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Inside the Matchup
Week 13

By: Damon Autry | Sal Marcoccio | Chris Eakin | Kyle Smith




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Autry 30 14 68.2
2 Marcoccio 29 14 67.4
3 Smith 30 15 66.7
4 Eakin 25 19 56.8

Eagles @ Seahawks - (Eakin)

SEA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.5%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -4.8%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +19.2%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -14.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Philadelphia may have the more talented roster but this game has all the typical trappings of a loss. Teams from the Eastern time zone playing out west on a short week usually struggle. Add in the fact that the Eagles were basically eliminated from the playoffs last week and this one could get ugly. The Eagles will be without both Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin again as well. I do like DeSean Jackson a lot this week despite being the center of recent controversy, including getting benched in the 4th quarter after four big drops. He should be motivated to make to up for his behavior on the field this being a contract year, he needs to finish this disappointing season strong.

Seattle presents a perfect matchup for him. They have big physical corners that struggle with quick receivers. If Jackson is anything, he’s quick. As long as Vince Young can deliver the ball, I don’t see Seattle being able to cover him. Jason Avant and TE Brent Celek will be the other leading pass targets. They both produced big games last week but those numbers are inflated by the Patriots terrible secondary. They are usable commodities but don’t expect a repeat performance.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy has had a great year leading the Eagles to the 8th best rushing offense despite being limited by their pass first philosophy. However, he enters this week listed as questionable thanks to a toe injury. For a back that butters his bread by making sharp jump cuts, a toe injury has to raise alarm. Regardless of health, Seattle is a tough matchup. They allow an average of 3.5 yards per carry and rank 11th against the run allowing just 100 yards per game. This wouldn’t stop McCoy from a big game if only the Eagles would make a better effort to use him in the passing game but to this point they have been reluctant to do so. I can’t count the number of times Vick and now Young force a ball down field as McCoy sits open in the flat.

Vince Young: 270 yds passing, 2 TD / 1 Int.
DeSean Jackson: 120 yds receiving / 2 TD
Jason Avant: 60 yds receiving
Brent Celek: 55 yds receiving
LeSean McCoy: 75 yds rushing / 1 TD / 35 yards receiving

PHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +6.9%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +10.2%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -6.1%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +11.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Seahawks have placed lead receiver Sydney Rice on IR after suffering his 3rd concussion in 12 months. This could open up opportunities for Golden Tate and Ben Obomanu. Obomanu will start in Rice’s place out wide. The Eagles have just two of their big three cover corners active with Rodgers-Cromartie out. It will be interesting to see how they use them. They would normally man up on the two outside guys, but Seattle’s best receiver, Doug Baldwin, mostly works out of the slot. If the Eagles don’t adjust, that will leave Baldwin open to have a field day on nickel corner Joselio Hansen. I would expect them to adjust and move Asomugha inside to man up on Baldwin which would obviously be a much tougher draw for the rookie receiver. Because of this unknown I am uneasy about Baldwin’s outlook. Treat Baldwin as a WR3 this week, and avoid him if possible. If he’s in your lineup, I’ll hedge my bets and say there’s a chance he has a big day if the Eagles play straight up. His play has improved the second half but he isn’t shutting people out. For all the same reasons, avoid Obomanu. He’s had some big games in spot duty over the years, but the Eagles have a good pass rush even if he doesn’t draw Asomugha or Asante Samuel all game and Seattle is no passing juggernaut ranking 25th with 196 passing yards per game.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch continued his tear last week with 111 yards on 24 carries facing a tough Redskins run defense. Lynch is averaging 110 yards per game over the last four weeks and has scored a TD in seven straight games. The Eagles are simply average stopping the run. They rank 15th allowing 110 per game. The “wide nine” formation they like to run is a system where the defensive ends lineup extra wide to improve their pass rush and collapse the pocket while keeping better outside containment. This strategy leaves running lanes open between the tackles where Lynch likes to roam. The Eagles young LBs have struggled to close up those holes. I expect them to narrow those gaps versus the Seahawks because they are a run heavy offense. It will help but Lynch should still be able to churn out yards and continue his hot streak.

Tarvaris Jackson: 205 yds passing 1 TD / 1 INT
Mike Williams: 40 yds receiving
Ben Obomanu: 50 yds receiving
Doug Baldwin: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Marshawn Lynch: 105 yds rushing / TD / 30 yards receiving

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Eagles 21 ^ Top

Panthers @ Buccaneers - (Smith)

TB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +9.5%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -0.7%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -16.1%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +85.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Cam Newton’s 209 passing yards last week against the Colts was his second-lowest total of the season, and he didn’t throw a touchdown for only the third time this year. Yet he completed a season-best 74.1 percent of his throws, and fantasy owners reaped the rewards of his 53 rushing yards and one rushing score. Receiver Steve Smith, Newton’s favorite target, has fallen off lately, registering less than 75 receiving yards in three consecutive games, but he should have an opportunity to right the ship this week against the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay is 28th in the league against the pass and is tied for 23rd in touchdown throws given up. They’ve given up multiple touchdown passes to opposing quarterbacks six times this year, and three times in their past four games. And there has been no shortage of big games from receivers and tight ends against Tampa, as six individual players at those positions have accumulated at least 115 receiving yards in a game.

Running Game Thoughts: Carolina ran all over Indianapolis last week, gaining 201 rushing yards. Jonathan Stewart had 70 yards on the ground, DeAngelo Williams had 69 yards and a pair of scores (he now has three for the season), and we mentioned Newton’s numbers earlier. He now has 10 rushing scores this season, which is third in the league behind Adrian Peterson and LeSean McCoy. No other quarterback is anywhere near Newton in rushing scores, with the closest being Tim Tebow and Mark Sanchez, who each have three.

The Bucs have a permeable run defense, ranking 30th in the 32-team NFL. Only two teams – including their opponent this week – have allowed more rushing scores than they have, and opposing runners have gashed them for 4.8 yards per carry. Four different running backs have gained 120 or more yards against Tampa, including Chris Johnson last week, who exploded for 190 yards on 23 carries.

Cam Newton: 280 yds passing, 2 TD, 2 INT / 45 yds rushing
Steve Smith: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 45 yds receiving
Brandon LaFell: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Shockey: 25 yds receiving
Legedu Naanee: 15 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 65 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Jonathan Stewart: 45 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

CAR FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +10.8%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +8.3%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -6.9%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +68.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh Freeman has been a major disappointment for fantasy owners this season, and his underwhelming performance continued last week as he threw for 199 yards and one touchdown with yet another interception. His 16 interceptions are the second-most in the NFL, as he’s tossed multiple picks in five of his 11 contests this season. We’ll put aside our negativity for the moment and look to the positives in Tampa’s passing game, as things to seem to be looking up for wideout Mike Williams. He caught six passes for 84 yards and one touchdown last week, marking his second consecutive week with at least 80 yards and a score.

Carolina ranks 15th in the NFL in pass defense and 21st in passing scores allowed. They’ve faced an interesting mix of quarterbacks this season, from Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers to John Beck and Blaine Gabbert. Rodgers, Brees, Matthew Stafford and Kevin Kolb each threw for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns, and even Beck tossed for 279 yards and a score. The Panthers have been decent against wideouts, having allowed only three to accumulate 100 or more receiving yards, but nine different receivers have gained 60 or more yards.

Running Game Thoughts: LeGarrette Blount made his mark with 103 rushing yards last week, making it the second consecutive week that he had 100 yards on the ground. He didn’t score, but he did add an unexpected 56 receiving yards, which nearly doubled his total for the season. So even though Blount didn’t find the end zone, the extra five points was almost as good, especially when you consider that he hadn’t picked up a single fantasy point from receiving yards in his three previous games.

As for Carolina’s run defense, well, it’s porous. There are only four teams in the league that are worse statistically against the run than the Panthers, and no team has allowed more rushing scores than they have. From Week 6 on, Carolina has allowed a runner to gain at least 80 yards in every game, and 10 different running backs have gained at least 80 yards against them this season.

