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Inside the Matchup
Week 14

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




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Marcoccio 34 14 70.8
2 Autry 33 15 68.8
3 Smith 32 17 65.3
4 Eakin 27 20 57.4

Browns @ Steelers - (Autry)

PIT FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -30.2%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +18.1%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +7.7%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -40.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Colt McCoy has been a model of average QB play for most of the season. Most notably though, he’s only topped 200 yards once in the last five games. Rookie Greg Little and TE Ben Watson are the two top receiving options on this team. Neither is anything special from a fantasy sense, but Little is certainly someone to keep an eye on from a long-term league perspective. He has 19 receptions in the last four games and has become the unquestioned No. 1 option. While his potential may be limited this week, Little is a good option in keeper leagues.

While the Steelers haven’t been the turnover-producing defense they’ve been in the past, Pittsburgh still has the league’s top unit. They’ve given up the sixth-fewest TD passes and have only once surrendered more than 200 passing yards in the last five games. They should make it tough for the Browns passing game to the extent that none of the Cleveland passing game players should be in your line-up this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Cleveland’s running game was rendered useless once they fell behind big against the Ravens. Regardless, Peyton Hillis returned after weeks of inactivity and received the lion’s share of the carries. Both Chris Ogbonnaya and Montario Hardesty are now waiver wire fodder and should only be rostered in the deepest of leagues. Hillis’ 45 yards on 12 carries wasn’t a big enough barometer to gauge whether or not he can capture just a glimpse of his 2010 season, although he did have a 52-yard reception last week. The Browns struggle too much on offense to suggest starting Hillis this week, but injuries to a few top RBs this week may force some to put him the lineup.

Pittsburgh has limited several teams on the ground this season—most notably Tennessee (66 yards), New England (43 yards) and Seattle (31 yards). Cleveland failed to reach 100 yards on the ground last week for the first time in four games, even though they remain 30th out of 32 teams. The Steelers will make it hard for the Browns to re-establish that streak. Bench Hillis this week until the offense shows itself to be more than the 30th ranked unit it is.

Colt McCoy: 190 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Greg Little: 60 yards receiving
Jordan Norwood: 35 yards receiving
Ben Watson: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Peyton Hillis: 50 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving

CLE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -25.7%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -12.8%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -8.0%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -27.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Ben Roethlisberger has led the Steelers to wins in three of their last four games, but he hasn’t exactly set the fantasy football world on fire in the process. Only five TDs in those four games, with three INTs to boot. Meanwhile, Mike Wallace’s torrid pace to begin the season has cooled considerably. He has five straight games under 100 yards receiving, but his two TDs last week softens the blow. Antonio Brown is battling Wallace for No. 1 WR supremacy in Pittsburgh. Wallace, I think, remains the top option in the office, but Brown has ascended to a good low-end WR2.

Cleveland has the top passing defense in the league, so Wallace’s streak of sub-100 yard games is sure to continue. Seven of the last eight games they’ve prevented the opposition from reaching 200 yards passing in the game. Outside of Cleveland’s CB Joe Haden, I’d challenge anybody not living in Cleveland to name two other starters on the Browns defense. Regardless of the no-name nature of their defense, the Browns get it done. While starting both Wallace and Brown are no-brainers, expectations should be in order.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s been 16 games dating back to 2010, and Rashard Mendenhall has eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark only once in that stretch. Part of it is he’s not getting a surplus of carries—only once has he had more than 20 carries this season. He’s currently averaging the lowest yards per carry since his rookie season, but don’t be fooled into thinking he’s a risky play. Even with his relatively limited opportunities, he still has five TDs in his last three games. Treat Mendenhall as the RB2 he’s been all year.

Twice this year the Browns have surrendered more than 200 yards rushing, including last week’s 290-yard performance against Baltimore. Ray Rice could do whatever he wanted, so it stands to reason that the Steelers will certainly employ a similar approach offensively. The Browns are 31st in the league against the rush, so Mendenhall should reach the 100-yard plateau for the first time in a long time.

Ben Roethlisberger: 220 yards passing / 2 TDs
Mike Wallace: 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
Hines Ward: 30 yards receiving
Heath Miller: 35 yards receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 85 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Steelers 21, Browns 10 ^ Top

Buccaneers @ Jaguars - (Smith)

JAX FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -21.3%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -13.0%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -1.4%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +2.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tampa quarterback Josh Freeman didn’t play last week against Carolina due to a shoulder injury, so Josh Johnson filled in, and did so in a mediocre fashion. Freeman is expected to return this week, and will come into the game against the Jaguars still second in the league with 16 interceptions. The good news for the Tampa passing game and fantasy owners is that Mike Williams has stepped up, and his 93 receiving yards last week made it three consecutive games in which he had at least 80 yards.

Jacksonville is a bad team, but that’s mostly due to their inept offense. Defensively, they are fourth in the league against the pass, having allowed just 193 yards per game despite the fact that opposing quarterbacks are completing passes at a rate of 63.4 percent, which is 28th in the NFL. Philip Rivers slayed them for nearly 300 passing yards and three touchdowns last week, but that was the first time since Week 4 that a quarterback had more than 225 yards against the Jags, and the first time that a signal-caller had more than two touchdown passes against them.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back LeGarrette Blount came into last week having had successive games with at least 100 yards, but he managed only 19 yards on 11 carries against a Panthers team that had one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The Bucs trailed by a big margin early, so Blount’s opportunities to carry the ball lessened as the game progressed, killing his chance to use his bruising style to wear down their defense.

Jacksonville is 14th in the NFL in run defense, but 19th in touchdowns given up on the ground, and they haven’t played well in recent games. They have allowed an opposing runner to gain at least 110 yards against them in three of their past five games, and at least 85 total yards and one touchdown in four of their last five games.

Josh Freeman: 230 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Mike Williams: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kellen Winslow: 65 yds receiving
Arrelious Benn: 40 yds receiving
Preston Parker: 25 yds receiving
LeGarrette Blount: 90 yds rushing, 1 TD

TB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +25.9%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -2.9%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -18.4%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +65.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Jacksonville has precious few receiving weapons, and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has struggled often this season, having completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, but he did manage to throw for 195 yards and two scores on Monday night against the Chargers. It was arguably his best game of the season, which says plenty about his fantasy value – basically, that it doesn’t exist. Neither does it exist for any of his wideouts or tight ends, including Marcedes Lewis, who has been one of the biggest disappointments for fantasy owners this season.

Tampa is tied for 26th in the NFL in pass defense, and tied for 23rd in passing scores allowed. They only allowed one last week, but that was mostly because the Panthers were too busy running the ball down their throats. The Bucs have struggled to contain receivers all season, and at least one wideout has scored a touchdown against them in each of their last six contests.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew is the Jacksonville offense, and with his 97 yards on the ground last week, he finds himself leading the NFL with 1,137 rushing yards, though he’s only scored five touchdowns. He did add 91 receiving yards last week (and has 158 over his last two games), and scored on a 9-yard pass play, but it was his first receiving touchdown of the season. MJD has run for at least 85 yards in each of his last four games.

The Bucs aren’t very good against the pass, but they’re downright terrible against the run. Tampa is 29th in the league in run defense, and tied for last in rushing scores allowed. Cam Newton scored three times against them last week, and over their past six games, an opposing running back has gained at least 80 yards and scored a touchdown four times.

Blaine Gabbert: 165 yds passing, 0 TD, 1 INT
Mike Thomas: 60 yds receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 35 yds receiving
Jarett Dillard: 30 yds receiving
Maurice Jones-Drew: 115 yds rushing, 2 TD / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: Buccaneers 20, Jaguars 14 ^ Top

Falcons @ Panthers - (Smith)

CAR FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +15.0%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +23.2%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -8.1%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +26.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Ryan had been playing well for the last month, but against the Texans last week he had one of his worst games of the season, completing only 42.6 percent of his passes and throwing a pair of interceptions in Atlanta’s loss. Still, he remains a low-end QB1, and has continued to connect with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez on a regular basis. Though White had only 51 yards last week, he scored a touchdown for the second straight game, while Gonzalez posted a season-high 100 receiving yards, and Julio Jones made his mark with 68 yards.

