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Inside the Matchup
Week 8

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

CAR @ TB | BUF @ NO | SF @ JAC | CLE @ KC



 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Smith 20 8 71.4
2 Caron 18 8 69.2
3 Thorne 15 12 55.6
4 Anderson 13 13 50.0

Panthers at Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton continues to produce at a level his fantasy owners have to be disappointed in. He’s 10th in FPts/G at his position, ranks 24th in passing yards and T-12th in touchdown throws. Yet Newton is just eighth in rushing yards and has only a pair of rushing scores, numbers that are far below expectations. He has no receivers in the top 25 in FPts/G, with Brandon LaFell coming in at 27th, and tight end Greg Olsen is just 19th at his position in FPts/G. I wouldn’t put Olsen in my fantasy lineup and LaFell and Smith are no better than a WR3 against Tampa.

The Buccaneers rank below average in numerous categories against the pass. They are 18th in the league in pass defense, T-17th in passing scores yielded, 23rd in opponents’ completion percentage allowed and T-25th in sacks. In terms of fantasy points surrendered, Tampa is in the middle of the league against QBs, WRs, and TEs. They’ve really struggled the last two weeks, allowing quarterbacks to throw for an average of 285 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, while two receivers have gathered at least 120 yards and one score.

Running Game Thoughts: With Jonathan Stewart out another couple of weeks, DeAngelo Williams will continue to get the bulk of the work for Carolina. He has been adequate for the team but not fantasy owners. Williams ranks 31st in FPts/G at running back, and has yet to score a touchdown because Mike Tolbert gets the goal-line work. Even with three touchdowns this season though, Tolbert is outside the top-40 RBs in FPts/G and I don’t consider either of the Panthers’ running backs legit options against a solid Buccaneers rush defense.

Tampa has had a stout defense against the run, ranking fifth in rush defense, fourth in YPC allowed and are tied with the Ravens for fewest rushing scores yielded, having given up only one. They’ve allowed just one RB to pick up more than 65 yards on the ground, but have given up the 12th-fewest FPts/G to RBs because they’ve given up the eighth-most receiving yards to backs and let Jacquizz Rodgers score twice on receptions last week.

Cam Newton: 215 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 25 rush yds
Brandon LaFell: 80 rec yds
Steve Smith: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 35 rec yds
Ted Ginn Jr.: 25 rec yds, 1 TD
DeAngelo Williams: 45 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 25 rush yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie Mike Glennon hasn’t been bad the last two weeks, averaging 265 passing yards with four touchdowns and only one interception. This hardly makes him a fantasy-worthy quarterback, but there is one Tampa player that deserves to start for fantasy owners and that’s Vincent Jackson. While Mike Williams has been disappointing, Jackson is every bit a WR1 and is tied for seventh in FPts/G at receiver. He has 110+ receiving yards and two touchdowns in each of the last two weeks, and is a must-start, even against the Panthers’ excellent pass defense.

Though Carolina has allowed the league’s second-highest completion percentage, those throws aren’t accomplishing much. They have the NFL’s fifth-ranked pass defense, and the five touchdowns they’ve allowed are tied for fewest in the league. Only Pittsburgh is ceding fewer FPts/G to QBs, just four teams are yielding fewer FPts/G to WRs, and only seven teams have given up fewer FPts/G to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: Doug Martin is not expected to play Thursday, and even though he wasn’t having the season fantasy owners envisioned, he was still producing decent numbers. Now, the Bucs will turn to Mike James and Brian Leonard, with James likely getting the majority of the work. James ran for 45 yards on 14 carries in relief of Martin last week against the Falcons while also catching three passes for eight yards. Those are not awe-inspiring numbers and I would caution fantasy owners to find an alternative this week against Carolina’s tough run defense.

The Panthers rank one spot better than their opponents in rush defense, ranking fourth, while also placing eighth in YCP given up and T-3rd in rushing scores ceded. Also like the Bucs, Carolina has had trouble covering receivers out of the backfield, having allowed the 10th-most receiving yards to backs, and are yielding the 13th-fewest FPts/G to RBs.

Mike Glennon: 260 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Vincent Jackson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 55 rec yds
Tim Wright: 35 rec yds
Mike James: 50 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Brian Leonard: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Panthers 21, Buccaneers 13 ^ Top

Bills at Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie EJ Manuel continues to be sidelined with an injury, and his starting job has been filled by Thaddeus Lewis the past two weeks. Lewis has been solid, completing 62.5 percent of his throws with two touchdowns, one interception and one rushing score. His receiving corps leaves much to be desired, with not a single wideout among the top 45 in FPts/G at the position. Stevie Johnson is the best of the bunch, but is only a marginal fantasy play as he and his Bills teammates face a good New Orleans pass defense.

After suffering with a historically bad defense a season ago, the Saints are now one of only four teams in the league with more interceptions than touchdown passes given up. They’re ninth in pass defense, T-6th in passing scores yielded, T-7th in sacks and 12th in opponents’ completion percentage allowed. Only four teams have surrendered fewer FPts/G to TEs than New Orleans and just six have given up fewer FPts/G to QBs. However, they did allow 218 yards and a score to Chicago’s Alshon Jeffery in Week 5, hurting their numbers in FPts/G allowed to WRs, though they still rank 13th in that category.

Running Game Thoughts: C.J. Spiller’s ankle injury has limited his fantasy production, and there is word that he could miss this week’s game, or at the very least be as limited in touches as he has been recently. That leaves Fred Jackson, who is 12th in FPts/G at running back, to get the bulk of the work. He has five touchdowns this season and is a very good play against the Saints and their below average run defense.

New Orleans has made great strides in pass defense, but is still having their issues stopping the run. Only Detroit has allowed a higher YPC average than the Saints, who are 22nd in rush defense and T-12th in rushing scores allowed. They’ve given up 75+ rushing yards to three backs this season and are 15th in FPts/G allowed to RBs.

Thaddeus Lewis: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
Steve Johnson: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
T.J. Graham: 50 rec yds
Robert Woods: 40 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 20 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
C.J. Spiller: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees and the rest of his offensive weaponry are rested coming off a bye week, though one injury is a concern. Brees is second in FPts/G at his position but he may be without one of the two best tight ends in the game, as Jimmy Graham’s foot injury may keep him out. On the bright side, the team still has Marques Colston and Lance Moore should be back for the first time since Week 3, and a viable target once again. Despite Moore’s slow start, I’d put him in my lineup as a WR3 against a Buffalo defense prone to getting scored upon.

The Bills have allowed the second-lowest completion percentage in the NFL, lead the league in interceptions and are tied for fourth in sacks, but are still getting thrown on. They are 21st in pass defense and are tied with Jacksonville for most passing touchdowns surrendered for the season. Buffalo has allowed the third-fewest FPts/G to TEs, but Brandon Weeden is the only quarterback not to throw multiple touchdown passes against them, and they have allowed the eighth-most FPts/G to QBs. Receivers have killed them, as they’ve allowed ten to amass at least 70 receiving yards and only the Eagles are giving up more FPts/G to wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram is likely out with his toe injury, but that should be inconsequential to fantasy owners, as his value is nil. Darren Sproles does most of his work as a receiver, leading all running backs in receiving yards, but is still an every-week starter. Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson are the other backs that will receive playing time, but their fantasy value is limited as the Bills give up most of their points via the air.

Buffalo is T-3rd in rushing scores allowed, but still has the league’s 28th-ranked run defense and is 18th in YPC given up. Still, only one of the two rushing scores they’ve yielded has come via the running back, so despite having allowed five different runners to accumulate 70+ rushing yards against them, the Bills have allowed the 11th-fewest FPts/G in the league to RBs.

Drew Brees: 325 pass yds, 4 TD
Marques Colston: 90 rec yds, 2 TD
Lance Moore: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Jimmy Graham: 35 rec yds
Kenny Stills: 30 rec yds
Robert Meachem: 15 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 45 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 30 rush yds, 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Khiry Robinson: 30 rush yds

Prediction: Saints 31, Bills 20 ^ Top

49ers at Jaguars - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been a disaster as a fantasy quarterback, but considering where he was likely drafted, he’s been a headache. Kaepernick is 25th in FPts/G at his position, having averaged fewer fantasy points than the likes of Mike Glennon and Christian Ponder. The loss of Michael Crabtree has hurt worse than most realized, and even with Vernon Davis playing exceptionally well, the team’s receiving options are limited to he and Anquan Boldin. Luckily, a date with Jacksonville is on the schedule.

The Jaguars rank 14th in the league in pass defense and that’s where the good news ends for them. They are T-25th in interceptions, rank 27th in completion percentage allowed, 29th in sacks, and are tied with Buffalo for most passing scores allowed. Jacksonville is allowing the 10th-most FPts/G to QBs, 11th-most FPts/G to WRs, and sixth-most FPts/G to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: Kaepernick hadn’t run much this season until last week, when he rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee. Frank Gore remains the teams’ go-to back, and is currently 10th in FPts/G among running backs. He’s dealing with an ankle injury that may limit his workload against the Jaguars, but even if Gore is at less than 100 percent, he’s still a fantasy starter versus the Jags.

Predictably, Jacksonville’s run defense is completely inept. They are 27th in YPC surrendered, tied for last in rushing scores allowed, are dead last in run defense, and are giving up more than 26 yards per game than the next closest team. Only the Vikings are yielding more FPts/G to RBs than the Jaguars, who have allowed seven different backs to pick up at least 60 rushing yards.