Josh Freeman: 235 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Mike Williams: 90 yds receiving
Kellen Winslow: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Arrelious Benn: 45 yds receiving
Preston Parker: 25 yds receiving
LeGarrette Blount: 115 yds rushing, 2 TD

Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Panthers 20

Falcons @ Texans - (Smith)

HOU FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -37.8%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -38.7%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -44.4%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -34.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners who may not have had a lot of good to say about Matt Ryan in the early part of the season have to be singing his praises lately. He threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns last week against the Vikings, and over his last four games has thrown for either 300 yards or three scores in each of them. And while tight end Tony Gonzalez continues to do yeoman’s work, wideout Roddy White finally stepped up over the last two games, with 147 yards in Week 11 and 120 yards and a touchdown last week. Each Falcons player will have a challenge on their hands this week however, because Houston’s defense is one of the best in the NFL.

Only one team in the league has allowed fewer yards through the air or touchdown passes than the Texans, who are also holding opposing passers to a league-low 50.7 completion percentage. They haven’t allowed a quarterback to throw for even 200 yards since Week 6, and only three have accomplished that feat all season. They’ve bottled up receivers as well, with none having more than 50 yards since Week 6, and only one tight end has gained 50 or more yards against them all season.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner is fourth in the league in rushing, and has scored eight times on the ground, which is also fourth in the NFL. He had a mediocre 60-yard game last week in Minnesota, but it was his first game since Week 5 with fewer than 70 rushing yards, and just the third game this season that he failed to reach that mark. He’ll have a difficult time reaching 70 this week against Houston, who plays stout run defense.

The Texans are fourth in the NFL against the run, and tied for fifth in rushing scores allowed. They bend but don’t break, having allowed three runners to gain between 99 and 107 yards this season. None of the backs who reached those marks scored a touchdown though, so the fantasy points that Houston has allowed to running backs have been limited.

Matt Ryan: 215 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 75 yds receiving
Tony Gonzalez: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 40 yds receiving
Julio Jones: 30 yds receiving
Michael Turner: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD

ATL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -11.0%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +3.3%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -14.8%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -52.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Leinart had an opportunity to step in for Matt Schaub last week and was performing capably, with a touchdown and 57 passing yards, though that was with 10 completions, so deep routes clearly weren’t in the game plan. But Leinart broke his collarbone in the contest, and gave way to T.J. Yates, who finished the game for Houston going 8-for-15 for 70 yards. How he’ll fare as a starter is anyone’s guess, but fantasy owners aren’t going to take that chance. Much more important to them is how wideout Andre Johnson is used. He only had a pair of receptions for 22 yards in his return from an injury, and more is needed out of him this week from his fantasy owners.

Standing in Johnson’s way will be the Falcons, who have a pass defense that is just 23rd in the league. Three times they’ve allowed a quarterback to throw for 300 yards and multiple scores, and though that shouldn’t be expected of Yates, he has a chance for some decent numbers if he can get Johnson involved. And that shouldn’t be much of a problem considering that wideouts have been fairly prolific against Atlanta all season. Including tight ends, ten different receivers have had at least 75 yards against them, and eight had 75 or more yards and at least one touchdown.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster gained 65 yards last week, which was his lowest total in his last five games, but he did score a touchdown for the fifth straight contest and is 11th in the league in rushing despite missing games at the beginning of the year. Ben Tate is a nice complement to Foster, and we know that he’s a popular flex play at times, but this isn’t the game to employ him in that spot.

Only the 49ers have given up fewer rushing yards this season than Atlanta, and the 3.7 yards per carry they’re allowing is sixth in the NFL. Just two running backs have accumulated more than 70 yards when facing the Falcons and none has gained 100 yards.

T.J. Yates: 190 yds passing, 0 TD, 2 INT
Andre Johnson: 80 yds receiving
Owen Daniels: 35 yds receiving
Kevin Walter: 25 yds receiving
Jacoby Jones: 15 yds receiving
Arian Foster: 70 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving
Ben Tate: 25 yds rushing

Prediction: Falcons 20, Texans 16 ^ Top

Lions @ Saints - (Smith)

NO FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +13.1%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +25.5%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +2.0%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +22.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matthew Stafford is having an outstanding season – he’s sixth in the league in passing yards and fourth in touchdown throws. The former number one overall pick is prone to throwing interceptions in bundles however, and has been picked off nine times over his last three games. Decision-making is an aspect of Stafford’s game that is still maturing, but his chemistry with Calvin Johnson seems to have been there from the get-go. Johnson, with his abnormal size/speed ratio, is the most unique weapon in the NFL. He’s third in the league with 1,023 receiving yards, and has scored 12 times this year, which is more than any other player, including running backs.

The Saints have the 27th-ranked pass defense in the NFL, are 22nd in touchdown throws given up, and have allowed some enormous numbers to quarterbacks and receivers this year. Five different quarterbacks have thrown for over 300 yards and multiple scores against New Orleans, and three have had at least 350 yards. Pass-catchers have taken advantage of that, as 12 different wideouts or tight ends have gained at least 70 yards, with four of those players having 120 or more yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Kevin Smith was paying huge dividends to fantasy owners that picked him up when Jahvid Best went down, but Smith was injured last week against the Packers, and though it’s looking as if he could play, he’ll almost certainly split time with Maurice Morris, who came in last week and had 39 rushing yards and 81 receiving yards.

Though New Orleans is 17th in the league against the run, their average of 5.0 yards per carry allowed is third-to-last in the NFL, and running backs have taken advantage of that. The Saints have only given up 100 yards to three different backs, but seven have gained at least 80 yards, and over their past six games, New Orleans has allowed a runner to gain at least 70 yards on five occasions.

Matthew Stafford: 295 yds passing, 3 TD, 2 INT
Calvin Johnson: 110 yds receiving, 1 TD
Nate Burleson: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Brandon Pettigrew: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Titus Young: 15 yds receiving
Kevin Smith: 55 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Maurice Morris: 35 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

DET FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +8.5%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +8.2%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -76.0%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -4.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: There isn’t much the Saints can’t do offensively, as they’ve proven over and over again this season, and quarterback Drew Brees is the catalyst. He threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns last week against the Giants, marking his fifth game with at least three touchdown throws this year, and his sixth game with 350 or more passing yards. Tight end Jimmy Graham caught two scores against New York and continues to establish himself as one of the top players in the league at his position, while wide receivers Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore each had at least 50 receiving yards.

Detroit has their hands full, but they are sixth in the league against the pass this season, and only four teams have given up fewer touchdown passes. But they won’t have defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to rush the passer, and that is going to severely hurt their chances to effectively slow down the Saints.

Running Game Thoughts: Not only did the Saints throw for more than 370 yards last week against New York, they ran for over 200 yards as well. Mark Ingram had 80 yards, Pierre Thomas had 63 and Darren Sproles added 54. That type of production on the ground isn’t commonplace for the Saints, and fantasy owners get frustrated with the relative limited usage of each player when any there are NFL teams out that can’t even find one back, so each is a flex play, at best, on most weeks, including against Detroit’s below-average run defense.

The Lions are 23rd in the NFL against the run, but are near the bottom in yards per carry allowed at 4.8. Only two opposing backs have run the ball 20 or more times against Detroit, and each went on to gain at least 115 yards. That won’t happen this week, not with the triumvirate of backs that New Orleans uses, but they can still be effective. Sproles may be in store for the best game, because the Lions have allowed four different running backs to gain at least 30 receiving yards out of the backfield.

Drew Brees: 335 yds passing, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Marques Colston: 70 yds receiving
Lance Moore: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 30 yds receiving
Devery Henderson: 20 yds receiving
Mark Ingram: 50 yds rushing, 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 35 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving
Darren Sproles: 25 yds rushing / 45 yds receiving, 1 TD

Prediction: Saints 38, Lions 28 ^ Top

Chargers @ Jaguars - (Smith)

JAX FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -27.3%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -42.6%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +14.5%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -0.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Philip Rivers did not thrown an interception last week, and that’s a newsworthy story. It was his first interception-free game since Week 4, and just the second of the season for Rivers, who leads the NFL with 17 picks. He is fifth in passing yards and tied for 11th in touchdowns, so he hasn’t been an utter disaster, but it’s been close. Fortunately, tight end Antonio Gates returned a number of weeks ago, and though he hasn’t been as good as he was at the beginning of last season, he still has four touchdowns in his seven games this year. Meanwhile, wideout Vincent Jackson has been wildly inconsistent, with three games of at least 140 receiving yards, and five games with less than 35 yards.

