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Inside the Matchup
Week 7

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



TB @ ATL | HOU @ KC | BUF @ MIA | NE @ NYJ

 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Smith 16 7 69.6
2 Caron 16 8 66.7
3 Thorne 14 8 63.6
4 Anderson 11 12 47.8

Seahawks @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson has done his job of getting wins for his team this season but fantasy owners have to be a bit disappointed that the passer has not gone over 260 yards since Week 1. In addition to his struggles in yardage, Wilson has not been particularly effective in the red zone, having thrown just two touchdowns in his past three games combined. These numbers would typically indicate a quarterback who is no longer fantasy relevant but Wilson has kept his place on most fantasy rosters by becoming one of the most mobile QB’s in the league. He trails only Michael Vick in rushing yardage and has ran for a combined 240 yards in his past three games. Wilson’s rushing yardage isn’t random a surprise. He has taken 10+ carries in four of his six games, making him one of the most active runners in the league. With Percy Harvin still not ready to return despite reports that he is getting “very close,” Wilson has been throwing to a less-than-stellar group of receivers. Other than a huge Week 3 performance where he caught two touchdown passes, Sidney Rice has been under four points in every one of his other five games. Golden Tate has two games in double digits: weeks 3 and 5, but has been at five or fewer fantasy points in his other games. Doug Baldwin has been the team’s most consistent wide receiver, but even he hasn’t inspired a ton of fantasy confidence as he hasn’t hit double digit fantasy points in a standard scoring league this season. Tight end Zach Miller returns this week after an injury has kept him out in recent weeks, but other than a Week 3 performance against Jacksonville where he caught two passes for two touchdowns and five total yards, he has been fantasy irrelevant.

Things don’t get much easier for this group in Week 7 as they will be up against an underrated Arizona defense that has done very well against opposing passing games. Arizona has successfully utilized a “bend but don’t break” secondary. While they’ve allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for at least 250 passing yards in five of their six games, the Cardinals have allowed just three touchdown passes against, while forcing six interceptions and three fumbles, over their past three games. They also contained Colin Kaepernick and Cam Newton on the ground in back-to-back weeks, allowing just 43 rushing yards between the two. With no obvious player that Patrick Peterson will be “shadowing” as the Seahawks don’t have a clear cut WR1, it’s hard to say which one of the Seattle receivers will be most fantasy relevant in Week 7. What we do know, however, is that Golden Tate is seeing the field more than any receiver on the roster and has led the team in targets in four straight contests.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch has continued to dominate this season as he provides premier numbers in all fantasy formats. His workload (at least 17 carries in every game) has helped create a level of consistency that has been hard to come by at the position in 2013. Lynch scored two touchdowns in Week 6 against the Titans and it could have been more if he didn’t fumble at the 2-yard line. He’s also been uncharacteristically involved in the passing game as he caught four passes for 78 yards against the Titans. He is on pace for 35 receptions, a number which he has exceeded only once in his seven-year NFL career.

Arizona has been stout against the run for the most part this season. They have allowed fewer than 85 yards rushing in every game except Week 6 against the 49ers when they allowed 122 yards. Even then, the 49ers needed 33 carries (3.7 ypc) to hit their mark. Arizona has also allowed only one rushing touchdown all year. Where they have been oddly vulnerable is against backs that can catch. Their 38 receptions and 316 receiving yards allowed to running backs are the second-most in the league. While Lynch is not traditionally much of a pass-catcher, his recent increase in passing targets from Russell Wilson has to make fantasy owners interested. Don’t mistake this for Lynch being a sudden PPR machine but he might be able to hold his own and remain an elite option even against a tough Arizona defense in Week 7. No matter the format, Lynch needs to be in your lineup.

Russell Wilson: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 45 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 80 rush yds, 2 TD, 25 rec yds
Doug Baldwin: 60 rec yds
Golden Tate: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Sidney Rice: 40 rec yds
Zach Miller: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Palmer finally got things going in Week 6 as he threw for 298 yards and two touchdowns. Although it came along with two interceptions, it was nice to see Palmer in double-digit fantasy points (standard scoring) for the first time since Week 2. On the downside, Palmer has now thrown at least one interception in every game this season and has thrown multiple picks in each of his past four games. He is on pace for a ridiculous 29 interceptions, which would be the most by any quarterback since Brett Favre hit that number back in 2005. Coach Bruce Arians has defended Palmer and noted that both of his two, first-quarter interceptions in Week 6 were the receivers’ fault, not Palmer’s. Still, the concern has to be that Palmer and his receivers just aren’t on the same page. Larry Fitzgerald has been inconsistent, but remains a solid fantasy option even in tough matchups. San Francisco was an elite fantasy defense at shutting down opposing receivers coming into the game, having allowed just two touchdowns to opposing receivers in their first five games. Fitzgerald didn’t let that bother him as he caught six passes for 117 yards and a touchdown. Those still holding onto Andre Roberts should probably cut him now with Michael Floyd fully establishing himself as the team’s WR2. Floyd has caught five passes in each of his past three games and also caught his first touchdown of the season against the 49ers.

This unit will be up against a Seahawks secondary that continues to perform as well in fantasy as they do in real life. They have allowed five or fewer points to opposing QB’s in half of their games so far this season and no quarterback has thrown for more than two touchdowns. Seattle has allowed fewer than 240 passing yards in five of their six games and just five total passing touchdowns while forcing nine interceptions on the year. With the Cardinals passing game being very hit or miss, it seems safe to assume that Palmer and company will have a tough time putting up huge numbers this week. Other than perhaps Larry Fitzgerald as a low-end WR2, none of the other players in this passing game should make fantasy owners confident as they go up against the Seahawks.

Running Game Thoughts: It hasn’t been a great season for the Cardinals but running back Andre Ellington officially took over as the team’s highest-scoring running fantasy back for 2013 with a nice Week 6 performance where he had 92 total yards and a touchdown. While it’s true that Rashard Mendenhall is still getting the majority of carries, having carried the ball at least 10 times in all but one game, he just hasn’t been effective. Mendenhall has rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry on the year while Ellington, behind the same offensive line, has rushed for 7.0 yards per carry. Ellington has also been significantly more productive as a receiver, averaging 10.0 yards per reception compared to Mendenhall’s 6.6 yards per reception. While this has been a trend all season, it appeared in Week 6 that the Cardinals had finally realized it for themselves. After Ellington struggled to even stay close in total snaps played for the first five weeks, he may have finally taken over as the team’s RB1 as he played 32 snaps in Week 6 compared to 22 for Mendenhall.

Whoever is carrying the ball on Thursday will have a tough road ahead of them with the Seahawks playing excellent against opposing running backs. Running backs have rushed for just 3.4 yards per carry against Seattle and teams have been under 50 rushing yards as a unit in half of Seattle’s games. Only one team (Houston) has gone over 100 rushing yards in any game against the Seahawks this season and over their past 10 regular season games going back to 2012, the Seahawks have allowed just five total touchdowns to opposing running backs. While Andre Ellington is becoming an intriguing option particularly in PPR formats, it’s going to be tough to fit him in as anything more than a FLEX play this week. Rashard Mendenhall, on the other hand, may not even reach that designation. Don’t be surprised to see both of these backs in single digits for fantasy point totals, but if you have to play one, Ellington is certainly the player with the most upside, particularly in PPR leagues.

Carson Palmer: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Andre Ellington: 40 rush yds, 35 rec yds
Rashard Mendenhall: 35 rec yds, 10 rec yds
Larry Fitzgerald: 70 rec yds
Michael Floyd: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 13 ^ Top

Bengals @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Last week versus the Bills, Andy Dalton actually had one of his nicer games in a long time, posting a 337/3 TD/1 INT line and spreading the ball around to eight different receivers. The star of the receivers was of course A.J. Green, who led the team with 11 targets and 103 yards on six catches (1 TD). Despite having a fairly talented group of receivers around him (Eifert, Gresham, Sanu), Green remains the only relevant receiver on the Bengals, in large part because of their conservative offense but also because of Dalton’s inconsistency and the spread of the remaining targets after Green. There is even an argument to be made that running back Giovani Bernard is the Bengals' second best receiving option, further limiting the rest of the Bengals' role-playing receivers.

The matchup with the Lions this week is about average for the Bengals, as the Lions are better in pass coverage than run defense, especially excelling in interceptions (10; tied for first in the NFL) and preventing passing touchdowns (7; tied for ninth). On the other hand, the Lions give up a healthy amount of yardage through the air (ranked 21st) and are the 12th most friendly team to opposing fantasy WR’s thus far. Considering the talent at quarterback and wide receiver, the matchup, and the circumstances in the game, this is a “business as usual” game for the Bengals passing attack; that is, decent stats at the end of the day but nobody other than Green really standing out as a fantasy performer. Without a true shutdown corner, and with other less talented receivers having big games against the Lions this year (Jerome Simpson for one), Green should be locked and loaded as a top-end WR1 and a top five guy at the position this week. No other Bengals receiver is startable at this point, certainly not in a matchup like this one, which is not particularly juicy. Dalton remains what he has been all year, a mid-range but unexciting QB2 that will post decent yardage numbers but fail to wow in any other area.

Running Game Thoughts: Just when rookie running back Giovani Bernard looked like he was starting to run away with the Bengals rushing workload, veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis stepped up his game last week and led the team with 86 yards on 18 carries. Of course Bernard was not shut out, as he did most of his damage through the air, with six catches for 72 yards and a beautiful touchdown where he juked and dragged defenders to the end zone. Bernard is clearly the more attractive option in this backfield, both short and long term, but as long as BJGE is getting 10 or more touches per game, both guys’ upsides are limited.

This week the Bengals have a fairly juicy matchup against the Lions, who are giving up the fourth most rushing yards per game despite facing a mix of both great (AP, Morris, Forte) and below-average (McGahee, Mendenhall) running backs. The Lions are also the seventh most generous defense to opposing fantasy RBs on the year, making it even more enticing. A closer look at the numbers suggests Bernard as the better fantasy starter this week, as the Lions have given up three receiving touchdowns and over 200 yards to opposing running backs . Bernard, as one of the better receiving backs this year, could easily see 5 or more catches and 50-plus yards through the air alone, with the chance of his scoring a touchdown being increased this week. Bernard is a very solid RB2 this week, and while BJGE does not have a ton of upside, the nice matchup means he should be a solid RB3/flex guy in this one.

