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Inside the Matchup
Week 15

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

SD @ DEN | KC @ OAK | NO @ STL | WAS @ ATL



 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Caron 39 13 75.0
2 Smith 38 14 73.1
3 Thorne 32 21 60.4
4 Anderson 27 24 52.9

Chargers @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After going undrafted in many fantasy leagues, San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has been one of the most valuable assets in the league this season. Rivers is currently the sixth-highest-scoring player in all of fantasy football and is certainly the centerpiece of many fantasy teams as they fight for a title in the playoffs. After struggling with his consistency in recent seasons, Rivers has turned back the clock to when he was considered an elite fantasy option and has been one of the most consistent producers at his position. Rivers has scored at least 11 fantasy points in every game this season, largely due to the fact that he has limited his turnovers (only nine interceptions all year) while throwing at least one touchdown in every game. He has even cracked the 20-point mark on four occasions. The remarkable thing is that while Rivers has been so consistent, he has been spreading the ball around to many different pass-catchers. Rookie wideout Keenan Allen has certainly been the team’s best weapon in the passing game with 61 catches for 902 yards and five scores on the year. Only he and running back Danny Woodhead have cracked the 500-yard receiving mark in the San Diego offense. Allen’s production in recent weeks has been very good. He had gone for back-to-back 100-yard games in Weeks 12 and 13 before his 59-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Giants in Week 14. Allen is making a serious case to be the offensive rookie of the year. Tight end Antonio Gates has been productive again this season as he leads the team with 68 receptions, but he has only made one trip to the end zone in his past nine games. Backup tight end Ladarius Green had been breaking into Gates’ production a bit with over 200 yards and two touchdowns in his previous three games, but was held catchless in Week 14; illustrating why it is too hard to trust him in fantasy, especially in the fantasy playoffs.

Rivers and the Chargers do have a nice matchup this week as they head to Denver to face the Broncos and their 25th-ranked fantasy defense against opposing quarterbacks. Denver has allowed at least one passing touchdown in every game this season except one (Jacksonville). They’ve also conceded eight games of at least 290 yards passing. The Broncos did do a decent job a week ago, however, when they held Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to just 172 yards; their best performance of the season. Rivers himself struggled when these teams met back in Week 10. He threw for just 108 yards and one touchdown in that game, his second-lowest fantasy total of the year. Still, Rivers is a must-start this week, as is Keenan Allen. Both players are riding excellent hot streaks and should not be overlooked simply because they did not do great against the Broncos earlier this year. Denver’s defense is beatable and with their offense likely to have no problem scoring points, San Diego is going to need to pass the ball to keep pace.

Running Game Thoughts: Along with his quarterback, San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews has been one of the best return-to-glory stories of the 2013 season. Mathews has played in a timeshare but has played remarkably well, to the point that he is now a top-15 running back and thus a must-start RB2 on most teams. Mathews hasn’t had any “monster” games but has been in double digits (standard scoring) in eight contests this season. He has also gone over 100 yards on the ground four times and has scored three rushing touchdowns over his past five games. His partner in crime, Danny Woodhead, has been an up-and-down rollercoaster of fantasy production in standard scoring leagues. Much of his scoring has come due to the fact that Woodhead has been among the best pass-catching targets in all of fantasy football this season. Woodhead’s 65 receptions put him on pace for 80 on the year, but that number has been steadily decreasing in recent weeks. After catching at least five passes in six of his first eight games this season, Woodhead has now gone five straight games without reaching that number. He has remained productive as a fantasy player, though, as he has scored four total touchdowns during that five game span.

Woodhead is obviously significantly more valuable in PPR formats but both he and Mathews have a good opportunity to produce this week against a Denver Broncos defense that has been bad against opposing running backs all season. Including the three they allowed to the Titans a week ago, the Broncos have allowed 13 rushing touchdowns on the year. They have also been bad at slowing down opposing backs in the passing game. The 85 receptions they’ve allowed to opposing backs are third-most in the league and their five receiving touchdowns to opposing running backs are second-most. All of this of course, points to what could be a nice day for Woodhead. Even if Woodhead has a big game, there is definitely still room for Ryan Mathews to have a nice fantasy day. Mathews was able to sneak into the end zone when these teams met in Week 10 and is a good bet to have another productive day. Both Woodhead and Mathews are good RB2 or FLEX plays this week, with Woodhead sneaking up into a potential low-end RB1 in PPR leagues.

Philip Rivers: 310 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Ryan Mathews: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 25 rush yds, 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Keenan Allen: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Ladarius Green: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After a two week lull in production where he only threw three touchdowns, Peyton Manning has gotten back to the guy that has dominated the fantasy scoreboards throughout the season. Manning has now thrown a total of nine touchdowns over his past two games. His five touchdowns in Week 13 and four touchdowns in Week 14 mark the sixth and seventh times that he has thrown for at least four scores this season. Manning is now well on his way to setting NFL records for both passing yardage and touchdowns in a season, which would make him the highest scoring player in the history of fantasy football. As one would expect, it hasn’t just been Manning that has been carrying fantasy teams this season. Receivers Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are all top-15 at their position while tight end Julius Thomas has enjoyed a breakout season as the No. 3 tight end in fantasy football despite missing time due to a knee injury. Julius Thomas returned in Week 14 and got right back to where he left off, scoring yet another touchdown, his 11th of the season. Unfortunately Manning will be without Welker on Thursday who has not yet been cleared to play after a concussion knocked him out of the team’s Week 14 win over the Titans. With Welker out, an opportunity could arise for backup tight end Jacob Tamme who filled in almost exclusively for Welker once he was injured due to the team transitioning to a primarily two-tight end set. Tamme finished the game with four catches for 47 yards and could be a sneaky fantasy play at a position that has disappointed quite a bit in 2013.

Even without Welker, the Broncos passing game is a great bet to have another gigantic week. San Diego has struggled against the pass all season and despite performing well against the Bengals and Giants over the past two weeks, have to be considered an extremely juicy matchup for Manning and his receivers. The Chargers have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks this year and have conceded double-digit fantasy points to the position in all but two games. Worse yet, they have allowed some massive games to opposing QB’s, including five games of at least 20 fantasy points. Peyton Manning himself had a typical gigantic performance the last time these teams met back in Week 10 when he threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns. Demaryius Thomas also had a huge game when these teams met earlier this year. His seven-catch, 108-yard, three-touchdown performance was his best fantasy game of the season and he may very well be the top fantasy wide receiver this week. Thomas is riding a hot streak of seven straight games of double-digit fantasy production (standard scoring) and it seems almost unfathomable that he won’t make it eight in a row. Eric Decker could also be in for a great game this week. Although he caught only three passes for 52 yards when these teams played back in Week 10, Decker has been heating up as of late. He has back-to-back games with eight catches and his 291 yards and five touchdowns make him the highest-scoring fantasy receiver in the league over the past two games. The reality is that it’s going to be almost impossible to bench a player in the Broncos passing game, and there’s absolutely no reason to be worried about anyone. Now is not the time to go away from what has gotten you this far. Ride the best offense in the league to a fantasy playoff win.

Running Game Thoughts: At the beginning of the season, it would have been almost impossible to imagine that former first round NFL draft pick Knowshon Moreno would be where he is today. Moreno is a top five fantasy running back and has been among the most consistent players in all of the league despite going undrafted in many leagues. With double digit fantasy production (standard scoring) in nine of his past 10 games, Moreno is going to be relied on by quite a few fantasy owners as we head into the playoffs. All of that would be fine and well if Denver wasn’t doing their best to screw with us. With the real-life NFL playoffs on the horizon and Denver sprinting toward a first round bye, the Broncos seem to be trying to ensure the health of Moreno. In order to accomplish this, they have been getting increased utilization out of rookie running back Montee Ball. In his past two games, Ball has run the ball 28 times. Prior to that, Ball had taken only 36 carries over his previous seven games combined. Moreno has still taken more carries than Ball, but his 29 carries over the past two weeks are only one more than Ball.

Both Moreno and Ball are intriguing fantasy options this week as they go up against a San Diego defense that has struggled significantly against the run in recent weeks. After not allowing a rushing touchdown in any of their first seven games this season, the Chargers have since allowed a total of nine touchdowns to opposing backs over their past six games. They’ve also allowed at least 83 yards rushing in all of those games. Moreno did struggle running the ball in his previous game against the Chargers with only 65 yards on 15 carries, but he saved his fantasy day by adding a season-high eight receptions for 49 yards. Despite being in what can statistically be called a 50/50 split, Moreno has remained extremely productive and is a must-start in all formats. With 10 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown, he remains a valuable pass-catching asset out of the backfield for Peyton Manning. Given the injuries that have happened at the running back position throughout the league in recent weeks, Montee Ball has become a serious fantasy contender as a low-end RB2 or FLEX play.

Peyton Manning: 350 pass yds, 4 TD, 1 INT
Knowshon Moreno: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 40 rec yds
Montee Ball: 50 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Demaryius Thomas: 120 rec yds, 2 TD
Eric Decker: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Julius Thomas: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Jacob Tamme: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 45, Chargers 31 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: With the Chiefs up four touchdowns at halftime in Week 14, the team simply did not need their passing game to do much against the Redskins. That didn’t stop Alex Smith from tossing two touchdowns and giving his fantasy owners a somewhat respectable day. It was Smith’s fourth straight game of multiple touchdowns, and his fifth over his past six games. Although he still has not hit the 300-yard mark in any game this season, what Smith has done is avoid turning the ball over. Smith has only thrown six interceptions all season, and despite having by far his most productive season as a runner, has remarkably not lost a fumble all year. Given the up-and-down nature that has been the Kansas City offense as a whole, Smith’s fantasy production has been frustrating to follow. That includes a game earlier this season when he threw for just 128 yards and no touchdowns against this very same Raiders team.

Oakland has not been good against opposing quarterbacks this season. In fact, as the 28th-ranked fantasy defense in points allowed to the position, they’ve been dreadful against them. Oakland has allowed at least one passing touchdown in every game but one. That one game, of course, came against Alex Smith and the Chiefs. Despite his lack of production the last time these teams met, however, there does appear to be a new commitment to passing the ball in Kansas City. As long as the Chiefs don’t go up by multiple touchdowns early in the day and decide to just run the clock out, there will be opportunities for Smith to get the ball to his receivers. The player who will benefit most from this, of course, is former Pro Bowl receiver Dwayne Bowe. Bowe had one of the worst starts to the season that anyone could have possibly imagined, but has really come on in recent weeks. Over his past four games, Bowe has averaged 10 fantasy points per game (standard scoring). That may not sound like a lot, and it really isn’t, but it is a huge step up from what he was doing earlier this year when he averaged fewer than 5.0 fantasy points per game over his first nine contests. There really isn’t another player in the Kansas City passing offense who is worth fantasy consideration at the moment, but for those looking for a desperation play in PPR leagues, Dexter McCluster has caught at least four passes in six of his past seven games. He was, however, held to just one catch for 10 yards when these teams played earlier in the year so use him at your own risk.

Running Game Thoughts: Jamaal Charles’ runaway season as the league’s highest-scoring fantasy running back continued this past week when he rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs’ blowout win over the Redskins. He also added another touchdown as a receiver. The damage could have conceivably been even worse if Kansas City was not up by so much as they headed into the second half, but Charles conceded a total of 14 carries two the duo of Knile Davis and Cyrus Gray, which also included a touchdown. No one should be worried about that as neither Davis nor Gray is anything other than a complete handcuff for Charles, who has been the best of all first round fantasy football picks. Charles has now caught 57 passes on the year, which puts him on pace for 70 on the year. Add that to the 1,623 total yards and 13 touchdowns that he has already scored and it’s easy to see why he is completely carrying many fantasy owners into the playoffs.

He will have another opportunity to put a smile on fantasy owners’ faces this week as he goes up against an Oakland Raiders defense that he punished to the tune of 128 total yards and two touchdowns earlier this seasons. Charles’ 24-point fantasy day was his third-best of the season; only topped by his recent performances against the Redskins and Chargers. Charles has now scored a total of five touchdowns with 437 total yards over his past three games. Meanwhile the Raiders have been struggling against the run as of late. In their past two games alone, the Raiders have allowed a total of 235 yards rushing and four touchdowns...and that’s against the Cowboys and Jets, who are not exactly known as two of the better running games in the league. Against Jamaal Charles, this team could be in serious trouble. Charles is unquestionably one of the top plays in all of fantasy football this week and should be relied upon by all fantasy owners as a rock solid RB1.

