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Inside the Matchup
Week 5

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




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Eakin 14 4 77.8
T-2 Autry 10 6 62.5
T-2 Smith 10 6 62.5
4 Marcoccio 8 6 57.1

Bengals @ Jaguars - (Smith)

JAX FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 5.1 %
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 32.8%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 57.8 %
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 7.6 %

Passing Game Thoughts: Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has performed admirably for his club, having tossed four touchdowns and four interceptions through the first quarter of the season. By no means should he be on fantasy rosters at this point, but that’s not true of wideout A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. Green’s 312 receiving yards this year ranks him 18th in the league, and Gresham has developed nicely this year, collecting at least 50 receiving yards in three of the team’s four games this year. He should be in line for a solid fantasy outing against a Jaguars team that has allowed the second-most fantasy points in the league to opposing tight ends.

The Jags aren’t nearly as atrocious in pass defense as they have been in recent years, ranking 14th in the NFL in that category. They’ve been particularly stifling to wide receivers, having been the only team this season who has held Carolina’s Steve Smith to fewer than 150 receiving yards, and allowed him just 15 yards in their Week 3 match-up.

Running Game Thoughts: Cedric Benson ran for 104 yards last week against the Bills, and the former Texas Longhorns star is currently sixth in the league in rushing, averaging a solid 4.5 yards per carry. Twice in four games he’s run for at least 100 yards, and he isn’t taking quite the beating that he has in the past, having run the ball fewer than 20 times in all but one contest this season.

Jacksonville is right in the middle of the pack in terms of run defense, ranking 16th in the league in that category, and no running back has gained more than 75 yards against them this season. But they haven’t faced a team that has a true workhorse in the form of Benson, unless you count Tennessee’s Chris Johnson in Week 1, and he we don’t because he was just getting his sea legs under him at the time.

Andy Dalton: 235 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
A.J. Green: 80 yds receiving
Jermaine Gresham: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 40 yds receiving
Andre Caldwell: 25 yds receiving
Cedric Benson: 95 yds rushing, 1 TD

CIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 30.7 %
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 33.9 %
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 4.9 %
CIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 13.0 %

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jaguars don’t have a player in the top 50 in the league in receiving yards, though Mike Thomas does rank 51st. So, he has that going for him. But he doesn’t have excellent quarterback play going for him, as rookie Blaine Gabbert has been up and down, as you might expect from a quarterback making his first few starts. He completed a terrible 38.1 % of his passes last week, while compiling 196 yards. He’s thrown for one touchdown and one interception in each of his first two NFL starts, but isn’t getting much help from the receiving talent around him, and neither are fantasy owners. He’ll have a difficult task against the Bengals this week as well.

Cincinnati is third in the league in pass defense, trailing only stalwarts Pittsburgh and New York (Jets) in that statistic. Opposing quarterbacks have compiled the fifth-fewest fantasy points in the league on the Bengals pass defense, with no QB throwing for even 215 yards in a game on them. They’ve also held opposing wide receivers down, allowing the second-fewest fantasy points to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is second in the NFL in rushing yards this season, which has to please his fantasy owners, but the fact that he has only one rushing score cannot. Jones-Drew has yet to run for fewer than 84 yards in any game this season, and he doesn’t get much help back there, as fellow running back Deji Karim has run for a paltry 2.0 yards per carry.

The Bengals are sure to make MJD their focus this week, but he was undoubtedly the focus of every team Jacksonville has played, and that hasn’t slowed him down yet. Cincy’s run defense has been rock solid, ranking seventh in the league, and allowing opponents to rush for just 3.1 yards per carry. They haven’t faced any lightweights, either, matching up with Frank Gore, Fred Jackson, Peyton Hillis and Willis McGahee, with only McGahee running for at least 70 yards (he rushed for 101).

Blaine Gabbert: 145 yds passing, 2 INT
Mike Thomas: 60 yds receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 35 yds receiving
Jason Hill: 25 yds receiving
Maurice Jones-Drew: 90 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Bengals 20, Jaguars 13 ^ Top

Saints @ Panthers - (Smith)

CAR FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 22.7 %
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 12.7 %
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 25.8 %
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 29.1 %

Passing Game Thoughts: Quarterback Drew Brees is once again rewarding his fantasy owners, as his 1,410 passing yards are the second-highest total in the league, and his 10 touchdown throws are fourth. Tight end Jimmy Graham is fifth in the league in receiving yards with 367, and he’s scored three touchdowns, which ties him with Robert Meachem for the team lead. Marques Colston returned last week, and though he had just one catch for eight yards, the plan was for him to get limited snaps, so that shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Fantasy owners should count on more from him this week.

The Panthers’ pass defense has twice given up over 300 yards and two touchdowns to quarterbacks, so their ranking of sixth in the league in pass defense is a bit misleading. That’s because in Weeks 3 and 4, against Jacksonville and Chicago, respectively, each of those teams focused on the running game to gash Carolina. So don’t think that Brees can’t go out and light them up just because of their lofty ranking.

Running Game Thoughts: With a trio of runners, the Saints offer many different looks to a defense. That’s great for them, but fantasy owners tend to get frustrated with the tactic. Mark Ingram is the leading rusher for the team with 184 yards, but Pierre Thomas has 136 yards and Darren Sproles has 134. The real difference between the backs is the yards per carry, in which Ingram is averaging 3.5, but Thomas is at 5.0 and Sproles a whopping 8.9. But fantasy owners can rest assured that the goal line looks will be Ingram’s, and he should have his opportunities this week against a bad Carolina run defense.

They Panthers are 31st in the NFL against the run, and they’ve been taken advantage of by every feature back they’ve gone up against. Matt Forte ran for 205 yards against them last week, but Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 122 against them, Beanie Wells ran for 90 and James Stark rushed for 85 when facing Carolina. Only three teams have given up more fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Panthers have, so this is a good day for fantasy owners to insert Ingram into their lineups at the flex position.

Drew Brees: 300 yds passing, 2 TD
Jimmy Graham: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Marques Colston: 55 yds receiving
Lance Moore: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 40 yds receiving
Devery Henderson: 20 yds receiving
Mark Ingram: 85 yds rushing, 2 TD
Pierre Thomas: 35 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving
Darren Sproles: 25 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

NO FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 9.0 %
NO FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 11.1 %
NO FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 49.3 %
NO FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 18.8 %

Passing Game Thoughts: Cam Newton is fourth in the NFL in passing yards, with 1,386, but he’s thrown for just five scores and also tossed five interceptions, which is tied for the third-most in football. But he rewards his fantasy owners in other ways, which we’ll talk about in our running game thoughts. Receiver Steve Smith is the second-leading receiver in the NFL, with three games of at least 150 receiving yards, and one game with just 15 yards. Fantasy owners would like to see him with more than just two touchdowns considering his productivity, but we suppose beggars can’t be choosers. Tight end Greg Olsen is also having an excellent season, becoming a trusted outlet for Newton, and the two should be able to capitalize on the Saints’ difficulty against tight ends.

