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Inside the Matchup
Week 15

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



NO @ MIN | GB @ KC | NE @ DEN | CIN @ STL

 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Autry 38 15 71.7
2 Marcoccio 37 15 71.2
3 Smith 34 18 65.4
4 Eakin 30 21 58.8

Jaguars @ Falcons - (Smith)

ATL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +4.1%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +0.4%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +63.0%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -19.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jacksonville passing game is the worst in the NFL. Rookie Blaine Gabbert leads a squad who is last in the league in passing yards (their 1,830 is 562 behind St. Louis), completion percentage (50.8), yards per attempt (5.4) and quarterback rating (61.4), and second-to-last in touchdown throws (10). Gabbert did throw for 217 yards and two touchdowns – along with two interceptions – in the team’s blowout win over Tampa last week, but his scoring passes went to running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who essentially is the team’s offense, with no other Jaguars player having any fantasy relevance whatsoever.

The Falcons are 22nd in the NFL in pass defense, but have played rookie quarterbacks in each of their last four games, starting with Jake Locker taking over for an injured Matt Hasselbeck in Week 11, then facing Christian Ponder, T.J. Yates and Cam Newton, with only Newton throwing for at least 190 yards. They oppose another rookie this week in Gabbert, and shouldn’t have many problems holding him down.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew leads the league with 1,222 rushing yards and has scored seven times on the ground. He ran for 85 yards and two scores last week against Tampa, and also caught a team-high six passes for 51 yards and another two touchdowns. He’s caught a touchdown pass in each of his last two games, and only once this season has he run for less than 84 yards.

MJD will have a tough go of it this week however, because Atlanta is fifth in the league in rushing defense. They gave up 157 rushing yards to the Panthers last week, but 74 of those yards came on one DeAngelo Williams run, and otherwise held Carolina to 83 yards on 22 carries (3.8 YPC). Only two runners have gained at least 90 yards in a game this season against the Falcons, and just one has accomplished that task from Week 3 on.

Blaine Gabbert: 165 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Kassim Osgood: 35 yds receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 40 yds receiving
Jarett Dillard: 45 yds receiving
Maurice Jones-Drew: 70 yds rushing, 1 TD / 30 yds receiving, 1 TD

JAX FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -19.6%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -21.5%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -34.5%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +2.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Atlanta’s passing game is 10th in the NFL with Matt Ryan under center. He’s thrown for at least 315 yards in three of his last five games, and at least 260 yards in each of his last six games. Ryan has tossed 14 touchdowns and only four interceptions in that time after starting the season with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Roddy White had 84 yards and a touchdown last week against the Panthers, and has amassed at least 11 fantasy points in each of his last four contests. Julio Jones had 104 yards and two touchdowns in the game, and has had at least 100 yards in four of his nine games this season.

The Jacksonville pass defense is a stellar one, ranking fifth in the NFL and allowing only 191 yards per game through the air. Only three quarterbacks have thrown for more than 225 yards against them, and just four have had multiple touchdown throws in a game when playing the Jaguars.

Running Game Thoughts: Michael Turner ran for 76 yards last week, but didn’t score, and has now gone three consecutive games with fewer than 80 yards and no scores. Yet he’s still third in the league with 1,068 rushing yards and has an excellent opportunity to find pay dirt this week against the Jaguars.

Jacksonville is 16th in the league against the run, but has also allowed 12 scores on the ground, which is tied for 23rd in the NFL. The Jaguars have allowed an opposing back to rack up at least 110 yards and a touchdown four times over their last eight games, and at least 65 yards and a score in six of those games.

Matt Ryan: 265 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Julio Jones: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 60 yds receiving
Harry Douglas: 35 yds receiving
Michael Turner: 90 yds rushing, 1 TD

Prediction: Falcons 27, Jaguars 17 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Buccaneers - (Smith)

TB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +20.2%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -9.2%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -21.1%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +71.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo leads the Dallas offense, which comes into this week with the league’s sixth-ranked passing offense. He threw for 321 yards and four touchdowns last week against the Giants, and over his last six games has averaged 281 passing yards and thrown at least two touchdowns in all but one contest. He has a deep corps of receivers to throw to in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, Laurent Robinson and tight end Jason Witten, each of whom are worthy of starting for fantasy owners against the terrible defense that Tampa Bay brings into the game.

The Bucs are 27th in the NFL against the pass and tied for 22nd in touchdown throws allowed. Only three times this season has a quarterback failed to throw for either 300 yards or multiple touchdowns in a game against the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has allowed four different wideouts or tight ends to score multiple touchdowns in a game against them, and eight players have had at least 85 receiving yards in a contest against the Buccaneers.

Running Game Thoughts: With DeMarco Murray going on injured reserve, fantasy owners who took Felix Jones in the upper rounds of their fantasy drafts will finally have an opportunity to see that move pay off. He ran for 106 yards last week against New York and added 31 receiving yards. Jones is has the explosiveness and pass-catching ability to do significant damage this week against Tampa, whose run defense is even worse than their pass defense.

The Bucs have the league’s 28th-ranked run defense, and have given up more rushing scores than any other team in the NFL. Four different running backs have gained 120 or more yards on the ground when facing Tampa, and they have difficulty covering running backs in the passing game as well, which should be of great benefit to Jones. Seven running backs have accumulated at least 40 receiving yards against the Bucs, led by Arian Foster’s 102-yard effort in Week 10.

Tony Romo: 310 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Miles Austin: 85 yds receiving
Jason Witten: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Laurent Robinson: 50 yds receiving
Felix Jones: 110 yds rushing, 2 TD / 25 yds receiving

DAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +9.9%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +23.6%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -23.3%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -4.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: There’s no polite way to put this other than to state the obvious – quarterback Josh Freeman has stunk recently. While it should be noted that he is now playing with a banged-up shoulder, there’s no way to get around the fact that over his last four games he’s only reached 200 yards passing once, and thrown eight interceptions with just four touchdowns. Receiver Mike Williams has played much better of late than he did early in the season, but with Freeman being so erratic, it’s risky for fantasy owners to rely on him as anything other than a WR3 or possible flex play.

Dallas is just 24th in the NFL in pass defense, and only once in their past four games have they held an opposing quarterback to fewer than 285 passing yards. But it should also be noted that the Cowboys have yet to allow a quarterback to throw for three touchdowns in a game this year. If Freeman was playing better, Williams would have a lot more value this week, because the Cowboys have allowed a wide receiver to gain at least 100 yards in each of their last four games.

Running Game Thoughts: Tampa running back LeGarrette Blount is one of the tougher runners in the league to bring down, and last week ran for 74 yards and one touchdown. Unfortunately, he also lost a fumble, and has fumbled four times over his last three games, losing three of them. Ball security is one reason that he gotten more than 20 carries in a game only twice this season, and that has to be cleaned up for him to become an elite runner.

The Cowboys are much better against the run than they are against the pass, and come into this week’s game with the league’s 8th-ranked run defense. Brandon Jacobs did run for more than 100 yards against them last week and for the season they’ve allowed four running backs to gain at least 100 yards, but they’ve also slowed down a number of the league’s better runners. Dallas held Steven Jackson to 70 yards, Beanie Wells to 67, Reggie Bush to 61 and Frank Gore to 47.