Alex Smith: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 25 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 110 rush yds, 2 TD, 30 rec yds
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Dexter McCluster: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: In what can only be described as one of the most bizarre moves by an NFL team in recent memory, the Oakland Raiders unofficially began running a “quarterback by committee” this past week. Although it was for only one drive, the Raiders turned to Terrelle Pryor this past Sunday in “relief” of quarterback Matt McGloin, who had started the game. It’s hard to know exactly how much Pryor will be utilized in the offense, but the team admitted that the temporary move to Pryor was indeed part of the gameplan. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see that role for Pryor expanded, which would in turn limit the already minimal fantasy value that McGloin does have. In his four games as the Raiders starter, McGloin has thrown six touchdown passes and only three interceptions. Pryor on the other hand, has not been nearly as efficient with the ball; throwing only five touchdowns on the year with 10 interceptions. Where Pryor makes the difference on the field is with his running. Pryor’s 508 rushing yards still lead all quarterbacks going into Week 15 despite the fact that he has missed four full games and played only partially in a couple others. With the rushing yardage included, the reality is that Pryor is the better fantasy quarterback...but he is not the better NFL quarterback at this point and that’s why he has been sitting down in favor of McGloin. With McGloin behind center, it has been wide receiver Rod Streater who has shot himself into fantasy consideration in recent weeks. Streater’s seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown a week ago were all season-highs and he is hot heading into his Week 15 game against the Chiefs.

As most know, Kansas City has has been one of the best defenses in the NFL this season. They have, however, been at least somewhat giving to opposing passing games. Aside from their Week 1 shutdown on the Jaguars, the Chiefs have allowed at least one passing touchdown in every game this season. Coincidentally, they’ve also allowed a total of nine passing touchdowns through their past three games; their worst stretch of the season. Of course, that stretch does include games against Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, two of the hottest QB’s in 2013, but hey; the numbers don’t lie, Kansas City has not been nearly as strong defensively in recent weeks. With the Chiefs struggling to slow down opposing passing games, there is an opportunity for the Raiders to make a few fantasy rosters for those in desperate situations. Receiver Denarius Moore is expected to be back this week and could add a threat of a big play for the Raiders’ struggling offense. Fellow wideout Andre Holmes has shown up with over 200 yards receiving over his past two games in relief of Moore, but don’t expect for that to continue if Moore does make his return to the lineup. Streater, on the other hand, should continue to get plenty of playing time and could become a valuable asset for fantasy owners this week who are looking for a fill-in.

Running Game Thoughts: The Reece was back, at least for one week, as 2012 Pro Bowl fullback Marcel Reece once again took over primary ball-carrying duties for the Raiders against the Jets this past Sunday. Reece made fantasy owners remember the impressive run he had a season ago when he rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown on just 19 carries, while also adding 38 yards as a receiver out of the backfield. There is a possibility that Reece will be the primary runner again in Week 15 due to Darren McFadden’s continued ankle problems, but it is looking more and more likely that Rashad Jennings will return to the lineup after passing concussion tests earlier this week. Jennings had surprised most of us with his breakout performances that included an average of 15.8 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) over a five game span from Week 9 to Week 13. While we don’t know if Jennings will ready for a full workload after his concussion, one has to believe that he will return as the team’s top runner with Reece likely playing in a complementary role.

Unfortunately that will mean that both players are very risky fantasy options, especially as they host the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the league’s better run defenses. Kansas City has held opposing running backs to fewer than 10 total fantasy points (standard scoring) in six of their 13 games this season. That includes holding Darren McFadden and the Raiders backs to just 64 rushing yards earlier this year. They also punished the Redskins a week ago, holding them to just 36 yards on the ground. There is hope to be had, as prior to their excellent performance against the Redskins, Kansas City had been struggling mightily against the run. In their previous four games, they allowed all four teams to rush for at least 100 yards; for an average of 139 yards per game. If the Raiders are going to compete in this game, they’re going to need some serious production out of whoever runs the ball. Pay close attention on Sunday morning as we hear the updates on Rashad Jennings and Darren McFadden. If McFadden is unable to go and Jennings is activated, he could be one of the sneakier RB2 plays this week. If both Jennings and McFadden sit, Reece suddenly becomes a very intriguing FLEX play.

Matt McGloin: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Terrelle Pryor: 15 pass yds, 25 rush yds
Rashad Jennings: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Marcel Reece: 20 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Rod Streater: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Denarius Moore: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Chiefs 24, Raiders 17 ^ Top

Saints @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: A week after an ugly performance in Seattle, the Drew Brees show was back on as he and the Saints completely destroyed the Panthers and one of the very best defenses in the league. Brees tossed four touchdowns, his fourth time reaching that number this season, while not throwing a single interception for the third straight game. Brees also went over 300 yards for the ninth time this year. It has become almost boring to see Brees light up the scoreboard, but if Peyton Manning wasn’t on track to break NFL records all over the place, Brees could very well be in line for his first league MVP award. The splits between Brees’ performances at home and on the road are very real, however. In his seven games at home this season, Brees has averaged 350.5 yards per game while throwing 24 touchdowns. In his six road games, however, he has thrown just 10 touchdown passes with an average of 275.5 yards per game. This makes sense as the Saints offense is certainly built to play in a climate-controlled environment.

He’ll be on the road again this week, but weather won’t be an issue as Brees and the Saints head to St. Louis to battle the Edward Jones Dome to battle the St. Louis Rams. St. Louis has the No. 12-ranked defense against opposing quarterbacks this season, including having allowed at least one touchdown pass in all but two of their games this season. They have played better in recent weeks, however, as they have allowed just a total of five passing touchdowns over their past five games combined. That is a definite improvement from what they did at the beginning of the season when they allowed 11 passing touchdowns over their first five games. Although St. Louis has done a decent job against opposing passing games, playing against Drew Brees is no easy task. He has the league’s most dominant tight end in Jimmy Graham who has completely embarrassed opposing defenses this season while leading the entire league in touchdown receptions. Marques Colston finally showed up this past week as well, when he caught nine passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns; all season highs. Don’t expect a repeat performance of Brees’ monster game a week ago, but there’s really no reason to be overly worried about this matchup. Brees and Graham remain must-starts while Colston has once again made himself a serious WR2 option.

Running Game Thoughts: With Drew Brees and the New Orleans passing game clicking at such a high level a week ago, there really wasn’t much room for or need for a running game. The three-headed-monster of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram has been quiet over the past two weeks as the Saints went up against two of the league’s best defenses in Seattle and Carolina. Thomas had been on a nice run since becoming the team’s leading dog from roughly Weeks 5 through 12, but he has only taken a total of 11 carries over the past two weeks. It’s hard to know how things might change as the Saints to back to playing a lesser-quality defense in the Rams, but it would not be surprising at all to see a roughly 33/33/33 split between the three backs. If anyone is most likely to get the lion’s share of touches, it is Thomas who can contribute both as a runner and a receiver, but there is no guarantee that he will touch the ball near the goal line; therefore his value is still limited.

There is definitely an opportunity for fantasy production out of the New Orleans backfield this week against St. Louis. The Rams have had a very tough time against opposing running backs this season, despite having a fairly good front seven on defense. Over their past five games, the Rams have allowed an average of 23 points (standard scoring) per game to opposing running backs. That includes a 96-yard rushing, two touchdown day Rashard Mendenhall, Andre Ellington and the Arizona Cardinals this past week. It hasn’t just been a recent struggle against the run, either. The Rams have allowed at least 11 fantasy points to opposing running backs in all but three of their games this season. Worse yet, they’ve allowed more than 20 points to opposing backs in seven of their 13 games. The on-paper matchup is unquestionably great for the Saints backs, but it’s going to be very tough to trust any of them after these back-to-back poor performances.

Drew Brees: 320 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Pierre Thomas: 40 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 15 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Mark Ingram: 30 rush yds
Marques Colston: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jimmy Graham: 110 rec yds, 2 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: It was a decent run for fill-in quarterback Kellen Clemens who who had scored between 11 to 15 fantasy points in four straight games, but he couldn’t keep that streak going this past Sunday as he and the Rams fell victim to a highly underrated Arizona Cardinals defense. The Cardinals held Clemens to just 181 yards and no touchdowns while intercepting him twice. Since becoming the Rams’ starter, Clemens is completing just 53-percent of his passes and his five touchdowns and five interceptions are certainly nothing special. Worse yet, top-end scoring just hasn’t been there as he has not yet hit 250 passing yards in any game. While there is some talent at wide receiver and even tight end on this roster, the lack of skill at the quarterback has kept any of them from doing much of anything from a fantasy standpoint. Tight end Jared Cook has been the only player with any level of consistency in his game and even that hasn’t been very good. The highly-skilled tight end has only topped 4.0 fantasy points (standard scoring) in three games this season despite playing in every contest. He does have four touchdowns, but he really hasn’t been of much use to fantasy owners, many of whom have given up on Cook between his weeks of fantasy production.

Things don’t get much easier for the Rams this week as they host the New Orleans Saints defense and their 5th-ranked fantasy defense against opposing quarterbacks. The Saints have done a great job at slowing down their opponents’ passing games, holding them to one or zero passing touchdowns in nine of their 13 games so far this season. Only one quarterback, Russell Wilson, has thrown for three touchdowns against the Saints this season and only three have topped the 300-yard mark. Sure, there have been here-and-there games of nice fantasy production from Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis and Chris Givens, but it has come with an incredible amount of inconsistency to the point that none of them are serious fantasy considerations. This is an ugly matchup against a surprisingly good pass defense that has held opposing QB’s to 160 or fewer yards passing in four of their past six games. Stay away from Clemens and everyone in this St. Louis passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: Zac Stacy came into his Week 14 game against the Cardinals riding an excellent hot streak. Since becoming the starting back in St. Louis, Stacy had rushed for an average of 86.5 yards per game. He had also scored a total of five touchdowns. Unfortunately he ran into a buzzsaw of a defense in Arizona, who were the top-scoring fantasy defense against opposing running backs. Stacy was held to just 25 yards rushing on the day in what was both his lowest yards-per-carry average as well as his lowest total on the year. He did, however, save the day for his fantasy owners as he snuck into the end zone for a touchdown. Stacy has now snuck into the top-20 at the running back position this season in standard scoring leagues, despite taking only one carry over the first four games of the season.

Stacy has now established himself as one of the better RB2’s in the business and will look to continue his string of excellent fantasy production as he and the Rams host the New Orleans Saints. New Orleans ranks 8th in the league in points allowed to opposing running backs this season, which does make them a tough matchup, but it’s not quite as difficult as one might think. Although they’ve only allowed 100 rushing yards in three games and only two games of over 20 fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing running backs, the Saints have actually been fairly consistent, allowing somewhere between 10 to 18 points in ten of their games this season. Stacy’s upside may be limited due to the likelihood that the Saints score and the Rams have to pass more than usual, but he is still a must-start this week and every week until he gives us reason not to put him in our fantasy lineups. He has been one of the bigger surprises in the league this season and there’s no reason not to ride the gravy train as long as you can.

Kellen Clemens: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Zac Stacy: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Tavon Austin: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Chris Givens: 25 rec yds
Jared Cook: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Saints 27, Rams 17 ^ Top

Redskins at Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Robert Griffin III has apparently thrown his last pass of the 2013 season and fantasy owners probably won’t notice a thing. He was wholly mediocre as a passer this year and though he gained nearly 500 yards on the ground, failed to score a touchdown, resulting in a season that had him at QB2 status instead of the premier fantasy signal caller many envisioned him to be. Kirk Cousins will take over this week and he and wideout Pierre Garcon are solid fantasy plays against a bad Atlanta pass defense.

The Falcons own the league’s 20th-ranked pass defense and are 27th or worse in touchdown throws given up, interceptions, sacks, yards per pass surrendered, and opponents’ completion percentage. Despite playing against rookie quarterbacks in four of their 14 games this season (and castoff Matt Flynn last week), Atlanta has yielded the ninth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. They’ve been average against wide receivers, giving up the 17th-most fantasy points in the league to players at that position but have been poor against tight ends, having allowed the eighth-most fantasy points to those players.

Running Game Thoughts: Alfred Morris has been anything but a bust this year for fantasy owners. In fact, his 1,027 rushing yards is sixth-most in the NFL. But his complete lack of presence as a receiver and modest six rushing scores has made him less of a fantasy game-changer than some of the other big-time running backs. This week however, Morris’s fantasy owners have a golden match-up against the Falcons that has the second-year back in solid RB1 territory.

Simply put, Atlanta is porous against the run. They rank 30th in the league in rush defense, 21st in rushing scores surrendered, and 28th in YPC allowed. The Falcons have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points in the league to running backs and over their last seven games have allowed four different backs to gain at least 140 rushing yards.

Kirk Cousins: 250 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Pierre Garcon: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Santana Moss: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Leonard Hankerson: 45 rec yds
Logan Paulsen: 30 rec yds
Alfred Morris: 105 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan is 12th among quarterbacks in fantasy points, but has had a mediocre season and rarely has played up to expectations. Dealing with injuries to Julio Jones and Roddy White hasn’t made things easy for Ryan, but the disappointment remains. White has turned it on in his last two games, with 18 catches for 217 yards, and for the first time this season he can be called a WR1 on Sunday. Part of that is of course the match-up, which should feature plenty of White and Tony Gonzalez beating up on Washington.