New Orleans has allowed the third-most fantasy points in the NFL to opposing tight ends, as they have been beaten for at least 50 receiving yards by three different tight ends, and have also allowed three receiving scores to players at the position. Receivers have taken advantage of the Saints’ 19th-ranked pass defense as well, with six different wideouts having put up at least nine fantasy points against them through four games.

Running Game Thoughts: Neither DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart are among the league’s top-35 in rushing yards, with Williams having run for 143 yards and Stewart having compiled 142. Each has failed to score on the ground, with that duty having fallen to quarterback Cam Newton, who rushed for two scores last week, and has four on the season, which is tied for the second-most in the NFL. Fantasy owners who drafted Williams and Stewart can only hope that the two backs are the ones who start taking the ball into the end zone instead of Newton, and soon.

New Orleans is ninth in the NFL against the run, but they have allowed opponents to rush for 4.6 yards per carry, which is just 22nd in the league. They haven’t allowed an individual rusher to gain more than 84 yards on them, which Maurice Jones-Drew did last week. But MJD did that on only 11 carries, and only Ben Tate has more than 12 carries in a game against the Saints, and he ran for 82 yards. New Orleans is solid but not great against running backs, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see either Williams or Stewart finally find the end zone in this contest.

Cam Newton: 265 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT / 40 yds rushing
Steve Smith: 110 yds receiving
Greg Olsen: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Shockey: 40 yds receiving
Brandon LaFell: 25 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD / 10 receiving yds
Jonathan Stewart: 50 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Saints 31, Panthers 23 ^ Top

Raiders @ Texans - (Smith)

HOU FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 15.2 %
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 5.8 %
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 31.0 %
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 9.4 %

Passing Game Thoughts: With Oakland’s running game being as good as it is, quarterback Jason Campbell doesn’t have to throw for a lot of yards, and he doesn’t, as his 928 so far this season is just 23rd in the league. Then again, he doesn’t have a lot of weapons to throw to. Denarius Moore is the team’s leading receiver with 199 yards and his 12 catches are second only to Darren McFadden. Tight end Kevin Boss returned and had 78 receiving yards, but this match-up is not a great one for him, because only five teams in the league have allowed fewer fantasy points to tight ends than Houston.

Speaking of the Texans, their pass defense is light years ahead of where it had been in recent seasons, as they are currently 10th in the NFL against the pass. They’ve allowed just five touchdowns, and fantasy quarterbacks not named Drew Brees have had limited success against them, as he’s the only QB they’ve faced who has thrown for multiple scores or at least 210 yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Darren McFadden is the leading rusher in the NFL, is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and has racked up almost 80 more yards than the league’s second-leading rusher, Maurice Jones-Drew. McFadden and fellow back Michael Bush have each run for three scores, which is tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. Needless to say, they make a terrific tandem, and one that is utterly difficult to stop. McFadden has not accumulated fewer than 120 yards from scrimmage in any game this season, and the Texans will be facing their most difficult challenge to date.

It’s a challenge that Houston may not be up for when you take a look at their success – or lack thereof – against the run this season. They are 19th in the league in rush defense, but are allowing 4.9 yards per carry, which is tied for 26th in the league. In terms of fantasy, the Texans numbers look better than they really should because only once has a team handed the ball off to a back at least 10 times against them, and that was Miami, who fed Daniel Thomas 18 times, and he gained 107 yards. Otherwise, the highest total of carries against the Texans was a hurting Rashard Mendenhall, who had nine carries against them last week. So don’t let Houston fool you, this is a team that can be run on.

Jason Campbell: 220 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Denarius Moore: 60 yds receiving
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kevin Boss: 30 yds receiving
Derek Hagan: 25 yds receiving
Darren McFadden: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Michael Bush: 35 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

OAK FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 19.7 %
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 17.6 %
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 36.1 %
OAK FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 54.5 %

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Schaub has been a bit of a disappointment to his fantasy owners this season, passing for only 961 yards, which is 20th in the NFL. However, he does have seven touchdown throws, which is ninth in the league, but two of those went to receiver Andre Johnson, who will be out this week and maybe a few more with an injury. That will give others, such as tight end Owen Daniels and wideouts Kevin Walters and Jacoby Jones, a chance to step up against a Raiders pass defense that has had limited success.

Oakland is 22nd in the NFL against the pass, and quarterbacks have shredded them for the sixth-most fantasy points in the league so far. Through four games, the only quarterback who hasn’t tossed multiple touchdown passes against the Raiders is Kyle Orton, but he threw for over 300 yards, as did New York’s Mark Sanchez. If those two can have that type of success against the Raiders, Schaub – with or without Johnson – should also be able to put up big numbers.

Running Game Thoughts: Arian Foster returned with a vengeance last week, carrying the rock 30 times for 155 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. That’s the type of performance that fantasy owners were expecting when many made him the first overall pick, ahead of Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson. And this week against the Raiders, they should be expecting another huge game from Foster.

Only one team in the NFL has given up more fantasy points to opposing running backs than the Raiders have, and that has come out of both the running and passing game, because only two other teams have given up more receiving yards to running backs than Oakland. Four separate running backs have totaled at least 100 yards from scrimmage against the Raiders, and Foster is primed to make it five.

Matt Schaub: 305 yds passing, 2 TD
Owen Daniels: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kevin Walter: 80 yds receiving
Jacoby Jones: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
James Casey: 25 yds receiving
Arian Foster: 120 yds rushing, 1 TD / 45 yds receiving
Ben Tate: 35 yds rushing

Prediction: Texans 24, Raiders 20 ^ Top

Chiefs @ Colts - (Smith)

IND FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 1.6 %
IND FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 3.0 %
IND FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 11.5 %
IND FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 22.1 %

Passing Game Thoughts: After his very good 2010 season, fantasy owners undoubtedly thought of Matt Cassel as at least a solid backup, if not a fringe starter. But he’s been awful in 2011, having thrown five interceptions compared to four touchdowns, and his 688 passing yards are 29th in the league, trailing players like Alex Smith, Tarvaris Jackson and Andy Dalton. Cassel has shown a solid rapport with Dwayne Bowe, however, and Bowe has caught a touchdown pass in each of his last two games, and has put up at least 10 fantasy points in each of his last three contests.

Indianapolis is 20th in the NFL against the pass, but have given up just four touchdown throws on the season. No quarterback has thrown for multiple scores on them yet this year, and it’s hard to believe that Cassel would be the first one to accomplish that feat.

Running Game Thoughts: Having lost Jamaal Charles for the season, the Chiefs’ running game is perilously thin. Thomas Jones has gotten the bulk of the carries, but he’s finally starting to show his age, and is averaging only 2.8 yards per rush. Dexter McCluster is the one who leads the team in rushing yards, but he has just 164, and his fantasy value is somewhat limited due to the fact that Kansas City can’t simply hand him the ball 15-20 times because he’s not big enough to absorb that type of pounding.