Andy Dalton: 295 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 70 rush yds
A.J. Green: 100 rec yds, 1 TD
Giovani Bernard: 40 rush yds, 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 40 rec yds
Tyler Eifert: 40 rec yds
Mohamed Sanu: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Lions offense has not been itself the past two weeks and there is only one reason for this: the lack of a healthy Calvin Johnson. Two weeks ago the Lions passing game was awful when Johnson was out, and last week they were not much better with Johnson mostly playing the role of a decoy, as he was much less than 100 percent. This week Johnson should be much healthier than last, which should totally change how the Lions offense, and the Bengals defense, plays. With Johnson in the game, Stafford has a guy that he can throw to at any point and under any circumstance, giving him a high-upside safety valve as well as a big-play threat. The presence of Johnson also opens things up for the other Lions receivers and takes pressure off virtually every other player on offense. Of course, Johnson will still be at less than 100 percent and will be covered mostly by Leon Hall, one of the game’s better defensive backs, so it is not like the Lions will be setting record books on fire. Still, it is a big advantage to have one of the NFL’s premier receivers back.

The Bengals defense will look to limit Johnson and the Lions and might actually have some success, as they are currently ranked in the top 10 in the league in passing yards allowed per game, completion percentage allowed, yards per pass attempt allowed, and sacks. Consequently, the Bengals are also among the 10 toughest teams in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing QBs and WRs. Thanks to some dynamic pass-catching running backs, some solid possession guys, and Megatron, the Lions should at least be able to move the chains through the air and compile a healthy amount of yardage. On the other hand, the Bengals should be able to limit scoring opportunities and create havoc with their nasty front seven. While I do not like Stafford to score a ton of points in this game, he has the weapons to put up a bunch of yards and the upside to launch a long touchdown bomb or two. Overall, Stafford is a low-risk, mildly high-upside pick this week as a low-end QB1. Johnson, if playing (he is expected to), has to be started sheerly based on talent, and while the matchup is fairly poor and he is still ailing with a sore knee, he must be considered a low-end WR1 at worst—but better days are coming. To me, there are no other Lions receivers really worth starting that have any kind of attractive upside. Pettigrew is a low-risk/low-reward but solid PPR TE2, but that is really about it. Yes, I know tight end Joseph Fauria scored three touchdowns last week, but I would bet that will be his best game by far this year. Look elsewhere.

Running Game Thoughts: The Lions run game has been up and down this season, but with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell leading the way, the possibility of a big game is there nearly every week. While neither is a traditional running back, fantasy owners are thrilled this year because both get heavily involved in the game plan even if the ground game just isn't working that particular week. Regardless of the matchup, the Lions are a pass-first team and while the rushing attempts and yardage will not be anywhere near the top of the league come season’s end, fantasy owners should be happy to have such a highly productive and versatile back as Bush this season.

This particular matchup is not a strong one for the Lions run game, as the Bengals have a strong front seven and are currently allowing just over 100 yards per game rushing (10th in the NFL). As far as fantasy goes, the Bengals are the 10th toughest defense for opposing RBs to score against, but a closer look at the games they've played reveals that they have gone against only one solid running back (Matt Forte) that has been healthy. The Bengals rush defense is certainly legit, but with the way Bush and Bell catch passes and the attention that Stafford, Megatron, and the Lions passing game will certainly get from the defense, there should be some room for the Lions to make a productive fantasy day for at least one of their running backs. Bush is the better bet, and while he will certainly get man-handled from time to time, he should get enough touches and break enough yards off to be a high-end RB2. Bell continues to be a great handcuff and an occasional flex player, but in a tougher-than-average matchup he should be nowhere but sitting on your bench in all but the deepest PPR leagues.

Matthew Stafford: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Reggie Bush: 55 rush yds, 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Joique Bell: 20 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Calvin Johnson: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon Pettigrew: 40 rec yds
Kris Durham: 35 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 28, Lions 27

Browns @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Brandon Weeden is basically who we thought he was, compiling decent yardage stats through a big volume of throws but otherwise remaining a below-average quarterback who often looks rattled and slow in his decision-making process. Against the Lions last week, Weeden accumulated 292 yards through the air with two touchdowns but also threw two interceptions and took two big sacks. Thankfully, he did not ruin the fantasy days for emerging star wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, who both ended up with decent stats despite not visiting the end zone. Moving forward, Gordon and Cameron are both talented enough and should get enough looks to be fairly solid options, but it is clear that this offense takes a big step back with Weeden under center. With the Browns having such a solid defense, they would love to run the clock down more, but right now they do not have the personnel to do that, meaning Weeden will likely continue to throw 35 times a game, at least salvaging value for Gordon and Cameron.

In this specific matchup, the Packers pass defense remains one of the friendlier matchups for opposing fantasy QBs (eighth most generous), WRs (fifth most generous), and TEs (fourth most generous). As good as that sounds on paper, we have to realize that Weeden is among the least talented quarterbacks the Packers will have faced thus far and that playing in Green Bay your first time is not exactly a pleasant experience. Because the Packers offense can keep pace with anyone, even when banged up, the volume of passes should be there again for the Browns this week. And with Gordon being Weeden’s top option, he should easily see 10 or more targets. While Weeden’s accuracy may be on or off (or way off), Gordon is a lock for 5 catches and should rack up at least 70-plus yards because of his speed. He can be deployed as a safe WR2. While most of Cameron’s catches came in garbage time last week, the Browns offense features the tight end and Cameron is their best red zone weapon. He is a solid TE1 this week, especially in a above-average matchup. No other Browns passing player, including Weeden, is a recommended start this week, as they are too inconsistent without the upside of other available players.

Running Game Thoughts: Other than a fluky 45-yard run by wide receiver Travis Benjamin, the Browns really struggled on the ground last week against the Lions, with starter Willis McGahee only managing 37 yards on 10 carries. Despite having a near-elite defense that keeps them in most games, the Browns still try to rely on an air-it-out offense, despite the ineptitude of starting quarterback Brandon Weeden. With only marginal talent in the backfield, and a quarterback that doesn't exactly strike fear in the minds of defenses, the run game is basically an afterthought in Cleveland, rather than a featured part of their offense. If the matchup was juicy and the Browns could get an early lead, the run game might produce enough to be fantasy relevant, but this will not be the week.

The Packers run defense is currently ranked first in rushing yards allowed, third in rushing yards per attempt, and ninth toughest in terms of points allowed to opposing fantasy RBs. They are also coming off a game where they held Ray Rice (a more talented running back than any of the Browns) to a mere 34 yards on the ground. In other words, this is not the week to get cute and start a member of the Browns running attack. McGahee should be firmly planted on your bench, as the Browns may need to abandon the run anyway; although even if they don’t, it will not be pretty. The only semi-attractive option in this backfield, and only in a PPR league, would be Chris Ogbonnaya, who is apparently Weeden's main check-down option (12 targets last week), and therefore should get four or five catches. But don't expect big yardage numbers either way. This is a situation to mostly avoid.

Brandon Weeden: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Willis McGahee: 30 rush yds
Josh Gordon: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Jordan Cameron: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Chris Ogbonnaya: 15 rush yds, 35 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Even a powerful passing team like the Packers can be brought down to Earth by things like injuries, and Aaron Rodgers and his crew found that out the hard way when both James Jones and Randall Cobb exited the game early last week and did not return. Without two of their main weapons, Rodgers struggled, completing just over half his passes, taking three sacks, and getting picked off as many times as he threw touchdowns (1). The good news for the Packers is that even with losing two talented players (Jones is questionable this week, Cobb is out), they are deep enough to still challenge defenses through the air and keep them honest. While the Packers will look to wide receiver Jarrett Boykin and perhaps some of their tight ends, there is a good chance that their other two stud receivers, wideout Jordy Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley, will pick up most of the slack left by the injured receivers. Perhaps Boykin or someone else will make themselves fantasy-worthy at some point, but in a very tough matchup this week, the chances are slim that anyone is going to have a breakout game.

The Browns are currently eighth best in the NFL in passing yardage allowed per game, seventh best in completion percentage allowed, best in yards per pass attempt allowed, and sixth in sacks. With a very formidable front seven and a true lockdown corner in Joe Haden, the Browns have very few weaknesses on defense and are a quarterbacks nightmare. Fantasy-wise the Browns are the second toughest team for WRs to score against and the eighth toughest for QBs. All in all, even an elite offense like the Packers can be slowed down by a legit defense, and coming into the game banged up certainly doesn't help. While Aaron Rodgers will not have one of his best games of the year, he is simply too talented to bench this week, or ever. He's not an elite option at QB this week but should still rack up enough stats to be considered a lower-end QB1. Jordy Nelson will probably be the guy to draw coverage from Haden most of the game, and while this severely limits his upside, he will probably be force-fed at least eight targets, making him a relatively safe WR2. The guy I like the most this week is actually Finley, who should see an uptick in targets, is coming off a nice game, and plays the one position the Browns have been more generous too in terms of fantasy points (15th). He should be a nice TE1 this week. If James Jones plays, he will likely see a bunch of targets, especially if Haden is covering Nelson, so I like him as a starter, but more of a WR3 with upside but some risk because of his injury. No other Packer in the passing game is worth a look until we see how Rodgers will spread the love without Cobb.

Running Game Thoughts: With James Jones and Randall Cobb on the sideline in last week’s second half, the Packers ran the ball 59 percent of the time, which is a ton for them seeing as they are normally a very pass-heavy team. With Cobb out for sure this week and Jones questionable, the Packers may once again lean heavily on running back Eddie Lacy, who has proven very effective when healthy. In his past two games Lacy has averaged 23 carries and 110 yards on the ground while taking the lion's share of the workload in the backfield. He has looked powerful, decisive, and explosive and the Packers line has opened some nice holes for him.

This week’s matchup against the Browns' elite front seven, which is seventh in the league in rush yards allowed per game, is certainly not ideal. But there are some reasons to be excited as a Lacy owner. First, the Packers offense is still good enough to score on the Browns and get a lead going, possibly meaning more opportunities for Lacy. The fact the Browns offense is below-average only helps in this way as well. Second, the Packers are at home and the Brows are giving up slightly more rush yards in road games. Finally, while the Browns are fairly stingy in terms of yardage, they have actually given up the most rushing touchdowns in the entire NFL thus far. What this all means to me is that Lacy may not be breaking any rushing records this week, but if you combine opportunity, circumstance, momentum, and the rushing touchdowns stat, he should be a competent low-end RB1 this week. It’s not a perfect matchup but the Lacy train has some steam and should continue chug along.

Aaron Rodgers: 255 pass yds, 2 TDs, 15 rush yds
Eddie Lacy: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Jordy Nelson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
James Jones: 40 rec yds
Jermichael Finley: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Jarrett Boykin: 35 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 24, Browns 16

Ravens @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Against a fairly weak Packers pass defense last week, the Ravens finally showed some life in the passing game, accumulating 342 yards and two touchdowns. Part of this was because of the above-average matchup, but it also had to do with the return of a full receiving corps, with wide receiver Jacoby Jones and wide receiver Marlon Brown both playing. While the trio of Torrey Smith, Jones and Brown is certainly not elite, it does give Flacco a nice combination of speed and size and allows him to spread the ball around with more efficiency. With the exception of Smith, who actually had his first bad game of the year last week, the Ravens receiving group is too inconsistent to be attractive from a fantasy standpoint, but in certain matchups they may be useful, and should provide some stability for Joe Flacco’s fantasy value.

