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Inside the Matchup
Week 6

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




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Smith 14 6 70.0
2 Caron 13 7 65.0
3 Thorne 11 7 61.1
4 Anderson 9 10 47.4

Giants @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Against one of the league’s worst defenses last week Eli Manning and company should have dominated with all the talent they have. Unfortunately for them, the Eagles were a little better than advertised and Eli was a bit underwhelming. While the yardage (334) and TD’s (2) were respectable, the completion percentage was horrible (46%), the INT’s were just as bad (3), and the entire passing unit just felt out of sync. While both Hakeem Nicks (9/142) and Rueben Randle (6/96/2) had great fantasy games, the Eagles decided to focus on slowing down Victor Cruz (5/48), and it worked, as he caught less than half his targets. At 0-5 the Giants, despite a lot of talent in the skill positions, seem to be on the brink of disaster. Bad things tend to happen when players know their season is pretty much over, and you could see the frustration on the field last week with the entire team, as there seemed to be a lack of energy towards the end of the game. While guys like Cruz will continue to put up numbers, I would knock all Giants players down a notch from here on out simply because of the atmosphere around the team.

What’s worse, the Giants have a short week to travel to Chicago where they have little time to try and fix what has been ailing them. While the Bears have not been strong in their pass defense to this point (6th most passing yards allowed in NFL), they are better than the Eagles, especially better at home, and are certainly upset coming off a home loss to the Saints. On paper this is not a terrible matchup for the Giants, as the Bears have been the 13th most generous to opposing fantasy QB’s and the 17th most generous to WR’s. While the yardage may be there in this game, Eli at this point is a very weak QB2, as he has been brutally inconsistent and now has 4 more INT’s than TD’s (league-leading 12 INT’s). With multiple offensive line injuries and the fact that he seems on a different page than his receivers, he simply can’t be trusted at this point, maybe after the bye week, but certainly not in this game. Last week was an off week for Cruz but I fully expect him to return to low-end WR1 status this week. With pretty much no run game the Giants will be forced to throw 40+ times and Cruz will certainly be the target leader after a down week against the Eagles. As for Nicks and Randle, I see them both as low to mid-range WR3’s, you could do better but you certainly could do worse. I actually like Randle a bit more than Nicks as the season goes on, as the G-men look to the future. TE Brandon Myers is off the fantasy radar to all but the most desperate owners.

Running Game Thoughts: With David Wilson being ruled out of this game with a neck injury the carries will be divided up between Brandon Jacobs and newly re-signed Da’Rel Scott. The Giants, to this point have one of the NFL’s absolute worst rushing attacks, ranking 31st in yardage and 27th in yards per carry. With injuries to the offensive line, an inconsistent passing attack, and just plain bad play from their RB’s, the situation does not look like it will improve anytime soon, especially on a short week. Even if this were a plus matchup, I would not have much confidence in either RB as anything more than a low-end RB3 this week. Against the Bears (in Chicago), who have been decent versus the run (14th fewest yards allowed) I would avoid the whole Giants backfield entirely. When Wilson returns, this backfield may be worth a look but currently there is nothing to see here.

Eli Manning: 280 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Victor Cruz: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Hakeem Nicks: 50 rec yds
Rueben Randle: 70 rec yds
Brandon Jacobs: 35 rush yds
Da’Rel Scott: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Bears lost last week to the Saints, it was another strong performance for Jay Cutler and company who put up 358 passing yards and 2 TD’s (0 INT). The most impressive member of the passing attack was WR Alshon Jeffery who bested his career game (last week) with 218 yards and 1 TD. While WR Brandon Marshall complained after the game about the number of passes thrown his way (5), the emergence of Jeffery could actually be a great ting for Marshall, as double teams should start to move away, making him even more dangerous. With TE Martellus Bennett and RB Matt Forte, the Bears now have 4 legit threats to catch the ball and I expect Cutler and this passing game to get even better as the year goes on and they feel more comfortable with the system.

This week the Bears have an excellent matchup, as they host a Giants team who made backup QB Nick Foles look pretty good last week, and are now among the eight worst teams in passing yards given up, passing TD’s given up, and sacks registered. In addition, the G-men have been the fifth most generous to opposing fantasy QB’s and tenth most generous to opposing fantasy TE’s. Against a team that has no momentum and is turnover prone, I can see the Bears getting into good situations, making them an excellent source of fantasy points this week. I like Cutler as a solid QB1 at home and could even compete for top 8 honors at the position. Brandon Marshall should get some extra love this week, and with defenses forced to now respect Jeffery, I can see Marshall easily returning to top 5 status at WR. As for Jeffery, I said last week that we needed to wait and make him prove it before feeling good about him as a WR3. Well, last week was all the proof I needed and I see no reason not to trust him as a mid-range WR3 against a weak Giants pass defense. Finally, against his former team, I like Bennett (knee, but should play) as a top 12 option at TE, as he is a good bet to score a TD against a team who has given up 4 touchdowns to opposing TE’s thus far.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Bears are now more of a pass-heavy offense, they still keep defenses honest with a fairly consistent (23.4 rushes per game) and efficient (4.6 yards per carry) run game. With Michael Bush averaging less than 4 carries per game this part of the offense is all about Matt Forte who is having a resurgent fantasy season as both a runner and pass-catcher. Because of his pass catching ability, Forte will be used heavily regardless of game situation. In this particular matchup, Forte maybe used even more than normal, as the Giants rush defense has the most attempts against it thus far and the 3rd most rush yards allowed to this point. In addition, the Giants defense has allowed the 8th most fantasy points to opposing RB’s and the 7th most receptions to opposing RB’s as well. This all adds up to Forte having a top 10 fantasy day at the RB position this week, and there is little reason to believe the Giants will do anything but crumble amid all the turmoil they are going through in a hostile environment. If the Bears get out to an early lead, Forte may even have his best game of the season so far. Michael Bush may get more carries than average in that scenario but is still far off the fantasy radar.

Jay Cutler: 315 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Brandon Marshall: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 70 rec yds
Martellus Bennett: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Matt Forte: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 33, Giants 24 ^ Top

Lions @ Browns - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The success, or lack thereof, of the Lions passing game this week hinges mostly on one thing: Calvin Johnson’s status. As we saw last week, Johnson not only determines a lot of how successful Matthew Stafford is but also how the other receivers play, and even how the run game plays. Even against a below-average passing defense last week, Stafford was rattled and struggled to find open receivers more than a few yards downfield. No receiver really stepped up in Johnson’s absence, so the defense was able to halt the run game and get to Stafford five times. What’s scary for the Lions is that the matchup this week is against one of the best defenses in the league. Even with Johnson, they may have a hard time; without him, they will really struggle to move the ball. Currently Johnson is questionable, as he is not practicing but has the confidence of the coach’s that he does not need to practice to play. If Johnson does not play, I would personally bench all Lions offensive players other than maybe Reggie Bush as a low-end RB2. That is how much I think Johnson makes an impact, especially in a tough matchup. If Johnson does suit up, which I actually think is likely, things get a little better, as Stafford will have his most trusted target and the rest of the offense should feel a lot less pressure. As for Johnson himself, he has to be started if he plays, but against an elite cornerback like Joe Haden, I would expect low-end rather than the elite WR1 numbers that we have come to expect. Because Johnson would improve the entire offense, Stafford would be ok as a high-end QB2 if Johnson plays.

He would certainly not be much better than that because of the Browns defense, which ranks in the top eight in pass yards per game allowed, touchdown passes allowed, sacks, longest pass allowed, yards per pass attempt allowed, and quarterback rating allowed. On top of that, they are the fourth toughest team for opposing fantasy QB’s to score against. Besides Johnson and Stafford, no other passing unit player is on the fantasy radar this week, except for possibly TE Brandon Pettigrew in PPR leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Without Calvin Johnson to keep the defense downfield last week, the run game really struggled to get anything going, finishing with just 64 yards on the ground. The good thing, from a fantasy perspective, for Reggie Bush and Joique Bell is that they can get involved in the pass game enough to overcome a tough rushing day—most weeks. The Browns present a difficult challenge, as they have one of the tougher front sevens in all of football and a good enough secondary to keep offenses from throwing all day. In other words, it will be a long day for the Lions backfield. As long as Johnson plays and keeps the defense honest, I can see Bush and Bell getting outside the tackles and using their speed to break off a few nice runs, but the big-yardage day is simply not going to be there. They are going to need to rely on volume of touches both in the run game and the pass game in order to accumulate enough stats for a decent fantasy day.

The good news is that with Brandon Weeden back at the helm, the Browns will not be lighting up the scoreboard, so the Lions should not be in crazy catch-up mode at any point. While it won’t be pretty, 15 total touches for Bush is reasonable, giving him value as a low-end RB2 this week. I like what Bell is doing for the Lions but he is not flex worthy when Bush is healthy unless the matchup is good, and this is pretty much the opposite. Keep him on your bench in all but the deepest PPR leagues.

Matthew Stafford: 230 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Pettigrew: 35 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 55 rush yds, 35 rec yds
Joique Bell: 25 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With Brian Hoyer out for the year it is once again the Brandon Weeden show, starting this week when the Browns face a “bend but don’t break” Lions passing defense. While Hoyer thrived for two games and had wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron looking like top 5 options at their respective positions, Weeden has struggled with consistency, accuracy, and the speed of the game in his three-game stint this season. Weeden does posses the strong arm needed to get the ball down field, but he often takes too long making decisions and often misses some easy throws. While Gordon and Cameron are still two excellent talents and should remain the players to which this offense flows, they both should be slightly downgraded with Weeden under center.

This week Weeden and company face a Lions pass defense who have let up a healthy amount of yardage (268 ypg, 20th in the NFL), but have amassed more interceptions (8, second in the NFL) than touchdowns (5, seventh best in the NFL). Because of this, Detroit is considered just an average matchup for opposing passing game players, where the yardage will probably be there but many scores will not. This matchup actually lines up with Weeden pretty decently, as he does usually rack up decent yardage but not a lot of scores, while having the propensity to throw multiple picks. Weeden is pretty far off the fantasy radar in most matchups, this one included, as he may flirt with 300 yards but should have several turnovers and will probably be lucky to get one touchdown. As for Gordon, he may not be as successful as he was with Hoyer, but being one of the league’s premier deep threats (eighth best yards per reception for players who have caught more than 30 balls) means all it takes is one long bomb to make his fantasy day. While Weeden’s inconsistency drops Gordon from being a possible wide 1, he remains a solid WR2 until he proves otherwise. Because of the lack of quality depth at the top of the fantasy TE tiers, Cameron should still be considered a TE1 even with Weeden taking over. The Browns offense features the tight end, and even if Cameron’s catches drop a little, he will still be targeted enough to make him one of the eight most reliable fantasy TEs this week. No other Browns passing game player is remotely on the fantasy radar.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Browns rushing attack is certainly one of the least attractive and exciting units in fantasy football, this week may actually present a good time to use them, as a perfect storm of good matchup, home game, quarterback situation, and momentum line is culminating. While Willis McGahee is over the hill in terms of NFL running backs, he is evidently the unquestioned leader in the Browns backfield, accounting for all but two of the carries by running backs last week (28 total). With Weeden back as the starting quarterback, the Browns may try to run more than they did with Hoyer, meaning another 25 or more carries for McGahee is well within reach.

