing attack that doesn’t make mistakes and furthermore doesn’t rely on the passing game for success, the Lions are likely to see multiple receivers, a tight end, and a running back all contributing significantly downfield. One area to watch is the Lions defensive line as it attacks the Eagles offensive line; both units are worse than average when it comes to sacks, so the most significant battle will likely occur along the line of scrimmage as the O-line tries to can keep the D-line in check and the D-line tries to continue their trend of getting to the quarterback.

Running Game Thoughts: With Foles under center, the Eagles ground game has been more tame than when Vick was the quarterback, but the current signal caller is still able to surprise defenses with his mobility and quickness. On the season Foles has just as many rushing touchdowns as Vick, though the former has no lost fumbles on 39 carries compared to one from Vick on fewer runs. The primary weapon has been and will continue to be running back LeSean McCoy, the league leader in scrimmage yards per game and second in rushing yards. The only deficiency in his statistics so far has been his getting into the end zone, largely because Foles is able to throw for touchdowns or has scrambled and picked up points with his own legs. But even at that, McCoy is good for over 125 total yards per game and averages one touchdown in every other contest, so he’s anything but a liability to his fantasy owners. With rare exceptions he is the only one seeing any significant time in the backfield, making him one of the rare every-down running backs in the NFL today and thus a virtual must-start every single week.

After holding the top spot for the majority of the season, Philadelphia is no longer the best rushing team in the NFL, and facing off against the Lions isn’t likely to help them regain that throne. Detroit has one of the stingiest rush defenses in the league, allowing 82.7 yards per game (top three) and giving up only five rushing touchdowns on the year (sixth best). Against the best running backs they’ve faced, they gave up 360 yards and five touchdowns in only four games, suggesting that the Lions overwhelm the mediocre rushing teams but are still susceptible to those who run well. Philadelphia would certainly fall into the latter category, giving McCoy an opportunity this weekend to continue Detroit’s difficulty in stopping the best rushers in the game. With the passing threat that Foles poses, the highly capable receiving options all over the field, and a fast-paced offense that preys on defenders out of position, the Lions will have their hands full in trying to stop the Eagles from moving the ball down the field. Being able to maintain balance between run and pass will allow Philadelphia to control the tempo of the game and will set up McCoy for a huge fantasy day.

Nick Foles: 250 pass yds, 2 TDs
LeSean McCoy: 60 rush yds, 1 TD / 50 rec yds
DeSean Jackson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Riley Cooper: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Lions 35, Eagles 31 ^ Top

Chiefs at Redskins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: While it has yet to be determined if the Kansas City offense is evolving or devolving, the last three weeks have brought a noticeable change compared to the first nine games of the season. Most obviously, the winning streak came to an end and has been replaced by a losing streak. Accompanying the streak has been a change in offensive game plan, giving quarterback Alex Smith more passing attempts and asking him to have a more direct impact on the outcome of the game. Whether that change was out of necessity due to their opponents or a choice made to further the team, the goal clearly wasn’t achieved. In the last three games Smith has thrown for two of his three largest yardage totals, has set the two highest personal marks for attempts this season, and has completed a season-high number of passes in back-to-back weeks; despite all of this, they’ve lost three games in a row and are looking for a way to right the bad trend. Comparing yardage and efficiency numbers between wins and losses reveals very little pattern, ultimately suggesting that the success of the team is largely dependent on factors beyond Smith's throwing the football.

This weekend’s matchup with the Redskins should provide Smith an opportunity to put his mark on a game and get his team back to their winning ways. The Chiefs' last three opponents (Denver twice, plus San Diego) rank directly behind Washington in passing defense, technically making this the toughest team to pass against they’ve seen since their last win. But even as that, the Redskins rank in the bottom six for the league in yards against. Additionally, only three teams have given up more passing touchdowns than Washington, and both their sack and interception totals are below average for the league, all of which points to Smith being in the best position for success on Sunday. Perhaps the best sign for Kansas City is that the Redskins give up the third highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks, likely presenting Smith with an opportunity to efficiently move his team up and down the field as he also tries to eliminate the mistakes that have crept their way to the surface in the past few weeks.

Running Game Thoughts: Even with the recent emphasis on throwing the ball, Kansas City is still very much a running team, almost exclusively featuring Jamaal Charles, who ranks in the top four in each of total yards gained, touchdowns scored, and rushing yards per game. The second leading rusher for the team is the quarterback, who despite being mobile and quick, certainly isn’t a duel threat—though Smith has been excellent at escaping from pressure and taking advantage of the open space in front of him when the defense drops extra men into coverage. Beyond those two, no other Chiefs ball carrier has averaged more than two touches per game. While Kansas City’s 124.0 rushing yards per game and 10 touchdowns are a bit better than average, the area in which they most excel is in yards per carry, where they rank inside the top ten with 4.6 yards per rush attempt. Despite having success on the ground, Kansas City still throws the ball four times for every three rushes, and until that ratio more closely resembles 1:1, it will be hard for the Chiefs to get back to their winning ways against teams who don’t have winning records.