Jacksonville’s pass defense ranks fourth in the league, and they’re tied for seventh in scoring passes allowed. Only two quarterbacks all season have thrown for more than 225 yards, but none since Week 4. As a consequence of that, wide receivers have struggled against them, as just three have gained at least 75 yards, although five different tight ends have managed to accumulate 55 or more yards against the Jags.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Ryan Mathew’s 137 rushing yards last week were exactly 100 more than he had the week before that. It was his second 100-yard game of the season, and the first time in five games that he had more than 57 yards. But fantasy owners expecting a breakout this season haven’t seen it, as Mathews hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 3.

The Jaguars have a middle-of-the-road run defense, ranking 14th in the NFL. They’ve allowed three 100-yard runners this year, with two of those coming over their last four games. But they’ve also had their moments, and have held some premier backs in check, with Ray Rice gaining just 28 yards against them, Chris Johnson only 24 and DeAngelo Williams picking up only 18 yards.

Philip Rivers: 250 yds passing, 2 TD, 2 INT
Antonio Gates: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Vincent Jackson: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Vincent Brown: 40 yds receiving
Ryan Mathews: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving
Mike Tolbert: 30 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

SD FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +25.7%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +34.4%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -27.1%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +8.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Jacksonville doesn’t really have a passing game to speak of. Rookie Blaine Gabbert was replaced last week by Luke McCown after completing just 13 of his 32 throws, but it seems likely that Gabbert will remain the starter even with Jack Del Rio now out of a job. Gabbert has completed less than 50 percent of his throws five times this season, but to be fair, he has absolutely no discernible receiving weapons, unless you count Maurice Jones-Drew out of the backfield, and he simply can’t touch the ball on every play.

The Chargers have the NFL’s ninth-ranked pass defense, but even if it was 32nd, it wouldn’t matter because the Jags are of no threat to move the ball down the field via the pass. Fantasy owners almost certainly don’t have any Jacksonville pass-catchers on their rosters, and that’s the way it should be.

Running Game Thoughts: On the flip side, the Jaguars do have a much more proficient and fantasy-friendly running game. Jones-Drew is second in the NFL in rushing yards with 1,040, trailing leader LeSean McCoy by only 10 yards. Unfortunately he’s only scored five times on the ground, but that’s due at least in part to the fact that the Jaguars haven’t been able to move the ball to put MJD in position to score.

San Diego’s run defense is 25th in the league, and individual runners have had plenty of success against them. Four backs have gained at least 110 yards on the ground, and of the 11 runners who have carried the ball 10 or more times against the Chargers, 10 have gained at least 50 yards.

Blaine Gabbert: 175 yds passing, 0 TD, 1 INT
Mike Thomas: 45 yds receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 40 yds receiving
Jarett Dillard: 35 yds receiving
Maurice Jones-Drew: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Chargers 21, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Jets @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

WAS FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -6.9%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -20.4%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +25.0%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -2.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Is it possible for a quarterback to throw four touchdowns in a contest and still not really have a good game? Mark Sanchez looked shaky for most of the game against Buffalo last week, but he led the Jets to a come-from-behind victory when he tossed a touchdown to Santonio Holmes with under two minutes to play, his fourth touchdown pass of the day. Dustin Keller was finally worked back into the offensive game plan and grabbed two of those other touchdowns. Keller has been the forgotten man since the early season, and his good showing in Week 12 should remind Sanchez and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer that Keller can create mismatches in the secondary and needs to be utilized.

The Redskins enter Week 13 as the 10th-ranked pass defense (212.7 ypg) and have allowed an average of one passing touchdown per game. They have improved greatly on their ability to rush the passer from last season and are third in the league with 33 sacks. Expect defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to dial up some blitzes, as Sanchez has performed very poorly and been prone to turnovers when under duress.

Running Game Thoughts: Shonn Greene has started to find his groove after his early season struggles. The O-line has done a better job of opening holes for Greene, and he has taken advantage. He is not a dynamic runner, so he’ll continue to go as his line goes. With LaDainian Tomlinson still out with a leg injury, second-year runner Joe McKnight once again stepped in and performed well. McKnight has an explosiveness that is lacking when Greene or LT are in the game and he deserves a bigger role in this offense, though he may not get it with Tomlinson expected back this week.

Washington has allowed 117.9 yards per game and eight touchdowns on the ground this season. London Fletcher amazingly continues to lead the team in tackles at an age, 36, when most at the position are washed up. The team continues to play hard despite their current losing record, so it will not be an easy task for the Jets offense to go into Washington and move the ball consistently on the ground.

Mark Sanchez: 255 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 25 yds rushing
Santonio Holmes: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Plaxico Burress: 45 yds receiving
Patrick Turner: 20 yds receiving
Dustin Keller: 50 yds receiving
Shonn Greene: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
LaDainian Tomlinson: 30 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +16.2%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +5.1%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +20.4%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -52.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Santana Moss returned last week from his broken hand injury and immediately stepped back into the No. 1 wide receiver role for Washington. The team needed a boost in a passing game that has struggled for most of the season, and Moss is the most talented member of an underwhelming wide receiver corps. Tight end Fred Davis has stepped up this season and has become the most dangerous pass catcher on the roster, as his size and deep speed have proven to be a tough matchup for defenses, despite the opposition being able to focus on him with Moss out. Rex Grossman has done an admirable job for the most part, but mistakes have always been and continue to be his downfall.

Moss is likely to spend a lot of time on Revis Island when he goes up against his former team. The Jets are currently ranked seventh in the NFL against the pass. They are allowing only 204.6 yards per game and have given up only 11 passing touchdowns while accumulating 15 interceptions. Grossman will have trouble finding open receivers and may start to get frustrated as the game progresses—which could lead to points for the team in green once that frustration turns to costly mistakes (as it usually does).

Running Game Thoughts: I think it’s finally safe to say that Roy Helu is the best option in the Washington backfield, but I’ve been burnt by making definitive statements about the Skins running game distribution before. Helu is more cut out for a backup role long-term, but he’s arguably the best option they have right now. The rookie out of Nebraska sees the hole well and gets through it quickly. Once he breaks past the first level, he has enough speed and power to make a play. He hasn’t shown enough consistency in that regard but, in fairness, that could be a result of the way Mike and Kyle Shanahan have handled their running backs. For most backs, consistency is a by-product of consistent carries.

The Jets’ run defense has steadily improved after a really poor start to the season. It’s still the more vulnerable part of their defense, so teams should be expected to attack them on the ground, at least while the game is close. They are ranked 18th against the run, having allowed 114.1 yards per game and 10 touchdowns.

Rex Grossman: 255 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INTs / 10 yds rushing
Santana Moss: 35 yds receiving
Jabar Gaffney: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Fred Davis: 85 yds receiving
Roy Helu: 60 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving
Ryan Torain: 25 yds rushing

Prediction: Jets 24, Redskins 16 ^ Top

Colts @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

NE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +17.4%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +27.1%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +8.2%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -9.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Colts had to make the switch from Curtis Painter to Dan Orlovsky at some point just to at least look like they’re trying to win. Painter has been painfully bad over the last several weeks and has not won a game as a starting quarterback, so how could the team keep trotting him out there each week in good conscience? This week Orlovsky will start, but don’t expect miracles. Painter had poor pocket presence and a below-average arm; Orlovsky has below-average pocket presence and a poor arm. Reggie Wayne finally broke out of a season-long slump last week, but does anyone think he can put up consistently good numbers with the poor quarterback play that the Colts have endured this season?

This should be the classic case of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object—only in the opposite sense. The Colts cannot move the ball effectively through the air at all, and they face a New England pass defense that has allowed even Chad Henne and Vince Young to pass for 400 yards against them. They have performed poorly all season (allowing 307.5 ypg) and are now seriously under-manned with Patrick Chung and Devin McCourtey sidelined. However, given how Bill Belichick was at times able to confuse Peyton Manning when these two teams matched up in the past, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that, just by scheme alone, the Pats should keep Orlovsky in check.

Running Game Thoughts: Donald Brown has finally lived up to his first-round billing and emerged from a group that includes declining veteran Joseph Addai and the once promising rookie, Delone Carter, to become the Colts’ leading back. Brown has worked hard in his pass protections and he runs with a speed and power combination that the other two backs just can’t match. Brown should be one of the few Colts that come to play this Sunday.