With the Browns' elite defense, this game should never fall too much out of hand, especially if the Lions offense is without Calvin Johnson, or comes close to the horrible showing they displayed against an average Green Bay defense last week. Add all this to the fact that the Lions are giving up a generous 5.3 yards per carry (31st in the NFL), the sixth most rushing yards, and the third most rushing touchdowns (tied), and you have a recipe for a solid RB3 or even a low-end RB2 day for McGahee. While McGahee does not offer much at all in the passing game (0 catches so far), he is the bell-cow and the goal-line ball carrier for this team, and in a plus matchup like this one, that counts for something in fantasy.

Brandon Weeden: 280 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Josh Gordon: 80 rec yds
Jordan Cameron: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Willis McGahee: 75 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Lions 17, Browns 13

Packers @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: It was the same story for the Packers passing game last week, as Aaron Rodgers was efficient (67% completions), explosive (9.1 yards per attempt), and fairly productive (274 yds, 1 TD, 0 INT) en route to a 22-9 victory in which the passing game took its foot off the gas for much of the second half. The only real disappointment with the passing unit was Randall Cobb's only getting 35 yards, but it’s hard to feed four or more receivers in a game when the offense slows down in order to milk the clock.

This week the Packers face a Ravens pass defense that let up some decent stats last week to the Dolphins, a much less talented team than the Packers. The Ravens pass defense has been up and down (167 pass yards allowed in Week 4 and 462 yards and seven touchdowns allowed Week 1) and so is overall a middle-of-the-road pass defense statistically. The one area in which they do stand out is sacks, where they rank second in the NFL with 19. While the Ravens are certainly not an elite defense anymore, it is important to note that they are still growing together with all the new faces and trying to make it work. The pass rush is certainly there already, but the coverage has been lax in most games so far. In this matchup I can see the Ravens blitzing the you know what out of the Packers, as they attempt to attack one of Green Bay's few offensive weaknesses, the O-line. With cover corner Lardarius Webb probably assigned to Jordy Nelson most of the game and with the defense in Rodgers' face, I envision a lot of quick passes to Randall Cobb, making him the Green Bay receiver to own in this one. His is a solid WR1 this week. As for Nelson, who has actually been the most consistent Packers receiver, I still like him as a high-end WR2 in this matchup, but he will face a challenge in getting open versus Webb. James Jones seems to be a boom-or-bust guy most weeks but has too much upside to ever really sit. In this matchup I like him as a high-end WR3 who should have some opportunities after coming off back-to-back games with a touchdown. Tight end Jermichael Finley has yet to have that breakout game, and I don’t think this will be it, but he has been catching five or six balls most games this year, meaning he is a startable low-end TE1 again this week. Last but not least, Rodgers is pretty much matchup proof, and while the Ravens are good enough to keep him from top 3 status this week, he is easily a top 8 option. And last week’s 307/1/0 performance by Ryan Tannehill should be considered an absolute baseline for what Rodgers will do this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Although running back Eddie Lacy is a rookie and missed time with a concussion, it is clear the Packers think he is good enough to be their bell-cow, as he returned last week and got the vast majority of carries (23 out of 26) and made good use of them, rushing for 99 yards. Granted, it was against a below-average Lions run defense, but it was a good sign for Lacy owners that he may not be a part of much of a committee, and instead may get a real chance to be the man. With James Starks most likely out again and fellow rookie running back Jonathan Franklin doing nothing but fumbling last week, Lacy should easily see another 15 or more carries this week.

While all of that is good news, the bad news is that the Ravens are a good run defense, currently allowing the sixth least rushing yards per game, a paltry 3.4 yards per carry (fifth in the NFL), just one rushing touchdown (second in the NFL), and a long run of just 16 yards (first in the NFL). With the Packers' emphasis always being on the pass anyway, Lacy may not have much running room with the carries he does get, and that means a big fantasy day is probably out of the question. The good thing for Lacy is that the Packers offense is strong enough to always be in any game, so he should at least have some opportunities in all four quarters of this one. Do not expect more than low-end RB2 numbers from Lacy this week (especially because he does not get involved in passing game), but better matchups are sure to come, and I actually like him as a buy-low candidate after this week’s game, which should be a tough one for the rookie.

Aaron Rodgers: 310 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Randall Cobb: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Eddie Lacy: 50 rush yds
Jordy Nelson: 55 rec yds
James Jones: 70 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Although the Ravens seem to have re-committed themselves to the run game and Ray Rice, there is still some value that can be had in their passing game, especially in a better matchup like this one. Besides wide receiver Marlon Brown’s three touchdowns in four games, the Ravens passing offense, from a fantasy perspective, is all about Torrey Smith. Smith is third in the NFL in receiving yards, second in receiving yards per catch, seventh in targets, and first in catches of 20-plus yards. While his one touchdown is disappointing, Smith has been explosive and consistent while running many more routes than just the “GO” he favored last season. With a strong-armed quarterback, Smith should remain active and is becoming nearly matchup-proof in all but the most difficult circumstances. Helping both Smith and the Ravens passing game this week is the supposed return of both Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown from injury. While neither guy is anywhere near elite, they are both bigger, faster receivers who can draw some legit defensive attention away from Smith and give Flacco some nice choices both deep and in the red zone.

Even better this week is that the Packers pass defense is not only missing one of their best pass rushers and all around players in Pro Bowl linebacker Clay Matthews, but they have been struggling mightily even when he's on the field. Currently, the Packers are giving up the seventh most passing yardage, the fourth highest yards per attempt, and the eighth highest completion percentage in the NFL. Without Matthews in the lineup to create pressure, it is possible these numbers get even worse in a hurry. On top of all that, the Packers are among the 10 most generous teams to opposing fantasy QBs, WRs, and TEs. While the Ravens are committed to the run, the Packers offense is high-scoring and can put anyone’s defense in a hole fast, so I expect Flacco and company to have to throw 30 or more times when all is said and done, especially with knowing that the Packers pass defense is a weakness. Flacco is normally an average QB2, and a matchup like this should get him to the borderline QB1 level, even with an emphasis on the run game. I love Torrey Smith in this game because there are other things the defense has to be paying attention to, and with his deep speed he could break multiple big plays. He’s a solid WR1 here. While Brown has a chance to catch another touchdown at close range because of his 6’5’’ size, he is a fairly risky start because of Jones’ return and the fact that most of his value relies on his scoring. He is a low-end but interesting WR3 this week. While Jacoby Jones may make an impact, it may not be as much in the box score this week, and I would hesitate to put him in starting lineups at all until we see how he fits in with this unit. While the Packers allow a fair amount of fantasy point to TEs, the Ravens are simply not using any of theirs consistently enough to recommend them as more than low-level TE2s. There are better options out there.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice owners rejoice! After a horrible four-game stretch to start the year, where he was either underutilized, injured, or ineffective, the Ravens committed to using Rice as their offensive focal point and Rice responded with 33 touches for 102 total yards and two touchdowns. His yards per carry was not pretty (2.7), but the Dolphins do have a tough front seven and he is clearly not 100 percent healthy from the hip injury that cost him all of Week 4. Still, it was a good sign, especially because the Ravens won and should continue to ride Rice until the formula stops working.

The matchup this week is not a great one, as the Packers are the fifth best defense in rush yards per game given up, yet they will be without one of their best players in linebacker Clay Matthews, who broke his thumb last week. While the Packers present a solid challenge to the Ravens run game, there are some things going in Baltimore’s favor. First, the Ravens may be getting some extra help in the form of wide receivers Jacoby Jones and Marlon Brown (returning from injury), both of whom should be able to stretch the defense, and left tackle Eugene Monroe, who was acquired from the Jags but did not have enough time to acclimate to his new team last week (inactive). If these three play and can contribute at their normal level, it will lift the run game to a height it hasn't yet reached this year. With another week gone by for Rice to get healthier, I fully expect the Ravens to give him another 20 total touches and, more than likely, a couple of goal-line looks. While this is not the best matchup Rice will see all year, things are coming together nicely for him right now and he should be considered a top-end RB2 this week, with the upside to be a low-end RB1. As for Bernard Pierce, he continues to be an excellent change-of-pace guy and borderline RB3 even with Rice healthy, as he is capable of breaking off long runs (a 28-yarder last week) and contributing in the passing game. While this Packers defense presents a tougher-than-average matchup, I’d be ok with using Pierce as a low-end RB3 or flex guy, especially with bye weeks in full effect and Pierce's being relatively consistent and performing better at home this year.

Joe Flacco: 275 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Torrey Smith: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Marlon Brown: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Ed Dickson: 30 rec yds
Ray Rice: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Bernard Pierce: 35 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 28, Packers 27

Panthers @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Other than in a 38-0 rout of the Giants a couple of weeks back, the Panthers pass game has really struggled this season, with lots of dropped passes, inconsistent play, and trouble moving the chains (third lowest ypg passing). While the Panthers are not deep in talent, there is nothing like a juicy matchup to get the train back on the tracks. The Vikings pass defense has been pretty awful thus far, giving up the third most yards through the air and allowing the fourth most touchdown passes (tied) even though they have already played one less game than many other teams because of their bye week. What is perhaps most troubling for the Vikings is their nine sacks (29th in the NFL), which is something they are used to being great at. In addition, the Vikings are giving up the seventh most points per game to opposing fantasy QBs, 11th most to WRs and second most to TEs. While the numbers say Cam Newton and Co. should have a breakout game this week, I would not go all in on them just yet. First, the game is in Minnesota and the Vikings have had a bye week to prepare and rest. Second, two important offensive players are either out or hurting: left guard Amini Silatolu is done for the year and tight end Greg Olsen has not practiced this week with some kind of foot or ankle issue. Besides Steve Smith, Olsen has been the Panthers' only reliable weapon, so his not playing or being less than 100 percent would mean the defense can focus mainly on Smith, really hurting Cam’s potential numbers.

Because Newton is a dual threat and is consistently putting up 25 or more rushing yards, he has to be considered at least a mid-tier QB1 this week against a weak Vikings pass defense. I would not expect him to have a career day or anything, but he should put up good all-around numbers, especially if Olsen plays. With the Vikings' being so generous to opposing fantasy TEs, Olsen is an easy TE1 as long as he plays. The only other passing unit player worth looking at is of course Smith, who is having just an average year but can break out any game and had 100 yards and a touchdown the last time these two teams met. He is a solid WR2 this week. While some fantasy owners may want to get fancy and start Ted Ginn in order to ride his hot streak, I would advise against it simply because there are much safer WR3 options and Ginn has a track record of being boom or bust.

Running Game Thoughts: For DeAngelo Williams there is both good and bad news this week. Most people like hearing the bad news first, so here goes. Williams, after three nice yardage games on the ground, fell back down to Earth hard last week, totaling just 39 yards against a stout Cardinals defense. He still has zero touchdowns on the year and has just 41 combined yards receiving in four games. In addition, starting left guard Amini Silatolu tore his ACL last week and is out for the season, making an average offensive line much worse in a hurry.