The Panthers are 15th in the league against the pass, but part of that is because they’ve faced some of the youngest or worst quarterbacks in the league. For example, here are five of the starting quarterbacks they’ve faced this season, in no particular order: John Beck, Blaine Gabbert, Curtis Painter, Christian Ponder and Josh Johnson. Not exactly a lineup worthy of induction in Canton, is it? The better quarterbacks that they’ve faced have dissected them, and recently they’ve struggled to contain wideouts. Over their last four games, at least one wideout has gained 89 or more yards in each contest.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner managed only 44 rushing yards last week, and has just 104 over his last two games. Though he remains fourth in the NFL in rushing yards, his mediocre numbers have hurt fantasy owners, especially because he has just one touchdown over his last three games. But the last time he faced the Panthers, back in Week 6, he ran for 129 yards and two scores.

Turner will have a chance to rectify himself this week, as Carolina brings the 25th-ranked run defense into the game. Even better for Turner’s fantasy owners is the fact that the Panthers have allowed more rushing touchdowns than all but two other NFL teams, and opponents are gashing them for 4.6 yards per carry, which is 25th in the league. Five different running backs have gained 120 or more yards against the Panthers this season, and five have amassed at least 150 combined rushing and receiving yards.

Matt Ryan: 260 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 65 yds receiving
Julio Jones: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 40 yds receiving
Michael Turner: 110 yds rushing, 1 TD

ATL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -14.3%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -8.3%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -3.5%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -34.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton only completed 12 passes last week, but still threw for 201 yards and one touchdown without an interception. He hasn’t thrown a pick for two straight games, but hasn’t eclipsed 210 passing yards in those games either. The paring down of the team’s passing attack has clearly hurt the production of Carolina’s receivers, as wideout Steve Smith has gained less than 50 yards in three of his last four games, and tight end Greg Olsen has failed to gain even 30 yards over his last three games.

Atlanta’s pass defense can be rightly viewed as below average, ranking 21st in the NFL. But they did well against Newton in their previous meeting this season, intercepting him three times and holding him to 237 yards and no touchdowns, while also holding Smith to 66 yards on five receptions.

Running Game Thoughts: The Panthers utterly dominated Tampa with their ground game last week, and Newton’s fantasy owners reaped the rewards, as he ran for three scores. Remarkably, the rookie quarterback leads the league with 13 rushing scores. Jonathan Stewart got into the act last week as well, running for 80 yards scoring for just the third time this year. He’s performed capably over his last two games, rushing for a total of 150 yards.

One of Stewart’s other scores this season came against the Falcons in Week 6, a game in which he also had 48 rushing yards while DeAngelo Williams managed 44. But Atlanta has a stout run defense which is third in the league, which is evident when you consider that Stewart’s total of 48 yards is seventh-highest individual total against the Falcons this year. In fact, just three running backs have gained more than 70 yards against them.

Cam Newton: 245 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT / 40 yds rushing, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 45 yds receiving
Greg Olsen: 30 yds receiving
Jeremy Shockey: 25 yds receiving
Legedu Naanee: 20 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 40 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving
Jonathan Stewart: 35 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Falcons 27, Panthers 21 ^ Top

Saints @ Titans - (Smith)

TEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -4.3%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -3.3%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +22.2%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -16.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Aaron Rodgers deserves every bit of praise that he’s getting, but people would be remiss if they didn’t acknowledge the type of year Drew Brees is having. Brees leads the league with 4,031 passing yards and a 70.6 completion percentage, and is tied for second (behind Rodgers) with 30 touchdown throws. His top weapon has become tight end Jimmy Graham, who lines up all over the field and is second in the NFL with 75 receptions and fifth with 1,046 receiving yards.

The Titans will be hard-pressed to slow New Orleans down. They are 18th in the league against the pass, but have allowed at least 285 passing yards in two of their last three games. Tight ends have exploited Tennessee as well, with a player at that position having either scored a touchdown or gaining 70+ yards against them in five of their last seven contests. Wide receivers have had their moments in the sun against the Titans, with 15 having gained 50 or more yards, and in three of Tennessee’s last four games, at least one wideout has accumulated 75 or more receiving yards.

Running Game Thoughts: The Saints’ three-headed running attack of Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas continues to be effective, though not necessarily for fantasy owners. While the team’s running game is eighth in the league, fantasy owners get the short end of the stick because none of the three consistently gets enough carries to do damage on a regular basis.

As for Tennessee’s run defense, it’s 21st in the NFL, but they have only given up six scores on the ground, which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. Still, they’ve faltered a bit recently, and in their last three games have seen three backs run for at least 80 yards (two ran for over at least 100), with two finding their way into the end zone.

Drew Brees: 345 yds passing, 3 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 105 yds receiving, 2 TD
Marques Colston: 70 yds receiving
Lance Moore: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 30 yds receiving
Devery Henderson: 15 yds receiving
Mark Ingram: 55 yds rushing, 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 30 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving
Darren Sproles: 25 yds rushing / 45 yds receiving

NO FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +26.9%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +29.1%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +23.3%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +16.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Hasselbeck has gone three consecutive games without topping 160 passing yards, and has just one touchdown throw during that time. He’s tied for 13th in the league in touchdown throws, and is 15th in passing yards, and certainly isn’t someone fantasy owners should turn to during their playoff runs. Neither are any of the team’s receivers, with the possible exception of Damian Williams as a WR3.

The Saints are among the worst teams in the league in stopping the pass, with a pass defense that ranks 30th. They’ve given up 19 scores through the air, which his 21st in the league, and in their last three games, here is what opposing quarterbacks have done – Matt Ryan: 351 yards, 2 touchdowns; Eli Manning: 406 yards, 2 touchdowns; Matthew Stafford: 408 yards, 1 touchdown. We realize that the Saints score often and score quickly, meaning the other team needs to throw to catch up, but those numbers are still eye-opening, to say the least.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson’s lousy season got a lot less lousy over the past couple of weeks. He ran for 153 yards and two scores last week against the Bills in a game that followed a 190-yard performance the previous week. He’s now 14th in the NFL in rushing yards, and is averaging over four yards per carry after not being anywhere close to that in the early stages of the season.

New Orleans is the 16th-ranked run defense in the league, but would certainly be worse of teams didn’t have to throw the ball on them so often. Only two teams have allowed a higher yards-per-carry average than the Saints, who are being run on at 4.9 yards per tote. Just two running backs have carried the ball 20 or more times against New Orleans, with Michael Turner gaining 96 yards on 22 carries and Steven Jackson gaining 156 yards on 25 carries.

Matt Hasselbeck: 235 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Damian Williams: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 60 yds receiving
Jared Cook: 30 yds receiving
Lavelle Hawkins: 25 yds receiving
Chris Johnson: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving, 1 TD

Prediction: Saints 31, Titans 21 ^ Top

Colts @ Ravens - (Autry)

BAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +10.3%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +30.0%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +1.2%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +13.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Dan Orlovsky last week, to his credit, led Indy’s offense to the most points it has scored in seven weeks. Granted, it was against the porous New England pass defense with most of the production coming during garbage time in the fourth quarter, but points are points in fantasy football. It was by far the best game of his career. Orlovsky, though, is remains part of an anemic offense. Fantasy superstars such as Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark (pre-injury) have become afterthoughts in 2010, and Wayne’s place in fantasy owners’ line-up is a coin flip every week. This week, however, only the most desperate of owners should consider starting him either as a flex or top-tier WR3. My, how the mighty have fallen.