The Pats have statistically played the run well, having allowed 102.4 yards per game and only eight touchdowns on the season. But when teams are able to throw at will against an opponent, they may just be inclined to continue attacking them that way. Also, the New England offense often causes teams to abandon the run early to keep up with their scoring. The Pats have big Vince Wilfork taking up space in the middle of the line and a decent linebacking crew in Jerod Mayo, Rob Ninkovich, and Brandon Spikes. But if a team were dedicated to running the ball down their throats, my guess is that they could be successful doing so. It’s also my guess that we won’t see a team in that position until the weather gets really bad or someone finds a way to slow down the Pats’ offensive game.

Dan Orlovsky: 205 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 Ints. / 5 yds rushing
Reggie Wayne: 50 yds receiving
Pierre Garcon: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Austin Collie: 25 yds receiving
Jacob Tamme: 30 yds receiving
Donald Brown: 85 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving
Joseph Addai: 20 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

IND FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -5.1%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -5.9%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -30.9%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +26.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Wes Welker got back on track last week, which could be a scary situation for opposing defenses to deal with in coming weeks. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was already causing headaches for opposing defensive coordinators, and with Welker once again drawing coverage away from him, he’ll be almost impossible to stop. Gronkowski has oven mitts for hands and catches anything near him. While he doesn’t possess the speed of the new breed of hybrid tight ends, he just seems to get separation from most linebackers and safeties and has shown an uncanny ability to gain yards after the catch. Chad Ochocinco’s time may be coming to an end in New England after being a healthy scratch—although the Pats did claim he was injured. Ochocinco has never truly got untracked this season, while the physically unimpressive Deion Branch somehow finds a way to contribute and put up stats.

What happens when a defense designed to play with a lead seldom plays with a lead? They get trounced each week. The Colts possess two bookend defensive ends in Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, who have mastered the art of the speed rush but offer little else when they can’t pin back their ears and go after the quarterback. The secondary has not held up well either, and the team has allowed 238.7 yards per game and 18 passing touchdowns on the season. Those numbers are even less impressive when you consider that the Colts have the second worst run defense in the league and their offense hasn’t pushed anyone to keep up with them all season.

Running Game Thoughts: The Law Firm has been leading the rushing attack the last two weeks, and the bruising back seems to be over his mid-season toe ailment. BenJarvus Green-Ellis got the bulk of the carries again last week and made the most of it, scoring twice. He has amazingly never lost a fumble in his career, and it’s that dependability and workman-like production that Bill Belichick seems to like about him. This week we may see Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley get auditions in garbage time (which may come early against the Colts) so that Belichick can get a better read on what he has at running back depth for the playoffs and cold-weather, late-season contests.

The Colts have been incredibly bad against the run this season, allowing 150.6 rushing yards per game and yielding 15 rushing touchdowns. The undersized defense is easily pushed aside by top-level offensive lines like the one the Pats possess. The Patriots could likely win this game without ever throwing a pass—but we all know that’s not going to happen.

Tom Brady: 365 yds passing 3 TDs
Chad Ochocinco: 15 yds receiving
Wes Welker: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Deion Branch: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 50 yds receiving
Rob Gronkowski: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
BenJarvis Green-Ellis: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
Shane Vereen: 60 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Patriots 34, Colts 16 ^ Top

Titans @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

BUF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +1.2%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -4.8%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +52.9%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +3.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Hasselbeck has played well enough this season to keep the Titans afloat and alive for a playoff spot. He has always been a heady, accurate quarterback and a strong leader, and those qualities have not left him in his later years. He’s slowed down from the torrid pace he was on early in the season, but losing young stud wide receiver Kenny Britt had more to do with that than anything Hasselbeck has or hasn’t done. Nate Washington is a fine role player and has done an adequate job as the Titans’ go-to wideout, but it’s less than ideal to run a passing attack around him. Youngster Damian Williams has stepped up some in Britt’s absence, but he lacks the consistency that comes with experience. Hasselbeck should continue to be a steady but unspectacular option for those fantasy teams that were hit hard by injuries at quarterback. Having him as your starter isn’t the worst thing in the world.

The Bills are ranked 22nd against the pass and have allowed 243.6 yards per game and 21 touchdowns on the season. Even the much-maligned Mark Sanchez managed four touchdown passes against them last week. Of course Sanchez also added to the Bills’ interception total of 16, which is the second highest in the NFL and something that has made their poor pass defense a little more tolerable for their fans.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson finally rewarded his fantasy owners with a big game last week, gaining 190 yards on the ground against Tampa Bay. Prior to that, Johnson had been a tremendous disappointment, looking hesitant with the ball in his hands and showing no ability to break tackles. It’s possible that last week was an outlier in what will be Johnson’s worst season as a pro, but it’s hard to imagine that his talent has been completely sapped at only 25 years of age. While 190 may be a lofty total for him to reach again this season, my guess is that he has now turned things around and we should expect some quality games from him going forward.

The Bills have been equal opportunity offenders on defense. They are just as bad against the run as they are against the pass. On the ground they are allowing 123.8 yards per game and have given up 12 rushing touchdowns. They have improved a bit after moving rookie defensive tackle Marcell Dareus inside to nose tackle, but not enough to keep Chris Johnson from breaking 100 yards rushing for the second week in a row.

Matt Hasselbeck: 265 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 Int.
Nate Washington: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Damian Williams: 55 yds receiving
Lavelle Hawkins: 30 yds receiving
Jared Cook: 30 yds receiving
Chris Johnson: 115 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving, 1 TD
Javon Ringer: 30 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving

TEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -1.1%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -8.5%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +19.5%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -19.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Like his counterpart last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick also put up nice fantasy numbers in New Jersey but didn’t look all that great while doing so. But unlike Sanchez, at least Fitzpatrick was facing a tough defense. For the second time this season, Steve Johnson proved to be immune to Revis Island and managed a much better day than most have under similar circumstances. His day could have been even better if he hadn’t twice dropped potential game-winning touchdowns with under a minute to play. In fairness, there was no guarantee that he would have scored on the first drop (although he would have at least gotten the Bills inside the five-yard line), and the second drop was a poor throw by Fitzpatrick that would have been a very tough catch. Johnson did however show that his mid-season slump may have been a result of his injuries and that he’s poised to finish the season strongly.

Tennessee is the league’s 13th-ranked pass defense, having allowed 229.1 yards per game and 16 passing touchdowns on the season. Cortland Finnegan has been equally over- and underrated throughout his career, if that’s possible. He’s a good cover corner that sometimes tries to get a little too physical, to his detriment. The Titans’ other corner, Jason McCourty, isn’t as well known as Finnegan, but he just may be having the better season. The duo can make things difficult for opposing wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: Fred Jackson’s “very, very sore” calf turned out to be even worse than first thought, requiring the Bills to place the back, who was having a career year at age 30, on injured reserve. C.J. Spiller took his starting spot and was unimpressive against the Jets in Week 12. Spiller has great speed, and can turn a corner quickly, but has shown no ability to run the ball up the middle and is very easy to take down. To gain some backfield depth, the team signed former Cowboy Tashard Choice, who played for Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech, and the running back job could be his before long if Spiller continues to disappoint.

The Titans are ranked 22nd against the run, having allowed 124.1 yards per game, but they have allowed only five touchdowns this season. The Bills’ improved O-line should match up well against the Titans’ uninspiring front seven, but it remains to be seen if Spiller has what it takes to capitalize on his opportunity.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 245 yds passing 2 TDs, 2 Ints. / 15 yds rushing
Steve Johnson: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
David Nelson: 55 yds receiving
Scott Chandler: 35 yds receiving, 1 TD
Johnny White: 15 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving
C.J. Spiller: 55 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Titans 24, Bills 20 ^ Top

Raiders @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

MIA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -13.2%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +2.9%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -28.7%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -42.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Raiders were universally ridiculed for over-paying the Bengals for the rights to their “retired” quarterback Carson Palmer. So far, the results have been mixed, but one could justifiably argue that the Raiders did the right thing for this year and beyond. Palmer has been a steady influence and will continue to be a great leader for a team heading toward uncharted waters—the NFL playoffs—for most of the players on the roster. The elbow woes that hindered him throughout his final seasons in Cincinnati seem to be a thing of the past, as he has shown zip on his throws and is able to get the ball downfield and, more importantly, hit the out-routes. Palmer is surrounded by an eclectic set of options at wide receiver and hasn’t shown favorites yet; Jacoby Ford, Denarius Moore, and Darrius Heyward-Bey have each taken turns leading the way for Oakland in recent weeks. Of course injuries to each of those three have necessitated that diversity. Moore could be back this week and is the best bet for production going forward. When he’s healthy, the rookie often looks like the Raiders’ most explosive player on the field. However, right now it’s unclear which Oakland wideout will be the healthiest in Week 13.