The Colts are 28th in the NFL against the run, but are allowing a respectable 4.1 yards per carry, and have faced some bruisers like Peyton Hillis and LeGarrette Blount that are the antidote to their smaller defense. Obviously, neither Jones nor McCluster qualifies, so the Colts should have an easier time containing them.

Matt Cassel: 210 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 80 yds receiving
Steve Breaston: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Keary Colbert: 35 yds receiving
Dexter McCluster: 45 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving
Thomas Jones: 35 yds rushing

KC FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 8.0 %
KC FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 8.7 %
KC FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 34.1 %
KC FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 29.6 %

Passing Game Thoughts: Curtis Painter actually did well for himself last week against the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football, tossing two scores and throwing for 281 yards despite completing less than 50 percent of his passes. Tight end Dallas Clark remains a victim of the Peyton Manning injury, and there’s nothing for fantasy owners to do but bite the bullet and either ride it out with Clark or find a replacement. The same pretty much goes for Reggie Wayne, who hasn’t been nearly the player fantasy owners expected.

The Chiefs do not present a formidable challenge for Indy, ranking 17th in the NFL against the pass, and twice allowing an opposing quarterback to throw four touchdowns in a game. That much can’t be expected out of Painter in this contest, but decent numbers are a possibility.

Running Game Thoughts: Joseph Addai has done a commendable job running the ball, averaging 4.6 yards per rush, and his 230 yards on the ground this year is 18th in the league, and better than the numbers of players like Peyton Hillis, Jahvid Best and Rashard Mendenhall.

Kansas City has allowed the fifth-most fantasy points in the NFL to opposing running backs, so if the Colts use Addai correctly, he’s definitely worthy of a start for his fantasy owners. On three separate occasions, the Chiefs have allowed a runner to gain at least 80 rushing yards, and twice they’ve given up more than 50 receiving yards to a back. A dual-threat out of the backfield like Addai should be able exploit K.C. and reward his fantasy owners.

Curtis Painter: 205 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Reggie Wayne: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Pierre Garcon: 55 yds receiving
Dallas Clark: 35 yds receiving
Austin Collie: 20 yds receiving
Joseph Addai: 80 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Delone Carter: 15 yds rushing

Prediction: Colts 17, Chiefs 13 ^ Top

Packers @ Falcons - (Smith)

ATL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 17.5 %
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 20.0 %
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 37.1 %
ATL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 7.0 %

Passing Game Thoughts: If Aaron Rodgers isn’t the best quarterback in the NFL, then he only trails a man named Brady. Rodgers has thrown for 1,325 yards, which is fourth in the league, and has the second-most passing scores with 12. Wideout Greg Jennings continues to deliver for his fantasy owners, having another great season with the sixth-most receiving yards in the league and three touchdowns.

The Falcons have not been good against the pass this season, coming in at 24th in the NFL in that statistic, and in no game was that more pronounced than last week against Seattle, a contest in which Tarvaris Jackson threw for over 300 yards and three scores. Jay Cutler also threw for over 300 yards with multiple touchdowns against Atlanta, and Michael Vick threw for over 240 yards with two scores. So Aaron Rodgers should be licking his chops at the thought of going up against this defense.

Running Game Thoughts: James Starks ran the ball for 63 yards and had another 38 yards receiving last week in filling the full-time responsibilities while Ryan Grant was out with an injury. But Grant should return this week, and the two are likely to share carries with an almost even split, which is frustrating to fantasy owners who would like to see one or the other get the majority of the looks.

Atlanta is 19th in the league against the run, and have allowed the fifth-most fantasy points in the NFL to running backs. That’s good for the owners of Grant and Starks, who should consider using them in the flex position for the week. Starks, especially, should be considered, because he adds a receiving threat, and the Falcons have allowed the sixth-most receiving yards in the league to running backs.

Aaron Rodgers: 305 yds passing, 3 TD / 25 yds rushing
Greg Jennings: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jermichael Finley: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jordy Nelson: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Donald Driver: 35 yds receiving
Randall Cobb: 25 yds receiving
James Starks: 50 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving
Ryan Grant: 45 yds rushing

GB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 44.5 %
GB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 41.7 %
GB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 20.1 %
GB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 25.2 %

Passing Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners were expecting Matt Ryan to take another step this season, but he’s been somewhat inconsistent. Though he’s 10th in the league in passing yards, he’s also thrown just six touchdowns, which is the same amount as Colt McCoy and Rex Grossman. Rookie Julio Jones has lived up to his lofty draft status, and is 11th in the NFL in receiving yards, though he has yet to record his first NFL touchdown. He’s stepped up as Roddy White has struggled with an injury, and with just one touchdown catch, hasn’t been the player fantasy owners thought they were getting when they drafted him, likely in the second round. Tony Gonzalez has stepped up in the red zone, however, and is tied for fourth in the NFL with four touchdown receptions.

The Packers have allowed the second-most passing yards in the league, and not once have they allowed fewer than 270 yards to a quarterback in their four games this season. They’ve twice allowed over 400 passing yards, and only Cam Newton failed to throw for multiple touchdown passes against Green Bay, who has allowed the second-most fantasy points in the league to opposing QBs.

Running Game Thoughts: After having a stellar pair of opening games, Michael Turner has stumbled, running for a total of 90 yards in his last two games, and averaging 2.4 yards per carry. He’s still 10th in the NFL in rushing yards, but will have a difficult test this week against the Packers.

Green Bay is 15th in the league against the run, but that’s somewhat misleading, because Willis McGahee is the only running back to gain more than 40 yards against them. Cam Newton had over 50 rushing yards against them, but Matt Ryan won’t be doing that any time soon. Green Bay held Matt Forte to two rushing yards, Jonathan Stewart to five and DeAngelo Williams to 13, so this is a stout run defense, and Turner’s fantasy owners should be on edge during this one.

Matt Ryan: 255 yds passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Roddy White: 95 yds receiving
Julio Jones: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Michael Turner: 60 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Packers 27, Falcons 24 ^ Top

Jets @ Patriots - (Marcoccio)

NE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +42.0%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +45.3%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -27.4%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +23.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Coming off arguably his best regular season game as a pro last week in Oakland, Mark Sanchez had his worst in Baltimore. In fairness, his O-line didn’t do him any favors, as he was under extreme pressure on almost every passing play the Jets attempted. Sanchez got battered around and looked shell-shocked by the middle of the third quarter when he threw a pick-six that killed all momentum and sealed the win for Baltimore. Outside of that game, Sanchez has performed better than average and was looking like a startable fantasy option at QB when the matchup was right. This week would have been one of those matchups, as the Jets face one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL and a team that has a non-existent pass rush. However, after his turnover-heavy performance last week, Sanchez owners may be hesitant to stick him into their lineups. Nevertheless, the Jets will likely need to pass to stay in the game, so expect Sanchez to look to Santonio Holmes early and often. Holmes was vocal after Sunday night’s loss, and, as they say, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

The Patriots’ pass defense is ranked dead last in the NFL, allowing an amazing 368 yards per game and seven touchdowns on the season. Devin McCourty is a talent but has had some issues with bigger and stronger receivers this season. He’ll likely matchup against Holmes, which will not be a problem in that regard but could cause some trouble if he has to switch to covering Plaxico Burress. Rex Ryan is promising to return to the ground-and-pound offense that has taken the team to two consecutive AFC championship games, but the matchup this week may just dictate otherwise.

