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Inside the Matchup
Week 8

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




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Eakin 18 5 78.3
2 Autry 20 8 71.4
3 Marcoccio 16 8 66.7
4 Smith 17 11 60.7

Vikings @ Panthers - (Smith)

CAR FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 12.0%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 44.1%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 4.8%
CAR FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 49.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Though rookie quarterback Christian Ponder’s overall numbers last week against Green Bay weren’t spectacular: 13-of-32, 219 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, 31 rushing yards, he was effective enough to keep Minnesota in the game. What hurts Ponder the most is that the Vikings don’t have a plethora of playmakers at receiver, especially when you consider that wideout Percy Harvin is having a mediocre season, which fantasy owners can attest to. He has yet to score a touchdown, and though he shares the team lead with Michael Jenkins in receptions with 27, Harvin trails Jenkins in receiving yards, 332 to 276.

The Panthers have had both good and bad moments against the pass this season, having allowed four quarterbacks to throw for at least 275 yards and one touchdown, but two of those outings came in Weeks 1 and 2, and since then, they’ve held three QBs to under 165 passing yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Running back Adrian Peterson was almost certainly the first or second pick in most fantasy drafts, and once again, he’s proving why fantasy owners covet him. He leads the NFL in rushing yards with 712, also leads the league with eight rushing scores. He doesn’t have any games this season with fewer than nine fantasy points, and he’s run for at least 120 yards in three contests this season. He is a lock-down, every-week fantasy starter, and there’s simply no other way to look at it.

That’s especially true this week against a Panthers run defense that ranks 29th in the NFL, allowing 133.4 yards per game on the ground. They’re also tied for last in the league in rushing scores allowed with nine. Only once in their seven games this season has Carolina held an individual running back to fewer than 85 yards, and that was against New Orleans, who utilizes three runners. In other words, if Peterson doesn’t go off in this one, it would be a mammoth upset.

Christian Ponder: 215 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT / 20 yds rushing
Michael Jenkins: 75 yds receiving
Percy Harvin: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Visanthe Shiancoe: 40 yds receiving
Greg Camarillo: 15 yds receiving
Adrian Peterson: 125 yds rushing, 2 TD / 15 yds receiving

MIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 12.7%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 39.8%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 22.3%
MIN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 18.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite the fact that quarterback Cam Newton has thrown more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (eight), he continues to impress both casual fans and fantasy owners. His 2,103 passing yards are the fourth-most in the NFL, and his completion percentage of 60.3 is solid, especially for a rookie. He’s obviously found a rapport with receiver Steve Smith, who leads the league with 818 receiving yards through his first seven games. To put that in perspective, he had just 554 yards last year in 14 games.

Newton and Smith should be in line for another good day considering the lackluster performance this season of Minnesota’s pass defense. The Vikings are 29th in the NFL against the pass, allowing 275 yards per game. They’ve already allowed three different quarterbacks to throw for 335 or more yards, and every signal caller they’ve faced has thrown for at least 230 yards. Receivers are benefiting from this as well, as seven separate wideouts have compiled at least 90 yards against Minnesota, with at least one doing so in every game since Week 2.

Running Game Thoughts: Newton has been productive in the passing game, but the place that fantasy owners are really benefiting is in the running game. Only the aforementioned Adrian Peterson has more rushing touchdowns than Newton’s seven so far this season, and he’s added 266 yards on the ground. The downside for fantasy owners is that those scores slice into the production of running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Each has more rushing yards than Newton, but Williams has only one score this season, and Stewart just two, and neither player is averaging even 50 yards on the ground.

You shouldn’t expect either back to quite reach 50 yards in this game, either, because as bad as the Vikings have been against the pass, they’ve been that good in stopping the run. Minnesota is fourth in the league in run defense, and hasn’t allowed any opposing back to reach 90 yards this season. In fact, only one has eclipsed the 75-yard mark against them.

Cam Newton: 285 yds passing, 2 TD, 2 INT / 35 yds rushing, 1 TD
Steve Smith: 120 yds receiving, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Shockey: 40 yds receiving
Brandon LaFell: 30 yds receiving
DeAngelo Williams: 30 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Jonathan Stewart: 25 yds rushing / 20 yds receiving

Prediction: Panthers 24, Vikings 21 ^ Top

Jaguars @ Texans - (Smith)

HOU FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 7.9%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 2.2%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 21.5%
HOU FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 3.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert got his first NFL win last week against the Ravens, but it wasn’t pretty. He had just 93 passing yards in the game and completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes. Then again, that’s not out of the ordinary for him. He’s completed only 48.3 percent of his throws this year, which puts him dead last among qualified quarterbacks. But part of the reason for his struggles is the fact that the Jags have zero legitimate receiving weapons. Tight end Marcedes Lewis has proven to fantasy owners that last season was a fluke, and of the team’s other “weapons” on the outside, only Mike Thomas should be on fantasy rosters.

Meanwhile, their opponent this week, Houston, has made a remarkable transformation from one of the NFL’s worst defenses against the pass to one of the better ones. They are eighth in the league in pass defense, and they’ve held opposing quarterbacks to fewer than 210 yards five times in seven games.

Running Game Thoughts: Jacksonville may not have any firepower in their passing game, but running back Maurice Jones-Drew has provided fantasy owners plenty in the running game. He is second in the league in rushing yards, with 677, and hasn’t had less than 84 yards on the ground in any contest this year. He has a good chance to make it eight games with 80 or more yards this week, at least if history is any indicator. In his last three games against the Texans, MJD has run for a total of nearly 300 yards and scored five times.

The Texans have been tough against opposing running backs this year though, and rank seventh in the NFL in run defense. They haven’t done so against patsies either, having held Darren McFadden to 51 yards on 16 carries, Rashard Mendenhall to 25 yards on nine carries and last week they stymied Chris Johnson, holding him to just 18 yards on 10 carries.

Blaine Gabbert: 140 yds passing, 1 TD, 2 INT
Mike Thomas: 45 yds receiving
Jason Hill: 35 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mike Sims-Walker: 25 yds receiving
Marcedes Lewis: 20 yds receiving
Maurice Jones-Drew: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD

JAX FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: - 18.5%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 29.7%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 22.3%
JAX FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: - 1.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is having a solid season, but not an upper-echelon one. He’s thrown for 1,893 yards, which is seventh in the league, and 12 touchdowns, which is tied for fifth in the NFL. He (and subsequently his fantasy owners) could get a boost this week if wide receiver Andre Johnson returns, which was still a question at the time of this writing. If not, the player who is in line for a possible big day is tight end Owen Daniels.

Owens Houston in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, and though the Jaguars are seventh in the NFL in pass defense, they have been susceptible to tight ends this year. Both Jimmy Graham and Dustin Keller have had 100-yard games against them this season, and four different tight ends have come up with a touchdown grab.

Running Game Thoughts: Since returning from his hamstring malady, running back Arian Foster has gone bonkers. In the four games since his comeback, Foster has erupted for either 100 rushing or receiving yards (or both) in three games. Ben Tate has contributed as well, and even ran for over 100 yards last week against Tennessee, but the main cog in the team’s rushing attack is Foster; and just as Maurice Jones-Drew has a good history against the Texans, so too does Foster against the Jaguars. He ran for 236 yards and three touchdowns against them in two games last year, including a 180-yard day in Week 17.