Now for of good news. Williams is still the bell-cow in this backfield—although not for long, with Jonathan Stewart due back next week. What’s better is that the Vikings are not a great rush defense, allowing nearly 105 yards per game on the ground. In addition, they're allowing the second most fantasy points per game to opposing fantasy RBs and do not have an offense that can pull far enough away from the Panthers to make them give up on the run. While Williams is still not an exciting option, he should have enough juice and opportunity to make him a high-end RB3 here, or a bye-week RB2 for the somewhat desperate. My advice to Williams owners is to enjoy this game and if at all possible sell after this week, as the backfield is about to get cloudier with Stewart coming back and rookie Kenjon Barner also expected to gradually get more and more looks. No other Panthers running back is on the fantasy radar in this matchup.

Cam Newton: 240 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Steve Smith: 90 rec yds 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Ted Ginn Jr.: 50 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 70 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While the Panthers are not a good team, their passing defense is actually among the better units in the NFL. They are giving up the eighth lowest yards per game and have given up the second fewest touchdowns, just one more than the Browns. With this in mind, the Panthers obviously are not friendly to opposing fantasy QBs, ranking as the second stingiest in that department, along with being among the 10 toughest to both TEs and WRs in fantasy points allowed. With Matt Cassel expected to get the start in this one, it would be surprising if the Vikings did not stick with their normal game plan of going run heavy, and perhaps even more so than usual.

Obviously Cassel is off the radar, not only because of the matchup, his (lack) of real weapons, and his limitations, but also because the quarterback situation in Minnesota is in such flux that it he may not even play the whole game. As for Minnesota's receiving unit, none are anywhere near safe options this week, with Jennings and Simpson being madly inconsistent, Patterson being underutilized thus far, and Rudolph producing at a much lower level than last year. If I had to pick one guy in the group, it would be Jennings as a low-end WR3, but even that is a stretch. This game will be mostly about defense and a man named Adrian Peterson.

Running Game Thoughts: Regardless of the weather, who starts at quarterback, who is president, or what kind of trouble Miley Cyrus is getting into, there is one thing you can set your watch to: Adrian Peterson. Peterson remains one of fantasy’s best bets and perhaps the only RB you can trust every single week regardless of matchup or situation. Peterson is one of only two RBs this season (LeSean McCoy being the other) to have averaged over 100 yards per game rushing. Peterson is the league leader, by the way, and is also first in rushing touchdowns and, despite being on a bye last week, is among the top six backs in rush attempts.

Sure, people may look at the matchup and point out the fact that the Panthers are one of the top rushing defenses in the NFL (seventh in yards allowed per game) and have allowed only two rushing touchdowns, but sometimes numbers do not matter much, especially when a super-human talent is involved. The fact is, Peterson is fresh and healthy coming off a bye week, at home where he has put up slightly better stats despite facing tougher opponents this year, and still the focal point of the entire offense. Will this be Peterson’s best game of the year? Almost certainly not, as the Panthers should at least slow him down a bit, but in Week 3 Peterson put up 88 yards and a touchdown with an additional 27 yards receiving against a Brown’s rushing defense that is at least as good as the Panthers . I would look at those numbers as an absolute baseline for what Peterson should do this week, meaning he is an easy top 10 option at the position once again.

Matt Cassel: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Greg Jennings: 55 rec yds
Jerome Simpson: 40 rec yds
Kyle Rudolph: 35 rec yds
Adrian Peterson: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Vikings 20, Panthers 17

Eagles at Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Michael Vick was still questionable to play against the Buccaneers as of this writing due to his hamstring malady, leaving fantasy owners with the possibility of plugging in Nick Foles. Foles threw for nearly 200 yards and a pair of scores after taking over for Vick last week against the Giants, a solid effort to be sure, but I wouldn’t be putting my eggs in his basket. Limit your expectations for DeSean Jackson, despite his outstanding season to date. Jackson is tied for sixth among wideouts in FPTS/G, tied for 15th in receptions (28), and third in receiving yards (525). However, the Buccaneers have been relatively stingy against opposing passing games this season.

Tampa is 15th in the league in passing yards per game allowed and has surrendered the 14th-fewest FPTS/G to quarterbacks. They have at least one interception in each of their four games this season, have allowed multiple touchdown throws just once and only Drew Brees in Week 2 and nobody has accumulated more than 260 passing yards when facing the Bucs. Considering that relative success, it should come as no surprise that just six teams have allowed fewer FPTS/G to wide receivers than Tampa, who have surrendered more than 70 yards to a receiver just once this season. The team has had their difficulties with tight ends though, as they are tied for sixth-most FPTS/G given up to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy has lived up to preseason expectations for his fantasy owners so far. The Pitt product leads the league in rushing yards, is seventh in receiving yards among running backs and fourth in FPTS/G. McCoy has at least 90 combined rushing and receiving yards in all five of his games this year, and even though Tampa offers a stern test, he’s a RB1 against any opponent.

There is only one NFL team this season that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown – the Buccaneers. Tampa is ninth in rushing yards per game allowed, 11th in YPC surrendered (3.7) and only four teams have relinquished fewer FPTS/G to running backs than they have. There are a couple of factors to take note of, however. First, the Bucs have faced the Jets, Saints, Patriots, and Cardinals, none of which have upper-echelon runners and second, Tampa has allowed the ninth-most receiving yards to running backs, so McCoy will offer their most unique challenge to date.

Nick Foles: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
DeSean Jackson: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 45 rec yds
Brent Celek: 30 rec yds
Zach Ertz: 20 rec yds
LeSean McCoy: 110 rush yds, 2 TD, 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With Josh Freeman in Minnesota, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is free of one potential distraction. He should benefit from a bye week after his initial performance that saw the N.C. State product go 24-for-43 for 193 yards, one touchdown and two picks in a loss to Arizona. Glennon may not be the savior for those fantasy owners hoping to salvage the seasons for Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, but if the two disappointing wideouts are going to make some noise this season, Philadelphia is the team they’ll do it against.

It has been a challenge – to say the least – for the Eagles to defend the pass this season, as they rank tied for 29th in passing yards per game surrendered. Only four teams have allowed more touchdown passes and just six teams have fewer sacks than Philly, who is sixth in FPTS/G ceded to quarterbacks and has allowed opposing QBs to throw for at least 325 yards and two touchdowns in four of their five games. The Eagles have given up more FPTS/G to wide receivers than any other team, and it really isn’t close – eight different receivers have collected at least 80 receiving yards against Philly, and five wideouts have had games with multiple touchdowns.

Running Game Thoughts: Unlike his running back counterpart this week, Doug Martin has not accomplished what was expected of him this year. Though he’s ninth in the league in rushing yards, Martin has only one touchdown and a measly 35 receiving yards, which are the two main reasons he ranks only 17th among running backs in FPTS/G. He does lead the league in rushes despite playing in one less game than most other backs and he won’t be held out of the end zone the rest of the year. The Eagles have been somewhat pliable against backs this season, and I like Martin to put up some numbers against them.

Philadelphia is 17th in the league in both rushing yards per game allowed and YPC ceded. They are tied for 19th in rushing scores given up, but also tied for 13th-most FPTS/G allowed to running backs. Though the Eagles have yet to allow a running back to break the 100-yard mark, of the four backs that have 12 or more carries against them, three have scampered for at least 70 yards.

Mike Glennon: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 105 rec yds, 2 TD
Mike Williams: 70 rec yds
Tiquan Underwood: 40 rec yds
Tom Crabtree: 30 rec yds
Doug Martin: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Eagles 27, Buccaneers 24

Rams at Texans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Sam Bradford ranks 14th in FPTS/G among quarterbacks, though his passing numbers are superior to numerous players ahead of him. Bradford is 13th in passing yards, 18th in touchdowns, and tied for fifth with 10 touchdown throws. It’s just that he hasn’t run the ball – only 26 yards on the season – enough to pick up extra points that way. The former Heisman winner has talent around him, but it’s young, and the Rams don’t have a wideout among the top-30 in fantasy points. Tavon Austin has not been the playmaker that many fantasy owners envisioned, but that’s mostly the fault of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who regularly runs Austin on routes under 10 yards. The team and fantasy owners are also waiting for tight end Jared Cook to re-emerge. After a fantastic Week 1, he’s disappeared and Houston isn’t a defense that passing games will get healthy against.

The Texans have held the opposition to 134 passing yards per game this season. To put that in a bit of perspective, the next-lowest number belongs to the 49ers, who are allowing 189 yards. Houston may be 14th in touchdown throws allowed, but four of the seven they’ve ceded came in Week 1, they haven’t given up 200 passing yards to any quarterback and only one team is allowing fewer FPTS/G to signal callers. No team has allowed fewer FPTS/G to wideouts than the Texans and though they’ve allowed the 11th-fewest FPTS/G to tight ends, they’ve also given up fewer receptions to players at that position than any other team.

Running Game Thoughts: Until last week against the lowly Jaguars, the Rams couldn’t run the ball to save their lives. The team finally turned to rookie Zac Stacy, who powered his way to 78 yards on 14 carries, injecting some life into their ground attack. He’ll almost certainly be getting the call again this week and though Daryl Richardson will also get some work, it’s Stacy who offers the most promise this week against the Texans.

Houston was very good against the run in 2012, but this year? Not so much. The Texans are tied for 27th in rushing yards per game surrendered, rank 21st in YPC allowed, and tied for 19th in rushing scores given up. They have ceded the 11th-most FPTS/G to running backs, and allowed an 80+ yard rusher in three of their last four contests.

Sam Bradford: 205 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Chris Givens: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Tavon Austin: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 45 rec yds
Austin Pettis: 35 rec yds
Zac Stacy: 40 rush yds, 1 TD
Daryl Richardson: 25 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: From a fan burning Matt Schaub’s jersey to another showing up at his home, things have gone from bad to scary for the embattled Houston quarterback. Fantasy owners have likely cut their losses, as Schaub ranks 22nd among his peers in FPTS/G, and he’s one of just five quarterbacks who have more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (eight) on the season. He’s gotten the most publicity though, because of the other four, one is a rookie (Geno Smith), two have won Super Bowls (Eli Manning, Joe Flacco), and one plays in Arizona (Carson Palmer). Schaub’s chances for success took a blow with the news that Owen Daniels has been put on IR-designated to return, but Garrett Graham is a capable back-up, and fantasy owners scrambling for a tight end should pick him up. The disappointment doesn’t end there, because even though Andre Johnson is 11th among wideouts in receiving yards, he’s 39th in FPTS/G at his position because he has yet to find the end zone. Fortunately for those same owners, a remedy may be on the way.

St. Louis may be in the middle of the pack in passing yards per game allowed this season – 17th – but they’re also tied for 26th in touchdown throws given up, tied for 24th in sacks, and 28th in passer rating allowed. They’re tied for 15th in FPTS/G allowed to quarterbacks and are 19th in FPTS/G surrendered to tight ends, but wide receivers have hurt them. The Rams have given up the seventh-most FPTS/G to players at that position and at least one wideout has gained 90+ yards against them in all but one contest this year.