Running Game Thoughts: While returning to a heavy ground game may be ideal in theory, in reality the Jets have had issues trying to run the ball. Their O-line has been horrendous with Nick Mangold out with injury, Brandon Moore playing through injury, and Wayne Hunter struggling to replace the retired Damien Woody. Shonn Greene is decent but not a special talent, in that he runs with power and has good straight-line speed for a back his size but lacks the quickness, agility, and wiggle to make things happen on his own. The Jets may be wise to give Joe McKnight a few carries, as his speed and quickness may help cover up some of the difficulties the O-line has been experiencing in creating running lanes.

Should center Nick Mangold miss another game (it’s now looking like he might play), Vince Wilfolk would have a field day being the disruptive force he usually is along the interior of the line. The Pats are a middle-of-the-road run defense, allowing only 108.4 yards per game and four touchdowns on the season but a hefty 4.6 yards per carry to opposing runners. Their front seven should be effective against a Jets team that just hasn’t found any rhythm in the running game.

Mark Sanchez: 315 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 int. / 15 yards rushing
Santonio Holmes: 65 yds receiving
Plaxico Burress: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dustin Keller: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
LaDainian Tomlinson: 25 yds rushing, 1 TD / 40 yards receiving
Shonn Greene: 55 yards rushing / 15 yards receiving

NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -41.7%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -45.6%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -23.2%
NYJ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +27.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady had a small hiccup in Week 3 when he threw as many interceptions against the Bills (4) as he threw in all of 2010. Predictably, he put that poor performance behind him and pounded the Raiders in Week 4. Tight end Rob Gronkowksi, who has been one of the focal parts of the offense all season, disappeared; but Wes Welker sure didn’t. With 40 receptions for 616 yards and five touchdowns on the season, Welker is well on his way to breaking the all-time single-season reception mark held by Marvin Harrison and is finding the end zone with more frequency than he has in the past. The Brady-Welker combo has been devastating to opposing defenses, as Welker’s precise routes and quickness combined with Brady’s field vision and accuracy have caused opposing secondaries nightmares.

Unfortunately for the second-ranked Jets pass defense, the Patriots are built perfectly to take advantage of the Jets’ weaknesses. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie won’t be very effective when the Patriots’ outside receivers are only the third or fourth read—at best—in the passing game, and the Jets have struggled in covering tight ends and slot receivers the last couple of seasons. The outstanding numbers the Jets passing defense has put up so far (180.3 ypg and two TDs allowed) could be about to take a hit this week.

Running Game Thoughts: BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead may start giving way to the two rookie runners the team chose within the first three rounds of the NFL draft. Stevan Ridley, who does everything BJGE does, only better, is already starting to be worked into the offense effectively, and Woodhead’s ankle injury may open the door for Shane Vereen to make his mark this week. Ridley scored on a 33-yard run and finished the game with 97 yards on his 10 carries in Oakland. He is a tough runner with better speed than BJGE and should start chipping away at the Law Firm’s carries each week going forward.

The Jets’ run defense has struggled almost as much as their offensive running game. After getting stomped on in Oakland by Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, the team is allowing an average of 130.5 yards per game and has allowed six rushing touchdowns through four games. Bart Scott and David Harris’s age has slowed them down a bit, and the defensive line is just not getting off their blocks quickly enough to disrupt opposing runners. However, they have faced three of the best runners in the league the last three weeks in McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ray Rice, so they could very well improve as the season moves forward.

Tom Brady: 335 yds passing 3 TDs
Chad Ochocinco: 25 yds receiving
Wes Welker: 90 yds receiving, 1 TD
Deion Branch: 30 yds receiving
Rob Gronkowski: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
BenJarvis Green-Ellis: 45 yds rushing
Stevan Ridley: 60 yds rushing, 1 TD
Danny Woodhead: 35 yds rushing / 55 yds receiving, 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 34, Jets 27 ^ Top

Seahawks @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

NYG FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -15.2%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +7.6%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -25.0%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +8.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Over the first two weeks, Tarvaris Jackson looked like one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league. While that still may be the case, he’s at least shown some signs of improvement over the last two games, particularly in Week 4 where he threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns—albeit with two interceptions. Probably not coincidentally, the improvement came once his former Minnesota teammate, wide receiver Sidney Rice, returned to the fold after sitting out the first two weeks with a torn labrum. Rice is built in the mode of an Andre Johnson, and that just may be his ceiling, but injuries and poor quarterback play have hindered him from being a consistent producer over the years. During the only season in which he has been completely healthy, which coincided with Brett Favre’s magical 2009 season, Rice caught 83 balls for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns. The surprise so far in the Seattle passing game has been undrafted rookie receiver Doug Baldwin. Baldwin had an undistinguished career at Stanford before stepping up in his final season to become a reliable target for Andrew Luck. He’s small and not particularly fast, but he has been producing, which is no small feat for an undrafted rookie.

After losing cornerbacks Terrell Thomas and Prince Akumanura in the preseason, the Giants’ pass defense looked overmatched early on, but they have stepped up against Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb in each of the last two weeks. The return of Osi Umenyiora last week provided a big boost to the pass rush, which was already effective with Jacques Pierre-Paul looking beastly in the early season. Once the team gets Justin Tuck back to full health, it may not matter who is playing cornerback for the Giants. The shaky Seattle O-line should have its hands full this Sunday in the Meadowlands.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch was a popular value pick this offseason, after having famously gone into “BeastMode” during the playoff game against New Orleans last January. So far, the poor O-line play and Lynch’s limited ability to make things happen on his own have lead to a mostly disappointing season for the former Golden Bear. Lynch is a solid grinder type that has enough speed once he gets out in space, but he lacks the quick lateral movement to deal with opposing defensive linemen who get into the Seattle backfield. Now that the team has some semblance of a passing game, perhaps things will look a little brighter for the running game, but Lynch is still nothing more than a decent flex option.

The Giants’ run defense performed very well during the first three weeks, despite having to start sixth-round rookie Greg Jones at middle linebacker because of Jonathan Goff’s season-ending injury. Last week, however, Beanie Wells was able to shred the Giants for 133 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground. Credit needs to be given to Wells, who looked every bit the first-round talent that he was expected to be. This week, expect the Giants to win the battle in the trenches against an over-matched offensive line and to hold Lynch in check.