We don’t think he’ll go that berserk this week against Jacksonville, because they’ve been pretty good against the run. They are currently 10th in the NFL in run defense, and only one back, Rashard Mendenhall, has gained more than 75 yards against them. But there is some perspective to be had here, because other than Ray Rice, who they held to 28 yards on eight carries, they haven’t faced a particularly daunting lineup of backs.

Matt Schaub: 290 yds passing, 2 TD
Owen Daniels: 105 yds receiving, 1 TD
Kevin Walter: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Andre Johnson: 40 yds receiving
Jacoby Jones: 35 yds receiving
Arian Foster: 90 yds rushing, 1 TD / 40 yds receiving

Prediction: Texans 31, Jaguars 17

Colts @ Titans - (Smith)

TEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +19.8%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: - 5.3%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: + 63.9%
TEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 33.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: With Kerry Collins now officially out for the season, the quarterback job is Curtis Painter’s for the remainder of the year. He’s done well protecting the ball, with just two interceptions in 119 pass attempts, but he’s only completing 54.6 percent of his throws, and simply does not have the necessary skills to utilize Indy’s cavalcade of weapons. Only Pierre Garcon is giving fantasy owners their money’s worth among the Colts playmakers, as both Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark have become situational fantasy plays instead of weekly must-starts.

The Titans are 15th in the league in pass defense, but that is a product of what they did over their first three games of the season, when they held each quarterback they faced to fewer than 200 passing yards. In their three games since, they’ve allowed Colt McCoy to throw for 350 yards and a touchdown, Matt Schaub to throw for 296 yards and two scores, and Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 226 yards and five touchdowns. They’ve also allowed four touchdowns to tight ends over their last three games, so if there is hope for Clark, it comes this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Joseph Addai played, briefly, last week in the Colts embarrassing loss to the Saints, but his hamstring acted up, and Delone Carter once again carried the load. That “load” only consisted of 10 carries however, because the Colts were down so big. But he did gain 89 yards and scored a touchdown with those carries, so he is a decent fantasy option this week, especially considering the competition.

Tennessee was simply run over last week by the Texans, as both Arian Foster and Ben Tate ran for more than 100 yards. It was the second game in a row in which the Titans allowed a 100-yard runner, as Jonathan Dwyer eclipsed that mark in Week 5 (the Titans had a bye during Week 6). Overall, Tennessee is 24th in the league against the run, but they’ve allowed a ton of fantasy points to running backs because players at that position have the same amount of touchdown receptions (three) as they do touchdown runs against the Titans.

Curtis Painter: 205 yds passing, 1 TD, 1 INT
Pierre Garcon: 90 yds receiving
Reggie Wayne: 60 yds receiving
Dallas Clark: 45 yds receiving, 1 TD
Delone Carter: 65 yds rushing, 1 TD
Joseph Addai: 30 yds rushing

IND FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: + 37.7%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: + 52.5%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: - 17.7%
IND FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: + 39.8%

Passing Game Thoughts: Matt Hasselbeck has been better than any fantasy owner could have predicted so far this season, with over 1,500 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. Losing receiver Kenny Britt has clearly hurt, but Nate Washington is doing a decent job, and the team seems to have finally recognized that tight end Jared Cook is a playmaker. He has eight receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns over his last three games.

Hasselbeck, Washington and Cook shouldn’t have any problems against the Colts, who have been horrific defensively of late. Twice in their last three games the Colts have given up at least four touchdown passes, and they’ve now allowed more touchdown throws than any other team this season. Five different receivers have had at least 95 yards and eight different wideouts have had games of at least 10 fantasy points against Indy this year.

Running Game Thoughts: There is no way to sugarcoat the year that running back Chris Johnson has had for fantasy owners – he’s been just plain bad. Other than his 100-yard game against the Browns in Week 4, Johnson hasn’t had a contest in which he’s gained even 55 yards or run for more than 3.6 yards per carry. But he is too talented to be held down for long, and the Colts are a perfect remedy for him to get well.

Indy is second-to-last in the league in run defense, having allowed just over 150 yards per game so far this season. They’ve also given up nine rushing scores, which is tied for last in the NFL. Just take a look at some of the games that opposing runners have had against them – Darren Sproles: 88 rushing yards, two touchdowns (one receiving); Mark Ingram: 91 rushing yards; Peyton Hillis: 94 rushing yards, two touchdowns; Ben Tate: 116 rushing yards, one touchdown; Jackie Battle: 119 rushing yards; LeGarrette Blount: 127 rushing yards. If that doesn’t tell the story about Johnson’s chances to have a big day, then nothing does.

Matt Hasselbeck: 265 yds passing, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jared Cook: 60 yds receiving
Lavelle Hawkins: 55 yds receiving
Damian Williams: 35 yds receiving
Chris Johnson: 115 yds rushing, 2 TD / 30 yds receiving

Prediction: Titans 27, Colts 17

Cardinals @ Ravens - (Autry)

BAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -48.2%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -43.9%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -76.9%
BAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -28.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Kevin Kolb has been as average and boring to watch as any QB in fantasy football. And that’s an ironic view, considering Kolb has thrown for at least 232 yards in every game this year. But a simple eyeball test of his play would reveal a player who seems to fall far short of where many of us thought he’d be. Three TD passes along with six INTs in the last four games are further proof, not to mention the affect his play has had on Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz was a consensus top-7 WR heading into this season, and many pointed at the apparent upgrade at QB as the primary reason. But Fitz’s lack of scores in 2011 has left many of his owners (myself included) wondering aloud if this is the week to look elsewhere. That’d be a ballsy move, but I’d do it simply to not be forced to watch Kolb try to play QB. It’s a painful experience.

Baltimore is doing what Baltimore has done for the better part of a decade: Play solid defense. They’re the league’s top-ranked overall defense, and they have given up only four passing TDs through six games. Also, only Houston has reached the 200-yard passing mark over the last four games—a stretch that also includes 132 passing yards to the Rams, 112 to the Jets and last week’s domination of the Jaguars that yielded 73 passing yards against. Those numbers paint a not-so-pretty picture of Arizona’s chances of doing anything through the air. Kolb is an obvious benchwarmer this week, but Fitz is the intriguing choice. I’d say if you have a player with a better match-up (A.J. Green, Steve Smith?) you may want to look at that option. Otherwise, hope that Fitz can squeak out some level of production against a tough defense.

Running Game Thoughts: RB Beanie Wells will more than likely miss his second consecutive game with a mild knee injury. Alphonso Smith will probably get the nod if Wells can’t go. Rest assured, though, that it won’t matter who totes the rock for the Cards. They haven’t had much success running the ball, as they’ve topped the 100-yard rushing mark as a team only once this season. Regardless of Wells’ availability, look elsewhere for RB help this week.

The Ravens defense probably realizes that the team’s success again hinges on how well they play. The offense struggled big time last week against Jacksonville, mustering only 146 yards of total offense. The defense did its part limiting what the Jags do, although Maurice Jones-Drew was semi-productive despite the fumbling problems. I’ll reiterate: Arizona will find it extremely difficult to do anything offensively this week.