Unfortunately for the Ravens passing game, this matchup with the Steelers could be one to forget. Pittsburgh currently ranks fourth in passing yardage allowed per game, first in passing touchdowns allowed, and 11th in completion percentage allowed. On top of that, they are the toughest team opposing fantasy QBs to face for and are among the 10 toughest for WRs and TEs. With a lockdown corner in Ike Taylor, the upside of the Ravens passing game is limited in this matchup... yet all hope is not lost. The Steelers actually rank next to last in sacks, meaning Flacco should have some time to throw, and his receivers that possess elite speed (Smith and Jones) should have time to get deep. It takes just one long touchdown bomb to go from a below-average to a solid fantasy day, and with Flacco’s arm and his receivers' speed, this is certainly possible. Make no mistake about it, this is not a good matchup for the Ravens, especially traveling to Pittsburgh, but it is not so bad that I would entirely abandon this group either. Flacco has never been a solid QB1 and he is certainly far from that here, but with all his receivers back from injury and a nice rhythm going last week, I think he is safe to put out there as a QB2, in that 13–15 range. As for Smith, he may draw a lot of Taylor’s coverage, which is not good for a wide receiver who is not very physical. Yet considering his deep speed and the way he has been playing, I would feel fine about starting him, although he is more low-end WR2 than low-end WR1 this week. The guy I would trust next would be Jones, who may draw easier coverage and break a deep one or two. The Ravens have publicly stated this week that they want to get Jones more action, and what better time to start than now. He's a low-end WR3 against Pittsburgh. Marlon Brown has put together a nice start to his career and may still be a nice red zone target with his size, but considering his place on the depth chart, he falls to a high-upside WR4 this week. Even though tight end Dallas Clark had a nice game last week, he is too inconsistently involved in the game plan to make him anything other than a low-upside TE2.

Running Game Thoughts: A week after the Ravens recommitted to the run and had their best game on the ground (versus Miami) they reverted back to their old ways against the Packers and put up a combined 47 yards on the ground. The game was never really out of reach, so it is puzzling why Baltimore attempted only 22 runs just one week after Ray Rice attempted 27 runs just by himself. You would think by now the Ravens would realize that the formula for success goes through committing to the run, but apparently they still do not get it. For Rice (and Pierce) fantasy owners, it is a frustrating situation because both backs obviously have a ton of talent and have had past success, but both are being underutilized in the ground game. What makes things worse is that it's impossible to say whether this will turn around or not.

What we can look at is the current matchup, and while a trip to Pittsburgh is normally not a good way to get back on track, the matchup is actually more favorable than it has been in recent years. Currently the Steelers are letting up the 11th most rush yards on a per game average and have given up at least one touchdown to an opposing running back in every game they have played this year. This would coincide with their currently being the sixth most generous defense to opposing fantasy RBs. While the Steelers held the Jets to just 83 yards on the ground last week, the Jets' stable of backs is at least a full notch below the Ravens' talent-wise. A better indicator would probably be the numbers they let up to guys like Giovani Bernard (66 total yds, 2 TDs), Matt Forte (111 total yds, 2 TDs), and Adrian Peterson (140 yds, 2 TDs). While it is tough to predict a much bigger workload for the Ravens run game, the matchup is favorable and the talent there makes them too hard to ignore. Rice can no longer be trusted as a consistent RB1, but the matchup is nice enough to make him a very solid RB2 with the hope of more if the Ravens up his workload. With Rice healthy, Pierce is not getting much work, so he is off the radar this week unless you are in a PPR league and want to roll him out as an RB3.

Joe Flacco: 255 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Torrey Smith: 50 rec yds
Ray Rice: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Marlon Brown: 30 rec yds
Jacoby Jones: 50 rec yds
Bernard Pierce: 20 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Dallas Clark: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It took a little time and they are still not where they want to be, but the Steelers passing game is coming around finally much to the rejoice of Pittsburgh fans and fantasy managers alike. Against a solid Jets defense last week Ben Roethlisberger was an efficient 23/30 while throwing for 264 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Antonio Brown continues to be the main beneficiary of Ben’s throws, catching a whopping 30 balls and two touchdowns for nearly 400 yards over his last three games. Tight end Heath Miller has added some stability to the Steelers offense, and while not a huge fantasy contributor yet, he has been consistent with the targets and catches he has gotten. Finally, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders caught his first touchdown of the year last week, and while he has not come close to what Mike Wallace was doing for the Steelers, he has at least been a consistent contributor. With momentum on their side, a healthy receiving corps and a home game, the Steelers passing attack looks poised to have a nice second half of the season.

Not so fast though, as the Ravens defense has been good and getting better almost every week. After opening the NFL season in Denver and getting totally destroyed by Peyton Manning, the Ravens defense has actually had a quietly nice turnaround. Currently they are 17th in passing yards allowed per game and 17th in passing touchdowns allowed, but over the past five weeks are actually among the eight best in those same categories. In addition, the Ravens have allowed the 10th lowest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks on the year and have recorded the second most sacks in the NFL. What this all means is that besides that one really bad game, the Ravens defense is actually one of the best units in the league, and they have clearly not even reached their potential yet, with so many new players learning to work together in different situations. While I like what the Steelers are doing in their passing game, and Big Ben should be productive going forward with a full and healthy receiving group, this week could be a big struggle for them, especially seeing that their offensive line is a weak point and the Ravens pass rush is elite. I expect the Steelers to put up a fairly healthy amount of yards through the air because of the volume of passes they will throw, but I do not foresee many touchdowns and I do foresee a unhealthy amount of sacks and turnovers for the Steelers offense, making it an ugly day overall. To me, Big Ben has the upside to be an occasionally solid QB1 if the matchup is right, but in this game it is not, and he is nothing more than a low to mid-tier QB2. Brown continues to be a target hog and is flirting with WR1 status this year, but the matchup and a lack of touchdowns severely limits him this week. He's more of a low-end WR2 in this one. As for Sanders and Miller, they're in the same boat: solid contributors to the offense this week but not enough to warrant them as legit starters. Miller is a mid-range TE2, and Sanders a very low-end WR3.

Running Game Thoughts: In each of his first two games, Le'Veon Bell received 16 carries. Against a fairly soft run defense (Vikings), Bell put up 57 yards and two touchdowns with those carries, a very solid fantasy day. Against a stout Jets run defense, he managed only 34 yards and no touchdowns, a very poor fantasy day. It is obviously a small sample size, but what we can take from these games is that Bell is probably not good enough at this point to overcome a tough matchup, though he is good enough to exploit a fairly favorable matchup.

In this specific case, this week, Bell and the Steelers may be in trouble. The Ravens currently allow the second fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs, and that comes after facing some solid guys in Arian Foster, Eddie Lacy, and Knowshon Moreno, all overall good fantasy backs this year. The Ravens are seventh in rushing yards allowed per game and first in rushing touchdowns allowed, with just one. While even the toughest matchups can be overcome, the Steelers' line is simply not that good and will be way overmatched in this contest. Add that to the fact that Bell, while talented, is still plying in just the third game of his professional career, and you could have a recipe for disaster. I like Bell as a solid low- to mid-range RB2 the rest of the year, but in this matchup I just don't see how he is any better than an average RB3 or flex guy. As long as Bell is healthy, no other Pittsburgh RB is worth considering in fantasy.

Ben Roethlisberger: 240 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Antonio Brown: 70 rec yds
Emmanuel Sanders: 45 rec yds
Le’Veon Bell: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Heath Miller: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 27, Steelers 24

Rams at Panthers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Sam Bradford is only 18th in the league in passing yards, but his 13 touchdown throws rank fifth, helping him place 12th among QBs in FPts/G. With the Rams rediscovering their running game of late, he has thrown fewer passes, leading to lesser totals for both Bradford and his receiving corps. St. Louis does not have a fantasy-worthy pass-catcher at either wideout or tight end, with the two most likely choices, Tavon Austin and Jared Cook, failing to do much recently. Neither figures to break that trend this week against the Panthers.

Though Carolina is tied with San Diego for highest opponents’ completion percentage allowed this season, they are also tied for fewest passing scores surrendered and top-10 in pass defense and interceptions. Just one team has relinquished fewer FPts/G to QBs than the Panthers, who have also given up the eighth-fewest FPts/G to WRs and the 11th-fewest to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: It took the Rams a while but they have finally found their running back in rookie fifth-round pick Zac Stacy. After getting just a single carry through the first four games of the season, Stacy became the go-to-guy the last two weeks and ran for 78 and 79 yards respectively. The team still does not run the ball near the goal line, with St. Louis being the lone team in the league yet to score a rushing touchdown, hindering Stacy’s fantasy value. That figures to change eventually but it won’t be easy against Carolina.

Just three teams in the NFL have yielded fewer rushing yards per game than the Panthers, who are also tied for third in rushing scores allowed and are giving up only 3.8 YPC, which is ninth in the league. Carolina is surrendering the 10th-fewest FPts/G to running backs, and has not allowed a running back to gain 65 or more yards since Week 2.

Sam Bradford: 240 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Chris Givens: 75 rec yds
Tavon Austin: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 35 rec yds
Austin Pettis: 30 rec yds
Lance Kendricks: 20 rec yds, 1 TD
Zac Stacy: 65 rush yds
Daryl Richardson: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton has not offered fantasy owners the bang for the buck they figured they were getting when drafting him. He is 25th in passing yards and tied for 10th in touchdown throws, but still ranks eighth at his position in FPts/G because he does have 153 yards and two scores on the ground. Still, it’s hard to figure which Panthers receiver will get the ball in a given game. Greg Olsen, Ted Ginn, Steve Smith, and Brandon LaFell each have between 220 and 292 receiving yards this season, and each has at least one touchdown grab, though LaFell leads with three. Olsen is banged up, but it would not be surprising to see any of the three wideouts have a solid day versus St. Louis.

After initially struggling to stop the pass, the Rams have rebounded somewhat. They are 17th in the league in pass defense, have not allowed more than 210 passing yards to a QB since Week 2 and have not yielded multiple touchdown throws to a QB in their last two games. And though St. Louis has allowed the ninth-most FPts/G to WRs, they have given up the 10th-fewest to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: With Jonathan Stewart still out and only recently returning to practice, DeAngelo Williams has paced the Carolina rushing attack. He is 10th in the league in rushing yards, but the team’s four rushing touchdowns have been scored by Newton and Mike Tolbert, meaning Williams is averaging fewer than 10 FPts/G. If Williams is going to find the end zone, chances are it will be this week against a porous Rams rush defense.