Josh Freeman: 230 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Mike Williams: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kellen Winslow: 60 yds receiving
Arrelious Benn: 35 yds receiving
Preston Parker: 25 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dezmon Briscoe: 20 yds receiving
LeGarrette Blount: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD

Prediction: Cowboys 34, Buccaneers 20 ^ Top

Panthers @ Texans - (Smith)

HOU FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -26.1%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -21.2%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -22.9%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -38.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback Cam Newton leads the number eight passing offense in the NFL, and has over 3,500 passing yards so far this year. But he hasn’t been quite as dynamic in his last five games as he was earlier in the season. In that span, Newton has thrown four touchdowns and seven interceptions, has completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes four times, and on three occasions has thrown for fewer than 215 yards. Unfortunately, that’s hindered the performance of wideout Steve Smith a bit. Smith, the league’s second-leading receiver, had 125 yards last week, but that was his only game with at least 70 yards in that time, and he’s scored just once in his last five contests.

Houston has been one of the NFL’s best defenses, and is third in the league against the pass. They are tied for third in touchdown throws allowed, and no team has a lower completion percentage allowed than Houston’s 50.2. Only three quarterbacks have managed to throw for at least 210 yards against the Texans, and even more impressively, only two signal-callers have thrown multiple touchdown passes in a game when squaring off against Houston.

Running Game Thoughts: The Panthers are fifth in the league in rushing offense, but their 20 scores on the ground are five more than any other team. Newton leads the NFL with 13 rushing scores, and in fact has more touchdowns on the ground by himself than 23 other teams have all season. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are the team’s main ball carriers out of the backfield, but unless they can break big runs, as Williams did last week, their fantasy value has been stunted by Newton’s unique ability to find the end zone with his legs.

The Texans are fourth in the NFL in rushing defense, and tied for third in rushing scores given up. No running back has gained more than 107 yards in a single game this year against Houston, and only six runners have even managed to break the 50-yard mark when facing the Texans. They will be without defensive coordinator Wade Phillips this week, who is taking a medical leave of absence to have a procedure on his kidney, but it’s unlikely that his absence will lead to a full-on reversal of fortune for the Texans’ defense.

Cam Newton: 225 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT / 35 yds rushing, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 40 yds receiving
Greg Olsen: 30 yds receiving
Jeremy Shockey: 25 yds receiving
Legedu Naanee: 20 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 50 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Jonathan Stewart: 30 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

CAR FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +23.7%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +34.1%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -3.0%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +23.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rookie quarterback T.J. Yates led Houston to a come-from-behind victory last week against the Bengals, throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns, including one with two seconds left to play that gave the Texans a win. He played without receiver Andre Johnson, and may have to do so again this week, though as of this writing, he had not been completely ruled out. Kevin Walter stepped up in Johnson's absence and had six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown, and though he’s also battling an injury, should be considered as a WR3 this week against Carolina.

The Panthers are 19th in the NFL against the pass, and tied for 22nd in passing scores allowed. But they’ve been burned badly in recent games, especially by wideouts. In their last five contests, Carolina has allowed six receivers to gain at least 80 receiving yards, and three wideouts have compiled at least 100 yards and one touchdown. Quarterbacks have also lit them up in that span, twice allowing a quarterback to throw for at least 320 yards and four touchdowns.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster and Ben Tate have combined to give Houston the league’s number two rushing offense. Foster was held to 41 yards last week (his second-lowest total of the season), but Tate stepped up and gained 67 yards on only eight carries. We may see more of Tate as the season winds down, because Foster has slowed some in recent games. After coming back from his early-season injury, he ran for at least 100 yards in four of six games, but has run for less than 70 in two of his last three games, and hasn’t obtained a yards-per-carry average of higher than 3.6 in any of those contests.

Foster has a golden opportunity to reverse his mini-slide this week against the Panthers, who are 23rd in the NFL in rushing defense, and who have allowed more rushing scores than all but two other teams in the league. Their one shining moment was holding Tampa’s LeGarrette Blount to 19 yards on 11 carries in Week 13, but outside of that, have seen 11 different running backs gain 75 or more yards on the ground, with four backs scampering for at least 130 yards.

T.J. Yates: 230 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Kevin Walter: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Owen Daniels: 50 yds receiving
Andre Johnson: 35 yds receiving
Jacoby Jones: 30 yds receiving
Arian Foster: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving
Ben Tate: 55 yds rushing, 1 TD

Prediction: Texans 24, Panthers 17 ^ Top

Titans @ Colts - (Smith)

IND FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -4.2%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -25.5%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +37.0%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +24.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Though the Titans’ quarterback situation was still undetermined as of this writing, it was expected that Matt Hasselbeck would be the team’s starter this week against the Colts. Injuries have stifled him the last two games, and fantasy owners who liked his match-ups were not rewarded. They have gotten some production out of Damian Williams, who has exactly 62 yards in each of his last two games. He was targeted 10 times last week but could only come up with two receptions, or he would have had a much bigger game. Instead, Nate Washington was the one who came up big, with 130 yards and one touchdown on six catches.

The Colts, for all of their faults, aren’t utterly horrific on pass defense, which is saying something. They are 21st in the NFL in that statistic, but tied for 26th in touchdown scores allowed. But in their last six games, Indy has only allowed two quarterbacks to throw for at least 230 yards. And while seven different wideouts have gained at least 95 yards when facing Indy, only one has accomplished that feat over their last four contests.

Running Game Thoughts: Somehow, Chris Johnson completely fell apart yet again last week against the Saints, rushing for only 23 yards on 11 carries. This followed his two-game outburst of 343 yards and two touchdowns. But there’s little reason to expect him to repeat his poor performance from last week against the Colts.

Indianapolis is 30th in the league in run defense, and 31st in rushing touchdowns allowed. Ten different running backs have gained at least 70 rushing yards in a game against the Colts, and eight have compiled 85 or more yards. More importantly, a whopping 12 running backs have managed to obtain double-digit fantasy points when facing Indy, and 14 collected at least nine points.

Matt Hasselbeck: 230 yds passing, 1 TD
Damian Williams: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 60 yds receiving
Lavelle Hawkins: 30 yds receiving
Jared Cook: 15 yds receiving
Chris Johnson: 115 yds rushing, 2 TD / 35 yds receiving

TEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.3%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -1.5%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +9.6%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -5.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Dan Orlovsky is the Colts’ starting quarterback. We’ll repeat that, for dramatic effect: Dan Orlovsky is the Colts’ starting quarterback. While he did throw for over 350 yards and two scores against the New England’s pass defense (the worst in the league), most of that came in garbage time with the game already out of hand. Though Indy does have Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne, and they can be considered this week in deeper fantasy leagues, keep in mind that they’re more likely to offer fantasy owners three or four points instead of 10 or 11.

Garcon and Wayne can at least be considered because the Titans are not a formidable pass defense, ranking 20th in the league in that statistic and tied for 16th in passing scores allowed. And though Tennessee has only given up five touchdowns through the air over the last four games, three quarterbacks have thrown for at least 285 yards against them in that time and three different receivers have managed at least 80 yards and one touchdown.