Kevin Kolb: 170 yards passing/ 0 TDs / 2 INTs
Larry Fitzgerald: 55 yards receiving
Early Doucet: 35 yards receiving
Jeff King: 30 yards receiving
Alphonso Smith: 45 yards rushing
LaRod Stephens-Howling: 20 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving

ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +8.4%
ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +2.2%
ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -23.7%
ARZ FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +25.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: After throwing for seven TDs and two INTs through the season’s first three games, Joe Flacco has regressed over the last three: one TD pass and three INTs. His games against the Jets and the Jags were particularly dreadful, as he couldn’t drum up more than 163 yards passing in either game. WR Anquan Boldin continues to be inconsistent. A week after going off for 132 yards on eight receptions, he resorts back to a four-catch, 40-yard performance against Jacksonville that’s become his trademark since going to Baltimore. He did score last week, but it’s only his second score in the last ten games dating back to last year. Boldin is now a low-end, inconsistent WR2. Treat him as such when making decisions on your line-up.

The Cards’ passing defense is nothing special. Only Donovan McNabb and Tarvaris Jackson have been stymied by this unit. Every other QB has enjoyed solid games, and Flacco should be no exception. Four teams fare worse than Arizona when it comes to defending the pass, meaning as long as Baltimore o-line gives the QB enough time, he should be able to exploit the Cards’ secondary for solid yardage. And after his performance last week, I would expect a nice bounce-back game from Flacco.

Running Game Thoughts: Ray Rice’s below-average game last week was his worst performance since a 20 yard rushing game in week 4 last year at Pittsburgh. For those with good memories, remember what he did the following week? He torched Denver for 133 rushing yards and two rushing TDs. Expect a similar recovery for Rice this week. Many people complained about Rice’s apparent lack of involvement in the offense last week. But these same people said little about all the 3-and-outs Baltimore’s offense had. It’s hard to run the ball when you don’t possess the ball. Just a minor observation on my part.

Arizona did a solid job defending Pittsburgh’s running game last week, limiting them as a team to under 100 yards. But the Cards have also been taken advantage of several times this year, including Adrian Peterson going off for three scores and Tim Hightower averaging almost five yards per carry. The Ravens will make a concerted effort to pacify Rice and feed him the ball early and often. He will be featured in both the running and passing game, thus giving his fantasy owners ample opportunities to tally monster points this week. Rice totally more than 150 yards from scrimmage in this game is not out of the realm of possibility.

Joe Flacco: 215 yards passing / 2 TDs
Anquan Boldin: 55 yards receiving / 1 TD
Torrey Smith: 40 yards receiving
Ed Dickson: 35 yards receiving / 1 TD
Ray Rice: 95 yards rushing / 60 yards receiving / 1 rushing TD

Prediction: Ravens 24, Cardinals 6

Patriots @ Steelers - (Autry)

PIT FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -28.5%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +3.5%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -25.8%
PIT FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -27.5%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tom Brady has thrown for multiple TDs in 14 of the last 15 games. His consistent greatness shouldn’t come as a shock, but it’s often the way in which he shreds defenses. If the Patriots are up big midway through the second half, don’t expect New England to call off the dogs. That kind of mentality is music to the ears of Brady’s fantasy owners. It probably won’t get to that point this week against Pittsburgh, but Brady owners should take solace in knowing that when New England scores, there’s a very high probability that it will be through the air. There are simply too many weapons across the field for Brady to be anything but great. Welker, Gronkowski, Hernandez, take your pick. It’ll be the usual solid performance from Brady and company.

Brady has thrown for 749 yards and seven TDs in his last two games against Pittsburgh, so the Steelers have their work cut out for them trying to stop this offense. Pittsburgh has the top-ranked pass defense in the league, and it will take every bit of the skill it took to reach that lofty ranking to slow down New England’s passing game. Ike Taylor will try to stick with the quick-footed Wes Welker in the slot; good luck with that. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots totally ignored the running game and put the game plan squarely on the capable shoulders of Brady.

Running Game Thoughts: As I mentioned above, I think the Patriots will throw the ball for success this week. Even though defending the run is so far the “weakness” of this defense, the strength of New England is throwing, so I think BenJarvus Green-Ellis will find production scarce. If this game plan is implemented, expect Danny Woodhead to be featured more as a pass-catching RB.

Pittsburgh is in the top-third in the league stopping the run. They’ve gotten thrashed several times this year on the ground, though—Baltimore, Houston and the Jags several weeks ago immediately come to mind. The Patriots aren’t going to feature the run as much as those teams do, so Pittsburgh needn’t worry about that kind of attack. You should keep your expectations in check this week for New England RBs.

Tom Brady: 310 yards passing / 3 TDs / 1 INT
Wes Welker: 90 yards receiving / 2 TDs
Rob Gronkowski: 75 yards receiving / 1 TD
Aaron Hernandez: 50 yards receiving
Deion Branch: 30 yards receiving
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 50 yards rushing / 1 TD
Danny Woodhead: 35 yards rushing / 40 yards receiving

NE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +12.0%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +1.5%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -8.5%
NE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +26.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Nine TD passes with only one INT over the last three games has Ben Roethlisberger owners feeling pretty good. Couple that production with star WR Mike Wallace, who’s scored in three straight, and Antonio Brown, a Wallace clone, and you have the makings of a potent down-the-field passing game. Brown has yet to hit pay dirt, but he will soon, and this could be the week. Hines Ward will, at best, be limited this week with an ankle injury. If he’s unable to go, Emmanuel Sanders will get additional playing time. There will be plenty of footballs flying through the air at Heinz Field on Sunday, and plenty of production can be expected as a result. Brown can be used as a high-end WR3 this week or a solid flex option.

Only Mark Sanchez failed to throw for more than 300 yards against the Patriots. Their pass defense is as leaky as any in the league, and you can expect Roethlisberger, Wallace and Brown to take full advantage of that flaw. Part of New England’s problem defensively is the lack of pressure they put on opposing QBs. Only two teams have fewer sacks than the Pats’ 10. That’ won’t cut it. If they allow Ben to remain comfortable in the pocket—we already know what he’s capable of even with pressure around him—it could get embarrassing for New England’s secondary.

Running Game Thoughts: Rashard Mendenhall has nine rushing TDs in his last 10 home games. That bodes well for his chances against a defense that hasn’t stopped anybody. Mendenhall hasn’t been the RB1 many drafted him as—only one 100 yard game in the last 11—but he’s a serviceable RB2. Expect numbers suited for a RB2 this week.

New England’s 8th-ranked rush defense is misleading. Since teams find so much success throwing on them, the running game becomes a complete afterthought. Specifically, opposing teams have a 60/40 pass-to-run ratio against the Patriots. Mendenhall could sneak in a short run for a score, but don’t get it twisted; Ben will do his damage through the air. Expect a boatload of points to be scored in this game, and thus a boatload of fantasy production.