Colin Kaepernick: 235 pass yds, 2 TD, 40 rush yds
Vernon Davis: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Anquan Boldin: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Kyle Williams: 30 rec yds
Frank Gore: 95 rush yds, 1 TD
Kendall Hunter: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Blaine Gabbert is back and ready to play after suffering a hamstring injury, but has been terrible as usual this season so the team will continue to play Chad Henne. Not that fantasy owners should be jumping for joy over Henne, who should not be considered a fantasy option, nor should any other Jaguars offensive player this week outside of Justin Blackmon. The wideout from Oklahoma State has been great in his three games since coming off a suspension and is currently leading all wide receivers in FPts/G. The 49ers have been tough on opposing passing attacks, but Blackmon should be a starter in all fantasy formats.

San Francisco holds the league’s number six ranked pass defense and are T-10th in passing touchdowns surrendered. They’re also fourth in completion percentage allowed but the absence of Aldon Smith has impacted their ability to get to the quarterback, as they rank T-20th in sacks. Nonetheless, the 49ers have given up multiple touchdown passes in less than half their games, have allowed the ninth-fewest FPts/G to QBs, 10th-fewest FPts/G to WRs, and 12th-fewest FPts/G to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: I’d like to say good things about Maurice Jones-Drew, because I’ve admired him from afar due to his ability to pick up yards and make things happen despite being the only formidable Jaguars offensive player the last few seasons. However, it seems his time has come and gone, as he’s averaging only 3.1 YPC, and is 42nd in FPts/G at his position. Still, I’d consider playing him as a flex option this week only because San Francisco has been prone to allowing touchdowns on the ground.

The 49ers are not the dominant team against the run they were a season ago, ranking 18th in run defense, 17th in YCP allowed and T-24th in rushing scores ceded. Despite not allowing a 100-yard rusher this season, San Francisco has given up the eighth-most FPts/G to RBs due to the amount of touchdowns they have allowed.

Chad Henne: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Justin Blackmon: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Cecil Shorts: 55 rec yds
Mike Brown: 35 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 15 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: 49ers 27, Jaguars 14 ^ Top

Browns @ Chiefs - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Coming into the 2013 season, few could have expected that Cleveland fans would be so disheartened by the loss of then-backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. But with the horrendous quarterback play from second-year, 30-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden, fans have every right to be calling for a new QB. Weeden looked as bad as he has ever looked this past week in Green Bay when he completed a dreadful 17 of 42 passes for just 149 yards, one touchdown and an interception. With Weeden at the helm, Josh Gordon caught just two passes for 21 yards against a Green Bay secondary that has struggled mightily to stop the pass this season. While tight end Jordan Cameron got back on the board with a nice seven catch, 55-yard performance, even his numbers have struggled with Weeden behind center. The Browns have opted to go in another direction at the position in Week 8 as they will trot out veteran QB Jason Campbell to try to put a spark in the offense. A former multi-year starter for the Washington Redskins, Campbell has been a journeyman since his days in D.C. He most recently saw playing time in 2012 as a member of the Chicago Bears when he completed 14 of 22 passes for just 107 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against a very good San Francisco 49ers defense.

He won’t have a much easier task this week as he and the Browns head to Kansas City. The Chiefs have been nothing short of exceptional on defense this season and have not allowed a single quarterback to reach the 300-yard mark or throw for multiple touchdowns against them this season. Although one could make the case that Campbell will be an upgrade from Weeden, it’s hard to believe that he will be of much fantasy value himself. Cameron could also have a very tough day as the Chiefs have been the best in the league this season at shutting down opposing tight ends. No opposing team has even thrown for 50 yards to their tight ends in any game this season and not a single tight end has scored a touchdown in any game. Given the lack of depth at tight end this season, it’s hard to imagine that many fantasy owners will be sitting this stud pass-catcher, but if you happen to be blessed with more than one quality option at the position, this might be the week to sit Cameron. About the only player who has any real chance at fantasy success in this passing game is Josh Gordon. Although Gordon has not yet caught a single pass from Jason Campbell in an actual game, he is the kind of player who has “go up and get it” ability that just about any quarterback with a decent arm can make use of. Look for the Browns to take a few shots down the field in this one, especially late in the game when they are likely to be down on the scoreboard.

Running Game Thoughts: The Cleveland running game has been extremely hard to predict. Chris Ogbonnaya was coming off a big game where he caught seven passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in addition to 24 rushing yards, but fell back to earth with only four attempts for 15 yards. He was targeted only twice in Week 7 and didn’t catch a pass. Meanwhile, Fozzy Whittaker took five carries for 11 yards. He also caught two passes on two of his five targets. In the same game, Willis McGahee took 11 carries for 39 yards. McGahee continues to be a ghost in the passing game. The numbers tell us that McGahee was on the field for 45% of snaps, Whittaker 30% and Ogbonnaya 27%. This is a stark contrast from Week 6 when Ogbonnaya led the team with 57% of the snaps to McGahee’s 38% and Whittaker’s 0%. This situation would be ugly enough as it is, but what makes matters worse is that Kansas City has also been excellent against the run this season. With the exception of Week 3 when they allowed a big game to LeSean McCoy, the Chiefs have not allowed any other team to rush for 90 yards this season. The only other running back who has scored a touchdown against Kansas City was Chris Johnson who took a broken play pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to the house on a long run-after-the-catch. While McGahee is likely to take the majority of the carries for the Browns in Week 8, he hasn’t been particularly successful and with now three mouths to feed, none of them look like very good fantasy options.

Jason Campbell: 160 pass yds, 1 TD 2 INT
Willis McGahee: 45 rush yds
Chris Ogbonnaya: 20 rush yds, 15 rec yds
Josh Gordon: 50 rec yds
Greg Little: 30 rec yds
Jordan Cameron: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Just months after picking first in the NFL draft, the Kansas City Chiefs are now the only undefeated NFL team (7-0) under new head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith. Smith himself has not been much of a fantasy option in recent weeks as he has not thrown a touchdown in any of his past three games. He has now failed to throw a single touchdown pass in four of his seven games this year. Smith did continue his successful season as a runner a week ago, however, as he got into the end zone on the ground for the first time this year. Smith has fallen down a bit in recent weeks, but still ranks sixth in the league in rushing yardage among quarterbacks. That puts him ahead of the likes of Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Geno Smith. The wide receiver position in Kansas City has been nothing short of awful this season and it continued in Week 7 when both Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery failed to do much of anything. Avery caught only three passes, bringing his streak of having caught three or fewer passes to four straight games. He continues to be a complete afterthought in fantasy. For Bowe, it was his highest yardage output of the season with a paltry 66 yards, but fantasy owners will be delighted to know that he was targeted more times (nine) in Week 7 than in any other game this season.

Bowe’s fantasy owners shouldn’t get too excited, however, as Bowe is likely to be shadowed by one of the league’s best defenders, Joe Haden. Alex Smith still isn’t putting the ball down the field very often and Bowe’s fantasy numbers will likely continue to struggle for the foreseeable future. If there is one bright spot for this passing game in regards to fantasy production, it’s that Cleveland has not done well at shutting down opposing passing games in recent contests. After having allowed just two passing touchdowns over their first five games combined, the Browns fell have since gone up against two stellar passing attacks in Detroit and Green Bay. In those two games alone, Cleveland has allowed a total of seven passing touchdowns while forcing just one interception. It’s hard to trust Alex Smith given his current streak of disgusting fantasy production, but he could be a decent QB2 option this week against a struggling Cleveland defense.

Running Game Thoughts: Jamaal Charles continued his runaway effort as the league’s top-scoring running back in Week 7 as he rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown while also catching three passes for an additional 37 yards. The ever-productive Charles has been at or above 100 total yards in every game this season. Charles’ rushing attempts have been very consistent as he has not dipped below 16 or gone above 22 attempts in any game. He’s been even better in PPR formats, having already caught 36 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. He is on pace to achieve 82 receptions on the year, which makes him one of the most productive fantasy players we’ve seen at any position in years. Charles is also on pace to crack the 2000 total yard mark. Even against good run defenses like Tennessee and Houston, Charles has performed. He has not fallen below 15 fantasy points (standard scoring) in any game this season.

Cleveland has been soft against opposing running backs this season, having already allowed eight total touchdowns to the position in seven games. Even with nagging injuries to their running backs, the Bills, Lions and Packers backs have combined for 484 total yards and five touchdowns against the Browns over their past three contests. A healthy Jamaal Charles could be in for a huge game this week and should remain in all fantasy lineups regardless of scoring format. It could also excite fantasy owners to know that Charles was successful against the Browns when these two teams played in 2012. Although Cleveland dominated the game 30-7, Charles was still extremely productive as he rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown in the contest.