Running Game Thoughts: Indianapolis doesn’t have much of a running game. Donald Brown has been the team’s primary ball carrier of late, but had only 28 yards on nine carries last week and has collected a total of only 69 yards in his last two games. Joseph Addai has resumed playing after recovering from his injury, but offers little incentive to fantasy owners and probably shouldn’t even be on a fantasy roster at this point.

Even if Brown or Addai are on your fantasy roster, it would be wise to avoid using them this week. Though the Titans are 20th in the league in run defense, only two teams have allowed fewer rushing scores than they have. Tennessee did allow Michael Turner to gain 100 yards in Week 11 and LeGarrette Blount to gain 103 in Week 12, but Brown and/or Addai aren’t at the level of either back, and their chances of having a similar game are small.

Dan Orlovsky: 190 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Pierre Garcon: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Reggie Wayne: 55 yds receiving
Dallas Clark: 25 yds receiving
Austin Collie: 15 yds receiving
Donald Brown: 40 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Joseph Addai: 20 yds rushing

Prediction: Titans 27, Colts 13 ^ Top

Redskins @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

NYG FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +54.4
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +52.1%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +87.4%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +5.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Redskins fans can take solace that the Rex Grossman era will most likely be coming to an end in three weeks. Grossman hasn’t been terrible, and he did do enough this season to show that he deserves to stick around the league as a capable backup quarterback, but he’s just not a starting-caliber quarterback on a team that wants to seriously compete. (Before I get any e-mails, I am aware that he did “lead” a team into a Super Bowl.) Grossman will need to continue to rely on his veteran wideouts, Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney, in order to move the ball through the air after promising, young tight end Fred Davis was suspended for the rest of the year before last week’s contest. Both wide receivers had nice games against New England last week, and they’ll get a pass defense that is almost as bad this week when they travel to New Jersey to face the Giants.

Like the Patriots, the Giants’ banged-up secondary is also highly susceptible to the pass. The Giants can generate a pass rush, however, and they have the ability to force Grossman into the mistakes that have marred his career. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul played like a beast last week in Dallas and is shaping into one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Safety Kenny Phillips is likely to miss his second consecutive game, which is a major blow to a secondary already mired in inconsistency due to a myriad of injuries.

Running Game Thoughts: Roy Helu is the first rookie running back in Redskins franchise history to rush for over 100 yards in three straight games. The fact that the same running back has been “the guy” in Washington for three weeks in a row with Shanahan around is astonishing. Helu has certainly taken advantage of his good fortune, and he has now all but cemented himself as the feature back in Washington for the next three weeks. Helu has fresh legs and his one-cut-and-go style fits perfectly with the Shanahan scheme. There’s no reason to think that the former Cornhusker should slow down any time soon.

The Giants’ run defense has allowed 127.9 ypg and 13 rushing touchdowns through 13 games. However, they are much better when Michael Boley is healthy and leading the defense. He was still not quite at the top of his game last week in Dallas, but his hamstring should be near 100 percent four weeks removed from his initially straining it.

Rex Grossman: 265 yds passing, 2 TDs, 2 INTs / 10 yds rushing
Santana Moss: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jabar Gaffney: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Donte Stallworth: 55 yds receiving
Roy Helu: 90 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving
Evan Royster: 15 yds rushing

WAS FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -1.6%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -14.9%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +76.7%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +6.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: The best regular of season Eli Manning’s career got even better last week in Dallas when he lead the Giants back from a 12-point deficit to a fourth-quarter win over the Cowboys. Manning has improved his accuracy and has been at his best in crunch time. He shows no signs of panic when the game is on the line, exhibiting a cool and calm demeanor under pressure that has saved the Giants from disaster numerous times this year. The size, strength, and speed of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz have created mismatches all season, and Manning has not been afraid to take advantage of his playmakers on the outside. With little margin for error during the season’s last three games—if they hope to make the playoffs—Manning should continue to excel.

The Redskins enter this game as the 13th-ranked pass defense (219.8 ypg), having allowed 17 passing touchdowns through 13 games. They have improved greatly in their ability to rush the passer, with 34 sacks on the season. In the past, Manning struggled with turnovers under pressure, but he’s handled opposing pass rushes much better in 2011. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett may still dial up some blitzes, but with his current stable of weapons, Manning can certainly make the Skins pay for it.

Running Game Thoughts: Ahmad Bradshaw was benched for the first half of last week’s game due to missing the team’s curfew—which opened the door for Brandon Jacobs to have his best game of the season. Jacobs bulled his way through the Cowboys for over 100 yards and two scores in a game that he was obviously pumped up for. Bradshaw should get his starting gig back this week, but Jacobs surely earned a good chunk of carries with his showing last week.

Washington has allowed 113.6 ypg and 11 touchdowns on the ground this season. The Giants will surely look to run the ball, but the Redskins have not backed down or eased up, despite struggling to win many games this year. They’ll cherish playing the spoiler and try to hurt their rival’s playoff chances.

Eli Manning: 335 yds passing 2 TDs
Hakeem Nicks: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 85 yds receiving
Jake Ballard: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Ahmad Bradshaw: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving
Brandon Jacobs: 40 yards rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving

Prediction: Giants 35, Redskins 27 ^ Top

Jets @ Eagles - (Marcoccio)

PHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +7.2%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -7.1%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +20.8%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -3.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: The frustrations of Jets fans with quarterback Mark Sanchez have been well documented, but last week’s performance against a seriously overmatched Chiefs team likely brought him a short reprieve with the good people of the Tri-State area. Sanchez threw for two touchdowns and also ran for two, including a beautiful naked bootleg where he perfectly faked a handoff to running back Shonn Greene. But Sanchez has shown little pocket presence this season and has made maddeningly poor decisions—something the opportunistic Philadelphia defense can exploit. The Jets rarely take any shots downfield despite Sanchez’s having a better-than-average arm, but they attempted two deep balls last week, which hopefully is a sign of things to come. However, the team will continue its commitment to the run game, which will limit their overall passing statistics. Santonio Holmes is finally emerging as Sanchez’s go-to guy and is likely the only option in the passing game that fantasy owners can consider at this critical juncture.

Nnamdi Asomugha has been somewhat of a disappointment for the Eagles, but occasionally he flashes the skills that earned him a big payday this offseason. The new-look pass defense has been solid in allowing only 218.4 yards per game but has allowed an astonishing 23 touchdown passes. Expect the Eagles to attempt to pressure Mark Sanchez with their blitz packages and solid duo of defensive ends, as Sanchez has shown that he handles pressure poorly. However, the Jets O-line has protected their quarterback much better in recent weeks and will need to keep that up during this crucial end-of-season stretch.

Running Game Thoughts: Shonn Greene is back in the good graces of his fantasy owners after a recent spate of games in which he produced big numbers. Two weeks ago he scored three touchdowns, and last week against Kansas City he rumbled for 129 yards and another touchdown. LaDainian Tomlinson has also looked good after missing a few games with a sprained knee, which may just have kept him fresh for the stretch run. Like the pass protection improvements, the Jets O-line has also turned around their poor run blocking efforts from earlier in the year. They are once again performing like a top-level unit. Expect a heavy dose of Greene and LT this week in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Eagles have done poorly defending against power running backs all season, so Greene should keep his hot streak going in Week 15. On the season, Philly has allowed 115.1 yards per game and has given up 11 rushing touchdowns, making them a ripe candidate for a “ground and pound” attack.