Ben Roethlisberger: 320 yards passing / 3 TDs
Mike Wallace: 120 yards receiving / 2 TDs
Antonio Brown: 85 yards receiving / 1 TD
Emmanuel Sanders: 50 yards receiving
Heath Miller: 45 yards receiving
Rashard Mendenhall: 55 yards rushing / 1 TD

Prediction: Patriots 34, Steelers 31

Redskins @ Bills - (Marcoccio)

BUF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +39.3%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +39.3%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +47.5%
BUF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +7.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: John Beck (279-1-1 with a rushing TD) replaced Rex Grossman in the starting role last week and while the Redskins ended up losing the game, Beck did bring a sense of calm and composure to the team that was lacking under the mistake prone Grossman. Mike Shanahan said he was “proud” of Beck after the game, so he’s got that going for him…which is nice. TE Fred Davis should be Beck’s main target since Beck’s more of a precision short-range passer than Rex was, and especially with Santana Moss out for 4-7 weeks with a broken hand. Davis is one of the new breed of Tight Ends that cause matchup problems and should be a top 10 TE the rest of the way. Former minor league level arena league WR Anthony Armstrong – who knew there was a minor league level arena league – will likely step into the starting role across from veteran Jabar Gafney. With Armstrong being mostly a one trick pony deep threat, don’t expect much from him with Beck being reluctant to take chances downfield. However the smart route runner Gaffney is likely to make a nice bye week filler option and maybe more going forward.

The Bills should present Beck with the opportunity to gain more confidence provided he can avoid turnovers. The Bills are ranked 30th against the pass and are allowing 284.8 ypg and 10 TDs this season. They do make big plays with their ball hawking style though, accruing 12 interceptions on the season with 3 of them being returned for TDs. The double edged sword for Beck is that while the Bills have allowed TEs to destroy them this season, the middle of the field is where safety George Wilson can be found and Wilson has been one of the Bills’ biggest impact players on defense.

Running Game Thoughts: In the Week 5 edition of this piece I mentioned the phrase “Shananigans”. It seems that just when you think you’ve figured out Mike Shananhan’s running back rotation he’ll throw you a curve ball like he did in Week 4, which is what I was referencing when using the term. Well, Mike was at it again in Week 7. Just when it seemed Tim Hightower has been replaced by Ryan Torain it was Hightower who received the bulk of the Week 7 carries (just like Torain received the bulk of the carries over Hightower in Week 4). At least the options for Shanny are dwindling after Hightower unfortunately suffered a torn ACL last week and is now out for the season. That should mean that Torain is now “the man” in the Washington running game, but don’t discount a sudden switch to rookie Roy Helu. Those that need to make a decision are probably better off choosing Torain, but just watch out for those Shananigans.

The nice part for fantasy owners is that the Bills present an easy matchup for running backs so both Washington backs could have some value this week. The team allows 135.7 ypg with 8 TDs on the ground this season. Both backs are at worst decent flex options, in a game where the Skins will likely want to keep Beck in the game manger mode he’s cut out for.

John Beck: 265 yds passing, 2 TDs, 1 INT / 15 yards rushing
Jabar Gaffney: 65 yds receiving, 1 TD
Anthony Armstrong: 50 yards receiving
Fred Davis: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Roy Helu: 40 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Ryan Torain: 95 yds rushing 1 TD / 5 yds receiving

WAS FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -4.3%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -17.4%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -21.5%
WAS FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -4.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bills come off their bye week, still limited at the WR position. Slot receiver David Nelson was moved to the outside in Week 6 and practice squad promotee Naaman Roosevelt manned the slot against the Giants. Roosevelt took an early first half pass from QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 60 yards for a score, but was silent after that. Ryan Fitzpatrick made a few key mistakes that may have cost the Bills a victory but still managed to put up decent stats despite the lack of skill players surrounding him. In fact the Bills were so thin at the position, they started lining up RB C.J. Spiller in the slot, a trend that should continue as the back performed reasonably well and has outstanding open field speed. Spiller could be a real boom/bust start for those in dire bye week straits.

The Redskins come into this week as the 11th ranked pass defense on a yards allowed per game basis (218.3) and have allowed only 5 passing TDs in their six games. Their secondary is talented, but the real difference between this season and last is their ability to rush the passer. They lead the league with 21 sacks. Rookie Ryan Kerrigan (2 sacks) has helped free up Brian Orakpo (4.5 sacks) from the double teams he was seeing last season. Former Ram DE/DT Adam Carriker (4.5 sacks) has resurrected his career in Washington and is another relentless player wreaking havoc on opposing QBs for the Skins. Of course Ryan Fitzpatrick has been the least sacked QB in the league, given his quick release and an improved Bills’ o-line. If the Skins cannot find a way to get to Fitzpatrick they may give up some big plays this week.

Running Game Thoughts: Fred Jackson’s aging legs got a much-deserved rest over the bye week. Jackson has been a workhorse for the Bills this season, averaging 17.6 carries and 4 receptions per game. He has 880 total yards and 6 TDs to show for his efforts. Jackson has an uncanny ability to avoid contact, but the strength to break free and gain yards when he doesn’t. Jackson is one of the most complete backs in the league, and while he’s not always flashy he’s able to excel at all facets, whether he’s asked to run inside, outside or catch passes. With C.J. Spiller being used as a slot receiver, Jackson’s workload may actually increase making him a high end RB1 and a must start every week, even in a tough matchup.

And this will be a semi-tough matchup for him this week. Washington is allowing 117.5 ypg and 6 TDs through their first six games. The team that struggled to stop the run last season has now adjusted to the new 3-4 scheme installed by the new staff. Linebackers Rocky McIntosh and London Fletcher are solid veterans who play the run well and are supported by perhaps the best run stopping safety in the league, LaRon Landry. The Skins have been one of the league’s better defenses this season, and they’ll need to be at the top of their game this week if they want to return to their winning ways.

Ryan Fitzpatrick: 285 yds passing 2 TDs / 10 yards rushing
Steve Johnson: 75 yds receiving, 1 TD
Naaman Roosevelt: 45 yds receiving
David Nelson: 60 yds receiving, 1 TD
Scott Chandler: 30 yds receiving
Fred Jackson: 105 yds rushing, 1 TD / 20 yards receiving
C.J. Spiller: 15 yards rushing / 35 yards receiving

Prediction: Bills 27, Skins 24

Dolphins @ Giants - (Marcoccio)

NYG FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -7.3%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +17.6%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -67.4%
NYG FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +46.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: With Chad Henne on the IR, and Matt Moore suffering with injured ribs we may see J.P. Losman take the field at Met Life Stadium as the Dolphins QB. Yes the J.P. Losman who has thrown one NFL pass since he lost the Buffalo Bills starting job in 2008 and who holds a career 10-23 record as a starter with a 59.2 completion percentage and 75.6 passer rating. Making matters worse, Losman was just signed this week after the team placed backup QB Sage Rosenfels on IR with an “illness” (guess he was looking too good in practice and the team’s brass thought he may actually help the team to win a game :wink: :wink:). Needless to say, if Losman is in the starting line-up for the Phins do not start any Miami WR or TE – not that it would be a great idea even with Moore under center either of course. However Moore has tried to feed Brandon Marshall, almost exclusively, while he’s been under center so if Moore can go, Marshall remains a good start.

Moore may wish he were back on his couch watching Sunday football after the first couple of snaps when he faces Osi Umenyiora and Jacques Pierre-Paul coming at him with a full head of steam. Fellow DE Justin Tuck is expected back in action this week as well. Despite the fierce pass rush, the plethora of injuries suffered by the team has left the secondary very thin and the team has only been a middle of the road pass defense. They are allowing 245.8 ypg and have given up 7 passing TDs on the season. It shouldn’t be a problem for New York this week no matter who is under center for Miami, but if it’s the career less than 60% passer who hasn’t thrown an NFL pass in 3 years, this one could be real ugly.