Running Game Thoughts: The Texans may be running for 4.6 YPC as a team, but the fantasy prowess of Arian Foster and Ben Tate has been hurt by the fact that they’ve scored just one touchdown on the ground – by Foster in Week 2. Foster is sixth in the league in rushing yards and 15th in receiving yards among running backs, but doesn’t have a run longer than 17 yards and is only 12th in FPTS/G. Ben Tate is the more explosive back and though I’d certainly make Foster a RB1, I’d also think about using Tate as a flex due to the woefulness put on display by the St. Louis rush defense this year.

Frankly put, the Rams have stunk against the run this season. They are tied with their opponent this week for 27th in rushing yards per game given up, are allowing 4.5 YPC, which is 25th in the league, and are tied for 26th in touchdown runs allowed. Only the Steelers have allowed more FPTS/G to running backs than the Rams who have already let DeMarco Murray cruise to 175 yards and Frank Gore amass 153 yards.

Matt Schaub: 240 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Andre Johnson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
DeAndre Hopkins: 65 rec yds
Garrett Graham: 55 rec yds
Keshawn Martin: 20 rec yds
Arian Foster: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Ben Tate: 40 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds

Prediction: Texans 27, Rams 21

Raiders @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor came into his own as a passer in Week 5, throwing for 221 yards while completing 18 of 23 passes against the Swiss cheese Chargers defense. Although he rushed for a season-low 31 yards, the passing numbers are a welcome number for Pryor’s fantasy owners who had mostly owned him for his ability to run the ball. Pryor admitted being a bit nervous about taking a hit but said he is going to be more comfortable this week against the Chiefs.

Kansas City has played excellent defense all season and was stout again a week ago - only beat on a short pass to running back Chris Johnson that ended up going for a long touchdown. The Chiefs have not allowed a 300-yard passer this season and it’s unlikely that Pryor will break that number, however it is worth considering that they have been somewhat susceptible to allowing rushing yardage to quarterbacks. A week ago, they allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to rush for 50 yards and a touchdown on only six carries and the only other “mobile” quarterback they have played this season, Michael Vick, smoked them for 99 yards on the ground himself. Pryor’s favorite target, receiver Denarius Moore, has played well this season. If you look past an ugly Week 2 performance where he didn’t catch a pass, Moore has caught at least four passes every other week this season, including three touchdowns. Moore is the kind of big play target that can go off at any time and he will be up against cornerback Brandon Flowers who, despite being respected, has struggled at times this season. Be careful about getting too excited about the Raiders passing game this week. Still, players like Pryor and Moore make for nice bye week replacements in Week 6.

Running Game Thoughts: Darren McFadden, who missed last Sunday’s win over the Chargers, has been practicing this week and is expected to make his return to the field this Sunday. This is great news for the Oakland running game, which was essentially fantasy irrelevant a week ago. Rashad Jennings and Marcel Reece split carries and combined for just 73 yards on the ground and 25 yards receiving. Those who invested in Jennings in PPR formats were disappointed as the back failed to catch a single pass and was not even targeted on the day. McFadden’s return will mean a dynamic playmaker in the backfield, but a player who has not performed to expectations. Although he has rushed for two touchdowns which saved his fantasy days in those games, McFadden has only ran for more than 50 yards one time through the first five weeks of the season. Worse yet, he hasn’t been as involved in the passing game as he was in the past, catching only seven passes thus far in 2013. Still, if there’s any running back who is going to do anything on this offense, it’s going to be McFadden, who has averaged almost 90 total yards per game against the Chiefs over the course of his career.

This is a different Kansas City defense than what he has faced in the past, however. The Chiefs held Chris Johnson to just 17 rushing yards a week ago and they have held opposing running games under 90 yards on the ground in four of their five games this season. Where they have been a little weak at times is against running backs who can catch passes out of the backfield. They’ve allowed 23 receptions for 206 yards and a touchdown against running backs this season. Although McFadden can be a valuable asset as a pass catcher, his lack of usage in that department is a concern, especially against a good Chiefs defense, but he is still worth fantasy consideration as a low-end RB2 or FLEX play.

Terrelle Pryor: 150 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 70 rush yds, 1 TD
Darren McFadden: 60 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Denarius Moore: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Rod Streater: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The most surprising 5-0 team of the season has to be the Kansas City Chiefs who have done well with new quarterback Alex Smith behind center. Smith is averaging a respectable 240 yards passing per game, but what has been surprising is that he has thrown the ball 34-plus times in every game this season. This is a bit surprising considering he reached that number only three times over his previous two seasons as the quarterback in San Francisco. What has also been unexpected is Smith’s lack of efficiency in the passing game in recent weeks. Over his past three games, Smith has thrown only three touchdowns along with three interceptions. He’s been known for a great quarterback rating in recent seasons, but has a QB rating of just 83.7 in 2013, including an ugly 60.3 rating a week ago against the Titans when he threw no touchdowns and an interception. Without that efficiency, Smith’s fantasy value is very limited, making him a low-end QB2 even against the Raiders who rank 23rd in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks.

Oakland has only forced an interception in one game this season, so Smith is unlikely to hurt you if he does go in your lineup, but the Chiefs passing game just isn’t moving the ball enough to where anyone should be excited to have Smith in their lineup. Receiver Dwayne Bowe has been one of the biggest fantasy disappointments of the season. Although he has caught four passes in four of his five games this season, the productivity just hasn’t been there. Bowe and Smith just don’t seem to be on the same page, as he has caught only 17 of the 31 passes that have gone his way. Instead, it has been Donnie Avery who has been the most productive receiver. Avery has 304 yards and a touchdown and is coming off a 91-yard performance against the Titans a week ago. Unfortunately Avery is nursing a shoulder injury and has had trouble lifting his arm above his head. As a receiver, this could obviously be a problem. Although he is expected to play, Avery is probably not a fantasy option this week. Frankly, it’s best to stay away from the Kansas City passing game until they start clicking on a more consistent basis.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Jamaal Charles got his first 100-yard rushing day of the season a week ago as he ran for 108 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against a good Tennessee defense. Charles has been a fantasy force in 2013 and is among the top scoring players at the position in every format. Where he has been particularly effective is as a receiver out of the backfield, as he has already caught 28 receptions in five games. This number puts Charles on pace for 90 catches on the season, a number that would likely lead the league for running backs. Charles has had 15-plus fantasy points (standard scoring) in every game and has touched the ball an average of 24 times per game. The team has not opted to limit his workload, which is a great thing for fantasy owners. Although he has been dealing with painful blisters on his feet, Charles has continued to produce as the elite RB1 that we expected him to be.

He is once again an obvious RB1 going into Week 6 as he’ll be up against an Oakland run defense that is averaging allowing 86 rushing yards per game. They did hold the Chargers’ backs to just 32 rushing yards a week ago but also allowed nine receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown to Danny Woodhead, along with 21 receiving yards to Ronnie Brown. The Kansas City offense will go through Charles one way or another, so get him in your lineup as usual.

Alex Smith: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 25 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 40 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Chiefs 20, Raiders 17

Jaguars @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Jacksonville had their best offensive game of the season, scoring 20 points on the road against a decent Rams defense in Week 5. This is a great sign for an offense who had more punts coming into the week than total points scored. The biggest change was the return of 2012 first round pick Justin Blackmon, who exploded for five catches, 136 yards and a touchdown. Blackmon did not look rusty at all and embarrassed the St. Louis defense. His touchdown reception was Blaine Gabbert’s first touchdown pass of the season. The big downfall of the offense is No. 2 overall draft pick Luke Joeckel was rolled up on and will miss the remainder of the season with an injury. With the Jaguars shipping tackle Eugene Monroe off to Baltimore earlier this year, they are now in trouble at their most important position on the offensive line. Also lost in the game was Gabbert, who left with a hamstring injury. Chad Henne stepped in and went 7/13 for 89 yards and a touchdown to Cecil Shorts. With Blackmon out for the first four games of the season, Shorts has been targeted more than any receiver in the league (61) this season. Although those targets haven’t translated to elite fantasy production, it’s worth considering that Shorts has been significantly more productive with Henne behind center than he was with Gabbert. With Gabbert out, there could be some big “garbage time” points for Shorts and Blackmon in a game where the Jaguars (+26) are the biggest underdog in NFL history. Henne himself is not likely to be a quality fantasy option, but Blackmon and Shorts are both worth serious fantasy consideration against the Broncos who have allowed over 200 yards to opposing wide receivers in four of their first five games this season; including 352 yards and four touchdowns to the Cowboys’ receivers a week ago.

Running Game Thoughts: Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew had his best game of the season with 70 yards on 17 attempts against the Rams front-seven. He’s still averaging only 42 yards rushing per game, but showed at least some signs of life for the first time this season against St. Louis. With Joeckel out, however, the Jaguars could struggle to run the ball going forward; as if they needed any help to do that. Jones-Drew is in for a particularly tough matchup in Week 6 as he goes up against a Denver defense that has been great against the run this season. Although they have allowed a rushing touchdown in every game, Denver has been excellent at containing the yardage given up to running backs. Only once this season has a team (Philadelphia) rushed for more than 60 yards against the Broncos. The rushing touchdowns allowed by the Broncos do give Jones-Drew owners some optimism, but considering how few points the Jaguars have scored this season, it seems unlikely that Jones-Drew will continue the streak of a rushing touchdown allowed in every game.

Chad Henne: 250 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Maurice Jones-Drew: 50 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Cecil Shorts: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Justin Blackmon: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: It was another unbelievable day for Peyton Manning and the Broncos as they dropped 52 points against an overmatched Dallas Cowboys defense. Manning did throw his first interception, but was otherwise perfect, throwing for 414 yards; his second 400-yard day of the season. He has not thrown for fewer than 300 yards in a game. At this point, Manning has thrown 20 touchdown passes and only one interception and is well on his way to another league MVP trophy. If he stays anywhere near this productive, he will also be the 2013 fantasy MVP. The breakout season for tight end Julius Thomas continued as he caught nine passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns in his second multi-touchdown game. Thomas has now scored six touchdowns in five games and has fully established himself as a high-end TE1. Receivers Eric Decker and Wes Welker continued their incredible production and are obvious starters in all formats. With 50+ points scored, it’s crazy to think that Demaryius Thomas didn’t score against the Cowboys, but he did still catch five passes for 57 yards, so it wasn’t a complete disaster. Thomas remains a high-end WR1 and especially against a Jacksonville defense that has already allowed 12 passing touchdowns against them and has intercepted only two passes. They were also embarrassed to the tune of four passing touchdown day to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, so Manning could be in for another huge day. Get all of your Broncos in your lineup against this bad Jaguars defense, but understand that the team may go up multiple scores in the first half, which could limit the overall production of the passing game as they try to run out the clock in the second half.