Miami is allowing 248.1 passing yards per game and have given up 16 passing touchdowns. They have not been forcing turnovers (only 8 INTs), which is likely due to a combination of a constantly banged up secondary and the inability to get consistent pressure of the quarterback. Carson Palmer has shown that he can be rattled at times and turn the ball over, something the Dolphins must try to take advantage of. If they cannot, they will have a tough time dealing with the size and speed of the Oakland receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Bush has been a beast and a savior for the Raiders since starting running back Darren McFadden went down five weeks ago with what was thought to be a minor foot injury. Over the last four games, Bush has gained 593 total yards with four touchdowns. Those numbers have made him the No. 1 fantasy RB over that time span. The Oakland O-line has always been underrated as a run-blocking unit, but they continue to do a great job in creating running lanes for whichever back is toting the ball. Bush is a much more physical runner than McFadden, and while he lacks the elite speed of McFadden, he’s quick and strong enough to gain big yards once he breaks through the line.

Miami has allowed only three rushing touchdowns on the season, so Bush’s scoring streak could be in jeopardy this week. The Phins have played very inspired football after their horrendous start to the season, which is a credit to the coaching staff—a staff that will likely be rewarded by being fired at season’s end. Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett are excellent in pursuit, which helps to control opposing runners. Those two against Bush will be the key matchup this week and will go a long way in determining the game’s outcome.

Carson Palmer: 265 yds passing 1 TD, 1 Int.
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 40 yds receiving
T.J. Houshmandzadeh: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Denarius Moore: 60 yds receiving
Kevin Boss: 20 yds receiving
Michael Bush: 95 yds rushing, 1 TD / 30 yds receiving
Taiwan Jones: 15 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

OAK FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +28.8%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +11.1%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -9.2%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +10.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore had another quality outing in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. He completed 19 of 32 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown and nearly led the team to its fourth win of the season. Moore knows where his bread is buttered and has really clicked with Brandon Marshall since replacing Chad Henne. Marshall has passed the 100-yard mark three times (and reached 98 yards once) in the seven games where Moore has started, and he has scored twice in that period. Tight end Anthony Fasano has also benefitted and has scored four touchdowns since Moore became the starter, giving him fringe fantasy relevance in deeper leagues. Miami can now move the ball through the air, and with each passing week, Moore is increasing his chances of sticking with Miami or finding a job somewhere else next season.

The Raiders famously lost their best cover corner, Nnamdi Asomugha, this offseason and as a result they haven’t been all that great at stopping the pass. They are allowing a respectable 239.1 yards per game but have given up the third most passing touchdowns with 20. Expect the Dolphins test the Oakland secondary.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush continues to impress on the ground, something he has never done consistently during his career. He has 567 yards and four touchdowns on the ground through 11 weeks, which puts him on pace to easily surpass the 581 rushing yards that benchmarked his best season with the Saints. He’s also managed 35 receptions, so he’s still a dangerous part of a passing game as well. Bush isn’t going to break many tackles or push piles, but at least he now runs hard and moves forward with the ball instead of dancing around and trying to make big plays on every carry, as he was wont to do in New Orleans. Rookie Daniel Thomas has taken a back seat to Bush, but he looks like a solid prospect when he does get the ball. The massive Thomas has quick feet and decent hands out of the backfield as well.

The Raiders have fared even worse against the run than the pass, having allowed 135.3 yards per game and 10 touchdowns on the season. While their offense has been very effective, their defense has been far from playoff caliber.

Matt Moore: 255 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 INT
Brandon Marshall: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 20 yds receiving
Brian Hartline: 55 yds receiving
Anthony Fasano: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Daniel Thomas: 50 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving
Reggie Bush: 90 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: Dolphins 27, Raiders 24 ^ Top

Packers @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

NYG FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +27.7%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -0.3%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +87.1%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +13.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Everyone reading this is likely aware that Aaron Rodgers is having a season for the ages. You also probably know that the guy’s accuracy has been uncanny (completing nearly 72% of his passes) and that he’s equally adept at the short, accurate passing game as he is at attacking down the field deep. However, Rodgers’ season is both a blessing and a curse to those who own a part of the Green Bay receiving game. Like Drew Brees, Rodgers doesn’t have a favorite target (although wide receiver Greg Jennings is pretty close) and will just get the ball to the open man. While there are generally plenty of balls to go around due to Rodgers’ yardage totals, it does at times create a “feast or famine” scenario for guys like Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jermichael Finley, and Randall Cobb. Of course who can really complain when they know their time to feast will soon come around?

Speaking of Brees, the Giants’ pass defense was lit up like a Christmas tree last Monday night in New Orleans. Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns—while also running one into the end zone. It doesn’t get any easier for the Giants this week, especially with Osi Umenyiora expected to miss the game, taking away one of the few advantages they might have in this matchup—their ability to get to Rodgers without the need to blitz. The Giants have been killed by tight ends this season, making Finley a real attractive start this week.

Running Game Thoughts: With all there is to write about the Green Bay passing game, there’s proportionately little to add about their running game. Not necessarily because the Packers can’t run the ball, but because they simply don’t run the ball. James Starks suffered an ankle sprain on Thanksgiving Day and may sit this game out. Veteran Ryan Grant would benefit with more carries, but probably not enough to make him a fantasy factor. The Packers running backs just don’t get enough opportunities to be strong fantasy producers. In fact, even when they do decide to run near the goal line, it’s fullback John Kuhn who vultures the scores.

The Giants’ run defense wasn’t very good last week either, allowing both Pierre Thomas and rookie Mark Ingram to have big days running the ball. Their front seven should get a break this week…at least, that is, until they have to turn and chase the guy that just caught the ball downfield.

Aaron Rodgers: 335 yds passing, 4 TDs / 25 yds rushing
Greg Jennings: 90 yds receiving, 2 TDs
Jordy Nelson: 60 yds receiving
James Jones: 80 yds receiving
Jermichael Finley: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ryan Grant: 45 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving

GB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +21.0%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +20.3%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +32.2%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +16.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning is in the middle of the greatest regular season of his career, but lately it still hasn’t been enough. The Giants are on a three-game losing streak despite Manning’s best efforts. Another player that cannot take any of the blame is Victor Cruz, who continues to impress as a big-play threat. In fact, lately he’s outperforming both Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham, even when both have been healthy. Tight end Jake Ballard has cooled off a bit the last few weeks but is still a legitimate fantasy option. He should have hauled in a touchdown on the Giants’ first drive against the Saints, but he allowed the linebacker covering him to rip the ball from his hands in the end zone.

Even with being undefeated, Green Bay does have one very noticeable weakness in its game: They are the 31st-ranked pass defense in the NFL, having allowed 287.8 yards per game and 19 touchdowns on the season. However, they do lead the league in interceptions (with 22) behind the ageless Charles Woodson. Also, in fairness, the Green Bay offense does force their opponents to throw early and often to keep pace. Still, it’s the one chink in the armor that could cost the Packers a game. The Giants should be able to put up points this week in New Jersey, but it will come down to whether they can put up enough.

Running Game Thoughts: Brandon Jacobs has looked terrible in the feature role, and the Giants must be longing for Ahmad Bradshaw’s return from his foot injury. Jacobs is a 260-pound running back that for some reason prefers to dance around looking for a hole rather than just steaming ahead and inflicting punishment. He did plow over a Saint on his way to the end zone on Monday night but has otherwise failed to take advantage of his size. Earlier in his career, he had great burst and straight-line speed for a back his size, but age has sapped most of that as well. There are conflicting reports on whether or not Bradshaw will be able to return this week, but so far he has been unable to practice.

Green Bay plays the run reasonably tough, having allowed 105.5 yards per game and only seven rushing touchdowns on the season. With the Giants being so ineffective on the ground, and with Rodgers’ ability to move the ball and likely force the Giants to play catch-up, New York will probably not be able to test the Packers’ run defense this week.