Baltimore’s defense has been an up and down unit for stretches during the season. They completely dominated San Francisco and Cleveland the last two weeks, but Cincinnati and Seattle the prior two weeks found success. With the struggles of the Colts’ offense this season, and in particular their passing game, there’s not much chance for them to garner much production on the road against the fifth-ranked pass defense that has given up the fewest TD passes in the league (eight).

Running Game Thoughts: Indy’s running game is the worst in the NFL in terms of fantasy football. Not necessarily from a production perspective, but the fact only 12 rushing attempts separate Joseph Addai, Delone Carter and Donald Brown makes for a laughable situation. None of them have done much of anything; it’s just an interesting situation when you consider no one outside of the Indy locker room knows what the plans are week to week with the running backs. If their lack of production as a whole is not enough to keep you away from this team’s running game, surely the hodge-podge of a plan with how each is utilize from week to week is.

The Ravens held the Cleveland Browns to 59 yards on the ground last week, and way back in week 4 they limited the Jets to 38 yards. Neither of those are good indicators for the dreadful prospects of Indy doing anything of note on the ground. This will be an ugly game for the Colts from start to finish. It goes without saying that none of the RBs should be near your line-up.

Dan Orlovsky: 140 yards passing / 0 TDs / 3 INTs
Pierre Garcon: 55 yards receiving
Reggie Wayne: 40 yards receiving
Austin Collie: 30 yards receiving
Joseph Addai: 45 yards rushing
Donald Brown: 25 yards rushing

IND FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -26.1%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -23.1%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -42.0%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -11.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Ravens have won their last two games in spite of Joe Flacco completing a total of 25 passes while tossing just one TD. That’s obviously the formula that puts Baltimore in the best possible position to succeed, so it stands to reason that that will continue to be the team’s M.O. While that’s good for the Ravens from an NFL perspective, it stinks for Flacco owners from a fantasy perspective. Keep that in mind when you begin formulating expectations for Flacco during this fantasy playoff season. Meanwhile, Anquan Boldin continues to be a nuisance for his owners. Since his 145-yard game against Arizona in week seven, Boldin has only averaged three catches in the five games since—plus, he’s only scored once during that stretch. He’s way too inconsistent to be the WR2 many of us drafted him to be.

The Colts’ pass defense has actually improved a bit recently. The Patriots ripped them for almost 300 yards, but the Colts held Jacksonville and Carolina to 110 and 176 passing yards, respectively, in the previous two weeks. Flacco is a solid play this week in spite of the spike in Indy’s play defensively. He should be able to carve out multiple scores in this game.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice had the most productive day running the football in his career. He had more than 200 yards against the Browns and torched them for several long runs. The glaring change, though, about Baltimore’s offense in the attention they now place on running the ball. After the Seattle game in which Rice only ran the ball five times, the Ravens have given him at least 20 carries in each of the three games subsequent to the Seahawks contest. And this week bodes well for Rice to continue his onslaught against the opposition. Rice should be at the top of the week 14 RB rankings, and should produce eye-popping numbers once again.

Last week against New England was arguable Indy’s best defensive performance all season. Strange to say when they surrender 31 points, but part of it has to do with holding the Patriots to a mere 73 yards rushing. By and large, though, teams have had success running the football against the Colts. Only one team has surrendered more rushing TDs than Indianapolis, so Rice is in line for another huge game.

Joe Flacco: 210 yards passing / 2 TDs
Torrey Smith: 80 yards receiving / 1 TD
Anquan Boldin: 55 yards receiving
Ed Dickson: 35 yards receiving / 1 TD
Ray Rice: 120 yards rushing / 30 yards receiving / 1 rushing TD

Prediction: Ravens 27, Colts 6 ^ Top

Texans @ Bengals - (Autry)

CIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -21.9%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -25.6%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -33.1%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -12.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: TJ Yates wasn’t too big of a disaster after making his first NFL start last week against Atlanta. He’s a QB that needs to rely on the success of the running game perhaps more than any other signal-caller in the league. The play-action passing game that’s a staple in the Houston offense actually allowed Yates to not hinder the production of Andre Johnson, who in his second game back had a nice game. Now Johnson’s availability is in question this week from his second hamstring injury this season. If Johnson is not careful, the “fragile” label may start to getting applied to his ledger. Getting hobbled twice this year from non-contact is enough to make the most optimistic of us scratch our head about him. Time will tell, though. If he starts and is healthy, I say start him with caution.

Cincinnati’s pass defense was actually ranked No. 1 through the first quarter of the season, but injuries to several key defenders have delivered a blow to this unit. They’ve limited Cleveland and Pittsburgh through the air the last couple of games, but this unit is not where it was earlier in the season. They’re sure to be tested this week against the Texans, especially if Andre Johnson plays. If Johnson sits, the Bengals may be a good start, as they will try to force the young QB into some mistakes.

Running Game Thoughts: Houston’s running game is what moves this offense. Arian Foster and Ben Tate have combined to give the Texans the best one-two punch in the league. Foster, certainly, is the undisputed lead dog in this offense. He has battled back from a hamstring injury to actually lead the league in yards from scrimmage average per game. Meanwhile, Tate serves owners well as a flex play on most weeks. Start them both in their respective spots on your team and you should be satisfied at game’s end.

The Bengals have given up a ton of rushing TDs this year—12 to be exact. That’s 25th best in the league. Rashard Mendenhall ran for a couple scores last week, which more than likely gave the Texans a clean blueprint about how best to attack Cincy’s defense. All the Texans’ scoring could easily come from Foster and Tate exclusively, meaning each could be in line for a productive game.

T.J. Yates: 175 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Kevin Walter: 40 yards receiving
Jacoby Jones: 30 yards receiving
Owen Daniels: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Joel Dreessen: 25 yards receiving
Arian Foster: 125 yards rushing / 30 yards receiving / 2 TDs rushing
Ben Tate: 55 yards rushing

HOU FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -14.6%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -4.4%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -22.5%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +1.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Even though Andy Dalton was able to salvage an ugly game last week by tossing one TD pass against Pittsburgh, it still doesn’t take away the fact that the contest was one of his worst performances of the season. An under 50 percent completion percentage, 135 yards and off-target passes most of the game were all obvious signs of a struggling rookie QB. AJ Green was able to deliver despite the below-average play of his QB. Green has catapulted himself into the must-start category already. Start him with great confidence as a low-end WR2 this week.

The 267 yards the Texans gave up to the Falcons last week was the first time they gave up more than 150 yards through the air since week six against Baltimore. It’s amazing what defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has done with this unit. They will continue to be a thorn in the side of every opponent for the balance of the season, and a strong DST option for their fantasy owners. Including this game, Houston’s next three are at Cincy, at home against Carolina and on the road at Indy in week 16. That week 16 contest against the worthless Colts should have Houston DST owners salivating at the prospect of having their defense play such a dreadful offense in the Super Bowl.

Running Game Thoughts: There’s nothing neither special nor exciting about Cedric Benson. He’s a nondescript player that seems to always do just enough to warrant starting consideration every week. Pittsburgh held him to 52 yards, and with his non-role in the passing game, it’s tough for him to supplement his production elsewhere in the line-up. Most people may be forced to start Benson this week. I say if you have a RB who may not be as talented as Benson but who has a better match-up—C.J. Spiller, Marion Barber, Jonathan Stewart?—you’d be better suited to start him.

The Texans are equally adept at stopping the run as they as at stopping the pass. They’re fourth in the league at defending the run and have only given up more than 100 yards on the ground once in the last six games. Considering the one-dimensional player that Benson is and the fact that the match-up doesn’t bode well for him, I’d say put him on the bench this week.