No team in the NFL is giving up more yards per pass attempt than Redskins and as you might expect, that’s led to some big passing games by their opposition. Washington is 27th in the NFL in pass defense and passing scores allowed, and 28th in completion percentage allowed. This season, they’ve surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks, the 13th-most to wideouts and the fifth-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: It took longer than Steven Jackson’s fantasy owners would have liked, but he is finally playing like the back most thought they were drafting. He’s averaging 73 rushing yards a game over his last three and has three touchdowns during that time. Jackson has a terrific match-up this weekend and should be employed in all fantasy lineups as he takes on the Redskins.

Washington is 18th in the league against the run and 15th in YPC allowed but no team has surrendered more rushing scores than they have. The Redskins have allowed more fantasy points to running backs than all but one other team this season and have allowed a single back to score multiple touchdowns four times since Week 7.

Matt Ryan: 315 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 65 rec yds
Darius Johnson: 25 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 20 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 27, Redskins 21 ^ Top

Cardinals at Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Palmer is not a QB1 this or any other week, but he’s been a serviceable fill-in for fantasy owners who needed someone for a bye. Now that byes are over, he should be left on the bench, especially with a creaky elbow. The one Cardinals player who should not be on fantasy benches is Larry Fitzgerald. He trails Michael Floyd in the team lead for receiving yards, but Fitzgerald’s 10 touchdowns rank among the league leaders, he’s scored in each of the past four weeks and if it weren’t for a tough match-up against Tennessee, could be considered a WR1 this week. As it is, consider Fitzgerald a strong WR2.

The Titans’ numbers against the pass took a hit last week after they were shredded by Peyton Manning, but that’s not exactly uncommon. Overall, Tennessee is 11th in the NFL in pass defense and despite the four touchdowns they gave up last week to Manning, have still allowed the fewest touchdown throws in the league. The Titans only struggles have come against tight ends, as they’ve allowed the 11th-most fantasy points in the NFL to players at that position. But they’ve held quarterbacks to the seventh-fewest fantasy points and have shut down wideouts, with only the Seahawks having allowed fewer fantasy points to that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Arizona hands the ball off to Rashard Mendenhall more than Andre Ellington, but Ellington remains an equally strong fantasy play due to his prowess as a receiver. Mendenhall and Ellington are virtually tied in terms of fantasy points scored this season, and fantasy owners could plug in either as their flex option this week against a pliable Titans rush defense.

Tennessee has struggled against the run this season, to put it mildly. They rank 21st in the league in rush defense, but only the Redskins have surrendered more rushing scores than they have. The Titans are have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points in the league this year and over their last nine games have allowed eight different running backs to gain 70 or more rushing yards.

Carson Palmer: 250 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Floyd: 55 rec yds
Robert Housler: 40 rec yds
Andre Roberts: 15 rec yds, 1 TD
Rashard Mendenhall: 65 rush yds, 1 TD
Andre Ellington: 45 rush yds, 1 TD, 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Titans’ passing attack is difficult to get a read on due to their inconsistency. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a capable number two quarterback in the NFL, but not exactly a playmaker or fantasy option. The team’s younger wideouts have loads of potential, as shown by Justin Hunter in two of his last three games and Kendall Wright much of the year, but they are also prone to disappearing at times. A lot of what fantasy owners should do with the Tennessee pass-catchers is dependent on match-up, and they have a bad one versus the Cardinals, with the lone exception of tight end Delanie Walker.

Arizona is 12th in the league in pass defense, and though they’re 18th in passing scores surrendered, they’re also third in interceptions, fifth in yards per pass attempt allowed, and seventh in sacks. The Cardinals have allowed the 15th-fewest fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks and the fifth-fewest to wide receivers. Tight ends are a different story, however. No team in the NFL has given up more receiving yards, touchdowns and (obviously) fantasy points to players at that position than Arizona, with four different tight ends having caught two touchdowns in a game against the Cardinals.

Running Game Thoughts: Last week, Chris Johnson scored his first rushing touchdown in three games, but since he can’t go a week without frustrating his fantasy owners, Johnson also fumbled. He’s had a decent year, ranking among the top-10 running backs in fantasy scoring, but didn’t score on a running play until November and his inconsistency can be maddening. Fantasy owners should try and look elsewhere this week if they have decent options, because Arizona’s rush defense is a beast.

The Cardinals are third in the NFL in run defense and YPC allowed, and fifth in rushing scores given up. However, no team in the league has yielded fewer rushing yards to running backs than Arizona, who has allowed 135 fewer rushing yards to backs than any other team. They’re also one of five teams who have not given up a receiving score to the back and when you add that all up you have the team that has allowed the fewest fantasy points in the league to running backs.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 240 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Delanie Walker: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Kendall Wright: 45 rec yds
Nate Washington: 40 rec yds
Justin Hunter: 35 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 45 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 20 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Cardinals 28, Titans 20 ^ Top

Texans at Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie Case Keenum was replaced by Matt Schaub last week as the Texans fell to the Jaguars, but Schaub didn’t do enough to hold onto the job and the team will stick with the rookie in their first game sans Gary Kubiak. Frankly, it shouldn’t matter which quarterback is throwing the ball, as long as they get it to Andre Johnson. He had 154 yards on 13 receptions against Jacksonville and fantasy’s number eight receiver is again a WR1 versus an Indianapolis defense that has difficulty stopping wideouts.

The Colts are 18th in the league in pass defense, 11th in passing scores ceded, and only five teams are allowing more yards per pass attempt than they are. They have allowed the 11th-most fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks, and have really struggled in the second half of the season, having allowed multiple touchdown passes in five of their last seven games. Indy may be giving up the seventh-fewest fantasy points to tight ends this year, but they’ve been burned by wide receivers and have allowed the eighth-most points to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Ben Tate had a mediocre performance last week against Jacksonville but will continue as the team’s top back, with Dennis Johnson behind him. Tate should be considered a solid RB2 this week against the Colts, who have had more than their share of troubles containing the run in 2013.

Indianapolis is 17th in fantasy points allowed to running backs this season but have gotten burned by quarterbacks running the ball as well. That’s part of the reason they rank 29th in rush defense for the year, not to mention 23rd in rushing scores ceded and 24th in YPC allowed.

Case Keenum: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Andre Johnson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Garrett Graham: 45 rec yds
DeAndre Hopkins: 40 rec yds
Keshawn Martin: 25 rec yds
Ben Tate: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Dennis Johnson: 15 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck had his best game of the season last week throwing for 326 yards and four touchdowns against the Bengals, but the team still lost. Two of those touchdowns went to undrafted rookie Da’Rick Rogers, who had success in college and performed well at the combine but was not selected due to failed drug tests that got him kicked out of Tennessee. While it’s a bit early to proclaim him a must-have for fantasy owners, he is someone that those with a need at wideout should look at because the Colts are banged up at the receiver position. However, playing Rogers or an injured T.Y. Hilton this week is a bit risky considering Houston can be a tough match-up.

The Texans may be last in the league in interceptions and 20th in passing touchdowns ceded, but they still don’t give up many yards through the air and rank second in pass defense for the season. They’re in the middle when it comes to fantasy points surrendered to tight ends, but have allowed the fifth-fewest points to quarterbacks, the fourth-fewest to wide receivers, and no team in the NFL has allowed fewer receiving yards to wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: The Colts didn’t run the ball much in the first game that saw Trent Richardson supposedly demoted behind Donald Brown. In fact, it was Richardson who led the team with six carries, during which he gained just 20 yards. He did supply 68 yards on five catches and if either he or Brown was remotely effective on the ground, fantasy owners could consider plugging them in their lineups. Yet both backs have too many deficiencies and often too few opportunities to be relevant.

Houston ranks 21st in the league against the run, 15th in rushing touchdowns yielded and 22nd in YPC allowed. They have done poorly in recent weeks, giving up 103 yards last week to Maurice Jones-Drew two weeks after allowing him to gain 160 total yards and three weeks after surrendering 150 rushing yards to Rashad Jennings. The Texans have allowed the 14th-most fantasy points in the league to running backs and are trending down as they play out the string.

Andrew Luck: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
T.Y. Hilton: 55 rec yds
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 30 rec yds
Da’Rick Rogers: 25 rec yds
Donald Brown: 35 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 30 rush yds, 30 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 24, Texans 17 ^ Top

Bills at Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie EJ Manuel is coming off his worst game as a pro after being intercepted four times without throwing a touchdown and accumulating less than 200 passing yards in a loss to Tampa last week. To be fair, he has nobody on the outside worth much discussion, with the occasional exception of Stevie Johnson, who has probably spent most of this season on the benches of fantasy owners and should only come off it this week in leagues that use three wide receivers (and that’s only because the Bills are facing the Jaguars).

Among the pass defense statistics that Jacksonville ranks 24th or worse in are – total pass defense, touchdowns allowed, sacks, interceptions, and opponents’ completion percentage. They’ve been a bit better in winning five of their last six games, but still allowed 370 yards and three touchdowns to Brandon Weeden and 419 yards and two scores to Carson Palmer. Only two squads have surrendered more fantasy points to quarterbacks this season than the Jags, who have also given up the 11th-most fantasy points to wide receivers and the second-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: C.J. Spiller’s rushing totals from the past three games look like this: 6, 149, 22. It’s confounding that a player with so much obvious talent gets shut down like that but the numbers are what they are, and his fantasy owners are the ones paying the price. However, Spiller and Fred Jackson’s match-up this week is one in which fantasy owners are left with no choice but to put both backs in their lineups considering how bad Jacksonville has been against the run this year.

The Jaguars rank 27th in the NFL against the run, 29th in rushing touchdowns given up, and 20th in YPC allowed. Predictably, this means fantasy points aplenty for their opposition and the team has allowed the 11th-most fantasy points in the league to running backs despite some solid performances as they started to win some games.

EJ Manuel: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Steve Johnson: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Robert Woods: 40 rec yds
T.J. Graham: 30 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 25 rec yds
Marquise Goodwin: 20 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 115 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 45 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: There are 25 quarterbacks ahead of Chad Henne in fantasy points score this season. At wide receiver, you have to go through 34 players before reaching a member of the Jaguars. And as for tight ends, there are 40 different names to read before getting to a Jacksonville player. Needless to say, there is little fantasy value in any of these players except Cecil Shorts, who is nursing a groin injury but otherwise a fantasy starter against Buffalo due to their troubles against the wide receiver position.

The good news concerning the Bills’ pass defense is that only five teams have allowed fewer passing yards than they have. The bad news is that only two teams have allowed more touchdown throws. However, Buffalo is also second in the league in interceptions, and when you add it all up you have a team that has yielded the 13th-fewest fantasy points in the NFL to quarterbacks. They’ve held tight ends to the fewest receiving yards and eighth-fewest fantasy points in the league, but have been burned by wide receivers. The Bills are tied for most touchdown catches surrendered to wideouts and only the Eagles have allowed more fantasy points to receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: There are many fantasy owners who thought Maurice Jones-Drew was finished as a legitimate option for fantasy lineups but he’s proven most of us wrong as the season winds down. He ran for 103 yards last week against Houston, has at least 75 yards in each of his last three games, and has crept into the top-20 fantasy scorers at his position. Fantasy owners shouldn’t love MJD this week against the Bills, but he (or Jordan Todman) is a RB2 option against a team that allows plenty of yards on the ground.

Buffalo’s run defense is statistically opposite than their pass defense in the sense that they give up lots of yards (ranking 26th in the league in run defense), but not many touchdowns (ninth in rushing scores allowed). It’s an odd contrast and the reasons why can be guessed at, but the fact remains they are allowing the 13th-fewest fantasy points to running backs on the year.

Chad Henne: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Cecil Shorts: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Ace Sanders: 50 rec yds
Mike Brown: 35 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 25 rec yds
Clay Harbor: 15 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Bills 21, Jaguars 20 ^ Top

49ers at Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Colin Kaepernick has not lit it up since getting Michael Crabtree back a couple of weeks ago, but that was to be expected. The duo, which was so good last season, will need some time to get re-acclimated to one another after Crabtree’s long absence this year. That puts a dent in both players’ fantasy value but there are no 49ers involved in the team’s passing attack who should be weekly starters anyway except for tight end Vernon Davis.

Tampa leads the NFL with 21 interceptions this season but ranks in the bottom half of the league in almost all other significant pass defense statistics. Though only one quarterback has thrown for at least 300 yards when facing the Bucs, they’ve also held just one to fewer than 215 yards and that came last week against rookie EJ Manuel. Tampa has surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks and the 12th-fewest to tight ends, but is in the middle when it comes to wideouts, though they have allowed five different receivers to gain 115 or more yards against them.