Alex Smith: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Jamaal Charles: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 45 rec yds
Dwayne Bowe: 50 rec yds
Donnie Avery: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Chiefs 23, Browns 10 ^ Top

Steelers @ Raiders - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Say what you will about Ben Roethlisberger as a “real life” quarterback, but the truth is that in his 10th year as the Steelers’ quarterback, we can safely say that he is not a very good fantasy QB. Although he has thrown a touchdown pass in every game this season, that’s about all he has done. In fact, he’s only thrown for two touchdown passes once this season. What’s worse is that he’s been a complete non-factor in the running game, having rushed for just 49 yards on the season. He has also failed to make it into the end zone even once as a runner in 2013.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown has been a PPR machine in 2013, having caught at least five passes in every game this year. His 47 receptions in six games put him on pace for a ridiculous 125 receptions. Unfortunately Brown remains mostly irrelevant as a red zone target. He has just two touchdown receptions on the year and had just seven in his previous three seasons as a pro combined. The Raiders have allowed nine passing touchdowns in six games and have only intercepted passes from one quarterback (Philip Rivers) all year. Still, we need to calm our expectations even against an Oakland secondary that is noted as one of the least skilled in the league. The Steelers offense is just not moving the ball well at the moment.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s hard to imagine that a 3.6 yards per carry average would be looked at as a bright spot in an offense, but Le’Veon Bell has been just that in Pittsburgh. Bell has fully taken over the role as Pittsburgh’s lead dog in the backfield and has had at least 16 carries in each of his first three games as the starter. Although Felix Jones has taken five carries in each of the past two games, he is really nothing for Bell owners to worry about. Jones is too fragile to take a significant number of carries and hasn’t proven himself to be particularly effective near the goal line throughout his career. Bell hasn’t hit the 100 total yard mark in any game this season but he is inching closer each week. The Raiders have allowed over 100 total yards to opposing teams’ running backs in each of their past four contests. They also allowed at least one touchdown to an opposing back in all four of those games.

Ben Roethlisberger: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Le’Veon Bell: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Antonio Brown: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Emmanuel Sanders: 40 rec yds
Jerricho Cotchery: 30 rec yds
Heath Miller: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor is coming off of his worst game of the year when he threw for just 216 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions against an excellent Kansas City defense. Pryor did save the day by getting his legs going as he ran for 56 yards, but fantasy owners should still be worried about what they saw from their quarterback against a good defense. He’ll have another tough challenge this week as he goes up against a Pittsburgh defense that has been one of the very best in the league against the pass in 2013. The Steelers have allowed one or zero touchdown passes against them in all but one game this season. They have also only allowed one quarterback to throw for over 250 yards against them. While they haven’t faced any of the league’s top passing offenses yet, those numbers still have to be a bit worrying for those relying on the Oakland passing game. One positive note is that while the Steelers have done a good job of locking down opposing passing games, what they haven’t done much of is force turnovers. As we head into Week 8, Pittsburgh is tied with the New York Jets with the fewest interceptions forced on the year (2). With Pittsburgh not forcing nearly as much of a pass rush in 2013 as they have in recent seasons, Pryor should have much more time to throw in this game than he did his last time out, against Kansas City, when he was sacked nine times.

Receiver Denarius Moore has really come on this season. Aside from a Week 2 disaster when he was shut out on the scoreboard, Moore has caught at least four passes in every game this season. In addition to that, he has already caught four touchdown passes in six games, putting him on pace for 11 on the year. We’ve seen glimpses of what Moore can do throughout his first two seasons as a pro, but with Pryor behind center, he is finally beginning to string together some moderately consistent fantasy production. Moore might not be a trustworthy option to play against a Steelers defense that has allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers this season, but if there is anyone who is going to catch a touchdown in this offense, it’s likely to be Moore.

Running Game Thoughts: A hamstring injury has slowed running back Darren McFadden a bit in recent weeks, even keeping him out of the team’s Week 5 contest against the Chargers, but reports are that the bye week has allowed him to heel and he now appears ready to resume his role as the focal point of the Oakland offense. McFadden has been his usual “consistently inconsistent” self this season, but fantasy owners have to be a bit encouraged that he is feeling healthy. Even in a losing effort against the Chiefs in Week 6, McFadden touched the ball 19 times for 83 yards. Although he failed to get into the end zone, it’s good to see that the team still has faith in him to be their main ball carrier. Rashad Jennings has remained involved in the offense, but his relative lack of production and less-than-spectacular playmaking abilities make him no real threat to take significant touches from McFadden.

It used to be that a matchup against the Steelers was looked at as almost a death sentence for running backs, but that has not been the case in 2013. The Steelers currently rank 25th in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs this season. They have already conceded seven touchdowns to the position in just their first six games this year. Although Pittsburgh has been significantly better at slowing down opposing running games since their Week 5 bye, fantasy owners have to be encouraged by the fact that this is likely to be a close game which would allow plenty of touches for McFadden. Pittsburgh’s offense has failed to reach 20 points in four of their six games, which has prompted opposing teams to run the ball an average of 26 times per game.

Terrelle Pryor: 160 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 50 rush yds
Darren McFadden: 60 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Denarius Moore: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Rod Streater: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Steelers 17, Raiders 14 ^ Top

Falcons @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: In what has been a “lost” season for the Falcons in many ways, quarterback Matt Ryan has continued to fine tune his craft into becoming one of the better signal-callers in the league. He’s had to deal with nagging injuries that have slowed down Roddy White all season, but when Julio Jones went on IR with an injury of his own, it looked like there could be some serious problems on the horizon for Ryan. Many expected an immediate dropoff in production, but that simply didn’t happen. In fact, Ryan looked as good in Week 7 as he has in any game this season. Without Jones or White, his favorite targets, Ryan completed 20 of his 26 passes for 273 yards and a season-high three touchdowns. He has now thrown for multiple touchdowns in every game this season and has firmly established himself as one of the most reliable fantasy quarterbacks in the league. With White and Jones out, it was receiver Harry Douglas who stepped up in a big way. Douglas caught all seven passes thrown his direction for 149 yards and a touchdown. Future hall of fame tight end Tony Gonzalez saw added attention from the defense as he was held to just two catches for 30 yards. Even prior to the injury to the receivers, Gonzalez had been surprisingly inconsistent as a fantasy producer this season. He caught a total of 22 passes for nearly 250 yards in Weeks 4 and 5, but has just 13 receptions for 123 yards in his other four games combined. Ryan, Douglas and Gonzalez are all very fantasy relevant in Week 8 as they go up against an Arizona defense that has allowed multiple touchdowns to opposing passing attacks in five of their seven games this season. With Roddy White still questionable, there is some concern that shutdown cornerback Patrick Peterson could be locked up with Harry Douglas in this game. If that is the case, Douglas moves down from being a high-end WR2 to a low-end WR2 at best.

Running Game Thoughts: Reports indicate that running back Steven Jackson should be back in action for the first time since Week 2 when the Falcons head to Arizona this Sunday. Jackson has been hampered by a hamstring that, while not severe, has kept him from exploding in the way that fans are used to seeing from him. With Jackson out, it has been primarily backup Jacquizz Rodgers who has become a major asset in the Falcons offense. Rogers hasn’t done a whole lot as a runner, averaging 39 yards per game since Week 2. He has caught 18 passes over the past three games, including a huge eight-catch, 46-yard, two-touchdown performance in Week 7 against Tampa Bay. The team’s other back, Jason Snelling, has been relegated to a change-of-pace role. With Jackson likely to return, it seems likely that Snelling’s snaps will take an even bigger dip, thus making him fine to cut from most fantasy rosters.

Whoever touches the ball, however, will have a tough day as they go up against an Arizona defense that has allowed just two rushing touchdowns on the year. The Cardinals have been excellent against opposing running backs, but it’s also important to consider that they have not been quite as good as of late. In fact, the Cardinals have now allowed over 100 rushing yards and a touchdown to opposing running backs in each of their past two games. It’s probably too much to ask for Steven Jackson to pick up where Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch left off against Arizona, but there is a possibility that both he and Rodgers have some fantasy value this week as they split carries. If you do have Jackson in your lineup, however, make sure to have a backup plan ready. The Falcons play a Sunday afternoon game, so your options may be limited to replace him if he does not make the Falcons’ final roster this week.

Matt Ryan: 270 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Steven Jackson: 50 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 20 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Harry Douglas: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 80 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: The ugly season for quarterback Carson Palmer continued in Week 7 as the former top overall NFL draft pick struggled against a very good Seattle secondary. Palmer completed 30 passes for just 258 yards and only one touchdown, while throwing two interceptions. It was Palmer’s fifth straight game with multiple interceptions and he now trails only Eli Manning in that category with 13 on the year. What has been worse for fantasy owners, however, is that Palmer has only made up for it by throwing multiple touchdown passes in two of his seven games. Add in the fact that he’s only hit the 300-yard plateau once this year and you begin to see just how disappointing Palmer has been this season. Even with his poor play, Palmer will be a serious fantasy consideration this week for fantasy owners who have been devastated by injuries and/or bye weeks.

Palmer and the Cardinals get to test themselves against a Falcons defense that currently sits 28th in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Atlanta has allowed at least two touchdown passes in every game this season. That includes games against Sam Bradford, Ryan Tannehill, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon—not exactly the cream of the crop. Interceptions haven’t been there for the Falcons, either. After forcing an interception in each of their first three games, Atlanta has failed to intercept a single pass in any of their past three games. With Carson Palmer struggling so much in the interception department, it seems like a good bet to assume that the Falcons will get out of that drought, but they may still struggle to stop them from scoring. Larry Fitzgerald has been frustrating to own in fantasy this season, having checked in with six or fewer fantasy points in four of his first seven games. In the other three, however, Fitzgerald has made his owners very happy, proving that he still has “it” if he’s given the chance. Second year receiver Michael Floyd has really come on in recent weeks, having caught exactly five passes in each of his past four games. If he can continue to develop as a threat, Fitzgerald may begin to see less attention from defenses. Either way, Fitzgerald is a must-start this week against a terrible Atlanta secondary. Even Floyd is a FLEX possibility this week for those in need.

