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Inside the Matchup
Week 5

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

BUF @ CLE | NO @ CHI | NE @ CIN | DET @ GB



 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Smith 13 4 76.5
2 Caron 10 6 62.5
3 Thorne 9 6 60.0
4 Anderson 7 8 46.7

Bills @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Although they escaped with a victory, the Bills passing game was not as effective last week as it had been the first three weeks. Rookie QB EJ Manuel completed just 10 passes (22 attempts) for 167 yards (1 TD, 2 INT’s) and the Ravens held the Bills #1 WR Stevie Johnson to just 1 catch for -1 yards (6 targets). Perhaps the lone bright spot in this unit was WR Robert Woods who caught 4 balls for 80 yards and a TD, and for the second straight week played more snaps than Johnson. Woods is not starter-worthy yet in most fantasy leagues but is certainly someone to watch and perhaps stash on your bench, as Manuel seems to like the 6’, 2nd round pick quite a bit. With an average receiving corps, a rookie QB, and a run-heavy game-plan the Bills passing game will be inconsistent and most likely very average most weeks. This week, with less time to prepare and on the road and facing one of the league’s best all-around defenses, this unit may have it’s worst performance of the year thus far.

The Brown’s passing defense, statistically top 10 in the NFL, held a more talented Bengals offense to just 206 yards through the air last week, without giving up a single TD (1 INT, 2 sacks). Stud CB Joe Haden also held A.J. Green to just 51 yards on 15 targets (7 catches). This week Haden will most likely cover Johnson, who presents less of a challenge than Green, especially with an inexperienced rookie throwing to him. Because of this Johnson is a must-sit this week for all but the most desperate owners. I like what I see from Manuel for a rookie with limited weapons, as he seems to have that “it” factor and the will to win. As a fantasy starter this week however, he just can’t be trusted, as the Browns are among the 9 toughest teams in terms of allowing fantasy points to opposing QB’s, not to mention the Bills run the ball a bit too much to even give Manuel the chance to put up big numbers (yes, even with their RB injuries this week). As for the only other 2 semi-legit fantasy options in this unit, TE Scott Chandler and WR Robert Woods, there are certainly better options out there, as the Browns are also among the 6 toughest teams versus opposing fantasy TE’s, and Woods is simply too up and down right now to be trusted as anything more than a WR4 (although he would be the 1 guy I’d start from this unit if FORCED to choose).

Running Game Thoughts: While this unit did put up an impressive 203 yards on the ground versus the Ravens last week, and is normally a good source of possible fantasy points, the injury status to both C.J. Spiller (ankle) and Fred Jackson (MCL) make the fantasy situation very cloudy this week. In last week’s game Jackson headed to the locker room but came back and played the rest of the game with what is being called a “mild” MCL sprain. He is expected to play this week but has a history of injury problems and will no doubt be much less than 100%. As for Spiller, the normally more attractive fantasy option, the situation is even murkier, as Spiller was not able to finish the game after spraining his ankle in the 3rd quarter. With neither guy having a very impressive start to their year, it makes matters even scarier for fantasy owners who drafted Spiller to carry their team but are now scrambling for a replacement.

On top of everything, the matchup itself this week is a nightmare, as the Browns are easily one of the NFL’s top 5 run defenses through four weeks, allowing a meager 2.9 yards per rushing attempt (1st in NFL) and not allowing a single run over 14 yards (1st in NFL). While the Bills will continue to make the run game a priority with some combination of Tashard Choice, Jackson, and Spiller, it will likely not be very effective, and will probably spread the wealth around so much between the backs that it will negate any of them from being starter-worthy. If you absolutely have no choice but to start one of these guys I’d pick Jackson, but do not expect anything more than low-end RB3 numbers from him in a very tough situation and matchup.

EJ Manuel: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 25 rec yds
Robert Woods: 55 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 40 rec yds
Tashard Choice: 25 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 30 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Who would have thought two weeks after the Browns starting QB (Brandon Weeden) went down with an injury and they traded away perhaps their best offensive weapon (Trent Richardson) that QB Brian Hoyer would lead the Browns to 2 straight wins while throwing for nearly 600 yards in just two games (5 TD, 3 INT). Who also thought that a defensive minded team would produce two legit fantasy stars in WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron, who have blossomed with Hoyer at QB, amassing 5 TD’s and well over 300 yards the past two weeks. With Hoyer starting again this week and a run game that is struggling, talent-starved, and mostly an after-thought, the Browns will probably once again air it out 35+ times this week in an attempt to get their 2 most talented offensive players the ball as much as possible.

While the Bills pass defense is banged up and allowing the 9th most yards in the NFL so far, they are actually better than advertised. Thus far the Bills are actually among the top 8 teams in the NFL in terms of sacks, interceptions, completion percentage allowed, and QB rating allowed. What this all means is that teams are not afraid to air it out a lot against the Bills, but it is not usually pretty when they do, as evidenced perfectly last week with Joe Flacco’s 25/50, 347 yds, 2 TD, 5 INT, 4 sack stat line. While I do not expect the Bills to intercept 5 passes again this week, Hoyer is not exactly a surgeon under center either. What I do see is 35+ attempts, a couple TD’s, a couple INT’s and a pretty ugly performance even if the final yardage numbers alone look somewhat impressive. For Hoyer the stats mean he may be a serviceable low-end QB2 this week but the probable turnovers and inconsistency highly limits his upside. Thankfully for his two best receivers, Gordon and Cameron, the ugliness, turnovers, and sacks do not effect their fantasy value directly much and so each are recommended starts, as the Bills do not have the personnel to come close to shutting either guy down, especially when they are each getting targeted 10+ times per game with Hoyer under center. Cameron is a legit TE1 this week and Gordon is a solid WR2 versus a Bills secondary who have given up the 2nd most points to opposing fantasy WR’s through 4 weeks. No other Browns passing unit player is worth consideration since Gordon and Cameron are target hogs at this point.

Running Game Thoughts: The Buffalo rushing defense has given up just 1 rushing TD so far but have allowed the 6th most rushing yards on the year. To opposing fantasy RB’s the Bills are actually pretty stingy, being the 8th toughest team so far this season. With all this being said, the Bills are an average team to run against, and in most cases, opposing starting RB’s would be worth starting, even if the expectations were not through the roof. In the case of the Browns running attack, most of this info can be thrown out the window because (a.) the Browns have become a passing team this season and especially the past two weeks (92 passing attempts to 47 rushes) and (b.) the talent in the backfield is simply too underwhelming to consider in all but the very best matchups at this point. RB Willis McGahee looks like he will be the team’s leader in carries at least for the foreseeable future, however he does not get involved at all in the passing game and his 2.4 yards per carry thus far suggest he is not about to break out any big runs anytime soon. While it is a small sample size, RB Chris Ogbonnaya has actually been the Browns best runner since Trent Richardson got traded, averaging 7.1 ypc on 7 carries. Whether the Browns give Ogbonnaya a bigger workload or not is hard to predict but chances are it would be a gradual thing, ot something to concern ourselves with this week specifically. The bottom line here is the Browns RB’s are under-talented, under-utilized, and in a tougher than one might expect matchup (fantasy-wise), meaning this unit as a whole is very avoidable this week as anything more than a very low-end RB3 (McGahee).

Brian Hoyer: 290 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Josh Gordon: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Jordan Cameron: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Willis McGahee: 45 rush yds
Davone Bess: 35 rec yds

Prediction: Browns 27, Bills 20 ^ Top

Saints @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Coming into this game, the Saints are second in the league in passing yards, fourth in completion percentage, fifth in yards per attempt, and third in touchdown passes. On the flip side, the Bears pass defense has allowed the ninth-most yards, the 10th-best completion percentage, and have less sacks than all but two teams in the league. In other words, this part of the game sets up to be a big advantage for the Saints, at least on paper. The Saints' only real issue in the passing game has been giving up sacks (12, tied for 10th-worst in the NFL), but rushing the quarterback has been an issue for the Bears to this point, so Drew Brees may have more time than usual to find receivers, which of course is a nightmare for opposing defenses. The one saving grace for the Bears may be that they have played much better defensively in their two home games compared to when they travel, both in terms of real NFL defense and allowing fantasy points. Still, the Saints are one of the elite passing teams in the league, and while they may sputter a bit away from the dome, it is a plus matchup for all their passing game players, and their running backs who catch passes. Brees is an easy QB1 and probably the third best quarterback this week, close behind Rodgers and Peyton. Marques Colston has only found the end zone once this season but is getting plenty of catches and yards and is a solid WR2 this week. Tight end Jimmy Graham is once again the very best option at TE this week, as he is simply dominating, both in the NFL and in the fantasy world. The Bears have been average versus opposing fantasy TEs but have not faced anyone even close to Graham thus far, so their numbers are about to go way down. No other Saints passing game player is worth a start at this point because no other player has shown much consistency, as Brees mainly favors Graham, Colston, and then his running backs, in that order.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Saints run game ranks near the bottom of the NFL in yardage (25th) and the Bears run defense is a little better than average, those numbers are deceiving, as the Saints do not really run in the traditional sense. Most of the “runs” that the they use (at least the more effective ones) are actually short passes to their backs in the form of screens or swing passes or check-downs. Anyone who watched the Saints–Dolphins game last week can tell you that even though New Orleans only rushed for 68 total yards, their running backs really accounted for over 200 total yards, doing most of the damage on short passes (Sproles, 142 yards; Thomas, 38). Until a defense really takes away these types of passes and the Saints are forced to use a more traditional rushing attack (which probably will not happen), I expect to see more of the same weekly.

While the Bears were pretty tough against opposing fantasy RBs going into last week’s game, that changed quickly as Reggie Bush put up 173 total yards and a touchdown and Joique Bell added another 42 total yards. This week, against two similar running backs (Sproles and Thomas), the Bears will have the home field advantage and I expect a better effort, at least in slowing down yardage on the ground. The good thing for the Saints, however, is that the yardage through the air by their running backs should continue, making Sproles a good choice as a low-end RB2. Thomas and even Khiry Robinson have shown flashes this year, but neither are used consistently enough to warrant starting. Mark Ingram, who missed the past two games with injury, could be back for this matchup, but his role is unpredictable, especially since he does not catch a lot of passes.

