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Inside the Matchup
Week 17

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




SF @ STL | KC @ DEN | SD @ OAK | SEA @ ARI
 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Autry 43 16 72.9
2 Marcoccio 41 19 68.3
3 Smith 39 21 65.0
4 Eakin 37 24 60.7

Panthers @ Saints - (Smith)

NO FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +26.9%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +31.1%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -36.5%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -1.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Carolina has the league’s 11th-ranked passing offense, led by likely rookie of the year Cam Newton. His passing and rushing exploits have made him a valuable fantasy entity and likely top fantasy draft pick for years. He has thrown multiple touchdowns in each of his last three games, and even though wideout Steve Smith had just nine yards on a single catch last week, he’s fourth in the NFL in receiving yards.

The Saints have the 30th-ranked pass defense in the NFL, are tied for 18th in passing touchdowns allowed, are 23rd in opponents quarterback rating and are tied for the second-fewest interceptions in the league. When Newton played them back in Week 5, he had 224 yards and two touchdowns with one interception while also running for 27 yards and one score. Six of the last seven starting quarterbacks they’ve faced have thrown for at least 280 yards, and in their last six games, five different wide receivers have had games of at least 125 receiving yards.

Running Game Thoughts: The Panthers are third in the NFL in total rushing yards, but lead the league with 25 scores on the ground. Fourteen of those have come from Newton, but DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have gotten into the mix as well. Though Stewart is running for 5.1 yards per carry, he has just three touchdowns. But Williams has seven, with four of those coming in his team’s last three games.

New Orleans has the NFL’s 10th-ranked run defense, and they’re tied for 11th in rushing scores given up, but opponents do gash them for big plays. The Saints are allowing an average of 4.8 yards per rush, which is 28th in the league. Williams ran for 115 yards and one score against them in Week 5, though Stewart was held to just 20 yards. The Saints have held some of the league’s best runners to mediocre totals recently, starting in Week 14, when Chris Johnson managed only 23 yards on 11 carries. Adrian Peterson then had only 60 yards, and last week Michael Turner could muster just 39 yards.

Cam Newton: 260 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT / 40 yds rushing, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Brandon LaFell: 70 yds receiving
Jeremy Shockey: 25 yds receiving
Greg Olsen: 20 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving
Jonathan Stewart: 65 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

CAR FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +4.4%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +8.0%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -25.0%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s NFL record for passing yards in a season, and still has this game to play. He’s thrown for at least 300 yards and two scores in each of his last six contests, and should be a serious candidate for league MVP. His team’s weaponry at receiver is second-to-none, with fantasy options up and down the lineup, most notably receiver Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham, who is third in the NFL with 91 receptions, fourth with 10 touchdowns and eighth with 1,213 receiving yards. Fantasy owners should keep in mind that wideout Lance Moore may not play this week due to an injury he suffered against the Falcons last week.

Carolina is 21st in the league in pass defense and tied for 18th in scores allowed through the air. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 94.2 when playing the Panthers, which is the fifth-highest in the NFL, and QBs are also completing 63.5 percent of their passes, which is the third-highest mark in the league. Brees was 32-of-45 for 359 yards with two touchdowns against them in Week 5, and though no Saints wideout had a big game against them, Graham did have 129 yards on eight catches.

Running Game Thoughts: Mark Ingram has missed three straight games with an injury, but he has practiced this week and should play, though it seems likely that he won’t get a lot of carries. That should leave Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles to handle most of the work, and those three, along with Chris Ivory, have led the Saints to the league’s ninth-ranked rushing offense. But considering how much the team spreads around their carries, Sproles is probably the only one who is fantasy-worthy due to his receiving prowess.

Though they’ve been better recently, the Panthers have struggled all season to contain the run. They are 21st in the league in rush defense, 24th in yards per carry allowed, and have given up 17 scores on the ground, which is more than all but two other NFL teams. In Week 5, Ingram had 32 yards and one touchdown, and Sproles had 51 rushing yards and 40 receiving yards. But that was one of just three games this season in which the Panthers have held an individual running back to fewer than 75 yards in a game.

Drew Brees: 335 yds passing, 3 TD
Jimmy Graham: 100 yds receiving, 2 TD
Marques Colston: 80 yds receiving
Robert Meachem: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Devery Henderson: 30 yds receiving
Pierre Thomas: 45 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving
Darren Sproles: 40 yds rushing / 40 yds receiving
Mark Ingram: 30 yds rushing

Prediction: Saints 34, Panthers 24 ^ Top

Buccaneers @ Falcons - (Smith)

ATL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -1.3%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -4.0%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +29.6%
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +6.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh Freeman had 274 passing yards last week against the Panthers, which was the first time in three games that he’s been over 200 yards. He had only one touchdown throw last week and hasn’t had multiple touchdown passes in four games. Tight end Kellen Winslow is probably the most consistent pass-catching threat on the Tampa squad, but that isn’t saying much since he usually doesn’t get much more than 50 yards and has scored just twice this season. Fantasy owners should stay away from all Tampa players.

The Falcons are 19th in the NFL against the pass and tied for 18th in passing touchdowns allowed. Atlanta is solid in other areas of pass defense, as they’re tied for 13th in interceptions and 14th in opponents’ completion percentage. Freeman had only 180 passing yards when the teams played in Week 3, and also failed to throw a touchdown while tossing two interceptions. The 307 yards Atlanta allowed to Drew Brees last week was the most they’d given up since Week 10, but they did allow another touchdown to a tight end, and that makes four TDs by a tight end in Atlanta’s last four contests.

Running Game Thoughts: LeGarrette Blount has disappeared from fantasy relevance in recent games, and last week carried the rock twice for 11 yards. He had nine carries for 21 yards in the week before that, so fantasy owners who had been relying on him were likely burned in the most important weeks of the season. Kraig Lumpkin had seven carries for 24 yards last week and has been a reliable pass-catching threat out of the team’s backfield, but that doesn’t make him worthy of a spot on fantasy rosters.

Atlanta’s run defense has been a strength of theirs all season. They are eighth in the NFL in run defense and have allowed 10 scores on the ground this season, which is tied for 11th in the league. Blount accounted for 81 rushing yards against the Falcons in Week 3, but as we mentioned, he’s done absolutely nothing recently, and Atlanta has allowed just four rushers to gain more than 70 yards on the ground all year.

Josh Freeman: 205 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Mike Williams: 65 yds receiving
Kellen Winslow: 45 yds receiving
Sammie Stroughter: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Arrelious Benn: 20 yds receiving
LeGarrette Blount: 30 yds rushing
Kregg Lumpkin: 25 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

TB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +32.4%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -10.2%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -6.0%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +49.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had an average start to the season, but has come on extremely strong of late. He threw for 371 yards and a touchdown last week, and has now thrown for at least 260 yards in seven of his last eight games, while not throwing an interception in five of his last six outings. Receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones continue to make a big fantasy impact, and tight end Tony Gonzalez is third at his position in fantasy points. Each should be a solid contributor once again this week.

The Buccaneers are hideous against the pass – they’re 24th in pass defense, but only one team in the league has allowed more passing scores than they have. They have the fewest sacks in the NFL, have allowed the seventh-highest completion percentage (62.6) and the third-highest passer rating (97.1). Ryan shredded them for 307 yards in Week 3, and although he only threw one score, he managed to spread the ball around. White had 140 receiving yards, Jones had 115, and though Gonzalez had only 18 yards, he did catch the touchdown pass from Ryan, so fantasy owners with all three players had to be happy. Assuming Ryan plays the entire game, he should be in for a big day against a Tampa pass defense that has allowed each of the last two starting quarterbacks they’ve faced to throw three touchdown passes.