Running Game Thoughts: Frank Gore ran for 110 yards on 17 carries last week against the Seahawks but 51 of those yards came on one run, so he was otherwise as mediocre as he has been the past few weeks. Gore is in the top-10 in fantasy scoring among running backs, but also has as many fumbles as he does touchdowns since the start of November and has a difficult match-up this week with Tampa that slides him into the category of a RB2.

No team in the league has allowed fewer rushing scores to running backs than the Bucs, who have given up just two all season. Overall, they rank sixth in total rushing touchdowns allowed, ninth in run defense and 13th in YPC allowed. Tampa has surrendered the seventh-fewest fantasy points to running backs this year, but the 12th-most receiving yards to players at that position.

Colin Kaepernick: 205 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Vernon Davis: 70 rec yds, 2 TD
Michael Crabtree: 50 rec yds
Mario Manningham: 35 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 30 rec yds
Frank Gore: 55 rush yds, 1 TD
Kendall Hunter: 20 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Mike Glennon completed only nine passes for 90 yards and had two interceptions last week, but his team still won by 21 points. He did throw a pair of touchdowns as Tampa’s defense dominated Buffalo, but it was one of the uglier games of Glennon’s career. Thankfully, it didn’t hurt wideout Vincent Jackson, who caught a touchdown to go with 70 receiving yards and remains a fantasy starter no matter who the opponent.

The 49ers had some struggles at the beginning of the season when it came to playing the pass, but that seems to be ancient history now. Overall, they are among the top-five teams in the league in pass defense, passing scores given up, opponents’ completion percentage, and yards per pass attempt allowed. They are tied with Carolina for second-fewest fantasy points ceded to quarterbacks, have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to tight ends and the seventh-fewest to wide receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: Bobby Rainey has had his ups and downs since taking over as the Bucs’ lead running back, but his game last week against Buffalo was definitely an up, as the Western Kentucky product rumbled for 127 yards and one score, though 80 of those yards came on one run. Rainey should be in fantasy lineups once again this week though fantasy owners would be best served using him as a flex play against the 49ers.

San Francisco has been a solid, but not dominant, run defense this season. They rank 10th in the NFL against the run, 10th in YPC allowed, but 15th in rushing scores surrendered. The 49ers have given up the 12th-fewest fantasy points in the league to running backs with no back gaining more than 75 yards against them since Week 5.

Mike Glennon: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Vincent Jackson: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Tim Wright: 50 rec yds
Tiquan Underwood: 35 rec yds
Chris Owusu: 25 rec yds
Bobby Rainey: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Brian Leonard: 15 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: 49ers 24, Buccaneers 14 ^ Top

Jets at Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jets have a very limited passing attack and there isn’t a single player involved in their passing game that should be utilized for fantasy purposes. Geno Smith threw a touchdown last week for the first time since October 20 while also breaking a four-game string of games with fewer than 10 completions. The receivers and tight ends Smith throws to are anything but special, and their match-up with Carolina should exclude each from fantasy consideration.

The Panthers are ranked fifth in the league or better in pass defense, passing touchdowns allowed, sacks, and interceptions. The four touchdown passes Drew Brees threw against them last week marked the first time this season any quarterback had thrown more than a single score against them and Carolina is tied for second-fewest fantasy points surrendered to quarterbacks. They’ve also given up the sixth-fewest fantasy points to wide receivers and the 11th-fewest to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: It may be a stretch to consider Chris Ivory as a RB1 or even RB2 against the Panthers, but as a flex play there are worse options. Ivory has gained 75 or more yards in each of the last three games in which he’s had at least 15 rushes while also scoring in each of those contests. The Panthers are a difficult match-up but Ivory should be able to make something happen.

Carolina leads the NFL rush defense and rushing scores yielded, and are fourth in YPC allowed. Just two teams have surrendered fewer fantasy points to running backs than the Panthers, who’ve had just one problem defending running backs – defending them as receivers. Backs have gained 573 receiving yards against Carolina, which is eighth-most in the league.

Geno Smith: 180 pass yds, 2 INT
Santonio Holmes: 55 rec yds
Jeremy Kerley: 50 rec yds
Kellen Winslow: 35 rec yds
David Nelson: 20 rec yds
Chris Ivory: 45 rush yds, 1 TD
Bilal Powell: 25 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton continues to underwhelm as a passer this season, but remains a must-start for fantasy owners due to his rushing totals. His receiving options aren’t exactly dynamic, but can be fantasy-relevant if the match-up presents itself, and this week it does. The Jets struggle to make plays when tasked with defending the pass so fantasy owners would do well to consider Greg Olsen and Steve Smith if they have a need.

At one point this season, the Jets were thought to be a quality pass defense. Not so much anymore. They are 24th in the NFL against the pass, 23rd in touchdown throws allowed, and 27th in interceptions. New York has surrendered the 13th-most fantasy points in the league to quarterbacks, the eighth-most to tight ends, and the seventh-most to wide receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: Jonathan Stewart is injured yet again, meaning Carolina’s running game is back to a three-headed monster instead of a four-headed beast. DeAngelo Williams will get most of the carries, with Newton and Mike Tolbert also involved but this isn’t the week for fantasy owners to use either Carolina back, not against a Jets run defense that has been mostly dominant this season.

Until last week, no running back in the NFL had gained 100 yards against the Jets this year. In fact, no back had even managed to break the 75-yard mark against them. Then out of nowhere Oakland’s Marcel Reece, a fullback who was only seeing time at running back due to injuries, scampered for 123 yards and a score. It doesn’t dampen the season the Jets have had against the run, however. They rank second in the league in run defense, sixth in rushing scores allowed and are holding opponents to the lowest YPC average in all of football. Accordingly, they are allowing the second-fewest fantasy points in the league to running backs.

Cam Newton: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 30 rush yds
Greg Olsen: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 45 rec yds
Ted Ginn, Jr.: 25 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 45 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Panthers 20, Jets 10 ^ Top

Eagles @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While Nick Foles threw his first interception of the season last week, the game overall can basically be ignored because of the fluky weather conditions. This week Foles and the Eagles have one of the juiciest matchups in the NFL as they face the Vikings. The Vikings have let up the second most fantasy points to opposing QBs, the fifth most to opposing WR’s, and the third most to TEs. They rank 30th in pass yards allowed and dead last in passing touchdowns allowed. They are below average in sacks and interceptions and allow the eighth-highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. On top of all this, the Vikings will be without their best cornerback this week, rookie Xavier Rhodes, who has a high ankle sprain. Rhodes, while nowhere near elite, was the only Vikings defensive back to grade out positively this year and was actually shutting down Torrey Smith last week before he got hurt. With the dome in Minnesota protecting the game from any weather, this is about as good as it gets for the Eagles. The only thing I can see limiting this unit in fantasy points is if they get such a big early lead that they play conservative, running the clock out on offense in the second half. In this scenario there would still be plenty of points to be had, but the limit would probably be capped with the run game getting a boost. Nick Foles is a top five option at QB this week and easily a QB1. The matchup is nearly perfect, his offensive weapons are healthy, and since he has taken over as starter, Foles has been one of the more efficient and effective quarterbacks in the whole NFL.

As for his receivers, DeSean Jackson leads the list of fantasy potential this week once again. Jackson has been up and down overall with his production this year, and while he does not get a ton of receptions like other true No. 1 wide receivers, he has as much or more explosive ability and upside as any wide receiver in the league short of Calvin Johnson. On the fast track in dome conditions all Jackson needs is a couple of deep balls thrown his way to make his fantasy owners happy. Expect low-end WR1 numbers from him this week. Starting opposite of Jackson is Riley Cooper, who has also been inconsistent but seems to have better chemistry with Foles than he did with Vick. With Foles under center Cooper has been seeing around seven targets per game compared to around five with Vick. Cooper is certainly capable of disappearing from games, but he can also explode, as seen in back-to-back games against Oakland and Green Bay, where he totaled 241 yards and five touchdowns. To me Cooper is a high-end, boom-or-bust WR3 this week who could get you three points or 30 depending on the Eagles' game plan. If you are in a tough playoff matchup against someone who is favored by a good amount Cooper may be a perfect play because of his upside. If you are the one favored, you may want to play it safer with a wide receiver who consistently gets five-plus catches per week. The only other Eagles passing unit position worth mentioning is tight end, where Brent Celek and Zach Ertz continue to share snaps and targets. Celek at this point is the better blocker so he will continue to see more snaps, but Ertz has better pass-catching ability so he probably has the better upside. Overall, I would avoid the Eagles tight end position as a fantasy play unless you really had worse options. In that case I would lean slightly towards Celek simply because he seems to be involved in more plays. Still, he is a low-end TE2, even in a great matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: As good as the matchup is this week for the Eagles passing game, it may be even better for LeSean McCoy and the run game. Not only is McCoy one of fantasy’s most valuable players this year, and not only is he one of the hottest players, coming off a 217-yard, two-touchdown performance last week, but this matchup is among the top three or four for any fantasy RB this week. The Vikings defense is currently ranked 22nd in rush yards allowed and have given up the sixth most fantasy points to opposing fantasy RBs. What’s more, the Vikings have given up the second most receptions and receiving yards to opposing running backs this season. McCoy is among the top 12 backs in both receptions and receiving yards this year, and while he has just one receiving touchdown thus far, the Vikings have given up three to opposing backs, which is more than the league average.

Obviously nobody is going to bench McCoy this week, as even in a tough matchup he is on fire and a focal point of an offense capable of keeping up with almost anyone. The bonus this week is that there is a solid chance the Eagles get a good lead on the Vikings and turn to run mode for most of the second half. In this scenario McCoy, as one of the most used running backs in the league, is likely to see 25-plus touches easily. He is an easy RB1 this week and a top five play at the position. As good as the matchup is, and although he might get a few more touches than normal, backup running back Bryce Brown is still just a handcuff for fantasy owners, as McCoy rarely comes off the field in any situation.

Nick Foles: 290 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
LeSean McCoy: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
DeSean Jackson: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Riley Cooper: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Brent Celek: 45 rec yds
Zach Ertz: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Things could go from bad to worse this week for the Vikings, who lost a heart-breaker to the Ravens last week in the final seconds of the game. As of this writing, we do not know the status of Adrian Peterson, but it sounds like he will miss this week’s game, making the one solid thing that defenses fear, gone. If this is the case, the Vikings passing attack will certainly be asked to shoulder the burden, especially because the Eagles offense will almost certainly put some big points on the scoreboard, forcing a possible catch-up situation for the Vikings. Now, the bad news for the Vikings passing attack is that they are still one of the least talented units in the NFL. With a below-average quarterback in Matt Cassel, a pair of over-the-hill veterans in Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson, a raw and underutilized rookie in Cordarrelle Patterson, and a second-string tight end (Carlson), who may even miss this game with a concussion. The good news for the Vikings, and mostly for some fantasy owners, is that the matchup is above average this week and there may be lots of garbage time yards to be had, which count a lot more for fantasy purposes than they do in the NFL itself. The Eagles pass defense, although much improved over the past few weeks, still has given up the second most yards in the league. They have given up the seventh most fantasy points to opposing QBs and the most to opposing WRs. On their home field, in a dome, the Vikings should at least be able to rack up some nice yardage through the air, as they will almost certainly be forced to throw 35 or more times this week. If Peterson and possibly even backup Toby Gerhart are out, it would not be surprising to see the Vikings abandon the run completely and throw 50-plus times.

While Cassel is a sneaky bet to pass for 300-plus yards, touchdowns may be hard to come by and interceptions, fumbles, and sacks may be plentiful. Because of the volume of throws he will make, Cassel is on the fantasy radar this week, but only as a low-end QB2 in that 18-22 range. If you are in your league's playoffs this week, chances are you have a safer option to go with, so stick with what ya got. As for the receivers, there is some upside as the Vikings look to go pass-happy. Greg Jennings has played much better with Cassel than with Ponder or Freeman, and while he has little big-play upside left, he is a pretty safe bet for five catches and 50 yards, so you could certainly do worse this week for a mid-level WR3. Cordarrelle Patterson had a breakout game last week (5/141/1) and as the most naturally talented receiver the Vikings have, he may be given a season-high workload this week, as the Vikings have nothing to lose and need to evaluate their prized rookie and get him some much needed experience after holding him back most of the year. There is some risk in starting Patterson, as his snap count has been conservative, but his playmaking ability is obvious, and in a good matchup like this he has the potential to be a solid WR2. For safety’s sake, however, treat Patterson as a mid-level WR3 with great upside but some calculated risk The Eagles have surprisingly let up the fewest points to opposing tight ends, so even if Carlson plays, he is a low-end TE2 at best. Better to just stick to Jennings and perhaps Patterson in this unit this week.