Tarvaris Jackson: 225 yds passing, 1 TD / 30 yards rushing
Sidney Rice: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 40 yds receiving
Doug Baldwin: 50 yards receiving
Zach Miller: 25 yds receiving
Marshawn Lynch: 45 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

SEA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -12.1%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -6.7%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -26.5%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -5.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Like Tarvaris Jackson, Eli Manning also struggled early in the season. He has turned his season around by a much greater degree, however, throwing four touchdowns against the Eagles and leading the Giants to a come-from-behind win last week in Arizona. Hakeem Nicks suffered a knee injury in Week 1 but has played though it and looks every part the elite WR that fantasy owners expected. Victor Cruz, a second-year wide receiver out of UMass, shook off early-season struggles by taking advantage of injuries to the other receivers; he is now entrenched as a part of the passing attack after proving himself as a solid playmaker. Last week he moved past Mario Manningham in the pecking order and was involved in a critical—as well as controversial—play that helped the team mount its fourth-quarter comeback. Local beat reporters are not certain that the change in the depth chart will be permanent, as the benching was due to Manningham running a few poor routes in his first game back from a concussion. This may be a good opportunity to buy low on the talented Manningham.

The Seahawks’ secondary is not a very imposing obstacle in Manning’s bid to keep his momentum going. They are a middle-of-the-pack unit, ranking 16th in the league, and are allowing 236.5 yards per game, thought they’ve given up only three touchdowns. They have some talent in the secondary but fare much better at home than on the road. Traveling the whole way across the county will make the road game seem even tougher this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have been one of the better running back tandems in the league this season because they complement each other so well. Bradshaw is a complete package, in that he runs with a punishing style yet excels in the passing game and has shown enough speed and agility to create some big plays. Jacobs is even more punishing, at well over 250 pounds, and has outstanding straight-line speed for a back his size. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gillbride sometimes inexplicably abandons the run far too early, but the Giants—rather than the Jets—could be the real ground-and-pound offense in New York if they chose to go that route.

The Seahawks are also a middle-of-the-road run defense, ranked 15th and allowing 105 yards per game and five touchdowns on the season. One does have to wonder if they can continue to maintain even such a mediocre pace, especially when you have to look five spots down the team’s leading tackler list to find the first linebacker’s name. It’s never a good sign when your four leading tacklers (Earl Thomas, Marcus Trufant, Brandon Browne, and Kam Chacellor) are members of your secondary.

Eli Manning: 285 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int.
Hakeem Nicks: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 30 yds receiving
Jake Ballard: 45 yds receiving
Ahmad Bradshaw: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Brandon Jacobs: 45 yards rushing, 1 TD / 15 yards receiving

Prediction: Giants 28, Seahawks 13 ^ Top

Eagles @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

BUF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +22.4%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +4.3%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +26.2%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +16.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: Michael Vick was finally able to finish a game after being forced out of action the previous two weeks, and he threw for a career-high 416 yards. He also tossed two touchdowns and added 75 yards on the ground. It all went for naught, of course, as the “Dream Team” fell to 1-3 on the season. Vick finally lived up to the hype that carried over from last season, which is all most of his fantasy owners really care about anyway. He has and will likely continue to take a high number of hits because he often leaves the pocket. And with his slight build, missing time will likely continue to be a concern. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin returned earlier than expected from his hamstring injury (he didn’t miss a game) and should have a better week after further recovery as Vick’s go-to wide receiver. DeSean Jackson may not get as many looks as Maclin, but he makes the most of those looks, as he did last week when he gained an insane 171 yards on six catches. With a 28.5 yard-per-catch average, it seems almost impossible that he couldn’t find the end zone last week.

Statistically speaking, Buffalo’s pass defense was helped tremendously last season by the fact that teams were able to run at will against them, so they rarely needed to throw. The reality was that the talented young secondary, while ball-hawking in nature, wasn’t a very cohesive unit. That has carried over into this season, where the team is ranked 25th against the pass and is allowing an average of 275.5 yards and two touchdowns per game. While facing Tom Brady, as Buffalo did in Week 3, can skew defensive passing statistics, the fact remains that Jason Campbell and rookie Andy Dalton were both able to move the ball effectively against the Bills as well.

Running Game Thoughts: I think have covered the Eagles every week so far in this piece, and I’m running out of good things to say about LeSean McCoy. So I’ll simply say, the guy is awesome and there’s no reason to ever consider benching him. Speaking of benching, what in the world was Ronnie Brown thinking last week? After being stuffed in the red zone, instead of just going down, he inexplicably tried to lateral to (perhaps) Vick and gave the ball to the Niners on a silver platter instead. Maybe the team should see how Dion Lewis does with some carries behind McCoy this week.

Buffalo made some moves to help out the league’s worst run defense during this offseason, specifically drafting defensive lineman Marcell Dareus and signing former Packer linebacker Nick Barnett during free agency. So far, those moves have jumped the Bills all the way up to 25th against the run (129.5 ypg). Baby steps, fellas.

Michael Vick: 285 yds passing, 2 TDs / 25 yards rushing
DeSean Jackson: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 30 yards receiving
Brent Celek: 20 yds receiving
LeSean McCoy: 125 yds rushing, 1 TD / 35 yds receiving
Ronnie Brown: 20 yds rushing

PHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +3.1%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -17.7%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +17.1%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +59.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: In Week 4, Ryan Fitzpatrick had his first stinker in quite a while from a fantasy perspective, and he did little to help the Bills as well as they were “upset” by a mediocre Bengals team—although, in fairness, the Bengals defense has been outstanding in 2011. Fitzpatrick doesn’t have a rifle arm or pinpoint accuracy, but there isn’t much to argue with when looking at the results. The Bills continue to be one of the better passing offenses in the league despite jettisoning “star” wide receiver Lee Evans this offseason. That made Stevie Johnson the main weapon, which no one in Buffalo is complaining about. Who would have guessed that a journeyman quarterback from Harvard and a collection of late-round or undrafted players could be in the top third of all NFL passing attacks?

Everyone knows the Eagles signed shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha and traded for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who, when joined with incumbent Asante Samuel, form the best cornerback trio in the NFL. So of course they’re the No. 1 pass defense and are keeping opposing receivers out of the end zone, right? Well, they are ranked a respectable 11th against the pass (217.8 ypg); however, they have allowed a league-leading ten touchdown receptions through the first four weeks, after allowing Matt Ryan and Eli Manning to each toss four against them.

Running Game Thoughts: Fred Jackson continues to get the job done in spite of the Bills’ spending high, first-round draft picks on running backs in two out of the past three seasons. Like Fitzpatrick, he’s a guy that may not wow you with elite skills, but when you look at the stat sheet at the end of the day, it’s often filled up quite nicely. At age 30, Jackson just may force the Bills into giving him the contract extension that they seem eager to avoid before he hits the open market this offseason.