Running Game Thoughts: Although Michael Turner is sixth in the NFL in rushing yards this season, the Falcons have just the 20th-ranked rushing offense in the league. Turner had been a fantasy stud for the year’s first half, but his lack of production over his last five games is disconcerting. He’s only rushed for one score in those games, and hasn’t broken the 80-yard mark. Still, the Bucs run defense is so bad he’ll have an opportunity to do some damage this week.

Along with the Rams, Tampa has one of the league’s two worst run defenses. They are 31st in rushing yards given up this year, 29th in yards per carry allowed (4.9), and dead last in rushing scores allowed. That makes their Week 3 shutdown of Turner all the more surprising. He had only 20 yards on 11 carries in that game, but should be much better this week, especially considering that since then, the Bucs have allowed eight different running backs to compile at least 80 rushing yards in a game against them.

Matt Ryan: 250 yds passing, 2 TD
Roddy White: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Julio Jones: 70 yds receiving
Tony Gonzalez: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Harry Douglas: 30 yds receiving
Michael Turner: 85 yds rushing, 2 TD

Prediction: Falcons 28, Buccaneers 13 ^ Top

Colts @ Jaguars - (Smith)

JAX FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +2.6%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +6.1%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +39.1%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -1.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Dan Orlovsky has led the Colts to consecutive wins, but probably hasn’t led fantasy teams to any. He had 241 passing yards and one score last week against Houston, but just 82 yards in his previous game, and 136 the week before. Receiver Reggie Wayne was a star against the Texans, with 106 yards and one touchdown, but it was too little too late for fantasy owners who likely had him on their bench for that game due to his lack of production all season.

Only six teams have a better pass defense this season than the Jaguars, who are tied for 11th in touchdowns allowed through the air. However, they are 18th in passer rating allowed, and 29th in completion percentage allowed, with opposing quarterbacks hitting on 63.2 percent of their throws this year. Orlovsky took over for Curtis Painter the last time these two teams met, back in Week 10, and threw for 67 yards on 7-of-10 passing. Wayne had only 13 receiving yards in that game, with Pierre Garcon amassing 30, but the Colts are obviously playing much better since then.

Running Game Thoughts: Donald Brown had been playing well and giving fantasy owners a reason to put him in their lineups, but last week against Houston, the script was flipped, and it was Joseph Addai who got the bulk of the carries. He had 19 for 59 yards, while Brown toted the rock just 11 times for 39 yards. It’s impossible to predict which back will be the team’s main ball carrier this week, so if at all possible, fantasy owners should look elsewhere for their RB2 or flex option.

Jacksonville has been very good in holding teams down in the running game, as they rank 11th in the league in that statistic, and sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.9). But they have trouble stopping teams near the goal line, and are just 21st in rushing scores allowed this year. Brown did not score against them in Week 10, but did run for 51 yards. In the six games since then, the Jags have allowed a rushing score to every starting running back they’ve faced except one.

Dan Orlovsky: 200 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Reggie Wayne: 65 yds receiving
Pierre Garcon: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Austin Collie: 25 yds receiving
Jacob Tamme: 15 yds receiving
Joseph Addai: 45 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving
Donald Brown: 35 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

IND FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -6.9%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -24.0%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +55.0%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +6.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: There is no passing game in Jacksonville, a team that ranks dead last in passing offense. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has struggled mightily at times, and the team has absolutely zero fantasy options at wideout or tight end. There really isn’t much else to say other than any fantasy owner should know not to touch a Jaguars player not named Maurice Jones-Drew.

The Colts are 22nd in the league against the pass, and tied for 22nd in passing scores given up. Other numbers surrounding the team’s pass defense speak to just how bad they are in that area of the game – only three teams have amassed fewer sacks, only the Vikings have fewer interceptions or allowed a higher passer rating, and opposing quarterbacks are completing an astounding 71.7 percent of their throws against Indy, which is the highest mark in the league. Gabbert only threw for 118 yards against them in Week 10, but he did have one touchdown pass, to Dillard. But in reality the Colts shouldn’t have too much trouble against the worst receiving corps in the NFL.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew is the Jacksonville offense, and as such leads the NFL with 1,437 rushing yards while also scoring eight touchdowns. He had 103 yards and one score last week against the Titans, and has run for less than 80 yards on only one occasion this season. He’s also adept at catching the ball out of the backfield, and has been a fantasy star from day one this year.

Though Indianapolis has held opposing runners to a respectable 4.2 yards per carry, which is 16th in the NFL, they are 29th in rushing yards allowed, and have given up the second-most rushing scores in the league. That’s bad news considering they are facing Jones-Drew. He throttled them for 114 yards and one touchdown in Week 10, and since then the Colts have given up 139 yards and two touchdowns to the combination of DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart, 149 rushing/receiving yards and one score to Ray Rice, 109 rushing/receiving yards to Chris Johnson, and 158 rushing yards and one touchdown to Arian Foster.

Blaine Gabbert: 155 yds passing, 0 TD, 1 INT
Mike Thomas: 45 yds receiving
Jarett Dillard: 30 yds receiving
Chastin West: 25 yds receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 15 yds receiving
Maurice Jones-Drew: 110 yds rushing, 2 TD / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: Jacksonville 17, Colts 13 ^ Top

Titans @ Texans - (Smith)

HOU FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -19.0%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -12.2%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -10.5%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -25.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Though Matt Hasselbeck threw for 350 yards last week against Jacksonville, he only tossed one touchdown with a pair of interceptions. He’s not to be trusted by fantasy owners, especially this week against the tough Houston pass defense. We do have to note that tight end Jared Cook had 169 receiving yards and one touchdown last week, and has had consecutive 100-yard receiving games, but the Texans clamp down on opposing tight ends, and any expectations of a third straight great game from Cook need to be tempered.

Houston has been dominant against the pass all season. The Texans are tied for second in the NFL in pass defense, tied for fourth in passing touchdowns allowed, are ninth in interceptions, sixth in sacks, and no team in the league has held opposing quarterbacks to a lower rating (66.2) or completion percentage (51.1). Hasselbeck struggled mightily against the Texans in Week 7, throwing for only 104 yards and one touchdown with one interception. Since then, Houston has only allowed one quarterback to throw for multiple scores in a game.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson had been either great or terrible for most of the season, but in his last two games he’s simply been mediocre. He ran for 55 yards two weeks ago, and then ran for 56 yards last week. He has a total of 134 rushing yards over his last three games, and like his quarterback, isn’t much of a trustworthy option against a very good Texans run defense.

The Texans’ run defense has been just as good as their pass defense this season. Only three teams have allowed fewer yards on the ground than Houston, and only two teams have given up fewer rushing scores. Johnson had one of his terrible performances this season in Week 7 against the Texans, with a lousy 18 yards on 10 carries. In the eight games from Week 8 on, only two runners have managed to gain at least 65 yards against Houston, so this figures to be another difficult week for Johnson.

Matt Hasselbeck: 220 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Nate Washington: 75 yds receiving
Damian Williams: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 45 yds receiving
Lavelle Hawkins: 20 yds receiving
Chris Johnson: 50 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving

TEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -21.7%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -13.5%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -25.8%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +18.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: T.J. Yates has seen his production wane in each of his last three games. He threw for 300 yards with two touchdowns in Week 14, 212 yards in Week 15 and 132 yards last week in his team’s loss to the Colts. Houston’s receiving corps has done little in most of those contests, but could get a big boost if wide receiver Andre Johnson returns to the lineup. Even if he doesn’t get a full allotment of snaps, fantasy owners should insert him into their own lineups because he’s so dangerous near the goal line.

The Titans are average against the pass, coming in at 16th in the league, but have allowed just 20 passing scores, which is tied for 11th. They don’t create many turnovers, with only 11 interceptions, which ranks 24th in the league, and are only 23rd in completion percentage allowed (62.1). Matt Schaub played when these two teams met in Week 7, throwing for 296 yards and two scores, but Johnson didn’t. His return could buoy a receiving corps that is in need of a shot in the arm.