Running Game Thoughts: There is little to say about this matchup from a fantasy perspective. We all know that if somehow Adrian Peterson is cleared to play he is a must-start as a low-end RB1, unless your team somehow has two other stud RBs in good matchups. The most likely scenario, however, is that Peterson sits and the Vikings go with some combination of Toby Gerhart and third-stringer Matt Asiata. In a dream matchup maybe one of those two would be a startable player for fantasy purposes, but this is not such a matchup. The Eagles defense, which has improved the past few weeks, is quite stronger against the run than the pass. They currently rank 15th against the run (31st against the pass) and have caused more running back fumbles than any team in the league, by a considerable amount. While a handful of opposing backs have had decent games against them this year, they have allowed just one 100-yard rusher and no running back has scored more than one touchdown against them in any single game. With the Eagles likely to be ahead in this game, possibly by a significant margin, the Vikings are likely to go pass-heavy to catch up, especially with the lack of game-changing talent in the backfield. Unless Peterson guts it out in this one, the Vikings backfield is one to totally avoid this week, as whoever starts is no more than a RB4, and a risky one at that.

Matt Cassel: 315 pass yds, 2 TDs, 3 INTs
Greg Jennings: 85 rec yds
Cordarrelle Patterson: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 45 rec yds
Toby Gerhart: 35 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Eagles 34, Vikings 24 ^ Top

Bears @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: As of this writing the Bears have yet to decide whether Jay Cutler or Josh McCown will start this week against the Browns, but Cutler is expected to be the choice after several votes of confidence from team officials. The truth is, unless you own just one or the other, the decision is not that big of a deal from a fantasy perspective, as McCown has played well in Cutler’s absence and both are good enough to retain the value of the rest of the Bears skill players. The issue this week is based more on the matchup, where the Bears travel to Cleveland to face a Browns defense that is still very good but much more vulnerable the past few weeks. The Browns season has been a rollercoaster ride, as they started out seemingly as a run-first team that would be in grind-it-out, low-scoring games. The Browns now are a pass-first team who have been involved in several shootouts, including last week, where the Patriots came from behind to beat them 27–26. Whether it is the faster pace of the game that is wearing them out, or injuries, or perhaps offenses just figuring them out, the Browns defense has slipped since the first five weeks when they were dominant. In the first part of the season, the Browns gave up only two passing touchdowns. The following five weeks they gave up 14. Of course opponent must be factored in to this equation, but there is no doubt that a meeting with the Browns is not as scary as it was earlier in the season, especially if the offense they are facing is above average, which the Bears' is.

The problem the Browns will face, and the advantage the Bears have, is that Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are both basically No. 1 wide receivers. Most teams have one legit guy, and that guy is almost always shadowed by the Browns elite cornerback, Joe Haden. While Haden has been beat a few times this year, he remains supremely talented and allows the safeties to give help to other parts of the field. As good as Haden is, Marshall and Jeffery are both big, strong guys who will certainly wear down even the toughest competition. In this matchup there will not be enough help to go around, especially with running back Matt Forte catching balls out of the backfield and tight end Martellus Bennett roaming the middle. With the defense being spread so thin, somebody is going to explode while facing single coverage. Who this person is remains a mystery, although Marshall is probably most likely to see Haden’s coverage. With the Bears having so many weapons and being on fire lately, this game could easily turn into a shootout, especially since even the average Browns offense should be able to keep pace against the awful Bears defense. In this likely scenario, all the Bears' main passing game players should be above-average fantasy plays this week.

While Jay Cutler may be rusty coming back, he is more talented than McCown and was quietly having a nice season before his injury. I would rank him somewhere in the12–15 range of QB plays this week. That makes him a high-end QB2, thanks in large part to the weapons he has and the fact that they may end up in a shootout. As for the receivers, I assume Marshall will see most of Haden’s coverage, so his upside is capped a bit. But other good receivers have burned Haden this year, and Marshall is too good to be shut down, especially with Jeffery attracting attention as well. Marshall is a low-end WR1 this week, somewhere in that 8–12 range. Jeffery has been one of the three or four best WRs the past few weeks and McCown especially loves him. With Haden likely on Marshall, I think Jeffery is at least as valuable as Marshall this week, regardless of who his quarterback is, making Jeffery another low-end WR1 option. Finally, the only other legit member of this unit (outside of Forte) is Bennett, and while his upside is certainly capped by being the third or fourth option in the passing game, he is a solid red zone threat and has little chance of being totally shut out, unlike a lot of other TEs this season. Consider Bennett a high-end TE2 against a Browns defense that has allowed some nice fantasy games to opposing TEs this year.

Running Game Thoughts: The matchup was great last week and Matt Forte did not fail to take advantage of it, totaling 175 total yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys. Forte remains a must start-fantasy RB even in tougher matchups as a do-everything, workhorse back who is one of the focal points of this high-powered offense. This week the Bears face a much tougher defense in the Browns, who currently rank fourth in rush yards allowed, although they have given up 10 rushing touchdowns, making them not as scary to face for fantasy purposes. The Browns have shut down a few opposing running backs this season but have also allowed some nice fantasy games to guys like Fred Jackson, Reggie Bush, Eddie Lacy, and Shane Vereen (last week). While some of these backs got it done at the goal line and others got it done with receptions, it is a good sign for Forte owners because he is rarely taken out of the game despite the situation. The other thing Forte has going for him is that he is teammates with two receivers who are playing as well as anyone in the NFL right now. With those two giving defenses fits in the medium to deep range, there is no way the Browns stack the box and let them have a free run downfield. Forte will most likely face six and seven guys pretty consistently, which not only allows for a lot of run room but sets up some nice opportunities for screen passes. While the matchup this week is not as juicy as it was for Forte last week, there is also no way he comes close to being shut out either. Look at Forte as a low-end RB1 who is guaranteed to get you solid points even if his upside is capped in a below-average matchup. Even though Michael Bush had more touches than normal last week and did some good things, he is firmly off the fantasy radar this week, even in deep leagues.

Jay Cutler: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Matt Forte: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 35 rec yds
Brandon Marshall: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Martellus Bennett: 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: From a team perspective the Browns' result last week was heart-breaking, as they lost in the final two minutes to the Patriots. From a fantasy perspective it was a huge performance in the passing game, as Jason Campbell threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns (with no interception), while wide receiver Josh Gordon continued to dominate (7/151/1), and tight end Jordan Cameron came back to life in a big way (9/121/1). Campbell has now proved himself to be a viable fantasy option in most decent matchups, while Gordon has re-emphasized the fact that he is now certified matchup-proof. While the Browns' extremely limited run game and lack of complimentary receivers will continue to limit the offense’s upside and rate of success, we now have three relevant fantasy players to monitor each week.

This week the matchup is decent, perhaps about what it was last week from a fantasy perspective. The Bears have allowed the 10th fewest passing yards per game, and other than being above average at interceptions, and pretty far below average at sacks, nothing stands out as particularly good or bad. The Browns have taken the second most sacks on the year, so the lack of pressure that the Bears put on opposing passers is definitely a plus, and a good sign for Josh Gordon having the time to get open deep. From a fantasy points perspective, the Bears have been pretty stingy to both QBs and WRs, ranking in the bottom half (allowing fewer points) of the league against both positions. On the bright side, they have allowed some big games to both positions, and with two stud receivers and a pass-heavy attack, the Browns have a good shot to make a significant impact through the air. While I do not expect Jason Campbell to come close to last week’s numbers, there is certainly opportunity here, as he is good at getting his best weapons the ball and letting them do the hard work. Campbell is not a top 12 option this week but is not very far behind that mark, making him a startable player in larger leagues and two QB leagues. Gordon is on an absolute tear right now and, other than maybe Calvin Johnson, is probably the best fantasy WR to own right now. While one would think teams would do everything to slow him down, this is now five of the past six weeks that he’s had monster games, so the Browns are obviously adjusting to whatever defenses are doing. Gordon is a top five option at WR once again this week. As for Cameron, he had a slow point through most of the middle of the season but blew up last week and the Bears have given up the ninth most points to opposing fantasy TEs, so Cameron is clearly a TE1, even if he is not reliable as he was earlier in the year. No other Browns passing game player is relevant this week, as Gordon and Cameron hog about half the targets and the rest get spread so thin that nobody else comes close to being consistent or explosive.

Running Game Thoughts: When you are facing one of the worst run defenses in the NFL and your leading rusher is a wide receiver who got just one carry, you know the state of your run game is pretty awful. The Browns faced off with the Patriots last week and their offense kept pace with the Pats, but it was certainly not due to their run game, which totaled 108 yards, 61 of which came on three carries, one from wide receiver Josh Gordon (34 yds) and two from quarterback Jason Campbell (27 yds). The Browns' running backs totaled just 47 yards on 22 carries (2.13 ypc). This was despite Cleveland having the lead for almost the whole game, and the Patriots being among the bottom five in rush yards allowed per game. This week the matchup is similar, as the Bears rank in the bottom three defenses in rush yards allowed per game, rush yards allowed per carry, and rushing touchdowns allowed. From a fantasy perspective, this is normally a dream matchup if you own a RB going against the Bears, even if that RB is normally just average. In this case, however, this is just one of a few teams where the matchup does not really matter because the talent and usage is so low in the Browns backfield that no RB is worth owning, much less starting.

In extreme deep PPR leagues, maybe Chris Ogbonnaya is worth rostering. And, sure, Willis McGahee is technically averaging just under 13 touches per game, a respectable amount, but he has topped 50 total yards just two times this year and has just two touchdowns, despite touching the ball over 140 total times. In addition, McGahee suffered a concussion last week and is questionable this week. If you are still alive at this point in the year and your playoffs are here, you simply have to have better options at RB and flex and shouldn't be trusting a Browns RB at this point. McGahee, if he plays, is a low-end RB3 despite the juicy matchup and should really be avoided in almost every league. If McGahee starts, Ogbonnaya is nothing more than a deep PPR league RB3. If Ogbonnaya is the starter, he is a desperation RB3 in standard leagues and perhaps a high-end RB3 in PPR leagues. Overall, this is a probably a wasted opportunity in a great matchup; look elsewhere.

Jason Campbell: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Josh Gordon: 115 rec yds, 1 TD
Jordan Cameron: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Chris Ogbonnaya: 45 rush yds, 35 rec yds
Willis McGahee: 45 rush yds

Prediction: Bears 30, Browns 24 ^ Top

Bengals @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bengals have a stud wide receiver in A.J. Green, some nice complimentary receivers in Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones, and a great pass-catching running back in Giovani Bernard. Despite these weapons, Andy Dalton remains one of the more hot-and-cold QBs in the fantasy world, blowing up one week then almost totally disappearing the next. The frustrating thing with Dalton is that the matchup does not dictate his performance much, as he has had great games against tough passing defenses and bad games against weak competition. His home game stats have been better than his away games, specifically his touchdown to interception ratio at home (14:5) against away (11:11). In a hostile environment against a Steelers pass defense that has given up the seventh fewest yards through the air, Dalton will most likely not have one of his blow-up games. The Steelers do not pick off a lot of passes nor do they register a ton of sacks, but they are efficient in their pass defense, allowing just 17 touchdowns (seventh-fewest in the NFL) and 222 pass yards per game. Consequently, the Steelers are the eighth toughest defense in terms of allowing fantasy points to opposing QBs and the 12th toughest to opposing WRs. When these two teams met back in Week 2 the Bengals got the win and Dalton had a decent but not great fantasy day, throwing for 280 yards but with only one touchdown (and no interceptions).

Not a whole lot has changed with the Bengals passing game, nor the Steelers passing defense, since that game. But we have a better idea where each unit stands and which players are and are not consistent. I am not a big believer in Dalton as a solid fantasy option playing on the road this week. He has the weapons to have some strong upside, but he has a reputation for a late-season drop-off and has been up and down the past few weeks. Because of his upside Dalton is still a startable QB, but this week he is not a top 15 option, more in that 18–20 range of fantasy quarterbacks. A.J. Green totaled only 41 yards in Week 2 against the Steelers but he is simply too talented to be held in check like that twice in one season by the same team, especially with cornerback Ike Taylor being burned consistently this year. Green has a tiny bit of risk this week because of Dalton, but he should still be a quality low-end WR1. While the Bengals tight ends and both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu have all had big games this year, Dalton spreads the ball around a ton, and if you include running back Giovani Bernard, there are easily six guys that get consistent targets each week. The problem with that is that the distribution of targets varies greatly from week to week, making all the other “complimentary” receivers to A.J. Green unreliable from a fantasy perspective. Gresham and Eifert both have nice potential as solid TE2s, but your guess is as good as mine as to which will step up this week. Sanu and Jones remain high-risk, medium-high reward WR4s.