Drew Brees: 310 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Darren Sproles: 30 rush yds, 55 rec yds
Jimmy Graham: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Marques Colston: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 30 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The first four weeks of the season have already shown us some big differences in the Bears passing game compared to last year. Last season the game plan was basically throw it to wide receiver Brandon Marshall, regardless of the defense or situation. This season quarterback Jay Cutler is spreading the ball around much more efficiently, while still keeping Marshall the focus of the passing attack. Last weeks game showed that Marshall can still have a semi-decent game (7/79) while others can step up and contribute just as much or more, with tight end Martellus Bennett catching eight balls for 90 yards, and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery having perhaps his best game of his young career with five catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. Three legitimate targets to throw to this year not only helps the Bears but fantasy owners as well, since Cutler is having his best fantasy year since he was in Denver, while Marshall and Bennett are legitimate top 10 players at their positions.

This week versus the Saints, chances are that Cutler and company are going to need to air it out to keep up with Brees. Surprisingly, compared to years past, the Saints have actually been quite good in pass defense so far, giving up the sixth-least amount of yards in the NFL while picking off seven passes (third in the NFL), and allowing just 56.9 percent of passes completed (eighth in the NFL). Fantasy-wise they are also tough, ranking among the toughest 10 teams to score against for opposing QBs, WRs, and TEs. While the Saints certainly have improved their defense and scheme under coordinator Rob Ryan, a quick look at the teams they have played may tell a better story, as only one of them (Atlanta) is considered a legit passing team and has the kind of weapons Chicago does. While I do not expect the Bears to put up huge numbers, they will certainly not be anywhere close to shut down either, especially at home, where Cutler has played more efficiently this season. While Cutler is still not a legitimate QB1, this matchup is good enough for him to put up mid- to high-end QB2 numbers, especially with a few other QBs on a bye. Marshall is a WR1 again, and I expect him to get back on track after a disappointing week against the Lions (he is also playing much better at home this season). Bennett is again a solid back-end TE1, after scoring all three of his touchdowns this season at home. Finally, Jeffery, who is the one guy who has actually played better on the road, is approaching WR3 status, but personally I would wait another week to make him prove himself before I’d start him. But you could certainly do worse at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite last week's game against the Lions getting quickly out of hand, running back Matt Forte still had a great fantasy day, rushing for 95 yards and a touchdown and adding five catches for 22 yards. Backup Michael Bush played just two snaps the whole game, and it is clear that no matter the game situation, Forte will be the man heavily involved. While the Bears appear to be more pass-heavy than in years past, they are still running the ball pretty effectively, ranking 15th in yards and averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry.

The Saints run defense has only 82 attempts on it thus far (fourth-lowest in the NFL), probably because many teams have to abandon the run to keep up with Brees and company, so the amount of yards they have given up is relatively low. However, the yards per carry they give up is actually dead last in the league at a generous 5.5. In a home game for the Bears, I expect the Saints offense to be at least a little rattled, thus affording the Bears an opportunity to run the football early, and Forte to get a bunch of nice runs in before the half. Once the Saints offense gets rolling, which it almost always does, the game may turn into a mini-shootout, but Forte owners need not worry, as he is averaging nearly six catches per game this year, meaning he will continue to rack up yardage regardless of the scoreboard. This matchup is not a dream matchup for Forte and the Bears, as they probably will not have the luxury of running out the clock early, but the Saints run defense is relatively vulnerable, and playing outdoors in Chicago should give Forte more than enough opportunities to be a solid back-end RB1 this week.

Jay Cutler: 295 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Matt Forte: 70 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Brandon Marshall: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Martellus Bennett: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 70 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 30, Saints 27 ^ Top

Patriots @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite a plethora of injuries, new faces, and inexperience, the Patriots passing game has performed admirably, ranking 17th in the NFL in yardage while seemingly getting better every week. While Tom Brady has not exactly put up monster fantasy numbers, he has been fairly consistent, getting better with his new receivers, and is about to get some major weapons back. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is expected to miss one more week, but Danny Amendola is expected to return this week, and while he may be a bit limited, he should demand eight or more targets while probably taking a few away from Julian Edelman, who has been Brady’s most consistent weapon to this point.

The matchup this week is a fairly decent one for the Pats passing attack, as the Bengals are stronger versus the run than the pass and have actually let up a good amount of fantasy points (15th most generous to QBs), even to much less talented quarterbacks (Brian Hoyer 269/2/0). The Patriots offensive line is a very good one, so they should be able to hang in there against one of the best defensive lines in the game. This is all good news for Brady, and I would expect him to put up numbers worthy of a back-end QB1 this week, despite being on the road. The real issue for fantasy owners this week concerns which receivers will benefit from the plus matchup that Brady has. Going into the season, the pecking order was pretty clear, with Gronkowski and Amendola expected to get most of the targets and rookies Thompkins and Dobson following close behind. With injuries to Gronk and Amendola, the rookies (and Edelman) have had to step up. And while Edelman has been pretty consistent, Thompkins and Dobson have been hot and cold, with Thompkins pulling ahead last week (6/127/1), especially after Dobson left the game with a neck injury. If Amendola comes back as expected, he should lead the team in targets; however, he still may not be 100 percent, so expecting anything more than high-end WR3 numbers from him right away is a gamble. The guy I would most trust this week is actually Thompkins, as he is the healthiest and is coming off a breakout game where he led in targets and yards. Therefore, I’d be comfortable with him as a solid high-end WR3. Unless you're in a PPR league and we hear that Amendola is out, I would hesitate to start Edelman, as he does not get consistent yards (or touchdowns) despite leading the team in catches and targets. I would not start any other Pats passing game player, as the ball is spread around too much and we will not be sure of the pecking order in targets for a few weeks when Brady gets his full arsenal back.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite having the sixth most attempts and the ninth most yards on the ground, the Patriots run game has been a bit of a disaster fantasy-wise. Starting running back Stevan Ridley, a second-round pick in most drafts, has struggled mightily, totaling just 174 yards on the ground (3.7 ypc), and has failed to reach the end zone. Shane Vereen is out at least a few more weeks and backups LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden have been average other than one nice long run each. The passing game and the offensive line have both played fairly well, so the issues must be with the running backs themselves or the play calling. Whatever it is, fantasy owners are not happy.

This week the chances of a coming out party are slim, as the Bengals are one of the better run-stopping units in the league, ranking 11th in both yards and yards per carry allowed. With the Bengals being worse against the pass compared to the run, and with the passing game being New England's strength, I would expect the Pats to go pass-heavy this game, especially if Amendola is back in action. While Blount has had back-to-back nice weeks coming off the bench, I would still expect Ridley to lead the backfield in carries (if he plays), even if by a slim margin. While it is tough to bench a guy like Ridley, who you may have invested heavily in on draft day, you must face the reality that he is a flex play at best this week and nowhere near the low-end RB1 or high-end RB2 that you thought he would be. While some owners will get cute and start Blount this week, I would advise against that. It's a bad matchup, Ridley still has the coach’s support, and Blount is not a pass-catching threat, which will hurt his snap count. Bolden may get a few more snaps than usual, but he is still well off the fantasy radar.

Editor's Note: Ridley (knee/thigh)has missed practice all week. If he sits, Blount and Bolden would share carries.

Tom Brady: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Stevan Ridley: 45 rush yds, 10 rec yds
LeGarrette Blount: 40 rush yds
Kenbrell Thompkins: 75 rec yds
Danny Amendola: 70 rec yds
Julian Edelman: 55 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Against a very tough Browns defense last week, Andy Dalton and the Bengals passing offense looked average, totaling just 206 yards through the air. Even top five fantasy WR A.J. Green had just 51 yards. While the Bengals have some weapons in place and Dalton is not a bad quarterback, it is becoming clear that they are really only as good as the matchup dictates and not good enough to overcome a tough opponent. This week the Bengals face off with a better-than-average passing defense that has had only one bad game so far, and that was against an elite Falcons passing attack. The Pats rank eighth best in allowing fantasy points to opposing QBs and have picked off more passes (5) than they have allowed touchdowns (4) through the air. They also rank fifth in allowed completion percentage (54.8). The good news for the Bengals this week is two-fold. First, they are at home, and Dalton has performed much better at home, going 2-0 and throwing for more yards and touchdowns and less INTs. Secondly, the Pats will be without one of their very best defenders, tackle Vince Wilfork, who is most likely out for the year with a torn Achilles.

While Dalton will rarely put up big numbers, he should at least be a mid-level QB2 this week at home, especially with some decent QBs on a bye this week. As for Green, I expect him to get back to low-end WR1 numbers after three straight below-average games. For comparison’s sake, last week Julio Jones, a similarly skilled receiver, went off for 108 yards against the Pats, despite sitting out a few snaps late with an injury. While Pats defensive back Aqib Talib has been playing at an extremely high level thus far, I expect the Bengals to move Green all over in an effort to get him the ball more often in space. As for the rest of the Bengals receivers, I can’t recommend any of them as any more than desperation starts. There is simply no consistency there and Green hogs way too many targets to begin with. The situation reminds me a lot of last year’s Chicago Bears, where Brandon Marshall was just forced the ball all game long, making all other receivers worthless in fantasy. With an average quarterback, a tough matchup, and Green being the only real stud talent-wise, this is basically a one-man show from a fantasy perspective this week.

Running Game Thoughts: The changing of the guard is nearly complete as rookie running back Giovani Bernard once again outplayed veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis, both in terms of snaps (50 to 18) and production (77 total yards to 13). While neither back did much against a stifling Browns front seven last week, there should be more opportunities with the Pats' front seven being much less imposing, especially without Vince Wilfork, their best defensive lineman. The Pats have given up only one rushing touchdown on the year but have allowed 23 catches by running backs, and without Wilfork, there should be a much bigger push up front by the Bengals offensive line, which is already among the league’s better units.

While BJGE should still see a handful of touches to add some power and keep Bernard fresh, he is quickly falling off the fantasy radar as anything more than a handcuff. As for Bernard, I would be shocked if he saw less than 18 touches this week (16 last week), and he may be Dalton’s second favorite target in the passing game for the second straight week (7 targets last week). While Bernard is still not a rock-solid lock to be anything more than a low-end RB2 due to his lack of a breakout game, he gets enough touches that you can start him with confidence as a flex guy with upside. The time to trade for Bernard is flying by fast, get him now if you still can.

Andy Dalton: 245 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Mohamed Sanu: 30 rec yds
Jermaine Gresham: 40 rec yds
Tyler Eifert: 40 rec yds
Giovani Bernard: 55 rush yds, 40 rec yds, 1 TD
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 35 rush yds

Prediction: Patriots 27 Bengals 24 ^ Top

Lions @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: This game has all the makings of something fantasy owners love to see, a shootout! With both the Lions and Packers having elite offenses and below-average passing defenses, this should be a game full of touchdowns and fantasy points. For the Lions, Matthew Stafford has been averaging over 300 yards passing and nearly two touchdowns a game, and there is little reason to believe he won’t match those numbers versus a Packers defense who is giving up 311 passing yards per game (fifth most in the NFL). The only things going against the Lions are relatively small: the Packers at home, coming off a bye, and possibly returning free safety Morgan Burnett. While these things will give the Packers a slight edge in the outcome of the game, fantasy owners will be pleased if they own the main Lions players this week.