Running Game Thoughts: Just when it looked like Andre Ellington was in line to start seeing more touches, Arizona slammed the door on fantasy owners in Week 7 when they gave 13 carries to Rashard Mendenhall and only three to Ellington. It’s not as if Mendenhall was particularly productive, either. As has been the narrative all season, Mendenhall’s yards per carry were putrid as he rushed for only 22 yards on those 13 carries. Sure, Mendenhall did get into the end zone, but it was still a less than inspiring performance. Mendenhall failed to rush for even 50 yards for the fifth straight game and is just barely above 3.0 yards per carry on the year. The best possible explanation for Mendenhall seeing so much more playing time than Ellington in Week 7 is that the team needed him for pass protection. As a rookie, Ellington still has not developed into much of a blocker and thus cannot be trusted to protect Carson Palmer. Expect Ellington to be on the field much more in Week 8 against the Falcons.

Atlanta is not great at rushing the passer and has just 14 total sacks as a unit this season. The Falcons have done a good job at slowing down opposing running backs. Only one team has rushed for over 100 yards against them and they’ve only allowed a total of two touchdowns to an opposing running back on the year. With Ellington on the field more, both he and Mendenhall may be relegated to being borderline FLEX options at best. Ellington’s value is helped in PPR formats but without us knowing what the coaching staff is thinking, it’s hard to really trust anyone in the Arizona backfield.

Carson Palmer: 260 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT
Rashard Mendenhall: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Andre Ellington: 25 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Larry Fitzgerald: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Michael Floyd: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Robert Housler: 30 rec yds

Prediction: Cardinals 23, Falcons 20 ^ Top

Redskins @ Broncos - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: It was an ugly start to the season but second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III appears to finally getting back into the groove. Griffin had struggled to get his legs under him and his passing had struggled as a result, but his 161 rushing yards over his past two games have fantasy owners very excited about the second half of the season. With his biggest game of the season coming this past week against a very good Chicago defense, Griffin now is back to being considered an every week must-start, especially against a defense like Denver’s that has been very good to opposing passers. The Broncos currently rank dead-last in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks this season, including allowing Andrew Luck to throw for 228 yards and three touchdowns a week ago. Fantasy owners of wide receiver Pierre Garcon have been a bit disappointed with the Redskins top pass-catcher in recent weeks. Although he hasn’t been terrible, Garcon hasn’t gone over 75 yards since Week 2 and has caught only one touchdown pass during that timeframe. He has caught five or more passes in every game this season which has to give some confidence to fantasy owners as he goes into this soft matchup.

Denver has conceded 20 or more fantasy points to opposing wide receivers in every game but one this season, which could mean great things for Garcon. Even with Champ Bailey and Von Miller back in action, this seems like the kind of matchup that makes Griffin and Garcon must-starts. But the under-the-radar player who may really excel this week is tight end Jordan Reed. Reed caught nine passes for 134 yards and a touchdown a week ago against the Bears and could play a vital role as Griffin’s safety valve if he is pressured by this highly talented Denver pass-rush. If Reed is still available in your league, make sure you go out and pick him up immediately. He is now the primary tight end in the Washington offense and could play a major role as the season goes on.

Running Game Thoughts: Long time fantasy experts warned us all about the “Mike Shanahan curse” when it comes to running backs coming into the season, but many simply didn’t want to hear it. Second-year running back Alfred Morris was a late-first or early-second round pick in almost every fantasy draft and while he has played fairly well, fantasy owners had to be disgusted at what they saw a week ago. Morris took 19 carries for 95 yards, but his fantasy production was chopped down by the sudden emergence of backup running back Roy Helu who took three of his 11 carries for touchdowns near the goal line. Helu was in line to be the Redskins’ starting running back in 2012 before losing the job in the preseason to Morris. After an injury knocked him out, Alfred Morris went on become one of the league’s most productive running backs. Because of this history, it’s no surprise to see Helu getting a role in the offense, but it’s still frustrating to see Morris, who scored 13 times in 2012, conceding goal line carries to another running back. While Morris is still clearly the player to own in this backfield, it is worth considering that Morris has actually only been on the field for a total of 13 more offensive plays than Helu so far this season. Both players have and will continue to touch the ball.

The Washington duo could have a tough day against a Denver Broncos defense that has held opposing running backs to fewer than 75 rushing yards in six of their first seven games this season. Only Philadelphia’s running backs, including LeSean McCoy, were able to get over 75 yards when they rushed for 125. Despite slowing down the yardage, however, Denver has been exceptionally soft when it comes to allowing touchdowns to the position. The 10 touchdowns that they have allowed to opposing running backs are more than any team in the league this season. Morris is likely to be about what he has been through most of the season in Week 8, as a solid RB2 in most fantasy formats. Those looking for a FLEX running back may even consider Helu, who could continue to see significant playing time.

Robert Griffin III: 340 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 50 rush yds
Alfred Morris: 70 rush yds, 1 TD
Roy Helu: 25 rush yds, 30 rec yds
Pierre Garcon: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Leonard Hankerson: 40 rec yds
Jordan Reed: 90 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: Even in a losing effort for his team, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning kept his fantasy owners happy with another 300-plus yard, three touchdown performance a week ago. Manning has thrown for multiple touchdowns in every game this season and his unbelievable 27.6 fantasy points per game are far and away the best of any player in the league. Wide receiver Wes Welker continued his impressive season with a seven catch 96-yard performance, but failed to get into the end zone for the first time this season. Welker has never been known as much of a touchdown guy, but his production in Denver has been incredible. He already has eight touchdown receptions in seven games this season. If he can get into the end zone against the Redskins in Week 8, he will tie his career high in that category. Welker’s teammate Demaryius Thomas got back into his fantasy owners’ good graces with a nice 4-catch, 82-yard performance and a touchdown. Thomas had not been in the end zone since Week 4, but remains a must-start WR1 in all formats. The team’s third receiver, Eric Decker, had the biggest game of anyone in Week 7. Decker caught eight passes for the third time this season, this time for 150 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Julius Thomas continued his exceptional start to the season, catching five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. The score was Thomas’ eighth on the year and he leads all tight ends in that category.

All four of Manning’s top targets and Manning himself are obvious must-starts at this point, but the Washington defense has played much better in recent weeks than they did to start the season. Washington has only allowed one passing touchdown in each of their past three games. No one in their right mind would predict that they continue that streak against the Broncos, however. Get Manning, Decker, Welker and both Thomas’ in your lineup as usual, and expect them to get out some of their frustrations with big production in Week 8.

Running Game Thoughts: The fantasy breakout for Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno continued in Week 7 as the former first round NFL draft pick scored his eighth touchdown of the season in a loss to the Colts. Although Moreno failed to reach even 3.0 yards per carry for the second straight game, it’s hard to argue when a player is getting into the end zone as often as Moreno has. In addition to his rushing scores, Moreno has become a more active contributor in the passing game, having caught 15 passes over his past three contests. Given how successful Denver’s offense has been, it seems likely that Moreno will be able to continue his fantasy production as he goes up against a Redskins defense that has been atrocious against the run this season. Washington has allowed at least 18 fantasy points (standard scoring) to opposing teams’ running backs in every game they’ve played this season. A week ago, they allowed Matt Forte and the Bears to score three touchdowns on the ground. Moreno should see plenty of touches in this game and he’ll be doing it against a very weak defense. Of course he’s an every-week starter at this point, but there’s even a possibility that Ronnie Hillman could see a decent number of touches if the Broncos take control. Hillman lost some trust from his coaches with a costly second-half fumble a week ago against the Colts, but with Montee Ball a complete afterthought, Hillman should continue to see at least some playing time.

Peyton Manning: 350 pass yds, 4 TD
Knowshon Moreno: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Ronnie Hillman: 25 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Demaryius Thomas: 110 rec yds, 2 TD
Wes Welker: 80 rec yds
Eric Decker: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Julius Thomas: 50 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Broncos 41, Redskins 27 ^ Top

Seahawks @ Rams - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Second-year quarterback Russell Wilson has been off and on as a passer this season, but his fantasy owners haven’t been particularly worried about that as he has done a great job as a runner when he has struggled through the air. Wilson has only finished under double digits in fantasy points once this season, and has been at 16 or above in each of his past three contests. Wilson’s 235-yard, three-touchdown, zero-interception performance in Week 7 is the kind of game that fantasy owners were expecting to see more of coming into the year, but it looks as if he’s finally getting comfortable as both a passer and a runner. Wilson has needed to use his athleticism more than ever in recent weeks as he is working behind a depleted offensive line that is missing numerous starters including Russell Okung. Receiver Sidney Rice got back on the board after three straight abysmal games, catching three passes for 51 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals in Week 7. Although Rice was the top receiver in that game, most would agree that the team’s best fantasy option has been and will continue to be Golden Tate. Tate caught four passes for a team-high 77 yards in Week 7 and has caught four or more passes in all but two games this season.

Wilson and the Seahawks will be up against a St. Louis secondary that has been playing significantly better over their past couple games. After allowing multiple passing scores in each of their first five games to start the season, the Rams have since allowed only one total passing touchdown in their past two games combined. With the bye weeks now in play and some significant injuries having taken place, Wilson is likely to be a fantasy starter in most formats this week. This isn’t a great matchup, but it’s not a particularly bad one either. When it comes to receivers, only Tate can be considered reliable, but those looking for a deep FLEX option could take a chance on Rice.