Running Game Thoughts: Rookie Daniel Thomas has been a pleasant surprise this season in Miami and when combined with Reggie Bush, he has given the team a better than average rushing attack. Thomas is an upright type runner but moves well and has nimble feet for a back his size. Bush, despite his well-known deficiencies, still has open-field speed and agility to be an effective weapon when used correctly. The team will need to rely heavily on the duo this week, if they want to keep the game close.

The Giants’ run defense was adequate during the first three weeks despite the many injuries suffered by the team, but things have gone downhill quickly. Beanie Wells, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson all broke 100 yards and each found the end-zone at least once in the last three games. Miami should be able to run on the Giants. The only problem may be that they need to abandon the run should they fall behind quickly.

Matt Moore: 185 yds passing 1 TD, 2 INTs / 20 yards rushing
Brandon Marshall: 50 yds receiving, 1 TD
Davone Bess: 20 yds receiving
Brian Hartline: 20 yards receiving
Anthony Fasano: 15 yds receiving
Daniel Thomas: 80 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving
Reggie Bush: 30 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

MIA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +5.3%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -6.5%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -18.0%
MIA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -10.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: Eli Manning is having his typical season, throwing for a ton of yards and a good number of TDs while also making his share of costly mistakes. In fairness, it does seem that a decent amount of his interceptions come on balls tipped off the hands of his WRs. While some of those may stem from his accuracy issues and throwing the ball a little too high at times, it’s also unlucky. Mario Manningham who had seemed to be replaced by Victor Cruz during the preceding two games, was back in Manning’s good graces in Week 6, and could have scored 3 TDs – he was interfered with on a play he would have easily scored on, he dropped a ball in the end-zone after hitting the ground, and he was just short at the goal-line (which was initially called a TD and over-turned on replay). Unheralded second year TE Jake Ballard has managed to make a big impact in the passing game, taking advantage of the early season struggles of intended starter Travis Beckum. Ballard is a very similar payer to the departed Kevin Boss, not an elite athlete or particularly fast, but a dependable route runner with sure hands. Despite some offseason losses, the Giants still have a very good group of pass catchers led of course by stud wide-out Hakeem Nicks. The team should have little trouble moving the ball against a deflated Dolphins’ team.

The team did manage to hold prolific passer Tim Tebow (I tried to type that with a straight face) in check for 55 minutes last week, which helped move them up in the pass defense rankings to the 21st spot. They are however allowing 257.5 passing yards per game and have allowed an average of 2 passing TDs per game. The return of CB Vontae Davis has helped a bit, but you are all familiar with the story of the boy who stuck his finger in one of the holes in the dyke to try and keep it from bursting – if you are not, lets just say it didn’t end well.

Running Game Thoughts: The Giants should get Ahmad Bradshaw’s running buddy, Brandon Jacobs, back this week after he missed two games due to swelling in his knee. Bradshaw performed well in his absence, scoring 3 TDs in Week 6’s game against the Bills. Jacobs, however adds a “nastiness” to the Giants offense and should be raring to go after sitting out. The offensive line has had some issues jelling after some offseason changes, but the rest and preparation of the bye week should have helped the unit. Without a likely offensive challenge from Miami, the Giants could be running out the clock early in this one.

Miami is statistically the 20th ranked run defense, allowing 114.5 ypg and only 3 TDs on the season. They haven’t looked all that interested in stopping the run the last two weeks however, and frustration may be setting in. There is talent all around this defense, but the team just can’t seem to get on track. Maybe Brandon Jacob’s antics and taunts will wake them up a bit this Sunday. If not it could be a long day with poor results.

Eli Manning: 305 yds passing 2 TDs, 1 Int.
Hakeem Nicks: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Mario Manningham: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Victor Cruz: 40 yds receiving
Jake Ballard: 55 yds receiving
Ahmad Bradshaw: 85 yds rushing, 1 TD / 25 yds receiving
Brandon Jacobs: 65 yards rushing, 1 TD

Prediction: Giants 31, Dolphins 13

Cowboys @ Eagles - (Marcoccio)

PHI FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +9.2%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -5.0%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -24.1%
PHI FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +25.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo’s ribs got an extra bye week of sorts, as the Cowboys game against overmatched Rams didn’t require Romo to do much. Since Romo’s early season meltdowns that cost the Cowboys victories, Head Coach Jason Garrett has been much more conservative in his offense game plans and has tried to take some pressure and/or burden off of Romo and the passing game. Of course when you have the talent at the skill position players that Dallas does that may not always be the best idea. Between Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten there may not be a more talented trio of receivers for opposing defenses to deal with.

The Eagles all-star secondary unit is one of the few groups that may be able to match-up well with the Cowboy arsenal. With their tight coverages, Garrett may be wise to pull back the reigns on Romo once again this week and attack the Eagles where they are most vulnerable – namely runs up the middle. The Eagles passing defense hasn’t been as “shut-down” as expected but they have limited and they have allowed 11 passing TDs against this season. However 8 of those TD passes came in consecutive weeks against Atlanta and the New York Giants and the unit has gelled a bit in more recent weeks and have had their bye to further address any issues the coaching staff may have uncovered.

Running Game Thoughts: Replacing the injured Felix Jones, rookie DeMarco Murray rushed for the most yards in Dallas Cowboy’s history with 256 yards on the day. A large chunk of those yards came on a first quarter run where Murray had a hole the size of Texas and only had to avoid one safety who took a poor angle on him to run untouched for 91 yards and a score. Murray has excellent straight line speed and is a powerful runner, but doesn’t have great lateral quickness or agility to make many defenders miss – but its hard to criticize a runner coming off a day like that. I’d say that Murray is always going to be facing poor run defenses’ like St. Louis’, but…

The Eagles also present a dream (team) matchup for running backs. The team is allowing 123.8 yards and 1 TD per game on the season. They’ve been very susceptible to power running games up the middle and while Murray may not be the size of most “power” backs, the kid is solidly built and exceptionally strong. This should be another very good day for Murray to sink his teeth into the lead back role for the Boys even after Felix Jones returns from his high ankle sprain.

Tony Romo: 225 yds passing 1 TDs, 1 Int. / 20 yards rushing
Miles Austin: 95 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dez Bryant: 50 yds receiving
Jason Witten: 60 yds receiving
Phillip Tanner: 35 yds rushing / 5 yds receiving
DeMarco Murray: 90 yards rushing, 2 TDs / 35 yards receiving

DAL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -9.6%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -15.1%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +24.7%
DAL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -29.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: After some early season struggles due in large part to him taking big hits that at times knocked him out of games, Michael Vick and the Eagles passing game is starting to hit their stride. While they may never reach the heights of 2010, the speed and skills possessed by Vick and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, will always make for a difficult matchup for any defense in the league. TE Brent Celek has been asked to stay in and block on a large percentage of the Eagles passing plays, but had his biggest game of the season in the game against Washington before the bye week, catching 4 balls for 42 yards and a score. It’s more likely however that that game was an outlier for the season and not the start of a trend. Unlike his days in Atlanta, Vick is now far more comfortable using his outside weapons that his safety valve in the middle – and even when he does check down it’s usually slot WR Jason Avant who benefits.