Andy Dalton: 205 yards passing / 2 TD / 1 INT
A.J. Green: 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 35 yards receiving
Andre Caldwell: 20 yards receiving
Jermaine Gresham: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
Cedric Benson: 60 yards rushing

Prediction: Texans 24, Bengals 20 ^ Top

Vikings @ Lions - (Autry)

DET FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +20.5%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +1.3%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +0.4%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +23.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: As of Thursday, Christian Ponder has yet to practice, meaning his chance of playing on Sunday is pretty slim. Joe Webb will get the start if Ponder’s hip pointer indeed keeps him out of the line-up. Ponder’s absence would be a huge blow after the rookie had his best game of the season last week. Percy Harvin’s steady ascent to a solid, consistent option has made Ponder’s development less rocky. The passing game would probably divert to Harvin should Ponder miss this game. Webb is less the passing QB that Ponder is, but he’s more of a threat to run. That could potential eat into Harvin’s production. Stay tuned to see what Ponder’s availability is before you become too optimistic about Harvin’s chances of repeating last week’s good game.

Detroit over the last three games has given up an average of 302 passing yards, culminated by Drew Brees carving them up pretty good on Sunday night. Two starting DBs, Chris Houston and Louis Delmas, are likely to miss this game with knee injuries, so Harvin and the rest of the WR corp of Minnesota may have an easier task roaming the secondary. Regardless of who plays QB, Harvin is probably the safest start on the Vikings team this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Adrian Peterson returned to practice on Thursday on a limited basis. It’s still unclear whether or not he will play. There’s no indication one way or another from Minnesota, and I’m sure that’s the way they want it. Toby Gerhart has played in AP’s absence, and while he hasn’t reminded anyone of Peterson, he’s at least kept the seat warm until AP’s return. If Peterson is sidelined again this week, Gerhart would actually be a nice start. With the porous nature of Detroit’s run defense and the possible increase in running the ball, Gerhart could put up nice numbers.

Only twice has Detroit limited the opposition to less than 100 yards rushing in a game. Stunning when you consider who their DTs are. And with Ndamukong Suh set to miss his second of two games, that makes their defense an even bigger question mark. Certainly, if Peterson plays you’re going to want him in your line-up. But whoever gets the majority of carries for Minnesota should be in for a nice game.

Joe Webb: 165 yards passing / 40 yards rushing / 1 TD pass / 1 INT
Percy Harvin: 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Devin Aromashodu: 45 yards receiving
Visanthe Shiancoe: 40 yards receiving
Adrian Peterson: 90 yards rushing / 1 TD

MIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.2%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -6.5%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -16.7%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -4.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: When Matthew Stafford is playing well, he’s playing really well. When he’s struggling…well…it’s pretty bad. His TDs come in bunches, but so do his interceptions. After throwing four interceptions in the first eight games, he’s thrown 10 in the last four. He’s gone away from the glove on his throwing hand that supposedly protected his broken index finger. Even though he only threw one TD last week against New Orleans, the eye test revealed he played very well. The penalties are what derailed this offense. Meanwhile, Calvin Johnson only has one TD in his last four games. He’s going to have to get more involved if Detroit’s passing game is to recapture its luster from the first quarter of the season.

No team in the NFL has given up more TD passes than Minnesota’s 24. Not only are they struggling keeping teams out of the end zone, but they don’t force turnovers either—just six interceptions on the season. Stafford should be able to pick up where he left off Sunday night. Expect the third year QB to put up nice numbers this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Kevin Smith has yet to practice this week because of a lingering ankle injury, so Maurice Morris will likely get the nod. Too bad, because Smith has been the best option for the Lions since Jahvid Best was placed on IR several weeks ago. Morris, however, has been a decent fill-in—especially in the passing game. He caught Stafford’s only TD pass last week. If he continues with his role in the passing game, he could be of some value to fantasy owners in the playoff stretch. Beware of Keiland Williams; he could steal a few goal line carries.

Minnesota is not the run-stuffing defense it once was with the Williams Wall, but they’re still a force. Denver pretty much had their way with the Vikings last week, but Minnesota has the potential to limit teams pretty well. In fact, Detroit only mustered 20 yards on the ground against the Vikings in their first meeting in week three. Granted, the Lions had to play catch-up after falling behind early, but 20 yards on 19 carries? Not good. With Morris as the RB, the Lions will have a better outing this time around.

Matthew Stafford: 270 yards passing / 2 TDs
Calvin Johnson: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Nate Burleson: 55 yards receiving
Titus Young: 35 yards receiving
Brandon Pettigrew: 65 yards receiving / 1 TD
Maurice Morris: 60 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Lions 24, Vikings 17 ^ Top

Raiders @ Packers - (Autry)

GB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +16.4%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +18.5%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +2.2%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +3.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Carson Palmer has averaged 273 yards passing with eight TD passes since that debacle of an introduction against Kansas City. He has a tendency to throw the rock to the other team, but his high risk/high reward style of play fits well with the Oakland organization. Palmer’s production is all the more impressive when you consider his starting WRs are named Chaz Schilens and Darrius Heyward-Bey. They’re not total garbage, but they’re far from being near the top of WR tandems in the league. However, Schilens and DHB could be sneaky starts with week, as the Raiders are sure to be forced to pass to keep up with the high flying Packers aerial assault.

The fact that the Packers are still undefeated with the 31st ranked pass defense is an interesting concept. That number is skewed a bit by the opposition having to keep pace with an offense that’s scored at least 40 points four times this season, and that’s gravy from a fantasy perspective. When your players are playing against the Packers, it’s a great idea to have them in your line-up—even those who may be borderline starters.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Bush had his worst game last week since becoming the full time starter in week eight. An 18-yard performance against the Packers won’t cut it. Look for the Raiders to feed their bell cow early and often in this game. Oakland may try to modify their approach, so instead of trying to keep pace with Green Bay, perhaps they slow the game down by utilizing Bush and the running game more - just a hunch. If any semblance of that idea emerges, Bush should have a huge game as a result of both his running and pass-catching ability.

Another by-product of Green Bay’s offense is teams simply abandon the run against them. No team has had fewer rushing attempts against it than Green Bay—hence, my hunch that Oakland will try to buck that trend by tailoring its game plan toward the running game. Bush is a solid choice this week.

Carson Palmer: 240 yards passing / 2 TDs / 2 INTs
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 70 yards receiving
Chaz Schilens: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
Louis Murphy: 35 yards receiving
Kevin Boss: 20 yards receiving
Michael Bush: 70 yards rushing / 45 yards receiving / 1 TD rushing

OAK FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +24.2%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -4.9%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +30.6%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +25.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Aaron Rodgers has had one of those magical seasons that fantasy owners crave. He’s thrown for multiple TDs in every game this year and hasn’t had less than 247 passing yards in any game. Just sit back and enjoy one of the best seasons of any QB in the game’s history. The one deterrent in this offense outside of Rodgers is it’s difficult to pinpoint who will have a big game week to week. All the receivers have had their day in the sun. The only suggestion that I would have is if you have a receiver on the Packers, it’s probably be a good idea to start him.

The Raiders are 25th in the league against the pass, but most of the damage against this defense was done during the first half of the season. They haven’t given up more than 239 yards passing since week five against Houston, but that will change this week. Rodgers will continue his historical season with a dismantling of the Raiders.

Running Game Thoughts: James Starks in likely out of this game with knee and ankle injuries, so Brandon Saine and Ryan Grant will get the bulk of the playing time. There were whispers that Rodgers indicated that Saine has the best hands on the team. If that’s true, Saine will be the one to have this week. A pass-catching RB in this offense in gravy. Grant has had his opportunity this year and has done little with it. Keep an eye on Saine. I certainly wouldn’t start him, but the situation is at least worthy of attention.

Oakland is one of the league’s worst defenses at stopping the run. They’ve surrendered more than 200 yards on the ground three times this year, including Miami last week rumbling for 209 yards. The Packers won’t put enough emphasis on the running game to warrant starting consideration of either of their RBs.