Mark Sanchez: 225 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 15 yds rushing
Santonio Holmes: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Plaxico Burress: 35 yds receiving
Jeremy Kerley: 20 yards receiving / 10 yds rushing
Dustin Keller: 50 yds receiving
Shonn Greene: 95 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
LaDainian Tomlinson: 30 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -3.2%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -33.2%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +56.3%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -37.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Michael Vick started last week and looked a little rusty after sitting out three games with broken ribs. He hasn’t been even close to the unstoppable weapon he was in 2010, and he’s taken a beating behind a poor Eagles O-line. He’s been more reluctant to run the ball and has been banged up a few times when he has. DeSean Jackson bounced back from his recent stretch of “dogging it” and caught four balls for 59 yards and a touchdown. Expect him to bust his tail down the stretch in an effort to convince teams to throw some big money at him in free agency this offseason. While Jackson may have given up on some throws this season and perhaps not run his routes as sharply as he could, he’s still a dangerous weapon with the ball in his hands. Jeremy Maclin also came back from injury last week but was ineffective and had his bad hamstring tighten back up during the game. He’ll be a risky start this week for the same reason he was last week. Riley Cooper has filled in admirably when Maclin has missed time in the past, but his ceiling is limited as he lacks the speed and athleticism of Maclin or Jackson.

If Maclin is out, Darrelle Revis will likely spend most of his time matched up with Jackson. While Revis’s coverage abilities are well documented, if he does have any “weakness” in his game, it is that smaller, quicker wide receivers—like Wes Welker—give him some trouble. Jackson has the ability to break away for a big play that can lead to a decent fantasy week, but don’t expect him to abuse Revis. That just doesn’t happen all that often.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy is having an MVP-caliber season and should continue to be a focal point with Vick and Maclin still not at 100 percent. The Jets’ run defense has played much better than they had earlier in the season when they were struggling badly, but McCoy has the speed and deceptive strength to cause this defense fits. David Harris and Bart Scott are still solid, sure tacklers, but they have lost a step or two due to age and wear and tear. Nose tackle/defensive end Mike DeVito, arguably the Jets’ best lineman against the run, has missed the last two weeks but may be back this week. His absence would strongly favor a big game from McCoy—but even if he does come back, McCoy is virtually matchup proof.

Michael Vick: 245 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 Int. / 25 yds rushing
DeSean Jackson: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 40 yds receiving
Jason Avant: 25 yds receiving
Brent Celek: 50 yds receiving
LeSean McCoy: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 45 yds receiving
Dion Lewis: 10 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving

Prediction: Eagles 17, Jets 14 ^ Top

Dolphins @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

BUF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +3.9%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -6.0%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +77.8%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +27.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Dolphins’ quarterback Matt Moore has resurrected a stagnant passing game since he replaced the injured Chad Henne. Miami beat writers are speculating that Moore has earned the right to start next season for Miami, and one went so far as to say that the only way he won’t start is if Miami acquires Peyton Manning. Moore's passer rating through eight starts is third-best in the AFC, behind only Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. Unlike his predecessor, Henne, Moore is not afraid to throw the ball downfield. Only Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers have attempted more passes of 25-plus yards since Moore has become the starter. Brandon Marshall has thrived since the quarterback switch, and tight end Anthony Fasano has also benefitted, scoring four touchdowns with Moore as the starter.

The Bills are ranked 15th against the pass and have allowed 232.8 ypg and 24 touchdowns on the season. Their secondary gives up a lot of big plays, but they also make big plays—with 16 interceptions, three of which have been returned for touchdowns.

Running Game Thoughts: Reggie Bush has averaged 4.6 yards per carry while setting a career high in rushing yards with 770. He also has five touchdowns on the ground through 13 weeks, which is only one touchdown short of another career high. In other words, the change of scenery has given Bush his best season as a runner. Rookie Daniel Thomas has taken a back seat, but he looked like a solid prospect during the middle of the season when he temporarily supplanted Bush as the lead back. The massive Thomas has quick feet and good power and is the perfect complement to Bush, who is running with more authority then ever but is still better suited for sweeps and screen passes.

The Bills have been just awful against the run, allowing 130.7 yards per game. They have also given up 15 rushing touchdowns on the season. The team will need to supplement their run defense this offseason once again—and they will likely continue to struggle to close out 2011.

Matt Moore: 275 yds passing 2 TDs
Brandon Marshall: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 30 yds receiving
Brian Hartline: 65 yards receiving
Anthony Fasano: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Daniel Thomas: 40 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving
Reggie Bush: 80 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving

MIA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -19.0%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -8.4%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -28.2%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -33.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Chan Gailey has had Ryan Fitzpatrick’s back in recent weeks, but the reality is that Fitzpatrick has played very poorly more often than not since signing a relatively big-money contract extension earlier this season. Meanwhile, Steve Johnson’s long-term extension has been in limbo, and while he is having a down year compared to last, he’s the only dangerous weapon the team has at the position. It’s possible that Johnson’s mid-season slump could have been a result of nagging injuries, and he may be poised to finish the season strongly and earn himself a big payday. He is capable of making big plays, and the Bills will need just that to stop their once promising season from continuing to spiral downward.

Miami has allowed 244.2 passing yards per game and 19 passing touchdowns on the season. However, they have been much better since cornerback Vontae Davis has been back with the team after injuries and a one-game suspension. Davis provides a boost to the unit, and he’s statistically been one of the best cover corners in the league.

Running Game Thoughts: C.J. Spiller has had one big game in the three he’s started since Fred Jackson was placed on IR. He’s been highly unimpressive in the other two contests. While he has great speed and can turn a corner quickly, Spiller has shown no ability to run the ball up the middle and is very easy to take down. If he continues to disappoint, former Cowboy Tashard Choice, who played for Chan Gailey at Georgia Tech, may get a chance to show why the Bills should keep him around next season.

Miami has allowed only five rushing touchdowns on the season and has played very inspired football, managing to win four of their last six games after a horrendous start to the year. They will now play out the season with a new head coach since Tony Sporano was fired this week. Former secondary coach Todd Bowles will try to keep the team playing hard. They were starting to get accustomed to winning, so I’d expect Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, and safety Yeremiah Bell to continue flying all over the field making tackles.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 195 yds passing 2 TDs, 2 Ints. / 15 yds rushing
Steve Johnson: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
David Nelson: 35 yds receiving, 1 TD
Scott Chandler: 25 yds receiving
Tashard Choice: 35 yds rushing / 10 yds receiving
C.J. Spiller: 45 yards rushing / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Dolphins 24, Bills 17 ^ Top

Seahawks @ Bears - (Autry)

CHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -7.1%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -6.6%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +6.4%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -10.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tarvaris Jackson hasn’t been a viable fantasy option a day in his NFL career - one multiple TD-pass game in his last eight would prove that. The Seahawks don’t rely much on his passing ability, and his injured pectoral muscle has been a lingering issue all year. Doug Baldwin, though, has ended up being one of those late-season free agent pick-ups that could have a good game from time to time. Even though the TD he scored last week was his first in seven games, Baldwin is one of those players you stash on your bench for a rainy day. He’s far from a recommended start here in the fantasy playoffs, but keep an eye on and remember Baldwin when you construct your cheat sheets for the 2012 season.