Running Game Thoughts: If nothing else, the Bengals run game, at least from a fantasy perspective, has been fairly predictable this year. BenJarvus Green-Ellis continues to get about 15 touches per game with no contribution in the passing game but averages about a touchdown every other game. Those numbers alone do not sound all that bad; however, with those 15 touches BJGE is averaging only about 50 yards per game. Unless he gets a touchdown that week, “The Lawfirm” is basically a low-end flex option at best. On the other hand, rookie Giovani Bernard is also getting around 15 touches per game but a large percentage of those come as catches out of the backfield. Bernard is also averaging about a touchdown every other game but his total yardage per game is about 25 more than Green-Ellis’s. Bernard has certainly had a few dud games this year, but because of his passing game involvement and big-play ability, he clearly has more upside, making him the more attractive fantasy option.

This week the Steelers defense is actually a decent matchup for the backfield mates, as they have allowed the 13th most fantasy points to opposing RBs and have also given up the ninth most rushing yards. The Steelers are giving up one rushing touchdown a week, so the odds are pretty good that at least one of these backs will score this week. While I am certainly higher on Bernard as a fantasy player, there is one troubling stat that goes against him this week. The Steelers have allowed the second fewest receptions to opposing running backs this year and the fifth lowest reception yardage to those backs as well. Whether this is a fluke or part of the Pittsburgh game plan is tough to know for sure, but it is certainly something to take note of and perhaps drop Bernard a tad on the RB rankings this week. Overall, however, Bernard has the most upside of and only needs a few touches to make a significant impact. In a division rivalry game that should be close the whole way through, against a defense that is weaker against the run than the pass, and in conditions that might favor the run, Bernard is a solid low-end RB2. As for Green-Ellis, he will likely get 15-plus touches once again, making him a playable RB, but his upside is obviously limited, making him once again a low- to mid-range RB3/flex guy.

Andy Dalton: 235 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Giovani Bernard: 70 rush yds, 35 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 55 rush yds
Tyler Eifert: 40 rec yds
Jermaine Gresham: 40 rec yds
Marvin Jones: 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The first time these two teams met this year Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense was very much a work in progress. Ben was without one of his favorite targets in Heath Miller, Antonio Brown had yet to assert himself as a true No. 1 wide receiver, and the run game was without its most talented runner in Le’Veon Bell. In that game Big Ben threw for 251 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Not a terrible game but not good for fantasy purposes either. The Bengals defense at that time was fully healthy and fairly dominant but have since lost perhaps their best two players in defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall. In the time since that Week 2 game the Steelers offense has been getting better and better while the Bengals defense has been good, but not dominant like they were to start the year. This week the Bengals will be without another defensive starter, cornerback Terrance Newman, who sprained his MCL last week. While Newman is not a big difference maker, he was a starter on a team that was already lacking defensive back depth, so his loss is an upgrade for the Steelers passing attack.

Fantasy-wise these opposing units are coming off opposite results. The Bengals pass defense just let up 326 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions while the Steelers just threw for 349 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. While these extreme numbers are unlikely to repeat this week, because it is such a division rivalry, owners of Steelers offensive players at least have some solid hope that there will be plenty of fantasy points to be had in this matchup. While I expect Roethlisberger to take some sacks, complete a lower percentage of passes than normal (the Bengals are seventh in completion percentage allowed), and be held in check on the long ball (the Bengals are third in yards per attempt allowed), the Steelers are a pass-heavy team and, thus, Big Ben should throw it 30-plus times easily and rack up some nice yardage numbers. His upside is limited by the matchup but he is on a tear right now and has the weapons to be a solid mid-range QB2 this week. Antonio Brown has torched both good and bad cornerbacks all year, and really the only team he has had trouble against is the Ravens. Without a shut-down corner on the Bengals' active roster, there is little reason to believe Brown will be slowed this week. He continues to be a solid WR1 and a PPR monster. Emmanuel Sanders has had a touchdown in three straight games now and is getting a ton of targets. The only issue with him is that he is not getting enough consistent yards to make him trustworthy as anything more than a low-end WR3, so that is what he needs to be looked at again this week. Jerricho Cotchery continues to defy the odds and catch touchdown after touchdown, now with nine on the year. Cotchery, however, is even riskier than Sanders, as he is not getting as many targets and the Steelers may want to start evaluating some younger guys in his place. Look at Cotchery as a boom-or-bust WR4 this week. Finally, Heath Miller has generally disappointed this year, but with the TE position being so thin he continues to be in the discussion at that 10–15 range at the position, so he is still a startable player.

Running Game Thoughts: For Le’Veon Bell owners there has to be a certain confidence now that comes with owning him. Bell has at least 20 total touches in six straight games and there is simply no competition in the Steelers backfield, as Bell is one of a handful of running backs in the NFL that can be counted on to play nearly every offensive snap. At the same time, Bell owners are often left wanting more, as he has yet to break 100 yards rushing and is on a pass-first team that is rarely ahead enough to run the clock out. In a great matchup Bell is a borderline RB1 at this point as a workhorse back, but this week he must be downgraded a little because the Bengals are so tough on defense. Currently, the Bengals are among the top five rushing defenses in the league. They give up fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground and have allowed just four rushing touchdowns all year, second fewest in the league. Consequently, the Bengals are the fourth toughest defense for opposing fantasy backs to score against this year, and they are hot, not allowing an opposing running back to score a rushing touchdown in 10 straight games.

While I expect this division rivalry game to be hard-fought and close, and Bell has been getting a ton of work lately, he simply is not explosive enough to be trusted as an RB1 in this tough matchup. Bell should get at least18 total touches again, and that alone makes him a solid RB2 option, and although his yards per carry average may not be that impressive this week, he should rack up enough total yards to make him a top 20 option at RB once again. Start Bell with confidence as an RB2 that should continue to see a lot of touches.

Ben Roethlisberger: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Le’Veon Bell: 70 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Antonio Brown: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Emmanuel Sanders: 70 rec yds
Jerricho Cotchery: 35 rec yds
Heath Miller: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 30, Steelers 28 ^ Top

Ravens @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: It might not have been the most pretty thing ever, but the Ravens' come-from-behind win against the Vikings may have been just what this team needed to get some momentum going for the last few weeks of the season. Even with star wide receiver Torrey Smith being held in check (1 catch 11 yards), Joe Flacco was able to throw for 245 yards and three touchdowns, thanks in large part to the return of tight end Dennis Pitta. With another legitimate weapon in the passing game, this passing offense is one to watch the next few weeks, especially when the matchup is right, like it is this weekend. The Lions pass defense ranks in the bottom third of the NFL this year, and that factors in a laughable performance by Matt Flynn two weeks ago and an extreme weather game against the Eagles last week. In other words, this defense is probably even worse right now than they look on paper, which is not great to begin with. While the Lions defense has picked off a fair amount of passes, they produce little pressure on opposing quarterbacks and are near the bottom of the league in sacks. For the Ravens, who have not been strong on the offensive line this season, this is a big deal because Flacco has excellent downfield options and with enough time can deliver the deep ball about as well as anyone in the league. With a high-powered Detroit offense, this game could easily turn into a shootout, and we all know that means plenty of fantasy points to go around.

While Flacco is nowhere near an elite option this year, regardless of matchup, he has solid weapons now with Pitta back. Plus the Lions pass defense is below average, and the probable game situation means Flacco should be throwing 40 or more times in this one. Taking all those factors into account, Flacco makes an excellent high-end QB2, who could wind up as a top 12 performer in fantasy points at the QB position this week. The Ravens' best receiver, Torrey Smith, was surprisingly frustrated by Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes last week in rough conditions, but in a dome on the fast track in Detroit, Smith should bounce back nicely and be a quality high-end WR2. Dennis Pitta was supposed to be worked in slowly last week, and while he played just under 50 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, he tied for the team lead in targets with 11. This week he should see a bump in his snap count, and while the Lions have been tough against opposing fantasy TEs, being Flacco’s favorite target in a shootout should earn Pitta high-end TE2 numbers, at worst, with upside to be better. While the Lions remain one of the top three most generous teams to opposing fantasy WRs, it is simply too hard to count on either Jacoby Jones or Marlon Brown. One of those two will probably have a nice game, but chances are the other could have a dud. At this point in the season it is not worth gambling on either unless you are desperate, in which case I would lean slightly towards Brown. But both guys in general are WR4s this week.

Running Game Thoughts: While Ray Rice had one of his best games of the season last week (67 rush yds, 42 rec yds), it should be no indication that he is in any way back to his fantasy stud days. For starters, even though it was one of his best games this year, it still was an average fantasy game, with no touchdowns and just average overall yardage. Secondly, the Ravens were playing the Vikings, a poor defense, in conditions that favored the run game (slippery, snow). For those of us that saw the game, Rice did not look particularly special, as he showed a little power but also little burst or wiggle. In an above-average matchup, which Rice has exposed a few time this year, he can be a solid RB2, but this week is not one of those instances.

The Lions are one of the leagues better run defenses this year, ranking in the top 10 in rush yards allowed per game and among the 10 toughest defenses for opposing fantasy RBs to score against. Last week they got shredded on the ground by the Eagles (299 yards), but the conditions were extreme, with defensive players slipping all over the field. More than likely, the Lions will come back with a vengeance this week against the run and should have little trouble man-handling an offensive line that has been pretty awful at run blocking. This game has the makings of a shootout between two decent passing offenses, no weather to mess with, and two teams that do not know each other very well. While the Ravens will not totally abandon the run, I would be surprised if they get 20 total rushing attempts between Rice and Bernard Pierce. While Rice has the skills to get involved in the pass game, he is not playing at the level he once did, and in a tough matchup his upside is capped. Look for Rice to get around 15 total touches this week, making him RB2 worthy, but more of a low-end version. Bernard Pierce is clearly off the fantasy radar this week.

Joe Flacco: 285 pass yds, 3 TDs, 2 INTs
Torrey Smith: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Dennis Pitta: 70 rec yds
Ray Rice: 35 rush yds, 35 rec yds
Marlon Brown: 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Lions passing game has both good and bad things going for it this weekend. The bad is that the Ravens are an above-average defensive team that puts a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks (ninth in sacks) and allows the fourth lowest completion percentage in the league. They have an above average cornerback in Lardarius Webb and should be getting linebacker Elvis Dumervil back from injury. Baltimore’s pass defense has allowed a few huge fantasy days to opposing quarterbacks but have also shut down a few as well, so there is some risk/reward associated with playing them. On the good side of things, Detroit will have perfect conditions, playing at home in a dome, as compared to the blizzard they had in Philadelphia last week. In addition, they should have Reggie bush back, who makes their whole offense better and tougher to defend as a weapon in both the run and passing games. Before last week’s fluky weather game in Philly, Matthew Stafford was on fire, having thrown 11 touchdowns in his last four games. As the leader of one of the NFL’s most pass-happy attacks (third in passing yards), the only real downfall Stafford has had this year is throwing interceptions (14).

The Ravens have picked off only nine passes all year (fourth fewest) and the majority of those have come at home, so Detroit gets a boost here. With the playoffs still very much at stake for the Lions, I expect them to go all out and attack the Ravens defense all four quarters. While the Baltimore defense is no pushover, nobody can cover Calvin Johnson, and with Stafford dropping back 35 or more times, the yardage will certainly be there in this one. Stafford remains a strong QB1 and a top five option at the position this week in a tough but winnable matchup. Calvin Johnson struggled in the snow last week and will have an above-average cornerback on him this week but is still a top three option at WR at home, where he should easily get back on track. Nate Burleson looked like he would make a big impact when he returned from injury a few weeks ago but has been fairly quiet since. Burleson remains the No. 2 guy in this high-flying passing attack, so there is certainly potential there, but he is a gamble as anything more than a low-end WR3 due to his inconsistency. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew has disappointed this season and is only a viable TE2 option in very large standard leagues. This offensive unit has some real fantasy appeal this week at home, but with Megatron and the running backs hogging most of the targets, it leaves a lot of the fringe players as risky starts.

Running Game Thoughts: Last week Reggie Bush probably crushed a lot of fantasy owners who were unable to take bench just before kickoff, as he re-aggravated a calf injury in pregame warm-ups. This week Bush says he will play, and though we cannot be sure until the game starts, it looks good for him, as he had an extra long week to heal and the game will be at home where weather will not be a factor. The matchup on paper is not a great one for the Lions rushing attack, as the Ravens have given up the eighth fewest rushing yards in the league and have surrendered only three rushing touchdowns, tied for best in the NFL. Consequently, the Ravens are the fourth toughest team for opposing fantasy backs to score against this year. On the bright side of things for the Lions, they do not use a typical run game and neither Bush nor Joique Bell rely on touchdowns as the main part of their fantasy value. Whoever the Lions have gone with at running back this year (though that's usually been Bush) touches the ball 18-plus times a game, with about a third of those touches being receptions. Both Detroit backs are small, quick guys who rely on getting out in space and making people miss.