Running Game Thoughts: Houston trails only the Denver Broncos in rushing offense, and have piled up over 150 yards per game on the ground. Arian Foster is the bell cow, and his 158 yards and one score last week gave him 1,224 rushing yard this season (third in the league) and 10 rushing scores (tied for fifth). But Ben Tate can be dangerous as well, despite his hideous performance against the Colts that netted him minus-one rushing yards. He’s a solid flex option this week because Foster may get some rest as the playoffs approach.

Though Tennessee is 24th in the league against the run, and opponents are rushing for 4.4 yards per carry (21st in the NFL), the Titans are stopping the run when it counts, and have allowed just nine scores on the ground this season, which is tied for sixth-fewest in the league. Foster is one of seven running backs to have gained at least 100 yards against the Titans this year, with each coming from Week 5 on. He not only had 115 rushing yards and two scores back in Week 7, but 119 receiving yards and a touchdown as well. Tate got into the act too, with 104 rushing yards of his own. In fact, every starting running back from an AFC South team has had a game with at least 100 yards against the Titans, and two of the four starting running backs from the NFC South that Tennessee played this year had 100-yard games.

T.J. Yates: 240 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Kevin Walter: 65 yds receiving
Andre Johnson: 50 yds receiving
Jacoby Jones: 40 yds receiving
Owen Daniels: 30 yds receiving
Joel Dreessen: 15 yds receiving
Arian Foster: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Ben Tate: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD

Prediction: Texans 21, Titans 17

Bills @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

NE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +33.1%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +66.0%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -39.3%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -7.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Ryan Fitzpatrick will get one last chance to show the Buffalo brass that he is worth the money owed on the contract extension he signed after a fast start to the season. Fitzpatrick is a gutsy player that refuses to slide when on the run, and with a Harvard education, you know he’s a heady player. However, he just doesn’t have the arm strength or accuracy to be a franchise quarterback. Stevie Johnson will be going all out in his last game before he reaches free agency. Johnson doesn’t possess elite speed, but he runs solid routes and is strong to the ball and with the ball in his hands. As their only playmaker in the passing game, the Bills need to retain him; but will they pay him what he thinks he’s worth? This passing game could potentially look a whole lot different next season—but the Fitz–Johnson combo could still have one big game left in it against an extremely poor pass defense.

The Pats finished the 2010 season ranked 30th in pass defense and are all but locked into finishing at an even worse 32nd this season. They have allowed almost 300 yards passing per game and 24 touchdowns on the season. This porous unit could potentially be their Achilles’ heal in the postseason, but there’s little than can be done about it now.

Running Game Thoughts: C.J. Spiller spent some time during the mid-season lining up as the slot receiver for the Bills. Perhaps this had more to do with the team’s decimated receiving corps than the notion that they have given up on him as a runner, but if the team did have doubts about Spiller’s future as a running back, he gets one last chance to dispel those concerns. He has performed reasonably well since Fred Jackson went down and has given the team some leverage in what may be heated negotiations with the veteran back this offseason. Spiller, even by coach Gailey’s own admissions, likely cannot hold up as a full-time feature back, but he has shown that he can contribute on 15-18 touches per game and can be the lead back in a committee with a solid power runner.

As you would expect by the passing yards allowed listed above, the Pats don’t give up many yards on the ground. The team is only allowing 117.5 yards per game, but the 4.6 yards per carry they allow puts them in the bottom third of the league. Spiller should be able to take advantage of this defense and strengthen his chance to enter next season with an expanded role.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 285 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 30 yds rushing
Steve Johnson: 115 yds receiving, 1 TD
Brad Smith: 35 yds receiving
David Nelson: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Scott Chandler: 20 yds receiving
Tashard Choice: 25 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving
C.J. Spiller: 95 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

BUF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -1.3%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -22.9%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +86.5%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +14.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady should be the second quarterback in as many weeks to pass Dan Marino’s long-standing record for passing yards in a season. Brady has been virtually unstoppable despite the fact that the much ballyhooed offseason acquisition, Chad Ochocinco, has not done much of anything on the field. Veteran Wes Welker and second-year tight ends Rob Gronkowski—who set the NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end—and Aaron Hernandez have been the focal points of this offense that lacks a deep threat. Brady has mastered the short passing game, and the run-after-the-catch abilities of the aforementioned trio has allowed the Pats to make big plays in the passing game.

The Bills’ pass defense was very opportunistic against Brady in Week 3. He uncharacteristically threw four interceptions in that game, which was the main reason Buffalo was able to pull off the upset. While the Bills have been able to create turnovers, their pass defense has been mostly abysmal since that contest. On the season they have allowed 27 passing touchdowns. Brady should be good for at least three more this week.

Running Game Thoughts: It’s starting to look like Bill Belichick is going to use rookie running back Steven Ridley as his feature back in the postseason, as the former LSU Tiger has quietly been taking over for the solid but unspectacular BenJarvus Green-Ellis in recent weeks. The Pats don’t run nearly enough to support a fantasy RB that can be depended on each week, but Ridley is a guy to keep an eye on for playoff leagues and especially in dynasty league circles.

The Buffalo run defense was the worst in the league last year and have only improved slightly to 28th in 2011. The team did make some moves to help out during this past offseason, specifically drafting defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and signing former Packer linebacker Nick Barnett, but there’s obviously plenty of work to be done this upcoming offseason as well.

Tom Brady: 325 yds passing 3 TDs
Chad Ochocinco: 25 yds receiving
Wes Welker: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 60 yds receiving
Rob Gronkowski: 80 yds receiving, 2 TDs
Stevan Ridley: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD
Danny Woodhead: 35 yds rushing / 45 yds receiving

Prediction: Patriots 34, Bills 24 ^ Top

Jets @ Dolphins - (Marcoccio)

MIA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +14.8%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +17.9%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -26.5%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -8.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Mark Sanchez is having a fairly decent season from a fantasy perspective—aided by his six rushing touchdowns—but is still making the poor decisions that frustrate fans, coaches, and front office personnel. Sanchez needs a good performance in Week 17 to quiet his critics, even if the Jets do fail to make the playoffs after having handed their fate over to other playoff contenders. Santonio Holmes has had a productive second half to the season, but he has also had his share of costly mistakes in recent weeks. Local talk is that offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will be the “fall guy” for the team’s struggles, especially after having Sanchez drop back over 60 times last week. In that light, expect the reigns to be pulled in on the passing game this week as Schottenheimer attempts to correct the mistakes of last week.

Miami is ranked 26th against the pass, having allowed 249.8 passing ypg and 22 passing touchdowns. If Sanchez fails against this unit in a must-win game, expect the “Peyton Manning to New York” chatter to get a little louder during the offseason.

Running Game Thoughts: The Jets have been very effective running the ball the last couple of weeks, yet they have inexplicably abandoned the run even when the games have still been within reach. Running back Shonn Green doesn’t have a lot of wiggle or quickness, but when the O-line opens up holes for him, he is very effective at putting his head down and gaining positive yards after contact. The Jets need to get back to their identity of “ground and pound” next season and will certainly look to end the season on a strong note with their running game.

Miami, however, has played the run very well and will make it difficult for the Jets to do what they want. The team has allowed only 93.4 ypg and just eight rushing touchdowns on the season behind strong play from Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett, and safety Yeremiah Bell. The team would like nothing more than to end the season of one of its most hated rivals.