Aaron Rodgers: 320 yards passing / 3 TDs
Jordy Nelson: 110 yards receiving / 1 TD
Greg Jennings: 85 yards receiving / 2 TDs
Donald Driver: 40 yards receiving
Jermichael Finley: 65 yards receiving
Brandon Saine: 45 yards rushing / 1 TD
Ryan Grant: 30 yards rushing

Prediction: Packers 34, Raiders 21 ^ Top

Patriots @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

WAS FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -16.8
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -20.0%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -8.9%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +12.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rob Gronkowski briefly set the record for most touchdown receptions in one season by a tight end. That was before the “pass” was determined to have been a lateral, leaving Gronkowski with a rushing touchdown instead. He did grab two touchdowns earlier in the game to tie the record and now needs just one through the last four games to break the mark. With the way Brady and Gronkowski are clicking, that should come as soon as this week. Brady is a master of this offense and has proven that he can pick apart any defense using precise, short passes that allow his receivers to gain yards after the catch. The team lacks a deep threat but can survive fine without one—it’s impossible to fathom how good it would be if they had one, though.

The Redskins enter Week 14 as the ninth-ranked pass defense (208.8 ypg) and have allowed an average of one passing touchdown per game. Washington has improved greatly on its ability to rush the passer also, and they are third in the league with 33 sacks. The only times that Tom Brady has looked human over the past several years is when the opposition has put him under constant pressure. Expect defensive coordinator Jim Haslett to dial up some blitzes; but on the flip side, expect Brady to burn the blitz with his quick-strike passing—and with his current stable of weapons, his ability to beat the blitz is more magnified.

Running Game Thoughts: As expected, the Patriots used the second half of a game that was closer than anyone thought it would be—but still never in doubt—as an audition for one of their rookie running backs. Steven Ridley was “heavily” used in the second half (eight carries is heavy use for New England) so Bill Belichick could get a better read on what he has at running back depth for the playoffs. The Law Firm should return to his role of leading rushing attack this week however. Green-Ellis isn’t flashy but offers the dependability and workman-like production that Belichick loves.

Washington has allowed 116.5 ypg and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season. They allowed three of those touchdowns to Shonn Greene last week, but the team has continued to play hard in recent games despite their poor record. It will not be an easy task for the Pats to run the ball, but it’s not the way they prefer to attack anyway.

Tom Brady: 295 yds passing 3 TDs
Chad Ochocinco: 15 yds receiving
Wes Welker: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Deion Branch: 40 yds receiving
Aaron Hernandez: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Rob Gronkowski: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
Danny Woodhead: 30 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

NE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +15.9%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +36.1%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +0.8%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -15.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tight end Fred Davis stepped up this season to become the most dangerous pass catcher on this roster, but he will now miss the rest if the season due to a drug-related suspension handed down by the NFL. Rex Grossman will need to rely on his veteran wideouts, Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, in a game where the Skins should be able to move the ball through the air. Grossman was terrible last week while facing the Jets, but after seeing what John Beck was capable of during his mid-season audition, Mike Shanahan will stick with the mistake-prone former Gator. The New England secondary cures most ills.

New England’s pass defense has allowed even below average passers like Chad Henne and Vince Young to pass for 400 yards, so there’s hope for Rex Grossman this week. The Patriots have performed poorly all season (allowing 310 ypg) and are now seriously under-manned with injuries to their defensive backfield. How bad are they banged up in the secondary? Wide receivers Matt Slater and Julian Edelman have been seeing significant playing time at safety and nickel cornerback in recent weeks.

Running Game Thoughts: Is it finally safe to say that Roy Helu is the feature back in Washington? After a 100-yard effort against the Jets last week, the answer should be “Yes.” However, keep in mind that after Ryan Torain’s breakout game earlier this season, Tim Hightower was featured the following week. Helu may be more cut out for a backup role long term, but he’s the best option the team has right now and should see the rock plenty in upcoming weeks. The rookie out of Nebraska sees the hole well and gets through it quickly, making him a good fit for the Washington zone-blocking scheme.

The Pats have played the run well statistically, allowing 102.1 ypg and only nine touchdowns on the season. Of course with teams able to throw at will against them, those per-game stats can be misleading. 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 their middle-of-the-pack ranking in yards-per-carry (4.2) shows that teams could be successful attacking them on the ground if they chose to.

Rex Grossman: 315 yds passing, 3 TDs, 1 INT / 10 yds rushing
Santana Moss: 105 yds receiving, 2 TDs
Jabar Gaffney: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Anthony Armstrong: 85 yds receiving
Roy Helu: 80 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving
Ryan Torain: 25 yds rushing

Prediction: Patriots 34, Redskins 27 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Jets - (Marcoccio)

NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +3.9%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -10.1%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +25.7%
NYJFF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -40.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Recently claimed quarterback Kyle Orton replaced an ineffective Tyler Palko during the second quarter of last week’s game against Chicago. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Orton dislocated his index finger on his first pass attempt and so the Tyler Palko era lasts at least one more week. Palko was responsible for seven turnovers during his first two starts but managed a turnover-free day against the Bears. After a miserable start to the day, prompting the insertion of Orton, Palko did settle down to have the best game of his career (157 yards passing with one TD). Owners of Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston have to hope Orton is a quick healer, as Palko has been unable to move the team during the last three weeks. Palko has good mobility but a very weak arm, and he will surely struggle against a tough Jets pass defense.

The Jets have allowed only 204.6 ypg and have given up 11 passing touchdowns while accumulating 14 interceptions. With Bowe likely drawing Darrelle Revis in coverage, Palko will be hard pressed to move the ball through the air. He’ll be just as hard pressed to keep his one-game interception-free streak intact.

Running Game Thoughts: Jackie Battle was a career backup who was finally given a chance because of Jamal Charles’ season-ending knee injury and the ineffectiveness of Thomas Jones. After a few decent games, Battle has shown why he’s been a career backup. In fairness, Battle is the type of back that runs like a battering ram and could wear down a defense by the fourth quarter, but unfortunately the Chiefs are usually forced to abandon the run early. However, it’s not like Battle really deserves significant carries anyway, as he is limited in what he can do and lacks the speed and agility to be a difference maker. The Chiefs are lacking in options, though. Dexter McCluster is quick and shifty but lacks the straight-line speed and power to be effective in a large role, and Thomas Jones has seen his better days. Perhaps Jones will be motivated in his return to the Meadowlands, but no fantasy owner can count on that. It’s tough to imagine how the Chiefs can beat the Jets for a second consecutive win unless they can pull off another impressive defensive performance.

Tyler Palko: 155 yds passing, 2 Ints. / 20 yds rushing
Dwayne Bowe: 65 yds receiving
Steve Breaston: 25 yds receiving
Jonathan Baldwin: 20 yds receiving
Leonard Pope: 15 yds receiving
Dexter McCluster: 35 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving
Jackie Battle: 60 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving

KC FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -13.0%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -44.4%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +59.5%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -3.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Mark Sanchez once again looked shaky for most of the last week’s game , but he did enough for the Jets to win. Sanchez also tossed a touchdown to Santonio Holmes for the second straight week. Holmes is the only real difference maker the Jets have at wide receiver, and Sanchez is starting to realize it. Dustin Keller was finally worked back into the offensive game plan in Week 12, catching two touchdowns, but he went back to his role as the forgotten man in Week 13. Someone needs to remind Sanchez and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer that Keller is capable of creating mismatches and needs to be utilized, especially against a Chiefs team that has seriously struggled against tight ends in recent weeks.

The Kansas City pass defense has been exceptional over the last three weeks. While two of those performances came against inexperienced quarterbacks in Tim Tebow and Caleb Hanie, they also performed well against Ben Roethlisberger. On the season, the team has allowed 213.8 ypg and 19 passing touchdowns. Mark Sanchez is surely capable of reaching the level of Tebow and Hanie, but don’t expect the Jets to be marching up and down the field on the Chiefs.