Chicago’s pass defense has given up a ton of yards this season but has limited the opposition from scoring much. No team has had to defend as many passes as the Bears this season—an average of 41 times per game. But only six teams have given up more TD passes than Chicago. The Bears should limit the effectiveness of the average Seahawk passing attack to the extent that no one on Seattle should be anywhere near your starting line-up.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch is in the midst of the best stretch of his career. Nine TDs in the last nine games, including more than 100 yards in five of the last six. Lynch is getting hot just at the right time for fantasy owners. He’s had at least 22 carries in each of the last six games, meaning he’s getting the opportunity to be productive. Regardless of the tough Chicago defense, Lynch is too productive at this stretch to bench. Start him and hope the Skittles celebrations continue.

After limiting three teams under 100 yards on the ground from week 10 thru 12, the Bears have surrendered more than 100 yards in two straight, including 124 yards last week against Denver—the most since week 5 against Detroit. Lynch is the Seahawks’ offense, so expect him to get ample opportunities to produce. Lynch has proven himself to be trustworthy during the last month of the season, so there’s no reason to veer away from him now.

Tarvaris Jackson: 190 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Doug Baldwin: 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Golden Tate: 40 yards receiving
Mike Williams: 30 yards receiving
Zach Miller: 25 yards receiving
Marshawn Lynch: 80 yards rushing / 20 yards receiving / 1 TD rushing

SEA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +2.9%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.1%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +20.5%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -5.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: Simply put, Caleb Hanie has been an unmitigated disaster at quarterback for the Bears. If throwing zero TD passes while tossing three interceptions through the last two games isn’t enough for you to run away, you should re-evaluate your hobby options. I will make this easy for you: Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester should be on your bench—if they’re worthy of a roster spot at all.

Quiet as it’s kept, Seattle’s pass defense has been a beast recently. Only once have they surrendered more than 200 yards through the air in the last four games. They limited the Rams putrid passing game to 167 yards last week, so don’t expect more from the Bears here. Chicago’s passing game has nose-dived since Hanie’s insertion in the line-up. Bench all Bears receivers in this game and beyond.

Running Game Thoughts: Marion Barber has the ‘Dunce’ cap firmly affixed to his head this week. In addition to an inexplicable play in which he ran out of bounce to stop the clock during a crucial part of the game last week, he also coughed up the ball and gave Denver the opportunity to win the game. Barber’s production must be more electric if he’s to replace the All-World production of Matt Forte. As it stands now, Barber’s presence on your fantasy roster should be for depth purposes only. For those who are desperate, Barber could be used as a flex option this week.

Seattle’s run defense is ranked 23rd in the league and have given up more than 100 yards on the ground in three straight. They limited the Rams’ Steven Jackson last week, but that had more to do with the Rams scheme of using Jackson than anything else. Ultimately, Barber should be left on the bench for now.

Caleb Hanie: 180 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Johnny Knox: 65 yards receiving
Roy Williams: 40 yards receiving
Devin Hester: 35 yards receiving
Marion Barber: 65 yards rushing / 25 yards rushing / 1 TD rushing

Prediction: Seahawks 17, Bears 14 ^ Top

Saints @ Vikings - (Autry)

MIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +12.2%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +0.8%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +5.8%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +16.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees has had more than 322 yards and two passing TDs in each of the last four game for the Saints. Oh, and by the way, he hasn’t thrown an interception during that stretch either. The stretch last season that found Brees tossing an interception in the last 12 games of the season is a thing of the past. He’s taken good care of the ball and has rewarded fantasy owners with solid production here in the most crucial part of the season. Marques Colston has been known to disappear, but his two-TD performance last week was his second such performance since week 7 vs. Indianapolis.

No team has given up more passing TDs than Minnesota’s 26. That’s not a good combination when you’re talking about Drew Brees. He will exploit the overmatched Vikings secondary and put up solid numbers for owners depending on him here in the semi-finals of the fantasy season. Expect a per-usual performance for the diminutive Brees.

Running Game Thoughts: It should be no surprise that New Orleans is in the bottom-third of teams in the league dedicated to the run. The strength of this team is the passing game and the running attack often takes a back seat until late in the season. Plus, with the three headed monster of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory leading the way, it’s difficult to pinpoint who will be the man from week to week. I won’t go too far out on a limb to recommend anybody; just know that you’re skating on thin ice as it relates to relying on anyone in the Saints backfield.

Minnesota is far from the run-stopping defense they’ve been in the past. But the fact that they’ve only given up more than 100 yards in only two of the last five games proves that they still have a remnant of ability to stop the run. I’d be nervous inserting anyone in New Orleans’ running game in my line-up. Sure, you can hope for a short TD run, but that’s a treacherous road to hoe. Look elsewhere for a more reliable source.

Drew Brees: 310 yards passing / 3 TDs
Marques Colston: 80 yards receiving / 1 TD
Lance Moore: 60 yards receiving / 1 TD
Devery Henderson: 40 yards receiving
Jimmy Graham: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Darren Sproles: 30 yards rushing / 45 receiving
Pierre Thomas: 30 yards rushing

NO FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +18.3%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -2.9%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +4.4%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +20.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Christian Ponder struggled tremendously in the game last week against Detroit. He looked bad—throwing ill-timed interceptions while making horrible decisions. Joe Webb replaced him and gave the team a much-needed spark. But Ponder is expected to start this week despite tossing five interceptions in the last two games. Percy Harvin has been an absolute beast recently. He’s scored in four straight games—five TDs overall—including a 10-catch, 69-yard performance last week. Start him as a top WR2 this week.

If the Saints have a weakness, it is their pass defense. They’re 30th in the league stopping the pass and have given up more than 300 yards through air in four straight games. They had better keep an eye on Harvin, as he’s the only threat in Minnesota’s passing game.

Running Game Thoughts: There’s a good chance the Adrian Peterson will return from an ankle injury after missing three straight games. Toby Gerhart did okay in his stead, but no one can replace Peterson. Peterson should return to the form that made him one of the top fantasy options at any position in 2011. Chances are great that he will return this week. If so, start him with confidence.

The Saints have not given up more than 87 yards on the ground in three straight. If AP plays, that streak will indeed be put in jeopardy. The Saints neutralized a hot Chris Johnson last week, but it could be a different story trying to stop a fresh Adrian Peterson. Even though AP hasn’t seen playing time in three weeks, Peterson should be looked at as a solid RB1 this week. Start him with confidence.

Christian Ponder: 210 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INT
Percy Harvin: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Devin Aromashodu: 40 yards receiving
Visanthe Shiancoe: 65 yards receiving
Adrian Peterson: 110 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Saints 27, Vikings 17 ^ Top

Packers @ Chiefs - (Eakin)

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

Passing Game Thoughts: If the Broncos’ six-game win streak is divine inspiration, than the Packers 18-game streak I can only assume must be the Holy Trinity? I have heard some pundits argue that Aaron Rodgers is playing quarterback better than the position has ever been played. Perhaps. This current streak certainly ranks among the elite that I have witnessed, equal to the best from Joe Montana, John Elway, Dan Marino, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning during their best runs. However, the Packers will now have to chase an undefeated regular season without the services of their lead wide receiver, Greg Jennings. He is expected to miss the next two to three weeks with a sprained knee. How the receiving corps will shake out is a bit gray. Certainly Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley should see an uptick in production and targets. Let’s look at the candidates. The argument for Donald Driver is that he had already seen an increase of action in recent weeks, so he is a good bet to jump in for Jennings. But Driver is more of a possession target than Jennings. From the standpoint of skills that match what Jennings can do, James Jones is a closer fit.