Mark Sanchez: 235 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 20 yds rushing
Santonio Holmes: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Plaxico Burress: 35 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Kerley: 20 yards receiving
Dustin Keller: 45 yds receiving
Shonn Greene: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 5 yds receiving
LaDainian Tomlinson: 20 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.6%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +0.7%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +8.5%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -3.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Moore started his career with Miami in Week 4 challenging Darrelle Revis by constantly connecting with wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He will now end his season hoping that a strong game against Revis and New York earns him a chance at holding on to the starting gig next season. Marshall has to be rooting for Moore to be back, as the gunslinger has taken the most shots downfield Marshall has seen through his time in South Beach—and that has led Marshall to one of his best seasons as a pro.

The New York Jets are the fifth-ranked passing defense, having allowed 205.9 ypg and only 14 touchdowns on the season. Darrelle Revis continues to be a matchup nightmare for opposing wide receivers, with only Marshall and Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson enjoying any success against him this year. Revis returned a Moore interception 100 yards for a touchdown the last time these two teams met, and in what could be a tight game this week, a repeat performance would go a long way toward helping the Jets’ playoff chances.

Running Game Thoughts: Last week Reggie Bush added another 113 yards to what was already his career high in rushing yards. He is finally having the season that everyone thought he could when New Orleans made him the second overall pick in the 2006 draft. A touchdown this week would also establish a career high in rushing touchdowns for Bush. Bush has 1,086 yards rushing and six touchdowns on the ground in what can only be considered one of the biggest surprises of 2011.

The Jets have allowed 17 touchdowns on the ground this season, so Bush just may be able to break his career high in rushing touchdowns. The Jets have stepped up their run defense after a slow start to the season, but their lack of speed on defense still makes them vulnerable against quick running backs like Bush.

Matt Moore: 215 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Brandon Marshall: 40 yds receiving
Davone Bess: 20 yds receiving
Brian Hartline: 60 yards receiving
Anthony Fasano: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Daniel Thomas: 25 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Reggie Bush: 80 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving

Prediction: Jets 24, Dolphins 17 ^ Top

Eagles @ Redskins - (Marcoccio)

WAS FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -1.0%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -18.5%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +46.5%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +7.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Michael Vick has the Eagles’ offense back on track, but it’s the classic case of “too little too late” as Philadelphia was eliminated from playoff contention last week. DeSean Jackson may be playing in his last game as an Eagle this Sunday, as he’s under-achieved in a contract season and his lack of effort may have soured the Eagles on committing to him at the price he’ll be seeking. Brent Celek continues to roll through the second half of the season, re-establishing himself as one of the Eagle’s most productive pass catchers. He can take advantage of the Redskins’ soft middle-of-the-field coverages.

The Redskins enter the final week as the 11th-ranked pass defense on a yards-allowed-per-game basis (215.9) and have allowed 19 passing touchdowns. Their secondary is talented, but the real difference between this season and last is their ability to rush the passer. Rookie Ryan Kerrigan has helped free up Brian Orakpo from the double teams he was seeing last year, and former Rams defensive lineman Adam Carriker has resurrected his career in Washington. The porous Eagles O-line should be little match for the Washington pass rush.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy has thrived this season with the opportunity to handle carries at the goal line, a role that many thought the more physical Ronnie Brown would handle. McCoy has 17 rushing touchdowns this season, despite the presence of two quarterbacks that are strong red-zone runners in Michael Vick and Vince Young. McCoy has been the most dominant fantasy running back in 2011, but his high number of short-yardage touchdowns could plummet next season, so owners should keep that in mind.

Washington has allowed 120.6 ypg and 14 touchdowns but is still playing tough on the defensive side of the football. Linebackers Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher are solid veterans who play the run well and will not be looking past this game to the offseason.

Michael Vick: 265 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 25 yds rushing
DeSean Jackson: 45 yds receiving
Jeremy Maclin: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 10 yds receiving
Brent Celek: 40 yds receiving, TD
LeSean McCoy: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving
Ronnie Brown: 20 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

PHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -7.4%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -4.7%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -16.9%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -6.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Rex Grossman continues to show that he’s an adequate NFL quarterback when he plays mistake-free football, and he has done more good than bad after taking his job back from John Beck. Grossman has even made journeyman Jabar Gaffney fantasy-relevant while keeping Santana Moss owner’s happy as well. Some Washington beat writers have suggested that Grossman may have impressed the Shanahans enough to hold the fort down next season until whichever young quarterback Washington drafts is ready for action. Of course that could change depending on how high the Redskins draft a quarterback and if they end up signing a free agent this offseason.

The Eagles have done a good job of limiting their oppositions’ passing yards (206.8 ypg), but they have allowed the sixth most touchdown receptions in the league with 26. The Eagles shouldn’t have very much trouble with Moss and Gaffney, who are solid targets but are no longer very athletic. The loss of Fred Davis and Chris Cooley leaves Washington with no legitimate pass catcher at the tight end position, which will allow Philly to concentrate their efforts on the outside.

Running Game Thoughts: I’ve often said in this piece that just when it seems as if you’ve figured out Mike Shananhan’s running back rotation, he’ll throw you a curve ball. Well, after a stretch of nice games from rookie Roy Helu, it was fellow rookie Evan Royster breaking the 100-yard mark last week for the Skins. At least this time fantasy owners were aware that Helu was banged up and would be limited, so they had a chance to keep him out of their lineups. Helu is expected back this week, but don’t be surprised if Shanahan is content to give Royster another look and see what he has for the 2012 season.

Rex Grossman: 225 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Santana Moss: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jabar Gaffney: 45 yds receiving
Donte Stallworth: 30 yards receiving
Roy Helu: 40 yds rushing / 45 yds receiving
Evan Royster: 55 yds rushing 1 TD

Prediction: Eagles 27, Redskins 20 ^ Top

Cowboys @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

NYG FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +49.9%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +43.4%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +50.7%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +14.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Giants’ beat-up and underperforming secondary will be facing what is arguably the most talented trio of pass catchers in Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten this Sunday night in New Jersey. To make matters worse, during the middle of the season when Austin missed games, journeyman Laurent Robinson stepped up big time and is now the best fourth option in the league. Tony Romo will have no excuses this week if he falters in yet another big game. Of course Romo’s reputation for “choking” in big games is overblown, but the perception is out there, and this game presents an opportunity for him to dispel that misconception. Romo will need every bit of his mobility and quick release against a pass rush that has finally started to live up to it’s potential and may be getting Osi Umeniorya back.

As mentioned, the Giants’ secondary is very susceptible to the pass. Their vaunted pass rush, however, stepped up big time last week at Met Life Stadium against the home team Jets. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has played like a beast in recent weeks, and Justin Tuck finally looked like he was as healthy as he’s been in a long time. The Giants will need to get to Romo often. If they don’t, the big, fast Dallas wide receivers will be spending a lot of time in the end zone.

Running Game Thoughts: The Cowboys are down to two healthy backs in Felix Jones and 34-year-old Sammy Morris, and Jones has been dealing with a hamstring injury the last two weeks. Suffice it to say, the run is not likely to be a big part of the Dallas game plan this week. Although Morris is fresh and has looked surprisingly spry for his age, the Giants should be able to keep him in check despite their recent struggles.
The New York defense has allowed 126.1 ypg on the ground and 15 rushing touchdowns. While they’ve struggled most of the season—including last week, where the unit was bailed out by the Jets’ inexplicably abandoning the run in the second half—they should give a great effort in a must-win game against a Cowboys team with a decimated backfield.