Expect a heavy dose of Jackson against the Eagles, as they have proven unable to stop a power rushing attack so far this season. Even Frank Gore, left for dead by many fantasy owners, broke out for 127 yards and a touchdown last week. This season opened with Steven Jackson running for a 46-yard score on the first play against the Eagles defense, and it really hasn’t gotten a whole lot better since.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 225 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int. / 10 yards rushing
Steve Johnson: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Donald Jones: 35 yds receiving
David Nelson: 40 yds receiving
Scott Chandler: 20 yds receiving, 1 TD
Fred Jackson: 115 yds rushing, 1 TD / 15 yards receiving
C.J. Spiller: 25 yards rushing / 15 yards receiving

Prediction: Eagles 27, Bills 24 ^ Top

Bears @ Lions - (Autry)

DET FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +28.0%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -2.7%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +73.2%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -2.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s obvious that Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz got the memo. Lambasted during the first three weeks for leaning heavily on the passing game, Martz called only 17 pass plays last week. That philosophy won the game for Chicago, but it did nothing for the already pedestrian fantasy options in the Bears’ passing attack. When Devin Hester and Dane Sanzenbacher are your top two wide receivers in receptions (12 and 10, respectively), that’s a problem of epic proportions for fantasy football owners. Only the most desperate would even look casually at starting anybody from the Bears passing game. Look elsewhere.

Detroit has already held two average passing teams in check this year—Kansas City in Week 2 and Minnesota in Week 3. Chicago is no better throwing the football than those two teams, so I would expect Hester, Jay Cutler, and the rest of the Chicago passing team to not do much this week. Moreover, Detroit is third in the league in interceptions with seven; so don’t be surprised if Cutler tosses a few to the guys in Honolulu blue and silver.

Running Game Thoughts: Perhaps no other running back means as much to his team as Matt Forte. He’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry, plus he has more than twice the receptions (26) of anybody else on the team. Forte was a borderline top-10 fantasy RB heading into the season; needless to say, that opinion has changed significantly. After his nine-carry, two-yard gem versus Green Bay in Week 3, Forte rewarded fantasy owners with a ridiculous 205-yard rushing performance. He’s what makes the Chicago offense click. Start him with a smile on your face, knowing that he will carve out production somehow, someway.

Detroit’s run defense has given up only one rushing touchdown this season—a short run by Adrian Peterson in Week 3. Forte, however, will present an even bigger challenge for Detroit than AP did. With his multi-faceted skill set, Forte will put pressure on the defense all day. The Lions have given up more than 100 yards on the ground in each of their last three games. Expect the same this week.

Jay Cutler: 180 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Devin Hester: 60 yards receiving
Johnny Knox: 30 yards receiving
Dane Sanzenbacher: 20 yards receiving
Matt Forte: 85 yards rushing / 55 yards receiving / 1 TD rushing / 1 TD receiving

CHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -15.3%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -14.9%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +11.6%
CHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -24.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matthew Stafford has had slow starts in each of the last two games. He’s come on like gangbusters in the second half, though—giving fantasy owners the much-needed production they expect from the most important fantasy position. As good as Stafford has been, Calvin Johnson has been otherworldly. As the first player in NFL history to have two touchdown catches in each of the first four games of a season, Johnson has quickly taken over as fantasy’s most productive and consistent receiver. Andre who?

Cam Newton ripped Chicago through the air for 374 yards and two rushing scores. Chicago needn’t worry about Stafford running for any touchdowns, but they’d better be aware of his ability to throw for just as many yards, with three times as many touchdown passes as the rookie. That performance last week defending Newton helped drop the Bears pass defense to 29th in the league. They will give Stafford opportunities to throw the ball downfield; whether they’ll be able to contain him for the entire game is the question. I don’t think so.

Running Game Thoughts: Don’t get it twisted: Detroit is a pass-first, pass-often offense that runs the football only to keep the defense at bay. The Lions average only three yards per carry, and haven’t looked good doing that. Jahvid Best is a pass-catching back who’s not really effective running between the tackles. Keiland Williams has gotten playing time as well, but his 2.8 yards per carry is not going to have fantasy owners running to the computer to pick him up. The bottom line here is that Best is the only playable fantasy RB on this roster. While he won’t give you much on the ground, he could be solid as a receiver out of the backfield.

Chicago has the 31st-ranked defense overall—23rd against the run. Those aren’t numbers that traditionally reflect a Chicago defense. Carolina’s Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams even woke up against this defense, rushing for a combined 134 yards last week. But Detroit’s offense isn’t built to take advantage of this weakness. When the Lions score, it will be through the air, no doubt about it.

Matthew Stafford: 280 yards passing / 3 TDs
Calvin Johnson: 120 yards receiving / 1 TD
Nate Burleson: 45 yards receiving / 1 TD
Titus Young: 35 yards receiving
Brandon Pettigrew: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
Jahvid Best: 40 yards rushing / 20 yards receiving

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 14 ^ Top

Cardinals @ Vikings - (Autry)

MIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +18.7%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +26.3%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +14.9%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -17.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: With both Arizona and Minnesota welcoming new quarterbacks into the fold, I’m sure this isn’t what either team expected after four games: a combined 1-7 record. Kevin Kolb has been ok, but really nothing to write home about. A solid start through the first two games (4 TDs, 1 INT) has given way to a two-game stretch that has yielded one touchdown and three interceptions. While Kolb is a borderline fantasy starter in deep leagues, his average performance the last two weeks has certainly not helped Larry Fitzgerald’s ability to put up numbers. Even though it’s on the road, this could be the game where both Fitz and Kolb do well.

Minnesota has the 28th-ranked pass defense and has relinquished more than 300 yards passing in two of their four games. This defense even gave up 247 yards passing to the inept Kansas City Chiefs, for crying out loud. Jared Allen, however, has been a beast. He has 6.5 sacks so far—four more than anybody else on the team—so the Cards’ O-line had better know where the speedy defensive end is at all times.

Running Game Thoughts: Beanie Wells has been limited in practice this week as he deals with a nagging hamstring that actually prevented him from practicing in full last week. But if last week’s game is any indication, perhaps Wells should always be limited in practice. He scored three times in Week 4—only the second time in his career that he’s scored multiple touchdowns. Wells has also scored in every game he’s played in this year.

He may not have such luck this week, though. Minnesota has the league’s 5th-ranked run defense and hasn’t given up more than 105 rushing yards in a game. I’m afraid Wells will be less than stellar against the Vikings. But if you’re forced to start him, I could think of worse options to have. He could still end up as a nice RB2 this week.

Kevin Kolb: 225 yards passing / 2 TDs
Larry Fitzgerald: 130 yards receiving / 2 TDs
Early Doucet: 45 yards receiving
Todd Heap: 40 yards receiving
Chris Wells: 70 yards rushing

ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +5.3%
ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +4.2%
ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -14.3%
ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +14.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s amazing how dreadful Donovan McNabb’s play has been. A surface look at his numbers doesn’t do his mediocre play any justice. Just apply a simple eyeball test and you will see a quarterback whose better days are behind him. I guess we need to give Andy Reid and Mike Shanahan more credit for seeing his demise before we did. McNabb has only six touchdown passes in his last five games, dating back to last season, and hasn’t thrown for more than 228 yards in any. It will be Christian Ponder time soon enough. Meanwhile, though, Percy Harvin should remain a nice WR3, but it is Michael Jenkins that’s surprising. He leads the team in touchdown receptions (2), and while he’s not fantasy-worthy just yet, he could soon prove to be a sneaky play.