The Ravens have only faced two guys with similar skill sets this year that have received significant carries. C.J. Spiller gained 77 yards on 23 carries in Week 4 and Giovani Bernard totaled 96 yards and a touchdown in Week 10. While neither of these games would be huge fantasy days, both are respectable totals, and neither of those teams have an offense as good as the Lions. Watch the injury reports closely over the weekend, but if Bush plays and it sound like he will not be limited, he is still a safe bet as a low-end RB1 at home where the elements will not be against him. In that same scenario Bell becomes little more than an RB3 in PPR leagues and bench fodder in standard leagues. If for some reason Bush sits, Bell becomes a solid RB2 in standard leagues. While this matchup on paper is not perfect, Detroit has the personnel and offense to get some serious yardage with their running backs.

Matthew Stafford: 315 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Reggie Bush: 70 rush yds, 45 rec yds
Joique Bell: 25 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Nate Burleson: 40 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 30 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 33, Ravens 27 ^ Top

Patriots at Dolphins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Since their bye in Week 10, the Patriots have a plus–3 point differential over the subsequent four games, leading to three slim victories (two comebacks) and a road loss. It’s taken everything they have to squeak by for three consecutive weeks, but now that tight end Rob Gronkowski has been lost for the year, New England’s margin for error is smaller than ever. Without their star tight end, the Patriots will have to rely on other players to account for the lost production, but unlike the first six games of the season, which were also played without Gronkowski, this time around New England has a full complement of receivers and running backs at their disposal. The biggest X-factor now becomes running back Shane Vereen, who not only contributes in the ground game but is a matchup problem out of the backfield, averaging over eight receptions for more than 78 yards per game since returning from injury. Because of the attention paid to other players, Julian Edelman continues to be the leading receiver for the team in all of yards, receptions, targets, touchdowns, and first downs, areas which are all likely to continue to improve as the season draws to a close.

Tom Brady leads a top ten passing offense averaging 266 yards per game against a Miami defense just a touch behind that, allowing 230 yards per game and earning a top fifteen ranking. In their Week 8 matchup (with Gronkowski) the Patriots gained only 116 yards through the air on 13 of 22 passing with one touchdown, plus Brady was sacked three times and threw an interception. With the exception of turnovers committed, the Dolphins outplayed New England in Foxboro, so this weekend in Miami holds the potential for another close game and will require a much better result from the passing offense if the Patriots hope to win the contest. One key matchup will be along the offensive line, particularly in protecting Brady; New England ranks as the eleventh worst in giving up sacks and Miami ranks as the fifth best at forcing them. The task of keeping Brady upright becomes more difficult if left tackle Nate Solder (concussion) is unable to play after being injured sometime during the last game; his status for Sunday is unknown. With a front seven capable of disrupting the quarterback’s timing and a secondary able to limit the effectiveness of the plethora of Patriots receivers, it will likely take a clean game from the O-line for Brady to lead the team to another close victory and a season sweep over the Dolphins.

Running Game Thoughts: Even with Brady under center it is the Patriots’ ability to run the ball consistently that makes them one of the best teams in the NFL, which optimistically suggests that the loss of Gronkowski may be less significant than widely believed. While their rushing yards per game (120.0) and per attempt (4.2) hardly crack the top fifteen, their 15 rushing touchdowns are fourth best in the league. The area in which New England has most struggled this season has been in fumbles, losing more than all but two other teams in the league on designed run plays. Those turnover issues have led to a necessary rotation in the backfield, primarily seeing running backs LeGarrette Blount and to a lesser extent Brandon Bolden receive more touches as Steven Ridley has had trouble holding onto the ball. With the recent return of Vereen, it is expected that he will see his carries continue to increase as he also handles the majority of pass targets thrown to running backs, giving him the best fantasy potential of any New England ball carrier. Just as the receiving corps is jammed full of quality contributors, the running back stable is equally crowded, and while game in and game out the top performer is hard to predict, in the long run the Patriots have a stellar history of giving the ball to those players most capable of making the big play.

In addition to being an area of strength for the New England offense, the running game is the area in which the Dolphins most struggle, allowing averages remarkably similar to what the Patriots record each game, with 4.2 yards per carry and 118.8 per contest. The major difference is in touchdowns, though Miami still allows more than the league average and are tied for sixth most fumbles forced. In the past two weeks the Dolphins have limited their opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards and have won each of those contests; Miami has lost only two such games all season. In Week 8 against New England they allowed 152 yards and two touchdowns while not recording a fumble, and right in line with season averages, the Patriots gained nearly 4.2 yards per carry. As has been demonstrated by other teams, the way to beat the Dolphins is by establishing the run and continuing to push the ball downfield using the ground game, just as New England did in their earlier meeting this season. If they are able to repeat that same rushing performance, the same final result is a highly likely outcome.

Tom Brady: 180 pass yds, 1 TD
Shane Vereen: 50 rush yds/ 40 rec yds
Danny Amendola: 50 rec yds
Julian Edelman: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: After back-to-back road wins, the Dolphins are above .500 for the first time since Week 7 and in their most recent contest scored the most points they have all season against one of the better defenses in the league. From an individual standpoint, quarterback Ryan Tannehill had his best game of the season and tied his career high with three touchdown passes despite throwing for only 200 yards and 60.6 percent, his third and fourth lowest marks of the year, respectively. He has averaged 229 yards per game and is completing 62 percent of his passes with a TD-INT ratio of 20-14, landing him squarely in the middle of the pack for most significant statistics. Tannehill still sits at the top of the sacks taken column, the most obvious deficiency in the offense, especially considering the very public drama surrounding the left side of their O-line. With the consistent pressure, Tannehill has had difficulty finding the speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace, and recently the beneficiary of that has been tight end Charles Clay, who leads the team in touchdown receptions after hauling in two last week. He leads all Miami wide receivers and tight ends with a 68.1 percent of his targets resulting in completions, making him the most consistent pass catcher and fantasy contributor on the team.

Against the pass, New England is remarkably average, ranking between eleventh and sixteenth in most major categories, with the primary exception of being top three in completion percentage allowed. This combination of statistics doesn’t lend any extra hope to Tannehill for Sunday but also doesn’t provide additional pressures beyond that which he usually sees. Considering he is average at best in most areas, it is reasonable to expect a slight underperformance even by his own standards. The best source for optimism comes from the pressure he may be expecting to face; although the Patriots rank in the top 11 for sacks recorded, they have only four in the last three games. If that trend were to continue, Tannehill would find himself with more time and less pressure than usual, possibly giving him the opportunity to compensate for some of the shortcomings he’s shown throughout the season. During their three-game win streak, despite only recording those four sacks, New England has allowed a mere 57.2 percent completion rate, suggesting that they’re still getting to the quarterback even if they aren’t bringing him down. And if this is the case, Sunday could be yet another week in the long saga of pressures that Tannehill has had to endure all season long.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite reports of being done for the season, running back Daniel Thomas was active for Week 14 and gained the most yards he has all year (105 yds, 1 TD), and with the undetermined status of Lamar Miller (concussion) for this weekend, Thomas could be in line for another full workload. However, it is expected that both will be healthy for Sunday and that they will share backfield duties, possibly seeing a 50-50 split in carries. Throughout the season the pair has averaged right around 75 yards per game and has been responsible for six of the eight rushing touchdowns Miami has scored. For having the fourth fewest attempts of any team in the league, the Dolphins are only the tenth worst rushing team, with 95.8 yards per game, thanks to their reasonable 4.3 yards per carry average. Partially due to troubles on the offensive line and partially due to game situations, Miami runs less than almost every other team in the league, though considering the gains they average, it would be advantageous for them to dedicate more of the game plan to the rushing attack rather than asking their young quarterback to carry the team on his shoulders.

A strong focus on the ground game would be especially beneficial for Miami this Sunday, as the Patriots are the second worst in rush defense, allowing an average of 135.8 yards per game and 4.5 per carry. The most remarkable statistic through this point in the season is that New England has yet to allow a rush of 35 yards or more, meaning that big plays don’t greatly factor into their defensive averages and that opposing offenses are consistently able to pick up yardage rather than biding their time until they break the big one. Using both Miller and Thomas would allow Miami even more opportunity to exploit the defensive weakness of the Patriots, keeping their running back fresh and slowly wearing down the defense. Due to the mobility of Tannehill, the pass rush from New England may backfire on occasion this weekend as holes open up across the D-line when one or more defenders make their way into the backfield. And while counting on his ability to escape is unreasonable, Tannehill has demonstrated the ability to elude defenders and extend drives multiple times this season. While the Dolphins' offensive line may still be battling a number of issues, they should nonetheless be more than adequate enough to largely neutralize the Patriots rush defense and open holes for Miller and Thomas to run through for the majority of the Week 15 contest.

Ryan Tannehill: 200 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 20 rush yds
Lamar Miller: 60 rush yds/ 10 rec yds
Charles Clay: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Wallace: 70 rec yards, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 27, Dolphins 23 ^ Top

Seahawks at Giants - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: On a per-attempt basis Russell Wilson is one of the highest producing quarterbacks in the NFL, but the downside of that is that the Seahawks have attempted fewer passes than only one other team, effectively watering down the quarterback’s otherwise impressive performances. Even so, Seattle averages 215 passing yards per game, good enough for them to escape the bottom third of those rankings. Additionally, Wilson is seventh in overall completion percentage, eighth in touchdowns thrown, and has led the Seahawks to a league best in interceptions with only seven for the season. His statistical efficiency is confirmed by his having the highest yards per attempt in the league and the second best passer rating of all qualified quarterbacks. As a run-heavy team, Seattle thrives on strong defense, controlling time of possession, and dominating the line of scrimmage. A side product of this is that teams overcommit to stopping the run, thus opening up the back end for Wilson to exploit. Even without wide receiver Percy Harvin (hip, Questionable) and while missing Sidney Rice for multiple weeks already, the Seahawks continue to see success through the air due to Wilson’s decision making and the accuracy of his throws, so while they haven’t needed to rely on him yet, they remain confident in his abilities to take over a game if necessary.

Chances are, New York won’t necessitate that sort of situation Sunday; between already being eliminated from the playoffs and struggling to pressure the quarterback (second worst in the NFL) the Giants aren’t likely to present an overwhelming challenge to Wilson or his efficiency through the air. Although the home team has forced an average number of interceptions and allowed an average number of passing yards on the season, the last three games have been a bit out of the ordinary. During that span the Giants have surrendered six touchdowns and forced only one interception, skewing their 14-11 TD-INT ratio prior to that time. Additionally, they’ve recorded 11 sacks, nearly equal to the number achieved through their previous ten games. Based on this most recent sample, New York is significantly more “feast or famine” than they were previously, either getting to the quarterback and coming up with stops that way or allowing scores without forcing turnovers. Against a team like Seattle this trend will be particularly ineffective because of Wilson’s ability to protect the ball and make good decisions, along with the offensive line keeping him relatively clean all year, allowing just over two sacks per game and ranking just outside of the top ten. After Sunday the Seahawks will be one step closing to securing home field advantage even if their young quarterback won’t need to have a statistically impactful day to lead them past a struggling Giants pass defense.

Running Game Thoughts: Much like how the New York pass defense has been disappointingly subpar for the past three games, the Seahawks' ability to run the ball has been similarly affected during that same span. On the season they average 141.5 yards per game, third best in the league, and have rushed a league-high 419 times, which results in over 32 attempts per game; by comparison, they’ve averaged 102 yards per game on nearly 30 rushes over the past three contests, suffering a huge blow to their efficiency (3.4 vs. 4.4 yards per carry) and a subsequent reduction in attempts due to that lack of production. The star of the running game is undoubtedly Marshawn Lynch, who is averaging 80.2 yards per game and leading the league in touchdowns scored, though recently teams have focused on him even more, forcing Wilson and backup running back Robert Turbin to pick up some of the slack. Even with a noticeable reduction in his yardage (57 per game average) Lynch has found the end zone three times in three games, salvaging his fantasy performance while simultaneously and methodically wearing down the opposing defense so that others may take advantage of it. Only two rushing touchdowns have been scored by other players, so regardless of who is doing the most damage on the ground, it is a strong likelihood that Lynch will be the one hitting pay dirt at the end of the drive.