Tony Romo: 315 yds passing 3 TDs, 1 Int. / 20 yds rushing
Miles Austin: 105 yds receiving, 2 TDs
Dez Bryant: 60 yds receiving
Laurent Robinson: 45 yds receiving
Jason Witten: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Sammy Morris: 40 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving
Felix Jones: 35 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving

DAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +4.6%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +14.3%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -2.5%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -13.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Giants’ passing game is starting to show some chinks in the armor with Mario Manningham and tight end Jake Ballard missing time in recent weeks and Hakeem Nicks dropping passes he shouldn’t. Eli Manning has struggled a bit the last two weeks as well, but at least he has been aided tremendously by second-year wide receiver Victor Cruz, who has emerged into a big-time playmaker. Cruz has been one of the most surprising players in the league, with over 1,300 yards receiving and eight touchdowns on the year. He has nice size and speed and is a skilled runner after the catch. He also has a tendency to make big plays out of nothing, like his 99-yard touchdown reception against the Jets where he caught a short pass between two defenders, broke through, and was off to the races down the sideline, avoiding a diving attempt by safety Erik Smith along the way. At this point in the season, it would be wise for the Cowboys to focus some defensive attention his way.

The Dallas secondary has been banged up at times this season, but even when healthy, it’s left a lot to be desired. The team is ranked 23rd against the pass, having allowed 238.3 ypg and 21 touchdowns on the season. Eli Manning was able to light this defense up for 400 yards and two touchdowns three weeks ago. Despite the fact that it was Manningham and Ballard, two players who may miss this week, that caught the touchdowns in that game, it’s not a stretch to think Manning can take advantage of the Dallas secondary again this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Ahmad Bradshaw looked better last week than he has in any game since returning from his cracked foot, but he is still not 100 percent. The Giants will need him healthy if they have any hopes of getting into and advancing in the playoffs. Brandon Jacobs scored twice against the Cowboys in Dallas, but consistency from game to game has been a problem for him all year. Jacobs is always pumped up to play the Cowboys and he’s at his best when he’s playing with some anger, so expect him to make some noise—and not just with his big, fat mouth.

The Cowboys’ aggressive run defense has otherwise kept most opposing runners in check. They are currently ranked in the top-10, having given up only 98.6 ypg and just nine rushing touchdowns on the season. While Eli may have his way with the Cowboys secondary, it will be important for the Giants to establish at least some threat of a running game—especially with their having limited weapons to work with in the passing game.

Eli Manning: 295 yds passing 2 TDs
Hakeem Nicks: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 30 yds receiving
Travis Beckum: 25 yds receiving
Ahmad Bradshaw: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving
Brandon Jacobs: 50 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Giants 34, Cowboys 27 ^ Top

Lions @ Packers - (Autry)

GB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +5.1%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -7.9%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -15.1%
GB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +0.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: What a travesty that Matthew Stafford got hosed for a Pro Bowl bid. And for Eli Manning? Insane. Stafford has 10 more TD passes than Manning and two fewer interceptions—to say nothing of the six games in which he has two or more TD passes to Manning’s three. Whether or not it’s the old New York bias thing is debatable. This much is certain: Stafford has catapulted himself into the discussion of a top-4 QB entering next season’s fantasy draft. And Calvin Johnson has solidified his position as arguably fantasy football’s top WR in 2012. Great things are indeed on the horizon for the Detroit’s passing game both from a fantasy and reality perspective.

Green Bay has been one of the worst pass defenses in the league. They may not play their starters in the second half, and there are whispers that Detroit probably won’t either. But I think the Lions will play to win this game, especially considering the fact that they haven’t won in Green Bay since 1991. No time like the present to rid the franchise of that ugly blemish. Expect a solid game from Detroit’s passing offense this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Detroit hasn’t rushed for more than 87 yards in four straight games. And even head coach Jim Schwartz indicated after last week’s game against San Diego that this team will continue to rely on the arm of Stafford and the passing game in order to win games. Kevin Smith, however, has added a nice complementary piece to the offensive attack. While he’s not fantasy-worthy, Smith is at least a viable enough option whereby the opposition can’t totally disregard the run game in lieu of concentrating on stopping Stafford.

The Packers are 31st in the league overall on defense, but those shortcomings are due in large part to the team’s struggles against the pass. Green Bay is actually pretty solid against the run, although Chicago ran roughshod over them on Monday night. They had better shore up the defensive side of the ball as a whole if they are to repeat this season.

Matthew Stafford: 235 yards passing / 2 TDs / 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 80 yards receiving
Nate Burleson: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
Titus Young: 35 yards receiving
Brandon Pettigrew: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Kevin Smith: 55 yards rushing / 1 TD

DET FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +16.2%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -0.8%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +30.1%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +15.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Green Bay has nothing to play for in this game. The top seed is locked up in the NFC, so don’t expect to see Aaron Rodgers and the bulk of his playmakers past halftime. The main objective this week for the Packers is not to add to the injury list. Greg Jennings is obviously out with his knee issue, and word came late in the week that Jermichael Finley tweaked a knee and may not play for precautionary reasons. That being said, don’t expect much out of the starting unit for Green Bay this week.

Detroit gave up almost 300 yards in the air the last time these teams met on Thanksgiving. It will be a totally different game with different objectives. Detroit will have the greater incentive to win this game, so expect a spirited effort from the Lions. Matt Flynn should see significant time once Rodgers finds his way to the bench. That will make the chances of the Lions beating the Packers much greater.

Running Game Thoughts: Green Bay has only reached the century mark on the ground twice in the last seven games. James Starks returned last, and so too did the RBBC with Ryan Grant. The Packers would like to incorporate the run more, but don’t get it twisted. They know that games are won and lost by their dynamic passing game. Starks and Grant have been fringe fantasy players all year, and that won’t change here in week 17.

Detroit has had its issues stopping the run this year, but last week’s solid play against San Diego to the tune of 70 yards was the defense’s best effort since its week 12 outing against these same Packers on Thanksgiving. The only way Green Bay does better than that week 12 game is by resting the bulk of their starters for the second half. Only then will they probably try to feature a running game that’s struggled for the most part this year.

Aaron Rodgers: 130 yards passing / 1 TD
Matt Flynn: 95 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Jordy Nelson: 55 yards receiving
Randall Cobb: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Donald Driver: 30 yards receiving
James Jones: 25 yards receiving / 1 TD
Tom Crabtree: 50 yards receiving
James Starks: 65 yards rushing / 1 TD
Ryan Grant: 30 yards rushing

Prediction: Lions 23, Packers 21 ^ Top

Ravens @ Bengals - (Autry)

CIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -27.7%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -20.0%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -33.0%
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -14.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: I’m personally a big proponent of QBs that throw for multiple TDs in a game. That is the single most important factor that separates upper-echelon QBs from the also-rans. With that being said, Joe Flacco is not your prototypical QB who’s capable of such feats on a regular basis. Even though he’s thrown two TDs in each of the last three games, he hasn’t thrown for more than 227 yards since week 10 and hasn’t tossed more than two TDs in a game since week 3. He’s a game manager, not a play-making QB. Most of that has to do with the offensive scheme. But whatever the case, Flacco is the quintessential fantasy QB2, so start him as such.

After not giving up more than 202 yards through the air during the first six weeks of the season and becoming one of the top-3 pass defenses in the league, the Bengals have come back to the pack a bit after losing several key components in their secondary. They’re still a top-10 defense, but they have a tendency to allow average offenses move the ball on them (see last week’s fourth quarter against Arizona). Cincy’s pass defense won’t have to worry too much about being exploited by a Ravens offense that doesn’t incorporate many down-the-field passes. As a result, the Bengals should put up a tough fight against the Ravens this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice has had at least 19 touches in six straight games and has scored a TD in four of those contests. He’s one of the most dynamic and versatile RBs in fantasy football. His role is the centerpiece of this offense, and it is that kind of scheme that also makes Rice the leading receiver on the team, as he has 17 more receptions than anyone else. Continue to view Rice as the top-3 fantasy RB he’s been for the last two years.

There was a stretch during the first half of the season when Cincy held opponents to under 100 yards rushing in six straight games. They’ve limited their last two opponents to sub-100 yards and will look to extend that streak to three this week. This is a hugely important game for both teams, so expect the Bengals to play solid defense while trying to limit what Rice does both on the ground and through the air.