Running Game Thoughts: One of the most consistent players in all of fantasy football, Marshawn Lynch continued his highly productive season with another nice game against the Cardinals in Week 7. Lynch rushed for 91 yards and a score against a top 10 run defense, again proving that he is about as matchup-proof as it gets. Lynch has now reached double-digit fantasy totals (standard scoring) in 15 of his past 18 regular season games. Although he has only hit the 100-yard rushing mark once this season, he has been over 90 yards on three other occasions. With Seattle playing as well as they are as a team, Lynch has able to get a very consistent workload. He has taken between 17 and 21 carries in six of his first seven games, with the only outlier being a 28-carry Week 2 game against the 49ers. Seattle knows that their offense goes as Marshawn Lynch goes and they have made it a point to utilize his bruising running style to break down opposing defenses and soften them up for the passing game.

Lynch has a great matchup this week as he goes up against the Rams who are allowing the fourth-most fantasy points to opposing running backs this season. St. Louis has allowed over 150 yards on the ground in three of their seven games this season. They’ve also allowed over 100 total yards to opposing backs in all but one game. St. Louis has struggled to slow down Lynch himself as well. In 2012, they allowed Lynch to smash them twice to the rune of 100 yards and 118 yards. With Lynch running as well as he is and the Rams struggling to stop the run, there’s no reason to think that Lynch won’t go over 100 once again, thus making him one of the best possible plays at running back this week.

Russell Wilson: 200 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds
Marshawn Lynch: 120 rush yds, 2 TD, 10 rec yds
Golden Tate: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Sidney Rice: 50 rec yds
Zach Miller: 25 rec yds, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: An extremely unfortunate injury has put a sad end to what was a breakout season for former No. 1 overall draft pick Sam Bradford. Bradford had thrown for multiple touchdowns in four of his first six games this season prior to the injury. With Bradford now out, the Rams will turn to backup Kellen Clemens to fill the void behind center. Clemens played some in relief of Bradford a week ago, but did not inspire much confidence from fantasy owners as he completed two of four passes for 19 yards and an interception. His last start came at the end of the 2011 season when he started three games, all losses, for the Rams. It’s hard to believe that Clemens will be the team’s answer for the remainder of the season, but as the only other quarterback on the St. Louis roster when Bradford went out, he was also the only QB who knew offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense.

Clemens will not be stepping into an easy situation. He and the Rams will be up against an unbelievably talented Seattle secondary that has allowed the second-fewest amount of fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks this season. The Seahawks have allowed one or zero touchdown passes against them in five of their seven games this season, while also forcing multiple interceptions in five of their seven games. None of the St. Louis receivers had established themselves as a reliable every week fantasy option with Bradford at the helm, so don’t expect that to change with the new quarterback situation. Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and Austin Pettis could all have decent fantasy days, but the likelihood of them turning in an ugly performance is significantly greater.

Running Game Thoughts: Given the mediocre play from the group of St. Louis running backs this season, it’s a bit surprising to be saying this, but the best plan of attack for the Rams in Week 8 might be to lean on Zac Stacy and the running game. Stacy, a rookie who has become the team’s primary ball carrier over the past three weeks, has averaged 4.3 yards per carry this season and got the first touchdown of his career last week on a reception. With Bradford out and the offense likely to struggle a bit, Stacy’s fantasy value is likely to take a slight dip. Still, if the Rams are going to stay close in this game, they’re going to have to rely on their running game to control the clock and not turn things into a shootout. Unfortunately they’ll be up against a Seattle defense that has allowed only one team (Houston) to rush for over 100 yards against them this season. In addition, they have held opposing teams to fewer than 50 rushing yards in four of their seven games. This is an extremely tough matchup a fully healthy team, but an injury-depleted team like the Rams could be in for a very long Monday night.

Kellen Clemens: 180 pass yds, 3 INT
Zac Stacy: 50 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Tavon Austin: 50 rec yds
Austin Pettis: 40 rec yds
Chris Givens: 20 rec yds
Jared Cook: 35 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 31, Rams 16 ^ Top

Dolphins at Patriots - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Tannehill leads his team into New England this weekend where they’ve never won for as long as Tom Brady was the primary quarterback. It has been 62 months since the Dolphins have won in Foxboro, but that was when Brady was injured. Tannehill has been sacked 26 times and has given away 11 turnovers, both of which as fourth worst amongst all players. In an attempt to alleviate some the offensive line struggles Miami acquired LT Bryant McKinnie from the Baltimore Ravens where he lost his starting job two weeks ago; it is uncertain if he’ll play this week or if his debut will come later this season. In addition to cleaning up those sacks and turnovers Miami will need to improve on its 16th overall passing attack, averaging only 235 yards per game with a completion rate of less than 61%. In nearly every passing statistical category beyond those mentioned already the Dolphins fall squarely in the middle of the pack, and for a team looking to take the next big step forward they’re going to need to steadily improve and take advantage of the speed WR Mike Wallace brings to the team; he’s the second leading receiver on the team behind Brian Hartline and has only one of the nine team receiving touchdowns.

They’ll be facing a Patriots defense that ranks just outside of the top ten in yards allowed, falls right in the middle of sacks recorded, and is giving up fewer touchdowns (7) than interceptions created (8), a feat that only four other squads can claim. Recently though New England has been more generous to opposing offenses, allowing 57 points over the last two weeks, including giving up 30 for the first time all season in their most recent game to the Jets. Injuries to two prominent defensive tackles have led them to resign DT Andre Carter who formerly made the Pro Bowl as a member of the team in 2011 but who was most recently released by the Oakland raiders at the end of August. Behind him, the team leader in tackles LB Jerod Mayo won’t be there in support after being placed on Injured Reserve. The declining team defensive statistics can be directly related to the personnel losses so expectations are high for Carter as he has big shoes to fill on the D-line and additional production from the missing linebacker.

Running Game Thoughts: With a select few exceptions, the ability to run the ball appears to be the most common thread between successful offenses and the lack thereof nearly necessitates poor production. Of the teams with worse rushing totals than Miami, none of them have a winning record. At less than 80 yards per game, the Dolphins have a rushing offense that ranks in the bottom quarter of the NFL. The same offensive line struggles which plague the passing attack also affect the rush, so the sooner McKinney is available and can contribute the better. Even if he is on the down slide of his career, his presence on the left side of the line potentially shores up the blindside of Tannehill, making the passing game more consistent and efficient, leading to better offensive balance and hopefully a more productive ground game. Not much else has changed in this area so expecting a drastic turnaround from the unit would otherwise be illogical; to paraphrase the words of Albert Einstein, doing something the same way and expecting different results just doesn’t make sense.

One part of the game that may work out in favor of the Dolphins is the rush defense they’ll be facing; averaging 127.1 yards against per game, New England has the second worst unit in the league. At four yards per carry they’re worse than the league average but it shows that offenses have been able to grind out production against them rather than having to rely on the big play. While RB Lamar Miller exhibits great burst and moves in the open field, Miami should be able to slowly work the ball down the field on the ground without needing to count on a breakaway effort by the ball carrier. Most recently the Patriots gave up 104 yards to Chris Ivory, their first 100-yard rusher in 22 games. Again, the personnel absences at the heart of the defense make stopping the run more difficult and also more important, so if the game plan is to exploit that weakness and they see early success Miami may be in position to be competitive to the final whistle.

Ryan Tannehill: 210 yards passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Lamar Miller: 50 yards rushing / 20 yards receiving
Brian Hartline: 60 yards receiving
Mike Wallace: 50 yards receiving

Passing Game Thoughts: To this point in the season the Patriots haven’t particularly resembled the team they’ve been for the better part of a decade. Offensive consistency has been particularly unreliable and the easy excuse is because of injuries and absences leading to a plethora of rookie and under-experienced receivers trying to get on the end of passes from QB Tom Brady. In the last three games, Brady has thrown only one touchdown pass and on the season he has completed just over 55% of his attempts (including three games under 50%, already a career high). Behind miscommunications and poor catching mechanics the usually stellar Brady ranks in the bottom five in completion percentage and as a team, the Patriots are tied with the mess that is the Eagles quarterback nightmare; Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Minnesota all have a better season completion rate. The return of TE Rob Gronkowski can’t be expected to fix the problems but it certainly is a great place to start. Against most teams he creates matchup problems no matter where he lines up or how the defense tries to cover him and in turn he opens up throwing lanes and opportunities for other receivers. History has demonstrated Brady can and will take advantage of those openings when they present themselves but it will be up to the young receivers to continue to progress toward becoming reliable targets in the Patriots offense.

Sunday will go a long way to discovering the readiness of the New England offense moving forward. Against the pass, Miami ranks in the bottom quarter with 269 yards per game and a completion percentage mark that brings them solidly into the middle of the pack. With history and the home crowd against them, the Dolphins will have to play beyond their season averages to stop the Patriots. The sub-par Miami defense may actually see a statistical benefit to playing New England if the home team continues to get in their own way and find unfortunate methods of stalling out their own drives. If the Dolphins are able to keep Gronkowski from turning in a career day, the remainder of the receiving corps has yet to demonstrate the reliability needed to provide Brady a strong fantasy performance.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite their reputation as a passing team over the past few seasons, the Patriots have been one of the most consistent rushing teams in the league. And again this year, even with all of the offensive struggles, they’re still in the top half of the league with 116.1 yards per game. Their rushing touchdowns (5) and yards per carry averages (4.2) rank them just outside the top ten in each category and just inside of it when both statistics are taken together. Stevan Ridley has once again asserted himself as the starting running back in New England as he received the majority of the carries and yardage against the Jets in addition to scoring a rushing touchdown. Early season fumble concerns seem to have been minimized but after spending several weeks in Coach Bill Belichick doghouse, it’s not hard to imagine why he’s protecting the ball much better.