Awful isn’t really how to describe the St. Louis run defense. Statistically there may be worse teams, as they rank 30th in run defense, tied for 25th in rushing scores allowed and are 26th in YPC yielded, they have been gashed repeatedly. Only the Vikings are allowing more FPts/G to running backs than the Rams, and for a quick reason on why, just take a look at the combined rushing/receiving yards gained by some of their opponents: Frank Gore – 153, Arian Foster – 198, DeMarco Murray – 203.

Cam Newton: 235 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds
Steve Smith: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 65 rec yds
Greg Olsen: 40 rec yds
Ted Ginn, Jr.: 25 rec yds
DeAngelo Williams: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 35 rush yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Panthers 24, Rams 20

Chargers at Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Through six games, Philip Rivers has thrown for less than 200 yards twice. But he has also thrown for more than 400 yards on three occasions, a bizarre contrast but one that his fantasy owners probably don’t mind. Not a lot was expected of Rivers this season, but he’s fourth at his position in FPts/G, tied for second in touchdown throws and third in passing yards. The team’s leading pass-catchers are Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead, who have each snared 36 receptions, and a new fantasy star may be budding in rookie wideout Keenan Allen. He has 100+ receiving yards and a touchdown in each of his last two games, and I’d confidently put him as my WR3 or flex against the Jaguars.

Jacksonville is 14th in the league in pass defense and has allowed the 11th-fewest FPts/G to QBs, but those are misleading numbers. Teams have taken big leads against the Jags, allowing them to run the ball more in the second half. More appropriate to look at is the fact that Jacksonville is tied for most passing scores surrendered, they’re tied for 12th-most FPts/G given up to WRs and have allowed the seventh-most FPts/G to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: Ryan Mathews is once again failing to do very much this season, ranking 17th in the league in rushing, running for less than 4.0 YPC, and failing to score a rushing touchdown. In fact, despite having 52 more carries and almost 200 more rushing yards than fellow back Woodhead, Mathews is trailing his teammate in FPts/G by more than two points. But Mathews is facing Jacksonville this week, which means he belongs in fantasy lineups.

No team in the NFL is allowing more rushing yards per game than the Jaguars, just one team has given up more rushing scores and only four teams have yielded a higher YPC average. Though they’ve only allowed one back to gain 100 yards against them, Jacksonville consistently allows yards, as evidenced by the fact that six different backs have picked up 60 or more yards when facing them. What follows, of course, are fantasy points, with the Jaguars having allowed the fifth-most FPts/G in the league to running backs.

Philip Rivers: 290 pass yds, 3 TD
Antonio Gates: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Keenan Allen: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Vincent Brown: 35 rec yds
Eddie Royal: 15 rec yds
Ryan Mathews: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Danny Woodhead: 20 rush yds, 45 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: With Blaine Gabbert out again this week due to a hamstring malady, Chad Henne will continue to take the snaps under center for Jacksonville. Henne is arguably the better quarterback, though neither is NFL-starter caliber, and thus not relevant to fantasy leagues. The team does have a couple of receivers that are relevant to fantasy owners in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon. While Shorts has an injured shoulder and is questionable, Blackmon is anything but. In the two games since he returned from a four-game suspension to start the season, the former Oklahoma State star has 136 and 190 receiving yards respectively on 19 catches with one touchdown. That’s a torrid pace which Blackmon won’t be able to continue but he should be in the starting lineups of all fantasy owners this week against San Diego.

While I acknowledge that the Chargers held Andrew Luck in check last week, it doesn’t change the fact that stopping the pass has been a season-long challenge for San Diego. They are 25th in the league in pass defense, tied for last in opponents’ completion percentage allowed, tied for 19th in sacks and tied for 28th with just a pair of interceptions all year. Only four squads have given up more FPts/G to QBs and just five have ceded more FPts/G to WRs, and that’s with their success against the Colts last week.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s possible that Maurice Jones-Drew may simply be out of gas as a running back in this league. It can happen suddenly to even the best of backs, and at 28 years old with a lengthy injury history, MJD just cannot be counted on by fantasy owners anymore. He is 21st in the league in rushing, is averaging only 3.0 YPC and though he’s shown more life in the last two weeks than early in the season, his opportunities will be limited due to Jacksonville’s propensity to fall behind. It certainly won’t help this week that Jones-Drew faces a Chargers defense that has squashed most running backs’ fantasy numbers.

With their opposition having so much success airing it out against them, San Diego has not had much work against running backs. They are 29th in the league in YPC allowed, but tied for 17th in rush defense and have given up only two scores on the ground all season. None of those have come via running backs, which makes them one of just two teams in the NFL not to have allowed a rushing score to a RB, and means they have surrendered the fewest FPts/G in the league to opposing RBs.

Chad Henne: 220 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Justin Blackmon: 90 rec yds, 2 TD
Cecil Shorts: 50 rec yds
Ace Sanders: 35 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 20 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 65 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Chargers 31, Jaguars 17

49ers at Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Minus Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree, the 49ers’ passing game comes down to Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. That can make things difficult for Colin Kaepernick, and is at least part of the reason why he’s only 23rd in passing yards and tied for 12th in touchdown throws. Kaepernick does have 172 rushing yards this year, but has not run for a score and his fantasy production is way down from where most expected. Boldin has cooled off considerably as well, with only 49 yards and no scores his last two games, though Davis has more than picked up the slack. He is second among tight ends in FPts/G, has 85+ yards in three of his five games this year and has a good match-up this week against Tennessee.

The Titans rank in the top-10 in pass defense, passing touchdowns allowed and sacks, so it makes sense that they are surrendering the fifth-fewest FPts/G to QBs in the league. Despite allowing quarterbacks to throw for 245 or more yards in four of their five games, the Titans have yielded multiple scoring passes just once all season. They’ve struggled somewhat against quality tight ends, allowing the 13th-most FPts/G to players at that position overall, but have given up the fifth-fewest FPts/G to WRs.

Running Game Thoughts: As uneven as San Francisco’s passing game has seemed to be, Frank Gore has emerged from a slow start to pace the team and provide for his fantasy owners. In his last four games, Gore has run for 82, 153, 81, and 101 yards with a pair of touchdowns. He’s not catching the ball much, with only five receptions all year, but still ranks 12th in FPts/G among running backs, and is a RB1 this week against the Titans.

Tennessee has been below average against the rush this season. They rank 19th in rush defense, tied for 20th in rushing scores given up and are 24th in YCP allowed. They’ve allowed just one running back to pick up 100 yards against them, but four have gained at least 75 and they’ve also allowed the fifth-most receiving yards to running backs. Add it all up and you have a Titans team that is surrendering the ninth-most FPts/G in the league to RBs.

Colin Kaepernick: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 45 rush yds, 1 TD
Vernon Davis: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Anquan Boldin: 55 rec yds
Kyle Williams: 35 rec yds
Frank Gore: 90 rush yds, 1 TD
Kendall Hunter: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Since taking over for Jake Locker during Week 3, Ryan Fitzpatrick has had his moments, but has been mediocre. In fairness, he has faced tough opposition in the Chiefs and Seahawks. In his two games as a starter, Fitzpatrick has thrown one touchdown and four interceptions, though he also ran for one score and has 83 yards on the ground, boosting the little fantasy value he does have. The Harvard grad has a plethora of solid yet unspectacular receiving options, with their best being Nate Washington who ranks only 35th in FPts/G at wideout making him a decent play depending on match-up. This week is not one of those match-ups.

Other than sacks, the 49ers are a top-10 unit in virtually all categories concerning pass defense. They’ve allowed the seventh-fewest FPts/G to QBs, the 10th-fewest to WRs and ninth-fewest to TEs. San Francisco has given up 205 or fewer passing yards to four of the six quarterbacks they’ve faced this year and only once since Week 1 has a wide receiver gained at least 65 yards when facing them.

Running Game Thoughts: There may not be a more confounding player to fantasy owners than Chris Johnson. It’s impossible to know what you’ll get from him on a week-to-week basis – he could run for 180 yards one game and follow that up with 25 yards. This year, Johnson ran for 70 or more yards in his first three games and less than 35 in his last three. He still has not scored a rushing touchdown, though the 49ers will offer him a prime opportunity to change that this week.

San Francisco is ranked 11th in the league in YPC allowed, but they’re 20th in rush defense and – most surprisingly – tied with Jacksonville for second-most rushing scores yielded on the season. The 49ers have allowed three backs to gain at least 95 yards against them in their six games and though they’ve stopped backs from being much of a receiving threat, are still surrendering the eighth-most FPts/G in the league to RBs.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT, 25 rush yds
Nate Washington: 55 rec yds
Kendall Wright: 45 rec yds
Damian Williams: 40 rec yds
Delanie Walker: 30 rec yds, 1 TD
Justin Hunter: 15 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Jackie Battle: 20 rush yds

Prediction: 49ers 24, Titans 20

Broncos at Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: There isn’t much to be given in the way of analysis here, is there? Peyton Manning has thrown 20 more touchdowns than interceptions, is currently the only quarterback with more than 2,000 passing yards and is averaging more than 30 FPts/G. As for his receivers, fantasy owners can and should be starting Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, and Julius Thomas every week, even against Indianapolis.

The Colts have been impressive against the pass by any definition. They rank fifth in the league in pass defense, tied for third in touchdown passes ceded, ninth in opponents’ completion percentage allowed, tied for ninth in sacks and tied for 11th in interceptions. Indy is tied for eighth-fewest FPts/G surrendered to QBs, are giving up the 13th-fewest FPts/G to WRs and the eighth-fewest to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: Surprisingly, the lead dog in the Denver backfield has not been Montee Ball or Ronnie Hillman, but Knowshon Moreno. The former first-round pick is 13th in the league in rushing yards, has a YPC average of 4.7 and his seven rushing scores are two more than any other back. Add it all up and you have a guy who is fifth at his position in FPts/G and making his owners look smart and those who took Ball, angry.

Indianapolis may be good against the pass but they are anything but when facing the run – though not necessarily running backs. Only Jacksonville is surrendering more rushing yards per game than Indy, who is also 27th in YPC allowed and tied for 15th in rushing scores given up. And while the Colts have allowed four different players to reach 100 rushing yards this season, two of those have been quarterbacks. They also haven’t allowed a rushing score to a running back in their previous three games, which is why, despite their poor overall numbers, they are tied for seventh-fewest FPts/G allowed to RBs.

Peyton Manning: 320 pass yds, 4 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 95 rec yds, 2 TD
Wes Welker: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 55 rec yds
Julius Thomas: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Knowshon Moreno: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Ronnie Hillman: 20 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Montee Ball: 15 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck’s sophomore campaign through the NFL hasn’t been bad but hasn’t been what fantasy owners were hoping for. He has just a single game with more than 260 passing yards, has yet to throw three touchdowns in a contest and would be far lower than 16th among QBs in FPts/G if not for his two rushing scores and 150 yards on the ground. Luck’s mediocre passing totals have rubbed off on his receiving corps, so even though Reggie Wayne is 13th in receiving yards on the year, he’s not in the top-20 among wideouts in FPts/G due to his lackluster two touchdowns. Still, a date with the Broncos has a way of making other teams’ passing numbers explode.