Despite being banged up for most of the season, the Dallas secondary has still managed to be ranked as a top 15 passing defense, allowing 230.8 ypg and 7 TDs on the season. Facing A.J. Feely last week must have felt like a bye week for them, but they did also hold down Tom Brady for most of the game the previous week, so this unit is for real when they are healthy.

Running Game Thoughts: LeSean McCoy is having an MVP caliber season, but outside of Philadelphia and fantasy circles much of what he does goes largely unnoticed as Michael Vick has the “star power” on this team. McCoy has all the quickness, lateral movement and deceptive strength of his predecessor Brian Westbrook, who was also the unsung hero of the Eagles of the 2000s, and while he’s not as natural a pass catcher as Westbrook was, he’s still one of the best out of the backfield in the game today.

The Cowboys’ aggressive run blitzes have kept all opposition runners in check this season. They are currently the top ranked run defense in the NFL giving up only 69.7 ypg and just two rushing TDs on the season. McCoy may be the best RB they have faced, but it isn’t like the team has fattened up their statistics by facing inferior rushing attacks. Andy Reid has always been a pass first coach, and after watching the Cowboys game films, he likely will not be inspired to change that philosophy this week.

Michael Vick: 315 yds passing, 3 TDs, 1 Int. / 35 yards rushing
DeSean Jackson: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jeremy Maclin: 85 yds receiving, 1 TD
Jason Avant: 40 yds receiving
Brent Celek: 20 yds receiving
LeSean McCoy: 75 yds rushing / 55 yds receiving, 1 TD
Dion Lewis: 10 yds rushing / 15 yds receiving

Prediction: Eagles 24, Cowboys 21

Saints @ Rams - (Eakin)

STL FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +12.1%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +32.3%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -51.6%
STL FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +38.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: Would it be possible to draw up a bigger mismatch at this point in the season? Drew Brees is rolling into St. Louis after a near perfect performance against the Colts in a 62-7 blowout. The Rams haven’t won a game and have lost their two starting corners and their quarterback. The Saints passing game hinges on three players that can attack the defense at all levels: tight end Jimmy Graham, wide receiver Marcus Colston, and running back Darren Sproles. Their diversity is what makes them so hard to defend. Graham is like Jermichael Finley and Antonio Gates, a new breed of the hybrid tight ends that are too fast for linebackers and too big for the secondary. Graham has had so much success that I think defenses will gameplan around him for the second half of the season. This means a big second half of the year for Colston. Colston usually has to deal with the bracket coverage, but now that he has been freed up by single coverage, he has excelled beyond his sometime inconsistent fantasy production of the past. The Rams don’t have any cover corners capable of matching up with Colston in single coverage. They may fall back into a zone shell as a result, and few quarterbacks can shred the seams of zone coverage better than Brees. It should be noted that the one area in which the Rams have succeeded is in covering tight ends. While Jimmy Graham is a must-start, his production may fall below average, with the ability of Quintin Mikell and James Laurinaitis to cover the middle of the field. He will see bracket coverage with safety support for most of this game. For owners of Devery Henderson and Robert Meacham stuck guessing when they will hit a homerun, this is the game. The Rams defense is most susceptible on the outside where those two run their fly patterns. As in the Colts game, the only thing that could stop Drew Brees from throwing for 350-plus yards would be if the Saints give their backups a chance to play.

Running Game Thoughts: The ground is the preferred way to attack the Rams. They are 13th in pass defense and dead last in run defense. We need no more proof of this than Demarco Murray going for 250 on them last week. The Saints are seventh in rushing but split the carries with three role players. Mark Ingram has yet to practice this week with a bruised heel. I’ll provide the stats in assumption that he is able to play; but if he doesn’t, Pierre Thomas becomes a one-game must-start in all leagues, and Sproles the same in PPR leagues. The Rams give up 183 yards on the ground, so both players could approach 100 all-purpose yards.

Drew Brees: 325 yds passing, 3 TD / 1 Int.
Marques Colston: 95 yds receiving / 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Jimmy Graham: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Darren Sproles: 55 yds rushing, 1 TD / 50 yds receiving
Mark Ingram: 75 yds rushing / 1 TD
Pierre Thomas: 35 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving

NO FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +4.9%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +8.4%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +18.1%
NO FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -10.3%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Rams can’t be overly motivated to put their young franchise quarterback—with limited mobility to protect himself as he nurses a high ankle sprain—in the line of fire of one of the league’s most aggressive blitzing teams. For this reason, I lean toward another Jay Feely start. The key matchup is Brandon Lloyd versus Tracy Porter. Lloyd is now the unquestioned top target and Greer is playing at a high level since returning from injury. The secondary option to Lloyd would be Denario Alexander, except he can’t seem to avoid injuries and is questionable with a hamstring strain. With his health status and with Bradford doubtful, it’s best to avoid him this week. Brandon Gibson is the most likely to replace him. But, again, he is not a reliable option under the circumstances either.

Running Game Thoughts: The Rams must get Steven Jackson into the game early. Jackson has the talent to exploit New Orleans’ average run defense. While the Saints rank 15th, they allow five yards per carry. Their average ranking is deceptive because their offense gets out to early leads and forces teams to throw. The Rams’ only chance is for Jackson to control the possession from the start, enabling them to stay balanced.

Jay Feely: 215 yds passing, 1 TDs / 2 INT
Brandon Lloyd: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Brandon Gibson: 50 yds receiving
Lance Kendricks: 45 yds receiving
Steven Jackson: 85 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Saints 34, Rams 17

Lions @ Broncos - (Eakin)

DEN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +20.4%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +5.2%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +24.0%
DEN FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +25.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: The records of these two teams seem to indicate a mismatch favoring Detroit, but the more I looked into this game and the matchups, the more I liked Denver’s chances. Mathew Stafford and the Lions passing game started the season on fire but have cooled off of late. It may be no coincidence that this has happened while running back Jahvid Best has been out. Best played a large role as a receiving threat out of the backfield and as a home run threat in the running game. Without him, teams can move greater coverage over to Calvin Johnson. Johnson has a tough matchup with Champ Bailey this week. Bailey isn’t the player he once was, but he is still a very good cover corner, with the size and smarts to give Johnson more trouble than he sees most weeks. Denver will also provide Bailey support over the top, letting him jump routes if the Lions get a bit too aggressive forcing it in.

The Denver defense has two terrific outside pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. They may be the best combo in the league. That’s how good the rookie Miller is. They will really give Detroit’s tackles, Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus, troubles in protection, and with the lack of a real rushing threat from the Lions, Dumervil and Miller will meet often at the stationary Stafford. The Lions like to spread the field, so if they have to hold a running back or tight end Brandon Pettigrew back to block, their passing game will lack the diversity they would like to employ.

Running Game Thoughts: No Jahvid Best again this week, which leaves a time share of Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams. Morris is effective as a third-down screen receiver, and Williams is the bigger goal-line and short-yardage option. They split carries evenly last week with nine each, and each had about 50 yards. Neither excelled over the other to give incentive for a greater share of the workload.

Some fantasy owners may see Denver as a weak run defense to try to capitalize on. Not so anymore. The improvements at defensive tackle and the play of Von Miller have bolstered them into respectability. Enough so that you shouldn’t think Detroit’s backs have a big day here. Avoid them both if possible.