The Packers have given up the fifth highest points to opposing QBs, with Kaepernick, RG3, and Dalton totaling eight touchdowns (2 INTs) and nearly 1,000 yards. With at least as much talent and weapons as any of those quarterbacks, Stafford is safely a legit top five option at QB this week. As for Calvin Johnson, do the numbers 13 catches, 208 yards and a touchdown impress you? That was Anquan Boldin’s line versus the Packers in Week 1 and, yes, Johnson is bigger, faster, quicker, and a better leaper than Boldin. Johnson is an easy top three option at WR this week, and possibly the very best choice at the position. As for other receivers, the jury is still out as to who will get the second most targets, with Nate Burleson out again. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles got only one target (0 catches) last week, so he cannot be trusted yet. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught all seven of his targets last week but totaled just 54 yards, and there are so many tight end options out there that Pettigrew barely makes it in the top 12 this week, even with a couple of decent TEs on byes. The only other receiver that might make an impact is Pat Edwards, who was hurt last week and is worth watching but is not good enough to start unless you’re truly desperate for a sleeper WR3. Since so many of Stafford’s passes go to running backs and Megatron, there is just not a lot left to make another fantasy starter here.

Running Game Thoughts: Much like the New Orleans Saints' running game, the Lions' is often a hybrid between the short passing game and actual handoffs. Combined, Joique Bell and Reggie Bush have 29 receptions thus far and almost 400 yards, despite Bush's missing one game with an injury. While the Lions are adept at throwing to their backs, Bush showed last week against the Bears that he can also gain serious yardage on traditional runs, as he racked up 139 yards on the ground. With similar skill sets, the Lions can keep both Bell and Bush fresh without tipping the defense off to what they are going to do. With Calvin Johnson keeping defenses honest deep, there should be plenty of running lanes all year long, including this week.

The Packers have allowed just 93.3 rushing yards per game (eighth best in the NFL), and while three games is a small sample size, they did face two quality backs (Frank Gore and Alfred Morris) and a promising rookie (Giovani Bernard), who all put up just average games. I expect this game to be play out mostly through the air on both sides, and while the Lions will certainly not abandon the run, I believe most of the damage that Bell and Bush do will be through the air. Bush looks healthy right now and is running hot, so I see him as a solid mid to high-end RB2 in this game. As for Bell, I like him a lot if Bush were to go down, but other than being perhaps an average flex guy this week, his workload is too inconsistent right now to make starting him anything but a gamble. You could certainly do worse, but his upside is capped as long as Bush is healthy and producing, which he seems to be.

Matthew Stafford: 320 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 135 rec yds, 2 TDs
Brandon Pettigrew: 50 rec yds
Joique Bell: 30 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 50 rush yds, 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Patrick Edwards: 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After a bye week to rest, recover, and game-plan, the Packers and their elite passing offense are back in Lambeau, where Aaron Rodgers threw for 480 yards and four touchdowns the last time they were home (Week 2). The only passing team member that has any injury concern this week is tight end Jermichael Finley, who suffered a concussion two weeks ago has been cleared to practice and looks ready to play in this game. The matchup is not as juicy as the Redskins, who they destroyed in Week 2, but it certainly should allow for shootout-type numbers and plenty of fantasy points for four or five passing unit members. The Lions passing defense has been average or a bit below in most categories this year; however, they do stand out in one area: TD to INT ratio, where they have picked off eight passes and allowed only four touchdowns. Thus, the Lions represent just an average matchup fantasy-wise. Still, it is important to note their previous opponents before touting them as the next Steel Curtain. In Week 1 the Lions faced one of the worst passing offense in the league (Vikings), and that right there accounted for three of their INTs. Rodgers is surely their toughest matchup to date, and fresh off a bye week, he's had plenty of time to study all the Lions' weaknesses on defense. Rodgers is a surefire QB1 this week and a top three option at the position in a plus matchup.

As for the receivers, it is a guessing game as to which will see the most targets and yardage, but Rodgers throws enough and spreads the ball around enough to make four guys fantasy relevant. Thus far, the Lions defense has actually been more generous to opposing WR2s than WR1s. While it is tough to say which receiver the Lions will consider the Packers' No. 1 option, I’m going to guess it is probably Jordy Nelson, with Randall Cobb being the No. 2 and James Jones the No. 3. In this case, I predict that Cobb will have the best stats of the three, making him a legitimate mid-range WR1 this week. While Nelson may not be a true No. 1 this week, he should still catch enough balls to make him a solid mid-range WR2, with upside for more if the Lions choose to lock up Cobb as their top defensive focus. As for Jones, he has been hot and cold the first three games, but I think there will be enough balls to go around in a shootout to make him a solid WR3 this week. Finally, Finley should jump right back in where he left off and get enough action to be a low-end TE1 while he eases back into the swing of things after his concussion.

Running Game Thoughts: With running back James Starks already ruled out, the backfield workload will basically fall to two rookies, Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. Lacy, coming off a concussion, is expected to get most of the carries while Franklin, coming off a 103-yard, 1-touchdown (1-fumble) performance on the ground, will most likely serve as the change-of-pace back. The good news for fantasy owners is that the Lions present an excellent matchup on the ground, giving up 5.2 yards per carry (fifth most in the NFL) and have given up five rushing touchdowns (tied for third most). In addition, the Lions have given up two receiving touchdowns to running backs already and have allowed the third most fantasy points to opposing RBs. Of course they have faced three of the better running backs in the league (Peterson, Morris, and Forte), but they are obviously nowhere near a lockdown run defense.

The bad news for Packers RB owners is that at this point it is all speculation as to how the workload will be divided between the two backs (and possibly Kuhn), as Lacy looked good in limited action (and was the higher draft pick) but Franklin filled in very admirably when needed in Week 3 (his only real action of the season). Because of the possibility of a fairly even split, it is hard to strongly recommend either back. However, Lacy would be my choice (as a mid-range RB2) if I had both backs. If I had only Franklin, I would be tempted to start him as a flex guy, but only if I were having bye-week issues or just really had no better option. It’s too bad the backfield pecking order has not been more clearly defined, as this is a very nice matchup. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out, as it will certainly have important fantasy implications for the rest of the season.

Aaron Rodgers: 310 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Jordy Nelson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Randall Cobb: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
James Jones: 55 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Eddie Lacy: 55 rush yds, 15 rec yds, 1 TD
Johnathan Franklin: 50 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 35, Lions 30 ^ Top

Chiefs at Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Nobody in the Chiefs’ passing attack is a fantasy darling at the moment. Alex Smith is ninth among quarterbacks in fantasy points, with a noticeable chunk of those points coming due to his 152 rushing yards, because he’s outside the top-20 in passing yards and tied for ninth in touchdown throws. Smith’s lack of passing prowess has hurt fantasy owners who expected Dwayne Bowe to be a major contributor. So far, he’s third on his team in receiving yards (behind Donnie Avery and Jamaal Charles) and ranks only 47th among wideouts in fantasy points. Bowe could have difficulty improving his stock much this week against what has been a good Titans pass defense.

Tennessee ranks 11th in the league against the pass and their 14 sacks are tied for third-most in the NFL. They have allowed the 10th-fewest FPts/G to quarterbacks and seventh-fewest to wide receivers. The Titans have yet to allow a 300-yard passer and just one quarterback has thrown for multiple touchdowns against them. They have been vulnerable against tight ends though, having allowed the fourth-most FPts/G to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite having rushed for only 289 yards this season, which ranks 11th in the league, Jamaal Charles is second among running backs in fantasy points. He’s done about half his damage this season as a receiver, having accumulated 213 receiving yards (second among backs) and is one of only two backs with more than one receiving touchdown. The method in which Charles picks up points is irrelevant – he’s a must-start for fantasy owners this week against Tennessee.

The Titans are tied for 11th in run defense a quarter of the way through the season. The two rushing scores they’ve allowed puts them in a tie for 10th (with eight other teams), but they have given up 4.3 YPC, which is 25th in the NFL. Tennessee has surrendered the 15th-most FPts/G to running backs this year, with just one back gaining at least 80 yards against them.

Alex Smith: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Dwayne Bowe: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Donnie Avery: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Dexter McCluster: 30 rec yds
Sean McGrath: 25 rec yds
Jamaal Charles: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 55 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Jake Locker is sidelined with a hip injury he suffered last week, so Ryan Fitzpatrick will start under center against the Chiefs. He was 3-for-8 for 108 yards last week, including a 77-yard touchdown to Nate Washington. I wouldn’t be putting Fitzpatrick on my fantasy roster, and in fact the only Titans pass-catcher we’d consider is Washington. The team’s top wideout is 14th in the NFL in receiving yards and 16th in fantasy points. Against the Chiefs, consider him a WR2.

The Chiefs come into this game sporting the league’s third-ranked pass defense, while also leading the NFL in sacks and having given up just a trio of touchdown passes, which is tied for fourth-fewest. Only six teams have surrendered fewer FPts/G to quarterbacks than K.C., and no team has ceded fewer FPts/G to tight ends. They’re in the middle of the pack in terms of fantasy points allowed to wideouts, with both Dez Bryant and Victor Cruz having games of at least 140 yards and one touchdown against them.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson had his ugliest game of the season last week against the Jets, running for only 21 yards on 15 carries. It’s been a strange year for Johnson, who started with games of 70, 96, and 90 rushing yards, but averaged more than 3.8 YPC in just one of those games while being a non-entity as a receiver and failing to score a touchdown. Johnson currently has fewer fantasy points than the likes of James Starks and Jason Snelling but if he is going to get going, the Chiefs offer a prime opportunity.

Stout against the pass, the reverse is true for Kansas City against the run. They have the league’s 24th-ranked rush defense and are allowing a whopping 5.4 YPC, which is second-to-last in the league. Yet they’ve kept backs from getting too involved in the passing game and have surrendered only a pair of rushing scores. Just one of those touchdowns came via a running back, which is why they have given up the third-fewest FPts/G in the NFL to running backs.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Nate Washington: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Kendall Wright: 60 rec yds
Damian Williams: 45 rec yds
Delanie Walker: 20 rec yds
Justin Hunter: 20 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Jackie Battle: 25 rush yds

Prediction: Chiefs 24, Titans 20 ^ Top

Seahawks at Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Russell Wilson is clearly a big-time talent, but his numbers shouldn’t get fantasy owners excited. A quarter through the season, he is 21st in fantasy points at his position and his 123 passing yards last week marked the third straight game in which he had fewer than 205 yards through the air. Wilson did run for 77 yards, but that was his first game this season with more than 35 rushing yards. With a banged-up offensive line, no real receiving threats and a good Colts pass defense, I’d keep Wilson away from my fantasy lineup this week.