Running Game Thoughts: Knowshon Moreno looked very good a week ago, rushing for 93 yards and a touchdown while also catching five passes for 57 yards in the shootout against the Cowboys. Moreno could have had a second touchdown but was instructed by Manning to not score on the Broncos’ final drive, in an effort to run out the clock. Moreno doesn’t have a 100-yard rushing day yet this season, but has gone over 90 total yards in three of his five games, while also scoring four touchdowns. He’s averaging over 5.0 yards per carry and has continued to pass protect well for Manning, which keeps him on the field. With the Broncos likely to win this game by multiple scores, Moreno is a must-start in most leagues. Backup Ronnie Hillman was involved in the passing game with four receptions for 42 yards against the Cowboys, but was unsuccessful as a runner, achieving only 17 yards on seven carries. Hillman has 27 carries and seven catches over his past three games and could see some additional action in garbage time this week. Montee Ball is a complete afterthought at this point and ran the ball only once on Sunday. Jacksonville allowed 145 rushing yards to the Rams in Week 5 and opposing running backs are now averaging 131 yards on the ground per game, along with three total touchdowns.

Peyton Manning: 335 pass yds, 3 TD
Knowshon Moreno: 70 rush yds, 2 TD, 20 rec yds
Ronnie Hillman: 50 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Demaryius Thomas: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 90 rec yds
Eric Decker: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Julius Thomas: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Broncos 41, Jaguars 17

Titans @ Seahawks - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Without quarterback Jake Locker, who was playing surprisingly well prior to his injury, the Tennessee passing game struggled to find consistency against a good Kansas City defense. Backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s end numbers weren’t horrible as he went 21/41 for 247 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was also active in the running game as he scrambled for 47 yards and a touchdown. Don’t expect that to continue, however, as Fitzpatrick only ran for more than 25 yards in one game in 2012. After back-to-back 100-yard games, Nate Washington fell back to reality with only three receptions for 30 yards. It could be that he and Fitzpatrick simply don’t have the same chemistry as he did with Locker, but fantasy owners should expect that Washington’s norm will be closer to what he did in Week 5 than what he did in Weeks 3 and 4. Kendall Wright remained consistent but not spectacular, catching six passes for 74 yards. He has now caught five or more passes in each of his past four games and should be the team’s top target going forward. Rookie Justin Hunter had caught a touchdown in back-to-back games but was held off the scoreboard against the Chiefs. Hunter is a raw talent who does have some upside down the road but is not a serious fantasy consideration at this point.

Fitzpatrick and the passing game will have a tough matchup against the Seattle defense that has been excellent against opposing quarterbacks this season. They did struggled in Week 5, however, allowing Andrew Luck to throw for 229 yards and two scores. Luck also did not throw an interception, which marked the first time since Week 1 that the Seahawks defense failed to force multiple picks. With Fitzpatrick being prone to turnovers, two-plus interceptions seems somewhat likely.

Running Game Thoughts: Aside from a long touchdown reception, Chris Johnson was awful in Week 5 as he rushed for just 17 yards on 10 carries. Johnson is now averaging a career-low 3.1 yards per carry despite the Titans making significant moves in the offseason to improve his offensive line by signing Andy Levitre and drafting Chance Warmack. Johnson has not rushed for a touchdown in 2013 and has just 38 yards on the ground on 25 carries over his past two games. The artist formerly known as “CJ2K” has turned into “CJ2YPC” and despite getting plenty of touches, has only performed as a RB3 this season. On the bright side, Johnson showed his speed and ability to make plays in the open field on Sunday on the touchdown reception but his indecisiveness and seeming lack of ability to find space against opposing front sevens has killed his fantasy value thus far. Things don’t get any easier for Johnson this week as he will be up against a stout Seattle run defense that has only allowed one team’s (Houston) running backs get over 100 yards on the ground so far in 2013. The Seahawks have held Arian Foster, Frank Gore, DeAngelo Williams and Trent Richardson without a touchdown on the ground; although Foster did get a receiving touchdown. With Johnson really not being involved much in the passing game, it could be another tough day for the former 2000-yard rusher.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Chris Johnson: 50 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Jackie Battle: 25 rush yds, 1 TD
Kendall Wright: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After being one of the league’s most efficient passers in the second-half of the 2012 season, Russell Wilson has struggled in recent weeks. Since an impressive statistical performance against the Panthers in Week 1, Wilson has completed just 52 percent of his passes. He also has not gone over 210 yards passing since Week 1 and other than a cakewalk game against the Jaguars, has thrown only four touchdowns in his other four games combined. Wilson has been effective as a runner. He ran for his first 100-yard game against the Colts in Week 5. Although he hasn’t scored a touchdown, his 179 rushing yards over his past two games have done a good enough job of masking his poor passing outputs. Receiver Sidney Rice has now caught only one pass in each of his past two games and is back to being a non-factor in fantasy circles. Meanwhile, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin have become more active in their past two games, catching eight passes each. Tate also caught his first touchdown of the season a week ago against the Colts.

Tennessee has continued to play well against opposing quarterbacks as they held Alex Smith without a touchdown and intercepted a pass in Week 5. The Titans have only allowed multiple touchdowns to an opposing quarterback once this season and have intercepted as many passes (six) as they have allowed passing touchdowns. Tennessee allowed only eight receptions to opposing wide receivers in Week 5 and have not allowed an opposing wide receiver to score a touchdown since Week 2. Wilson’s running ability makes him a viable fantasy option most weeks, but there’s no denying that he and his receivers are not on the same page right now. Don’t expect too much production in the passing game until they clear that up making Wilson is a low-end QB1 for the time being.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch was effective, rushing for 102 yards on 17 carries in a loss to the Colts. It was Lynch’s first 100-yard rushing day of the season, although he had hit 98 yards twice already. He is averaging 82 yards per game and has scored four total touchdowns in five games. With Robert Turbin getting fewer than five carries again this past week, Lynch continues to get the lion’s share of the snaps and touches for the Seahawks. Including his playoff run, Lynch has taken 16 or more carries in seven straight games, and that stretch would likely be longer if not for some blowout wins for the Seahawks back in 2012 when Lynch was sat down early. Tennessee struggled to slow down Jamaal Charles and opposing teams’ running backs are now averaging over 135 total yards per game against the Titans defense. While they have only allowed three total touchdowns to opposing running backs on the year, it’s worth considering that they’ve gone against three subpar running games in the Steelers, Chargers and Jets. The Titans have allowed 12 or more fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing teams’ running backs in 19 of their past 21 games over the past two seasons. Lynch himself has rushed for 98 or more rushing yards in six of his past seven regular season home games and there’s a good chance he will add to that against Tennessee.

Russell Wilson: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 115 rush yds, 2 TD, 10 rec yds
Golden Tate: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 40 rec yds
Sidney Rice: 30 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Titans 20

Cardinals @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Things looked great at the beginning of the year for the Arizona passing game as Carson Palmer threw for 327 yards and two touchdowns, but things have been ugly since then. Palmer has only thrown three touchdown passes over his past four games while tossing eight interceptions over that span. Worse yet, he hasn’t even reached the 250-yard mark since Week 1. Inaccuracy has been an issue, but the offensive line problems that have plagued this team in recent seasons have continued for the Cardinals in 2013; leading to an abnormally high number of passes thrown under duress. With ugly numbers from Palmer, receiver Larry Fitzgerald has struggled to find consistency as well. Since his 80-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 1, Fitzgerald has caught only 16 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in his past four contests. On the upswing is receiver Michael Floyd who made plenty of “sleeper” lists coming into the season. Although he hasn’t caught a touchdown yet in 2013, Floyd leads the team with 301 yards receiving. It’s hard to bench Fitzgerald, but Floyd should not be much of a fantasy consideration this week as the Cardinals go up against a 49ers defense that has allowed the second-fewest amount of fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season. San Francisco has not allowed an opposing wide receiver to catch a touchdown against them since Week 1.

Running Game Thoughts: The uninspiring running performances from Rashard Mendenhall continued in Week 6 as he rushed for just 43 yards on a season-high 17 carries. Although he did get into the end zone, it was Mendenhall’s third straight game with fewer than 50 yards on the ground and he has not yet gone over 70 on the year. The “spark” in the Cardinals running game, if there has been one, has come from backup Andre Ellington who rushed for 52 yards on seven carries in Week 5, while also catching four passes for 31 yards. Ellington has averaged 6.7 yards per carry while Mendenhall isn’t even at half that number, rushing for 3.2 yards per carry this season. Fantasy owners would love to see Ellington more involved in the offense, but he is only getting about 1/3 the carries of Mendenhall.

Neither Mendenhall or Ellington are a particularly exciting matchup this week as they go up against a 49ers defense that has been one of the best against the run in recent seasons. They haven’t been quite as good against running backs this season as they have conceded double-digit fantasy points (standard scoring) to the position in four of their first five games. They have not been nearly as good against teams that struggle to run the ball, such as the Rams and Packers, who combined for 66 yards rushing in their games against the 49ers. Given the Cardinals’ offensive line struggles and Mendenhall’s lack of explosion, it’s safe to assume that the San Francisco defense will be able to contain the Arizona running game.

Carson Palmer: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Rashard Mendenhall: 40 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Andre Ellington: 30 rush yds, 35 rec yds
Michael Floyd: 70 rec yds
Larry Fitzgerald: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The astonishingly unproductive fantasy season for San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick continued in Week 5 as the third-year QB threw for 113 yards and one touchdown against the Texans. It’s fair to say that the 49ers were up early and stayed multiple scores ahead throughout the entire game, but the fact that Kaepernick was only involved on seven of San Francisco’s 34 points is concerning for fantasy owners. As one of the breakout players in 2012, Kaepernick has averaged less than eight fantasy points per game over his past four contests. His passing numbers being low isn’t much of a surprise, but his lack of rushing yardage has been baffling. Kaepernick has cracked 25 yards on the ground only once this season after being one of the most productive runners in the league a season ago. This kind of production would normally mean that player is not even worth owning in fantasy, but Kaepernick does have the upside that makes him hard to cut.

He’s probably a player who should be on fantasy owners’ benches this week, however, as he goes up against an Arizona secondary that has intercepted five passes and allowed only one passing touchdown over their past two games. Anquan Boldin is the only wide receiver in this offense that is worth any fantasy consideration, although he has been down more than he has been up. Tight end Vernon Davis has also been inconsistent, but leads the team with four touchdown receptions and has been in the end zone in back-to-back weeks. If there has been a hole in the Cardinals pass defense, it has been in their attempts to slow down opposing tight ends. They’ve allowed four touchdowns and the fourth-most fantasy total points to the position on the year, which should make Davis a solid TE1 this week.

Running Game Thoughts: With double digit fantasy points (standard scoring) in four of his first five games this season, Frank Gore has made fantasy owners who took a chance on him very happy. Although he has only cracked 100 yards on the ground once so far, he has been above 80 yards in each of his past three games, including an 81-yard day against the Texans this past week where he also scored a touchdown. Gore’s goal line touches have been vultured as Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon have scored a combined four touchdowns on the year. Neither Hunter nor Dixon are of much fantasy value at the moment as Gore has monopolized the vast majority of the team’s running back touches; and rightfully so as he has averaged an impressive 6.6 yards per carry over his past three games. San Francisco’s offensive line continues to block well in the running game and there’s no reason to believe that Gore won’t be worth starting nearly every week as a high-end RB2.