Matthew Stafford: 275 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int.
Calvin Johnson: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Nate Burleson: 60 yds receiving / 1 TD
Brandon Pettigrew: 35 yds receiving
Maurice Morris: 55 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving
Keiland Williams: 50 yards rushing

DET FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +8.5%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +20.7%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +12.6%
DET FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +20.0%

Passing Game Thoughts: Ah, what can be said about Tim Tebow that hasn’t been discussed ad nausea already these last few weeks? He went 13 for 21 for 161 yards, two scores, and zero interceptions in his first start, facing the Dolphins’ 21st-ranked pass defense. He also rushed for 59 yards and a two-point conversion. As a fantasy option, Tebow is a bonus. No doubt. He is his own goal-line back and certainly has a nose for the end zone. Combine those kinds of stats with his average passing numbers and he is a top 10-15 quarterback option the rest of the way. Incidentally, he devised a great comeback last week. I’m not so sure they win that game comfortably with Orton. It was great to see Demaryius Thomas, their oft-injured second-year receiver who was drafted in the first round. Thomas was out-targeted over Decker ten to three. A one-game sample is not enough to make sweeping judgments on Decker’s value; he is a talent in his own right and should be kept on rosters for now. But first indications are that Thomas could be the new lead target in the passing game. With Tebow throwing, many skeptics believe both receivers’ production could remain inconsistent. However, there is a glass-half-full perspective as well. Tebow will demand defensive attention, which should open up vertical routes. He may not complete a high percentage of his passes, but he does grade well in vertical throws. Also, his ability to make positive plays when things break down gives the Broncos more first downs and sustained drives, as well as scoring chances. It will be interesting to see it play out, but no rash judgments on value should be made for a couple of weeks.

Running Game Thoughts: Starting running back Willis McGahee is expected to miss two weeks with a broken hand that required surgery. Knowshon Moreno will get what may be his last chance to win back some favor and prove to the league he can be a starter. He will split carries with Alan Ball, who is the more physical runner, while Moreno is regarded mostly as a third-down specialist until he proves otherwise. The Lions defense ranks just 28th in stopping the run, making them a great matchup. Their much-talked-about defensive front, led by Ndamukong Suh, is really more geared toward pass rushing than run stopping. The late arrival of Nick Fairley could help balance that out going forward, but defensive ends Cliff Avril and Kyle Vandenbosh are sack artists. At linebacker, they were missing Justin Durant, who returned just last week. Detroit may start to organize their run defense, and, with the exception of Ryan Clady at left tackle, the Denver offensive line will be outmatched. Moreno and Ball, as a committee approach, may not have the goods to capitalize on the poor run defense.

Tim Tebow: 200 yds passing, 1 TD / 1 INT / 65 yards rushing / 1 TD
Demaryius Thomas: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 60 yds receiving
Daniel Fells: 45 yds receiving
Knowshon Moreno: 50 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving / 1 TD

Prediction: Broncos 21, Lions 24

Bengals @ Seahawks - (Eakin)

SEA FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -2.0%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -0.5%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -6.7%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Quarterback Andy Dalton has far outplayed initial expectations, proving at the very least that he is capable of making fellow rookie A.J. Green a top-15 WR option. But Dalton will have a tough task ahead of him when he travels west to Seattle, home of the real 12th-man that annually causes the most false starts to opposing offenses across the league. Communication and leadership at the line of scrimmage will be critical, so the Bengals must limit the effect of the crowd noise by not falling behind early. Green should play a key role in this. The Seattle secondary lost their top cover corner, Marcus Trufant, two weeks ago. They will likely try to match Brandon Browner on Green because of his height, but Green is far more explosive and better in the air. Look for Dalton to test that matchup early to get out in front and quiet the crowd. In between shots downfield, tight end Jermaine Gresham should have some success moving the chains. Gresham is having a solid year and should continue to grow into the third piece of this young offense. Expect the Bengals to pass more than is customary and put up solid numbers all around. The Seahawks are easier to pass on than to run against, and the Bengals are without Cedric Benson.

Running Game Thoughts: Cedric Benson will serve a one-game suspension, leaving Bernard Scott and Brian Leonard to take the reins of the ground attack. Most pundits are quick to anoint Scott as a valuable fill-in for Benson, but use caution here. Scott is averaging a meager 2.3 yards per carry on the year. He has ability, but every time he has had opportunity to take a step forward with Benson out, he has disappointed. Brian Leonard will have the opportunity to play a big role, as well. He is a good pass catcher out of the backfield and has 7.1 yards per carry in limited action. With the Seattle defense playing at home and being tough to run on, Leonard could be a better fantasy gamble than Scott in PPR scoring. However, neither is worth that gamble if it’s avoidable.

Andy Dalton: 275 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int.
A.J. Green: 85 yds receiving / 1 TD
Jerome Simpson: 60 yds receiving
Jermaine Gresham: 55 yds receiving / 1 TD
Bernard Scott: 45 yds rushing
Brian Leonard: 35 yds rushing / 30 yds receiving

CIN FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -26.9%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -27.2%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -2.1%
SEA FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.9%

Passing Game Thoughts: Starter Tavaris Jackson will miss another week. Charlie Whitehurst will start and look to improve upon a dismal game in Cleveland that saw them on the short side of a 6-3 offensive explosion. Whitehurst will be better at home. I’d throw the Cleveland game out as a baseline low. He has the arm to force balls deep to Sidney Rice, so the Bengals can’t afford to overlook Seattle. Rice will have the talented Leon Hall on him most of the game, so he will need to use his superior ability and his height to beat Hall to balls in the air. Whitehurst will need another Seattle receiver to help out, however. Slot man Doug Baldwin has been a more productive option than Mike Williams on the outside. Williams is struggling to separate from coverage. For Seattle to win, Baldwin will need a big day.

Running Game Thoughts: Many an owner was burned by Marshawn Lynch being a last-second active scratch last week due to tightness in his back that went unreported. I tried to warn everyone. Okay, that’s not true. No one was aware. It happens. Lynch has not participated in practice this week and is going to be a game-time decision again. His status will be better monitored now that the injury is known, however. Even so, he is a risky play this week beyond his health. The Bengals are fifth in stopping the run. Lynch is already a low-end RB2 or a flex play, so questionable to play against a top defense means avoid and scour for alternatives on the wire. If Lynch does not play, there would be a split between Justin Forsett and Leon Washington. Forsett would likely start, and have a slight advantage in touches, but both are quick scat backs that can be effective as receiving options. Still, neither will receive a high volume of carries between the tackles.

Charlie Whitehurst: 200 yds passing, 1 TDs, 1 INT
Sidney Rice: 80 yds receiving, 1 TD
Doug Baldwin: 70 yds receiving
Zach Miller: 35 yds receiving
Justin Forsett: 45 yds rushing / 25 yds receiving

Prediction: Bengals 21, Seahawks 20

Browns @ 49ers - (Eakin)

SF FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +7.8%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +14.5%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -2.1%
SF FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -44.2%

Passing Game Thoughts: Colt McCoy could be extremely short-handed this week when he is needed most. Starting tight end Ben Watson and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi are both questionable with concussions. They are expected to sit out at this point. Evan Moore is a capable fill-in for Watson in the passing game, but the Browns will remain short-handed in the two-tight-end sets that they power run and play-action pass from. Massaquoi will be replaced by Brian Robiskie, who was benched in favor of rookie Greg Little two weeks ago. Little is their best athlete and playmaker but will draw a tough matchup with Carlos Rogers, who looks like a new man since arriving in the bay area. Rogers is a big corner, which will help in defending the 6’4” Little, who is capable of breaking tackles for big plays.