Indianapolis has allowed only a pair of touchdown throws all year, which is tied for fewest in the NFL. They’re eighth in pass defense and a top-10 unit in both sacks and interceptions. Accordingly, they’ve relinquished the third-fewest FPts/G to quarterbacks and the fourth-fewest to wide receivers. The Colts are one of only eight teams who have yet to give up a touchdown to a tight end and have allowed the 12th-fewest FPts/G to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch is once again the linchpin (pun intended) of the Seattle offense. And once again, that is a very good thing for his fantasy owners. Lynch is sixth in the league in rushing and fifth in fantasy points so far this season, making him a no-brainer as a RB1. Indy has been solid against running backs this season, but the only exceptional back they’ve played has been Frank Gore, and he had 82 yards on just 11 carries against them.

The Colts are tied for 16th in the league in run defense, tied for 22nd in both rushing scores and YPC allowed, yet have surrendered the sixth-fewest FPts/G to running backs. The reason for the disparity is clear – more than one-third of the rushing yards they’ve allowed have come from players other than running backs and just three teams have given up fewer receiving yards to backs than Indy.

Russell Wilson: 195 pass yds, 1 TD, 20 rush yds
Golden Tate: 60 rec yds
Sidney Rice: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 45 rec yds
Zach Miller: 15 rec yds
Marshawn Lynch: 80 rush yds, 2 TD, 10 rec yds
Robert Turbin: 20 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck isn’t exactly setting the world on fire with his arm so far this season, ranking 22nd in passing yards and tied for 18th in touchdown throws. Yet he’s also 10th in fantasy points at his position because he’s rushed for 126 yards and two scores which are tied for most among quarterbacks. Fantasy owners are still getting production from Luck’s weapons, mainly Reggie Wayne, who continues to produce and ranks 20th at wide receiver in fantasy points. Also emerging, though inconsistently, is Coby Fleener, who has two games with at least 69 yards and one touchdown. Despite all this positive fantasy news, I’d pump the brakes on any big expectations this week from that group against Seattle.

The Seahawks allowed 355 passing yards last week to Matt Schaub, but are still fifth in the NFL in pass defense and tied for fourth in touchdowns allowed. They’re also tied for third in interceptions and are holding opposing quarterbacks to the lowest passer rating in football. Seattle surrendered 141 yards and one touchdown to Houston tight ends a week ago, which is why they are now 13th in FPts/G allowed at the position, but they have still allowed the sixth-fewest FPts/G to quarterbacks and the fewest FPts/G to wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: It looks as if Ahmad Bradshaw will be sidelined once again, meaning the Colts will turn over the running game to the wholly underwhelming Trent Richardson. The former third overall pick has scored in each of his two games with Indy, yet he’s run for a total of 95 yards, and his YPC average has been 2.7 and 3.0, respectively. He’s at least worth a flex play because of the touches he’ll receive, but fantasy owners shouldn’t hold their breath awaiting a breakout against the Seahawks.

Seattle is 18th in the league against the run, 20th in YPC allowed, and tied for 10th in rushing scores given up. They’ve ceded the 13th-fewest FPts/G in the NFL to running backs, though that number would be lower if Arian Foster hadn’t amassed 69 yards and a receiving score last week. Bottom line – though their numbers aren’t super impressive, they’re still more than capable of shutting down an opponent’s running attack.

Andrew Luck: 245 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT, 25 rush yds
Reggie Wayne: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
T.Y. Hilton: 60 rec yds
Coby Fleener: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 30 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Donald Brown: 15 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 27, Colts 24 ^ Top

Jets at Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jets will be missing Santonio Holmes and likely Stephen Hill this week, making rookie Geno Smith’s job that much tougher. Minus his top two receivers, Smith will have to depend on Jeremy Kerley, Clyde Gates, and Kellen Winslow to get the job done. Smith’s rushing numbers have helped him stay in the top-15 among quarterbacks in fantasy points, but his four touchdowns rank tied for 27th and the eight interceptions he’s tossed are second-most in the NFL. Winslow will have to be more consistent than he’s been, but I think Kerley could have a solid game against an Atlanta defense that has struggled against the pass this season.

The Falcons have allowed at least 315 yards to opposing quarterbacks in all but one game this year and every quarterback they’ve faced has thrown for at least a pair of touchdowns. Fittingly, they are 27th in the league in pass defense and tied for 25th in passing scores relinquished. Atlanta has surrendered the eighth-most FPts/G to quarterbacks this season, the fourth-most to wide receivers and the 14th-most to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Bilal Powell has been a nice surprise for fantasy owners this season, ranking 14th in fantasy points at his position. He has just one touchdown, but has run for at least 4.7 YPC in each of the last two weeks and has more than 20 receiving yards in three of his four games this year. I don’t think the return of Mike Goodson will have too much of an impact on this week with the biggest obstacle to Powell’s success being the Falcons solid run defense.

Atlanta is eighth in the NFL in rush defense, tied for 10th in rushing scores yielded and is 13th in YPC allowed. They have yet to allow a single running back to gain at least 65 yards against them but have still allowed the 13th-most FPts/G to players at that position because they have given up the sixth-most receiving yards to backs. That comes with a caveat, however – of the 206 receiving yards they’ve allowed to running backs, 88 came in Week 1 against Darren Sproles.

Geno Smith: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT, 35 rush yds
Jeremy Kerley: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Kellen Winslow: 60 rec yds
Jeff Cumberland: 35 rec yds
Clyde Gates: 30 rec yds
Bilal Powell: 45 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Mike Goodson: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite the near disappearance of Roddy White due to his injury, Matt Ryan is still third in the league in passing yards and fifth among quarterbacks in fantasy points. White now seems to be getting closer to full strength, which should help make Ryan even better. He still has Julio Jones (fourth in fantasy points at wide receiver) and Tony Gonzalez (fifth in fantasy points at tight end) to throw to, with Jones a serious candidate to have a big game versus a New York team that has struggled against wide receivers.

Though the Jets are ninth in the league in pass defense, they are tied for 17th in touchdown throws given up and their one interception is tied for 28th. They’ve allowed the 13th-fewest FPts/G to quarterbacks and the sixth-fewest to tight ends but have had trouble with opposing wideouts. New York has given up the 10th-most FPts/G to players at that position, with eight different receivers having games with at least 50 yards against them.

Running Game Thoughts: The Falcons running game has had their troubles without Steven Jackson, as Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling failing to rush for a score in the two games they’ve been without the workhorse back. Rodgers is capable of being a flex play most weeks, but I don’t like his chances of producing much this week against the Jets, who have been outstanding against opposing runners this season.

Only six teams have allowed fewer rushing yards this season than the Jets, and they’ve surrendered just a single rushing score, which is tied for third in the league. Runners are gaining just 3.0 YPC against them, a mark which is better than all but one other team and no squad has relinquished fewer receiving yards to running backs than New York. Add it all up, and you get a team that has allowed fewer FPts/G to running backs than any other this season.

Matt Ryan: 330 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Julio Jones: 110 rec yds, 2 TD
Roddy White: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 60 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 35 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 45 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Jason Snelling: 35 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 27, Jets 17 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After a two week hiatus due to a hand laceration, Blaine Gabbert made his triumphant return for the Jaguars in Week 4...just kidding, he was just as awful as usual. Gabbert threw his third, fourth and fifth interceptions in another blowout loss for the Jaguars, this time at home to their division rivals, the Indianapolis Colts. It’s truly baffling that Gabbert is still on an NFL roster, let alone starting for a team, but that’s what the Jaguars plan on doing again on Sunday as they trot out Gabbert for what could be another humiliatingly performance. He’ll be up against a St. Louis Rams secondary that is very beatable, having allowed multiple touchdown passes in every game this season, but being that the Jaguars have only one passing touchdown as a team all season, and it wasn’t thrown by Gabbert, it’s hard to believe that the Rams’ string of multiple-TD’s allowed will continue.

As if things weren’t ugly enough, it appears as if Jacksonville has already thrown in the towel on 2013 as they traded former top 10 NFL draft pick, bookend left tackle Eugene Monroe, to the Baltimore Ravens earlier this week. Monroe may not be an elite player, but he is still a very good player and one that helped alleviate the pressure that came from the quarterback’s blind side. With Monroe gone, there will likely be even less time for Gabbert to attempt to find open receivers, especially against an under-appreciated St. Louis Rams front-four that can get after the passer. Defensive end Robert Quinn already has five sacks this season and could be a major force in this game as Blaine Gabbert has been sacked 10 times in just two games this year; and that was with Monroe protecting him. If there is any positive to bring into this game for the Jaguars passing game, it’s that 2012 first round pick Justin Blackmon will be making his first appearance of the season after serving a four game suspension. Jacksonville coaches have raved about how their receiver has looked in practice and while Cecil Shorts is still likely the player to own in this passing game if there is one, Blackmon being on the field will certainly help pull some of the coverage away from Shorts. Unfortunately both Shorts and Blackmon were significantly better fantasy options with Chad Henne behind center than they ever were with Gabbert, so it’d be wise to look elsewhere for receiver help this week unless you’re absolutely desperate.

Running Game Thoughts: A former top five fantasy pick, it’s sad to see just how far Maurice Jones-Drew has fallen as a member of this atrocious offense. Like most of the Jaguars, Jones-Drew’s stat lines have been ugly in 2013, with his best rushing performance of the year coming in the form of a 3.0 yards per carry average against the Chiefs in Week 1. Since then, his numbers have steadily fallen and he now carries an abysmal 2.4 yards per carry average into the Jaguars’ Week 4 matchup against the St. Louis Rams. What’s worse is that while Jones-Drew used to be one of the premier pass-catching backs in the league, including back-to-back 50-plus catch seasons for the Jaguars in ‘08 and ‘09, he has been almost completely uninvolved in the passing game this season. In four games, Jones-Drew has caught only four passes for 25 yards. While he did get into the end zone in garbage time against the Seahawks in Week 3, the truth is that this is by far the worst fantasy season of the former rushing champion’s career and one that will likely tank whatever possibility he had of getting one more big contract.