For the season, Miami ranks in the middle of most significant defensive rushing statistics, so once again an approximately average defense will meet a somewhat better than average offense, which is largely the story of this game. Both teams move the ball appropriately well against weak opponents but are less than ideal when it comes to turning those yards into points. The major advantage favoring New England is once again Gronkowski, as he will likely demand special attention from the defense and will thus be helping to open up holes near the line of scrimmage and players in the back seven. The Patriots already impressive per carry average should see a boost against the Dolphins if the superstar TE continues to demand double coverage.

Tom Brady: 280 yards passing, 2 TDs
Stevan Ridley: 70 yards rushing / 10 yards receiving
Rob Gronkowski: 110 yards receiving, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 24, Dolphins 17 ^ Top

Giants at Eagles - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: If a team wins on Monday night and no one as the television to watch it, does it still count as a victory? After an abysmal 0-6 start the Giants finally left the land of the winless after beating an equally futile Vikings squad with a quarterback who’s only had four practices with the team. New York comes into this game riding an eight game road losing streak while their opponent has a franchise worst, nine game home losing streak; luckily for one of these teams something’s got to give. QB Eli Manning comes into the game having not thrown an interception in the previous contest, making this arguably his high water mark for the season. He still leads the league in interceptions by a wide margin and is roughly middle of the pack for sacks allowed, numbers which don’t figure to get any better after C David Baas was placed on Injured Reserve following a second knee injury Monday night. Even when Manning is able to get the ball away on time, his receivers aren’t helping him out much. Their 18 drops are fifth highest in the league. The biggest bright spot for the offense is WR Victor Cruz who is seventh in the league for receiving yards and has caught for of his team’s ten touchdown passes. Recently, WR Rueben Randle has begun to surpass Hakeem Nicks in production with four TD catches in the past three games to go along with 211 receiving yards over that same time.

Most teams that give up as many yards as Philadelphia does tend to be pretty good at creating turnovers, giving rise to the “bend but don’t break” defensive style. Without those turnovers, they just give you massive chunks of yardage and a great deal of points to go along with it. That latter description applies to the Eagles. Despite forcing eight interceptions (tied for top ten) they give up the second most yards in the league (312 per game) through the air and with opponents completing over 63% of their passes against them (just outside of the bottom ten). These stats have led to a mixed bag of results on their way to a 3-4 record, being able to stop some opponents and come up with a win but being unable to slow down others and suffering a double-digit loss. Only one of their defeats has been by single digits and in that game they allowed the Chargers to come back in the last 111 seconds to lose at home. If Manning can protect the ball like he did last week, the Eagles will have a hard time stopping him despite the banged up offensive line, but if he continues to commit turnovers at this record pace New York will once again resume their losing ways.

Running Game Thoughts: Next man up, even if that man was a free agent not too long ago. Brandon Jacobs was recently signed and became the fourth starting running back for the Giants this season, but last week he was unable to go and another new signee, Peyton Hillis, earned the start. In his first action all year he lead the way with 36 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, a mere 2.0 yards per touch. Whlie RB Michael Cox also saw 11 carries it was Hillis who was trusted in the closing quarter to run down the clock and secure the game for New York. Moving forward, Hillis is the best bet from a fantasy perspective. All season the Giants have struggled with O-line problems due to injuries and without noticeable improvement along the front five, it is hard to imagine any Giants running back having a great yardage game. As a team they average just over 67 yards per game, better than only Jacksonville. On top of that, Hillis is known as more of a power back than a speedy guy so the likelihood of him breaking away from defenders is almost negligible. Expect a similar output for the foreseeable future, splitting time between two backs with the primary getting 2/3 of the touches and getting close to 50 yards while possibly scoring a touchdown.

On defense Philadelphia find themselves just outside the top ten in rushing yards allowed, possibly because they face off against the league’s best rushing attack in practice. There’s little anyone could do to present more of a challenge than their own offense does, especially when the opponent has a tragic offensive line and a running back not known for being a crafty ball carrier. At age 27 and after six years in the league, Hillis is past his prime as a runner and hasn’t been the focus of an offense since 2011. Philadelphia gives up 101.1 yards per game going against some of the better rushing teams in the league. In their week five meeting, the Giants gained only 53 yards on the ground, averaging 3.1 yards per carry between two running backs who are now unavailable due to injury. The Eagles will be looking to replicate most aspects of that game and certainly aiming to repeat the outcome, a double-digit win in which they forced four turnovers and outperformed the Giants in nearly every statistical category.

Eli Manning: 280 passing yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Peyton Hillis: 40 rushing yards
Victor Cruz: 120 yards receiving, 1 TD
Rueben Randle: 80 receiving yards, 1 TD

Passing Game Thoughts: After missing the last two weeks of work, QB Michael Vick is healthy and will be the Philadelphia starter after the team has struggled with the combo of Nick Foles and Matt Barkley. For his career, Vick has a 4-2 record against the Giants and the way the two teams are currently playing, it appears as he’ll be improving on that number this weekend. As a team, the Eagles are averaging 260 passing yards per game. Coach Chip Kelly’s offense is predicated mostly on the running game but his team does rank just outside the top ten in passing production. One area in which the offense could improve is along the O-line where they’ve given up 19 sacks on the season, more than the league average, but arguably proportional to the passing yards they accumulate. The Eagles are one of only six teams to average 8.0 or more yards per passing attempt and it is that efficiency which helps to give them one of the most prolific offenses in the league

Without a top flight defense, most teams would struggle against Philadelphia. Unfortunately for the Giants, their defense is noticeably sub-par in terms of average yardage allowed (255), sacks recorded (6), and interceptions forced (5); when all three are considered together they have one of the worst all around pass defenses in the league. Vick and his speedy receivers were able to exploit them their first meeting and will certainly be looking forward to doing again in week eight. The Giants defense figures to be a little more robust this time around as DT Linval Joseph will be active and LB Jon Beason was acquired from Carolina between the two matchups. Any help one or both of them can provide will go a long way to slowing down the Eagles passing attack which features one of the fastest WRs in the game in DeSean Jackson. His 610 yards and five touchdowns are better than the Giants’ stud WR Victor Cruz has produced this season.

Running Game Thoughts: The most obvious rushing threat for Philadelphia comes from RB LeSean McCoy but you can count on Vick scrambling for good yardage several times each game. The quarterback’s maturity and strength as a runner has improved under coach Kelly and his continued presence as a true duel treat quarterback will always give opposing defenses fits. As if stopping Vick as a runner wasn’t enough, the bigger challenge will come trying to contain McCoy. He alone averages 97.9 yards per game which is more than 12 teams. As a team, the Eagles average 165 rushing yards per game on 5.2 yards per attempt, both of which are best in the league. In terms of efficiency and volume there isn’t another team that can run the ball the way Philadelphia can.

The Giants have been inconsistent against the run but one of their better games did come in the prior meeting with the Eagles in which they held McCoy to 46 yards on 20 attempts. Additionally, Dallas was able to hold McCoy to 55 yards on 18 carries so there is obviously a way to make sure the star RB stays contained. Joseph and Beason will be especially important in the middle of the defense and will help to cut down on the running lanes that McCoy likes to see. For being a quick and shifty runner he actually does a fair bit of work between the tackles, so losing that inside rush efficiency could ultimately be the key to keeping him under wraps for the game. As has been the case all season, the Giants defense gets spread thin when a quarterback is able to distribute the ball effectively. Vick’s passing should open up the running lanes for McCoy and he’ll be able to approach or exceed his season averages despite being relatively contained by two different NFC East opponents already this year.

Michael Vick: 280 passing yards, 2 TDs / 50 yards rushing
LeSean McCoy: 90 yards rushing, 2 TDs / 30 yards receiving
DeSean Jackson: 130 receiving yards, 1 TD

Prediction: Eagles 34, Giants 24 ^ Top

Jets @ Bengals - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Going into the season it looked as if the Jets would be a total fantasy wasteland, and while there hasn't been any breakout studs on this team, certain players have contributed enough from time to time to make the team fantasy relevant. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has been up and down, as expected from a rookie, but has had a few nice games and contributes enough with his legs to make him roster-able in most leagues. Jets receivers have also been up and down and very inconsistent, but unlike Smith they are rarely solid starting options, although Jeremy Kerley is making a case for himself as a WR3 in PPR leagues.