Denver has failed to stop the pass much at all this season, though it should be noted that teams are often trying to play catch-up, forcing them to throw. Nonetheless, they are last in the NFL in pass defense, and every team they’ve faced has thrown for at least 297 yards. The Broncos are fifth in in FPts/G given up to QBs, 12th in FPts/G allowed to TEs, and at least in part because five different wideouts have accumulated 115 or more yards in a game against them, only two teams have yielded more FPts/G to WRs.

Running Game Thoughts: Most observers figured Trent Richardson would be the next great back in the NFL after he was drafted third overall last season. Maybe that will happen, but to date he has not looked impressive. Richardson is averaging only 3.1 YPC this year, has not run for more than 60 yards in any game and has stopped being a receiving threat since joining the Colts, further diminishing his fantasy value. With Indy likely going to throw the ball so much, I don’t foresee a big game for Richardson this week against Denver.

With teams throwing the ball so much against the Broncos, it should come as no surprise that they lead the NFL in rushing defense. That’s not to say they are slouches when teams do run it, as Denver is giving up just 3.2 YPC, which is second in the league. Yet they’ve also yielded six rushing scores (all to running backs), which is tied for 25th, and even though they’ve only allowed two backs to gain at least 45 yards, and none to pick up at least 75, they are still in the middle of the pack in fantasy terms ranking 15th in FPts/G ceded to RBs.

Andrew Luck: 315 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT, 15 rush yds
Reggie Wayne: 110 rec yds, 2 TD
T.Y. Hilton: 80 rec yds
Coby Fleener: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 35 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 45 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Donald Brown: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Broncos 38, Colts 30

Buccaneers at Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Mike Glennon hasn’t been bad in his debut in the league and threw for 276 yards with two scores and one pick last week against the Eagles. Having Vincent Jackson helps and though he has only a pair of touchdowns this season (both coming last week) you have to figure the pair will only grow more comfortable with each other. Mike Williams has yet to take off, but Atlanta should offer the opportunity considering their troubles in pass defense this season.

The Falcons rank among the worst teams in the league at stopping the pass. They are 26th in pass defense, tied for 26th in touchdown throws allowed, 29th in opponents’ completion percentage allowed, 27th in sacks, and tied for 24th in interceptions. And yes, that does mean they give up a lot of fantasy points, in case you were wondering. Every quarterback they’ve faced has thrown for at least a pair of touchdowns against Atlanta, who have allowed the seventh-most FPts/G to QBs, the fourth-most to WRs and the sixth-most to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: Doug Martin is ninth in the NFL in rushing, but has a YPC average of 3.5, and his yard total can be directly related to the fact that he has 20 or more rushes in all but one game this season. The second-year pro has just a single rushing score this season and is in for a challenge this week against the Falcons, who have stymied most opposing backs.

Just five teams are allowing fewer rushing yards per contest than Atlanta, who is also tied for third in rushing scores surrendered but 21st in YPC allowed. The success teams have had throwing the ball against them has a lot to do with it as no back has more than 12 carries against the Falcons. Still, they haven’t allowed more than 64 yards to a back this season and are yielding the 12th-fewest FPts/G to RBs in the NFL.

Mike Glennon: 255 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Vincent Jackson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Tim Wright: 35 rec yds
Chris Owusu: 15 rec yds
Doug Martin: 75 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan has lost Julio Jones and Roddy White is a shell of himself due to leg injuries that may prevent him from playing this week. Needless to say, this is not what fantasy owners had in mind when they drafted him. Still, he does have a reliable tight end in Tony Gonzalez to throw to, and Harry Douglas should be on all fantasy rosters now. Ryan’s fantasy value will take a hit, but he’s still a player fantasy owners will want in their lineups against the Bucs.

Tampa has done a solid job in pass coverage this year, ranking 16th in the league in pass defense and tied for 12th in passing scores allowed. Though they’ve surrendered the 14th-most FPts/G to QBs and 11th-most to TEs, they’ve also given up the 14th-fewest FPts/G to WRs.

Running Game Thoughts: With Steven Jackson still out with an injury, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have taken over the running back duties. They have performed admirably, with Rodgers scoring twice in their last game and continuing to be a pass-catching threat. However, neither player is at the level of a Steven Jackson and until he gets back, the Atlanta backfield does not offer much to fantasy owners especially this week against Tampa.

The Bucs have been very tough against opposing runners this season, ranking 13th in rush defense but also eighth in YPC allowed. They have yielded just a single rushing score all year, which is tied for fewest in the NFL and that rush was not by a running back. That puts them in a category with the Chargers for the only team yet to allow a back to find the end zone. Yet Tampa has also surrendered the ninth-most receiving yards to runners, so instead of being elite against backs, they are simply very, very good, and are tied with the Colts for seventh-fewest FPts/G allowed to RBs.

Matt Ryan: 270 pass yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Tony Gonzalez: 70 rec yds, 2 TD
Harry Douglas: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Brian Robiskie: 30 rec yds
Kevin Cone: 25 rec yds
Roddy White: 15 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 45 rush yds, 35 rec yds
Jason Snelling: 30 rush yds, 20 rec yds

Prediction: Falcons 21, Buccaneers 20

Texans @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Case Keenum will start at quarterback this Sunday as the Texans head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs in what will be the game with the biggest blowout potential in Week 7. Keenum, an undrafted free agent making his first NFL start, is an unknown at the position behind an offensive line that has struggled mightily to protect passers. Given the volatile nature of the Texans QB situation, it’s hard not to bump receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins down on your rankings. It’s not as if they’ve had great quarterback play this season, but Keenum is an unknown that is just way too difficult to trust. Johnson has produced with some consistency in PPR formats, having caught at least five passes in all but one game so far this season and he is on pace for 117 receptions. Where Johnson has not produced is in the touchdown department. Having never scored double-digit touchdowns in a season, fantasy owners have to come to the realization that Johnson just is not quite the elite level receiver that he is perceived to be for fantasy. Many of us have been saying this for years but in 2013, the touchdown problem has been worse than ever. Going back to 2012, Johnson has scored on just two receptions in his past 19 regular season games. Rookie DeAndre Hopkins has regressed statistically since a nice start to the season that included a seven catch, 117-yard performance against the Titans in Week 2. Hopkins has just seven total catches for 97 yards over his past three games combined and with the Texans quarterback position in shambles, he should not be a fantasy consideration in Week 7 except for desperate owners in very deep leagues. With starting tight end Owen Daniels injured, many expected Garrett Graham to step up and increase his production. That didn’t happen in Week 6 as he caught just two passes for 25 yards in the team’s first contest without Daniels. Graham is still worth fantasy consideration but temper your expectations. This is a very ugly passing game against a defense that has played excellent this season. There may be value for these players but owners would be wise to look elsewhere for fantasy production this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Even with his teammate Matt Schaub playing some of the worst football that we’ve seen from a starting quarterback in many seasons, running back Arian Foster has continued to produce at the elite level that has made him the top-scoring fantasy running back over the course of the past three seasons. In his past three games, Foster has compiled an impressive 341 rushing yards, 146 receiving yards and a touchdown. While the touchdowns are down from what they have been in recent seasons, Foster is still producing like a complete stud. The biggest question at this point isn’t so much Foster’s return to health, which many questioned leading into the year, but rather if the offense around him can stay in this game long enough to be a fantasy stud in Week 7.

The Chiefs rank 5th in the league in points allowed to opposing running backs and they have allowed only team to rush for over 100 yards against them with their running backs. The bright side for Foster owners is that the Chiefs really haven’t played many top-level running backs yet this season. When they did play against LeSean McCoy, they allowed him to rush for 158 yards and a touchdown on just 20 carries. Foster is a must-start in all formats just because he has proven that he can succeed as a fantasy option even in games when his team has been blown out. Still, his projections could be so much better if we could believe that the talent around him will move the ball down the field enough to get Foster more options at the goaline.

Case Keenum: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Arian Foster: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Andre Johnson: 50 rec yds
DeAndre Hopkins: 40 rec yds
Garrett Graham: 25 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: With the Kansas City Chiefs at 6-0, quarterback Alex Smith has certainly done the job that the team hoped he would do when they signed him this offseason. Unfortunately Smith’s real-life successes in the way of wins has not translated into making fantasy owners happy as he has now failed to throw even a single touchdown pass in three of his past four games. His Week 6 performance against an Oakland secondary that is one of the least talented in the league, is an indication that he just isn’t the right option right now for fantasy owners. Smith threw for a season-low 128 yards and although he failed to throw an interception, that type of output won’t win any fantasy games. Smith’s problems don’t just cause disappointment for his own fantasy owners, however. Some fantasy owners are still waiting for the breakout week from Dwayne Bowe, who has not caught more than four passes or gone over 60 total yards receiving in any game this season. While he has been in the end zone twice, the truth is that Bowe has been a disastrous fantasy option to start the season and that doesn’t look like it’s going to be changing anytime soon. Bowe has always made a living by making plays down the field and Smith simply doesn’t look past 15 yards down the field. Fellow receiver Donnie Avery has been on and off even more than Bowe this season, but at least he’s not a player that many fantasy owners are relying on. Avery caught just two passes for 6 yards, while also fumbling in Week 6, actually finishing the game with negative fantasy points in most leagues. At the moment, it’s hard to truly advocate any of the players in the Kansas City passing game, especially against a Houston Texans defense that has not yet allowed a single opposing quarterback to throw for even 200 yards against them so far in 2013. While the Texans have only intercepted two passes, they have actually done a good job of containing most of their opponents and that will likely continue in Week 7.

Running Game Thoughts: If you’re looking for the PPR breakout star of the 2013 season, look no further than Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles who currently sits atop the season long leaderboards in both standard and PPR scoring formats. Charles has had no fewer than 15 fantasy points (standard scoring) in any game this season and his PPR numbers are even better. Charles had already caught 33 passes in six games, which puts him on pace for a staggering 88 receptions for 800 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers alone would make him ownable as a wide receiver if he played that position, but when you add in the fact that Charles is also on pace for over 1,250 rushing yards and another 13 touchdowns on the ground, it’s easy to see why many experts are calling Charles their top fantasy back going forward. It certainly helps that the Chiefs have played leaps and bounds better in 2013 than they did in 2012 and are “in” significantly more games, but Charles just appears to be fully immersed in the new Andy Reid offense. If Charles stays on his current pace, he will approach the season ending fantasy totals that Adrian Peterson had a season ago, and could exceed those numbers in PPR formats. For the time being, there is no defense that should cause Charles owners any worry, especially not a middle-of-the-road defense like Houston’s that has allowed an average of 144 total yards per game to opposing running backs over their past three contests. Charles is more involved in the offense right now than ever before and there’s no reason to believe that he won’t finish out the season as one of the premier players in the entire league. Get him in your lineup this week and every week until otherwise noted.