On the plus side, Jones-Drew and the Jaguars rushing attack do have as good of a matchup as they could hope for this week against a St. Louis defense that is fresh off of allowing over 200 yards rushing to the 49ers in Week 4. While Jacksonville’s offensive line does not compare favorably to the 49ers’, there is still hope that Jones-Drew could produce against the league’s most vulnerable defense in points allowed to opposing running backs. Since holding the Cardinals backs to just nine total fantasy points in Week 1, St. Louis has allowed over 20 points to opposing running backs in each of their past three games. It’s hard to forgive players when they’ve been performing this poorly, but if he’s still on your roster, try to fit Jones-Drew in your lineup just one more time. If he can’t get it done against the Rams, it may be time to sit him down for good.

Blaine Gabbert: 160 pass yds, 2 INT
Maurice Jones-Drew: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 60 rec yds
Justin Blackmon: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: A tease of fantasy production to start the season made some owners interested, but back-to-back performances of under 250 yards passing and only one score in each game has brought expectations for Sam Bradford back down to Earth. The Rams QB still has a very respectable 7-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio on the year, but his numbers against Dallas and San Francisco simply haven’t made him a worthwhile fantasy starter. Some of that may come from poor offensive line play and the fact that he’s been sacked 11 times during those two contests, but some of that does have to fall on the quarterback as well. He’s simply not seeing reading the defense well before the snap or feeling the pressure before it comes; and it’s causing him to take a lot of unnecessary punishment. There was a lot of hype surrounding the Rams’ passing game coming into the season, with both Tavon Austin and Chris Givens finding themselves on many “sleeper” lists. That hasn’t exactly panned out as planned, however, as both players have been underwhelming thus far. Austin did have a nice fantasy day in Week 2 when he caught two touchdowns, but has not topped 50 yards in any game and his 6.2 yards per reception average is shockingly low for a player whose biggest asset is his speed and elusiveness. Givens also had a nice day in Week 2 when he caught five passes for 105 yards, but has been hard to find on the stat sheet outside of that game.

Tight end Jared Cook has also struggled to remain fantasy relevant since an enormous Week 1 breakout when he caught seven passes for 141 yards and two scores (which could have very easily been three if he had held onto the ball on a long pass where he was caught from behind by a defender). Since that game, Cook has just 10 total catches for 99 yards and no scores. Like many “efficient” quarterbacks do, Sam Bradford has spread the ball out a lot this season. In fact, in the team’s Week 4 loss to the 49ers, it was receiver Austin Pettis who led the team with nine targets, although Cook, Givens and Austin all had eight targets themselves. With Bradford not really locking into any one receiver, it’s hard for any of them to be particularly great fantasy options, but each one could find a spot on some fantasy rosters this week against a Jaguars defense that has surrendered 24 receptions and four touchdowns to opposing wide receivers over their past two games.

Running Game Thoughts: It was a confusing running back situation to assess in the preseason and just when things started to clear up, the Rams’ Daryl Richardson tweets that he’s not going to get the start for the team in Week 4. While it’s hard to assess what that actually means aside from that Richardson won’t be on the field for the first play of the game, what we do expect is that Isaiah Pead will see increased reps in Week 5. Pead was a healthy scratch this past week against the 49ers and has been hit with disciplinary action already this year, but he is arguably the most talented back in the bunch and the one who is most capable of taking advantage of this opportunity. Unfortunately rookies Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham are also breathing down his neck and conflicting reports from various sources have even said that one of them will get the majority of touches in Week 5. Head coach Jeff Fisher has been very non-committal about the situation and has given the typical “coach speak” about how the running back position will depend on the situations and formations that they run. Even though they’re up against a Jaguars run defense that has allowed an average of 159 yards per game to opposing running backs, this running back by committee is as ugly as it gets and one that fantasy owners should try to stay away from. If there’s one player to consider, I would say it’s Pead who could be a decent low-end contributor in PPR formats, provided that he makes the 53-man roster this week.

Sam Bradford: 260 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Daryl Richardson: 30 rush yds
Isaiah Pead: 20 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Benny Cunningham: 15 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Chris Givens: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Tavon Austin: 50 rec yds
Austin Pettis: 40 rec yds
Jared Cook: 30 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Rams 23, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Panthers @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Things started off a little slow in the fantasy department for Cam Newton this season, but an excellent breakout week against the Giants in Week 3 reminded us why he was a top five fantasy quarterback in drafts. Newton threw the ball for 223 yards and three touchdowns, but really showed where he differs from the other elite fantasy quarterbacks when he rushed for an additional 45 yards and another touchdown; his first of the season. Although DeAngelo Williams has seen a nice resurgence this year, there is no question that the Carolina offense runs through Newton. In addition to the nice game, fantasy owners should be encouraged that the Panthers are coming off of a bye week and have essentially had two weeks to prepare for this week’s contest in Arizona.

Prior to their nice day against rookie Mike Glennon who was making the first start of his career a week ago in Tampa, the Cardinals pass defense had been awful this season. Coming into Week 4, they had allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for an average of 306 yards per game while surrendering a total of seven passing touchdowns and intercepting only two passes. Patrick Peterson remains one of the game’s premier shutdown corners, but the rest of the unit around him has not played well this year at all. Newton himself has only gone up against Arizona once in his career. It happened in his first game as a pro back in 2011, when he carved the defense up for 422 yards and two scores while also rushing for a touchdown. Newton is a must-start most weeks and certainly remains that against a subpar Cardinals secondary. Wide receiver Steve Smith has a tough matchup against Patrick Peterson and he has averaged just 48 yards per game so far with just one touchdown. Those stats would typically indicate being a WR3/FLEX option and that may only because he is Newton’s favorite target and thus should get plenty of opportunities. Former top-10 NFL draft pick Ted Ginn Jr. does have touchdowns in back-to-back weeks, but his upside is limited given the number of targets he gets (only 13 in three games). The best player in this passing game to own this week might actually be tight end Greg Olsen who has been his typical consistent self so far in 2013. Olsen is second on the team with 24 targets, but leads the team in both receptions (16) and yardage (194 yards) through three games. This week, he has a particularly enticing matchup against an Arizona Cardinals defense that has surrendered the second-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season. Both Jared Cook and Jimmy Graham scored multiple touchdowns against this defense and although Olsen may not be quite as physically gifted as those two are, he is still a mountain of a main who can move and exploit mismatches in coverage.

Running Game Thoughts: A formerly elite fantasy running back who has spent multiple years on “most disappointing players” lists, DeAngelo Williams has had a shocking return to fantasy glory thus far in 2013. Williams has reached the 100 total yard mark in two of his first three games and had 85 yards in the other. While he hasn’t hit the end zone yet, those yardage outputs have been welcomed by fantasy owners who typically selected him as a RB3 or even RB4. With Jonathan Stewart still out, Williams will look to add to those numbers.

Unfortunately he’ll be up against a Cardinals run defense that has been excellent against opposing running backs this season. They have not allowed 100 rushing yards to opposing backs in any single game this season, nor have they allowed a single touchdown to the position yet this year. That includes games against the Lions duo of Joique Bell and Reggie Bush, as well as Tampa Bay’s second-year back Doug Martin. Where the Cardinals have been exploited a bit is in the passing game, where they’ve allowed an average of eight receptions per game to opposing backs. Williams, however, has never been very involved much in the Panthers’ passing game, and especially not since Newton took over at QB in 2011. Williams has just 33 catches in his past 35 games and that won’t likely change this week. If someone is going to make an impact in the passing game out of the backfield, it might be fullback Mike Tolbert. Tolbert caught 27 passes in 2012, but had a big season as a receiver in 2011 as a member of the Chargers when he caught 54 passes. Tolbert is also the team’s short yardage and goal line back, which could mean that he is a sneaky FLEX play this week.

Cam Newton: 225 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds, 1 TD
DeAngelo Williams: 60 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 20 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Steve Smith: 50 rec yds
Brandon LaFell: 40 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 70 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: A 300-plus yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 1 had fantasy owners licking their chops, but things have been tough for Carson Palmer and the Cardinals since that point. Palmer hasn’t surpassed 250 yards in any of his past three games and he has only thrown two touchdown passes during that span. He has, however, been the “gunslinger” we’ve come to expect him to be; and has now thrown six interceptions on the year. While we can forgive him for a less-than-stellar performance against Darrelle Revis and the Buccaneers and even against the Saints secondary that has overachieved this season, but throwing for only 248 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Lions in Week 2 was certainly disappointing.

He does have a surprisingly tough matchup in Week 5 as he will be up against the Panthers who are allowing an average of fewer than 10 points per game to opposing quarterbacks this season. While they haven’t been up against the best of quarterbacks, no one could have expected that this mediocre secondary would be allowing the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Palmer may not be a fantasy starter this week, but one guy who remains valuable even with uninspiring play from his quarterback is Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has gone from being barely a top-50 play at receiver a year ago into the top-20 thus far in 2013. He caught his third touchdown of the year a week ago, even though he was not targeted on a single pass in the first half of the game. Carolina doesn’t have a Revis-like player in their secondary, so one has to expect that he will get many more opportunities this week, thus making him a very good WR2 option.

Running Game Thoughts: With just 50 yards on his past 21 carries, it’s hard to believe that the leash on running back Rashard Mendenhall is too long right now. Mendenhall had not reached 70 yards on the ground in any game this season and although he does have a touchdown, he’s been a disappointing fantasy contributor most weeks. Even with his lack of production, however, Mendenhall remains the lead dog in the Arizona backfield with only Andre Ellington seeing significant touches behind him. Ellington has only 10 carries over his past three games, but he has also been involved in the receiving game, catching eight passes over that timespan. If Mendenhall continues to perform poorly, we could continue to see more from Andre Ellington or even third string back Alfonso Smith.

None of these backs are a particularly great fantasy option in Week 4, however, against an underrated Panthers front seven that shut down Marshawn Lynch in Week 1 and has allowed only one touchdown to an opposing running back all season. Where Carolina has been beaten up a bit is by backs that can catch the ball out of the backfield, where they’ve allowed an average of seven receptions per game to the position. This isn’t anything new, either, as they allowed more receiving yardage to opposing running backs than any team in the league in 2012. This could mean increased opportunities for Andre Ellington out of the backfield, but we really can’t guarantee that enough to actually suggest putting him in your fantasy lineup. Rashard Mendenhall is still the only Arizona back worth any real fantasy consideration at this time, and even that is as a RB3/FLEX.

Carson Palmer: 235 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rashard Mendenhall: 40 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Andre Ellington: 20 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Larry Fitzgerald: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Floyd: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Cardinals 24, Panthers 20 ^ Top

Texans @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Houston Texans fans have been calling for the head of quarterback Matt Schaub after having thrown pick-sixes in three straight contests, but fantasy owners haven’t had quite the hatred for the QB. He did have one ugly performance against the Ravens in Week 3, but Schaub’s fantasy numbers really haven’t been bad. He’s averaging two touchdowns and nearly 300 yards passing per game. He has also thrown six interceptions on the year, but it’s hard to be too critical of a fantasy quarterback who has three games of 18-plus fantasy points. He’ll never be elite, but Schaub is a decent enough bye-week fill-in and a valuable option in two-quarterback leagues.