Only the Seattle passing attack had been held in check by the Arizona defense. Carolina, Washington, and the New York Giants all did pretty much what they wanted against the league’s 26th-ranked pass defense. That being said, again, I’m not too keen on McNabb doing anything of note. Arizona should be able to contain #5 and the rest of the Vikings’ passing game. I just hope you aren’t forced to start McNabb.

Running Game Thoughts: Adrian Peterson has been solid, indeed. But perhaps the one complaint AP owners have is his absence in the passing game. Coming into the season, we heard a lot about offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s plan to incorporate Peterson as a receiver out of the backfield. Well, after four games and nine receptions, we are still waiting. But Peterson is Peterson—a stud who is as solid and durable as any RB in fantasy football.

Arizona held the Giants to a paltry 54 yards on the ground last week. Granted, it was on only 21 rushing attempts, but holding any team to 2.6 yards per carry is not too shabby. The Cards have proven to be a middle-of-the-pack run defense despite limiting the Giants in Week 4. I think they should get ready for a heavy dose of AP, since I’m sure it’s clear to the Vikings’ coaching staff that allowing McNabb to be the centerpiece of the offense is a no-win situation. Arizona will definitely have its hands full trying to contain Peterson. Expect 25 touches this week.

Donovan McNabb: 180 yards passing / 1 TD / 1 INT
Percy Harvin: 70 yards receiving
Michael Jenkins: 45 yards receiving
Visanthe Shiancoe: 35 yards receiving / 1 TD
Adrian Peterson: 115 yards rushing / 2 TDs

Prediction: Vikings 21, Cardinals 17 ^ Top

Titans @ Steelers - (Autry)

PIT FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -24.2%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -35.4%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -20.1%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -5.4%

Passing Game Thoughts: The beauty of fantasy football is the sheer unknown. I mean, who knew that Matt Hasselbeck would become fantasy-relevant again? He actually has more passing yards than other “more productive” fantasy QBs such as Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, and Ben Roethlisberger. I don’t know what we can credit as the reason for his resurgence; but those who picked him up as a back-up should be happy to have the depth he provides, as well as the suitable trade bait. For those who thought Kenny Britt’s season-ending injury would derail his fast start, Hasselbeck showed with his play against Cleveland last week that that won’t happen. While his 50 percent completion rate raises eyebrows—especially when considering he threw the ball only 20 times—he did make the most of his ten completions, throwing for three scores. He may find it a bit tougher to put up those kinds of numbers this week, however.

It amazes me how a bunch of talking heads on television have dismissed Pittsburgh’s defense as too old. Last I checked, they have the league’s second-best defense overall and the top pass defense. It is surprising, though, that they’ve yet to pick off an opposing quarterback, but that could change this week. I don’t anticipate this being a Pittsburgh defensive beat-down like Week 2’s feast against Seattle, but it could be tough for Hasselbeck and company.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson had his first 100-yard rushing game in his last six tries—the longest streak since his rookie season. His slow start prompted many to question his “startability,” including yours truly. He looked slow during the season’s first three games, but he came on last week and ran for 101 yards on 23 carries.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, got torched on the ground by Arian Foster. The fact that the game against Houston marks the second time already this season that the Steelers have had trouble stopping the run (Baltimore in Week 1 was the first) is enough to concern those facing Johnson owners this week. The Steelers will be without linebacker James Harrison, but I would still expect Pittsburgh to be a formidable force—especially right after being embarrassed by Foster.

Matt Hasselbeck: 210 yards passing / 1 TD / 2 INTs
Nate Washington: 70 yards receiving / 1 TD
Lavelle Hawkins: 35 yards receiving
Damian Williams: 30 yards receiving
Jared Cook: 50 yards receiving
Chris Johnson: 70 yards rushing

TEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -39.0%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -54.3%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +7.6%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +9.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: There was concern early in the week that Ben Roethlisberger could miss this game, but he’s practiced and appears to be a go. Roethlisberger’s presence bodes well for a passing game that’s slowly taking on a new look. Gone is the reliance on Hines Ward and his precise underneath routes. With the continued emergence of Mike Wallace and now Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh has a set of speedsters who can really take the top off of defenses. Depending on Roethlisberger’s health, this element will put pressure on defenses every week. Of course, that porous offensive line must give the quarterback time to go deep—something that’s proven to be a nuisance the last couple of years.

The Steelers have to be ready for the Titans and their stingy defense if they hope to be successful through the air. Tennessee has allowed only 56 total points, a 14-point average, in their four games. While they haven’t played offensive juggernauts such as New England or New Orleans, that kind of tough defense is a problem regardless of who the opponent is. Tennessee also puts pressure on the quarterback from all angles, as eight different defenders have at least one sack. Big Ben had better be mindful of that.

Running Game Thoughts: It was thought that Rashard Mendenhall would try out his ailing hamstring in practice this week, but he’s been unable to. Consequently, his availability is now in jeopardy. That means Isaac Redman could take his place as the primary ball carrier. Redman does not have the experience that Mendenhall has, but the general consensus is that he’s capable of filling in during short stretches without the running game taking too much of a dip. If he indeed plays this week and you’re a desperate Mendenhall owner, don’t shy away from plugging him into the lineup—even against the league’s eight-ranked run defense.

Speaking of that defense, after surrendering 163 yards on the ground in Week 1 to the Jaguars, they’ve tightened things up a bit since, giving up an average of 62 yards rushing in the last three games. They will be tough to run against, no doubt, but I do think Redman can squeeze out a quietly productive game nonetheless.

Ben Roethlisberger: 225 yards passing / 1 TD
Mike Wallace: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Antonio Brown: 55 yards receiving
Hines Ward: 45 yards receiving
Heath Miller: 25 yards receiving
Isaac Redman: 70 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Steelers 17, Titans 13 ^ Top

Buccaneers @ 49ers - (Eakin)

SF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +16.5%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +30.6%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -2.4%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -50.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Preseason speculation of QB Josh Freeman jumping in to the top ten of fantasy QBs has yet to pan out. His lead target Mike Williams is off to a slow start due in large part to increased double coverage. Williams and Freeman could both benefit from Arrelious Benn and Preston Parker increasing their production and give Freeman more choices. Both have shown glimpses. Parker had a nice slant Monday night versus Indy that resulted in a score and Benn was emerging at the end of last season with a couple big games. In general, the Bucs haven’t been taking many shots downfield. Their two leading receivers are TE Kellen Winslow and FB Earnest Graham. That’s never a good sign.

The 49ers should be a matchup where Freeman and company can get on track. The 49ers are below average against the pass and very good against the run. Now is the time for the young Bucs to show they can take the next step and win a game through the air, on the road and traveling west. Make no mistake, this would be an impressive win should they pull it out.

Running Game Thoughts: Where would the Bucs be had they not pulled Blount off of the Titans practice squad a year ago? He’s been the hammer of the offense ever since. Blount is a power back that has made his living late in games after he has worn down the opposition. He needs 20-25 carries which he should get with a suspect 49er offense not likely to score in bunches. That said, the young tandem of Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis on the inside may be the league’s best. The Bucs will have to remain patient in a match-up where Blount could struggle to get going.