Alex Smith: 155 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 105 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Dwayne Bowe: 35 rec yds

Prediction: Chiefs 23, Titans 14

Bills at Dolphins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: After being on the practice squad for five weeks, quarterback Thad Lewis made the most of his season debut and nearly helped his team pull off an unexpected win in front of the home crowd, overcoming a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime against the Bengals. They would lose by a field goal to a team that held Tom Brady without a touchdown and who spoiled the comeback of Aaron Rodgers, so by comparison Lewis had the Bills playing like some of the best teams in the league. Despite being without wide receiver Steve Johnson (back), Lewis threw for 216 yards on 59 percent passing with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a rushing touchdown on a short scramble as well. He sprained his ankle in the latter stages of the game but was able to finish and should be fully available for Sunday against Miami, where he will once again try to lead the team further than they expected to go, this time maybe to victory.

After facing the tough test from a strong Bengals defense, going up against Miami will seem less imposing and, ranking as the sixth worst in yards against, below average in sacks recorded, in the middle of the pack of interceptions forced, and approximately average in touchdowns allowed, they are certainly not the same caliber as Cincinnati. Statistics suggest they’re more of a “bend but don’t break” defense than a true shutdown defense, giving up plenty of yards but coming up with timely stops or forcing turnovers to prevent the opposing offense from turning those yards into points, and often capitalizing on mistakes made by the quarterback. Lewis did well protecting the ball last week, and if that continues, the Bills should be able to move the ball reasonably well against Miami. But as other squads have struggled to score consistently against the Dolphins, so too will Buffalo, despite the higher number of opportunities they’ll have.

Running Game Thoughts: On the year Buffalo averages nearly 150 yards on the ground per game, so even a sub-par showing like they had last week could still yield well over 100 yards. Their 130 yards against Cincinnati were impressive considering that the Bengals' average yards against is barely into triple digits. Working in their favor was that both dynamic running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson were available (though Spiller was limited), giving the Bills what is possibly the best one-two punch in the NFL today. Because of that, the Bills have one of the highest run/pass ratios in the league with respect to production, meaning that whoever the quarterback is will likely have less effect on the game than the backfield will. The pair should once again be healthy for Miami, and the longer the game is within reach, the more they will get carries, keeping the pressure off of the recent practice-squad promotion. Barring Miami jumping out to an early lead, there is little reason for Buffalo to not hit or exceed their rushing averages.

As they are against the pass, the Dolphins are average for the major defensive rushing statistics. And because they aren’t overwhelming at any one position, most offenses are able to stay balanced against them, giving the defense a harder time predicting play calls and forcing them to react rather than anticipate. Usually teams will try to key on Spiller since he has the largest big-play potential, and that tends to open the way for Johnson in the passing game or give Jackson additional opportunities on the ground. Additionally, Lewis possesses some of the same rushing threat that E.J. Manuel does, and while Buffalo will want to be extremely careful with their quarterback, there will be opportunities for him to extend or create plays with his feet, giving the Bills' rushing attack an extra dimension with which to exploit the Dolphins. As always, the success of the running game will likely come down to the offensive line moving the defensive line off the ball and opening up running lanes. Both units have consistency issues and are rather mediocre in most categories. But in the event of a stalemate, the benefit goes to the running back that has the ability to make plays and get around defenders. Advantage Buffalo.

Thaddeus Lewis: 240 pass yds, 1 TD / 20 rush yds
C.J. Spiller: 60 rush yds / 20 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 80 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After a blazing 3-0 start, the Dolphins dropped back-to-back games heading into the bye week, but hopefully the time off will help to straighten out the offensive line issues that have been plaguing them. The team is on pace to break the franchise record for sacks conceded by the midpoint of the season and would break the all-time NFL mark if they were to continue. Through six weeks (five games) quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 24 times, nearly five per game. He ranks barely within the top half of yards gained, is right around the same mark for interceptions thrown, and has recorded the fewest touchdown passes of any quarterback who has started all five or more his team’s games (a three-way tie with Griffin and Roethlisberger). Even when he isn’t under duress—which he is frequently—he hasn’t been particularly spectacular, and that is one of the many reasons the Dolphins have struggled recently.

Compounding the O-line concerns is a Buffalo defense that is near the top of the league in sacks recorded despite being in the bottom third of yards allowed. The weakness of Miami will be going up against the strength of their opponent, and if improvements weren’t made during the bye week, Tannehill could be in line for his most pressured game of the year. Adding to the task are the likely full returns of safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who were both active but limited last week against Cincinnati. Their absences greatly contributed to the ineffectiveness of the Bills secondary, so if they’re able to contribute as expected, they plug major holes on the back end and make their defense one of the more complete units in the NFL. For one half last week the secondary was able to nearly shut down stud wide receiver A.J. Green; Mike Wallace isn’t the complete receiver Green is, and without his contributions the Dolphins could have a hard time moving the ball through the air, especially considering the pressure they usually concede in the pocket.

Running Game Thoughts: For having one of last season’s most promising young talents in the backfield, Miami has one of the league’s most ineffective running games, largely because the offensive line has been ineffective. Pass blocking is more obvious of an issue because of sack numbers, but run blocking is just as bad; Miami is near the bottom in rush attempts, and when they do run, their 3.7 yards per carry average is one of the worst. That certainly needed to be an area of focus during the bye week, and a handful of reports suggest that one or more linemen were given a simple ultimatum: either pick up their level of play or lose their starting job. Between personal pride and the desire to pull a paycheck, direct challenges from the coaches often have a way of motivating players through the difficulty they’re facing. For the sake of the Dolphins, those improvements—and more—need to be on display Sunday against the Bills.

Defending against the run isn’t exactly a position of strength for Buffalo, as they fall into the bottom five in yards against per game, despite only giving up two rushing touchdowns. At an average of 124 yards, the Bills are very beatable on the ground. That being said, they did limit the Ravens to 24 yards in Week 4 and most recently held the two primary Bengals running backs to 114 yards on 33 carries, an average of only 3.4 yards. As the defense continues to assault the quarterback and the secondary gets back to full health, the byproduct of those strengths will be a better run defense. If they aren’t trying to overcompensate for a weak secondary, additional linebackers will be left in the box and this will supply extra bodies for stopping the run. Miami's ability to hold the pass rush at bay will open up the offense and allow them to give touches to Miller, thus allowing him to make plays for the benefit of the team.

Ryan Tannehill: 270 pass yds, 1 TD
Lamar Miller: 70 rush yds
Mike Wallace: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Dolphins 20, Bills 13

Patriots at Jets - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Patriots have suffered through six weeks without Rob Gronkowski, one of the top tight ends in the game and one who figured to be a centerpiece in their offense. And they may possibly face another week without Danny Amendola (he missed two already and was limited in two more), the slot receiver meant to replace Wes Welker, the man who helped revolutionize the position. Gronkowski (back, forearm) and Amendola (concussion) are both officially listed as questionable for the Week 7 matchup against Buffalo, meaning quarterback Tom Brady will once again be left with a handful of young or rookie receivers, a few tight ends he doesn’t trust, and wide receiver Julian Edelman, who is also listed as questionable for Sunday nursing a thigh injury of his own. Brady and company are off to a particularly underwhelming start despite being 5-1 on the season. Their 19th-rated pass offense is a far cry from the production we’ve come to expect, and the 8–4 TD-to-INT ratio reflects the inconsistencies that have plagued the offense for most of the season. They’re still spreading the ball around fairly well though, possibly more out of need than desire, with Edelman accounting for the most yardage, rookie Kenbrell Thompkins recording the most touchdowns (4) including the last minute game winner last week, and each of their top four running backs contributing in the passing game.

Their opponents are dealing with a few injuries of their own, and unluckily for the Jets, two of those come from the cornerback position. Dee Milner is trying to come back from a hamstring injury that has kept him out for three weeks, and Kyle Wilson picked up a concussion last week and has not yet been cleared to play. Slowing down the offensive juggernauts has been somewhat of a specialty of Rex Ryan’s, but without some of his top defensive backs available, that task becomes more difficult. In their Week 2 Thursday night meeting, Brady was held to 185 yards on 19 of 39 passing while recording one touchdown with no interceptions and taking one sack. The Patriots scored no points in the final 35 minutes of the game and left the door open for a last-minute Jets drive that could have cost them the game. In that contest Gronkowski and Amendola were unavailable and Dee Milner was benched before halftime, so in many ways this Sunday could resemble the early-season matchup between these two teams. Ryan typically game plans very well for the Patriots but Brady always has the final say, as he’s the man on the field making last-second adjustments, as evidenced by his winning streak of six games against the Jets and an all-time record of 18-4 against them as a starter.

Running Game Thoughts: If the passing game matchup is considered a weakness-on-weakness battle, the rushing counterpart would certainly be strength-on-strength. The Patriots are just outside the top ten in rushing, averaging over 120 yards per game. The preseason favorite to start at running back, Stevan Ridley, is coming off his best game of the season with 110 yards from scrimmage and two rushing touchdowns against the Saints. After early season fumbles he saw his playing time decrease, but he has since protected the ball and seemingly has worked his way back into the good graces of his coach. Aside from Ridley, running backs Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount have contributed to the three-back committee that has been in place since Shane Vereen was placed on IR. The ability to run the ball has been more important this season as the passing game has been inconsistent and players have been unavailable.

New York gives up the second fewest rushing yards per game (75.7), has the lowest yards per carry against (3.0), and only eight teams have given up as many rushing touchdowns (3) as they have. The strength of their defense is at the line of scrimmage, and the back seven is only a small step behind them. The Jets are probably the best defensive squad that no one cares to consider. They’re hard to throw against, nearly impossible to push around in the running game, and make fewer assignment mistakes than most every other unit in the league; they simply don’t give away many yards and what is earned against them certainly doesn’t come easily. On Sunday the Patriots may be without guard Dan Connolly (concussion), and his presence would certainly be missed at the interior of the line as they try to neutralize Coach Ryan's defensive scheme and one of the best three-man fronts in the league.

Tom Brady: 210 pass yds, 1 TD
Stevan Ridley: 50 rush yds
Kenbrell Thompkins: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Not often does a quarterback look forward to playing the Patriots, but given his recent struggles and the generous nature of their secondary, Geno Smith has an excellent opportunity for redemption this Sunday in his first Patriots–Jets rematch following their close loss in Week 2. In terms of passing production Smith is only seven yards per game behind Brady, but his seven touchdowns to ten interceptions is what most sets them apart at this point in the season. Smith has also taken a few more sacks, partially because as a rookie he isn’t throwing the ball away when he should, partially because he’ll use his legs to try to extend plays, and partially because his O-line isn’t quite as reliable as Brady’s has been. But in all Smith has been solid in his rookie season and has put or kept his team in situations to be competitive into the fourth quarter of most games. Against the Patriots he’ll have to protect the ball better than he did in Week 2 (3 INTs) but he won’t need to have an outrageous stat line because of the success the defense will likely have; another 214-yard performance could be enough for a victory on Sunday.