This week will be a tough contest, though, as he’s up against a San Francisco defense that has been dominant against opposing quarterbacks since a brutally bad performance against Aaron Rodgers in Week 1. Since that game, the 49ers are allowing just 168 passing yards per game and have surrendered only two touchdown passes. Even with Aldon Smith and Patrick Willis on the sidelines, the 49ers have remained an elite defense. Schaub’s value is lower this week than usual because of the matchup, but one player who is essentially matchup-proof is receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson is averaging 8.5 receptions per game, putting him on pace for a ridiculous 136 receptions on the year. In addition to Johnson, the Texans rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins has already proven himself as a valuable option opposite Johnson in the passing game. He had his worst game of the year in Week 4 with only two catches, but had caught 18 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown through the first three games of the season. With Johnson and Hopkins drawing so much of opposing coverages, tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham have been surprisingly productive. Graham has a touchdown in three of four games this season while Daniels has three scores on the year himself and has caught five or more passes in three of four games this year. Both Daniels and Graham have to be considered low-end options at their position, but for those dealing with bye weeks, you could do worse than one of the Texans tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s been an up-and-down season for running back Arian Foster this season, who may still be dealing with the after-effects of off-season injuries that kept him out of much of training camp and the preseason. Foster, who was taken as high as the No. 2 overall pick in some fantasy leagues, has averaged nearly 100 total yards per game, but has only made it into the end zone twice thus far on the season. The Texans offense has struggled to score in each of their past two games, having scored only 29 total points over that span. A lot of that can be placed on Matt Schaub who has turned the ball over too much, but Foster and the running game needs to produce like they did last week if the Texans want to turn this season around. Foster rushed for 102 yards—his first 100-yard game of the year—in addition to 69 yards and a touchdown as a receiver. Backup running back Ben Tate has also been involved from week to week, having taken 34 carries for 228 in four games this year. While Tate himself isn’t much of a fantasy option at the moment, it’s nice to see that he remains one of the premier handcuff backs in the league.

This week the Texans will be up against a 49ers defense that performed extremely well against the Rams last week, but has struggled mightily to slow down other runners this year. Prior to allowing just 22 rushing yards and no touchdowns to St. Louis, the 49ers had allowed six touchdowns and 430 yards to opposing running backs through their first three games. In fairness, we have to expect that the 49ers are better against the run than what their stats have shown, but they may not be as good in 2013 as they have been in the past. Foster is an obvious starter no matter the format, but back-to-back 100-yard games might be tough.

Matt Schaub: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Arian Foster: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Ben Tate: 20 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Andre Johnson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
DeAndre Hopkins: 55 rec yds
Owen Daniels: 40 rec yds
Garrett Graham: 25 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Following two horrendous performances by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, fantasy owners have to be a little inspired after seeing their quarterback throw two touchdowns in a win over the Rams in Week 4. It certainly wasn’t a superb fantasy day as he threw for only 167 yards and rushed for 11, but the positive was that he didn’t look completely terrible. After being one of the most prolific quarterback runners at the quarterback position a season ago, Kaepernick has disappointed in that area this season. He has rushed for 22 or fewer yards in three of his four contests this season and despite an 87-yard rushing performance against the Seahawks, has not yet scored a touchdown as a runner. Receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis got back into fantasy owners’ good graces with a touchdown each a week ago. The concerns about Davis continue, however, as he has missed his Week 3 game with a concussion and has just 38 yards receiving in his past two games combined. Boldin, on the other hand, appears to be a very solid WR2 option at the moment. Other than a tough matchup against the Seahawks in Week 2, Boldin has hit double digits in fantasy points (PPR formats) in each of his other three games, including a 13-catch, 208-yard performance in Week 1.

Kaepernick, Boldin and Davis are all likely too talented to bench this week, even against a Houston defense that hasn’t surrendered a 200-yard passer this season. Houston didn’t allow a touchdown pass in either of their past two games, but it’s worth noting that the game against Flacco and the Ravens was not close, so the Ravens really didn’t have to pass much. It’s also important to point out that while Russell Wilson threw for only 123 yards; he also rushed for 77. The rushing yards allowed to Wilson have to give Kaepernick owners some hope, though expectations should still remain in check.

Running Game Thoughts: The rumors of Frank Gore’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The 49ers back proved that in Week 4 with a huge performance that netted him 153 yards and a score on the ground. San Francisco’s offensive line had been underperforming thus far in 2013, but they really got things going against a very good St. Louis front seven last week. After rushing for just 60 yards on 30 carries in his first two games, Gore has now rushed for 235 yards on 31 carries in his past two games. It’s hard to believe that he’ll stay on that kind of pace, but it’s very nice to know that Gore still has something in the tank and this offensive line hasn’t completely fallen apart.

They’ll be up against a Texans defense that has allowed double-digit fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing running backs in every game this season, including 151 total yards and a touchdown to the Seahawks a week ago. JJ Watt and company are certainly talented enough to stop the run, but this 49ers offensive line is also one of the most physically gifted in the league. Gore will be in most fantasy lineups, as well he should be, but Kendall Hunter has also been involved in the 49ers offense as of late, having scored a touchdown in back-to-back games. Hunter isn’t much of a fantasy option himself until he starts to get more carries on a week-to-week basis, but he is certainly capable of vulturing touchdowns from Gore.

Colin Kaepernick: 160 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 50 rush yds
Frank Gore: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Kendall Hunter: 30 rush yds, 5 rec yds
Anquan Boldin: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Vernon Davis: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: 49ers 27, Texans 24 ^ Top

Chargers @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The resurgence of Philip Rivers continued a week ago when he threw for his second 400-yard game of the season in a win over the Dallas Cowboys. Rivers is averaging nearly 300 yards per game, but it’s his touchdown-to-interception ratio that has been most impressive. Aside from the ridiculous season that Peyton Manning is putting together, there may not be another quarterback who is hotter than Rivers. With only two interceptions, Rivers is on pace to throw only eight on the year after throwing 35 picks over his past two seasons. Not only that, but his 11 touchdowns are second-best, only behind the aforementioned Manning. Perhaps more surprisingly than Rivers’ revival has been that of tight end Antonio Gates who had been all but written off as over the hill coming into the 2013 season. After his big game against the Cowboys a week ago, Gates now leads the team with 364 yards and has also been the recipient of two touchdowns. It may be tough to fully trust Gates after he has performed so poorly in recent memory, but this is still a guy who knows how to use his physical abilities to get open and beat defenders, particularly in the end zone. Another Chargers pass-catcher, Eddie Royal, has been practically invisible over the past two games after two huge performances to start the season. Royal caught a total of five touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 2, but has since caught only five total passes—none for touchdowns—in his past two games.

This surprisingly high-powered passing game goes into Week 5 with an excellent matchup against a Raiders secondary that is among the very worst in the league. Oakland has allowed seven passing touchdowns against them and is one of only two defense to have not yet forced an interception this season. The biggest worry about the Chargers’ offense this week might be that they get out to too big of a lead and take their foot off the gas pedal. By then, though, Rivers and these receivers could have done their damage.

Running Game Thoughts: Part of the reason that the Chargers passing attack has been so productive this season is that they’ve had to throw the ball a lot due to the complete ineptitude of their running game. No runner on the team has eclipsed 75 yards on the ground in a game this season and as a unit they’ve only scored one rushing touchdown. Running back Ryan Mathews is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry and prior to his four catch performance a week ago against the Cowboys, hadn’t been used much in the passing game either. The back to own, at least in PPR formats, has been former New England Patriot Danny Woodhead. Woodhead has just 90 yards rushing on the season, but has shined in a Darren Sproles-like role for the Chargers, catching 22 of the 27 passes intended for him for 162 yards and two scores on the year. Woodhead had his best game of the season in Week 4 when he scorched the Cowboys to the tune of 86 total yards on just 10 touches and two touchdowns. While he hasn’t been particularly impressive in non-PPR formats, Woodhead has become a very interesting option in PPR formats. Those who are hurting at running back or looking for a FLEX play this weekend should look to Woodhead to get them at or near 10 fantasy points in PPR formats. If you are in a standard-scoring league, however, Woodhead has not yet shown that he is going to put up the kind of yardage or touchdown numbers to become a viable every week option.

Philip Rivers: 315 pass yds, 2 TD
Ryan Mathews: 50 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 20 rush yds, 45 rec yds
Eddie Royal: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Vincent Brown: 50 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: After missing last week’s game due to precautionary measures from a concussion, second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor is expected to make his return to the lineup in Week 5. Pryor has been by far the team’s most productive offensive weapon this season and has reached double-digit fantasy points in each game he’s played in. Even after missing a game, Pryor is still second in the league with 198 yards rushing from the quarterback position and he had the best passing day of his career the last time he was on the field, throwing for 281 yards and a score against the Broncos. He’s not likely going to blow anyone away with his accuracy or passing statistics as a whole, but Pryor’s ability to run the ball should not be overlooked. It may be hard for some to believe, but when healthy, Pryor is a borderline top-12 fantasy option.

That will be put to the test this week when he goes up against a San Diego Chargers pass defense that has surrendered more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than any team this season. San Diego has allowed eight passing touchdowns while forcing only one interception and opposing quarterbacks are averaging nearly 330 passing yards per game against them. While we don’t expect Pryor to approach that number, he certainly could do some damage in the running game. San Diego allowed a rushing touchdown to both Mike Vick and Jake Locker earlier this season, so Pryor could certainly exploit them for a rushing score of his own. Denarius Moore remains about the only receiver worth any fantasy consideration at the moment, but even he is a low-end WR3 option at the moment until we see some more consistency from him.

Running Game Thoughts: With running back Darren McFadden nursing a hamstring injury, the Oakland running back situation looks very shaky heading into Sunday. Although he had hit double-digit fantasy point totals in each of his first three games, wise fantasy owners saw the writing on the wall when he had rushed for just 57 yards combined in two of those contests. McFadden has always been a boom-or-bust option, but when he’s not healthy, it’s not often that he ends up on the boom side of things. He hasn’t practiced all week as of Thursday and although the coaching staff has said that he doesn’t have to practice on Friday to play on Sunday, it would be surprising to see the Raiders give him a full workload if he doesn’t practice. If he doesn’t play, it will likely be backup Rashad Jennings that gets the bulk of the touches. Jennings played well in relief of McFadden a week ago, rushing for 45 yards and catching eight passes for 71 yards. He may not be the physical specimen that McFadden is, but Jennings is a smart player who can find holes in defenses and catch passes out of the backfield. As odd as it might sound, Jennings might be the better fantasy option this week, even if McFadden plays. We just don’t know how involved “Run DMC” will be in the offense and it would be disastrous if the team tried to push him on an injured hamstring, only to have the injury worsen in the process.