Joe Flacco: 210 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Torrey Smith: 70 yards receiving
Lee Evans: 45 yards receiving
Ed Dickson: 40 yards receiving / 1 TD
Ray Rice: 85 yards rushing / 40 yards receiving / 1 TD rushing

BAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -9.7%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -8.8%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -10.6%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +2.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Last week was the first time in six weeks that Andy Dalton threw for multiple TDs. Last week also marks the fourth consecutive week that the rookie failed to reach the 200-yard plateau. Has he hit the proverbial “rookie wall”? Perhaps. If the Bengals are to make the playoffs in 2011, he’d better try to recapture the magic that saw him throw seven TDs between weeks 7-9. A.J. Green disappeared last week, but he remains the primary receiver in this offense. Andre Caldwell’s season-ending injury doesn’t help Dalton much, but Jerome Simpson and the ever-improving Jermaine Gresham should do enough to cover for Caldwell’s absence.

This week against the Ravens won’t be conducive to formulating any kind of newfound production by the rookie QB. Baltimore fields the league’s fourth-best pass defense—one that has surrendered the fewest TD passes in the league (11). Dalton did throw for almost 400 yards in the first meeting between these teams, however. That will certainly add to the focus of a Ravens defense that would love to win this game to solidify their playoff position in the AFC.

Running Game Thoughts: Cedric Benson only ran for 41 yards the first time these two teams met, but he did supplement that meager yardage production with two short TD runs—his only multiple TD game since week 12 last season. Benson didn’t do a whole lot last week in what was the Super Bowl in most fantasy leagues. His 57 yards against Arizona marked the fourth consecutive game of under 100 yards on the ground.

Baltimore has the second-best rush defense in the league, so whatever production Benson carves out will be well earned. The Ravens, however, can be had. Peyton Hillis rumbled for 112 yards last week, and Ryan Mathews of San Diego rushed for 90 yards and two scores the week before. Benson should see 20-plus carries and could squeeze a productive day out of it.

Andy Dalton: 190 yards passing / 1 TDs / 1 INT
A.J. Green: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 50 yards receiving
Jermaine Gresham: 25 yards receiving
Cedric Benson: 55 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Ravens 20, Bengals 17 ^ Top

Steelers @ Browns - (Autry)

CLE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -29.9%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -15.4%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -5.3%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -33.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Will he or won’t he? That’s the question once again emanating from Pittsburgh as to whether or not Ben Roethlisberger will suit up and play. He’s battled a severely sprained ankle to play one of the last two weeks, but he’s a shell of himself with that injury. As of Thursday night, it’s still a 50-50 proposition if he will play. Charlie Batch is a viable spot-starter in the NFL who can still maintain some level of productivity in the passing game. With Batch as the QB last week, Mike Wallace actually had the most receiving yards than he’s had since week 7, so all is not completely lost with the old veteran at QB.

Whether is Batch or a hobbled Roethlisberger, they will be facing one of the most underrated pass defenses in the league this season. The Browns have quietly become the second-best pass defense while giving up only 16 passing TDs—fourth best in the NFL. Ben did torch them for 280 yards and a score, and he did most of that on one foot, as he injured his ankle during the first half of that game. I would expect Ben to play, since he practiced fully on Thursday.

Running Game Thoughts: Last week’s 116 yard effort by Rashard Mendenhall was his first time eclipsing the 100 yard barrier since his 146 yard performance against Jacksonville in week 6. For a team and franchise that prides itself on running the football, however, it’s ironic that Mendenhall has only one game this season with more than 20 carries. At best, Mendenhall will be playing alongside a hobbled Ben Roethlisberger, meaning they could feature the run a bit more this week. Mendenhall is a no-brainer, low-end RB1 each week.

Cleveland gave up 162 yards on the ground last week to Baltimore, as its 30th-ranked run defense continues to struggle. The Steelers ran for 147 yards in the first meeting, so you should expect similar production this week. They are certain to see a heavy dose of Mendenhall and the running game this week.

Ben Roethlisberger: 230 yards passing / 2 TDs
Mike Wallace: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 65 yards receiving / 1 TD
Hines Ward: 30 yards receiving
Heath Miller: 35 yards receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 70 yards rushing / 1 TD

PIT FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -24.4%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +14.6%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +4.8%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -32.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Seneca Wallace is known more for his mobility than his ability to pass the football, but last week he still only ran the ball once for five yards. Wallace is not a total bum at QB; he’s good for short stretches of time as a fill-in for an injured player. Part of his issue as a signal caller in Cleveland is the same issue that plagued Colt McCoy: the Browns don’t have much in the way of viable NFL receivers. Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi and the rest of the clan won’t keep defenses restless trying to figure out schemes to stop them. The dink-and-dunk philosophy of the West Coast offense suits these players well; I just don’t know that approach helps any of them become explosive, starting-caliber offensive weapons.

And if that’s not enough, the Browns have to contend with the league’s top-ranked defense that’s fighting for playoff positioning. The Steelers will be eager to make life miserable for the Browns. This defense has held the opposition to single digits in three of the last four games. Don’t be surprised if they make it four of the last five.

Running Game Thoughts: Peyton Hillis returned to the line-up in a big way last week, rushing for 112 yards against Baltimore. He’s run for 211 yards the last two games—just the kind of production the Browns needed. Only thing is, this is the last game of the season. Hillis has been one of the bigger busts in fantasy football this season, thanks in no small part to injury and an apparent issue in the locker room. Much like the rest of Cleveland’s offense, they will be hard pressed to garner production this week.

Only San Francisco has given up fewer rushing TDs than Pittsburgh’s seven. In fact, Cleveland has only four rushing TDs offensively this year—31st in the league. This team is completely devoid of playmakers on offense, and that manifests itself with the lack of scoring chances this team generates. Only two teams have scored fewer points than the Browns.

Seneca Wallace: 200 yards passing / 1 TD / 3 INTs
Greg Little: 55 yards receiving
Josh Cribbs: 45 yards receiving
Mohamed Massaquoi: 35 yards receiving
Evan Moore: 40 yards receiving / 1 TD
Peyton Hillis: 60 yards rushing / 25 yards receiving

Prediction: Steelers 24, Browns 10 ^ Top

Bears @ Vikings - (Autry)

MIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +6.2%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -10.3%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +17.3%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +2.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Josh McCown laced up the cleats after coaching high school kids the first three-quarters of the season. He did pretty well all things considered. His admirable play aside, Chicago’s offense has taken a big time hit since Jay Cutler was lost for the season. Earl Bennett’s production has especially dipped since then. Meanwhile, loudmouth Roy Williams had his best game last week since week 11 last season while playing for Dallas. He will be lucky to be on an NFL roster next year. After all, the best thing he will be remembered for in his career is giving Calvin Johnson his Megatron nickname.

Minnesota’s secondary has struggled all season. They have given up the most TD passes this season (33) and made Rex Grossman look like Tom Brady at times last week. This defense’s only hope is to unleash DE Jared Allen, who among the league leaders in sacks. If they allow McCown to do anything of note this week, then this secondary is worse than we may think.

Running Game Thoughts: Kahlil Bell put in major work last week, rushing for a career high 121 yards against Green Bay. Bell has shown flashes the last two weeks, but he’s still far from replacing Matt Forte’s dual threat potential. Bell should once again play a major role in the offensive scheme, considering McCown is still trying to acclimate himself back into the NFL game.

Minnesota allowed Washington’s Evan Royster to rush for 132 yards last week. They’re 12th against the run but have had the worst back-to-back games defending the run this year. The Vikings are sure to see Bell run left and Bell run right; they’d better be ready for it because he may be all that Chicago can muster offensively.