Josh Freeman: 235 yds passing, 1 TD / 1 Int.
Mike Williams: 65 yds receiving
Arrelious Benn: 50 yds receiving
Kellen Winslow: 65 yds receiving / 1 TD
LeGarrette Blount: 75 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yds receiving

TB FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +0.8%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +20.7%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -7.9%
TB FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -15.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: The 49ers are back at home after two huge road wins in Cincinnati and Philadelphia. Their only loss was the overtime comeback from Tony Romo and the Cowboys. They have the tools to pass against the Tampa secondary that will be traveling west on a short week and just made Pierre Garcon look like Jerry Rice. Alex Smith’s top target, TE Vernon Davis, has had two big games since having a sit down with the coaching staff demanding the ball. Also, don’t look now but WR Michael Crabtree is healthy and consistently contributing around 5-7 catches with 75 yards. He will draw Aquib Talib in coverage, who is talented but also prone to sloppy plays and over aggression. I like Crabtree to continue his progression as a solid WR3 with WR2 upside.

The Bucs best defense is a young aggressive defensive line that will give the struggling 49er line trouble in pass protection. The Bucs should have an advantage here, forcing the Niners to lean on shorter routes to Davis, slants to Crabtree, and swings to Gore out of the backfield. Gore has always been a good pass receiver which could pay dividends to offset the rush.

Running Game Thoughts: After three sub par games to start the season, RB Frank Gore got going against the Philly Dream Team’s weak front seven, despite the fact that Kendall Hunter started due to Gore’s sore ankle. Needless to say, his ankle looks fine and the emergence of the explosive Hunter gives the Niners one of the best change of pace backups around.

Tampa Bay is 11th in rushing defense allowing 101 yds per game. Part of that ranking is bolstered by having played the Lions and Colts. They gave up 120 yds to Adrian Peterson, which is a better measure of how Gore could perform. For the Bucs to win, they need to prevent the 49ers from controlling possession through the run game. The key here is MLB Mason Foster versus Gore and Hunter. Foster has shown capable of replacing the loss of leading tackler Barrett Ruud from a year ago. Foster is more athletic and more dynamic in helping cover RBs in passing routes.

Alex Smith: 225 yds passing, 1 TDs / 1 INT
Josh Morgan: 40 yds receiving, 1 TD
Michael Crabtree: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Vernon Davis: 85 yds receiving
Frank Gore: 85 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: 49ers 20, Buccaneers 17 ^ Top

Chargers @ Broncos - (Eakin)

DEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +38.2%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +47.5%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -45.1%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -19.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Chargers have a big advantage here. Aaron Rodgers just threw for 400 on the Broncos, who were without lead cover corner Champ Bailey (hamstring), and is doubtful to play again. San Diego QB Philip Rivers has managed to move the ball despite not having Antonio Gates. Gates remains questionable which means Rivers will continue to lean on his outside playmakers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd. Their size creates mismatches against all opponents and Denver has no answer in the secondary, especially when missing Bailey. The Chargers have done a great job of using both running backs, Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert to compensate for the loss of Gates. However, despite racking up yards, they are struggling once they reach the red zone. They need to figure out how to punch it in up close to get back on track as one of the league’s elite offenses.

The good news for the Broncos is that they excel at rushing the passer with the trio of DE Robert Ayers, Elvis Dumervil and outstanding rookie Von Miller. Miller had two sacks last week and has put to bed the controversy of the Broncos passing up DT Marcel Darius. Miller is on pace to challenge the rookie sack record and Rivers is not mobile, giving him a known point of attack. Rivers will need to take advantage of an effective run game and buy time with play action.

Running Game Thoughts: The Chargers are off to a fast start because of their defense and an improved running game. Ryan Mathews is delivering the type of season he was expected to last year. He can take over the game with his combination of size speed and strength. Now he is gouging the opposition in the passing game. He shares the backfield with Mike Tolbert, the human bowling ball. Tolbert is beginning to take a bit of a backseat, but still gets action in the red zone and as a receiver. It will be on their shoulders to neutralize the improved pass rush of the Broncos.

The Broncos have shown improvement stopping the run after having been a green light matchup for the past two seasons. They are currently 13th giving up 102 rushing yds per game. An impressive feat when considering they’ve faced Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson, and Cedric Benson and are missing their leading tackler in D.J. Williams. ILB Wesley Woodyard has done a great job in his absence and is picking up plenty of stops with 36 tackles in 4 games, overcoming a lack of size with great speed.

Philip Rivers: 215 yds passing, 2 TDs
Vincent Jackson: 55 yds receiving / 1 TD
Malcom Floyd: 70 yds receiving
Randy McMichael: 65 yds receiving
Ryan Mathews: 95 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving / 1 TD
Mike Tolbert: 35 yds rushing / 1 TD

SD FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -17.5%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -25.7%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +43.6%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -24.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite the crazed Tebow fans, Orton continues to get the start and likely will until they are out of playoff contention. Orton is capable of putting up yards on most defenses when given time in the pocket. The problem for Denver is beyond left tackle Ryan Clady, they struggle to block anyone. The Chargers pass rush is lead by Shaun Phillips and they may choose to move him around in order to avoid Clady. It was a great sign for San Diego to get two sacks out of Larry English last week. English is the replacement for Shawn Merriman and they could really become an elite unit if he continues to provide a secondary pressure source.

The one dimensional passing attack from a year ago which only featured Brandon Lloyd now has a second option in Erick Decker. Decker has been great since Eddie Royal went down with a groin injury. Decker actually leads Lloyd in fantasy scoring and the two of them could make Orton a great pickup if it weren’t for the Tebow threat and the more conservative offense. The Broncos will face tow good cover corners in Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. At 6’3 Decker will have a size advantage on Cason, and I like him to have another productive day, but the Chargers are 5th in pass defense and not a good match-up for Denver players as a whole.

The Chargers took a risk signing the oft-injured Bob Sanders, and unfortunately Sanders is back on the IR with a torn up knee… a real shame for such a dynamic player. Steve Gregory will start in his absence. Gregory is much like Sanders in that he makes up for a lack of elite size and speed with grit, aggressiveness and smarts. He will benefit from playing alongside Eric Weddle as his deep safety valve.

Running Game Thoughts: Knowshon Moreno has lost starting duties to Willis McGahee. Neither are dynamic playmakers but McGahee runs hard between the tackles. McGahee can be an effective RB2 if he continues to get 20-25 carries per game. The Chargers have the advantage here. They have kept runners in check thus far facing more dynamic rushing attacks. Denver’s big problem is they don’t have the personnel to run the conservative offense they would prefer.

Kyle Orton: 245 yds passing, 1 TDs, 1 INT
Eric Decker: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Brandon Lloyd: 70 yds receiving
Daniel Fells: 35 yds receiving
Willis McGahee: 75 yds rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Chargers 24, Broncos 17 ^ Top