Terrelle Pryor: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 60 rush yds, 1 TD
Rashad Jennings: 55 rush yds, 50 rec yds
Darren McFadden: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Denarius Moore: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Rod Streater: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 21, Raiders 17 ^ Top

Ravens at Dolphins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Two touchdowns and 347 yards passing against the Bills sounds like a pretty good day for QB Joe Flacco, at least until you factor in a career worst five interceptions, the last of which came in the final minute as the Ravens were driving for a game tying FG or the go ahead touchdown. On top of that consider giving up four sacks and completing only 50% of his passes and pretty soon the negatives start to significantly outweigh the positives. Passing game woes weren’t all the fault of Flacco though as the offensive line was overwhelmed for the majority of the game, displaying rather conclusively that the unit has major concerns and that the miscues all season long were the norm and not the exception. To remedy this situation Baltimore traded with Jacksonville for offensive tackle Eugene Monroe at the cost of multiple late-round draft picks. The hope is that he will help the team improve on their 13th overall passing offense, particularly in the area of pressures and sacks, in the latter of which they are ranked tenth worst in the league.

The contest against Miami will start to answer a number of questions that emerged last week, particularly in the area of the Dolphins pass defense and their ability to pressure the QB. Prior to week four they were statistically one of the better defenses in the NFL but Monday night against New Orleans they were torn apart by Drew Brees and his diverse collection of pass catchers. Miami surrendered nearly 400 yards and four TDs on 77% passing, the majority of which came against a standard four-man rush. Previously they were third best in the league (yards per attempt) when not sending extra pressure. If Flacco has another off day this Sunday then the Dolphins will feast on him, though if they struggle again Flacco may put together a great performance and bounce back from the disappointing loss to Buffalo. Though the offensive line is expected to be better for the remainder of the season it will likely be at least a game or two until Monroe is able to drastically improve pass protection but on the bright side it’s hard to imagine him making things any worse than they already are.

Running Game Thoughts: A bad running game come from offensive line issues and those also contribute to QB struggles, then those struggles make things harder on the running game, and as a team loses the ability to run the offensive line gets overrun with pass rushers which make the quarterback play exceptionally poorly. It’s painfully cyclical but in the case of Baltimore the offensive futility can likely be attributed to the play of the O-line. The Ravens backfield features the best fullback in the league (possibly ever), a dynamic superstar runner, and one of the best backups a team could hope for, though as a group they’re averaging only 2.6 yards per carry which is next to last in that category. Running lanes aren’t being created, holes that might have been there disappear before the ball carrier can arrive, and the number of times plays are disrupted at or behind the line of scrimmage is nearly depressing. Baltimore for the first time in a long time is all but incapable of running the ball with any authority and the only potential saving grace is the acquisition of Monroe from Jacksonville. While his impact on the passing game will be seen quickly it may take longer for him to pick up the Ravens running playbook, but thankfully success on the offensive line often comes down to beating the man in front of you in a one on one battle, and in that area he should excel.

The run defense they’ll be facing is a bit of a contradiction in itself, as the Dolphins are top ten in terms of yards allowed but are bottom ten is yards per attempt; generally they don’t face many rushes (tied for ninth lowest attempts against) but when they do they give up 4.2 yards per attempt. This may be one of the most ideal defenses for Baltimore to face, as they want to get back to a high volume of rushes and they’ve been struggling mightily in rushing average. Of course based on the Ravens ability to run the ball up to this point in the season it’s wholly possible for them to be forced to abandon the rush after being unable to make significant gains on the ground. Until the game is played it looks like things really could go either way. For Baltimore it is of utmost importance that they can establish a rushing attack so that Flacco can serve as more of a game manager than having the fate of the team rest on his shoulders; they are best when the offense is balanced and establishing the run is critical in that respect.

Joe Flacco: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs
Ray Rice: 60 rush yds, 1 TD / 20 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: By the numbers Miami is roughly average, perhaps a bit below average, in most statistical passing categories with one glaring exception. They’ve given up the most sacks in the league and QB Ryan Tannehill has taken a beating in most of the games this season. Defenses have been able to effectively limit the deep ball, principally through scheming against WR Mike Wallace, and that in combination with problems along the offensive line have led to a barrage of linemen and linebackers finding their way into the backfield, collapsing the pocket, and generally getting the best of the quarterback. Lacking a true #2 WR and losing their prime pass catching TE to a preseason injury have make the Dolphins one of the easiest passing offenses to defend against, but the emergence of TE Charles Clay and the presence of a quality running game have allowed Miami to post a 3-1 start as Tannehill is able to execute well enough through the air. His biggest issue may actually come on the ground, where defensive pressure and a porous O-line have helped lead to three lost fumbles (six total) already this season. Those three combined with five interceptions give him a TD-turnover ratio of 5-8; the passing attack isn’t prolific enough to be able to afford that kind of production.

After giving up 445 passing yards and seven touchdowns in the opening game Baltimore has since averaged 170 yards against, given up only one passing TD, forced three interceptions, and recorded ten sacks. Apparently all they need to be successful is to not face Peyton Manning. Unfortunately for Miami Tannehill is no Manning so the outlook for Sunday seems pretty bleak. Even factoring in the week one defensive charade the Ravens come in about the middle of the passing rankings, suggesting that they’ve been able to do in three games what it has taken most teams four to do. Compared to last season this Baltimore defense has fewer big name playmakers but what they do have is a number of opportunistic defenders who are primed to pounce on any mistake made by the opposing quarterback. If Tannehill can protect the ball Miami will have a chance to take advantage of the Ravens defense as they try to load up against the run, but if the quarterback makes poor decisions or loses the ball in the pocket it’ll be hard to mount a comeback through the air and that may spell defeat for the Dolphins.

Running Game Thoughts: Success in this area will go a long way to determining the outcome of the game. With the exception of the opening game against Cleveland the Dolphins have been able to run the ball fairly well, with RB Lamar Miller gaining about 60 yards on the ground and usually scoring a touchdown and Tannehill generally contributing some production through scrambles that pick up yardage and extend drives. In recent weeks Miller has wrestled more and more touches away from Daniel Thomas and has essentially become the primary ball carrier for the team. His explosiveness and agility gave him far better upside to begin with and the results from that potential have finally started to show themselves. If Miami were to commit to running the ball and making Miller the primary focus of their offense that would take much of the pressure off Tannehill and likely lead to better ball security and time of possession.

If the running game is successful this weekend Miami will have to send a bouquet of flowers or possibly a gift basket to the Buffalo Bills. After giving up only 224 combined rushing yards in their first three games the Ravens were gouged for 203 yards on the ground in week four by two dynamic, but slightly hobbled, Bills runners and their mobile quarterback. The Dolphins may be able to replicate that game plan, using either a Miller-Thomas-Tannehill combo or just focusing on one RB and still utilizing the QB were they can. The primary hitch in this plan of course is the offensive line who seemingly oscillates between being very good and absolutely terrible. The center of the line is clearly its strength with the tackle positions being the area of weakness, but even with defenses knowing that Miller has been decently successful on the ground. If the week four Baltimore rushing defense shows up again in week five he could run wild.

Ryan Tannehill: 210 pass yds, 1 TDs, 1 INT / 40 rush yds
Lamar Miller: 80 rush yds, 1 TD
Mike Wallace: 70 rec yds
Charles Clay: 30 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Dolphins 20, Ravens 17 ^ Top

Eagles at Giants - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: If coupled with a Dallas loss (vs Denver) on Sunday a Philadelphia victory will set them tied atop the NFC East at 2-3, meaning that every aspect of this rivalry game means even more than it already should. Aside from a promising season opener the Eagles have been only slightly better than terribly disappointing. Through four games the offense has been more hype than substance and the highly anticipated fast break offense has done more sitting on the bench than marching up the field. The passing game ranks in the top third of the league in yards per game but is one of the worst teams when it comes to giving up sacks. QB Michael Vick has only thrown two interceptions but his six touchdowns are somewhat of a disappointment considering the expectations. After 16 catches, two touchdowns, and nearly 300 yards in the first two weeks speedy WR DeSean Jackson has been held to five catches, no TDs, and less than 100 yards in the two most recent outings. Vick has seen his completion percentage drop from the low 60s to the low 50s, and a 4-0 TD-INT ratio add two picks and only one score to the total over those same two-week spans.

Getting back on track through the air will be a priority against a Giants secondary, which ranks in the bottom half and has recorded only four sacks so far this season. The once vaunted pass rush has taken significant steps backward, creating a potential stalemate for Philadelphia’s equally poor offensive line. Vick has been sacked 14 times and is constantly under pressure from opposing defenses, but since the Giants have a hard time getting to the quarterback it stands to reason that opportunities should be much more plentiful for the Eagles. Despite the recent downturn Jackson should expect to see plenty of balls thrown his way as he runs through and behind the secondary of New York that may finally be at full strength after suffering through numerous injuries already in this young season. The Giants have holes throughout the back seven and with Jackson’s speed he only needs a few opportunities to make a huge impact on the game.

Running Game Thoughts: Eagles RB LeSean McCoy leads the league in rushing yards and is the primary reason why his team is also the most prolific rushing team in terms of yards per game. Vick also contributes as a runner on improvised plays and scrambles, but that’s just icing on the McCoy cake. Philadelphia averages nearly 200 yards per game on the ground, which is almost 50 yards more than the next best team. As could be expected, yards per carry is also the best in the league at 6.2 whereas the next best is 5.3 and only one other team has an average higher than 4.9. Considering the problems the O-line has as a unit these numbers are astonishing, but time and again McCoy has proven capable of turning nothing into something, something into a running lane, and running lanes into touchdowns, all while juking, shaking, and spinning his way away from defenders and earning every last bit of his “Shady” nickname. In games where he has been held in check the Eagles have struggled so him being set for a big game in week five is great news for the team.