The Browns like to run, but they will allow McCoy to cut loose when matchups dictate, as in Week 3 when he attempted 60 passes. If McCoy has to drop back that many times, Cleveland is in trouble. Either way, the Browns need to keep rookie Aldon Smith and veteran Justin Smith out of the backfield. In Cleveland’s favor, they have Joe Thomas, one of the best tackles in the game, so the 49ers will have to move Justin Smith around to find better matchups. But he can play inside or on either end, so he will be a problem.

Little and Moore should have high reception totals by virtue of so many targets, but their yardage and scoring should be held in check. Same with McCoy. He doesn’t have the arm to stretch this defense.

Running Game Thoughts: The inability of the Browns to stretch the field will make a tough rushing defense even tougher. Peyton Hillis was expected to return this week but has reportedly suffered a setback in practice. The questions around him were already leaving eyebrows raised, and another sit will certainly stoke the fire. If Hillis plays, he will share carries with Montario Hardesty, rendering both of them as low-end flex material. Without Hillis, Hardesty has the backfield to himself but is still just a low-end RB2 or flex play based on the matchup. He managed less than 100 yards on 30 carries last week against a Seattle defense that is tough against the run, but probably not quite the caliber of the Niners. With perhaps the game’s best young linebacker, Patrick Willis, the 49ers have always been tough to run on. Fellow inside backer Navarro Bowman, in his second year out of Penn State, is playing as the equal of Willis, giving San Francisco a dynamic run-stopping duo.

Colt McCoy: 245 yds passing, 1 TD / 1 Int.
Greg Little: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Brian Robiskie: 50 yds receiving
Evan Moore: 65 yds receiving
Montario Hardesty: 35 yds rushing
Peyton Hillis: 45 yds rushing / 1 TD / 25 yds receiving

CLE FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: -28.2%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: -36.6%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: +24.5%
CLE FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: -11.1%

Passing Game Thoughts: The Browns have done a great job defending wideouts this year, though their opposition isn’t exactly a who’s who of juggernaut passing teams. Then again, Alex Smith and the Niners are 27th in passing themselves. They have a few things going for them here, though. They may get Braylon Edwards—far and away their best vertical target—back in the lineup. That could help loosen things up. If Edwards draws Joe Haden, Cleveland’s best corner, then Michael Crabtree will have an advantage underneath. The Browns also have a problem covering opposing tight ends, which is where San Francisco thrives with the combination of Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. Both will present big problems for Cleveland’s big but slow outside backers. This matchup wins the game in my eyes—as long as Josh Cribbs doesn’t destroy the Niners with his special teams play.

Running Game Thoughts: Frank Gore has picked it up since getting off to a slow start this season, benefitting perhaps from the involvement of Kendall Hunter. Hunter has served well as a dynamic change-of-pace option and kept Gore fresh late in games. Hunter is a bit more of an outside runner than Gore, and he could also be in a position to take advantage of the slower Browns linebacking corps. Overall, Cleveland is 20th in stopping the run, allowing 120 yards per game, while the 49ers rank sixth with 130 per game. Those trends are likely to continue.

Alex Smith: 235 yds passing, 1 TDs / 2 INT
Braylon Edwards: 40 yds receiving
Michael Crabtree: 70 yds receiving / 1 TD
Vernon Davis: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Frank Gore: 85 yards / 30 yards receiving / 1 TD
Kendall Hunter: 40 yards rushing

Prediction: 49ers 24, Browns 10

Chiefs @ Chargers - (Eakin)

SD FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +12.1%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +32.3%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -51.6%
SD FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +38.7%

Passing Game Thoughts: It’s possible that the Chiefs’ three straight wins after their disastrous start is a bit of a mirage. They played the Colts without Manning, the Vikings with McNabb, and then there was the Boller/Palmer affair versus the Raiders, which can’t count for much. They get credit for getting things together and, had the Chargers rolled the Jets last week, I would have given them a punchers chance for a letdown win this week. As it were, the Chargers will be geeked up to get back on track after giving one away to Rex. Even so, Matt Cassel has a nice receiving combo that will challenge the Chargers’ secondary. Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston are both producing on the outside, and the Chiefs now add rookie Jon Baldwin in the slot. Baldwin is the classic talent that tends to find trouble and has yet to maximize his immense potential. At 6’4” he is not the classic slot receiver most teams plug in to replicate a Wes Welker. He managed just one reception for 24 yards in his opener last week, but he was targeted five times, and it will be interesting how they incorporate him into the role.

Running Game Thoughts: It appears Jackie Battle has wrestled the majority of power carries away from veteran Thomas Jones. Battle is good for 15-20 carries, with Jones and McCluster each getting around 5-10. The thing the Chiefs offense has is diversity. They can go big and strong or small and quick at both receiver and running back. The Chargers defense fares much better at defending the pass than the run. Head coach Todd Haley will certainly favor a heavy rushing attack if possible. And Battle will get plenty of carries if the Chiefs can stay close on the score board.

Matt Cassel: 235 yds passing, 1 TDs / 2 INT
Dwayne Bowe: 70 yds receiving, 1 TD
Steve Breaston: 50 yds receiving
Jonathan Baldwin: 35 yds receiving
Jackie Battle: 85 yds rushing / 1 TD

KC FF Points Allowed vs. QBs: +1.8%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. WRs: +11.8%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. TEs: -1.4%
KC FF Points Allowed vs. RBs: +14.6%

Passing Game Thoughts: Philip Rivers needs to get the passing game back on track. Having Antonio Gates back in the lineup will help with San Diego’s red zone struggles—a glaring difference from years past. Vincent Jackson is not on the injury report this week; battery mate Malcom Floyd may be taking his place there. He injured a hip last Sunday, hasn’t practiced, and may sit. If so, we’ve seen that Patrick Crayton can be an adequate fill-in. I like Crayton in the lineup. Floyd and Jackson are sort of the same guy—huge outside targets that like to get vertical. Crayton could be a refreshing change of pace as a smaller, quicker option to work zones and quick routes.

Running Game Thoughts: Tolbert could join Floyd on the bench this week. He has a busted-up hand and a tight hamstring. Ryan Mathews should be a beast with the backfield to himself. He’s playing beyond the hype he had when he entered the league as a rookie but flopped. If you want to pinpoint why he’s doing so well, look no further than the fact that I drafted him as a rookie but didn’t take him this year. He has the skill set to easily take on Tolbert’s role in the passing game and in short yardage. Keep an eye on rookie Jordan Todman, too. He showed exciting burst in the preseason, especially as a receiver out of the backfield. The Chiefs rank just 25th in run defense, despite playing weak opposition. Mathews is in for a big day.

Philip Rivers: 275 yds passing, 2 TDs / 1 Int.
Vincent Jackson: 95 yds receiving / 1 TD
Patrick Crayton: 60 yds receiving
Antonio Gates: 75 yds receiving / 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 125 yds rushing / 35 yds receiving / 2 TDs

Prediction: Chargers 31, Chiefs 20