Eli Manning: 305 yds passing 3 TDs, 1 Int.
Hakeem Nicks: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 40 yds receiving
Jake Ballard: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Danny Ware: 15 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving
Brandon Jacobs: 45 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Packers 41, Giants 31 ^ Top

Bengals @ Steelers - (Autry)

PIT FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -14.8%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -7.7%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -20.6%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -0.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: When these two teams last met just three weeks ago, Andy Dalton had an average game. Even though he tossed two TDs, he struggled finding open receivers, as his 50 percent completion percentage and two interceptions would seem to indicate. All and all, Dalton has fared well during his rookie season. He’s thrown a TD in every game but one and has found a solid rapport with fellow rookie A.J. Green. Green leads the team in practically every statistical receiver category, including receptions, yards, yards per catch and TD catches. This will be a nice QB/WR combo for the foreseeable future.

Pittsburgh enters this game with DB Troy Polamalu a question mark with a head injury. Still, Pittsburgh remains a top fantasy defense. They’re currently third in the league against the pass, but they rank an un-Pittsburgh-like 27th in interceptions. Even with the solid year he’s had, Dalton has thrown his share of picks—especially against the league’s top defenses. He threw two in games against San Francisco and the Steelers as previously mentioned, plus he tossed three INTs against Baltimore in week 10. Keep your expectations in order if you’re forced to start the rookie signal-caller this week—although Green remains a solid WR2.

Running Game Thoughts: Cedric Benson is an unspectacular RB, but he’s still a pretty good option week to week in fantasy. It’s just that he never has one of those eye-popping, ridiculously productive games. Benson has never had game where he finished with more than 100 yards rushing and multiple TDs. Even the most average RBs have stumbled into games like that. But not Benson. If you know what you’re getting with him and not overinflate your expectations, you will be okay with Benson as your low-end RB2 this week.

Pittsburgh has only surrendered more than 100 yards on the ground to a team once in the last five games. The one team that they gave up more than 100 yards to in that stretch? The Cincinnati Bengals, of course. The Steelers are still a top-10 rush defense and can stuff opposing teams’ running game any given week—just ask Seattle (31 yards in week 2), Tennessee (66 yards in week 5), New England (43 yards in week 8) and Baltimore (67 yards in week 9). Benson could find the going tough this week but could sneak in a short TD run to shore up what may be an average day.

Andy Dalton: 195 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
A.J. Green: 80 yards receiving
Jerome Simpson: 40 yards receiving
Andre Caldwell: 25 yards receiving
Jermaine Gresham: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Cedric Benson: 55 yards rushing / 1 TD

CIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -25.0%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -9.5%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -5.2%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -27.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Ben Roethlisberger and his fantasy owners hope he’s able to put last week’s ugly game against Kansas City behind him. His 193 passing yards last week were the fewest since a week 8 visit to Cincinnati last year. While Ben is considered a low-end QB1 this year, it should be noted that he’s thrown for multiple TDs in a game only three times this season. Furthermore, the last time Ben threw multiple TDs against Cincy was in 2008. Roethlisberger’s less than stellar performance also directly affected Mike Wallace, who by the way is in the midst of a slight struggle himself. No 100 yard receiving games in the last four contests and only one TD during that time. He’s still the best deep threat in the league, so his potential to explode is there every game. Antonio Brown, however, has emerged as a solid fantasy WR. Wallace has three times as many receiving TDs as anyone else on the team, but Brown has catapulted himself into starting consideration on a weekly basis.

Despite Leon Hall’s absence the last couple of games, Cincinnati’s pass defense remains one of the top 10 best in the league. They held an anemic Cleveland passing attack to 140 yards last week while holding Colt McCoy to a 47 percent completion percentage. The Bengals have lacked the ability to create turnovers this year, as only four teams have fewer forced turnovers.

Running Game Thoughts: Dating back to last season, Rashard Mendenhall has only one 100-yard rushing game in his last 15. Plus he’s only scored three TDs in his last five games. Couple those facts with his miniscule role in the passing game and what you have is a player who was drafted as a RB1 but is playing and performing like a RB2. Keep your expectations in line regarding Mendenhall.

After going six straight without surrendering more than 100 yards rushing to a team, the Bengals have now given up three straight of more than 100, including allowing 134 yards last week to one of the worst running teams in the league: Cleveland. Mendenhall will get opportunities; the challenge with him has always been what he does with them. He should suit you well as a RB2. Just don’t expect much more than that from him.

Ben Roethlisberger: 235 yards passing / 2 TDs
Mike Wallace: 95 yards receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Hines Ward: 30 yards receiving
Heath Miller: 35 yards receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 70 yards rushing

Prediction: Steelers 20, Bengals 14 ^ Top

Broncos @ Vikings - (Autry)

MIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +13.6%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -0.8%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -23.1%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +11.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: The passing game and the Broncos? Really? I didn’t think such an intersection existed. Denver throws the football less than any other team in the league. Its love-him-or-hate-him QB is the primary culprit behind that philosophy. Tim Tebow’s unorthodox style of play has garnered attention from every conceivable angle—some of it valid, some not so valid. But this remains true: the Broncos will rely on the playmaking ability of his legs rather than his arm. Consequently, this approach will hinder the simmering fantasy value of Eric Decker. He’s a borderline WR3 each week, but with the commitment the Broncos have to the running game, who knows what Decker will do from week to week.

Minnesota fields the league’s worst pass defense when it comes to preventing the opposition from scoring via the pass. No other team in the NFL has given up more passing TDs than Minnesota’s 22. Too bad Denver is ill equipped to take advantage of that weakness. As it is, the Vikings’ pass defense will still be tested with the run-pass option offense that Tebow has used to his benefit during the 5-1 record he’s compiled as a starting QB. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Tebow is a viable start this week in Minnesota.

Running Game Thoughts: With Knowshon “No Show” Moreno sidelined for the season, Willis McGahee has taken over and become a force in the running game—albeit a bit inconsistent at times. His 117-yard effort last week in San Diego came on the heels of a couple of putrid performances—17 yards against Kansas City and 18 yards against the New York Jets. But the threat that Tebow presents in theory opens things up for McGahee to produce. This is a good week to start McGahee and expect him to continue the surge he displayed last week against San Diego.

Unlike Minnesota’s pass defense, the Vikings run defense has done much better. They’re a top 10 unit and held Atlanta and its battering ram of a RB Michael Turner to under 100 yards as a team. But the Vikings—and for that matter, the league as a whole—have seen nothing like the running attack of the Broncos. They will present matchup dilemmas and mandate Minnesota’s defenders stay discipline in their scheme. A team in the Broncos that has run for more than 200 yards in three of the last four games has a way of making defenses focus on those minor details.

Tim Tebow: 165 yards passing / 80 yards rushing / 1 rushing TD
Eric Decker: 65 yards receiving
Demaryius Thomas: 35 yards receiving
Dante Rosario: 40 yards receiving
Daniel Fells: 20 yards receiving
Willis McGahee: 90 yards rushing / 2 TDs

DEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +22.0%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +0.5%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +8.2
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +20.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie Christian Ponder continues to develop—so much so that the Vikings are rumored to be considering granting Donovan McNabb’s request to be released. Perhaps that sets the table for him to sign elsewhere where the need for a veteran QB is much needed. But as far as this game goes, Ponder should continue his growth while remaining player that doesn’t necessarily hurt the production of those around him. Percy Harvin has stepped up recently. He’s scored his first two TDs in the last two weeks and has been a constant and reliable target for the young Ponder. Visanthe Shiancoe’s play, however, has taken a plunge. He has only five receptions in the last five games, and the fact that Denver has the fourth-best defense against TEs means Shiancoe should find a nice, comfortable spot on your bench.

Since allowing Oakland to rack up 316 passing on them in week 9, the Denver Bronco pass defense has surrendered more than 200 passing yards once in the last three, including last week’s limitation of Philip Rivers. Minnesota shouldn’t give the Broncos too much more than they can handle. In fact, Denver is a sneaky DST play this week. You may want to consider using them.

Running Game Thoughts: There are signs pointing to Adrian Peterson’s return, but who are the Vikings fooling? I think it’s coach speak and Peterson won’t play. Perhaps he will dress for the game, but I don’t think they’ll risk bringing back their stud too early, especially considering the team isn’t going anywhere this year. That leaves the running duties to Toby Gerhart, who didn’t do much with the 17 carries he got last week—although he scored a TD. Certainly the best bet here is to ignore anything that looks like the Minnesota running game this week.