Adding to their growing list of players lost for the year is New England linebacker Jerod Mayo (torn pectoral), whose role had increased after defensive tackle Vince Wilfork was placed on IR. Additionally, top cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) may be unavailable after being forced to miss the Week 5 clash with New Orleans. Over the past three weeks the Patriots have given up nearly 270 yards through the air (229 season average), so Smith is likely to see better opportunities than he did in Week 2, likely improving on his 221 yard-per-game average. New England will look to replicate the same success they saw in Week 2, forcing the rookie into obvious passing situations and capitalizing on the mistakes he makes. Coach Bill Belichick will give Rex Ryan a run for his money when it comes to scheming against an offense, and the game may come down to Smith making a play or adjusting a call to get his team into a more favorable situation—a big responsibility for a rookie, but at least the defense across from him will not be at full strength.

Running Game Thoughts: All the focus of this game has been on the quarterbacks, the future Hall of Famer against the promising rookie in the regional rivalry both teams look forward to twice each year. The difference maker in the game, however, may come from the rushing attack as the offensive line battles the defensive line for position, and those successes or failures will impact the passing game later one. But it all starts with the O-line and their ability to create holes in the running game. The Jets have a fairly typical running game, approximately average in yards per game and attempt. They are well below average in rushing touchdowns, but they’re also on the lower end of total scoring and toward the bottom of red zone visits. Running back Bilal Powell has been the clear leader and despite a minor injury last week, he’s expected to be on the field for Week 7 once again leading the way. Smith contributes to the running game on occasion, but the team has done well to protect him from unnecessary contact and his rushes are typically limited to scrambles and improvisation. Those two are the only Jets to record a rushing touchdown this season.

The average Jets rushing attack will face off against the below-average Patriots run defense, and the absence of Mayo makes them even less dominant in this area. For several years the best rush defense New England had was their high-powered offense, and as teams fell behind they were forced to abandon the run and pass almost exclusively. Now that the offense stalls out more frequently and points are less plentiful, teams are finding more success on the ground as they’re given more opportunities to exploit the injured Patriots front seven. In Week 2 the Jets tallied 129 rushing yards (100 total from Powell and Ivory) and one of their only two touchdowns as they used the ground game to protect Smith and slowly work their way back from a ten-point halftime deficit. The longer the game stays close this Sunday, the more New York should implement the running game and the more success they should see in it as the game goes on.

Geno Smith: 250 pass yds, 1 TD
Bilal Powell: 70 rush yds
Stephen Hill: 60 rec yds

Prediction: Patriots 20, Jets 16

Cowboys at Eagles - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: If you like video game scores and hate defense, this is your game of the week. Only one quarterback has more touchdowns and more interceptions than Tony Romo, who is off to the best season of his career. Despite a 3-3 records, the game Sunday will be for first place in the NFC East. Dallas has yet to win one the road and Philadelphia has yet to win at home, so one of those is guaranteed to change. His 265 passing yards per game puts Romo just outside the top ten and the 14 sacks he’s taken are right around average for the league. Logically, if the offensive line could buy him a little more time, the yardage would increase and both statistics would improve, though for being somewhat thrown together, the O-line has done better than predicted. After throwing only one interception through four games, Romo has thrown one in back-to-back weeks, and considering the opposing offense, he’ll need to keep that in check so he doesn’t give the Eagles easy scoring opportunities. Two players, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten, have accounted for over half of the team’s receiving yards and nine of their 14 receiving touchdowns.

Defensive fortitude isn’t an attribute that can be attributed to the 2013 Eagles, especially in the passing game. They average 315 yards against per game, second worst to only Denver, and have surrendered 13 touchdowns (the league worst is 14) while recording 13 sacks, which ranks in the bottom quarter of the league. Much like Dallas, the shortcomings of the team originate on the defensive side of the ball and not from the offense, a trait which is common to the entire division this season. Realistic expectations for Sunday would involve the Cowboys coming up with a timely stop or two to keep the game close enough to give the offense a chance to secure the victory. The Eagles will need to be opportunistic and take advantage of any mistakes that Dallas makes, of which the Cowboys will surely make an effort to curtail.

Running Game Thoughts: Owner Jerry Jones says star running back DeMarco Murray will miss this week; Murray says he’s preparing to play despite his sprained knee. Something tells me Jones is right, even if he has no idea what’s going on, like a self-fulfilling prophecy regarding his multi-billion dollar franchise. Murray is officially doubtful for the time being. Behind him the leading rusher for Dallas is Lance Dunbar, but he’s been ruled out for Sunday, meaning backfield duties will likely be split between Philip Tanner and Joseph Randle (who combined for 20 yards on a 16 carries and 24 yards on 3 receptions) plus any personnel that may be promoted from the practice squad. From a fantasy standpoint, Randle is worth a look, but this figures to be a pass-heavy effort from the Cowboys.

Even with Murray available, Dallas averages fewer than 85 yards per game, and since the Eagles give up just over 105 yards, there wasn’t an abundance of production expected anyway. The best way to beat Philadelphia is through the air and by using rushes as a change of pace or in hopes of catching the defense out of position; this is largely why Jones is in no particular hurry to get Murray back for this contest. Romo can direct his tailback at the line of scrimmage and use audibles to take advantage of what the defense shows, so preserving the health of the star running back is more valuable than the benefits he would bring to the field. In a game where Dallas was already planning to air the ball out early and often, Murray's knee sprain only solidifies that plan. Unless something drastically changes, Philadelphia should surrender well beyond their season average in rushing yards against.

Tony Romo: 350 pass yds, 3 TDs
Joseph Randle: 50 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Dez Bryant: 120 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Regardless of who the starter was, the most productive quarterback for Philadelphia has been the one who has finished each game, Nick Foles. In essentially six quarters he’s led the team to 51 points and two victories, outscoring the opponent by 17 points from the time he entered the game in Week 5. On the season (one full game, just over one half in a second game, and limited time in two others) he has completed over 67 percent of his passes for 542 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions. If those numbers were to hold true for an entire 16-game season, he’d put up 48 touchdowns and more than 4,300 yards. His complete and best game came in Week 6 against Tampa Bay, who is supposed to have one of the toughest secondaries in the league. From Foles' two-game sampling he has outpaced the total production of Michael Vick without the turnovers. There’s no denying Vick is a better runner and a more dynamic player, but from a statistical point of view the Eagles may actually be better off with Foles at quarterback.

Dallas and Philadelphia have effectively the same passing defense—same number of interceptions, within one touchdown and four sacks of each other, and right behind one another in yards allowed. The two most dynamic NFC East offenses also have two of the worst defenses in the league. News came out this week that linebacker DeMarcus Ware (quad) will likely be unable to participate, and the Dallas pass rush will suffer accordingly. Ware has recorded four of their 14 total sacks this season, and it will be nearly impossible to make up for his presence on the field along with his contributions to the box score. With the rushing threat of Vick all but eliminated, the Eagles will more closely resemble a traditional NFL offense but with noticeable modifications made for the Chip Kelly offense, which could spell trouble for a Dallas defense that already gives up over 300 yards per game through the air.

Running Game Thoughts: This is what the Eagles do better than everyone else, running the ball, getting athletes into space and letting them make big plays, but then smashing it between the tackles and watching their running back weave his way through the oncoming defenders as he makes his way downfield. Through six games they've broken the 100-yard mark each time and have twice gone over 260. Leading the way is LeSean McCoy, but any variety of running backs or wide receivers have contributed to the ground attack at one point or another. In space McCoy’s almost unstoppable and at the line of scrimmage he’s hard to take down with the first hit because of how shifty he is. The lateral movement he’s able to achieve earned him every bit of his “Shady” nickname in that the only thing defenders are able to hit is his shadow. Even without the running threat of Vick in Week 6, McCoy gained 116 yards on 25 carries (4.6 average), and much of the same should be expected against Dallas on Sunday.

Without the pass rush of Ware, the Cowboys will have to be more reactionary than usual and will have a difficult time getting ahead of Philadelphia in down and distance. Linebackers will either have to help in coverage or will be sent on a blitz, neither of which is conducive to bottling up McCoy and the Eagles running game. In a high-scoring game it will be hard for an offense to stick to the running game, but if any team can, it will mostly likely be one led by Coach Kelly. Dallas will almost certainly be forced to face off against the strength of the Eagles for the majority of the contest, and their defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, will once again be tasked with slowing down his old nemesis in Kelly, dating back to when they were at Southern California and Oregon, respectively. That experience should work to Kiffin's advantage in preparation for the showdown on Sunday, but only so much can be done to minimize what Philadelphia does best.

Nick Foles: 330 pass yds, 2 TDs
LeSean McCoy: 100 rush yds, 1 TD / 50 rec yds
DeSean Jackson: 110 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Cowboys 34, Eagles 31

Bears at Redskins - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: After this Sunday the Bears will have 15 days to prepare for Green Bay, but until then their focus has been solely on the Redskins and how quarterback Jay Cutler can continue his recent tear. Two of his three best games of the season came in Weeks 5 and 6, and over that time he’s thrown for 620 yards and four touchdowns without an interception, roughly 50 yards per game better than they’ve averaged this season and an improvement on Cutler’s 12–6 TD-to-INT ratio. The major question always is in his consistency, and as good as his ceiling is, he often finds ways into valleys of performance, like against Detroit where he had more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2) and the Bears came up one score short. The emergence of second-year wide receiver Alshon Jeffery has given the Chicago passing attack an extra dimension that defenses are having a hard time figuring out; since his 107-yard and one touchdown Week 4, either Jeffery or star wideout Brandon Marshall have combined for two touchdowns in each of the following two games. When a door closes a window opens, or in this case, when one receiver is covered the other picks up the slack.

If they’re not careful, Washington my end up being beaten by both receivers this Sunday, as their pass defense does leave something to be desired. They give up over 270 yards and two touchdowns per game through the air and have recorded only three interceptions all season, more than only five other teams. They’ve been good at getting to the quarterback, recording 16 sacks in only five games, but seven of those came against the Raiders and another seven came in the first two weeks of the year, leaving only two total sacks against teams who don’t have a losing record. By most accounts Chicago may have the best (or at least one of the best) offensive lines that the Redskins have faced, and if they’re not able to create pressure, Cutler will have plenty of time to pick apart the secondary.