Thankfully, no matter how Kansas City game-plans for this week they’re still facing off against a team that has one of the worst records in the league and has already been eliminated from playoff contention. During their nine-game winning streak the Chiefs only faced two teams with winning records, and this Sunday will be another opportunity to prey on a weaker team after being pushed to the limit in the last three games. Against the rush Washington gives up 108.8 yards per game, very near the league average, at a rate of 4.0 yards per carry, which falls just inside the top ten for the NFL. This respectable defense may encourage the Chiefs to continue favoring the pass, but Charles will certainly receive his 15-plus carries, just as he’s done in all but one game this season, and in that outlier he was only one touch short of that mark. Because Kansas City doesn’t run as many plays as most other teams, it is even more important for them to be efficient on offense and giving the ball to their superstar running back seems to be the most effective way to both maintain possession of the ball as well as move it down the field.

Alex Smith: 200 pass yds, 1 TD / 30 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 70 rush yds / 40 rec yds
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds
Sean McGrath: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After a slow start for Robert Griffin III, the Redskins have picked up the pace recently, even if their record doesn’t exactly reflect that. By the numbers, the Washington passing offense is better than that of their opponents, who have a 9–3 record compared to the Redskins' 3–9. In terms of completion rate and yards per game, Griffin has outperformed Smith on the season, is only one passing touchdown behind him, and has rushed for more yards with the same per-carry average. The most significant different between the two this year has been interceptions, where the Redskins have thrown the ball away 13 times compared to just six from Kansas City. When the offense is sputtering and consistency has been an issue, committing those turnovers stomps out any momentum that may have been building. The biggest concern moving forward is still the offensive line and the higher-than-average number of sacks they’ve allowed, and while the sacks certainly don’t help their cause, it is often the pressures and hurries that most significantly affect the outcome of the game. Griffin not feeling comfortable in the pocket because of the defensive presence is only exacerbated by the lagging confidence he has in his surgically repaired knee, though while his legs and his confidence in them will continue to improve, the same cannot be said for the Washington front five.

The greatest weakness for Washington should be the greatest strength for Kansas City, where the former has allowed more sacks than the league average and the latter has recorded more than average. Recently, though, the defense has made only one sack during the three- game losing streak and forced only one in the pair of games before that; whereas the Chiefs used to lead the leagues in sacks by a large margin, they’re now tied for fifth best after recording only two in the last five games. Something will have to give in that area because where Kansas City has forced far fewer sacks than normal, Washington has been allowing them at an alarming rate—19 in just the last four games compared to only 11 in the first eight. In most other areas, the Chiefs are remarkably average, allowing 249 passing yards per game and 18 touchdowns this season, though their 14 interceptions are top ten for the league and they have scored the most touchdowns from turnovers with six total (four from interceptions and two from fumbles) in addition to two special teams touchdowns, one each from a kickoff and a punt and tied for second best in the league. The highest scoring defense in the NFL has allowed the Chiefs to be successful despite a mediocre offense, so if Washington can avoid turnovers, they should be able to keep the game close and be in position to potentially pull off a late win.

Running Game Thoughts: The most consistent area of production for Washington is by far their ground game. Leading the league with 150.4 yards per game and 5.0 per carry, they are built around consistent production out of their backfield with reliable contributions from their duel-threat quarterback. Leading the way for the Redskins is running back Alfred Morris, who is just under 1,000 yards for the year and has the fifth most rushing yards per game in the NFL. Despite only scoring six touchdowns and rarely contributing to the passing game, Morris is a top ten running back in nearly every format. While game situations have limited him to 14 touches in each of the last two weeks, with total yardages of 52 and 53 yards during that time, Morris averages nearly 18 total touches per game and more than 85 yards per contest. The most frustrating part of the Washington run game is that multiple players see significant touches each week; between Griffin and backup running back Roy Helu, the primary running back loses 10–15 touches per game. Considering the production he gets from the touches he does receive, it would be interesting to see whether Morris's statistics would double if he received twice as many carries.

After the relatively unexpected 9–0 start, the Chiefs defense took much of the credit, but during their recent three-game skid, they’re now the target of much of the blame, which can only benefit Washington. In the run game especially Kansas City has allowed 581 yards and four touchdowns in the last four games, averaging over 20 fantasy points to opposing RBs in most scoring formats. While Morris has become an early-down specialist, he should still see plenty of yardage even if he doesn’t manage to find the end zone, though if he does he’ll certainly be in for a huge day. The most likely touchdown vulture is Helu, but fullback Darrel Young has been known to get carries in the red zone, scoring three touchdowns on only ten carries all season long. Both Denver and Buffalo used multiple backs against Kansas City in the past four games and had great success in doing it, so expect to see Washington continue to utilize both Morris and Helu as they seek to further the decline of the Chiefs defense and find a way to secure a rare victory in front of the home crowd.

Robert Griffin III: 230 pass yds, 1 INT / 30 rush yds
Alfred Morris: 80 rush yds
Pierre Garcon: 70 rec yds

Prediction: Chiefs 17, Redskins 10 ^ Top