As bad as the Giants have been against the pass they’ve possibly been worse against the run, giving up over 120 rushing yards per game and ranking near the bottom of the league because of it. To be fair New York has faced the second most rushing attempts of any team but if Philadelphia is able to execute as they hope it’s quite possible that the Giants will jump up in those attempts rankings. This strategy for the Eagles will work because the defensive line currently packs no punch, the linebackers are one of the weakest corps in the NFL, and the DBs will be too busy chasing WRs through the secondary to stop the run until McCoy is already at the next level and a missed tackle away from taking it to the house. This game featuring two terrible defenses will be won at the line of scrimmage, so if the Eagles can effectively neutralize whatever the Giants are able to do that will put the game in their hands as McCoy puts the game on his own shoulders.

Michael Vick: 320 yards passing, 3 TDs / 40 rush yds, 1 TD
LeSean McCoy: 180 rush yds, 2 TDs / 60 rec yds, 1 TD
DeSean Jackson: 130 rec yds, 1 TD
Brent Celek: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: New York hasn’t started a season 0-5 since replacement players were used a quarter century ago, though in a sense with the injuries to the Giants offensive line some of those guys protecting QB Eli Manning may actually be replacement players. Two of the starting five linemen have yet to play this season and a third has been limited in both his availability and effectiveness, leaving pass protection in a state of shambles; they’ve given up 14 sacks through four games, tied for fifth worst in the league. The lack of protection has helped contribute to a league worst ten interceptions (only three other teams have more than six) which is two more than the next team, though even with good protection Manning has thrown several that were all on him. With the exception of the Carolina game where everyone was utterly abysmal, the lone bright spot to the Giants season has been WR Victor Cruz, who has recorded three games of over 118 yards and ranks in the top five of most statistical categories for receivers. He’s the primary target in the offense and his speed and versatility make him incredibly difficult to cover, something that New York will certainly try to exploit against Philadelphia on Sunday.

Because of the terrible performance of the offensive line Eagles pass rushers may have opportunities to get to Manning on Sunday. They’re roughly in the middle of the pack when it comes to sacks but playing against New York may give them a chance to improve on this ranking. As a unit the Philadelphia front seven hasn’t been particularly terrifying but there are a number of standout individuals that must be accounted for if the offensive line is going to protect their quarterback. The secondary may be just as bad as, if not worse than, that of New York, and by the numbers they’re second worst in the league, only four yards out of last place. The number of passing touchdowns is only one behind the Giants whom are tied for worst in the league at ten. If Manning is given time in the pocket he should be able to pick apart the Eagles secondary just as other teams have, but it will all depend on the O-line performing effectively.

Running Game Thoughts: Only four teams average fewer than 60 rush yards per game. Only two teams have lost more than two fumbles from rushing plays. Only nine teams have scored one or fewer rushing touchdowns. Only five teams have a yards per carry average of 3.3 or worse. The Giants are the tragic culmination of all of these, the center spot of the “how bad is your running game” four-way Venn diagram. As expected most of this falls back on the offensive line, but between being unable to address that immediately through personnel changes and likely being unable to effectively change blocking schemes mid-season, optimism is running low in New York. The team has released backup RB Da’Rel Scott, seemingly in favor of the embattled David Wilson, who has seen his carries and yards increase over the past three weeks. These observations all begin to suggest that the Giants have decided to trust him again after a terrible two-fumble outing in the opening game; if he can manage to hold onto the football the running game may start to improve.

Facing off against Philadelphia ought to help the running game tremendously as they average over 120 yards against on the ground and 4.1 yards per carry, both ranking in the bottom half of the league. Their defensive rushing numbers would likely be worse if it weren’t for the sorry state of their passing defense; since teams are able to throw the ball effectively against the Eagles they often don’t concentrate on trying to beat them on the ground. That being said the Broncos obliterated them through the air and still managed to gain over 140 rushing yards against them last week. While Eli don’t have the weapons around him that big brother Peyton does the Giants still have a formidable passing attack which should help to give better opportunities to Wilson whenever he carries the ball. If fumbles can continue to be a thing of the past and the O-line can get a moderate push against the front seven New York stands to turn in their best rushing performance of the season against one of the league’s worst rushing defenses.

Eli Manning: 280 yards passing, 3 TDs
David Wilson: 80 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Victor Cruz: 140 rec yds, 2 TDs

Prediction: Eagles 35, Giants 31 ^ Top

Broncos at Cowboys - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: No matter how you cut it Peyton Manning is one of the best quarterbacks ever and without a doubt the top of the league so far in 2013. Two of his receivers are in the top six of WR statistical categories, his previously unheard of tight end is off to a fantastic start, and the odd man out is Eric Decker who has led the team in receiving yards twice already through four games. The offensive line, which suffered through injuries in the preseason and then lost LT Ryan Clady in week three performed well against the Eagles in giving up only one sack. The game was so out of hand that Manning didn’t play in the fourth quarter after throwing four touchdowns and 327 yards on 28-34 passing through only 45 minutes of game time. The offense is firing on all cylinders under the direction of Manning and they show no signs of slowing down from this record pace.

After thoroughly dismantling the Eagles secondary Manning and company get to face another weak NFC East defense in consecutive weeks; Dallas is arguably the best of the division at this point but that certainly isn’t saying much. By the numbers they’re one of the worst in yards against, one of the best in sacks recorded, and about middle of the road in interceptions. Considering that Manning has yet to throw an interception and has led the most prolific passing offense in the NFL it’ll come as a huge surprise if Dallas makes any positive strides defensively. The one potential area of concern is the pass rush, but seeing as the Broncos have given up the second fewest sacks of any team even the apparent strength of the Cowboys defense may be rendered ineffective. Short of an inspired performance from Dallas or a monumental collapse from Denver there is little evidence that suggests Manning will be anything but spectacular for a fifth consecutive week.

Running Game Thoughts: What makes the running game so good for Denver is the fact that they haven’t really needed it yet this season. Defenses recognize the nearly impossible task that Manning presents and most of their efforts are in stopping him and the receiving corps, thus leaving Broncos RBs relatively free to pick up cheap yards on the ground. The yards per carry average is right at 4.0, a number that is typically used as a measure of success. The Denver backfield is very much being run as a committee though more often than not Knowshon Moreno appears to be the most effective RB in all areas of the game. No back has carried more than 13 times in any game, and the leading attempts getter only received one more touch than the second most used back in all four games, representing a near perfect balance. Whoever gets the ball runs behind an offensive line that seems to be performing at a level higher than the sum of its parts would suggest, but with Manning calling the shots on the field it is quite understandable why they’re doing better than was expected with the injuries they’ve suffered.

The best rushing defense that the Broncos have faced thus far in the season came from Baltimore, the 16th ranked in yards allowed. Dallas ranks in the top five, yields less than 78 yards per game, and has yet to surrender a rushing touchdown. While this obviously isn’t ideal for Denver it also isn’t particularly likely to dramatically change what they’ll try to do on Sunday. The gameplan revolves around passing the ball effectively and allowing Manning to make adjustments on the field to exploit whatever the defense has shown. While there have been a number of called runs, several more have come from audibles or have resulted from adjustments made to an existing call. Denver probably won’t reach their rushing yards average (119.3) but they won’t need to in order to be effective in the run game, which in itself serves the function of being the change of pace or gives Manning a break from throwing so many passes.

Peyton Manning: 380 pass yds, 4 TDs
Knowshon Moreno: 60 rush yds / 30 rec yds
Demaryius Thomas: 130 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: For not putting up insane amounts of yards the Cowboys have one of the most efficient aerial attacks in the game with QB Tony Romo completing over 72% of his passes, third best in the league and over four percentage points better than the next best. His big threat target is WR Dez Bryant who has been brilliant in two games this season and kept relatively quiet in the other two, in the two big games he’s made 15 catches for 262 yards and three touchdowns compared to only eight catches, 60 yards, and one touchdown the other contests. That inconsistency reflects both his big play ability and the importance that defenses place on covering him, sometimes dedicating two or even three defenders to him to try to force Romo to throw elsewhere. Many of those other attempts have found their way to TE Jason Witten who always sees passes come him way, but unlike previous season he has so far been unable to turn those receptions into huge chunks of yards. Because of the points that Denver is expected to put up Dallas will likely be forced to throw frequently and if Romo can continue to protect the ball (only one interception this season) he will be called upon to try to answer Manning score for score. He has the skill to make it interesting, or even to succeed.

Only five teams give up more yards per game through the air than Dallas does; one of them is Denver. To an extent this could be considered a self-inflicted wound, because once teams get down by more than one score they feel compelled to throw to try to keep the game, and quite frequently Manning leads the Broncos to double digit victories. As a unit they’re better than average in sacks recorded and interceptions forced, again because the defense is able to force opponents into passing situations and predictable play calling. The defense is built to play from ahead and to protect leads, so if Dallas is able to keep the game close and force the Broncos into balanced sets they may be able to take advantage of them. Unfortunately this may depend on Manning being more pedestrian than extraordinary, which to this point in the season has been anything common. The Cowboys better than average sacks allowed total could match up well with the Broncos rush defense, and if they’re able to neutralize that pressure Romo will have a chance to lead his team to a huge victory in from of the home crowd.

Running Game Thoughts: Performances from RB DeMarco Murray have been all over the place this season; in one game he gained only 25 yards, the week before that he rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown, and most recently he turned in a fairly average performance again without scoring. In his two most productive games the Cowboys have won. In those he also received 20 or more carries. While four inconsistent games can only show so much what is certain is that when Murray carries the ball more he tends to run better and the team almost always does better because of that. As demonstrated in week two he is a dynamic talent capable of making the big play and overwhelming the defense. Much of his success, or its lack thereof, depends on the offensive line which is approximately mediocre but shows flashes of far more than that from time to time. Given the opportunity Murray can turn a small hole into a wide open running lane, but that will first and foremost have to come from the O-line still searching for consistency and reliability.

Interestingly, the two best games for Murray have come against NFC opponents and the bad ones were both against teams from the AFC West. The best of the west rolls into town Sunday and Dallas will be hard pressed to make this this first game in which they’ve excelled in running the ball against that division. Add on top of that the likelihood that Denver will score many many points and the running game may have to be eliminated all together if things don’t go well from the very beginning. The Broncos lead the league in yards against per game with 74. They have allowed four rushing TDs this season and not recorded any fumbles from rushing plays, so there’s at least a little reason for the Cowboys to be optimistic about their running game. In the perfect situation the game will stay close and Murray will be used to try to counter the passing attack of Denver and also effectively keep the defense balanced rather than teeing off against the pass. Dallas has the pieces to make this happen but the most likely scenario is Manning pulls away and the Cowboys rushing attach shrivels as the team tries to mount a comeback of Texas-sized proportions.

Tony Romo: 260 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
DeMarco Murray: 50 rush yds, 1 TD / 30 rec yds
Dez Bryant: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Broncos 45, Cowboys 27 ^ Top