Running Game Thoughts: I wrote last week that “Shonn Greene has started to find his groove after his early-season struggles,” and then he went out to have his best game of the season, by far. Greene took advantage of the holes his line created and gained 88 yards on the ground while finding the end zone three times against a fairly tough Redskins run defense. He was also used on third downs after LT left the game with another leg injury, and Greene gained 26 yards on a rare three catches. Tomlinson is expected to be back this week and would regain his third-down role, but Greene should see 20 or more carries against a below-average run defense in what should be a hard-fought game.

The Chiefs’ run defense is allowing 130.3 ypg and has given up 10 rushing touchdowns on the season, so the Jets should be looking to exploit this matchup. They will gladly keep the ball out of Mark Sanchez’s hands…except for when he’s handing it off to Greene, Tomlinson, and McKnight.

Mark Sanchez: 245 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 5 yds rushing
Santonio Holmes: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Plaxico Burress: 40 yds receiving
Jeremy Kerley: 20 yds receiving / 10 yds rushing
Dustin Keller: 40 yds receiving
Shonn Greene: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
LaDainian Tomlinson: 20 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Jets 20, Chiefs 10 ^ Top

Eagles @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

MIA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -17.0%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -5.1%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -36.5%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -45.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Michael Vick is expected back this week after sitting out the last three weeks with a broken rib sustained against Arizona. The injury should be relatively well-healed after four weeks, but Vick could show some signs of rust. And before immediately inserting him back into your lineups, you have to consider that he’s now been knocked out of three games this season The Eagles will also be getting Jeremy Maclin back after a two-week absence due to shoulder and hamstring injuries, and like Vick, he could be a little rusty and also a candidate to reinjure himself. DeSean Jackson has been famously “dogging it” out on the field the last several weeks, making him a shaky start, too. One would think the negative attention would fire him to produce a big day, but at this important time of year can anyone really count on that happening? In other words, this may be a good week to avoid all Eagles involved in the passing game…with the exception of perhaps Brent Celek, who has played well through the last month.

Miami has allowed 248.9 passing yards per game and 18 passing touchdowns on the season and they have not been forcing turnovers, with only nine interceptions on the season. That’s likely due to a combination of having a banged up secondary along with the inability to get consistent pressure on the quarterback. The unit has fared much better when cornerback Vontae Davis is in the lineup though. Davis has yet to allow a touchdown pass this season, and according to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks have a 66.7 rating throwing into his coverage area. All the more reason to avoid the Eagle’s passing game this week if one has better alternatives.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy is having an MVP-caliber season and should be the focal point of the offense if Andy Reid is looking to ease Michael Vick back into action. With 1,411 total yards and 15 touchdowns, McCoy has arguably been the best running back in the league in 2011. Vick has promised that he will slide more at the end of his runs to protect himself better, but he has said that in the past and not followed through. In what may be the most surprising statistic of the season, McCoy has 12 rushing touchdowns while Vick does not have any.

It will not be an easy matchup for McCoy this week, however. Miami has allowed only three rushing touchdowns on the season and is allowing just 92.3 ypg, making them a top-five run defense. The Phins have played very inspired football after their horrendous start to the season and have won four out of their last five games, mostly on the back of their defense. Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett are excellent in pursuit and help to control opposing runners.

Michael Vick: 225 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 Ints. / 25 yds rushing
DeSean Jackson: 50 yds receiving
Riley Cooper: 30 yds receiving
Jeremy Maclin: 45 yds receiving
Brent Celek: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
LeSean McCoy: 95 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Dion Lewis: 10 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving

PHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +14.9%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +38.8%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -6.8%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +7.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore has thrown for 1,769 yards and nine touchdowns with five interceptions since replacing Chad Henne nine games ago. While he will never be an elite quarterback—or even much more than an average one—Moore has made the most of his opportunity and has proven to be a solid option. He has done a fine job utilizing his best weapon, Brandon Marshall, who is averaging 75 yards per game (which includes a poor five-yard performance) in the eight games in which Moore has started. Marshall has also scored twice in that time frame.

The Eagles added Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to the secondary with incumbent Assante Samuel to form what was supposed to be the best cornerback trio in the NFL. However, the results have been mixed, at best, for the Eagles pass defense. The new-look defense has allowed a respectable 229.3 yards per game but has given up an astonishing 22 touchdown passes through 12 games.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush has gained 667 yards and scored five touchdowns on the ground through 12 weeks, which has already surpassed the 581 rushing yards that benchmarked his best season as a runner with the Saints. He is also only one rushing touchdown short of a career high. Furthermore, he has managed 35 receptions, proving that he remains a dangerous part of a passing game. He is running hard and is no longer looking to dance around, trying to make big plays on every carry, which was a problem for him throughout his career in New Orleans. Rookie Daniel Thomas is a fine compliment to Bush and looks like a solid prospect, showing good push and quick feet. By next season, he could be a real force due to his size and quickness—if he learns to take better care of his hamstrings and stay on the field, that is.

The Eagles have not fared well against power running games this season, so Thomas might play a bigger role this Sunday than in recent weeks. On the season, the Eagles have allowed 115.6 yards per game and have given up 11 rushing touchdowns.

Matt Moore: 225 yds passing 1 TD, 1 INT
Brandon Marshall: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 20 yds receiving
Brian Hartline: 35 yards receiving
Anthony Fasano: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Daniel Thomas: 70 yds rushing, 1 TD / 10 yds receiving
Reggie Bush: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: Dolphins 24, Eagles 17 ^ Top

Giants @ Cowboys - (Marcoccio)

DAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -5.9%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +5.0%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -45.7%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -8.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Giants are on a four-game losing streak, but it’s not because of the play of Eli Manning, who happens to be having the best regular season of his career. Manning has improved his accuracy and decision making and has thrived even after losing two of his favorite wide receivers during the offseason and with Mario Manningham missing a bunch of time to injury. Second-year receiver Victor Cruz has stepped up to become a consistent playmaker. He is big and fast and has quickly gained Eli’s trust.

The Dallas passing defense has allowed 230.2 ypg and 16 touchdowns on the season. They are second only to Baltimore in quarterback sacks and will look to rattle the younger Manning. With Manning gaining confidence by the week, however, he may not be as difficult to rattle as he’s been in the past. And the Cowboys may find themselves on the wrong end of a few big plays by Cruz and Hakeem Nicks if Manning can beat the blitz.

Running Game Thoughts: Ahmad Bradshaw was back in action after a four-week layoff due to a crack in his foot. While he appeared to be a little rusty, the Giants rushing attack as a whole just looks better with him in the game. Brandon Jacobs, who struggled as the feature back while Bradshaw was out, looked much better in his support role, gaining 50 yards and scoring a touchdown on the ground against Green Bay.

Having given up 105.7 ypg and just seven rushing touchdowns, the Cowboys’ run defense is ranked in the top 10, so the Giants will need both Bradshaw and Jacobs to be at their best. Linebacker Sean Lee is back at full strength and has been the key to the Cowboys’ stopping the run. While he may be a little undersized (234 lbs) to stop Jacobs (265 lbs) with a head of steam, his smarts and athleticism should help him find a way.

Eli Manning: 285 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int.
Hakeem Nicks: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 100 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jake Ballard: 55 yds receiving
Ahmad Bradshaw: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 45 yds receiving
Brandon Jacobs: 50 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving

NYG FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +49.3%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +27.3%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +131.4%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -0.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo has looked like he’s at the top of his game over the last several weeks, but head coach Jason Garrett still seems hesitant to turn him loose. Last week against the Giants, Mike McCarthy trusted Aaron Rodgers to throw his way downfield to get his team into easy field goal range with seconds left in the game. In contrast, Garrett played scared with Romo in the closing seconds against Arizona. Instead of allowing him to gain some yardage, Garrett let the clock run down and settled for a 49-yard field goal try, which was missed (after Garrett inexplicably iced his own kicker). Romo’s favorite wide receiver, Miles Austin, should be back this week, pushing superb fill-in Laurent Robinson back into the slot role. Garrett will need to trust Romo during this crucial four-game stretch with Dallas’s season on the line.