Running Game Thoughts: With Brandon Saine out with a concussion and James Stark nursing a sore ankle, Ryan Grant should retain the role as the Packers’ lead rusher. Grant is coming off his best game of the year and looks to be getting his legs under him. The logic is that with Grant running well, there is little incentive to push Starks back too soon. Grant could have a big game, as the Chiefs will be playing a backup quarterback, so the Packers will likely be ahead early in this game. And they could turn to Grant to grind out their second-half lead. The Chiefs are 26th in rushing yards allowed, giving up 132 per game.

Aaron Rodgers: 325 yds passing, 3 TDs
Jordy Nelson: 105 yds receiving / 1 TD
James Jones: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Jermichael Finley: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Ryan Grant: 85 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving / 1 TD

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

Passing Game Thoughts: With head coach Todd Haley fired, Romeo Crennel will serve as interim. There is speculation that Iowa rookie Ricky Stanzi could start at quarterback in place of the struggling Tyler Palko but it appears Kyle Orton's finger has healed enough and he will get the nod. Regardless of who gets the start, the Chiefs’ passing prowess remains limited. Dwayne Bowe is probably startable for fantasy purposes; he will surely get lots of targets as the Chiefs find themselves trying to keep up with the Green Bay scoring machine. Bowe managed six receptions for 69 yards against a much better Jets secondary last week.

Running Game Thoughts: You never know how coaching changes will affect personnel. As of last week, Jackie Battle was getting the bulk of the carries over Thomas Jones. Battle was slightly better in terms of yards per carry as well. With a strong Packers run defense, the probability of trailing for much of the game, and a split in carries still likely, none of the Chiefs running backs are recommended plays this week.

Kyle Orton: 220 yds passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 80 yds receiving / 1 TD
Steve Breaston: 50 yds receiving
Jonathan Baldwin: 35 yds receiving
Jackie Battle: 50 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Packers 31, Chiefs 14 ^ Top

Patriots @ Broncos - (Eakin)

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

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady and the New England passing game is going to have to play some of their best football to win this game. The Broncos’ rushing offense limits possessions for opposing teams. The Patriots do not want to be in a situation where the Broncos flatten the ball and make this an ugly game to try to win late. They must be efficient in sustaining drives and putting points on the board. The strength of the Broncos defense is their pass rush. Dumervil and Miller have led the way for the Denver’s 36 sacks this year. One the other hand, the Patriots give up few sacks, so this will be a strength-on-strength matchup. Because of that, look for Wes Welker, this season’s top-scoring fantasy receiver, to have a big game. He excels at running short routes from the slot that help Brady get rid of the ball quickly to counter the pass rush. I also envision the Patriots’ really being able to use their two-tight-end sets effectively. With tight formations and extra blockers, they can change their protections to keep Hernandez or Gronkowski in to help block. A key matchup will be Gronkowski versus Denver linebackers Miller, Williams, and Mays. All three linebackers are good athletes that can run, but Gronkowski is playing out of this world right now, posting a record-breaking year in terms of tight end touchdown receptions. Even the best linebackers have been unable to slow him down thus far.

Running Game Thoughts: The Patriots run to keep balance. They rotate so heavily that no running back gets more than about ten carries per game. Against weaker teams, BenJarvus Green-Ellis can be productive as their victory hammer and goal-line scorer. But in a game such as this, where the defense is good against the run and the score is likely to be close, Danny Woodhead could be the better option. He typically stays in on passing downs and sees more action when the Patriots continue throwing. Beyond the lethal combination of Welker and Gronkowski, don’t sleep on Aaron Hernandez. He had a five game-scoring streak early in the season. He is still quietly producing good numbers though his scoring has slowed. Now that Gronkowski has gotten the touchdown record for tight ends, perhaps the game plan will turn in favor of Hernandez once again.

Tom Brady: 335 yds passing, 3 TDs / 1 INT
Aaron Hernandez: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Wes Welker: 90 yds receiving
Rob Gronkowski: 95 yds receiving / 1 TD
Danny Woodhead: 40 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving

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

Passing Game Thoughts: Steady improvement has been the name of the game for the Broncos passing game over their 7-1 stint with Tebow as the starter. Last week Tebow attempted 40 passes—pretty high numbers that I suspect would surprise most people. Tebow is a safe bet for 200 yards passing, 50 yards rushing, and a score or two. The Patriots don’t pressure the quarterback and they have a young secondary—always a bad combination. Because of that, they have one of the weakest pass defenses in the league. What was once a one-dimensional Denver pass attack starring Eric Decker now goes three deep with Decker, Matt Willis, and Demaryius Thomas. Thomas has displayed his first-round talent two weeks in a row with 11 catches for 190 yards and three scores over that span, making him one of the league’s hottest receivers.

Running Game Thoughts: The Bears were able to stuff Willis McGahee last week, ending his consecutive 100-yard game streak. In fact, they held him to just 34 yards on 17 carries. He should rebound a bit this week, but the Patriots are much better at stopping the run than the pass. They may run a lot more 3-4 and crowd the line of scrimmage with a bunch of guys that can run. This will limit the ability of Tebow to get outside and help stop the option off the edge. If they do that, the Broncos will be forced to run more of a power game with McGahee between the tackles.

Tim Tebow: 235 yds passing, 1 TD / 45 yds rushing / 1 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Eric Decker: 60 yds receiving
Matt Willis: 45 yds receiving
Willis McGahee: 90 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 27, Broncos 20 ^ Top

Bengals @ Rams - (Eakin)

STL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +7.2%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +13.4%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -2.9%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -39.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: The rookie combo of Andy Dalton to A.J. Green has consistently produced results throughout the season. Green is the 12th-ranked fantasy wide receiver this year, with ball skills that rival any receiver in the game. And Dalton has now thrown a touchdown pass in ten straight games. The Bengals will have an advantage in the passing game, as the Rams have lost 10 defensive backs to injury this year. That’s a staggering number that has left their secondary cupboards bare. Look for Dalton to extend his touchdown streak to 11, with Green being the recipient of one. Caution is warranted with tight end Jermaine Gresham, however. He has been producing of late, but the Rams are tops in the league in defending tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Cedric Benson is a low-end starting option. He isn’t explosive and doesn’t catch many passes, but he consistently gets 20-25 touches and averages four yards per carry doing so. Some may think Benson is a better option this week because the Rams have one of the poorest run defenses and have allowed two runners to rush for over 200 yards this season. However, they have buttoned up their run defense somewhat in recent weeks. This is still a favorable match for Benson, but based on his plodding style, he is not an ideal candidate to put up huge yardage totals like Wells and Murray did.