This week the Jets passing attack finds itself playing one of the better overall defenses in the league. The Bengals pass defense has been strong this season but is coming off their worst game of the year, where they let the Lions throw for 357 yards and three touchdowns (with no interceptions). They also lost perhaps their best cornerback in Leon Hall, who tore his ACL and is done for the season. While the Bengals are average to above average in most defensive pass statistics, they are particularly strong in allowing a lower completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks (57.7%, fifth best in the NFL). In comparison, Smith is completing just over 58 percent of his throws, putting him near the bottom of the NFL compared to other full-time starting quarterbacks. While a few long bombs might get caught thanks to the Bengals' weakened secondary, chances are that the Jets will have more three-and-outs than red-zone trips in this one. While Smith may add some value with his legs, he is a shaky start this week, especially in a hostile environment with a strong front seven breathing down his neck all game long. Smith is a low-end QB2 this week. While the aforementioned Kerley may be a decent WR3 start in PPR leagues, standard leaguers should probably avoid him and the rest of the Jets receivers, as they will probably see less receptions, yards, and touchdowns than usual this week. They were already inconsistent to begin with.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Jets running game was never a top source of fantasy production, they have had a few games of nice production this year and both running backs Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory have had nice games. The problem fantasy managers now have to deal with is which running back will be the better scorer, with both being healthy and having good (and bad) games recently. Last week, with Powell being the higher projected back, it was Ivory who dominated the backfield work, getting 34 carries compared to Powell’s three. While Ivory’s ypc was not good (3.1), he did manage 104 yards and obviously gained the trust of the Jets play-callers. After the game, Rex Ryan said Ivory got the majority of touches because the matchup dictated it and he had the hot hand. It is tough to know what he meant by that, but Ivory is considered the more powerful runner, so maybe Ryan thought that was better against a depleted Patriots front seven.

This week the Jets play a Bengals run defense that ranks eighth best in yards allowed per game and has given up just three rushing touchdowns on the year. Fantasy-wise the Bengals are the 10th toughest for opposing RBs to score against and have let only one opposing running back rack up more than 55 yards on the ground. This is bad news for the Jets runners, as they have faced easier defenses and put up just modest numbers. The only real hope for Ivory and Powell owners is that the game becomes a run game/defensive battle where each team rushes 40-plus times and racks up some decent yards. While I do not trust either Jets running back to be anything more than a flex play this week, I’d take a chance on Ivory over Powell in this one, as he has some momentum going and is the more talented runner.

Geno Smith: 190 pass yds, 1 TD, 30 rush yds, 1 INT
Bilal Powell: 35 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Chris Ivory: 55 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Jeremy Kerley: 45 rec yds
Stephen Hill: 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: While Andy Dalton is nowhere near an elite quarterback, every once in awhile he will be locked in and utilize the great weapons he has. Last week was one of those weeks, as he threw for 372 yards and three touchdowns and completed passes to seven different receivers on the way to pulling out a 27-24 victory over the Lions. This is now two weeks in a row that Dalton has gone over the 300-yard mark and threw for at least three touchdowns. In other words, he is on fire. The problem is that his last two opponents were ranked near the bottom of the league in pass defense while his current matchup ranks among the best.

Despite allowing a decent number of passing touchdowns (10) and picking off only two passes thus far, the Jets are one of the NFL’s elite pass-defending teams, holding opponents to a 58.8 percent completion percentage (9th best in the NFL), 225 yards per game (10th best), 6.4 yards per attempt (4th best), and sacking opposing quarterbacks 24 times (3rd best). What makes these numbers more impressive is the level of talent the Jets have faced, with two games against Tom Brady and one against both Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger. With decent cover guys and an excellent pass rush, the Jets could give Dalton, who often holds on to the ball too long, major fits. On the bright side for the Bengals, they are one of the healthier teams in the league on offense and are carrying with them some major momentum in the passing game, with both Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green putting up two big games in a row. While I like what Dalton has done the past two weeks and see an argument in riding his hot streak, it is difficult to recommend him as anything more than a mid-range QB2 this week because of the extra tough matchup. Green is a must start every week, and while he is always a threat to catch a deep ball, making his fantasy day, he will draw coverage from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, one of the more physical cornerbacks in the league today. Because of this matchup, I doubt Green will end up a top five performer at WR this week, but top 10 is certainly a good possibility. As for other Bengals receivers, they are simply too inconsistent to take a chance on, especially in a tough matchup, with different guys stepping up and falling back from week to week.

Running Game Thoughts: Last week was fairly typical for the Bengals running game, as Giovani Bernard statistically outperformed BenJarvus Green-Ellis (although neither was very good), but BJGE got in just enough work to hurt Bernard’s overall fantasy performance. Luckily for Bernard, he is clearly the Bengals best receiving back and may in fact be the team’s second best receiver overall. While Bernard is clearly the more exciting option both in real and fantasy terms, until the Bengals more or less totally abandon the Law Firm, which is unlikely anytime soon, Bernard’s upside is capped at a mid-range RB2 level in all but the best matchups.

This week is not one of those matchups, as the Jets remain one of the tougher defenses in general, and especially in the run game. Thus far the Jets rank second in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game and first in yards allowed per attempt. If it wasn't for the fact that they have let up six total touchdowns to opposing running backs, the Jets may actually be the toughest defense for fantasy RBs to face off against. As it is, they are actually the seventh toughest, but at that point the teams are all very tough. As usual, Bernard’s receiving ability should save his fantasy day in this matchup, as running room and yards may be hard to come by. Bernard will certainly not break out of his mini-slump in this game but should accumulate enough stats to make him a low-end RB2 this week. As for BJGE, I would keep him far away from my starting lineup if at all possible, as his value is diminishing each week and the matchup is horrible.

Andy Dalton: 230 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 30 rush yds
Giovani Bernard: 35 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Jermaine Gresham: 40 rec yds
Tyler Eifert: 40 rec yds
Marvin Jones: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Bengals 24, Jets 20 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Lions - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: While Tony Romo takes some heat in the national media, the truth is, he is having a nice season, with the Cowboys being in the top 10 in passing yards per game, passing touchdowns, completion percentage, and quarterback rating. What is more impressive is that Romo is putting up big stats despite working with some new faces in wide receivers Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. Williams and Beasley have both been fairly consistent and each has had some nice fantasy days to boot. With both receivers stepping up, Dez Bryant has been a monster this year, ranking in the top 10 in both receiving yards and touchdowns. Adding tight end Jason Witten into the mix, defenses are hard pressed to double cover any single pass catcher, and Romo usually does a nice job of finding the open man.

While this offense is a solid play even in tougher matchups, this week’s opponents provide a juicy matchup, making the Cowboys' players even more exciting this week. To date, the Lions passing defense has let up the fourth most yards in the NFL, a healthy 7.7 yards per pass attempt, and have sacked opposing quarterbacks just 13 times (6th fewest in the NFL). The only real stat saving them from being a total pushover to opposing fantasy QBs is the fact that they have picked off 10 passes, good for third in the league. The Lions have some strength at defensive line but nobody in the secondary is talented enough to cover Bryant, and he should exploit the secondary early and often, perhaps opening things up for the other Dallas receivers later in the game. Tony Romo is a safe mid-level QB1 this week with a good chance of going over 300 yards and throwing at least two touchdowns. Bryant is an easy WR1 and, despite being banged up, is a top five play at WR this week. Jason Witten is not the clear cut TE1 that he has been in the past but still gets enough looks to be a safe low-end TE1, especially this week, as the Lions gave up just over 100 yards to Bengals tight ends last week. Wide receiver Miles Austin will probably sit this game out, so both Williams and Beasley are decent starts this week, with Williams being a solid WR3 in standard leagues and Beasley being a little bit better of an option in PPR leagues. This passing attack should be a nice source of fantasy points in this matchup.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite being a pass-heavy offense, the Cowboys have been fairly steady and productive with their run game and have had some nice fantasy days from their backs thanks to the fact that they have shied away from a committee approach. This week the question will be who will be that lead back, as DeMarco Murray has practiced and is expected to play after missing last week’s game with a knee sprain, though Joseph Randle carried the load last week and performed quite well (93 total yards). The scary part about trusting Murray is that he is coming off an injury that was expected to keep him out another week, and he is not the most durable guy to begin with. The Cowboys may start Murray but play conservative and give him much less than a full workload. Of course, he may be healthier than expected and be given 18 or more carries, in which case you will kick yourself for not starting him. There is even a chance Randle gets a full workload and Murray is eased back into use by simply being a change-of-pace guy. I myself would start Murray (assuming he starts, as we expect) and bench Randle. While Murray may not get a huge workload, he is talented enough to do a lot with a little and should be a safe RB2, even if his upside is capped by losing some touches to Randle.

The reason Murray should be safe is that the matchup is a juicy one, with the Lions giving up the ninth most rushing yards and a league worst 5.1 yards per carry average, including the longest run (78 yards) in the NFL thus far. Murray’s breakaway speed could easily get him a few big runs even if his total touches are not at full capacity. As long as he is in the Cowboys' starting lineup, he should be in yours.

Tony Romo: 315 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Dez Bryant: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 55 rec yds
Cole Beasley: 55 rec yds
Terrance Williams: 70 rec yds
Joseph Randle: 30 rush yds, 10 rec yds
DeMarco Murray: 70 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Let’s make this one nice and easy. The Lions are a pass-heavy team, ranking second in attempts and yards. They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the game in Matthew Stafford and probably the best wide receiver in the NFL in Calvin Johnson. They are coming off a game where they threw for 357 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against a good defense. Johnson is getting back to 100 percent health and caught nine balls for 155 yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have had the most fantasy points scored on them by opposing QBs and have let up the third most passing yards and second most passing touchdowns this season. This is including a good game the Cowboys defense played against a hobbled Eagles passing attack last week. Put all these things together and you have the makings for a high-scoring, high-yardage fantasy fest. Stafford is a top five option at QB this week easily and may even put up the best numbers of the week overall. Get him in your lineup. Johnson is a WR1 and the top WR this week in fantasy terms, no questions asked. Start him with confidence.