Josh McCown: 190 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Earl Bennett: 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Roy Williams: 35 yards receiving
Dane Sanzenbacher: 30 yards receiving
Kellen Davis: 40 yards receiving
Kahlil Bell: 85 yards rushing / 1 TD

CHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +23.7%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +5.3%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +8.9%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +26.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Christian Ponder has practiced most of this week and is probable. Ponder has had a lukewarm rookie campaign. Even though he’s tossed multiple TDs in three of the last four games, he’s topped 186 yards only once in the last five. Percy Harvin has had a solid second half of the season. As both a running a receiving threat, he certainly added a tremendous spark to many fantasy owners at the best time of the year. His role will be even more important now that Adrian Peterson is gone for the year.

Chicago’s defense tried to keep it together early in the game last week against Green Bay, but they were simply overmatched by an incredible passing offense. Obviously, Minnesota lacks that kind of potential, so the weakness of Chicago and its 28th-ranked pass defense won’t be exploited this week.

Running Game Thoughts: What a downer that Adrian Peterson injured his knee last week. Toby Gerhart, thankfully, filled in admirably. He even rumbled for 67 yard run in last week’s game against Washington. Gerhart has been productive this year whenever he gets his share of carries. He should receive 15-20 this week, sprinkled in with a few carries from Harvin as a change-of-pace runner.

Gerhart will be going up against a disciplined, tough defense. After starting the season surrendering more than 100 yards on the ground in the first five games, the Bears have only allowed three teams to do so in the last 10. Needless to say, they’ve picked it up considerably, and a one-dimensional team like the Vikings will certainly find the going tough.

Christian Ponder: 185 yards passing / 1 TD
Percy Harvin: 65 yards receiving
Devin Aromashodu: 35 yards receiving
Greg Camarillo: 20 yards receiving
Kyle Rudolph: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Toby Gerhart: 60 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Bears 17, Vikings 14 ^ Top

49ers @ Rams - (Eakin)

STL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -12.6%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +10.0%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -58.2%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +23.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: If the Niners win, they are assured a first-round bye in the playoffs, so there is no chance of a giveaway game here. Alex Smith continues to play efficiently and has made their passing game at least a threat to opposing defenses. Braylon Edwards was released this week since he has been injured and they are getting enough from new starter Kyle Williams to make Edwards expendable. Williams struggled statistically last week with just one catch for four yards, but he has speed enough to stretch the field for the other receivers. The real threats for the Niners are Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. The Rams know they must improve at stopping the run, and the 49ers will attach them on the ground. St. Louis will stack the box, which will leave Crabtree in single coverage. That matchup favors Crabtree, who has proven to be a reliable producer this year. The Rams, however, defend the tight end well, with linebacker James Lauriniatis and safety Quentin Mikell roaming the middle. This could slow Davis down, but they like to work him outside the hashes on medium outs and posts as well. He can have more success there than most tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: When these teams faced a few weeks ago, I projected Gore having a huge game, but that didn’t pan out. He was held to 75 yards on 21 carries. That game was a bit of an offensive practice for them in that the team rushed for 144 yards with a lot of others—on wide receiver sweeps and such—getting the ball instead. Gore has failed to hit the century mark in seven consecutive contests after having a midseason run of five straight 100-yard games. In those last seven, he has just one carry of more than 20 yards. Signs point to Gore’s wearing down. I think the Rams have improved their run defense, but the 49ers will not be scored upon, so the game will be in hand by the second half. All of that diminishes the prospect of Gore breaking his current string, as the Niners will use Antonio Dixon and Kendall Hunter to conserve their veteran back once the game is out of reach.

Alex Smith: 245 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 INT
Kyle Williams: 55 yds receiving
Michael Crabtree: 80 yds receiving / 1 TD
Vernon Davis: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Frank Gore: 80 yds rushing / 1 TD

SF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -5.4%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +6.7%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -22.1%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -39.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Kellen Clemens has been predictably bad since replacing Bradford and Feely. None of them have had much success, however, because the offensive line has struggled. San Francisco sacked Feely four times in their last game. Rookie defensive end Aldon Smith is only getting better and is one sack away from having the rookie sack record all to himself. The Rams don’t take shots downfield, which only makes the short passing game tougher. Danario Alexander and Brandon Lloyd could be a nice combination if the line would give their quarterback time to throw, but the San Francisco pass rush will be too much for them to handle. The Rams managed just 91 yards passing against the similar Steelers defense last week.

Running Game Thoughts: The 49ers allowed both their first 100-yard rusher and first rushing touchdown all year to Marshawn Lynch last week. With Steven Jackson rushing for 109 yards on the Steelers’ solid run defense last week, it’s possible that lightning could strike twice; you just won’t see me placing a bet on it. Jackson was held to 19 yards when these teams met four weeks ago.

Kellen Clemens: 205 yds passing, 0 TDs / 1 INT
Danario Alexander: 45 yds receiving
Brandon Lloyd: 60 yds receiving
Lance Kendricks: 35 yds receiving
Steven Jackson: 70 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: 49ers 24, Rams 7 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Broncos - (Eakin)

DEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +10.8%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +6.0%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -8.3%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +4.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: A Denver win or Oakland loss assures the Broncos a playoff game. Don’t expect the Broncos to be passing a lot in this one. The Chiefs have two solid cover corners, as Aaron Rodgers found out, and Tebow is coming off a disaster in Buffalo that included two picks for touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Tebow isn’t ready to be a pocket passer just yet, despite signs of improvement. The Broncos control their own destiny and will play it close to the vest early on, as turnovers will be critical to victory in what should be a low-scoring game. Tamba Hali is a good pass rusher that will likely move around so he’s not matched up on Denver’s only talented pass blocker, Ryan Clady. Denver could use a little more diversity in their pass attack. The running backs caught zero passes last week… Seems like a good weapon not being used by a limited throwing quarterback. I also think Denver underutilizes their tight ends. They did make strides there last week with Rosario catching two for 46 and Fells grabbing two for 22. For Tebow to be a viable passer, given his limited accuracy, the Broncos need their great pass-catching tight ends and running backs to become bigger weapons. The Chiefs are especially vulnerable in the middle of the defense at safety, so look for the Broncos’ tight ends to remain an active part of the attack. Tebow was two of eight for 69 yards in their first meeting.

Running Game Thoughts: Denver will rely heavily on the run game with a conservative attack. Kansas City held Tebow to a below-average 35 yards last meeting, and Derrick Johnson will probably spy Tebow to keep those rushing yards down. When Tebow isn’t keeping the ball, Willis McGahee will see the lion’s share of the rushing duties, with occasional spells from Lance Ball. McGahee will look to cap off a good season in which he has already eclipsed the 1000-yard mark on just 222 carries by averaging a terrific 4.8 yards per carry. The Chiefs are just 23rd in rushing yards allowed, giving up an average of 135 per game. McGahee should close the regular season well.

Tim Tebow: 245 yds passing, 1 TD / 1 INT / 1 TD (rushing)
Demaryius Thomas: 55 yds receiving / 1 TD
Eric Decker: 40 yds receiving
Daniel Fells: 35 yds receiving
Willis McGahee: 100 yds rushing / 1 TD

KC FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -0.6%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -13.8%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +10.6%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +9.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Denver defense has come back to reality during their two-game losing streak, which followed a six-game win streak. Now they face their recently released teammate, Kyle Orton. Orton provides a stable threat behind center for the Chiefs in terms of attacking the whole field. What will be critical for a Kansas City win is turnovers and red-zone production. They have struggled to score when close to the end zone because of the lack of a dominant tight end or slot threat. Denver may be at a big disadvantage this week without defensive leader Brian Dawkins, who is expected to sit out with a neck injury. Dawkins is a critical part of run support and getting the secondary in position. The Chiefs will use Jonathan Baldwin to attack the middle where Dawkins typically roams. Denver’s best counter is the pass rush of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. With a weakened secondary, those two need to have a big game. They have to make Orton uncomfortable, forcing him to make sloppy decisions with the ball. With time in the pocket, Orton will pick apart most defenses.