He does have his work cut out for him this week, though, as he and the 49ers will host an Arizona team that is one of only three teams to have not allowed a touchdown to an opposing running back yet this season. They are, however, allowing total 127 yards per game to the position, which could still mean a relatively productive day for Gore and the 49ers even if they don’t get into the end zone.

Colin Kaepernick: 180 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Frank Gore: 85 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Kendall Hunter: 20 rush yds
Anquan Boldin: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Vernon Davis: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: 49ers 20, Cardinals 16

Colts @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck’s progression continued in Week 5 when the second-year phenom threw for 229 yards and two scores without an interception against a very good Seattle Seahawks defense. The Seahawks had forced seven interceptions in their previous three games, but Luck was smart with the football and his ability to avoid mistakes led to a Colts win. After throwing 18 interceptions in his rookie season, Luck is now on pace to throw just six picks in 2013, while still staying on par with the total touchdown numbers he produced a season ago. While he’s not on the level of a Peyton Manning at the moment, Luck has been a very valuable fantasy asset, particularly as a runner where he has already contributed 135 yards and two scores. Those numbers put him on pace for 432 yards and six touchdowns as a runner; which could make him one of the most valuable QB’s down the stretch. Receiver T.Y. Hilton finally got into the end zone and broke a two game drought of ugly fantasy performances with a five-catch, 140-yard, two-touchdown performance against the elite Seahawks secondary that had only allowed one other touchdown to a receiver in their four games prior to meeting the Colts. Reggie Wayne continues to be one of the most consistent WR2 fantasy options in the game, particularly in PPR formats, as he is on pace for his fourth 90-plus catch season over the past five years. Wayne hasn’t been much of a touchdown machine in recent years but his consistency makes him an obvious start for most teams, especially in PPR formats. Unfortunately tight end Coby Fleener has been the opposite of Wayne this season and his inconsistency has caused headaches for fantasy owners. Despite Dwayne Allen being injured for most of the season, Fleener has checked in with one or zero fantasy points (standard scoring) in three of his five games this season.

While he has scored a touchdown and been over 65 yards in the other two games, it’s hard to trust Fleener even as he and the Colts go up against a San Diego defense that has been horrendous at stopping opposing passing games this season. The Chargers have allowed 18 or more fantasy points to the opposing quarterback in every game they have played this season...and that includes games against Matt Schaub, Jake Locker and Terrelle Pryor. Andrew Luck is a lock QB1 this week with Wayne being a high-end WR2. Both T.Y. Hilton and Coby Fleener make for high risk / high reward options for those who might need a big game to have a chance to win their fantasy matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: When the Colts acquired running back Trent Richardson from the Browns a few weeks back, fantasy owners were enthralled with the possibility of the Indianapolis offense having two of the elite young players in their backfield in Richardson and Luck. While Luck has continued to play well, Richardson has largely been a disappointment in his short run in Indianapolis. Richardson is averaging fewer than 3.0 yards per carry as a member of the Colts and although he has scored two touchdowns, the fact that former fantasy bust Donald Brown has significantly out-produced him on a per-carry basis has to be a concern. There is no worry that Brown is going to take over as the Colts lead back, but Richardson’s lack of production might be an indication that the Browns made the right move in trading their former first round pick.

Richardson and the Colts will have an interesting matchup against a Chargers defense that is conceding nearly 130 total yards per game to opposing running backs. While this number is encouraging to Richardson owners, the downside is that where Richardson has made his money over the first two years of his career is at the goal line...and the Chargers haven’t allowed a single running back to score a touchdown against them this season. It’s going to be tough to bench your first round pick and Richardson should still put up enough points to be fantasy relevant in most formats, the truth is that it may be time that we lower our expectations for him. If he suddenly explodes and shows the burst and strength that made him a high-end first round NFL draft pick a season ago, there might be something to be excited about. But if he fails to get to 3.0 yards per carry again, Richardson owners might be in for a long, frustrating end to the season.

Andrew Luck: 290 pass yds, 2 TD, 30 rush yds
Trent Richardson: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
T.Y. Hilton: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Reggie Wayne: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It was another huge day through the air for quarterback Philip Rivers who hit the 400-yard passing mark for the third time in just five games this season. With the running game all but non-existent, Rivers has had to throw the ball a ton in 2013 and his fantasy owners have loved every minute it. He is currently the No. 4 fantasy quarterback in the league and has out-produced even the wildest preseason expectations with a bottom five group of receivers. Although he threw multiple interceptions, three in fact, for the first time this season a week ago in Oakland, Rivers still put in a solid, 18-point fantasy day that made him a QB1. He has spread the ball out to a number of different targets, but it has been tight end Antonio Gates who has joined Rivers in a career resurgence. Gates himself currently sits as the No. 4 tight end in fantasy football and he is on pace for over 100 catches on the year.

As good as things have been for Rivers and Gates, one has to assume that the numbers will eventually level off and that could start to happen this week as the Chargers host an Colts defense that has allowed just two touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks in their past three games combined. During that span, they have also forced five interceptions and caused two quarterback fumbles. Other than allowing Russell Wilson to rush for over 100 yards, Indianapolis has been excellent against opposing QB’s as of late. They’ve allowed just 18 total “passing” fantasy points to the position over their past three games and Philip Rivers isn’t much of a threat to run the ball. With the Colts defense playing as well as it has been and the San Diego passing game playing as well as it has, it’s likely that these two units will meet somewhere in the middle, with Rivers and the Chargers turning in a decent but not great fantasy day.

Running Game Thoughts: As good as San Diego’s passing game has been, their rushing attack has been in hiding all year. Running back Ryan Mathews has averaged less than 3.5 yards per carry and hasn’t scored a touchdown on the ground while barely been involved in the passing game. Add in a concussion that knocked him out of his Week 5 game against the Raiders and Mathews has barely been a low-end FLEX option at best this season. On the other hand, it has been running back Danny Woodhead that has broken out over his past two games, contributing 30 fantasy points (standard scoring) during that stretch. Where he has really showed up, however, is in the receiving game. Woodhead is on pace for 99 receptions and has caught three touchdowns over the past two games. Woodhead has been a decent RB2 in standard scoring leagues as of late, but he is bordering on RB1 production in PPR formats. Although his rushing isn’t anything to write home about, if Woodhead is still somehow available in your league, it’s time to snatch him up. Mathews is not a guarantee to play on Monday night due to his concussion symptoms and even if he does, Woodhead has been on the field significantly more often this season, checking in on 45 percent of the Chargers’ offensive plays, while Mathews has played just 31 percent of the time. If Mathews does not play, Woodhead should be on the field for roughly 2/3 of the team’s offensive plays, while Ronnie Brown will likely see an expanded role as the complementary back.

Whoever is in the backfield for the Chargers will be up against the Colts defense that has allowed double-digit fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing teams’ running backs in four of their five games this season. The only team that has failed to get to double digit fantasy points was the hapless Jaguars, so it seems very possible that the streak will continue in Week 6. Unfortunately for Woodhead owners, Indianapolis has actually done a good job of shutting down opposing running backs in the passing game. They have allowed the third-fewest yards and receptions to the position on the year, having allowed a season high of just 35 yards receiving to the 49ers’ backs in Week 3. While there is some concern about how well the Indianapolis linebackers have played in coverage against running backs, the truth is that the Colts have had a light schedule when it comes to playing running backs who catch passes. Woodhead is a must start in PPR formats and is even a FLEX consideration for standard scoring leagues. Sit Mathews and Brown this week, however, as there just won’t be enough snaps for either of them to make much of a fantasy impact.

Philip Rivers: 290 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Danny Woodhead: 40 rush yds, 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Ronnie Brown: 25 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Keenan Allen: 60 rec yds
Vincent Brown: 40 rec yds
Eddie Royal: 30 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Colts 27, Chargers 23

Bengals at Bills - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Over the past two weeks quarterback Andy Dalton has been trending in the wrong direction despite the Bengals beating New England in their most recent contest. Over that span he’s failed to gain 215 yards through the air, has thrown two touchdowns with no interceptions, and has been both good (74 percent) and bad (54 percent) in completion percentage. Cincinnati has surrendered six sacks and has not had a passing play go for 30 or more yards from scrimmage. Adding to the confusion is their game results, losing to Cleveland and their backup quarterback and then beating New England with a future Hall of Famer under center. These numbers are generally worse than Dalton's season averages of 231 yards per game and 65.1 percent completions, with a total of five touchdowns, five interceptions, and 11 sacks through five games. Since the opening game, star wide receiver A.J. Green has recorded between 41 and 61 yards per game and has recorded only one touchdown in the past four games.

The 2013 Bills are a far better team than they were last year according to most statistics, but they’re still giving up yards and points despite being near the top of the league in sacks and leading in interceptions. Without creating turnovers Buffalo is fairly beatable; despite giving up less than 200 passing yards to Cleveland they didn’t force an interception and the game resulted in a loss, but against Baltimore they recorded five interceptions and despite surrendering almost 350 passing yards they still were able to pull out a win. Dalton tends to not make many mistakes, but if his recent struggles continue and pressure is able to get to him as it has on occasion this season, he may open the door for Buffalo to make the game much closer than it is expected to be.

Running Game Thoughts: The beautiful aspect of the Bengals rushing attack is the very thing that drives fantasy owners crazy, that there are two capable running backs who both get touches all over the field and can each outperform the other on any given Sunday. Someone is going to get yards, someone is going to score, and someone is going to be involved in the passing game, but whether it is BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Giovani Bernard won’t be determined until the game is underway. On the year, they each have exactly 209 rushing yards but their numbers of carries vary greatly, resulting in a 2.9 yards per carry for Green-Ellis and 4.6 for the rookie Bernard. The younger player has better burst and is more agile but he’s still subject to growing pains that the veteran no longer has to deal with, as evidenced by Bernard's late-game fumble last weekend against New England. Together they’ve given the Bengals 100 yards per game and have scored five touchdowns on the ground in addition to their contributions in the passing game, so while it’s hard to decide between the two running backs, it’s equally as hard to leave them on the bench.

Andy Dalton: 220 pass yds, 1 TD
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 60 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Giovani Bernard: 50 rush yds, 40 rec yds
A.J. Green: 70 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Thad Lewis is a second-year quarterback recently promoted from the practice squad. He was acquired last year toward the end of his rookie season after he played for the Browns against the Steelers, completing 22 of 32 pass attempts for 204 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Cleveland lost the game 10-24. Now in Buffalo he’s the starter after the top two quarterbacks were injured and as the organization tries to be cautious with their players and not rush them back from injury. Frankly, his lone 2012 performance would be an improvement on what the Bills have been able to average so far in passing production, so short of a debut that rivals that of Bryan Hoyer (Cleveland's backup quarterback), it’s hard to imagine the game being anything but painful.