While the juicy matchup normally would mean two or three receivers being solid starts in such a pass-friendly attack, the Lions complementary receivers have been so up and down that they are hard to count on for consistent numbers. Seeing that the matchup is such a good one, however, I feel compelled to make at least one other guy start-worthy, and that guy is Kris Durham. Durham has not put up huge yardage but is getting a nice number of targets and has averaged six catches and 60 yards over the past two weeks versus superior defenses (Browns and Bengals). Johnson will certainly demand constant double teams and will draw shadow coverage from cornerback Brandon Carr, the Cowboys' best defensive back. This should let Durham get open enough to see at least 8 targets, and he could have the second best receiving day from a Lion this week. Durham is a safe start at WR3 this week. I would not start any other Detroit receiver in this game, as Johnson, Durham, and the running backs will eat up most of Stafford’s targets.

Running Game Thoughts: The Lions rushing attack is not a traditional running game, as much of the damage the backs do is on short passes rather than actual runs. Even against some of the better rush defenses, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are capable of nice fantasy days simply because of their ability in the receiving game. The Cowboys run defense is about average compared to the rest of the NFL, allowing just over 100 yards on the ground per game (13th in the NFL) and a 4.3 yards per carry average (25th in the NFL). They will most likely be without perhaps their best defender in linebacker DeMarcus Ware, but he is more of a pass rusher than run stopper anyway. While the Cowboys have the personnel to limit the Lions backs from having a big day on the ground, they have proven to be weak in pass defense against opposing running backs, and that is where the Lions, and your fantasy team (assuming you have Bush or Bell), should prosper.

Thus far the Cowboys have given up 40-plus receiving yards to seven different running backs this year, plus three touchdowns. Overall, the Cowboys have given up the most receptions (48) to running backs on the year, and the Lions may have the best one-two punch in the league in terms of receiving backs. What this means is that any rushing damage the Lions may do on the ground may actually be a bonus because I expect a big day through the air for both Bush and Bell. I consider Bush a solid mid-level RB1 this week in standard leagues (top three option in PPR) and Bell a decent flex play in standard leagues and a low-end RB2 in PPR leagues. Look for both backs to make a significant impact in the real game and on fantasy rosters.

Matthew Stafford: 320 pass yds, 3 TD’s, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 130 rec yds, 1 TD
Reggie Bush: 50 rush yds, 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Joique Bell: 30 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Kris Durham: 75 rec yds
Brandon Pettigrew: 50 rec yds

Prediction: Lions 35, Cowboys 30 ^ Top

Packers @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Packers passing attack remains the focal point of their offense, yet new faces are emerging with Green Bay currently suffering from the injury bug. Both Randall Cobb and James Jones remain out of the lineup with injuries (Cobb’s more serious) and tight end Jermichael Finley has joined them with a potentially serious neck injury. In their place the running backs will be asked to pick up some slack and wide receiver Jordy Nelson will need to step up; but there are also some newcomers, primarily receiver Jarrett Boykin. In his first significant action last week Boykin caught eight balls for 103 yards and a touchdown (on 10 targets). Those numbers were all team highs for the week and Boykin already looks like he has earned the trust of Aaron Rodgers. In Finley’s place will be Andrew Quarless, but he is more of a blocking tight end, so Brandon Bostick will probably be called into action this week, and while he is an interesting prospect, he should not be counted on in his first real action.

In a tough matchup the injuries to the Packers may cause fantasy owners some panic, but this week the Packers luck out and get the Vikings, who are not only coming off a short week but are seemingly falling apart on both offense and defense. The Vikings pass defense has been pretty poor, ranking fourth worst in yards per game allowed while allowing the seventh highest completion percentage in the NFL. What’s surprising compared to recent years is that the Vikings are not even getting to the quarterback, having registered just 12 sacks thus far, fifth fewest in the NFL. Rodgers, even with a depleted receiving corps, should absolutely pick apart the defense through the air if given a little more time than usual. Because it is such a juicy matchup, Rodgers remains a solid QB1 and in the top eight at the position regardless of who he is throwing to. Jordy Nelson, coming off a bit of a down week, should bounce back nicely and I would be stunned if he did not approach 100 yards and a touchdown, making him a solid WR1 again. Boykin is hard to trust in just his second real game, but with a great quarterback throwing him the ball and not a lot of other options in the passing game, I feel confident recommending him as a high-end WR3 this week, and perhaps even more in PPR leagues. At this point it is tough to start any other Green Bay receiver, as we just do not know who will step up and eat up those extra targets. For now let’s wait and see because starting any other guy at this point would just be a shot in the dark.

Running Game Thoughts: While the Packers remain a pass-first team despite their injuries on offense, they have also quietly established a nice run game (their best in several years) and made running back Eddie Lacy an emerging fantasy star. After a slow start and missing time with an injury earlier in the year, Lacy has reeled off three impressive weeks in a row, averaging 100 yards per game on the ground and upping his involvement in the passing game each week. While the touchdowns have not been there yet (just two so far), the Packers' high-powered offense ensures that he should be consistent with his touches and will most likely get more goal-line opportunities very soon.

Very soon means this week, versus a Vikings team that has let up the most fantasy points per game to opposing RBs. While the Vikings should conceivably be pumped up to be playing at home against a division rival, the truth is that their defense has been awful. Through injuries, controversy, and plain bad luck, the team is basically in shambles and is probably on the verge of chalking up the year as a lost one. The worst case scenario for Lacy is that the Vikings get up for this game and it becomes a drag-it-out defensive game, where he should see 20-plus touches and at the very least rack up 75 yards. The best case scenario would involve the Packers blowing away the defense early and riding out the clock, giving Lacy 25 or more touches, garbage time yards, and more than likely a few goal-line carries. To be safe, I will project something in the middle, which would still make Lacy a quality low-end RB1 with some nice upside to be a top five option at the position in a juicy matchup. No other running back on the Packers is worth considering right now, as Lacy is eating up the carries and is built to carry the load.

Aaron Rodgers: 295 pass yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT
Eddie Lacy: 110 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Jordy Nelson: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Jarrett Boykin: 70 rec yds
Brandon Bostick: 30 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: For many other teams in the NFL, facing the Packers defense would represent a fairly nice matchup and an opportunity for fantasy owners to accumulate a decent amount of points. I mean their defense is the 12th most generous to opposing fantasy QBs and is giving up the ninth most passing yards on a per game basis, despite shutting down Brandon Weeden and the pitiful Browns last week. The Packers have only picked off three passes thus far, and without their best pass rusher (Clay Matthews), opposing quarterbacks should not be as scared to spend that extra split second looking downfield. Yes, the Packers pass defense normally represents a nice matchup for opposing passing attacks, but the Vikings are no ordinary passing offense, my friends. To put it nicely, they are awful. Not only do they have a carousel of quarterbacks starting, sitting, getting hurt, getting promoted, being benched, and being newly signed, but they have a weak receiving corps, are underutilizing perhaps their best receiver (Cordarrelle Patterson), and are throwing more interceptions than touchdowns.

The Vikings are currently in the bottom 10 teams in passing yards, touchdowns thrown, completion percentage, quarterback rating, and yards per passing attempt. With newly acquired Josh Freeman having been diagnosed with a concussion after his terrible Vikings debut, Christian Ponder looks like the man once again, a week after being essentially the team’s third-string quarterback. While Ponder has looked OK in short stretches, he certainly cannot be trusted as any kind of legit fantasy option, especially coming off injury and a bruised ego from being demoted. Both starting wide receivers (Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson) are so inconsistent that neither can be trusted as anything more than low-end WR3s, although I would trust Jennings slightly more going against his former team and perhaps getting a little more motivation from that. While he has had essentially a bust of a season, I would actually trust Kyle Rudolph (as a high-end TE2) more than perhaps any other passing game member this week, as the Packers have let up the third most fantasy points to opposing TEs and Ponder is likely to look to his biggest target to complete easier passes in a bid to keep his job. No other Vikings pass catcher can be even remotely trusted as a legitimate fantasy contributor yet.

Running Game Thoughts: Even though he is banged up, even though his passing game is doing almost nothing to make it easier for him, and even though he is coming off his worst game of the year, Adrian Peterson remains one of the safest options in fantasy football today. Despite last week’s hiccup, Peterson is seventh in the league in rushing, has the longest rush of any NFL player this year (78 yards), and has gained more yards after first contact than any other running back this season. In addition, he is getting a little more involved in the passing game than in previous years, making his value even greater.

This week Peterson has a tough matchup versus a Packers defense that is letting up the third fewest rush yards per game and is the fourth toughest for opposing fantasy RBs to score against. Despite the tough matchup, Peterson has historically produced great numbers against his division rival, running for 409 yards and three total touchdowns combined in last year’s two matchups. While there are a lot of things going against Peterson right now, his talent has always allowed him to produce at a high level, and I expect the same this week as the Vikings run the leather off the football. Peterson is still a legit RB1 this week even if he’s not a top three option in this tough matchup.

Christian Ponder: 180 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 10 rush yds
Adrian Peterson: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
Greg Jennings: 50 rec yds
Kyle Rudolph: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Packers 27, Vikings 17 ^ Top