Andy Dalton: 255 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 INT
A.J. Green: 105 yds receiving / 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Jermaine Gresham: 45 yds receiving
Cedric Benson: 110 yds rushing / 1 TD

CIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +6.2%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -23.0%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +17.8%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +3.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Sam Bradford toughed it out and played last week but did not look healthy. He couldn’t push off on his ankle and had to rely mostly on just his arm snap to get velocity on the ball. Because of that, his accuracy was bad. The offensive line didn’t do a particularly good job of protecting him, either, and at times he perceived pressure when there was none. The Bengals have been beat deep in the passing game more often of late, but the Rams seem unwilling to challenge teams vertically, so there is little hope of their taking advantage of Cincinnati’s weakness.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson has failed to eclipse 65 yards rushing in his last four games. The lack of a passing threat and blocking up front has limited his value. The Bengals are a tough run defense, ranking seventh in yards allowed (100 ypg). In PPR leagues Jackson has a bit more value as he is still pretty active in the passing game, but in standard leagues he can no longer be considered a reliable option, despite his talent.

Sam Bradford: 255 yds passing, 1 TDs / 1 INT
Brandon Lloyd: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Brandon Gibson: 50 yds receiving
Lance Kendricks: 35 yds receiving
Steven Jackson: 60 yds rushing / 30 receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Bengals 24, Rams 17 ^ Top

Browns @ Cardinals - (Eakin)

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

Passing Game Thoughts: The Browns have been under fire this week for not properly diagnosing quarterback Colt McCoy’s concussion-like symptoms after a hit by James Harrison. The hit led to a one-game suspension of Harrison, and McCoy has not practiced this week. Given the sensitive nature of concussions around the league and the scrutiny over allowing McCoy to continue playing after the hit, the Browns are likely to play it safe and sit McCoy in favor of Seneca Wallace. Wallace should not be much of a setback for any of the Browns players; their talent could, however. Their offensive has been positively pedestrian, averaging less than 300 total yards per game. They are currently ranked 22nd in passing. They throw a lot of short passes to their tight ends and running backs and to wideout Greg Little, in hopes of his breaking a big play. Cornerback Patrick Peterson is quickly shoring up his early cover struggles and has the look of a soon-to-be super star defensive back. He should be able to match up with Little’s athleticism. The best chance Cleveland has to move the ball under Wallace will occur when the plays break down. Wallace has good speed and scrambling ability with enough experience to continue looking downfield when moving out of the pocket. It will be up to the Cardinals’ rush to keep Wallace in the pocket where he is a very ordinary passer.

Running Game Thoughts: The Browns have the second-worst rushing game in the league. Lead rusher Peyton Hillis is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry with just two rushing touchdowns. His ineffectiveness and injuries have opened the door for Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya to get in the mix enough to render all three basically useless for fantasy purposes. The Cardinals are a young team gaining momentum. They are 19th in rushing defense, but they are on a three-game win streak in which no team has topped 20 points. Two of those teams—the Cowboys and 49ers—are division leaders, so it is not just a scheduling quirk. The Arizona defense has played tough recently, so none of the Cleveland running backs should be expected to turn it around this week.

Seneca Wallace: 265 yds passing, 1 TDs / 2 INT
Greg Little: 55 yds receiving
Mohamed Massaquoi: 40 yds receiving
Evan Moore: 35 yds receiving / 1 TD
Peyton Hillis: 50 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving / 1 TD

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

Passing Game Thoughts: The Cardinals’ quarterback situation is unclear this week. Kevin Kolb retained his job after coming back from injury but left early last week with a concussion. Enter John Skelton, who came in and threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns. Kolb has practiced a bit this week, but they may sit him and see if Skelton can keep it going. A big part of Skelton’s success was the result of his getting the ball the his best weapon, Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz had three games in a row without topping 55 yards, but he was able to break loose for 149 yards and a score last week. He will have a difficult task with Joe Haden, one of the best cornerbacks in the game, covering him this week. Haden has a speed and quickness advantage, but he gives up four inches in height to Fitzgerald. Skelton needs to put the ball up and let Fitz go get it when they get him one on one. Outside of Fitzgerald, it’s hard to trust any of Arizona’s receivers. Both Early Doucet and Andre Roberts have produced big games, but you never know whose turn it will be. It looked like Roberts had taken over as the second option, yet it was Doucet who came up with a big 60-yard touchdown reception last week. Both should be avoided.

Running Game Thoughts: While Arizona has a tough passing matchup in the Browns, Beanie Wells will get the benefit of facing the 31st-ranked rush defense, which is allowing an average of 150 yards per game. Wells has cooled off drastically from his midseason terror, so he needs this game to get back on track. With little scoring punch from the Browns, he should see close to 30 carries.

John Skelton: 245 yds passing, 1 TD / 1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 60 yds receiving
Early Doucet: 35 yds receiving
Beanie Wells: 100 yds rushing / 2 TDs

Prediction: Cardinals 24, Browns 17 ^ Top

Ravens @Chargers - (Eakin)

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

Passing Game Thoughts: You never know what to expect from the inconsistent Joe Flacco and the Baltimore passing game. Anquan Boldin leads the way and is on target to finish with around 70 receptions and 1,000 yards. He has a disappointing three touchdowns though. Torrey Smith is clearly the second best option, having established himself as an explosive—if somewhat of a hit-or-miss—downfield threat. This could be the week to take a chance on him. The Chargers are a good passing defense, thanks in large part to Quentin Jammer. However, Antoine Cason is struggling with keeping No. 2 wideouts in check. He gives up big plays, and big plays are Torrey Smith’s forte. Smith even scored a rare short touchdown reception in the red zone last week, so his game may be slowly developing more diversity. If you’re looking for a sleeper off the waiver wire that can hit a homerun, I recommend him. Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are proving to be a pair of good, young tight ends, as well as crucial pieces to the passing attack. The Ravens continue to use them in the red zone, but this week is a bad matchup. The Chargers have done well limiting tight ends all year.

Running Game Thoughts: In most scoring systems Ray Rice is neck-and-neck with LeSean McCoy as the best fantasy running back this year. He has been the one consistent performer for the Ravens. In games where they have struggled, it has often been because the coaching staff has failed to get Rice enough touches. Don’t expect that to happen this week. The Ravens need to establish him early to quiet the crowd and control the pace of the game. They will want to keep Rivers off the field as much as possible. Furthermore, the Chargers have struggled to stop the run. They rank 23rd, giving up 130 yards on the ground per game.