Running Game Thoughts: Lost in the ups and downs of Cutler and the matchup problems created by the Chicago receivers is that they also have one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL today. The per game rushing average isn’t spectacular (108.7 yards), but 4.5 yards per attempt is usually a great thing for an offense. The star of the backfield is Matt Forte, who on top of averaging 4.4 yards per carry also has great hands and is excellent in both the pass protection and pass receiving aspects of the game, giving defenses even more to think about and protect against on every play. Forte himself is responsible for over 114 yards per game from scrimmage and has scored three of the four Chicago rushing touchdowns. Under Marc Trestman the offense is more pass oriented, but Forte still gets his touches and finds ways to contribute whenever the ball is in his hands.

Washington is particularly susceptible against the run, ranking in the bottom six in yards against and being tied for fourth worst in rushing touchdowns against with six (one per game following two touchdowns in the opening game). Predicting Forte to have a noticeable impact on the game, especially via the run, isn’t exactly a groundbreaking revelation, both because of what he does and what the Redskins are rather incapable of doing. Of all the story lines heading into this game—Cutler being reunited with coach Mike Shanahan (both from Denver), Robert Griffin III and the ACL recovery saga, the arrival of Jeffery—perhaps the most central to the game plan will be the increased involvement of Forte in the offense. Coach Lovie Smith was fired partially due to the underutilization of Forte, and in a game where the rush defense is expected to be fickle, how heavily Trestman leans on his running back will be particularly interesting to the Chicago ownership and to his fantasy football owners alike.

Jay Cutler: 280 pass yds, 2 TDs
Matt Forte: 80 rush yds, 2 TDs / 40 rec yds
Brandon Marshall: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 60 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite the loss, their Week 6 showing against Dallas was a monumental step in the right direction for Robert Griffin III and the Redskins. Griffin threw for 246 yards and rushed for another 77 but was unable to find the end zone and was responsible for two turnovers. Washington outgained and out-possessed Dallas but the turnovers are what would ultimately lead to the loss. While statistically the passing numbers were below his season averages, Griffin's willingness to run should be cause for excitement in the nation’s capital, suggesting that he’s on his way back to the form that he had throughout his stellar rookie campaign. For the season he’s thrown just one more touchdown (6) than interception (5) and the offensive line has done a good job protecting him, allowing only ten sacks, good enough for top five in the league. If the line can continue to keep Griffin upright and the quarterback maintains his duel-threat presence, Washington may be able to avoid their first 0-3 home start in 15 years.

If it weren’t for turnovers, the Chicago defense would be remarkably mediocre, perhaps worse. But thanks to nine interceptions (one behind the league leaders), they’ve been able to limit the damage from all the yards they surrender. Many of the teams that surrender around 270 yards as they do, such as the Giants, Falcons, Redskins, and Bills, have losing records. In addition to below-average yardage numbers, the Bears have recorded the third fewest sacks in the league, adding to the importance of the turnovers they create. In Week 7 Washington should be able to move the ball through the air rather effectively, as long as Griffin is able to limit the turnovers that have affected him recently and been partially responsible for the Redskins losing record.

Running Game Thoughts: After a slow start to the season, running back Alfred Morris has averaged over 70 yards per game and has scored a touchdown in alternating contests. The success of Washington last season was largely based on the running game—the duel threat presented by Griffin in addition to consistent production from Morris. This season the running back consistency has been there but until recently the quarterback has been unable to hold up his end of the model. In Week 6, Griffin's 77 yards on the ground were more than all he’d recorded in his previous four games. The offensive line has done well opening holes for the traditional rushing attack, and if the read-option game can come along as it did last week, the Redskins should jump straight back into 2012 form and resume their winning ways.

The biggest obstacle for the Bears to overcome is the loss of their top two defensive tackles to season-ending knee injuries. Without Henry Melton and Nate Collins in Week 6, the Giants gained 123 yards on the ground and had their first 100-yard rusher of the season as Brandon Jacobs earned his first start since 2011. The Redskins' offensive line is more consistent than the Giants' and their running back is on the uphill climb to his peak, as opposed to Jacobs' downslide afterward. Morris, Griffin, and the other ball carriers will see plenty of opportunities against a banged-up Bears defensive line and should be able to build upon the success they developed in Week 6.

Robert Griffin III: 270 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT / 50 rush yds
Alfred Morris: 70 rush yds, 1 TD
Pierre Garcon: 80 rec yds

Prediction: Bears 28, Redskins 14

Vikings at Giants - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: There are diehard fans in Minnesota and New York that won’t be watching this game, so thank goodness for fantasy football and the potential make-or-break performances on the line as the teams with the two worst records in the NFL square off in prime time. After signing with Minnesota during their bye in Week 4, quarterback Josh Freeman sat out last week but is now the starter, less than a month after being benched and released from Tampa Bay, who is still winless. He actually improved his surroundings by joining a one-win team. Freeman has completed a league- low 45.7 percent of his passes for 571 yards and two touchdowns, with four total turnovers in only three games; that averages to 190 yards and an interception each game plus two scores and one fumble somewhere along the way. Minnesota has determined he’s their best option at quarterback. Let that sink in for a moment. Through five games, two different Vikings quarterbacks have averaged 222 passing yards, one touchdown, and nearly two turnovers per game while completing well over 63 percent of their attempts. Splitting the difference between the two suggests that a high-end goal for Freeman would be breaking 200 yards, scoring, and only giving the ball away once. Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, and the other receivers will be lucky to individually break the half-century mark in Freeman’s Minnesota debut.

Compared to the other teams in their division New York has far and away the best passing defense in the NFC East, and yet they barely escape the bottom third of the league rankings with 268 yards against per game. The once imposing Giants defensive line has recorded a league-low five sacks, two behind the next worst team. For illustrative purposes, there are seven individual players with that many sacks and another five with just as many as New York has recorded as a team. Minnesota has given up 14 sacks, slightly better than average for the league, so there is a high likelihood that Freeman should be kept relatively clean in his first game as a Viking. If New York’s performance against Chicago is any indication, the Minnesota receivers should find plenty of space in the Giants secondary, so if the line can protect for the new quarterback, his big arm may get a workout as his targets break free downfield.

Running Game Thoughts: Rare moments transcend the line between popular sports culture and genuine real life events; tragically one of those such moments befell Adrian Peterson this past week as he learned about the death of his young son. Although his son's birth was unknown to Peterson for some time, he still understandably took the news hard and was excused from team activities to be in attendance as the toddler was laid to rest. As his personal life is being pulled apart and investigated by the tabloids and gossip media outlets, the star running back is shouldered with shutting out the world that exists beyond the football field and focusing on the task at hand. Through five games he has recorded 102 carries for 483 yards and five touchdowns, averaging roughly 20 carries, one touchdown, and just short of 100 yards running behind an offensive line that has seen its share of struggles. When Christian Ponder was under center, the quarterback could contribute to the running game through scrambles and would use his legs to effectively extend drives; neither the backup Matt Cassel nor the newly-acquired Freeman have a reputation for contributing to the rushing attack.

Where the Giants are the relative cream of the crop in NFC East passing defenses, they’re a rounding error away from being the bottom of the barrel against the run within the division and not too far from the worst in the league. Teams have averaged over 123 rushing yards against them at almost four yards per carry, only the latter of which comes close to being near the league average. The Giants were able to hold the top rushing team (Philadelphia) to 38 yards below their season average and had somewhat similar success against Kansas City. When the game plan is to stop the run they’re somewhat effective, but against a balanced attack they can be overwhelmed and overextended. Minnesota clearly favors the run but brought in Freeman to give an added dimension to the passing attack, so the potential is there for the Vikings to demand too much of the Giants defense.

In recent NFL history, personal tragedy has led to near-career best games for those most directly affected, as in the case of Brett Favre following the passing of his father and Torrey Smith with the accident that claimed his brother. While it is unreasonable to expect Peterson to verge on his already impressive career highs, it would not be surprising to see him go for well below or well beyond his season averages. If Peterson is able to focus solely on factors within his control and block out the entirety of everything else, Monday night may see him join the likes of those upon whom football glory has shined after the world has touched them so tragically.

Josh Freeman: 180 pass yds, 1 INT
Adrian Peterson: 120 rush yds, 1 TD
Greg Jennings: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: After a 0-6 start no one is beyond questioning, and that includes the face of the franchise and two-time Super Bowl–winning quarterback Eli Manning. Through only five games he’s matched his interception total from all of last season at 16, averaging over three per game. In addition to those picks, the Giants have given up 16 sacks, worse than average for the league but certainly not helping with the turnovers, considering the pressure that Manning is seeing on a near-constant basis. When he’s not bring sacked or throwing interceptions, Manning leads a passing attack that ranks in the top ten in yards per game and just outside of that in touchdowns scored. Part of the problem has to reside with the offensive line and the injuries they suffered in the preseason. The strength of the offense, almost by default, has to be the receiving corps of Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Ruben Randle.

For the Giants to earn their first win, they’ll need to face a defense that is weak against the pass so that Manning and company can attempt to score more points than the defense is likely to give up. Thankfully the Vikings present such an opportunity, but it’s still up to the offense to do their part. Minnesota gives up 308 yards and nearly three touchdowns per game through the air while having recorded only seven interceptions and ten sacks on the season. The defensive line is the strength of the unit but behind them the linebackers are underperforming and the secondary continues to show its inexperience. When the linebackers are forced to help in coverage, the D-line has a hard time creating pressure, but when the linebackers blitz, the defensive backs are left to fend for themselves on the back end. Under the leadership of Manning the offense should be able to exploit the Minnesota defense and continue their struggles against the pass.

Running Game Thoughts: In his first game as a starter since the 2011 season, Brandon Jacobs rushed for two touchdowns and over 100 yards, significantly surpassing the Giants' average of 68 yards per game. His two touchdowns account for half of the scoring output of the New York rushing attack and his lack of a fumble is also an improvement on their one-per-game prior to Week 6. Jacobs' reemergence came against a Bears team that had recently lost both of their starting defensive tackles and were particularly weak in the center of their defense. While the Giants O-line still wasn’t spectacular, they did well enough to allow the ball carrier to make plays and pick up yardage at a reasonable pace. Injuries have devastated the New York backfield and the hope is that Jacobs can be a multi-week stopgap rather than a one-week wonder, but that verdict will not be rendered until Week 7 has come and gone.

As a team, the Vikings are approximately average against the run, yielding 110 yards per game. They’ve surrendered six rushing touchdowns, comfortably inside the bottom ten in that category, suggesting that their red zone defense isn’t particularly able to come up with stops in short-yardage situations. Fortunately for the Giants, their troubles have been mostly within the red zone, so if they’re able to get within scoring distance, the defense across from them will be more susceptible to being beaten than most of the teams they’ve faced thus far. Even with a mild hamstring injury, Jacobs gives New York the best chance at having a successful running game, and if he continues to be productive and hold on to the ball, he stands to hold on to the starting role even after David Wilson (neck) and Andre Brown (leg) return.

Eli Manning: 270 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Brandon Jacobs: 80 rush yds, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 100 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Vikings 17, Giants 14