While Denver’s pass defense limited San Diego last week, the Broncos did allow the Chargers to rack up 185 yards on the ground. With a hobbled Peterson and an ineffective Gerhart as the primary ball carrying options—Harvin could get his share of carries should AP miss this game—the Broncos needn’t worry about a repeat performance for their defense.

Christian Ponder: 190 yards passing / 2 TD / 1 INT
Percy Harvin: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Devin Aromashodu: 40 yards receiving
Visanthe Shiancoe: 35 yards receiving / 1 TD
Toby Gerhart: 60 yards rushing / 20 yards receiving

Prediction: Broncos 24, Vikings 17 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Bears - (Autry)

CHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +0.3%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +15.2%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +28.4%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -8.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tyler Palko played two not-so-great games since replacing starter Matt Cassell. Zero TDs and six interceptions. Not the kind of production you would expect from an NFL QB. Only Dwayne Bowe is worth a sniff in fantasy football as it relates to the receiving options for the Chiefs, but going scoreless in two games while looking like an overmatched, unprepared NFL players says little about the prospects of anything good coming out of KC from a fantasy perspective. Rookie Jonathan Baldwin’s play has leveled off since his 5/82/1 performance in week 7. Steve Breaston is a nice complement to Bowe, but he’s not an NFL team’s No. 2 receiver. Bowe is the only logical choice here, and even that has to be looked at deeply.

The Bears have been many teams’ get-right game. Passing offenses that were struggling before playing Chicago have magically found stellar production when pitted against the Bears. Even during the midst of their recent five game winning streak, Chicago was vulnerable to the pass—allowing once-struggling teams such as Tampa Bay and San Diego to find their footing. Palko has been so excruciatingly bad that it’s difficult to fathom how he will be able to mount much of an offensive onslaught.

Running Game Thoughts: The two-headed attack of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones of 2010 that found itself on top of the heap at the end of the season has morphed into a triumvirate of an ever-aging Thomas Jones, Dexter McCluster and Jackie Battle. They’re in the top-half of the league when it comes to running the football, but the ol’ eyeball test reveals the team is not the fantasy goldmine it was last year. It’s difficult to suggest any runner on the Chiefs, so stay clear of this bunch this week.

Chicago remains one of the league’s toughest run defenses. As the NFL’s eighth-best unit, the Bears have limited the opposition to 80 or less on the ground through the last three games and less than 100 yards in five of the last six. Indeed, this unit is rolling. The Chiefs don’t have the kind of threat in the backfield that can really challenge this defense. As a result, Chicago’s defense is a top DST option.

Tyler Palko: 175 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Dwayne Bowe: 65 yards receiving
Steve Breaston: 50 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jonathan Baldwin: 35 yards receiving
Thomas Jones: 40 yards rushing
Jackie Battle: 30 yards rushing
Dexter McCluster: 20 yards rushing / 20 yards receiving

KC FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +6.7%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -9.9%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +40.6%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -2.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rumors abound that Jay Cutler cut be out for the balance of the season. He’s certainly out for the balance of the regular season, meaning Caleb Hanie will remain the leader of an offense actually gained more yards last week against Oakland than it had all year. Whether that’s a direct result of Hanie’s ascent to the starting spot is debatable, but his presence doesn’t seem to hinder the offense much. Perhaps the one player that’s affected the most is Earl Bennett. Bennett and Cutler developed a nice rhythm once the receiver returned from injury. His 14 catches for 251 yards and a score in the three games playing with Cutler were a thing of the past when compared to his one-catch-for-five-yards stinker against Oakland. He’s still a probable WR3, even with Hanie.

Kansas City’s defense has recovered nicely after losing safety Eric Berry in the season openers. This unit’s crowning achievement was last week’s defensive gem against Pittsburgh. They limited the Steelers’ passing game all day long, which conventional wisdom says if they can stop Pittsburgh, they should handle Chicago. But conventional wisdom often has no place in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is doing wonders with the KC defense. This unit will make it rough on Hanie and the Chicago passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: Surprisingly, Marion Barber became a bigger part of Chicago’s running game right before our eyes last week. He only received two less carries than Matt Forte but led the team in rushing. Whether this is a trend moving forward or whether it was simply a manifestation of the game plan against the Raiders, the fact that Barber ate into many of the carries that were previously given to Forte is enough to give Forte’s owners pause. I don’t want to overreact after one game, but it baffled me why Barber got so much playing time. We’ll see how it plays out this week.

Kansas City has done little to limit the opposition from running all over them. Ranked 26th in the league at stopping the run, the Chiefs have given up more than 100 yards on the ground in six straight. Chicago, meanwhile, comes into this game as the 10th-best at running the football and certainly poised to place more of the offensive load on the running game as opposed to Hanie. Despite the emerging role of Barber in the offense, Forte remains the bell cow for this team, and thus your fantasy team.

Caleb Hanie: 190 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Johnny Knox: 75 yards receiving
Earl Bennett: 50 yards receiving / 1 TD
Roy Williams: 20 yards receiving
Matt Forte: 85 yards rushing / 40 yards receiving / 2 rushing TDs
Marion Barber: 30 yards rushing

Prediction: Bears 27, Chiefs 13 ^ Top

Ravens @ Browns - (Autry)

CLE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -26.7%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -22.0%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -51.7%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -5.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: I recall when Joe Flacco threw 11 TDs through the first six games of 2009, his second year. Talk began around fantasy circles that Flacco would emerge into a bona fide fantasy stud. Well…not so fast. While he’s not a total bum, he hasn’t quite regained the fire he had to begin his sophomore season. Only one game of multiple TD passes in the last eight shows the kind of pedestrian fantasy numbers Flacco puts up on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Anquan Boldin, the elder statesman of the receiving corps, puts up respectable numbers quite regularly—although the occasional two catch for 20 yards performance seems to creep in from time to time. You could do much worse for your WR2, though.

I’m sure not many people realize that the Cleveland Browns have the league’s top-ranked pass defense. They have flat out shut teams down through the air. Only once in the last seven games have they even allowed more than 200 yards in a game. CB Joe Haden is turning into a star, if he’s not there already. Problem is, the Browns are 4-7 and no one outside of Northern Ohio cares much about the team. Both Boldin and Torrey Smith could have limited production this week. Be mindful of how solid Cleveland has been against the pass.

Running Game Thoughts: After that five-carry game against Seattle several weeks ago, it’s obvious that offensive coordinator has made a concerted effort to keep Ray Rice in the mix. He’s had 49 touches in the two games since and is being given the opportunity to shine. The Niners shut him down last week, but who haven’t they shut down this year? And as always, Rice’s value is inflated due to his play as a receiver out of the backfield. Last week broke his string of six straight games with at least five receptions. Obviously, he’s a must start, RB1.

The one glaring weakness on Cleveland’s defense is its ability to stop the run. They’ve allowed more than 100 yards on the ground in every game but one this year, and that includes the 261 smack down the Houston Texans put on them in week 9. Expect Rice to get his prerequisite 20-plus carries and deliver a stellar and productive game to his fantasy owners.

Joe Flacco: 220 yards passing / 2 TDs
Anquan Boldin: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Torrey Smith: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
Ed Dickson: 35 yards receiving
Ray Rice: 110 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving / 1 TD rushing

BAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -27.9%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +7.9%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +7.5%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -37.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Only once has Colt McCoy thrown for more than 200 yards in the last four games. And with the low number passing yards come a dearth of TD passes as well. Five in the last five games, including the goose egg he put up in the TD column against St. Louis several weeks ago. I like McCoy’s competitiveness; what I don’t like is his inability to be anything more than waiver wire fodder in fantasy football. Greg Little, though, continues to take baby steps toward fantasy relevance. He’s the only true WR on the team with any degree of upside. Little is a nice option in keeper leagues; his time as a starter in fantasy, however, has yet to arrive.

No team has surrendered fewer TD passes than the seven that Baltimore has given up. This is McCoy’s second time playing the Ravens, and for his sake he should hope that it’s not like the first. Zero TDs and three INTS in the next-to-last game last season was no good way to approach the end of the season. McCoy should be on the bench, no doubt.