Joe Flacco: 225 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 INT
Anquan Boldin: 55 yds receiving
Torrey Smith: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Ed Dickson: 35 yds receiving
Ray Rice: 95 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving / 1 TD

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

Passing Game Thoughts: Finally at full strength, the Chargers have put together huge back-to-back passing performances, scoring 85 points. Rivers re-established Antonio Gates as a force to be reckoned with last week with 70 yards and two scores. The week before, it was Malcom Floyd; and before that, Vincent Jackson. As the Chargers make a late-season push, teams will have to pick their poison on how to defend them. Even slot receiver Patrick Crayton got in the mix with a nice game last week. The Ravens defense will have some advantages of their own. Ray Lewis returns after missing four games. Terrell Suggs, having an MVP-caliber season, will be rushing against newly signed left tackle Jared Gaither, who’s replacing Marcus McNeil. Suggs should own that matchup. Phillip Rivers is not mobile, so the Ravens will know where the point of attack will be. Rivers will have to find the blitz and use his quick release to get the ball out. With the Ravens favoring man-to-man coverage, look for the Chargers to throw some deep balls up for grabs on the outside where Jackson and Floyd have some height advantage. That can be a dangerous game, however, with perhaps the best safety of all time in Ed Reed lurking.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite missing time with injury, Ryan Mathews is approaching the 1000-yard mark, mainly because he has averaged over five yards per carry. He’s capable of breaking some big plays, but the Ravens rarely allow a running back to establish a consistent attack. With Lewis back in the lineup this week facing Mathews’ explosiveness, the winner of this game may very well come down to how those two fare in a battle of strengths.

Philip Rivers: 230 yds passing / 2 TD / 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 80 yds receiving / 1 TD
Malcom Floyd: 50 yds receiving
Antonio Gates: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 70 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving /1 TD

Prediction: Chargers 24, Ravens 21 ^ Top

Lions @ Raiders - (Eakin)

OAK FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +15.4%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +6.3%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +1.2%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +21.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Lions should be able to have success passing against the Raiders. They have thrown for the 5th most yards and the Raiders are average in pass defense at 17th. Calvin Johnson has cooled off from his record TD pace to begin the year. Teams have designed their entire game plan for the Lions around double-teaming him. The Raiders however, love to play man-to-man, even at their own demise. If they try to man up Johnson, he will post a dominate numbers as he’s way too good for single coverage. When Johnson is covered, Stafford can still make good use of his other weapons like Titus Young, Nate Burleson, and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. Having so many weapons serves Stafford well, but diminishes all of their individual value. Last week Pettigrew and Young had big games, the week before it was Burleson and Scheffler.

Running Game Thoughts: Indications are that Kevin Smith is going to be able to return. Smith has shown himself to be far and away the most effective back when healthy. While Maurice Morris is a good receiver and Keiland Williams can run between the tackles, Smith is the only one that does both well. I like Smith to have a solid day. The Raiders are physical up front but penalties and missed assignments allow teams to sustain drives. The Raiders give up the third most rushing yards per game. MLB Rolando McClain is talented and expected to play, but his run in with the law shows why this defense continues to lack leadership needed from to become elite.

Matthew Stafford: 315 yds passing, 3 TDs / 1 Int
Calvin Johnson: 105 yds receiving / 2 TDs
Nate Burleson: 70 yds receiving
Brandon Pettigrew: 45 yds receiving / 1 TD
Kevin Smith: 80 yds rushing / 40 yards receiving / 1 TD

DET FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +5.4%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -4.9%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -13.4%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -5.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Carson Palmer experience took a blow last week when he threw for one TD and four interceptions versus Green Bay. They have dropped two in a row scoring just 30 points combined in two weeks. Palmer has the decked stacked against him trying to join the transition in mid-season and having a shorthanded revolving door of receivers to throw to. Denarius Moore should be back this week while Jacoby Ford is expected to miss another game. That leaves Darrius Heyward-Bey as the other starter. They can play but until the group gets some stability they lack the chemistry needed reach their potential.

The Lions are 9th in passing yards allowed. They have typically struggled in recent years with their secondary but have turned the corner with the cover skills of Eric Wright, Alphonso Smith, and rookie Amari Spievy. The secondary benefits from one of the best pass rushing defensive lines in the league. Ndamukong Suh is back from suspension. He is the centerpiece while rush end Cliff Avril leads the team with nine sacks. Lawrence Jackson fills in at 4.5 sacks as well. This unit should give the Raiders offensive line trouble in obvious passing downs. For the Raiders to have success, they must stay in good down and distance situations. They need to do a better job of avoiding the penalties that continually get them in 2nd and 3rd and long situations.

Running Game Thoughts: News came out this week that Darren McFadden has a Lis Franc injury in his foot rather than the previously reported sprain. This puts the odds of him coming back anytime soon less likely. This is good news for Michael Bush who has filled in admirably. Bush was shut down by a tough Miami defense last week but should bounce back against Detroit this week. Detroit’s defensive line may rush the passer well but they struggle stopping the run. The 136 yards rushing allowed per game ranks as the 5th worst. That feeds right into the Raiders love of controlling the tempo with their power run game.

Carson Palmer: 245 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Denarius Moore: 60 yds receiving
Kevin Boss: 35 yds receiving / 1 TD
Michael Bush: 100 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Lions 31, Raiders 24 ^ Top

Steelers @ 49ers - (Eakin)

SF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.0%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +8.4%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -20.1%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -44.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: The outcome of this game really comes down to whether or not Ben Roethlisberger can play on his ankle sprain. History tells me he will. He has to be considered one of the toughest guys in the league. The Steelers in general match up well with the 49ers. They Niners like to run and stop the run while the Steelers stuff the run but prefer to pass the ball on offense. Mike Wallace is maybe the fastest player in the league and a top five start every week. Perhaps just as importantly is the emergence of Antonio Brown. Brown nearly equals Wallace in catches and yards, giving the Steelers a dynamic pass attack with the red zone savvy of Hines Ward and TE Heath Miller. The 49ers can’t be run on so teams are forced to pass. They rank 18th giving up 234 yards through the air per game.

Running Game Thoughts: Rashard Mendenhall has been one of the more disappointing first round draft choices. His production drop has not been injury related. The knock on Mendenhall coming into the year was his 400 plus touches the previous season but whether the production hit is the result of a heavy workload or poor blocking, or both, the magical 350 carry threshold as a marker for an impending drop off holds serve right alongside the Madden cover jinx as laws of the universe never to be questioned. The struggles of Mendenhall have allowed backup Isaac Redman a continually growing piece of the action. All this is meaningless this week as the other never to be questioned law of the universe is you don’t play running backs facing the San Francisco defense.

Ben Roethlisberger: 275 yds passing, 2 TDs
Mike Wallace: 95 yds receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Heath Miller: 45 yds receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 45 yds rushing / 0 TD

PIT FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -26.9%
PITFF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -28.4%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -6.2%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -15.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Even with the advantages of playing at home facing an Eastern team traveling west, I just don’t like the chances of the Niners being able to score much against the Steelers. If the Steelers are flat they can grind out some possession time with short passes to Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree. You can make the argument that Crabtree has actually been their most consistent starter. He has at least fifty yards receiving in eight of their last ten games. That could be at risk this week as the Steelers are the number one rated pass defense allowing an amazing 179 yards per game in a record setting passing season.

Running Game Thoughts: Frank Gore is a little banged up but expected to play. The concern now with Gore is how much work the team will give him as they have the division safely in hand and need him rested and healthy for the playoffs. There is a good chance the impressive change of pace rookie Kendall Hunter will see a lot of action. With playing time questions and a matchup against the Steelers 6th ranked run defense, neither inspire much optimism.

Alex Smith: 180 yds passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Michael Crabtree: 50 yds receiving
Kyle Williams: 30 yds receiving
Vernon Davis: 35 yds receiving / 1 TD
Frank Gore: 35 yds rushing / 20 yards receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Steelers 24, 49ers 17 ^ Top