Making matters even worse is that the Bengals have a passing defense just barely outside the top ten and they rank even better in terms of yards per attempt. Their sack and interception numbers are roughly average, but if teams aren’t able to move the ball well, there isn’t as much need to force those kinds of big plays. Against New England last week they held Tom Brady to under 50 percent passing, fewer than 200 yards, and forced an interception without allowing a touchdown, thus breaking his streak of 52 games with a passing touchdown. Nearly three and a half seasons passed before anyone was able to prevent Brady from throwing a touchdown pass. If the Bengals play at that level again this week, the Buffalo offensive numbers should be substantially worse than what the Patriots were able to muster.

Running Game Thoughts: At its core, Buffalo is a running team; C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson are each quality running backs capable of starting for most NFL teams and they so happen to be sharing a backfield. So far, Coach Marrone has been able to use them well to complement each other in the ground attack, with each recording around 300 yards, though Jackson does have a 4-1 touchdown advantage. The offensive line isn’t stellar but is adequate, giving the two runners enough space to make plays or grind out yards as needed. As a team, the Bills average nearly 153 rushing yards per game, third best in the league, though a portion of that is usually contributed by quarterback E.J. Manuel. The best chance for Buffalo this week will be to lean on the running game and hope the offensive line is able to get a reasonable push against the front four of Cincinnati. Taking the ball out of the hands of Lewis and giving more touches to the two-headed running back monster is an obvious game plan. Doing so will open up opportunities on the backend, but it all starts on the ground.

More bad news for Buffalo, and again it comes from the Bengals. Cincinnati is a top ten rushing defense that surrenders fewer than 100 yards per game, and only three teams in the NFL have given up fewer rushing touchdowns than they have, one of which has played one fewer games because of a bye week. In addition to shutting down Brady, they were able to limit the Patriots to only 82 rush yds; after factoring in sacks, that brings the grand total to less than 250 yards for the entire day. The one area where Buffalo is superior to New England is in the running game, so there’s a sliver of hope that the Bills will be able to get something going on the ground. But the Bengals will give them all they can handle, and that may end up being too much to account for, given that the quarterback has no more than four quarters of real-game experience at the professional level. Without a passing threat, a rushing attack is much easier to stop.

Thaddeus Lewis: 130 pass yds, 1 INT
C.J. Spiller: 40 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 40 rush yds / 10 rec yds
Steve Johnson: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 24, Bills 9

Steelers at Jets - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: In most every way imaginable, the success of these two teams and their players feels backwards based on recent history. The Steelers have great players and play well; the Jets have moderate talent and play poorly. Usually, but not in 2013. One of the few constants has been Ben Roethlisberger, who on the season is around his career averages except for his TD-INT ratio, which is usually around 7-4 but is currently 5-5. The core issue appears to be the offensive line, and coming out of the bye week, there will be some new faces in some of those places. It looks like Mike Adams has lost his starting spot to Kelvin Beachum, and recently-acquired Levi Brown will certainly factor into the mix at left tackle. Guard Ramon Foster is nursing a pectoral injury, and if he isn’t available, Brown would be the obvious replacement. With those struggles hopefully worked out, Pittsburgh will try to improve on their ninth overall passing offense (283 yards per game) and try to convert some of those yards into points, which has been the issue all season long. Only three teams have scored fewer passing touchdowns than the Steelers.

In terms of passing defense, the Jets are a touch outside of the top ten, so for a Pittsburgh team looking for a bounce back, this may not be the most ideal opponent. The strength of the Jets is in their defensive line, which has recorded 16 sacks and preyed on less-than-stellar offensive lines. Their pass coverage has recorded only one interception and has allowed nine touchdowns, so if the Steelers can improve on their sixth-worst offensive sack numbers, Roethlisberger should start to see better success through the air. Getting tight end Heath Miller back to full strength will help in all phases of the passing game; he’s the favorite target and one of the best security blankets in the league. His presence will help open up the field for wide receiver Antonio Brown, who leads the team with 412 receiving yards this season. Many teams have had difficulty moving the ball against New York because of their defensive front seven, and weakness along the Pittsburgh offensive line doesn’t foreshadow overwhelming success, but there will be moments where the Jets get beaten by a good quarterback making a big play. Unfortunately there just aren’t many of those plays to go around.

Running Game Thoughts: This is the area in which the game will be decided, if it hasn’t been already. The Steelers have the second worst rushing attack in the league and the Jets have the second best rushing defense. Pittsburgh has faced four teams with good front sevens, but there has been no push at all from the offensive line. With Le’Veon Bell back from injury, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic after his debut of 57 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings. Prior to those scores, the Steelers had yet to find the end zone on the ground. Sorting out some of the O-line issues, establishing some consistency in the passing game, and having their rookie sensation running back on the field can only help improve the rushing attack, but considering where they are now, it’s almost impossible for those changes to make them any worse. Moderate steps in the right direction are all that can be expected from the Pittsburgh ground game.

Three yards per attempt. That’s all that opponents have been able to eke out against the New York defense. That even includes a rush of 59 yards, without which the yards per attempt average drops to just over 2.5. It’s not impossible to run against the Jets, but only one of five teams has broken 100 yards against them, and that included the season long of 59. They’re hard to move, the linebackers fill gaps well, and in the event a runner can make it through the front seven, the secondary comes up with big hits and tends to stuff the ball carrier in his tracks. The Steelers will need to drastically improve on their meager 58 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry if they’re going to see any success on Sunday, but based on their performances prior to the bye week, there isn’t much room for optimism in Pittsburgh.

Ben Roethlisberger: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Le’Veon Bell: 50 rush yds
Antonio Brown: 60 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: If he isn’t already, quarterback Geno Smith should be considered the offensive rookie of the year. The majority of the year is relative monotony punctuated by big game-changing moments, and for a rookie it is their upside and not their averages on which they should be judged. For Smith those high points are some of the best in the league, rookie or not. Fourth-quarter drives in Weeks 1, 3, and 5 either led to a comeback or broke a tie that would not be relinquished. In those three games, the final points were scored by the Jets. Through five weeks he has three game-winning drives, on pace to tie or surpass Andrew Luck’s total from last year. Turnovers have been a problem, but he’s led a New York passing offense that ranks near the middle in most other categories. Even on an off day, Smith is good for about 200 yards, and if he can limit his turnovers, he generally finds a way to get one of his receivers into the end zone. He’s thrown more touchdowns this season than two Super Bowl–winning quarterbacks and also two of the best duel-threat quarterbacks from last season. The future looks good for the Jets, and the present isn’t too shabby either.

Only one team in the NFL has yet to record an interception, Pittsburgh, a far cry from the perceptions that usually surround their defense. The yardage against is still impressive though, at 199 yards per game, good enough for a top five ranking. Opponents have been limited to 60 percent completions on the year, suggesting that they’re giving up those yards on mid- to short-range passes and not through numerous long balls. Typically they force you to make a mistake and then capitalize on that, but without turnovers, they aren’t able to get the offense back onto the field in good scoring position, and that eventually puts more pressure on the defense when they’re not playing with a big lead. Facing off against Smith should help Pittsburgh, as most rookies aren’t yet consistent enough to methodically move the ball down the field with small chunks of yards at a time. If the Steelers are finally able to force a turnover, the effect could be exponential, as it ratchets up the pressure on the rookie quarterback and leads him to make additional mistakes.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite scoring only two rushing touchdowns, the Jets have one of the best running attacks in the league with 122 yards per game. The majority of that production has come from running back Bilal Powell, who is now the starter after a position battle with Chris Ivory. The other major contributor has been Smith, who has used improvised runs and scrambles to extend drives, make plays, and pick up yards at critical moments. Those two account for both of New York's rushing touchdowns and 436 of the team's 610 total yards. Much like Pittsburgh, success in the rushing game can be attributed to the offensive line, where the Steelers are poor runners because of it and the Jets have been successful largely because of the front five. Another good game on the ground will make it difficult for the New York O-line to fly under the radar for much longer, but for now they’re one of the best units that no one’s talking about.

In addition to not recording an interception, Pittsburgh also hasn't recovered any fumbles either. As a team, the Steelers have not forced a turnover in four games, nor have they managed to win any of those four games. That isn’t a coincidence. While the rookie quarterback is likely to make a mistake at some point, the major area of concern for the Pittsburgh defense should be the running game. The Steelers have allowed six rushing touchdowns in four games and surrendered more than 120 yards per game on the ground at a respectable average of 3.8 yards per carry. Opponents have needed to “ground and pound” to find scoring opportunities against the Steelers, but that is exactly what the Jets want to do on a weekly basis. Gang Green seems to finally be getting back to their traditional offense, but if Pittsburg can get back to their traditional Steel Curtain defense, even the best of rushing attacks would be stymied. Without turnovers though, it’s hard to imagine the 25th best rush defense in the league being able to stand up to the repeated assault that is likely in store for Sunday.

Geno Smith: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 40 rush yds
Bilal Powell: 90 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Stephen Hill: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Jets 19, Steelers 13

Saints at Patriots - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: On rare occasions, the best quarterback playing in Foxboro may not be with the home team. Drew Brees may not be better than Tom Brady, but if he’s not, it’s at least open to discussion; in terms of the 2013 season, it’s hard to argue against what Brees and the Saints have done so far. He’s averaging over 325 yards per game with 12 touchdowns on the year, both of which are next to best in the league. Four interceptions and 13 sacks are both worse than what is normal for the Saints quarterback, but considering the struggles the franchise experienced last year, it’s hard to fault them for a little hiccup at the beginning of the year. In addition to a top-flight quarterback, New Orleans boasts the best receiver in the game (593 yds and six TDs on 37 rec) and he just so happens to be a tight end. Jimmy Graham continues to redefine the position beyond what he and others have already put into motion. His basketball background gives him a clear advantage in jump ball situations, and his time on the hard court allowed him to perfect total body control. Simply put, there’s not a receiver of any type in the game who can do what he can, and Brees continues to exploit the dramatic mismatch that he presents.

With respect to yardage, the Patriots are roughly average for the league, but most everywhere else their pass defense is near the top of the rankings. They’re one of only eight teams that can boast of both six interceptions and 13 sacks and while they may not be elite in either area, that combination and balance appears to put them in elite company. Through five games they’ve faced only one top passing team (Atlanta), so their statistics may be a bit overinflated, but the most significant note comes from the injury report, as defensive tackle Tommy Kelly has been unable to participate in practice the week after fellow lineman Vince Wilfork was already declared out for the season. The ability to rush the quarterback and create pressure has been essential to what the Patriots have been able to do, so Kelly and Wilfork's absence will be felt at every level of the defense. On the backend, Aqib Talib is establishing himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league, but he’ll have his hands full matched up with whomever he draws from New Orleans—though reports have suggested he’ll see a lot of time across from Graham. In what is likely to be an aerial shootout, any weakness will almost certainly be exploited, so even if Talib is able to shutdown the stellar tight end, the Patriots will have a tough time getting to Brees, who will have plenty of other receiving options to target.