Traveling to New York isn’t necessarily the slump buster that the Seahawks ground game could use since the Giants rank as one of the better teams in the league, including being eleventh in yards per game, eleventh in touchdowns allowed, sixth in yards per attempt, and one of four teams who have not allowed a rush of 35 or more yards. Despite allowing only 105.4 rushing yards per game, their three most recent opponents have all eclipsed that mark and two of those three have found the end zone. With the Seahawks offense and Giants defense each trending in the wrong direction, something will have to give this weekend, and given what each has (or doesn’t have) at stake, the most likely to bounce back is the Seattle ground game. Considering the strength of their offensive line and the continued injury concerns for the Giants' entire defensive unit, there are few opportunities for New York to win one-on-one battles at the line of scrimmage, thus giving the clear advantage to the visiting team. Between Lynch the workhorse, Turbin the capable backup, and Wilson the duel-threat quarterback, Seattle has too many options with which to beat the Giants.

Russell Wilson: 230 pass yds, 2 TDs / 30 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 70 rush yds, 1 TD
Golden Tate: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: In Week 14, and for the fourth time this season, Eli Manning threw more interceptions than touchdowns, and for the fourth time in those four games the Giants lost the contest, though this time it has the dubious distinction of sealing their fate and guaranteeing that they won’t make the playoffs in 2013. For the year, Manning has thrown 16 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, the latter of which is tied for highest mark in the league. Even playing at home hasn’t provided a significant boost for the two-time Super Bowl champion, where he’s posted an 8-9 TD-INT ratio compared to an 8-11 mark on the road. During the last three games, the top three receivers for New York have failed to find the end zone; Hakeem Nicks hasn’t scored all year, Victor Cruz hasn’t scored since Week 4, and Ruben Randle appears to have peaked in the middle of the season and has been sliding since Week 5. The only fantasy-relevant pass catcher has been tight end Brandon Meyers, who has scored a touchdown in each of the last three games despite topping 40 yards only once. By all measures, the Giants passing game has been falling apart all season, and now that the playoffs are out of reach, it’s hard to foresee anything that resembles a turnaround.

Perhaps the only way to make the New York passing situation less uplifting would be to put them up against a stellar defense. Enter the Seahawks, who allow the fewest yards per game, the lowest per-attempt average, the sixth best completion percentage, and have top four marks in both interceptions forced and touchdowns surrendered. Their greatest area of weakness is in forcing sacks, but even at that they’re in the top third of the league. They don’t need to put extra pressure on opposing quarterbacks because of the dominance of their secondary, but considering the state of the Giants’ offensive line, it would be beneficial for Seattle to bring extra pressure and get to Manning every chance they get. New York hasn’t faced a top flight defense since their Week 3 shutout on the road in Carolina, and while they may actually be able to score a few points thanks to being at home, there is minimal chance they reach double digits and virtually no possibility of that being good enough to earn a victory.

Running Game Thoughts: The Giants, if only by default, are considered a running team, and with Andre Brown running as strong as ever, there’s little doubt why. Since his return in Week 10 only two backs have received more touches than Brown and five have gained more yards; he’s averaging almost 23 touches and nearly 85 yards per game. His position at the top of the New York running back food chain has seen him record more touches, gain more yards, and have a better average than every other running back, despite his playing in only five games. For the season, Brown has approximately one third of the total carries, yards, and touchdowns for the team in roughly a third of the games played, so while his production is equal to the sum of the backs that came before him, he hasn’t dramatically improved the overall rushing situation for the Giants. New York has averaged 88.0 yards per game and 3.7 per carry, respectively sixth and fifth worst in the league. The problem continues to come back to the offensive line and the wild inconsistencies among both personnel and performance. And without a fix in sight, the rushing attack holds as much potential as would be expected for a team that has already been eliminated from playoff contention.

Making matters worse for Brown is that running back Peyton Hillis has begun to steal carries near the goal line, effectively limiting the fantasy potential of the unquestioned starter. On top of that, Seattle hasn’t allowed a running back to score a rushing touchdown since Week 7, so even if Brown does see any work deep in Seahawks territory, the odds are that he won’t be able to reach the end zone anyway. While Seattle is tied for third fewest rushing touchdowns allowed (3) they’re roughly average in yards against per game (111.5), so although Brown and Hillis aren’t expected to be able to score, they’ll likely combine to help the Giants reach their season averages on the ground. Of all the different areas of the Seahawks’ defense, their ability to stop the rush is certainly their weakest, but even at that they’re better than average in yards allowed and one of the best in touchdowns surrendered. With that being the closest thing they have to a shortcoming, it’s no surprise they’re currently the cream of the NFC crop and in the driver’s seat for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, a journey which won’t be derailed by their trip to New York this weekend.

Eli Manning: 130 pass yds, 2 INTs
Andre Brown: 70 rush yds
Victor Cruz: 40 rec yds
Hakeem Nicks: 60 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 34, Giants 6 ^ Top

Packers at Cowboys - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Matt Flynn reunion tour finally paid dividends for the Packers where the Scott Tolzien experiment fell short, as the Packers have found an adequate placement for the injured Aaron Rodgers. It also helps that Green Bay faced its weakest opponent since their star quarterback broke his collarbone, but in the hunt for a division title, they’ll take whatever they can get until Rodgers comes back. On that front, the former Super Bowl champion has practiced this week but has not yet been cleared to play, meaning that his availability for Sunday is up in the air but that it’s looking better and better for him to play in Week 16. In the meantime, Flynn is expected to be under center leading the high-powered Green Bay offense and one of the more dynamic receiving corps in the NFL. Since Flynn replaced Tolzien at quarterback, the Packers have gone 1-1-1 and the aerial attack has at least loosely resembled its form before Rodgers was hurt, largely in part to Flynn not throwing more interceptions than he has touchdowns. In two and a half games Flynn has thrown for 615 yards and a 62.5 percent completion rate, helping Green Bay to stay within reach of a playoff position, something that will hopefully be in place when Rodgers makes his return from injury and leads the team for the final few games in the regular season.

Whether the star returns to the field this week or Flynn is under center for one more game, facing off against the Cowboys defense should help keep the Packers in the playoff picture considering how Dallas ranks dead last against the pass and has given up more touchdown passes than all but one team. The Cowboys are also noticeably below average in completion percentage allowed and sacks recorded while coming in slightly better than average in terms of forcing interceptions. The expected return of linebacker Sean Lee should help to shore up the middle of the defense, but that may not do much in terms of bolstering what is unequivocally the worst unit in the league. Despite Flynn’s limited career experience and his mediocre showing so far this season, he faces the most advantageous opponent possible, and the only true test will come not from needing to overcome the Dallas defense but rather needing to score more points than the Cowboys offense is expected to record.

Running Game Thoughts: Unlike the Packers of the past handful of years, the 2013 installment possesses one of the best rushing attacks in the game, ranking tenth overall with 128.8 yards per game. The primary contributor has been rookie Eddie Lacy, but he is currently nursing an ankle injury and is officially Questionable for Sunday; the early estimation is that he’ll be able to go but will see somewhat of a timeshare with James Starks. The worst case scenario would call for Lacy to miss the game and for Starks, a former starter in his own right, to handle principle carrying duties for the Week 14 matchup. A number of factors have contributed to the success of Green Bay on the ground this season, between the ferocity with which Lacy runs, the elite passing threat posed by Rodgers, and adequate execution from the reshuffled offensive line, and unfortunately one or two of those factors may not be available this weekend. In the six games without Rodgers, the Packers have averaged 114.2 yards per game and 4.3 yards per rush, a small bit less than their averages with Rodgers, though on two occasions they were held to a meager 55 yards or fewer. The potential is there for a monster running game, but without a reasonable quarterback performance to keep the defense honest, they may elect to crowd the box to snuff out the running game, thus forcing the backup quarterback into the limelight.

If there ever were a game to be without both a star quarterback and running back this may be it, but conversely this game is critical to the playoff hopes of the Packers, so even with the poor defense they expect to face, they have an interest in putting their best foot forward to remain (at worst) a half game back in the division. Whether Lacy can go or not, he will likely share time with Starks, with the only question being which back receives how many carries. In any case, the Cowboys defense should be marginally better this week than in recent ones with Lee back on the field, but even at that, the team has allowed 128.4 rushing yards per game and 14 touchdowns, both of which rank in the bottom six for the league, and their yards-per-attempt-against mark of 4.8 is even worse, as it falls inside the bottom three. These numbers are the biggest reason the Packers are likely to be cautious with Lacy, just as they’ll be with Rodgers, working from the assumption that their quality backups will be able to challenge the banged-up and generally ineffective Cowboys defense. From a fantasy perspective Lacy is the only true headache; when he plays he’s one of the better backs in the game, so it hurts to sit him, especially considering the caliber of defense the Packers will likely see on Sunday, though if he doesn’t play it doesn’t matter who he faces off against, as Starks takes all of his touches and reproduces much of the same expected production.

Matt Flynn: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
James Starks: 60 rush yds, 1 TD
Jordy Nelson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
James Jones: 60 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: For all of the talk about his struggles, his inability to close out games, and the infamous end-of-season collapses, Tony Romo has thrown the third most touchdown passes and fewest interceptions of any 13-game starter this season, while also having a top ten completion percentage. Thanks to a usually-solid running game, Romo has been putting up relatively pedestrian yardage numbers, averaging 235 per game, but he’s also broken 295 on four different occasions this season, which includes a 506-yard performance. Of his seven total interceptions, only once have more than one come in the same game, and oddly enough, of those six games with a pick, the Cowboys have won five of them, including the two-interception contest. While this seems wildly counterintuitive, one possible explanation is that the outcome of most games largely depends on the play of the Dallas defense, not their offense, so when Romo is making positive plays all over the field and occasionally losing a turnover, it is often compensated for by the Dallas defense getting a turnover of their own somewhere down the line. Conversely, when the defense is overwhelmed and ineffective, Romo is asked to be perfect, being overprotective of the ball and thus not taking the high-risk, high-reward play when a safer option is available. When perfection is required, just as with every other quarterback in the league, he often comes up short, so while his stat line may be impressive, the Cowboys' bottom line is usually disappointing.

Fortunately for Dallas and their star quarterback, the Packers pass defense may be the perfect opportunity for both a big game and a big victory. When considering both touchdowns allowed combined with interceptions forced, Green Bay is the second worst team in the NFL, giving up 24 scores and taking the ball away only seven times, though unlike most teams with high touchdown and low interception marks, they have recorded 39 sacks on the year, behind only five other teams. That, combined with their worse-than-average 247 yards against, paints the picture of a team that is either able to come up with stops due to favorable down-and-distance situations or that ultimately surrenders points from not being able to get off the field. The Green Bay pass rush includes some of the more recognizable players in the league, but without getting to the opposing quarterback, that recognition does little on the field of play. For Dallas, the primary test on Sunday will come from that pass rush, though considering that the Cowboys have given up fewer sacks than most, even that area isn’t of particularly great concern. All things considered, this game will likely come down to moderately successful running games overshadowed by dueling quarterbacks who take advantage of defenses incapable of stopping them.

Running Game Thoughts: In a must-win home game, Dallas will want to take full advantage of all of the weapons at their disposal, which, in addition to all of the potential big-play receivers, also includes one of the hottest running backs over the past four weeks. DeMarco Murray has averaged 119.5 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown per game in the last four contests thanks in large part to the consistent number of carries he’s received; this is the first time all season he’s rushed 14 or more times in four consecutive games. Even his receiving targets have been nearly consistent—at least as consistent as could be expected for a running back. Although Dallas ranks in the bottom ten of rushing yards per game, Murray has averaged an amazing 5.3 yards per carry in addition to his receiving totals, so the best plan for the Cowboys would be continuing to get the ball into his hands and allowing him to make the plays he’s been making all season. As the NFL playoff picture begins to materialize and the fantasy playoffs get underway, Murray needs to see 15–25 total touches to help his team to keep moving in the right direction.

If indeed the Cowboys decide to allow Murray to handle a full workload, Green Bay will likely have a hard time stopping him from doing what he’s been doing for the past month: making plays, gaining yards, and getting into the end zone. As a team, the Packers allow 122.6 rushing yards per game, landing time in the bottom ten for the league, and have given up 11 scores on the ground, which ranks slightly better but still worse than average. Compared to their opponents, the Green Bay defense is downright reasonable, but being better than Dallas is hardly a consolation prize; the Packers have a talented group of defenders, but as a group they’ve been prone to miscues and mistakes for the majority of the season. On top of that, the linebacking corps is dealing with a handful of injuries, and if both of Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore are unable to go, they will see a serious hole at inside linebacker next to A.J. Hawk. In a matchup that is likely to feature two high-powered offenses demolishing two lackluster defenses, the ultimate game-changer could come in the form of picking up a relatively simple stop when the opposing offense falters. The Packers have the individuals capable of making such a play, but in the ultimate team game, it will likely require a level of precision that they’ve been unable to achieve at many points during this season.

Tony Romo: 260 pass yds, 3 TDs
DeMarco Murray: 100 rush yds/ 30 rec yds
Dez Bryant: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 60 rec yards

Prediction: Cowboys 37, Packers 34 ^ Top