The Giants’ banged-up secondary is very susceptible to the pass as outlined by the numbers above. The team allows 260.3 passing ypg and has given up 15 passing touchdowns on the season. Rookie cornerback Prince Amukarama has been slowly worked in after missing most of the early season with a leg injury, and he has shown some promise. Safety Kenny Phillips is in jeopardy of missing this game, which would be a blow to a secondary mired in inconsistency due to a myriad of injuries. The Giants have been beaten badly by opposing tight ends during the last five weeks, so expect Jason Witten to take advantage of their injuries at linebacker and safety.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie DeMarco Murray has slowed down over last two weeks after busting onto the scene when Felix Jones went down. Murray gained only 79 yards against Washington in Week 12 and followed that up with a 38-yard effort against Arizona last week—his two worst games since grabbing the starting reins. He’s been a workhorse for Dallas and perhaps the wear and tear is starting to take its toll on the rookie. He’s still a safe start, but some of the luster is wearing off.

The Giants’ run defense wasn’t challenged last week against a Green Bay team that doesn’t often run the ball. But on the season the team has allowed 127.0 ypg and 13 rushing touchdowns. Murray should be able to test the banged-up New York front seven, and that may leave them even more banged up.

Tony Romo: 305 yds passing 2 TD, 2 Int. / 15 yds rushing
Laurent Robinson: 45 yds receiving
Dez Bryant: 85 yds receiving
Miles Austin: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Witten: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Felix Jones: 20 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving
DeMarco Murray: 90 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Giants 30, Cowboys 27 ^ Top

Bears @ Broncos - (Eakin)

DEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +18.5%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +17.9%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -15.8%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -3.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Caleb Hanie is expected to start over Brett Favre this week. Let Bear Nation breath a collective sigh of relief. Hanie, at 0-2, has struggled since taking over for Cutler, however, completing just 48 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and six interceptions. He will now take his struggles out west to Denver to face a defense playing at a near-elite level that has lead the Broncos on a five-game win streak. A big part of the Denver turnaround has been the return of defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil combined with Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Von Miller makes for one of the most lethal pass rushing tandems in the league. Miller missed last week with a broken thumb but has been fitted with a cast and is expected to play. With Chicago struggling to protect quarterbacks all year, there is little reason to hold an optimistic outlook for the passing offense. For the Bears to have any chance, they need to take advantage of Hanie’s mobility. They can throw quick passes, screens, and designed rollouts to slow down the pass rush and move the point of attack. If they stay in their standard offense, Miler and Dumervil will collapse the pocket and sack Hanie all day long. If you’re willing to bet on the Bears passing game. Johnnie Knox has led the way for three straight weeks. Knox will have a tough matchup if he expectedly draws Champ Bailey. Also, a move toward shorter routes would not suit Knox’s strengths. He runs deep routes that take time to develop.

Running Game Thoughts: With Matt Forte down and out with a sprained MCL, Marion Barber will have plenty of opportunity to dance after each carry that goes for more than a yard. Barber is tough in spots, but there are question as to whether he can be a lead back anymore. He could have success running on the Denver front, however, as they haven’t been shutting down opposing run games. The Chargers rushed for 184, the Raiders 100, the Chiefs 134, and the Vikings 129. The question is whether the Bears will have enough success passing to give the run game a chance. Being one dimensional will allow safety Brian Dawkins to play in the box, where he is excellent in run support. The other consideration is that the Bears simply are not designed for the power run game Barber is suited for.

Caleb Hanie: 255 yds passing, 0 TDs / 1 Int
Johnny Knox: 55 yds receiving
Roy Williams: 60 yds receiving
Kellen Davis: 35 yds receiving
Marion Barber: 85 yds rushing / 20 yards receiving / 1 TD

CHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +3.3%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -6.7%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +31.0%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -7.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: On the surface, Tebow’s 10-of-15 passing day to win a high-scoring affair versus the Vikings seems to signify that the young quarterback is progressing as a passer. Perhaps. But optimism should be tempered, considering that the Vikings were extremely shorthanded in the secondary of a defense that already was just 28th in passing yards allowed. Furthermore, they have allowed a league-leading 24 touchdown passes. The Bears have a more stable secondary. They aren’t a shutdown unit but have better stability against the big play in their use of a bend-but-don’t-break Cover Two shell. The challenge for them will be not falling asleep because of the lack of pass attempts. They must also avoid being overly aggressive in supporting the option read. Tebow can make them pay if they lose containment. While his extended throwing motion and lack of experience cause him to struggle on precision timing routes, Tebow has shown the ability to hit the vertical routes. It helps that he has two targets in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker that are big and fast. Chicago’s young safeties will be tested a few times, and their inexperience may give Denver the one or two big plays needed to win this low-scoring affair.

Running Game Thoughts: One of the Broncos’ problems moving forward is that they really haven’t designed their personnel to match this new offensive identity. Willis McGahee has been a blessing as the lead back and is a good power runner, but 30 carries a game for a veteran backup is asking a lot week in a and week out. He is nursing a sore knee this week and still hasn’t practiced. Expect Lance Ball to be a healthy contributor in taking some of the load off McGahee. But don’t expect much production from either back; the Denver running game will face its toughest hurdle in the Bears. Led by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, Chicago is eighth in rushing yards allowed, with 100 per game. To shut down the Broncos, the Bears defensive ends, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, need to get penetration and force Tebow to make his option decision early. This will be critical in allowing Briggs and Urlacher to flow to the ball carrier with decisiveness. And I think they will be able to do just that. Peppers is an All-Pro that everyone knows has world-class athleticism, but the young Melton also has had a good year. Melton started as a big recruit for the Texas Longhorns as a running back. He has tremendous feet for a defensive lineman, with the agility to make plays against the read option attack.

Tim Tebow: 220 yds passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Eric Decker: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 30 yds receiving
Daniel Fells: 15 yds receiving
Willis McGahee: 90 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Broncos 17, Bears 14 ^ Top

49ers @ Cardinals - (Eakin)

ARI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +3.4%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +13.4%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -2.0%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -5.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Looking at the numbers in last week’s game against the Rams, you get the sense that the Niners were trying to work on new offensive pieces with the game in hand. Alex Smith threw the ball downfield more than usual, and seven different players carried the ball, including a tight end and two wide receivers. Smith had success, throwing for 275 yards, including a 52-yard scoring strike to Michael Crabtree and a 56-yard throw to Kyle Williams. Williams gives the offense more speed on the outside and has allowed Crabtree and Davis more room to work the middle of the field. With Harbaugh and company trying to ramp up the diversity of the offense for the playoff stretch, look for them to broaden their offense in similar fashion. The Cardinals are easier to attack through the air, so the coaches will continue to loosen the chain on Smith. Crabtree is a worthy play as a mid- to low-end WR2 this week. He has steadily produced over the current five-game stretch, including a 96-yard game last week. Vernon Davis remains a second-tier option as well.

Running Game Thoughts: San Francisco will want to dial down Frank Gore’s punishment in order to keep him ready for the playoffs, so we could be seeing a temporary downswing in his production as the Niners have their division wrapped up. Gore was limited to 20 carries for only 73 yards last week against a St. Louis defense that has given up some huge numbers to running backs. But Kendall Hunter was also held in check, so give the Rams credit. The team’s struggles to run the ball against the Rams don’t warm the belly this week, as the Cardinals just held the red-hot DeMarco Murray to 38 yards on 12 carries. They are ranked just 19th, allowing 119 yards per game, but have played tougher versus the run of late. They held Gore to 88 yards just two weeks ago.