Running Game Thoughts: Where most teams run to establish the pass, things work a little differently in New Orleans. The short passing game is almost like most teams’ rushing attack and is equally effective in opening up the deep ball as well as picking up small bits of yardage as the team drives down the field. The Saints do run the ball though, and while the yardage totals or averages aren’t particularly impressive, they’re used mostly as an additional change of pace or in short-yardage situations. Although they’re not carrying the ball frequently, the two top running backs are still extremely involved in the passing game and are the second and fourth most active receivers on the team. Despite all the exceptions and qualifications made about the running game, they still rush for over 77 yards per game and have scored two touchdowns. In itself that isn’t that big of a deal, but on top of every other challenge the Saints present, it’s just one more weapon in their already stocked arsenal.

Against the rush New England isn’t particularly stellar, and the losses at defensive tackle certainly won’t help any. They already give up over 116 yards per game on the ground and a 4.1 rushing average, both of which are in the lower half of the league. Though the Saints don’t lean heavily on the run, the handful of attempts they do make will likely see more success than normal against the injured Patriots front seven. If Kelly isn’t able to go or isn’t anywhere near full strength on Sunday, any short-yardage situations will heavily favor the Saints. The rest of the game will closely resemble a seven-on-seven practice drill with quarterbacks and receivers taking over the game and the rushing attack likely being marginalized.

Drew Brees: 450 pass yds, 4 TDs
Pierre Thomas: 30 rush yds / 40 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 20 rush yds / 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Jimmy Graham: 130 rec yds, 2 TDs

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady has never beaten Drew Brees as a pro, losing twice to him as a Charger and once as a Saint. If the Patriots are going to send Brees back to New Orleans without a victory, Brady is likely going to need his best game of the season. Through five games New England is averaging only 227 yards per game while recording seven touchdowns and three interceptions, all of which are a far cry from the Tom Brady of years past. It’s easy to point to the receivers as the issue, and to an extent that’s fair, but most recently against the Bengals, wide receiver Danny Amendola was active once again and New England failed to score a touchdown, losing the game 6-13. This week tight end Rob Gronkowski is expected to make his long awaited debut, and whether he is at 100 percent or not, his presence on the field will garner much attention from the defense. At full strength, this game would feature two of the top passing offenses in the NFL, but with two rookies and several other injured players as top receiving targets, the Patriots are at a noticeable disadvantage.

The surprise of the season may be the Saints defense. Coming off of a historically bad season, they rank right around the top third of the league in yards against and are a bit ahead of that in sacks recorded. The major deficiency from a defensive point of view is a relative lack of turnovers, but considering the offense they’re paired with, all they really need is a stop or two to give Brees a chance to win the game. Reminiscent of their Super Bowl season, New Orleans seems to come up with big stops or crucial turnovers in the most critical of moments. As one of the three remaining undefeated teams, they will be put to the test by Brady and company. And if the receiving corps, including Gronkowski, is able to play to their full potential, they’ll test the very limits of the new-and-improved Saints defense.

Running Game Thoughts: Even as the passing attack has been stumbling, the ability to rush the ball has remained relatively strong. Early fumble trouble steered New England away from the run a bit, but after a series of injuries, depth chart changes, and solid performances, LeGarrette Blount is now the starting running back as well as finally becoming the team’s leading rusher. On the year he’s averaged 4.5 yards per carry, scored one touchdown, and aside from one fumble in the last game, has been solid in protecting the ball. He hasn’t recorded any statistics in the passing game but has received generally positive reviews as a pass blocker, meaning he’ll be on the field more often and will help force defenses to stay more honest, as Blount's presence won't necessarily indicate a run play. With Brady under center, the Patriots will always be a passing team, but Blount gives them the ability to run in addition to his contributions in protecting the quarterback. However, until he has a full game under his belt as the primary starter, his value as a fantasy RB will remain limited, despite his value as an on-field player.

New Orleans is less stellar against the run than against the pass, but they still rank near the middle of the league, with almost 109 yards against per game. No team that has played all five games has faced fewer rushes though, so the Saints' yards per attempt average of 5.4 shows that the main reason they haven’t given up more rushing yards primarily because they don’t face many rushes. Playing from behind forces a team to throw more often, so for New Orleans the best defense is often a good offense. If New England is able to establish the run early, they should see great success and that in turn will open things up on the back end for the passing game. Conversely, if they fall behind early and abandon the run, the Saints have demonstrated that they can effectively bend but not break against a strong passing attack, and the Patriots may find themselves in an uncomfortable situation in front of the home crowd. Brady may not be able to mount a comeback given the inexperienced receiving corps he has at his disposal.

Tom Brady: 300 pass yds, 3 TDs
LeGarrette Blount: 80 rush yds, 1 TD
Danny Amendola: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Saints 45, Patriots 34

Redskins at Cowboys - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite his being on the field from the first snap of the season, Robert Griffin III's recovery process is clearly ongoing. But he did take another significant stride in his previous game. For the first time all season he did not commit a turnover, and for the first time all season the Redskins won. In the defensively-inept NFC East, it becomes ever more critical to hold onto the ball because stops are so hard to come by and teams can’t afford to give their opponents additional scoring opportunities. Fresh off the Oakland victory, Washington went on their bye week, so the timing is either perfect in that it allows them to build on the success for an additional week, or it is the positively bad timing in that it disrupts all they’ve been building toward for the season. Week 6 against Dallas will give Griffin another opportunity to make plays and hopefully protect the ball. His 285 passing yards per game ranks him in the top ten, and his six touchdowns are approximately on pace with those around him considering he’s played one fewer game. Sunday will go a long way in showing Washington and the rest of the league how far he’s come since tearing his ACL in January, and if he’s back at 100 percent, the Redskins will be in business coming out of their bye.

In the history of the NFL only one team has scored more points in a loss than Dallas did last week. But since that historic loss was by the Houston Oilers, they can still hold onto a bit of their pride by not being the worst in Texas. Unlike their southern counterpart, the Cowboys have a near inability to stop an opponent’s passing attack. Dallas is giving up 326 passing yards per game on nearly 69 percent completions, both marks being second worst in the league. No team has given up more passing touchdowns (14), their interception numbers (5) are below average, and their 14 sacks are just on the positive side of the middle of the pack. With a little time from the offensive line, Griffin will have plenty of opportunities to make plays and keep his team in contention for the division title.

Running Game Thoughts: After a slower start to this season, the Redskins seem to have established the run much like they did so well last year. Going into the bye week they rushed for 120-plus yards in back-to-back weeks after performances of 74 and 108 yards in the first two games. The bye came at an ideal time for running back Alfred Morris because he picked up a rib injury halfway through the last game. His skills, plus those of Griffin, give Washington one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the league so long as they’re both healthy. They have the third best yards per carry (4.8) despite having a season long of only 32 yards. They run the ball effectively and don’t need long carries in order to be successful; It’s hard to ask for more than that.

Don’t be deceived by Dallas’s top four ranking in rush defense. They give up so many yards through the air that teams generally don’t have to run the ball very often. The 3.8 yards per carry mark is just outside of the top ten, so while the distinction between being number four or number 12 isn’t massive, the implications that go with being in the top third apply much more to Dallas than those that come with being in the top eighth. They’re good, not great, and when teams can throw for huge chunks of yardage in a single play, why should they waste a down trying to steal a few yards on the ground. The wildcard here will be Griffin’s activity in the running game; through for contests he’s carried 18 times for 72 yards, though the threat of his running is sometimes enough to keep the defense off balance. Some of the best linebackers in the game play for Dallas, but with a hobbled defensive line and a secondary that surrenders yardage in bunches, it’s hard for them to have a consistent impact on particular plays and especially on the outcome of the game.

Robert Griffin III: 360 pass yds, 1 TD / 30 rush yds, 1 TD
Alfred Morris: 90 rush yds, 1 TD
Pierre Garcon: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Even a personal and franchise best couldn’t lead the Cowboys to a victory last weekend. Behind 506 yards and five touchdowns from Tony Romo, his team was in position for a game-winning drive. But a late interception on a good defensive play ended those hopes and led to the Broncos' game-winning field goal. The national and local media has blown up over the late turnover, attributing it to his tendency to collapse in critical moments but overlooking that it was only his second interception all season. He’s completed nearly 72 percent of his passes on the season, averages 285 yards per game, and is second in the league in touchdown passes (13), behind only the record-setting pace of Peyton Manning. Without him at quarterback, Dallas would arguably be 1–4, beating only the Rams and likely falling to the Giants in Week 1. Romo's top target is of course Dez Bryant (29 rec, 6 TDs, 423 yds) but right behind him is the ever-steady Jason Witten (28 rec, 3 TDs, 313 yds). In the absence of Miles Austin, rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams has stepped up with 151 receiving yards and a touchdown last week against Denver.

The defenses in this game should be mirror images of each other; the Redskins concede almost 300 passing yards per game and have given up nine touchdowns while forcing only two interceptions. Much like their opponent, Washington is effective at getting to the quarterback, recording 15 sacks in only four games, on pace to be one of the most effective teams in the league this season. For a unit that isn’t great to forcing turnovers, gives up tons of yards, and has a hard time coming up with stops in the red zone, the Cowboys are a very tough opponent. The offensive line isn’t stellar but they’re generally effective, and when they’re not, Romo is good at making plays and overcoming early setbacks. In terms of a passing attack, there isn’t a defense in the NFC East that can match up with what Dallas has at their disposal, and the Sunday night game will reflect that as Dallas airs it out against their division rival.

Running Game Thoughts: On the ground Dallas has been more inconsistent than they have through the air, but when they’ve been good they’ve been very good. Running back DeMarco Murray has handled the lion’s share of carries and is one of only a handful of true primary backs in the league. As alluded to in the passing game, the inconsistencies from the offensive line largely drive a successful rushing attack, so when they’re not performing well, Murray's stats will suffer. Aside from his great performance against the Rams in Week 3 (26 carries for 175 yards and 1 touchdown) he’s recorded 224 yards and one touchdown on 58 carries, averaging 3.8 yards per touch. Dallas is primarily a passing team, so unless the running game is working particularly well and the line is getting a good push, they tend to prefer putting the ball in Romo’s hands than having him turn around and hand off to a ball carrier. As a team they average just over 20 rushes per game, definitely below average for the league.

For all the success Dallas had against the Rams, it is worth noting that the Redskins are statistically worse than St. Louis against the run. Coming off their bye week they should be as close to full strength as they’ve been all season, but even at their best they’re not particularly gifted run stoppers, allowing 4.7 yards per carry, in the bottom quarter of the NFL. With the inconsistencies along both sides of the line of scrimmage, the game will see a mixed bag of results on running plays. However, if the game comes down to a single athlete needing to make a play, Dallas has one of the best in Murray. The best hope for Washington may be a high-scoring, pass-happy contest since they’re slightly less bad against the pass than they are against the rush, but neither is close to qualifying as anything but bad.

Tony Romo: 320 pass yds, 4 TDs
DeMarco Murray: 90 rush yds, 1 TD / 40 rec yds
Dez Bryant: 120 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Cowboys 38, Redskins 34