Running Game Thoughts: Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones have been splitting carries evenly, getting around 10-15 apiece. This week Battle is doubtful to play, however, which makes Jones a viable flex or RB2. Jones is in the twilight of his career, so he may not get true workhorse numbers, but 20 carries is reasonable to assume. Other than a few games during their win streak, the Broncos defense has been poor at stopping the run. They rank 25th, allowing 135 yards rushing per game. The loss of Dawkins won’t help matters. Also, with Orton under center stretching the field, Denver has to play the Chiefs straight up. They can’t load the box to stop the run, so Kansas City should have modest success running the ball. However, the lack of game-breaking skills from Jones limits hope for any great fantasy value.

Kyle Orton: 205 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Steve Breaston: 60 yds receiving
Jonathan Baldwin: 55 yards / 1 TD
Leonard Pope: 35 yds receiving
Thomas Jones: 50 yds rushing / 1 TD
Dexter McCluster: 40 yds rushing

Prediction: Broncos 24, Chiefs 21 ^ Top

Chargers @ Raiders - (Eakin)

OAK FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +18.4%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +19.0%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -5.2%
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +14.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: San Diego’s strategy will be to get one-on-one matchups on the outside without safety help. They can set that up by running the ball successfully and hitting play action. The Chargers will also want to attack the Oakland safeties, who can struggle in coverage. Antonio Gates and slot receivers Patrick Crayton and Vincent Brown should have success attacking the seam. As with their entire season, this game will come down to whether or not Phillip Rivers avoids costly turnovers. Oakland’s corners play aggressive man and will jump routes if Rivers is sloppy. Rivers will have to deal with a makeshift offensive line that will struggle blocking Oakland’s physical front. He could be under duress, as Oakland has everything to play for and the Chargers have no playoff hopes. Keep an eye out for the status of Vincent Jackson. He has a strain and has yet to practice. With nothing left to play for, he may sit out with an injury he might have normally played through.

Running Game Thoughts: Ryan Mathews has lived up to his draft status this year with over 1,000 yards rushing and just shy of five yards per carry average. The Chargers will want to establish him early, set the tone of the game, and keep pressure off Rivers. Oakland gives up over five yards per carry themselves, making this a terrific matchup for Mathews.

Philip Rivers: 245 yds passing, 2 TDs / 2 INT
Vincent Jackson: 55 yds receiving
Malcom Floyd: 80 yds receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Gates: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 110 yds rushing / 1 TD

SD FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +6.5%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -3.6%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +8.5%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -6.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: For the first time in over a month, speedy deep threat Jacoby Ford is practicing and possibly ready for a return. Ford will be a dangerous complement to Darius Heyward-Bey and Denarius Moore. He will give the Raiders a three-headed monster and easily the fastest receiving corps in the league. The Chargers are mediocre on pass defense beyond Quentin Jammer, so the deeper the receiving corps, the better chance for creating mismatches. However, the Raiders have really hurt themselves with penalties that have put them in long yardage and allowed the opposition to know when they are passing. If they can eliminate getting into third and long and feature a dual threat of run and pass, Palmer should be able to make some plays. The Chargers don’t get much pressure on quarterbacks.

Running Game Thoughts: There were some reports at the beginning of the week that Darren McFadden could be ready to go this game. That optimism was scuttled when Hue Jackson told the Contra Times’ Steve Corkran that McFadden is "just not ready yet." So it appears Michael Bush will remain the workhorse. Bush has been an effective power back but may be wearing down some. He hasn’t eclipsed 80 yards rushing in five games. And over those five games, he is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. Bush is several years removed from being a feature back in college, and the Raiders throw the ball a lot more since the addition of Palmer. The Raiders will need a bit more balance on offense, and Bush will be the key. On a positive note, Bush had his best game of the year in San Diego when he rushed for 157 yards on 30 carries, giving the Raiders a 24-17 win.

Carson Palmer: 205 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 INT
Denarius Moore: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 70 yds receiving
Kevin Boss: 35 yds receiving
Michael Bush: 70 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Raiders 27, Chargers 24 ^ Top

Seahawks @ Cardinals - (Eakin)

ARI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.2%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +7.6%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -6.3%
ARI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -0.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Seahawks really struggled to get the ball downfield against the tough 49ers defense last week. Neither Golden Tate, Ben Obomanu, nor Doug Baldwin had a single reception longer than 14 yards. Tarvaris Jackson has progressed but needs to show that he can accurately hit the downfield throws. Seattle could probably use a little more speed to stretch the field as well. Doug Baldwin will likely see a lot of rookie corner Patrick Peterson, who locks up one on one with the opposition’s top receiver. After a slow start, Peterson has been dynamic the second half. And with four returns for touchdowns, he is just one shy of the league record. With Greg Toler and Peterson on the outside, the middle of the field is where the Cardinals are most vulnerable, so Seattle needs to find ways to attack them there. Tight End Zach Miller would be such a weapon, but he has to be one of the more disappointing free agents this year. He managed good numbers in an awful Oakland pass attack for years, and while Jackson is no Warren Moon, he can’t be worse than what Miller had in Oakland. Miller has dealt with some injury, but most of his drop seems to fall on his quarterback and the offensive scheme not utilizing his talent. He blocks a lot in the heavy run-oriented offense, but Oakland was mainly a rushing attack as well. This year may be lost, but Seattle needs to figure out how to feature him more, especially when they are lacking talent at wide receiver.

Running Game Thoughts: This game will simply be an encore to cap Marshawn Lynch’s terrific season that culminated with his being the first running back to score a rushing touchdown or break 100 yards against the previously impervious 49ers defense. With the struggles of the Seattle passing game, victory will once again come down to Lynch barreling through defenders to keep the chains moving and winning the battle of field position. The Cardinals are no free ride. Their run defense has improved as the year has progressed. They held Cedric Benson to 57 yards on 16 carries last week. Even with a stiff run defense, however, Lynch is as hot as any back in the league and remains a must-start regardless.

Tarvaris Jackson: 245 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 INT
Doug Baldwin: 55 yds receiving
Golden Tate: 80 yds receiving / 1 TD
Zach Miller: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
Marshawn Lynch: 80 yds rushing / 1 TD

SEA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -11.3%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -17.1%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -0.8%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -3.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: There are mixed signals as to whether or not quarterback Kevin Kolb will be able to play, as he continues to suffer from post-concussion syndrome. Kolb has had an injury-filled and disappointing debut as a Cardinal, going 3-6 as the starter. John Skelton has been up and down as well, but he has shown promise. The team fell short in a late push to comeback on the Bengals last week, but Skelton was able to hit Fitzgerald for a nice 39-yard score. Fitzgerald finished with 106 yards and Andre Roberts had a respectable 75, so Skelton is at least making the passing attack relevant. Fitzgerald should have a big game this week. He will be matched up with Brandon Browner, a big, strong corner. But Browner won’t be able to push around the equally athletic Fitz.

Running Game Thoughts: Beanie Wells has struggled mightily since he ran wild on the Rams for 228 yards. In the four subsequent games, his yardage totals were 67, 27, 53, and 51. He has made due playing through a bothersome knee injury, but expectations for him should remain low as he faces a big Seattle front that does well against the run.

John Skelton: 205 yds passing, 1 TD / 1 INT
Larry Fitzgerald: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Andre Roberts: 60 yds receiving
Todd Heap: 35 yds receiving
Beanie Wells: 50 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 20 ^ Top