Running Game Thoughts: Peyton Hillis returned to action last week after a five-week hiatus and put up halfway decent numbers. Hillis was rumored to be a malcontent in the locker room while allegedly exaggerating an injury. With Montario Hardesty still injured and a big question mark to play, and with Chris Ogbonnaya becoming ineffective with each passing week, Hillis has by default become the unquestioned starter. Even with the increased role he will play in the offense, those opportunities probably won’t net much success.

The Ravens are tough against the run for sure. But it’s mind boggling to see just how inconsistent they’ve been this season. Top rushing teams such as Houston, Pittsburgh and San Francisco were all held under 100 yards on the ground against Baltimore, but teams such as Arizona, Seattle and Cincinnati topped the century mark. Go figure. With that kind of up and down performance on defense, it shouldn’t be a shock if Hillis is productive this week. Just be careful what you expect from him.

Colt McCoy: 190 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Greg Little: 65 yards receiving
Jordan Norwood: 35 yards receiving
Josh Cribbs: 30 yards receiving
Ben Watson: 40 yards receiving / 1 TD
Peyton Hillis: 70 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Ravens 21, Browns 14 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Cardinals - (Eakin)

ARI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +3.8%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +11.9%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -2.5%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -0.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Cowboys should be in for a big passing day, as the Cardinals have struggled stopping the pass all year. They rank 25th, allowing 250 yards per game. Tony Romo hasn’t been throwing for high-yardage totals since the emergence of DeMarco Murray, but because the offense has more balance, they are turning the ball over less, and Romo is compensating with more scores. He has ten touchdowns in their current four-game win streak. Many of those have gone to Laurent Robinson, who is one of those players who comes off the waiver wire every year out of nowhere to help seal a championship. He should continue to produce big-time, as Miles Austin appears to be out yet another week and Dez Bryant will likely draw the more difficult matchup with Patrick Peterson.

Running Game Thoughts: DeMarco Murray is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. To put this in context, Marion Motley holds the record for the highest career yards per carry average at 5.7. In Chris Johnson’s amazing 2009 season, he finished with 5.8. The Cardinals run defense does not rank among the best all-time defenses ever. In fact, they rank just 20th this season, allowing 120 yards per game. If you worried about the amount of carries Murray will get, last week Felix Jones had zero carries to Murray’s 22. My expert advice: play Murray.

Tony Romo: 255 yds passing, 1 TDs / 1 INT
Laurent Robinson: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 60 yds receiving
Jason Witten: 45 yds receiving
DeMarco Murray: 100 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving / 2 TDs

DAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -1.6%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -3.1%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +17.9%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -17.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Kevin Kolb is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing four games with turf toe. He is a decent upgrade from the struggling John Skelton, but not a drastic one. His completion percentage and TD:INT ratio are both higher than Skelton for the year, but Kolb could show some rust after that lengthy stint on the sideline. Furthermore, Dallas has their secondary at full strength. Many think of Dallas as a bad pass defense, but they have raised their play. They are ranked 14th and allowing 230 passing yards per game. What is more of an issue concerning Kolb’s prospects is the Dallas pass rush. Kolb has shown a propensity to get skittish in the pocket, and with DeMarcus Ware collapsing the edge and Jay Ratliff getting pressure up the middle, I see Kolb struggling to get comfortable with the speed of the game after his layoff. Having turf toe won’t help his cause. Beyond the pass rush, the Dallas secondary shouldn’t scare you away from using Larry Fitzgerald. I expect Arizona to be playing from behind and passing a lot. After Fitzgerald, however, the picture gets fuzzy. Early Doucet started the year off hot, almost matching Fitzy, until Kolb went down. With Kolb out, Andre Roberts has been the more productive No. 2 receiver, as evidenced by his getting five targets to Doucet’s one last week. We’ll have to see if Kolb returns to favoring Doucet. I would avoid them both if possible until a targeting pattern emerges.

Running Game Thoughts: Beanie Wells had a career day last week versus St. Louis, rushing for 228 yards against the same team that gave up 253 to DeMarco Murray. The Rams are horrible at stopping the run, the Cowboys are not. I don’t like Wells’ chances of performing an encore. He was struggling before the Rams game, has been nursing a sore knee, and Dallas middle linebacker Sean Lee is back in the lineup. Lee missed a few games but had been playing at a Pro Bowl level before that. He brings better speed and pursuit than the older Keith Brookings. Also, If Dallas gets up big, LaRod Stephens-Howling will see a heavy rotation as the preferred receiving back.

Kevin Kolb: 220 yds passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 50 yds receiving
Early Doucet: 45 yds receiving
Beanie Wells: 80 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Cowboys 31, Cardinals 17 ^ Top

Rams @ 49ers - (Eakin)

SF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -0.8%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +5.2%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -8.7%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -39.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: I had hopes that the Rams passing game could break out of its season-long funk last week against Arizona, one of the worst passing defenses in the league. Yet all Bradford could muster was 200 yards and one score in a loss. All hope is officially gone now. The only usable fantasy commodity in St. Louis is Brandon Lloyd, who had five receptions for 75 yards and a score—right on par with his typical production since joining the team at the trade deadline. The thought was that Mark Clayton would steadily become more effective in the offense, but he threw up a goose egg. If you’re looking for positives, Denario Alexander is expected back, and he has occasionally landed a big play here and there, but nothing consistent enough to bet on. The 49ers are beatable, ranking 21st in passing yards allowed, but the Rams are struggling to protect Bradford, and the Niners’ combination of Justin Smith and rookie Aldon Smith is an excellent pass rushing duo that will force Bradford to throw quick. The 49ers are sure tacklers and should keep the Rams receivers from getting a lot of yards after the catch.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson will have tough sledding against the league’s best run defense. They have two inside backers in Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis that are Pro Bowl worthy, they allow only 75 yards rushing per game, and they have yet to surrender 100 yards to any running back. In fact, the most yards any player has rushed for against them was 64 on 17 carries by Cedric Benson back in Week 3. They have held LaGarrette to 34 yards, Marshawn Lynch to 33, LeSean McCoy to 18, and Ray Rice to 51. Those are ’85 Bears and 2000 Ravens type totals. It’s hard to imagine the beat-up Rams offensive line giving Steven Jackson any open rush lanes against this historic run defense.

Sam Bradford: 255 yds passing, 1 TDs / 1 INT
Brandon Lloyd: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Danario Alexander: 40 yds receiving
Lance Kendricks: 35 yds receiving
Steven Jackson: 65 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

STL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -6.9%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +12.7%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -57.1%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +24.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Rams aren’t as bad against the pass as the run. In fact, the secondary is the one area they have made strides in thanks to the addition of safety Quentin Mikell, who has the range to keep plays in front of him. In addition, Chris Long is having his best season at defensive end with ten sacks. Unlike most pass-rushing defensive ends, Long usually lines up on the left side, which will match him up with right tackle Anthony Davis. Davis is an adequate pass protector that Long can beat on occasion, but the Niners will likely give Davis help. The 49ers do a great job of giving quarterback Alex Smith manageable down and distances, so it will be rare for Long to have full pass-rush duty without some run-stopping responsibilities. Smith can get the ball out quickly to Frank Gore or his talented tight end combo of Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis. He has made good decisions with the ball and doesn’t get sacked often, despite what you saw on Thanksgiving night. Michael Crabtree leads the 49ers’ wide receivers. He consistently gives you five to seven catches for 50 to 70 yards. He’s consistent but limited by San Francisco’s conservative system. No reason to expect a change in production for him this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Can Gore get 212? That is his career mark. The Rams have already given up career bests of 228 to Beanie Wells and 253 to DeMarco Murray this season. I won’t go so far as to expect the same from Gore, if only because the Niners have little incentive to run him into the ground with the division wrapped up and an up-and-coming change-of-pace back in Kendall Hunter. If there ever was a time to use a backup, Hunter is it this week. He and Gore should both have productive days. The Rams defense sets up as the perfect prey for the physical running game that the Niners thrive upon.

Alex Smith: 200 yds passing / 1 TD
Michael Crabtree: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Kyle Williams: 30 yds receiving
Vernon Davis: 65 yds receiving
Frank Gore: 130 yds rushing / 2 TDs / 30 yds receiving
Kendall Hunter: 55 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: 49ers 27, Rams 10 ^ Top