Alex Smith: 255 yds passing, 1 TDs / 1 Int
Michael Crabtree: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Kyle Williams: 40 yds receiving
Vernon Davis: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Frank Gore: 80 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving / 1 TD

SF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -5.6%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +1.3%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -15.3%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -42.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Against the Cowboys, Kevin Kolb threw for 247 yards with one score and no turnovers in his return from missing four games. Not a bad outing. The Niners have an incredible run defense, but their pass defense is similar to the Cowboys: a good front seven that can pressure, but some weakness at the second and third coverage spots. Last week I questioned whether Andre Roberts’ emergence without Kolb would continue or if Early Doucet would reclaim his role as the No. 2 receiver. That question was answered definitively by Roberts’ catching six balls for 111 yards versus Doucet’s two receptions for no yards. I don’t expect the Cards to be able to run the ball this week. And their most talented receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, has a tough matchup with Carlos Rogers. Rogers will get some help over the top from the safety, as well, so there’s a good chance that Andre Roberts will once again lead the way for the Cards in yards and receptions.

Running Game Thoughts: Beanie Wells rushed for 67 yards against the Cowboys last week after his career-high explosion against the Rams, confirming that the Rams defense was most responsible for his success. Last week I poured over the historic numbers the 49ers run defense is posting this year. This week I will give you the Cliff Notes version. Don’t play Beanie Wells against them. Steven Jackson, enjoying a fine season, was held to 19 yards last week. Nineteen yards on ten carries!

Kevin Kolb: 255 yds passing, 1 TDs / 1 Int
Larry Fitzgerald: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 80 yds receiving
Early Doucet: 35 yds receiving
Beanie Wells: 50 yds rushing

Prediction: 49ers 24, Cardinals 20 ^ Top

Bills @ Chargers - (Eakin)

SD FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +6.2%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -5.0%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -1.2%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -1.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bills have struggled a bit on offense since their 5-2 start. They are currently mired in a five-game losing skid where they are averaging just 13 points per game. Ryan Fitzpatrick is still going to get the yards; the problem has come in the red zone. The offense really misses Fred Jackson in that respect. I expect this game to be somewhat of a shoot out. Cornerback Antoine Cason has struggled, and the entire Chargers secondary has problems containing the second and third receiving options. This makes Brad Smith a good sleeper. Smith has out-produced Stevie Johnson in yardage for two straight weeks. At 6’2” Smith has good size to help in the red zone and has always been a good athlete. Johnson will have a tough matchup in Quentin Jammer, but he still remains a solid option. If he can get loose from Revis, he can certainly beat Jammer. The Bills should have time to work all their routes as the Chargers do not have much of a pass rush.

Running Game Thoughts: C.J. Spiller has started two games in place of Fred Jackson and has proven to be a reliable replacement. He’s not a top option, but he is averaging 16 carries and 3 receptions per game since taking over. The Chargers actually rank 26th against the run while sixth against the pass. The Bills love to chuck it, but to attack their opponent’s weakness, they will give the running game ample opportunity to set the tone on the road and keep Phillip Rivers off the field. Even if the game opens up as predicted, Spiller is basically a scat back that can excel in a fast-break offense. Tashard Choice is getting some carries as a change-of-pace option to keep Spiller fresh, but he isn’t a threat to Spiller’s production yet.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 265 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int
Steve Johnson: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Brad Smith: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Scott Chandler: Likely won’t play
C.J. Spiller: 80 yds rushing / 40 yds receiving / 1 TD

BUF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +6.9%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +1.5%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +22.0%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +17.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Chargers passing attack rediscovered itself Monday night versus Jacksonville. For the first time all season, they have their trio of Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, and Antonio Gates all healthy and on the same field. I like all of them to have solid output this week, in that order. Jacksonville may not be a good team, but their defense is no push over. The Bills’ is. The Chargers rely on a deep passing attack off play action. Once they establish Ryan Mathews on the ground, they will attack the outside of the Buffalo defense vertically, where Jackson and Floyd don’t have to create much separation because of their tremendous size and ball skills. The Chargers have to feel good about things and could hit their typical end-of-season stride, just a bit later than usual.

Running Game Thoughts: Ryan Mathews will have a big day against a porous Buffalo run defense. The Chargers will want to stay balanced and get him going early to establish tempo. They can’t allow Buffalo to take away the vertical passing game, so they will run Mathews until Buffalo creeps up. Mathews averaged an amazing 8.6 yards per carry last week against the Jags. He is enjoying a 2:1 advantage in touches over Mike Tolbert now and is a must-start this week.

Philip Rivers: 285 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int
Malcom Floyd: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Vincent Jackson: 80 yds receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 35 yds receiving / 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 100 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Chargers 31, Bills 24 ^ Top

Rams @ Seahawks - (Eakin)

SEA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -3.0%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -7.4%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +12.9%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -9.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: In what must be one of the worst Monday night games in history, the hapless 2-10 Rams, losers of three straight, could possibly be starting their third-string quarterback, Tom Brandstater, against the Seahawks. Brandstater is a second-year quarterback out of Fresno State with zero career statistics. The Rams garnered a grand total of 187 yards of total offense while being shut out by the Niners last week. Their only playmaker in the passing game is Brandon Lloyd, who must be placed firmly on your bench unless Bradford or Feely are able to make a go of it. The Seahawks secondary are settling in, having played three good games in a row. Their big, physical cornerbacks will play bump-and-run at the line and make getting clean separation difficult for the Rams receivers. The Rams have a very conservative passing attack that falls right in line with what Seattle wants. The Seahawks lack top-end speed but will muscle the Rams out of their short routes. Even when Lloyd gets separation, speedy safety Earl Thomas has great range to protect deep in the unlikely event that St. Louis tries to stretch the field.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson hasn’t eclipsed 65 yards rushing during his team’s three-game skid. And where Jackson goes, so goes the Rams offense. Last week he ran for just 19 yards. Seattle has great size up front and plays the run tough. The power running game that Jackson relies upon is not a great weapon to face Seattle with. At best, the lack of a strong Seattle offense may keep the game close long enough for Jackson to get a bunch of carries, but those touches may not prove to be very productive, especially with almost no threat from the passing game.

Tom Brandstater: 155 yds passing, 0 TDs / 1 Int
Brandon Lloyd: 55 yds receiving
Brandon Gibson: 60 yds receiving
Lance Kendricks: 35 yds receiving
Steven Jackson: 85 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving / 1 TD

STL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -4.9%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +16.6%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -56.6%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +18.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Pete Carroll is much more confident than I am on the prospects of Tavaris Jackson being a good NFL quarterback. That said, I think Jackson playing through injury has galvanized his team around him. The Rams have decent numbers in pass defense, but some of that could be the product of their being so easy to run against. Seattle can make enough plays to beat the Rams, but relying on their wide receiver corps is a crap shoot. Their leading target, Doug Baldwin, got the Asomugha treatment for much of last week, with one catch for 21 yards. He should rebound this week, however. I also tentatively support Golden Tate as a risky shot to have a big game. He is making the most of his recent playing time, including a terrific leaping touchdown grab in the back of the end zone to seal a victory last week.

Running Game Thoughts: Prepare for another night of Skittle talk with Marshawn Lynch playing the lead role in another prime-time game. Lynch thrives under the bright lights and now gets the league’s worst run defense in the middle of the hottest streak of his career. He tore up the Eagles for 148 yards and two scores last week. But the Rams’ middle linebacker, James Laurinaitis, is much better than anyone the Eagles threw at Lynch last week. That will be the critical matchup of this game. The Rams showed they are capable of containing the running game last week by holding Frank Gore to under 90 yards.

Tarvaris Jackson: 230 yds passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Doug Baldwin: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Golden Tate: 50 yds receiving
Zach Miller: 35 yds receiving
Marshawn Lynch: 100 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Seahawks 23, Rams 10 ^ Top